Friday, January 30, 2009

Comic Genius


Thursday, January 29, 2009

La bouffe vietnamienne.
On nêm où on nêm pas.


Monday, January 26, 2009

I love it when a plan comes together

When I first moved into my co-op I had big plans to redo the kitchen and bathroom, build a platform in the office so my desk would sit up at window height, put a stained glass window in the wall between the office and bedroom and I don't know what else.

At first I was going to have all the work done before I moved in or right after I moved in while I was in China, figuring that it would be good to get it done quickly, but was working on my impulsiveness in 2008, so I decided to just move in and wait. Plus my mom, who has a lot of experience in home construction and remodeling jobs, told me to.

I'm not sure whether it was the chaos of moving in or my first mortgage bill that did it, but I decided that she was right and that I would just settle in to my new home for a while before making any big decisions.

I moved in at the end of June and by the 4th of July was happily sipping a glass chardonnay on my roof, chez moi, watching fireworks light up the Brooklyn skyline. I loved my new home. Even today, I often wake up each thinking that I'm on vacation and that I'm going to have to leave soon or something. Then I realize that I'm home and that I don't have to leave. It's so wonderful!

One funny thing about going from a renter to a homeowner is how it suddenly makes you really feel old and responsible, like an adult or something. It does, it changes you. One of the first few times I had the boys over to hang out and jam, I found myself worrying if we were making too much noise for the neighbors on a weeknight. I had always been a respectful renter, paid my rent on time, kept things clean and maintained. In fact, I think that is part of why I felt I had the right to have people over and make some noise from time to time, even on a weeknight.

And now here I was, an owner, worrying about whether we were being too loud. What's great is that it should have been the exact opposite, right? It's not like I can lose my lease if someone makes a noise complaint. I can understand wanting to take better care of the place, and I do, but this. I felt betrayed by my own feelings of guilt and responsibility. Finally, I suggested we keep the playing down to a mature mezzo piano...

Regarding my big plans to redo the kitchen and get rid of the crazy orange counters from the 70's and modernize the bathroom to bring in more light and better fixtures (though it does have a bath already), I finally decided if ain't broke don't fix it. The one idea I followed through with was to open up the wall between the office and bedroom. It took me a while, but some friends of mine recommended that I check out this store called Olde Good Things in Chelsea which recovers things like stained glass windows from churches or old mansions, and doors, and fixtures and tables and, well, old good things...

After a few visits, I found a piece I liked. Then I waited a few weeks for winter and the economic crises to really start setting in and I made my move. Finding and booking a carpenter was actually a bit more complicated. When you ask and call around, you quickly realize that carpenters, plumbers and electricians, at least ones that are being recommended, all have more work than they can handle and are doing small jobs on weekends and evenings. The one I found said he could probably install the stained glass window in two or three days but wouldn't be available until early next year. It reminds me of the joke about the cardiologist whose plumbing backs up. When the plumber gives him the bill he can't believe how expensive it is. He tells the plumber, "This bill is unbelievable. I'm a doctor and even I don't make this much money!" And the plumber responds, "Neither did I when I was a doctor."

Well, it's early next year and we, as in the royal 'we', we've just finished installing the window. The carpenter was great, he even came in exactly on estimate (feel free to contact me for his number). I did sort of a timelapse slideshow of the installation process which you can see in the video box to the right (if it's not visible, you can select 'stained glass' with the pull down menu bar button or watch it in high definitions directly on YouTube.

Hope you enjoy. If you are in the neighborhood of Prospect Heights, stop by for a tour and a cup of coffee, I make the best esspresso in the tri-state, but that's for another blog...


Sunday, January 25, 2009

This is not very PC,
but you know what they say,
Once you go mac...


Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama Inauguration Weekend

Some of you may have already heard about what NPR, facebook groups and Youtube are calling the “Purple Tunnel of Doom” or “Purplegate”. Some-odd thousand people like myself have traveled from around the country with tickets to the inauguration (I have mine through a friend who was crunching data at an undisclosed campaign location in Missouri) only to find ourselves squashed into several square blocks unable to get through the Purple security gate to see the inauguration of our 44th president.

But let me rewind a few days, because this is really part of a big weekend and beyond that a bigger socio-eco-political movement that has been sweeping America off it’s barka-loungers…

Our journey began on Saturday when Kate, David, baby Alice, Johnny, Debbie and I drove out of town in a Budget mini-van, destination Camelback, PA. We arrived in time to check in to our local ski lodge-cum-hotel, before heading to a Japanese restaurant called Shiro, a huge hibachi and sushi house with like 50 tables, a dance floor, a magician/animal balloon specialist and more. Kind of crazy in the middle of Pennsylvania, but it was packed and quite good. If you build it, right? And if there is one thing that I can eat a lot of, it’s sushi. Now, I’m not in a Claudia French league, but if she (at her Italian 5’5” and 105 pounds) represents the NBA slam-dunk championship of sushi eating ability, then I’m probably hitting final-four levels. Allez-hop!

