Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A bum's bum

Sorry to be politically incorrect with that title, but sometimes, you just gotta go with what works.

So this morning, Mary gets on the Number 1 subway at 242nd Street to go to work. Everything's pretty calm. The subway isn't crowded, since it's the very first stop, so she always gets a seat.

A few of us are chilling out as the train leaves the station. And wouldn't you know it, but almost immediately, a panhandler starts plying his trade.

What's unusual about this guy, though, is his approach. Normally, panhandlers stand in the middle of the car, give a speech, and then walk up and down with their hand out (or a cup or whatever).

Not this guy. "Erin," as he calls himself, goes up to each and every single person in the car with the same line: "Hello (ma'am, sir), my name is Erin. How are you today? I am very hungry. I have not eaten all day. I have no money to buy food. Can you spare some change to help me buy some food?"

Erin has a shock of blue hair (he can afford hair dye but not food?). He's about 25, wearing fairly clean clothes, decent shoes. But he looks rugged, like maybe he does drugs or something. He doesn't slur his words ... too much.

Erin works his way down the line. When he gets to Mary, Mary simply says, "No," and he turns to the guy across from her on the train.

But as he bends over to talk to that guy and give him his speech, something happens. Yes, you guessed it. His pants fall down. RIght in front of Mary's face. And there ain't nothing between him and his Calvins.

Mary does a quick left slide along the bench to get out of, um, its way. "Erin" pulls his pants up, slowly, while the woman on Mary's right can barely contain her laughter.

What a way to start the day ...

Monday, January 28, 2008

An excuse to read

Riding on public transportation is a great excuse to read -- a LOT. New Yorkers certainly appear to be a literate group of folks. Sometimes fully a third of people on the subway are reading something. Those who aren't reading are usually listening to an iPod or sleeping. :-)

There is a high percentage of people, mostly women, reading the gossip magazines. "Reading" should be in quotes.

Of Mary's recent reading list, she would highly recommend Persepolis (the complete version), by Marjane Satrapi. We saw the movie version of it yesterday--it's nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. The book is much better, but the movie is definitely worth seeing. She's currently reading The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien: a moving Vietnam War novel. It's chilling to think that yet another generation is having to deal with the kinds of mental anguish he describes. When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn ...

If Rachel were writing this blog, she would recommend the whole series of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. She LOVES them.

Jeff loves his Rex Stout books and always gets a kick out of reading them, no matter how many times he does.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Obama Makes History in South Carolina

Dan Kennedy at Media Nation is onto something with his post Obama's best speech yet?

I think the power of this speech, with the strength of this victory in South Carolina, is a turning point in the campaign for the Democratic nomination. While CNN pundits pointed out that Clinton leads in every Super Tuesday state except Obama's home state of Illinois, this will not stand. For an African American to win a primary in a southern state is historic, that he won big could have a huge impact in states where the polls are close. If he's electable there, he's electable in a lot of states.

While this is the merely the first draft of history, I think this day and Obama's powerful speech will be looked upon as a turning point where he convinced many Americans he is the candidate of change.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Internet problems ... don't you just LOVE technology?

We have had a few Internet problems at home the past couple of days--hence the lack of posts here. Still haven't solved them, but we are hopeful that the cable company can assist tonight.

If any of you missed it, the NY Times' endorsements were published today. Definitely worth a read: http://www.nytimes.com/opinion/. You may be shocked at what Giuliani's own newspaper says about him.

A couple of key excerpts:

"The real Mr. Giuliani, whom many New Yorkers came to know and mistrust, is a narrow, obsessively secretive, vindictive man who saw no need to limit police power."

"The Rudolph Giuliani of 2008 first shamelessly turned the horror of 9/11 into a lucrative business, with a secret client list, then exploited his city’s and the country’s nightmare to promote his presidential campaign."

There's more, so check it out.

Naturally, they backed Clinton, but they had some kind words for Obama. Not so much for Edwards, however.

