Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

When I run outside, I stick to the bike path, so I run by this tree a lot. For the past couple of weeks, I've noticed the unique arrangement of leaves on the tree and thought to myself that they almost look like someone put them there. But I never took the time to stop and take a closer look (don't want to mess up my running rhythm!) until today.

Here's what the tree looks like from a few feet away.

Here's a closer look. What appears to be leaves is actually origami figures strung together.

This morning when I saw this I immediately thought about the recent fires. I was at the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association meeting at College Church the other night and I was struck by how no one in the room seemed to be there to advance their own agenda, which is something of a novelty at public meetings around here. Instead I got the feeling that almost everyone there was looking for some information and some direction about what they can do to keep themselves safe, help the victims of the fires, and restore the feeling of being a part of a caring community where we don't have to look at each other with suspicion.

And speaking of looking at each other with suspicion, the idea being promoted by some people around town that everyone should go out and and buy video cameras and start filming everything that goes on around town is a bit misguided. We're already potentially dealing with a member of our community whom we can't trust with matches--I don't want to be in such a hurry to trust everyone in town to do the right thing with video cameras. And I've seen cats perform open-heart surgery in videos on YouTube. What we can see in a video is not always the truth, and the people who show us videos don't always have our best intentions in mind.

But back to the tree by the bike path. The fact that someone would take the time to decorate a lonely tree out in the middle of nowhere is a sign of how people in this town really do care for each other. It's a sign of hope, that together we can achieve great things through small gestures and overcome evil and hatred in the process.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Done With Christmas Yet?

I logged on to check my email this morning and found this greeting from Dick's, with a time stamp of 6:02 a.m. So much for taking some time to enjoy Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tracking the Big Guy

Shopping done, check. Presents wrapped, check. Now all that's left is to while away the hours on the longest night of the year waiting for Santa to slide down our chimney. Luckily, the greatest and most expensive build-up armed forces in the history of mankind, aka the United States Military, has given us a way to track the Big Guy. Our tax dollars at work.

Now if they could just figure out a better way for me to kick this killer cold that I've come down with. Not that there's anything wrong with the old-fashioned way of doing it, with a lot of old fashioneds

Monday, December 21, 2009

I Admire Your Dedication To Your Beliefs

Woke up yesterday morning, looked out the window, and snorted to myself that the fresh snow I saw on the ground couldn't even live up to the lofty parameters of a dusting. And this after imminent warnings had fouled up travel plans, forced babysitters to cancel, and drove hordes of secret French Toast aficionados to the supermarkets to stock up on bread and milk.

Woke up this morning and logged on to Masslive's Real-time Northampton news page and saw this:

They're not giving up the hope that a snowstorm is on the way. And if they leave that story up long enough, they'll probably be right.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hey, Good Lookin'

It was 15 or so degrees when I left my house this morning to go for a run. When I got back home, I decided to take a picture of myself, not because I knew how ridiculous I looked (not exactly, anyway) but because I just wanted to document myself on the occasion of my 43rd birthday. Here's the picture.

Yes, those are icicles. And yes, this is the GOOD picture.

Anyway, it's my birthday, something I don't necessarily announce or celebrate too blatantly. But it occurred to me while I was out running, one great thing about having kids who are 7 and 10 now is that they get SO excited about birthdays in general--and even more so when they are closely related to the person who's having the birthday--that they can make even middle-aged birthdays fun. Today I'll follow their lead.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mother in The House

With ten days to go until Christmas, it's only fitting, I guess, to think about churches.

Lately I've been getting the feeling that Santa's not the only one who sees me when I'm sleeping and when I'm awake.

It was announced recently that three of the four Roman Catholic churches in Northampton will be closed, Blessed Sacrament Church on Elm Street, and St. Mary’s of the Assumption on Elm. The fourth church, Sacred Heart on King Street, will become the headquarters of the new St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Northampton.

Elizabeth Ann Seton, as everyone knows, was the first American-born saint. So it seems appropriate to name a church after her. But when I heard the news, I couldn't help but think that perhaps St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is stalking me.

Let me explain. I graduated from Seton Hall University, as did my two sisters and one of my brothers. My mother worked there for years. My wife's mother also worked at Seton Hall for years. My father-in-law got his master's degree from Seton Hall. I also got a master's degree from Seton Hall. Oh, and my wife and I were married in the chapel at Seton Hall, the same place my older son was baptized.

My wife spent much of her childhood in New Hampshire. She lived in a house on Seton Drive.

Oh, and did I mention that every year, Seton Hall sends me requests for money? I mean, spooky, right?

And now Mother Seton has come to Northampton.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

December Birthday

People usually cringe when I tell them that my birthday is in December. Maybe they react that way because they think about how busy they are in December, getting ready for Christmas or whatever, and they can't imagine having to jam into that madness something like a birthday. Then they say something along the lines of how I must have gotten screwed out of presents as a kid because of the closeness of my birthday to Christmas.

On the contrary, I tell them. It was (and still is) great to have a birthday so close to Christmas. I mean, as a kid, waiting for Christmas and all those great presents can be tortuous. But for me, just when the pressure was at its greatest, I would get a bunch of presents to tide me over until the Big Day.

I guess what I'm saying is that people born in December often have the ability to turn lemons into lemonade. Today we're celebrating the birthday of our December baby, Owen, who turns seven today.

Owen's bright and curious and fun to be around. He's easy to pick out in a crowd, because he's the one with the biggest smile having the most fun.

And yes, that worries his mother and me tremendously as we picture him in his college years.

Happy Birthday, Owen!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Race Day Updates

Temperature at 7:00 a.m.: 31 degrees. Very little wind, which helps. In three hours, we should be up to a do-able 38 degrees, though I'm sure it will be a bit of a battle with runners 2954 and 2955 over the best clothes to wear. And I'm sure they won't be the only two among the 4,000 or so who will have a hard time figuring out how to dress properly so that they're Goldilocks: not too cool or too hot.

Our plan is to get down to the festivities around 9:00 a.m. Before that, I'm going to go for a run. I know that probably sounds obnoxious, because I remember the very first five k I ran and how I watched the really good runners doing a lot of running to warm up and then running home afterwards. "I've only got five kilometers in me," I thought. "I can't waste them on warmups."

But I'm going to be running with my six-year-old and last year we finished sixth from the last. Our pace was rather pedestrian. I'd like to get a bit of a workout in tonight, hence the pre-run.

Last night before he went to bed, my six-year-old told me that he hopes he does better than he did last year. His comment surprised me because I didn't think he really paid attention to how he finished in comparison to the other runners. Maybe the memory of last year's sub-par performance will motivate him. We'll see.

9:00 a.m. We make our way downtown and park next to the Calvin. As we get out of the car, I spy two people clad in runner's garb looking a little lost. I tell them to head down Main Street and then make a left after Thorne's and hold my tongue as they cross King Street against the light. They're running in support of a good cause, after all.

9:15 a.m. We make our way to the parking lot by the brewery. My younger son says, "Dad, isn't this so much crazier than it was last year?" And I had to agree: there were tents, thousands of people, a guy dressed in an Elvis outfit, several people dressed as marshmallows, and a long, long line for the port-a-johns. But everyone was in a good mood and we still, despite the crowd, managed to find everyone we were supposed to find.

