Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Things are good. Home for the holidays, with H, A, sweet B, and J the W arriving tomorrow, and friends all around. Take it away, Billie Holiday...

When we want to love we love
When we want to kiss, we kiss
With a little petting, we’re getting
Some fun out of life

When we want to work, we work
When we want to play, we play
In a happy setting, we’re getting
Some fun out of life

Maybe we do the right things
Maybe we do the wrong
Spending each day
Wending our way along

But when we want to sing, we sing
When we want to dance, we dance
You can do your betting, we’re getting
Some fun out of life

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Obvious, but nifty all the same

Here’s a cool thing that may be old hat to others but that I’d never seen before: a music review (“Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2008,” in this case) with sound clips built in.

Safely home all

Everyone’s made it to their destinations. The weather in Minnesota was closing in when I left, and the plane needed two de-icings before the pilot was satisfied to fly, but my prosaic flights were essentially hitchless. More important, The Great Trek from Rochester to Rochester was, aside from a blown and quickly-replaced windshield wiper fuse, about as smooth as 20-hours in a jam packed car on American Interstates can be. journey. Sweet B and J the W apparently were both champs.

Connecticut was white and getting whiter when I landed, and the hour-long drive home from the airport was messy. I’ve been out this morning shoveling, and now I’m inside with a mug of tea looking out at the blanketed and clothed yard and bushes. New England is a beautiful part of the world after a snowstorm.

It’s wonderful to just snuggle in here at home on a day like this. We miss our sweeties, though, and can’t wait to see them soon. B’s fifth-month birthday will be on New Year's Eve, and I think we might pour a little bubbly.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lonely in Minnesota

Years ago I worked for a magazine that required me to travel a lot. I went to some great places met lots of interesting people, but basically I hated it. H was little then, and colleagues would joke that I started getting homesick while I was packing. They were wrong. I started getting homesick when I made my travel plans. Pathetic, I know, but there it is.

It’s now a little after 9 pm here, and I’m sitting in a depressingly empty house listening to Radio Heartland and feeling bereft. It’s not homesickness, but it’s close enough. I’m flying home tomorrow, but H’s 1994 Subaru station wagon left just about an hour ago, loaded Joad-like and carrying A1, A, H, sweet B, and Jasper the Wonderdog. They’re headed, by way of Chicago, to Rochester, New York, a 20-hour drive away. We’re hoping they sweep behind the snow storm that passed through here last night and is moving eastward. It’s a long drive, and it won’t be comfortable in the best conditions. I’ll be thinking of them and worrying about them until I hear they’re safe in that other Rochester.

All will be well again next week, when H, A, D and J the W arrive in Woodbury, bringing joy in that ratty old car.

Travel safely, my sweets.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Moving Day

It’s bitter cold out (surprise, surprise), and a small crew with a huge truck is here marking, inventorying, and shifting boxes and pieces of furniture that will fill part of the trailer and make their next appearance in Concord, New Hampshire, just after Christmas.

A’s dad (another A—let’s call him A1) arrived yesterday, and he is downstairs overseeing the work (front door wide open, of course, so house freezing) and making coffee for the guys. I am upstairs with a space heater in the master bedroom, keeping sweet B warm and occupied. Jasper the Wonderdog, very concerned that his house is being turned topsy-turvy, is up here with us, enjoying a special dispensation that allows him to curl up on the bed just this once.

A possible shuffle with H and J the W this afternoon, if schedule and this !@#$%^ weather permit, then I think we’re going out to dinner tonight. Big changes, big doings. Thanks for the mug of tea, A1!

The old pro

He’s never been one of my favorites, but the older I get the more I appreciate Tony Bennett. A perceptive and fascinating review by Ben Ratliff from this morning’s New York Times.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Radio Heartland

From Minnesota Public Radio, a very cool internet service “filled with an eclectic mix of acoustic, Americana, and roots music.” This description doesn’t do the station justice, though. A one-hour playlist gives you a better idea:

9:58 Randy Weeks - Transistor Radio
9:55 Jorma Kaukonen - Late Breaking News
9:51 Louise Taylor - Cherry Tree
9:47 Rodney Crowell - Beautiful Despair
9:43 Asleep at the Wheel - You're My Sugar
9:39 Uncle Earl - Sleepy Desert
9:36 Mahalia Jackson - Down By The Riverside
9:34 John Gorka - Satellites
9:30 Taj Mahal - Mockingbird
9:26 Ryan Adams - Goodnight Rose
9:21 Abigail Washburn and The Sparrow Quartet - A Fuller Wine
9:17 Antje Duvekot - Go Now
9:14 Louis Armstrong - Old Man Mose
9:09 James Hunter - I'll Walk Away
9:04 Karen Savoca - In The Dirt
9:00 Solas - Seven Curses

Eclectic enough for ya? When I turned it on last night, there was sweet B’s elegant friend, Fred Astaire...followed, certainly for the first time in radio history, by Lyle Lovett. You’re liable to go from Frank Sinatra to Taj Mahal. Or from Leo Kottke to Billie Holiday to Gene Autry. Later yesterday, winding astonishingly out of a largely alt folk and world music set came the voice of Doris Day singing “Que Sera, Sera.” So there’s a sense of humor here, too.

The bonus on Radio Heartland is a morning show without screaming morons. This may now actually be illegal in the U.S., so listen soon, before they haul Connelly off to Guantanamo.

[Edit: Nope, it wasn’t alt folk and world music (you can check playlist archives), but it was “Que Sera Sera.” What can I tell you? I was falling asleep.]

Another WP app.

I’ve discovered Adobe’s web-based, collaborative (if you want it to be) word processing program, Buzzword. It is similar in many ways to Google Docs, which I’ve written about, though, to me, more attractive and welcoming (though perhaps a little slow?). As with Docs, I’m concerned about possible problems concerning web access and a lack of personal customer service to deal with them. Perhaps the solution is as simple as it is for computer-based word processing: back up, back up, back up. At home, I automatically back up daily to an external hard drive, and before coming to Minnesota, I was about to implement a second daily auto backup to web storage. If I can implement a good protocol with Buzzword, perhaps the Adobe application will be my final answer.

I’m annoyed that I’m dithering so much over this. For years I worked, if often at long distance, with people who kept up with these professionally interesting tech advances, and we’d try things out and bat them around. I think much of my problem is the lack of this informal collegial product testing. Of course, I’m older now too, and my once sparkling mind is just a little less pétillant.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A song for B

B sometimes wakes up hard from her naps, fussing, crying, and flailing about with her little arms. This afternoon, she gave an especially dramatic performance, and that old Neil Sedaka song, Waking Up is Hard to Do popped into my mind:

Don’t take my sleep away from me
Don’t leave my heart in misery
If you do I’ll scream at you
’Cause waking up is hard to do.

Remember when you held me tight
Made me think it still was night
Remember that I’m just brand new
Waking up is hard to do.

They say that waking up is hard to do
Now I know, I know that it’s true
Don’t say that this is the end
Instead of waking up I wish my dreams were taking up again.

I beg of you, don’t make me cry
Can’t I give my nap another try
I’m just a baby, let me start anew
’Cause waking up is hard to do.

