House Bird

Someone’s going to die.

That was my first thought when a bird fluttered past my head and into the house at 4:30 a few morings ago. It had spent the night nestled in a wreath on our front door, and woke with a start when I stepped out for my run.

I thought other things of course, namely, “Holy crap, there’s a bird in my house” — but the sense of dread fell over me like a shroud.

There are many superstitions involving birds. Good luck, bad luck, strokes of fortune in every direction. Most involve the type of bird and their behavior, and sometimes, a certain number of birds is significant. A bird in the house can have many different meanings, but the one we hear most is about death.

My ancestors believed in fairies and the evil eye, but we are more modern people who are not troubled by such nonsese.

Aren’t we?

Oh, and the bird. It flew back and forth across the house a few times and was almost nabbed by the cat when it landed on the floor. After a few minutes, I managed to steer it out the side door. Luck was with the bird.

Agitators

I wrote once that it’s pointless to get mad at Talk 1300 numbnut Paul Vandenburgh.

“Doing that would be like going to the circus and criticizing the clowns for — well, acting like clowns. That’s their job.”

I’m not here to lecture you on media literacy, but we all need to remember that some people are paid to be provacative. Columnists, commentators, opinion peddlers, pundits — and sometimes bloggers.

That’s what they do.

Let’s take as an example this headline seen recently in the Times Union blog section:

Good riddance to Grandma’s Pies

That’s how Times Union staff blogger Kristi Gustafson-Barlette titled a post about the closing of Grandma’s, a local restaurant and pie
shop.

She made it clear in the post that she was never a fan of the place, but I think the title was calculated to make people angry.

Not everyone bought it, like this person in the comment area:

Content-wise, your article captures the truth: Grandma’s had lost all  of what made the pies local favorites and it was time for a change. However, your headline implies your revelry in the closing of a local business. The disparity in tone between headline is clearly evidence of a lame attempt at clickbait – an insult to your readers.

But it worked. Her post rocketed to the top of the most-read list.

Whatever. Why are we so bothered about what’s in some blog or on a stupid talk radio show — especially when it can be argued that what you’re reading or hearing isn’t real, but cooked up to grow audience?

Probably for the same reason many of us can’t stop reading about Trump. It feels so good to be outraged.

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 tick don’t get you. How ironic that in a world of big risks, something so tiny may be our undoing.

Stop, Drop, and Poop

If you type the word “poop” into the search box on the right, you’ll come up with page after page of results. Dog poop, cat poop, picking up poop, stepping in poop, throwing poop, even eating poop. For the record, The eating poop post was about dogs eating cat poop.

But friends, this isn’t a story about dogs and cats, the poopers in this tale stand on two legs — and wear running shoes.

Stories about runners stopping along the way to lower their shorts and drop a load have been trending lately. mainly because they haven’t been smart about it.

Colorado Springs police seek runner who won’t stop pooping in front of a family’s house

School Superintendent Arrested for Repeatedly Pooping on High School Track

Maryland Man Facing Illegal Dumping Charge

I know a bit about pooping while running.

In my younger days, my body was geared in such a way that I’d regularly (no pun intended) get the intense urge to take a crap during my run. It was such an issue, that I’d always tuck a folded paper towel into my waistband for clean-up. Pro tip: Normal bathroom tissue doesn’t hold up well if it gets sweaty.

Unlike the people in these stories, I was always very discreet, and during most of the year it was dark out.

For some reason, the urge never overwhelms me anymore, but nonetheless, I’m always scouting private spots that would do in an emergency. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an endorsement of random al fresco pooping. The fact is, as much as you’d like to control your body, sometimes it will control you.

Oh, another tip: If you’ve gotta go, be stealthy. Cameras are everywhere these days, and this is not the sort of YouTube star you want to be.

Nielsen Family

A letter showed up from Nielsen lately asking for an 18 – 34 year-old-male who’d be willing to take a survey.

We’ve gotten mail from Nielsen before, and it’s always handled carefully; ANYTHING to do with measuring TV ratings is thrown away immediately. We’ve always had at least one person in the house working at a TV station, so participating in ratings research would be a big no-no.

Not everybody takes it so seriously.

Twenty years ago there was a sticky problem here in Albany when the family of a local TV salesperson was selected to receive a Nielsen ratings diary. Thinking they could sway the survey results, her family dutifully reported that they watched WXXA 24-hours-a day. No, nothing suspicious about that.

Nielsen didn’t catch the problem, but there were rumors in town that something was screwy when the November 1997 ratings book came out. WRGB cried foul and an audit turned up the corrupted diary.

