Art and Commerce

August 31, 2010

Art And Commerce

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Try, Try Again

August 30, 2010

It seems somehow emblematic of my uppity middle-class suburb that (1) people would own $759 strollers and (2) when they no longer needed said strollers, they would simply throw them away. (Now I can remember a time – in my early 20s, probably – when the notion of car ownership was so foreign to me that I likely wouldn’t have been able to guess the cost of a new Corolla to within an order of magnitude, so I recognize that the following bears mentioning: $759 is an absurd amount of money to pay for a stroller.) And indeed, a few weeks ago I came across a perfectly good Bugaboo Frog at the kerb, awaiting garbage pickup. I like to think that it is emblematic of my sometimes difficult relationship with said suburb that I should take this cast-off and fashion it into a useful item of a sort that one never sees in use here, so that is what I attempted to do: with some basic stuff from the hardware store, I made the frog into a bicycle cargo trailer.

Unfortunately, while I seem to have a surplus of self-congratulory bike smugness, I’m running a lot lower on engineering skills. So, while my trailer seemed like it would do the job when I headed out on the inaugural mission to the grocery store yesterday . . .

trailer

. . . and even seemed ready once I’d loaded it with $130 of provisions . . .

trailer

. . . I quickly discovered the following facts:

1. The wooden shovel handle I used to connect the trailer to the bike was definitely handy, in the sense that I had it lying around, but was not the ideal material for this job, because it was too flexible.

2. To counteract the flexibility of the wooden shovel handle, I should have cut it as short as possible.

3. The farther the weight on a trailer is from the axle of the trailer’s wheels, the worse.

Basically, the weight on the trailer made the front wheel of the bicycle come off the ground unless I pressed down hard on the handlebars while riding, which is not so comfortable. Also, the front of the trailer dragged intermittently on the street because the wooden shovel handle meant to keep the thing level was warping.

So, back to the drawing board (I actually started working on Trailer 1.1 last night). On the positive side, I discovered yesterday that nothing lends gravitas to an ordinary grocery list like typing it on a mechanical typewriter. I definitely need to keep that thing out for such tasks.

Grocery List

P.S. I know that “mozzarella” is one word. That’s just a coincidentally syllabic typo.

Movie Night

August 28, 2010

New (to me) typewriter

Typed Sheet

New (to me) typewriter

Loco Star

Loco Star headbadge

May It Please The Court

August 27, 2010

Court!

Filing an appeal to contest some injustice in criminal court may seem inspiring and lofty, but as a practical matter it is a huge pain in the ass. The Appellate Court of Connecticut requires lawyers to file fifteen copies of their briefs, two copies of some other things, and about twenty pages of miscellaneous forms, waivers, requests, and blood oaths. (I have been trying to pull one together all week, and finally got it filed this afternoon.) The pleasure of an appeal, if there is any, comes at oral arguments (maybe), and really only when there is a positive outcome, which is rare. But I have discovered another little pleasure, buried in the miserable blizzard of paperwork: Reading a court transcript and seeing in impassive, unemotional print the silly things I said in the heat of an argument. Here are some samples:

“Can I finish, please?”

“But– well–”

“Correct.”

“This is true.”

“Well, but in–”

“Once again we go over this.”

“The argument of the State seems to be that having once been convicted of a felony, he waives his right to bail for life. But if the question is true and–”

“In this court?”

“I’m asking, what else can he do?”

“Hold on, hold on, Carla. Just hold on a moment.”

“Carla, hold on. Hold on a second.”

I have a teenage client who was recently placed at a DCF group home in a town east of the Connecticut River, about ten miles from the courthouse where I work. Because I know the kid’s family is unlikely to visit him and I suspected he’d struggle to adjust to the place, I arranged to go visit him yesterday afternoon. So, after prepping my hearings for the next day and getting my files in order, I stuck my head into my boss’s office around 3:45 to say I was off to visit my client. “On your bike?!” he cried, incredulous. “You’re riding all the way there?”

“It’s only ten miles,” I said. “And let’s not forget, you’re the one who thinks wind-powered boat transportation is a good time.” Naturally, he didn’t care all that much, but my co-worker was equally surprised by my transportation plan, urging me to call her if I should become stranded by rain or mechanical malfunction.

Likewise, when I arrived at the group home, the kids there were impressed by my mode of transport. “Yo, you came here all the way from Hartford on that bike? How long it took you, like two hours?” (45 minutes, actually. I could have walked in two hours.) And then, turning to my client, “Damn son, this nigga crazy.”

