Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Ever since I became a daddy I cry when people die on tv

Even though, as a media and cultural studies teacher, it counts (semi-legitimately) as professional development, I don't watch much television anymore. Not since the baby arrived in July, anyway; I'm just too busy, and too tired, and ER hasn't been any good since Dr. Mark Greene died of brain cancer.

But although she's no fanatic -- she's always been admirably levelheaded about such things, the calm to my storm, able to take or leave almost anything -- Darcie's got her shows, and I found myself sucked in to NYPD Blue this evening merely because it was on in the corner while I sat fussing with email across the room. It's a show I watch seldomly, and then only in fits and starts, but tonight's episode, showing the tendrilous aftermath of a carjacking gone horribly awry, seemed especially noteworthy, both for its excellent narrative contruction, in that it showed three intertwined plot threads played out so seamlessly close that each new development fed at least two of the crimes, and for its personal emotional resonance.

Things take on relevance long after they pass, sometimes; what was small and unworthy of notice when it happened may unlock doors long after; I know I am not alone in missing the significance of events to myself when they happen; I know I am not alone. A few days after we came back from Boston, Darcie and I smelled acrid smoke in the dormitory hallway; Darcie went to check on the smell while I watched the baby. Later, she told me that the smoke was only Lewis, our dormitory's House Director, burning old student papers and curriculum planners in the dorm lounge fireplace. But it was her second-hand recitation of a stray comment made before the fire made by Lewis' wife Cal, whose mother passed away on New Year's Eve after a long bout with cancer, which I remember most strongly. According to Darcie, Cal mentioned that with the death of a close and loved family member, her first death, she had trouble watching the news, because all those people who die are suddenly real people.

Tonight, when the show ended, I shuffled cautiously around strewn clothes and still-unpacked vacation luggage to kneel at the side of the queen-sized family bed we three share. Poor night vision runs in my family; in the dark, I can barely make out Willow's features. My brain is filled with an audio/visual roaring like static on the television; I listen to the buzz and think nothing, but she is there; she is alive; she is helpless, her arms raised over her head in sleep as if in triumph. For Cal, it took death to make the universe real, if only for a short breath before memory brings her kind gloss to death as she does with all her precious gemstones. For me, in becoming a parent, all those people who die, fact or fiction, have become real. From now on, the baby whose drug-addled mother drowns her and leaves her on the roof to die, the carjacker who dies struggling with the accidental drugrunner's brother-with-a-record; the precinct captain's heroin-addicted ex-wife who ODs: they are all my daughter, and I cry for us all.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:24 PM | 1 comments

Free To Be...Tributary

so that's why I'm a feminist...

It's Gender Issues Week here at Northfield Mount Hermon, which means questionable questionaires to go over with my advisees (True or False: a man/woman who has been raped should always be believed.), same-gender workshops which teach girls to be strong and boys to be guilty and sheepishly so, and a general flavor of opposite-sex discomfort in the dry snowy air. It's not that I have anything against positive gender-identity development; quite the contrary, although I think we do this kind of stuff better than most schools, I'm frustrated by the way schools tend to oversimplify such messages, presenting a charcoal-drawing world filled with grey areas as if it were instead a linoleum print, heavy black lines on pure white idealism.

Pedagogically, I'm an optimist; I believe students are always smarter than we give them credit for, and that we lose them when we dumb things down rather than challenging them to rise to the complex occasion. Luckily, as a specialist in media studies, it's my job to develop some of the content for such programs; I've been asked to introduce, and then moderate, a student panel discussion of gender images in mass media in the school chapel Sunday night, so I've a chance to try and mitigate the dichotomous dredge of the rest of the week. Developing the program has meant working closely with both the Chaplaincy and the Office of Community Development (doublespeak if I ever heard it, as the primary role of the two women who run the latter office is to oversee students-of-color groups and organize schoolwide forums for discussion of tolerance issues), which really meant helping the director of each of the two departments and their respective interns parse and then select ads from television and Vogue and taped-off-MTV hip-hop videos. Today a student walked into the chapel office to find us circled around the television watching a Busta Rhymes video, reviewing some of the final possibilities. I can only imagine what was going through his head. Must have thought he had walked into the Twilight Zone.

Radio show tonight went well as always; Virginia, whose job is primarily to keep track of what we've played and to recite the station phone number on the air when I point to her, joined me late, about a half-hour into the swing of things. Being back in the studio and, of course, back in the rhythms of my beloved vocation after two weeks put me in a cheerful mood, which in turn made for a set of predominantly short silly songs. In honor of Gender Issues Week, tonight's readings were from the fully nuanced and timeless classic Free To Be...You And Me, about as far from a black-and-white vision of cultural relativism as one can get; Kurt Vonnegut's afterword alone is worth the price of the book. As always, tonight's Tributary set list follows; there's lots of covers, so, as always, extra special bonus points and a free cup of coffee for anyone who can identify the original artists of six or more of the songs:

Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man (Tributary theme song)
Keller Williams -- Brunette
**Nikki Boyer -- Brain Damage
NRBQ -- Whistle While You Work
*Guster -- I've Got To Be Clean
Biscuit Boys -- Ramblin' Fever
*Glen Phillips -- Have A Little Fun With Me
Kasey Chambers -- A Little Bit Lonesome
Skavoovie and the Epitones -- Blood Red Sky (my brother was in this now-sadly-defunct band; this cut, which got lots of airplay on MTV Brazil, is off their second album, Ripe)
Phish -- Cavern
*Cake -- Manah Manah
**Kris McKay -- Wish You Were Here
Be Good Tanyas -- Rain and Snow
Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem -- Let's Pretend There's a Moon
Keb' Mo' -- Tell Everybody I Know
Beck -- Lost Cause
Gillian Welch -- Summer Evening
*Darius Rucker -- It's All Right To Cry
Nancy Griffith -- Boots Of Spanish Leather
**Leslie King -- Money
Norah Jones -- Come Away With Me
Marc Cohn -- 29 Ways
Slaid Cleaves -- This Morning I Was Born Again
*Sarah McLachlan -- The Rainbow Connection
Sheryl Crow -- Strong Enough
Shawn Colvin -- This Must Be The Place
*Dan Zanes -- Wonderwheel
The Persuasions -- Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Lucy Kaplansky -- Ten Year Night
**Patricia Maertens -- Comfortably Numb

* from For The Kids
** from Echoes of Pink: Tribute to Pink Floyd

posted by boyhowdy | 12:54 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Boy, Resurrected

The Very Bloggy Caterpillar

Buckle up, kiddies, 'cause like Shawn Colvin says, it's gonna be another long one tonight. I'm back after three overwhelming days, and as chronology seems like the most conducive way to get at things, let me begin by taking you back to the morning of December 2nd...


Woke and packed and left for Boston by about 1:00 -- later than we expected, packing being a serious and high-stakes activity when one travels with an infant. Stuck behind too many eighteen wheelers on old one-lane sections of Rt. 2, we took our usual short cut through Walden Pond (yes, that Walden Pond). Arrived in Newton by about 3:00 to find the usual chaos of cleaning women and three-people-going-in-three-directions-at-once at my parents house. Mom, Dad, and Sarah played with the baby until my brother Jesse arrived a bit after five.

In keeping with a family tradition that says that choice of restaurant is yours for your birthday (a tradition, by the way, which has been around so long that I think I made everyone take me to McDonalds once) we left in two cars for Somerville to celebrate Jesse's birthday dinner at Redbones. Redbones has been around forever, I think; it's famous for authentic downhome blues and barbecue, and serves its lemonade in mason jars with a spoon in true southern style. Jesse is a pescaterian, meaning fish-but-no-red-meat, and Redbones has the best catfish above the Mason-Dixon line. Sarah and Darcie and I had ribs of various types. Mom had salmon. Willow had mashed bananas again.

Back at the house we were joined by Darcie's brother Josh, who lives in Newton too, for tiramisu cake and birthday and late-Channukah present exchange around the otherwise-unused hardwood dining room table. Jesse liked his fingerpuppet set of great artists from the Unemployed Philosopher's Guild very much; I also recommend their set of Hamlet fingerpuppets. For Channukah, the festival of lights, Jesse made everyone these crazy abstract cut and spraypainted foamboard lamps; they're gorgeous and hard to describe, so the award for most succinct description goes to Sarah, who remarked I keep expecting the Lorax to jump out of the lamp.

Borrowed cash from Dad to take Jesse and Josh out for a beer afterwards; because it was his birthday, we let Jesse pick the bar and the beer. We drove through the cold streets to the Model Club, a dark smoky hole-in-the-wall filled with greasy-haired young urbanites in black lace and leather and dyed black hair which Jesse used to haunt when he was a professional Ska musician living in Allston in a house with his ten bandmates, and proceeded to drink too much Miller High Life, a beer I had never tried but which I enjoyed very much. Nice and light and crisp. I usually enjoy a good pale ale or microbrew, but once in a while the cheap beers make a nice change like water makes a nice change from milk. Miller High Life bills itself as the Champagne of Beers, which is why Jesse chose it, but to me, the name kind of begs ridicule: What, I wonder, is the beer of Champagnes? The Whiskey of Beers? The Jaegermeister of Schnaps?

