Monday, July 30, 2012

East Durham

I was talking to a realtor over in Durham a couple of weeks back, and she said to me "you've probably never even been over to East Durham," and she was right.  So after a meeting today at the Golden Arts Center, seemingly the easternmost outpost of the much ballyhooed New Durham, I drove around a bit. It was a pretty rough area, indeed. I found Joe's Diner, which I had read about, and it was like an oasis in the midst of much rundownness, and I saw the spot near it where the TROSA grocery store venture that failed must have been.

I drove past NCCU, and saw some very nice facilities there.  But just off campus, things degenerated quickly.  Once nice houses deteriorating or boarded up.

I went into a gas station to get some gas.  There was no place to put a credit card into the pump, which, on closer inspection, seemed pretty moribund. The couple of cars parked next to the other pump proved empty, and when I went inside the store, a guy came out from the back talking on his cellphone.  I asked, "does the gas work?" and he said "no gas."  Not that I asked, but he might have said that there's an operating gas station just under the nearby underpass.

All told, it was not inspiring. I was comforted by a conversation I had with a soon-to-retire Durham cop a few weeks back. He worked in HQ downtown, and I asked him if all the development and attention that Durham was getting recently translated into decreased violent crime statistics. He assured me that it did.  Whether any of the new money coming into town is changing the lives of the inner city black population, that's a different question. Still, all the activity around the American Tobacco campus and the arrival of new tenants like FHI360 moving its global headquarters downtown at the end of 2013 should produce at least some jobs for inner city folx, one must assume. Maybe not the best jobs, but some jobs.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

After the fact

We made it to the floating dock. Well, actually, Graham swam alongside me with the kickboard for a while, and then he took over the kickboard himself, but in any case we went all the way out to the dock and climbed up on it.  And then Graham got into the water and swam around the dock a little, sans kickboard.

Later, he decided to lash the kickboard to his wrist and free wheel it, and I swam up to 20 feet away.  This did not by any chance enhance his swimming technique, which is, it must be owned, not perfect, but he developed confidence being in the water by himself at depths well over his head and knowing that he could get the kickboard back when he wanted to, which was all good. He also insisted that we revisit the dock down by the kayaks and canoes, where he had had a mishap a couple of years back, when he fell into the water while playing with a toy boat, when he wasn't even supposed to be down by the lake at all. Graham felt a clear need to investigate that dock, test its depth, and demonstrate to it who was the boss. Namely, him.

In any case, a big day.

Graham was, though, not excited at all when mom told him when snuggling this evening that he had a swimming lesson tomorrow morning. Oh well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Big swim

Tomorrow should be an exciting day.  Graham and I have been talking about swimming out to the raft at the lake for a couple of summers.  Last year we didn't get him enough lessons for it to be a goal within reach.

This evening I suggested that perhaps tomorrow he and I could swim out to the raft with him using a kickboard.  He suggested that, instead, we should use a technique he and Granny had used to swim a lap, with him swimming and her moving along beside him with a kickboard, which he could rest on when he needed to. Sounds good to me.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Capital, by John Lanchester

The Economist published such a gushing review of this novel about a street in London that I ran out and had it delivered to my Kindle. The old "newspaper" led me to believe that this was gonna be the novel that really drew in the full scope of the financial crisis, really dug down and made whole the many intricacies and contradictions of the period.  In truth, it did not, though there was a lot in there about real estate and materialism and all the other stuff that characterized oughts and its not-so thrilling climax. We'll need to wait for Richard Ford or Delillo or someone to bring us The Novel of the Crisis.

But that's OK. Lanchester in fact does something perhaps better.  He populates the book with a bunch of engaging characters you can like and mostly care about.  Not all of them are fully "round" in the Forsterian sense of the term, but that's OK too.  There are a fair number of them, and not even 600 pages in which to develop them.  It's a fine novel, and by the end there are enough of the characters you like that you just want to see things work out for them, or at least most of them.  And Lanchester wraps things up pretty nicely, perhaps too neatly in some sense, but who cares. It's a good read, light enough for the beach, weighty enough for the shelf.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Life events

I went to a memorial service yesterday, the 3rd I've been to in the last couple of years, for someone I didn't know all that well and hadn't seen for many many years, but remembered quite fondly from an earlier crisis period of my life.  In fact, all of these services have been for people I didn't know particularly well, one for the mother of a neighbor where we felt that it was a good idea for our household to be represented. It is incredible how much you learn about someone after they are gone, how much you can appreciate them and others' feelings for them. It's as if a whole new dimension of human experience opens to you, not in the abstract, but in the very very specific points of others' rich memories of the one now sadly absent, and it's rather beautiful.

Similarly, I looked today at the Facebook page of someone I haven't seen in the flesh for 20 years.  And there, as his background picture, was a picture of a lovely daughter about Natalie's age.  And this was a person whom I had known through the rock-n-roll beer-drinking pot-smoking days of my early 20s.  It's very moving to see that, to see someone whom you know from days of self-destruction and, in one image, you can see how their direction has turned.

In case you hadn't guessed, I'm getting old.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


My mom and I were up at some rental properties we own in her home town recently.  She had told me that the couple there had not been able to keep up with their rent for some time -- years -- but that they took good care of the place.  So we were going to stop in and see if there was any way we could help them navigate the state resources that are available to them to get more assistance.  They've been consistently paying $200-250 on a $350 a month 1-bedroom unit.

So we went in there, and they were a couple my age, maybe a little older.  There were teddy bears all over the place, on the coffee table, tacked to the wall.  "I love bears," she explained.  There were also some crystal bottles and other gewgaws.  On the wall were pictures of a bunch of kids and other relatives, maybe 20-25 of them.  I don't know which were kids, nephews, nieces, siblings, what have you. An extended family. She had recently had a 9-pound tumor removed and had diabetes, and had a huge bag of medications she needed to take. They were both as nice as they could be.

