Up at seven, off to the gym. I remembered to bring a magazine this time and passed 25 minutes on the gerbil stepper reading in The New Yorker about the historical controversy over what exactly Secretary of War Edwin Stanton said when Lincoln finished dying in front of him: either “now he belongs to the ages” or “now he belongs to the angels.” Apparently the answer depends on what the historian’s politics are. Such were the deep thoughts in my mind as I fed Zuzu some more “ocean fish feast” and spent the rest of the morning typing up the diary and the bird camp dispatch. The time I put into these things. It’s like a job. Except you get paid for those.

I spent the afternoon at work because there was something I wanted to make sure about and I couldn’t stand to wait until Monday to verify that I had really discovered the solution that I thought I had. (Vague enough for you?) No one likes to go into work on a weekend, including me. But a confluence of factors – mainly related to how satisfying it will be when I prove the point I’m working on – made for an exception. On my way to work, I ran into Kirk, the lawn guy, on my front steps, about to knock and inquire if I wanted the grass cut. I told him I had no cash, so maybe he should come back on Sunday. We walked down the steps together, and he bent to collect his brown-paper-bagged can of beer from the bottom step before lurching off up the street.

I was finished at work in time to not be too late getting to my old coworker Lauren’s housewarming party in Hamilton. She took her time getting around to one of these, since I think she bought the house almost a year ago. Guess she’s part of the trend resulting in “single women buying houses at twice the national average in Baltimore.” The table was covered with delicious food prepared by people I vaguely know through work-related activities, employees of various city agencies mixed with Lauren’s boyfriend’s Puerto Rican friends, one of whom, a heavy-set fellow with thick black hair, was a good-natured hearty fellow who laughed a lot. There’s no problem with that, of course, but his canines were long and pronounced and sharp, giving his smiles a vampiric aspect that I couldn’t quite get used to. Fortunately there was a good deal of garlic in the guacamole, so I kept a chip loaded up at all times just in case. There was an awkward moment when a vague acquaintance, who I did not previously know was gay, mentioned his “date,” who was not in the room; in continuation of a joke we were all contributing to – concerning how strange it can sometimes be introducing one’s significant other to co-workers for the first time – I kept saying “she,” and it only gradually dawned on me why everyone else had gotten really quiet.

I wandered out into the back yard, where a very pregnant woman, her toes bright red from all of that pressure, was practicing her googley eyes and exaggerated vowel sounds on another woman’s newborn. A ring of people sat in plastic chairs near the keg, and a toy dog in the yard next door would not shut up. Gradually the yapping faded into the background. I got talking to Lauren’s boyfriend; “somehow” it came up that I had been in the Coast Guard, and he paid me the compliment of pretending to be interested in my stories for quite a while. I’ll have to have some new adventures sometime soon, before the most interesting thing about me recedes more than a decade into my past. (Has it really been eight years since I was “rung ashore” from my last boat?) Actually, the most interesting thing about me now is A. and her job, which just seems to fascinate people. “In a tent?” they ask, aghast, but, on the other hand, the part that involves working with baby birds seemed to really captivate a few people who are themselves stuck behind health department computers all day long. (They struck me as the type to keep photographs of cute baby animals taped to said computers, although I’m not sure if they really know what a baby songbird looks like.) Still, these are city folk, and I can tell they mostly think we’re crazy for moving to the sticks.

Driving back from the party, I decided I was in the mood for some mindless entertainment and stopped for a movie. Maybe because I’d heard “We Are the World” on the classic rock station earlier, I was in an eighties mood, and I suddenly remembered reading somewhere that the new Miami Vice movie was actually watchable and true to the spirit of the original show, not least because it uses the song “In the Air Tonight,” which anyone who used to watch this show knows is key. So, after consulting with the Video Americain staff as to where it might be classified under their talmudic organizational system (thrillers? action? ah, the Michael Mann director’s section), I snapped it up and headed home. Frankly I don’t know what I was thinking. NOTE TO SELF: sometimes people who watch a lot of Hollywood movies are impressed by one that is better than most, but remember that this is like a plumber telling you that your clogged sewage line is not as bad as some others he’s seen. Whatever movie they’re talking about may in fact be better than other Hollywood movies, but that’s quite a different thing from saying that it’s actually good.

