Inspected by M.L., 6/8/05

September 29, 2009

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Dear M.L.,

Can you believe how time flies?! Crazy, I know. I mean, I can hardly believe it’s been over four years since you last inspected the toilet paper dispenser in the stall closest to the door in the third floor men’s room of my Hartford office building. Four years! So much has changed since then. I mean, when you were last here, my employer was based in a building over on Farmington Ave., and I didn’t even work there yet – I was clerking in Boston then, angling for a job in the public defender’s office, getting used to fatherhood. If you had told me then that I’d end up in Connecticut, of all places, and working right in the building where you inspect toilet paper dispensers, I would have said you were out of your mind.

Shoot, back in ’05, I could barely wrap my mind around the idea of car ownership – and here I am owning a house! Since then I’ve had another son, been through a million ups and downs, seen so many friends come and go. Instead of a rookie lawyer fresh out of school, now I’m, well, not a veteran, exactly, but I have a few years under my professional belt. And Anna – she was just a grad student when you stuck your “inspected by” sticker to the inside of the dispenser, and now she’s a real-life professor, and always worrying about tenure. And Max is in kindergarten, starting to read, and even his brother Reuben, who’s two and a half now, can recognize all his letters.

Anyway, I’d love to know what’s going on with you. Are you still in the toilet paper dispenser inspection game? Still working this same territory? I guess it would be great for you if you got to see some other places – or maybe it doesn’t make a difference? I never wondered if bathroom stalls are different in Waterbury or Litchfield, or if it’s all the same and you’re just as happy to be close to home at the end of the day. Either way, I hope you’re doing well. Park Street definitely isn’t the same without you.

Speaking of that, there’s something I wanted to tell you: About that dispenser in the third floor men’s room: It’s still working OK, I guess, but the plastic cover kept coming off, and so it was just sitting on the floor next to the toilet, and then about a month ago, it just disappeared. It’s not a big deal, really, but the toilet paper roll does sometimes fall off the dispenser, and it’s only a matter of time before it falls into the toilet. Also, I don’t know if this is even your department, but the bathroom has been out of paper hand towels for like three months.

Hope to hear from you soon!

Yours,

J.

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Suburb Win

September 29, 2009

I grouse about the suburbs a lot: the isolation; the segregation; the climate- and health-ruining car dependency; the blandness. But every now and then, I am reminded that there is something to all this. Usually, these moments of suburban emotional accommodation are garden related, and today’s was no exception: We harvested the burgeoning fruit of our backyard pumpkin patch, to wit, five hefty orange jack-o-lanterns-to-be and one more modest, human-head-sized, green specimen (which may yet be a jack-o-lantern as well). No one in West Hartford seems to grow pumpkins in their yards, and this is just one more thing about the town I can’t understand: Pumpkins are very low-maintenance and they make magnificent, sprawling, yellow-flowered brambles that convert ordinarily controlled suburban greenery into something a fair bit more wild (oh, maybe that’s why people don’t plant them). Also, what could be more satisfying than the sight of a happy yeoman bringing his waxy orange crop to market?

Farmer Max, with his harvest

Yom Kippur Gardening

September 29, 2009

Today being (for Jews) the day of atonement, Anna and I did some weeding in the garden. (You wouldn’t think yard work would be on top of the list of activities for the last four hours of a 24-hour period of fasting, but sometimes it actually feels better to be active than to wallow in the discomfort of hunger.) Once finished, we went to the town recycling center to dump our garden detritus (just as we dump the guilty freight of the year’s misdeeds by asking forgiveness from those we have wronged – it’s all about Yom Kippur, see?). While there, I noticed that the buildings of the facility seem to be in the process of being recycled back to nature as well. I think it looked cool:

West Hartford Recycling Center

Discoveries

September 28, 2009

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Over the weekend, I had the irksome pleasure of a family reunion. Irksome because it was in Ithaca, which, while beautiful, was the victim of a grievous error on the part of its founding fathers, in that it was sited five and a half hours from Hartford; a pleasure because it’s always nice to see family. Also, I came in contact with a few other important things that reaffirmed my belief in the wonderfulness of life:

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First, on Friday afternoon, hurrying home from a busy day of work, I realized I would never make the long drive to Ithaca without some food (I had skipped lunch). So I stopped at Long Wharf in New Haven and went to the Santa Apolonia taco truck for a chicken quesadilla. Damn. White frying cheese, jalapeƱos, french fries, mmm mmm mmm. I really lack words to express just how great their quesadillas are. Great enough to make a long drive seem less daunting.

Black Rage, 1968, front cover

Black Rage, 1968, back cover

Then, at a relative’s house in Ithaca, I discovered this enlightened (and, one imagines, enlightening) title, published in 1968. I couldn’t quite bring myself to steal it from its spot on the shelf, but if I had, I would have put it on my imaginary bookshelf next to the book I once saw a guy reading on the subway in Brooklyn, which I would equally have liked to peruse: “Why the White Man is the Devil.” (OK, yeah, this book isn’t exactly delightful as much as it is appalling and anachronistic, but it is so earnest as to be silly, and by the way, it was shelved, inadvertently, I think, next to a novel called “Lily White.”)

Peanut Butter and Jelly Donut

Finally, this morning while running out for milk, I discovered the greatest culinary innovation of our time: The Peanut Butter and Jelly Donut. Mmmm.

Dramatis Personae: DAD, a dad, is driving. MAX, a five-year-old, is in his booster seat on the passenger side.
Scene: In a pick-up truck, bumping along Route 9. DAD has just picked MAX up from kindergarten and is taking him to his mother’s work so DAD can go to a work appointment. As the scene begins, they are discussing MAX’s day at kindergarten.

