Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Wisconsin Quinceanera

If we lived in Latin America instead of Wisconsin, today would be a huge party.  As it is, it will just be us, and that’s actually okay with everyone.

Tabitha is now fifteen.  She is one year away from a driver’s license, and three from being legally an adult.  It’s hard to remember that last one sometimes, as she is more mature and responsible than many 40-year-olds and nearly all of Congress, and that’s just one of the things to love about her.

It is a lovely thing as a parent, watching your children grow up and turn into the kinds of people you enjoy hanging out with.  It means something has worked well, and what that something was doesn’t matter so much as the fact that it was there in the first place.

We’re going to have a quiet night.  Lauren is over at a friend’s house, Kim is still getting over a cold, and Tabitha’s stated goal for her birthday was to spend the day doing exactly what she wanted and no more, which in practice amounted to making Oreo fudge, painting, and having pancakes and bacon for dinner.  Perhaps we will get up a round of Carcassonne while we ring in the New Year.

And that’s a wonderful way to spend a birthday, really.

Happy birthday, Tabitha.

Tales of the City, Part 1: Seeing the Sights in San Francisco

There are three cities in the United States that are not really part of the United States at all.

New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco all sit on American soil, of course.  Their residents pay taxes to the federal government and hold American passports.  But culturally, socially, and in many ways politically, they are their own thing.

The fact that they are all wonderful places to visit may or may not be connected to this.

We spent our Christmas in San Francisco, visiting Kim’s brother Geoff and his husband Dave.  They live in the Mission District, right in the thick of things as far as the city goes, and it had been a while since we’d been there.  But last month Kim and Geoff hit the magic half century mark, and so we decided that it would be a good time to get together.

San Francisco is a beautiful city, one pretty much designed for photographers.  The light comes in at interesting angles and qualities, the scenery is amazing, and there is a lot going on.  We tried to cover most of the city while we were there.

We started our first full day there by taking the BART down to the Exploratorium.  We took the BART a lot while we were there, which is always a great deal of fun for me.  I like cities and I like public transportation, because you get to see the city that way and you get to see the people of the city that way.  It sometimes amazes me that there is a subway system in a place as earthquake-prone as San Francisco, but there you have it.  If I’m on the BART when the Big One hits, I will probably never even know it.

The BART drops you off near the Ferry Building, a lovely structure that is now the home of any number of shops selling artisanal foods and which is surrounded by a raft of crafters and farmer’s market tents.  So it took us a while to get to the Exploratorium, is what I’m saying here.  But it was a warm, sunny day – almost uncomfortably warm for people used to Wisconsin in December – so we took our time and eventually found our way there.

The Exploratorium is an intensely interactive science and technology museum that moved over to the waterfront since the last time we visited.  You can spend a lot of time there just messing around with things.  This is Lauren’s definition of an ideal museum, and it held up pretty well for the rest of us, I’d say.

We took a break to have lunch at the Ferry Building, which is where I discovered that “artisanal” is a codeword for “tiny portions, artfully prepared.”  It felt like being in the old Louie Anderson routine about being on two diets because the first one didn’t give him enough food.  The food was tasty, granted, but given the amount of walking one does in San Francisco it was a bit disappointing that way.

The return to the museum more than made up for it, though – Tabitha and I spent a fair amount of time tracking the ships in the bay in real time on one of the displays – as did our subsequent walk down the waterfront to Pier 39, home of the giant Christmas tree

It also had quite possibly the best shop in the entire universe according to Lauren.  It’s called The Lefty Store, and it has everything a left-hander could possibly need – notebooks with the spiral binding on the right so lefties don’t get wire marks on their forearms, pens with little ledges for your hand so they don’t have to smear ink across the page, pencil sharpeners with the blades reversed to accommodate the leftie spin, can openers that lefties can use without contortion, and so on.  We cleaned the place out.  I had a long talk with the sales clerk about whether right-handers were even allowed to work there.  “Oh yes,” she said, “but they never last long.  None of this makes sense to them the way it does to us.”

