Monday, July 31, 2006

How I Missed a Giant Steel Toadstool

WHEN YOU THINK OF a fire hydrant, you probably envision one of two designs:
  1. A black pillar with a silver-painted top, or
  2. An entirely red pillar.
You probably don't imagine a squat, yellow structure that looks like it might host a clutch of Smurfs, however. Neither do I.

This is how I managed to do the unthinkable and park next to a fire hydrant Saturday evening.

I was heading down the street of the mighty Ratatosk and Amy for a night of pizza, boardgaming, and whimsy. The street was fairly full, the hazy morning having given way to a decent afternoon that probably helped fill several of the neighborhood backyards with barbecues and beer fests. When I noticed a spot just outside my destination, I pulled in eagerly and headed on up to the apartment.

What I did not notice was the dinky-ass yellow fireplug next to my car, which explained why this spot was mysteriously available.

Hours later, after a ton of fun getting to know Warrior Knights, I exited into the humid summer morning (it was pretty damn late by then!), only to spot a familiar oblong shape on the windshield of my car.

I pulled the ticket off and scrutinized it, wondering if I had violated the time limit for street parking. Instead, it indicated that I had parked within 10 feet of a hydrant. To which I replied, out loud, "What hydrant?!" I walked around the car only to see this stunted iron pipe, painted yellow, of all colors, hiding behind my vehicle.

I felt so stupid. Thankfully, there had been no need to access the hydrant in my time there. Still, I think the fine folks at the fire department or DPW of the offended town might do its visitors a favor and render their hydrants in the same traditional color scheme as the rest of the country. If I didn't see it in broad daylight, how the hell are the firefighters supposed to locate it in a rush of stress?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Las Vegas 7/06: Landings, Lodgings, and First Blood

EACH TIME I HAVE visited Las Vegas, I have rented a car. It seemed like a given for the first trip, even though I was staying at the Flamingo, which is dead center on the Strip and accessible to many fine properties via foot or cab. I knew I was going to Hoover Dam, a trip I wanted to make on my own, not subject to the whims of a tour bus driver. It turned out I also made a couple of side trips into the depths of Vegas's non-Strip turf, at least once to take a break from the clanging slots and the vicissitudes of the blackjack tables.

This time was no different, and perhaps more essential, as I was staying Downtown again. My first three stays were at the Flamingo, then I gave the Golden Nugget a try Downtown. I gave them my business the next three times, only breaking the pattern this January when the Nugget's reservation system went kerflooie and I went a block away to the Plaza. Because this trip was planned with considerably less lead time than is typical for me, I didn't bother with the Nugget and went straight for the Plaza. I survived the last trip, why not try them again?

The plane landed on time — finding me with my eyes closed and my breath held. The only part of air travel I can't take is the landing. When the plane is taking off, if there's any sort of problem, I figure the plane can just wheel around and land. In the air, we have redundant systems, two to four engines, several alternate airports at which to land, and the ability to glide if all else fails. Coming in for a landing, however, I feel like I have the least control over anything. Granted, I have control over precisely nothing on the airplane at any time, but it feels most apparent at landing. Everything from the last five seconds above the ground, through that first shuddering touchdown, the throaty roar of the reversed engines, and the sway of the craft as it decelerates, finds me sitting stiff and straight and soaking my knees or the armrests with my sweating palms.

Thus far, this has passed quickly, and when we are merely rolling across the tarmac, with the unmatched skyline of the Las Vegas Strip gliding by the window, all the excitement of the destination rushes back and stomps my landing anxiety into the desert sands.

After the glitch last January with the rental car, I decided not to take chances and rented a Hertz vehicle straight out of the airport. It costs more to rent there, because of fees and taxes McCarran imposes on airport rentals, but with the flight out to Vegas in January free due to frequent flyer miles, I was $300 ahead of the game. The convenience was worth paying for. I had to wait for about 15 minutes for them to find me a car, because I used a AAA upgrade. I wondered how many travelers got sick of waiting, told the clerks to cancel the search, and took what they were initially assigned. I decided not to give the house any advantage. Many folks in the rental hut were not as lucky, having walked straight in from the planes that had gotten them there and tried to rent cars without reservations. Their waits were destined to be much longer than mine.

