Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Barratry: Shilling the Volokh Conspiracy to a Killer Soundtrack

I don't do RSS, or any of the other feeds. Indeed, I don't know what it would look like if I did. Call me Old-Fashioned -- as with newspapers and magazines, I prefer to browse the blogosphere, and as with the former I go through phases with the latter.

That said, when I discovered the Volokh Conspiracy, I quickly subscribed to an email service VS offered, each post delivered piping hot (well, actually a couple of hours after posting, sometimes anyway) to one of the two relatively unused inboxes (heh, I said boxes) I use like a plumbing trap to capture various arms-length emails pertaining to commercial transactions and relationships and the occasional mailing list I subscribe to and then often unsubscribe from. I've found that I delete a lot of it; I don't have a lot of time lately, and it seems almost a chore.

There are many blogs I adore, and only a few I can count on myself to stay current one. One is populated by a few meatspace friends who are ultra-sharp, and the other two are creative sites, Zulieka like a journal but of an especially expressive and aesthetically worthy sort, and Flagrant who I consider one of the better post-modern novelists working, or rather is working on one of the better post-modern novels on a near-daily basis, the only problem being that she betrays no overt interest in the book deals swirling around the blogosphere.

For a while, the subject lines didn't reveal anything about the post (author, subject), and I'm pretty sure then, when I was busy, I just deleted the posts en masse. Now, however, the posts are properly labeled and I can see at a glance based on author and topic whether I care to read the post. I cull, selecting all, twenty-five messages at a clip, and then selectively remove the check marks of a few, repeating as necessary until I've deleted everything that doesn't immediately interest me. My reward for the long process of culling my inbox (that just keeps sounding dirty) is a handful of posts to which I have been looking forward, the supper for which I sing, or click.

This week of VC posts reminded me why I haven't cancelled my subscription; there was just too much good stuff, and I'm going to share everything that caught my eye. Requisite tips of the hat to tips of the hat are omitted, but I have included links to those articles VC merely shills itself, as they are, of course,* the thrust. In no particular order:

Volokh himself got all hot and bothered about words this week. On a related note, he shills Dahlia, who writes brilliantly of Anna Nicole Smith's unlikely visit to the Supreme Court:

Today's dispute is about the boundaries between state and federal courts—whether there is a zone outside ordinary federal court jurisdiction known as the "probate exception." (Try dancing naked to that.) Even though federal bankruptcy courts have rather broad jurisdiction, they have, for centuries, butted out in the areas of domestic relations and probate—under the theory that state courts are better-positioned to decide them. The 9th Circuit said the bankruptcy court should butt out here, meaning Anna gets nothing. She appealed, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari, thus making for the happiest crop of law clerks in modern memory.

Jim Lindgren, co-Conspirator, also posts on our favorite TrimSpa spokeswoman.

Turning to the other Conspirators, for those among my friends who are members of Law Reviews, who seek to be members of Law Reviews, who seek to publish in Law Reviews (and any of you feel free to ask Moon once in a while, Are you going to write something or what?), or those whose closest thing to "glory days" are their afternoons spent in law libraries "citing and sourcing," "pulling books," or bluebooking, a series of posts discusses the "sweet spot" for submissions, and the unraveling market for law review submissions (Hoffman at Concurring Opinions as linked by Conspirator, Orin Kerr).

Or you could just go read the site yourself (although the above, believe it or not, is a modest fraction of the post volume over there). For the record, I'm not logging a single trackback for all of the above. I'm no link whore.

And by the bye, as longing as we're acknowledging my technology backwardness (RSS, remember?), months after I bought my new laptop (if 18 months same as cash really qualifies as "buying"), concurrently with which I bought a bunch of blank CD's and jewel boxes, I finally just tonight burned my first CD. This is especially notable since for reasons I won't get into my roommate has anywhere between 500 and 1500 CD's laying around in the next room, many of which I'd like to add to my collection. My first two choices, the second of which I'm about to put in as the first expires, are both Yes albums: Fragile, and Close to the Edge. Lately, I've had the creeping suspicion that while I'd like to stay current, and do have certain growing branches of music I at least casually follow, I'm always going to have a taste for the classic rock I've largely eschewed for the past five or ten years, concept rock, the stuff that really tried. There's plenty of good music out there, no doubt, and I sometimes berate myself for how little I really know, but I just so rarely encounter things that think as big as these old seventies groups did.

This lament has long since been exhausted, but not by me: I think the movement from LP's, with their two sides and severe time limitations, to CD's with their expanding capacities and seamlessness (not to mention the first incarnation of shuffle), moved the focus from full-length albums to individual songs, with effects positive and negative. But I grew up on albums in a hippie household, and in some ways I've never left.

Coming Soon (March 2008): Moon buys an iPod (about which, tying this all together, VC offers a link).

* I use "of course" so gratuitously that in formal documents I very require a dedicated of-course pass just to remove every unnecessary usage (to wit, basically all of them (of course)).

