Well, Tear My Calf and Have an Apple

27 04 2009

Ouch!  Go to the gym all winter long (less so the last month) and get on the cycles maybe twice a week, trying to keep legs strong.  

Rushed down to Woodstock for our opening game of old man baseball.  I was supposed to be the eleventh guy — a couple of innings to stretch and relax and warm up — but as I pulled up, I found out I was the ninth.  So into the game I went, third out of the bottom of the first was hit my way and as I went to move about two feet to my left, I felt the same fucking pop in my left leg that I felt in my right two years ago.

After looking forward, albeit somewhat distractedly, to the opening of baseball season, I put myself on the DL for . . . two weeks, three weeks?  More?  Last time it was six weeks, after not letting it heal for three weeks.

Man oh man.  Talk about putting myself behind in the fitness category…will be looking for some exercises to help.

CNBC: Good Time to Buy Stocks

4 02 2009

Investors may be waiting a long time for stocks to rebound, but that doesn’t mean they have to sit on their hands.

As the market slides back towards its November lows and investors worry that the stimulus package may not do much to boost the economy, it’s hard to find any reason to buy stocks. But even if the overall market continues to worsen, there are always individual stocks and funds that buck the trend.

“Things don’t have to improve, but just stop getting worse,” says Gary M. Flam, portfolio manager at Bel Air Investment Advisors in Los Angeles. “At the end of the day—outside certain credit spreads—you have seen very little stabilization for the economy, just increasing signs that things are getting worse. That’s made it very hard for the market to rally here.”

How very Dickensian.  Gary and his brother Flim.

Bone Chilling

20 01 2009

On Friday last, the temperature in Waterbury was -24 degrees.  In Montpelier it was -26 and in Island Pond in the Northeast Kingdom it was -42.  Luckily there was no wind to speak of, so we don’t need to discuss windchill.

On Friday last, at 3PM, it was 9 degrees in Waterbury, a change of 35 degrees.  There was no wind to speak of and it felt balmy.

I am Joe’s Gunther

15 09 2008

Archer Mayor is a author who lives in Newfane, VT.  While he publishes travel articles for a number of magazines, he is best known for his series of police procedurals, or perhaps mysteries, based on the character of Joe Gunther.  His 19th novel in the series, The Catch, will be published late this month.  Joe is a stalwart, and, to use Archer’s adjective, is quite stolid.  The series has been published since 1988, and many of us here in Vermont have at least five of his books on our shelves.

A couple of years ago, the first twelve novels in the series fell out of print.  Archer’s relationship with his publisher suffered, for every author knows the butter on his bread is his backlist, and he was able to purchase back the rights to his books.  Since then, Archer formed a partnership with Elaine Sopchak to form AMPress, and they have republished these twelve books themselves.  To make it better, they have thought “Local First” by finding designers and printers locally, and they are distributing them to the many independent bookstores in Vermont and beyond.

Earlier this past winter, I received a call from Jody Petersen, who I met while doing commentaries for WNCS in Montpelier.  Jody has her own recording studio and business now and was looking for a reader.  I’d not worked with her before, but Liz did, and I thought it would be cool.  She was auditioning a few locals for a project and wanted us to read a chapter for the audition.  “Who’s”, I asked.  “Archer Mayor’s”, she said.

Archer Mayor!  I’d been buying his books as Christmas reading for Liz for years and years.  I’d read a couple, but not nearly the number Liz had, and certainly not the first.  But we had it on our shelves, and like a good little actor I studied up, rereading the first chapter a few times and then reading on to see what happened, so I could fake my way through a conversation about the story if need be.  What was cool about the project was that of all his books, only one or two had been recorded, and those by the BBC.  No one had ever recorded the first twelve, and so Archer and Elaine thought it was time to reintroduce Joe Gunther via audiobook, especially since they got to control the whole project.  Sweet.  So I made it to the studio in mid-February and a couple of weeks later, I got the call.  I actually got an email from Liz who got an email from Elaine who didn’t know we were a couple until after they had made their choice.  “They thought you nailed Joe.”  And so I did.  Jody and I spent the early spring recording “Open Season”, the first Gunther mystery.  I finished in late May.

