Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Raindrops Keep Falling On My Blog
posted by boyhowdy |
1:11 PM |
It started pouring, sheets upon sheets and hail-hard, the moment I pulled up to the Northfield Library this morning. I was late -- the kid had woken with my alarm, which slowed things down a bit -- and now I was damp as well.
I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.
The milk in my morning coffee was sour. I HATE sour milk.
We couldn't print to the printer in the media center because it wasn't configured properly by IT, but we had been locked out of the settings, and I HATE being locked out of the settings on my own equipment.
My hair is all wet and heavy, and it makes my neck hurt and my brain fog up.
The newpapers came late, I accidentally sat on a half-eaten apple when I went to lunch, and I can't get anyone to take my requests to PLEASE hook up my desks for network and power seriously. And it's only one o'clock; I've still got Info Commons duty all afternoon, a meeting at 4, and a dorm staff meeting tonight. It's going to be another fourteen hour day, with another to follow tomorrow, and I only got five hours of sleep last night.
And outside it rains and rains.
The squeak of my hardrubber shoes like a homophonic flock of ducks echo in the freshly waxed, typically scholastic linoleum when I walk through the empty hallways during class blocks. It's about the only thing that's gone right today. Maybe no one will come to the Info Commons desk, and in a couple of minutes I can go outside and get my shoes wet again.
A River Runs Through It
posted by boyhowdy |
1:24 AM |
For a long time, perhaps as much as five years now, I've been the late-night Monday night on the most powerful high school radio station in the country. I'm not the only teacher who's ever had a show on this primarily student-run station, but mostly the other nights the preprogrammed auto-feed fills the air after ten o'clock and the end of study hall; although the students can't do the ten-to-midnight run -- they're due in dorms no later than 10:30, and to bed by twelve themselves -- most adults are too tired, too diurnal by nature to stay up so late when they've got an 8:00 class the next morning, papers to grade, spouses and children with which to renew aquaintance.
I, on the other hand, have a child that sleeps by eight, and a wife who goes in at ten. I love the excuse to mix the music, letting jams bump up against jazz, blugrass mingle amongst the blues, folk flow into funk so smoothly, like aural butter -- a mix not unlike that of my own favorite local commerical radio station The River. That, and I love to talk to the ether, the imagined ear, the night.
Darcie's much-younger sister used to join me for my weekly shout-out -- used to, but then this summer she finally moved out of her parent's house; now, though she does come up this far or almost so a few times a week for school herself, she can't afford the gas mileage from Northampton. Virginia was a mostly silent partner, content to do homework and just sit and chat while the music played, but I miss her. Without her, there's moments of boredom sprinkled in the mix.
But the boredom is sparse yet. I remain excited by my vast CD collection, and the chance to serve it up to myself with others eavesdropping. I revel in the on-campus-event PSA. I continue to trust that the community is not so childhood-lost to be well-served by the odd bedtime story on the hour and the half-hour -- tonight, selections from the Maurice Sendak Nutshell Library, straight from my daughter's top book shelf.
As always, tonight's Tributary, like all a little eclectic, a little electric, a bit funky and full of a subjective finest, follows; as always, the first to correctly identify the original artists of all starred cover songs merits a $5 amazon.com gift certificate.
Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man
Little Feat -- Dixie Chicken
Bonnie Raitt -- Under The Falling Sky
*Stevie Ray Vaughn -- Wham
Ben Harper -- Mama's Got A Girlfriend Now
Dan Hicks -- Meet Me On The Corner
*Los Lobos -- That Train Don't Stop Here Anymore
Robert Randolph -- Ted's Jam
Acoustic Syndicate -- Pumpkin and Daisy
The Gourds -- El Paso
Slaid Cleaves -- Key Chain
*Reeltime Travelers -- Swing Low
*Alison Krauss -- Don't Know Why
*Merl Saunders -- Sugaree
**Medeski, Martin and Wood -- Bemsha Swing/Lively Up Yourself (two covers in one!)
James Taylor -- Jelly Man Kelly
Girlyman -- The Shape I Found You In
David Gray -- The Other Side
Susan Werner -- Courting The Muse
*Be Good Tanyas -- Waiting Around To Die
*Laura Love -- Come As You Are
Moxy Fruvous -- Horseshoes
*Gillian Welch -- Make Me Down A Pallet On Your Floor
Monday, September 22, 2003
"Nearly" Developments In Education
posted by boyhowdy |
12:24 PM |
The noose of political correctness that clutches at the neck of global education got a little tighter today when Brit examiners were told they may no longer mark answers incorrect or give fail grades.
See, the guidelines for marking key national-level exams sent out by the Government Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to this year's exam-markers included the instruction that exam answers should be marked as either 'creditworthy' or 'not creditworthy', rather than correct or incorrect. Similarly, the GQCA -- which sounds more like a California-only issue of Gentlemen's Quarterly, doesn't it? -- recommend that the current F grade, for 'fail', should be replaced with an N grade, for 'nearly'.
Happily, the article pre-empts my concern with a quote from my-kind-of-guy Nick Seaton, the chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, [who] described the changes as "political correctness gone stark raving bonkers". Couldn't have said it better myself, Nick-o.
Thanks to Fark for passing the link along , of course.
posted by boyhowdy |
12:10 PM |
As always, newbies are invited to check out memerules and raison d'meme before playing.
What song did you mosh to?
DJ Harry remix of Wake Up, originally by String Cheese Incident. Full of jammy trance goodness!
What did you step on/bump into? (bonus points for breakage)
Stepped on gas pedal, as today's mosh was in the car on the way to work. Bumped into nothing, thankfully. Disappointment at loss of potential bonus points cancelled out by preservation of insurance points status quo.
Why did you stop?
Arrived at work; turned off car; music, strangely, went away. But it lingers in my head even now...doo...doo do doo...do dooo do doooo...
Saturday, September 20, 2003
posted by boyhowdy |
11:51 PM |
Has it really been since Thursday? My apologies, please.
In my defense, I've been on duty all weekend, and then there was that graffiti incident here at school which has turned the contained universe that is NMH into a diversity-fest.
In fact, I'm on duty now, and just had a discussion with the Dean of Student Life about said incident.
Of course, the school's official policy is that such incidents don't go public until the institution makes it so, for obvious and mostly-agreed-with reasons...but in order to relay the subjective, the objective needs out, I suppose. So here's the summary:
Thursday morning kids found the phrase "all niggers must die" written on the school bus stop. It was painted over quickly -- many students didn't even hear about it until after announcements about our school response had begun to flood the bulletin board system here. But by later that evening, after a day of Dean-level meetings, an entire response structure was in place. It included:
- a vent-session and support meeting for Black students hosted by the top administrators
- a letter to the community about values from the Associate Head of School
- a Friday afternoon meeting for all and any students who wanted to hear more about the school's response to this event, and who wanted to get more involved in the process of healing, which I required my Media Literacy students to go to instead of class and take notes (what is graffiti as a medium and how does it affect communities? what is a meeting, and how is it like/unlike a class? how can you be a medium for the school in its quest to support students after a racist threat?), and
- a Monday afternoon all-school meeting, for which I just saw the outline today -- a real shame, as they want to do the impossible with technology and I needed to call the Deans to let them know their plan was a bust (in short, they wanted to do a LONG powerpoint-supported thing in daylight, using old and faded pictures which wouldn't project well anyway, in a space which was build for bright light before electricity came to the school, and which thus has no window coverings and would be too bright to show even decent images with a projector during daylight hours). Not sure what's going to happen here, but whatever it is, it's not my problem and I'm determined to make sure it doesn't look like my fault.
There's a part of me that knows this whole response "package" is overkill -- that too strong a reaction to this only serves to put the community into panic mode; that it can cause a deeper rift than might otherwise have appeared; that it rewards the kid who wrote the damned phrase and lets other subversives know that graffiti is a great way to stop the entire institution in its tracks. But more of me knows that, to be true to ourselves and our student life curriculum, we can't not seize the teachable moment; can't not give real support and face-time to students both black and otherwise who might genuinely feel fearful at such a time; can't not spend real time after such an incident strengthening our resolve that "it shouldn't happen here."
Still, I wish we could just do what we do, and get on with it. We're busy enough here as it is without having to try to fold in a whole new layer of it all.
In the midst of the madness we did manage to sneak out as a family for a few hours this morning: saw Ginny at Mocha Joes, bought sale shirts and grey slacks and a yellow tie at the Van Heusen outlet sale, and it was cool to randomly bump into Shaw (of blogcomments fame) at the Farmer's Market in Brattleboro. Tomorrow we're up early to go to the Big E, so stay tuned for all the madness and mayhem the world's only five-state state fair can bring.
Thursday, September 18, 2003
posted by boyhowdy |
8:34 AM |
Finally put two and two together in my head late last night in the kind of epiphany that startles you awake at two in the morning: now that my-and-Shaw's alma mater Marlboro College, in its infinite wisdom and universally true budget stress, has taken all my old collegiate work-and-play off-line, many of my links (see sidebar to right) no longer go anywhere. Inaccessible work, for the moment, includes my undergrad thesis, an ancient "about me" homepage (the second "me"), and my life's poetic works.
If I could only get Blogger's ftp access to work, the links would be up and running, but what do you expect for a measly five bucks a month. At least we're still ad-free. Plus, now that Blogger's about to fold most of their previously pay-only extras into the standard free service, they've got a special right now: free blogger hoodies for Pro-payers who never cancelled their account. I can't wear hoodies, what with the long hair lumping up int he hood and all, but it's the thought that counts, so thanks, blogger.
Also missing, though promised: pix of Bangladesh, Vancouver, and Alaska. Dial-up makes it so hard to justify the time spent on such thing; next week I should have some down time on the LAN with the laptop in front of me, though, so I'll get 'em up, I swear.
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Other People's Memes
posted by boyhowdy |
1:26 PM |
I. What's On your bedroom wall Right Now?
Slightly pink paint. A finally-framed print of Klimt's The Kiss. Our wedding contract. A couple of squashed-in-flight insects, mostly mosquitoes. To be fair, half of our bedroom "wall" is actually a slanted ceiling, so there's not much room on that side for wallstuff...but even so, there's far more negative space than positive stuff. Guess I'm a minimalist, eh?
II. Wednesday Whatevers
1. If you had your way, when would you sleep until?
2. What's your dream job?
You're looking at it -- I am, after all, at work right now!
3. Where was your favorite hiding spot as a kid?
The bottom shelf of the linen closet. I'm an anti-claustrauphobic (in addition to beeing spellling-chaleleenged), and could have stayed happily curled up in a ball in the dark for hours, back and sides pressed up against towels, wall, and slatted door.
