Saturday, June 26, 2010

SI Yanks

One of the highlights of the afternoon was the ferry ride out to Staten Island. The torch was clearly lit:

We got some great seats, and great hats, and all-you-can-eat hotdogs, hamburgers, popcorn, and beverages, not to mention great company:

We also had fun entertainment between every inning, though this guy needs to lose his spare tire:

The one thing we didn't have was a major league team - but we weren't expecting one. Sadly, the SI Yanks lost 1-8, and each inning was super-quick.

We saw double fireworks afterward - some over the water (Jersey City perhaps? or lower Manhattan?) and some close up:

The fireworks were surprisingly elaborate. (Not like the free fireworks on the boardwalk back in the day, where they try to lure you out for a 30-second show.)

Very fun.

Morning in Prospect Park & the Children's Garden

New York City was graced with southern visitors this weekend, so we did our best to show them southern hospitality in subtropical Brooklyn. Yes, it was a warm day, but that didn't stop us running around Prospect Park. The living playgrounds (i.e., trees) were quite popular.

It's important to be familiar with your family tree:

(I think Simon's facial expression may reflect an instruction such as "Keep your hands off your brother.")

We saw two turtles today. I raced this one. I was gaining on him when he suddenly made a break for the water's edge and flung himself in. So unfair -- he was already wearing his swimsuit, while I didn't even bring one.

In this scene, I liked the blue on the butterfly's wings. Steph liked the cool spiral whorls on the flowers (you have to know to look for them):

I tried several times to capture Simon and Steph on the carousel, but I kept getting shots of some random blurry child in bright pink. Sigh. Meanwhile, Stephen acquainted himself with one of the city's interactive art exhibits. Rumor has it there are 24 of them - so far, I've tracked down 4 (two in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn, one in Staten Island):

This year's fashionable tree-climbers are wearing polka dots. Hooray for skorts!

This struck me as a hobbit-like pose and expression -- or maybe I'm thinking really of the tree elves:

After some boating and netting, we stopped into the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (of course!). I only had time for the children's garden, but that was a lot of fun. Half a dozen kids were really taken with a manually operated waterfall made of a series of unconnected moveable troughs. They were all running around experimenting with the system. Soon one young girl took command of the situation, busying herself with the important business of filling the bucket at the end of the waterfall and directing her new-found minions variously to carry the bucket up to the top and replenish the waterfall, or bring her a second bucket for ease of filling, or to redirect the troughs so the water would pour properly from one to the next. There's nothing quite like having a common purpose - Stephen quickly got dragooned into the effort.

In keeping with the LotR theme, I was going to shout "Attercop, attercop, can't catch me!" on seeing this critter, but didn't want to rile him up since he was looking in a different direction to begin with:

It was a wonderful visit, and a nice jolt of Vitamin Z (zaniness). Try as I might to be silly and carefree, I have to admit that Vitamin Z is available in undiluted form solely in the presence of small children. (That is, it works kind of like Vitamin D, I guess, which requires the presence of sunlight.) I think I'm going to adopt Stephen and Simon as my honorary nephews.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Midsummer Night's Dream

My mom and I caught the closing night performance of Midsummer Night's Dream by Gorilla Rep & TITAN Norway. Fireflies greeted us as we entered the park north of W 83rd St, an auspicious start to the evening.

It was a high-energy, fast-paced performance, with the characters dressed in summer whites. There was some doubling up on characters, with the fairies readily distinguished by their sinuous movements. That mostly worked, although some of the fairies were more graceful than others. Puck was superbly cast.

However this wasn't, for me, as magical as some past Gorilla Rep productions. It didn't help that I'd slept very little the past few nights... or that I was lugging my mom's suitcase over the grass. But it also didn't help that a few of the actors, in some scenes, spoke so rapidly in accented English that they were completely unintelligible. They clearly knew all the words and their meaning (something that eludes even many native speakers of English), but unfortunately that kind of breathless, rapid-fire delivery style requires exceptionally clear pronunciation. I'm sure the speed of the delivery was intended to keep the show to a reasonable length... but I just wish they'd slowed some of those breathless speeches to boost audience comprehension.

