Friday, April 30, 2010

Restaurant Music and Other Hazards

I discovered a couple of new blogs this week. One is called Sunday Magazine, and it gives the best stories for that day in the New York Times--100 years ago. As it is a relatively new blog, I was able to go through all of the entries, and one of them was about the annoyance of having musicians play in restaurants. I was reminded of a blog post I did about three years ago, lamenting the difficulty of finding quiet spaces. While most restaurants don't have live music (some may on certain nights), almost all restaurants pipe in some kind of recorded music, presumably to enhance your dining experience. I am not a fan of such enhancements--I would rather have it quiet while I'm trying to eat, or at least have the music be non-intrusive. I definitely judge restaurants by their music choices.

Many restaurants choose to play soft rock, and this makes me want to drive my fork through my forehead. I hate soft rock. Most of it is melodramatic love songs--the women sound pathetic, and the men, to quote Dave Barry, sound "like they're having their prostate examined by Captain Hook". I hate it when people I'm talking to are melodramatic, and it's the last bullshit I want to hear when I'm trying to properly digest food. A study was done that suggests that restaurants and bars play music because it makes people drink more, and therefore spend more money. I imagine they're drinking to drown out the sound. That's what I would do, anyway. Though I usually just go home with a stomachache, and vow to avoid the place in the future.

I have a favorite restaurant in Flemington. I usually stop in during odd-hours, which means I might be the only person in the dining room, or one of maybe two or three people. At Christmastime, I actually walked in to a quiet dining room. There was Christmas music playing--the obnoxious kind--but it was very soft, and someone turned it off. I found out that it was my waiter. The manager came out and asked him to turn the music up. I was the only person in the dining room, so he came over to me and said, "You don't really want to hear Christmas music, do you?"

"No, actually, I don't."

He nodded. "That's what I thought. I don't either."

He left the music off, and presumably told the manager that it was disturbing the clientele. I gave him a bigger tip that day.

I think soft rock in particular annoys me, because it's usually smarmy love songs--either professing eternal, undying love (which is total bullshit), or nearly suicidal with grief over losing a partner, usually one they've cheated on (which does not elicit a sad reaction from me--more of a "you deserve to be punched in the face you weasel" kind of reaction). Neither style aids digestion very well, and I have to wonder what idiot marketing group decided that this was the best crap to pipe into restaurants.

The other thing that has always annoyed me due to its apparent insincerity is Jesus advertising. I drove into the parking lot at work today, and there was a random car parked there with a "No Jesus, no peace" bumper sticker. Now, I am not anti-Christian, nor am I opposed to Jesus in any way. But when I see something like that, I want to tell the person. "Screw you. You can find peace without Jesus." It's the same reaction I have when proselytizers from any Christian-derivative religion ask me if I've "found Jesus", or suggest that I "need Jesus." Many Christian faiths, particularly the Protestant ones, are fond of "missionary work". Avoiding obvious sexual jokes, I think that missionary work sponsored by a church to help the needy is great. But missionary work designed to "convert" others is downright insulting and offensive. It's fine to talk about religion or one's religious beliefs, but missionary work suggests that the proselytizing group has it right and you obviously have it wrong. Religious belief is as personal as genital hygiene, and I'll thank others to not get involved in it.

I hate to pick on Jesus, but in this culture, he is the one most often thrown in people's faces by the judgmental and self-righteous, and therefore the name leaves a bad taste in one's mouth. There is more phoniness and insincerity per capita with Jesus in the United States than any other iconic figure. Even though I was raised Catholic, and have no aversion to anyone's Christian faith, I'm not really interested in how Jesus "saved" anyone--no more than they are interested in my religious experiences. But that was the subject of yesterday's blog, so I won't bore you by revisiting it.

Instead, I will point you the other blog I discovered this week, "Hyperbole and a Half". I recommend the post on the "alot". I liked it--well, a lot.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Religious Irony

Spirituality is often a double-edged sword. It often starts with an experience that draws one’s attention to the “bigger picture”. Rather than focusing on the temporal, one starts thinking about the “ultimate” and their relationship to that. One might be at a religious service and have a sudden vision or epiphany, one might survive a horrible accident and have a near-death experience, or there could be some other related catalyst that somehow changes a person forever, and now puts them on a spiritual quest.

