april 2004

I hope those of you that normally look at my photos like flowers, because that's probably all you're going to get this month. I'm sick of there not being any color in the world. I'm ready for the bradford pears, the cherry trees, and the butterfly bushes to explode and scatter their flowers all over the yard, all over the world. Give me spring, damn it!

Our letters finally went out yesterday. Normally, this would be a time for celebration and stopping to catch our breaths a little bit, but for my team at least, the fun doesn't stop for another month or so. See, the network admins made the brilliant decision to install a new (and in some ways radically different) build of our database/information management software onto the system in the middle of April, which means that we should have been testing it for the past month or so. Of course, the past month has been our busiest time of year, when no one has enough time to do their real jobs, much less test a new system and submit endless error reports. So now we have to catch up on that, hoping to find any really critical errors before they set a go-live date, and also prepare for the distribution of information about the admitted students to every department and all of the student services offices.

But they did give us a day off as a reward, so I think I'm going to use this Friday to visit Tom and see a couple of gallery shows down in Charlottesville before heading back to Baltimore on Saturday to see Alisa perform in a cabaret show at the Baltimore Theater Project. Sunday is my birthday and also opening night for the Orioles, which I can't wait for, and as I had already planned on taking off Monday so I could watch the Braves opening day game, my extra day off will turn this into an unexpected four day weekend. And I could really use a nice long weekend right about now.

Getting out of town today. I'm driving down to Charlottesville to visit my friend Tom, an artist who is finishing up what will likely be his last semester of teaching at UVA for a while (not counting the sessions this summer). It's been good having him relatively close for a while; when he was at Tyler in Philadelphia, it was a lot harder to get together (and impossible during the two years he spend in Rome), but now we can meet in DC to wander around and look at museums for the day or make the trip to Charlottesville or Baltimore for weekend visits. He's hoping to get a residency or a teaching position somewhere on the east coast next year, but he could really end up anywhere, and while him being in a new city will give me a good excuse to travel, it will still be weird to have him really far away again after three years of having him relatively close by.

We're going to see the Circular Ruins show that's up at UVA, go to an opening for Jonathan, an artist Tom has known for a long time, and try to get tickets to the Death Cab show (we're not optimistic, since they've apparently been sold out for weeks now, but we'll see). Tomorrow, as long as the weather isn't horrible, we're going to go to Richmond to wander around some abandoned hydroelectric plants. There should be some good photos from that, but you won't see them until next month, because as I stated previously, all you're getting this month is flowers. He also mentioned a possible trip Belle Isle in the James river, which is only accessible by footbridge. It will be nice to get away from work, away from Baltimore, and spend some time back in Charlottesville, pretending for a day that I still have the leisure time to just hang out with friends and go exploring.

I had a very full schedule this weekend, but since I've decided not to take today off after all (the Braves don't have their opening day until tomorrow night), I'll have to give you the details later. Here are the highlights: I spent Friday and Saturday visiting with Tom in Charlottesville and Richmond, I came home Saturday to find that my Modest Mouse CDs had arrived several days ahead of schedule, and I narrowly missed winning the office NCAA pool when Duke lost by a single point to Connecticut (now I'm rooting for Georgia Tech, both becaus they're the last ACC team left and because if they win, my co-worker will win the pool over one of the data entry kids who pretty much picked her pool randomly). I celebrated my birthday on Sunday by going to the Orioles opening night against the Red Sox (thanks to everyone who called to wish me a happy birthday—I'll call you back later this week, but not tomorrow because I have class tomorrow night), and got to see the newly revamped O's lineup kick Pedro Martinez's ass.

So it was a good, if exhausting weekend, so good that you'll get to hear about the specifics for the rest of the week. But now I need to get some sleep before work.

Originally, I hadn't planned to go to Charlottesville to visit Tom until Friday after work, but when we were given our choice of days off as a reward for getting out the decision letters on Wednesday, I decided to take off Friday and go up in the morning instead.

I met him at his house in Birdwood around 12:30, but we left almost immediately after I got there to get lunch at the mall. We thought about getting vietnamese, but instead we went to Christian's, figuring that we could go to the vietnamese place for dinner. After a leisurely lunch, we walked down to the back entrance of the Jefferson theater, the dollar theater on the downtown mall that has been there forever. Tom's friend Jonathan was getting ready for the closing night of his sculpture exhibit in a space behind the theater (the giant white wall on the far side of the room actually housed the big screen for the theater). The ceiling was ridiculously high, at least five or six stories; it gave me vertigo just looking at it, especially when Jonathan told me he had climbed all the way to the top on a rickety old ladder attached to the wall so he could hang rope that was part of one of his pieces.

After chatting for a few minutes, Jonathan took us back into the theater itself, which was closed at the time, and we spent some time poking around the projection rooms, looking at the weird tiny theater upstairs that had been created by walling off the balcony in the original theater, and just generally having fun inhabiting a space in a way that you don't get to when it's functioning as the public space it was designed to be. It reminded me of when I used to stage manage back in grad school, those precious moments before a performance when the actors were downstairs getting ready, the crowds hadn't showed up yet, and it was just me alone in the empty theater. You can really feel the ghosts that haunt those places when you explore them by yourself, with the lights dimmed and all the equipment turned off.

Jonathan had other things to do before his show opened at 5:30, so he hustled us out of the space at 3 or so, staying with us long enough to visit the new downtown arts center (which was right next to his gallery), where we poked around a very cool black box theater that we probably shouldn't have been allowed in and looked at an exhibit by an artist named Kay Rosen that I actually liked a lot even though it bordered on the too-clever-for-its-own-good territory that characterizes a lot of contemporary art. We also spent a good deal of time looking at four really cool Vespas that they were giving away in a raffle. Love the instrument panels.

After Jonathan left us, we went back up to campus, where we spent a few minutes looking at an exhibit at Fayerwether Hall on dreams and dreaming that featured a couple of pieces from the Circular Ruins project (they actually had Tom's copy of the book on display). There were a few other pieces that I liked, but the one that really grabbed me was a piece by Alexandr Brodsky and Ilya Utkin called Crystal Palace, which was an imagining of a monument made entirely of glass placed in the distance beyond a city, drawn up with architectural diagrams and views of how it would appear from different angles. Tom told me that they had a whole series of projects like this, and I was so captivated that I ordered a book with their collected joint works.

