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Michael Ubaldi, November 19, 2007.

Discover magazine offered in its March issue "20 Things You Didn't Know about Bees," and I, library copy in hand, read through the list before yesterday afternoon's showing of Indoctrinate U at the Cleveland Institute of Art's Cinematheque.

Number 14 stood out: "After he had pioneered the laws of genetics with pea plants, Austrian monk Gregor Mendel bred a strain of hybrid bees. Unfortunately, they were so vicious he had to kill them."

That claim struck me as apocryphal. I searched online and learned three things. First, Gregor Mendel did in fact keep bees. Second, an online source from 2001, apparently the oldest, describes the successfully hybrid hive as violent, using the same descriptor in not only Discover but, too, a Wikipedia article — "vicious" — which raises the possibility of uncritical duplication, since while bee behavior can be classified as aggressive, biologists don't impute it to malice. Third, the book Gregor Mendel's Experiments on Plant Hybrids: A Guided Study states that "Despite extreme care in his breeding methods and keeping the beehouse in perfect condition, he was unsuccessful in producing new varieties because, as we know, reproduction in bees is highly complex."

There are two explanations for the contradiction: either preoccupation with the dangerous African honeybee was, at some point, interpolated into the historical record; or, concealed in the order's shame, Gregor Mendel really descended on what he called "my dearest little animals" like Saturn himself. The burden of proof rests on the supposed tragedy. Forensicists should target the beehouse at the Abbey of Saint Thomas and look for signs of a desperate, Catholic-Apoidean struggle.

Michael Ubaldi, November 12, 2007.

That men are only grown-up little boys was clear in John Derbyshire's telling of hijinks last Sunday evening. Brought to the union of middle school football players' fathers: Resolved, that an empty beer bottle will melt in a log fire. The shaped glass was deposited and observed, the resolution passing in the sight of a silicate blob — but not before somebody's wife noticed and returned with a disapproving cohort. Asked Derbyshire, of National Review and its readers, why the primordial is "so fascinating for [men], so incomprehensible to women?"

My father, more genial than adventurous, looks fondly to the old days, when a teenager could pick up sulfur and saltpeter at a New York City drugstore, then mix them with shavings from a charcoal briquette to make gunpowder. I am hardly adventurous, and yet once escalated from the use of a magnifying glass on leaves and bugs to stamping out a gasoline fire next to the house, all in the space of three hours on a school afternoon. For me and neighborhood friends, the salinization of slugs — dissolving the garden pests with a shaker from the kitchen — was a common diversion in the summertime. Earthworms could be plucked from under rocks and cut in half, insects tossed into spider webs, all manner of crawling things dropped into a jar in hopes of a struggle.

Nature is orchestrated by brute agencies, and man was either conferred dominion or an indelible preoccupation. To the first question, affinity is in the blood.

To the second question, the fascination might be less incomprehensible than obscured. I know of the manner of a few women: my great-grandmother's stricture of the domestic feline population, her daughter's sinewy confidence with matter and creature, my mother's nonchalance in handling a snake when her peers blanched and declined. Today, though we have the lady who isn't one, to be crass isn't to be rugged. Of course, these three women would understand the attraction of the melting bottle, the spectacle; but maybe disapprove of the frivolity, men's own misdirection in modern life.

Michael Ubaldi, October 24, 2007.

there goes dear Ubaldi
composing poetry
at this late hour.

Chronically suff'ring
cacoethes scribendi,
carelessly serving verse
form's abattoir.

Michael Ubaldi, July 4, 2007.

From six years of dilettante's work with computers, I have learned more about contingencies and options than hardware or software. Nothing ever goes right at first, and I am wiser for the trial.

Late last Thursday night, my combination modem-router died in an ataxic flutter of LEDs. This was the second model sold to me by SBC in four years, a replacement that cost $150, which — considering retail prices of these little transmission boxes and their presumed longevity — was about ten times too expensive. When the previous loss occurred, however, I hadn't asked SBC if its house brand were indispensable to connecting my computer to the internet, and SBC hadn't disclosed. Payment was justified, thinly, by convenience.

This time, telephoning SBC's acquirers, AT&T, I inquired about store-bought equipment. Could a third party modem and router be used? The answer was Yes, my sentiment was Good Riddance. I ordered the necessary items, good quality pieces for less than their predecessor. They arrived yesterday, and immediately after work I began building a new link to broadband.

As per several laws of project management, the activation — all of twenty minutes — gave me 90 percent of what I wanted. Extracting, from the modem and router, that remaining tenth of performance took me the rest of last night and, leisurely, from about nine in the morning to four-thirty this afternoon. Amid a lot of desultory flipping of switches there was some education, some of it simply interesting and one part directly applicable. "If you set MTU to 1492 bytes," someone had written to another in a corner of the web, "you will solve most router problems." What on earth is MTU? Maximum Transmission Unit, and I didn't know that five hours before now. My router had MTU set, by default, to 1500. I changed the parameter and all problems were solved.

What makes the difference? In an analogy of a man collecting items from a conveyor — should the rate of the belt be too high, the man can't work fast enough and, paradoxically, slows down production. But now, an assembly line brought down by a motor deviation of one-half of one percent?

Jaron Lanier, writing in Discover magazine, cites the limitations of traditional programming as "explicitly defined protocols, a very precise but rigid approach," wherein "flipping just one bit in a program might cause it to crash." Both the modem and the router identified AT&T's service and adjusted settings to allow my computer to access it, but the disparity of a single variable denied me full use of my product. Lanier muses that "approximate pattern recognition...can become very reliable at understanding a complex system." We enthusiasts can have our electronics, and tough lessons, on better terms. Can a less logical order be one that is more rational?

Michael Ubaldi, June 8, 2007.

John Derbyshire, on National Review's Corner, reacted to a bit of a paralogism crafted by the New York Post. Because four hundred vacancies are expected over as many years in an apparently munificent police department, thirty thousand men and women have applied. That proportion meant, to the Post, "a better chance of getting into Harvard."

Derbyshire writes, "This is one of those cases that make you wonder what happened to market economics. Wouldn't a market solution be, to lower salaries until the applicant-to-job ratio falls from this current 75-to-1 to something more reasonable — perhaps 10-to-1? I suppose you could argue that the bigger the pool you're choosing from, the higher the quality of your final picks is likely to be. Still, 75-to-1 seems over the top to this country taxpayer."

I am the chairman of my city's civil service commission. Market economics, for good or ill, aren't pertinent to civil service laws, rules and regulations. The balance of contravening interests — individual and municipal — is, instead. Competitive testing on an entry level eventuates open admission, usually for a written examination, from which a list of valid candidates with passing scores (an "eligible list") is created. Potential hires are customarily certified by a civil service commission to an appointing authority in order of list ranking. Candidates, unless otherwise disqualified, may be considered by the authority for several open positions until removed from the eligible list.

To have seventy-five candidates for every vacancy isn't unheard of. My city's police department currently has one position open — and the commission recently established an eligible list of 105 candidates.

As Derbyshire adduced, a greater number of candidates should yield better choices than a lesser number. Attrition, unfortunately, is also a concern: three score of the aforementioned candidates have neglected to submit a particular certification, a requirement about which applicants and candidates received half a dozen notices, reminders and, finally, warnings. Before the month is over, it may be that only a balance of the list remains, all because candidates couldn't follow simple and repeated directions. Remember what they say about government work.

Michael Ubaldi, May 26, 2007.

The Wall Street Journal article my father read aloud to me after breakfast at my parents' house was opportune. Its author had chosen words thoughtfully — for the purpose of warning moviegoers away from the third Pirates of the Caribbean. When watching a film to settle one's own opinion is expressed by a reviewer as something that the Lord should forfend, the value of the dollar, especially in clutches of eight to ten, rises precipitously.

Still, there are those who must say "One, please" on a Friday night, and won't request another picture simply because a newspaper critic told them to. From conversation I know half a dozen of them and wonder, as I did when my father had finished the article, whether modern cinema's thrill of sound and light is what they are after; and that the movie itself need not be a great one to be worth the time and expense.

A cup of coffee later, my father mentioned that one of several DVDs that he had borrowed from the library was the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera. Was I interested? Yes, I said, although maybe only briefly, to sample the humor and performances and consider their longevity. The Marx Brothers I knew through quotation and transcription, hearing and seeing parts of their work. Why a Duck?, a collection of the comic act's screenplays and film stills — Al Hirschfeld's piquant caricatures of Groucho, Chico and Harpo on its mustard cover — sat on the family bookshelf immemorially, and I had occasionally taken it down to skim through. The Brothers were clever enough, yet I had not watched a movie recently, and never one in its entirety.

Would this be entertaining or quaint? Minutes after opening titles, I was roaring.

Groucho was as strong ironic, snubbing a steward ("Do you have two fives? Well, then, you don't need the ten cents I was going to give you"); as he was absurd, mocking a costumed primo ("How do you sleep on your stomach with such big buttons on your pajamas?"). Chico and Harpo, tramps as ever, played buffoons one moment and graceful musicians the next, their technique articulate extensions of slapstick. Harpo closed the obligatory interlude by reaching from behind his namesake instrument to merrily tap the nose of one of the applauding children surrounding him.

Plot? Aptly unelaborate. The Brothers turned a sedate impresario into an exasperated revenger, and but finally aided the exhausted German aristocrat by making stars out of a lovestruck tenor and soprano — though not before humiliating an imperious lead with Harpo's dash up and down a stage during Il Trovatore, releasing a backdrop of trolley cars, then one of a fruit stand, then sixteen-inch guns of a battleship. Earlier, for a sidesplitting ten seconds, the pit orchestra switched from Verdi to Chico's intercalation of "Take Me out to the Ballgame."

A Night at the Opera showed in 1935, but the stars' presence and delivery is sempiternal, leaving me unable to match to them a contemporary troupe. However few of us may be diverted from this summer's features, the legacy of the Marx Brothers is but a concern of the archivist's.

Michael Ubaldi, May 4, 2007.

"Oh, very nice. You know," said the UPS deliveryman, moments ago, pointing at the poster for the aviation centennial Cleveland National Air Show that is framed on the south office wall, "we just lost one of them, one of the Blue Angels." A week, two weeks ago? He had glanced at an article about the fatal crash and couldn't remember the date, or the precise circumstances — one jet's wing clipping another, or a bird caught by the intake, or an unfortunate commission of error in the cockpit? What was gleaned in the quick reading was salient. The pilot was Lieutenant Commander Kevin Davis, Navy, sophomore team member and rookie performer. Cause of crash unknown, extent of loss surmised but unmeasurable.

That risk goes with the job, I said, makes it no less of a bereavement. The man in brown approved as he turned to leave. "That's what makes it great to be an American." What regret to need to study the man's timbre and expression, to rule the comment as eloquent or ironic — I looked and, oh, the driver meant it — but how inspiriting to have heard what I did, even in this latter age.

Michael Ubaldi, February 7, 2007.

John Derbyshire's son Danny, entering middle school this fall, may at his advanced level enroll in a foreign language course and has Spanish, French and Italian from which to choose. I began in sixth grade, too; and took French. Eighteen years ago, things Gallic were regarded by teenagers as intended for girls and the epicene, and I doubt that such a stigma has since gone.

John made the suggestion of Italian; a good one. My grandfather, who ran a butcher shop on Jones Street, in Greenwich Village, emigrated from Bevagna in 1918; my grandmother, first-generation American of a Neapolitan family, learned Italian along the way. Their eldest child, however, was averse to lessons — so neither she nor her siblings, my uncle and my father, ever learned. My father, ever the raconteur, did, however, pick up a little of the vernacular from Grandpa: a few apothegms and one tongue-twister.

Apelle, figlio di Apollo
Fece una palle di pelle di pollo.
E tutti i pesci
Vennero a galla a vedere
La palla di pelle di pollo,
Fatta da Apelle, figlio di Apollo.

Here Apelle, son of Apollo, makes balls of chicken skin, attracting nearby fish who come to see him work. My father added his own touch. Asked What does it mean? he smiles and says, All right for you, Yank.

Michael Ubaldi, February 1, 2007.

As I reached for honey, down an aisle at Giant Eagle yesterday, I saw ten choices instead of three. I could only, once, buy clover honey associated with a bear, or a bee, or an Indian — but that was at Tops Friendly Market, the grocery store chain which recently sold a number of stores in northeastern Ohio to Giant Eagle, one of them in the building closest to my apartment. So there on the right side of the shelf were, in order, bottles of Dutch Gold honey gathered from bees frequenting orange blossoms, wildflowers, alfalfa, safflowers, buckwheat, sage and clovers.

The melted cheddar cheese sandwich has been a lunchtime meal of mine for years and honey, I discovered, is a fine condiment for it; so the stuff goes quickly. Six dollars for Dutch Gold seemed, in a moment's calculation, fair. Which one? This was a chance for excursion. With seven flavors in front of me, I decided that buckwheat honey, as dark as lager, would taste the least like regular honey. And: I was at least partially correct. Viscosity is no different between cultivations, but one won't confuse buckwheat with clover. There is a hint of molasses in buckwheat — Dutch Gold states that "it can be easily substituted for molasses in your favorite recipes."

Apparent here is Giant Eagle's better use of space than Tops'. No shelving was added between the change of ownership, and yet Giant Eagle provides variety out on the floor that Tops never did. At least seven other local and regional chains purchased stores from Tops, so competition in the area continues, but unless Tops was particularly below standard, one chain has an advantage.

Michael Ubaldi, January 18, 2007.

How, I catch myself wondering, did I endear myself to these cats of mine? The daily fresh servings of water, canned meat and kibble? The cuddles? The cooed gibberish which I relate only to those whose pets are addressed in similarly soft and inscrutable tongues?

Mac and Mitsubishi, for most of their eight months of age, have been found waiting at the front of my apartment just about every time I open the door. Some of the duo's learned behavior is as darling as it is incredible — Mac occasionally curls up in my bathroom sink and Mitsubishi plays "fetch" with those plastic, ring-like articles of feline desiderata, the "Cat Crazy." The cats' response to my departure, however, resembles that of certain children unwilling to let Mother leave them alone at preschool.

At my slightest movement towards the apartment's entrance, Mac will stop whatever it is he is doing, trot past me and lay himself across the threshold of the door, as if to stage a protest. He has been doing this for a few months at least.

When the antic first began I could inveigle Mac by calling his name from the other side of the room, and confusing him long enough to exit by walking swiftly from the calling spot to the door. Then, after the cat gained some resolve, I called him with the added enticement of wiggling a Cat Crazy between my thumb and index finger; and, eventually, threw a Cat Crazy in such a way that its elastic properties were worth some investigation, my calls to Mac, in this instance, finally ignored. Now I gently pick the cat up and drop him at a place where his feline mind no longer perceives "My source of food and attention is going away" but instead "I think I will play, perhaps with a toy" — the new cognition encouraged by a flung Cat Crazy. Even once the cat has been distracted, I still need to hurry.

While this goes on, Mitsubishi will have tiptoed forward, flush to the apartment's interior wall. Mac need only glance at her to realize that he's been tricked, whereupon he turns around and prepares to again play Doorstop. If lucky, I have the door open wide enough to escape, turn and delicately nudge probing muzzles away from the outer hallway. Door closed; locked.

Until last week the ritual would end there. Mac, however, has become interested in the operation of the door — but with only the incomplete comprehension of a lesser animal. The chain lock, he seems to have deduced, has something to do with the wooden monolith. His evident understanding is that it is material, rather than secondary, to the opening and closing of the door; and that it is a pull-string. As I walk down the hall, there is a recurring sound from the inside of my apartment: the clap of brass on oak, the metrical scrape of a chain swinging as a pendulum.

Michael Ubaldi, January 16, 2007.

I followed dinner with a viewing of Steven Spielberg's The Goonies. Having not seen the movie for a decade or so before tonight, I can now confirm that it originally succeeded on account of more than the repeat theater attendance of exuberant youngsters.

Spielberg matched the finest of one filmmaking craft with that of another. The screenplay transports an otherwise outlandish plot: pensive kids, propelled first by need and then danger, search for buried treasure. Eight young actors assembled for Goonies were together only once but their on-screen rapport surpassed the so-called Brat Pack, finishing at a distant second to the Little Rascals.

Any skilled director must have known what he got himself with the four leads — two rising stars, one sophomore from The Temple of Doom and one memorable no-name. They gave Richard Donner nuance in their delivery; looks and gestures of camaraderie beyond what was blocked out, and a minimum of treble squealing. Jeff Cohen, playing Lawrence Cohen, or "Chunk," had found at age — what, eleven or twelve? — a small mastery of one-man slapstick.

There was and is a musical quality to the movie's pacing and direction: gags repeated only for good effect, thrills multiplied en route to a respectably graceful climax. An unthinkable, wonderful reversal happens; a tear or two is plucked from you; and closing titles cross the screen. Goonies gets put away with the guarantee of being watched again.

Spielberg made a film that will age very slowly, verified by me, at least, in the meeting between the apostrophic dreamer and leader — little Mikey Walsh — and the crafty, centuries-dead pirate, when Mikey steps into the bejeweled captain's quarters, long since made a tomb. The boy speaks to a skeleton rogue with an eyepatch, and tonight it was grotesque and moving, which is how I remember it.

Michael Ubaldi, December 25, 2006.

Last night was spent at the ancestral home. Drawing from memories of winters spent under my parents' roof, I piled on half a dozen blankets and fitted myself with a wool cap. There was only one interruption after lights out, that by the combined, stifling retention of heat from half a dozen blankets, one wool cap and a feline trio which made itself a living comforter at the foot of the bed.

Wide awake but fervid, and so perhaps of somewhat impetuous judgment, I stumbled down the hall and broke the sleep of the occupants of the bedroom at the end of hall — leaving only when the question of my having tightly closed the door to the church after Christmas Eve service, something I couldn't, for the life of me, place in any certain memory at four-thirty in the morning, was answered in the affirmative. To bed I returned, minus cap, pajama shirt, worries, and one of three cats.

This morning, the gift exchange around the tree began the latest it ever has, about nine-thirty. Coffee, juice, chocolate, light breakfast on holiday plates; all intercalated among the unwrapping, thank-yous, laughs. I got books, books and more books. And one copy of A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is said to be as vital to the season as that from which it is in spirit derived, the Bible.

No lunch — chips and York Peppermint Patties took care of any lingering hunger. We all got ready, retiring at three-thirty to my apartment for dinner and fellowship. My kitchen was finally cooked in, inspected and cleaned by my mother, which is a little like having royalty christen with a bottle across a hull. I taught my father the card game Magic. The game is intuitive but complicated, and he started out from a position of disinterest. When the old man grew eagerly impatient with my tutorial I should have realized that he was two steps from catching on — three out of four rounds went to him.

The evening ended sweetly at half-past eight. I write this now, then I will nurse coffee with cream, and then Christmas, God bless it, has passed for one more year.

Michael Ubaldi, November 23, 2006.

Reader A.B. asks about my family's Thanksgiving traditions.

Here in North Olmsted traditions are both simple and longstanding. As extended family lives hundreds of miles away in at least two directions, the dinner at home, like other holidays, has rarely been more than my immediate family of four and a guest or two. With some exceptions, like 1993, when Comedy Central broadcast the third of five Mystery Science Theater 3,000 marathons, someone will turn on the Macy's parade so it can play in the background while food is cooked. Invariably the parade will become so insipid that someone will mute it, but by then thoughts have turned to nonce appetizers — dried beef wrapped around the ends of scallions, sour cream as an adhesive. When I lived at home I would hide away for the rest of the morning, maybe play a computer game; in fact, one Thanksgiving morning I memorably beat a favorite, Nova 9. Come noon or one, the hen is ready, and my father's carving work sits girdled by mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, greens, biscuits and cranberry something-or-other. Dinner is followed by coffee, and then conversation.

Michael Ubaldi, September 20, 2006.

Did you happen to know that a replica — a fully functional one, apparently — of Edinburgh museum's Pembridge Great Helm can be purchased from one of several retailers? I didn't, until recently. Fantasy swords I was familiar with, as I have held a few belonging to a friend, but mock armor made with regard to historical accuracy never occurred to me as a commodity; though perhaps it should have.

Weapons and armor of infantry and cavalry up to the martial domination of firearms have always been a fascination of mine; a pursuit more enthusiastic than scholarly, certainly, but long-standing. As much as I have done to learn and memorize the protective wear of a soldier, particularly the European knight and the evolution of his complement, I have drawn from the most persuasive accounts those many errors accumulated between the incorporation of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy and present day, the course of over a millenium. Particularly grating for historians is the impression that a knight was clad in plate armor from the start (he wasn't, not until about the 15th Century) and that a full suit was so cumbrous that, as depicted in Laurence Olivier's Henry V, he mounted a horse only with help from a crane — a fabrication dispelled as easily as donning a suit and moving with no more restrictions imposed than if in fireman's gear.

Best understood, of course, when the armor has been pounded into shape as closely to the original. Were it possible we might be spectators of the chain-sword-arrow-and-axe engagement documented in the Bayeux Tapestry — if not for the ablative carnage that was Hastings. So for a few hundred dollars the steel cap and nasal protecting a man's head and face from intentional harm can be yours, and Hastings comes to you. The cynic might just see metalworking curios. For others, between the dilettante, the smith and the scholar, history is not only tangibly preserved but a lost era revived.

Michael Ubaldi, May 8, 2006.

After-dinner conversation, on an evening my parents spent as hosts for another couple, turned to children; my painting degree came up, and the visiting friends made known that they had never seen my collegiate work. Most of my paintings I left behind, so my mother had several from which to choose — this was one of them. I had nearly forgotten about it, painted between a pair of two- to three-hour sessions in 2000; a portrait of my mother.

Michael Ubaldi, February 20, 2006.

Composing music for a broadcast.
Michael Ubaldi, January 25, 2006.

I recently made the fruitful acquaintance of the member of Ubisoft Entertainment's video gaming team Frag Dolls whose sobriquet is Jinx. For about a year, ending in December, I was active on the forums constituting the Frag Dolls' online community. Three weeks ago, a fellow in that community was one of several recipients to whom I sent the latest mix of a song by my old band, the Concord. As was reported to me, he had the song both in possession and in mind when Jinx advertised her need for a musician. He told her about my hobby and work; she asked to hear evidence of it; he gave her the mix. Jinx thought enough of it to commission me, for a plenary submission of thanks and an undisclosed material reward that will arrive by post, to compose a short, thematic musical track and a few sound effects for the podcasting — or online broadcasting — that she has taken up as part of her work with Ubisoft.

The track I composed is here. When the request was first made, I thought of contacting Jonn and Gabe, two friends of mine, members of the Concord and writers of music both (Jonn nearing a master's in composition at the New England Conservatory). They compose more freely, extemporaneously, penning original tunes with ease. My labors in music are, like those in all other creative pursuits, amenable to purpose — profiting from inspiration but born of necessity. Musicmaking has always been intimate and especial to me; I am wary of the incidental melody striking another as frivolous. After regular work with a band ended in early 2003 I limited my efforts at new material to scribbling titles, concepts and descriptions of melodies and sounds on scraps of paper. And then, two weeks ago, a fine offer to compose. Well, OK — propensity won out. I did not wish to score The Frag Dolls Theme (Opening Titles). What I completed was received well, its method of construction worth explaining in this space.

