Monday, December 31, 2007


I don't know how to write this. It's just... much, much too big. But Bruce always started with the story, and let things grow from there, so I'll try to do the same.

I met Bruce Steinberg when I was 20 years old, and I was vaguely scared of him. It was 1988, and I was halfway through college, and starting my first corporate job, at SCO. He was Vice President of something or other, and I was naive enough at the time to think that meant he was Very Important Indeed, and Not To Be Disturbed, lest he Rain Down Disapproval Upon Me.

I got to know him better over the next few years via the SCO-internal USENET newsgroups. He had a breezy, friendly, funny, encyclopedically-knowlegeable writing style, and as letters on a screen he wasn't so scary.

One day, someone said something in one of the groups about Bruce's "old band", It's A Beautiful Day. I was taken aback--I loved that band--and I went home and looked at the cover of their first album, and there his name was in the credits. I thought it must be a joke--the person posting must have been kidding Bruce around because he had the same name as a famous harmonica player. But when I asked Bruce about it, he said, "Yeah, that's me." It seemed oddly unimportant to him.

A few years passed. Bruce and I worked together on a short-term project, designing a customer survey card and a database for the results, and got to be friends. We'd shoot the breeze a little bit in the cafeteria from time to time, chitchat in the hallways. Then one day he walked past my office on the way to a meeting and stopped off to say hello. I don't remember now what we talked about at first--probably some recent upper-management idiocy at the company--and I said, "I am never going to be a manager."

He said, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Okay, look... I just have a few minutes, but I need to tell you a story, so listen..."

And Bruce pulled up a chair, turned it around and straddled the back of it, and started telling me his life story. After a few minutes he realized he wasn't anywhere close to the end, so he decided to blow off his meeting, because this was more important to him.

Bruce started out as a child performer, doing summer stock and (I think) Broadway, singing as "The Li'l Bad Wolf" on a Mitch Miller-produced Walt Disney/Little Golden Record of the same name, and appearing on a Sunday morning live TV show. I'm not sure--I don't think he ever mentioned--how he'd gotten involved with all that, but he told me once that he'd had an insight working on that TV show: that the things he did for a few minutes every Sunday were appearing on 8-inch B&W TV screens all over metropolitan New York, and that that was really cool. It wasn't an ego trip at all, he wasn't immodest about it--but he really grooved on the feeling of action at a distance--a little thing done here that ripples outward into the world and has effects there. It was a formative experience for him.

He developed an interest in ham radio and electronics, and spent his time and allowance skipping signals off the ionosphere, getting signal reports from far-off countries, and tape-recording Sputnik. In the fullness of time he went to Cornell, studied electrical engineering, graduated, and went to work for NASA, designing telemetry hardware for Apollo at the Kennedy Space Center, and later working on the Mariner probes at Berkeley.

Meanwhile, he had developed an interest in music, art, and photography, and now that he was living in the Bay Area, he started taking pictures of rock 'n roll shows on spec. One day, with a casual fearlessness borne of having been around celebrities lots of times in his life, he called up Janis Joplin--her phone number was listed--introduced himself and asked if she'd like to see some of his photographs of her and her band from the San Jose Pop Festival. She was encouraging--eventually selecting one of his shots for cover art on her first solo album--and it led to regular work for him. He left engineering and pursued photography and art direction full time, designing some great album covers.

Somewhere in there he hooked up with It's A Beatiful Day, worked with them in his usual capacity as photographer and art director, but also played harmonica and worked as a truck-driver and roadie and all-around useful guy. Somewhere in there he produced an album by Link Wray. Somewhere in there he designed a billboard for Tower of Power, which gave him contacts in advertising, and somewhere in there he started branching out to working as an advertising designer and copywriter. As I remember the story, he'd done exactly one gig in that capacity, working for a hi-fi store, and the client was pleased--and recommended him to Larry and Doug Michels, who were starting a little software company in Santa Cruz called SCO.

They called Bruce in to help write copy for some early XENIX material, and the three of them hit it off. He hadn't been an engineer in a while, but he had the engineering background going for him--he understood technology, and he understood techies even better. And he had a key insight: That techies aren't any different from rock stars: kind of geeky, obsessive people who spend a lot of time immersed in highly technical details, building something beautiful. The story he told in his work was that techies are rock stars, in their own world.

