Thursday, June 28, 2007

Now is the time on Sprockets when we try the shoulder-in

It's not clear why the massage place I go to when my back and hip gang up on me is increasingly staffed by Bulgarian supermasseuses, but don't look a gift Slav in the mouth: They're hard-core on deep tissue work, they give specific follow-up instructions (for me, that's usually something about working on my core strength and shoulders; once it was a command to drink van bir that efenink, for help me more releks and slip better), and they've got a strong PT background that's really helpful for dealing with imbalances or injuries. The downside is that their deep tissue work makes me feel as though I've been pummeled with rocks. Oh, and the bit about not being able to stay awake for two days afterward. What exactly the mystery toxins are that massage releases, requiring all that post-massage hydration, I do not know, but I feel like every molecule of tryptophan I've ever internalized is now gamboling freely through my bod.

Last night's dressage lesson was surprisingly bearable, in its usual humility-enforcing way. With the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival in town, Mother Nature always ramps up the heat and humidity, the better to curse anyone daring to wander the National Mall in the full summer sun for touristic purposes: "Come, see the treasures of Northern Ireland. Now leave our accurséd city and never return!" But we worked indoors and were fairly comfortable. I got a new partner, a round-bellied little Morgan who needs to be taken away from all this direct-reining nonsense and made into a happy barrels pony, and after some initial issues regarding my continued inability to steer with two hands (to paraphrase Eddie Izzard, "Two hands? No one can live at that speed!"), we did pretty well. I still give dreadful cues for leg- and shoulder-yields, but we managed to do some good straight lines, which are harder than they look, and the ponchik didn't misbehave at the other horses. He also put the finishing touches on unkinking my hip. Sometimes riding giveth pain, and sometimes it taketh pain away, and damned if I can figure out the reason for either one.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Too much sameness is a fearsome thing

Apropos of Seesterperson's recent snugglings with a Seaside Heights lobstah lovah, and because everybody who has ever gone into a vague trance while listening to NPR ought to read it, I give you the wonderful, plausible, but as far as I know fictional account of events in one of New York's livelier districts. Ladies and generalmen, Paul Ford's "Chinatown."

Not convinced by that teaser? Fine, fine, you philistines and ingrates, take a sample paragraph.

"All we, the crowd, can see are kicking legs as the lobster holds her with his claw, eyestalks waving wildly. Men faint, knocking over stacks of cardboard boxes with a splash. Women scream. The daughter's mother runs to the lobster, but is thrown away. The father begs the lobster to relinquish his daughter. The lobster begins to scuttle to the river. The girl is screaming. Unless something happens, she will spend the rest of her life as a lobster-bride under the bridges. He will take her out to the bay and scuttle up to Maine, where he will rule as lobster king with her as his unwilling bride. It is a life of incredible suffering."

Bad news, awkwardly delivered

This will be a rambly entry, and I apologize for that. I can't seem to put together something coherent.

I found out yesterday that Teacherwoman, who runs my Western class, was badly injured in a fall over the weekend while riding at her parents' place in the northeast. I don't know many details, but the barn staff did say that she landed on her head and is in the ICU at the local hospital. Good thoughts in that general direction would not go amiss.

Riding is a dangerous sport. Riders can try to minimize the chance of injury by knowing the ground, training the horse, keeping equipment in good shape, wearing helmets, and staying alert to our surroundings and the horse, but you can't control everything. It's like getting into a car: There's a certain level of risk you have to accept, and most of us don't think too much about it on a day-to-day basis. Then the SUV veers in front of you and the risk becomes vividly apparent.

I grew up riding in rural Texas, where helmets were unheard-of. It's kind of a thing with Western riders, actually; even today, some rodeo sports require that you wear a cowboy hat, and points come off if your hat does. Riding without a helmet is exhilarating, with wind whipping through your hair and whistling in your ears, and it gives you a fantastic sense of speed and freedom. It also increases the chance that you'll be badly hurt if you fall. I hate my helmets: They look stupid, get my head sweaty, make me really conspicuous in a lot of riding environments, and don't even guarantee that I won't get hurt--after all, Christopher Reeve was wearing one the day he was thrown. But I suck it up and buckle the straps on the damn things, because I've heard too many stories about falls that didn't have to be serious. The calmest, best-trained horse in the world can step in a hole or get stung by a bee, and the best rider in the world can come off.

