Sunday, December 31, 2006
That means that I haven't even adjusted to the idea of being 40 yet, and soon I'll be 41.
Time is more important as you age. Every single day I feel that I'm no closer to my goals hurts now. It used to not matter at all. I feel like I'm taking the GRE and nowhere near the end of the math section, and desperately checking my watch. I look around. The other students are relaxed, smiling. They already knew math, didn't have to re-learn it.
I seem to have wasted 2006. I worked a lot. I went into what Ax calls "powersave mode." I woke up, I worked, I slept. I recovered a little from 2005, some days moreso than others. For about ten minutes in April and a week in May, I was alive for real. The rest of the time was working, treading water, avoiding contemplating things that hurt, struggling to make ends meet. Letting auto-pilot sell the condo and send out postcards for Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik. Waiting.
What did I learn this year? Perhaps that you can leave your job, sell your home, go around the world, have your eyes opened to grand new things, accept great personal growth and evolve emotionally, trek around Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Kuwait, and in the end, find yourself back exactly where you started.
I was trading e-mails with Roberta yesterday.
"Are you done with that job yet?" She asked me.
"No. I'm not even halfway through yet. I'm so sick of this. I work all the time. 2007 has GOT to be different."
"Amen," was all she wrote back. Roberta is a freelancer too.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Ah, I see. I'm supposed to list five things that people don't know about me and then tag five others. Well, I'll do the first part.
1) I've never been drunk and I've never taken an illegal drug. Not so many legal ones either, though I'm big on strong coffee. I never developed an interest in drugs, cigarettes, or alcohol because I could have had any of them any time growing up. I grew up in a sketchy area and had a lot of acquaintances that might surprise people. My sister learned to be utterly non-judgmental in this environment. She'd give a total screwball her life savings if he seemed like he was trying to reform. Not that she has a life savings. I watched her make a lot of mistakes and opted out of the substances scene. I was appalled when I got to college and everyone was going crazy getting I'm an artist haircuts, getting drunk, and experimenting with drugs. I thought the other kids were acting like children. Didn't they go through all this already?
2) I didn't fully understand what racism was until I learned about it in college. I realize that sounds ridiculous and naive, but I was surrounded by multiculturalism since I was old enough to comprehend anything. It was just normal that people were of all races and backgrounds. And when I first heard anecdotes about personal encounters with racism, I couldn't believe it. My high school was nothing like that, I argued with another student who was describing the treatment of African-Americans in her school system. (Later, I learned that it's one of the great multicultural schools, to the point where President Clinton would give speeches there sometimes 'cuz it made a good PR setting, and that my childhood was unique. The irony being that race gave the school its defining moment 20 years earlier, immortalized in "Remember the Titans.")
3) When I travel, I always carry my own coffee, Lexan fork/knife/spoon on a keychain, folding scissors, coffee press/mug, and oil-free products. And emergency allergy medications, but I've never had to use them. Oh, and in really remote places such as rural Ethiopia, I also carry peanut butter (no refrigerator required). I like Jif, though ShopRite's house brand is good too.
4) As a teenager, I was really good at first "Space Invaders," then "Pac-Man," then "Ms. Pac-Man," then "Millipede." I stopped playing arcade games when I went to college and there were none in the entire town of Yellow Springs, Ohio. Later, I excelled at the "Elvira" pinball machine, which I would play into the wee hours in the East Village.
5) I worked at "Roy Rogers" on the corner of King and Washington in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia, for more than two years while I was in high school. I was a hostess and sometimes a cashier. In this case, hostess meant maintaining the salad bar and wiping off tables in the dining room. I'd get up at 4 in the morning on weekends to go and slice carrots. I worked almost a full-time schedule, which in retrospect seems like a bad idea since it surely cut into my grades.
And here's a giveaway, a free number 6. As a kid, I collected model horses. We had model horse shows in my 4-H club. I also read a book a day until I was old enough to work. There, that's actually number 7.
Update: Since they don't mind and are doing it anyway, I am tagging Marcus McLaurin and Steve Buccellato. If three others volunteer, I'll tag them too.
Monday, December 25, 2006
In Australia, Christmas falls in the middle of the summer. Some people take a basket of seafood to the beach that day.
It's too hot for reindeer in the Australian summer, so conventional wisdom Down Under (originated by Rolf Harris in 1960) is that Santa's sleigh is pulled by six macho white kangaroos (called "Boomers"). There's even a song about it, in which Santa and the boomers help a joey find his Mum.
Six white boomers
Snow white boomers
Racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun
Six white boomers
Snow white boomers
On his Australian run
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Apologies to my readers who live in the lovely state of Pennsylvania, but the Keystone State is my frequent adversary. When I lived in Alexandria, Virginia, and went to college in Yellow Springs, Ohio, I used to say that Pennsylvania was between me and everywhere that I wanted to go.
I've hit a deer in Pennsylvania, lost a radiator in Pennsylvania, and broken down there more times than I can remember. One of my old Volvos caught on fire there (not as awful as it sounds as this was sometimes a part of getting it started). I've spent too many hours in the Breezewood Greyhound station the times that I did not have a car.
I blissfully skirted around Pennsylvania for the years when I was holiday-commuting between NYC/JC and Alexandria. That was a great commute. I could hop a Peter Pan (or later Chinatown) bus and be there in four hours for $15 and a Metro fare.
I left Avenue A Friday at 11 a.m. and headed for the PATH train to JC, where I got Henry the Ford out of his house. (Perhaps it says something that I own free and clear title to my car's house but nothing now for myself.) I didn't get out of JC until 1 after I attempted to go to the post office to send a book I'd sold on Amazon. I gave up after 20 minutes of standing in an unmoving line and ran back to my car. Street cleaning started at 1 and I didn't want another boot.
Henry and I drove west on I-78 to the NJ/PA border. We cruised across the toll bridge on my E-Z Pass and shortly after that, the rain started. Traffic slowed. And then slowed more.
For hours, we'd crawl past accidents and slowly made headway against the rain. Only the trucks were going fast, and when they did, they'd throw up a spray as they passed and for 15 seconds or so, all I could see were the tail lights in front of me.
The drive was dreadful. At Chambersburg, I called my mother.
