Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tying off the threads

friends in hats
Originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

When we moved to Baltimore from New York City 4 years ago, I was a little tentative about certain things. I last lived here from 1988 through 1995 - from the age of 23 until I was almost 30 - and those were, er, sort of fast times. I went out a lot, I dated a lot, I drank a lot, I knew everyone, I lived WAY downtown, I hated my job, and I ran a coffee house on the side.

Kind of one of the reasons that I left was that I could no longer go into a bar or restaurant without running into someone I used to date or employ. Another reason was that a lot of people started using heroin, and that was seriously unpleasant.

Apparently St. Louis, Missouri is like that too.

So when I came "home" in 2002 I wasn't over-excited about revisiting my old hangouts. There were people in this town who I kind of winced about.

I do run into people from way-back, without seeking them out. Sometimes it's great, sometimes not. But there's no avoiding it. It's not a small world, I always say, but it surely is a small town.
  • Martha across the street is not only the sister of the trumpet player in Mambo Combo, one of the bands I used to like, she used to date one of my regulars at the coffee house, AND she's my distant cousin.
  • A couple of our new friends used to be friends with the boy who lived in our house. Upon entry, Loren said, "I know this house - I used to do drugs in your basement!"
  • Bob's boss Eric is a friend of the All Mighty Senators, whose shows were a real highlight of those bad old days.
  • When I went to get my new tattoo, the guy with the needle was the guy who years ago had dicked over my dear friend the massage therapist.
  • We ran into one of the parents from the Big Man's school one evening out in White Marsh, about to go on stage... and when I saw the rest of the band assemble, I realized Darius was guesting with Rumba Club, with my neighbor's brother sitting in on trumpet and Craig Considine, from the Senators, on trombone.
So Monday, picking up the Big Man from his first day at kindergarten, I see Landis, the front man for the Senators. His little boy goes to the same school. Of course. He introduced me to his son's mom, K, and when I squinted and said, "No wait, I know you..." Landis told us he could swear he has a picture of her and me sitting together on the hood of Phil Minion's art car.

I almost remember that.

Pipiks in late summer

Click here to see the slideshow

Monday, August 28, 2006

Spectacular hijinks!

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More of what we've been up to lately.

This photo (below) is in the funny-glasses slideshow above, but I think it deserves to be regarded at greater leisure.

Uncle Miles was born to wear the funny glasses
Uncle Miles was born to wear the funny glasses
Originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

You can't take a bad picture of Bob's sister Jane's husband, Miles, who is a sound engineer, very sharp except for the way he can't seem to stop breaking his collarbone. I have another good picture of him holding some marigolds. For a guy with plastic glasses and a large beard, he's very photogenic.

School boys, boy scouts, and doomed ducks

This weekend we drove to Cleveland to bury Bob's mom's ashes. She died in May. She was a crack-up, a game gal if I ever met one. The first time I met her, I was unaware of the awe with which she was regarded. Her daughters wouldn't smoke in front of her and all her sons- and daughters-in-law called her Mom. So what do I do? I sit down next to her, light up, and call her Frances.

I was therefore always surprised that she accepted me and even seemed to like me, the tattooed atheist who married her baby boy. But she did, and I liked her back.

While we were out there, we dealt with some of the mechanics of distributing and disposing of her stuff. Bob has nine brothers and sisters, and they were cute, trying to get the story straight about objects that had been handed down and around.

Anyway, they asked me to take a look at the books. To make sure there wasn't some priceless rare volume tucked among the copies of The Mill on the Floss and The Song of Bernadette. There were some seriously old primers, late 1800's, and a couple weird books (Ghetto Tragedies I'd like to know more about), but it was all in fairly poor condition, and I was happy to tell them that the books "only" had sentimental value.

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Here are a few pages from the fourth edition of the Boy Scout Handbook. This edition was the first one with a separate handbook for scout leaders. If we'd had one of those, it would be worth about $750. But we didn't.

