The Supermarket and Other Facts of Life


It’s now October and in some ways it still feels as though I’ve just moved to Maine. It’s not that everyday I look out the window and leap back shouting, “What is this? Who?! What?!”. Rather this sense of still being new to Maine springs from the constant comparisons in my mind.

Take, for example, the supermarket. Having grown up with the chain where I currently shop (Hannaford) there should be very little surprise in the experience of going to the store. Yet there is. Each visit reminds me of two very important things.

The first is that no matter how wide you make an isle, no matter how well spaced you make the items on a shelf, you will still encounter people who believe they are alone in the store. I dislike starting off with a complaint but it’s relevant to my lingering obsession for comparison. Previously I found that when encountering another person in an isle if both of you had shopping carts a problem was inevitable. The isles were narrow and the marketing geniuses in charge of the store felt that by placing displays, either in the isles or literally sticking straight out from the shelves via plastic holders, the increase in sales would compensate for the bottlenecks that would ensue. No one liked the situation but it was unavoidable. In a city you are never going to make it through the isles without encountering another person.

In small town Maine this should not be an issue, or, if it is an issue it should be a much lesser one. I am happy to report that it is, I find the percentage of bottlenecks in isles to be 50% less thus far. Unfortunately the cause of these bottlenecks has little to do with the width of the isles or the displays that are loitering about and more to do with the rather inconsiderate nature of my fellow shoppers. I will cease dwelling on the point, I mention it merely because here one would expect to encounter the oblivious and the rude less frequently than in a city — if for no reason other than that there are fewer people.

Regarding the positive aspects of the stores I could write for days with ease. Better selections, better products, friendly employees who happen to know something about the departments they work in; as well as designs for the stores that are logical, spacious and conducive to happy shopping.

The second point I cannot fail to notice on each shopping excursion are the promotions for local products within the stores. Often there will be signs and displays that promote local products that tell the shopper where the product comes from and some information about the producer. I like this very much and I would guess everyone does. There is not only a sense of satisfaction I feel when I choose these products, knowing that I am supporting a local business person but also a connectedness that I find lacking in most aspects of life.

Take, for instance, the numerous articles about the polar bears of the past two years. Everywhere I turn I read or hear something about global warming and how this is destroying the habitat of the polar bears. The consequences are dreadful for the bears and everyone is proclaiming that it will most likely mean the extinction of their species unless something is done. My point on the matter is — what is to be done? I haven’t a clue and none of the filmmakers, journalists or scientists that keep penetrating into my small little world are offering any suggestions. I am flooded by images and text that decry what is happening and lament this tragedy but so far no one has proposed any solutions to me.

This isn’t an attempt to dodge responsibility on my part. I recognize that I use oil and that I drive a car and so on, I play a part in this problem and I fully admit it. My point is this — rather than continue to shout the news of the upcoming polar bear apocalypse perhaps someone should try and shout instructions on how to slow or solve this problem.

A few months prior to the invasion of Iraq I went to a lecture given by Thomas Friedman where he spoke about the potential invasion and the ramifications for the US if such an action was taken. A large portion of his lecture had to do with oil and this country’s dependency on it. One of the better points he made concerned the President’s response to September Eleventh and how it could have been better. What he meant by better was how the President asked nothing of the people of this country, that no action was asked or required, in order to prevent such acts from occurring again. Mr. Friedman made the point that had the president asked the American people to buy hybrid cars, or to walk to work or convert their homes to natural gas that even though it would have cost us all something, we would have felt better about what had happened and would have healed faster because of these sacrifices. His point, and I agree with him, was that if the people had been asked to be involved, much in the way people were with the second world war, the matter would have been our problem and not just something the government was attempting to clean up.

This was a long-winded way of making the point but I hoped it would be an effective way to do it. I like the idea of supporting local businesses and the fact that a chain supermarket makes the effort to not only stock these products but to call the shopper’s attention to it. This strikes me as one of the more wonderful discoveries I have made since moving to Maine. It frustrates me beyond belief to dodge cars when running or to have construction continue for weeks outside of my home but the fact that some people here are doing more than just bemoaning the death of the local farms — this fills me with profoundly optimistic feelings.



It is not surprising that when you come across a tidbit someone said or wrote that is in complete agreement with what you already think, that this discovery fills you with a small amount of joy. Over the past few days I have been rereading a series of speeches that Jorge Luis Borges made (I think sometime in the 1970’s) and were later put into a volume titled, This Craft of Verse.

