New Bike

So, the old bike was stolen. Can you believe the gall? Yes, I had already decided to buy a new bike and, yes, I left the garage door wide open for 24 hours. And, no, I didn't have it locked. Why would I lock it? It was in the garage? Besides, I was riding the Brunette's bike to work in Dulles, so I needed the lock there.

Amazingly, nothing but the bicycle was taken from our garage. We don't have a lot of things in it, but still. It's just Fate's way of telling me I was right to think of buying a new bike, I guess.

Last Thursday's Route

  • 7:20 - 7:40 Ridge to Southway to Greenbelt Road to Metzerott Road
  • 7:40 - 7:55 Metzerott to New Hampshire Avenue
  • 7:55 - 8:05 Piney Branch Road to Flower Avenue
  • 8:05 - 8:10 Flower to Wayne Avenue
  • 8:10 - 8:21 Wayne to Silver Spring Metro
At the same time, I've finally been assigned to a longer-term project. I'll be in Silver Spring for a few months, at least, so I'm excited about really being able to bike to work again. I've moved one step closer to a true road bike with a CycloCross. And I think it is zippy!

E=mc2, A Biography ... And Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

So, there's this kid (I can never remember his name) who lives on my super block. A super block, for those of you who don't live in our little cooperative community, is the same thing as a block, only, you know, mushed together like a tenement. I suppose that it must be some sort of remnant of '30s advertising: Tired of city life? Been around the block one too many times? Come live in our new, improved super blocks!

At any rate, this kid -- I think his name starts with an H? -- he and his friends have a book group. Oh, it's the cutest thing: six wee tykes sitting around a table at Beijing restaurant on a Saturday afternoon. Their little feet don't even touch the floor, but they probably feel all grown up at an adult restaurant.

"The only problem is," my neighbor tells me, "that the proprietors of this particular Greenbelt Chinese eatery would prefer we arrive with adult supervision. And although I do not believe we should kowtow to such paternalist attitudes --"

"There was that incident with the fish tank," I point out helpfully.

"That was you!" Henry points out right back.

"Oh, right."

"Anyway, none of our parents is available this afternoon and seeing as it is raining and none of us can drive --"

"You want me to join your book group again?" I fill in. I am so proud. I don't think any of you will be surprised to learn that I'm something of a mentor, maybe even an idol, to these young citizens, and I do enjoy providing a sense of stability and direction to their little lives.

"Well, we were kinda hoping your wife would be in, to be honest," Hal says.

"Right-o," I say. "She's over with her niece today. I'm glad you stopped by, because I just finished a book I'll bet you are all talking about."

"There's no need--" Hank starts, but I am already up and down the steps with my book tucked in my rucksack before he can finish. He looks down at his feet and sighs, then we walk down the pathways to Roosevelt Center.

Hap's little friends are clustered around the door when we arrive. The twins, Cindy and Mindy, are whispering to each other behind their hands. Little Sam is staring at the reflections in the restaurant window and twirling his hair around a finger. Or is it 'her' hair? Dang, I meant to ask before we got down here. Prasad notices our arrival and stands front-and-center to tell us, after he carefully adjusts his glasses and meticulously straightens his tie, that the owner won't seat them until the full party has arrived.

"Well, we're here now," I say boldly and open the door. Prasad shoots Herb a look, but he only shrugs in response. I ask for a large round table for our discussion and the maitre-d' takes us the long way around the restaurant to seat us just the other side of the fish tank. I glance over at the tank, but our host shoves a menu into my hands with a brusque, "no fish for you!"

"Shall I begin?" Prasad asks after orders are taken. "The book I read this week is called E=MC2, The Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation. I found --"

"Oh, I just loved that book!" squeal Cindy and Mindy as one.

"It was an interesting conceit," Prasad admits, trying to control the floor. "It probably sits well on the shelf of anyone with pop science leanings."

"You say that as if it's a bad thing," I joke and punch him on the arm. "Oops, right off the chair! Sorry, man."

"Don't hurt him," cry Mindy and Cindy.

"I'm okay," says Prasad placatingly. Prasad is never one for conflict. "I don't mean to offend," he continues after climbing back up into his chair. "It's just that there's nothing new in there, you know?"

"Oh, I don't know," says Hugh. "I think his writing style is right on target for this genre, and there is a good amount of creative wordplay."

"You always go for style over substance," Prasad says. Harvey holds out his hand as if to say this is an old argument between them. But Cindy and Mindy are not mollified. The book is deeper than Prasad is giving credit for. They try to get Sam to join their side, but Sam only smiles shyly. Everyone knows that Sam is above such petty arguments.