The thing about Joe, in this book, is that the reader is privy to more personal information about him than in most of the others.  Mayor structured Joe to be the conduit, and a fairly “boring” one at that.  He is frequently wrong, dangerously so, and humanly patient, sometimes to a fault.  Reading him (the story is in the first person) raised some great issues about how to read a first person book, because there were so many other characters as well.  Should they be read in Joe’s voice, the character’s voice, or what have you?  We opted for the characters, and most of them were a blast to do.  One or two were VERY hard to pinpoint and get consistently, but in the end, I think Jody and I squeezed them out well.

So now the book is nearly available. This product, too, was a local first production, from the writer to the producer to the voice to the studio to the packager and designer.  At last, the first chapter is available on Archer’s site, and the full book will be available soon.  We have some certain goals to meet to see if there is another to do — will it be received well?  will it sell enough copies? — so I don’t know if I’ll stay the voice of Joe Gunther. It would be outrageously fun if I did…

We’ll know soon.

The Whales

28 07 2008


We took our week’s vacation this summer on Cape Cod. This is the second year in a row at a house in Eastham, and while we enjoy it for the proximity to the bay shore and its low tide, we were determined to get out of the house and take advantage of the better parts of the Cape.  Too much of it is categorized in the driving or shopping mode.  So we hung our bikes on the back of the Volvo and made a list of the things we’ve wanted to do for years and haven’t — either because of weather, time or age of the kids.  We used the bicycles on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which is lengthy and straight and goes from Wellfleet to somewhere past Dennis, and in the Provincelands, which is lengthy and hilly and possesses some awesome views.

We also went to a Cape Cod League baseball game in Orleans.  The Cape league is a testing ground for elite college players because they have to use wood bats (as well as avoid the usual distractions that virile young men get distracted by in the summer at beach communities).  Their distress in this switch from aluminum was visible on the number of long flies that, to them, should have sailed far into the parking lot but merely found their way lazily into the gloves of the outfielders.  The batters would grimace and toss the great equalizer aside and run out the hit until the play was over.  Their jobs during the summer are finding the extra 10 or 15 yards in wood that they had in tin, as well as the tinier sweet spot.  Those that do get drafted higher.  Those that don’t play minor league ball.

The Wellfleet Drive-In was another to do, which we did.  Wall-E (awesome) and Prince Caspian (ten thumbs down).

The highlight of the Cape Cod things to do — “the ONLY worthwhile thing to do on all of Cape Cod” — was a three-hour tour on the Portugese Princess out of Provincetown to do a whale watch.  As it happens, you are told from the start that you may, in fact, not see any whales.  You may see dolphins.  You may see humpbacks, or minkes, or fins.  The company that owns the boats coordinates their rides with the Center for Coastal Studies, which endeavors to educate the passengers onboard, a pleasant change from merely entertaining them.  You learn about the rarity of all whales, their endangered status, and you make plans to watch the Planet Earth episode on them again when you get home.  But mostly, as you set out from Provincetown Harbor for the 45 minute ride it takes to get to Stellwagen Bank, an offshore sanctuary where the whales and dolphins are known to stay during their time up north, you wonder if you or your kid will get seasick, which will ruin the afternoon for most anyone within a few feet of the ill one.

Our guys didn’t.  The dramamine was the drowsy kind but no one lost it.

Upon arrival to the southern end of the bank, however, all hell broke loose, in a good way.  “In non-scientific terms, Rubber Ahead!” called out the biologist as we approached what turned out to be a feeding frenzy by over 30 humpback whales, which included several calves.  I hadn’t been on a whale watch in 20 years, and I recall it as satisfactory — dolphins and whales in decent numbers — and this far surpassed it.  Rubber indeed.

We arrived at the bank at about 1:15 and there were humpback whales on every side of the boat exhibiting every kind of behavior known to humans (not mating — we’ve never seen them mate.  We don’t even know where the guys go in the winter).  Finslapping to feed, the result of which is pictured above, was most visible, perhaps because it was mammalian lunchtime  (I had a hot dog). The whale surfaces and then slaps its tail into the water, creating an aerated chaos that stuns the small fish.  It then circles down underneath, slowly emerges with its mouth open and filters the water through its baleen.  The gulls scavenge the excess, the whales submerge and spin away, occasionally leaving a trail of excrement.  In the picture above, one whale slapped but two emerged.  We never tired of seeing this.  Nor of the mothers and calves, nor of the excitement of the biologist onboard, nor of the breeching exhibited by some of the younger whales, and nor did we notice the absence of dolphins or minke whales or the minor guest star appearance by a couple of fin whales in the distance.  According to the biologist, we witnessed nearly forty different whales, about 28 of whom they could identify.  The kids — all of us really — were spoiled by the sheer number of sightings and by the extent of the observed behavior.  They weren’t performing for us, though it could be easy to accuse them of that because, you know, they know how much we paid and they didn’t want to disappoint us, but their activity sure made it seem so.  Earlier trips that day saw more dolphins than whales, later trips saw minkes and fins as well as humpbacks, and what was unique for our trip was the large number of whales feeding at the same time.

