Chloe helped build and then rode on the Tri-M float in yesterday’s parade, and look, they made a new friend!  Beth only got to shake her hand.

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Ten years on from September 11 and we still can’t stop thinking about it.  The imagery doesn’t degrade with repeated viewings, and neither does that feeling of disconnectedness to the real world, that we’d now entered a new science fictional age where these kinds of things could actually happen and not just be a made-up story on tv.

I can remember feeling that way for months after the attacks, it was a couple of years before the date could come around again and people could feel like treating it somewhat normally.  Unlike any previous act of war, we were all able to witness it in real time, no matter where we were, and through tv and the internet we could relive it over and over.  The death toll was bad, not nearly as bad as first feared, but unless you were there in lower Manhattan or unless you knew or were related to someone who was, it was the imagery I think that made it so indelible for so long, rather than the loss of life.  After all, since then we’ve seen much more massive destruction and greater casualties due to tsunamis and earthquakes, but there wasn’t as much video of those things happening.  And of course they didn’t happen to us.

Ten years ago September 11 was on a Tuesday and I took the commuter bus in as I was doing every day.  There was expectedly a lot of traffic since it was shortly after the end of summer and everyone was back to work and back to school.  But I was in the office shortly before 9, probably right around the time the first plane was hitting its target in New York.  We had a standing 9am meeting every Tuesday with our lead business contact, who was late coming over to our building because she’d been watching the tv reports on the trading floor that were talking about a plane hitting the World Trade Center.  Of course your first thought is a small plane, and from the conference room at 2 International Place you could see Boston’s version of the World Trade Center, which is a smallish convention center across the bridge in the Seaport area.  But we went on with our business, until shortly before 10 when one of the managers stuck her head in and said there had been an attack in New York City and that Boston was going to be evacuated as a precaution.

Back at my desk, the internet was jammed, you couldn’t get to any news page, and we didn’t have tvs at IP.  The management told everybody to go home and wait for further instructions.  The commuter bus only ran during rush hour, so there was no option to take it home, so the only reasonable option was commuter rail.  I was able to get a hold of Beth easily enough, she was coming from the mall where Justin was having his picture taken, and she had to pick up Chloe at kindergarten, but then she would drive over to the Framingham train station to meet me (there was no Southborough station until a few years later). 

Of course the train station was mobbed, but the T did a good job of just bringing up trains and loading people on and sending them on their way without any conern for a schedule, and the train wasn’t especially crowded, I was probably on it by 11 or so.  It took a long time to get to Framingham because they wouldn’t let the train go more then 40 mph or so,  there were  a couple of guys from New York on the car who were on their cell phones, getting updates from family but also trying to figure out how to get back to New York, their plan was to take the train all the way to Worcester and then rent a car.  I had stuff in my briefcase to read, but it didn’t seem like it would be possible to concentrate. 

Beth picked me up, the gas gauge was close to empty and I wondered if gas would suddenly be hard to come by, so we got gas in Framingham before heading for home, we might have stopped to grab a sandwich or something along the way too, since it would have been past lunch time by then.  I turned on the tv as soon as I was in the house and immediately saw the images of the towers falling,  it wasn’t anything like I had visualized, collapsing like a controlled demolition rather than falling over, the whiteout on the ground from the dust.  We watched the news for a long time.  Later in the afternoon I got a call from one of my co-workers, our senior manager at the time whom none of us particularly liked was worried about whether we could fail over our systems if there was a problem with the servers downtown, but by that point everything had stablizied so it just seemed annoying to even be thinking about work.  Some of the traders had headed out to the business continuity site in Westborough, but there weren’t many people to trade with.

The next day it was back to work, back on the bus.  The  bus driver played the radio news over the speakers on the way in, as new information would still come in occasionally over the constant repetition of the known facts.  I even went to the gym at lunch, running on the treadmill while watching the towers collapse over and over on CNN, which seemed inappropriate although I did it anyway.  Someone had a Wall Street Journal with the headline “World Trade Center Destroyed”. 

Ten years later, much is back to normal, although things are definitely different.  We were fortunate that we weren’t directly affected, but you couldn’t help but be emotionally affected.  I wasn’t singing in the chorus that year but I did do the pitch at the Messiah Sing that December, and even then, three months later, even that little community event felt different.  It was a taste, certainly as much of a taste as you would want, of what it must have been like to live during a war when the war was happening right outside, like London during the Blitz, because we all saw it happen, and could relive it at will through the media.  I had been to New York several times but never walked past or set foot inside the WTC.  Since then we go down to lower Manhattan pretty much every time we’re in New York, just to see how it’s coming along.  The first time was just two years later, in the fall of 2003, when there was a pro bike race held nearby, and we stayed at the Marriott that was just down the street from the towers and had sustained considerable damage of its own.  There was still one big office building at that time that was being repaired, with large parts of one side still open to the outside, draped in tarps and scaffolding.