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Contemplating Critical Mass

So evidently they've largely stopped arresting cyclists participating in New York City's monthly critical mass group bike ride. I suppose this is a good thing, except perhaps for those who consider their participation in same to be civil disobedience in the proper sense of that by now worn out term. After all, disobedience becomes all too civil when arrests don't follow.

I'm not a big critical mass supporter or opponent, and I believe I've written about my ambivalence on the topic on this blog before. The gist of my ambivalence is this: when I've participated, all I've seen is a bunch of pissed off drivers. I'm not sure they're going to be any more charitable to cyclists they encounter on the road in the future for having been held up behind a phalanx of cyclists taking their time. On the other hand, the intrusion, on balance, is minimal, and I do like the consciousness-raising as well as the community-building aspects of the enterprise. In short, while I will probably continue to ride only rarely, I certainly respect those who do so every month and would defend their right to do so.

Here's the reason I'm writing about this, though. Evidently, the police in New York were arresting dozens of cyclists each month for parading without a permit. A judge, however, rebuked them for doing so, either ruling or strongly suggesting that the charge cannot apply to this activity. In lieu of mass arrests, this month, police handed out summons for, inter alia, crossing against a signal and riding the wrong way up Broadway.

And this is where my question comes in. Wouldn't it be far more demonstrative if in riding en masse the group obeyed traffic signals, yielded to pedestrians, and so on? In Pittsburgh, scouts essentially shut down intersections with their bodies and riders disregard the relevant traffic signals, which of course is that aspect of the ride most infuriating to drivers.

But it's not parading without a permit, or parading or demonstrating at all, if a bunch of people driving their legal vehicles on public roads and observing all relevant laws, happen to end up together and take up a lot of space. And that's where the ride would be far more interesting in not violating signals.

Sure, the group would have more trouble staying together, but in becoming more strung out the "statement," if that's what it is, would merely be bigger, the number of people conscious of what they're seeing greater, and the impact more diffuse but no less significant.

I don't observe all laws when I'm on my bike, because I ride in part to not sit in traffic, to not wait mindlessly at red lights where no traffic is in sight, and so on. I try to keep moving, for practical and aesthetic purposes. But the more treacherous the situation, the more legal my riding becomes; often, in evening traffic, I simply slide out into the lane and wait my turn with the other cars; similarly, at busy intersections, I also bide my time. Not because I must, but because it's safer and thus less stressful.

I by no means intend to defend the New York police. In arresting people on a trumped up permit charge is patently ridiculous under the law, and just meanspirited. But as I've said here before, the real critical mass is individual people riding often, taking up their rightful places on the road, behaving well, integrating themselves into traffic where necessary and being at once firm about their own entitlement to the road and polite to automobiles who share that road. "Share the road," that is to say, should cut both ways. I wish fewer people drove, but the reality is that many people have no option, especially in a mass transit-starved city like Pittsburgh.

I'm curious whether any of my readers have thoughts on the role of Critical Mass rides, their effect, and whether it mightn't be more effective to restructure the rides to respect the laws we so adamantly demand that cars observe when it suits us then flout when it doesn't.

Nowhere to Go But Up

My all-too-level commute is killing me.

Yesterday, in an afternoon of swiftly plummeting temperatures and 20 - 30 mph winds, I got it into my head to ride. I realize I'm in shape wholly inadequate to the MS 150, which I intend to ride with friends in June and I can't afford to wait until March's warming to start piling on miles.

And of course, yesterday's ride hardly qualifies as piling on miles, but time, fitness, and did I mention wind, conspired to limit my options.

Seriously, though? -- hardest twelve miles I can remember, at least since I first started riding.

Start with the stepped 7% / 5% / 7% grade of Stanton Avenue for a warm up, the shorter but equally steep brakeless controlled descent down the other side, and then enjoy a relatively lazy ride up through Highland Park and Shadyside. Add to that a not insignificant but considerably milder climb up Beechwood Boulevard, a pell-mell barely controlled sprint down Forbes Avenue, and a stop at a friend's house in Wilkinsburg / Point Breeze / Regent Square, where he and his SLF were painting and making bread in an old bread machine, bemused by the fatigue evident in my expression.

After water and a half-hour visit, return to the porch to find the wind stirred up even more, an impatient frigid playmate who doesn't know his own strength, and the temperature significantly reduced from what it was. Enjoy a scenic return through some of the most depressed streets in East Liberty and a relentless wind carrying a chill wholly unfamiliar from the outbound leg of the trip, every inch of the return like trying to tunnel through the elastic membrane of a rubber bladder.

And then a final uphill slog up the back of Stanton Avenue, which you've been praying for the past mile or so will not require you to fight both wind and gravity at once, but only a small part of which is under the windshadow of Stanton Heights. Near the top, try not to weep with a sort of fury at the wind's blithe, repeated insult and your own imminent inadequacy to the task, and then (finally) inflect over the crest of the hill into the final descent, a 7% / 5% / 7% step down the hillside into Lawrenceville.