We still had some time to kill before we met up with Jonathan again at his gallery, so we got some coffee and stopped by the studio where Tom teaches his art classes. We spent a little time with a real human skeleton that they use to teach students about the human body; apparently real skeletons are preferable to fake ones, and there's a whole industry that buys up unclaimed dead bodies, removes all the tissue from them, and reconnects all the bones before selling them, mostly to art departments and medical schools. Who knew? It was kind of creepy sitting with the bones of a real human being, especially because the skeleton looked like it had been through a lot over the years. I couldn't bring myself to touch it.

Man, this is already pretty long, but there's much more to tell about my trip. So I'll continue this tomorrow.

Okay. Part two of my Friday with Tom.

We hung around Tom's teaching studio for probably about an hour, looking at the skeleton, the students' artwork on the walls, and a display about the history of the building in the lobby (it had originally been a museum of natural history featuring a full-sized woolly mammoth display). We left for Jonathan's show around 6, and when we got there, it was fairly crowded; apparently Charlottesville has some sort of gallery crawl on the first Friday of every month, and there was a lot of traffic in and out of Jonathan's gallery since it was in between two other popular galleries. I chatted with his parents for a while, and then listened in on Tom and a girl named Kristen who I'd never met before. I was pretty tired, so I was perfectly content to lean against the wall, watch the people, and drift in and out of Tom and Kristen's conversation, but my ears perked up when she started talking about the month she spent at a zen monastery in upstate New York. I'm always interested in hearing about people's spiritual journeys, so I joined in, peppering her with questions about her stay there. Actually, I didn't have to prompt her too much: she was a talker, and although normally those people drive me crazy, her sincerity and openess was very winning, and I was more than happy to listen to a ten minute answer to a five second question.

When the gallery crowds started to thin out, we helped Jonathan close up shop and then headed out to dinner with him, his parents, and Kristen. It turns out that his parents shared our mania for Christian's pizza, and so even though Tom and I had eaten there for lunch, we had no problem eating there again for dinner (I feel compelled to note that we both got the same thing we had for lunch). As dinner was ending, Tom called his brother, also named Jonathan, and his friend and fellow Circular Ruins collaborator Bogdan, to ask them to join us at Miller's, a bar on the downtown mall. When Tom's brother showed up at Christian's, we said goodbye to Jonathan's parents, who had a decent drive to get back to their home in Culpeper, and the five of us headed over to Miller's for drinks.

The downstairs was packed, so we headed upstairs hoping we could find a table big enough to hold all of us, and were pleasantly surprised when we discovered that there were plenty of seats still available. We ordered drinks and talked about who knows what until Bogdan and his roommate Kevin showed up. After another round of drinks, Tom started trying to get everyone motivated to head over to the bar where Death Cab was playing (going to see their show was the ostensible reason I'd come to visit, but Tom hadn't been able to find tickets even though he'd been looking for weeks). No one really wanted to move, but Tom forced the issue by asking the waitress for our tab, so we all paid up and divided into car-sized groups to make the drive up to the other bar. Jonathan (the friend with the gallery show, not the brother) left us at this point, but everyone else made the trek over to the Death Cab bar.

We couldn't get in to see the band, of course, but we heard occasional thumps and roars from upstairs, which we figure must have been them playing. We only had one round of drinks here before heading back to our apartments; Tom's brother, Bogdan, Tom, and I were all planning to head over to Belle Isle in Richmond early the next morning, and we needed to get to bed if we were going to have a chance of making that happen, since it was getting close to 1 a.m. and none of us are exactly known as early risers.

I was still pretty wound up when we got back to Tom's, so I curled up on the couch and read for about an hour before drifting off to sleep. It had been a good day, a fun day, a mentally stimulating day, the kind of day that I imagined myself having when I thought I was going to become a university professor. The kind of day that makes me dislike the current state of affairs at my job all the more.

But anyway. I'll tell you about Belle Isle tomorrow.

I was going to work on the Belle Isle entry during lunch yesterday since we had an Orioles game last night and I knew I wouldn't be in the mood to work on it when I got home, but my brother Dodd decided to take me out for my birthday. We went to a chinese restaurant on Charles where he got the beef and broccoli (further proof that we are two very different people) and I got some sushi. The weather was beautiful, and I lingered as long as I could in the BMA gardens on the way back to campus, feeling the thick pink and white petals on the trees there and reveling in the wild patches of yellow and orange flowers that had taken root outside of the official boundaries of the well-organized plots. It was one of those days when they should have just called off work and let us re-enact the pagan celebrations heralding the return of spring; it was the first day this year when it was really warm and the sun was shining and the world just looked gorgeous, and I appreciated all the more after the winter we had. Just getting me outside on a day like yesterday was a good enough birthday present—but the sushi was a nice bonus.

Even though we didn't get to bed on Friday night until well after 1 a.m., the tentative plan for Saturday was to get up at 8 and be on the road to Richmond by 9. Now, neither Tom nor I are known as early risers, especially on weekends when we've been up late the night before, but when my alarm went off at ten til 8, I heard Tom's alarm go off too and heard him get in the shower a couple of minutes later. Amazingly, at 9, we were both ready to go.

That's when we hit our first snafu: while I was in the shower, Tom called everyone who had been interested in joining us the night before to see who was really up for it, and we ended up arranging to meet most of them for breakfast downtown before heading to Richmond. This wasn't a bad thing in the end: we need some fuel for the day ahead, and because we had a big, relatively late breakfast, we didn't need to stop for lunch. We met Jonathan (the friend) and Bogdan at a coffee place on the downtown mall, and were eventually joined by Doug, a photography instructor at UVA who happened by while we were eating.

