Mug Protocols

Captain Stemkowski: Don’t drink my coffee from my cup, Jilette!

No Mercy (1986)


I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Florida. My uncle died last week, and his memorial service was scheduled for this past Saturday, so Wife and I made our plans, got in the car and headed south on Thursday evening. We left Baltimore at about 6:30 and stopped in Manning, South Carolina at about 3:00 AM Friday, where we crashed in a motel for about six hours, then had breakfast and hit the road again. There was a pretty bad accident on I-95 that stopped traffic somewhere in the realm of Ridgeland. We were maybe a hundred yards back from the accident so it was pretty easy for us to see the helicopter land on the highway and then fly right out again. They don’t waste time when that bird is on the ground, I guess. At any rate, we managed to get to my mother’s place in Port Richey by 6:30, almost exactly twenty-four hours after we left home.

I got re-acquainted with my cousins, one of whom I hadn’t seen in literally years, and introduced my wife to them, and the tone was as merry that night as it was somber the next day. I’m starting to turn into a go-to guy when it comes to saying stuff at funerals, so I prepared something on Saturday morning and—because my brother’s printer didn’t have any ink in it—I saved it to Microsoft One Note and read it off my tablet instead.

But I’m not going to tell you anything about my uncle, or his memorial service, or anything else I might have done in Florida (which wasn’t much, really). I’m here to vent about the Mug Protocols.

You don't see these much anymore. My ex wife had a wooden one and nearly burned up the kitchen when she left it in front of the oven vent during a self-cleaning cycle. This actually started…oh my gosh, about twenty years ago. I was staying at my grandmother’s house, and we’d just returned from a restaurant. Everyone was in the mood for some coffee, but I’m a tea drinker. So I put the kettle on for tea and started up the coffee maker. The hot water was ready first, so I grabbed a mug from the little mug tree that my grandmother had on the counter, put the tea bag into it and poured the hot water in.

A minute later there was some murmuring over what I’d done. Apparently I’d grabbed the “wrong” mug. I looked at it again: it was just some mug, the first one I saw on the mug tree. It was a giveaway from Duval Federal Credit Union, and it read “Duval Federal, You’re Incredible!” on one side. It’s possible that they think this phrase has an internal rhyme to it; I don’t really know. What I do know is that I’d inadvertently taken my stepfather’s traditional coffee mug and soiled it with my tea. After some questioning I discovered that everyone in the house had a mug that was “theirs”. Most of them didn’t even live there, but that was no matter. So every time I made a cup of tea, I’d check with everyone to ensure that I was using an unclaimed mug. This was the beginning of the Mug Protocols.

XmasMugs_1At some point, while I was down there (back then), I was in a dollar store and I spotted a Christmas-themed latte mug. I wanted a Christmas mug for school, so I picked it up and took it back to my grandmother’s, fully intending to take it home at the end of the visit. As frequently happens to me, I neglected to bring it home with me, so my grandmother just put it away in the cabinet. The next time I came down, everyone made a point of noting that “my” mug was in the cabinet on the top shelf. By this time I’d completely forgotten about the mug, so I had no idea what they were talking about until I opened the cabinet and saw the Christmas mug up there. At the end of that trip I left the mug behind again, and again I forgot about it until my next visit. In the interim, though, they’d all got it totally ingrained into their heads that this was MY mug and nobody else was to use it. Once I left, my grandmother stashed it away until I came back.

Several years later, my grandmother decided that she was getting too old to live on her own, so she moved in with my mother. In order to do this, she had to divest herself of nearly everything in the house—furniture, bed linens, glassware, cookware, you name it. Whatever wasn’t getting sold or given away was going to go either into my grandmother’s bedroom in my mom’s house, or it was going into a storage locker. And those lockers fill up fast.

countertopI actually managed to get a couple of things from this purge, but my one regret is that I didn’t get my grandmother’s cutting board. It wasn’t a genuine cutting board; it was actually a cut-out from a Formica countertop where they removed the piece of counter so they could put the sink in. It was a deep red (red countertop!), and was a rectangle with curved corners and a hole drilled through it, and then a cut from the hole to the edge. See, they’d drill the hole, and from there they’d use a jigsaw to cut the main hole in the counter. The picture at left is for an oval sink, but I think you get the idea. Either my grandfather or my uncle had rescued it from a construction site about a million years ago, and my grandmother took it and used it for a cutting board for years and years. And even all those years later, despite the abuse from thousands of knife cuts, the countertop/cutting board still looked pretty good. But I spoke up too late, and it was gone.

So the first Christmas after my grandmother moves in with my mom, and I’m there for dinner, and after dinner we’re going to have some kind of dessert and, of course, hot beverages, and I reach into the cabinet to pull out a mug for my tea. Of course, without even looking and the first mug I grab is Duval Federal. Nope, can’t use that one but I’ll leave it out for my stepfather. “How about this one? Can I use this one?” Yes, that one’s fine. Then my stepfather pipes up, “You know, your mug is in the other cabinet.”

“Oh, yeah!” my mother exclaims. “Look in that cabinet over there, on the top shelf.” The cabinet in question is actually on the opposite side of the kitchen. I open it up and there, on the top shelf, is “my” Christmas mug. They were all very pleased with themselves for saving that mug when they were getting rid of all my grandmother’s other stuff, and for holding it aside for my use.

But here’s the kicker: when I went down
this past week to attend the memorial service, after Friday’s dinner I start pulling mugs out of the cabinet and I start asking “Is it OK to use this one? How about this one? After all, I don’t want to violate the Mug Protocols. Is there one designated as mine?” My brother says “Yeah, I’ve got your mug,” and shows me a souvenir Baltimore, Maryland mug that my mother bought about ten years ago when she was visiting. “You want it?”