9:30 a.m. Okay, it's cold out. All of the body heat I generated during my pre-race run has disappeared. And the walk has been delayed for two minutes for some reason, which means the run will be delayed. And did I mention it's cold? I run into John Frey who's worked very hard to put this whole thing together and I must say that he's remarkably calm. Bill Dwight, Monte Belmonte, and Jaz Tupelo are getting the crowd worked up.

9:45 a.m. We're lined up to do a 32-minute 5k. I don't expect us to finish that quickly; last year, Owen and I finished around 44 minutes. But it's a place to start.

10:10 Finally, we're ready to start. The countdown has begun and the DJ is playing "Mister Big Stuff (Who Do You Think You Are?)" which strikes some people as an odd choice of song to play at an event that's raising money to fight domestic violence. The runners to do run-too-soon-and-then-have-to-slow-down-again thing, and then we're running.

During the race I wonder how we're doing time-wise, but I forget to start my stopwatch and I forgot to look at the clock time when we crossed the starting line. But I'm impressed with Owen. Last year we did a lot of walking; this year, not so much. Owen was worried about finishing close to the back, like he did last year, so he spends a lot of time looking over his shoulder. And there are plenty of people behind us. He runs a great race and finishes strong. We're sweating as we cross the finish line. We turn in our chips, get a mug, but we don't get any hot chocolate (the early reviews on the drink's quality are not that positive). And then we chat with fellow finishers until once again, our bodies are cold and it's time to head home.

On the way to the car, my older son, who's just run 3.1 miles and looks none the worse for wear, says, "Why did you have to park so far away?"

Everyone we see walking through town is in a good mood and after stopping for a bagel, we find ourselves in the middle of falling snow. And nice way to end a nice morning.

We'll definitely be back next year.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Will The Chocolate Still Be Hot When I Finish?

How often do you get the opportunity to run a race and beat a couple of thousand people? That chance could be yours on Saturday at the Hot Chocolate Run.

Last year, the race was a lot of fun, even if I did finish near the back of the pack, in 1369th place. There were a lot of happy people participating in the walk and the run, and a lot of people out supporting the walkers and the runners, despite the 13-degree temperatures. It felt like one big City party, and everyone was invited.

Everyone's invited again this year, and I have the feeling that this year it's going to seem like everyone showed up. A quick check of the race's website shows that they're expecting 4500 people to register for the event. By comparison, in 2007, the race had 835 runners, according to the Republican.

Normally I don't like crowds, but this is a spectacle that I can walk to--and run away from, if necessary--so I'm looking forward to it. It will be a great way to kick off the Holiday Season in Northampton. Oh, and my back has healed enough so that I can participate. So I'll see you at the starting line.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Backing Away from the Hot Chocolate Run?

This isn't really a story about the Turkey Bowl, but I have to start there. The Turkey Bowl takes place annually in Maplewood, New Jersey's Orcard Park where it has been a fixture since 1984. What started out as a group of high school friends getting together for a little footbal has become an institution. Turkey Bowl has deep roots and unique traditions and inspires fierce loyalty among those who continue to play year after year, long after many of the original players have moved on.

This year marked an important turning point in the Turkey Bowl's history when the game began with both adults and children taking the field. In the old, old days, none of the players had kids. In the old days, the kids were too young to really be involved, but there was a kids' game that developed. This year, the kids outnumbered the adults.

And a kid one the "Most Dominant" award. It just happened to be my kid.

But this isn't really a story about the Turkey Bowl. It's a story about this Saturday's Hot Chocolate Run. I've had the date circled on the calendar for some time now, and I've had a sign promoting the event on my lawn for weeks. I've registered myself and my children, and the weather looks positively balmy when compared to last year's 13-degree day. So what happened? In the very first play of the Turkey Bowl, I pulled something in my lower back.

Yeah, I've got a back injury. And I haven't been able to run at all since Thursday. Saturday night, I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and I couldn't walk. Not. Good.

But I'm hopeful. Last year I had such a good time running the race with my kids, and with 3000 other people, that I'm going to do what I can to get make it to the starting line. I've found that the Hot Chocolate Run is like one big party. Everyone's in a good mood and running a 5k is a great way to kick off a Saturday morning, because it can be used as an excuse for a lot of holiday indulgences the rest of the weekend. "Sure I'll have a brownie. I ran a five k today!"

I'm also going to be there because I want to see what 4000 people running through the streets of Northampton looks like. And I want to be a part of it.

Anyone know any good stretches for the lower back?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Missing Trees

That's a picture of Jackson Street from the bike path overpass looking towards Jackson Street School. If I'd taken this picture a few months ago, you'd see a lot more trees on the right side. Those are all gone now. But the trees were not removed to make way for the improved sidewalk/bike path ramp project. According to the ever-helpful Jackson Street School Newsletter, most of the trees were removed by the abutting property owner because they wanted to remove them.

This image is from Jackson Street looking down towards the bike path. It's pretty amazing how quickly this project is moving forward--I'm assuming the cooperative weather has something to do with it. And it's also pretty amazing that the entrance to the bike path from Jackson Street was so treacherous for so long. I've ridden down that path many times with only one thought in my head: "I hope I don't flip over." Now it will be something I'll tell my kids about, about how easy they have it now.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday is Blood Day

Donated blood today for the first time in about six months and I was reminded both of some of the benefits of the procedure and how people in white coats with medical equipment can sometimes cause me to act funny.

The benefits: I had my pulse (57), temperature (okay, I guess, because they didn't say anything), blood pressure (ditto) taken by a professional. Well, by someone in a white coat, anyway. I had the iron in my blood tested (15.3, whatever that means). And I was asked a series of questions about where I travel, who I hang around with, how often I get a piercing or a tattoo, and how many days in a row I've spent in jail (I don't know what happens to people after they've spent two days in jail that would preclude them from giving blood, but I don't think I want to find out.)

The oddness: I let these perfect strangers stick me with a needle, ask me personal questions, and confirm my social security number. And that was before I even got to the part where I gave the blood. My favorite part was when I had to roll up my sleeves so that they could check my veins. I assume they do this because they really want to check my veins and because they want to make sure that I'm not an IV drug user. Anyway, whenever I get to this part, the people in the white coats always get very excited about my veins. "Wow, what great veins," the person helping me said today.

And then I went in to do the actual blood-giving. They had me lie down on a padded table while the technician examined my arm. My arm was at my side and I couldn't really see what she was looking at, but I could hear her very clearly. "Well that's weird."

I don't care what the situation is, I simply don't want to hear someone wearing a white coat who's examining any part of my body to say that.

I thought about ignoring it. After all, I'm a veteran blood donor. But I just couldn't.

"What's weird?" I asked.

"Your veins," she said. "They're just so thick."

Three thoughts flashed through my mind. The first was to make an inappropriate remark about the thickness of other veins and vein-like appendages. I refrained. The second was to just say "thank you," but I couldn't tell if she was being complimentary or not. The third thought was just how quickly I could get to a computer and Google "thick veins" to see what that might portend.