The problem is that most of us do not have the virtue of humility, or at least we don’t start with it. We like to be confident, in control, knowing where we’re going and how we’re getting there. Humility demands that we admit we don’t know. The initial spiritual experience often produces the opposite result; we now believe that we are “chosen”, or “special”, or somehow hand-selected by divinity to stand out against all the “others”. This is, at best, unlikely. One has to look at the experience in a larger context, and not place too much importance on it. But initially, it will get someone started on the path. If they can drop the idea that they’re chosen or special, and that their experience is just that—a passing experience, they will likely make some progress. If not, they will either remain in their delusion (hopefully not harming others with it), or give up on the spiritual path entirely because it doesn’t satisfy their ego.

The lack of humility is the bane of most religious organizations. Often, members are fighting to become recognized socially—to be someone with power in the religious organization. For whatever reason, religious organizations breed the most insane kinds of egoism. I imagine it is because you are dealing with what is “ultimate”—what greater power could you possibly have than to have “God” behind you? Such people can be like the Biblical Pharisees—they want everyone to see how spiritual they are, they discuss all of their experiences, and carry on about how much work they are doing for others. In short, they are doing it for attention and accolades, not because of any selfless dedication to a spiritual path.

I should be clear that most people start out this way. It’s a new experience, they are excited, they want to share their vision with others, and find a social connection with the group. Over time, experience teaches that a.) No one really cares about your personal religious experiences, and b.) those who do profess to care often become “competitive”, or at least envious. I’ve heard the old “Why did she/he have that experience and I’ve had nothing?” many times. Some religious groups look for such experiences, seeing them as “proof” of being “right” with God. But one should be wary of such experiences—they are a good example of the double-edged sword. Instead of teaching you to be humble, they puff you up, and you may get the idea that you’re more important or more spiritual than others. When people tell my guru about such experiences, she is dismissive of them, and has even said, “Why do you talk about your experiences? Do you want people to look at you and tell you how wonderful you are?”

If one reads the accounts of mystics in any religion, the pattern seems to be that the moment when you feel spiritually dead, like “God” has left you, is the moment when you’re actually getting somewhere. The trick is not to give up. Spirituality does not have a “goal”, though we may talk about spiritual goals. It’s not about making you feel good. There should be no goal whatsoever—except, perhaps, learning to accept life as it is, both the beautiful and the ugly, and to respect both. Anyone who has tried knows this is one of the most difficult things to do.

This would also account for why a lot of spiritual seekers seem like first-class rat bastards. Some of the cruelest and most horrible people I have met are “seekers” in large spiritual organizations. While this may turn you off to an organization, it shouldn’t turn you off to the spirituality, if it is sound. Having a bad experience in a church with a highly political priest and a bunch of back-stabbing gossipy parishioners doesn’t invalidate Christianity as a religious path. The same is true of other religions and teachers. Sometimes I think we encounter such people just to remind ourselves that it’s not all about everything being peaceful and “feel-good”. If we can’t maintain our spirituality in the face of petty and ignorant people, then what good is it? It’s like learning to meditate in a noisy city apartment—there is more accomplishment in doing that then learning to meditate in a silent atmosphere.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Unconventional Career Advice #2: Don't Do More With Less

Today I am presenting at the New Jersey Library Association conference in Long Branch, NJ. I was asked to present on the digital library initiative that I started at our university library. The focus of the talk is on doing more with less. I was thinking about this yesterday as I was reviewing my notes, and it occurs to me that this is actually very bad advice in some situations.

If you’re running your own business or doing something as a hobby, it makes sense to do more with less. Most of us are not rich, and there are so many free technological resources out there that allow us to do things with little or no funding that we couldn’t have dreamed of doing before. However, if you work for big business or government, doing more with less can be a liability. This is not to say that you should waste money. But you should never give up the money you have.

There was a Dilbert cartoon years ago that illustrated the “proper” way to budget. The “right” way was to go over budget, and have the boss say, “Well, I guess I’ll have to give you more money, but don’t do this again.” The “wrong” way is the sensible one—to try to cut costs and come in under budget. Why? Because, as the cartoon shows—when the employee says, “I came in 20% under budget this year,” the boss then says, “Good. I’m cutting your budget by 20%.” This may be a cartoon, but it’s not a joke. That’s exactly how it works. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

This is important to understand in the state of New Jersey right now, as the governor is looking to take a hatchet to most public services in his budget. I was astounded by a radio interview that the governor gave, in which he said that New Jersey libraries would not be affected by losing state money, as they already had municipal funding. He apparently has closed his eyes to the fact that a.) that “funding” is miniscule, b.) there is a bill in the NJ legislature to cut that funding as well, and c.) Libraries will lose millions in federal grant funds as a result of not being able to continue state-funded programs. Which translates to: closing 100 municipal libraries in the state, losing Internet access in about half of the libraries over the next couple of years, shutting down 2 of the 4 state cooperatives put together to share costs and negotiate discounts, and—no more interlibrary loan or delivery services. I recall that the one County library I used to work for sent almost 20,000 books a month via interlibrary loan—and that was one library. I’m guessing that this will be a service that will be missed, as will all of the free databases,and Internet access.

