Saturday, December 22, 2007

Yule Blog: Day 1 of the Odyssey

Ninety, if not 99, percent of my phone calls these days are made from my cell phone. This action usually requires nothing more than pressing the Send button, scrolling through the list of recent callers, and selecting one of them. Occasionally, I will have to actually scroll through the phone book on my phone to find the friend I want to call.

The other 1 percent -- or 10 percent -- of my calls are made at work, where I use the same kind of office phone used in every other office in America. But today, at my parents' house, I picked up the cordless phone from its base, pressed the "talk" button to wake it up, and dialed the number for Dave's house. Then, either out of habit from all the cell phone use, or because it seemed like it had to be done, I pressed the "talk" button again. You know, to "send" it. When I put the phone up to my ear, I heard nothing.

So I tried again. Same thing. I decided maybe I should check with Mom.

"You just press 'talk' and dial the number," she said.

"Oh. So I don't have to press 'talk' again after that?"

Um, no.

As I press "redial" and then raise the phone to my ear, I realize that Dave must've heard his phone ring twice now, but when he picked it up -- nothing. No one there. Dial tone.

He answers on the first ring. I explain what had been happening. He cracked up for at least half a minute.

I feel a bit old now. There was once a time when calling Dave meant pressing just seven digits -- no area code required. I even remember being at my aunt and uncle's in Maine and needing to press only five to call the neighbor down the road. It was like the KL5 exchange from old movies or TV shows -- or maybe just from The Simpsons.

It's not as old as I felt several years ago at my barber shop. As I sat in the chair, a boy who was waiting came up to the barber and asked if he could use the phone. When told it was no problem, he reached for the receiver and was about to dial, but then couldn't figure out where the buttons were. The barber had a rotary phone. The kid had never seen such a thing. This had to be early -- no later than the middle -- in the 90s.

* *
/\ /\

(Those are Christmas trees. Maybe sorta. I wish I had time -- or the inclination -- to create a holiday section break.)

Today, Casey and I began our 11-day, seven-houses-in-seven-cities holiday road trip. Seriously, we should have MapQuest (or Google Maps) or Hess or someone sponsor us. I'll slap a magnetic Hess or BP logo (not Exxon -- no way) on my car now through New Year's Day.

We left the house this morning, packing up the car and the cats and driving an hour to my parents'. An afternoon of holiday cheer with family friends while I "work" from the house, monitoring the site and watching for any news. I've got another shift on Thursday, but other than that, I'm free and clear this week.

Tomorrow, we head three hours west to Harrisburg for about 24 hours with Casey's grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins. Or whoever we see. From there, it's on to her mom's on Christmas eve, then her dad's on Christmas. On the 27th, it's back to mom's for a night before spending Friday in Pittsburgh and staying over at her sister's house. On the 29th, we'll make the long drive back home.

But not back to my parents, where the cats are spending this break. It'll be just a one-night stopover at home to make sure it's still standing, and then it's up to Boston on the 30th. New Year's, for I think the fourth straight year, will be at Bryan's. But because we both have to be at work at 10 a.m. on January 2, this will be the first time we leave on New Year's Day. If past trends hold up this year, that could be a difficult task. We'll see.

And we'll see how much I get to log this trip with updates. There won't be one tomorrow, that's for sure. No internet -- wireless or otherwise -- at Grandma's.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cold as ice

Talk about a half-assed job. What good does it do to plow out the handicapped parking space at the train station -- actually, plow out room for one car over two parking spaces -- when it does not leave enough room for the occupants of the car to get out after parking?

The snow has turned to ice, thanks to a coating of rain yesterday afternoon and evening. Anyone needing to park in those spaces at the Clifton train station presumably has a reason to, but it can't help them much if, once they park, they exit the car onto a sheet of ice. The camera-phone photo gives you the gist of the situation.

Seriously -- how hard would it have been to back up the pickup truck and move forward once more to clear our a space twice as big? A third pass would've cleared the entire two spaces. In about 42 seconds. Nice work, guys.

I get more annoyed at seeing cops driving while talking on their cell phones or the dozens of cars that pass me as I stand in the crosswalk on my way to the train each evening. Yielding to pedestrians is a law in New Jersey. If a cop stood with my on the corner, he could stop each car and cite the drivers for failing to yield. He'd also get half of them on the cell phone charge, too.

I've always been sensitive to the pedestrian law. I'm not sure why, but I'm drawn to it. I find it courteous and helpful. I enjoy walking to the train everyday, a six-minute walk (briskly; eight to 10 minutes at a more leisurely pace) and I enjoyed walking from the house I grew up in to the pharmacy or the ballfield or the church down the street. Princeton had the law on its books before the state adopted it -- or at least before the state forced the rest of the towns to enforce it. And it worked well in Maine, where on the busiest tourist days in Wiscasset or Camden, you could be sure that anyone with a Vacationland license plate would quickly apply the brakes once you set one foot off the curb in between the white lines. I considered those towns to be more sophisticated than most others for that reason. (I suppose one of the nation's pre-eminent universities helped Princeton's case, as well.)

The summer after I graduated from college, I was in the car with my mom when she stopped to let a woman pushing a baby carriage cross the street in my hometown. We were downtown in our small town, not 100 yards from the police station at a rather busy intersection with no traffic light (one has since been installed). An impatient prick in a pickup truck decided we were waiting to turn without using our turn signal and began to pass us (I don't recall whether it was on the right or left). The pickup driver slammed on his brakes just as he was about to pull past us when he saw the woman, who he very nearly hit.

Inspired, I wrote a letter to our mayor and police chief. Sometime before this, I had also received a ticket because I'd parked at our hometown train station at 9:20 a.m., 10 minutes before I was allowed to without a pass. I paid the $20 fine, but also pointed out that if the town put a police officer at either of the two intersections downtown, he could cite four or five cars per pedestrian in a very small time frame. And the failing to yield penalty was something like $75. But maybe our town was just filled with antisocial cops who didn't like confrontation and preferred to ticket empty cars than rack up revenues from oblivious drivers.

The mayor called the house to ask me to come in to meet with her, I believe, but I sent the letter just before departing on my cross-country trip and her call came while I was somewhere south and west of the Smoky Mountains.

Eight years later, I did sit down in her office, but that was with Casey when we met with her to discuss our wedding. I should've took that time to discuss the pedestrian issue.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Gauging the snow by the sounds on the street

There's no such thing as a snow day when you're an adult. At least not when you work for a national media company, in a department that requires staffing 24/7, and the terms "weekends" and "holidays" aren't so much as guaranteed days off as much as guaranteed days of a quieter office and -- hopefully -- less news.

Yet despite this, and despite my duties as a homeowner, particularly shoveling, I still find myself rooting for snow. And not just a light dusting or a brief afternoon snowshower that covers the neighborhood with a couple of inches but then melts away when the sun comes out later in the day. I watch the weather and hear the forecast for New England and hope that a little of it comes our way. I'm jealous of Boston, where the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore has decamped -- a sure sign of impending doom, weather style.

On the one hand, I hope it passes us by, or at least makes the afternoon amenable to heading out early for the city so Casey and I can meet my sister for lunch at Ditch Plains. I could go for a burger and a beer before work. But on the other, an inclement afternoon would keep us housebound, and give me a chance to watch the Jets and Patriots, where a nor'easter could even the playing field a little and at least give my fantasy football team a chance against a team that owns both Tom Brady and Randy Moss.

For the past two years, as we've lived in a second-floor apartment, winter storms meant little more than a treacherous walk to the bus stop and perhaps a little extra time to get to the city to account for slow going on River Road. Plus, my car was parked in the garage beneath the building, meaning the snow brush and scraper were kept in the trunk in the event that snow came while I was at a movie or somewhere else where the car might be parked outside. And I certainly got the car washed much more often, knowing that even if the five-day called for rain or snow that the Grand Am had a chance to remain dry and covered if I had no apparent plans to head out. I enjoyed the snowstorms guilt-free then, with no sidewalks to shovel, no driveways to clear, no car to clean.

Two days ago, we had an afternoon of freezing rain, snow and sleet, creating a firm, heavy much that felt like shoveling a sidewalk's worth of snowcone filling. If I added some flavoring, I'm sure I had about a dozen square feet of marketable slush. And that day's snowfall also revealed to us how low on the city's list our street is for plowing, since it seemed like we got no attention on our block. But that may have been the result of the guidelines -- many municipalities won't plow until there are at least three or four inches on the ground, because anything less will damage the roads and the plow blades more than they'll effectively clear the snow. Thursday brought no more than two inches, I think.

So we head to bed tonight not sure of what the low-hanging clouds outside will bring, other than a brighter night as they reflect the lights and cast an artificial glow over Clifton. The sky has a pink hue above the rooftops and the treelines, a low ceiling as an indication that precipitation is afoot. I'll wake up tomorrow, no duties or commitments until the afternoon, and be able to lie in bed listening for a passing car on the street. If the sound of an engine comes with the rain-soaked swish of a wet road, I'll know the night stayed above 30 degrees and the storm system brought only rain or slush. But if those motors are muffled, if an engine seems otherwise alone, a silent gliding or faint hint of crunching evident beneath the tires, then I'll know an hour bundled up out in the cold awaits. It's how I used to gauge a snowfall in high school, wondering if I had to bolt out of bed to get in the shower before school, or if I could hold off a bit and sleep in a little while, knowing that Mom would come alert me if school was indeed on and I was falling behind. In the end, I got pretty good at making the right call.

