All that is left is the schlepping

One of the items on my checklist for the break was to clean up some of the piles of useless crap in the basement and generally make room for more crap. My goal is to end up with marginally less stuff than when the gift-exchanging season began, and I think I’m gonna make it.

My company had a toys for tots box in the lobby, so the bag of leftover toys and party favors that I bought as cast and crew gifts for Goodnight Desdemona eight years ago finally got disposed of. There were a couple of nice (albeit vintage) items in there, like a Wishbone as Romeo and Juliet play set. I also let go of the plastic shopping bags from the Hy-Vee supermark chain that a friend of Leta’s (Clive? Colin?) brought back from Iowa to use as props for Independence. Somehow I was convinced that we were going to revive the show and that the bags would be needed.

I sifted through three boxes overflowing with theater memorabilia, possibly reusable props and costume pieces (you never know when a pair of those geezer sunglasses that look useful only to Geordi will come in handy), desk toys, and miscellaneous junk and reduced the storage footprint to two boxes. I filled a small container with trash, but my super-secret plan is to bring a box of the white elephants to the office and leave it in the break room with a “free to a good home” sign on it. Somebody will want the Harry Potter toothbrush and the transistor radio in the shape of a cartoon pig.

I pulled out one boxful of novels from the shelf to be donated to the library. Leta got first dibs and scored herself paperbacks of Rose Macaulay and Cold Comfort Farm. Except for the Anne Rice, perhaps, no used bookstore will take what’s left. There’s also a couple of books that I in turn bought from a library table to be used as props when I played the psychiatrist in Nuts. One of the titles is rather alarming: a translation from the Russian of a 1959 monograph by G. Y. Malis on mental illness. Chapter Two is titled, “The Effect of the Blood of Patients with Schizophrenia on the Development of the Larvae of Rana temporaria.”

The job that took the longest, surprisingly, was wading through seven years of Interview to clip the passing “what’s up with Laurie Anderson this month?” story or Robin Tunney profile and to pulp the rest. There’s nothing better for re-establishing perspective than to flip through a 90s-era Rose McGowan piece and then drop it into the recycle bin.

Digital Holga

My mother bought me one of these toy digital cameras for Christmas. The packaging disingenuously suggests a retail price of $39.95, but I hope she didn’t pay more than the $10 that seems to be the going rate at Walgreen’s. I’m reluctant to install software drivers from such a flimsy-looking product on my already delicate Windows laptop, so the thing will probably remain in its blister pack until I can do a junk purge.

To Mom’s credit, she found one nice gift: a reprint-house collection of Superman comics from the WWII era.

(Link via robot wisdom.)

Giving thanks

I am thankful that, of all my problems, or issues that I think are problems, I always have some means of controlling the outcome or mitigating the situation.

I am thankful for the printed word. Wherever I am, I can fold open a “clothy brick,” as John Updike would have it, and magically hear someone else’s voice in my head. If it’s a script, I can hear three or four voices. No incompatible technologies, no licensing restrictions, no planned obsolescence.

I am, by nature and necessity, pretty self-sufficient in terms of relationships. But when Leta came into my life, she was the seventh on the top of the major chord that makes it sound all the more resonant. Darn right I’m thankful for her. And her folks, too: family Thanksgiving dinners are something that I actually look forward to, now.

(Inspired by wockerjabby’s wonderful mash note to her husband.)

Return to text

Hey, wow, I was paging through the annual report of my local chapter of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, and halfway back, before the thank-you boards for big-bucks contributors and the pictures from the annual fundraiser, I read that I’ve finally made my 1000 hours of service milestone. That puts me on the list of Golden Reels, which is a bit anachronistic since we’ve been all-digital for years now.

The most interesting part of each annual report is the profiles of our borrowers, high school and college students mostly, who need an audio assist with their reading. Dyslexic students predominate (this year a beauty queen and a recent masters degree recipient), along with blind users. But the standout is a now-practicing lawyer who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while an undergraduate. The MS caused intermittent vision loss in one eye; the loss was unpredictable and untreatable at the time. RFB&D readers got her through Yale Law School. So, a hat tip to my friend from Texas David G. and to all the other volunteers out there crunching through the law texts.