"I mean, geez," say Mindy and Cindy, "it's better than Harry Potter or something."

"Oh, gosh, my Mom made me read that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," says Prasad. The book club members all sigh in sympathy. "She thought we might be able to 'discuss it' after. I gave close and careful consideration to giving up reading altogether." Cindy and Mindy reach over to pat his hand. They can't quite reach, so they've got to get up and walk around the table.

Words like "tripe" and "utter foolishness" travel around the table. These kids are unanimous in their disdain for the book. Even shy Sam makes a face.

"You don't think it's an exciting representation of young teamwork?" I ask.

"I think we're all agreed that the entire series is beneath contempt," Prasad explains. "And we are a bit worn out by Ms. Rowling's idealization of boarding schools and childhood rebellion. Please, these people are supposed to be under constant threat of absolute evil and destruction, but they're worried about sporting events and brownie points for their dorms?" The table snorts and tuts with derision.

"Besides," appends Henry, "the 'teamwork' of which you speak is totally missing from this latest installment. Harry doesn't trust anyone and we certainly see none of that old Three Musketeer spirit between him, Hermione, and Ron this go around."

I am about to say that it is called Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, not Harry Potter and Hermione and Ron and Hagrid and the Cast of Oliver Twist, but the table smells blood in the water. They are aghast. Has Heinrich just admitted to reading the book of his own free will?

"...or so I've heard," he backpedals with a frown. Sam stares with open mouth at the little book group's moderator. Mindy and Cindy humph and flounce their hair. Prasad stifles a sniffle.

"Did you--" he starts, but Hector interrupts.

"Mr. Blake, didn't we have to get back to the house?"

"What?" I say. "I don't know --"

"Sure, your wife said to have you back in an hour. Remember?"

"Really? Right then, gotta go."

We hasten out of the restaurant and up the path toward our super block. The squirrels are still out and about busily preparing for winter, or playing games, or whatever it is that squirrels do.

"Did you really read it?" I ask.

"It's not like I wanted to," he says sullenly. "She made me."

"Who made you?"

"What book did you bring?" he answers.

"Oh, it's not important."

And we walk on in silence. At the top of the sidewalk, we part ways and I enter the house to find the Brunette home from niece visiting.

"Have you seen that Harry Potter book?" she wants to know.

"Oh, don't mention that book," I say. "Why?"

"I was going to let my niece look at it."

"Ah, well, it's over there in my rucksack. You are welcome to it."

It's a LibraryThing. You Wouldn't Understand

A Library Report

As we go through cataloging our little library using this cool LibraryThing, we're taking bets on whether or not we have a thousand books in the house. Before we started, I'd have been firmly in the positive on that score, but now I'm having my doubts. After tonight, we stand at 692 cataloged. I doubt there are 300 remaining. We haven't yet hit the few technical books I've held on to (these are fairly fat) or our little drama and comic books section. The drama section might push us over because those are pretty thin books.

The other little controversy here in the Wee Hoosie is whether or not to admit to owning particular books. We do have books on our shelves that we either did not purchase ourselves or did not enjoy whatsoever. We're pretty bad at getting rid of these things, though, so they sit side-by-side with our well-loved and easily recommended books. By hanging on to these books we are probably going to skew the new feature from LibraryThing that gives you a recommendation based on other people with similar library tastes.

We've settled, I think, on cataloging these books, but we're going to mark them with the tag quarantine to indicate that we're keeping these books to prevent them getting loose in the wild. Now, I'll have to go back and find all the ones we should mark this way. For now, we have seven:

Darwin's Radio by Bear, Greg
Icefalcon's Quest by Hambly, Barbara
Adventures in the Alaskan Skin Trade by Hawkes, John
Tales of the Kingdom by Mains, David R.
The Darkling Hills by Martin, Lori
Eragon by Paolini, Christopher
The purpose-driven life : what on earth am I here for? by Warren, Richard
So, what books do you own that you'd put under quarantine?

...And the Smell of Gunsmoke

On the Phones

A Volunteering Report

The exciting thing, you see, about answering telephones during a public radio fundraising campaign -- aside from supporting in-depth news reporting, excellent cultural programming, and Gunsmoke -- is the handwriting contest.

Volunteers are given a form for data collection during each phone conversation. The form is structured as a script: Thanks for calling. How much? May I have your address? Can we mention your name on the air? How many cheap tchotchkes do you want for your $100 contribution? The forms are handed off to another team for computer input. The computer folks, alarmed by the inability of our nation's school systems to produce people with penmanship, have instituted an hourly award for the most legible handwriting. The lucky winner gets to host the Styrofoam bust of GB Shaw, is given some prize (like chocolate), and is provided with a tiara.

