Take Back Thanksgiving

So, Christmas has been encroaching on Thanksgiving (and has had its eyes on Halloween) for decades, but apparently it has now metastasized to the point where Wal-Mart and K-Mart are actually open on Thanksgiving Day.

Look, I love Christmas as much as the next guy, maybe more. But it’s only meaningful because it’s special and the more of the year it takes up the less special it is. Thanksgiving is a fantastic and unique holiday. It’s maybe even more American than the 4th of July: lots of countries celebrate their independence or founding, but we have an almost universally adopted (and totally made up!) holiday that almost all Americans have a warm place in their heart for, that works with any religion or lack thereof, and has extremely achievable expectations (eat a lot? check. watch some football? check. spend time with people you love? check.).

So please, whatever you do, don’t shop on Thanksgiving Day. Leave the stores empty so that the Wal-Mart and K-Mart employees get to spend the day with their families next year. We can do this. Thank you.

An Answer

At about 5:45pm today, I almost cranked up the ol’ WordPress and almost posted something titled “An Open Question To The Universe” the content of which was “How has my life become a series of such situations as ‘if I don’t figure out a way to get a 4′x8′ sheet of plywood mounted on the wall of a room in Chelsea I’ve never seen, by tomorrow morning, my entire company will not have email by November 30th?”.

Shortly after I got home [decided to take the bus and ran into our condo-neighbor and had a very pleasant conversation; walked to the corner liquor store and bought a growler of Opa Opa IPA for me and a 2L bottle of Diet Coke for T] I got a phone call from a very helpful co-worker who let me know that (without boring you with the details) things might actually turn out OK in the aforementioned room in New York (which is my co’s new office location), plywood and internet-wise. Which was a huge relief.

And once I got home, another unexpected treat awaited: a lovely little thing in the mail from the Sun Hill Press. You may know them indirectly; they are the folks who do the letterpress print work for Brookfield Stationery (whose stuff is found in many East Coast fine stationery and office supply stores). Darrell does the press work; his wife (whose name I am struggling to remember) does the design, and the Brookfield folks do the distribution/marketing/etc. Terri and I went to their shop (with the wee 5-month-old Rainer) last year on a Letterpress Guild of New England outing, and it was quite an inspirational creative space. From Elizabeth’s (yes! that’s her name!) lovely attic studio to Darrell’s massive Heidelberg press in the basement to the delicious lunch they fed the Guild members on a misty cold October Saturday in Western Massachusetts, it was a highly memorable visit.

Here’s my favorite page:
Something no one else is reading

(They don’t really have a website, and there’s no way to buy it on Amazon. If you want a copy, though, they’re US$3, just comment and I’ll send you the contact info).

Anyway, I felt a whole lot better about the universe by the end of tonight.

The Week That Was: one year ago

Digging through my drafts folder, I found this post, pretty much complete, from a year ago, about what a momentous week that was. Indeed it was!

Terri and I were just commenting on how this was such a momentous week. And then it gets more momentous!

Saturday. (Oct. 31). Terri’s parents drove up to Boston for a visit. Rainer’s first Halloween. I get up the gumption to talk to our across-the-street neighbors and bring their kids trick-or-treat candy. They turn out to be very nice.

Sunday. Thanks to Nana and Grandpa’s visit, the morning features our first outing without Rainey, pretty much since he was born: the Boston Vegetarian foodfest. We met up with Lisa and Sierra, and Sierra is disappointed that Baby Rainer isn’t with us. The afternoon, also sans the kid, features me and Terri test driving cars. I’m 35 and have never really shopped for, bought, or even really owned a car. We’re sort of thinking of a pre-2007 Toyota Matrix or a 2009+ Honda Fit. Someday we may laugh at ourselves for this, but at 10pm, we sent Terri’s parents out to entertain themselves in the kitchen while we watched the penultimate Mad Men of season 3. Terri’s parents totally understand: we got them hooked, but (at the time) they’re only up to halfway through season 2.

Monday. I get up at 5am, quickly shower, and board a red line train at 5:56. I’m at South Station by 6:17, and in the bus terminal by 6:22. The $13 Bolt Bus leaves at 6:30. I sleep for an hour or so, and then work pretty much the rest of the way, thanks to the wi-fi. Because of traffic on the cross-bronx expressway, we don’t get in until about 11:05. The office is in Chelsea, 2 subway stations south of the spot near MSG/Penn Station where the Bolt Bus stops. I have lunch with the two new members of my team, enjoy the letterpress exhibit in the mall part of Chelsea Market, chat with various other colleagues, do some more work, and then at 6:10, pack it up, buy some ginger snaps in one of the bakeries in the mall, and head back to Penn Station, take the Acela home. Because of some bridge work in CT (thanks stimulus package!), I don’t get home until almost midnight.

