Taking the day off from the Sunday read

It’s my birthday weekend (and I’m lazy), so nothing to single out in my Sunday read. However, there’s no reason you can’t dig into some lengthy articles without falling back on tl;dr. The Internet is full of them!

Meanwhile, enjoy this picture of Oscar and Mulligan.

Driving in Manhattan

Image from Pinterest.

It happened again last night: I dreamed I was driving in Manhattan.

This time I was driving down Broadway, the Flatiron Building clearly visible, dead center, from somewhere in the 50s. New York, as it often does in my dreams, looked partially suburban, somewhat denuded of the endless canyons of skyscrapers it has in reality. It was free as well of much of the car traffic.

I had gotten in the far right lane and realized at the last minute that I had to cut over two lanes to continue on Broadway instead of some other unrevealed avenue; I did, with little problem, and the landscape remained suburban, with individual ranch houses with lawns on my left and, soon enough, Madison Square Park on my right.

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The new bathroom is here! The new bathroom is here!

Behind this sliding door …

Some people can’t wait to renovate their kitchen. Some people look forward to finishing the basement. Some people want to upgrade their master bathroom into something with an expansive shower stall, a whirlpool bath, and his-and-hers granite sinks.

My wife and I just wanted a powder room.

Our 1907 Pennsylvania twin had all the mod cons for its time: knob-and-tube wiring, a coal furnace in the basement, and a full, if small, bathroom that (I presume) was fully plumbed. (Though not, originally, linked to city sewage — during the building of our deck, our contractor found examples of what must have been a septic tank.) Over the years, much of it’s been updated.

But when we moved in three years ago, there was still just the one bathroom. It was upstairs, too.

We thought it would be easy enough to add another bathroom and expand the living area. We have a fairly roomy backyard and, since neither of us cares much about lawns, we figured we’d just build out back. It had been done by others around the neighborhood. But a more recent ordinance limited the amount of home expansion you could do.

Thankfully, we have a great contractor — Tom Garvey (he’s a top-notch carpenter, too) — and he’s worked closely with the city to make sure we’ve been able to maximize the land we can build on. We added a deck out back three years ago, and, over the past couple months, Tom’s enclosed part of it to make a sunroom.

And, more importantly, a half-bathroom.

Everybody’s happy. The cats are already camped out in the bay window. I have a new place to read. And, yes, there’s that second bathroom.

We won’t be reviving the septic tank, though.

Don’t tell them, but we didn’t build it for them.

Two poems, one about tuna

As I may have noted, Mulligan the cat has his own clock. (Not a physical clock — though wouldn’t that be something, his oversized paws struggling to pull out the pin to set the alarm?) He likes to eat breakfast around 3 a.m., and isn’t shy about slapping me with his paw to make sure I get up to feed him. For those who are wondering why I give in to his demands: It’s done no good to shut the bedroom door or put him in another room; his scratching and caterwauling could wake Rip Van Winkle. Besides, I usually have to pee.

His excitement, and my dilapidated state of mind, prompted me to compose a poem as I descended the stairs the other day. I hope you enjoy it.

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What happened in my breathing session

Image from modkat.com.

As I mentioned in my weekend post, I was going to try to calm my anxiety by doing some slow breathing.

Easier said than done, of course.

Coming into the session, I’d slept pretty well — Mulligan the cat only woke me up once, and my bladder kicked in a contribution a couple hours later — but didn’t get out for a morning walk because it was storming here in Bethlehem. So I had breakfast, read the news, and finally sat down on my folded-up futon on Sunday around 11 a.m. I didn’t bother with crossed legs, just put my hands in my lap and kept my bare feet flat on the floor.

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What the cats have been up to

Mulligan (foreground) and Oscar relax in the master bedroom.

My cats, Oscar and Mulligan, have found themselves in an unfamiliar situation.

On most days of the year, they would be alone from about 7:30 a.m. until about 6:30 p.m., when I was away at work. What they did during this time I seldom knew, though occasionally I would find a hairball in the hallway — a sign of grooming, if nothing else.

But for the past four months, both my wife and I have been home full time, infringing upon our cats’ independence. So what do they do when a house that’s usually empty is full of humans?

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Review: ‘1Q84’ by Haruki Murakami

1Q841Q84 by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

According to my Goodreads log, I started the 1,157 paperback-bound pages of Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84” on July 14. Last night, on November 27, I finally finished it.

