Monday, August 30, 2010

Maybe It Has Bedbugs

Be careful where you leave your lion layin'.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Saturday in the Park

Roberta texted me at 9:30 yesterday morning. I was supposed to be at her car, so that we could drive over to Liberty State Park to go kayaking in the estuary.

"I hate my clothes," I texted back.

"I better pick you up."

Ten minutes later, we were at the boat launch along with Michael Kraiger, getting out the park's yellow Hobie kayaks that came with pedals and knob-controlled rudders.


A naturalist led us through the water, each in single-person kayaks, past the boat channel and over to the stone jetty. Beyond was a cove that would have been a heap of mud during low-tide.

"Those are gulls," explained the naturalist. "There's no such thing as a generic seagull. These are all different types of gulls."

We relaxed in our kayaks, under the Saturday morning sun, with the port of Elizabeth to our south and the Verrazano bridge to the east. The Statue of Liberty showed us her back just northeast of the park's peninsula. Perspective made Manhattan's skyline and the Empire State Building appear no taller than the Jersey City skyline.

Our kayaking trip took about an hour-and-a-half. We were back on dry land all too soon.

We stood eating Kraiger-supplied watermelon and Roberta's-neighbor-baked biscotti by Roberta's car. I'd brought nothing.

But I was clothed. Sometimes that's enough.

Friday, August 27, 2010

More Bustelo

Over on Facebook, I now have a collection of 39 Cafe Bustelo photos, sent to me by other people.

This one, by Maura, is one of my favorites.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Antarctica Photo Gallery

A few weeks ago, I met a couple at a party. They were interested in going to Antarctica, so I gave them a quick rundown of my opinion, how I think going on a run-of-the-mill cruise isn't all that, but how marvelous that trip probably would be if it included camping and kayaking.

(Ignoring for the moment if it's even ethical to go to Antarctica.)

And when I got home, I was inspired the conversation, and scanned in some photos from my 2004 trip to the Antarctic peninsula.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

So Plug Me Into the Grid Already

I helped out some friends last year when they found themselves without a comic book editor.

And here's what a random blogger had to say about it. I'm amused.

Though today, I don't feel like much of a powerhouse. Just tired, mostly.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Budget Cuts

There was no line at the inspection station on Friday, just before noon, when I pulled Henry the 1990 Ford up to one of four marked corrals in the the hangar-like structure in Secaucus. Maybe this is because New Jersey no longer does safety inspections, and only checks the emissions.

The changes in inspection rules are due to budget cuts. I laughed when I heard, because it was lucky for me to not have to worry about a safety inspection. But my laughter only lasted a minute. Is it a good thing that no one has to get their car checked out anymore?

Of course not. And anyway, my car would pass the safety check. It already passed that each year in Virginia. The emissions are what I was worried about. My sister lives in a rural area and Henry hadn't had his emissions checked since 2003 in Manhattan.

I'd had my mechanic do something called a "CCC kit" a few years ago, which I assume is something to do with carbon-cleaning and not the Civilian Conservation Corps.

A man in a uniform motioned me into a lane. I pulled up and showed my registration and license.

"Any chance this car has a bar code?" He grinned and I shrugged. He pulled open the driver's side door and looked at its side.

"It does!" He pointed his bar-code reader at the door and Henry registered. He was in the system. The inspector motioned me out of the car and into a pedestrian lane.

I shifted nervously from foot to foot for about 10 minutes. My car was passed along the lane, from station to station. At the last station, an inspector waved me over. He needed my key for the fuel cap.

Which took me a second to work out. New Jersey doesn't let us pump our own gas. What was second nature to me in Virginia and Ohio is something I've forgotten how to do in NJ.

"So how are we doing?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Don't know until it's done." He pointed to a computer screen. "That'll tell us."

Then, "You passed."


"Maybe it's because my car is originally from California," I thought.

The inspector looked at me funny.

"That makes no sense."

I reddened. "No, I mean... I bought the car in L.A. They have the toughest emissions standards in the country, so..."

"Oh, I get it. Well, it's got to be better than New Jersey. Everything is better than New Jersey. New Jersey is the 50th worst state in the country."

I wasn't quite sure how to respond to this.

"Uh, come on, 50th? What about 48th or 49th?"

He looked away. "Been here 15 years and now they cut safety inspections. Laid off, just like that."


"And no safety? What about my kid? Someone's brakes fail cuz there's no safety inspection?"

I nodded. He certainly had a point. I have no idea why they don't just charge for safety inspections, like in Virginia.

"I'm sorry."

He shrugged. Henry and I drove away, legal but subdued.

We'd passed. But it would be a few hours before I quit feeling blue about the inspection process.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Roots Have Taken

Finally, Henry the 1990 Ford Taurus is officially a resident of New Jersey!