I’m all for commemorating anniversaries, so by all means let’s not let this one pass unremarked.  I’d still like to go to Shanksville some time when we’re passing through southern PA.  I’d like to see the new memorial park, and check out the new trade center when it’s done.   But I for one will be glad when this weekend is over and I can turn on the tv or the radio and not be reminded.

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Happy Labor Day

Sep 5, 2011

School starts tomorrow, which after all is when it should start, but it was supposed to be last wednesday. Thanks to hurricane Irene the kids got an extra week of vacation (although there were only two days scheduled for last week). One good thing, they’re really ready to go back, they’ve been bored silly these last few days.

I’m posting from my iPod. Why can’t I see what I’m writing though? Hope this works!

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Happy new year!

Jan 1, 2010

Will 2010 be a different sort of year? Considering it started with another heartbreaking overtime bowl game loss for the wildcats, so far the answer seems to be, “probably not.”. I wasn’t sorry to be sitting at home to watch instead of sitting there in the pouring rain. I wonder at what point in the 4th quarter that smith and Cohen completely lost their voices. The cats gave it all they had, but in the end came up short. So it’s on to basketball and a shot at the NCAA tournament. If that starts to fall apart too, it’ll be a looong winter.

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As winter sets in, for some reason thoughts of next year’s trips start to really take hold. The Worldcon is in Australia next year, so that’s out, and even if I was going to go to all the trouble and expense of flying to Melbourne, I wouldn’t do it to spend five days in windowless conference rooms. The NASFIC is in Raleigh, which is an area we’ve never really done, so I spent some time several weeks ago surfing around info on the Great Smoky Mountain NP, Gatlinburg (which is quite the resort area, apparently), Asheville, and even over to Hatteras (North Carolina is a very wide state, though). As it turns out NASFIC tends to be kind of lame, without much representation from the pro writers, so it’s a better option to go without factoring in the convention. If anything, the April spring school vacation would be the ideal time for that trip, similar to what we did a few years ago with Shenandoah and Virginia Beach, since its warm enough down there by then to get a jump on spring. Another possibility would be to wait until late in the summer and try to get the rest of the families to commit, since in the aforementioned Gatlinburg area (gateway to Dollywood and a bunch of other touristy things) there’s a lot of vacation rentals to be had and its approximately equi-distant to everyone.

I haven’t pulled the trigger yet but Beth and I are planning to take a belated 20th anniversary trip to Santa Fe at the beginning of April, which makes less likely the prospect of doing a long trip like North Carolina just a couple of weeks later. Santa Fe seems like a good choice for a trip with just the two of us, since most of what there is to do there involves pueblos and art museums and other things the kids could care less about, so they won’t feel gypped. That should get finalized pretty soon.

At the end of the June I’m thinking about heading to Chicago to take part in the first Chicago amateur piano competition. Having helped in running three of the Boston ones now, I find contestants often ask me the question, “So what competitions have YOU been in?” so if for nothing else than to improve my piano street cred I should probably do one, and Chicago would seem to be the least logistically challenging, in that I could bring the family but not have to be in charge of the entertainment. Have another couple of months to decide on that one. If that doesn’t happen it would also be a possibility to invite ourselves out there for the holidays next year, particularly if the Florida Bartletts could do it too.

Speaking of which, we’re due for a trip to Florida to check out Scott and Shelley’s new domain, plus Beth wants to see the new Harry Potter World theme park after it opens next year. This would be a popular choice for the kids (Chloe often complains about how many of our trips are structured around national parks or science fiction conventions. Actually, she often complains period, that’s just one of the various topics). Not too many chances left to meet up with their boys before they get too old to be much fun.

And a beach trip like we did coming back from Illinois this summer would also be something I’d be up for, I know we have beaches around here, too, but a return trip to Virginia Beach or Wildwood or somewhere in between or I suppose even the Cape would be worth doing, although the further south you go the more weekends there are to choose from weather-wise, offset of course by the longer distance traveled. Even Maine is worth considering, haven’t been there since ’04.

The summer tends to go quickly, in that it starts late because the kids don’t get out of school until half way through June (extra snow days can make it go longer) and then they’re back before Labor Day, and in between you have various scout camps and sports camps, etc, etc, before you know it there’s no time left to plan anything. So while it may seem unnecessary to think about leaving the frigid northeast this far in advance, in some cases it’s the only way you’re going to get anywhere. There’s no shortage of places to go around here, of course, but with all the other stuff that’s out there it’s fun to consider the possibilities. And this is just 2010, the year after that the Worldcon is in Reno of all places, I’m already reading up on Yosemite and hotels at Lake Tahoe. Too bad we don’t ski.

