Long Overdue

First, full disclosure: I have not always been the best at returning library books on time. Once or twice, I actually racked up fines high enough to cover the cost of the item I borrowed. My bad, please accept my donation, sorry for the inconvenience.

Today I am much more conscientious — but it turns out, that if I were a patron — library users are “patrons,” BTW — of the Troy Public Library I would not need to be conscientious at all, because like many libraries, the one in Troy is eliminating fines.

According to news reports, the library said that fines can be a deterrent to those who need their services the most, and a fine avoidance can actually delay the return of an item. They told WRGB, “Fines can interfere with the library’s important mission of providing information to the residents of Troy.”

Makes sense, right?

Well, WAMC dug a little deeper into the subject and found that the director of Utica’s fine-free library has much a diffferent take. He said that library workers are subjected to “stressful and often very contentious” work conditions, and that dropping fines reduces trouble. Director Chris Sagaas says, “There’s a lot less conflict between library users and our staff,” and that “removing conflict and aggression or the possibility for it is a good thing for library services.”

What’s puzzling about this is what’s always puzzling about everything: people. It’s one thing to be lazy, or a procrastinator, or downright irresponsible — but then to walk into the library and start a fight over the fines you accumulated?

Well, I think we can all agree that we don’t go to the library for conflict and aggression. If I want that, I’ll stop in at the Spectrum Cable store.

Snooze You Can Use

My kids say that I like Facebook because I’m old. Ok, whatever, what can I say? I enjoy finding out what people are up to and seeing pictures of their dogs and whatnot. What I don’t like are people who post ridiculous political shit or push their crazy ass ideas about things like vaccinations.

Fortunately, Facebook has a great way to make people go away, but not forever. The feature, commonly called the “Snooze button,” allows you to stop seeing a person, page, or group for 30 days.

It’s like saying, “I like you and I care about you, and I want to be friends, but I’m a little sick of your crap and I need a break.” Even better? They never know they’ve been snoozed, so no feelings, like when you unfollow a friend.

A guy I know pointed out that he’s found himself having to snooze the same people every 30 days. It’s true. I’ve got one person who’s become the Rip Van Winkle of Facebook friends.

Ah, modern living — but you know what we really need? An easy way to snooze people in real life. That would be useful.

The Case of the Parking Lot Pooper

Well, I haven’t written about poop in a while, but this one caught my eye. From the MetroWest Daily News in Framingham, MA:

At least eight times since early December, the owner of the Natick Outdoor Store made an unpleasant discovery when he arrived at work – a pile of human feces. On Wednesday, Natick Police arrested Andrea F. Grocer, 51, of Ashland, in the parking lot of the store at 38 North Ave. where they found her getting ready to use it as a toilet once again, authorities said.

A related story says that Ms. Grocer claimed to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, but she could not explain why she would not simply poop in one of the many public toilets that were nearby. It’s sad — shitty, really — especially when you see her mugshot, which I won’t re-publish, but you can look at here.

However, the real reason I wrote this was to point out a remark from Natick Police spokeswoman Lt. Cara Rossi:

“At first, they thought it was an animal but then they noticed toilet paper and other wipes – items animals would not have access to.”

I can’t tell if Lt. Rossi is being a wiseass or inintentionally funny, but either way, she wins the award for quote of the week.

Rat Race

Sometimes it’s better to remain in the dark.

I’ve always enjoyed running in the pre-dawn hours, and though I always wear a headlamp, I seldom turn it on.

The darkness is where I’m most comfortable while running, and there’s great peace and beauty found at that time of day. There’s nothing like pounding the pavement on a clear, cool morning with no wind. Sometimes the moon is out, throwing a sharp shadow on the road as you trudge along. On days like that you can hear things more clearly and odors of wood smoke and pine linger in the air. It’s inspiring and fills you with energy.

And then you kick something on the road, and you’re like, “Oh, fuck.”