It's starting now as rain, though perhaps freezing rain, the sound of tiny water pellets drumming on the air conditioner in the dining room window. Hazardous conditions surely await with the daylight.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Another day, another surprise

The weekend provided another not-so-joyous discovery to add to the pros and cons of home ownership.

It goes back to Memorial Day, when we discovered after an hour of particularly high water use that we had a backup in our main sewer line. Roto Rooter cleared it out, but diagnosed the problem as roots in the pipe. Our 1920s-built house comes with older sewer lines made, most likely, of clay tile piping, as was common back in The Day. Sections of pipe were laid end-to-end and sealed, but over the decades, the mortar of that seal -- and the pipes themselves -- can crumble or crack as the land settles and other changes occur in the surrounding areas. Any roots in the vicinity, in their search for moisture and nutrients, tend to find the sewer lines -- and the cracks, no matter how small, in them.

Can you tell I've been reading up on this today?

So they Rootered the roots out of the pipe and told me to buy their Root Destroyer -- copper sulfate -- which you flush down the nearest toilet to the main line and it kills the roots from the inside. (I'm particularly intrigued by the more direct method, but the extra details involved -- namely, the checks and permits needed before digging where there could be electrical and gas lines -- make me wary.) Stupidly, I didn't act right away on the Root Destroyer, and the little buggers found their way back in.

I finally flushed the sulfate down the toilet at the beginning of November, but a few weeks ago, when we discovered our utility sink in the bathroom filling up after we'd run the washing machine and I followed that with a shower. (Our initial discovery, on Memorial Day, came after we showered back-to-back -- instead of Casey showering and off to work long before I'm even out of bed -- and the sink overflowed and the water made its way across the bare basement floor.) I sent some chemicals meant to unclog the drain down the utility sink, hoping that we had a more simple backup and not more roots. But I knew. So when the sink started filling up as I was rinsing off some things over the weekend, I knew I had to call the plumber again.

He cleared it out this afternoon, but not before cracking, "That's why I own a condo!" And he laid out our future. Tonight, when I get home, I'll send another dose of the copper sulfate down the toilet, giving it several hours to work while we sleep and aren't sending water through the system. At the end of March, when the growing season begins, I'll do it again. And then again in mid-April. If we run into more problems after that -- or after more home remedies -- our options become pretty clear: sign up for regular maintenance with a plumber (Roto Rooter knocks 10 percent off the service call when it comes every six months), purchase my own snake (no, more powerful), or look into having the line replaced. That's the expensive, Mr. Moneybags option -- but it's also the one that will most effectively ensure a final solution to the problem. If we ever feel we have the money for that level of improvement, it'll go into the records as a home improvement and get marked down in the ledger for when, years down the road, we have to determine what to set for our asking price.

Next we get to see how capable I am when it comes to more manual labor -- as in replacing our faux-bricked-and-shingled basement walls with more traditional (and smoother) paneling -- and whether I can get it done before the end of next week, so that we can open the new year by finally setting up the basement, my Man Cave.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

If only I had a blog back in the day

Had an urge to go back and look at my previous only diary/journal/blog and was reminded that not only did I discover Martin Sexton at Red Bank's Count Basie Theater, where he opened for Cowboy Junkies in June 2001, but Sarah Harmer was also on the bill. That was a pretty good, laid-back show I saw back then.

We went to see Martin on Friday night at Roseland. Not the best venue, but a swell show nonetheless. He opened with five or six songs done solo -- how I saw him in Red Bank six (SIX!) years ago, and how I believe he did much (if not all) of his touring and performing back in the day. He opened with "Freedom of the Road" and while I don't remember all that was done and whether it was solo or with the band that came out after five or six songs, but we got our favorites: "Diner," "Circles," "Happy," "Hallelujah," etc. For the "quiet portion" of the set, the four of them went unplugged, huddling around a single microphone that picked up the upright bass, Martin's acoustic guitar, a melodica (I believe) and, in lieu of drums, a barstool that the drummer played with brushes. They finished that set with a resounding cover of "Folsom Prison Blues."

Martin was just as good as that first time I saw him, when I wrote:

Sexton followed and it was just him and his guitar. And he was amazing. His voice range was indescribable, particularly for one as tone-deaf as myself. And he managed to make one electic guitar sound like a lead, rhythm and bass guitar, with some percussion thrown in. His songs were quite bluesy and epic, with astounding lyrics. He was also the first opening act I've seen come out for an encore. I shall purchase his work soon.
But on top of that, he looked like he was seriously enjoying himself. He smiled, he bounced, he chatted -- briefly, but pleasantly -- with the audience at times. Syracuse is his home, so maybe New York City felt like it.

I went back to the blog because I started wondering tonight what college would've been like if I had a blog. I've always liked to write, but now that I've gotten away from it and have taken on so many more tasks and responsibilities -- from work to home ownership -- I don't do it nearly as much for fun and (mental) exercise. I looked over a post describing a walk around campus after my sister graduated, a last look at Notre Dame as a student/brother of a student -- as someone with a direct connection to the place. Reading it now, six and a half years after writing it, I am stunned at the imagery, the emotion, the pictures I conveyed. I'm even more shocked at how some memories still seem so recent, so clear in my mind, while others I'd completely forgotten until reading them now. And I can't believe it was 13 years ago that I started college, or that May will be 10 since I graduated.

I want to write like that again.

Earlier this year, a story in The New Yorker profiled a man who is trying to catalog every piece of physical evidence of his life -- e-mails, letters, bills, photographs. Everything. (I couldn't dig up the story online, because I don't remember anything specific enough to successfully search for it.) I've often thought about things like that from my own life, wondering what such an archive would look like. How many words have I written in my life, taking into account every letter, term paper, e-mail, exam, blog entry, article and free-time creative writing like poems, parodies and attempts at short stories? How many millions? Have I reached a billion? Probably.

I have a lot of things from my past, from the fantasy baseball newsletters I created in high school to stories and essays I wrote for class or for nothing in particular. But I wish I had some of the e-mails I wrote in college, some of the journals I kept in previous versions of Microsoft Word and saved on my desktop's hard drive in 1994, '95, '96, '97.

There are a lot of things I'd like to preserve and catalog. I have dozens of articles written for the campus paper boxed away, hard copies that provide a record of what I wrote, what interested me, what the editors assigned when I was a freshman and sophomore and had less say in what I covered. I wouldn't mind going digital with those, having them on a disk to pull up one day in some random search to find out what I may have been doing in February 1996. I don't know why I would ever need -- or want -- to know that, but I've always thought it would be cool to have that kind of information available at my fingertips.

"In my old age," Kerouac once wrote, "I intend to collect all my work and reinsert my pantheon of uniform names, leave the long shelf full of books there, and die happy." Sometimes I think about what that would entail from my life -- what it would be like to read my second-grade autobiography (which still exists somewhere on a bookshelf at my parents') and then be able to turn to a seventh-grade English paper, a high school project, a college application essay.

My professional clips survive mostly in the same format -- smudgy newspaper segments slotted away in a divided folder, stored in a cabinet in our office. The Asbury Park Press' website doesn't exactly maintain an archive going back five years. If only they did, and if we'd had the internet when I was in high school. I'm curious about my athletic career, my cross country times from those junior and senior falls. Only one stands out: My personal best. I once ran 3.1 miles -- 5 kilometers -- in 18 minutes, 28 seconds, on the course around the school's campus. My fast time was due in part to my girlfriend's birthday that night and a desire to finish up quickly so I could get home, shower, and meet up with my friends. I believe I won that race for the school, too, sprinting to the finish ahead of a runner on the other team, reaching for that place-holding popsicle stick a step ahead of him. The final score, if I remember cross-country scoring correctly (which is a 50-50 shot, at best) was 27-28, with the lower score the goal.

Having a blog in college would have been interesting, I'm sure. In some ways, I know I would've treated it like I did when I first started online journaling as a professional reporter working off hours and spending quiet alone time in my bedroom until 3 or 4 in the morning. I would've written a bit those first three years, but really picked it up senior year, after taking the Kerouac seminar. I still have the notebooks we were asked to keep for that class, and I took the time to transcribe their entries into that previous blog -- there it is, my weird desire to catalog it all. I wonder how things would've played out, how my writing would have developed and whether I would've shared it -- and with whom -- had I been doing it in the mid-90s instead of the early 2000s.

The fact that I didn't isn't really a loss. It's not something I really could have foreseen back then, this wish for a more tangible record of my inner musings. I'm just letting my mind wander, my fingers tap out streaming thoughts as I sit here alone in an empty office, minding the site for work until I head home in two hours.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Lenny Potatoes: Tannenbaum Assassin

Keifer Sutherland once famously sacrificed his body to protect the world from the terrorist Tannenbaum.

One of our cats has chosen to do the same.

We set up the Christmas tree yesterday and just left it bare for a day to give the cats time to assimilate to it. Did they ever, as in they:

  • Used it as an obstacle to obscure themselves from one another and chased each other around it. ("Tearing around the Christmas tree/Have a happy holiday ...")
  • Batted the branches.
  • Ate the needles.
  • Played with any boughs that fell off.
  • Lounged on the skirt as if it were a cat bed.
  • Stuck their heads in the water cup for a drink as I tried to water the thing.
  • Sprinted the length of the couch and leapt into the tree before falling to the floor.

That last one was Lenny, doing his best Keifer Sutherland. He did it yesterday, then repeated the stunt today after we'd hung the first round of ornaments, three kinds of plastic orbs we bought at IKEA a few years ago. They're simple, cheap and won't cause us any sadness should we lose any to a feline-related attack.

