Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Today's Menu

I found this daily program from my QE2 voyage at the end of The ship brought me home, but in exchange, I had to buy new clothes and give a lecture on my year-long round-the-world trip. Okay, they didn't say that I HAD to buy new clothes, but the person I was dealing with thought it was probably a good idea given that I'd worn the same few things for for about six months. (I had a different same few things for the first half of the year and had refitted in Berlin in June.)

I had walking pneumonia with added phlegm benefits, but somehow delivered a lecture successful enough to be repeated on a loop on the ship's video system for the next 24 hours. Total strangers kept walking up to me and giving me their opinion of my escapades.

"Bet they don't have laundromats like this in Uzbekistan," said a man in the laundry room.

"That was the most extemporaneous lecture I've ever seen," said a man in the hallway. I had to look up extemporaneous later.

"What a great step for women's lib," said two women at a cocktail party.

But the oddest was this (bear in mind that I was 35 years old at the time):

"That was a very impressive trip. I mean, in some ways, I think you're a naive little girl who took a lot of risks. Your parents must have been worried sick. But what an impressive trip."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Didn't It Used to Cost More?

Being freelance for so many years made me super-cautious with money. Why drop off laundry when I could do it myself? Why go for a manicure when I own a perfectly good nail file? Why pay a contractor thousands of dollars to repair something when Home Depot is open and I have this-here Internet thingy?

I'm still cheap even though I have a job now. I always visit the woman handing out free samples in front of the pretzel shop on my way home from the PATH. My first choice in dining is still the Cuban restaurant with its $6 roasted chicken, plantains, rice and beans (especially on ropa vieja night). Though there is a new food truck in town, this one selling Indian food for $6.99, and that could test my allegiance.

But I'm not just cheap--I am also lazy. Lazy Marie sometimes trumps Cheap Marie. Lazy Marie pays someone to file and paint her nails. Lazy Marie drops off her sheets and towels at the laundromat (but usually pays for this in fabric-softener allergies as well as in money). Lazy Marie grabs a salad at BASIC on the way home from work even though all she needs to buy are the greens to make goat cheese and walnut salad.

Tonight, I had an internal battle as I left the office. My legs were approaching honorary wookie status. Would Cheap Marie find the inner patience to shave them in the morning? Or would Lazy Marie just go to a salon where a smiling young woman would speak a foreign language while ripping the wookie-hair out by the roots, using hot wax and strips of cloth?

I agonized. Spend or save? Cheap or lazy? It's not that hard to find time to take a bath rather than a shower.

Lazy Marie won. Half-leg wax. Ripped wookie hair glued to strips. Stinging calves. Smiling, happy woman asking questions I don't understand while I give her answers she doesn't understand.

Cheap Marie quivered as she approached the cashier.


Oh. And then all the Maries got together and had a good laugh at herself.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Caye Caulker, 1999

In October, 1999, I was in Guatemala taking Spanish lessons. But I wanted to see Caye Caulker—an island in Belize—before I went back home.

"Want to go to Belize?" I'd asked Yancey this a few months ago when planning my trip. He'd agreed, but only on the condition that he could fly in. He knew I was taking the bus from Antigua, and then catching the local ferry. His knees and butt still hadn't forgotten the hellish service taxi ride in Jordan from the past summer. He'd ended up super-cranky with me and the way I travel. Understandably so. The ride was bad enough to make it onto the radio on a Savvy Travel piece on bad taxi rides.

Yancey's method of transport is in the photo below. My ride from the Guatemalan border was a rickety bus.

We got a cabana on the beach for a few dollars a night. The bathroom wall only extended about 3/4 of the way up the cabana wall, which was uncomfortable for us as we knew each other well but not that well. And it rained most of our trip. But neither of us got sick while scuba diving, which was a first.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

One Percent's Not Much, Is it?


That's the cost of the 2001 truck accident in Ethiopia. Or at least that's the cost of my bill at the Khartoum Hilton, which I checked into during a delirium that might have been walking pneumonia, except I was vomiting. I don't think walking pneumonia makes you vomit. I assume I was susceptible to other illnesses since my breathing was impaired due to the cracked rib and bruises.

I'm going through my receipts for the class action lawsuit against Visa and Mastercard foreign charges for 1996-2006. If I took the easy way out, I'd get $25 back. But given that I was overseas for more than 30 months since 2001, I might be better off filing with specific amounts and specific account numbers.