My years of experience have taught me that when you stumble across a soft object on a dark road, it’s never a bag full of money, no, it’s usually a dead critter.

This happened recently, and when I switched on the headlamp, a plump rat was revealed. It was a healthy looking creature who must have come from the fields that line the road. I’m guessing he was killed by another animal, rather than struck by a car, because he was in very good shape — very good shape for a dead rat, that is.

Your very first thought at this moment is to see if there’s anything on your shoe, such as blood or other rat residue. No? Thank God for that.

Oh, well, switch off the light and move along. With many miles ahead and behind, you’re bound to trip over a rat or two sooner or later

Hindsight is 20/20

It’s very satisfying to look back on the year and know that you successfully fulfilled your New Year’s resolution. Mine for 2019? Eat more beans.

Yes, beans. I can’t tell you how many cans of beans I’ve popped open over the past twelve months, but this was clearly the year of the legume. Black beans, kidney beans, cannellini, pinto beans. I didn’t eat them right out of the can, like a hobo, but the prep was always rather spartan. Mostly for lunch, always drained and rinsed, mixed with a little salsa, leftover chicken, or whatever I could throw in there.

Today, I bid farewell to the year with kidney beans with some rotisserie turkey breast from Hannaford.

What else about the year, besides the beans?

I’ve grown more grateful of how blessed I am to have a beautiful family who love me – and sometimes my feelings toward those I care about bubble up in surprising ways. I’ve had to assure more than one person on the receiving end that I’m not dying or in the midst of a crisis.

A laser-like focus on what’s really important in my life caused me to set some things aside that were not a productive use of my time. Fewer tweets. Not much blogging. Hardly any local talk radio. Less and less TV. And I don’t feel that I’m missing anything.

I’ve remained relatively healthy for a man my age. I attribute this to a heightened awareness that the grim reaper is lurking behind every tree. I still run, but I’ve also added weight lifting to the mix, something I’ve never done in all my years. It’s humbling to discover how weak you are, but the slow and steady progress is rewarding.

Also of note, this year did not seem to zip by like so many others. Is it possible that time is slowing down? Let’s hope so.

Owly McBeal

Finally, a word about the ailing barred owl I rescued off the street in Albany. We originally called her Hoota, but I later decided that Owly McBeal is a better name. She spent two months in rehab at a local vet’s office, but they never exactly figured out what was wrong with her. They think Owly may have hit the side of a building, but maybe she was just weary. Perhaps owls get worn down by the day-to-day humdrum of owlhood, the way life grinds away at us sometimes. It could be she just needed a new perspective, a shot in the arm (wing?) to help her see her life and the world with a fresh eye.

Either way, she’s off somewhere in the wild now. When I stand on my back porch at night, I can hear barred owls calling from the woods. Maybe Owly McBeal is there, peering out into the darkness, ready to fly into another year.

History Lesson

To say that Hamilton is a work of genius would be understating things.

What was it that pushed Lin-Manuel Miranda to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton in such a brilliant and bold way? On paper it must have looked like an insane idea, but what I saw on the stage at Proctor’s this week was like nothing I’d ever experienced could have even imagined.

I know I’m a little late to the game on this, but it’s easy to understand how people have become obsessed with the show — and too bring history to people in this way, even if it’s a wee bit superficial, is a positive thing for our culture. Think of all the people who have delved more deeply into Hamilton and American history after this musical ingited their interest.

That’s good for all of us.

NBTW, Miranda left a lot of material on the table that didn’t make it into the show, mincluding a song about Ben Franklin that the Decemberists scored and recorded. It’s pretty great

Mall Punks

It had to be 1981 when me and my friends drove from Plattsburgh to see the L.A. punk band X play in Montreal. They were my favorite band, so it was a real thrill to press up against the stage and watch John Doe and Exene exchanging vocals, the blonde and ridiculously cool Billy Zoom effortlessly running through his punk meets rockabilly riffs, and D.J Bonebrake who was, well… the drummer. It’s breathtaking to be so close to a band you idolize.

