Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tra La La - Snap Snap Snap

One for the Christmas Card?

Frosty morning in Stowe

Did I mention about my new laptop? I was momentarily neglectful of the last one at Dulles Airport a few weeks ago and it was fatal. Well, the home owner's insurance came through and I have a new one, less good, but new.

One nice feature of the new computer is that I can pop my photo card into a little slot in the side and have all the pictures/videos sucked right in here. This is good because I seem also to have lost the specialized USB cord that I previously used for this task. (People at work say I remind them of Lucille Ball - of the Desi era - because of these kinds of mishaps).

November is famously a zero in this part of the world. Too late for foliage, too soon for snow: the innkeeper's call it, glumly, "stick season."

It has its consolations, though, and here are a few pictures I have taken over the last couple of days and weeks.

Sunrise from next to the milk house

Afternoon on the Jay Peak Golf Course

Does this say "asylum" to you? Cause that's what it was (and still is in one little corner). These days it is officially the Vermont State Office Complex in Waterbury, where I work. It wasn't created to house bureaucrats, but the mad, the poor, the halt and the lame. The bureaucrats have it now and a few of us are fascinated by the history of the place, though people seem not to talk too much about it.

And Something about this little stretch of building just says, "19th Century Mad House" to me.

A view into Quebec - the higher elevations have winter now and we're next.

OK - time to pack up and get ready for the week ahead. Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Shopping Update

OK. We did go out on Black Friday but we steered well clear of any store that could double as an airplane hangar. No trampling involved. Not even any grabbing. We saw the brilliant The Fantastic Mr. Fox and kids and I are quoting bits of it to one another. I am also thinking that Meryl Streep (the Fantastic Mrs. Fox) has built a place in all of our lives. How did she manage that?

This evening found me shopping online. I was strolling through the halls of Etsy, glad I didn't have to smell Cinnabons or carry any bags when I found this:

I am sorry if you think it's as cool as I did because I bought the last one. I also bought this:

Again, sorry. Last one.

Apparently, despite my bourgeois bona fides I have a streak of steam punk lurking within. Who knew? The artist doesn't identify herself by name at her Etsy shop but she also makes and sells clothing and says she recently finished a degree in Graphic Design Technology. She is somewhere in the UK. So, that's fun. I told her I would add a link, so if you're interested q.v.

Isn't this soooo much better than Walmart?

Author's note: Just FYI - I got my prints from the mysterious Etsy seller. They arrived, nicely wrapped, in an envelope from Poland. The mystery deepens. Also, I didn't get the last prints. She is limiting the edition to 25 and listing them one at a time. So, if you like them too you are still in with a chance. (12/12/09)

Bon weekend tout le monde.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Death by Shopping and Other Holiday Thoughts

Have you seen the Wal Mart commercial they started playing over these last few days? The one where troops of smiling Wal Mart employees swarm to their registers and blink their "register open" lights timed with the "Carol of the Bells"?

(I pause to send my regards to all you dear, church-choir people, with your sweet, nerdy white-gloved hand bell teams. Maybe you are too good to do much deploring? I will do it for you. Wal Mart is clearly appropriating some bit of your earnest devotion to their wretched purposes).

Anyway, Wal Mart's promise of "every cash register will be open" is yet another - no doubt unnecessary- lure to bring shoppers into their stores on the day after Thanksgiving.

"Black Friday" got that charming sobriquet from the poor people who have to sell things that day. Now retailers use it to suggest all the fun we can have shopping in a mob! I hope Wal Mart will be a little better prepared this year to avoid deaths by crushing that dampened the experience for at least one of their employees last year.

Watching this commercial last night, I couldn't help noticing that the expanse of ceiling visible in the shot of the register lights was devoid of security cameras: those purple-bottomed globes hanging from white stalks, like upside down lollipops. These are as ubiquitous as the fluorescent ceiling fixtures in every Wal-Mart I have ever seen.

Years ago I had a client who had worked at Wal-Mart. One night, she was called into the windowless back room of the store and confronted about having stolen thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. She denied it categorically. However, the insufferable petty tyrant security man who accosted her told her that he was going to go to her house and wake up her young children, that he had friends on the police force who would get a warrant that night and she couldn't leave until she signed a (completely untrue) confession. She was instructed to keep confessing to stolen merchandise til it added up to about $10,000. I remember how she told me she was making stuff up at the end just to get to the dollar figure he wanted. She signed it at about 2 AM. Then she went to see a lawyer. Some years later (it is famously difficult to sue Wal Mart), after a jury trial, Wal-Mart paid her a substantial sum, I can't remember how much just now as I had left the firm by then. It was paid partly for falsely imprisoning her and partly for wage and hour violations.

