Thursday, May 29, 2008

Portion Control

Trying to stick to a lighter diet but constantly thwarted by the vast, empty expanses of your dishes? Well, have I got the bowl for you.

On the other hand, ramen is all empty carbs. Better only eat half.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

You Know, My Last Plane Trip Was Just Like This

Only instead of a wide, comfy seat and a friendly hostess serving full, prepared meals to happy and well-dressed passengers, I got three square feet of personal space and the opportunity to purchase a bag of chips with the rest of the attendees at this particular hobo convention.

On the other hand, at least no one offered to make me an Honorary Stewardess.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Chronicles of Tempura: The Carrot, The Shrimp, and The Broccoli

Joy Sushi

Well, I forgot to take the photo again, so you're going to have to take the existence if tonight's dinner on faith. Though you might be able to guess at the nature of this review from the state of the dishes.

I had been putting off my visit to this place, because it didn't look very promising from the outside-- just another hole-in-the-wall among on the edges of the downtown. My first surprise, then was to go inside and find it large and bright, and decently crowded, unlike the last several places I've been. I took a place at the sushi bar, and found I was lucky to get it; in the time I was there a line formed that filled the entryway and I was feeling kind of bad about taking my seat between two empty ones.

When you get lines out (or at least up to) the door, I think you should be able to expect, or at least reasonably hope for, good food. And, in this case, your hopes would not be unreasonable. After last week's example of fancy signs on a lousy restaurant I had pretty much given up on expectations, and when I realized that every one of the combination bentos included tempura I wasn't very hopeful (after all, if they're just churning it out for everything, can it really be that good?), so you can imagine my surprise when my food came and it was excellent. True, I did have to pull a lump of batter off the end of the shrimp before I could even get to it and the broccoli was, as usual, hopeless, but overall I would have to say that this was some of the best tempura I have had so far. It arrived crisp and delicious, didn't become heavy or greasy even when it cooled down, came with a good, reasonably interesting selection of vegetables and didn't leave me feeling like I had just drunk the contents of a fryolater. The rest of the bento was composed of some slightly-above-average tuna sashimi and some very nice gyoza, though points off for only offering California rolls with imitation crab. (I know, everywhere does it, I just keep hoping...) And, of course, the whole experience was improved by the fact that there were a dozen or so people waiting to get in and wishing they were me, happily sitting down and eating this good food.

Tempura Grade: 8/10
Overall Grade: 8/10

No Bread For You!

So last night I was out at dinner with some friends (it was Lisa's last night in town before she returned to the lonely hinterlands of New York City), at a place that included on its menu a dish with "balsamic redaction." Also on offer was spaghetti with meatballs, which a couple of people decided to order. So, naturally, I had to make the comment that it was a good thing that the meatballs were plural because, after all, you get no bread with one meatball.

Four blank stares and some uncomfortable laughter later, it occurred to me that this reference might not be quite as universal as I had thought, and perhaps not everyone's grandfather had been singing that particular song at random intervals for as long as they could remember. Which is too bad because, really, who doesn't love a jaunty little number about poverty, hunger and humiliation?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Brainteaser for You

You know that trick where someone tells you "don't think of a pink elephant" and you can't think of anything else for the next ten minutes or so? Well, in that vein, I'd just like to challenge you to read this article and not think of Jason Giambi in a gold thong.

You're welcome.

(Credit/blame for this goes to Dave Barry's blog.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lisa's Bachelorette Party: A Photo Essay

It started with shopping (not pictured). And lunch. (Also not pictured, but tasty.)

Next stop was the Bliss Spa, where you can sit out on the rooftop patio while you are waiting for your pedicure.

Then we went back to maid-of-honor Iljie's apartment, where she had laid out a lovely spread:

And Lisa was required to put on a sash and open presents:

Later, a feather boa got involved:

It turns out that a unstructured cotton minidress, while supremely comfortable, does not photograph well, especially when you have yanked it down over your knees:

But at least the highlights turned out nice:

Is my face really that flat?