Over ten years I have accumulated hundreds and hundreds of sound samples and effects that resulted from digital editing, the balance from five or more years ago in the salad days of recording — swept up by the exhilaration of actually recording on a higher order than a boombox. In the latter Nineties I eschewed, for a time, most proper musical instruments, instead swinging a homemade mallet at whatever object up to which I could sneak a microphone; separating and splicing, culling hiss or noise or the dullest sounds, then using digital effects to make whatever was left otherworldly. A few of them I inserted apropos for this song or that. Most of them I hoarded, waiting for precisely the correct application, as if a sound would be spent upon its placement in multitrack.

Listening to the two-minute piece, one can hear a single synthesizer progression that, as a motif, predominates. It topped a list I made of sounds that should have been titled "What Have I Got?" Nearly a dozen samples in all, they were selected from the list and assembled as a collage — the resulting style atypical for me. My accustomed writing is discursively chromatic and formally compact (such as this piece). The podcast track is succinct, even, but for the odd meter, simple.

The progression is called "Curesque," redolent of something Briton rocker Robert Smith's band might have played in the late 1980s, which Gabe created during a collaborative project he and I began in 1997. He played a simple melody on a keyboard with what might have been a harmonica module. Then, innocently enough, Gabe reversed the recording — instant ethereality. Then he left it alone, intriguing as it was, in favor of more productive material. Months later I adopted the sample with the rest of Gabe's library, and promptly lavished it with effect after effect. De-tuning chorus? Why not. Tremolo phasing? Can't go without. Reverb? Yes, two helpings, if you please. The summer afternoon "Curesque" assumed the form it would hold for six years I remember well, as my repeated playing back of the sample accompanied the approach and passage of a dark, brooding electrical storm. Infatuated with the transmogrification, I clasped the flush harmonies to the end of a song whose writing credit was Gabe's, where they really didn't belong. Now "Curesque" rests comfortably at the center of its very own opus; even in music production are there such things as reflection, contrition and reconciliation. That is, unless Gabe is outraged at the recasting, in which case I shall plead: Ha ha — too late!

The drum track's fundament is one measure from a session recorded five years ago. Eric, the musician behind the kit, was playing an early variation of a Concord song; an A-Major-in-five-four denunciation of the Irish Republican Army that came about when, two years before, I served coffee to a young man who identified himself as a stateside fundraiser for Sinn Fein. A virtuosic drummer, Eric expounded on the basic rhythm in several takes; one of which provided the key measure and another supplying the drum roll used at the ends of phrases. Cadences were played for subdivisions of five quarter notes; yet while the accents are strongest in that signature a given measure is suitable for, with respective elisions, four or three or two. Here I needed one drum loop, and in toto Eric's performance yielded an entire library.

Added to that loop were several close-miked drum samples. A kick, a snare; another kick and snare, suitably altered, for the piece's middle section; and a heavily distorted fill that is both phased and panned in stereo. A third snare drum strike came from a recording session in Athens, Ohio at the end of August, 2001. A dulcet colleague of a friend of mine attending Ohio University had thrown together a band and the band needed a sample disc for entrance to local venues. Intended for jazz, the kit on site sported a husky snare. I enjoyed the session — a generous offer given my inexperience — and that drummer could wield a stick.

The next sound is, if you can believe it, the classical group Anonymous 4. Rather, it was. Such alchemy would only occur to a recordist, as aforementioned, in this case that four women's voices performing sacred medieval polyphony are splendid when played forwards — so they must be sublime when reversed. Done. But, you see, I needed a rhythm complement to an old track of Gabe playing the electric guitar. Using a tool called an "envelope follower," which molds the dynamics of a signal around those of a second signal — my choice was the drum track — I broke the quartet into staccato sixteenths, then arranged it to play in syncopation.

Nomenclature fails the sound entering with the bass. Wary of mimetics, if I am to call it anything I call it the "Violator sound," an eponym drawn from British synth-pop band Depeche Mode's 1990 album — dotted, as you would expect, with a noise similar to this one. When a sine wave makes a glissando from a frequency near the highest reaches of human hearing (20 kilohertz) to one approaching the lowest (20 hertz) in less than 200 milliseconds, it creates a sound appropriate for electronic music when played singly; ineffably conducive to the appeal of same when played in multiples, like two succeeding 32nd notes.

There was an opportunity for humor in an inhale-exhale sequence of anacrusis and downbeat, and I took it. A college friend, one Sergeant Daniel Kissane of the United States Army as last I heard, volunteered his services when I began to toy around with electronic music in the fall of 1998. Those who know Danny will find the "exhale" downbeat sound's original recording characteristic.

I would say, in the words of a bawdily enterprising proprietor, I do not play but rather operate a guitar. Chords, melodies, and singing while strumming and plucking are techniques of which I am capable — you want finesse? May I please introduce you to someone who is not me. With my acoustic guitar in an open D-tuning, the B-string tuned downward to an A, leaving only tonic and dominant, I added to the music two pairs of phosphor bronze accoutrements: jangly rhythm parts, a capo set at the sixth fret and eleventh fret; and a couple scrapes with a brass slide, one musical and the other, well, expressive.

The terms of contract for this undertaking were loose; it is implicit that the original work is mine but that it may be used indefinitely to introduce Jinx's podcasts. What more to indite between yourself and one whom you esteem in person and profession? Were I to be chided over the impracticality of working for nothing I would refer to what I told Jinx: In the spirit of generosity (pro bono work is edifying) and self-interest (I now have for myself an infectious tune made of odds and ends that once lay useless) I composed the music and sounds happily expecting appreciation in return. That and satisfaction, each of which I now have in munificence.


Michael Ubaldi, December 3, 2005.

I went to the Republican Christmas party under the vague and sanguine assumption that no greeting was expected of me. Fifteen minutes before the last guest of forty arrived, a member of the board for which I serve as president informed me that, in fact, my check for dinner was not enough, and that I would need to sing for my supper. I sat down on a couch off to the side of the chattering room, memorized the list of city officials that had been handed to me, sipped from a glass of lemon-lime, collected my thoughts and placed them in order. After a delightfully garrulous opener by the gentleman who will keep the club's books in balance, I delivered a brief address. Following is a faithful recollection of those remarks:

There are those who would tell me that I have no reason to introduce myself, but those who know me know that I am one who stands on ceremony. My name is Michael Ubaldi, President of the North Olmsted Republican Organization, and I am happy to welcome you to our gathering tonight. We are here to celebrate a year that was at times trying, at times rewarding; one which sometimes ran a little long and sometimes moved too quickly for proper planning. But here we are. Now, before we all sat down I saw all of you talking and laughing, meeting old friends, new friends, and others. We are graced with the presence of public servants, who I will introduce now. [I introduced them in turn by name and office.]

Now, among those names are a few people who belong to a group to which some of us would refer, euphemistically, as The Other Party. But tonight we forget that. We are all citizens of North Olmsted and, dare I engage in effrontery, we are all Christians; and these days usher in the Yuletide. It is with these twin sentiments, these two inextricable sentiments, fellowship and the anticipation of the coming of our Savior, that I leave you, so that we may enjoy the good times before us.

Of course, there was an exception: the fellow who notified me of my elocutionary duty is Jewish. I offered him a light apology later in the evening, as he sat across from me at the corner table, nursing a bottle of Chardonnay to my cup of coffee with cream. He has jokes about his laxity, so I offered my own about People of the Book, the one about the rabbi and the priest.

Michael Ubaldi, November 8, 2005.


UBALDI: Ah, yes. First name "Michael." Last name "Ubaldi." That's you-bee-ay-el-dee-eye.

FIRST WARD FOUR ELECTION WORKER: (smiling) You're president of the Republican club.


SECOND WARD FOUR ELECTION WORKER: (growling, three-quarters facetious and one-quarter grave) Young people shouldn't be Republicans.

UBALDI: Of course they should. Many young people should — preferably all of them. (exit, right)

Michael Ubaldi, October 12, 2005.

"I will never volunteer again," he lied.

Michael Ubaldi, June 16, 2005.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews:

In recent years, "mainline" Protestant denominations have become vocal critics of Israel. They take every opportunity to condemn the Jewish state while ignoring the threat posed to Israel — and free societies everywhere — by Islamist terrorism and the culture of death that produces suicide bombers. This year, the United Church of Christ (UCC) is preparing to jump on the anti-Israel bandwagon. This 1.4-million member group will be considering three resolutions at its denominational meeting in early July — two recommending divestment from Israel and another condemning the security fence that has saved so many Israeli lives.

Last year, the Presbyterian Church (USA) approved similar measures, putting a huge strain on Jewish-Christian relations. Meanwhile, evangelicals continue to rebuild the bridges that mainliners tear down by expressing their solidarity with Israel and the Jewish community through financial support, prayer and advocacy.

One of my reasons for joining American Baptists is their independence from any man's creed. Though worship and study is conducted through responsible and guided interpretation, it is to come from the Bible. The American Baptist Churches of the United States of America leans significantly to the left on matters of market and foreign affairs but their policy statements and resolutions are little more than chatter at the coffee table, congregational churches by no means bound to national declarations.

This sort of news — Christians abandoning Israel for the sunken ganglands where Arabs, not Jews, see that Arabs suffer — fortifies two of my beliefs: that I am a Christian first and denominationalist second; and that evangelicals are this country's most faithful bedrock.

Michael Ubaldi, May 14, 2005.

Driving home from work one night last week through the subdivision near the office, I saw a terrible scene: a young girl mounted on a bicycle that had just tipped over. She wasn't hurt, of course; but she was learning to balance and had no one to help her. Memories abound from the days, over two decades ago, when my father would give me a running start down the sidewalk and let me ride until I pitched over into the grass — one end to the other, back and forth. Where was the girl's father? Her mother? An older sibling? Not to be seen, and as I drove past, a little crushed, she awkwardly pulled the simple machine up from its resting place on the concrete.

I just looked out my eighth-story window and in the parking lot, a South Asian fellow is pushing his daughter slowly, carefully, while she steers her pink-and-white rider. Around and around they go.

ON THE WAY: Now the father is pushing her and running along as she totters forward. She's closer than I thought.

Michael Ubaldi, April 19, 2005.

I'm confident now that my reflection on Pope John Paul II, written a fortnight ago, was neither a fleeting sensation nor an unintentional reply to the commotion. Karol's death reminded me to consider the inalterable difference between opinion and belief, preference and object. That Joseph Ratzinger and I are of different Christian churches makes for inevitable disagreement. But considering what I've put forth in my work over three years, there is more like than unlike:

On Monday, Ratzinger, who was the powerful dean of the College of Cardinals, used his homily at the Mass dedicated to electing the next pope to warn the faithful about tendencies that he considered dangers to the faith: sects, ideologies like Marxism, liberalism, atheism, agnosticism and relativism — the ideology that there are no absolute truths.

"Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism," he said, speaking in Italian. "Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and 'swept along by every wind of teaching,' looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards."

Two apart can share a destination. To Benedict XVI.

Michael Ubaldi, April 5, 2005.

I've held my tongue these last days, watching and judging Pope John Paul II's final week in silence. There are debates I join carefully and infrequently; there are matters I avoid altogether out of regard for the subject, this weblog's readers and my own inability to gather thoughts without a cut from ardor's brambles. After all, I left the pope's church to become an American Baptist nearly three years ago for, if you were to ask me in person, strong reasons.

That divergence stands. But the few criticisms of the church I've written over these two-and-a-half years have done good for neither the church nor myself. If not means, do we have the same end?

Such an ecumenist as this last pontiff must be moved, from his view atop the heights of Paradise, by the depth and sincerity of a memorial to his life and work — in sentiment and action — from the hearts of so many men. The relativist accepts all followings as loosely as his own, a buzzing crowd of permissive minds; while the pluralist conjoins all practices by the principle they share, a unification — a figure concord. As the professorial George Melloan writes in the Wall Street Journal today, "For John Paul, 'human dignity' was everything." It was for him, as it is for us all.

Melloan is one of many this week from whom I've learned a lesson. John Paul, peace be with you.

Michael Ubaldi, February 27, 2005.

I try to catch dinner with my folks at least once a week, and we try to center the event around television shows we all enjoy, from time-shift tapes of Star Trek: Enterprise and JAG to the first season of Have Gun, Will Travel on DVD. Tonight, after Enterprise, we assembled my father's Kodak slide carousel and an ancient Da-Lite projector screen, and took in a narrated show of the slides my father has been revisiting.

Most of them were from the late Sixties or early Seventies; my father as a college student in Syracuse, New York or my parents as newlyweds in Washington, D.C. Some I hadn't seen before; others were old favorites.

My father doesn't remember what he and his brother had argued over. What he does remember, thanks to the photographic process, is the stroke of his artistic revenge.

We went through two slide trays; the second held a surprise. Towards the end of the show, my father turned to a slide of an ink design of an eagle's outline, white on black, a music staff and notes inside the positive space.

"Do you recognize this?" asked my father. He went one slide further, and I did: the image in front of us now was a design I had made for the same occasion three years after someone's creation of the preceding image.

My high school's old band director, now nearly ten years retired, had a favorite fishing spot up in Gravenhurst, Canada, and in the course of his travels met and made friends with the resort town's band director. Every three years thereafter, goes the legend, his best bands would take a trip up to Gravenhurst in the winter and host Gravenhurst's bands in the spring. The triennial fell on my freshman and senior years; I played well enough to join the highest-level band my freshman year and ended up making the trip twice. In this photograph students of the 1996 wind ensemble, the orchestra, and accompanying chaperone parents had just entered Gravenhurst's high school after a seven-hour bus trip. Tired, hungry, expectant, impatient.

When my father turned the projector to this slide, I jumped up, walked to the screen and began naming nearly every face from a decade ago. The fellow in the upper left-hand quadrant wearing the Fedora is my good friend Ed — who slept in our host family's computer room, discovered an installation of classic Myst on the PC and played it until near dawn each night we spent in Gravenhurst.

That's me in the center wearing a green jacket with, yes, an Empire Strikes Back sleeve patch.

READING, WRITING, WRONG: The powers that be reminded me that the trip is triennial. So adjusted.

Michael Ubaldi, February 24, 2005.

Call it the joy of unintended consequences. My father gave a Canon flatbed scanner to my mother for Christmas. By early February, the two of them finally cleared enough room on their upstairs office desk for the flatbed, pulled the device out of the box and hooked it up. This week my father began testing the scanner's ability to read slide positives and, drawing from a box of pictures snapped four decades ago, found himself a project.

For the last two days he's sent me a pair of images attached to an e-mail whose subject line has done nothing to help me recognize what I've found on my computer screen.

The first pair was of "Moondog." Moondog? I asked my old man today: Moondog, he told me, was a Manhattan panhandling poet-eccentric of some sort. Searching the net tonight, I found a goodly amount of information on the man, including a 1970 Upstate magazine article that matched my father's description, if a bit more gracefully. I also learned that Moondog was a musician of a suitably unique oeuvre.

Here's Moondog standing, according to my father, "at the corner of Avenue of the Americas and 54th Street, just nearby Black Rock."

Dad took these photographs right before he left for college in 1966.

Michael Ubaldi, February 15, 2005.

It's the faint traditionalism in me that demands cold winters, hot summers and smooth transitions during spring and autumn, but today's sixty-degree high-pressure system was the perfect, brief respite from weeks of snow and ice — especially since a frigid low is on its heels.

The coin changer in my apartment's laundry room predictably went bust the one day I intended to break a ten for quarters. Murphy's Law; can't complain, simply marvel. Sack of dirty clothes in one hand and detergent bottle in the other, I took the elevator to the first floor and walked out into the building's parking lot to raid my car's tollbooth change.

It's been months since I've approached the front door without a coat, and having come straight from laundry, my top was but a button-down and tie.

Had I brought a coat, I would've been a little hot.

We'll have spring soon enough. I may take a walk tonight, anyway.

What a beautiful evening.

THE FOLLOWING MORNING: Two inches of slushy white to brush off of the car, tiny flakes falling in early-mid morning. That's the Great Lakes winter I know!

Michael Ubaldi, February 14, 2005.

Two years ago I found myself at odds with Valentine's Day, though in hindsight my pen's poison appears to have been directed not at the holiday but at the public display of affection — true enough, today I still prefer modesty.

Funny, though, that last week I should tell my friend Danny O'Brien how unsympathetic I was to John Derbyshire's appreciation for syrupy sonnets for snogging in national publications. No fanfare came of my day but the entire evening I've been under the spell of a buoyant charm. The goofy, lovey-dovey stuff suddenly amuses me. Might I be running a temperature?

Michael Ubaldi, February 2, 2005.

Talking to another child's mother at his son's bus stop, John Derbyshire learned that the woman's own son was found drawing helicopters on bombing runs. The mother received a punitive call — not because the sketches were done at inappropriate times but because the school refused to accept a child's pencil having depicted two-dimensional, incendiary violence.

I couldn't help but send a note.

How times have changed. Twenty years ago, when I was in second grade, the class' redheaded instigator brought a millimeter-precise toy grenade (with metal pin) in his backpack one morning and, before gym class, set it under his chair where our teacher, Mrs. Jones, would quickly "find" it. How did she respond? The good, old-fashioned way. Upon our return, she gathered us around and told us about her harrowing sprint down the hall carrying a live explosive for the school's janitor to defuse.

And what happened to the grenade? asked the redhead, now aware his little prank had been outsmarted. Safe and sound where it couldn't hurt anyone, said Mrs. Jones. In her desk. Until June.

Michael Ubaldi, January 7, 2005.

I had been petitioning the proper authorities for what they generously provided — wisdom, courage, guidance, grace — more directly than usual over the past few weeks. Holiday blues don't hit me. In the first hours and days of President Bush's triumph, I was more determined than celebratory; ever careful of fleeting, besotting euphoria that can trip a man up on his next step. Even so, the familiar questions stood in line by mid-December: Where exactly am I? Should I be here? Where am I going? Should I head there? Uncomfortable, unavoidable. Luckily, I had not seen this place in quite some time; but return was inevitable and, anyway, this is the time of year to audit books.

Tonight was the officer installation dinner for my Republican organization. I, alongside a reconstituted board of directors, was reelected as president. Our club has aged and shrunk but very few members have given doubt or discouragement much attention, and we're still lauded as one of the most active and close-knit in Cuyahoga County. This evening was no exception. We hoped for a good turnout: turnout was better than we hoped. If the number of attendees wasn't the best in years, the mood certainly was. The juxtaposition of new faces and those not seen for auld lang syne brought hope, prospects, memory and reverence to a single occasion. We had our city's lone Republican councilman; the city's finance director; our state senator; a school board old hand; two good men from the county party; and the young fellow who challenged Dennis Kucinich's Congressional seat, Ed Herman, who in his address reminded us that victory is commencement, not a denouement.

Conversation was thoughtful; dinner was delicious. I've always thought myself a shade shy but with an amateur knack for the microphone, fitting well this night as master of ceremonies. The audience, of course, lighthearted and warm, gave me the spirit.

My parents were in attendance. After the ceremony, Ed and my silver-bearded father swapped stories about what sounded like business, politics and the damned-if-it-isn't coincidence that Ed spent time near the Astoria home in which my father grew up.

Ubaldis, one and all, end nights spent with good friends and neighbors quite happily. I'd received my requested item in full, an answer, evanescent if only from my mortal faith, though strong enough to last me through the months: This is where I belong. The last verse of a song my friends and I used to sing on stage, a song about the riches of the simple life, rang: What's the world without another George Bailey?

Michael Ubaldi, January 2, 2005.

Last year's Christmas will be remembered not only for the gift I gave my father but also for the accounting I'd done of the season, and of holidays and memories past. I can't make fanfare of every year — nor should I, I suppose. Let the essay stand for a few years before recollecting traditions new and old again.

For the last eight years or so I've felt that a Christmas without good reading wrapped under the tree is one that runs a bit short. Thankfully, my family has obliged; this year, too. Two gifts I inspired, in spite of my withholding of a list: not long before this season, I was struck from nowhere with the desire for books on the English language. Etymology, puzzles; anything rigorous and interesting would do. It's a topic I've enjoyed for years but about which I know I can always learn more. I told my mother, who, I learned Christmas morning, contacted her librarian friend, the mother of my childhood pal. My mother explained; her friend made a short search and offered her a list of titles. A trip was made to Borders to find and buy a magnificent book called The Adventure of English, a colorful narrative of the language from its Saxon-borne Frisian roots to modern speech and writing. Surviving invasion and cultural contention, the language has found strength in adaptability, appropriating liberally from languages to become even more diverse and resilient.

Ironically enough, that librarian friend, who emigrated decades ago from India, recently remarked to my mother that she and her friends think in Hindi. English, she reminded my mother, is a difficult language to learn. My mother and I both nodded. We'd both taken French in school, a language which, once its distribution of articles and accents is understood, is structurally logical and pleasantly unsurprising. English is very unpredictable, no rule holding fast, from spelling to pronunciation to vocabulary. Conformity can't be had by a patchwork quilt. Ironically, Henry V's drive to reestablish English as the country's language of authority required scribes of Westminster to permanently define standard spellings and grammar, resulting in some arbitrary choices of English roots for some words, French or Norse or other languages for others. So nearly halfway through Adventure, author Melvyn Bragg gives us a spirited defense of English from the schoolroom:

We'll begin with the box and the plural is boxes
But the plural of ox should be oxen not oxes.
Then one fowl is goose, but two are called geese.
Yet the plural of a mouse should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a whole ot of mice.
But the plural of house is houses not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pen be called pen?

...The masculine pronouns are he, his and him
But imagine the feminine she, shis and shim!
So our English, I think you'll agree
Is the trickiest language you ever did see.

A language perfectly tailored to, as Bragg puts it, "winnow out the undereducated, stump children and fox foreigners." At least English believes in intimacy: either you know her or you don't.

The title of this post, by the way, is a succession of Latinate French, Latin and Old English; all likely a part of the language by the beginning of the 17th Century. The Adventure of English wins my recommendation.

Michael Ubaldi, December 16, 2004.

Today is the 231st anniversary of the Boston Tea Party:

The Boston Tea Party took place this day, December 16, 1773, just three years after the Boston Massacre, where the British fired into a crowd, killing five.

The British passed unbearable taxes:

1764 Sugar Act -taxing sugar, coffee, wine;
1765 Stamp Act -taxing newspapers, contracts, letters, playing cards and all printed materials;
1767 Townshend Acts -taxing glass, paints, paper; and
1773 Tea Act.

While American merchants paid taxes, British allowed the East India Tea Company to sell a half million pounds of tea in the Colonies with no taxes, giving them a monopoly by underselling American merchants.
Disguised as Mohawk Indians, a band of patriots called Sons of Liberty, led by Sam Adams, left the South Meeting House toward Griffin's Wharf, boarded the Dartmouth, Eleanor and Beaver, and threw 342 chests of tea into the harbor.

The men of Marlborough, Massachusetts, declared:

"Death is more eligible than slavery. A free-born people are not required by the religion of Jesus Christ to submit to tyranny, but may make use of such power as God has given them to recover and support their liberties... We implore the Ruler above the skies that He would bare His arm...and let Israel go."

The result of a mob of angry settlers confronting British soldiers on March 13, 1770, the Boston Massacre was a tragic if inevitable event that helped to accelerate the collision between colony and crown.

As a faithful and patriotic American I should appreciate its significance as a milestone towards my country's independence. I do, with qualifications.

In seventh grade, my American History class held a debate, presented to the class as if they were French dignitaries, over the justification of armed revolution. Two classmates, Brendan and Steve, argued for the United States. A third classmate named Niki and I represented the King of England.