I never see a Wal-Mart commercial without thinking of all this. When I saw that ad last night I thought, wouldn't it be a revealing twist if, instead of the cash register signs blinking in time to the "Carol of the Bells", they showed Wal Mart security switching on all their monitors in time with the song?

And Now for Something Completely Different...

This dispatch comes to you from the brink of age 45. It's bearing down on me in January. Next stop, 50. Fifty rhymes with … ? Yes. "Sixty". Brrr.

I remember seeing as kid some TV show that included a Chinese man who said something about how, in China, people regarded reaching 60 as a fine achievement after which one could comfortably die. I know that's not the way we think of 60 these days but my view of it was formed when I was about 10 and such views can be hard to dislodge. When I started working part time more than two years ago my intentions were to halt what I already perceived to be a general decline. I was going to get in shape and to write a book. The opposite has happened, if there can be an opposite to "write a book". Certainly, physically, my downhill slide has continued.

There is a franchise of exercise establishments called "Curves" that have sprung up everywhere these last 10 years or so. They seem especially prominent in the little cities where there are plenty of working class middle aged women. Curves is not a fancy place inhabited by the spandex-clad iron-haunched set - I looked in one once and saw a collection of exercise equipment arranged in a largish room. No brushed aluminum. No spa. The one I drive by on the way to work has a sign out front on the sidewalk now that says "walking is not enough." Well, I guess I am proof of that.

I was thinking of "Curves" the other day when I managed, at last, to catch an episode of "Mary Queen of Shops" on BBC America.

Mary is a fixer for wayward shop owners the way Gordon Ramsay is (supposedly) the fixer for restaurants on the brink.


The shop owner in question in this episode was a wisp of a thing who had, for some reason, opened a shop for plus sizes. The shop was, of course, on the verge of bankruptcy. In one part of the show, Mary took the shop owner to Harrods with the pictures of three women whom she was instructed to dress from the Harrods's inventory. Studying the pictures, the shop owner referred to at least one of the women, of rather ordinary chubby appearance, as "misshapen, poor thing". Similar comments and a wave of pity attended the shop owner's efforts to pick out clothes under which the women might decently be hidden. Mary pointed out, relentlessly, that this was not the way to market clothes to "curvy" women.

Well, it's commendable to be kind, and euphemisms have their place, but fat is fat and all us fatties know it. I felt a bit sorry for the shop owner who was being required to ignore the evidence of her own eyes as surely as the audience for the Emperor's New Clothes. We fatties know we would feel better and look better if we were thinner. We are not fooled even by friendly shop keepers or clever designers. Most of us used not to be fat so we know there is alternative reality. (Actually, we thought we were fat most of the time but now we look back and marvel at how thin we used to be). Yes, some of us have generations of Nordic milkmaids in our genetic backgrounds and slowing metabolisms to contend with but the cold fact is that we bear the chain laziness and overindulgence we forged in life. We feel bad about that, so I suppose reminding of us of our failures as we shop is not a good idea, but we are not deceived.

In the spirit of honesty and reality that is, apparently, overtaking me at the moment I thought it might be apposite to suggest a chain of gyms called "Flaps," or maybe "Folds"?


Well, euphemisms, as noted, have their place. Enjoy your mashed potatoes and apple pie. I'd like to enjoy mine but I'll be remembering this post. I probably will at least get a walk in on Thanksgiving Day.

When I shop on Friday it will not be in any plus size boutique or any store where there is a possibility of stampede or wrongful arrest. Despite the tone of this I am hoping for a bit of fun over the long weekend.

Here's a nice piano version of the aforementioned Carol of the Bells for your listening pleasure. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Woolfoot's Celebrity Swirl: Ken Somebody, Jay Leno, Adam Gopnik, and More!

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming, already in progress...

I have given up pondering the imponderables for the moment. I don't seem much good at it in any case. So let's get back to something more, hmmm, frothy - I mean "palatable". To wit, as promised, my brushes with greatness.

This will be a short post.

I can only think of one that involved anything like actual "brushing." More on that in a moment.