Sadly, not only do we have no visual or video evidence, but I have not seen either attack directly. Each time, I've been across the room with my head down, only catching a glimpse out of the corner of my eye. I have a feeling, though, that if I sit there and stare at the tree for a few hours, Lenny will deliver. All this from a kitten who's been afraid to go outside when we've strapped the harness on him and held the door wide open. (And then today, while Casey was talking to me as I stood on the porch having shoveled the walkway, he made a break for it, getting his front paws onto the concrete before she corralled him.)

All of this is causing problems, of course. Do we forgo our favorite ornaments this year and simply go with basic decorations that we're willing to sacrifice to the felines? Do we try to put some of our nicer ones on the top half, hoping that the tree remains standing at the least? Do we drastically rearrange the living room, moving the corner section of the couch from next to the tree to the other end, completely ruining the layout for a month but at least removing the closest and most obvious launch pad from within range of the tree? I haven't talked with Casey in a while to see how they've behaved since I left, but this may be a very IKEA -- and Target -- Christmas this year.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fast-forward on the calendar

Where do the days go? How has it been 15 days since my past post? How did I not think it worthy to share some thoughts on the radical change at work, the Mike Doughty show at Joe's Pub, our plans for Thanksgiving, the look back at Thanksgiving, Black Friday in the City, Christmas decorations and house progress? How do the weeks pass so quickly with the basement remaining so unfinished? How did we think we could tile that floor ourselves? How are we going to pay for having someone do it for us? (Actually, that one's easy: continue to not buy things with credit cards, which I've done a pretty good job of the past few weeks.)

Here's how Thanksgiving ended for me. Well, not ended, but at some point between dinner and dessert, I let myself relax a bit while I monitored the site for work. I may try to put in for more of the actual holidays in the future. I think there tends to be a greater chance that less will happen on those days, making for a relatively easy day "on call" than on other days during the holiday breaks.

Ambitious plans for tomorrow. Hopefully I can get my ass out of bed early enough to accomplish them all. No details yet, because then it will look worse if I don't get out of the house.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


I don't have an iPhone, but I can tell you what it can't do. It will NOT get your flight from Chicago to Newark off the ground any sooner. I'm calling bullshit on that one. Newark is my home airport and Chicago is probably the destination to which I fly most often, and when you involve two of the 10 busiest airports in the country, you're not going to be able to go online and look at a satellite image and convince anyone that it's OK to release your plane. Since it's a rather short flight -- not even two hours when you're flying east -- it's also an easy one to hold on the ground when air traffic gets backed up or a weather system moves through either area.

Sorry, Apple, you'll have to do better than that one.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Times may vary

If there's one thing I cannot gauge -- and I'm usually pretty good at gauging things, particularly driving times based on distance and traffic -- it is how much time and effort will be needed to complete a home-improvement project.

This whole homeowning thing remains new, as it will until May. In recent years, I've taken to considering things like jobs and residences new for the first 365 days, until I've spent every part of the year in the new spot. So while we're now learning the nuances of colder weather and keeping heating bills down -- which we never had to do in our seemingly self-heated, second-floor apartments of the previous five years -- we're also learning that things aren't getting done quite as fast as we thought they might.

OK, so maybe the "we" is mostly "me." More than a month after I ripped up the carpet from the stairs leading down to the basement, I finally found the drive to prime the bare wooden steps and install the self-adhesive vinyl tiles. Knowing that another delay could threaten the entire project, we decided to forgo a plywood layer over the wood-stripped steps (essentially rendering any warranty on the tiles invalid). So far, I've only done the steps themselves, not the risers (the vertical part of a step, you know), so they only look good from the top heading down. Coming back up, we're still forced to look at the old, unpainted (or poorly painted) wood. But I'll get to that soon. The tiling still took me two afternoons to accomplish, when I expected to be able to do the entire stairway -- risers included -- in a day.

But this weekend, we accomplished more overall than we had in months, yet still fell short because of one estimate that was way off. On Saturday, we cleared out the finished part of the basement, leaving me with no obstacles as I attempt to try my hand at interior decorating when I install paneling over the faux brick and shingled sections. Plus, the floor is clear for the tiling -- for which we may bite the bullet and hire a contractor, if his estimate is reasonable enough, just so that it will be done by Thanksgiving. We've already bought the bulk of the supplies, so hopefully the bulk of the expenditures are behind us. We shall see.

Today, however, the big outdoor project of clearing away the ivy that surrounds the house on three sides knocked us down a few pegs. Our house, as you can see, essentially sits inside a retaining wall because of its location on a mild slope. With such little space between the foundation and the wall, the previous owners went with ivy instead of grass or another landscaping option. But we're sick of the ivy (and its tendency to cling to the house) and want to mulch the area and put in shrubbery of our own choosing. (So long, rhododendrons; hello, lilac.)

I thought the ivy would come up with some determined pulling, but I forgot those seventh-grade science lessons about how strong roots are. Instead, it took us several hours of straining, cutting, dirt-inhaling work to roll back the ivy like a carpet, Casey doing the pulling and me the cutting -- at some times through some very thick roots -- until we'd rolled everything from the front of the house onto the sidewalk. With the afternoon getting late -- and our muscles aching -- we cleared only the front, and only the above-ground roots and leaves at that. In its place now is a series of bare, leafless roots tangled like strands of Christmas lights out of the box at the start of the season. We still have to clear the front section and pull up the two smaller -- and hopefully more manageable -- areas on either side of the house. What we -- at least I -- naively thought might be a one-day, or at most, one-weekend project will now certainly be a three- or four-day effort.

And we've still got to call the city and find out how to discard the tangled mounds of ivy, because we're not sure if they must be placed in bags (a difficult, if not impossible task) or if placing them at the curb and scheduling pickup will suffice. I'll have to get out tomorrow to take pictures of the front and the piles of ivy for the full effect. Hopefully, once the new landscaping is in place, we'll appreciate our effort.

Nice voice-over work, if you can get it

Movies will often have flashbacks or scene-setting narratives from the past to set up the main plot, but I've never seen one as hokey as what was used for the opening sequence in Space Cowboys: the old scenes featured young, obscure actors portraying the characters that are played by Tommy Lee Jones, Clint Eastwood and James Cromwell -- only they have Jones, Eastwood and Cromwell providing the voices for the young characters. So, in a live-action movie, three iconic, veteran actors are doing voice-over work. It's particularly jarring because all three have such distinctive voices; without looking up from my computer, I knew each of them immediately.

It makes for a strange scene. The look-back is in black-and-white, with young anonymous actors moving their lips to the lines, while the voices of three Oscar-nominated legends are coming out of their mouths. It's like watching some over-dub of a foreign-language film.

And Clint directed this? Jeez.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pumpkin carvations 2007

This year's Halloween pumpkin theme was characters from the Adult Swim cartoon Home Movies. Coach McGuirk, Jason, Melissa and Brendon.

I carved the two on the ends and Casey did those in the middle. I think McGuirk and Melissa are the best ones. Jason lost his eyeballs in the process and Brendon could use a little clearing out of his hair so it shows up a little better, but I'm not going back now.

Here's hoping they survive two nights to make it to our front steps on Wednesday. Then the kids can kick them all they want.

Well, not really, because that'll just make a mess on the walkway.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Another new autumn

The first 17 autumns of my life were spent in one spot, the central suburbs of New Jersey, where we watched the beach clubs close up for the winter and Saturday afternoons became full with football -- whether we were playing ourselves, watching our peers from the high school stands or sitting on the couch in front of a college game on TV.

The next four falls, I lived in South Bend, where the season really took hold of me. After a week or two of sweltering summer heat, someone flipped a switch and the Indiana nights grew cooler, the days more pleasant. I came to realize in the Midwest how the season really assaults the senses. The crisper air and lower light of the sun makes the colors pop, similar to capping a camera lense with an enhancing filter. The washed-out brightness of July and August is gone. As leaves crunch beneath your feet, every walk makes you more aware of where you are and where you're going. And while summer has its own sweet smells, the baking heat rarely benefits those with overactive sweat glands or does anything to help preserve things left out in the sun -- from milk to beer to garbage. But in fall, the scent of decay -- in the form of those damp leaves underfoot -- is a symbol of the season, and in South Bend, the neighborhood around campus often held the smell of leaf piles on fire every weekend into November.

The Saturdays, of course, meant bagels and beer in the morning, a trek to the stadium in the afternoon, and a night of parties. Sunday, as the Lord decreed, was a day of rest and recovery, usually in track pants -- not to mention NFL football and, usually, some sort of course work to catch up on.

After college, I returned to what I knew, in a sense. In covering high school sports for my hometown paper, I once again spent my autumn Saturdays as I had in my youth, at one football field or another -- this time roaming the sidelines enjoying my priviledged view and enjoying the scent of the cleat-torn grass from end zone to end zone.

But since 2002, I've averaged a new dwelling every two years, twice moving in the fall, which is not known as the season of rebirth and new beginnings. I've always thought the opposite, however. My birthday comes in early September, just before the start of every new school year, so to me, autumn marked the next year after the last. Each new home has meant learning the new and wonderful quirks of our new neighborhood. In Edgewater, it was watching the late-afternoon light bathe Manhattan in an amber glow across the Hudson. In Cliffside Park, it was the smell of fireplaces on Inwood Terrace and the scraping of leaf raking up and down the block. Back in Edgewater, at the conglomerate-run apartment complex, it was catching the last glimpse of the groundhogs in the cemetery below and watching the ivy on the abandoned factory turn red, yellow and orange before dying off for the winter.

