Today I didn’t…

…go to the gym (supposedly a regular Tuesday/Thursday morning thing). Yesterday I didn’t go running (supposedly a regular Monday/Wednesday/Friday thing). But at least I’m here, writing this. Discipline and publish, baby, discipline and publish. The problem is the earliness. To write this and fit in some exercise requires getting up at five a.m. Some days that’s easier than others. Last week I stuck to the routine perfectly, but this week it didn’t work out (and so, therefore, neither did I).

I go to a YMCA about two blocks from my house. (I know, could this be any easier?) It had opened only a year or so before A. and I moved to this house and so is a rather modern facility. Heck, it even has a climbing wall. One of this Y’s features is a system of touch screen computers on each weight machine that keeps track of how much weight you lifted last time and how many times; it only counts a “complete” repetition, meaning that, if you were doing a chest press, you would need to push the handles all the way away from your chest before the machine registers the exercise. A trainer takes you around the first time to set the things up, programming in a reasonable initial weight for you to work up from and also calibrating the machine so it can register your movements. That is, you perform one repetition of the exercise in question and the trainer programs in your start and stop point. You can imagine that a 6′ 9″ basketball player would push the chest press handles a lot further than a 4′ 9″ jockey; if the jockey used a machine that was expecting the basketball player, the machine would never recognize that he had pushed the weight far enough, and so it would never register any of the jockey’s repetitions. With all of that set up, you just sign in at every workout at a computer terminal in the corner and then punch your user number into each screen as you arrive at your scheduled machines.

It’s a nifty system, because it means you don’t have to carry a little notebook with you to keep track of your program of grotesque physical over-development, but recently it has started to go wrong. Least among the problems that have cropped up is the fact that so many of the screens are so often dead or frozen. The worst problem is that something seems to have gone wrong with the movement calibration sensors, such that some of the machines are starting to seem as if they have been reprogrammed for someone much larger than me. This is a problem because, in order to take advantage of the system and have it tell you, next time, that you did 10 repetitions of 100 lbs this time, you need to do 10 complete repetitions, meaning – in the case of our chest press example – pushing those handles all the way out. But if the machine seems to be expecting someone bigger than you, you have to push the handles even further out by lunging forward in your seat, or pop the leg press a little further by going on tip-toe and flirting with hyperextension, or stand slightly for a down angle so that you can depress the triceps-machine handles even lower. Obviously, it’s not safe to do any of these things, although the temptation is strong: if you don’t, you won’t see the number of repetitions you’re doing being counted.

It’s quite a dilemma.

I think I’ll just start sleeping in, instead.

The last issue of Family Handyman came a few weeks ago. I subscribed A. to this as a present a year or two back and it’s been a great resource, but I think we’ll just let the subscription run out for now and maybe start up again in Montana, although if we’re renting we won’t be embarking on any household projects for a while. A. is the handy one, or maybe I should say “the motivated one,” but I enjoy the magazine, too, if more for its entertainment value than for any likelihood that I will independently decide to undertake one of the projects it details. I like the optimism that wafts off of its pages. Better than perfume ads, anyway. “Backyard Makeover,” the cover screams. “7 ways to shade your deck.” “Big-spender bathroom on a tightwad budget.” It’s interesting to think about the market for a magazine like this one. My protestations that “A. is the handy one” may sound unusual (it’s only unstereotypical, actually, which is a different thing altogether: our local Home Depot holds regular women-only classes on home improvement skills), but Family Handyman clearly doesn’t think so. As often as not, the models used in the how-to features are female, or a couple is shown working together. Still, the magazine plays a little on stereotypes: a project like the “curved garden arbor” (“carve out a new, shaded garden retreat in less than two weekends”) opens with a photo spread of the finished project. A barefoot woman with blonde, windblown hair is seated on the bench, smiling, with downcast eyes. To one side is her ceramic coffee mug; to the other, the basket of wildflowers she has just picked. No doubt her eyes are downcast because she is lost in thought, a reverie of her handy husband who created this beautiful thing for her. I guess that’s what the husbands are supposed to see, anyway.

