fauxklore: (Default)
Here is the rest of the catch-up stuff.

Celebrity Death Watch: Louise Hay was a motivational author. Richard Anderson was an actor, best known for portraying the boss of bionic people. Hedley Jones was a Jamaican musician, who also designed and built the first traffic lights in the country (among other technical accomplishments). Shelly Berman was a stand-up comedian and actor. Walter Becker was one of the founders of Steely Dan. John Ashberry was a poet.

Take Me Out to the Ball Games: I got back on a Thursday and went to Nationals games (vs. the Mets) on both Friday night and Sunday afternoon. The Friday night game started out with some pathetic pitching on the part of young A. J. Cole. He did settle down, some, but the Nats never got very far against Jacob deGrom. Things did get exciting at the end, but the Mets kept their lead.

Sunday was Jewish Community Day and I went with some friends from my chavurah. There had been a special ticket price, which also included a ballcap with Nationals written in Hebrew! This is now my favorite ballcap, even ahead of the one from the Leones del Escogido. There were also tastings of various foods from a kosher caterer. As for the game, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a 3-run homer for the Mets in the first. The Nats proved to be really good at stranding men on base, though they did make things close. And it all came to down to Edwin Jackson getting thrown out at the plate at the end for them to lose.

Apparently, my wearing Nats gear brings luck to the Mets.


Vacation Stories: In between the two ball games, there was a Saturday night and a Better Said Than Done show, with a vacation theme. I told my story "M.D., Ph.D., G.R.E.A.T." which involves our family trip to Expo ’67 in Montreal, my parents’ failure to stop at any of the intriguing tourist traps along the way, and how I finally found satisfaction on another trip years later. The audience was responsive and I think it went well.
You can judge for yourself. Here’s the video.

Don’t Analyze This Dream, Part 1: There was a very important work matter, which I had to discuss with Bob Kaplan, even though he was in the hospital. Alexander Craig insisted that he and I talk with Bob, who was wearing blue pajamas and had just had surgery. We were then going to follow up with the Delaware group. Note that none of these are names of people or organizations I have any association with.

Don’t Analyze This Dream, Part 2: My home was invaded by a group of juggalos. Well, 4 of them stood outside and waited, while the one with the full clown makeup went inside, wielding an inflatable baseball bat.

District Dumplings: This past Thursday night I went out to dinner with a couple of friends who were in town. They chose District Dumplings in the Mosaic District. It was disappointing. The chicken and basil dumplings were good, but the others were bland. And, even though we ordered our dumplings steamed, they gave us fried. If you are over that way, Brine is a much better choice of a place to eat. Oh, well, the company and the conversation were good.

The National Book Festival: I volunteered at the National Book Festival this year, which was held this past Saturday. It’s the sort of volunteer task I can do – with a commitment measured in hours on one day (plus a couple of hours for a training session). I was a Hall Chaperone, which basically meant that I stood on the L Street Bridge at the top of the Grand Staircase with an "Ask Me" sign and directed people to other places in the Convention Center.

You’d think that sign would invite smartass questions, but there were only a few. Mostly people were asking how to get to the main stage (on the 3rd floor) or to the Metro. My favorite conversation was with the guy who said, "you look like you would like someone to ask you a question," to which I replied, "I would be delighted to be asked a question." (Alas, he just asked one of the usual ones.) Anyway, it was reasonably fun and I ran into several people I knew. I would volunteer there again if my schedule works.
fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Raymond Sackler was a physician whose pharmaceutical company marketed Oxycontin among other drugs. He was also heavily involved in various philanthropic ventures, both in scientific fields and in the arts. Kenneth Jay Lane designed costume jewelry. Chester Bennington was the lead singer of Linkin Park. Geoff Mack was an Australian singer-songwriter, best known for "I’ve Been Everywhere." John Heard was an actor. Jim Vance was a news anchor in Washington, DC. Artyom Tarasov was the first person in the USSR to become a millionaire. Patti Deutsch was a comedian and voice actress. Cool "Disco" Dan was a graffiti artist. Sam Shepard was an actor and playwright. John G. Morris was a photo editor for Life and The New York Times as well as various other publications. Stan Hart wrote for MAD. Lee May played baseball fpr the Cincinnati Reds and the Baltimore Orioles among other teams. D. L. Menard was a major figure in Cajun music. Jeanne Moreau was a French actress, best known for starring in Jules et Jim. Marina Ratner was a mathematician.

June Foray was the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Natasha Fatale among others. She is particularly significant because she earned me 31 ghoul pool points (19 for where I had her on my list and another 12 because nobody else had her at all), catapulting me into a tie for fifth place. I would feel bad about that, but she made it to 99, which is pretty respectable.

Not Dead Celebrity: I woke up this morning in a minor panic over whether or not Carol Burnett was still alive. She is, but I have to wonder if that panic meant anything.

Storytelling: I told a new story at Saturday night’s Better Said Than Done Show. It went okay, though the first third of it was definitely much more polished than the rest and the last third could have been much funnier. Of course, later that night I had a moment of inspiration on something that I could have added. The story has to do with my battle against Argentine ants, which invaded an apartment I lived in in Los Angeles many years ago. They reminded me of the horror movie, THEM, which was also set in Los Angeles. They even invaded my freezer, which didn’t have a very effective seal. I opened the freezer door one day to find the freezer overflowing with antsicles, setting me on the path of various ineffective solutions. I documented those, but there was an important one I left out. I should have checked my lease to see whether anteaters were allowed as pets.

On a related note, it appears that Grant’s Kills Ants is still available, but no longer contains arsenic.

Clothes Shopping: I have a bar mitzvah to go to next weekend and thought I would use it as an excuse to get a new dress. Hah! Those ridiculous (and highly inappropriate) cold-shoulder designs are all over the place. I found a couple of almost acceptable dresses, but one was a little too short. And several had necklines that were too wide. That was a particular pity in the case of one that had something rare and wondrous – namely, pockets.

At least it wasn’t as if I don’t have anything acceptable to wear. But it’s still frustrating.

Speaking of Frustrating: The Red Sox seem determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Sigh.
fauxklore: (Default)
The King and I: I went with a friend to see The King and I at the Kennedy Center on Wednesday night. This is (like most Rodgers and Hammerstein) a musical I have mixed feelings about. There is some glorious music, e.g. "We Kiss in a Shadow." And, of course, "Shall We Dance?" is a nice showy number. But is "The March of Siamese Children" anything more than a way to show off kids so parents will go to the theatre? Louis (Anna’s son) could use a lot more development as a character. And "I Whistle a Happy Tune" simply annoys me, aside from its earworm potential.

Despite those inherent flaws, the production was quite good, with special kudos to Jose Llana as the King of Siam. I also thought Manna Nichols was very good as Tuptim. The choreography made good use of a relatively small space (this was in the Opera House, not the Eisenhower, which also has the disadvantage of less than wonderful acoustics). Could one write a musical nowadays with an internal ballet like "The Small House of Uncle Thomas?"

My only real complaint (aside from my overall lukewarmness towards the score) is that the show was awfully long. I was nervous about the metro schedule, since trains stop running at 11:30 on weeknights now. I may have to limit weeknight excursions to things that are driveable or that I know will end by 10ish.

Chinotto: We had dinner before the show at Campono, which has okay food and is right across the street from the Kennedy Center. The café in the Kennedy Center is dreadful, with mediocre food and high prices. And the friend I went with was driving, so didn’t want to do dinner in Foggy Bottom beforehand. My salad was fine, but the real reason I am mentioning this is that they have chinotto! I know I am the only North American who actually likes those bitter Italian drinks, but the point is that I do like them and they are hard to find here. So it was a rare treat.

Now, if I could only find somewhere that has Schweppes bitter lemon…

Fielding Dreams: I shouldn’t really go out two nights in a row, but the DC JCC had a program on Washington’s Jewish Ballplayers and, given my minor obsession with Jews in baseball, how could I resist? Fred Frommer (who authored a book on Washington baseball, not limited to Jewish players) moderated the event. The other speakers were Phil Hochberg who, in addition to a career in sports law, was an announcer at RFK Stadium, and Aviva Kempner, who is well known for her documentaries, including The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. The big news is that she is now working on a documentary about Moe Greenberg and she talked extensively about him.

Anyway, there were 18 Jews who played major league baseball in Washington, though some played only 1 or 2 games. The number should really be 17 because Buddy Myer, despite being in nearly every Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, was not actually Jewish. Most of the players talked about were active in the 1930’s or so, but there were a few I remembered. For example, Greg Goossen played for the Mets for a while, though, of course, their real Jewish star was Art Shamsky. (As far as I know, Ed Kranepool is not Jewish, though he did give a talk at our shul when I was a kid.) It was Goossen about whom Casey Stengel allegedly said "I have a 19 year old player. In 10 years, he has a chance to be 29."

Another familiar player was Jason Marquis, who I saw pitch here several times. The only Jewish pitcher who had a winning career in Washington, however, was Al Schacht, who went 14-10 in the early 1920’s. The other really significant pitcher who was discussed was Syd Cohen, who gave up Babe Ruth’s final home run. But the better story about him is that he played winter ball in Mexico under the name Pablo Garcia. The minor league ballpark in El Paso (where he grew up) is named after him – and his brother, Andy, who was the more successful ballplayer.

The big story, however, was Moe Berg. His baseball career wasn’t exactly impressive, but his career in the OSS made up for it. Apparently, he spoke at least 7 languages – and couldn’t hit in any of them. But his linguistic skills got him sent to Japan with much bigger names and to Switzerland to meet Heisenberg and so on. He was a genuine character and I’m looking forward to Aviva’s movie.

Speaking of Baseball: Jackie Bradley made an awesome catch Sunday night, robbing Aaron Judge of a home run. That is exactly how I like to see my Red Sox deal with the Source of All Evil in the Universe.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I had, for some reason, been given an opportunity to do another Zero-G flight, for free this time. But there was a lot of paperwork to fill out – enough for a 100+ page book. I got hung up on a question asking me to check off which conditions I had, which including being blind, blonde, or blinde.

Atlanta

May. 8th, 2017 02:18 pm
fauxklore: (baseball)
I went to Atlanta for the weekend. My primary motivation was checking out the new ballpark, but, of course, that wasn’t all I did.

I had no issues with my United flights either way. In fact, I got upgraded both ways, though they failed to email me the upgrade notification for the return. It is also a big advantage to fly an airline other than Delta to/from ATL because you come in and out of the T-gates and don’t need to take a train to your plane.

I had contemplated staying near the ballpark, but decided that didn’t really make sense because it is the middle of nowhere in deep suburbia. Staying in midtown was actually more convenient, allowing me to take MARTA to and from the airport. More significantly, it also allowed me to do some important sightseeing on Saturday morning.

The High Museum of Art is one of the major art museums of the country. It is normally fairly pricy, but I have a Bank of America credit card, which gives me free access to various museums on the first weekend of the month. I find that if I have to pay to go to a museum, I feel like I need to see everything. But getting in free means I can just pick and choose a few parts to see without feeling like I’ve wasted money.