Now, we're homeowners, and fall brings with it a whole new set of responsibilities. The screens will soon be replaced with storm windows -- a more intensive task downstairs, where the screens come out and some of the storm windows are more easily maneuvered from the outside. The lawn could use one last trim before winter, and eventually we expect to pull up all the ivy and take out the rhodedendrons on the side of the house. Casey wants to plant bulbs for the spring, too. Finishing certain work indoors -- particularly the strip moulding where the walls meet the floors -- takes on new urgency, because we can't schedule insulation installation until those gaps are sealed so that the insulation doesn't blow out into the house.

I woke up this morning colder than I've been in a long time. Our two previous homes were second-floor apartments, drawing heat from below. In the Cliffside apartment on the second floor of a two-family house, we didn't control the heat -- the downstairs residents did. So while we were overheated much of the winter, at least we didn't have to pay for it. In the Edgewater complex, our only windows faced south, keeping the apartment so warm that our preset thermostat rarely kicked in because it fell below even 70 degrees so infrequently. This morning, the reading at the house was 60 degrees, where I'd set the thermostat back in May, and the heat hadn't clicked on yet. I pushed it up to 65 while I ate breakfast, just to give it a run while I was home. I'm sure we'll long for the days it read 60 on its own before long.

The other day, as I sat in the living room with the front windows open, the cats and I were both intrigued by a pop-pop-popping coming from the street. Confused at first, I realized what was up without leaving the couch. As cars pulled up along the curb in front of a neighbor's house, they slowly cracked the acorns that have fallen to the street. Clearly, the squirrels must be grateful for the assist. Perhaps it's an annual rite for them -- a little help in gathering their stores for the winter. For me, it's another subtle change, another new discovery in another autumn beginning.

Friday, September 28, 2007

There's a reason he called it 'Magic'

Maybe it's the limited sleep I've had in the past 30 hours or maybe it's the rough month certain sports teams I follow have had, but there might be a bit of hyperbole in the words that follow. I'm OK with that.

I arrived at Rockefeller Center in a cab at 4:30 a.m., having dallied for a couple extra hours at work rather than sit in line on the sidewalk fighting off sleep with the other fans. They had just started letting the first fans into the plaza -- the very first in line were a few women who had stepped off a plane from Cleveland and arrived at the Rock at 8 a.m. on Thursday. Why tour New York City when you can get to know half a block of 48th Street so well? That's what I always say.

My wait in the line was no more than 15 minutes, and I easily made it into the first section between the studio and Dean & Deluca. Armed with Wes Anderson's new short "Hotel Chevalier" and the pilot of "K-Ville" on my iPod, I settled down alongside one of the barriers to wait.

It wasn't even an hour later when others around me began to stand up, so I paused the 'pod and strained for a look myself. And there, somewhere in front of the colored lights on the curtain backdrop, sat the tiny head of Max Weinberg. The problem with the concerts on the plaza is that the stage -- at least for this show, perhaps because of the size of the E Street Band -- is little more than a riser, a few scant inches above the street. So most of my morning consisted of straining for a glimpse; hoisting my camera and blindly shooting, hoping for something I could crop and enlarge later; and watching the screens in the studio for my best look at Bruce at 6 in the morning. (He wore sunglasses and sounded like he just woke up.)

The five-song rehearsal consisted of "The Promised Land," "Radio Nowhere," "Living in the Future," "My Hometown" and "Long Walk Home." The first number was rough as the band and the technicians worked out the kinks, but beginning with "Radio Nowhere," everything went smoothly and the band sounded as good as it does at 8 p.m. on a performance night.

Those five songs went by quickly, but when I looked at the time, it was 6:45. We were told the on-air performance would be in the 8:30 half-hour, so we had some more time to wait. Again, it went quickly, in part because Bruce and the band showed up again shortly after 8 a.m. and played "The Promised Land" once again -- much more tightly this time. At 8:30, when the live concert portion began, we got "The Promised Land" one more time -- no complaints here -- followed by the next three he'd played earlier. But instead of "Long Walk Home," we got "Night" for the "set" closer. Ironic, and outstanding.

It says something about Bruce and the band in concert that I stood there at 8 a.m., approaching 21 hours since I'd woken up on Thursday, and didn't feel tired, didn't feel hungry, didn't feel sore or achy or weary. Not until 10 a.m., when I started filing out of the plaza, did I feel the pain in my feet, the wobble in my legs. Until then, not a thought of it.

From what we heard off of "Magic" -- "Radio Nowhere," "Living in the Future," "Long Walk Home" and, later, for the 9 a.m. last hour of the show, "Last to Die" -- it sounds like a phenomenal album. The band pours out the songs as a wall of sound, those drums and those guitars sending shockwaves through the pavement so that you feel it from your feet to the ends of your hair. Musically, it may be his best album since "Born To Run," based on the potential conveyed through these four songs he's chosen to reveal to us so far. Rolling Stone gave it five stars.

"Living in the Future," I thought, was bouncy and catchy and seems to carry the heaviest message on the album.

"It's really about what's happening now," he said on-air. "It's kind of about how the things that we love about America are cheaper. The french fries, the Yankees battling Boston, the Bill of Rights, impeachment, motorcycles, Tim Russert's haircut, trans-fats, the Jersey Shore. About how we love all those things the way the womenfolk all love Matt Lauer.

"But over the past six years, we've had to add to the American picture: rendition, illegal wiretapping, voter suppression, no habeus corpus, the neglect of our great city of New Orleans and her people, an attack on the Constitution and the loss of our best young men and women in a tragic war. This is a song about things that shouldn't happen here, happening here.

"And so right now, we plan to do something about it. We plan to sing about it. I know it's early, but it's late. So come and join us."

So that's why he didn't play on "Fox and Friends."

He performed the song solely with microphone in hand, leaving the guitars to Nils and Steven. He looked into the camera, his left hand waving with forefinger and thumb extended the way Kanye West might tomorrow on "Saturday Night Live," singing the words with emotion, punctuating them with his eyes and his gestures.

Exhaustion at last hit me at Penn Station as I waited for the train to Secaucus. On the train home to Clifton, I thought of when and where I'd go on Tuesday to buy the album. The online presale was tempting, but I can't wait for this album to arrive in my mailbox, free lyric booklet or not. I need it in my hands shortly after I wake up, then in my CD player moments later.

It's not easy staying up for 24 consecutive hours, but when the last four go by in a blur of guitar strings, drumsticks and the arms of fist-pumping fans in the air, you don't notice it until your head hits the pillow -- or even hours later, when you finally wake up again, not sure if it's the same day or if it was a spectacular, musical dream.

Make it stop

Friday is all about the music.

Today, that is, considering the time.

I usually relish September. College football begins. Baseball's regular season comes to its thrilling conclusion. Summer humidity turns to Indian summer warmth and the approaching autumn.


This September, Notre Dame has been stagnant -- if that. The Mets have been plummeting. The last two days were in the mid-to-upper 80s and we actually had to use our air conditioner last night. Air conditioning! On September 27!

So today, forget baseball. I'll dawdle at work until 4 a.m. or so, then head up to Rockefeller Center to stake my spot for Today's Friday concert series, featuring Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The schedule worked out nicely -- working Thursday night, off Friday. I'm already in the city with only a few hours to go and no commitments for the rest of the day. Might as well take in the free show, then head home to sleep it off.

The music will be the focus today. And perhaps some catching up with all the TV premieres I've missed this week, once I've slept some. Friday night? Maybe a little West Virginia-South Florida, but no Mets-Marlins, no Phillies-Nationals. I need a break. Maybe, if I don't watch, things will turn back to good. The storm system that moved across Pennsylvania this afternoon and evening was supposed to cool things off around here. Maybe that will bring about the feeling of fall.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chicago, in pictures

I've decided to recount our trip to Chicago last weekend over in the photo blog I don't update nearly enough, so pop on over there if you're interested in our sweltering adventure. It may be a slow, piecemeal process, but it will be better than if I tried to write it all out as one big narrative, which is something that has not worked well with my New Orleans recap or my 2006 30th birthday road trip travelogue, both of which, you may have noticed, do not actually exist.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Four degrees of scheduling separation

The 8 p.m. lineup for TNT, TBS, FX and Spike TV, which reside at channels 51-54 on our cable system, was a blend of Harrison Ford and Sandra Bullock:

TNT: The Fugitive
TBS: Miss Congeniality
FX: Speed
Spike: Patriot Games

In addition, Miss Congeniality was followed by While You Were Sleeping, overlapping The Fugitive by 20 minutes (TBS and its not-bound-by-the-half-hour time blocks), providing a Chicago pairing that connected them as well.

Friday, August 10, 2007

While the wife's away, I'll ... meh

The wife will be away for the weekend, and since I'm working all three nights (which doubles as the reason I'm not going to Connecticut tomorrow), I don't have big plans.

Friday looks like rain, so that will be inside work -- or, more likely, reading. I've also got lots of photos from last weekend in Chicago to sort and upload so that I can write a proper review. Saturday will probably be yard work. The lawn seems to have grown more in the last two weeks than it did in the previous three. Plus, I need to replace the windshield wiper blades on the car -- a springtime task I usually do in March, which is when I bought the replacements and placed them in the trunk, where I noticed them again today.

And if the weather cooperates (read: stays below 90 and 80 percent humidity), I may do some more chores inside the house. Working from home Saturday night will give me the luxury of working right up until 5:30 (if I decide to take a shower) or 6 p.m.

Sunday, though, will be for me as it was for Suzanna Hoffs: fun day. A former online coworker will be in town, so much baseball will be discussed, either from the stands at Shea or the bar stools at Foley's (where I have something in common with Mayor Bloomberg) followed by a subway ride to the Upper East Side.

Such is my life.

