Categotry Archives: Just Add Photo


One Day More: Photos on the Eve of Christmas Eve

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Tags: ,

Tomorrow is perhaps my favorite day of the year, when all the work of a week’s worth of preparation comes to fruition for one magical night. Not a lot of time for a long, contemplative writing piece after a somewhat frustrating day battling the wind on the roof and ultimately falling a bit behind in the layout process which now takes the better part of two days. That said, I’ll have full-time help for the big push tomorrow, so I’m confident that the full display of a record 1,000+ will be up and lit in time. In any case, I wanted to take a moment to share some of the images that have symbolized this Christmas Eve season in the days leading up to the big one, just one sleep away.

But perhaps I should start with the video from local news on Sunday night, when KRQE’s Cole Miller came back and did a piece on the preparation of luminarias as a follow-up to last year’s broadcast on Christmas Eve

Here’s how things have looked the last few days, in a more still form:

Nesbitt likes unwrapping ornaments.

Nesbitt likes unwrapping ornaments.

The stegosaurus ornament in the set discussed on the 20th.

The stegosaurus ornament in the set discussed on the 20th.

The brontosaurus ornament, from back when brontosaurus was a dinosaur.

The brontosaurus ornament, from back when brontosaurus was a dinosaur.

The t-rex from the set.

The t-rex from the set.

A new ornament that Alex's aunt got for us.

A new ornament that Alex’s aunt got for us.

The carrot ornament that is Alex's favorite, part of a set of fruits and veggies.

The carrot ornament that is Alex’s favorite, part of a set of fruits and veggies.

The fire and the tree in the living room.

The fire and the tree in the living room.

The tree all aglow.

The tree all aglow.

Luminaria staging area, in progress.

Luminaria staging area, in progress.

Another view of the luminaria staging area.

Another view of the luminaria staging area.

1,132 luminarias ready to go!

1,132 luminarias ready to go!

A broader view of the 1,132.

A broader view of the 1,132.

Alex and I with all our handiwork.

Alex and I with all our handiwork.


5 Days Out: A Brief Photo Retrospective from Albuquerque

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

It is five days before perhaps my favorite night of the year and worth putting a little visual element to the experience of preparing for putting up one of the largest luminaria displays in the city where they are most prevalent. My excitement has not waned since four days ago. But maybe I’m just excited to have had use of a camera that functions, since my camera died shortly before I left New Orleans. It was a top-of-the-line camera when purchased sometime in the early-mid ’00s, the one that chronicled my trip to India and Nepal in 2008, as well as other things in my absence that I’d rather not think about. The camera is stuck with the lens half-open and half-closed and makes a grinding sound when turned on or off that can only mean, in this era of disposable gadgets, that it is irreparable. It was getting obsolete anyway, as my parents claim their camera is becoming. But their camera works:

Happiness is 8 gross of candles.

Happiness is 8 gross of candles.

8 gross. That’s 1,152 candles for those of you scoring at home. Not that the plan is to use all of those as individuals in the display, since there need to be some reserves for replacing duds and flame-outs. Plus, I need to increase the record by little enough so as to be able to shoot for a bigger record in subsequent years.

Noir, my parents' less Facebook-famous cat, wonders why he can't play Pac-Man with me.

Noir, my parents’ less Facebook-famous cat, wonders why he can’t play Pac-Man with me.

Noir, partner in crime to the more photo-shy Nesbitt L’Orange, made a real effort to attract the camera’s attention in the last couple days. Here he was expressing consternation with the cover on the Pac-Man machine in the anteroom that my father is finishing before the events of Christmas Eve.

Put the cat in the sink.  I have a sinking feeling.  Supply your own caption.  This is my gift to you, Internet.  Not that it's really feasible to imagine a cat photo would go viral.

Put the cat in the sink. I have a sinking feeling. Supply your own caption. This is my gift to you, Internet. Not that it’s really feasible to imagine a cat photo would go viral.

Submitted without comment. Except, you know, all the comments I made.

550 bags folded, at least 500 to go.  Each full grocery bag contains 250 folded bags.  I think I'm right on pace so far.

550 bags folded, at least 500 to go. Each full grocery bag contains 250 folded bags. I think I’m right on pace so far.

There’s nothing quite like the waxy feel of one’s fingertips after a couple hours folding bags, the loud crinkle of each new one’s initial fold, the cadence of opening and closing bags to be able to properly fold the lip of each. The bags wouldn’t stay open if the lip weren’t folded over. But I think even if someone devised a way to make a regular sandwich bag to stay squarely open without the fold, folding would still be necessary. This process is what transforms a mere sandwich bag into a luminaria-in-waiting, the unspoken promise of light and hope to come.

It’s good to be home.


The Absurd Costume Files

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Just Add Photo, Tags: , ,

It’s Halloween! Happy Halloween, everybody. This has long been my favorite holiday and one of the only ones that I enjoy which doesn’t feel tinged with something problematic (e.g. the origin story of Thanksgiving and its accompanying genocide mucking up a conceptually very nice holiday). I mean, realistically, that’s probably not even true, since a lot of people get into some pretty gory/overly dark stuff on Halloween and while I appreciate spookiness, the place a lot of people take Halloween is pretty bad. Like everything, I suppose. I think the only person I’ve ever encountered who has anything like the deep abiding love I feel for Halloween and the October season generally is Ray Bradbury, and I’ve only really encountered his testimony of same on the written page. Others come close, though.

It would take a long time and be a mite dull to list all the things I love about Halloween, plus I think I’ve already made the attempt a few times. See also that it’s the only holiday I regularly celebrate through theme-changes on both this blog and the last one. The feel of the mood, the pumpkins and ghosts, the prominence of themes around the supernatural, the spiritual, the haunted, the past, the mysterious. The candy. And, yes, the costumes.

When I was in third grade, I had the kind of exuberant fervor for life that I think I’ve sometimes (even often) manifested since, but definitely took a big hit in 1990 (and 1997, and 2010, and 2013, and yeah). But in that year, I was full of this zest and excitement, pretty much constantly. To call it the “last good year” would be melodramatic and wholly inaccurate, but I think in many ways it was the last unfettered year. I guess many people would call it the last year of my “innocence,” whatever that means – innocence is a concept that generally troubles me, but there is something to the notion that during that year, I still had an unbridled optimism for the future and for the challenges and joys of every day that was simply never constant again, even in phases where things in my life were very, very good.

A lot happened that year. We had moved to Oregon, I made a ton of new friends, I was in the Dickens Play, I had a fantastic teacher (Mrs. Mary Kerwin) who challenged and inspired me, I discovered sports, I was elected class President (after suggesting that we have an election as a civic education exercise), and I was just happy. I also, which may be endemic to third graders, just didn’t care what other people thought of me. I mean, I liked having friends and wanted to get along with people, but I was totally impervious to possible negative opinions or judgments of peers. Which is an attribute I have had more of than most people throughout my life, but was way more unfettered then than since.

Which may explain why, when I woke up early before school on March 17, 1989 and decided to craft myself a leprechaun costume made entirely of dark green construction paper and Scotch tape, there was no voice in the back of my head that contradicted with warnings that this project might not go so well. I believe I had been working on it for about 90 minutes when one of my parents awoke and blearily observed that I was making quite a bit of clutter. I definitely remember getting a little frustrated at one point shortly before school that the costume hadn’t really come together as what I was hoping, that it mostly just looked like a young boy wearing a whole mess of misshapen green construction paper. And the ensuing conversation with my father where he gently suggested that most people don’t even dress up for St. Patrick’s Day and maybe it would just be a better idea to put on a green shirt instead. To their immense credit, however, neither of my parents pressed the issue very far and both allowed me to board the bus as Green Construction Paper Monster.