Jonathan the friend bailed on Richmond, and Jonathan the brother just wanted to meet us there, so Tom and Bogdan and I took my car and started the drive around 11 a.m. We got to Richmond around noon, and after stopping for some gas and fresh batteries for my camera, we headed to Belle Isle, an island in the middle of the James south of downtown Richmond (right across the river from Hollywod Cemetery, where I once attended a bizarre ceremony in which a monument to General George Edward Pickett, who my stepmother is directly descended from, was rededicated with a full compliment of civil war reenactors). Belle Isle was once used to house Union prisoners of war during the civil war, and also housed a quarry, a foundry, and a hydro-electric plant at different points in its history, but there's nothing there today that still works.

The only way for the public to get to the island is to take a pedestrian bridge that hangs suspended from an enormous highway bridge that spans the James. It was really weird and really cool; it's hard to really describe it. You're underneath these enormous, towering concrete pillars with a roadway on top, and midway between the road and the river, there's this suspension bridge wide enough for three people to walk abreast. It's relatively new, as is the highway bridge it's suspended from, and it's just good to know that cool little projects like this can still get funded. It's little things like this that really help give a city its own character, which is increasingly important in this age of coroporate blandness where we're all starting to feel like we like in the same city (same Wal-Mart's, same Appleby's, same shopping malls, etc.). It's a lot harder to have that sense of place in America these days, but quirky local attractions like this pedestrian bridge to Belle Isle help keep the unique character of a city alive.

Anyway. After we crossed the bridge, we took at path that led off to our right, following the James. Our eventual goal was an defunct hydro-electric plant on the far side of the island, but we took our time on the way there, stopping to explore a lake that used to be a quarry and to wander out on some rocks in the middle of the river (if it had been a little bit warmer and the sun had been shining, I think we would have all started basking on them like lizards and slept the rest of the day away). We even did a geocache that Tom and his brother had done on a previous visit.

The path to the plant had a forbidding-looking gate barring access, but it was easy enough to take a side path that led under a bridge so low you had to crouch to walk under it. There wasn't anything really left in the main building—the places where the turbines had sat were just empty rectangular hollows in the floor, and all the glass had been broken out of the windows—but it still had evoked feelings of awe for the machines that had once lived there. We poked around for a while, but it was getting on towards 3, which was when I needed to leave if I was going to have a chance of getting back to Baltimore for Alisa's cabaret performance that night. So we continued on the direction we had been going and soon found ourselves back at the pedestrian bridge, having made a complete circuit of the island.

I left pretty close to 3 (Tom and Bogdan rode back with Tom's brother), and I got home around 5:30, but I was exhausted and hungry and I didn't think I had another three hours in me that night (Alisa's perfomance was at 8, but it was in the city, so we had to add an hour and a half of travel time to get there and back). So I decided to bag it (luckily, she's going to to the same performance later this year), and we ordered chinese and spent a relaxing evening at home.

The Nick and Jessica Variety Hour is a joke, right?


Because if it's not, somebody has to die.

Apparently in Austria, they have free internet terminals available everywhere that let you check and send email. Some even come equipped with webcams so you can snap a picture of yourself and send it to friends. Here's one that we received from Tori yesterday, taken at a bus stop with her housemate Katie:

Tori and Katie

I think the left half of the picture is a little blurry because there was water on the lens (Tori said in her message that it was snowing there when she sent it), but other than that, the picture's not too bad—especially for a free web kiosk at a bus stop. Why don't we have cool stuff like this in the US?

Last Sunday (not last night, but a week ago Sunday) was Orioles opening day (actually opening night, since the game didn't start until 8 p.m.), and therefore our first Orioles game of the season. As season ticket holders, we were entitled to two tickets to the game, but we couldn't buy a parking pass in advance, so we go there around 5 to make sure we got a spot in one of the Orioles lots that's open to the public. Last year, since we didn't join the ranks of the season ticket holders until a couple of weeks before the start of the season, our opening day tickets were in the upper deck in the outfield, but this year, since we were renewing from last year, our seats were field-level on the Orioles' side of the field (the second-to-last row of the field level, but still).

One thing that we learned last year: never, ever buy food inside the stadium. Last year, after the first couple of games, we decided that the cost of food for the games was inflating our baseball budget to an unreasonable point, so we scouted the carts outside the stadium and found a vendor that sold jumbo hotdogs with peppers, onions, and sauerkraut for only $2.50, about half what we would pay for jumbo dogs inside the stadium (which were usually stored under heat lamps and didn't include the peppers and other goodies). At some point, however, we decided to give the grilled chicken sandwich a try (which also included peppers and onions), and from that point on we were hooked; we haven't bought a hot dog from him since (although he was kind enough to grill up some tofu dogs for Tori when she came with us to a couple of games).

So his cart was the first place we went after parking the car, but as we rounded the corner, we discovered that a construction project had closed the sidewalk where he always parked. After a couple of panicked moments, we found him on the other side of the street, along with the pretzel vendor we usually buy from, and purchased our normal compliment of snacks: two grilled chicken sandwiches, two sodas, and two pretzels (we always bring along a bottle of water for when we get thirsty later in the game). We went into the stadium, found our seats, ate our dinner, watched BP, and finally watched them prepare the field for the game—all the pre-game rituals that are as important to my experience in attending a game as watching the game itself.

The game was against Boston, who I hate almost as much as the Yankees, mostly because of their obnoxious fans (who are not quite as bad as the Yankees, but almost). Most of the people in our section were O's fans, but there was one small pocket of 15 or so Boston fans near the front, including one supreme jackass who, every time Boston would do something good like get a hit or catch a flyball, would stand up, turn slowly in a circle, point at his Boston cap, and flip off everyone in the section. He did this for the first couple of innings, occasionally yelling obscenities, too, and he was about to either get his ass kicked or get thrown out of the stadium, but someone in his group must have told him to settle down, because after that all he did was point to his stupid hat (or course, it could have been the cold, too—in addition to the low temperatures, there was a steady wind blowing in from the outfield, so by the final out our extremities were numb despite the winter clothing we'd worn).

