Sunday, December 30, 2007


There's no graceful way to say this, but Exurbitude is a year old today. While that's only a drop in the bucket that barely makes a flash in the pan, I know that, similar to adult sea turtles, for every blog you see there are 1,200 that didn't survive. I'm pleased to be one that made it safely to the sargassum.

In that analogy, dear readers, you are the sargassum.

As of January we'll have lived outside of New York for half as long as we lived inside of New York, and neither of us works there anymore, so it's a little hard to continue the pretense that this is a blog about leaving New York. The idea was that I felt so much an outsider at the auction house -- a non-wealthy, non-art-history-major who barely knew anyone famous -- that my evolving country life stood out in even starker contrast to the city lifestyle I practiced at work. This was exemplified one night last May when I got home from a Contemporary art auction attended by Jay-Z and Toby Maguire, my tie loosened and my suit jacket over one shoulder, having had some champagne and taken a hired car home, to find the front door covered an inch deep in a throbbing mass of insects that had been attracted to the porch light. I went around the back into the dark and used that door instead.

But that's behind me now. From here on out, it's all bugs.

Therefore, in the coming year, you might expect more stories about living in the region where we live, and how the economics of that lifestyle work out for a professional couple with two kids, and how bad air plays a role in that lifestyle, and how regional development and the expansion of our nearby airport and the scattered train service and increasingly congested roads and poor water planning and density planning affect that lifestyle. Since I've got a few readers in New York City (hi gang!), I'll always look for the amusing contrasts (none of you own these, do you?), and I'll never stop angling for my friends to move here and buy knee boots and keep us company (as long as you settle in established towns and don't build anything), so I'll continue to post pictures of how pretty it is.

Feed Me
I have one desire for this blog, and it is a lowly, base wish shared by 112 million of my pals, at last count: readership. (Quality? Usefulness? Beauty? Ha!) I would institute a badge program for the hundred or so people who check in here semi-regularly -- so that by recruiting readers you can become an Exurban Scout, Pioneer, Ranger, etc., and whoever gets me the largest number of readers could eventually have the URL and write the thing him or her self, sending me the royalty checks -- except that I can't afford badges and who would administer the program and there are no royalty checks. Why do I persist with the Google ads, way down there on the left side, you ask? Who knows? To date they've amassed something like nine dollars, but I don't see Penny One until I hit twenty. They're not elegant, more often than not they're off topic, and the likelihood that they'll reap riches one day is slim. But I could use twenty bucks.

So bring your friends! Put Exurbitude in your blogroll! Talk about my blog at cocktail parties! Use the little mail-to-a-friend link! And thanks for reading; I've had a good year writing for you and me both.

I Beg Your Indulgence: A Few Posts from Exurbitude's First Year That Deserve Greater Scrutiny
  • I know I scoffed at the concept of usefulness before, but I do have some hope that the Ex-Urban Shopping List might actually prove useful to someone, somewhere. So lurkers, comment there! It'll be fun.
  • My antlered shark painting hasn't had a nibble since I put it on eBay, where some Philistine asked "how much for just the frame," if you can believe that. I would HATE to throw that painting away. Please to buy it; we can talk price.
  • If you know anyone who knows anyone who keeps goats, I'm curious about that.
  • And if you're looking for the bio, here are some posts that'll give you the general idea. Going Small | Weight Watchers | Back on Track

Friday, December 28, 2007

Impspulse Control

They say you should never go shopping when you're hungry, and I say you should never make large, hard-to-retract decisions during the holiday season. Or on a Sunday night. That's when the hunger is there, for me -- nothing but devils on my shoulders and an additional small one on my head having Cheetos, all of them suggesting new life paths, new detours, Big Changes. None of them looking at a spreadsheet with monthly expenses on it or this year's healthcare spending or the Ten Year Vision or any such thing.

No, they're more likely to be trading ideas about opening a brewery or visiting the Arctic or finishing a novel--and not just FINISHING a novel, but sitting down tomorrow and doing NOTHING ELSE until it's done. And I would believe them, it would be Art, it would be me following my passion, except that the devils only come visit when nothing else seems like a good idea. Where are they when I'm having my raisin bran before work, or while I'm paying the bills or getting the kids up in the morning? They're not around then, when convincing me would take effort, take commitment. They're the worst kind of foul-weather friends--the kind who goad you into breaking something the day after you get dumped and who drive away when the cops come, or who cheer you up with vodka but only till your money runs out.

