Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quakin' Postscript

For the record, you're not supposed to evacuate from an office building during an earthquake. Just get under a desk and away from stuff that might fall on you. And don't stand in a doorway like they tell you when you're a kid: that's not actually safe.

Next up: hurricane preparedness! The west coast is the better of the two coasts this week.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Today's East Coast temblor registered at the seventh-floor facilities of Big Seagull as a noticeable office wobbling, a perplexing vibration not strong enough to physically disturb anything. It continued for something like ten or fifteen seconds. Several seconds after it stopped, everyone was gathering around the corners of our nondescript beige hallways to verify that it "wasn't just me." So there's the initial presentation of a rare seismic event. Judging from news reports the experience varied widely by what kind of building people were in at the time.

Back in January I read Amanda Ripley's The Unthinkable, about the behavior that people exhibit during disasters and emergencies. Although the Earthquake of Ought-Eleven is clearly neither a disaster nor an emergency, our office behavior was immediately recognizable from Ripley's account. First, people touch base with each other. Next ensues an undirected, nervous, slightly giddy milling around. Someone opined quickly that if we were supposed to get out of the building, the building management would announce it over the intercom. (Passive, instruction-following behavior!) I stated to a small collection of people in the hallway that it wouldn't do any harm for us to walk down to the street, even if it were nothing; my boss said something generally approving of the idea and then said she was going back to her office to get her purse. (An impulse to collect belongings!) Although I could tell a fair number of people wanted to leave the building, no one from the area did, until I walked downstairs with two younger coworkers about two minutes later. (Apathy! Reluctance to alter the crowd behavior!)

Of course, despite having read Ripley, I hadn't yet learned where the emergency stairs in our office were. Others knew. We had a fire drill two Fridays ago, but instead of pointing out the stairs, the fire drill guy just collected us by the elevators and told us to learn where the stairs were. By "fire drill guy," incidentally, I mean a representative of some company the building outsources its fire drills to.

On the sidewalk, there was similar milling behavior, with everyone on their smartphones checking for info. The first news came from Twitter, naturally. (You know, back in my day, people just opened their car doors on the street and played the news radio with the volume all the way up.) Even before I'd walked downstairs someone had learned at least the Twitter basics, that there'd been an earthquake felt as far south as Virginia.

On the sunny sidewalk, where I loitered for ten minutes trying to collect rumors, I wondered darkly whether Washington may have been hit by a nuclear explosion, or how one would theoretically face a tsunami in midtown Manhattan. (My imagination just tracked unhelpfully to Deep Impact, of course, a movie almost as practically unhelpful as it is shitty.) It looked like a small percentage of the surrounding office buildings had emptied. Back in the office, I was moderately nervous and felt an imaginary sway to the building until about a quarter after three.

I still have no idea how you're supposed to react to an earthquake in Manhattan. (Coworker 1, afterwards: "Do you go underground somewhere? . . ." Coworker 2: "No, that's for tornadoes.") Slate's impressively quick-reacting Explainer says you're not supposed to do anything other than duck and cover. And sometime I need to re-read Ripley and, you know, actually apply the information this time. Today's going to seem like a quirky footnote in retrospect, but if this had been some kind of actual emergency it wouldn't have gone down so well.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I'm in Rural Georgia!

There's something about the phrase "I'm in rural Georgia!" that is just really pleasant to say. It's similar to "rural juror" but not quite as hard, and it's also one of those places that I never would have guessed that I'd be. But I made a quasi-pan-Asian soup today with a bunch of fresh ingredients (the highlight being the lemon thyme and jalapeno pepper) that I was really pretty proud of. Having just re-watched Tampopo with Dan and Shelley and few of Dan's other friends, I'm super proud of having prevented the soup from boiling while also cooking the rice vermicelli in separate, totally boiling, water.

Also, a couple of (well, bratty) Southern teenagers ate my vegan sweet potato yellow curry, which was, apparently, fairly unprecedented behavior. Also, I made a beautiful green curry served over purple rice last week. So I'm on something of a look-at-me-I'm-a-m-f-ing-damn-fine-cook high now.

I think that it brings me to an understanding of why some people (and a couple people I know) take pictures of food (they lovingly call it "food porn") for general sharing (in person on fancy-pants smellulars or on, like, blogs). But, of course, I didn't digitally record any of these small feasts, other than with this small feat of braggadocio right here.

Rural Georgia isn't close to anything, but speaking of Georgia (Athens, Georgia (birthplace of a lot of serious musical awesomeness)), I saw Jeff Mangum perform last weekend in a small-ish (500 people at the sold-out concert) Unitarian church in Burlington, Vermont. Which was beautiful and amazing and just as good as it possibly could have been. It probably deserves its own post, but I figured I'd better mention it now in case I don't get around to it (but now that Jack's blogging again, it reminds me to be blogging again too (after the usually summertime slowdown)). I lingered with a bunch of other fanboys who were after autographs to thank him for singing his songs. He double-checked to make sure I really didn't want his signature on something, since I had waited so long (I didn't). It's nice to know how normal and supernormal some humans can be at the same time.