Of course, he didn't have much to cheer about from that point on, because Pedro, Boston's star pitcher, saw eight batters in the third inning and gave up three runs. He pitched okay after that, but the damage was done: the Orioles kept the lead for the rest of the game, and the final score was 7-2. It was very fulfilling to see the new-look Orioles dominate on opening day, especially against the hated Red Sox. Later that week, we saw a second game where the O's got hammered by the Sox, thanks largely to a 7 run second inning off of one of the new young pitchers, but thanks to the new lineup, even when they were down by 7 runs, I still believed that they still had a chance to come back, whereas last year, if a team got more than a couple of runs ahead, you could pretty much count on a loss. I'm not expecting the team to make the playoffs, but I don't think it's unreasonable to think that they will at least finish with a winning record for the first time in six years.

Sick today. Nasty stomach virus.

Still sick. Getting better, though, I think. We'll see when I try to eat some solid food.

I used a couple of hours of lucidity during my recuperation yesterday to finally watch the Matrix Revolutions, which we bought on DVD last week even though we never saw it in the theater. It wasn't what I expected; it wasn't nearly as bad as all the reviews I read that kept me from seeing it on the big screen, but it wasn't nearly as good as it could have been. And the ending just plain sucked, giving no explanation as to what exactly had been happening in these movies and leaving the door open for future sequels (which seem highly unlikely at this point despite the box office performance of these films, which coasted to big returns on the strength of the first Matrix film).

I was an apologist for the second Matrix movie, the Matrix Reloaded; I didn't think it was nearly as bad as its many detractors did, and I thought that if they were able to end well with the third film, the second film might eventually be seen as the strongest movie of the trilogy. And I still think Reloaded is a good movie, despite the many faults of its sister sequel, but I since the two are inextricably linked, I have a feeling it will never get its proper due, at least among this generation of film fans. Since Julie has yet to watch Revolutions, I know that I'm going to see it at least once more, and maybe more subtleties will be revealed then, but as it stands now, it looks like the critics are mostly right about the film.

Given that it's my dad's birthday today (happy birthday, dad!), I though it would be appropriate to share the postcard he sent me recently during his trip to visit Tori in Austria:

Greetings from Bavaria

The text:

Doesn't Munich look like a lovely city? We're having a great time now, but the trip to Europe was a killer. Met up with Tori Monday afternoon after some tense moments—I had told her the wrong directions to our hotel. They have mass transit figured out here—trams/trolleys and subways are easy and on time. Munich is easy to explore on foot, too. Beautiful and ornate churches and palaces ("residences") have been restored since WWII. Tori and Rachel say "Hi" and send their love, as do I. We return 3/27. Dad.

Obviously they're home now, and it sounds like they enjoyed the remainder of their trip as well. Next week I'll start posting more of Tori's postcards, of which I have quite a backlog at this point.

Yesterday I felt good enough to work but not good enough to actually go to work, so I compromised and worked at home, updating some of our web stuff and playing around with ODBC connections on my Mac and different SQL editors. When I went in the afternoon to drop our taxes off at the post office, the weather was so beautiful that I briefly considered going for a walk down to the river, but considering that the only solid food I'd had since Monday at lunch was a grilled chicken sandwich the night before (I was really thirsty yesterday, but not really hungry), I thought that might be a little overly ambitious, so instead I walked around the yard for a while and took the last of my photos for this month's all-flower extravaganza. I actually surprised I was able to do this; I half-expected that I would run out of new and interesting subjects about halfway through the month, but everywhere I looked I found more and more buds and colors and blooms. I'm feeling better, the weather's warming up again, and I think we're definitely going to spend some time outdoors this weekend; I might even do my first lawn mowing of the season.

I mowed for the first time this year on Saturday, almost the exact same time I've done the first mowing for the past two years. Weird. Or not. Whatever. I'm just documenting this for the purpose of continuity.

Another day, another April birthday in my family. Besides myself, my grandfather, my father, and my sister all have birthdays this month (today is my sister Carrie's, but she doesn't read the site, so I'll forgo a birthday wish here). The other big month for birthdays in my family is November, with my mom, my cousin, my brother, and one of my aunts all celebrating natal anniversaries then (and my mom and my aunt actually share the same birthday). Does this happen in anyone else's families? Is there any kind of logical reason for it? One of our institutional researchers, who also has an April birthday, theorizes that the April births, coming nine months after July, are the result of summer vacation friskiness, while the November birthdays are the result of increased conjungal relations around Valentine's Day, but I'm not sure how much I buy into this hypothesis (although I feel compelled to note that in two other populations I'm a part of, Baltimore bloggers and my officemates, April does seem to be a consistently popular month).

I've always felt vaguely uneasy about my birthday being on the anniversary of MLK's assassination, but I think my sister has it worse: today is the anniversary of both Waco and the OKC bombing. I've also learned from the History Channel that the American revolution began on April 19, and that this date also curiously marks the first day of bloodshed in the American civil war. It seems like a pretty violent day all around. And tomorrow doesn't get much better, what with Hitler's birthday and the anniversary of the Columbine shootings. (Sidenote: while researching this, I discovered the origin of the term "frag", which is used these days to describe a kill in first person shooter games like Quake and Unreal.) Maybe there's something about the time of year that makes people restless and ornery; maybe spring acts as a catalyst on all that extra energy stored up from a sedentary winter that gets people's metabolism up and makes them a little more bloodthirsty. Who knows. This entry has really gone off on a tangent, and I think it's time to stop now before I get any further afield.

A postcard from Tori, sent while my parents were visiting her back in March:

Her text:

This could have been a joke, but someone obviously didn't get it. A few random notes:

  1. Dad stole a washcloth from the hotel in Munich.
  2. Dad stole a towel from the hotel in Vienna.
  3. Dad had to sit on his suitcase to get it closed.
  4. Mom found out and was pissed.
  5. My host father Karl has tickets to the Russian circus on Wednesday.
  6. I don't get to go.
  7. In Europe instead of calling something "ghetto" they call it Russian.
  8. Karl is going to the ghetto circus.