Home late and drunk. Crash.


Reb Moshe Waldoks

Up late again, this time with a hangover, by 11:00; the house was beginning to stir as we all prepared for a visit to Grandpa Jerry in the nursing home. Jerry, my mother's father, has late-stage Parkinsons and has probably had at least one stroke as well; before his wife, my grandmother, died of a stroke this summer, she was taking care of him out of their apartment in a nearby home for the aged, but he's too far gone for home-care without her in the house. Now, some days are better than others, and although he seemed like he had gained some weight since the last time we saw him, he didn't speak during the visit. Parkinson's affects facial mobility, too, but he did manage a wistful smile of sorts when we held Willow to his face so she could reach out and stroke his scratchy cheek, soft silk under stubble, just like I used to do when I was little. I had to go out in the hall and cry for a minute to recover.

After home and a short unrestful nap for the baby, who was cutting her first tooth (yay!), we left Willow with my mother and sister and drove Darcie out to her massage appointment at Waddington's, a local upscale parlor. Massage is expensive, so it's a nice gift from my mother to make and pay for the service; I went once last year on their dollar, too, but my body is so messed up that although I felt better that evening I was in pain for the next three days while my muscles realigned themselves back to my bone structure. This time I dropped Darcie off and went to browse the newest bookstore in town, Newtonville Books, an experience worth going out of one's way for. Stopped off at the house to find Willow blotchy and puffy but calming down already as Mom showed her a pop-up book about a dog named Spot; it's hard to cry when you're trying to eat a book. I only stayed a few minutes; reportedly Willow fell asleep moments after I left to pick Darcie up again.

Back at the house we dressed and then, after seeing the way my parents were dressed, took the tie off and dressed again for casual friday night temple services at Temple Beth Zion, the new congregation my parents have joined. Beth Zion is a revitalized, new-agey congregation overseen by Reb Moshe Waldoks, an egoist who used to teach Jewish Intellectual History at Brandeis and edit collections of Jewish humor until he joined the rabbinate just about a decade ago. At first glance, it is clear that although their hearts are in the right place, theyre's still some fine-tuning happening with the orthodoxy in there. The congregation claims to be something called post-denominational, as distinct from the more usual non-denominational; this plays out primarily through elements like Reb Waldoks' Hassidic-themed chants, his humorous commentary throughout the service, and the congregation member's use of drums as a rhythmic counterpart to the prayer chants. I can see how this makes spiritual practice more owned by the celebrants, I suppose, but down-home moments like asking everyone who was new to the congregation to stand at the end and introduce themselves made the place seem more like an AA meeting than the personal, intimate group that is, surely, the goal. Having grown up practicing Conservative Judaism, we recognized none of the melodies but all of the service, which made it easy to follow but hard to participate.

Jesse left from there to go on to meet some friends in Providence; we went on to a decent dinner in Nonantum, Newton's Little Italy. When I was growing up, Nonantum might have well have been Mars; although its adolescents attended the same high school as my own neighbors, the difference between us was evident. The village of Nonantum -- Newton has 14 villages in all -- is literally on the other side of the Mass Turnpike from a more affluent, larger section of Newton, a town known for having the highest number of therapists and shrinks per capita than any other township in the world; because of the commuter train which runs alongside the 'pike, Nonantum was, literally, the other side of the tracks. The fire hydrants are painted orange, green, and white in Nonantum, after the Italian flag; across the street from the restaurant was a small park crammed with christmas lights and the biggest goddam glowing plastic Santa I've ever seen. This is not your father's Newton.

After a stop back at the house Willow and Darcie went to bed and I, ever the night owl, drove off to Medford to visit PJ, an old friend from high school who grew up down the street from me in that more affluent Newton. PJ is a lawyer and an excellent singer-songwriter , but not neccesarily in that order; our conversation tends towards friendly-but-mildly-competitive intellectualism; our visit was spent parsing blogs and blogging, among other things. I miss friends like PJ out here in the boondocks. We used to just hang out and sing; we used to just sit and watch TV; in our earliest days, in junior high together just blocks from the Italian neighborhoods, we used to get combo meals of greasy chinese food late at night to escape our ultra-suburban lives. Now every visit is scarce, our conversation touched by the impending separation.

By midnight what had been rain had turned to fat-flake heavy snow, and the change in weather was giving me a headache; by 12:30 I gave into the pain and decided to brave what was suddenly a growing storm, dangerous and slick. Driving back through the slush was precarious and slow; I saw no one but snowplows and cabs on the long drive; it took me an hour, twice as long as usual, to get around the city, and then I almost didn't make it up the last hill back to my parent's house. Dad gave me an aspirin, Sarah and I watched TV for a bit until it kicked in and I wandered off to join Darcie and Willow in the darkness, on the pull-out couch in the therapist's office that was once my old bedroom.



From the moment Darcie and Willow called me into consciousness it was a rushing-around morning. For a fast half hour, Darcie packed, Mom and Dad and Sarah entertained the baby, and I staggered around trying to be awake enough (and clothed enough) to begin the trek home. Mom usually stands in the doorway and waves us out of sight when we go; this time, she was crying at the door, Sarah pulling her away, so I went back for an extra hug. I think we're all feeling a bit overwhelmed by things these days. In the past year, she's lost her mother unexpectedly, become a grandmother, and her children have finally begun to leave the nest, a perfect emotional trifecta.

From Newton we drove under Rt. 93 and along the McGrath highway several times on our verylost way to a whirlwind visit with Bob and Tom and Lorian and Daisy at their lovely two-family home in Revere. They loved the baby, of course, and we sat and chatted for a while about our lives, just catching-up stuff, while the dog sniffed at her as we changed her on the floor. See this earlier blogentry for more about Bob; his landscape business, I Dig A Garden, seems to be going well, Tom is now a regional manager for his bistro chain, and the dog is very sweet. And Lorian is still...Lorian, the vinyl-loving mother hen of a now-dispersed clan of young gay bohemians. I miss 'em all.

The drive home to Northfield and points west wasn't bad, although there was still a bit of residual snow falling, backlash from the previous night's storm. We stopped at a McDonalds somewhere before Gardner and Harvard (the township, not the college, although there is an entertaining Entering Harvard sign as you pass the town line on the highway) and ate Mcnuggets and greasy fries as we watched the snowbanks by the side of the road rise and rise and rise as we headed away from the city. By the time we pulled into our driveway it was almost dark, but it was easy to make out the 3 foot snowbanks lining the road; while Boston had a couple of slushy inches, we had been slammed. The dog, emerging from the house into a snowfall towering above her head, was nonetheless ecstatic to see us, wiggling on the stoop, showing her belly like the slut for affection she is.

Jesse had left a message on our answering machine saying he'd not be in from Providence until 8, and Matt and Alicia, staying across town at the guesthouse on the other campus while up for a skiing holiday with friends, decided they were too tired to stop by, so we had a few hours to ourself until Jesse arrived and he and I went out to pick up sushi and chinese appetizers at China Gourmet. We chatted on the way about his work and school, mostly; Jesse is an artist, in a grad program at Rutgers art school and teaching undergrad classes, looking forward to grant writing and gallery showings and the pressure of outside demands to produce, and confident about his excellent work. He slept in the baby's room on the futon; she sleeps between us in our bed anyway, and wait a minute, how come she has her own room but she gets to clutter up ours?


You Make My Heart Sing

Darcie went to breakfast with Willow while I slumbered on; we had been up late the night before watching a video tape of short pieces, mostly educational films with titles like Keeping Clean and a Union Pacific training documentary on safety on the job called The Days Of Our Years, from the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 collection. Ah, those were the days, when, if instructional films are to be believed, apparently kids grew up hearing the voice of authority speak to them in voice-over, an entire generation of schizophrenics in black and white. And remember, kids, if you're not neat and clean, everyone will hate you, and your life won't amount to a hill of beans.

After Darcie came back, I emerged to find Jesse already awake and reading Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity, a book I recommend as a definitive critique of the traditional view of postmodernism as a catalyst for true cultural and political-economic sea-change, on the living-room loveseat. After determining that there was no coffee, he and I hopped into his car and found our way to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, which recently opened down in Amherst on a patch of land purchased from Hampshire College. The museum was a great sunny place, with excellent exhibits of original art by Maurice Sendak and Eric Carle himself and a studio room where children can learn about shape and line and color and try some projects of their very own. Darcie went, too, with the baby and her parents in her parents car.

As we browsed the giftshop Eric Carle himself came in, very quietly, and without fanfare sat by himself in the auditorium watching the movie of the museum's construction and founding; we snuck in the back to watch him watch himself on the screen. Afterwards, he came over to us to ask how we liked the museum he had built; it felt like having the President come out of the Oval Office to say hi during the presidential tour, but, due to the almost-silent museum and the absence of others around us, much more private somehow. Neil asked very nicely while the rest of us just said hi in awe, and Carle, a short shy man in a neat green sportcoat with an unidentifiable soft-spoken accent and a white beard, consented to autograph a board-book copy of his very first book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? As long as we can keep Willow from gnawing it to death, we'll treasure it always.