Yesterday the latest Believer magazine arrived as well. This is an entirely different publication, a literary magazine that allegedly has a policy against giving negative reviews. This doesn’t mean that it finds nice things to say about any book, it just means that the only books chosen for review are books that the reviewer can honestly recommend. This conceit sounds overly precious when it’s explained like this, but I don’t think you’d ever notice it just from reading the magazine, although it might occur to you that the “reviews” are occasionally of books that came out years or even decades ago. The reviews are a small part of the magazine, anyway; the rest consists of essays, occasional travel writing, and – my least favorite – interviews with writers, artists, musicians, etc. I’ve always found magazine Q&A-style interview features lazy. Aren’t they just talking and transcribing a tape later? I like to see something with some structure to it, that required some effort, a forming intelligence. I haven’t been keeping count issue to issue, so I don’t know if this is usual, but the latest issue has four of these interviews, which means that about 25 percent of the magazine is of no use to me. What was of use to me was an article by Rick Moody about the W.G. Sebald book The Rings of Saturn that reminded me of my goal from last fall to read as much Sebald as I can. I actually have read the book in question, but a copy of The Natural History of Destruction has been gathering dust on my shelf for months now, and I hope to hoist it down soon.

I actually haven’t been reading a lot lately, which probably explains some of my recent twitchiness and mild discontent. I’m currently carrying around a copy of The Vigilantes of Montana, “Montana’s first book” (I’ll tell you about it some other time) but haven’t gotten very far into it. I’m just off my stride. Reading is an ongoing, living thing, a plant that needs watering, otherwise it dries up and you need a new seed and you need to wait for the first shoot to poke up out of the dirt before you know if you’re on the right track again. I experienced this kind of drying up recently with a cultural-history binge I had planned for myself. I almost but didn’t quite finish Clive James’s Cultural Amnesia a month or so back, and this meant I couldn’t move on to Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence as I’d hoped. There were a few novels tucked in around the point that it all jumped the rails, but nothing steady for a while now. In two more days, according to a record I keep in my pocket notebook, it will have been a month since I started a new book (which I still haven’t finished). It’s White Noise, and what’s supposed to be so great about this book again? I figured that someone like DeLillo would be one of those fun important writers, but I can’t seem to get into this book at all.

On my walk to work yesterday, I had what’s becoming the usual problem of finding a mailbox for a letter I needed to send. The things keep disappearing. There used to be four along my route to work. Now there is one, and that one keeps moving, and I really don’t think it’s my imagination. Maybe the USPS is studying and finetuning assumptions about the best place for the one mailbox in Charles Village. It’s disconcerting, though, especially in the morning on my way to work when I’m a little befuddled anyway.

I was running late and didn’t feel like having breakfast, so I decided to stop on my way to work for a cup of coffee. I almost went into the new Starbuck’s on St. Paul but caught myself and walked a little further to Sam’s. Lucky I did, because I turned out to be 6 cents short for a small coffee there (which I’m guessing is cheaper than it would have been at SB’s) and the woman at the cash register told me to go ahead and get my coffee anyway. I changed my mind about breakfast once I was at work and went out to look for a place where I could get some kind of egg sandwich. I wandered several blocks west on 25th before I confirmed for myself that there really is no such establishment anywhere near where I work. I ended up buying a turkey and havarti panini from Safeway, an unconventional but tasty breakfast. In the checkout line, I was behind a young woman in hemp overalls with a mullet haircut that ended in what we used to call a “tail” (shades of my brother in middle school), except the tail consisted of a couple of long dreadlocks. I record this here simply for the interest of future hairstyle historians.

Belly full, bland Sam’s coffee perched next to my keyboard, I turned to the day’s work. I’m still working on some procedure writing, the bylaws of a local regulatory body. This is, as I’ve mentioned, a little more fun than it sounds. It lets me exercise some sort of lawyerly instinct I didn’t know I had, thinking very precisely about word choice and sentence structure so as to make each rule as uncontestable – and “un-gameable” – as possible. I don’t fool myself that I’m doing an actual lawyer’s work, because that would involve using certain Latinate code words and other eccentricities, but I do enjoy the logic of it. Still, as it was Monday, it was sometimes hard to focus. I found myself checking a lot. I don’t know why I bother, since it so rarely changes throughout the day and there are usually only two or three articles I find interesting. I guess it’s because of the way that, if anything major is happening, they splash the red “Breaking News” banner across the top of the screen. I’m always expecting a disaster, whenever I click to their homepage. This is true of any news outlet that feels up-to-the-minute; I feel the same thrill whenever I hear the various radio voices say, “from NPR news in Washington…” Is this it, I wonder? Has “the end” already begun? Is that why I haven’t heard any traffic for a while?