My main priority was the African art selection. There is an interesting mix of both traditional and contemporary pieces from several countries. My favorite – actually, my favorite piece in the entire museum – was one named Taago by El Anatsui, a Ghanian artist. It consists of pieces of aluminum from the tops and necks of local liquor bottles, joined with wire, to form a sculpture reminiscent of kente cloth. There was also a special exhibit of works by Ashley Bryan, who illustrated a lot of books based on folklore.

I moved on to the contemporary art, which includes a large collection of works by folk artist, Howard Finster. Other notable works include a painting by Richard Estes, whose photorealism I’ve admired for some time, and Insect Icon Tapestry by Jon Eric Riis. All in all, I spent a few pleasant hours at the museum, before heading off to the Cumberland area to meet up with friends for a late lunch / early dinner at Copeland’s. The food was good and the conversation was intelligent and wide ranging. Eventually, we left and they dropped me at the ballpark.

My first impression of SunTrust Park was that it was chaotic. They are still developing The Battery, a shopping and entertainment complex around the stadium. From what I could tell with the crowds, it is pretty much a collection of high end restaurants and watering holes. I fought my way through to the Right Field Gate, where there was a long and chaotic set of lines to get into the ballpark itself. I had bought a ticket package for Star Wars day, which included an R.A. Dickey Stormtrooper bobblehead, so my first stop was to redeem my voucher for that. The instructions they had emailed actually told me the wrong place to go to do that, but it was easily enough resolved. I should probably note that I am not really a big Star Wars fan, but it is always fun to add to my collection of ballpark gimmes.

That accomplished, I went to check off their monument garden, which has various exhibits on the history of the team. Of course, much of that history is pre-Atlanta – both in Boston and in Milwaukee – but that is fair enough. The statue of Hank Aaron is the centerpiece, as it should be. Overall, it is a reasonable exhibit, though the crowds were a bit of a pain.

The actual stands were not crowded. There were a few people at the entrance to the seating area taking photos with costumed Star Wars characters, but not so many actually sitting down to see the game. The Braves were playing the Cardinals, so this fell into the class of games in which I didn’t care who won. It looks like the Braves have a fair number of loyal fans. Unfortunately, those are generally identifiable by the tomahawk chop, a particularly obnoxious method of cheering. I appreciate the enthusiasm, but would prefer a non-racist way of showing it. On the plus side, several people sang along with the national anthem, and, later on, with "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." (Singing along to the latter is one of my three primary ballpark rating criteria, along with local character and a general level of fan engagement.)

It was actually hard to gauge fan engagement, because the weather sucked, with a few brief rain showers, which weren’t enough to affect play, but did send many people scurrying for cover. I’ll also note that there appeared to be particularly long lines for the concessions (none of which seemed particularly local or interesting). They don’t have any vendors in the stands, either, which doesn’t help.

As for the game, the Cardinals won, largely because Julio Teheran’s pitching was not up to snuff. I’ll also note that I was impressed by a couple of nice catches that Randal Grichuk made in right field. And Aledmys Diaz hit a three-run homer which pretty much clinched the game for St. Louis. Overall, it was a reasonably exciting game to watch.

I’d rate the ballpark in the group of vast group of middling ones. It’s a pleasant enough place to watch a game, but lacks soul. It also loses significant points for difficulty of access. Their website claims the Circulator bus connects the ballpark to the Cumberland Transit Center, but that bus actually appears to stop running at 9 p.m. and does not run at all on Sundays. The transit center is a long walk from the ballpark. There is a closer stop to a Cobb County Transit bus, though the ballpark staff misdirected me on how to get to that stop. And that bus runs infrequently, so was very crowded, largely with fans complaining that it is supposed to be the Atlanta Braves, not the Cobb County Braves. I should also note that the ballpark website pushes Uber as their transit solution, but the Uber pickup location had a line three blocks long. That is, of course, in addition to the cost and moral issues associated with Uber. When the team played at Turner Field, they ran shuttle buses from the Five Points MARTA station, which was a much better solution.

The really important thing is that I have, again, been to a game at every major league ballpark. One does, after all, have to keep up one’s standards when it comes to obsessions.

As for the rest of the weekend, I got home in time for a much needed nap, followed by dinner at Tachibana for a friend’s 50th birthday. What I didn’t get done was any housework, alas.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Marian Javits was an arts patron and the widow of Jacob Javits, who a few of you may remember from the days when there was such a thing as a liberal Republican. Joseph Wapner was the first judge on The People’s Court. Shrley Palesh played for a few teams in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Howard Schmidt was a major figure in government cybersecurity strategy. Joe Rogers co-founded Waffle House, thus saving the stomach linings of many a drunken Southerner. Rene Preval served two terms as president of Haiti. Tommy Page was a singer-songwriter. Miriam Colon was a Puerto Rican actress. Edi Fitzroy was a reggae singer. Fred Weintraub owned The Bitter End, an important venue for folk music and comedy. Kurt Moll was an opera singer. Robert Osborne as a film historian and hosted Turner Classic Movies. Joni Sledge sang as part of Sister Sledge. Robert James Waller wrote The Bridges of Madison County. Amy Krouse Rosenthal was a prolific writer of children’s books, among other things. Mother Divine was the leader of a cult founded by her husband. Royal Robbins was a big name in rock climbing but, more significantly to me, founded an eponymous clothing company that makes awesome clothes for traveling, including that green plaid shirt I am wearing in the overwhelming majority of my travel photos.

Errata: I erred. It was Jason Chaffetz, not Paul Ryan who made the stupid statement about iphones and health insurance.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I was in Japan and upset over finding I had inadvertently taken my (work) cell phone with me. I was with another woman and we went down an escalator to exit a building with a very tall skylight. We were held up at the bottom of the escalator until there was a group of 4 men and 4 women and we all had to walk through a metal detector and send our things through an x-ray machine. Then we had to sing a song together before we could exit. Afterwards, I found out there was a side exit and people waited in line to sing, with fans of them gathered at the side of the security screening.

Story Slam: This month’s story slam theme was Womanhood, so I pulled out my "Woman of Valor" story, which is starting to get to having a reasonable ending. It went fairly well, though I finished third, so didn’t walk away with any money. I do wish, however, that this would go back to being on a Thursday night, because it conflicted with The Grapevine and I had to make an actual choice.

World Baseball Classic: Oh, well. Israel had a good run, but blew it in the second round.

Culpeper Tells / Virginia Storytelling Alliance Gathering: This past weekend was the Culpeper Tells festival and, once again, the VASA Gathering was held together with it. I preferred when we had a separate retreat, which made for a different sort of event, but I’ll take what I can get. I took off from work on Friday, intending to get some household odds and ends done and drive out earlyish. But I fell prey to the lure of napping and hit the road later than I intended, subjecting me to the inevitable slog through Gainesville. I was not all that enthusiastic to arrive at the hotel and find myself parking next to a vehicle advertising Pest Control and, specifically, "thermo bed bug eradication." Either their method works or the guy with the bedbug truck was just staying overnight at the hotel, as I didn’t get bitten by anything, but it was still disturbing.

Anyway, a bunch of us went out to dinner at Luigi’s which is mediocre red sauce Italian food. At least our server was mostly up to dealing with a big group. We came back to the hotel for a concert by Lynn Ruehlmann and Megan Hicks. Lynn blended the story of Psyche and Eros with the story of her own marriage, while Megan told a folk tale and her personal love story separately. Both were very good. That was followed by a story swap.

Megan did a workshop on Saturday morning, mostly emphasizing that we are all living history. There was a lot of confusion about when we were supposed to get into the room at the library, as well as confusion over who was signed up for what.

The actual festival started after lunchtime. There were four tellers – Geraldine Buckley, Michael Reno Harrell, Adam Booth, and Donald Davis. Each of them had just under an hour in the afternoon and then another half hour in the evening concert. The highlight of the day as far as I was concerned was Adam’s telling of "Ashton," a story from his Appalachian series, involving a coal miner's wife, and the early recordings of country music. It was exquisitely crafted and well-told. I should also note that I thought it was interesting that all of the tellers were telling more or less personal stories and there weren’t any traditional stories at all. By the way, there was also a story slam, but my name didn’t get drawn from the hat, alas.

At the dinner break, I ended up with a few people at a small place called Four C’s. I have this theory that, if you see a few ethnic items on what is otherwise an American restaurant menu, you should order from those, because it means the cook is including some of his family specialties. There were several Peruvian items on the menu, so these were clearly the way to go. I ended up getting some very tasty grilled fish that way. There’s no atmosphere, but the food was good and very reasonably priced and the service was friendly and efficient. It’s a good place to keep in mind for the future.

There was another swap back at the hotel afterwards, but it was too late for me, especially what with changing the clocks.

Sunday morning had the VASA annual meeting (which hadn’t actually been mentioned on the schedule). All I will say is that I am really glad I am no longer on the board. That was followed by "sacred stories" (not my thing) and puns (very much my thing). I told "Why I’m Not a Millionaire" to transition us between the two.

Overall, it was a reasonably good weekend. I was annoyed at various little things, but being among my storytelling tribe made up for them.

Annoying Weather: We had been having lovely spring-like weather, but it changed radically for the weekend. And Monday night was a sort of winter storm. Only sort of, as the snow total can’t have been more than a couple of inches, but there was plenty of sleet. In other words, things were nasty and icy. OPM made a bad call with a three hour delay and my company made a worse call by sending out confusing emails. One said we were on a mandatory delay in the subject line, but the body said all offices were open. Another had a subject line reading "message 1 of 2" but there was no "message 2 of 2." I had brought my laptop home and told my boss I was going to work from home, so none of this affected me per se, but it made me grumpy. I dislike working from home to begin with (too many distractions, including the fact that I really need to replace my desk chair) so I was inclined to be grumpy.

I’m back in the office today. One area of my walk to the metro was treacherous, but most of it was clear. I expect it to be worse tonight, since it isn’t supposed to get above freezing all day.

More Corporate Miscommunication: We are all getting new phones. I got an email telling me mine was ready and that I needed to go to an office 30 some odd miles away to pick it up. Since that office doesn't open until 9 and we are talking about DC metro area traffic, that would kill half my day. In fact, our IT guy came around this afternoon delivering phones for the 50 or so of us in this office. This is much easier, of course, but I would have preferred them sending out the correct info to begin with.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Stuart McLean was a Canadian broadcaster, whose The Vinyl Café also aired on NPR. Richard Schickel was a film critic. Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as "The Blind Sheikh," was convicted of seditious conspiracy in relation to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Nancy Willard wrote children’s books. Kaci Kullman Five was chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Kenneth Arrow was a Nobel laureate in economics. Larry Coryell was a jazz guitarist.

Norma McCorvey was the Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade. She later became active in the anti-choice movement. Note that she never actually had an abortion, as the Supreme Court case took three years.

Leah Adler was Stephen Speilberg’s mother and also owned and ran The Milky Way, a kosher dairy restaurant in Los Angeles. I can’t count how often I’ve eaten there, especially since I used to live more or less across the street from it. I particularly liked their lasagna. Mrs. Adler was a charming hostess, and part of the appeal of the place.

Mildred Dresselhaus was an MIT professor, and one of the most prominent women in science. She did vital work in thermoelectrics and materials, especially nanotechnology. But, more importantly, she inspired almost every woman of my generation at MIT.

