Above is the craigslist post for a massively lifted, four-wheel drive 1973 Chevelle: $2500, trades accepted. Here’s a slightly larger view of what we’re talking about:

Here’s the gchat exchange I had with my wife concerning this exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity:

me:  I know what I want for my birthday

[silence]

me: go ahead. ask me what it is.

[silence]

me: OK, I’ll tell you. It’s this: http://hartford.craigslist.org/bar/2411511453.html

[three minutes of silence]

me:  Anna, it’s $2500 (http://hartford.craigslist.org/bar/2408996784.html) and the guy will take trades! I could probably trade my truck for that. 4-wheel drive!

[seven minutes of silence]

Anna:  no

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Summer Begins

May 30, 2011

a captured crab

OK, I know it doesn’t really start till mid-June, but when Memorial Day weekend is this gorgeous, and on top of that I’m blessed with the good fortune to spend said weekend in Cape Cod, it’s hard not to smile at the prospect of summer opening happily up before me for four months of lazy exploration.

Max, intrepid explorer

Faina & the boys

Reuben jumps in

Lucy

Flowers

The law of the sea, Wellfleet, Mass.

Reuben & Max hit the beach, Truro, Mass.

Sunset over Provincetown

Max

Pests

May 23, 2011

Our house has a number of moths. There are a few moths of the sort you probably recognize, large-ish, like drab, underfunded butterflies, that batter themselves pitifully against light sources. But more common are little moths, roughly the size of houseflies, that meander drunkenly around the air without any seeming destination. I kill them often, usually by clapping my hands decisively about their hapless little bodies, but sometimes one-handed, crushing them in a fist. I’m good at this.

I suppose the little moths and big moths are different species (or varieties, or whatever) but I prefer another theory: that the small ones are just young moths, and I am so prolific in exterminating them that very few ever reach maturity.

Comes word today that “Macho Man” Randy Savage has died in a car crash in Florida. So, a remembrance of sorts:

When I was fifteen, I spent my junior year of high school in Argentina on a foreign exchange program sponsored by Rotary International. As part of the program, all of the potential exchange students from northwestern Oregon and southwestern Washington (I lived in Portland at the time) were made to gather periodically in the year preceding our departure. Usually, we were packed off to a campground for a few days at a time, in the company of a bunch of foreign exchange students and a few Rotarians, and lectured on cultural sensitivity and the importance of being good ambassadors for our nation and such. In between lectures, we mostly got drunk and made out.

As you might expect, I had a lot of fun on these excursions, and it was cool to get to go to Argentina afterward. But more than the various make-out sessions, one of my fondest memories from my pre-exchange training was a story told to me by another outbound exchange student. A story about Macho Man Randy Savage.

D.K. was bound for South Africa and she was very very hot. Too hot for me to have a chance with, really, but I was too naive to realize. Through the grace of God and Rotary International, we found ourselves sitting alone one afternoon at a picnic table at a campground on the Oregon coast, and when she asked me what I was doing that evening – meaning, which of the condoned after-dinner activities would I choose – I said my plan was to sneak off somewhere and make out with her. I had already had quite a bit of rum. To my surprise, she said OK, and after kissing briefly, we joined hands and marched into the woods with the determination unique to two fifteen-year-olds on that sort of mission.

But the ensuing odyssey of awkward outdoor nakedness, exciting though it was at the time, is not the point of my story. The point is this: Later in the evening, D.K. and I found our way to a large bonfire (Rotary approved) where kids not otherwise occupied were roasting marshmallows, singing songs, and surreptitiously drinking contraband liquor. We met up with some friends and sat around shooting the shit, and after a while, D.K., snuggled beside me in a blanket, told the following tale, which I believed then and believe now, about Macho Man Randy Savage:

At D.K.’s high school (in Beaverton, Oregon, maybe? I can’t remember), there was a kid called Dumptruck. Dumptruck was not, of course, his real name. He was a nerd and an outcast and D.K., being attractive and popular (and hot – did I mention that?) never knew his real name, or how he came to be called Dumptruck, or really anything about him. He was a heavyset loser who wore black clothes, and that’s about all she could say. Well, one Friday, Dumptruck pulled out a gun in class and told everyone to get the hell out, which they did, apparently without incident. The school was evacuated, except for Dumptruck and his gun, and the police came, and they were talking to him on a phone in the classroom, trying to get him to come out and not kill himself. So I guess somewhere along the way, Dumptruck told the police that he would come out if they could get Macho Man Randy Savage to come talk to him. Now, I remember this seeming preposterous to me, even at the time, because, well, why would a professional wrestler be anywhere near Beaverton, Oregon, on a given Friday? But maybe Wrestlemania was in town or something and that’s why Dumptruck was asking? I don’t know, but according to D.K., THEY GOT THE MACHO MAN. After maybe an hour, he showed up and went bounding into the school alone to talk to Dumptruck. They talked for a long time – “I guess they had, like, a heart-to-heart?” D.K. said, suburbanly. And then it was over. Macho Man came out with one of his famous pythons slung over Dumptruck’s shoulder, and that was that. Randy Savage had saved the day.