In the evening, my parents were over, my mom dropping off my dad for another week’s visit while he attends to some medical appointments down at his old doctor in Silver Spring. The plan was to go out for dinner for a belated Mother’s Day celebration, but every place we could think of turned out to be closed (as it was a Monday, which, if a restaurant is going to take one day off in a week, that’s the best one). Finally we made some frozen ravioli and steamed some broccoli and ate in, which gave the evening an improvised, “bearing up” sort of feel that was probably a lot more fun than being waited on in a restaurant, something I seem to have gotten my fill of for a while. Somehow the thought of sitting and waiting while someone does everything for you – and also tries to ingratiate themselves to you for additional financial compensation – can be an exhausting prospect, sometimes.

Later, after my mom had left for the drive back to Silver Spring (again, she’s staying in a little guest room at a friend’s house while she finishes out the year at her school, even though she and my dad have officially “moved” to West Virginia, and there’s no room for my dad there, so he stays up here in Baltimore when he needs to return to “the area” for these appointments), my father, brother and I made sport of conspiracy theorists for a while (my dad was just reading a review of the new Kennedy book), but it was too easy, and the hour had grown late.

And five a.m. comes early.

It wasn’t a…

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…lazy Sunday, but this break from tradition allowed me to accomplish a thing or two, such as finishing the freelance project I’ve mentioned here before. This was after my crack-of-dawn drive to see Promise, which I mentioned yesterday. In the late afternoon I drove to Fells Point to meet Erin and Greg, who had asked me if I would take a few pictures of them. They had originally planned to do some sort of “engagement announcement” and were going to have semi-professional assistance taking a picture for it. Then their photographer friend fell through on her one weekend in town, plus the concept changed from “engagement announcement” to “picture we can blow up and have people sign at the wedding instead of a guest book that we’ll never look at again anyway.” (Indeed. Of course, A. and I neglected to get very aggressive about having people sign our guest book, so there wouldn’t be much to look at if we did get it out.) In other words, the bar was a little lower, which I guess is why they asked me. I can compose an interesting shot, mind you, I just don’t know what all those dials and buttons on my camera are for. I asked my brother for the most basic hints he could give me, which boiled down to using the “aperture priority” setting and using low f stops, so that my subjects would stand out while the foreground and background would be blurred, which I guess is the basic idea behind portrait photography. Whenever I find myself learning a little about this stuff I can feel the urge to learn more, it’s just a matter of taking the time to get down to it. So obviously it’ll never happen. I just need a simple, simple book about using an SLR. I should look for a children’s book on the subject.

We set out from “the bed and breakfast” (Erin’s and Greg’s comfy, comfy house, tucked away on an alley in eastern Fells Point) about 4:30 p.m., with lots of sunlight left, and poked around the waterfront and the Waterfront, with a visit to the Bond Street Wharf and to Slainte (which I guess means “cheers” or “prost” in Gaelic, but even so, this seems an overly precious name for a bar, especially since no one who doesn’t speak Gaelic has any idea how to pronounce it). While we tried different poses and spots on the Bond Street Wharf, a plume of black smoke became visible on the horizon, from the far side of Federal Hill. Looking at a map now, I can’t quite get the angles to look exactly right, but I suppose it must have been yesterday’s “inferno on the highway,” caused when a tanker truck full of ethanol overturned on a ramp to I-95 over South Hanover Street and burst into flames. (The time is right, anyway; on Flickr, though the time a photo was taken is not automatically displayed, you can see it if you click “more information” in that little list of data down on the lower right, depending on the preferences set by the owner of the account; the newspaper has it as “the six p.m. accident,” while my photo was taken at 5:57.) According to the Sun, firefighters fought the blaze for three hours, with the driver’s body still inside the truck’s cab. As usual, witnesses thought that the initial accident was “like something in the movies.” I guess if it weren’t for the movies, people would say something like “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Now, though, we’ve all seen something like everything, although it must have been pretty dramatic for the bystanders who were forced to watch as burning ethanol ran down the gutter and ignited their parked cars.

