For the past month or

For the past month or so, my Logitech QuickCam image has been getting darker and darker. I switched it for my Lego Vision Command Camera today, which seems much better. Plus, it has cute little bug antennas. I wonder if the QuickCam had hardware trouble — did the CCD just give out? I’ll have to try it on another machine and see. Did I nuke it with constant Low Light Boost?


The Lego cam doesn’t have a tripod mount, though, so the angle is a lot lower. Where should I put the camera? Suggestions?

For the past month or

There’s nothing so corrosive to

There’s nothing so corrosive to romance as a cellphone conversation on an Amtrak train. Office cubicles are bad enough, but at least there people know you — and you can always get up and find an open conference room if you suddenly find the need to call someone “shmoopie.” Among strangers, for some reason, I revert to the eighteen-month period during my early teens when I forced my mom to whisper in public. “John, do you like these pants?” “MotherrRRRR! ShhHHH!” Apparently, I was petrified that total strangers would learn Important Secrets about me, like for example whether I liked those pants or not.


On Friday, I traveled from Philly to Boston and back for business, spending a cumulative total of, like, ten hours on the train. During which all my cellphone conversations went like this:


Kate: You want to go to the movies this weekend?

John: [barely audible] sure, that’d be great.

Kate: Okay, I miss you!

John: [even quieter] y.s, m.ss you t.

Kate: I love you, sweetie!

John: [inaudible]

It’s kind of odd, I guess, seeing as how I am willing to be seen eating macaroni and cheese in an unflattering way on my webcam (photo on request), that I’m so shy about getting overheard on the phone. And it’s only for personal calls; I can do business just as loud as any other type-A Acela jerk.


Today was the worst, as train 180 to New York was stalled on a side track with the lights and ventilation out, turning our car into a sepulchural aluminum can. You could hear other commuters breathing two rows away, so when Kate called to tell me that she’s fond of me, etc., my replies were so quiet as to reach the point of telepathy.


Kate: I can’t wait to see you!

John: [glares beetle-browed at phone]


Jeez, how do I get over this? Am I doomed to confine my feelings to Instant Messenger windows? Should I practice a booming Gomez Adams “Cara Mia!” in front of the mirror every morning? Hell, I’d probably be doing the othe Amtrak commuters a favor, right?


Kate: How was work today?

John (Loudly, with Pepe Le Pew accent): Ah, my leetle white pigeon, my leetle plum dumpling, I cannot wait to once again hold you in my arms and wheesper ze sweet nothaings…


Yeah, THAT’d get the commuters’ attention, all right. I like those pants, by golly! You hear me, world? I LIKE THOSE PANTS!!!

There’s nothing so corrosive to

Here’s the house! So



Here’s the house!


So this is the house Kate and I are buying. We got word last night that the sellers came down half of the amount we wanted; at this point, they probably feel slightly screwed, and we feel slightly screwed. Which, I’m told, is often a sign that the price is fair. So we’ve faxed in the addendum to the agreement of sale, and it’s all over but the shouting!


We close on April 11th, after which we get a roofing contractor in to replace the subroofing, grade the foundation, paint the kitchen cabinets (unless we decide we like the green color; check out the photos), replace the hollow-core front door, install a UV microbe-killer in the furnace ductwork, and generally eliminate all of our liquid income.


We’ll join all the other late-twenties-early-thirties couples pushing rolly carts through the Downingtown Home Depot on the weekends, picking out tile, frowning at paint chips, and marveling at the colossal fourteen-foot jacuzzis. Anyhow, have a look at the pictures from the real estate agent’s website. “Freshly painted!” Uh, thanks. How many coats of paint do you think it will take to mask the red bedroom? Oh, and mark your calendars for the big barbecue in the back yard!!!

Here’s the house! So

Like Daphne Zuniga in Tim

Like Daphne Zuniga in Tim Robbins’ Car

Philly drivers stink. They’re less aggressive than New York drivers, but they’re more passive-aggressive. In New York, if you leave a gap in front of you, a cab will cut you off, but it’s nothing personal, and no one makes a big deal about it. Philly drivers emote a lot, and what they emote is ugly.


Take honking: New York has one honk, pretty much: the admonitory “get out of my way!” honk. To that, Philadelphia adds the punitive honk: “hey, you were in my way!” It’s a whiny and infuriating honk, and deserves only one response.


To wit: Kate and I were at a one-lane intersection, waiting to turn right. A semi tractor was blocking the lane we wanted, so we couldn’t pull out yet. The car behind us, going straight, tapped the horn. Then tapped it again. Then a third time, at which point Kate turned around and made a standard “hey, what can I do?” shrug.


So the truck moves, we pull out, and the car pulls around us and gives us the Philadelphia Passive-Aggressive Punishment Honk: “Hey, you slowed me down! Honkitty honk HONK!” What happened next, Kate describes as “losing her ladylike composure”, but I think is the only appropriate response in the situation: she turned around and administered the Five-Star Punishment Honk Antidote with both fingers. It was well-timed and well-administered: frankly, I think Miss Manners would have advocated it.


Unfortunately, however, the truck hadn’t pulled up that far, and we drifted gently into the bumper guard, cracking the turn signal and the headlight. Which means, if the other car saw it, they win: but if they didn’t see it, we win. The truck, on its part, didn’t even notice.


What happened next was more astonishing to me: Kate drove three block’s to Jimmy’s garage, where Carol — the woman behind the desk — cheered her up with funny stories and Jimmy himself came out to take a look. Five hours later, Carol called Kate to tell her the parts were in. It’s getting fixed right now.


So, on balance, I think that Jimmy’s garage makes up for the Philadelphia Punishment Honk. And the stylish, direct, and forceful manner in which the Five-Star Antidote was administered was a joy to behold. Key takeaway: I’m marrying the right woman.

Like Daphne Zuniga in Tim

Like the ranch house in

Like the ranch house in “Litte Shop of Horrors”

(because of the picket fence, not the Black Mildew)


Another piece of big news: Kate and I are buying a house! Or in the process of negotiation, rather. It’s a small white ranch house, single-family, in West Chester (that’s West Chester, PA, not Westchester, NY.) If you were to draw a cartoon of a starter house — white brick, with metal awnings over the front door and the kitchen door — you’d be right on. It’s small, clean, and cute, with a fairly big back yard that even has a stream in it!


At first, buying a house seemed a lot easier than renting an apartment in Manhattan. The people are friendly, the competition doesn’t seem as cutthroat. However, the welter of details involved is adding up. We made a first offer, heard the counter-offer, made a third offer of our own. We signed the agreement of sale, which gives everyone a certain amount of time to get their ducks in a row. I coughed up a first deposit and a second deposit, and then we called in a brigade of insurance representatives, housing inspectors, termite inspectors, roofing companies, et cetera: I half expect to see a parade of young boys marching down the street after our troop of inspectors, towing their little red wagons and making a Norman Rockwell parade.


Anyhow, things are getting more complicated: the house turns out to have black mildew in the subroofing, which is a Bad Thing. The nightly news, apparently, runs Special Reports on the Scourge of Black Mildew, and how it’s gnawing at the very core of our civilization and family values. So we’d need to replace the roof, as well as some other things — fixing the vapor barrier in the crawlspace, grading the yard to keep water from ponding at the foundation, et cetera: all of which would involve enough money to buy a small Korean sedan. So we announced that we’d like to lower the selling price of the house by the amount it would take to by a small Yugoslavian car, and we hope they agree.


It’s hard to know what to do: on the one hand, we could take the house as is, but we’d kinda feel like we’re getting hosed, then. But if we walk away from the house, hey! We liked that house! So we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

Like the ranch house in