After stuffing our faces we returned to the hotel where we slipped under our cozy comforters for a cup of hot cocoa before bed. The snow had already begun to fall and we woke up Sunday morning to 4" inches of “freshie” and more gently falling from the sky. After we gorged ourselves on a breakfast of scrapple (Pennsylvania's answer to Spam) and pancakes and bacon and waffles the like (Johnny even had a piece of homemade pumpkin pie), we hit the hill. I mean this, the hill, literally and metaphorically. Camelback has something like 400' of verticalish feet of skiing. There are double-black diamonds, but they’re something like blue squares for us west coast ski snobs, so I have to think of it as a ski hill and not a ski mountain.

It was Debbie's first time, which was fun, but I quickly realized how difficult, and probably pointless, it is to explain a complicated physical choreography like getting two big sticks strapped to your feet to run smoothly over snow and ice (and the occasional ski pole or thigh). I should have used the inner game of skiing approach, I guess. In the end, everybody had a good time and Debbie looked incredibly cute in her ski gear.

There was also a kind of a funny moment when we were renting our equipment, if you consider my clenched cheeks (top and bottom) combined with a sort of wheezing sound and slow head bobbing as a sign that I was finding it funny. Debbie didn’t have her purse with her so both sets of rentals went on my credit card and ID. The whole thing was computerized, with a special scanner for the driver’s license and everything, so all you had to do was give your height and weight and it automatically spit out your name, address, rental agreement and even binding settings and suggested ski lengths for the kid behind the next counter. After giving them my information, it was Debbie’s turn. As if telling the girl her weight wasn’t bad enough, her information immediately popped up on the screen based on my account which the girl showed us and asked us to verify. It read DEBBORA LAPIN along with the address etc. etc. When the rental girl asked if everything was correct, we both went into the wheezing and head bobbing thing which I describe above and which the rental girl took as a yes. Camelback Mountain Resort, PA now pronounces you man and wife!

David, who is responsible for that last line, had a great fall that we wished we had caught on film. We were trying to cut across runs through a closed path and there was one of those orange mesh fences with closed signs that was on the ground across the entry. We figured we would just pop over and be on our merry way, so we pushed off and David was first to cross but he didn't realize or wasn't able to jump his skis, especially the tips, all the way over the fence. When his tips got caught in the fence and quickly decelerated to a stop, David was flung forward into the snow in what skiers like to call a yard sale. It would have surely been an instant YouTube classic (more hits than Jesse Long falling off a camel guaranteed!), if only we had perfected the 24/7 inner-eye recording device that I'm sure will make future generations all stars of their own reality shows. When I stopped laughing and offered to film it, David was not gracious enough to replay the event.

After skiing, we headed off to Hagerstown, Maryland, home of the Hennebergers. David had called ahead and they were preparing a big après-ski fajita feast for our arrival. David warned us not to ask his dad about his days as a swinging disco owner, but told us that he used to be in the hotel industry and his step-mom had a side business with her daughter “Dobbie” as bar-tenders for private parties and the like. Let me say that the Hennebergers lived up to their reputations as hospitality industry professionals. We ate and drank and talked ourselves silly until the wee hours in the morning, only stopping to bathe our bloated bodies in the Jacuzzi.

We got back in our mini-van Monday morning and headed off to the sweet sounds of xylophone U2 lullabies which we often had to play for hours at a time in the hope that it would drive baby Alice to nap before the rest of us to pushed long sharp metal objects deep into our eardrums.

Nevertheless, we arrived in one peace at the Rope’s residence, in the heart of DC, a few blocks from the National Cathedral (everything in DC is the National something), St Albans and The Sidwell Friends School where Kate’s Mom will soon be helping little Malia memorize the names of all the presidents and other such oh-so-sixth grade activities--she’s already 1/44th of the way there without even opening a book, right? After a light lunch of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, Kate-n-David took us on a little tour of the capital. Although it was the day before the inauguration and you could sort of sense the excitement hiding behind every faux ionic column, the streets remained fairly crowd and closure free.

Fast forward through dinner, another early night to bed and a veritable monastic morning of Odwalla Superfood (the perfect balance of juice puree, artichoke dust and thistle, with a little prairie grass thrown in for flavor that would get me through the big day without needing a restroom. I mean, hey, it's called super food, what could be better than that?) and you are now in the same gastrointestinal-psychological-spiritual state as I was on Tuesday morning, January 20, 2009, aka O-day.