III. Weigh-in Wednesdays
Serving sizes vary so much from label to label. What food has a serving size that really surprises you, or what food really challenges you to stick with it's serving size?
a. Kraft Mac and Cheese. Did you know there's supposedly more than one serving in each one of those boxes? Yeah, me too.
b. Big Gulps. Who could possibly want to consider a 64 oz. soda a "single serving?"
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
posted by boyhowdy |
10:48 PM |
Awoke, surely, though one tends to remember only being awake suddenly, as if poofed into existence.
Plugged in iron while brushing teeth. Filled and turned on coffee perculator while rejecting shirts, ties. Ironed shirt while coffee perked. Drank coffee while finding keys. Kissed girls while leaving.
Did stuff: called Deb Holman to cancel a room reservation, unsuccessfully researched a Bravo Channel series on The Reality Of Reality TV (since I'm teaching a course on reality TV next term), had coffee, wrote and sent a schoolwide announcement for MICA (Multimedia Information Commons Assistance).
Lunch with Darcie and Willow by surprise.
More stuff, mostly MICA: Two small groups of stduents came for advice on how to turn their research into a good PowerPoint presentation or, rather, a live presentation with PowerPoint. No students looking for instruction on how to put comments in blogs, which means there'll be twenty kids coming to see me on Thursday afternoon.
Came home. Traded day-stories with Darcie.
Left again; shopping for things in huge quantities at BJ's Warehouse. Friendly's for supper -- Willow can say ice cream; does so 100 times.
Home again. The first three pages of several books with Willow the ADHD-in-training mini-me. Sleep, slowly, for Willow, then for Darcie. Dog walk in quiet neighborhood under the stars and the faint milk-stain of the Milky Way, inside the sound of a thousand crickets.
In and around it all: the death of an advisee's grandmother; the phone call requesting help with "the four blinking lights on the front of my computer;" regaining my daughter's trust and kisses.
An ordinary day.
I wish they all came like this.
Trust The Onion
posted by boyhowdy |
10:29 PM |
God Grants John Ritter's Wish To Meet Johnny Cash.
posted by boyhowdy |
12:42 AM |
It wasn't the majestic bird itself but the idea of it which followed me all morning. The seed, planted by the peripheral eye on the announcement of its escape on the school electronic bulletin board system. Anecdotes of an awakening (early) and morning chase (unsuccessful) from the Associate Dean of Academics, proud rooster's owner and caretaker, as we settled into our meeting. The evidential crow from the trees behind said Dean's house while my advising group sat under open library windows and filled out time management forms.
A spectrum of belief -- untrustworthy online source; second-hand recitation; sensual evidence -- produced from nary a sight: the rooster never showed himself to me. He may be in those woods still. Reassuring, that.
Not sure if the deadleaf toads in the roads on the way back from tonight's no-caller radio show were a more sinister sign, but the combination of amphib and fowl bodes no good; the basilisk lurks in my future, perhaps.
As always, tonight's playlist follows, with bedtime story breaks in parens; as always, I will give an amazon.com gift certificate to the first to correctly identify the original performing artists of the starred songs below, all covers. Really. Why doesn't anyone ever believe me?
Tributary Playlist: 9/15/03
Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man
Trey Anastasio -- Cayman Review
Oysterhead -- Oz Is Ever Floating
Ween -- Bananas and Blow
Skavoovie and the Epitones -- Blood Red Sky
They Might Be Giants -- The World's Address
* Spacehog -- Senses Working Overtime
* Guster -- I've Got To Be Clean
(Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day)
* Girlyman -- My Sweet Lord
Lisa Loeb -- I Do
Erin McKeown -- Born To Hum
* Johnny Cash -- In My Life
* The Wallflowers -- I'm Looking Through You
Barenaked Ladies -- The Kind Of Bedside Manor
(The Giving Tree)
Salamander Crossing -- You Trip Me Up
Bruce Cockburn -- Mango
Girlyman -- Hey Rose
Indigo Girls -- Galileo
Brooks Williams -- Yellow Hummingbird
Habib Koite -- Batoumambe
* Be Good Tanyas -- House of New Orleans
Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss -- I'll Fly Away
Patty Griffin -- Fly
St Germaine -- whatever the last song on their better album is
* Gone Phishin' -- Fast Enough For You
* Suzanne Vega -- Stay Awake
Monday, September 15, 2003
posted by boyhowdy |
8:42 AM |
Good morning, and welcome to my meme!
What song did you mosh to?
You Never Get What You Want, by Patty Griffin. Just woke up with it in my head, I guess.
What did you step on/bump into? (Bonus points for breakage)
Nothin' but net today. Almost spilled my coffee all over my too-thin white button down, but managed to lean forward and get it on my shoes instead.
Why did you stop?
Had to go to work! Got Media Center coverage from 8-10 this morning, a meeting with the Dean of Curriculum at 11 to discuss what seems to be a comprehensive, integrated 9th grade media and technology curriculum, at full saturation now that we've added two more components -- a single day on stereotype reformation in times of terrorist crisis for the 9th grade History program and a two-per-term electronic portfolio requirement. Also coming up today: some PowerPoint planning with some 9th graders at noon in the library, advising at 1:00, and a Student Life Curriculum in the dormitory from 2-4.
Oh, and radio show tonight, too -- stay tuned for Tributary!
Sunday, September 14, 2003
Best Guess News
posted by boyhowdy |
8:06 PM |
Having a dial-up isn't fun, but the wait while pages load does spark the ol' creative juices. In my quest to maximize the power of my 28.8, I've taken to reading CNN for the headlines only, taking as truth nothing but my best guess at the unread story behind each headline. Making it all up is certainly less time consuming, and it seems to be working fine -- or, at any rate, I don't feel any dumber or less informed than I used to.
For posterity's sake, I herein share the fruit of such practice, all gleaned from today's CNN.com. As a caveat, though it should go without saying, what follows is probably not true; the author cannot be held responsible for lucky guesses, accidental half-truths, or psychic powers as-yet-discovered.
Real CNN Headline: Sister of Venus and Serena Williams killed
My Best Guess: Williams, 35, never made the splash her sisters did, though certainly not for lack of trying. "She just didn't have it in her to be a tennis star, what with that club foot" sobbed father "Moon Unit" Williams to reporters yesterday. "It's just a shame we didn't figure it out before we destroyed her mind with experimental steroids trying to psyche her up." Ms. Williams is survived by her sisters, her parents, two Nike campaigns and and several gazillion dollars.
Headline: Swedes reject euro as murder hunt goes on
Best Guess: Coins proclaim innocence, and polls show 90% of Swedes believe euro is innocent, but police remain open to the possibility that euro may be bribing officials, noting suspicion raised by "too many alibis from too many countries."
Headline: Madonna launches children's book
Best Guess: In an interview with the divine Miss Madonna herself, we learn that a) Madonna's still got it, b) Madonna has stopped shaving her pits, making us wonder where we put that old issue of Playboy with the black and white photos of Madonna before she was famous, and c) Madonna says she has found a balance between motherhood and her chameleonlike performance style but is clearly deluding herself. Book is believed to be the first children's book with a centerfold.
Headline Are shuttle flights worth the human risk?
Best Guess: No.
Headline: Nintendo game works as videophone
Best Guess: Nintendo systems selling like hotcakes in Japan. Aunt Sharon looks suspiciously like Princess Toadstool.
Headline: Clinton comes out against recall
Best Guess: "Alzheimers is the best refuge of the ex-president," argues Clinton in a speech before the United Money Launderers 428 in upstate New York yesterday. "Just look at Reagan -- since 1994, not one reporter or historian has asked him to account for the gaps in his presidential record. It's as if Iran-Contra never happened."
Got more? Don't be shy -- you don't need a slow modem speed to play! Get some CNN.com headlines, make up your own Best Guess News, and post on your own blog or in the comments below -- just a couple of players and we've got a meme!
This Is News?
posted by boyhowdy |
3:23 PM |
BenLo in (slightly) happier times
Not that we should actually care, but Hollywood celebrity couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez have split up, at least temporarily, after postponing their wedding over a media frenzy, People magazine reported on Sunday.
What I find interesting here, actually, is CNN.com's phrasing. Read literally, it's not the split that's being reported; it's the People magazine article. Since when did publication of an article become news? I know this sort of syntax is increasingly common, but that doesn't make it journalism.
Meanwhile, as long as we're talking about J Lo and Affleck, so is Newsweek. This week's Periscope section includes both a blip on J Lo's overexposure, and a neat little sidebar about a new play based on the early careers of Bostonian Ben and his best friend Matt in which both roles are played by women and the Good Will Hunting script literally falls from the sky. Matt & Ben is "the hottest play in New York." Both articles contain hardly-veiled digs at J Lo/Affleck. Can you say "bandwagon?"
Rainy Day Blog
posted by boyhowdy |
12:39 PM |
Rain this morning. Last night the scent of cheap incense hung heavy in the impending air, something sweet and slightly musky; today in the too-late mad-dash downstairs to close the car windows the air was water and steel, and if you were a storm this is how you would feel, echoes Girlyman.
Back upstairs again it was my turn to wake with the baby; we played and watched an old Muppet Show episode on tape, starring Vincent Price and featuring several Beatles songs sung by Muppet monsters and ghosts until mamai, mamai and we went to wake Darcie for a family shower and a few minutes on the dining room floor, the baby between us, looking through a photo book Darcie's mother made us one Christmas out of pictures of the dog.
By eleven the windshield wipers were hardly needed on our way to the dining hall for burnt-sausage patty community brunch, and now the rain moves on, leaving its stillness behind for a moment, the earth waking beneath it: the fog lies still and heavy across the land; the crows and chirrups call to each other across the thick air. Darcie and Willow nap in the big bed. I've finally finished the report on my trip to Bangladesh, a move which leaves me unburdened of looming projects for the moment. In celebration and beneath it all crickets sing , rubbing dew off their wings, stirring the air clean from the bottom up. For a single moment, the world sighs.
Friday, September 12, 2003
It's All Mine, I Tell You
posted by boyhowdy |
11:14 PM |
It takes a while to get to the blogroll on a dial-up. Here's what's new elseblog:
Item: Way back on Wednesday, Alex Halavais wrote of an article in today’s NY Times ... [that] indicates that 38% of undergraduates cut and pasted parts of their work from the internet in the last year. That’s up from 10% three years ago. Scary. [n.b.: In appreciation of Alex' fine work, I copied-and-pasted most of the last three sentences directly from his blog into mine.]
