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Friday was the kind of day when a demanding week has caught up to you. Too little sleep, too much work, too early when the alarm clock sings its shrill pre-dawn tattoo. My run was like pushing through – and breathing in – pea soup, the humidity shimmering in the air.

Friday was the kind of day when the 140-page policy document you’ve been working on – with the end nearly in sight, just the last twenty pages of corrections to make and then it goes off to the boss for the final read-through – corrupts, the program “quitting unexpectedly” every twenty minutes or so, the last dozen corrections unremembered when you reopen the thing, like you’re stuck on some sort of editing treadmill. I dashed my drinking-water cup against the wall in frustration and was surprised to see the white plastic shatter into a dozen pieces.

I put the paper on my flash drive to take it home and see if a real computer could get somewhere with it.

On my way, I rented Hollywoodland from Video Americain and picked up a few groceries. My mother, who is staying the weekend as a break from the weekly “commute” to West Virginia, was at the house when I arrived. My brother and I installed the downstairs air conditioner, a process eased somewhat by thephoto documentation I recorded last year, plus my decision to keep all of the lumber pieces in one of those suitcase-sized ziplocs they sell now. Go me.

Dinner, a cold beer, the movie on at 8:30.

I was asleep in my chair by 9:30.

Cat’s Eye View

Some guy in Germany put an automatic camera on his outside cat’s collar, so he could see what it does all day.

Sometimes I have some challenging ideas, or crazy like some other people would say. This time I thought about our cat who is the whole day out, returning sometimes hungry sometimes not, sometimes with traces of fights, sometimes he stay also the night out. When he finally returns, I wonder where he was and what he did during his day. This brought me to the idea to equip the cat with a camera…


Gym, etc. blah blah blah. At work, at precisely 12:07 p.m., I heard the sound of one car rear-ending another just below my window. Apparently one good citizen, headed north on Calvert, threw on the brakes a little too quickly in the process of giving way to a westbound ambulance. And the driver of the car behind the good citizen’s wasn’t quick enough on the uptake. Counting Wednesday’s cop vs. pickup truck incident, this makes about six auto accidents that have occurred within a two block radius of my office window in the last year. (And I only moved into a front office about a year ago, so I wouldn’t have heard any earlier ones.) Thursday’s rear-ending looked pretty minor, as did the police-involved fender-bender on Wednesday, but some of the crashes have been more serious.

One day last summer, for example, some complicated chain reaction among southbound St. Paul traffic resulted in about a half-dozen cars crashing into each other and some buildings just below 25th. The police and rescue personnel were on scene already as I happened upon the mess, on my way to get some lunch at Safeway. The scene looked potentially awful, with cars up on sidewalks and starred windshields drooping from their frames like draped chain mail. But everyone was up and walking around, shaking their heads, and a bystander told me that he didn’t think anyone had been hurt particularly seriously. Which just means no one was unlucky enough to be standing at the corner waiting to cross, or walking along the stretch of sidewalk across the street from the Subway, because such a person would have ended up under either a Miata or a contractor’s junk-hauling truck.

Then, later in the summer, an eastbound 25th Street-driver ran a red light (he admitted this to the crowd that gathered afterwards) and clipped a car traveling north on Calvert Street that was being driven by a nursing student, of all people. The left front corner of his car hit the left side of the nurse’s car, almost all the way to the rear, just behind her left rear wheel. This is basically the same sort of impact that the police try to engineer when they want to stop a fleeing car: a blow perpendicular to the direction of travel, behind the rear wheels, generally causes a dramatic spin-out, and by the time the driver can get his bearings again, his car is crumpled against a jersey barrier and some very worked-up cops are screaming at him over top of their leveled sidearms. (This is why, if you’re ever running from the law, you should put a great deal of effort into never letting any of the pursuing cruisers pull next to you.)

And indeed, the poor nurse’s car spun across the intersection, only instead of hitting a jersey barrier, her car ended up wedged nose first into the basement window of the end building in my boss’s row of, well, rowhouses. Again, this would have been bad news for any pedestrian waiting to cross, but fortunately the corner had been empty during all of this.

Since this accident sounded potentially serious (and actually shook the building I was sitting in) I and a couple of co-workers hurried down to the scene, joining a rather large crowd that had quickly gathered. Notable in the crowd were two members of a private ambulance crew, the kind you hire to move grandma and her respirator from one nursing home to another. In this kind of situation, the bystanders’ urge to help can result in kind of a smothering effect, various bluff assertive men aching to help the befuddled, cute, young woman, moviewatchers shouting suggestions like “get her out of the car before it blows up!” So I just stood back and watched.