Presidential Dining Note: It doesn’t appear that Donald Trump eats out here, except, possibly, at Trump-owned properties. I realized this when I got lunch at Good Stuff Eatery and they still have the Prez Obama burger and the Michelle Melt on the menu. Admittedly, it’s only been a month, but I don’t expect to see him at local restaurants or cultural events very much.

Not Everything Evil is His Fault: I’ve made no secret of my feelings about Trump’s incompetence and bad ideas. But not every bad thing that happens here is his fault. Two specific items are not. First, it is perfectly normal for political appointees to submit their resignations to be effective on inauguration day and, despite what some people have commented in various places, only a small percentage (5% or so) get asked to stay on. That doesn’t, of course, excuse Trump’s slowness in naming appointees. Out of 549 appointments requiring Senate confirmation, 14 have been confirmed and another 20 are awaiting confirmation. This is well behind the pace of past administrations. But that may be a good thing in this case. It means that career civil servants are acting in a number of positions and, in general, people who are career vice political are more likely to push back against bad ideas. Politicals know they only have so many silver bullets, so conserve them and sometimes don’t act when they probably should. On the other hand, politicals are usually easier to deal with for precisely this reason.

The other thing that is not Trump’s fault is Customs and Border Patrol asking people to unlock smartphones and, in general, seizing electronics. This is a bad thing, yes, but the exception to the need for a search warrant when it comes to electronics at borders has been policy for a number of years. There are a couple of court cases which affirmed the CBP right to do so, both of them involving child pornography. My advice is not to travel with electronics with important data. (My company will lend international travelers clean laptops. Not sure what they do about smartphones.) In my opinion, the only thing that would really help here is for a case to get to the Supreme Court. Of course, there is no guarantee of privacy rights prevailing there.

Commonwealth Politics: In general, Virginia has Democratic politicians who align well with my views. But it has occurred to me that I can’t think of any women who are up and coming right now. Of our 11 Congressional districts, the only female congresscritter is Barbara Comstock, a Republican. So what other women could run for Congress? Maybe Delegate Charniele Herring, who seems to have an interesting personal history, including growing up in a military family and spending some time in a homeless shelter? Or the much more privileged Sharon Bulova, who chairs the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, except that she would be in the 11th district and Gerry Connolly doesn’t seem likely to step aside? I’ll admit I don’t know a lot of the politicians from outside Northern Virginia. Is there anyone in the Hampton Roads area or Richmond?

Intentional Walks: The Washington Post reported today that MLB is going to do away with intentional walks, replacing them with a signal from the dugout. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. While it may be rare that they had unintended consequences, such as an overthrow allowing base runners to progress or a pitch too close to the strike zone allowing a hit, that could always happen. And the psychology gets changed when the target has to stand there and reflect on how afraid of him the other team is.

For something this evil, I do indeed blame Trump. (Along with, of course, Robert Mugabe and the New York Yankees.)
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Tammy Grimes was a Broadway actress, most notable for playing the title role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. She was also the mother of actress Amanda Plummer. Natalie Babbitt wrote the children’s book Tuck Everlasting.


Genealogy Update: I finally tracked down confirmation of a family story. My uncle had told me a relative had been killed in a train crash in Washington, but he was inconsistent about whether it was Celia Lubofsky (my cousin once removed) or Mary Lehrman (my great-aunt). Since Mary’s headstone says she "died in accident," I figured I would start by googling train wrecks for that day. And, indeed, there was a major one. The Congressional Limited from Washington to New York crashed just outside Philadelphia on 6 September 1943, killing approximately 80 people. And I did, indeed, find Mary’s name on the lists of the dead. In fact, the Chicago Tribune even printed her address (2272 Barker Avenue in the Bronx). Since the wreck was on Labor Day, my guess is that she had gone to Washington to visit her daughter, Sima Slansky (the one whose husband later committed bigamy according to the laws of Maryland, which didn’t recognize his residency for a Reno divorce as valid).

Mary had a difficult life, what with being held for inquiry when she immigrated to the U.S., though it looks like she only had to wait a day or so for Nathan to show up and claim her. She was widowed in her 30’s, with her daughters only 9 and 12 years old. And then her beauty salon got used as a test case when the state of New York decided to pursue an electrolysis school. (Mary got a 6 month suspended sentence for practicing medicine without a license, but was later vindicated.) So it seems her life was a bit of a train wreck before she died in a literal one.

Note, by the way, that the May 2015 Amtrak crash was in just about the same place.

Baseball: Okay, Cubs fans. You can shut up now. And thank us Red Sox fans for letting you have Theo Epstein.


Don’t Analyze This Dream, Part 1: Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory character) was in a bathtub with a large, grey wolfy sort of dog. He got scared of the dog, which then started growling at him. So he stood up and dangled a badge holder to distract the dog, while he got out of the bathtub.


Don’t Analyze This Dream, Part 2: I was searching for Dily Niwab Street, which turned out to be a block from Audubon Boulevard, where my elementary school was.


Don’t Analyze This Dream, Part 3: I was trying to find my copy of Alice in Wonderland to lend to someone, but kept pulling out other books, notably Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott. Finally, I found a boxed set of 8 Alice stories and lent the other person the first two volumes. (Which are, of course, the only ones that actually exist.) But I kept on about how wonderful it would be to ride a unicycle like Alice did in the rest of the series.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: The only death that crossed my radar this time out was that of Shimon Peres. He served a couple of terms as Prime Minister of Israel, as well as holding several other prominent political jobs there, notably Foreign Minister. I’d say his most significant accomplishment was the peace treaty with Jordan. But he also deserves a lot of credit for Israel being as much of a technologically advanced nation as it is. He also wrote poetry, but I am loathe to list that as an accomplishment for any politician after having heard praise for Stalin’s poetry at his house museum in Georgia.

Baseball: The Red Sox clinched the American League East. Yay! I am also reasonably pleased that the Nationals won the National League East. As for the wild card slots, I’d kind of like to see Detroit pull things out and beat out Toronto, just because the Tigers have some appealing history.

Quarterly Movies: Well, make that "movie," singular. The only movie I saw over the past few months was Seven Psychopaths. I chose it because it was written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Like pretty much all of McDonagh’s work, it is weird and violent, but funny. At any rate, it held my attention.

The Quarterly Goal Update: I didn’t make much of an attempt over the past few months, largely because I’ve been so swamped at work. My email inbox at work is ridiculous – back up over 6000 items. The only other thing I’ve made any actual progress on is dealing with papers, having handled about 2/3 of what had migrated to the bedroom floor.

Speaking of Paperwork: I went to pay my county property tax bill for my car on-line. And I discovered that they had changed my address to some address in a town I’d never heard of that isn’t even in the same county. I called and got it changed back, but the point is that they should notify people when there is an address change so they can verify that they did it. (Apparently, someone did it by phone and the clerk typed in the wrong property number.) The whole thing was bizarre and the security implications are scary.

New Years Rosh Hashanah is Monday and Tuesday, so let me pass along my wishes for a happy, healthy 5777. I will also pass along wishes for a happy fiscal year 2017 for all of my friends who have some sort of U.S. government affiliations.

Two, two, two new years in one.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Bobby Breen was a child star of the late 1930’s and was one of the people depicted on the album cover of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Erwin Hahn was a physicist who was best known for his work on nuclear magnetic resonance. Jose Fernandez played baseball for the Miami Marlins, as well as having an inspirational personal story of his defection from Cuba. Arnold Palmer played golf and bears some responsibility for the particularly sickening non-alcoholic drink combining sweet iced tea and lemondade. Buckwheat Zydeco was a major figure in the Louisiana music scene. If you can listen to his music without dancing, you may be a zombie.

Non-celebrity Death Watch:Dunn Miller was a puzzle person. Her NPL nom was Loquacious. There’s an interesting obituary of her by Jon Carroll. I particularly recommend the last few paragraphs.

Naomi Feingold was one of my mother’s best friends. I thought they had been in school together, but her obituary says she was 4 years younger than Mom. She and her husband were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary by going on a safari in South Africa. Since she apparently died in Johannesburg, I hope they were on their way home and she got to see at least some of the grandeur of that beautiful country before her death.

Baseball: First, the Washington Nationals have clinched the National League East.

The Red Sox are 5 and a half games up on Toronto and their magic number is 2. They have been way hot lately, winning 11 straight games. I went to Thursday night’s game in Baltimore, which was very exciting. Orioles starter Chris Tillmnan only lasted 1 2/3 innings, giving up three runs. The O’s did tie it in the third, with a three-run homer by Trey Mancini, who just came up from the minors. But the Sox got a run in the fifth and Hanley Ramirez hit a homer in the 7th, so all was well.

By the way, I took the Marc train and stayed over. Because I was planning things last minute and there was some convention going on, the only nearby hotel I could get was the Holiday Inn Express at the Stadiums, which is marginally within walking distance. They do have a local shuttle, but it runs only hourly.

On the plus side, it is next to the Horseshoe Casino. I was hyper after the game, so not ready to go to sleep and that provided a way to kill an hour or so. I played a slot machine with a Big Bang Theory theme and won a little over a hundred bucks.

Used Bookstore Run: I did a used bookstore run this weekend. McKay’s took 27 of the 33 books I had brought in. I did use trade credit to come home with 14 new ones, including a Patrick Berry variety puzzle book. I was going to try bringing the rest to Reston Used Books, but there was some international festival going on by there and the normal parking was closed off. It was hardly worth it with so few, anyway. So I will hold on to those until a future run.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Yeah, nothing for days, then two posts in the same day. So it goes.

Celebrity Death Watch: Richard Whittington-Egan wrote true crime stories, including a couple of books about Jack the Ripper. Don Buchla was a major designer of electronic musical instruments. Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro was the president of Cape Verde for about a decade. W. P. Kinsella was a Canadian writer, whose most significant work was the novel Shoeless Joe, which was adopted into the movie, Field of Dreams. Charmian Carr was best known for playing Leisl in the movie version of The Sound of Music, but you may also remember that she played Ella in the Sondheim TV musical Evening Primrose. Edward Albee was a playwright. It was seeing a production of The Zoo Story in high school that made me realize I could enjoy seeing plays which I had found unreadable. He was, apparently, not afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Baseball: The Red Sox swept the Source of All Evil in the Universe! Yay! Now they’ve got 4 games against the Orioles, which will be a big deal since they are currently 3 games up on the O’s in the AL East. I am thinking I might go to either Wednesday or Thursday night’s game, especially if I can stay over in Baltimore to make the commute issue less annoying.

Starbucks Protest: When I was walking from the metro to go to The Grapevine, I noticed a woman picketing the Starbucks across the street. She was carrying a large sign, with the word "Obey" on it. And the "O" was filled in with the Starbucks logo. Anybody have any idea what that was about?

The Grapevine: This storytelling series at Busboys & Poets in Takoma started up again on Wednesday night. This month’s featured tellers were Heather Forest from New York and Chelise Fox, who is, apparently, local, despite my not having heard her before. There were also the usual open mike tellers, one of whom (Dominique) was a first timer and quite good. Chelise had a fine and complex tale about a contest between wit and luck for the success of a man. Heather’s stories were mostly ones I had heard her tell before, e.g. "The Squire’s Bride." Her most powerful piece was a personal one at the end of the program, about the deaths of her mother and father-in-law. Her telling, enhanced with music, is good, but I do bristle whenever I hear someone use the word "shero." I understand why one might not want to use "heroine," but, surely, there is some better word that doesn’t rely on a completely mistaken etymology?