A mystery

So I went down into the basement yesterday evening to check something in a book (the end of Willie Stark), and then I went over to the workroom side to make sure that the sump pump was working and everything was dry. (A couple days of steady rian for us.) I didn’t turn the light on, but I could see something in the bottom of the utility sink, like a big crumpled up leaf. Now every once in a while a camel cricket will get trapped in the sink. I’ll run the water in the sink, and the cricket will hop around angrily, and I will ignore it. “Hey, you were the one who hopped into the sink.” Sometimes I will feel compassionate, and I will catch the cricket and let it outside.

But this was a lot bigger than a cricket. So I turned the light on, and there in the sink, stiffer than a porn star, was a dead mouse. How did it get there? Did it crawl into the basement to escape the rain? Has it been living in my house for some time? Are there more mice that I need to worry about? How long has it been there? The last time I remember being in the basement was Sunday to do laundry. I think it was Sunday. Was it dying already when it got trapped in the sink? What’s it doing in my utility sink? A dead mouse.

Old Rag

Sometimes it’s good to find out what you really can’t do any more.

The only other time that I’d hiked the Ridge Trail to Old Rag, that craggy outlier of the Blue Ridge in the eastern reaches of Shenandoah National Park, was August, 1992. Back then, the only notation I made in my logbook was my time to complete the 7.1-mile circuit from the upper parking lot: 4-1/2 hours. Now, I remember from that hike that it was a little tricky, and I particularly remember the section where you have to billy goat-hop from one boulder to another. I think it was foggy, and I went on a weekday when there wasn’t much traffic. What I found this past Sunday when I repeated the hike, was a lot harder than I remember. I almost wish that the ranger at the check-in station had told me, “This trail is not for you, out-of-shape middle-aged guy.”

on the way upLet me back up a bit. Old Rag is one of better-known mountains to hike in this part of the country. The north face is a ragged mess of tanker-sized boulders, and the upper reaches of the Ridge Trail are more the idea of a trail than a real trail, at least compared to what we day hikers in the East deal with. Or, as the concrete signpost at the Byrds Nest Shelter says, with unaccustomed albeit understated frankness, “RIDGE TR. IS VERY STEEP AND ROCKY.”

The first half of the climb, about 1000 feet, is not particularly arduous, just a steady climb through the usual Blue Ridge woods, with a smattering of mountain laurel. The biggest hazard you face, at this season, is the steady pelting of falling acorns. After that, things start to get a little crazy. There are three or four narrow, deep cracks that you have to negotiate. Then, at one point, the trail blaze, instead of the usual inch-and-a-half bars of friendly blue paint, is an arrow pointing straight down. I’ve lost a little agility and flexibility in my legs, and I’ve never had any upper-body strength to work with. I’ve made up for it with stronger claustrophobia. As I worked through the first crack, I experienced a twinge of panic, and once I got out of it, I felt the second twinge, when I realized that I could only go up—I was not going back down through that again. Ever.

When I got to the ledge, and couldn’t get over it the first time, I honestly wanted to cry like a little kid, “I cannot do this.” See, there was this ledge, about waist high, that you have to get up onto to continue on the trail. It’s in a crack about four feet wide, and blocked by a pointy stone jutting out about shoulder height. Probably what I did 14 years ago was chimney-walk the wall and jump over, but by this time I was already running at 80% and I didn’t trust my legs. So I pulled myself up on the jutting-out stone and slung myself over. Maybe it was easier the first time with new boots and no mud. Halfway up, I sincerely hoped that I wasn’t going to twist a knee.

under the rockI think I reached the first of the false summits shortly thereafter. After that, I didn’t so much mind the mini-tunnel that makes you drop to your knees, or the nasty joke of a boulder wedged above the trail made of steps cut into the rock. When I got to the boulder-hopping section, I sort of crawled up the boulders on my knees. I just kept working it, maybe three minutes on, three minutes off to get my breathing and anxiety back under control. I stopped for some food, but the lunch I brought, some poor choices, just sucked the moisture out of my mouth.

from the topI did indeed make it to the top of that G.D. mountain, three hours after leaving the parking lot. The views are fine up there, but the thing with me is that I usually enjoy the process, the climbing, more than I enjoy the summit. I took a picture for three guys hiking together, and I surprised myself by joking with them about the swarm of gnats that rests on the uppermost rocks, waiting for a foolish human to climb up.

trail junctionGoing back down, the Saddle Trail is a lot easier to take. It would be one of the more severe climbs of the Blue Ridge trails, but it’s still doable. Oddly enough, the Weakley Hollow Fire Road, which connects the Saddle Trail to the parking areas in a long gentle downgrade, is perhaps the smoothest, best-maintained fire roads in the Park that I’ve ever hiked. I had a brief “Big Two-Hearted River” splash in the cold waters of Brokenback Run, a tributary of Hughes RIver.