The only kindness afforded me the whole ride was that the wind on the downhill side of Stanton did a lot of the work for me, fierce enough that it essentially regulated my speed with its callused palm against my upright chest. When it relented momentarily, hidden behind looming rowhouses to the right, the bike slipped its tether and tried to run away from me toward the cemetery; not for the first time, I heard myself barking a creative, and wholly unpremeditated series of obscenities, as I summoned what little strength I had left in my thighs to restrain Susan's flight.

This morning, my thighs are stiff and cramped with the fatigue I never stopped feeling last night at a smoky Morgantown bar. and I'm appalled at how far I have yet to go to prepare myself for the big ride in June.

This morning there is an inch or two of pristine snow on the ground, snow which had only begun to fall in the city when I returned around 2:30, but which I had seen in its accumulating form on Interstate 79 through Washington County, the lanes difficult to divine in the orange glowing chaos of a thousand snowflake collissions per second against the windshield.

Monday, February 20, 2006

This House Is Home 8

The house finally fallen silent with the departure of my roommate, Sunday, noonish, I don my robe to head downstairs and determine whether the New York Times has survived the morning unaccosted. Opening a door to enter the frigid foyer, I find the paper lying just inside the exterior door, laying sausage plump within its signature blue plastic skin. I retrieve it from the inside welcome mat, and move to set it on the hallway table when above the whooshing din of the furnace I hear something louder, more insistent, a hiss. Moving back toward the source of the sound, I imagine a piece of paper or a magazine somehow tangled up in a floor register, but as I enter the kitchen I recognize that the sound is coming from behind the door to the washroom on the far side of the kitchen. Before I open the door, that is to say, I already know the broader story, though I'm unsure of the narrative details.

With the door ajar, the noise intensifies, and I notice droplets of moisture on every surface revealed by the yawning opening. Neither the toilet nor the sink, along the wall, appear to be implicated. I look down to my left, where I discover a fierce jet of water rockting out of a hole it has carved in the sheetrock just above the floor and splattering against the side of the washer, which doesn't seem to care.

Even in the midst of this miniature disaster -- unsurprising given the struggles I have had with keeping the pipes in the ill-insulated and shoddily plumbed back room -- I can't help but appreciate the comedy in my own nonplused response. Water is shooting improbably out of a finger diameter hole in the wall at an astonishing rate (wasn't this pipe just frozen; how did it suddenly develop this capacity for flow?), drumming against the metal flank of my fancy new washer, and here's me, in robe and slippers, staring dumbfounded at the event as I might watch the breach of a beaver damn on a nature show, with passive fascination. Only with a moment's regard does it occur to me that this problem is entirely mine. No one will do anything about this but me. And time is passing all too quickly, the gallons adding up with the prospect of damages going and coming, the expense of unused water of course paling by comparison to the potential expense of extensive water damage. (The plumbing repair, though sure to be more expensive than either, has yet to enter my mind.)

Finally, I break the spell, leaving the room, closing the door behind me. I head for the basement stairs, and once on its concrete floor move into its back section toward the crawlspace where the offended plumbing originates, creeping dread competing with urgency to slow my step detectably. At the back wall, the awful sound of water falling; I turn on the light. The damage, in fact, is minimal as yet, though the loose dirt inside the crawlspace is now pasty mud, and is sliding into the basement a smooth carpet of brown. Most of the water, however, appears to be ending up in the washroom. Over the water heater, just a few feet from the crawlspace, a tangle of pipes and shut-off valves momentarily overloads my slept-in fuzziness, and I realize I have no idea what I'm looking at, not yet, not like this, the sound of water continuing with the implication of far more water overhead, my slippers tacky in mud.

Realizing that I have no capacity for subtlety I move quickly to the front of the house, where the main water line enters from the street. There, above the floor ad before the meter, a knob promises silence. I have a sudden premonition that it won't work, and I try to recall quickly whether my home inspector actually ever checked to ensure that it was operating properly. No matter. I turn it. A cold surprise of droplets burst out around the knob as it turns, and then silence in the line, and after a moment a welcome surcease of the dripping in back. Upstairs, I confirm what I already know: that the bleeding is stanched. I have tracked mud onto the floors.

Content with the gross gesture of shutting down the entire system, I fetch a mop and open the back room to sop up the worst of the standing water. Cleaning is pointless; I already recognize that this room will be dirtier once the plumber has come and gone. And there will be a plumber, of course.

Once the water is mostly dealt with, I call the roommate, who must have missed the event by no more than five minutes, to warn him that the house is currently without water and may be for some time. He's left some vacuum sealed meat on the stove to thaw, and the sink is full of last night's dishes; it seems only fair to let him know as soon as possible.

Upstairs I don more appropriate clothing -- jeans, a sweatshirt, and workboots worn without socks -- and return to the basement for a closer examination. After studying the plumbing that enters the crawlspace more calmly, careful to avoid standing in the mud nearby, I realize that shut-off valves are available for the back room, valves I failed to understand in the press of an incipient flood. I shut the cold water valve, belatedly realizing that the water emerging from the wall had not steamed at all, and return to the front of the house, where I cautiously open the main valve. Nothing sounds askance. Upstairs there is silence, the wall no longer bleeds icy water, some of the tension in my shoulders releases.