The State Librarian asked why the governor’s office did this, when the libraries went out of their way to cut costs, and actually saved the state money, AND library usage over the last couple of years has nearly doubled (by understaffed libraries struggling to get by with less and less funding). She was told by politicians that they “had no answer” to that question.

But I do have an answer. The State Library behaved responsibly and sensibly with the money they were given, a move that is always punished. The sense was that “libraries have always done more with less”, so losing their funding won’t hurt them. The worst answer you can give in the face of such cuts is, “we’ll figure out a way to make it work.” No, you demonstrate that by losing funding, it WON’T work. It is good to have a “service” attitude and a desire to help those who come into your building. But you don’t help them by bending over backwards and shelling out your own resources. People don’t place the right value on library services because they don’t see what they really cost, and librarians don’t do enough to make people aware of the costs. We are information professionals, not MacGyver clones. I’m not putting together a makeshift solution with chewing gum and a paper clip. Citizens deserve better treatment than this for what they shell out in state taxes. And by saying we can do more with less, we’re saying that our services aren’t valuable or necessary.

One of the many hats I wear is that of a Reiki Master. When I was taking my Reiki training, we were told the story of Mrs. Hawayo Takata, who is credited with bringing Reiki to the United States. She was from Hawaii, and after receiving her Master attunement , she offered to train others for free. What she found was that no one had any interest or placed any value on what she offered them. She changed her tune and decided that in order to Master, one had to pay her $10,000. And she immediately had willing and dedicated applicants. Why? Because the high dollar amount suggested a high value. Americans would rather pay more for something, because they believe that the dollar amount is somehow related to its intrinsic value. The same is true of “free” or inexpensive services. Even with Web 2.0 technology, most people feel that they don’t get enough with the “free” versions of things. There must be a cost to make it valuable.

There is probably a lesson in here about the psychology of our culture and our economic situation. But I think it suffices to say that if you don’t place a value on yourself and your services, no one else will either.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Unconventional Career Advice #1: How Not To Be Seen

Last Tuesday, a good friend called to wish me a happy birthday. She and I had not talked in awhile, and she was lamenting her work situation. The pattern of her working life is unfortunate, and not uncommon, sadly. I’ve been there myself. She is one of those people who is very hard-working, enjoys her job, and is a team player.

You may wonder what the problem is with that. Anyone raised with a decent set of values, and who has any respect for themselves or others will likely fall into that category. How many career sessions have we attended in school, how many articles have we read online about how important these values are for working life? They are important. In a perfect world, everyone would be this way, and whatever the business, it would operate smoothly, efficiently—and ethically. And therein lies the rub—this is not a perfect world.

From my experience in working life, I consistently see a couple of things at play. One is group dynamics and the old “herd mentality”. Regardless of how sensible and intelligent any individual may be, they can back off from any kind of productive decision making if they feel they are going against the grain of the office, and of their superiors in particular. No one wants to be fired, or to spend eight hours or more a day in a place that is conflicted. Most people will just put their head down and “play nice”.

Which makes room for another kind of common behavior—manipulation. This can take a number of forms, but the most common seems to be passive-aggression—and outright aggression. An aggressive co-worker can bring things to a standstill, if they don’t want to do their job and threaten and harass anyone who tries to make them do it. While this is more common than you might imagine, passive-aggression exists almost everywhere. “Forgetting” to complete an assignment, not showing up on time or at all for a shift when a place is short-staffed—I’m sure anyone reading this could think of a number of other examples. If management doesn’t want to deal with the errant employee—and many do not want to go through the bother, especially in civil service—then the person goes on doing the minimum at the expense of others with no penalty.

Enter people like my friend. Someone who wants to get along with everyone, and do their job. What ends up happening is that management sees they are competent, and shifts all of the responsibility to them. It’s easier to assign work to the person you know will do it rather than make those who don’t want to work do their job. And if the person they’re dumping on complains, they tend to make fake promises to “fix” the situation, or simply threaten the hardworking person—after all, the hardworking person ultimately doesn’t want to rock the boat, so their superiors take advantage of them.