"This isn't safe. Henry and I should not be out in this with all these trucks. I can't see anything. What does the weather look like?"
Mom checked a satellite report online. "There's a break in the clouds in West Virginia. And aren't you the one who once drove home from Ohio in an ice storm?"
"I was younger and stupider then."
"Well, go to a hotel if it's too bad. Take a lot of breaks."
I bought a large coffee and dug out the old reading/driving glasses I hadn't worn in years. Henry the Ford got me safely to Niagara Falls during a snowstorm with an Australian behind the wheel. He is a sturdy, reliable car. We'll be okay.
This and the hope of a break in the rain got me through Maryland to West Virginia. But there was no break. And when I crossed the Virginia state line, it was raining even harder. I turned up my iPod and squinted, trying to ignore the onslaught of trucks tearing down I-81.
I'd traded in my old iPod for a Fifth Generation one a few weeks ago. I now regretted it. I've been adhering to the Star Trek movie iPod model--going in for every odd number--but Captain-Kirk-theory has let me down with the Fifth. I loaded everything on, but it skips over most songs, and from reading message boards, I can tell you that I am not alone and there are some hopping-mad iPod owners out there. Count me among them. It's supposed to plug and play. I'm not supposed to have to troubleshoot the damn thing out of the box.
On this long drive, my Fifth Generation iPod skipped over everything but Rebecka Tornqvist and Jens Lekman. By the time I'd gotten to Maryland, I'd hated all things Swedish, even the man who invented the adjustable wrench. I switched off the iPod near Winchester and tuned in classic rock. Until I saw, through the blurry distorted windshield, a billboard for a Best Western.
Free wi-fi! I'll rest in the parking lot and read the email that's accumulated over the last 8.5 hours.
As I sat, scrolling through my in-box, it occurred to me that the Best Western was good for more than just signal swiping.
"Hotel. Sleep. No more rain. No trucks."
I turned off the iBook and checked in. I'd finish the drive to my mother's in the morning sun.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Friday, December 22, 2006
I'd "reverse-commuted" back to Manhattan last night after rearranging the garage. The studio on East 5th Street was cozy, though my stuff was in a big pile on the floor. The studio is directly across the street from my friends Polly and Al, but they were already gone for the holidays. I could live here, I thought. Then a cough stopped me. And a giggle. The walls were paper-thin. Maybe I wouldn't like it so much. Still, it's only for a month.
After lunch, I worried again.
"I don't know if I like being homeless. It's been a long time since I was homeless."
Sven laughed. "Welcome to the club." He had just moved back from Kuwait and was waiting for his work visa to come through. He is going to his mother's in Canada for now and will be back when the paperwork makes it official.
"I have a home," said Fabian. Maybe Sven and I can go stay in Fabian's basement. We'll bring the 11 x 17 scanner and make Kuwaiti comics. His kids can help.
My cell phone rang. It was my lawyer.
"Come over and get your check. We've got $160,000 waiting for you."
Maybe being homeless wouldn't be so bad.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
"You can't fit your car in there with all that crap!" exclaimed Kraiger.
"Well, I was hoping... maybe if we stacked..." My voice dropped off. It had to fit. What else could I do?
Kraiger noticed my disappointment.
"We'll make it work."
We hurriedly tossed the final load of stuff into the garage, clicked the remote control to shut the door, and drove to the Holland Tunnel. Traffic was slow but moving, and in 20 minutes we were in front of my sublet on East 5th and Avenue A. I pulled up in front of a hydrant and put on Henry the Ford's emergency flashers.
"One of us has to stay with the car at all times."
I dug the unfamiliar set of keys out of my pocket. Hey, that's clever. The woman I'm subletting from had drawn an 'M' on the keys. 'M' for Marie. My set of keys.
The big key didn't work. The small one took a little fidgeting, but opened the door. Kraiger and I uploaded a box, backpack, laundry basket of paperwork, and 11 x 17 scanner into the hallway. He waited with Henry while I carried a load up to the fourth floor.
The key didn't work. I tried the other key. Nothing. Shuffled a bit, eased the key in and out. This was a problem. What would I do? Go to Babcock's and live with Czop, Pond Scum, and Czop's dog for a month? What about the money I'd paid for the sublet? The owner had gone to Argentina.
But she'd given me the neighbor's number for emergencies. I went and knocked on the neighbor's door. She was leaving town for Poland in two hours.
"These aren't the right keys," she said with a glance. "Do you have others?"
"No... wait." If I did, I'd have thrown them into my Manhattan Portage bike messenger bag, the same one I'd had for years. The one that was slashed in Mongolia in 2001, then repaired in Nairobi later that same year.
At the bottom of my bag was a different set. I tried them. They worked.
"But I used this key to get in the front door! Strange."
Then I realized. The keys that had gotten me into the building were the keys Kraiger had kept to my place, for when I was in other countries and there were emergencies. No wonder there was an 'M' on them. My house key had just gotten us into a building on East 5th.
Back downstairs, Kraiger and Henry had scored a much-coveted East Village parking space. He (Kraiger, not Henry) helped me carry the rest up into the tiny studio.
"It's kind of small." Kraiger was skeptical. It's perhaps 280 square feet, the size of a hotel room.
"But it's cozy. It's all I need."
We locked up and went back to Jersey, to get to work on my garage.
It took an hour of rearranging and stacking, but in the end, everything fit alongside Henry. Only my bicycle didn't fit. I dropped Kraiger off in the Heights, parked the car in the garage, carefully squeezed my bike in just behind Henry's driver-side rear wheel, and walked to Grove Street.
There had been a mix-up with the seller's title company and my check for the condo would not be ready today. What's another day of debt when you've had so many? I walked— exhausted —to the PATH train and caught the 33rd Street train home. To Alphabet City.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
"Marie, it's Casey!"
My next door neighbor was yelling through my intercom. Today was move-out day. I'd been up since before five, packing and cleaning and panicking. I'd thrown everything left into the basement and smiled through the walk-through. The young couple buying my place LOVE it. They love the character and Turbo's hard work. And Michael Kraiger's hard work, and Al Huckabee's hard work. And my hard work. I hope they don't hate me when the first 100-year-old problem occurs.