In an entirely inappropriate move, my gift to Lisa was: books. To read on her honeymoon in Bora Bora. She seemed to like them, though.

What can I say? I gotta be me.

She had already read this one, and helpfully explained the plot:

To get to dinner, we rode on MUNI:

With a guy in a fake mustache:

Perhaps he's a spy?

For dinner we went to Home, a restaurant that specializes in upscale versions of classic American comfort food (in this case, "upscale" means "really good" and not "stupid and annoying"). Imagine hipster San Franciscans lining up for pot roast and meatloaf, which they will do here, because it is good. So is the cornbread:

We all enjoyed the dinner:

And the drinks:

(Though I have to admit, by this point, about nine hours in, I was actually starting to get tired of the girly drinks. I tried to get them to make me a gin ricky, but the bartender didn't know how.)

After dinner we had intended to go on to a night of partying, but it turns out we're all old, so instead we went back to Jora's apartment, crashed on the couch:

(It's important to stay hydrated.)

And watched Lisa play Guitar Hero.

Now that was a party.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I Guess That Explains It

more cat pictures

Ten Grand!

Plus eight! That's what hit counter read when I looked at it today. And it only took three years!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tempura Thursday: Hot Time, Tempura in the City*

*Okay, suburb.

1750 S. El Camino Real
San Mateo, CA

It's May, and the temperatures in the Bay Area are hitting the eighties, which means it's time for people to lie on the floor and moan about how they're going to die of heatstroke. Me, I'm eating tempura.

That's right. After a break for travel (and a delay in posting because I was too lazy/otherwise occupied to write this up last week) we're back! I'm here to chew bubble gum and eat tempura, and I'm all out of bubble gum. Which is a good thing, because that would be gross.

In a slight deviation from my usual pattern, this week I took on a place outside of San Mateo's main drag, on El Camino just off the exit from 92. Also different is the fact that the restaurant is clearly trying to distinguish itself as a fancy and modern place (witness, the name) in what looks to be a reconditioned Perko's.

There was no sashimi option in the combo listings, so I had to make do with a California to go with my tempura (for the relatively high price of eighteen dollars). They brought out the usual starters fairly promptly (there was almost no one else in the restaurant): a salad which, like many of the places I have visited, they kept premade in the refrigerator, really putting the "ice" in iceberg, and possibly the worst miso soup I have had so far; much too salty, with an unidentifiably odd taste (did they make it with chicken broth or something?). I was disappointed not to get edamame, which I think is a clear sign that I am getting spoiled.

The entrees came in separate dishes, a presentation that always makes me feel like I have ordered too much food, because I have. The roll came first, and while it was nicely prepared with a welcome lack of cucumber, it was disappointingly made with imitation crab. (Helpful hint for restaurants trying to make themselves "fancy": "Fancy" restaurants do not generally replace ingredients with cheaper, fake, alternatives.) The tempura was fine, even a little crisper than usual, though that may have been due to being slightly overcooked. The selection of vegetables was unimaginative (sweet potato, eggplant, zucchini, something I'm forgetting), but they left out the bad ones, the shrimp were decently large and nothing was over-battered. But, in the same way I feel obligated to give extra points if I clean my plate, I think that if partway through eating the dish I take a bite and have to stop because I feel ill, that counts as an automatic one-point deduction.

Reviewing: It's more of an art than a science.

Tempura Grade: 5/10
Overall Grade: 4/10

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Blood for Oil? Yeah, Okay.

On Monday I gave some blood at work (ten tubes! no fainting!), and received in exchange fifty dollars from petty cash. Today I spent that money on gas for my car.

I think this may be symbolic of something.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Speaking of Odd Foreign Music

What's that I hear? Is it the faint strains of Icelandic dance-pop mingling with Finnish death metal, while a crazy Greek lady dances in a pop-up book? Is it really Eurovision time again already?

Needless to say, Ireland has entered a singing turkey.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mormon Dance Music?

Is that even possible?