So, what is the answer? Boundaries. A lot of new hires will accept any assignment to prove themselves, not realizing that they’re only proving themselves to be gullible. The bottom line is: if a particular assignment is not part of your regular job, and you’re not thrilled about doing it—don’t. It will become part of your regular job. If you have the option of saying no, say no. There’s no need to be unprofessional about it—the best way is to say that you already have a lot on your plate and wouldn’t be able to adequately take care of the other assignment. Or, that you could do the task if it was an emergency, but you really couldn’t do it as part of your regular work. There’s nothing wrong with establishing boundaries at work, just as you establish boundaries in personal relationships. That doesn’t make you uncooperative or bitchy—it suggests that you’re willing to do your part, but you’re not willing to have anyone take advantage of you. It’s a myth that you should willingly accept every assignment to prove yourself. By not taking every assignment you prove that you are realistic about setting priorities. It's also about honesty--don't volunteer to do something you honestly don't have time to do. Sometimes we are flattered by the faith others have in us, but you are only being dishonest with yourself and them in the long run if you allow yourself to be ruled by it.

If you’ve established the pattern of being “the one to do everything”, it can be hard to break the pattern. You have to risk the resentment of others, and maybe the wrath of superiors. Sometimes the only way to break the pattern is to look for a new job, and vow not to re-establish the pattern there. If you can’t do that, you may have to learn defensive manipulation, otherwise known as “diplomacy”. Better yet, “Irish diplomacy”—telling someone to go to hell in a way that makes them look forward to the trip.

Fortunately, I have paid off some kind of bad-job karma and currently have an excellent situation where everyone in my department actually likes each other and works things out together. (Note to my boss and co-workers if you are reading this—you are NOT ALLOWED to leave unless you’re taking me with you. Thank you.) Though I can say that when I was hired, there were some “optional” duties listed, and I inquired about how optional they were. The director who hired me said, “If you don’t want to do it, don’t volunteer for it.” That has proved to be excellent advice.

Monday, April 19, 2010


How many frigging Twitter feeds are there devoted to Justin Bieber? I can't go to the Twitter sign-on screen these days without seeing something from a feed dedicated to him--and it's a different one every time. I'd never heard of Justin Bieber until about a month ago. I was in one of my favorite restaurants having dinner, when a family of five was seated at a nearby table. The two girls in the family, who were probably somewhere between 12 and 14 in age, were on their cell phones, frantically calling a radio station to win Justin Bieber tickets. Their conversation was accompanied by all of the pants-wetting excitement of newly-pubescent girls in love with some corporate boy-toy. I've had no desire to investigate the musical talent, or potential lack thereof, of the young Mr. Bieber. In the long run, it won't matter if he has any talent. Once he's too old (meaning about 20 years old), no one will even remember who he is.

Pop stardom is a here today, gone tomorrow sort of thing, unless you really do have a lot of talent. Actually, that's not true--you can stay in the limelight for a long time if you're scandal ridden. You're probably saying, "Now come on, Brigid, surely you were just as starry-eyed at 12 years old." And the answer is, yes, I probably was. Not over Justin Bieber, who was not even a twinkle in his father's eye at that point. I think I preferred Duran Duran at that age, though that interest only lasted about a year. In any case, it's a horrible phase in any girl's life, and I would not repeat it for any amount of money or anything else. It makes you stupid. Not that I can't find other ways to be stupid, but I like to think they're more dignified. ("Dignified stupidity"--try selling that idea to someone...)

It's my birthday, and I'm edging ever closer to 40 years old. Frankly, it's not old enough. I am looking forward to perfecting the art of "crotchety". I can't wait to come running out my front door, threatening kids playing on my front lawn with a cane. Though in 42 years, there may not be much of a lawn. And I'd probably have a semi-automatic weapon instead of a cane. But whatever works.

Seriously--the best part about getting old is that people dismiss your personal weirdness. You can do and say almost anything as an old person, and people will respectfully nod, even if they think you're a major loon. They'll assume you're getting Alzheimer's, or some other kind of dementia, and just laugh it off and tell stories about you. Come to think of it--if people think you have Alzheimer's, you might also be able to get away with beating the snot out of someone who annoys you. But then they might put you in a nursing home, so that's risky.

When I was at the John Foxx show in Bath, we somehow got onto the topic of witchcraft at the party given by John afterwards. (I think Karborn mentioned something about pentagrams, and I was tired enough to comment). Steve, John's manager, asked me if I was "witchy". I said no, which is pretty much true--I don't practice witchcraft, though I know a fair amount about it. But that would be a great rumor to start when I get old. Having younger kids think you're a witch can lead to some pretty awesome pranks. Of course, by the time I'm 80, no one will believe in such things anymore, so maybe it won't be so awesome. I'll have to let them think I'm a vampire or something instead. Or a Cthulhu cultist. Whatever scary thing is in vogue at that time.

