Why I Was Late to Work Today

Leslie Knope: George, I notice you’re wearing glasses; yet, on the day in question, I don’t recall you wearing glasses. Could it be because you WEREN’T wearing glasses?
George: I never wear ’em on the job.
Leslie Knope: Can you take your glasses off please
[George removes his glasses]
Leslie Knope: and-and read this for us?
George: [George reads the paper in Leslie’s hand] "I could read this…
[Leslie moves the paper away, George reads louder]
George: …if I weren’t so blind!"
Leslie Knope: Well, well, that went terribly.

Parks and Recreation, “The Trial of Leslie Knope” (12/1/11)

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For most of my life, including when I first moved to Baltimore, I had some pretty good vision going on. In fact, I had some pretty great distance vision.

Then, around 2003, I was getting an eye exam and the doctor noted that I was having some trouble seeing smaller print. It was his opinion that I needed glasses to read.

“I’ve had great vision my whole life,” I protested. “What happened?”

He said, “You turned forty, that’s what happened.”

So that’s pretty much the way it goes, it turns out. Around age 40, the lenses in your eyes start to harden—specifically, they become less flexible—and it affects your vision. You need more light to see well, but you’re also more susceptible to glare. And, of course, smaller type becomes a big problem, you should excuse the expression.

Over the 13 years since then, my vision has really deteriorated, to the point where if I’m not wearing glasses, absolutely nothing in my field of vision is clear. I’m pretty sure that if a person with normal vision were to put on my glasses, they could actually see the future.

So this morning I was on my way out of the house, when I heard a loud rumbling nearby. I realized that it was the garbage truck making its rounds, and I realized that I had time to grab the trash I’d neglected to put out last night and get it to the curb. So I tossed my stuff into the car and grabbed the trash bin.

Just as I passed the car, the bin bumped into the front end of the car. I took a stumble and, as I gesticulated wildly to regain my balance (one-handed; I was still holding on to the bin), I accidentally knocked my glasses off my own face. They went flying off; I saw that much. But because of that nearby truck, I couldn’t hear them when they landed, so my echolocation skills weren’t going to help me. Despite this, I figured that if they’d hit the sidewalk I probably would have heard some clattering, and I hadn’t. So I started searching the immediate area. They wouldn’t be behind me because my car was there, plus my head would have been in that pathway. But ahead of me was some sidewalk, to the left, more sidewalk and several potted plants, and to the right was a garden that Wife had put in a few years ago. I started looking through the potted plants, the most likely suspects. Nothing. I looked in the garden. Nothing. I looked (carefully) around the sidewalk and, just for completeness’ sake, under my car. And again I came up empty. Another factor working against me is that it was overcast to the point of being about to rain, so the sun wasn’t shining down and reflecting off the glasses.

At this point I’d been looking for over ten minutes, so I said “To hell with it” and went back in the house to put in my contact lenses. The lenses will get the job done in that I’m able to read most print and drive safely, but a lot of stuff still just isn’t sharp. I wear them to social events and such, but it’s a lot of strain if I try to do computer-based work with them. So now, armed with better vision, I went back outside and looked again for the glasses.

Nothing. What the hell is going on here? How far could they have gone?

I finally had to decide that this was a mystery to solve later on, as I’d been doing this for about twenty-five minutes and I was definitely late for work. So, off to work I went. Fortunately it was not a computer-intensive day.

When I got home, I parked the car on the street rather than in the driveway, and I began searching anew for my glasses. The sun had broken through a little bit, so even though it was now on the other side of the house, it was still brighter out than it had been in the morning. Potted plants? Nope, not in there. On the sidewalk? Nope. On the ground near the potted plants? Nope, even moved them around. In the garden? Appears not.

Damn…Could they have flown across the sidewalk and into the lawn? I started to look that way but gave up quickly, then I came back…

…and there they were, in the garden.

20160901_183000

To the left is the view from where I’d been standing as I did most of my searching. 20160901_183011See my glasses?

