Sunday, May 31, 2009

Whine and Cheese

My initial plan was to hang at Putnam's until Sunday afternoon and come home around 3 PM or so, but his Saturday schedule turned out to be so busy that - rather than staying at his cabin alone and absent a desire on my part to either go bum around Portland on my own or accompany him to the talent show he was participating in at his church (as a favor to his pastor, not out of any need to compete), I elected to head back a day early to spend Sunday with Yesenia.

It turned out to be a great decision to leave on Saturday evening. I made excellent time, making the trip from Durham (about 20 miles north of Portland) to Tappan in a little over five hours, even including my making an accidental detour through Brunswick on my way back to 295, costing me about 20 minutes, and a couple of gas- and pit-stops.

And as for spending time with Yesenia? A very nice day, what can I tell you? We got in the car around 11 (for a rare treat of Yesenia driving) to head over to Vernon, NJ - way out in the boonies, even boonier than the boons where Putnam lives. The reason for the trip was to visit Bobolink Dairy, a semi-annual ritual on our part, which we alternate with visits to Storm King. Even with Yesenia's new-found dairy allergy, we got some cheese (of which she had a very, very little) and some bread. Then we headed over to a local winery for a tasting and lunch. Curiously, we ran into my stepsisters and some of their friends, also there for the tasting and food.

The wines? Good. The food, not so much.

We ate lunch out on the grass, but eventually the storm clouds came up and we decided it was time to head home.

Anyway, it was a good lazy Sunday and a good capper to a good weekend, and I'm feeling good for the week ahead. How's that for a non-bummer?


Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Northland (2009)

Short Rambler this evening - mostly because I'm beat, but I guess I could say that I'm trying to preserve bandwidth on my little Verizon modem. See, Yesenia went to the Verizon store one day and picked up this USB gizmo (am I old enough to use 'gizmo' unironically?) that lets us go online through our cellphone account. Technically, it's a third phone line on the contract, but one that just goes online to the tune of $40 a month for 250MB. Which ain't dick.

Really, I could compose this Rambler offline to save bandwidth, but I also want to keep it short for the first reason mentoned: I'm fuckin' tired. Long, trying morning, then got on the road at around two and made incredible time to Portland, where I attended (and recorded) Putnam's album release show. The recording part turned out to be kind of unnecessary, because the desk mix that the engineer burn sounds really, really good - much better than any live desk mix I've ever heard, I think. Certainly much brighter and clearer than the two room mics I set up. At any rate, I intend to bounce the two together and see if the room mics add a little atmosphere, but, ultimately, I think the final mix will likely be the desk mix pretty much all the way.

I also brought my Rhodes, which really was necessary - sounded damn good in the room, I must say. Oddly, the house amp was the Roland Jazz Chorus, one of which I owned briefly years ago, but couldn't stand the sound of the Rhodes through it and exchanged it for my current Fender Blues DeVille. I say 'oddly', because the Roland sounded great, and I wonder if either my Rhodes has changed or my ears over the last fourteen years...

Anyway, I'll post more tomorrow - the show went late, and Putt lives twenty minutes North of Portland, so it's almost 2:30 as I type this. Hope y'all are having a good weekend, wherever you are.


Monday, May 25, 2009


Big party at Bubba & Fi's, for which I was mostly out of it. These three-day, all-party weekends really take the wind out of my sails by the end. Continuing the nautical analogy, picture me driven ashore on some rocky atoll, hull torn stem to stern and aswarm with seabirds.


Sick Baby

Yesenia has been fighting the same under-the-weatherness for the last three weeks or so. It started as allergies - she took it with her to Puerto Rico, where it actually got worse, thanks to her mom and her mom's dogs. Now, it's turned into a sinus infection.

Yesenia's infections seem to know no season...