So I didn't reply at all. I squeezed the rubber ball and waited patiently for the bag to fill up and then I went and got some cookies and juice. I waited the required 15 minutes and then went back to work, another donation in the books.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Think I'm Going To Barf--Where's The Finish Line?

Over the past few weeks, my running routine has been interrupted by a persistent pain in my leg. I'm happy to report that after consulting with an athletic trainer (thank you, Melissa!) I've been able to run recently pretty much without any pain. So now I find myself looking for a challenge. Sure, the Hot Chocolate Run is only a few weeks away, but last year I "ran" that race with my younger son, and we finished, shall we say, towards the back of the pack. I anticipate the same thing this year; in other words, not as much of a challenge as I would like.

But I don't think I'd be able to handle the Krispy Kreme Challenge. Sure, it sounds simple enough: run two miles, eat a dozen donuts, and then run two more miles. But think about for a little while and imagine what it must feel like to run after eating 12 donuts. And then think about what needs to be cleaned up on the race route afterwards, and I'm not talking crumpled up plastic cups and bottles.

Friday, November 13, 2009

No Thank You

In its automated and relentless drive to bring people together, Facebook ignored how I chose to ignore its matchmaking recommendation from a almost a year ago that I become friends with someone I have no intention of friending. The faceless Facebook may know from its study of those mysterious analytics who has a similar history to me, but for all of its intelligence, it can never truly know or understand what's in my heart. Yes--I'm human and that's something you'll never understand. Sure, you may have birthdays--and there might even be cake--but you'll never know the pain of having a birthday party ruined by a six-year-old jerk who's grown up to be a forty-something-year-old asshole. And I've filled my quota of those, thank you very much.

I will click "ignore" and enjoy doing it!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Birthday Shout Out

Ten years ago today, back in the "old days" when digital cameras weren't as functional or omnipresent as they are today, I remember driving to a one-hour photo place, eager to see the pictures of our newborn son that I'd taken a few hours earlier. I wore the biggest smile on my face, but I couldn't help it. And I remember being perplexed about why everyone else I encountered didn't seem to be as happy about the loud and squrimy bundle of joy in the pictures as I was. Hadn't everyone heard the wonderful news?

Today that bundle of joy turns 10 years old, and there hasn't been a day go by that I haven't smiled as broadly and as proudly as I did that first day.

Happy birthday, Sam!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hot Chocolate Run, Here I Come!

“You know that we’re not talking about normal knees, right?”

That’s how the doctor began his conversation with me after I explained to him how the pain I’d been feeling in my leg had started out as knee pain but had then migrated down towards the calf/ankle area.

As soon as he said that, I was reminded of the time eleven years earlier I went to get an x-ray of my knee after I’d been hit by a car while out riding my bike. After the x-ray, I was told to sit in the waiting area so that the radiologist could make sure that he didn’t need any more x-rays. As I sat there, a man in a white coat holding an x-ray in his hand came running down the hallway to see me. Once he confirmed that I did, indeed, belong to the knee whose x-ray he held in his hand, he said, “How do you feel?”

“Well,” I said. “My knee is sore, but I don’t think it’s anything serious.” He looked at the x-ray, and then down at my knee. Then he told me to stand up and take a few steps, which I did. He then looked at the x-ray one more time, then at me before he turned and walked away, down the hallway, shaking his head as he went.
It turns out that he was surprised by where my kneecaps were in relation to the rest of leg parts. He was worried that I had turn my patellar tendon but in reality, I have a condition called “patella alta.” in layman’s terms, it’s also referred to as “not normal knees.”

So I knew where the doctor was coming from. And I expected the worst. On the table behind the doctor was a model of the knee. I kept glancing at it, expecting him to pick it up to illustrate a point. And I know from experience that doctors don’t pick up the models to tell you that everything’s working fine.

But the doctor didn’t pick up the model. And he didn’t make me get any x-rays. And most importantly, he didn’t tell me to stop running. He diagnosed me with a calf injury, advised me to stretch regularly, and then sent me on my way. “Keep running,” he said. Which means that I now have a clean bill of health for next month’s Hot Chocolate Run. If only my sore leg knew that there was nothing wrong with it.

Time seems to have been flying by lately and just as I still can’t believe that the calendar has turned to November, I can’t believe that the Hot Chocolate Run is less than a month away. I also can’t believe that this race has become so popular that the organizers have had to find a bigger place for the start/finish than what they had last year on Strong Avenue. But this has become quite a community event—so many people I know participate in it—so maybe I shouldn’t be all that surprised.
And now that I’ve been cleared to race, I can start obsessing over the little race details. Will my kids want to run with me again this year? If they do, I can’t push myself to set a time, because I’ll have to stay with them. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Will the weather hold out? Last year it was 13 degrees when I woke up on race day. Will I get some hot chocolate this year? Last year I ran/walked with my then-five-year-old, and we finished fourth from the last. And the only liquid chocolate available was far from hot.

But the bottom line is, I’m pumped and looking forward to getting ready for the race.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Election Day Eve

Two days after the last Northampton Mayoral election, Fred Contrada wrote this in the Republican about Higgins' opponent, Gene Tacy:

"Tacy, a late write-in candidate, rode a wave of rancor against City Hall that included dissatisfaction with the handling of the Smith College science center, the Hilton Garden Inn hotel project and the landfill expansion. People opposed to those projects have insisted that Higgins shuts the public out of the decision-making process if it doesn't suit her agenda."

Sound familiar? Over the last two years, the issues haven't really changed that much. The case could be made that the issues have finally found a leader in Michael Bardsley, who doesn't have the handicap of being a write-in candidate like Gene Tacy was in 2007. But does that mean that Higgins will finally lose? Not necessarily. Yes, last time Higgins was facing a write-in candidate, but last time she did little to no campaigning. It could be that the campaigning she's done cancels out the advantages that Bardsley has this time that Tacy didn't last time.

In the end, it will all come down to numbers, of course. Northampton has approximately 18,000 registered voters. In 2007, almost 7,000 of those cast ballots at the polls. While there has been a lot of interest in the election this year, it would be a shock if more than 50% of registered voters voted this year. That means that Bardsley and Higgins are fighting for 9,000 votes. To be on the safe side, let's say that the winner has to get to 5,000 votes. In 2007, Higgins garnered 4,3331 votes basically without breaking a sweat. I'm not saying that everyone who voted for Higgins in 2007 will automatically do so again in 2009, but I do think that a high percentage will. If we add in new voters that Higgins has attracted this time around, she's close to the goal.

Bardsley has been campaigning hard on the message that he will do a better job because he'll listen. His message is very similar to the one that Tacy used in 2007, one that convinced 2600 people to vote for someone who wasn't even on the official ballot. Bardsley has taken on the mantle of outsider and reformer and just as the issues haven't changed that much in the last two years, I don't think that the people who wanted Higgins out two years ago have really changed their minds. So Bardsley can count on at least 2600 votes.

So what it boils down to is how well each candidate will do reaching out to those who haven't voted for them or their issues before. And I think this is where each candidate has fallen short.