After that quarter hour, during which I tried not to listen to a high-talking man bray into his cellphone at full lisp about his business problems (the day they permit cell access on planes, expect a logarithmic rise in passenger fistfights and air-marshall weapon discharge reports), I hightailed it across the sizzling parking lot to a Toyota Solara, which was occupied by the Texas family that had just returned it. I evicted them, tossed my two bags into the trunk, and roared off toward the Strip.

As hungry as I might be upon arrival, as late as cross-country storms may have made my flight, as much as I might need caffeine or a bathroom to eliminate same, I always cruise up the Strip early in my trip. I watch the crowds milling from casino to casino in the late-morning sun. I scan the skyline for construction cranes to see if any of the megaresorts have suddenly added a tower or two in my absence. I ride along under the fringe of the Strip's palm trees, maybe even with the window down to hear the delight of the crowd and the carnival barkers outside the gamble palaces offering their alluring temptations. I soak up the heat and the sounds and the absurd architecture and feel at peace. At least, as peaceful as you can be with 50-foot depictions of acrobats, impersonators, and clowns screaming at you from every signboard.

A word here about the Toyota Solara. As rental cars go, this one rates near the bottom. Ergonomically everything felt off. It was probably more spacious inside than the Corolla, from which I had upgraded via AAA, but the positions of various buttons and levers was disquieting and just inconvenient enough to feel like I was wearing someone else's favorite sweater. Of particular vexation was the trunk door and release. The gas-door latch was above the trunk latch, which itself was recessed beneath the floor-line of the car. Time and again I was readying my gas tank for a good sugaring. Triggering the trunk release with the remote required me to press and hold the button for several wasted seconds. Worst of all, the trunk required a good slam to shut it properly. I didn't realize all this until near the end of the first full day, but by that time, I was too set on actually enjoying my vacation to sweat out another stretch in the rental office. The trunk almost cost me dearly, however, when I unthinkingly closed it in the parking garage of one of the casinos, and, upon returning later, noticed that it had not latched shut at all. I slowly opened the trunk, steeling myself to discover my backpack swollen with all manner of books and papers to be gone, but there it was. Call it goodwill, or maybe gambling-focused monomania on the part of the casino's patrons, but as Vegas luck goes, this was my peak.

As is my usual practice, I spent my arrival day checking in (which got me a fine, high, south-pointed view of the Strip), unwinding from the trip, unpacking, driving around a bit, walking to foot-accessible Downtown casinos to snoop about . . . everything but poker. I did gamble, however. Before I left in January, I bought $10 in $1 chips at the Plaza, because they had recently rebranded their casino with a cool new Googie-inspired logo, and I wanted a stack to shuffle next to my keyboard while I thought between sentences. (If you've watched a certain amount of poker TV, you've seen the players riffling two stacks of chips between the fingers of one hand into a single, taller stack. Generally, new players' ability to do this is inversely proportional to their actual poker skill. Yes, I'm including myself. Besides, all the cool kids were doing it!) These chips were now somewhat grotty from my constant nervous fiddling (I blame Full Tilt Poker), so I trucked them back to Las Vegas for redemption.

Or . . . perhaps . . . maybe I could make some small coin with them. I sat down at a $5 blackjack table and deployed my massive, two-bet's-worth stack. The dealer certainly didn't tell me to go somewhere else with it. This is Downtown, last refuge of the low-roller. I figured, the worst that happened was I rented these chips for a ten-spot over the past half year. As it turns out, I didn't really have to call on my wavering knowledge of basic blackjack strategy, because the deck hit me quite firmly. I managed to double up my stack to $22 after two shoes, which featured both a lucrative splitting opportunity, a good double down on 11, and a natural. I tipped the dealer one of my white checks and cashed out for an $11 profit. If only every investment yielded a 110% return so effortlessly!