Books make GREAT gifts

A holiday message from Authors Guild president, the very funny Roy Blount, Jr.

Yes! Support your local independent bookstore. If you don’t have one (and fewer of us do these days), let me recommend doing business on the internet or by phone with The Hickory Stick Bookshop of Washington Depot, Connecticut (where Paul works—and also the site of my most successful book-signing ever).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Back to the arctic

A brutal little shuffle today, with H and Jasper the Wonderdog. Piercingly cold and scouringly windy. The missing piece of gear for me in these conditions was my Turtle Fur neck gaiter, which, pulled up to my eyeballs over the ear flaps of the Outdoor Research Peruvian hat that I do have with me, does the trick. H was missing a similar piece of gear. Buffs just don’t cut the Minnesota mustard. Jasper, however, was fashionably attired in a body-length wrap of naturally curly doodle fur that kept him feeling warm while looking super-cool. He did regret his lack of shades.

As of an hour or so ago, the temp here was 1°F (-17°C), with a windchill of -21°F (-29°C). Tomorrow’s high is predicted to be -1, with “windchills approaching -30.” Sweet B and I will definitely not be going out for our morning or afternoon constitutionals. Too bad, because we both really enjoy our walks, and we’ll be logy and grumpy without them. Weatherwise, it will be good to get back to balmy New England, where all they’re dealing with is a catastrophic ice storm.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Warm and busy

How nice. A warm day. After not even going out Thursday because I didn’t think I could keep sweet B warm and protected enough in the frigid temps and wind that sent the chill way below 0°F, today was above freezing, and B and I had a good jaunt to the library, to return some books at the main desk and “re-donate” a pile of paperback mysteries to the Friends used book shop.

But it wasn’t a good day for poor B. She was hungry but wouldn’t eat, tired but wouldn’t sleep. And when we finally got her down, H wasn’t about to chance loading her into the running stroller. So it was just the three of us—H, Jasper the Wonderdog, and I, on a virtually balmy shuffle around Silver Lake.

H and A have been slaving away in the evenings and all day today (with more to do tomorrow) to pack up for The Next Stage, which involves, purely as a first step, moving most of their goods and furniture to an apartment in Concord, New Hampshire, which neither of them has actually seen yet (I looked at it back in October). The moving van picks everything up this coming week, and we all, by various methods, make our way back East over the weekend.

H showed me some of the papers she was disposing of—shoe boxes full of index-carded notes and stacks of file folders full of study sheets and more notes, all used to internalize the basics she had to learn back in her first two years of med school. I’m used to being impressed by H, who takes after her mother and resembles her husband as an academic star. But wow. I was staggered by the sheer volume of material she—like all student docs—had to organize and digest.

I believe she’s studying for her Boards in this shot. B obviously has some advice to convey.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rhythm baby

Sweet B and I do music a lot. Mostly, this is music defined in its broadest possible sense...I “sing” impromptu doggerel to her as we waltz around or while I snuggle her toward sleep. But sometimes we listen to the real stuff. She likes rhythm more than melody, but she’s definitely not yet into jazz. She does like the three Glenn Miller tunes on my iPod (Benny Goodman, not so much), and today I discovered she’s a big Fred Astaire fan.

For some of our jam sessions, I lie on my back and prop her up on my knees. I hold her by her feet, sing along as best I can, make rhythm noises and whistle some. Yesterday, she especially enjoyed a recorded and essentially vocal version of this:

I sang along, of course. I’ve always gotten a special chuckle out of:

Come let’s mix where Rockerfellas,
Walk with sticks, or umberellas,
In their mitts,
Puttin on the Ritz

But a lightly drooling B was the star of our performance. No high hat or white spats, but some pretty fancy footwork. And the contrapuntal gurgling was a brilliant touch.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tropical walking

I’ve discovered that a good walk or run keeps my reliably freezing toes and fingers much warmer for hours afterward, so I went out this morning for a solo stroll. Temp about 10°F (-12°C), with a biting wind from the east. Hundreds and hundreds of Canada geese noisily rafting together on the gradually freezing Zumbro River. Light but steady snow gently fuzzing the world. Quite lovely.

A told me last night that the record low here for December 6 is -28°F (-33°C), set back in the ’70s. So this morning was really a walk on the beach. Tomorrow: board shorts, Hawaiian shirt, and sandals, dude.

Pearl Harbor Day

Sixty-seven years ago on another Sunday. My father had a friend who was there, and remembered, even more than the fear and anger, the simple astonishment he felt seeing the planes, with their “meatball” markings flying over this safe American anchorage. Americans certainly haven’t forgotten this anniversary, but it naturally gets less attention than it used to. I’m looking forward to hearing what Obama has to say in his address on the subject today.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I protest!

Sweet B has a number of nice, warm little sleepers, which she pretty much lives in. My favorites zip up and down. Changing the baby? Zzzip!...there you are. Finished? Zzzip!...all set. The others—what I have come to think of as the silly sleepers—have snaps (poppers). Twelve of them, several of which fasten oddly at the crotch. This is insanely fussy. Changing the baby? Unsnap, unsnap, unsnap, etc., etc. etc. Finished? Snap, snap, snap...no wait, that wasn’t the right snap...unsnap, snap, snap...dammit all...unsnap, snap, etc., etc. All with the baby wiggling around and laughing derisively.

What are the people who design these garments thinking? Are they in cahoots with the infant population to make adults (probably mostly male adults...ok, probably mostly grandfathers) look ridiculous and feel inept?

I protest! I, for one, can handle the task of appearing foolish all on my own. I will not resist the obvious: it’s a snap.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rolling togetherness

H had the afternoon off today. (Hey! I thought med school was supposed to be hard.) Toward the end of daylight, we suited up, popped sweet B for the very first time into the Chariot Cougar 1 that Aunt K gave her, and headed out (with Jasper the Wonderdog, of course) for our first three-generation shuffle.

It was a great success. The Cougar handled the slightly rough underfoot really well, B was content, Jasper frolicked in the snow, and we two adults came home rosy-cheeked and smiling. It was cold—about 10°F (-12°C) with a windchill temp below zero. But were were moving, we weren’t out for long, and B was well protected from both wind and cold. (That’s the bow of her bonnet strings under her chin, not frost!)

We project lots of Cougar running this winter and for a few years to come.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

“Speyside is heaven on earth”

So quoth a “spirit sommelier” in an article in today’s NY Times. They tasted 12-year-old single malts, and list favorites. I remain an ignoramus, so my favorites remain the first three drams I was handed at Sourlies and Kinbreak: Glen Morangie (thanks, Kev!), Highland Park (cheers, David!), and The Macallan (health, Jules!).

(If you take a look, you’ll see an apology from the author for spelling “whisky” as “whiskey.” Times copy editors have long driven me insane. The point should be to be accurate, but they never miss their chance to be merely “correct” by asserting the primacy of the style book.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pedestrianism and vocal improvisation

We’ve been doing a fair amount of walking since I got here, sweet B and I. But over the holiday week more of us were around, and schedules were a bit more flexible as a result. Different units went out for strolls at different times of day (and night). H and I even had a chance to run together two or three times. O Joy.