“No, Brother, I really don’t care. I just don’t want to upset anyone with this mug business.” And that’s when it somehow turned into MY quirk, that I just had to have a certain mug or things could get ugly for everyone.

“You know,” my mother said, “your tall mug is still in the cabinet up there, if you want it.”

“No, Ma,” I said. “I’m not drinking out of a Christmas mug. I really don’t care what I drink out of, so long as it holds my tea. It’s you guys who get all up in arms if I use the wrong mug.”

They’re not hearing me, I think. I’m just going to have to continue to observe the Mug Protocols. Either that or quit drinking hot beverages when I’m in Florida.

Deep In The Heart

C.J. Cregg: USA Today asks you why you didn’t spend more time campaigning in Texas and you say it’s cause you don’t look good in funny hats.
Sam Seaborn: It was "big hats".

The West Wing, “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc” (9/29/99)


A couple of weeks ago, my school flew most of the teachers out to a conference located in Salado, Texas.

Salado is about an hour north of Austin and about ten miles past the middle of nowhere. The reason we went there instead of bringing the conference to Baltimore is that the total costs were nearly identical, so why not make it a combination conference and retreat?

Naturally, this kind of event took a whole lot of planning. And the first step was to get us all into Salado. This turned out to be more complicated than anyone suspected, since there aren’t very many flights (if any) that go directly from Baltimore Washington International Airport to Austin Bergstrom Airport. Everyone in our group had to take two planes to get there. And since you’re talking about something like 30 people, we’re also talking about multiple itineraries. And, as it happened, my itinerary (and that of seven others) was one of the less direct ones.

The first leg of our flight was from BWI to Newark Airport. This was the plane we took to Newark:

Plane shown slightly larger than actual size.

I was pretty sure that we were going to see Indiana Jones in one of the seats on this thing. However, the flight—which got off a little late—made really good time and actually got into Newark a few minutes earlier than scheduled. It really wasn’t a bad flight, especially considering that I was in an exit row seat on the aisle, with an Air Marshall sitting next to me. It is, however, a little disconcerting watching the propellers spin up, and later on spinning down again. Also, on this plane you can SEE the wheels retracting.

The flight from Newark was also delayed, as were all westbound flights out of Newark. We were never told why but guessed it was weather-related, given all the storms we flew over. Thunderstorms are pretty cool to see when you’re over them. Once we landed in Austin (12:20 local time), we met up with some folks coming in from another flight and we all got on a shuttle bus to Salado. Where, of course, our driver got lost.

OK, that was kind of mean. That’s not quite what happened. What did happen, however, is that the exit he expected to take was closed because of construction. Out there, it’s a bigger deal than it is here: if you miss an exit, or it’s , the next exit is usually no more than a mile or two and the detour is easy. In that part of the world, the exits are between five and ten miles apart, so we’re losing about 20-30 minutes on the detour. And it’s already 1:30 in the morning (2:30 in our East Coast heads). So the driver took the next exit, drove for a little bit, then had to stop briefly to consult a map and make sure he was on the right track (which he was), then continued to the conference center.

The conference was called Capturing Kids’ Hearts, and it was held at a retreat/conference center called Summer’s Mill. We were even greeted by the sign:

Most of us agreed that

We never saw the scrapbookers; who knows if they were even there.

The whole property consisted of a couple of buildings for meetings and such. The one we were using was open 24 hours and had the best wi-fi signal. There was a kitchen in there that was fully stocked with several different soft drinks (and please, help yourself): Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, regular and Diet Dr Pepper and something called Big Red.  Big Red is, indeed, red in color, but it tastes like what happens when you pour Sprite into your Cream soda. Some of us loved it; others found it to be pretty nasty. I was in the second camp. The conference area itself had an elevated platform for presenters, and the podium area had easy-to-use touchscreen controls for the projectors (there were two, slaved together so far as I could tell, so they both showed the same image), the microphones (up to three), a couple of other inputs (e.g CD, DVD, cassette), and lighting controls. With this last we could turn the fluorescent lights on and off, and run the incandescent lights at any one of four intensity levels. This all came in handy for us later on.

If you bring Pepsi into the room, it's like crossing the streams in Ghostbusters. In addition to having free run of the meeting area, there was a game room which was outfitted with a counter and sink, a couple of tables for playing games (provided in the cabinets under the counter), a ping-pong table and an air hockey table. And, as you can see in the picture, the whole thing was decorated in a Coca-Cola motif. Why? We don’t know. Either Coke was sponsoring the space, or someone in charge just liked having Coca-Cola memorabilia. In fact, just out of camera range to the right there was an old, nonfunctioning vending machine that used to serve up bottles of Coke. Off that room was an exercise room, with a pretty good assortment of equipment if you wanted to get a workout. My big complaint about the workout room was that someone had yanked the emergency stop key out of the treadmill, and nobody could figure out how to get it back in place, so that never worked while we were there. The weight room and the game room were also available to us on a 24-hour basis.

Touch the hangers and we'll punch you in the throat. Our rooms looked like motel efficiencies. There were two queen-size beds in each room, a full bathroom with tub, and most rooms had a kitchenette area with a small fridge, microwave and sink. But here’s the kicker: the closets in the rooms had the hotel-style security hangers, the ones with the tops that are permanently attached to the closet rod and a b
ottom part that’s useless anywhere but inside the closet.