I'd then raced up to the Heights in Henry to pick up Kraiger, who was helping me move the last bits out of the basement and into the garage, then going with me to drop my month's supplies in Manhattan. We'd gotten in about 40 minutes ago and now were sweeping and scrubbing the condo. Closing was in 20 minutes, though I wasn't attending. I'd signed over power of attorney to my lawyer. Closings are horribly dull and mostly consist of signing one's name a lot.
Casey buzzed again as I raced to the front door. I opened it to find not just Casey but also Larry from two doors down. Both are 65 years old and retired. Casey is originally from North Carolina and has been in an interracial marriage for 35 years, since it was a lot harder than it is today. Larry lived in my apartment when he was four years old. He said it was really cold then, with only two coal-fired stoves for heat.
They both looked really unhappy. For a second I was honored that they were sad I was leaving. Then it dawned on me.
"I hate to be the bearer of bad news," drawled Casey in his southern accent.
"I got the boot."
They both nodded. Henry the Ford Taurus was clamped and couldn't move.
The parking man zipped by then in his little electric car. Larry ran out into the street and waved him down, and I went and argued for a while.
"I've only been here 40 minutes. I was up in the Heights! I haven't been here two hours."
"It doesn't matter. Your car was here at 9 a.m. That's more than two hours."
"But I left."
I argued and argued until he finally said, "Look, it's too late. I already put it in the computer. There's nothing I can do."
So Kraiger and I loaded everything into Henry. I didn't own the condo anymore. I had to get out.
Casey offered me a lift up to the Parking Bureau in his 1994 Ford Taurus. He even waited while I ran in and paid the $75 fine. (It's $125 for second offenses but fortunately my first didn't seem to be on record).
Henry was un-booted by the time we got back. I hugged Casey good-bye, took one last look at my beautiful home, where the sunlight was hitting the golden heart pine floor through the stained glass, and locked the door. Henry was about to cry, so Kraiger and I rushed off.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
My sleeping mat has been around Central America, the US, New Zealand, and of course, New Jersey. I think Roberta took it canoe camping in Belize. I had a different Therm-a-rest for camping in Africa, one I bought in Berlin and gave away in Ethiopia. (I then paid for it by having to sleep on the steel ferry deck in Wadi Halfa, but that's okay because H.M. had a sleeping mat and I never let him forget that he'd un-gallantly not offered it, though I was covered in truck-accident bruises at the time. He defended himself by saying that he thought: "Well, she's been around the whole world. She can probably manage a night without a sleeping mat.")
Some people--who would think nothing of taking a Therm-a-rest camping--have expressed horror that I don't have a bed at the moment. (Not exactly true--I have a very nice bed that is in storage near Liberty State Park.) It's really not so bad sleeping on my Therm-a-rest indoors. It's kind of like camping, except that instead of hearing crickets and frogs, I hear the dryer downstairs as it goes around and around and around.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
I got two new windows on Thursday. I did this because I couldn't in good conscience sell a $300k condo with 100-year-old Arctic-flavored windows.
Last time I got new windows, a handyman installed them. He was a friend of a friend who is a carpenter, and he did a lousy job. And because he was charging me by the hour and took forever, he was no bargain.
This time I hired window specialists because I was too busy to deal any other way. And they were recommended by Vinny from the pizza place, who redid a building with Roberta's friend Al, hands-down the top builder in town.
They were fast and great. In an hour-and-a-half, they did what took the handyman four days, and they did it right. They brought a giant machine and set it up on the sidewalk, and it crimped and cut metal flashing to fit exactly outside my windows. They didn't touch the antique moulding and it looks like the windows kind of grew there.
After they left, I marveled at how warm it was in my place. Stifling, actually. And the heat wasn't even on.
Pity I couldn't be bothered to do this years ago, for myself. Too bad I only did it now, five days before I'm leaving.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Every few weeks, I get an email from a stranger inquiring about freighter travel. That's travel by ship.
They are usually excited about sea travel for one of three reasons.
1) They assume it will be inexpensive and/or romantic. Many believe they can work their passage on board a ship. (No, you can't. There are highly trained professionals on ships. Even the most junior toilet-cleaners are trained at maritime academies in disaster drills and safety.)
2) They are afraid of flying or know someone afraid of flying. Or can't fly for a medical reason.
3) They want to lower their personal carbon emissions by not using an airplane.
Unfortunately, cargo ship travel--freighter travel--is no great bargain. Sure, it produces fewer carbon emissions than planes and does not involve going up in the sky in an aluminum tube, but you must pay dearly for these privileges.
When I took freighters across oceans in 2001 for MariesWorldTour.com, the US dollar was at an all-time high, convenient as many freighters were priced in Deutsch Marks, which was worth about half the USD. It still was not a bargain, but compared to today's prices in euros, it was a deal.
Want to go from Europe to Cape Town? That'll set you back $3,300, or a little less if you go with "Budget Accommodation" on the Royal Mail service between the UK and South Africa. One-way. And how do you plan on getting home?
Trans-Atlantic voyages aren't cheap either. The best deal I could find was for $1155 from Valencia to New York one-way. That's about three times the cost of a round-trip plane ticket between New York and London, and if you aren't looking to go to Spain, you still have to get up north from there. Heck, you can usually score a single cabin on the QE2/QM2 to Southampton for less than that. And the food is better.
When I tell people this, they are usually flabbergasted, or sometimes outraged.
"Why does it cost so much? How do they expect to get any business?"
They don't necessarily care about your business. Freighter companies transport freight. It is nice to take a few passengers, but they don't seem real fussed if no one signs up. A freighter is
not a passenger ship. It's a working ship. And they feed you three times a day and clean your cabin. So you are not paying just for transport, but for room and board.
Go for the ambiance of leisurely staring at the sea for days on end. Go because you hate flying. Go because you want to reduce your carbon emissions (though I cynically daresay a fair number of people are hopping on this bandwagon while cheerfully ignoring readily available public transport or renewable power available through their energy provider). But don't go for the fare, cuz there's nothing "fair" about it.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Moving my large furniture into storage was relatively painless, though there's no such thing as a pain-free move.