Is this story true? I don’t know. Google is not helping me, especially today as the news of his death inundates the internet. I’m disinclined to vouch for D.K., especially since I learned later that she had told a mutual acquaintance that I French-kissed “like a dog.” (This didn’t so much hurt my feelings as it made me bridle at her indiscretion. Frankly, I had found her kissing style to be weird and not-that-sexy, but I at least had the good graces to keep that opinion to myself!) But for all her shallow, popular-girl hotness, she didn’t seem like a fabulist. She also didn’t seem like the sort of person who would ever invent a story involving Macho Man Randy Savage. I am that sort of person, but she was not.

So for today, let us imagine that Macho Man Randy Savage, nee Randall Mario Poffo, really took time out of his schedule to help a depressed high school outcast in suburban Oregon. Let us hope that in addition to being a splendid physical specimen, a vibrant showman, and a memorable pitchman for snack products, he was, at heart, a kind and patient man, concerned above all else with the well-being of his fans.

Things That Fly

May 17, 2011

Moth on the table

Crown Vic on Broad Street, Hartford

photo.JPG

I assume that the people who put together and ultimately published the children’s activity book pictured above thought that the title was sufficiently innocuous. However, when I looked at it, I was briefly shocked and thought it might be like those terrible websites that encourage women to be anorexic (“You mean, like Vogue.com and Mademoiselle.com?” asks the sarcastic reader. “No,” I say, “but your point is well taken.”). The reason for that, I think, is that I work every day with mentally ill and emotionally disturbed teenagers, and the word “cutting,” standing alone, does not initially conjure visions of construction paper. (It’s like the joke in an early episode of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” where the butler, Geoffrey, mentions that he used to fence at some fancy school so Will Smith says, “Oh really? How much could I get for this stereo?” except my version, with cutting, is just sad.)

This is a necessary and generally tolerable side effect of working in the juvenile justice system, and it extends beyond linguistic misapprehension. I spend most days wading through all manner of human misery, and while the alleged offenses that bring juveniles to court tend to be less serious than their adult counterparts, the environments in which these young defendants live are frequently more tragic by a good margin. In general, if I can bring a little bit of hope to some of my clients, undo just a bit of the bad effects of a bad education system or an abusive cop, I come away energized and ready for the next day’s fight. If anything, the little victories are plenty big enough, and since they come, in so many cases, with real gratitude from clients, it all feels worthwhile: last week, I client of mine got arraigned on a new charge and I was certain he would end up in jail, but through some combination of divine providence and my lawyerly skills of persuasion, I walked him out; when I saw him on Park Street with his brother later that day and was greeted with multiple handshakes, hugs, and general good spirits, all felt right with the world – I was a defender of constitutional rights and a ghetto celebrity to boot!

But man oh man, sometimes the weight of human misery builds up. One day earlier this week, I had an eleven-year-old client get locked up, along with a fifteen-year-old whose family situation and history just made me want to give her a big hug and then possibly adopt her. I spent the day sparring with a stern judge who actually, audibly scoffed when I had the temerity to argue that children have a liberty interest in staying at home rather getting pre-trial detention. I had to argue that a lot, and there was a lot of scoffing. Then I went out for lunch, and instead of being buoyed by the salsa-blaring, “¿cómo tú ‘tás, brother?” exuberance of Frog Hollow in springtime, all I could think about was all the people I saw on the street who were plainly past or present heroin users, skinny and unsteady, haphazardly tattooed, looking young and old all at once.

I bought an eight-pack of Reese’s peanut butter cups, which I consumed quickly, and then, for possibly the first time since I moved to Connecticut, I felt a little bit glad to leave work and retreat four miles west to West Hartford’s mundane, well-manicured stability.

Today a judge granted my client a furlough to leave jail for five hours for a visit to his mother’s grave on Mother’s Day, and now I am feeling much better.