Doug and Larry liked him enough to want to hire him full-time to do their marketing communications. He said he'd consider it, but set conditions: He wanted a title, so when he made calls it would be obvious he wasn't just some flunky, and he wanted the facilities to do all his production in-house. They gave him what he wanted, and he moved to Santa Cruz, and that's the story of how Bruce Steinberg, engineer and rock'n'roller, became the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at a high-tech company.

And here he got down to the point. "It sounds like a pretty random career, going from Apollo to rock'n'roll to SCO, but there was always a common thread that's run through all those jobs--it's always been about communication, about action at a distance. Every step happened organically, but I could never have told you five years in advance what I was gonna be doing. And I sure as hell couldn't have told you what I was never gonna do. Maybe you'll end up as a manager someday, maybe you won't, but you can't decide that now."

It was a hell of a good story, and well told, too, but mainly what I was struck by that day was the fact that this cat--this very hip and funny and in all ways admirable guy--was so generous with his time as to skip a meeting and sit down and Lay Wisdom on me, just because he didn't want to see me making the mistake of foreclosing too many options in my life. And he really did permanently change the way I see the world.

That set a pattern for us, afterward. We didn't talk all that often, but when we did, in person or by phone, more often than not it'd be two or three hours before we stopped. Sometimes there'd be email correspondences that went on for days or weeks, letters hundreds of lines long going both directions. He was one of only three people whose email I always saved. We were both storytellers, with similar conversational styles in some respects--both of us had a tendency to turn dialogues into monologues--the main difference being that his monologues were better. (Though I guess he appreciated mine. He once compared our conversations to "having a lounge gig playing for tone-deaf drunks who are challenged by the occasional jazz chord in a blues tune...then coming home to play with a neighbor who's into exactly the same kind of music you are".)

Several times, by happenstance, we ran into each other at Costco, and it got to be a running joke between us that we had a regularly scheduled meeting there. I always got home really late after those Costco trips, and my wife would want to know what took so long. "I ran into Bruce..." "Oh."

Bruce fell ill early this month with something I'd never heard of before called cardiac amyloidosis. I'd spoken with him for a few hours a few days before that, and he was fine--we had a great talk; I was trying to hook him up with my new employer, ISC, for some marketing consulting. But then I went off on a business trip, and then came back and got busy with holidays. A few weeks passed before I got around to one of my email folders and found a note from a mutual friend saying Bruce was in the hospital.

As soon as I read it, I called Bruce, and we talked for a while, then I went to visit him for a few hours the day after Christmas. He was obviously in bad shape, but in fairly good spirits, aside from some worry that he was having difficulty with words--"I feel brain damaged," he said. I knew he wasn't expecting to recover fully, but he had hopes of recovering enough to go home and get back to a less energetic version of his life. I left him an old powerbook we'd had around, and it turned out the hospital had wi-fi, so I was hoping that there'd be some email contact from him... but a few days passed and there was none.

Then yesterday the news arrived that Bruce had died in the wee hours of December 30, surrounded by his family. He was 64.

One of the last things I told him was about my six-year-old son, Ben--who Bruce quite liked, and it was mutual, though they'd only met a few times. "How's m'boy?" he'd ask me. I told him Ben has lately developed a deep enthusiasm for print advertising: paging through catalogs and magazines, pointing out the poses and props in the photographs, analyzing how and why each ad was made, improvising and reciting his own ad copy for imaginary products he's planning to invent someday, making the occasional powerpoint slide presentation on his mac. Bruce got a kick out of it, and showed me pictures and talked to me about his granddaugther Teagan.

I started noticing that Bruce was spacing out and falling half-asleep at odd moments during our conversation, so I told him to call me if he needed any assistance with the laptop, gave him a hug and told him I loved him, and drove home. I'm really, really grateful I had a chance to do that.

I told his daughter Jenny on the phone yesterday that Bruce was... well, not like a father to me, but a hip uncle, or a big brother. And one of the best friends I'll ever have. He might have given me some flack for saying this, but fuck it: The world's a much emptier place today.