Niki and I did well. It's not easy to assume a position that opposes both nation and conscience; not even revisionist historians can do much to weaken the rightfulness of human liberty or the legitimacy of its modern and definitive introduction by Americans. Oddly enough I remember little of the two-day debate beyond highlights (I invite uBlog readers who were present in that classroom, even those accused of "cutting" students seated behind them, to offer any anecdotes), but I can say with certainty that the British case was well-prepared and smoothly delivered. Our strategy would have been a defense of most of the King's punitive measures and a rationalization for the rest. On one hand we would press for calm conciliation with the colonists and on the other condemn them as unreasonable, ungrateful and unprepared for a war they had poorly considered. And we would tie them up in knots over their continued possession of black slaves. A classmate friend of mine, Dave, would use the second day's question-and-answer session from the floor to powerful effect, eliciting some angry mutters from our opponents.

For their part, I can also confidently say that the American argument was inconsistent when not off-the-cuff. Steve and Brendan were both very intelligent but Steve was a sour kid who seldom applied himself and Brendan, a born defense attorney, chose aggressive theatrics and rhetoric over reason. The result was Steve sitting silently for two class periods while Brendan stood on his chair and appealed for French support on the basis of American suffering, chiefly the five killed in the Boston Massacre. Almost exclusively, the five killed in the Boston Massacre. Paul Revere's engraving, shown here, receives from some foreign and leftist quarters a characterization as sensationalist libel that most of us would consider unfair. Brendan, however, armed with a photocopy of the famous print, dotted his presentation from start to finish waving it about, out of his chair, shouting, "Boston Massacre! Five killed! A dozen wounded! Cold blood!" Niki and I would make a point, Brendan would stare blankly for a second before jumping out of his chair to yell the litany again.

When the vote was cast, King George won, a poignant reminder that a matter can't be won on melodrama. Although Brendan's cheap stunts made the debate memorable — the next year I advocated and won Abraham Lincoln's case for the preservation of the Union but remember nothing else — they left a deep impression of New England's publicization of the Massacre as at best brazen and at worst, tawdry. Fortunately, revisiting history books over the last decade-and-a-half has nearly pulled out the wrinkle.

Michael Ubaldi, December 2, 2004.

I hate to call this a first, but here it is: I dropped by the local Starbucks this morning to replenish the office's coffee supplies. It's been the Christmas season inside Starbucks' doors for the better part of a month, and with the season come the decorations, the special items, the tantalizing prices — and the music. I worked at the same Starbucks for three months of summer in 1999, then Christmas break, then for eight more months after my May 2000 graduation from college. Most of my coworkers made no secret of their contempt for one aspect of the commercial Christmas season: music that would chase them home and loop about in their heads, repetitive and incessant no matter how many compilation albums were alternating in the store's disc-changer. Me, I could care less; granted, I only endured one season from start to finish, but I've never succumbed to the cyncism of fatigue. Too much of anything will leave you numb.

That said, I do grow bored — maybe a little weary — with Christmas' traditional assortment of pop tunes. The most wonderful time of the year is not, for me, in the words of Bart Simpson, about "the birth of Santa Claus." Tunes about everything but the holiday's basis lack substance, and, as I see it, happen to also lack musical profundity and longevity. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" is good for about five plays before I'll seek refuge through the tuning dial or any kind of distance put between offending speakers and myself. If you pitted "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth" in an arm-wrestling match against "The Holly and the Ivy" it'd walk away with a sprained elbow. Starbucks' music complement was, for the Christmases of 1999 and 2000, heavily if not exclusively secular.

Today, I was surprised to hear a touching rendition of "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" while waiting for my coffee beans to grind. It wasn't cloying, it wasn't obfuscatory: good gracious, there was a man who sounded distinctly like Nat King Cole, singing about "Jesus, our Emmanuel." If I were Christmas shopping it would have felt like shopping for — for Christmas. It was the very song that does not grow tired on the ears. I hope the entire compilation from which the song was playing was sacred music, top to bottom, and that it enjoys heavy rotation.

Michael Ubaldi, November 27, 2004.

Only having flown in a commercial jetliner four times before last Wednesday, I have been in and around Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport as long as I can remember. From 1980 to 1995 my father's parents would fly in from New York City for Memorial Day, and for the few Mays they missed they'd make it up at another point during the year. I would almost always be with my family greeting Grandma and Grandpa at the gate, hugging and kissing and then walking as a group of six to baggage claim, and then retracing our steps — up escalators, down escalators, across squeaky moving sidewalks — to our parked car for a ten-minute drive home.

It's not every house that's built nearby a major airport. My father took advantage of it, bringing my sister and I planewatching a dozen or more times in the early 1980s. Before the Federal Aviation Administration got wind of it and shut it down, a bottle-strewn parking lot sat practically across the street from the airport — just a few hundred feet — from the 23-end of Hopkins' old Runway 5-23. Depending on the weather, jets often leapt from or landed on 5-23; or else they'd move perpendicular to us on the airport's east-west runway. It didn't take long for my father to point out every make and model of aircraft, every airline: the 727, 737, DC-10, and DC-9 were most common, with the occasional 757 and an assortment of turboprops and business jets; Northwest Orient, TWA, Republic, American, Eastern, United, and Delta were all represented. I learned them and committed them to memory, where they reside now. These were the days before quiet engines, and in that lot the sound from a jet passing directly overhead, not five hundred feet in the air, was deafening. It was wonderful. In the years after the parking lot, my father and I would sometimes go to the airport, pass through security and stand on an observation deck. It wasn't the same as those summer evenings under the roar of cigar-nacelled 737-200s, but we quickly learned that the howl of a taxiing or engaging jet from one hundred feet away is just as exciting to watch. Our last time on the deck, before the specter of September 11th closed it, was in 2000: unbeknownst to us, a massive thunderstorm crawled over the western horizon and swallowed the airport. It was a storm all the same, but pilots weren't deterred: as soon as the strongest cells had passed, a line of airplanes — including a freight DC-3 — flew straight into the rain and lightning.

Walking into Cleveland-Hopkins on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving 2004, was different than the few times I'd done it since 2001: once my parents and I passed security, we stepped into the airport I knew. The shops, the bars, the eateries, the restaurants; the stands and kiosques; the shoeshiners and the cart drivers; and of course the travelers. I could look in every direction and find a memory. Images, mostly; but each one very clear.

The lit poster advertisements on the wall brought back a flood of times passed. I thought of the ads themselves — if I couldn't name them off the top of my head, you might show them to me and I'd remember which was which. For so many years we'd pass them on our way from security to the gate to baggage claim to the exit. AT&T, IBM, the City of Cleveland; so many. Even old Ray Fogg, the builder, whose posters are still on Hopkins' walls.

Random memories persist. The book in the bookstore — the store still here, after all this time — I noticed over fifteen years ago that portrayed a tiger in a fighter cockpit, something I've since been told might have been a Wing Commander novel. Five years or so before that, I remember a host of waiting passengers settling where they could on a crowded day, some leaning or sitting against walls. A college-aged girl, overalls and backpack, hair pulled back, smoked a cigarette — back when you could, of course — not far from that bookstore. I remember passing her with my family once, then again; the second time, she'd finished smoking and had picked up a book. One of the last times my grandparents stepped out of the arrival gate, I distanced myself from the gaiety for a moment to watch us as a group; catching us third-person through a ceiling reflection, or turning to watch Grandpa talk to my father about the flight and Grandma catch up with my mother and sister. All that time, I made a point to remember it all, that one arrival. And I do.

On Wednesday, I alternated between my new issue of National Geographic and people-watching. A gateway to the world, it would seem, is the best place to see a face from every corner of the earth. Cleveland-Hopkins International isn't the busiest airport, so even on the eve of Thanksgiving people walked by not as a throng or a mass but in threes and twos; sometimes two groups beside one another. Sometimes singly; stewardesses or airport personnel.

At our gate was a cornucopia before the passenger compliment was twenty strong. We had a single man in his mid-thirties; two old women, one with an attendant and the other living young, talking on her cell phone and paging through the newspaper before strolling over to a side shop for a strawberry ice cream. There was a hispanic, a little younger than I, talking on a cell phone of his own — a thick accent — in a style of speech slightly too rough for public. But no one seemed to notice or mind. A blond, ruddy, block-skulled man with a buzz and his thin, willowy, olive-skinned wife sat with their two crew-cut boys. Three black children led by the oldest, a beautifully blossoming woman in her late teens with meticulous, shoulder-length cornrows who read a book while her sister and brother played a hand-held video game. "Hey, you're makin' me lose," giggled the younger girl. After twenty minutes, older sister took the three to grab something to eat. Two round-faced brunettes on one side of the gate seating were matched by two spindly, hatchet-faced blondes on the other. A fellow my age, stocky and tall with a shock of black curls, sat down as boarding time drew nearer. Then a portly blond woman. Three more single professionals. Two more families. Others. There we all were.

Work has put me into the sky on a single-engine airplane more often than I ever would have gone otherwise, but in my twenty or so aerial rides I've never lost the sense of the takeoff roll being such an act of brute defiance; that there is no grace in flight without sheer, ugly, forced admission. As soon as that 737-900 turned onto the runway the captain slammed the throttle, mixture rich, and the jet muscled its way down the wet runway; muscled into the air on two-wings' lift; muscled through the clouds, wind and rain. The cabin trembled a bit, jostling us in our seats as nature suggested we stay on the ground. The jet refused and the low ceiling enveloped us — and everything went white.

For all its poetry, the flight was a drag. Nature stopped making polite offers and went to flicking our ear. The seatbelt light stayed on, no refreshment cart rolled out into the aisle, and near ten thousand feet the captain announced that turbulence began at our position and ended at our destination of Baltimore International: we had simply chosen a crumby day to fly. We wouldn't even be cresting near thirty thousand feet — the wind was just too stiff. Indeed, the only horizon we got was a single gap between layers of floating grey slush. "It'll be bumpy all the way in," crackled the captain's PA. "We appreciate your patience." Things never got rough, but turbulence is turbulence. My father watched a graphic data readout on the cabin's overhead monitors; I read more of my National Geographic and my mother found ways to distract herself from nervousness. The stewardesses found a material show of gratitude, handing out cups of water and orange juice as the plane pulled itself out of the early winter rainstorm. Fifty-three minutes passed from our leap into the sky. Twenty seconds before touchdown, we saw ground again. As my father noted, the captain flared a bit too soon and the 737 dropped to the runway with a bump. We taxied. "And here we are," I said, grinning through my headache.

— — —

The ride home on Black Friday was majestic. Baltimore was clear and cool; we were expecting partly cloudy skies all the way into Cleveland. Up we went, a bit of turbulence as the 737-700 broke through one deck of altostratus and into another. Soon the first deck looked like the ground, a strange floor of day-old cotton candy. Tiny patches hovered over the rest of the tops; the sun shined everywhere else. For a few minutes, I could make out the contrails of a jet moving away from us to the southeast. It was soon gone. The seatbelt light ticked off, and after a light treat of the stewards' Sprite and pretzels, I unholstered my camera.

Upon descent, there was no partly cloudy sky waiting: as soon as we sunk into the layer that remained below for most of the journey, it was grey and more grey. But moments after the captain announced our position on final approach we dropped beneath the cloud ceiling, revealing white-encrusted suburbs a few thousand feet below and a distinctly grainy, grey haze between jet and ground — snow, the best of Cleveland weather from September to March. "I love this town," I laughed to my father as he craned his neck to see out the window. Final took a few more minutes, followed by a landing impact smoother than the majority of flight on Wednesday. We taxiied as light snow and sleet fell. "And here we are," I grinned, no headache this time.

Michael Ubaldi, November 18, 2004.

Tonight was a long night — but a good one. My civil service commission oversaw a testing company deliver the city's entry-level police examination. We'd conducted an entry-level exam for the fire department in August ourselves, with good results. The firefighter's test involved ninety-odd participants in the city's community center; it was crowded. For the police examination, our chosen site was a nearby Catholic church's gymnasium, holding the nearly two hundred attendees comfortably.

When all participants were seated, before the testing company took over, I made a few announcements to the group without a microphone — it was the first time I'd talked in front of over one hundred fifty people in a while, and quite a wonderful thrill it was.

The fire fellows this summer were a talkative, goofy bunch, maybe a little ornery; out of season or simple temperament, our prospective police officers tonight were polite, attentive and quiet. I handed out packets describing a required agility test that participants take at a local community college to each fellow — or girl, there were about ten — as they walked out the door after completing the test. Down to the man, each thanked me and bid the few of us authorities standing by the door goodnight. A few addressed me as "sir," and at least one of those gentlemen was active duty military.

A fine group, a slice of my generation worth a little pride.

Michael Ubaldi, October 18, 2004.

They say New Jersey has been put into play since the Republican National Convention. While I'm somewhat more inclined to agree with a New Republic writer's assessment that President Bush's foray in the Garden State — including today's speech — is a "head-fake" designed to draw Democratic resources from battleground states to safe states, these developments dovetail with my own best-case Election Day scenario. From a recent letter:

Bush wins with 53 percent of the vote after an eastern state upset tilts the whole picture. Mass hysteria on the left ensues. Geraldine Ferraro shaves her head in protest.

Maybe the Metroliner Effect, the profound shattering of Tri-State myths about Republicans, the right and President Bush, will prevail. Even if it does, the East Coast has its old school.

Celebrating my grandfather's birthday at his and my grandmother's house is my Great Aunt Toni: spry and sharp, a delightful Joan Rivers-soundalike who has lived in Flushing for nearly forty years, the City all her life. Speaking to my father over the phone last weekend, she asked about me and my sister getting along in life, so my father told Toni that I'm currently the president of my local Republican organization. Which led to the following exchange:

AUNT TONI: (beat) Michael's a Republican?

DAD: Well, sure, Aunt Toni; so am I.

AUNT TONI: (beat) You're a Republican?

DAD: Yes, Aunt Toni.

AUNT TONI: Oh, that's all right. I don't vote anyway.

We love you, Aunt Toni.

Michael Ubaldi, October 14, 2004.

This is a continuation of my mention of Goethe yesterday.

In 1984 or 1985 my aunt was dating illustrator John Jude Palencar (now my uncle). She had purchased (or he had given her) several books to which he had contributed, and every time my family visited her apartment I'd run straight to the books, curl up in a corner and feast my eyes on the surreal, macabre and fiendishly enjoyable work of Uncle John and his colleagues. One collaboration was for a Time-Life Books series celebrating folk tales, mythology and fantasy, called the Enchanted World Series. In the first book, Wizards and Witches, Uncle John offered rich, finely brushed and deep-shadowed acrylic paintings of Manannan Mac Lir and "the Black School" which were, naturally, favorites. But I was always more greatly drawn to the pages retelling of the Damnation of Faust. Loosely based on the Goethe play, the book set its story to four watercolor paintings by Irish stained glass artist and illustrator Harry Clarke from a 1925 edition of Goethe's Faust — a copy of which sits in the Cleveland Public Library's special archives, one that I've held in my hands. Clarke is not well known at all in the art world, but those who are familiar with him will immediately recognize his stylized, elfin human forms and penchant for visceral, almost biomechanical ornament that predated H.R. Giger by four decades. He was sought out to illustrate stories calling for elegant, unnerving images and succeeded wholly with his paintings and ink drawings in Faust.

One of the four watercolors is of "Auerbach's Cellar in Leipzig," where Mephistopheles tricks four drunkards into beating one another senseless. Clarke was able to capture the bewildering violence as Goethe intended it, I think: grim and gory but lurid, almost salacious in its devilish manipulation. "The demon smiled" with Faust in a safe corner, goes the book, while "young men fought like beasts." Watching flesh controlled by evil is not a pretty sight, and I see no distinction between the hysteria of this tragic scene and the short, savage, meaningless lives of the terrorists and thugs fighting our men now.

Faust. I do not imagine I know aught that's right; I do not imagine I could teach what might Convert and improve humanity. Nor have I gold or things of worth, Or honours, splendours of the earth. No dog could live thus any more!

ON CLARKE: Keep in mind that I was six and seven when first exposed to this stuff. The macabre made quite an impression on me — a good one, I think, as I took to a sort of figurative abstraction in my own art and in some understandings of the world as early as junior high. Funnily enough, I brought the book Wizards and Witches into a portrait class in college. Our professor, Jerome Witkin, asked us to describe a stirring portrait and explain its significance. "Auerbach's Cellar" isn't exactly a portrait but it was a powerful study of the heart, and had kept me stirred for fifteen years — so its selection was a natural one. Said Witkin, whose work is equally otherworldly (link not entirely work-safe), "uh-huh. This explains a lot."

Michael Ubaldi, October 4, 2004.

My maternal grandparents came in from Michigan today for dinner at my parents' house. The last time I saw them was for my sister's wedding two years ago; it's been a long time since we just visited, and the conversation was accordingly rich. They didn't know I had taken twenty-one credits of music during undergraduate; I didn't know that during a trip to Florence, my grandfather found evidence suggesting his family did not originate in Agrigento, Sicily but Rome. Like any good Americanized Italians, we ate pasta in meat sauce followed by apple pie and strong coffee. And we talked and talked and talked.

The picture was taken as the three men goofily discovered just how tall each of us was; I was in mid-sentence, explaining to my mother how to handle the Olympus camera when it went off. Fair enough.

I'm proud to bear my mother's maiden name as my middle name.

Michael Ubaldi, September 18, 2004.

Digging through my archives for source graphics, I came across posters for my old band, the Concord (whose fully recorded album will, one day, be available for aural consumption). Click for a larger image.

Michael Ubaldi, August 20, 2004.

Granted, Instapundit was making a point about Walter Cronkite's blinkered, elitist hypocrisy: but along the way Glenn referenced a two-part interview with the creator of roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax (Part I and Part II). D&D is a game people who spent their single-digit years in the 1980s heard about more than actually played, Saturday-morning cartoon show notwithstanding.

My introduction to the game, over the initially strong objections of my mother (who, before Snopes.com, had no way of dispelling the urban legend of D&D's fatal consequences), was sophomore year of high school. It was a standard, four-to-five player campaign with classmates in one fellow's basement bedroom. Good times were had, including a couple of all-nighters, simplistic as it was; our group played no more than five sessions over the course of an entire school year.

The next year I came into a group of friends — including my now-Albany-based buddy Ed — who enjoyed games. Our favorite pastimes were marching band and pep band events at school but after hours we'd enjoy frequent bouts with the card game Magic: The Gathering, and occasionally we'd try and start a roleplaying campaign. Everyone knew D&D. We were careful about how we played: the game had a certain reverance about it and we responded by almost always trying the latest epic fantasia somebody had dreamt up. Well-intentioned, those stories were never acted out in full, never to be returned to, our regular schedules quickly succumbing to the flurry of high school. So we tried one-off games in between the campaigns, rich with improvisation; games that, ironically, I can recall far better than our interpretations of Tolkien or Hickman. D&D could be bent to looser, make-it-up-as-you-go style. Some games, however, were better-suited for reckless abandon. Ed was well-versed in the now-defunct FASA Games' sci-fi/fantasy crossover game Shadowrun. Like ritual, our team of cynic cyberpunks would assemble and plunge into our favorite Northwest American dystopia, falling afoul of one zaibatsu-like corporation or another, ending the game in a ragged firefight.

I recall one quickly aborted attempt to start a D&D campaign with our circle of friends during the summer before I headed off to Syracuse University; planning took too much time and concentration too much energy. We wanted movies, local trips and easy games. Thus my high school experience ended leaving me more like the typical student than the twelve-sided-die-rolling dungeon freak. In what can be considered irony — or a testament to the game's relevance to young adulthood — I truly played Dungeons & Dragons in college.

That fall, a group of four played two sessions led by my roommate. Short but memorable: my friend Dan is both an unlucky dice-roller and a good sport; the six numbers determining his character's physical and mental worth were pretty low, but he bucked up and played the character as a hapless do-gooder. School kept us busy; we took a couple of ad-hoc journeys over the winter but little more. It wasn't until March of 1997 — spring break — that I finally won my money's-worth from the clutch of sourcebooks I'd purchased a few years earlier, and truly came to appreciate the game as a confluence of storytelling, teamwork and friendship.

At home visiting my closest friends — who were one year behind and still in high school — I was invited to lead a game with their roleplaying group of seven or so. That evening after supper I brainstormed and scribbled notes for about an hour, constructing a simple, open-ended courier's mission for an impromptu adventurer's party. I look back at the notes — literally, I still have everything — and marvel at the freeness with which I put together names, relationships and objectives. There's a sweet wistfulness in admiring a discrete idea before it became a colossal thing that carried great expectations; to admire its innocence.

I brought the notes to Ed's house. We played. My friends enjoyed the adventure so thoroughly that they invited me to continue it when school let out. That June, six of us began again and played through the summer; we played the summer after, and the summer after that. But that's another story.

Michael Ubaldi, August 16, 2004.

I'm back from a meeting of the city's Civil Service Commission, the kind of night when we all regret not being paid by the hour. But it had its rewards. An intern who bore the long evening well happens to be the brother of an old grade school classmate. And I've earned the nickname "Mister Rules," a reference that, when approved by my lawyer colleagues, could be understood as both a compliment and a statement of fact.

If my mayor intended each of the three commissioners to play off one another ideologically, he's brilliant: I am the strict absolutist, treating rules as rules; on one side of me a interpretationalist and on the other, a deliberator. We're more fun than the Supreme Court, and just one-third layman.

Michael Ubaldi, July 11, 2004.

"If only clothing companies realized the market killing they'd make by weaving polo shirts to old-style trims," many a young man has cried as he holds up a modern polo shirt in the department store, fingering over-large flares of the short-sleeve cuffs with a grimace. Or maybe just me? A small and vanishing part of my summer wardrobe is a contingent of polo shirts from my father's mothballed closet and Goodwill; nothing younger than twenty years and, consequently, nothing in better than fair condition. I discovered them in the retro heyday of the mid-1990s and have been enjoying them since. Here at my sister's house, I wore one yesterday and was chided for the "air-conditioning" available to my shirt's left armpit. But nobody notices if I don't raise my arms, I protested, to heartier laughter.

This morning's Washington Post has a powerful, thoughtful George Will column. It also has a half-page article in the Style section on, as the subtitle explains, "Old-School Polo Shirts." Brotherhood I have found:

The boys of summer are topping their cargo shorts and jeans with sporty polos. These aren't the loose, long variety rampant a few years back — they're snug and retro, with many by brands your dad oncewore. "Our shirts are rooted in 1950s and '60s suburbia," says Chris Kolbe, vice president of Original Penguin, a mid-century brand resurrected by Perry Ellis International in 2003. "We're taking the original styles popular with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Arnold Palmer and focusing on different colors, fits and fabrics to make them more relevant to twenty-something guys."

Cotton-polyster kept me happy, Mr. Kolbe. But since you're offering, I accept. A minute of mouse-clicking and my search is complete: Urban Outfitters stocks Original Penguin polos. My money will will be well-spent, operative word "spent."

Michael Ubaldi, June 25, 2004.

Tonight I went to see the musical Carousel at the Cassidy Theater in the southern inner suburb of Parma, as part of a local Republican fundraiser. As far as Rogers & Hammerstein go, it's alright; I prefer Oklahoma! and won't even try to diminish the almighty the Sound of Music with a comparison. The players at the Cassidy were a community troupe and for non-professionals the performance was excellent; I didn't care much for the story, jagged and unbalanced with little character development.

