Pump It Up

Elvis Costello – Pump It Up

Whew, what a day. Week, actually. Did you ever have one of those weeks where nothing particularly bad happened, no work crises, nothing horrible on the home front, just a series of frustrations and disappointments that pile on top of each other until you feel like you just can’t take anymore? Yeah. That’s when you need to blast this song as you go peeling out of the parking lot.

When we were teenagers, all the Elvis Costello records belonged to my older sister. I have a 7″ now, I’m not sure where or when I got it, but she owned all the LPs. I taped some of them way back when but I have a hole in my collection where all the Elvis should be.

Tomorrow is Record Store Day and I’ll be hitting my local record store, just down the street. Or as my son once called it, The Most Forgotten Place on Earth. He was only seven at the time and it is down a little pedestrian-only alleyway, but I’m sure it will be busy. Most Saturdays there is some regular traffic through there but it’s not crowded. Tomorrow will be bumping elbows, waiting your turn busy. I may not end up buying any of the special RSD releases but I might pick up an old Elvis Costello album. It’s going to be tough to top my great find from RSD last year.

It’s also Easter weekend and my kids have been off from school all week so I contemplated going up to Maine to visit my mother. We could spend Easter with her and I could go to an event at a branch of the record store where I had my first post-college job. I had too much going on at work though, and didn’t really want to spend that many hours driving up and back for what would end up being a day and a half there. It’s also just as well we stayed put because I’m close to securing a new (to me) car and I need to do some things to get that all lined up.

Have a fun Record Store Day!


See No Evil

Television – See No Evil

Normally, I try not to let politics bother me. I mean, it does bother me, a lot. Too much for my health, so although I care deeply, I try not to listen to the daily deluge of bad reports. I read the news, I just try to stay away from the audio and video because it quickly becomes overwhelming.

I live in a very blue state in a very blue part of the country. I put up with crappy winters because I enjoy living somewhere with values that are similar to mine. I generally feel like my elected representatives are going to vote the way I would on issues and they introduce legislation that I agree with so all of the pleas to email or call your legislator are things I don’t usually feel I need to do. I don’t live in a battleground state. Now and then I have fired off a letter when I feel especially strongly about something but mostly I get out and vote at every primary, every local election, every seat. I make sure I vote even when it’s nothing but a local bond issue. I show up at the off-season special elections. Voting always seemed to me like the truest way to take democracy into your own hands.

But I couldn’t help but be really disappointed by the latest Supreme Court ruling further dismantling the already weak restrictions on campaign contributions. Nothing gets my blood boiling faster than trumped up campaign commercials paid for by some patriotic sounding organization that is a front for who knows what or whom, advancing the candidate they think will let them get away with what they want to do. If I had my way, there would be zero dollars allowed in elections. Not even your own money. Public financing only, equal dollar figures (of a modest amount) for all candidates, and if you want to increase your visibility, get your ground game in gear. Polish that stump speech and criss-cross your state and show up and talk to actual people. Real human beings. And your tv commercials and radio ads would only be allowed to say where you stand on the issues, not trashing the opponent. The same policy for both sides.

This very disturbing trend toward handing over the reins to the uber-wealthy infuriates me. I know I’m not the only one. I saw Jon Stewart’s segment on the Daily Show from the other night and just watched in horror as a couple of the Justices basically said they don’t see how money equals influence. At best, it’s willful blindness though I’m sorry to say that I think that’s being way too generous.

I am not someone who is going to be taken in by advertising because I’m not an undecided voter. I don’t really understand how people can be. I am not a low-information voter because I feel it is my responsibility as a citizen to find out about the issues and where the candidates stand. Maybe it’s the fact that I grew up in the age of School House Rock and spent my Saturday mornings learning about bills becoming law and the three branches of government, set to catchy tunes. If you’re about my age I bet you can recite the Preamble to the Constitution, but maybe only if you can sing it.

However, I think there aren’t enough people for whom that’s true and sometimes they are swayed by misleading advertising. If we can’t count on the Supreme Court to see the evil inherent in allowing the voice of a few to rule the air waves, then I guess we are going to have to get a whole lot louder ourselves. Crank the tunes, folks, it’s on.


