Sunday, August 28, 2005

Weird Kitchen Bug

This bad boy showed up on our kitchen sink. My first instinct was that it's a silverfish because it's long and slinky and well that's just about the only kind of bug I've seen that meets the description.

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I didn't think it was a silverfish after all since they seem to have many fewer legs. I counted at least 20 legs on this bad boy.

I thought I'd send it off to What's That Bug to get it indentified, but after I browsed a little bit at the site it became clear that it's a "House Centipede" and it's harmless. It actually is supposed to eat other bugs, so I let it free in the kitchen.

New Foodmaster Specials

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Taxation Without Representation

In the same vein of my recent commentary about state mottos and license plate snippets, I'd like to talk a little bit about Washington, DC.

You don't see many DC license plates in California, but they crop up fairly frequently on the highways of New England. A striking element of their design is the use of the phrase "Taxation Without Representation" at the bottom of the plate:

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While driving, I like to take everything in and then immediately spout it out again as quickly as possible, with or without sassy commentary. I have a joke with my lovely traveling companion that this is because I am like a shark. Apparently, if a shark stops swimming, it will die. I, by comparison, must continue speaking in order to stave off an untimely natural death.

"Taxation Without Representation - that's stupid. They left off the 'No'," I say dumbly. I naively assumed that DC was some kind of super patriotic unified force which would extol the virtues of American politics at all costs. I thought the license plate was simply an attempt to publicly share a civic exuberance about that famous revolutionary statement. But how retarded that they'd leave off the "No!"

"Maybe it's a protest, because DC doesn't have representation," my companion offers logically. I had never considered the possibility, but sure! Washington DC doesn't have seats in the Senate or representatives in the Congress! It's a protest! I found it difficult to believe that the city at the center of our national government could be so sassy in the company of the very men and women who oppress them, but later on the internet I did confirm the truth of this theory. There is a major movement in DC (and presumably from outside of DC) to establish basic voting rights for its citizens that the rest of us enjoy carelessly. There was even a movement a few years ago to add the curtailed phrase to a redesigned DC flag.

It's almost a cliche for most Americans that we have at our disposal the right to complain to our elected representatives. It's even celebrated in song lyrics like this one from "Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran:

Well I called my congressman
and he said "whoah"
I'd like to help you son
but you're too young to vote!

Evidentally this song didn't and doesn't resonate in the District of Columbia! I agree that it's ironic and sad that the residents of our country's core, the heart muscle that supposedly pumps a message of freedom throughout the country and world, themselves have no representative to complain to.

Powerless, all they can do is stamp a sassy phrase onto their license plates! So they do!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Moby Fly

We went to Maine this weekend, marking my first visit to that great state. Driving north from Boston, you pass through New Hampshire briefly and then cruise into Maine. It's fun to blaze through states so quickly and observe the differing customs, road signage, etc.

New Hampshire's highway welcoming committee must be working overtime, because you are greeted by a huge sign as you enter the state: "You're Going to Love it Here." Just as you're thinking to yourself "and what if I don't?" a state-run liquor store appears with the assuring addendum "Open Sundays." You remember that New Hampshire has no sales tax, and you admit that maybe you will love it here after all. All states welcome you with vague promises of contentment, but there doesn't seem to be a guarantee associated with these promises. Some of the mottos are also vaguely frightening: driving into Connecticut you're informed that the state is "Full of Surprises." Like highway beatings, or free ice cream sundaes? Be on the lookout everybody, Connecticut is full of surprises. Sounds like a scary line out of Grimms fairly tales.

Some states seem to maintain an extensive inventory of slogans, which they present in rapid-fire succession, as if to ensure that you identify with the state, through one aphorism or another. Driving into Maine, you learn quickly that Maine is "Vacationland!" Moments later, you're informed that Maine is vaguely "The Way That Life Should Be." The licenes plates in New Hampshire say "Live Free or Die." I believe this is the official state motto, but I guess somebody realized that "Welcome to New Hampshire! Live Free or Die!" wasn't exactly Hallmark card material on a 20 foot road-side billboard.

Maine features some stunning landscapes, and the natural beauty is accentuated by the notable lack of advertising billboards on the side of the highway. Well, with the exception of the occasional "Vacationland!" reminder, or the strangely guilt-inducing "Are you wearing your seat belt?" and "Are your tires safe?" signs. It's as if the government decided the no billboards law was leaving the landscape too bare, and they needed to chip in a little signage to keep drivers awake on those long treks.