As much as I may enjoy them, I admit to mentally checking off numbers from the program — to better gauge the drama, see? Tonight, however, the best was saved for second-last: when character Billy Bigelow watched his daughter from afar, the actress danced ballet, joined by a male partner. Both were adept and remarkably expressive as actors. Now, as an American male I can attest to being introduced to ballet through cartoons and comic displays; never having seen a live, serious performance, further pushed by that famous sequence in Top Secret!, my appreciation for the delicate dance art is somewhat stunted. Tonight was quite a revelation.

Michael Ubaldi, June 9, 2004.

The cookies came out picture-perfect (just how they ended up as that is a little secret). My Republican organization's picnic was terrific: braving scattered thunderstorms our little group met, talked, dined and listened to a female barbershop quartet called Notability — let me tell you, you haven't seen stage presence and musicality until you're brought back to styles that are leaning on seventy-five years. Everyone enjoyed themselves, including the entertainment; the contralto "bass" even offered words of tribute to Ronald Reagan's legacy. Notability's songs were barely on the final note before our club was clapping and hollering, sending them off with a final, standing ovation. We all went home happy, a song in our heads and a few pounds of hot dog meat in our bellies. And very possibly two new members greater. If I drank, I'd be popping open a Miller right now.

A&W Root Beer will do. Evening!

Michael Ubaldi, June 8, 2004.

I'm making a batch of chocolate chip cookies — the batter tastes like success, so my mother can congratulate herself for instilling one more domestic talent in her son. The treats are for the picnic my local Republican organization is holding tomorrow evening. It's no accident that I've taken time to bake: presiding over a meeting last week, I heard a board member grin that "bachelors always bring boxed goods from the supermarket." She's right, of course; so it's up to me to buck the trend.

The picnic is showing its own signs of success, which is nothing short of a blessing. My GOP club suffers from the same lack of volunteers as every city — part of it from the greying demographic, residents who are nevertheless absent from the community; part of it from the tail end of the uninvolved Me Generation, just now understanding how they misunderstood selfishness for freedom. According to RSVPs, attendance will be the best for a special event in years. Guests should include our state senator and representative; proxies for a local judicial candidate and our own United States Senator, George Voinovich; and the Bane of Dennis Kucinich, the honorable Ed Herman. Before we enjoy some ballads sung by local talent, we'll all dine on hot dogs, chips, picnic sides — and, of course, chocolate chip cookies.

First batch is ready to come out of the oven. Excuse me.

Michael Ubaldi, June 7, 2004.

Have you ever taken half an hour out of your life to explore a place that's nearly been your backyard for decades, to discover the length and breadth and color of the place? Last August, when the Eastern United States' power outage forced me outside for a few hours, I explored a road traveled only a handful of times in a quarter century — and what a world unto itself it was.

Evenings this week, beginning tomorrow, are booked solid with work to do and places to be. Friday, my buddy Paul and I leave for yet another celebrated Albany Excursion. I intend to photo-document as much of the trip as I can, from start to finish, so that ought to be both a chore and a joy wrapped into one. So tonight, with a little free time, I topped off the tank, deposited my paycheck and turned down Coe Avenue.

Over twenty years ago — twenty years! — one of my sister's friends lived there. Heather Z., I believe. I have a distinct memory of driving down the suburban Coe in the passenger seat of my parents' emerald green 1970 Chevy Caprice, my mother driving; dropping my sister off at a house on the west side of the north-south street. It was evening, early summer. The sun was drawing lengthening shadows from the trees, yellow-orange flare peeking though their leaves. I remembered children, girls, playing; my sister joining them. And a hill.

It was dusk by the time I turned onto Coe and took it slowly south, looking west. No hill, nor a clear recollection. But I kept driving south out of curiosity — I don't think I'd driven down the street since that remembered day. I began to roam the adjacent streets, not certain to what Coe connected.

It's a fascinating sport, street-trolling. More practical than a pure timewaster, too: it's how short cuts are made. A high school clique of fellows two years older than I — an eccentric band of brothers, really — set out a good number of years ago to drive down every street in North Olmsted. Not as easy as it sounds, our city labryinthine for only 37,000. And most of the guys left after school for the corners of the earth, one to each. But last I heard, they were nearly complete.

South from Coe, here was Oak; and Georgette; and Lucille, then Grace, vein from Brookpark, whose apron I've passed many a time at high speed. Then, moving northwest and circling south, as I realized exactly where I was, Birch; then Palm. And then of course Elm: the home of a family whose children I knew well, who held many a party in their enormous, rugged backyard, the eldest himself once a part of the aforementioned clique.

To the east Michael Avenue, Brendan Lane; Saint Brendan's Parish to the north. Homes on these roads are newer, larger, more expensive than the modest houses to the west; lining narrow, green-canopied streets. Is this all a subdivision? I ought to know that at a moment's notice but I don't. If not, how did the western tangle of roads connect to the more stately east? I'll have to find out. Another question for the zoning board.

By the time I west on Elm one last time for home, twenty-five minutes had passed. Never was I more than five minutes from my current residence. All that is nearby is not unremarkable.

Michael Ubaldi, May 25, 2004.

No, there's nothing wrong with the time index: tonight's special Civil Service Meeting was a marathon. Grueling and merciless — my alarm clock will be going off sooner than usual — tonight's work will save the city time in its competitive examinations for new firefighters. I missed the president's speech and have only skimmed excerpts and related punditry but it's not a crime, seeing as how Glenn Reynolds did, too.

Off to bed before I can't uncross or open my eyes. Fatigue does funny things. As the Fire Chief joked, "disk is full."

Michael Ubaldi, May 3, 2004.

The weather forecast for mostly cloudy skies today was wrong. No complaint from me. (And the Green Report is looking up.)

Michael Ubaldi, May 1, 2004.

I'm plenty proud of myself: not only did I finally buy the Olympus C-5060 Wide Zoom today, using a $200 gift certificate given to me upon my college graduation four years ago, but I actually haggled for a 256MB Lexar CompactFlash card and saved ten dollars. A man on one side of the counter goes home with a commission, a man on the other side with an industry-darling digital camera. After assembling and prepping the device, I've spent the past two hours switching back and forth between reading the manual and pressing buttons. Neither a wonk nor finicky, I'm overjoyed with the quality, ease-of-use and wealth of photographic decisions available to me. A few snapshots have been taken in the interests of working kinks out, one of them more interesting in its subject matter than its technical demonstration:

What do minarets; a mockup of Amiens Cathedral; and painted, armless women with masks stuck on tensile, metal necks have in common? An exercise in chasing away boredom with oil on canvas, painted in late 2000 and early 2001 — that's what.

I'll post more photographs as they, er, become available. And with a trip to Albany with the usual suspects in three or four weeks, many soon to come.

AFTER HOURS: Went to the ancestral home. Helped plant daylilies. Ate spaghetti. Watched Ghostbusters (and realized that "Library Administrator Roger Delacorte" is actor John Rothman, who played television executive "Warren Moburg" in 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon; how's that for ident?).

Naturally, I brought the camera.

Rascal. Affectionately known as 'The Lazycat.'
Buddy. Affectionately known as 'The Crazycat.'

Michael Ubaldi, April 25, 2004.

With partly cloudy skies, a fresh breeze and a muggy sixty degrees, it's spring in Northeast Ohio — and with spring comes the making of fresh lemonade. I squeeze the stuff from the designs of Plain Dealer Food Editor Joe Crea, who both identified and solved my minor culinary dilemma. Short and sweet, it is this: lemonade in the modern age has become a relative term, with little commercial distinction between highly processed counterfeits and powdered laboratory nightmares. I grew up on Kool-Aid brand drinks, which naturally included its Lemonade and Pink Lemonade. What came of one cup sugar, six cups water and the pouch was as close to lemonade as flavored antacid but for a child the taste was smooth, sweet and damn near citric enough. I loved it — even more so when I grew old enough to mix it myself and used the full cup of sugar my mother always (perhaps wisely) skimped on. This was a rare treat, and a product I stuck with for years. By contrast, Country Time lemonade and Crystal Light fail miserably in the bid to reproduce the taste of fresh fruit juice from sweetened granules. Lemony calcium deposits? Funny-tasting beverage? No thanks. If we're going there, I'll steer orange and drink Tang to support the Sixties spirit of NASA with daily Vitamin C all in one toss.

Frozen lemonade — from Minute Maid and the bunch — is better but usually far too tangy and a smidgen on the bitter side. A tall, cool drink for summer afternoons should not function as a stand-in decongestant. Bottled, lemonade tends towards the unappealing taste of preservatives. Restaurant lemonade is usually a bad situation; not too keen on dehydrating myself with soda if I don't need to, I'll opt for non-carbonated beverage. Wagering on the outside chance that the stock lemonade is passable, lemonade might be the order. More often than not, I regret it. Is there an industry standard requiring restaurant lemonade syrup to be among the most sour, biting, unpleasant non-toxic liquids to pour in a paper cup? USDA, where are you? Or is this your work? No, don't tell me. I'll stick to root beer.

Skip to the summer of 1998. My mother clipped Joe Crea's column from the paper. We read. We sympathized. We followed his directions. Masterful. I chilled the lemonade from the article entitled "Perfect Pitcher of Real Lemonade" for some auditioning later that evening. A college friend of my sister's, who was moving in town for his newly acquired job as assistant band director at the high school, stopped by our house for one reason or another.

"Would you like some lemonade?" I asked.

"Sure," he answered. I poured him a glass. He took a sip and his eyes bugged out before he started with "Wow! This is good." Split-second pause. "I mean, not that I thought it'd be bad, but —" he took a second draught, nodding slowly. "This is good." And it was good.

I cook like the Edge plays guitar: simple and effective. Lots of delay (ba-dum!). Whatever preparation time this recipe requires is offset by its ease. There are three elements to this lemonade: pitcher water, syrup and lemon juice.

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water (for syrup)
6 or 7 fat, juicy lemons
6 cups water (for pitcher)

1. Set two lemons aside. Slice remaining lemons in half and juice. Collect 1 1/2 cups of lemon juice. Set aside.

2. Strip sequestered lemons with zester or knife, cutting thin slices of skin with as little of the white pith as possible. Set aside. Slice and juice lemons.

3. Pour 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/2 cup of water into saucepan. Bring to boil on high burner heat; stir, cover, reduce heat and let simmer for no longer than five minutes.

4. Pour zest into sugar syrup and stir for three minutes. Remove from heat.

5. Pour lemon juice and 6 cups water into pitcher. Strain syrup into pitcher, using spoon to squeeze syrup from zest. Stir thoroughly and chill.

You'll like it; trust me. A couple of glasses of today's product have been my companions while typing. Sure to be many more glasses and pitchers. And just think: the whole summer's in front of us. Take it in style.

Michael Ubaldi, April 20, 2004.

Happening upon my alma mater's website several weeks ago, I saw something delightful. I just remembered it, so post it in a spare moment now: on the informational page for the painting undergraduate degree in Syracuse University's College of Visual and Performing Arts is a piece by one of my classmates, Amanda Gordon. Quiet, conflicted but wry and extremely sharp, Amanda was a disciplined inspiration not only to myself but, as evidenced by her work's prominence, the department as well. I was a student with artistic talent who learned how to paint well. Amanda was a painter.

Michael Ubaldi, April 19, 2004.

I just returned from a three-hour Civil Service Commission meeting. Quite a lot done with a room full of good, hardworking people. As I've said before, I've taken like a fish to water in working with the conception and application of rules and regulations. I'd say I should have been a lawyer but a series of sample psychological examinations were included in the commission's latest docket, and considering the undivided attention they received, I probably should have been a psychologist.

Michael Ubaldi, April 13, 2004.

Earlier this evening, I attended the wake of a family friend. Twenty-three years ago, my parents began a "Gourmet Club," a semiannual event where five couples collaborated on a menu and made an evening of the meal. Mom and Dad discovered the concept when they lived in Maryland. The East Coast being what it is, that club was enormous; my folks were a substitute couple and attended only one dinner in six years. Not so with this club: the objective was fine cuisine and happy times. They started with countries: France first, then every other country in Europe. Some Eastern and African cuisine was attempted, wherein my mother discovered some kind of Ethiopian soup to be the only foodstuff on the face of the planet she didn't exactly care for. As years passed, they simplified and settled on making delicious meals from wherever a recipe may have traveled.

Each of the five couples had children, and early on a Gourmet Club Picnic heralded the end of the summer - the memories are too profuse and fragmentary to list here, but through the wealth of them I can describe the personality and foibles of every one of us kids. Two couples' children were younger than my sister and I; the other two each had a pair of boys who were roughly our own ages. The two eldest boys were, as I remember, best of friends; and they were all precocious, smart, agile and inventive. I admired them. Picnics always came after great anticipation.

I occasionally played with the two sons of the woman for which this is written; the older son, two years older than me and a mechanical genius, was on my Odyssey of the Mind team in sixth grade. For the next year or so we struck up a congenial relationship, succeeding in making OM State Finals, playing on a softball team and happily trading computer games that now cannot be called anything but vintage.

In 1986, one of the couples - really, the husband and wife who were the consummate entertainers and succeeded in bridging the others - moved to Indianapolis. Dinners and picnics were never quite as lively again; but the club stayed together and the remaining couples' enjoyment of one another endured. Time passed. As everyone in the gourmet club, primaries and secondaries, grew older, the club met less often. Once the children were no longer children but independent high schoolers, the picnics ended. But the club's four couples met every so often, and the children, not really so close, still never forgot one another.

The friend passed away on Sunday after a struggle with cancer. My mother and I, phoned by the husband as they returned from a temporary stay in Michigan to their home here, were asked over to the house on Friday to help the wife into the house one last time. As I tried to explain to her sons tonight, I saw a lot of strength in her. It's no surprise: at her wake tonight were scores of people, long lines and a thoroughly jammed parking lot. It was a testament to the memory of a woman who will never be forgotten, whose family will not slip from prayers.

Michael Ubaldi, April 8, 2004.

Danny O'Brien:

Jonah Goldberg and Rod Dreher are stunned to learn there's such a thing as a college guy who doesn't drink because it's against the law for him to do so. Jonah raises some questions of law and culture implicit in this finding.

I don't have time to explore this in detail right now, but I personally will be 21 next month, and--as the song goes--"I've never had a drink in my life." While I'm sure you could find a couple of people who'd describe me as some kind of draconian puritan, the truth is I don't have any particular moral objection to the act of having a few drinks (though I do have a moral objection to being intoxicated out of one's right mind). I'm sure after my birthday next month I will occasionally partake in what Jonah calls the "medicinal liquids."

What I'm saying is: right now I have no reason to drink alcohol. But after I'm 21, I'll have no real reason not to drink (though, again, not to excess). So am I waiting just because of the law? I don't know. Maybe.

Mike? Gabe?

Let me first put it simply and sassily: I don't drink because there are plenty of people already doing it for me.

Now the frank, personally revealing explanation. I came to be a nondrinker almost by accident; someone I admired very much between my junior and senior year of high school appeared to be a part of the then-burgeoning Straightedge movement. Even though a misunderstanding (in fact it wasn't the case), the practice as counter-culture appealed to me greatly. As many of you who know me understand, I adhere rather easily and tenaciously to ideals - particularly those of Apollonian self-control. I like the idea of perpetual restraint and determination; in many ways I find myself following, at least in word, Harry Truman and his belief "that the first victory that 'great men' won was always 'over themselves and their carnal urges.'" Look at Keirsey's Myers-Briggs profile of me and the resulting moral tendencies, and you might better understand my disinterest and near-allergy to the idea and practice of indulgence. I'm not exactly built to eat, drink and be merry.

Entering college one year later and perceiving crude displays of irresponsibility all around me only galvanized the desire to separate myself from what I saw as deliberate attempts to forfeit one's control over one's own life. Strange as it sounds, I find that sort of thing, that cycle, hurtful - as if those who do it are trading precious moments of life for hazy ephemera - even still. But in those heady days of a loner's philosophy, it made me angry. I had harsh words for revelry and gave it as wide a berth as I could.

As the years in college passed, I began to temper my beliefs; I didn't drink but accepted those who did. I found that I could laugh at some of the more innocent stories of friends gone blotto, and I worked to make my increasingly rare beliefs fun: on my 21st birthday, a friend left a bottle of O'Doul's outside my door (still in my folks' fridge) and I came to my birthday dinner in the dining hall with Teen Idle Xs.

Today, I still do not drink. I've made a few technical exceptions like nonalcoholic wine but continue to enjoy beverages that require only the check-and-balance of appetite. I'm still uncomfortable with overconsumption but have come to terms with the habits of good people, keeping close attention to C.S. Lewis' warning that "a cold, self-righteous prig...may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute." I truly enjoy watching my friends and family enjoying a drink or two. I'm always asking buddies Ed and Paul about the beers a waiter has set down in front of them. If my introduction to the stuff had been in an environment of moderation, I might have walked the same path as you, Danny: ready to take advantage of my 21st birthday with respect and care. During my own journey, I found justification for my temperance; it's a commitment I began and intend on seeing to the end of my life. To you, I say "enjoy."

Epilogue: Just as I had finished writing this, OX called me. He's coming over to review today's recordings. "Should I bring some root beer?" he asked. "I'm such an anachronism," I laughed. "Nah," he said, "it's part of your charm."

Michael Ubaldi, April 8, 2004.

I just returned home from a recording gig for a film with my friend OX. The day began on bank hours, involved an across-town trip (two for me, my fault) and will likely generate a lot of happy memories. A strictly routinized fellow, I worked hard to keep my wits during such an abrupt change of pace. I did well. It was a successful return to my second-favorite hobby, a session I'm quite proud of - in no small part thanks to OX and a choir director and their masterful direction of the production (not to mention the knowing presence of my old rock band's keyboardist, whose father is the director).

And in the face of forecast clouds and rain, it's sunny, hazy and fifty-five degrees. Fabulous. More later, including some clips, after I decompress a bit.

Michael Ubaldi, April 6, 2004.

Both photographs I pushed in Photoshop, yes. Even so: can you say, "beautiful morning," boys and girls?

Michael Ubaldi, April 5, 2004.

I love a good craft, and setting up shop cost me nothing. Thus Figure Concord on CafePress. Who buys novelty ceramic mugs for $12.49? Well, I thought that was a question worth trying to answer.

No liability, so why not? I'll offer more designs and merchandise as I find the time.

Michael Ubaldi, March 30, 2004.

Here's another shot from Williamsburg. I will note that the trees had not yet bloomed in Virginia; only the flowers, bushes like the one above and other harbingers of spring. What's more, Ohio may not be as far behind as I thought. When I glanced out my apartment window this morning I noticed one tree along the parking lot's green space periphery that was well along towards blooming, its buds having gone from mahogany to a light russet. The flowering, typically, was the only of its kind among the few dozen trees around the apartment grounds and the thousands behind it in the Metroparks valley. But a coworker who lives thirty miles south reports that his lilacs are well on their way. And cold as it may be, steady rainfall has produced some luminous grasses. So in fact Cleveland has everything it needs from nature but deciduous leaves, blue skies and warm temperatures. Can we haggle for more?

Michael Ubaldi, March 20, 2004.

Here I have a selection of snapshots from yesterday. My photography experience from college left me with the conviction that unless an image is part of the means to a design end, cropping is for the inexperienced, the hurried and the unimaginative: my pictoral decisions are made through the viewfinder instead of at the enlarger. With that in mind, the Kodak's tiny lens compressed nearly every wide-angle opportunity I spied from the passenger seat. The curvature of the cabin of my parent's minivan only complicated matters, so I had to wait until I was right on top of a subject. It took some adjustment. And convenience aside, two megapixels are two megapixels - and the computer I'm using is without appropriate touch-up software. So we have our caveats; now a few sights from the trip to Maryland.

Michael Ubaldi, March 19, 2004.

The drive was a pleasant one: Pennsylvania is stuffed with endless natural masterpieces, the landscape stretching on like a Mobius Strip. Each time you crest a hill, you can find a breathtaking view in every direction - hills, valleys, it doesn't matter. Green trees, brown trees, white trees; driving the length of the Keystone state is never a bother if you appreciate beauty. You can almost forgive Harrisburg for stubbornly posting 55 MPH speed limits throughout half the state. And did I ever take photographs: spending most of your life with the understanding that your camera cannot physically give you more than twenty-four or thirty-six chances to capture an image for every few dollars introduces one heck of a digital shock. Nearly 200 shots, you say? I can delete the substandards when I review my shots, seconds after exposure? Megapixel, Humbug: this $99 trinket of the office's is solid gold.

Time to return to the family and house hounds: photographs later.

Michael Ubaldi, March 2, 2004.

This morning's trip to the polls was a break from the caravan tradition my father and I kept for three years. I've moved to a new ward, so instead of the quiet little Baptist church my polling center was an elementary school across town. Entering buildings intended for children is always a jarring experience if you're never around them. As I approached, I tried to match the school façade before me to the one I'd seen in the distance from the road for so many years; the latter, of course, was very much larger. I followed election signs into a room that, for a kid, would have stretched from wall to wall like a ballroom, only now it was slightly larger than a luxury phone booth. Cramped, two tables. I trolled on up to the table bearing my ward and precinct.

"Last name?" asked one of five dear ladies at the table.

"Ubaldi." I worked to get it out right, as my speech in early morning can be adenoidal, complete with glottal stops.

"Ubaldi..." she said knowingly, nodding. Did I recognize her? Not completely. I recognized that I should have recognized her. I think she recognized me.

"Democrat or Republican?" asked dear lady number two.

"Republican." That one came loud and clear. A certain silence fell on the room. My first expectation, upon entering any public education facility, is that the Grand Old Party is not an association to which the righteous belong. But then, these were dear ladies, not teachers. For all I know, they might have been exhaling in relief that one more youth decided that he didn't need to dedicate his life to fighting the 'grups.

A third dear lady handed me my ballot, and a-punching I went. I hit 'em all, even the judges running unopposed, knocking down a couple of frivolous county levies in the process. Finished, I removed the ballot from the punch sleeve to double-check for accuracy and loose chads - something I've done since my first non-absentee vote on November 7, 2000, before it became incumbent upon Broward County, Florida to do the thinking for voters. Inside the privacy slip went the ballot, which I handed off to a fourth dear lady, who dropped it down through the slot of a locked bin. Mutual thank-yous.

Nearly out the door, I stopped, turned, dodged a few voters, remembering something. I looked at the second table, closer to the door and closer to me. From the door, I tried to catch the attention of a young poll worker turned to adjust a booth, no older than high school age. Timid, she did a double-take, then gave me a curious look, then blushed, then looked at the floor. Then she sat down. No luck. I moved close to the table and turned to the oldest dear lady.

"Excuse me - this is going to sound a little silly, but would you happen to have any of those 'I Voted Today!' stickers?" A little silly?

"Oh, " she laughed, "no! No. We don't happen to have any of those. I'm sorry."

"That's a shame," I smiled. "That's the best part." Of course, the adhesive never holds on those damned things. By lunchtime, you've picked yours up off from somewhere on the floor at least ten times. But that's part of the fun of wearing civic advocacy on your sleeve - fun not to be had today. I turned and walked to the door, thanking her over my shoulder, and stepped out.

I had only a few seconds to regard my failed public appeal for voting stickers before an older man walked out of the room just behind me and called my name. He must have been working the polls, too - and I must have missed him. He's one of our boys, a local Republican. We had a brief chat about his post on the AFL-CIO board, how it's all a matter of learning to get along down there. Good man. As is the case with more members than I'd care to admit, his duties legitimately keep him away from meetings and greater involvement with us. But he pays his dues, and he followed me out to shake hands and say hello. It was a fine end note for the poll visit.