Among the many gems I find in this book my favorite (of the moment of course) is one concerning the modern novel and its failings. Borges makes the statement that all of the very clever things being done with the structure of the novel may very well be its undoing. In short, what once was merely a form of telling a story has become something rather different and distorted. The comparison he makes is between Joyce’s Ulysses and a line or two of either Shakespeare or Dante. The point he makes, and I find it a very succinct summary of what I knew but did not realize I knew, is that the failing of Ulysses is that the reader knows thousands of things about the two main characters but never really knows the characters themselves. Whereas in Shakespeare or Dante some characters live and die within a few lines, the reader feels that they know these characters intimately.

A few days ago I finished the novel, “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller” and although I take issue with other aspects of the book, this point made by Borges neatly covers what bothered me most about the novel. Borges quotes Mencken as saying (and I am not directly quoting here although I am using quotation marks) “The purpose of the modern novel is the breaking down of the characters.” That is to say, most modern novels are more concerned with the psychology of their characters and the eventual unraveling of some aspect of their lives. This unraveling may in fact be quite interesting, but the point Borges is making (I believe) is that this is not as important as the telling of a good story.

All of this is contained within a speech concerned with Epic poetry. I was reading this while my In-laws were visiting and I was so taken with it that I decided to try and share the gist of this section with everyone. While I felt it was a straightforward commentary on the state of the novel and what those writing today (whether poetry or prose) should aspire to, I found myself presented with a question: what is the definition of an Epic? I think this question was made in response to Borges’ claim that out of the two World Wars only one work could attempt to the claim being an epic. Borges felt that, “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” has the qualities of an epic. So to try and be very clear I have visited Bartleby’s website and below is their definition of epic.

A long narrative poem written in elevated style, in which heroes of great historical or legendary importance perform valorous deeds. The setting is vast in scope, covering great nations, the world, or the universe, and the action is important to the history of a nation or people. The Odyssey, and the Aeneid are some great epics from world literature, and two great epics in English are Beowulf and Paradise Lost. 1 ‡ Figuratively, any task of great magnitude may be called “epic,” as in an “epic feat” or an “epic undertaking.”

Now to try and briefly clarify, Borges knew that Lawrence’s book was not a poem. Earlier in his speech he makes a point of explaining how poetry has changed since the time of Homer, how a split occurred. This split put lyrical poetry on one side and the telling of a story (the novel) on the other. So when he makes the claim that this non-fiction book is the only work resembling an epic I do not think he is confusing the issue of what an epic is because this is in fact only one definition.

So all of this is a rather long-winded way of getting to the simple statement that I agree with what the man said. I started by making this point so it is hardly a revelation, I know. What I think is interesting is that Borges was a poet, he clearly valued poetry and yet he makes statements like, “And this is a beautiful line, although nothing more. I think this is enough.”

What I mean to say is he found it perfectly acceptable for a poem to simply be beautiful and nothing more. For him this was all a poem had to be. He points out that modern readers are generally dissatisfied with novels that rely on a gimmick or trick, that overly clever works are not as fulfilling as the simpler stories told in these much older, often epic, works. I think this is an interesting point because I certainly feel a deeper sense of satisfaction when reading older works, for this very reason. Even in novels where the story seems straightforward and there is little evidence of a brilliant structure, the kinds of stories being written now, and how they are written, never fully satisfy.

Borges offers a number of theories as to why this is and but I will stop attempting to reconstruct this speech. I recommend this book to anyone who writes or is interested in writing. At worst it is a short, somewhat entertaining read that covers numerous languages and flits throughout the twentieth century and I am sure there are worse ways you could spend an afternoon than delving into such reading material.



Tonight my in-laws will be arriving for a visit. It will the be the first time we have had visitors in our new apartment and I am feeling what I always feel about such things, both excitement and apprehension.

I like it when people visit. Your routine is altered: instead of having breakfast the same way you do every day you skip it or you go out to a diner. Instead of being in bed at exactly ten o’clock you find yourself having deep conversations in the kitchen simply because there is someone new in your kitchen with you at that time.

What troubles me when people visit is that I am always faced with certain truths about myself that I would prefer not to believe. For example: I am possessive about my possessions. My chair, my desk, my computer even my favorite mug. I take them all for granted and think nothing of them when it is just my wife and myself. We know the rules, we follow them, life goes on smoothly.


It is when the visitors arrive and they open your cupboard and take out your favorite mug, or sit in your seat after dinner or use your computer at the time of day when you usually check you email; these are the times when it becomes apparent to me that I do not like sharing my stuff. Sometimes the item in question is breakable and I find myself watching intently as the grip on the handle or the lack of two-handed support is employed. I stop listening to the conversation and I become focused to the exclusion of everything around me as I watch this person, this visitor, toy with my emotions as they gingerly sway the mug as they speak or turning the keepsake over in their hands.