Next up, my return to the fishy waters of no-limit hold'em in Vegas.

Read the start of this descent into poker madness at Escaping West and the Course Curriculum.

For the next chapters in this sordid saga, hit up this list:

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Las Vegas 7/06: Escaping West and the Course Curriculum

RIGHT NOW, IN JERSEY, it's raining hard, with thunder and wind lashing at the dripping bushes outside my window. I would say it represents a radical difference from the place where I spent the bulk of the past 2 weeks, the arid valley of Las Vegas, Nevada, but as our plane rolled into takeoff position this Thursday, rain — thick drops of it — was spattering the porthole windows. This was the third dose of precipitation in as many days there, and the first two had filled the dry washes with rushing, debris-choked waters that engulfed cars and harried casino patrons in the usual areas where floods occur. Locals know to dodge such low points as the Flamingo Wash behind the Imperial Palace, but inevitably, some impatient tourist judges his or her rental car to be seaworthy, attempts to ford the maelstrom, and swamps hopelessly, giving the wiser locals a wry chuckle when they see the flailing dupe being plucked from the roof of the car by Vegas's Bravest.

Indeed, a sly trap the town springs on its unwary visitors, one of many. I stepped in a few over the course of my visit, but I also set a couple myself, both of these transpiring on the green gladiatorial felt of no-limit Texas hold'em. Although I came back just about $140 lighter, I fought my way out of a nearly $600 hole due to a crushing misfortune with good cards on the second day of the trip. All in all, the trip was like a visit to poker graduate school, where one's fundamentals are taken for granted and where advanced skills can be taught and tested. A buck-forty was cheap wisdom compared to the tuition I saw some folks pay.

First, some details on logistics and my chosen reading material.

I flew out to Vegas for my ninth visit this July 12. After a very short night of sleep — more like part of the morning — I was driven via Air Brook to the airport at a quarter past five. No hitches on the ride to Newark, check-in, the security hurdles, or boarding the jet. The in-flight movie was so nondescript, and contained so few identifiable stars, that I can't even tell you what the hell it was. I know it was yet another light romantic comedy, of the type I railed against in January. I was busy reading my brand-new copy of No Limit Hold'em: Theory and Practice, my first copy of which was turned to wet pulp earlier in July by a bad morning rainstorm. See, the poker grad course had a new textbook to absorb, and, only having replaced this tome a day prior, I had some catching up to do for the first class.

As you might expect, the poker boom has flooded bookstores with new and reprinted books on the topic. Over the course of 2004, as the World Poker Tour garnered record ratings and the World Series of Poker Main Event was won by another nonprofessional player, it seemed that anyone who had ever published a poker how-to book got a new edition of it out to the public. Six months before Raymer's big win, I had to order a copy of David Sklansky's seminal Theory of Poker used from someone on eBay. By the second half of the year, even writers long dead were having their texts dusted off, bound with new covers, and placed on the shelves next to the works of living stalwarts like Doyle Brunson or T.J. Cloutier.

Lurking near the end of most lineups of poker books, mostly due to Sklansky being the author or co-author on many of them, the offerings of poker publishing company Two Plus Two have been seminal to the educations of amateurs and pros alike. Older titles by Sklansky and frequent collaborator Mason Malmuth recently have been supplemented by crucial studies on small-stakes limit hold'em and tournament play. The No Limit Hold'em text is the most recent addition to their library, and from what I was reading on the Two Plus Two forum devoted to study of smaller stakes no-limit games, this one was definitely worth a read.