Well, they do call themselves the "Utah Saints"

On the other hand, they appear to be from Wales.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


While spending a lovely Mother's Day at home, between eating the fine fried chicken sandwiches Zach brought, taking Caddie on a walk through the park, laughing ourselves silly over entropy jokes and keeping an eye on a surprisingly large flock of goldfinches in the eucalyptus tree, we spent some time going through some of the stuff that was getting cleared out of the loft. Among them was a file of Dad's of the things he brought back from his trip he took to Russia in 1967, including some Soviet-era toilet paper:

Thank God we won the Cold War.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Happiest Discovery Channel Promo Ever

Saw this while I was running yesterday and it made me smile:

I love the thing at the end where the astronaut does a spin, just 'cause it's fun.

Also, watch for the Stephen Hawking cameo.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Eight Things I Didn't Do On My Trip

1. Go inside any major government building.
2. Visit the MoMA, the Met or any other easily-abbreviated New York museum.
3. See one of the many Broadway shows featuring an American Idol runner-up in the cast.
4. See any Broadway shows at all.
5. Sleep nearly enough.
6. See Dorothy's shoes, Jerry's shirt, the First Ladies' gowns or any of the other treasures that represent my cultural heritage as an American.
7. Visit any area of New York City outside of Manhattan.
8. Visit any area of DC outside of a one-mile radius of the Mall.

Guess I'll just have to go back.

Wednesday, Part Two: Ooh, Shiny

And speaking of food (see below), I had lingered at the Library well past lunchtime, so as soon as I left I made my way to a restaurant near the Capitol that my (actually, Abigail's) guidebook described as being a popular hangout for Congressional staffers. Where, for the price of my rather average grilled chicken sandwich (question: is it even possible to make one of those that actually tastes good? because they all come off as about the same to me), I got to eavesdrop on a young (about college-age) congressional intern talking to a woman who seemed to be a professional staffer who knew his family, giving him advice on his career and suggesting networking strategies. Then they finished their lunch and I was left with only the crazy guy selling Street Scene and ranting about his uncles to listen to, which may be a metaphor for something, I'm not sure.

Okay, not a lot of time, still a lot of things to see. I had to pick and choose through the remaining museums for the things I wanted to see the most, and get to all of them before I had to leave at five to make it back in time to catch my plane. In the end, the choice went to the Natural History Museum, particularly after I looked in at the Air and Space and was overwhelmed by the noise and chaos and powerful waves of barely-post-pubescent hormones that I fled as soon as I found a clearing.

I made one more stop on my way to Natural History, at the Freer Museum of art. Not because I am so fascinated by their fine collection of Asian and early American art, but because they have the Peacock room, possibly the world's only publicly viewable display of spiteful interior decor. With peacocks!

But the main event was across the Mall, past the tour buses and up a flight of steps to the second floor, where the American People's collection of gems and minerals lives. The Hope Diamond is the main attraction here, of course, along with a fairly spectacular array of jewelry representing all your major gems. (Overheard in the exhibit room, from a child looking at a giant, four-foot tall quartz crystal: "Is that the Hope Diamond?") It is probably a sad commentary on my nerdom that I actually ended up more interested in the minerals part of the exhibit, particularly the crystals. There are a lot of cool crystals in the world. I felt like I was being too rushed to learn anything, though I did end up with the word "feldspar" stuck in my head for the next day or so.

I also swung by the dinosaur exhibit, but I find those less exciting ever since I realized that they don't display the actual bones (for the very good reason that they are valuable research specimens), and everything you're looking at is a plastic model. Of course, I guess you could consider the real fossils are basically molds too, albeit ones made over a somewhat longer period of time.

And speaking of time, I was almost out, so I made my way out through the front hall, past the schoolkids and the group of buddist monks, back to the Metro, just as soon as I figured out which direction it was.

