Master Gardener vs. Garden Terrorist

Marcia’s gardens are things of beauty. (As is she, but that’s a separate post). She’s researched, experimented, planted, shuffled, replanted and coordinated her selected plants and their locations to give us pretty much a spring to fall extravaganza of coordinated colors, textures and vistas. We’re in what I think of as the purple season right now, as her largest garden finds various irises, mints and other things with names I don’t know replacing the pink season’s bleeding heart plants and tulips. Irises are my second favorite flowers in the world. So complex, yet so transient. We purchased some large bearded irises years ago from a farm in Texas, and we’ve got some smaller varieties out there as well. They are spectacular flowers, and I love going out there and just standing and staring at them while we’ve got them. (As opposed to the Stupidendrons, which are also in bloom right now, which is nice, but which look like boring evergreen bay leaf bushes the rest of the year).

Marcia is indeed the Master Gardener, while I play the role of her foil, the Garden Terrorist. She represents order and structure in the garden. I represent chaos and unpredictable complexity. I have one crucial tool in my efforts to infiltrate her staunch gardening defenses: the glorious Viola cornuta (Violaceae), better known among fellow travelers as the Johnny Jump Up. I am told by gardening books that these fabulous flowers are compact annuals or short-lived perennials, native to Spain and the Pyrenees Mountains. They have been used extensively in floral gardens and have escaped from cultivation to roadsides, fields and waste areas throughout much of the United States. The vibrant blooms are deep purple and yellow, creating a solid carpet of color for weeks.

It’s their fecundity that pleases me so deeply. All I need to do is sneak a couple of them into the yard in a potted arrangement, and hey presto, the next year, we’ve got Johnny Jump Up Central throughout the mulch beds that line the entire yard. Only rabbits and wire coat hangers breed faster than they do. And the great thing is, they cross-pollinate and through the marvels of genetics produce all sorts of different color patterns and schemes. I find it endlessly fascinating to find variants that I’ve not seen before. There are plenty of them every time I look.  The Johnny Jump Ups are also surprisingly robust and sturdy: dump a giant bag of mulch on them and walk away, and the next morning they will be peeking through, perky and unbruised, just as if they’d wanted you to bury them.

The only more tenacious things I’ve ever planted were tiger-striped Asian lilies, that reproduce by dropping corms any time you try to dig or pull the main plants out of the ground. These are my lasting contributions to the garden then: chaos, entropy, surprise. All achieved with absolutely no effort whatsoever on my part. Which, come to think about it, might be the most bothersome thing of all for the master gardener!


A couple of months ago, Marcia and I planned a family trip down to the North Fork of Long Island for Memorial Day Weekend with the idea that we’d take Katelin to visit SUNY Purchase and Stony Brook on our way down to see what she thought of them as college prospects. Problem was, we didn’t bother to check Katelin’s schedule at the time, and as it turned out Katelin was on her “spring term” experiential trip over the Memorial Day weekend. But since we had all the travel arrangements made, we decided to go anyway, just to get out of Dodge for a spell, and so we could decide whether we liked Purchase and Stony Brook on Katelin’s behalf. (We felt like Purchase will merit another visit. Stony Brook is a beautiful campus, but it’s so huge, and the thought of having to fight Throgs Neck or Whitestone traffic every time we needed to get her to and from school is something of a deterrent, so we’re kind of luke warm on that one).

We had a lovely visit to the NOFO, spending Sunday with friends Chris (a third-generation North Forker who goes to school with me up here in Albany) and Pat (a long-time friend who had previously travelled to Prague with us a couple of years ago, among other less exotic destinations). We hit half a dozen or so wineries, with lots of insider info and scuttlebutt from Chris, who’s quite the wine expert in general, and particularly well-versed in the North Fork Wineries, having worked in several of them. The consensus faves after extensive tastings were, I think, a Chenin Blanc from Paumanok, a Malbec from Macari, and the Mythology blend from Pindar. We then had a spectacular dinner at the historic Claudio’s in Greenport, a place I remembered from my long-ago days as a junior high school camper at Camp Quinipet on nearly Shelter Island. (The photo to the right is Pat, Marcia and Chris on the patio at Macari).

Marcia and I also shot nine holes of golf on Saturday morning and another nine on Monday afternoon. My total number of holes golfed now is 27. I achieved my first few par scores on Monday (all par threes), and was actually doing pretty good (for my relative lack of experience) until shanking an 11 on the par 4 final hole. A-duh.

Odd Ends

Marcia and I golfed nine holes on an executive course on Sunday, the first time I’ve actually swung golfclubs outside of a driving range or a miniature golf course in a long, long time.

