Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Our new backyard

After one of the most nail-bitingly difficult and complex mortgaging/closing processes we’ve ever experienced (not much good to say about Countrywide Mortgage this afternoon), we finally settled today on our new house. This is the view from part of our backyard.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Living with war in my heart

Yesterday I bought Neil Young’s new album, Living With War. As soon as I put it into the CD player in my truck my heart went heavy, and my spirits rose. It’s plainspoken, anthemic, compassionate and outraged. It’s unpolished, unashamed and inspiring. I read in an interview of Young that he kept waiting for someone in the younger generations to write these songs, and when they didn’t, he had to.

This morning I came across a Salon article about the billion-dollar memorial being proposed for Ground Zero. The author made some choice observations. One is that the number of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan has now surpassed the number killed on 9/11. But the best was this excerpt from the preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

“The history of the present King ... is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States ... He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power ... He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation ... For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury: For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences ... For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.”

Sound like anybody we know?


Monday, May 15, 2006

What’s up with this?

Seems like 40 days and 40 nights this has been going on. Here it is, friggin middle of May and we’re still wearing sweaters—during the day!

The weather lately has been like something out of a Garrison Keilor skit about Northern Minnesota, but I can assure you: it’s not funny. I’m ready to bask in the sun, and the sun’s nowhere to be seen. Day after day, I wake up, optimistic, thinking maybe this will be the day it finally gets warm. But then I see the clouds, hear the dreary sound of raindrops on the roof and I fall back into a kind of despair. The poor basil plants on the deck sympathize; once so promising and vibrant, now they’ve given up, withered away, and decided to die.

I seek independent verification when the weather goes weird like this. “Is this normal?” Someone who knows please tell me. “Will we have a summer this year?” Because if I don’t get a strong dose of the season I live for—soon, I’ll be pissed.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Living next door to the senator's daughter

When the winds of fate blew us from Philly to Carbondale, Illinois, one of the best outcomes for us is we rented a house in town next door to Sheila Simon and her family. She's the daughter of the late Illinois Senator Paul Simon, a bow-tie wearing liberal whose common-sense approach to government was in the same vein as Abraham Lincoln's.

If you're from somewhere else, this might not mean much, but if you're from down here in the mining country of Southern Illinois, you gotta understand, it's all Simon all the time. There's the water tower in Makanda, a hamlet a few miles south of here where Paul Simon built his sensible, ecologically advanced country home in the 1980s. The tower sports a bright yellow paint job and a smiley face, replete with a black bow-tie. Then there's the Simon Public Policy Institute here at Southern Illinois University. You can't miss the Senator Paul Simon Federal Building in downtown Carbondale with its solar panels in the roof. He also founded the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, and—the list goes on and on.

Paul's daughter, our neighbor, Sheila Simon is the real deal. Right now she's a city council member here in Carbondale, and she just announced she's gonna run for mayor. Of course, I've helped elect a mayor before, and this really appeals to me. And that's not just because she's a Democrat, but more because she's my next door neighbor and I get an intimate glimpse of how she lives.

She's a mom and she's always driving her daughters to music lessons and school events and god knows where else. Clearly, her family comes first in her life.

She's in a band called Loose Gravel. She plays banjo and the other women in the band play mandolins and violins and guitars. Their songs are wry and sweet and make you smile.

She spent spring break on a fact-finding trip to Cuba.

She invites us to dinner quite often. Then we get to join her and her family and an eclectic set of guests who are as likely to be from Zimbabwe as Carbondale. We come away energized.

She lets us borrow her push lawn mower to get some exercise while we trim our grass, and I know she's glad we're saving a half gallon of gasoline. Tells us to "use it anytime—you know where it is." In fact, she and Perry, her husband, are so environmentally conscious you see their laundry hanging on clotheslines all the time. Many evenings Sheila rides up on her Trek bicycle, commuting home from her workday. These folks practice what they preach.

There's something about Sheila that tells me she's destined for something bigger than mayor of Carbondale. How about President of the U.S.?


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mystery solved

After a couple of very intense and productive work days with my Peachpit colleagues in Berkeley, I got up early yesterday morning so I could drive my rental car back to the San Francisco airport in time to catch my plane back to St. Louis.

The plane was delayed, the takeoff was delayed, the arrival was delayed, so it was after 7 pm when I landed in St. Louis. I had left my truck across the river in Illinois and taken the brilliant St. Louis Metrolink to the airport, which meant I faced an hour long train ride from the airport back to the commuter lot. Twenty some stops later, I threw my suitcase in the bed and my computer in the cab and commenced the final leg, an almost two hour drive home to Carbondale. It was a sultry late spring evening and the drive through the countryside with the windows down was pleasant but long. Let's just say I was tired when I got home.

Around midnight I was unpacking my laptop in my quiet, dark office. I looked over at my desk and was repulsed by what looked like a puddle of dog puke right next to my inbox. I couldn't believe it. Why, (and much more pertinent, how) did Sami our dog get up on my desk to throw up?

Without thinking, I put my finger in the substance. It smelled sweet, almost pleasant. That meant it wasn't dog puke. But what else could it be? I glanced at the ceiling to see if there was any kind of leak. Negatori. My mind turned to the supernatural: maybe it was some kind of manifestation from a poltergeist. I was too tired to worry about what caused it, much less clean it up so I went to bed.

This morning I realized in an instant when I saw the package of Airborne tablets I had set out to pack before I left on my trip. They're supposed to guard against bird flu and other bad stuff in stuffy airplanes. I had placed two tablets on my desk to drop into a glass of water right before leaving for the airport, and in my usual rushing around before a trip, had forgotten to take them.

In the rainy, rainy last few days those tablets must've absorbed the moisture in the air and grew into a puddle that looked a lot like dog puke. Only a prettier yellow.


Monday, May 01, 2006

The kinder, gentler Condi

To be frank, it scared the shit out of me: I found myself in agreement with Condoleeza Rice. According to the San Francisco Chronicle she actually said something that sounded reasonable:

“Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice weighed in on the anthem debate Sunday, skirting Bush's strong statement last week that the anthem should be sung in English.

‘I've heard the national anthem done in rap versions, country versions, classical versions," Rice said. "The individualization of the American national anthem is quite under way. I think what we need to focus on is an immigration policy that is comprehensive and that recognizes our laws and recognizes our humanity.’ ”

Wow. Suddenly the lady is making some sense. The feeling crept up my spine and made me shiver: she’s cut and run from Bu$hco and has a new group of people advising, grooming her—people who want to formulate her into presidential material. I have a very bad vision forming in my head for 2008: Hillary/Condi.

S-h-u-d-d-e-r. Mind if I sit this one out?

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.