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Monday, June 30, 2008

Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Fierce."

I shivered when I saw this week's prompt. I am trying very hard to have no fierceness or harsh events or thoughts in my life.

So when things get hairy I resort to the self-medication of braided pictures. When I visited my daughter in Manhattan, in order not to get sensory overload I hunched in a corner and did Celtic woven designs.

When I travel I use graph paper and ink. This one, however, I just did with acrylic on canvas, which is pointlessly difficult. It would have been easier, faster, and better looking as watercolor on bristol board.

Oddly, this pattern is modeled after the illuminated manuscript below - which is not, as you might expect, from Ireland: it comes from Bulgaria and is in Old Church Slavonic.

Before Hannah and I went to Bulgaria I wouldn't have expected this. Did these monks get a look at the Book of Kells? Or is there something about life in a monastery which inclines an illuminator to weaving? Or did it come from Scythian woven jewelry?

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Mark does Illustration Friday: "Fierce."


While you may not be able to tell from the painting, shrews are, gram for gram, the fiercest of mammals. Beware!


(acrylic on canvas)

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Friday, June 27, 2008

In which I remind myself that "Nothing Is Wasted."

Well, I had to hit the abort button on the trip to Blowing Rock with Jethro (we were going to join the "Whips and Wheels" monthly carriage drive). It wasn't possible to get the trailer lights functioning despite hours of sweating under the sun. My two kindly, generous helpers (the Ex-ex-pat, and the Electrician Drummer) and I just ran out of time.

Half a century ago, at this point my lower lip would be sticking out and my eyebrows would be beetled (the look my mother used to call "Princess Black Cloud"). How I loathe giving up! But at least I've learned how to do it! In the bad old days I would have loaded Jethro into the trailer without functioning lights and driven off to Boone anyway. That would have been so stupid.

So now, instead of camping at the Equestrian Reserve I'm cheerfully musing about my good fortune - how wonderful to have friends who indulge me and try to help me, even when they think what they're helping to do shouldn't really be done.

It's best to re-frame this as a dry run. I assembled big bags of hay, oats, and "sweet feed" and put them in the car, along with the clicker and Fruit Loops; gallons of water and a bucket; a tent and a sleeping bag and an overnight bag; the whip (a bamboo stick with a grocery bag rubberbanded to the end of it) and the harness.

Also, surely the lights WILL be working soon; also, it's good I found out what I have to do to make the trailer legal; also, Jethro now will hop happily in and out of his trailer again (he had been considering re-engaging his initial phobia, but Fruit Loops dissuaded him). And finally, I made contact with nice people who assured me a donkey will be welcomed at a carriage drive.

Jethro and I took a nice walk in the rain tonight and I explained to him that he has to start making me proud. I promised: if he will stop having tantrums, I too will endeavor to simulate more adult behavior.



Thursday, June 26, 2008

I discover that the Department of Motor Vehicles really does not want to help me.

In September I acquired this fine trailer from this fine gentleman farmer in Greensboro. Eventually I put a back door on it, and I also acquired from this nice man a tail-lights kit, and I fitted my van with the appropriate hitch.

Then I spent a week engaged in a clicker-training fruit-loop-bribing program to get Jethro to hop into the trailer. And for a couple weeks I had him eating all his meals in the trailer.

Hannah wants us to go packing in the mountains with Jethro on July 18. But it occurred to me it might be fun to find a carriage-riding event we could take him too. As I was calling around today, I discovered there was a perfect one this very Saturday in Blowing Rock. "We would love to have you," said the organizer, "your donkey would be the hit of the day. And we can put you between two very steady horses, your donkey will learn a lot."

This set me into a mad frenzy - how to be ready? Now I am tangled in a mire of problems and am trying to figure out how many of them I have to solve in order to actually go on this trip to Blowing Rock.
  1. I am terrible at backing up the trailer (well, probably one could manage by going 100% forward).

  2. The trailer lights are not completely hitched up (well, probably can finish doing at least a bad job of this tomorrow morning).

  3. Jethro has forgotten that it's ok to get in the trailer.

  4. I do not have a license plate for the trailer - this turns out to be a bureaucratic nightmare worthy of Gogol's Inspector General.