Now, I'm not generally one to wear a tiara (at least in public), but a contest is a competition, after all.

Fine handwriting takes time. One cannot rush through like an out-of-control Metro car crashing downhill into a station. One must be careful, tidy, and meticulous. (One begins to refer to oneself as 'one' when one spends too much time at public radio.)

"Yes, I'm sure you want to pass good wishes on to Ed Walker, but you're going to have to slow down. Now, how do you spell your name again? T...O...M. And your middle initial?"

Many people wanted to express warm feelings for Ed, who usually hosts the Big Broadcast. The Big Broadcast is Sunday's show that replays radio programs from the '40s and '50s. He's been away having back surgery. These people want to gush about Ed, but they don't realize that the oatmeally bust of GBS is on the line.

The first hour's prize was awarded to a woman two tables over. Now, I'm not one to cast aspersions, but if I were, I might suggest -- much like that FBI guy -- that it might have been reported that she offered a bribe or something. But that would be beneath me. Oh, yeah.

As 8:30 rolled around, we started getting irate callers. Rob Bamberger was doing a fine job, I'm sure, sitting in for Ed Walker, but he failed to start Gunsmoke at 8 on the dot, as Ed is wont to do. It's one thing to be sick, and another to make bad puns on the air, but mess with these people's Gunsmoke and there's heck to pay. When Rob finally got around to announcing Gunsmoke, there was a flurry of activity. Callers wanted to get in their pledges before Matt Dillon got on his horse or whatever. But the process is not quick. Rushing leads to failure in the handwriting department.

And so I missed another opportunity to win.

The phones go quiet during Gunsmoke. It's as if the world has fallen under some sort of old western spell. It's a chance for the volunteers to stretch, and we all took advantage of it. We also get to hear a little more of the show from the speakers mounted on the wall.

I picked up a call toward the end of Gunsmoke. The caller seemed nervous. After we stumbled together through much of the form, I asked if he wanted to be thanked on the air. This made him even more upset. He dithered back and forth, eventually settling on, "OK, but don't use my last name on the air." Each form has a detachable section that is sent over to the announcers, so I wrote something like "Jack from downtown."

Jack's not his real name, of course.

At any rate, when I asked him for his email address (for the email newsletter), his squeamishness suddenly made sense. Pretend, if you will, his email was Jack.Clark@theHeritageFoundation.org. You can imagine he might be embarrassed to be caught supporting public radio. Of course, Gunsmoke brings us all together.In the territories out west, there's only one thing that stands between the Red States and the Blue States... I mentioned the reluctance to the gofer, who ran off with the form as usual.

And so, we approached the end of the final hour, and I was feeling pretty good about my chances. GBS could soon be in my grasp! I even chuckled ominously, I think. I did have to deal with a man who was calling half-asleep from bed. Such is the siren call of the pledge week begging, I suppose, but because he was groggy, he didn't seem to mind my repeating everything he said three times before writing it down.

Then, I caught a little of what was going out over the airwaves. Rob or Steve or somebody was going through the standard thank yous. "Here's another one," he said. "Jack Clark pledged $50. Thanks, Jack Clark."

My hand jerked across the page. Oh, dear. I must have cried out, because my current caller asked what was wrong.

"What's wrong? What's wrong!" I said. "Oh, geez, you really can't understand. It's just that I've blown my chance to win the handwriting contest."


Sorry, Jack.

Colleen Drive-In

Many people have whinged about time turning them into their parents. I suppose I'm no different. As I look into the rear-view mirror, I am concerned about the way my hair has turned completely white, much like my mother's. But the whiteness is nothing compared to the rate at which it is actually vacating my pate.

Blame that one on my father, I think.

Physical changes are nothing, though, compared to the things that pop out of my mouth. As we drive along, I find myself shouting at the back seat, "Am I going to have to separate you two?" This is generally followed by, "I'll pull this car over right now; don't think I won't!"

The thing is, we don't even have kids.

In fact, the Brunette is not with me, either. She jaunted down to Smith Mountain Lake ahead of me in the morning. She took a ride with her parents. Each year, her family (brothers, sisters-in-law, parents, associated children) join together at a central point for an early Thanksgiving. It's a nice tradition because it's away from the stress of the real holiday and we get to see folks from far-flung places like Atlanta and Odenton.

No, I'm driving through the rain alone. The people causing these outbursts, at least on this particular trip, are my imaginary Great Uncle (on my sister's side) and his sister Iva. It seems that octogenarians are really just that much closer to childhood than you and me. To be honest, I don't know what I'll do if I have to pull the car over, but they keep quiet for the next mile or two.

