Pick-A-Day

September 2021
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Him / Us: My collection

Him & Us (and Epic)

Since I have not been travelling or planning travel, I’ve had some serious extra energy to devote to strange things.

Awhile back I discovered two romance novels: Him and Us – both are by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy. Both are excellent and fun novels to read with well thought out plots and excellent writing. Consequently I’ve read everything (as far as I can tell) by Sarina Bowen and a fair amount of Elle Kennedy.

As a member of the Sarindipity Facebook group, I became aware that Him and Us were available in a wide variety of languages: Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Mandarin, Portuguese, and Thai.

So I set out to acquire the complete set – which I now have.

Some of these were incredibly easy: Danish, Dutch, English, French, Hungarian, Italian, and Thai. Among these the hardest, so to speak, was Thai: this involved navigating a Thai language website and paying a lot of money for shipping.

German proved to be messy: the books are out of print and I ended up having to search ebay.de and medimops.de, putting on alerts to help me keep track of what was for sale. Ultimately I snagged copies off of ebay, including a copy of Us that was signed (dedicated to somebody else, but…).

Him (12 languages)

Getting Portuguese was half easy, half asking a Portuguese friend to order Us for me. I should note that the Portuguese books are actually in Brazilian Portuguese. Him was available from Book Depository.

I put off buying Hebrew because I was lazy – which turned out to be a good thing, because when I started my quest, only Him was available in Hebrew; by the time I turned my attention Hebrew, Us was also published, so I was able to order both books at once and pay for shipping only once.

Obtaining the Czech Us was easy; Him would have proved impossible if I did not have a Czech friend. This is because Us is still in print, while Him is out of print. So I search for Him on a used book site in the Czech Republic, got an email alert when it became available only to discover it could only be shipped within the Czech Republic. Thankfully this Czech friend was at home and could get it delivered to his family, then bring it to me.

Us (12 languages)

Finally I was left with Mandarin – which is only acknowledged in English in the back of the Him/Us novella, Epic. The back also says that the books exist in Polish, but they are not actually published in Polish.

Since Mandarin goes far beyond my abilities, I ended up writing an email to the author asking her for a clue as to which country and which publisher published the books in Mandarin: Taiwan and Uei Shiang Co. (Him and Us) — Thankfully I have a friend in Taiwan who navigated the purchasing and shipping of the books.

My Him and Us collection is complete.

Baseball Thoughts…

Earlier this summer I attended a few Berlin Flamingos baseball games – for the first time in two years, since last summer was, well, coronaed.

One cool thing about the Flamingos is that their home field is about an hour long walk from my new home, meaning that – if I want to – I can walk there and back.

There are two big differences between the games in 2019 and the games in 2021: first, the Flamingos climbed into Germany’s first league, meaning that the competition is much better. Second, the field now comes with light fixtures that illuminate the field for night games.

Not to grumble about the latter, but the lights were installed directly behind the fences that define the field. Along the leftfield line, this is problematic since that’s where all the seating is located: it is all to easy to have a light stanchion blocking your view of the field. I wish they had put the lighting up maybe 4-5 meters back from the fence, behind the seating.

This is, however, only an annoyance – if you get there early enough, one can usually claim a seat where the stanchion issue is minimized.

Watching the Flamingos play reminded me of my last experience watching the Colorado Rockies in Denver and of a story my grandfather would occasionally tell when I was a kid.

Whenever a ball leaves the field, the Flamingos make an effort to retrieve it, with the balls promptly returned to the umpire for further use.

This stands in stark contrast to the Colorado Rockies. I wholly understand that MLB is (to be blunt) rich: that baseballs are inexpensive (relatively speaking) and that MLB pitchers demand the best, most perfect, balls to pitch.

However, it felt like to me that nearly every ball pitched was shunted aside to somebody who took some notes – and on the main concourse of Coors Field there was a stand selling game-day baseballs and more, including the bases. They even market it on their website:

Take Home a Piece of the Game

MLB authenticators are on site each Rockies game to collect and authenticate memorabilia used by the Colorado Rockies and all visiting teams. Game-used and team issued memorabilia is sold at Coors Field, on the online auction site and by phone/email!