No one had the slightest clue what I was trying to be, resemble, or achieve. There were definitely people who could tell that all the green must have something to do with the date, though I was also wearing a green shirt underneath, so the effort must have seemed superfluous at the very best. There are, mercifully (or perhaps tragically, depending on one’s appetite for schadenfreude) no pictures of this outfit that were ever taken, but I’m sure your imagination can suffice at this point. If not, picture a very small third grader with a bowl cut walking into a small factory producing green construction paper and Scotch tape. Then, a bomb goes off. The remaining exploded tatters of each attach themselves to all parts of the boy, hair included (I think I was going for some sort of hat), in random fashion. The boy boards the school bus.

Most reactions ranged from quizzical to speechless to an overt series of concerned questions. I was generally considered mentally stable and coming from a family that cared for me, both of which attributes came under almost immediate scrutiny upon my arrival in Mrs. Kerwin’s third grade classroom. I was offered numerous opportunities to away to the bathroom to change, remove tape, or at least perhaps “adjust” in some small way the monument to dead construction paper that I was ensconced in. Bits of poorly taped paper kept coming off at random times and, rather than see this as a blessing or even a less-than-subtle hint from the universe, I would obstinately re-tape, sometimes rummaging in my desk for my own personal roll before jamming ever more clear sticky material on the tortured green mess and adhering it to my shirt, pants, shoes, or hair.

Then we went to recess. And at recess, it rained.

It should herein be noted before we proceed that this school was in Gearhart, Oregon, which is in the middle of Clatsop County, which is the extreme northwestern-most county in the state. Most of coastal Oregon is absurdly soggy, but Clatsop County actually juts out into the Pacific Ocean where it meets the gargantuan mouth of the Columbia River, essentially trapping all the moisture from the both bodies as storms sweep in off the sea. It rained, no exaggeration, about 300 days a year in that area when I lived there, though rarely all day or torrentially. The sky was perpetually gray, the ground that was not sand was eternally muddy. Watch national weather maps for the next month and you will see that most every day, that little upper-left corner of Oregon has a patch of green on it, even when the rest of the country is bone-dry. It rained all the time. A day when it didn’t rain at all was notable.

And somehow the interaction of the inevitable rain and my paper costume had not occurred to me in advance, any more than I predicted that not everyone at school would immediately gasp “Oh, you’re a leprechaun!” upon seeing my handiwork.

It was even worse than you’re imagining. You might not be imagining my complete stubbornness, my total unwillingness to accept the obvious defeat that my drenched and ruined costume, soggy crumbling paper literally coming off in wet clumps on the playground was, in fact, drenched and/or ruined. I wildly told my friends that I would dig up some green construction paper when we came in for some “repairs.” I think it was almost the end of recess, when the perpetual heavy drizzle became a hard rain and we had to go in early, that I realized the costume (such as it was) was beyond salvaging and broke down crying.

You might think that this experience would traumatize me, would make me unwilling to dress up in future, much less to design homemade costumes. But any residual sting from this incident (which of course only grew funnier and more heartening over the years) was quickly overridden by my unflappable love of Halloween. There were homemade costumes to come through the rest of my youth, of ghosts and elephants and pirates. At Seneca Center the one Halloween I had to work, I made an impromptu fish costume with a blue net laundry bag that was nearly as laughably impressionistic and ridiculous as the third-grade leprechaun, with me having to explain to the kids how to interpret what I’d tried to do hurriedly before a 16-hour Sunday shift. When I took my love of Halloween to my office at Glide, transforming it with string lights and dimly lit pumpkins every October, I famously came to work in this home-crafted elephant costume:

Arthur "Woody" Schulze and I, dressed, respectively, as me and an elephant.

Arthur “Woody” Schulze and I, dressed, respectively, as me and an elephant.

Yes, the kindergarten teacher dressed up as … me. Which was almost as absurd as my ridiculously homemade but kinda lovable elephant.

The elephant was a big hit and I followed it up the next year with a gecko:

The gecko, hard at work.

The gecko, hard at work.

And while I really loved being a big green thing that, y’know, looked like something, a lot of the homemade charm of the elephant was missing in this online-bought and highly manufactured (though detailed) costume. There were a lot of assumptions that I was trying to be the GEICO Gecko, especially from the people on the street which, while I like the GEICO Gecko as much as I like any corporate shill… is still a corporate shill. So that was a lot of fun, but kind of a flop, even though I revived that for the UPenn tournament I helped tab in 2010.

Which brings us all the way to this year, 2014. And for once, I was not the subject of the absurd costume, but rather my school-teaching girlfriend, Alex, who had the opportunity not only to dress up at work for (the day before) Halloween, but to do so in an environment where hundreds of kids would see her and where her primary task for the day was manning the Fall Fair, a whole day of work basically just celebrating the holiday. So we had to have a great costume.

I think we did:

Alex's costume from yesterday, from the back.  It's a whale shark!

Alex’s costume from yesterday, from the back. It’s a whale shark!

Profile view!

Profile view!

I asked Alex what she’d most like to be and she said a whale shark and we just kind of ran with it. We bought towels and cut them up, we bought googly-eye attachments and an industrial stapler (dubbed, literally, as the Epic Stapler) and white duct tape for the dots that didn’t work as the dots themselves as originally planned but did a great job at adhering paper dots to the back. You may not be familiar with the whale shark, but I was a big fan when I first went to the Georgia Aquarium and Alex has been completely obsessed since we went this summer.

The costume was not nearly as awesome as I think we’d both been envisioning at first – we had trouble with the idea of where to put the head, considering have it overhang Alex’s physical head, having it kind of around her back (as we chose), or even having Alex’s head popping out of the whale shark’s mouth, as most regular shark costumes choose. But whale sharks are not dangerous to people and subsist on krill, so we thought that would kind of send the wrong message and ruin the aesthetic of whale sharks’ mouths. The tail was perhaps the most problematic, folding back in on Alex’s legs rather than bowing out away from them. Of course, we worked on the costume the night before it was necessary, with me making dots from 4-6 in the morning when I awoke early to complete them and we’d nearly given up. So we didn’t really have time for adjustments in the morning dress rehearsal and just had to go with it.

The costume wound up being really uncomfortable and a little indiscernible (even with a smaller whale shark prop, many kids were confused), so Alex actually ditched the giant piece early in the day in favor of the same elephant hat and gray adornment I took to Glide years ago (we’d prepared a backup for the heat, just in case). But I’m not totally giving up on old sharky here. With a year to plan and tweak the tail and some other small elements, the whale shark may yet swim again.

Until then, at least the real ones are in Atlanta, swimming about. With no green construction paper to get wet in the tank with them:

Whale shark in the Georgia Aquarium, reflected in the top of its tank to show the spots.

Whale shark in the Georgia Aquarium, reflected in the top of its tank to show the spots.


Facial Recognition

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

It’s not often that someone like me is told to smile less.

Today, I got a new New Jersey Driver’s License, proving that I have officially spent too long in this state. I remember actually looking at the September 2013 expiration date four years ago with a bit of a smirk thinking the license would be invalid and replaced by another long before that far-flung month came to pass. So it goes. And lest any RUDUers freak out about what this means, rest assured that only this job and my love of it could keep me here for so long. There are an increasing number of things I like about this state, though being asked not to smile was not among them.

