Journals, February 2003
Friday, February 28, 2003 | #
Two notes I would have posted yesterday if I had woken up early:
1. We've lost Fred Rogers. He showed that's it's possible to create brilliant and influential entertainment while still being a courteous, humble and gentle soul. On TV, he taught family values not by shouting, preaching scripture, or talking about how wrong the world is. Instead, he spoke softly, used timeless messages, and celebrated the simple joys of imagination and curiosity. (Bill O'Reilly, Pat Robertson, take note.) He proved that an adult man can speak to children without seeming excessively creepy. (Michael Jackson, Paul Reubens, why weren't you paying attention?) Sadly, there isn't another person like Mr. Rogers on television.
2. The Powers That Be yesterday announced a design for the World Trade Center site. Do take a minute to view it here and think about it. Hmm. Well, the design could have been much worse. The renderings make it all look pretty, but that's what renderings are supposed to do. I think it's best to watch this with a careful eye. This collection of buildings must fight its way skyward amid money-thirsty developers, a cash-strapped city, a pretzel-knot of a transit hub, and some rather un-Fred-Rogers-like 9/11 families. The reconstruction of this site holds great importantance for everyone who cares about New York. But a famous movie line comes to mind: "I've got a bad feeling about this."
Thursday, February 27, 2003 | #
Last night I attended a horticultural lecture at the New York School of Interior Design. I mention this, in a classic "blog" maneuver, so that you will think me sophisticated, slightly mysterious, and on a higher plane than you.
Ha! Now for balance. (Or lack thereof.) The ice kicked my ass Monday morning. As I ran to catch my bus, I planted my boot on a slippery patch of sidewalk and did a painful baseball slide onto the concrete. I quickly recovered, boarded the bus, paid my fare, and took a seat. Okay, deep breath. I looked down to assess the damage. There was a giant rip across the front of my pants and blood seeping from my knee. Better play it cool. I waited until the next stop and got out of the bus by the back door. Defeated, I hobbled back to my apartment, cleaned myself up, put on a fresh pair of pants and restarted my work week again, ten minutes late. At least I managed to get to work on time, and I don't think anybody saw me fall, least of all that cute girl who sometimes catches the bus at my stop. Whew.
This gave me another idea about New York. When you're in a good mood, which I was, silly problems like a fall on the ice provide some amusing background noise. But when you're feeling down, that pleasant backdrop suddenly turns into a sadistic maze which mercilessly crushes your spirit. At that point, you wonder: Is New York a bully trying to taunt you, or a drill sergeant trying to tear you down and build you up stronger?
Wednesday, February 26, 2003 | #
Odds and ends, assorted
The word of the day is earworm. Definition: a song stuck in your head.
A shout-out goes to the Jewish Museum of New York for linking to my "I've Never Watched Seinfeld" web page (c. 1998) as part of the "Entertaining America" exhibition. I haven't been by the museum to see this exhibit, but I plan to go soon.
I'm having a problem with noise on my phone line, which has made it difficult to stay connected to the Internet (including IM) for more than a few minutes at a time.
And, I still have a funny story leftover from Monday to share with you. Maybe I'll post it tomorrow.
Tuesday, February 25, 2003 | #
Seeing "Samurai Jack" without buying cable
The BAM* cinema was playing highlights from the Ottawa Festival of Animation last night, so we went. Brilliant stuff, but I won't try to explain any of it. Well, okay, just one.
We saw one short film, "Twang," which begins with a series of small, shaky ink-blot men trying to walk across a tight-rope. One by one, they are flung to their deaths. The tight rope is stretched and released, accompanied by the sound of a guitar string and spattering noises. Then the scale widens and we see it isn't a tight rope at all. It's a piece of dental floss. Some shaky ink-blot guy is flossing his teeth. Badly. Blood is flung all over the screen. More guitar noises, splats, angry scribbles of black and red ink, and finally a sickening crunch and a quick glimpse of a huge, grotesque tooth flung toward the audience. Roll credits. We all laughed a big laugh, then got quiet to wait for the next short. Not entirely quiet, though. A man in the front and a woman in the back of the theater couldn't stop laughing, and they guffawed and giggled unstoppably. They heard each other and began to shriek even louder. People around them began to laugh, too. Soon, the whole room was overcome with giggles, totally out of control. It went on for a long time, until after the next film started.