At first, I thought I’d made a good choice: the cinematography was beautiful, and, if the action seemed cheesy (do the two detectives really have to be world-class rocket boat drivers?), it was at least tensely plotted for the first few scenes. But the spell was broken by this agonizingly long sex scene between Tubbs and his cop girlfriend about 28 minutes in; it’s not that I’m opposed to such scenes in general, but this one seemed so gratuitous and fakely glorious that I considered fast-forwarding. And it went downhill from there. First, Crockett got to have exactly the same scene with his girlfriend, only his was tinged with tragedy because – since she seemed to be involved at a high level in the international drug-smuggling cartel he was infiltrating – you knew it couldn’t turn out well. Then, this strange parity continued when both detectives’ girlfriends separately fell into one or another bad guys’ clutches and each had to be rescued. And shouldn’t Sonny’s girlfriend have died or gone to prison in the end? She seemed really nice, but there’s “nice” and then there’s “not helping to finance multi-million-dollar cocaine deals with murderous psychopaths,” and the latter is one of the main qualities I personally look for before deciding to get close to someone. So it was hard to sympathize when their love turned all star-crossed, and it was even harder to believe that Sonny has the kind of pull that lets him spirit her away from the scene of the final shootout, while the SWAT guys are slipping plastic cable-ties on everyone else’s wrists, and put her on a boat (and why to Atlanta, of all places?). He promises her that “no one will follow you”; I guess he’s just going to tell the FBI, “she’s cool.” But it was clearly an emotional moment when they said goodbye. His eyes grew moist and limpid and the wistful yet sensual way he stroked his mustache really affected me.

“In the Air Tonight” was used correctly, at least. The tension in the singer’s voice builds as we cycle through a montage of dangerous men getting ready for a dangerous night: thugs in cheap suits standing around tensely on a pier, cops clacking the slides on their pistols and pushing rounds into magazines, the palm fronds shivering in the night breeze off of the ocean. The speeding car, the tense phone call. “Let’s do this.” The only problem was they didn’t use the original song. The mistake there is that, really, this song sucks, like pretty much everything else Phil Collins – a man who says, of his creative process, that “the way I write lyrics is I open my mouth and I see what comes out” – has ever done and will ever do. But his version of this particular song is permanently part of the Miami Vice mystique, and, used correctly, it really works well as soundtrack music. I can’t think of the old show without thinking of this song playing over detectives settling into their positions for some final raid, the drums coming in when everyone realizes that the informant is compromised and will certainly die before they kick the door in, the last bars echoing away in the aftermath of some slow-motion bloodbath… The song was probably only ever used in one episode, but in my memory it was in every one. Maybe this 1980s song would have sounded too anachronistic over the clearly updated setting. Or maybe Phil wanted too much money to let them use his version (although someone would have had to pay for the cover, I guess). But the version they used was some awful modern approximation of the original, and, from that point on, I found myself just waiting for the movie to end.

The final verdict: yet another production that may once have had a chance at being decent, ruined by too much money and too long a running time and too much input from committees instead of creative people, all of which I guess is a long-winded way of saying “a Hollywood movie.” It occurs to me that it must be so easy to write the script for something like this. I guess the hard part is sublimating whatever dream you once had of doing high-quality work you could be proud of, but once you get over that ridiculous hangup, you can just sit back, cash the checks, and quickly change the subject when someone at a party asks “what do you do?”

Bird Camp Dispatch 3

To see all Bird Camp-related posts, please click on “Bird Camp” in the categories list to the left.