Anyway, send some good vibes her way, if you can, since she's tired of feeling completely miserable.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

I Blog, So That You Don't Have To

Blogging on Yesenia's laptop this evening - the Dell Inspiron 1525, codename 'Espresso.' 'Cause I left the Manputer at Bubba and Fi's. Forgive any typos - I seem to be having a very hard time working my way around this keyboard.

Definitely, things are starting to feel more than a little Summer-y, here. The last few days have been very warm, but the thing that separates Summer from Spring is the nights. Spring nights are cold, whereas Summer nights keep the heat going all night long. And the last couple of nights (tonight included) have been edging up to 'unpleasantly warm.' Really, it's more a case of there being no wind to speak of - a little breeze would make things quite nice. But it's stagnant, and the mosquitoes have started their engines, and it's generally bryter layter, as Nick Drake said.

What to do with the Summer, as it's a comin' in? Loudly sing, 'Cuckoo?' There's an option - find some music to play and play it loud into the night.

Other options? Fix up my bike and go for a ride. I have to admit, I hate biking around here, but love to bike. This area is stupid hilly and the cars and drivers (speaking as one) suck. Last Summer, I opted for a little tennis, and I wouldn't mind pulling that out again.

Summer does seem to bring with it a seemingly endless offering of things to do...


Thursday, May 21, 2009


I realized it's been a while since I've give a progress report on the Learning of the Math: it's slow. Not so much in the sense that we're not going through the material, but without the impending deadline of the five tests,* I've been kind of slacking in the pursuit of my studies. Partly that, partly the added scheduling complication of working at the paper, and partly my dad's availability. Dad will be done with classes this week, I believe, so we'll perhaps kick it up a notch. At any rate, I've just learned basic matrices and Cramer's Rule, so we're somewhere in that gray are between Algebra and Trigonometry.

Is there any way to make this exciting? I wonder. Still, there is one positive to the new low-pressure math approach, which is that I do find I very much - well, enjoy might be too strong a work for it, but I at the very least am mildly entertained by working through problems. I suspect I'll always have some kind of math anxiety - I just can't seem to think through things with all that mud in my head - but it is nice to just do it and not worry about performance.

There really isn't anyway to make that last paragraph not sound like some kind of sex metaphor, is there? Best just leave it.


*Deadline of the Five Tests sounds vaguely like the name of an excellent karate film, doesn't it?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I have an interesting face, and not necessarily in a good way.

For the last two years or so, I've had on-again/off-again crap on my face. I wish there were a more accurate word for it, but one of the big problems is that the multiple diagnoses seem to just keep being wrong. First, it was eczema. Then, it was seborrheic dermatitis. Now, it's some weird kind of acne that supposedly is pretty rare in men, but I guess somewhat more common in women.


Anyway, as part of the earlier treatments, the one that seemed to keep it under the best control was the steroid cream - which, of course, is the one that you should be most conservative with, since not only does it possess 'entropic' qualities (meaning that it slowly eats away at your flesh), but - as I found out today - your skin actually becomes addicted to it, which means that when you discontinue use, you have a big flare-up.

I'm discontinuing use. And the new treatment is entirely anti-bacterial, and I'm told not to expect any results for a month. Meaning it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Am I telling you this to gross you or make you feel sorry for me? No, I am most emphatically not an animal. But chances are good that I'm going to be seeing most of the regular readers of the Rambler in person within the next month, and I wanted to give you fair warning that my puss could be gnarly for the next couple of weeks. If we meet up, perhaps we could do it in a dark, secluded spot? More for your sensibilities than my own.

The best part? Apparently, this new treatment will make me extra sensitive to sunlight in the affected areas. I'm beginning to think the only effective treatment for what I've got is holy water and a stake through my heart.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Morgan was Right

As part of my last night of temporary bachelorhood - with much to do, no food in the fridge and no time to really go get something more healthy (and, let's face it, also genuinely wanting it) - I did the deed. That's right: McDonald's Value Meal #1, right from the drive-thru. The Big Mac and fries. I also compounded it with a 'chocolate' shake, but don't worry - at least I had a Diet Coke.