* = Brooklyn Academy of Music
Monday, February 24, 2003 | #
The weakest link
Major technical difficulties with posting the journal today. Not surprisingly, it's Verizon's fault. What would the phone company be like if I were in charge...? Hmm... Wonder...
I would be able to talk to a customer service rep 24/7, not just during weekday business hours. No one would try to get me to change my long distance plan. DSL would be available in my neighborhood. And there would be a "light use" DSL option, where I could pay less per month if I promised not to spend all night downloading bootleg movies. My cell phone and my home phone would have the same number, and would ring at the same time, but I could turn either one off at any time. Unsolicited sales calls would be illegal. We'd all be talking on crystal-clear ISDN phones. My phone would automatically log all my calls, so if I misplaced a phone number, I could check my records to find it. We could pick our own phone numbers, ones that are easy for us to remember. And no one would ever, ever, play Kenny G music while I was on hold.
Sunday, February 23, 2003 | #
The "D" List
On my bulletin board at work, I started a shrine to famous Daryls. So far, the hall of fame includes:
Swell. Does this name doom you to play second fiddle? These are fine people, but no Daryl has ever become an A-list superstar a household name among the ranks of, for instance, Harrison Ford or Bill Clinton. I think we need to agree on a standard spelling before we can move forward.
Saturday, February 22, 2003 | #
Freeze. Thaw. Freeze. Thaw.
I slept late this morning for the first time in a while. It's easy to stay in bed with the sound of the rain on my skylight and a sleeping cat at my feet. This rain will melt the snow that still covers my car. As I was getting dressed, I heard another sound: sea gulls outside. Sometimes I forget I live so near the ocean.
It's a good feeling to discover a secret place, and New York rewards you with that feeling liberally. Yesterday, my friend Betsy and I located a tiny, unmarked Italian wine bar in Greenpoint. Being woefully ignorant of wine, I let Betsy do the ordering. I can count on two hands the number of times I've had wine, but I'm determined to learn more about it. So far, I know that red wine is served warm and white wine is served cold. I know how to pronounce "mer-LOW". I know that the wines range from from dry to sweet, and I can taste the difference. Pathetic, but this is progress. I'm on my way to being a grown-up, or at least faking it.
A Kids' Safety Tip: Look for fire exits when you enter a strange place. Three times in recent days, scores of people died because they were trapped in an unsafe place. I'm talking about the subway fire in Korea, the stapede at the nightclub in Chicago, and the absolutely horrific and so vividly photographed fire at the Great White concert in Rhode Island Thursday night. (Worst. Concert. Ever.) Be safe out there.
Friday, February 21, 2003 | #
Snowstorm 2003: A tale of two cities
In New York, everybody stayed home Monday because it was Presidents' Day. The rest of the week, the show went on. Admittedly, more of us are wearing boots. But the biggest snowstorm in seven years didn't bring the city to its knees. In fact, it didn't even appear to slow mail delivery. The storm left big piles of snow on our sidewalks, but as the air warmed up into the 40s yesterday, even those piles began to shrink. On my walk home late yesterday, there was a convoy of ghostly white sanitation trucks lined up along 7th Avenue, plows attached, parked silently like sleeping dinosaurs. These trucks must have been geared for a final cleanup, since almost all the roads were at least partly plowed by Monday night. This city is on.
In Baltimore, life came to a dead stop. Schools are still closed today, meaning my mom will have had off from work nine days in a row by the time Baltimore County schools reopen (presumably) on Monday. My dad and Joanne were stuck in Jamaica (fine place to be stranded, if you ask me) for three days waiting for a flight back to BWI. When they got home Wednesday night, the county still hadn't plowed their street. My dad borrowed a snowblower from a neighbor and managed to spin the Explorer out of the driveway. Joanne's Camry was going to take a little more work. The state has been declared a disaster area.
I remember the blizzard of 1996 in Maryland, and how cool it was to walk out on the big highway totally empty of cars and cross to the supermarket on the other side. It was like being on a different planet. That doesn't happen in New York. It can't. The city is too important to shut down. (US magazine must go to press!) Clearly, New York City has more efficient municipal services than the Baltimore area. It's almost efficient enough to take the fun out of a back-breaking blizzard.