Things are more or less back to normal, and B, Jasper the Wonderdog, and I headed out on snowy sidewalks and trails this afternoon for our usual out-and-back. B seemed to get a little fussy halfway along, so I turned the stroller around and headed back before realizing she had just been trying out some new vocalizations. Pediatric scat.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happy birthday, sweet B!

Well, almost. November has no 31st, so we’re counting today as her four-month celebration. B has almost doubled her weight...she’s at about 15.5 pounds now. She can roll from front to back and from back to front, and with a little help to balance, she can stand on her sturdy little legs.

Of course, she remains sweet, beautiful, and highly intelligent.

We had a wonderful family Thanksgiving, and it’s been great to be together. After Tuesday, and until just before Christmas, I’ll once again be solo with B during the day.

This is a great gig. Over to the right, in my “About Me,” I mention feeling bad I never learned to play the sax. But I think my real calling was child care.

Have I mentioned that I’m crazy about this baby?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mt. Washington this morning

13.5°F (-10.3°C), wind chill -5.8 (-21). Mt. Jefferson off in the distance. This is the north view of the webcam network. It’s the page Firefox opens to every morning on my laptop. Though it’s often a blank (fog/cloud), days like this start things off wonderfully fresh.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Snow yesterday...

...not much more than a heavy dusting, but it required car-window-clearing and it affected driving. The consensus at the Farmers’ Market was that, taken with the low temps, Winter Is Here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


My parents bought their house in 1955. Built in 1771, it was well out in the country when I was a boy, on a road that had been paved just the year before, in a town that had only recently gotten dial telephone service. The house was small, run-down, and beautiful all at the same time. Along with the apple trees on the south side, which I mentioned in an earlier post, on its north side it had a a towering elm, a great maple for climbing, and a rustic cedar summerhouse or gazebo. We tossed horseshoes over there, and I once built myself a pitching mound under the elm.

There was also a narrow band of field on its east, leading toward a swamp suitable for muddy exploration. It was often lonely for an only child, but it had its compensations: room to roam, trees to climb or swing from, plenty of space for hole-digging and “camping out.” There was a great hill just down the road for sledding, and a huge puddle formed in the field across the way every winter: perfect for pond hockey. My father put up a basketball hoop for me, but baseball was the house game, and every summer evening, when he got home, I’d be waiting for him with our mitts and we’d have a catch, for which there was a ritual ending. “Ten more,” he’d say, and we’d somehow arrived at the agreement that to count, all ten tosses had to be handled without a bobble. (I never cheated and dropped one on purpose to start the count over, because I never wanted to look bad.) Then he’d say, “One more for luck,” and in we’d go to supper.

The owners at some point earlier in the century, probably for some atavistic anglophilic reason, had christened the property “Blighty.” (We just called it what we still call it: “the house.”) They’d had signs made, which we were told they set out at the two ends of our road when they expected visitors from away. When we moved in, we found the signs in the dirt-floored cellar, where they remained for another 50 years. My dad brought them to me a few months ago, and they’re still sitting in a corner of the kitchen waiting for me to decide what to do with them.

Photo: Paul

Friday, November 21, 2008

Have I said, “brrrr?”

Minnesota’s impressing me.

8°F (-13.3°C) this morning, with a wind chill of -3 (-14.4C).

H gets home today in the early afternoon, after a 36-hour call at the hospital, so I think sweet B and I will wait till then for a walk, rather than heading out this morning. Yesterday in some biting wind but temps in the Fahrenheit teens, I had her so wrapped up only her little eyes and nose were visible. I love rosy cheeks, but this morning might be a little extreme. Is it too wussy to wait for double figures?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Deep analysis

Well, I might as well join the club. Typealyzer assesses this blog and characterizes me among:

The Doers

The active and play-ful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

Well, I don’t know about play-ful, and I have never had a problem with sitting still, especially with a book in hand. On the other hand, I do like women’s basketball. That is what the girl is doing in the drawing, no?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chafinch Map of Scotland

Is this ...

... known to all you Brits? Or at least all you Brits who walk in Scotland? Or at least all you Scots?

I found it here, on the wonderful site, Strange Maps, where I am told that it was “written in 1965 by Edwin Morgan (b. 1920), Poet Laureate of Glasgow (1999) and (since 2004) Scottish National Poet.” I further learn that “[t]he work looks deceptively simple, while in fact it is a cleverly multilayered combination of poetry, cartography, ornithology, linguistics, and maybe just a hint of Scottish nationalism, with carefully encrypted route suggestions for TGO Challengers.” (Okay, I made up that last part.)

The “cleverly multilayered” stuff is way over my head, but I think its cool, anyway.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wind aided

A while before I left home for Minnesota, there was an article in a local paper about the 50th running of the invitational cross-country meet sponsored by our high school. The Nonnewaug (originally Woodbury) Invitational is, I think, the oldest invitational meet in the state, and although it’s changed shape over the years, its distinctive mark is a concentration on small schools and a low-key, friendly atmosphere. Doughnuts and cider after the races (four of them—boys and girls varsity and j.v.) have been a feature. This year, they had some special doings and an alumni race to spice things up.

Great stuff. I coached teams that ran in this event in the ’70s and ’80s, and I helped direct it during the ’90s. Farther back than that, I was in high school when the race (then just a single run: boys varsity) was established. And under a pile of detritus somewhere in my father’s house lie trophies from the third and fourth annual Woodbury Invitationals in 1963 and 1964, which ... ah, wait a minute (counting on fingers) ... that would make this year’s running ... the 48th. (Counting on fingers again to make sure)—Yes, the 48th.


What the hell. It’s a great event. I’m just sorry that I won’t be around in another 48 years when they celebrate its 100th.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ear flaps

It’s 26°F (3.3°C) here in southern Minnesota this morning, with a wind chill of 14° (-10°). We’ll still be going out for our morning walk, of course, sweet B and I, but winter is definitely lurking around that corner just up ahead.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Please stop!

Hope, yes. Idolatry, no. He’s a gifted politician, not a heavenly body. There’s an interesting discussion of this syndrome here and here.

I actually think the phenomenon says more about our relief to be getting rid of the current demolition crew than it does about imbuing Obama with a Lincolnian civic-godliness, though there’s more than a whiff of that in the air. I think it’s being ironically played upon here...

...though I often see irony in earnestness (how world-weary and sophisticated of me). (And, though it’s not germane to this topic, Barack seems to me to be the first president since Kennedy to appreciate and occasionally use irony—pretty dangerous stuff in the “gotcha” age.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

On the processing of words

Coming out to Minnesota for six weeks, I packed the only available laptop, the iBook G4 that my father no longer uses. It’s old and slow and doesn’t run Leopard, but it’s a perfectly adequate writing machine, which is all I need it to be. There was, though, a problem: it had no word-processing program installed. I’m pretty sure it had the Apple software when it was new, but Works has disappeared from its hard drive, and iWork was never installed to replace it. So I had to work something out.

