Category Archives: personal

Haunted by the remembrance of index cards

Grandpa Ball was a man of great reserve and formality and, on one hand, a deep introversion, but on the other hand, a deep sense of belonging to society. He did loosen up in his old age; many years after he retired, he stopped wearing suits around the house, and started wearing sweater vests over his button-down shirts. The only time I remember seeing him not at the very least in a button-down shirt was when he stayed at my apartment in Crawfordsville, IN, one night, the weekend of my college graduation, and I saw him in his pajamas, which seemed as bizarre as, I don’t know, doing keg stands with the President of the United States.

A few months ago I was feeling like my mind was somewhat out of control and I couldn’t keep thoughts straight or get organized and everything was just getting lost in nothingness and months would go by without my having much to show for myself. Maybe because I stopped blogging for a while and I lost that particular record of where I’d been. I’d been updating Facebook pretty frequently, but that is like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs; it feels like it’s impossible to get whatever of yourself you put into Facebook back out.

So I bought a bunch of blank index cards and stuck them and a pen in my bag, or occasionally in a front shirt pocket, dorky as that sounds, and when something came to me I’d just write it down.

And a month or two ago, it occurred to me that I’d become Grandpa Ball. He always wore button down shirts, and in the front pocket was a pocket protector (he was a chemical engineer in the 40′s – 60′s and before pocket protectors became a clichéd signifier of dorkiness, it really was just What Was Done: they kept your shirts protected from the inevitable inky mess of early ball-point pen technology, and they were given out by companies as viable marketing schwag) and inside the pocket protector were a bunch of blank index cards and a pen. He’d often stop whatever he was doing, reach under his sweater vest, dig into his front shirt pocket, pull out an index card and a pen, write something down, and put it all back in the pocket, and then resume whatever he was doing without comment.

Of course, I’m not Grandpa Ball, and my cards are now a total mess, as everything that goes into my bag becomes. They’re crinkled and wrinkled and crushed and illegible and the sides are stained black and grimy. But I was sorting through some of them tonight and one dated 9/20 said “I am tired of viewing the world through the tiny window of an iPhone screen”. I don’t remember writing it, but I remember the sentiment, and it’s why I am going on Facebook hiatus for the rest of November. If I’m going to bother recording my life, it’s going to have to be in higher resolution than I get with short frequent updates. It’s going to have to be in the unfettered verbose onslaught of no character limits, free of the increasingly and strangely difficult constraint of writing for my FB audience.

There are many layers of irony in all this: the only way I can explain how Facebook has, in fact, greatly enriched my life greatly can’t be explained on Facebook itself (and will have to be the subject of another post). Also, my Facebook audience is so much more vastly diverse and challenging than my blog audience, it feels like a bit of a cop out to retreat back to the obscurity (and presumed socioeconomic homogeneity) of the blog and its relatively minuscule audience.

But it just feels like the right thing to do now.

Hi, again!

All the people we used to know are just illusions to me now

I saw this clip— I’m not sure what it’s from; maybe the Rolling Thunder tour in 1975?— when I was 13 or 14 and there was some “20 years of Rolling Stone” special on ABC, and something about it burrowed into my consciousness. I think what got me most then was the weirdly applied white makeup, to be honest. My parents hadn’t been into Dylan in the day, and so I guess I had this vague idea he was some kind of earnest folk singer. But the white makeup and the funny hat: so stagey, so… fake.

That’s what got me at 14. What gets me about this song now is the last verse:

So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue

In case of fire, remove shirts from closet

Terri is at the gym, Rainer is sleeping, nothing’s on TV, not enough people are on Facebook for me to waste a lot of time commenting on their statuses, so I had nothing left to do but clean out the closet in our room.

I’ve stopped using the closet in our room for the most part. Most of my work shirts are in a corner of the downstairs front hall closet, because the bedroom closet is full of Terri’s stuff. But we’re on a cleaning binge, and Terri is throwing a bunch of stuff out, so I might be able to get my side of the bedroom closet back. And I’m going through my stuff too, putting things I know I’ll realistically never wear again into the Goodwill pile, and putting the rest back in the closet.

And it occurs to me that I’ve very deeply internalized what my 8th grade home economics teacher taught us: always put your shirts in the closet with the open side of the hangers facing the same direction: inwards. That way, if there’s ever a fire, you can remove all your shirts all at once.

