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January 30th, 2013

05:50 pm - A City on the Hudson
I've been listening to a podcast called "A Small American City," about Troy, NY. I know Troy, somewhat. My brother C. used to go to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy. I remember well driving out Route 2, over the Berkshires and the Taconics, to go visit him. I don't know that I explored the town much, although we did go to a few bars and restaurants in town. The podcast is fascinating to me, because the host, Duncan Crary, seems to focus on the character of the town, it's tight community and walkability. In a way, it sounds a lot like a bigger city version of Greenfield. And Crary likes to talk to people who live in Troy and call it home, and do so by choice, why they're there, why they chose Troy. That's something I've often thought about Greenfield as well.

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December 30th, 2012

12:03 am - Frost at (Almost) Midnight
We're approaching the end of 2012. As I type this, it's nearly midnight and the snow is falling outside. We had about six inches on the ground from a storm a couple of days ago, and I suspect we'll get about the same additional amount by morning, if not more. It looks very peaceful out there. And it sounds quiet. We have a fire going in the fireplace and the dishwasher is humming away on the day's dishes. Today was a tough day. We scrambled to get a project together this morning, so I could put it in the mail. We missed the post office's noon closing, so I went to the UPS Store. After that we basically chased the kids around the house and dithered about whether we should try to go out and do something or stay in and try to get some organization tackled. Neither really happened.

Sister-in-law S. got me a photo mug for Christmas with a snippet of the Coleridge poem, "Frost at Midnight," on it. "All seasons shall be sweet to thee..." I quoted the same snippet in my poem, "Halo Moon." It seems like an appropriate meditation for my 41st year, now underway, and for 2012, the year my son was born. What a year! Our lives are so transformed, it seems like the time before we were a family of four is so incredibly distant from us.

But it also seems silly for me to be giving up quality sleep opportunity now. Although I should do more of this, recollecting my thoughts.

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December 3rd, 2012

12:33 pm - Andre Agassi's Open
My tennis-watching history has a gap. Now that I'm back paying attention to tennis, I realize that I've missed a lot. Most of what might be called the Roger Federer era, in fact. I recently found myself reading Andre Agassi's Open and I while I definitely remember the Sampras-Agassi rivalry, I don't think I was really an Agassi fan. I don't think I hated him. I've been reading some of David Foster Wallace's essays on tennis and Wallace said some really spiteful things about Agassi. I don't think his bad boy image and Canon Rebel commercials really caused me to hate him, but I think I was more of a Sampras guy. Looking back, I can say that I've enjoyed watching the serve-and-volleyers more than the baseliners. They seem more daring, adventurous. I remember really liking the young Boris Becker when he dove around the grass courts at Wimbledon.

But after reading Agassi's book, I think I like him more. Not all reviewers have been kind to Agassi. And I think while reading the book, I had some "oh, come off it" moments. But I think there is something honest about the book, a real effort to make sense of his life. And I think I come away having learned some things from his examination. Agassi was brought up as an achievetron. His father willed him to be a future World #1 tennis player, drilling him with his "Dragon" ball machine and sending him away to the Bolleteri Academy in Florida. Agassi says he "hates tennis" throughout his book. But he comes to see it as his job, what he can do, what he knows.

Ultimately, I think I find Agassi's contradictions compelling. Even when he is self-serving, I find his wrestling with his demons to be very human. And I think while Sampras had Agassi's number on the tennis court, I doubt that Sampras's book would be as interesting to read. I have more to say, but for now I'll end here.
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October 30th, 2012

09:40 pm - Crash Davis, Revisited
As I was mounting the shelf brackets in our laundry room the other day, I had the laptop perched on top of the washer that I had pushed out of the way, so that I could watch Bull Durham while I worked. I had gotten the movie through Netflix and L. and I probably weren't going to watch it together. I had added a few sports movies to our queue in part because of teaching the sports journalism class in the spring.

