The Sled

Over the weekend, the lights came down and the decorations were stored away. This included the beat up sled that my wife brought home from a craft fair several years ago. It’s wrapped in some greenery and battery operated lights, and sits on the front porch to greet visitors during the Christmas season. Well, during every other Christmas season. This year, there were few visitors.

When it first came home, I figured it for another mass produced “antique” that’s peddled to folks wanting something that looks vintage, but is really a modern knockoff. But when I looked at the back, I found something interesting. The name Louise Remley was painted on the back, along with the name of the town, Anamosa, Iowa. Well, I thought, that’s a clever touch. They went through the trouble to make it look like this belonged to an actual person.

Christmases came and went, and we pulled out the sled every December and put it away every January. But this season, when taking the sled out of the shed, I noticed the name again and started to wonder: what if Louse Remley of Anamosa, Iowa was a real person?

It didn’t take long to find the truth. After a little digging on genealogical sites, I discovered records for Louise Remley, born to a family in Anamosa in 1917. This sled was no reproduction, but probably a Christmas present given when she was a little girl. Mind blown.

How does a sled from Anamosa, Iowa end up in Upstate New York? Based on her obituary, Louise Remley, then Louise Remley Scott, died in 1999 here in the Capital Region. After living in several spots around America, she last resided with her husband, Ira Scott, in Niskayuna. Did she keep that sled for the entire time, possibly since the 1920s? That’s a tougher question to answer – but it would be odd if fate brought both her and her sled her independently.

I don’t know much more about Louise Remley, but I like to think she’d be pleased to know that her sled is on display at my home every year. To me, the sled has always been a symbol of the season, but finding out about its history gives it even greater power. When you touch the worn wood and rusted runners, you’re making a connection to the past, and a child’s joy.

Brador People

“Ah! Brador people!”

The clerk at the little store near Lacolle knew why we were there. It was 1979, and I didn’t know much about Quebec, but I did know that it was where we went to buy Molson’s Brador beer.

It was kind of a big deal for SUNY Plattsburgh students to drive across the border to score cases of Brador. It was thought to be a fine and superior beer, especially when compared to the Budweiser and Genny Cream Ale we bought at Chuck Wagon on Brinkerhoff Street. But the true appeal of Brador may have been that it was a high-octane brew with 6.2 percent alcohol.

Today, you can get beer that’s much better — and with just as much alcohol — in any supermarket, but back then, Brador was a magic elixir only possessed by the most determined and discriminating drinkers, and it could only be obtained on a journey to a foreign land.

These “Brador runs” would take us into Canada by way of an obscure border crossing out in the middle of nowhere. I don’t remember much scrutiny on the way into Canada, and even less as we passed back through US Customs laden with cases of Brador. It was a different time.

These were my first trips to another country, so everything was interesting and exotic — as if what I encountered in the outskirts of Plattsburgh wasn’t strange enough. At the time, the North Country still felt raw and wild, like West Virginia collided with the Ozark woods. It was a rough and tumble corner of the state that was forgotten by time, and populated by people with strange accents so thick you could barely understand them. Are we really in New York?

As a bunch of stupid kids from the suburbs, we were convinced that we were one wrong turn away from a Deliverance country — but we always made it back with the beer.

Truth is, Brador probably wasn’t that great. Molson stopped making it some years back, and I’m not sure anyone misses it. Like a lot of things, the memory probably better than the truth.

Relish Redux

Editor’s note: I rarely re-print stuff, but I heard Susan Stamberg going on about her relish this morning, and felt it was worth dusting off this ten-year-old post.

Yes, it's really that color. If you listen to NPR, you may be familiar with the Thanksgiving tradition of Susan Stamberg sharing her mother-in-law’s cranberry relish recipe. She’s been sharing it and sharing it. Sharing it since 1972, in fact. That’s a long time, even in NPR years. Ira Glass was just 13-years-old when she started in with the relish.