When last we left our hero and my wife, A., she was waiting for the last of her crew to report, looking forward to “probing [her] first eggs,” and worrying that she might have to shoot some squirrels. Since then, all of the approximately two dozen employees and grad students have finally arrived, trickling in from native countries as far afield as Canada, the Bahamas and Taiwan. Unfortunately, three staff members have had to leave: one experienced a death in the family, one experienced the recurrence of a herniated disk, and one decided to pursue a different employment opportunity. These departures have resulted in three “projects” having to be abandoned; unfortunately, my notes – scribbled late on Sunday night in Baton Rouge – are not detailed enough to let me explain what those “projects” consist of. We may be talking about the closing of three plots where research had been planned, but A. will have to confirm that.

But otherwise, work continues apace. Everyone has been assigned plots and tasks. Everyone has been trained in nest searching, the most overarching activity of the project, though certain crewmembers are engaged in the more specialized tasks of mist netting (catching and banding a sampling of whichever kinds of birds fly past a given point, with a filmy net shaped sort of like a volleyball net), target netting (catching and banding specific kinds of birds by placing a mist net near their nests), and mammal trapping. The main purpose of banding is to be able to see how long banded birds survive and where they end up. Obviously, some already banded birds will be caught in the above operations; when they are, various statistics are recorded and added to that bird’s life history record before it is released. (The same statistics are recorded as a baseline for a newly netted bird.)

The squirrel-shooting operation I mentioned last time was suspended, in the end, because they discovered that they had gotten started on it too late in the season to achieve the desired goal. The idea had been to decrease the number of predators of bird nests (i.e., of eggs) in certain of the project’s plots in order to see how much of an effect this form of predator is having on the birds’ successful reproduction. I know, you’re thinking, squirrels eat eggs? As I was typing this out, I second-guessed my notes, wondering if I could possibly have that right, but it looks like I do. Also, remember that squirrels aren’t the only small mammals in this region who like a nice egg now and then, but trapping is sufficient to remove mice and the like. However, “squirrels don’t trap well,” A. explained last time.

I was mistaken, when last I wrote about this squirrel-shooting plan, in my explanation that the goal was to eliminate the squirrels from an enclosed – i.e., fenced – area. I assumed that this was the case because I didn’t understand how else you could keep the squirrels from returning. But in fact, as A. points out, it was absurd of me to think that there is any practical form of fencing that could keep squirrels out of a piece of forest land – the fence would have to be taller than the surrounding trees and electrified to boot, plus there would need to be no openings bigger than maybe two inches across. Impractical, to say the least, and besides, whoever is capable of building a fence like that should just report immediately to our southern border.

What’s interesting is that such extreme steps are not necessary, and neither is an ongoing shooting campaign. Apparently, squirrels have the extremely sensible instinct to avoid areas where they find no signs of other squirrels. It’s not that they want to hang out up close and personal with other squirrels – as anyone who has ever sat for a while in a city park can attest, these animals can be intensely territorial – but they seem to want to hear/see/smell that other squirrels are at least in the vicinity. Otherwise, they (have instincts that make it appear as if they consciously) worry that there might be an efficient predator in the area. So if you manage to eliminate them from one area early enough, the population there will never get a claw-hold and you’ll have a largely squirrel-free plot; then you can compare how nests fare there compared to other plots, where the squirrels are allowed to live unmolested. Another question is simply whether the birds behave differently in the absence of these predators. Perhaps they have lower “energy costs” each day that, in turn, allow more attention to other possible dangers, and so on.

But as I say, they got started too late in the season to achieve the desired effect. Oh, well. There’s always next year.