Love, Tori

She called yesterday to remind us to register for her classes for her (apparently at Iowa they assign you a very specific time to login and select your classes, and her time would have been around 3 a.m. in Austria, plus she doesn't have internet access at her host family's house), but I didn't have time to talk to her for long as I was in the middle of fixing dinner. We get postcards and packages from her every week or so, I talk to her every two or three weeks, and in some ways I hear from her more often than I did when she was at Iowa last year, but the distance of the Atlantic still makes her feel so far away. I miss her, and I wish she was coming home for a little while this summer before starting her writing program in Ireland, but I'm hoping that I'll get to spend a week driving her back to school in August.

The hat goes on the head! It's all so obvious now.

So, baseball season is in full swing again, which means, of course, that fantasy baseball is also in full swing. I'm doing three leagues this year—two head to head and one rotisserie style called the Reef, which I am commissioner of and which has a lot of members who are close friends, like Scott, CS Jeff, Doug, my brother, and my dad, all of whom have played in the league each year of its existence (this is the third year; I won the first year and Scott won last year, but my father's team, the aaardvarks (sic) always make a strong showing despite the fact that he uses the default draft order provided by Yahoo! and he very rarely makes moves during the season). The head to head leagues I'm doing more as a lark than anything else, so I don't feel compelled to share my drafts in those leagues with you, but I'm obsessive about the Reef, so you're going to get every detail about it, including my draft. I picked seventh out of ten, but I came away with a much better crop of players than I would have expected. Here are my picks in the order they were drafted:

2B Alfonso Soriano
OF Vladimir Guerrero
OF Magglio Ordóñez
RP Billy Wagner
SP Esteban Loaiza
OF Andruw Jones
OF Brian Giles
SP Randy Wolf
1B Frank Thomas
SP Sidney Ponson
SP Mark Redman
RP Octavio Dotel
SP Kelvim Escobar
3B Bill Mueller
SS Ángel Berroa
C   Benito Santiago
OF Marquis Grissom
OF Jay Gibbons
OF Brian Wilkerson
RP Rheal Cormier
SP Kenny Rogers
RP Brendan Donnelly
SS Christian Guzmán

I was very, very happy with the first five rounds. Soriano was my first overall pick, and I'm shocked that he lasted until the seventh pick (especially because my brother, who picked fifth, told me that Soriano was his second overall pick, but since he forgot to customize his draft order, he got Sheffield instead). Vlad should put up some huge numbers for me in the Angels offense (although he probably won't give me as many steals as he did in his youth), and Magglio is primed to have a career year as well. Billy Wagner is my favorite closer behind Smoltz, (and if I'm being honest, I'd rather have him than Smoltz), and although I don't expect Loaiza to repeat last year's performance, I think I can count on him for at least 15 wins and some good strikeout and ERA numbers.

The next few picks aren't terrible—there's always the possibility that Andruw Jones will bust out and have the MVP-caliber year we all know he has in him, and Giles should certainly be a contributor. Wolf is one of my favorite young pitchers, and hopefully the Phillies will be able to put up some offense behind him and give him a good number of wins. I don't have any real issues with Sidney Ponson, Mark Redman, or Octavio Dotel; they should all give me decent seasons, and if the O's continue to play the way they are now, Ponson could certainly pile up some wins. I'd like to have a better first baseman than Frank Thomas, but he'll do for now.

After Dotel, however, I was extremely disappointed, and have since dumped everyone except Bill Mueller (who is playing well but who I hate because he plays for the Red Sox) and Kenny Rogers, who is off to a surprisingly strong start. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been adding and dropping players to get to my current lineup (players added after the draft have an asterisk):

C   Paul Lo Duca*
1B Frank Thomas
2B Alfonso Soriano
3B Hank Blalock*
SS David Eckstein*
OF Pat Burrell*
OF Jermaine Dye*
OF Vladimir Guerrero
OF Magglio Ordóñez
3B Bill Mueller
OF Marquis Grissom
OF Brian Giles
OF Andruw Jones
SP Mark Redman
SP Jason Johnson*
SP Kenny Rogers
RP Billy Wagner
RP Octavio Dotel
RP Shawn Chacón*
SP Sidney Ponson
SP Esteban Loaiza
SP Randy Wolf
SP Jake Peavy*

I feel a lot better about this lineup. Burrell and Dye had off years last year, but I'm betting they will bounce back big, and I think Blalock could also have the best year of his young career. Lo Duca is hitting like crazy right now, and although I'm not convinced it will last, he should hit well enough to justify his presence on the roster. Chacon is the Rockies closer, and it's always always dicey to have a pitcher on your roster who pitches half of his games in Coors Field, but as long as he keeps his job, he should bring in at least 20 saves. Peavy and Johnson are both young starters who I'm hoping will turn in solid seasons for me.

Since our league tends to be highly competitive in the pitching category, I'm probably going to have to drop a couple of backup hitters in favor of a couple more starting pitchers (likely Mueller and Grissom, who are both having solid seasons so far, so I might actually be able to get some trade value out of them, but I'm just as likely to get rid of Giles and Jones if they don't start playing better soon.). Other than that, I'm feeling confident about my chances this year after a dismal last-place finish last year. We'll see. Play ball!

Saturday was a good day. We got up early (but not too early) to meet Alisa at Columbia Mall, where she was going to help Julie shop for some new clothes for Jeff's wedding. I'm not normally into shopping, especially for women's clothes, but somehow Julie missed out on having those girly friends when she was younger who know about style and the basic do's and don't's of fashion, and I felt like Alisa could give her a jumpstart in this area. Julie's role models for clothes have mostly been the 45+ year old female psychologists that she's worked with over the years, and as a result she tends to like baggy clothes that are at least one size too big for her. To be fair, Julie's wardrobe has been gradually improving over the last couple of years, but I just thought it was time to really get serious about it. Not that Alisa is a fashion nazi or anything, but since she's a performer who has to be able to dress for lots of different occasions, she is good at figuring out what looks good on people, and she has a well-developed personal style. My goal was to get Alisa to teach Julie the basics so we could find some good clothes for this trip, but also help expand Julie's horizons fashion-wise so that she could learn more about what she looked good in and start to develop her own style.