It’s not something I am proud of and it always leads my thoughts to that of being a parent and how this is a major shortcoming for that role. I have always believed myself to be relaxed and easy-going because things in my home do not have to placed in a certain manner or cleaned according to a set schedule. The handling of my possessions, the respect I feel they must be shown, is entirely a different matter and is the clearest indicator that I can see of problems to come.

At the end of the day I am not a person who gets overly attached to things. When my cars have ceased to run or when a chair or a lamp or a pair of shoes must be thrown out I do so without the slightest hesitation. This is why I find it so shocking that the thought of an early departure of certain items it so upsetting to me. After all it is only a coffee mug, or a teakettle or a pillow.
The solution seems rather simple: have others handle these items more often. One or possibly two things will happen. The first is I will grow accustomed to the act and with its repetition the fear of items being damaged should lessen. The second would be that things will get broken more often and as these items continue to broken it will become more tolerable.
I have no idea if this system would work, if I would change and adapt or if it would just continue to annoy and bother me. What I can say with absolute certainty is that how things are is not as I would like them so change is the only good option. So perhaps tomorrow morning I will choose a different mug for myself and offer my favorite to my father-in-law. Or I will sit in a chair a let my mother-in-law recline on the couch and do my best to ignore whatever petty issue begins to gnaw at me. Self-improvement comes in many forms, it is only when the forms are so silly that it seems as though it should be called by another name. Wish me luck.



I am seated in a new office chair writing at my desktop computer, which sounds quite boring but is, in fact, very exciting for me. The desk that makes this situation possible was an acquisition my wife made a few years back. She discovered that our neighbor was going to throw it away and promptly snatched it up. These are the selling points of the item. That being said I have never really liked the desk but it was free and I needed a desk so we have been together now for now five years.

In the past the chairs I used at the desk were similar in their origins. Either Kate had found them somewhere and brought them home or knew someone who wanted to sell a chair for very little money. As you can imagine they were never great pieces of furniture. Thankfully the chairs either broke or were destroyed by our cat after relatively short periods of time (two or three years). Which brings me to this moment: day one with the new office chair.
What is there to say about a good chair? What can be said is not so different from any good product or item that you use on a regular basis. Travel coffee mugs, carrying cases, wallets, even socks I think all fall into a category I would like to call: the necessary-but-undervalued.

I think everyone has driven past a run-down house or trailer that contains either a very expensive car in the drive or other permanent structures that appear to be worth more than the home, like a barn or swimming pool, and thought to themselves. “Why on Earth…” It is very easy to spot these inconsistencies in the lives of others. Where the priorities concerning limited capital bring into relief the folly of our neighbors when choosing between need and want. And then someone visits your home and you offer them a cup of coffee, or you take them onto your porch for an after-dinner chat and suddenly they confront you with this very same problem. You have neglected the things you need for the thing you wanted.

There are two activities in my day-to-day that for me are very important. One is writing. The other is watching movies. Since I have been married (which is my preferred date for marking when I began to live on my own as an adult) I have had neither a good desk and chair to write at nor have I had a good television to watch movies on. Let me define good. Usually, after sitting at my desk for two hours or more I would have difficulty standing due to severe pain in my legs, and depending on the chair, also in my lower back. At one point I was sitting at the desk for ten to twelve hours a day and after such sessions it would be a challenge to walk around the apartment.

I consider furniture that causes such problems to be bad furniture. Then there was the television, a 19″ television that possessed only one speaker and required an RF adapter to interface with a DVD player. I was able to watch movies on this television without it causing me pain, but if I were to then watch the same movie on my desktop with its Logitech speakers and sub-woofer I would cringe at the difference in quality and quietly curse my television for its shortcomings.

So where did my money go? We own three computers. Two laptops and a desktop. The reason for this is not interesting but it wasn’t because I wanted three computers. I also purchased a prosumer video camera and accessories several years back that essentially ate up our entire non-essentials budget for that year. Kate has taken numerous trips and flights that we could have driven to save money (prior to the gas craze that has made driving as expensive as anything else). In short, the money went to other things, usually fun, play-related items, despite the fact that the cost of replacing a chair or a television is not that large.

I am writing this and thinking about my legs and my back and my arms, all of which are in the ergonomically correct positions at this moment and are quite comfortable. I am thinking about the past six years and the amount of frustration the chairs and the desk and the television have created for me and I can feel nothing except a little silly. The solution to my writing problem cost about $100 and I would guess will last me longer than my previous chairs, but if it does not, then the cost per year should be about $33.

