Blobfest

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rebekah_blobfest_BsWu3HbIEAASHLs.jpgSo, here's the thing about our pending new hometown of Phoenixville, PA: the movie "The Blob" was largely filmed there and in the surrounding areas. Doc Hallen's house is still there. So is the Colonial Theater, from which the teens run screaming from a monster feature when the blob consumes the projectionist and oozes through the louvers and into the theater. Let's face it, "The Blob" would probably be forgotten had it not starred a youngish (27, playing 17) Steve McQueen. It is not one of the finest movies of all time. And the fact that it featured Phoenixville could have remained nothing more than an interesting bit of local trivia, just as with the filming of scenes around Albany and Schenectady in recent years.

But instead, there is Blobfest, an enthusiastic celebration of this and other B movies. It commences with "The Run Out" -- costumed participants pay for the privilege of running screaming from the theater in advance of the blob. There is a Tin Foil Hat parade, a costume contest (which Mothra and his companions, shown above, won this year), and a Fire Extinguisher Drill Team Parade. There are vendors, antique cars, and double features of "The Blob" and other movies like "Mothra" or "King Kong Vs. Godzilla." There is a lot of fun.

So we spent the weekend at Blobfest, and visiting the farmer's market, checking out where to put in our canoes, finding the best coffee places, and chatting with local residents. There were dozens of cyclists out on the roads and paths, there were flotillas of kayaks, there were all kinds of people just out enjoying almost perfect days.

Titular Quandary

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newhouse.pngSo here's the thing. When I started this occasional series of rants back in 2002 (!), the title was a play on "My So-Called Life" and a statement of life in a near-the-city suburb, not quite urban, not quite suburban. Other than a pleasant neighborhood close to a little lake, it was life in an unwalkable world, a land without sidewalks. We were just blocks from the school, but our kids had to get on buses. Milk, groceries, the post office, they all required getting into a car. Most of our social life took place across the river, or up it, in Albany or Troy.

But that's changing, and soon. We're moving to a town that is essentially Bedford Falls, moving from a corner lot colonial with a two-car garage to a downtown rowhouse a block from the main street. We'll be a short walk from the library, the park, the post office. We'll be three minutes' walk from the little historic movie house and a slew of sidewalk cafés. Minutes from the bike path. And not so far from a major city that can't seem to get enough of its pretzels.

Decidedly, utterly urban. Perhaps even super-urban. My Super-Urban Life?

O the things you will do!

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212 Hall StreetIn terms of things that need doing, life has reached a maximum. With all the events that come with the end of a school year anyway, add all the things that come with senior year. With all the family events that normally come around this time of year, add in a couple more special events. Work has been insanely busy, and then there's the small matter of buying a house, picking up stakes and moving.

If you've never experienced a "hot" real estate market (and if you've only lived in the Capital District, you have not), let me explain what it's like. A house that you might like comes on the market. Five minutes later, you get a note from your realtor asking if you want to see it that day; if you see it and like it and decide to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars based on a 10-minute review and some shaky iPhone pictures, then you'd better be prepared to make an offer that night, because the sellers are reviewing the offers first thing in the morning. If you need some extra time, well, you can just look elsewhere. If you want to make the sale contingent on selling your own house, well, perhaps something along the lines of a garden shed would suit you better. And those 27 perfectly acceptable houses taunting you on Zillow? They're all under contract. You need to wait for something else to be listed, and don't get far from your phone.

So that's what it is, just a whirlwind. Found a place that I desperately loved (and could afford) on Monday, scrambled to put in an offer (while also paying attention to an important meeting, mind you) on Tuesday, got beat out by a cash offer on Wednesday. (By the way, anyone with cash is suspect, in my mind, and should be thoroughly investigated.) Had all day Wednesday to experience the mixture of let-down and relief, got the same call on Thursday, checked out a place that didn't quite work but that we loved anyway, and had to put in a bid Friday night for a Saturday decision.

And while we're doing all that, we have to fit in the final (final!) dance recital, prom, a string of honors events, the graduation itself, and I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Oh, yeah: work. Lots and lots of work.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that we'll be giving up a lot, in terms of both space and personal history (not to mention the fact we largely rebuilt this house ourselves), we're both very excited about the chance to move on. If we're going to be empty nesters, why not be empty nesters in a gorgeous little community that people seem to love living in, within steps of a nicely vibrant downtown?

