october 2009

Heading down to North Carolina for our 20th(!) high school reunion tomorrow. We've only gone to our 10th so far (our friend Leila was getting married the same weekend as our 15th), but I really enjoyed it ten years ago and I know there will be a lot of people I want to see who will be going this weekend. Should be a good time.

The reunion was great, got to see a lot of people who still mean a lot to me even though I haven't seen or even spoken to some of them in a decade or more. But I picked up some sort of virus that is very flu-like that's knocked me over since yesterday, so I'm not going to write much today. I'll give a fuller report once I'm back on me feet later this week.

I still had a fever last night, and I'm very tired and achey today even though I've basically done nothing but sleep since we got back home on Sunday afternoon, but I'm starting to feel the fog lift a little bit. Hopefully I'll be well enough to get back to my normal schedule by tomorrow.

The reunion last weekend was pretty fun. We got into Raleigh early Friday evening, had dinner with granddad and Laryce (who we were staying with), and then headed over to Durham for drinks at a sports bar near the new Durham Bulls stadium. We saw a bunch of folks there, mostly the locals who had either never left or had at some point returned to the region after NCSSM. As is typically for crowded bars, the noise levels made conversation difficult, but we found a less noisy corner and spent a couple of hours catching up with friends.

Saturday we headed over to NCSSM early and spent the first couple of hours exploring the campus. It has changed a lot since we went there, but not a whole lot since my sister's years there (she's 11 years younger than me, so we visited a few times when she was enrolled, including 10 years ago for our 10th reunion). One of the coolest things about NCSSM when we went there was a thing called Special Projects Week, where you could submit a proposal for an individual or group project and take a week off from normal classes to carry it out. In my senior year, a dozen or so of us did a huge mural in one of the basement walkways that included scenes from Dr. Seuss, Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Where the Wild Things Are, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, plus dinosaurs, a pirate ship crewed by characters from Winnie the Pooh, and a mermaid. It was very cool to see that, even though there are abundant chips in the paint and some sections with water damage, it is still there, mostly intact after 20 years, and it was even cooler to see so many of the original artists—Regan, Miche, Chris, Eugene, and Samara (and I feel like I'm forgetting someone)—back for the reunion.

Instead of eating the buffet lunch on campus, which was an extra cost even though we had paid a $115 registration fee (which apparently covered only the brunch on Sunday), we decided to walk up Ninth Street with Regan, who has remained a very close friend over all these years even though we don't see each other as often as we'd like. After we ate lunch at a mexican place, we met up with Eliza, Miche, and Miche's son at a store that used to be the drugstore with the old-timey soda fountain that now sells quirky gifts and art, but which still has the original soda fountain. We walked around for a bit more after that, and then everyone else went back to Miche's house while we headed to Chapel Hill, where we had plans to meet another classmate his his fiance for dinner.

While loading the car for our trip to the Triangle for our 20th high school reunion, I had accidentally dropped my favorite North Carolina hoodie under the wheels of the suitcase, which dug a hole in the sleeve. Since we had plans to meet a friend for dinner in Chapel Hill on Saturday night, we went over a bit early so I could hunt down a replacement. We stopped at the Rose's in the Chapel Hill Mall on the advice of the locals, who said they carried a lot of the same apparel as the stores on Franklin Street but at a much lower price. I didn't find the exact design that I was looking for, but I found a good one, and it was probably about $15 cheaper than the hoodies from the campus apparel stores.

We met our friend John, who was a groomsman in our wedding, and his fiance Heike at the Carolina Brewery, which we had never been to but which is one of their favorite spots. I think the last time we had seen John was actually at our wedding 13 years ago, and in that time he had married, divorced, worked at a couple of different places in Massachusetts, and moved back down to North Carolina. I have a lot of friends from NCSSM that I can not see for years and we can pick up right where we left off, and John is definitely one of those—the conversation came easy, and it was really good to see him in a positive long term relationship, especially given how his marriage ended. Being able to see people like John on a regular basis makes the idea of moving back to NC that much more alluring; I have friends up here, of course, but there's nothing like those sturdy friendships that have stood up over 20 years. But whether we eventually move back down south or not, I sure hope it's not 13 years before we seen John and Heike again.

There was a brunch on Sunday morning with the NCSSM faculty, but since we had already seen the two faculty members who remained from our time on Saturday (Dr. Warshaw, who was my advisor and who at some point moved from faculty to administration, and Dr. Miller, the stalwart English teacher who had also gone to Davidson and wrote my recommendation letter), we decided to join Regan, Eliza, Miche, and Miche's husband Jon (who was also in our class, although they didn't start dating until long after high school) at a breakfast place in between Durham and Chapel Hill.