The professor in charge of Bird Camp made his seasonal visit soon after everyone had arrived. He typically only stays a few weeks in the early part of the season, just to make sure the training is proceeding as he wants and to give some lectures on the goals and findings of projects like this one. While there, he did indeed teach A. to probe eggs, although I must make another retraction: egg probing does indeed result in the death of one egg (but maybe a squirrel would have eaten it anyway?). Egg probes are set up by making a tiny hole in the shell and inserting the needle-like probe about halfway. Super-glue is used to seal the probe in place. The probed egg is then put back into the nest, in the center of the clutch, or group of eggs. A wire is led from this probe out of the nest, carefully concealed from the bird, and connected to a small data recording device; these devices are collected on a regular basis so that their data can be downloaded into a computer back at the camp. I was also wrong when I described this process as functioning like some sort of amniocentesis for birds; in fact, all that is being monitored is the temperature at the center of an egg in a given nest throughout the incubation stage – just another piece of data that allows you to comment on what did or did not lead to one nest’s success over another. But speaking of amniocentesis-like processes, at the request of another professor interested in analyzing hormones (androgen, specifically) in the developing eggs, the Bird Camp crew is collecting some of [whatever you call the stuff inside of an incubating egg].

About a week into the start of work, a human-caused fire on the Rim closed off a section of forest and prevented the crew from accessing five plots for about two weeks. The fire was 100-percent contained by the time A. left for last week’s New Orleans/Baton Rouge trip, but this is a circumstance that will continue to arise, with increasing frequency, for the rest of the season. Forest fires break out in this area all the time, some caused by humans but most by lightning strikes that easily ignite vegetation that has been dried out by the summer sun. For those of us who don’t live in fire country, it is easy to form the impression that there are only a few forest fires a year out west, but we only hear about the fires that are particularly large and/or which threaten human settlements. In fact, according to Wikipedia, “wildfires burn 4.3 million acres (17,000 kmĀ²) in the United States annually.”

When I visited Bird Camp last year, the Forest Service radios the researchers carry were crackling almost continually with conversations between fire-spotters in towers and Forest Service rangers on the ground as they tried to locate and evaluate the various fires that kept cropping up. Two or more towers in different locations would first compare compass angles on smoke sightings. (Otherwise, their directions to the rangers would be something like “there’s fire in the woods somewhere to the west of me, give or take 100 miles, go find it”; with sightings from different angles, it is possible to draw lines on a map whose intersection will give a more precise location). Then the rangers would drive out and see if the fire needed putting out, which not all of them do, of course.

I also asked A. to tell me what her typical day is like.

3:45 a.m. – Up and at ’em. Breakfast of oatmeal and hot cocoa in the military-style kitchen tent. (Some people cook eggs and the like, but A. doesn’t want to have to fuss around that much so early in the morning.)

4:30 a.m. – Vehicles (SUVs and a van) depart in various directions to drop everyone at their plots. A. typically drives one of these as she needs to remain mobile, visiting many different sites, throughout the day.

5:00 a.m. – Everyone should be on their plots and working by this point (around the time my alarm clock is going off, and I thought I liked to get up early). A.’s daily tasks include checking on nests that have already been located, finding new ones, and setting up egg probes and the video cameras that are used to capture predation of eggs as well as bird behaviors.

12:00 p.m. – Everyone is picked up and brought back to camp for lunch (after a nice seven-hour workday so far, remember). Most of the crew members’ shifts end after lunch, with the copying of information collected on “field cards” onto the “home cards” that never leave the work tent and serve as a sort of daily backup file (analog, baby, analog). But some people have egg and nestling measurements to make, and most of the crew is – so far – so gung-ho and curious and helpful that just about everyone volunteers to help with this. Other afternoon activities include looking into nests with “peeper cameras,” jury-rigged little camera cells on the end of long poles than can be held up over nests, and cavity-nest access. Cavity nesters are birds that build their nests inside hollow parts of trees, and they aren’t safe from snooping either, though this is easier said than done. Researchers must assemble special stackable ladders to scale the trees, sometimes as high as 20 feet off the ground, and use a reciprocating saw to gain access to the nest. A. reports that this is strenuous work that “hurts your arms from all the vibrations.” As a last task before dinner, A. makes up the next day’s schedules and decides which vehicles need to go where, depending on terrain and how many people need to get to the various plots.