Coupled with a Planet Earth or Blue Planet marathon, you realize how much we don’t know about life and existence on the planet, and it is the mystery that drives people crazy.  “What do we care if we drop these rustbable drums of nuclear waste in the sea — who are we hurting?”  Another vast universe.  Damn that Al Gore for making us environmental again.

I almost don’t want to go on another whalewatch anytime soon, so as not to ruin the memory of this one.  Maybe we’ll let the kids get older and more cynical (I mean, mature), and try again, hoping to let them find the awe we found this time, only with a different world view.

The Senator’s Wife

30 06 2008

Long, long time ago, the term “The Senator’s Wife” was used by me and a few friends as a destination.  We’d look, usually at a party and feeling superior and witty, at some poor woman who had in her carriage and her style that certain je ne se quoi, that certain aura, and we would dub her The Senator’s Wife.  What made it so?  What were her qualifications?  They were indistinct, generally, which gave us great latitude in our judgments.  Physical attributes ranged from a ramrod posture to the perfect coiffure to the fabulous musculature in the back.  She could have high cheekbones, incredibly high forehead, and, in the dark, a plastique tone to the skin.  Tom Wolfe called the grown up versions “social x-rays”, and over the course of a life, their heads may appear to enlarge as their skin tightened and they may become “equine”.  But then, at 19 or 20 or 25, they were the physically fit models of propriety, training themselves to look perfect as their arms were draped through the tuxedoed arm of the Senator.  The perceived mental attributes, however, were harder to determine, caught in glances and poses, with smiles and laughter, and when one of us would spy a candidate, we would watch closely for something, anything, that would give us a clue to the ambition to become The Senator’s Wife.  Confirmation of their status could take a minute or an evening.

To make sense of becoming The Senator’s Wife, one needed to know who the senator was, and he was usually fictional.  Maybe Redford from The Candidate, but not Alan Alda’s Joe Tynan.  Style and power, wore the suit well, someone who needed a Helpmeet De la Renta to make it complete.  The bodice ripper cover, too, served as a model, with heaving bosom and shivering pecs.

We became skilled enough for awhile that we developed the phrase into a full-fledged character, and in quick fashion, we shortened our targets to “TSW”.*  Eventually we tired of it and it is a concept that is filed away and used very infrequently, usually internally because I no longer share the genesis of the TSW with anyone.  Synonyms included “arm candy” or “trophy wife”, but I always preferred TSW.

*shortening nicknames to an acronym or to a shortened phrase was part of all these games as well.  Once a doughy paralegal we (another variation of we) worked for was christened “Skippy”.  He became “Skip” in no time, “Skipper” as well, and then we moved into second syllable names — “Pee”  “Pie” (so many flavors) and finally, “Pi”, which quickly became “Three Point”.  No one but us could ever catch the derivation (3.14…), and, as above, once attained we quickly moved on…

And so what?  I think the joke was that we were so far removed from the reality of the characters we were creating for our entertainment — whether the senator himself or, really, the prospective wife — that we were satisfied with the two dimensional world we were creating.  We were actors after all.  We tried personality quirks on for size all the time.  No one of us could ever consider attaining that particular goal in real life, but part of the game was wondering what sacrifices you would have to make, what parts of your personality you would have to adjust, in order to become The Senator’s Wife.  Our superiority came from the ability to anoint from afar (and quickly forget, given that most of this occurred at parties), and catching the same wave, and laughing because you felt you the other special few “got it”, “got you”, and so all was right in your world, even if it meant demeaning others.