Obviously, most people were deferring to the ambulance crew, although the uniformed pair, a man and woman, seemed to me to be behaving rather strangely for emergency medicine specialists (which, come to think of it, they might not really have been, since their work involves transportation of stable patients, not rescue). For one thing, neither they nor the driver nor anyone else seemed to think that it might be prudent to turn off the car’s engine and engage the emergency brake. I could see the brake lights bright and red, so, as far as I could tell, the only thing keeping this car in place was the injured driver’s foot on the brake pedal. I gave the ambulance crew a few minutes to think of this on their own, but as more and more passersby started stacking up around us, some standing right behind the car, I leaned in and told the driver what she needed to do.

Then, suddenly, astoundingly, the ambulance crew members were opening the car’s door and having the young woman, blood trickling from a cut in her forehead, climb out of the car and walk ten feet down the sidewalk to a shady spot under a tree. I wasn’t the only one to recognize that this contradicts some pretty basic first-aid principles. (I actually had the distinct impression that the crew’s main motivation was just to sort of assert firmer ownership of the victim by moving her away from the crowd that was breathing down their necks.)

“I thought you wasn’t supposed to move her!” shouted a man carrying a window-washer’s bucket and tools. Others in the crowd murmured agreement.

“We checked her already for disability!” snapped the male ambulance crew member. I recognized this as a reference to the mnemonic device for the order in which a first responder checks for the most dangerous types of injuries when arriving on an accident scene: A (airway); B (breathing); C (circulation, i.e., is their circulation system compromised by, say, a major laceration?); and D (“disability,” although what this really means is checking to see if the victim shows signs of a brain injury, such as by shining a light in her eyes to see if the pupils dilate independently and asking questions to check for general disorientation). Still, it’s not really in a first responder’s purview to decide that there is no brain injury; an emergency room doctor should also get to weigh in, and there may be no way of telling without a CAT scan. (I think; I confess I don’t know much about the hospital end of this stuff.)

And that’s not really the point, anyway; while it may be interesting to know whether there is a brain injury, the real question is whether there’s any chance of a neck injury such that the spinal cord is in any danger from a broken or dislodged vertebrae. And basic principles of first response tell you to assume that this could be the case in the case of any trauma to the head that results in bleeding. (See “blood trickling down her forehead” two paragraphs above.) As far as I know, a victim in this condition needs to sit still, her head and neck immobilized with what’s called a cervical collar, until she can carefully be placed on a stretcher and taken to an emergency room for evaluation. So all signs pointed to these two ambulance crew members not exactly being who you’d want rendering assistance after your car crash.

Still, the woman was sitting on a front stoop in the shade by the time I’d had this thought process and didn’t seem to have dropped dead or become paralyzed yet. (Such, supposedly, are the stakes when you go moving an accident victim; in my training, we were told the possibly-too-dramatically-apropos-to-be-true story of a car crash victim who was walking around and looking at the damage when someone called his name. He turned his head, causing the jagged edge of a fractured and askew vertebrae to slice through his spinal cord, and died instantly. Again I don’t know if this was really true, but it’s supposed to be physiologically feasible.) And by this time, a real amublance was arriving, and some cops, and I was tired of standing around in the sun. I retired to my office and got back to work, and I have no idea how it all turned out.

But if you’re ever waiting to cross a street at a corner with me, perhaps now you’ll understand why I sometimes tend to hang back and keep a sharp eye in the direction from which a curb-jumping car is likely to be traveling.

I stopped by Giant after work to get a few of the staples Safeway had left out of Monday night’s delivery. By the dairy section, I passed a middle-aged woman and a young girl, maybe four years old, pausing by a freezer case.

Girl: “Can I get some Ice Pops?”
Woman: “Long as they don’t have no trans fats.”

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the movers’ estimate. Turns out we’d really rather just have the Buick that we could buy for the cost of the full-service movers who gave us said estimate. Plus, it’s not like we have very much in the way of what you’d call Nice Stuff; in fact, we could probably replace all of the furniture we actually need for less than those movers would cost us. We’re going to go with ABF, the “you pack it, we move it” company. They drop off a freight trailer on a Friday, you load it over the weekend, and then you secure your stuff in place in the trailer with a special bulkhead that keeps it separate from whatever else ends up in the trailer. They pick it up on Monday and eventually – whenever it’s full enough with other households’ stuff or regular freight shipments – bring it to your new house. I looked into renting a truck and doing it ourselves, and, while I guess you do get your stuff exactly when you want it that way, the estimated cost is about the same.

Hmmmm… pack it and drive it ourselves, or pack it and have someone else drive it for the same price?

Not the most difficult question I’ve ever encountered.

So mark your calendars for the weekend of August 4th. I figure if we can get about a thousand of you to help, it shouldn’t take more than five minutes or so.


Good eavesdropping at the gym: One of the most regular regulars, a compact thirty-something woman who is always to be seen huffing away on either a gerbil stepper or a treadmill, for what usually seems to be a good hour at a time, was talking to another regular, the slight, white-haired man who is always on the next machine over. She was standing by his stepper talking as I worked away at the ab-crunch machine, a machine that somehow always makes me feel vain and foolish when I am using it.

