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Monthly Archives: July 2015

By Any Other Name…

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My Irish friend grew up in an almost entirely Irish-speaking household, and is pretty passionate about preserving the language.  Over the years she’s taught me a few phrases – starting with “slan,” which is how she signed off her very first letter to me (it means “goodbye”).  I still use them when we write – basic things like “go raith maibh agat” (thank you), “Nollaig shona” (Merry Christmas), stuff like that.  I’ve nowhere near her competency, but I like making her happy.

I also like using the Irish spelling of her surname – which is quite different from the English spelling.  And that sometimes causes some double-takes.

I went to ship her a package recently, at a place on my block that does that kind of soup-to-nuts packing and shipping service, including typing out the address label.  I got there first thing on a Saturday, when the only staff included one harried guy at the register and a teenage kid working in the back room and doing general fetching-and-carrying.  The kid brought his boss an envelope for my friend’s package, then loped back to the back room.  “So, Ireland,” the boss said.  “What’s the full address?”  I told him, and he typed it out, checking it on Googlemaps.  “Yep, there it is,” he said, showing me when it came up.  “Great  – okay, what’s her name?”

I hesitated.  “Okay, brace yourself,” I said, “This is gonna be funky.  But just trust me.”


“Okay.”  I told him the first name – which isn’t that odd – and he typed it.  “And the last name is – brace yourself, now – N, i, a space, and then d, h, o, double-n, a, b, h, a, i, n.”

“…Wow.”  He typed that in, eyes going slightly wide.

“Yeah, it’s Irish.”

“Okay, I usually don’t ask, but…can you check this for me?” he spun the computer around to show me.  I gave the name my thumbs-up, and then as he spun the computer back around to print the label, I glanced behind him – and cracked up when saw that the kid had come from the back room and was staring at me, brow furrowed in confusion.  He said nothing, just stared for a good 20 seconds before shaking his head and heading back to the back room.

Maintaining The Temple

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Man, I really need to start taking better care of myself.

When I went on that hourlong kayak trip the other week, and then immediately came home and went to sleep, I chalked that up to a longer-than-usual jaunt.  But yesterday I did a much shorter stint at Brooklyn Bridge Park, and rode my bike to and from the park – which was not a great distance, mind, only about 20 minutes each way.  And I that wiped me out too – I went to sleep at 7:30, then woke up at midnight because that’s when the muscle aches started.

Now, this morning I felt great.  Rested, refreshed, and ache-free.  Also a lot more mentally focused.  But that level of exhaustion from a comparatively small amount of exercise is not good.  It’s understandable, though – I’ve blown off a lot of self-care because it was taking all my energy to not completely flip out over a lot of other bullshit.  But that bullshit is gone, and I didn’t make any moves to start the self-care again.

But it’s ironic, isn’t it, that the times that we most need to pay attention to how we take care of ourselves, are the same times that we are least able to do so?

I’m Gonna Be In A Bigger Boat

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So for a few years now, I have done occasional volunteering with a kayak club in Brooklyn.  There are several such clubs, actually – groups with their own little chunk of shore on New York Harbor, with a handful of group-owned boats carefully tucked away except for group activities.  Lots of them run free public days in summer, where anyone can wander up and borrow a boat for 20 minutes to splash around in the groups’ own little bay.

And that was great for a while – we were on a smaller quiet bay near a great ice cream place, and we always got a lot of families with kids.  I always loved it when there was someone who’d never been on a kayak before, and they were nervous – because invariably they would come back to shore with a huge smile on their face, and gush, “that was awesome!  I’m gonna come back next week and do it again!”  Some people loved it so much they went away, but then came back an hour later and sheepishly asked if they could take out another boat again right now?  Maybe?

But like any volunteer program, resources were few; our “clubhouse” was a shipping container with the eight club boats piled inside.  A lot of the eager volunteers that were there when I joined got priced out of the neighborhood, or were flooded out after Hurricane Sandy.  The group sometimes organized members-only kayak trips, more extensive trips along Brooklyn’s coastline or out to the islands dotting the harbor; but after a while I noticed that some trips I was only hearing about after the fact, and realized that for whatever reason, I wasn’t always on the invite list when they were setting up trips.

By that time, though, I’d gotten chummy with another member, J, who was souring on the group for his own reasons.  He started checking out other groups, and I asked him to let me know if he found any that were especially good.