On Christmas Eve we had breakfast at a lovely place called the Crepevine, which was for the moment uncrowded.  The time to go anywhere in San Francisco, we discovered, is Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  There are no crowds, and parking is freely available.  If you’ve ever been to San Francisco, you will understand why this is such a big deal.  San Francisco is the original Place Where You Cannot Park, and for there to be readily available parking places is something of a Christmas miracle.  Really, there should have been organ music and choral hosannas.

Not that we needed any parking.  We did a lot of walking in San Francisco.  It is an immensely walkable city, a rare and increasingly disappearing thing in this automotive nation of ours.  So when we left breakfast we simply headed toward the waterfront on foot.  You get to see a lot of things and make serendipitous discoveries along the way, such as the art supply store we ducked into for reasons that made sense at the time.  It was such a great place that we ended up going back before we left town just to get stuff we didn’t get the first time.  Because stuff.

We spent the rest of the morning at the Asian Art Museum, which Kim and Tabitha adored and which Lauren and I mostly walked through and entertained ourselves on our own.  There’s a lot of art there, most of which is extremely impressive, but I find my Philistine streak comes out fairly quickly in art museums.  Fortunately we split up so the enthusiasts could enjoy it while the skeptics could proceed at our own pace without feeling any pressure.  And so a good time was had by all.

Geoff left after the museum in order to go home and prepare Christmas Eve dinner, which will feature in a later post, so Dave led us on a merry trip through the downtown.

Our first stop was City Lights Books.  Back in the day this was where people like Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg used to hang out and it still retains some of that feel.  But mostly it’s a cramped and lovely book shop stuffed to the gills with the kinds of books that you don’t often see at the Barnes & Noble in the mall.  The aisles are narrow, the shelves are tall, and if you slide past the registers there’s a staircase to more books in the basement.  It was a wonderful place.

Then we went to Chinatown.  We love Chinatown.

First of all, there is amazing food.  We stopped in a Vietnamese place, actually, since Vietnamese cooking doesn’t have the nuts that Chinese cooking does, and on that grey, rainy day the immense bowls of chicken pho made us warm and cozy.

Second, there is just the most amazing array of commerce, humanity, and general bustle in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  Dave led us up a busy street full of stores where nothing – not even the prices – was written in English, and we had a grand time poking into the various things for sale.  Kim and Lauren did most of the exploring, emerging victorious with bracelets and other goodies, but I also found a few shops with stuff I enjoyed and even Tabitha got into it now and then. 

Our other big excursion into the city was on Friday, when we went down to the Sharon Arts Studio to see Geoff’s workplace.  He’s been doing a lot of ceramics recently, many of which are displayed throughout the apartment, and even though the studio was closed we could still peak inside.

After a nice walk through the surrounding park – including the AIDS Memorial Grove, which was peaceful and lovely – we headed over to Crissy Field and Fort Point.

This took roughly forever.

We were driving, since there is no convenient BART link between all of the places we’d hoped to go and it was too far to walk, and Dave and Geoff decided to take the more scenic route along the Pacific Ocean.  And it was indeed scenic – gorgeous, in fact.  We got to see both the Pacific and the Atlantic in less than six months, which is just the kind of nerdy accomplishment that makes me smile.  But it was a lovely day, the day after Christmas, and everyone in San Francisco had decided that they needed to be in Marin County so the Golden Gate Bridge going north was jammed all the way back to the access roads along the Pacific.

But the scenery was, as noted, beautiful (it’s not like being stuck in traffic in Gary, Indiana, which we’ve also done), and Tabitha and Lauren had a great deal of fun signing back and forth between the two cars as we inched our way up and over the hill.  You make the best of things, and they turn out just fine.

Crissy Field is a lovely little patch of greenery under and to the bay side of the Golden Gate Bridge.  We met some friends there (more on the meeting of friends in a future post) and had a nice picnic lunch before heading up to Fort Point.

Fort Point is the old military post directly underneath the bridge, and it is a fascinating place to wander about.  It’s a ring of brick structure surrounding an open 3-story courtyard, and you can go pretty much anywhere you want.  It’s a great place to take pictures.

