Monday, July 21, 2014

On Eagles Wings & Gimpy Knees

This morning I went out to get the mail and saw this big boy take off over the windrows across the road from my house.

My knee has been in a bad way for the past week, and I've been trying to avoid running and un-level ground. Two minutes later though––after a frantic search for my 200mm lens, I was dragging my uncooperative leg as fast as I could go across the treacherous plow-furrowed and woodchuck riddled surface of the field.

I caught up with our friend in one of the deciduous trees the lines the border of my grandparents' pine forest. I wasn't able to get as close as I'd hoped, but I was able to get a few shots off before he tired of the paparazzi:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pennsylvania & New York As They Ought To Be

This evening I read that the proposal to subdivide California into six separate states has apparently gained enough political traction to be considered on the state's general election ballot. I was previously unaware of the plan, but as I thought about it, my reactions were 1) I'm glad I got to drive through it while was still united, and 2) There's no way it will ever happen, and 3) That's too bad, because it really makes a lot of sense.

But why should only Californians be able to entertain ideas––however improbable––that make sense. Indeed, the West Coast is far from the only place that could benefit from some state-level territory restructuring to make theoretical maps match modern realities.

So, taking into account cultural norms, political leaning, physical geography, tax revenue, linguistic dialect, division of industry, and a variety of other factors; not to mention the simmering frustration of many of my friends in Pennsylvania, New York, New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere, I began in my mind to redraw the boundaries of the two states in what I feel to be a more equitable manner.

And I give this: Pennsylvania and New York State (and a sliver of New Jersey) as they ought to be:

Feel free to let me know what you have any suggestions, or draw your own if you think mine is completely crazy.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Like Something Should Happen

I feel strange this evening. Excited. Agitated. Like something is about to happen. Only the problem is I know nothing will happen.

I tried to study, but that seemed almost impossible. I thought about calling someone, but decided that was a bad idea. I thought about going for a run, but remembered I worked out yesterday and don't really need to burn the calories. So I made myself something to eat. Then something to drink. And then something to eat again. And I still feel like I need to go for a run, only I'm not sure if it's a wise idea now. And I still feel like something should happen.

I guess I used to feel like this a lot as a teenager. Most of the reason I started running in the first place if I remember.

Last Friday I was in Atlanta. I'd been at a conference and got dropped off at the airport a full seven hours before my departure. Maybe it was just that it was the 4th of July, or maybe it was that it was strange to be alone again, but standing in the airport I felt the same way I do now. Instead of going through security after I checked in, I turned around and went to the train station and jumped on one heading back into the city.

I didn't feel like walking around the downtown area with my bag, so instead I got on the west-bound train and jumped off at Little Five Points. There was a barbecue place there that someone had taken me to the Sunday before and I figured since I had nowhere to go and no one to meet I might as well go back there.

From the MARTA stop to the restaurant was about a half mile walk, and I ended up behind some guys about my age who kept on taking the same turns I was, to the point I started to feel uncomfortably like I was following them. I eventually just asked where they were going, and when they invited me to come I followed.

Twenty minutes later I was entering through the Emergency Exit Only door of an over-capacity establishment packed with hundreds of screaming, yellow-clad Colombians rearing for the start of the Brasil-Colombia game in the World Cup. It was packed so tight inside that trying to wriggle between people even without my duffle-bag would have been challenging, and we eventually got pushed out onto the patio––where there were a couple hundred more over-enthused Colombians, and finally over the PVC pipe barrier and onto the street.

So we went somewhere else.

And then somewhere else.

At some point we talked, and I learned that the three I was with all worked for a group that works with refugees entering the US and resettling in Atlanta. And I thought how strange it was that out of all the people I could have met in the city I met them. And when I mentioned I was going back to Beirut––hopefully this fall, it turned out one of them had lived in Cairo, and is also going back there soon. So maybe we'll run into each other someday.