The driver of the "free truck with move-in" did a lot of the work, and what he didn't do, Kraiger did. Roberta and I mostly stood around feeling awkward and opening doors. "Let me help you with that." "No, I have it." "Uh, okay, I'll, um, just clean up that dust."
Dust is something I have a lot of. I must have one of the world's foremost collections of dust bunnies right now. They infest, hiding behind bookcases. I'll take a photo when I get them all in one place.
I'm now camping out in my own apartment, sleeping on my Thermarest and using an end table as a desk.
It's not so bad. Though there's a bit of an echo in my furniture-free condo.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
One of the pitfalls of writing the text for a 3D children's atlas is distraction. I search for a piece of information, start reading, and before you know it, an hour has passed and I've learned all about something fascinating but irrelevant.
I've been obsessing over polar bears for days now, and started this morning off by trying to determine who'd win in a fair fight, a polar bear or a grizzly bear.
Next thing you know, I was hunting for images of the Himalayan Brown Bear, a/k/a the fearsome yeti.
In 2000, I read an entire book about mountaineer Reinhold Messner's search for the yeti. He saw one, you see, and it kind of freaked him out, and he thought, "That's odd, and I'd like to know if that was a yeti." He reckoned (after further research expeditions) that it was a rare, humongous bear that would stand on its hindlegs and scare the daylights out of people.
Here's an article about a Japanese researcher that agrees with Messner. Yep, it's a Himalayan Brown Bear.
I'm fine with the yeti being a bear. Bears are scary too.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
I bought my first condo, on Avenue B in Manhattan's Alphabet City, in the summer of 1993. Or maybe it was late 1992. It took ages to move in, because I had to get it renovated first. The building had been a tenement in 1898, and the bathtub was still in the kitchen when I bought it.
The cost was $56,500 for a small two-bedroom place with low maintenance and taxes. It had been a couple of years since the last real estate crash brought prices in Hoboken and New York down by half in some places. ("Real estate never goes down.")
I didn't move to Avenue B and 13th Street for the ambiance or pleasant atmosphere—I moved there because for $5,650 I was able to get my own place—though it had a certain appeal. There was a hardware store with a beauty salon in the back. There was a store that sold old VCRs across the street, and kids would play video games in the back. I could head ping and zoing in between M9 buses tearing down the avenue every few minutes.
In the top photo, you can see that 13th Street is blocked off. That's because the City had evicted three buildings of squatters in 1995. The squatters knew it was coming and they were up all night banging on cans and holding bonfires in the middle of the street. NYC brought in a tank named "Sunny." The area was cordoned off and I had to show my ID to get in an out the next day.
Now the area is full of restaurants and high rents, and giddy young people drinking lots of beer. I sold my place in January 2001 for $250,000. I thought real estate had gotten too crazy for words and there was no way it would last.
I still believe that, but I'm stunned at how high prices went before they started to go back down. My place on Avenue B—it's the one on the third floor with the small dryer vent—would go for $400,000 now. ("Old rules no longer apply.")
Do I regret moving? No. I wasn't comfortable in the neighborhood after it changed, and if I'd hung onto it, I'd be liable for capital gains tax as you only get a $250,000 profit exemption. And I ended up in a much nicer, homier area in a bigger apartment. I actually come out ahead by having had two places in the last 13 years.
The plan now is to go to Cairo for a while, then see where things take me. Maybe I'll be back in April to buy a new place. Or maybe I'll run off with a camel herder into the desert. I like that I won't have to rush home to deal with my place.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
I've been on deadline and haven't had time to procrastinate... much. I did play this addictive geography game a few times. It really annoyed me, because I couldn't quite click on the right spot on the tiniest countries and then it told me I was wrong. YES, I do know where Bahrain is! But I figured out where it wanted me to click and to my embarrassment, though I could find Equatorial Guinea, Guyana, and Benin, I missed Romania.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
I still have plenty of Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik postcards, with art by Jessica Wolk-Stanley. Some of you have already received one in the mail.
If you want one, send me an email with the subject line "postcard" and your mailing address. (I won't send junk mail in the future because I'm too cheap to buy stamps.) Marie-at-mariejavins-dot-com.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I am the proud new owner of this lovely "expansion tank." This is good because it means I have heat again—an essential element to life in the northeastern US during the winter.
It is my understanding that this expansion tank is superior to other expansion tanks because it is red.
But since you came all the way over here to this site, you might as well buy my book.
I made the mistake of looking at the bank balance this morning. $1,900 into overdraft. I'm owed $4,100 dollars that simply has shown up yet. Get a job. Don't be a freelancer.
Then Roberta sent me a link to a ridiculous article about how rude kiddies are moving to my neighborhood not for the lovely old-time Italian delis and cheap family-run Cuban restaurants, but in order to transform it into something uniform and common, a playground for young people with the ability to accessorize while they tout their edginess. Must we Gap-ize everything? Is it necessary to standardize even where we live? Will this be a franchise of Generic-Hip-Edgy-City when I return? My only hope is that crashing real estate will stop the transformation again as it did in 1988.
Then one of the neighbors--the head of the Committee to Make My Building Too Expensive for Me to Live in--emailed that the furnace by the back window had a leaking expansion valve.
Oh. That's mine.
The heat is off. At 9 a.m., I'll call the plumber. And I'm late on two deadlines. Very late.
Once it's over, I'll just pretend today never happened.
Monday, December 04, 2006
I've been hinting at where I'm going to live for Feb-March for ages. But I couldn't say until it was settled as well as announced at a staff meeting in Kuwait.
The company that I worked with in Kuwait last year is opening an Egypt office. I answer to two supervisors, and the Kuwaiti one (CEO) is running all over the Gulf and the world pulling all the pieces together, while the Canadian-British-Danish-Irish one (COO) has to come back to the US to open the New York office. I'll (Hobo Editor) be joining him in the New York office in the spring, but for the winter, I'm going to the new Cairo office to help out on both the production and editorial ends.
I don't know where I'll be living in Cairo (concrete suggestions welcomed). And I don't have a plane ticket yet (that one I know how to do on my own). I have to work all that out as soon as I get some big jobs out of my hair. And pack my entire life into boxes. And move to my sublet. And close on my condo. You know, little things.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Arabic 102 begins today at Hudson County Community College. I don't think many of us made it through from Arabic 101, but a small group will show. Enough people registered that the class was not canceled.