Fast forward to 2019.

Hearing that X would be play in Albany on June 9 blew my mind. What? Albany? Why?

They were scheduled to play at The Skyloft, the new music venue at Crossgates Mall. Seeing a band like X at the mall — any band at the mall —  felt a bit weird, like my mother should be dropping me off at the show, or something. It turns out that Skyloft is a great little place to see a band, even while people are walking by outside with shopping bags from Old Navy and Best Buy.

As for X, well, they were unbelievable. It was flawless musically, and the signature harmonies of John and Exene were as beautiful as ever. Billy Zoom maintained his studied cool, albeit while perched on a stool, and D.J played the drums like a man who was a third of his age.

I’m old enough now that aging rockers seem more like older brothers, sister, and cousins. Interestingly, there were a lot of young kids at the show, people in their twenties, to whom the band would be old enough to be grandparents.

This brings us to the most wondrous thing about the age of rock: the way people can discover and enjoy music that’s forty years old or more. In 1945, young people weren’t discovering music from 1905, and saying, “Wow! This is great!” Today they do, and we all rock on together.

Destiny

We went to the Clark in Williamstown to see the big Renoir exhibit. It was fantastic — and fun.

As we walked through the gallery, I whispered to my lovely companion — in a terrible faux French accent —  things I imagined Renoir and his models may have said to one another. She made me feel good by laughing at my stupid jokes, which is one of the reasons I love her so much.

“Ah, OK — put your hand in your hair.”  She resists. “But, Auguste, again? My arm gets so tired!”

We were reading about Renoir’s wife, Aline Charigot, who was the model in many of his most famous paintings. I commented on how Aline was 14 years younger than her husband, and an older man standing nearby said, “Just the opposite of me and my wife.”

Excuse me?

“My wife, she was 14 years older.” He launched right in, telling us about the woman to whom he was married for more than 50 years. They met when he was a 22-year-old student in Paris, and she was a painter. He took out a wallet and showed a picture of the two kissing. He had an eccentric air to him and it was a mildly strange encounter — but his story was so romantic.

I’ve had experiences like this before, brief encounters with strangers that feel like something more. They drop in at certain moments in unlikely ways, bearing what might be some sort of message. In the hospital just after my father died, a nurse appeared from nowhere and said she was, “here to take care of him.” To me, during that time of such intense emotion, it was like an angel descended on the dim room and I’d interrupted her work.

Because I’m always curious about this, I asked how the man in the gallery met his wife. He paused. “Destiny.”

Destiny, indeed. How else can you explain some things?

Bandwidth

There are some things about blogs that I hate, like when people allow their site to sit idle for months at a time.

I have become what I hate.

What I hate more is when people write about why they haven’t been writing. I’m always like, “Oh, shut the fu*k up and just write a post. We’re here to read what you wrote, not why you didn’t write something.”

I’m about to become that, too.

There was a time I could churn out interesting (in my opinion) blog posts on a regular basis. I’ve always figured that once was the minimum one should try to hit, and if you don’t have anything to say once a week, maybe you shouldn’t have a blog.

Based on that, I shouldn’t have a blog.

But best I can figure, this isn’t about interesting topics. I have loads of random ideas about things that could be a blog post, and in fact, I can usually take just a tiny thread of thought and make it into something sort of relevant.

So what’s going on?

I think it’s the thing my young management consulting friends call bandwidth. This refers to the amount of resources needed to complete a task, and in my case, I just haven’t had the bandwidth to focus on this thing. Extra demands at work and home eat up my mental energy in a way they didn’t used to. Things that were once easy now require more effort.

This is funny because I’m in very good physical condition right now, better than I’ve been in a couple of years. But my bandwidth? It just ain’t what it used to be.

The irony. I expected this to be the other way around.