Better Said Than Done: Finally, regarding my own storytelling, I was part of Saturday night’s Better Said Than Done benefit at the Walker Nature Center in Reston. My story was pretty marginally related to the theme, which was Wild Life, though I did have Barbie attacked by a (stuffed) tiger. Overall, my story went reasonably well, though the ending could have been tighter. Given how all over the map the material was on Monday, I think I did a reasonable job pulling it together. I should also mention that, for me, the highlight of the evening was Catherine’s story about the woes of being on a condo board that was trying to solve a problem with goose poop in their lake.

Travel Re-Planning: I was going to go to Laos in January, but decided that I want to take a longer trip than I could get away with then. Fortunately, Alaska Air makes it reasonably easy to cancel award tickets. You get your miles back pretty much right away, though it can take a bit longer to get your credit card company to refund your taxes.

I do, however, still want to avoid being here doing inauguration week. And I know that, what with Martin Luther King’s birthday being that Monday (which we don’t get as a holiday, but our government counterparts do), it will be a slow week at the office, making it an uncontroversial time to get away. I’ve got plenty of ideas for places to go, some of them odder than others. It will probably come down to where I can get a good fare to, as that can actually be a decent time for paid tickets.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Apparently some people spend three-day weekends relaxing and doing nothing. I wish.

Saturday night was Best in Show, the Better Said Than Done 5th anniversary storytelling contest. I did run a few errands during the day, but I also did a few more run-throughs of my story to make sure I would be within the time limits. Despite which, I still forgot a line - not that anybody else noticed, but it still annoys me when I do that. Anyway, this being a new story, it was hard to guess in advance how well it would work, so I was relieved when the audience laughed good and hard at the right places. While I didn't win the contest, I had a lot of fun and got a lot of nice compliments on the story. I was particularly intrigued by people (including people I didn't know) commenting on how good my pacing was, since that's really not something I'm conscious of. All of the tellers did a great job and even the weakest of the stories were still deserving of being heard. Thanks to everyone and, especially, to Jessica for making it all happen.

Sunday's venture was a chavurah cook-out. I had signed up to bring dessert and made s'mores bars on the grounds that: 1) they are incredibly quick and easy and 2) they seemed like a suitable sort of thing for a cook-out. There was a good turn-out, despite the rain which had us end up eating inside. I have house envy. I should also note that I am surprised when people bring obviously boughten food to a pot luck. Aren't you at least supposed to transfer stuff from the store container to your own Tupperware and pretend you made it? Or is that just one of those obsolete rules I learned back in my youth when the giant redwoods were saplings?

Fortunately, the rain disappeared by Monday, when I drove to Baltimore to watch the Red Sox beat up on the Orioles. The bottom line is that Steven Wright's knuckleball is hard to hit and he pitched a complete game (unusual nowadays), ending in a 7-2 BoSox win. I'm also impressed with how fast Mookie Betts is. By the way, there were two plays that were overturned on review, which is kind of weird. I can't get used to the idea of umpires using instant replay. I continue to believe that there is no better way to spend a hot summer afternoon than at a baseball game and it's always better when my team wins.

It would actually be nice to have a weekend when I have time to finish reading the Sunday paper (which includes doing the puzzles) some time before, say, Thursday.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Kyle Jean-Baptiste was a theatre actor. Wayne Dyer wrote self-help books. Marvin Mandel was a former governor of Maryland, whose tenure in office was marred by his conviction (later overturned) for mail fraud and racketeering. Personally, I think the more interesting scandal is the one in which his wife refused to move out of the governor’s mansion when he took up with another woman and filed for divorce.

Wes Craven was a film director, best known for horror films (e.g. Nightmare on Elm Street). Oddly, he died of natural causes, though brain cancer is a pretty horrible death as I understand it.

The death I most want to highlight is that of Oliver Sacks. To say he was a neurologist and a writer is inadequate. His writing spanned a range of topics, but I think the key is that he always focused on the humanity,, whether writing about neurology, travel, or his family. I was privileged to hear him give a talk at Sixth and I, as well as to read several of his books, which were always informative and highly readable. His death was no surprise but was still a major loss.

Kin Davis: For anybody who has been living in a cave for the past couple of weeks, Ms. Davis is the court clerk in Kentucky who is refusing to issue marriage licenses because she has religious objections to same sex marriage. My take on this is that if one has religious objections to doing one’s job, the only proper response is to resign from that job.


I do want to note, however, that I am disturbed by the people who are citing her hypocrisy because she has been married 4 times. Her statement is that she converted after the divorces and I find no reason to doubt that, especially since this was apparently due to a deathbed wish. Her past is not relevant to the current situation and I believe it is not appropriate to harp on it.

And, of course, the people who are criticizing her based on her appearance (and, specifically, her hair – apparently her church does not permit women to cut their hair) are also way out of bounds. The point is that she does not meet one of the basic job requirements (that is, willingness to comply with the law on issuing marriage licenses) and should, therefore, not be in the job.


Plymouth (Michigan) Volksmarch: I have to admit that I had not actually heard of Plymouth, Michigan until a couple of weeks ago. I was flying into Detroit for a trip to Toledo and had time to kill during the day, so looked for nearby Volksmarch events that would satisfy some of the special programs I am trying to complete. It was an easy drive to Plymouth and the walk proved quite pleasant. The downtown area has a number of attractive historic houses (as well as some interesting specialty shops, though there is the creeping chainification that one finds everywhere nowadays), while the second half of the walk followed a path along the Rouge River and around what they called a lake, but I would consider a pond. I wouldn’t say there was anything essential from a tourist perspective, but it was a good way to spend my time.


Toledo – the Corporal Klinger Tour: For those who remember M*A*S*H, Corporal Klinger (played by Jamie Farr) was from Toledo (as was Farr). That led to some ad libs that immortalized a couple of Toledo institutions to those of us of a certain generation – namely, Tony Packo’s Café and the Toledo Mud Hens, the AAA minor league affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. I love baseball, so when I saw plans for a Flyertalk Do that would involve both of those, I figured it was worth the trip. I flew to Detroit late Friday night, spent Saturday morning doing the volksmarch mentioned above, then drove to Toledo. It’s an easy drive, but there was a lot of road work. Anyway, I went to my hotel, rested a bit, then headed downtown.

We were actually not at the original Tony Packo’s, but at the branch by the ballpark. The food is Hungarian and runs to things like chili dogs and dumplings and such. Not exactly light fare, nor are what they call dumplings what I think of by that name (i.e. not like either knaidlach or Czech bread dumplings, but more pasta-ish), but the food was tasty enough (especially some sort of potato side dish) and the atmosphere was great. The Great Lakes IPA was more bitter than I prefer, so was just okay. There was, of course, plenty of flyertalkish talk, i.e. frequent flyer miles and tricks associated therewith.

We walked across the street to the ballpark and found our seats. And rain. Fortunately, the delay was not very long and the game was on. It was an exciting one, with some decidedly questionable calls (in my opinion). After being behind for most of the game, the Mud Hens did win in the end. By the way, we had very good seats (in the club section) and I thought it was a nice little ballpark. I liked that they had everyone sing the national anthem, instead of treating it as a performance piece. (People were, alas, considerably more pathetic for the 7th inning stretch. My treatise on the relationship between the decline of Western civilization and the failure of people to sing along is available on request.) Anyway, the fans seemed reasonably into the game and I thought it was worth the trip.

I had vague plans to do another volksmarch on Sunday morning, but the weather was dreary and I was tired, so I just had a late and lazy morning. For complicated reasons (less money, more miles), my flight home was via EWR so I got to spend some time rereading the index to Dante’s Inferno to figure out which circle of hell Newark Terminal A is.

Speaking of Transportation: If you change the route of a shuttle bus and, in the process, eliminate a stop that has been in use for at least 10 years, it might be helpful to put up a sign at that stop to let people know.

Recouvery

Jul. 15th, 2015 01:52 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
This year’s National Puzzlers’ League convention was held in Vancouver, British Columbia last week and, since it was the second con there, called Recouvery. For those unfamiliar with NPL, people identify themselves there by a nom, which I will use for consistency in lieu of people's actual names.

Getting to Vancouver was slightly more challenging than it needed to be, due to the meltdown at Continental dba United. I was able to make it work by calling to get on an earlier flight to LAX than the one I was booked on and rushing off to the metro to get a cab to IAD. That flight was delayed two hours itself, but still left me with plenty of time to get over to terminal 2, get my Air Canada boarding pass (not doable on-line or via United, for reasons that were never clear), eat dinner, and relax in the lounge. The AC flight was also delayed, allegedly due to weather in the Bay Area, which does not actually make sense for a flight coming in from Vancouver to LAX, but not much I could do about it. We got to Vancouver shortly before midnight, so I opted for a cab to the hotel and pretty much collapsed when I got there.

I did not get up on Thursday morning in time to do the inaugural NPL 5K walk/run, so I had to satisfy my need for movement by walking a lot through Vancouver, primarily following Davie Street. I had one minor mission to fulfill – checking out Omnitsky’s Kosher Deli, which is somewhat south of downtown but not too difficult to get to. Or, at least, it wouldn’t be if I had a sense of direction and hadn’t started out walking 5 blocks in the wrong direction from the skytrain station. I am, frankly, not sure it was worth the effort. The tongue sandwich and kasha knish were both good, but the pickles tasted like bottled Vlasic. And the mustard on the table was Heinz yellow. (They did have deli mustard for the sandwich, but a less than generous amount of it.) In addition, the service was mediocre. Had it been conveniently downtown, I might have had a more positive reaction, but I didn’t think it was worth going out of the way for.

I went back to downtown and decided to try doing the Robson Square walk-around puzzle. There was an outside part that was, essentially, a logic puzzle. In the interest of time, I skipped that momentarily to team up with a few other people to attempt the puzzles inside the Vancouver Art Gallery. Key word is attempt, as we were not successful in completing those. In one case, we can blame a part of an exhibit being covered up, but the other two just left us feeling dumb. I should also note that it was a bad idea to start this at 3:30 in the afternoon, as the museum closed at 5 and we didn’t really have enough time to linger and enjoy the exhibits. When we left, I did go back out and do the outside puzzle, but that wasn’t enough to make up for the rest of the frustration.

The official program started Thursday evening. There was a mixer puzzle called Fitting Words, which required matching pairs of pictures to form words. The tricky part was, of course, that many of the pictures could represent more than one word. Is that a pier or a dock? You really don’t know until you try fitting things together. That was followed by Hot Plates, a quick version of the license plate game, i.e. making words which contain a given set of three letters in order (but not necessarily consecutively). Since the letters were chosen at random, it was always possible that some of the letter combinations didn’t have any solutions. There was a second part with a longer time to fill in those you missed the first time around. This was pretty entertaining, even though I didn’t do especially well at it. For the record, the best word you can make with the letters from my license plate is "jeroboam." The last game for the evening, Bringo, involved filling up a bingo card with words that met a number of different rules, then playing a bingo game (in which the numbers of the rules were called out) with them. My team tried too hard to come up with good words and, hence, ran out of time to optimize our card. But, of course, it’s really all luck because the rules were called out randomly.