6:30 p.m. – Dinner. After dinner, A. downloads data from the egg-probe data recorders, hangs with her crew, answers questions, gives impromptu training, relaxes a little. Some crew members have cars and might leave camp now, maybe to drive to the Rim to make phone calls, maybe to make a personal errand, although it’s about an hour’s drive to the closest store, a little general store and gas station that constitutes “downtown” Happy Jack (and serves as the post office, so that’s where your letters go, assuming you’re writing – you are writing, aren’t you?).

9:00 p.m. – Bedtime. Zip into the tent, curl up in the sleeping bag, try to rest up for another long day.

Jeez, I need a nap just writing about all this.


I couldn’t care less about your exercise routine, so why do I think you’ll be interested in mine? Pure arrogance, I guess.

On Friday, I sacrificed my actual workout for a meeting with the weight-room attendant, who rearranged my workout on the computer into three different workouts, to allow for rotating attention to different body parts (something that, now that I’ve typed it out, sounds like it would be illegal in some states) as opposed to one long workout at a time. And breaking it up like that made clear how little I was doing for some muscle groups, so we added some new exercises in, including the leg ab- and adduction machine, which feels like a great way to pull some very delicate muscles. I’ll have to ease into it. But I guess I must be turning into some sort of fitness machine, because I went for a run after this meeting, and, for the first time, my route seemed too short.

I can feel it working.

Feel myself growing more powerful.

Soon my enemies will quail at the mere sound of my heavy stride.

If I had any enemies.

In pet news, dogfighting is on the rise in Baltimore and Zuzu is still digging the wet food. Today we moved on from “beef giblets in gravy” to “ocean fish feast.” Given recent events, I laughed out loud when I read the punchline in Friday’s edition of my favorite currently published comic strip, Get Fuzzy: “Cats never know how good they’ve got it… And yet they know it’s not good enough.”

At 3:17 p.m., my heart began to race and my chest swelled with joy. I had just proved someone wrong, someone who had been the bane of my existence – by leading me to believe that I was wrong – for months. The repercussions should prove interesting, but that’s about all I can say here, except how sweet it is.

I was sitting at the bar in Dizzy Issie’s, one ear on the conversation, one eye on the television. Apparently we will be banning toothpaste imported from China. Dr. Death has been released and strides among us once again (his PR people should tell him to lose the demented grin). The semi-doomed, globe-trotting TB patient hopes he “can be forgiven.” (What travel plans would you make if told you had a disease with only a thirty-percent chance of recovery?) My phone rang. A call from my parents’ house in West Virginia. I figured I’d call back later and so I ignored it, but a second call from the same number a few minutes later struck me as ominous. I ducked outside to answer and heard the following story from my mother, who works the week in Silver Spring but drives to the West Virginia house most weekends, and who had a little adventure on this Friday’s “commute” (as retold in an email she sent me Saturday morning).

Move It Buster (4 OF 8)

From her email:

“I don’t know if it was a turkey vulture, but it was larger than a crow and there are a lot of turkey buzzards around that area.

“I saw them feasting on the shoulder of the divided highway right after Wardensville and stupidly ignored them. Should have moved to the left lane. Suddenly I saw a large wing at the passenger side of the windshield followed by a the sickening sound of impact and glass breaking. It was such a shock but I just kept driving in frozen mobility. I assume there was a dead or badly injured bird on the road behind me. Should I have pulled over? And do what?

“The emptiness of the highway allowed me to look at the damage as I drove on– a concave spider web of shattered glass making an incredibly beautiful pattern in the sunlight. The glass had not been fully penetrated, but shiny particles sprinkled the passenger seat. The question was would the windshield hold–I was smack in the middle of my weekend journey with a hundred miles to go. I stopped briefly at a park to examine the damage more closely and took some pictures. Decisions–call AAA? the Honda Road Service? Keep going? I chose the last option as seeming to be the least complicated.