I envy the younger players, who certainly have more time on their hands to do the study that I need to wedge in among work and sleep. I can recall a time when I virtually knew all pertinent parts of the various first-edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks by heart. Nowadays, guys are learning poker on the Internet and sharpening their understanding of it via books and online discussion boards. I remember one year when I was in Vegas, I wandered by the high-limit section of the Palms poker room. One player at a $1/$2 no-limit hold'em table had a pile of his effects on one of those rolling drink stands some casinos have for tableside drink or food convenience. In the pile was Sklansky's Theory of Poker, another Two Plus Two book which I now believe was Hold'em Poker for Advanced Players, and a stack of 3" x 5" notes rubber-banded together. I never spoke to the man, not having any legitimate reason for interrupting him in the middle of what was (to me at that time) a high-level game. But I have taken his example as an inspiration in what sort of study poker deserves if one wants to win consistently.

So buying a second copy of No Limit Hold'em was more than a kneejerk reaction to the first copy's needless destruction. I wanted to stay competitive. I had to assume that professionals — not merely the TV personalities that have emerged from the sport, but the anonymous, skilled grinders who derived their daily pay from winning at the "smaller" games — were reading the book as well. It is an advanced course in no-limit poker thought, and I didn't get through the whole book while I was in Las Vegas. Time actually spent at the tables, and the sleep deficit it created, threw my reading schedule all out of whack. It will take me some time to digest it fully. But I know that guy at the Palms surely has a copy, and is working through it. Therefore, so should I.

More details, as well as my Route 66–length tangents, in the subsequent posts:

Saturday, July 08, 2006

July 8, 1994: When the Waters Rose

I WAS NOT KEEPING a blog on the 10th anniversary of the above date, so I couldn't commemorate it here. With one eye on the screen and the other on the blue skies over my town, far bluer than those on 7/8/04, I recount the day the waters of a northern border town of New Jersey swept away my coworkers' cars and trust in the weather.

At the time, I worked at a publisher of psychological and human-factors books and journals. The expansion of the production department and our need for warehouse space led the boss, in April 1994, to move both parts of the business to Northvale, a town on the New York–New Jersey border, far from the highways and malls that stereotype this state. The new workplace comprised two warehouses, each with vestigial office space. Into one of these spaces our production department was crammed. The office itself was at the blind end of a desolate, winding road, dotted with similar industrial spaces and partly paralleled by a water-filled ditch that terminated in a pond. Our nearest neighbor was a manufacturer of cologne, and the factory lent the air a sickly-sweet redolence.

In the months since our move, I and my coworkers noticed that the groundwater in the area, which also saturated the woods between our parking lot and the cologne factory, rose easily when heavy rain fell. The ditch and pond are part of the Sparkill Creek, which flowed across the border from New York. Bureaucratic turf conflicts had prevented some responsible party — either the town, the county, or the Army Corps of Engineers — from performing much-needed dredging of the creek, which would have alleviated the swift rise of water downstream after rain or snowmelt. It also would have prevented what followed.

I don't recall either the weather prediction or the exact conditions on the morning of Friday, July 8, 1994. As the afternoon neared, however, the skies blackened, and rain began to fall. Not merely swift-moving summer rain. This was Hollywood-backlot rain of the 40-days-and-40-nights variety. Water fell in punishing drops from the storm clouds, which came to a halt over Northvale, it seemed, and quickly saturated the ground.

Rain was falling on the northern side of the border as well, and the Sparkill Creek failed to contain the waters. Those of us in the outer offices noticed that the water had breached the streams that ran through the nearby woods, which were now more akin to flooded mangrove forests. Bullet-like precipitation now began to splash into a rising sheet of water in our parking lot. We had seen ponding before in the lot, but nothing like this, never so quickly.

The rain refused to stop. Despite the presence of the company's chief financial officer, we didn't get the go-ahead to leave. I tried to sneak out, carrying a Federal Express box, but my department head spotted me, and when she asked where I was going, I stammered some excuse about dropping the box in my car to deliver it on the way out. When I looked out the front door, I saw that the water had reached the top of the first of four or five steps up to the entrance.