    See, since I was given this trailer for free I have no "title" to it, also since it is home-made there is no "Vehicle Identification Number."

    The lady at the DMV was almost choking she was so reluctant to tell me what I'd have to do to procure a license plate for this vehicle.

    • An inspector must make a house call, inspect the trailer, and vouch for its being roadworthy;

    • THREE appraisers must come out and estimate the trailer's value, as the Motor Vehicle Department wishes to charge me highway tax based on the highest of the three valuations. "Why would three appraisers do this for me?" I asked. "I don't know, nobody has ever asked me that before," she explained;

    • I must get a form and apply for a Vehicle Identification Number;

    • I must get an indemnity bond - my insurance company may or may not provide this sort of insurance, but I must get one from someplace;

    • After all of the above, I must submit a title application.

    "If you just want to haul mulch from one side of the road to the other, and you own the land on both sides of the road, you will not need to go through this," she reassured me soothingly.
What to do? Give up? I may just try to lure Jethro into the trailer tomorrow afternoon and drive, slowly, out to Blowing Rock and see if I get away with it. Or I may chicken out.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

In which I begin translating Sholom Aleichem's first Tevye story.: "A Groyse Gevins."

I'm working on this project for my friend Scott Davis, proprietor of and author of "Souls are Flying," with the sage counsel of Musia Lakin.

The Big Windfall
Sholom Aleichem

A wonderful story of how Tevyeh the milkman, a poor Jew, a man burdened with many children, is suddenly blessed. A wildly strange story, which would be worth writing in a little book, as told by Tevyeh himself and given here word-for-word.

If a big windfall's going to come your way, Mr. Sholom Aleichem, it'll come straight into your house, as they say: "as it goes, it runs" (once it gets started, it gains momentum). It has nothing whatever to do with brains or talent. And what if - God forbid - it's the reverse, well you can just exhaust yourself talking, it'll help you as much as last year's snow. As they say: "Cleverness and advice won't help at all with a bad horse."

A man slaves, he's beside himself, try as he might, he suffers, practically (let it happen to the anti-Semites) lies down and dies! Suddenly, one doesn't know why or from where, luck comes galloping in from all sides, as it says in the book: "Then shall enlargement and deliverance come to the Jews." I shouldn't have to translate that for you, but the literal meaning is: that as long as a Jew breathes and has a pulse, he's forbidden to lose hope.

My own example illustrates this - the Supreme One led me to my present occupation. How did I come to sell cheese and butter, seeing as how my great-grandmother never handled milk? It'll be worth hearing out the whole story, from beginning to end. I'll sit down here for a while on the grass, near you, while the horse chews a little something, as they say: "every living thing has a soul," he's also God's creature.

Briefly, this happened around shavuos-time, that is, I won't lie to you, a week or two before shavuos. And maybe, oh, a couple weeks after shavuos. It's been a while - well, I'll tell you accurately, as much as a year with a Wednesday, exactly 9 years ago, or 10, maybe a little bit later. I was then the same as you see me now, only not completely, you know, really the same Tevye, only not really the same. As they say: "The same old woman in a different kerchief." That is, what? Not what I seem to be now. I was (it shouldn't happen to you), a poor man seven times over.

(Although actually, as you might want to talk it over again, I'm certainly not a rich man now, either. I've got a ways to go to be Brodsky [a millionaire of the time]. But we have this in common: he and I both want to prosper from now until Sukos.)

However, compared to how I was then, today I am, you know, a rich Jew, with his own horse and wagon, with (thank God) two cows giving milk, and a third cow about to calve. And we've got, not to complain, cheese and butter and sour cream fresh every day. That's its own drudgery. So we all work. Nobody sits idle. My wife, long should she live, milks the cows. The children carry little pitchers and churn butter. And I myself, as you see just now, travel every morning to the market, I visit all the dachas in Boyderik. I sit down with the wealthy householders in Yehupetz. One talks a bit with those people and feels one is also a little stick of a somebody in the world, as they say, no worn-out (limping) tailor.