Now, I’ve never revisited this particular bit of wisdom that the taxpayers of Elizabeth and Forward townships paid someone to put in my head, but it seems like highly questionable advice: saving your shirts is probably the last thing you should be doing in a fire. But I’m going to keep doing it. You’ve got to hang your shirts one way or the other, right? So you might as well do it the same way, and it’s one of those things where it costs as much to be organized as disorganized, and why not fight entropy as much as possible?

Also, thinking about this made me realize I had something blogworthy, and writing this down for posterity is infinitely more important than cleaning out my closet, right? This I can do in my living room with all the windows open on a beautiful May day, after all the Tufts undergraduates have gone home for the summer.

Terri’s still not home yet? Hm. I thought Rainer was stirring, but he’s still asleep. I’m running out of things to say. …

*sigh* OK, back to the closet.

Long pop songs

A confluence of events allowed me to listen to long pop songs today.

I had few meetings scheduled. I had a lot of work that required focus. Everybody else in the office was in a chatty mood.

I put on the headphones, cranked up iTunes, set up a smart list that included only songs longer than 10 minutes.

I got:

Sister Ray — Velvet Underground
Pass the Hatchet, I’m Goodkind — Yo La Tengo
Stone Free (Live, Albert Hall) — Jimi Hendrix
Jenny Ondioline — Stereolab
A Very Cellular Song — The Incredible String Band
Cosmia — Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band
Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord — Pharoah Sanders
I Dream A Highway — Gillian Welch
Desolation Row — Bob Dylan

… and many others showed up that I didn’t actualy listen to.

Yes, I buried the lede in that last post

I’m sorry you had to wade through a full paragraph of tech support nonsense there. Really, the salient part of the day was the long, long time we spent in the Burren while I nursed three Guinesses over the course of a slow 5 hours on a sunday afternoon. That is the part that I will remember when I’m old and grey. That and the valentine I helped Rainey make for Terri. Speaking of old and grey, I wrote on the inside of the card “14 Feb 2010, 7 months old” because I figure that Terri will want to save the card, it being the first valentine she received from her first kid, so maybe someday when she’s too old to do math, she’ll at least know how old he was when his Dad signed his name to a little card with a red construction paper heart glued to the front.

Stupid technology, happy Valentine’s day, overmediation

So, I fix my blog late Friday night, am getting a little of a yen to restart blogging, and then early Saturday morning, I hit an immediate roadblock. My Apple Time Capsule— which has functioned wonderfully as a router and no-brains-required backup device for about 18 months— suddenly stopped being able to route to realfake.org, rainyplanet.org, and shyturnip.com. It took 1 support ticket to my hosting service, and a support call to my home ISP (RCN) to figure this out.  The RCN support rep had  hook a computer up directly to the cable modem to rule out the router. I rolled my eyes when she told me to do this— why would the router be the problem? So of course, when I take the router out of the equation, I can get to the site without an issue.  Why the router is doing this is beyond me– it’s an Apple home router, not exactly some esoteric Cisco thing meant for huge companies, there aren’t a lot of ways that you could even put some kind of rule in there to filter out websites if you wanted to. I spent more of my time than I’d care to admit trying to figure out how to debug the stupid thing before I finally decided that there was no good explanation for what it was doing, no good way to debug it, and probably no way to fix it even if I could debug it.

Luckily, I have a spare cheapo Linksys home router at work, so I figured that I’d grab it first thing this morning because I’d already hatched a plan to go out early and get some Valentines’ day flowers for Terri. So, Rainey woke up at 7, I changed him, we played a little, read a few books, and then I bundled him up and we trekked into town to my office. Thanks to your tax dollars and mine, the Big Dig has made this a 10 minute drive on a weekend morning when there’s no traffic. There was no parking on Pearl St, where I usually park when I make these quick jaunts. I remembered that there’s an alley behind the building, so I looped around the block and turned down it. A homeless guy who lives in the neighborhood was dumpster diving in the alley, and there were maybe two dozen huge seagulls, all squacking and waddling toward him. They were thrilled that he’d opened the lid on the dumpsters. Of course, when I turned down the alley, neither the seagulls nor the guy seemed too thriled that I turned down their alley.  I wasn’t exactly happy to be disturbing them either, and all for naught, as it turned out; the loading dock where I’d hoped to park is full with two pickup trucks. So I found a place on the street not too far off. The jaunt up to the office and retrieve the router was quick and uneventful, as was the drive back to Somerville. We stopped at Whole Foods and got some black velvetty looking roses that I figured (correctly) that Terri would like, and we came back and I helped Rainey make his mom a valentine (which Terri also indeed liked).