I tell people it took me so long to move him here because I have a fear of commitment. That's a joke, but not entirely untrue. I had no intention of staying in JC when I bought a place here in November of 2002. My intention was to buy an unrenovated place for a good price ($125k) then fix it up, rent it out long enough to earn some equity, and then sell it at some point. My primary residence would be with Turbo in Australia.

But then I couldn't actually stay in Australia without the fiancee or marriage visa, and for various reasons (on his end, an unwillingness to deal, on my end, an unwillingness to push it since I was pretty sure spending the rest of my life in rural Oz was not going to get me anywhere), that didn't happen. So the two of us bounced back and forth—Oz to US, US to Oz—until the bouncing stopped, both of us wedged into our respective homes, staking our claims and refusing to budge.

So there I was, in JC. And during this whole battle of geographical wills, I'd given my car to my sister. Henry was an official resident of Virginia, and even after I took him back, I didn't make any changes to his pedigree. After all, I was leaving town, moving to Barcelona, moving to Uganda, moving to Kuwait, moving to Cairo. Henry the Ford lived with my sister, lived in the parking lot at Liberty Storage, lived in my garage.

Since late 2007, I've been back. And since the middle of 2008, I've been determined to stay back. And finally, last week, I finished the paperwork. Mission accomplished. I have been victorious in my quest to stay home and re-grow roots.

(Which does, incidentally, mean I would be psychologically qualified to leave again. That makes sense to me, anyway.)

There were hiccups in the transfer process. The NJ DMV didn't like my title. My sister had to go back to the Virginia DMV and get a new one, then send it back to me. I took a second trip up to Journal Square. This time, I left with perfect, new NJ plates. My visiting friend changed the plates for me last Friday. (Yes, I could have done it. But he's a handy sort of guy, so I performed the difficult task of handing him the screwdriver.)

The old Virginia plates looked absolutely disgusting. These were the third set of plates for Henry during my time with him. First, he'd had California plates. Then New York. I don't remember what either of those looked like when they were retired. The California ones probably didn't look like much. For TurboTour 2002, we'd driven Henry from Los Angeles to New York, via San Francisco, the Grand Canyon, Utah, Texas, New Orleans, and Virginia.

Henry looks proud and dazzling in his NJ plates. And since he'd spent his first 100,000 miles of life in tough-on-emissions southern California, I thought maybe he'd pass the emissions test for NJ.

But maybe not.

And that's one reason I'd delayed moving my car to NJ. I didn't want to deal with the uncertainty of the inspection. I called my mechanic, who told me that I had to go to a designated inspection center, and if anything was wrong, the mechanic had to be on an official list of emissions repair mechanics. He gave me a name.

I called, but because my car is pre-1996, I'd have to go to the public inspection facility in Secaucus. If Henry did not pass, I'd head to the official repair mechanic.

So Friday morning, nervously, I looked up directions to the official New Jersey inspection center, and headed over.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bustelo and Me

When approached by a series of Bustelo photos, one must—of course—reply with a thank you note. Photo. Whatever, you get the point.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bustelo and You

My friends Maura and Leah, who both know of my affection for Cafe Bustelo, took pity on me yesterday after I mentioned that the nice Ugandan man's prayers hadn't worked.

They made these wonderful photos, and cheered me up.

Maybe the nice Ugandan man was praying for coffee.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

An Explanation of Earlier Blog Entries

Something has been on my mind lately. Namely, all the details I've left OUT of the blog over the years.

If you read between the lines, it's all here, of course. But out of respect to the other parties involved, I didn't go into specifics. Waking up from all that years later and having no respect for those individuals, I wonder why I bothered.

And why have I been thinking about it lately? Because I have to write about it. I have to go back to my book proposal about this time, and I have to explain it all. Even the missing parts.

At the end of 2005, when I left Uganda, I wished I'd been numb.

I wasn't. 2005 was a tough year. And a great year, until it was a tough year. If I were prone to pseudo-sappy nonsense, I'd say I grew a lot that year. Learned to be stronger, more independent, and to take care of myself.

Not true, of course. I blundered through the months with little grace, and certainly without much self-respect.

That was all—of course—related to colossal disappointment in a male of the species. But like Pandora's box, under all my demons, I still had hope. So when the next male of the species popped up, I gave it a shot. I was stunned, though. This one was actually a self-made millionaire.

Who adored me.

Really? The reward for going through all that emotional crap in Africa was... a Scandinavian millionaire falls out of the sky and into my lap?

I dared to laugh, and hope just a little.

About 10 minutes later—poof! There went the Scandinavian millionaire.

A less cynical Marie might have described this as another learning opportunity. Not me. I reasoned it out.

If X happens, and then X happens repeatedly, then there must be a reason X happens. Right? It's simple. If men can't stand me, and it happens over and over, then I must suck.

