Memorial concert for Dad at Lititz Public Library

Memorial concert for Dad at Lititz Public Library

Some places just for you

Inevitably we hit that age where we look back at our past selves and wonder: what the hell was wrong with us? The unwarranted insecurities, the love of Ally McBeal, the misguided dating decisions. Oh, and the hair.

Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. See what I mean about the hair?

My past self wasn’t all terrible, though. She started a 401(k). She earned a masters degree without incurring student loans. She learned how cook with tofu.

Her number one accomplishment, however, was traveling solo. When you’re single and in your twenties, vacations are hard. You might be in a new place, without a circle of friends, or your friends might have different interests and budgets. But if you want to go somewhere and you’re lucky enough to have youth, time, and some extra money, it’s downright reckless to squander them for lack of a travel companion.

Monument Valley, Utah

Monument Valley, Utah

I mean, I didn’t have the cash to go to Tahiti or anything. But I’d never been West. Big skies, red rocks. Buffaloes maybe. Jagged mountains, not the inviting, rolling Appalachian hills. Cowboys?

Monument Valley, Utah

Monument Valley, Utah

So I saw Zion and Bryce. At the foot of the Rockies I watched baby elk play under a rainbow in a meadow full of wildflowers. I drove through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on deserted, unpaved roads and saw the sun set through Delicate Arch.

I slept in an iconic Wigwam on Route 66.

Wigwam Motel, Route 66

Wigwam Motel, Route 66

I drank Polygamy Porter in Utah, ate peppery breakfasts in Arizona, and found some famous Texas barbecue.

I’m married now, to the best of traveling partners, and every year we discover new places together. But I’m also proud to have my own personal roster of destinations, the spots and moments that are mine alone.

The Narrows at Zion

Showing one my places to Type E: the Narrows at Zion

Cognitive Therapy

Soulless office park got you down? Are silly internet quizzes ruining your self-esteem? Pants making your butt look big?

Hey, maybe you need a shrink! Who out there couldn’t use some good, old-fashioned therapy? I’ve been thinking about shrinks because NPR’s All Things Considered recently profiled Albert Ellis, a psychologist who was very controversial back in the day. Ellis cooked up something called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), which laid the groundwork for modern cognitive therapy.

Basically, Ellis advocates controlling “despair as a result of fundamentally irrational expectations.” In other words, don’t get depressed because back in ’99 you invested your life savings in a company that sold bikini cream on the internet. It’s all about dealing with reality. If you want to turn that frown upside down, I’d like to recommend my neighbor Em as your new shrink. She’s actually a junior high art teacher, but based on a recent conversation, I think she’s got a future as a cognitive therapist:

EM: You know when really bad shit happens? Like, it’s so bad that you can’t even believe it’s happening?
ME: Yep.
EM: Well, you better just fucking believe it’s happening.

Em accepts most health plans. The co-pay is one (1) beer.

Lost in the Cosmos

lost in the cosmos
Seems like a good time to consider Lost in the Cosmos (subtitled the “Last Self-Help Book”) by Walker Percy. An ex introduced me to this work, and I’m glad he did, though I was never quite sure why he thought I needed a self-help book. It’s hard to describe (read the Amazon reviews), but this irreverent book basically consists of a series of questions, one of which seems particularly relevant. From page 57 of the 1992 edition:

(9) The Envious Self (in the root sense of envy: invidere, to look at with malice): Why it is that the Self–though it Professes to be Loving, Caring, to Prefer Peace to War, Concord to Discord, Life to Death; to Wish Other Selves Well, not Ill–in fact Secretly Relishes Wars and Rumors of Wars, News of Plane Crashes, Assassinations, Mass Murders, Obituaries, to say nothing of Local News about Acquaintances Dropping Dead in the Street, Gossip about Neighbors Getting in Fights or being Detected in Sexual Scandals, Embezzlements, and other Disgraces

Get this book. The first page includes some alternate subtitles, including:

How you can survive in the Cosmos about which you know more and more while knowing less and less about yourself, this despite 10,000 self-help books, 100,000 psycho-therapists, and 100 million fundamentalist Christians.
Why it is that of all the billions and billions of strange objects in the Cosmos–novas, quasars, pulsars, black holes–you are beyond doubt the strangest
Why it is possible to learn more in ten minutes about the Crab Nebula in Taurus, which is 6,000 light-years away, than you presently know about yourself, even though you’ve been stuck with yourself all your life.

Claes Oldenburg totally rules

typwriter eraser

Oldenburg's eraser

Why am I declaring my love for Claes Oldenburg (and also Coosje van Bruggen, his collaborator on many large-scale projects)? No reason, except that Marcus over at Oscar & Toni kindly highlighted Good Grief!’s art reviews in preparation for his upcoming trip to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Several years ago, I visited this museum with my friend J Bubbles and was very impressed by Oldenburg’s giant shuttlecocks on the lawn.