The Burn

10 06 2008

Bonfire from Tim and Mary\'sThe attic above the barn is full of the detritus of a few lives, and it is long past time to start weeding out mine, which is the only one I can really control. I have a box or two of papers from my grandmother’s house, photos of people without names, places without markers, and the attending cool stuff — a lock of hair from my great uncle Kenneth the Communist on the Run! My grandfather’s wool thermals, still itchy! Someone else’s relatives! This stuff is savable. Maybe when the lobotomy takes, I’ll sit over a scanner and send all this material to the hard drive and . . . do something with it.

In another corner are the school papers from the kids. Growing year by year. That will get sorted. . . later. But there, haunting me, in another corner, is my stuff, the trails of my life: Old resumes and photos (hmm, save those), letters from the expat friends during high school and college and beyond. Old check books, phone bills, and, more powerfully, the box of notebooks that represented the proof that I fancied myself a working writer. Books full of diary notes that begin, “well, that was a long time,” or “why can’t I just sit and do this?” or “Save this: it’s a great idea without a story.” Yeah. I really got right on all those ideas. At one time, when I tried harder than usual, it was all very handy to fill a legal pad and put it in the stack (Stowe #11). But where was the work? The connection of dots? True, I put enough together, once upon a time, to apply to, get accepted and attend Bread Loaf. And that is an achievement and something to look back on with rose-colored lenses, because it put me once more on the periphery of a world I had high hopes for myself to join, or to partake. It was high falutin’, no doubt.

It was at Bread Loaf where I first planted the seed, first really forced my creative hand and made myself make a decision about what I was going to call myself. Writer? Hmmm. I remember it took me a few days to soak in the bottom line, to try to take away the core of why I was even there. There was plenty of “bed loaf” action around us (watch out for those poets!) and plenty of coy student-teacher dialogue and plenty of the caste system and plenty of the nightly celebrations (Robert Pack’s last year). I even met an excellent friend. But I kept watching and listening and talking and listening — some of the best listening I have probably done — and in the weeks and months that followed, after reading the books I bought from the writers who came, after totaling the sum of all the information I collected, I took from it the simplest and best advice ever: You’ll write when you really want to write.

Being someone who cannot readily define what I want (as opposed to what I don’t want), it has always been easy to take this kind of advice and file it away, because it is easy to say that I don’t really want to do anything, be it write, the laundry, the dishes, my work, what have you. Wanting to be a writer* connotes that I will be carving out a schedule every day to write, to practice, to think and to put out on paper my thoughts, be it in diary form or as part of a draft of a story. But it is work, and it is a commitment to work. Over time, that clearly wasn’t the way I was going to be.

*As if I needed more a sign, I almost always mistype “writer” as “writher”.

I found that remaining a “writer” would require some output, some product, some art that would qualify me, at least on my Schedule C. The drag, psychologically, is that the failure to produce was attached to me, like a thread on a sweater that is unravelling. I saw the thread, but never cut it. Never cutting it somehow in a twisted way honored it, even if I wasn’t honoring it by doing it. Very alcoholic behavior which I did not exacerbate by drinking the pain away. Which makes me not a writer. Or a drinker with a writing problem. It just metastasized differently.

To cut it away, I decided two years ago, or whenever we last brought a dumpster in, to either chuck or burn my notebooks. Without them RIGHT UP THERE AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS, IN THAT WOODEN BOX I FOUND ON A STREET CORNER IN BROOKLYN IN 1989, I will release the onus of being a writer, and simply be one, if that is what I want. Clearly no story idea I had over the last 20 years ever came to fruition, and rather than considering the burn as the death of little embryos, perhaps I will consider them the frozen in vitro blastocysts that have to be disposed after their expiration date. If they were worth anything, they’ll be reincarnated.

Until then, and until the burn, I continue to try to empty out my cluttered attic of a mind as it is represented by these kinds of objects. The notion of a museum is only compelling if it is not my stuff, and in the end, at the end, my children will have to decide what all to keep. But I get to decide what makes it to the end, and it will be much healthier if I can rid myself of it on my own.

The burn, then, represents a cleansing, of course. Like sterilizing a needle before using it to pierce an ear. Or a release, cutting one of the many tethers from a dirigible. It can simply be the symbol of choosing to look forward without being haunted by what could have or should have been, if only in the fiction of my own mind.

Ye Olde Wallpaper

13 05 2008

from the old kitchen, 2006