One Other Thing

February 28, 2010

Does Biz Markie appear in the video for “It Takes Two”? YES HE DOES:

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Shared Values

February 28, 2010

In my youth, said the sage, as he shook his gray locks . . .

When I was a young man in New York, you could go to a club, or more precisely, a bar where music was played and dancing tolerated, and somehow you knew that black, white, or hispanic, every patron would share certain fundamental understandings and expectations. Foremost among these, if I remember correctly, was that when “The Choice is Yours,” by the Black Sheep, was played, it was the duty of every person in the place to sing along to the “Engine Engine Number Nine” part, and to shout lustily, “Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up!” (If you wanted to continued with “back on the scene, crispy and clean,” that was OK too.)

In those days, truly, we had a shared knowledge of what constituted not just a danceable, but a dance-mandatory song. Nowadays, in the place where I live at, not so much. Case in point: I was, for various reasons too odd to recount (cough – Snuggie pub crawl – cough), in an establishment in West Hartford where young people gather to dance and drink intoxicating liquors. As last call neared, the DJ was allowing the musical selection to descend ever further into the realm of techno-influenced drivel, and the crowd was playing the wall like you wouldn’t believe. I suggested to said DJ (wisely, I thought) that “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock would serve to get the party jumping. He seemed to agree, as he put that track on the loudspeakers for all to enjoy. And you know what? NOTHING. A few people and I were dancing and singing along (“Don’t need friends, that act like foes, ’cause I’m Rob Base, the one who knows, about things, that make you get weary, don’t fear me, just hear me out, ’cause I got the clout, shout [ho!], before I turn the party out” &c.), but basically, the public was unmoved by that seminal anthem.

I can only conclude that West Hartford, and perhaps all of Connecticut, has lost its way. Hopefully, with these two tracks, you, dear reader, can find your way:

Can there be any other explanation? Less than a month ago, in my weekly perusal of the New York Times’ wedding announcements, I noticed that the gray lady had referred to Trinity College “in Connecticut,” so I took the paper to task for not giving long-suffering Hartford its due. And now, wouldn’t you know it, another Trinity grad has engaged in nuptials somehow worthy of the paper of record’s glowing attention. This time, they did it right, describing her as having graduated from “Trinity College in Hartford.” Not only did they (rightly) specify the city where Trinity is located, they (again, rightly) dispensed with the state name – because seriously, when we say Hartford, where else could we mean? (Sorry, 16 other Hartfords in the U.S.)

Downtown Hartford, from Cedar Mountain
Yay, Hartford! I took this picture from Cedar Mountain on Monday.

Thinking of Spring

February 11, 2010

Cedar Mountain, Newington, Conn.

Yesterday was another overblown, overhyped snow day, but work and school were cancelled (and our boys have pinkeye, so they had to be home anyway). Anna had a work-related video conference to do, so I was on breakfast / kid / laundry-folding duty, and by mid-afternoon I was feeling fully stir-crazy. Luckily, Anna was done with her work by then, so I headed out for a bike ride. I ended up on the Cedar Mountain nature trail in Newington, which was perfect in its snowy tranquility. But by the time I got home, it was dark, I was cold and wet, and I was thinking of Spring, which prompted me to write the following reminiscence. I kinda like how it came out:

When I was about eleven, I was a good but not great baseball player. I was an exceptional fielder – graceful, even – but only passable at the plate. In hindsight, I imagine much of my problem with hitting was not technique or skill, but confidence. At eleven, I did not believe in most any ability I had in life, hitting emphatically included. I think the only strengths I would have been willing to admit then were scooping up grounders and turning double plays.

All of this said, I was probably about a .280 hitter, which isn’t terrible, especially for an eleven-year-old in a Brooklyn league where foreign-born, over-aged ringers pretty much had the lock on pitching (we had one on our team – a Dominican kid named Pedro who didn’t speak a lick of English and threw so hard that nobody wanted to catch him). But I always felt nervous at the plate, uncertain. I liked running the bases but dreaded actually swinging the bat, and became pretty good at working out walks. That would have been a more important skill if I were fast, but I was not fast. A good, prudent baserunner, but not fast.