So much of the rhetoric of this campaign has been driven by a group of people whose passion far outweighs their numbers. Online message boards, website comments, email, and social media have been ablaze with cheap shots, outright lies, well-though-out opinions, and expressions of hurt feelings. And these issues have crept up in the various forums the candidates have held. But in rehashing these issues, both candidates have focused on the same small group of people. How many truly undecided voters have taken notice of any of this? While we like to think that we live in a politically aware city, the fact remains that local elections just don't garner as much interest as state or national elections do. In talking about the election with people, the comment I've heard most often is, "why are people mad at the mayor?" That people ask that question should give pause to anyone working on a campaign this year and serve as a stark reminder that there are a lot of people in Northampton who haven't been following the election at all. And let's face it, with so many candidates and so many signs around, they tend to blend together after a while, especially if you're not up on who's who.

So as I see it, there are four voting blocs in this election. The first bloc is the non-voting bloc; they won't go to the polls tomorrow not matter what. The second bloc is the anti-incumbent bloc, which will vote for anyone on the ballot not named Higgins. The third bloc is the pro-Higgins/anti-Bardsley Bloc, and they'll vote for the incumbent. The last bloc is made up of those registered voters who don't pay close attention to local elections. This group will control tomorrow's outcome, and I think they'll vote for Higgins for two basic reasons. First, she's the incumbent and has name recognition. Second, I think they would say that things are going pretty well in Northampton. I'm not saying they're right, I'm just saying that an anti-Higgins campaign based in part on the minutiae of City Council Executive Session Minutes takes too much brain power to understand; people like things simple. And the simplest thing to do is vote for the mayor we've already got.

On Tuesday night we'll see that the new boss is the same as the old boss.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Who's The Man?

I'm a little bit behind with the news about Governor Patrick visiting Jackson Street School, but I just go this picture last night. Sure does look like everyone's having a good time. My younger son is the one just to the right of the governor, the one with the devilish smile.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Election Musings

I listened to the Bill Dwight show this morning and he did a good job of summing up what this whole election season has been about. "This whole election is about hurt feelings," he said. And he's right. We've heard a lot about the need for "change" and "transparency" and "openness," but I think what that really boils down to is that a lot of people are hurt because Mayor Higgins doesn't agree with them. So they've flocked to a candidate who promises to listen and to study issues carefully and to gather people together to examine things. What I don't see in that sentiment, however, is a plan for getting things done. Let's face it, whoever the next mayor is, there will still be potholes on the streets, solid waste to deal with, a difficult economy, eye-popping class sizes, and the specter of even deeper state budget cuts. And you can be damn sure that the next mayor will raise property taxes as much as he or she is allowed to by law. In other words, there's a lot that needs to be done, and I just don't think that Michael Bardsley has presented a coherent plan for how he's going to get things done. Take the landfill, for example. I've heard the question posed to him at least 3 times: what will he do with the landfill? His response, let's see how we can reduce waste and then see what happens. I don't want the landfill to expand, but in the light of no viable alternatives, what are our options? I don't think waiting and hoping is the way to go.

And let me also say that I find it ironic that the candidate who's promising transparency and openness crows on his website about how a "majority" of Northampton voters "sent a strong message for change in city government" when they made him top vote getter in the primary. About 20% of registered voters participated in the primary. Bardsley did get the most votes, but he got roughly the same amount of votes that Gene Tacy got in the 2007 election. Using Bardsley's logic, Tacy should be the mayor right now. Yes, this could be politics as usual, but this is the guy who's supposed to be above all that.

I'm glad the election is in a only a few days because all of the electioneering going on around town has just about worn me down. I'll be drawing the line for Clare Higgins.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Changing Priorities

I suppose it's something not exclusive to Northampton and environs, but ever since I've moved here, I've noticed the creative use of slightly modified road signs to promote various agendas. There's the one on the bike path in Florence, that I always kick myself for not having a camera on me when I run by, that has "Developing" spray painted on it, so that now it says "Stop Developing." Don't really know what that means, but whatever. For the longest time there was the Do Not Pass sign on Prospect Street in front of Childs Park that someone had modified to read "Do Ass." Heh.

Then there's this sign at the intersection of Summer and Prospect Streets. I finally managed to stop and take a picture of it.

What's interesting about this sign is that someone put the bumper sticker over a spray painted modification that someone else had already made; if you look closely, you can see the faded "War" there, so it once said Stop War. Certainly a noble sentiment. But what the heck, Stop Listening to Awful Music is important, too.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Greatest Halloween Costume

If someone shows up at my door wearing this, I'll give them all the candy I have.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


The English language has over a million words in it, and new words are being added all the time. English has more words in it than the total number of words in French and German combined. I like the fact that While the sheer volume of words might make it difficult for those studying for spelling bees or the SATs, it also means that you can usually find the right word to precisely define something. Or, alternatively, something happens that causes you realize immediately what a word really means. Today someone snarled at me, the first time I think that's happened, and I instantly said to myself, "Now THAT'S a snarl."

I was running towards Northampton on the bike path when I crossed Hatfield Street. As I approached the intersection, I looked right and saw no cars coming. I looked left and noticed a light-colored Subaru Forester heading in my direction, but the car was far enough away that I could safely enter the crosswalk. Yes, I knew the car would have to slow down a bit, but it wouldn't be a big deal. I mean, that's what crosswalks are for, right? So I held up my hand in appreciation/acknowledgment and headed across the street.

Then I noticed that the Forester wasn't slowing down. I looked up at the driver and saw his angry face and his middle finger. I've recreated the scene below.

I should note that the driver of the Forester was not wearing a tie. Nor was he as good-looking as I am. And I don't think that I quite captured the essence of his snarl. But when I looked up and saw that, all I could do was laugh; obviously, this guy has some issues. Anyone ever hear of the word rageholic?

Friday, October 2, 2009

My Son Could Be A Genius But He Watches Too Much Television

My wife was driving our two sons home from school the other day when she heard our younger son explaining his work or art to his brother. "That's Lenny," he said. "And that's Carl." My wife didn't know what the heck he was talking about until they all got home and she saw the work of art our younger son did during "free draw" time in first grade art class.

The Simpsons is one of my favorite television shows (hey--a blogger likes the Simpsons? Go figure, right?). Lenny and Carl are minor characters on the show, and they spend a lot of their time at Moe's tavern, which, if you can't really see, is what my son chose to draw. The tavern is surrounded by some other Simpsons' characters, including Homer:

Don't see it? As any artist will tell you, it's the details that count. Just compare it to a picture of the real Homer:

I'm just surprised that he didn't do a picture of Masterpiece Theater, since that show's always on at our house. But Maybe next time.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Left Hand May I Introduce Right Hand

It's been a busy few months on the stretch of Route 10 between Northampton and Easthampton, a stretch of road that I traverse twice a day, on average. New sidewalks were put in on the east side of the road near Florence Road, a new traffic light was put in at the intersection of Route 10 and Earle Street, and most of the road was re-paved. These projects seem to happen all at the same time, which meant that traffic was often stopped.

But that's the price of keeping up the infrastructure, I suppose. And I'll be the first to admit that the road looks nice.

But wait, what's that thing in the distance there?

Yes, a new construction vehicle has recently been spotted by the side of the newly paved road. And then there are the new markings spray painted on the new asphalt.