Julie started out looking at regular size 10's, which is what she insists is her size, but Alisa quickly convinced her that a better size for her was a petite size 8. And Alisa was right: for once, Julie's clothes actually looked like they fit her. Alisa was having a great time, running around the stores and returning to Julie's dressing room with armfuls of outfits for her to try on, and although Julie had been a little apprehensive about the outing, once she realized that Alisa was helping her find stuff that really made her look good, she warmed to the experience and started getting really into it.

I can't remember which and how many stores we looked at, but in Ann Taylor we found a bunch of stuff that all three of us liked, and ended up buying a white skirt with a flower pattern at the bottom, a sleeveless top and matching sweater, and a filmy pink top that could go with the skirt or with some white linen pants that Julie has. Julie balked at the price for all of the items, which was just over $300, but since I think her focus on price is another reason that her wardrobe has not necessarily been the most complimentary to her figure, I insisted on getting it all. She never spends any money on clothes for herself, and she deserves to splurge every once in a while. Besides, these clothes made her look fantastic; I think she's beautiful no matter what, but finding some stylish clothes that were actually the right size made her look just gorgeous.

(Julie was so emboldened by our shopping outing with Alisa that she went out on her own the next day to find some matching shoes and get some new tops for summer. I know that stereotypically, husbands are supposed to balk at wives shopping for clothes, but like I said before, I think this is long overdue, and I am more than happy to devote some of our budget to upgrading her wardrobe. And she looks great in these clothes, and it's about time she realized how good she can look just by knowing a little bit more about how to shop for herself.)

We had a quick lunch in the mall food court, and I picked up some new shoes on the way out of the mall (I basically only have one pair of shoes, and I'd had my previous pair for about a year and a half and they had holes in the bottom of them, so it was time for me to bite the bullet and spend the $100 for some new ones), and then we headed over to Ellicott City to show Alisa Hell House. We didn't spend as much time at the ruins of the school this time, and instead proceeded to the far end of the property, where we found a eerie domed alter with a giant metal cross on the top of a hill, an old empty well, and a swimming pool that was brimming with algae and disgusting swamp life. Lots of stuff had been further defaced, broken, or burned since our previous visit; I'm guessing that word is getting around about this place and its getting a lot more traffic, including both the harmless curious folk like us and the more destructive nocturnal visitors (hell, if I were a disaffected teen in Ellicott City who wanted a place to hang out with my friends and drink, I know where I'd be).

While we were walking down the staircase to return to our car, a park ranger truck pulled up and gave lectures to us and some other visitors about how it was private property, etc. (we were too stupid to notice another group of explorers at the top of the stairs who had seen her coming and decided to wait until she left before heading back down to the parking area). Alisa had to get back to Baltimore for a 4:30 rehearsal of a play she's directing, so we resisted the temptation to stop for a hawaiian ice, but Julie and I did stop for a cherry slurpee on the way home after we'd dropped Alisa off at her car. There was still plenty of light, so I mowed the lawn, had a cold glass of ice water with a squeeze of lemon, and read my Winchester book on the back porch for an hour or so. It was great just to be outside; the cicadas notwithstanding, I think I'm going to be outdoors a whole lot more this summer.

We attended our third Orioles game last night, which they won in dramatic fashion 7-6 over the Devil Rays, making 2-1 in games we've watched in person this year. It's so much more fun being a fan this year—you don't get panicky when they get three or four or five runs behind because you know that they can come back from it (they were down 3-0 in the second inning, and 6-4 in the sixth), and you don't feel like it's impossible to hold onto a one-run lead, which they did in the eighth and ninth (despite a bases loaded jam in the eighth). I know it's still early, but these guys are playing like a whole different team than last year, and they aren't just relying on the big three offseason offensive acquisitions (Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro, and Javy Lopez) to carry them—everyone is contributing. I'm a little too jaded from six years of losing to get overly optimistic at this point, but even if they only end up with a winning record, that will be a huge improvement over last year. It should be an interesting season to watch no matter what—I'm really looking forward to seeing more games.

Another postcard from Tori (I'm really getting behind; this one is almost a month old and I have received three more since, which I'll try to post before the middle of May):

Got beer?

Her note:

I don't mean to be insulting, but even a beer-drinking monkey could do your job. I hope you get a good severance package because, man, how cool is he? Viele Liebe, Tori

This is the first in a series of cards that start out with a phrase like "I don't mean to be insulting, but...." This is probably the best one because, man, that monkey is pretty freaking cool.

Spring fair was great this year. Last year the weather was cold and rainy, and almost none of the vendors set up their booths on Friday, which is traditionally the day most of the staff attends because everyone in the university is supposed to get an extra hour for lunch so we can participate. This year, not only was the weather perfect, but the IT group decided that Friday was the day they were going to upgrade our new student information system, so our databases were down all day, leaving us unable to work. As a result, not only did we get two hours for lunch, but our director also gave our office a half day off, meaning that any semblance of work stopped in our office around 11 a.m. and people slowly drifted out to the fair (and later the beer garden).

Julie and I were going to wander around for a while with Alisa, but she got a chance to spend some time with Damon at the last minute, and they've had so little time together recently that she had to go. So instead we went out with Dodd, Jean (my director's old assistant, now the assistant for my dean, who also happens to be in my class this semester), and Amy (my director's current assistant, who is also a Peabody alum like Alisa). The first order of business was lunch. I always get some sort of meat on a stick at spring fair, usually teriyaki chicken, and I guess everyone else must, too, because it seemed like about half the booths there were offering a variation on that dish. Dodd and I both got that, while Julie settled on pad thai (I don't remember what Amy and Jean got, but it wasn't meat on a stick). We all sat on the grass in the shade of Shriver while Amy and Jean told us funny stories about my bosses. I also got them to give advice to Julie about painting her toenails (they mainly recommended getting a pedicure, but they also had some tips for doing it herself), which Julie has recently had a need to do because of her new sandals, purchased as part of her recent wardrobe makeover (which continues to go well—this weekend she bought two new shirts, both small (whereas a couple of months ago she probably would have bought medium or even large), one of which was a red tank top that she looks totally hot in). She has slowly warmed to the idea of a pedicure, so I think I might talk her into a group outing for her and Alisa and/or Jean and Amy.

