Saturday, April 24, 2010

Flowers and Children

Some pictures from the end of a beautiful day.

The grapevines

Finn on his friend David's shoulders, with Emily (can you believe there are still girls named Emily? I like that.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ken, Part 1

He is otherwise known as Arfie, these days. He is my best friend. Our inauspicious start was in December, 1988, at Annette Mendola's apartment in Oswego. She had invited the two of us to dinner, so we could meet each other before becoming her housemates.

Annette had lived off campus the previous semester, taking a rest from school. I don't know or remember how she and Ken met, but I met her in my philosophy classes, and we had studied together on several occasions.

Before the dinner, she described Ken to me as 'a quiet sociology major'. It was spot on, but I would soon find the description was lacking and incomplete, rather like describing a rave as a dance party.

Dinner went well enough. I was concerned about one thing: moving in the next semester so I could get the fuck off of campus and away from George and Seth, the two downstate weirdos who were driving me nuts. Ken could have been a serial killer, but as long as I did not have to share a room with him and he only murdered Annette, I was fine with him.

To this day he describes the spring semester of 1989, when we all started living under one roof, as "our long dance." I thought that was faggy sociological or beatnik bullshit, and I didn't know what the hell he was talking about. Some 19 years later I conceded that there was some awkward walk around each other - he went about some ritual of discovery but I, like in many relationships in my life, blindly fell into whatever was happening around me. Here's a note I sent to him about it just this year:

I never wanted to accept your story of us "doing a dance around each other" when

we first met. First, it sounds faggy (not that there's anything wrong with that

. . .). Second, it sounds like mushrooms blooming in the dark yet fecund mind of

a quiet sociology major.

I never thought about it more than enough was

necessary to dismiss it. But today I accepted it long enough to come up with

this theory: You were dancing, i wasn't. I was running around like an airhead

letting chance rule my day, and whatever steps I took that looked like a dance

were purely coincidental. You were more deliberate, I was haphazard.

If that

makes sense to you, you really might be my best friend and I henceforth fear for

your sanity - unless I am making the same mistake all over again. Ad infinitum:

the story repeats.

I concede the Big C was always yours. But I did control

your mind a few times.

I suck and you love me. Admit it.

So. Whatever. However it progressed, I remember a few seminal moments. I kept a small refrigerator next to my bed, usually with a plastic pitcher full of iced tea - the sugary crap that you make with a powder and water - mostly sugar. One night about 2am, everyone was sound asleep and I heard a loud THUD outside my door. I turned on the light and opened my door (ok, it was a curtain) and found Ken, on the floor in front of the bathroom, which he had just exited.

What happened? I fainted, he said. Got up to go to the bathroom and got lightheaded after I got up from the toilet.

Annette came into the scene to see what was going on, and I got a cup and poured him some iced tea. You're probably low on blood sugar or something. Drink this. It will make you feel better.

We stared at each other awhile, Ken pretty much still on the floor, looking up at us. (Yes, it is possible to look up at Annette). Just about when the silence was getting uncomfortable, Ken said something trite like, This is good iced tea. Where'd you get it? Price Chopper, I said. Really? Yeah, I responded. You make it with water, you know? We stared at each other awhile longer, pulled him off the floor, and sent him back downstairs to his room.

Next came the Skunk. It was early one morning - before dawn on a cold April day. Katie Bouse, a friend of Annette's was staying with her. I had my girlfriend in my room, and Ken was downstairs in his lair. I was awake, my girlfriend was in my arms. She was scared of ghosts, she said. She had seen two alleged "ghost busters" give a speech the night before at the Union. It was all frogwash I said. What is the image on the blank TV screen then? Here, I said, it's static glow. I wiped my hand across the screen and gathered a static charge that lit the small B&W's screen. Just then, a commotion started in Annette's room. I ignored it at first, until I could smell it.

What is that? my girlfriend asked. Smells like gas or something. We had better get up. The commotion got louder. Katie was rambling on about something as if in a trance. Annette came into the room. "We gotta find out what this is," she says. Smells like gas, I said. Katie got louder. I could hear Ken coming up the steps.

