Kate and I were


Kate and I were looking through family albums yesterday. I’m particularly fond of the two pictures at left, probably taken at roughly the same time — In the picture above, I’m, uh… four? Which would make Kate two years old in the picture below.


Anyhow, her big wheel completely outclassed mine. She looks like she knows what she’s doing, too: while the limit of my technical expertise extended to taking my feet off the pedals while rolling downhill, Kate appears to be gapping the plugs on a race-prepped Triumph.

Kate and I were

We’re expecting a baby in

We’re expecting a baby in March!

Kate, about 9 months, on the left, John, about 3 days, on the right.

Hurrah! I went back to the archives and looked at the stuff I was blogging about in November of 2000. “Don’t mix grappa with Scotch!” I warned, trying to project a lighthearted, rakish air. Whatever. Blogging is a lightweight genre, meant for publishing trivia to the world, but even so I’m glad to have something important to put up here.


We’re having a baby! Hooray! Yesterday we put a ceiling fan in my office — soon to become the nursery — and I’m going to move in with the cat, in what’s now Kate’s work room / the guest room. The cat will be fine with it, I hope, unless I mess with his Electric Cat Heater pad.


We’re having a baby! Yaaaaaaay!

We’re expecting a baby in

I used a hair


I used a hair dryer the other day to take the Arai sticker off the forehead of my helmet — mostly to see if it could be done. It actually worked really well. Kate’s dad Snuffy Smith does this to his Shoei helmets all the time so that he can put a Triumph sticker up there.


Putting stuff on your helmet is a big part of motorcycling. Anyone who’s ever doodled a “Zofo” on their Trapper Keeper in eighth grade is going to do something to their stock helmet. A lot of guys in the “no fear” set with neon-green sportbikes have their helmets airbrushed so that they look like carnivorous reptiles or grinning skulls. I’m sure those guys had plenty of “Van Halen” logos penned on the canvas covers of their three-ring binders. Jeez, but maybe they’re too young for that. Whitesnake? Pictures of Screech from Saved by the Bell?


Harley bikers buy tiny, useless “beanie” helmets to comply with helmet laws. These beanies — kind of like a styrofoam yarmulke covered with black paint — come with a whole lot of pre-printed Giant Non-Conformist Rebel™ stickers that you can add to show your Free Spirited Indipendence©. Most popular are the ubiquitous “Loud Pipes Save Lives” and “Helmet Laws Suck” stickers*. Pennsylvania repealed its helmet law last week, and Kate is mystified why a lot of the Harley bikers are still wearing their beanies. They won’t protect you from anything, and now their stickers are outdated.


If I can figure out a way to get a bear holding a shark on my helmet, I’ll do it. Until then, I just went with a Dr. Cube sticker.


* Some of these slogans are kind of a guilty pleasure for me. As a kid, I was fascinated by the giant pewter belt buckle displayed in one of the cases at the Downingtown Farmer’s market: “Ass, Gas, or Grass: Nobody Rides for Free.” I wasn’t sure quite what it meant, but it seemed like a mystic portent of another, dirtier, and more exciting world. If that world really exists, it hasn’t changed much: I was passed by two sportbike riders on the way to a rally the other day. They had flame jobs on their helmets, and plastic trick pegs mounted on either side of their fairing. Written across both T-shirts was a big, red slogan: “Will wheelie for boobs”.

I used a hair

Amtrak Feminamque Cano The epic

Amtrak Feminamque Cano

The epic revealed in the ordinary is a common theme of literature, especially popular literature. Probably my favorite writer in this vein is Booth Tarkington, whose Penrod books were (I think) some of the first to write children as fully realized characters, with motives and problems all their own — not simply scaled-down versions of adult motives and problems, like a tiny, wizened Jesus in a medieval madonna-and-child.


Wait, I’m forgetting about Mark Twain. Okay, the second to write fully realized children as characters.



Anyhow, the Penrod books are a perfect example of the epic-in-the-ordinary. In the beginning of the first book, Penrod — an entirely normal, reasonable, self-conscious boy of eleven — is thrust by forces beyond his control into the part of “Lancelot du Lake, The Child” in an odious “Children’s Round Table” pageant written by the abominable Miss Lora Rewbush. Further, Penrod’s costume, improvised by his sister and mother, is revealed to his horrified gaze shortly before curtain as a pair of his father’s old flannel underwear.