He was working as much as he could.  He had picked up 32 hours at WalMart, but, none too mysteriously, no more. They had been able to wrangle a whopping $14 in food stamps a month. In terms of private charities, there was an interchurch council of sorts from whom they had been able to get one month's utility bill picked up.

So that was pretty much it. You know the guy would work more if he could.  In fact, my mom's rental agent said her brother was a manager on the 3rd shift at WalMart and that she would talk to him about maybe getting this guy some more hours.

The state has pretty much washed its hands, the church in a not-too affluent town doesn't have the resources to supplement too much, so we just have to cut the people some slack on their rent because we can't throw them out in the street and, at the end of the day, they take good care of the apartment, so we'd be lucky to find a better tenant.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Small miracles

Our phone, internet, and cable crapped out last night -- thankfully after Tosh.0 was over -- and I resisted the temptation to try to fix it.  In the morning it was working again.

I showed Graham some Andy Griffith over the weekend during the TVLand marathon tribute.  Yesterday evening Graham asked me what channel Andy Griffith was on.  It may be time to get a DVD, however often the reruns are on.  It's just good viewing, and good for your kid to want to watch it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


My desk looks out onto the front yard, where there are trees, a road, a house and then, as you might surmise, still more trees. When there is no breeze, all is still.  And when it is hot and the sun is high, it is oppressive, and it reminds me of when I was young, and I would look out on those same trees and have a hard time imagine escaping the heat and the stillness. And now I am back.

But when the sun goes down and it gets cooler, as it usually does, there is promise. And I can get in my car, roll down the windows, crank up the stereo, and experience the possibility of a summer evening. Even though the things that are possible are somewhat different.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Bacon arbitrage

At Whole Foods yesterday a woman took a to go box and was filling it with bacon. Nothing but bacon. Her 5 or 6-year old son was pestering her and she told him that they were getting it to make bacon sandwiches.  She was not small, but not as large as the amount of bacon she was buying might imply.

Honestly, at $7.99 a pound at the hot bar, cooked bacon is a brilliant deal. I don't know what portion of the weight of a package of bacon is cooked out in the pan, but it's a lot.  We bought Graham bacon in a couple of iterations.  I bought one piece and the scale weighed it in at 24 cents, and then Mary bought two pieces and paid 9 cents. I'll bet she bought pieces that were more well done, but part of the difference was probably in the sensitivity of the scale.

If I had a small restaurant or a food cart or truck, I'd totally go to Whole Foods in the morning and buy a container of bacon.  It would probably be cheaper than buying or cooking, and would probably save a lot of cooking and cleaning too, if you don't have a big flat grill.

From the Whole Foods perspective, it's OK to have a few arbitrageurs like that because you'll make it up the other lower weight to value items (biscuits, eggs, etc.).  But if I saw this happening a lot, I'd quickly reprice the bacon (just like their cheese grits, which you purchase by the square unit rather than by weight).  The problem would come when the check-out line starts to get slowed down by more items to ring up and people in line get pissed off as their eggs get cold.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Letting go

Graham finished up a week's camp at the NC Autism Society yesterday.  This was a week for kids at the kids at the high-functioning, Asperger's end of the spectrum.  To close off the week, they had a talent show where each kid got to showcase a unique talent of his or her own.  Graham didn't feel like he had a specific talent he wanted to share, so he decided to be the MC, and for the whole second half of the proceedings, Graham introduced kids and complemented those who had just gone on what they had just done.  With a little coaching from the counsellors, Graham did a truly fine job.  One kid had decided to demonstrate his basketball prowess.  Graham took the mike and said "Please direct your attention to the left side of the gym, where Billy (not necessarily his real name) will be shooting hoops."

It was pretty striking to watch the assembled kids.  Some of those in this cohort of ostensibly "high-functioning" kids did not appear to be all that high-functioning. Graham really held his own, but I felt myself being consumed with much of the fear that Mary manifests, that this adorable, sweet boy of ours my indeed have a difficult time making it in the world on his own. I wonder if he will take the turns that his cousin Daniel has, maturing from a challenged kid with a diagnosis into a very fine specimen of homo sapiens.  Or will he always need a lot of support?

It seems characteristic of fathers of special needs kids to keep themselves in denial of their kids special needs, and I do often find myself wondering how much Graham differs from how I was as a kid.  After all, I was as skinny and geeky and bullied as they come and I made it out OK (current career challenges  notwithstanding).  What would my diagnosis have been? How much of this is denial, how much reality?

But I am also mindful that adult kids of alcoholics like myself tend to let their minds race to spiraling negative scenarios about everything.  As in, "Oh my God, my child is doomed!!"  And that does nobody any good. Anyhow, days full of thoughts and feelings.

But, it must be owned, Graham was one kick ass MC.  I gotta load up one of those videos for yall to see.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

To camp

As promised, Natalie and I hied off to the mountains this weekend, first stopping off in Shelby, where we drank Cheerwine and ate western NC BBQ at Red Bridges, where they serve up the Q with a red slaw that basically reiterates and confirms the flavor of the meat, rather than delicately and dialectically counteracting it, as does the light but creamy slaw of our part of the state.  Good nonetheless, and a classic joint. After dinner, we took in the Olympic Trials in the cool of our hotel room, where Natalie got excited about swimming and track and field ("they run the 200 in 20 seconds!!!  it takes me 40!!!")  Isn't it amazing how the Olympics transform sports often considered boring into something rather interesting indeed?

Next, it was on to Gwynn Valley, where Natalie found herself in a cabin where something like 7 of 10 girls had been in the same cabin last year.  Delight.