And talk about Sabbath - then I'm completely a king, looking into the prayer book, a section of Khumash, a little of the philosophers - you'd take a look at me, Mr. Sholom Aleichem, and you'd be thinking in your heart: "Here, this Tevye is really something, he's truly a man who's somebody."

So in short, what have I begun to tell you. Yes, I was then, with God's help, bitterly poor. Starving (it shouldn't happen to any Jew), with my wife and children, three times a day, except suppertime. So I slaved like a donkey. I dragged branches from the woods to the railway station, a whole wagonful (this disgrace shouldn't happen to you) for two gildn a day, and at that - not even every day! And that little bit had to maintain, God bless them, a house with little beaks to fill (they should be healthy) and (forgive the comparison) also a horse for whom I provide room and board ["af kest" was the term for a family supporting a poor son-in-law so he could study torah even though he contributed nothing monetarily to the household - they considered him to be doing something important], the horse doesn't care what Rashi says, he needs to chew every day, no excuses.

So what does God do? He really is, as they say, "a God who nourishes and supports all life." He manages his little world cleverly, with brains. He sees how I struggle for a bit of bread, he says to me: "You really believe, Tevye, after all, that the end of the world is come, that the heavens are falling on you? Feh, you big numbskull! You'll see how, if God wills it, luck will in a minute turn you right around and there will be lightness in every corner."

It comes out, as we say at Yom Kippur: "Who shall be raised up and who shall be brought low" - who will ride and who will go on foot. Above all - faith. A Jew should hope, always hope. Ay, what? Suppose one becomes, meanwhile, ground down. It's exactly for this that we are, of course, little sticks of Jews planted on this earth, as they say: "Thou hast chosen us" - it's not for nothing that the world envies us...

Why am I saying this? It's in regard to the way God brought me a miracle and wonders. You should hear it out.

"And it came to pass," once, before nightfall, in the summertime, I was traveling in the woods, already on the way home, without the logs, my head hanging low, desolation and darkness in my heart. My poor horse, his feet were faltering/stumbling. "Crawl, you luckless beast (shlimazl)," I say, "straight into the ground with me! You better know what it means to fast the whole long summer day if you insist on being Tevye's horse..."

It's quiet all around. Every crack of the whip speaks up in the quiet woods. The sun sets. The day is dying. The trees' shadows stretch out, long as the Jewish exile. It starts to get dark and powerfully gloomy in my heart. Miscellaneous thoughts crawl into my head. I see before me all kinds of images of people already long dead. And here, I recollect my home - oy vey! It's dark in the house, gloomy and very dark. The little children (let them be healthy) naked and barefoot, looking out the door, poor things, to see if their dad, that shlimazl, has come. Hoping he will bring home a little fresh bread, maybe a roll. And she, my old lady, a typical Jewess, grumbling: "Children I had to bear for him, seven in fact, one might as well take them (God shouldn't punish me for saying so) and throw them alive into the river!" Nice words to hear.

One is really, obviously, no more than just a man, as they say, a living being. You can't distract the stomach with words. One grabs a bit of herring, then wishes for some tea, and naturally folks like a bit of sugar with their tea, and sugar, well, sugar's something a millionaire has.

"With at least a piece of bread," says my wife (God bless her), "it's bearable for the guts. But without a little glass of tea," says she, "I'm a goner in the morning. The kid," she says, "sucks the glue from me the whole night through!"

And meanwhile, one is, of course, still a Jew in the world. One can't escape it - one has to pray. Picture this, the beautiful praying that can take place when, exactly as I start the shimon-esre, the horse lets loose all crazy-like (it could be the Devil's work). One had to run after the wagon, pulling back on the reins, singing "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob..." - nice way to pray the 18 benedictions! And just now, when I really precisely wanted to be praying tastily, from the heart, that things would go more simply for me on this earth...

So in short, I flew after the wagon this way and said the shimon-esre loudly, with a nign, as (forgive the comparison) the cantor in the synagogue: "Who provideth life with His bounty..." - it's God's deed to feed/nourish/maintain all his creations/creatures - "who keepeth faith with them who slumber in the earth..." even the one who lies in the earth and bakes bagels...

Part Two...

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Hoard."