Disclosure note: this post is a pale sort of copycat, inspired by a much funnier and more impressive one, in terms of the celebrity involved and the parameters of the encounter over at the famous Fussy blog, written by blogging royalty, Mme. Eden M. Kennedy.

Eden (I will claim a first-name familiarity because I wrote her an email once and she responded - at least I think it was her - maybe she has assistants) was on a flight from L.A. to N.Y. recently. She learned, probably part way over Nevada, that the stylishly dressed yet nervous 50-something woman in her row was the mother of a pair of Very Famous A-list celebrities (q.v.) Another memorable celebrity post was written by my actual blogging friend and another member of the royal class of bloggers, Lulu Labonne. (And I mean "Royalty" not just nobility). If you are easily shocked, be careful before you click to Lulu's blog. This particular post involves, peripherally, some discussion of the use of *marijuana* by an iconic 1960s singer-songwriter whose name rhymes with "Stony Twitchell." (q.v. again). My personal opinion is that Lulu has lots more she could tell about many celebrities - but is holding back. Lulu?

OK. Here's my number one celebrity encounter:

When I was in about 9th grade I went to the Albany County Airport one evening to pick up somebody or something. It was back in the days when people without tickets could go to the gate areas. It was in the days before jetways. It was during the days when a TV show about a white basketball coach in a tough, inner-city school was a fairly popular program. The show was called, cleverly, The White Shadow. I remember that I liked it a lot. I can't remember, however, the name of the guy who played, nay, "starred" as "the White Shadow" - Ken Something or Keith Something. (I knew it back then). Anyway - you guessed it: Ken Something was in the airport that night. Waiting at Gate 7 or where ever to fly to N.Y. or L.A. Why was he in Albany? A mistake, perhaps? A family connection? Lucky for me.

I screwed up my courage and said "Excuse me" as I walked past him to the bathroom. He had less hair in person than he did on the show. He said:
"S'alright." He smelled like he had been drinking.

Well? Well? How's about that!?

I have had a couple of other encounters with famous people but this one actually kind of thrilled me. Maybe because it was just pure chance and because I was so young. The few others I have had were planned and somewhat canned but still kind of fun. So for the record, and since we're on the topic, here are the details on those.

I wrote for a local weekly entertainment magazine for a while after college and got, or could get, free tickets to just about everything that passed through our unfashionable part of upstate New York. Really, I suppose it says something about how hard it is to make a living as a performer that lots of really famous people had to play Albany. Anyway, me and my friend Tracey (also from the paper) got to meet Jay Leno backstage at Proctor's Theatre in Schenectady (which is near Albany) after his show once.

He was shorter than I thought he would be and wore a surprising amount of make up. He flirted openly with Tracey who had freckles and red hair and a lot of verve. She told him she was a "Harley Girl" and he smiled like the Cheshire Cat at her. Some Proctor's staff lady had baked him a cake or cookies or something and he pushed them to Tracey and asked her to take them away. He signed copies of our freebie newspaper for us. I have mine somewhere.

Also, during that interval I once interviewed Steven Wright, the comedian, (remember him?). It was a phone interview, but he was nice. He told me some jokes and I laughed at them like the star-struck 20-something that I was. My favorite, or at least the one I remember, was:

"I went into a diner that served 'breakfast anytime'. So I ordered French toast during the Renaissance."

Oh, and one time I wrote a profile of Adam Gopnik for the McGill Alumni magazine. I was actually admitted into the old New Yorker offices to interview him. Adam was as nice as pie. He told me he liked my article about him. He was,is, a well-brought-up sort of writer. (His parents stayed with us one night at the Last House long ago, so I am in a position to know). The New Yorker offices had the charm of Motor Vehicles, albeit without the lines.

OK. I think that's all of them. I am hoping to spur a few of you regular readers to share your own tales of fabulous encounters. Tell me if you do.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Leaning Out for Love

I was laying in bed this morning thinking about the evoloutionary origins of human beings and how these account, still, for such a lot of bad behavior (including some of mine). I lay there resolving to be a better person, and to share this, my Special Insight, with the world, or at least the eight or ten people who stumble in here periodically. (Sorry, but I can't help this kind of thing. In addition to the cavemen of Europe I am descended from a long line of white Protestants who were nothing if not terribly earnest. I see you, you God-fearing bourgeois people with your spooky inner lives! I am shaking my fist at you here for some of the baggage you passed down this far. [Thanks for the immunity to various diseases and length of bone, though]). So, here goes.