Last semester we first worked on building vocabulary, then on simple things like greetings and comprehension. We were studying the alphabet when the semester ended.
I don't quite have the alphabet down yet. So I can see that in the top comic here, it says "X-MN." (There's no X in Arabic so that one is borrowed.) The next one says "MARVL." But the last one loses me after "AR."
Friday, December 01, 2006
I rented a 5x10 storage unit near Liberty State Park because all my things won't fit in my garage along with my car. For myself, I have a sublet for a month and then have nothing much, aside from a vague plan to hang out in Europe for a few weeks and then report to my next job assignment.
I expect to leave my stuff in storage until April. But that could change. Last time I put my stuff in storage, it was for a year. I unpacked 23 months later.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I most definitely do not have lots of female friends and I am not at all good with babies. I probably have many more male friends, a byproduct of spending a few decades in the comic book industry.
Here's what someone's server had to say about me. The questionaire was not really geared toward me. There wasn't, for example, a box to tick for "Do you roam the world for months on end every few years," though there was a question about long-distance relationships. I have to admit that the bit at the end about The False Messiah pegged a certain individual in my not-too-distant past.
Deliberate Gentle Love Dreamer
Romantic, hopeful, and composed. You are the Sonnet. Get it? Composed?
Sonnets want Love and have high ideals about it. They're conscientious people, caring & careful. You yourself have deep convictions, and you devote a lot of thought to romance and what it should be. This will frighten away most potential mates, but that's okay, because you're very choosy with your affections anyway. You'd absolutely refuse to date someone dumber than you, for instance.
Lovers who share your idealized perspective, or who are at least willing to totally throw themselves into a relationship, will be very, very happy with you. And you with them. You're already selfless and compassionate, and with the right partner, there's no doubt you can be sensual, even adventurously so.
You probably have lots of female friends, and they have a special soft spot for you. Babies do, too, at the tippy-top of their baby skulls.
ALWAYS AVOID: The 5-Night Stand, The False Messiah, The Hornivore, The Last Man on Earth
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
I just stumbled over Very Important Information on Wikipedia (while researching the capybara, or actually the Amazon).
Seems you can tell what a guinea pig is trying to say simply by paying attention. Wikipedia has the Rosetta Stone of guinea pig-dom, reproduced here for those of you that have guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs are very vocal animals. Some sounds are:
Wheek - A loud noise that sounds about the same as its written form. An expression of general excitement, it can mean "feed me", "pay attention", or possibly "I'm hurt". It is sometimes used to find other guinea pigs if they are in a run. If a guinea pig is lost, it may "wheek" for assistance.
Rumbling - This sound is related to Guinea pig dominance or in response to an unfamiliar sound. It can also come as a response to comfort or content. Whilst courting, a male usually purrs deeply, while swaying from side to side, nearly lifting the rear feet.
Chattering - This sound is made by rapidly gnashing the teeth together—it is a warning to others to keep away. Guinea pigs tend to raise their heads when making this sound so as to look more dangerous.
Bubbling, or Purring - This rather pleasant sound is made when the guinea pig is enjoying itself, when being petted or held. They may also make this sound when grooming, crawling around to investigate a new place, or when given an unexpected food treat, like lettuce or carrots.
The unwritten code of the block I live on is that 1) Every house must be decorated for every major holiday and some minor holidays and 2) One must decorate promptly and with enthusiasm.
Newcomers get some slack but there comes a point when it is assumed that you are a snob—or worse, a snotty transplant from Manhattan—if you do not follow the code.
The residents of my building always attempted to decorate with restraint. We were neither old-timers nor newcomers. We were in-betweeners, going along with the joke but unable to ignore the natural inclination towards a bit of taste. The rest of the block would be decked out in life-size scarecrows and spray-on cobwebs for Halloween. We'd have a bale of hay and a pumpkin.
I'm the only one of the in-betweeners left, and the newcomers can't be bothered. Yesterday I tossed out the two pumpkins, gourd, and dried corn that I'd had out for Halloween and Thanksgiving, and went to find the plug-in Christmas candles. One goes in each bay window, on a timer from 6 to 11.
The horror! The Christmas candles are missing.
But I just saw them last week. I'd put them somewhere special... but where?
Uh-oh. I must have packed them deep in a box and put them in my garage. Well, that's not very useful.
I went over to ShopRite and got a few 18-foot fake garlands and wrapped them around the outside railings. It's pretty lame. I need something with lights.
But Ax says I get a pass since I'm moving in two weeks.
I hope I find the candles anyway.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Here's a few photos of the Hermitage--the Winter Palace--instead.
The first I took in 1982 with a 110 instamatic, in Leningrad.
The second I snapped in 2001 with an Olympus Stylus point-and-shoot, in St. Petersburg.
In 1983, I was an exchange student to Finland. I lived with Heidi (who reads this blog) and her parents in Karis (Karjaa), about 40 miles southwest of Helsinki. The exchange organization, Youth for Understanding, took us students to the Soviet Union on a field trip. Heidi didn't get to go. It was only the exchange students, not the host sisters and brothers.
Heidi and I both had the same camera. I'm sure she too has a much better one now.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
What am I supposed to do with a perfectly good, working old Powerbook Duo 230 laptop circa 1992?
It was an incredible computer in its time. It had no floppy drive--radical in 1992--but came with a cable to hook it into any other Mac or system. At four pounds, it was truly portable. The Duo was meant to be docked--that is, slipped into a desktop model--but I never owned the dock.
At some point, I bought a connector that gave it SCSI capabilities, and I have the external floppy as well. One day in the late 90s, it struggled, so I bought a cheap working Duo off eBay and cannibalized it for parts.
The Duo went on a few freighter voyages with me in 2001. Why not? It was so old, it didn't matter if it broke when I sent it home by post.
It's a little slow.
Now I'm moving. Out go all kinds of thing. Used books go to the church down the street, since they have a used book sale every Sunday. Records will go to the Princeton Record Exchange when I get around to it. The super-8 projecter goes--where the hell does the super-8 projector go?