The answer seemed obvious. I would turn to Google Docs, the web-based word processor I’d used a bit and had been tracking since it was known as Writely. The GD interface is similar to Microsoft Word’s, it has features that make it a great tool for collaborative writing or writer-editor work—and it’s free. But I’d had a few passing problems saving documents (just as I have saving posts on Blogger—also a Google product). What killed it off as a primary option was a horror story I’d read about someone who could not retrieve what he’d written due to a Google foul-up involving his password. He discovered that Google has no help desk or customer service for Docs, that, in fact, it is impossible to reach a human being to solve what is, essentially a simple problem. So no. GD was out, except as a handy traveler’s backup (along with the trusty thumb drive).

How about getting a copy of iWork and using Pages? It’s a lot cheaper than buying Office to get Word. But although I use Pages for simple layout tasks on my desktop iMac, I haven’t gotten comfortable with its word processing side.

Almost 20 years ago, I was forced, kicking and screaming, to begin using the pompous, ponderous, stubborn, but dominant Word. I’ve been annoyed by it ever since, but, as with an utterly maddening relative, I’m used to it, and like those cranky old guys who only write with fountain pens, I’m sensitive to change—I miss that hard-won feeling of familiarity, if not ease.

I tried a few smaller programs, primarily meant for memo-writing or journaling, but they didn’t click for me. Which meant back to Word. Word, however, only comes with Office, and the package isn’t cheap. So: eBay. I found someone selling the consumer version, and joined the bidding. With a final bid placed two seconds before the auction closed, I won a copy for what was still too much money, but was substantially below retail. And here I sit, using it to type this post.

Of course, it’s the new version, and at home I have the old one, so after all this I’m still having to come to grips with those ease and familiarity issues.

[Special irrelevant historical comment: For my money, the best all-time word processor—a tool for processing words and nothing more—was the late, great XyWrite, a writer’s tool if ever there was one, and once a mainstay of newspaper and magazine editorial offices. It worked in DOS only (there is or was a Windows version, but it wasn’t/isn’t the same superb program), wasn’t WYSIWYG, and had no menus. On the other hand, you could personalize it through simple programming, the commands and (programmable) keyboard shortcuts were easy to learn, moves and changes were direct and instantaneous. Best of all, the mechanics of all this stayed out of your way. It never asked you questions or made suggestions or assumed it knew more about what you were trying to do than you did. It let you write the way you wrote. It was to Word as a great athlete is to a blind and blundering hulk. A great, great program that I jury-rigged a system to use for years after it had become “obsolete.” I’d buy a copy in a minute at five times the price of Office if—technical impossibility—it were available today for the Mac.]

Friday, November 14, 2008

Yay, sweet B!

She giggles! (Earlier this week.)

She rolls over! (Just now!)

A spectacularly good-humored baby, she also cheerily puts up with her grandfather. We’re having a wonderful time together. After particular...effortful...moments, we’ve begun to collaborate on something that Mrs. Tingley, the very proper ballroom dancing teacher of my youth, would not have approved of. It consists of B standing unsteadily on my lap and my holding her hands above her head while she jiggles and bounces. We call it the poopy dance. Then we head for the changing table, from which she looks up with a beatific smile of encouragement.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hit ’em where they ain’t

Just an odd thing that has stuck with me for a while. I read somewhere last month that the average weight of a major league ballplayer in the early ’70s—guys of my generation— was 182 lb. (13 stone). It is now 209 (15 stone). In the ’80s I wrote a kid’s book on the game in which I made the point that, unlike (American) football or basketball, baseball was played at the highest level by normal-sized men. Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, for example, were all just under six feet tall. Now they’d be little guys, and people would be amazed at their abilities given their size. Certainly no room in today’s game for Wee Willie Keelers.

I know this sort of thing is happening in hockey, too. How about (everybody else’s) football?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Second home

I’m in Minnesota, renewing acquaintances with the fast-changing sweet B, who now charms as a smiling and gurgling drool machine. A goes back to work tomorrow, after a month’s paternity leave, and H continues her pediatrics sub-internship at the hospital. So B and I will be playmates most weekdays from now until just before Christmas. I’ll be doing all the usual baby care, and fitting in some work during nap times. Mostly, of course, I’m here for the snuggles. Damp though they may be.

Friday, November 7, 2008


We weep.

We dance.

We breathe again.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Dan Froomkin’s always invaluable column today has an interesting roundup of opinions on what Obama’s victory means to the people who voted for him. He says it boils down to “a call for a restoration of American values, pre-Bush.”

The New York Times also has this comment in today’s lead editorial:
His triumph was decisive and sweeping, because he saw what is wrong with this country: the utter failure of government to protect its citizens.
There’s a lot of talk now about how important it is for Obama to act in a bipartisan manner. That would be great. But the Times quote highlights how extreme, how bigoted, how reckless, and how fundamentally corrupt the once-proud Republican party (it’s not called the GOP for nothing) has become. Bipartisanship is a two-way street, and the Republicans are not interested. John McCain’s concession speech was noble, but he was not speaking for the congressional Republican party, let alone its base.

I love Barack’s intelligence, eloquence, commitment, character, and mastery of the issues. But the attributes I think we’ll all come to prize as he begins to get things done have been much less touted: his pragmatism and his toughness. Don’t forget he’s from Chicago, where politics is still a bare-knuckle affair. Keep your ears open. You’ll hear the Republicans squealing by February 1.

Then we can get on with the Restoration.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dixville Notch

Always the first district in the U.S. to report its vote in Presidential Elections, it’s a beautiful township in Northeastern New Hampshire (with great, uncrowded hiking). Here’s the story (poor Hart’s Location):

This morning, Dixville Notch reported 15 votes for Obama, 6 for McCain, the first time it’s gone Democratic since 1968.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Cool, calm, collected

Quiet competence is so refreshing.

Obama Field Director John Carson:

Spokesman Bill Burton:

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Good politicians, of course, share certain attributes with good salesmen. The one that impresses me most, because I absolutely don’t have it, is a particular kind of memory. They remember your name, your spouse’s name, your children’s names, and a tidbit or two about you all. To me, that is, as Nat silkily sings, “just incredible.” [Time out: He really misses that last note, doesn’t he?]

My local Democratic Town Committee had a rally on Woodbury’s North Green on yesterday’s crisp, gorgeous Saturday morning (I forgot to bring my camera, so unfortunately I can post no pics of this classic New England scene). This has always been a strongly Republican part of a generally Democratic state, but this year, party officials see a chance to grab a seat in the State Senate. My friend John McCarthy, a former American Ambassador to Tunisia and Lebanon, now retired from the foreign service, is running a strong campaign emphasizing competence and pragmatism—what a concept!—in a time that requires change.

So the big Connecticut guns were all wheeled out yesterday morning to support and energize: The chair of the state party, our Democratic Congressman, the Attorney General, the Secretary of the State, the Comptroller, recent (and undoubtedly future) candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, the Majority Leader of the State Senate, and a few I’ve probably forgotten. Much cheerful speechifying about the importance of getting John and Barack elected—an unusually terrific, positive, enjoyable kickoff to the final three days of hectic Get Out The Vote activities.