Tuesday. Maybe the least momentous day of the week. Terri and her folks and Rainey go to a nearby farm (that we’ve never been to before) and get gourds and misc. food. We have enchiladas for dinner. We watch some season 2 Mad Men.

Wednesday. I leave work early and meet Terri at the Kenmore Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates to find out the results of her MRI. The good news is it’s not a brain tumor. This has been hanging over us for weeks. The bad news is the symptoms (vision weirdness, headaches) are unexplained. But since the worst case scenario is over, all the other explanations are pretty harmless so the doctor recommends holding tight for a few months. We are hugely relived.

Thursday. Happy birthday, Terri! Especially happy celebration given that we feel like we just got a huge reprieve. Our first official *date* without Rainey. We meet at Noir in the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square for a drink, and I have an expertly mixed Sazerac, possibly the best mixed drink I’ve had in my life. Dinner at Rialto. It’s insanely good. We walk the three miles home arm in arm in the cold. There is a carrot cake and a beautiful baby waiting for us at home. They’re at the season 2 Mad Men finale, “Meditations on an Emergency”.

Friday. Rainey learns to suck his thumb. Through Facebook, we learn that our friends John and Sonya’s daughter Lydia has learned to walk. We decide that this has been a hugely momentous week. And then we notice another item on Facebook: our friends Amy and Doug appear to be engaged (we are still dying for details, call us, damnit!).

Daily Dispatch: 6 Nov 2010, part 2

  • Rainer fell asleep on our way to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, so he was sort of groggy but awake after we got home. I tried to put him in his crib with a bottle for his nap, but heard him a few minutes later babbling away to himself. Usually this means he’s standing up holding onto the bars and hoping to be let out. But I went in to check and he was just lying there, still under his fleecy owl blanket. I gave him a couple of books, and he was content to stay there for the next 20 minutes, just hanging out in low light and paging through the books. He’s a sweet kid. After that, I was at a stopping point with the lasagne, so I took him out, made some lunch for him, gave him a bottle, and he finally took his nap at 3:30 or so.
  • I’m watching Ocean’s 11 on TCM, the original Frank Sinatra / Rat Pack version. Coincidentally, this morning when I was listening to Weekend Edition while making Rainer some strawberry pancakes, Scott Simon interviewed a guy who wrote a biography of Sinatra.
  • Should I quit Twitter, too?
  • Tomorrow is the end of DST. I know I’ve got some DST haters out there, but the prospect of the lack of light tends fill me with some dread; Novembers have been the times of my worst bouts of depression. A passing thought as I was loading the dishwasher a few minutes ago: what if the tiny but continual saratonin drip of my facebook status updates starts a downward spiral? I don’t know, somehow, despite all these little twinges of concern, I feel better positioned to weather a November than I have in years. Bring it, SAD.
  • I’m working on a mix tape (er… CD) of November music for a general audience. Stay tuned.

Daily Dispatch: 6 November 2010

Or, Stuff I would have Put Into Facebook But Did Not

  • Rainer’s been a total joy today. I nicked his finger this morning when trying to clip his nails (he does not like this, and moved his hand at the last minute), and there was more blood than the nick warranted, and it made me feel terrible. But he was fine and I let him watch his hour of Sesame Street while I cleaned up in the kitchen and around the house. I heared a “aaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!!!!” from the living room and saw him running into the hallway at one point. Turns out Mr. Snuffalupagus was on. Rainer’s terrified of him.
  • I talked to Terri this morning; the NYC Interpol show last night that she had a photo pass to was good, but she was frustrated that security made the photographers stand in the aisles and not in the pit in front of the stage.
  • We went to Whole Foods and I felt insanely ripped off at paying $4 for 10 oz. of spinach. Two weekends ago we bought 2 lbs. of spinach at Wilson Farms in Lexington for $3. I just didn’t feel up to schlepping out to Lexington today.
  • I made a lasagne to bake tonight after Terri gets home. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can cut corners and don’t really need to cook the lasagne noodles before you bake it. That’s total crap. You at least have to get them flexible.
  • This Neil Gaiman article in Spin about the Dresden Dolls is so very great.

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.