Item: It's Tricky to rock a rhyme to rock a rhyme that's right on time
It's Tricky...it's Tricky (Tricky) Tricky (Tricky)
It's Tricky to rock a rhyme to rock a rhyme that's right on time
It's Tricky...Tr tr tr tricky (Tricky) Trrrrrrrrrrricky
Okay, so I really got Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This, just like mrs_fezziwig. But only because there wasn't a Howard Jones song on the Which 80's Song Fits You list -- c'mon, quizilla, where's Howard Jones?
Item: Via Webraw, a Shock and Awe story purporting to debunk snopes for "making up" a story about binLaden relatives being flown out of the USA on George Bush's personal say-so two days after 9/11 despite the national no-fly zone at that time, and erroneously attributing it to Michael Moore. To be fair, snopes does seem to be eating humble pie, and rightfully so, for attributing all or even most of the runor-mill's worst-case-scenario broadly incorrect version of the story to Moore.
But Moore is no saint, and doesn't deserve our pity here, despite what SandA says. Because Shock and Awe, in order to show how Snopes was in the wrong, ends up having to assert that Moore's original statement on the daily show which seemed to relate to the being-debunked rumor is "a correct statement" as long as "...you changed "out of the USA" to "an undisclosed, secure location."
Sorry, Moorites -- not this time, either. This is exactly the kind of mental gymnastics that makes Moore so deserving of our scorn. There's a HUGE difference between flying within the USA and flying out of the USA (and with George Bush's personal involvement, yet!) during such tense, wartime moments. Time to face the truth: your hero is fast and furious with detail, making him an unreliable witness and a poor journalist. At his worst, like back when in Bowling for Columbine he "bent" the videography and edited carefully to make it look like banks were trading guns for cash with no waiting period (not true), he bends reality so far he makes shit up and then claims it's "basically true." He's managed to drag Tom Tomorrow, who used to be (sometimes) smarter than that, onto the bandwagon, too -- please, will somebody'd stop Moore before the entire world goes machiavellian and vague-minded? Doesn't precision count for anything anymore?
In addition: Hilatron goes to Lansdowne Street, one of my own old adolescent haunts, to party in Fenway's shadow; Ms. Bumptious has an Office Space-y day; total redesign at I Want To Hug Kafka has a turtle that makes me happy.
John Gone; Cash Cashed Out
posted by boyhowdy |
9:15 PM |
Poor John never knew what hit him...
John Ritter died today on the set of his half-decent new television show, of a hole in the aorta he didn't know he had. One hopes that he'll be remembered for his more-recent role in Slingblade, and that excellent turn as Sigourney Weaver's warmly eccentric anti-father husband in last year's Sundance favorite Tadpole. But despite a recent glimmering of (who'da thunk it) real talent in his late middle age, it seems inevitable that his legacy will never make it out from the shadow of That Seventies Show (no, the other one, with Joyce DeWitt and Barney Fife).
And that's a shame, really, because in the end, John Ritter was seriously underrated.
Ritter's recently evolved almost-seriousness suited him, and suited us. Once he outgrew the melodrama, his characters were realistic and engaging, cheerful and almost-self-convincingly mature on the surface, but childlike, impish around the eyes. The beard mellowed him, masking him in just the right amount of adulthood to take on the paternal role. Poor guy; after decades of suckiness, he was just coming into his own on the big screen.
But, even putting his recent seriousness aside, we should work hard to remember Ritter for what he occasionally did best. His comedy -- at which Ritter made his career and never looked back until late middle age -- wasn't always overdone; when he got it right, it was right. His turn in the now-obscure direct-from-broadway minimalist play-within-a-play Noises Off, shows a comic actor with the impeccable timing and self-awareness to hold his own and parry wit with a stellar cast of surrounding comedic genius, including Christopher Reeve, that girl from Airplane who looks like the girl that married Tom Hanks but isn't, and Michael Caine. And although the rest of the movie is worthless, that "glow in the dark condom swordfight scene" in Skin Deep (1989) is a defining moment in nobrow comedy, one for which, according to this chud.com review, the movie is still banned in Korea and most of Scandinavia.
Even though he'll largely be remembered as the not-after-all-gay chef sharing digs with the down-to-earth brunette and the typical blonde, I guess the legacy could have been a heck of lot worse, though. Remember Problem Child? That "sucked into the TV" movie with two kids and Pam Dawber? Not to mention that Three's Company spinoff, and that horrible six-hour made-for-TV miniseries of Stephen King's It with Harry Anderson and a bunch of other never-heard-of-agains.
Sorrowfully, though, it's a sure thing he wont't be remembered for his best work. And this is no unusual phenomenon in the world of fame: serious actors are remembered for their successes, and comedic actors are remembered for thier ilures. But the world in its own way is just, or at least consistent. It is no small comfort to remember that long after Rushmore's a long-forgotten entry in cinematic history books, Bill Murray will be spending his days living out the painful burden that is Peter Venkman, while Williams' Garp will have been forgotten for his Doubtfire. It should go without saying that The Cable Guy will become a cult favorite, although it remains to be seen if there is more to Carrey than Truman.
* * *
Johnny Cash died today too, at 72, just a few months after second (third?) wife June Carter. He'll probably be remembered for his best work, but to be honest, his more recent forays into the modern pop music catalog totally transformed what had been entirely excellent songs and made them even more excellent; one also hopes that they, too, will rightfully linger in the popular imagination, 'cause how can you not love Johnny Cash reinterpreting Depeche Mode and Bono, in ways only he can?
Of course, what with Warren Zevon's death Monday, there's your belly-up trifecta for the week. RIP, guys. Hope there's decent beer, wherever you end up.
Thursday, September 11, 2003
posted by boyhowdy |
10:27 PM |
Willow calls me Daddy. She also calls Darcie Daddy, sometimes, and my parents -- pretty much all her other close relatives except Ginny. Though she seems more tentative when she's not talking about me, much of the time, it's pretty clear that daddy means "family."
So many things have names now: apples, cows, toes. We're far beyond nouns; there are words for walking and eating and nursing and getting a diaper, one color (green, although, it's hard to tell on this one; the word may merely refer to all things that are crayons or make marks on paper), several toys, open, closed, up, down. We walk walk or run run run down the hallway depending on mood, and on whether it's time to tire ourselves out at the end of the day. The softest bedtime bunny I got her before she was even born gets hugs and hop hop hop with a p so sparse it hardly registers.
Daddy was one of her first words, before mamai (mama) and doe (door), not long after dawgh (dog) and mao (cat) and oh (water -- who knew babies spoke french?). It's a common word even today, according to Darcie; when the phone rings, Willow says Daddy?.
What hurts is that I can't trust that she's asking for me.
We had such grand plans for sharing the bedtime ritual: baths together, Beatles instrumentals, Goodnight Moon in Daddy's lap. But the best laid plans fell flat over weeks when she was more distracted by two than one, long months of late work and heavy stress, a summer in Bangladesh, half a world away. I'm gone all day, and Darcie is not.
There are times, more and more, when I worry that it's too late; surely every father does. She won't kiss me, or hug; she cries only for mama, squirming out of my grasp when I catch her in play. I get a couple hours a day, tired when I've come home; they're good hours, better than last year or the year before, clear of work in my mind, but most days, they just whet the appetite and frustrate the soul.
Maybe I'm selfish. I love this precious kid with all my heart, but somehow, until tonight, I thought parenthood would be more rewarding.
But she only had to say I Love You once, unprompted, for me to know she meant it.
Thanks, baby. Daddy loves you, too.
How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love My Job
posted by boyhowdy |
9:44 PM |
Monday I spent all morning teaching two paired sets of freshman Humanities classes -- 30 kids each -- to present with PowerPoint. No, I don't teach software anymore; with each group we got a whole glorious hour to explore best practice, and think about the best ways to establish relationships between subject, slide show, audience, and presenter.
Tuesday I met with the Director of Health Education and planned out six days of media literacy into the brand new, thirty day, all-required 9th grade health curriculum. A whole day on critical viewing, a day on violence, and several days on body image and relatiosnhip protrayal, among other things; I can't wait to be asked to teach the class so the other course teachers can learn how to take on those csubjects themselves in subsequent terms.
Today I spent the morning teaching blogging to two smaller classes of ninth grade Algebra/Physics students -- not just how, but why. Blogger and enetation for comments; inserting pictures and manipulating font; journaling for math and science class and how it can support learning and idea-sharing. As an added bonus, Carlos, the new math teacher, got all excited about both standardizing blogging across all 9th grade math/sci classes, and even suggested having the course teachers keep a group blog, too, for parents and other outsiders to check in.
Heck, my primarily job function this year was to find the best technologies and the best place for them-- in bureaucraspeak, formalizing and institutionalizing the 9th grade academic technology curriculum and its delivery, including integration into our core freshman classes. Looks like I've got my trifecta: Blogs in Alg/Physics, PowerPoint with Fresman Humanities, and Media Literacy in the 9th grade Health curriculum -- and it's perfect. And, as a total bonus, each subject and tool, and the discussion we have in each class about what kind of communication each tool/subject makes possible and best supports, directly addresses the 9th grade program's fundamental focus (Who am I? What is my world? What is my place in it?) Now all I need is the documentation and case studies.
* * *
In other medialiteracy news, spent the afternoon teaching media literacy to this year's crop of Peer Educators. We started with a discussion of how our understanding of Sept. 11 is informed and flavored by the ways in which we experienced that horrible day and it's aftermath, used that discussion as a way to evoke the basic health and wellness issues -- body image, violence, substance use and abuse, popularity and social status, race, gender -- which Peer Eds might be able to support, and then walked them through a pretty standard 40 minute curriculum cobbled straight from last year's major course in media literacy, which centers around an old Rosie O'Donnel instructional tape called Taking Charge of Your TV" of the same title.
And to think I was worried that I'd be stuck at a desk all year.
Tuesday, September 09, 2003
posted by boyhowdy |
12:57 AM |
Went into the studio tonight without telling a soul, just to feel myself out on the radio. No callers, no co-host -- now that Virginia's moved down the road a piece to Northampton -- and quite possibly no listeners, unless someone out there was spinning the dial in our tiny school-radio-station radius. But it felt good to be back.
In the long summer hiatus I picked up a few new CDs, and rediscovered some old ones; playing them tonight was a good way to get back into my own music, too, after too long driving a car with no CD player and, before that, an even longer summer series half a world away from the bulk of my life's soundtrack, a collection fast approaching the 500 mark.
