Category Archives: Modern Living

Anthrax Shed

Back in my TV days, it always worried me that the station could be targeted by a nut. We kept the place locked down pretty well, but now and then somebody would show up in the lobby with a messy folder stuffed with paper and demand to see a reporter. The receptionist had a panic button to push in case of trouble, but honestly I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one sitting out there.

I don’t remember anything like this:

Bomb threats are usually bullshit, right? But today, our president is telling his nutjob followers that the media is the enemy of the people — and some of these nutjobs are listening closely.

In 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, there was a spate of incidents where media outlets and politicians started receiving letters containing anthrax. This was no prank; people died and businesses were disrupted as their contaminated buildings were cleaned up. The best defense against an anthrax letter was to keep it isolated and away from the facility.

That’s when we got the anthrax shed.

It sat at the edge of the parking lot and looked like the shed behind your house, but this was where the mail would be sorted and opened before coming inside. Was it some highly trained specialist checking the incoming letters? Nah, they just gave the maintenance guy some dust masks and a letter opener and wished him good luck. Nice.

In a strange way, it was a more innocent time. The pain and trauma of 9/11 was still fresh, and the fear was very real. And we all felt something that today is all but forgotten. We stood together.

Who’s This?

I’m 56-years-old and I don’t know my phone number.

Yes, I know — but let me explain.

We moved two years ago, and after some deliberation, we decided to keep a landline. I don’t exactly remember why, but I know this: in two years, I haven’t given out that landline phone number even once. The phone rarely rings, and if it does, it’s never anyone I’m interested in talking to.

Of course I have the number — just not in my head.

Anyway, I may be too feeble to remember my phone number, but I do remember when the phone hanging on the wall was kind of a big deal. It would ring and we’d all run to answer it if we were expecting a call, sometimes fighting off a sibling who was also waiting to hear from someone.

Occasionally, it would be one of my aunts on the phone. You’d know this because when you picked up, they’d say “Who’s this?”

Not “Hello,” not, “Hi, this is your Aunt So-and-So,” but “Who’s this?” What? You called here — who the fu*k is this?

So, here’s an idea: Maybe the next time the damn house phone rings, I’ll just answer it that way. “Who’s this?” Who’s this and why are you calling and who gave you this number. Now have a nice day.

Button Pushers

I was riding upstairs with the elevator repairman, so I asked a question that needed to be asked.

“So, these door close buttons — do they actually do anything?”

He laughed.

“No, they don’t work unless you have the key and you’re running the elevator manually, like in an emergency. The doors are timed . Push the button all you want, it won’t speed things up.”

It was the Americans With Disabilities Act that disabled the door close button, in an effort to make sure those with crutches or wheelchairs could load safely.

But people like to push that button — and since the door closes soon anyway, it creates the illusion that they made it happen.

In a world where we have so little control over so many things, believing that you can make the elevator door close qualifies as a minor victory.

There, now you know the secret. What will you do with this information?

It’s best to just look on quietly when you see people push the door close button. It’s a harmless thing — and an elevator is not the best place to come off as a know-it-all.

Tickaphobe

There are a special pair of pants I pull on when working around the yard. They’re made of a quick-drying fabric and have lots of pockets for all my crap, but that’s not what makes them special. The great attribute these pants have is something I added: a heavy coating of permethrin spray that literally stops ticks in their tracks.

Yes, ticks freak me out.

This time of year, I try to avoid areas likely to be infested and obsessively check myself after working outdoors. Even after all that, it may not matter: I’m convinced that the tick who gets me will leap off one of the dogs and onto me as I sleep.

Now there’s another risk, one that in some ways is worse than Lyme disease: a tick-born sugar molecule called alpha-gal that may cause you to become allergic to red meat.

Right. Not a virus, not a bacteria, but a sugar molecule. And it makes your body revolt against itself.

The carrier is the lone star tick, a variety that’s been working its way north and in recent years started showing up in New York. I’d heard of the tick and this alarming condition before, but it was  this episode of Radiolab on public radio really got me worried.

Someday they’ll figure out a way to get this tick thing under control.

Won’t they?

Until then just spray and pray and hope the ticks don’t get you. How ironic that in a world of big risks, something so tiny may be our undoing.

To Thine Own Selfie Be True

How long was it since my last visit to Albany’s Tulip Festival?

Not long enough.

Yes, this sounds like the rambling of an increasingly crotchety old man, but hear me out.

If you’ve been to the festival, you know that the area around the Moses statue is tulip central, the best spot to take in a riotous assortment of blooms like you’ve never seen. Sure, there’s fair food and music and craft booths all over Washington Park, but this is the shit. It’s called the Tulip Festival, for a reason and here are the tulips.

Naturally, this area was mobbed, but oddly, nobody seemed to be paying attention to the tulips, they were paying attention to themselves. Albany had a bad case of the selfies.