At present we do not have a television. We decided to abandon the old one to the Washington, D.C. garbage men and I hope it is doing well. I am thinking about the process involved with buying a new television now, choosing between the formats, the sizes, the brands and the features offered and I am already feeling daunted. I feel all of this while I sit in my new chair and chastise myself for not buying a good one sooner.

The solution, I imagine, will be what it nearly always is in such situations: another person. Did I decide to purchase this chair? I did not. I was using a wooden kitchen chair at my desk, by far the worst chair I had used so far, when Kate decided enough was enough. So even though she is fine without having a television and I am really the one who pines for evenings watching movies on the comfort of my couch (in truth it is a futon) most likely it will be her who again steps forward and takes action.

My post from yesterday will certainly make it seem as though I am passive and she is proactive, but I would like to just clarify. In numerous instances these roles are reversed and my point with this post is to try and say something beyond my marriage and our relationship. My point is to state that this is a very human situation and that it is odd/interesting that most people will choose to suffer along with something rather than change it, if the suffering is related to an act or object that is important to them. It’s odd that when the new item to purchase is of little interest or value, as has been the case numerous times in my own situation, that the disinterested party says, “Oh, just go by the thing then and be done with it.” It makes me think that perhaps what we all need is a hotline or a chat room to call or visit with the problems of our day-to-day life so that every so often someone can serve up that needed push and order us to take action and solve these nagging problems.



To grow up in New England is to have an intimate knowledge of snow and ice and all the other joys of winter. The discovery in early childhood that snow created more than soft slopes and sticky snowballs is a profound one. It signals one of the many subtle changes in a life where the balance between play and work, the blessing of snow and the necessity of cleared sidewalks, becomes apparent.

The families I knew and considered to be lucky owned snowblowers small enough to tackle these sidewalks and paths in addition to the driveways. Which is not to say that my own family was unlucky or that my back bent often to the snow. No, my father is a meticulous groundskeeper and always, whether by shovel or plow or snowblower attachment (for his lawntractor is thing to behold) he was the first and last line of defense against winter weather.

As a child and even as a young adult my concept of winter and the problems posed by snow centered on the home. Rarely did my mind perceive the larger battle that was waged with each storm; the battle between road crews and highways, between town employees and public sidewalks.

My mind drifts to these matters now in the wake of what residents of the District of Columbia surely consider a whopper of a snow storm, some three inches of snow topped off by a night of freezing rain. Although I have weathered several winters here before, this year has presented the city with the closest approximation to winter-like weather. This present storm in particular (which occurred now six days ago) brings into relief a few of the strange differences between winter in New England and in our nation’s capital.

The first and foremost difference is that sidewalks are of no concern to the city. Each day I have waited to see the small motorized vehicles that I remeber so well patrolling the streets of Burlington and each day I see only the snow, now made rock-solid by the sheet of ice the sun’s weak rays have created, all making the sidewalks as treacherous as any I have ever encountered. Apparently the sidewalks here are left to fend for themselves.

The roads are similar to the sidewalks but have one particular advantage, the traffic on them is considerably greater and the weight of the vehicles is enough to part the initial snow and create narrow tire-paths that burrow down the pavement.

So many of my writings are concerned with this city and how it deals with matters that effect the everyday life of its citizens. I am drawn to this topic again and again because I cannot fathom the reasoning behind so many of the actions, or more often, the lack of action the city takes. It is not that I am oblivious to matters like budgets and persons employed in various facilities to handle the situations that come about. Undoubtedly the city owns few plow trucks, purchases little salt for the roads and perhaps is without those little sidewalk cleaners. What is most likely is they purchase what they need to keep the downtown area manageable and the rest of the city is left to fend for itself. Meanwhile those who live in the city and have considerable sums of money at their disposal employ groundskeepers and services with companies that plow their driveways and venture onto their roofs if snow needs to be removed.

So while I look out my window and wonder why my sidewalk is the way it is part of me knows it is because I rent my apartment and that I live in part of a neighborhood where the families and other renters have no money for private cleaners. At these times I try not to think about the taxes my wife and I pay to this city each year, or the number of parking enforcement officials on the streets (the ratio may be one parking enforcement officer per 100 cars, this is merely my estimate though) and I am, as usual, baffled by the city.