Before you lecture me, I know this is nuts. But it was in the back of my head. I am big on logic, big on being rational. If something happens several times in a row, it's not random coincidence. There has to be a reason.

So, I thought, I must be un-dateable. Un-girlfriendable. It's not that farfetched. I already had some Wonder Woman issues... I can't tell you how many men have said to me "You're amazing. You're smart, attractive, you can do just about anything, you're brave, ballsy, tough, brilliant, you have those cool bullet-deflecting bracelets..." etc etc etc. Oh and the last bit of that compliment? It's always the same. "But... "

Then I met a sloppy guy with an ego, totally full of career importance. Ten months later, I was dating the guy. I assume this is representative of just how low my self-esteem had fallen. "Terrible candidate? You're my guy!"

If you lower the bar too much, it will hit you in the head. So I probably shouldn't have been surprised when this Mr. Self-absorbed quit checking his e-mail and looking at his watch long enough to toss me aside.

I retired from dating for a long time. More than two years. And recently, just put a toe in the water. Tried going to dinner a few times with someone who seemed more suited to me, who is actually a decent person.

And I had to laugh. Guess what I heard? "You're amazing... but..."

I've been thinking back lately to 2005. The night I left Uganda, the driver at my hotel was sitting in front of the front desk. I'd been chatting with him on and off for a few days. He saw Herr Marlboro arrive to pick me up, to drop me at the airport. He knew we were estranged, but that I was still hopeful in spite of all the hell I'd mentioned.

The driver smiled warmly at me.

"I will pray for you."

I don't know if he did. It obviously didn't work, but I'm past the point where I can let men's opinions of me matter all that much.

The fairy tale ending isn't for me. I make my own way.

Even though I'm "amazing... but..."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bolivian Parade Photos

I took so many photos of last weekend's Bolivian parade that it took me ages to go through them all.

Here are a few highlights. Click here to see the entire set.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rice Ball Season

It's that time of year, when the entire neighborhood goes batty for something called "rice balls."

I've never gotten one before. The serving system is labor-intensive with only a few balls fried at a time, so the line is always enormous. But yesterday, I went over right when the festival opened, and only had to wait in line about 10 minutes.

It's a combination of rice and cheese with ground beef and cheese in the middle. These balls are mixed, then rolled in bread crumbs, then deep-fried at the point-of-sale. These are called arancini in Italian.

I ate mine in the courtyard behind the church, with Roberta and another friend. They were yummy, the weather was perfect, and the crowd around us was old and Italian. Lovely.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's G-Day

Today, my friend and former colleague Howard reminded me that it's been 14 years since we lost Mark Gruenwald, the patron saint of Marveldom.

I was one of Mark's designated documentarians, meaning I would choose to be behind the camera rather than doing silly things in front of it. He had the unique ability to get us all to do ridiculous stuff, like perform improv shows in front of fans at conventions or have hula hoop contests in the Bullpen.

I didn't get around to creating a video of these moments in time for today, but here is the raw footage of Mark and David Wohl performing for a video I was making with David. In this, the unedited footage, you can hear me trying to stifle my laughter while still shooting with both hands. I cut that out of the final edit.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramadan Lanterns

NPR had a short piece on Egyptian Ramadan lanterns today. I have one--regular readers will remember me getting it in Cairo a few years ago. The bottom photo is my lantern, and the top shows one of the kiosks that line the streets of Cairo this time of year. Ramadan lanterns are colorful and gorgeous. I wish I could have a dozen in my apartment.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Bolivian Parade!

It's that time of year again—the annual downtown JC Bolivian parade. Which is a wonderful, glorious thing, because the Bolivians marching in the parade always look like they're ridiculously happy. Which makes me and everyone watching happy too.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Free Stuff

A neighbor just moved in, down-sizing from a massive house to a small urban apartment.

She gave me these beautiful Hmong (Laos) embroideries. I can't wait to use them to make something.

But what? I'm thinking handbag, but I'm not sure what kind of background these would go on.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

From the Bottom of a Drawer

Amusement. Back in 2001, this small community newspaper that was circulated where my mother then lived considered it noteworthy that I was using the Internet to communicate.

The headline is, of course, wrong. I never lived in Montclair. That's just an editor writing a headline after barely glancing at the copy.

The rest is fairly accurate. Maybe my mother wrote it. Yeah, probably.

You have to click if you actually want to read it.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Dress Code

This strange sign is on the door to the Keyhole, a bar near the Grove Street PATH.

I looked at it for a while and considered the traditional clientele of the bar, which has in the past occasionally involved drunk old guys and our local version of Stanley Kowalski—yes, some in tank tops—stumbling around in front of the door. I concluded that either the gentrification of the area has led the bar to attempt to provide a more comfortable environment for their newer clients, the bar has tired of drunk old guys and workers stumbling around, or else, mysteriously, men who wear tank tops misbehave while men in sleeves do not.