Here’s the thing: It wasn’t crazy at all. Most of the ride was scenic, involving several miles on a lovely wooded bike path and the opportunity to cross the river, which is always nice. It took me maybe 15 minutes more than it would have taken by car, and about an hour less than it would have taken by bus. And really, ten miles is just not that far. Most reasonably fit people (including my boss, my co-worker, and all the kids at the group home) could walk that distance easily. The weather was cool and comfortable. Most of my trip didn’t even involve riding on roads that were too busy or too narrow – there wasn’t a single instance when a car came too close to me and made me fear for my life.

Also, afterward I was able to meet my friend and his co-workers, who were out for drinks in the same town, and have a few drinks without concerning myself with how I would get home, and when I ultimately did arrive home, having logged a cumulative 30 miles or so, I felt energized and healthy and I slept well.

So what is it about non-motorized transportation that seems so impossible? What is the deal with Central Connecticut?

Greetings from Cape Cod

August 23, 2010

Wednesday and Thursday of last week were trying at work, not in the sense that I wasn’t happy or that I wasn’t doing well, but that I was once again banging my head against the intransigence of the juvenile justice system and its inclination to disregard scientific knowledge of adolescent brains in favor of a retrograde instinct toward reflexive punishment predicated on a presumption of guilt. In other words, my planned four-day weekend on the Cape couldn’t have come at a better time.

Brooding, pre-dawn sky over Ballston Beach, Truro, Mass.

Dawn, Ballston Beach, Truro, Mass.

Bianca, Dahlia, Reuben, Max, Anna, and Lucy

Max and Lucy, hunting for crabs

Max, with a captured crab

Bianca and Anna

Rambling After Work

August 16, 2010

There are many many things in life for which I must count myself lucky. These include, of course, my delightful children, my marvelous wife, the good fortune of being middle class in a prosperous and free democracy, and Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies. Three other things that came together to make me feel thankful on Friday were (1) the fact that I have a boss who lets me leave early now and then when there is nothing pressing to do; (2) the fact that I have friends who can easily be persuaded to embark on an unplanned bike ramble on short notice; and (3) the fact that I live in a place where natural splendor, dirt farm roads, and river ferries are all within a manageable distance and accessible by bicycle from the city.

Friday was a gorgeous day, and I figured it would be a good afternoon to ride the ferry between Glastonbury and Rocky Hill, something I’d been meaning to do for a while. I figured I’d cross the river in Hartford, ride down through East Hartford and Glastonbury, take the ferry over, then meander wherever the spirit might lead me. I called Chris around 2:00 to see if he wanted to come, and he said that as long as we could swing by an event at the Capitol at 3:00, he’d be good to go, so we agreed to meet there.

The event was some sort of rally in support of tolerance for Muslims, which is a sentiment I can get behind, especially with all these crazy people talking about how private citizens shouldn’t be allowed to build a mosque and Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center site in New York (because, obvious arguments in favor of tolerance aside, aren’t Republicans supposed to be about private property and its immunity from government intervention? but anyway). (Also, there was apparently some stupid incident of harassment of Muslims by some fools in Bridgeport claiming the mantle of patriotism.)

Now, when I call it a rally, it is a generous interpretation of the word, for I usually think of rallies as having a little more passion, if not spontaneity. This event, in contrast, was eminently boring, as it consisted of various speakers from different faiths reiterating that being Muslim doesn’t make a person less American (true!) and that we shouldn’t harass Muslims (also true! but dull after the fifth or sixth repetition). I took some pictures to pass the time:

Rally against anti-Muslim discrimination

Rally against anti-Muslim discrimination

In short order, Chris showed up on his mighty cargo bike, and after a few more minutes of listening to good will and speechifying, we set off down Elm Street toward the river. It was not too hot, for a change, and the sky seemed a little baleful as we passed the old Colt factory:

Brooding skies over the Colt building

But the weather held! We crossed the Charter Oak Bridge and headed south through East Hartford into Glastonbury.

Duct Man, Glastonbury, Conn.

The suburbs pretty quickly give way to semi-rural land, and shortly after passing this duct-man, we were amid tobacco fields.

PICT1109

PICT1108

We turned off Rte. 17 onto Rte 160, which, according to the signs, would lead us to Rocky Hill. Only later do they clarify that you should not attempt to drive straight there:

PICT1111

It’s not hard for me to imagine someone following his GPS right into the river at this spot:

Rte.160

Luckily, we had the patience to wait for a ferry to take us across. The ferry showed up within five minutes, and for a measly buck a piece, we were able to continue on our merry way. The ferryman and the tug captain, by the way, were talking about “Desperate Housewives” while they secured the tow ropes.

Ferry Landing, Glastonbury, Conn.