Finally someone made it plain to the mongoloids in the comparatively dry confines of the main office that multiple cars, at minimum, were at risk of being flooded, and we got the nod to leave. The rain was still falling at a blinding rate, and from my window I could see the water had reached the bottom of my car door. Folks clustered in the entryway but stopped, in disbelief at the still-pouring precipitation and the depth of the water in the lot. I pushed through them and ran, sloshing through the flood, to my car. Opening the door admitted a little of the water, but I did manage to get the engine to turn over, back the car up slowly (to avoid getting too much moisture in my tailpipe), and roll out of the lot.

My view was poor from the water spattering against it, but I knew the drive in and out, and could make out bodies of water. What posed a greater threat was the depth of these bodies. The road out was uneven in level in addition to being curvy, so any of the floods emanating from the overwhelmed sewer gratings could have swamped my engine and left me stranded. I decided to avoid as many as I could, including a possible escape onto a higher side street through a fence chained shut with what I hoped was a flimsy lock.

Down the first straightaway, however, there was little to distingush the road from the drainage ditch that had once lay placidly beside it. I drove slowly through a few massive, unavoidable puddles, which were deep enough for water to splash onto my car hood. At the first major bend, however, my potential escape was blocked by a vast road lake, which could conceivably have been deeper than any of the other bodies I had boated through. With the rain finally slackening, I could see licks of steam emanating from beneath my hood — evaporation of water on hot components, I ardently hoped. I dared not risk the lake.

Instead, I made a hard left, not along the road, but onto the grass next to it. The warehouse to my left had a significant lawn, and although it seemed waterlogged, there was no deep ponding or mire in which I thought I might be trapped. So I drove across this company's lawn, evading the massive puddle and eschewing the Dukes of Hazzard–like crashout through the fence.

I took the last couple of bends, and the ponds that made them treacherous, slowly, and finally made it onto the main street. From here, only one more body of floodwater stood between me and escape: on the other side of the railroad tracks, which, by coincidence, ran next to the professional building where I had had my first part-time postcollegiate job. I confess that the tension of having dodged so many deep water hazards and the excitement at the proximity of my escape led to my first and last mistake at this juncture. I accelerated over the raised tracks, splashed into the final pond, forged through about half of it . . . and then the engine died.

I frantically tried to restart it, but I couldn't get it to turn over. Feeling massively stupid, I popped it into neutral, hopped out, and pushed it to dry ground with the assistance of some kind onlookers. Once we had it on the side of the road, I ran into my old company to call AAA for a trip to the dealer's, boat shoes squishing with each step. After the tow, my father picked me up from the car lot and listened to my amazing tale, which I punctuated with considerable doubt over whether my car would ever run again. This fear was dispelled the next morning: We went back to the dealer, started the car successfully, let it run as it spit water from the tailpipe for 10 minutes, then backed out and left in our respective vehicles. That car lasted another 11 years, even if I never managed to get all of the flood mud from the inside of the hood.

I was lucky. Although all of my coworkers escaped without physical harm, their cars didn't.

In the wake of my escape, my coworkers found a number of ways out. When the rain threatened to invade the building, most of them entered our neighboring company's warehouse, loaded into the back of an 18-wheeler (along with a fairly frightening dog, I am told), and were driven free of the flood from that dry perch. A couple of them were removed via rowboat after sticking it out and attempting to walk through the receding waters, only to be stopped by the police for fear of being swept down through an open manhole into the fast-moving sewers. Both groups made it into the media, the former on the TV news later that night, the latter in a photo the next day in the county newspaper.

My coworkers returned the next morning along a street free of water but strewn with mud and debris to find their vehicles entirely inundated, in some cases still full of water. My friend Anne wept as water gushed from her Honda as it was hoisted up by a tow truck. My boss and mentor, Chris, was one of the few whose car — a silver Chevelle — still functioned more or less ably after the flood, and he redubbed it SWAMP THING, which he later painted across the rear in bold, Famous Monsters of Filmland–style letters. In one rare burst of humor, the finance officer's car was found to have a number of wrapped condoms floating around inside. But most of the cars were totaled.

