Saturday, August 30, 2003

My class on Friday met on the campus of George Mason University, in Fairfax. Having arrived early and secured excellent directions from the young woman in an information kiosk by the three-level parking deck, I had time to take in my surroundings. I found it to be a very Virginia-feeling place of orange-hued brick, trees, an open plaza, and quiet, low buildings. The displays in the smallish windows at the end of one big, new building suggested I’d find the bookstore inside. In I went, and quickly found myself dazzled by a food court. After terrible coffee and a pretty nice egg sandwich, I took a turn around the building. I found a nice bathroom and – what’s this? The library? This student center boasts a “branch” library, marked with a neon sign and furnished a bit like a chain bookstore. Hunh. Next, I went into the campus bookstore, where the staff was helpful and friendly, and I found and paid for my books in under 8 minutes. Books in hand, I marched off to class, and learned the difference between knowledge and information.

On the way back, having gained a sense of the lay of the land, I entered the student center through a lower level door, to cut through the building. Look what’s down here! The radio station, a movie theater, and offices for student organizations. Cool. The concrete and brightly painted metal stairs I climbed jogged a memory: of what does this remind me? Oh, yes: a mall.

My brother swears that while at William & Mary making small talk with someone along the “and where did you grow up” line, he got the reply, “Oh, Chesterfield! What mall did you hang out at?”

In its cover story articles on the immanent opening of two new shopping centers, Style says, “within two weeks, the local mall supply will jump from 3.2 million square feet to 5.13 million.” That’s 36 square feet of shopping per capita, with a national average around 20, we’re told. Ed Slipek seems to have been fairly charmed by Stony Point; less so by Short Pump Town Center, which flouts the notion of “town” and “center” by failing to provide a pedestrian walk to adjacent Downtown Short Pump (mega movie theater, a skating rink, and some big box stores).

Capital City weather: 79 at 6:30 p.m., thunderstorms likely.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Brief Up Dates

I had a great trip to CUA on Friday. The library school building, erected in 1890-something, has a statue of the Virgin Mary on top of it. The new student center (where B. and I scored a free lunch with the class of '07 and thier folks) was completed this year, I think, and features lots of brushed metal and concrete and beech-colored wood. It felt great to be on campus.

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and after sitting through three losses in a row, I got to see the RBraves win one! I also watched a few innings of the Little League World Series on TV, but couldn't get into it.

Speaking of baseball, C. - I have yet to find out if the Capital City ball team is called anything, but if you'll scroll to the end of this, you'll find a story about the ep in which Dancin' Homer gets called up to Capital City to real people who were with the Tides!

After a day of chores, errands, and last attempts at Big Cleaning (e.g., throwing out stuff pack ratted away in the filing cabinet so as to make room for new school stuff), I find myself again faced with "whose my baby's daddy" on Maury. Maybe I will just start dinner early. . .

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Masqueraders with Tambourines

Just in the interest of idle chitchat, I mentioned to a friend the other day that someone always seems to be running a lawnmower in our urban block. And here again it is yet again: the quiet of the city bus garage and kids on the corner shouting, drown out by incessant motors. Today, it’s two men cutting the open space in the alley that’s marked as church parking. Over the weekend, it was one guy cutting the grassy place in the alley directly outside his back fence. I guess that makes only two sessions across perhaps four days – but now I am counting!

I finished Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. I like how he pulls together many threads of history, material culture, architecture, and art. It’s the sort of thing my William and Mary thesis advisor said I couldn’t do. I also do enjoy plus ca change moments. Frederick Law Olmstead noted that 1893 World’s Fair visitors like the extra, fun bits more than the inspirational beauties of the White City: “‘There is [among visitors] too much an appearance of an impatient and tired doing of sight-seeing duty. A stint to be got through before it is time to go home.’ ” As a remedy, he suggested lemon sellers and “ ‘skipping and dancing masqueraders with tambourines.’” Many years ago, when I worked the Valentine Museum, our shorthand for this was “get culture” as in, “we need large, concise labels in this exhibition for those people who feel like they need to stop somewhere to Get Culture between the beach and Kings Dominion.”