** Oh, and I swear there will be new house pics. I've been browsing others' Flickr sites and I'm itching to play more with photos. In addition to the hundreds I have from Chicago.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Beating the heat into submission

Walked down the block from work tonight to pick up a sandwich for dinner, looking into the Starbucks on the corner as I passed. Sitting at one of the tables with his friends was a stupid hipster dork wearing a fuzzy hunting hat at the end of a 95-degree day.

I hope he passed out from heat exhaustion on the way home.

We're stuck in another one of those stretches of hot, humid weather, and tomorrow Casey and I fly off to Chicago for the weekend. Should be fun, but in packing, we each found ourselves torn between feeling like we had to bring enough clothes to have a fresh set for the evening after a day of sweating and feeling like we were packing too much for a four-day trip. We've done Chicago in August, so we know.

The plans while there consist of tomorrow's Mets-Cubs game at Wrigley Field, a nice dinner on Saturday night, and ... more eating and drinking. We haven't really mapped out any other specific sightseeing plans, so we'll play it a little by ear and see what sparks us into action.

Not sure how much sleep I'll get tonight, but I won't sleep on the approach to O'Hare. I love looking down over northern Indiana -- or Lake Michigan, if we come in from the north -- and watching the Chicago coastline come into view, the neighborhoods stretching off as far as we can see into the haze, pools sparkling in the sun. I always look for the landmarks I know -- the Northwestern football stadium if we're up north over Evanston, Wrigley if we're close to the city itself, Miegs Field and Navy Pier if we're south of town (though that's usually only when flying into Midway).

My winter and spring memories of Chicago take me back to college, of two-hour road trips to the city at Christmastime or for a Cubs game on a frigid April day. But Chicago in summer has always meant Casey, and to go there with her is the best way to enjoy it. It's a break we both need, I'm sure, so I look forward to lots of laughing and smiling.

And sweating, I'm sure.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Welcoming the rain to sit down with Harry

As a kid, I enjoyed a rainy summer day every now and then. After weeks of sunshine, sometimes a gray day made the decision of how to spend the daylight hours easier. If there was a movie I wanted to see, a book I was dying to read, a project I was longing to tackle, I welcomed those wet afternoons as an excuse to hole myself up in my room and have some time to myself. It erased any chance of feeling guilty about not going outside to enjoy the sunshine or bike over to the swim club to spend yet another day there with friends.

Today was that kind of day. The rain woke us up a little after six, so I got out of bed to close the windows, and we pulled the comforter up to our necks. We've had pleasant weather of late -- nothing like the 90-degree temperatures and horrendous humidity we've endured recently -- so the cool breezes accompanied by the drumbeat of the rain outside were a welcome variation.

After Casey left, I slept in until 10, awaking to my alarm because I didn't want to let too much of the day get away. My plans were simple: pour some cereal and crack open the seventh Harry Potter book. Casey finished it on Sunday -- nine hours of consciousness after she'd first opened it -- leaving it to me for the rest of the week. I decided to divide my day up by reading for a few hours, then taking a break and painting the one exposed wall inside the newly finished closet to cover any plaster and sheetrock dust that may have lingered. Having lunch -- and watching Entourage -- followed, but then it was back to the book for another hour before I got in the shower and came to work.

Were it not for the rainy day, I may have been tempted elsewhere. I should get out and run a few miles this week, but the constant, sometimes heavy, rain nixed that option today. No, today was made for one of two sloth-like activities: reading or couch potatoing.

With 36 chapters and an epilogue in the book, I figured I can knock it out in four segments, reading nine chapters at a time. With the Potter books, it's better to divide it into chapters, even though so many of them end as cliffhangers. I made it through the first nine chapters in the first sitting, but my afternoon session -- including the commute to work -- provided enough time only to get through five of the next nine. I was hoping to knock out 18 chapters today, then finish it tomorrow before the Mets game. There's still a chance I can do that -- and I'll use my break to set up the closet -- but it will take some diligence on my part, because I'm not going to lug the book with me to Shea Stadium, so I lose the option to read on the train into the city. Worst case, though, I'll get to about 30 chapters, meaning I can finish the series on Wednesday morning.

I love how the Harry Potter books come out in the summer. They take me back to those grade-school days when my friends and I would sign up for the summer reading club at the library -- and Matt would kick my ass, plowing through books much faster than I ever did. He still flies through them, devouring Stephen King tomes in days, if not hours. Were I to read those -- I'm just not into them -- they'd take weeks, I'm sure.

And though this is the last of the Harry Potter books, I'm dying to get through it, both so that I'm not spoiled and also so I can discuss it with Casey and others. I'm not worried about the end of the series -- I can always go back and start them again, my retention of even moderate details is so minimal -- I'm just excited for the conclusion.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

With a few weeks to go, revisiting the list

A couple of years ago -- about 975 days ago, give or take a few -- I put together one of those 101 things to do in 1001 days lists that some blogger/diarist friends of mine had compiled. I haven't updated it since January 2006, since moving to this URL, and I've got only a couple of weeks left.

Herewith, an update of where I am and where I'll likely get before Aug. 9.

1. Visit at least three of the nine states I’ve yet to visit: Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Idaho, Alaska. Took care of this last May, when my college roommate, Bryan, and I met in Denver and took a road trip through Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, with a due east detour into Nebraska from Cheyenne on our way back to Denver, just because it was there. That leaves me with Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Alaska.

2. Tour Monticello. I just loved touring it on my college visit to UVA back in '93 and I wanted to go back. Not going to happen.

3. Pay off my student loans. Ooh, so close. Was about to do it in March, but then our accountant called. The taxes we owed almost equalled what's left on my loans.

4. Buy a home? Done and done. Wow. I'm actually quite surprised I did manage to cross this one off. Of course, I should've been more careful in making this list. I should have realized that accomplishing this one would make several others unattainable.

5. Visit Europe for the first time. Not this year, not with house expenses and whatnot.

6. Gaze upon the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. See previous.

7. Lose 15-20 pounds. I dropped about 10 at the high point of my diligent exercise stretch, and I average about 5-8 pounds less than what I weighed when I came up with this one. If I stay consistent with it, I could probably get 15 under by the ninth, but that would mean running about every other day. I should work on two in a row or two out of three before I dream any bigger.

8. Complete a 5 or 10K road race. There were talks with a coworker about entering a 5K at Shea Stadium, but I haven't heard anything lately, and I think the race is next Sunday -- when I have to work at noon. Highly unlikely.

9. Write the memoir idea I have, if only for myself. It remains merely an idea.

10. Take a time-lapse photograph of the night sky (star trails). I haven't traveled to any places dark enough in a long, long time.

11. Attend a Space Shuttle launch. Haven't been back since Grandma(-in-law) moved to Pennsylvania, and won't get there for the next launch on Aug. 7.

12. Go to a summer baseball game in Wrigley Field when the ivy’s grown in. Friday, Aug. 3, Mets at Cubs. We have tickets -- plane and game -- so it gets the strikethrough.

13. Enjoy the sunrise (preferably after an enjoyable night staying up with friends, partying). I took some photos of the New York skyline from Edgewater.

14. Attend the UCLA-Notre Dame game in South Bend in 2006 with the California girls (as well as the games at UCLA and Penn State in 2007, but those fall outside the 1001 days). Notre Dame 20, UCLA 17. Amazing finish, with Brady Quinn finding Jeff Samardzija open for a 15-yard reception in the final minute, and Samardzija taking it hte final 45 yards to the end zone for the game-winner. Good thing the other games fall outside the 1,001 days, because I'm not making either.

15. Lower my cholesterol. (I have a number, but I’d rather keep that to myself.) Taken care of.

16. Watch every DVD -- movies, TV season sets, all of them -- we own at least once. It’s starting to get embarrassing. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

17. Attend a high-profile annual sporting event such as the Kentucky Derby (or the Preakness or Belmont Stakes, I suppose), the Indy 500, the Rose Bowl, the U.S. (Tennis) Open or the World Series. Regrettably, I never made the tennis Open when I had the chance, either year.

18. Hit the trifecta. Doesn't count when I merely tell my mom the three horses I want to play in the Kentucky Derby before she goes to the track the morning of the race to place the bets. I enjoy a day at the races, but I just never put it at the top of the list when planning an afternoon outing.

19. Check off three more major league ballparks from my list (eligible: Toronto, Tampa Bay (ugh), Miami, Minnesota, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, Anaheim, Oakland, Texas, Milwaukee, San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado and both Washington stadiums (one down, April 14, 2005), if the new one is open by August 9, 2007). Made it to San Francisco, San Diego and RFK Stadium in Washington.

20. Take Casey out on the town in New York and spend the night in a nice hotel. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary this way.

21. Start a photo blog. Done 2/24/05. Was done early, so early that when I did the last update, I was marking off completion dates.

22. Get a new job. Did it a couple of months after the last update, and thoroughly love it.

23. Continue our tradition -- two years of each now -- of hosting Super Bowl parties at our apartment and summer barbecue parties at my parents’ house near the Shore. We've not missed a Super Bowl party in four years, I believe, and the summer barbecues have morphed into gatherings at our new house, so that's good enough for me.

24. See local Jersey Shore bar band Brian Kirk and the Jirks perform live again. It was our last outing to a Hoboken bar before New Jersey's smoking ban went into effect, and we didn't stay past the band's break because of the smoke. Live at New Jersey bars is so much better now.

