The Baldwin Family Thanksgiving I

The Baldwin Family Thanksgiving

I have a five-string banjo mothballed in my closet, a gift from my three folkie uncles when I was a teenager. It’s a beautiful old banjo, made by Star in the 1890s, and perfect for playing mountain-style clawhammer, which is the style I learned from them. Like all banjos, it worked great as an attention-getting device*, and I regret that, like the bagpipes, it’s not a Manhattan-friendly instrument. I especially miss playing with my uncle Bob Baldwin, who knows a tremendous number of great old songs. They’re simple and catchy, but elusive somehow — every time I come home from seeing him in Maine, I try to remember the songs he played me, but they slip through my fingers.


Anyhow, here’s an article written by my cousin Max Alexander on the Baldwin family thanksgiving this year, including lots of banjo-picking.
In the tradition of authors from E.B. White to gossip columnist Jim Mullen, Max retired from editing People to a farm in coastal Maine. Which is where everyone on my mother’s side of the family has been gravitating to, for some reason. And is where the banjo-picking takes place these days. Though, sadly, minus the accompaniment of my uncle Stuart.


* To my mixed delight and chagrin, the 1993 Earlham College Admissions Catalog devoted half of its “Campus Activities and Social Life” page to a picture of me banging out “Pretty Polly” on the front lawn. The picture probably was a pretty good choice, though, since it contained almost every possible Quaker school symbol. I had my hair in a ponytail, had my legs crossed showing my tattoo, and was singing to Amy Workman, who was wearing Birkenstocks and straddling a mountain bike. I bet I even had a bag of granola in my pocket.

The Baldwin Family Thanksgiving I

Fencing class was fun last

Fencing class was fun last night: once again, I had Szilvia Gyore all to myself again. Spent the night practicing half-retreats, then sudden lunges; parries, then sudden lunges. All around me, teenagers were practicing the same moves, but with what seemed like steel springs in their legs. Me, I should have a dump truck buzzer announcing that I’m going to lunge.


Disadvantage of a loaner fencing mask: sweat was running down my face, bitter from the absorbed perspiration of many other users that had soaked into the headband. Yee-UCK!


I then went home and watched the 1973 Three Musketeers for the first time. The screenplay was written by George Macdonald Fraser, the author of the Flashman books.


Fraser excels at packing in odd historical details — there are Mohawk indians lounging around the Duke of Buckingham’s mirrored study, Louis XIII plays chess at Versailles using dressed-up dogs for pieces, and on and on. Knowing Fraser, this stuff all actually happened. Plus, there’s lots of Rollicking Bawdiness and plenty of goofy humor. Spike Milligan, from the Goon Show, plays a cuckolded inkeeper. Charlton Heston chews the scenery. It’s awesome: the font and wellspring of bawdy seventies historical romps!


Plus, Oliver Reed as Athos is a sweaty, lumbering pillock of a fighter who still manages to kick a lot of ass, so I felt better about my own emerging sweaty, lumbering, pillock-y fighting style. Though I’ll skip the floppy velvet hat.

Fencing class was fun last

I just applied to a

I just applied to a certificate program at Columbia University’s Center For Computer Technology and Applications. Specifically, I applied to the “Java Development for E-Commerce” program, which consists of eight courses in Java programming and application development management. I’ve been looking for ways to establish my bona fides in the Internet industry, and I think that this should do it. Plus, the tuition will about equal the maximum amount that [My employer] will cover in their tuition reimbursement program, so it’s a no-brainer!


The only thing that worries me: my Alexa toolbar tells me that most people who visit the Columbia CTA page also visit the Valley Forge Military Academy‘s website. Will the program be filled with humorless 19-year-olds?

I just applied to a

I had my second class

I had my second class at the Fencers’ Club of New York last night. I was the only adult beginner there, so I had a private lesson with Szilvia Gyore, a young Hungarian woman with large diamond earrings. I started learning more about how to hold the foil (with your elbow in and your hand curved out like your arm is broken), and how to thrust, parry in fourth and sixth, and riposte. I felt like a poorly-handled marionette; Szilvia would drop her foil, I’d jerk around for a second, then make up my mind and lumber in for the point. All in all, though, I didn’t do too badly for a beginner, and I had an Olympic coach all to myself. The personal attention is fantastic. I feel like it’s the early days of UrbanFetch again, when they’d send a courier to your house to deliver a candy bar for free, if you wanted.


Or like it’s the Scientologists, and I’ll have to sign over the mortgage to my house once I’m hooked on the sport.

I had my second class