Back to that memory deal. I’ve been an active Democrat for long enough to have gotten on what I think of as “the list.” Some Democrat in Hartford needs to know a little something about Woodbury? Call this guy. Looking for a sacrificial lamb in some impossible election? If this guy won’t run, he knows someone suicidal who will. Most of all, need to raise some money for your campaign? This guy’s been carrying our flag for a while; he should be good for something. So every four years I get a call from our Secretary of the State. We schmooze, she asks me for money, I agree to send some, we say good-bye, and she goes on to the next index card in her contributor file. Every two years, she calls just to schmooze. She might also ask for a little money, but this call is mainly to keep in touch. She has higher office very much in mind. All of this is fine by me—she’s good at her job, and she doesn’t have to twist my arm for support. The thing is, we’d never actually met until yesterday. I walked up to her, introduced myself, and the first thing she said, without missing a beat, was, “how’s the writing going?” and the second was, “are you still winding the town clock?”

Well, the writing’s not going all that great, and I stopped winding the clock a while ago, but I was still astonished, and oddly gratified.

On the other hand, I suppose the deployment of this sort of fact-retention is responsible for the success of a good half of the incompetent hacks in office. I know it’s resulted in my buying the occasional unfortunate necktie.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy birthday!

Sweet B was three months old yesterday. We continue our evening iChats, which is where this photo came from, and its easy to notice how rapidly she’s changing and growing. I’m headed for Minnesota in a week to nanny (the copy editor of this blog says that to nanny can, indeed, be a verb) until just before Christmas. At the rate she’s going, she’ll be crawling by the time I get there, and we’ll be running quarter-mile repeats together before I head back home. I will consult to see if she wants mom to join us or plans to go too fast.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Election Day’s coming

It may be Halloween, but we’re all thinking ahead. Found here:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mountain Marathon off the hills

With only slight exaggeration, I must say that this more closely approximates the weather I was expecting on the Challenge last May than the gorgeous weather we had.

I listened to Bob and Rose’s OMM gear-check podcast yesterday, and was was aware of the forecast. I know everyone is accounted for, but I hope Bob and Rose and any of you who were involved had more of a “memorable experience” than a miserable siege.

Best to all from here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I second that emotion

I’ve been sending around a slightly truncated version of this David Sedaris bit about the “undecided voters” the pollsters and reporters seem to keep finding:

I look at these people and can't quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Too bad

It’s been a great run, but now it’s my duty to root for the Rays against the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Calling voters

I’ve run for office a number of times, and I’ve learned a lot from doing so. A decade or so ago, I ran a serious campaign for First Selectman. As a Democrat in a heavily Republican town, I was an automatic underdog, but we put together a terrific campaign—energetic, committed, imaginative, and (I, at least, think) smart. As the campaign played out, I realized how personal it was. These people were laying it on the line for me. You hear politicians talking all the time about how humbled they are to be blah blah blah. Let me tell you, for me that was absolutely true. I still feel a special and profound debt to everyone who helped put that almost-successful campaign together. (It’s probably good I didn’t win. I wouldn’t have been able to deny any of them anything.)

During that campaign (and others), I of course knocked on doors (hundreds of doors), and made phone calls (hundreds of phone calls). I did it. I had to do it. But I hated doing it—it’s just not my personality. That’s why I was so interested in this little piece about how the Obama campaign tries to get supporters to spread the word, even if it’s not their personality. Very clever—fun, in a way—and I bet very effective, too.

The McCain campaign uses the phone differently. It’s robo-calling filth.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Running shoes

I just broke out a new pair of training flats. Big news, huh?

I used to use up a pair of these every six or seven weeks, when they wore down and out after about 400 miles. Now I just wear them and wear them and wear them, since mileage is hardly an issue. I left a pair in Minnesota, though, so I could use them when I go back in a few weeks, and I had to break out some new ones.

For a long time, I’ve been running in Asics GTs. (The numbers change—I think they’re up to GT-2130s now—but the shoe, thankfully, remains essentially the same. Slightly clunky, but not too heavy, not overly “controlled,” not overly “stable,” not overly cushioned.) I buy them by the half-dozen pairs (old models when the new models are introduced) in the certain knowledge that they will be, as I heard it put lately, “obsoleted” some day when I’m not looking. I ritualistically pull out the cheap supplied innersoles, slip in a set of simple green Spencos and my own inserts, and there we are.

I began running cross-country in Puma racing flats (size 8-1/2), which would now be seen as closer to running barefoot than to any modern shoe, before switching to the original red-and-white, ripple-soled New Balances (size 7-1/2). I raced on the track in the blue Adidas Tokyos (size 9-1/2) that were probably the most popular spikes of that late-cinder-track era. And I trained mostly in green-striped white Adidas Italias (size 9). (Or were they Romas? How odd I can’t be sure.) [Much later: Italias.] These shoes, all of them among the best available in the mid-to-late ’60s, were necessary evils for me, and I spent a lot of time not running. Our trainer labored heroically on arch cookies and all sorts of tape jobs, but in vain. I was eventually diagnosed with anterior compartment syndrome.

(Time out: This reminds me of something amusing. I had to shave my legs below the knees to be taped, and the trainer would spray on Cramer Tuf-Skin to make the tape really adhere. Tuf-Skin over time would turn your leg green unless you scrubbed it off with rubbing alcohol (surgical meths), which I naturally considered a waste of time. So I spent my late teens and early twenties with stubbly green legs. I looked like a diseased tomato vine.)

For a few years I puttered around in very light Tigers (now Asics), which were cheap and not bad. In the mid-’70s, I discovered orthotics and Lydiard-style long-distance training. I also discovered that shoes were vastly improved. And vastly more expensive. Why, some cost more than $30!

Starting with some blue New Balance 320s, I moved to yellow waffle-soled Nike LDVs for training, and Nike Elites for road racing (all size 9—amazing standardization!). Nike design and my needs diverged somewhere back in the ’80s, and I’ve been in Asics ever since (though I still sometimes call them Tigers). My racing shoes these days? Surely you jest.

Last year, I was given several sets of Lock Laces, which you might be able to make out in the photo. I never would have bought these for myself, because they seemed like gimmicks. But I love them. Essentially, they are small-diameter shock cord and special two-hole cord locks. They let you lever yourself quickly into the shoe, which I really like, but best, their stretchy nature keeps pressure off my very high instep while keeping the shoe on snugly. Nifty.



Thursday, October 16, 2008

Africa Benny

Because H, A, and sweet B are headed to northern New England next year, probably for good, we’ve been thinking about establishing a nearby presence ourselves, somewhere in Vermont or New Hampshire. We’ve long thought that when we did, we’d park ourselves near a lake and buy a small boat—something like a Wayfarer—

and begin to do some regular sailing, something we enjoy, but haven’t had a chance to do much of.

Thirty years ago there was a popular song called “Taking a Trip Up to Abergavenny.” One of us consistently misheard the lyric. This is why, if we do get that boat, it will be named “Africa Benny.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bangers and mash explained

Paul Krugman is an academic economist at Princeton. People like me, though, know him for his regular columns in the New York Times, which often seemed to be the only intelligent and courageous journalism being done on the Bush administration, which had so thoroughly intimidated or hornswaggled most of the press.

Today, Krugman was awarded the Nobel Prize, and people like me, who don’t know the difference between financial and fiscal, are thrilled. I don’t know how his big economic papers read (I think I heard him call them “incomprehensible” in an interview this afternoon), but he is a fine, deft writer on the op-ed page. As a rough example, I have stolen from Marginal Revolution, where you can read about Krugman’s academic work, this little “economic” essay on why English food was, for so long, so bad—and why it’s so much better now.