Got that? The implicit message of this place is: “Want to use the conference center? By all means, be our guest. Have all the soda you want. Big ice machine, too. Take tons of ice. Fill the tub and steal someone’s kidneys if you like. Use our wi-fi to your heart’s delight. Play any one of dozens of games we’ve provided, anytime of the day or night. Want to work out? Use the weight room, 24 hours a day. Oh! We have bicycles you can borrow if you want to ride around the grounds or maybe explore the area a little bit. Go right ahead, they’re on the rack over there. Of course they’re not chained up.

“But we will be DAMNED if you think we’re going to let you take our hangers.”

So we flew in Monday night and we got right to work on Tuesday morning. Capturing Kids’ Hearts is part staff development and part group therapy, but it’s a pretty cool philosophy and, having seen bits of it in action last year, I’m eager to put the whole thing into action this year.

On Tuesday night, we tried to get a cab to take us into a nearby (= 10 miles) town so that we could lay in a supply of adult beverages, but the cab couldn’t find us, so we were out of luck. We had to socialize in a more-or-less sober state.

This reminds me: you always hear the jokes about how it’s 100 degrees out there, “but it’s a dry heat”. You know what? That’s not bullshit. When I left Maryland it was 95 degrees and just too swampy for anyone to endure; you went outside and all you could think about was going back in. In Texas it was 105 degrees but it took maybe an hour before we were uncomfortable enough to go inside. And one day, I woke up late and went from my room, to breakfast, to the first work session. When we took a break, I went into the bathroom and saw that my hair was a disaster. So I ran back to my room (about 100 yards’ distance) and stuck my head under the sink. Then I hit it quick with the towel to stop the dripping and brushed it. My hair was still plenty wet when I left the room. But when I got back to the conference center, it was bone-dry. Nobody knew that I’d completely wet my head, but everyone noticed that my hair looked much better. Now, THAT’S high heat with low humidity.

On Wednesday, they gave us an “on your own” lunch break and offered us a shuttle into town. This is what the “town” part of Salado looked like:

We see you hiding behind that sign.

Maybe it's a warning to other bikes that might come  along?The cars are parked in front of some stores, but this is about as urban-looking as it got.

The other thing we saw in several places was bicycles, mounted to fences like you see in the picture to the right. We never did find out why that’s a thing in the Belton/Salado area, but apparently it’s a thing. Something we did learn, however, is that there were no adult beverages in this area: it’s a dry town. No liquor, no beer.

What’s that, you say? Could there be a loophole? Indeed there was. Wine was permitted. We found a wine shop connected to a local winery (Salado Creek Winery & Vineyard) and bought about 2/3 of a case, including something they called Lone Star Lemon. It’s like Mike’s Hard Lemonade but it doesn’t taste shitty. In fact, it’s quite the refreshing little wine. And because on paper we were at a “dry” event, the owner was kind enough to mark our box as being full of Live Snakes rather than contraband. Thus, “Snake Juice” became the code word of the day. I’m still not sure who really cared about whether we had any alcohol to drink, but okay.

Wednesday night, therefore, was a little bit of a better-lubricated evening for all of us and a lot of fun was had by nearly everyone. Nobody got sloppy drunk (wasn’t enough to do that), and after some playing of ping-pong and such, we all went back to the conference center for some Karaoke, courtesy of my laptop and the presentation system in the room. People would give me requests, I’d look them up on YouTube and we’d roll the video. Fun!

Thursday was our last day of the conference, and while we’d had a great time and learned a huge deal, we were all pretty much ready to head back home. Once again, there were no direct flights, so after the shuttle dropped us off at Austin Bergstrom Airport, we had to fly to Houston and then to Baltimore. Both flights were on-time and problem-free (see, United can get the job done from time to time), and we were back on the ground at BWI shortly after midnight. 

Next week, it’s Back to School for us, and the kids start on the 27th. For a summer where I wasn’t working, it’s been pretty quick.


There are a lot of places in the world on my “bucket” list.

I’m not an adventurer, not really, so it’s not as though I have any pressing need to, say, climb a mountain. Let’s face it, I get winded when I get up to answer the telephone. But I do want to see more of the world.

When I was a kid, I remember seeing an ad campaign that was pretty much everywhere. An image search wasn’t helpful, but in my memory there’s a kind of weathervane-looking object and the logo underneath: “See America First”. Apparently it was an outgrowth of a 1906 campaign that the train systems used to encourage travel to the West. I’m pretty comfortable with that idea. The United States is a pretty big place, after all: our climate runs from wintry most of the year to tropical; from lush growth to desert wilderness. I’ve seen a bunch of it, but I want to see more.

It’s kind of interesting to me how so many Americans are comfortable with traveling all over the USA but they get a little woozy at the idea of international travel. You’re going to Mexico? There’s so much to worry about, with the crime and the needing to know Spanish and all. It’s so different from, say, New York City. Heh. Africa? You need all those shots. Europe? You could find yourself driving on the LEFT. Canada? But, that’s like America, Junior. Even when it’s similar to us, we’re afraid that we might not be able to find a McDonald’s within a few blocks. That’s not really the case for me; I just want to see what else my nation has to offer.

crazy horse aerialI’ve been up and down the East Coast, thanks to my family’s Great Diaspora of the 1980s. I spent a weekend(!) in San Francisco; I think I’d like to go back there. I’ve been to southern Utah and at points in-between on the highway; I think I’d like to go again and actually be able to stay awhile here and there. I’d love to see Mount Rushmore and the still-in-progress Crazy Horse monument. I want to have a beer in Milwaukee, try to find the basement of the Alamo, have a steak in Kansas (Wife did this awhile back but she had it well-done, so it doesn’t count) and find out whether potatoes are all over the menus in Idaho the way crabs are in Maryland.