The ferryman and the tug captain discuss "Desperate Housewives"

Our bikes aboard the ferry

Looking South on the Connecticut River

Once on the western shore, we turned north and went from the park by the ferry landing to a series of hard-packed dirt roads that cut through fields of sod, tobacco, and corn:

Farm road, Wethersfield, Conn.

Farmlands, Wethersfield, Conn.

It was around this spot that Chris remarked upon what I was thinking at the same moment: That we are lucky indeed to live in a place where such uninterrupted agrarian scenes can be enjoyed up-close upon riding one’s bicycle under an hour from the busting city. It is a grand thing, don’t you think?

After a while, the farmland gave way to more wildly vegetated plots, and we were all at once in the midst of live gunfire. Apparently, the land adjoining the road we were on belongs to the Wethersfield Game Club. Live gunfire is a little bit alarming, but we had seen a turf farm truck and a couple of cyclists come from the direction in which we were headed, so we assumed that the local sportsmen knew not to strafe the roadway. It worked out. We saw more sights:

Connecticut River

No Ice Fishing

Connecticut River, Wethersfield, Conn.

After stopping in Wethersfield for ice cream, we decided to head west to Newington to look at the sunset from the bluff overlooking the quarry there, behind Cedarcrest Hospital. (Here’s the view from a previous visit.) Unfortunately, after getting as far as the parking lot (photo below), we were politely but firmly told to get the hell out by a patrolling security guard (never mind that we actually wanted to leave the property, just via a broken back fence rather than the open front entrance).

Cedarcrest Hospital, Newington, Conn.

Undeterred, we entered the Cedar Mountain trails via the nearby Human Society property, which welcomes nature lovers. Our hope was to go around the adjacent hospital property and reach the bluff over the quarry that way. Instead, we followed a trail that petered into nothing and we ended up schlepping our bikes through the woods for a while, trying to find a way out. Props to Chris, who did all this on a heavily loaded, long-tail cargo bike:

Chris pilots a cargo bike through the woods

Eventually, we did emerge from the woods, not at the top of the quarry cliffs as we’d hoped, but at the bottom. More specifically, we were at the back of the Tilco property, where old quarry machinery goes to die. As it was after hours and night was falling, the whole place was very quiet and felt rather otherworldly:

Truck, Tilco Quarry, Newington, Conn.

Tilco Quarry, Newington, Conn.

And then we emerged on Hartford Avenue in Newington. Chris headed northeast to his place in Hartford. I headed west to my place in West Hartford. It was not quite 8:00 in the evening and we had had a marvelously unhurried 25-mile meander, all before dinner. Ain’t life sweet?

Friday Afternoon Ride

P.S. Did you know that Chris will be very happy to sell you one of those awesome cargo bikes, or a utilitarian folding bike, or sundry other bike items? It is very true! Check out his site: Daily Rider, LLC.

Ordinarily, television and sprawl are not my favorite things, but last night they came together magically to make happiness for me and my darling wife. Naturally, there was a bicycle involved.

You see, there is a television program called “So You Think You Can Dance.” I feel the title should have a question mark, since the essential premise is of competition, and the show’s organizers are challenging America to show off its dancing skills (in other words, the tone of the title is really, “so you think you can dance, huh?”). If that were my only complaint about the program, it would be far better than it is. In fact, it is a very very bad program. There is dancing, which is usually athletically adept, and sometimes choreographically inspired. But the dancing is like the cartoons in the New Yorker if the New Yorker were AARP The Magazine, which is to say, the good stuff is a handful of beautiful sailboats bobbing sadly in a vast sea of garbage. The garbage is commentary by judges and montages of the contestants’ rehearsal sessions and of their hardscrabble back-stories. The commentary is the worst, because the judges are pompous and they talk about how moved they are after every dance, and they say stuff that doesn’t make a lick of sense. The other filler is just tolerably trite.

Maybe I am not making myself clear, so let me get right to it: I hate “So You Think You Can Dance.” Inexplicable, my wife, who is very smart and generally has good taste, adores the program. Luckily for both of us, she has found a community of otherwise sensible adults who like the show. It is lucky for her because she can share her deviant vice with others similarly inclined, and lucky for me because it banishes the viewing of the program from my house on most occasions. The only bad part, if you can call it that, is that Anna’s “So You Think You Can Dance” viewing parties, which happen at a friend’s house in a suburb about 15 miles away, are an important part of her social life and she is sad that she cannot share this with me. I’m not too sad about this, but I do like the people who attend, and I want to support Anna in her weirdness if possible.