Guinness & NYT crosswordOnce Terri woke up and found her valentines treats and we got our act together, we walked into Davis Square to the Burren for what has become our Sunday morning — er, afternoon— ritual of reading the NY Times and nursing a few Guinness and letting Rainer flirt outrageously with women 20 – 40 times his age. We had the same waitress as last week. She remembered Rainer’s name (last time we discussed Rainer Maria Rilke (and how he was only one of many factors which led us to Rainey’s name)). This time we discussed how one of the great things about the Burren is that there are no TVs.

Seriously, you can’t go into a place and have it actually be that place anymore. There have to be at least 2 TVs playing at least 2 different channels. Part of the wonderful conversation that Terri and I had during our 5 hours (!) there this afternoon concerned how we’ve really appreciated going to the Burren because it’s somewhere where there are no distractions. This in contrast to our home, which has become a bit overmediated. I definitely feel like we spend a ton of time physically there without really being there. And we have the dirty kitchen of a heavy traveller to prove it. And I realize that driving 5 miles into Boston and 5 miles back before 8am just so that I can get a router that lets me blog is precisely part of the problem. But I am also giving myself some slack; blogging is at least requiring me to sustain some thoughts for more than 140 characters. Blogging is realtime like Twitter, but in high-definition!

A return to blather

So, things have been pretty quiet here at the ol’ blog lately. The usual busy-ness and business are probably to blame. But there are always times for the things you feel compelled to do, right? And lately I think my internet exhibitionism has been getting fulfillment in Facebook and Twitter. (I use Twitter as a front end to Facebook status updates, and since my Facebook network is huge and my twitter network tiny, it’s on FB where I get most of the comments).

It’s a junk food kind of internet exhibitionist experience.  I know a lot of people think it’s great to force your thoughts into 140 characters, to have a constant stream of what’s going on right now.

But a lot of the things that are going on right now aren’t really going on right now. They’re slow moving things that need more context than you can get from the faster moving currents near the surface. Things that need more than 140 characters. (Hence my most recent tweet).

It’s all a pre-packaged kind of Internet presence, and there’s some value to that, but sometimes it’s also nice to get off the paved roads. I resisted blogging for a long time because that felt a little too readymade a format, and now in comparison, the blog feels like a huge blank canvas.

Anyway, I have been craving doing some longer writing, so I’m back, at least for now.

Daily Dispatch, 8 Jan 2009

Thursday nights are date night with me and dubs. We haven’t really been out alone with just the two of us since well before Christmas, probably well before the whole Advent season. So it was good to resume date night tonight. 

We met up at Johnny D’s and I got there early for a change, and so I got a Harpoon IPA and chatted with Willie. Willie used to be a barista at the Someday Café. Actually, he’s also a barrister (and that was mostly what we chatted about). I’ve probably blathered about Willie and the Someday enough in previous years. But Willie’s got a lot going on.

After dinner, after we walked home, I checked the sidewalk around the house. We’ve had 3 or 4 big snowstorms in the last 4 weeks (depending on if you count the one that lasted 3 days as one storm or two). And the usual lovely mix of snow that changes to rain that makes a nice couple of inches of slush that will refreeze if you don’t deal with it.

I’ve been more diligent about making sure the sidewalk is clear and not icy in the mornings lately for the kiddos walking to the school that’s down the street from us. Maybe I’ve gotten more responsible with age. Or maybe I feel the stern disapproval of the crossing guard (who leaves the engine in his Lincoln running from about 7am – 8:20am, and sits inside it to warm up when there are no kids comming). Or if I’ve been living next door to our snow-removal obsessed neighbor G— too long. Whatever the reason, I’m less inclined to just let nature take it’s course (“it’ll melt in a few hours anyway!”) and have been out there with shovel, salt, and sand before I shower in the morning. I plot strategies: I wait to shovel until the exact moment at which the snow changes to rain, so that I don’t waste my time shoveling before all the snow is down, but while it’s still light snow, and before it has a chance to re-freeze. I take a weird glee if I can get my sidewalk clearer than G—, or sooner than G—. It kills me a little when he gets the jump on me because I can’t start until I get home from work (he’s retired).