So with the anecdotes in memory, I wait. Will Ed Herman win the right to challenge Dennis Kucinich for Ohio's 10th Congressional District? Will the Bush campaign finally have a Democrat to knock about? We'll know soon enough. With or without a sticker.

Michael Ubaldi, February 20, 2004.

A high of fifty-five degrees may have some of you reaching for overcoats, but in the middle of an Ohio February, it's literally manna from heaven. As is the circumstance for any deposite of warm air during winter, today's weather is the tip of a cold front swinging down from north. By tomorrow, temperatures will plummet to and remain in the low to mid-thirties, and Cleveland will be blanketed once again in bank after bank of snow. But as I said - these days are rare treats, and even the pensive romantics can learn to live in the moment for a few hours. No sooner did I step into the office this morning than our second-command send me to Starbucks.

We're a coffee-swilling bunch, we band of half-brothers, enough to consider dedicating an office wall to line after regimented line of inkstamped coffee machines - the same conquest accounting you'd find on a fighter-bomber's nose. We buy $40 Mister Coffee machines and run them straight into the ground; twelve cups in the morning, at least six at the stroke of three o'clock, more if we're on a roll or expecting visitors. Remember that scene in Gone with the Wind where Scarlett's Mammy whips the workhorse into collapse? Imagine that, minus a razed Tara. (Alright, minus several other things - but the principle is right.) I've witnessed a succession of three machines in as many years. Their deaths are slow and not without appeals to pathos; brewing a full pot takes nearly half an hour, overflows are common. Funny noises start to accompany the act, too, as if the poor appliance were pleading to be put out of its misery.

The third expiration had finally become undeniable this week. We unplugged the weakened beast yesterday; burial with full honors were this morning. The boss wants to look into the professional grade for a replacement; to the O'Hara analogy, a Clydesdale instead of our usual show pony. We ordered from a catalog. All this time, of course, no coffee was being brewed for our insatiable, collective appetite for caffeination. Nobody had the shakes - honestly, I can go days without the stuff - but to put it politely, I've never actually been ordered to hit the 'Bucks for a deal.

Back out into the beautiful day, leaving my fall-and-winter coat inside and stepping out into mild sunshine with my blue suit, white button-down and appropriate flower blossom tie. I dropped the windows a couple of inches as we've barely broken fifty - but the double-whammy of an unseasonable thaw and a cafe Americano after relatively long periods without either put a spring into my step that ought to last for days.

To top it all off, our Number Two surprised us all with two newly purchased company digital cameras. They're cheap little things, a pair of Kodak EasyShare CX6200s: two megapixels, modest picture quality. But they're the Brownie of digitals: handy, tiny, you-can-literally-only-do-three-things simple and unbelievably fun to use. I've been debating on whether to invest in a digital unit; convenience was a major factor and having experienced it firsthand, I'm ready to start setting aside the money. My snapshots here have been pushed, burned and dodged in Photoshop, but the process took less than five minutes.

Michael Ubaldi, February 16, 2004.

I've typed up what pass for movie reviews in this space before; though the movies have been playing regularly, it's been awhile since my last film footnote. This weekend was cold but beautiful - sunny, blue skies - and three days long. How did I spend a good chunk of it? Trying to complete a computer upgrade four times. Why four times, you ask? Well, each successive attempt was different, quicker and more comically agonizing than the last. Three very colorful disasters. Number Four is a charm, it seems; it's holding up.

How did this all happen, you insist? Did I ever tell you about the time I walked into my college dormitory lobby late one Friday night just as a drunk began to shake 20-ounce, glass juice bottles out of a vending machine? A crowd gathered as he rocked the unit back and forth, then rushed the half-broken pile of swag in the kind of snatch-and-scatter bread line mania that nobody talks about afterward. I gingerly picked up Cran-Raspberry - sticky outside and room-temperature inside, but good at one in the morning. The next day, I passed through the lobby again and decided to make a proper transaction.

In went my dollar twenty-five. Out came nothing. I backed away, taking the hint.

I don't believe in karmic retribution, but early on God relayed to me the fact that whenever I cut corners a bit, he extracts his pound of flesh and we're even again. And then this weekend's adventure in computer twiddlings that go awry in ways so unlikely that even a compulsive gambler wouldn't touch the odds. Do the math.

I rented two movies. Shrek was the first. Funny, in a comfortingly mild way; but ever so happy. Lighthearted beginning; happy ending. The DVD included a three-minute musical with all the characters trying their hand at karaoke - even the bad guys who are, of course, just animated actors. Three minutes. It was not unlike mainlining good times and great laughs. Nearly too much happiness at once. But for Pete's sake, one damned happy sitting. That was Saturday.

Tonight I watched Seabiscuit, a movie one enjoys for exactly the same reasons as Star Wars: it's heroic fiction following the exploits of a delightfully stock cast, steeped in its own airtight mythology. Even the leads are close parallels, an obscure prodigy played by Toby Maguire and his eccentric mentor - in this case split into Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper. There's the "thing" they do, around which three-quarters of the dialogue is wrapped: swinging lightsabers for Star Wars, racing horses for Seabiscuit. Technique, focus, discipline, and faith are what Maguire is taught. Quite the Zen appeal, especially when he's made to run a lap in pitch darkness. What's that, Mr. Cooper? He's supposed to "trust his feelings"?

Before the defining match race, our hero Maguire is incapacitated and a fellow jockey steps in to ride the horse. But as Maguire coaches his surrogate from a hospital bed, it's obvious that victory has nothing to do with whose behind is planted in the saddle. The ending is full of happiness and redemption, and considering the movie's Great Depression backdrop, we rise from our seats having been shown that America's deliverance came from Franklin Roosevelt, the New Deal, and Seabiscuit. May the horse be with you.

Happy and heartfelt works. I keep passing Ran in the video store but I've seen it before, and it's artful precisely in its bleakness. Noir and cynicism is for warmer weather. What will my next encounter from happy cinema entail? Provided I can find it: The Tuskegee Airmen.

Michael Ubaldi, February 4, 2004.

Tim Blair and commenters have been exposed - hopefully not fatally - to the auto-adulatory, terminally ironic world of Postmodernism. I survived extended periods of contact during my fine art undergraduate years by refusing, senior year, to do reading assignments, including an entire book. One professor gave up and let me stew through class while another - my favorite instructor, in fact - kindly referred to me as "theory-free." He coined this phrase in an introduction to the painting faculty as they stood before my work one afternoon. I was not close to any of the other professors, nor they to me; but I can't shake the impression that when "theory-free" settled in, the looks on their faces resembled those of priests whose soon-to-graduate acolyte has just announced that he doesn't really care for all that talk of holy men and transubstantiation.

I enjoyed painting, don't misunderstand: it was the insipid motivations for and meanings of painting ("Yes, it's a pretty picture. But why?") being foisted on me that drew out the rebellion. That favorite professor of mine knew theory, but his focus - and preference - was of Modernist theory. Paint. Line. Form. He never critiqued a single one of my canvases on account of what it meant, but on what the picture was doing. I loved that.

Nonsensical one-upmanship continues at its own peril. Want smudge marks on the bounds of absurdity? John Derbyshire responded in kind to the 2000 Turner Award-winning, Blue Ribbon farce, Martin Creed's Lights Going on and Off:

What do I think about all this? Well, first I think that the directors of the Tate Gallery, which receives funding from general taxation, should be locked up in prison and made to do hard labor scraping the rust off bolts for 20 years or so with nothing to eat but cold oatmeal porridge. Then I think Mr. Creed should be stripped naked, sprayed all over with bright blue paint, and made to run round and round Piccadilly Circus until he drops from exhaustion, after which he should be killed by some not-very-humane method. Then the Tate Gallery should be reduced to rubble by aerial bombardment, the rubble carted away to be used as landfill, and the ground sown with salt. Then the fools who pay good money to look at this "art" should be packed into boxcars and tipped off the white cliffs of Dover, and their mangled corpses left to be feasted on by dogs, crows and crabs.

But of course, Derbyshire's no Postmodernist: what he wrote took time and talent.

Michael Ubaldi, January 22, 2004.

Heaven has an Avon lady and she delivered tonight: during my biweekly evening walk the snow fell as if from a celestial powder-puff. Angels have formals too, you know (cue empyrean soft jazz).

Not a soul outside, cars trundling slowly through blanketed streets. Cold - teens cold - driven by light gusts of wind. This is the January I know.

Michael Ubaldi, January 19, 2004.

Nearly two years ago I was charged with the safekeeping of the North Olmsted Republican Organization's two scrapbooks. It's a fairly consistent and rich documentation of events from 1966, major and minor; evidence ranging from newspaper clippings to campaign literature, press prints to programs and fliers.

I'll be honest with you: photographs, especially older ones, fascinate me. If I'm a guest at someone's home, I can guarantee that by the time the evening has passed, I will have thoroughly examined family prints in the living room at least once or twice. The passage of time is always at strange odds with someone's physical identity in a given photograph: Did they really look like that way back when? Were their clothes and hairstyle just for the occasion? Had they been caught at an odd angle?

And, for the people you don't know, the timeless: Just who in the hell was that guy? When I first received the scrapbooks I was relatively unfamiliar with the club's members - let alone North Olmsted's movers and shakers. And trust me, they've been moving and shaking for decades. But I'm the first in my family to manifestly enter politics, so until my return from college, the city's political scene remained an entirely different world. Some photographs found their way into the group's monthly newsletter; I haven't looked at it much since it came into my possession. But after three years in the party - and having branched out into the city community - I recognized quite a few more faces when I paged through it last night. One particularly startling realization was that a woman I noted during my first scrapbook investigation, no more than thirty in a couple of photographs from 1973, serves with me on the Civil Service Commission. Small world.

And, of course, the national political scene two years ago was not exactly what it is today. I didn't pass by two very interesting snapshots this time around. Recognize anyone?

That's right: standing in the middle was Ohio 10th District Congressman, presidential candidate and tinfoil hatter, Dennis Kucinich. They didn't call him the "Boy Mayor" a few years later for nothing. Here he stood with a gaggle of local Democrats and the former Mrs. Kucinich:

I don't know what's more dumbfounding: that Dennis was present for a Republican event nowhere near his district - the now-defunct, biennial Inaugural Ball - or that the ball drew nearly 600 in attendance. As newly elected president of the North Olmsted Republicans, I have faith in the city and the club to generate dedication and support anew, as younger generations gradually settle in. But one year from next month, I don't know if we'll see six hundred - or Dennis Kucinich - at one of our events.

Last but not least:

Priceless. When was the last time any newspaper had enough brass to call it "gladhanding"? Journalists, take note.

Michael Ubaldi, December 31, 2003.

Have I any New Year's resolutions? Few - I resolve to do better all through the year, and look down on plying self-improvement by the date. One resolution that I do try to keep is to enjoy every holiday, special occasion and summer without worrying if each will top the last one. Care of my parents, I hold tradition in high esteem; but I entrust foresight to optimism, too. Something is never "the best," to me; it's just "the best yet."

Sometimes it's a difficult resolution to honor - though not so much with the duds. My pair of rose-colored glasses works perfectly for hindsight. It's the truly special times that wreck the curve. Especially a Christmas like this one.

Since late November I'd been following Cleveland's forecast for weeks, day by day, cheering on cold weather and snow, waving my hands to bid warm weather get the hell out of Northeast Ohio. On Christmas Eve Eve, forecasters were tepid on the prospects for a truly wintry 25th. Rain was coming down in sheets, and all I could think of was what sort of snowy wonderland that precipitation would have made had it come down just a little colder. But by seven-thirty that night, as I roamed the town with my buddy Ed, just in from Albany, the rain changed. Flakes were gigantic, wet and brought a lot of friends with them. That first wave remained steady until midnight.

Late afternoon Christmas Eve, heavy clouds returned with such a tireless deluge that they made the night before look like a thirty-second promo spot. My father and I stood outside for a few minutes while we waited for Mom. We were wearing our Sunday best, about to embark on another night of a fifteen-year tradition: Dinner at The Olive Garden at five o'clock, followed by a "Lessons and Carols" service at my Baptist church. Return home close to nine-thirty; settle in for eggnog, sweets and George C. Scott's 1984 masterful television production of A Christmas Carol. Quietly distribute gifts underneath the tree, trying not to glance at everyone else's handiwork. Then off to bed for sleep and requisite dancing sugar-plums.

In that moment where my father and I admired the white world around us, as fine clouds of snow blew from rooftops and fell in wet waves to gild trees, I was tempted to wrap my arms around this Christmas Eve - surely the most beautiful I could remember - and set it up in judgment of all those succeeding it. I remembered the resolution. That didn't make the moment any less precious (or fleeting). But it helped, and I shook off any wist as we all must, by looking forward - in this case, Christmas Day.

I've never been party to one of those "biggie" gifts. As most of us have, I started shopping in the first grade with Kiddie's Christmas Corner, an in-school bazaar with all manner of quaint presents children buy their parents and siblings. Scented candles, paperweights; yeah, you've been there before. Little things. Soon enough I had graduated to referencing lists my mother, father and sister made. My selections seemed to mature in college; Christmas of 1998, when I was working at the Nature Company, stands out. I don't think took one step beyond the store shopping for my family, but it worked well: I saved money with an employee discount and took advantage of the store's varied stock. Besides, I only worked there one year - by the time the novelty of votive candles, oil lamps and elongated rabbit pillows wore off, I was buying presents for the next year's Christmas somewhere else. I've been getting better - more relevant, more thoughtful, more memorable - each year. I hope.

If not, this year's gift would make up for it.

A couple of years ago, I cast off an old computer of mine to my parents. Like they all are, this one - a Gateway 300 - was a good looker in its day. These days, it could barely get out of its own way. My mother tolerates computers; my father enjoys them but doesn't obsess, and would not think of himself as a hobbyist. Neither one is a spendthrift nor eager to shell out any amount of money with two or more digits. In other words, the clunky, clumsy, out-of-date jalopy sputtering its way through the simplest of modern processes managed to keep justifying its existence, and would probably have stayed on their upstairs office desk for several more months if not for my intervention.

Now, the three of us had been working on buying a new computer. With the intention of building one ourselves, my father and I had tallied up several prospective hardware lists. We tallied and considered, tallied and considered, and would always end the consideration of tallyings with a tabling of the business. This went on for several months. When the question of buying Christmas gifts for my father finally came, I came up with a brilliant scheme: I'd split the cost with my mother through her separate checking account, purchase and assemble the hardware myself, then surprise the socks off of Dad on Christmas morning. The act of surprise, I'd need to fine-tune. Building a rig, on the other hand, would be a cinch.

Until recently my knowledge of computers was limited to what I saw on the monitor. I couldn't tell you what all the shiny little boxes and widgets inside a computer were, what they did or where they came from. Miraculously, my ignorance was dashed like Saul knocked off from his horse in the spring of 2001 when my new boss instructed me to take three computers - ponderous 166MHz dinosaurs - and replace their innards with a trio of shiny-new Pentium III, 900MHz rocket engines. It was a standard construction project: nothing went exactly as planned. I struggled, I yelled, I cursed: I succeeded, eventually. I've since become the resident technology sage for our small business, skimming the computing headlines, learning a trick or two; both saving the office's skin and screwing up royally more than once. I've put together about ten complete computers from scratch since, many more modifications for existing rigs. I use wholesalers NewEgg for everything I can. (They beat the daylights out of Global and TigerDirect in both price and service - I highly recommend them.)

Alongside my regular tech research, I'll occasionally check hardware price points by assembling a computer with NewEgg's catalog. Finding a performance sweet spot is a bit of a game, and after ten computers, actually throwing one together carries a certain kitchen-counter pride. I've got it down pretty well:

Homemade Desktop Computer

(Specific ingredients may vary)

1 Maxtop Mid-Tower Case
1 Epox EP-8K9AI motherboard
1 AMD Athlon XP 2600+ chip
1 KDS 15" LCD monitor
1 512MB stick 333-MHz DDRAM
2 Zalman 8mm case fans
1 Zalman CPU heat sink
1 Zalman 300W power supply
Assorted drives; Plextor CD-RW, Maxtor IDE, Mitsumi 3 1/2" Floppy
Microsoft Keyboard, Mouse and operating system

Pour glass of wine or, for nondrinkers, cup of coffee; sip throughout process.

On a static-free surface, remove motherboard from wrapping and fit with processor. Liberally apply thermal grease to processor; attach sink to processor. Shove RAM stick inside slot on motherboard. Set aside.

Pull monitor, mouse and keyboard out of respective boxes. Spend twenty-five minutes carefully peeling off tenacious sticker on top-front frame of monitor, ten more using Goo-Gone to remove residue. Set aside.

Set oven temperature to 425 degrees.

On plush carpet floor, open case. Fasten case fans in strategic locations; install power supply. Secure motherboard inside case. Punch out one 5 1/4" bay cover; slide CD-RW in cavity. Slide floppy drive in 3 1/2" cavity. Attach hard drive to interior 5 1/4" bay. Connect male ends of power supply's cable snake to female plugs of hardware pieces; connect IDE ribbons. With much care, deliberation and frustration, slowly connect case's LED and USB wires to motherboard. Double and triple-check USB wires, so as not to discover what sort of "damage" is caused to motherboard by incorrect circuit.

Think better of oven use; turn oven off.

Close case, tightly securing panels. Connect mouse, keyboard and monitor to case. Attach AC cords to case and monitor; plug cords into electrical socket.

Activate computer, install software. Marvel at affordability, ease of construction and aesthetic triumph of computer components. Season to taste with printer, scanner, webcam, palm pilot dock, joystick, speakers, system tools, multimedia programs, games, geneology applications, thousands of inbound e-mail messages, desktop themes, screen savers, funny programs from son-in-law. Serves as many as can crowd around in small, upstairs office.

Betty Crocker recipe-purchase division, I've reserved for you a special place on my answering machine. I won't even hold my breath.

I finished building the computer by the second week of December. Delivery to my parent's house and presentation under the tree were the real challenges; we're traditionalists, my family and I, and presents are kept secret until they're unwrapped. Even though my father and I had spent months writing up consists for a new computer, finding it bow-bedecked on Christmas morning was farthest from his mind.

Sneaking the computer into the spare room where I'd be staying turned out to be easy. I drove over on the afternoon of Christmas Eve with luggage and wrapped boxes in tow; all I needed to do was, with the help of my mother, make a silly fuss about running presents upstairs. Dad was back in the kitchen baking cinnamon rolls when I arrived, so he just smiled and shook his head when I closed the kitchen off from the living room behind louvered doors and made four trips - in the front door, up the stairs, down the hall, back down the stairs, out the door. I pushed the case, the monitor and a bag holding smaller accessories behind the spare room bed. My mother had left a pile of blankets for me on an endtable, so I draped one over the whole lot. They'd stay invisible until six o'clock the next morning.


The Olive Garden became our Christmas Eve dinner fare of choice more out of convenience and adequacy than attraction. Now that I've had opportunities over the last few years to really investigate some of the finer grills in the region, I can doubly attest that the Olive Garden is not where Italians go for a taste of home. The food is decent; not remarkable. Since I had the benefit of eating scallops to die for in October and mouth-watering sushi over Thanksgiving, the seafood portafino on Christmas Eve scored smack-dab in the middle of "Eh."

You want to show class to Italians? Know how to pour wine. When my grandfather was still alive, he gave some unlucky low-end restaurant waiter a sit-down primer on how to bloody well pour wine, thank you very much. I noted to my parents how the waitress poured their wine like you glub-glub out a plastic bottle of 50/50. Did she show the host the bottle, make and year of the wine he was about to drink? No. Did she uncork the bottle predicated only by his approval? No. Upon selection, did she "pour the cork" for the host and allow him to taste it? No. After his approval of its taste, did she proceed to serve wine to ladies first, then men, and then the host? No. To be fair to the girl, as I observed after the wine glub-glub-glubbing, management for this level of restaurant never knows how many dining guests would not only stare in wonderment at a waiter engaging in this strange ritual, but might protest that he "Just get on with it!" Thus, in Olive Garden, one is glub-glubbed a glass of fine wine.

And yet we go to the Olive Garden every year. Why not? We may know better about the trade, but we're not snobs. It's close, the price is right, and the food fills you up. This time, too, we could sing along with Christmas songs piped over the PA, glance outside at the tiny blizzard and sigh before gobbling another forkful.

The service at church went well. "Lessons and Carols" is another long-standing tradition, an alternation between scripture readings and carols sung by the choir, occasionally joined by the congregation. It ends on a soft singing of "Silent Night," when lights have been dimmed and candles are lit. The effect, to put it mildly, is humbling. Service ended, we said our hellos and our goodbyes, and returned home. A Christmas Carol was as powerful as it always is; Scott is a man to remember for being the American who played Scrooge better than any Englishman ever could. And soon the night had ended.

Before I had fully fallen asleep, both cats had settling at the foot of the bed. I love them dearly, but between me and the two of them, that single-size mattress didn't have much real estate to offer. They probably slept better than I did, twisted like a banana in a grade school lunchbag stuffed with a sandwich, chips, juicebox and napkins.

I shook myself awake at an early hour. I didn't check the clock, but it was close enough to six o'clock. The house was silent, and that's what mattered. I made enough of a creaking on the hallway floorboards that my parents stirred - fully prepared with an alibi, I whispered back my intention to "feed the cats." It was true enough. Those rascals might spent most of a night comatose, but at any time past four in the morning, movement towards the basement - where their food is - will rouse them. Before I was even at the foot of the basement stairs, each cat had one of my flanks. They ate their food, and I tiptoed back upstairs. In three trips, I gathered the computer's separate pieces. I set the case on the floor, the monitor and keyboard on a chair - not exactly ergonomic, but it was a fine presentation. I stuck a few adhesive bows on the monitor, keyboard and case; then stepped back.

The computer was on the far side of the tree from the stairway, so my father would need to actually move into the living room to find it. I chose that corner of the living room not only for the tactical position but for the significance; that was the spot he used when he bought me and my sister a computer in 1986, when we were so dazzled by mountains of resplendent boxes that he actually had to point it out to us. The final touch was another nod to history. Christmas morning seventeen years ago, Dad had coded a message from Santa in a simple, auto-executing batch file to play for us as the computer wound itself up. I took the gesture one step further. When my father finally laid his laugh-lined eyes on his Christmas present, the picture below is what was on the monitor:

Get my old man and his selflessness: his show of appreciation for the desktop background was to remark what a shame it'd be when the season ended, forcing a change of the desktop. Of course, I'm the kid whose eyes welled up with tears when his father told him Santa Claus wasn't real - not because the seven-year-old was hurt, but because his folks "wouldn't have anyone to pretend for any more." Ah, well then, just load it back on come mid-November. Love you, Dad.

What's really amazing about the screen I put together is that every graphic, save for the letter, came from the internet. "Desktop items," "Miracle on 34th Street," "Christmas Card," "Holly Christmas." A little sifting; voila. This would not have been possible even couple of years ago, before high-resolution graphics became more common. They're not even common today - though how long can that last? I could get used to making Google collages, you know.