In learning this, I felt guilty for having gotten out first and not having taken some of my workmates along. I eventually realized that going solo was probably the only thing that saved me. I was driving through water that crested my headlights in some cases. Any more weight, and the level of the engine (in particular the spark plugs) might have dipped beneath the waves. Then I would have endangered up to another three lives, with no guarantee of choice as to where the car might have crapped out. The truck that eventually rescued most of the others might have passed to see four soaked production editors clustered together on the straining roof of a submerged Corolla.

I visited the scene of the flood that Sunday. Mud still clung to the vegetation lining the road and drainage ditch, which had subsided to its regular banks in the past 48 hours. The building bore a watermark where the flood had peaked. I parked my car where I had parked that Friday, just to see how deep it would have been in the flood. The next time you see a Corolla, stand next to the door handles. Based on the mud line on the trees, had I left the vehicle along with the others, the water would have reached midway between the door latch and the window line. A muffler full of water and a wet distributor cap would have been the least of my worries.

The company covered part of the replacement costs of the cars totaled in the flood. It instituted a new policy: When it rained in the future, two people would have to go out with one of our rulers to measure the depth, and beyond some point, we would be allowed to leave. Even after we had a firsthand witness from the top of the corporate pyramid, we still couldn't be trusted to nick out at the slightest sight of moisture. It typifies the mentality at that company to this day. Anne and I made this errand one day, when a late-winter rain following an icy snowfall caused the water to rise over impenetrable permafrost. I believe the measure was deep enough, but by that time, she and I knew each other well enough to craft a saving mistruth if it meant she didn't have to suffer the loss of another car.

The closest I have been to such threatening flooding since then came with Tropical Storm Floyd in September 1999. I and my car escaped harm. By that point, I was commuting into the city via bus, but the roads had been closed by the remnant of that once-powerful hurricane and the torrential rain it brought. Apartments and condos less than a half mile from where I sit went under water. The Elks Lodge to which my dad belongs took on several feet. Scant miles from where I had lived a month earlier, in Lodi, low-lying homes and businesses disappeared under flooding, and an aerial photo of the region resembled some of the scenes from Katrina. Still, then, as now, had the waters lapped at my tires and the clouds shown no signs of yielding to the sun, I would have gotten into my car, which in 1994 was dipped like Achilles in trying waters, and escaped as best as I could. I spent 9 months underwater prior to my birth. No pull of heroism or hubris, nor any threat of unemployment, can tempt me to leave the world in a similar fashion by remaining behind.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Deluge Racks up a Casualty

WHEN I LEFT MY apartment this morning — staggering into my second Monday of the week and aiming to board the latest acceptable train — it was raining gently. I hadn't heard anything about heavier precipitation, so I didn't turn around to get my raincoat or waterproof the contents of my backpack. This proved to be a mistake.

The rain worsened as the train streaked south through Bergen County. Ominous clouds awaited over the Meadowlands. The drainage ditches next to the tracks began to brim. I started to have my doubts.

Because I was already late, I eschewed the routes that might have prevented what was to come. Had I taken the World Trade Center PATH train, or had I ridden the 33rd St. PATH all the way to the last stop, and from either of these, taken the NYT subway to my building, I would have been a lot better off. Instead, I got off as usual from the 33rd St. train at 14th.

My first hint that this was a mistake came when I noticed the clot of people unmoving on the steps to the street. This means (a) someone fell or took ill on the stairs, (b) people are deploying their umbrellas and holding up the line, or (c) the rain is intense enough for people to pretend this winding stile is the London Underground during the Blitz. At any rate, the line was moving with the "next, next, next" pace of people shuffling up to receive Communion or pick up a gym towel.

Option (c) turned out to be the winnah. The rain I had beheld an hour and change ago was now a slanting torrent. Without pausing to hold up the line further, I popped my feeble umbrella and headed out.

In two blocks, I caught a healthy water ration. Without awnings or sufficient tree cover (these are medium-sized city trees, not the massive canopies of suburbia or Central Park), I was stuck virtually in the open. The umbrella made things worse. Because it was so small, the runoff soaked my left arm completely, and poured over the back of my pack. This I didn't discover until I finally got upstairs, shoes feeling squishy from the spilling waters.