Fortunately, the actors had a lot of fun with the play-within-a-play (their pleasure was contagious for the audience) and everything built up to a nice conclusion. And I was really glad to introduce my mom to a real live performance of Shakespeare-on-the-run, after all these years of evangelizing about it to anyone who will listen. I live for Shakespeare in the city parks each summer, and I especially love mixing Shakespeare with exercise as we, the audience, sprint from scene to scene in pursuit of the actors.

After the show, my mom and I caught a cab to my place and we got ready for the tough day ahead.

Keystone Kirk?

I'm starting to feel like a member of the Keystone Kops, dropping into somewhat silly situations at church.

First there was the 10-yard dash, a/k/a the offering plate relay. My fellow officer and I were going along in a stately manner, pew by pew from front to back, keeping pace with each other as mandated by Official Collection Rule 73b-12(iv), when suddenly the familiar opening strains of the Doxology started up. We were just halfway down the aisle... and the bulk of the people in our section were in the second half. We broke ranks and went as quickly as we could, shoving the plates into each row where people were tendering envelopes or bills. The Doxology was in full swing and the other officers were marching to the front down the center aisle. We made it to the end of our section after the Doxology came to a close and the offertory prayer began, so we circled around to the side and SPRINTED to the front. We just barely managed to intercept the officers who were about to take the other plates out for counting, shoving our plates into their open arms. (My parents both independently suggested that if we hadn't made it in time, we would have been entitled to keep running with the money as far as it would take us....) Soon afterward, I took my place, next to the senior pastor, to help serve communion for the same section. I have never seen so many people smiling at this point in the service. Humor does bring down a lot of barriers, and I'd love to think that someone who was on the fence about God in general, or about this church in particular which can be ... er ... a little formal at times, might have found himself or herself a little more open to grace.

Today it was a somewhat different situation - I had only the role of an understudy, and all the main actors had confirmed that they would be there. So I checked in as an usher and started handing out bulletins before the service began. An innocuous activity, one might think. Except that about 20 minutes into it, two dissatisfied customers came back to me. Did they want their money back? Surely not, since I didn't charge them for the bulletins in the first place! Alas, even though they'd paid nothing, they still wanted non-defective bulletins. Theirs showed an order of worship that stopped at the Offertory - no Closing Hymn, no Benediction. It turned out that a large portion of the bulletins shared this defect. The missing sheet didn't add much bulk, so it was hard to tell which bulletins were complete without opening and inspecting each one. This of course at the height of the influx of parishioners. So I tried to weed out the defective bulletins and failed miserably, giving up and handing each person a bulletin and just hoping for the best. Then, about 1 minute and 45 seconds before the service began, a messenger approached me. The prayer person was nowhere to be found. Could I sub in? But of course! The messenger handed me an offertory prayer, and I abruptly abandoned the bulletins and slipped away to march up to the pulpit with the pastors. If only I'd worn motley! I read the Call to Worship cold, then tried to customize the offertory prayer on the fly based on the sermon and a hymn. After all, why not?

The biblical passage and sermon were particularly challenging (we are to see each other with more than human eyes) and thought-provoking. The senior pastor shared a message from a disgruntled parishioner, or perhaps an ex-parishioner who still receives the weekly e-newsletter, who had rated us on how we were doing on each of the Six Great Ends of the Church. For item #6, we received a failing grade -- an F -- with a comment advising us that we were a "disasterous representation of humanity." Indeed. None of us deny it. We are hopelessly flawed.*

And yet... we also do the best we can, with God's grace, to see Christ in each other and to be Christ to each other and to the world at large.

