Growing Concerns

The guy we hired to do the rototilling came to the back door, sweaty and flustered.

“I can’t take your money for this job.”

What?

“I can’t charge you for this. Your soil is terrible — it’s all clay — and you won’t be able to grow a thing.”

He pushed his rototiller up to the street, but before he was able to drive off, I forced him to take my payment.

“You came all the way out here and did the work, so I have to pay you.”

He reluctantly stuffed my check in his shirt pocket. I wasn’t convinced he’d cash it.

Well, what the hell. The yard’s all ripped up now, so I figured I’d better plant something. The internet said “improve your soil,” so I added two yards of composted manure and covered it with a layer of hay for mulch.

So, I planted.

For a garden where nothing would grow, things are popping up like crazy. The tomato plants are heavy with fruit, the chard looks good and I’m up to my ass in cucumbers. My kale is full of little holes from some mysterious pest, but still edible.

Lots of cukes.

I’ll have the rototiller man back next year, but I’ll be sure to go easy on his prediction that my plot was doomed. No matter what, he did the hard work of getting the garden established, and the rest was beginner’s luck. And watering.

Maddy, Not Daddy

My wife called our son to tell him the dog died. We were on our way home from the vet, and were both pretty upset.

“I’m calling to tell you Maddy died.”

There was silence on the other end of the line.

“Daddy died?”

The connection was not great — it took about a minute to sort out who was dead — and it was a terrible phone call over all. It’s funny now, but at the time, not so much.

Maddy

So, Maddy died. She was nine-years-old and we had no idea she was walking around with a tumor growing inside of her. One day she was herself, and the next day she was lethargic and wouldn’t eat. She was bleeding inside and that was creating pressure on her heart. It was literally squeezing the life out of her.

The vet cried as much as we did when she gave us the news that there was nothing to be done. And just like that she was gone.

Our older dog, Scarlett, has been glued to my side since this happened. She always paid a great deal of attention to me, but now she doesn’t leave me alone for a minute. I don’t know what dogs feel, but she’s feeling something.

Maddy loved our walks in Thacher Park. Early in the morning, the park is deserted and most days you won’t see a soul. We’d take the dogs off leash and let them run up and down the trails and explore the woods. I know, it’s against the rules.

Maddy’s ashes are going up to the park, where we spent so many hours. I’m sure they have some sort of rule about that too — but rules be damned. Off the leash one last time, through the woods and away like the wind.

Stranger Than Fiction

The Albany Smudge has been on my mind lately. One of the things I loved about the site’s satirical stories were the ridiculous quotes from clueless people with an overblown opinion of themselves.

In case you’re missing The Albany Smudge, don’t worry: sometimes real life is just as funny. Here’s Shenendehowa school board member Robert Pressly in a TU story about why superintendent L. Oliver Robinson gets paid so much:

“Our desire is to have a district where people can proudly state they’re from a certain school,” Pressly said. “We think we’re definitely on track with that in terms of what people say about us and perceive about us.”

Well, Mr. Pressly — I have a pretty good idea what people say and perceive about you, but it’s not what you think it is.

Ah, and the story had a pretty great headline, too:

Shenendehowa superintendent gets another raise

My italics.

O-Bits

What’s better than sitting on the back deck early in the morning with a cup of coffee and the obituary page? I’ll tell you what: having a cigarette while you do that — but I digress.

The obits are certainly one of those things that are better on paper. Something about the ephemeral nature of newsprint that matches our own brief shelf life. That’s pretty deep, if I don’t say so myself.

But today, obits live forever online — as long as you don’t mind them served up with a few ads.

I did a completely random check to see what ads appear on the obit page and here’s what I came up with.

OK, Natalie Merchant at Tanglewood. Personally, listening to Natalie Merchant would make me feel better if someone died. Some might say her music could make you feel worse, but if it takes your mind off your grief, that’s a win-win in my book.

And PODS? Well, moving is often a byproduct of someone’s death — or at least getting rid of their stuff, so I judge both of these ads to be contextually appropriate and useful in your time of grief.

What do obits cost? Here’s a rate card I got from the Times Union, and believe me, if you’re going to have an elaborate obituary, it will cost some money. A few basics:

The first 10 lines are free the first DAY that the obituary runs, the customer pays for those lines every time after that.

After the first 10 lines each additional line is $4.75 per line with an additional $16 service charge.

A line constitutes roughly 22-25 characters including spaces and punctuation.

So, they throw in the first ten lines, which is maybe 250 characters, or, less than two Tweets. Want a picture? That’s $47.50. Cash up front unless you’re a funeral home — and yes, they have procedures to prevent fake notices from being placed.