I'd say 'this really makes me feel American!,' but McDonald's has so successfully spread their brand in the last few years that it would be more accurate to say 'this really makes me feel human!'

But it doesn't. It so doesn't. Short of being locked in a cage and force-fed metal filings, I can't think of a dinner more dehumanizing than the 'Value Meal #1.' The literal definition of 'empty calories,' I note that since the last time I indulged/punished myself with VM1, McDonald's has taken to printing the nutrition info on the side of the package. That's 560 for the Big Mac (with about 30% of that fat calories), 380 for the fries (170 fat calories) and 770 fucking calories for the 'chocolate' shake (160 fat). Which adds up to 1,710 calories for one meal. And the joke is sadly true - I was hungry again just as soon as I finished it.

Other than that, I only had a peanut butter & jelly sandwich today... and the beer, let's not forget the painting-break beer. And that was my full allowance of calories for the day. I won't even get in to the dubious moral choice of eating at McDonald's - these issues rarely cross my mind at times like that. Given Yesenia's all-wheat germ diet these days (with a milk and tofu allergy added to her list of dietary no-nos, the robust pork-eater I married has basically become a vegan), I figured the only time I could eat something like the VM1 guilt-free was the night before she returned.

I guess I'm ruined, though, since the 'guilt-free' part didn't work. Consider this Rambler my mea culpa: my fault, my most grievous fault.

Small thanks: at least my stomach seems to be handling the load of crap okay. I was fairly certain even before I ate that I would be paying for the VM1 with a severe case of ick.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wrap it Up

I just realized that it was Sunday night and I've really got to make some headway on various work projects that I've left hanging - mostly small things, but those are the things that add up. I'd been ignoring work in favor of the house for the last couple of days. The bathroom is small, but there's just a mandatory bottom limit to the amount of work that goes into redoing any bathroom - it's all the fun of painting, plus putting in a new sink! And now the work is waiting to be done, as well.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Missing Day

Apologies for the break in service - my host did its periodic and highly secretive changing of the FTP info, and Blogger coughed and whined 'Error 530' when I tried to post late Thursday night. Since I was actually logging in from a different internet connection than usual, for some reason, I just assumed that the problem was the connection and not the server (like, say when you can receive mail but not send from other connections, sometimes). But of course, it was the server. They require that you change your password and login info once every few months - let's say 'four months' - and they take it upon themselves to prevent any remote logins of the type that Blogger does, but neglect to inform you that their deadline has passed and you need to go in and update things.

Really, an email would be nice.

Anyway, I've posted Thursday's lost entry about my ride up to Middletown, and you can read below toady's Rambler.

It's now Saturday at around 7:30 PM, and I've been back to Tappan, back up to Middletown, and back to Tappan again in that time. Something like 9 hours of driving between Connecticut and New York in the last three days. Which would be less impressive if you delivered pizzas in Rye from Greenwich, but the point is made, yes?

In the middle day (Friday), I retrieved Kate and various bits of construction material, and we got some work done on the house. Not as much as I'd hoped, since we each were totally zoned-out from lack of sleep the previous night. Don't go getting any ideas: I didn't fall asleep until about 4 AM, as the combination of lack of Yesenia, general insomnia and the kind of creepy basement atmosphere made it difficult for me to hail the sleep taxi, while Kate had apparently woken up at 3:30 - in bed with her husband, yo! - realized after an hour that she wasn't getting back to sleep, and instead wet out to their garden to plant tomatoes.

I wrote about my own great work ethic earlier this week? Right. I would not get up at 4:30 to plant tomatoes.

Official wake-up time had been set for 7, and we managed to get out of the house by around 8, over to Weslyan to pick up some of the free construction materials (insulation panels, in this case), and got on the road and into New York probably by 10:30 or so. Even with the lack of sleep and my own achilles heel of lack of forethought and preparation, we still got stuff done, and I'll finish that work in the next couple of days on my own.