"Everything old is new again," or, "Nothing is Wasted," might be the slogans of a hoarder. I have a hoard of old posters I've collected over the years, some from New Orleans, the one below from Paris... I also have a hoard of my awful old pictures, ready to be painted over, because why waste paper?

So here is my take-off from the hoarded poster below, painted over a hoarded lousy picture I did last year...

And here is the fabulous equestrian and his poster.

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Mark does Illustration Friday: "Hoard."


(Gorilla with Banana)

Acrylic on canvas.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Serenity: setting things right.

Extracts from
The Neurons of Recovery
by Wray Herbert

One of the cornerstones of many addiction treatment programs is what's called "moral inventory." Recovering addicts and alcoholics are taught to honestly and rigorously monitor their daily thoughts and behavior and relationships, and when they do something wrong to promptly set things right.

The idea is that personal dishonesty is somehow related to destructive habits, and that authenticity in daily life is a key to staying clean and sober.

How can daily vigilance and small ethical acts—apologizing for being hurtful or rude or uncharitable—translate into the concrete choice not to light up a crack pipe or pour a tumbler of whiskey?

New brain research may help illuminate this mystery. Psychologists ... have been studying "error-related negativity," or ERN. This is shorthand for an electrical pulse that comes from particular region of the brain, a bundle of neurons known to watch out for mistakes.

They have also been studying a separate but nearby part of the brain responsible for correcting errors once they're spotted.

They had college students volunteer to take an exceptionally difficult version of the Stroop Test [which] circulates on the Internet as a kind of parlor game: The names of colors appear on the screen in various colors, and you're required very rapidly to name the color of the ink—rather than read the word. (The word R-E-D might appear in green, and you have to punch green.) It's very difficult ... the psychologists wanted the volunteers to make a lot of mistakes.

The volunteers were wired to an EEG while they were taking the Stroop Test, so the researchers could record their ERN pulses. They were in effect gauging how vigilant they were, how much of their brain power they were using to spot errors. At the same time, they measured their speed and accuracy in the test—basically to see how readily they corrected course after detecting a mistake.

Then they sent the volunteers home. But before they did, they asked them to keep a journal of their trials and tribulations and emotional life for a couple weeks. Every night before they went to bed, they assessed the day: Were they under deadline pressure that day? Did they feel overwhelmed by responsibilities? Was there too much to do today, and too little time? They also kept track of their moods—whether they were anxious or calm or worried or relaxed.

Participants varied both in their levels of vigilance and in their ability to learn from their mistakes.

Those with overall greater cognitive control—the ones who monitored themselves closely and adjusted efficiently—were also the ones who were best at handling stress... the ones who spotted and corrected errors in their own mental performance were in general more calm and relaxed... the ones who did not inventory and learn from their mistakes were beaten down by life's pressures.

Why would this be? Compton and her colleagues believe it's because mental regulation and emotional regulation draw on the same set of skills, perhaps even powered by some common neurons.

People who are quick to spot their own slip-ups and quick to fix them are the same people who are good at keeping their emotions in tow when hit by life's travails.

In colloquial language, that's called not sweating the small stuff. In the language of addiction recovery, it's often called serenity, or emotional sobriety, and the path there does indeed seem to begin with a simple moral statement: "Oops, I made a mistake."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Problems for pushcart vendors in the 21st century.

Extracts from
Contending with Vending: Trials and Tales of Pushcart Warriors
by Benjamin Galynker

You’ve seen the pictures: Hester Street, or maybe Orchard, teeming with vendors hawking food and bric-a-brac; the flashback in "The Godfather, Part II," where young Vito Corleone, fresh off the boat, walks past an old man, mule-like, pulling his wooden fruit cart behind him...

In 1920, seventy-five percent of the vendors in New York City were Jewish, and another 20 percent were Italian.

Today there are almost no Jews and Italians, but plenty of Senegalese, Bangladeshi, Chinese, and Egyptians.

Some vendors "graduate" to being taxi drivers when their English becomes good enough and others dream of one day "opening up a store or something."

The vending life improves as a vendor gains regular customers and saves enough money to buy her own cart... and works up to the more prominent and lucrative locations.

Sidewalk real estate is a hot market and demands from vendors long-term strategizing and extraordinary patience.