Of course not. I know where they are, and I can’t even see them. Now, to the right is the opposite-direction view, taken from about the sidewalk meets the edge of the left-hand photo. Even from this angle, they’re pretty tough to see, but there they are, upside-down in the upper-right quadrant of the picture. You can’t even see the whole thing from that side.

But there they were, and there is where they spent the better part of the day, before I finally located them, almost accidentally.

And as for me, I spent the better part of the day trying to adjust glasses that weren’t there, which meant that I appeared to be saluting a lot.

Physics Lessons

Freebie: Hi, Fred. We got a little accident. Could you send a tow truck, please, to 618 Elm Street? Hold it. It’s the, uh, third floor, apartment 304.

Freebie and the Bean (1974)

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…And the hits just keep on coming.

In Our Last Episode, I’d noted that, for the first time ever in my adult life, I’d actually made it onto a jury. The judge tried to get everything done today so we wouldn’t have to come back tomorrow, but no such luck. What that meant, was a lot of hassle at my school.

The reason it’s a hassle for school is because I’d scheduled IEP meetings for several of the students on my caseload. If I’m not there, then there’s nobody to keep things running and such, and the data entry is going to be less-than-awesome, and a few other headaches. So after they let us go for the day, around 4:15PM, I decided to head over to my school, let my principal know what was up, and do some advance prep to make it easier for the team to get stuff done, or at least into a decent place for me to finish it all off.

My school is typically a 10 minute drive from the courthouse area, but we’re talking A) downtown Baltimore, B) close to rush hour, C) within an hour of the Orioles starting a playoff game. It took me 40 minutes, no exaggeration, to cover that one-mile course. Maybe longer; it was after 5 by the time I got into the school. The principal wasn’t happy to hear the news (of course), but she was glad I’d come in to help set things up.

Around 8:00, I finally left the building and headed home. My plan was to take I-95 part of the way, adhering to the speed limit because, after all, I was still on the donut spare.

Here’s where we have to go to the map:

It's possible that when I pulled over, I considered jumping onto Russell Street.

See that road running through the middle of the picture? That’s I-395, the spur that runs between the Downtown area and I-95. The red arrow is where I hit the pothole, or more accurately, the shoddily-filled series of potholes. The orange arrow (because, Orioles) is where I stopped the car. Those arrows are no more than a couple of hundred feet apart.

So I called the Triple-A guys via an app on my phone, and they called me back in a couple of minutes. It took a little explaining to get them to understand exactly where I was, but finally he got it and said he’d be right over. Sure enough, he was there within a few minutes. That was the guy with the AAA Service vehicle; there wasn’t a lot he was going to be able to do for me; this car needed a tow. So he got the tow truck dispatched.

In the meantime, I’m working my phone to see if a friend of mine, who used to work in a garage not far from my school, would contact said garage and let them know I’m bringing my car over. No problem, he says. Then a second call to Wife, to let her know where she’s picking me up. Tow truck shows up, car gets taken to the garage without extra fees (being on that on-ramp kind of complicated the distance, so AAA showed a little mercy in that respect: as the crow flies, it was no more than a mile to the garage. Because the tow truck couldn’t just do a U-turn, it was maybe a six-mile circle we were driving in). Total time from breakdown to Wife picking me up: about an hour. All is reasonably well. Except for the whole Nearly Dying Last Night thing combined with two flats within a 25-hour span.

OK, so here’s the Physics Lesson:

If you look at that orange arrow, you’ll see that my car was situated almost exactly between Orioles Park at Camden Yards (at the top of the picture) and M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens play. I’m also on an elevated highway, maybe 30-40 feet up over Russell Street. The Orioles were playing the Detroit Tigers tonight in the first game of the Division series, and the Orioles were doing quite the fine job this evening (final score: 12—3). So while I was waiting for the AAA guy, I turned on the car’s radio and tuned in the game. Then, just for the giggles, I opened my car window to see if I could hear the sounds from the stadium. Turns out I could, but I was hearing the stadium AFTER I heard it on the radio! The ball would get hit, the crowd would roar on the radio, and right after that I’d hear their hollering through the car window. How could this wizardry be?