I need to devote more of my leisure time to this sort of thing; the overwhelming majority of my vacations are either to visit family or are quick “staycations” that do well for my budget but not my spirit.

That’s going to be a priority for me, before much more time has passed.


If we live truly, we shall see truly. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Not everyone wants to travel the world, but most people can identify at least one place in the world they’d like to visit before they die. Where is that place for you, and what will you do to make sure you get there?

Grocery Adventure

Miracle Max: There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead…well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: What’s that?
Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

The Princess Bride (1987)


So on the day after Christmas, I called my mother, thinking that I could take her and my grandmother out to lunch somewhere. My mom thought that it would ordinarily be a good idea, however my grandmother had been sick the whole night before, so they weren’t going anywhere. OK, I suggest, how about I bring something in? Mom agrees to this, so I toddle off to a Publix supermarket that’s on the way over there.

This particular Publix is on Little Road in Port Richey, and your experience at other stores may vary, but I kind of doubt it.

I took the first entrance into the shopping center, because I’m paranoid about overshooting it and having to turn around, etc. This means that I’m cruising along the storefronts until I get to the general area of the Publix. At this point I have to look for an aisle to turn into so I can park, but this particular shopping lot has the cars angled one way in one aisle and the other way in the next, so I have to find an aisle that’s angled correctly for my entry point. Plus, this being Florida, the parking lot has 156,000 handicapped spaces, so I have to avoid those as well. (It turns out that my being a moral cripple doesn’t get me a placard.) My first opportunity came at the point where they have the big painted crosswalk. I also saw a pickup truck bearing down on me, so I wisely decided to let it pass before making the left turn.

This, of course, meant that he was going to make the right without signaling the turn, and of course now that I’m behind him he’s going to go at a speed of approximately forty feet per year. We pass the blue spaces (they were all occupied anyway) and he finally turns into a parking space. No, wait, make that two parking spaces. REALLY? You’re driving a Chevy POS truck and you need to protect the rust on it somehow? In fact, he wasn’t even parking in the two spaces; he was pulling through to grab another space in the next aisle that was precisely one spot closer than the one he’d pulled through (and that I subsequently grabbed).

10 itemsIn the store, the only hassle I had with getting my groceries involved getting oriented to an unfamiliar grocery store, so no complaints there. However, now it’s time for the checkout. My choice came down to two lanes: the Express Lane and a regular lane, which was adjacent to it.

Before I move into this part of the story, let me give Publix some props for their Express Lane. The sign over it actually reads “10 ITEMS OR FEWER”, which is grammatically correct. If you can count ‘em, you say “fewer”. If you can’t, you use “less”. ‘nough said.

As I said before, I had two lanes to choose from, and each one had exactly one person ahead of me. I had five items, so either one would be appropriate. However, in the Express Lane was a woman who was sitting on one of those scooter thingies, perhaps because she weighed about nine thousand pounds. She also had—easily—thirty items on the belt. And, instead of the cashier asking her which ten items she wanted to buy, she was clearly going to just take the order anyway. So I jumped over to the other lane. In this lane was a woman who was about old enough to have been Jesus’ babysitter, but she had only four items. Piece of cake, says I, and I put my stuff on the belt.

Now, her stuff is at one end of the belt, and mine is at the other. There’s at least two feet of empty belt in between. This, naturally, means that Grandma Moses simply MUST get one of those order dividers and put it on the belt between our orders. The cashier, in the meantime, has already tallied up all of her stuff, and the bagger (yeah, Publix has those) has put everything into the bag. The total cost of the order: Five dollars and eleven cents.

loose changeIt’s at this point that Jeanne Calment says to the cashier, “I hope you need some change,” and—I shit you not—completely upends a change purse into the bagging area. There’s clearly at least enough money all over the bagging area to cover the $5.11 that she needs to pay for this purchase, but all she’s interested in is the eleven cents. Gloria Stewart has already counted out the five singles and is now handing the bills over to the cashier, who counts out eleven pennies and puts it in the till with the dollar bills. Then she, and the bagger, have to scoop up all this other change and put it back into the change purse. Meanwhile, in the Express Lane, the nine thousand pound woman is cruising out of the store with her completed purchase.

This is why Florida is a great place to return home from.

Breakfast for Dinner

When you’re doing the hard driving, sometimes the trips up and/or down I-95 can be pretty uneventful. My travels to Florida ran much in this vein. I’d packed some sandwiches so I didn’t have to stop for lunch, and in fact I stopped only for gas or to use the rest room. Oddly enough, I don’t think I ever stopped for both. As a result, despite my leaving later than I’d planned, I wound up in Walterboro, South Carolina (approximately Exit 48) for the evening of December 23. This isn’t too bad; I usually stop in Florence, SC for the night and have a pretty long drive ahead of me the second day.

(Naturally, it wasn’t until the next day that I learned that Walterboro is maybe 10-15 minutes’ drive from some relatives of mine; I could have saved some money on lodging for the night.)

Bah.Here’s a tip if you’re traveling down the I-95 corridor: there’s just no good way through the Washington, DC area, so just skip it altogether. When you get to Baltimore, take either I-895 or I-695 to I-97 and take that down to Route 301 south, which will bring you back to I-95 just north of Richmond, VA. You won’t save any time at all, but you’ll be spared the madness of the Mixing Bowl south of DC, where there is NO GOOD TIME to travel through.