The unreasonable 1920s prohibition on parking one’s cart was challenged by four enterprising Eastern-European Jewish pushcart vendors who joined forces and flouted the peddling laws, in the first documented vendor rebellion. They rolled their carts off the sidewalk and parked on Hester Street proper, right in the middle of the bustling Lower East Side thoroughfare. They became the first bona fide street vendors and hundreds more followed suit.

The reign of the street vendors ended abruptly, after Napoleonic Mayor LaGuardia, who served from 1934 to 1945, ordered them into indoor markets at the urging of the shopkeepers, who saw the vendors as unfair competition. After a short while, though, the very shopkeepers who despised the vendors lost so much business as a result of their dispersal that they pleaded, unsuccessfully, with LaGuardia for the vendors’ return.

In the decades after the LaGuardia fiasco, the City Council and its administrative agencies produced a patchwork of laws that systematized—and stigmatized—vendors.

The new laws were difficult for even a legally savvy citizen to follow, and they were equally difficult to enforce in a non-biased way.

For many years, police officers continued to drag vendors into the criminal courts to levy fines against them for standing still, even after stationary vending became commonplace and pushcart peddling became rare.

Consider the seemingly straightforward task of finding a "legal spot" on which to build your vending business. Let’s say your handmade jewelry business fits on a one-foot-by-one-foot square table and you plan to staff it from a one-foot-by-one-foot stool. When you try to apply for a general -- as opposed to food—vending -- license, you find that there are no licenses to be had -- the City Council froze the number of licenses at 853 in 1979, and you can’t even get on the waiting list because it’s so long.

To make matters worse, even if you could get a license, you wouldn’t be able to open your two-square-foot business anywhere in the 280-square-block area of midtown Manhattan.

Since you can’t sell your jewelry, let’s say that you become the proud owner of a burrito grilling cart, eight feet long and three feet wide. Now let’s assume that the city, in its infinite wisdom, enters into a contract with a business improvement program, as it often does, to place designer plants and artistic trash baskets at 7.5 foot intervals throughout the midtown neighborhood where your customers work. This time, you are able to get a license to vend food fairly easily, since there is no limit to those licenses, but you can’t get a permit for your cart.

For argument’s sake, though, let’s just say you somehow entered the lottery and got a permit. Unlike your failed jewelry business, this burrito cart takes up quite a bit of space. And since the only lucrative spots are at intersections, that’s where you want to be.

While food vendors deal with physical spots, regulations deal with arbitrary distances from objects whose layout changes with every street. In effect, the regulations nearly outlaw doing business anywhere near an intersection. They require that vendors be on a sidewalk at least 12 feet wide, at least 10 feet from any crosswalk and subway, at least 20 feet from any entrance, and not "within a bus stop."

The problem with these rules is that they are not actually graphed out on a street map, so neither vendors nor police officers know which spots are legal. If you walk the streets of Manhattan, you will see a handful of vendors who have been working for ten years and have found the Holy Grail—a corner spot that meets all the city’s regulations.

But the coveted spot doesn’t come cheap. Most of these vendors worked for someone in that spot for years and then paid that person, perhaps $8,000, for the privilege of taking over the spot full-time.

Since food vendors have carts whose designs are specifically approved by the city, the city knows exactly what sizes the carts are and could easily diagram a street map of legal spots. That way, vendors and police officers wouldn’t have to get out their tape measures and cameras and fight about whether a vendor has found a legal spot.

The result of having such stringent but arbitrary bright lines separating legal from illegal conduct is that all vendors start to feel like vending is a borderline criminal behavior. One false move, and the city hits you with three $50 fines, all at once.

Fines do not deter vendors from vending, but rather throw them into staggering debt that they cannot afford to pay off.


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In which we meet the "Last Pushcart Vendor in New York."

After our visit to the last pushcart, which is now parked beside a porta-potty and is used to shuffle garbage cans around, we went to the Essex street market to meet Jeffrey the butcher, who bills himself as the last pushcart vendor still standing.

Jeffrey has a very high-tech website. He is a really cheerful guy who appears to adore his work, is very proud to be a fourth-generation butcher, and was butterflying chicken breasts by the score when we showed up.