Like the meal the night before in Chapel Hill with John and Heike, this was the kind of social gathering that I imagine happening regularly if we were living back in the Triangle. Throughout both meals, I had a very meta sensation of just enjoying living the moment and appreciating it while it lasted and simultaneously experiencing wistful tristesse because I knew they would be over all too soon.

After breakfast, we all went our separate ways, although I'm hoping to see Regan again sometime in the next six months, and I also hope I was able to reforge enough of a connection with Miche and Jon so see them again if we're in town for more than a couple of days. It was a really great weekend overall, and it made me appreciate all over again just how amazing that time of my life was and how special the people I shared it with were (and are).

Bah. An Ed Reed interception returned for a touchdown and the lead up until the final 30 seconds of the game, and the Ravens still lose their second close one in a row due to mistakes (although this time it was penalties on the defense, whose legendary aggressiveness probably cost them the game this time). They could easily be 5-0 right now, and they've got to figure out quick how to close out games, because they're too good this year not to have a shot at the playoffs.

I think I would be satisfied with myself as a fiction writer if I could write one thing as perfect and beautiful as any of the stories in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. That was one of my favorite books fifteen or twenty years ago when I used to read a lot of fiction, but I've resisted revisting it because I was afraid it would lose its magic for me. But it didn't; it's just as amazing and insightful as I remember it.

Today is the going-away party for one of our best admissions counselors, who we're losing to one of our main competitors in the northeast. This loss sucks for multiple reasons: not only is he a very hard-working, positive guy who everyone admires and respects, he's also our primary multicultural recruiter and our recruiter for Maryland in general and Baltimore City specifically. He's leaving for understandable reasons—his fiance is going to law school in Philadelphia and the new job will put him a lot closer to her—but it's a terrible loss for our office. We will miss both his work ethic and his upbeat personality.

What makes it even worse is the timing—he couldn't really control that, but the school he's leaving us for certainly could have. There's kind of an unspoken rule in higher education (specifically in admissions) that you don't recruit and make job offers during the travel and reading cycle, which starts in September and ends in April—you might do interviews during that period, but it's with the clear understanding that the switch to a new office won't happen until after the cycle is over. This is to prevent situations just like this, where we are losing a key member of our staff just as we are entering the reading period (in addition to the other qualities I've mentioned, he also reads a large number of applications—he probably is second or third in terms of number of applications read each year), and if we were jerks like this other school, we would start recruiting now and steal someone else from another school, then they would do the same, and on and on until a ripple of a half a dozen schools or more are all behind in their process because of the first hire that started the dominoes falling. This other school's offer to him after the cycle had already started was a serious breach of etiquette, and I can't help but wish them bad karma.

We're not going to let the negative effect extend beyond our office, not just because we don't want to do some other office what was just done to us, but because this position is so important that we don't want to rush into a hire after having only a few weeks to find someone. We're going to take our time and look to hire someone next spring or early summer, and somehow muddle through with his responsibilities until then (which is mostly reading applications at this point, because he has completed his fall travel and on-campus recruiting events). Still, his share of applications could be as high as 2200 this year, and that's no small amount to make up, especially when most of them are from Maryland, one of our most important states.

New mongers series out today. I haven't bought cases of mongers previously, but this looks like a good set of figures and it's also likely to be the last big release from Kozik this year (series 4 labbits, the designs for which were turned well over a year ago, have been maddeningly delayed again, likely until 2010—series 3 was released over two years ago).

It's only been an okay year for toys—lots of delays, lots of pieces that were scheduled to be on the market months ago that still have no firm release date—but there have been some really great pieces, most notably the Visell/Kozik wood labbit, the series 6 and endangered dunny series, and the 10 inch polka dot labbit. And there should be at least one other great release before the end of the year, the Christmas labbit 5-pack, which features some of the best designs so far on the 1.5 inch labbits. If the innovation on this series is a harbinger of what's to come with series 4, then it will have been worth the wait.

Tomorrow is the ninth anniversary of this site. For whatever that's worth.

Blerg. Another close loss for the Ravens. You could argue that the blown field goal at the end of the game wouldn't have mattered if the defense had prevented those first two quick touchdowns in the first quarter, but when you're a playoff team, your kicker is going to be called on in exactly those kinds of pressure situations to win the game. If their new kicker can't do that reliably, I don't think he's going to last very much longer in the NFL, and if he costs the Ravens another game, he could end up costing them their season.

Tuesday is usually my big meeting today, and I've come to dread this day of the week. I don't like going to work knowing that I'm very unlikely to check anything off my to-do list because I'll spend most of the preparing for or attending meetings, but at least today my final meeting is off-campus and it's late enough in the afternoon that I'll be able to go home a little early after it's over. That's a nice occasional perk, but all in all, I'd rather spend the day at my desk doing more tangible work.

