Thursday, January 24, 2013

Getting It Ready

Phase One was making the move--packing, camping in the midst of my stuff, mostly in cartons, until the apartment was ready. Now I'm just about at the end of Phase Two, which is, moving into the new apartment and placing my furniture and artwork around the walls. I've  hung some art, arranged some favorite pieces of furniture, and started replacing pieces I sold or gave away long ago.

A new rug pulls the furniture, mis-matched and of different vintage, together to look as if their purchase was planned. A designer once told me that if you pick only things you like, they will work together because they'll all be at the same level of taste--your own. I'm counting on that as the only word for my style is eclectic. There are antiques and mid-century modern pieces, and even the art is from different periods of my life and different schools. Because of my long life, my stuff is my biography--and it's a pretty complex one.

Years ago I had a round oak somewhat-antique dining table. I sold it before I moved to Hoboken, in the orgy of yard sales, giveaways, and general purge of that big move in December 2007. I haven't had a dining space since, but now I do again, and it seemed the perfect place for one of those tables.
 It's a little rickety for a kitchen work surface, but it looks right and it's now awaiting a few more chairs so I can serve someone on it. The place is beginning to feel like home.
At last I have an office, even though it is half of my second bedroom. I can do some work here.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Too Good To Be True

I guess everybody's heard enough about Lance Armstrong to last a lifetime, and about Manti T'eo too. I'm still haunted by both their stories and by the media attention, which to a certain degree was the story in both cases.

I don't pay any attention to sports because I think they are a negative force in American society. I'm one of those scolds who thinks way too much importance is placed on athletics and athletes, and, well, if our gladiators have to take performance-enhancing drugs to achieve the fame they seek, their admirers should be aware of that by now. And if one of them believes a made-up online girl is the love of his life, that's probably because he might have never had much of a life outside the big game.

In the case of Armstrong, not many Americans paid much more attention to the Tour de France than I did until he came along. He carefully crafted the image of guy-who-has-it-all while in reality behind the scenes was a nasty piece of work and had very little going for him. Prevailing in his bout with cancer may have been the only real thing he did, and his fund-raising foundation, while clearly a good way for him to shelter some of his fortune, achieved millions for a worthy cause--but that was likely an afterthought put in place by business advisers. It does not make him a philanthropist.

The troubling thing about his interview with Oprah Winfrey was his flat affect, his apparent indifference to the magnitude of his deception, and his clarity about his intention to appear to be a normal human being, maybe even a good one underneath. He failed at that and I'm sure he hates to fail. He may end up suing Oprah for defamation of character. As usual, I admired Ms. Winfrey for her direct, non-judgmental hits, just asking probing questions as she tried to make some sense of his version of things.

At first I thought of Manti Te'o as some kind of Li'l Abner type--a big bruiser with a heart of gold and the brain the size of an English pea. Now it becomes clear that he was let in on the prank before he revealed it and may have been more of a participant than he claims. At any rate it was a silly-season kind of joke, if that's what it was, and apparently will have no lasting negative pull on his career as a football player.

Back to the performance-enhancing drugs. I don't understand why people are so up in arms about this. As far as I can tell, sports fans want to win and they want it so much this obsession clouds their vision. Sports are not about what we call "good sportsmanship," if indeed they ever were. They are about winning. Baseball players, runners, everybody in competitive sports takes them, and they work. Whether the Baseball Hall of Fame honors them or not, today's baseball players rack up more home runs than the former all-time greats ever did, and they do it every season. Like Armstrong--a cyclist nobody ever spotted as special--who won one Tour de France after another, they know that winning is the only thing, and that there is a short cut to doing it. Why are the fans surprised, much less betrayed? Did they not think of this? If not, why not?

We pay these brutes millions and millions of dollars every year. We want to see them win and we'd like to think they're not the kind of guys who run dogfight rings on the side. But we know that most of them will do anything to stay on top in their field, and that usually means they have to have a little pharmaceutical help to do so. Nobody forces them to take drugs (well, Armstrong did what he could to coerce his teammates to, and did what he could to ruin them if they told the truth about him, but he is an extreme case). The fans are the ones who want to see those high scores, those high batting averages, those bloated muscles. It's not news that drugs are a part of the scene. What would be so outrageous about taking steps to legalize these essential substances?

Would that not make sports fans relax a bit and continue to worship these physical specimens of unreal looks and ability? Their feet would look less clay-like if we just admitted it at the outset.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Work in Progress

You can tell from the picture that I'm making progress. Unpacking, but far from done. I've got a lot to think about as I go into the many cartons I brought from Hoboken to New Paltz--some purging yet to do, a lifetime of stuff that I once treasured or at least thought someday I'd need. Carton after carton was labeled BOOKS. A preponderance of those, maybe half, were marked COOKBOOKS.

A funny thing happened to me a few years ago when I read of a new cookbook that intrigued me. I thought, "I have recipes for most of those dishes already, somewhere in these books of mine," then I had a major revelation. "I don't really need another cookbook." This was followed by the bolt-of-lightning realization, "I can cook. I don't need one more cookbook." I've been cooking for over fifty years and enjoying it. I've tried many cuisines and settled on what I like and do best. I might try something totally different from time to time, from a recipe in a magazine, on television or the Internet. But I simply don't need one more book.

Yet I kept most of my cookbooks. In the same way I've kept most of my books over the years. This time, since I'm renting an apartment for one year, it would be wasted energy to unpack all my books and put them into my many bookcases, as next January I may well be packing for another move. Many of the cartons labeled BOOKS will go unopened into one of the big closets. I'll pick a few boxes at random and unpack them onto the shelves. I expect to like looking at the dust jackets and displaying the 20 or 30 books for all to see how erudite I am and am not. I'll unpack some of the cookbooks and probably use them from time to time--but then, I cook mostly from memory anyway.

A crisis occurred when I realized I don't need all these encyclopedias. I struggled to buy encyclopedias in the early 1970s, when a good set was still a necessity of my life. The Encyclopedia Britannica offered many sales plans--ways for the customer to pay in installments. Their telephone salesman was insistent that I use one of them. When I asked if I could just pay the total amount outright I was told no, that wasn't among their plans. I tried to get off the phone with that guy for weeks. He had my number and kept calling although I told him over and over I didn't want to pay in installments. We reached a stalemate and he finally gave up. On vacation in Maine I bought an unused set from a housewife who had fallen for the telephone pitch and had no use for encyclopedias after all.

I took a modicum of pride up until a few years ago that I was still referring to my Britannicas for little questions that might arise, pulling up biographies and pearls of information from decades past. But more and more I was using the Internet for such information, and by the time I got to New Paltz, with my grandsons lugging the heavy boxes to my apartment and asking, "Why do you need all these encyclopedias?" I finally asked myself the same question and had to admit it had been at least two years since I'd opened one. Now, where to donate them--or do I just put them out with the recyclables? The set is dated 1969 and there is a volume missing. Does anybody read encyclopedias? I can't think who that might be.

I continue to look through detritus and hope it's all valuable. I always thought when I moved the next time I'd find those green earrings I wore so often and suddenly couldn't find. In carton after carton I see forgotten mementos and artifacts of pasts epochs from my past. Most are fun to find; some cause me to ask, what on earth did I ever want this for? So far, no luck on the earrings.