I remember a game in May, reaching the final inning around twilight, in which I was 0 for 2, having struck out and grounded out in my first at-bats. I came up with one out and a man on second, and we were down by a few runs. The light was not good for hitting, and I took the first pitch on principle, hoping for a walk as always, but it was a letters-high strike that seemed to shimmer through the darkness, not just unhittable, but practically unseeable. The next pitch was in the dirt and easy to take – I could see from when it left the kid’s hand it would be low, so I cocked my whole body like I was ready to pounce on it, then made a show of letting it go with disgust, leaning on my front foot and flexing my forearms. After that I fouled one off without thinking – I probably should have let it go, but I didn’t want to look like I was afraid to swing.

All the while, the catcher had maintained that classic patter that catchers do – half intelligible, repeated, meaningless mantras to soothe the pitcher: “Lay it in there lay it there, there ya go, nice and smooth, here we go, here we go,” gentle and regular like the way you rub a crying child’s back to calm him down. I didn’t pay it any mind, not because I was so cool at the plate, but because I was too wound up even to notice. But once they had two strikes on me, the kid started saying, “Easy out, easy out, you got this guy, easy out,” and I knew that he knew that I had made out my first two times to the plate. We were baseball kids and we cared about that stuff and kept track, and tried to remember players not just from inning to inning but from game to game – or that’s what I thought, anyway; I thought the kid had made me for a light-hitting shortstop who was not a threat, and for some reason, in that instant it drove me absolutely crazy. I was not one to look for fights, but I wanted to turn around, drop my bat, and belt the kid.

But just then the pitcher came over his shoulder with the pitch, and right when it was at the top of its arc, still in his fingers and being forced downward and to my right, the last ray of the sun picked out that grass-stained thing like a spotlight in a darkened theater and after that I never lost it. I watched it go from there, hovering in front of left center field, down and across my left shoulder, heading toward the outside part of the plate with a haphazard sort of spin and just glowing. And suddenly, everything was firing on all cylinders: my chest and my shoulders and my legs all got together and brought the bat around like a perfect reflection of the ball, like two dancers running toward each other at breakneck speed from either end of the stage, but you know you’re watching something choreographed, so they’re not going to crash into each other like two dumb kids on a playground, they’re going to spring perfectly into some kind of embrace or harmony. And I met that pitch perfectly, knee-high and an inch in front of the plate, and sent it right back where it came from, up over the pitcher’s right shoulder and four feet above the shortstop, strong and beautiful and unmistakably destined for the gap between the left and center fielders, the platonic ideal of a double.

The ball bounced confidently and fast the first time, then lower, and had slowed enough by the time the center fielder reached it that he picked it up barehanded and walked it halfway to second base. A faster runner might have stretched it into a triple, but it didn’t really matter – the run scored, the next batter walked, and then someone grounded into a double play to end the inning and the game. But when that ball jumped off my bat into the darkness, like a scripted answer to what the catcher had said, better than a punch or a sneer or a spitwad or a “fuck you,” I was in baseball heaven.

Recall, Middletown, Conn.
. . . why wouldn’t you just move this car off the front lot?

Newington

February 7, 2010

0206101636a.jpg

To mention Berlin, for better or worse, is to allude to the worn down, slightly tawdry aesthetic of its eponymous Turnpike. West Hartford, so famous for uppity striving, connotes so much as to be more of a sentence than a simple town name. Even the unexceptional East Hartford bespeaks a certain sort of solid, working-class place. But Newington, in my experience at least, never comes up. When I go to the Target on New Britain Avenue I pass in and out of Newington in the span of about 100 feet, and it doesn’t make much of an impression.