25. Read 33 unread books I currently own (November 2004 to July 2007 is 33 months), particularly the biographies of Joe DiMaggio and Theodore Roosevelt and Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs. HA! Nowhere near this one. I've probably read a total of 10 so far, though Harry Potter 7 will be begun tomorrow and finished Tuesday or Wednesday. For the record, here's what I'd written in January '06: 1. Friday Night Lights finished Dec. 29, 2004. 2. Holidays On Ice finished Jan. 2, 2005. 3. The Best American Travel Writing 2003 finished Feb. 8, 2005. 4. Sweet Land Stories finished sometime in May 2005, but I forgot to mark it down. 5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince finished in personal-record time on July 18, 2005. 6. Keeping the Faith finished November 2005. I also mentioned Kerouac's Desolation Angels at the time, and I know I finished that.

26. Establish a workout routine and stick with it for one month (with the idea that reaching one month will put me in enough of a routine to continue it beyond that point). Done March 2005. I've fallen off, but I've found it easier to get started again since, particularly this year as opposed to winter 2005-06, when I stopped before the wedding the previous fall and didn't start up again until spring '06.

27. Attend a taping of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I've decided to employ creative license here. Last August, we went to "Revenge of the Book Eaters" at the Beacon Theater, where Jon Stewart and read from America: The Book and John Hodgeman MC'd (I believe). The point was to see Stewart live, so that was done. As much as I love Demetri Martin, I don't think we're going to make it this year.

28. Attend a performance of A Prairie Home Companion when it comes to New York. Done 12/3/05 We met up with a friend afterwards and told her we'd gone to see it and she said, "It's out already?" She was referring to the movie, which was in production, but not released. But no, we saw the radio show.

29. Go on one of those really cheap time-share pitch trips for the really cheap vacation. Good idea, poor planning, because we never really discussed it. So I guess that's more than poor planning.

30. Throw or attend a Halloween party -- costumes required. Done 10/29/05. We went as pirates (I was of the Pittsburgh Pirates) and had a good time.

31. Go gambling in Atlantic City … Early June, went to Atlantic City for a bachelor party. Gambled a little -- so I only lost a little.

32. … then take the winnings to Vegas. Didn't get there.

33. Throw or attend a Christmas party. If I wasn't working on Wednesday and we went to the Jackals game -- "Christmas In July" -- I'd probably count it. Not going to make it, though.

34. Attend a movie’s world premiere in New York. Wishful thinking.

35. Go see a movie I really want to see on its national opening (we used to do this all the time, but now I can’t remember the last one I saw the day it opened. Maybe Dogma.) Done 12/9/04. Done several times over.

36. Make the perfect homemade Chipwich -- homemade cookies, homemade ice cream, though I’ll concede store bought chocolate chips. Done sometime in 2005. And again back in June.

37. Have a photo shown in an exhibition. Maybe if I'd entered any. Actually, scratch that. A travel website just asked to use one of my photos for a page on RFK Stadium in D.C., and I've also had a few shots used at work. And none of them pay, so they're like exhibitions.

38. Have a story I pitched accepted and run in a magazine (even New Jersey Monthly will do) or The New York Times. Some may say this is cheating, but I think it's just tweaking. The original intent is still there: Pitch an idea and have it published. I did this at work earlier this year.

39. See a game at all of New Jersey’s eight minor-league ballparks in a span of eight days. Couldn't make this happen, and I've still yet to get to Camden. Taking a job that has me working evenings made it difficult -- and unforseen at the time the list was made -- so if I can get to Camden before the deadline, this one will also be amended and crossed off.

40. Change the oil in my car myself. Even if it’s with Dave’s help. I had grand plans for doing a lot of house renovations on my own, but I've since found that I prefer temporary poverty in the form of credit card balances instead.

41. Have my car detailed, at least by Dave. Did this last year as a belated 100,000-mile milestone gift to myself and the Grand Am. It's also needed a wash for a few weeks now, but I never remember to jump when we have three or four days clear of rain.

42. Have the scratches on the rear bumper eliminated. Done 1/12/05 Didn't even have to pay for it, after someone rear-ended me and her insurance paid for it.

43. Buy a new car. No need. Not sure why I bothered putting it down.

44. Sell stuff on eBay. That would be something. Anything. I’ve bought, I’ve sold on, but I haven’t used eBay as I’ve envisioned myself doing. Done 2/21/05. It can be fun. Haven't done anything in a while, though some old fixtures in the house might bring in some dough.

45. Eat at Serendipity 3. Also amended, to the Spotted Pig. They're both now movie (or TV) famous and overrun with tourists, so they're similar enough. And we don't really talk about going to either anymore.

46. Watch the New York City Marathon live, preferably from Central Park. Had fun with this one last year.

47. Rent a convertible for a week, even if it’s just at home. Done 9/25/05-10/2/05. Good times.

48. Get myself a real tan (I haven’t gotten out enough in recent summers). Pshaw. I don't spend enough time outside without my shirt on.

49. Continue the tradition: attend baseball’s opening day, either at Shea Stadium or (the possibility next year) Washington. Haven't missed one.

50. Get the Stuckey Bowl neon “K” lighted. Could've been an easy one to do, but just haven't done it.

51. Frame the rolled up prints that remain to be framed. Done 1/17/06. I marked it as done because we'd filled up our wall space in the apartment. Now, in the house, we have nothing on any wall, and won't for another few weeks. So even though there remain prints to be framed, we have no plans yet to get them up, so there's no point in doing it -- or in putting this item back into play.

52. Explore the cemetery next to our building and research the history of some of the names. Done summer 2005. We walked through and explored a little, and I did look up the cemetery on Find A Grave. I also read through the Images of America Edgewater book, so that counts a little, too.

53. Spot a celebrity in New York City. (Why does everyone see them but me?) Done 12/3/05. I counted this one for Michael Stipe, but I've since spotted Bruce Springsteen and Ethan Hawke. There may be one or two others that have slipped my mind.

54. Take down Paul in the fantasy baseball and football leagues. I didn't win the baseball league, but neither did he, and I played a part in dethroning him. Last year, though, I did defeat him in the playoffs of our fantasy football league, so that really counts.

55. Cover a professional sporting event again. Done 9/10/05. Sure, it was the minor leagues, but it was professional. And one of the players on the Trenton Thunder I talked to that day has had a pretty good weekend.

56. Go camping. We're just not the outdoorsy people I once thought I was.

57. Hike more of New Jersey’s 74 miles of the Appalachian Trail. (I’ve done about seven miles so far.) I said it 19 months ago, and it still applies: I should have just stopped at the first two words, since I haven't even done those yet.

58. Make headway on the Kerouac research I’ve dabbled with. Hardly.

59. Visit every museum on Washington’s National Mall. Would've been nice, but I'm not going to even fudge this one.

60. Establish some sort of recycling program at the office. (The paper we throw away is horrifying.) I've since left the company, but we also have adjusted our day-to-day consumption, so in a very vague, general way, I've taken steps in this direction.

61. Gaze through a telescope at the moon and other planets. It's like I was 12 when I wrote this list.

62. Take the train somewhere. Hey, I commute by it, and a few weeks ago, we took it down to a friend's house when we easily could have driven. Not the "somewhere" I imagined, but then, I didn't put any restrictions on where "somewhere" might be.

63. Fly first class. Again. Didn't get to make this happen. Unless we get upgraded to Chicago somehow.

64. Others have mentioned it, but it’s a good idea: pay the yearly maximum into my IRA. Nah. In fact, I withdrew from it for the house.

65. Spend time in the wilderness with Walker. Hell, just spending time with Walker was nice.

66. Set up a train set around the Christmas tree. It was such a cheap, shameful train set, but I did set it up last year. Then I "donated" it to the children's playroom at the apartment complex before we moved. As in: I left it there.

67. Finish -- correctly -- The New York Times crossword puzzle. Any day of the week. Unless I can do one of these Monday ones online, I'm not going to get there.

68. Draw again. I don't think I've attempted this.

69. Paint again. Painting was never a big hobby of mine, so I don't know why I thought it would be something I'd be gung-ho for in a span of 1,001 days.

70. Go sledding. I'm not sure I've done any outdoor winter activities in years.

71. Toast Jack Kerouac on his birthday with a drink at the White Horse. Never been that beatnik enough.

72. Meet Bruce Springsteen. Done 1/14/06. Outstanding.

73. Spend a summer day at Coney Island. I went for a Cyclones game last summer that turned into a 20-something inning affair. I didn't stay that long, but I was at Coney Island for a summer day.

74. Attend every game of the Big East men’s basketball tournament. Done 3/12/05. More than enough basketball, but still glad I did it.

75. Go skiing. See No. 70.

76. Re-learn to drive stick. I'm sure Dave would be happy to show me, but we've never discussed it.

77. Go roller-blading. At least I know where they are ...

78. Visit Alcatraz. Done 9/30/05. Still a fond memory.

79. Find someone who will play a game of Monopoly with me. No one will play with me.

80. Win a game of Trivial Pursuit solo. Don't play it enough.

81. Hike the trails of the Palisades in New Jersey. Lived so close for two and a half years, yet rarely got there.

82. Sleep past noon. Done 1/1/06. And happens much more often now that I work nights.

83. Drive 100 mph (safely). You'll recall that I said I've been to Montana.

84. Watch a basketball game from courtside seats. Never made it to any local high school games, which is what it would've required to do this one.

85. Go a week without drinking a Coke. Done in early 2005. And I've since cut way back on my consuption overall.

86. Devise a great April Fool’s prank. Done 1/1/05. Good for a laugh.

87. Go on a tour of ESPN’s studios in Connecticut. I could easily do this one, now that I know a few people who work there -- one of whom is a pretty significant contributor -- but I never think of it.

88. Watch a game from the recliners at the ESPNZone. Who was I kidding? There are better -- and cheaper -- places to watch a game.