FN* I keep coming back to Tim Keller's suggested prayer of belief: “I see I am more flawed and sinful than I ever dared believe, but that I am even more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope. I turn from my old life of living for myself. I have nothing in my record to merit your approval, but I now rest in what Jesus did and ask to be accepted into God’s family for his sake.”

Saturday, June 19, 2010


This has been an interesting 2 weeks, to say the least. I'm not used to leaving my apartment before 6:30 a.m. on a regular basis, not to mention jabbing myself with needles morning and night.

I've fallen behind in my French homework and my Through the Bible In Less Than a Year reading, and my apartment looks like I haven't cleaned it in weeks -- but on the upside, I've watched a bunch of episodes of Dr. Who, variously featuring Tom Baker, Matt Smith, and David Tenant.

Much as I love Tom Baker, I have to admit the special effects in his second-ever story, The Ark in Space, are ludicrously bad. You never forget for a moment that the aliens are played by adult humans. The wirrn grubs look like people in green velour sacks, crawling or inching along the floor as best they can. Noah, as he's taken over by the wirrn (after being infected by a small green smear on the epidermis) is engaged in an epic struggle with his own hand clad in a green glove. I guess he gets kudos for doing this with a straight face. Of course later, as his feeble efforts fade, his limbs get wrapped up in green bubble wrap. The adult wirrn look a lot like folk dressed up in paper-mâché wasp outfits. It's truly amazing. Have to say that the production values increased a lot over the course of the Tom Baker years.

The other thing that's interesting about The Ark in Space is the attitude toward violence. True, Dr. Who himself never actually fires a weapon. But he directs others to shoot. And he is very much OK with frying the aliens alive to save the humans. None of this tortured "how can I allow one bad guy to die" business. And of course, there's no sign of goo-goo eyes from Sarah Jane (even though she claims in the current serious that she was in love with him or something and that it ruined her for any other relationships). She's a bit of a feminist in the series, though also very much the damsel in distress. A product of its time, I suppose. And I'm sure they never expected it to become immortalized and iconified.

I tried and failed to see Merchant of Venice on Thursday, worse luck, but it was good to catch up with C. She and her friend have parted ways; she feels a bit stuck, torn and unmotivated. Sound familiar? But last night I saw South Pacific, which was really good -- despite my seeming detachment, I was wiping away copious tears in the final scene. The performers, including the musicians and the conductor, were loving it as well. Some memorable notes: The conductor popping up like a jack-in-the-box to see and acknowledge the audience's enthusiasm; musician with a bright red trumpet (a la Lang Lang, perhaps?). Interesting to have the moveable stage floor cover the orchestra most of the time. This way they aren't distracting from the action, but they - and the venue - get full credit (appreciation) for live musical performance. (The fear might be: If you can't see the orchestra, why not just play a recording?)

Just booked my flights for London in September. So now I really have to go hiking the Cleveland Way!! And that means.... I need to go on more hikes, and maybe do a bit of running in the park as well as rollerblading. Early morning would be a great time to do this... if I can bring myself to consider it a mandatory appointment.

The medical stuff will be over Monday or Tuesday, which is good. Parts of the process have triggered deep emotions, which I did not expect, but it looks like my mom will be here which should be nice. I have a meeting with a contractor this afternoon to get stuff done in the apartment and in the building. I have tracked down a former colleague in the trusts & estates world, and it's probably about time to get that stuff nailed down as well.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Breakneck Ridge

On Wednesday, I realized I wasn't going to be able to go to the officers' retreat this weekend. (Medical appointment in Manhattan at 7 AM Saturday, and some prep the night before that would really be easier at home.) So I had a weekend stretching before me with nothing to do, when I got a last-minute invitation to hike Breakneck Ridge. Yippee!! The first hike of the season, and a much-needed warm-up for my NINE-DAY hike in September. Yes, I will need to work on my overall physical fitness between now and then. And also buy plane tickets, but that's another story.