Even my Republican momma...

I’ve been posting about politics and music lately, obsessed by the one and trying to use the other to chill out. Here’s a much more useful, incalculably cooler Latin combination of the two, from Jose Conde y Ola Fresca.

The Obama campaign has inspired a lot of this sort of freelance creative political expression.

Despite my last name, I have no Spanish. In the U.S. these days, that’s really my loss. There’s a terrific culture bubbling away out there (not to mention lots of Dominican ballplayers!).

Fortunately, as embarrassed as I feel to need them, the YouTube comes with subtitles.

I’m looking for eyes that see clearly

Ears that hear the truth

Pain that feels hope

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Up, up and away

It was another beautiful crisp morning, and when Paul and I got over to the cemeteries at perhaps 7:45, here’s what we saw, lifting off from the unused part of New North:

There were four or five of these fellows—the others were already in the air. They floated south at first, then the breeze began to take them west, which struck me as not good. There’s a high ridge there, wooded, with fewer meadows and fields for safe landings.

But they certainly made a jolly sight as they passed over the schoolyard.

We actually caught up with one. At first, we could hear the roaring of its propane burner, but when we looked up, we couldn’t see it. Until we looked directly overhead.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What do John McCain, Laurence Sterne, Lord Byron, and Mr. Dithers have in common?

James Wolcott wrote yesterday in his Vanity Fair blog that John McCain’s speaking style “on the page would look as dashy as a paragraph from Tristam Shandy or Byron's letters. No architecture, no sense of swell and ebb, no buildups with a payoff, no combinations of jabs, just the jabs themselves hurled willy-nilly, like Dagwood’s Mr. Dithers pacing around with an irate cloud over his head.”

Good thing the senator can rely on the rhetorical elegance of Sarah Palin.

Take the azure in the dome, boy

Writing the other day about Lionel Hampton’s lyric on “Vibraphone Blues” got me thinking about other lyrics I especially like. The first one that came to mind wasn’t a lyric, per se, but a set of responses.

One of Frank Sinatra’s early hits was “Blue Skies,” with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Sinatra was still a band singer then (though an increasingly popular one), part of the ensemble. The performance of this version of the song called for him to sing the lyric straight, but for the band to come in with chanted, almost mocking, elements behind him. The result is anything but the usual Sinatra ballad of the era. It’s the band’s wise-guy lyrics I love. It goes like this (band in parens):

Blue skies (look up, look up) smilin’ at me (take the azure in the dome, boy)
Nothin’ but blue skies (it’s mellow, fellow) do I see (blue skies, blue skies)
Bluebirds (did you ever) singin’ a song (hear the bluebirds singin’…)
Nothin’ but bluebirds (you won’t say no) all day long
(The happy little birds, flap, flap happy, sunshine everywhere, and everybody’s happy as a square at the fair. Hoy! Hoy!)

All the days are hurryin’ by
When you’re in love, my how they fly
Blue days (talk about blue), all of them gone (makes no misery hmm hmm)
Nothin’ but blue skies (overhead) from now on (Mister Elman, go ahead, go ahead)

“Mister Elman” is trumpeter Ziggy Elman (“And the Angels Sing”), who comes in to take a solo.

“Everybody’s happy as a square at the fair” makes me chortle every time. Hep cats, these boys.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Happy trails again

Paul and I are back to walking together every morning. Here he is, strolling through dry-at-the-moment Lake H. I’d been away, and he’d been sequentially cosmopolizing and under the weather.

It’s been chilly the last few mornings—just about at freezing, but today was warm enough for both of us to strip down to short sleeves about half-way through.

An oddity: When I run, I seldom get debris in my shoes. When I walk, I’m always gathering tiny pebbles from the cemetery roadways. (Maybe I just run too fast...uh, no, scratch that.) Anyway, I often plonk down on this bench to empty out the grotch.

Woodbury has three cemeteries: Old South, which has been in use since the 1600s and sees very few new burials (a few family plots); Old North, which shows in the background above and came into use in the late 1700s I think; and New North, across the road, with graves from the mid-late 1800s. New North was expanded into the field next to it a few years ago, and is where we walk a loop in the morning, and where I often run a couple, too.

When I was a boy (oof, there’s that deadly introductory clause again), we’d often gather to play baseball at the nearby schoolyard, where, for some reason the powers that were always turned off the water bubbler during the summer. When we needed a break, we’d adjourn to the pipe stand faucet in New North—not a bad deal, since we could get our whole heads under it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Afternoon Vibes

I often have music on while I write, but I play it low and zone it out. Some things won’t let me ignore them, though, and late this afternoon I was returned to consciousness by the Benny Goodman Quartet doing “Vibraphone Blues”.

Goodman opens with the basic tune, accompanied by Krupa, Wilson, and (obviously) Lionel Hampton. Then Wilson riffs on the melody for a few bars before Goodman verbally hands it off to Hampton (“Now let’s hear from Mr. Hampton”), who comes off the vibraphone to sing one of my favorite lyrics:

If the blues was whiskey, I would stay drunk all the time.
If the blues was whiskey, I would stay drunk all the time.
And if I get drunk, I would leave you behind.

Then he hands it back to Goodman (I swear he pronounces it “Goodwin”). Briefly back to Wilson on the piano (“Play it Mr. Wilson, play it a long, long time”), then to Krupa for a few beats on the blocks (“When Mr. Krupa beats those riffs, he don’t let you down, yeah man”). Another minute of friendly rambling along together, and they’re done. Sweet, sweet, sweet.
Old but no less interesting posts here and here on the Obama campaign’s much-admired logo, some cool variations on which you can see here. My favorites are the ones for kids...

and, tellingly, Republicans.

In my very Republican town, it seems to me that the Big O is beginning to outnumber the standard-issue McCain-Palins.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Palomar, shalomar, Swanee shore, let me dig that jive once more...

I like the jazzier end of swing, so I’m not a big Glenn Miller fan. But I love the Nicholas Brothers on the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, and I’ve always loved Dorothy Dandridge’s bit, partly for the way it wonderfully finesses that racist “Pardon me, boy” line that begins the song.

On the other hand, the inimitable Cab Calloway and his band swung. Jumpin Jive” introduces one of the movies’ great dance sequences. Nicholas Brothers again, of course.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

More Sox

Stung by key injuries, the Red Sox couldn’t get over the hump, and the amazing, heretofore terrible Tampa Bay Rays won the Eastern Division by two games. The Sox did make the playoffs as the wildcard, and they’ll begin their run in LA tonight against the Angels. Classy lefthander John Lester will be on the mound, and I always feel good about that. Red Sox Nation has its collective fingers crossed that Beckett, Lowell, and Drew, et al. can operate at something approaching normal. Under current political and economic conditions, we all really need this Boston postseason to go on a while. At least through a winning Game Four in the Series.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Happy Birthday, B!