"...just come with me into the arms of Jesus, everyone, it's OK!" This freaked out my girlfriend, so she left. Annette rolled her eyes, and when Ken came to my door, she said she was taking Katie to Dot's house, and she wanted the two of us to figure out what was wrong.

I stared at the quiet sociology major, he stared back. About then we figured out that a skunk had blown his bladder somewhere near, if not in, the house. We decided to search the perimeter for holes and plug them up. We were on the roof at 6am, hammering makeshift boards into holes in the crappy little house.

Everything smelled like skunk. There was no escaping it. Unaware of how bad it might have got my clothes, I put on a long wool coat and went to my job at the radio station. I saw the DJ who went before me there, and he immediately turned around and looked at me. "get hit by a skunk or something?" I think I skipped all my classes that day.

Probably the third event was the day I was walking home from the bus. It was a beautiful April afternoon - warm, slighly humid, smelling of chlorophyll and flowers everywhere. I turned up the small alley that is NW 9th street, and toward the house. I could hear the Stones blaring. Ken moved his couch or an easy chair on to the front lawn. He was sitting like the guy in the Memorex ad - laid back in the chair, sunglasses and all - drinking a beer and slowly bopping his head to some song that I can't remember but I am sure has become a favorite of mine. Somehow or another we scrounged up for more beer and continued the ruckus on our own until nightfall.

After that it was stuff like cleaning out the koi ponds, filling them with water, turning on the nice lights, and then - not being satisfied with that - dumping kerosene ont he water and lighting it. Chernobyl Pond, we called it, that event being recent enough for us to know about it.

There was also many a night when we lay on the floor in or near my room, making fun of Annette. We three had some sick little inside joke running and it used to piss my girlfriend off. One night as we started into it, she got mad and left. I made a tape one night, and there are such incidents as me misconstruing something that Ken said to Annette as her being the "fuck of the month" when what he really called her was "fuck of the mountain. Or vice-versa. My memory and my hearing problem, put together, make interesting stories.

That semester ended with me graduating and driving the big orange VM microbus away the day after we got loaded and partied on Water Street. I was down there with some other friends when Ken and Annette showed up. I was thrilled out of my mind and I think I showered them both with beer. I lost a shirt that night, as I would many other times.

Post-graduate Ken stories to come later.

The Crumby Chateauguay Valley.: The Road From Connecticut to New York Via Quebec Province

I can’t remember if I let Ken drive on this trip. He had a permit, was not too swift with a stick. It was my father’s Tercel, standard shift. I may have got the car going, then we switched seats while driving. I had done this once before on the road to Montreal with another person who could not drive stick – Karen Riccardi, an old girlfriend…more about her some other day.

One way or another we got to CT. I recall taking a picture of the woman at the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge tollbooth. A redhead who shut her eyes as the flash popped. She was handing me my receipt. Had to keep receipts of everything, so I could get the money back. I did not have much.

We got to Danbury early in the afternoon. I don’t remember what day of the week it was anymore. A weekday, that’s all. Once there, we checked in to the Ethan Allen hotel. IBM put up potential recruits in nice spots back then. I don’t know what they do these days. Last I heard, kids get signing bonuses and three weeks of vacation. But they also have better grades than I ever did. I don’t think I could even get accepted at my alma mater anymore.

Once checked in, we checked out the amenities. There was a racquetball court, so we got my lacrosse sticks and tried throwing the ball around in there. Several bruises later, we gave up. Hotel patrons waiting to use the court for its intended purpose stared.

Dying for something to do, we went to the downtown Danbury area. All we could find of interest was a place called The Brass Jail. We went in for a few drinks. I told the barmaid I might be moving here and she probably said some nice things about the area that I don’t remember. I learned later that this was a place where IBMers don’t hang out.

Uninspired by Danbury, we decided we had to see salt water, so we headed to Norwalk down route 7. Late day traffic was heading north, so we got there easily. We asked where we could find the waterfront from an immigrant grocer who pointed a lot but did not say much we could understand. We got two travel mugs, filled them with alcohol of some sort, and drove to the first marina we could find. Turns out it was a private place, so we parked our car in a reserved spot and headed for the docks.