I have a feeling the construction equipment and the road markings are related to the bike path that will soon connect Easthampton and Northampton. And I'm all for the new bike path, but it will be a shame if the road, which has just been re-done, now gets ripped up again.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

"I See Your Outrage, Sir, And Raise You MY Outrage!"

The bumper stickers are pretty common, especially around here: "If you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention." The sentiment has a certain truth to it, but it only goes as deep as bumper-sticker truth can.

But that phrase has been on my mind lately, as I've been thinking a lot about outrage. But let me be clear: I haven't been outraged; I've just been thinking about it.

It seems that we have a surfeit of outrage around here lately. It used to be that there was an order to all of this anger stuff. You kind of started at irritation, moved to anger, and then get to outrage, if the situation warranted. But now outrage is the starting point, which makes me worry about where people go from there.

But what I find really amazing about the world of outrage we're in right now is how much of the outrage is directed at other people's outrage. We have people outraged at someone else's outrage at a third person's outrage. Call it outrage cubed. We've moved into a kind of meta-outrage state that will probably only grow as the election creeps closer.

Take a look at the recent outburst at the City Council meeting. A resident, who's been showing up regularly at City Council meetings to express his displeasure with the City government, goes a bit beyond the pale, and suddenly everyone is outraged. One group is outraged that this person acted the way he did. Another group understands his outrage and is outraged that the first group doesn't understand the outrage. The first group is then outraged that the second group condones being outraged.

It goes like this:

Person 1: I'm outraged.
Person 2: You can't be outraged. I'm outraged.
Person 1: I'm outraged that you don't acknowledge that I have a right to be outraged.
Person 2: I'm outraged that you're outraged at my outrage.

Yes, it does become that petty. People are focusing their outrage on lawn signs and emails and the proper place to sign up on the sign up sheet to address the City Council. Silly stuff, in the grand scheme of things.

I don't know, maybe I should be outraged. Perhaps it's true that I'm not paying attention. But I do know that when I try to pay attention, it's hard to get at the facts because all I see are people outraged at the outrageous behavior of other people.

In doing my usual extensive research for this piece, I came across this definition of outrage: Excess of boldness or pride; foolhardiness, rashness; presumption.

According to the OED, that definition is obsolete. My gut says it might be making a comeback, at least around here. Now if I could just figure out how to put it on a bumper sticker...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is This a Problem?

This is what greeted me when I took off my running shoes after a 9-mile run on Saturday.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Roy Martin Eliminated from Mayor's Race

That's what the headlines should have said, since that's the only thing we learned for sure from last night's primary election. As expected, however, we find in the papers the spin that the two remaining candidates and their respective camps want to put on the results. According to the Gazette, Bardsley "believes the result validates his candidacy and the sentiment among many of his supporters who say city government is out of touch with residents." Also in the Gazette, Higgins, meanwhile, expressed little surprise with he results. "I expected he would work hard to get his supporters out; they were motivated to get out," she said in the Gazette.

Really, you can put pretty much any spin you want on the numbers. Only 21 percent of registered voters turned out. Bardsley got more votes, but the important thing in this election was just to finish in the top 2, and with Martin as the third candidate, was there ever any doubt as to who the top two would be? And remember, the totals don't count squat towards the general election.

You could say that the results show Higgins should be worried. But you could also say that Bardsley should be worried because if voters are as dissatisfied as he says they are, more people should have turned out to vote.

In other words, yesterday's election doesn't mean anything; it only showed us what we already knew, that Roy Martin won't be the next mayor. But it does signal the beginning to an election season that I predict will be especially silly. Accusations will be thrown, language will be parsed, records will be dissected, and passions will run high. In the end, however, we'll have a mayor and the vast majority of Northampton residents won't notice much of a difference at all: our property taxes won't go down, potholes won't disappear, and the parking enforcement people won't stop issuing tickets. In other words, the quality of life things that most people associate with big-G Government won't change much. And that's both good and bad. It's good because it means that we really can't make a bad choice, no matter whom we vote for; and it's bad because the more noticeable quality of life issues tend to overshadow other important issues, like transparency and development. The fact is that most people won't pay close attention to this election and many people will be persuaded to vote for one candidate over the other because of misinformation or misunderstanding of an issue.

I guess I must have drunk the "Down on Humanity" roast coffee this morning.

I don't know who I'll vote for and I don't know who will win. But I do know that the next six weeks will be interesting.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

All the People Who Died

I've always had an abiding wonder for books and a healthy respect for the authors and poets who create those books. I think that's part of the reason why I find myself working with words and holding advanced degrees in English and literature. But it took me a long time to really appreciate writers and see them not as Famous Authors that inhabit black and white photos or exist only in card games, but as real people facing real issues. And the best among them put their struggle with those issues at the center of their work.

Jim Carroll was one of the best.

I was saddened to hear that Jim had died, much to my surprise. It seems like a lot of famous people have been dying lately, or maybe famous people have always been dying and lately just a number of famous people I know about have died. But none of those deaths made me sad the way Jim's did. And that's a bit surprising when you consider that I read only one of his books (Basketball Diaries, of course) and some of his poems. But I saw him live and in person three times: I felt his magnetism in person and sat rapt as he put life--his life--to what had only been words on a page. And those were rich experiences. The first time I saw him, when I was in college and he was giving a reading at some club in Greenwich Village, I went to the bathroom before the reading began, and at the urinal next to me was this very tall, very thin man who exited the bathroom and took him place on stage. Somehow, that seems a fitting introduction to Jim Carroll.

It's true that his words will live on, but unlike most of the dead authors I've read--and still read--knowing that Jim Carroll is not alive will for me take away a little of the life he left on the page.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Still Don't Know

It was the kind of late-summer day that you wanted to hold onto any way you could, a prospect made difficult by the fact that the days were getting shorter and the feeling of summer had faded away with the passing of Labor Day. That's something that will always stick with me: what a nice day it was.

By the afternoon of September 11, 2001, we needed a break from watching the constant television coverage that could provide no new details and instead simply replayed the horror. After leaving work early, we took our son over to our friends' house, so that he could play with their two boys, who were slightly older. We four adults sat outside watching them, not talking much, because really, what more could we say? I watched the kids and secretly hoped for some kind of a kid conflict, because I wanted to face a problem that I knew I could solve.

We all knew, I think, that our friend Chris was dead, but none of us came out and said it. The facts were, though, that Chris worked in the World Trade Center on the top floors, and while he was officially "missing," the only thing that would have kept him from getting home to his family, or at least calling them, would be that he was no longer alive.

But we held out hope, because it was the only thing we knew we could do. Everything else just seemed so meaningless.

And that's the image burned into my mind: four adults sitting outside on a brilliant September afternoon watching three children cavort in the safety of a fenced-in back yard. In the distance, only a dozen miles away or so, is Manhattan. In the next day or so, the smoke and smell of the fallen towers will waft across the river, but on this afternoon, the clear blue sky is relatively quiet, a rarity in an area with so many airports. Every once in a while, though, a fighter jet streaks overhead. Nobody knows what to say, nobody knows what to do, and nobody wants to be alone.