Lunch in Northampton afterwards at the Vermont Country Deli: mocha lattes and crunchy spinach and roast beef sandwiches and, for my pescetarian brother, a tuna fish sandwich and some black bean soup. Willow threw her toys on the ground and entertained herself watching us stoop over to pick them up until we bundled her up, said goodbye to my brother standing on the street, and went home, back to the three of us.

And now Darcie naps with Willow whilst I blog; in the background, over the evening, the thumps in the hallway slowly gather strength. Either there's a wumpus in the hallway, or the kids are coming back from holiday break, banging snow off their boots and slamming their doors. I'm betting on the latter.

posted by boyhowdy | 5:23 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, January 04, 2003

Almost Back




*ring [click] whirrrrrrr*

Hello, you've reached Not All Who Wander Are Lost; this is your host boyhowdy. I've just returned from visiting parents siblings and old friends in Boston with the wife and baby, but my brother is about to arrive for one last vacationesque weekend before life returns to the-way-things-are so blogging will not resume until late tonight or tomorrow at the earliest. Watch this space over the next 24 for many elephantine life-changes and observations, reported in my usual scintillating self-referentiality; many things blogworthy occured in the last 48, so expect both quality and quantity soon. Until then, enjoy your remaining holiday break!

*beeeeeeeeeeeeeeee [click]*

posted by boyhowdy | 6:31 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, January 02, 2003

This Is Not A Pipe

More originally-from-Playboy Shel Silverstein stuff ; see also Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book:

posted by boyhowdy | 2:36 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Once Upon A Time We Lived Under A Willow Tree

...and I was "the lightning guy" for a living.

In 1994 I was working on an Education and Programs fellowship at the Boston Museum of Science , while Darcie worked as assistant manager for a travel book store in an upscale mall downtown. Things had gotten out of hand in our dirty apartment on the Allston-Brighton line; after a few fights I had ended up living next door with a raver chick and her wiccan friend for a few months until we had decided to move the hell away from there, as it was unhealthy, and take some time off from each other.

I ended up in a wood-paneled, run-down house share in Kendall Square with two strangers, one a professional English as a Second language teacher who slept on a matress on a bare floor with one of his students, an overwhelmed girl who barely spoke English, the other a classically-trained porn afficionado who temped as a librarian at Symphony Hall while he pursued his real love, writing letters and stories for Penthouse and Oui. The primary benefit to this living arrangement was its proximity to work, a three-block bike ride through a back lot and to the edge of the Charles River. The drawbacks included the roommates, both of whose girlfriends eventually moved in with them, the fact that I was sleeping on a futon in a tiny room with thin faux-wood paneling, and the fact that Darcie wasn't there.

Meanwhile, after living on the Fenway across from a drug-dealer's park and the Museum of Fine Arts with baby pigeons hatching on the windowsill for a few months, Darcie had answered an ad in the paper and moved into a room on the second floor of Val and Bob's Somerville walk-up. The house was a block down and behind the Somerville Theater in Davis Square, easily accessible by Boston's public transport, the T; this was back when Davis Square as yet had no McDonalds, but was a fun funky neighborhood with good bars and music halls, Redbones cajun restaurant and a real diner, and a Store 24 and a dollar store, useful when you're mostly broke or up regularly at 2:00 a.m needing cigarettes.

Katherine, a nun in the Church of Euthenasia, lived downstairs; to visit Darcie, I'd wave my way past Katherine smoking on the steps outside her back door, climb up the rickety back stairs, and open the wondowless neverlocked back door into the warm kitchen with its woodstained walls and a fridge painted like a Holstein, where there tended to be a half dozen random people, our roommates and their very cool friends, to greet us. It was an odd layout. The kitchen was the communal gathering place; off it was a small bathroom, Val's room, and a phone nook in a hallway which in turn led to an outside door. The bedrooms all opened up into each other linearly; to get to our own room on the corner of the house we either had to walk through Val's room or, stranger still, walk out of the apartment into the hall, past the stairs of the invisible men who lived upstairs, unlock the door with your key and walk back into the apartment, or, more specifically, Bob's room, and then into ours. Our best guess was that Bob's room had once been a waiting room for a therapist's office; that would explain the two ways into our own room, once -- in this scenario -- the office itself.

When, after a few months, I was living there in praxis, we decided I should sign on for rent and live there in theory, too. I got to know Val and Bob pretty well; mostly, we didn't have much to do except sit around all day and drank cheap beer and smoke cigarettes at the kitchen table while Darcie worked.

Val was a big earthy woman with a skinny boyfriend who was the guitarist in her band; her only form of income seemed to be a yearly yard sale, for which she scoured the streets on trash day all year, filling our house and garage with knickknacks and paddywhacks and shelves of scalloped bone. After she moved out and was replaced by Chirs, the taciturn alcoholic sound man for the Boston House of Blues, we discovered a cache of sealed jugs of tapwater hidden in the floorboards and behind the sink, over 60 of them. Our best guess is that Val, ever the crystal and feather spiritualist, was preparing for the apocalypse.

It was Bob we really took to. Bob's life was in a holding pattern, although he was so settled it wasn't really noticable when seen head-on. He was drinking far too heavily, working a little as a receptionist in a small hospital, dating a guy who he loved but wasn't good for him. We spent hours in that little kitchen, smoking and drinking and laughing and singing; Bob I had joined old schoolmate-and-friend PJ Shapiro in a band, Not Earthshaking, which played a gig at the Hard Rock Cafe surrounded by the original bricks of the first place the Beatles played in Liverpool and then disbanded --, When it got warm again, on the porch, we sat late into the evening looking out on the marvelous garden he was building at the base of the willow tree in the backyard and talking about anything and everything.

Ah, the willow tree. Bigger than a three-apartment home, it towered over the neighborhood, jutting out even over the fenced-in half acre of garden we cultivated at our house on the corner. Branches rubbed up against the bedroom windows, providing just enough shade in the summer and just enough beauty in the fall to fall asleep to; they beat in the wind against the cardboard box Darcie kept in the window as a kind of poor-man's refrigerator to keep food, mostly orange juice, cool.

The tree owned us more than we owned it, but somehow (it was never clear to me how, with three apartments in the house), the yard had become ours, and Val and Bob took it over. Val grew wildflowers and tomatoes and placed garden Gnomes and bits of bark; Bob build a barbecue patio in the shape of a guitar around the trunk of the tree, We left the house in late '94, I guess, when I went to live in the dorms at Marlboro College and Darcie went to live with her parents ten miles down the hill, and I miss the firends and the sense of cozy comfort of each darkened room, but I miss Bob, and the garden, most of all, and I know Darcie does too. We'd never trade it for what we have now, but we love it, and the people we were when we lived there, all the same.

Things come in threes, y'know:

Bob called tonight, we're going to try to get to his house out in the real suburbs, in Revere, where he's got a new gardening business and is going on six years with Tom, they have a Lhasa Apso and they're talking about a ceremony of some sort in the next year or so.

Also, my brother asked for a dinner out at Redbones for his birthday dinner tomorrow in Boston, a family tradition, because you just can't get good catfish in New Jersey.

Also, of course, we named the baby Willow.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:49 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Visibility: Zero

Went out into the peasoup drizzlefog to pick up a New Year's feast; while I was gone, Ginny called to express disappointment that we weren't going to join her at a friend's party, and Josh and Clay called to let us know that they, too, felt like being alone this evening. Now there's a soft-as-butter black angus roast wrapped in bacon in the oven; once the baby falls asleep we're in for a candlelight supper and some wine, with curling up by the virtual hearth to follow. My kind of New Year's Eve, really. I used to want to be a party animal, but as I mellow in my old age I can accept myself for who I am: a cup of kindness and a loaf of thou are all I ever need to be complete. Happy New Year, everybloggy.

posted by boyhowdy | 5:41 PM | 0 comments

I'll take Things That Are New for 500, Alex.

It was 11:30 and we were on our way out the door for breakfast, already in the car with the baby, when Darcie's mother called to ask Virginia if she was still going to be in her 1:00 Dance performance for First Night Brattleboro. Oops. Ginny frantically scraped the ice off her car and took off pretty quick, so we didn't really finalize plans for New Years. Well, we've still got ten hours left of 2002 to decide.

In other news, an afternoon off means time to finally get to the Winter Fiction Issue of The New New New Yorker. Gladwell's Republican dis in the Talk of the Town has been widely reported; less noted have been two fine points from, repectively, a Norman Mailer piece on being a writer and an excellent piece on paranormal investigator Joe Nickell by Burkhard Bilger.

Realism is a species of fantasy that's much more integrated and hard-core than fantasy itself, but if you are ready to come to grips with the inevitable slipperiness of most available facts, you come to recognize that realism is not a direct approach to the truth so much as it is the most concentrated form of fantasy. (Mailer)

Last year, a Gallup poll found that half of all Americans believe in E.S.P., more than forty per cent believe in demonic possession and haunted houses, and about a third believe in astrology, clairvoyance, and ghosts. (Bilger)

Dear god. Superimposed, they say worlds, don't they? Apparently, a large minority of people aren't ready to come to grips with the inevitable slipperiness of reality. Sadly, the good folks at the New Yorker have already moved on to the next issue, but you should read that, too, if you don't already subscribe.

