Friday, December 23, 2005

OK, WE GOT IT -- ONCE A YEAR, AND AT THIS TIME EACH YEAR. I like the Beach Boys' Christmas songs and all, but they are obsessed with the timing and frequency of the holiday.

TWO MISTAKES. Not a good day. I was already hurried and harried when I found out as I was leaving for work that one of the two books I slated for resale in The Great Bookshelf Reorganization of 12/20/05 had found a buyer at Amazon Marketplace. But I'm a good guy, and the buyer requested "expedited" shipping, and so I thought maybe I could get the thing in the mail in some semblance of a Christmas timetable.

First I tried printing U.S. Postal Service labels from the quasi-governmental agency's Web site, but the book I sold is heavy, and to ship the thing in my own packaging is prohibitively expensive compared with shipping it in a flat-rate Priority Mail box (and I'm not that good a guy). I thought about walking the three blocks from work to the awful 14th Street post office, but on the way in I found an unlikely parking space in the 1400 block of K Street. Excellent!

Here, I admit, is the point where my expectations became unrealistic. You'd think that a post office would be the best place to find flat-rate Priority Mail boxes. You'd be wrong. (Yes, I know it's the week before Christmas. But so, I presume, does the U.S. Postal Service.)

Heading in to work, I discovered that I did something I almost never do, and I hate doing -- I forgot my identification badge. So I apologetically sign in, and the guard asks for ID. I hand over my driver's license, and then he asks: "What's your last name?" Uh . . . the one that's on the card I just handed you?


Yeah. Yeah, that's it.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

TONIGHT'S TRUISM: If you think being gay is a "choice," you are by definition bisexual -- and you must think everyone else is also bisexual.

Think about it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

DUBIOUS ACHIEVEMENT. After Eugene McCarthy died, it briefly crossed my mind that the young and the stupid (and especially the young and stupid) might confuse this Sen. McCarthy with that Sen. McCarthy.

A day or two later, I'm looking through the new Esquire and I see some letters to the editor referring to an illustration that accompanied an article in the previous issue on "Good Night, and Good Luck," the George Clooney movie about Edward R. Murrow and that Sen. McCarthy.

Yep -- a major publication managed to depict the portly, oily, balding, despicable Tailgunner Joe as the trim, dapper, white-haired Clean Gene.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


I knew Cool "Disco" Dan. (Well, I saw his work.)
Cool "Disco" Dan was a friend of mine. (Well, I bought a T-shirt.)
Mr. Dorf, you are no Cool "Disco" Dan.

Friday, December 09, 2005

MANY YEARS AGO I had an Epson Stylus printer. Boy, was that output beautiful -- sharpness and color straight from God. But I had to switch back to an old reliable Hewlett-Packard model, because the Epson had a balky, horribly designed, gravity-dependent paper feed. The HP feed was mechanical, logical and sweet.

For some reason HP changed its feed strategy, and now most models (or at least most models I could find) have scrapped the old "paper tray" concept in favor of a single tray for both input and output. It's hard to tell whether a sheet of paper is coming or going, and -- as with the Epson -- you can't put much paper in there at all. The in/out ambiguity also results in a situation very similar to the Epson's in the initial paper-catch. It looks like trouble, and finally, today, it proved to be trouble.

Here, in part, is how my "help" session went . . .

Welcome to HP Total Care for All-in-One products. My name is Dennis. How may I assist you today?

Bill Walsh
Suddenly my paper feed is becoming very finicky. It says it's out of paper when there's a small stack loaded properly. It says it's out of paper when there's a large stack loaded properly. It says it's out of paper when it has actually accepted the paper.

Bill, I understand the issue is with paper feed.

Since how long have you been experiencing this issue with your All-in-One?

Bill Walsh
Just now. Fifteen minutes ago. I haven't used the thing all that much, but it has been fine before.

Okay, let us troubleshoot the issue with the All-in-One printer.

Let us power cycle the All-in-One printer.

Denn is
Please follow the steps below to power cycle your all-in-one: 1. Verify that the unit is switched on. Unplug the all-in-one from power and disconnect the connection port. 2. Wait 30 seconds. 3. Plug in the power only. 4. Repeat steps 1-3 two more times. 5. On the third time after plugging the unit into power, reconnect the connection port from the all-in-one to your computer

Let me know when you are done with the steps.

Bill Walsh
Thanks for your help. I'll jot that down and try it sometime when I have a week off work.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

ALL OF A SUDDEN I feel like even more of an out-of-touch old fart than usual. Did I miss the mass briefing on all matters Narnia and Brokeback?