I calmly walked the long axis of my office, pausing to query an editor about a manuscript I suspected I would soon receive, and to compliment a slender, fetching department-mate on her attire, dripping all the while. I reached my desk, dumped the impotent black parody of an umbrella on the rug, and discovered my backpack was compromised:
  • Four Ricola in the upper compartment were now exuding sugary throat medicine on my keys, wallet, and other loose items;
  • The rest of my Wall Street Journal was sodden;
  • My iPod had gotten a bath, and a wee bit of water emerged from the seam when I shook it slightly;
  • The iPod's battery pack was now refusing to turn off, and likewise dripped a bit of water, which made me nervous about plugging it into the charger when the time came;
  • A pool of water rested at the bottom of the bag's main chamber, which contributed to;
  • The ruin of my brand-new copy of No Limit Hold'em: Theory and Practice.
This last infuriated me. Shoes can dry out. A wet shirt can be removed and replaced (of which more later). Sodden newspapers cost no more than a buck. This book cost me $30. True, I have a Barnes & Noble gift card with which I could replace it, but I hadn't even gotten to soak in any of this new tome's wisdom, which — as the other offerings from poker publisher Two Plus Two have done — was sure to help me win at poker.

I bagged up the dripping, swollen mass of wisdom, bagged it in plastic so the sight of it wouldn't upset me all day, and deposited it in my trashcan. Only the fact that I was barefoot prevented me from dropping it in the kitchen trash. It bothered me that much.

I wrung out my socks and draped them over my trashcan, then stuffed my shoes full of paper toweling from my desk's overhead cabinet. (We continually run out of kitchen toweling, so every week or so I jack a fat sheaf of hand towels from the men's room. Sue me.) My plan was to visit the clothing store that occupies part of my building's first story at opening time, which conveniently was in a half hour. I worked as much as I could while drying out over that stretch, then told my boss I would need to step out for a dry shirt (she is way too overworked for me to have gotten a rise out of her by using the "wet clothes/dry martini" gag).

My errand was well intentioned but futile: This store, a planet in the Gap system, does not carry XXL clothing. Pissed, I walked back the way I had come, in rain less intense but still slanting beneath my cover, to the Urban Outfitters near my PATH stop. My reasoning:
  • Many Goths are fat.
  • I am fat.
  • Ergo, I can get a T-shirt here.
My frame of reference for Urban Outfitters must precede the trucker-hat and juvenilia craze now afflicting them (by at least a decade and a half, if you want to go back to their Newbury St. location in 1990ish Boston), because they had very little plain, pedestrian clothing not stricken with some ironic or arch expression. Very little in the way of Goth clothing per se. More like the type of shit for people who want to look like Paris Hilton when she slums but who can't afford Baby Phat gear. All I wanted was a fat-guy T-shirt. Nothing doing. XL was the tops. I might have been better off at the plus-size satellite of Hot Topic, Torrid, which accurately describes the mood I was now in.

My bolthole of hope was a tourist trap store. If you've entered New York via any of the major mass-transit options, you've seen those long, narrow clothing stores, usually with a bunch of NYC-themed shirt out front, sometimes even with a fake "GOING OUT OF BUSINESS" sign to lure the rube. Near my previous workplace, these were readily available. I could have had a INY knockoff in a trice, maybe even a "FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING FUCK" if this were a staff-meeting day. In Chelsea, these only occur along the main, two-way streets, so I had to hike a bit more. The first store I tried had every size except XXL. I could have walked back to work in a 6XL looking like a human Liberty Bell if I had wanted. Not today, perhaps in the future if I need a nightshirt.

My salvation came at the humble emporium called Tico Tico, between Fifth and Sixth on 14th St. It had the usual canopy of cheap luggage hanging from the entrance, and surely had done a thriving trade in umbrellas that morning. I held mine carefully as I stalked in, so as not to drip on the wares of the shopkeep who might help me out. Which he did. His female coworker directed me to a range of XXL tees, from which I selected a nice plain black one . . . which was more or less my work uniform for the first 5 years at my company. I threw in a three-pack of black athletic socks, forked over my cash, and bade the two of them good day.

