(Last modified 29 November 1996.)

Wanderjahr: Week 14

Locations: Boston; Northampton
Dates: 11/17/96 - 11/23/96

Sunday we did laundry, then headed downtown to buy some winter clothing. A fairly successful expedition to Filene's Basement netted me a pair of long underwear, a pair of rubber overshoes, and a nice wool sweater. In the evening, we watched a movie and continued ongoing discussions of theology and art. Then Ed taught me the basics of knitting; I decided to try and knit a stocking cap (or ski cap or whatever it's called) rather than buying one. So far it's nifty but tiring. I'm fascinated by the way a linear form (yarn) can be turned into a two-dimensional surface (almost like a Hilbert curve or other plane-filling fractal, only with overlaps allowed) simply by looping parts of it around other parts; no tight knots, no glue, no attachment devices, just loops holding the whole thing in place.

It seems to me that knitting is an exceptionally useful skill that, like cooking, ironing, sewing, car repair, and balancing a checkbook, really ought to be taught in some sort of mandatory life-skills class in high school, with no gender bias. There were home-ec classes and shop classes at Paly, but I didn't take any; I didn't realize that they were as valuable as they were, and I had too many academic classes I wanted to take. I suspect I looked down on practical-skills classes; we didn't have a vocational track as such, but I suspect I acquired some of the intellectual snobbery that makes such classes seem somehow beneath one. I did learn some carpentry and painting skills in stage tech class, but auto shop and sewing would've provided skills far more relevant to my current life... Because of that snobbery, there are a lot of valuable skills that I don't have now, or have only picked up piecemeal in recent years. (Similarly, I always hated PE/gym class; it wasn't until fencing class in college that I learned physical activity could be enjoyable... And I never did learn the easy comfort with my body that various more athletic friends had naturally. Schools should address more than the intellect.)

Anyway. Monday I packed up my stuff and (eventually) headed back to Somerville. Picked up my car and hit Route 2 heading west; I'd intended to take 90 to Springfield, but rush hour was fast approaching and I didn't want to get stuck. Arrived at Karen's in Northampton a couple hours later.

It was a disjointed week. Conversations with old friends often didn't go smoothly, and my schedule didn't seem to match theirs, and I had a hard time focusing in general. This was in part because the soreness that had been lurking in my throat for the previous couple of weeks decided to turn into a real cold, leaving me a little bleary and muzzy-headed. Also, I didn't sleep well or enough anywhere I went, and temperatures ranged from much too cold to a little too hot.

Still, it was good to see folks again, and I got to meet various roommates and SOs and such. Stayed with Karen Monday and Tuesday, with Elliott Wednesday, with Geoff Thursday, and with David H Friday and Saturday. Did some background research in the Smith library for a story I'm working on; wandered through a few of the many bookstores in Northampton (resulting in purchases of a new Delany book and a boxed Barbara Kingsolver set); did some other research at the bus station; had burritos for the first and second times since leaving CA (I particularly recommend the Thai Chicken burrito at Cha Cha Cha); helped make and eat some yummy quiche; played Knightmare Chess, a new chess variant/extension from the folks at Steve Jackson Games; learned a two-player bridge variant (somewhere between pinochle and Oh Hell), and played a Casino variant that involves negative-valued face cards; and generally had a good time when I wasn't busy feeling ill.

Also, I continued to write almost every day (did miss a day or two, but did extra work the next day to make up for it).

Northampton has grown since last I was here; a lot more upscale shops and a general air of gentrification. But it still seems like a nice town. If you don't mind the weather, anyway.

In one respect the week went particularly badly: my service provider, YVV, decided to switch over to an entirely new dialup system without telling its customers. From Tuesday night through Friday evening I was completely unable to dial up; I spent much of Friday afternoon attempting to find out how to use the new system. Although YVV still provides the cheapest dialup service that has nationwide local points-of-presence, I'm afraid I can't recommend it any more. Most of its employees are a little clueless about certain points. "I'm using a Macintosh," I told one of the tech-support personnel. "You're running Windows 95, right?" she said. "No, I'm using a Macintosh." "Yes, but it's running Windows 95, right?" "No. A Macintosh is something completely different from a PC." "I knew that." "Well, you can't run Windows of any kind on it." And so on. I did eventually call the one Mac guy in their organization (long distance to New Jersey, though the YVV office is just outside Northampton) and he got me moving in the right direction. But then I found that their new registration page is extremely badly put together: no way to send credit-card info securely, one of the worst forms interfaces I've yet encountered, significant missing information on reregistration, and (most bewilderingly) using the terms "yvv.com" and "aaaa.com" interchangeably. It's never been entirely clear what YVV's story is -- they've been dogged as long as I've been a member with prank mass emails saying that they're about to disappear -- and the new system does nothing to help. Unfortunately, their only competitor I'm aware of is EarthLink, and I can't recommend them either. Though I did speak early in the week to a manager at EarthLink who was extremely helpful and addressed many of the major problems I had with them.

Anyway, I apologize if anyone tried to reach me via email this week, and for not being able to update this page as often as I'd have liked. I'm at the mercy of my service provider...

Saturday night something very weird happened. I was on the verge of falling asleep when I was abruptly awakened by a noise I could only half-remember. I closed my eyes to go back to sleep, and the same thing happened. It continued to happen every couple of minutes for an hour or so, as I gradually realized that the strange noise was coming from my own throat. Over the course of the next few hours I discovered that the noise was essentially a voiced breath -- kinda like snoring, but coming from my vocal cords instead of my adenoids. And loud enough each time to wake me up, and occuring every time I was on the edge of sleep. It got immensely frustrating. Sometime in the middle of the night I finally tried taking a cold-medicine-that-makes-you-drowsy capsule, and managed to get a few hours' sleep before brunch on Sunday.


Movies, Books, etc.

A Room With a View, E. M. Forster
A delightful book, very funny in ways I didn't expect even though I saw and enjoyed the film a couple years back. And much shorter than, say, A Passage to India, so more accessible.
Little Murders
Despite two superb monologues, the pacing of this Alan Arkin comedy (based on a Jules Feiffer play) is far enough off to make most of its comic moments fall flat. Don't bother.
The Billiard Table Murders, Glen Baxter
With Baxter's other work (surreal full-page one-panel cartoons, often found in the New Yorker), I've often wished there was more connectivity, some sort of plot or story. This book has a story all right, but somehow Baxter left out most of the humor...

Jed Hartman <logos@kith.org>