Rest in peace, my friend. I miss you.

Bligs (14)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Winter Howdies!

As my gift to you all, I hereby present:

Flying Spaghetti Gingerbread Monsters!

A new holiday recipe, from me to you. May the Noodly One keep you in His sauce forever. Ramen.

Bligs (1)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Unexpected Side-Benefits of Blogging

Or, to put it more accurately, "of not blogging, but nevertheless having a disused blog sitting around somewhere..."

One of my oldest best friends, someone I'd been close to from sixth grade until high school but hadn't seen or heard from in about twenty years, googled me and found this page. I'd been wanting to talk to him for ages, but google didn't come across for me; his name's a little too nonunique.

It had never occurred to me that such a thing might happen. This "blog" thing has actual practical utility. Who knew?

Makes me want to post a little more often. Maybe I can attract a few more old friends I've lost touch with. Holly? John?

Bligs (0)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I Am A Frickin' Genius

I have thought up a Plan for building a bipartisan consensus on an issue of national importance. Here's how it goes:

Single, affluent people have to pay significantly higher taxes than married people with the same income, right?

And there's nothing Republicans like better, or care about more, than cutting taxes on wealthy people, right?

Okay, now, follow along with me here. Ever since a Supreme Court decision in the nineteenth century, we in the US have had a legal principle called "corporate personhood"--corporations are literally viewed by the law as people.

So, let's say you're single, and you want to pay fewer taxes. Why not form a small shell company, incorporate it in Delaware or Nevada, and get married to it? It is a person, after all. And, I mean, it's pretty good setup, when you think about it. Not only do you get a nice fat tax deduction, but your corporate spouse will never leave the toilet seat up, or complain about it if you do.

But there's a problem. You see, right now, this marvelous tax-saving opportunity is against the law. And why? Because of a bunch of pesky government regulations that define marriage as being a union of "one man and one woman".

I know that all Republicans will stand with me as we fight to end this injustice. Rich single people need our help! People's money is at stake!

Deregulate marriage now!

Bligs (0)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Neologism du jour

nutnip 'n*t-nip n [fr. nut + catnip, see CATNIP] : any person or substance that is irresistibly attractive to insane people.

As in, "I don't know what the hell it is with David Letterman. I swear, the guy's like nutnip or something."

Bligs (0)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Well, Kudos

The Democrats on the Judiciary Committee did, in fact, stand up on their hind legs and say No.

A big thank you to Senators Leahy, Kennedy, Biden, Feingold, Schumer, Feinstein, Kohl and Durbin.

Bligs (1)

December of the Eternal September?

AOL quietly announced that it will no longer provide USENET access to its users.

Eleven damn years too late.

(Not that I'm bitter or anything. . .)

Bligs (0)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


At DailyKos, Kos and his fellow bloggers have posted an open letter to all US Senators calling for their opposition to Alberto Gonzales's nomination for Attorney General, and they have asked for other bloggers to sign on as well.

I'm not what you could call a big fish in the blog pond. I'm not even a guppy. At best, maybe I'm one of those weird little bugs that crawl on the surface, but if the trivial little ripple I'm capable of making is of any use to Kos, then I'm glad to make it.

As the prime legal architect for the policy of torture adopted by the Bush Administration, Gonzales's advice led directly to the abandonment of longstanding federal laws, the Geneva Conventions, and the United States Constitution itself. Our country, in following Gonzales's legal opinions, has forsaken its commitment to human rights and the rule of law and shamed itself before the world with our conduct at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The United States, a nation founded on respect for law and human rights, should not have as its Attorney General the architect of the law's undoing.

In January 2002, Gonzales advised the President that the United States Constitution does not apply to his actions as Commander in Chief, and thus the President could declare the Geneva Conventions inoperative. Gonzales's endorsement of the August 2002 Bybee/Yoo Memorandum approved a definition of torture so vague and evasive as to declare it nonexistent. Most shockingly, he has embraced the unacceptable view that the President has the power to ignore the Constitution, laws duly enacted by Congress and International treaties duly ratified by the United States. He has called the Geneva Conventions "quaint."