So instead of listening to that kind of horseshit, I'm spending an hour a day before work assembling a glass sphere, copper tubing, electrodes, a bait pan and a bamboo cage hung from a silver wire to create a trap for the little fuckers. And every holiday season and every Sunday night I'm going to hang it near the cat box and put a few Deferred Hopes and Momentary Discomforts into the bait pan and wait. When one of the little red guys flits down onto that soggy mass, ZAP.

Once I've stunned a few and have the cage full, into the river they'll go, and I can go back to methodically finishing my writing projects.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I Miss the Time to Read Magazines

Dropped my sister off at the ferry this morning so she could catch the train back to the city.

Enjoy that grinding sound!

Monday, December 24, 2007

And the bells...

Are ringing out for Christmas Day. A celebrating atheist's best wishes of the season to you, friends.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Finding Room

One enters our house into a 9' x 16' room we call the parlor, for it is where we keep the piano. We also keep the washer and dryer there, in a closet along one side. Because that's where they fit.

And although we both sort of sighed about that -- a house too small for a laundry room -- it is a very convenient location for laundry, not being stuck down in a cellar. The closet has a sliding door that hides the unsightliness, there are cabinets above, the machines are super-quiet, and you don't have to be sequestered to wash the clothes and can keep an eye on the kids, if they're about. So let's just shhh about the laundry, then. It's the parlor.

Like most rooms in our house, it does triple duty, so it's also the entry foyer, with a rack of coathooks artfully hidden behind the door and a shoe rack underneath it, piled with thousands of boots, work shoes, running shoes, hats and gloves. The hooks periodically swell with an unsightly mass of coats; this week we instituted the If It Wasn't Worn this Week, Put It in the Back Closet Rule. There are two armchairs just inside, which, although designed to accommodate the human form, are typically occupied by briefcases, backpacks, coats and coat parts, purses, tote bags full of necessaries, and books. No different from your house, of course.

This room's primary characteristic is that it is not a space for socialization. You don't Go there; you either pass through or you do laundry. We do keep the stickers in a secretary bookcase there, as well, so you might stop in when you require an adhesive-backed Parasaurolophus to shut someone up reward someone for good behavior. Otherwise, it's a way station, despite the chairs, despite our sense that space is at such a premium that we should make this room usable, desirable, worthy of attention.

To add injury to the insult of the room's uselessness, in the fall we had an Incident. Back then I crowed in this space about the installation of new baseboard moldings, an event that had been awaited since we moved in a year earlier and removed the old ones to allow the laying of new floors. And more recently I alluded to the fact that, during that process, a contractor drove two really thin nails directly into one of the radiator pipes in the wall. No problem, until you add cold weather, the heat goes on all night, the pipe expands, radiator water pours out into the wall and seeps into the (new) floors and subfloor and sheet rock and insulation and eventually pours down the outside of the foundation, which is when you notice it.

Part of the process that followed involved removal of the lower half of the sheetrock wall and insulation in the parlor. The wall behind the piano, half gone. The wall you face as you enter. And so it will remain until we get the scratch together to fix it up. (The contractor's insurance will pay, but we'll pay first. And yes, I could learn, but it would be my first one, and it would be ugly, and it would be prominent.) We're not in despair over this, precisely, but there it is, half a wall missing, just as you enter, sigh.

This weekend we invited some locals over for afternoon eggnog, so we snugged the piano up against that wall, performed precise calculations to dim and redirect the lights, put two large portraits of our kids on the extant half of the wall, and assumed that the room's standard traffic flow would prevail and that no one would see the exposed studs and electrical conduit as they headed for the dining room.

What was funny, though, was that on entering, people subconsciously hesitated a second to process the two portraits...they slowed, and lingered in there, and even stepped back into the parlor after settling their coat and getting a drink...a switch had flipped, and the room's energy was now curiously social. As the party wound down a couple of hours later, it gravitated toward the parlor. A couple of people sat in the chairs (relieved of their household burdens for the occasion). Our friend and his daughter began playing the piano. We went in there. After the last guests left, we sat down in the chairs ourselves, until two other neighbors came over with a bottle of wine, and our smaller party found itself seated entirely in the parlor for another hour.

Maybe it was the exposed wall letting something in. Maybe we subconsciously steered people into our unused social space. Who knows? Our parlor made music and laughter last night. Missing sheet rock or no, we keep growing into this little place, finding that its modest boundaries hold more than we noticed at first glance.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Delightful Tension Between Leisure and Productivity

Today will be my last day of work for a week; the first Christmas week I've taken off in years, if ever. I know the cycle, of course, from my other vacations: three days to get used to it, two days to enjoy it, three days to fret, a final day to panic, and then--whew!--you're back. Made it!