89. Take the NBC Studios tour at Rockefeller Center. I was really stretching here at No. 89.

90. Go a day without turning on the television. (Baby steps here.) Easy. Has happened several times now with the house and tasks and other things distracting me.

91. Go a day without turning on the computer. Happened after we moved and didn't have internet right away. And I'm pretty sure at least one of those days was a day off from work, when I have to turn on the computer anyway.

92. Go a week without turning on the Xbox. Done in December 2004 when I went from a Wednesday to the following Wednesday without turning it on. Not only that, but it hasn't been on since we moved in May. Once the basement is finished, though, if not before...

93. Take advantage of Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day every April 27th. Technicality. Free cone day isn't always the 27th of April. It's always a Tuesday though. And I missed one, but whatever. Crossed off.

94. Last one full week without buying any meals. Completed 1/9/05; no meals bought since dinner on 1/1/05. I should employ this one more often.

95. Visit Ellis Island. I'd still love to, but haven't tried.

96. Go bodysurfing. Ibid.

97. Send all my Christmas cards by December 10th. I believe I did this one last year.

98. Reread some American classics, such as The Catcher In The Rye. If I could, I'd have taken the loosest interpretation of "some" to mean "one," but I haven't even done that.

99. Photograph Times Square at night. Eh.

100. Learn the official nicknames of all the states. I'm a dork.

101. Start a second list on August 10, 2007. I may start a second list, but I won't fill it out completely. I think, if I'm going to try this little experiment again, I need to vary the options more and make sure that there aren't any too similar or that accomplishing one doesn't directly affect another, as buying the house did with traveling to Europe.

For those of you scoring at home, that's 51 down -- just more than half -- with 18 days to go. So, 51 in 983. I have 50 in 18 remaining. Such terrible planning. Or, at least, execution.

Better luck next time.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Get me to the beach on time

Groomsmen and the groom
Originally uploaded by DC Products

Among my friends, I'd consider LJ and Brad to be the two who, like me, are drawn to the road. We love to pull out the map, plot a route and get behind the wheel. The drive, as they say, is as important as the final destination, and the three of us have each spent significant time in a car -- by ourselves or with others -- not just getting from Point A to Point B (or Point Pleasant), but finding out what awaited us along the way.

Two weeks ago, the three of us spearheaded LJ's bachelor party. OK, Brad organized the whole thing; I simply offered some help and suggestions and then drove down to Camden on Saturday morning to meet them at LJ's apartment. From there, we got in my car for the drive to Atlantic City. I followed LJ's directions out of town and we stopped for sandwiches at a Wawa on Route 40. The plan was to take the road across New Jersey's southern rump to A.C., until Brad -- ever curious about the road ahead -- pulled an atlas from the seat-back pocket in front of him and made an important observation.

"Hey, LJ, Route 40 doesn't turn into the Atlantic City Expressway," he said. "That's a different road a few miles south of us."

So we made the adjustment and cruised east to the shore. But that's not the point of this post. The key is that it turned out to be rather appropriate that on the occasion of LJ's wedding last weekend, Casey and I were forced to alter our arrangements on the fly -- because fly we could not.

We met at the Newark Airport station on the NJ Transit rail line and took the monorail to the airport, getting through security way before our 9:15 p.m. flight to Norfolk. I'd printed our boarding passes online and left work in time to make a train that got to the airport at 6:20. We were through security by 6:45 and took a swing past our gate to check on the status before getting some dinner. A half-hour delay to 9:50 seemed reasonable, because we figured the airport was bogged down by the remains of Tropical Storm Barry that had been heading up the Atlantic coast during the week.

Not to dwell on the minutiae -- because I swore (at myself, mostly) through the whole ordeal Friday night that I wouldn't write about this, not wanting to remember the hassle -- but after rejecting two bars because the menus weren't extensive enough, having dinner and returning to the gate to find the flight delayed now until 10:30, though our plane was now en route from Montreal. That's when I realized that the problem wasn't so much with weather down south; it was more with weather everywhere, and Newark was stuck in one of its painful backlogs.

Over the years, I've managed to be rather lucky with flying out of Newark. Even when there have been extensive delays, my flights have always seemed to board and push back from the gate within an hour of the original scheduled departure time. Sure, de-icing and taxi-way delays sometimes pushed takeoff back another 30 to 60 minutes, but we always took off -- and many, if not all, of those winter-weather trips tended to land in warmer climates.

This is when I started to wonder if my time for a hellish travel experience had finally come.

We were moved at 9:45 to another gate, though that transfer came with an earlier departure time of 10:10. Things were looking up. Briefly.

Once on the plane, the head of the cabin crew announced, "Welcome to Continental flight 2085 with service to Norfolk, Virginia ... we hope."

"We hope?" someone behind me said. "That doesn't sound promising."

Minutes later, the captain came on and cleared up the flight attendant's comment -- which was unfortunately accurate. Not only was there a taxi-way delay of about 30 minutes, but the cockpit crew was coming up on the FAA-imposed limit on how long they could be on duty. Basically, we had 42 minutes to get airborne in order to reach Norfolk before the pilots' 15-hour day was up.

Twenty minutes later, we hadn't moved. A storm had moved in over Washington and no flights were leaving Newark heading south, especially not those -- like ours -- on smaller planes that only get up to about 22,000 feet, which was our expected cruising altitude. The pilots negotiated with the tower to keep us at the gate -- some planes, he said, had been sitting on the tarmac for nearly four hours, having left their gates but not gotten airborne and now stuck without an open gate to return to in order to deplane the passengers. Moments later, the pilot returned to tell us that the flight was canceled.

"I guess we're driving," Casey said.

Driving had been one of the options we considered when we found out I could not get Friday off to make it down to North Carolina's Outer Banks in time for the rehearsal dinner. The schedule just wouldn't allow it, so we decided to take the 9:15 flight to Norfolk, rent a car, then drive the final 90 miles to Kitty Hawk. Cruising the lone road, a four-lane North Carolina highway, at midnight would be better than doing it on a Saturday morning in the summer. Driving the whole way from New Jersey after work was an option, too, but not one that was seriously considered. "We're too old to drive nine hours through the middle of the night," we reasoned.

That one came back to bite us in the ass.

The most painful part of the night -- the one I'll try to forget as much as I can after writing this -- was the traffic and the less-than-fully-competent cab driver who combined to turn a 25-minute ride home into an hour-long ordeal. Nonetheless, we were backing out of the driveway at 12:55 a.m.

I took the first leg, setting the cruise control for 75 and cutting through the New Jersey darkness down the Garden State Parkway to the Turnpike and over the Delaware Memorial Bridge -- Del. Mem. Br. on the signs -- glancing to the east at the lights of the refineries far off on the Delaware shore. Casey slept as best she could in the first two hours, and by 4:30, we were crossing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge into Virginia, having only stopped to fill the gas tank in Maryland. I pushed on for nearly another hour, reaching Fredricksburg, Virginia, around 5:20, where a 24-hour McDonald's provided us with our breakfast stop.

Casey took over from there as the sun came up to our left and I put the passenger's seat down and slept as much as I could for the next two hours. I awoke for Norfolk, dozed again after crossing the harbor, then pulled myself upright for good when we left the interstate for the state highways leading south to Carolina.

At 9:15, we pulled into the parking lot of the Hilton Garden Inn, our reservation waiting for us, a night lost but a chance to check in right away, rather than at 4 p.m. (Not that we could've rented the room for only one night, since two nights was the minimum and the reduced rate applied only to Friday and Saturday.)

Their moment on the beach
Originally uploaded by DC Products
Having driven through the night with the air conditioning on -- the colder air to help us stay awake behind the wheel -- the warmth of the North Carolina morning was refreshing, but we still brought our bags up to the room, brushed our teeth, and crawled under the covers for a three-hour nap. By 1 p.m., I met up with Brad and LJ and we gathered our tuxedos and made our way up the peninsula to get ready for the evening's ceremony. (Let me add, too, that the Men's Wearhouse rental tux held up very well. On Thursday night, we rolled the whole garment bag up to put into a Container Store bag with handles to make it easier to lug on the train and through the airport. After getting home, I laid it out on the back seat of the car, but it didn't hang until we checked into the hotel, and then only for three hours. Barely a wrinkle to be seen.)

The ceremony on the beach was beautiful. El looked like a movie star when she appeared at the steps atop the dune to come down to the sand. The wind and the pounding waves made it hard to hear the officiant, and I was just four groomsmen and the groom away from her. Guests in the back rows of the chairs on the beach must've merely made up their own words to the service. Families that had remained on the beach past 5 p.m. watched the whole thing and clapped when LJ took El in his arms, dipped her and planted a kiss.

The wedding party stayed behind another hour for photos on the beach as the sun fell lower in the west. Casey and Nicole made their way to the cocktail hour, gorging themselves on the hors d oeuvres that we'd only hear tales of after they'd had their fill. Once we'd made our way to the country club, we ate and drank and danced -- and drank -- until midnight, Brad fulfilling his pledge to hand his car keys to Casey, only to get them back, having finished only a few drinks in the five hours we were there. He left the reception for extended periods twice to go over his toast outside, curtailing his imbibing enough to remain sober.

For the time being. On the way back to the hotel, he, Casey and I stopped at the Food Lion for a 12-pack of Yuengling and two bags of chips. Despite our travel ordeal, the fact that I spent nearly 23 of 24 hours awake from 7 a.m. Friday to almost 6 a.m. Saturday and that we'd had only three uninterrupted hours and five to six hours, total, of sleep in the past 44, Casey and I joined Brad in his room, knocking back lagers on the balcony, chowing down on Utz and Cape Cod potato chips and shooting the shit until 3 a.m. We also outdid ourselves with the beer -- we got 12, figuring six was too little and 12 might be too much, but since we both had cars, we could take any extras with us. There were no extras.