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Not an all-time record, but this morning took two and a half hours to make the trip by commuter bus from downtown to downtown, about twice what it normally takes. This is coming off just a couple of weeks ago when it took an hour and five minutes, a record on the other end for this means of transportation.

Since September I’ve been mostly doing the commuter bus, since Chloe is on the earliest school bus now I have to get up a little earlier to work around her morning routine (although she’s pretty well got it down now so I don’t have to worry about it so much any more). It’s cheaper than commuter rail, including free parking, and picks up much closer to home, drops off close to work, although it only runs twice a day. For those days when I don’t have something going on in the city for the evening, its the easiest option. Today it was basically the only option, there was only about two inches of snow on the roads but it was still coming down and the plows hadn’t mobilized yet, so driving 6 miles to the commuter rail or 19 miles to the Green Line was more unappealing than usual. Unfortunately Route 20 was a crawl through Sudbury and Wayland, it probably took an hour to travel that one six-mile stretch. And in the city it was just raining (albeit sideways). Fortunately I had lots of reading material.

School was canceled for two inches of snow falling at the wrong time of day (although they probably ended up with significantly more before it turned to rain), so it doesn’t bode well for the winter to come. But on the other hand, last year’s first big storm was mostly ice and some people didn’t have electricity for two weeks, so it’s all relative. Let’s hope the trip home goes a little faster.

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Today is election day for the primary race that ultimately picks the person who will replace Ted Kennedy. And since this is Massachusetts and the Republican candidate is not a factor, the race is basically decided today, even though the general election isn’t until January. Up until I walked into the polling place at Kane School I wasn’t firmly committed, but I ended up going with Mike Capuano. I think either he or Martha Coakley and probably even Alan Khazei would be a decent choice, so I’m not going to be particularly moved one way or the other no matter which of them gets the nod. Steve Pagluica, while not unlikeable, just didn’t seem to have any reason to be senator other than to spend a lot of money campaigning, and all those robo-calls are just annoying everyone.

The Globe and my favorite liberal blog bluemassgroup.com actually went for Khazei, something of a surprise given his lack of political experience, I can see the blog people being more theoretical and willing to go with the most seemingly progressive candidate, but the Globe’s endorsement still befuddles me. It would seem that not only do we have to pick a new senator, (something you don’t get to do very often, since once elected they tend to have the job for life) but a new senator to replace Ted Kennedy, who was the voice of Massachusetts, cradle of liberty, last bastion of liberalism, for decades, so you don’t want to just vote for the nice guy or the smart guy or the connected guy, but the one who can get things done and get other people to get things done the way Kennedy could. Coakley, for all her good qualities, seems to be more in the John Kerry mode, working quietly behind the scenes, scoring points for and advocating on behalf of the commonwealth without a lot of public visibility.

But we already have John Kerry, and those who have written about Capuano (including the Phoenix, which did give him an endorsement) point to his track record both in congress and before that as mayor of Somerville, as someone who would vote his conscience regardless of the prevailing wisdom, someone who could get things done. He tends to come across a little smarmy on tv, but in his favor he seems to have made it through the campaign without mudslinging or having any skeletons dredged up, so you have to give him the benefit of the doubt, he’s managed to keep to the high road.

Beth wasn’t sure who to vote for either, but its nice to be undecided because of a plurarlity of worthy candidates rather than a dearth of them. My guess is she’ll ultimately go for Coakley, and if she wins, that’s fine too, I think she has done well as attorney general and would sincerely do her utmost to represent Massachusetts in the Kennedy manner, since there don’t seem to be any more Kennedys that want to give it a shot.

There’s still the formality of today’s winner running against some hapless Republican next month, but let’s get on with it, there’s too much to do in Washington and too little time to do it before the crazy people take over again.

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Nate called out of nowhere yesterday to talk bowl bids. I was at the gym, and Chloe figured it was some guy wanting money or selling magazines or whatever, until Nate convinced her otherwise. Then I was off to Rhode Island for the afternoon’s piano group soiree, so no sooner was I back and sat down to dinner than he called again! Then he had to cut me off because Rich was calling him, so he called a third time. That’s three times in one day, which is three more times than in the last five years probably.

Anyway, the Cats finished the season at 8-4 so we knew we were bowl-bound, but the prospects looked best for either a return trip to the Alamo Bowl (last chance for the Big 10 this year), or else the Champs Bowl in Orlando, both a few days before New Years. But instead we actually got the bowl we should get, which hasn’t happened since 1996, and were picked for the Outback Bowl in Tampa on New Year’s Day! Go Cats! And we’re playing a 7-5 Auburn team who had a hit or miss season although they did nearly beat Alabama in their last game.