DAD: So who else did you play with?
MAX: Well, at lunch I made friends with Aidan. We sat together and talked about farts.
DAD: Really?
MAX: It was so funny. And you know what?
DAD: What?
MAX: We made up a new superhero. Guess what he’s called.
DAD: Fart Man?
MAX [surprised]: How did you know?!
DAD: [laughing, trying to keep from crashing the truck]
MAX: So, you want to know how Fart Man fights bad guys?
DAD: How?
MAX: He just shoots farts at them.
DAD: From a gun?
MAX: No. From his butt. He just shoots them out, and the bad guys all go away.
DAD [laughing, crying]: Is it the smell that makes the bad guys leave?
MAX: Yeah. The farts are so stinky, the bad guys just get out of there. Also, he shoots out farts that just punch the bad guys down [MAX makes a sharp jab in the air with his right fist], and that way, the bad guys are always defeated.

Bridgeport Waterfront
Bridgeport’s waterfront

I spend a lot of time complaining about the state of cities and public transportation in Connecticut. But today I realized that my problem is easily solved, and the solution, as is so often the case, is MORE INTERNETS! A friend pointed out today that Hartford’s Front Street District, still largely in the planning stages (OK, they have finished the mediocre but attractive CT Science Center), is fully realized when it comes to its web site. Likewise, Bridgeport’s perennially unrealized Steelpoint Harbor, the current iteration of which has accomplished nothing more in two years than the demolition of a historic house and the replacement of chainlink fences with sturdier wrought iron, is in full virtual flower. And to connect them in our utopian, urban future present, we can ride on the Springfield-to-New Haven commuter train line that also only exists online.

Ironically, I can’t find a slick, flash-heavy website to document the chronic delays at the junction of 91 south and 95 (where stupid highway planners inexplicably merge two lanes to one on the ramp and stupid drivers inexplicably cannot take turns merging), but that little multimedia experience is all too real.

If you’re like me, you want to do everything in as professional a manner as possible, which means precision, efficiency, and the latest technology. And it’s important to bring the highest level of professionalism to everything you do, because when you are a professional, your time is money, and a minute wasted on one endeavor, no matter how trivial, is a minute you could have devoted to increasing your net worth. For example, take squeezing the water out of tuna cans. Now, to begin with, I consider myself an extremely adept maker of tuna sandwiches – from the just-so measure of mayonnaise to the addition of chopped apples and celery, I take the lunch classic to the next level every time I prepare it. But for me, a top-flight tuna sandwich is just a step on the road to a high-productivity, professional day: it’s the high-protein brain food that prepares me for networking with movers and shakers, implementing creative strategies, developing my personal brand, etc. In other words, I want to do my tuna sandwich-making in the most professional manner possible, and I want to do it quickly. But time and again, I am stymied by the cumbersome and amateurish labor required to drain the water from my tuna cans, losing precious seconds I might later devote to leveraging, implementing, or other highly professional activities. Thankfully, the good folks at Farberware have me covered:
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There are perfectly good reasons why both our bed and our five-year-old’s bed do not have boxsprings: In our case, a queen-size boxspring wouldn’t fit up our staircase; in his case, a kid-size platform bed is what we found on craigslist. There is nothing bad about all this. But yesterday, we visited some friends whose two boys have two springy, jump-able beds, and it was a free-for-all of kid joy:

(Have these friends of ours had to take one or the other kid to the emergency room more times than we have? Sure. But proper childhood exuberance requires sacrifice, right?)

It doesn’t take much to get me to tell you that I am from Brooklyn, nor that I am the fifth generation of my family to come from there. As such, my father, and his parents before him, and their parents and so on, were all Brooklyn Dodgers fans and virulent Yankees haters. So when the Dodgers left Brooklyn, the family was left with no team to support, and a surfeit of hate in its collective heart. Because we are a fundamentally loving people, the hate didn’t sit well, and when the Mets came to New York, it was natural that the family would adopt them. By the time I came around, my dad and great grandfather were all avid Mets fans (they took me to my first game, around 1984, which was a terrible drubbing of the home team by the visiting Dodgers, historically enough; true to baseball purist form, neither of them even considered leaving early, despite the fact that it meant keeping me up till midnight when I was much too young for such carousing). I can remember talking baseball with my great grandfather in his last days – when he confided to me that baseball was the only thing that kept him alive (he was 98 when he died), especially “watching this one kid, the lefty with the big swing, what’s his name? Raspberry?” “Darryl Strawberry, grandpa Victor?” “Yeah, that’s him. What a swing!”

Anyway, the point is that I am a Mets fan and always will be. This is a somewhat trying state of affairs, partly because the Mets are so lousy, and partly because I live here in the land of Yankees and Red Sox enthusiasts. (Mets fans make up just 9% of adults in Connecticut who follow baseball, according to a June, 2009, Quinnipiac poll.) (How lousy are the Mets? Aside from being 24 games out of first place, a recent discussion at my work retreat about whether a person can be a good leader if the endeavor he is leading fails kept coming back to Mets general manager Omar Minaya.)

Now, to add insult to injury, the Courant reports that Raymond Clark III, the suspect in the murder of Yale grad student Annie Le, was known as “a plain, calm New York Mets fan who usually wore a David Wright jersey” to his softball games. While I realize that this is about the least tragic bit of this whole awful story, it is annoying: the worst fan the Mets used to have was Bill O’Reilly. He’s pretty awful, but not in the same league as a crazy murderer. At least we still have Jerry Seinfeld, MC Serch, and P.G. Wodehouse (according to this site, anyway). And we have our memories:

Groceries on Bike = Win

September 19, 2009

One bicycle, two panniers, two bungee cords, and $85 worth of groceries.

Grocery trip