I haven’t been able to run with H because of TABBS (Temporary Ancient Body Breakdown Syndrome), but we’ve had some good walks together. My primary walking partner, however, continues to be sweet B, with whom I carry on mostly one-sided chats as we stroll along. She does seem to agree with most of what I have to say and adds frequent chirps of appreciation. She’s not just a yes-baby, though, and I admit she also emits the occasional belch of disdain.

B was two months old today (and tomorrow—September doesn’t have a 31st), and we toasted her in Belgian Fraboise Lambic beer, which A had experienced before and recommended as something festive that H would really like. (Lambic is explained concisely and well here.) I’d avoided the stuff on the principle that flavoring things like beer and coffee creates a result less satisfactory than either the beer, the coffee, or the original donor of the flavor. But I’m a sucker for raspberry, and secretly have always wanted at least a sip of this famous brew. I was knocked out. Not a daily quaff, but mighty fine for a special event. Good thing we have another bottle for tomorrow’s celebration of the same event!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Messing with Ike

This sort of thing really rattles my cage. In last night’s debate, McCain stated that Dwight Eisenhower had prepared a message to be issued in case of the failure of the Normandy invasion, accepting personal responsibility. A well-known fact. But McCain, trying to make a point, claimed that it was a message of resignation. It wasn’t, and anyone with even a passing knowledge of WWII or the invasion or Eisenhower or the chain of command—all of which we might expect from McCain—knows it wasn’t. Not to mention the concepts of fact-checking and research.

Using the magic Googler machine, it took me just over two minutes on line to confirm my memory and find this:

Here’s Eisenhower’s manuscript.

Here’s the text:
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

The facts are so easily verified that it would have been painless to get them right. From anyone else, this would have been laziness or stupidity. But with McCain it’s more likely a form of certainty. He has been demonstrating for months now that facts are beneath him. He’s busy emulating Dick Cheney, creating his own reality, which has nothing whatsoever to do with accuracy. He sneers at mere truth.

Friday, September 26, 2008

An Aaron Neville moment

I don’t believe there has ever before been an American president about whom this could plausibly have been said.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Baby system

My girls

B and I are easing into a schedule that you could roughly characterize as Snooze, Snack, and Stroll. In the morning I let her sleep off her morning feeding, then top her up a bit, take her out for a walk, offer lunch, recommend a nap, top her up again, then head out for another tour of Rochester’s fantastic trail system. Mom and dad take over evening duties.

Of course, we note the occasional Unfortunate Regurgitation Experience and the inevitable Odious Diaper Situation, and I’ve so far been treated to one Unbelievably Loud Shrieking Event. As a result, taking care of B inevitably reminds me of many past employers. But, as a baby, she has an excuse. Besides, she is way smarter—not to mention sweet and lovable. I don’t think I’ll go freelance.

Monday, September 22, 2008


I got to Minnesota late yesterday afternoon, and have settled comfortably in to H and A’s guest room. A was off to work and H was off to her endocrinology rotation this morning, and I had sweet little B all to myself most of the day, though H did have a chance to come home for lunch. Mostly she slept. I gave her a bottle twice, before and after mom’s lunchtime feeding, and we read Hiawatha together at one point. We also went for a good long walk. It’s been a long time since I’ve pushed a stroller. I’m good at it. H and I — and Jasper the Wonder Dog had a run after she got home. We both felt pretty ratty, but we enjoy the chance to chat and spend this particular sort of time together. It turned out that B had been waiting for mommy to get home to get serious about feeding. She demanded sustenance all evening. It made me feel as if I’d been starving her all day. H says babies sometimes do this sort of cluster feeding and that they often wait for the true source rather than demanding bottles. Maybe I should offer her some candy.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fall’s coming. I’m going.

How much we love iChat! B’s just beginning to smile,
so H pinged us and we got this snapshot.

Today was our first really chilly morning walk. It was just under 40°F (4°C) at about 7 AM, and although I stuck with shorts, of course, I went to a light turtleneck under my TGOC fleece. And I kept my wimpy hands in my pockets. September and October in New England can be as beautiful as anyplace anywhere ever gets. Today will climb into the high 60s, with blue skies and dry air. Right now, at about 11, it’s about 62 (16-17°C). Leaves have only just begun turning, and won’t be at their peak for 3-5 weeks. In the States, we run cross-country in the fall, so for me this always smells (and, oddly, tastes) like cross-country weather.

Despite the local meteorological perfection, I’m off to Minnesota on Sunday for about two weeks. H goes back to rotations and A doesn’t start his paternity leave until the first full week of October. I volunteered for nanny duties, which I picture as strolling, snuggling and cosseting, though I’m informed there are a few other functions I’m expected to handle.

The whole crew—H, A, sweet baby B, much of A’s family, many of our friends, and what seemed like half the town, spent time at our house over the last weekend, primarily to meet and greet our precious new addition. We had people sleeping all over the place, and I’m still finding used wine glasses in odd corners. It was glorious.

A’s mom, D, had a chance to spend some quality time with her granddaughter...

...as did my father with his great-granddaughter, assuring her as they danced that they were both, in fact, great.

I even stole the occasional moment with the main attraction. Here I am with her (deeply interested, as you can see) in front of a papier-mâché representation of Fred the Cat, once a library resident, and now its totem and symbol.

H and I got in some great runs together while she was here, and she tells me that she and Jasper the Wonder Dog are really cruising back in Rochester. So she’s well recovered from the rigors of childbirth and well established in her next phase of life, which she describes succinctly: MOOO!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Avert your eyes

Classy lefthander John Lester (see post below) won again yesterday, pitching 8 innings and giving up only 1 run. Great situational hitting against the very tough Roy Halladay, moving runners over then driving them in from scoring position; and really good defense. (Not one of these attributes would be believed by an old Red Sox fan come back to life in the 21st Century.) Papelbon had another shaky inning in relief. He’s leaving his fastball up, and hitters are tagging it. I think he needs a few days rest.

Tonight, Boston is ahead, 13-3, in the seventh. A win will tie them for the division lead.

Over the same two days, the U.S. economy has gone from bad to catastrophic; McCain’s campaign continues to deploy blatant, defiant, undisguised, and universally recognized lying as its central campaign strategy—without paying a penalty; and there is shit flowing in the streets of an utterly destroyed Galveston.

Go Sox!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bob and Ethel

The day before yesterday I got this great postcard from Bob and Ethel Wilson, who I met in Braemar, then again in Montrose. They’d been backpacking in the Canadian Rockies, and dipped below the border to take in Yellowstone and these spectacular Tetons. They seem to have walked almost everywhere I want to walk, including many more places here in my own country than I’ve ever gotten to. I’m very touched that they thought of me. I can’t even begin to count how many kind, friendly, fascinating people I met during the 2008 Challenge, but if I did, Bob and Ethel would be near the top of the list. I hope they’ll come walk with me sometime in the less spectacular East, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up.

I had a friend who lived in Jackson Hole, where he could look up from his door and see something very like the Grand Teton view above. He used to tell a killer story about having skunks living under the cabin. Removing them took months of guile, wile, and stink, and he was only successful when he resorted to peanut butter, a long 2x4, and a shotgun. He laid all this out at great hysterical length for a group of us sitting around the terrace at (I think) La Fonda in Santa Fe in the early ’80s. This business of rolling around on the ground and holding your sides? It can happen. Oh, I’d sell my soul, or at least my Nellie Fox Louisville Slugger, to be able to tell a story as well as Bill.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Grouchy old man interlude

Yesterday I had to call the power company to transfer service on a small rental property in our back yard. I was put on hold. No problem.