In the end, it turned into a memorable and enjoyable trip. LJ, Brad and I spent a lot of time talking, drinking, laughing and enjoying ourselves during the two weekends. While both excursions were the kind of visits I tend to step back from even while in the intoxicated moment and think, "These are the good times," I didn't find myself doing that at the time.

Yet recalling it now, and earlier during this past week, I think that I knew that all along. I might not have said it out loud, or even consciously thought it to myself, but I did take stock of those nights and place them among the highlights, the greatest hits of my college and "real-life" days and nights. And, perhaps most pleasantly of all, I felt that there are more days to come. Sure, we're all married and Brad's expecting his second child any day now, but with Washington and New Jersey so close -- and with five Major League ballparks in or between the two cities, not to mention numerous minor-league venues -- we shouldn't find it too hard to pick one day a year where we turn down all other invites, rearrange any other potential plans and make sure we catch up over a few beers and burgers.

We're nine years removed from college now, but there are still times when we catch up that it seems like a lot less than that. Good job by us.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Doing the 9 to 5, then flying

Newark across the Meadowlands was hazy this morning, foreshadowing the heat and humidity forecast for today. For that reason -- and the fact that I was wearing pants and dragging a suitcase to work -- made me glad I was on a train at 8 a.m. and on my way to work.

Having the schedule I do -- varying, some nights, some weekends -- is nice when I want to spend a nice day outside or wear shorts to work on a hot, muggy day. But because we have to fly to Norfolk and drive to the Outer Banks tonight, I got the day shift. And that's what had me on the 7:53 Main Line to Hoboken, transferring at Secaucus, and arriving at Penn Station at 8:30.

The day's gone fast and they're even letting me out early -- I'll pretty much post this, shut down, and head out -- so it will be a nice, leisurely commute from the city to Newark Airport. The train may be crowded, but at least I don't have to worry about finding a seat (I've been sitting all day) or rush to make a flight. We take off at 9:15, so we should be able to sit down for a decent -- if overpriced -- dinner, and if I can get an hour or 45 minutes of sleep on the plane, I'll be good for the 90-minute or two-our drive down to Kitty Hawk.

Matt's wedding is on the beach tomorrow evening. Here's hoping the ocean breezes are blowing, that the sky is blue and a few hours in a tux doesn't cause any of us to pass out. And life at home is starting to settle itself out. We're more at home there now, so maybe I'll find myself more inclined to post something new more than every three weeks.

Monday, May 14, 2007

When seeing isn't believing

Sometimes, you can look straight at something and still not believe you're seeing it.

Yesterday, driving along winding Navesink River Road in Middletown, New Jersey, on a sunny but cool and breezy Mother's Day, I took note of the blue vintage Corvette convertible we passed heading the other way. It's a car you'd notice anywhere, a beautifully preserved classic on a day made for a Sunday drive.

Attracted by the car, I only slightly noticed the driver, and it wasn't until I took another glance in the rear-view mirror that I remembered I know Bruce Springsteen has a vintage Corvette convertible. And though I didn't get a good look at the driver, I at least knew I couldn't say for certain that it wasn't Bruce Springsteen behind the wheel. A middle-aged man with dark facial hair and a bandana on his head. There was a passenger with him who wasn't his wife, because I would've noticed the red hair of Patti Scalfia, but it very well could've been one of his children.

But when I mentioned all this to Casey, she brought up a good point that raised some doubt. "Would he really have a license plate that obvious?" she asked. "It said, 'ROCKER.'"

She had a point there. Why would a celebrity that huge in the quiet suburbs of central New Jersey draw that much attention to himself on the road?

But then again, the Corvette isn't his everyday car. It's his weekend ride, his only-on-a-sunny-day plaything. If he's not going to be driving it that often, then why not have a little fun with the license plate?

So I can't say for certain that it was a second sighting, but I'm confident enough to tell people, "I think I saw Bruce Springsteen the other day."

But when your mind thinks it knows enough to try to overrule your eyes, you just find yourself suspended in an inner debate, staring off into the distance while your gaze locks in, attempting to convince you that you are actually seeing what you're seeing.

Today, that scenario played out at the car wash while I waited for the attendants to wash the windows and wipe it dry after the wash. "Look," one of them said to another, pointing across the street to a playground complex. There, another 50 yards or so from the fence along the road, a couple lay in the grass enjoying the warm afternoon -- enjoying it much more than any of us.

The guy lay flat on his back on a slight slope beside the tennis court and behind some bushes that shielded them from the road on the other side. His girlfriend straddled him, a provocative but otherwise not offensive position when they're both clothed and enjoying a little playtime on the playground. But the fact that she continually bounced and gyrated on him, regularly reaching back to pull her skirt down because it kept riding up and revealing her ass clearly meant that this was no dry hump.

Half a dozen car wash attendants kept one eye on the coital couple while wiping down dashboards and windshields, pointing it out with smiles of disbelieve to each of us waiting for our cards. "Stupid, no?" one asked me.

Even though everyone around me was convinced he was watching a late-night Cinemax movie live and long-distance, I stood there much less assured. Sure, they were concealed from anyone approaching them from the far side (his right, her left), but those of us 75 yards away across the street and on the other side of the chain-link fence -- not to mention every car, including the police cruiser that passed at one point, on the four-lane road -- had a clear view obstructed only by any individual eyesight issues we might possess.

So did I see a true afternoon delight in broad daylight on a New Jersey afternoon? The evidence sure seems to support it, but my mind wasn't going to be so easily convinced.

Monday, May 07, 2007

We're in

Saturday's move went well. We're in. All our stuff is there. It's a mess, but it's there.

We're exhausted, even two days later. When we're home, we're focusing all our free time on cleaning up stuff, unpacking boxes, moving things to their respective rooms (or at least floors). It's an ongoing process.

Perhaps a full update will come later this week or this weekend. Don't have the time or energy for it now (more the latter), and I'm not working the next two days, so no computer access. But the good thing about no internet at home is I have fewer distractions, which means I should be able to clean more these next two days and soon we'll have the place in photographing condition.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Wishing ahead

I just want it to be Sunday already.

I'm as excited for this move as I've ever been for any move, but I can't take the nonstop hustle, the need to do five things at once, in about three different places, with no end in sight until Saturday evening, when we'll only have one place.

Our apartment is a mess -- both because it's in various stages of packing and because there are places where we're just like, "Well, we're moving -- what's the point?" That throws me off. I'm out of my routine. I'm used to sleeping until I can't sleep anymore, hitting the treadmill in the gym, then having breakfast while I watch last night's DVRed shows. Only I'm falling behind on the DVRed shows, to the point where I think I'm going to have to do all the painting I can tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday so that I can spend Friday at home packing while I exhaust the DVR queue.

I'm also down on myself, kicking myself mentally -- and soon physically -- because I lagged too long on setting up our new cable and internet and therefore couldn't get an installation date until six days after we move in. I think that nearly had me sleeping on the couch when I told Casey the bad news. The fortunate thing was that she'd be away for two of the days, limiting the impact on her, and that the only things we watch regularly on cable right now are The Sopranos and Entourage, meaning we'd only miss an episode of each.

However, when I called today to check up on the order, they found it wasn't in the system. Turns out I'd put in the new street address, but our soon-to-be-former town and ZIP code. So when they found out that there was no Clifton Boulevard in Edgewater, they canceled the order. (Nevermind that they never called to tell me any of this.) And now we're stuck with a later installation date, May 16 instead of the 11th (which I haven't broken to Casey yet). And because this all took 45 minutes of back-and-forth and hold music (about 15 minutes' worth), I was on the bus on the way to work when it was finally solved and, therefore, I couldn't really protest the later date. I may try to argue that point tomorrow.

So for the first 11 days in our new home, we'll be back to the days of VCR timers and juggling video cassettes. Fun times. I don't know if I can go two weeks with out The Sopranos, or if Casey will talk to me if she misses two Entourage episodes in a row, so rather than wait until our cable is hooked up and we jump right to HBO On Demand, I may have my parents tape them and make use of the Postal Service.

But we're getting Verizon's FIOS service, which intrigues me. The cable package is better than anything Time Warner (or current monopoly provider) or Cablevision (the monopoly holder in our new county) would provide on its basic tier, but I refuse to use either of those companies ever again. Well, I've never used Cablevision, but they're horrible, arrogant owners of the Knicks and Madison Square Garden (not that I like the Knicks) and pulled some dirty tricks to thwart the West Side Stadium that would've moved the Jets to Manhattan and provided a stadium for an New York Olympic bid in 2012 (not that I wanted any of that to happen).

So let's just hope that FIOS is worth it, and that it's easy enough to set up Casey's computer, because I'm not paying them 60 bucks for the second computer setup. But the new fun fact I learned about FIOS today is that, with the enhanced DVR box, we can record shows on one box, but then watch them on either of our other two TVs that have the standard box, in addition to the TV with the DVR box. That beats having to get a second DVR box.

Oy. I'm just ready to move. Two and a half years ago, we couldn't wait to get out of our old place, both because the reasons it sucked far outweighed the reasons we liked it and because the new place had so much going for it. This time, there are things that are harder to leave -- the fitness center, the parking garage, the groundhogs -- despite all the good things about where we're going.

I'm sure, over the next few days, my feelings will drift more toward the "ready to leave" side of the scale, particularly as we check off more rooms from the painting list.

Starting tomorrow, earlier than I'd particularly care for.