It was located deep in some estuary or inlet – we could not see Long Island Sound from there. But we walked the docks and admired the boats, and Ken snapped picture after picture with a point-and-shoot 35MM.

Soon we were confronted by a boat owner or perhaps an officer of the club. He asked what we were doing. We made up some lame excuses and he explained this was private property and we were not invited. He then asked what Ken had in his hand. Ken explained it was a camera. The man asked to see it, so Ken handed it over. He inspected it like it was a transmitter or a bomb, and then handed it back, repeating the innuendo that we should leave right away. We did.

Now unimpressed with two spots in CT, we went back to Danbury. We ate dinner and then retired for the night. I met with an IBM employee for breakfast and then followed her to the IBM offices for my interview. Ken walked downtown and then to the Brass Jail where I met him after my interview.

We decided then that instead of returning to Syracuse right away, we would go to Montreal, perhaps spend the night in a hotel near the border. Plan hatched, we hit the road with a bottle of vodka. We didn’t need much back then.

On route 84, going west, we were approaching the Taconic State Parkway. Ken had heard of this or been on it before in his roving and hitchhiking and said we should take it. I knew nothing about it and decided against it, which pissed him off. He said I was unadventurous. For a guy who never drove, he sure knew a lot about highways in a part of the state that he had scarcely been to.

Instead we crossed the Hudson and got on the NYS Thruway. The plan was to take it all the way to Montreal, which is what the road did. When the road became the Northway, near Albany, we were getting hungry. Karen Riccardi still lived in the area, so I posited that if we visited her, her mother would glady feed us. Olympia Riccardi loved me. Karen didn’t anymore – or so I thought (like I said, details later) – but her parents thought I was the same polite 15 year old that visited years ago.

We exited into Clifton Park, where the Riccardis lived, and I managed to find 31 Garrison Lane (yes, I still remember the address, and probably even the phone number – 518 899 4842). We pulled into the right driveway by sheer luck – orienteering is NOT my forte. A rap on the door got hugs all around. I explained we were just passing through from an INTERVIEW WITH IBM and we were on our way to Montreal. This impressed the hell out of Olympia and Richard Riccardi, so they insisted we have dinner. Even the long-haired hippie freak that was with me was allowed to come in. Any friend of Paul’s was a friend of theirs.

It was some kind of roasted chicken dinner with veggies and potatoes. It was delicious and it hit the spot. Karen was glad to see me, and envious that I was going to Montreal without her. I had gone only the year before, with her, on a whim (more later, ok? More later….). She and her brother helped us find an ATM. We got back on our way before sunset.

As a black, cold, August Adirondack night settled in, my eyes got tired and we needed to stop. The Northway was all oncoming white light and passing red lights. I proposed we stop at a rest stop and park between two tractor trailers and sleep. We went as far as parking between two such beasts, and I reasoned some trucker would pull in later that night or early the next morning, thinking the spot was unoccupied, and handily flatten the Toyota, with us asleep in it. We decided to drive on.

We reached Plattsburgh. I had some $60 in my pocket and I figured I could get a room and sneak Ken in. I’ll spare you the details, but at the first hotel with no vacancy I determined that there were no rooms to be had in the entire town. The front desk manager suggested I park at the edge of the large parking lot where the tractor trailers parked for the night.

I told Ken about it and we figured that, not being on the highway, it would be safer than the rest stop. We parked between two huge Frito-Lay trucks, polished off the bottle of vodka, and passed out. We were so wrecked that we did not hear both vehicles fire up and leave in the morning. We woke to empty space all around us. And splitting headaches.

We went to an IHOP where we ate pancakes and I got some aspirin. We headed north after that and stopped at the border, where I was ordered to park the car and walk into an office to be interrogated. Why, I thought. I cut my damn hair!!! I was tired of this happening to me (more on that, later). I went into the office. Ken was told to stay in the car.