I advise you to write your own obituary. This will take a lot of pressure off your loved ones, and hopefully, they’ll publish whatever you leave behind, regardless of cost. Seriously, do you think your family is going to edit your obituary? I mean, I might do that — but remember, my edits are always to make your work better.

Smudged Out

“Chalk up this one up as a winner. A bright spot on an increasingly bleak and depressing internet.”

In 2015, that was my blub-worthy assessment of The Albany Smudge, the Capital Region’s own Onion-esque satire website. Yesterday the humor page posted some bad news: they’ve had enough.

Publisher “Burt Wilkersonn” explained why the site is ceasing publication in a story dated June 18:

“We decided to stop before we completely sucked. I mean, how many times can you make fun of doctors’ wives and their naturally gifted children in Bethlehem, or the underprivileged folks of South Colonie?”

Albany Smudge possessed a keen understanding of the area and knew the exact location of its soft spots. They mercilessly jabbed at cultural touch-points — especially our stereotypes of local towns and their inhabitants.

It’s sad to see it go, but easy to understand. It must have taken a lot of time to write the well-crafted stories they published. Their output was prodigious, putting out new editions every week since November 2014.

I can’t say if Albany Smudge every caught on in the way it deserved. There’s so much content for people to sift through today — much more than when I used to publish Albany Eye, more than a decade ago.

The most impressive thing about Albany Smudge may be this: even when it took sharp aim, it was never mean. These days, that’s saying a lot.

Foto Friday

JC

A Dog’s Age

There are a world of people out there that you’d never talk to, but put a
leash in their hand and you’ve got something to chat about, And it’s not just
trivial banter, like about the weather, but something that’s that’s
interesting and personal. Caring about someone’s dog, is caring about them.

But I’ve noticed something interesting about dog dialogue. Without
fail, one of the first questions is this:

“How old are they?”

I’m not sure if people are genuinely curious about how old ours dogs are, or if it’s just something to get the conversation going. Is it going to provide them with some insight into behavior or temperament? I don’t know if it would mean anything to me, unless we’re considering a very young or very old dog.

Sometime I give the answer in people years, which really throws folks off. One time, I said “This one’s nine and that one’s eight.” Then I gestured to my wife. “And she’s 55.”

Some of us had a pretty good laugh about that one.

The Sound (Off) and the Fury

It’s the end of an era: The Troy Record and the Saratogian have killed their most popular feature, Sound Off. Here’s how Sound Off worked: readers called an answering machine and left anonymous comments, which the newspaper then published. They did it for years — as long as I can remember — since my earliest recollection of the Record.

As you can imagine, it was a cesspool of vitriol and rumor — and fun as hell to read. But now it’s all over.

Record and Saratogian managing editor Charlie Kraebel explained:

We want our readers to be able to express themselves and share their thoughts, but with civility. We don’t want The Saratogian and The Record to be complicit in a coarsening of public discourse that anonymity seems to encourage.

Bravo, Mr. Kraebel! It’s inspiring that after this decades-long experiment in free speech, responsibility wins out in the end.

Hilariously, Talk 1300’s Paul Vandenburgh — who makes a living putting anonymous people on the radio to say whatever they like — condemned Sound Off and applauded its demise. I guess he prefers the sort of free speech where you can turn off someone’s volume.

I’ve always been curious about how closely an editor looked at these Sound Off items. Some were pretty crazy — but not any worse than the comments that show up every day in Times Union blog posts.

The only people who should be applauding the death of Sound Off, are the poor schnooks who were forced to transcribe the calls. That must have been an awful job, most likely a task for interns or a staffer who pissed off the boss.

Defaced

Artists. They’re nothing but trouble!

Case in point: An art student at Shenendehowa High School tacked up pictures of President Trump and allowed his classmates to express themselves by drawing or writing on them. When school administrators discovered that people were scrawling obscenities on the pictures, the art installation was removed.

I’m pretty sure somebody also drew a dick on Trump’s face, which was as predictable as it was appropriate. And as predictable as the response from the school principal, who told WTEN, “Anytime we allow students to write whatever they want there’s a very good chance it won’t come out the way we want it.”

Indeed.

It reminds me of when I got in trouble as editor of the Carle Place High School newspaper, The Crossroads. One time I was interrogated by the gym teachers over writing an editorial about Title IX; on another occasion, the principal dragged me out of class for having the audacity to visit the district office and ask for a copy of the school budget. The same principal, Edward Leistman, later sacked the paper’s  academic advisor and ended up in court over it.

We all thought it was outrageous that our tyrannical principal wanted to reign over our newspaper with an iron fist — but he did have a point. The school district was the paper’s publisher, Leistman explained. If we wanted free speech, we were welcome to pay for printing the paper ourselves, write it on our own time and not use his staff to help get it done.

Touché.

The lesson: When someone else pays for your free speech, free it ain’t.