There was an over-the-weekend creative competition handed out, as well as 2 cryptics for pairs solving. I won’t say anything too specific about the cryptics, since there may be people still trying to work them, but Trick’s (which I solved with Spiel) was jawdroppingly brilliant. It wasn’t super-difficult per se, but more of a "how did he ever think of that?" moment when we realized what we had to do to finish it.

After the official program, I joined a team to play Spiel’s mini-extravaganza, which was reasonably entertaining. Then I played Qaqaq’s Jeopardy game, which had, interesting categories, a nice mix of questions and a particularly satisfying Final Jeopardy. I may be biased because I won that game. I don’t remember exactly when I did which unofficial games, but I think the other one I did that night was Dart’s game, Faster, which had a very clever mechanism, which I think works best if nobody playing knows just what is going to happen. (Or, I suppose, if everybody does.)

There had been discussion on Facebook about doing an escape room, so I was signed up to play a room called Dreamscape at Smartypantz in Gastown on Friday morning. I didn’t think the puzzles to solve were particularly interesting, though it may be just the ones I worked on. In one case, we badly overthought what we had to do. But we did finish (just barely) on time, so I guess it was a success.

After that, I was off to a minor league baseball game. I believe the ballpark is officially Scotia Bank Field, but everyone calls it by its historic name of Nat Bailey Field. The Vancouver Canadians are a short-season A-league affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. They were playing the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, a San Francisco Giants affiliate. The ballpark was pretty average, while the quality of play was notably below average. For example, the starting pitcher lasted only 1 and a 1/3 innings. I was not paying attention to his ERA, but it reminded me of the time I saw a Red Sox relief pitcher’s ERA climb to something over 100 before he was taken out. And there were a couple of players with batting averages around 0.015. The Volcanoes ended up winning 8-2. On the plus side, the ballpark sells local beer.

But I was in Vancouver for puzzles and games. It was either just before or just after Friday night dinner that I played Capital R’s Jeopardy game, which started out with the categories "who," "what", "where," "when," "why" and "how" and moved on to things like "whence," "whither," "wherefore," "aintcha," and 2 others that have slipped my mind. It was a bit too pop culture heavy for me to do well at, but was still fun to play. What I am sure was after dinner was a sing along. One of my pet theories is that much of what is wrong with our culture is the refusal of large numbers of people to sing along on such occasions, so I feel obliged to sing, despite my vocal deficiencies. There were just a few songs, with some NPL specific lyrics thrown in, so the whole thing wasn’t too painful. I also thought it would be a good place for the hidden puzzle to be hidden. But, alas, no.

The official games for that evening started with Green Energy by Shrdlu. This involved listing words in various categories, with the goal of reusing letters. The game was fun, but the complexity of the scoring made it take longer than I’d have preferred. My favorite official game of the weekend was Dart’s I Don’t Wanna Be Right. The premise was, essentially, to choose the most popular wrong answer for a set of trivia questions. The catch was that you lost points if you chose the correct answer. The other catch was the usual one of group dynamics but, realistically, we would have only gotten a few more points if the rest of the team had just listened to me. The official program for the evening ended with Lieutenant Nodumbo and the Case of the Mangled Manuscript by Rubrick, Slik, et alia. This involved each person at the table writing in a sentence (or fragment) into a story (which had parts already supplied). It’s the sort of thing I rarely enjoy because: a) I am a control freak, b) I have a very particular sense of humor, c) I get impatient with people who want to do this sort of thing well, instead of quickly, and d) did I happen to mention that I’m a control freak? The results were acted out by a group of people, with the catch that there was an overlay to mangle the stories even further. The whole thing did turn out to be fun, largely because of the (deliberately) exaggerated acting.

The unofficial events that evening started with a tribute to Maso, involving charades and seeing the pictures people made for his memorial. It was a fine way to honor his memory and I get teary-eyed just thinking about it. After that, Spiel and I worked on Trick’s cryptic, which I already mentioned completely wowed me. Finally, I played Puzzling in the Dark, a game run by WXYZ. This involved a group of blindfolded players, who handled objects on a table (plus some additional ones in a box) to figure something out. It was fun to do something collaborative, but the layout of the space had some impact on the group dynamics. For example, there was really only one person who could handle the objects in the box easily. Overall, I didn’t feel like I was particularly useful. So I thought the game was a good idea and reasonably entertaining to play, but the execution could use some tweaking.

Saturday morning’s chief feature is always the business meeting. The presentation for Salt Lake City next year was excellent, with a word mine game passed around the table while a video with the official state song was played. As for the 2017 con, Boston had a strong bid and no real competition. There was, however, an excessively long conversation about costs creeping up and what less expensive cities there should be bids for, and a handful of places talked about for the future.

The Saturday afternoon competitions started with Time Test by Willz. This involved a series of wordplay puzzles, some of them far easier than others. As usual with this sort of thing, I could have used more time, like, say, a month for the back burners of my brain to churn over a few of them. Voweled Expressions by Bluff called for filling in consonants into grids to complete familiar sayings. I got most, but not all of these. Finally, there was the flat solving contest, with this year’s theme based on concrete poetry. I opted for a nap instead of attempting this.

I did make it back down for the con photo. I think I played Noam’s Jeopardy! game between that and dinner. His version is reasonably straightforward, unlike some of the more twisted ones out there. That didn’t stop me from a couple of stupid errors, for which I can blame mental exhaustion. Fun, anyway.


The big deal is always the Saturday night extravaganza, with this year’s version by Dozen and QED. The initial packet had 15 puzzles and the solutions to those netted you a meta to solve. We did, as a group, look through all of the puzzles, before people sorted out what they wanted to work on. That worked reasonably well, in general, with 2-4 people working on each. Instead of going strictly by time this year, every team that finished within 3 hours got entered into a random drawing for prizes, so my team actually ended up winning. The time constraint was driven by when gelato was showing up, by the way.

One of the essentials of any NPL con for me is what I think of Jeffpardy, i.e. the Jeopardy! game by [livejournal.com profile] jeffurrynpl. This year was no exception, with mock-Canadian touches like a category called "Befoure and Aftre." Not that I am necessarily good at that sort of thing, but it amuses me. I seem to think we had a very competitive match, overall, which is always a nice touch.

The other game that was an essential for me was Makeshift Jeopardy 2 by Arcs. I was really tired, I knew I’d be taking a redeye Sunday night, and I still stayed up to play. It isn’t quite Jeopardy, though it starts out looking like it. All you really need to know is that there was lots of laughter coming from that corner of the room. His twist on Name That Tune was particularly amusing. It was worth the sleep deprivation.

Sunday just meant breakfast, prizes, and socializing, including going out to lunch at the suitably named Legendary Noodles. Canadian airport security is inevitably slow and inefficient, but I had plenty of time. The hop down to Seattle was quick, but I had a longish layover there. Fortunately, there are decent food options. And, as I was on an international ticket, I had lounge access. Redeyes remain just about my least favorite thing about flying, particularly when (as in this case) there are poorly controlled children. I know parents who think redeyes are great because the children will sleep, but my experience is that the parents sleep and just don’t hear the children screaming.

Anyway, I got back to IAD on time, took the bus and metro home, showered and changed clothes, and headed straight into the office. So I was pretty much a zombie all day Monday and I probably owe an apology to somebody for something I said about a sensor. It was worth the sleep deprivation.

By the way, I have been thinking about something since I got back. Both the official program and the unofficial program are completely dominated by games and puzzles written by men. I realize this is a subject for broader discussion and there has been lots of traffic on various mailing lists on topics like whether or not crossword editors discriminate against women. I don’t think that the NPL con activities are a matter of discrimination, but of self-selection. I mention this because I have an idea for a trivia game. In fact, I have two ideas – one for a game mechanism, one for a name. I’m not convinced those two things go together, however. But the bottom line is I am, at least tentatively, planning to bring something to Salt Lake City next year.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Morris Wilkins invented the heart-shaped bathtub. Jim Bailey was a female impersonator. Beau Biden appeared to be a worthy successor to his father’s political legacy. Hermann Zapf designed typefaces. Will Holt wrote the song "Lemon Tree."

There were also two huge losses in the folk music world. Jean Ritchie was a major folk musician in the Appalachian tradition. I remember listening to her on records about as far back as I can remember. And Ronnie Gilbert was part of The Weavers, as well as having performed solo and with other musicians, notably Holly Near. She had a powerful voice and a powerful presence. Her song, "The Death of Stephen Biko," was one that reminded me that protest songs continued to be relevant after the 1960’s.

Washington Folk Festival: The last weekend in May was the Washington Folk Festival. Because I was doing the Indie 500 on Saturday, I was only able to attend on Sunday. My performance was at the end of the day, which meant a pretty thin audience. I did a couple of experiments in my telling, one of which worked, and one of which failed badly. The one that worked was to have a vote on "The Farmer and His Animals" about which of his animals (the rooster, the pig, or the cow) the farmer should kill. The one that didn’t work involved the idea that Henny Penny was the victim of auto-correct, having intended to tweet "the sky’s appalling" as part of her job as a weather observer. I had not entirely thought through what I was going to have other characters doing, so it fizzled. I also told a Bill Greenfield story and was amused to see someone in the audience aping my motions as Bill reached inside the mouth of the bear who was about to eat him, grabbed hold, and turned that bear inside out. For my own records, the other two stories I told were "Seeking Destiny" (with a little adjustment to get a chicken into it) and "Prince Rooster."

35th MIT Reunion: This weekend was my 35th MIT Reunion. Wow, do I feel old. But I also feel incentive to survive another 15 years, so I can get my red jacket. I flew up to Boston on Friday morning and got to campus in time to drop off my bags at Baker House (where I was staying in a room that had surprisingly few walls) before going first to the Hillel reception. I had a nice long conversation with someone I hadn’t seen since I graduated. Then I went over to the McCormick reception (the dorm I’d lived in as an undergrad), where the most interesting conversation I had was with a woman from the class of 1965 about her experiences trying to find a job with a chemistry degree in those days. The short version is that people told her she should be a secretary and her degree would be useful because she could spell the names of chemicals correctly!

As for Class of 1980 events, we had a talk on hacks and pranks, which was quite entertaining. Then we walked up to the MIT Museum for dinner. I saw many of the people I was most looking forward to seeing and had lots of interesting conversation. Apparently there was some confusion with the caterer which also meant we had an open bar. That may have enhanced some of the conversation, but I like to think my classmates are interesting enough even without a couple of glasses of white wine. I was astonished to discover that the museum shop had absolutely nothing I felt a deep need for. I guess I’ve bought it all on previous visits.