I skipped a Christmas list for this year. I'd like to consider myself a simple man, and my one expensive hobby of audio recording and editing is physically complete - it won't get another dime. So these days I'd just like to see my bills and debts paid. I mentioned two things: a shoe-shine kit and a wicker basket for dirty towels. My folks were kind enough to get both, and gave me an assortment of inexpensive home items; a book on Tolkien's linguistics, a couple shirts. The prize was a gift I hadn't expected (isn't it always that way?). The label read "TO: MIKE / FROM: GRANDPA." My grandfather died in 2001, and I've already received a good number of his possessions from my grandmother. I tore the wrapping off and found myself looking at a turquoise binder, bearing this photograph and the title Giacomo Ubaldi: His Words. Inside, ringbound, were ninety-three photocopied pages'-worth of my grandfather's life.

I'd forgotten: my mother and father had driven down to New York City to visit my grandmother in her Astoria home earlier this year. Looking over some of grandpa's old things, she drew my father's attention to a stack of typewritten, loose-leaf papers. "It's your father's autobiography," she said. My father was immediately struck by a memory, decades ago, of catching Grandpa scratching notes on a memo pad.

"What are you doing, Dad?"

My grandfather smirked, leaned forward and curled his hand over the paper. He turned, straightened up, still smiling, and replied in his famous Just a Little Angel voice, "writing my memoirs."

Grandpa put out a book of his professional expertise with Elizabeth Crossman - but the story of his life, toiled on in spare moments and then stashed away?

Jack Ubaldi's story began in the 1910s with his childhood and emigration in 1918 and ended in 1976, two years after the family's favorite son - Jack's nephew, the Father Renato Piazza - died suddenly of a heart attack at 42. Renato was the sort of priest that the Catholic church needs - has always needed. Bright, effusive, musical, down-to-earth: Legend has it, a host once cordially asked Renato what he thought of a Monsignor's homily. "Oh, it was so much bullshit," he laughed. It's no wonder that Renato touched more than his share of souls.

The memoirs are a fascinating read; my grandfather was intelligent, and his insight and vocabulary go far beyond his eighth-grade education. Grandpa once told my father that as a butcher in Greenwich Village, he enjoyed a predominantly intellectual clientele; he made it a point to resist feeling resentment for their greater education and livelihood. Instead, he kept his ears open and learned everything he could from them. That decision shows in his writing.

Missing, unfortunately, are the last twenty-five years of Grandpa's life. Nonetheless, his work doesn't deserve the shelf life it led for a quarter-century. My father and I have decided to take the memoirs, edit for grammar and, because Dad has come to be the epic chronicler of the Ubaldi family, add italicized asides to stories where my father knows of perspectives from other members of the family and additional details from Grandpa himself, who for whatever reason didn't include them on paper. It will be some work, but the least a loving family can do.


My sister moved to Maryland two years ago and was wed in August of 2002, so I suppose a purist would consider Ubaldi household traditions in slight departure from the norm. Any of you out there? Well, go ahead and gloat: we're just as happy to have begun adding to our holiday routine. My sister's mother-in-law lives in Aliquippa, just outside of Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh as a reasonable - if downright asymmetrical - halfway point. It's to our advantage: only two hours, versus at least six for my sister and her husband. A two-hour trip is nice and two hour trip is short, especially you've made more journeys on the road exceeding five or six hours than not in your lifetime.

We left late Sunday morning and soon arrived, to the barking of dogs and the hugging of family, in Aliquippa. We had a nice cold lunch - punctuated by some piping-hot turkey - before retiring to the family room and beginning what may be known in future years as Christmas II.

Ever the natural accountant, my sister played Santa and duly distributed presents.

It was one of those gift exchanges where everybody makes out pretty good; I was given more than a few things I need for the apartment, as well as a few things to simply enjoy. My brother-in-law might have heard through the grapevine that my home improvement collection was hodge-podge where it wasn't left over from Christmas 1988, when my father gave me a clutch of pee-wee tools. The prize went to my sister, the Bargain Hunter - Boba Cheap? - who managed to find a decent microwave oven at Kohl's for twenty dollars. Twenty bucks, and now I can defrost, reheat, radiate and explode marshmallows with the best.

The most memorable gift, however, came before the exchange; it was spoken, unintentional, and over in ten seconds. A week before, my sister had flown to Chicago with a group of music instructor colleagues for The Midwest Clinic band and orchestra conference. At some point during the event, she explained to me, she bumped into Dr. John Laverty, Director of Bands at both mine and my sister's alma mater, Syracuse University. Laverty told her that a gaggle of Syracuse alumni was in for the conference and had planned to go out to lunch; my sister was with her own group and knew nothing of time and place. Though she ended up not going, Laverty had this bit of trivia to offer: the alumni in Chicago were a few years younger than her and he noted that they "didn't remember you, but rather your brother."

Remembered me? See, at Syracuse, I majored in fine art - not music. I was lucky enough, however, to take twenty-one credits of music courses during my junior and senior years. For most of the time, I remained a competitive - but quiet - outsider. The Setnor School of Music is totally self-contained inside Crouse College, a magnificent Romanesque building set on the head of a cliff; with brick walls, stained-glass windows and copper rooftops; filled with a small troupe of goofy, admirably single-minded musicians. The kids might be considered cliquish if they weren't so awkward.

It's an interesting lot. I never really fit in at the art school - headquartered in the Shaffer Art Building - nor really wanted to once I'd scoped the people out. Guys seemed either too stuffy (remember, my hair had begun a trek down my back in those days) or too wild for my sensibilities (I've always been straight-laced and dry). Most of the art-scoundrels were harmless, cheerful rogues like my roommate, Devin Clark. But, as with Devin, I had little in common with them or the bohemian scene on nights and weekends. Girls in the school were a peculiar slice of the university's population. Not many were much to look at. Of the few that were, I honestly can't remember one in any given art class that wasn't either taken, or unreadable, or strange, or all three. Like much of life on campus, everybody seemed to wear a game face.

Not quite so with the music students. In what can only be understood as cosmic irony, three-quarters of the girls in the halls of Crouse were attractive, and half of those were heart-poundingly beautiful for any reason imaginable. Most of the guys, in turn, looked like rejects from auditions for Jerry Lewis' The Nutty Professor. Nebbish and dorky with funny sweaters, too-short pants with white socks and boat shoes, they kept a certain charm. A good deal of them saw their bookishness pay off: well, come on, they were talented musicians. Others, spending nights and Saturdays in the immensely popular marching band, socialized their way through undergrad years to become respectable, eccentric dudes. You know, like academic musicians and band directors.

I was lucky enough to take several classes with underclassmen; I was the upperclass art guy, the fashionable mystery man with spiky hair that changed colors, earrings and a chain wallet. I suppose I'm an adequate saxophonist at the undergraduate level but, luckily, didn't do much of that, instead taking classes that required a good ear and a head for facts and reasoning - both of which are strengths. I distinguished myself musically, I'm proud to say, and as far as I know am the only non-music major in the school to have ever jumped from the first semester of diatonic sight-singing to the fourth and final semester of atonal sight-singing. Lord knows I had shoes to fill - and coattails to ride. My sister, humble, dear and hard-working, had won the hearts of Crouse's faculty when she began here, five years before anyone knew who in world I was. Nowhere else in college did I hear "Oh, you must be her brother" so many times.

But according to Laverty, I was remembered. Back in school, I did become aware of some quiet admiration in the ranks of the freshman girls. People who know me will probably protest to the contrary, but I sometimes figure that even if I were fish-eyed, bow-legged, hair-lipped, horned, fanged, stuttering and three-armed - but yet a confident senior - I'd still hear a rumor about a bunch of girls telling the one who sat next to me in History of Music II how lucky she was.

So I was remembered. To think I'd called my sister before she left for Chicago, giving her instructions to pop one of those Crouse girls - a daffy tease with a heart of bronze - in the nose if she bumped into her.

Remembered. In the cap slides the feather. Move on, left foot first.


By the time we finished unwrapping gifts, my sister's and her husband's dogs - a stout, male black lab and a spindly, female yellow lab puppy - settled down before finally sprawling on the floor for a nap. They matched each other, dead to the world, there, contorted like synchronized swimmers caught in midstroke. My cats from childhood pull those stunts all the time. Really, there must be some qualifying course in Potential Cute Pet School - Look Darling More than Half of the Time 401 or something. Special credit goes to students who choreograph said cuteness with the closest available animal, preferably one of the same species and opposite gender, to end up looking like bookends. How many boy-and-girl or brother-and-sister pet duos do you suspect have been given the respective names of Fred and Ginger?

The wonderful afternoon, tearing open presents and stuffing ourselves with goodies, came to an end. As my folks and I drove down the city's main road to the interstate, I caught something I'd missed before: Aliquippa is a shining example of the settler beating nature. I looked out my window across the valley that held the town, and for the few seconds that I took in the view nearly every building seemed to be a square, smallish house with cream-colored siding and russet shingles; they were packed into the valley, and then dotted the ascending side of the next hill. It was torn off the corrugated cardboard backdrop of an Italian villa somebody had painted for a performance of Much Ado About Nothing many summers ago. Pennsylvania, hilly land of wine and romance. Beautiful. I wondered for a moment why this was the first sighting in three or four visits - then I understood. Traveling towards the house each time, I had sat in the front passenger seat, opposite the valley; from, it was always nighttime. Or maybe I was too busy watching overhanging signs for the patchwork of businesses lining the main street. Smiley's Tire Repair. Aliquippa Croatian Club. Wine and romance.

We returned to Cleveland by five-thirty. While I packed, my folks scraped together dinner from the afternoon lunch's leftovers. I skipped - and believe you me, it'll take more than one light meal and after-dinner walk to lighten the impact of this holiday's cheery gluttony. Then we unwrapped my sister's gift of The Sound of Music and dropped the disc in the DVD player.

Odd, but the very night before ABC broadcast the film, no cuts (how's that for class?). We stopped about three-fifths of the way through, right before the dinner scene, because my folks were scheduled to play guitar mass at their parish early the next morning - just an hour before departure time for Pittsburgh. Maybe next year. And then Meg went and gave Mom a restored-score, crystal-clear, colors-as-bright-as-day-one DVD. It's one of those instances where God is peeking over the clouds, when he elbows J.C., grinning. "Hot damn!" Then he leans over a bit and puts his hand to the side of his mouth, yelling. "Okay, Holy Ghost, let 'er rip!" Holy Ghost shouts back, "You got it, Mac!" and wonderful things happen.

Did I say that 1776 is the only musical I enjoy? I lied. When I was a kid, I understood The Sound of Music to be classic, catchy and well-performed; but I always had better things to do/toys to play with if the Christmas staple was on. Not my scene. Until I was about twelve, I'd always quietly wish that every Twentieth Century Fox opening sequence would be followed by a Lucasfilm Production plate. Cue stars and all-caps, receding adventure intro in yellow font. It wasn't until the May after my first year of college that I finally found myself sucked into the genius of Rogers and Hammerstein, attending opening night for my high school friends' production. The play was finally personalized.

One friend, Ed, directed lighting, and one worked under him. One friend played Elsa Schraeder while her brother, the lucky understudy who came forward when the lead bailed, played Captain von Trapp, and promptly became unluckily compromised when it came time for their characters to lock lips. Ever see two actors giggle nervously, along with half the audience, before they furtively peck the others' cheek? A rare gift. Another friend, none other than OX, was a foreman for the stage crew. His major contribution to the project was to coerce his willing subordinates, during dress rehearsal, into activating an inexplicably light-trimmed evergreen standup tree that sat in the background of the climactic abbey cemetary scene.

Goes the legend: "Does the extension cord reach the outlet?" he asks, slyly. Yes, squeals a minion. He pauses, smiles. "Plug it in."

Another friend, Nicole, then in her Cute Little Punk Rock Girl phase, played Frau Schmidt. Short and elfin, she's always been weirdly matronly - perfect fit. Rolf Gruber was picture-perfect pre-pubescent, with a correctly unconvincing "Sieg Heil!" Of course, that awful phrase is best uttered unconvincingly. The nuns were all played by a buxom bunch of girls who, powerful voices notwithstanding, probably didn't belong anywhere near habits. But looking back, it worked. So did Maria - nice girl, pretty voice. Kids were bused in for the von Trapp family and the school orchestra, which normally sounded quite like a warped 45-RPM record played at 33, did a bang-up job. Wonderful fun, and I ended the evening by crashing a joyous, clean-cut cast party.

Wherever those memories didn't exactly translate into my appreciation for the musical, my music credits taken in college split the difference. And what an experience today! If "Climb Every Mountain" doesn't make you at least consider dissolving into tears, either you've spent quality time on a morgue drawer or you wouldn't know good cinema if it hit you like an Oscar dropped twelve stories. And then there's Julie Andrews; gorgeous, pug-nosed, fire-haired Julie Andrews. Just put SOB out of your mind and she's forever an angel.

The holiday finished as I would have liked it to, and the way every one should - poetically. Once in my apartment's parking lot, I took three trips from the car to schlep the first batch of loot. As I walked outside for the second one, I took a look at the sky: fairly clear, stars out.

Two nights ago, at about one o'clock in the morning when I returned from a night with Ed, Paul and OX, I glanced upward before slipping inside. The air was cold, almost a bitter cold; in two months this was easily the crispest all season. It made a difference above the horizon: I haven't seen a sharper, darker, more star-strewn sky in years. The constellations didn't twinkle. They sang with light. No squinting required to discern spectral type (you know, star class, "Oh, Be a Fine Girl, Kiss Me"), colors that night as solid and varied as Christmas lights. All that was missing was a levitating, green-on-yellow GE label. Well - maybe not quite. But to the naked eye Betelgeuse was red and Pollux was orangish; Rigel was blue.

On Sunday night humidity had crept into the air, blurring the heavens, but the sight was nearly as stunning. Besides, the moment had something extra: as I reached the car, the long-long-short-long horn blasts of an east-west freight train some five miles south were sounding. Underneath it, the oddly soothing rumble of the interstate. Not a bad epilogue to chase a holiday. Living days like these, I've always wondered how some people manage not to become romantics. And finally, those familiar words of mine: This was the best Christmas ever - until next year.

Michael Ubaldi, December 26, 2003.

Christmas came; presents were under the tree, family gathered, fun was had. Looney Tunes, by way of said presents, were watched. Blogging was, perhaps wisely, skipped. Four inches of snow had fallen on Christmas Eve - it's still on the ground, cars, the trees and houses, and just as beautiful. I'll tell more later.

Michael Ubaldi, December 23, 2003.

I'm the last one in the office - as usual? - but soon to make my own exit. I'll stop by the 'Bucks for some office coffee, circle back to drop it off; and then it's on to beginning the Christmas traditions. Dinner with family, followed by a possible gathering of friends tonight; snow is back in the forecast, so a white Christmas is, to my delight, near certain. Consider this my first suggestion that all of you have one heck of a merry one!

Michael Ubaldi, December 17, 2003.

Cleveland's forecast for a white Christmas has been fluctuating between admirable snowfall and rainy, close-but-not-quite-there weather. Monday prospects were grim; yesterday, December 25th was set back on track; today, low forties and rain are looking to herald the holiday. My city, while geographically a part of Northeast Ohio, doesn't usually benefit from lake-effect snows - winds tend to push southeast rather than due south (though Christmas of 1998 or 1999 was a white one exactly because of those latter winds aloft).

I've seen more green Christmases than white. Memory has always served as a nice pair of rose-colored glasses, especially for holidays, and so my recollection of those warmer years tends to exclude the lack of snow. One Christmas morning about eighteen or nineteen years ago where my sister and I bounded into my folks' bedroom, only to be told to peek out their front window. We went, and while I do remember looking down and seeing ground as green and dry as a March morning, I looked up and saw two lights hanging in the sky. One was green and one was red - probably jets moving in quickly on Cleveland Hopkins' Runway 10, but in that moment while they lazily sidled across the blackness, my sister and I just knew that we had caught sight of Santa's sleigh. (Where he was going, east no less, is beyond me. Remember, this is the generously overweight man who slips down millions of chimneys, not to mention flies by benefit of airborne cervidae. Magic, I tell you!)

I'm easy to please during this season; a combination of happy memories and holiday spirit have always filled in the empty (or green) spots. But not needing to imagine tufts of snow on the ground, blowing from house to house, as seen from inside, behind a twinkling Christmas tree - this is what I prefer. For next year's Christmas list, I should just go ahead and scratch that one in at the top.

The powers that be may oblige, too. Behind me, today's snows have begun. More's the better.

Michael Ubaldi, December 14, 2003.

Before my Saddam-capture wakeup call this morning, I knew I was already in for a treat: waking up in the middle of the night, I looked out the window to see a gauzy, white haze. Snow! Thanksgiving's present was followed by another storm; both melted from a temperature ridge about a week later, but over the past three days Northern Ohioans have watched flakes drop in short sputters of flurries. Last night, of course, a considerable shower moved past, leaving my locality with about four inches. That vanguard has been followed by several waves, the last of which is passing through - its snow drifting by my window - as I type.

The view? It's beautiful. I can now clearly see undulations of the valley to my southeast; though the wind faces of deciduous trees, mostly maple, are caked with white, evergreens are memorably recognizable by their heavily laden boughs. The sky, overcast and low-hanging, is only two or three shades darker than the snow - perfect, as when it's snowing I prefer clouds to sun.

I took a few pictures. With a little luck of the lens, they'll be windows into the moments and impressions of today - freshly fallen snow, its serenity, the undeniable feeling of a wintry Christmas.

Michael Ubaldi, December 5, 2003.

So spake a Toro commercial's voiceover on the radio today.

I love it. Who would choose to drive to lunch and go through the tasks of wiping off the car, defogging and heating it before driving on slushy roads through steady snow showers - keeping five miles per hour below the speed limit except when behind plow trucks, in which case ten miles per hour? I would. My only regret is that I lack a carry-around digital camera.

Tomorrow morning I'll be going tree-hunting with the family down south, in what will probably be the most seasonable weather since Christmas 1982. And yes, you're damn straight that I remember.

Michael Ubaldi, November 28, 2003.

I'm a sucker for White Thanksgivings - but then, any day with snow after Halloween is fine with me, a dedicated subscriber to the Calvin & Hobbes motto of No green for at least five months out of the year. Cleveland's record for snowy Thanksgivings is poor, which made last year's winter extravaganza ever more dazzling. So you'll understand how yesterday's weather here, cold but not cold enough to freeze the incessant drizzle, wasn't exactly a prizewinner. I suppose I can't complain, though; it was seasonal.

But as I prepared to leave my folks' house about half an hour ago - my sis had flown in from Maryland and the family spent the day together, culminating in a brief-but-wacky game of Monopoly - I heard my name being called from the front of the house. "Mike! Mike! Come look!"

I glanced out the kitchen window into the backyard - that yard didn't look as dark as it should've. Snow!

I raced to the front door, my parents bookends. Blades of grass still poked through the inch and a half or so that had fallen already, but the airborne, white cascades and the wind bearing them showed some vigor. This wasn't a storm - but damn near close enough. I turned to look at my PT on the driveway, blanched as Herbie. Grinning madly, I slapped on my sweater, coat, hat and gloves; walked out to the car and gave the motor a head start while I brushed snow from the windows. I set arrangements for breakfast in the morning before bidding my folks a good night. Then I scuttled out of the neighborhood's snow-slicked roads with a requisite fishtail - just one or two every year - to settle back into the winter-driver's groove.

I'll admit: I took as many backroads as I could, then made a left onto one of our main streets. By then the snow had turned to a staggered rhythm of brisk squalls; Black Friday traffic, of course, pretty high even for nine o'clock at night. Barely out of the driveway, my wipers were still a bit frozen, so the windshield would actually blur on every backstroke. Once that shook out, I had to crank up the defogger to better gauge oncoming traffic for that high-stakes left turn. And then the game of picking out lanes from beneath a half-inch of frozen, white slush while keeping respectable pace traffic.

The view from my apartment is stirring - snow is snow and I love it all, but there's always a touch to that first one of the season. I just looked out the balcony window again and it's still coming down generously. The grass is gone. The weatherman's put out an advisory. Two to four inches by the morning. Really, from the cold to the driving to the sight, I love it all. Don't call me crazy - call me born for the climate.

Michael Ubaldi, November 14, 2003.

Ethnicity described through facial features has always fascinated me - just a little more scientific inclination and I could have been a physical anthropologist. As are many passions, mine was encouraged by curiousity about my own heritage. Sure, on paper, I'm one half Northern Italian and the other Sicilian, second-and-one-half generation; but with such rich, heterogeneous roots between both families I've been unwilling to limit my understanding to the general regions in question.

And, more importantly, I've never exactly considered myself a picture-perfect Italian - and certainly not what you'd expect from a Sicilian. Most people wouldn't care but for me, it's a sort of paradox: I'm drawn to physical ethnicity and my own happens to be a bit of a mystery, therefore I'm drawn to study it even more. The platinum-blond shock of hair I had as a kid has long since darkened to brown, but my skin is hardly a shade apart from that of most Northern Europeans and my eyes are blue. An acquaintance once commented that I do have a "statuesque" face like a Roman bust - in other words angular, complete with cleft chin, high cheekbones and a square jaw - but my nose is only faintly Mediterranean. It's not the honker you'd expect on a guy with a vowel on the end of his last name; really, I've seen more beak on Black Irish and Welsh. And though my scalp and beard are thick, my beard is patchy - and when was the last time you heard of an appeciably full-blooded Italian who couldn't grow a beard?

Though recessive genes from my mother were required, I obviously inherited the lightness from my father. The Ubaldis are from Perugia - and possibly descended from some serious canonical nobility - while my grandmother's side can trace ancestors to the Piedmont region near Switzerland. Folks got in, as they say, over the fence. That may have been the case with the Ubaldis, as well: you can see that my grandfather's father was well over six foot with girth to match, not exactly a typical pizan. There's another picture of him - damnably, I haven't seen it in years - that's more instructive, as he remarkably resembled the German brute tangling with Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. How does that translate to looks? I hate a stereotype, but let me put it this way: if my father and I walked down the street on a Saturday wearing yarmulkas, nobody'd think twice. Dad grew up in Queens; when he studied at Syracuse University in the late 1960s, between his accent and looks, more than one person thought he was Jewish. Then again, my mother insists that in one photograph taken for his collegiate fencing team he looks Chinese. Take your pick.

My mother's family is from Sicily. Agrigento. Not too dark, but only people with their glasses off might not make the Mediterranean connection. Easy enough, right? Wrong. The place has spent the last 2,500 years as civilization's hard-knocks LEGO set. Build it up, break it down, pass ownership to the guy who just gave you a black eye. Watch him build. Sucker-punch him, take it back. Build again. And so forth:

The site upon which Agrigento was constructed has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but it was not until about 580 BC that a group of people from Gela, originally from Rhodes and Crete, decided to found Akragas, taking its name from one of the two rivers which confine the city...The city reached its height under the tyrant Theron (488-472 BC).

...The philosopher Empedocles (c492-c432 BC) advocated a moderate form of democracy which lasted for some time. In 406 BC, Akragas suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Carthaginians, who destroyed it. It was rebuilt in the second half of the 4C BC by Timoleon, a mercenary general from Corinth engaged in the fight against the Carthaginians in Sicily. It was at this time that the Greco-Roman quarter was built.

...In 210 BC, Akragas was besieged by the Romans. They conquered the city and changed its name to Agrigentum.

Vicissitudes of Girgenti – With the fall of the Roman Empire, the city passed first to the Byzantines, then into Arab hands (9C). They built a new town centre higher up (at the heart of the modern town), calling it Girgenti – this lasted until 1927, when its Latin name was restored – which became the capital of the Berber kingdom. In 1087, the town was conquered by the Normans, prompting a new phase of prosperity and power which also enabled it to repel the frequent attacks of the Saracens.