This morning, I called the plumber, whom I already expected this morning to prepare an estimate to run the lines and prepare an opening for the dishwasher I plan to purchase soon. He came. He saw. He spoke with me of cabinetry and soft copper and various ways to combine the work (the pipe breach and the proposed dishwasher opening are on opposite sides of the same wall) And now he's estimating, so help me.

My checkbook groans audibly on the desk to my right, striated with stretchmarks from its serial expansions and contractions, the joy of property stewardship.

* * *

Just above my head here in the corner of my bedroom, the insistent growling of a pigeon who has defied the bundled chickenwire contraption devised by my neighbor long before I moved here to prevent just this sort of roosting, sounds anything but dovelike. It sounds like something dying, or at least carping about potentially lethal conditions that it alone is equipped -- if barely -- to endure.

Occasionally a thumping flutter of flapping, the birds' grooming and shifting and vying for position drowning out the more sedate sound of my cat cleaning her forehead and nose, over on the bed. I cannot decide whether my reticence about opening the window and doing what I can to roust the fowl arises from my combined concern for sticking my head out in the arctic chill and making this corner more uncomfortably cold than it already is (not to mention inviting a flapping confrontation, which can only end badly for both of us), or whether it derives more from my instinct to forgive the bird its intrusion, given the circumstances.

This House Is Home 7


To own this house, I take it, is to own the small, desicated rat corpse in a forgotten corner of the cellar? Bummer.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Filler -- Johari, Nohari

So there's a meme running around over at Bloodless that's slightly more interesting than the standard Quizilla fare. I'll let the site speak for itself, but if you're so inclined, contribute to Moon's Johari and Nohari windows and get one yourself.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Today's Random Thought

Insurance law actually makes my brain ache. Not in the concussed or hungover sense, but in the way that I imagine having a metal probe inserted deep into the tissue of my brain might.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Reid Stowe's Outerbridge Reach

A couple of years ago, in trying to follow up on an author about whom I'd read raves but of whose work I'd read nothing, I bought a used hardcover at a lovely used bookstore in my hometown. The novel, Outerbridge Reach, by Robert Stone, was neither the book nor the author I'd had in mind, but, as is so often the case, I ended up grateful for the fortuity of what was in some objective sense a mistake.

Instead of being the high literary concept I'd expected, I found myself reading a more conventional drama, in which our unlikely protagonist finds himself thrust into the position of piloting his employer boatbuilder's newest sailboat in a solo circumnavigation race. The boat, it turns out, leaves much to be desired in the breech, as does the protagonist's tenacity for the rigors of solo big water sailing.

I grew up in a fairly nautical family, and some of my earliest, happiest memories are of me and various permutations of family members on a succession of modest sailboats. Although one relative has lived most of his adult life working on and sailing boats, and has made some modest open water excursions both on his own boat and as crew on others' more opulent boats, neither he nor anyone else I know has crossed an ocean, alone or in company. The prospect of such solitude tests the limits of comprehension, like the thought of counting to a billion, or of all the unfathomable distance starlight has traveled to trespass on your retinas.

In Stone's story (spoiler alert), our protagonist struggles mightily to hold to the plan, his boat and his psyche deteriorating around him as he navigates the southern hemisphere, and he wanders afield. Then commences the more surreal aspect of the novel, wholly unexpected, as the conventional expectations, both those of the protagonist qua person and the reader, are frustrated again and again.

I thought the work terribly imaginative, and I still do, within the realm of accessible fiction really quit astounding. I read it in a few furious days, and intend to return to it again (although I believe I lent my copy without expectation of return (the only way to lend books) to my nautical relation). But recently I happened across an article about a middle-aged sailer named Reid Stowe, and I learned that Stone's premise was not cut from whole cloth.

Long Days' Journey, a rare feature-length article at, details Stowe's plan to shatter the prior record by spending 1000 days alone at sea without stops for reprovisioning or even so much as a sighting of land. During his planned itinerary, he will circle the Earth, in the contiguous seas of the southern hemisphere, four times on his homemade 70-foot gaff-rigged schooner.

Where I found echoes of Stone's plot, which in truth must be sounds as to which his novel served as echo, was in the brief description of Stowe's mentor and model.

The sailors who comprise the elite fraternity of circumnavigators speak in hushed tones when the name Bernard Moitessier is brought up. Leading the inaugural Golden Globe round-the-world sailboat race of 1968, Moitessier, a Frenchman born in Saigon in 1925, held an insurmountable lead upon rounding Cape Horn (at the tip of South America), en route to near-assured victory and world celebrity status awaiting him at the finish line in London. For reasons known only to himself at the time, he decided not to sail on toward England, but opted instead to sail eastward across the Atlantic, under the tip of Africa and halfway around the world again to Tahiti.