Lauren and Tabitha spent much of the time taking panoramic shots on Kim’s iPhone and cracking themselves up thereby, and if that isn’t what that feature is there to achieve then I don’t know why they even bothered to invent it.

We had a lovely time out in San Francisco, and a big thank you to Geoff and Dave for welcoming us into their city and home!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Faces of Lauren, 2014

Every year around this time I go through my photographs in the fond hopes that somehow this will be the year we will get our Christmas cards out on time.  Hasn’t happened this year.  Didn’t happen at all last year.  Not sure when or if it will ever happen.  But hope springs eternal, and that is the foundation of the consumer economy.  I like to think that I am single-handedly responsible for keeping the terrorists from winning that way.

The other tradition that this search has inspired over the last few years is the annual Faces of Lauren post.  It started out as my own project, but Lauren has become more and more involved with the choosing of the photos as she has gotten older.  Last night we sat down together and went through the year’s bounty and this is the collection we came up with.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

First on the To-Do List

I’m going to wrap the cats in cotton wool.

We got in from a lovely week in San Francisco around 2:30 this morning.  Other than the plane taking off about 45 minutes late and an unscheduled tour of the terminals at O’Hare International Airport because of some poor signage on Mannheim Road it was a smooth trip, but it was still a long one.  By the time we got home it was all we could do to stow the suitcases in the kitchen and fall into bed.

But we’d been gone a week, as noted.  And cats are not good about that sort of thing.

Especially Midgie, whose seven brain cells have enough trouble with coordinating chewing and for whom the concept of object permanence is foreign.  She cries on normal nights, despite the fact that we are right there and we wrap her up in her Thundershirt to make her feel secure.

But even Mithra was lonely while we were gone.  The rabbits had been farmed out to a friend and she had only Midgie to keep her company, and frankly Mithra would rather chew on pine cones than hang out with Midgie.

They were really, really, really, really, really, really excited to see us, in other words.

Then we turned out the lights.

And that’s when the Grand Serenade for Two Lonely Felines began.  It’s one of the lesser-known works in the canon of Western music, mostly because one rarely gets to hear it entire.  Usually somewhere around the third or fourth movement one of the audience members will get out of bed and toss most or all of the performers outside, often at some distance from the concert hall.  An underhand motion seems to get the best trajectory.  But we were too tired to do that, really, and so we got a fairly complete rendition, with all of the trills, fortissimo sections, glissandos, and 690-measure rests that make you think the piece has come to an end but are actually there to lull you into a false sense of security.

I suppose it is nice that the cats worked together on something, though if they really wanted to cooperate on a task I’d prefer they made themselves useful and reduced the mouse population around here.

Eventually I just got up and came downstairs in the fond hopes that this would put an end to it and the rest of the people in the house could get some sleep.  It did allow me to make a nice mug of tea and enjoy the English Premier League game on television without the awful feeling that I should be grading something, so there’s that.

There will be bloggage about our trip, yes there will.  We had a grand time with great people in a wonderful city, and if there is any urban place in America designed for photographers it is San Francisco.

But first, there will be cat-wrapping.

And then some rest.

Monday, December 22, 2014

There and Back Again, the Long Way

We went to see the latest theatrical installment of The Hobbit on Friday night.

Now, I am a Tolkien junkie.  I was one of those kids in high school who could write in elvish script – in both the Sindarin and Noldorin fashion – and for over a decade I read The Lord of the Rings annually.  The Silmarillion remains one of my all-time favorite books.  I’ve read most of the books his son published of his old papers, giving you the textual history of Middle Earth and the variations Tolkien went through to get to the final product.  The ones I haven’t gotten to yet are there on my shelf, waiting.  I’ll read them eventually.

I am, in other words, pretty much the target audience for this film. 

It was interminable.

I knew we were in trouble when the theater showed us nearly half an hour of previews and advertisements before the movie even started.  I like previews.  They’re usually the only glimpse of a movie I’ll ever get.  But by the eighth or ninth one I simply closed my eyes and waited for the onslaught to be over.  It took two or three more, plus a ham-fisted advertisement for the theater chain at the very end, but eventually the movie itself started.

