Daily Dispatch, 31 May 2008

Woke up at 8ish, Saturday-style. Terri was still asleep so I read The Yiddish Policeman’s Union in bed for a couple of hours. I’m really loving it. It’s got all the smarts and ambition of a the other Michael Chabon novels but with much less sphincter and much less of the “look at how smart I am”.

The morning was growing long in the tooth and my hair has been driving me crazy, so I made to get up and go to Custom Barber Shop in Harvard Square. Weezie woke up and I talked her into coming along. There were an insane number of kids waiting in line to get into some kind of new sneaker store on Brattle Street; I couldn’t figure out what the deal was, like if there was some kind of rock or hip hop star signing something inside, but Terri seemed to think it was just the sneakers.

We had some fun in two of the remaining bookshops in Harvard Square. Had some late lunch at Cambridge Common and blabbed. We dropped a bunch of coats, clothes, and books off at Goodwill. I dropped some Letterpress Guild Print Fair posters off with Melissa, a fellow printer, to put up around Davis Square.

We headed home and continued to work on our massive life-cleanup project. We’re currently going through every single thing in every closet and just throwing crap out. It’s liberating. I whittled my casette tape collection down to 10 or so tapes. And those I kept not so much for the content as mementos with talismanic value. Remaining:

  • Diane… The Twin Peaks Taps of Agent Cooper
  • The Wendy Carlos Switched-On Bach Album (note, this is the 1983 version, hence “Wendy”, not “Walter”)
  • a tape I made of a record from the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh that was an hour-long interview with Glenn Gould originally made for the CBC
  • A Cab Calloway compilation tape I bought and listened to incessently during my junior semester in Ireland
  • The Repo Man soundtrack, ordered through BMG Music Club in college
  • various tapes of the short-lived bunch of people I played music with in college, which I hesitate to call a band
  • A bunch of microcasettes; I have no idea what’s on them, but it’s probably interesting. I’m guessing old answering machine tapes or various stuff I recorded for articles I wrote during my internship at In Pittsburgh Newsleekly or perhaps for my college paper. I wonder if I have anything to play them on.

We never managed to eat dinner, so I had some brie with a hunk of day-old baguette.

Now we’re waching the Penguins game, and I think I have to go because it’s a 5-on-3 situation in favor of the Penguins…

Whining about my commute, which was actually sort of amusing

People waiting for the shuttles at Park Street, BostonI don’t usually whine about my commute, and there are many many MBTA riders, indeed, entire blogs, devoted to this pursuit. But today’s was amusing enough to whine about.

Preamble: apparently a Red Line train caught on fire and the MBTA bussed people between Broadway and Harvard (basically, the entire stretch of the Red Line that most riders use).

When I found this out at South Station, rather than fight the hordes, I decided to walk to Park St, take the green line to Hynes, and get a #1 bus to Harvard. But when I got to Park St, there was one of the shuttles right there, and when I heard the driver lean out the door, and — I think — say that they were going express to Harvard, I decided to jump on. It was full, but not as crowded as it could have been, presumably because it was going express.

Except, when the closed the doors closed, the driver turns around and says, “OK, does anybody know how to get from here to Harvard Square?”

Now the chances of someone knowing the way are pretty good (but not 100% because a lot of Red Line riders are suburbanites who just take it to Porter Square to catch the commuter rail). But the chances of a Red Line rider knowing the best way to go, especially the best way at 6:30pm during rush hour, are low. People generally take the Red Line specifically so they don’t have to know. The chances that someone who knew the best way would be in earshot of the driver on a full bus are just about zero. And indeed, we ended up not going express to Harvard, because we got lost in Beacon Hill and ended up at Charles MGH, and just took the normal Red Line route and made all the stops from there (which meant that it quickly went from full to overcrowded).

But honest to goodness, where did the MBTA dig this driver up? It wasn’t just like he had no idea of how to get out of Boston, he seemed to have no idea of where the Red Line actually goes and where it stops. After a while, it gets easy: you just follow Mass Ave and stop at every big “T” sign you see; and because there is no subway, there will be huge crowds of people standing outside and waving to you. But this proved too difficult for this guy. People actually had to tell him to stop at Central.

I sound indignant, but mostly I felt bad for him. He was clearly asked to do something he had no idea how to do, and everybody’s been there at one point or another. Luckily most of us don’t have to do it when we’re driving a huge piece of machinery, crammed to the gills with sweaty, tired people.

That said, my fellow commuters were taking it in stride: there was the same kind of jovial whatcha-gonna-do solidarity that is usually reserved for the first big snowstorm of the season.

I made it home by 8:15, which made the trip about double my usual commute time.

Home is where you know the call letters

Terri and I have been talking recently about where “home” is. When we go to Pennsylvania to visit my parents, I say “I’m going to visit my parents” or “I’m going to The Farm” but to me, home has not really been there since I was 18.

That said, I have lived in Somerville or Cambridge for almost 12 years now, and I still have no idea what the local TV network affiliates are. I know there is a channel 7, and I think it might be Fox. I know there is a WBZ and I think it is CBS, but I don’t know what its number is. I know there are 3 variants of WGBH and that is PBS. All I really know for sure is that on RCN in Somerville, the Red Sox are on NESN which is channel 30, and Turner Classic Movies is channel 62.

But I can still name the ones I grew up with in Pittsburgh: 2 is KDKA, a CBS affiliate (one of the few if not the only “K” stations east of the Mississippi). 4 is WTAE, an ABC affiliate. 11 is WPXI, NBC (and it used to be WIIC which I was reminded of when we were at Nora and Jim’s the other week: they had a Pittsburgh Steelers WIIC mug!). And 13 is WQED, the oldest public TV station in the US.