The words he wrote in his log of his decision to turn his back on the race captured his feelings toward a society he viewed as too roughneck and greedy: "Last night was too hard to take. I really felt sick at the thought of getting back to Europe, back to the snake pit."

Moitessier later wrote of his pivotal decision in a manner that seems reminiscent of Colonel Kurtz (the part played by Marlon Brando) in "Apocalypse Now": "Why am I doing this? Imagine yourself in the forest of the Amazon. Suddenly you come upon a small temple of an ancient lost civilization. You are not simply going back and say, 'I have found a temple, a civilization nobody knows.' You are going to stay there, try to decipher it … and then you discover that 100 kilometers on is another temple, only the main temple. Would you return?"

Stone's protagonist ended up nowhere as hospitable as Tahiti, but his meandering departure from an organized around-the-world race, as well as the tacit repudiation it represented, must have sounded first in Stone's knowledge of Moitessier's similar choice, if indeed the entire novel didn't grow out of Moitessier's story.

Why are we so captivated by those who just wander off, drop out, refuse entirely the yoke of modern existence? Some of these iconoclasts, I suppose, change things, and so their legacies live on with their legends. Iconoclasts and revolutionaries by very definition, however, aren't drop-outs; rather, they engage what they reject directly and grapple with its fierce resistance until they wrestle from it some compromise. Those who disappear, however, by their very nature tend to go unremarked. For each one of these we can summon to mind, there are hundreds if not thousans more whose disappearance was wholly unremarked, and whose discoveries, such as they were, were lost to posterity in the very anonymity such withdrawals engender.

The mythology of the wayward, thus, is just that, a littany of fictions and confabulations. The artists who give birth to these visions, principally writers, sometimes invite the suggestion that they are themselves drop-outs, recluses. Salinger comes to mind, and he may be the exception that proves the countervailing rule: to write or compose, to conceive, is itself a form of engagement, and so at best artists are iconoclasts, no matter how much it pleases them to imagine that they are more esoteric creatures.

Perhaps our pleasure in narratives of disappearance sounds in some collective spirit of resistance to social norms in all their insidious incarnations. Or maybe we just like a good story, and it's easier to turn a narrative of utter retreat into an interesting story than it is to craft a quotidian vision that manages to inspire and illuminate. I used to imagine myself the author of grandiose fictions, novels of moment, profound works that speak to the larger questions that plague us. I imagined, as these visions faded, that I was simply growing pulling in my horizons, acquiescing to some insecurity in my imagination. Now I wonder sometimes whether the works with veneer or verisimilitude haunted by characters uncomfortably familiar offer the more irksome visions, lead us to greater discoveries, inspire more thoroughgoing esteem, and serve as better vehicles for an author's vision.

I don't suppose it matters if one doesn't write at all. But in lieu of writing, the imagining writing has always been a satisfying diversion.

If Stowe's voyage begins as plans, I imagine I'll link to whatever coverage I can find. I look forward to keeping an eye on him, and I wish him godspeed, although I cannot tell you why.

And for those with a long enough memory to wonder, the author I had intended to find that Saturday afternoon was Richard Powers, about whom I've posted before. It took me a year or two more before I finally picked up one of his books and learned quickly that he deserves all the praise he has received and then some. Since then, he has become one of my few favorite authors, and it is with great anticipation but disciplined patience that I am working my way back through his corpus.

Everything You Wanted to Know About the Post-9/11 Executive Powergrab But Were Afraid to Ask

Again, breaking my no-political-speech rule for a moment, I really cannot recommend in strong enough terms Hilzoy's ultra-sharp post regarding the Domestic Surveillance Dragnet (given all the false positives identified in a number of mainstream articles, I think it's misleading to call it the Terrorist Surveillance Program, and of course misleading is the point). There's very little there we haven't already seen, but she specifically takes up some critical exchanges in Attorney General Gonzalez's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, drawing heavily from Glenn Greenwald's even longer post on the same topic, and does a nice job of illustrating the breadth of power to which the Executive is arrogating itself by drawing out a number of entirely defensible inferences from between the lines of Gonzalez's serial non-answers. Her lament is my lament, and her fears I share:

[A]sk yourself whether this is the country you always thought you lived in. As far as I'm concerned, the answer is: No. Obviously, no. And I want my country back.

Let It Snow

Neither New Jersey nor Pittsburgh are notorious for their snowfalls, but after eight years I've come to realize that in Pittsburgh we are too far south to take heavy lake-effect hits, and too far west to catch the nor'easters that occasionally punish the mid-atlantic seaboard and New England. And it's a pity.

Although Central Park has recorded the greatest snowfall in its history, New Jersey appears to have recorded less, and so I may still have experienced the worst New Jersey snowfall on record, which fell January 6 - 8, 1996 dropping 27+ inches of snow on Newark.

This slideshow presents New York in heavy snow, one of the prettiest phenomena I've had the pleasure of seeing.

I am, all at once, at home here in Pittsburgh and homesick just the same. Perhaps just one of those lake-effect monsters could come to visit and bury us all? Just maybe?

