Llama Llama

Look out folks, WTOP reports that there is a llama running amok:

Watch out if you're in the Darnestown area. A wayward llama is on the loose.

Montgomery County police say it's possible that it's not a llama but an alpaca -- an animal native to Peru.

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)

I run up the escalator, because I can tell there's a train at the platform. The doors are open, so I jump the gap and sit down next to a woman of my age.

"Is this train going into town?" I ask her.

She peers at me over the edge of her book and nods.

"Great," I say, feeling lucky because I didn't look before I leapt.

"They only go in one direction from Greenbelt," she says. "This is the end of the line."

"Hey, I just read that book, too," I say. "What do you think?"

"I suppose it's okay," she says, slowly. "I just think it relies a bit too heavily on coincidence to move things forward."

"You don't think there are so many coincidences in real life, eh?" She shakes her head emphatically. "What about the fact that the man behind you is reading the same book?"

"Well, of --"

"Actually," interrupts the man in the seat behind us. "I'm not reading this book. I have already completed that exercise."

The doors open for the College Park station and a grumpy woman boards. I notice her because she's wearing an RIT sweatshirt. Folks often confuse RIT with my alma matter: RPI. She stands in the aisle, looking a little befuddled and rubbing her wrist. When the train jerks forward, she falls into the seat behind me. The man catches her.

"Sorry," she says. "I slipped on the ice on that platform, and now this--"

"Aww, isn't that sweet," I say and nudge the doubter next to me. "Just like the book; what a coincidence!"

"It's not like the book at all," she responds.

"Maybe they'll get married," I say.

"We can't get married," says RIT. "I'm already married."

I wink significantly at the woman next to me. She rolls her eyes.

"And we don't have an attic to lock him in," RIT continues. The man sitting next to her looks a little disappointed, if you ask me. "In fact, we can't even use the basement any more, now that the city's all up in arms." She arranges her stuff. "Now about the book: I was a little let-down. After reading that intro, I was sure Jane Eyre would be a firecracker for feminism. But in the end, this was a moralistic tale about not wanting what you don't deserve."

"But she has to find a way to stand on her own two feet, so she can be with Rochester as an equal," I put in.

"Hah. Classist trash. Look down on the Indian caste system, but ignore the humanity of your own servants (oh, here, hon: have five pounds). What she needs is for some man -- her rich uncle -- to die and give her money so she can be in the right class for marriage. Buh."

"Don't you think you're a little harsh considering the time period?" the doubter and I both ask at the same time.

"Still don't believe in coincidences?" I ask.

"Look," the doubter says, a little hotly in my opinion. "It's not a coincidence that the four of us have read the same book; we're in this book group. It's not a coincidence that we got onto the same train. We take this train every dang morning. In fact, we're all going to get off the train at Fort Totten because we all happen to need to transfer from the Green Line to the Red Line. But you'll be heading north, while the rest of us go into the city. These people behind us are not just sitting there hoping to get married, and I'm not sitting around waiting for some rich old uncle to die. So shut up about coincidences already."

"Ok. Ok," I say as the train pulls up to Fort Totten. "Sorry." We file off to the escalator and ascend. As we get to the second escalator, she tugs my coat.

"Hey, how is Great Uncle Leadbelly, anyway?" she wants to know.

"Oh, he's doing fine, dear cousin. He's doing fine."

Nick's Pizza and Other Stuff

Pizza

We were told that this place would have the best pizza in New York. So we bundled up (it was cold in NYC this week) and visited Nick's on the Upper East Side. I'm not sure what they think they mean by "Family Style," but it felt like a nice place to rest, what with the roaring fires in the back and all. Well, they weren't roaring so much audibly, but they were flaring.

The pizza passed the initial hurdle: a slice can be folded. The pepperoni was well-curved and the cheese was all-mozzarella. I liked the taste of the whole leaves of basil, and the crust had a nice taste, but the thing smacked of a bit too much posh for me to call it the best pizza. I don't want such fanciness, and the crust was a bit overcooked, to be honest. Let's call it a darn good pie, but we'll look elsewhere for the best.