Unfortunately, the people in the room next to mine at Baker appeared to be a family who had never taught their children the concept of an inside voice. And, in fact, it appeared that the adults were themselves unaware of this concept. Between that, traffic noise from Memorial Drive, and doors slamming, I got way too little sleep. Fortunately, the Technology Day program was interesting enough that I didn’t drift off too much. The topic was "Private Lives in an Interconnected World" and the speakers covered topics ranging from nanophotonics (pretty marginally connected to the theme) to cybersecurity policy to use of data for urban planning. I wish there had been more time in the program for the Q&A. And I could make several snide comments about the presentation skills of academics. But, overall, it was worth a few hours of my time.

Then came lunch, which was followed by the presentations of the class gifts. My class raised over $2.3 million, which is pretty impressive for a year that isn’t a major reunion. (For major reunions - namely the 25th, 40th, and 50th - they count all gifts over the previous 5 years, as well as pledges for the next 5. For everyone else, it’s just the single year.)

We had a significant disadvantage at the Tech Challenge Games, because our class had only about 25 people there. The classes where people bring a bunch of young children can do more with some of the events. We were also disadvantaged in the trivia bowl part by being at the far end of the field, which highlighted the limits of the audio system. I have probably said this before, but I will note that: a) I suck at paper plane construction and b) I can redeem myself by writing haiku. Though the poetry contest topics this time out were definitely not very inspiring – red blazers, the 1916 move of Boston Tech to Cambridge, MIT football, and snowpocalypse. I think my best effort was on the first of those:

Cardinal jackets
make perfect accessories
to go with grey hair.

I took a break from crowds of people to call a friend who is recovering from surgery and to work logistics for getting together with another friend the next day. Then it was off to the new Ashdown House (way the hell over on Vassar Street) for a barbecue dinner. The food was about what you would expect of barbecue in Massachusetts, but there was plenty more good conversation. I skipped the later night activities for several reasons and was able to get some sleep before the feral family next door woke me up.

The Shrine of the Green Monster: I skipped the Sunday brunch because I just wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about it. Instead, I had a large and tasty late breakfast at The Friendly Toast, a place in Kendall Square that is more of less one of my regular Boston breakfast spots. (I had one of the daily specials – a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, black beans, veggie sausage, and jalapeno-jack cheese.)

Then I went over to the Hampton Inn near the airport to leave my bags. Back to the city, it was time to meet up with my friend, Penny, to go to Fenway Park! The timing on coordinating meeting up worked amazingly well, as I had just about stepped out of the Kenmore Square T stop when she called, telling me she was right outside the souvenir shop across from Boston Beer Works.

So, Fenway. No matter how many times I go there, I never tire of the energy of the ballpark. There is really no other place like it. We were up in the Pavilion Box seats, which meant a bit of a stair climb to get there, but the view was great and, because of the intimacy of the ballpark, it didn’t feel like we were away from the action. Things started badly, with Clay Buchholz gave up 3 runs in the top of the 2nd (and another run in the 4th), and the Sox were not doing anything offensively for ages. But when they did open up, they did so explosively. Starting with a home run by Rusney Castillo, they ended up scoring 7 runs in the bottom of the 8th. You may have heard us screaming ourselves hoarse if you were anywhere within, say, a couple of thousand miles. What an exciting half an inning and what a game!

Penny and I got some coffee afterwards. Then she went off to get her train to deep suburbia, while I decided it made sense to walk at least part of the way across town. In the end, I walked all the way down to South Station, because walking in Boston is just so pleasing. Thanks to the T and the hotel shuttle, I got to the hotel in time to try to get a semi-decent amount of sleep. Which means that, yes, I completely forgot about the Tony awards. That’s just as well since getting up for a 6 a.m. flight was challenging enough.

And now I am all caught up, at least until tomorrow.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have lots of catching up to do. Again. I will save the political rants (and maybe some other ranting) for a separate post.

Celebrity Death Watch: Thomas Foley was once Speaker of the House. Ike Skelton was an ordinary Congresscritter. Marcia Wallace was a television actress. Ovadia Yosef was the Sephardic chief rabbi if Israel. Tom Clancy wrote thrillers. Marcella Hazan’s books thrilled those who like Italian cooking. Lou Reed walked on the wild side (musically, at least. I can’t speak for his personal life.)

The two celebrity deaths I particularly want to highlight are Dov Noy and Robert Barnard. The former was the best known folklorist in Israel, and more or less the Jewish equivalent of Stith Thompson. (He actually studied under Thompson at Indiana University. I didn’t know that until I looked up his bio in Encyclopedia Judaica.) He wrote a large number of books, some of which are available in English.

Robert Barnard was one of my favorite "cozy" mystery writers and a winner of the Diamond Dagger from the (British) Crime Writers’ Association. He was at his best in his non-series works, in my opinion, and I never completely warmed up to the bizarreness of the Charlie Peace novels. I particularly recommend his short story, "My Last Girlfriend," but it helps to have read a particular (obvious) Robert Browning poem.

Non-human Deaths: I am not an opera person, but I am saddened by the demise of the New York City Opera. On an entirely different note, I saw that The Proud Bird is closing. That restaurant was the site of many a retirement party and various other assorted meal-related events when I lived in Los Angeles. Eras end, alas.

Baseball Post-Season: Ah, how I love sitting at home watching the Red Sox in the World Series. Just like the Yankees. Seriously, it was a slightly bizarre series (obstruction? And, yeah, I realize it was a legitimate call, but how often do you see that?) Thanks to David Ortiz and Koji Uehara (among others), my boys won.

Events I Shouldn’t Go To: I had an Oktoberfest happy hour to go to early in the month. I have no issues with the beer or the conversation, but it was very loud and crowded and not really my scene. I believe this is further proof that I am getting old.

Anchorage Mileage Run: I flew all the way to Anchorage, had a drink with a friend at the airport, and flew back. This is crazy, but it helped towards status and the fare was good. The only part that was actually unpleasant was the overnight leg from ANC to SEA. The plane was completely full, the guy in the middle seat had a bad case of Giant Invisible Penis Syndrome (i.e. he spread his legs wide enough to take up a third of my aisle seat), and there was an extraordinarily loud screaming lap infant immediately behind me, who coupled the volume with kicking my seat. Of course, that is also not a long enough flight to get a decent amount of sleep, even under optimal conditions.

Assorted Storytelling: I was just audience, but Jane Dorfman and Cricket Parmalee did a fine job of telling middle eastern stories at Tales in the Village. As for things I was actually telling at, we had a swap focused on European stories at the South Bowie library. For that, I told the Grimm story, "Clever Greta." Finally, we had our annual Halloween concert, which I organized and at which I told an urban legend.

Sister Act: I went to see Sister Act at the Kennedy Center on Wednesday night. It was reasonably amusing, albeit predictable. The best thing was the performance of Florrie Bagel as Sister Mary Patrick. The worst thing was the two women sitting behind me who were, apparently, unaware that a theatre is not the same as one’s own living room. The music was better than I expected. (To be fair, I should have expected better, since Alan Mencken did write the music for Little Shop of Horrors, which I like. ) The choreography was, alas, unimpressive. All in all, it was worth seeing with a discounted ticket. Perhaps a B+ grade.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Now that June is over, maybe I should write something about it. It was a relatively unbusy month, but unbusy for me just means that I didn’t go out on weeknight, other than one happy hour for a former colleague whose contract was not renewed. That should probably have been called an unhappy hour. But, anyway, much of the month was spent recovering from jetlag.

Celebrity Death Watch: Frank Lautenberg was a senator from New Jersey. Iain Banks wrote science fiction. Richard Ramirez, better known as The Night Stalker, was a serial killer. Gary David Goldberg created Family Ties and, more significantly to me, the short-lived Brooklyn Bridge. Alan Myers was the drummer for Devo. Marc Rich was pardoned by Bill Clinton for various financial crimes. The most bizarre story of June (well, in this category) was that of Bollywood actress Jiah Khan who committed suicide by hanging herself from a ceiling fan.

Crafty stuff: June 8th was International Knit in Public Day. For attending the event in a local park, I got a gift card from the sponsoring yarn store. I also made it to knitting group once and resurrected a UFO. (That’s knitter talk for an unfinished object.)

Not Quite the Beatles: I went out to dinner with a group of friends and then to see a Beatles tribute band at a free concert. I mostly enjoyed the music, but I really wish Americans would not attempt to speak in accents they haven’t mastered. I also have deeply mixed feelings about the whole concept of tribute bands.

Company: The final show in the Signature 2012-2013 season was Company . This was an excellent production of one of Sondheim’s greatest works. There is a lot that is dated in the book, of course, and I’ve never figured out how Bobby actually knows all these people. But who cares when there are so many delights in the score and such sparkling wit in the lyrics? The gimmick in this production is that the married couples were all played by actual married couples. Matthew Scott was very good as Bobby, but the real highlight was Erin Weaver as Amy, whose rendition of “Getting Married Today” stole the show. My one (very minor) disappointment was that Carolyn Cole as Marta could have enunciated better in her performance of “Another Hundred People,” which is, by the way, one of my all time favorite Sondheim songs.

Baltimore: The Red Sox were playing the Orioles, so I couldn’t resist a trip to Baltimore. I drove up a few hours before the game and walked over to the Lexington Market to have lunch at Faidley’s, a classic Baltimore experience. Lexington Market is allegedly the oldest continually operating market in the U.S. and the neighborhood is a bit sketchy (though not nearly as bad as some people make it sound). Standing up at a market table to eat well-prepared seafood is what it’s about.

Then I walked down to Camden Yards and visited Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, a pop culture museum next to the ballpark. There’s an interesting collection, largely organized by decade, but not many of the individual items are labeled. The 60’s and 70’s rooms were of the most interest to me for obvious reasons. But the real delight was the comic book collection for a different reason. See, for years, I have told people about this brief period in the early 1970’s when D.C. Comics tried to be relevant. That included things like Wonder Woman giving up her powers and studying martial arts and Lois Lane having herself changed into a black woman (via some machine). The ultimate attempt at relevance came when Green Arrow (who shared a comic book with Green Lantern) arrived home to discover his ward, Speedy, shooting up heroin. Nobody ever believes me about that. But there it was right in that display case – that classic cover with Green Arrow lamenting that his ward was an addict. I am vindicated.

As for the baseball game, the Red Sox won but it was weird. There was a highly dubious call in favor of Dustin Pedroia, for example. And, while John Lackey recovered from a slow start, Andrew Bailey nearly blew it in relief in the 9th. Still, they did win, so I was happy.

Storytelling and Minor League Game: The Workhouse Arts Center had a summer arts day event and I was part of a storytelling program at it. I thought it went well and enjoyed the other stories / tellers on the bill. A couple of friends had come along (independently of each other) and one of them stayed around afterwards to join me on a crawl through the galleries and a quick look at the museum which discusses the facility's former use as a prison. I’d like to do some research on the suffragettes who were held there when I get some time.

I took advantage of being only a few miles away to go to the Potomac Nationals game that evening. One nice thing about minor league baseball is that you can walk up at the last minute and get a seat behind home plate for 11 bucks. Of course, you still have the opportunity to pay way too much for mediocre junk food to eat during the game, but so it goes.