“Fifty years, and you should have heard the judge tear into him.” Here she adopted an affected imitating-someone tone. “I hear voices, I never got treatment.” She shifted into a stern, judgelike voice. “Well, why did two psychiatrists find you fit to stand trial? And did you ever ask for treatment?” She shook her head and smiled sheepishly. “I tell you, I slept easier last night.”

“Was that a plea?” asked the white-haired man, referring to the fifty-year sentence.

“Are you kidding?” said the woman. “On the false imprisonment alone he could have gotten life.”

At the time, I thought that perhaps this woman was a prosecutor or some other court or law-enforcement officer, just talking about another day at the office. But then a little research discovered that she was probably talking about the sentencing of “one-man crime wave Keith Ray,” who plagued the northern part of the city last summer, bursting into houses and taking people at gunpoint to ATMs. I remember reading that, in one incident, he took four or so women to an ATM in the pouring rain and made three of them sit on the curb while the fourth made a withdrawal. In the dark and rain, no passersby noticed anything amiss, even while he kept a pistol trained on the sitting women. I wonder if the woman who was telling the story was one of the victims? I also recall that, on what turned out to be that very night, I grew paranoid about the news of this crime wave – remember, it was not only a dark and stormy night, but I was living alone that summer while A. was off at her first season of Bird Camp – and armed myself while sitting watching television with the lights off and the rain and thunder harmonizing outside. (Though this “arming” was only with a walking stick I once purchased in the Dominican Republic, I figured that – since I was mentally prepared to spring up and greet someone bursting in the door, having even sussed out and rehearsed the swinging motion that would allow me the most powerful blow while avoiding various obstacles in the cramped entrance hallway – I would have the upper hand. Yes, I’m that paranoid. No, there’s no treatment for it. Yes, screw that “positive thinking” BS. I’ll take a weapon and a plan any day, thank you very much.)

I note that the article about the sentencing tells of victims and neighborhood residents teaming up to work with the prosecutors to ensure a lengthy sentence (not always a given in this city), so the woman I overhead could have been involved in the case in this capacity, although she certainly talked about it like she’d had a personal stake.

The article does not mention when Mr. Ray will be eligible for parole, nor does it say that he will not be. I guess it can be said that at least he didn’t kill anyone, although I’m of the opinion that using a loaded weapon in the commission of a robbery should expose you to the same penalties as first-degree murder, as you’ve clearly (1) planned ahead and (2) accepted at least the possibility that you’re going to put some blood and hair on the walls, so why shouldn’t you also have to accept that you might be looking at life or something similarly steep if caught?

At lunch I walked to Safeway again. Just outside the rowhouse where I work, two plainclothes BCPD officers with cool-kid hair and sunglasses and navy t-shirts that screamed “POLICE” in huge letters on the back were helping two young men out of a stopped car, frisking them, and seating them on the curb. “Do you have ID?” I heard as I passed. I normally jaywalk across right there but didn’t feel it prudent to pick my way through what might have been about to turn into an arrest, so I walked to the corner. But when I turned south to cross there, I saw the opposite side of the street blocked by maintenance vehicles and a crew spelunking down into a manhole. I had just reached a good jaywalking spot approximately in the middle of the next block when I heard a loud thump behind me and turned just in time to see a police car and a massive pickup truck rocking in the aftermath of their collision. Apparently they had both tried to occupy the same coordinates on the space-time continuum as they impatiently squeezed through the bottleneck caused by the traffic stop I described first. As the truck rolled through the intersection and over to the curb, you could see in the occupants’ faces how delighted they were that they were about to find out what happens when you crash into a police car.

In the Safeway I found a short checkout line in which to purchase my sandwich but had to wait, money in hand, while my cashier and the next one over negotiated a complicated transaction involving obtaining and wolfing down one chicken wing each from a little plastic takeout container they were passing back and forth across the checkout lane. (Don’t they get lunch breaks?) A third cashier yelled down at them: “Don’t you eat all of my food!”

I stopped at a locksmith’s for a copy of my house key. This way I don’t have to keep moving my key back and forth from my key ring to the ball-link chain I wear when I run or go to the gym. I’m amazed I haven’t forgotten to put it back on my key ring yet and locked myself out of the house, although at least I’m in the pretty consistent habit of locking the door from the outside with a key instead of locking the knob inside and pulling it closed behind me, so I guess that’s what’s saved me so far. (Yeah, that’s right, Fate. I just tempted you. What are you going to do about it?)