Car Song

Elastica – Car Song

I need to replace my car. It failed inspection, which was not a surprise, but when I took it to the garage to see about getting it fixed, they advised me not to bother. It’s a 15-year-old car with 180,000 miles on it and the problem that caused it to fail is far from the only thing wrong with it.

I bought this car from my sister four years ago when it had 65,000 miles of hard city living on it. It had a lot of scrapes on the bumper from years of parallel parking on Brooklyn streets, the rear windshield washer has never worked since I’ve owned it, the glove compartment requires a special touch to get it to shut, but we needed a car and the timing and price were right so I didn’t complain.

I have put 600 miles a week on this car just getting to and from work. It’s nearly all highway miles but that’s bound to take a toll. Other problems have developed, as much from age as neglect on my part. I’ve bought new tires, new spark plugs and connecting wires, maybe brake pads once? It smells mildewy, the side view mirror is held together by duct tape, it burns oil, and the odometer light burned out a long time ago. It’s got manual windows and door locks. My kids think it’s so cool that they can roll down their windows without the car being on.

Looking for its replacement, however, is making me see it in another light. I don’t have money to spend on a new car and I can’t really take on a car loan right now either. I’ve been looking on Craigslist and wondering about the chances of finding anything reliable, let alone something that can take my commute. Nearly all the listings say things like, “Runs and drives good. No reverse.” or “Excellent car, great on gas, needs new motor.” Um, no. It is not an excellent, or even good, car if it needs a new motor or you can’t put it in reverse. The ones that don’t appear to have major mechanical flaws have 250,000 miles or more and that just seems like trouble to me.

Today I happened upon a listing for a car that is the same model I currently have, one year older, but with only 100,000 miles. I have never really liked this car but the pictures show it looking in better condition than the one I’m driving. Is it foolish to consider it? I feel like it’s the devil you know. Maybe I could get 80,000 miles out of that one before it succumbs to a similar fate? I should probably stick to looking for old Toyotas and Hondas but ones that are cheap enough for me to afford are so high in mileage that it doesn’t sound smarter. Sadly, public transportation for my route doesn’t exist or I’d jump on that in a heartbeat.

My family has a long history of car problems. When I bought my first car I only looked at new cars, hoping to avoid all the issues that might arise from buying a used car. Twenty years and two kids later, I just want something that isn’t going to fall apart while I make my way to the office. I want to be sure I can get home at the end of the day. Is that too much to expect from a 15-year-old used car? Is history doomed to repeat itself or have I paid enough dues in the old car wars to come through unscathed? Stay tuned.


Jack Ass Ginger

Poi Dog Pondering – Jack Ass Ginger*

#WhereILivedWednesday – Mt. Pleasant, Washington, D.C.

This is part of a series about places where you’ve lived, started by Ann Imig of Ann’s Rants. I highly recommend checking out her site for more people’s stories.

For two years in the early 90s I lived in what was commonly called a group house in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of Washington, D.C. My three housemates were like me, young women with jobs that didn’t pay all that well but that looked great on your résumé. D.C. was full of young people and it was an exciting time to be there, the end of the Reagan/Bush era and the start of the Clinton years.

Our house was a row house with four bedrooms and only one full bathroom upstairs, then a kitchen, dining room, living room, and a tiny little half bath on the first floor. A back deck no one ever used, just like the front porch, and a basement where the laundry machines were. The neighborhood was pretty mixed, some group houses, some old timers, some new young families, some of the houses had been fixed up, others were sagging a bit around the edges. Mt. Pleasant backs up to the National Zoo and Rock Creek Park on the western edge, Columbia Heights to the east, Adams Morgan is to its south, and sort of nothing to the north. Back then, the Green line of the Metro stopped at 14th and U St. and that wasn’t a neighborhood where you really wanted to spend much time (my how things have changed), so we generally walked across the park and caught the Red line from Cleveland Park.