Somewhere in that film is a really good 25-minute action scene begging to be appended to the end of a severely edited version of the previous movie.

The bulk of the film covers a period of little more than 24 hours in what feels like real time.  There are extended sub-plots that do little more demonstrate the fact that Peter Jackson feels he knows better than JRR Tolkien what should have happened in this story, most of which are made up out of whole cloth.  There are extended battle scenes, which, granted, is the focus of the story and  the title of the film, so that came as no surprise.  They are extremely extended, however, and they make little sense.  I’m not sure how the addition of a dozen or so soldiers to a battle that already involves multiple armies is supposed to tip the balance one way or another, but no attempt at an explanation is even made.  I don’t think Tolkien tried either, but he could be forgiven since the movie’s running time is approximately four times the time it would take to read that section of the book out loud so he had to elide over some things.  Jackson had a lot more room, and if he was going to invent entire characters and love plots, perhaps he could have extended his meddling to something more germaine.

Also, I’m still not sure what the architects of Middle Earth have against handrails.

There are narrow bridges over deep gorges.  There are parapets and steep paths.  There are staircases that go deep into mountains and high onto plateaus, and there are lofty platforms overlooking distant valleys.  And not a single one that I recall had any sort of thing to grab onto if you should trip over that broadsword dangling around your ankles.

I have this vision of meetings in the architect’s office as the Dwarves are planning their halls under Erebor.

“Ooo!  ‘andrails, ‘e wants!  Simple plunging death ain’t good enow for t’ likes o’ ‘im!  Always puttin’ on airs n’ gettin’ above ‘is station, I’ll warrant!  Waste o’ good stone, I says.”

It’s the only thing that makes any sense.

On the plus side, the cinematography is gorgeous – if they don’t win some kind of award for it, something is wrong with the movie industry – and the CGI is well done.  So there’s that.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Havertown PA, 1974

It gets harder and harder to get into the Christmas spirit, I find.

This year, for example, I have done pretty much nothing about the holiday.  I have done no shopping.  I have made only a beginning at a Christmas card letter, which admittedly is further than I got last year.  I did put up our strand of blue lights across the front of the house, and I brought the tree up from the basement – the artificial one that won’t burn the place down if we ignore it for a week.  That's something.  I even brought up the decorations, which sat in their boxes for a week, hogging the living room, while the only decoration on the tree was a merry little Dalek that Kim found somewhere and placed on it right away. 

Eventually Kim and I did get the tree looking a bit more festive.  The girls had taken over that task for a while, but with their schedules getting hectic it didn’t look like that was going to happen.  So now it’s mostly done.  I just need to put the angel on the top.  I looked all over for it without success, until this morning when Kim pointed to it sitting on the floor not four feet from the tree.

It’s times like these that I start to sympathize with my grandfather.

Sometime in the early 1970s he bought a pre-decorated tree.  It was about four feet high and came covered with red ribbons, white and silver balls, and silver garland.  He put a little angel on the top of it – I don’t think that came with the tree, but I could be wrong – and that was that.  Every year he’d set it up on the end table between the couches in the living room, which gave it enough height that you could put the presents under it.  My family always celebrated Christmas Eve far more than Christmas, and always over at my grandparents’ house.  That was the tree of our Christmas Eve.

There would also be a white metal ball hidden underneath something in the living room.  It plugged in and would play a recorded birdsong over and over until finally someone would snap and unplug it.  Tradition!

When the holiday season was over he’d wrap the whole thing up in a plastic bag, decorations and all, and stow it in the attic.  And the next year, the whole process would repeat itself, a never-ending series of Christmas Eves with only the outfits and the size of the children to tell them apart.  The nice part about that is that it let us focus on the people rather than the decorations.

This is from 1974.  I have recently turned 9 in this picture.  My brother is 6.  My parents are in their mid-30s, which is a lot younger than I am now.  And that’s the tree I remember.