Tonight's annotated playlist follows. As always, cover songs are starred, and I'll give a free amazon.com gift card to the first person who can identify the original performing artists of each cover song. Seriously.
Tributary Log: September 8, 2003
Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man
>>>our theme song, and did you know that Bob Dorough is most famous in the pop culture world for writing and performing the bulk of the original Schoolhouse Rock TV shorts?
*The Rembrants -- Making Plans for Nigel
Habib Koite -- Cigarette Abana
Jorma Kaukonen -- Big River Blues
Erin McKeown -- Hum
Biscuit Boys -- Coming Into LA
Chris Smither -- Thanks To You
>>>I've had this CD since I was a kid; it was autographed by Smither at a show my father took me to. Johnny D's in Somerville MA; I think it was my first time in a real bar. Good times.
-- bedtime story break: The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown --
Trey Anastasio -- Cajun Review
Keller Williams -- Anyhow Anyway
Gillian Welch -- Look At Miss Ohio
Girlyman -- Hey Rose
>>>You have to hear this group. Trust me.
The Waifs -- London Still
-- bedtime story break: The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein --
*Dolly Parton -- Shine
*Johnny Cash -- Personal Jesus
>>>The first "real" non-club concert I ever went to was James Taylor, but the second real concert I went to was Depeche Mode. Happily, I remember none of it.
*Nikki Boyer -- Brain Damage
Warren Zevon -- Don't Let Us Get Sick
>>>Except he did. Warren Zevon died today after a long battle with untreatable lung cancer. He was 58, just a year or two older than my father; I went to college with his daughter, in fact. I'll never listen to Werewolves Of London the same way. Don't Let Us Get Sick is one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking songs ever recorded live in a radio station.
*Patty Griffin -- Take It Down
* Girlyman -- My Sweet Lord
>>>God, is this a beautiful song.
-- bedtime story break: Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, recited from memory --
*Nenes -- No Woman No Cry
Eddie From Ohio -- Good At That
Bare Naked Ladies -- Light Up My Room
*Tom Landry and the Paperboys -- All Along The Watchtower
*Norah Jones -- Cold, Cold Heart
>>>Sadly, few people know this is a cover. Did you?
*Sarah McLachlan -- Blackbird
From folk to funk, jazz to jambands, blues to bluegrass and back again: you're listening to Tributary, your ten to midnight Monday night show here on 91.5 WNMH, serving Northfield, Gill, Bratteboro, Keene -- and you.
Monday, September 08, 2003
Monday Mosh: Back With A Vengance!
posted by boyhowdy |
4:31 PM |
You remember the rules: Dance around with impunity; answer three simple unchanging questions; post answers here and/or in your own blog; feel good about memedropping. Okay, let's Mosh!
What song did you mosh to?
Restless Wind, a live cut off The String Cheese Incident's Extra Cheese, Volume II disk that came free with the SCI DVD. Just a funky feel-good ten-minute long song.
What did you bump into or step on? (Bonus points for breakage)
Nothin' this week 'cept the world's largest bug, and that was deliberate. It did break, though, so 50 bonus points for me, yay!
Why did you stop?
Had to go wipe bug off my shoe so I didn't smear it into the carpet.
Sunday, September 07, 2003
Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Hear Ye
posted by boyhowdy |
2:30 PM |
Convocation today, the usual pomp and circumstance. I'm a big fan of ritual -- not merely, as religion teacher and newly-ordained minister Ted suggested during the pre-event milling-around, for love of ritual itself, but most especially because I find the potential for interesting chaos to be heightened significantly when so many people have so much stake in such an ordered program. Ceremonies such as these are often arenas where small mistakes make big waves: the instantaneous visibility of persona and pride on a full community scale prime the pump, as it were, for moments to become, in-an-instant, part of a community memory.
On that scale, today was a bit disappointing. Other than a few easily-rectified program sequencing errors from the head of school, school songs went smoothly, the orchestra and chorus performing at a near-professional level, and everyone actually waited for the last row of seniors to get up for their recession before storming the exits, as requested. Lucky for Loki-lovers, there's plenty of ceremony in prep school life; surely, the next event will better serve my impish nature.
Subjectively speaking, the most striking aspect of this annual formal opening of the school year was the Senior class, who in formal clothes marched in slow procession past the faculty gauntlet to sit front and center, where they were easily visible from our own seats in the balcony. I remember teaching most members of this class, and they seem too young to be seniors -- indeed, despite their stiff shirts and spring dresses, and in most cases a few more inches of height or bustline, these could be the same raw prep school recruits I taught and mentored four falls ago. It's as if their movement in time has been an illusion; as if, for me, they will always be freshmen. I must be getting old, or at least settling in.
New from Reed College freshman Will Henderson, a recent NMH and Media Literacy alum: lifebeat: rhapsodies of a young college boy. The blog comes to us courtesy of the MT-served Reedie Journals service, which I covet thoroughly, and if Will's student papers and projects last year are any indication, it -- the blog, not the service, though the sentiment surely applies there as well -- promises to be coherent, creative, and perceptive.
Fairgrounds, Fouled Grounds
posted by boyhowdy |
1:36 AM |
Last Wednesday between media center coverage and dorm duty the three of us -- spouse, child, and self -- went into nearby micropolis Greenfield for a quick family supper at local fave People's Pint and, upon leaving, serendipitously emerged onto Main Street just as the annual Greenfield County Fair kick-off parade began their slow plod through the thinly lined streets. Here, umbrella-ed despite a sudden downpour just moments too late in its beginning to cause a parade cancellation, was the best of local half-rural life: shaky old-men's marching bands, preadolescent cheerleading squads, car-bound small-town mayors, dumpy girls dressed as Holsteins waving from the back of hay-lined tractors. It made a fitting end to a meal at the People's Pint, famed for IPAs, farmer's sausage quesadillas and thick grilled steak burritos, and other small-batch brews and fine and hearty foods made with local and oft-organic materials.
Having seen the parade, it would have been a shame to miss the fair itself; further, we had high hopes that Willow might enjoy it more than last year, back when she was just a tiny summer baby, a fleshy peanut asleep in a stroller. This morning being the only coinciding ole in our schedule, we woke not-too-late, headed out to the free roadside parking, and made it into the park just after ten.
Fairgrounds are funny things: in most communities, their purpose is spent in a single summer weekend. The rest of the time, they just sit there, unnoticed and unseen off the main roadways, the only reminder of their presence several small green streetsigns pointing the way into their small suburban cover neighborhoods. Today the park was still only half-full or less by noon, and the light crowd led to a light spirit as we wandered through barns filled with prize winning flower arrangements, apples, and quilts; petting farm stations and cattle pens; half the midway; a huge farm equipment showcase, and seventeen fresh-cut fries and cotton candy booths all aglow like Christmas. Willow liked the duck and rabbit showcases best, a half-lit and stinky spot where she clucked back at the chickens so endearingly I later won her a stuffed one at a water-pistol booth just to hear her cackle to it in the car on the way home.
And home was calling quickly, an unfortunate truth of boarding school life on the first weekend of the year. No racing pigs, no second lunch, no tractor pulls to come kept us around, though I wish we'd thought to buy tickets for tomorrow's crash-up derby before they sold out, as it turns out Chuck, the otherwise conservative English teacher downstairs from us runs a car in the derby every year. Instead, we left by 1:00 to get back to the dorm, long before the fair's weekend cornerstone, the eight o'clock performance of local hero Travis Ledoyt, "the best young Elvis in the business" -- and came back here so I could get to work.
Today was Community Service Day at NMH, a by-now annual first-saturday event which plants the right seeds for student works later on in the year and beyond, but which in the moment feels like one of those "good idea at the time" curricula in which little gets accomplished and even that's hardly community service. After a 45 minute discussion defining terms (What is our sphere of influence? How do they need help? How can we help?) and another 45 in the chapel being lectured to by do-gooders from alumni to current students, a few guys from the dorm and I decided to wander out into the 3400 acres here and pick up trash along the trails -- mostly because it seemed like real work, made all the more satisfying by the fact that all around us other groups were walking others' dogs, babysitting faculty kids, planting flowers outside their dorms, and, suspiciously, making banners depicting their community service project ideas. In an hour we found and kept enough glass alcohol bottles (remnants from last-year's illicit student woods-parties) to make my back hurt carrying my share, enjoying each other's company despite initial unfamiliarity, took it back, weighed it in our hands, felt proud of ourselves and each other, and called it a day.
Friday, September 05, 2003
Noting Blogger's Blogs Of Note
posted by boyhowdy |
12:26 AM |
Over at Blogger, it seems the ever-ubiquitous "they" are finally updating the "Blogs of Note" section, and on a daily basis, too. BON, Blogger's very own blogroll, lives, of course, in the lower left of the Blogger home page, and by definition all blogs listed come highly recommended by folks who should know.
Comment 1: After months of glancing over at the same old MBA admissions blog listing, it's about time.
Comment 2: If anyone has any suggestions as to how someone like little 'ol boyhowdy might end up on that 'roll, don't hold 'em back -- I ain't ashamed to have the extra hits. Think maybe over-linking to Blogger might help?
In Other Technology News...
posted by boyhowdy |
12:11 AM |
Molly reports via email that some random guy in Vancouver was using my AIM handle (boyhowdy25) without even realizing it; she chatted him up a bit, but they seem to have figured out pretty quickly that it wasn't "me" even though, by AIM standards, it was "me." Seems I must have accidentally logged on to AIM without disabling the "remember this loging on this computer" and the "auto-login" functions while on an Internet Cafe workstation outside the Vancouver Westin Grand, and now whenever someone sits down at that computer and boots it up, they've logged on to my AIM account. How odd to think that somewhere in the universe at a public, well-utilized terminal a quarter of a world away, a series of random individuals are masquerading as me without even knowing it -- and there's nothing I can do about it if I want to keep the buddyname, 'cept wait and hope someone else makes the same mistake I did sometime soon, in the process deleting my settings permanently from said workstation.
The reason I logged on AIM, of course, was to see if anyone I knew was out there -- if you remember (c.f. about three entries down), I was pretty homesick by then, a weary world traveller. Interestingly enough, the one person I ended up chatting with at that time was Bitsy, who was in my Media Literacy class the term before I met Molly as a student in the same class. Small world.
Also in the techmeme I'm having today: I've decided to live with the practically-ancient PalmIIIx as an extension brain for at least this term, despite increasing decrepitude, as all I really want of my PDA is a calendar, a phone book, and a memo pad, and the Palm isn't so old it doesn't interface cleanly with Centrinity's First Class calendaring software; Zack has a new webcam, but I'm not going to give out the address yet so Molly and he can have some "privacy;" my new job responsibilities brought me to real sessions on over twelve different computers school-wide just today.