We finished up with dinner at the Waterfront. Sometimes I am an object of fun for always wanting to return to this spot, but why mess with a good thing? There’s always a table, the food is good, the building was built in the 1700s. What’s not to love? There’s this fetish for always trying something/some place new, as if we are showing ourselves to be bad, uninteresting people by doing something we’ve done before. I’m for the pleasures of being a regular, personally, and the Waterfront has exactly what I’m looking for in a pub-style establishment after a few hours’ wandering the cobblestoned streets of Fells Point.

The early hours…

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…of a weekend day are the virtuous ones. You can commit acts of outright evil and still praise yourself for at least not lazing around in bed all day. But speaking of acts of outright evil, who mows his lawn at 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday? I saw a man tinkering with his lawnmower just now as I returned from a little errand I’ll tell you about in a few paragraphs. I didn’t think he was really about to fire it up, but it just roared to life. We are a far cry, I suppose, from Proust’s hometown of Combray, where “three streets away, a tradesman who had to hammer nails into a packing case would send first to… make sure that my aunt was not ‘resting.'”

On Saturday I was up with the sun and puttering around the house with every hope of ticking off each item on my index-card to-do list. (There is still a chance even now, although Sunday is a great day for reexamination of these kinds of things, I find.) One item that I wanted to get to: I’d heard last week from Sinker, the current owner of my old boat, the S/V Promise, that she was to be hauled out for cleaning and maintenance on Friday. Never having seen her out of the water myself, I was curious to get this unusual view of my old craft.

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The haul-out facility was the marina attached to Nick’s Fish House, a recently revived south Baltimore institution in the shadow of the Hannover Street Bridge. I arrived around 10 a.m. but couldn’t find any sign of Promise. The marina has seen better days: the planks in the docks are sun-baked and warped, and there appears to be a homeless encampment under the bridge. I was looking around in a small lot where about a dozen boats were up on stilts when a potbellied, shirtless man asked if he could help me. I explained the situation.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “That boat is next in line after mine. We’re just going to haul mine and then we’ll get to that one.”

“Promise?” I asked, just to be sure we were talking about the same boat.

“Swear to god, man,” he answered.

I retired to Nick’s, which wasn’t quite open yet but where an old friend, Terri, from my bartending days at Regi’s, turned out to be working as a manager. She didn’t mind if I waited. She even handed me a bottle of beer without my having to ask. Budweiser, if you must know, which does indeed turn out to be a good breakfast beer (despite the “extended footnotes,” I had to try it for myself).

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From my seat at the bar, I had a clear view of Promise’s slip, so I would be able to see if she started moving toward the ramp. Meanwhile I sat back, sipped my beer, and enjoyed the titillating feeling of seeing behind the scenes in a high-volume waterfront restaurant about to open on a sunny Saturday. At such moments in a restaurant there is something of the thrill that comes for actors in the last half hour before the curtain goes up. The cadre of athletic-looking young waiters and waitresses, in khaki shorts and black “Nick’s” t-shirts, unstacked chairs and tied on aprons, stocking up on pens and jotting specials in their order pads. Two stools down from me, a hopeful future employee filled out an application. Sunlight beat down on the wooden deck outside, and my beer tasted like summer.

Terri had been the one to hand me my beer because the bartender was late. She excused herself to give him a call. “Says his alarm clock didn’t go off,” she smirked as she folded the phone back into her pocket. Do people who make these kinds of excuses understand that no one believes them, ever, whether they’re true or not? We all just shake our heads and think back to when we’ve told similar lies. He was there about 20 minutes later, squinting through an obvious hangover, his face still pinched from sleep. He got right to work, though, preparing a huge container of bloody Mary mix. Terri discreetly tapped him on the back to let him know that his shirt was on backwards.

When I finished my beer, the bartender offered me another one, and when I say “offer,” I mean he popped the top off and held it out to me. This wasn’t the tone I’d wanted to set for the day, but there was still no sign of activity at Promise’s slip, so I accepted. This one tasted less like summer and more like bubbly spoiled rice water. When an hour had passed with no movement from Promise, I settled up and wandered back down to the marina to see how things were going with the first boat scheduled for haul out. I expected to see it up in the slings but it was still bobbing in the water in front of the ramp. At this rate, it would be another hour at least before they got around to Promise, so I left.

But this morning I found that I couldn’t sleep anymore after about 6:00 a.m. and decided to give it another try. Success:

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What the television…


…has to say can’t be said any other way.