In other news, I tried to give that "Kanye" person a chance -- at least I didn't fast-forward through the musical act for once when he was on "SNL." Can someone explain to me what the appeal is there? He doesn't actually sing. Or rap. Or use catchy music. The listening experience seems rather like sitting next to a relatively subdued crazy person mumbling to himself on the subway. (Or did he not realize he was the musical guest on "SNL"? Maybe that was it -- he just had a really bad monologue writer.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

IN THE NEWSROOM toward the end of my shift Friday night, I heard one of the Metro people talking about a big fire at the Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring. Hmm, I thought, my uncle Joe and aunt Clara just moved there -- the way you might make a mental note that you have a friend in a city where there was just a triple homicide or where a winning Powerball ticket was sold.

I even thought of calling over there -- I knew that my version of the Post-It notes that my brother Kenny passed around when we were up in Pottsville for my father's funeral, with the phone number and the Leisure World Boulevard address and apartment number, was atop the pile of I-must-get-to-this-soon stuff on my desk at home. But I didn't call (I'm horrible about that sort of thing), and I went home secure in the knowledge that early reports indicated no injuries.

If I knew there had been a fatality when my brother Terence's e-mail arrived after 1 a.m., I hadn't known for long. You guessed it: Nine thousand people at Leisure World, and the one fatality is my uncle. The one who moved to Leisure World because his family, quite logically, didn't think it was safe for him and Clara, with their limited mobility, to stay in their house in Pennsylvania. The one who I had just seen at my father's funeral, who had always argued good-naturedly with Dad about who would be the last surviving member of their big family. The one who had barely spent any time in the Leisure World apartment because he was with his wife, who was hospitalized with cancer.

Joe was a lot of fun, always ready with a story about boxing (of which his knowledge was encyclopedic) or his law career or his military career. We'll miss him.

The Pottsville paper published a nice obituary.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I HAVE BEEN MEANING to write about my prodigious recent reading spree (that Philip Roth miscue notwithstanding), and last night's "D'oh!" moment provides as good an excuse as any.

I'll get to last night, but let me start with two novels by Richard Ford, "The Sportswriter" and its sequel, "Independence Day." I'm told the sequel was the only novel ever to win both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award. I read Ford and I can't help but observe that he packs a couple of years' worth of "Man, I'd better write that down!" observations into every paragraph. You know how you'll occasionally hear an ad boasting that it took an ungodly number of pounds of, say, tomatoes to make one can of, say, tomato sauce? Well, my someday-I'll-write-that-novel journal of cogent observations would work out to maybe a sentence or two of Richard Ford.

And just when I was feeling that depressed about ever writing something other than a usage scold, I belatedly discovered John Updike. The idea of Updike as somebody worth reading, frankly, had never really occurred to me until recently. I considered him not quite on the Grisham level, but along those lines. All that success, all those sequels. But for some reason I got a yen for relatively recent fiction this year, and his name came up. I just started "Rabbit, Run," and I just have to say this: I have nothing to say that's worth saying. Take everything I said about Ford and multiply by 10. It took Updike to really make me think about a depressing truth for writers: Every great line makes the job of future writers that much more difficult. This is a different kind of greatness from, say, greatness in sports. If Federer conjures a new way to put away a forehand and I somehow duplicate that, I can claim a tiny slice of greatness. But if Updike describes a chalkboard as "a milky black" and I duplicate that, I'm a thief.

The other Updike line that stays with me is about how all women look like brides in their slips. Wow.

But it wasn't until last night, when I read a relatively mediocre "Rabbit" line about water dripping off a swimming woman in "grape-bunches," that it occurred to me: Nicholson Baker! Years ago, after I fell in love with "The Mezzanine," I read all the Baker I could get my hands on, including "U & I," Baker's unabashed valentine to Updike. The grape-bunches reference (mainly the hyphen) screamed Baker. I had made a halfhearted attempt to get into Updike after reading that book, but I had shunned the "Rabbit" series and was never particularly drawn in. Still, I can't believe the Baker book hadn't occurred to me earlier as I "discovered" Updike.

In quite a different vein, I loved Julie Powell's "Julie and Julia," a Queens secretary's account of her quest to cook all the recipes in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in the space of a year. It's a well-written and entertaining book, but even more notable is the story behind the story -- perhaps the greatest success story in the short history of blogging. Powell's "Julie/Julia Project" Web site propelled her from a dead-end job to a well-compensated writer's life.

Another good one on the memoir side: "Made in Detroit," an account of growing up white in a city where almost all the white people fled long ago. I was one of the suburbanites, but I found a lot of familiar ground -- and there's plenty in the book even if you have no Detroit connection.

I believe I've mentioned these two before, but the greatness of Richard Yates's novel "Revolutionary Road" and Jeannette Walls's memoir "The Glass Castle" bears repeating.

Just so you don't think I fall in love with everything I read, a strong "eh" for "How to Cook Your Daughter," Jessica Hendra's memoir alleging sexual abuse by her semi-famous father, Tony Hendra.

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