On the way back to the office, I passed the pickup truck’s occupants, sitting disconsolately on a shady front stoop near their truck while the cop whose car they’d struck strutted around in the street doing cop stuff. As I walked by, another police car pulled in behind that one, but the original arrest/traffic stop/or maybe just plain “humble” [FN 1] that had started the whole mess was apparently over and there was no sign that it had ever happened. I wonder if, by chance, the guys in the pickup truck had been found to be up to no good, themselves, just because they were unlucky enough to have a little fender bender with a cop. Open containers? Savory cloud as they stepped from the vehicle? They weren’t in cuffs, though, so maybe they were just waiting for a shift sergeant or something like that.

On my way to meet and formally sign on with Darlene, our new property manager, I saw a little black and yellow bird smashed flat as a pancake in the middle of the sidewalk.

The movers’ estimate arrived via email in the late afternoon. Through them, the move will apparently cost about as much as a nice used Buick. I promptly called Starving Students to arrange for a comparison estimate, which a bored, barely-interested call-center operator gave me over the phone after I simply described the house. It was a lot cheaper, but then I logged on to and discovered that Starving Students has about the worst reputation out there; the discussion boards even specifically mentioned how bad the Baltimore office is. Apparently moving in general is a particularly risky venture: big, “reputable” companies are often franchises that, in turn, use contractors rather than official staff members. Near move day, they bid out your move. If none of the contractors likes the margins, no one shows up. Or the contractor saves money and hires crackheads who drop (no incentive to give your people breaks if you’re working for a “fixed final fee,” after all, so they will get tired) and/or steal your stuff, or they send fewer people than promised and it takes forever to load the truck.

Another option is to pack everything yourself and then have a local company load it into a freight company’s truck. endorses a freight company called ABF that serves this niche [FN 2], and it turns out that a local mover I called back in March actually suggested this scenario and mentioned that they’ve done this with ABF before, so maybe we’ll go that route. But that means we’ll be packing our TV and pictures and dishes ourselves, with no recourse except to our own wallets if they break.

I wish we were already moved.



FN 1: I couldn’t find a good web page to link to that would enable you to efficiently find the definition of “a humble,” so I’ll define it here. Around these parts, when police arrest or even just hassle you for no good reason – such as because you’ve “disrespected” them or they can’t get you on anything else but just want to remind you of their copness, it’s called being “arrested on a humble,” or just a “humble,” as in, “there weren’t even any charges, it was just a humble.” I don’t know if it’s only Baltimore specific, but this is the only place I’ve ever heard the term, and, by the way, it happens here a lot.

FN 2: It should be pointed out that makes a referral fee from ABF, but at least they admit this right up front.

Bird-related: Rachel Carson

This year is the 45th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring, a book by Rachel Carson credited with starting the modern environmental movement. On the always-interesting this morning, there is a link to an article about one of the efforts to discredit this book, an article that is really worth a read for a look into the bizarre and murky workings of amoral, stateless corporations like Phillip Morris and their intersections with the loonier edge of the right wing in this country. I say “loonier edge,” but I should point out that — obviously — the “bizarro world” we’re-hurting-the-planet-by-trying-to-help-it outlook on environmentalism has successfully become somewhat mainstream in this country, although the tide does seem to be turning back at least slightly in the direction of the rationalism on this issue that most of the rest of the world subscribes to.

In summary, I guess the basic verdict on Carson is that — while she didn’t get the science perfectly right in her book — she wasn’t as wrong as some people (i.e. e.g., tobacco-company black operatives) try to claim she was. The intellectual hit men hired by the tobacco companies, whose goal was to discredit the anti-tobacco World Health Organization on this seemingly unrelated subject, say she killed “millions” of people by encouraging the banning of DDT (a a pesticide that was once effective against mosquitoes, the insect that carries malaria), which she argued for because of the devastation the chemical was causing on bird populations. Apparently they ignore the otherwise well-understood role that indiscriminate use of DDT itself played in worsening malaria, by breeding DDT-resistant malaria parasites. But I guess that possibility would be off the radar of people who don’t believe in evolution, anyway…

The take-home lesson: there’s always someone with an incentive to manipulate the public conversation, and not always someone whose stake is obvious. So be careful what you believe. (Which I say knowing full well that it applies to me on this very issue, yes, thank you very much.)


[Updated June 6, 2007: I added a footnote.]

Up on schedule at 5:10, but I hadn’t been able to fall asleep until one a.m. or so. I guess there just won’t be any more sleeping. Amazing how you can just bully yourself into feeling awake. Actually, I guess it’s really true, what they say about exercise giving you more energy. I’m definitely getting more physical activity than I’ve been getting for a while, and I must say that I can tell the difference – especially in the long dull sleepy hours of the afternoon – between four hours of sleep when you’re exercising and eating decently, and four hours of sleep when you’re, um, not doing those things. So I’m hanging in there so far. I’ll let you know if I start dreaming while I’m awake. Actually that should make for some good posting material, so I win either way.