So after my medical appointment, I grabbed some breakfast and coffee at a local diner, then met up with my friends to drive up to Cold Spring. I've been to the town a number of times, but always did the Mount Taurus hike.

The day was a bit overcast.

After some steep ascents (complete with hard-to-reach handholds, with a bit of wind at times), we got some nice views. It rained a bit while we had lunch, but that wasn't so bad. The ground remained relatively dry.

This is one of my all-time favorite cairns (perhaps #2 after the sculpture "Rising Cairn" at the Portland Museum of Art):

Look closely, and you'll see that someone has taken the trouble to wedge in a stick into the main body of the cairn and create a mini-cairn on top. So cute!!!

We all admired this unusually shaped dead tree atop Sugarloaf:

I liked the trail of the boat here, much like the jet trail of an airplane:

We did just a 3-mile loop, but it felt like more because it was pretty steep at the beginning. (Steep ascents are a mixed bag for me. I absolutely love scrambling up the rocks on all fours. But I dread walking up steep inclines and find it very challenging. So clearly I need to work up my stamina for the Cleveland Way.)

Afterward, we went to a diner for a light dinner. SeungYeon and Jonathan got just an appetizer - nachos - but it was huge. They finished it ALL with very little help from the rest of us though. There was talk of going for ice cream, but the two people who most wanted to get ice cream were essentially advised that they did not need any ice cream (ooh - cold!). Luckily, I'd had a mini ice cream sandwich before we set off, so I was all set.

On the way back into the city, we went through Spanish Harlem and encountered people who were excited about the forthcoming Puerto Rican Day parade.

I had my friends drop me off near the Delacorte Theatre and - amazingly - ran into a friend of mine who was waiting for tickets. She and her friend got in to Merchant of Venice. Luckily, I did not. I could not have stayed awake for the performance. And I had to get up early Sunday anyway for another 7AM midtown adventure. But that's another story for another time.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Begin With the End in Mind

... or so they say. This applies to a lot of areas in life, but perhaps especially to painting projects. When you break out the paint and all the necessary accoutrements (in my case, roller, pan, ladder, old shower curtain), you should be asking yourself: What is the end goal here? Am I seeking to create the next Sistine Chapel? Do I wish to mask a rotting/moldy/lead-infested wall just long enough to lure in some hapless unsuspecting tenants? Am I hoping to spruce things up so I can sell the place at a tidy profit?

In my case, the goal was simply to see if I could more or less cover up the watermarks on the wall (including one that is 8' long) so I don't have to look at them every day for the next few months until the contractor gets around to rebuilding the wall. Instead, I'll look at a wall strangely streaked with the paint I'd saved for touch-ups, aged in the can for the last nine years. I'm sure that will be much better. Especially since I managed to remove a lot of the rust from the rim of the can before I started.

Ah yes, old world craftsmanship at its best.

Postscript: Amazingly, the wall turned out fine; you can just barely see the borders of the area I re-painted, if you know where to look and the light is right (or wrong, depending on your point of view).

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Opening Lines for a Never-to-Be-Written Novel

The Thistle Throne

"Throw that thimble!" the thespian thundered, thrilling the theatre. Thereafter, three thieves thrust through the threshold. They threatened thumps; they thrived. Then these thugs thirsted. Thermos? Thinking thallium thirst-quenching, the thespian's thallium they threw therein. Their throats throbbed, they thrashed.
I'm not sure where the story would go from there. Is the thespian the hero? The antihero? A smokescreen - the story perhaps follows the thespian's therapists? Undoubtedly the plot would thicken and many themes would thread through.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Mental Buckets

There are definitely some things I don't remember specifically, but only by general category -- in mental buckets, if you will.

One of these buckets is "things that get me in". It contains my keys and my Metrocard, and to a lesser extent my work pass. The mistakes I make here are very specific.