My time wasn’t too bad: from the lower parking area, which added about 40 minutes to the hike, I made the 9.4-mile loop (2300 feet of elevation change), in 5:40. But I think that’s my last time over the Ridge Trail.

Everybody dance

Ringing mobile phones, simultaneous audio interpretation for slow-on-the-uptake audience members, rackety cleaning equipment upstairs, booming HVAC gear—these are all part of the background rumble of sonic disruptions that have punctuated performances I’ve given or heard. At Woolly Mammoth’s old Church Street venue, the sound of police sirens just outside the door was so common that I’d begun to assume the sound designer had specified them as part of the plot. I’ve had building fire alarms go off twice, once in the middle of my first day room scene in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. When order was restored about 20 minutes later, our Nurse Ratched (Megan) picked up the scene with a “Now, as I was saying before we were interrupted…” Five minutes of Maura and Ted’s performance of Perfectly Good Airplanes in Geneva earlier this year was played over an insistent, strident alarm, one that was intended to alert every volunteer firefighter in Ontario County. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but the BEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEP would cut out for half a minute at a time, making us think that the coast was clear and that the Chinese invasion had been called off, before resuming.

The most recent unfortunate sonic event took place Saturday, at a staged reading of several short plays, part of the Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage play development program. The Center packs professional companies into every possible small playing space, who present previews of their upcoming seasons as well as material still in development—sort of a fringe festival with book in hand. Every possible playing space: the two Millennium Stages, the Terrace, even the Theatre Lab gets used as a lab instead of a bordello for the moneyspinner Shear Madness. We were in the South Atrium Foyer (the foyer? I had to check a map to find it), with one set of doors separating us from the lobby of the rooftop restaurant, which had been rented out for a Cambodian wedding. (Are you getting the idea that Labor Day weekend is a slow time at the Center?) When the RATTA TATTA TATTA TATTA of the lion dance began, to celebrate the happy couple (think taiko drums with more attitude), several of us thought that small arms fire was being exchanged.

It Happened in 1956

  • Frederick Reines and Clyde L. Cowan, Jr., of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory discover the first evidence of the neutrino in a chamber 12 m under the Savannah River nuclear reactor (called, in the August 1956 Scientific American article that reported the story, an “atomic pile”). The ghostly particle, electrically neutral, was thought at the time of its discovery to have no mass as well, which explained why it hardly interacted with its surroundings and was so difficult to detect. Reines shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physics for this work.
  • 11 February: Ed Norton teaches Ralph Kramden how to dance the Hucklebuck in the “Young at Heart” episode of The Honeymooners.
  • 2 August: Albert Woolson, of Companies C&D, 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery, born 11 February 1847 in Watertown, N.Y. and the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War, passes away.
  • Chess prodigy Bobby Fischer meets Donald Byrne in the Rosenwald Memorial Tournament in New York. Their game, won by Fischer playing black, is called by many annotators the “Game of the Century.”
  • 19 April: A nuptial mass celebrates the marriage of Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier III. Kelly exchanges her film career for life as Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco.
  • 15 December: The phrase “Elvis has left the building” is first uttered. Elvis Presley’s hits that year include “Hound Dog,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Love Me Tender.”
  • IBM Almaden4 September: The IBM RAMAC 305 is introduced, the first commercial computer to use magnetic disk storage, and one of IBM’s last systems to use vacuum tubes. The RAMAC systems (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control) used the IBM 350 disk subsystem, which stored 5 million 7-bit characters on 50 disks 24 inches in diameter and mounted vertically in a refrigerator-sized cabinet. (IBM Almaden, originally uploaded by jurvetson)
  • More passings: crusty journalist and satirist H.L. Mencken; A.A. Milne, author of the Winnie-the-Pooh books; baseball Hall of Famer Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy (a/k/a Connie Mack); Adolf Hitler’s half-brother Alois; Alben Barkley, vice president for Harry Truman; virtuosic bebop trumpeter Clifford Brown; and, in one deadly week in August, painter Jackson Pollack, actor Bela Lugosi, and playwright Bertolt Brecht.
  • 15 October: the first blasts begin construction of the dam across Glen Canyon on the Colorado River, the controversial Bureau of Reclamation project that ultimately formed Lake Powell.
  • Grace Metalious publishes the potboiler Peyton Place; Allen Ginsberg releases a “Howl.”
  • 23 October: Tens of thousands of people take to the streets in Hungary, seeking an end to Soviet domination. Russian tanks roll into the country in November, crushing the uprising.
  • 30 September: The Dodgers win their last pennant in Brooklyn, one game ahead of the Milwaukee Braves. World Series champions the year before, this year the Dodgers lose to the Yankees (again) and Don Larsen’s perfect game.
  • 2 August: The first construction contracts are let under the new legislation enabling the 42,000-mile interstate highway system. Meanwhile, in Edina, in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Victor Gruen opens Southdale, the archetype of the indoor shopping mall.
  • 13 November: the Supreme Court upholds a ruling declaring segregation on buses unconstitutional, effectively ending the boycott that was begun in Montgomery, Ala. the year before when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.
  • 3 January: Alan Schneider directs Bert Lahr and Tom Ewell at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida in the first United States production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
  • 6 August: Chris Schenkel wraps “Boxing from St. Nicholas Arena,” the last program broadcast on the DuMont Television Network, America’s first fourth TV network. So long, Captain Video.
  • 26 July: After a collision in the fog off Nantucket the previous evening, the ocean liner Andrea Doria slips beneath the waves. Fortunately, improved communications and rapid response avert major loss of life.
  • John Ford releases the noir Western The Searchers, inspiring living room movie theorists for years to come.
  • The first group of “Hiroshima Maidens,” survivors of the 1945 bombing, return to Japan from New York. The Maidens, disfigured with keloid scars from burns sustained in the attack, underwent plastic surgery treatments at Mt. Sinai Hospital. A contemporary CBC broadcast fills in some of the details of the story. In 1999, survivor Miyoko Matsubara reflected on her experiences.
  • 13 August: Doris and Don Gorsline welcome their brand-new son David into the world.

