Saturday, November 24, 2007

Some updates

Thanksgiving break turned out to be a mean linguistic trick: they meant "break" as a verb. Five books and assorted news articles to read, three papers to write...hey, why not, we have all week! Not that I'm complaining, really. It is what I'm here for. I'd feel ripped off if I'd paid them all that money just to tell me I should relax and keep doing what I'm doing.

Anyway, constrained by homework I didn't go to Boston as planned, to hang out with PK and friends, which is a drag, because an email message earlier had indicated that all of the friends would be tall, intelligent men. It figures.

Instead I stayed here, did some writing, some reporting and some reading: two cheery little uplifting books about the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl; one about the government-vs-academia battle over contemporary artists like Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe; the section on libel in the AP stylebook; and my favorite, "Work and Other Sins," by my next boyfriend, Charlie LeDuff. Until becoming a stay-at-home-dad recently, Charlie wrote for the New York Times; he used to hang out in bars, talk to people and write about them. Made it look easy. Also, in one of his press photos he has this outrageous pirate mustache, and you all know how I feel about those.

Speaking of Boston, below, finally, are some photos of my trip there awhile back. I went for the weekend, to hang out with my friend Brenda (see earlier post on the cocktail tour). To get there I paid fifteen bucks at the dodgy-looking "Fung Wah" ticket window and stood in what I hoped was the right line for the bus. I had expected the legendary Chinatown bus to be a rickety old death machine spewing poisonous fumes and filled with squawking chickens in bamboo crates. But no. It was your average tour bus. Halfway up it stopped at McDonald's. Sigh.

Boston is cool! I'd never been there before. The whole thing is a museum, and Brenda is the best tour guide ever. We started in Charlestown, all red brick and twisty little cobblestone streets, gaslights and everything. It's so cute it looks fake. At the top is the Bunker Hill Monument, marking the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first big fight in the Revolutionary War. Paul Revere started his midnight ride from Charlestown. It's also home to the beginning of The Freedom Trail, but we drove back to Boston proper and picked up the Trail there instead. Shorter walk. The Freedom Trail is a red stripe painted onto the sidewalk (or bricked in, sometimes) for tourists to follow from one historic site to another. Neat idea! Ironically, not everything along the Freedom Trail is free, so we didn't go into all of the historic buildings, but we did use the public restroom in Fanouiel Hall. Which is pretty free.

The most important thing I learned in Boston, however, is that cider donuts are the best food on earth. Cider donuts!!! I'd never heard of them. Brenda took me to a farm stand for breakfast. I don't think we have quite the same things on the West Coast. Some of those U-pick joints on Sauvie Island are close, but the Boston ones are more established. AND have cider donuts. Fifty cents each, and they were still warm when the guy handed 'em over. (This was also the first real Boston accent I heard. Holy crap! They are hilarious!) Then we beelined for the hot cider, which was unlike any hot cider I've ever had before. Dad would've fainted. It was that good.

Predictably, we bought apples. And some coffee. And, I admit it, I got another cider donut on the way out.

On the advice of Rob via Patrick, we checked out Bukowski's Tavern, where on the menu board we saw that you could order Deep Fried Cheese Logs. I think if it had been an hour later, there's no way you could've dragged us out of there before we'd had a cheese log each. But sadly, we had just eaten lunch, and could only appreciate it in the abstract. But we'll be back. We did stop in and have a beer at Sullivan's Tap, another Rob/Patrick recommendation. I had a pint of Sully's Light. Seemed appropriate. It's a long skinny bar, kinda sporty. On the TV they were showing news footage from out in front of the bar, taken on a different day. Weird.