At the very least I'd have "crazy" as a fallback. I think having too much company in your old age is overestimated. My Mom always laments that I haven't had kids, because I won't have anyone when I get old. Which is nonsense, because if I did have kids, they'd just put me in a home and forget about me. I'd rather burn my own house down around me due to dementia, thank you very much.

Genetically, there's a lot of promise. My Dad turns 79 this year, and doesn't look a day over 55. Mom looks pretty good, too--I think she's 73 this year. She still works at a public library, and I'm always amused when men try to hit on her and follow her to her car looking for a phone number. My Dad has been retired for years and doesn't deal with such things. When my father's mother was still living in her home and suffering from very severe dementia, she was convinced that my father was having an affair with another woman. (She was also convinced that I was dead and my then-husband had murdered me, even though I visited her daily.) If you know my father, this is laughable. Even when he was a young man in the 1940s, he had more interest in car engines and his motorbike than girls. I saw his high school yearbook, and it mentions him seeing a girl called "Grace" in the blurb someone wrote about him. I asked him who Grace was; he puffed on his pipe, and raised his eyebrows thoughtfully. "Grace? She was some girl who used to follow me around. I don't know why." That level of romantic cluelessness is something I'm pretty sure I've inherited, which is probably not so good. But you can't have everything.

While I'm nostalgic about some periods in my life, I'm not nostalgic enough to want to "go back." I was not a gorgeous teenager. Couple that with the rampant hormonal surges, anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of freedom, and general insecurity that accompanies the teen years, and you might well imagine that only a lobotomite would want to go back. Assuming they could remember. I do miss the level of imagination that I had in my pre-teen years. That would be nice to have now. Some people would say I still have it, but they really have no idea. I'm much more inhibited as an adult. It just happens.

I mentioned my desire to get really old to my mother, who was horrified. My Mom has another condition, called "satire-impairment". My father knows this, and has been "yanking her chain" (to use her phrase) for years. It's pretty funny to watch. But I hope it's something I never inherit.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Looking To Be A Nicer Person? Well, You Might Want To Look Elsewhere...

Okay, I'm cheating a little bit here today, but I couldn't help it. This is courtesy of my friend Mark at

I don't know if this happens in other countries, but here in the United States, some religious groups advertise their beliefs right along with other television commercials. The Mormons are one such group, which is not surprising, as they've always been big on door-to-door marketing. However, the risk often run with such TV advertising is that someone is going to make a parody of your commercial. As an H.P. Lovecraft fan, I was delighted to see a parody of a commercial advertising the Book of Mormon, which advertises the Necronomicon instead.

Here is the original commercial by the Mormons:

And here's the parody:

Thank you, Mark!

Friday, April 16, 2010

I Swear...

I woke up early this morning to the sound of someone, most likely a comedian, talking about Lindsay Lohan and her Twitter feed. This might not have been so strange if a.) I had been watching TV, b.) someone else besides the cat was in the house, or c.) it wasn’t 1:30 in the morning. So, I dragged myself out of bed to see what was what. I went downstairs and found the TV was on, with blaring sound but no picture. The cable box, usually required for a picture, was not on. I pressed the power button and the offensive sound stopped. I can only guess that when I turned the TV on several days ago, I turned all the boxes off but not the TV, and it somehow picked up some signal from somewhere. Some of my friends think this is a “sign” of something, but nothing involving Lindsay Lohan could be a sign of anything except bad taste.

On the other hand—between this and the attack tree outside, this could be the start of a bad horror movie. Earlier this week, I would step outside to find huge limbs from the tree in my driveway spread out on the ground. Not little sticks—4 to 5 foot limbs that were at least 5 inches thick. They appear to be rotten, and this tree is huge, so there must be some bad limbs falling from the top. I found several when I came home from work one day, and dragged them off to the woods. Then I went out to feed the cats the next morning, and there were MORE. I thought, what the f**k is this about? Are the squirrels that live in the tree finally sick enough of the cats to start a war? Like everything else in my life right now, I have more questions than answers. If this is the start of a bad horror movie, I’m going to be pissed off. Especially if Lindsay Lohan is in it. I’d at least want good actors. I don’t know what exactly I’d do about it, though. Probably buy a chainsaw. Or, do what my father does in a crisis—starting cursing my head off.