It must be fairly late in the day, as all of the presents have gone from underneath the tree and the wrapping paper has been cleaned up.  If so, that means we’re about to head home – all of five miles away or so – to get ready for Christmas Day. 

We had our own tree there, an actual tree that my dad, my brother and I had gone out and cut down a week or two earlier.  That one was new every year and it was fun to go get it and fun to decorate it.  I always felt bad that my grandparents had the same old tree every year.

With the end of the semester and finals, with the hectic lives that the girls lead, with everything else that is scheduled to happen around here in the next week or so, though, I understand my grandfather more now.

I will focus on family, and try to find the spirit as I may.  And perhaps the rest of it will come too, in time.

Friday, December 12, 2014

News and Updates

1. At some point I will need to excavate my desk from the paperlanche that has engulfed it in the last few weeks.  This is always an issue at the end of the semester.  I can keep up with things for the first six to eight weeks, but after that it’s just a race against time to keep myself from being crushed by it all.

2. Last week was the annual Madrigal Dinner down at Home Campus, a festival which usually includes a nice meal, some lovely singing by the choir, a few bits of live theater involving jesters, a chamber orchestra, and some chemistry fun that last year included four-foot jets of flame.  This year Kim and Kristin kept the pyrotechnics out and focused on magic changing colored liquids, which was fun and impressive if not quite as exciting as nearly having the place burn down.  And Tabitha got her first paid gig as a violinist by playing in the chamber orchestra.  They paid her in pizza, but then that’s more than I ever got paid in my time in a band in college, so you can’t really argue with that at all.

3. I went down to the DMV the other day and got a new drivers license.  Except that I really didn’t get a new license – I just got the idea of a new license.  The State of Wisconsin is very desirous that we get something called a Real ID when we re-up for our licenses, as opposed to the Imaginary IDs they seem to have been fobbing off on us for these past many years.  And since it was made clear to me that if I chose not to get one of the Real IDs now I would just have to get one a few years down the line anyway - for a separate fee - I figured I’d go along.  It turns out this is a process that involves some forty-five confirmatory identifying documents, DNA samples, a blood-curdling oath sworn on the volume of your choice (The Silmarillion, in my case), three letters of reference, and a pinky-swear that all of the above is accurate to the best of your knowledge, and when all is said and done it still does not actually produce you an ID.  Those have to be processed at a central facility.  So I got a temporary ID - a printout, really - that I could carry around until the Real ID arrived in the mail, whenever that might be.  Which, ironically enough, means that my Real ID is pretty much Imaginary for the time being.  This is why I believe I should drink more.

4. Sometimes it is a wonder the things you suddenly realize that you have volunteered for.

5. Apparently Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) responded to a Jewish supporter by wishing him “Molotov” the other day.  On the one hand I suppose it was nice of him to make the effort to be culturally sensitive, and it would be good if he would be willing to do that for people who aren’t in a position to grease his palms with cash also.  On the other hand, seriously?  WTF?  Does he not employ people who can proofread his outgoing mail?  Is Wisconsin so goy-infested that nobody could have told him this was something of an Inigo Montoya moment?  Of course I am assuming this was a mistake on his part.  Maybe he was actually wishing the guy would catch fire and burn to the ground due to an incendiary device thrown in his direction.  As my friend Eric pointed out, he’s certainly done his best to do that to the state over the past few years.

6. We’re still a few holidays behind.  Kim and I went out tonight to celebrate our anniversary, which was actually last month.  But holidays happen when you’ve got the time for them, and soon we hope to do something for her birthday.  This will likely happen after my birthday, which will likely be celebrated sometime in March.  I’m surprisingly okay with this.

7.  Upon second viewing, I have confirmed my initial impression that Frozen was a really great movie right up to the last little bit when it was ambushed and beaten to a pulp by a marauding horde of cliches.

8. I should know better than to read serious books on the history of the Religious Right.  It’s not like my blood pressure isn’t already high enough.  That’s a group of people who really should be heavily medicated and then put to more useful pursuits such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, defending the oppressed, welcoming the stranger, or any number of other things that the actual focus of Christianity suggested might be done in His name by those who wished to honor Him.