I was going to do a whole additional post on the trip back, and the plane delay, and the trouble of getting in touch with your roommate who was going to give you a ride when you don't have your cell phone, and the taxi line, but then I realized that would be incredibly boring, so I won't.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Wednesday, Part One: A Visit to the Library

The last blog post of a trip is always a tough one to write. Not because the end of the travels is so incredibly sad, though I wouldn't have minded having more time pretty much everywhere, but because, generally, by the time you are writing it you're back home, unpacking your dirty laundry, catching up on your email and trying to remember what exactly it is you do for a living, and the things you did and the fun you had start to feel kind of distant. But, seeing as how it's only been one day, I think I should be able to recall a few things.

For my last day in DC my theme was "everything else I still want to see," and I think I executed it well. I started with Union Station, a grand Roman temple to rail travel (fun fact: fully thirty percent of Central DC's buildings can be described as a "grand Roman temple of something"). Really it was a lot like the Powell Street BART station, if Powell had two enormous halls with vast vaulted ceilings, elaborate mosaic floors and a couple dozen statues of centurions, some of whom are holding shields for modesty. But otherwise they're practically the same.

I stopped in front of Union Station to check my map on my way to my next stop, then realized that I didn't have to, because I could see the Capitol directly in front of me. The Capitol wasn't actually my destination, but since I was going by there I thought I would go up and take a look. Turns out I thought wrong, because the road up was closed off and guarded by an array of cops with some impressive weaponry, and tourists were not allowed to go up and take a look, due to an "arrival." So I had to content myself with viewing it from a distance as I made my way to pay my respects to the only branch of the federal government I hadn't visited yet. That would be the Judicial, as represented by the Supreme Court, which has some impressive pillars. I don't know if I would have been able to go in there; there was a line and I wasn't that interested anyway, so I took a minute to admire the pillars and consult my map, and then headed off to swing by the library before lunch.

Clever readers (and really, do I have any other kind?) will intuit that by this I mean the Library of Congress, a place that makes me regret I already used the temple analogy. This time, the deity is the printed word, though Minerva (nee Athena) serves as a stand-in in the mosaics. The thing I was most excited about seeing here was a Gutenberg Bible, what with it representing one of the most influential developments in the progress of human civilization. I'm weird like that. Though I somewhat doubt that, even in his wildest, most mead-addled dreams, Johannes Gutenberg could not have conceived of blogging. Other highlights were draft copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and an exhibit on the early contact between Europeans and Native Americans that put the entire American Indian Museum to shame, in terms of depth and breadth of scholarship and supporting materials. On the other hand, no fry bread with honey.

Made It

It took somewhat longer than expected, but I am finally back in San Mateo. Further dispatches to follow.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

History Lessons at Historic Places that Are Historic

Today, for a change of pace, we decided to do something that had nothing whatsoever to do with Washington DC and/or the Federal government. I say "we" because Abigail took the day off work to accompany me, which was nice of her, particularly since she has the car (I kid, I kid. . .). So we made our way to Alexandria, a former port and current bastion of cute on the Potomac.

I joke, but I actually do enjoy historic buildings, at least in limited doses. Which is appropriate, since the first place we went to (we bought the three-site pass for a three-dollar savings) was an apothecary that dated back to before the revolution. It was cool to see what is basically the origins of my own field, and how much of said origins relied on bleeding, mercury pills and good old superstition. Or, as we like to call it, Thursday.

Then it was on to the Carlyle House, a lovingly restored home from the 1750's, where the British once held a meeting to plan a disastrously bad decision in the French and Indian War. A good portion of the museum was dedicated to John Carlyle, the shipping magnate who was the original owner. They go into some detail about his life, and it was an interesting life, but what it really came down to was that his major historic achievement was to build a sturdy stone house in a time and a place where most of the buildings were significantly less permanent. That, and the fact that one of the most interesting exhibits was a portion of wood the restorers had uncovered that had the builder's original chalk marks, gave one to think about what we are actually likely to leave behind in this world.

Me, I'm counting on my lasting impact in the field of marionette theater.

Then, in order to stave off historic building fatigue, we broke for lunch. It's important to pace yourself with this kind of thing.

