Monday, September 24, 2007

Floor, meet wall. Wall, floor.

"Bring it back," an assertive woman said to me last year, standing in our new dining room. She was pointing at the ugly open wound between the brand-new, raggedly planked edge of the floor and the wall. Pale flourescent light from the cellar glimmered through the opening, and the stairs were visible if you cared to look.

She didn't care to. "You can leave the rest of it out there, but bring back the one piece that went along here," she said. So I went back out to the nail-studded debris pile beside the garage and selected "DR#10," the length of beaten, squat, hammer-marked and pry-bar splintered shitty pine that had formerly been the baseboard in that spot. I placed it back into its old location, where it handily blocked the view. Even stunted, beaten and ugly, it improved the room a little. But I wouldn't bring back its kin; no, I knew that in short order we would have new baseboards. I agreed because for the next few weeks -- just until the new baseboards were in -- I wanted my wife to be able to eat in the same room as the unfinished work without having to peer into the cellar, down near where the snakes live.

Yes, we'd get those new baseboards, just as soon as we got a leeetle extra cash together and then whoops we had another baby a month after moving in.

1.25 years pass. I think in that time I may've mentioned baseboards in this space. So you'll understand if my celebration of the matter seems out of proportion to the ease of the task, but I can say today, without fear of hyperbole, that THE NEW BASEBOARDS, INSTALLED TODAY, HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE. Ring the bells, ye givers-of-a-shit-about-the-baseboards, because that glorious day long foretold but oft scoffed at -- and even ofter ignored completely -- has finally arrived and I don't know about you but we are now complete beings here, as complete as the rooms in which our new, clean, tall baseboards stand proudly on the floor and hug the walls in a slow, slow dance.

That is to say, we look better, but we still need to be painted.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Crossing that bridge (when I come to it)

If there's one thing that can make you think about your place in the universe, and also death, and also your very own, inevitable (but far off! we hope!) death, it's...take a guess what I'm going to say. Okay, don't guess. Commuting.

Specifically, this week a deck-truss bridge I cross every day, as mentioned earlier, was found to have cracks in its underbits, serious enough that they needed to be fixed immediately. Another bridge of this type recently fell into the Mississippi River. Mine, a lovely red (not rusty, but more like a burgundy color) arch, crosses the Popolopen Creek Gorge. Narrower than the Mississippi. But a longer drop.

The state decided not to close the bridge, and I decided that bridge collapses are pretty rare and that the fear of death was a dumb reason to add thirty minutes to my commute, and I've been crossing it since. In fact, I stopped yesterday, crossed back over, got out, and took that picture from it (scroll down). Because it won't fall.

But every time I drive over it, guess what I think about. Okay, don't guess. Collapsing.


Whew. Almost forgot.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Addicted to your health

I probably never would have noticed this post's Big Observation if I hadn't gone to Florida. See, there, last year, I had gone to Eckerd's drugstore, as one does, for some children's Tylenol and maps and Vitamin C. And I saw something for sale that stopped me for a split second because it was unfamiliar. Up near the front there was a little display of corncob pipes.

"That's odd," I thought. "Corncob pipes!" And then I thought "wow, even weirder, smoking paraphrenalia in a drugstore. Only in Florida!" Shaking my head, I turned to pay and noticed the entire wall of cigarettes behind the cash registers. The same wall I'd seen one million times before, oh, right, THAT wall.

Well. A few weeks ago I had occasion to take a stroll around a northeastern CVS to see just how well these drugstores are covering their bases.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hey Honey! We're in the Paper!

"The only deck-truss bridge in New York that came through the recent spate of special inspections wearing a red flag is right here in Orange County — the Route 9W bridge over Popolopen Creek."

How about that? Right here in Orange County! Our own little bridge is famous! Isn't that something!? And don't forget the other one, with its yellow flag! Why that one's not far off, either! But Creamery Bridge Road can't compare to the Popolopen Creek bridge, no way. I mean, that's the one I cross twice a day, five days a week. The one over the deep, narrow gorge. The one wearing a brand-new, bright and snappy red flag.

Famous! You go, bridge!

Lopsides & Friends

Last year around this time I saw a young whitetail buck with mismatched antlers standing in my backyard. He looked brazen. So I went out there to see what he'd do, When Animals Attack fresh in my mind.