9. One of the problems with commuting to Mid-Range Campus is that I don't get back until fairly late.  Normally this just means a late dinner, but this week it meant missing Lauren's band concert.  Fortunately Kim was there and she said that Lauren did a very nice job in her new role this year as a percussionist.  The thing about being a percussionist is that a) you get to hit things, and b) even though they put you way in the back, you spend your time standing up so people can still see you.  I'm hoping to make the next concert, at least.

10. We have the Christmas tree up now.  It has exactly one decoration on it so far: a merry little Dalek that Kim found somewhere earlier this year.  We’re hoping to get the rest of the tree decorated this weekend sometime, but I confess that part of me thinks a bare tree with a single Dalek would be kind of amusing.

11. It’s only December and we’ve really only had one cold snap so far by Wisconsin standards – a couple of days where the highs never got above 15F, which is cold for what is still technically autumn.  Mostly it’s been fairly moderate – highs around freezing, no real snow for a while.  Yet I find myself feeling colder than I usually do.  Just getting old, I guess.  It beats the alternative.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Arranging the Buy

There are moments in your life where you really have to wonder just how you ended up in that particular spot.

For the last few years we have bought a half-hog from a local farmer in the fall.  It’s good meat, and cheaper than you can get it in the stores.  Plus they will butcher it for you and do all the chopping and packaging and freezing, so all you have to do is pick it up, take it home, put it in your own freezer, and cook it at your convenience.

It helps to have a big freezer in the basement.

Yesterday it was my job to collect this year’s order.  Since it was on the way home from Mid-Range Campus anyway, we arranged to meet in the parking lot of a particular business just off the highway, about halfway between MRC and home.  The pork people are up that way anyway, so it was convenient to them.  I’d leave MRC, pick up my carpool buddy from his campus (which is not the same as mine), wend my way back to the highway, and get to the specified parking lot around 6:15pm for the pick up.  Simple.

But you see, here is the thing.

It’s December here in Wisconsin, as it is in most places these days.  There are parts of Alabama that are so far behind the times that it is probably still August there, but for most of the world December it is.  And Wisconsin is, the last time I checked, in the northern hemisphere.  This means that by the time I managed to drive from MRC to the designated parking lot it was dark.  The sun had long since gone down. 

Further, the business that actually owns the parking lot was closed.  It too was dark.  There were no lights in the parking lot at all.  The lot is just off the highway, but sufficiently off the highway that it’s actually a bit sheltered from traffic.  It’s pretty isolated.  And dark.  And there’s a little gravel to give the tires just the right sort of crunch as you go in to the lot to make things kind of eerie.

So we turn off the highway, drive the little bit to the parking lot entrance, and turn into the dark parking lot where a pickup truck with a solitary occupant is waiting for us, lights off.  I pulled up next to the truck and killed the engine, dousing the entire scene in darkness.  For a moment, nobody moved.

And it was at that point that I thought, “You know, this looks like a scene out of a bad movie.  I’m about to get busted for buying pork.”

Seriously, it felt kind of illicit.  “You got the pork?”  “Yeah, I got the pork.  You got the money?”  “Sure I got the money.”  “What is this?  A check?  You’re paying for this with a check?  What, are you going to keep a record for your taxes?  This is pork you idiot!  Cash only!”

Except that it is pork, after all, so a check was okay.  I handed over the check, he put the two boxes of frozen pig bits into the back of my car, and we drove off.  The whole thing took maybe five minutes.

And then the credits began to roll.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Gallery Mall, Philadelphia

I was once nearly thrown out of a mall for picnicking.

It was the summer after my sophomore year of high school, and the Gallery Mall in Center City Philadelphia was still pretty new at the time.  We knew all about malls in the suburbs – according to an article I read recently they were put there specifically to be beyond the blast radius should the cities get nuked in some Cold War sneak attack, after which they could serve as the centers of a new civilization.  Why anyone would want a new civilization based on Sam Goody’s, Hallmark, and JC Penney’s is something of a mystery but there you have it.  You can’t say we weren’t warned.  But the Gallery was right smack in the middle of the city so it would have been melted just like the rest of us, and that made it special.  There’s some camaraderie in that, I suppose.