This is different from what I remember in my childhood – not that the Colorado Rockies existed then – but extraneous, game used, baseballs were thrown into the stands – especially damaged baseballs.

Now it is all about the money.

Which brings me back to my grandfather – he told this story about going to a Dodger’s game (no – not the LA Dodgers, the Brooklyn Dodgers) during, as I recall, the depression; though my memory says it might have been during World War II. The story works as set during the depression or during World War II.

During the game a foul ball flew into his section. In my memory it is unclear whether my Grandfather caught the ball or if he was relating the general story – but regardless, the ball was caught by somebody in the section, then the ball was hidden by the fans.

In that era, baseballs were extremely expensive and difficult to obtain (hence, this story works during the depression or during World War II) – so ushers were sent to the section to find the ball – nobody fessed up to knowing where the ball went and who had it.

He what??? My 1986 Elementary School Continuation Commencement Speaker

In my lifetime, I have attended a large number of graduation ceremonies, including several where I walked the stage. Many more have been to honor friends and colleagues who have completed a degree.

Out of the dozens I’ve attended, three stick out. Only one of the three was celebrating one of my accomplishments.

The third most memorable commencement speech relates to my father’s job teaching math at a community college in Colorado. One element of that job was attending graduation ceremonies. I don’t think my father necessarily enjoyed the ceremonies and whether or not his attendance at these ceremonies was compulsory or voluntary is a detail that is lost to time.

As a kid, I sometimes attended these graduation ceremonies. I couldn’t tell you anything about any of the events except one, when Mr. Lewan of Lewan and Associates gave the commencement address. He promised that he would make exactly 12 points and then be finished. From my seat in the back row, I kept count. From his seat on stage, so did my father. After the ceremony was completed, we compared counts – he’d made over twenty points. His speech was commensurately long.

The second most memorable commencement speech was here in Germany. I was there in support of a friend, the commencement speaker was a famous German scientist, incredibly well respected in his field with a list of accolades to match. He’d been asked to give his speech in English – unfortunately he did not speak a lick of English. Somebody had typed up a speech in English and he tried to read the words aloud. As a native English speaker, I have no idea what he said that evening. Nor did anybody around me – it was a total failure.

These are, or course, memorable – for the wrong reasons. In the former, the speaker did not keep his promise of a short, 12-point, commencement speech. In the latter, nobody knows what was said.

In the case of my most memorable commencement speech it was nothing that Norm Early, then the Denver District Attorney, said, but rather what was said before the speech.

The introductory speech was given, I presume, by the president of the Park Hill Elementary School Student Council of 1985-86. What he said went right over the heads of all the students (including me) and most of the audience, but it landed directly on my father, who apparently spent the rest of the ceremony do anything he could do to not laugh:

“As the Denver District Attorney, Norm Early has tried everything from fraud to murder.”

I guess the old saying remained true: a poacher makes the best gamekeeper.

On Googling the Past

Every so often I wonder what happened to various people from my past.

Thanks to Google, I can give it a go.

Earlier this year I googled one of my contemporaries from the University of Wyoming – his name had popped into my head randomly and I wondered what had become of him. Google, of course, is not perfect and the first person I found was a convicted sex offender.

That sat with me for a couple days – yes, the guy I knew was a Republican; yes, I knew he was from Wyoming; and yes, we were radically different in our political perspectives – but I had trouble reconciling my memories of this guy with the fact that he was now a convicted sex offender.

Then I re-searched the guy and realized that the sex offender was too young. A more careful search revealed that the guy I knew had died when he was 44; certainly an untimely death – the obituary describes him as a “kind man with just a little bit of orneriness.”

Finding this was a huge relief: the undergraduate I remembered could easily be described as a “kind man with just a little bit of orneriness” – thus I could dismiss the prospect of him being a convicted sex offender from my mind.

A few years ago, my mother gave me a copy of my sixth grade graduation program. For whatever reason, I put off looking at it closely for at least five years. Then, last November, it floated to the top of a stack of papers and I glanced through the list of names: there were many people whose names I could not remember. There were some names where I could remember the name, but the name was sufficiently generic that any attempts to google the name would be impossible.