I actually served the crazy pink mess of cranberry, onion, sour cream, sugar, and horseradish one Thanksgiving. While I sort of liked its tart-tangy-sweet flavor, nobody else touched it. Maybe it was the color. Maybe that it looks more like a desert than a side dish. Maybe they were not Morning Edition listeners.

Anyway, I thought I would give it one more shot and taste test it on my family before turkey day. Reviews were mixed.

My 22-year-old son said it was “unique and interesting” and said he’d like to see it on the holiday table. My 15-year-old called it “weird.” My wife said that it was “too oniony.”

And oniony it was. The trouble with onions is that they can vary wildly in their pungency, so even the small onion called for in this recipe can pack an unexpected wallop. I’d recommend going easy — or even using a sweet onion to temper the effect.

Based on my unscientific sample, maybe half the people might like this stuff — but since it only takes a couple of minutes to prepare, why not? Be prepared, though: the relish will signal you as an NPR geek. Depending on your family, they will either see you as worldly and enlightened or an elitist snob. But as they say, you can choose your radio station, but you can’t choose your family.

Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish Recipe

We’re Number One

Visitors to Albany probably look up at the Corning Tower and think that this is a place with an inferiority complex.

And they’d be right.

More confident towns laugh off minor offenses and move along, but throw shade on the Capital Region, and you’re in for a fight. And we never let it go, as seen in this Times Union piece where their columnist dredged up some ancient insults from a 1972 New York Times story. Seriously?

But today we can celebrate being better than anyone else in one thing: the Capital Region had the best cult.

No, maybe “best” isn’t the right word, but it’s certainly the most notorious. NXVIM has drawn the world’s eye to the area, what with the extensive media coverage of the Keith Raniere trial and the HBO documentary The Vow.  Finally, we’re known for something big — no, not something positive, but hey, stop your complaining.

This is not to diminish the evil done by NXIVM and Raniere, and he’s going to prison, where he belongs. Regrettably, we can’t also punish the local people and law firms who enabled his dark shenanigans. Many other folks in the area bought into his nonsense by taking NXIVM’s pricey “Executive Success” classes. This a small town, so I guarantee you know someone (or know someone who knows someone) who went through the program or did business with NXIVM.

So, hold your head up high Albany. The next time somebody calls you Smallbany, point to NXVIM and ask about the cults in their town. It’s not likely they can top this one.

Exile on Main Street

This headline in the Times Union caught my eye:

Wolf Road, region’s ‘Main Street,’ struggles in pandemic economy

In what godforsaken dystopian world is Wolf Road your “Main Street?”

Far from being our Main Street, other overbuilt retail areas in the region are described as being, “like Wolf Road.”

Don’t get me wrong: there is a place for the Wolf Roads of America. You may hate the acres of parking lots, soulless chain restaurants, and mind-numbing traffic, but for better or worse, big communities need big retail. But Main Street? I think not.

You want to talk Main Street? Walk down Broadway in Saratoga. Visit Altamont. Stroll down Warren Street in Hudson. Pick any number of spots in Troy. That’s Main Street.

Main Street is part of our collective culture. The greatest fictional Main Street may well be what we see in It’s a Wonderful Life, with it’s hometown shops and colorful characters. Wolf Road? That’s more like Mr. Potter’s nightmarish parallel world ,where George Bailey gets schooled on his place in the universe.

No, not my Main Street.

I hate to say this, but after decades of places like Wolf Road destroying Main Street, is it time for a little payback? It could be that this COVID mess will leave people wanting to shop close to home — on Main Street, even. We could do worse.

Don’t Be a Dick

Everybody has something they’ve missed most during the pandemic. For me, the biggest loss was the closure of my gym.

I started training with free weights last September and was finally seeing some gains when they shut everything down in March. If you’ve never lifted, you should consider starting. It will make you feel good and help you maintain strength and bone density as you age — but be forewarned: if they close your gym, it will affect your body and mind.

In the beginning, we all figured the pandemic would last for a month and we’d all go back to normal. Then another month passed. And another. So, what’s one to do?

The best solution seemed to be buying some weights for my garage. This seemed that it would be simple, but turned out to be impossible. Stores had absolutely nothing, nor did online retailers, so I turned to the used market — and what I found was troubling.