I emerged from my company bathroom a quarter hour later, wearing the new shirt and one pair of the socks, the other shirt and socks now scrunched up in the Tico Tico bag, soon to be stretched out and drying in my cube. I put in a productive day, and I stayed an hour later to compensate for the wandering of earlier.

Losing the book still bugs me, though. Not because I can't afford another one. I do, after all, have that gift card. Rather, I hate the thought of books being destroyed. I was raised to take good care of them, to avoid writing in them or dog-earing pages. Aside from making critical notes in my poker books or others, my volumes are pristine. the I don't even like to see extras of various books my company has on hand being dumped in the annual thin-the-herd Dumpster fest we have. When I am done with a book, I give it away, or donate it, or sell it if my local B&N is buying. Someone else can enjoy it. It lives on. In the case of this poker book, I rather would have lost $30 in a game than had a book I didn't even peruse yet go to shit without cause. Shoes I can shine. Socks and shirts I can launder. A backpack I can air out. I had to throw out a chunk of someone's thought today. It doesn't sit well.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

It's a Saturday, or a Sunday, or a Holiday . . .?

THOUGH I'M NOT ABOUT to turn my nose up at a day off from work, it screws me up royally when it's in the middle of the week. Such is the case with Independence Day this year. In years past, the company has given us 4 days off when such a date-bound holiday fell on a Tuesday or a Thursday. Not this time.

We only had a partial day yesterday anyway, though getting home was an odd journey. After bailing at 1:40, I got to Hoboken a little after 2:00. No early-escape trains were running, as they do on summer Fridays, so the next train was 3:57. Good for a Magnum, bad for a quick dash home. It was a good 90º out as well, which didn't invite wandering around the city or Hoboken.

So I schlepped back into Manhattan via the PATH, caught a train uptown one stop to 42nd St., and walked the two steamy, tourist-filled blocks to the bus station. It's been months since I was up that way, but with a full backpack and work clothes loading me down, strolling about to inspect recent construction and new retail choices was off the menu.

I dodged the shuffling weirdos who cluster around the Port Authority and found my way up to the platform I had taken for years before my company moved and made the train more practical. Weird flashback, standing in line with all these people, waiting to spend July 4th in New Jersey with their relatives, or merely escaping from work early like me. No familiar faces, unlike my previous daily travel through this platform, when you would see the same range of people appearing one after the other. It's scary how a routine can so swiftly coalesce.

With holiday traffic thin, I got home far earlier than the 3:57 train would have allowed, and I took advantage of this by hitting the gym. I have a plane seat to fit into in 8 days, and untold culinary and alcoholic temptations waiting for me in the swirling desert sands of Las Vegas. I paid no particular attention to my usual bedtime, which I know is going to fuck me up royally tonight. Last night, I kicked on WFMU, expecting the Friday programming, only to hear Monday's shows. Later on, I'm going to hallucinate that it's a Sunday, and that I should be returing home to catch dinner with my parents. So right now I'm all screwed up, and without any clear markers as to what day of the week it is, for all intents and purposes this week will have two Mondays. Glorious.

I am accepting a kind invitation from Rick to attend his parents' July 4th cookout, but I plan to get home at a reasonable hour, because I still have a number of things to get off my desk in the 6 remaining days before my trip. For the rest, I'll leave a list and a couple of moderately encouraging words, which may or may not form a complete sentence. More like the equivalent of the heavily distracted Milhouse, jonesing to hit the Simpsons' pool, signing Bart's cast MILPOOL.

For now, I am once again going to do some time on the elliptical trainer and make all lifty with the weights. I'm crossing my fingers for one of the cable channels to be doing a good marathon, like a shitload of older World Poker Tour matches or an Iron Chef binge. I could end up spending quite a while there if that be the case.