McCain is their Republican pick, but only because they believe he's the least terrible of the lot.

Super Tuesday is coming up soon!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Just down the block ...

Wall Street is roiling, as are many overseas markets, today. It's a bit odd to live near the world's financial epicenter. That may sound strange, but for those of us who used to live in rural California, it's an eye opener to be interacting with people who spin the world's financial wheels.

And of course, everyone is buzzing about the "R" word. If it wasn't obvious before, certainly the Fed's gigantic rate cut should tell everyone that yes, indeed, we are in a recession.

If we were to venture down to Wall Street today, certainly we would see some bedraggled folks (actually, they look bedraggled most of the time!).

Meanwhile, the MTA is raising rates for the subway, and Gov. Spitzer is proposing new taxes and fees to help the state cope with the economic downturn. Favorite comment on this situation: they are not raising taxes, just closing loopholes. Whatever.

Surprisingly, Republicans have spoken out loudly against the governor's plan. From the NY Times: “This budget once again is an assault on suburban families, in terms of education, in terms of property tax relief, in terms of health care and in terms of economic development and job creation,” said Tom Dunham, a spokesman for Senator Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican and the deputy majority leader of the Senate. “He obviously didn’t learn his lesson last year.”

Looks like 2008 will be a year marked by additional (but hopefully not catastrophic) economic problems, continuing war and a newly elected president. Would YOU want to be running for president at this point in time? They must be crazy!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Tips for cycling in sub-zero weather

Learned during and after this morning's ride in 14-degrees in New York City, with a wind chill of -1 (the wind chill factor is the only worthwhile measurement, something I hadn't known living for 40 years in California):

1. Don't bother filling your bottles the night before and putting them in the refrigerator. Instead, fill them with hot tap water just before leaving. That will delay by 5 to 10 minutes the eventual freezing of your drink.

2. Once your bottle freezes, take it out of the cage and into your back pocket. Better yet, put it there at the outset of the ride to keep it from freezing too fast. To keep it from freezing at all, put it inside your jacket or just stay home on the trainer.

3. You cannot overdress for this kind of cold. I had four layers on my feet, and my toes were still numb nearly an hour after I finished the ride.

4. When you don't see another cyclist on the road bike for the first hour, you know you should have stayed home on the trainer. I saw five guys on mountain bikes and they were all wearing jeans. These guys were not working out but riding to work. I saw many joggers, more than a few of which did a double take when they saw me.

5. Just because the NFL plays in this kind of weather, doesn't mean you have to ride in it. Remember, two of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game had terrible ones last night in negative wind chill temperatures. Also remember they made more money last night warming up than I make all year.

6. Ride with a buddy under these kind of conditions. What would have happened if I got a flat? Who would have lent me cab fare for the ride home?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Romney, McCain and Huckabee ... and others

You've got to be kidding me, right? (This is Mary talking). THESE are the 3 Republican frontrunners?

- A guy who doesn't have a chance in hell of getting elected because the Christian right thinks he's on his way there. I guess it's great to be religious and run for president, but only if you are exactly the type of religious the Christian right likes.

- A guy who contradicts himself every time he turns around--first he's against the Republican establishment, now he's in bed with them.

- And a guy who thinks the Constitution ought to be rewritten based on the Bible. (Here's the quote, from a talk he gave to a group while on the campaign trail in Michigan: "I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.")

And we're afraid of Muslim fundamentalists, whom we demonize every single day as "Islamo-fascists" who are supposedly lurking in every corner with bombs, ready to derail life as we know it?? I'm more afraid of people like Huckabee, not to mention our current president, who--along with his team of merry men--have scared me more than Bin Laden every will. (I'm sure I just set off about 20 code-word alarms with the thought police!)

I guess it fits the Republican profile: one candidate who is a successful businessman type, with hair to match. One who's a war veteran who backs the current government and its illegal war, and one right-wing nut job who wants to preach from the White House, not govern from it.