I will sometimes take out my Metrocard as I approach my front door at the end of a workday, just as I would take out my keys. (I did this tonight, in fact.) I typically keep both of these items in the outside pocket of my purse or in the right-hand pocket of my jacket, for ease of access. Both of them need to be removed to be used, and I generally take them out just a hair's breadth before they are needed to avoid delay. It's the end of the day, and I'm tired, which increases the possibility of being on automatic pilot.

For similar reasons, I sometimes find myself approaching the subway turnstiles with my keys in hand. This, too, I've only observed at the end of a workday.

Less frequently, as I come into work (either at the start of the day or after lunch), I pull out either my Metrocard or my house keys. This requires a somewhat greater gap in attention, since I do not have to pull out anything to get into work; the card reader recognizes my work pass through my purse. Still, it has happened, perhaps when I'm a bit distracted.

But I have never tried to use my work pass to get in to the subway or my house. The mechanism is too different; even if I'm exhausted and inattentive, it never occurs to me to wave my purse at the turnstile or the front door.

Another of these buckets is "women's names that begin and end with an 'A'". Yes, to me it takes a lot of effort to distinguish between names such as Amanda, Andrea, Angela, and Amelia, and even more effort to assign the right name to the right person. At dinner a few years ago, I once called my friend Amanda "Andrea" -- I don't think she heard me, and I almost got away with it entirely, because those who heard initially assumed I was addressing the waitress. That was very embarrassing. At the time, I was also struggling mightily with another (to me) similar name as well. I would test myself silently whenever I saw them, and I usually guessed right, maybe 80% of the time, but that 20% error rate left me terrified to use their names at all for fear of getting it horribly wrong. Now, I know their names perfectly -- it helped to associate the first and last names -- but there's still a slight hesitation as I double-check mentally.

Blind Faith

In an article entitled "Placing the Blame as Students Are Buried in Debt" (6/1/10), Ron Lieber discusses the plight of a "26-year-old graduate of New York University" who has "nearly $100,000 in student loan debt from her four years in college" and apparently cannot afford the full monthly payments with or without her mom's help.

As the title suggests, the article explores where to place the blame; is it bad parenting, the fault of the financial aid office (for not saying hey, you can't afford this, go somewhere else), or the bank that made the "extra" loan to cover the $40,000 gap that the student and her mom could not cover with federal loans and Sallie Mae loans. There could, of course, be other culprits, but they are not really discussed. The author seems to place most blame on the bank, but is very critical of N.Y.U. as the entity with "the most knowledge of the financial aid process" while acknowledging to some extent the university's actual role and its need to protect its reputation (as opposed to, for instance, suggesting that its alumni could never pay back their loans).

The author appears to be very sympathetic to what he calls the "blind faith that the investment would be worth it" on the part of the mother-child pair. But I can't help noticing what they invested in -- it was "an interdisciplinary degree in religious and women's studies." Quite honestly, if I were looking for an undergraduate degree that might give me a good return on investment, that's not the one that I'd choose.

This story reminds me about opinions released last April by courts in New York and Texas, denying two unfortunate law school graduates admission to the bar after they had racked up some substantial debt. The opinions did not seek to place blame for taking out or granting the loans in the first instance, but focused instead on what they perceived as ongoing fiscal irresponsibility. A bad, bad thing for a lawyer, since mishandling escrow accounts and commingling funds (even by temporarily "borrowing" from a client's account and then repaying it) is one of the most serious disciplinary offenses out there. Nowhere near as common as neglect of client matters, mind you, but vastly more serious.

Postlude: Coincidentally, a friend of mine mentioned Wednesday night that her brother had been accepted into N.Y.U. as a transfer student (undergraduate). She's very excited about it for him, from an academic perspective, but said N.Y.U.'s financial aid office is notoriously stingy -- and this will probably be a bar for her family. It looks like, after all financial aid, they'd be expected to come up with $20,000+ which they cannot afford.