Thursday, September 23, 2010

______, Trains & Automobiles, Part II

Continued from 9.12.10

As noted, I arrived at Pete (Parduba's) and Wowie's at around 11 PM, and the two were settled in the living room for what I imagined is their usual nighttime activity - Pete playing a really stunning online war simulator on his 350" plasma screen and Playstation 3, blowing away Afghanis and Wowie curled up next to him under an afghan.  

An aside: I've always been much more of a video game watcher than player, with the exception of driving games, which I really do love.  I still have some vestige of the hand/eye coordination and general puzzle-solving skills that a six or seven year period of my teenage years playing video games of all sorts (from the Star Wars arcade game to having my virtual mouth washed out with soap on the Apple ]['s Sherwood Forest.), so if someone hands me the controls I generally don't die and can get through a level, but I have no real stake in the things.  Their repetitive nature and hazy value is sort of lost on me.  So it's odd that I can spend hours and hours watching someone else play a video game and be perfectly entertained, but maybe it's a particular type of game, being an environmental game, that I can really just space out in.  If nothing else, it's a really good way to wind down from the road.

Part of my goal on the trip was to make the whole thing without car on my part.  In practical terms, this meant that I needed other people to shuttle my ass around for me.  I'd always intended for one leg of the trip - either down or back - to be by train.  Flipping a mental coin, I decided that would be the return trip.  The Dalto's drove me down, but since they were staying with family in Baltimore (Pete and Wowie live about fifteen minutes north), I decided also to take the train to the convention.

The convention was in Bethesda, and it turns out, there are no trains that go directly from Baltimore to Bethesda.  My plan was to take Maryland commuter rail (MARC) down to DC, then take the Metro out to Bethesda.  Great plan, except for the fact that MARC doesn't run on the weekends.  So it was going to be Amtrak from Baltimore to DC.  Pete and Wowie got me down to Baltimore Penn just in time to catch the 11:45, although it actually turned out to be just enough time to find that it was sold out, and that I had an hour to kill until the next train. 

I have to say: there are far worse places to have to kill time than a great old city main rail station.  I love the high ceilings, the tall windows, the wooden benches built for giants.  The sense of fleetness and activity, heavy machinery moving constantly by below with purpose and direction, all steam and electricity.  You can file this under the list of things people are supposed to hate that I rather perversely enjoy, such as the smell of gasoline and a trip to the dentist's for a good cleaning.

Plus: hey, free wi-fi.  I didn't end up using the wi-fi, since I couldn't be bothered to get up and ask what the password was, so I instead just used our little USB modem (what we call 'the dongle'), checked my mail, updated my Facebook with what I hoped was a facile enough status on the situation ('waiting in Baltimore for the next train.'), then dug in for an hour of Photoshop work.

My next status update was about 90 minutes later, commenting on my encounter with a DC Metro ticket machine: "the DC Metro ticket machine is the single most complicated thing I've ever seen."


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Squeaky Wheel Does Not, In Fact, Get the Grease

This semester, I'm taking Calculus.  Well, I'm trying to take Calculus.  About five classes into the semester, I realized that there was no way in hell I was going to learn anything from the teacher of the class, for various reasons - a language barrier primary among them. But I realized too late, and there's literally nothing I can do about it.  Today was the deadline to drop if I wanted even a quarter of the tuition back, it's too late to switch horses and take Physics 102 and hope for better luck with a different Calculus teacher in the Spring.

Actually, that last bit wouldn't make a bit of difference, since a somewhat lengthy phone conversation with the head of the department - who not only didn't seem to hear my concerns about the teacher in question but essentially told me to go stuff it - indicated that the same teacher would be teaching the only evening Calculus class in the Spring as well.  And, seeing as I can only take an evening class, no matter what, the only way I can take a Calculus class is with this woman teaching it.  Note that I didn't say 'the only way I can learn Calculus,' since, as stated above, learning from her will be a mathematical improbability of the highest order.

The options are limited.  No distance learning classes, only one night class offered, and the same teacher each time.  This is starting to feel vaguely like the dullest ever Douglas Adams Infocom game - Calculus! - wherein your goal of actually learning the titular discipline is constantly thwarted by bungling, cruel bureaucrats, scheduling conflicts, lack of any kind of clear direction and, presumably, a fleet of Vogon ships.

Lord knows, I could use a babel fish about now.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Where is my mind?

Good Lord, but it has become difficult of late to make a priority of the Rambler.  Seems unfair to it, as it's always and ever the one completely undemanding, pleasant and rewarding part of my life.  By definition, it's impossible to fuck it up, since I'm the one who defines the terms of its existence.  But, sheesh.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

______, Trains & Automobiles, Part I

Headcold or no headcold, I took a weekend jaunt down to Bethesda for the 2010 S(mall)P(ress)(e)X(po).  The idea was to support Kalliope Dalto, who got herself a table there and prepared a bunch of materials to sell (if she ever gets around to selling stuff online, I'll post a link, and you will buy).  The reality was that I did a better job of supporting by not being at the table.  Kalliope's entourage this trip consisted of her father Peter, brother Phoenix and boyfriend Spencer - along with a couple of friends of the family, so that anyone who approached the (small) table would have been intimidated away by the throng of homunculi milling about behind the artist.  As it turned out, more people approached and bought material when it was just Kalliope than with the gang, so the rest of us set about wandering or just sitting elsewhere.

I did one full round of the floor, bought a couple of items, felt badly about not doing more to support the artists there, then plopped myself down in a corner of the hall near an outlet and proceeded to do some Photoshop retouching.

The trip down was with the above mentioned Peter, Kalliope, Phoenix and Spencer, with Peter driving and the other three in the back seat.  The conversation was largely centered on the semantic differences in approach to film, literature and music between myself, Peter and Kalliope, with the soft-spoken Spencer chiming in now and then on the middle road, with Peter and Kalliope staking out one extreme end and myself at the other.  The main source of contention turned out to be the Easton Ellis novel Lunar Park,  which the Dalto's regard as being a novel unique in the history of letters, unparalleled in depth and feeling, and myself feeling that it was diverting but derivative and clumsy.  Probably the truth is somewhere in the middle.  It was a heated enough debate that Peter actually ignored his GPS and drove around the block to give himself extra time to deliver his final point, which is exactly what I would have done.

Where I was being dropped off was the house of another Peter, in this case Parduba and wife Wowie, who were kind enough to host me even though Wowie is seven months pregnant.  I thought that I'd crash as soon as I arrived, since I was under the weather but had still been to work all day and then taken the ride down to Baltimore - Pete and Wowie live about 20 minutes north of the city - but I managed to not fall asleep until around 2 AM.