At the gym, on the gerbil stepper, I read about Turkmenbashi, the former leader of Turkmenistan, who blessed his people by finally dying in 2006, although it remains to be seen if his successor shares the same outsized, deranged tendencies (like renaming March after his mother and scattering massive gold statues of himself around the country, not to mention the standard disappearing of political opponents, etc.). Back home I typed at the dining room table while Zuzu howled her rage about not being the only cat in the world out the front window at the big-eyed calico who likes to stand silently on the ground and stare at her. The calico and a little black cat seem to have teamed up; I’ve started seeing them together, which is interesting, because I didn’t think felix domesticus formed strong family units or felt an instinct for pack behavior. They definitely feel an instinct for s***ing in my garden. I’d like to catch them and take them for a long ride. I think they’d like Elk Neck, up by the Pennsylvania border, maybe. I’m fairly certain they’re strays, but whether they are or aren’t doesn’t enter into the equation, as far as I’m concerned. After all, there’s a law that you have to clean up after your pets. Cats who are allowed to run free (and s*** in my garden) are patently obviously not being “cleaned up after.” And that subjects them to Street Justice.

And get off my lawn, you lousy kids!

In other cat news, Her Highness Miss Zuzu does not seem to like “fish and shrimp medley.” Can’t say I blame her. Doesn’t look near as appetizing as the “beef giblets in gravy.”

There was no morning paper. I guess you have to keep paying them, or they stop delivering. On the other hand, I haven’t gotten a bill in about three months that I’ve noticed.

Rushing out the door, I forgot to make a sandwich from the two pounds of smoked turkey I ordered from (I always seem to run out part way through the week, but, as I was unpacking the groceries and came across these two brick-sized ziplocs of poultry flesh, I couldn’t help but think I may have gone overboard.) So I had to go buy a sandwich from Safeway dot brick and mortar. In the checkout line, I was relieved to see on the cover of Star that “Finally!” we will be able to read “Jen’s $5 Million Tell-All! How Brad Told Her About Angelina. His OTHER Women. Day She Went Face To Face With Angelina.”

Every few days, the cashier puts the squeeze on.

“Would you care to round that up 38 cents to help fight prostate cancer?”

How are you going to say no to that? (Randians, put your hands down. No one wants to hear it. And no we don’t want to read that book, either, any more than we want to read The Washington Times.)

The gleeful project at work finally drew to a close yesterday. (That is, we submitted something. There is another shoe yet to drop. That will be the fun part.) I was a little late leaving for home because my boss and I were making some final adjustments to this project, specifically to a memo that I’ve informally titled The Hammer of Vengeance, and I needed to meet the estimator from the moving company at 6:15, so I walked fast the whole way, my shins on fire. As I passed the 7-11 parking lot on 33rd, a man whose aimless movements signaled “panhandler” almost let me get away before deciding I looked nice or soft or gullible enough to tap for money.

“Hey, excuse me, buddy!”

The jocular tone, the false friendliness. Possible things I could have said:

“Do I know you?”

“I think I would recognize all of my buddies, so who the f*** are you?”

“Sorry, the ATM is closed.”

But I just kept walking, fast, and called over my shoulder, “sorry, I’m in a hurry.” As sick as I am of these guys (pretty sick), I can’t ignore the fact that they are human beings. [FN 1] It pains me that I live in a time and place such that it is naive to believe someone when they ask for my help. But it’s hard to believe them, after a while. I mean, do they realize how many times the average mark hears the same stories? Maybe they should form a trade guild, get together for some strategizing sessions, so they aren’t stepping on each other’s toes with overlapping tales about starting a youth football league or needing to get to D.C. for a job interview (“just got out of prison and I’m trying to go straight”) or being late for a meeting with their parole officers. The ones who really irritate me are the ones with the practiced-sounding “don’t worry, I’m not a murderer or rapist” line. This is a good tactic on their part, since it throws the middle-class white person into a sort of defensive mental posture. Oh, no, I would never assume that. Only racist a***holes wouldn’t give you a chance to explain yourself. I will singlehandedly counter centuries of oppression and racism by assuming that you’re just like me. Never mind the fact that, in a city like Baltimore, it’s often just a bad idea to let someone slow you down on the street (those guys wouldn’t let someone do it to them), or let’s just say, if you do stop walking to tell someone the time or where exactly Old York Road is, you’re not taking every safety precaution that you can. When you get the gun in your face, you won’t be able to say, “I did everything I could have done to avoid this.” I’m not saying don’t tell anyone the time, I’m just saying keep walking while you do, and ignore the follow-on “hey let me ask you something.” Anyway, sometime I wish I could get through these guys’ heads that I’m less worried that they’re a murderer or rapist than that they’re a time thief, and they’ve already begun wasting my daylight.

