Monday, November 21, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again

When I visit the New Hampshire/Maine seacoast, either with Jeannine or by myself, it has always been my ritual -- usually when leaving -- to drive over to Dover, NH, and cruise past the house we rented and lived in for two years. It's a sentimental journey, for many reasons -- among them are the fact that this house was the first place where we lived together, where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were created, and where we were married, in the small backyard in the summer of 1983… a ceremony presided over by a local Justice of the Peace, and attended by enough friends and family to almost fill the backyard (like I said, it was small).

Here's the house as it looked back then.

In the last couple of years, the house had not fared well. This past year especially, it has looked somewhat bedraggled, with a few broken windows and an air of abandonment. And there was a notice on the front door, some kind of official town thing that mentioned that it was slated for demolition.

I couldn't understand why. Aside from the broken windows, the house looked as sturdy as when we had lived there. But perhaps there was some underlying structural problem that we were not aware of. I really don't know. I considered calling our former landlady, a very sweet woman, but in case there was some unpleasant story associated with it which would upset her, I decided not to.

So when I drove down Union Street in Dover a couple of days ago, I was heartened to see what looked like a new coat of paint on the house. But… it looked different, somehow… and then, as I got closer, I realized that what I was looking at was the house BEHIND our old house. Our house…

… was gone.

Where it once stood was a rough patch of brown dirt. 

Even the lawn in the small backyard, where friends and family had gathered to see us pledge ourselves to each other on our wedding day, was mostly gone. The small garage -- which we never used -- had also vanished.

I had expected that I would be devastated if that house was torn down. I even gave some thought in recent years to buying it to save the old place, but that really made no logical sense, so I abandoned that completely sentimental plan. But when I saw it was gone, I felt very little… a small twinge of sadness, mostly.

I am sad that it's gone. I have many great memories of that house, most having to do with Jeannine and our first couple of years together.

But as she pointed out when I gave her the news, we still have those memories. We still have artifacts from those times, like this drawing I did of the front of the house. I can't remember WHY I did it -- possibly as a card, or perhaps as part of the directions to our wedding.

And we still have the photos from our wedding, and the lovely memories which go with them. 

        But most of all, we have each other. -- PL

Friday, November 11, 2011

Splitting wood

Recently, I had the opportunity to use my new electric chainsaw to clear some of the tree limbs which fell in my parents' yard, victims of that crazy Hallowe'en week snowstorm. I brought home a bunch of the sections of the branches which I thought would make good firewood, with a vague plan to split them lengthwise so they would burn better when it came time to toss them in the fireplace.

I wasn't sure exactly HOW I was going to do that, though. I have had some experience splitting wood with an ax, and also with a maul (i think that's what it's called), and neither tool felt particularly safe to use. I always had visions of lopping off random toes, mine or someone else's. 

So I was intrigued while shopping online this week when I saw this on the Garrett Wade website:

Relatively small, no fuel or electricity needed… and no wildly-swung cleaving blades! Sounded right up my alley, so I ordered one, and it arrived today. After a few minutes puzzling out the directions, I had it set up, and started splitting some wood.

And I was impressed! It's not, as they say in the advertising, something to do major heavy-duty log splitting with, but the two dozen or so hefty limbs (ranging in diameter from three to six inches) which I managed to fit into the device (it will only accept pieces of wood up to 18 inches) were easily split, with minimal effort. In fact, I even did some using my hand on the lever instead of my foot, and it worked fine. It seemed to work equally well with the fresh-cut wood as with older, more dried-out pieces.

I would definitely recommend this tool for anyone wanting to safely split a modest amount of wood for their fireplace. -- PL

Here's the URL for the catalog page:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jules Feiffer at the Carle

Jeannine and I went to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art last Saturday to see the opening of the Jule's Feiffer show, "Growing Every Which Way But Up: The Children’s Book Art of Jules Feiffer" and hear Feiffer interviewed on stage.

I've long admired Jules Feiffer's work, at least the stuff that I was most familiar with, his social/political commentary cartoon strips in "The Village Voice".  Although his "controlled chaos" style of drawing is far from the style of cartooning to which I am usually attracted, I always liked the energy in the gestures of his drawing, as well as the wealth of emotion he could get into what appeared to be some simple wiggly lines -- something that appears to be easy, but in truth is very difficult. I didn't really know much about his children's book work, so this was a good chance to rectify that oversight.

The show had many of Feiffer's illustrations on display, but I have to confess that while most of it was his color children's book work, I was most intrigued by what was at the beginning of the show. These were two stapled-together penciled homemade comic books which Feiffer had done in his youth, aping the style of the "Golden Age" superhero/adventure comics he read as a boy, right down to the style of the cover layouts. (I wish it had been possible to see what was INSIDE the comics, but sadly that was not part of the exhibit.)

Jeannine and I were introduced to Feiffer by Alexandra Kennedy, the museum's Executive Director, and I was fortunate enough to get a chance to chat with him alone for about five minutes. Having noticed a Will Eisner "Spirit" page as part of the exhibit (right next to those childhood comics I mentioned earlier), I asked him what part he had in that -- had he done some inking on it?

It turned out that on that particular page in the exhibit, he had not done anything -- it was just included to illustrate his time apprenticing in the Eisner studio. (Actually, my memory might be failing me here -- I am pretty sure he said that the page in question was not one he had anything to do with, but it's possible that he said he had nothing to do with the ART, but he did have something to do with the WRITING.) He told me that he had done some drawing work when he was employed by Eisner, but mostly he wrote stuff, including some "Spirit" stories.