Our Maine expedition took us to the city of Augusta, the state Capitol. A little research on Wikipedia informs me that the city was named Harrington for a few precious months before being suddenly re-christened by drunken lunatics in August of that year. OK, I made up the part about the drunken lunatics, but it fits my mental image of a government that names its Capitol after the current month and erects roadside signs inquiring into your automotive maintenance habits.

We departed Augusta to hit the beach, despite it being a rainy, overcast day. We thought it might be nice to see the coast, even if we couldn't take a swim. Our hosts took us to Popham State Beach. Our naive optimism caused us to bring swim gear nonetheless, which is good because there was no rain to be found once we reached our destination. Just a hazy blanket of humidity hiding most of what is probably a very beautiful beach on a clear day.

Despite the haze, we had a lot of fun running around the shallow sandbars. It was high tide, so we could walk about 300 feet out into the water before we even got to real waves or water much higher than our knees. The beach also features a river, which was evidently venting a lot of rain water from back up where we had driven from. It was fun to be able to navigating waist-high river rapids, knowing that the worst that could happen is I'd be washed out to waist-high sea a few hundred feet down the beach.

I paused from the excitement of navigating waves, rapid, and shallow pools. I lay on my back at a smooth sand bar and etched semi-circles with my fingertips, snow-angel style. I looked up at the sky as it became clearer, and zoned out to the sound of rushing water on three sides of me. Then I got hot and decided to go back in the water.

As I headed for the water, a crazy giant fly/wasp thing lumbered about my head. It looked like a giant fly, but it had wasp-like eyes and fangs. It was about the size of a giant bumble-bee, and was fixed on me. I thought I could ditch it, so I darted left and right, running up the beach looking behind me periodically to see it tracking me, mere inches behind my head at any time. I felt like Luke Skywalker as I raced around the beach, jumping into and out of the water. No matter where I flew my ship, the X-Wing fighter was always right behind me. I immersed myself completely, only to come up for air and find my nemesis, Moby Fly, hovering above me. It chased me and I felt I had no option but to run for the cover of my towel. My lungs burned and I could barely run, but for some reason any movement at all seemed to keep it in tentative pursuit. I dared not discover what awaited me if I simply stood still - what the hell is this thing?! I got to my towel and wrapped up in it jumpily looking around me for the thing. It had disappeared.

I sat on my towel and heaved. I felt safe for the moment. Moments later a green-head fly appeared. I'm also terrified of these, but they're much less vicious than Moby Fly. For those who aren't familiar, a green-head basically looks like a normal housefly but it has an iridescent green head. I first learned about these in Cape Cod when I sat happily reading a novel, before feeling a slight pinch on my leg. I looked down to see blood dripping down my calf. Son of a bitch! At least since then I've learned to kill green-heads, but Moby Fly is new and terrifying to me. I don't know how to cope!

I killed a couple green-heads and looked out at the ocean. My three companions waved at me and motioned me to join them. I was scared. I didn't really want to do anything but leave the beach. I had never encountered a fly like that before. Something so relentlessly vicious. I looked around again and decided that I might be safer near them than I was alone. I stood up and started walking leisurely toward them. I wasn't more than 10 feet from my towel when the lumbering beast appeared again. As if it had been waiting for me all the while. I darted back towards the towel, back towards the sea, and back towards the towel again. My companions later told me they thought I was exhibiting a child-like enthusiasm for the beach and exercise. In a stroke of luck I darted back towards the sea a final time and watched as Moby Fly buzzed off the opposite direction. I was safe for the moment, but I made my way out to sea much quicker this time, looking frantically behind me at every spare opportunity.

Maine.
Vacationland!
Scary fucking bugs that will not rest until I die!
The Way That Life Should Be.

Mormon Whoopie Pie

New specials at Foodmaster.

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It's not every day you get the opportunity to buy a Mormon sounding ice cream brand with flavors like "Whoopee Pie," discounted at a price of one-third the number of the beast.

As much as I enjoyed the fabricated irony I created in observing the sign, I ended up walking out with vanilla frozen yogurt. Frozen yogurt?! I think this is the first time I've ever bought frozen yogurt! I just had so much dang fruit sitting around the kitchen, and I have to get rid of it by making a smoothy. Is this how you do it? I'm finally turning Californian!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Second Sight

Shortly before our move to Somerville, I lost my sight. That is to say, both batteries for my now-antique Canon PowerShot S110 went dead simultaneously. No pictures for me! Just at the moment when wandering around new environs most provokes the desire to "permanently see" things, I was blind.