The prices for used equipment on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist were insane, but worse, I found a thriving market for new equipment at vastly inflated prices. New gear, still in the box, was routinely listed at two to three times the cost.

OK — a product is worth what someone will pay for it, but snatching up all the available inventory and reselling at an exorbitant price is wrong. You’re depriving other consumers of the opportunity to buy something at a fair cost. We’d never put up with people doing this with things like diapers or food.

And this is not a one time opportunity for some sellers, either. One guy was offering a kit that sells for $249 at Dicks for $649, and he told me he “sold three last week.” Nice work if you can get it.

Anyway, I found one of those $249 weight sets — in Syracuse. Long drive, but I won’t get caught short when the virus hits hard again. Be back in five hours, folks.

Blowin’ In the Wind

I’ve never been part of a protest like the ones we’re seeing around America lately. It’s not that I don’t care about important social issues, but I think it makes more sense to pay attention to the circle immediately around you and the things that you can personally affect.

A lot of people who walk around with a cardboard sign never do anything to improve their community, like commiting their time or treasure to make a real difference. But hey, protests are fun and they make you feel good about yourself. And they’re probably great if you’re single, too.

But I do like those leaf blower dads.

They’re a contingent of activists in Portland who have been showing up at protests to fight tear gas with lawn machines. When gas is deployed they muster up and deploy it back in the other direction with their leaf blowers. Nifty. It was such a good idea, that the cops started carrying their own leaf blowers to blow the fumes back in the intended direction. It’s a Mexican standoff of sorts. Sorry — is that culturally insensitive?

So, yes, maybe I could be persuaded to join a protest if I can bring a leaf blower. Waving around a sign is not my style, but a leaf blower? Now your talking.


I woke up this morning and realized that my recovery is complete. It’s not drugs or alcohol that were my problem. Not gambling or sex or any of the usual addictions that plague our brothers and sisters. No, my issue was local talk radio.

I never agreed with anything I heard — quite the contrary. I listened because it stirred a dark part of me and made me fill up with contempt. Contempt for the viewpoints I heard from the host and callers.

The funny thing is that even though it sucked me in, I knew all along that it was all just a bullshit act.

Local talk radio is a sham. A guy like Paul Vandenburgh at Talk 1300 may not even believe a word of the garbage he spews every morning, but but he doesn’t have to, because it’s all theater. He’s playing a character, and if he thought he could make more money playing a far-left liberal character, he’d do it in a second.

The worst part is that I wasted time on something that wasn’t even very good.

For the sake of comparison, consider Rush Limbaugh. You may dislike his position on things, but there’s no denying that he’s a brilliant communicator. Even public radio legend Ira Glass tips his hat to Limbaugh:

“Rush is just an amazing radio performer. Years ago, I used to listen in the car on my way to reporting gigs, and I’d notice that I disagreed with everything he was saying, yet I not only wanted to keep listening, I actually liked him. That is some chops.”

There’s nothing amazing going on at Talk 1300, but I guess in a small upstate town like Albany, it doesn’t take much to amuse people. Or fuel their rage.

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Quote

This song by Brandy Clark, We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat, is all over the radio.

The duet with Randy Newman is pretty catchy — and certainly timely in these crazy times — but it’s sure to make Jaws fans cringe. As so many people do, she misquotes the iconic line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Does the one word make a difference? Yes.

Chief Brody’s use of “you’re” instead of “we’re” is telling. It seems to be him saying, “OK, let’s get the hell out of here and come back when you get yourself squared away with a proper boat.” But in Quint’s world, that’s not an option. There is no bigger boat, and more importantly, here we are — and now we’re all in this together. This is no longer about me, it’s about we.

The subsequent scenes in Jaws show Brody, Quint, and Hooper coming together as a team, forming a bond that is one of the beautiful things about the movie. You’re boat is now our boat.

So, I’ll stop being an annoying purist with my complaining about a silly movie quote. And if there’s one thing we need now, it’s a bigger boat.