The problem, I know, is that I am new to city life and I do not want to accept such things. In my heart I remain a small town person who likes walking past strangers and saying “Hello.” I like secondary roads and small gas stations that are near nothing in particular, and I like driving on dirt roads. So I can see that the problem here isn’t really the city and I apologize for ranting about it. When I write about these things I try not to approach them from a place of anger but more from a place of invested curiosity. In the hope that maybe, just maybe, I can get you to notice these things too. If only for a moment.

Art That Challenges You

After recently watching a movie and disliking it greatly, I did what I so often do; I decided to watch the special features. This has become something of a pattern for me, I watch a movie and if my response to it is strong (in either direction) I immediately want to delve into the special features to see what the filmmakers have to say. Although the DVD format is still relatively new I must admit to having grown accustomed to these features and my ability to watch them. Whenever I encounter a DVD that contains only the movie (which I admit is rare now) I feel as though the video store has pulled a fast one on me.

What recently came to my attention concerning DVD’s are two things:

1) there are many kinds of special features and commentaries and

2) what I have come to expect from them is absurd.

To address the second point first let me say this: say you read a book and when you turn that last page and close the cover you shake your head and say, “well, at least it’s over”. Do you immediately run to the library or to your computer to look up what the author has written in defense of the book? When you visit a museum and see a painting and find that it looks like something your prized chocolate lab could construct with twigs, tennis balls and mud do you venture out to the information desk to see if there is a pamphlet printed on behalf of the artist explaining the merit of the work? My guess is you do not. Instead you accept the fact that the painting is not to your liking and move on to the next. Perhaps you decide to try another book by that author, reading reviews of it beforehand.

My point is this, to the best of my knowledge this is the only art form that offers the artists the opportunity to explain and defend their work in such a widespread manner. Personally, I enjoy these commentaries and special features quite a bit. Having an interest in making movies there is occasionally information that seems aimed at helping people like me. What I take issue with is what I have come to expect from these features, that is, a defense of failed films.

What do I mean by failed films? Mostly I mean movies that made very little money at the box office. Thanks largely to the Internet Movie Database everyone now has the ability to find out (roughly) how much every movie makes at the box office. Why this should be of interest to anyone other than the investors (and others who stand to profit) I will never know. I do know that I have checked these figures times beyond counting and I cannot offer a reason as to why. Perhaps because it is there. To get back to the original point, the DVD format seems to have become a place for filmmakers to get in the last word about their movie, if they choose to. Take for instance the film, “Mallrats” by Kevin Smith. Critically the movie was not well received and commercially I believe it lost money (now that I have brought it up I must, of course, refuse on principle to look up such things). If you listen to the audio commentary Mr. Smith and the cast discuss why the film did so poorly.

I single out Mr. Smith because he is a shining example of where DVD’s go wrong. Rather than create a commentary for people who like the movie (which must be the majority of the people watching) a great deal of time is spent pointing the finger and assigning blame. Perhaps this is appealing because gossip makes a person feel like they are part of the group. Clearly I am of this type because I have delved into numerous commentaries and articles where mud flies freely and done so with glee. In any case — a movie, a sculpture, a topiary should stand on its own. If the artist needs to explain what they have done in order for the audience to like (or understand) it then they did not do their job well. If the Sistine Chapel required a tour guide who explained all of the obstacles the Medici family and competing artists created for poor little Michelangelo – asa the only meanly for you to appreciate why it is beautiful, I doubt it would receive so many visitors.

The film that brought all of this on (so you know who to blame) is called “Down in the Valley”. Aside from starring Edward Norton I knew very little about the movie prior to watching it, which usually is a good thing. My problem with the movie is that it seems to lack two very important things;

1) a point and

2) likable (or redeemable) characters.

I say this because the film ended and I sat watching the credits wondering, why did I watch this? As I previously wrote I then navigated through the menu and saw that the DVD contained a question and answer session with the director and Mr. Norton. What I learned from this exchange was that they both love the movie and feel that it is wonderful because it challenges the audience. Neither the director nor Mr. Norton elaborated on this point so I, the humble viewer, was left feeling as though I was lacking. Because of this feeling I decided to sit down and sort through my thoughts in an effort to better understand the film, why this idea of  ‘not getting it’ troubles me so and if this is somehow part of something larger.

The novel Lolita is one that I think challenges many readers. Its subject matter is so shocking, so revolting, so clearly wrong that the elegance of the writing and the readability of the book makes many readers question their own morality. I do not mean to say it makes men and women wonder about pedophilia, but, as I found while reading, it made me wonder what the writer was doing so well that kept me reading despite my disgust with the subject matter. I would call this a challenging book because its subject matter is one that I have strong negative feelings about, yet it is crafted in such a way that I continued to read.