Friday, February 10, 2006

A Pittsburgh State of Mind

In a city where the answer to "Do you want ______ on that?" is almost always yes, Primanti Brothers Restaurant reigns supreme. There, absent instructions to the contrary, your sandwich order, selected off a painted board behind the counter, comes on two thick hunks of soft italian bread with your chosen lunchmeat, lettuce, tomato, and a veritable fistful of french fries and cole slaw. The only thing it lacks is a defibrillator within arm's reach of the seating area, such as it is.

While attending Pitt Law, I frequented Primantis fairly often. Then, I was climbing avidly, staying up late, partying far harder than was prudent or even sane, and struggling to get enough calories in to compensate my body for the sundry calorie burning diversions. Perhaps once a week, sometimes twice, notwithstanding my guarded student's budget, I'd head across the street to Primantis for a refueling, perhaps 500, perhaps 700 calories of carbohydrates and fat. I'd drink water, in deference to my budget, pack in the entire sandwich in a few minutes, and leave, part of me regretting the indulgence invariably before I made it out the door while another part of me basked in the gluttony.

I don't eat well. I eat fairly healthily, but absent-mindedly, often sporadically. I view feeding myself as no less a chore than mopping the floor, and procrastinate with regard to the former as I do the latter. It's not that I don't enjoy food. Readers of this site will know that the contrary is true. But if I were afforded a choice between eating dinner-for-one, prepared on the fly in my kitchen, every night, or eating decadently only once or twice per week, I'd choose the latter in a heartbeat. In some sense, I do, managing to eat out at least once or twice in an average week, and failing to make a real dinner at least as frequently.

This week, I've been sleeping less. In the last two days, I've run out of the bananas and Clif bars that usually comprise breakfast. Having ridden the past two days, and in light of the reduced sleep, I've been starving and have struggled to get out of bed in the morning. Rather than do something productive about it last night (grocery shopping followed by cooking), as I intended, I found myself distracted, first upon removing my humid bike clothes by scotch and cigar and Middlesex, then by a movie, then by a basketball game . . . and then it was just late. Instead of making a formal sit down dinner, I got by on a combination of pecans, wasabi peas, chocolate discos, left-over hummus, and finally an aging Amy's pot pie that had darkened my freezer door for far too long, vestige of when I cared enough about the dollar or two I could save by bringing lunch to work to opt for that rather than grabbing food at one or another downtown lunch counter each day.

Surprise: I woke up raveous.

There's a Primantis near my office, on Cherry Way between Oxford and Kaufman's. Today, I could overlook my calorie defecit no longer. Drastic measures were required. No tuna sandwich or burrito or falafel could do for my body what Primantis could do, and nothing else would suffice.

Vaguely ashamed, I grabbed a section of newspaper from a desk in our office, and embarked sheepishly upon my quest, craving the feast to follow.

As an ovo-lacto-pesco-whatever, there are really only a few things on the menu I will eat, and only two that I can recall ever eating: the Deluxe Double Egg and Cheese, and the Cheese Combo. Where nutrition is the alpha and omega, I choose egg over cheese, and today that's what I selected.

Mere minutes after I ordered, I carried my sandwich, wrapped in two layers of wax paper, in two hands like two fistfuls of playing cards jumbled and slick, to the shallow counter along the streetside window where I had set down my small, iceless soda and my newspaper. Spreading the paper awkwardly in a crook in the counter, I stooped to the task.

One doesn't hold a sandwich like this between one's fingers. One wraps one's hands all the way around the half of sandwich, like a massive harmonica, and rather than bite one stuffs, jaws yawning almost painfully to receive the offering. And if one can avoid doing so, one does not set down the half-sandwich but rather eats it entirely in a series of creaking bites. In this way, the stuffings that escape are forced mouthward with the increasingly fragmented bread like an acorn toward a squirrel's mouth, cradled, pushed inexorably forward whether or not the mouth has space or is prepared.

Sandwich by ordeal. And ah the post-prandial satiety. I have spent hundreds of dollars on dinner, eaten out of cans in the high desert chill, and done just about everything in between. No doubt, there are meals I'd rather eat than a Primantis sandwich, which falls just on the eating-as-necessity side of the continuum, rather than the opposing eating-for-aesthetic-pleasure end of the spectrum. But nothing makes me feel quite as full and satisfied as the Primantis sandwich I allow myself just a couple of times a year to fill a bottomless stomach crying for engorgement.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Wind Chill

Two mornings in a row, now, the pretty, slightly burdened-seeming woman across the street emerges from her run-down duplex with her eager dog. Today, she smiles at me as well as the dog, shy, a gulf of misty asphalt between us, the vapor from our own exhalations in our eyes, bouncing off the edge of my balaclava and fogging my sunglasses at the edges. Perhaps she thinks I'm strange. There are very few professionals, if any beside me, on my block, and who wouldn't think it strange that the same man who yesterday was wearing a massive, faux-fur-fringed overcoat and driving to work today is clad in black lycra and polyester from head to toe, carrying a bicycle even skinnier than he is down the stairs to the curb.