In the office a French Canadian official asked to see my license. He reviewed it and supposedly looked up some info on me. “You have had no DWIs?” he asked, in his accent. No, I have not. “None?” No, I repeated. “Not one at all? That is remarkable.” I stared at him, wondering WHAT in the hell he was trying to get at – when did I ever have the time to get one? I was 21! Oh, the night before….well anway, I was sober, with a clean record as I stood there. He played with my license in his hand, staring at me, pursing his lips. He handed it back to me.

Foolishly, I had to ask a question. I held up my ATM card. Can I use this in Canada, I asked. He took it from me and walked away. HEY, GET BACK HERE, I said. He smiled at me and laughed. He came back and said yes, they had ATM machines in Canada. Wasn’t what I asked, but I wasn’t going to hone the question down to whether the NYCE or STAR network also existed in French Canada. I was tired of border officials, again.

Back on the highway, we reached Montreal before noon and walked around for about an hour. I kept trying to ask for a bathroom in my best attempt at what little French I remembered from Mme. DiVico, and after many attempts, one kind person took pity on us.

Once the loaf was pinched, we left. We were not impressed with Montreal, either.

We chose a route that would take us across the SW part of Quebec province to Massena, NY, roughly – a port of entry called Trout River. We would pass across what I was told are the Plains Of Abraham (but aren’t; it's the Chateauguay Valley). It was flat, with a distant view of a ridge or plateau to the north.

We got hungry midway home and stopped at Ormstown. I forgot 1)we were in Canada and 2)we were in Canada. We entered a nondescript grocery store in this town of 10,000 people. I grabbed some drinks and a candy bar, and Ken got cookies. When the cashier spoke to me, I remembered: we’re in Canada. I tried to remember my French. I stared at here as the gears in the back of my head slowy cranked up. Video of Mme DiVico reciting numbers, and then I got it: she wanted me to fork over something like $5. Then I remembered, we’re in Canada. She stared at the greenbacks, sighed, and called for a manager, or so I gather. One came over with a calculator and a newspaper. She looked up the exchange rate, calculated what we owed, and repeated it to me. I held out the money as if to say please be honest and take what you need and please give me my change. They took US $5 and returned some coins in Canadian. I apologized, in French, and we left.

The town was close enough to the border that they occasionally got someone like me, but not enough.

Back on the road to NY state, we started eating the cookies. They tasted like shit. Ken kept bitching about them but also eating them. I got tired o of listening to him because it was intefering with the Zappa music playing on my boom box, so I grabbed the entire package and threw it out the window.

We were generally pissed off about Quebec. Not Canada, just Quebec. We arrived, gratefully, in NY at Trout River and pulled into the US port of entry. Off to the side, I saw a carload of students standing outside their car with all their luggage. A customs official was removing a wheel. I feared the worst, but I just wasn’t going to take it.

A female officer approached the car. Where have we been, where are we going? How long were we in Canada? What did we buy. I explained the following:

“I just came from an interview with IBM (drop a name!) in Danbury, CT. We decided yesterday afternoon to drive to Montreal on our way home to Syracuse (kind of like going to Miami on your way from NY to LA, proportionately). We spent the night in Plattsburgh, drove to Montreal this morning, left after going to the bathroom, and stopped in Ormstown.”

What did you buy? I held up an empty Snickers wrapper and Ken said he ate all of his cookies.

She was dumbfounded. “You drove to Montreal to go to the bathroom on your way home to Syracuse from CT?

I was certain we were gonna get waylaid, the car inspected inside and out, and we’d do a lot of standing and answering of questions. Here goes:


She shook her head. “Move on gentlemen. Just go.”

So we did, wending our way through Massena, Potsdam, Watertown. We stopped at the Salmon Run Mall where Ken had to show me a huge piece of kinetic art on display there. We made it to Oswego before sunset and I was home by dark. I got the job. I don’t remember much about the interview, but I sure remember the rest of the trip.

The Wolf

The Wolf was a very tall guy with Sammy Hagar hair on the other side of the atrium (courtyard) in my dorm. I think he had vision problems because he always wore glasses and had trouble fiding the person talking him. No mater - he was one of the big party animal types that everyone knew of but few people knew. People yelled his nickname (WOLF!!!) whenever they saw him, exchanged a few trite lines (You gonna be at the TKE thing this weekend? YEAH!) and that was all I ever saw or knew of him. Except for when he discovered or was told I had a talent for burping loudly. I was challenged to face him some night in the future he said, so I agreed.