Assuming that each party involved managed to leave a few representatives throughout the series of violent transfers of power, I've got Greek, Carthagian, Roman, Berber and Gallic blood in me. Probably not enough French for a propensity to appease dictators, either. Not bad.

But theories are much of what make up my knowledge of ancestry. Modern recordkeeping is just that: modern. My father's father went back to Italy in 1948 and could only trace our lineage about 150 years; before that, the Church kept records and my grandfather couldn't read Latin. Nobody has made inquiries on my mother's side. I actually happened to take two classes under the above-linked professor, Kenneth Pennington, when he taught at Syracuse. His answer to the origins of the Ubaldis? "Speculative fancy," before you go very far. And it doesn't help one's burning curiousity to know that a Parisian friend of my sister's - whom she met several years ago when the girl was on co-op in Cleveland - has the surname "Obaldia."

Sometimes I feel a pang of jealousy for someone able to say that they're "Irish. Dublin. Lived there all the way back to when we beat each other with tree trunks." There's a comfort to that kind of certainty. But it wouldn't be nearly as interesting if it weren't this way, would it?

Michael Ubaldi, October 22, 2003.

Two round trips to Albany are on the record books. For lack of chronology, I'll present in bullet form:

  • Friday's drive up to Albany was pleasant, if overcast. Seven-and-a-half hours, all thanks to absolutely no traffic or delays on the way. I remember well my days in Syracuse; winters of grey skies and lake-effect snow stretched from mid-October to mid-April. Paul and I weren't chased by squalls as we were last year, thankfully; the temperature remained well above freezing and by the time we neared the Hudson, most of the cloud cover had lifted.
  • Though as a kid I begged for an Atari and begged my childhood friend Mark to play on his brand-new Nintendo as often as possible, the console game lost its appeal to me over the years. Sure, they're fun; but the provision of game styles is limited to the minimalism of the control pad and the attention span of the console gaming market demographics. Most games - most popular, easy-to-find games, anyway - are combat-based, real-time action. Bread-and-butter computer functions like word processing and internet skirting are a stretch. I know from experience that kind of entertainment wears on me quickly. Good for parties; not so good for sitting at home, looking for something to occupy the time. Would I want to invest several hundred dollars in equipment and titles for something that doesn't necessarily excite me?

    Since I last saw Ed, however, he'd bought Microsoft's XBox. He also happens to own two games that, white-knuckled action overloads as they may be, were outstanding. The first is MechAssault. Transforming robots have fascinated me since the old days of Robotech, and I was a fan of the Battletech board and roleplaying games. Thirty-foot-tall, humanoid armored behemoths crashing through imaginary, evacuated cities to tear eachother apart has a certain carthartic appeal to it - not unlike a futuristic, virtual urban rugby. We played cooperatively the whole time, and enjoyed every minute of it.

    The second game is called Halo. Now, Sergeant Stryker had mentioned "Halo" and "Projector" in the same sentence some time ago. I thought Halo was another Rainbow Six; those sorts of games are too realistic and a little dry to me. But Halo is, in fact, a creation of the Bungie game developers, authors of the classic sci-fi shoot-em-up Marathon 2: Durandal, the best game I never owned (but played as much as I could). How do I explain the appeal of playing a cybernetic space marine battling idiosyncratic, stylish, goofy-but-deadly aliens with marine comrades, all manner of strategic posers and equipment/vehicle piloting potential? It's a matter of taste, I think; I'll just let that last sentence stand alone. In any case, it'd be a wonderful time to play one player; teaming up with Ed for a few hours was an over-the-top good time - and one played well into the wee hours of Sunday.

    It was a blast. On the trip home, a stop at McDonald's afforded me a couple of game pieces from their annual Monopoly sweepstakes. What will Baltic and Mediterranean Avenue win you? An XBox. I have Baltic. And a logistical-cum-ethical debate raging inside my head on the subject of XBox acquisition. I'm busy enough outside of work, happily, to fairly well settle this on the side of leaving the console fun to dedicated gamers like Ed.

  • I visited. I dined. I ate the best restaurant meal in at least five years. The Albany Pump Station is a gigantic, brick industrial building converted to a bar-and-grill. For a cavernous, somewhat drafty place, the two-story restaurant had a cozy feeling when packed with crowds on Saturday night. Waiting an hour to be seated was only a testament to the Pump Station's popularity; once sitting with menus in hand, our meal came swiftly. Ed, Paul and I took the liberty of ordering fried calamari for an appetizer - we'd eaten the same dish at another restaurant the night before and wished to compare. The Pump Station's calamari - less breading, more tender and sitting on top of a fresh sauce - won without a fight.

    My main course will probably be considered a watershed event in my culinary diary. Growing up, my household was not a place for seafood. My father's father was a butcher, so dinner came straight from the store; and my mother's mother's dislike for consuming creatures from the deep prevented them - much to my grandfather's quiet dismay - from ending up on the dinner table. Neither of my parents, therefore, is either accustomed to cooking it (my mother occasionally prepares fresh fish, but only occasionally) or eating it (given a choice, Dad will go for steak any day of the week.) Ocean dishes are, in all of cooking, the most difficult to which one can grow accustomed if a childhood acclamation is lacking. (And I admit that homogenized fishsticks, despised by fishermen and other learned palates but my favorite, don't count. With these, it's impossible to even tell brands apart.)
    So the tradition continued through my sister and I - but my sister's husband, as fate would turn things, eats and fishes for seafood so naturally and eagerly that he deserves gills. So she's quickly converting.

    I'll probably be a more difficult case, though not an impossible one. Two years ago, I tore apart a boiled lobster - trust me, it's a Herculean challenge for a landlubber - and ate the little pockets of gooey, green mush that, at an earlier point in the lobster's existence, would have been considered its nervous system. Visiting my sister and brother-in-law this April, I ate a crab cake for the first time; delicious, though the insubstantial nature of the meat was puzzling to both my mouth and my stomach. And on account of "That damned fishy smell," I had to pass on some shrimp at dinner the next day.

    But, as an adult, I'm usually eager to explore at the dinner table; Saturday was no different. After the calamari and some pepper-bread came my main course: Scallops Casino. From what I understand, they were bay scallops: white, large, tender. They sat in a platter with garnishes and a sweet sauce. I tried the first one - it went down like butter. And so did every other scallop in front of me, right down to the last one. I've eaten scallops before, and on most occasions they've been slightly chewy or, worse, rubbery. Not this time. Remember Bill Murray's dinner table performance in What About Bob? I was easily on par. Thankfully, Ed and Paul understood.

    I'll be ordering seafood more often in the future.

  • Because weather was overcast for most of the weekend, Paul, Ed and I only managed to scramble out to downtown Albany for some photography Sunday afternoon. We had about thirty minutes before the sun slipped behind clouds to the west - but I snapped enough to be of interest on my (photo?) site. More to come.
  • Expecting to simply be interviewed by my city council for an appointed position shortly after arriving home from the nine-hour return trip, I found an information packet - mailed from the city - leaning against my apartment door, and a ringing phone once inside. On the line was the clerk of the commission I was to join. Protests regarding questions for a fire department Lieutenant's Exam had been filed; a quorum for a public session was needed - that meant me, that very evening. The Mayor had since discovered that he could appoint me directly, no legislature included. So only minutes before I offered a few "Yes" votes and many more "Abstains" on material I'd had less than an hour to look over, I raised my right hand and took an oath of office to be officially appointed to the North Olmsted Civil Service Commission. Why was I appointed? Ability and interest, I suppose. Or someone must have told them about my little maneuver at the Battle of Taanab.

    Michael Ubaldi, October 16, 2003.

    I will be out of town for the next four days on the second annual Albany Excursion, where I will assume the title of Straßekommandant and drive myself, my friend Paul and our respective luggage and photography gear to the home of our mutual high school buddy, Ed. Last year's trip was a blast. The weekend was wall-to-wall wintery Central New York, lots and lots of Playstation gaming, an animé feature or two, shooting the breeze, Albany public attractions and restaurants crawling with good-looking college girls.

    This year we tried to assemble a summer plan but a third-party meetingplace with Paul and Ed's mutual college friend in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania fell through several times until the end of August, at which point I decided that we'd try a repeat performance for the fall - only a little bit earlier, so we could catch the fiery end to deciduous leaves' reign. As we went at the very beginning of November last year, it's obvious how great a difference two weeks make; looking out the window now I see more trees that are still largely green or light yellow than reddish-orange or bare. New York State's winter always a week or two in advance of Ohio's, we may have managed to put ourselves on the road just at the height of the colors. Paul's a professional photographer, Ed and I are semi-active amateurs - so we're duly equipped and more than eager to catch the sights. The drive to Albany is two-thirds the same road I used to drive with my father to Syracuse University - the New York Thruway on Interstate 90. It's straight, easy, unerring and God-awful boring. Forests, however, line the highway on the west side of the state and become mountainous and even more picturesque as one nears New England. Paul and I will be leaving a bit early tomorrow morning to account for any time we spend hopping out of the car and taking a snapshot or two - a fun pastime we finally began last weekend in rural country half and hour west of Cleveland. Which brings me to my next item.

    Every now and then I mumble about a photo weblog - sit back down, it's not ready. I haven't even started a Movable Type frame. But last weekend's shoot only added to the number of interesting photographs I've accumulated over the last few months. A few of you have expressed quite an interest in seeing my footage, so in the spirit of a possibly film-heavy weekend and as a nod to the photoblog-to-be, I have five thunderstorm photographs I shot from my southern-facing balcony in late June (as a good read will show, I am fascinated by clouds and meteorology in general):

    Over the past weeks I've been taking faux-panoramic shots of my balcony's view of the valley as the trees turn. As snow falls this winter I'll capture the ice-glistening trees and hefty drifts - always a favorite. When spring arrives I may do well to walk about and catch close-ups of tulips and other early bloomers. Then back to the thunderstorms come May and June.

    I'll tell you all about the trip when I return - and, even though Ed's a Mac sort of guy, I'm more than likely to pop on early in the morning while the other guys are sleeping off their beers to opine in an HTML-kind-of-way.

    The Straßekommandant is off to a dinner invite, then to purchase a long-overdue fall-winter coat; then packing. I stand, somewhat pictorially analogous to Washington crossing the Delaware, minus the boat and period costume, pointing (even though he, you know, isn't in the painting); determined. To Albany!

    Michael Ubaldi, August 20, 2003.

    Leave it to peaceful disruptions to bring about a welcome change of pace. When the electricity went dead on Thursday afternoon I made straight for my parents’ house, spent three hours with them and then left to reconcile my own home. I pulled into my apartment building’s parking lot to find it buzzing with tenants who would have nothing of dark, stifling hot rooms. It was the group of two girls and a fellow chatting on a tarp next to someone’s car that started me thinking about getting out and enjoying the sunny evening. Scaling the stairs under emergency lights, I ducked in my apartment to drop off my dress jacket and workbag before resisting a few electric habits. No phone messages, gone if there were any. Everything in the fridge was slowly warming, I knew that; no need to make sure. The television was dead. I actually caught myself turning towards the computer room to hit the internet and check headlines.

    I needed to get out.

    Bounding back down the stairs, I made my way around the building.. A walk was what I needed - but not a normal walk. Since May I’ve been making off-and-on jaunts inside a tiny subdivision consisting of an oval and an outlet; the houses are vintage 1950s and impeccably maintained. It’s long enough for exercise, short enough for a twilight stroll. But like I said, I didn’t want the usual. A three-way intersection sits to the east of my apartment, beyond it a forested valley. The north-south main road is busy and generally boring; the eastbound break-off is a road I know well by name but not experience, having lived on the other side of town all my life (no need for a shortcut that’s out of my way). It’s old, long and functionally rural - perfect. It was only seven-thirty so I had light to count on. I crossed the main road and began my walk along the north shoulder of the eastbound; grass where it wasn’t gravel.

    Houses were rustic; most of them unique, having been built by their first owners. Lots to the north were short in front but made for gigantic backyards extending a couple hundred feet to sidle up against the interstate. It was the kind of big yard you remember from childhood, return to as an adult and confirm that yes, it really was that enormous.

    I walked for fifteen minutes when I found, smack dab among this repetition, a giant, empty lot. There it was: a patch of trees and foliage wedged like a sylvan keystone between miles of developed land, the street to the south and the interstate to the north. No rhyme or reason as to why the city, now nearing a satisfying build-out, had missed this green tuft for decades. Curse? Lazy tenants whose house had been swallowed up by woods? Good tenants who happened to be the Three Bears? Preservation, perhaps: one of the few pockets of certified boondock the state of Ohio managed to squirrel away before the despoiling wrath of Big 20th Century Industrial and Urban Development knocked down trees and gave everyone paved roads, heat and running water. I couldn’t tell, only to see for certain that it was a dense forest. I’ll make an inquiry with the zoning board.

    Further down was another oddity: two stunted, half-streets jutting from the main road. They both ran the length of lots to either side of me - but a few hundred feet doesn’t provide for many houses. You could find more people on a metro bus than either street’s block party. Stranger still, though they met at the same intersection the two streets’ construction intent couldn’t have been more different. The north street had no more than ten older, smaller, cheaper, haphazard houses before its unsightly dead end; the south street inclined and curved as it crept up a rise in front of the valley, lined with healthily six-figured homes. Two inquiries with the zoning board.

    After several more minutes of walking the treelines closed in from either side while the road hugged a hill, dipping and rising and dipping again. Then it split off to a southbound road that dropped into the valley, a wing of the Cleveland Metroparks, and the local water treatment plant - the latter invisible from where I stood, so my nose succeeded where my eyes couldn’t. As the fumes became faint the road rose again, and trees cleared. The sight was nothing special - broad front yards, electrical lines slung on poles tracking a winding road, cars passing every few minutes or so, the darkening eastern horizon as it neared sunset on an August evening - but it flipped a switch in my mind.

    Now, most of us are occasionally socked with memories when returning to a familiar place, and déjà vu when we can’t pin down what we’re supposed to remember. I’d only begun to drive down this road each day from the apartment and before that night, I had never walked it - I knew I had no memories of this place. Instead, the moment was Grand Central Station for a crossing barrage of hot summer evenings over the years. It took me back to Indiana, visiting the Nielsens seventeen years ago; Michigan, at the house my grandparents left recently; with my family at camps and resorts in southern Ohio; Pennsylvania, visiting old neighbors; in Kentucky with my OM team, while we waited on our van’s repair with a congratulatory six-pack for the auto mechanics; University of Tennessee, winning first place in all categories, walking back to the dormitory with our trophy and humming “Auld Lang Syne” over and over through a kazoo while OX smoked a cigar. Take a stack of papers that have spent ages in the attic and fling them around the room; pick each one up and read it before neatly filing them all away. That’s what it was like, over in another instant. Back to earth.

    I’d gone about two miles when the valley and forest receded; there, lots south of the road ran flat and deep. A ranch was on that side, with acreage in front and buildings behind, a fence stretching for about an sixth of a mile along the road. The place was obviously an attraction: atop a ten-foot tall motte sat a brightly painted oxcart, while further back a carriage rested in the middle of a corral (by day you can see horses as you speed past in a car). A large sign, bearing the design of official municipal business, sprang from the side of the road next to the ranch’s long driveway. “Parker Ranch,” it read in large letters, below that a paragraph I couldn’t make out from where I was.

    On the north side of the street, where I stood, a wary Malamute chained to a house next door had begun yapping at me. Between a certain disaffection with being barked at and a pang of curiosity for the story of Parker Ranch, I gave it a “What the hell,” crossed the street and stepped up to the sign.

    PARKER RANCH. ADELE VON OHL PARKER. She was a daring stunt rider for Buffalo Bill before the Great Depression tossed her out of a job, the sign explained. Eventually settling outside of Cleveland to found the ranch to my right, Adele taught riding lessons to local youths and saw many a famous face stop by her equally well-known establishment. Gene Autrey was one; another was a circus owner who let his elephants “bathe in the Rocky River.” In 1969, the legend who was Adele von Ohl Parker passed on. Her legacy, concluded the sign, lives from by the preservative grace of Ohio's historical presentation society: horses, carriages and all.

    Ms. Parker will always be ridin’ with us - giddyap!

    That spot right in front of the Parker Ranch worked as the perfect waypoint for my stroll. Figuring the amount of time I’d taken to walk down, I had enough light left to return to the intersection in front of the apartment, turn, and finish the evening with a lap around the subdivision. So I went back the way I came, taking to the south side of the street once it provided enough shoulder on which to walk. I passed the hills, the half-street offshoots; the big lots and the empty lots.

    Halfway back, I saw a boy of about twelve riding his bike towards me, furiously negotiating the edge of the pavement. Gravel, as we all discover in childhood, is the bane of bicycle tires, elbows and knees - and from the grimace on his face the risk of wiping out was, to him, halfway between a game and an obsession. I seldom have anything useful to say to kids, let alone when I’m about to break their concentration, so I kept eyes forward and let the daredevil’s show go on.

    He zoomed past, revealing a middle-aged woman across the street and four or five houses down, shaking a tablecloth at the end of her driveway. I’d walked by the house on first leg of the stroll; was it the one with a family barbequing out back? It might have been; a couple of children, fresh from dinner, buzzed about near her.

    She was largish and dark haired, and looked like a dozen women I’ve known over the years; friend’s mothers and my mother’s friends. The classic “somebody’s mom.” Continuing to shake the tablecloth, she turned slowly with me, watching out of the corner of her eye. Even from sixty feet away, her body language was obvious as I approached: she was about to say something.

    Five, four, three, two -

    “Did they make you walk home from work?” she smiled.

    Big grin. I hadn’t expected that.

    But I should have. The slacks, the leather shoes, dress shirt and tie; sweating from the heat and traipsing my way through gravel on the side of the road. I looked like I’d stepped out of the Disney made-for-television production of Death of a Salesman, where, you know, Willy Loman’s rear left wheel snags, mid-tragedy, on some raveled asphalt. He doesn’t drive off the cliff but instead leaves his suitcase and vanity in the car; trudges home; kisses his wife; releases Biff and Happy from their life sentences as painfully symbolic, one-dimensional supporting characters; cleans up; then goes ahead and gets ordained a few years later. At least I think it ends like that.

    “Nah. I’m doing this out of my own free will. These kinds of days let us enjoy things we never would otherwise, you know,” I called back. I’ve got to be in a certain mood to follow one-liners and set up for the cymbal crash. Caught off-guard, I opt for lighthearted philosophy - but it usually works just as well.

    She smiled again and turned back to finish with the tablecloth. I passed the house, beaming.

    Walking the final several hundred paces on the country road proved to be a startling education in what a difference forty-odd feet make to the perception of a landscape. The south side of the road turned out to be a country diorama. Not a minute after passing the woman, I looked down to the left of the sidewalk to see deep, wide, weeks-old tractor tracks in dried mud and torn grass; points scored, I hadn’t seen anything like that in a while.

    Next came a funny little brick house, its architecture somewhere between 1957 and 1958 Guy Williams Zorro. Plastic adobe façades, tall windows with display vases; all stuck on a ranch that couldn’t have been larger than the combined family room and kitchen of your standard mid-1960s colonial. The log-fence-enclosed sideyard - a “sideyard” because, of course, the ground behind the house abruptly fell away into the valley - stopped me in my tracks and I stood there for a minute, gaping in awe. A tiny shed stood at the house’s side; to the right of that was a brick-inlaid fountain with a circular, limestone base; a concrete-and-brick love bench behind the fountain; at the far corner of the lot, a jaw-dropping, brick gazebo just large enough to enclose an avid gardener as he tended to whatever ivy-like plants hung from the latticework. All of these things were connected by a narrow, winding, cut stone path.

    I managed to squeak out a “Wow,” and moved off.

    Roadkill some fifty feet beyond. Old, sunburnt, only slightly identifiable. It didn’t even stink, it was so dead. Nature’s welcome mat. A country staple.

    Finally arriving at the intersection, I went for a lap around the Atomic Family subdivision. As I expected, it was unremarkable. Relaxing, yes; a good end to the walk, without a doubt. But I wouldn’t have invested two hours whipping around and around and around the oval - nor would I put pen to paper about it. In fact, that’s exactly what I did the moment I stepped from the bright hallway into pitch black. Water was out and I quickly drained my warmed pitcher; the apartment had been set to Bake. With a flashlight, I ambled out onto the balcony and scribbled down notes in a legal pad. Still reeling from the temperature inside, I dripped sweat to dot the page, resulting in some very interesting margin formations.

    Adversity, my father jokes, prepares you for the important things in life: more adversity. What a perfect evening. Here’s to inconveniences like that one!

    Michael Ubaldi, July 27, 2003.

    Fantasia on a Theme By Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams is by far the easiest way to draw tears from me.

    Michael Ubaldi, July 14, 2003.

    I dropped by the folks' house after work this evening; it's my father's 54th birthday and the second anniversary of my grandfather's passing. The first we celebrated loudly, the second observed in our hearts. My old man and I started a word-gag joke about a broommaker and kept it going, volley after volley after volley. I love my parents.

    My Animals compilation thumped bluesily through the car stereo to and from. On the way back, my foot was heavy and the night air was thin; so off I went, showering blurred houses with loud music from a hurtling, woodsided buggy. If I had a pompadour, Brylcreem, a comb, a switchblade, shirtsleeve smokes, a can of Tobias Wolff's Gorilla Blood and a bad attitude - well, then, I'd have been something.

    Michael Ubaldi, June 28, 2003.

    Though I was considering an immersion into my "freedom and culture" essay, between Thursday, yesterday and today this has definitely turned out to be an educational audio-visual weekend. It's relaxing, it's low-budget and it's something I'd never really done before I set out on my own.

    Thursday night I rented and watched The City of Lost Children, a suitably foreign film with incredible artistic vision and a passably semilinear plot. For those of you who know the movie, my favorites were the incessant tritone emission of the Cyclops' eyepieces and - no surprise, here - the beautifully aged Octopus sisters. No official site exists, though you can get a glimpse of both the film and nostalgia-laced early HTML on a fan page. As with many other foreign films, the film at first blush began to exhibit diffusion towards the end, as if Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the creation staff grew bored with stringing together events to form a narration. As in, Hey, we've been exploring a fantastic Neverland for seventy minutes. Why don't we complete the story arc of every single supporting character and antagonist with violent, ironic death. Let's do it in less than fifteen minutes. After all: we're French!

    The French. Worthless in practical matters, they nevertheless win my vote for obscure, watch-every-five-to-ten-years art cinema and film noir. My salute, the ten-minute still-frame La Jetté:

    ...Mais un homme du futur...


    It just so happens that when I rented the movie from Hollywood Video, the clerks quietly informed me that Blockbuster is actually the better store for miniseries and television collections. Good advice, it turns out: last night I found the store to run rings around poor old Hollywood. No Star Trek: The Next Generation series packages for rent, but I was immediately shown to Tom Hanks' post-Apollo 13 HBO extravaganza, From the Earth to the Moon. After a second trip to Blockbuster to have the theft-protection devices removed from the DVD case (I knew the transaction went to quickly!), I was ready to watch, root beer and potato chips in hand.