Monday, August 08, 2011

RIP William Sleator

The Sunday New York Times ran an obituary for William Sleator, the young-adult fantasy/sci-fi writer behind Interstellar Pig and other books. We shared a light, rambling reminiscence about his books once already in this space. I'll take the time to amplify my esteem for Interstellar Pig, which beyond its excellent title is a childhood book I remember remarkably well, owing to its magnificently shaped plot and enjoyably creepy atmospherics. There's so much for the young, nerdy reader to enjoy: competition among aliens invaders! Role-playing board games! Mystery solving! Sentient lichen! I want to say I read it first at age 8 (which seems early, if I've gotten that right), and then later around age 14 or so (definitely later than the reading level), and it more than stood up both times. I still love how the hunt-and-chase plot morphs into a pretty high-concept reveal at the end, and how Sleator develops the inscrutable character of the titular Pig itself. I'm simultaneously disappointed and relieved that the story hasn't been relaunched as a 3D movie yet.

Obituaries like this always make you realize how much of a person's life you didn't know anything about, and given the description of Sleator's alcoholism (plus an early death, at 66) there are surely some dark spaces there. The obit's mention of the title of his autobiographical kids' book, Oddballs, reminds me that I read that too, somewhere around the age of 12. His books definitely clicked naturally into place in our mid-childhood reading habits.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Matt Stairs, Retire in Peace

Former Pirates (and about a dozen other teams as well) giant-bat-swinging wish-he-was-on-my-softball-team veteran journeyman Matt Stairs announced his retirement on Thursday. There's a fine post-mortem over on America's favorite conservative-morals-machine sports internet.

I think Matt Stairs is easily the best Canadian to have ever played for the Pirates, probably the best to ever grace the majors with his oh-man-that-guy-is-awesome beer gut, casual demeanor, and always-swing-for-the-fences attitude. I feel like such a dude for liking him, but that's the way it is.

I try to keep my enjoyment of professional sports complicated (there's a lot not to like), but I--and this comes from liking music, being a musician, I think--do like the fact that sports is a way to see people who are really good at something do that thing that they're really good at. And think of how good Matt Stairs really must have been to keep himself in the majors for 18 years on little more than his ability to hit home runs (that he was never even that good at (he does hold the MLB record for pinch-hit homers, and he hit 20 homers for the Pirates the year he was with us, but that's still just more than one pinch-hit home run per year played)). Maybe not the most well-rounded of players, but, seriously, that's a hell of a career.

And, of course, most of you know Stairs only more recently for his heroics and awesomeness for the Phillies. But I've been on the bandwagon since he was a Pirate, and I'm sad that he's not playing anymore. Earlier this summer, I was in Pittsburgh, watching a Buccos game against the Nationals on TV, where Stairs hit a pinch-hit walk-off single against the Bucs, that was what should have been a home run that instead just bounced off the right field wall. Still won the game, but I had the thought then that, oh man, he was getting old. But I didn't know he'd be out of the game this soon.

Way, to go, Matt Stairs. Baseball sucks now.

And, yes, there's also this:

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Let's Learn about Beet Nutrition

My friend Dan and I made dinner the other night at his place up in Washington Heights (he's subletting through the end of summer), and although we did not cook beets, the conversation turned to beets at one point. And I realized we had very different impressions of beets' nutritional value, Dan having heard that they're a superfood, I having thought that they're made more or less the way Dave Chappelle describes purple drink (sugar, water, purple). Of course we both understand that beets are delicious.

But what is the true story here? Well, it's probably on the Internet. Googling "beet nutrition" will run you into some light content-farm congestion. (Sample first sentence: "Beets are delightful for their color and flavor as well as for their beet nutrition.") It sounds like the real answer (here's a website with a bar graph, for example, which indicates that science is happening) involves B vitamins, antioxidants, and manganese. I'm guessing it's the antioxidants giving them the superfood rep, and I don't believe in antioxidants; so beyond that it sounds like you've just got some second-tier vitamins and minerals. But, that's still not a bad package (fiber, deliciousness, purple). And I have no idea what manganese does, biochemically, but sure, let's all make sure we're getting enough manganese.

Anyway, again, no beets were consumed Sunday night, or really for a while, by me. (Back in like October, Maddie and I cooked a huge tureen of borscht from a surprisingly complicated Veselka Cookbook recipe, a moderate success that I remember fondly because I hadn't stopped eating pig yet and it had a pound and a half of pork shoulder in it. We also indulge now and then in this one brand of really awesome pickled beets.) Dan had made an oven-roasted gazpacho so we had that with fish tacos and homemade mango salsa, and then it turned out he'd made a three-berry pie the night before (!) so we had cold, refreshing pie out of the fridge. All of this was awesome. I haven't been cooking very responsibly in 2011 without Maddie's involvement, but cooking simply and sociably seems to help.