I was wondering for a while, as I was when my girlfriend renewed her license a few months back and got the same instructions, what could possibly motivate them to ask you not to smile when posing for your license photograph. But since I could do a little comparison of the two photos, having received my old license back and three-hole-punched, it quickly became evident to me what at least one of the motivations might be…

Which one of these people would <i>you</i> trust?

Which one of these people would you trust?

I guess it’s worth stating for the record that the media reports the reason as being that smiles interfere with their official facial recognition software. Which, if you were the kind of person who was surprised by Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA, might send you into a bit of a tizzy about cross-referencing of government agencies and robots deciding our fate and similar Orwellian scenarios. But I actually think the software excuse is cloaking a couple variations on a more interesting theme that might be the true motivation.

So the less sinister version of this idea is that people aren’t usually smiling when they’re arrested or about to be arrested. Basically, the situations in which someone is about to be handcuffed feature natural appearances that are anything but a smile and, in these instances, such people aren’t likely to even begin to be able to be coaxed into smiling. Thus big-smile photos on DLs might be misleading or actually defy identification in some cases, which is their ostensible purpose. Indeed, even for routine traffic stops, which must be the primary concern of Driver’s License distributors, people are unlikely to be wearing their most fabulous grin to match whatever would normally be on their picture. So, fair enough. You want to make it easier to ensure a correct ID on the… ID.

But I think there may be something additional, though similar going on here, after seeing all brouhaha over… gulp… Trayvon Martin’s photographs in the media (I really do promise that there will be posts at some point that don’t reference this man or his killer). A great deal was made over his precise age and demeanor in the photograph promulgated by the media, as well as the one of his killer. Why was it selected? Did it accurately reflect how he looked that night? And so on.

Now imagine, say, an Edward Snowden. Or an Anwar al-Awlaki. Someone never arrested by the United States and its authorities, thus denying the government and its media wing access to one of those begrudging, early-AM mugshots that would make your grandmother look guilty of high treason before even being charged. What is a society to do when hoping to put out a legally binding identification photo that portrays this person as a proper villain? How do we ensure we have such standoffish, dislikable file footage of every potential suspect so we can cast the proper aspersions when it comes to light that they need to be rendered into parts unknown? Couldn’t hurt to have a mandated scowl in the database, right?

Now if this all sounds too tinfoily for your liking, you should probably go read last week’s post for the context of the mood I still seem to be in about this country. I think we can all be forgiven for looking at what the media chooses to report and how our society chooses to behave and envisioning that CNN will soon be showing Guy Montag and his evasive run from the fearsome mechanical hound, or perhaps O’Brien revealing himself to a beleaguered Winston. (Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, respectively, for the uninitiated.) Just the way the media talks about Snowden makes me physically shiver in the noonday humidity of a Jersey summer. And meanwhile Manning is about to be sentenced and the drone strikes continue to fall in lands we don’t care to even see and all anyone can talk about is an unmentionable anatomical feature of the front-running candidate for mayor of New York City.

We are not too far from a time when lowly Representatives will contemplate the realistic odds of their future career trajectories and make the cold, empowering decision to embroil themselves in a sex scandal (either contrived or undertaken solely for fame) in order to resign horribly but notably, only so they can make a ribald comeback some few years hence and have a shot at real, legitimate national office. All so we can continue to think more about this than we can about something that actually impacts the country with more than eye-rolling moral despair.

Maybe I’m just holding out for a stormy refuge in the Falklands, windswept and lonely and writing-friendly. Or maybe I’ll find a reasonable facsimile in France a few days hence.


Object Lesson

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Just Add Photo, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Read it and Weep, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , ,

I have learned a lot about myself in the past week. This is good. Learning is fun!

One of the things I have learned, or relearned perhaps, is how little I am surprised by things. Most people like surprises. I kind of miss them, I guess. Which is not intended as a way of tempting the fates. But if anything, I think I’m surprised that there aren’t more mass-shootings in America. About one a day is probably what I’d expect. Maybe we’ll get there soon. This is not a desire or a hope. It would be nice to have no mass-shootings in a year. But there would have to be a lot of changes to make that happen.

No, not increased security measures.

I wrote at length about the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon last October, how I saw it as a harbinger not of a revolutionary protest movement in our society, but as a reflection of how many people were left with nothing to do in our society. It would be nice if it were a revolutionary protest movement that was burgeoning in our society. Unfortunately, we have all seen too many revolutionary protest movements. We are watching several of them now! Look at Libya, Egypt, Syria. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. A bunch of people get themselves killed and do some killing and you end up with a society that looks a lot like it did before. But the leaders are slightly different and maybe this race or religion or sect has the advantages to lord over the prior victors. There is much to deter a young revolutionary in society today.

To believe in revolution, you have to believe in the future. You have to believe that there is a future worth fighting for. We are getting little stark illustrations all over the place that this is a foolish perspective. There will be a future, surely, in the sense of days that follow this one. No matter how much caves in or how much I lose, that is inevitably clear. But the idea that the right people can be in control, nay, that there even are right people, seems unlikely. And the more people who were raised and brought up to believe in an American dream and a future that was better than their parents’ and the mass accumulation of growth and so on and awaken to find the piles of debt and futurelessness waiting for them, the more people they are likely to go out and shoot.

I probably shouldn’t put in print that I understand that frustration and powerlessness of mass-shooters. I am a pacifist, of course, and abhor violence of all kinds, and am in no way trying to justify or vindicate the actions of James Holmes or anyone like him. But I get the idea of the world being so backwards and upside-down that only an absurdist and horrific reaction seems fair or justified. I have felt this way in my life sometimes and am very grateful to my pacifism for keeping me from stockpiling weapons. I know that some of you are probably surprised (there it is again!) to see me writing this, but I think you are not necessarily checking in with yourself sufficiently if so. Look inward, my friend. Have you never felt that kind of anger and despair?

This society is manufacturing anger and despair at an incredible rate right now. We’ve been over why, this worship of the magical “Economy”, and we’ve even been over how it manifests when people only turn the proverbial gun on themselves, most recently. As my friend and debater Kurt Falk often tells me, I should be the entertainment at children’s birthday parties. His idea for fixing all this is in his most recent post, where he joins Kurt Vonnegut (in Palm Sunday, just finished today, certainly influencing the style of this post) in advocating that we have new rites of passage for American youth, bar mitzvahs or quinceañeras for a culture unmoored. It’s a good idea. It used to be that graduating from high school was our culture’s adulthood commemoration ceremony. But now there is no real adulthood to be reached. In the sense of independence, of self-sufficiency, of freedom to make informed decisions, our newly minted adults are as bankrupt as someone with six figures of student loan debt. And just like those folks, they can’t file it and start over.

So they shoot people, don’t they? I guess that’s a little oversimplified, but that looks to be the size of it. Apparently Mr. Holmes is walking down the corridors pretending to be the Joker or some other masked movie villain (get it?), but I’m sure he was perfectly sane when he spent meticulous hours buying guns on the Internet or laying tripwires across his apartment. He did the math. He was good at it. He realized that he had no future, that the people of America who were being distracted to death had no future, and he tried to illustrate that. All the way down to the six-month-old and the six-year-old who were apparently watching one of the most violent franchises in movie history after midnight.