As for Larson’s assertion that Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom “may well be a descendant” of the Fair, fed by his father’s recollections of helping to build it: Duh. Olmstead and Daniel Burnaham (architect, Director of Works for the Fair) could have trained the “Disney Institute” seminar I attended at an American Camping Association conference a couple of years ago. Their attention to details like making sure the cleaning crew didn’t just sweep sandwich wrappers into the shrubs, or ensuring that the Fair police would politely answer questions and give directions every time, even if they answered the same ones all day long was just the sort of thing the 21st century Disney “cast members” highlighted as important to their philosophy. Instead of rolling their eyes when the fifth person asks “What time’s the 5 o’clock parade?” Disney cast members know how to say things like, “it’ll come by this corner at about 5:10, but you’ll get an even better view right there by that souvenir shop.” It’s difficult to get 18 and 20 year olds working at a summer camp to be all that.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

I spent some time poolside, south of Capital City, yesterday.

On the way home I noted:

On Route 1, a gleeming, boring WaWa (or a Sheetz?) has replaced the charming stone cottages of the Dutch Gap Motor Court.

On I-95, that the electronic highway message board just south of the Pocahontas Expressway reported to drivers that highways around New York remained congested “due to blackout.” I guess 300 miles is enough time to come up with an alternate route.

From the Yankees Fan, a link to some swell antidotes to the Office Mottoes I bemoaned the other day: "Demotivators".

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Afternoon Break

I strolled to World Cup a while ago, in search of a free TD so I could read the pro-public library editorial. (Which does not appear in the on-line paper; sorry.) The gist: in our crazy electronic age, public libraries (he does not specify "city" libraries, but his examples lean strongly towards RPL) offer great print and computer resources -- and there are nice people there to help you.

At my coffee shop, I read The Devil in the White City, a non-fiction tale of the 1893 World's Fair and a serial killer. Erik Larson's writing is engaging, though he uses a couple of catch phrases too often. For instance, in desribing how Frederick Law Olmsted sees a landscape, he revisits "roses" as "flecks of color." Larson's research seems to have been both broad and deep -- and he lets us know it by dropping in nearly distracting information, such as the number of the fire alarm box at a certain intersect. "Look at me! Look how much research I did!" Still, a very good read, so far.

At Halcyon: some great 60s summer skirts, in sizes 2 to 12; a lovely pink silk shirt dress; wooden handled pappagallo purses; and a friendly clerk who gave a mother - daughters group directions to VCU, via Cary St. and Franklin St.

At the Clothes Rack: a lot of pop tunes on 78s; summer clothes at 75% off.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Recycled Writing

About a week ago, Mitch helped me order a new computer. Its pending arrival prodded me to review and weed old files. Here's an item I wrote (that I still like) when I read the great site Not My Desk regularly. I think I sent it to him; he might have quoted me - I don't remember.

“You don’t have to be crazy to work here – but it helps!”

Office mottoes. Cartoon figures, kittens hanging from branches, monkeys wearing little vests sitting atop a precarious pile of papers. You know the stuff. They’re one way permanent workers mark their territory and assert their “personality.”

Under the guise of humor, the crab can proclaim: “I can only please one person per day. Today is not your day, and tomorrow’s not looking too good, either.” The man with children who have a vague notion that “daddy likes golf” has many holidays-worth of plaques noting “I’d rather be golfing” or depicting cartoon men in knee pants with clubs wrapped around them.

Another staffer hung up the “Hang in there, baby, Friday’s comin’” in circa 1977, and, by never taking it down, was actually on the cutting edge of the whole 70s rival. Too bad that strategy didn’t work with those hair bands, honey.

Perhaps you have met the sassy, efficient secretary whose cross stitch reminds, “Of course I don’t look busy – I did it right the first time.”

And then there’s your supervisor. Does he proudly display the rowers in the sunset, with “teamwork” lettered across the sky? Does she have a snow-capped mountain peak labeled “success” even though you know she drives two miles to the cafĂ© – that she never considers walking, much less mountain climbing?

One newly retired middle-manager of my acquaintance had an elegantly lettered version of the “Mushroom Theory of Management.” This treasure, she asserted, had been looked at, but not seen, by any number of higher-ups and miscellaneous prudes, for some ten years without their noting her implicit feeling that she had been “Kept in the dark and fed shit.”