Sure enough, he gave me the fish eye, then pawed the ground. He didn't look nervous. I charged, teeth bared, my trusty hunting knife held fast in my hand, eyes fixed upon the white patch at the base of the beast's throat eased back into the house.

Last week, I pulled in to the driveway from work, got out, and had an eerie feeling. I spun and there was Lopsides, with the same cold stare, about fifteen feet behind me. His antlers were still velvety, so he wasn't quite in fighting trim. He gave an insolent little snort and walked very casually into the woods.

The other day I saw him wandering in the park, and went out with the camera. He was with the ladies, and tried to draw me off, or outflank me, or something. I took his picture.

You may have the yard, Lopsides. But I've got your soul.

Written 9/11/06

The day was diamond-clear, warm where there was sun and cool where there wasn't. No clouds. That was then, and that was today too. This morning my route took me onto a boat across the river, facing into the sun where it rose over the mountain. On the far shore, I entered my train and we followed the waterway south.

The hijackers had done this too; from the north this river is a signpost to the metropolis at its mouth. It gave the city life with its downward flow and betrayed it by revealing its location to its enemies that day. They navigated by its winding path and sped over its waters to strike.

My watch revealed that I would arrive at the station at the same moment the first plane reached its target, and as I looked at landmarks passing, I could only imagine the jetliners coursing over the wavelets on that clear day. Past the nuke plant. Over the bridges. Through the highlands. Despoilers.

Stepping off the train at the terminal I heard an announcement that it was 8:46. Traffic slowed and stopped. A hush fell. A minute. Mostly silent, mostly still, we stood. Reflected. Waited, perhaps, for the next beat of that fell drum. Missed people. Missed the innocent tides and clear waters of that diamondlike morning which seems so long ago now.

And the minute passed, and we went on into our city.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Look out, goats, I'm on the move

Each day my commute takes me over something we apparently call the "Goat Trail," a snaky portion of NYS Route 6 that bounds its way around Anthony's Nose and south above the east bank of the Hudson, rising and falling and lurpling and slappelling (those are specific types of curving manoeuvres) as it heads down toward Peekskill. I was surprised to note that everyone calls it the Goat Trail—when I tell people from around here that I work in Westchester, they all ask whether I take the Tappan Zee or the Goat Trail.

I take, of course, the Goat Trail.

Had I known that my eventual route was to be called the Goat Trail, I would have quit my job in New York much earlier and just started commuting over it anyway, with the job as a secondary consideration.

Someone else's photo. That's the Goat Trail to the right of the bridge, blarkling up the mountain:

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Hyper...smiling LOL

There's a geeky new craze hitting the highways, and it's called hypermiling. While others race to consume their rightful share of the world's remaining oil—because any gas not used in an SUV on its way to someplace important is just a waste—there are a bunch of guys (mostly) on the roads wearing pocket protectors and accelerating slowly, allowing a cushion of space to grow between themselves and the car in front of them, and chuckling ruefully at the unenlightened rubes in the other lanes who continue to convert their precious gasoline kilocalories into heat via the brakes, while the nempimaniacs themselves coast along smoothly on their own inertia, arriving at jams just as they magically dissolve.

I've long been a believer in the "don't stop" school of driving, trying to defuse highway volume congestion by maintaining a painfully slow crawl instead of closing every forward gap, then jerking to a stop. And when I recently took up my new driving commute, I did a little searching online and found some resources about conserving gas while behind the wheel.

Naturally, I donned my lab coat and goggles, got into the beater, and put some of these techniques into practice. And I've realized that hypermiling has been around for decades under another name: "Driving slowly."


Remember when I said I didn't like to use tools? Or dig in my precious bedrock? That's changed.

Also when I said that things just happen? Your someday/maybes are getting done even now?


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

"Time passes through our eyes this morning."

It's the first first day of school since Mike Levine passed away; around here, his column on that subject came out as regularly as the buses, button-down shirts, and hastily spit-cleaned faces. It's as perfect a piece of work as was ever written.

Our son starts kindergarten tomorrow; while you can allow in nostalgia and attach significance to every event—or to none at all—a day like this reminds you that nothing is yours to keep.

Monday, September 3, 2007


We're hiking on Storm King Mountain. Below, in the town at its foot, the fire alarm sounds; its long piercing siren floating up through the woods and over the shoulders of the hill. Half a second later, a coyote chorus answers, somewhere not far below the trail we're on.

We hike down sorta quiet-like.