Of course, like a night when you turn in early so you can feel refreshed--but which messes with your circadian rhythms so that you wake for two hours in the middle of it--you come back more tired than before and a little lost, as though you never learned how to properly vacate, and now you'll have to wait till March or July for one more chance to get it right.

(That sentence reminds me of "As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly when they meet with an obstacle mount to the sky so up to the house-top the coursers they flew, with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too." But who cares? 'Tis the season!)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

She'll Need to Buy Some Doats, Though

There's a kid in my town who wants a goat (Capra aegagrus hircus). (A kid who wants a goat -- you see how that works? Comedy, that's how. Anyway.) There's a prohibition on livestock in the village, but she's petitioned the board and they've patted her on the head and commended her enthusiasm and so far said no. But in their relative wisdom, they've asked her to return with more research on the impact of goats on neighbors (as she reported in her initial letter to the village board, a goat is fairly quiet, emitting only the occasional "maa") and have floated the idea of licensing goats in the village--which I for one think is a capital idea. Despite the possibility of attracting coyotes and bears and wolverines and chupacabras.

I've wanted a goat for centuries, of course, and planned to get one as soon as I could ditch the job and build a fence. (Oh, I've got the fence in mind, and it is a doozy, let me tell you. I would be proud of that fence. Not like the last one. Nosir.) And then, I guess, sell pictures of the goat on eBay for a living.

Goats eat poison ivy. That there is enough reason, I think, to have one.

Anyway, the family? Of the kid who wants the goat? We're the rubes who bought their scrappy little floodable house when we moved to town. Day One, I thought -- but didn't tell the openminded but practical woman who bought it with me -- oh, right by the shed is a perfect spot for a goat pen. A house like this attracts that kind, I guess. And that's all right with me.

All you goatherds--can you help this young girl get her goat? What can a goat's neighbors expect? Besides the dread undead vampiric beasts that will come to feed on its "maa"-emitting corpse? The comments await.

Monday, December 17, 2007

New Words for Snow

not sleet, precisely, but simultaneous snow and rain


snain after it has collected four inches deep upon the ground (up to four inches, it is known as chofe)

ice pellets the precise size and shape of kosher salt


snain or clasmerak that starts falling in earnest each time you leave your house


the solid sheet of ice-that-was-snow that now covers your lawn/driveway/front walk


solid lumps of ice that was snow yesterday when you shoveled it onto the lawn and which you now use to climb your lawn, which has turned into scrujge overnight


individual chunks of scoil that have frozen onto pavement that break your toe when you kick them


the sheets of frozen clasmerak that fly off trucks on the Tappan Zee


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Where It All Goes

(Start from the bottom)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ding-a-Clang-a-Lang-Ling Ding

It's possible we had the only cowbell in the neighborhood, growing up, but I wouldn't swear to it. This was a brown old thing, copper or brass, I suppose, that had the look of actually having been worn by a cow. Perhaps a cow in Queens, from whence my People came to this tree-lined swath of suburbia.

There were five of us kids, and at dusk (if we were lucky, and she was home from work), Mom would lean out the door and shake the thing vigorously. Its clapper would sound the country call. Chowtime! Grub's rustled! Come n' git it! There's nothing quite like a cowbell in the hands of a cook. Certainly not on a cow, where it has an almost elegant restraint, a single melodic donk every once in a while. Or in a country-rock song, where it introduces itself most bodaciously to set a certain formal tone and then departs until the next break. No, a cook has a deadline and needs to communicate urgency over distance. Git it while it's hot! I don't care where y'are, get on home! This thing would pop and clang and hit wooden notes and create a sort of Appalachian jazz chaos. You could hear it a good way off. And not just you. But your neighbors. Your friends. Your enemies. The ones who Wouldn't Understand.

I don't know if we were the only family with a cowbell, but I do know that we were the only ones to get summoned for supper by one, like ranch hands or farm laborers, maybe loggers up in a forested camp. Play would cease (although to be honest, we ate later than everyone else, so we might have been loitering out there kicking a ball around just waiting for the bell) and we would rush back to the house from five different points, salivary glands firing madly, Pavlovian cues as deep-seated as those instilled in any laboratory.