By the way: The word news is understood etymologically as a noun "plural in form but commonly used with a singular verb;" it comes from the Middle English newes, meaning new things. Thus, new news is a redundancy, news item is grammatically inconsistent. And now you know.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:15 PM | 0 comments

I'm On A Wavelength Far From Home

"You Will Be Successful...Someday"

Every year is a year of change, but this year more than most. I was closer to birth and death than ever before this year, and it brought me farther from my youth than I could have imagined possible. New Years means The End is Near, and thank goodness. I need some time to breathe, and the students return on Sunday.

Mom and Dad stopped by with shrimp chow fun and beef with broccoli on their way home from the Berkshires, where they had been visiting one of my father's old law-school buddies and a few other friends. After watching the baby laugh at herself on the video Neil made of our Christmas-in-Vermont adventures this year, we ate, and while we did, talk of holidays in general turned to a long-ago Thanksgiving we spent at Disneyworld. Funny how memories bubble up when you're with family. My head is still clear with idealized images of turkey and cannedberry sauce on a cruise ship with Pluto and Minnie, and a magical land with clean, clear cobblestone streets, no lines at the rides and no crowds at the parade, as if the whole Kingdom was our own private playground. Memory is a kind mistress; surely it wasn't that good, although we have good luck with Disneyworld: Darcie and I went a few years ago during a cold snap, and the place was practically deserted

Although kitsch and popculture splendor usually make me smile, by the time the 'rents left at eight, thinking about the past had left me pensive and moody with the weight of generations, as is my wont when after my family has gone. Also, my fortune cookie said You will be successful someday, but there was a line break between the last two words. What, like I'm not successful now? I'm sure it had the best of intentions, but I refuse to be dissed by a tiny piece of paper just because it came wrapped in a cookie.

The combination of cookie and memory made for a similarly pensive and moody, almost maudlin half-hour playlist when, at 9:30, I drove off in a light snowfall sans cohost to begin yet another weekly radio show:

Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man (theme song)
Kris McKay – Wish You Were Here
Norah Jones – Seven Years
Marc Cohn – Mama’s In The Moon
David Wilcox – Chet Baker’s Unsung Swan Song
Sarah McLachlan – The Rainbow Connection

Ginny called during the next-to-last song to tell me to come home, the weather was turning to freezing rain and people are driving fifty on the highway. It’s not like anyone was listening, what with all the students on break until Sunday. So I did.

Extra special bonus points and a free cup of coffee for the first caller that can correctly identify the source for tonight's title. All lines are open; operators are standing by.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:11 AM | 0 comments

Monday, December 30, 2002

Poem Of The Week: Three Oceanographies

Oceanography I

The sea is everywhere:
In the bitter, tiny fish
That nestle in peanuts;

In the scent of your sex
And the taste of your skin
Under the comforter.

Closer to the surface
Traffic roars, the surf
Of the American road;

Ski trails light up like starfish
On the dark mountains, their arms
Reaching towards the sky.

Oceanography II

The sea is everywhere:
In the bitter, tiny fish
That nestle in peanuts;

In the saltwater scent
Of your sex, the taste
Of your skin in these blankets.

Gulls howl fathoms above us.
Dunes shift. The moon pulls

Closer to the surface.
Traffic roars like surf
On the American road.

Ski trails lit like starfish
Cling to the dark mountains,
Reach towards the sky.

Oceanography III

The sea is everywhere:
In the bitter, tiny fish that nestle in peanuts;

In the taste of your skin and
The saltwater scent of your sex
Fathoms deep in these blankets

While gulls howl
White above


Dunes shift.
The moon pulls

Closer to the surface.
Traffic roars, the surf
Of the American road;

Ski trails lit like starfish cling to the dark mountains,
Reach towards the sky.

Copyright 2001 Joshua L. Farber

More at Watermelon Pickle Poems, or just look right --->

posted by boyhowdy | 6:00 PM | 0 comments

A Snore In The Darkness; An Echo In The Bloggiverse

Without You, I'm Nothing

Settled Willow in for a while at Darcie's parents house and finally saw Harry Potter II this afternoon. Not bad. A lot longer than we'd assumed, which meant more anxiety about leaving Willow for so long. I had forgotten my Nicorette; the lack of it heightened the anxiety and left a kind of dry metallic feeling in my mouth and eyes. Some guy at the other end of the row behind us snored really loudly during some of the quieter scenes; several murmured comments about it, but although the place was pretty busy no one had the heart to wake him.

By the time we left the theatre my blood was buzzing. Willow was very happy to see us, especially Mama. Backstory was that her behavior had been somewhere between not easy and a cranky disaster for much of the afternoon, but Patty and Neil seemed cheerful enough about it all. God bless Willow's grandparents, every one of four, for all past and future experiences, with us and our child.

When we got home, there was a message from my mother on the answering machine, whose basic content was your father checked your blog and saw that you were going to the movies; we're going away overnight; I thought I'd leave a message; call me.

Huh. They couldn't find me, but my cyberlife offered clues to my real life activity. Here we've been watching the skies, worrying all along about implanted chips and mass databases invading our privacy, when we should have been watching ourselves evolve. Paranoia of others is a concern made moot when, in the end, we choose a life in which we freely and voluminiously disseminate every detail of our lives.

Well, it's like I teach and Neil Postman says:

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions".

Mom called back later, once she figured the movie was over; she and Dad are on their way to the Berkshires tonight, and hoped to stop by with Chinese Food tomorrow night on their way back to Boston (we're all for that). Plan so far beyond tomorrow is that we'll follow them in after New Years, stay for a few days, come back to Northfield with my Brother on the 4th. Looking forward to all of it.

Ginny came by late from a dinner and sledding party; we're thinking about doing the radio show tomorrow even though the vast majority of our listeners are far out of range, subjects, all, of the temporary diaspora of the prep school holiday break. We watched the tube for a while; now she's crashed out on the couch with the dog. I don't have the heart to wake her.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:20 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, December 29, 2002

It Goes Without Saying

All night I dreamt of ways to redesign the blog template. There are so many things I could say about that, but they all go without saying.

We're off to try an experiment: leaving the baby at Darcie's parent's house while we go see Harry Potter 2. It will be our first movie in 4 months. There are so many things I could say about that, but they all go without saying.

Did you hear about the new silence-powered car?

posted by boyhowdy | 11:06 AM | 0 comments

The Happy Browsing Blogger

I've been following links for a few, just kicking back. Amidst the chaff I found this, rediscovered this, this, and this, and decided that this is undeservedly ubiquitous.

And then I found this, the coolest blog design concept ever. The signs wouldn't fit my signifiers, of course, and the blog's been left to archives-only as of August 1st, but how the heck do they do that?

Also, everyone seems to have seen The Two Towers but me. That's fine, but c'mon, now.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:02 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Downhill Memories, Downhill Dreams

Saucer Sled, Hot Cocoa To Follow.

After letting me sleep until almost one, Darcie asked very nicely for a few hours off from baby this afternoon. After a quick trip to Mim's Market for coffee, I was happy to oblige; I love the little tyke, after all, even if she's starting her clingy stage and can't always go that long without Mama anymore. We played happily on the floor for a while, making cooing noises and giggling at each other; when that got stale, I put on a jazz CD by Bob Dorough (the guy who did all those Schoolhouse Rock songs, now sadly licensed to Disney), and we danced around the room to Wake Up Sally, It's Saturday and Marilyn, Queen of Lies.

Willow is still developing regular sleep patterns, and the two-week hiatus from our usual routine has thrown what little pattern she had already established out the window, but she had a nap earlier in the morning, and I knew she wouldn't sleep for me. Darcie had left breastmilk in the fridge to mix with the powdered rice cereal flakes, but I was saving that as a last resort. When crankiness began to set in around 2:15 , it was time for something different.

Luckily, I had a plan. Willow was a summer baby, so we've been cautious about bringing her outside for long in the cold; today, however, was a beautiful bright day with little wind, and I thought a stroll around the campus might be a nice treat. I zipped and velcroed her into her warm brown teddybear suit and added a hat underneath the hood for good measure; since the good stroller was and is still trapped in the trunk of the plowed-in-and-buried Grand Marquis, I strapped her into the cheap second-hand umbrella stroller we use as a second-string backup.

Her movement thus restricted, the baby fussed a little at first. But when we stepped out the door, her jaw dropped open and her eyes grew wide. I must admit, my own eyes went a bit wide too. The snow was everywhere, white and shiny and glorious, like someone had adjusted the monitor settings on the universe. The stroller skidded and hiccuped as I pushed it down the half-shoveled aisle in the driveway past her favorite tree, now dripping icicles where once fall leaves fell in browns, reds and golds.

Past the mailroom, up the hill and around the white striated pillars of the dining hall; down again and along cottage row, now barren of house directors and students; past red barbecue grills with sparkly white caps standing deep in the snow we went. At the top of the long sloping hill overlooking the football field we found a growing crowd of parents waving and smiling as their bright-colored eskimo children flew laughing down the hill on their saucers and toboggans and inflatable sno-doughnuts and then trudged back up dodging other sledders and sleds. Mothers turned away from their speeding children to gurgle and caw and push their cold faces at Willow while a few of the fathers and I, mostly holding dogs and thus not hurtling down the gentle slope with their youngest children, exchanged how's your holiday small talk and compared notes about the best kind of sled. In the background, childless strangers, relatives and friends of the nearby residents rushing through the last moments of their visits, packed bags into their cars in silence.