Here’s how:

I estimate the distance between the stadium and my car to be roughly 400 feet. That means it takes, at 1,122 feet/second, about 1/3-second for a sound from the stadium to reach the car. However, when the sound hits the announcer’s microphone, it’s speed-of-light almost the rest of the way. Into the mic, through the wire, to the transmitter (five miles away), out through the radio waves and into my car’s radio (five miles back), where it’s converted back to sound for the last two feet. But it’s all happening at 186,282 MILES/second.

It’s the same reason you see the fireworks before you hear them. Physics, boy.

Plans.

Homer: OK, Marge, I'll plan everything: we can have the reception at Moe's. Wait. Why not have the whole wedding there? We'll do it on a Monday morning. There'll be fewer drunks.
Marge: Homer, don't be offended, but I've obtained a court order to prevent you from planning this wedding.
Homer: [looks through the papers of the court order] Well, these seem to be in order. I'll be out back in the hammock.

The Simpsons, “Lisa’s Wedding” (3/19/95)

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My mom, she was a planner. She made plans for the organ donation, for her funeral, for her burial. And she did most of it when she was about the age that I am now.

She clearly didn’t plan to die this year. She had plans. And the more I talk to people, and the more stuff in the house that I look at, the more I see that she did not think she was anywhere close to being done with life.

She was contemplating buying a second house near me so she could visit more often.

She was looking forward to attending my annual Pig Roast in July.

She was working on a shopping list the night before everything went to hell.

And I guess that’s the funny thing about plans; they don’t always go the way you want them to. She planned out most of her funeral but she didn’t count on one of the funeral directors being rather insensitive with his constant interruptions when I was talking to him. She probably didn’t count on the communications snafu that almost caused us to miss our chance at a last goodbye, or the one that temporarily left her body in limbo between the hospital and the funeral home.

I’m told that one of the symptoms of grief-based depression is hostility. I’ve been told that on my best days I can be kind of acerbic; lately it’s not taking much for me to get downright snotty. Some people just assume that you know everything that’s going on; other people don’t really care whether you’re familiar with the procedures; still others are exposed to this sort of thing all the time and just plain forget the way it affects the people who receive the direct impact of these events. Sorry guys, but I haven’t lost many mothers before this one. I’m having a little trouble with the vocabulary and I’d appreciate a little guidance. I’m scared, is what I am, and I need to depend on strangers who are professionals in these areas to get me through some of this.

Mom put a lot of responsibility on me; she told me that she thought I was the one who could handle it; that I was the level-headed one. I told her that it’s a pretty dark day when I’m the voice of reason, but I understood where she was coming from. It’s not that she couldn’t trust my brothers to deal with these things; it’s that she knew that I was the one who would get it done first and fall apart later.

I’m sitting in a public park as I type this, because I just needed some time to be by myself and contemplate things. That’s it for now; I’m still processing. Thanks for following along.

Not-So-Free Wheelin’

Cleveland: I can't believe how terrible the fishing was.
Peter: Yeah, all we caught was a tire, a boot, a tin can, and this book of clichés.

Family Guy, “Fore, Father” (8/1/2000)

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A few days ago that light on my dashboard popped on, the one that tells you that there’s something not quite right with your tires. As it happened, I was close to the BJ’s (Free Air!) so I went into their gas station and topped off my tires. One of my tires didn’t look it, but the pressure inside was much lower than the other three.

Incidentally, according to my father, that’s how the tire pressure sensors work. They don’t know if a tire is “low” specifically, they just determine that one is much different from the others. So even though all four could have used a little air, it’s the fact that the driver’s-side-rear was so much lower than the other three that triggered the light.

I did a quick look at the tire but didn’t see anything. I figured, OK, I’ve picked up a nail or something and it’s in a place I can’t see. No biggie; I’ll keep an eye on it and take it in for patching when I get a chance.