This man should be defeated. The venality of the Republican Party virtually guarantees that he won't be, but at least the Democrats can stand up on their hind legs and say No! Maybe we can't stop evil, but we should by God try.

Bligs (1)

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Winter Howdies to all!

Well, now, last year I made a New Year's resolution to blog more often, and here it already is, twelve months and six posts later. Sigh. Maybe in 2005.

Anyway, the title of this post comes from a phrase that I started hearing several years ago from a bunch of my friends, either as a standalone greeting, or in phrases like, "I still have to mail out my winter howdies this year." I wasn't quite sure what it meant at first, but I was able to glark from context that it was a generic, nondenominational, universally-inoffensive term for seasonal greetings, Christmas cards, family newsletters, Hanukkah cards, etc. Clever!, I thought, and began using the phrase myself.

A year or so passed, and Christmas rolled around again. I was visiting my friends Qarin and James, when Qarin happened to mention something about her winter howdy cards, and I stopped her to ask, once and for all, where the heck "winter howdy" had come from.

"From you," she said.

"Say what?"

"From you. You coined it."

"I did what?"

James jumped in. "On icb, a few years ago. You don't remember?"

"Um... no."

"We were talking about how it's always a hassle with mixed families to be sending Hanukkah cards to some people and Christmas cards to other people, and you said, 'Why not just say Winter Howdy! and make it easy on yourselves?' and everybody liked that and started saying it to each other. You really don't remember this?"

"You are so making that story up."

"I'm not! It was totally you!"

This went on for a while, and eventually, when the events were confirmed by the testimony of other witnesses present at the scene of the alleged coining, I had to confess that I must indeed have been the progenitor of the Winter Howdy. I still have no recollection of it whatsoever. But... it seems that it has continued to spread; it was a year after that conversation that I first received a personalized printed card that read "Winter Howdies!" Not many Google hits yet, but it's out there, it's out there...

And it is a festive addition to the holiday-greeting canon, don't you think? I may not remember it, but I'm certainly pleased by it.

And perhaps the world needs it. From what can I glean from the blogosphere, it seems this year there was a little flurry of political dudgeon on cable TV over "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays", with assorted GOP spokesvermin like Fox News's Bill O'Reilly trying to convince their followers that these two phrases--which most people had long understood to be harmless, cheerful expressions of friendly wishes at a time when many Americans are celebrating--were in fact coded messages meaning, respectively, "Enjoy the yuletide celebration, my fellow patriotic, Christian Republican," and "Fuck you, baby Jesus!" (I exaggerate a bit, but judging from the quantity and intensity of the flamage that made it onto the internet in the wake of this made-up controversy, not that much.)

Of course, very few scholars believe the Christmas holiday originally had anything to do with the birth of Jesus; pretty-much everyone agrees that the Catholic Church simply adopted a pre-existing pagan holiday. Why do such a thing? Because people do love their holidays, and if you can find a way to piggyback your message onto the rituals and traditions that families and communities happily re-enact each year, you've got yourself a very potent--and self-sustaining!--marketing message.

And that, of course, is exactly what O'Reilly and his ilk are trying to do now--graft their message of antiliberal hatred onto the holiday traditions so it all gets mixed up in people's heads. Just as the Catholics successfully exploited a pagan holiday to spread their story, O'Reilly wants to exploit it again to spread his.

With, unfortunately, some success. I say "Merry Christmas" all the time (sometimes in August, if I happen to be feeling whimsical), and I say "Happy Holidays" equally often, and never gave it much thought or got any notably surly responses to either one. But, as Kevin Drum at Washington Montly recently said, this year's GOP effort to turn seasonal greetings into political shibboleths has succeeded at making me feel self-concious every time I used either one to a stranger--concerned that, if this person happened to be an O'Reilly viewer, he or she might be reading messages into what I said that were not there. Which is exactly what O'Reilly and the others wanted, and it bugs me that they manipulated me so easily. (I don't even watch TV!)

It is into this charged climate that I hereby offer, to any of you looking for a way to express feelings of warm respect and holiday cheer to your fellow men and women without participating in these jerks' latest kulturkampf, the humble Winter Howdy. Suitable for any occasion, and so far completely uncharged with negative associations by schmucks on TV. May it serve you long and well!