Actually, if you are as conflicted as I am about what to do for guys who have the relatively plausible story of having just been released from prison and needing to get to a relative’s house in the suburbs (because it’s true: we don’t really do much of anything for people on their way out of the prison gate except hand them their expired driver’s licenses – if they ever had one to begin with – and tell them not to come back anytime soon, and it makes sense that there would be a lot of these guys, given that some 5,000 people are released into Baltimore City each year, and it really is wise thinking on their part to get the hell out of this hellhole of a city, if that is in fact their plan), you can tell them about the transportation services offered at Our Daily Bread’s Good Samaritan Service Center down on Franklin Street, around the corner from the soup kitchen, near the main branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. (Donate money here, if you’re so inclined.)

I mean, there but for the grace, and all that.

The estimator from the moving company was a brisk, pleasant man who moved through the house like a wind,making little marks on a form on his clipboard. He told me he’ll have the estimate for me early Wednesday morning. I told him my parents raved about the service (really, I want him to go look up the glowing letter of recommendation my dad wrote them, so that he’ll give me a discount in hopes of more of the same – we don’t have much stuff to move, so we’ll be all right on weight, but I cringe at the thought of all of those miles at this, the highest point in inflation-adjusted gasoline prices in U.S. history). He said, “if you like my price, you’re gonna love our service. Our guys are the best.”

Here’s hoping.



FN 1: In case this needs saying, I hope you realize that I’m talking about the professional street grifters who seem to be doing all right for themselves (just look at their shoes for a quick estimate of this), not the pathetic nutters abandoned to the streets by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s as part of his abdication of the social contract.


I guess it’s possible to have too much faith in this modern age. For example, I keep expecting YouTube to be better than it is. I’m not really interested in watching funny “mashups” or, um, someone’s video diary… Well, never mind that, but what I’m looking for is a complete cataloguing of every minute of video/TV/movies I’ve ever seen, so that I can drop pop-cultural references here like they’re hot and then give a link so you’ll know what I’m talking about. But alas there was no footage of the Simpsons reference to tethered swimming – at least not “tagged” as such – for me to drop in yesterday, and now I can’t find that scene from the second season of The Wire where a highly amused McNulty is burning the midnight oil in the marine unit office to which he’s been banished, almost chortling as he sends a fax to headquarters that he knows will displease his nemeses at the top of the homicide department very, very much.

Because – in addition to that scene perfectly expressing my mood as I worked on “something” yesterday – being able to send you to that scene would help make up for the fact that I can’t really elaborate any more than that, this web site being a top result for a search of my name and given the seriousness with which I take client confidentiality agreements. But let’s just say I’ve checked and rechecked my math, and the body definitely turned up first went in the water on this side of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Not only did I work all the way until 12:48 p.m. before even thinking about lunch, I could hardly restrain myself from making victorious little noises and dancing in my chair as I plugged away. Good thing I’m not in a cubicle farm…

Around dawn, the air was still fresh and cool from Tropical Storm Barry’s after-effects. My morning routine ran like clockwork. Up at 5:10, into the Y just as they were opening the doors (which they seem to do at about 5:20, ten minutes earlier than their advertised opening time), a quick weights routine, and then back out for my run. And then what a treat: near the corner of Chestnut Hill Avenue and Yolando, up in Ednor Gardens, I saw a red fox crossing the street. It wasn’t pleased to see me and took off up Yolando, running for about twenty yards along the sidewalk before crossing to the other side of the street and vanishing into someone’s yard. Good possible solution to the rat problem?

Oh whatever, there is no solution to the rat problem. Those things are humankind’s adopted sibling; they’ll be around at least as long as we are…

Just as I was getting ready to quit for the day and walk home, a huge thunderstorm swept in. I called my brother for a ride, and it was sunny by the time he got there. Riding along was a friend of his who does ESOL work with kindergartners while he works on his M.Ed. He said he’s so sick of the city school system that he will squeeze in three master’s level classes this fall just so he can finish his program and move on to a system that, you know, functions and treats its staff and students like human beings. He told a story of getting in trouble for missing a staff meeting the other day so that he could meet with his academic advisor, despite the fact that his principal had waited nearly six months after first observing him teaching to give him feedback. During his first year, mind you. And oh, those time-thieving meetings… “Remember that new system that was going to save education that we told you about last time? It turns out that we discovered “incorrect thinking” in those binders, so throw them away and memorize this new stack. And search and destroy missions will no longer be called ‘search and destroy,’ they will be ‘sweep and clear, sweep and clear.'”

[See again, no sign of that briefing scene from Full Metal Jacket that I’m referencing. How will you know how hip I am if you haven’t seen the movie?!!!

Oh, well here’s another amusing clip. Guess there’s something to these mashups after all:

These guys really do talk/sound like that, by the way. I had cadences from boot camp stuck in my head for years.]