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This one tells its own story but remains a mystery. I couldn't find School boys Abroad and At Home on nor on eBay. I'll look it up in FirstSearch when I get to work. Published in 1867, it was given as a gift to John McCormick in 1870 as a reward for his singing.

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This is a first reader from 1877. The illustrations are very very good - I know a little about illustrations of animals because I used to spend time with the rare books at AMNH. Love the cat chomping the rat - but that wouldn't have been a shocking sight to the young readers of this book. Also the hawk carrying away the ducky. I bet those kids didn't forget the word 'duck' any time soon!

Anyone got nineteen large to spare?

Because this might make me feel a lot better. Stolen from sweetney.

Big Man goes to school

first day of kindergarten
Originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

I don't have much to say here.

He's so excited and he'll do so great. And I'm such a mess!

I saw the tough guy who lives nearby with the coffee roasting place and all the tattoos this morning - he was taking his daughter, she's starting kindergarten with Big Man - who is getting way too fucking big, that's what I have to say! He can be a serious pain in the ass but I'm going to miss him so much! Seven hours a day, can you imagine that? for an almost-five-year-old? I hope he likes his lunch, it's totally lame.

Anyway, I saw Thomas the tough guy this morning after he dropped off his daughter and I told him what a mess I was and he showed me he was wearing sunglasses so nobody would see him cry.

This has been hands-down the most stressful thing that's happened since he was born. Between WHERE he should go (public = scary, private = expensive) and IF he should go: his birthday is Sept 1, the cut-off day - "Child must be 5 on or before Sept 1" so he's THE YOUNGEST in the whole school. He's totally smart enough but whether he's emotionally ready... and SEVEN hours?

into the maw of Education

He's never been to preschool - he's gone almost 5 years with no grownup to judge him besides me and Bob. From here on out, there will always be someone he has to perform for, you know? There will always be a teacher or a boss.

But I've been working with the school since before it opened last year - a charter school with lottery entry, we totally lucked out that he got in - so we know the principal and the founder and his teacher and plenty of other parents, and he's seen his classroom before, and it's beautiful and great.

He loves his backpack too, we've made a big deal out of all the school supplies, and he wrote his name on his art smock and I embroidered over it... I should probably be grateful that I can take a shower any time I want now (when they're both here I can leave them unsupervised for exactly 4.5 minutes, so by the time I'm rinsing the conditioner out of my hair Mr. Three has found some reason to be screaming).

he'll do fine

I'm not one of those people who sniffle, "Just yesterday he was a little baby," let me tell you - just yesterday he was chanting "Mine! Mine! Mine!" over some piece of crap with his brother in the car and I wanted to pull over and flee.

But thank god I still have Mr. Three here to hug and kiss.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Will rule the world one day

8-16-06- 100
Originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

Mr. Three has a little joke he says when he wants something at the table, usually cheese.
"May I have some cheese, please? But not on my knees, that would make me sneeze!"
Pretty clever for three, a bit icky-precious if you're not his actual parent.

Tonight he wanted a snack.
"May I have some peanuts? But not on my knee-nuts..."
Didn't make it to whatever he would say next, snee-nuts I guess, because Bob and I were laughing so hard. Extra peanuts for him.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Special to the Monday night crowd

composition with bunny and Elmo
Originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

Also noted: Holding hands with Lefty with one hand, keeping tabs on Mr. Johnson with the other.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The "G" stands for Gentlemen's: What "Gentlemen" stands for is up for grabs

Well the kids and I listened to Appetite for Destruction this morning, the Guns 'n' Roses album, the epitome of rock n roll circa 1987. Perhaps the epitome of rock n roll period. Ok perhaps not. But it hit the kids like a dozen cupcakes with sprinkles. They literally bounced off the walls and furniture. Seriously, it was like Nell getting a Snickers bar for the first time.

I was prompted to delve deep into the iPod and find this sweet-sixteen-year-old album by a very weird article on Axl Rose in GQ ("GQ?" you ask... "Clive Owen," I reply, and you nod sagely).