A month ago he started raving about the Sebago Canoe Club, a longstanding club he’d found.  I checked them out online, and balked at first – it’s in the wilds of South Brooklyn, and they charge a hefty membership fee.  But J had instantly signed up when he saw it, and was making some other powerful arguments in its favor – they had the same kind of public-access program, but not just for kayakers – there was also a canoe group, stand-up paddleboards, and there was even sailing.  I asked if I could tag along one day he was going to vet the place.

J brought me along this past weekend – every year, the city’s waterway system hosts a big public event devoted to “Hey everyone! You can use the harbor for fun outdoor recreational stuff!”  A lot of the city’s boat clubs join in, with open-houses, presentations, chances to go on free trips, and the like.  J said Sebago was doing a whole round of free trips all day, launching out into Jamaica Bay; he was eager to get on the water anyway, and it seemed the perfect chance to show it off to me.  He started the sales pitch while we were still out on the highway on the way there.

Now – the old club I was with had just that one shipping container, and setting up for the group programs involved staking claim on a spot on shore and setting up a card table.  If people needed food, we directed them to a nearby supermarket; if they needed a bathroom, we directed them to some coffee shops a couple blocks further.  So when J walked me through the entry gate and gestured at a row of about 20 shipping containers, I was already impressed.  “A lot of these are group boats,” he began, “and the port-a-potties are just between the ninth and tenth ones there…oh, and that twelfth one is the workshop.”

“Workshop for what?”

“….For building boats,” he said. “Oh, yeah, they do that too.”  He pointed out the rows upon rows of canoes, kayaks, sunfish sailboats, pointing out which were members’ own boats and which were used for the public.  “And here’s the clubhouse,” he announced, guiding me into a small shed-looking thing. I was expecting bare walls – but there was a kitchen, and plumbing, and a big meeting table, and storage lockers, and even a small library.  He chatted a bit with the group’s leader, whom everyone called “The Commodore,” as I stood and gawped at the extent of everything.

I’d barely finished taking it all in before J brought me outside again, to sign up – and then to check out the view from the dock.   Because they had their own dock as well – three slips, big enough to launch three war canoes or about nine kayaks.  He pointed out some of the nearby landmarks (“that’s Canarsie pier through there, and that’s the Shore Parkway bridge, we drove over that on the way here”) but I was still marveling over the fact that there was actually a dock.  “So we’ll be paddling around in the marina here, then, eh?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” J grinned.  “This isn’t like at the other place – the walk-up programs are guided trips.  We’ll be out in Jamaica Bay for about an hour.”

A whole hour out on the water!  I followed J back up to shore with starry eyes.

J helped me pick out which one of the scores of boats I should take (“this one has a rudder, so it’ll be agile but tippy….that one is a little tippy, but pretty stable…yeah, I’d take one of these two here”) as the scores of other volunteers were helping newcomers pick out boats and strap on lifevests, and giving the newcomers paddling tutorials.  Meanwhile, still more volunteers were loading families into canoes and a couple of the sailors were waiting to give people rides on the sailboats.  I was pondering signing up for that later when the call came to bring our kayaks down to the dock – and still more volunteers materialized to run the boats down the gangplank to the docks, where yet still more volunteers were standing by to patiently hold the boats steady while everyone climbed in.

We were a group of about fourteen, with four of our number being volunteers serving as squad leaders and safety boats.   And after a couple of brief safety announcements (“if you’re having trouble, hold your paddle up like this and we can tow you along”), we set out, splashing our way out of the marina into Jamaica Bay.  It wasn’t the sunniest weather – we’d actually just missed a thunderstorm – but I didn’t care; I was too happy gliding along past the shoreline, eyes peeled for egrets or gulls.  J pointed out a big pylon that used to mark the entrance to Floyd Bennett Airfield, and I pointed out a whole cluster of cormorants huddled on top of a buoy.  “Yeah, you see a lot of those out here,” J said.  “There’s a lot of birding trips that come out here; this is a wildlife sanctuary, and the channel’s wide and deep enough that it’s easy for boats to dodge each other.  And it’s way calmer than the old beach,” he added, as I glided effortlessly away from him after a cormorant.  We made it nearly all the way to Mill Basin channel, about two miles out, before the leaders got a bit spooked by the looming clouds and herded us back in.