We left the Rope’s house at about 8 am and jumped on an already crowded DC metro to Judiciary Square. The atmosphere was charged with excitement. Complete strangers were making room for each other on the subway cars, smiling, talking and sharing stories. Some of them even New Yorkers!

After getting out of the metro, Debbie and I parted ways with Kate-n-David and Johnny. Our tickets directing us to where we needed to pass through the Purple security gate which was scheduled to open at 9am.

We walked up E street and turned the corner onto First St. NW to discover that there was nothing between us and the security gate except about four blocks of completely packed human bodies. Well, I thought, the security gate hasn’t opened yet.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…

It’s now about 10:30 am and we have only moved 100 feet, I think to myself that they must be really screening people carefully or maybe they don’t have enough screeners. This is making the TSA look like the Mossad, right? Pretty soon though, rumors start to circulate that the street is barricaded and the security gate a block or so after that isn’t even open. People are saying that it is closed because people have sneaked in over night and they are trying to clear them out. Later the story is that people with other ticket colors have broken through a barrier and gotten into our section.

As time passes and people’s begin losing patience and feeling in their extremities, attrition sets in as people decide to leave and look for a warm room with a television or maybe just another crowded area that at least has a view of a JumboTron. Some come from the front of the crowd reporting that they have been there since 5:00 am. They can’t take it anymore, “abort, abort.” Others explain that they have gotten stuck in the crowd and don’t even have tickets, but are just trying to get to the Mall or to the other side of the street. The stream of people leaving allows us to periodically move forward, giving us the illusion of progress, and then the progress is lost as someone in the crowd passes out or calls for medical attention and the ambulance parked half a block back turns on its lights and tries to plow its way to the rescue. Most of the time it doesn’t make it and the EMTS settle for passing a medical bag across the crowd to a waiting doctor or good Samaritan.

At about 11:15, 15 minutes before the ceremonies are scheduled to begin, the barricade at 1st and C is removed (or shoved aside?) and the crowd surges forward. Finally we think, our patience has been rewarded. We feel sorry for the people who were there before us and have given up, but we understand that they were about 4 hours more cold and hungry than us.

As the crowd moves ahead, we are happy to be making real progress, but it is also scary to think what would happen if, god forbid, we were to fall or faint. As it is, landscaping, flowers beds and even whole sections of shrubbery are being trampled without remorse. A big black woman who is bushwhacking her way in front of us yells for anyone who cares to listen, “I ain’t holdin’ no bushes for nobody, I ain’t holding no more bushes. I tell you I’ve been holding bushes for 8 years and I’ve had it!” It’s a good line.

The crowd has been pretty friendly up till now, with different groups of people joking amongst themselves or trading ironic observations about the lack of organization, the stupidity of crowds, the cold and so on, but people are starting to get frustrated. Most people just want to know what the heck is going on, so we continually ask people pushing their way out of the pack what they have seen, did they have tickets, have they seen the gate?

Once again the crowd is stopped and I have the idea of starting an information tree. I ask the people in front of us to pass the message along to the people in front of them and so on to the front of the crowd asking them to send information back down about just what the heck is going on. The people in front of us ask the person in front of them to find out what was going and she says over her shoulder, “I can’t see anything.” And that is it. It’s too many instructions for a big crowd. I consider explaining the system again, but realize it probably won’t make it half a block. Another foliage casualty to add to the list; the information tree has just died on the vine in front of our eyes.

As the minutes pass, my bladder and ankles begin to swell and it doesn’t look like we are going to make it in time. People are giving up hope and courtesy and begin shoving rather than sliding their way out bringing with them word that the security gates are still not open. Nobody is being let in. Some people are saying that the CIA hasn’t given the word to start the screening process and that it is just a miscommunication. Others say that people have snuck in to our section so they have it closed it in order to clear them out. Whatever the explanation, we are clearly in the process of experiencing a cluster-fuck.

At about 11:30, Debbie and I have made it to the front of the crowd to see that, indeed, nobody is getting into the purple section. By this time, my bladder is really pressing in on me and Debbie's toes are numb. We make the decision to give up, figuring that we have experienced the crowd, though not the happy, inaugural party crowd we had pictured. We figure we might as well get somewhere where we can see and hear the ceremonies and speech rather than just the frustrated chants of “no second term” and “let us in” that are starting up around us.

Before we head off to find Kate-n-David and Johnny who are sitting with glasses of champagne and roast beef sandwiches in front of a plasma TV on the 12th floor of a swanky, but more importantly warm condo overlooking Pennsylvania avenue, I find an un-trampled shrub behind which to relieve myself.