My brother's coming into town today to spend a couple of days in his office (he's been doing his job off-site working from home since he moved to Ohio earlier this year) and he's staying with us. He's come back to town once since leaving, but that was only a few weeks after he left, and it didn't really feel like he had left because we sometimes only saw him once a month anyway. But now it's really sunk in that he doesn't live around here anymore, and that he has this whole new life in Ohio that I really know nothing about, and it will be interesting to hear how that's been going (we talk over IM sometimes, but that's different than being able to have an in-person conversation).

We'll also see him again in about a month for Thanksgiving—he, his girlfriend, and her two kids will all be coming down to my parents house for the holiday, along with us, my youngest sister, and potentially my other sister and her husband. If everyone shows up, I have no idea where everyone's going to sleep—my parents have good-sized house, but I don't think they've ever tried to host 11 people at once (including themselves). So it should be a pretty interesting few days if all of us are able to make it.

Last Friday a Hopkins student was run down by a pickup truck, which left the scene and left her dying on the street. She passed away the next morning, by which time the police had located the truck a few blocks away, apparently abandoned by the owner. As the week has gone on, more details about the owner (and probably driver) of the truck have come to light, the most notable of which is that he has multiple DUIs and is already awaiting trial for another incident in which he left the scene of an accident he had while driving drunk.

I didn't know this student personally, but she worked in our office for a couple of hours a week, and he death has had a big impact on the community, especially because the hit and run happened in the campus area and it really could have been any one of our students who could have been crossing that street at 3:30 in the afternoon. The question all of us are asking, of course, is that, given his history and his pending trial for an identical offense (although one that didn't end in a fatality), why was this person still on the road? What does it take for the judicial system to realize that not only should his license be permanently revoked, but that he should be behind bars because he clearly can't control his drinking and his lack of judgment about drinking and driving is putting the public at an unacceptable risk.

And I guess we have our answer: he actually had to kill someone. Although I'll also point out that, even though the police are pursuing evidence aggressively and they have brought him in for questions and seem likely to arrest him soon, he hasn't actually been charged with anything yet, and there's no guarantee that he'll be prosecuted for this, much less convicted and sentenced. But for the sake of this student and her family, and for any potential future victims who could be injured or killed by his behavior, let's hope that justice is served in this case, and sooner than later.

My brother is headed by to Toledo today, and although we all had to work for the couple of days he was here, we at least got to spending the evenings with him, share a couple of meals, play around on the Wii some, and watch a few innings of the baseball playoffs. He sounds content with his new life, and although we miss having him close by, I'm happy for him.

We drove north to Gettysburg to look at the leaves yesterday, which were supposed to be at their peak this weekend, but it looks like we were a little too late—there were lots of trees that had already lost their foliage and were nothing but bare branches. That's probably because we've received a lot of rain over the past week (even if we had gone last weekend, it would have been miserable) and it was also very windy around here yesterday.

Still, it was nice to drive around and see what remained of the colors before they disappear entirely. This year has the feeling of long, bleak, winter, and I'm already looking forward to next spring.

Meeting week from hell. Four yesterday, three today, two tomorrow and Thursday, and one on Friday. Even if half of them are productive, that's still an awful lot of wasted time.

Last night we met our friend Alisa for dinner at Rocket to Venus in Hampden. The last time we saw her was when we had her and her boyfriend over for a cookout the summer before last; now they are engaged and planning to marry in the spring. I'm not sure why so much time passed between visits with her—she's had a tendency in the past to drop off the map for a few months, but we've never gone without seeing her that long—but the dinner seemed to go well, so hopefully we'll see them again soon.

We'd heard a lot of good things about the restaurant, and although what we had was good—fried dill pickle spears for an appetizer, buffalo tofu for Julie, and shrimp and grits for me—the menu wasn't as eclectic as I'd expected given the unanimous raves that various friends have given it. It definitely had that locals-meets-hipsters old school Baltimore/gentrification vibe that Hampden has in spades (and which I like generally), but I think Golden West is going to retain its crown as my favorite Hampden hangout.

After dinner we had planned to go to Atomic Books to get a copy of the new book about Charm City Cakes (the designer cake shop in Baltimore featured in the Food Network show Ace of Cakes) for my sister for Christmas because the entire staff was going to be there for a signing, but we got there later than we expected and there was a line far out the door. The event was only supposed to last until 9, and there was no way we were going to get in before then (it was raining to boot), so we decided to give up on that idea. I'm hoping maybe they'll have a few extra autographed copies for sale tomorrow, but if not, I'm sure my sister will like the book anyway (when she came to visit a couple of years ago, we spent half an hour or so peering in the windows of the shop and taking pictures outside—she's a big fan of the show).

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