And to all a good night.

Bligs (0)

Friday, August 20, 2004

And speaking of the woods...

I spent yesterday afternoon with Mike, and a friend who was visiting him from out of town. The three of us took a lovely hike up into the Forest of Nisene Marks state park.

Our destination was a signpost, way out in the middle of the forest, that marks the precise epicenter of the massive 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

That was a day when, I can tell you from vivid memory (and perhaps in a future post I will do so), the forces of nature made it very clear that they're a lot bigger and more powerful than people are.

So to commemorate the day, some people went out and put up that signpost. It's the only human-built structure for a half mile in any direction.

Turns out, sometime in the past year, a gigantic tree fell over and smashed it to shit.

I'm not sure I can explain why, exactly, but I find that completely hilarious. Jesus Christ, what were the odds?

Bligs (0)

Monday, August 16, 2004

I took my laptop to the woods to live deliberately...

The Blog of Henry David Thoreau.

Bligs (1)

Monday, May 10, 2004

Soon, this page will be #1 for chair hanging sex

Mike's recent post about an experience with a hilariously outre spambot has, it turns out, propelled him from a Google ranking of 43 on a search for "chair hanging sex" to numero uno.

This has given me an idea for a new internet toy: You type in a URL, click "submit", and a perl script reads the URL, puts together a hundred or so random combinations of two or three words from the page, submits them to Google, and presents to you your Google ranking for each phrase--sorted numerically so that your #1 rankings show up first. For example, this program might be able to tell me that my blog has a Google ranking of #5 for the words evil CSN. It's fun!

All I need now is a catchy name like Googlewhacking or Googlefight, and to forget the whole idea because who the hell has time.

Bligs (1)

Friday, May 07, 2004

A little pre-Mother's-Day appreciation

I gave my mom the address to my blog the other day (not, of course, without some slight trepidation), and her response to the nostalgiathon in my previous post was:

    Your mother would have blistered your bottom if she had known you were crawling around in that dirty creek. . . That's the other side of the reminiscence thing - if you could have properly appreciated it then, just think what I would have thought!

    . . . but on second thought, I don't think I'd have stopped you. Children need episodes such as these - you just grit your teeth & pray that any hurts are transient. Modern parents are unfortunate - they have to be so panicky about children alone - pick them up at school even when they are perfectly capable of walking a few blocks. Uphill both directions, of course.

Right on. And thanks, Mom. Thank you.

One of the difficult, and more than a bit creepy, aspects of parenting in this decade is the apparently widespread, paralyzing fear that Something Bad Will Happen. I was walking six blocks to school and back when I was five years old, stopping to watch trails of ants, float leaf-boats in the rain gutters, feel the sticky sap oozing out of a pine tree. But these days? Do five-year-olds still get to do that? It sure doesn't seem like it.

I mean, it was nice to see families playing at the Hidden Parks the other day, but you know what I didn't see? I didn't see kids playing unsupervised in the open courtyards of my old apartment complex, where thirty years ago there would have been armies of 'em. Nor did I see any children walking by themselves for the pure joy of it. And actually, maybe a casual observer wouldn't have seen those things so readily back in the 70s, either. Perhaps I only remember them as uibiquitous sights because I was a kid, and tended to be out and about when kids were out and about.

But I don't think so. I think America--at least the suburban America I'm familiar with--has undergone a real shift and become, in the words of Barry Glasser, a Culture of Fear [gratuitous partner link]. We fear insane things, ridiculous things, like Anonymous Lurking Kidnappers (who do, unquestionably, exist, but in such tiny numbers you'd be better off worrying about lightning strikes). And razor blades in Halloween candy (though nothing of the sort has ever happened).

And we fear cars hitting our children, so we keep the children in the back yard, or safely tucked away in the house watching TV, and we drive them to and fro in our SUVs and minivans, and the sidewalks become dead zones while the streets fill with deadlier vehicles. And you know what studies have shown happens when there are fewer kids along the sidewalk? People drive faster. Which makes the street even more dangerous, and discourages even more families from letting their kids play out front--and, probably, drives the sales of even more SUVs and minivans.