I could have run down to the local "anything electronic" store and picked up a new battery the day I noticed it, but being the cheapskate that I am, I decided to order from a shady PayPay-only web vendor, in order to save a few bucks. Well, weeks later, and I'm happy to report that my camera is now seeing again!

The first thing I wanted to do was to start documenting the ever-changing, usually amusing Foodmaster Supermarket marquee. The current selection isn't too great, but I gotta start somewhere:

8C8B0240-EBBE-4902-A45E-C1CDF54F120F.jpg458DFD32-3E55-4F9C-87D4-0D3E26C8BEA3.jpg After the Foodmaster, I took a stroll down the street to the Praça Portuguèsa. I am going to start collecting all-things-Portuguese so our Brazilian friend can be amused and more tempted to visit

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Enough with the wimpy parks, though. It's time to cruise over to Lincoln Park, where an architect friend of ours you may also know will soon be living again (OK, near the park, not in the park!). The park is pretty big, and includes a number of playing fields, basketball courts, etc. It's also sort of snuggled up with a school and I can't tell where (if) one begins and the other takes over. One of the most fascinating attractions of Lincoln Park is this circular arrangement of concrete pillars:

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When I first stumbled upon the park, I thought it an odd bit of public sculpture. Then I found this strange little post with a "push button to walk" type doodad on it:

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Tentatively, I pushed the button. Yee-haw! A cool mist is washing over me! This ridiculuous circle of cement pillars is awesome!

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And as my yelps of relief shatter the air, the Somerville wildlife looks up in curiosity and wonderment:

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Monday, August 15, 2005

You Can Get To There From Here

The East Coast has had a "hella" long time to grow. What do you get when you mix fertile soil, a non-desert like climate, and 500+ years of American sweet lovin'? Cities and Towns, Everywhere!

When you drive east from San Francisco on I-80, you hit Oakland, then Berkeley, Berkeley-lite, then hella-nothing, then Vacaville. Notice how the city's web page makes the place look like some kind of paradise. It looks like a Windows XP commercial, or a Prozac ad! This is what it really looks like. Absence has not yet made my heart fondly reminiscent of those arid, redneck road-stops.

When you drive in any direction from Boston, you get to something. OK, it's probably a boring bedroom community which looks identical to every other boring bedroom community in the state, but it has a name! And this is where the executive bankers and their children live! And it probably has lattes! Hooray for yuppie civilization! I used Google to map out identically scaled swatches of land centering around San Francisco and Boston, respectively. Have a look at the difference:

The Boston area is a overflowing with cities and towns. They can't fit them all on the map.

San Francisco, on the other hand, has few enough neighboring towns and cities to practically count on two hands.

Now, to be fair, I notice that the San Francisco map is missing some gems like Daly City. I mean, you get Daly City. If you drive anywhere from the Boston area, you might go through podunk nowheresville, but before too long you're likely to be coming up on the outskirts of a city. A real city. Not a Daly city! Well, at least a large town - and maybe Jack Kerouac is buried there.

In California there are historical points of interest even in the middle of nowheresville. You may be amused to stop and learn that Benicia was once the state's capitol, for instance. Or you may recoil in awe at the unbelievable oldness of something that was built in the late 1800's.

In New England they also have this habit, but instead of learning things like "John Muir slept here," you learn things like "Washington died here," or "this is where the first American flag was erected," or "hella revolutionary war blood right where you're standing." In New England, things from the 1800's are hardly vintage, let alone antique. They've got bulldozers that are older than California, for chrissake! The towns are all in the habit of putting the date of incorporation on their "welcome" signs. I've learned quickly that if you're any newer than the 1600's, you're a full-on New-England-Newbie, and you should get the hell out.

The truth is, though I'm trying to talk myself into believing that Boston is better for driving to fun and exciting places, it's only partly true. I can find plenty of boring-ass depressing destinations in the Boston area. You can make wherever you live into an exciting day-trip locale.

So, in the spirit of encouraging us all to explore our surroundings, I'm going to play a little un-scientific game where I pick at random 3 spots from each of the maps I linked to above. I will close my eyes, move the mouse around a lot, then double-click to center the map on some spot. Then I will zoom in as far as google will go, and look for the closest "town or landmark" name. I will then type that name in to google images, and paste the most intriguing photo of the area that comes up:

Boston, You Can Get To There From Here:

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Those are: Dracut, MA - Harvard, MA - Bellingham, MA.

San Francisco, You Can Get To There From Here:

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Those are: Vallejo, CA - Union City, CA - Sugarloaf Park, Walnut Creek, CA

Have a nice trip!