For example, googling my name turns out “about 909,000 results.” This is a lot, but it’s not impossible (and, indeed, I am on the first page). One of my classmates was named “Aaron Smith” – which gives “About 210,000,000 results.” I imagine that if I wanted to, I could probably add a few keywords to try and narrow the search, but that would rely upon the assumption that he still lives near where he grew up. (Plus, to be fair, while the name rings a bell, I could not remember anything specific about him; so there is not a strong connection, from my perspective.)

There was one classmate whose name I remembered – a name so unusual it probably is unique on this planet. So, I googled him: with around 30,000 results it was easy to find him.

It turned out that in the intervening 35 years our paths may have taken radically different – individualized – routes, but for the last five years, we’ve both lived in Berlin.

His home is 1.2 km (ca. three-quarters of a mile) from my old apartment.

We’ve met and get along fabulously well — thus, I can honestly talk about my elementary school friend.

In defense of the hamster.

Last year, during the initial lockdown, there was that run on soap and on toilet paper.

Both puzzled me: I always have enough soap on hand to get me through at least the next three months – and, more to the point, were these people not washing their hands before the pandemic? Did it take a pandemic to get people to wash their hands after using the toilet?

Wait… I have seen many men piss then not wash their hands in public toilets. Yuck.

As for toilet paper – that’s one thing I always have more than enough in stock with. As a kid, growing up in a family of six, we would always stock up whenever toilet paper went on sale, buying enough to last us six months at a time.

I’ve always made it a point to have at least one unopened six pack of Happy End toilet paper on hand in the event that I didn’t buy more in time.

In Germany, people who buy more than they need for the next week are accused of “Hamstering” – that is to say, like being a hamster. During the lockdown, hamstering was discouraged: purchases of toilet paper were limited to one package and signs told people to not hamster any other goods.

Now that I live in a slightly larger apartment, I will confess that I am, to a reasonable extent, a hamster: I make it a point to always have enough toilet paper, paper towels, dishwasher salts, hand soap refills, detergent, dish soap, and more on hand.

Some of this is strategic: since moving, the closest main-stream supermarket is roughly a 25-minute walk away. While I can get many supplies at closer low-cost supermarkets, there are some things where I am brand loyal – like my wonderful smelling unscented laundry detergent.

So I buy these things in bulk via Amazon or from the supermarket that delivers to me. The prospect of carrying one bottle of laundry detergent alongside a week’s worth of groceries – no thank you! Put it all in a cart and let somebody else drive it to my apartment: excellent! Plus the detergent is on sale? Make it two bottles and I won’t need to buy it again until October or November. No need to cart home dishwasher salt on my back – buy a case and I won’t need to think about it again for a year!

Thanks to a tip from a friend, I now buy rice in bulk: 7kg of Jasmin rice delivered to my door? Absolutely – far easier than buying it 7 separate times and carrying it home in a backpack along side other groceries.

Hamstering is good – stocking up is good – not everything is worth stocking up on, but having essential goods on hand so that you’re not scrambling to buy the last package of toilet paper when everybody else is panic buying is a good idea.

4709; Two too low.

Sometimes it is in random moments that things said to you years ago make sense.

For example, I recall once listening to my paternal grandmother complain about the address of her apartment in New York City.

“I’m so disappointed in whomever picked the house number. Why 4709? It could have been named after a cologne!”

Or something to that effect; the conversation was at least 20 years ago.

I had no idea what she was talking about. If I had to guess, it was said while I was visiting her at her apartment back in spring of 1999, but this point is unclear to me. What I will say is that the apartment was the same apartment that my father had grown up in. It was a perfectly decent apartment and I imagine that rent control made it an exceptionally good value, even if it was not in Manhattan.

It was one of those things that she said that I probably promptly forgot about, never to think about it again.

Until last year when I read Brendan Nash’s The Landlady, a novel set in 1923 Berlin. Buried deep in his excellent book, one of the characters wears 4711 cologne.

It was that moment it clicked: my grandmother loved perfume – I remember that when I was a small child she once gave me a bottle of Aspen cologne for Christmas. I was quite young at the time, probably way too young to be given cologne.

