Monday, July 18, 2005

Bike Wanted

I am in love with Craigslist.

I put up a post the other day because I'm looking for a bicycle. I got the following in response today:

re: craigslisting: bike wanted

Dear fellow Philadelphian,

My blue Panasonic City Bike was stolen from my front railing on Friday July 15. If someone tries to sell it to you PLEASE call the police. Since I filed a report with them I assume they'll contact me if it is my bike that is offered to you. It has broken bottle holder, wires but no pedometer. Don't do anything to put your self at risk, of course, but I also live in Center City and am an active member of our neighborhood Town Watch - so I know the value to a community's entire well-being of sticking together against such "quality of life" crime. Call the 9th District I guess since that is where I reported its theft [phone number deleted].

Best of luck in finding a bike...

[name deleted] (I'm a little concerned about posting my address & phone in this email to you, but as I suggest if you call the cops you'll get the facts and they'll tell me if they recover it with your information. Thanks in advance for being a good city neighbor - this is a great town and we all work to improve life further!)

Wow. Sir, if this is your recovery strategy-- writing to everyone trying to find a bike on Craigslist-- you are going to have a long, strange time of it. I wish you luck in your endeavors.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Total Review Madness

From now through October 4, 2005, I am going to review every single book that arrives at my house.

Why? Because I feel like it, and because it's not like I already have a million things to do (for example: writing my thesis that's due in three weeks or so, and finding a new apartment, should be mega-quickies. Really.).

Freelance book reviewers get on a master list, some sort of publicity list inside each major house (and some smaller houses) that indexes us by who we write for, and where we live, and what subjects we've written about. For example, my profile lists me as a freelance reviewer living in Philadelphia. So, when a Philadelphia author publishes a book, most of the time I get sent a copy in case I want to review it.

Which I don't, most of the time, except for the cases when I do. If you've ever wondered, "How do freelance reviewers find out about books?" part of the answer is, "From the books that arrive at the house." There are other bits of the equation, of course, but you have to know the secret handshake first.

Most reviewers totally ignore the books that arrive randomly. They just pack up the books periodically and dump them in the library donation bin, or take them to the used bookstore for cash.

It makes me a little sad, sometimes, this system. So many books, all 120,000 new titles published each year, and so many of them are unwanted. (It doesn't make me sad, however, when I have to pack up my own giant box of books and haul it to the library donation bin, like I'm doing today. The box weighs a ton, I swear.)

I've often wondered: is it possible to review everything that comes through the door?

Obviously, it's impossible for book section editors to review everything. But I only get a small trickle of books weekly or biweekly, whereas they get a daily deluge.

So. I've decided to review everything, here on this blog, as an experiment in whether it can be done. It's a really random sampling of books, and usually the range of titles amuses and delights me-- except when I'm horrified by something that has no cause to exist in book form.

Below are the first entries, which arrived recently. Look for a review in the next few days.

Temple Stream: A Rural Odyssey by Bill Roorbach
The Energy Prescription by Constance Grauds, R.Ph., and Doug Childers
The Hot Sex Handbook: The Handy Pocket Guide to Hot Sex Anywhere, Anytime! by the unfortunately named Tracey Cox

Monday, July 11, 2005

More on Moorestown

Also? How the hell am I supposed to be a writer if I grew up in the Best Town in America? Aren't writers supposed to have depraved, agonzing backgrounds?

I mean, I know a lot of dirt about Moorestown, but still. It's demoralizing to have a golden glow suddenly cast over my childhood.

The Best Town Ever

My hometown, the sylvan suburb known as Moorestown, NJ, today was named The Best Place to Live In All of America by Money magazine.

Um, it's wonderful, yes. But the best place in America?

I suppose it's impossible to look back fondly at a place where you were an unhappy teenager.

This article quotes people hanging out at Michael's Luncheonette, which I think is the sorta crappy joint across the street from the post office. If you were from out of town, you might think it was the kind of authentic slice of American regionalism that's been eradicated by the spread of chain restaurants. But if you were someone who grew up in Moorestown, you'd know that perception is incorrect-- that particular storefront has always been the sorta crappy joint across the street from the post office. It changes hands every few years; and most people in town are too stuck-up to go there.

Now, you want to talk about awesome hometown restaurants? Try The Cubby Hole, which has a really good egg and cheese sandwich, and is overrun with Quaker school kids at lunchtime. There's AMAZING pizza and tasty Italian food at Passariello's, the restaurant with the name that nobody ever pronounces quite properly. Try the broccoli pinwheel, it's excellent.