Everywhere you looked, people stood with their arms in the air snapping away. If you wanted to take a picture of the tulips it would have been impossible to do it without seeing someone taking a selfie in the background.

It was… bizarre.

It used to be that you’d go somewhere and walk around and take in the sights. Now you go and take pictures of yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that everyone now has a pretty good camera in their pocket. It’s never been easier to to take pictures and share them with friends and family, and that’s a big positive. But what does it say when we’re so obsessed with the selfies? Look at what I saw has turned into look at me.

We fled the festival and headed for Thacher Park, where we saw not a single tulip and not one person taking a selfie.

Still Waiting

How many people woke up to Carl Kasell? To public radio nerds, like me, Kassel was royalty, not just because of his years doing the news on Morning Edition, but for his quirky turn as announcer on Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me.

Years ago, I appeared as a contestant on Wait Wait — so long ago that WAMC didn’t even air the show at the time. It was 2001, and though streaming was still a crude and unreliable technology, I’d manage to hear the show online. Anyway, I called the toll free number and within a few weeks I was playing Bluff the Listener.

The show aired that weekend. My segment was heavily edited — which I managed not to take personally — and like most contestants, I won.

The story of not collecting on the prize, Carl Kasell’s voice on my answering machine message, is more complicated.

As it happened, this episode of Wait Wait aired on the weekend right before September 11. Most of us were stunned by that day, and in a lot of cases, trivial things suddenly seemed a lot less important. Getting my prize just fell off the radar.

It’s a tiny thing, of course, but interesting how the shock and horror of that day affected people.

It felt like that was the week when news stopped being funny, but thank God we were all wrong. Wait Wait and other shows help us deal with difficult times, now more than ever.

I like to think that Carl Kassel may be standing next to St. Peter when (if?) I make it upstairs. He’ll offer up a wry remark in that sonorous voice of his, and maybe I can still get him to record my voice mail message.

Park at Your Own Risk

This isn’t about me wanting special treatment, it’s about common sense.

I recently parked my car downtown so I could move a bunch of boxes from one office to another. I figured I’d be out to fetch the car by 8:30, but I built in a little padding.

After being delayed, I went out to the car, where an Abany Parking Authority meter attendant was writing me a ticket — and this was at 8:51. Three minutes after my fee expired, I’m getting a ticket.

“You’re in violation,” she barked. “I’ve already written the ticket.”

Seriously? Three minutes?

After a bit of back and forth, the woman relented, but gave me a fuck you look as she stalked away. Yeah, you have a nice day, too.

So, let me ask you a question: should they ticket people the second their meter expires or allow a five to ten minute grace period. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like bullshit to pounce on violators the moment their time is up.

And pounce is what they do.

My co-workers claim that Albany Parking Authority’s pay stations and parking app alert officers of expiring payments. Think about it. If they know a car is expired in their patrol area, they can just stroll over and write a ticket. Or stroll over and wait for it to run out.

That sounds a bit conspiratorial — but why wouldn’t they do this?

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t pay to park — or that rules should be ignored — but being overly aggressive may be bad policy. Welcome to Albany.

A Pace That Lets You Think

Maybe you’ve seen David Cronenberg’s film Scanners, you know, with the exploding heads? Well, I thought my head would explode as I was trying to juggle four instant messenger conversations at the office on Friday. When did work get so insane?

Naturally, when I spotted this item in the Vermont Country Store catalog, I was nostalgic for simpler times.

typewriter

“A pace that lets you think.” Hmmm, I really need that — no, maybe we all need that. I don’t know about your job, but my days lately are fractured by so many meetings that there’s precious little time to sit at my desk and get work done. Doing things at a pace that lets you think would be luxurious.

I’m sure that many of you remember typing your work and then distributing it to people on paper; for you youngsters, it was once commonplace. It might be fun to buy a typewriter and send some work around that way. We could all benefit from a pace that lets you think.

Ta Da Dump, Ta Da Dump, Ta Da Dump Dump Dump

What sort of backwards place is Bethlehem, anyway? Yes, backwards.

The Albany suburb is known for its excellent schools and well-heeled residents, the home to doctors and lawyers and such — but to that, I say, “WTF! Who closes the dump on a Friday?”

It’s not really a dump. The town transfer station collects your waste and dispatches it to landfills and recycling centers. This is not Albany, where you  just put a ratty old couch on the curb and it disappears overnight. No, in Bethlehem you drag it to the dump transfer station and pay them to make it go away.

De-cluttering a house is hard work, and lately my car has made many trips to a local storage facility and the dump transfer station. Too many trips to the storage facility and not enough to the dump transfer station, if you ask me, but that’s another blog post.

So, if you’ve ever filled your vehicle with crap and found that there’s nowhere to put it, like in Alice’s Restaurant, you know what I mean. Except in this case it wasn’t Thanksgiving, the dump transfer station was closed because it was FRIDAY.

Again, I ask you: what sort of backwards place is Bethlehem, anyway?