So many works of art, especially modern art, seem to be designed to achieve the opposite effect. The subject matter of the book or sculpture or movie is something benign, something trivial but the way the viewer (or reader) is forced to interact with it is so unpleasant that the challenge lies in enduring the process to (presumably) reach the ‘ah-ha!’ moment where the beauty and importance is made clear. The bent beam of steel is ugly, it is plain, it is common and only those who take the trouble to study it, to examine it closely and use their imagination as to what it could be or was are able to to see the beauty. Perhaps the fault lies with me and this is just my attempt to come off looking good. Perhaps. I have noticed that generally speaking independent films (which is what Down in the Valley is) claim to be intentionally difficult and challenging as a positive attribute. This is something that people who create independent film seem to take pride in. Whether this is turning a weakness into a strength or embracing the other simply because it is the other I do not know for sure. I can say, as someone who does have a lot of time on his hands, that unless I am lured in by the film or book I can no longer find a reason to sit through two hours of dreariness or boredom, simply because it is art.

And yet here I am, some time later, writing and thinking about this film. I take no pleasure in these thoughts, in these words I am writing. The film whose meaning I’ve missed is akin to the sore tooth that my tongue cannot stop probing. Without social media I might write my behavior off to a personality quirk, another shortcoming I possess. I see, daily, how many other people devote their time and energy exploring the artistic works of others (usually films) from this place of ‘not getting it’.

What I hoped to poke at a bit here is the intention of the artist regarding the work. Someone like David Lynch enjoys making enigmatic films (and television shows) and offers no explanation to their meanings. He’s interested in making you think, in confusing you in posing questions without answers. Other artists, like the people who made “Down in The Valley” I think have other intentions. I think they wanted to tell a story about a certain kind of people in a certain kind of place and knew that this was not a film for everyone. They seem to take pride in the fact that people will be put off by aspects of the film, be it the subject matter or the pacing of the storytelling, and I find this to be a different animal.

Catching Up with Progress


There are many wonderful things to be gained by uprooting yourself and moving to a new place. I think many would argue it is the only sure way to ever appreciate where you lived previously. There are also many advantages to moving to a city if your prior homes have been in rural areas. All that being said, it would seem to me, that many of these advantages are fading out of existence.

I find the matter best summed up by an old friend of mine. He had the unfortuante (his assesment of the matter) lot in life of being uprooted from a glorious west coast city. To make matters worse he was then placed in a small New England town. For those of us who knew him during this time of transition an almost sing-song refrain of his came to haunt us. Whether one spoke of a song on the radio, a new movie being released or even a new article of clothing, what came from his lips was a disappointed commentary in the form of “We had that back home six months ago.”

As you can well imagine the glamour of such statements soon grew tiresome long before their believability came into question. Now, years later, I find that there may have been more truth to his melancholy observations than I once believed. Smaller films are often released in major cities before they are released in small towns throughout the country. Radio stations in the major cities of this country do often play music that becomes popular before every radio station adds it to their top ten list. That being said so many facets of the digital age have reduced these occurrences, or better put, have made it instantly accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Upon moving the the fair capital of this country I had assumed that New England most assuredly did not have the supermarkets that were six months ahead of the rest of the country. Although I cannot speak for other towns and cities, I can say that the Safeways and Giants located in and around Washington, DC are sadly lacking in comparison some three years after my inital inspections. I say this admitting that I have not scoured every supermarket in the area. I do make this claim having been to over a dozen and I feel for this study a sample of that size should suffice.

There is no denying that progress has been made since I began my investigations. It is only fair to say that some of the stores have improved by leaps and bounds. It is only truthful to say the even the best stores leave much to be desired.

The simple rules of city life dictate a few aspects of the shopping experience and I do my utmost to not hold these against the stores. That the stores must be smaller (whether in actual size or simply made to feel cramped and cluttered) is understood as part of city living. That fellow shoppers should drive their carts as they drive their cars, which is to say without regard for fellow motorists and the rules of the road, is tolerated for there is no other course of action. That the staff offers little help or instruction to misguided and lost shoppers coincides with the belief that city folk certainly need no such help and is intended to fill one with a sense of pride. These things I accept as part and parcel of the shopping experience.

What is surprising and disappointing is the lack of selection of goods. Even with recent incorporations such as an international foods section (or as an alternative is some stores a health foods section) only the most simplistic shopper will be able to find all their needs met in one of these stores. This would most assuredly be understandable, if, as one would suppose, other shops and stores were nearby to supply these missing reagents.