A few days later (day before yesterday), the light popped on again. All right, already, I’ll get it fixed. I took the car home and jacked it up in the driveway, then took off the old tire and put on the “donut” spare. A quick look at the old tire and Oh! there’s the nail I’d picked up. Well, these things happen. I threw the tire in the back seat and headed up to my local tire guy. He took a look at the tire and told me that he couldn’t fix it.

It turns out that I hadn’t picked up a nail, I’d picked up an entire Home Depot. There were FOUR nails, plus a spot where the belt was actually poking through the tread. This was not a bald tire, by any means. It was worn a little, but still had life in it. All those nails stunned me: first, how the hell did I pick them all up? It’s not as though I go driving through construction sites all the time (or ever, really). The other thing was, how did that tire manage to hold any air at all, given all those holes? All of this damage could conceivably be fixed, but not by this guy, because the belt-poking needed a plug and they didn’t do that. Plus, there were just too many patches to be done to make the lawyers at his company comfortable. Guess I’m buying me a couple of tires!

So we go back inside and I pick out a reasonably-priced tire that’s rated for my car, and so on. Now comes the bad news: there’s only one guy in the shop, so it’s going to be awhile. Like, two hours at least. I have to call Wife and get her to pick me up. For some reason this took her over a half-hour to do, so it was forty-five minutes after I’d ordered my tires that I made it back home and started to make dinner.

Twenty minutes after I got home, the phone rang, and my car was ready. So, total elapsed time: 65 minutes. Not that I’m complaining, but Go figure. We ate dinner and Wife took me back to the shop.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but when you go into a tire store—or even the tire section at BJs or Sam’s Club—you’re immediately knocked back by the smell, a combination of rubber and whatever other compounds they put into tires. I always get the feeling that if I stay around very long, I’m not going to be able to operate a motor vehicle safely. So when I returned to the shop, I actually asked the guy, “How do you wind up not being a little stoned all day from the tire fumes?”

He told me, “Because I get really, really, really stoned before I come to work.”*

Hey, I feel safer already!

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*Obviously he was joking, and he and I traded a few bits back and forth about it being late in the day and stuff. Also, he doesn’t really notice the smell unless the tires in the display change.

You Know

I’m a knowledgeable guy. But there are times when I’m hampered by the possibility that there’s someone out there who’s more knowledgeable than I am.

This is going to happen; there’s almost always someone more knowledgeable than you are. And there are going to be times when acknowledgment of that fact is going to help (I’m pretty sure it got me a job once), and other times when it’s going to hold you back.

There’s a concept in business known as the Peter Principle, which reads that an employee tends to get promoted to his level of incompetency. More specifically, a competent person will continue to get promoted until they reach a level where they are no longer competent. There they remain, unable to be promoted any further. This is something of which I’m hyper-aware; I don’t want to move beyond my own competency. However, I’m usually a quick study and, more often than not, can reach competency without too much difficulty. The hard part, for me, is being comfortable in that level of discomfort.

One of the things we experience throughout our lives, but rarely take the time to understand or to acknowledge, is the fact that you have to be bad at something before you can be good at it. Instant success is rare in this world, and if it comes then it wasn’t a challenge in the first place. So for me I think the question for the future needs to be not “What do I know about this?” but rather “How can I learn what I need to know about this?”

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Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

We live in a society of advice columns, experts and make-over shows. Without even knowing it, you can begin to believe someone knows better than you how to live your life. Someone might know a particular something better – like how to bake a three-layer molten coconut chocolate cake or how to build a website – but nobody else on the planet knows how to live your life better than you. (Although one or two people may think they do.) For today, trying asking yourself often, especially before you make a choice, “What do I know about this?”

One Week!

Curiously, today’s prompt is something that I’ve been pondering for awhile. Of course, it’s been longer than a week so I’m all dead now and stuff, so what are you going to do.

There are so many obstacles that we perceive to be making it difficult for us to move forward with our aspirations—if only this, if I didn’t have to deal with that, if the other thing were more cooperative, if I knew someone in the business, if, if if if ififififififif.