The tablecloth is sticky and there are only two menus for the four of us. I make my selection and pass off the menu. I glance up at the television and see a beautiful young woman being helped into her prosthetic legs by a military doctor. She looks young enough to have been wondering who her prom date would be only a couple of years ago. Before the camera cuts away, the young woman smiles at something one of the doctors says. She is a “CNN Hero.” A commercial begins.

Dr. Robert Jarvik invented the mechanical heart. Now he hawks the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor. He pleads with the viewer to give it a try. “You just need a simple blood test… don’t wait.” His eyes are wet. He looks hungry.

A doughy father informs his children that he has enrolled the family in a new cell-phone plan that will allow them to talk as much and send as many text messages as they want. “We do that already,” the kids reply with obvious contempt. “Yes, but now your mother can quit her second job.” Enter the mother, stage right, dressed as an enormous plush taco. She throws her keys on the counter. For we are a self-sacrificing people.

News breaks feature the Boston Pops dustup. The take-home lesson seems to be always wear an undershirt to the symphony hall.

comfort near at hand

Limitless Possibilities

As an “analyst” who will be looking for new work soon, the sky’s the limit, as I learned in this New York Times article about the increasingly dangerous problem of idiots tying bulky items to the roof of their cars with little more than chewing gum and shoelaces.

Where “deliberate” litter used to reign – those blithely tossed fast-food wrappers and the like – “unintentional” or “negligent” litter from poorly secured loads is making its presence felt. Steven R. Stein, a litter analyst for R. W. Beck, a waste-consulting firm in Maryland, attributes the change to more trash-hauling vehicles, including recycling trucks, and the ubiquity of pickup trucks on the country’s highways. In 1986, Mr. Stein said, two-thirds of the debris was deliberate, but surveys now show the litter seesaw balanced.

(I’m glad this problem is starting to attract some attention, meanwhile.)

Bird Camp Dispatch 2


A. called from the Rim yesterday, on her way back from “checking on a nest.” Her predecessor had just departed, meaning that A. is now in charge and can institute what she is calling “a new order” in the camp. This will involve having her crew cover their faces with chalky war paint and wear necklaces of squirrel teeth, while A. surrounds her hut with chipmunk skulls impaled on spears stuck in the ground. Although I guess she’ll have to build a hut first.

Any day now, I’m expecting the call from her supervisor.

“Her methods have become.. unsound,” he’ll say, before sending me up the river after her.

I just hope I’ll be up to the challenge.

There’s nothing like…


…a visit to the dentist to give me a sense of my body as equipment, with wear items and a limited life span. How long will it all last, I wonder, staring up into the bright light as the hygienist scrapes and prods. At least dentists have stopped offering to break my jaw. I had a several-year run where different dentists kept suggesting this, not out of any hostility but just so that my teeth could be manipulated into meeting more neatly when closed (not for aesthetic reasons, but to reduce wear and tear from some sort of scraping action that happens now). I don’t know if this was just a fad at the time or if I am now too old for the treatment to be as effective or easy, but I must say I feel vindicated in my decision not to take such a step by the fact that it doesn’t seem to come up anymore. Maybe there was a cover story on the procedure in Modern Dentristry and I had the luck to run into several dentists looking to try it out for themselves. I’ve noticed that all the TMJ posters and brochures have disappeared, too; was that just a fad as well?

Yesterday was the last time I’ll visit my current dentist before the move, bar any emergencies. (Please, please bar any emergencies.) I found this dentist on the list of approved clinics for a chintzy dental plan I once signed up for through a credit card. Back then (2001-2), the office was in the Medical Arts Building on Read Street. The Medical Arts Building is under renovation now, and it needs it. The halls were dark and the elevator made a distinct shimmying motion as it climbed. In fact, even though my dentist’s office was on the sixth floor, the elevator gave me such pause that I was in the habit of using the stairs. Still, I was always intrigued by the old building, which seemed like the kind of place where a private detective would have an office behind a frosted-glass door stenciled with his name. Two years ago, the dentist moved to a more modern building across Charles Street from the Belvedere Hotel. The current space looks like the stereotypical dot-com office: exposed brick and painted ductwork, open space with partitions instead of closed-off examination rooms, all done very nicely. The practice has really grown into its new digs and it’s a pleasure to visit there (except for the moments of pain and terror, of course). With the new digs came new equipment. I’m not going to say it’s state of the art, as I don’t really know much about the state of this “art,” but I’m impressed by how easy everything has gotten. I remember having to go off to some dark closet for X-rays at past dentists’ offices, including when this one was in the MA Building. Now they just toss the apron on you in the chair, slide open the door of a nearby wooden cabinet, and swivel this articulated arm with a camera on the end out at you. It looks like something astronauts would use to look for damaged heat tiles on the outside of a space ship. Plus the X-ray camera on the end is digital, so the results are quickly visible on a flat-screen computer monitor hanging from the ceiling. What will they think of next?