I am not trying to glorify this scumbag or turn him into some sort of dark anti-hero (I’ll leave that to Hollywood). But I am trying to dissent from the media chorus singing about the senseless unpredictable shock of all this. It’s perfectly predictable and it has a kind of logic. Michael Moore did much the same treatment of Columbine in his masterpiece movie Bowling for Columbine, which we should all probably go rewatch. Part of his thesis was that kids growing up in the shadow of defense contracting, preached to about how the country they’re supposed to love solves all its problems through violence, will occasionally take this environment seriously. And respond in kind. People are all agog about what’s wrong with Colorado when Michael Moore already told you. To be fair, Holmes did hail from San Diego, one of the biggest military cities in the country aside from those found in Colorado. When we have a society filled with people who play a little video game attached to real drones that blow up real people, how shocked can we be that disgruntled broke teens or twenty-somethings from the new Lost Generation walk into a movie and emulate the solutions found on-screen and in real life?

What no one seems to realize is that you need to do something with these people. I don’t mean to sound pejorative when I say “these people” – many of them are my closest friends and confidants. I coach them, I talk with them, I worry about the very concept of a future around them. They need things to do. They have active minds and have been raised on poisonous dreams about growth and accumulation. They need to put their mind to something other than disappointment, despair, and the soulless thresher we call “The Economy”.

Many would suggest a war. I have no doubt that’s one plan being hatched in the corporations funding the Obama/Romney campaign. A nice big war to sweep everyone into the old employer of last resort. You wouldn’t even need a draft, you’d just have it de facto. I’m sure a land invasion of Iran or North Korea would keep many hundred-thousands of a Lost Generation occupied and out of the way. The legend is that this is what saved America from the Depression, what saved the Baby Boomers from totally overwhelming the system in the sixties. There’s little doubt that part of the lack of enthusiasm to really make jobs and work for the youth of our society has to do with making the incredibly unappealing military look a little more enticing.

I, of course, would never suggest a war, any more than I would advocate you going down to your local movie theater and shooting up six-year-olds. They are the same thing. Only in a war, more six-year-olds die. Usually more horribly, more painfully.

I would suggest make-work programs. We certainly have things that need fixing. Let’s build a free wireless Internet network for the whole nation. Yes, even rural North Dakota and Alaska. That would require some people, wouldn’t it? Give them room and board and a college-like camaraderie, a little spending cash (so they can – gulp – see a movie), maybe access to a shared fleet of cars on weekends. Let’s build some high-speed rails so we can take all these dangerous overpriced gas-guzzling trucks off the road. Let’s build some solar and wind plants. I know, I know, it would require a total resignation from the very concept of The Economy. It would mean government was actively putting corporations out of work, and some of their employees too, and treating the youth of America with dignity and respect and like they’re people who can do things. Heaven forbid.

But what are your alternatives? These people are going to be on the dole one way or the other. There aren’t jobs, there aren’t opportunities, and everyone in The Economy is doing their damnedest to make sure there are fewer jobs and fewer opportunities to come. I guess you can repeal minimum wage and make everyone punch each other in the nose for a scrap of bread you throw from the tower at midnight, but these people are increasingly going to leverage their debt and take matters into their own hands. And they’d have to believe in a future to make a revolution. If all they believe in is despair, then you get Aurora or Columbine or Virginia Tech. You get little dark knights everywhere, believing they are extolling some kind of neo-nihilism with every bullet, not realizing governments cornered that market with wars centuries ago.

I envisioned this post a long time before there was a movie theater shooting, and it was going to be about another kind of object lesson, back to the theme of learning about myself. It was about the fact that I bought a new coffee maker I didn’t need a few months ago and haven’t had the heart to set it up and replace the old one. The old one looks like this:


I won it at the Yale tournament in the spring of 2002. They gave out useful or fun objects like rice cookers and Gameboys and coffee makers with the budget they would have spent on shiny trophies. I actually initially took the rice cooker at Emily’s behest, but quickly swapped it for a more practical (for me) coffee maker with Steph Tatham, who’d won some lower award. The thing has worked perfectly for a decade. It’s a relic of an American era of making machines that lasted, even though it didn’t come from that era at all. I’ve probably had six-thousand or so cups of coffee out of this thing. It still worked perfectly this morning.

My intent was to replace it with this model that I got at Target for like twenty bucks:


It shouldn’t take much imagination to see why I picked this out. The color is like the font of this page, the color I would pick for nearly all objects out of a pantheon of a thousand hues. It has a timer so that it will brew the coffee for me and have it ready when I blearily awaken at six in the morning to go to a tournament or fulfill some other wakeful task of existence. It is in every way perfect. Whereas the old one is dingy, off-white, wearing the stains of thousands of brews, incredibly simple in its design. It doesn’t even have digital numbers! In an era where you can’t dry your hands in public without interfacing with a motion-sensor, holding on to this thing is as old-fashioned as not having a cell-phone (I’m coming up on two years with a cell-phone!).

And yet I can’t seem to make the transition, to get rid of the old thing. It was free. It has served me so loyally for so long. It still works.

I am such a bad capitalist.

Or maybe, to borrow a phrase, I’m just committed to commitment.

Maybe we just need to take everyone in the Lost Generation and have them paint our coffee makers. Have them fan out in the neighborhoods, house by house, and ask what everyone would like updated or changed or painted or retooled so that life feels new and fresh again. So that it feels like there’s a future that’s not just austerity and decline. So that people can feel like a rich person without actually being decadent or aspiring to buy and sell people.

That kind of house-by-house work sure beats the hell out of what that phrase is being used for in Afghanistan right now.


Truth in Advertising

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, From the Road, Just Add Photo, Quick Updates, Read it and Weep, TH'HEAT 2011, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , , , ,

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that having access to all of one’s e-mails for several years should allow the refinement of particularly effective advertising. Still, seeing these two back-to-back was a bit jarring this morning:


Thanks a lot, GMail. Are there really people out there who are worried that Facebook is closer to taking over the world than Google?

As Goo Goo Dolls would put it, “Scars are souvenirs you never lose. The past is never far.”

In other news, while it wasn’t the most impressive book overall, methinks it was particularly well-timed for me to read Siddhartha this week. There’s a lot of insight in there about the particular paths that might be tempting at this juncture of life and good reminders of what roads are full of folly. Especially interesting as I play some poker and wrestle with the material reminders of my past that I want to haul out to Jersey.

Been sleeping and dreaming too much lately. The hazards of being home. Have extended my home visit a little bit and then will probably be taking about a week to cross back over the country. Leaving Saturday maybe? Still a little bit in flux. Might hike in Rocky Mountain NP, but definitely skipping Grand Canyon and LA, as were possibilities even a couple days ago. Feeling daunted enough about driving another 3k-4k miles at this point.

Next immediate stop: The Frontier!

For those without Facebook, here’s the latest album of pics: Volume 3.


The Demise of Ol’ Drippy

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Just Add Photo, Tags: , ,

For the first time since I began to occupy this apartment sometime in September, I am mercifully free of the dripping dropping plipping plopping noise that has unceasingly emanated from the bathroom sink. And feeling rather sheepish for not taking care of this a lot earlier. Of course, my crude methodology for said caretaking was the product of an initial reticence to report the drip to my landlord since he’d shut off the cold water’s flow to the sink just prior to my occupation. Or the prior tenants had and he’d neglected to notice, in conjunction with the town-appointed apartment inspector.

Basically, it seemed counterproductive to report something to the landlord that evidence suggested he’d both known about and attempted to cover up, or at the absolute least heavily neglected. There were also questions of tone-setting: did I really want to be the tenant who called up with a complaint on day three in a building? He’d have every reason to assume I’d be hauling various contractors and nitpickers through the place daily. Of course, it’s also possible that he didn’t know and he wouldn’t hold an early maintenance call against me, but the drip was manageable enough that I just didn’t much care either.

