Inhuman Swill : February 2003

Let's go squirrel fishing!

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Another question that has been puzzling researchers for years is whether it is possible to make a squirrel fall on its back by skillful manipulation of a bait suspended above its head. The theory was that this could be achieved if this bait was moved in a straight line over the center of gravity of the squirrel towards its back.

After many hours of experimentation, we were able to disprove this theory. More research is needed to determine if squirrels get dizzy from prolonged spinning around.

Yesterday, as you may know, we had a veritable blizzard here. The storm dumped 25 inches of snow in Queens, most of it in our back yard.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) it was a federal holiday, so neither Laura nor I had to work. However we did go into the city, despite Mayor Bloomberg telling us not to. We left the house at about 2:30 in the afternoon.

Laura had originally intended to go to a Pilates class, but she had called the studio and it was closed. So she planned to spend the afternoon bumming around with her friend Shana. I had been planning on Indian food and a movie with my friends Bob and Ken for several days, and in fact had purchased tickets for us days earlier. I carried my laptop slung over my shoulder in its handy nylon carrying-case, intending to camp out in an East Village Starbucks and work on a story until time to meet Bob and Ken at Baluchi's at 6:30.

We had nearly two feet in our backyard by this time. Laura and I had each taken a turn shoveling the front steps and walk earlier that day (she, heroically, went first), and getting to the N/W station was quite a hike. Going over the snowdrifts at each corner, I felt like Edmund Hillary. As we schussed along, we made fun of the people trying to dig their cars out of the snowbanks. I guess they were eager to play demolition derby with the snowplows.

We knew the W wasn't running in parts of Brooklyn, but weren't sure how often it was running in our neighborhood. As luck would have it, we arrived just in time to catch a W with no wait. The heaters weren't running in our car. We could see our breath as we rolled along. Laura got up to look out the windows at blizzard-struck Long Island City, but from the elevated tracks it didn't look much different than usual.

We made it to Union Square at about 3:15. We went west on 16th Street, walking in the street because it was easier than on the sidewalks. When we reached a clear enough stretch, we returned to the sidewalk, and Laura shoved me not quite hard enough to put me in a snowdrift. I think this was because she was frustrated that she didn't get a chance to make fun of me for being too tightassed to walk in the street.

Unfortunately, the snow was too powdery to pack into a good snowball.

We got cash at the Citibank around the corner on Fifth Avenue, then continued our traipse south. Fifth Avenue is good to walk along in a blizzard on account of all the doorman buildings. The sidewalks were wide and mostly clear. We split up at 8th Street; Laura went west to the West Village to meet Shana, while I went east in search of food and coffee.

I hadn't eaten since breakfast and I had a bit of a headache. I thought I'd grab a light salad somewhere so as not to spoil dinner, then ensconce myself at a Starbucks for the long haul. But none of the places I had in mind seemed to be open. By the time I reached Broadway, I was cranky enough to turn into Sbarro and order two slices of pizza—one sausage, one super veggie pan—and a Pepsi. I read Ken MacLeod as I scarfed down every bite.

Time now for Starbucks! I kept west on 8th Street to Lafayette. There's a Starbucks there between 8th Street and Astor Place, one of about five that are all nearly within eyeshot in a few square blocks. But I could see from the north side of the street that the Starbucks was closed, so I kept going across Lafayette.

There's another Starbucks about thirty seconds away on a normal day, on the northwest corner of Third and 8th. But that one was closed too, and I started to have a bad feeling about my chances of finding an open Starbucks.

At this point, I plowed up Third Avenue to 11th Street, skirting a snowball fight in progress (concerned about my laptop being hit), where I picked up the movie tickets at the Loews theater. Then I crossed east to Second Avenue and started south again. Before I'd reached the Starbucks at Second and 9th, I could see that it too was closed. In fact, there was a hand-lettered sign on the door of this one:

"Pussies," I muttered. If I could lug my damn laptop all the way from Astoria to the East Village, the least these fuckers could do was to show up for work. I would have jumped up and down and thrown a tantrum if it weren't for a) all the pedestrians around, b) the heavy laptop over my shoulder, and c) the slick pavement underfoot. Instead, I continued south in search of a place to set up camp with my laptop and a cup of coffee.

First candidate was Veselka, but though it wasn't crowded I wasn't sure how thrilled they'd be to have me sitting there for two and a half hours nursing a cup of coffee. Didn't seem like a good atmosphere for writing, either, so I kept going (warily skirting a game of touch football in the street this time). Soon I passed Baluchi's, where I was to meet Bob and Ken for dinner, and out of morbid curiosity I tried the door. It was locked. So much for that plan. I kept walking.

Cooper Diner at 5th Street was pretty crowded, but then I spied a place I'd never seen before—A Salt & Battery, a little fish & chips shop between 4th and 5th, with several tables and shiny metal counters along the walls. There were only three customers inside. I went in.