But a lot of these obstacles are self-imposed. Not all of them, but certainly some of them. I think our lizard brains tend to hold us back with the little nagging “what if I fail?” fear. We think there’s far too much at stake: I could lose the house, my credit rating will suck, my family will disavow knowledge of me.

The website I nicked this picture from notes that balance is only found in retrospect. Whenever we try to balance, we lean to one side. Thirty years ago, I had no house, no credit rating and a family I didn’t get along with very well. And it took several years before any of it improved. Was I in such a terrible place then? The higher we climb up life’s ladder, the more we feel it sway. It wasn’t swaying back then; I just wasn’t aware of it.

“Yes,” one might argue, “but you had your whole life ahead of you.”

All I have now is the life ahead of me. Everything else is just stuff.

The key is balance, and the maintaining thereof. What can I do to restore the balance to my life? I don’t think that’s going to be so difficult to figure out.

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Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you had one week left to live, would you still be doing what you’re doing now? In what areas of your life are you preparing to live? Take them off your To Do list and add them to a To Stop list. Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.

Bonus: How can your goals improve the present and not keep you in a perpetual “always something better” spiral?

You Make the Call

Jack Sparrow: I'm dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It's the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they're going to do something incredibly…stupid.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

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This evening I realized that we were out of a couple of staples, so I headed down to the local SuperFresh, so that Wee One would have something for lunch tomorrow. It was one of those odd times when you go inside and it’s light out, and then you leave and it’s dark. As I got to my car, I was approached by a man. He told me a story about how he and a friend were installing a water heater on a street about a block from my house, and the job ran long and the guy paid with a check that they couldn’t get cashed and they were very low on gas and could I spare a couple of bucks?

I’m actually used to this sort of deal; it’s a common scam. Variations of it involve a need to get bus fare to get to thus-and-such location. Once, Daughter and I were in a rest area in Georgia when we were hit with the low-on-gas story. That’s when I came up with this response:

“Well…I don’t have any cash on me. But if you follow me to the gas station I’m happy to put a couple of gallons in.”

The guy in Georgia balked at the offer, but this guy went for it. I told him which station I’d meet him at and took off. He followed me down to the gas station and I put in $10 worth, which is more than I’d intended but still may not have been enough for his stated destination (Taneytown), given that they said they were practically on fumes when they got to the station. They thanked me profusely and offered me their information, or alternately for mine so they could make it up to me, but I let it go.

So maybe I got taken for ten bucks, maybe not. I look at it this way:

A little over ten years ago, I was in the Port Authority Bus Station in New York City when I realized that A) It was after midnight and my monthly bus ticket had expired; and B) I didn’t have any money or credit cards on me. (I don’t remember why this was the case.) I had to ask a passing pair of strangers for two bucks so I could get home. They actually came through for me, but seemed suspicious when I didn’t head directly for a gate. I had to explain to them that I was going to the ticket vending machine for the bus ticket. You could give cash to the bus drivers then, but you got an attitude for it. At any rate, these folks came through for me and allowed me to go home, and if these guys were telling the truth, then I’ve finally paid the favor forward.

So was I a hero or a schmuck? You make the call.

Remembering.

This was the cover of the New Yorker, 9/24/01. I still have a copy somewhere. The original doesn't have this much contrast between the foreground and background.

I still feel vaguely ill when I see these pictures. I was one of the people who—at first—was a little peeved not to see the ending of “The Celebrity Apprentice” back on May 1. But, of course, once the news of Osama bin Laden’s death came through, I (and, fortunately, most of America) stopped caring about Donald Trump and his games.

I’m not one of the people who actively cheered bin Laden’s death. I didn’t get a sense of closure out of it. I didn’t feel as though the world had changed back to its pre-9/11 state. But I did feel as though maybe a page had turned.

A short while back, I was goofing around with the Internet Wayback Machine and came across a piece I’d written a couple of months after that day in September. A friend of mine was assembling a website she’d called “Sorrow in America” and solicited pieces from a lot of people. Mine was one of the pieces she’d published. I reproduce it here with her permission. I can’t remember if I wrote the title or if she did.