Usually, notwithstanding any tooth-gritting goodwill on my part, I cannot attend these gatherings because I have to stay home with the children, who are sleeping and thus safe from “SYTYCD.” But last night, the kids were with their grandmother in Cape Cod, leaving (sigh) no impediment at all to my attendance. And then, inspiration struck: Anna and I had finished dinner, and she wanted to take a shower before leaving for her friend’s house. Having just replaced my bicycle’s inappropriately knobby, off-road-type tires with skinnier, slicker tires, I was eager to take it out for a spin, so I proposed that I leave by bike while Anna was in the shower and we meet at the viewing party. Here’s the genius part: Because our friends live in Cromwell and we live in West Hartford, Anna would traverse 14 miles by highway and arrive by car just about in time for the show, while I would travel 17 miles by bike and miss at least the first hour!

It worked out very nicely, indeed. Night was just falling when I set out, so Hartford’s typical mugginess was giving way to a pleasant summer evening, and I chose a different route than usual, which happily traversed more of those strangely rural pockets that cling tenaciously to the suburban sprawl of Central Connecticut. So while Anna was hanging on every awful word of Nigel Lythgoe (the requisite British judge) and Adam Shankman (the requisite flamboyantly gay judge), I was enjoying cool, dark, country roads and the happy thunder of crickets. Hooray for America!

Democracy

August 10, 2010

After work today, I pedaled through the mid-afternoon swamp air to my local polling place to cast my vote in the Democratic (albeit not very democratic) primary. I felt my task was imbued with special importance because I read that my town “may be the swing town among the swing towns,” and briefly entertained the notion that this might give my vote extra weight (OK, not really).

Apparently, I was not the only person who thought the old W. Ha. (or Woo Hah, as I prefer to call it) might be important: Republican senate candidate Peter Schiff was there in person:

Polling place sign, with Peter Schiff in the background
(That’s him on the right, in the parking lot, with the white shirt.)

How could I tell it was him? Frankly, I wouldn’t have known, since I don’t keep close track of what Republicans look like. Luckily, however, he was standing right next to a huge, idling bus with his picture and name on it:

Schiff and his bus at my polling place
(It’s there, on the left behind the tree. Click on the picture for a much larger view.)

In the foreground of these pictures, you may notice a red sign. That sign is placed outside all polling places (per Connecticut General Statutes Section 9-236), and it says:

On the day of any primary, referendum or election no person shall solicit in behalf of or in opposition to another or himself or peddle or offer any ballot, advertising matter or circular to another person or loiter within a radius of seventy-five feet of any outside entrance in use as an entry to any polling place or in any corridor, passageway or other approach leading from any such outside entrance to such polling place or in any room opening upon any such corridor, passageway or approach.

After voting, I walked out the distance from the actual door to the place where the Schiff bus was parked, and it was clear of the 75-foot limit by a solid 20 feet. However, this particular polling place is in the rear building of a school, and if you drive there, you must park in the same lot where the Schiffmobile was idling and walk along the sidewalk visible at the lefthand side of the first photo, above. Now, I’m no lawyer, but – wait, actually, I am a lawyer, and I think the sidewalk from the parking lot to the building counts as a “passageway or other approach leading from any . . . outside entrance to [the] polling place.” Look at this aerial view:

Although Team Schiff was outside a 75-foot radius from the front door of the polling place, they were fully on the property of the school where voting was taking place and, more importantly, practically in the way of voters’ trip from the parking lot to the door. (Lucky for me, I came by bicycle, so I was able to get much closer to the door and avoid the bus and its crew.) Also, annoyingly, Schiff’s young, preppy acolytes were standing just beyond the 75 feet sign and shouting “Vote for Peter Schiff” at voters inside the perimeter. They shouted at me while I was carefully walking heel-to-toe to measure 75 feet to the bus.

Since I love both voting and the law, I went up to a young woman who was standing near the Schiffmobile and told her she was too close to the polling place. “We’re outside 75 feet,” she said. “But this sidewalk from the parking lot is a passageway to the polling place, and you’re practically on top of it,” I countered pleasantly. (Really. I was pleasant.) She seemed nonplussed, so I went back into the polling place and complained to the poll workers. They said they were uncertain how the rule should apply, and commenced discussing amongst themselves. I said I didn’t suppose it was such a big deal, but I thought I ought to say something, and with that, departed.

As I was ambling down the hall, one of the poll workers came after me, apparently to investigate, and we emerged from the building together, just in time to see the Schiffmobile retreating from the scene (although Schiff himself remained, talking on his cell phone and pacing). The Team Schiff Shouters were walking dejectedly toward the street. I went home with the happy notion that I had gone above and beyond the call of citizenship.

0810101952a.jpg

Garden!

August 10, 2010

Our garden's bounty