In Martinsburg

Saturday morning I spent drinking coffee and reading a not-great short story anthology by a well-known American novelist, early-career efforts that were solidly mediocre, while I sat on Audrey and Charlie’s deck, listening to their neighbor running a backhoe across the top of the next ridge, scraping the pasture into what will become lawn. Along with the mockingbirds disputing territory and the goldfinches singing just to be singing, I watched a pair of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) visit Audrey’s sugar-water feeder. The feeder was close enough that I could hear the buzz of wings as the birds hovered. And I heard something new, as a bird decided to perch up, the better to slurp artificial nectar: small chip notes, like tiny sneakers on a basketball court.


As part of a gradual sprucing up, they’ve installed new tables in the Friendship Heights Booeymonger. In place of the funky butcher block tables with irregular tops that suggested organic molecules or a game of Pac-Man, there are tables with faux-stone laminate tops of various colors and textures and sturdy, rolled black edges. The new tables are very, very rectangular—uniform, characterless 4-tops throughout the place.

Four Mile Run Trail

This afternoon I finished my traversal (on foot) of the short but interesting Four Mile Run Trail. The trail is one of two connections for cyclists looking to get from the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail to Purcellville.

The path covers widely variable territory along its 7.5-mile length. The trailhead is in the neighborhood of the East Falls Church Metro station. In this stretch of Arlington, the trail serves to connect several county parks: ball fields and back yards. Although it’s very pleasant here, the trail can be hard to follow, because it intertwines with the W&OD as both trails cross and recross Four Mile Run, a rocky stream at this point—and the signage is inconsistent. Distance markers were once set every half mile, but a couple of them are missing. At points the trail is no wider nor any more level than a hiking trail, and this serves to divert bike traffic to the much busier W&OD.

At about mile 5, there is a complicated diversion onto city streets at Shirlington to take you to the overpass that spans an interchange of I-395 (the Shirley Highway), the multilane transitway that connects the heart of the city to all the suburbs to the south. Beyond that, the trail follows streets around the cozy brick community of Parkfairfax in Alexandria.

The last mile and a half of the trail follows the north shore of the channelized Run, which gradually widens out into an impressive floodplain. Before passing under U.S. Route 1 and Metro’s Blue/Yellow Lines and its connection to the Mount Vernon Trail at the airport, the trail passes a Dominion electrical substation and, perhaps most instructively, an Arlington County wastewater treatment plant. (Fortunately, the plant was nearly odorless on this hot summer day.) The Run, perhaps 50 m across now, entices a few shoreline fishermen, as it empties into the tidal Potomac River.