“So I turned up the Sirius Blue Grass Station and spent the next couple of hours wondering if the whole thing would suddenly collapse or if I would get pulled over for driving an unsafe vehicle especially as I passed through Moorefield and Petersburg. Just 35 miles to go but there were threatening clouds over the Alleghenies and I hoped that it wouldn’t rain. It did of course–a horrendous downpour! I was relieved to find that the rain did not penetrate but I was afraid to turn on the windshield wipers in case the motion would make the whole collapse. I had to pull over because I had no visibility. When the rain did not let up I had to chance turning on the wipers–and (small miracle) they cleaned the drivers side of the windshield and then just flew over the dented part. Pretty sturdy windshield! When I finally pulled into our garage I found that my fingers were still gripping the wheel some time after I had stopped. Definitely time for a drink.

“Monday the glass doctor will come and replace the windshield.

“So was the bird startled and flew into the car by accident? Did it want to attack the black object interrupting its dinner? Who knows. I will certainly be more respectful of birds in the future.”

Buzzard Damage

After the bar we drove to Aaron’s house in Hampden, a few minutes away. Along the way, there were the usual crowds of Hampdenite teenaged boys riding dirt bikes a few sizes too small for them, cretinous and stunted-looking with their knees scissoring up near their ears like grasshopper legs. At Aaron’s house, the conversation turned to sports and I tried to guess which one by listening to the names of the players and teams, but nothing sounded familiar. What sport do the Ducks play? What sport has MVPs? The frequent use of the word “ball” was no help, except in eliminating hockey, but do we even have professional hockey anymore? Kevin picked up a guitar. My attention drifted, my eyes grew heavy. It was nice to get home.

Before bed, I finished the Ian McEwan novel I’d started on the plane on Monday, Enduring Love. All in all, I enjoyed it, but I found myself barely skimming long digressive passages that seemed too transparently designed for the purpose of building tension. An intimation of impending doom at the beginning of a scene, for example, would lead into a long explanation of the state of the historical record concerning the relationship between Wordsworth and Keats, technically related to the characters’ conversation in the moments before said doom, but needlessly and a little preciously detailed, I found. Now that I’m glancing through the medical journal article that inspired the book, reprinted in an appendix at the back, the whole book is starting to feel a little show-offy. I can too clearly picture the author musing, “I wonder if I can flesh out a whole novel from these sparsely narrated facts?” Nowhere near as good as the tight, compressed, claustrophobic little books of his I read during and around my Missoula trip in March, which I recommend much more highly: The Comfort of Strangers, The Cement Garden, and Amsterdam. But the part of Enduring Love you hardly notice, the relationship dynamic that hovers behind the more thriller-like main storyline, is an interesting accomplishment, portraying as it does a very realistic-feeling scenario of a married couple just ceasing to “get” each other, with no clear blame, nothing that either person has obviously done wrong. The world turns, the sun rises and sets, and one day someone just feels differently than he or she used to, and so it goes…

Just before turning in, I accidentally knocked a plastic San Pellegrino bottle off of the top of the fridge. It hit the floor and bounced nearly as high as my waist.

I reconsidered my plan to enjoy a little over ice before bed.


Ah, the tyranny of mere chronology. First I did this, then I did that. I’m thinking I should start putting the really interesting stuff first. But on a day like Thursday, what would that be, exactly?