This is not the case though. Most often the distances between stores is as great as ten or more miles and equating that into city travel-time can greatly inflate the matter. In short, the general point of this post is to call attention to one of the oddities of city living. We have huddled close to one another, presumably, not for warmth or protection, but because of the opportunities this close proximity will provide. Oddly enough I find myself driving the same, if not greater, distances when I shop for groceries, clothing or books as I did when I lived in a very rural area. Which begs the question, why do we live here?

For myself the answer is simple, my wife attends one of the universities here. For many others, especially those with children I cannot help but look and wonder, “Why are you living here?” The cost of living is much greater, the homes are smaller and the threats, whether they are speeding automobiles, poor air quality or the threat of violent crime must surely be balanced by something. Again I wonder, what could that be?

Unlike my former friend, and alas, his time was before the internet, I no longer worry about such things as missing the latest and greatest developments in the world. This is not because I live in a metropolis, the movies I wish to see still often do not play near me, but because the Internet has made location that much less important. So now the groceries can be delivered to the door, movies can be shipped for a flat rate and items in specialty shops can be located and processed by one company connected to many. Many say the world has shrunk and I am not sure this can be argued. I am still looking for the argument to live in these urban centers where so little seems offered as a means of recompense for the inconveniences of city life.



It is an odd thing to celebrate Halloween as an adult. I do not yet have a child to celebrate the holiday with. My wife is fiendishly imbued with the spirit of the day and her enthusiasm, regardless of our limited roles as candy dispensers, is certainly infectious. Each year our hopes soar as the night approaches with expectations of droves of costume-clad children coming to beg for our foodstuffs. Each year these hopes wane as the night grinds on until, finally, we must admit defeat.

That we live in a good neighborhood is unquestionable. That we live on a one-way street with bright lights and little traffic is apparent to all. Yet, each year my wife and I wait by the window, watching for ghouls and goblins to approach our door — and each year they fail to appear.

That this reminds me of trying to get published, the initial writing, the rewriting, the sending off of query letters and applications to school and competitions, I think is a reflection of a larger condition and not just my present mood. So much of life seems to be like Halloween night with all the varied preparation for the event and then, anxious waiting. If a person is looking for a mate they spend a good deal of time cleaning themselves and choosing their clothing, perhaps dieting and exercising, but what then? Perhaps they visit clubs and bars or go to dog parks or cafes, but eventually, their destiny lies with fate. Does that woman sit at their table? Does that man offer a friendly smile? The same holds true with the aspiring musician, the couple trying to conceive a child or the office worker striving to attain that corner office.

In short so much of this seems like my Halloween plight, with the final important stage out of one’s hands. You can hang spider webbing from your trees and plant tombstones in your yard but if those children veer left onto Spring Street then all the jack-o-lanterns and candy corn in the world will be in vain.

My wife and I discussed placing a sign, much like for selling a house, on the busy end of our street to tell children that, yes, we are open for candy. Although we ruled it out this year, I expect, that if our turnout tonight is no better than before, our code of conduct for next year might be altered for improved results.




During a recent visit with my landlord, I was informed for perhaps the twentieth time, that the building which I live in has character. I believe he used the word to mean personality, claiming that what one person may perceive as a flaw would be a charming feature to someone else. I find, being the person who lives in this humble abode, that I have to disagree with him. It is not that the house is lacking in fine points, it has many. It is, rather, that this house has many quirks of an undesirable nature. Without delving into a laundry list of complaints let me list one and then move on. The building was orginally a house and many years later it was divided into three apartments. When this was done the heat for the house was not divided separate zones for the apartments and now all three share the same thermostat. If it is character that your forgetful downstairs neighbor either freezes you or bakes you (depending of course on the time of year) whenever she leaves on vacation, then yes, this residence has plenty.

It strikes me that this notion of character truly applies to the city I live in and how, I think, people come to deal with its many oddities. Washington DC is out nation’s capital and has many wonderful places to visit. It is also a wonderful place to live, but again, there are certain quirks which exist that make life less than perfect. This is to be expected but so often these quirks seem to the the product of poor planning and the ability to admit mistakes and rectify them. A good example of this are the sidewalks. In Georgetown a good number of sidewalks carry on following the road, as sidewalks so often do, only to stop abruptly and leave the pedestrian to wonder if they made a wrong turn somewhere. After several years of exploration I can safely say that the fault does not lie with the pedestrian, and even more oddly, if they summon up the courage to continue on without the sidewalk, in most cases they will be reunited only a few blocks later.