Anyway, Walterboro.

I stopped for the night around 8:00. I was kind of hoping to make it to Hardeeville (around Exit 10), but I figured, I’m hungry now and why stop twice? I popped into a place called the Country Hearth Inn, which is a small-ish chain, and got a room for the evening for only $31 after taxes and such.

In this part of the country, the location of your room is apparently pretty important. Rooms on the first floor are more expensive than rooms on the second floor. My room was cheaper because it was second floor. Go figure.

Here’s another aside: I don’t really get the mentality that a hotel room has to have fourteen thousand amenities when you’re on a road trip. I’m stopping to eat, sleep, and get generally relaxed for the next leg of the trip. I don’t need a pool, or chocolates on my pillow, or a flatscreen TV. This is a crash pad. I want a clean room, a place to take a shower and a clear picture on the TV. I don’t even need 75 channels, since the TV is just a talking lamp at that point; I’m happy with local TV plus CNN or some such. Everything else is just gravy. So for that little bit, there’s no way I’m shelling out $80 if I don’t have to. And fortunately there are plenty of places on I-95 which are willing to fill this request. Country Hearth Inn turned out to be one of them.

I took this picture only in the sense that I took it off of a Shoney's website. Once checked in, and with my bags and stuff in the room, I got back in the car and wandered the immediate neighborhood in search of food. Most exits on I-95 have lots of places to eat; a few have only a couple of options, and one or two have none at all. This was one in the second group. All of the choices were pretty typical: Cracker Barrel, Subway, Waffle House, Shoney’s, McDonald’s and a couple of others. I didn’t want -fast food, but I didn’t necessarily want the sit-down-meal-with-the-bum’s-rush experience that you sometimes get from Cracker Barrel, so I went to the Shoney’s.

I’d forgotten that Shoney’s had the option of eating via a buffet, so shortly after I’d reached my table I was greeted by a server who pointed out that the buffet was almost entirely breakfast foods. This really appealed to me. “Outstanding!” I said. I rather like having breakfast food for dinner once in awhile. Wife, for some reason, is not, so we rarely do it. The waitress then asked me what I wanted to drink. I ordered a Coke and hit the buffet.

My plate didn't look quite like this, but it was close. Sure enough, there was a wide variety of stuff available: eggs, toast, grits, biscuits & gravy, sausage, bacon, home fries, cheese (for the grits, I think), pancakes, French toast, etc, etc. I took a look and said, “Yes, please!” When I got back to my table, the waitress was just delivering two glasses of soda to me. I asked her, “Is this Happy Hour?”

She said “Of course it is!” Then, “OK, not really, but I figured you’d been on the road and you looked kind of thirsty.” Smart waitress, that.

And I, who have been eating quite sensibly for the last eight weeks as a side-effect of Wife’s diet, had myself two plates of breakfast for dinner.

Road Show

Homer Simpson: [after hitting a deer statue] D'oh!
Lisa Simpson: A deer!
Marge Simpson: A female deer!

The Simpsons, “Bart Gets an Elephant” (3/31/94)


New Paltz Logo - 3 Color This past weekend I headed up to New Paltz to see some of Daughter’s handiwork.

This time around, she was working on Noises Off, a three-act play which, each time, covers the first act of a play-within-the-play called “Nothing On”. Daughter’s main job was as the Propmaster, so during the show itself she didn’t really have an awful lot to do. Most of her work comes before the show, when she has to acquire or fabricate props, or in-between shows, when she has to repair them. (And don’t get her started on the prop sardines.) As a result, she was able to actually sit with me during the show and chit-chat between acts, so that was pretty fun. But I’m getting a little bit ahead of the story.

Wee One was sidelined from cheerleading because of an injury, and it was supposed to be the end of the season for her. But she managed to bounce back quickly and, about ten days ago, was given clearance and put back into the cheer routine. So Wife took Wee One to the last cheerleading meet of the season, and I headed to upstate New York, solo.

For most of the trip, I listened to an audiobook I’d downloaded (Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys, if you’re interested, and the narration by Lenny Henry is awesome). Since I’m still without my iPod, I accomplished this by plugging the Aux plug into the headphone jack of my laptop and listened away. When I got off the highway, however, I decided that I wanted to concentrate a little more on what I was doing. So I shut off the audiobook and I tuned in to local radio.

Because I was alone, I got to do something that I’m pretty sure Wife hates: I hit the “scan” button and tuned in to all of the radio that Ulster County had to offer, ten seconds at a time. There was the usual mix of rock, country, classical, and so forth, and then I heard…

No. Way. Back that sucker up.

Sure enough, I found myself listening to Frank Sinatra singing about those J-I-N-G, L-E Bells. Christmas music! Well, I reasoned, it’s close enough that stations could start sprinkling in the holiday tunes. But then the song ended and another Christmas song started, this one by Harry Connick Jr. Yes indeed, 92.1 Lite-FM in Poughkeepsie had already gone All Christmas All The Time. I’ve ranted on about this in previous posts, and I expect to do so again, so I’ll let it go for now. Anyway, that plus the displays appearing in the stores the last few weeks impressed upon me that ‘tis the Season and all that. But that’s not all…

I hit a diner and got a grilled cheese sandwich, then checked into my hotel. I dumped off my stuff and it was off to A Night of Theater.

The show itself was fun, as I mentioned above and everyone truly did a fine job. There were a couple of pratfalls that had everyone worrying about the health of the actors involved, and a couple of incidents where Daughter worried actively about the health of the props that had just hit the floor unexpectedly. In the third act, a lamp had been knocked off a table and out of sight behind the furniture. When an actor finally picked it up and returned it to the table, it was still lit. Resilient props, those.