Of course, knowing that my hero Jack Kirby had also once worked for Eisner, I had to ask if Feiffer had ever met Kirby. He replied that he had met him once, but offered no cool stories about that meeting. Oh, well…

Feiffer was most interested in talking about his upcoming graphic novel, which he described to me as something like a hard-boiled noir detective tale. And he said he's drawing it in a style which is very different from his usual stuff, which sounded intriguing. I will have to keep an eye out for that one.

Following that, I perused the gallery display of his children's book illustrations. I have to be honest here and say that, while they were all quite colorful (except for the black and white ones, of course) and showed his typically energetic (yet, curiously, simultaneously laid-back) line, there was nothing particularly mind-blowing about them -- nothing at all as captivating (to me, at least) as the exhibit in the gallery in the next room, where the work of Barbara McClintock was displayed.

In my opinion, his work is far bettered suited to pithy observations about modern life and mores, as exemplified in his work for "The Village Voice". But that's just me. Apparently, there are a lot of people who really like his children's book work.

And as part of the talk later, one particular such book was in the spotlight: "The Phantom Tollbooth", written and illustrated fifty years ago by Norton Juster and Feiffer, respectively.

        I've heard about this book for years, and had never read it, but decided after hearing Jules Feiffer speak about it that I probably should. So yesterday, while at Barnes and Noble, I picked up a copy and started reading it last night. I'm up to page fifty-two as of this writing.


I've got roughly another two hundred pages to go, so it is possible that by the time I've read those pages, I may see what some people say elevates this book to the level of classics such as "The Wizard of Oz" and "Alice in Wonderland". But so far, I'm not seeing it. What I've read so far has an air of forced whimsy to it, which is never terribly appealing.

But I am keeping an open mind, and maybe the whole will turn out to be greater than the sum of its parts. -- PL

Thursday, November 3, 2011


  One reason -- the main reason, really -- I haven't posted anything since last Saturday is that I, like many people in the Northeast, suffered an "infrastructure crash" due to the crazy October snowstorm which hit last Saturday. I can't remember ever seeing snow, and CERTAINLY not the volume that we received, at Hallowe'en.

   This is a photo I took as I was driving home on Route 91 as the storm started to intensify…

  … and by the time I got home about twenty minutes later, this was what our driveway looked like.

  It began in mid-afternoon, and piled up quickly -- I think where we live there was an accumulation of about eight inches, though other areas got more (or less).

   And then things started breaking.

  So much heavy, wet snow, coming so quickly, was too much for a lot of trees, most of which had not yet fully shed their foliage. Without the leaves to catch the falling snow and build up unsustainable weight on their branches, a lot of the trees probably would not have gotten as damaged as they were.

  (I took a few shots of the damage -- but these are a TINY fraction of the actual number of trees that were mangled by this storm. I was tempted to stop and get out of my truck to take shots of even more dramatic downed trees, with their torn-off branches and splintered wood and loops of downed cables, but it felt a little ghoulish. Suffice it to say, it was hard to travel down any street or road in this are without running into scenes like this.)

  Sorry this next one is so blurry, but I am including it because this is right in downtown Northampton, in front of the courthouse. Those green lumps you can see behind the black metal fence are all branches which came down from that huge old tree on the courthouse lawn.

  It was pretty surreal, seeing bright fall foliage-colored leaves -- and a lot of green leaves, which had not yet turned their autumnal hues -- peeking out from lumps of bright white snow. But appreciation for the unusual visuals quickly turned to dismay as thousands of branches -- and in some cases whole trees -- started bending or snapping or getting uprooted, very often falling on power lines, cable lines, and phone lines.
  Our generator -- which we'd installed almost twenty years ago when we built our house, after going through power outages every year since we'd moved to this town -- kicked on as it is designed to do, providing us electric power, so we had lights and heat.

  I say "us", but in actual fact it was just me -- Jeannine was missing all the fun, being out in California visiting with our daughter Emily. No snowstorms out there, but she had to deal with it when she got home on Monday. I drove down to Bradley International Airport in Connecticut to pick her up, and it was a little eerie to see all the lights -- including all of the traffic lights -- out around the airport. And cell phone coverage was spotty, so we weren't able to do our usual thing of exchanging text messages to coordinate the pick-up. 

   There were literally millions of people in New England who were without power, some getting it back within a couple of days, others still waiting. We joined the "no power" brigade when -- for reasons I am not sure of -- our generator stopped running yesterday morning at 4AM. Fortunately, I was able to get it going again later in the afternoon, and then main power was restored a few hours later. What a relief!

   As bad as it was, it could have been a lot worse -- at least it was relatively early in the year and temperatures were not, generally, below freezing. In fact, most days during this crisis (at least in this area) it was in the mid-forties, so freezing pipes (one MAJOR hassle of power outages in this area)  or simply freezing to death were not as big a worry as they otherwise might have been.)

  It is sobering to see, once again, the relative vulnerability of as infrastructure which we take for granted and use every day without thinking much about it. Maybe my father has the right idea, one he brings up to me every time something like this happens -- bury all the exposed power lines and such instead of having them strung up high, just waiting for to be smashed down by overhanging limbs weakened by a storm. It would be be an enormous undertaking, involving lots of planning and digging and so forth… but if it could keep millions of people from suffering the effects of losing such a vital resource, even if temporarily, it would be worth it. -- PL