So we were mildly embarrassed by the cowbell, but it meant something else, as well. It was Mom calling us home to get some good food and to bask in the family. It was kind of like the opening bell in a boxing match, too; five kids don't switch from running around outside to sitting down to table without punching one another a few times. I know it's seared into my memory, and I'm sure it is for the other four. One lasting effect, interestingly, is that I get hungry during marathons and at your more commercial country shows.

I like to think now that the other kids envied us. THEIR Moms would lean out, sure, but they'd just yell in Brooklynese for "all a yiz" to "get in heeh."

We had a BELL.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Great Reveal

It seems very long ago—a long, long time ago—that I wrote of the Big Concealment, and now we've come again to the Great Reveal. When the bones of the land are laid bare, and the first snowfalls limn (come ON, you've got to love "limn") earth's contours. You can see your neighbor's house and the smoke from his chimney, but it doesn't make you want to move, à la Daniel, it makes you want to split wood and twist newspaper and make a fire your own self, settle in with a book.

The fog lifts from the highlands in the morning and as it does you can see through the trees at the edge of the road, across the river, to the rocks on the hills on the far bank etched in snow.

In the afternoon, of course, it's all hid, because the time's all screwy. And also the windows at the coffee shop down the street steam up. On Fridays there's live music there and open mic nights and poetry and steamed milk, and all that humanity clumping up turns the thing into a single soft white lightbulb, electric and steamy as you drive past, home.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A dream you dream together

1995 — I'd never been to the Dakota before, but the woman I had just begun dating loaned me Jack Finney's Time and Again, and I became curious about the building. We met at a bookstore on the upper west side, had dinner, and walked with coffee down to 72nd Street. We talked on the corner outside the building.

Traffic pulsed by on Central Park West, silencing itself with the red lights. During one such lull, I heard the sound of distant singing.

Sergeant Pepper's Lonely
Sergeant Pepper's Lonely
Sergeant Pepper's Lonely

...and the cars started up a again. She hadn't heard.

The next red light, she heard it too. It was coming from the park. It sounded like a crowd. Dark, in there. I persuaded her in.

The full moon shone on a gaggle of hippies with guitars strung around Strawberry Fields, joined by scores of people holding candles and singing. It was October 9th— John's birthday, someone told us. We sang for a couple of hours. And I walked her home thirty or so blocks and at her door she kissed me for the first time. And John sang on our wedding song.

He demanded a lot of people, did John Lennon, and it's hard to measure up. But reading him, hearing his words when he was on topic, you want to measure up. I guess the least we can do is remember what he eventually wanted to be remembered for.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

If You Worked Here, You'd Be Home By Now

I've been leaving work late a lot recently, for some reason, and this allows me to take the shorter way home. Ordinarily the shorter route is slower, though, because it's so popular. When I leave late, however, it becomes the shorter and much quicker route home, because the traffic has dried up and it's got nice, wide, slick pavement and no traffic lights.

Once, during the college years, my roommate and I had driven down to Long Island from our upstate campus, and were preparing to head back up. We didn't know the best route, and asked my father and brother. Before doing so, my roommate had said "I can't stand it when people tell you how to get someplace based on the time of day." I knew what he meant: "Well, you'll want to take the Cross Island to the--hold on, what is it, three o'clock? Oh, screw that. What you do is you go up the Meadowbrook, THEN cut west on the Northern. It'll be, what, three thirty-five, three-forty when you get up there, I guess. So...that should be okay. Tell you what, you get to exit 21 and it's still before four, just take the damn thing." So we asked, and it was like that.

My point is this. If I leave at PRECISELY the right time, I will arrive home before I leave work. New goal!

Monday, December 3, 2007

What Do You Do, After You Blogged All Month?

Next Actions
Apparently a lot of other people were writing novels last month. That sounds nice. I have a couple of other writing projects to sew up, and then I'm starting me one of those. Rather, working on one I started for NaNoWriMo two years ago.

Wafer Thin
This morning was the traditional First Scraping, as our cars were coated in the most delicate thin layers of the hardest ice. Like something made by Italian craftsmen on a little island someplace, this ice. So thin, in fact, that I discovered a new part of the car. The part where, when you scrape some ice and a beautiful, dinner-plate-sized micro-thin sheet of it slides oh-so-delicately down the outside of the window and disappears into the door; the part where you hear it shatter with a glasslike tinkle into a thousand little wet slivers. That part. My car has one.

Cold, Cold Ground
I ran a little down Baltimore way this past weekend, on a wide-open one-mile loop in a park with no trees and lots of frost on the ground. It was extremely bright, and around the loop here and there I could see other people out walking and running. Our breath made little lambs of steam that romped together in the sunlight.