    I've gone nearly halfway through. Apollo 9 and 10 succeeded at the finale of Part Five of Twelve; Neil and Buzz and the third guy whose name the nominally familiar can't remember are up next. After being inundated with the pathos, heartwarming and enormous budget of Band of Brothers, this series required a slight adjustment. Each episode, as it were, is composed of numerous subchapters, too - unlike Brothers - so the looseness threw me a bit. Multiple directorship varies much more dynamically in To the Moon, to the point where I nearly gave myself a headache rolling my eyes at Part 4. I'm not sure who it was, but he obviously missed the 1990s where EVERY LAST PIECE OF STOCK FOOTAGE DETAILING THE MISGUIDED ANGER OF 1960S RADICALS WAS JUXTAPOSED WITH THE DEATHS OF RFK AND MLK, ALL TO ACID-ROCK OVERDUB. The irony, at one time, was supposed to evoke old memories, long-suppressed by synthpop and Ronald Reagan's stellar windup for USSR-TKO. Clinton's in office! He almost admitted to doing drugs and protesting - and he commands the baby-killers, now, man! Kids are wearing retro! Boy, were we right all along. The 1990s, like any other incendiary, burned themselves out before being suddenly and finally destroyed by reality as it descended in the form of hijacked jetliners murdering thousands.

    But I digress. The point in the episode was to focus squarely on one line, a telegram from an American to NASA. "You saved 1968," she said. Now, that is poignant: I don't know if I needed the art-video inlays of five different screens of protest and Vietnamese sorrow intermingled and substituted at alarming frame rates to really get it, unfortunately.

    All in all, very interesting. I'll press forward later on this evening. Interestingly enough, the actor who played Gus Grissom - rather well, as a matter of fact - played Drake in Aliens. Poor guy had less than twenty minutes of screen time in the 1986 sci-fi flick and he's forever typecasted. I kept expecting him to grunt and flirt with Vasquez. Best of all: When Grissom's NASA presence was related in story posthumously to a Senate inquiry, we all found one more reason, fictionally derived or not, to hold utter contempt for Walter Mondale.

    Before I sat down to translate my intriguing little life (operative word in that one is yours to choose) into a weblog entry, I swung by the library for some music. I had 1980s synthpop in my head, probably as an antidote to all the bad 1960s revolution garbage (see above). Couldn't find any. So I went wild, relatively speaking, and picked up music that I wouldn't normally listen to: Brian Eno; Genesis; traditional Chinese music; an old favorite absent in my CD collection, Ralph Vaughan Williams; Robert Schumann.

    The kicker was a CD I picked up in the ethnic section, The North Coast Pipe Band Pipes Up! You guessed it: wall-to-wall bagpipes. Naturally, it went right into the disc player for the ride back; immediately, "Scotland the Brave" was blaring out of my PT as only bagpipe companies can. I was considering entering myself into the Guiness Book of World Records as "First Man in Northeast Ohio to Ever Blast Bagpipe Music out of His Operational Motor Vehicle Whilst Absent any Ironic Intent."

    I've got to tell you: cranking bagpipe music is a funny thing. Nobody in the immediate vicinity knows how to react. Guys my age in duly attractive cars are supposed to play rock music and other suave endeavors - not bagpipes. That's the first problem; the second is what we can safely call "bagpipe prejudice." People walking down the street crane their necks, twisting this way and that, trying to figure out where the hell the parade is coming from. Then they follow the sound to the street, see me, wonder why a guy my age isn't taking advantage of his duly attractive car by playing rock music et al, and stare. Oh, the stares.

    It's all right. I know I'm hip. All the same - should the coolness of bagpipes be considered a Consitutional right? Let's sue all the way to the Supreme Court.

    Maybe...not. We can rely on social mores and respect for tradition to keep it current and respected.

    I just finished the first Vaughan Williams and have the Chinese music in. Soon after, I'm off to choose my own adventure: guitar, computer, book, Apollo 11. Gung Bay Fat Chow!

    Michael Ubaldi, June 25, 2003.

    I had a great day - the city of Tiffin, Ohio would drive James Lileks mad with its smattering of wall signs and would drive anyone mad with the saturation of faux-Romanesque 1880s architecture in the main square.

    Something unexpected happened. I should have reacted with grace and magnanimity. I failed miserably. I have quite a bit of growing up to do. (Don't ask.)

    More to come on the road trip.

    Michael Ubaldi, June 10, 2003.

    My slated work for the day is finished and everyone who could authoritatively review it for markup has left. I figured that before I delved into any tasks unrelated to work but beneficial to the office, I'd do a bit of cleaning. Rummaging through my murse, I found a notebook filled with work notes and musings largely from two years ago. This one struck me as a bit prophetic; though I'd forgotten about the entry the idea comes back to me time and again:

    I seem to confuse others' rejection of personal philosophies as a rejection of me altogether, as if by their action of not following [my credo, they intend] to belittle or exclude me. This seems to be heightened by my experience with [name withheld], who, for a brief period, embodied a rejection of both my philosophies and my affection. My prideful anger and jealousy towards people who are apparently comfortable in living unlike me must be dealt with and not allowed to control my behavior.

    Interesting. I must written it in the spring of 2001; while I was on a personal incline from where I had been months before, I do not remember that period of time to have been a particularly stable or happy one.

    The feeling still persists, however; being an abstract thinker and innate ethicist, I tend to equate personal beliefs and moral code with the very stuff of one's soul, and understand a wide enough divergence between belief systems to be indicative of incommensurable behavior, and therefore incompatible living in proximity.

    But that divergence needs to be quite wide for that bottomless chasm to appear; particularly over the past two years, I've warmed to the idea of difference and relished the many moods of Myers-Briggs populating my world.

    And even then, in that maudlin little legal pad, I wasn't so far gone into psychology that I'd lost my sense of humor:

    If I were both gay and a robot, I'd be See-Threepio, and that's not all too bad.

    And here I am, neither. Right. Back to cleaning.

    Michael Ubaldi, June 9, 2003.

    You'll notice two additions to my blogroll - both exhibit the works of people from my Syracuse University days.

    The first is a political website, composed of people I half-knew and at times half-got-along-with. The captain-on-deck is, at least as I remember him, a smart-mouthed fellow from Boston who framed a sarcastic rejection letter from Kurt Vonnegut and wrote one of the most enjoyably gritty stories about rejection from writing for Maxim. In one of his more stroppy moments, he verbally rabbit-punched a caricature I'd drawn of him for a comic strip. "But hey," said a friend of his, desperately trying to salvage the deck as it listed terribly to awkward, "look at the way Mike drew your hair. It looks just like you!"

    "Yep," he spat. "He nailed that."

    Several words into reading the site, you'll discover not only that this group of writers and pundits are distinctly liberal but that they're bright, nascent graduates in New York City trying to make something of living in one of the most media-competitive environments on the planet. For all his barbs, the editor-in-chief offers a long look into his purpose. Not too often do we get a glimpse at something as tightly guarded as that.

    I appreciate enterprise, so they receive some of my apparent 1,000-a-week audience*.

    I endorse for my readers the second because of the author's, er, irrepressibility and heart-of-gold charm. He was my freshman roommate; miraculously, an art major like myself, though what I'd consider a real artist. Drawing came quite naturally to him, and he took to the intellectual rogue's lifestyle like redheads wear freckles. In terms of personality, we were complete opposites - especially with the sort of emotional countenance I felt it necessary to possess at the time. He was outgoing, lavish, enjoyably sly and carefree; I was brooding, a bit of a loner, far more overserious than I am now, abstruse in my language and mannerisms, endlessly moody. I once accidentally - and stupidly - smashed his finger in a door.

    His response, jackknifing, as he held his finger in agony? "You owe me a new finger!" he chuckled between winces.

    We got along well in our split double, as long as neither my Depeche Mode nor his ska/Tom Waits/Trainspotting soundtrack overpowered the other. Come to think of it, he actually had DM's Violator; I'm sure my continual rotation ruined the album for him for years afterward.

    Above all, he was a complete character - even without expressions or visual aids - and without a shred of malice, incredibly fun to be around at any given point in time. I never saw him angry. Ever.

    Like I said, he's a real artist. How does he speak? With images.

    Enjoy. I have. And I may be adding some more in-kind links for newly backlinked blogs in the next couple of days.

    * Yes, I'm serious. This takes into account my own visits for maintenance and reviewing the front page to proofread (and preen, I'll admit it), not to mention the legions of Googlebots establishing the pipeline shuttling people to my site with the search string "pictures senator ted kennedy red nose." No lie there, either.

    Michael Ubaldi, June 5, 2003.

    How did my slumber-ensconced body repay me for ensuring an out-of-character nine hours of sleep last night?

    Not one, but two dreams wherein I was chased around someone's front yard by a Yeti. To be fair, it was a playful chase, and the front yard was enjoyably old-neighborhood, such as Parma or Middleburg Heights.

    But a Yeti all the same.

    Michael Ubaldi, May 15, 2003.

    Back in February I wrote an off-the-cuff essay on democratization; vowing to follow up with something more substantial, I set off on a researched paper that is now breaking 8,000 words - about forty pages when double-spaced. I'm almost done with it. I intend to send out a few advisements to some web notables, and, anticipating even incidental visitors to apply more scrutiny to a gigantic essay, I've been fairly meticulous is ensuring that the argument I've made is solvent.

    Looking over the essay, it's obvious that I approach subjects far more from principle than fact. Though I certainly fortify statements with concrete bases, I'm much more comfortable relying on my ability to argue a unifying proposition with which a reader can identify and then apply to either his own knowledge or my real-world example. Too many "facts" - numbers, citations, what have you - tend to bog down an essay, especially when those bits aren't strung together.

    The second observation I've made about my writing is that it is far more - if you can make the analogy - C.S. Lewis than Learned, Heavily Read and Sharply Critical Historian. They tend to be, as you'd understand having read this blog - full of speech-like flourishes. Hey, it's what makes me me. I'd guess that the more "intellectual" the reader, the less interest they'd have in it on grounds that I'd have made "too many assertions." For others - and I've given early rough drafts to trusted sources - my explanations do connect to provide a sort of "Oh, yeah, I get it" elucidation. Intuition has always been far more natural to me than linear analysis and tome-devouring. It's how I work.

    But some degree of devouring must be done. In the making of the essay, I've realized that my knowledge of tangibles is understandibly lacking in certain areas. I've also come to appreciate the utter lack of reprinted information regarding post-war reconstruction of either Japan or Germany. A careless Google string results in every opinion column writer and his brother trying to compare, from a similarly informal perspective, the reconstitution of both Axis nations to the plans for Iraq; creative strings don't seem to yield better leads to comprehensive reports - timelines, anecdotes, first-hand observations.

    So I decided to - gasp! - hit the library. Lunch was big today, so dinner can wait. I'll swing by the old place and grab a clutch of at least five books on MacArthur's occupation I found from a simple catalog perusal.

    I'll keep you all abreast.

    UPDATE: I ended up borrowing seven books. After nine pages of the most interesting one, I can confidently say that anyone complaining about lawlessness, infrastructure damage, confusion, hunger, economic duress and/or national instability in Iraq should be slapped, and strapped into a fettered chair and read several accounts of the Japanese occupation. In less words, what we're running into today is nothing - nothing - compared to Japan in the first few years. Reading this, I can only assume that most journalists don't know the first thing about what actually happened when they go on about "failure" after a bloody month. Anyway.

    UPDATE II: Thanks for asking for the essay, guys. No, it's not done and yes, feel free to make suggestions. I may or may not be amenable to ideological changes, most likely not. But it's an open door. And feel free to read it slowly or mull over it. I just hope it doesn't, like, stink or anything. Nah. For a first essay of that length (in college, I was the king of terse arguments), I don't think it does. Oh, and e-mail any correspondence.

    UPDATE III: Just so you know, I don't receive e-mails for the "fc" address at home. I may be able to finagle it in the new apartment; we'll see.

    Michael Ubaldi, April 29, 2003.

    I'll be busy tomorrow so posting will be light, if done at all. In lieu of political commentary, I'll continue with photographic vignettes that, if comments I've received are any indication as to what my readers enjoy, should be - well, enjoyable.

    Let's talk hair. Let's talk hair music. Let's talk cool uncoolness.

    This picture was taken five years ago at a Pregnant Rat show in the basement of Shaw Hall, Syracuse University. I am on the left, shrieking unintelligibly into the microphone thrust within my personal space. Pregnant Rat deserves its own entry - it's a long story.

    Suffice to say, this began (without me) as a death metal band in Drop-D. The guys were lazy and failed to foment songs in practice; invited by a hardcore band to fill in an opening slot, they obliged. And failed to foment songs before the show. Ever-adaptive, they shrugged their shoulders, asked me to recite an artsy manifesto about death metal before their set, and set about improvising the most awful, clanging, cacophony ever to reverberate in that cramped, mirrored, basement dance room.

    Everybody loved it.

    Those of you with trained Ubaldi-story eyes may have noticed the front head of the drum kit's kick drum. Yes, the set was named "Bib Fortuna" and, as the legend goes, whenever this guy named Al - who once owned the set - would play, the kit invariably would go BLICK-em-BLICK-em-BLICK-em-BLICK-em. Played for Pregnant Rat, it sounded worse.

    Best. Joke. Band. Ever.

    Interlude for reputation realignment. I'm really quite a mild-mannered fellow, true to form. This is my family, minus sister (she took the picture, I believe). I don't know where Norman Rockwell's signature wandered off to, but it belongs in the right hand corner: yes, we had the hats lying around and they came on rather naturally.

    And I eventually cut my hair (piercing my ears to make up for it, but I've been through with that for two years now). I'm whistling in the picture but as to the song - I can't recall. I'll never forget Kochman's recollection of passing me on his way to class: "I was walking and saw this guy and I thought, 'Hey, it's Eminem.' Then I looked closer and said, 'Oh, wait, it's Mike Ubaldi.'"

    This was taken by my professional photographer buddy, Paul, in what's easily my favorite, serendipitous triumph of natural light. I do well, all regal and such.

    I'll be back soon. Work, moving and community beckon (and I'll probably find a reason to sneak in a post, rest assured).

    Michael Ubaldi, April 28, 2003.

    Far from an old wives' tale is the axiom "You are What You Pull out of the Magazine Rack in the Doctor's Waiting Room." As soon as I was able to cognitively assemble four-color printed photographs my tiny little fingers would grab ahold of the latest National Geographic before imagination would grab ahold of me. To hell with Highlights; neither the subtle educollusion nor the vapid morality plays drew me in. I knew Goofus would pull himself together after marriage and that Gallant, the eternally good-hearted sonovabitch, would graduate from West Point with honors and Eisenhower his way into the White House. Okay, Goofus put his shoes on before his socks and pants and then was rude to his cousin. It happens. He'll learn to hold the door for people when he starts dating. Let him sort it out.

    Every other magazine bored me stiff. I don't care for sports, nor celebrities, nor women's fashion trifles. I do have one distinct memory of gawking at pictures of three bikini-clad women squirming about on rock formations jutting out of some typically constructed tropical paradise. I must have been about four or five and with my mother at the dermatologist's. I knew there was something indicative about the arrangement - Mommy, why is her top as see-through as your panty hose? - but alas, eight years too young for acute globular inveiglement, couldn't quite put it all together. I also couldn't quite stop gawking until it was my mother's turn to see the doctor.

    Every other wait, it was National Geographic.

    I've learned that sleeping is just about the only task I can accomplish perfectly when in a stressful environment. Reading a magazine in the timeframe of less than twenty minutes in the transient door-open-door-close-who-are-they-calling-now waiting room just isn't possible; nervous, I pay too much attention to the offices' rhythm. Sure, I find a story from the contents page and soak up some of the 16-point font splashes: Dazzling in beds of turquoise, sapphire and aquamarine from a sea older than every empire put together, Costa Rica's Isla del Coco is the crown jewel of the Americas. A few seconds later, my mind wanders to focus elsewhere. In this case, National Geographic's staple, more plentiful on its pages than brittle, antagonistic knee-slappers for balding, thirtysomething chauvinists in a double-issue of Maxim:

    Pictures. Pretty pictures.

    Nobody likes to read about how enjoyable the Cuban life is under the tragically misunderstood Fidel Castro. But then, who on the National Geographic readership bell curve picks it up for specific sociological contents? Back to me: I was a kid, I was trying desperately to concentrate on a magazine. So I got stuck on photographs, and photographs of what every normal child who hasn't got the faintest interest in soft-socialist gobbledygook enjoys.

    Dinosaurs. Sea creatures. Mummies - lots of them. Ancient habitations brought into the modern age. Stars and planets, grand unifying theories for the universe. Inserts and pullouts, graphics and illustrated charts. All in National Geographic, waiting for me whenever I found myself waiting for the doctor.

    I still go straight for it. I do manage to keep my eyes moving left to right and down columns in order to digest letters, set in patterns meant to convey serial expressions of printed thought a little better, too. Last month, at my opthamologist's, I picked up my favorite waiting room magazine - in fact, the eye doctor's office is the best, as he's got a nice stack of random National Geographics from the past seven years (spooky to read the geopolitical musings, especially one right before September 11th). I was reading about the Big Bang when, perhaps not coincidentally, I confronted the fact that I've never owned a subscription.

    Now, here's where I would be expected to narrate a compelling internal dialogue about my financial and literary decisions over the years. But the epiphanic moment didn't happen that way. It was more like "Why the hell don't I own this magazine now that I hold a steady job?"

    So I bought a subscription. My first issues (two! March and April together) came in the mail today. And with a wink, God nudged National Geographic's editor to make a testament to what brought me to the publication in the first place:

    Awwwesome! I promise to read the article, too.

    Michael Ubaldi, April 10, 2003.

    Bright and early tomorrow morning I'll catch the worm, pack up my PT, Dolly, and head southeast towards the nation's capital. My sister and her husband live in Maryland and I'll be spending the weekend with them. A sojourn into D.C., peek into the Smithsonian and a furniture hunt through IKEA are on the agenda. My brother-in-law is an avid Playstation fan and, care of my Christmas generosity, is in possession of the legendary Crash Bandicoot Team Racing. I bought him a multitap, too, and I'm sure that my sister can be cajoled into some cartoon-character-grand-prix tomfoolery, so we're sure to squeak at least an hour out of their entertainment center. A doggie, Jake, and a kitty, Steve; endless possibilities. Hell, we may even catch up on life - I'm more of the marathon conversationalist, but the last five times I've seen either one of them it's either been for a wedding or a funeral. I'll brave the Beltway and traverse the Pennsylvanian wild.

    I'll enjoy it.

    I return home Monday, at which point the small company for which I work will be spending two days in Columbus for the Ohio Airports Conference. We'll be flying in and out - morning and evening - in our Cessna 206 both days, so I reckon to be washed out both nights.

    All of that in consideration, I leave the uBlog to sway in the breeze for a bit. I'm just about done with my two-month-long Herculean effort, "Freedom and Culture," but it is nevertheless incomplete; I'd like to leave you all with a part of my life I've kept out of the site but for functionality.

    I graduated in May of 2000 from Syracuse University with a Bachelor's of Fine Art in Painting. In a tiny office run by family, I happily wear many hats - but my occupation today is arguably graphic design. Quite literally, I learned design and Photoshop on the job; I purchased my own copy and saved the boss half-a-large stumbling ahead and meeting whatever visual capacities arose. One of these days I'll post my growing portfolio of handiwork for business.

    But for the next week, I present a gallery of my undergraduate work. I was largely influenced by Michael Parkes and my uncle-by-marriage, John Jude Palencar. Both men are not only about thirty years my senior and what I'd consider true painters and draftsmen; they thrive on it and loved it well enough to innervate their abundant talent into careers.

    Senior year, I realized that I was not a painter. I worked with painters; they slept, woke, ate, drank, read, spoke, dreamt painting. I was able to paint and I was able to draw, but neither was my calling.

    I graduated and floundered for a bit, fell into some dark months and in the inevitable complete reappraisal of my life, decided that my visions into a fantastic unreality weren't worth the time I now found fleeting in the "real life" we come to understand as being dominated by an occupation. Only so many hobbies can be pursued in each clutch of seven days. I've become efficient as I can be; I haven't drawn or painted anything substantial in nearly two years. This past February I ended a one-year stint in a fantastic musical project, yet another artistry that I adore but recognized as still slightly perimetric to wholeness. A season, it was, from spring to winter.

    I prefer the clarity of graduated life, most certainly, as do I now appreciate a turn, Dorothy-like, to my home: the pen.

    To think I never caught on to the fact that nearly every one of my pictorial ideas began with a written description and not a sketch.

    Without further ado, an abridged gallery of works from 2000.

    A funny inception: Adrian, the model, was so engrossed in an anti-globalization/anti-biotech book that she kept shifting around. By the second five-hour session, I'd had it and went fricking gonzo. No, she doesn't look like that. And, with the title Mary Magdalene she was lightheartedly puzzled by the casting as a whore.

    Ask my pal Gabe about Chroma. After you compliment him on his own artistry. That's an order.

    If I didn't find drawing more exhausting than writing, I'd use a sketchpad like a weblog and ink line upon line as I do so in typed words here. A testament to the beauty of serendipity, I began with a half-thought and ended with a rich vignette.

    I took four semesters of photography - loved every minute but the ones consumed by Susan Sontag reading assignments and technical lectures about proper flash use. I'm Neanderthal when it comes to photography, a stubborn disciple of what-you-see-is-what-you-get. This was from an extremely successful shoot with four acquaintances; my favorite. To the right is Old School Andy, a good fellow who'll keep seven-inch hardcore punk alive forever. Peggy's got a good heart but I heard from a reliable source that she's currently doing softcore. Not the music. No kidding - nor a link. As soon as she finds her way out, she'll find her way. Say a prayer.

    From a model. I intially hung him on my bedroom wall to grin at me, evilly, until I blamed misfortunes on him and shoved him under the bed. Under a few other things. Face down.

    Gorgeous girls from Syracuse University. I took twenty-one credits of music - diatonic and chromatic harmony, music history, diatonic and atonal sight singing - during my junior and senior years. The girls, both named Jen and friends of the inseparable sort, were in several of my classes. One sang; one played horn. The left Jen was a flirt but the "unattainable" sort. The right Jen nearly came across as flirtatious during an unnaturally lengthy phone conversation about sight singing assignments. Both were involved to some degree, I'm sure. It's just as well - imagination trumps harsh reality.

    Cue harsh reality. Still accepting "ladyfriend" applications. They're hourglass-shaped, so fairly easy to fill out.

    I dunno. Another instance of if-sketches-were-weblog-entries. Very Disney.

    This one I enjoyed, the product of one five-hour session with a model. It's a satisfying example of the arc of growth in painting I sustained in college, moving from an interminably meticulous operation to a looser, more confident wrist.

    That's me, looking characteristically dour when the chips are down. It's my senior show, as evidenced by the painting behind my shoulder. It was April, a Saturday, and a last gasp of winter had blown through - snow was falling as my father snapped the shot. The friends I had in painting were out of town and the other half were at a colleague's show the same night; I didn't make many friends in the art department and certainly didn't lift a finger advertising beyond a passel of signs. For a long time, nobody showed.

    One fellow, to whom I'm forever grateful, arrived early and stayed the whole time. Paul Jacobs. Wonderful chap. Then, fashionably late, my housemates and buddies showed up and we partied down on chips and cheese.

    I'm sporting my then-famous "Atlanto-Mediterranean Billy Idol" look. I wore earrings and a chain wallet at the time and yes, I was emaciated. I no longer blow away with a strong gust. And I smile a lot more.

    Have a good week, everyone. Until Next.