It is startling how many people are in the gym at 5:29 a.m. on a weekday morning, working on their hunter-gatherer hearts. Enough, anyway, that the fanciest gerbil steppers – the ones with the moving handles, which let you push with your arms instead of just stepping – are all taken, and I am forced to use one of the stripped-down models. So what to do with my arms? I can let them hang loosely, or I can bring them up to bob at chest level, as if I were running. Neither one feels natural at first. One thing I won’t do is use them to lean heavily on the rails at the sides of the machine, as some people do, locking their elbows to take most of their weight off of their legs. True, this allows them to move their legs faster than they would otherwise be able to, but only because their legs are doing less work, an approach that would only make sense if the goal here were to exercise the machine’s pedals rather than one’s own body. As I warm up and start to move faster, my arms rise into what feels like the posture of a shadowboxing boxer, and then there is no more thought about my arms, just pure effort and the sweat streaming down my face.

When I used to use these machines regularly, I was in the habit of bringing along a magazine to flip through while I stepped, but now I am out of this routine and have arrived empty-handed. I can stare at the floor between my pedals or at one of the six televisions ranged along the wall above the windows. The moving image is entrancing, as always. But I don’t watch television for the pictures, I watch it for the juxtapositions. An Air Force recruiting commercial ends with a dramatic image of helicopter taking off at night and the motto “go where you want to go.” Next, a brief item concerning five U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, killed in a helicopter crash. And in entertainment news, the Breakfast at Tiffany’s dress has sold at auction for $192,000. A show called “Morning Joe” begins, one of these new types of shows in which cameras have been placed in a radio studio and we can watch the host leaning close to an enormous microphone suspended from the ceiling on an articulated arm. The guest is Joe Scarborough, and the two Joes seem to be competing for some sort of fatuity prize. Do they ever stop talking about the news long enough to read it?

I can’t hear the television, of course, and the closed captioning lends an air of surreality, since whoever is typing it up – humans? a computer? – often seems barely able to understand what is being said. Bizarre koans like “I must went closet with this” spool up the screen, and it takes a few seconds for me to understand that this represents something like “I just want to close with this.” Meanwhile, the talking heads are about 30 seconds ahead of the text, so their gestures and facial expressions aren’t any help in deciphering the text, though they give some hint of what is coming, a glimpse of the future, the sight of the mushroom cloud reaching us five seconds before the sound and the heat.

No dice with the cat-food changeup. Her Highness Miss Zuzu called my bluff and made clear that she would rather starve to death than eat another bite of any of the four different kinds of dry cat food I currently have on hand. My brother reported that she was so hungry on Wednesday night that she kept lunging at the piece of pizza he was eating, mewing furiously. I found an old can of “beef giblets feast in gravy,” left over from when we used to give her wet food every morning. (We stopped when she got bored with that, too, and started leaving the food to fester on her plate all day.) I gave her a few forkfuls and she ate it so quickly that she all but inhaled the plate. All right, guess we’ll try that for a while. When she gets bored with the wet food again, I guess it will be time to move on to egg-white and fennel omelettes. Maybe I should hire her a personal chef.

On the radio, as I drive to work, I hear the story of a local Marine lance corporal who recently turned 22 while overseas in Iraq. His mother took a picture of the cake she baked for him and posted it on his Myspace page so that he could see it. He asked her to save him the “22.” On the phone, they talked of his desire to dedicate a memorial of some sort to fallen Maryland soldiers. A few days later, he joined their ranks. His mother is working on the memorial. There will be no shortage of names: Maryland’s biggest National Guard deployment since World War II just started two months of training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. They will arrive in Iraq in late summer.

And another suicide at Guantanamo Bay, where – I am surprised to learn – we hold one prisoner who was fifteen when he was captured during the invasion of Afghanistan. He just fired his lawyer. In the Sun: “He doesn’t trust American lawyers, and I don’t particularly blame him,” said Marine Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, who was taken off the case yesterday.”