Now, one of the great joys of my life is acting snooty and elitist and superior and pretending I'm above the concerns of Ordinary Dumbshit Americans, but of course I'm not. I'm part of this culture too. I may intellectually know them to be irrational, but I still feel the same fears.

It's already a real challenge for me, and I know it will get harder as time goes on--to let go, restrain my control-freak instincts, and let my son have the mad adventures every kid deserves to have. It's a struggle. Ben likes to play with electrical outlets and plugs: Should I stop him? Yell at him? Slap his hand away from outlets? Inculcate in him a fear of something that is, properly handled, harmless? Or teach him the proper method of handling a plug, and just be ready to comfort him when he gets the inevitable shock?

Until a few days ago, he was afraid to go down slides at the playground. Wednesday evening, in a moment of sudden impatience, I plopped him down on his butt and pushed him down a slide. "Yes yes yes yes yes!" he said, all the way down, and has been sliding down slides fearlessly ever since. Before, I would have said that a parent who forces a child to play a game he clearly doesn't like is a fool or worse. . . but somehow it turned out to be the right thing to do.

I realized several things just then. Principally, that I'd been coddling him--and that helping him face and overcome fears is a better thing to do than helping him maintain them. But also, it dawned on me that he may well have gotten that fear from me. I'm afraid of heights myself (a fact I wasn't aware of until I learned to fly). I love heights and wide views, but I'm afraid of falling, and so naturally I'm afraid of my son falling. I tense up when I see Ben tottering high along a play structure, jerk my hands out to steady him. Surely he notices it. Surely it sends the message that he's not in a safe place, and that I don't trust him to keep himself secure. I must, I must, learn to stop doing this.

And, as he grows, I must face my own fears, and let him out of my sight more and more, so he can learn about the world without me acting as fretful nervous intermediary.

Given the incessant yapping of our cultural messengers of doom--Our schools aren't safe! Our streets aren't safe! Our food isn't safe! Is your child at risk? Film at 11!--it may be harder, this decade, for parents to overcome that fear than it was thirty years ago.

But you know something? It can't ever have been easy. It obviously wasn't easy for my mom.

And she still did it.

Thanks. And Happy Mother's Day. I love you.

Bligs (1)

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Speeding Up Memory Lane

I was meeting Martin for a dinner date last night at a spot about halfway between where each of us lives. As it happened, the spot we chose was a half mile or so from the neighborhood where I'd lived from the third through fifth grades... and I arrived at the restaurant about 40 minutes early. So I took a little pilgrimage to see a fondly remembered place...

I remember as if it were yesterday, though in fact it was late summer of 1976, a day when I'd strolled from our apartment over to the library to deposit my latest bolus of recently-devoured Hardy Boys mysteries, and stepping away from the book return box I was suddenly and inexplicably seized with eight-year-old wanderlust. There was a street on the far side of the intersection, tree lined and shady and filled with suburban houses and gardens and parked cars, and I'd never gone to see it up close! It was time to rectify that error. Off I went.

28 years away, I'm no longer sure what held my interest: I surely wasn't paying attention to the fine points of ranch-style architecture or admiring flowers, but something in me loved knowing the streets around my home intimately. In any case, after a flew blocks of wandering along Hacienda Avenue, I did something I might not have bothered to do if I'd been a few years older: I decided to walk to the end of each cul de sac I came to. And so I turned left.

And happily I strolled along, and then I noticed an oddity. There at the end of the cul de sac, off to one side, were two houses that had not one but two parallel fences dividing their yards from one another. What was between those two fences? I looked closer: it was some kind of alleyway. I walked into it, and a dozen yards on, I emerged into... a park.

A city park. A big rectangle of lush green grass, surrounded on all sides by tall fences and taller trees, a well-appointed playground in the middle--slides, jungle gym, half-moon swing, sand--benches and a water fountain and birds singing and nobody was there but me. There were no cars: There was no parking lot. The whole park was completely enclosed, and only accessible through a half dozen little alleyways just like the one behind me, each of them connecting to the end of a suburban cul de sac. In something like a daze, I stepped forward into it, and reverently walked around examining every detail of the place.