I shredded the financial records for years before this, which means I don't have the records for two months of Southeast Asia travel in 2000, a tourist trip to Egypt and Jordan in 1999, a week in Guatemala in 1999, three months from Kathmandu to Damascus in 1998, a month or so in Hong Kong and New Zealand in 1997, and a month in Central America in 1996. But that's okay. I have evidence of the big years.

As I've gone through my papers, I remembered that I could use the ATMs in South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, and Kenya to directly access my home bank account. Zimbabwe too, I think, but you wouldn't want to do that due to currency rates. In Botswana, Zambia, and Uganda, I had to use my VISA for the ATM. Some places don't even accept Mastercard.

The debate has been raging now for some time about the best way to take your money overseas. Foreign transaction ATM fees have risen sharply in the last few years, eroding the advantages of using local ATMs. For me, the best way is now to use Citibank ATMs with my Citibank ATM card, thus avoiding fees altogether. I've read on a lot of sites that I should get a Capital One VISA for times when the ATM card doesn't work, as it supposedly has no fees attached other than the exchange rate, which is always slightly inflated in the bank's favor (for all transactions).

For extended trips, I've always taken several hundred dollars US cash in new bills, my ATM card, a VISA card with a four-digit PIN number, and some emergency traveler's checks. I always carry my American Express card too, along with a few personal checks. In a pinch, some local Amex offices will cash your personal check so long as you're a cardholder. I've used Amex offices to receive mail too. Not all of them still do this. And no, I don't wear a money belt or a neck pouch (bulky, uncomfortable, and muggers are well aware of these), though I do send all my receipt scans and account numbers to my own e-mail address.

In the next few weeks, I'll finish adding up my totals for 2001-2006. I'm eligible for a one to three percent rebate. Let's see if it turns out to be worth the energy I've put into it. If nothing else, looking at financial transactions from places like Shanghai, Denpasar, and Bangkok has made me nostalgic, instantly transporting me to another place.

It makes me want to go somewhere instead of to work on the PATH train.

But where?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Day Job

My day job is on the Frontline website again. It's a little unsettling to watch discussions of the cultural divides we are trying to navigate through. Sometimes I get caught up in the minutia of getting the books out the door and forget about the bigger picture. Which is just as well as it's mind-boggling.

You can watch the newest video here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

As we all know, Roberta has won a fellowship to paint for a month in Vermont.

Which is great. Yay Ro! But it also means she needs to find a tenant to stay in her condo for the entire month of April. I left my place empty this past time when I went to Egypt, but that was out of laziness. It's never a good idea to leave your apartment empty. All kinds of horrible things can happen. Water heaters can burst. Dust bunnies can grow to the size of the television. Silverfish can take over.

Ro lives three doors down from my old place, on an incredible old-school block full of chatty stoop-sitting neighbors. I always say Ro should run for mayor, since she knows everyone on the block. She even knows the postal carrier's name. The neighborly old Italian woman across the street bakes scones and meals for Roberta, whether she likes it or not.

So Ro needs to find someone to sublet. Anyone interested? E-mail me. Includes all bills (Internet, basic cable, electricity, gas), $1600 a month, and it's about 650 square feet. The style is railroad--long and skinny. It's renovated, but retains some of its character. Third (top) floor walkup on the north side of the street, so lots of morning sun. The walk to the subway door on the PATH train is 1,000 Marie-steps, and the PATH takes 7 minutes to Greenwich Village or World Trade Center stop.

Plus you get to have me as your landlord, since Ro will be out of town.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oopsy Part 2

I had all my old, wet, lime-encrusted faucet parts in pieces, sealed into Zip-Loc bags. I held them up now, comparing them to the pieces on display in the plumbing aisle at the Holland Tunnel Home Depot.

That looks right. But I've been fooled before. Another lesson learned from Turbo: Don't rush. Study the display at Home Depot. Piece it all together in your head. Yeah, that's got to be the part.

A Home Depot employee wandered by, a tall, thin man, fiftiesh, with white hair and a matching moustache. I looked hopefully at him but he stared straight ahead and refused to meet my eyes. He made a beeline for a male shopper down the aisle. Eh?

I went back to my studies, and a younger Home Depot employee approached me. "How can I help you?"

"I'm trying to figure out if these are the right parts."

He held them up. "Yes, but let's make sure." He pulled out a box cutter, opened the package, and peered at the connecters. He even took my foul old pieces out of the Zip-Loc and made sure they fit. The white-haired man approached us. He looked at the other employee, not at me.