Is this getting boring? I'm afraid it might be getting boring. The truth is, while it was a lovely day, with nice weather and pleasant surroundings and interesting things to learn, these are not the things that make a good blog post. On the other hand, at least judging by past comments, the things that make for a good blog post involved being tired, hungry, cranky and lost somewhere in the middle of Texas, I think I'll stick with boring.

Anyway, our third and final historic building was a tavern where, drum roll... George Washington ate! Four times! One thing you learn very quickly here is that anything can be made more important by some sort of association with our first president. Another thing is that if a tour guide ever speaks obliquely about an individual, "a young man who lived nearby," for example, they always mean Washington and it's never exactly a surprise because it's on the display card in the exhibit.

After that, and with the sense that we had learned all that was worth knowing about historic Alexandria, we spent the rest of the afternoon poking around in the many shops, during which time I managed to not purchase a single thing. I wonder if I'm coming down with something. Dinner was with my cousin Jake and his wife Jenn, who got married right around this time last year and are a lot of fun. It was a brief visit, but that was okay, since they're coming out west in a few weeks. As are, oddly enough, Lisa and Abigail, though fortunately not all at the same time. Is it something about my presence that causes people to migrate to California, albeit temporarily? Hard to say, but I'll be testing the theory when I myself fly home tomorrow night, which may cause a delay in blogging, since I'll be getting in too late to do anything but face-plant in my pillow and, knowing me, I'm not likely to leave too much time before I have to go to the airport. So, later.

A Word Problem For You, The Reader

Over the last two days I have had three restaurant meals for which the bill, with tax, ended up being a round number. In none of the cases was the pre-tax bill a round number, and for all the tax was five percent. Question: is this the natural result of this tax rate, or is someone messing with me? I'd do the math myself, but I'm on vacation.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Death and Espionage

Today, my adventures began in a graveyard.

Well, okay, that's not technically true. My day actually began on Abigail's couch, to the dulcet tones of a lawnmower-and-woodchipper duet which, judging by the volume, was being performed in the room next door. Such, I suppose, is the price of living in a well-maintained suburb, and also of sleeping until ten.

Since today was a workday, Abigail had to go to her job as a postdoc at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (apparently, our nation has standards. Who knew?) So I had a day on my own, to explore as I saw fit. Since I kind of OD'd on museums yesterday, I decided to make today a little more outdoorsy. Hence, the graveyard.

And by that I mean, of course, Arlington National Cemetery. It's a big cemetery, with lots of graves, a surprising number of which are for the wives and children of the military men (and some women)(but they don't have wives) buried there. It has its own metro stop, which has to be somewhat unusual, if not unique, and is also convenient. I spent a while wandering around, just looking at the tombstones, because it seemed like the thing to do, and made all the required stops-- JFK, RFK, Taft, L'Enfent, etc-- though I may have missed a few. Robert E. Lee's house sits at the high point, with an excellent view of the city (the property was his until the government decided to relieve him of it for the good of the Union), so I stopped there to have a look around. Unfortunately, they are mid-renovation on the structure and had removed all the furniture, and since there's only so much excitement that can be derived from period flooring I didn't spend much time there. Which turns out to have been fortunate, since it got me to the Tomb of the Unknowns just in time to see the changing of the guard, an activity that manages to be at the same time intensely dignified, quite moving, and utterly silly.

All that, plus the late start, took me into the early afternoon. I hadn't eaten lunch yet, but there weren't exactly a lot of options in the area and it wasn't that long since breakfast, so I decided to table (ha!) that issue while I got on with my sightseeing. I crossed back into Washington on a bridge that I'm sure has a name, and I believe was the sight of something historic, but I'm afraid I can't be bothered to look either up. Sorry. Anyway, whatever it was, it got me back to the general vicinity of the Mall, identifiable by its 555-foot obelisk and protective covering of tourists.

I realize that I am also a tourist, that there is no other word for what I am doing here and everyone can tell, even if I do try to take my map out as little as possible, but I just can't bring myself to accept it as my identity. But, the matching t-shirts. The pleated shorts and lumpy sneakers. God help me, the fanny packs. Must these be my people? Yes, as long as I carry a guidebook and a map in my purse, and still get lost trying to find the Jefferson Memorial, despite the fact that it's a honking giant Greek temple, they must.