Mt. Pleasant didn’t really have many stores that sold stuff you actually needed. There was a 7-11, where I would go for my Ben & Jerry’s fix during that period of time when I had my pint-a-day habit. It was summer and we didn’t really have air conditioning. It was too hot to cook anything and invariably I’d suggest to one of my housemates that we hit up the 7-11 for something cold. I admit, I was addicted to Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream. You know how when you dig in, there are these chunks of cookie dough, and then when you get down near the bottom, you think, well, I’ll just get that little chunk there. But when you move that one out of the way, a new little chunk would be revealed and eventually there wasn’t really enough to bother putting it back in the freezer so you might as well just polish it off. That was my dinner for a good three weeks straight. It worked out all right though since I rode my bike to work down at the Smithsonian and in that heat I easily burned off all the calories.

Mt. Pleasant wasn’t a great neighborhood but it felt moderately safe, especially when you consider D.C. had the reputation at the time of being the murder capital of the country. It had been the scene of the Cinco de Mayo riots in 1991 (and the anniversary mini-riots in 1992) and we jokingly called it Mt. Unpleasant. It was certainly better than Columbia Heights but if you were sensible you could get off the bus on 16th street and walk home without trouble.

That all changed though on the night of St. Patrick’s Day in 1993. Three of us were home, I was up, the other two were already asleep, and our fourth housemate, who had a car, had double parked to unload stuff and then went back out to try and find a parking spot. Shortly after she left I heard a loud bang and a car screeching off. I looked out the window but couldn’t really see anything. I told myself that screeching car must have backfired. But she didn’t come back, and it shouldn’t take that long to park the car. Then I saw flashing police and ambulance lights. I was too scared to move. One of my other housemates woke up to use the bathroom so I ran up and told her what was going on and convinced her to walk down the street with me to see what was happening.

A small crowd had gathered down the street where police had blocked off an area with crime scene tape. The ambulance had already left and after determining no one had seen anything, the cops tried to get people to leave. The crime scene tape was encircling her car and the sidewalk leading up to a neighbor’s house. Feeling like I was about to faint, I stepped forward and told one of the officers that it was my housemate’s car.

She had been shot in the head by an insane person with a shotgun, driving around our neighborhood looking for people walking alone. As we later learned, there had been previous victims but as they were men of color and those incidents had happened closer to the eastern edge of the neighborhood, they didn’t see any connection. They wanted to know if she did drugs or had an abusive boyfriend. No and no.

She lost an eye but otherwise pulled through amazingly well. Her father came down from NY and we moved my bed down to the dining room of the house where he lived for the next six weeks. I borrowed a foam fold out sofa from a friend and had that in my room. It seemed like the least I could do. Her mother had died only a year or so beforehand and her brother also lived in the area so their dad wanted (and needed) to be there.

A week after our housemate was shot, a white woman was killed by the same shooter about a block away while she was out walking her dog. Only then did they piece it all together and a curfew was imposed on our neighborhood. You had to be inside your house by dark. Things were bleak. I spent a lot of time holed up in my room listening to music. I was outraged about the cops just dismissing the first shootings as symptomatic of the area. I was worried about my housemate, and I hated being cooped up in the house. Headphones on. “Breathe deep, fill up with relief…”

I forget now how long this all lasted. It felt endless while we were living through it. Sometime in the spring she sent her dad back home and told us she wanted to move across town to be nearer to her friends and her brother. The rest of us didn’t really want to be there anymore either, even though the shooter had been caught. While I have fond memories of my years in D.C. and of all the things I did and people I knew, I can’t say I miss that house.

*This video is from a live show in 2006 but this song comes from their 1992 album and I saw them a lot back then and this song kicks ass live.



Pharrell Williams – Happy

It might seem crazy what I’m ’bout to say
Sunshine she’s here, you can take a break

Happy Daylight Saving Time! This is my absolutely most favorite day of the year! More than Thanksgiving. More than Christmas. From the day we have to set the clocks back in the fall until today, I am a grumpy, despondent person. Now, I can breathe again. I am a room without a roof and I can see the freaking sun still there in the sky!!