GQ is very weird overall. There was a spread (and I do mean spread) on men's underwear featuring a mostly naked woman reaching into the male model's shorts. There were also many many many photographs of rippling abs. Bob, seeing the word "football" on the cover, picked the thing up looking for the football article, and instead found a half-dozen pictures of an expressionless Reggie Bush putting on and taking off sweaters so that each shot exposed his torso. He leafed past the beefcake looking for the article and there was none. There was an actual interview with Troy Polamalu, but the writer was so distracted by Polamalu's hair and lifestyle that he all but failed to mention that Polamalu is apparently an athletic polymath.

The guy writing about Axl Rose seems as conflicted as the entire magazine. He admires Axl's virtuoso voice; he reminds us that Axl looked like a sexy girl when he was 20 years old; he says that Axl's "package is huge. Only reporting."; and he says that the way Axl dances, especially in the video for "Patience," which I thought was just a blown kiss short of nauseating, is "lovely, I'm sorry."

It seems like, at GQ, it's all about "not gay! oh no, not gay!" If you want to report that Axl has a big penis, that's fine by me; if your visual taste allows you to admire that snaky dance thing that Axl used to do, I don't give a powdered-milk fuck. But all the disclaimers and apologies - who exactly is he apologizing to? His editor? "Sorry I'm sounding a little GAY here, but no homosexual on earth would admit to liking Guns N Roses so I'm ok right?"

The style columnist however doesn't remotely get a pass, especially once he's admitted that he uses an anti-aging night cream. We are assured that he didn't BUY it or anything, his wife gives him her surplus - "some Patricia Wexler pink goop". Mentioning the brand means he gets a crate of the stuff as a thank-you, but if he'd called it by its name, "Skin Regenerating Serum," which he can certainly read, it's on the jar right under "patricia wexler, M.D." well then he would have been a fag.

There's even a sidebar in the etiquette column: "How to deal with gay people." WE'RE NOT GAY, DAMMIT!!!

UPDATE: I CANNOT get "Sweet Child of Mine" out of my head now. That album is fucking genius.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bringing out the dead

This is an old story, a Brooklyn story.

One St. Patrick's Day my friend Tod came with his friend Van to Brooklyn. St. Patrick's Day in Brooklyn is like an uglier Mardi Gras. Hence, many bars packed with fratty preps and swaying, drunken idiots ensued. Van, who wrote for the Baltimore City Paper, knew New York pretty well, and as we roamed Brooklyn in search of less-crowded bar we were joined by various friends.

By the time we're at an ancient dive on Atlantic Ave, surrounded by kitsch and miserabilia, I'm talking to an apparent speed freak named Joe that I don't know HOW Van knows.

So Joe hears I work for Mosby, the medical publishing company, and he tells me he's an ambulance driver. My division published all the non-doctor and non-nurse textbooks - we worked a lot with EMTs, which is what you call ambulance drivers these days. "Great," I think, most of those guys are egotistical pricks. What's more, he's written a novel. "Terrific," I think, every one of these guys thinks he has a novel in him, and I have to hear about most of them.

I start to say that Mosby never touches fiction, and he says oh no, he has an agent and a book deal and everything.

I relax, let him tell me about the book (tragedy, dissonance, exhaustion). He's a nice guy, funny, cranked a little too tightly but that goes with the job. He insisted on calling himself an "ambulance driver," which I liked. It's less accurate, but conveys more urgency and purpose than "EMT" or even "paramedic." We all get all hammered and have a weird day.
  • Saw a guy running down a side street with a two by four.
  • 50 feet later, saw a guy sitting on the curb holding his bleeding head.
  • Met a crowd of sanitation workers who treated Joe like a king once they heard he was an EMT.
  • A very small Ecuadoran or possibly Peruvian man threatened Tod's life over his sweater.
All things being equal, I sort of forgot about the book.

Months later, I see this paperback on a table at the megabookstore on Union Square. A stray synapse fired and I flipped the book to see if there was an author photo. Sure enough, Joe Connelly, Van's friend.