True story—when I was growing up, my parents’ house adjoined my grandmother’s property, and we treated both properties as one. There was a very nice Italian family that lived next door to my grandmother. My grandmother had a bigger driveway, so we always parked our cars there. If any of the cars needed to be fixed, have the oil changed, or otherwise dealt with, my father would work on them there, usually cursing loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear. Carl, my grandmother’s neighbor, would see my father going outside to open up the hood of the car. He would immediately grab a lawn chair, and pick up some task that he could do while sitting there, and position himself so he could watch my father work on the car. He enjoyed watching my father curse his head off—it was like free performance art. I remember coming home from my college classes, and seeing Carl by the fence. He’d wave to me and say “Boy, you should have heard your father today. He had to change the brakes on his car, and he was having a bad time of it!” And his eyes would light up with glee.

I often wonder if my mother also enjoys my father’s performances. They’re not limited to auto mechanics—he swears just as much at re-flooring jobs, fixing broken drawers, and electrical re-wiring. While my mother complains about his swearing, she also tends to say things while he’s working that only make him swear more. Not at her—he wouldn’t swear at my mother. One afternoon he was nearly purple with rage when a drawer he was trying to fix wouldn’t go back onto the track properly. After 3 hours of fighting with it, he finally got it into place. My mother walked in at that moment, looked at it, and said, “That doesn’t look right. You’ll have to do it again.” I braced myself for the explosion, but my father just turned to her and said, “Isn’t there somewhere else you have to be right now?”

In any event, I believed for years that you couldn’t repair anything unless you swore at it. You may laugh about it, but there is yet another recent study that suggests that swearing can minimize pain. So, maybe there’s something to it after all.

If you’ll excuse me, there’s somewhere else I have to be right now. Preferably any place that doesn’t have blaring televisions and attack trees.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tuesday Morning Before Work

On Saturday I took a ride up to Hudson, New York, to visit the BCB art gallery. I missed the opening for the latest exhibition, Lifelike, so I wanted to see it before it ended, and say hello to Bruce Bergmann, the owner. The exhibit had some very interesting images of ordinary things--Lynn Itzkowitz's striking images of clothes tossed aside cause you to do a double take, and Ching Ho Chen's fruit images that was described as "exploding" the fruit, though it looks more like a very detailed cutting of the inside of various fruits. Lucio Pozzi's works were lush, but too bright for my personal taste--I tended to prefer the more subdued work of Camilo Kerrigan.

I also noticed that some of John Foxx's pieces that didn't sell were up, most notably "Avenue of Trees", and the large image of the angel from the Quiet Man CD cover (don't remember what that's called offhand). At only $450 someone should snatch this one up. Do it before I do. According to Bruce "He Walked For Years" was the most popular print; with it's astonishing perspective of the man walking through a row of towering sculptures in a hallway, it's no wonder.

After visiting with Bruce I stopped by to see Dini and Windle at the Inn at the Hudson, though not for long, as they were in the middle of renovations. They did show me their beautiful new kitchen and office space, and the new tiled floors with radiant heat. Absolutely beautiful.

Walking down Warren Street, I am always amazed at how busy and quiet it is at the same time. There are cars everywhere, yet I can hear my own footsteps when I walk. I had to stop for food and some of the local beer (C.H. Evans, which makes a fantastic nut brown ale) before heading home.

On the way home, I noticed a sign on the Thruway for a company--Tectonic Engineering. What exactly do they engineer? Earthquakes? Maybe they should hire Deepak Chopra--I hear his Shiva mantras caused the Baja earthquake. I'll reserve comment, but Phil Plait had some interesting things to say about that assertion.

Upon arriving home, I checked my mail, social networking, forums, and such. On the John Foxx Metamatic forum, I learned that John was at the opening for the Mirrorball exhibition in London. I was rather upset to learn this, because I'd been invited to the opening, but wasn't going to spend $1,000 on airfare, hotel, and such if John "might" be there. I'd e-mailed his manager, but got no response; of course, they're very busy right now, so I'm not really surprised. I blame myself for not following up on it. Still, I usually get an instinct about these long trips, a sense of "you must go", or "eh, don't bother". I didn't get a strong sense I should go to this, so maybe in the grand scheme of things I wasn't supposed to go. At least that's how I'm consoling myself. I like seeing John at smaller events; while I like to see whatever it is that's going on--music, art, film--I also like to talk to him. That's harder to do at large scale events.
But life goes on, and I'll just have to wait for the next time.