Wednesday, February 19, 2003 | #
Seal of approval
Traveling to work yesterday on the ferry from Hoboken, one of my coworkers spotted a seal in the Hudson River. The seal was perched on a hunk of floating ice. Yeah, I was skeptical at first, but a quick search of the Internet revealed that seals occasionally find their way into the Hudson. So that checks out. No confirmation on reports of penguins in Central Park, yaks roaming Staten Island, or the heard of wooly mammoths crossing northern Jersey.
Spotted in Brooklyn: A pink, poster-sized, hand-made sign, stuck to a post planted in a snowbank, declaring: "Duct tape and plastic are petroleum products!"
Tuesday, February 18, 2003 | #
Stopping by Prospect Park on a snowy holiday
(With apologies to Robert Frost.)
Which streets these are I think I know.
Some jeeps and trucks are plowing through.
I zip my vest up to my face
To stay inside is to deny
Monday, February 17, 2003 | #
Stick with it
Now would be the time when I write about how much I love snow, especially the splendidly timed blizzard that unites a diverse community in survival, blah, blah, blah. But frankly, I'm a little bummed. Everyone is. We're on a paranoia-level terrorism alert. We're about to go to war. We're down to three space shuttles. The economy is in the toilet. This is the coldest, foulest winter in years. And then there's Michael Jackson. Taken all together, these grim times have the unfortunate effect of amplifying any reason to be sad. I feel like I've kind of been in a fog lately, not a good fog, but the kind where you just do what you usually do, and feel tense about it. Part of me wants to lay low until spring. Maybe some of you feel this way, too. For you, here's a sticker. I think you're cool. Smile.
(Check tomorrow for snow pictures.) - Daryl
Sunday, February 16, 2003 | #
Peace be with you
(Continued from yesterday.) It looks like the peace rallies in Europe were much bigger than the one in New York. I'm not sure if all these mass demonstrations will stop the war, but I think they are an important part of the process. Plenty of people in the crowd Saturday were waving American flags, feeling patriotic. I don't hate the president, or the cops, or Israel, or anybody really; I just think a war would be a bad scene. Plenty of anarchists, labor union members, Palestinians, lesbians, stoners, veterans and puppeteers were a bit more outspoken than me. Here's a sampling.
Duct tape was a theme. One of the broadcsters on WBAI (man am I glad I carried a radio with me) said duct tape would be best used over Dick Cheney's mouth. Some people waved pictures of President Bush with tape over his face.
One guy stood with a sign and shouted: "Don't bomb Iraq! Bomb the actors! Susan Sarandon! Sean Penn!"
A troupe of puppeteers crafted giant paper-mâché heads of Bush, Cheney and Donald Rumsefeld, and were putting on a show which had the trio drinking oil. The narrator, with a bullhorn, said: "We respectfully ask the New York Police Department to make way for the Bush administration."
A couple of dudes, looking cold, confused, and wasted, got stuck in a crowd and started this chant: "What the fuck?! Aaah!! What the fuck?! Aaah!!"
Then there was a mob at one intersection chanting "Don't go north! Don't go north!" We were walking north. "Why not go north?" I asked stupidly. The answer was something like, "That's what the police are telling us to do! They want to break us up into smaller pieces so we're easier to handle. Walk south!"
There's a popular homemade sign I first heard about in November, and I saw a few versions of it yesterday. It's a picture of Bush, Cheney and either Rumsfeld or Colin Powell, labeled "The asses of evil."
We spotted a big pink banner that identified the "Goo Goo Dolls Fans for Peace." There appeared to be three of them.
But how many people were there in total? Well, we're talking about three avenues, cleared of vehicles and packed with demonstrators, stretching 10 to 20 blocks (up to a mile). WBAI estimated 500,000 to 700,000 people. The Times said 100,000 to 400,000. Police on TV estimated 100,000. I'm glad to have been one of them.
Saturday, February 15, 2003 | #
All we are saying is...
Here is my instant assessment of the peace rally in Manhattan this afternoon. I'll post more tomorrow.
My friend Cheryl and I left Brooklyn around 11:30, so we didn't get to the rally until after it had started. We had to do a lot of walking to even get close to it. The rally took place at 49th Street and First Avenue. We started walking east from 42nd Street, but soon realized police were directing people another way. We got as far as Third Avenue and were blocked. We kept walking uptown -- all the way to 72nd Street before we could finally walk across to First Avenue. That's right, the rally stretched more than 20 blocks on three avenues. Peace advocates, including Bishop Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King III, spoke to us through loudspeakers and through a radio station that broadcast the speeches live. There were some reports of problems between the police and the crowd, but we saw nothing serious. I think most of us were prepared for it to be crowded, slow-going, and tough to get close to the stage. But not everyone was patient, or prepared, or willing to accept directions from the NYPD. The radio tonight says 50 people were arrested.