I still feel that way eight years later.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ethical Dilemma at the Fair

The swings are always a favorite.

My son must have ridden this think two dozen times.

The other day, shortly after I rolled down my driveway to begin a bike ride, I grabbed my brakes to stop because of something I saw in the road: a five-dollar bill.

When I ride, I stop to pick up the discarded change I see on the road. That includes pennies. Yes, I know some people will tell me (correctly) that picking up pennies is a waste of time. I do it anyway.

Nickels make me feel pretty good when I pick them up, and dimes make me feel like I'm breaking even. Quarters are not as rare as the Holy Grail, but when I pick up one of those babies, I feel like I've locked in a profit. So you can imagine what finding five dollars on the road felt like.

Once, in the late 1970s, as I was walking to the neighborhood candy store, I found four dollars on the part of the route where the sidewalk gave way to a well-worn dirt path. I still remember that day vividly, and that was 30 years ago.

So my bike ride started out on a high note. And then, as I pedaled down Route 9 in Williamsburg, I came across another interesting item in the road: a wallet. I picked it up, took a quick look inside, and then put it in my pocket, which made riding a little bit more difficult.

I rode further down the road into Williamburg Center with the idea of turning the wallet in to the police department. But I couldn't find the police station. I looked at the owner's driver's license and saw that she lived in Williamsburg, but I didn't recognize the street. So, I rode home and figured out my next move.

I checked the phone book, but she wasn't listed. I checked online; still no success. I got into my car and drove to the address on the license, but while I could find the house at 25 on the street, her license said that she lived at 25 1/2, which I didn't see.

Defeated, I drove back to Northampton to the police station and turned in the wallet there. I'll admit that I was looking for some recognition of a good deed done--not money; I would have refused that--just some kind of acknowledgement, which the officer behind the glass didn't give me.

Does it count as a good deed if no one sees it?

I mention this by way of prelude to what happened on the midway at the Three County Fair yesterday. This was my second straight day at the fair with my kids, and my youngest son was obsessed with trying to win a jersey at the bounce-the-ball-off-the-easel-and-get-it-into-the-basket game. Just as I relented to letting him give the game a try, someone else got the ball in the basket. In the excitement, the carney running the game (or whatever his official title is) gave me back my change twice. In essence, we played the game for free. We didn't win a jersey, but we walked away winners, right?

Should I have said something and done the right thing? We'd spent hours listening to the games-people's pitch: everybody wins! Give it a try, Dad! Only $3! And in exchange for my money, we'd gotten lots of crap in return.

Should I have said something and done the right thing?

I think I did.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tips on Tipping?

The Maple Leaf restaurant in Maplewood, NJ, is an institution. Located right in the middle of quaint Maplewood Village, it's been a mainstay (albeit in more than one location) since something like 1492. Back in the late 1990's, when my wife and I were just married and had no kids--our footloose and fancy-free days--we used to frequent the Leaf a lot. Not only was the food good and the service excellent (every waitress called you "hon"), but the prices were downright cheap. It was not usual for both of us to get a great breakfast and get a bill that totaled less than $10.

One day I had breakfast at the Leaf with an old friend who'd grown up in Maplewood but moved away to Colorado. When we were done and the bill came, I put down a two or three dollar tip--I'll be honest and say that I don't remember the details--on a $4 or $5 tab. I put my wallet away and stood up from the table when my friend stopped me.

"Hold it," he said. "You can't leave that much of a tip."

"Why not?" I asked? "It's an extra dollar--maybe. What's the big deal?"

"If you leave that much," he said, picking up bills from the modest pile on the table, "the waitresses will get used to it. It's not fair to them."

"Put the money back," I said. "It's fine."

I mention this story in the interests of full disclosure, to show that maybe I'm just not good at tipping and that's why I don't get the argument voiced by one City Councilor against the meals tax that Northampton just passed last night. Ward 5 City Councilor David Murphy objected to the tax on the basis that it will hurt the waitstaff, because they'll earn less money.

As reported on Masslive: "Ward 5 Councilor David A. Murphy, who cast the lone vote against the meals tax, called it a de facto tax on people who work for tips, maintaining that patrons will take the additional cost out on waiters and waitresses."

Now, I can understand if the point is that the meals tax will cause people to eat out less than they might otherwise, but I've also heard the the increased tax will mean that servers will see a reduction in tips, that somehow because the bill for eating out will increase, the tips on those bills will decrease. But how does that work? Do people separate out the amount of the meal from the tax when they calculate tips? And if they do that, how would an increase in the tax result in a decrease in tips?

I simply look at the amount and apply the percentage on the total. So I have to ask again, am I tipping incorrectly?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Contrasts and Plastic

I went to Thorne's on Saturday, just to do some window shopping. I took stock of the names of some of the stores and businesses in Thorne's, noting particularly the images each name brings to mind. Yoga Sanctuary and Impish and Glimpse of Tibet bring to mind images of peace and calm and acceptance. Cedar Chest and Petals in Bloom remind me of grandma's house and fields of wildflowers on a warm summer's day.

And then I was riding my bike the other day in Florence and rode past this new sign on the big factory building on Nonotuck.

I suppose I should be applauding Chemiplastica for not hiding behind a cuter name like, oh, Chempanzee or Giraffica, but I have to question a name that shouts out two terms that are the antithesis of the feel good, life-affirming, organic businesses that populate other areas of Northampton and presumably appeal to a significant portion of the population.

But then I did a little digging and found out what Chemiplastica does. As stated on their website, "Chemiplastica has more than 70 years experience with thermosets, particularly urea and melamine molding compounds. These compounds are used to manufacture beautiful and functional plastics, from stylish dinnerware and household accessories to precision medical parts and electrical switches, junction boxes and insulation materials."

One word in that description brought me back to my 9th grade biology class: urea. I learned about urea when we analyzed urine. Urea is found in urine.

So I suppose, on reflection, Chemiplastica did the best with what they had to work with.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Collectors

I can't figure out if these two people are exactly what I would picture two people who collect toilet paper to look like or nothing like what I would picture.

Monday, August 3, 2009

How A Triathlon Helped Me Better Appreciate The Move Papillon

In the movie Papillon, Steve McQueen, playing the title role, is placed in solitary confinement, and every so often, he and the other inmates in solitary have to stick their heads through a special hole in the door so that the guards can check on them. Early in his incarceration, McQueen is surprised and perplexed by the old man in the cell next to him who demands that McQueen tell him how he looks. "How do I look?" the man groans. "You look good," McQueen lies. Later in the movie, after years of solitary, McQueen is the one asking his neighbors how he looks.

I thought of that movie yesterday as I competed in the international division of the Greenfield Triathlon. And competed is a pretty strong term. I didn't finish last, but I came closer to last than I did to first. For the biking and running portions of this race, participants must bike four times around a 7.5 mile loop, and then run the loop (for the most part; the run leg varies a little bit at the end.) That means that the volunteers who man the water stations around the course--and let me just say, the volunteers were GREAT, very supportive and helpful--see each particpant at least four times during the course of the race. And as I passed them, most of them said the same thing to me: "Looking good!" Which I knew to be a complete lie. But you know what? It did help me get through the race.