But the message, repeated every minute for nine minutes, included the standard American language for this situation: “Your call will be answered in the order it was received.” Everybody knows what this means, of course, but it’s ugly and ungrammatical English. I hear and use ugly and ungrammatical English every day, so what’s the big deal? Well, this is institutionalized ugly and ungrammatical English. Someone in charge of the interface between a big company and its customers was so ignorant that this sounded fine to him, or—worse—decided that the correct form sounded too prissy, and was too lazy to come up with another formulation altogether.

This language transgression alone is always enough to get my grumpies going, but the power company also favors those waiting to have our call answered in the order it was received with a musical interlude. I am known in the family for a killer rendition of the national anthem in which I quack it like a duck, so a musical aesthete I’m not. But the sounds coming over the phone were so execrable, so soulless, so putrid, so insulting to real music and musicians and disdainful of listeners, that it can only have been chosen by the same melon-head who’s in charge of corporate electronic medium messaging strategies. By the time a nice lady named Lorraine came on the line to answer my call in the order it was received, I was quacking so loud I almost didn’t hear her.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In the bag

The Sox came from behind last night to take the lead in the eighth inning, and handed the ball to Papelbon to close Tampa out: the closest thing to a done deal in baseball. But...home run, double, double, and the Rays wrenched the lead back, while Boston couldn’t score in the bottom of the ninth. 5-4, Tampa.

When a team’s been playing as well as the Red Sox have been, fans expect either dominance or near miracles every night. We were all welcomed back to earth yesterday. Still, our team took two of three, and is only 1-1/2 games back, with three more games against Tampa next week.

Although before 2004, disaster would have be assured, since that amazing World Series win Red Sox Nation has been experiencing the historical oddity of confidence. It’s in the bag.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rural Doctoring

H, who has wanted to be a rural family practice doctor since she was a young girl, has been reading a blog recommended to her by A’s father (also an A—but with different letters following). It is written by a young, female, rural primary care doctor who is also a terrific writer.

For a good, personal, up-close picture of this segment of the U.S. health-care system (if by “system” you mean “the deplorable situation we’ve gotten ourselves into”), I’d say a few hours reading these posts would be hard to beat.

The blog isn’t a comedy routine, by any means (I suppose this is one of those situations where the term “deadly serious” could sometimes be literally true), but this post, about a rough start to a hospital day in the place she calls Rural, California, had me both cringing and cracking up.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Closing in

The Sox shut out Tampa, 3-0, tonight, and are now only 1/2 game back.

The winning pitcher was John Lester, a great young lefthanded pitcher. Lefties, even mediocre ones, are a valuable commodity in baseball, partly for the simple reason that batters are less used to facing them. A great young lefty is a prize beyond value for any team.

Lefthanders in the U.S. are called “southpaws,” because years ago most ballparks were built so that batters hitting in the afternoon would be looking east—away from the sun. The result of this configuration was that the lefty’s throwing arm was to the south. (Almost all games are at night now, so it doesn’t really matter any more.) Within the universe of southpaws, there were two basic types in the kind of sportscaster-speak that has now been largely killed off by TV. “Crafty portsiders” tended to be smaller, less physically gifted, but smart and technically superior. When I was a boy, Whitey Ford was the classic crafty. “Classy lefthanders” were bigger, throw harder, and looked smoother. In my youth, Warren Spahn was the classic classy, though many would argue for Sandy Koufax.

Lester fits into the “classy” mold, and even though this is his first full season, he’ll never have to buy a drink in Boston again.

Personal inventory

My college track coach used to call time trials “personal inventories.” I had an unplanned one a few of days ago, on a beautiful runner’s morning. Out about a mile, I realized I was feeling especially good, and just let it go. It was great. Cool day, enough of a push to get into that rhythm which is one of the joys of non-competitive running, and just enough sense not to take it too hard or too far.

Of course, over the weekend I was dragging myself around groaning and drooling, and staggered home barely alive.

Personal inventories aren’t just for running, of course, which was certainly one of the points Ellie was trying to make in his gently quirky way. I live in the hope that at least an occasional future assessment comes up cool and rhythmic, like that beautiful morning last week.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Editing and editors

Two famous magazine fiction editors, Ted Solotaroff and Rust Hills, died a few of weeks ago, and I meant to post a little while back on this appreciation by Thomas Beller in Slate. He had some interesting insights about editors and editing:

“There is something both exhilarating and vexing about seeing writing in manuscript form (even if the manuscript is on the screen). Editing is really about deciding—you have to decide whether you like the overall voice and content of what you are reading, and if you do, you have to make certain decisions about the internal life of the piece. Editing can be at its most profound when it involves making a vague, almost aphoristic remark that might change a writer's entire focus, and it can be most profound when it entails wrestling with minutia, adding commas or subtracting them and, in this tiny way, changing the whole style and feel of a piece of writing. The malleability of a piece of writing as it is experienced by the reader in draft form makes reading more taxing than it would be on the printed page. But it also brings with it a bump of excitement. It lends a feeling of power and adventure to the reading experience.”

I was never a famous magazine fiction editor, but I’ve spent a good bit of my working life making vague, if not aphoristic, remarks to writers, and wrestling with minutia—which can, indeed, change the whole style and feel of a piece of writing. When I’m editing, of course, I always think I’m urging a positive, even vital, change. When I’m writing, on the other hand, I always feel I’m dealing with insensitive dullards who don’t recognize perfection when they see it and just want to get their fingerprints on my masterpiece. That bump of excitement can work both ways.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Deep breaths

Well, with a little help from the Yankees and some great play of their own, the Sox are now just 2-1/2 games behind Tampa. Over the next few weeks, the two teams play six games. If Boston can’t overcome the Rays’ lead I’ll be surprised.

It may sound as if I’m fixated on baseball these days, but I have to admit it’s just a diversionary front. I’m actually fixated two other things: our new granddaughter, and the Presidential campaign.

On the first, I’ll be posting plenty on sweet little B over the next few months, but I know how trying that sort of ecstatic-grandparent/perfect-and-unique-baby thing can be to others.*

On the second, I see this as a do-or-die election for this country, whose principles and regard for law have been so cynically eroded over the past eight years by an administration and a party I see as an ongoing criminal conspiracy. This isn’t, in any sense, politics as usual, and I’m being driven insane by the infantile media that continue to trivialize everything. I don’t, however, wish to inflict my obsession on innocent victims who may visit this site to hear about walking shoes or mountain idylls. Or even town clock winding.

So I take a deep breath and turn to baseball, fully understanding that most of my regular readers couldn’t care less about that, either. But it has the merit of being just a game. (WHICH POLITICS ISN’T, YOU LAZY, STUPID, MUSH-BRAINED, OVERPAID, BLOW-DRIED, TRUTH-AVOIDING TWITS!)

Ahh, thinking about baseball keeps me perfectly calm.

*(B, of course, is perfect and unique.)