Pictures from recent vacation coming soon, I promise. It's just that, of those twelve computers, none was my own laptop, though I carted it around all day in the back seat of the big powder blue boat in hopes of beginning the pic-work.
Thursday, September 04, 2003
posted by boyhowdy |
12:32 AM |
As before, there'd be a picture here if I wasn't on a 28.8 dialup -- ideally something like a close-up of a mosquito, its long needlenose sunk deep into a landscape of magnified skin. But alas, it is not to be, so back to the bugs.
The NMH network, for example, is full of 'em. I couldn't blog last night because the firewall was down with the virtual flu; computer bugs of all sorts clog our mailboxes and our wires, corrupting hard drives and stifling proper OS functioning. Public computers shut themselves off after fifteen minutes. Our servers groan and flicker. I guess that's what you get when 800 new computers suddenly plug into your network all-at-once to begin the incestuous gabfest that only a new school year can bring, but this year's been a thousand times worse than previous years, partially because the incidence of viruses running around the Internet right now is at a pretty steep peak -- it even made last week's Newsweek.
And then there's the fleas on the dog. We only noticed them yesterday, bathed 'em off quickly, but I still ended up with a bite or two somehow; the cat didn't seem to have any, but just thinking about fleas makes me itch with the phantoms of a thousand fevered fleadreams. And why is it every time we leave the dog with Virginia it gets fleas? So many theories on this one -- does she have fleas? Is she taking our dog to slum with the great unwashed of the canine kingdom? -- but perhaps we'll never know. (Sure, we could just ask, but where's the fun in that?)
Of course, the reason the house is full of bugs -- like that orange-beige moth currently shadowboxing over by the uglier of two black lamps -- is that the solution to the problem "how will the cat get out when we live on the third floor" has turned out to be a brick in the downstairs door, plus a slight ajar-ness to the apartment door at the top of the two wooden flights up; when the cat wants to come home, he just nudges the apartment door open, and all these flying critters -- moths, mosquitoes, more -- that have just been hanging out downstairs by the entryway light come seeping in like rain through a poorly plastered ceiling.
Oh wait, it wasn't a moth. It was a big-ass stick-like thing, body just a bit thicker than one of those huge female mosquotoes, or are those the males? I can never remember.
Tonight, my first night of post-dorm-residence dorm duty was even infested. Sure enough, the new boys seem like a calm and focused group this year, but, as is generally the case, over half are new; how should they know that propping all the outside doors open with wooden wedges and ping-pong paddles lets in summer's leftover mosquitoes, bred in the nearby pond, looking for a slightly warmer night and a hearty bedtime snack?
But man, was it good, almost centering, to drive away and come home at the end of a verylong day. I never realized, I guess, how living so close to the kids kept me just a little bit buggy without even realizing it. It sure is good to be me right now, no matter how fleabitten or ragged.
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
Brick Wall At The End Of The Tunnel
posted by boyhowdy |
1:29 AM |
The extended vacation -- see previous blogentries for context if you're just joining in -- allowed me to miss much of the slow build that is the typical beginning of the prep school year. By the time I arrived here Saturday afternoon, just in time to meet a few new and nervous advisee's parents and scarf a few chewy oatmeal cookies in the dorm lounge with my dorm faculty peers, the first faculty meeting had long passed, my dorm's staff had planned out several orientation events in anticipation of the days ahead, and my department had met twice without me.
Students, too, our charges and vocation, had begun to arrive, buzzing and eager, in the days before my own arrival. Student Leaders, Peer Educators, and International Student Ambassadors were the first to come, that they might be trained in their respective peer-duties; then, with their guidance, new students, including an entire new class of freshman, began to settle into their dorms and social groups. By Saturday, too, early sports camp students had already spent days out on the field recovering their old skills and, for many of them, testing new summer-matured bodies. By the time I arrived, the vast majority of students were already here.
Missing the slow build means that, subjectively speaking, this year's fall semester here at Northfield Mount Hermon School has begun with the shock of jumping into frigid water. Though classes don't start until Wednesday, today returning students, the last to arrive every year, registered and began to settle in. Now the gang's all here; now the fun really begins. Suddenly the place is raucous, the plans others have made for me vague and hard to find, and I am needed everywhere.
Where less than 48 hours ago I was in summer mode full-tilt, listing the things I did for work since I awoke this morning to an early alarm would take an entire page and bore the heck out of my entire readership; I didn't get home until a few moment until eleven, after a long, dull discussion in the dorm about rules and expectations for the year.
The whole darn juggling act should settle down soon, I suppose, but, man, right now I really need a vacation.
To top it all off, the baby got badly cat-scratched at a friend's apartment today, and screamed for hours tonight when we tried retraining her to sleep in the crib after two weeks in bed with us aboard ship.
On the bright side...it's raining outside, and the road below is cool and shiny in the quiet light of the single streetlamp. It's so nice to be out of the dorm, far away from the students, to come home from work and leave work so far behind; I think I could get used to this.
Sunday, August 31, 2003
posted by boyhowdy |
9:11 PM |
Storybook fingernail moon, larger than life over an orange horizon at dusk. Blackened hills; the electric hum of a thousand crickets and tinyfrogs; the smell of mown hay in otherwise-clean air. Murmurs in the darkness. Fluttering wings on porchlights.
Silent stairs. Darkened hallways, familiar slanted eaves-walls. Tinydog hiding in the crook at the back of her bent knees on the futon couch. Bare feet against rough carpet. Softlit corners.
The past receding, fading into that same horizon like the setting sun. The future shelved, hidden from the self. The present soft and gentle, yet heavy, a thick down comforter. It no longer matters how I got here -- this blog is no travelogue, and shouldn't be. What matters is that I'm here.
God – if you’re here, too, despite the skepticism of those (like me) who grasp desperately at logic all their lives – I know I don’t thank you enough, or think of you much when I am not in need; don’t keep your commandments; don’t praise your name:
I cursed you this morning when the car battery was dead after three weeks in my parent’s driveway;
I called for you too late when my daughter fell off the top of the luggage cart;
I cried for you in despair driving away from the dorm, looking ahead into the days before me, trying to figure out how to be in three places at once for the next nine months, and none of them in my own apartment, on the carpet with my daughter, at the table with my wife.
But here, in the peace of this home, my daughter and wife, my dog and cat, my silence, I remember you, perhaps not quite too late: Thanks, God, for this fleeting moment, and for those other moments; thank you for those moments you will bring. It is more than I deserve; It will have to be enough; It is enough: Thank you, O God, for these blessings before me; it is the home, the peace, I have always wanted…but did not know how to build on my own.
Saturday, August 30, 2003
If I'm Not Back In Five More Minutes...
posted by boyhowdy |
12:25 AM |
Darcie will be increasingly annoyed. Sorry to skimp on the blogging, but the work-related email's piling up, and we have to pack tonight for a 9 a.m. flight tomorrow morning to Dallas, because the original plan -- Vancouver to Boston via Chicago -- was cancelled due to too light seat sales. Flying through Dalls will take forever, but hey, we already knew that most american airlines suck, right?
So, in the next few days, expect more stress, more substance, and more about:
Dinner last night at Vij's, the best indian restairant in the entire non-asian world according to the New York Times,
The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia this morning, especially the fine open research collection, which was dense and rich with native peoples' artifacts from all over the world,
Bussing it to Granville (?) Island with Darcie and Willow afterwards, meeting up with Jesse in the market, and having some excellent Pale Ale at the local brewery on-island,
Dinner at a nice Italian place, mostly good for prawns and Veal Scalloppini, and
Frantic packing surely to follow. Until then, stay cool -- the weather's fine but the work's about to begin.
Thursday, August 28, 2003
The End Is Near: Last Days in Alaska
posted by boyhowdy |
5:58 PM |
Mars is closer to the Earth tonight than it will ever be in my lifetime. Yellow and bright, a tiny moon, it looms over the horizon like a lighthouse. The waves below are choppy as we return to the open seas for a quick getaway over the Canadian border; the ship sways drunkenly beneath our feet and seats. If Darcie’s case is prototypical, the seasick-prone have all gone back to their cabins, where they lie in bed moaning and cursing the water below.
Although queasy myself, it seems important to jot down the day’s events before they fall through the sieve of my mind, for you, for me, and for posterity. The desire to preserve and share without my hard four-fingered typing rattling away at my wife’s now-tender ears has brought me to the ship’s library, a quick trip downship through the bustling and bright-lit casino. In the background, a string trio plays a merrily uptempo waltz in the nearby bar; behind me older postprandial rumblers flip the pages of out-of-date newspapers in their easy chairs. Regathering the day in the mind isn’t easy when the stomach rebels at the deck’s every lurch and heave, but here goes the old collegiate try.
We disembarked this morning into a cloudless warm Ketchikan, splitting up after a quick group answering-machine message to Aunt Lil, 80 years young today. Having learned a thing or two in our previous excursions, Darcie and I had decided to play things by ear today rather than sign up long in advance for the cruise-run excursions. Thus, while Dad and Jesse went off on a bus tour of the greater city, and Mom and Sarah hopped a boat for a two-mile sea kayaking adventure, Darcie, Willow and I set off to find the town behind the town.
And quite successfully, too, I think. Town was, as promised, more diverse and substantive than our two previous stops: where Juneau boasts little more than the state government, and tiny Skagway little more than post-gold-rush ghost-town history, until very recently Ketchikan boasted a pulp mill and a major fishing industry, and even though the mill closed a few years ago, dropping the local population from 24 thousand to just over 14K, tourism and a continued fishing boom in the midst of otherwise-global fished-outedness seem to be sustaining a much richer local economy and culture. Sure, there were the by-now-expected cruise-ship owned diamond stores and “craft” shops, but around the edges this place is still a real place, run year-round; around the edges and in the cracks Darcie and I managed to find a funky bookstore, several fun artist’s shops and galleries, and plenty of locally blended coffees and beers.
After several minutes snapping shots of rivers thick with salmon spawning and dying under the town boardwalks, and a Chinese lunch at the end of a long wooden pier called Creek Street – complete with cinnamon-tinged egg rolls, which I’m assuming was either a regional stylistic choice or a total and quite odd-tasting local anomaly – we joined Jesse and Dad fresh off their bus tour for the lumberjack show. It’s hard to imagine how best to describe the ten well-narrated events pitting world-class athletes against each other in contests of will, speed, strength, and balance which followed; it will have to be enough to say that if you’ve never seen a lumberjack competition, it’s exactly what you think – so be prepared for flying woodchips, souped-up chainsaw roars, and huge men wielding fifty pound axes. I know I’ve seen this stuff late at night on ESPN, so maybe some day you’ll get a sense of what this looks like if you’re a lumberjack show virgin.