Spamalot

Not much to say, really, except we laughed and laughed and laughed. I went in expecting that I wouldn't laugh all that much -- expecting the show to be pretty much just retreads of jokes I've heard a million times. And while I was right about the retreads (all the funniest stuff was written back in the '70s), I still laughed and laughed.

In the end, I think that this is the advantage that live theater provides: a shared experience. Watching the movie alone or with a small group is not nearly so entertaining as sitting with a couple thousand of your closest friends, laughing at the same time. It's worth the trip.

On the other hand, I'm looking forward to seeing something that's not based on an old movie. In fact, I realized this trip that I've been to a lot of shows on Broadway, but never to a non-musical. Maybe next trip...

Friendliness

Boy, we never get this kind of friendliness in DC. Strangers left and right were talking to us the whole trip. People in elevators, odd little guards in the museum, other theater-goers. Many were commenting on the weather, but even in the mad rush that is New York, there was so much more camaraderie than here in DC.

Other

I don't know why we don't pop up there more often. After we stopped at the MMA in the morning, we checked out, stopped at falafel shop (and a White Castle, too!), bought a bag, and jumped right onto the 1:10 train with no waiting.

Yep, it was a good trip. (Note that I didn't dwell on the missing pickle at White Castle, the woman mown down by a carpet trolley in the fashion district, or the evil case full of delicious looking deserts at the Celebrity Diner. No, this was too good a trip to be spoiled by such small things.)

A Man's a Man, For All That

A Bard Report

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!
Almost forgot, happy birthday, Rabbie Burns.

It's a Silly Place

A Report

Well, we're off on Thursday for an overnight in New York to celebrate our tin anniversary. (I'm sure the Brunette would have been thrilled at the six-pack of National Bohemian I bought her, but I had to take them back: beer cans are made out of aluminum these days, not tin.) We're going to stop in at Spamalot while we're there. Rumor has it that Tim Curry is no longer in the production, but maybe if we hope hard enough, he'll come back for one last performance tomorrow.

We haven't worked out where to eat, yet. Recommendations are encouraged.

Our anniversary was actually last month, but it's difficult to celebrate in the midst of the holiday season. We've traditionally taken some small trip elsewhen to celebrate the best thing that ever happened to me. We did have lunch with the woman who married us to let her know that it seems to have stuck.

Speaking of which, we stopped by the house of our College Park friends to find that a year and a half later, their marriage seems to be sticking, too. Take that doubting clerk lady!

Salad Days

There seemed to be some sort of sporting event on Sunday. I assume it was football, because the guys in the drinking bar behind the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday were pontificating about how different it would be if this running back or that kicker were playing.

'Pontificating' is my word of the day.

Personally, I gave up on football in the early '80s, when I was still a lad. Those Mayflower vans riding off into the rain are still seared into my brain. The space shuttle explosion, Reaganomics, the Mayflower vans -- all linked up in there, boy.

We like the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday. I remember when salad bars were de riguer (that's French for "the thing"). It seems that now, if we want a salad bar, we have to choose between Ruby Tuesday and Sir Walter Raleigh Inn. Sure, Sir Walter Raleigh has pepperoni and a fireplace, but Ruby Tuesday wins hands-down with jalapeños, chick peas, and 6.5 million salad dressings.

I trundled with my plate back to the Brunette, who was swaying to the Culture Club song on theMuzakk. All the nostalgia for the '80s is making me feel old.

"You know," I said, trying to impress her with my new-found sporting knowledge. "If Stan Musial were still punting, the Giants would be dominating the league."

She gave me that look that Iinterpretedd to mean, Oh, my big strong man has returned from the hunt with increased knowledge and coups-a-plenty.

"Where do you get this stuff?" she asked.

"Well," I admitted. "I overheard some guys at the bar pontificating."

"Pontificating?"

"Yep. I have this theory about men: they need to congregate in public places to impress one another with their grasp of intricate data. Talking sports in bars fills this evolutionary need because pretty much anyone can make up an opinion and defend it ad infinitum.