I read the book. I enjoyed the book. It's a balls-ass book, not as preoccupied with le romance as the movie is.

In the book, the protagonist tells us of his dream job. He would be a consultant for the movies and TV. "E.R." drove the protagonist wild. I know comparatively little about emergency medicine, but it used to drive me wild too. "You don't shock asystole!" I used to growl, outraged.

So on a later edition of the book, I saw that it was "Soon to be a major motion picture! Directed by Martin Scorsese!" and in smaller print, Joe Connelly was to be hired as the movie's technical consultant.

Any story that ends with the protagonist climbing out of the ambulance under his own power is by definition a happy one.

It's 4am. Do you know where your child's vaccination records are?

Phone rings at 4:30 a.m. I am so deeply asleep that I don't actually manage to answer it before the 4th ring, but as of the 4th ring I am completely awake.

The kids? Sleeping.
Bob? Sleeping.
My parents? At their house in Virginia.

Crap. Something has happened to my parents. I wait for the light on the phone to start blinking, indicating a message. It doesn't start blinking.

Ok, wrong number. Try to fall back asleep.

Phone rings at 5 a.m. I'M AWAKE! I'M AWAKE! "Yes?"

"This is an urgent message about your child in the Baltimore City School System." Ga-wha? He's in the other room - ISN'T HE???!

"We are missing important medical information about your child. Please contact his or her school immediately with the proper medical documentation." Or some shit like that, seriously, once I processed that the computer voice was talking about his SHOT RECORD, who cares?

I never got back to sleep after that one. Bob works for the school system. On his way out the door, I said, "Oh hey, don't forget to give someone shit about that 4:30 phone call."

He calls from work later. "Between the hours of 11pm and 6am, 20,000 households got that phone call - that's 10% of the homes with schoolchildren in this city." They had used the "Reverse-911" system - a nifty thing that takes a list of addresses and makes computer phone calls - but they didn't teach the system the difference between a.m. and p.m.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

the aforementioned noodle soup with tofu

noodle soup with tofu
Originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

Lunches can be a pain. Anything that is easy to fix and is not mac & cheese is my friend.

Put about 6 cups water on to boil.
Cut a 3" slab of firm tofu into half-inch cubes and set to dry on paper towels.
When the water is boiling, put in fresh udon noodles, pho, dried buckwheat soba, or ramen if there's nothing else.
When the noodles are mostly done, dump in the tofu.
Dip out about 1/3 cup of boiling water and mix 3T of miso paste into it.
Turn off the flame and as the boiling subsides, dump the miso back in, also about 2T liquid soup base (only soup flavoring I've found that is absent MSG, which makes me and the kids real hyper).

Soup should not boil after miso is added. This advice is from my cousin-in-law Yoko. She once advised me not to eat squid intestines - I now obey her without question.

Adult seasoning:

kimchi (they make their own at Han Ah Reum, aka HMart, where we get all this stuff)

sriracha (that's Bob's sister Mary doing the Vanna thing)

Kid seasoning: Japanese soy sauce, furikake.

And don't get me wrong, there is plenty of mac & cheese in my pantry too.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

What's for lunch?

"Hey guys, how about noodle soup with tofu for lunch?"
The other one: "Yay!"
This one: "NO!"

"Well, we're going to have noodle soup with tofu."
This one: "No! No noodle soup!"

"We're going to have noodle soup. If you were making lunch, what would you make?"
This one: "I want to have newspapers, and birds, and dirt for lunch."

"That DOES sound good, but I don't know how to make newspapers and birds and dirt."
This one explains: "Well, you just shake it up like a baby [!!] and then you put cheese on it!"

Monday, August 14, 2006

How to foment terror

I saw this comic the other day that made sense of the whole thing.

I am waiting for a crafty terrorist (or just a practical joker who doesn't mind spending a long time in prison) to get himself caught boarding an airplane with a bomb up his ass.

Won't airport security be fun THEN?

composition with bunny and Elmo

composition with bunny and Elmo
Originally uploaded by pwilnyc.