Thus days passed. And soon weeks. A couple visitors came after a couple months and were sequentially freaked out by their disastrous encounters with the cold tap, no less so because every faucet turn in this place is strangely reversed from the customary rotations found in American homes. I kept forgetting to warn people before their use of the bathroom, then kept hearing a vague scream and gush from said locale when people realized that merely tapping the cold knob brought an unstaunchable flow of frigid water. In I went, repeatedly, to rescue the startled guests.

Over time, the leak slowly worsened. My little tricks for twisting and pulling at the knob so it stayed just so and only let out drops instead of a trickle started to lose effectiveness. I even resigned myself to the idea of not using cold water in the bathroom sink at all, brushing my teeth in the kitchen, but I couldn’t even restore the shut water valve from my initial arrival in Highland Park. The trickle slowly became a small steady stream. I did my best cramming of it just before I left for a month in New Mexico and hoped that the water shutoff valve just took a few hours to take hold.

Upon return, the stream was even stronger. To the point that it has greatly interfered with my getting to sleep the past two nights in a way that even the steady rhythm of periodic dripping didn’t. After forty-eight hours of just trying to put up with it, I finally took a screwdriver, pliers, and hammer to the thing. At last! The knob of extreme brokenness had met its match:

Unsurprisingly, it was remarkably easy to twist the underlying mechanism that actually controls the water flow once the loose knob was unceremoniously removed. And now, as I type, I have a drip-free bathroom sink. And an errand to run at Home Depot at some point before vacating the apartment. And a fervent hope that my landlord doesn’t read this blog.

If you’re wondering, Ol’ Drippy is also a reference to an obscure Aqua Teen Hunger Force character who prompted Fish’s first introduction of the series to me. The other day, a propos of little, he mentioned to me “I miss Ol’ Drippy.” Sadly, the phrase worked on a number of levels, none of them particularly unsad.

It’s snowing now, the foretold precipitation swirling and flying across the lamppost out my window that usually annoys me but also serves as a spotlight for every snowstorm or rainfall. I’ve considered going out to construct a fort or a snowperson or even just to play, hoping the cover of late overnight might shield me from the askance looks I could expect to garner from this very serious community and its residents. I’m not on a campus anymore no matter how much time I spend on them, not twelve or sixteen no matter how much I feel it. I’m probably expected to react to snow with the tired frustration of those who believe it’s important to live, but have already forgotten how.

I didn’t even react to snow that seriously troubled me that way, though. Coming back from the debate trip to Dartmouth, the snow was piling high and ferociously throughout New Hampshire and well into Massachusetts. It was probably the least safe driving conditions I’ve faced since the drive a week earlier, but competing with Montreal before that or another drive back from Dartmouth or the hurricane upon return from a more recent PC. Yes, all my most dangerous moments behind the wheel have been in pursuit of (or retreat from) a debate tournament. Except perhaps the one time I fell asleep on the way to the Grand Canyon and woke up in the opposite fast-lane of a 70 mph highway.

I am far from all of this tonight as I wonder how late I can stay awake to watch the flakes fall, snow that’s supposed to be gone by morning as the southern storm drives warmer weather north to melt tonight’s joy. Somewhere in all this is a series of metaphors about the way I live, the way I should, the way I get myself into trouble. Or maybe it’s a story of patience and perseverance, that putting up with a drip is a branch of unconditionality and acceptance that has served me poorly but itself patiently persists within my character. In the modern world, we have only snow to remind us to be patient, piling itself in passive opposition to the daily chore and routine, insisting that an amalgam of the softest, gentlest entities create the greatest bulwark against hasty human pursuits.


In the Absence of People

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , ,

The air is pregnant with impending snow today, the entire high sky taking on a gray-white hue as though snow were the literal product of such a sky being chipped and chiseled into flaky falling flecks. The radar maps say it’s far away still, but the feel of a person as they walk through our three-dimensional metaphor ought outweigh any technological override. Any moment now, the clear paths and piled yards of my frigid neighborhood will find new comrades, paratrooping in to reinforce their ranks.

I’m back in Highland Park, in Jersey for the foreseeable as I try to make my resolve to improve this year a reality, struggling against the siren call of visits to grocery stores and other overlit places I only ventured to in pairs, or not at all. Each week is to be punctuated with the refuge of a debate tournament, the travel and camaraderie and distraction found therein, the opportunity (as especially this last weekend at Dartmouth) for truly elevated discourse and exploration of ideas. The community of college debaters is such a distillation of intellectual vigor and passion that I am frankly surprised more people do not find themselves gravitationally tied to it as I do. No doubt its periodic overcompetitive acrimony is a deterrent, as might be the distractions of normal life and its beckoning stress and responsibility. But given its unmatched ability to perpetuate thought in an exciting way, there’s no place I’d rather spend time and energy, at least for now.

I’m at a crossroads these next few days, determining how to approach what are likely to be my last few months in New Jersey. There’s a need to reintegrate a three-month novel project into my daily routine without it swallowing everything else whole. There’s a need to determine exactly how much unpacking I want to do for a temporary stint in this apartment, what the ratio of energy is between making things more livable here and making the move unbearable at its conclusion. There’s a need to place other orbital parts of my life in their respective aspects, to figure out where things are going and what good uses of time really are. Priorities, trade-offs, balance, perspective. Really, life is never any different than this – these are always the things one must weigh when looking at existence. It’s merely that most people are too busy to look at existence too often, while I have nothing but time.

I guess I look forward to a time when I feel too constrained by other priorities to examine my own priorities. Although I can see the drawbacks of that too, and I must be careful what I hope to see.

In the spirit of trying to get my engines revved, of trying to buck up and plow through the life-maintenance shlock that must be cleared away to get to the good (creative) stuff, in the theme of embracing a life that is controlled almost entirely by other people but can still be viewed from my own perspective, I will close with a video. It’s one I was sent about a week ago by my friend Michael, one that he said reminded him of me and I say reminds me of who I used to be, long before I ever met him. Who I must be again, or could be, or could take a couple pointers from. While we collect more information about life as it progresses, if we’re paying attention, we don’t always improve. Sometimes we go backwards, we lose vision, we lose touch with what is essential. Here’s hoping this can help you restore, as it does me, at least on the margins:


The Way Life Used to Be

Categories: A Day in the Life, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, Just Add Photo, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

Boy, can I not wait for this year to be over! Who’s with me? Yesterday I found out that I need a root canal, which joins my wife leaving me and kidney stones as great things that have happened in the second half of 2010. Not all of these things are equal, of course, but the piling on could really stand to stop. Forgive my lack of posting lately, but sometimes trying to live one’s life overrides trying to chronicle it. Suffice it to say I don’t feel totally poetic lately.

A couple days ago, though, I joined my parents for a trip to Bandelier National Monument. I’d thought it was my first time ever there, but upon arriving I realized I’d been there briefly with my Dad once before, though not climbed up toward any of the cliff dwellings or anything terribly detailed. This time, I took lots of pictures so I wouldn’t forget:

The remains of the dwellings at the base of the cliff.

The holes in the cliff face are all either footholds or former dwellings.

The cliff face.

Looking up the cliff.

Cool formations, with a vista beyond.

The view from the cliff.

Dad with his camera.

Reminds me of Yosemite.

The old apartments.