In the four months, 13 days, 2 hours and 31 minutes it took me to read the book, a solar eclipse worked its way across the United States; Glen Campbell died; hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria struck the United States and Caribbean; Hugh Hefner died; 58 people were killed in a mass shooting in Las Vegas; Fats Domino died; 26 people were killed in a mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas; and Prince Harry got engaged. Donald Trump was in his 27th year as president.

Also, I read a handful of other books, including Joshua Green’s “Devil’s Bargain,” Andy Weir’s “Artemis” and George Orwell’s “1984.” It was Murakami who inspired me (and my book club) to pick up Orwell again. It was a nice respite while it lasted.

Well, a lot happens when you’re trudging through nonsense.

I will say, unlike so many other events of the past few months, “1Q84” didn’t leave death and destruction in its wake. However, it did keep me from reading at least four other books and a stack of New Yorkers.

The story does start out with a bang. In the year 1984, Aomame is a pretty young fitness instructor on the cusp of 30 who has a job to do: kill a man. On her way to her assignation, she gets out of a cab and, upon descending a freeway staircase, she enters another world – one almost exactly like this one except it has two moons.

(Oh, and the parallel Earth is apparently controlled by the Little People. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

The other main character is a math teacher on the cusp of 30 named Tengo. He teaches to make ends meet; his real focus is writing. His publisher puts him together with a teenager named Fuka-Eri, who has written a raw manuscript called “Air Chrysalis.” Tengo’s job is to polish the book. He, too, crosses over into the world that Aomame calls “1Q84” (the Q is a pun in Japanese) and gets entangled with the cult that Fuka-Eri escaped. (“Air Chrysalis” also contains references to the Little People. This is significant.)

There’s an eerie connection between Aomame and Tengo. When the two were 10 years old, they were two lonely children at the same elementary school, and — for a brief moment — held hands. This is an experience neither has ever forgotten, and both are convinced that the other is The One. For the next 1,000 pages, they will attempt to reconnect, and then the world will end in an orgasm of explosive passion.

Well, no. You’re not really sure what’s going to happen when they meet, or if they’ll meet, or what their meeting will mean. But essentially, the attempt to reconnect is the plot driver. And as a driver, it’s the equivalent of an Uber guy taking you all over town before getting to your destination, which he finally approaches doing 10 miles per hour.

Fortunately, as you’d expect with Murakami, there are also lots of other plots, some unusual – a ghostly NHK fee collector who harasses people, a creepy private detective on the trail of Aomame and Tengo – and some straight out of a thriller.

Perhaps the best involves the cult, Sakigake, that Fuka-Eri has escaped and Aomame used to belong to. A sequence in which Aomame is tasked with killing the Sakigake leader becomes both a master class in suspense and a philosophical argument about responsibility. Another section, in which Tengo goes to a small city to care for his distant, dying father, is a moving meditation on regret.

And then there’s the private detective, Ushikawa. He’s a former lawyer with a misshapen head and an outwardly odious appearance, and early on, he’s no more than a Peter Lorre character, offering Tengo hush money and quietly threatening him. But in the last third of the novel (which was published as three books in Japan) he comes into his own, rationalizing his work as he comes closer to unraveling the Aomame-Tengo mystery. He’s fascinating, repulsive, and worthy of his own book.

But that’s the thing about “1Q84” – there are LOTS of books within its pages. I wish Murakami would have chosen one and streamlined the rest, or somehow made the whole thing more picaresque. Instead, it’s every bit as baggy as its 1,100-plus pages would have you fear. There are musings on food, blind alleys on the characters’ backgrounds (what DID happen to Tengo’s mother? Your guess is as good as mine), lots of lush copy on breasts (“Aomame thought again of Tamaki. She remembered her smooth, beautifully shaped breasts. So different from my own underdeveloped chest, she thought. But those beautiful breasts are now gone forever”), and virtually no explanation of the Little People.

The Little People can apparently get bigger once they crawl out of people’s mouths. And they say “ho-ho” a lot, like Disney’s Dwarves. They also build air chrysalises. I don’t know their thoughts on breasts.

There were many times during my months of reading I put on my old English major hat in attempts to figure out “1Q84’s” depths. Is Murakami making comparisons to Orwell’s “1984”? If so, it’s only in the sketchiest ways. What is the symbolism of the two moons? Seemingly nothing more than a way to separate Earth 1 from Earth 2. Why is Ushikawa’s tongue a mossy green, like the second moon? Maybe he didn’t brush his teeth enough. That’s my theory, anyway.