Booth Tarkington describes this titanic struggle and our hero’s eventual improvisation, triumph, and disgrace with such force and gravity that he could be describing the British assault on Sebastopol. That’s appropriate for describing youth, of course, when every issue is a titanic struggle between forces beyond comperehension and control. It’s a literary device used to this day. Take “A Christmas Story”, for example.


David Lynch loves the epic-in-the-ordinary approach, too. It’s consonant with his mystic worldview, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to present an innocent Forties diner as a seething caldron of hidden forces. That’s not a clock made from a log, it’s a MYSTIC TOTEM UPON WHICH ARE FOCUSED THE DESIRES OF…


Well, you get the idea. I suppose there’s something attractive about this kind of mystical presentation because it makes the writer the important one, the magical lens. “Sure, YOU may only see an aisle of breakfast cereals, but I’m going to show you the struggle of class against class, reflected in the placement of the funny-looking clown bags down by the floor!”


Alright. Finding the epic in the ordinary: 1) It’s fun to do, 2) David Lynch likes it, 3) It’s a shot to the writer’s ego. Jeez, no wonder I like to do it. But, today, there’s no mystical lens necessary. Today, I have slowly become aware of a real mystery in my very own home town.


To wit: THE FRENCH LADY AT THE EXTON TRAIN STATION HAS THE MYSTICAL POWER TO PREDICT EXACTLY WHERE THE DOOR WILL BE. Seriously. Every day, there’s a small crowd of commuters waiting for the 6:40 Amtrak Keystone train to New York. The French lady (she wears nice print dresses, pronounces “is” as “eez“, and I think she owns two mastiffs, but that’s all I know about her) sometimes waits over on the right where the handicap ramp starts, sometimes on the left where the bus shelter ends, sometimes in the middle where the catenary pole is anchored. AND THE TRAIN DOOR ALWAYS STOPS EXACTLY IN FRONT OF HER. I have asked her about this: “how do you know where the train door will be?” and she smiles and shrugs.


The train is, maybe, a hundred yards long, and the door is five feet wide. The door stops at a different place each time, with a range of approximately 100 feet either way. Despite this range, as mentioned before, the french lady always knows exactly where to stand.


Possible explanations:


  1. She is a scientist, and has observed that, for example, on Mondays the train is seven cars long, ergo the door will appear farther to the left?
  2. She’s a precog, or an enormously powerful telekinetic?
  3. The engineer’s name is Jacques, and is madly in love with her, demonstrating his love by placing the door in front of the object of desire each and every day of the week?

I welcome your help in solving this mystery.

Amtrak Feminamque Cano The epic

My friend Alejandro Rubio has

My friend Alejandro Rubio has returned to the Raytheon station in Antarctica for another season of work. Having some experience with small boarding schools, outdoor leadership training, and island environments, I can imagine that the atmosphere down there is part cubicle farm, part Jack London, and part Sweet Valley High pressure cooker. Alejandro, who is gay, has been writing about his experience fitting in. For one thing, he’s been getting The Dreaded Question a lot — four times this week, I think:


“So, when did you first know that you’re gay?”


I can appreciate Alejandro’s ambivalence in answering this question. For one thing, it’s pretty damn personal — more so than heterosexual work folks ask each other. “Fred! How are the wife and kids? Got that golf handicap up? Say, when was your first wet dream, hey?” On the other hand, the question is probably — for the most part — motivated by a sincere desire to get to know Alejandro better, and represents an awkward attempt to break the ice about a delicate subject. Alejandro describes an internal struggle whether or not to shrug off his dislike of the question, and I sympathize.


What sounds more difficult for him is the feeling that he’s considered “pretty cool … for a gay guy.” This rings true to me. I’ve studied and worked in some of the most gay-friendly environments there are: a quaker liberal arts college, a magnet seminary for gay episcopals and catholics, a top-tier ballet school, as set teacher on a number of movies and Broadway productions — and I’ve occasionaly seen the attitude Alejandro describes there.


I’ve heard modern racism in America described as the simple assumption that white is normal, and that makes a lot of sense to me. Where a white person might see a set of mannequins in a store window, a black person would see a set of white mannequins in the same store window. It’s that omission, that categorization of the other as, well, other, that places the responsibility for climbing a barrier on the other party. Which is what Alejandro faces, I think, in a work environment filled for the most part with non-boho types.


So sympathize, I wish Alejandro well, and I hope that he does not have to play a capital-“A” Ambassadorial role for very long.

My friend Alejandro Rubio has