It's interesting to me now, to see the movie again. I don't think I fully comprehended it when I first watched it. I saw it's comedy, mostly. What I remember are scenes like Kevin Costner's character, the veteran catcher, telling his hard-throwing pitcher, played by Tim Robbins, to hit the bull mascot. But this time through I think the theme of frustration and lost dreams hit me. Costner's Crash Davis, wanting to walk out after hearing that he'd been called to the Single A Bulls to help mentor a hotshot pitcher with a control problem. Twelve years in the minors and he's been reduced to a glorified babysitter. He says he quits, walks out of the manager's room, and curses at himself. The truth is, it's like the manager told him. Playing for the Bulls is getting paid to show up at the ball field every day. He knows he can't walk out on that life. It's the only one he knows. What else will he do? So he comes back in and asks when batting practice is the next day.

Davis says, "I'm too old for this." But he's in his early 30s. I'm about to turn 40. There's something to the "last hurrah" narrative of Bull Durham. Davis' character is the veteran catcher who's been around the block. He's successful as a hitter because he knows the mind games of baseball, knows the tendencies of the younger players around him. But he was only good enough to make the big leagues for 21 days. At this late stage of his career, he knows he's not going back. He knows he had his shot. But he can't give up. But it pisses him off when the golden boy, "Nuke" Laloosh, gets called up, because he has a million dollar arm but no appreciation for the game. The scene near the end of the movie, where Davis is drinking in a pool hall owned by another former minor league great, and ends up picking a fight with Laloosh out of frustration, shows the bitter side of Davis' character. He knows the end, for him, is coming. Once Laloosh is called up, he's no longer necessary. The team drops him. He goes over to Asheville to play out the season, hitting his minor league record home run and then hanging up his cleats for good.

The redemptive part of the story is the romance with Annie, played by Susan Sarandon. He resents her for choosing Laloosh over him, but he's also intimidated by her. They are equals, older and wiser than the other ballplayers. Going back to Annie is for Davis a way of growing up, moving on, accepting who he is. That's a good message.

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August 28th, 2012

10:15 pm - A Canoe on the Cover
At first, I had planned to show up to the first day of class with my canoe. You see, we had read the book Zeitoun for summer reading. I think it's  the best summer reading book at the college in the five years I've been teaching there. But then again, as I told my students, that may have partly to do with the prominent role that the canoe played in the book. A secondhand canoe, no less. A little bit like the Old Town 16-footer that we bought from our former landlady.

I didn't take my canoe to class. It was raining this morning heavily and the forecast said it could rain into the afternoon, so I thought the canoe wasn't such a good idea after all. So I just brought paddles.

I read a good deal of Zeitoun in Canada, lying on one of the old cots on the front porch. I can't think of a better reading perch. I was explaining to one of the other adjuncts that what really sticks with me is the image of Zeitoun paddling through the flooded city of New Orleans in the days after Katrina, hearing people call out from their houses and bringing meat to feed the neighborhood dogs who were left behind. The city is strangely quiet and serene and he has a sense of purpose. This is the image depicted on the cover of the book.

Of course, the waters of the book have been troubled by the recent allegations against its main character, Abdulrahaman Zeitoun. He has been accused of domestic abuse and conspiring to murder his wife. But I'm not sure that these allegations take away from the essential power of the book, and in fact, I think they fuel some interesting discussion about how much it matters to the book that he is a virtuous character.
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August 22nd, 2012

11:12 am - Canoe Camp

Late in July, A. and I went canoeing on Five Mile Pond in Springfield. It's a pond across Boston Road (US 20) from Wal-Mart in the city limits of Springfield. No kidding. I wrote about it for BYOFamily in a story called "Canoe Camp: Paddling on a City Pond."

I had two other stories in this month's issue of BYOFamily: "Longest Runner's Race in Forest Park" and "Holyoke's Moveable Feast: BYO Restaurant."