And as a special snub to the Capital District, I'll note that no matter what house we end up with in our new town, the Wegman's will be about four miles away.

bedroomceiling.jpgSo, this is what's happening now. In fact, it's what's been happening pretty much every weekend since the year began, and the year is slipping away quickly. First, I work like a dog at a new job that I love but have to put substantial effort into. It's a pleasure to do something that matters again, but it does up the game when you're giving advice that people are actually listening to. I do this far away from home. Then I look at the weather forecast for Thursday or, more often, Friday to see what natural disaster is going to prevent my return home, or, just as bad, interfere with my return to work the next week. Wishes for a mild winter went unanswered. The Philly area gets flummoxed by even a couple of inches of snow, and it got way more than that many, many times this winter. (Only the great humor of the Phoenixville Office of Emergency Management's wonderful, useful, human alerts -- and just try to imagine a humorous public safety agency in New York -- helped me get through it.). Then, I drive 250 miles home, which takes under five hours except when it takes six (and getting back down takes four -- there's a quantum effect going on, to be certain). I arrive in the nick of time for whatever event we have planned for that night, sleep, get up early the next morning and start beating up the house some more. Mix in mandatory social events (no less pleasant for being mandatory, mind you), fall into exhausted but not restful sleep, get up and drive back to Pennsylvania. Lather, rinse, repeat.

We started some significant upgrades to the house we've lived in for two decades a couple of years back, not really knowing at that time that we'd be selling it. Thank goodness, or there'd be no hope of getting everything done that really needs to be done to sell a house. Even as it is, we can't do it all ourselves, so we're relying on our secret weapon, my 74-year-old mother, a tireless Tasmanian devil of home repair. She routinely does more in a day than I could in two, and has managed not only to paint all the things I was never going to get around to painting, but replaced three windows, put up wallpaper, and of course helped me with the unbelievably disastrous task of replacing the ceramic tile in the kitchen. There have been times when we've contemplated fire as an option.

One of the last things to get done was yet another of the many, many tasks that I never got around to while we lived in the house because a) we would have to totally vacate a room in order to do it, and we didn't have the room to do that, and b) it would be a colossal pain in the ass. I have never been wrong in estimating that second part, and replacing the ceiling tiles in our bedroom was every bit of a colossal pain in the ass. Mostly so because it shouldn't have been necessary. The old tiles were in fine shape and a coat of paint would have made them look nice, but they were falling down at odd angles in odd places, and there didn't seem to be any way to tuck them back up. Sometimes a well-placed hidden tack can do miracles with ceiling tile, but this was not to be the case, as there seemed to be nothing to tack the sagging seams to. When the old tile came down, we found the reason -- whoever had done this job had not bothered to space the standards where the seams would be. So all the standards had to be pulled down and put where they belonged. Just one of those things that never ends with this house.

Some of the other things, we won't talk about. I'd like someone to buy this house.

One or two things I know about her

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  • It may be that Zillow lies. It tells me houses have just come on the market, and when I go to actually look at them they're already gone. This is discouraging, because I would totally have bought that house.
  • In Pennsylvania, the shirtless douchebags start driving shirtless much earlier in the season, pumping out a much worse type of music. This may be the downside to a warmer spring.
  • The worst part of moving is having to break up with my hairstylist. I've been with her for more than 20 years. I feel like I'm cheating. It's even worse, really, because every time I've gotten my hair cut it's been by someone different, so it's like I'm slutting around on her.
  • The move south means I get to experience something akin to those people who move to Australia and get summer twice in a row: I get to have spring allergies twice in rapid succession. The dogwoods and magnolias are already in bloom down here in greater Philly. (After all, why do you think they call it "greater"?) And so's a lot of other stuff with pollen. Then it'll all die down and I'll go back north and experience it anew in three weeks.
  • While I do get to experience the commercial genetic superiority of a Wegman's, which all of Albany is clamoring for, there is no such thing as a Stewart's down here, and no local equivalent. The best I can hope for is a Wawa, whose new stores are all clean and presentable and have decent bathrooms. But seriously, it's embarrassing just to say its name.
  • I can't say that I'll necessarily miss living in a place where I can kill a mosquito, hatched from the April warmth, in my bathroom on the same morning that I then had to go out and scrape a significant amount of ice off my car. I'm fairly sure that's a sign of something.
  • This whole thing about no self-serve gas in New Jersey: I don't care that it's 20-30 cents a gallon cheaper, AND someone pumps it for you. I think those of us who can remember full serve have a romantic memory of rolling over the gas station's bell hose and having Chip come running out to serve you, filling 'er up while cleaning the windshield and checking your oil (in a hot engine), and making change with a smile. The current reality is sitting in line and waiting while one overworked immigrant plods from car to car, putting your credit card into a very sketchy card reader, starting the pump and then walking off to tend to 10 other cars, leaving you to sit for seven minutes after your tank is full before he gets back to you to hand you your card. The whole process takes a minimum of three times as long as pumping it yourself does, and makes you feel like you're exploiting undocumented labor in the process.