A rally's impact depends how many people show up and on the clarity of its message. Think about effective demonstrations (1963 march in Washington for civil rights) vs. ineffective demonstrations (1999 riot in Seattle for... um... what was that all about?). On the subject of Iraq, I think New Yorkers -- hundreds of thousands of us, of all stripes -- are saying the same thing. We don't want to start a war when we don't have to.
Friday, February 14, 2003 | #
Love and brevity
For six minutes between Manhattan and Park Slope, the F train runs on an elevated track above ground. The moment it tears out of the ground, people reach for their cell phones to make quick calls to their sweethearts. "Hi honey. On the train. Good, how was yours? What do you want to do for dinner?" I eavesdrop. "No, I didn't go by the cash machine. You're right, that would have been thoughtful." Once I heard a man make a call that went something like this: "I'm on the subway. Oh, you too? What station? Can you see the G train out the window? I wonder if we're in the same car." All of these callers practice the newscaster-like art of wrapping up the call before the train dives back underground, where phones don't work. Many conversations end this way: "I'm about go to back into the tunnel. I love you." With that, technology fails and communication is cut off again. But for those six minutes, the F train radiates love.
Program note: Saturday's journal will be posted later than usual so I can bring you a same-day report of the peace rally. Stay tuned.
Thursday, February 13, 2003 | #
Odds and ends
From yesterday: If you want to learn more about duct tape, here's an informative piece on the subject.
Today: Two guys from Ellicott City, Dave Johnson and Ryan Aiken, are part of the latest Survivor show, which premieres on CBS at 8 tonight.
Tomorrow: It's just a holiday, folks. Cheer up.
Saturday: In New York, all the cool kids will be hanging out around First and 49th at the peace rally, starting Saturday at noon.
Sunday: The National Weather Services predicts snow for the city Sunday, and says it "could be a significant event." Sounds ominous.
Wednesday, February 12, 2003 | #
Duct and cover
Here in New York, duct tape is all the rage. See, if there is a chemical or biological attack, you can use duct tape to seal windows and door frames, or assemble a make-shift clean room out of plastic sheeting. This was one of the government's suggestions Monday about how to prepare yourself and your family for such an attack. TV stations got stuck on that duct tape tip, and by yesterday morning, people here were stopping at the hardware stores to buy tape. If you ask me, no home ought to be without duct tape anyway, which is suitable for emergencies ranging from leaky ducts to compound fractures to ripped pants. Still, I remain skeptical of its ability to protect us from anthrax or whatever. Let's hope this is one of those crazy survivalist kicks (Y2K bug, anybody?) that we'll look back on in a few years and laugh about.
Tuesday, February 11, 2003 | #
With all the war drums beating, it's a tense time. We could all use a refreshing new soft drink, like dnL, which just hit the stores in New York. Turn your head upside-down, silly, and you'll see that this is a spin-off of 7-up. Some of you know I have a particular fondness for the Uncola, so I had to check this stuff out. (And no, my initials aren't DNL, but that's pretty close.) The new drink is a bubbly, caffeinated fruit beverage, approximately the same color green as engine coolant. Taste? It tastes like... like... what's that?... Surge! Regular readers will remember from previous journal entries (here and here) that Surge is Coca-Cola's "fully loaded citris soda" and a favorite among soft drink connoisseurs. Unfortunately, Surge's appeal was fad-ish, the drink tanked, and now it's tough to find. (More history at SaveSurge.org.) It seems like dnL is playing that same game, hoping to out-dew Mountain Dew. You can read some industry reports on this new beverage here and here. My tastebuds tell me dnL is slightly sweeter than Surge, without that hint Ginger Ale that made Surge so distinct. It's better than most of the sad excuses for new soft drinks brought to market lately (Pibb Xtra, Code Red, Red Fushion, Pepsi Blue -- oh my!). Though Vanilla Coke is still my current choice of caffeinated soft drinks, I'm sure I'll buy dnL again. This new drink is sugary, fizzy and simple -- and that's what America needs.