I don't know whether Teacherwoman was wearing a helmet when she fell; it matters exactly not at all. But for everyone else, today: Wear a helmet when you bike or ride. Buckle your seatbelt. Look both ways.

Take good care.

ETA: The barn just called and said that Teacherwoman will be moved out of the ICU tomorrow and that she can walk and talk. She will need physical therapy and won't be teaching for a while, but it appears that she is out of the woods.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Why is all the rum gone?

Because the bartender at Silver Spring's Piratz Tavern believes that generosity will be rewarded. Sample recipe for a PT Dark and Stormy: Fill a glass with rum. Top with ice. Wave a bottle of ginger beer in the general direction of the glass, and serve. The soon-to-be Expelled Expat and I recommend it highly, although I personally suggest not having more than one drink if the next day involves getting up early for a meeting at which you will be expected to be helpful and professional, not to mention bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Arrh, y'all.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Desultory review: A Fine and Private Place

A Fine and Private Place didn't really click for me, but I couldn't quite figure out why. Then, in a random pass through John Scalzi's Whatever, I learned that Beagle wrote the book when he was 19, which explains a lot. Granted, it doesn't read like the usual adolescent pastiche (Mister Paolini, I'm looking in your appalling direction), but the story wanders, the tone of the dialogue occasionally veers off-track, and the arc seems to be missing some pieces. Still, you can see Beagle working toward developing the theme that sometimes love means loss, and greater love means greater loss, that is so wonderful in The Last Unicorn (if your heart doesn't break a little when Schmendrick summons Robin Hood, then the hospital regrets to inform you that your emotional EKG is flat as a strap). A Fine and Private Place does have a talking, snarking, baloney-thieving raven, a lot of beautiful descriptions of an active city as seen from a rare oasis of quiet within it, and an interesting if incredibly depressing perspective on what happens after we die. The man has developed into a creative and interesting writer, so I'm inclined to cut him a little slack.

Paolini, now...I'm not so optimistic.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Desultory review: Death in Yellowstone

The first chapter of Death in Yellowstone deals with death by geothermally heated water, and it's a good deal grimmer than anything in Stiff; descriptions of the decomposition of dead bodies are all very well and gross, but the story about parents watching their four-year-old die screaming in a boiling hot spring is emotionally much harder to take. The same applies to the saga of the guy who dove headfirst into a hot spring to rescue his dog (which also died), the park ranger who fell into a hot pot during a snowstorm, and various other people who fell or jumped into scalding pools and who took, in most cases, an agonizingly long time to die.

After that gruesome start, the rest of the book is a relatively straightforward catalog of deaths in the last 120 years or so, broken down by cause of death: avalanche, exposure, drowning, lightning, and pretty much everything else you'd expect in the wilderness, plus sections on murder, suicide, and disappearance. Occasionally there's something worthy of the Darwin awards, like the people who go right up to a buffalo to take a photo (or, worse, try to pose their children on the animals' backs), but mostly it's either just sad or mildly stupid stuff like backing a car off a cliff.

The book's bottom line is that people tend to assume that a national park is as full of safeguards as a modern office building, and that that's the kind of thinking that can get you killed. The book isn't consistently gripping, especially since only fragmentary data were available for many early deaths, but it is a useful reminder that knowing the risks and trying to plan for them is definitely more appealing than thinking, with your last breath, "Well, now, that was dumb."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Greening the world, one farmers market at a time