At work, back to editing. I am giving the famous 140-page policy report another read-through. Amazing: no matter how many times you go through a piece of writing, you always seem to find more to change – word choice here, grammar/punctuation there, and some of the mistakes embarrassing indeed, so I’m glad I’m doing this. I wanted to force myself through the first 50 pages at least, so I turned off my computer to put some obstacles between myself and my compulsive email checking and paced the floor while I read to keep from getting drowsy. The building was silent save for the whoosh of passing traffic and the occasional – but not occasional enough – screaming match on the sidewalk below, a pedestrian route plied by a class of people who do not seem to make much distinction between a public street and their living rooms, and who seem to hew to a “get it off your chest as loudly as possible” philosophy when it comes to their resentments and frustrations. The exchange I heard as I read was typical.

Woman’s voice, loud, shrill: “Thanks a lot!”

Man’s voice, booming, aggressive: “Thanks what, motherf***er?! You the one started it, you dumb b*****!”

On my next pass across the room, I glanced out the window in time to see their backs moving away down the sidewalk, a small child wearing a large backpack trailing behind them.

I worked a little late so that I wouldn’t have to go home before a seven o’clock dinner date with my mom, a friend of hers, and my brother at Thai Arroy in Federal Hill. I thought there was no chance that it would take me less than a half hour or so to find parking, but with amazing luck I found a spot almost directly across the street, perhaps the very one that the driver who ended up crashing into Regi’s on Tuesday had been aiming for when his brakes failed. I bartended there in the summer of 2004, but it’s been years since I’ve walked right by the place and I was surprised to see some familiar faces in the street outside, locals who often stopped in for a drink. The doctor who was a chardonnay drunk and for some reason was allowed to drink for free. The blonde woman with stern Swedish features who always ordered either a near-beer or an orange juice, and who habitually wore the facial expression of someone who has been handed a turd instead of her drink. No sign, of course, of the one I’ve long dreamed of running into: cheap vodka drunk Jack (drunk on cheap vodka and also a cheap old man), who once put me through the wringer on a busy night about a confusing check after he and his two dining companions decided at the last minute that they wanted separate checks after all, not a simple thing to redo on the old-fashioned cash register Regi’s was using at the time. I don’t know what I would say to him if I ever did see him, but I have a few fantasies.

At Regi’s, they have already re-erected their sidewalk-dining canopy, and a full house of diners appeared willing to stare death in the very fangs by eating there. Can you imagine? After all, there was an accident there yesterday, which – by the usual lazy logic that seems to come into play after plane crashes, terrorist attacks, and even minor mishaps like this one – means that there is a high likelihood of an accident there every day forever. Alan, the owner, is on record in the paper with his plan to advocate for concrete jersey barriers along the sidewalk in front of his restaurant, a sort of “green zone” for his clientele of spoiled young mortgage brokers and middle-aged married couples who can only stand each other after a few belts of gourmet-fruit-infused vodka on the rocks. As I waited in front of Regi’s to cross the street, a Baltimore City Fire Department ladder truck rolled past, the fireman in the front passenger seat pointing and laughing at Regi’s, the rest of the crew wearing big grins as they leaned out for a look.

Thai Arroy served up some delicious beef pa nang (mine) and tofu pad thai (my brother’s and mother’s). (I didn’t try the shrimp pad thai enjoyed by my mother’s friend, but it looked good.) I tried the tofu and it was easily the best I’ve ever eaten, crispy and with a mild, satisfying flavor that might even be enough to convert those who think they hate the stuff. It’s BYOB there, too, so make sure you bring along a bottle of crisp white wine.

My mother and her friend stopped by the house after dinner briefly, so that the friend could see the house, and then they left and it was off to bed, because 5:10 a.m. comes early. It was a little difficult falling asleep, though, what with the painters who worked past ten p.m. on the house next door and the hordes of people who hang about on the street these days, making leisurely throws at the portable basketball hoop that seems to be almost a permanent fixture at the head of the alley.

My Baltimore lullaby: a bouncing basketball and the chirrip chirrip of walkie-talkie cell phones.

[Bird Camp update on Saturday. I promise promise promise.]