Monday, February 10, 2003 | #
A lot of TV shows post their transcripts on the Internet, which can be useful sources for research. Some are more useful than others. Consider this nugget, from a CNN transcript:
CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Aired January 30, 2003 - 21:00 ET
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Yes, he's here, the one and only. Conservative in his views, distinctive in his voice, titanic in his influence, an 84-year-old living legend of radio. After seven decades on the air, he's America's most listened-to broadcaster. One of the highest paid, too. Paul Harvey for the hour with your calls next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Sunday, February 9, 2003 | #
Food, clothing, shelter, and stories
I read an article recently in which a video game publisher said entertainment has become more about creating new worlds in which people express themselves. "Entertainment is not about storytelling anymore," he said. I thought about that quote on Saturday when Doug and I visited the Cloister's Museum, a collection of Medieval art. At the museum, I was impressed by how much of the art was crafted to tell stories -- giving us an account of particular events, not just showing us something pretty. I suppose in a time when few could read, art was a sensible way to teach religious lessons and pass along legends and folklore. Helpfully, the Cloisters hangs a label next to almost every piece of art with an explanation of these stories. For example, there's the carving of St. Margaret, who was devoured by Satan himself in the form of a dragon, but saved herself by slicing her way out of the dragon's belly with a cross. In another room, there's a sculpture of a sick-looking guy standing with his dog, who is giving his master a loaf of bread. The label explains that the man suffered from plague, but was cured miraculously by his loyal dog, who licked the man's wounds and healed them. The most breathtaking story-art in the museum is a series of unicorn tapestries, dated 1495-1505. Here's the story: The unicorn, a beautiful beast of the forest, could purify contaminated water by dipping its horn into a pond. Fascinated by the unicorn, the nobility captured it, tormented it, hunted it down with dogs, and eventually felled the creature. According to the label, the unicorn story is a symbol of the crucifixion of Christ, but I think it also gives us an all-purpose caution: Men, especially when armed, do terribly shortsighted and stupid things. A simple message, yet still fresh 500 years later.
Now, I'm not saying video games ought to be high art, but I do think you need to summon some kind of narrative -- some story that touches your audience -- to be a successful entertainer. Like Scrabble boards and playing cards, video games are good fun, but no substitute for a good story. It may be fun to smash up cars and fire guns at hookers in "Grand Theft Auto," but no one puts down that game feeling enriched, or even a little warm inside. Now consider our best films, songs and books: They tell us stories. Stories are not just a profit-making device, but are an irrepressible part of humanity.
Saturday, February 8, 2003 | #
Just Passing Through
Today's journal comes from very special guest Doug Faust, visiting from Maryland
There's something that eventually rises out of the consciousness of a tourist, a stubborn fact for a class of people predisposed to planning. Those things that one's top-down organizing seemingly require one to do; see this monument, climb the stairs of that building and peek at such-and-such a painting are seldom the things that one remembers. In actuality, the mind of the tourist records other, stranger things with the sought after clarity. Things like trying new beer and waking up on a couch with a strange cat chewing your toes.
Friday, February 7, 2003 | #
My week on the subway
Monday: A "police investigation" delays some Brooklyn-bound trains on my way home, so the C train runs express, skipping my stop at 23rd Street. Several trains pass before an E finally stops to take me home.
Tuesday: The radio in the morning says there's a fire at the York Street F stop, so I make a mental note to transfer to the C train at Jay Street. All goes smoothly until somebody on the C yanks the emergency brake. The train grinds to a halt halfway out of the Canal Street station, and the lights go dim. An MTA crew takes ten minutes to inspect the train before sending us on our way.
Wednesday: The F train on the way to work is late. When it arrives, it is too full to board, so I have to wait for the second train. Already late, that train gets slowed again when the conductor announces that there is a "sick passenger," and we're held for a delay at Carroll Street.
Thursday: On the F train to work, there is a "signal problem" at Jay Street, so they re-route the F on the G trac -- sending it toward Queens, not Manhattan. In panic, everybody gets off the F train at Hoyt-Schermerhorn, packing the station with a mob of people hoping to squeeze into a Manhattan-bound A train. I decide to stay on the F to Metropolitan Ave and transfer to the L into Manhattan, barely making it to work on time.
Friday: Maybe I'll bike to work this morning. (Looks out the window.) No, it's a snow storm.