In fact, I'm going to change into my nasty-wear now to get working. Let's see if I fixed the posting issue, and I'll see you tomorry.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Basement to Basement

Blogging LIVE! from Middletown, CT - the home of college friend Kate and husband Noah. This time, I'm down in the basement, which is very, very large and pretty cool, I have to say. It's got the rough-hewn quality that basements in old houses do, but the white-painted walls, the room division and tile floor and other touches make it a surprisingly nice living space.

Apparently, one of their cats agrees - a giant Maine coon-type that weighs 17 pounds, named Elvin Jones (after the drummer). As soon as I got into bed, he appeared out of nowhere and joined me. Which would have startled me, considering that the door is closed, but I saw when I first came in there's actually a little cat hole cut in the wall under the bed, presumably so that the cats can come and go as they please. For all I know, the litter box may be in the room beyond here - there are a lot of surprises down here. Like the hot tub, for example. Smack dab between the sewing machine and the jigsaw.

It's that kind of house.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wednesday, All Day

My, oh my. Apparently, I had a work ethic all this time, and just didn't know it. I've literally been going straight since about 8 AM - which wouldn't be that impressive, until you consider that it's about 11:15 PM as I write this.

But the weird thing about these jam-packed days is that when you look back, even though you know you accomplished a lot, it feels like you did not much with your time. It's that perception of time when we're in it and then when we reflect on it after the fact.

What is this reminding me of? Oh, I know...

Just call me 'Mrs. Tempo.' And how spooky is it that she/he says, 'and it's only Wednesday?'

Man, I want this and Donald in Mathemagicland on DVD, now.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Silicon Footprint

Tried to AIM/iChat video with Yesenia just a few minutes ago - she's staying at her mom's, in the jungle suburbs of San Juan. Unfortunately, couldn't get it to connect - most likely, the firewall on her mom's router is set to 'repel barbarian hordes.' So Yesenia and I both quickly installed Skype, which worked like a charm.

She's so cute, even pixelated at a low frame rate.


Monday, May 11, 2009

There She Goes Again

Took Yesenia to the airport at three AM, for her six AM flight.

Funny how I feel like I never sleep - one night of driving to and from Newark in the darkest hours (what Springsteen sang about the 'New Jersey Turnpike looks like a lunar landscape' is true) really shows what sleepless is. Got back to the house around five, and got about three hours of sleep and spent most of the day in the cloud.

Anyway, she'll be gone from now until next Tuesday, so now comes the part where I see how well I know how to make myself useful in her absence. Note that I said 'useful,' not 'busy.' I won't have a problem finding things to do - the question is if I can get to them all.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Writer's Blockade

Oh, man! A pun for a title. You know what that means. Heck, at least this time, the pun is accurate.

Accuracy in punning is an underrated quality.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I Recommend

The new autobiography from Bill Bruford. It's always impressive to me just how SMART and well-spoken most of the guys from prog were, even if they were lower class (Bruford was comfortably middle-class). It's incredible as an observation on music in general and a meditation on the mechanics of being a musician, and mercifully free of 'Hammer of the Gods'/'No One Here Gets Out Alive' tales of rock excess and debauchery. There's a scary-sharp insight on every page, about the business of making and selling music - and the interactions and compromises that are what making music in a band are all about.

I particularly like this quote: "For me, London and New York City have been reduced to a series of rehearsal rooms associated with one album or another, and all with a greater or lesser degree of torture, interspersed with long stretches of tedium. Quite commonly, the leader, which means the most opinionated of the assembled players, is the least equipped technically, and he depends upon a combination of threats and bribery to extract his preferred musical terrain from his better equipped and more docile colleagues."

Yeah. That would be me. (hangs head)


Link to Amazon.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Iron Screen

Finally, finally, finally saw the 1970's version of Solaris, the Soviet-era film adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's novel. The film is supposed to have out-Kubrick'd Kubrick, a film of such weight, depth, breadth and any other measure of size that it's supposed to be the thinking-man's be-all and end all of science-fiction cinema.