I've been training for the race for the last couple of months, but I didn't realize how wrapped up I'd gotten in the preparation until the day before the triathlon, when I got an email from the race director saying that the swim portion had been canceled. Now, you might think that not having to do the swim (instead of the swim, they scheduled a short sprint) would make preparing for the race easier, but I'll admit to being very perplexed for a couple of hours because I couldn't quite figure out what gear I needed to bring, after having already laid out everything I would need for a "regular" triathlon.

Here's all the gear I ended up bringing, laid out in my section of the transition area.

Here's the swimming area that caused all the problems (the recent heavy rains had caused some bacteria to get into the water).

A wider view of the transition area:

For me the low point of the race came when I was on my last bike loop. I passed one group of volunteers and they began clapping and cheering. One of the guys said, "You're the last one, right?" Now, it took more a little more than three hours to complete the entire triathlon, which means that I had more than enough time to think about a lot of stuff. So, of course I started thinking much too much about what this guy had said. "How rude!" I thought to myself. "I know I'm slow and all, and that he's been out here all day--and that he probably can't go home until I'm done, but there's no need to point out how poorly I'm doing."

It took me a while to realize that he wasn't saying, "You're the last one, right?" He knew that he'd seen me before. What he was really saying was, "Your last one, right?" In other words, he was asking if it was, indeed, my last loop on the bike.

I did manage to pass someone on the run leg. As I passed, I said, "we're getting there!" He replied, "At least this isn't as bad as a hangover!" I don't really know what that means, but I do have to question his training regimen.

The highlight of the race was approaching the last turn on the run and seeing my family there to cheer for me. When they met me at the finish line, my youngest son asked me how the bike leg was. "Owen," I said. "Everything today was really hard."

But at least I wasn't hungover, too.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

August 1: A Poem

August announces her arrival in the valley with a banner of fog that blocks the early morning sun and sends me scrambling for socks to cover my tanned feet.

As I watch the fog burn off, I see August for what she is.

August lacks May’s elegance, June’s optimism, July’s bravado, December’s wonder, and February’s fury. Her pallet is made from September and October’s drippings and July’s bacchanalian waste.

August resents us and gives us her worst: tepid heat waves, mild feelings of regret and back-to-school sales. We named her after a man and not a god for good reason.
August bullies like an annoying little sister.

So, August, I’m calling you out: You’re the ass-end of the summer, a resentful wench who delights in reminding us of how much we haven’t yet done as she robs us of the daylight we need to do it all.

You may have the celestial opera on your side, but I will not go quietly into your mild nights. I will use you as I see fit and when I’m done, I’ll welcome September with genuine warmth and open arms and not regret August’s end one bit.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Let Them Play!

Sometimes I think it's unfortunate that more people don't watch our public processes play out, either by attending City Council meetings or by watching them on local cable. While watching baseball or football on television is usually (okay, mostly) more exciting, the discussions and decisions that are made at these sessions do impact us.

And tell me what sporting event you can watch on television where you can get up, get in your car, drive to where it's happening, and become part of the action? That's just what happened in Hadley Wednesday night at the Board of Selectmen meeting.

From the Gazette:

"A long-running feud...spilled over into a Board of Selectmen meeting Wednesday.

"...said he got a call from someone who had been watching the meeting on television and drove to Town Hall. He called [the other person] 'a vicious neighbor' who 'has been nothing but a thorn...'"

In sports there's an old saying, "that's why they play the game," which is used when something unexpected happens, like a huge underdog winning. Can I say, "that's why they have the meetings"?

Is It So, Papi?

I'm not a Red Sox fan. I am a Yankee fan. The fact that my sports-mad children, steeped as they are in all things New England when it comes to sports, are Red Sox fans is a great source of discomfort (read: it pisses me off), but I really have no one to blame but myself, since I made the decision to move to Massachusetts from New Jersey in 2001.

But given my anti-Red Sox leanings, I can take no joy in the recent news that David Ortiz was on the list of Major League Baseball players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. Over the years, David Ortiz has been a Yankee killer, and the fact that he often spits on his batting gloves kind of grosses me out, but in general, I like David Ortiz. He's a big man with a big smile and, from all appearances, a big heart. I really find it hard NOT to like him. At the first game I ever went to at Fenway, Ortiz hit a home run in the bottom of the last inning to beat the Orioles. I was rooting hard against the Sox that day, but it was thrilling to see him win one in such an exciting fashion.

And it's not hard to see why kids love Big Papi, my kids included. And I think that's what upsets me most about the news, how it will affect the kids. When Manny was suspended 50 games, it was easy for my kids to label him a cheater because they'd already decided not to like him any more because he's no longer on the Red Sox roster. Big Papi is still very much a part of the team.

I should say that I've long been bothered by baseball's tendency to play fast and loose with the rules. And I'm not talking here about individual players who choose to break the rules, but the institutional imperative to wink at the infraction, mostly because that's they way it's always been done. I'm talking about the "neighborhood" play at second on a double play. I'm talking about how the first batter in the game usually takes great pains to erase the back line in the batter's box so that subsequent batters can cheat back a bit. And this happens right in front of the umpire. And here's perhaps the most memorable instance: in the famous pine tar game, George Brett's bat did have too much pine tar in it, but American League president Lee MacPhail ruled that it didn't violate the "spirit of the rules."

In other words, there's breaking the rules and there's breaking the rules. One you can do, the other you can't.

Which is why, I suppose, baseball players can use caffeine, over-the-counter painkillers, herbs, energy drinks, whatever, and not risk running afoul (bad pun alert!) of the performance-enhancing drug rules. And, of course, everyone in baseball has basically agreed to look the other way when it comes to amphetamines in the sport. But when someone gets caught having taken steroids, all hell breaks loose.

I'm not condoning steroid use, but I can't help but think that we're in this mess because years ago, baseball never quite figured out the best way to enforce its own rules. And that means that parents like me get a lot of exercise doing explanatory gymnastics when we have to explain to our children why Barry Bonds is in trouble not for taking steroids, but for lying about it, and why Manny was suspended but Big Papi won't be, and how just because he won't be punished doesn't mean that what Ortiz did was not wrong.

Just as I have to take the blame for my sons' becoming Red Sox fans, I think all baseball fans--and all sports fans in general--have to take some of the blame for allowing our favorite pastimes to become the farces that they are today.

So, I take no joy in the Red Sox's misfortune, if a rising tide lifts all boats, an ebbing tide puts all boats at risk and makes everything smell fishy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sidewalk Days

For the first time ever, I was around when Sidewalk Days came to Northampton. Not only that, but my kids were out of town, so I was drunk on freedom from responsibility. So on Saturday, after I went for a run and took a nap (ahhh), I went downtown.

The first thing I noticed was the large number of people downtown.

I don't object to large crowds, per se, but I did find the meandering, sauntering, and general be-in-my-way walking to be incredibly annoying. It took me awhile to realize what the problem was: most everyone around me was from out of town. And that explains why the most common phrase I heard during my time on the streets was from drivers explaining (yelling, pointing out, reminding) to pedestrians crossing the street that "the sign says DON'T WALK."

The other interesting comment was from the man walking down the street with his daughter. "Now," he said. "That Tracy Chapman. Is SHE a lesbian?"

