Kerb Your Enthusiasm

November 30, 2009

I understand that graffiti is, at times, a manifestation of an artistic exuberance so unfettered that it simply cannot be contained within the staid boundaries of paper, canvas, studio, or gallery. And what better manifestation of that, really, than the words “hell yes?” And yet, somehow, the masterpiece below, which I encountered on a lamppost in Cambridge, Mass., this weekend, seems a little muted. Maybe it’s a question of scale.

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The Joy of Seeing Old Friends

November 30, 2009

Max and Sophie, old Somerville chums, reunited:

Dear Internet,

On Sunday, with my friends Rich and Chris, I took a marvelous little trip by bicycle. As a compulsive craigslist peruser, I learned a couple weeks ago that there was to be a big bicycle swap meet that day in Dudley, Massachusetts. A quick consultation with Google Maps revealed that Dudley is about 50 miles from Hartford, so I sent an e-mail to all my bike-riding chums to see who wanted to ride there for the swap meet. Rich and Chris answered the call, and we devised a plan whereby Rich and I would drop my truck off in Dudley the night before and then the three of us would set out Sunday morning at 8:00.

Naturally, none of us rode what you would call and appropriate bicycle for this journey. I took my aged Raleigh Twenty folding three-speed. Rich rode his Breezer Villager, a seven-speed cruiser, and Chris took his Yuba Mundo, an enormous, heavy cargo bike. Here is a picture of Chris and Rich with the rigs at an early stop:

Not the right bikes for a long trip

This was just as well, for it guaranteed a leisurely pace. Lucky for us, the weather was just gorgeous and unseasonably warm, so a leisurely pace suited us fine. Here is the route we took:

Dudley Route

Connecticut, in case you didn’t know, is a beautiful state. You don’t have to go but a few miles outside Hartford to be in the midst of real farm country, and then it’s just a few miles farther to hilly, forested, sparsely settled places. Here are some things we saw:

Abandoned house, Ellington, Conn.

In Ellington, we came across an abandoned house that once belonged, we surmised, to Frank L. Clark, a seed and farm supply dealer. As the picture above, of the upstairs hallway, shows, the place was in pretty bad condition.

Outside the house was this old gas pump:

Abandoned house, Ellington, Conn.

Inside, the downstairs was full of old tires:

Abandoned house, Ellington, Conn.

One old wheel appeared to have fallen upon and ultimately killed some woodland beast that had taken refuge in the house, or perhaps this animal just curled up here to die. Whatever the case, the death occurred a long time ago, because there was no smell at all. (Is it a coyote, maybe?)

Abandoned house, Ellington, Conn.

All over the floor of the front hallway, I found documentary evidence of Frank L. Clark: cancelled checks from as far back as 1929, marketing brochures from his company (“KNOW . . . your SEED POTATOES”), and other mail and business things. Here are some highlights:

An undated letter from Clark’s niece, Virginia, who was at some point a psychology major at the University of Maine. She is asking – very politely – for a loan of $100 to cover household expenses during her senior year. From her allusion to the NYA – the National Youth Administration – we can surmise that the letter was written some time between 1935 and 1943, when that program was in effect:

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Here’s a lovely postcard Frank received from some fruit suppliers in Florida:
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And here’s Clark Seeds Farms’ gas credit card (expiration date 12/65):
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Then we traversed lots of lovely open spaces:

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And we saw, you know, stuff:

Jimmy's Refreshments

Lifted El Camino!

Then, at long last, when we were thoroughly tired and hungry, we arrived:

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Naturally, we took such a long time – about five and a half hours – that the bike swap was over when we got there. But the regular flea market that occupies the space was still there, and it had many strange and interesting things:

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Is this from Elvis’s 1975 comeback tour?

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Eventually, we found a Thai restaurant in Webster, Mass., where we ate heartily before driving home, but not before I picked up a little something at the flea market. As you can see, it is both a delightful souvenir and a fitting summation of our trip across a healthy portion of the Nutmeg State:

P.S. Chris’s account of the trip, along with more and nicer pictures, can be seen over at the Beat Bike Blog.

Stargazing

November 17, 2009

Early this morning there was a meteor shower over much of North America, the Leonid Meteor Shower, which, disappointingly, is so named because it occurs around the constellation Leo, not in honor of some Russian guy. Crazy person that I am, I got up and trudged out to the athletic field near my house to see the show, and brought my camera and tripod in the (vane) hope of capturing come celestial magic on film. Here is what I learned:

1. One of the very very rare benefits of having a two-year-old who refuses to sleep in his own bed and refuses to sleep in your bed without constant kicking and squirming is that it makes it comparatively easy to get up in the middle of the night to watch a meteor shower.

2. One meteor every thirty seconds may qualify as a pretty exciting event for the astronomical cognoscenti, but thirty seconds lying on a bench in the middle of the night in November, trying not to blink, feels like a fucking eternity.

3. West Hartford at 3:00 a.m. is probably the most hauntingly quiet place in the world. I felt like a had to be careful not to rustle leaves on the sidewalk too much so I wouldn’t wake anyone.