By now it was about 4:00. Intellectually, I didn't really want more to eat so soon after two slices, but I did want a nice, clean, uncrowded place to camp out, and there was a part of me way back in my animal brain suggesting pretty insistently that, as hard as it was snowing out, I really should load up on as much as I could eat in case the next mammoth didn't happen along for another moon.

So I ordered a small cod & chips, plus a large can of Boddington's, and I retired with my spoils to the counter by the window.

I got some good work done on my untitled missionaries-in-space story, and I pretty much demolished my basket of food. A top-40 radio station from London was playing overhead, so I missed the ring when Bob called to cancel. I felt the vibration when his voicemail arrived, though, and soon learned that the Q train was suspended in his neck of Brooklyn. I called Ken then and verified that he was stuck in Brooklyn too. So I called Laura, to see if she and Shana were interested in seeing The Quiet American at 8:15.

Turns out they had just left One & One, and fish & chips joint at First and 1st. The bar there was open but not the kitchen, the waitstaff having not showed up, so they were walking up to Telephone Bar. I packed up my laptop and hurried there, feeling vaguely pleased with myself for having foraged myself plenty of food despite the cancellation of dinner.

Telephone Bar is on Second between 9th and 10th, and I got there first, around 5:45. I got there soon enough, in fact, to lie in wait behind the one of the red British-style telephone booths out front with a loosely packed snowball in hand. When Laura and Shana walked by—coming from uptown because they'd walked too far on First—I lobbed the snowball right onto the front of Laura's coat. "Hey, asshole," said Shana, then saw it was me.

The place was not crowded. Laura and Shana each ordered a pint of Guinness and a fish & chips. I ordered a midnight cocktail—Guinness and port, not a mistake I'll make again—and let the waiter convince me to order a Pacific shore salad, which he promised was light and which turned out to be shredded cabbage and seaweed garnished with scallops, shrimp, and mussels. It tasted a lot like cole slaw, but infinitely better, and I ended up eating most of it . . . plus some of Laura and Shana's fish.

Laura and Shana were drooling over the waiter, a tall, strapping fellow who looked and sounded a little like Clive Owen. I said they probably had a pretty good shot with him, since from what I'd ordered he probably assumed I was the gay friend. Next time he came round, I ordered a pint of unadulterated Guinness.

At 7:30 we headed over to the theater. Still in caveman mode, I bought a pound and a quarter of that serve-yourself candy in the plastic bins. I discovered that candy by the pound is very expensive.

The movie was excellent. Afterward Laura and I bid goodnight to Shana and got on the subway at Union Square. We were home by shortly after eleven, whereupon I commenced shoveling the front steps yet again. I'd only been at it for a few minutes, though, when three fellows speaking Spanish wandered up the sidewalk. One of them asked me if he could borrow the snow shovel for two seconds. I handed it over, the caveman inside only belated wondering if he meant to bash me over the head with it and drag my woman off into the blizzard.

Instead, he started shoveling snow while one of his friends took pictures. After a bit they traded off, until all three had shoveled and been photographed. Then the first had his picture taken with me on the front steps of the house, and off they strolled down the street to take pictures of each other standing the back of someone's mostly buried pickup truck. Most of my shoveling had been done for me.

This morning I woke up and went out front to sweep the night's skiff of snow off the front steps. Then I walked up and down the street taking pictures. As I stepped back onto the sidewalk, an older gentlemen with a pencil-line mustache, looking and sounding a lot like Jerry Stiller, stopped and said, "You must come from Florida."

No, I said, I was from Utah but my parents would still be keen on seeing pictures of the blizzard.

"You should-a seen when I was a kid," he said. "It was like this every winter. You could-na seen across the street, just the swoosh when the plow went by. We're spurled nowadays, lemme tell you. But you know, this snow is good. Cleanses all the bacteria out of the air. Not enough we hafta fight those Ay-rabs, those Muslims, now we got the Koreans to worry about. This snow's good. You take care now, kid!"

He clapped me on the shoulder and off he went.

BenefitsCheckUp was featuring on the local news last night, and will be again tonight. Here's an accompanying web story:

I just wish my boss would stop telling people we were on NBC. Sort of, but not exactly.

You know who you are. You're the ones who care that Michael Blumlein and Carter Scholz will be reading together at the Housing Works Used Book Café, 126 Crosby Street, NY NY, on Monday, February 24th at 7:00 pm.

My brother Tim's Utah National Guard unit has been called up for active duty. Later this week they go to Fort Lewis, Washington, and soon thereafter they will apparently be dispatched to the Middle East. He will be on active duty for one year. He is 27 years old, with a wife and 4 kids.

I'm trying hard not to think about this too hard.

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William Shunn

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2003 listed from newest to oldest.

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