At the late hour of 4PM, we began our rather unsteady journey back to the train platform. After declining an invitation to a party that evening in favor of actually getting on my flight home, they helped me transfer to the south-bound train, I breezed through security, got on another train, and made it to my gate with two hours to spare.

Drinking over-priced coffee and watching people from all over the world file past I began to feel again as if something should happen.

A very attractive Brazilian girl wearing a Brasil soccer jersey sat down in the row of chairs behind me, and I wondered what she could possibly be going to Rochester, New York, for. At any rate, in the [1 ÷ (number of seats in a McDonald Douglas MD-88)] chance that she sat next to me on the flight (poor, but it once happened on a flight from Stockholm to Munich––not with her I mean––but it happened) I remarked how serendipitous it was that all those riotous Colombians I'd been pushed onto the street by had been disappointed by the outcome of the match so that when the girl with the Brasil shirt did sit down next to me for the hour and half flight to Rochester I could congratulate her (after offering her the window seat, of course) and recount the entire scenario––which she would no doubt find hilarious and intriguing and then.... My thought was cut short by the Delta Attendant at the gate behind me that I'd completely failed to notice announcing that boarding for the connecting flight to Mobile Alabama had begun and the Brazilian girl got up and boarded that flight.

Hopes dashed, I put my ear buds in and continued to sullenly sip my overpriced coffee.

When we boarded, I thought how it was also sad––if not to a comparable degree––that I would not be getting back to Watkins Glen, New York, in time watch the fireworks with my friends, and would in fact see no fireworks at all this Independence day. To make matters worse, there was a maintenance issue and we sat on the tar for half an hour and it was completely dark by the time we taxied to the runway.

But then, as we accelerated down the runway, I looked in what I think was the direction of downtown Atlanta, and saw a firework out of the corner of my eye. We lifted off and I saw more. We climbed higher and saw more still until there were hundreds of little points of light exploding below us. It looked like the entire East Coast was trying to repel an alien invasion, and it didn't stop till we landed in Rochester. So I got my fireworks, and while there was no Brazilian girl, the middle-age woman who sat next to me turned out to be a national promotional manager for IBM and spent most of the flight––while we weren't staring out the window in silent awe––asking me questions about using YouTube as a platform for affiliate marketing, took my contact info and told me she was going to forward it to someone in their marketing department who was working on a similar program for their Enterprise computing systems. I actually highly doubt anything will come of it, but you never know.

At any rate, I felt like something should happen that day, and things happened. Maybe it's just that I wish I lived in a city. Or maybe it's that I sometimes wish I were in a different stage of life. But I still get that feeling.

Tonight I have that feeling.

Only tonight I'm pretty sure nothing will happen.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: Day of the Falcon

I don't often write reviews on here, much less often of movies. Every now and then, though, one comes along that gives me a fresh perspective on something. It may be a subject I've read or watched a lot about––but always from a very objective viewpoint. What a good novel or movie does I think is give you a very human picture of a place or issue. And, for all our best efforts, we are human, so in the end, the human picture is often the right one. "[F]iction illuminating people and culture in a far more intimate manner than any guide book," is how NYT Bureau Chief Neil MacFarquhar put it when explaining why he reads a novel about any country before reporting from it.

And that is definitely what The Day of the Falcon did for me. I'm not sure if it really changed anything I think about the way things are in the Middle East today, but it makes it much easier to understand issues like "Arab identity" and the tension between progress and tradition that seem really abstract or even absurd on paper. I would recommend it based on that alone, but the fact is also: It's just a really good movie. The finest epic I've seen in quite awhile, in fact.

Awesome desert battle scenes, very nuanced relationships, and most importantly, Day of the Falcon avoids the frequent epic pit-fall of being the Arabian version of Avatar, which was the sci-fi version of The Last Samurai, which was the Japanese version of Dances with Wolves. In the first half-hour I was afraid the movie would go down that path, but then the writers surprised me by having a much deeper and more thought provoking plot.

Also, I first watched Day of the Falcon some time ago, but last time I checked, it was on Netflix, so you really have no excuse for not watching it ;)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Worm

Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”

And everyone said Amen.