The old community below the cliffs.

High rise.

Easy access.

Hole in the wall.


Dwellings more conveniently located.


The sign between my parents says “Do not handle the bats.” We saw no bats.

Winter scene.

The remaining snow.

Red wood.

At the base of an upcoming climb! (The camera case belonged to other photographic tourists.)

Going up…

A light in the distance.

High atop the cliff.

Streaked with airplanes.

Sunset in the distance.

The highest kiva.

Sun sets on the highest kiva.

Various distances.

From within the kiva.


The loneliest tree.

Going down, with people I don’t know.

I climbed down the ladders facing out from the wall, since they felt a little more like steps.

Looking back at where I stood, ensconced in the cliff wall high above.

My favorite tree in the park.

When I hit the parking lot, I thought the closest car was actually my car. From a distance, it even looked like it had yellow Jersey plates. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that they were Nuevo plates. Upon even closer inspection, it was revealed that the plates read “119 PFT”. As in 119, my current address in Jersey. As in pft, the dismissive onomatopoetic statement of derision. As in, maybe the idea of staying east is laughable. Yeah. This moved me pretty significantly, though it hasn’t managed to literally follow suit. Yet.

Nifty sign near the little village of shops and ranger housing near the visitor center.

On the drive home through the Jemez Mountains, we saw this gorgeous winter horizon.

Dad got out the binoculars to look at a distant herd of elk.

Aspens in snow.

Bonus shots from my parents’ camera: it’s me, looking strangely happy.

Bonus shot 2: me climbing.

Bonus shot 3: my mother and I on an untolled bridge.

Before the year ends, it’s supposed to snow again, my friend Brandzy is supposed to show up, and I may write in this space at least once more to sum up what has almost certainly amounted to the worst year of my life, despite the successes at Rutgers debate and the completion of my third novel. As I once told Mike Galya, there’s really only one portion of one’s life that really matters. 2011, you better be better.


When I Light My Masterpiece: A Tale of 772 Luminarias

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Tags: ,

My previous record was 620.

This year, I folded every single bag. Except David Winks “Gris” Gray folded one bag, and Matthew Randolph “Fish” McFeeley folded two bags into paper airplanes that had to be unfolded and refolded properly. Other than that, I folded, sanded, candled, and laid out every single luminaria of a display of seven-hundred and seventy-two. My Mom was a tremendous help with lighting, and my Dad was also of assistance troubleshooting a disaster with propane canisters that were either too old or too finicky or both. In the end, after a couple hiccups, everything was lit by 6:00 or so.

And then the crowds came.

It’s hard to fully contextualize luminarias for those who have never seen them, which is almost certainly most of you. The traditional minimum is to do the sidewalks and pathways leading to one’s front door. If one has a wall, one adds that if one’s making an effort. And ringing trees is also fairly basic. But the complexity and intricacy of the yard and house that my father has rebuilt makes it particularly prone to diversification of lumis, especially with this year’s roof additions. And my tenacity and unending appetite for the little bagged candles.

This year, perhaps more than any prior, the efforts were vastly appreciated by the masses of New Mexicans and visitors who mob a few neighborhoods in Albuquerque each Christmas Eve. I watched enthralled from dark interior windows as group after group came, stopped, and stared, many if not most posing for pictures in front of the expansive display. Cars stopped dead, many parked, some even opened their doors. Flashbulbs popped throughout the night. Whenever I was out amongst the display to get some air or switch out a few prematurely burned-down candles, people called compliments and accolades, culminating in a late teen’s remark late in the night: “You guys win!”

It was unseasonably warm last night, a good fifteen to twenty degrees warmer than most Christmas Eves. Perhaps more importantly, it was windless, making it feel even warmer and failing to disturb the bags and their interior flames. More perfect weather for luminarias I’ve never felt, nor may it ever come again. For it to coincide with this amount of effort and to be met with this kind of appreciation is the only thing I could ask for on this loneliest of Christmases.

Pictures, you say? Oh, yes, there are pictures…

Nearly full view of the house from across the street.

Getting closer.

From inside the side gate.

From the left.

From the far left.

Little bit softer now.

From under the arbor, on the porch, centered on the pampas.

Many angles.

A three-layered wall.

Close up.

Far out.

The front porch and front roof.

Interior porch, including table, tree, and fountain.

Up on the roof!

Look right.

Back to center.

And down.

Zoom in on the pampas and the front tree.

Rooftop rows.

Side walk.

Pampas, one more time.

Levels galore.

Two in my room’s window.

The porch revisited.

Straight on till morning.


So many bags!

Obligatory internal shot.

It’s bad that all I can see in this one, as a perfectionist, is the one burnt-out one.

All is what it seams.

Under the eaves.

Garage-front row.


Blurry wallside.



View from the bottom.

Follow the path.

Many paths.

The curve of the earth.

Walking back in for the last time.

Facing the side gate.

The lone window bag.

Good night.

Merry Christmas to all so inclined. May these holidays give you peace, comfort, joy, and light.


During the Snow

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Tags: ,

A visual follow-up to Before the Snow

Living room in blue.

Shed a little light on the subject.

Fire in an empty theater.

Dis mantle.

Nesbitt waits patiently…

…grabs for the burrito…

…and wonders why the burrito was taken away.

The first snow sticks!

It’s pretty flaky.

Quick accumulation.

Like a real lodge.

Our work here is done.

Five times larger than the leading brand of snow, and twice as reflective.

Makin’ tracks.

Haunted tree.

The back deck.

They were pining for snow.

Gateway to another world.

A rabbit, a chicken, and a bowl walk into a snowstorm…

The tips of winter.

Almost Dickensian.

Table for four.

Not only did we wind up with less snow than predicted (it stopped only an hour or so after I was out running around taking these pictures), but it mostly melted by midday today. Albuquerque rarely stays cold enough to keep snow around for days at a time, unless we get one of those stalled-out swirls of precipitating cold air. Like so much of life, it was fun while it lasted…


Land of Enchantment in Forty Flicks

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

My month-long return to Nuevo Mexico is off to a bit of a rough start. I just can’t seem to get in an emotional groove I feel good about. Someone or other told me the first holiday season would be especially challenging, but I really had no idea. And then I remember how difficult it was just to sort through ornaments. Sheesh. The way things are going, I’m starting to believe that I need to spend mid-2011 and thereafter in a new town I’ve never lived in. Or visited. With all-new stuff. Yeah, that’s going to happen.

Anyway, here’s some things that are all-new and might not even be depressing. A couple shots from Albuquerque, but most of these are scenes from yesterday’s trip with the parents to the Salinas National Monument, home of several old missions on the east side of the Manzano Mountains south of ABQ. They’re pretty neat, even if they do represent Catholic co-option of native religion, culture, and people. So it goes.

Abandoned apartment building in downtown ABQ – they never finished building it when the boom went bust.

I could swear that part of the Senior Project film that Gris did with Bay & Toby was filmed in this back alley. Or that we were initially going to film some of my homeless-man scenes there but then shifted to another nearby locale. It’s funny what being back in one’s hometown can do to the memory.

The iconic towers of the ABQ skyline.

Nesbitt L’Orange, my parents’ relatively new cat.


Abo, the first of the three missions.

Big sky.

Abo meets big sky.


Long wall.

They don’t make contrast like that everywhere.

A tree grows in the ruin.

Light and shadow.

The horse we rode in on.

The door is ajar.

Almost like Nebraska.

Mesa with tracks.

Best sign ever.

Cactus in bloom.

