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.