It was late one night when the duel was called, impromptu. I was in my room, and across the atrium there was a party, probably in Wolf's room. I heard my name being called so I went to the window. A few of Wolf's handlers told me it was time. I said fine. They went inside and dragged Wolf to the window. He told me to go first, probably so he could finish me off with a finale.

I let my best burp go. There is not to describe here - it was just a long, loud, deep burp that made my chest and a few windows rattle. I can't get into Mark Twain tall-tale like descriptions of how it woke earthworms in the February soil or anything like that. Let's just say it iwas long, loud and deep.

Once the echoes subsided, I looked back down to where Wolf and his handlers were. Wolf had a beer in one of those big plastic, dixie cups, and his other arm draped limply to his side. For the first time, it seemed as if his usual blank stare really was a blank stare, and his jaw was dropped.

"You win," He said. "I can't compete with that." He went back inside and one of his handlers patted him on the back. The noise from the party did not seem as loud as before as the pall of defeat settled across the atrium. It's not nice to defeat a well-loved legend, and I did not suddenly earn all the respect and love he got from his friends.

Steve And Hot Girl #135 That Paul Could Have Dated But Did Not

Steve's nickname was 'Kushie'. Those who knew him know why, and I am not going to explain it here.

He lived across the hall from me my freshman year with his room mate and best friend from high school, Peter.

He banged up the door to his '74 Impala, so he says, "wanna go to a junkyard in B'ville and get me a new one?" I says OK.

We get to the head of 481 at the bottom of Fulton and passing us is a nice looking lady driving a similar heap. I see she has a sticker on the bumper that says 'Oswego' so I tell Steve to pull up next to her. Quickly, I scribble my address (254 Cayuga) on a piece of paper and hold it up. She smiles as we pass, and starts laughing. Steve and I argue over who she was hot for.

A week later there is a personal in the school paper: "To the guys in Cayuga hall who passed me on 481. The driver was cute but the passenger was cuter. When can we meet?" We never did meet.

Yet another story of how Paul coulda hooked up and didn't. Man was my hair long then, too.

Daddy, What's A 'Sommelier'?

Quick answer? A professional, legal pusher.
Long answer? Sit back.
When last I was in LA (of all the two times I was there) Jennifer took my brother Pat and me to Sona, a fine restaurant with something called “matched pairings” on the menu. That means that you get an n course meal with n wines served – one chosen for each dish.
The person who chooses the wines is a sommelier. He chooses the wines for the restaurant in general, and also for this special menu.
We ordered such a dinner at Sona that night. Jennifer and Pat are accomplished wine aficionados, gourmands, and culinarians. I’m just a wino (recovered wino, thank you). They use words like “bouquet” and “esters” which for me mean something about flowers and a stuff that plastic is made of. They talk about food having texture which makes me want to puke.
It went a little something like this. We sat down and read the menu, and the waiter explained the matched pairings bit, if we wanted that. Pat said yes and Jennifer agreed. I went along with it because I’m a philistine who tries to look like he’s not.
Each course comes out with the chef explaining what he’s serving you as food, and the sommelier or his assistant carrying a bottle of alcohol flavored to go with what the chef made. For example:
Chef Soandso comes to the table and the waiter serves the dish. The sommelier stands by, ready to pour. The chef speaks, “this is curried pig’s throat, with a demiglace of duck breath.” Pat and Jennifer make approving sounds and grunts, which I try to keep up with. The sommelier steps forward, sets the proper glasses (you know there are PROPER GLASSES for each wine, right?) pours the stuff, and speaks, “For this course we have chosen a Corsair de Ganache, 1997. It is a light red made mostly of Hongo grape grown in the Frappe steppes of Anglobonia. The locals there stomp the grapes by foot, kicking off a week long festival of grape stomping that starts with a local dwarf stomping the first of the vintage.” He pours the wine and swirls it around the glass, smelling it afterward, and indicating very strongly that this is the behaviour we should also partake of…or at least I got that idea because Jennifer and Pat start doing it, too, and making more. "We chose this wine because the natural banana, sequoia and burnt sienna tones compliment the pork [he wouldn't say 'pig' now, would he?]. The cement-tone finish matches the gustatory tannins. Enjoy"We take a bite of the food, eat the wine, and I try earnestly to keep up and sound intelligent.
10 bite-size pieces of candied offal later, I have had as manyglasses of wine, and the dessert comes with dessert wine. By this time, the conversation could go like this and I would not know the difference:
“Your dessert tonight is epoxied rice with a gasoline sauce, topped off with castellated nuts. Paired with this is a Tri-Nitro-Toluene, from the original Nobel plantations.”
To which my more esteemed dining mates respond with the appropriate nods and grunts, while I slam down more liver preservative and say, “Oggay mang thanksh. Tha wazall reeeeeeellllly yummy! M?”