The Democrats fit the left-side mold, as well: one who represents the success of civil rights, one who represents the success of women's rights, and one who represents (or is trying to, at least) the working class.

So what we have here, then, are 3 clich├ęs on each side. But at least the Democratic side has three thoughtful people to offer the country. Of the three Republicans, the only one who seems even remotely sane is Romney. But that's probably only because I don't know that much about him yet.

But the truth is, all 6 of them--my favorites included--seem lost. I really haven't connected with anyone whom I feel understands how to run this country. I want bold, innovative language. I want them to think outside the American box. I want them to show no fear that what they say may cost them the nomination.

Oh, yeah, that's right: I wanted Dennis Kucinich.

Friday, January 18, 2008

We goofed

We realized at 10 o'clock that our tickets for "Rock 'n' Roll" were actually for tonight, not tomorrow night. Well, what can you do? Our only excuse is that life has been a bit tumultuous lately, and it's probably not surprising that we would goof.

So if we do get to see the play, we will post our own review! In the meantime, Jeff is braving the elements on morning bike rides (when it's not raining or snowing, which it really hasn't done much of lately). More power to him, Mary says!

Thursday, January 17, 2008


We had several reasons for making this move across the country. We won't bore you with a list.

But of all the reasons, a change in perspective was probably the most important.

And wow, have we had one.

Jeff is heading back to SLO for a visit next month. It will be interesting to hear how he feels about the area, now that we have been here for (can you believe it?) almost a year--yep, on Feb. 28, it will be 1 year since we left California.

Simply being exposed to humanity, in all its glory and grotesqueness, on a daily basis has been--honestly--life changing. It is easy to forget, when you live in SLO County, that there are people of many different colors and languages, with different ways of seeing and living in our world.

Yes, traveling can bring home that point, too. But not like living in a diverse environment. The other night, Rachel and Mary were walking near Union Square, and we passed a couple speaking a foreign language. Rachel said, "I can't even begin to count how many different languages I have heard today!"

And it's not just languages. It's lifestyles, tastes, points of view, religions, and the list goes on.

In SLO County, it's easy to feel like a big fish in a small pond.

Here, in this very big pond, there are few big fish: Bloomberg, Trump, Clinton, you know who they are.

But guess what? It's actually kind of wonderful to be a small fish in a big pond. The sensation of being closer to your own humanity, your own place in this world, is exhilarating. You're part of a collective energy that is palpable, powerful.

It's an interesting change in perspective. We would encourage everyone to consider giving it a shot, especially if where you are living--wherever that may be--has struck a note of boredom in your daily life.

Monday, January 14, 2008

No snow here (weird!)

Don't panic, folks. NYC got absolutely zip-o snow, even though the forecasters said we were going to get 4 to 8 inches.

It rained a little overnight and drizzled on and off today. But no winter snow. So far, winter hasn't actually happened, really. We had one good snowfall back in early December, and it stayed on the ground for awhile. We have had a few really cold days--but just a handful.

When Mary thinks of winter snow, she thinks of a Minneapolis winter. Those are a much different animal, apparently, than winter in New York City.

What else is happening ... we are submitting the paperwork for a consultant to begin a property search for us in Paris. Mary is panicking a little bit over the amount of money required for this investment. But it is, after all, an investment. And it will more than pay off in the long run--and we are definitely in it for the long run.

Not to dwell on unpleasant stuff, but we are very disappointed in the cabinet/kitchen guy, Matt. He is giving us only a 20 percent discount on the wrong granite. OK, so, whatever--fine. But we are still waiting for the correct cabinet doors to show up, which should have been here weeks ago. He doesn't return phone calls about that, nor has that 20 percent discount check shown up in the mail.

Why, oh why, are some people so poor when it comes to customer service? Especially when that IS their job? Frustrating ...

We are going to see a play on Saturday called "Rock 'n' Roll," by Tom Stoppard.