The whole thing was tossed out and recalculated. Oops.

According to Variety, a spokesman for Nielsen said it was, “The first time he can remember a local diary being contaminated to such an extent that it impacted the ratings and demographic results.” You’d think they might have caught such an egregious fraud.

In Albany, diaries are a thing of the past. This market is now measured by something called a “code-reader.” A device listens to the TV audio and records which station is being watched. Then, demographics are calculated based on viewer behavior collected in metered markets.

That may sound shaky, but it’s no worse than diaries. Think of the amount of influence those little books had. Untold millions were spent, businesses rose and fell, careers were made — or ruined.

Much of it was accurate, but the rest? It was what people claimed to watch, or thought they watched, or would want people to think they watched.

Mad About Running

The great thing about going to the doctor is the magazines. Sometimes I wish they’d never call my name and I could just sit and leaf through Time, Sports Illustrated and the New Yorker all day.

My current running shoes.

Anyhow, I was perusing Runner’s World at a recent doctor visit, a magazine I subscribed to when I was a serious runner, instead of a fat, slow old man who struggles through his morning jog. But there was an interesting story about the mental health benefits of running that got me thinking.

You always hear people talk about the positive energy generated by running, and this was a theme of the story, but in my experience running has been a time to stew over things that made me angry. It’s been a time to re-live incidents  — very often work related — that pissed me off and to go through what I wish I’d done or said.

No, it’s not always negative stuff. Sometimes I’ve come up with constructive solutions to problems, and many times formulated approaches for creative endeavors — but there’s always a healthy dose of foot pounding over people and situations that I find vexing.

My knowledge of psychology is limited to a three credit course taken at SUNY Plattsburgh in 1979, but doesn’t it make sense that this is a good thing? It’s probably better to push through negative thoughts during a run that to bring them to work or into your relationships at home.

I’d be lying if I said that everything I’ve come up with while running has improved things — but how much worse would it have been without the running?

So off I go.

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.

On Gravity

Wednesday was the perfect day for a visit to Thacher Park, but not if you wanted to walk along the Indiian Ladder trail. The trail is closed and it’s not clear when — or if — it will reopen.

The iconic Indian Ladder trail is one of the most popular spots in the Capital Region. It was shut down last summer when a boulder came loose from the cliff above and struck a local woman, leaving her gravely injured. The sad story of how the accident left her permanently disabled was told in a recent Times Union story. Near the end of the story was this sentence:

The family has retained an attorney, who has filed a lawsuit alleging negligence on the part of state parks officials and seeking undisclosed damages.

OK. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know all that much about cliffs and such, but I’m struggling to understand the negligence part. I’ve been on that trail more than I can remember, and there wasn’t a single time when I didn’t think of what would happen if boulders started tumbling down. I’ve stood under huge outcroppings of rock on the trail and pondered being squished. All this rock will fall some day. Hope I’m not the one standing here when it happens.

Did the park officials know rocks might fall? I don’t know, but anyone who’s ever been there can see there are huge boulders scattered around near the trail. They didn’t get there by rolling up the hill.

Now, in other parts of the park, I’ve seen where huge trees came down across trails. Fortunately, they haven’t hit anyone. I can’t say whether they made a sound, but I can say this: outdoor activities involve risk, even in a tame place like Thacher Park, bad things can happen.

I don’t know what we expect the park to do, send teams of climbers up and down the cliff looking for boulders that might break free? Is that even possible to detect? Then we can have teams that roam the woods looking for dangerous trees. And of course, there will be dozens of signs warning people that the trails may be dangerous.

Or maybe something else will happen: they’ll shut down the Indian Ladder trail forever, and that would be a damn shame.

Cat Tale

A reader asks:

Hi Rob,

I was thinking about starting up a cat rental business. How did that go for you? Did you run into problems?

Thanks,
Tim

Yes, more than nine years later, people are still inquiring about my fictitious cat rental business.

It all started with a goofy blog post in 2010 about offering my cats up for rent to control mice. It was just a joke: why go through the trouble of owning a cat when you can rent one to de-mouse your house? We had three cats at the time, which if you ask me, is two cats too many — but it would be great if they could bring in some income. Suddenly the litter boxes, vet visits, and pricey food seem more tolerable. OK, maybe not ha-ha funny.

All this time later, people still leave comments on the blog post and send emails about cat rental. Another comment came in today:

Maybe I’m just being played here, but if you search “cat rental mice,” the post does turn up high in the results.

Who knows. By the way, Mia — the last remaining cat of the three — has been a bit of a disappointment in the mousing department. She’s certainly not worth $100 per week.