"Iva's on my side!" Great Uncle Leadbelly suddenly shouts in my ear. I swerve wildly, but luckily there is little other traffic this far south on US 29. Considering the time of night and the weather, I can't help but wish we were already off the road, too.

"Nobody likes a tattletale," I tell him quietly.

"Harrump," says Great Uncle Leadbelly. "If we don't point out the iniquities of our neighbors, the terrorists win. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this country is in its present circumstance for precisely this reason: this mamby-pamby willingness to cover up wrongdoing and ignore the evil in our midst. If we do not band together now, and take up arms against the inhuman deeds of our neighbors, the terrorists will find a society not simply open to attack but opening up the door, inviting them in and handing them firecrackers."

"Ah, uhm," I say, with a little frown for emphasis.

"It's true," he goes on. "Think about it: we are conditioning our young to resist providing valuable information to the authorities who need it most. Not only does that encourage them to ignore problems, it outright enables the problems to go unchecked. It's a short leap from there to total anarchy and annihilation."

"That's an awfully big word you used there," says his sister. "Look, I'm hungry."

"Yeah, me, too," I say and pull off to a little hamburger hut. It's the Colleen Drive-In. Its giant ice cream cone is like a lighthouse in the rain-washed dark. The windows are covered with handwritten signs. "Attention," I read. "We do not sell hand-dipped cones, bottled water, or anything sugar-free."

"Can I have a chocolate-dipped with a diet coke?" Leadbelly asks the young woman behind the window. There are no tables or chairs, so Aunt Iva and I stand under the awning and gape at the menu. The young woman ignores his question. "How about a bottled water, then?"

I get a cheeseburger and some fries and return to the car to munch. The burger is thin and delicious. It has just the right level of greasiness and the texture is right on the money. The fries are the pre-frozen crinkle-cut variety, but the golden hot oils have worked their magic on the potatoes, and I scarf them down quickly. It takes me a bit to notice that Great Uncle Leadbelly had not returned to the car, yet. I look around but cannot see him at the serving window.

"He's out back smoking," Great Aunt Iva informs me. I huff a bit and go around the back of the drive-in to find Leadbelly try to suck all the smoke back into this mouth and tossing the cigarette behind him.

"I see the cigarette, Great Uncle," I say. "When did you start smoking? You never smoked before."

"I just thought I'd try it out, you know, as an experiment."

"Oh, Great Uncle, that's no good for you. And you know it."

"I do not."

"If you didn't know it was wrong," I say. "Then why are you hiding out back in the dark?" He shuffles his feet around a bit. "At any rate, let's go, we're late enough as it is." We go back to the car, Great Uncle Leadbelly follows as slowly as a human could possibly move. The rain has let up somewhat, and the driving is a bit smoother. For the first little while, in fact, my relatives are quiet. I try to keep alert for deer and other road hazards.

In the mirror, I can see Great Uncle Leadbelly giving Iva the evil eye.

"What?" she asks him, finally.

He sucks in his breath, puffs out his chest, and says, "Nobody likes a tattletale, Iva. Nobody."

Washington Cube is Coming

There's a blogger working through the list of blogs at DCBlogs. She's doing a little reading and leaving a numbered comment. When will she stop by here? Well, she's only on "B".

I'm guessing, if she keeps it up, she'll drop in around Friday.

It's a Small World After All

A Community Report

Lordy lordy, that song just won't get outta my head. This tiny little blue ball we live on spins so it makes me woozy. Where to start? How about we start over in Scotland?

Our good pal, Al, lives in the Scottish town of Glasgow. He keeps daily record over at Notes From the Geek Show. Every so often, he takes one of them there internet tests. You know the ones I mean; where you find out that if you were a car you'd be a pink Cadillac; if you were a stellar object you'd be a pulsar; or if you were a historical figure you'd be the Queen of Sheba. That sort of thing.

His most recent dive into Quiz Night on the 'Net asked Which Major US City Are You? It was sorta interesting to find that the Brunette and I both turned out to be Baltimore, Maryland. We both spent formative years in or near that fine city.

Of course, it came as no surprise that Al is San Francisco.

At any rate, this wee test was written by a user calling herself weeRedII, which turns out to be a second account for a user who also calls herself weeRed1. You go and take a look at her picture there and you'll see ...

OUR NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOR.

Honestly, I do think the caps were necessary there. We share a wall with this person; surely that deserves all caps. If you don't think so, don't bother with the quiz. I can tell you that you're East Liverpool, Ohio.

Update: Well, I don't know why, but Al has taken down his quiz results. Here's a nice link to his blog, though.