Here's the official Web site: http://www.rocknrolltheplay.com/castCreative.php. You know we'll provide our own review afterwards!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A new member of the family ... and thanks for the comments.

Mary has been pretty sick the past few days, but not too sick to play the piano that arrived today! Almost feels like a new member of the family has arrived--it's been awhile since Mary has lived without a piano, and it's been 18 long months.

No, it's not new ... it's from 1973. But it's been reconditioned and looks and sounds great: a Yamaha 52-inch upright. It will need a tuning after it settles into its new surroundings (don't we all?), but it is wonderful! Bought it through a sale that Columbia University was having so got a good deal on it. Never thought we'd be able to afford even a new 52-inch piano, let alone one that looks and sounds so nice.

Some things get better with age. At least, that's what we keep telling ourselves. :-)

Not to brag--OK, maybe a little--but Rachel has really impressed her photography professor during this winter session course she's taking. At the students' first presentation/critique of their work, she was the only one whose photographs were consistently called very "professional looking": of interesting subjects, shot well, and printed well. As anyone who has ever dealt with film knows, printing is at least half the process of making a good photo. So she was really pleased with those comments.

She's out shooting some more today. Has to have 3 more rolls for class Monday afternoon. Yesterday (when Mary was home sick from work) was rather blustery: rain and thunder/lightning, so no photography happened. But today is pleasant, so she decided to go to the Union Square area and see what was happening. Her final project is sort of a takeoff on the French idea of "jolie-laid." Translated, it means pretty-ugly, but it describes something so ugly that it can be beautfiul. There's a lot of that in NYC!

Thanks to those of you who write comments. We do read them. Now, back to playing the piano, knitting, and Jeff's new blog: Newsdog.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reflections on elections ...

This has been a fascinating week, thanks in part to the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. We are just not sure how this election is going to go for the Democrats, which, you must admit, is the far more interesting race.

Edwards lost out today on a nod from Kerry, which must have felt like a slap in the face, to say the least. Kerry is endorsing Obama ... interesting, considering he must be friendly with the Clintons.

Obama is ahead of Clinton by 1 delegate, although of course it's incredibly early in the contest. It may be one of those situations where we really don't know until the very last moment who is going to win the nomination.

As for the Republicans, we find it hard to believe that McCain could ever be considered electable. And who the heck is Huckabee? Giuliani is clearly out, even if he says he's still in. Romney will never be the nominee, and we all know why (isn't that a sad fact of American life, that we still give a hoot what religion someone is, or isn't?).

Meanwhile, there is hate email going around about Obama, couching itself in religious concern because of the church he belongs to--when really, it's just racism trying to come across as self-righteousness.

(This is Mary.) As a Christian, I find it impossible to identify with any of the fundamentalist rhetoric that has infiltrated our society in recent years. I have come to believe that, in fact, I actually am of a different religion. Basically, I believe in God's message of the New Testament, and I condemn no one, unlike many who say they are Christian.

I don't believe religion must inform politics, and I don't care at all if our president is religious, atheist, agnostic, whatever. As long as he/she has a solid set of morals and leads the country well, it makes no difference to me.

Next Tuesday we'll see more primary results. Super Tuesday may decide it all!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Another movie review ...

The three of us went to see "Sweeney Todd" last night ... and by the way, the weather felt like a summer evening in San Luis Obispo, almost like Santa Ana winds. It was great! Didn't even need our coats. And today, the temperature is 62 degrees. Not bad for January in NYC.

Anyway, the movie was ... well, let's just say they didn't scrimp on the blood and gore. The more Mary thought about the movie today, the less she liked it. After all, the story can't possibly take itself too seriously, and many of the lyrics are actually rather funny. But there was hardly a wink of humor in the movie. And the characters never really became anything more than one-dimensional figures, even with the ample talents of Depp, Carter and Rickman.

OK, it's definitely a tragedy. But even Hamlet has some comedy in it, folks.