4. There are birds out in the cold nights in West Hartford, birds that seem alarmingly close and loud when you are lying quietly on a bench in a dark field, birds that sound like they should be in that swampy world where Yoda lives.

5. It is hard to drink hot tea while you are lying down on a bench in a dark field, even from a travel mug.

6. There is a lot to be said for lying in the dark and contemplating the majesty of the stars, even when it is cold and even when the meteor shower you came for is underwhelming. If, like me, you are on a slow path toward having your life become a quirky novel about suburban ennui, a logical next step in that process would be to make a habit of lying quietly on a bench in a dark field and contemplating the heavens.

7. The average digital camera, even one that has a bulb setting that lets you take long exposures, is pretty much inadequate for photographing meteors that only appear once or twice a minute. You tend to get pictures like this:

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8. There are some cool pictures you can take on a clear, moonless night with the aforementioned camera, provided you brought a tripod:

Sedgwick Middle School
Sedgwick Middle School

Suburban Nocturne
Wardwell Street, West Hartford

9. It’s probably not a good idea to blog about your meteor-watching adventure as soon as you are done with it, because by the time you are finished blogging, it’s almost 5:00 a.m. and you may as well just clean up the kitchen and start making breakfast.

Rainy Day

November 14, 2009

Yesterday, I had a nice morning bike ride from East Rock in New Haven up to Quinnipiac Law School in Hamden, then down to downtown New Haven, and the rain graciously held off. Then, as if the elements recognize that my life should hew as closely as possible to the aesthetic of film noir, it started raining right after I had settled down by the window of a coffee shop with some work to do and a big cup of coffee. It was nice:

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Customizing

November 14, 2009

I didn’t get a driver’s license until I was 24, after I’d moved out of New York, so most of my notions of what cars should be like have their roots in cars I observed on the streets of Brooklyn while riding my bike. And since cars are basically just angry, moving hazards for cyclists, most of the cars I saw didn’t make an impression on me, except for the ones that hit me, which did leave an impression (don’t follow that link, by the way – it’s a totally gross shot of my face after slamming into the pavement when I was T-boned by a car one time).

The thing I always did notice and appreciate about cars was tough / goofy customizations, usually in the form of sayings plastered along the top of the windshield. I used to keep a list of my favorites, which included “Mario’s Shit,” “La Enbidia [sic] Mata” (“Envy Kills,” misspelled in Spanish), “Murda Dem,” “El Bajapanty” (Spanish for “The Panty-Lowerer”), and “Who Am I,” (which seems angsty and existential until you realize that I saw it right around the time that Beenie Man’s “Who Am I” was always on the radio).

But every now and then, I come across a customization that should not have happened, mostly because it’s not tough enough. I used to think that the best example of this phenomenon was “Sad But True” across the windshield of a nondescript minivan:

Ghetto Windshield Slogan

But yesterday in New Haven, I found something so not-tough, so utterly nerdy, that it might actually be a coded message indicating that the car’s driver is a true gangster:

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Pilgrim Life

November 14, 2009

After Max’s parent-teacher conference at the kindergarten, I noticed this class project on a bulletin board in the hall:

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And I kept thinking, “Why does that look so familiar? Where have I seen that before?” And then it hit me:

Which makes sense, because the pilgrims were pretty gangsta.

“To Serve Avocado”

November 14, 2009

To Serve Avocado

Hardscrabble Youth

November 14, 2009

I had a tough childhood. Growing up on my block, we pretty much knew there was no way we’d go to college:

Tough neighborhood

Runs Good?

November 13, 2009

Considering that I am a lawyer, I spend a lot of time moving around. I don’t mean that I sit in court twitching (although I have seen lawyers who do), but that I am often, nay, constantly, called upon to go to lots of different places. I currently have active cases in Hartford, Ansonia, Stratford, Bridgeport, Fairfield, Norwalk, and Stamford, and sometimes I am even called upon to go to other places, such as New Haven and Middletown. At home, things don’t slow down much more, because while I don’t spend as much personal time on intercity travel, there is a great deal of intrahousehold running around, what with the cooking, cleaning, nose- and ass-wiping, grocery shopping, laundry-folding, heavy drinking, and other tasks attendant on the rearing of two children. So every now and then, I just have to chill for a minute. Right now is such a moment, since Anna is (she claims) en route from work and the kids are playing peaceably (or, peaceably enough, anyway) in the basement. Sometimes when I chill out, I just do nothing (except drink), which is nice: I like to sit in our little sun room, where our pet rabbit is allowed to run around, and after a little bit, the rabbit comes and sits next to me on the couch and I pet her and feel her very fast heartbeat and feel calm by comparison. Other times, like now, I like to peruse craigslist for things I will never buy. In these perusals, I have found that almost no item capable of movement of any kind is ever billed as donig anything other than “running good.” Putting aside the the verb-adverb confusion, this bothers me because its use is so common as to become meaningless (or at least dubious). Case in point, the lawnmower below from this ad.

I mean, I guess it could be so rusted that it wouldn’t move, but seriously, it’s a push mower. Just sayin’.