The next morning, we had some breakfast and I wanted to get some apples from a local orchard. I actually had several orders to fill from co-workers, so off we went to a farm about seven miles outside of town, in the town of Gardiner. While there, we picked out roughly two-and-a-half pecks of apples, which is meaningless to anyone who isn’t in Farm Country, so let me convert that for you: we bought a metric shitload of apples. No kidding, I spent about $45 just on apples, and only five bucks of that was for me. My co-workers were really hot for apples, but I confess a lot of that was my own doing, so when I gave them the apples I deliberately allowed myself to be under-reimbursed by about a third. No harm, no foul, everyone’s happy and Do A Good Deed Now And Then, you know?

Anyway, on the way back to New Paltz, we passed a road sign. It had clearly been around for awhile, but someone made a recent addition to it. Naturally I turned the car around and went back so that I could get a photograph of it:

Deer Crossing

Now I know for SURE that ‘tis the season.

Fa la la la la, la la la la.

The Right–What’s That Stuff?

Gus Grissom: The issue here is monkey.
John Glenn: What?
Gus Grissom: Us. We are the monkey.
Deke Slayton: What Gus is saying is that we're missing the point. What Gus is saying is that we all heard the rumors that they want to send a monkey up first. Well, none of us wants to think that they're gonna send a monkey up to do a man's work. But what Gus is saying is that what they're trying to do to us is send a man up to do a monkey's work. Us, a bunch of college-trained chimpanzees!

The Right Stuff (1983)


Those of you on the East Coast know that, since the weekend, the weather’s been pretty miserable. This, in turn, has made Spring Break pretty miserable. Between Wee One getting sick and the crummy weather and other family-related events, this meant that the day trips that I was considering taking the family on were looking more and more remote. So when the weather broke yesterday and Wee One, for a change, didn’t sound like she’d just escaped from the TB Ward, I said The Hell With It and decided to take her down to Our Nation’s Capital.

Naturally, there was a fly in the ointment. Shortly after I’d made the decision, Wife called. She was off in Eldersburg on a scrapbooking jaunt, and her school called. A change we’d made to our Direct Deposit hadn’t worked and the school system issued her a paycheck instead. If we wanted to see it before Monday, I had to go and get it from the school, which is at almost the polar opposite of the city from where we live. I put Wee One in the car and we hit the Beltway. Forty minutes later, we had Wife’s paycheck in hand.

Clearly, this photo was taken on a Sunday. Now, I didn’t want to drive around DC with a payroll check, so I figured that depositing it would be the best option. Also, it was getting close to noon and we were both hungry. So naturally we headed to the Bank of America located at Caton Avenue and Washington Boulevard. “Naturally” because, diagonally across the intersection from the BoA is Baltimore institution Polock Johnny’s. Usually I go to the PJ’s at Lexington Market, but I haven’t been in that part of town in awhile. So this was a nice break for both of us. (Having said all that, the Lex Market dogs are a little cheaper, but the fries aren’t Boardwalk-style. So there’s a tradeoff there.)

From Morrell Park, we were finally ready to head south to DC. I hadn’t been to the Air & Space Museum in awhile, and I thought that Wee One would get a kick out of it, especially since all I told her was that we were going “to see a spaceship.” This, naturally, led to about four thousand questions, all of which I deferred.

Kings Park Class of 1981 might remember the field trip we had to DC sometime in Junior High, when we went to the Air & Space Museum, which had opened very recently and only the center atrium was open to the public. There were some aircraft hanging from the ceiling and a few other goodies at floor level, including the original Air Force footage that spawned this:

Six Million Dollar Man Intro
Uploaded by pezhammer. – Sitcom, sketch, and standup comedy videos.

mccall_horizontal_mural_detail Too bad that’s gone, now. The huge mural to the right of the entryway is still there, though. Incidentally, Robert McCall, the artist who painted this mural and at least one other in the building, died just a few weeks ago.


Checking out the Hubble Wee One was suitably impressed by pretty much everything she saw there, but she was especially taken with John Glenn’s capsule and the Apollo 11 capsule which were on display, especially once I was able to show her, using other models around the museum, how this six-foot cone was all that was left of the huge (363 feet tall) rocket that propelled it into space in the first place. She was also taken by the mockup they had of the Hubble Space Telescope, especially inasmuch as they’d recently discussed it at school. We spent nearly three hours wandering this one museum, and of course when it was time to go, we had to stop in at the museum’s gift shop. She wanted to pick up some freeze-dried ice cream (which is available in several Smithsonian museums, but when you buy it from the source, that’s a little different) and a couple of other souvenirs. I, however, had one more exhibit in mind.

If you go into Air and Space, go into the gift shop and, at the back, there’s an escalator to a lower level of gift shop. Go almost to the back of that and you’ll see this:


This was the original filming model of the Starship Enterprise from the first Star Trek series. The plaques to the lower left of the photo contain pretty much all the information you’ll see at the Smithsonian’s webpage devoted to the model. So now Having said that, it’s pretty cool to see regardless. If you go around to the other side, you’ll see very little ornamentation below the saucer section; in fact there’s a hatch in the forward connecting pylon and another in the bottom section, to give access to wires and such for controlling the lights on the model. (This is also the reason we usually see the Enterprise traveling from left to right on screen.)