Arch with parents.

This is Gran Quivira, whose color is more traditional stone than the traditional mission color.

Room with a view.

A view of the room.

My father, gesticulating wildly.

View of many rooms.

View of the basement.

Quorai, the last of the three.

Church in state.

Slice of sky.

Sunset within.

Glorious ruin.

Ground level.

Contemporary interruption.

Almost Aztec.

A little bit of sol.

Runs down the hallway…


My favorite window.

The moon, incoming.

The sun, outgoing.


Phil’ ‘Em Up

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Just Add Photo, Tags: , ,

Not much to say today except that I’ve concluded the day after Thanksgiving may be far better than the day of. No, not because of the shopping. I’m not sure I’m going to buy (or accept) any gifts this year. Just because, if one’s not tied up in shopping or being conscripted into working on the day after Thanksgiving, it has all the same advantages of the holiday itself with even less inkling of the pressure or expectation. We spent the whole day lounging, mostly eating, playing board games, eating, reading, eating, talking, and eating. I think I’ve actually gained weight this trip.

Anyway, another installment of my recently increasing proclivity to turn this into a photolog:

Storey is obsessed with leaves, vol. 47.

I just liked that a big van with “Press” in the window was parked so close to a funeral parlor.

The inscrutable sign on the wallside is advertising cheap and safe parking, presumably on the shell of steel beams.


Crisp skyline.

The trash almost made it.

Ben always did like turkeys.

Storey is obsessed with leaves, vol. 49.





Heavier snow.

Ariel & Michael’s new fireplace.


…and after!

First Thanksgiving as a married couple.


Fish =! amused.

Food, glorious food.

Happy cooks.


The game gets intense.

As a brief postscript, Fish wants to ask you all what the odds are of getting T-Pain to help out with a cleverly written and imagined spoof of the ever-fabled “I’m On a Boat” web video phenomenon. If you’re not pretty sure he’ll go along, you’re a pessimist in his book. Fish’s, not T-Pain’s.


Handwriting Analysis (or: the Role of Coincidence?)

Categories: A Day in the Life, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Just Add Photo, Strangers on a Train, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , , ,

It’s been a rough couple days in the northeast. People say things like that which they have no business saying. Most people in the northeast have probably been doing just fine. There’s preparations for what appears to be the northeast’s favorite holiday in the offing. After all, Thanksgiving was born around here, built on the backs of people who have since been chased out or eradicated, leaving only the overstuffed turkeys and their caretakers to gloat over the bounty of having more ruthless ancestors than others.

Highland Park today is dressed up in its Thanksgiving finest: overcast and all the leaves have faded to that brown dead crinkle that rattles above or crunches below and makes everything look like red-brown Thanksgiving print napkins. People walk quickly and wear jackets universally and seem even more hurried and annoyed than usual. Maybe it’s from this observation that I acquire the hubris to say things like it’s been a rough couple days in this part of the world. Maybe it’s from spending the better part of a subway ride and an extended period in Penn Station crying without a soul bothering to so much as ask if I was okay.

Yesterday I got home and caught up with the things online I’d missed over the weekend. One of these, among my favorites, is checking out PostSecret, reading the scattered private thoughts of countless strangers as illustrated by their innermost ravings. It’s an idea we all wish we’d thought of and one very much in line with my ideals as a person writing this blog – the exposure of normally suppressed feelings so they might live, breathe, communicate, and ultimately hearten. And then my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a stark postcard:

And the hovering over the card on the page led to the flipping of the ‘card to the back:

Now, this one would’ve caught my eye anyway for a couple reasons. A, I read all the cards anyway and usually pause to contemplate all the implications. B, this is pretty much exactly what Emily would tell you about our situation, though I can’t necessarily speak to the relationship status of the other person involved, so who knows. But the most important issue is that the handwriting on this card is identical to that of said individual. Trust me, I had almost a decade to learn that handwriting, to watch it over her shoulder on debate flows or see it on hastily scrawled notes left behind or to read it on a notebook or textbook I was carefully lifting off her sleeping torso where it had fallen on her exhausted frame.

Now there’s some realistic counterpoints to consider. For one thing, the odds of Emily sending anything to a website like PostSecret are basically nill. The second thing, the most powerful, is that the postmark faintly visible on the back says SC 290, indicating pretty clearly that it was mailed from somewhere in South Carolina, where many zip codes start with those three digits. Is it possible she concocted some obscure way to send a card to Carolina for its submission to Germantown, MD? Sure, but any sense of feasibility or reality is pretty much knocking this down to zero. I often wonder about those postmarks and whether there’s some PostSecret sharing syndicate to make sure that especially high-voltage cards aren’t traceable even to a particular state, but I think this is considered an acceptable risk by most people.

No, the far more likely explanation is that someone else with Emily’s precise handwriting found herself in an almost identical situation to hers, or more appropriately one they would describe the same way. At which point, all kinds of larger cosmic questions arise. There have long been serious subscribers to the theory that handwriting is an indication of personality. In fact, many prison programs attempt to rehab criminals by changing their handwriting first under the theory that the link between letter shape and mental frame is so significant that it can be reverse-engineered. So what does this handwriting indicate about loyalty, faithfulness, approach to marriage? And out there, somewhere, someone who is not Emily or the author of this postcard is reading this and thinking that this handwriting looks an awful lot like theirs and wondering about the role of micro-destiny in their own path.

All this would seem to carry a little less weight had I not nearly bowled into Gwen on the street again the other day, in the midst of ill-informed debaters getting us lost on the streets of New York City on the way to Fordham. (Which, by the way, went pretty well.) She’ll forgive me for reprinting from her subsequent e-mail to me: “I’m starting to feel as though we’re being a bit cosmically messed with. Like we’re tinseled cut-outs in some toy theater production that just happens to be our lives.” And she, like most everyone, hasn’t even read The Best of All Possible Worlds yet. I’m starting to feel like that book is the cork in the center of the island on “Lost” – once I released it, deep important secrets were on the loose that wound up turning my whole life upside-down. This is a ridiculous thing to think, objectively, but most empirical studies would reaffirm it anyway, especially in light of how reality-bending the work itself is. All this would feel less significant had Russ not spent ten minutes trying to explain how LA feels small compared to NYC because you can always bump into people in the former and he never once bumps into someone he knows in NYC because it’s too vast, even though he knows tons of the City’s denizens. And then I told him my experience was a little different.

My experience is always a little different, it seems. Most people don’t have the capacity for such high volumes of things, be it crying or talking or writing or marveling at the construction of the world’s interactions. It’s not very realistic or practical to spend such time on such things. It’s better to do the dishes or laundry or buy furniture or hang pictures and somehow keep it all together. But it’s not all together and rote mundane tasks rarely help keep things that way. All I can do is contemplate, try to keep everything in perspective, throw up the poisons that seem to enter my system, and try to keep the phone charged for when I myself am running out of juice. It’s a good thing I have several scheduled days with other people coming up. Russ’ll be here in 90 minutes and all my dishes are in the sink.


Bookshelf Analysis

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Read it and Weep, Tags: , ,

A while back, some friends of mine were featured in the New Yorker’s Book Bench for their pre-marital alignment of wood-housed tomes. So I figured it was time, now that I’ve actually organized them properly, for me to feature my own post-marital stack of reading:

I guess I was surprised overall how few books I actually have, though it’s worth noting that this is a heck of a large bookcase. Not really purchasing textbooks in college contributed to this, as well as long spates of library-based reading, which is starting back up again. This will probably stabilize my shelves for the time being, so this’ll be what I’m looking at perhaps for the duration in Highland Park. You can’t quite judge a person by their bookshelf, any more than a book by its cover, but both are perhaps more indicative than we give them credit for.