When I was in grade school the best sledding was on the hill at Claflin School, an old derelict elementary building which was much later remodelled into a series of bright shining artist studios where, one imagines, the faded spirits of long-grown kindergarteners inspired crayon drawings of big-headed dinosaurs and construction paper collages ultimately destined for well-lighted refrigerator door displays in kitschy NoHo galleries. Wake to dad in the kitchen waiting for the plow; pull on our snowpants and boots and meet up with the kinds of half-friends that snow days make; walk though the backyards of old people with grown children whose faces we had never seen, across a few slippery streets and, finally, emerge from a long trail flush with low pine branches bent down to the ground with snow into a wonderland of children laughing and flying and building ramps they'd invariably miss on the way down the slope.

Such older boys and girls were absent today; the big-kid sledding hills are always parentless. Today was for the smallest children, whom we left behind, I lost in my thoughts, Willow lost in the bright new world of snow and yelling rushing-by children. Finally past the student center and into the driveway again; nose aglow, cheeks pink, eyes bright, we returned home. Darcie was beginning to stir; a new diaper and an appetite-whetting bit of milk-and-flakes cereal and the mother-baby bond was physically enacted once again.

Sledding with the baby will wait until next year; even the one-year-old downstairs is still reluctant to sit alone in his sled while his daddy pulls him on a yellow plastic rope. But there's so much Willow and I can do together now, and however eager I am to teach her how to keep from spinning on her saucer, we've got plenty of other hills to ride down together before the snows fall next winter, more, surely, than we'll ever have time for. Until then, I have my own memories, and a future bright with faceplants and giggling and dashing through the snow and aftermaths of hot chocolate and marshmallows to keep me warm.

posted by boyhowdy | 4:46 PM | 0 comments

Don't Forget...

1. Download your Not All Who Wander Are Lost Christmas present!

2. Help me cover the world with flowers. Plant a flower in your backyard!

posted by boyhowdy | 3:04 AM | 0 comments

Useful things I can do

1. Proofread impeccably.
2. Launder.
3. Teach anything except math, science, and computer science.
4. Hand-code HTML.
5. Find my way back from anywhere.

Useless things I can do

1. Flip a lit cigarette into the air and catch it in my mouth.
2. Sing harmony.
3. Stick a wooden skewer all the way through a balloon without breaking it.
4. Stay up for three days while remaining mostly coherent.
5. Eat all twenty McNuggets and a cheeseburger in one sitting.

Useful things I wish I could do

1. Run/exercise for enjoyment and health.
2. Breastfeed.
3. Fix a car.
4. Hit consciousness in less than an hour.
5. Drive stick.

Useless things I wish I could do

1. Play guitar.
2. Trim my own damn beard.
3. Make anything out of anything, like MacGyver.
4. Draw or paint realistically.
5. Tan.

[note: by useless/useful, we're talking skills which have practical application for the average human being; I am fully aware that professional musicians find it useful to know how to play an instument, and that it is often considered socially and financially useful to be able to trim one's own damn beard. Thanks to Chris Nyffeler for the list idea.]

posted by boyhowdy | 12:34 AM | 0 comments

Friday, December 27, 2002

...or are you just really happy to see me?

pygmy monkey

Man Sentenced For Monkeys In Pants.

From CNN.com's Offbeat News. Quite possibly the funniest headline ever.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:18 PM | 0 comments

Hoorah For Phil Ringnalda!!

I hope my loyal readers will allow me one last tech note: Phil, blogmaster at Blogger Unofficial FAQ blog, noticed that someone had changed the comments text to "poseurs" on my enetation account as a Christmas crack, and left some of the code unfinished! Changing the settings back was painless once I knew where to look.

Thanks to Phil for a Christmas miracle. My faith in the world has been restored. I'm even happy to handcode archives forever if I must.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:20 PM | 0 comments

Conversation on the Beach

A supposedly-true conversation between an Israeli Holocaust survivor and a young Arab youth. Chilling. An excerpt:

"Isn't there a way our two nations could ever come to terms and make peace?"

Again he gave me that serious look. "Yes, there is a way. We are not like the Nazis who gave you no other choice but death. We give you the chance to convert to Islam, then you will become a part of us and our people will live in peace."
A current Israeli joke: What is a Pessimist? An Optimist with lots of experience.

Sadly, that says it all.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:07 PM | 0 comments


Breakfast of Champions

Woke up to a pain. Hard to walk upright. Hernia? Groin pull? Something nasty and rare? Maybe I just slept wrong on some sensitive part of my body? Whatever it is, it still hurts several hours later. Guess it's time to take an Aleve. Aleve does wonders for my back, at least; if the problem today is muscular, then the muscle relaxant should help oodles.

I think I'm a hypochondriac, and I think I know why. I'm too intellectual; I don't understand my body as well as I understand my brain, but I know that without the body the brain is nothing. It scares me some when something hurts. I don't like medicine, either, because I don't trust something I don't understand to help something else I don't understand. I have this vague sense that the body should be able to fix itself. I usually take half doses of over-the-counter meds instead of the whole pill.

But it hurts nonetheless.

Also broken: parts of the blog itself. Archives still "missing" so I handcoded them back in last night; now, the comments are giving me an "unterminated string constant" error, then not loading properly. Tried moving the code around a bit but nothing doing.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:35 PM | 0 comments

You Might Be A Blogger If...

Myself, I'm thinking you might be a blogger if you're permalinking to someone's blog because it has a "you might be a blogger if..." list on it which isn't even that funny.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:08 AM | 0 comments

1. Download your Not All Who Wander Are Lost Christmas present!
2. Plant a flower at the Not All Who Wander Are Lost Guestmap!

The Dog In The Hall

After finally giving up and handcoding the archives back into the site, we bundled the baby into the car for a yummy visit to Greenfield's newly remodeled China Gourmet, where a windowless sushi lounge has been added to what was already an excellent spot for fine greasy MSG-less dining. The combination of Sushi Bar and Chinese Food restaurant, first seen in Northampton a number of years ago, seems to be more the norm than the exception these days; I suspect an economic decision drives the combination of the two. I won't complain as long as I can still get a full menu from either style of food, but if they go the way of Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut -- who, once combined into one megafastfood empire, basically dropped their menus to one or two items no one really likes anymore -- I'm looking for new ethnic food.

No matter the curious nature or origin of the pan-asian restaurant, the result makes my tummy and taste buds very, very happy. We ate far more than we should have while the waiters cooed over Willow: egg drop soup, raw salmon over rice balls, dragon rolls (cucumber and crabmeat rolls wrapped in cold cooked eel and avocado), chicken tempura, and other sundries found their way all too easily down the gullet, leaving me ultimately full but guilty. Sigh. I'm thinking about trying the Atkins Diet once school starts up again; it just isn't funny anymore to say that I'm still carrying my sympathy weight from the pregnancy, especially when my weight keeps creeping up the scale.

Guess You Had To Be There Moment: One of the giggly teenage girls across the partition between our booth and theirs managed to lose track of half her fortune cookie when she tried to break it open; it fell out of the sky to land between our spareribs and dumplings with an audible crack. The girls turned bright red, both from embarrassment and from laughing so hard they couln't speak; as the cookie half still contained the fortune, we tried to be nonchalant about handing it back, but it was just too funny, and I'm sure our laughter only made them more self-conscious. Wonder what the fortune said?

We returned to find...no dog. Zellie has a habit of escaping; she's a big dog in a little body, a Jack Russel Terrier, so she can fit through the cat door we've set in the window above our bed. But an escape would be an especially terrifying thing this time of year, as it's cold cold cold outside, there really are wolves, and the white snow comes up to the shoulders of the mostly-white dog, hiding her from passing motorists. She didn't answer to our calls; we began to get nervous...and then Darcie called me from the kitchen.

Luckily, it turns out we had just left the kitchen door, which goes into the dorm hallway, ajar. Sure enough, when we peeked hopefully around the corner, there was Zellie, lying patiently next to her tennis ball, waiting for someone to come throw it down the hallway for her to chase. Darn dog can stay there for hours, she has so much faith that eventually someone will come play with her. The faith is admirable, I guess, but waiting for something that isn't going to happen loses its charm eventually. There's a point at which faith in the face of building evidence to the contrary becomes...well, stupid. I love my dog...but if she joins the Flat Earth Society, I'm sending her to a cult deprogrammer.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:05 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, December 26, 2002

A Belated Christmas Gift For All

I know many of my readers love Guster, so I thought I'd offer this gift: Guster's cover of I've Got To Be Clean , a song originally sung by Bert on Sesame Street, burned fresh for your listening pleasure from For The Kids, my favorite new CD for kids of all ages.

Click and Save to download your gift to your hard drive. Merry Christmas!

Give Back! Sign In!