Amazed to be here! Wee One, who thinks Captain Kirk is dreamy (and that Denny Crane is creepy, go figure), was totally enthralled by this, possibly more than anything else she saw the entire day. She knows that Star Trek is fictional, so no fantasies shattered here. I told her that this was the filming model for the show, showed her the access hatches and stuff, and did a mini-lesson on matte shots. This was a great way for her to end the day.

Of course, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the episodes that she’s seen are the Remastered Series, and that the Enterprise that she’s been watching is entirely CGI. It’s bad enough that Santa Claus, et. al. are on the verge of crumbling for her.

You Don’t Mess With the Monkey

Jack Butler: [Trying to get Kenny to give up his security blanket] I understand that you little guys start out with your woobies and you think they're great… and they are, they are terrific. But pretty soon, a woobie isn't enough. You're out on the street trying to score an electric blanket, or maybe a quilt. And the next thing you know, you're strung out on bedspreads, Ken. And that's serious. 

Mr. Mom (1983)


I actually got to do a paper on the film Mr. Mom when I was in college. Being a Communications student was a riot.

When I was a kid, my little brother had a stuffed monkey. This thing followed him everywhere, and I do mean EVERYWHERE: to the table at meals, to the bathroom, in the car, they slept in the same bed together…I’m sure you know the drill. Either you had this kind of attachment to something, or one of your siblings did, or you’re a parent and know the score. You don’t mess with the monkey.

My neighbor S is returning to China sometime tomorrow to finish out her year of International Law study. For whatever reason, the plane she’s taking is leaving out of Newark Airport, so they decided to pack up her stuff early and then she, and her husband B, and their two kids would ride up to Newark and just be in town in plenty of time to catch her plane. The kids, both girls, are (almost) three and six years old. The three-year-old is also going to China. And yes, she’s bilingual now, although she only speaks Chinese to the Chinese people and only English to the Americans. So if you want her to tell you the Chinese word for something, you have to ask her, “What does Ayi [the nanny] call it?”

This morning, a few of us put together a Farewell Brunch which I hosted: French Toast, Bacon, Sausage, Eggs, assorted pastries from Woodlea Bakery (Fenwick’s is closed on Sundays, and that’s a whole nother blog post), and mimosas or hot beverage. S & B asked a small favor of us: their teenage son has a test tomorrow at school, so he couldn’t go to Newark with them. He’s going to stay at the house, so could we pop in on him and make sure he’s OK? Certainly, we said.

Since the rest of the afternoon promised to be pretty crazy, we said our goodbyes then and there, and they went back home. We kept the boy behind and dragooned him into helping us clean up around the house, which was fine by his parents. After dinner we sent him to his house and made sure that he was well-armed with the usual warnings.

At a little after 9:00, the phone rang. It was S, asking me if we were still awake. Of course we are, it’s not that late. Apparently there was a crisis. I looked out the window to see if their house was still there. It was, and it wasn’t even on fire. That wasn’t the problem. 

DSC04075 The problem was that the three-year-old had left her stuffed Piggy back at home. Piggy, of course, is her version of my brother’s Monkey: it goes pretty much everywhere. So here are her parents, who were moments from entering the New Jersey Turnpike, realizing that they have to turn around and go back to Baltimore because there’s no way that S is going to get on a plane for sixteen hours with a kid going through Piggy Withdrawal. So she called me to let me know that they’re already heading back, and would I do them the huge favor of meeting them partway with Piggy? Of course, I said. I dispatched Wife to get Piggy from next door, while I put on my shoes.

Into the car, fired up the iPod, and…crap. I need to get gas. OK, detour to the Texaco station around the corner and now I’m ready to hit the road.

About thirty minutes later I pulled into the Maryland House, somewhere around Mile Marker 81. I did a quick sweep of the parking lot but I didn’t see their car. Then I realized that Maryland House has two lots, each one used primarily by drivers going in a specific direction. I was in the Northbound drivers’ lot. I worked my way around the building and looked again. Sure enough, their car was in the second lot, the one for Southbounders. B was in the building, presumably in the rest room, but he was emerging as I crossed from my car to theirs. S was dozing in the passenger seat but brightened as soon as she saw me. She got out of the car and they both gave me Thank You hugs & kisses. Then S said, “You’re going to blog this, aren’t you.”

“Of course I am,” I said. “I had Wife take pictures before I left so I’d have artwork for the post.”

As a gesture of gratitude, B offered me a fifth of whatever I wanted when he got back from Newark. I declined the offer.

Because this is what you do sometimes. And you don’t mess with a kid’s Monkey. Or their Piggy.

One More Thing About My Trip to New Paltz

Connie: Dinner's on the table.
Carlo: I'm not hungry yet.
Connie: Your food is on the table. It's getting cold.
Carlo: I'll eat out later.
Connie: You just told me to make you dinner!

The Godfather (1972)


I totally forgot that this place existed, so when I saw the billboard while on the way home, I had to break out my phone and snap a photo. Is this one of the best names ever for a store, or what?

I get the feeling that you either get this one or you don't.  

Touring the New Paltz Area

Marcus Fiehls: There is a place where restless souls wander. A place that is not affected by our world or our dimensions. A place where confused souls are trapped; tortured. This place is all around you.

Rip Cage (2007)


…and that place is the mall.

SUNY NP Pond Parent and Family Weekend at the State University of New York (New Paltz Campus) is a different sort of animal from my previous visits. All the other times, the point was to tell me I was pretty and convince me that Daughter's mother and I should be sending thousands of dollars to them. This time around, well, they've already got the money AND the kid: we're just here to see that she's still alive and reasonably healthy. There were a few on-campus events scheduled, but it was really a formalized reason to visit our child and maybe see some of the local area.