Back on the boat just before sailing hour after a solo wander through town, one wherein I finally found an Alaskan Amber Ale tee shirt with the logo on the front (backside logos being totally useless when your hair is long enough to cover the design), revisited the funky bookstore for a native-design stuffed shark, shopped unsuccessfully for a nice gift for Darcie, hit the internet café to post yesterday’s blog, and, at the last, joyfully overtipped for a latte in a nice comfy coffee café because Alison Krauss’ Oh Atlanta was playing over the speakers. A swim and a hot tub with Jesse and Willow and Darcie in the setting sun, a beer on the deck with same, and back to the cabin to dress in tie and jacket for dinner – rack of lamb and tiramisu, both excellent – brings us right back where we started, with Darcie getting vertigo during dinner and having to have her dinner brought down to her while Willow slept in the ship-owned crib at the foot of the bed, and me retiring to the library, now nauseous from screenwriting in the heaving waves. Here’s hoping tomorrow’s Sea Day won’t be as nauseating, even with the time change back again cutting an hour from all our sleep as we pass silently over the Canadian border under Mars’ watchful eye.
Final day at sea. Up late last night – cigars and gin on the observation deck with Sarah – and a slight hangover this morning. Breakfast line, the longest I’d seen, left us scant moments for a small-scale family meal before a slightly ill Darcie went off for her final massage, leaving me with Jesse and a wandering Willow longing for Mama, comfort, home. The fog was thick until just a few moments ago; the abrupt foghorn scared the crap out of the baby, sent her running to my arms, calling “mamai, mamai,” and I felt helpless before her, and hid my tears.
Passing into Canada moves us back a time zone; this is now the seventh time zone change I’ve experienced in just three weeks, with two more due over the next 48 hours and then work early the next morning. I no longer know what time it is back home. My watches and clocks do not coincide. I’m expecting a difficult adjustment.
Not much else to say about a Sea Day. Islands creep ever closer and the waters are dark with driftwood and scum. Tiny birds dodge shipwaves as we pass, ducking underwater like aquarium penguins at the last minute, flying under the waves. The ship is filled with last-minute on-board shoppers, scarfing up their duty-free liquor and diamonds; the casinos are filled with squinting old men and women, money left to burn, cashing in that last hundred, hoping for a jackpot, or at least a good story for the folks back home. The lecture about how and when to tip, missed due to those long lines at breakfast, plays over and over on the on-board television. The naturalist says dolphins and whales among the islands until six, and in the distant waters darker spots bob in the waves, but my eyes don’t follow them; I’m all whaled out.
Behind me in the cabin Darcie and Willow draw pictures for the waitstaff, a token to hold them over until they can see their own children again, or for the first time, late in November. On the laptop as I type Patty Griffin sings “On Top Of The World” and I feel overwhelmed by the universe; I play my favorite sad songs – Phish’s If I Could, Deb Talan, Alison Krauss – and wish for those I could not bring. We’ll pack tonight, leave our bags outside the door before sleep, disembark by nine tomorrow morning: Vancouver, Dallas, Boston, Home. But it isn’t coming soon enough; I’m more than ready to stop moving; it’s long past time to come home in the evening, sit in my chair, sing in the morning to the mountains I know, take my family home.
Midnight; outside the stars are bright and the little dipper looms over us like a blessing, but the glow on the horizon says Vancouver all over it – all 65 Starbucks of it. As predicted, a slow and somewhat relaxing day. Orcas close by off the port and starboard sides today, their whiteness flashing into black at the top of their assumed underwater loops. Packing much of the morning, at least after Willow cranked her way through breakfast and fell head-first into the deck. Much filling out of forms, from disembarkation manifests to shipboard quality surveys.
Lunch late at the pool grill; dinner in “dress casual” with the family; a crowd watched Willow dance one last time to the now-traditional post-supper trio of strings – piano, bass, and violin – curiously listed as the “Anton Quartet” in the ship’s daily literature. Close-out sales in on-ship stores in which no prices were changed and which, thus, weren’t really sales at all. Tipping, which, thankfully, Dad handled for all of us. Beer on deck with Jesse; blog, (presumably) bed: we have to be out of our cabins at 8:30, for they need to clean the ship; the next shift of tourists arrives later that day for a trip down the West Coast, around Mexico, through the Panama Canal, and up into the Caribbean.
In the midst of all this excitement, about six thirty, a random meeting of the entire “original” nuclear family unit of my childhood – all siblings and both parents accounted for – wherein Dad revealed that he’s been checking in on the in-hospital progress of Uncle David daily from aboardship via rented satellite-phone, and the prognosis isn’t good. I hardly know David; we met once when I was young, a day trip to New York City; somewhere in my parent’s photograph collection there’s a shot of us all, Mom, Dad, Sarah and Jesse and Me, standing with this wizened, already-frail, well-dressed man at some famous New York two-floor deli. But I know of him: David is my father’s favorite uncle, a man who essentially raised my father, and who has no one else by choice – a retired army psychiatrist, solitary by nature, he lived alone after years living with his own mother, a master of the self-dependent life. Or, rather, self-dependent until recently, like when my father found him last week in his long-time apartment, dehydrated and incoherent at 92, having not left his bed in four days even to answer my father’s weekly call.
Now David’s in an ICU in a New York hospital, a quarter of a world away, and Dad had to call today to refuse surgery on his behalf just-in-time (hoorah for the wacky world of modern medicine, where even if surgery is contra-indicted and would probably kill an elderly and frail patient, a surgeon must operate unless he can get express and legitimate permission to refrain from doing so). David really never wanted to see anyone but my father, so I don’t think the sorrow I feel is that of the impending loss of David-the-person. But Dad’s clearly saddened at the prospect of losing a surrogate and partially-absent father, although he doesn’t let it show much – I’ve never seen Dad mourn, really; we’re all such private and reserved people at heart in the family, and a part of me is mourning for him, in a skewed empathic instinct.
But another part of me feels…well, it’s not pride that I experience when I watch my father prepare himself and support David simultaneously, in the ways that work best for and values both of their needs and limits, peculiar though they may be; not pride, exactly, but something close to it, an admiration and a resolve tied up together. May God grant me the strength and centered-ness to make the same hard decisions with the same confidence and knowledge, in the same calm and committed way, when and if I’m ever in his place – for I know I will want to; for I know here, too, is love.
Vancouver, B.C. Finally on land after an early wake-up and a very confusing off-loading process. Tried to check into the Westin Grand Hotel, which is – no foolin’ – shaped like a baby grand piano – but it was far too early for the room to be ready, so off we went, the entire family, past the circular public library to Gastown for a quick tour and some local artist small-size art for the walls at home, as it’s hard to figure out how to tote totem poles home when the car’s already going to be overfull with luggage from two consecutive trips, Dhaka and Alaska/Vancouver.
Gastown was nice the second time around but we’re all a but tourist-ed out; within an hour we were into the bad part of town, through it, and just as suddenly in Chinatown for a surprisingly nice Dim Sum lunch, and why is Chinatown always near the “bad” part of town? Willow woke up in Darcie’s arms as we finished the last of the wor mein and shrimp dumplings, and deep fried duck feet didn’t seem like useful baby food, so I bought pork buns to share on the way home and back we went to our big old piano-room. There’s a dishwasher and toaster in a cabinet here, and the windows look out on a big old crane lugging steel cable across the street; very nice digs inside, though, and comfy beds.
After hitting a sneaky-charge snag with the hotel ethernet connection – the directory says $1.25 connection fee plus ten cents per minute after the first 60 minutes, but then you need to agree to a $12.95 login fee to use the network for the day – I left Darcie and Willow there for a walkabout. No stores gone inside but lots of window shopping; it’s such a nice day the people-watching was especially fine, the sun warm and inviting on my face. Am now in an internet café, and from now on hope to be blogging one day at a time like a blog should be blogged.
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
More Blogfodder From Alaska
posted by boyhowdy |
7:40 PM |
Days 4b-6, I think. We'll start with Skagway day.
Skagway is the first incorporated town in Alaska, over 100 years old, a remote and still-tiny place where once thousands swarmed to a gold rush that made many more dead than rich. Now for five months a year the town’s 870 permanent residents and a transient summer worker crowd of over two-thousand host thousands a day off the cruise ship; lines. Today there were three ships in town, a light day for the locals, but it’s the end of the season and a Sunday; the stores – mostly the same as in Juneau, plus a few museums and shops reflecting the gold-rush heritage.
Darcie, Willow and I got a late start, and had to make a 12:30 scenic train ride to the Canadian border high in the mountains along the old goldrush routes, and it was raining, and it was cold. But we managed the morning okay, I think, buying little, seeing much. Wary of cruise-ship ubiquity, we’ve begun to shop only in those stores which have “locally owned business” in the window; today, this meant a funky espresso bar filled with long-haired locals and small runny-nosed children and the biggest oatmeal cookies ever, and a quilting store for Darcie, but otherwise treating the shinier stores as museums, not purchase-places. Much more satisfying, and it was getting too weird to keep bumping into the rest of the extended family in town, anyway.
The scenic railway was scenic and a bit longwinded, with a well-meaning tourguide (local) on the loudspeaker who seemed to know her stuff but with little rhythm for the job. The train was packed with the same faces we’ve been seeing on our boat all week, reinforcing the false but ever-strong impression that Alaska is really just one big Disneyland ride for this finite group of folks. Lots of pictures of bridges and gold-rush scenes and glacier-runs will surely follow when I’m home and the network access is cheaper.
After our return down the mountain, sick of tourist glitter, we spent as much time trying to find the real Skagway as we did the Juneau-clone shops. The small roads off the main strip were quiet and mostly residential; we bought Darcie, who had forgotten to pack a swimsuit, an almost-bathing-set of shorts and a sports bra at the local Patagonia store, and spotted the real Skagway: pizza places, Laundromats, supermarket, diner. Watched salmon die slowly upstream in the small clear waters on the edge of this tiny town; watched a small boy catch one with his bare hands out of a roiling glacier-runoff river, too, just for show. Walked home in the rain, past the seals under the gangway, through the security system at the ship’s entrance, and back to the lap of luxury, where AG and Al told us of their unseen children back home while making toys of napkins and paper scraps for the baby, their new surrogate.