The weirdest moment of the entire weekend: we'd stumbled across a war protest while crossing Boston Common. Later, on the way to the library, we ran into it again. It was a pretty huge parade, and we stood for a while watching it go by, halfheartedly checking out dudes. Then, from the little mini-stage next to us, someone with a microphone who had been sort of droning on for a while said, "And now, let me welcome Desmond Tutu!" Brenda and I simultaneously: "WHAT?!" Yep, it was him, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in life, mere feet away. He seemed to be ten million years old, very small and by far the most adorable person among the hundreds of protesters we could see. He said a few words about Jews, which were (probably for the best) blurred by the bad microphone and the crazy wind, and then he did this little hopping dance on stage and yelled "PEEEEEEEEEEEEACE!" over and over.

We couldn't top that.

Next day we drove through Lexington and Concord, saw the homes of Louisa Mae Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson (my boyfriend), and Nathaniel Hawthorne (Brenda's boyfriend -- or is she more into Thoreau? I forget). We stopped at another farm stand and got supplies for a picnic, which we had on the banks of Walden Pond (actual Walden Pond! pretty cool). The weather was gorgeous, so we walked around the pond (more of a lake). Two different women were swimming in Walden Pond. This was October, late October. Although the weather was gorgeous, it was not swimming weather. One of the women had on a wetsuit; the other seemed to be German or Nordic, based on her accent. Tough broad.

Other things of note: all the important stuff during the revolution took place at taverns. I'm not saying that's how it should be; I'm just telling you, that's how it was. Also, Brenda pointed out this one house along the battle route - the owners had redone the siding, but they'd had to leave a diamond-shaped hole in the new yellow siding, because way back when, a stray bullet from someone's revolutionary weapon had lodged itself there in the side of their house and was now a historic item that could not be messed with. (I'm paraphrasing.) So there you are. That's what it's like, living amid history, right there where it all went down.

Anyway, it was an excellent trip and I can't wait to get back there. Boston is really pretty and seems like a fun little place to hang out. Here are some pics; I'll put more up on flickr or something and add the link later. Too tech-challenged to do it now.

Brenda took this one: it's the street John Kerry lives on!

The Freedom Trail.

Walden Pond...

Replicas of Thoreau and his Hut.

Cliche but true: the autumn leaves out here are mighty pretty. I was a little early to catch them in their full glory (or rather, they were a little late), but it was still almost ridiculously autumnal.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pic for JG

In case I never emailed it...

Monday, November 12, 2007

My 'Hood

Belated pics of the Boston trip will be up soon, but for now, here's one of a pretty corner in my neighborhood. The whole area looks like this! Especially in the fall. A girl could die of cuteness.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

So Long, Norman

From the Times obit:

"Writing is a serious and sober activity for me now compared to when I was younger. The question of how good are you is one that really good novelists obsess about more than poor ones. Good novelists are always terribly affected by the fear that they’re not as good as they thought and why are they doing it, what are they up to?

“It’s such an odd notion, particularly in this technological society, of whether your life is justified by being a novelist. And the nice thing about getting older is that I no longer worry about that. I’ve come to the simple recognition that would have saved me much woe 30 or 40 or 50 years ago — that one’s eventual reputation has very little to do with one’s talent. History determines it, not the order of your words.”

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Another Homework Assignment

Here's me being lazy again: this is today's homework, a not very journalistic account of the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, as assigned last Wednesday in my reporting class. Written in twenty minutes, and it reads like fifteen. First prize to anyone who can identify the "nut graf"!

[a headline would go here, if I could think of one]

Not everyone loves a parade, it turns out.

“I’ve never really been into them,” an Australian woman said to her companion. “This kind of reminds me why not.”

The Greenwich Village Halloween Parade starts at 7pm. It was only 5:30, but that was OK. All the good stuff happened before the floats set sail.

Sixth Avenue was fittingly gray and windswept. Atmospheric, if not quite spooky. People started to line up behind sidewalk barriers, but by 6pm the cops still outnumbered spectators two to one. A group of six adults convincingly dressed as senior citizens on a bus tour walked by in matching purple Columbia Sportswear jackets, all clutching maps.

“I’m keeping my eyes open," said a flannel-clad girl sitting on the curb, "because I know my sister’s in New York and it would be so cool to bump into her here.” Her boyfriend, who was using sticks of stage makeup to draw on her face, looked around at the gathering crowds and was silent.