Looking for new tools and add-ons for your blog? Bravenet makes a very cool guestbook alternative called a guestmap. I saw one on snowcat's blog and loved the idea so much I've added one to my own.

All I want for Christmas is for you to plant a flower in your backyard on my guestmap. Won't you?

What can I say; I'm a cheap date.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:34 PM | 0 comments

Absolutely The Last Tech Note

[If you don't care about the technical aspects of blogger, feel free to skip to Boyhowdy's most recent non-technical blog entry.]

Someone on the Blogger Unofficial FAQ blog had a good suggestion: hand code your archive publishing and turn the auto-archiving function to "no archives" in blogger. As an added bonus, this solution would allow you to be fully flexible with how you refer to past week's archives.

Luckily, this solution is implemented easier early in the life of a blog. Stay tuned for a test of the hand-coding solution later tonight or tomorrow.

Listening: Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem, Cocktail Swing

posted by boyhowdy | 5:56 PM | 0 comments

Status Report: blogger.argh

At snowcat's excellent suggestion, looked up my problem on Phil Ringnalda's Blogger Unofficial FAQ blog. The site seems immensely useful, and I've added a permalink to it in the blogresources section to the right.

Unfortunately, from what I can extrapolate from the conversations in the site's comments about archive loss, it looks like my problem is endemic to blogger, an occasional but annoying server kludge, with timing on a fix subject to blogger's maintenance. Oh well. As long as there's a workaround, I'm still happy.

posted by boyhowdy | 4:10 PM | 0 comments

Status Report: Archives Are There; Links Remain Missing

Still working on archives. Blogger.com's suggested fix for the archive problem seemed useful but didn't help. My archives index still shows only the first and last weeks of the blog; republishing does not make the other weeks appear. Is anybody out there with an idea?

Until someone comes up with one, or one of the nice folks at blogger gets back to me with a solution, see previous entry for a workaround that will get you access to blogsite archives.

I'm loving the slight cheesiness of Echoes of Pink. Seriously, some of the songs are excellent, inspired covers of Pink Floyd's finest. I'll be doing the dishes with the headphones on, so don't call.

posted by boyhowdy | 3:04 PM | 0 comments

Archives Error

Just a tech FYI: I am working with the friendly folks at blogger.com to figure out where my archives have gone. Until then, click on the links to Poems of the Week and then scroll up and down those pages to access weekly archives.

Although there was no poem of the week for the week of December 8th, if you want, you can see those archives, too.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:27 PM | 0 comments

Snow Day!

After breakfasting heartily on eggs and bacon and english muffins and extra-strong coffee with whipped cream we bundled Willow up in her bear suit and Zellie in her dogsweater (once a human sleeve) and went out to the softball field behind the house to sully the newfallen snow. Cat and dog chased each other through our tracks, the dog doggy-paddling around him when he stopped to suck at his snow-encrusted paws. Darcie tried to write Willow's name in footprints across the third base line; Zellie kept swimming across the letters and messing them up.

Once Willow's nose and cheeks began to glow the family went inside to nap while I stayed outside to dig out the Camry. Snow was heavy but we have one of those ergonomic shovels with the bend in the handle, which helps. A few years ago I hurt myself pretty badly shoveling snow on Percoset; I had no idea what kind of damage I was doing to myself until the next day when it finally wore off. I don't recommend shoveling on painkillers.

Just now realized that the Alleve I took first thing this morning to help the back already weakened from carrying presents to the car on the ice yesterday morning might cause the same problem. Hmm. *probes lower back* I don't think I threw out my back again this year, but time will tell.

It's hard to tell how much snow fell last night; I'd guess at least a foot of perfect snowball powder. The drifts over the top of the Grand Marquis make it look like a buried hatchback.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:08 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

And So This Is Christmas

It's A Wonderful Blog

Let's see now. We last saw our intrepid hero Monday night after midnight.

Once the tree was up, we had to rethink the overall feng shui of the small apartment. Too much stuff coming up too short. In the interests of making the house a cozy place for visitors, Darcie and I agreed to put the laptops away and unplug ourselves for two days while we celebrated Christmas. I didn't even cheat last night at her parent's house when I had a chance. Today, right now, marks my triumphant addicted little return to the computer, and the backlog -- backblog -- of events is overwhelming. Hang on to your brand-new fleece Christmas hats.

Day One: Monday. Slept a bit late Monday morning, until 10 or so. Up to spot-clean with Darcie and Willow; Matt and Alicia arrived just after noon and we took 'em right over to the guesthouse on the Northfield campus, a fine and giant old home once built for the musical director of the Northfield School for Girls, now a bed-and-breakfasty inn with no breakfast and a phone nook in a closet under the old oak-bannistered staircase. Agreed to meet at 3:00 at the Manders house in Brattleboro for homemade french onion soup and a light family check-in.

After stopping with Ginny for bread, light and merry supper at the in-laws. Even Josh and Clay, late on their way from Boston to Clay's home in Newfane, VT, stopped in to finalize plans for the next day. Matt had brought some of the good red wine he makes with his father and uncle each year; we drank it while we listened to carols on the radio and perused Alicia's excellent scrapbook of the winemaking process.

Darcie and Willow, Ginny, Alicia, Matt and I made it back to the apartment here by seven. Foosball and beer until nine, when Matt wanted to watch the Steelers/Buccaneers game; Darcie got out cheese and fruit, popcorn bags and nuts and chocolate dips and we chatted while we watched the game. Alicia and Matt left for the guesthouse and Ginny stayed over in the baby's room.

Interlude, Wednesday, 3:00 p.m. Just glanced up from the screen, where the snow is coming down thick and sideways out the big picture windows. Heavy. A blanket in the air; a fog; a watercolor whitewash. A Goddamn White Christmas. Buh buh buh boom...and now back to A Very Boyhowdy Christmas, day two.

Day Two: Tuesday. Tuesday found us rising early as promised; Ginny, Darcie, Willow and I out on the road by 9:00. While Ginny snuck behind the counter on her day off from Mocha Joes to make my vanilla latte and her double espresso, Darcie made me stop to get bagels, which later turned out to be presents from Patty (Darcie's mother) to her own mother; I erroneously assumed they were for eating (silly me) and bought unnecessary cream cheeses. By 10:30, the cast of characters -- Darcie, Willow, and myself; Darcie's parents Neil and Patty, Darcie sister Alicia and her fiancee Matt, Darcie's brother Josh and his girlfriend Clay, Clay's brother Justin, Darcie's sister Virginia -- were arranged on rope beds and piano benches around the tree in the living room, while three cats, our jack russell Zellie, Alicia and Matt's pug Bruno, Patty and Neil's drooling beast St. Bernard Matty lolled around on the floor.

And then, as Dylan Thomas would say, the presents. We picked numbers to see which hand-knit scarf we got, then Patty led us through a game in which presents are passed leftandright willy-nilly, like musical chairs or hot potato; I got a sink scrub brush when the accompanying story ended. The next two hours involved mass wrappingpaper chaos, with presents distributed and opened and thanks given across a crowded room. A very partial list of things received:
  • Echoes of Pink: A Pink Floyd Tribute. Acoustic covers, female singer-songwriters I've never heard of; I had seen this on amazon.com and put it on my wish list after hearing only a few 30 second samples. Great covers.

  • A bendable and poseable set of Simpsons figurines.
  • Two ties: One red and gold vintage, one Pierre Cardin greenandpurple paisley thing.
  • A video of Mystery Science Theater 3000 shorts. Mostly old classroom instructional videos and newsreels.
  • Books: A two-fer box of Stephen Jay Gould's musings on the natural order of things: The Panda's Thumb and The Mismeasure of Man; Rushkoff's Media Virus; a comprehensive and interesting-looking tome called The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug.
  • A subscription to the New Yorker...finally
  • The usual stocking stuffers: Godiva chocolates, motorized bulldozers, pens and tangerines, a pewter candle-snuffer.
  • Many, many books to read to Willow. I'm especially enamored of Good Dog, Carl.

Gift exchange followed by lazing around the house eating pancakes and cutting munchies from a huge ham for several hours, during which Virginia and I, feeling claustrophobic, had to volunteer to walk the dog to get out of the house for a few minutes.

Dinner at The Putney Inn, a somewhat-yearly treat hosted by Darcie's Aunt Barbara, her husband Richard, and their late adolescent son Matthew. Small salad bar but warm rustic atmosphere and slightly overpriced mixed lamb grill special -- two tiny shanks, a single sausage and two bites of lamb stew over lentils and couscous. Overall a nice dinner but hectic, with all who had been there that morning, minus Justin but plus the hosts, Darcie's other aunt Vivian, and Darcie's Grandmother Edith. They only served beer in 22 oz. bottles, from McNeill's in Brattleboro, and of course it was Barbara and Richard's first time seeing the baby, so most of what I remember is being slightly tipsy and watching others play with the baby.

Back to the house for MORE presents, this time with Barbara and Richard and Matthew and Edith and Vivian, all of whom (except Matthew) had asked for no presents this year but seemed to have plenty to give. Got: six double-episode tapes of The Simpsons, our yearly calendar and a check from Edith; Willow got lots of stuff including one of those Mozart Magic Cubes that plays music when you hit the buttons on its sides, each button adding to or subtracting from the mix a different instrument.