Lately, I have been falling in love with my house all over again. For no reason. Just because it's there, it's mine, and we've almost survived our first winter together, staggering heating bills and all.

From ankle to neck, I am clad in a polypropylene base layer. Over that, tights, a jersey, and work socks. Over that, neoprene socks, corduroy shorts, and a soft shell. On my head a skullcap covered by a balaclava. On my hands glove liners and lobster claws -- these latter, I work to tuck under the wrists of my shell, my neighbor studiously looking elsewhere, her dog smiling up at me in invitation.

I think she has a young child. The woman, not her dog.

My first day on new tires, I immediately sense one difference. These tires, far more pointy than those I wore down to their belts and to the point of several ruptures -- one of which let go yesterday as I rolled away from the house informing me that it was time to change the tires to the new ones I'd had in the basement since my dada tirebug delusion -- have considerably less rolling resistance than I am accustomed to, and with less surface on the road are quieter. My legs easily find their cadence while the zero-degree wind bites at my cheeks and eyesockets, my nose, and I turn the corner to head down Stanton.

Near the bottom of Stanton, easily resisting the pedals, I decide it would be wise to feel out skidding on the new rear tire. I am moving fairly slowly, and I don't even rise out of the saddle to stop the wheel. It stops all too easily, and the bike slides quietly down the hill, barely slowing at all.

Less rolling resistance, unsurprisingly, means less sliding resistance.

Happy that I've figured this out, I resolve to skid less and resist more, to pay more attention to car doors that might fly open and less attention to the shiny things that tend to divert me. Like my neighbor, for example, or the odd fragmentary detritus that collects in drifts by the side of the road. Or a shapely cloud, say. Not to mention all the shiny thoughts in my head I'm all to happy to follow wherever they lead.

It's cold. The tires are firm and smooth, my partially cleaned chain taut and quiet, and a skein of sweat begins to form between my shoulder blades before I make it as far as 40th Street. Amazingly, and not for the first time in sub-20 degree temperatures, I seem to have overdressed a tad. No matter; my toes are numbing as is the tight ellipse of skin exposed from just below my mouth to just over my eyebrows, a flash frozen oval of flesh that would crawl to lee if it could find any.

My lungs burn and my legs shiver. It has been four or five days since I've ridden, and at these temperatures the air is just thin enough to matter. A modest headwind in the strip prompts my first vague regret: I'm tired and I don't want to be halfway between the office and home. I want to be . . . somewhere . . . somewhere with heat and coffee and the voices of others.

But I'm here. Just here. And so I slide my hands onto the horns, focus on dropping my heels on the downstroke, a trick I find adds power to my stroke, and pedal on through one light, the next, and the next, wary of cars moving and still, pedestrians observant and un-, wishing it were spring but happy for the vibrancy of my mild discomfort.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Bus Brings the Steelers Home

There's really very little that needs to be said in company with these photos. The Steelers return triumphant to an adoring city, hoisting the Lombardi trophy high. The P-G reports that as many as 250,000 people showed up for today's parade and rally. If that's even remotely close to true, it's astounding; the city proper, after all, only boasts a population of 300,000 or so.

I wandered down to the festivities briefly, at Grant and Fifth. There, over the heads of people standing six and ten deep, I saw a few players, and then the gleaming silver Lombardi trophy held high by an unseen player (it turns out it was the Bus, as it should be). A few people hung out of a fifth floor window over Fifth Avenue emptying a bag of shredder detritus in a Pittsburgh update of ticker tape. This afternoon, gold and black confetti littered the whole city, floating on the icy updrafts even as high as my lofty floor, where they carried a memory of the parade -- and the Steelers' victory -- aloft.

I don't know to whom I should credit these photos. But I'm guessing he or she won't mind their reproduction here. My own photos, taken as they were on old-fashioned film, will be a few days in processing. These, in their stead, will certainly do.

Monday, February 06, 2006

One for the Thumb!!!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Most Inefficient Google Search Ever

give me thesis about this topic though many people dismiss hiphop as offensive,hiphop music offers urban youth an important opportunity for artistic expression,and allows them to articulate t"

And the question of the day is, why did this search lead the searcher to my house?

Steelers Nation Again

Author Holly Brubach, a Pittsbugh native, offers one of two New York Times columns discussing in one form or another Pittsburgh and its Steelers. And if it weren't already clear that the Steelers were the sentimental favorites in the big game, this pretty much clinches it -- that the NYT Op-Ed, foregoing its usual absurd contortion to provide point-counterpoint commentary on issues and events of the day (for example, naming Tierney a colmnist to begin with), has dedicated more column inches to the Steelers today than any other Op-Ed topic, and absolutely none to Seattle.

Anyway, while Tierney's column is facile and only illuminating insofar as it identifies him as yet another Pittsburgh ex-pat, Brubach's is fantasic, and her status one of repatriation. I have often said Pittsburgh natives apologize for this lovely city all too often, and Brubach makes a similar obsrvation, with far more insiht.