I had high hopes for “1Q84.” I loved “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” which packed powerful tales of the 1930s Manchurian war into its broader plot. And there’s no question Murakami is a talented writer, capable of turning a phrase or sustaining the thrills of his off-kilter worlds. But the jumbled “1Q84” really could have used an editor.

It’s ironic. “1Q84” wants to be, among other things, a book about the power of storytelling, about losing yourself in another world. And, certainly, there are some books in which you reach the final page and then exhale, as if you’ve just come up for air. But upon finishing “1Q84,” I knew two things: Donald Trump was still in his 27th year as president, and I’d rather visit Orwell’s Room 101 than slog through “1Q84” again.

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Todd plans, God laughs

I’m typing this on my phone, so forgive the lack of links and polish.

The reason I’m typing it on my phone is that I have no wifi. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to type it on my easier-to-type-on iPad because I can’t find it. I think I left it in my overnight bag back at the hotel — this after checking the room at least twice to make sure I wasn’t leaving anything after a week’s stay. 

I should back up. I’ve moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to take a job with Lutron, the lighting control technology company. My last weeks in Atlanta were hectic and anxiety-ridden, not least because I was leaving a place I’ve called home for most of my life, and also because — despite being quite conscious of my decisions — realizing how little control I had over the situation, emotionally and otherwise. I was at the mercy and schedule of movers, realtors, bankers and Georgia State University, where I was teaching. About all I could do was make sure the cats were squared away, keep my wife (away on a fellowship) informed, and hold on. 

Time was going to move whether I liked it or not.

So I gave my final, I let the movers do their thing, I closed on the Atlanta house, I picked up the cats and headed north. I had decent weather and the cats were well behaved. I got here last Saturday and checked into a Staybridge Suites in advance of my first real week at Lutron. (I actually started in March, but knew I was headed back to Atlanta for six weeks.)

The work was fine. But I also closed on my Bethlehem house, a twin built in 1907. It’s been well cared-for, but you still can’t compare it with a modern residence built in 1992. We had an amazing and large kitchen in Atlanta; here there’s barely enough cabinet space for glasses and plates. Our master bedroom had plenty of space and an adjoining bath; this four-bedroom place has one bath, total. (We’re planning/hoping to add a second, but see the title of this post.) We chose it for location — it’s walkable to downtown — and knew what we were getting, but still …

Anyway, aside from the mountains of boxes, the house has taken on a smell. The next-door neighbor says a skunk must have gotten under the porch, or maybe he got in a fight there. Either way, the stink ranges from annoying to bad. I called a pest control guy, but he can’t get here until Friday. I’d open the windows, but the skunk mating (presumably — apparently this is the season, and if the female doesn’t like the male …) has coincided with a cold snap.

Meanwhile, I can’t find the green bag that contains the iPad. I could swear I threw it in the car, but I don’t see it in the house, and I put everything down in the same area. There’s a possibility it’s buried, but I’ll bet I left it — which means, goodbye, iPad. (Yes, “Find my iPad” is activated, but it only works if it’s online, which it’s not.)

And then there’s the endless unpacking. I haven’t even started on the books yet. I swear this time I’m going to get rid of most of them. Moving is hard enough without toting around dozens of boxes of books you’ve read — or may never read. I’ll let the libraries take over.

Anyway, I’d say things can only get better, but I’m Jewish, so I’ll assume nothing. (Next steps include changing my car license and registration, but Pennsylvania’s car registration rules are onerous — a non-laminated Social Security card? I’m lucky I know where my SS card is! Fortunately, not with the iPad bag.)

The cats are enjoying things, though. And they’re a joy to watch. And next week Sarah will be here — as will the ISP guy. 

Incidentally, isn’t it time we make internet as easy a utility as water or electricity, in that you just call and they just switch the name?

Addendum, Sunday, 11:01 a.m.: I found the bag! It was, indeed, buried — and in a corner where it hadn’t been before. Yes!

The first day of spring 


Yesterday in Atlanta dawned chilly, but by midday the sun was streaming in all its glory and the temperature was in the 70s — a perfect, shiny day.

I spent the morning in a frantic race to finish grading papers before class and take care of paperwork on the house we hope to sell.

And then I went to visit Gillespie. I hadn’t seen him since I took him for boarding at the vet a little more than a week before.

They brought him out at Paws, Whiskers & Wags and placed him on a table. He looked so sad, his head poking out of a blanket, furry and quiet and lifeless.

Maybe the sadness was me. I burst into tears.

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