Thursday, February 6, 2003 | #
Drive on a parkway
My favorite road to drive in New York is the Belt Parkway, at the part where it hugs the bay at the west edge of Brooklyn. At night, this roadway is shielded from enough of the city glare that you see a story told with points of light. Across the bay, there's the orange dock lights of Staten Island. Out on the water, gigantic ships glide past, their dark shapes distinguished only by rows of lights at the bow and stern. The Statue of Liberty's torch glows gold. Overhead, airplanes are stacked up six or seven deep in line to land at LaGuardia. A cresent moon hangs low, reflecting in the water, and a few of the brightest stars shine. Most magnificantly, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge makes its appeal toward the sky, with its arched suspension cables lit by hundreds of blue-white bulbs. The parkway runs beneath the bridge, and as you drive the bridge grows larger and larger until it's directly overhead and disappears altogether, only to reappear in the rear-view mirror.
Home Page call to action: Send me your birthday! Yesterday I added a calendar feature to the home page. If you e-mail me your birthday now, I'll list it on the calendar when it gets near. Fun for all. Thanks!
Wednesday, February 5, 2003 | #
In this age of e-mail and cell phones, it's special, and a little romantic, to send letters through the mail. When I checked my mailbox last night, I found another note from my most frequent correspondent, William Barnes. This must the fifth letter he's sent me in as many months. He begins:
Dear Reader: Look. At this point, I'm not going to give you a big speech about Newsweek.
His note continues, and sounds very much like a persuasive writing assignment for a middle school English class.
And by now, I know that you've probably let your subscription expire for one of two reasons.
Sorry, William, but I fall under reason 1. See, I like Newsweek. It's the best of the country's three big weekly news magazines. It is my top choice of magazines to read in any dentist or doctors office. However. The entire text of every issue, and then some, is available on the Internet for free -- and usually two or three days before my copy would arrive by mail. Why should I pay $22.10 for 28 issues? In your own words: Nothing you say is likely to change my mind. But please, William, don't take it personally. And keep in touch.
Tuesday, February 4, 2003 | #
Every computer, really, should have the built-in capacity to alphabetize lists of words. This is one thing a computer can do far faster than any person can. Alphabetizing is a useful function, something many of us use all the time. How does Microsoft approach this problem in their word processing software? Did they put a command in Word called "Alphabetize?" Is there a keyboard shortcut, like, say, control-option-A? Can you search for "Alphabetize?" in the help files and get a reasonable answer? No. I'm pretty good with computers, but it took me a long time to figure this out. To alphabetize a list, you click on TABLE-SORT, then select "Paragraph," tell it to sort "Ascending," by "Text." Arrgh! This is as annoying as the way they arranged the font commands. (There's a menu called "FONTS", but that's not where most of the font commands are. They're under the "FORMAT" menu.) Worse, as soon as you try to ask for help, you get harassed by a talking paper clip, or a cartoon of Albert Einstein. Worst help system ever. I don't know whether this has gotten any easier with the new versions of Word, but I certainly hope so. Computers are miraculous tools, but it's no wonder so many people get scared away when they try to use one for the first time.
Monday, February 3, 2003 | #
Today, some housekeeping. First, there's a new page of links that I call The Roundup. It includes, at last, links to friends who also maintain their own personal web sites. I've also removed several features from the home page in an effort to keep the focus on the journal section. The resume is gone, but some of the information that used to be in the resume has been incorporated into a revised About page. I also reorganized the lower half of this page to merge what used to be called "The Morgue" and "Recipes" sections into one block called "Filing Cabinet." This will make the home page a little more streamlined. Finally, I'm pulling the plug on the message board. Sorry, but it was just getting out of control. (One of my messages about changing my IM name got picked up by a search engine, and the entire board was quickly overrun by dozens of clueless IM'ers trying to figure out how to change their own screen names. Although I am no longer linking to the message board, it will remain online for a while, simply because it's bringing so much traffic into my site.) I hope you still find the home page fun and enjoyable, and keep coming back. Thanks so much for your support.
On the subject of the Space Shuttle, I found a NASA photo of the very first Columbia touchdown, in 1981. Click here.
The dream is alive
I slept in late Saturday and left at mid-day to go to Central Park to ice skate. As I glided round and round at Wollman Rink, relaxing, I watched someone over to the side lower the flag to half-staff. I wondered if something had happened. Later, I called my friend Jeff to make plans to meet him later. All seemed normal, and I went back to Brooklyn to put away my skates. As I was getting ready to leave again, around 5, I decided to check my e-mail and scan the CNN web site. Yikes. Over on channel 4, Brian Williams was interviewing Buzz Aldrin. NBC showed a graphic of the Space Shuttle Columbia coming through the atmosphere and breaking into pieces. It was like a punch in the stomach. I fell back on the sofa and wept like a guy with a broken heart.