We arrive at Kate's aunt and uncle's place just as Obama is taking the oath and giving his speech. It is great. We all stand with pride for the National Anthem, some of us for the first time in 8 years. We watch every second, even the c-span coverage of the coat-check before and after the luncheon. We drink the moment down with cups of French onion soup until the juice runs down our chins. From the roof, we even have a direct view of the parade, right where the Obamas get out of the car to walk.

In the end, our inauguration isn’t quite the popular, of the people and with the people type of celebration and experience that we have imagined, but hot toddy's and plasma screens have their appeal as well.

O, O, O-bama!
From far and wide,
from around the world,
from states north and south
of colors red and white and blue,
we stand with pride and sally forth
saying thank you, thank you, Thank You!

And we pray, “Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead man, and when white will embrace what is right.”



Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Man Watching

The Man Watching, by Rainer Maria Rilke

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can't bear without a friend,
I can't love without a sister

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it's with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler's sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Make Art Not War

Most "civilized" countries have Ministers of Art or Culture, yet here in the "greatest country on earth" we do not. Why? We in the arts need this and the country needs this--now more than ever.

Making art is cheaper than nukes and much more effective at changing hearts and minds. Studies show that kids in school who partake in arts programs (where they haven't been canceled due to budget cuts) perform better and are happier. There is no reason to believe that this would not be true of adults too. We need more support, organization and promotion of the arts and culture on a federal level.

I know we are in a recession, but this department could probably be funded if we just dismantled and stopped paying to maintain a couple nukes. Moreover, arts and culture are great recessionary activities that will help unite red states and blue states, the rich and the poor alike.

Sign this important petition and then pass it on to your friends and colleagues.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Purplegate Superfood

Dear Friends,

Those of you who have had the opportunity to attend a Dave Matthews/Bazan/Harper/Makana/insert-crunchy-white-college-dude-guitar-player’s-name-here concert with Jesse are probably familiar with his technique of dehydrating in preparation for the big event to be sure that he doesn't have to leave the front row and make his way through throngs of L.L. Bean clad guys and girls who are also rocking out just to go to the bathroom and thereby risk losing his place and more importantly his slow head bopping groove.

Well, I realized that attending the inauguration of our 44th president in D.C., aka O-day, would represent a similar biological challenge (20 port-a-potties at a distance of 3 security checks across one and a half million people and multiplied by a small bladder, you do the math). The thought of self-catheterizing myself or having a colostomy bag break open right as Obama stepped away from the motorcade to shake my hand on national TV, made not eating or drinking for 24 hours seemed like a good option. But I didn't want to pass out from the extreme cold or long hours standing on my feet and dreaming of a new and better tomorrow, did I? So I had to eat something... but what?

A quick trip to the National Safeway (I know it's bizarre but everything in DC is the national something, I swear we even passed a building that said the National Tiddlywinks Society) and I had my answer, Odwalla Superfood: the perfect balance of juice puree, artichoke dust and thistle, with a little prairie grass thrown in for flavor that would get me through the big day without needing a restroom. I mean, hey, it's called Superfood, what could be better than that?

Well, maybe it was the weekend's indulgence in sushi, scrapple, pancakes, pizza, fajitas, a bagel with oleo, tomato soup and grilled cheese, a snack of fried chicken and half a corn dog and then dinner Monday night of caesar salad, pasta and meatballs (I passed on the balls) that did it, but I like to think that it was the Superfood, because after getting stuck in a crowd for 4 hours in what NPR, facebook groups and Youtube are calling the "Purple Tunnel of Doom" or "Purplegate", I took what can only be called a post-inaugural, celebrational...

Take care,

From the Heart,

Kevin Lapin
"Appreciate beauty in all its forms."
"Get stuck in there!"


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Arithmetic, Population & Energy

Some simple and sobering arithmetic for the New Year. A great lecture (part 1 of 8 on youtube). It's time to curb our enthusiasm for drilling and energy. Conservation, reduction and renewable energy are the only answers that add up.


PS I'm typing this with the lights off.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

May all of your labors be fruitful.


The Path With Heart

The Path With A Heart, from 'Don Juan A Yaqui Warrior'

Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any condition. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition.

I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is: Does this path have a heart?

All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. There are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere. My benefactor's question has meaning now. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use.

Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.

The trouble is that nobody asks the question; and when a man finally realizes that he has taken a path without a heart, the path is ready to kill him. At that point very few men can stop to deliberate, and leave the path.

A path without heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.

For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length.

And there I travel looking, looking breathlessly.