Now, you have to understand that when you're eight, and you're exploring, and you find something like this, you don't think Oh, a park! How nice of the city to build such a fine facility for the public's enjoyment! No, you think: I am the first person to discover this park. No one else has ever walked here before me. God put this place on Earth for me, and I am the sole keeper of its secret.

Some time later, I whispered my precious discovery to the woman who babysat me after school, and she said, "Oh, Hidden Park! Which one did you find?"

I don't remember what I said, but perhaps it was "Whahuh?"

"Why, there are two of them, you know."

Well! This was so interesting I almost forgot to be devastated by the news that I hadn't actually been the park's discoverer. So the next time I had a free moment I went looking for the other one, and in due course I found it, a couple of blocks away, concealed just as the first one was. Hidden Park 2 (as I always thought of it from then on) was, oddly, not as nice as Hidden Park 1--the grass was a little scruffier, the playground equipment not quite as nice, and it got more shade in the afternoon and felt colder--but what, I was gonna complain? Two parks!

So anyway. Yesterday afternoon, before my dinner date, I went to visit the hidden parks again. They're still there, still beautiful. The trees are bigger. In Hidden Park 1 they've replaced the playground equipment with the new, safe kind (alas, no more moon swing), and the sandbox was gone in favor of tanbark underlain with foam rubber. But I guess Hidden Park 2 is still a little neglected, though, because it still has the same old equipment I remember: The exact same jungle gym, exact same slides, I'm sure of it. One thing's clear: The parks have both got better PR now than they did 28 years ago, because they were populated: Happy families pushing kids on swings, a girl's softball team practicing throwing and catching, a fella chipping golf balls into an empty flowerpot.

I strolled around for a while, and then went to look at a few other childhood haunts: The library--now apparently closed, either for renovation or for tearing it down and building a new one--and the bridge over the shady creek where I used to scale down the almost vertical banks and catch tadpoles (and let's hear it for eight-year-old intrepidness, because I never realized until yesterday what a scary-lookin' place that was. Pretty, though).

And then I drove off to meet Martin, and as I drove I continued the nostalgiathon: Right about there is where the Sears used to be, and over there is where the movie theatre used to be, and here's the mall: These days it's a hideous shrine to consumerism and capitalist excess, but in those days it was the mall, you know?

And at that moment it came to me: One of the abiding problems of the world is that our nostalgia is out of sync with reality.

Think about it. It seems highly probable to me that when I was a third grader puttering around that neighborhood with its rosy-golden glow of childhood idyll, some thirty-six year old man was driving around thinking sadly about how great it used to be. And lord knows I didn't appreciate those days particularly at the time. Yet I'd pay big, big money to experience one of them again now.

The day before yesterday, surfing the net, I happened across a page about collectibles that discussed cute old signs from Sinclair Oil gas stations, with a friendly green brontosaurus logo. Sinclair itself went extinct in the late '60s, and now their signs are quaint. You suppose anyone thought they were quaint at the time? Of course not.

Here's what I think: We need to find a way to speed up the nostalgia process so we can properly appreciate now. How would this work? Bah, don't ask me: implementation detail. Perhaps a nice "soft focus" spraypaint. Or a pill!

Because someday, someone is going to look at an image like this:

...and think "Oooh, how darling! That takes me right back to 2004! Gosh, I wish I could go back there again and appreciate it properly."

And why can't they think it today, when they actually do have the opportunity to appreciate it properly? It would save so much time and trouble.

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Monday, May 03, 2004


Since it was announced on the first of April, I've been fascinated by Google's planned email system, GMail. So imagine my delight when I heard that people with Blogger accounts--such as the one I'm using right now to edit this post--were being invited to join the GMail beta program.

Then I discovered that they had to be active Blogger accounts, and apparently my highly infrequent posting (which I already felt kinda bad about) isn't enough to rate an invite.


Well, in the unlikely event that any person or AI at Google notices this post: Please? Please please please? Pretty please? Can I pleeeeeeeeeaaaaase have a GMail account?


UPDATE: A big thank you to Mike Taht; I now have an account. is now the email address listed at the left column of the blog. Somebody drop me a line so I can see how it works, eh?

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