Morning; Day 5. Glacier Bay. The water is a deep turquoise and still, its surface the texture of slightly grained glass. To either side of us islands float below landslide-scarred mountains topped with ice and snow. Two pointy-nose creatures – probably sea lions, possibly dolphins – when I went out for my first morning look; a whale off the starboard window at breakfast with Willow while Darcie read and relaxed in the cabin bed. And over everything: glaciers.
The glaciers come over the valleys between mountains like frozen waves the same green-blue color as the water they’ve created. Before them like landslides a grey grit forms, the residue of mountains pushed and scraped over eons towards the sea – imagine sliding into home at a glacial pace, so slow that no dust rises, and you’ve got the basic concept. On the scenic railway ride yesterday our inept guide mentioned that, like a finger pushed into a sponge, glaciers tamp down the land – thus, land where glaciers have melted away or passed rises up slowly like bread dough, or that same sponge taking back its shape: you can see the faint evidence of the process along the shore, where rocks have cracked apart in tulip shapes, spreading out as if from pressure far below.
We won’t disembark today; Glacier Bay is a protected area, a state park from water to mountaintop. Instead, there are special “events” on board – mostly sales of merchandise, where old ladies swarm upon overpriced stuffed moose and wolves like a K-Mart blue-light special, but also pea soup served on the Lido Deck at 10. Several rangers boarded earlier this morning and will narrate as we travel through the idyllic scene. Sports will not be held on the top-most deck as usual, for fear that balls of any type might fly overboard and disrupt the natural beauty, not to mention confuse the heck out of the food chain. Dinner is supposed to be a special sea-going formal event, with lobster and other oceanographic delights.
The Official Map and Guide passed under our cabin door overnight shows sight-possible flora and fauna: wolf, moose, bear, mountain goats, Horned Grebe, Guillemots, three types of whales. We might watch for them, Darcie and I, at the cabin window, or fighting the crowds on the observation decks with their blankets and their binoculars. But Mom has agreed to take the baby for a while later this morning so that Darcie and I can have some time together, just the two of us: odds are good my eyes will be elsewhere, and the blog that follows, perhaps, thinner than usual, for you can’t blog everything – sometimes, you have to just live your life, and enjoy it, keeping the best most private moments safe inside yourself.
Noon, I think: I now carry four timepieces, counting the laptop and palm pilot, and each reports a different time. Up Glacier Bay to an inlet where a glacier ends sharply at the water, a wall of striation topped by spiky points. The ice booms and cracks the air; pieces fall into the water, in slices and in frozen boulders both, roiling green water, sending up spray, making ice caves where before there were none. Many pictures taken as the ship turned around; from here, everywhere we go is part of the long way home.
The deck-side pea soup was spicy and hot; the air was, is cold. Willow returned just moments ago; we could hear her wailing for her Mama all the way down the hall; now she sleeps and Darcie stands at the rail outside, watching the glacial ice floes pass alongside us. It’s quiet, save for thousands of seagulls on the rocks above; they fly close past our balcony when we are inside but stay away when we watch for them, as nature tends to do.
A peaceful morning, then, the beginning of a homecoming too long coming. Turning around means thinking ahead, perhaps too far, but there you go, it can’t be helped. Still to come before we return to school as the students arrive: Ketchican tomorrow, a Sea Day to follow, then a day and a half in Vancouver again; finally, a day of flight – Vancouver to Boston via Dallas, oddly enough – and an evening in Boston repacking, combining Bangladesh and Alaska and Vancouver into one set of luggage and one single car trunk (and boy, I really hope I remember how to drive a car); a long drive home on Sunday morning; home at last and two flights up a hundred times to get all the luggage into the house.
And then work, looming on the horizon like a glacier, and just as heavy. The school year begins Monday, just far enough away for the creep of nervousness and stress to have begun its itch in the back of my head last night as I lay in bed with my family, trying to sleep. If it weren’t for the frenetic pace, the lack of privacy, the Disney culture, the thousand time zones, I’d rather be on vacation forever, but what is a vacation but the act of vacating one’s place in the world; how can one vacate something that never exists? It is this time that makes the other valuable, and vice versa; this life is good and strange and powerful, but it will be good, I think, to come home again.
Notes from aboard ship, too short for their own entry:
Other than the 8:00 dinner seating – far too late for any self-respecting thirteen-month-old – Willow is in her element. She wanders the ship with each of us in turn, calling out her favorite word (Hi!) to everyone she sees, pouting if they don’t respond or turn their heads. But most do. The average traveler here’s a senior citizen, her grandchildren already past this precocious age; surely most realize that they’ll not likely live to see another generation back home, and even those whose grandchildren are still in their own infancy haven’t seen them for ages. Hundreds of people know Willow’s name, and ask about her if one of us appears without her. No one knows my name, and that’s just fine.
People who live in harbors or otherwise inland don’t realize that the ocean isn’t the same from horizon to horizon. As we travel past glacier-fed fjords and inlets we pass over clear lines in the water, each marking a change in color, texture and chemistry. At first I thought these were the remnants of ships long passed; now I know better. The spectrum here would fit on a single Aquamarine crayon, but once you’re in it, the palette is vast and broad. The unseasonable sunshine in this temperate rainforest zone makes it easier to see, too.
I’ve had nosebleeds every day since leaving Bangladesh, most recently in the hot tub last night with the baby. Mom thinks they’re allergy-related, but if they are, why not in Dhaka, where the air was dirtier than I’m used to, and filled with unfamiliar microscopic things? I suspect the dry air has something to do with it; also, surely, the drastic changes in temperature I’m experiencing on a daily basis. Whatever the reason, if this goes on I may have to get my nostrils cauterized upon my return. In other health news – salmon tastes great but seems to give me the perma-runs, and I think I’m getting a cold. I know, thanks for sharing.
Best store so far, although I haven’t even been in it, as it was closed when we got back from dinner in Juneau: Wm Spear Design, home of The World’s Most Wonderful Enamels. As the website hopefully shows, local Alaskan artists Bill, Susan and Deanne makes and sells pins and zipper-pulls of the most glorious detail and type; check out, especially, the one called The Night My God-Dammed Drink Caught Fire, and the medical science selection, which includes full-color realistic-slash-anatomical-textbook-like lungs, hearts, livers, synapses, and spinal columns. I’m thinking one of the cross-sections, either an epidermal pin or a tooth; feel free to buy me one if you feel especially generous today.
Speaking of which and before I forget, you can learn much about the way the local economies work here along the cruiseline routes by asking shopkeepers what time their stores close – generally, instead of having regular hours, they’ll tell you closing time depends on how many ships are in port on a given day, how large they are, and how good business is in the mid afternoon. The reason Wm Spear Designs was closed the other night was that there were only three ships in port, a low number – it’s late in the season here, only a few weeks away from the end of it all. At the proprietor’s suggestion, I tried to keep the internet café open late enough to revisit the other day in Skagway by asking crewmembers to go there in the later afternoon, but they were all out playing soccer on the gangway instead, so there was not time to re-blog from town before leaving.
The oceanic wildlife here is incredible and, if you look for a while, vastly populous. In rapid succession just now on the balcony I saw: a larger-than-I-thought-they’d-be sea otter, happily paddling along on its back; a whole sequence of twice-leaping straight-in-the-air blacksilvery fish, large enough to be salmon or perhaps a halibut; a long, deep shadow under the waves, most probably a whale of some sort. All came within thirty feet of the cabin as we sped along out of Glacier Bay towards tomorrow’s Ketchican stop; the waves are growing choppy as we push on out of the bay into the open water along the Alaskan coastline.
Day 6; Morning in Ketchikan, which I’ve been spelling wrong all along. The water’s gone back to a typical deep sea black-and-blue; the only things I saw on my morning deck-sit were the more remote local houses along the water, small fishing boats, a few gulls in the distance, and a splash in the water which could have been something interesting but was equally likely a wave. It’s very dark in here, as Darcie pilled all the curtains before sleep, but bright outside – today marks the first morning of a sail home, so the sun will be in our faces for the next two mornings as well. The sky is blue and clear, not a cloud visible.
An hour later we’re nestling into port slowly, a be-tie-d man on radio assisting from shore (“okay, just a meter or two…if we can hold it here we should be drifting in in just a moment”); I write from the cabin balcony as Darcie and Willow dress behind me. Port smells like fish and fishing boats and looks bright and welcoming; some stores are familiar, but they’re not all along one big strip as they were in Juneau and Skagway, and the homes here run up along the hills in back in a manner most welcoming after a full day at sea. There’s also a much larger fishing industry happening here, as evidenced by the several long docks of sun-white boats across the gangway below us. And by the fish, of course: now dressed, Darcie spots and shows to Willow a school of big old fish swarming below; salmon, I think, so perhaps there’s also a fish ladder around here somewhere.
We meet the rest of the extended family in a half hour outside the cabins to wander together into what looks like a fairly dense and interesting town, then a day of wandering with Darcie and Willow, and possibly joining Dad and Jesse for The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, which we can see from the cabin balcony, after lunch. The sign across the way here says Internet, so it seems a good chance that this will be the last blogentry ‘till Vancouver; think of me as we pass back into Canada, and I’ll try to blog again on Thursday.
Sunday, August 24, 2003
Blogfodder: Days 1 through part of 4 on the ms Maasdam
posted by boyhowdy |
2:27 PM |
a.k.a. Blogging By Boat
Day 1. First impressions, recorded after-the-fact:
Customs flanked by what will soon be ubiquitous kiosks: watches, binoculars, coffee, tees with cartoon moose. Pick up on-board credit cards (charged to your own credit card all-at-one-go, or in this case, to Dad’s credit card); all is part of the flat (but steep) cruise cost on board save drinks and spa services, which we will use, shops, which we will try not to use but will quite likely end up visiting once or twice, and casinos and art auctions, which we will avoid, as I have a gambling addiction detected early in life when I lost $180 in one go at a street fair and vowed never to gamble again.
The ship from up close is no longer, as Robert Cormier once proudly described a luxury home on the good side of the tracks, a great big birthday cake of a boat, but a mountain, a wall, a backdrop. In we go, and the mountain becomes a movable neighborhood, apartment tract and shopping mall all in one.
The two 2400 HP motors, one astern, two aft, are already buzzing the floorboards; by the time we leave Vancouver port the entire ship will become a single vibrating chair, no quarters required.
The cabin is much like the hotel room we just left, albeit much, much smaller, and closer to the water. If you’ve got a window here, you’ve got an oceanfront view. On the cabin desk, stationary with our own names printed on it, Mr. And Mrs. J. Farber, and an outline of our Holland-registered ship, the m.s. Maasdam. Must find out what m.s. stands for, and why it’s always lower case.