Closing in on it

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I know that other people pick up their roots and move all the time, but I'm damned if I can understand how. We've been in the same house for 23 years, and along with various renovations there have been various dumpsters filled with construction waste and whatever else we had lying around that we didn't think we needed anymore. I felt like we were pretty good at clearing things out over the years -- the girls' toys from when they were little are long since gone, old clothes go out the door, and our generally small space keeps us from filling it up too much.

And yet, over the past week, we crammed a dumpster with 15 yards of stuff that had accumulated. Some of it was just impossible to get rid of, like a steel enameled utility sink from the basement that I finally replaced a few years back but was unable to ever get up the stairs. It didn't weigh less than 80 pounds, and that was after I separated it from its base. (Anyone who guessed "cotter pin" as the connector, you have won the no-prize.) There was crappy particle board furniture and somewhat less crappy wood furniture that just had to go away, and lots of things that I'd have had to take a saw to to fit into the regular garbage, and so it sat until there was another dumpster opportunity. All gone now. (Including one last Barbie shoe that suddenly appeared from nowhere.)

Renovations are proceeding apace, thanks only to my mother, who can do more painting and patching in a single day than I can in two. Honestly, I wish I could work at that pace. Last week I was looking at a destroyed dining room, despairing that it could ever be finished; then all of a sudden, in a single day she got all the new wallpaper up and it looked almost like a real room. I spent a very frustrating day yesterday trying to cut the ceiling cove -- geometry is my greatest weakness when it comes to carpentry, and despite checking my angles over and over I still make frustrating mistakes, and so the trim, sorry to say, did not get done this weekend. But maybe next. Almost there.

Then, of course, we need to find something to live in. This has proven marginally difficult, but I have hope. The difficult part is that the houses we would want that have cropped up have sold in seconds, when we really aren't ready to make an offer yet. The ones that haven't sold quickly, we can see why, and having lived in a semi-finished fixer-upper for a couple of decades, I've decided I'd rather give my money to a bank than to the Home Depot, get some of my weekends back, and just live in a finished house. Other people do this, so I know it's possible.

It is the little parts of this project that make me insane. I need a ceiling medallion to cover an unfortunate bit of a gap above one of my ceiling lamps, so I tried to find one at the Lowe's. All I needed was a simple, small, 4" medallion, of the type that should be perfectly standard. So I was surprised to find myself flying into a Hulk-like rage when I discovered that little, open medallions don't really exist there, and that in fact most of the medallion display is given over to crafts projects you can do with medallions. I don't know when this happened, or why, but apparently there is some kind of craze for taking ceiling medallions and stuffing clocks, mirrors, and photos into their centers. What they're really NOT set up for anymore is hiding flaws in a ceiling, which is their complete and only true purpose. If whoever was responsible for this had been standing next to the display, beaming with pride at their innovation, there would have been an unscheduled, and entirely justified, strangling.

Crafters: just get a clock. Get a mirror. Get a picture frame. Stop ruining my America.

Oh, did we skip February?

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Oh, did we skip February? (See One-armed paperhanger, busier than.) You didn't miss much. It was a blur of cold and snow, cancelled meetings and anxiety about getting home or getting back. There's a 225-mile commute involved, and pretty much anything can mess that up, but snow and ice are especially good at it. I'm not sure why the same snow that really has a minimal impact in upstate New York causes absolute CHAOS in southeastern Pennsylvania, but it does. Reinforcing my belief that when we move here permanently, there will be no commute short enough.

But with all that winter behind us (well, not in Albany. Enjoy your 6-to-12!), things are looking better. Been a while since I did one of these, but here's my current Top Five:

  1. College admissions! While our younger bit of brilliance was absolutely set on WPI, we did make her apply somewhere else just because, so we're pleased to say that another PI, this one starting with R, also invites her to bask in its truthiness. One more to hear from, but Worcester already has our money, so that entire process is done.
  2. Suddenly, Hooverphonic. I was listening to Mazzy Star on Pandora and it got me into a trip-hop groove. (Listen, no one was more surprised than I was.) One of the bands that kept coming up with songs I really liked was Hooverphonic, and then I found they had a recent album recorded live with an orchestra, so I checked that out and OMIGOD. I cannot stop listening to this album. And don't want to.
  3. March 10: First official ride of the season. Still snow on the trail, just enough to make some areas a real mess and icy underneath, but the rest was fine. And with the onset of daylight savings, now there's time at the end of the day to sneak a ride in.
  4. Spring Classics! More important to me than local signs of spring are the global signs of spring, pro cycling's spring classics. Daughter came down to our renovation project we call a kitchen the other day, pointed to the laptop on the counter, and asked, "Are you watching bike racing while you're painting the kitchen? Commented on in a language you don't speak? DORK!" Yes.
  5. Speaking of which, during the prologue of Paris-Nice, if you were taking a drink every time the French commentators said "Gianni Meersman," you were very, very drunk indeed. Seek medical assistance.
  6. House heartbreak! Well, we've already fallen in strong like with a house we could barely afford, and which will be sold out from under us before we are prepared to make a move. Timing a move is a bitch. But, as promised, suitable housing, much of it with electricity and plumbing, is now appearing on the market. The winter offerings were making us think we might be tenting in Valley Forge for a while (which, ironically, is not allowed).
  7. Stir-fry! Beets, carrots, a little green pepper, tofu, some leaf spinach on top, sesame oil and some asian spices. And peanut butter! Do it.
  8. Books? God, there is no time to read anything that doesn't involve electricity and money. But I snuck in a little last month, and have to report that John Green's "The Fault In Our Stars" is the first book to make me cry, ever. And I mean weeping.
  9. I want an app that identifies the horrible music that is bombarding me at nearly every retail venue I visit, then interacts with aural implants to ensure that I will NEVER hear it again. Let's call it "Horrify." I didn't think it would be possible to miss Muzak, but god it was so much better.
  10. Hooverphonic. The Last Thing I Need Is You:

Why I'm not a writer

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There was a time when it was just a foregone conclusion that I'd be a professional writer of some sort. I was always writing something – newspaper articles, wild satires, the kind of feverish nonsense you can only think of when you're 17, 18, 19. I went to school for it, shaped it, got pretty good at it. I wrote straight news, humor and satire, and even started to work on that novel we all start to work on. I took a couple of semesters of creative writing from a commercially successful writer. I started to think of myself more in terms of story-telling than news reporting.

That old quote: "All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." So true. The best thing I ever wrote, the piece that actually took people's breath away when it was read, was basically just a recitation from a low, low point in a relationship. The people who read it were stunned by it, and the person it was about was not, it would be fair to say, pleased. And when I saw the reaction I got by opening that vein, compared to the reaction to other things I wrote where the vein wasn't even nicked, I realized that in order to be a good writer, I'd have to be willing to tell horrible truths about myself and, more importantly, people I loved. I'd be hurting people, most likely. It wasn't for me. I picked another path.

But I still have this urge to create. I write quick little history articles. And I tweet dumb things. This week I tweeted a dumb thing that reminded me how much I don't have the cruelty it would take to be a writer.

The Grammy Awards were this week. I care about them not one whit (except when it's convenient to do so, such as when they recognize the Albany Symphony Orchestra's recording at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall for best classical instrumental solo). But millions of people apparently do, and millions of them care who is the Best New Artist, to judge by social media. I've already forgotten who won this past week, but I thought I'd poke a little fun with a dumb tweet:

Grammy tweet1.pngIt was just a gentle swipe at the unimportance of the award as a harbinger of talent or a lasting career in the music business. It was a joke. My followers are few, no hashtags were harmed, etc. On to the next dumb tweet.

Except this is the age of teh interbutz, as the kids say, and so a few minutes later, I'm tweeted this:

grammy tweet2.pngThe Swingle Singers, 1964 Grammy Best New Artist winners (for an unlikely choral arrangement of Bach) tweeted me a winking emoji. The Swingle Singers, who at the time I was four years old were competing in a music industry that did not quite yet include The Beatles, and winning international recognition, tweeted me a wink.

I didn't mean to insult them. Hopefully the wink means they weren't insulted. I tweeted back "See! You're still going strong!" which meant absolutely nothing. They're not even the original members, and I was still concerned that I had somehow hurt the feelings of a group of people whose name I hadn't thought about since the Johnson Administration.

So if that's how I feel about a choral group, what are the chances I could really write about family, friends, people I've known? Their stories are fascinating, sometimes heart-wrenching, but I don't have the heart to tell them.

You know what's weird? I don't think I care what either The Starland Vocal Band or A Taste of Honey thinks. But I'll keep my semi-snarky tweets to myself for a while.

Phoenixville ho!

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Phoenix bobbleheadJPG.jpgSpent the weekend checking out towns to live in. After a dreamy weekend of touring around, enjoying restaurants, cafes, and even the movie theater, we're writing Phoenixville's name all over our notebook, in colored ballpoint with heavy outlines.