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Visiting Home

In 1992, during an interview discussing fortieth anniversary of her reign in England, Queen Elizabeth described that year as the Royal Family's annus horribilus.

2001 will be remembered as mine.

In February my second marriage collapsed and I moved in with a friend until I could get my act together. The daily commuting distance from Long Island to Brooklyn, however, put such a strain on my finances that I was just about paying my bills, even though I paid no rent. I began making plans to move out of the New York Metropolitan Area altogether and in mid-July I finally made the leap, landing in Baltimore, Maryland. It was the first time in my entire life that I'd lived more than 45 minutes' drive from the New York City line. I was now 200 miles from my ten-year-old daughter, I'd left my visually-impaired preschool students in the middle of their summer school program…I was running away. That's how some people put it, and there were times when I was forced to agree. But everywhere I turned there were reminders of failure and promises that weren't going to come true, and healing was impossible for me.

On Labor Day weekend I had my daughter with me and we were making plans for the next time she'd be down to visit with me. September 14 isn't so far away, I told her. She'll be busy with school starting and all that. It'll go by before you know it.

Of course, before we got to that day the world changed.

I remember being at work and we were in a training session when someone broke the news to us about what had happened. The trainers had little clue of what they were doing, so I was able to grab a computer terminal and see what was going on. This had to be a rumor. A bad one. Something in the realm of an urban legend, where it was just crazy enough to ring somehow true. CNN website? No access. MSNBC? Same thing. New York Times? Slow, but it worked. And Oh, My God it's for real. Opening multiple browsers and banging away at websites, trying to get in. Newsday was also slow but working.

The trainers droning on about a paperwork tracking software system that even they couldn't quite understand and chastising me every time they noticed that my terminal didn't look just like everyone else's. Word came in that one of the towers had collapsed. Apparently a training group in another room had given up on the training and was watching the television. We did the same, turning on the TV in our room.

Everyone in the room was startled and shocked. I was horrified, dumbstruck, numbed. It wasn't the same for them. For the rest of the people I watched with, it was a tourist attraction that had taken the hit. This was my home I was looking at, smoking and in ruins. When I was at work, those buildings were within sight. Whenever I'd driven back up to Long Island to visit my daughter, they were among the first sign of New York that greeted me as they peeked over the horizon before anything else. I was sickened, I was saddened, I was…was…there was something else gnawing at me beyond all this, but I couldn't figure out what.

The other building came down and I remember saying, over and over, "Ohmygodohmygodohmygod" as the top of it started to go, that huge broadcast antenna tilting slightly to the side before the floors below finally gave way and the building collapsed almost straight down, joining its mate. Shortly after that, we got word that Baltimore City was shutting down. That was enough for us. We left the training center and headed home before we found ourselves among thousands of others trying to do the same thing.

Arriving home and turning on the TV and the computer at the same time. Still struggling with that last undefined emotion. Watching the footage of the second plane crashing and the buildings falling, over and over, as though they hadn't already been seared into my memory the first time I saw them. Looking for more information on the Web, suddenly remembering that other parts of the world have news websites, too. The BBC and The Guardian, both British sites, had much less traffic and were faster-loading. But I wasn't learning much new anymore. A big chunk of my home had been blown up. What more was there to know?

Calling my daughter. I knew she wasn't in Manhattan, but who knows. Getting the answering machine and leaving a message. It wasn't until several hours later that her mother (Wife #1) got through to me, using a cell phone because the land lines were so bollixed up. Talking to my daughter and telling her that I probably wouldn't be able to visit. Shit. Who knew that there would come a time when I wouldn't be able to come running when she needed me?

GUILT. I felt GUILTY that I'd left and now this happened. This was my punishment for leaving. "You don't want to be here?" asks Fate. "Fine, then I'll take it away." It's stupid, it's irrational, but it's how I felt. Still do, from time to time.

Going to work and pretending to function. What do these people know about how I feel? They never lived there. Going home and parking in front of the TV again. My roommate tiptoeing around me and asking me from time to time if: A) I'm OK, and B) If I'm sure I'm OK.