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Exception Proves The Rule

Yet another phrase used more than understood, this does not mean that some exception to a rule proves it in the sense that it proves that it is correct or is right or valid.

Instead it means that some exception to a rule, when stated, proves that the rule exists. For example, hearing the following statement:

"Tonight all sailors are allowed to stay ashore until 11pm"

you recognize it as an exception to some rule, perhaps one that says they must be back on board by 10pm most other nights.

The idiom lost something over time when changed from Latin to English and then to modern times. To 'prove' not only means to show as correct, but also to validate, to test, or probe. The exception stated above leads one to believe that there is a rule to which that statement is an exception.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ed Levy At the Distrikt Hotel

The lighting was bad. What can I say? The music was great, though. The bassist's name is John - I did not get his last name.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In Memory Of Jojo: 5 Years

It was exactly five years ago today that I drove from work home at Cara's urging to find my home - and three of those of my neighbors - smoldering in ashes. Jojo, our loverbird, perished from smoke inhalation or heat or both. Fifi made it to the basement and was rescued by the firemen. No one was home, no one was hurt, but three apartments were destroyed utterly and a fourth had major smoke and water damage, and the rest had smoke damage.

Google now has images of what the apartment looked like after the fire. The red arrow points to where I lived, the blue one to where the fire broke out.

Though we lost a lot, including the bird, we were immediately helped by coworkers and friends from all around. The Red Cross, the community, the High School, friends at IBM and abroad, and our families all chipped in to help us get back on our feet. We are still hurting a little, financially, from the damage, but we are grateful for all that we have in our friends and relations.

We miss you, Jojo. I hope I treated you well in your short time on this planet.


I took the sat photo from Google, as I mentioned. Earlier today I sent the same image to one of my former neighbors in that complex but I did not trim the image as I did above. She pointed out the irony of the ads next to the picture (click on the image to see a larger version):

Westcott Beach State Park and Campbell's Point, April 2010

Lola imagines life as a gull.

The Milliman's cottage.

Campbell's point as seen from Westcott Beach.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

In Memory Of Malcolm

I don't like to argue about whose cat is best - that sort of thing is a pissing contest left to those who have something to prove - but my own favorite feline familiar, Malcolm X, was among other things a six-toed terror and an astute judge of character; anyone he didn't like, I didn't much care for either. Above everything was his cool, Paul Newman-like demeanor. One day my (former) father-in-law explained that he did not want to let his Yorkshire Terrier near Malcolm for fear that the cat would be killed. "They're known for being relentless hunters and they never turn their backs on their prey," he said, authoritatively. Malcolm lay sleeping lightly in the dog's bed on the back porch, opposite from where the dog was locked away in a bathroom for safety's sake. I decided to experiment. I let the dog loose, and he tore across the porch toward Malcolm. Malcolm remained prone until the moment the dog was in reach, then sprung to like a cobra, pasted the canine upside the head with his great paw, and sank back into the dog's bed as the Yorkie ran back to his bathroom, whimpering. I shut the door to the bathroom on the fallen pooch, sat back down next to my speechless father-in-law, and said not another word about it. Not that day.