Anyway, after we walked home tonight, Terri went inside, and I stayed out to check the sidewalk. There were a couple of patches of black ice, so I put down some salt and walked across the street to refill our sand bucket from the nice big municipal drum that the City of Somerville puts out at intersections.

“It’ll be five dollahs for that sand!” a guy who’s stopped at the intersection in his jeep yells to me. And then he starts to giggle uncontrollably, as does his girlfriend in the passenger seat.

“Hey, I’m doing a public service here” I say.

“At least our city can still afford sand!” he says, as the light changes green. He gives me kind of a thumbs up, and the laughing couple drives away.

That’s the thing. People say that it’s the harsh climate here in the Northeast that makes everybody so grumpy and on edge. But my experience is the opposite. It’s only when the weather is bad that people are most civil. The first big snowfall of the year, you walk down the street, and everybody you walk past actually looks you in the eye. They even say “hi”. Or if they’re chatty, they’ll say “this is something, huh?”.

“Feeding the chickens again?” the crossing guard asked me this morning, as I was sowing salt on some ice.

And heaven knows, if it weren’t for chatter about snow removal, about comparing notes on what kind of rock salt works best or a new kind of silicon spray that you put on the auger of your snowblower to deal with the heavy snow, G— and I would probably have nothing to talk about.

Halloween 2008

We handed out treats to the neighborhood waifs on Friday night. Probably had 25 or so. In the lag times, we watched “Spririts of the Dead”, on TCM, which was 3 short films from 1967 based on 3 Poe stories, directed by Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, and Federico Fellini. Terri (kind of amazingly) liked the Vadim one. I liked the Fellini one, but the ending reminded me a little too gruesomely of a motorbike accident a junior high classmate was in.

On Saturday, we went to a party at some friends’ place in Arlington. They used to have this standing Halloween party, which went on a bit of a hiatus while they were preoccupied having kids and buying a house and the like. They started it up again this year, and suddely, all the same people who used to come to the party showed up again, except they all had offspring (except for a few holdouts like us). It was a little odd, but, the kids were pretty adorable, and Mme Dubs are pretty much kids ourselves.

So, here was the costume. I went as a Yuppie NASCAR driver:
Ezra in yuppie nascar suityuppie nascar suit, right sideyuppie nascar suit, left sideyuppie nascar suit, left arm


I whipped up the “Arugula Growers of America” logo in about 15 minutes yesterday morning. Their trandemarked tagline is “what the elite meet to eat!” The back got destroyed before I got a photo of it, but had logos for the New Yorker (including the dude with the top hat), Whole Foods, and repeated the logos for NPR, The Arugula Growers of America, and Starbucks. The right sleeve had logos for Design Within Reach and my token offering for the tobacco lobby, Nat Sherman.

Weekend Update 25 Oct 2008

Mme Dubs had a baby shower today, and I spent my stag time doing work, listening to some of the mountains of vinyl that we got from Mme Dubs’s dad this summer, going to Taco Bell, doing some work (since I was so busy this week doing things that are Not Officially My Job at work that I didn’t get to do some things that are officially my job that I actually really needed and wanted to do), talking to my folks, and reading things I have written in various notebooks for the last two years.

Now Dubs is home and I’m trying to figure out where to hide while she watches the Penn State game at 8pm.

I spent a lot of the time on the phone with the parents today talking politics– and in the middle of the phone call they got robo-called by Hank Williams Jr. campaigning for McCain. Must be nice to be in a swing state– all we get are people begging us for money so that the Democrats can write big checks to the radio and television stations in the swing states.

Facebook still turns up people from my past who I never thought I’d hear from again, but who ended up doing amazing things with themselves. But there seem to be diminishing returns; I feel like for a while there, I was finding someone new every day, and now it’s about one or two every two weeks.

So maybe I’ll be blogging more.

Had a lovely dinner last night with various peeps, and I ran my Halloween costume idea past them and it seemed to go over well, so it is a go. Summervillain even lent me a fabulous orange jumpsuit that he had left over from two bands ago to make it happen. More on that next week…