By the time the only ones in the house were those who live there (Patty, Neil, and Virginia) plus me and the wifeandkid, it was 11:00, long past the usual bedtime of all but Virginia and myself. So Ginny and I, still awake at the end of our Christmas, went out into the eve of Christmas for the rest of the world, looking for light displays on the back dirt roads. By the way, can I just say how impressed I am with The River, our favorite local radio station out of Northampton? Who knew there was so many non-cheesy, folk/jazz/blues/acoustic/bluegrass Christmas songs? Ginny and I listened, and did not speak, as we drove around the deserted street of downtown Brattleboro looking at the decorations. Home late; bed.

Day Three: Wednesday

Woke up to impending snowstorm; see interlude above, as it is still coming down in sheets now at 4:07 p.m. and the plow has just come through. Coffee and rush rush rush and out of Brattleboro by 10:00 and home, where we found places for all our new things and then, finally, gave Willow her Christmas present from us: Her first real food. Breast milk pumped into a few spoonfuls of powdered rice cereal made for a white paste that she mouthed and then went ape over. Merry Christmas, kid. By next year, she'll know enough to ask for what she wants, so it's all downhill from here.

Pictures, they say, are worth a thousand words; what follows is truly what we did on Christmas itself.

Merry Christmas to all.

And to all, a Good Night.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:22 PM | 0 comments

Monday, December 23, 2002


The gerund is my favorite example of why wisdom is more important than rote knowledge. Who cares what the figure of speech is called? I use verbs ending in -ing in the place of nouns all the time; why, just the other day I said I hate shopping several times with perfect inflection and tonality.

Some signs, all nouns ending in -ing, and their current signifiers.

Eating: Right now, Pepperidge Farm Dark Chocolate Covered Milano Cookies; milk. Probably a bug; I heard somewhere once that the average person eats one bug, whole or in parts, every week. French onion soup at the in-law's tomorrow, followed by hosting the sibs at the apartment that evening with beer, salami, olives, cheese and fondue, the purchase of which necessitated the shopping expedition tonight. Impending Christmas Eve dinner at highbrow Putney Inn with Darcie's whole family.

Feeling: Fat. Dirty -- I need a shower. Chocolaty. Mmmm. Warm and happy.

Reading: Three older Robert Heinlein books Darcie bought me for Christmas, bringing the total collection to about 30. The D'oh! of Homer: The Simpsons and Philosophy, also from Darcie. Still working my way through Seabrook's Nobrow and Tom Wolfe's Hooking Up.

Listening: For The Kids. Cassandra Wilson; Bela Fleck; Norah Jones. WRSI 93.9, The River. Les Claypool's Frog Brigade's cover of Jethro Tull classic Locomotive Breath from Live From Bonnaroo has been thumping in my head for weeks. Christmas samplers, including the Roches We Three Kings and the oft-mentioned Putmayo and Signature Sounds samplers, lent to Ginny to play at work.

Wearing: Um...grey Old Navy knit pullover sweatshirt; Lee jeans; white socks with black shoes; belt; boxers. Stretched-out ponytail elastic. Wedding ring. No watch.

Dreading: Washing diaper wraps. But they're not going to wash themselves.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:57 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, December 22, 2002


I See You

The digital camera was full, and none of the Christmas pictures Darcie took last week came out very well, so we took pictures of Willow with a disposable camera and rushed them to the CVS today to get just the right picture for the picture frames that will be Willows present to all her aunts and cousins. The pace, for just an hour or so, while we tried to do shopping and errands and beat the clock for the one hour developing, seemed like that sentence -- too long and too rushed. Luckily, we got a few good pix. Dinner at Friendly's, where the booth seats are just far enough away from the table to wedge the baby's carseat up against us. Home.

Cleaning the camera's drive this evening meant going through a slideshow of the last few months with Willow. I found the picture at the top of today's entry and am considering it for a permanent spot in the blog template. Most of the pix were of equivalent quality; many were blurry. But there were a few accidental gems from way back in August.

Daddy's Little Girl

Mother and Child

Sleeping Beauty

She's so much older today than she was yesterday. And so much more alive. Sigh.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:37 PM | 0 comments

Drunk Poem of the Week

In honor of last night's drunken debauchery, this week's poem is one of my more recent. As such, the title and form are tentative; I have offered two versions that I might look at 'em next to each other for a while, and let 'em duke it out on their own. Comments are welcome.

version one:
Smoking Poetry

When we are high on our own words
And, also, on contraband beer,
And the hall telephone rings in the dark
Four and a half times, we do not answer
Because we may have been seen

Smoking poetry in the yard again.
Everything we do here is about language;
It’s smoking it that makes the difference.
Here the things which in the right light
We might call silences are merely

Notes held, our secret lives
Burning our faces and freezing our palms
Not so much in fear of being caught,
But at the thought of speaking of them
To others reluctant to listen.

version two:
Drinking Poetry

When we are drunk on our own words
And, also, on contraband beer,
And the hall telephone rings in the dark
Four and a half times, we do not answer
Because we may have been seen
Drinking poetry in the yard again.
Everything we do then is about language;

Here the things which in the right light
We might call silences are merely
Notes held, our secret lives
Burning our faces and freezing our palms
Not so much in fear of being caught,
But at the thought of speaking of them
To others too drunk to listen.

Like one more than the other? Comment below or let me know by email.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:25 PM | 0 comments

Sleeping In; Chores

We used to be able to literally do whatever we wanted for days at a time on vacations: sleep late, have an adventure, walk in the woods and carefully out onto the iced-over pond. What with the baby and family, it's nice to have a day off at the beginning of vacation.

Finally, after three months of baby-times awkening and morning commitments, this morning Darcie gave me the gift of sleep and let me be until after 11. Of course, I had to sleep on the futon in the baby's room to make this work, while Darcie and Willow got the bed, but the old futon is still surprisingly firm and resilient, and I slept better than average. I think maybe the residual fear of rolling over on Willow has been lightening my sleep.

Woke to a list of chores and responsibilties from Darcie: reinstall Iomega zip driver on Darcie's laptop; wash diaper wraps and dishes; take out trash and mop up the purple stain it leaves; put Christmas boxes in our storage room down the student hallway. A list light enough to ensure a relaxed day puttering around between work, town, and home. Darcie was already back in bed with Willow, bringing her new puppet critters to life, introducing Willow with amazement to the new monkey in the house.

Alicia and Matt will be here tomorrow, and then Monday evening we're hosting the Christmas siblings in their entirety -- Clay and Josh, Alicia and Matt, Ginny and us -- for a little casual cheer and beer before the parent generations join us more formally on Tuesday. Seems promising, all of it; it's not sleep, but it'll do just fine.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:15 PM | 0 comments

Week Six?

For a moment there, it seemed like a good idea to write a blog entry about how this blog is finally in its sixth week.

Then it didn't anymore.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:02 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Jewboy's Drunken List of Christmas Traditions

1. Shopping with Ginny
I first met Virginia in 1991, when Darcie and I dropped out of college and showed up at her house. Ginny was nine years old, a vaguely remembered shy and willowy background element in a tumultuous time. By 1995, when we moved back to Southern Vermont to continue our lives together, Ginny was the potentially errant teenager that we got along well with and hosted for once a week schoolnight respites. Since that time, Ginny and I have become friends, and our yearly shopping expeditions are primarily enjoyable, especially when she and I can sneak away from Darcie (and Willow, now) to shop for her and for each other.

Today we once again chose Northampton, since it had done so well for Darcie and I last week. Lots of shops with diverse and quality merchandise with little practical value led to plenty of good and imaginative present-buying just barely under the group-imposed spending limit of our siblings and their significant others. I managed to sneak off twice and buy Darcie two Folkways puppets: a small scrunchyface monkey and a velcro-ed together mother and daughter opossum set.

Welcome Darcie's New Christmas Gifts: Folkmanis Folktails puppets!

2. Darcie Has Had Enough
It happens every year. There comes a point in the middle of the street when, without warning, something inside Darcie snaps. Suddenly we are speeding up, and passing stores without looking at them. Stopping her to angrily and inappropriately demand that we talk about what is happening is the initial cue for a traditional heated public exchange of grumpiness and hunger, with the prerequisite furtive looks from innocent shoppers and locals, which ends in getting lunch and agreeing that we did very well after all and should go home soon.

Lunch today brought a lucky discovery off the beaten path and away from the maddening crowd: the Northampton Brewery, a brewpub with a southern flair which we had seen but never yet attended. Hard wood, shiny copper tabletops and lighting focusing the eye on the bar, a chalkboard list of the in-house brews plus Guiness and perhaps a Sierra Nevada pale ale, hot cider for Darcie and top-notch buffalo wings for the table let us know we had found someplace special, the rare breed of local brewery at which entire towns become intimate regulars. Makes me long for the days at college when we used to go to McNeill's in Brattleboro every Thursday night. Back when I knew everyone who walked into the joint, and it was nice to know you'd always be welcomed by name (even if your name was drunkenly slurred; all the better).