I know a lot of people hate switching their clocks. I get it. But you’ve been led astray. The problem isn’t DST, it’s standard time. What you hate is that slightly jet laggy feeling some people have for a day or two. Do you hate that it’s still light out when you get home from work? Probably not. You see, if we never switched the clocks back in the fall in the first place, we would have had all of this daylight, all of this time! We wouldn’t have had to suffer in darkness all of these months. Yeah, it’s dark in the morning but in the depths of winter, it doesn’t matter. There’s no consolation that the sun comes up at 5 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. because you’re asleep either way (or, if you’re not, what are you doing waking up that early?). But the fact that sunset would be at 5:30 instead of 4:30? Huge. That’s huge!

Yes, I’m not a morning person and I work in a windowless office, I hate winter with every fiber of my being and all of the darkness. Today marks winter’s death knell. The bell tolls for you, winter, get your sorry, frozen ass out of here! We are ready for warmer, longer days.

And don’t even start about your hour of sleep. Please. If you really can’t handle a simple hour, then please go to bed an hour earlier the night before. Or try this. Don’t move the clocks forward when you go to bed, wait and do it when you wake up. You woke up at 7 a.m. this morning? No! You actually slept in until 8 a.m.! See how that works?! It’s all good.

Why do we keep these stupid farmer’s hours anyway? We are no longer an agrarian nation. Why on earth does the bus for the high school kids roll past my house at 6:30 a.m.? That’s barbaric. We do not need to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to get the milking done before the poor cows are ready to burst. I have been informed by my children that their friends eat dinner at the geriatric hour of 5:30 p.m. and they all think our dinner time of 6:30 (ok, sometimes it’s more like 7, or 7:30) is very late. It’s called continental. Or urban. You would never catch anyone in New York City eating dinner at 5:30.

So please, don’t hate Daylight Saving Time because it’s beautiful, love it for the extra daylight it just gave you. Love the beginning of the end of winter.


No Television

The Can’t Tells – No Television

It’s that time of year again. March Madness. Only I’m not talking basketball, I’m talking about SXSW. I used to dream about going down for it but now I find the whole thing overwhelming. Instead, I keep my eyes and ears open for new (to me) stuff thanks to the music press that are all down there doing the leg work.

For months I will see announcements about what bands have been added to the line up but as much as I try, I simply don’t have the time between work, a long commute, and stuff at home, to know what many of these bands sound like. The NPR Austin 100 list is a good place for me to start. That’s how I came to find The Can’t Tells and this track “No Television.”

I picked this one for the title of the song because we have no television in our house. We have a tv, a new one even, and we have a Blu-ray player and a Roku box with Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc., but we don’t have cable, satellite, or over the air television. Yesterday I tried to change that by buying a digital antenna that my online research lead me to believe might be able to get a couple of PBS stations and maybe a major network or two. Sadly, I got four home shopping channels, the ION Life station, and Qubo. Unless the customer service rep will be able to help me find the right position for this thing later this evening (via the phone) then I’m taking it back.

I don’t usually miss broadcast tv all that much but it’s nice to be able to watch the weather and for live events. For example, I couldn’t watch the Oscars last night and I felt like the only person on Twitter who wasn’t tuned in. That’s not a problem but I do end up feeling a little out of sync with the rest of society. In keeping with my lack of video content, I went with the SoundCloud rather than YouTube version. If you like what you hear, they’ve got the whole album streaming on their SoundCloud channel.


Burning Down the House

#WhereILivedWednesday: Mrs. Black’s House

This is part of a series of entries about places you once called home, started by Ann Imig of Ann’s Rants. Check out the links on her site for more stories!

My mother started a new job in a small Maine town during the summer of 1983. Our house in New York was on the market but not generating much interest and the three of us still left at home needed to join my mother up in Maine by the start of the school year. When the first day of school rolled around, we were still living at a summer place an hour away, in the tiny beach town where we’d spent many summers of our childhood. After two weeks of making that drive with three reluctant passengers at 6am, my mother found someplace closer to school.