Casual dinner too late for Willow – we’re stuck with the 8:00 seating, table 61, all week. Steak like pot roast, but all-Filipino, all-male waitstaff friendly.
Crash at 10:00.
Day two, I suppose. Crossing from Canadian to American waters. One whale early this morning, a tail and a single spout off the water from the almost deserted deck. Too much food and luxury; I can feel my beltline tightening despite my best intentions. A cruise ship is no place to diet.
Afternoon passes into early evening. There are 1400 people on this ship, yet I can sit in the hot tub on the Lido deck under the half-closed dome and have the place to myself for an hour. My beard is trim from an afternoon stylist visit; my stomach has adjusted to the pitch and yaw of this afternoon’s rainstorm. Somewhere in the decks below my wife and daughter sleep, my brother draws, my sister wanders; somewhere below my parents may or may not be together, talking, reading, laughing. Somewhere all our fellow travelers do what they are doing, whatever it might be.
There are 1400 people here, on twelve decks, five of which are primarily residential. The richest among us live in the suites one deck up, some of which may be as large as our largest room back home; the vast majority primarily reside farther below, in balcony-less, even windowless cabins little more than a bed, a nightstand, and a bathroom. Between them is Verandah deck, our own, where each room has a small living room complete with couch, table, desk and television between the bedroom and the private balcony. Thanks to the generosity of my father, for this week-long journey, Darcie, Willow and I in live one room, Sarah and Jesse sharing a room beside us, and then my parents’ room.
Although there is surely a deck or two unnamed by our passenger maps for the crew to sleep and live upon, from our tourist-given perspective the “other” decks contain our fun and function here: two floors of shops, a library, an Internet café, and a two-story nightclub-slash-presentation hall. There’s even a large movie theatre, where last night the rest of the family saw Finding Nemo while Darcie, Willow and I went to bed too early.
There are 1400 people on this ship, and through a few will eventually visit sauna and/or fitness center, their weight will increase by an average of three pounds each over the course of the journey. Buffets run all day in the Lido lounge, first breakfast, then pasta, salad, deli, ice cream, supper, and late night snack. Near the pools taco bars and burger grills serve out midday meals to the not yet full. In the main restaurant, breakfast and lunch are semi-casual affairs, where waiters seat you at community tables for a menu-ed meal, but dinner is served at assigned tables in two shifts, 5:45 and 8:00, each evening; two dinners, tonight’s and one other, are formal, meaning tuxedos or full suits for men, ball or evening gowns for women, and the rest are informal, meaning slacks and button-downs – jeans are not allowed.
There are 1400 people on this ship, not counting crew – another 600 or so, waiters and stewards and busboys, roomcleaners and deck-swabbers, entertainers, hair stylists, masseuses. Surely captain and ship’s crew abound, although we see only glimpses of them in their sharp blue uniforms as they pass through like infrastructural fish in a sea of paid-for excess.
After a soak I sit with my Tanqueray and tonic and a Garrison Keillor book on the deserted deck and watch the water in the nearby pool flow front-to-back and back again with the movement of the ship, rising three, maybe four feet at a time before it ebbs away again to swamp the shallow end. Somewhere, 1400 people eat, dress, gamble, and otherwise live their week out, invisible on the rolling eternal sea.
The sea is growing rough, as it was this morning: the endless whitecapped sea stretches out infinite towards the horizon; I head downstairs. Darcie, whose head and stomach never really managed to adapt to the slight motion of the engines and the ever-forward movement, is lying down, feeling and looking green. The baby’s in her element, happy to meet-and-greet this near-infinite group of cruising mostly-retirees all afternoon, and after spending much of the afternoon happily meandering around the decks while Jesse and I chased her laughing, has finally gone down for a nap just in time for us to dress for dinner. In a few minutes, we’ll make our way two decks down and congregate at table 61, our assigned spot, where Al and AG, our otherwise-Filipino-named table servers, will try to convince the seven of us – Mom, Dad, my two siblings, Willow, Darcie and me -- that nothing is moving, and that we should eat well of this evening’s menu.
But we don’t. The seas get worse and worse, and Darcie in her lavender prom dress gets greener and greener; the baby remains asleep. In my tie and a dark blue suit that once belonged to my father I scoot out to find my brother, wearing an identical suit of similar origin, and we wonder together why Dad would buy two identical suits before I pass on the message that we’ll not make it to supper tonight, sorry. We have to rouse the ship’s nurse to get more Dramamine, and eat boiled chicken and toast with the baby until, after a short run through the halls looking for balloons with a well-fed Uncle Jesse, bed for the three of us at 11:00.
Day three, if you count the first evening boarding as a day on board. Morning; this afternoon we land in Juneau, and helicopter off to stand on frozen-ice glaciers for twenty minutes at a time. The water is turquoise and deep; on either side of us, the land begins to close in, rising high enough to top the clouds. Whales off portside before breakfast. A time shift for daylight savings – all day I’ll think it’s an hour ago.
Something’s wrong, and I think it’s me.
The women doing our hair in the salon yesterday are white South African. Their contract extends eight months with no vacation. One told Darcie: I miss my boyfriend, and we’ve got all that you see here at home – mountains, ocean, whales and glaciers. What we don’t have is work, because we’re whites. I realize it’s the first time I’ve been confronted with the way racism works in South Africa. Somewhere, intellectually, I knew that whites were a race-downtrodden class, but never had to think about this woman, whose best choice for work is to ride the waves half a world away from family and homeland with her hands in my beard.
The men – boys, really – who clean the rooms are mostly Filipino, like the waitstaff. Darcie reports a conversation with a roomcleaner yesterday who mentions a son at home, three months, he has not seen, and will not for a few months more. At breakfast before my massage appointment, while Darcie and Willow were off to the bathroom, a short conversation with the young Filipino waiter behind the waitstation adjacent to our table, who had been eyeing our blond and beautiful daughter. How old? he says. Thirteen months I say, do you have children? Four months, he says, a boy. I’ve never seen him.
And how long have you been on the ship? I ask.
How long do you have left?
Thirty two days.
I assure him that he’s only missing the parts where a child is an object, and cannot love back, or play, and he smiles. I’m lying, of course, out of kindness, and I think we both know it. But the charade is all we have.
I’m reminded of how I felt in Dhaka, watching poverty from the back of rickshaws, through the glass windows of the backs of cars. Like George before me, I begin tipping heavily for services, too heavily, twenty dollars where two would do, even though stated ship’s policy is to frown upon tips.
But what I want to do is give everything I own to these people, and to the families and friends I know back in Dhaka. Three things that keep me from doing so: first, a sense of the ridiculous – what would other people say? Second, a sense of the futility of giving away one’s worldly possessions when one makes little and has no savings – what would I give? And third, a sense of the vastness of need in the universe – I could give away a penny to everyone I saw in need, but it wouldn’t make a dent in the weight of the world upon our collective shoulders, would it.
Something’s wrong, and I think I like it – the person I wish I could be is the person who frowns at these experiences, and struggles to stay distant from the luxury on board. But this is fast becoming the wrong place to be wrong like that. It’s hard to stay separate, and inappropriate to identify with the crew and staff if one is to truly take advantage of their services – and how can one avoid it, other than to stay in one’s room, the door barred against food and well-dressed cleaning boys? The ship is alternately luxurious and confining, a treat for the body but a split to the soul. I am becoming torn, and Darcie feels it too – we are becoming torn together.
Juneau out the cabin window as we pull into port around 1:30; we’ll stop here until 11, and move on through the silent waves to Skagway, and then Ketchican, a day stop at each, before another “sea day” on the way back South to Canada and Vancouver, BC.
The town looks bright and colorful from the deck, a slight line of small buildings and streets snug between the clean water and a green mountain looming steep and high into the clouds just a few streets in. It’s the narrowest city I’ve ever seen. Other cruise ships overwhelm the harbor, swallow the town, block the view. Juneau is only accessible by water or plane to the rest of the state – no roads have been build to connect the seaside cities along the Alaskan coast, as there’s no need, and the mountains are too high to be worth the bother. I’m reminded that, in less than a week, I’ve traveled from one of the most congested and dense countries in the world to one of the most sparsely populated areas outside of the poles and the deserts. Reminded, too, that much of Alaska is technically rainforest, or practically so – the “nice day” the captain promised is cloudy and cool.
Also struck by how cold it is in summer here. In a few hours we’ll be wearing gloves, hats, long underwear and winter coats, standing on an actual glacier, via helicopter, when a week ago it was 92 degrees Farenheit and too humid for my thick long hair and New England skin to acclimatize to. Of course, that was near the equator; here the days are 50% longer in summer, as well.
And Juneau seems a bit French for an American state. Jesse agrees; when we were kids we learned it as Juno, and when did everything become spelled in French? Jokes about Bosteau, Massachussemont follow in the typical family humor pattern of one-upmanship.
Dinner outside of town; who knew you needed to make a reservation immediately upon leaving ship? The originally-from-Arizona cab driver on the way to dinner informs us that many of the shops in Juneau – a typical tourist town, like Provincetown almost, but with even less local shopping – are actually owned by the cruise lines. This explains the on-board tv channel devoted to promoting some stores by telling horror stories about shopping gone awry (products broken, shipped glass never arriving) at the “wrong” stores.
Day four, or, as they call it on ship, “Skagway” – as opposed to Sea Day or Juneau or Ketchican. Morning – just about 9.
Waking up later and later each day; this morning at 8:30, even with the daylight savings time change just a night ago. Right outside a dock and a landing helicopter; when I opened the curtains and stepped onto the cabin balcony, a greyblack speckled harbor seal head was turning this way and that, like an owl’s, in the water directly below. Odd, when last night I fell asleep with the garish lights of Juneau’s touristy shirt shops and jewelry stores and artisan galleries.
Surprised, in some ways, to see no town in Skagway. Originally I figured it was because we were on the other side of the boat from the dock this time around, but then I read the daily “on board” greensheet slipped under our door last night: where Juneau town was right up against the boat docks, Skagway – a town of 600 residents and, when the ships are in, as much as six thousand tourists – is a quarter mile walk. Just docks down here up against the mountains. Not a bad change, actually.
Today the family separates – Jesse and Mom and Dad off on a wilderness adventure; Sarah rockclimbing the local hills and cliffs. Willow, Darcie and I have a short scenic railway journey planned at 12:45, and, now that they’re waking in the background behind me, will probably eat breakfast together and wander through town beforehand. A nice family day, just us. Maybe I’ll even have a chance to post this stuff before it grows stale.