An elegant gray-haired lady walked up to them: “What’s going on?”

“It’s a parade,” the boyfriend said.

“Is there some organization that’s putting it on?” asked the lady.

“No, it’s just…the Halloween parade.”

“Well,” the lady asked, “is it a gay parade?”

The boyfriend paused to think about that.

“Sort of,” he said.

The lady nodded and said she’d be back after some shopping. When she left, the couple giggled and re-enacted the exchange.

More people crammed in against the barriers. Defying the odds, Facepaint Girl's sister appeared, reeking of booze. Familial screeching drew the attention of bystanders who had nothing else to look at and were bored. The drunk girl seized the makeup kit and applied crooked gray lipstick. She showed her sister and her sister’s boyfriend the lighter she’d just scored at a bar, no cover charge, they were just giving them out, free.

“Do you ever picture yourselves as skeletons?” she asked the audience at large. “Picture yourselves as skeletons! It’s the weirdest thing! We’re all just skeletons!”

A guy on a motorcycle roared down 6th Avenue, nearly flattening a small dog. It looked intentional. From the other end of the leash, the dog's owner glared. A scraggly band of five Celtic pirates marched down the street, in the wrong direction. Still no sign of the big parade.

A crew of twentysomething cyclist dudes in knit hats appeared, carrying buckets of beercans. Girls surrounded them instantly. The dudes consolidated their buckets and upended the empty one to make a pedestal, onto which they allowed a girl in a pink tutu and army jacket. A pair of toe shoes hung around her neck. “Are those functional?” one dude asked, looking up at her. She disclosed that she was a dancer in real life. The dude asked if her toes were "all jammed." She said yes, adding that his interest in the subject was odd. “I’m attracted to people with injuries,” he explained.

Watching this, the Australian woman cheered up. “Fascinating,” she said. “Young American mating rituals.”

A flurry of activity to her left caught the crowd’s interest: several cops were moving the sidewalk barrier further into the street. Sweet! Better view. No, wait. Now they were moving it back to where it was. A minute later they moved it again. More cops appeared, along with some guys dressed up as Department of Transportation workers. The problem: a pothole, about five inches across, right there where people would be standing.

Walkie-talkies summoned a couple of DOT trucks. Cops adjusted the barrier yet again. One DOT guy got out of a truck and bashed in the edges of the pothole to stabilize it. Another DOT guy shoveled loose black asphalt into the pothole from a truck. A cop in a white uniform walked up and asked the ponytailed officer guarding the pothole what was going on.

“The captain came over, and he wants us to fill this hole,” she said.

“He decided to do this last-minute, huh?” the other cop said, shaking his head.

With the pothole-management procedure complete, the barrier resumed its proper position. The crowd cheered. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” said one DOT guy.

Everyone went back to waiting patiently. Still no parade, but folks were calm.

“Next year I’m going to walk around selling little plastic bags for people to pee in,” said Facepaint Girl's boyfriend. “And grilled-cheese sandwiches.”

Finally the parade started. Boredom crept in along with the cold. A few acts earned applause, including a group of zombies who performed the dance from the video of Michael Jackson’s hit song “Thriller.” Another highlight was a guy wearing Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream. “Oh, see, I should’ve worn that,” said one of the bucket dudes, whose only costume was a new beard his friends declared hideous. “Last year I went as ‘Whistler’s Mother.’”

It's OK not to love the parade; on Halloween, the society is the spectacle.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

someone's cranky

Here is a partial list of words that, after two months in Critic School, I would be pretty happy never to hear again:

sort of

There are plenty of others, most of which end in -ic, -ist, -ism, -al, -ian or -ization. They make me visualize hatcheting the skulls of those who utter them (except for Susie, who can say anything she likes). Another possibility is that I am just an intolerant hag and need to lighten up. But I prefer to blame the language of academia, for now.

More globbing soon! Back to the books....