As J was showing me around, he kept on alluding to “if and when” I would join (“If and when you join the club, that’s where you’d find the boats…” “if and when you join, she’s the one who leads the kayak trips….” “if and when you join, there are a lot of ways to rack up your volunteer service requirements….”).  When we got to shore after the trip, he stationed me at one of the group’s picnic tables so he could round up hamburgers for us both from the pot luck the group had going for the visitors; while I waited, I listened to our group leaders swapping stories about some of the other trip adventures.  A moment later J came back and plunked a fresh hamburger in front of me, and settled across from me with a big bowl of salad.  He began again – “If and when you join -”

“There’s no ‘if’ about it, dude,” I interrupted.  “I”m in.”

Inner Buddha

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I’ve not really been good at knowing what to do with my down time for a while. There’s some good reasons – shaky employment, lack of funds, and exhaustion running into a mindset that I should be “productive” – but those have become more like excuses for why I’ve not yet figured out how to snap out of the habit of just staying inside and fooling around on the web all afternoon.

But this weekend I was determined to do something about that.  I studied local event listings for a few days, weighing options – and just as quickly rejecting them.  A movie would cost money, a museum I’d feel like I had to dress up, a hike I’d have to wake up early for or else it wouldn’t be worth the bother…and the whole exercise also was starting to feel oppressive, too, like I had to do something Worthy Of A Weekend or something.

And then I had an idea.  In an interview once, John Cusack mentioned a friends’ theory that all twelve-year-olds are “the Buddha” –  “you can see things with a clarity and a precision that you then have to spend the rest of your life recapturing.”  You’re old enough to pick up on and avoid bullshit, but you’re young enough that the vagaries of puberty and adult nonsense haven’t clouded you.

So I became twelve for a day.

Worrying over-much about my appearance went first – I didn’t care a lick for makeup then (and barely do today) and the most I’d do for school is put concealer on any of the first pimples that were then showing up. In summer, I rarely even did that – just combed my hair so it didn’t look totally stupid, brushed my teeth, and called it good.  Got dressed only because society frowns on going naked – but didn’t care whether my shorts were dirty or flattering or anything.  Same with the t-shirt.  If it covered my bits and wasn’t too hot, good enough.

If I didn’t have any friends to hang around with at twelve, I’d usually just go outside anyway, either to sit around a cornfield through the woods at the end of my block, or to laze at the neighbors’ pool, or to sit in our hammock out back and read.  And read real books, too.  At some point I’d trot inside and make myself a sandwich and then bring it back out and eat it there.  I don’t have a back yard today, but – I have a camping hammock, and Governors’ Island has a section set up exclusively for lounging in hammocks.  That, and a lunch packed into a bento box I have for work, sounded ideal.

Unfortunately it wasn’t until I was already on the island and stringing up my hammock that I discovered I’d forgotten the books I’d meant to bring.  45-year-old-me was ready to call the trip a bust, but twelve-year-old me would have shrugged – who said I had to read?  I also sometimes just…thought.

– But I also wrote, worried 45-me.  – and you don’t have your pen or your journal 0r – 

So? said 12-me.

Good point.

I couldn’t get the hammock strung, so I gave up and decided to just walk around, letting 12-me steer.  Curiously peering in the windows of the closed-up houses in the Officers’ housing area, or wandering into the ones that were open to house-snoop.  I curled up like a cat on a rocking chair on one porch, just watching people – listening to someone playing bagpipes across the park, quietly singing along as he played Rising Of The Moon.  Then I got curious about the history exhibit in the house next door, striking up a conversation with the kid costumed like a Revolutionary soldier (“yes,” he admitted, “this costume is just as hot as it looks”) and eavesdropping on another volunteer leading two kids on a “history scavenger hunt”.  12-me got really intrigued by the story of Patience Wright, a Revolutionary-War-era sculptor who used her connections to spy for Washington’s army.

12-me really wanted to try the minigolf course the artists’ collective sets up each year, so I did, playing by myself; getting quietly psyched that I was above par on a couple holes, but laughing off how I completely blew it on one hole.  12-me didn’t really care about athletic achievement; it was just supposed to be fun.  I found a spare Adirondack chair by one of the food courts and sat down to eat there, munching through a big bowl of cherries for dessert and just spitting the pits on the grass around me.  As I ate, I either browsed a magazine I happened to find in my bag, or did people-watching – I saw a young Orthodox Jewish family pass by me at one point, and smiled when I saw Dad pushing the stroller and Mom hiding a super-soaker behind her back; at one point, as he leaned over to say something to their older daughter, she shot him right in the back of the kippah with it, then hid it behind her back again, giving him an innocent, “who, me?” look when he turned to her.