Our new temporary home was also a summer house, right down by the water, but in the same town as my mom’s new job and our school. It was owned by an old lady named Mrs. Black who cleared out after Labor Day and was happy to have some extra income by renting it to us. The reason she moved back into town then was because the house wasn’t winterized; a new term for me that I didn’t fully appreciate until later.

At first it was great. September in Maine is still beautiful, with the fall colors starting, and you could still look forward to warm afternoons. The house had a very large open room with a double fireplace smack in the middle. One corner was the dining area, the opposite corner had a big sofa and one of those lobster trap tables common in Maine summer houses. There were two bedrooms back behind the living room area of the open room, and one small bathroom. There was another bedroom tucked in behind the kitchen but it was a little creepy and we preferred to double up in the regular bedrooms.

Even though we were now in the same town as our school, it was about as far away as you could be and still be in the same district. We could have taken a school bus, and in fact my younger sister did start taking the bus home from school after a couple of weeks. But my older sister and I were New York snobs and absolutely refused to do anything so rural as ride a school bus. Besides, there was nothing to do at Mrs. Black’s house. It was lovely but remote. You could go for a walk past the deserted summer community and that was about it. My mother borrowed a black and white tv from a young guy in her office but again, being that far away from a broadcast center, you could get maybe two channels, no cable, no MTV.

September turned to October and the sun set earlier every day. Those crisp fall days everyone loves? Not so fun when your summer cabin has no heat or insulation. That big double fireplace didn’t really work. We tried once but just managed to smoke up the whole room. There actually was some kind of electric heat source, a grate in the floor blew hot air when you flipped a switch on the wall, but after my younger sister nearly set her sweater on fire by placing it on top of the grate to warm up one frosty morning, my mother declared it off limits. The bedroom my older sister and I shared had a little space heater that was basically like leaving the door open on a toaster oven. We were allowed to run it for a few minutes before going to bed to take the chill off the room so you could stand to change into pajamas. Under no circumstances were we allowed to let it run all night for fear of it shorting out and starting a fire. I think my mother was more afraid of us burning down the rental house than of our own personal safety but it was a pretty sketchy heater so we obeyed.

By November it was bad. Really bad. We now had no hot water either. It turns out that one night when it got really cold, the hot water pipe had cracked and every time we turned on the hot water, instead of coming out of the sink or shower head, it was dumped onto the rocks beneath the house and trickled down to the ocean. We wore long underwear, sweatpants, and flannel nightgowns, all at the same time, two pairs of socks, and mittens, when we went to bed. My mother and little sister started sharing a twin bed, for warmth, with the cat sleeping on top of them trying to get in on some of that body heat.

We lived out there until Thanksgiving. Our house in New York still hadn’t sold but we couldn’t stay in the non-winterized house any longer. A person my mother knew at work had built a new house and was having trouble selling his old one, just like we were. He agreed to rent it to us until he had a buyer or we managed to sell ours and finally really move up to Maine.

Hey, it’s my two-year blogiversary! I’ve got a tradition going now of posting Talking Heads songs on this day, this makes the third one. We listened to this album a lot that first year up in Maine, and the last song on the record is my favorite TH song, but that’s the song on my first post so I took this one instead. It seemed to fit better anyway.


Ages of You

R.E.M. – Ages of You

Today I found out about the Amtrak Residencies for writers. I can’t tell you how perfect that is. I might cry. Right now I am listening to the train tape I made in college (the digital edition on my iPod) and I can see the backyards of America in my head, obscured now and then by the blur of greenery; interrupted by the occasional overpass. I always thought that would make an excellent anthropology thesis, America’s Backyards as Seen from the Train. That’s where the truth hangs out. The discarded bicycles, rusted red wagons, trampolines, and clotheslines.

Close by the cities, the scenery is much more industrial. Warehouses. Graffiti covered brick buildings and cement walls. Trenton Makes The World Takes. The cities give way to the suburbs, where the backyards and cemeteries make up the scenery. Depending on what train you’re taking, you might get far enough away from the built up areas to see more traditionally scenic views. I always try to sit on the right side of the train in a window seat. If you always sit on the right, you’ll see what’s on the left on your way back.