Because what is the point of life when there are CUTWORMS!

How is it possible that any good or order exists in the universe when your yellow hungarian wax plants look like THIS:


My moment of heresy has passed––and aluminum foil collars have been applied to the survivors of the horticultural holocaust.

It's still a tragedy, though, is it not?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Columbia Cross Roads

Columbia Cross Roads is technically the town I grew up in. The word technically has never been applied with more specificity in its meaning.

I don't know anyone who lives in Columbia Cross Roads. It has never meant anything to me beside an obnoxiously long thing to type into shipping address fields. Believe it or not, despite the fact that it has been my hometown for 21 of the last 24 years, until a few weeks ago, I had never even been anywhere in Columbia Cross Roads aside from Judson's Feed Store.

It has only ever had one redeeming quality in my mind: Much like Barack Obama's one saving grace was that he was not George Bush, Columbia Cross Roads, PA's one redeeming quality was that it was not Millerton, PA.

Now that I have thoroughly alienated my entire readership, let me get to the point.

It has been a distant and disdainful love affair. I have spent my whole life devising ways to get away from Columbia Cross Roads, PA. Some have been more successful than others.

NEVERTHELESS, despite all this, I was moved to emotion when I realized that Columbia Cross Roads, my hometown, was inadequately represented on Facebook.

Until about a year ago, there was not even such a place recognized on Facebook. That has changed, but it still, until this evening, lacked a photo. So today, on my way back from mowing lawns in Troy, I pulled up the hill that overlooks Columbia Cross Roads, pulled into a driveway, walked across the road, and snapped a photo.

It may have been the most dangerous act of journalistic intrigue I've ever attempted. Riga, Amman, Sidon and Beirut, as it turns out, have nothing on Columbia Cross Roads, because in Columbia Cross Roads, when you park your car in someone's driveway to take a photo of something across the road, they sick their German Shepard on you.

Somehow, I survived, and this, pending Facebook's approval, is the face of Columbia Cross Roads, PA:

Monday, June 09, 2014

A Shortcut to Mushrooms

This week I'm house-sitting for some friends in Corning. It's pretty much the same as being at home––myself in a big empty house––only for two differences: Instead of being completely alone, there are two dogs named Patch and Molly (no, those aren't drugs I'm on, there are actually two dogs with me) and instead of being 20 miles from anywhere, it's very close to just about everything I normally spend hours every week driving to get to. That last point isn't something I think of often, but it's amazing what a difference it makes.

Earlier today I decided I would make fish and chips for supper. When I got the stuff I'd bought on my way into town out this evening, though, I realized I'd forgotten to buy potatoes. Normally, this would simply mean I would be eating fish and chips. And so my initial reaction was one of disgust.

Then I realized, however, that if I wanted to go and get some potatoes, it would only take like three minutes. I wouldn't even have to stop pre-heating the oven. In fact, it was really unnecessary that I'd even bought stuff on my way into town. Or that I'd even thought about what I was going to make prior to five minutes before when I wanted to make it.

It's such a small thing, but the difference it makes is kind of mind-boggling when I think about how much time and energy I spend just making sure that I have mushrooms, hamburger, olive oil, paper towels and so on when I'm supposed to have them and in the right order with the right people. It's kind of depressing.

Certainly, it's much cheaper to live where I do––even when you factor in the $250/month I spend on gasoline. But at the same time, I wonder how much more I might accomplish if I didn't spend so much of my schedule just figuring out how to be in all the places I need to be that are not where I live and do so in the most fuel efficient way possible.

But then, it's hardly the worst situation I could imagine. I've been in countries before where the question wasn't how efficiently you could get across town; it was if you could get across town at all. Maybe someday I'll be looking back wistfully at the time when all I had to do to get potatoes was get in my own car and drive half an hour on perfectly serviceable roads and pay for them with a credit card and wonder how much I'd be able to accomplish if I only had to spend an hour a day traveling.

For the next couple days, though, I'll be enjoying only driving three minutes.