Shuttlecock by Claes Oldenburg

Oldenburg's Shuttlecock (photo by sapoague)

Oldenburg’s large-scale urban collaborations with van Bruggen are fantastic and fun. In Philadelphia we’re doubly blessed–there’s a giant clothespin across from City Hall and a huge, broken button on the University of Pennsylvania campus. Minneapolis has a giant spoon that cradles a water-spewing cherry, and Washington, D.C. has a typewriter eraser. Someday, I plan to embark on an Oldenburg monument trip to check out Germany’s dropped ice cream cone, the matches in Barcelona, and many others.



As you would expect, not all of Oldenburg’s proposals are well-received. For example, he wanted to build a knees monument for London’s Victoria Embankment:

In 1966 his visit to London spawned several monument proposals. As Oldenburg told ARTnews, the British capital “inspired phallic imagery which went up and down like the tide–like miniskirts and knees and the part of the leg you see between the skirt and the boot.”

Friday night in Fishtown (ghetto rally towel)

Friday night in Fishtown (ghetto rally towel)


Friday night
The daily Occupy Northampton drumming and chanting starts on schedule in front of Bank of America. Down the street to the group’s left is a harp player, to its right, under the Thorne’s Market awning, is that band with the accordion, and across the street is a fiddler. The Faces Halloween window features a scary monster under the bed, and the GoBerry pumpkin spice yogurt is pretty good with graham crackers.

Saturday morning
Type E threatens to throw me out the window for purchasing an Arcade Fire album.
“Fine,” I said, “but I’m taking the pear coffee cake I just made. And the cat.”
“You can’t do that,” says Type E. “Massachusetts is a 50-50 state.”
“Fine, I’ll take the front half of the cat.”

Saturday afternoon

squirrel in a pumpkin

squirrel butt

Sunday morning
First world problem: The Big Y does not sell broccolini.

Sunday afternoon
We go to the wildlife blind at Fitzgerald Lake so I can show Type E the wildlife notebook, but the old binder full of animal observations and amusing digressions has been replaced with a boring new binder. Type E records his sighting of three ducks and no moose.

Amazon reviewer scam?

We all know by now that accidentally revealed the identities of anonymous reviewers on its Canadian website last week. The story is newsworthy from a technical perspective (how confident can you be that personal information remains personal), and it’s also amusing (authors were found to have reviewed of their own work). But there’s a slew of websites reporting that the Amazon reviewer scam has been uncovered.

Are they serious? Really?  No one suspected that people were anonymously reviewing themselves and their rivals? It’s not really kosher for authors to do this, but it’s not really a scam. There’s no outright lie involved, and besides, people should be taking anonymous reviews with a grain of salt.

This is just another example of technology making it easier for people to do something they’ve always done anyway (the New York Times points out that Walt Whitman and Anthony Burgess reviewed their books under assumed names). If anything, these authors should be criticized for stupidity. If I was going anonymously review my own work on Amazon, I’d first log in under a phony name. Duh.

Boss-across-the-hall update

He is in rare form this week. Overheard from across the hall:

  • “My mojo is gone! They’ve ruined my mojo!”
  • “My Outlook is doggin’ me. WOOOOF. WOOOOF.”
  • [to his computer] “Who’s your daddy?”

Are you trying to compensate for something?

The current Reagan-induced eighties nostalgia has prompted Good Grief! to address a serious issue: people flipping their collars like it’s 1987.

It started innocently enough when Superwoman and I went to the god-awful-evil-super-mega-outlet mall and noticed flipped-collar guy being dragged around the Banana Republic factory store by his girlfriend. He was in his early twenties, a clean-cut preppy sort. We laughed him off as an fashion anomaly.

But like the cicadas, the collar creatures were soon turning up everywhere. Rittenhouse Square is crawling with them, they’re all over Walnut Street, and on Saturday night I counted a half dozen in a single Old City bar. Are these people turning up in other cities too? Indeed they are.

What’s worse than the young, twentysomething crowd flipping their collars, however, are the thiry-and-forty-somethings following their lead in a desperate struggle for hipness. Don’t you people remember how silly we looked the last time around? I do. Julie R, my best friend in junior high, had a father who worked for Izod. So we were, like, totally hooked up. We were getting Izod shirts in every color, flipping the collars, and hanging out at the mall.

Where are you, Julie R? Does your dad still work for Izod? How ’bout something in pink? I wear a medium!

PS For more information, read I.M. Adick, III’s editorial in the Georgetown Lampoon, and check out the t-shirt. An excerpt from “Wearing Your Collar Down is for Poor People:”

When my ancestors came over to this great country 400 years ago, they had a vision for a utopia, free from minorities, liberals, poor people, homosexuals, and immigrants. There are few today who share such lofty ideals, but we’re easy to find: Pastel polo shirts, loafers without socks, tucked-in shirts, but most importantly, collars up.