I always thought I'd grow up and move back to Moorestown. Now, I'm married to a guy who doesn't even like to leave the city for vacation. Apparently, I'm going to be living in downtown Philadelphia for the rest of my life.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Baby Fish Mouth & Deconstructing Lobster

Yesterday, I saw a TV show called "America's Test Kitchen" where the guest chef was making a fancy lobster dish. Except, she didn't boil the lobster to kill it-- she just killed it (I think you can do this by inserting the knife behind the lobster's head, which severs its spinal cord or goes through its brain or something) and then she butchered it.

The most horrifying part was this: THE LOBSTER KEPT MOVING. Yep, while it's being butchered, the lobster keeps twitching, because it is a stupid, stupid creature and its limbs don't quite know that they're supposed to stop moving when the messages from the brain cease.


Also, when you butcher a live lobster, you have to keep the rubber bands on the claws until after the claws are detached and until just before they go in the pan, because if you don't, the claws will pinch you. See that? Even after it's dead, the lobster still has good instincts.

After she cut the lobster up into pieces and scooped out the roe and the tamale, the chef put the lobster's claws and tail and legs into a deep saucepan to saute for a while. The legs kept moving for a little bit in the pan. I couldn't stop watching. It was revolting, but fascinating. I once read that lobsters can feel pain, that they have very sensitive nervous systems. I don't think I believe this. I also read that they communicate by whooshing water through their gills or whatever they have. This, I sort of believe.

Lobster translation guide:

Whoosh whoosh = "Wassup?"
Whooshie whooshie = "Not much. You?"

Today, we went to the Fairmount Waterworks Interpretive Center, and I learned all about fish ladders. There is a camera inside a pool of the fish ladder that takes digital photos every five seconds, and you get to it by selecting a button on a computer screen labeled "Live From the Fish Ladder." That's hot. There are video clips too, and the best one is of a river otter trucking through the fish ladder.

Fish you can catch in the Schuykill include catfish, perch, shad, and striped bass.

My band, Walter J. Smitty, is always coming up with names for our hypothetical first album. Today's suggestion: American Shad.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Just Daum Luck

There's a new anthology out called Bookmark Now, edited by Kevin Smokler. Go get it, and read the Megan Daum essay called "If I Had a Stammer." It's about down-talking, the opposite of up-talking, and it's hilarious stuff.

Also, a new site called Silence of the City promises to publish Talk of the Town pieces rejected by the New Yorker. Nothing is up yet, but I am curious about what will be published. Some of the finest minds of my generation have been rejected by the New Yorker.

I'm of two minds on the subject. On the one hand, it's hard to get published by certain publications. On the other hand, maybe most of the stuff deserved to get rejected.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Live Hate

We just returned from joining one million of our closest friends on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the Live 8 show.

My fellow Americans: I hate you. I hate your sweaty elbows that elbowed me constantly. I hate your food stands selling roast corn and cheese fries and $6 cups of sugar water masquerading as lemonade. I hate your ice cream stands. I hate your picnic blankets on the blacktop in front of the giant television screens. I hate your values that urge sixteen year olds to get boob jobs and then wear bikini tops as 'shirts' at public events. I hate the glassy stares you get after you've walked through the firehose shower set up by the Philadelpha Fire Department.

I especially hate those dudes at the outskirts of the show, the ones wearing t-shirts emblazoned with "Hustler" or "Player" or "Pimp," who filled a U-Haul truck with pallets of small water bottles and sold the water for $2 a bottle. Sure, it's capitalism. But you guys just suck.

Live 8 was unbearable. It was hot, it was stinky, and you couldn't see anything because the giant TV screens were in the dead middle of the Parkway and they totally blocked the stage. We tried to get further up, closer to the stage, and at a certain point the crowd wasn't actually moving forward, it was just pressing in on itself so that all the stinky sweaty bodies were just crushed closer together. Worse: the crush happened around people blithely sitting in lawn chairs, pretending to have a good time. Worst of all: I was stuck for a while near a group of about a dozen people singing along to Toby Keith (or is it Toby O'Keefe?), and two of the guys were trying to spin all the girls in the bunch. Now, why do you have to twirl around at a packed concert? Especially if you can't dance? Note to that big bunch of sunburned white people: I hate you.