Back when there was a serious people shortage on planet earth, a state of affairs which I believe persisted for hundreds of thousands of years, and survival of the human race was a very close call, we had written into our DNA a preference for people who looked the best and held out promise for mating and hunting and such like.

I found myself imagining a scene that I'd bet was repeated in the cold forests of prehistoric Gaul and MittelEuropa for a thousand generations or more. To wit: a small group of fur-clad youngish people and children walking away from a seasonal dwelling place. Behind them, at a dwindling fire, would crouch an old lady, or old man (of 45 or 50) or some of each, perhaps, left to die. Would the able-bodied have left the old people with food and furs, I wondered? Did the old people cry pitifully so that the departing had to plug their ears? Would the leader of the band mercifully brain the old people with his club before the he and the rest all took off for the coast? And what would have become of the damaged or defective in those days? I expect worse horrors awaited them. I have no problem believing our ancestors lived by a simple equation: damage = death. Infanticide, chucking into the sea, abandoning in the forest. If you couldn't dig for tubers, or carry a baby, or throw a spear, or at least run, you were out. Way out. Doomed.

And still the world and we our selves are often governed (or overmastered) by those same forces that dictate the seating arrangements at middle school cafeterias.

I remembered hearing Pope John Paul II say something once about how we, the well, should not avoid the sick and the dying, but seek them out. Thinking of the cruel anvil of evolution, this message seems especially tender and comforting.

And so Saint Sebastian makes his first ever appearance on my blog. I'm not actually a Catholic, but once you have seen a painting or two of St. Sebastian, he is hard to forget. When I think of elaborate possibilities of cruelty and suffering, and endurance, I think of him. And here's a fun fact, he's the patron saint of at least four towns in Italy, one in Spain, as well as raquet makers, diseased cattle, gunsmiths, bookbinders and plague victims. He's also credited with a bunch of miracles which seem the kind of God's magic tricks that make Catholicism an easy target for some. Not me though. Not, tonight, at least, when I am trying to let the better angels of my nature guide my thoughts. Love one another. Sigh.

More may be coming in some other post about the origins of this particular train of thought, or maybe not.

Lost Computer Update

See the last post. Whusband is off in Washington, D.C. this weekend and I persuaded him to trust me with the laptop he bought a month or two ago for "the family." (After it arrived, he decided it was too nice to actually be used at will by the family, but to his credit he is shifting his position). The lost laptop is still lost and I despair of ever seeing it again. I have concluded, in fact, that it was probably actually stolen, since my contact information was in a manilla envelope in the front pocket, and it should have surfaced by now. The good news, the homeowner's insurance people may come through with coin for a replacement.

Coming Soon

I was thinking about writing a post about my brushes with celebrity, having read a few fun and interesting ones elsewhere recently. So, if you've been frightened or appalled by this, check back soon.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


We got back from Dallas in one piece. That was a near thing - well, our physical safety wasn't actually much threatened but the careful arrangements, the well documented itinerary and tidy little stack of pre-printed boarding passes, etc. were hurled to the wind on the arrival at DFW. The rest of Tuesday evening was a nail-biter, involving rushing between terminals in distant mega-ports. Picture an 11-year-old nearly in tears trying to unlace her Converse high tops at security and get them into the x-ray tub while her sweating mother drops her government issued ID and a bit of necklace 10 minutes before scheduled departure. Hear the dread clack clack of the wheels of carry on bags being hauled over floor tiles at full speed by Shackleton. Believe me when I tell you it was worse than anything Halloween had on offer.

Many people were kind along the way. One traveler moved from his window seat to a middle seat to allow our group to sit together. (May he and his descendants be forever blessed.) But all this kindness was overshadowed by the disaster that presented itself as we walked onto the last wee plane (no carry ons in the cabin, it was that small) and I realized that somewhere in all that rushing, my dear laptop, my electronic heart, was lost or stolen along the way. It was like the iron had entered my soul. So, today, with the family circling and Whusband asking when I am going to turn over the surviving computer to the Understudy for a school report, I have stolen a few moments to share my pain and explain what may be a period of silence. (You think I am exaggerating but I have been dreaming every night about my laptop like a lost child. Oh dear).

Until some new arrangement can be made it will by catch as catch can. I will try to keep reading, but writing is going to be hard.