The order came. Missing most of the actual staple items. Milk out of stock?!?! Okay, it was soy milk, but still, I’ve never been in a Safeway that was out of the stuff before. And English Muffins? I asked the driver and he said that maybe the “shopper” who had filled my order had just been lazy. Huh!

I took delivery and grabbed all of the bags at once to carry them into the kitchen. I dropped one bag on my way. Once, on my way through the checkout line, a cashier looked at the eggs I was buying, you know, the “I’m saving the world” allegedly cruelty-free eggs that come in the clear plastic container with two layers of lid that fold over on each other, sort of like a trifold wallet?

“Is that the kind of package where you can drop it and the eggs will be all right?” she asked.

Actually, no, as it turns out.

Bird Camp Dispatch 4

A. called briefly on Saturday to report a proud accomplishment. Remember the egg-probing process I described here? One reason that this is such a delicate process is because birds are notoriously picky about their eggs. Though the old legend about human smell being enough to cause birds to reject eggs/chicks (you know, the reason your mother told you not to pick up a baby bird to put it back in its nest?) is apparently not true (otherwise A.’s work would be impossible, if you think about it), apparently some birds will clue in on some aspect of the probe set-up – maybe a problem with the super-glue seal, maybe the wire not being hidden well enough – and will kick the egg out of the nest.

And some birds are pickier than others, with the red-faced warbler being one of the pickiest of all. A. told me that Bird Camp personnel have never before probed a red-faced warbler’s egg without the probe being detected and the egg rejected within hours in relatively short order. But, as of Saturday, an A.-seated probe in a red-faced warbler’s egg was on its second day of recording data, which may be a new record.

Also, one of the crew members who left has been replaced by an Englishman.

Also also, I just discovered that there may have been some problem with Bird Camp Dispatch 3 being visible to all readers, but I think I fixed the problem. Let me know if you can’t see it, though.


Having stayed up much too late finishing Miami Vice on Saturday night, I had hoped to sleep in on Sunday, but I was awakened by a phone call at around seven a.m. I’m not usually in the habit of taking off-hours calls or any calls at all, for the most part, but with A. off in Arizona and not always in control of when she can phone, I’m a little more forgiving of people daring to attempt to communicate with me these days. I staggered out of bed and flipped open my phone. I could already see that it was a local number but I proceeded anyway. Maybe someone I know had gotten arrested or was in the hospital. I was still groggy and didn’t realize at first that I had not taken out my ear plugs (oh, yes, I’m a full-blown addict, at this point), so there was a little confusion to start off the call. By the time I could hear the caller, she was reciting a phone number and asking if it were mine. It sounded like mine but I wasn’t sure on the last four digits, so I recited my last four digits as a question. “No!” she said, sounding disgusted, then repeated what she’d said before, which I could now hear was one digit off from my number. She recited the numbers emphatically, as if she were trying to convince me that they were in fact mine. “No, that’s not me,” I said. The next sound was the click of her hanging up.

And a good Sunday morning to you, my dear.

My brother had told me about a Sunday-morning yoga class I might want to try, taught by his friend and my one-time American Studies classmate Heather. On Saturday night, after wasting 135 minutes of my life and not getting to bed until about one a.m., I’d decided to put off trying the nine a.m. class until next week. But since I was up anyway, I got dressed, hunted out my purple sticky yoga mat, and drove down to Charm City Yoga on Fell Street in Fells Point. A cold front The remnants of tropical Storm Barry had moved in overnight and the air felt brisk if a little humid. As I walked into the studio, it was just starting to rain.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not new to yoga, although it’s been about four years (egads!) since I regularly attended a class. Nowadays my “practice” is usually limited to trying a halfhearted down dog and thinking, “yup, I’m not as flexible as I used to be.” (In high school, I could put my foot behind my head, but this was probably only because I was getting no exercise at the time and had no muscles to get in the way.) A. and I tried the Saturday morning class at the Y for a little while, but it was cheap and we got what we paid for and it just never clicked.

Heather’s class, theoretically for beginners, was just what I’ve been looking for. I say it was “theoretically” for beginners because most of the students have been attending for a while, meaning that they know their positions and can move between them pretty quickly, so Heather was able to push right along while giving some pointers to those of us who were new or rusty. Frankly, the class kicked my ass. It lasted almost an hour and a half, and there were points toward the end where some dumb alligator part of my brain stopped wanting to try the next position and instead started dreaming up excuses why I should just sit there, a feeling I haven’t felt very often in an exercise setting other than during gym class in middle school, tethered swimming (have you ever felt yourself break out in a sweat underwater?) and step aerobics (yes, really) in boot camp, and sparring in martial arts classes, none of which are in my particularly recent history. I was drenched in sweat by the end of the class and regretted not thinking to bring a towel.