I didn’t do well, exactly, but I didn’t embarrass myself, either. Much. It’s kind of convenient sometimes to be a sort of generally efficient jock type, since I can generally hold my own in most common sports, even after long layoffs. We’re doing it again this weekend, before heading down to the North Fork of Long Island for a weekend of vineyard visits and good food and checking out some colleges on Katelin’s behalf, since she’s on her “Spring Term” over the weekend (a week-long end-of-school-year experiential trip with classmates).

Marcia and I celebrated my birthday on Tuesday with dinner for two at Vin Santo, an absolutely sublime tapas and wine bar that has no business being located in a strip mall, a mere half-dozen storefronts away from the odious Sam’s Club. I had a scrumptious Corn and Lobster Risotto and roasted merguez sausage over mashed potatoes with a garlic sauce, capped with valrhona chocolate, olive oil and sea salt on toasted bread crisps. Superb, all round.

On the music front, this week’s recommended album would be Tromatic Reflexxions by Von Sudenfed, a side project of the Fall’s Mark E. Smith and Mouse on Mars. Chunky electronica with Smith’s patented trademark nonsequiteurs and mutterings atop them. I still haven’t gotten my CD player fixed in my car, so am still enjoying rediscovering some great lost titles, most especially Life Begins at 40 Million by the Bogmen, Hunter’s Moon by Of Cabbages and Kings, and Nail by Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel. All worth buying if you ever see them in a cutout bin, which is likely.

And sports? Well . . . after having won eight of ten games, the beloved Royals were actually not the worst team in the American League as of yesterday, inching ahead of Tampa Bay and Texas. I don’t know how to act, other than to express utter confidence that this frightening state of affairs shouldn’t last for very long. In yachting news, Italian and New Zealand syndicates are prepared to slug it out in the Louis Vuitton Cup to see who gets to challenge reigning champs, Switzerland, for the America’s Cup. See the link to the right for full coverage of this quite fascinating sport. I lived in Newport, Rhode Island in 1980 during a Cup summer when (a) it was still held off the coast of Rhode Island, and (b) we were still winning it. While it’s unpatriotic of me to say so, I guess, I’m kinda glad to see the Larry Ellison/Oracle-backed American entry sent home early. I mean, how delicious is to have the world championship in any sporting event contested between New Zealand and Switzerland? (Assuming the Kiwis stomp the Italians, which I expect them to).

More news at 11.

The Rebellion is Back

The Hanslick Rebellion were perhaps the most formidable and ferocious band to ever emerge from Albany, a monstrous consortium of fine players, singers, rockers, writers and performers who made the rare leap from campus (in their case, UAlbany) talent shows to success in the regional club scene. The world was a better place because they rocked some stages as hard as stages can be rocked.

The Rebellion didn’t last long during their first incarnation, but a couple of years back, they regrouped to bring (back) the rock. I took some of my work study students and other miscreant friends down to see them play at CBGB in their first show there after the hiatus. I guarantee you the folks who went with me will remember that show for the rest of their lives. The Rebellion is that good, as was the venue we caught them at (RIP).

The original Rebellion recorded an unbelievably fine live album at Albany’s QE2 (another lost, lamented, live music club, now the site of the inferior Fuze Box), and Eschatone Records will be reiussing it in full digital glory later this year. The new Rebellion, however, has also been busy, and they’ve got a new disc called The Deli of Life available exclusively through iTunes. Visit the Hanslick Rebellion website at Eschatone to score the new disk and download some faboo audio and video files of the ferocious foursome in action. There’s some great videos of them on YouTube as well, including one of my alltime fave songs: “Big Hot Monday.”

Such a great band. Pity we let them escape from Albany. We suck.

Twice as Far Behind As Yet to Go (Nearly)

In terms of credit hours needed to graduate, I’m now about 64% through my Masters in Public Affairs and Policy at Rockefeller College, having completed my last exam of the year tonight. I would have liked to have floated out of the test on a cloud of goodly feelings, but I feel more like I just got kicked one last time, and paid for it, instead. Overall, the year has been extraordinarily challenging and rewarding, but sometimes you just don’t click with a test, and tonight was one of those nights for me. I had originally intended to take two classes this summer and attempt to graduate in December, but my brain is fried deeply enough that I’m going to just take the summer off (school-wise) and concentrate on my new job and my old family as much as I possibly can. I should still be able to finish in May 2008, which is within the normal two year span of time allotted for the degree.