Strange Choices

May 4, 2011

Have you heard of autocorrect? If you are one of the modern people who has a modern, “smart” phone (“Phones can know.”), you are probably accustomed to having your phone, which for all its smartness is not the best for typing, make on-the-go corrections to your important text messages and e-mails. Most of the time, these corrections are very useful, and sometimes they are hilarious. The iPhone, notwithstanding the typographical curiosity of its purported spelling, is notorious for its prolific and often bizarre corrections.

The iPad, being basically a big iPhone without a phone or a camera, also has the autocorrect feature, and since I have an iPad, I am ever more acquainted with its foibles. Generally, I like the autocorrect (when you add “the” to a technological word where it doesn’t really belong, by the way, you are gently conveying to your reader that you are something of a fuddy-duddy), especially when I am working on Spanish translations, which is what I do a lot of on the iPad. You see, Apple’s word processing program, Pages, seems to have a much more comprehensive Spanish dictionary than Microsoft Word, which insists on closing its eyes to the existence of some verb conjugations. What’s more, making diacritic marks (that is, accent marks and tildes, like in the word “compañía”) is sort of a pain in the ass: On most Windows computers, you have to hold down ALT and hit a three-number sequence on the numeric keypad – especially annoying if you are on a laptop that doesn’t have a numeric keypad, because then you must also hold the function key down, but that sometimes inadvertently triggers secret functions that make the computer do other funny things; on the iPad, you have to hold down the letter that needs an accent, and after a moment a little menu appears with all the possible marks, and you have to slide your finger to the one you want – it’s tricky. But with autocorrect, many words that need accents just get them automagically. Obviously, there are some words that exist both with and without the diacritic: “Sí se puede,” which was a phrase much bandied about during the last presidential election, means “YES, it can be done” (“Yes we can” is more euphonious but a less faithful translation). “Si se puede,” on the other hand, gives us the more dubious “IF it can be done.” Still autocorrect is handy for accent marks most of the time.

But here’s the strange choice that Apple made that vexes me so: In English, if you type I-T-S, it automatically gives you “it’s.” I think this is a weird choice because (1) it’s and its are both used enough that it seems odd to favor one over the other and (2) it further contributes to many people’s inability to use the two words correctly. I have to conclude, though, that Apple erred on the side of it’s because it does show up more often and it requires more keystrokes to type. But then in Spanish, we have this problem: If you type M-A-S, you get (surprise!) “mas.” And “mas” is a word in Spanish – it’s an antiquated word for “but,” which no one ever uses because everyone just writes “pero,” and using “mas” to say “but” is like randomly saying “hath” or “goeth” in English. But “más” IS a frequently used word in Spanish – it means “more” and people say it and write it all the time. So why doesn’t Apple autocorrect M-A-S to “más”? Más exceeds mas in frequency by about a gajillion and it has more keystrokes, so the its/it’s reasoning demands it.

Sadly, this is the shit that keeps me up at night.

Meta-Sigh

May 3, 2011

Sometimes I stand back and consider the irony and anguish that practically drips from some human interactions, the way that simple, seemingly quotidian exchanges are suffused, for anyone with even a bit of background knowledge, with hypocrisy, deceit, and a general surplus of evidence of the fallibility of human beings. (Is it evident that I had one of those incredibly galling interactions yesterday with opposing counsel? The sort where the other lawyer is saying something seemingly sensible but everyone in the room knows that this lawyer is fundamentally duplicitous, not just professionally but personally, and where what I want to say is, “You make me so sick that I wonder if I can bear to be in the same building as you five days a week,” but instead I say, mildly, “well, you have your opinion, but I have a duty to advocate for my client,” and walk away with no more solace that a shared rolling of eyes with the court marshal who has overheard the exchange? I did have such an interaction.)

If the world were the internet (which it sort of is), these exchanges would exist not as excruciating minutes of blandishments draped over daggers followed by hours of smoldering anger that people so unjust should be given power not just over my mood but over the lives and liberty of other human beings, but as single, pithy blog posts. Each post would contain only a well-lit picture of the interaction involved and a snippet of transcribed dialogue, followed by some brief bit of editorializing by me. Yesterday’s post would have shown me and my interlocutor, chatting in the courtroom during a recess. The dialogue would look like this:

ME: “You’re going to try to get a restitution order for an eight-year-old?”
HER: “You’re lucky I don’t ask for [pre-trial] detention.”

Under that, I would append only the word, “Sigh,” but it would contain a hyperlink, but because this is a weird world-as-internet imagining where sometimes links don’t go to pages but to concepts we all understand, the link would connect the reader immediately to the combined concept of the tangled web we weave, what a piece of work human beings are, the fact the misdeeds are so often rewarded, and the bittersweet feeling I get when I watch the first hour of Say Anything.