Flash forward a few weeks and I'm going up to see my daughter for the first time since all this happened. Some people who live within sight of the skyline are telling me that it's still smoldering, over three weeks later. Some tell me it's not. I'm not sure I can stomach this.

My entry into New York takes place at the Outerbridge Crossing, onto the southwest corner of Staten Island. Staten Island is the home of Fresh Kills Landfill, which was recently closed in order to be capped and whatever else they do with such things to make it habitable again. Fresh Kills was re-opened to give crews a place to bring, and then sift, the wreckage. From the Staten Island Expressway you can't see much of Fresh Kills, since the 'landfill' is now a 40-foot mountain lightly covered with grass, but it's an uneasy feeling to see those helicopters circling overhead…

As I pass Fresh Kills, the next thing I forget to expect is that trucks are bringing stuff to the landfill. The first truck I encounter is a flatbed tow truck. It carries a police car with its roof caved in. The hood has easily an inch or more of soot and ash. The next truck I pass has some random twisted metal on it. The third, a van with its windshield and front portion of the roof crushed inward.

The fourth truck looks much like the second, until some detail catches my eye and I realize that this one is not carrying random twisted metal. The whole thing suddenly comes together and I realize that it's the remnants of an utterly destroyed fire engine.

Only a few minutes later, as I cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, I get my first look at Manhattan. The whole city looks…wrong, somehow. I know that the World Trade Center is missing, but Manhattan's skyline is several miles long. It shouldn't look wrong everywhere, and yet it does.

As I take the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway north, I'm treated to a front-row-center view of lower Manhattan. I don't see smoldering but I do see cranes. Their actual activity is, thankfully, obscured by some of the buildings that were spared. We hit a traffic jam and I'm left to stare at this image. I look to the right. The Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Citicorp, New York Life, McGraw-Hill…anything else I care to pick out is visible. I hold up one hand to block out the financial district. It's still looking wrong.

New York and I are miles and miles apart, yet still connected. The skyline that I grew up looking at is changed forever. I am changed forever. Annus horribilus.

It Never Fails.

Felix Unger: Oscar! Is there a blizzard outside?
Oscar Madison:  [peering through the curtains] I can’t tell; it’s all white.

The Odd Couple, “Natural Childbirth” (9/17/71)

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Ordinarily I don’t much care about what people think of me, however:

I’m sitting in my home, putting together my shopping list. And, of course, I have some of the usual staples on it: milk, bread and so on. And I head on down to the supermarket. On the way, I turn on the radio. As it happens, it’s the top of the hour and they’re spouting off with the news headlines and such, which is fine until they get to the weather report.

“We’re looking at some sleet this evening, turning into snow, should be about four to six inches by morning.”

Creamed eels? Corn nog? Snow doesn’t bug me all that much; my car is pretty good in the stuff. Snow days I can do without, since I don’t get them anymore and all they do is force me to re-schedule visits to schools. But the one thing I can’t abide is the Panicky Shopper when the snow is coming.

Hey, I’m from New York and I get it: it snows, you may get stuck in the house for a couple of days, but that’s really about it. A couple of days. If you’re in there for longer than that, whether you’ve got enough Wonder Bread is probably among the least of your worries. After a couple of days it’s mostly about staying alive not because the food’s running out, but because you’re about to kill each other from the cabin fever.

So there I am, on the way to the supermarket because it’s what I’d planned to do on that day, and now I’m going to be confronting the people who have to buy up all the bread, the milk, and the toilet paper. Essentially, they’re buying up anything that’s white, perhaps in honor of the white stuff coming down. I’ll have to look next time: is there also a run on potatoes? on sour cream? vanilla pudding? cauliflower? marshmallow? angel food cake?

The worst part, however, is that even though I’m in the store because I’m just plain out of stuff, now I’m lumped among the panicky idiots who are buying bread because sometime in the next couple of days, it may be snowing and I guess they’re going to be making a LOT of toast over the next 48 hours or so.