I love everything about train travel. I love the big, beautiful, historic stations. I love the smells of the engine, some kind of weird mix of diesel and electric, hot and metallic. I love the rhythm of the train swaying gently as it clatters along the tracks. I love the tracks! I have two rusted and discarded old railroad spikes saved in a bin. I have several Amtrak train ticket stubs saved alongside concert tickets. I love leaning my head against the window and trying to find a spot to put your feet that gives you just the right amount of ‘please don’t talk to me’ body language or trying to sit in such a way as to invite a little conversation. I love watching my fellow passengers, listening to them chat with their seatmate or talk with their children about what’s passing by the window. I like to sneak a peak at the book they’re reading. Watching as people meet them when they get off the train, and others saying goodbye as someone gets on.

I have taken the train as far north as Montreal, as far south as Georgia. The Adirondack. Southern Crescent. Overnight trains. Commuter trains. Sightseeing trains. Subways. I’ve been to Zoo Station. Paddington Station. Two of my proudest foreign language moments were giving directions to Salzburg’s train station in German and confirming in Czech that someone was waiting for the correct subway train in Prague. The only Czech words I can still remember are the words for beer and ‘next stop’ which is what they would announce as the subway pulled into every station.

It is hands down my favorite mode of travel. It’s not the fastest, there are usually delays on the line somewhere, but when I take the train, at least half the reason is just being on the train. It’s not the most convenient, being at the mercy of someone else’s schedule. A few years ago, Amtrak started running a train up to Maine, the Downeaster. I am dying to take that train. In order to get the train from my house to my mother’s house up in Maine would involve me getting on a train when it’s still dark in the morning and switching stations in Boston. It would take more time than driving but I’m actually contemplating buying a used car up near my mother just so I have an excuse to make that trip.

There is just something about the train that brings up all kinds of emotions for me. It’s like I feel a tiny shred of what everyone else in my car is feeling. Some people are excited, some are sad, some are hopeful, some are worried, some are exhausted, some can’t sit still. I know all those feelings and have, at different times in my life, been one of those people sitting there. So now I look around and see me on my first solo train trip, me going to visit a sister or a friend, me with my best friend on an adventure, me trying to hold it together when things aren’t working out, me on my way to a job interview, me seeing new places and remembering all my old favorite haunts. I don’t get that from any other form of travel.

This is the fourth song on the train tape. My vinyl copy of this song has a longer finger-snapping intro. I really wanted to use this version but I couldn’t get it to only play the first part.


A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays’

De La Soul – A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays’

I am halfway through my downloads from De La Soul, who are giving away all their albums for free today. Happy Valentine’s Day!

I used to be a roller skating fiend when I was in junior high. My best friend lived up the street and we would get home from school and lace up our skates and hit the street. We took a boom box outside and made up skating routines to our favorite songs (I can still remember parts of the one that we did to Blondie’s The Tide is High). It was because of us that the local Gristede’s instituted a No Roller Skating policy inside the store.

My skates were the sneaker style, bright yellow with rainbow stripes on the side like a pair of fake Adidas with bright yellow wheels and a matching yellow stopper. I loved those skates. They were sitting in my mother’s basement until just a few years ago when I allowed her to give them to Goodwill.

There’s a roller rink still very much alive not far from me. Our schools have skating parties to raise money for the PTO and it’s a popular birthday party spot. My daughter was first invited to a roller rink party four years ago but she didn’t know how to skate. Luckily we had a lot of lead time so I took her to the rink every weekend before the party to teach her how to skate. Once she mastered it, she loved it. We had her birthday party there later that year and bought her a pair of roller skates for her birthday that year.

It’s such a time warp in there. They bust out the old disco tunes towards the end of the skate session so you could almost think you’re back in the day with the Village People and Michael Jackson playing on the sound system. Next time maybe I’ll put in a request for this song.