He explained that when he was a tot, his grandfather would hoist him up onto the back of the pushcart and give him a bag of cherries to eat, and little Jeffrey would hawk meat for his grandfather.

So naturally I asked, "well, where ARE all the pushcarts?" and he tossed me a butcher's apron and said, "Come on back here, I'll tell you."

In 1936 Mayor Fiorello La Guardia decided pushcarts made the city look bad. Who knew how old that produce was? Were the merchants short-weighting? Haggling was unseemly. And were they paying their taxes?

In addition, the merchants of Hester, Essex, Delancy, and Mulberry Streets (and all the other streets with lines of elbow-to-elbow pushcarts just parallel to the sidewalks) were indignant that pushcart vendors, who did not pay rent beyond a 25-cents-per-day rental fee (they went every morning to the pushcart stables to sign out a pushcart) could compete with them so flagrantly.

La Guardia took a giant pot of federal money and built a ring of indoor markets around the boroughs. He gave every pushcart vendor a "bin number" and a permit at a particular market. Jeffrey's family, obviously, got their bin number at the Essex Street Market, where he still operates.

He says each guy was given two weeks to sell out whatever stock he had and after that, he could only sell whatever he had a permit for. AND: "As each pushcart guy wheeled up to the market, his pushcart was taken away. La Guardia had them all destroyed."

The irony was: within a year the storekeepers realized they'd made a terrible mistake, their sales were down 60%. It turns out that virtually all the people coming to buy from the pushcart vendors were former Lower East Siders, come back from their more affluent current homes to savor a nostalgic visit to the old home. They LIKED to haggle. They LIKED the noise and the tumult and the mishmosh of goods for sale.

When the pushcarts were gone and the street was nice and sterile, there was no draw and the tourists stayed home.

Of course this is the eternal puzzle of city life. The folks in charge want everything to be clean, predictable, well-regulated. That makes for a boring city and drives the tourists away.

I was a busker in Harvard Square back in the 1970s when the powers-that-be decided busking (and street vending of baubles and bongs) was unseemly. They tried banning, they tried regulation and permits, and the result was, the tourists didn't like Harvard Square so much any more. What a surprise.

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In which we find the last pushcart in Manhattan

I have a friend thinking of going into the pushcart vendor business, and since my main purpose in life is to be other peoples' muse, I've gone into high investigative mode.

I went to Manhattan to visit my daughter Hannah one last time before she moves to California and, knowing her mother very well, she did quite a bit of research when I asked her "please find me a real pushcart I can look at and photograph."

I really didn't think it would be that hard. I read The Pushcart War to my kids when they were little, and figured since there used to be 1,000s of pushcarts, surely there should be hundreds left.

Not so. As Hannah described her search:
I like this project. Pushcarts are in my genes. So I thought tracking one down would be easy...

Museum of the City of New York: "Nope, no pushcarts - try the Tenement Museum."

Tenement Museum: "We have a replica in our gift shop, we keep books on it, but no, we don't have any originals."

New York Historical Society: "No, we don't have one. They're ... yeah, they're kind of big to keep around, you know?"

Ellis Island Museum: "Nope."

Oh my goodness! In our zeal for progress, could it really be? Did we manage to throw out all the pushcarts?
In response to her plea (the post was entitled Who's got a pushcart?...
Kate Stober of the Tenement Museum wrote in to say:

Re the pushcarts: the Lower East Side Business Improvement District has at least one or two. You should also talk to Jeffrey the Butcher in the Essex Street Market - he has a crazy story about learning to sell stuff from the last pushcart vendor on the Lower East Side.

I called the Lower East Side Business Improvement District.

"We've got a pushcart," they said. "We don't use it much, but we bring it out for special events."

"Where is it now?" I asked. "Is it in storage?"

"Oh no," they said. "It would take up way too much space in storage. It's in a parking lot on Broome Street."

Aha! We walked over to the parking lot, and there it was. Just a wooden pushcart. They were using it to store garbage cans. We took pictures, to the disbelief of the parking attendant.

And so I present the photos I took, for the benefit of anybody else who'd like to revive this fine profession.