So, resigned to my fate, I made my way off to see the White House, or at least as much as you can see of it in these security-conscious times. It looks exactly like you think it looks, which I suppose is comforting. I couldn't see the snipers, though.

And fortunately, a lot of people, snipers included, work in the White House area, and they all need to eat, so I finally made my way to lunch at an old-timey grill type place (the Old Ebbitt Grill, to be exact), where they do a fine hamburger. Then I made my way across the city, stopping a couple of times to confirm that no, as far as shopping goes, DC is no New York, to the Spy Museum, which I had wanted to go to because hey, spies are cool.

After two days of free admission everywhere, it was a bit jarring to suddenly have to cough up eighteen dollars for a museum, and at first I wasn't sure it was such a good deal. The first few exhibits were deeply cheesy, drawing a lot more on the Hollywood concept of espionage than reality, with lots of breathless descriptions of suave agents and elaborate disguises. But they did have a lot of cool (real) gadgets on display, and the rest of the museum turned out to be a fascinating and thorough history of the practice (pigeon-mounted cameras: who knew?). So fascinating, in fact, that I kind of lost track of the time, and ended up getting back to the apartment about an hour after I said I would, leaving Abigail to wonder if I had been eaten by wild dogs and if she should just go and get dinner by herself. Which would have been too bad, what with it being her birthday and all.

Fortunately, I did make it back, and we went out for some very respectable tex-mex at a place that, for Cinco de Mayo, had a band playing the worst cover of "Margaritaville" (that classic Mexican tune) that I have ever heard. Fortunately, the people at the bar were very drunk, so they seemed to enjoy it. Perhaps that was my problem.

Also, my feet hurt.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Day In Our Nation's Attic, Front Lawn, White Guilt Storage Unit and Coffee Table

Since Abigail didn't have to go to work today, we decided to make this our day for exploring the museums in DC that she hasn't been to yet. Our first thought was to go to The Smithsonian, plan that was hampered only by the facts that (a) there isn't actually one place called "The Smithsonian" and (b) the museum that we thought went by that name (the National Museum of American History), with the first ladies' dresses and Dorothy's ruby slippers and Seinfeld's puffy shirt, is closed until summer for renovations. So that didn't really work out.

Instead, we stopped by the Smithsonian information center which is housed, for no apparent reason, in an ersatz castle, and which has a kind of sampler of all the collections from the various museums, and also some maps. From there we made our way to the Bureau of Engraving, passing, along the way, the absolutely vast and surprisingly plant-free buildings for the Department of Agriculture. But it turned out that the Bureau of Engraving (that is, the Mint) keeps rather odd hours, not including the one we were there, so we made our way back.

Or next stop was the National Museum of the American Indian, which we had been alerted had good food in their cafeteria and, since we were there, we figured we might as well take a look at the exhibits too.

I have to admit, this was not my favorite museum. It was very heavy on the interpretive displays and the pictures of the committees of people who were responsible for putting together the displays, and shockingly light on actual items in the exhibits. Of the artifacts that were there, very few dated to even before the twentieth century, and a surprising number were modern reproductions, which seemed kind of inappropriate for what was supposed to be a major national museum. Actual interesting information was largely abandoned in favor of vague aphorisms, some apparently from the tribe of Hallmarkcardia (actual one I saw: "In order to love others, you must first learn to love yourself.) Also, one tribe had included their tourism packet in a nicely shadowboxed display, complete with brochures and coupons "good at local businesses."

On the other hand, there was an interesting an informative temporary exhibit on women's dresses, and as for the rest, the people there who were not horrible heartless cynics seemed to be enjoying it quite well. Also, the cafeteria was quite good, and I was able to get fry bread with honey, so there's that.

It was actually a beautiful day, so we paused on the Mall on our way between museums and watched for a while while some people played softball and others tried, and repeatedly failed, to launch a radio-controlled helicopter, all against the backdrop of the Capitol building. That was cool even if, as Abigail pointed out, the Mall really does need to be reseeded.