As I was settling up with the billing nurse, she asked if I would like to schedule my next appointment. That’s when I realized that I would be moving before it would be time for another cleaning. This was a weirdly emotional realization for me and I had the momentary urge to go find my hygienist and say goodbye and thank her for taking care of me, but it passed. The billing nurse was impressed to learn that I’m headed to Montana. She commented on the beautiful scenery with obvious wistfulness and then shared how little Baltimore has grown on her in the two years she’s lived here. “Everyone’s so angry and bitter,” she said. “Whenever I drive anywhere I get so tense.” She mimicked a hunchback and drew her shoulders up to her ears. “My neck just starts to feel like it’s going to explode.”

I find Baltimore to be an angry town, too, and the nurse and I aren’t the only ones. A friend of mine who went off to law school in Richmond claims to have been recognized as a Baltimorean by another Baltimorean who said something like I can tell by how bitter and angry you are. One thing that contributes to my own constant near-boiling rage is the fact that I spend so much time as a pedestrian in this city, although it wouldn’t be any better – just different – if I did more driving. What angers me as a pedestrian is the utter and complete lack of respect of Baltimore drivers for my life, much less my right to, say, cross the street when the walk signal is white and that kind of thing (on the few corners where there are walk signals). Walking in this city makes me feel like an insignificant and very vulnerable being trying to avoid being churned up in the gears of a very large machine that takes no notice of me. [FN 1] I have a theory that the aggression of Baltimore’s drivers results from poorly planned traffic patterns and stop lights. I haven’t made a study, but I feel that a crosstown drive through this city encounters an inordinate number of red lights, so that I never feel like I’m getting anywhere, and – even though I’m a fairly cautious and conservative driver, for the most part – I become tempted to run some extremely stale yellow lights just because I can’t stand the thought of being brought to a stop for the thousandth time in ten blocks. Seen in this light, I guess biking is the ideal way to move through the city, fast enough that you don’t notice the vomit and chicken bones on the sidewalk, able to ignore red lights at times and just keep moving, and so on. The drawback is that the drivers have no more respect for bikers than they do for pedestrians, and the bikers have to spend more time in closer proximity to the traffic. Every now and then, I see bikers riding on the sidewalk. Being a good, angry Baltimorean, my first reaction is rage that they are disobeying our laws, but ultimately the sidewalk seems to me the only safe place to ride, really, in this not-only-pedestrian-but-also-bike-unfriendly city.

Speaking of anger, and just as a random example of what living in this city is doing to me, yesterday I became a mite peckish in the afternoon and decided to go out for a snack. I considered visiting the Subway that recently opened near my office but decided I couldn’t face the always seemingly suicidally depressed staff behind the counter and the two schizophrenic women who are allowed to hang about inside, pestering the customers with nonsensical comments. No word salad with my sandwich for me, thanks anyway. Instead I walked to Safeway for some peanuts and juice. In choosing a checkout line, I noticed a short line but then realized that the checker’s light was off, which I took to mean that this checker, a fat, dreadlocked man, would be closing soon and was just wrapping up with his last few customers. So I got into the line next to his, which was about twice as long. While I waited, someone blithely wheeled a cart into the dreadlocked clerk’s line and was not turned away. This customer was followed by another one who was also not turned away. By this point it was clear that this clerk’s line was actually open, although there was little point in switching now that these other customers would be ahead of me. Bile bubbled up into the back of my throat. Was the clerk lazy, leaving his light off in hopes that customers would go somewhere else? Or had he just forgotten? Either possibility seemed unforgivable to me, and I found that – as my line advanced, putting me closer and closer to the dreadlocked clerk’s back – I was fantasizing about muttering something nasty, or maybe ratting him out to my clerk. Maybe your line wouldn’t be so long if he’d turn his light on. I eventually got myself under control by telling myself that his light was probably just burned out, but the point is that I felt genuine, honest-to-god anger about this situation. Will I get over this, or will I be the angriest person in Missoula?