I don’t know if this anonymity in the popular imagination is unfair – maybe Newington really is the least notable town in our state. But I can say that I had an awfully nice bike ride there yesterday, and I saw at least one thing that seemed very unusual to me:

I headed down Newington Avenue off New Britain Ave. in West Hartford. In Newington, Newington Ave. becomes Willard, and just before Willard goes over a small bridge, there is a left with a DEAD END sign. That leads to an abandoned factory and office park, and behind it I rode onto the right of way beside the railroad tracks.

For about a mile, I crunched south over snow and ice unevenly laid upon loose gravel and leaves, which made for a marvelous ride from an auditory perspective. Then the path beside the tracks narrowed and another path split off at a southwesterly angle, so I followed it. It was more frosted gravel, just wide enough for a car, and there were tracks indicating a car or some sort of large vehicle had been there since the last snowfall, along with one person, one dog, and a rabbit. To the west of the path were the back sides of warehouses, mechanic shops, old factories, and the odd apartment building. To the east were woods and the railroad tracks, heading due south and getting progressively farther away. It was cold and quiet and very very nice.

And then this: When I was at the point where the tracks had angled away for long enough to drop out of sight, the path presented a branch to the east, which led, twenty feet on, to a large clearing, maybe a quarter mile across. But it wasn’t just a clearing – it was a racetrack. There was a wide dirt loop about a tenth of a mile around with some scrubby brush in the middle and a rather significant jump at one point, and off to the side was a smaller loop with a very steep jump. There was also a wide open area in front of the two loops with some earthen ramps built here and there, and off to the side a sturdy-looking fire pit lined with three-foot large concrete pavers.

I don’t know if this track is for BMX bikes or ATVs – it was covered in snow and there weren’t any recent tracks – but it is rather impressive, both for its size and for its location: you really can’t see it from anywhere, and it must have required bulldozers to build. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures, my camera having conveniently run out of batteries and my phone camera being ill-suited for the recording of sprawling vistas. I guess I’ll have to go back.

Farther south I came across an abandoned factory that was better suited to cell phone photography:

National Welding and Manufacturing Co., Newington

National Welding and Manufacturing Co., Newington

IMG00099.jpg

IMG00100.jpg
These are the song titles off the self-released demo album, Fear of Tomorrow, by a group called Guerra. Notably, this graffiti is dated 2002, while the album dropped in 2003. Could it be that the actual members of Guerra, perhaps lacking scrap paper in their studio, gathered in this remote location to plan their groundbreaking first record? Internet says they are from New Britain, SO THE THRILLING ANSWER IS YES!!! Luckily, between this spraypaint session and the time when the discs got pressed, somebody hit the spellcheck and cleared up the “Lombotomy” issue. (I actually kind of like it, though – it reminds me of Lambada: “Lombotomy – The Forbidden Operation.”)

National Welding and Manufacturing Co., Newington

National Welding and Manufacturing Co., Newington

National Welding and Manufacturing Co., Newington

While I was poking around in this room, I heard a door somewhere else in the sprawling factory open and someone walk in with the decisive tread of a person who feels entitled to be in the place where he is. This decisiveness, combined with the presence of the pitchfork shown above, made me think that this unseen person might be less than welcoming of visitors, so I made a hasty exit and continued south on my bike. Now that I’ve learned that this place was once frequented by the band Guerra, I’m glad I did. As their publicity shot clearly shows, a pitchfork may be the least frightening of the tools the routinely employ:

Don’t Stop Believin’

February 4, 2010

The other day, I posted about a day that started badly, partly because I had Journey’s hit, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” stuck in my head. In that post, I included this photo of said band:

In the comments, my best friend Glen said the most incredibly brilliant thing ever about this photo – so brilliant that it deserved its own post. Here is what he wrote:

Who will play Journey in the movie of Journey, from left to right:

David Wright
Viggo Mortensen
Jimmy Fallon
Lucy Lawless
Jimmy Fallon