Last stop of the day was the National Gallery of Art, where we stuck to the classic, rather than the modern wing, and enjoyed an afternoon with the works of many fine artists, including two of the four ninja turtles, plus the Impressionists (always my favorites). It had been a day with a great deal of walking, which meant that by the end of our time in the galleries we were doing a lot more in-depth appreciation of the paintings, particularly the ones situated directly in front of the benches.

And, the funny thing is, I've hardly seen anything at all.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

On, Then Off, The Rails

I left New York this morning, bidding farewell to fine stores and food and crowds and Actual View of the Actual Empire State Building, to make my way to my next stop of Washington D.C.. Actually, I almost didn't leave, because I gave myself only half an hour to get to Penn Station from 38th and Park, figuring it would be plenty of time. And it was, if by "plenty" you mean "just enough to make it there as they were boarding the train." They have some traffic in New York City, did you know that?

Anyway, I did make the train, which is all that really matters, though it would have been nice to be able to chose a seat besides the one in front of the woman who spent the first hour and a half of the trip gabbing away on her cell phone. Seriously, who even has that much to say?

Abigail met me at the New Carrolton station, which appears to be somewhere in Maryland, though it's hard to say for sure; everything's so close together here. For example, I have been in five states today, and a District, in less time than it takes to get bored of I-5 on the way to LA. We drove back to her apartment, which is definitely in Maryland, in Rockville, to be exact. (The same Rockville that REM advises against going back to? I'm not sure, but the song has been stuck in my head all day.) We spent some time hanging out and catching up, then took the Metro into DC for tapas and some limited sightseeing.

Lot of monuments around here. The Washington Monument was probably the most impressive, especially with the reflection in the reflecting pool. True to form, I choked up at the World War II memorial (I'm such a damn sap for that stuff), but in terms of content and composition the Lincoln Memorial was probably the best. Not exactly the place for quiet contemplation of that dark moment in American history, what with the hordes of tour groups hording around, even at nine o'clock at night. (In those TV shows where the characters are having secret meetings there, they always leave that part out.) It was really just a brief introduction to the sights of the City, but that's okay, there will be time for more tomorrow. Tomorrow we do museums.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Edgars

The Edgar Awards (named for Edgar Allen Poe, the founding father of the modern mystery story) are given every year by the Mystery Writers of America to, as they say, honor excellence in crime and mystery writing. I attended last year, in support of my Close Personal Friend Cornelia Read, who was nominated for best first novel and totally should have won. And I had such a good time that I thought it would be fun to go again, since I was in town, and bring Lisa, who is herself a mystery fan. I warned her about the quantities of free books, but I don't think she totally believed me.

The invitation said "dress to kill," so we did, though by the end of the evening I was wishing that my shoes had not taken the instruction quite so literally. (The fact that I had spent the entire day walking several miles may have contributed. Also, the heels.)

At the dinner, I ended up seated next to a very interesting woman who specializes in auditing publishing contracts to make sure that authors are getting paid all of the money they are owed. Generally, she said, they aren't, not due to dishonestly on the part of the publishers so much as complicated systems, faulty data management and the fact that the workforce at all of these companies is primarily composed of underpaid English majors. (That last part was just kind of implied.) I took her card, because if I ever do get published I have a feeling that at some point I may be in need of her services.

As far as the awards ceremony itself, it was nice, if a little overlong, and Al Roker did a fine job as emcee. I have a feeling the best novel winner may have been something of an upset, but I'm not sure. Of course, the highlight of the event was after the ceremony, when everyone was leaving and they rolled out the tables of books.

Do I mean tables? Yes, I mean tables, five or six of them, I think, all completely covered in piled of brand-new books (including Cornelia's latest, which was going fast, of course. I already have it, but I made sure Lisa took a copy.) I was entirely uncouth, filling two bags (thoughtfully provided) like the greedy rube I am. But I mean, come on, right? Free books! Not sure how well this is going to work with Virgin America's strict luggage weight limit, though.