For more about Jeffrey the butcher, see the next post...


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Surviving a heat wave with fur or feathers.

I feel bad I haven't taken Jethro the donkey for his daily walks since the heat got so brutal. It's a relief, though, to see he truly doesn't mind 100 degree days - I deduce this from the fact that he spends a goodly part of the day standing out in the sun when he could perfectly well be standing in the shade. The same way he stood out in the sleet and wind in the winter when he could have been in his house. He's amazingly tough.

To assuage my guilt (guilt that I have air-conditioning and he doesn't) I've taken to giving him daily showers. I halter him and tie him to a post and then hose him down. At first he decided he was going to hate this, but as he realized the water was cool and delicious he yielded to it. Now he lets me spray him full blast, his ears down and eyes closed, mouth open to let the cold water drip in. He's so big, it kind of reminds me of washing a car, something I haven't done in years.

The chickens are having a harder time. They pant all day. They migrate around my house, searching for the coolest places as the sun shifts its position... they make dust bowls to sit in, deep dust bowls under the shrubbery, only their backs and heads are showing. They've just about dug up some of their favorite bushes (the ones in front of my house) while burrowing as far down in the dirt as possible.

They don't let me give them showers.

Me: I've used the heat wave to stay indoors and finish my second songbook.


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Monday, June 09, 2008

Mark does Illustration Friday: "Forgotten."

Mark is too tired to comment on his piece today.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Forgotten"

I was so happy when I got the first copy of the Triangle Jewish Chorale Songbook, I started immediately making a collection of songs I used to do with the Solstice Assembly, an a cappella group of 16 voices that performed and recorded in the late 80s and early 90s. Most of these songs I had almost completely FORGOTTEN until now...

I've been digging the arrangements up out of various dusty crumpled corners of the music room. It's extremely satisfying. Stay tuned!

The songbook is named after a song the Solstice Assembly used to do every December - I cobbled it together from a traditional tune ("The Death of Admiral Nelson") and a text my ex-husband and I wrote together after Carol Boren Owens, a dearly loved soprano in the group, died suddenly at the age of 33.

I posted the mp3 here three years ago.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Make it yourself or buy it from somebody who did.

(Click for larger view.)

I saw this at BoingBoing and was really moved. I've been an obsessive maker of things all my life and recently have decided that whenever possible I'll spend my money buying things from the people who make them.

I got new wheels for Jethro's cart (the one he banged up on his wild ride) from the wheelwright himself, we talked on the phone several times and he is a real person.

My friend who's considering going into the pushcart profession is also very interested in selling things made by actual humans.



Friday, June 06, 2008

How Jethro and I spent the evening

I learned a new word on the telenovela blog:

remoscar · ponerse a la sombra para defenderse de las moscas
= to put yourself in the shade to defend yourself from flies.

I was engaged in this occupation an hour ago...

I got an amazing cd called "Spook Less," it's a collection of 48 tracks of noxious noises. The idea is, you play it for your equine at meal time. Once again, fear and greed have to battle it out. I sat just outside the round pen with the cd player. It was interesting seeing how some sounds (including gunshots) did not cause even a pause in chewing but other sounds (like motorcycles and whips) made him go hustle over to stand on the other side of the pen.

Heartbreaking: when he heard the donkey on the cd, he got so excited and called and called and called.

Anyway, the bugs were out. Our legs were covered with flies, we were twitching and scratching.

I sure know how to have a rip-roaring Friday night.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Pratie Heads play for the Triangle Guitar Society this Saturday

Things went so well with the Triangle Guitar Society concert we did a few months ago - uh, I can't exactly remember, but it was snowing - they hired us to play for their annual benefit concert.

The concert is this Saturday night at 8 pm at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, 1520 Canterbury Rd, Raleigh.

The president of the society, Randy Reed will present the first part of the concert with his daughter Ariel and Suzanne Sutherland on flute. We'll probably play around 9.

We'll be premiering Penka Kuneva's setting of Fear No More the Heat of the Sun from Shakespeare's Cymbeline.

Come if you can!


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

In which I wonder what the universe is trying to tell me.