However, presents from my paternal grandparents often carried not so subtle messages – like the men’s hairbrush set. I would guess that the last hairbrush that I owned was, uh, the one I was given when I was about 9 years old.

Being a curious fellow, I did a bit more research: 4711 cologne is still on the market – so I coughed up a few euros and ordered myself a bottle.

Honestly, it smells of my grandmother.

It is not the only bottle of cologne or perfume in my current collection: I have bottles of Joop Jump, Tommy, and Secret Craving (Victoria’s Secret).

Ultimately, I rarely, if ever, wear scents: I tend to think it is rude to wear scents at the office and I do not go to places with people where it occurs to me that wearing a scent would be fun and/or a good idea.

I suppose this represents a generational shift of sorts: the values of my paternal grandparents essentially reflected the era in which they lived.

The status symbols they thought were important also reflected that era: my grandmother would wear this (I presume real) fur coat in winter – as a kid I thought it was fantastic and so cozy to hug. In the last decade, I have seen fur coats being worn by people who are entitled to wear fur coats, people who have come upon the fur in a way that I consider to be ethical and reasonable – but I cannot imagine a scenario where somebody living in New York City today could walk a block in a real fur coat without being shamed.

Holzconnection: Where the 200×140 bed is delivered as 207×140.

It’s been awhile since I blogged.

Sorry.

But moving takes effort – and I have had both awesome experiences (KaminPalast, Dielerei), ones where things have taken longer than expected but turned out awesome (KD Küchenstudio), and one utter disaster.

Holzconnection, a purveyor of custom made furniture has failed me ever since I signed the contract.

First, they promised me that the furniture would be delivered 6-8 weeks (or so) after they measured the rooms.

My rooms were measured on Friday, August 21st. The man, a subcontractor who did not work directly for Holzconnection, showed up with a laser, a computer, a tripod, and who knows whatever else. Honestly, I didn’t pay that much attention since that day IKEA delivered a shitload of furniture, my wood burning stove was installed, the developer’s tile worker showed up to fix a problem in the bathroom, and the developer’s cleaning team showed up to clean.

I trusted that the man hired to measure the room with all of his fancy equipment knew what he was doing, so I stayed out of his way and worried about other things.

In reality, the 6-8 weeks stretched and my furniture was finally delivered, assembled, and installed on November 19th, some 12 weeks and six days after measuring.

Not that I am counting, or anything.

What was delivered is insane – despite the precise measurements, the wall unit in my guest bedroom is askew: the lower left corner is closer to the wall than the upper left corner; reversed issues on the right-hand side. It visually looks wonky.

left bottom

The lower left side of the guest bedroom bookcase is 2.8cm away from the wall.

left top

The upper left side of the bookcase is more than 4.5cm away from the wall.

The men who delivered and installed the furniture appeared to be subcontractors who did not work for Holzconnection; they worked as quickly as possible, zooming through the work (but not using Zoom, I mean it in the traditional sense) in an effort to not be in my apartment.

right top

The upper righthand side is 2.3cm or less from the wall, but….

right bottom

The lower right hand side is 3.5 cm away from the right hand wall.

From the time they shouted “FERTIG” to the time they were out the door and gone could not have been more than 5 minutes.

That was when I started to realize the major problems – starting with the aforementioned skewed bookcase in my guest bedroom. In this case, I think the installers were just excited to leave as quickly as possible.

Second, the bookcase in my personal bedroom from the front appears fine, but on the back side, the bottom is flush against the wall, the top is 2.5 centimeters from the wall. It is attached to the wall, so it is probably safe. I hope.

Holzconnection: 2.5 cm away from the wall at top

The bookcase in my bedroom is tight against the wall at the bottom, but at the top is is over 2.5cm away from the wall.

Third, I think put the lattenrost on my new guest bed frame and then my mattress – there is an extra 7 centimeters.

Holzconnection: bedframe 7cm too long

This bed comes 7cm too long — that is the Holzconnection standard.

I complained:

I ordered a bedframe for a 140×200 mattress: the hole for the mattress is 140cm wide, but ca. 207 cm long. This is unacceptable: how is it possible to have a hole for a mattress that is 207cm long? Mattresses in Germany are normally either 200 cm or 210 cm long – 207 cm does not make sense.