"I'm sorry," the Brunette said after a bit of reflection. "I don't mean to keep you out of bars and away from your sports-laden ceremonies."

"No worries," I reassured her haughtily. "I meant most men, of course. I don't need to go to some bar to satisfy my hunger to pontificate."

"No," she replied. "You have a blog."

"That's --" I started. "Hey."

"By the way," she went on after patting my hand affectionately. "I know it was before either of us was born, but Stan Musial played baseball."

"Next time," I said. "Why don't we go to Sir Walter Raleigh? They sure have a nice fire place."

Art Class

We've had our second session of art class at the Greenbelt Community Center, and I think you can tell that I won't be giving Rembrandt a run for his money any time soon.

New Deal Meeting

A Community Report

If you're interested in the New Deal Cafe, I've put a summary of the members' meeting over at Little House in the Co-op.

DeLightful, DeLovely, DeLurking

A Plea

Well, I've just read over at The Little Professor that today is delurking day. So, anybody who has been lurking out there (reading this here blog without commenting), let us hear your thunderous voices.

Why do you keep coming back?

Enough is as Good as a Feast

A Daily Report

OK. That was fun, but I'm bored with the menu listings. I'm going to stop; ten days is enough. (Are enough?)

On my birthday, the Brunette surprised me with a picnic lunch. Most of the day was spent working, but I took a break at lunchtime to go down to the National Arboretum. It was lovely, let me tell you. We ate in the grove of state trees and wandered among the Bonsai and Penjing. Surprising January weather helped a bit, too.

The Arboretum is only 12 or 13 minutes away from home, so, except during rush hour, it's a quick jaunt in and out. I don't know why we haven't gone before. I'm looking forward to seeing the woods in leaf later in the year.

I also got quite a surprise when I pulled out the suits to try them on for the company party this Friday. They're all too big! So, we went suit shopping Monday night. I was proud to find I've dropped six inches in jacket and trouser size. Six inches. The diet is doing its job.

So, of course, to celebrate, we went to Cheesecake Factory for dessert.

Getting Crabby

A Daily Report

Well, it's my birthday today. A recent tradition (is that an oxymoron?) for me is to try something to eat for my birthday that I have long maintained I dislike. I remember a few years ago noticing that I was eating Chinese food fairly regularly. This struck me because when I was in college, I frequently described Chinese (and, heck, anything else exotic) as "grass and mud." But now, I love many Asian cuisines and am not quite as picky as I once was.

I've heard that this is not unusual. As we grow older, our taste buds change (or maybe they die?) and I find that things I used to object strongly to are no longer so offensive. I'm working up to my 40th birthday on which I will once again try that awful stuff I've avoided for lo, these many years: fish.

But for this year, I tried a crabcake. I (mostly) grew up outside of Baltimore, and I've always been a black sheep for not liking seafood and especially for turning my nose up at crabs. What kind of Marylander doesn't like a good Old Bay-seasoned blue crab?

The advantage of a crabcake is that there's not so much work as with hardshell steamed crabs. Overall, I'd say the experience was not so traumatic as the fateful year I tried V-8 juice again. The crabcake from G&M's restaurant is not nearly so bready as I remember people eating when I was growing up. It was pretty much a mashed-potato scoop of crab meat. I guess I'd call crab meat pretty mild, and with cocktail sauce, I didn't have any trouble choking it down.

In the final analysis: I might be able to grow to love the things; certainly, I won't need to go out of my way to gobble them up. By the same token, I don't need to run and hide if we visit someone's house and they put crabcakes in front of me.

A Daily Report

The Alphabet Versus The Goddess (Leonard Shlain)

The community center in the heart of old Greenbelt is a converted Depression-Era elementary school. Its austere block construction is relieved by bas-reliefs representing the preamble of our Constitution. Where once wee lads and lasses had gathered to learn their ABCs and play in the gym, older folks now gather to reminisce, middle-aged men attempt to find glory on the basketball court, and artists struggle to throw pots and fix photographs.

Last week, I wandered down to the community center. I walked down a hall to put some distance between me and the throbbing aerobercise music. I peeked into windows to see what was going on, and I saw my imaginary friend Bertie. Without thinking, I threw open the door.