Successes of the weekend:
  • Scheduling a get-together with a friend and her three-week-old daughter. Said squeaker was nothing short of saintly, considering her age, and we managed to have an hours-long talk about a variety of topics, including what to tell family members embarking on a long flight to Russia with a bunch of clergy ("Have fun, and don't cause another schism"). The little one got hungry just as our food arrived, and my friend was a little nervous about breast-feeding in public, but in that neighborhood anyone who objected would probably be set upon by semiretired flower children with law degrees who have spent the last 10 years advancing their spirituality through martial arts. And the food was good too: I got a pile of soba in a ginger-lime dressing with lots of vegetables. Even vegans eat well at Mark's.
  • Hitting both the local farmers markets, thereby doing some damage to my cash supply but going home with two kinds of cherries, three different pots labeled "herb" (cilantro, dill, and lavender--remember to read the labels, kids), a pile of mixed greens with miniature pansies sprinkled in, and some maple sugar candy, because the impulse purchase is strong.
  • Finding a charming new work outfit for 50% off at a patchouli-scented vintage store. I was hesitant about the top, because I still want to work on toning up my arms, but decided to take the bargain on offer. I was not at all convinced by the saleswoman's reaction to my expressed doubts, though: "Oh," she murmured, "That's just the illusion of the worrrrlllld." Gevalt; then gimme back my credit card and charge it to my previous incarnation.
  • Seeing that another vintage place I had visited previously had actually followed through on my suggestion that they get in touch with the DC Rollergirls and arrange a sponsorship deal. Warm fuzzies.
Not-such-successes of the weekend:
  • Resisting the lure of the furry beasties. Weak-willed, I stumbled into the neighborhood pet store to see their kitten adoption event. A marmalade adolescent demanded that I make a fuss over her, then her brother, initially more interested in acting out a "my harbls, let me show you them" meme, gnawed on her tail until I petted him too. Decided to consider working as a foster mom. Emphasis on consider; I still like my new furnitures.
  • Catching up on the Netflix backlog. The weather is too good yet.
  • Finishing the I-promise-it'll-get-done-eventually Argentina post. I took notes! They are typed! Now to remove the cattiness and whining and insert colorful observations of the countryside, people, food porn, and language. ("'Mazhin' is spelled m-a-l-l-i-n, right?" "Of course; how else could it be spelled? Why do you ask?" "Um, no reason.")

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Brief smugness

I decided to skip dressage this evening, partly because, memento mori, my hip issues cropped up again after Monday's bareback work with Doc (if someone would just crack the stupid thing, I would feel infinitely relieved, but apparently it don't work that way), and partly because a coworker is leaving and there was a farewell happy hour at which I would not need to pay the bar's usually outrageous prices.

Now that the heavens have opened, apocalyptic crackadoom and all, right in the middle of what would be the usual class time, that feels like a smart decision.

In other news, a friend who has been stationed overseas for the last few years has let it be known, through the grapevine, that she is getting married to a guy she met over there. I really hope that they decide to open the wedding to everyone who wants to show up, because I would fly for 13 hours, even unto the point of entrusting myself to Aeroflot's tender mercies, just for a chance to hear the local boys sing. The whole "being thrilled for friends and wanting to stand witness at their marriage" thing would be a lovely bonus.

Ah, who am I kidding. I'd be happy for any excuse to join a big party in a country where the people and the landscapes are equally gorgeous, the wine puts France's to shame, and you stand a good chance of getting a roasted sheep for dinner at some point.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Shameless theft

In which I brazenly gank from Poofygoo: Behold the wonder that is LOLTheorists. Caveat lector: Early reports indicate at least one casualty due to unshielded exposure.
[ETA, for those who don't recognize the photo: Philip Glass.]

For the win

Derby update: by two points in the last jam, the Fire Foxes took the title. The fire crews that showed up during the last 15 minutes were in ecstasies, shrieking, "Pull her hair! Take the bitch down! Yeah!" and generally yowling with glee as it came down to the wire. Some of their enthusiasm was due to the inherent fun of derby, but Jenna Von Fury's decision to wear a pair of plaid knickers rather than a skirt or shorts probably played the tiniest bit of a role. Oddly enough, some of the guys who had been so vocal during the bout got shy afterward, when it came time to pose en masse with the winners, and had to be gently shoved into the frame. Rushing into a burning building is apparently less frightening than getting close to sweaty rollerbabes (maybe they just need some practice, use making master and all that). Seesterperson did an even better job this time around, skating for most of the bout, often as the FF pivot. We took her out to a diner afterward and quizzed her on how pivots set the pace and other derbiana details, and she sent Teal home with her "I heart firefighters" shirt.

I love the town where Seesterperson lives (quoth Jeff, "Do you know what this town is? It's charming"), and I'm getting fond of the larger area, jokes about dead mobsters notwithstanding. We had a smashing meal in Secaucus, where the restaurant's owner divulged secrets about making the perfect Sicilian meatballs, and I remembered why it sucks that DC has no decent Italian restaurants. Fettucine bolognese trailing a haze of fennel from the sweet sausage crumbled up in the sauce? Mwah. Equally wonderful, though in a different way, was parking next to the infamous black Lincoln Continental with new plates, joking about posing next to its trunk, and shutting right the hell up when we saw it driven away by a guy who looked like he came from central casting (Mafia, subsp. Senior Made Guy).