 For one thing, the town is essentially Bedford Falls. It has a library that looks like a library, a post office that looks like a post office. It has a busy little downtown of shops and restaurants. It has a wonderful classic movie theater that features first-run and classic movies and live performances. It has a handful of coffee shops and galleries and another performance space. We don't even have a dog and we're in love with that fact that, up in Reservoir Park, it has Reservoir Dogs Park. (Not many municipally sponsored Tarantino references in the world.)

 It has an annual festival to celebrate the fact that a classic (and yet, really not good) movie, "The Blob," was filmed there, with scenes in that very theater. It has another festival where they set fire to a giant wooden phoenix. There's a farmer's market (that no doubt can't touch the incredible one in Troy) and street fairs. There's a nice little True Value hardware store.

 My better half became the friend-maker, going up to random people (dog owners are great for this) and telling them we were thinking of moving there and asking them what they thought of the town. There wasn't anyone who didn't actually love it there.

 The challenge in leaving Albany housing for a metro area is, of course, price. Inexpensive houses in a nice neighborhood, with nice yards full of black raspberries, near a lake and seven minutes from downtown, those are things that do not exist in greater Philadelphia. Even 45 minutes out of the city, it's challenging to find an affordable single family home (the area is filled with something called "twins," where you share a wall and the risk of horrifying modifications to the other side of the house with someone you don't know). Our house is no palace, but it has new windows, new heat and central air, a window in every room, an attached garage, a three-season porch: these are things that will cost about $120,000 more where we're looking. Ouch.

 But, we're thrilled to have found the town we want to live in. So, Phoenixville ho!

 

 

The Year in Preview

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Once again, I had the best of intentions. I was going to look back at 2013. There was a lot to look back at. But I didn't get to it. So instead, I'm going to look at what 2014 will bring.

Some of it will be brand new. We're moving, and not just a little bit. After 23 years in the same house, and a nice round 25 years in the Albany area, we're moving to Philadelphia. When you have no family connections, no school needs, no history with an area, the process of picking a new neighborhood to live in is wildly daunting. Not clear yet whether we'll be somewhere in the city itself, which has a lot of attraction, or out in the suburbs where I wouldn't have to drive to where I work (and car commuting is AWFUL in Philly.) Finding good places for road biking is a challenge, and that weighs heavily on me.

Despite my crazy love for the history of Albany, Schenectady and Troy, I'm also crazy excited to be going somewhere where there's so much art, a vibrant downtown, and a lot of life. Only real regret is that we're not going to be in Troy, which has been more and more our home city in recent years, a place where we can't go without running into people we know. Would have liked to have had that experience.

Also coming up this year, we're kicking our younger one out the door and on to a successful career as a mad scientist. She got the college of her choice and a massive merit scholarship, so we figure now is as good a time as any to avoid empty nest syndrome by simply blowing up the nest.

Blowing up the nest, however, is time-consuming. Despite having a small house, we have a LOT of stuff. Much of it will not make the move (we try not to talk about it in front of the objects that aren't going to make it). There's a lot of sentiment going around as we re-discover things like the Bugs Bunny hand puppet I used to amuse my baby while "watching" her - meaning I would prop my arm and the puppet up while I napped on the floor next to her, periodically wiggling its ears, desperately dozing for as long as she would sit still. It was never very long.

There's a new job, of course, and that's largely underway already. It's a huge amount of work, but nice to be doing work that people actually care about again. My previous employment was my first experience ever with being utterly irrelevant, and I can't say I cared for it. I'm used to being ignored after I've been listened to.

I need to find new bike trails and roads, canoe launches, places to get my car fixed, places to get a haircut. It's a bit daunting. Some people think we're crazy for taking this on when we're past the half-century mark, but serious, what else would we do for the next 50 years? I learned to ski, run and swim, all after I turned 40. Gotta try new things.

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Recent Comments

  • Carl: Somewhat ironically, I don't even like Stewart's ice cream. Being read more
  • jericwrites: Oh, I know your pain in re losing Stewart's . read more
  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnbc0CdHGMr3Y96DjbxMQ7P50ZIumxwiSw: Interesting info. My mother is 87 and I just came read more
  • jericwrites: I feel the same way about group riding, and that's read more
  • Carl: I agree, I used the bike path around Albany primarily read more
  • jericwrites: In New York, I was pretty openly disdainful of the read more
  • Carl: Thanks . . . I figured you'd know how it read more
  • jericwrites: I know EXACTLY how this all feels . . . read more
  • Carl: I didn't do super well with HALF an empty nest. read more
  • jericwrites: This is my first year in many of NOT having read more

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