"They let you out of Electric, did they? Those parts are right." He picked up the metal sleeve.

"This is the key. The lock with this is the key to making it all fit together."


Weird. Mr. White-Hair was addressing me, but through a third party. The young guy from Electric nodded patiently. I thanked him, self checked-out (totally forgetting I also needed a new toolbox), and drove home.

It all fit together beautifully. I used my wrench to tighten everything and turned on the water.

And proceeded to flood the bathroom with jetting water. I rushed to turn off the water. As I threw every towel in the house down on the floor, I found the pieces, blasted all over.

I went back to Home Depot and this time bought new springs, new rubber washers, an O-ring, and a toolbox. I put it all together slightly differently this time. The new springs created a tension that hadn't existed before. The sleeve locked it all together.

I turned the water back on. I closed the shower curtain this time-duh-and gently turned on the faucet.


Monday, January 21, 2008


Since I moved in, the shower/tub plumbing has made a horrible, intermittent noise. A screeching. A squeal. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! Back in the old days of renting, I would probably have ignored it.

But as a veteran of two condo renovations, I couldn't leave it alone. This screech happened in my last place too. It was buildup in the shower head. I replaced it and the screech went away.

I'm an all-right plumber. In my last place, I repiped the setup under the kitchen sink after it fell apart one day (carefully following Al Huckabee's e-mail instructions), then added in a ventilation valve to stop the glub glub glub. Later, I managed to replace the bathroom vanity/sink all by my lonesome. Last time we'd been in Home Depot, a shopper in the plumbing aisle had asked Kraiger for help and he'd sent them to me. "Maybe she knows."

How hard could it be to stop a little screech? I bought a home repair book for a dollar at the used book sale at the church down the street.

First I changed the shower head. Still screeching. Then I replaced the spout. It looked much newer and nicer afterwards, but still screeched. I consulted the book. It showed me how to remove the plate and handle setup in order to replace the ball cartridge inside. This ball was turned by me turning the handle. Depending on where I move the handle, the ball lets in more or less cold or hot water, or no water at all in the Off position. The picture showed how there was no external water on/off switch for the bath, the way there is for the sink or the toilet. There are screws you turn behind the plate. These cut off the water.

Maybe they do somewhere. But not here. I knew this lesson. I learned it when Turbo renovated my last place. In buildings that are over a hundred years old, nothing is ever quite as it should be.

I dismantled the whole setup and peered behind the tile. No water cutoffs. And I didn't know of one to the entire apartment. Maybe it was in the basement. Who knows? I put the whole thing back together and resolved to tolerate the screeching until I had more time to study it.

And then it started leaking. Not like dripdripdrip, but a steady stream. Crap. I couldn't just let it leak. What if it was leaking inside the wall too? Where was the water cutoff? I'd put it back together same as it was before I opened up the wall. What could be wrong?

There was a round handle in the wall under the toilet. I turned it off. The leak slowed but did not stop. I called Yancey.

"Do you know where the water shutoff to the apartment is?"


He didn't know, but he remembered turning the water off before, and it hadn't required going to the basement.

"It's by the hot water heater."

I opened the door to the hot water heater. Two pipes with two valves. 50/50. Eeny-meeny-minie... I couldn't do it.

"Turn off everything!" Yancey was helpful. "Turn them all off!"

"I can't--if there's no water and the element is still heating, it will burn out the hot water heater. Where's the switch?"

"You think I know?"

I opened the fuse box. When Al had replaced Yancey's hot water heater, he'd thoughtfully labelled the circuits. There it was. Hot water heater.

We love Al.

I switched off everything. The water stopped. I went back to the bathroom and took apart the whole contraption. I put it all in a large Zip-Loc bag to take to Home Depot.

All I had to do, according to the internet and the how-to book, was replace this.

I swore at myself for touching the plumbing on a Sunday (plumbers charge rush fees on Sundays), then got in Henry the Ford and drove six blocks to the new Home Depot (give me a break, it was cold out). ~to be continued~

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Shedding Vinyl

Last time I moved, I swore to never move my records again. That's why all but the 45s are still in the garage.

I have everything I need to get vinyl out of my life. Turntable with amplifier, RCA cables, USB cable, USB Digital Audio Processor borrowed off of Babc0ck, record cleaner, and several hundred semi-rare indie 45s collected between 1982 and 1995.