Though I was only six, I remember when the Challenger exploded. We lived in Cape Canaveral then, and I was outside in the school yard with all the other students to watch the launch over the tops of the trees across the street. I was too young to understand the situation then, but now I realize what an important moment that was. It cuts deeply when a symbol of peace and discovery meet such a violent end. Seven lives lost in the spirit of science -- now twice over. I also thought about Christa McAuliffe, the teacher aboard the Challenger in 1986, who practically has become a folk hero in her hometown of Concord, N.H. (where I lived for a while). I called Jeff at 5:30 and told him I wouldn't be going out. Then I changed my mind, called him back and decided to meet him anyway, thinking that would cheer me up. At dinner, I tried to enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich and a chocolate milkshake, but I kept getting distracted by CNN on the TV behind the bar. We went out to a sort-of comedy show, but I found it tough to smile. I found it odd that nobody else was caught up in the shuttle story. Perhaps New Yorkers are numb to tragedy after telling their own Sept. 11 attack stories over and over. Maybe people my age lack an emotional connection to the space program. I remember I had trouble understanding why Princess Diana's death was such a big deal. Perhaps many of us read the shuttle accident with the same context as, for example, that Concorde jet crash in France a few years ago -- sad, but not sad enough to call off any appointments. This is different, I think. The space program is part of what defines modern-day America, and a pure product of humankind's drive to explore and learn. History tells us that spirit is unbreakable. Still, the Columbia disaster has left me deeply upset. With all the gloomy talk about war and recession, not to mention the stress of trying to keep my head on straight in New York City, I felt relaxed after some time to myself ice skating Saturday morning, ignorant of the news. I left my apartment without even turning on the radio Saturday, not knowing it was a time to mourn.
At the top of the home page today, you'll notice that I added seven stars to the logo, for the astronauts killed yesterday: Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, Ilan Ramon.
Saturday, February 1, 2003 | #
Get your Phil
Happy Asian Lunar New Year. Happy Black History Month. And, for tomorrow, Happy Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day is the Mardi Gras of Pennsylvania. Tonight, thousands of people will converge in Punxsatawney to anxiously await hog's weather prediction for the next six weeks. This strange bit of German folklore fits with central Pennsylvania's obsession with weather forecasting, and with the idea of hosting some bizarre event/roadside attraction to make your sad small town a little happier than the ones around it. Of course, Groundhog Day got a lot bigger after the 1993 Bill Murray movie. But this film was actually shot in Illinois! In the movie, Punxsatawney's Groundhog Day festivities take place at a gazebo in a quaint town square, with an oompah band present. In real life, the event happens at a muddy hillside a short bus ride from the Bi-Lo parking lot. This is Gobbler's Knob. Since Phil makes his forecast at sunrise, many people stay up all night to claim a good spot on the knob. There's a stage where a deejay plays dance music to help keep people astir. Off to one side, folks huddle around a campfire and sip illicit rum from their steel thermoses. The event is a big draw for students from area colleges (including, like, five Penn State campuses). They make last-minute carpool plans to Punxsawaney, saying "I can't believe we're really going this year." After hours of sitting in the cold, at sunrise, at last, a bunch of top-hatted town elders gather on the stage and yank Phil from his cage. One of them reads from a scroll, which supposably translates the groundhog's chattering into a weather forecast. If Phil "sees his shadow," which he usually does, that means six more weeks of winter. If not, it's an early spring. Either way, the crowd goes nuts. I was luck enough to be present in 1999, when Phil declared an early spring, only the 14th time that has happened in more than 100 years.
Long Meadow in Prospect Park during the Presidents' Day blizzard. - Posted 02.21.03
Scenes in Park Slope during the Presidents' Day blizzard. - Posted 02.18.03
The crowd at the Feb. 15 peace rally in New York. - Posted 02.16.03
The crowd at the Feb. 15 peace rally in New York. - Posted 02.15.03
Ice skaters on Wollman Rink in Central Park. - Photographed 02.01.03, posted 02.02.03
Ice skaters on Wollman Rink in Central Park. - Photographed 02.01.03, posted 02.02.03