Colorado: The final weekend of the month featured my periodic pilgrimage to a big party given by friends in Colorado. It also ended up featuring the worst domestic travel experience of my life, which I will write about separately. But all worked out in the end – I got there and had a good time, with lots of good food and lots of good conversation. My contribution to the former was a box of chocolates from a newish place near where I live. My contribution to the latter included travel recommendations and literary recommendations. But when the talk turns to computer programming, I have nothing to say.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
As I mentioned previously, I spent the first weekend in April in Portland, Maine for Sharing the Fire. STF is the annual conference of the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling (LANES) and is one of the major regional storytelling conferences. I'd heard how wonderful it was for years and this year I miraculously didn't have any major schedule conflicts. Besides, I had only spent about 5 or so hours in Maine previously (a day trip from Camp Birchbrook in New Hampshire to Ogunquit around 1968 or so). So why not?

The flight up to Portland was pretty routine. In fact, I had a pleasant hour or so in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge at IAD, where I could get a glass of wine and nibble on dark chocolate and dried apricots while reading the newspaper in relative peace and quiet. (My United Gold status gets me into that lounge, but not United's own. Don't ask.) And the flight is short enough that a regional jet is tolerable. On arrival, I got a shuttle to the Marriott at Sable Oaks, which was perfectly adequate, though not really near anything per se. That doesn't really matter for a conference, of course, since my free time was limited.

The Friday night opening by Michael Parent featured a mixture of bad jokes about Maine. Moose calls (MOOSE refers to the Maine Order of Storytelling Enthusiasts, as well as a large, antlered ruminant), and assorted other rude noises. That was followed by a story slam on the theme of Culture Shock. Bruce Marcus won that with an exquisite story about when he realized his children, adopted from Russia, had truly become American. The slam was fun, but went rather slowly, presumably due to the judging process. During the breaks, I had time to connect with some friends from southern California, two of whom now live in New England. (The third has a daughter in the area.) Then I went off to a swap with the theme "Tales of the Ornery, Original and Independent" before going to bed. I have at least two of those traits.

The morning started with a keynote by Joseph Bruchac. His talk included some interesting linguistic insight (e.g. the names by which we know American Indians are generally those which their enemies used for them) as well as the more expected material on cultural continuity and community building. Plus, I also now know the correct way to pronounce "Abenaki." After his talk we divided into groups to join tellers for a short story, and cultural discussion. In the spirit of choosing cultures I was less familiar with, I went to sessions by Antonio Rocha (Brazilian)and Diane Edgecomb (Kurdish). I found the Kurdish story particularly alien and, frankly, unsatisfying. The Brazilian story was more satisfying, but Antonio altered the traditional version, so the discussion got somewhat away from mainstream Brazilian cultural values. And, in both cases, the time for this activity was only enough to brush over the surface lightly.

After lunch, there were two 90 minute workshop sessions. For the first session, I went to Diane Edgecomb's workshop on "The Golden Thread: Finding Meaning in Traditional Tales." I'll admit I was disappointed in this, largely because 90 minutes was only enough time for Diane to get through maybe a fifth of what she intended to cover. The result was that I felt that she never quite pulled things together. I'm not sure if there is a solution other than not to attempt condensing what should be a 2 or 3 day workshop into a short session.

The other afternoon workshop I went to was Antonio Rocha's on "Transitions in Eloquence." This was fantastic. He talked about transitions from one character to another (and from one scene to another), had us all do some mime exercises, demonstrated what he was talking about, and coached a volunteer to hone in on potential solutions.

Saturday night featured the bestowal of the Brother Blue and Ruth Hill Award to Jo Radner. She definitely deserved this recognition for her work in fostering storytelling in New England (and elsewhere).

The Saturday night olio was one of the highlights of the weekend. I particularly liked Jo Radner's family story about pie. I also want to note that seeing Antonio Rocha perform crystallized a lot of things he had talked about in his workshop. Had I not gone to that session, I might not have paid quite so much attention to how he establishes the body language that goes with a particular character, for example. I finished out the night by going to an open (i.e. unthemed) swap where, at the request of one of my friends, I told "The Three Sisters."

I tried to avoid the LANES membership meeting, but did get dragged into the last half hour or so of it. I will refrain from comment on comparisons with my regional organization(s). But I will note that STF will be in Amherst, Massachusetts next year. That poses some interesting travel challenges, but we shall see.

Finally, I went to John Porcino's workshop. His topic was "There's a Nightmare at My Show" and he had a very concrete approach to handling the problems that arise at performances. Of course, most of problem handling is avoidance (e.g. check that the alarm is turned off before opening the side door - and, yes, that is a real lesson learned). At any rate, I came away with some useful ideas, as well as just enjoying the validation of hearing that these things happen to other people, too.

I didn't stay for the closing session because I had tickets to a Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox AA Affiliaate) game. Instead, I left my luggage in my friend, Katy's, car and got a taxi to Hadlock Field. I got a particularly unimpressive ballpark lunch of fish and chips and shivered in the stands on a day that was really too cold for baseball. (And, yes, I was wearing lots of layers, including my winter jacket.) The game was reasonably exciting, largely because it was fairly close. In the end, the Trenton Thunder (an affiliate of the Source of All Evil in the Universe) won, alas. By the way, Trenton has a player I predict will be someone to watch out for in the future. Remember the name Rob Segedin.

After the game, Katy picked me up and we went over to her condo for a while to thaw out. Then she took me on a short driving tour of Portland. Casco Bay is beautiful, but it was way too cold out to walk around much. After the tour, we went out to dinner with another local storyteller. We ate interesting pizza (e.g. with things like butternut squash and cranberries). Then she dropped me off at the Hilton Garden Inn which I switched to for the night to maximize some hotel stay needs. Apparently all Portland hotels have hot cider in their lobbies, instead of coffee and tea. (Well, okay, two is not a fair sample size, but it is still something I haven't seen elsewhere, so worth noting.)

My flight home was also uneventful, though way too early in the morning. That enabled me to get the bus from IAD to West Falls Church in time to get a bus straight from there to work. All in all, this was an excellent weekend and I'm glad I finally got to go to STF.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I keep thinking I will get caught up, but I keep doing things. I am telling myself that is good. Let’s see how far I get with this entry.

Celebrity Death Watch: The most prominent celebrity death of note was, of course, Margaret Thatcher’s. I’d say more, but I prefer not to speak ill of the dead. (Actually, I would speak ill of the dead, but what I was trying to find is the lyrics to a folk song of that era called “Don’t Call Maggie a Cat” and I was entirely unsuccessful at finding any reference to it at all. I thought it was possible that it might have been a cow and not a cat, but that failed too. So I will pretend to be polite.)

Other prominent deaths to mention are fashionista Lilly Pulitzer, Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, and comedian Jonathan Winters. Of more personal significance, Carmine Infantino was a DC comics artist and editor. Peter Workmman founded an interesting publishing company. And Maria Tallchief was my favorite ballerina when I was growing up.

The most interesting obituary I read recently, by the way, was that of Patricia McCormick, the first North American woman to become a professional bullfighter.

American Utopias: Mike Daisey was performing his most recent monologue at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. He uses three subjects – Burning Man, Disneyworld, and Occupy Wall Street – to talk about public / private partnerships and their implications for community. It’s a screamingly funny piece and definitely provocative, but it is also over 2 hours long without an intermission. And it finishes outside on the street corner, which might be fine at times, but it was bloody cold the night I went. Admittedly, all three of his subjects also involve a level of physical discomfort, so maybe that is part of the point, but it took away a half star or so from my mental review.

Our Hank: This was a program at the DC Jewish Community Center to celebrate the 80th anniversary of baseball’s “Hebrew Hammer.” There was an intro by an ESPN reporter (whose name I have forgotten ), followed by two speakers. John Rosengren (who is not Jewish) wrote a recent biography titled Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes. He talked a little about Greenberg’s significance and read an excerpt which explained the overblown title. He was followed by filmmaker Aviva Kempner who is, of course, well known for her documentary The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. There’s a new DVD of the film out and she showed some of the material added for it. The most amusing of those excerpts involved her brother and his friends debating who the best Jewish baseball players of all time were, by position – a subject that is the entire premise of The Baseball Talmud by Howard Megdal. It was an interesting enough evening, but I can’t say I learned anything I didn’t already know. I did not buy the DVD, by the way, since I have the original one and don’t see the point in paying again for some added features.

Portland, Maine: Then I went to Portland, Maine for Sharing the Fire (a storytelling conference). That deserves its own entry. And I think I will throw the rest of that trip in with the conference entry.

American Ballet Theatre: Continuing my year of going to a lot of ballet, I went to a mixed repertory show by ABT at the Kennedy Center. The first of the three pieces was Balanchine’s choreography to Bizet’s Symphony in C. The music was lovely and I do appreciate the skill of the dancers. But masses of ballerinas in white tutus can be a bit visually monotonous, so I didn’t find this particularly exciting. It was followed by Jose Limon’s choreography to The Moor’s Pavane by Purcell. I absolutely hated this. I understand that Limon was trying to work with Renaissance court dance to tell the story that is not quite Othello. But the movements were too artificial for my taste. The final piece, Symphony #9 by Shostakovich had choreography by Alexei Ratmansky. In this case, I loved the dance, which was visually exciting and fit the music well. It’s not a piece of music I care much for, but I’m likely to seek out other works choreographed by Ratmansky in the future.

I should also note that I felt the intermissions were excessive. The first ballet was maybe 35-40 minutes long and followed by a 20 minute intermission. The second was barely 20 minutes long and had a 15 minute intermission. It’s not like there was extensive scenery to adjust either. Or maybe I was just grumpy because I was tired.

Ping Pong Dim Sum: This is apparently a London-based chain and I had dinner (and frequent flyer conversation) with a few friends there. We had a nice sampler of dim sum, thanks to a very reasonable prix fixe menu. Consensus was that the best of the dishes was a beef and cumin dumpling. I am also making an attempt to be less boringly predictable in drink choices and tried a pineapple, basil and pistachio cocktail (with pisco). It was okay, but not significantly different than pineapple juice. There was next to no pistachio flavor. So far I have to admit to not having tasted anything that is likely to wean me away from drinking gin and tonic on these occasions.

As for the conversation, this is the group of friends amongst whom “I just spent the weekend in Lisbon” brings no astonishment. The statement (by a different person, obviously) that he had not been on an airplane since November, however, elicits concern and questions about withdrawal symptoms.

Speaking of travel: I have all my arrangements set up for my May vacation. It might be useful for some people to know that Marriott now lets you redeem the electronic Category 1-4 certificates on-line.

Story Swap: Our regular story swap was Saturday night. It was fun, as always. I have decided that I am way too self-satisfied with my holiday story, but I still enjoy telling it. There were young’uns present, so I refrained from using the f-word.

Taxes: It took me forever to find a couple of pieces of paper, but I still finished everything well before the last minute. I have made my usual vow to keep my records better organized. We’ll see how long that lasts.

