The suburbs giveth, the suburbs

The suburbs giveth, the suburbs taketh away

The snow on Tuesday night seemed to catch the borough of West Chester by surprise, and when I left for work yesterday morning, the streets still hadn’t been plowed or salted very well. Kate and I bought a Nissan Sentra last month, and I’ve inherited her old car: a 1995 Ford Escort that’s starting the graceful (I hope) decline into an elegant senescence.


After waiting until I was 21 to get my driver’s licence, and after eight years in New York City, I’m not an expert driver. Mostly, I guess I just don’t know the nuances of winter driving: roads that were wet but grippy the night before may have frozen solid as the temperature dropped overnight.


Which was, in fact, what was going through my head as I slipped slowly towards a “left turn only” sign at the corner of High and Miner street yesterday. I had plenty of time to think things over, as the Escort drifted diagonally, with an almost balletic grace, at five miles per hour. Would the curb stop me? Would I go through the sign and hit the tree behind it?


Well, the curb didn’t stop me; I drifted right up over the entrance ramp to the Methodist church. Fortunately, the sign did, and the only damage to the car is a five-inch gash in the bumper. After propping the sign back up against a tree, I talked to West Chester’s Officer Murphy, who was helpful and sympathetic, and I drove off to catch the next train to work. The gash isn’t all that bad, but it’s the accumulation of small dings that separate a dutiful station car from a miserable hooptie, so I’m going to get it fixed.


This morning at 6AM, I pulled into Chester County Auto Body, and got a quote that won’t break the bank. I can drop the car off any day starting Monday the third, and they’ll have it back with a new, re-painted aftermarket bumper on the same day — waiting in the parking lot with the keys in the ashtray, so that I can pick it up after work. Damn, I live in a great town.

The suburbs giveth, the suburbs

Sock Dog! Sock Dog! Party

Sock Dog! Sock Dog! Party Time! Excellent!

This week’s meme is sock dogs. Kate sent me an email Friday morning, with a link to Hugo the Ferret’s blog at absolutely-vile.com. If the graphic design weren’t so deftly done on this site, you might dismiss it, at first, as an eye-roller: blog about a ferret with cancer, and his progress after the operation. Yeah, well, you’d be wrong: you’d spend nine hundred bucks on surgery for your dog, wouldn’t you? And you’d at least think about chemotherapy, if your cat needed it. Hugo’s owner Anna needed about a thousand dollars for his operation, so she asked for donations on her site. The impressive part? She actually raised the money. If you donated $30.00, Anna promised to make you a sock dog.


So I follow a link to see the recipient of the first sock dog, a German designer named Witold Riedel, and I come across this haunting picture of him with his sock dog. I think you’ll agree that the photo transcends the boundaries of normal Internet jokesterism and becomes genuine art. I don’t have the critical language to describe the picture (one part Liebowitz, one part Alfred Eisenstadt, plus some William Wegman and Duane Hansen?), but if this picture were a twenty-by-thirty-inch gallery cibachrome, I bet it’d fetch a mint at Christie’s.


Right, so Witold’s diffident-man-with-diffident-sock-dog portrait, plus Anna’s sock dog gallery, set me off (which, I suppose, is easy to do); anyhow, I decided that I HAD TO MAKE A SOCK DOG THIS WEEKEND. Anna was very nice; she sent me a scan of the 1958 instructions that she used, plus a link to the Martha Stewart version of the instructions. Kate was even nicer; she drove me to the fabric store and introduced me to the mysteries of needlepoint floss and bagged polyester filling. The last thing I made with a needle and thread, I think, was a muslin loincloth in an eighth-grade home-ec class.


Anyhow, all the expert advice paid off: resulting sock dog pictured at left!

Sock Dog! Sock Dog! Party

Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers, will not drown.

It’s only taken a couple of days for life to fall back into its familiar rythym. Thirtieth Street Station’s platform four is stacked with orange shipping crates, each crate bursting with fifth-class periodicals. “The Ironworker” is scrawled on one shrink-wrapped cube; “Teen People” on another. “Waste and Water” magazine is on the top, so you can read the cover stories: “Editorial Emphasis: Tanks, Liners, and Covers!”


Inside the train, things are also reassuringly normal. Conductor-with-bald-head-and-mustache-over-200-pounds* (He’s a familiar face, but I don’t know his name) gives a crackly, impressionistic performance of his pulling-into-Philly speech. “Ladies and gentlemen wed like to thank you for riding amtrak please remember to check your seat and the area over your head for any personal belongings and…”, except that all you get is his cadence and the vowel sounds over the speakers, like a Talmudic cantor: “ayangenwelithayoufridinamtraplecheck…” As always, he gives specific and valuable advice about how to save twenty minutes on the trip to New York by switching to train 180, but the information can only be deciphered by those who already know what he’s saying. So it has always been with received knowledge, I suppose, from the time the first Gnostic priest passed the seven passwords of salvation to his Aramaic acolyte; he probably mumbled them through his soup and a heavy growth of beard.


Gino, the conductor for the rear end of train 180, is also back in his normal, jocular form. Amtrak conductors love to complain about their jobs, in a good-natured, GI-in-the-trench tone. They have a right to; Amtrak isn’t well managed, the rules are complicated, and ever since September 11th, conductors have had the unpleasant task of kicking the unwary and unprepared off the train at North Philadelphia. “No, I’m sorry, you can’t buy a ticket on the train any more.”


Today, Gino’s story was about managing the business-class car, the Metroliner equivalent of first class. Gino’s young for a conductor, maybe in his early forties. He has dark hair, and he talks loudly and good-humoredly. Imagine a skinnier Tom Arnold:


So this guy gets on the business class car, but he’s in the bathroom at Trenton, and he comes out when there’s a million people getting on, right? So I say, ‘can I see your ticket?’, and he says ‘you already took my ticket!’, and I say, [gesturing broadly], ‘I just need to see everybody’s ticket’, and he says, ‘give me your name’, and I say ‘why, what for?’, and he says, ‘you made me feel like I don’t belong in business class!’


So I say, ‘Aw, you seem like a pretty sensitive guy. Do you want a hug?’


(General hilarity among the wholesale garment buyers, stockbrokers, and computer programmers in the car.)


So, all in all, everything’s back in its groove.


* A kindom, phylum, and class of Amtrak conductors could split the genera along lines of mustache/no mustache, bald/pompadour, under/over 200 pounds. So this conductor, I suppose, would be Mustachidens BaldiLargidae.

Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers, will not drown.

We’re all back from


We’re all back from Vieques. Genevieve and Francesco took pictures, including the one on the right that I plundered from her Blog at www.veeves.com.


The flight attendant in the 757 announced the weather in Philadelphia as our plane sat baking on the runway of San Juan’s Luis Munoz International Airport. “The weather in Philadelphia is 18 degrees and cloudy.” When she repeated herself in Spanish, (“dies-y-ocho, damas y caballeros!”), murmurs of amused outrage burst out all over the cabin.


This morning, the doors of Amtrak train 180 to New York were glued shut with snow.


Books I read over vacation:

We’re all back from