I saw an article this morning about a retired Bishop discussing the Church's responsibility for the ongoing pedophilia scandal. Just kidding--he blamed the Jews. The Jewish blogger who wrote about this accurately noted that the Church has pretty much blamed everyone but themselves for what is going on. They have taken the step of changing their policy--bishops are now to go straight to the police in such cases, and not go through Church hierarchy. I don't know that they can avoid blame for past events, though. There's been talk in Europe about bringing criminal charges against the Pope for endangerment of children--and not just from Richard Dawkins.

I'm starting to think people are crazy. Maybe this should be no great revelation. But there seem to be more crazy people now, or maybe I'm just aware of more of them. Maybe I'm crazy myself. If everyone is crazy, do we have to change the rules to make the crazy people normal? Would I rather be the crazy one under such circumstances?

I think I need more coffee...

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

New Story, "Anima" Published in DGR

Another story in my ongoing archetype series, "Anima", came out in print at Dark Gothic Resurrected magazine this month. You can buy a paper copy or download the e-book here.

As a contributor, I get an e-copy of the journal, but I also ordered the print version, and it's huge--you get a lot of stuff for ten bucks, and there are a lot of good stories in this issue if you're a fan of horror and/or "dark" literature. Enjoy.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Spirited Restaurants

I’m passionate about good restaurants. I don’t always like to spend time cooking after work or on the weekends, so I will often go out to eat. I like places that have fresh food, make their own beer, and that have a pleasant ambiance in general. Restaurants situated in old colonial homes or taverns are my favorite, because I love the creaky floorboards, beamed ceilings, and fireplaces that are trademarks of those places. I am almost the opposite of a vegetarian in terms of what I like to eat, so I tend to prefer taverns and pubs, though I also have a weakness for good Italian restaurants. It may not surprise you that another secondary criteria for choice of restaurant is whether or not it has a reputation for being haunted. I say “secondary” because these places can be few and far between, and if I had to choose between good food and a haunted reputation, I’d choose the former over the latter.

I have to say that I’ve never gotten any sense of the paranormal in any of the reputedly “haunted” restaurants in Western New Jersey. I’ve only had experiences that might have been paranormal in three places (my grandmother’s old house, my former house in Raven Rock, and a museum in Ottawa, Canada). Still, such events don’t happen on cue, and one never knows. I find such experiences more interesting than frightening.

If you live along the Delaware River, or even in Western Morris County, you might visit one of these reputedly haunted places. I’ve been to most of them:

The Publick House (Chester, NJ): This was featured in the October 2009 issue of Weird NJ, and used to be the last stop on the Chester ghost tour when it was still extant. The Publick House, as the name implies, used to be a house of prostitution as well as a tavern, and the legend is that the owner’s mother disapproved of the scandalous nature of her son’s business, and they fought about it for her entire life. When she died, her son buried her in what is now the parking lot of the Publick House. When the restaurant used to function as a B&B, guests staying in the mother’s old room were supposed subjected to furniture moving by itself, things being thrown, beds levitating, and pictures spinning on the wall. There is only the restaurant now, and I’ve always had good meals there, though I’ve heard mixed reviews from others. They have a gelato bar in the back room, and the gelato is phenomenal.

The Inn of the Hawke (Lambertville, NJ): I learned recently that this was haunted, and I was surprised. I haven’t been there in a long time, but the food and service was always very good. Supposedly there is a ghost that throws pots and pans, and pulls pictures off the walls.

The Logan Inn (New Hope, PA): I’ve not been to the Logan, as there are so many restaurants in New Hope—but it is supposedly haunted by a Revolutionary War solider and 2 phantom children. There is also supposed to be the scent of lavender perfume from a woman who drowned in the nearby river.

The National Hotel (Frenchtown, NJ): I’ve not been here either, though I’d like to check it out now that it’s reopened. This was the watering hole for Annie Oakley and the members of Bill Cody’s Wild West Show when they were touring the area. I’ve not heard specifics about paranormal activity, but it has a haunted reputation.

The Sergeantsville Inn (Sergeantsville, NJ): Not far from the last covered bridge in New Jersey on Route 604, there are supposedly ghostly footsteps and other happenings in parts of the restaurant. I can also vouch for the excellent food here.

Charlie Brown’s (Hackettstown, NJ): Charlie Brown’s is a franchise that you’ll find all over the state, that is known for its steaks (which are actually really good, and they also make really delicious garlic potatoes). This particular Charlie Brown’s is in an historical building that was a brothel at one time. A child was also supposed to have died tragically in the building, and can be heard crying. Most of the activity is on the upper floors, according to local paranormal investigators.