The Last Five Years: My Signature Theatre subscription continued with this two character musical by Jason Robert Brown. The plot involves a couple who are splitting up. Jamie Wellerstein (played by James Gardiner) tells their story forwards, while Cathy Hiatt (played by Erin Weaver) tells it backwards, with the two versions meeting at their wedding. That’s less confusing than it sounds, mostly since the whole piece is pretty much a song cycle, rather than a musical play. At any rate, I particularly enjoyed the two of Jamie’s songs that had the most Jewish flavor. “Shiksa Goddess” is very funny and “The Shmuel Song” is catchy, while telling a story that sounds like an actual folktale. Cathy gets to be funny, too, in “A Summer in Ohio,” which describes the dubious joys of doing summer stock, including sharing a house with a former stripper and her snake. The basic issue in the relationship is his early success as a writer and her lack of similar success as an actress and that feels like a pretty realistic situation. While I wouldn’t say this is an essential show, it was definitely worth the 90 minutes or so it lasts.

Hello, Dolly: This production at Ford’s Theatre was also part of my Signature subscription. I have always suspected that Jerry Herman is perfectly capable of writing great music and made a deliberate decision to focus on blockbuster songs that people leave the theatre humming. This show is an excellent example of that. Everyone knows the title song, which is lyrically monotonous and doesn’t do much to advance the plot. “Before the Parade Passes By” is better, especially in this production because it was one of the few songs that Nancy Opel (who is, alas, no Carol Channing) seemed to have her heart in. But the perfectly lovely “Ribbons Down My Back,” sung here by the excellent Tracy Lynn Olivera as Irene Molloy is barely known. (I do have a quibble with the costume design. The song says the ribbons are blue and green, but the ones on the hat in this production appeared to be a dull taupe from where I was sitting.) The biggest issue I had with this production is that a cast of 16 is just not enough to create the sense of New York bustle and grandeur the show demands. It wasn’t a terrible production, but it just felt thin and not entirely adequate.

Work related item #1: Only a man would schedule a 4 hour meeting with no breaks.

Work related item #2” In the “my workplace is not like yours” department, that lengthy meeting was in a conference room with several digital clocks on the wall. The largest showed the Zulu time (i.e. GMT). The clock for Kabul time was larger than the one for local time, however.

Ten Minute Plays: Short short plays are not particularly my thing, but supporting friends is. So I went to the Kennedy Center on Wednesday night to see Milbre Burch’s play, which was part of the American College Theatre Festival. Hers was actually the last play of the event. The first piece involved two excerpts from a full length play, A Second Birth by Ariel Mitchell. The story involved an Afghani girl who has been living as a boy. Now, her father wants her to go back to being a girl – and has arranged her marriage to her best friend. It’s an intriguing situation and I’d love to see the whole thing to find out how it turns out.

Then came Like Pigeons by Nate Harpel. This involved two old men sitting on a park bench and, while it was funny, it was more or less a character sketch of two, not very different, characters. That was followed by Disconnect by Caity Shea Violette, which involved the conflict between a mother and her daughter’s lesbian lover over whether or not to continue life support for the daughter. It was well enough written, but I didn’t think it offered any particularly original insight into that painful situation. After that was Tattoo You by Lisa Kenner Grissom, which dealt with a confrontation between two women in the ladies’ room before a high school reunion. I thought this did a good job of dealing with the (not uncommon) situation in which the power imbalance between people changes from school to their later lives.

I’m pleased to say that Milbre’s play, Washing Up was the most original of the evening, possibly because she’s a graduate student in my age range, not a 20 something with limited life experience. Her play involved two young women trying to figure out how to honor their dead mother’s heritage.

Ancora: After the plays, I went out with Milbre and four of her other friends. We ended up at Ancora, Bob Kincaid’s new restaurant in the Watergate. I started with an asparagus salad that tasted like springtime. For the main course, I had brioche-crusted fluke with asparagus sauce, which was very tasty. We shared two desserts – a molten chocolate cake and an absolutely amazing berry tiramusu. The service was a bit sluggish at the start and the waiter auctioned off dishes (i.e. he did not remember who had ordered what), so they have a little ways to go in that area. By the way, Kincaid himself stopped by our table, which is a rare occurrence for me at celebrity chef restaurants. At any rate, it is a place well worth knowing about and I expect the service glitches will be ironed out in time.

Hong Kong Reception: Finally, I went to an MIT Club event last night at the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office. The food was particularly interesting with both Eastern and Western offering. The Eastern table had dimsum, spring rolls, fried rice, and sushi, while the Western table had beef, salmon, crab cakes, various dips, and (to my immense surprise and amusement) dolmades. There were also chocolate-dipped strawberries and three types of truffles for dessert. The speech was interesting enough, but the room was sweltering hot and the set-up had everyone standing. Still, the food boded well for my upcoming visit.

Still to Come: I still need to write about Sharing the Fire. And about dating. And some recent books. And I have a bunch of things to do in the next week or so. Oh, and I also have opinions on everything which I have a burning need to inflict on the world at large. But, for the moment, I will declare victory on catching up.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have, again, been extraordinarily busy. This entry will, alas, only get me halfway caught up on all the stuff I've been doing.

World Baseball Classic: It's hard to say how significant the World Baseball Classic, which is envisioned as a sort of equivalent to soccer's World Cup, is. But, as a person who has made the effort to go to baseball games in a couple of foreign countries (Japan and Dominican Republic so far), I couldn't resist a quick trip down to Miami to watch the Pool 2 finals.

I am not sure if the event was why prices were high, but I decided it was best to use miles one way on American and pay for a flight on United coming back. It turned out that there was low mileage availability in first, though not in coach. Hmm, 25000 miles for either class? What a tough decision! That gave me a chance to check out American's domestic first class which is, let's just say, unimpressive. The only plus over United is that you can order your choice of meal in advance. But there was no predeparture drink, the food was bland (and the salad dressing was awful), there were no free headphones for the (overhead, not personal) video. This was a mainline plane, not "express" service, so really quite shabby.

Because of high prices closer in, I booked a room at the Miami Marriott Dadeland. This is quite a ways south of the airport (and the ballpark) but is actually quite convenient since it is adjacent to the Dadeland South Metrorail station. A two buck ride is well worth it for a room that is half the price of something closer and it saved me the cost of a rental car, too. The hotel was quite nice. Unusually, there was an internet terminal (like the ones in the business center) in the room. I would stay there again. It is also a short walk to the Dadeland Mall, which is not exciting, and to a local supermarket.

The ballpark is a bit of a hike from the Civic Center station (and not well sign posted), but there is also shuttle service available. The weather was lovely, so I didn't mind the walk. The game itself was between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. I didn't have any particularly strong feelings either way, so I could enjoy the play, which was of a reasonably high standard. And the fans on both sides were lively and knowledgeable. All in all, it was worth the trip.

A Behanding in Spokane: Browsing the listings on Goldstar, I saw the Keegan Theatre's production of A Behanding in Spokane. It caught my eye because it was written by Matt McDonagh, who wrote the movie In Bruges. The play had a similar, macabre humor. The story involves a one-handed man, a couple who claim to have found his hand and are trying to sell it to him, and a motel clerk who has always wanted to be a hero. It was very twisted and very dark - and very funny. The highlight was Bradley Foster Smith's portrayal of Mervyn (the motel clerk). This is definitely not mainstream fare, but well worth seeing for those who can handle the rough language and grotesque absurdity.

Swiss Embassy Residence: Then came an MIT Club of Washington dinner at the Swiss Embassy Residence. I'd actually been there before, but the weather was nicer this time, making it easier to appreciate the view from the living room. Before the talk, there were drinks and hors d'oeuvres (quiche and some sort of pinwheels with dried beef.) The program itself was very short. They showed two amusing Swiss tourism videos and followed that with a 10 or so slide presentation on innovation. Then came a buffet, the highlight of which was raclette (toasted cheese, served with potatoes and cornichons). Throw in intelligent conversation and this was definitely my type of evening.

Cinderella: Cinderella is not a ballet I would normally go out of my way for, but I had no real objections to it as part of my season subscription to The Washington Ballet. I thought they did a good job with it, especially with the portrayal of the stepsisters (played by Luis Torres and Zachary Hackstock - and, yes, it is traditional for men to play them. The really mysterious thing about this ballet has to do with the prince's search for the woman whose foot fits the shoe. There are bits danced by a Spanish woman, a Tunisian woman, and an Asian woman. Obviously, this is symbolic of how he is searching the ends of the earth to find her. But why does he go off to all those far-flung places before searching in what is practically his own backyard? And why can't he recognize the stepsisters as the two horrible creatures who were throwing themselves at him all through the ball? Just how dim is he?

And, on that note, I will shut up and dance away.
fauxklore: (travel)
Thanksgiving is an annoying time to travel in some ways, but it's also convenient for a long weekend break. It also falls squarely in Dominican baseball season and that was my excuse for a trip to Santo Domingo.

I flew out of EWR, which meant taking the train up to Newark on Wednesday night. The train was surprisingly uncrowded. I stayed overnight at the Courtyard by Marriott by the airport. I am fond of Marriott largely because I find their hotels to be very consistent, but this was a decidedly substandard Courtyard. It was adequate for a night, but not up to my expectations. I've stayed at the Renaissance there in the past and that's a better choice.

The airport was only mildly chaotic on Thursday morning. I've found that traveling on Thanksgiving Day itself can be a good option and that worked well this time. I was even upgraded. On arrival at SDQ I got a taxi to the Zona Colonial and the Hotel Francis, which was comfortable enough and very conveniently located.

In terms of sightseeing, I spent most of my time exploring the Zona Colonial. That included the Casas Real (a museum), Alcazar Colon (home of Diego Colon, the son of Christopher Columbus), the cathedral, the fort, and so on. I'd say that this part of Santo Domingo is very much a typical Spanish colonial city. It was attractive and, except for Calle del Condo (a shopping street) pleasant to stroll around. I also spent one day sightseeing outside that area, including a trip to the modern art museum and then on to the Malecon (waterfront). I had considered staying in one of the big Malecon hotels and am really glad I didn't, as the only real appeal of that area is nightlife and casinos, which are less my thing than colonial architecture.

Baseball - or, shall I say, beisbol, is very much my thing and going to a game was a high priority. It was easy enough to take a taxi to Estadio Quisqueya, where there was a game between Tigres del Licey and Leones del Escogido. I should note that the former name really means "jaguars" not "tigers," which are not western hemisphere beasts. Whatever cat they are, they were defeated by the lions. There were, by the way, several familiar players, including Hanley Ramirez (who I last saw playing for the Miami Marlins, but who did start his MLB career with the Red Sox), Mauro Gomez (a relatively new addition to the Red Sox roster) and Julio Lugo (whose career as a shortstop for the Red Sox was as error prone as the glory days of Marvelous Marv Throneberry). I'll also note that beverages are sold in the stands by young women in blazers taking orders, but hawkers come around with food - pizza, empanadas and, oddly, large wedges of cheese. The empanada I had was decent and the mojito was full-strength, which is certainly not the case at any ballpark I've been to in the U.S. All in all, I had a great time.

The trip back to EWR was similarly hassle free, but I have to admit that the Copa lounge at SDQ is decidedly unimpressive. Immigration at EWR was very quick, but it took a long time to get to the Hilton Penn Station, where I spent the night. They mention on their website that they have an airport shuttle, but don't bother mentioning that it runs once an hour. Had I known that, I'd have sprung for the air train. The point of staying there was a way too early train on Monday morning, which was surprisingly crowded.

Overall, it was a great weekend getaway and I highly recommend both the Zona Colonial and Dominican beisbol.

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