Here’s a bit of a more clearly labeled analysis for those who are having a hard time parsing covers or recognizing precise volumes:

No surprise to see Bradbury leading the pack, and many of the others are clearly favored. Kafka and Salinger have few enough works all told that they don’t quite merit labeling, though veteran readers of the latter will at least recognize the rainbow-on-white spines of his slim pieces. Which reminds me that I need to rebuy Nine Stories at some point. Wow, that recollection makes me sad. Anyway, I think Irving and Coelho suffer here a bit from being read during library phases, as does Huxley a bit despite his strong showing. Whereas Card and Rowling might get disproportionate credit for the thickness of their works. Hemingway also suffers from, if anything, a name that’s too long to make look okay on this graphic above.

Now I just want to go read. Maybe for the rest of my life.


Shadowy Dusk Through Twilight Trees

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

I’ve been really sad today. A little angry, but mostly profoundly sad. I decided it was time to take a walk.

Here’s what that looked like:

Long road ahead.

Mysterious ground-seeking tree.



An opening.

Upon reflection.

Knock here.

White wind.

A glaring sign.

Underwater cam.


Twilight crossing.

Looking up at gravity.

Weep me a river.

Wade in the water.

Eating club.

Impromptu lake.

The smallest tide.

The shadowmakers.

No grilling.

Goose stepping.

Good posture.

They see the light.


Cruising altitude.

Catching trash.

Glow gull.

Waste management.

Puddle vision.

Portrait of the artist as he now feels.



Deus ex folium.


Albino Water Buffalo

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , ,

This is an albino water buffalo:

I post it in lieu of a picture I took of Fish & the Madster while they were here for almost a day which they asked me to refrain from posting. The unposted flick is cuter, but not by much.

Debate-wise, this weekend was not ideal, but it at least seems to have featured an assault on the NOTY (Novice of the Year) board by our youngest generation, though we didn’t stick through three outrounds just to find out. We collected a whole bunch of 3-2 records and a new judge for the top of our scratch list! Good times.

Outside of debate rounds and performance, this weekend was a darn good time. The team had a great time hanging out and our ride back involved epic games of Ghost that both came down to the final letter. I got a chance to see Brandzy, breaking our longest-ever streak apart, hanging out literally all night at IHOP and wondering whether or not we actually existed. Then Fish/Madster came over and we all celebrated the end of Daylight Saving(s) Time. Would that Jaque were here to really put some pep into it, but I guess he always liked Spring Forward day more because of its implications for early evening activity than the mere opportunity for a “free” hour of sleep.

I have discovered a new favoritish place in town, namely the Palace Diner in New Brunswick that’s just a hole-in-the-wall breakfast/lunch joint operated by an (at least today) ornery but efficient old gentleman. I’m not eating out a whole ton these days, but I might a bit more if I start incorporating the Palace into the mix. I was long overdue to find an affordable breakfast spot in this state, having repeatedly come up empty in Princeton.

I have spent most of the weekend being way too cold or a little too warm. My throat is scratchy, but still stable. My thoughts are scattered and they’re cloudy. I found the end of Point Counter Point particularly poignant on this of all days. The light is failing early and I am overdue to take my leave.


The Philadelphia Storey

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

I took the train down to Philly this weekend. Except not really “this weekend”, because I didn’t leave till Sunday night and I didn’t get back till just about now. So the “weekend” can be Sunday through Tuesday in this frame of mind. Such are the hazards of not having a job or a schedule or a life.

I spent a ton of time with Ariel and Michael and a little time with Fish. I ate a lot and spent a lot on meals. I took a lot of photographs, many of which will appear below. I walked a LOT. I enjoyed the train rides and stations and my book. I have nothing pithy to say that sums up this trip, except that I was very sad for a lot of it but also really enjoyed the company of the three people I saw, especially in 1:1 interactions. More and more, it is clear that one-on-one time with anyone is the best way to get to know and understand them. Clearly there are limits on the viability of knowing someone from one-on-one time who either changes rapidly or refuses to be known, but assuming a reasonable level of sincerity and earnestness in the interaction, then one can best learn and understand from solo matchups.

Which is not to say that larger groups don’t have their place. They assuredly do, as a platform for boisterous good times and fun. But to emphasize those at the expense of individual experience is to miss out on the real connections that form the basis for any lasting communication.

I sound rambly even to myself, already, so I will perhaps say it in pictures instead…

The platform in New Brunswick.

One of the many lonely small SEPTA stations between Trenton and Philly.

Clouds and wires.

Bustling city.

Perhaps my favorite shot of the trip.

Train station at night.



The trains run on time.

Poster that hauntingly reminded me of my honeymoon.

Fish at the South Philly Tap Room. This had to be retouched because the lighting didn’t come out well when I uploaded the photo, but I love the expression.

Uber Street!

The last line cracked me up for some reason.

Horsehead poles – this looks more like I’d expect Britain would than Philly.

It is October.

A treeward nook.

There was much discussion this trip about the inability to escape noise in modern civilization. Here we see the watchful eye of radio waves.


Bird unwired.

The city’s pillars and its supports.

Cat penitentiary.

I fell in love with this building that rises high above part of downtown Philly.

Here’s a closeup of the balcony atop said building.


Alley, window on the world.

The goat!

How I roll.


Miles walked in Philadelphia: 14.4
(+1.8 to and from train station in New Brunswick)


Epic Wins

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , ,

It’s been a long time since something went right for me. This weekend, a whole heck of a lot went right in a hurry. I am trying to get used to the feeling of being really super-happy. I was silly-smiley all weekend as things unfolded, especially today.

I am too wired to write effectively, but I want to capture my thoughts in their giddy haze. The setting was the University of Maryland at College Park, and the action was a debate tournament. Obviously.

In roughly chronological order:

  • We got to Maryland on-time Friday despite traffic and checked-in to a GA I last attended at a tournament I won (Hybrids ’01 with Kate Myers).
  • I got to debate in a double-LO attack in a demo round with Mike Buckwald.
  • We found (good) food after almost starving to death after rounds and going to housing.
  • We found free parking on campus thereafter.
  • I was able to retrieve my sleeping bag from GA hours after the building was locked by reliving my high school break-in-to-tight-spaces self by slipping through the narrowly open window.
  • Two words: Party Bus.
  • Knowing Dave & Kyle are in a 4-0 round.
  • Getting to watch Dave & Kyle in a 4-0 round.
  • Dave & Kyle winning a 4-0 round.
  • Ashley calling the shot that they’d be a non-breaking 4-1.
  • This meaning that Ashely & Gordon upset the 4-0 in their pull-up round.
  • Both Dave & Kyle and Ashley & Gordon breaking in their respective divisions.
  • Both breaking teams picking up in varsity quarters & novice semis.
  • Dave & Kyle picking up semis while good rumors come from novice finals.
  • Not judging finals.
  • Dave & Kyle have qualled and gotten RUDU into their first final ever.
  • Epic finals case.
  • Floor speech mayhem.
  • Holy speaker awards, Batman!
  • Finding out ABom & Nisha just missed the novice break.
  • Waffle House!
  • Ghost.
  • Being too wired to sleep.

I could get used to this. Watch out, APDA, RUDU has thrown down the gauntlet. And we had fun doing it.

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