1. We bought Spotlit Bun from Margot Curran about 6 months before she blew town to the next art school teaching gig. Margot's daughter was named Merle - "Merle the Girl" we called her. Margot made the best clothes for kids out of old adult clothes. Her label was called "Miggy". We hadn't found just the right place for this painting until we painted the living room green.

2. That baby doll is named "Lefty". You may have to look closely to see why.

3. My brother gave us Chicken Dance Elmo probably 4 years ago at Christmas and the batteries haven't given out YET.

4. Sometimes that kid isn't smiling like a blast of sunlight, but usually he is. Bob took this picture.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A book that should be one sentence long

"If you looked at this title and thought 'That's me!', do your child a favor and don't homeschool her."

One dummy in the family should be plenty.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Crisp diction

Originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

I've got the audiobook of Heat, by Bill Buford, right? I listen to audio books in the car, because we no longer have a stereo thingie in the house. Much of the time, when I am driving, I have the kids in the car with me.

Which means, ok, that sometimes my kids are listening to age-inappropriate material. I mean, I'm not listening to The Diary of Anais Nin or anything, mostly it's like City of Falling Angels (disappointing and boring) or young adult books, like Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman (excellent and funny).

So right now it's Heat. I hadn't expected the content to be a problem for the kids to overhear - it's about cooking, right? But I was wrong.

We're tooling along the highway, the kids are jabbering happily to each other. In the book, Buford is describing Joe Bastianich commenting unfavorably on a restaurant in a village at the base of the Apennines. All of a sudden the Big Man says, "Stop the tape!"

I stop the tape, and Big Man says, "That man on the radio just said 'Joe'!" (They have an Uncle Joe and aren't aware yet that it's a fairly common name.)

I say, "Well isn't that something!"

"Yes! chirps Mr. Three, "And also he said 'fuckers'!"

Wuh-oh, red alert - don't laugh, figure out how to nip this in the bud, we are on our way to mom's and really the last thing I need is them whipping out their favorite new word in front of Grandfather. He would pee himself laughing and I'd never hear the end of it.

Big Man repeats, "...FUCKersss..." really savoring the word. "That's a GOOD word!"

"No it's not," I say. "It's really not a word at all." Lie Number 3,590. When they learn to read they are gonna be pissed.

I pop the tape back in hoping to distract them and hoping Joe Bastianich watches his fucking language for ten more minutes.

The narrator intones, "This story continues on Cassette Two."

"Cassette Two..." both boys repeat, tasting the consonants... "Ca-ssette Two!"

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A forest, and a road, and a place where you buy tires, and I don't know what that place is

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Ohhhh, I bought a tub of sidewalk chalk and now the sidewalk chalk it's all up the walk!
Yo, ho, blow the man down!

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Engineers in red shirts. Sorry it's so dark. There are more pictures from this episode on Flickr.

Bob's rum of love

Bob's rum of love
Originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

Cut up a whole pineapple and jam it into a big jar.

Split a vanilla bean and put it in too.

Also a piece of brown Mexican sugar (piloncillo) to the tune of about 2 Tablespoons.

Pour in as much rum (Wray and Nephew overproof is optimal, Myers dark is second choice, a mix is also good) as will fit.

Stick in the freezer for a couple weeks, or leave it at room temperature for half a day.

Strain through cheesecloth into a pitcher, garnish with lime.

Drink in moderation. Seriously. This stuff is so smooth that it will Mess You Up.

UPDATE: This picture has been getting a lot of conversation on Flickr.
  • Q: "Doesn't the glass break?" A: No, the mixture doesn't freeze so there's no expansion.
  • Q: "Is the pineapple edible?" A: Bob says the pineapple is wonderful when you start with a nice ripe fruit - he served it at the Church Council of Greater Seattle and apparently they were enraptured by the pineapple. When we did it the other day the pineapple was a little mushy, but Bob says it wasn't much of a pineapple to begin with.
In addition, Bob would like to disclose the fact that this recipe is adapted from one in the Coyote Cafe cookbook. He had one of the fanciest meals of his life there, in Santa Fe, accompanied by this drink, which they called a Brazilian Daiquiri.