Lately there have been unsettling omens around here. Omens from which one might augur, if one had the knack. In no particular order:
  • Two hawks sat on my balcony and watched the young chickens below. Both swooped down. One managed to scoop up a chicken and take it away. The other hawk dropped its chicken, which then ran away at full speed.

  • There is a new wren family living in a plastic pitcher on a back porch shelf.

  • The stairs to the back porch, high and long, have suddenly come apart at the landing. One can now see that all these years we've all been thundering up and down a staircase put together with approximately four nails, all of which have now given way. Tripp Wrenn, for shame!

  • This morning Jethro went nuts, running around and around in his round pen. I had to go see what the problem was. It turned out, he was in high dudgeon due to the presence of a very, very tiny fawn which was wobbling along outside the round pen, but INSIDE the deerfence.

    The mother was standing outside the deerfence, watching the fawn, but she ran away when I approached.

    While I tried to decide what to do (I was talking to Manhattan Hannah, who was at the time walking to work), the fawn lay down in the grass, utterly still. I hung up the phone and picked up the fawn in my arms. It was warm and smooth and soft and tiny and it didn't struggle at all.

    I walked across the grass, cradling it and not wanting to put it down. I opened the gate and put it down gently in the forest and it wobbled away on stilt-like, crooked legs.

    I think it was born this very morning.

  • Then I went to Lockhardt's trading post (it's what we have instead of a 7-11: ladies grilling southern foods in the back, and local produce in the front next to the cellophane-packaged pork rinds) to get some tomatoes. I narrowly missed concussing myself walking into a cement pole that supports the ceiling. Then I dropped my wallet next to the sweet potatoes and left without it. One of the nice grill ladies called a while ago and told me to come pick it up.

  • (Just now, I almost spelled potatoes without an e, just like Dan Quayle!)

  • (I dropped my wallet in Walmart last week; amazingly, a nice lady called Hannah's number in New York, it's listed on my emergency card. So then Hannah called me - amazingly, I was still in Wal-mart! - and said, "Ma, a lady has your wallet down by register 4.")

  • I went to Harris Teeter and nearly concussed myself again, almost walking into another concrete post, the second concrete-post-near-concussion in less than an hour.

  • Earlier the same morning (THIS morning), when we were about to go to the airport so he could leave for Mexico, Zed realized he didn't have his passport. We spent from 4:45-5:25 am looking for it. The time for departure came and went and we were still tearing through his luggage and every pile of anything in the entire house. I finally found the passport in a pile of clothes under his bed.

  • One of my young Buckeye roosters had a mis-aligned beak - as he grew it got worse and worse. He couldn't forage with the others, he could only eat scratch (cracked corn and wheat), and eventually he couldn't even manage that unless there was so much in the pan he could basically bury his head in it.

    I decided he had to be killed. I read up about it and carried him away, cooing sweetly to him, until we were far out of earshot of the other chickens. As the book commanded, I put him on the ground and put a broomstick across his neck and pulled upwards on his legs. Too hard, I guess. His head came off. His body flapped wildly for a really long time while I desperately gripped his legs and got splattered with blood from his headless neck. I lobbed him over the deer fence for the foxes to find.

  • On Sunday the power went out while Mark and I were painting, so we quit. When light was restored, next morning, I discovered my painting was spectacularly bad.


[Hannah]: Garbage collecting and the Mafia

Seen on Slate: "Why does the Mafia get involved in hauling garbage?"

This reminded me of when I was a kid. I remember Ma musing over the puzzling fact that our garbage collectors would sometimes go years without billing us.
Criminal organizations elsewhere in the world also find profit in trash schemes. In parts of Taiwan, gangs dig into the riverbank for gravel and sell it to construction companies. Then, they fill up the holes with waste they've collected. Georgian crime bosses swooped in when the city of Tbilisi privatized waste transport (PDF). In New York City, La Cosa Nostra more or less dominated trash collection from the 1950s until Rudy Giuliani seized control of the industry as mayor in the 1990s.

Still, it beats me what any mafia would have wanted with our rural route.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Mark does Illustration Friday: "Baby Icarus."

The power went out while we were working yesterday ...

Incomplete. Acrylic, graphite and modeling paste on canvas.
--- Mark

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