"Bertie!" I said. I was very surprised to see Bertie, you understand, because Bertie usually appears to me in restaurants (where he can mooch half my dinner). But here sat Bertie, surrounded by young people at a round table. I recognized them as children from our super block. There were Prasad and the twins. Of course, that kid whose name I can never remember (Alfie?) was there, too. "What in heaven's name is going on?" I went on.

"Spontaneous writing," he replied. The kids greeted me with their usual level of enthusiasm, and I sat down to join them. Bertie continued, "We meet once a week to improve our literacy skills. We pick a starting phrase, write for half an hour, then share our work."

"Sounds like Toastmasters for Authors," I said. "What got you interested in the literacy of Greenbelt's fine youth?"

"I read this book," he said. He handed over a copy of The Alphabet Versus the Goddess. He tapped the cover. "This guy says that the change from an image-based society to a literate one caused all sorts of upheaval. After the printing press was introduced to Europe, for example, literacy rates went up and the Protestant Revolution occurred."

"You want to bring back those heady days of witch burning and heretic hunting?" I asked.

"Sure, there were small bumps in the road to enlightenment, but look at the power he accrued by using the written word to his advantage."

"Gutenberg?"

"No, I mean Luther. He had (still has) millions of followers. He exerted enormous influence over the shape of the lives of thousands of Europeans."

"And he could sing, too," I said.

"What?"

"Never mind," I said. "Prasad, what do you think of this megalomaniac's ravings?"

"Oh," Prasad looked up from his paper. "I read that book, too. That's why tonight I am writing a letter to my mother."

"That sounds like a nice thing to do," I told him. "Why did the book make you do that?"

"Well, the author explains pretty clearly that as we evolved into our current forms, our heads had to get bigger to contain our enlarged brains. In the process, the female form could only change so much, and childbirth became for humans a very painful and often fatal process."

"So, you're writing your mother to apologize for being such a genius?" I said. I nodded. "Yep, I'm sure it was very painful for her."

"You don't know the half of it," blurted out Billy (or is it Charlie?) He waggled his composition notebook at me. "Any time alphabetic texts supersede image-driven cultures, women suffer. Linear type drives us to left-brain thinking. We have to put a stop to it!"

"So what are you writing?" I asked.

"I am writing a letter to the Washington Literacy Council calling for them to cease and desist this misogynistic practice. Literacy is simply another tool of the Man."

"Long live the revolution," I said. "And what language are you using for the letter?"

"English, why?" But he was suddenly crestfallen as he looked down at his neatly crafted lines of text. "Dang. The Man has won again."

"They're not following instructions," came the stereophonic tattling from the twins. "We were supposed to all use the same first line for our writing."

Donny rolled his eyes. Prasad adjusted his glasses.

"Technically," he said. "They're right."

"What was the starting phrase for tonight?" I asked.

"Oh, something boring," said Ernie. "like - 'The community center in the heart of old Greenbelt...'"

A Daily Report

Run Around

A Daily Report

Amazing how quickly the resolutions fall down! Only a few days into it and I've already been skivving on the menu listings.

I suppose my alma mater doesn't have enough to crow about; it had to scrape the barrel to find this: RPI mentioned in Doonesbury comic!

Happy Hogmanay

A Daily Report

Welcome to the new year and a new feature here at Swapping Tales: in-depth food reporting. Yes, I'm sure you're all wildly interested in my food habits, but I thought it would be a good way to help me pay attention to what I'm eating. I hope this lasts through the month.

Whether this is for my health or to increase this journal's resemblence to Bridget Jones, only time will tell.

Now, that was a poorly constructed sentence, but I'm leaving it.

Last night, we went to see that Geisha movie at the AMC in Columbia (another gift card!) I don't think we were even 30 minutes into it before a man in the row behind us started snoring. And loudly. It's a wonder that the woman with him didn't grind her elbow all the way through to his opposite arm rest, but he went on for most of the movie.

Of course, I know why: There wasn't a single kung foo fight in the whole thing. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Geisha, my foot!

A New Year