By the time the class was over, a light but insistent drizzle was falling. The streets of Fells Point were still mostly empty and the air carried a strong smell of salt water and the things that live there. A tinge of fishiness but mostly just fresh and alive. The breeze and rain felt wonderful after the heat of the yoga studio and I decided to walk along the dock promenade to cool down. In the marinas, a few early-rising tinkerers were messing about with their boats. Off toward Canton, a lone sailboat loafed in open water, its sails slack and pulsing in the wind. A man on a road bike in racing togs had made the bad decision to turn onto one of the cobblestone streets and rode past with a grim, fixed expression. The air and breeze and rain and the sound of sailboat halyards clacking against masts brought on some mild misgivings: can I really move so far away from the sea? I’m actually hoping that I might do more boating up in Montana than I’m currently doing in Baltimore, since the crystal-clear, ponderosa-ringed lakes up there seem like the ideal setting for playing with a small open sailboat, the kind that you can capsize and re-right without problems. That’s the kind of sailing for me, I think. Still, it will seem strange to go long stretches of time without smelling the brackish water of the Patapsco, without driving “downy ocean” (as the natives here say it) for a weekend or a Sunday afternoon.

I stopped for bagels on the way home and passed the rest of the morning and the early afternoon typing. In the late afternoon, I made an inspection of the strawberry patch. I could almost sense the plants’ exultation in the rain that was still falling, almost see their leaves flex and spread, almost read a smile in their little white blossoms. Kevin stopped by briefly in the late afternoon, and then it was time to get down to the tasks I’d set myself for the day.

The first and most important for my peace of mind was to finally create a comprehensive list of everything rental- and moving-related that I need to accomplish this summer. I adapted a project planning template from work and made tables of “component tasks” that showed any dependent relationships between the projects (like, “don’t fix the dining room ceiling before the plumbers come to replace the bathroom’s hot-water pipe above it”). It’s a daunting list, but manageable. Just daunting enough that I will be forced to take it seriously, but I think I can pull it off.

I took care of some email correspondence with the future property manager (we’ll sign the paperwork early this week, I hope) and the alleged future tenants, started on but did not finish a small piece of freelance work, and decided that this would be a good week for a order, as opposed to squeezing in a trip to the grocery store. All of this took me until almost ten p.m., when my stomach informed me that it was not happy that we had only eaten twice all day. So I prepared myself a light supper of crackers and cheese and joined my brother in the living room, where he was finishing Miami Vice. (He had left partway through for a friend’s party on Saturday night, as he is wont to do.) I watched long enough to finish my crackers but found that the movie seemed even more ridiculous the second time around. [FN 1] I could barely restrain myself from making snide comments, which can be annoying for someone who hasn’t seen the movie yet, so I went up to bed with a New Yorker instead.



FN 1 : Like, wouldn’t cops on a raid wearing heavy external body armor and carrying machine guns wear helmets, too, or is the hair more important? And if a couple of you are in the process of rescuing someone from a bomb-rigged trailer, wouldn’t you just pick her up in the chair she’s tied to and carry her out, rather than fumbling with the knots? For that matter, come to think of it, there was also a knife handy, sticking out of one deceased baddie’s back. The list goes on, indefinitely, but you probably could have guessed that. Also, from a dramatic perspective, I think the director missed a great opportunity by deciding not to portray the desperate drive to the hospital with the injured cop in the appropriated patrol car, the kind of compelling, human scene that The Wire gets a lot of its juice from. But now I’m criticizing the director for not having made a different kind of movie, which I guess isn’t exactly fair.

(It was cool, I will admit, to see the cigarette boats booming into Government Cut and up the Miami River, right past the base where my patrol boat was stationed. It was funny, too, to consider the speed at which they were traveling. Once, when my boat was hosting a congressional fact-finding delegation and demonstrating What The Coast Guard Does, the captain had us show the aides what full speed on a 110-foot patrol boat looks like, on that very stretch of river. (We, of course, would have pulled over any civilian boat going that fast in this speed-restricted area.) The executive officer had the conn and I was at the navigation station. I noticed a small tugboat with a string of barges pulling out of an inlet up ahead, and called up to the XO that we should drop our speed. “The captain wants top speed, and that’s what he’s going to get,” she replied. I noted my advice in the log. The tugboat and barges did not, shall we say, do well with the tall wake we sent their way, and seconds later we had a call from the enraged captain. “Uh, Coast Guard, I don’t know what the f*** that was, but I’m going to need some help out here fast. All of my barges are broke loose and the crew members I need to help me round them up again are stuck on the barges.” I radioed the base small-boat station and they sent out a utility boat to help. The XO, as it turned out, was not able to stand on her “just following orders” defense (yay, Nuremberg!) and had to pay for several thousand dollars worth of damages.)

Good Portfolio Web Sites?

Does anyone out there ever have occasion to look at how writers/photographers/other creative types present themselves online? I’d like to set up a snazzy portfolio site (for writing) that can make use of actual images of magazine pages, etc. Any recommendations?