And the old computers, they go too. But to where?
Friday, November 24, 2006
When I started this project, I bought four children's atlases. As I've steadily dug through them, I've come across dozens of mistakes. Some of them are mind-boggling, like the one with text claiming that the Equator is in Central America. Others have less conspicuous flaws, such as overlooking the existence of Qatar.
Anyway, being a compulsive fact-checker while learning every minute detail about a region adds up to one thing and one thing only.
But there's not much I can do about that, so let's talk about something more interesting. Like Easter Island.
The big mystery of Easter Island is not where the big heads came from or why they were carved. Every continent has their mysterious architectural masterpieces. Did aliens make the Great Pyramids? How did the stelae get to Axum? Oh, surely aliens. I'm good with that.
But why didn't the aliens whisk those poor Easter Islanders off to Chile when all their trees died?
I'd always believed the catastrophic deforestation theories about Easter Island, and the study I just read by Terry L. Hunt doesn't argue the deforestation point.
But it places the blame somewhere unexpected. Previously, blame had been placed on the common criminal: Mankind. But not Hunt. He blames something else.
Rats. Rats came in by ship from Europe, ate the vegetation and tree seeds, and caused deforestation. Erosion of soil, no farming, no veggies, no canoes, no way off the island. Cannibalism. Rat-eating. Dog-eating. No wonder they tipped their big stone heads over. I'd have been pissed too.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Not me. I'm sitting this one out. I'm packing to move, selling a condo, writing an atlas, helping run a comic book company and probably some other things I've forgotten. There's no time to get myself to Virginia and back.
I'm still thankful, though. Mostly thankful that I'm not sitting in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, but that counts too.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Last night, during my research for the children's atlas I'm writing, I learned the following camel facts:
-Camels have gorgeous long eyelashes not to flirt with other camels, but to keep the sand out of their eyes.
-Camels ARE flirting when they blow that ugly pink bubble out of their mouths.
-Camels have super-kidneys that produce dry camel poo.
-Camels are useful for meat, milk, transportation, hauling, and camel hide in the Sahara.
-Camels have special fat feet, which act like camel snowshoes for sand.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Eliza writes for the in-flight Icelandair magazine. Peter Moore pointed her my way. Or me her way. I'm not sure anymore, but I've read every entry she's posted during her West Africa trip.
She's gotten a lot of marriage proposals. I haven't gotten many of those, ever. Maybe I should focus on getting to West Africa on the double. (I think Daniel Johnston made a few on the phone over the years, but I always managed to change the subject to Captain America.)
Anyway, Eliza is heading home to Iceland tomorrow. I'm sure she's happy to be going home, but I have enjoyed reading about her grumpiness in Accra, her adventures on public transport, and her bouts of malaria. I selfishly wish it wouldn't end.
Just the other day, I was worried about having nowhere to go once I sell my condo on December 13.
Well, I still have nowhere to go on December 13. But it doesn't matter as much now, because I have somewhere to go a week later.
I've rented a studio for a month. It is not cheap, but compared to everything else I saw, it is a bargain, and clean and lovely to boot. It belongs to a 38-year-old composer who is going to a residency in Argentina for a month.
The studio is a few blocks from my old place on Avenue B, and a few blocks from Babcock's. Weirdly, it's directly across the street from my friends Polly and Al. Roberta pointed out that
New York City and Jersey City are large places, and that it's strange that I got a place across the street from my friends, and that in JC, Yancey, Ro, and I all live on the same street. Ro only lives five doors away from me.
What she doesn't know is that in the late 80s and early 90s, everyone in my life lived either in my buiding, across the street, or next door to my building. Except for a few people who lived two blocks away. I gravitate towards creating mini-communities. Maybe that's why I'm so waffly and dazed when friends move on.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Honest, I didn't mean to steal the nice man's title.
Bob Harris, no relation to my former boss at Marvel whose name is spelled Harras, likes to call his prospective South American travel book Stalking the Wild Pudu. He likes to read and write about pudu, tiny deer that kind of remind me of dik-diks.
Wikipedia reports that: The pudú has been popularized as the mascot of the weblog maintained by stand-up comedian and Jeopardy! champion Bob Harris, who often accompanies pictures of the pudú and other small animals with whimsical stories.
Well, now Bob mentioned dik-diks too on his blog, just the other day. And not to nitpick, but according to Bob's own book and site, he does have a long relationship with Jeopardy! but to call him a champion might be slightly inaccurate. His book, Prisoner of Trebekistan, is about making it onto Jeopardy! but his own website describes it as: This is what it's like to lose on Jeopardy! -- five times, not winning over $3.1 million dollars.
Somehow, that makes me want to check it out more than winning $3.1 million dollars on Jeopardy! would.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
So far, I've chased down the real estate agent from the vacant place down the street to see if he would sublet. He said no. I followed up on some Craigslist sublet ads, but typically flaky Craigslisters can't be bothered to respond to my inquiries. I called Candlewood Suites to see if I could bargain them to a reasonable price, but they didn't call back yet. I checked into corporate furnished housing by the PATH. Their idea of a bargain is $3,800 a month.
I saw a small, renovated rental for $875 a month last week. I didn't take it because it required a lease, and I thought it would be a waste to pay for it for the months I'm out of the country. Now I'm regretting that decision.
I realized yesterday that I could spend the balance of December in Barcelona and come out ahead financially. Great! Well, great aside from those pesky inconvenient holidays, which require family time and a tricky commute from El Raval.
Anyway, supposing I have an early Christmas with my family and can stomach the idea of holidays alone in Spain, I'd then only be looking for a New York place for the month of January.
My options seem to be:
-Look into a "women only" place like on Bosom Buddies. There are two in Manhattan and one in Jersey City. I'm a litttle worried someone might try to make me sing with them or be social if I stayed in one of these. Though maybe I'm meet someone like a young Tom Hanks. Maybe he'd loan me some dresses for the singing circle.
-Go through a sublet agency. NYHabitat.com has offered me one for $2100. Plus their fee and $2100 security deposit. (Yow, it sure adds up.) It's a block from my PO Box, a block from my old Avenue B digs, and about ten feet from hipster infestation.