Don't worry. I'm not planning to save it all as tinny MP3s. This Babc0ck-machine combined with his recommended software is going to make CD quality recordings. I'll import them into iTunes once I've saved them all as high-quality files to CD. I'll probably need his help initially. He's obsessed with sound.

What will I do with all these records once I'm done? I'm not sure. Some of them are just trash. But a quick browse across the Web informs me that the 45s alone are worth hundreds. Maybe I can get a portion of that if I sell them to the famed vinyl story in Princeton. I'll do some reconnaissance in a few weeks, when Henry the Ford and I taxi Craig to school, where he is gonna teach the kiddies some of that video-journo stuff like he did in Cairo.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Last Lions

Here are the last lion photos I am going to show on this blog, at least until the next time I go to Africa. 'Cuz I'm done after this. All my other lion photos are just lazy lions hanging around.

The photo above was in Tanzania in 2001. I was on safari, I think in the Serengeti. The driver stopped suddenly, and with great astonishment announced:

"That lion is in a tree!"

Tree-climbing lions aren't too common anywhere, but there are areas known for them. Not the Serengeti, though.

"The buffalo have got him surrounded!"

Indeed they did. I wondered how the standoff would end. So did the lion's pride. His girl-lions were hiding across the road, staring at the situation, and surely wondering what to do.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Served Best After Midnight

I just stopped in a pizza place for a slice on the way to the PATH train. It was raining out, so rather than risk a soggy slice, I sat down with my plain slice.

And had a flashback. To being 19 years old and eating pizza in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, with Andy and his high school buddies.

I knew Andy from Antioch. I still know him. He's in Seattle, where he's been for almost 20 years now, playing guitar (sometimes as Joe Spleen, which is the name he worked under in the "Scorched Birth" comic book) and working at various web and copywriting jobs. He was an anomaly--a classical guitarist who played attack metal or punk rock blues, an accented poet in the body of a Brooklyn boy weaned on The Warriors and Coney Island.

When I first lived in New York, staying briefly with Andy's family, he and I would go out for "a slice." The first time, I got pizza with some mushrooms and pepperoni. I hadn't yet worked out the traditions or the lexicon. You don't buy a piece of pizza with stuff on it. You just buy "a slice." You don't even have to say it. You can just point. He taught me to sprinkle a little garlic and oregano on it, fold it in half, and walk on down the street to the train.

These days, I've long since given up the garlic salt and I don't eat much pizza. And anyway, I prefer Benny Tudino's slices in Hoboken (and that's where my cousins and I watched the televised OJ Bronco chase years ago). I almost never stop in for a slice alone. But when I do, I always think of Andy, and wonder how a Brooklyn boy handles Seattle pizza.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

EskiPo Roll

Speaking of hippos, here is a hot hippo that I watched cool off by doing eskimo rolls in Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania back in 2001.

I didn't know hippos could roll. Maybe they can't. Maybe this one was a special acrobatic hippo, a would-be contender in the Hipp-Olympics, if there were such thing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Clever Plan

Today's news is this:

-I ordered three new replacement windows. But it will be 4-6 weeks before they are installed, but which time I will probably have become a frozen mummy as it has suddenly become cold in JC.
-It might snow here tonight. In celebration, you might read my Antarctica article.
-There is now a Mango store on Broadway at Prince Street. The clothes, not the fruit.
-The food truck has not been on my street all week. O' where could our food truck be?

But mostly, there is no news because it's all been about the day job for the last few weeks. I've been spending my waking hours making myself dizzy with all this day-job work.

But a part of me wonders if it is all an elaborate self-deception designed to help me avoid writing my book proposal.

This hippo in the 3-D program "Maya" was made by Captain M in Cairo when he heard I was writing a book called Curse of the Hippo.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Found Objects

An unexposed roll of film sat on my souvenir shelf. I'd forgotten where it had come from when I'd unpacked it.

Maybe it wasn't even mine. Maybe it was Yancey's. Maybe it had been at the bottom of a drawer. Or maybe there was nothing on it at all.

All unknown rolls of film must be developed, so today I trotted down the four flights of stairs out of the apartment, and two blocks down the street to the photo counter at the drugstore in the mall. The Newport Mall sits between me and the Hudson River, between me and the PATH train. A passageway through the mall stays open at night so that residents of Hamilton Park don't have to walk around the long way.