Much as I love the roller derby and food porn and Sopranos jokes and undeniable architectural loveliness, though, one of my favorite things to do in that area is still to visit the local used bookstore. For one thing, and I cannot stress this enough, it is organized. Staff can actually find out whether they've got something in stock, and they'll even go and fetch it. For another, oh MAN is it stocked. There's a huge section of New Jersey history, a basement full of rare books (the complete Bobbsey Twins saga, some of which I read as a moppet), aisle after aisle of double-shelved trade books, all the theater and history books a reasonable person could ask, and generous lashings of books of the weird. The shelves of the main floor rise toward the pressed-tin ceiling like canyons, all sedimentary layers of spines, and the occasional soft "ook" is heard from the more distant stacks. Last time I scuttled out cackling over getting a first edition of "The Lady's Not for Burning," complete with dust jacket; this time, after a good 45 minutes, I staggered toward Teal, arms laden, and admitted that I needed to leave before I did real damage. Total haul: a book of horse stories, ideal for sampling; Death in Yellowstone (main gruesome lesson: hot springs? called that for a reason); A Fine and Private Place, which I read years ago and have forgotten; Goodbye to All That, to feed my perverse WWI fascination; 1421: The Year the Chinese Discovered America, because at $8 why not; a new copy of The Good Fairies of New York (thank you, Weebat, for the reminder); and, oh joy, a new copy of the abridged London Labour, London Poor, which I have been wanting badly. Really I want the full version, but for $300 I restrain the desire.

Tonight, back to spending time with El Doctor. He proved that it is possible, though unwise, to trot and eat simultaneously, and that a bareback pad makes a huge difference for a rider who does not want to slide precipitously backward on uphill slopes. We did a little ring work, but after a minor tiff over the wisdom of aiming for the jumps I called it a night. I will do a lot with Doc without a saddle, but landing on his razor-edged withers after a two-foot jump is not on the list of approved activities if I want to walk the next day. The women of the barn often wonder aloud how men ever managed before stirrups were invented.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The wages of sin

After a long lazy hiatus, I decided that it was time to revisit the gym, on account of I'm getting way out of shape and can't blame hip issues if I'm not doing any PT. Sadly for me, the gym branch closest to the office has been closed. Sure, it was tiny and cramped and had lockers a shade of red nobody's used since those UNITS stores in the '80s, but it didn't get big crowds or much of the singles scene that shows up at other branches. I liked taking classes in the undersized studio, getting my ass kicked by the crazy Polish yoga teacher ("I am fifty-et yirs voman, and all time doink yoga. This poz make you blaht move circle, like diamont") and a Pilates trainer who knew enough variants on the plank position to make Torquemada hang it up. Good times.

But no, now it's a choice between a multistory pickup bar with treadmills and the unofficial gym of Wolfram and Hart. The former is marginally closer; the latter is less likely to involve subtle jockeying for a turn at the elliptical trainers, plus the studio is bigger and doesn't have the threat of disco gels as a lighting option. I lasciated ogni speranza and headed for the haunt of the lobbyists.

I knew that reentry to a weights class was going to suck. But did I suspect what was in store? Did I have any inkling that they'd have a teacher with a dance background filling in for the regular teacher? No. No I did not. If I had, I think I would've done a kick turn back to the cheatable cardio machines, because dancers are evil and highly conversant with ways to make the body feel an astonishing amount of pain. Without going into too much detail, like the part about how a heavily pregnant woman kept up better than I did, I will just admit that I got to that exciting point where you actually cannot stand still without shaking slightly because your muscles are arguing over whether to go to Nebraska or Rhode Island when they flee your sudden insanity, and you are certain, 100% without a doubt, that the next two days are going to be a dark wilderness of pain. (In other words, everyone sharing a car with me on the drive to Newark should probably bring something to cancel the high frequency of my whining tone.)

I should do that more often.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The sound of mental healing waves beaming toward VA

Here's to a speedy recovery for Mrs. Pinchloaf, who earlier this week had surgery to deal with some importunate uterine fibroids. Get well soon, Mrs. P., or the cats are going to get completely spoiled by having a playmate around all the time. Of course, if you can train them to fetch and carry and support your efforts at world domination, disregard the preceding and take full advantage of the daytime teebee and plotting opportunities.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A well-balanced breakfast should be NOT MANDATORY

Summer isn't lost

The movie list for this summer looks pretty dreary, with the exception of "Stardust" and the trailers for "The Golden Compass" (I didn't like the books' conclusion and I think that Philip Pullman's a sanctimonious twit, but I ask you, how is a woman supposed to resist the appeal of armored polar bears?) PotC3, the only big summer film I was vaguely interested in seeing, would have been bad even if I hadn't read the Aubrey/Maturin books and George MacDonald Fraser's "The Pyrates." As it was, the crane suspending my disbelief snapped early on, leaving me to sink back and wait for it to be over, mostly resigned and occasionally (Orlando Bloom on the beach, with the boots, and the...oh God, I can't look, please make them stop) vaguely nauseated. On the music side of things, nothing particularly good is scheduled for Wolf Trap, the big arena shows don't appeal, and Gogol Bordello won't swing back through until the middle of July.