After lunch, Julie and Dodd and I went to get frozen fruit drinks while Amy and Jean headed to the arts and crafts booths. Julie got some sort of strawberry-banana smoothie, while I opted for a frozen lemonade, which was surprisingly sour (but I like sour, so that was cool). We then wandered the booths for a while, but didn't find much of interest. We were about to leave when Dodd suggested that we go look at the carnival portion of the fair, mostly so he could see the ladder carney I had referenced earlier in the day (you know, the guy who can climb those tricky rope ladders like a monkey, and makes it look so easy that everyone will try it although I have yet to see a non-carney make it to the top and ring the bell). The ladder carney wasn't there this year, but we were lured into one of the game booths by blue, purple, and green alien blow-ups (they also had Hulks and Scooby Doos, but that's not what I was after). The game wasn't much of a game at all—you paid $2 for three tickets, and if any of them ended in a 25, 50, or 75, you won your choice of prizes—but it was only two bucks. I let Julie pick the tickets, and amazingly, she got a 25 on her first try. I picked a green alien blow-up and immediately transported it back to my office, where it shall now stand guard (it's quite intimidating, actually—about five and a half feet tall and able to stand on its own).

We said goodbye to Dodd before heading home, where the plan was to take a quick afternoon nap before mowing the lawn, but when we woke up the Weather Channel was predicting severe thunderstorms for our area within half an hour, so we put that off until Saturday and just goofed around on the internet and listened to my new CDs. A great, great Friday. Hopefully this is a good omen for the summer to come.

A few weeks ago, I attended the annual book sale of the Hopkins press, where they sell extra copies of new books they've published for a flat rate of $2 a pound. Lots of used book store owners take advantage of this to replenish their stocks (I went with Alisa about half an hour after the sale started, and already there were several piles of hundreds of books that were being zealously guarded by one person while another person plunged back into the melee to gather more), but there were still plenty of good books left by the time I got there. I ended up with eight books, for which I paid only $20, which was just over the list price for any given title. The first three I got because I hope they will help me when I build on my essay from my History of the Book in the West class into a full-fledged thesis. One of the topics I touched on in that essay but didn't have time to go into in depth was the elevated status of comic books in our current cultural landscape, and I'm hoping that "Comic Book Nation" by Branford W. Wright will give me a good jumpstart into expanding on this idea. "Hyper/Text/Theory" and "Hypertext 2.0" also deal with some ideas I was thinking about while writing that paper, which are related to an essay forwarded to me by Tom by Jerome McGann from his book "Radiant Textuality".

Four of the other books I got were all related to city planning, which you start to think about a lot if you live in or around Baltimore, simply because you wonder just how a city with as much potential as Baltimore has goes this bad. I've been thumbing through and revisting a book called "The Direction of Cities" by John Guinther that I've been meditating on for the last year or so, and I found four books that cover the same kind of territory at the JHU sale (by the way, it doesn't surprise me at all that Hopkins publishes so many books on the problems facing modern cities): "Cities Without Suburbs" by David Rusk, "All Over the Map: Rethinking American Regions" by Edward L. Ayers et al., "Post-Suburbia: Government and Politics in the Edge Cities" by Jon C. Teaford, and "Big Plans: The Allure and Folly of Urban Design" by Kenneth Kolson. I've also become fascinated with the idea of the Museum of Disappearing Architecture, a concept I found in a book of sketches by Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin. These may have some applicability to the project I'm working on now about Lewis & Clark, but it could also lead to a whole new project after the work on Lewis & Clark is done.

I picked up the final book while waiting in line to pay for the other seven, mostly because I liked the cover and because the few remaining copies of it seemed to be disappearing quickly. It's called "Science and Technology in World History" by James E. McClellan III and Harold Dorn. It looks completely fascinating, but I have no idea when I'll have time to read it. I thought about going back the second day to see if there was anything else that caught my eye, but Julie is already furious enough about the growing piles of books that are stacked in various corners around the house (because I'm senior staff at Hopkins, I get to check books out for a year at a time, and I can renew them online, so virtually every book I've ever checked out of the JHU library is still in my house, in addition to the hundreds that I own), and like I said, I have no idea when I'll have time to read all the ones I already have, much less any new ones I might have found on a second visit to the book sale. Still, I'm pretty psyched about the ones I got, since most of them should be of use for one of the many projects I have in mind over the next couple of years.

I hope I'm wrong about this, but it looks like they're going to change the name of Doctor Octopus to Doctor Octavius in the upcoming Spider-Man 2 flick. Even worse, they're nicknaming him Doc Ock, which is silly and irritating. I'm no comic fanboy, but Spider-Man was one of my favorites when I was younger, and this is just wrong. With his four metal arms, he has eight appendages; that's why he's called Doctor Octopus, you morons. I've never been more sure that focus groups are ruining the movie industry.

I love it when the beginning of a new month falls on a weekend, because then I have plenty of time to rearrange the site in preparation for a new month's worth of content instead of rushing through it after getting home with work. Usually I'm scrambling to get new pictures up, but because of my obsession with flowers and colors this month, I've already got all of May's pictures ready to go (I took most of them during my visit to Charlottesville at the end of March—you can find my stories from this trip detailed in entries from the first week or so of April).

May's going to be a crazy month. First up is a brunch visit from a few of Julie's friends, for which I will do the cooking. Then the second weekend we will take a trip to Durham for my brother's graduation from Duke, followed immediately by a weeklong trip to Colorado for CS Jeff's wedding to Connie. Then I have a couple of days off around commencement (during which time Julie will probably visit her parents), followed a week later by two day trips to DC to attend the dedication of the WWII memorial in place of my grandfather, who served in that war (he was at Pearl Harbor during the japanese attack). I briefly considered going to visit Regan in Alabama as well, but I think I'll save that for June or July instead. I miss her a lot, and I think May would actually be the best month weather-wise to visit her, but I don't think I can take a solid month of constant travel and no lazy weekends at home.