It’s a perception thing, I know, but it makes me crazy.

Cue and Hay.

Rev. Steve Newlin: All I want from you is a couple of answers and than I’ll be happy to feed you a nice hot breakfast and send you on your way.

True Blood, “Release Me” (8/2/09)

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Holy Moley! It’s time for another edition of or Mister Answer Guy, who takes the tough questions and manages to turn them into puzzles that would make Rubik cry.

This dog is so bright, his mother calls him "son".

Q: Did Nick ever supply the answer to that trivia question from the last Q&A?

A: Yes. Let me recap: In the comments section, he asked, “What do the following musical groups have in common? Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods, J. Geils Band, Dave Clark 5, and Paul Revere & The Raiders?” I had to give up and ask him; everything I could come up with had an exception. The answer is that all of these bands are named for someone other than their lead singer.

Q: Have any oddball searches led people to Baltimore Diary?

A: One day not long ago, I got hits from people searching for “horny housewife blog” and “clarence tom sawyer inscription”. As it happens, I’m the top search return on Bing for the second one; I’m not sure where I stand oGive us the nice bright colors, Give us the Greens of summern the first. Also, my most popular post by far is the one I did a few months back about the original “Hawaii Five-O” show.

Q: They stopped making Kodachrome film back in 2009. Who developed the last roll of Kodachrome?

A: It was Dwayne’s Photo, in Parsons, Kansas. They did it on December 30. RIP, Kodachrome. .

Q: How many people were burned at the stake as witches during the Salem Trials?

A: None! Almost 150 "witches" were arrested, but only 31 were tried in 1692. All 31, including 6 males, were sentenced to death. Nineteen were hanged, 2 died in jail, and 1 man was slowly pressed to death under heavy stones. The badass part is, it’s recorded  that the last words of the guy who was pressed to death was: “More weight”.

Q: Do you have any new stories of sports-related deaths?

A: Glad you asked. Frank Hayes was a jockey who was in a race at Belmont Park in 1923. During the race he had a heart attack and died. The horse, named “Sweet Kiss”, not only finished the race but won. This makes Hayes the first (and so far only) jockey to win a race posthumously.

Q: How old is the universe?

A: It’s 11,200,000,035 years old.

Q: How did you get a crazy number like that?

A: Simple. When I was 13, my science teacher told me that the universe was 11.2 billion years old. That was 35 years ago, so I just added on.

Also, it apparently makes a difference which heel goes into which end. Q: What do they call that gizmo that they use in shoe stores to measure your feet?

A: It’s called a Brannock Device. Do they still use these things? I’ve got to get myself into better shoe stores; I don’t think I’ve seen one since I was a kid.

Q: What’s with the airport abbreviations? I can get “JFK” for John F. Kennedy Airport, and “EWR” makes sense for Newark, but why is Chicago abbreviated as ORD?

A: It’s because the old name of the airport is “Orchard Field”. The crazy part is that it was changed to “O’Hare” long before the three-letter abbreviation system came along.

Q: What else can you tell me about Chicago airports?

A: So far as I can tell, Chicago is the only city in America with more than one airport whose names derive from World War II: Midway was named after the Battle of Midway, and O’Hare was named after a WW2 flying ace.

Q: What do Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia all have in common?

A: Tennessee.

I can't be the only adult who STILL bites off the heads first. Q: Why do the boxes of Barnum’s Animal Crackers have the string on them?

A: You’d think it’s so the kids can carry it easily, but that’s the other reason. The first reason that the string was first put on the box (in 1902) so that it could be hung from a Christmas tree. This was also the first year that they were called “Barnum’s Animals”; in the 30-odd years prior to that they were simply called “Animals”.

Q: Most people know that Vatican City is a country located entirely within another country. Are there any others?

A: Yes, there are two. One is the Kingdom of Lesotho, which is entirely surrounded by South Africa. The other one is the Republic of San Marino, which—like Vatican City—is also in Italy.

And that’s it for this time around! Feel free to email me or post in the comments if you have questions of your own!