But enough whining, repine no more, take heart and don't look so pale and wan: Richard Thompson, famously the best guitarist most of us have never heard of, is coming back to town this month to promote his new album. The first single, sung as a soldier's blues about life in Baghdad ("Dad's Gonna Kill Me," and it would help to use an apostrophe in that first word), was released on his site a few months ago and has been getting steadily positive word of mouth for its sharp lyrics and gorgeous setting. The song neatly bookends the haunting and spare "Outside of the Inside" from an earlier album; Thompson condemns the violent fundamentalists who claim to share his religion, but that doesn't mean that the chickenhawks will get a pass. Chewy political commentary plus dysfunctional love songs (he describes most of his songs as having similar plots: "Boy meets girl; blood everywhere"), an enviably eclectic set of cover songs, and astonishing guitar technique, plus the guy coaches Der Gobernator's son in soccer and tells great stories about it? To the 9:30 Club, my people!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Geek rock and pretty girls

The Pipettes show at the Black Cat last night was worth taking the trip down 16th with the single slowest-driving cabbie I've ever encountered. I couldn't tell whether he was stoned, worried about points on his license, or nursing the car through some sort of existential crisis, but he slowed down for green lights, cars stopping two blocks ahead of us, and road seams. Over his cautious reaction to red lights several intersections ahead, let a curtain be drawn.

Once Rock Ninja, Historienne, and I got into the club, the crowd was so dense that we couldn't get very close to the stage, leaving Rock Ninja with a view that consisted mostly of "Pull Shapes" shirts on admittedly nicely built tall guys' backs. At least some of said guys were willing to dance in the limited space, so it wasn't at all a loss.

But that leads me to my next point, which is this: What is the problem with Washington audiences? Why is there so little dancing? I've seen it at show after show, everyone dressed all cool but just standing around nursing their drinks, motionless and slightly hangdog, like freshmen at Homecoming. Do we not know how to time the pre-show drinking? Does the hipster-wonk confluence induce social paralysis? Are we afraid that we'll get in trouble with the guvmint if we have rhythm? And if all of that is true, why does everyone suddenly dance as soon as the band announces the last song? Go ahead, embarrass yourself and your date from the get-go; flail around; show a little life. I promise, the bands would rather see you dancing badly but happily than staring like a group of bowling-shirted zombies.

Now we just need to convince the Flight of the Conchords to play Iota or another small space where we can hymn our new robot overlords.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Skate or get off the 'Pike...the warm fuzzy edition

Sisterperson's crew of slamming skater babes is doin' it for charity this coming weekend. If you'll be in the Newark area on Friday, come see the Justice Betties and the Fire Foxes whip, jam, and booty-block one another to raise money for the city's hard-working police- and firepeoples. In addition to all that awesome skating havoc, there'll be entertainment from the Newark Firefighters Pipe Band. And really, how wonderful and appropriate is it that there'll be a performance of music specifically designed to make you want to get up and eviscerate the opposition, and/or to weep over your losses?

For those keeping score at home, the team to support is the Fire Foxes, although not just because Sisterperson is one of them and not just because the firefighters are providing the music (the cops should have to buy the beers at the after-party, right?). One of my friends is planning to make the long trek up to the rink that weekend, which is very kind of her, and she has a tiiiiiny thing for the fellows in clumsy boots and big red trucks. I'm picturing a victory party with the guys in their high-visibility pants being just the thing to make the trip worthwhile. Fight fiercely, foxes, fight fight fight; impress them with your prowess, do.

Friday, June 1, 2007

And P.T. Barnum sends his regards

Another Argentina trekking photo. This one is not terribly flattering, nor does it show the severe beauty of the cordillera beyond the treeline. I like it, though, because it shows off my ridiculous manicure and because, not long after it was taken, I successfully convinced the rest of the group that toast is illegal in parts of the United States.