Annnnd... it was good. Quite good, depending on your patience for lengthy scenes about not much of anything, of which the majority are in the first half of the film, including a five minute wordless montage of a tertiary character and his son taking a speeding taxi through Tokyo. During the day. On a highway. Mostly through tunnels. Certianly, in these long, exhaustingly pointless takes, Solaris goes further than Kubrick ever dared in tedium.

But. It gets much, much better - or at least, more focused, since I confess to actually liking those early scenes of boredom. Boredom is an underrated quality in films, useful for creating a certain tension in the viewer.

I'd say that its reputation of world-beating greatness is founded on its relative obscurity, which is often the factor that makes people build things up to levels where the real thing can't hope to deliver.

The plot is much the same as the Soderbergh/Clooney remake from a few years back - which I have yet to see in its entirety. Both films, however, diverge from the novel, which made Lem cranky. Having read a few works by Lem (curiously, Solaris is not among them, though that will be remedied), I think it's safe to say that mostly everything made Lem cranky. Where Lem's novel focused on the ultimate impossibility of understanding the truly alien, director Andrei Tarkovsky instead focuses on the nature of memory and love.

Basic plot: alien ocean world consciousness Solaris messes with observing human scientists by plucking memories from their sleeping brains and creating versions of people from their past to haunt them. In the case of lead character Kris Kelvin (played by the most Russian-looking man I've ever seen...

...right?), he wakes after his first confusing night on the station to discover his long-deceased wife by his side. Alive, of course - although, back and still dead would be an interesting film of its own.

Moral and philosophical hijinks ensue.

As with all great science-fiction, what Solaris does with its premise is take it seriously, and plays it out in ways that are genuinely, truly haunting. For starters, the 'guests' (as the memory-people are called) have free will and the capacity to learn and change. Kevlin's wife - and this bit is very important - had committed suicide after he'd left her following an argument. Kelvin can only guess at the reasons, and even though the version of his wife (Hari) that Solaris provides him with is only reflective of Kelvin's memories of her, this new Hari brings fresh insight to him as to those events.

"Space is a mirror," another character says in the film (or something similar), opining that man isn't capable of dealing with the unknown and can only really find aspects of himself. The memory-Hari, created as self-destructive as Kelvin recalls, finally sacrifices herself to free Kelvin and/or free herself from her terrible self-knowledge, but Kelvin instead strands himself on Solaris - which has been irradiated with his brain waves (don't ask) and has made Kelvin an island where he can live out his life in the past - curiously, with his father and mother (and dog) at their family estate.

A lot of what Tarkovsky has to say, he says with the form of the film itself. The film stock switches from color to black and white at seemingly random times - so random that I initially wondered whether these were merely symptoms of budgetary issues. But, no: since the film follows dream-logic (in a way so effective that would and no doubt has made David Lynch squeeze his dancing midget in a fit of jealousy), the alternating modes lend their own contemplative air to the proceedings. Think about this, or don't, Tarkovsky seems to say; it just is as it is and will not be affected by your opinion of it. The film manages to walk a surprising line between deeply-felt empathy for the characters - including the fractured Hari - and a clinically precise and detached observance of events. Perhaps a perfect tone for a film about scientists who have become tormented by ghosts from their pasts.

It's topped off by some elegant set design, cinematography and soundtrack. Even the special effects are effective - far from seamless, but moody and of a piece with the film. So let's call this a recommendation, although since no-one that I know who reads this blog shares my taste in films, Lord knows who this is a recommendation to.


One stray observation: apparently, the 1970's existed even in the USSR. Who knew? I wouldn't have been surprised if Kelvin took Hari to the disco, at one point - he was certainly dressed for it.

Note: There is a Criterion edition available with excellent picture & sound quality.