So it sounds promising, but I’m not going. I think my best bowl-attending years are behind me. The Sun Bowl was my last trip in 2005, and while it was a good trip it would have been better if I didn’t have to work around everyone’s various nap times and gastro-intestinal problems. The onset of middle age was not kind to my fellow bowl-enthusiasts, they can still handle a quick road trip for a basketball game, but that’s about it. I was up for meeting at Syracuse this past September, the Wildcats furthest journey east in at least 15 years, but it conflicted with Rosh Hashanah, so that was that (just as well, we lost in embarrassing fashion, sort of like our typical bowl performance).

Plus its at least $450 to fly to Florida around that time, which just seems wrong. Plenty of cheap hotels, though. I’ll still be there in spirit and will be tuning in for sure. We’ll see if I can find a suitable venue from which to watch the game, maybe Tony has moved back to Connecticut without telling me again.

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Chloe got the news yesterday that she’d been picked for the freshman basketball team at MHS. She was a nervous wreck Wednesday night waiting to find out but got the thumbs up finally the next day, followed immediately by a bus trip to Wayland for a practice scrimmage. Marlborough has something of a competitive advantage in that because the 8th grade is in with the high school, they have more kids to pick from for freshman teams than most towns, which also makes it more competitive to get on the team. So this was a real try-out that she had to pass, not just a formality, there were several girls she knew who didn’t get picked.

Helping with the basketball selection was the fact that a lot of girls are playing up a level this year due to an unusually large percentage of graduating seniors on last year’s varsity team. So several of Chloe’s classmates actually got to pass over the freshman team to play on the JV team, basically a who’s who of a lot of the same girls Chloe has played both with and against during the past four years of Boys & Girls Clubs basketball.

That league is also just starting and Chloe is signed up for that also, but last night’s first practice was cancelled because of this last minute scrimmage, and Saturday’s first games are postponed so that everyone can go cheer on the undefeated varsity football team as they play their first high school superbowl in 30 years or so.

This is all coming closely on the heels of the end of the volleyball season, where Chloe was also on the freshman team and they ended up with a convincing winning record (no playoffs at that level, though). Given her parentage, who would have guessed that she’d be such a sports pro? Still have to get used to saying “Go Panthers!”

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This month’s classics reading group took advantage of John Updike’s recent demise to read his most famous, or notorious, novel, “Rabbit, Run”, which is now upon its 50th anniversary of publication. This is a little bit of a departure for us, since we don’t often get to read American stories that take place within the lifespans of most of the membership. And this book may underscore why, what Updike provides is a very sharply drawn, no holds barred depiction of middle class suburban life, where everyone is mostly unhappy with everyone else, often for reasons they only vaguely understand. The main character, Harry Rabbit Angstrom, is a former high school basketball star now married 20-something saddled with a wife who is borderline alcoholic and pregnant with their second child. He gets in his car one evening to pick up his 3 year old, and on a whim decides to run away, driving most of the night while sorting out the reasons behind this impulse that makes him want to abandon his current life.

But he doesn’t really sort them out, and goes back, not to his own house but to his former basketball coach, looking for some wisdom and guidance. The coach, Trothero, instead lines him up with a prostitute, for whom Harry immediately establishes a co-dependency. At this point the reader gets the sense that Harry is not the most likeable character, not because he has any criminal or violent tendencies, but because he is so abhorrent of responsibility, even though the alternatives he’s pursuing aren’t any better and certainly not thought through. He meets up with his minister, Eccles, who tries to steer him back to his wife, but Harry turns out to be a tougher case than the minister was expecting. Only the impending birth of his daughter spurs Harry to a reconciliation, but what happens after that only makes matters worse, and even at the very end Harry is seen to be running away, seemingly having learned nothing from the experiences in the book.

Harry at one point makes the provocative comment, “Once you’ve been first rate at something, it’s hard to settle for second rate.” You can see his point, I suppose. Some of the group thought Harry would seem like a nice guy to talk to once in a while but not somebody you could really stay friends with. In fact during the course of the book you really don’t hear about any friends, even though he’s lived there his entire life. So it was an interesting exercise for the author to paint such a compelling portrait of a character who is unlikeable not because he’s done anything really awful, but because he can’t commit to doing much of anything at all. In a way it echoes your typical hero in a Russian novel.

Updike’s prose is in present tense, mostly from Harry’s point of view, drawing interesting linguistic juxtapositions and occasionally lapsing into brief stream of consciousness, but always very readable and understandable. It also draws an interesting parallel with Kit in last month’s selection, Paul Bowles’ “The Sheltering Sky”, who for different reasons is also running away from her past without any sense of what to do in its place. Rabbit Run is not a book you’d want to read a lot, or turn to for inspiration or comfort by any means, but Updike puts forth a believable, richly detailed story that is well worth reading.

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