The sad tragedy of office art is its sheer obviousness . Of course the manager who wants us to think outside of the box and who post “teamwork.” Isn’t the bitchy, I-have-no-time-for-you receptionist’s attitude clear without a pithy little message about the complaint department? And does she really want to highlight her piss poor attitude? And the dad with the golf ball shaped mug? I suspect he quit playing years ago, but his grow children continue to proffer theses trinkets because he has no other known interests.

Office mottoes: one more reason you should be glad to be a temp.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

I nearly turned around and walked out of the Stewart Station Post Office the other day when I saw how long the line was. But then I remembered I couldn’t pick up our commission check at the antique mall for another 15 minutes, so why not stick around?

One customer monopolized one clerk’s attention. He was a very pasty-complexioned twenty-something man dressed in baggy khaki shorts and a pseudo Hawaiian shirt, with two big boxes of smaller packages to send. Humph. One those eBay dealers, no doubt.

I took in the impatient 40-ish man, the young women who waited in line to try to find a lost package (she got a phone number to call, I think), and the well-dressed woman. None of them held my interest for more than a few moments. As I scooted up along that fine new innovation, the impossibly skinny P.O. counter / line wrap-around, I took a harder look at the pasty dude’s boxes. A couple of APO addresses [that’s what you call active duty military service addresses, right?] and one Canadian address. Then my eye drifted up to the return address: oh ho! I had no idea they did mail order business. The return address was for One Eyed Jacques, the local gaming store. Man, what is all that stuff? Small boxes, envelopes that could hold a comic book (which I didn’t think they sold), and medium boxes surrounded him.

Of course, you all know I am way too shy to have asked the fellow what sort of stuff they might send to service men (the only times I have been in, I was the only woman in the place, so I am going to take a guess with that overgeneralization) and Canadians. Whatever it is, I hope they take in enough money doing it to stay on Cary Street and keep Carytown from becoming too . . . Too.

Speaking of Too, Nordstrom wants me to know that its store at Short Pump Town Center opens September 4, and that I am pre-approved for a charge card. Sigh. Nordstrom is a very fine department store. The amazing red dress that I wore to S & D’s wedding last year came from the Pentagon City Nordstrom. I don’t need their credit card. I’m not going Half Way to Charlottesville on a regular basis. And yet, I can’t seem to throw away this handsome mailing they sent me.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

One of my current volunteer projects is to help rewrite some Girl Scout leader training using this Studio 2B "umbrella" of ways to keep in touch with teens. If you know someone off to college for the first time, "Discover What's Next" has a good article on that.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Two Tangents

You haven’t heard the “Looney Tunes” theme song until you have heard it played by the National Symphony Orchestra. Saturday night, Mitch and I watched classic cartoons and live music at Wolf Trap. We laughed and laughed. I revisited my theories of how cartoons maintain cultural images of things long gone. Television perpetually reinforces our collective image of characters from opera singers to hoboes. The very pervasive “Looney Tunes” – living on from mid-century pre-movie treats, through to 1970s reruns and to contemporary cable TV – may play the biggest role in memory-keeping.

Could The Simpsons’ Nelson “prove” that "they're dissecting frozen
hobos in science class" by holding up their “bindles” if old caroon reruns hadn’t taught the show's writers about them?

Do kids still dress up as hoboes for costume parties? Briefly, I think, it was okay to dress up for Halloween as a bag lady, but I don’t think that happens any more. On the one hand, such costumes are in poor taste; on the other, what’s more scary than losing your job, your home, your ability to shower when you want? Halloween costumes are still supposed to be scary, right?

If you’re headed to the Carytown Watermelon Festival this coming Sunday, stray off the shopping street just one block for a special Friends of the Library book sale at the Belmont Branch, noon to 4 p.m.

I’ve been cataloging a friend’s collection of books on UFOs and related matters. A remarkable collection of nearly 500 books, it spans decades and all levels of seriousness. Nearly all of the authors, of course, are quite serious. Though a dedication I noted today seems Douglas Adams-esque, it was sincerely offered: “This book is dedicated to the cheela, hyperintelligent slugs dwelling on a distant neutron star.”