Afterwards, we followed the party down to the hotel bar, where we settled in for drinks and people-watching, along with a small group of HR professionals, who were clearly not expecting this. You've got to hand it to those HR people, they sure can network. I can't, though, and we were both tired, so after we finished our lemon drops, we took our loot and hauled ourselves the four blocks back to the apartment, where I settled in to do some blogging before going to bed. Which brings us to now.

Good night.

Uptown Girl

I think I should admit right now that my attempts to have this trip be any sort of cultural adventure have been an unqualified failure. First there was the whole MOMA/closed on Tuesday thing, and then I didn't make it to even one Broadway show (my original plans had been to try for two, including the much longed-for but yet-unseen Spamalot, currently starring Clay Aiken). And today, my day to explore Uptown Manhattan, during which I planned to visit the Greek and Roman galleries at the Met, which I missed last time, became instead a day of sleeping, smoked fish and turtles. But I did manage to acquire an absolutely tremendous number of free books, so I guess that counts for something.

As I mentioned, last night Lisa and I had an evening of epic super-fantasticness, with the cocktails and the prociuto and the prosecco and the fabulous pizza and the wine, and yet I woke up this morning with only very minimal negative consequences (primarily a somewhat dry mouth, though that may be attributable to the incipient head cold/allergies), which I feel supports my belief of water as the best hangover preventative. Unfortunately, I also woke up rather late, when the alarm on my ipod, which is set for 7:45 California time, went off. So, between that and buying my train ticket to go to DC on Saturday, pretty much took care of my morning and then some. Which meant that, aside from my breakfast Coke, I didn't have anything to eat until I made it to Barney Greengrass ("The Sturgeon King") on the Upper West Side at one. And by then I was hungry enough that I didn't care that I was ordering the same thing as every other tourist there, and there were a lot of them, all eating our bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon. It was good smoked salmon, anyway.

It's true that, had I gone directly there after lunch, I would have had time to do at least a partial museum visit. But, the thing is, it was a nice day, and it seemed like a shame to waste this outdoor weather on indoor activities, so instead I went to Central Park.

I believe I am on record with being relatively unimpressed with what many New Yorkers apparently believe to be the finest display of nature in the known world. The truth is, it's a nice park, a beautiful one, even, but relative to, say, Golden Gate Park, it is small and artificial, with a tragic shortage of redwood groves. But, on the other hand, in a place where a front yard is unheard of and true wilderness is barely a distant dream, I would see how a place like that could take on a certain special appeal.

So I spent most of my afternoon wandering around there, and I enjoyed it. I particularly liked the Turtle Pond which, as its name suggests, is absolutely lousy with turtles. At first you don't see them, and you think maybe it was just a marketing thing, but then you start being able to pick them out and your realize that there are turtles everywhere. It is almost, but not quite, turtles all the way down.

Aside from the turtles, probably the highlight of my Central Park experience was coming across some sort of fashion shoot. Two models, a man and a woman, were standing stiffly in their fashion-y clothes while a group of people in vaguely Sixties/hippie garb came up and leaped behind them and a man lay on a pillow in front of them taking pictures upwards. This scene repeated for a while, and then they picked everything up and moved to a different part of the lawn to do it again.

Tyra can talk about energy and fierceness all she wants, but I think the real key to being a model is the ability to not get bored. That, and being very skinny.

Anyway, by the time I had seen as much as I wanted to see of the park it was too late for any sort of meaningful museum time, so I started to head back, window-shopping in the way-too-good-for me stores along Madison Avenue along the way. I did stop in at one store, where I tried on a pair of teetering four-inch heels with gloriously art-deco style crystal ornamentation. I never had any intention of buying, at eight hundred dollars they were outside even my range of temptation; I just wanted to see what it was like to were something that fabulous. (It was nice, but uncomfortable.)

In the end, I decided that as much as I like looking at this world, I don't belong there, so I got myself a cup of cocoa and a blueberry muffin at a tiny little coffee shop and caught the subway back to the apartment to get ready for the Edgars.