The last time I put myself on a similar sort of self-imposed march of masochism was in 2004, when I wrote a poem a day and published them all on my blog in real time, and didn’t get a master’s degree when it was all over. At the 66% point of that project, I wrote a poem with the title of this post. I reprint it below, since it ably sums up the way I feel: proud of what I’ve achieved, but recognizing that the third that’s yet to come is possibly (probably) going to be the hardest part of the slog.

Twice As Far Behind as Yet to Go

I’m very tired of pushing words like snow,
then slipping on the forms that lie below.
I think I might just stop here now, although
I’ve twice as far behind as yet to go.

The words that used to pour out, now don’t come,
I often feel as though I’m stricken dumb.
But looking back, I see how far I’ve come:
there’s twice as far behind as yet to come.

Off in the distance, maybe, I can see
an ending to my self-imposed decree.
I guess I can be proud, to some degree
with twice as much behind as yet to be.

So here I sit, and write, at this plateau
with twice as far behind as yet to go.

(Poem copyright 2004 by Moi).

When Machinery Fails (It’s Good to Have a Backup Option)

I’m spending about two hours total commuting each day, which I actually don’t mind, since the scenery’s beautiful and I’ve got a six-CD changer stereo in my car. Or at least I had one until last weekend, when something jammed up inside it, it groaned, and went silent, ruefully flashing “error” at me as I frantically pressed buttons. Radio’s not really an option for me (I don’t like to listen to other people talk, and I don’t like when someone else picks the music), so until I can get the CD player fixed, I was forced to dig into my cassette tape box, which hasn’t been tapped since around 1995 or so. While sound quality’s not quite the same, and it’s a nuisance not to be able to instantly jump from track to track, it has been fun to listen to albums that I love, but had completely forgotten about over the years. Two in particular have been tickling me:

Seven Days in Sammystown, by Wall of Voodoo, from 1985. This was the first record WoV (of “Mexican Radio” fame) released after distinctive founding singer Stanard Ridgway left, along with distinctive drummer Joe Nanini (now deceased), and not quite as disctinctive bassist-keyboardist Bill Noland. That left guitarist Marc Moreland (also now deceased) and synth player Chas T. Gray to rebuild a band, which they did with admirable results, recruiting singer Andy Prieboy and drummer Ned Lukhardt, and getting Moreland’s prodigal brother, Bruce, to return on bass. At the time of its release, the most that anyone was really willing to note from a critical standpoint was that Prieboy was not Ridgway. But I got to tell you: that wasn’t a bad thing. Prieboy’s actually a better, stronger singer, and he’s a crack songwriter (he’s been covered by Concrete Blonde, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris in years since). Seven Days in Sammystown is not quite as weird as as some of the early Wall of Voodoo, but it’s a smoking, stoking, stonking good stomper of a record, and it has aged exceptionally well. “Far Side of Crazy,” “Room With a View,” and “Don’t Spill My Courage” are all spanking good smart rock songs, performed con gusto. (Here’s a great video for “Far Side of Crazy,” right after the interview with Prieboy and Gray). Wall of Prieboy issued another great album (Happy Planet) before disbanding, freeing Prieboy up to record three great solo albums during the ’90s. If you ever see any of them, snap them up. They are great records, every single one of them. As is Seven Days in Sammystown. Had the group released it under a different band name that wasn’t so fraught with comparitive peril, I think it would have been regarded as on the classic records of the ’80s. It’s that good. No kidding.

Closer to God, by Television Personalities, from 1992. TVP is generally viewed as the vehicle for naive/dark/quirky songwriter Dan Treacy (who disappeared for years in the late ’90s, early ’00s, leading to reports of his demise, which were happily proven false when he re-merged from the prison ship on which he’d been incarcerated and began recording again), but for a good long spell, the band was a functioning, deft trio featuring Treacy, bassist Jowe Head (of Swell Maps fame, a player I like a lot) and drummer Jeffrey Bloom. This is the group that made Closer to God, and it is a masterpiece: Treacy was in and early, still productive, phase of his depressive death spiral, and his words just ooze ache, while he delivers them in his cracked and fragile voice atop a collection of impressively crunchy and well-arranged pop gems. The best cuts on the album open and close it: “You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are” rides a gangky Jowe Head bassline to a very angry place, while “Closer to God” plays out over a long, slow-developing riff that sucks you in, then pummels you when Treacy hits to anguished chorus. A very dark, very cathartic album, but crackling with creativity and craft. Head and Bloom are playing together in a new band. They made a formidable rhythm section on Closer to God, so this might be worth checking out.