Both houses and cities having character has to do with the same thing: coming to terms with a problem. The trick, I imagine, is finding someway to balance out the bad with all the good and walking away from the matter in a cheerful state of mind.

What spurns me on to further thought and discussion (much to my own dismay) is when those in shouting distance seem unaware that such situations existed. When I say to my landlord “The windows don’t open properly because you painted them shut.” I expect his response to address the point I just made. When I say to my neighbor “Any idea why the sidewalk ends in front of those three houses and then begins again?” I expect them to have noticed this situation prior to the conversation and to have some thoughts on the matter. Strangely enough the landlord often makes a reply that does not address the paint and the window and the neighbor often looks at me as though I just spotted a distant and unknown planet with my naked eye.

I can recognize that not only does my landlord not live in my apartment, but he looks after his own best interests and that usually means not spending money. My neighbor may never walk anywhere and therefore find the concepts of sidewalks a quaint one, like horses and buggies as a viable form of transportation. The simple fact of the matter is we are all paying attention to our own matters because they have some direct effect upon us. When something outside our sphere is highlighted, when the person next to you in the grocery store exclaims, “This bottle of vitamins is three times the cost of those and they are the same vitamins!” it’s not that this should stop you in your tracks and cause you to compose a letter to the manufacturer.  I would think, though, that it would tug at just the corner of your mind and make you ponder, if only for a moment, why such a thing would be. I can think of nothing healthier than a small amount of curiosity for this world around us especially when we find ourselves living in such close proximity.

The Nature of Things

Each year at this time my thoughts inevitably turn to one thing: cleaning my apartment. This urge is an odd one and I do my utmost to fight it each time it rears its ugly head. I am not opposed to cleaning and in fact I tend to vote in favor of cleanliness whenever polled. What I am opposed to is light cleaning. A room has many nooks and crannies, especially when the house itself is old, and topical cleaning does little to deal with the hidden dirt.

Prior to working in a restaurant I, like the few people I have been priviledged to observe, had little trouble doing light cleaning. It was only under the careful eye of my employer that I learned of the horrors hidden under every table and flattop stove. It was only after he showed me the crafty ways of crestfallen eggshells and the lengths fallen potatoes would go to in order to avoid detection that I came to value the importance of properly cleaning. Since receiving these lessons I have found, often to my dismay, that unless I have done the job properly I can derive no satisfaction from it. The trouble is it is an awful lot of work.

This is the time of year when many things change. Where I live the leaves are still holding on, despite the cold temreratures and in many cases despite their deaths, but the change is apparent. The most important changes of course take place in booths with ballots and (perhaps someplace still) levers. Much like the cleaning I find it hard to vote on a topical level and this too has lead to some apathy regarding the act.

Undoubtedly voting is one of the great accomplishments of the American politcal system and it is shameful to not take part in it. At the same time, uninformed voting is just as useless and potentially more harmful than not voting at all. If you listen to the radio or your fellow passengers on the subway, you undoutedly know that everyone has an opinion on these elections and these candidates. Everyone certainly feels informed and aware of the real issues.

It stands to reason that the falling leaves and dying grass play a role in feelings of depression, but I think there is something more behind it. In the spring, at least when I get around to cleaning, the messy part of the year is behind you. Very little mud or snow gets tracked into the house after the first of May and the possiblity of keeping the floors clean seems promising. In the fall the battle seems lost before it is begun, and each year in true Viking spirit, I steele myself go through the motions.

Why is it then that I am unable to do the same with the much more important act of voting? Is it because it is too much of a hassle to go the voting centers and wait in line? I don’t know. I am unable to offer any concrete reason why I continue to abstain from voting when I believe in this system so completely. On some level I feel, in a manner that I am not wholly proud of, that simply casting my vote in the upcoming presidential election is akin to sweeping around the furniture. The lazy part of me knows that if I do a decent job in this manner no one will know the wiser but the honest cleaner inside will know and will shake his weary head each time he sits in that chair and thinks of the dust lying in wait beneath him.

In this same manner the honest voter in me cannot help but feel that just turning out for election day is, in some fundamental way, dereliction of duty. The political process is a daunting one now, where the candidates for the next election seem to be campaigning only a few months after an election takes place. The lazy voter in me looks at this and throws his hands in the air and says in that defeated voice of his, “This makes no sense, I can’t see any way to affect this process other than helping choose between the ones they serve up for me.” Sadly the honest voter has had no response to this for quite some time because he too is at something of a loss for how to best to remove all the furniture and hangings in order to get at the dirt and dust that has found a way into those those hard to reach places.