That said, Somerville definitely feels more like home to me than Pittsburgh, but it’s weird to have lived here so long without being able to name a single network affiliate.

Edie LOLcat contest

We have two winners: John had the idea first, but Helmecki the Elder actually used appropriate LOLcat syntax.

I haz blockd ur pop-ups

Runner up: Marco’s simple “My space”.

Helmecki: email me your address at ezraball at gmail to claim your peanuts.

Berlin’s Templehof airport

And here’s one more NYT story worth noting, about Berlin’s Templehof airport.

The article notes the airport’s “magical” qualities; it definitely has an aura about it, but I’d say more eerie or uncanny. Definitely an unusual sense to have in an airport, which you expect to be more sterile, modern, and bland than a hospital.

Back in January we passed through Templehof on our way from Berlin to Nice, via Brussels on some weird Belgian airline. It was one of the only airlines running from that airport. We arrived for our 5pm flight at around 3pm, and it really seemed that the only other people in the airport were also there for that one flight. It was so eerily empty, it seemed photo-worthy:

Tempelhof, the quitest, smallest airport ever

The airport bar was called “The Airlift” commemorating that this was the West Berlin airport used for the Berlin Airlift.

Much of Templehof’s infrastructure was built up by the Americans for the airlift. The NYT article posits that this historic association links the city’s feelings toward the airport to the city’s feelings toward America. Which are on an individual level more complicated than what you’d guess from just reading the papers. I remember our cab driver on the way to the airport was very chatty and wanted to practice his English (which I don’t think anybody has ever explicity said to me before). Turned out, his sister married an American soldier and moved to Erie, PA (which is just about an hour or so away from where my sister Abby lives). He was also a big fan of country music, and played in a band that played James Taylor and Garth Brooks covers in bars.

Best obituary ever

This is possibly the most fun I’ve ever had reading an obituary. This guy sounds like possibly the most glorious fuckup who ever lived, and the NYT obituarist seems barely able to contain his tone of gleeful derision.

Huntington Hartford, who inherited a fortune from the A. & P. grocery business and lost most of it chasing his dreams as an entrepreneur, arts patron and man of leisure, died Monday at his home in Lyford Cay in the Bahamas. He was 97.

There were some major failures:

…he set about developing a resort with the construction of the Ocean Club and other amenities. Advisers persuaded him to stop short of exotic attractions like chariot races, but, overextended and unable to get a gambling license, he wound up losing an estimated $25 million to $30 million.

There were many lesser ventures that either bombed or fizzled, among them an automated parking garage in Manhattan, a handwriting institute, a modeling agency and his own disastrous stage adaptation of “Jane Eyre.” He inherited an estimated $90 million and lost an estimated $80 million of it.

But no task seems too varied or small for this guy to fail:

In 1940, Mr. Hartford tried being a reporter for the New York newspaper PM, after putting up $100,000 to help get the paper started. If nothing else, the experience produced one of the all-time great excuses for missing deadline: he once sailed his yacht to cover an assignment on Long Island, and upon returning to the city could find no place to tie up and come ashore with the story.

With the start of World War II, he donated the yacht to the Coast Guard. In return he was given the command of a modest supply ship in the Pacific. He ran it aground twice — once, he said later, because his navigational charts were out of date, the other time because “I mistook feet for fathoms.”

And he also did not fare quite so well in love. Here’s how things ended with wife #4:

In 1974 Mr. Hartford married Elaine Kay, a former hairdresser more than 40 years his junior. They, too, were divorced, in 1981, but continued to live together in Mr. Hartford’s 20-room duplex apartment at 1 Beekman Place in Manhattan. In 1984, Ms. Kay and a friend were arrested and charged with tying up a teenage secretary to Mr. Hartford and shaving her head. The directors of the building voted for eviction.

Marry me

Many people want to make
want to make love
make friends
make peace with death.

Many people want to play the game they came to win
They want to come out ahead.

as for me, i have to agree, I’m as fickle as a paper doll
come on…
we’ll do what married people do.
Oh, John…
Come on…
we’ll do what Mary and Joseph did
(without the kid)
I want to marry you…

Savannah highlights

We took a couple of days off bookending last weekend to visit Nora & Jim in Savannah. They’ve lived there four years, and we’d yet to visit them, and as they now have a sprout on the way, it seemed best to do it before they were preoccupied by parenting.

FlipSavannah was quite a shock, heat-wise. It was hot and muggy pretty much every day except Monday. The worst was Saturday, which reached 88; Nora, Terri, and I escaped to the beach while Jim was at work. We each got sunburned in unique ways, all related to slipshod sunblock application. While I’d been to southern beaches before, I got my first sighting of a confederate flag bikini top. Tres classy!

Moss, regulahThe trip was a much-needed bit of relaxing. The Southern pace of life is slower, as advertised, and Nora being preggers sort of set the pace: we did a whole lot of sitting around and eating and more sitting around and gabbing and a little walking and then a little more sitting around and talking. This was much needed.

Much of the lovely eating experiences were semi-improvised dinners at Chez Lewis courtesy of Jim. We also had some superfresh sushi. While we missed the boat on barbecue (through no fault of our own: the allied barbeque joints were either closed early for a catering gig or on vacation), we did manage to have a life-shorteningly decadent lunch of good Southern cooking at Mrs. Wilkes. The family-style dining there reminded me of some of the Pennsylvania Dutch places in Eastern Pennsylvania where you sit with a bunch of complete strangers and pass bowls of food around until you can’t stuff any more in.