Today I got a response:

I have asked our complaint department for solutions and they have informed me that the Bed Paros has 7 cm more in lenght as standard, so we can not change it. They offer 175€ Discount for the delay.

After getting this email, I checked the Bed Paros product page on the Holzconnection website – there is no mention of this extra 7cm anywhere on the product page. Not a hint of it.

I have spent an obscene amount of money on furniture from Holzconnection.

To say I am disappointed is an understatement.

22: Matthew “Matt” Wayne Shepard – *December 1, 1976; †October 12, 1998

Fuck.

Twenty-two years.

Time is so fleeting – how the hell have 22 years passed?

I write this from my new home, still in Berlin, but some 7 kilometers from my old home.

One of the things about moving is that you must sort through all your belongings, even though you’ve forgotten that you own. While the process has certainly generated a certain amount of trash – with many moments of “why the hell did I keep that?” – there are also moments of, “wow! I kept that! Sweet!”

In that category falls 1 issue of Time magazine, 3 issues of the Advocate, and a page from the New York Times – all are about Matthew Shepard and his all too brief life.

Matthew Shepard 1998/1999

Finding them in a box – I had a professional packer go through much of my stuff, so I did not pack it – was quite the surprise. A moment to pause in the unpacking process and go, “wow.”

Naturally, there is a moment of guilt: how could I forget that I owned these? How could I leave them sitting on a shelf for years, forgotten? These objects that are, in many ways, so important to me.

On the other hand, it brings a bittersweet moment of melancholy – a moment to reflect and remember.

His murder affected my life in so many profound ways – it is difficult to understand its effects.

While the world has, generally speaking, gotten better, for every two steps forward, there is one back. Clearly, right now, America is regressing – with the potential to vote for a new direction.

Please.

However, that’s not what this is about – it’s about personal reflection.

Remembering how I felt, how I literally (and that’s not a figurative expression in my book) crawled into my closest on Braeside Drive in Bloomington, Indiana. It was 721 square feet (67 square meters) and I chose the smallest room. How I went to a march for Matthew Shepard at IU’s Dunn Meadow – the first time I had ever attended a candlelight march. How it took a couple of weeks for my equilibrium to return to a point where I was fully functional. How I came out via email to my boss in order to explain why I was so distracted from work. How…. Well, there are a lot of hows in this scenario.

Matthew Shepard’s murder defined how I approached a lot of my life and the decisions that I make.

R.I.P.


For historical reference, see 2004200520062007200820092010201120122013,  20142015201620172018, 2019, or any of the many times he’s been mentioned on my blog via a search for Matthew Shepard.

Time for a pause…

Now that I’ve moved, my apartment is filled with boxes – and I don’t have a reason to unpack until the kitchen is installed and other furniture delivered – a few weeks into the future.

I’ve done some basic cleaning of my old apartment – removing the shocking amount of dust that had accumulated behind furniture and in other unseen corners. The heavy lifting there is being done this coming week by an amazing handyman.

More blog posts will come along soon, I promise.

Whatchamacallit 182: Four Corners Bracelet

Four Corners Bracelet

I bought the above bracelet in 2013 while visiting New Mexico – the same trip when I bought Whatchamacallit 18: the Navajo Plant Dye Chart and Whatchamacallit 92: Navajo Turquoise Bracelet.

This was bought at a place where you really can be in four places at once: Four Corners Monument.

Surely I didn’t pay more than $10 for this? I really have no idea.

It is a very nice bracelet, but as I have observed, I am not a really a jewelry person, rarely wearing it. This come with an additional problem: my manual dexterity is sometimes rather shaky, so while I can manipulate the catch with two hands, when I try to put it on, I fail unless somebody helps me. Given that I’m single (and happy that way), it makes the occasions when I can wear this rather infrequent, which is a shame, given that this is the only bracelet I own that is legitimately light weight, so it wouldn’t slow me down while I work.

The design is quite pretty – the logo on the central element reflecting the four corners theme.


During the Covid-19 crisis, I am going to try and make a point of writing a blog post about an object in my home.

We’ll see how long this lasts.