3. Giving Presents Again...and Again
Ginny had to run to work; Darcie and I unpacked and presented our second round of gifts this season. Over the years, I think we've gotten to a point where we know each other well enough that we know we've got something special, and just can't wait to see our partner open our gift. In response, we've gradually developed a tradition of giving gifts long before the traditional two-hour family Christmas gift exchange at the in-laws.

The problem with early gift-giving when one will be together through the holidays, though, is twofold. First, you're still shopping, so you keep seeing things your partner might like better, so of course you have to get it for them even though technically you're "done" exchanging presents. Second, now that you've seen what your partner has got you, you feel inferior, because you idealize their present-buying (and cost) while justifying and minimizing your own. With an extra few days, you can keep trying to "top off" your gifts to your loved one, and end up more loving -- as if this were something you could win, or would want to.

So tonight was round two. The Folkmanis Folktails puppets went over well; Darcie loves the Folktail series, and already has a Chipmunk and the discontinued and now ebay-valuable Venus Flytrap, which comes with a fingerpuppet fly in its jaws, and really loves being able to animate. I got a Fun With Dick and Jane magnet set: Oh! Oh! Look! Stong Magnets. It even comes with Puff and Spot!

4. Drunk at the Employee Christmas Party

Heck, drunk writing the blog tonight. We only stayed an hour 'cause we had to wake the baby to bring her, which left her mostly un-recharged, at about 10% battery power -- you know, when the laptop starts warning you to save your work now because it's about to be time to go bye bye. Except Willow rubs her eyes and rolls her head around over your arm when you hold her when she's ready to go back to bed, and doesn't beep warningly.

The one-hour limit made for an ill-defined experience, part wallflower babycare and part faculty mixer around the nut-encrusted calamari and the steamed shu mai. I managed to fit in two glasses of wine and a double-Kahlua coffee into that time, and though I never did have my traditional drunken exchange with the Head of the school, which I just as traditionally can't remember the next morning, it's all making me sleepy despite the coffee.


More traditions will fill the week; stay tuned for Monday night dinner at the Steak Out with the cousins from California, Tuesday Christmas on the day before, Wednesday silence and snuggling, New Years in the Boonies, and my younger Brother's 28th birthday family dinner at Redbones with my side of the family. Mmmm....catfish.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:43 PM | 0 comments

Free Plug: For The Kids

I can't stop listening to this album.

Get it.

Download and print out the first page of the For The Kids coloring book:

JPG version.
PDF version.

Oh, and I forgot to mention: In the USA, a portion of the proceeds for the album will go to VH1 Save The Music Foundation; in Canada, a portion of the proceeds will go to The Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach -- An Arts Umbrella Project.

And, of course, the first 25,000 copies of the album include a crayon generously supplied by Colorific. Mine's green.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:24 AM | 0 comments

Friday, December 20, 2002

Christmas Moments: The Good, The Bad, and the Stupid

The Angel of Remembrance, with Willow branches

Hoorah for a short day with nothing much to do but eat too much gift chocolate, hand out hand creams and sweet-smelling soaps to coworkers, and chat with giddy students with time to savor. By noon we had locked the doors to the library next door and were closed for the Holidays. Spent just shy of two hours at the Library/Media annual Christmas party, mostly on a couch chatting with Shane about dogs and cats while we watched...dogs and cats. Too few people under a two-story tree in a cavernous house; Chinese food and Fresca and chocolate desserty thingies I never got to; after squeezing past the minivans in the mud-packed driveway, I decided to go into town for a short shopping trip in hopes of buying Darcie a good Christmas present.

Have I mentioned that I am an idiot? I had told Darcie that I'd be home by three. But by 4:00, after not finding any of the three things I want to get her but buying her a very cool wine valour button down and a beaded glasses neck chain, and of course buying a Holly-motif outfit in denim and green valous for Willow and the Willow Tree angel ornament you see above, I bumped into Laura, a friend and co-worker, and she didn't have to twist my arm very hard to buy me a beer and a clove cigarette in Taylors, which serves perfect buffalo wings...what with one thing and another, as my mother used to say when skipping the boring parts of the book, time passed.

I hereby announce that I Did It Wrong; I, too, would have thought of the rain and the bald tires on the slippery wet roads and panicked; I, too, would have been scared and angry if I were in Darcie's place. Good thing I had presents. After dinner and an hour for Darcie to thaw, we sat by the tree and opened (some) presents this evening while Willow gurgled under the tree and batted at the lights and Santas. My loverly Unitarian wife got me a tallis and yarmulke set in embroidered cotton and gold-panted silk, an extraordinary thoughtful gesture and a show of support for raising Willow truly of two faiths rather than in a combination of the two. It's the high road and quite likely impossible to raise a kid comprehensively in two faiths at once, but we're giving it the ol' prep try.

Then bathtime, a time when I am able to serve my most neurotic and anxious instincts towards the baby: so much can go wrong, and so much can be scrutinized when naked and clean. Usually there's nothing to make a fuss over but what-ifs, but tonight for one horrible moment we thought the baby was allergic to the Christmas tree. A rash was spreading across her torso, vivid red bumps magnified bigger-than-goosepimple by our concern; after her bath with Darcie, the bumps started spreading to her back. Whooping cough is going around the school; it's too early for Willow's boosters to have kicked in and both Darcie and I, although innoculated since childhood, could be carriers, so the little nervous man that lives in my skull has plenty to worry about these days.

Sickness is scary; it gets easier and easier to imagine the horrow of losing her as Willow appears to be turning into a person right before our very eyes. Tonight she hit primate stage, lifting her feet up to the sky and rolling over in one smooth move, curling up like an orangutan against Darcie to nurse. Our little monkey. Sniff. Too cute. Too hilarious.

Cuddles by the virtual hearth with Darcie afterwards, flipping the channels from awful Christmas movies to awful Christmas specials to awful A Very Special Christmas episodes of shows we don't want to watch anyway, talking of college days, and none of your business, anyway.

Oh, Thursday? Not much to write about, really; a few late Channukah presents from Darcie, including For The Kids, a very cool kids album which comes with a crayon. Mine's green. Mostly muppets songs but a few oddities on this one, and a great cast: Barenaked Ladies cover my favorite Sesame Street song La La La La Lemon; Sarah McLachlan does justice to The Rainbow Connection; Cake does Manah Manah and Glen Phillip does Have a Little Fun With Me; Guster and Dan Zanes and Tom Waits, oh my; Billy Bragg and Wilco cover an odd little Guthrie tune called My Flying Saucer...oh, just buy it from Amazon already.

Shopping with Darcie and Virginia tomorrow in Northampton; later, the big school Christmas party, this year big in spirit but smaller in spirits, due to a budget crunch. Surely more to speak of then, traditionally drunk (well, it is my yearly Holiday party tradition to get trashed and have an incoherent conversation with the Headmaster).

posted by boyhowdy | 11:53 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Living In The Past

This week's Newsweek cites Faulkner's famous phrase, the past is never dead; it's not even past, in exploring the roots which brought fellow Mississippian Trent Lott to his current about-to-be-ostracized status as a public embarrassment. It's a PR disaster, and everyone is horrified, but I just feel bad for the esteemed Senate majority leader. No knee-jerk liberal I, I think Lott isn't evil, just a smart guy in a dumb moment, a southern gentleman of an outdated age with a seriously dated moral code and cultural outlook who let his mouth run away from him while cameras rolled and journalists scribbled around him.

I was more struck, in the end, by the fit between Faulkner's words and my own life than I was with the story of Lott's villany and villification. There's a wonderful sense that every moment is now, a condensed and holistic view of history, in much of Faulkner; to call it timelessness is both plumb wrong (for how can a story of the Great Depression, such as Grapes of Wrath, be anything but a historically grounded moment) and not focused enough. In Faulkner and in my life, overlaid upon the sequence of events which we call life is a kind of everpresent now, one inclusive of every moment to be and every moment past.

For this is the week that the past haunts us here at NMH, when the students we have recently sent to college come home for the holidays long before we are free to celebrate ourselves.

And tonight is the night I finally got to spend a good amount of time with my daughter, a good three hours between arriving home after work and her bedtime just a moment ago, bathing and laughing, playing and watching each other in the zen silence, the still moments of the infant/parent bond. Saying goodnight to Willow this evening before her mother curled around her in our communal bed, I realized that she's only been laughing for a few weeks now, and smiling for a couple of months. But when I first saw her, when she was still only a head coming out of the C-section slit, her lungs filled with new air, and she screamed a scream so robust it would call me in at a run if I heard it now. Only parents truly know: although we are born crying, we must learn how to laugh.

I'm so grateful, I thought, for the gift of my daughter's laughter, and for the friends I have made of just a very select few students, Meg and Ashley and Tom who visited this season; Brian and Dan who call occasionally to let me know how things are; Molly, mark, Kiernan, and the rest of the rising generation of pre-graduates. I know each of us, as teachers, have our crowds, our friends, our proudest moments in youth, in our own children in these students. I will go forward into tomorrow and the next day, into the new year, resolved to keep those friendships strong, and to engender new friendships this year and every year I teach and live.

posted by boyhowdy | 6:18 PM | 0 comments
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