I passed a couple of other random public art pieces as I wandered, and 12-me made me stop at one in particular – it was a “Little Free Library” box, which the owner had stocked specifically with weird post-apocalyptic books.  12-me grabbed the only thing in English – The Purple Clouda weird last-man-alive book I’d never heard of before.  – You’re near the hammocks, 12-me reminded me, – let’s just check.  So I checked – and found one free.  And I lay there in the sun, gradually dabbing my face with splashes of water from my thermos as I read (unfortunately, 12-me was also prone to forgetting about sunblock).  Sometimes I read, sometimes I closed my eyes for a five-minute catnap.

By late afternoon I was done, and walked through most of Brooklyn Heights looking for a bus stop after I got off the ferry, not caring how I looked – mussed hair, dusty sneakers, bright pink from sunburn.  Hit the shower as soon as I got in to wash the dust off me and take the edge off the burn before I started dinner.

And the strange thing is, even though I basically did nothing, it was the first time in a long time that I felt like I’d really done what I needed to do.  And I think 12-me is going to be taking the reins a lot more often now.

Road Worrier

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So I just got back from a vacation that had a bit of a road-trip element.  I’ve done that kind of thing before, but – I grew up in a small town and learned how to drive in the middle of podunk nowhere where there was no one else on the road, so I still get very jumpy behind the wheel if there’s a lot of fast-moving traffic (like on an Interstate) or if I am not 100% sure where I’m going (like if I’m on vacation).  Most of the time I was in the Adirondacks – lovely, and with few roads and fewer people on them – but eventually I had to come home.  And that meant driving on the Interstate on a holiday weekend.

I left early enough and drove nearly non-stop for six hours, so I was able to beat the worst of the traffic.  But still – that was six hours, in a car, on a busy-ish Interstate.  Which is a long time in a car alone with your thoughts, particularly when you want to quell anxiety.

Here’s some of the things I did on the way to keep up morale.

* Let myself pull over for two last pictures of pretty barns.

* Ate handfuls of raspberries from a tub I’d brought and forgotten to eat while I was at my various homestays.

* Sang the Raiders Of The Lost Ark theme, loudly, when I was pulling onto I-87 South.

* Crossed myself twice.

* Inexplicably got the song Thank God I’m A Country Boy stuck in my head somewhere north of Ticonderoga.

* Decided to actually sing Thank God I’m A Country Boy, on the premise that trying to remember all the lyrics would be sufficiently distracting.

* Remembered only half the lyrics to Thank God I’m A Country Boy.

Started to intensely dislike Thank God I’m A Country Boy somewhere around Saratoga.

* Promised myself that I could stop because I needed to pee.

* Passed three rest stops when I noticed they didn’t have toilet facilities.

* Finally stopped at a “text stop” and snuck into the woods and tended to things there.

* Cursed out a huge trailer that was trying to pass behind me and taking up two lanes.

* Cursed out other drivers by suggesting they do something to me that technically is anatomically impossible.

* Started singing an appropriate ZZ Top song when I saw a road sign for a town called Lagrange (a-how-how-how-how).

* Waved when I passed a road sign for Hudson, NY, because I know someone who lives there (Hi, David).

* Audibly cheered when I saw a road sign for Poughkeepsie because “yay I’m halfway home”.

* Audibly cheered again when I saw a road sign for Hyde Park because “yay I’ve been there.”

* Boggled at the sight of a road sign directing people to the Donald J. Trump State Park, a park of which I have been previously unaware.

* Flipped off the next two road signs I saw for the Trump State Park.

* Audibly cheered when I got to the city line.

* Tried to figure out why a man was pirouetting in the middle of the road just under the Taconic Parkway underpass at the NY-100 Exit somewhere outside Yonkers.

* Briefly considered getting gas.

* Wailed when I saw my directions were taking me onto the Major Deegan Expressway, one of the busiest and ickiest thruways in the city.

* Gave up on getting gas because that would mean crossing six lanes of traffic on the Major Deegan and OH HELL NO.

* Audibly cheered when I saw slow traffic on the Kosciuszko Bridge because oh thank God I can slow down a little.

* Kept driving slow when I got to my exit.

* Found a place to park right in front of my house, called the person who was borrowing the car after me, ate an entire bag of Cheetos for dinner and went to sleep at 7 pm.


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Greeleyville, South Carolina, God-damn.