So after sleeping on it, Mary would give it a pretty hearty thumbs down. Thumbs up for the cinematography and set design, as well as for the very young boy who sang beautifully and nearly upstaged the rest of the cast.

Meanwhile, Rachel is going like gangbusters in her photography class. She managed to use Mom's old SLR film camera to great effect on her first 3 rolls, and she's actually printing the photos herself in the darkroom (in color, no less). This has been a really wonderful experience for her so far: creative as well as educational.

Friday, January 4, 2008

We have thawed out

Yes, we realize we're from California ... but Thursday was brutally cold. Rachel said the Times reported that temperature, with the wind chill, was -10 degrees F. It felt like it.

Today was still cold but bearable. As we write this entry at 9:30 pm, it's 34 degrees--balmy!

The next few days it will warm up considerably, climbing into the 50s by Monday. Bizarre.

Anyway, thanks to Jeff, we were able to get a discount off the granite countertops. Not as much as we would have liked, but it's fine, and we want to move on. Tomorrow we're going to pick out some tile for the backsplash. After that, we just need to install some lights and new cabinet doors, whenever they arrive. The same person who coordinated the granite is promising the glass cabinet doors (we have been waiting for them for 2 months already). We're not hopeful, at this point.

On the bright side, though, we're getting accustomed to working in the tiny kitchen, although we're still not sure how to fit more than 1 person in there comfortably!

Mary is continuing to investigate knitting stores around NYC. Mind you, she has only knitted 2-1/2 scarves, using the biggest needles and the heaviest yarn. (The 1/2 scarf that she'll finish this weekend consists of all the leftovers of the first two, so it looks a bit ... weird.) But she intends to keep going with this knitting habit, eventually working toward finer yarns and smaller needles.

So far, Knitty City is her favorite store (W. 79th St), followed by Yarntopia (right near her office, around 108th St and Amsterdam), The Point and Purl (both in the West Village).

She has learned how to knit from two books: Stitch 'n' Bitch, and Teach Yourself Visutally: Knitting. Highly recommend both of these books if you want to get started on your own.

And a big thinks to Amanda, Mary's co-worker, for her encouragement in the knitting department!

Lots of other stuff going on ... continuing to decorate the apartment, helping Rachel find inspiration for her magnificent photography class she's taking, preparing to look at and buy a property in Paris (some paperwork to fill out this weekend), and of course, always looking for stupendous entertainment possibilities in the city!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A busy new year already

If the next couple of weeks are any indication of what 2008 will be like for us, it will be busy!

Tomorrow we have our first phone consultation regarding purchasing a small (read: miniscule) apartment in Paris.

On Thursday, Jeff is meeting with the cabinet and granite people to see how much money they're going to give us off the granite they put in--as you know, it was the wrong one. Mary has a feeling that they are going to attempt to tell him it IS the one we chose. No way!

A couple of days later, Mary is going on a conference call regarding a new type of French bank loan designed to help Americans deal successfully with the horrible exchange rate when buying French property.

Then on Jan. 10, we're going to a private sale for Columbia University employees of pianos that the music department is, well, discarding. Believe it or not, they replace the pianos EVERY SINGLE YEAR. So we'll see what kind of deals they are offering. Exciting times ahead ...

(A little later this month, we're going to see a Tom Stoppard play, "Rock 'n' Roll." We'll offer our review, of course!)

Happy New Year!

In the end, we stayed away from Times Square--Jeff became ill yesterday afternoon (he's feeling better now, thanks), so we hung out at home and watched the NYC festivities on TV.

Couldn't help wondering if any of the folks literally locked in the "pens" in Times Square regretted their decision, especially since there wasn't a porta-potty in sight! Yikes!

So Happy New Year, everyone! Here's to a safe, prosperous, and most of all, peaceful 2008.

The good news: It's finally the year we get to vote for a new president!! The bad news: We have to wait until November ...