At the airport, where the Carnegie Museum has installed on loan a specimen from its renowned dinosaur collection, the T. Rex is holding a Terrible Towel. Sitting at the gate waiting to board a flight to Newark, I overheard a man on his cellphone telling somebody back home, "You can't believe how seriously these people take their football."

Pittsburgh needs the Steelers in a way that few, if any, other cities need their teams. The Steelers are our mirror: they tell us who we are. When they win, we walk a little taller. I say "we" because I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and now, after 30 years in New York, Paris and Milan, I'm moving back. The locals are mystified: they want to know what Pittsburgh has to offer in comparison to these so-called capitals of style.

For several years in a row back in the 80's, Pittsburgh was ranked the No. 1 place to live in the country, to the incredulity of its own citizens. Despite historic architecture, a distinguished cultural heritage, a scenic location and an ethnically diverse community, most Pittsburghers are remarkably lacking in civic pride. The city's inferiority complex is chronic, and its roots run deep.

I recommend the whole column. It's lovely.

Me and My English Degree

This morning, I awake to NPR's Weekend Edition, and during a segue they replay the last few words of George Bush's State of the Union Address, which prior to the obligatory, and usually untroubling but when Bush says it vaguely sinister God Bless America, closes with this:

And so we move forward — optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause and confident of victories to come.

I read this in the advance copy a few moments before I listened to Bush read it aloud, unable even to avoid flubbing his last, supposedly rousing paragraph. And I understand that reading doesnt appear to be a big priority in the White House. Furhermore, I understand that historic myopia appears to be the order of the day. But you'd think that one of his speechwriters or advisors would remember his high school literature class, in which he or she surely read this famous last line:

And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly to the past.

That lament, with which F. Scott Fitzgerald closes The Great Gatsby, probably would have been a more apt selection for this administration, as perceived by its critics. You'd think someone would have been astute enough to avoid the association by a greater margin.

But then this administration specializes, above all, in disappointment. So I don't suppose I'm surprised.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Steelers Nation

And so it is that this week, once again, I fall deeply, passionately, absurdly in love with this little town, my home. Not since my high school football game went to the state championship have I seen such an outpouring, and there, of course, the level of intensity was diminished by its being limited to one suburban bedroom community in a state that doesn't share western Pennsylvania's passion for high school football. This is a city, and really the better portion of an entire state.

[I have tried to upload photos of yesterday's Steelers rally downtown, but I can't make Blogger comply. If you'd like to see how people have been spending their workdays for the past, oh, say, three weeks, here's a taste.]

Granted, growing up in the New York metroplex, with all of its prosperous major league teams, I was no stranger to championships. My teams were (and remain) the Mets, the Devils, the Nets, and, yes, the Giants. And each of these teams, save the Nets, won at least one championship during my childhood, and all four of those teams are legitimate contenders, or are well on their way, in their current or upcoming seasons. But their best seasons pale in the interest and dedication they garnered by comparison to the outpouring these Steelers have induced with their improblable and historic run to the Super Bowl.

Adding to the flavor of the occasion, I am only now learning what it is to be around a team and its fans that have been tapped by the national media as the darlings of the big game, the sentimental favorites. The 1986 Mets were galvanizing, but that rowdy team had far more detractors than it had adherents. The Stanely Cup champion Devils of 1995, 2000, and 2003, were largely abhorred for the phenomonal defense, which played such dry, trapping hockey that they almost single-handedly forced the NHL to adopt more offense-friendly rules this season.* Of course, New York area teams are more or less always villified for the fiscal advantages they enjoy in virtue of their massive market and gaudy TV local contracts, with the football teams being the one exception given the NFL's relatively flat revenue sharing arrangement.

I won't dirty this post with links to the many articles I have read this week that serve to reaffirm my enthusiasm for this little city and its immeasurable city pride. Rather, I'll just say that you really have to be hear to understand it.

I would love to predict a blowout, mostly because I don't know if I or my friends can handle a really close game. I imagine, however, that I'm going to find out. Although I don't think the Seahawks are as good as their numbers, for many of the reasons Skip Bayless identifies (and out of a deep resentment for the fashion in which the Giants snapped defeat from the jaws of victory in their meeting with Seattle), their victory over Carolina left little doubt that they have come to play, and that a few too many missteps by the Steelers will cost them the game against an able an opportunistic opponent. Fortunately, in the past few weeks the Steelers have been stingy with their mistakes and brutal in their exploitation of their opponents' lapses.

Moons pick: Steelers, 30-24.

* Yes, more recently it was teams other than the Devils that were most merciless on defense, but it was only when many NHL teams started adopting the "neutral zone trap" that the Devils's Jacques Lemaire all but invented that the league realized something had to change if it was to make the game higher scoring and thus, evidently, more exciting to the masses (I never had a problem with it; a close game is a fun game for people who appreciate what's happening on the ice, and the Devils played very few games that weren't decided by one- and two-goal differentials).

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