I'm reading (listening to) Heat, the book by Bill Buford about his time in the kitchen at Mario Batali's Babbo. Maybe people shouldn't write about restaurants. As in Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain's funnier book about Les Halles, the kitchen staff come off as immature, griping, coked-up children who have somehow gotten ahold of sharp knives.

I loved Bill Buford as editor of Granta, but this book is half a biography of Batali, who kind of doesn't merit biographizing, and half an account of Buford's tutelage in food preparation. There's nothing really new here. And I tell you, it doesn't help that the guy who's reading it sounds like he should be narrating a documentary about Renaissance art. Every time he has to read a cussword it's like it's in verbal quotes.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Think big

I happened upon the Baltimore Clear Sky Clock today. My first reaction was the usual unalloyed delight I have in discovering people more geeky than myself... and this is really a super thing, cross-referencing moon phase and cloud cover to show at a glance the optimal times for astronomical observing.

A guy named Attilla Danko (could you make that name up?) wrote it, for the good of humanity and the glory of being cited on some obscure blog like mine.

There are links here to topo maps, to satellite images, and a cutie-pie service that emails you whenever viewing conditions are at their best.

There are also clocks for 2839 other locations, in case you needed an excuse to call your brother in Seattle at 4am. "Get up! Get up! Now is the moment for Comet Giacobini-Zinner!"

(Have you created your own personal astro-calendar yet? Once you choose which types of events - meteor streams, eclipses, whatnot - you wish to keep track of, you can "import events into Outlook, your PDA or other personal planner software - to be alarmed before an event takes place." I'm alarmed already, frankly.)

But my second reaction was - damn - Baltimore blows for stargazing.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

something I never wondered

Came across this totally by surprise. I still miss working there.

If you don't check out A Softer World, you are missing it. If the lesbian dinosaur joke didn't convince you, this one should. Oh, ow, or this one.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

This might help

Originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

Auntie Jane took this one too. I just heard that there are big blackouts up in her part of the suffocating Northeast - if you're up there in Boston sweating, Janie, this is for you!

Or you could just pretend you're in South Africa. Maybe those Rapture weirdos are right after all.

Mystery bug identity revealed!

It's a robber fly! Thanks, Anonymous commenter (Mary I'm pretty sure) and thanks to your Bob too.

Everything you ever wanted to know about robber flies is here.

Insects are so cool. Back when I worked in New York, we knew people who spent their lives studying ants or wasps. There were lots of jokes about the wasp guys, but for some reason nobody ever mocked the ant people.

Even I, who obliterates ants with a genocidal fury, have spent more time than I care to acknowledge watching their aimless progress across the kitchen floor and wondering just what the fuck? There's obviously a lot more going on there than meets the eye. I imagine it is in this spirit that our old friend Barrett Klein has been busy depriving wasps of sleep in recent years.

I try not to prod the kids too much, but I am always on the lookout for situations that encourage their curiosity and prompt them to develop their observation skills. I feel pretty strongly that I've only ever learned anything by looking.

Big Man looking at a skipper
Originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Your Neighborhood Librarian thinks she's seen it all, but it turns out she can still be surprised by her colleagues

Your neighborhood librarian may be... a rock star!

(Not the one wearing a jock over his pants. That guy's not a librarian. I mean, please.)

I was early to see the Senators at the 8x10 last night and the opening band struck me as not amateurish or too self-involved, juvenile in a good way, and having really a lot of fun. I hate describing bands. "Good" or "Boring" are the two different words I use, and this band fell on the "Good" end of the spectrum.

Anyway, as I wander closer to the stage, I squint: that bass player sure looks like Our Current Token Male Librarian, which is who he turned out to be.

And why not?

What is this bug?

What is this bug?
Originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

About an inch long and he could fly too. Big bug. Ugly bug. And me without a bug book.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hello Vader!

All I gots to say is...

Oo I hope this person comes to Baltimore for Otakon!