At work, the air conditioning is finally on. This is a relief because my wall of south-facing windows – while visually pleasing – makes my office into a sort of greenhouse, so I’m glad for the AC even if we do share duct work with the smoker who lives in the apartment upstairs. The cool temperatures are welcome not least because I’m currently doing the more mind-numbing of the two types of tasks my job asks of me, copyediting a procedural document (as opposed to thinking about the expression of ideas and arguments in a policy paper). I don’t mind this kind of work – getting a document into shape and translating it into clear, concise English gives the kind of craftsmanlike satisfaction that I would guess a carpenter feels at building a simple but well-made bookshelf or chair – but the eyes can glaze over, especially when my office is 78 degrees.

In the evening I did a little work on a freelance project and watered the strawberries in the garden (yes, using the new hose hookup, which, yes, is just the greatest thing ever) before watching The Office. As I brushed my teeth before bed, a light rain was falling, and I realized that I won’t miss my dentist as much as I’ll miss the sound of rain drops on the skylight.


FN 1: This feeling of continuously impending doom for pedestrians is actually worse in Baltimore than in a place like, say, New York City. While the traffic is arguably crazier in NYC, there are more pedestrians, so, when the walk signal comes on, hundreds of people immediately step out into the crosswalk. Safety in numbers and all that. Plus, being New York, many of these pedestrians are quite willing to pound on the hood and scream invective at the driver of any car that tries to cut off the flow. All in all, I find that pedestrian-hood feels much safer in NYC than Baltimore. On the flip side, it is nice to get in a cab here and not feel it immediately accelerate to 60 mph on a downtown street, so I guess there are trade-offs.

“Cultural Baggage”?

Does the Baltimore City Paper even have editors anymore?

In the latest “Social Studies” column by Vincent Williams, we learn of Mr. Williams’s recent purchase of a “really cool messenger bag” with a red star and a Mao Zedong quote (in Chinese characters, but the Chinatown shop clerk translated it for him) printed on the side. Then, a little while later, he chuckles about an encounter with “a Chinese dude, as in ‘from China,'” who “comments on the ‘interesting’ quote on [his] bag.” This makes Mr. Williams nervous that he might have been tricked by the shop clerk – that his bag might have something other than a Mao Zedong quote on the side, something that might make him look foolish.

I left the following comment on the article page:

Um, the Chinese guy was looking at you funny because you appeared to admire Mao, one of the worst monsters of the 20th century. If you find that “cultural baggage” a little “heavy,” maybe you should switch to a quote and symbol from a dictator who murdered fewer people than Mao. Hitler? Stalin? Go crazy…

I mean, shouldn’t the writer of a column called “Social Studies” understand the rough equivalency not only between Mao’s red star, Stalin’s hammer and sickle, and Hitler’s swastika but the atrocities they represent?

To make things worse, Williams spends part of the column describing the cultural icons he’s not willing to appropriate: no Haile Selassie or Che Guevara t-shirts for him because he “doesn’t know enough about” either one. (Note to Mr. Williams: for what it’s worth, Che was a bloody-handed, totalitarian, pro-Soviet hardliner, the architect of Cuba’s labor camps, and Castro’s go-to guy for behind-the-scenes backstabbing, so good call not hanging his face on your belly.) But since your knowledge of Mao is such that you feel comfortable making the following statement, I would think the same rationale should have applied:

And, let’s face it, even on his best day my man Mao was a complicated guy whom folks have pretty strong opinions about.


I know, I know, hardly anyone reads the City Paper columns, anyway (where are you, Funny Papers? Sandy Asirvatham?), but still.

Montana Factoid

An interesting fact about Montana:.

“It is the only place in the lower 48 states in which all of the species that existed before European settlers arrived are still present.”

Oh, and this is the school where A. works now:

“…one of the “frequently asked questions” in school materials was whether students could bring their rifles to school. (They are used for hunting and the answer is yes, but they must be kept locked in a gun-storage area and are not allowed in classrooms or common areas.)

Read the whole article here. (The basic point seems to be that the university where A. now works is pretty much the best place to study wildlife biology in the world.)