Week 32: Swarthmore

Locations: Swarthmore, PA; Philadelphia, PA; Media, PA


Dates: 3/23/97-3/29/97

Sunday I was preparing to go to the a cappella concert when Jim reminded me that we were going to one of Ed Wagner's Full Moon Rallyes.

A Full Moon Rallye is somewhat similar to "car rallies" and "treasure hunts" that friends of mine ran in high school and college. In this version, two-person teams are given a set of instructions to follow and a set of questions to answer; the questions usually have to do with noticing or finding something in the area you've been led to by the instructions. Jim has been on the winning team in I think more than half of the Rallyes he's participated in. The last one I went on, roughly six years ago, was a grueling nightmare, an eternity of driving while trying to interpret intentionally vague instructions spoken on a cassette tape. This one was far nicer, and consisted essentially of a walking tour of part of Philadelphia. (Though I definitely missed the forest for the trees; concentrating as we were on trying to notice small bits of text in the environment, I would find it very difficult to reconstruct our route, much less tell you what interesting sights we passed.) In the end, we came in second; we got silver medals to take home but not, alas, the coveted trophy that Jim usually gets to hold onto.

(In the middle of the Rallye, we happened across Ranjit and Nora (whom I hadn't previously met), and chatted briefly with them. I suppose Ranjit is one of the few people whom I'd be unsurprised to run into pretty much anywhere in the world, given the synchronicity that seems to surround him everywhere he goes. Also met (on one of the other Rallye teams) someone I'd previously known only via email, but alas by the end of the Rallye I was too exhausted to be social.)

Watched X Files that evening and got my column posted a little after midnight. A long day.

Monday I received two packages in the mail: a pack of forwarded mail from CA (unfortunately missing some items that apparently went to NC instead; also unfortunately containing yet another story rejection, sigh), plus a copy of Norman Spinrad's Science Fiction in the Real World, a collection of critical comparative essays on science fiction which I've been looking for since it came out in 1990 or so. (A nice bookstore called The Avid Reader in Chapel Hill did a book-search for me, and found it almost immediately.)

Spent the day dealing with the mail, lounging around, playing video games (just what I needed, something else to distract me), mailing my '040 chip to Newer Technologies (in order to get a rebate on the PowerPC upgrade), and making sure I knew how to get to the passport office in Philly (while I was on hold waiting to confirm the location, the last train from Swat that would've gotten me there on time left). In the evening, Jim and I transcribed lots of rounds into sheet music (well, okay, Jim figured out the notes and I wrote 'em down), then I went to see a bad movie.

Tuesday, after much delaying and procrastinating, I finally ran out of excuses and went to the Philly passport office. It was great—I spent less than 15 minutes actually in the passport building. Walked in, stood in line (in a nicely appointed, well-lit large room with clear and obvious instructional signs on the walls) behind seven other people, waited ten minutes for those people to hand in their applications, then handed mine in. Everything went completely smoothly, and the passport agent said they'd be mailing my passport in about ten days. So much better in every way than the DC experience!

I spent the rest of the day (the part not taken up by traveling to and from the passport office, or by eating lunch) playing video games, reading, and updating this travelogue.

I have no memory of Wednesday daytime. Perhaps I slept through it. In the early evening I went food-shopping, returning just in time to watch an old Babylon 5 episode (that I'd never seen before) with various other folks. Surprisingly good (and funny) dialogue for a second-season episode. Afterward, everyone sat around and chatted for a couple hours. Much fun. At some point on Wednesday, I finally submitted my wordplay column's URL to a bunch of Web indexes and search engines.

Thursday I went to Melissa R & Jay's place to have lunch with Melissa. It was the first time I'd knowingly driven from Swarthmore to Media (the next town over), and the first time I really understood where the latter is in relation to the former. I saw J&M's new house, then we walked to a sandwich place a couple blocks away and had lunch. Ice cream nearby for dessert, as it was a marvelous sunny day—the weather from North Carolina finally caught up with me. Wandered around Media for a while, looking at cool houses and pretty flowers (spring has definitely arrived; the crocuses are all in bloom). (Though I never did really get the hang of crocuses; just another flower as far as I'm concerned. But most East-coasterners worship them as the First Sign Of Spring, and I'm always in favor of signs of spring.) We ended up back at J&M's, and Sherry showed up (having gotten off work early) so we all sat in the back yard sun and chatted while Melissa sewed. I'd somehow completely failed to realize that it's been nigh on two years since I last visited Swat; it's great to see these folks again...

Thursday evening I finally updated a bunch of reader-comment pages for my column (though I still haven't tackled the Stormy Petrels issue). Spent much of the later evening helping Jim find new words to add to a word category/game he's building. As this activity involved leafing randomly through the dictionary, it kept me happily occupied for quite some time. We also planned a roundsing for next week.

Friday I turned 29. These past few months have been the first time in my memory that I've told people my upcoming age instead of my current one—I've been saying "I'm almost 29" since January or so—so it didn't feel like much of a change. I'm sure it'll seem more of a big deal next year. To celebrate (well, okay, not really), I went to Strawbridge's with Jim and got a new pair of pants (as my older ones are wearing out). Considered getting a pair of white Dockers but wasn't really sure I could carry it off—I've never worn white pants before. Figured I'd try it once summer rolls around. Got a couple of nice happy-birthday notes in email. Went through my usual ambivalence of wanting people to know it was my birthday but not wanting to actually tell them. How dysfunctional. (So I'm taking the easy way out and just mentioning it on the Web... :) )

Friday evening we had story reading. Something like 20 people showed up for it, many of whom had never been to a story reading before (and a couple of whom I hadn't expected and hadn't seen in years). At least half of what was read was nonfiction, but that was okay. The major standout story of the evening was Jim M's reading of James Patrick Kelly's "Think Like a Dinosaur." Yow. After the reading a bunch of us stayed up late watching a movie in preparation for an upcoming roleplaying game.

Saturday, went to SWIL and then spent the afternoon learning more about said RPG, In Nomine. In the evening, did some reading and attended another movie on campus, then stayed up well into Sunday talking with assorted current students in the room I lived in my freshling year at Swarthmore.

Movies, Books, etc.

I knew this would be schlock going into it, but went to see it anyway because I figured I'd be unlikely to get another chance to see it. Found it interesting mainly for the ways in which it prefigures both Jurassic Park (many remarkable similarities, unsurprising since Crichton wrote & directed; the only surprising thing is how little Crichton's stories have changed in 20 years) and Terminator.
Dancing Women and Other Stories, Margaret Atwood
This short story collection repeats themes of despair, futility, and dysfunctional relationships to the point of being depressing; but a few standout stories in a different mode (notably "Rape Fantasies") save it from disaster. Atwood at her best is one of my favorite writers, but I'm learning that like most people she's not often at her best.
The Prophecy
Quite good (though rather gory) angels-at-war movie, with the frightening Christopher Walken as a particularly unpleasant angel. Dialogue and background details particularly sharp; way better than the director/writer's previous effort, Highlander.
Star Trek: First Contact
Felt to me more like an extra-long episode of the series than anything else, but for some reason I was much more willing to forgive the many many logical flaws and holes in the plot here than I usually was in the series. Nothing really wonderful here, but by far the best Trek movie since #4 or so. (Note: James Cromwell, the actor who plays Zefram Cochran, is better known for his superb job as Farmer Hoggett in Babe. "Away to me, pig.")

(Last updated: 31 March 1997.)

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