Hemingway cats

February 2, 2010 Animals, Travels Comments (2) 83

I had the good fortune to enjoy a vacation in the Caribbean this past week, on which the first stop was Key West.  Though the weather drove me away from the beach, I was able to tour the Ernest Hemingway House and take in the considerable population of semi-domestic cats who have free reign of the property.  The 50 or so cats are descendants of Hemingway’s own pets, many of them polydactyl – meaning they had extra toes, not that they were flying dinosaurs.  The house is pretty famous for the cats.

A diversity of personalities are represented, as any cat lover would expect, but most seem acclimated to the tourists who often try to make friends.  In general they were appreciative, or at least tolerant of being pet – with one notable exception.  My right wrist now bears three parallel scars inflicted by a chubby gray-and-white fellow who offered no other warning that my hand was unwelcome.  I figure as a writer myself I should wear the scar with pride.  My scars will be a lifelong memento of my visit to the Hemingway House.

I didn’t get a photo of the culprit, but I was able to get some great photos of a few other cats.  That first guy is my favorite, but here are a few more:

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Ashamed of my alma mater

September 29, 2009 In The News, Philly / Pennsylvania Comments (0) 72

Riot Police in Oakland

This past Thursday and Friday, armed riot police invaded the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus.  Ostensibly defending the visiting G-20 delegates meeting several miles away, these police in no way confined themselves to breaking up disruptions or protests.  They attacked and arrested students who were making casual use of campus facilities including the student union and the residence halls.  They trapped students between locked doors and police barricades and gassed or attacked them when they “refused to disperse.”  They arrested student journalists and legal observers.  They even invaded student housing, going to far as to arrest students for “refusal to disperse” within their own dorm rooms.

How has the University responded?  With outrage at the treatment of students making typical use of University and public property?  With warnings about overreaching police power and questions about closing an entire city to its residents because of a handful of visiting foreign nationals?  Not exactly.

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Rejection Letters / Backpacking the Catskills

September 23, 2009 Personal, Travels Comments (6) 445

Chuck at the Guide to Literary Agents blog reposted an article from author Debra Darvick (phew, that’s a lot of attribution), Ten Hidden Gifts of Rejection Letters.  Not a bit too soon.  For the past week or so rejection letters are all the mail I seem to receive.  No worries though.  I figure rejection happens quickly, but an offer will take a while.

Marshmallows

Thought I’d share a story and a few photos from my Labor Day weekend backpacking trip to the Catskill Mountains.  My friend Liz and I hauled our asses over the Burroughs Range Trail (AKA the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide or WCS Trail) on Saturday, camped below the summit of Terrace Mountain, and returned on the Phoenicia-East Branch Trail on Sunday.

First things first.  The folks at the NY/NJ Trail Conference who authored our guide maps have a talent for understatement.  For those of you who may also be using these maps, be advised that “steep” in many cases means “near vertical,” and “challenging” means “soul crushing.”

That is not a rock wall behind her.  That is in fact the trail.

That is not a rock wall behind her. That is in fact the trail.

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The demons within the walls

May 8, 2007 Animals, Philly / Pennsylvania Comments (134) 2897

Is there any invertebrate creepier than the house centipede (AKA “thousand-legger”)? I grew up in Upstate New York, and had never encountered one of these until I first moved to southeastern PA around 1993. The first time I saw one skitter across the living room while I was watching TV, I thought for sure I’d seen some kind of demon–a lesser demon, granted, but a demon nonetheless.

Turns out it’s just Scutigera coleoptrata, a fast-moving type of centipede that lives mostly within human homes and eats spiders, roaches, bedbugs, silverfish, and other small insect-types that also invade human dwellings. Doesn’t sound like much, I know, and if you’ve been fortunate enough never to have encountered one, you have no idea just how disconcerting the sight of fifteen pairs of legs moving in a coordinated wave can be as this sizeable critter slashes across a floor or wall.

Since we got our dog, a Rhodesian ridgeback mix, we haven’t had much problem with these little guys. We just say “Copper, bug!” and he goes into full-on hunting dog mode, enthusiastically sniffing out the centipede before crushing it to death with his paws, and then typically tossing it around a bit before eating it. Unfortunately, he’s recently taken to retching — and I mean, retching — after eating one, so we’re not letting him do that any more. I looked up information on the house centipede, and it appears that their venom is not dangerous to house pets, though their bite is recorded as painful. After finding a close-up photo of a house centipede face, all I can say is yikes. I’m not surprised their bite is painful, check out those fangs!

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American Museum of Natural History, New York City

December 6, 2005 New York City, Travels Comments (0) 65

My brother and I had some time to kill on the Upper West Side on Saturday (and I felt like throwing away $40 to park my car for a couple of hours) so we took in the American Museum of Natural History. Perhaps my fifth or sixth visit in my lifetime, and I think the first time I didn’t see the dinosaur bones. I do love that museum, though; it’s a classic example of the Victorian-era museum, with few changes toward a more modern philosophy. This leads in some places to exhibits that might be perceived as socially or racially insensitive (I have to assume there were others that were more offensive, that have since been removed or updated) and to captions that, while not denotatively sexist, are fairly amusing in their language.

Of particular interest was the exhibit on ritual and magic among African tribes. They had a display of ceremonial costumes that was particularly fascinating in its unusual mythology. I would love to see a fantasy world developed around African tradition, the way much of fantasy has been developed around European and Christian mythology. I get the impression Octavia Butler writes things in this vein, but I’m not familiar enough with her work to assume so. I know I greatly enjoy Orson Scott Card’s “Tales of Alvin Maker” series, which plays with North American mythology and beliefs, like knacks, voodoo, and hexes.

I also have to say, a museum like that is great fun when you have a ridiculous sense of humor and an appreciation for the ironic and subtly off-balance the way my brother and I do.

A few photos from our museum experience:

Apparently these are the “first New Yorkers,” according to the caption. The guy on the right is asking someone for a quarter. The guy on the left secretly thinks that Jeter is a fag. I mostly took the picture because of the peg leg.

This is from the “Hall of Awesome” (our name, not theirs), an exhibit that was just lots and lots of preserved animals hung in no particular order on the walls… Just about thrown in a heap on the floor, actually. I think the point was to show “biodiversity” and motivate people to save endangered species, but that might be a stretch. Take, for instance:

Some kind of crab monster that was attacking us. I like to call this part the “Wall of Molluscs”

A squid fighting a flamingo? That’s just confusing.

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