As it happened, I came up alone: Wife and Wee One have a cheerleading competition to attend, and Ex-Wife is still recuperating from complications related to a medical procedure she had awhile back. So after work on Friday, I packed a bag and headed north. I got a later start than I wanted, but the traffic wasn't too awful. The biggest setback was missing an exit and mistakenly thinking I could just make it up at the next exit. I wound up on a road parallel to the one I sought, which took me through Princeton, including the school. Hey! Two campus visits in one trip!

So I lost about an hour doing that, because of traffic lights and such. Not a disaster.

I got to the campus around 9:30 AM on Saturday, and the atmosphere was very different from my previous visits. There were no students posted at all the entrances to direct us; there weren't balloons tied to every stationary object. In fact, the campus was kind of a ghost town. I thought I'd come on the wrong weekend. I parked the car and walked to Daughter's dormitory. I called Daughter and got her to come down and let me in. She still had a little bit of act to get together, and then we were off.

Student Union proposed Check-in was at the Student Union building, which is currently undergoing renovation and will soon look like the picture here (which I nicked from World Architecture News). There was an array of events going on, several of which would have taken place anyway, but there were also a few extras. Refreshments were also served, courtesy of a local orchard, which provided apples and cider and apple cider doughnuts, which were all very good. The President of the school did a little spiel, and so did a guy from the school's Development office ("please send us another small pile of money"), and that was about it for that event. The President was sponsoring a "coffee with the President" event a little later on, but since they'd already convinced us to send our kid to SUNY, I figured–based largely on all the information that's been pounded into Baltimore City principals–that it could wind up being an hour of talking about H1N1 precautions, and I'd had about enough of that. 

There were several different things on campus that we could check out, and if you're genuinely that interested in the list, go look at the previous post. We had tickets for the Comedy show, and made tentative plans for the walking tour of the town, but the big mission of the day was to get some warm clothes for Daughter. The leaves are just starting to turn all kinds of colors, but it's pretty chilly up there already. 

Science!  Ooh–here's something I learned by going to Parents' Weekend: the leaves don't turn yellow, or red, or whatever; they're already that color. It's just that, during the summer, they have so much chlorophyll that the green masks over the leaves' true color. When the fall comes, the chlorophyll production slows to a halt and the color comes through. It's explained in a little more detail here. Science!

Anyway. So our mission was to head into nearby Poughkeepsie and do some clothes shopping. So we get into the car and hit the road toward Poughkeepsie. We drive some ways.

Then we drive some more.

Then, some more.

And when we get to Newburgh, we realize that we may have missed a turn somewhere. Somewhere, say, about 16 miles ago. So we double back and find the road that leads over the Mid-Hudson Bridge, then shoot straight through town. Dammit, we missed another turn. Daughter calls her mother and asks where the turnoff is. Mom says it's on Route 9, head south. Crap. That turnoff was the first exit after the bridge. Once again, we get back on track. 

With the mall more or less within reach, I realize that I haven't eaten since my apple cider doughnut, and that was nearly three hours earlier. I spot a strip mall-ish kind of place, where we have a choice of a Red Robin, a Five Guys and a couple of others. For whatever reason, I opt for the Red Robin. No sooner do we enter the front door, however, than we hear an earsplitting buzz and strobe lights start going off. 

No, we weren't the one millionth customer. I look at the hostess, who is covering her ears, and I ask her, "Is that the fire alarm?" She doesn't know, but everyone in the restaurant is about to mow us down as they make their way towards us.

"Let's go, sweetie," I say to Daughter, "this place is much too on fire for us." We walk down to the Five Guys. 

After lunch we head to the Galleria Mall, which has a Target as one of its anchor stores. We shopped in stores both large and small throughout the mall, and I guess we spent about $150, maybe a little more, but we got some pretty good deals. Daughter didn't think so, but maybe that's because it was coming out of her bank account. (What? I put money into it that morning.) By the time we'd gotten back, what with getting lost and all, we'd missed the walking tour and had just enough time to get some dinner before the comedy show. 

Dinner was at a small Greek restaurant, located next to another Greek restaurant. You can't even find that in Highlandtown, but you find it in New Paltz. We ate at Yanni's, which had several positive reviews in various places on the Internets. And if it's on the Internets then it must be true, right? In this case it was. Food was good, service was friendly, and we didn't even mind when they asked us to switch to a smaller table so they could accommodate a larger party. 

The comedy show was a pile of fun, and it was preceded by three of the school's a capella singing groups. The first two, Male Call and Sexy Pitches, were single-sex groups. I'll leave it to you to figure out which was which. The third was a mixed-sex group called Absolute A capella. All three groups did a fine, fine job. The Second City touring company was a lot of fun too, with a mix of old material and new stuff as well.

When we got out, it was absolutely pouring outside. This after an entire day of bright-but-gray skies. It was less than a hundred yards to the car and we were thoroughly soaked by the time we got in. I dropped Daughter off at her dorm, and as I got back to the hotel room, the tire pressure indicator light popped on. Oddly, I opted NOT to check that out right away; it would wait till the morning. (It was just a low tire. I gave it some air and it cheered right up.)

Sunday morning and Daughter had a theater thing to attend to for the day, so we had time for breakfast only. As I dropped her off, this was the view from the parking lot we'd been in the night before: 

Mountain Mist
I'm guessing that if it hadn't rained the night before, that mist wouldn't be there. If we don't put up with the bad stuff, we wouldn't appreciate the good.