We only have one more meetinng for our class on the art of the middle ages, which is being taught at the Walters by the director of the museum, Gary Vikan. I haven't written about it much because it's a pretty hard class to get a handle on. We really haven't done a lot of broad reading on the middle ages, instead focusing on particular objects and only researching topics related to those. In fact, we only have two assignments for this class: for the first one, we were randomly assigned one of two objects and then asked to break up into teams and write a physical description of our object; for the second, we were allowed to pick from one of four objects, which we also had to describe. The difference between the two tasks was that for the first one, Gary already knew the answer himself, but for the second one, he is knows as little about them as we do.

I haven't posted anything I've written for this class because I've only written one paper so far, and it would probably be pretty boring without actually being able to see the object I'm describing. That's never stopped me before, true, but Gary might use this object in a future class, and I don't want someone to be able to Google this page and have the whole answer laid out for them without having to do any of the research and thinking about the object I had to do. My process in describing this object is pretty interesting, though, and I can probably go into detail on that as without giving anything away to future plagiarists. As those of you who know me might imagine, I was pretty reluctant to work within a team structure, both because I don't want my own grade dragged down by morons and I don't want to help the morons get better grades as a result of my work, but on the first day I showed up to do research in the library before class, there was one other woman there who was working on my object, and since Gary was vocally encouraging teamwork, I decided to give it a go against my better judgment. It turns out she was already partnered with a woman from one of my previous classes whose intelligence I was less than impressed with, but at that point it was too late to back out, so I tried to make the best of the situation. We all researched together for a couple of weeks, and I shared everything I discovered with them. Our plan was to each write our own version of the paper, and then exchange them the week before the paper was due and figure out which parts to use from which person's work.

So the final week came, and I finished up my draft and sent an email to my two collaborators to see exactly how we would handle exchaning papers and combining our work into a single paper. I was a little apprehensive about this because I had come to the tentative conclusion that our piece was actually a fake, and I wasn't sure if they would buy into it since it was an idea that I had floated a couple of times before and they had roundly rejected it. To try and deal with this possibility in advance, I offered that we should exchange papers, consider each other's ideas, and if there was something that we couldn't come to an agreement about, then we could each turn in our own papers.

But when I made this offer, they answered me back that maybe we should all turn in our own papers anyway, without sharing them with one another; what this really meant was that they were going to turn in a paper together and they didn't want me sharing in any of their information, even though I had been sharing all of my findings with them. It turns out that they had found a book that featured our object, and the author of that text had surmised that the piece was a fake, and they thought if they hid this information from everyone else working on that object, they would be the only ones to get the right answer (the book had only been published a couple of years before, in between our class and the last class that had used this piece as an object of study, and the professor didn't become aware of the book and the information it contained until after he had given us our assignments). I found out later that they had been collaborating much more closely with each other than me all along, emailing each other constantly, meeting in the library on the weekends and before class, and sharing all of their findings with one another but not with me.

Aside from the sneaky underhandedness of their behavior, which really pissed me off, it didn't bother me that I had to turn in a paper by myself; I had already pretty much finished writing it, and in the days after breaking ties with my former group, I became even more convinced that I was right and that the piece had to be a fake. And even though the professor encouraged us to work in teams, I was never really comfortable with the process. I don't mind at all sharing information and exchanging ideas with people, but I just can't stomach the idea of someone else's name on my paper or my name on someone else's paper. So even though I was irritated about being kept in the dark and essentially being used as an information source without any reciprocation, I was nonetheless relieved when they told me that they didn't want to turn in a joint paper.

I still wasn't 100% sure that the object was not authentic when I turned my paper in, but I just couldn't find any other explanation for all the stylistic and chronological problems with the piece. I hoped that at least one other team had come to the same conclusion so I wouldn't look like I was totally out of my mind if the piece did turn out to be genuine, but I was going into class prepared to make the argument on my own, without the support of any of my fellow students.

It turns out that I was the only person studying the object who didn't have access to that book; despite wanting to keep it a secret, one of my former teammates must have blabbed about it to someone on another team, who told their teammates, who told the other teams, etc. Only the circle never made it back around to me, so I was the only one flying blind when everyone else had been given a map. But I think that turned out to be a good thing; you see, when someone gives you the answer to a problem, it's easy to go back and say, "Oh, okay, I can see that now" without truly understanding the answer. But I was forced to come to the answer on my own, and it wasn't easy; the professor had not given us any indication that this object was anything other than what it seemed to be; our job was not to debunk it, but to explain it. But as I got deeper into my examination of the object and pieces of similar manufacture, iconography, and use, I could not make what I was seeing on my piece match up with what I was finding on similar pieces. My paper ended up being twice the stated maximum length because if I was wrong, I wanted him to know every step of my thought process so that he could at least see how much effort I had put into my paper.

But I wasn't wrong, and I actually got the only A out of everyone who had been assigned my object; being given the answer had made them lazy, and they hadn't looked at the object nearly as closely as I had, instead copying the answer out of that book. Normally I don't take much pleasure in getting better grades than my classmates, but I must admit that I took much delight in the poorer grade of the two who had used my information but withheld their findings from me.

Our final paper is due on Monday, and I'm feeling pretty good about it. I am working with three other people, but one of them is a friend and she worked with the other two on her first paper for the class (she ended up with a different object when he randomly assigned the pieces, which is the only reason we didn't work together on the first project). We already have a ton of references and two or three good drafts, and although we disagree on a few points, I think we can hammer out a work that includes all of our opinions and still holds to a single primary theory about the piece. I'll be glad when it's over, though; in some ways, I've really enjoyed this class, but the professor's teaching style can be a little bewildering at times and I don't feel like there was a lot of organization to the class. Still, I've seen a lot of cool stuff, and I've learned to think about art from a more analytical, almost forensic perspective, digging around to discover the why behind works of art in addition to being able to appreciate their aesthetic qualities. I definitely don't regret taking it, and I feel like I've gotten a lot out of it, it's just that what I got was different than what I was expecting. It will be nice to have a two month break before the summer session begins, but even though this has been a fairly draining experience, I bet I'll miss it the first week I don't spend my Monday evening at the Walters.
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