The result? The photos didn't look like any I remembered shooting, but they could be mine. They were from between 1996 and 2000. And they were far more likely to be Yancey's than mine. But they were mine now. No way would I give these photos up. Pond Scum, Yancey, Dave Sharpe, and Babc0ck. And I was even in one of them. They were from the old Marvel offices and from Babcock's condo when he was renovating.

On the walk home, I remembered where the roll of film came from. It had been in my ancient Canon AE-1, a camera I still have and don't know what to do with. A camera that Babc0ck had borrowed sometime in the last decade or so, and kept for many years.

He'd told me it didn't work. He was wrong.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Lonesome Sadness of Fat Boy

Every once in a while, Daniel Johnston* used to send me art.

Sometimes it was topical and related to me, and other times it was his usual cast: Captain America, the Red Skull, the Frog, the torso, Satan, and/or Cap's Duck Army.

I came across a stack of pages yesterday. They all make me laugh, but this one cracked me up. Mr. Romance here, Fat Boy, might be Daniel himself, or he might just be a character that Daniel was thinking of. This might be an ironic take on romance and the human condition, or maybe it's just what was on Daniel's mind that last time he was in the bathroom.

*Daniel is a semi-known indie musician and outsider artist. We used to be friends, though I haven't kept up with him in a few years. You can hear me talking to him a little in the documentary "The Devil and Daniel Johnston," which used some of my footage. I still have the best stuff, which was shot on VHS and couldn't make the transition to the big screen without being unwatchable.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Poor Murphy! This is Yancey's dog. She tore a ligament and had to go in for a repair. She is in a lot of pain, having just cried for 24 hours and Yancey isn't getting any sleep right now. She even has a morphine patch.

I used to wish that Yancey had left me the dog along with the apartment. But not now. I'd never be able to carry her up and down the four flights of stairs.

Yancey's place in San Francisco has an elevator.

Here's Murphy in happier days, during one of our sleepovers when I got to dogsit.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Election '08

You guys can have Hillary, Obama, and McCain. I'm voting for this Basura guy. I like his unassuming signs.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

My Travel Map

I tried one of those online travel map sites.

36%? It sure felt like more.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Urban Curse

"No fork, please."

The woman behind the counter looks puzzled. She hesitates as her hands struggle to alter their rhythm.

"WHAT?" She looks stunned.

You'd think I'd told her that her shirt was on fire.

"NO FORK. I have forks at home."

She smiles and nods. Her hands mechanically install a fork and a napkin into a small paper bag along with my dinner. She can't help herself.

What the hell am I supposed to do with all these plastic utensils?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Kitty Chow

I've been unpacking right here, "live" for months. But I'm kind of done.

Except that I still have a few ongoing projects. I'm going through old papers and clothes. When spring comes, I have to tackle the garage. Soon I'll start converting vinyl to CD (some of it really can't be had on CD). And I'm still organizing old photos and negatives into binders.

I stumbled over these charmers today, in the "Serengeti" photo box. Tasty!

Friday, January 04, 2008


If you've been here a while with me, you already know my opinion on Antarctic tourism. While I don't want to eat sled dogs and live under an overturned lifeboat, I was disappointed by the relatively adventure-free Antarctic Peninsula cruise I went on.

But now lots more people know, because I've written an entire article about it for Tim Leffel's "Perceptive Travel" online magazine.

I have been trying to write this article for a long time, but it never quite worked the way I wanted it to. And when I pitched it to Tim, it still didn't sit right. It wasn't until he sternly told me to HURRY UP and finish that the article came together. Sometimes, a little tough love is exactly what a writer needs.

(Other times, it makes them shut down. Case by case, I suppose.)

I hope I don't get hate mail. Some people are bound to be upset by my opinion, and I actually expect several letters about how wonderful Person X's trip was, and how Person Y had the most meaningful experience of their life, and so on. I'll try not to worry about it.

You can read the article here.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Prehistoric Seventies

A few more shots of Dinosaurland. I wonder what year this was. The early seventies, I think.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Dinosaurland Redux

Mom found this old postcard of Dinosaurland and scanned it in for me.

And then she found these photos. Unfortunately, they were stuck in an old photo album, so she had to scan them in the album. I tried to clean them up a little, but some things are beyond the help of Photoshop.

I'm the one in the giraffe shirt (of course) by the giant praying mantis. The other little girl is my older sister, who for reasons unknown (though her hobby is tearing apart and rebuilding PCs) does not have her own blog.

I'll upload the color photos tomorrow.