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August 9th, 2012

09:30 am - Red Bay

It is too much. I would like to describe to you the place that in my family is known as "Canada," even though it is a very small part of that country. A little beach on Lake Huron called Little Red Bay. And I only know it in one season. The earliest I've ever been up there is in June and the latest has been August (unless maybe I've strayed into early September). But it is the one place that has stayed consistently in my life throughout my life, having moved from Illinois to Ohio to Florida to Massachusetts. This little cottage by a creek that runs by an old dilapidated ice house on a shallow, sandy bay on the Lake Huron side of the Bruce Peninsula. I know well the view of the lake from that spot, from the Marina and Evergreens to Main Station Is. to Burke Is., overlapped by Sunset Is., to the fishing islands that extend northward up the coast, to Harbor Lights. I love to take the little catamaran -- first bought in the late 1960s by my grandparents and almost entirely rebuilt from parts over the years -- and sail around the bay, cruising by the rocky islands and across the deep channel to the body of the lake.

Canada is an amalgamation of so many things: the marine radio in the morning, a computerized voice reciting the day's forecast in French and English; pitching in with cooking and cleaning around the house; lying in the hammock; playing cards on the breezeway; walking along the shore; watching dogs play in the water; swimming every day; washing your hair in the lake in lieu of a shower; eating wonderful -- and often locally grown or prepared -- food together; sailing; fishing (although not much recently); sitting on the porch and reading; the wildflowers in the fen and among the reeds on the lakeshore; hearing a loon fly overhead; paddling in a canoe; visiting with neighbors...

We were just there for a week, and it is so much like home. It helps that this is where I often reconnect with my family. redbaydreamerpkhentz and panoramicgree were there. We lived together, made coffee for each other, went swimming together, went to the library in town to get onto the internet together. It was fun and revitalizing. And it was very beautiful. The place is so beautiful, especially in the early morning and in the golden hour before sunset (which happens at almost 9 o'clock). The days are so long, with so many activities calling to you. 

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July 21st, 2012

06:02 am - I love Canada

Milos Raonic is Canada's number one ranked singles player. In fact, he is apparently the highest ranked Canadian player on the ATP tour, ever. His current ra.nking is number 21 in the world. So he is kind of like Canada's Andy Murray. Unfortunately, the Rogers Cup tournament -- the biggest tennis tournament in Canada, played in Toronto and Montreal -- starts just after we'll be leaving Canada. But this is one of the promotional ads. It reminds me, in a small way, of the old Labatt's beer ads we used to love to watch.

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July 16th, 2012

03:42 pm - A Better Door
At the Rendezvous last night, I went to the CD-release party for Daniel Hales and the Frost Heaves.Hales had invited everybody from the Po Group to write a poem in response to one of the songs on the album. Neither L. nor I had done this, but he invited us to read poems anyway, by people who did write poems, but weren't able to show for the event. I read a poem by Michael Earl Craig, which was an honor. Mike was a friend of mine from back at UMass. We used to eat breakfasts together at Roosters in Amherst, and sometimes we'd crash the wine tastings in town.

I ran into Steve Alves, who is currently the front man for the Falltown String Band, who we saw at the Greenfield Energy Park the other day. I told him that and then told him that the Falltown String Band had played our wedding. I said we had requested "Goodnight Irene," because L. was familiar with the Raffi version. Of course, when they played it, we got to hear what the real lyrics were which, shall we say, were a little ironic for a wedding. Steve told me that story had entered into the band's lore, and he had heard it before.

Steve also told me he was working on a film called Food for Change about co-ops. I told him I thought co-ops were a modest way of re-envisioning the way our economic system works and he seemed to like that way of putting it. I'm proud to say that after years of telling cashiers at the Green Fields Market that although I shop there regularly, I wasn't a member, now I am a member/owner. That's thanks to redbaydreamer.

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July 9th, 2012

12:39 pm - Lobster and Baseball

I have two stories in BYO Family this month: Daddy Gets Lobster, a review of Schermerhorn's Seafood in Holyoke, and One Sox, Two Sox, about an evening spent watching a Holyoke Blue Sox baseball game.

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