-Force the friend splitting up from his wife to put up with me at Babcock's. That would make three of us. Chippy, Pond Scum, and me. And Chippy's dog. A sordid bunch, but they probably wouldn't make me join a singing circle. Babcock's place cannot officially be sublet, but we're just his dirty, transient friends. I don't think the co-op can make rules about the type of friends one can keep.
Something will come up. But I am starting to get nervous.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Who is that young woman with the short brown hair?
Why, it's me! I think it's from some time between 1990 and 1992. My mother took this photo when she used to have a part-time job in the Sears photo studio. She can probably isolate the date better than I can. All I remember is not being able to maintain short hair because I was too cheap/lazy to get it cut frequently.
I am extremely pleased to announce that I am the very first, numero uno, collectible friend of Comicraft!
What that means for the uninitiated (which is everyone but me, Richard Starkings, John "JG" Roshell, and the Bucce who saw this yesterday) is that Comicraft has featured me on a stamp--which admittedly few will cut out, because it would ruin their copy of Elephantmen #5 (shipping next month).
Richard is the person that I hunted down that wooden hippo in Kenya for. Well, I think he's got it a little backwards, because anyone who would plug Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik for an entire page in his comic book is actually a friend to me, not vice versa.
The image above is a little teaser. I don't have the finished graphic yet but I'll post it in December when Elephantmen #5 ships.
Yes, I realize it's the infamous socks-in-sandals shot on that stamp...
Thursday, November 16, 2006
When purchasing eggs at the supermarket, which of these is a more responsible purchase?
1) Cage-free organic eggs sold in a plastic carton.
2) Regular eggs sold in cardboard.
It isn't easy being green. Or trying guiltily to be greenish when I remember to be.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
So here's a quick plumbing update for Hatboy.
The condo inspector came and went. A few days later, my lawyer sent me an email.
"They'd like you to install new windows in the airshaft, and to get a cover plate for the boiler in the hot water heater. What is your response?"
I'd already ordered the windows, but the cover for the little space where the flames are in the hot water heater? I didn't even know it was supposed to have a cover.
"I'm not sure I can do that. I'll get back to you."
The guys at Modern Plumbing Supply on Communipaw Avenue helped me out, as they always do. I love going to them because I can say "I need the white thingymabob that hooks into the U that goes into an S and it's about this big and screws on." And they give me exactly the right part, and tell me how to install it.
"You can't buy that separately," was the bad news. "But you don't need it. The heater works fine without it. Why do you want it?"
"I'm selling. The buyers want it."
Ah. They nodded. One of them took some keys from a nail and told me to follow him.
We walked outside of the store and down the sidewalk, stopping in front of a padlocked gate. Mr. Modern unlocked it and in we went.
"We keep the old water heaters here after we install new ones in homes." He poked around on the ground. He found me two old cover plates.
"One of these should work. If not, you can probably bend it to fit. Don't cut yourself. No charge."
One fit perfectly. The other was exactly right for the boiler that feeds the basement washing machine. Mission accomplished.
They don't even say Cheese. They like to surprise you.
"Hey, bet you can't get your camera ready fast enough! Bye!"
Whales like me only slightly more than hippos do. They flee at the sight of me. No whale ever tried to kill me, but at least a hippo can hold still long enough for a shutter to click.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I was pulling stuff out of the top shelf of a closet, packing for my move, when an Australian flag and beer holder fell on top of me. Turbo had brought them along on his first visit to Jersey City. He'd brought enough beer holders for him, Yancey, and Kraiger to consume Budweiser while watching American football on TV, with the Aussie flag hanging in the background.
The flaw in his plan was that Yancey and Kraiger won't drink Budweiser. But they went along with the basic premise.
Turbo renovated my apartment. Not single-handedly, but he did the lion's share of the work. I don't really have much use for an Australian flag in my day-to-day life. I was thinking that maybe I'll write a note and attach it to the flag. This apartment renovated by an Australian school teacher 2004-2005. And then I"ll put the flag somewhere that it won't be found for a long time.
Maybe I'll glue it under the floorboards. Maybe I'll push it through the non-working fireplace grate, inch by inch, until it falls into the fireplace.
Because this condo, though it's in JC, really is part Australian, and once I leave, that's going to be forgotten except in block lore, mentioned occasionally by the old men on the street.
"Remember that time the guy with the funny accent rebuilt this sidewalk? We all stood and watched. That was more fun than watching paint dry, because for a change, it was concrete."
Monday, November 13, 2006
Sunday, November 12, 2006
My Arabic lessons are over, the eight sessions completed as of yesterday.
Like most languages, it went from making sense to "I know nothing." They always work that way. You plow along at a rapid clip, following drills and answering questions correctly because it's so easy to spot patterns in the listen-and-repeat method, though you have no clue what you're doing or why you're responding the way you do.
Then we got into the meat and potatoes. The falafel and fuul. The alphabet. The damn thing offers no shortcuts, no tricks of memorization. No way around it, have to slog through it.
The next session begins December 2. I want to keep it up, but I'll miss a few lessons. I want a vacation after the atlas is complete, before I start working full-time making comic books again. I'll miss the end because I have a secret (non-sinister) mission coming up in Feb-March, and won't be needing to find a new place to live in the New York area for a while. But I sure will learn a lot of Arabic on this secret mission.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
I was full of hope for redemption then. We seemed perfectly matched. Things had a way of working out, a perfect serendipity in which life handed over nice surprises on a regular basis. I'd been lucky so far.
Also, a good man—a taxi driver I'd met—had prayed for me after asking about my estrangement. I was a bit superstitious about this, the last time anyone having prayed for me having been when I walked out of a terrible accident in Ethiopia. I'd been in a great mood after H.M. and I had met earlier that day at the new coffee spot in Garden City shopping mall. I was as enthralled as the first time we'd met in Sudan, immortalized in Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik. He'd nearly—but not quite—apologized for one of two incidents of appalling behavior.
But the only redemption that was attempted was in my sagging fantasies. The good-bye at the airport was good-bye forever. Hope is what keeps us going but it also blinds us to reality.
I've been blinded plenty of times by hope. Roberta tells me that it's okay to hope but not to expect. I've never managed to find a balance. I'm not even sure I can isolate the distinction between the two.