Heh.  Camaraderie.  Comrade.  See what I did there?  Cold War humor – it doesn’t age so well.

A bunch of us were trying to figure out what to do for Larry’s birthday.  Larry really did not want us to do anything for his birthday, which of course obligated us to come up with something completely bizarre and awkward, because high school.  So we thought about that for a while.

It was probably Jill who came up with the idea.  She was the social coordinator of our little group – the one who made sure the rest of us misfits managed to get together for events and have the fun that we would never have otherwise bestirred ourselves to have.  Every group needs one of those.  My guess is that the process went something like this:

Why don’t we have a picnic at the Gallery?  

Well, because it’s in Center City, for one thing, and we are in the suburbs. 

But of course that is why they have public transportation, after all – to allow a person or even a group of people to get from Point A (defined as Not the Gallery) to Point B (defined as the Gallery) quickly and cheaply.

Okay, but Larry does not want us to do this.

And your point is?

Nothing, nothing at all.  Continue.

But we are scruffy teenagers of the very sort most likely to attract the wrong sort of attention from large and impolite men with badges that almost but not quite look like real police badges but whose billy clubs and firearms are nevertheless distressingly real and who would feel somehow obligated to find a rule or something to justify removing us from the mall in mid picnic.

We’ll just have to dress up, then.  Look good, respectable, and generally worthy of sharing an elegant picnic lunch and birthday party in the midst of the commercial throng.

And that was pretty much that.  There being no further objections, we proceeded.

The next step of course was to get Larry to the mall, a task that fell to me and Jill.  This was more complicated than it sounded, because if we were to dress up and not look like scruffy teenagers, we would tip him off that something was afoot, but if we dressed as we usually did we would, of course, be scruffy teenagers.  Eventually we hit on the notion of having one of the group that was meeting us there with the picnic supplies carry some nice articles of clothing that we could put on over our stuff – a jacket and/or tie, for example, or a nice hat.  Hats make the outfit, you know.

Larry would simply have to remain scruffy.  If you’d known Larry at this point of his life you’d probably agree that not trying to fancy him up was for the best.

So after convincing Larry that the three of us ought to spend some quality retail time together (again, if you knew us you’d realize how improbable this scenario was, but for some reason it worked), we met at the appointed time and headed into town.  The rest of the group was already there when we arrived.

I still remember walking up the long ramp from the train station into the mall (of course it had its own train station, don’t be silly) and rounding the corner to see everyone gathered ‘round the blanket that was being set up in a central but relatively untrafficked location on the main floor.  It was quite a sight.

Larry was in a sufficiently good mood that he agreed not to wreak physical vengeance and even seemed mildly amused by the whole thing, so Jill and I got our fancy duds on over our regular clothes, sat down among the crowd and prepared for our picnic.  We got some generally supportive comments from passersby, and we figured we had succeeded and could relax and enjoy ourselves.

That’s when the guy with the badge showed up.

Guys with badges are not paid to have a sense of humor, and generally they respond by not having one.  This guy sure didn’t.  He was quite annoyed, in fact, that we were trying to have a picnic in his mall.

But we are nattily attired, we said.  We are not scruffy at all, not even one little bit!

This cut no mustard with the guy with the badge.  Nor did the fact that it was Larry’s birthday and this was meant to be a surprise party.  No, there was nothing in his programming that would accept the reality of a picnic in that particular place and time, and so he ordered us to remove ourselves – nicely dressed as we were.

There was a period of intense negotiation.

Eventually he agreed that we could stay provided we relocated to a place that was entirely out of the way – up one story, around the corner, and tucked at the end of a dead-end, though it did have a nice view of the central court, so there was that much going for it.  There not being not much in the way of other options, we decided that would comply.

We had a grand time.

We shared some good food.  We had some laughs.  There were gifts, because it was, after all, a birthday party.

It is a lovely thing to picnic in a mall with friends.