Water’s Edge CafĂ© (Jefferson, NJ): I haven’t been here in years—not since I was dating the man who is now my ex-husband, as he lived near the restaurant. I can’t even remember what the food is like. But the dark figure of a heavy-set man is supposedly seen on the staircase of the restaurant.

Knotty Pine Pub (Wharton, NJ): I’ve never been here, but there are reports of sounds (moving objects, footsteps) in the empty attic of the restaurant. This is on my list of places to visit, unless my Wharton friends recommend otherwise.

If you know of others in the area, feel free to let me know in the comments. I should add that two well-known haunted restaurants, “Jimmy’s Haunt” in Morristown and “The Union Hotel” in Flemington, are no longer in business. Jimmy’s is gone entirely—they pushed the building down and put up a TD Bank in its place. That was the site of the famous Sayer family murders. The Union Hotel is across the street from the Flemington Courthouse, where the Lindbergh trial took place. There are supposed hauntings in the upper floors of the hotel. Sadly, they went out of business a year or two ago. Their main dining room didn’t have much ambience, but their food was spectacular. Hopefully someone will buy it and reopen it.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Easter Rambles

The West New Jersey countryside is an explosion of yellow at this time of year. At 6:45 this morning I watched a huge orange sun come up over rows of forsythia and daffodils. The valley roads are still wet, as they had massive flooding from the storms earlier this week. Under “things I am grateful for”, I can check off “not so much rain over my house”. I had some minor flooding, but nothing terrible. Nothing at all like the coastal cities, that had 7 inches or more of rain.

This Tuesday I sat in a hospital waiting room while a friend had some surgery, and was subjected to the barrage of daytime TV. I’ve always found the televisions in waiting rooms of any kind to be totally obnoxious. Toyota service department waiting rooms tuned to Fox News. Hospital waiting rooms tuned to Good Morning America and the View. The local garage’s waiting room has a show that is supposed to educate customers about getting car maintenance, but the only thing I’ve learned is that these shows are relentlessly annoying. In any case—after a long wait for my friend, I was certain I was going to pull my own head off if I had to wait any longer and the programming switched to soap operas. I suppose that the upshot of this is that I now remember why I quit watching television at all.

Things are quieter today, and I no longer feel like I’m adrift in a sea of pointless thoughts. (You might disagree.) Today is the Christian Good Friday. For whatever reason, the church near my house likes to have a procession with all the congregants, and they walk right down the middle of the road past my house. I can only imagine what would happen if a car suddenly came barreling down the road towards them. I wouldn’t mind their procession as much if they didn’t feel compelled to look in the windows of my house as they pass by, and give me a strange dirty looks. I actually did go to a service at this church once, just to see what it was like. The pastor gave the most odious homily I’ve ever heard, and his personality almost edges out my Mom’s pastor for contemptuousness and self-righteousness. Learning that a parishioner gave him a birthday gift of a fireworks display—held in the cemetery (!)—that cost almost $20,000 did not really do much to change my initial impression of him. You could help a lot of poor people with $20,000. I know the nuns that live in the convent on the property are sweet, and many of the parishioners are nice. Except the ones that look in my window.

Speaking of the Church—it’s hard to even look at e-mail these days without seeing something about what The Atlantic Monthly is calling “Papalgate”. They have an interesting article likening the current scandal in the Vatican to Nixon’s Watergate scandal. The parallels are rather striking. It would be very easy for me to write a very long blog posting about the whole thing. However, I’m going to limit myself and keep my comments brief.

There was (and probably still is) a Church policy that espoused silence in matters of priestly pedophilia. The most credible thing for the Church to do is to admit the obvious, and take active steps to make changes—prosecuting the guilty, reforming their process for psychologically evaluating those entering the priesthood. Instead, they are 1. Pointing the finger at dioceses for “not doing the right thing” when the dioceses get their orders from the top of the food chain; 2. Blasting the media for uncovering the story and making the Pope into a victim, 3. Claiming that demons in the Vatican are responsible for the transgressions, and 4. Remaining silent on the relevant damning evidence. In short, they are living in a vacuum, or perhaps think they are still living in the Middle Ages. I think the Vatican hierarchy should all be fired Donald Trump-style, and they should bring in some replacements that actually give a crap about people and the realities of life.

I’ll stop there, and wish those who celebrate a Happy Easter in spite of that. After all, one’s spirituality is not about an organization. And hoping that when I visit my Mom she’s bought me some of that crappy Easter chocolate that tastes so awesome with peanut butter.