So today is the anniversary of when I still had faith in serendipity. There's been no evidence that it's returning. Since the alternative is bitterness, I'm hoping it grows back. Which means that it will, in time.
Friday, November 10, 2006
The first thing I did after moving into my apartment in November, 2002, was to move out of it.
Well, no, the first thing I did was saw up the plywood over the pine floor. Then I sublet. THEN I moved out.
I was gone for for three months, the maximum time I could stay in Oz.
When I returned in spring of 2003, I was home for a long stretch. My next major absence was for three months at the end of 2004, when I had a flat in Barcelona. Marc Siry stayed in my place, a little bit house-sitter, a little bit renter.
I was home for six months after that, then went to Africa for six months. Then home for six weeks, then off to Kuwait for three months.
Given that I was away from my place almost as much as I was in it, you'd think I'd be less sentimental about leaving it again.
It's just... this time it's permanent. And I've been looking around the neighborhood. Few things--well, nothing--in my price range are as nice. Taxes on other places are higher. I'm already on the best block in the area.
Yesterday, a home inspector checked out my place for the buyer. He nitpicked, found some things "wrong" that aren't wrong, missed some things, and turned the stove on wrong, allowing gas to escape to the kitchen for several minutes. But he didn't find anything so wrong that the buyer wants to back out.
Which is kind of a bummer, because I'm having seller's remorse, and I wouldn't mind at all if the buyer backed out.
My apartment has so much of my last several years' personal history built into it. Turbo's fingerprints are everywhere. I feel terribly guilty at leaving his hard work to someone who doesn't know or appreciate his efforts. And my friends are here too--Yancey tearing up the carpet and breaking down boxes, Lynne brushing dust out of every radiator fin, Al Huckabee beating the hell out of the plaster to cut holes in it, Roberta carrying insulation bales, and Michael Kraiger pulling down plaster to expose the bricks underneath.
But these are people. And a home is just a house. The people will come into my next place (well, some of them will). If there ever is a next place. Given the cost of buying, it probably doesn't make sense to own right now.
I'm poor. I clean up well, but under that upper-middle-class-white-gal-exterior is someone who easily would qualify for food stamps and free medical care. I've been faking it since I left my decent salary at Marvel for a life of barely paying freelance writing. I seldom get the opportunity to walk out of a lawyer's office with a check for a hundred and fifty grand. I should shut up and quit feeling guilty.
But then there's this.
Where the hell am I gonna live?
Thursday, November 09, 2006
When real estate agents were bringing prospective buyers into my apartment, the first thing they always did was comment on the "tin" ceiling.
It's not really tin, because it's new. Tin isn't legal anymore. It's some other metal, designed to look like tin, which is a fire hazard. (I got it here.)
The second thing they'd do is turn right and look at the bathroom. Which is why I installed a new vanity and re-caulked the tub. The bathroom was the least appealing room in the house.
Then they'd head into the living room and notice the bookcase.
"Wow. You must travel a lot."
I never knew how to answer that without getting into a long conversation that was way too chit-chatty with someone I could end up sparring with (via lawyers).
"Yes. I do. And over here is a faux gaslamp. Did you notice these original Eastlake-style hinges?"
Monday, November 06, 2006
On view: November 15, 2006 - March 18, 2007
The first-ever exhibition of comic art from Africa comes to The Studio Museum in Harlem.
Africa Comics includes 32 artists or 2-person artists’ teams from all over the continent of Africa, including Angola, Benin, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, and Togo.
I am definitely going to check this out.
When I took my Amtrak trip to Montreal, it rained all day. This and whizzing through the countryside at 60 miles an hour made it tough to get decent photos of the foliage I was supposed to be covering for the Amtrak site.
I've been completely overwhelmed with work (Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be freelancers) and unable to get upstate to take clear photos... until yesterday.
It's overcast at 7 a.m. on a Sunday but I have got to get this done before all the leaves drop.
I took a chance, loaded up on cameras, and Henry the Ford Taurus and I drove through the Holland Tunnel to the Westside Highway. We cruised north through Riverdale, Yonkers, and into the Hudson Valley.
The sun came out and the views were spectacular. Just north of Cold Spring, New York, I pull over beside the road, reassured Henry that I'd be right back, and hiked a short distance to a railroad footbridge overpass.
And that's where I got a shot of Bannerman Castle, ruins a thousand feet offshore on a deserted island.
Was this mysterious castle occupied by ousted European royalty? Was it built as a monument to love, like the Taj Mahal? Nah. Just one man's munitions business. But it's still cool.
And when I got back home, I went by the pie-baking contest (which also hosts a used book sale every Sunday). I dropped off some old books, and in return got a free slice of pie! Several free slices, actually. But I missed out on the contest. Not only did I not get a chance to enter it, I didn't even get a winning slice. Still, free pie is free pie. I'd call that a good Sunday.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Once upon a time—before she went to work for Velcro® in Barcelona, and then moved to China for her MBA—my friend Lynne worked for the company that makes Blu-Tack.
Blu-Tack isn't well-known in the US, but it's a putty-like substance that people in Europe sometimes use to stick things on walls. The idea is that it (in theory) leaves no mark on the wall.
It is also good for sculpting!
One year, back when I did things like this (1997 on Avenue B), I had a New Year's party. Some people came by and somehow we all ended up sculpting Lynne's Blu-Tack instead of doing party things.
The Lawrence of Arabia Blu-Tack sculpture is by Mark Powers. Jenn (of Babc0ck and Jenn) did one of these, but I don't remember which. The other is a mystery.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Between 1988 and 1995, I had an office wall covered in comic book cows.
Mark Chiarello drew the first one. I'm not sure who drew the last one—maybe Alex Ross in 1999 or 2000—but the cows continued after the wall had turned into a web. The John Paul Leon one was definitely from 1999, right after I went to Egypt. He drew the cow by a pyramid. The Jim Lee one is really great. So is the Jon J Muth one. Actually, nearly all of them are unique so it's hard to choose a favorite.
The amazon links are all out of date, the counter has turned over once, and the site moos, which is kind of annoying. I think I made this site for a class I was taking in web design, and we were on the chapter about "Frames."
Check it out.