I soon retreated to the cool, quiet, and dim interior of the Dirty Truth for a beer and left the Sidewalk Days outside.

That beer was the only thing I bought that day.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Men In Skirts Invade Local Park

First, let me apologize, because if I were a more dedicated blogger (or a less dedicated runner, I suppose) I would have pictures. But I don't.

You see, usually my Saturday morning runs through Look Park are pretty calm affairs: I can enjoy the scenery and the quiet and be interrupted only be the occasional hello from a dog walker. Not this morning.

Yesterday during my morning run through Look Park I had to dodge a long line of cars driving to park on the big field and at least a dozen bagpipers warming up on their instruments. I had run into the Glasgow Lands Highlands Festival, which has become an annual event in Northampton.

I discovered two significant things on this run. First, because I was there early and saw the pipers preparing, I now know what these pipers wear under their kilts.

Second, I learned that the mist that sometimes surrounds the pipers on these early mornings is not always fog and is not always naturally occurring. Let me put it this way: it could be caused by what puts the "high" in highlands. At least for that one guy I ran past.

Morning runs: good for body and brain.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

All-Star Break

I took my two sons to the last Red Sox game before the All-Star break. Josh Beckett pitched a complete-game shutout and there were no home runs, so for this non-Red Sox fan, the game was pretty dull. Oh, the things we do for our kids.

We had pretty good seats, except for that darn beam.

Owen kept a sharp eye on who was playing.

And singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is always fun.

Brothers in arms, united against their Yankees-fan Dad.

The best part of the game for me was when they brought three young kids, as part of some promotion, into the announcers' booth and had them introduce the Red Sox batters. The girl who introduced Kevin Youkilis said, "Now batting, number 20, Kevin Use-less!"

That got a big laugh from the crowd, and a pleading gesture from Youk.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Radio Shack Does It Again

UPDATE: I noticed over the weekend the Cumberland Farms on King Street, the same place that scans the driver's license of anyone, regardless of age, who buys tobacco, and therefore is already heavily invested in the gathering customer data game, if they'd ask for my phone number if I bought a Go Phone. "No," the clerk said with a puzzled look on his face. "Why would anyone do that?"

I hesitated to write about this for fear of governmental reprisal, but then I realized that "they" probably already know, so what's the harm?

But first a little background. The most suspicious person I know is my brother; and by suspicious, I mean it in the sense of he is suspicious of other people and entities not (necessarily) in the sense that he is someone to be suspicious of. What do I base this assessment on? Well, here's just one reason: it wasn't until last year that my mother found out his real address. For the 15 years or so that he has lived in Virginia, he's been giving his everyone his Mailboxes Etc.-type address for mail and other things.

My brother is six years older than I am, and when we were growing up, I was fascinated by all of the electrical gizmos he made. At one point, he'd created a push-button panel right next to his bed from which he could control all of the electrical things in his room. In the days before the Clapper, this was cutting-edge stuff. And I'm crediting him for introducing me to Radio Shack. I don't know in what context exactly, but I've always associated him with Radio Shack. So, given his libertarian bent, I also just naturally assumed that Radio Shack was on board with that. (I know what you're thinking: Radio Shack is the company that used to ask for your name and address any time you bought anything. I'm not saying I'm smart here--I'm just sharing what I believed.)

So a few days ago I went into Radio Shack for a cell phone battery. It all started when I got an iPhone for (myself) for Father's Day. My kids told me that my wife had lost her cell phone, so as I was going through the iPhone process, I had them make my old cell phone my wife's new cell phone. And everyone was happy, until the battery in that cell phone died. I took it to the AT&T store in Northampton, and they told me that I could either go to Radio Shack and buy a battery or buy a Go Phone. So, off to Radio Shack I went.

They didn't have any cell phone batteries in the store (a not-uncommon occurrence if you've tried to buy anything at Radio Shack) and the woman helping me said that I could just order one online. As I headed outside to ponder my options, I spotted the Go Phone display and decided to go that route. As she unlocked the display to give me one, the saleswoman said, "You know, AT&T will know that you're using a Go Phone and cancel your service." That seemed a bit odd, since it was an AT&T employee who'd told me to do this. "I'll take my chances," I said.

So we walked over to the register and she began the checkout procedure. She hit a few keys on the computer and then asked, "Phone number?"

"Wait a second," I said. "Why do you need my phone number?"

She literally threw up her arms and let her head fall back so that she was looking at the ceiling. You'd have thought that I asked her to inventory every battery in the store or something.

"The system needs your phone number," she said.

"The 'system'? What system?"

"The government," she said.

"The 'government'? Why does the government need my phone number, and can you tell me what government rule says that Go Phone purchasers have to provide a phone number?"

At this point she brought over another salesperson to help her out.

He walked over to me, spread his arms out and intoned, "It's the PATRIOT Act."

My first thought was to ask him to tell me exactly where in the 800-plus page PATRIOT Act it says that Radio Shack has to get my phone number, when I remembered my brother and one thing he taught me: it helps to have an alias for situations like this.

So, to speed the process along, I duly gave them what they asked for: a phone number. And I got my Go Phone.

But I left with my confidence in Radio Shack severely shaken.
I suppose the real question, however, is not why I go to Radio Shack, but why I will most likely go back to Radio Shack.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How Do I Get to the Hall of Fame?

I took the boys to Cooperstown this week for a quick overnight trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I'd never been before, and neither had they, so it seemed like a good way to reward ourselves for a spring full of baseball.

Despite being a little befuddled by our computer-generated directions (that's when I was able to tell the oldy-but-goody by replying "practice" when one of my children asked me how we get to Cooperstown) and slowed by some wicked thunderstorms, we arrived at our hotel around 4:30 on Tuesday. Our first stop was the hotel pool. But then we rallied and after a quick change of clothes, we headed into Cooperstown. Before we got there, though, we saw Cooperstown Dream Field, a multi-field complex that hosts Little League tournaments during the summer. We stopped to watch for a bit, but we had to leave because it was getting chilly. Yes: chilly on June 30th.

Once we made it into Cooperstown, we found a place to park that was right across the street from the Hall of Fame itself. I'm tempted to say that the place is so small we almost missed it. The truth is, it does look small from the front, but it would be really, really hard to miss it, situated as it is in the middle of downtown Cooperstown, surrounded by souvenir shops and baseball-themed restaurants, like the Short Stop, where we ate.

When we walked in, the place was virtually empty. Our first stop was the theater where we watched a short video that talked about the history of baseball in America. I'll admit that I got a little teary eyed thinking about what baseball means to me and how it's special to be able to share the experience with my children. And I don't even consider myself a big baseball fan! I can only imagine what it must be like for the hardcore fans when they fist get there. It really is a place where dreams abound. It says so right on the floor.

While I was in Cooperstown, I also had the opportunity to confirm that a story told to me by one of my English professors years ago was true. It seems that when James Fenimore Cooper, for whom the town is named, spent some time in Europe, the townsfolk took it upon themselves to build a road right through his property, including his house. Right next to the Hall of Fame is a private road overseen by a statue of the man. And yes, he does look pissed. But who wouldn't be?