Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I Present to you the Nudibranch...

Living Color

Toxic nudibranchs—soft, seagoing slugs—produce a brilliant defense

By Jennifer S. Holland
National Geographic Staff
Photograph by David Doubilet

Nudibranchs crawl through life as slick and naked as a newborn. Snail kin whose ancestors shrugged off the shell millions of years ago, they are just skin, muscle, and organs sliding on trails of slime across ocean floors and coral heads the world over.

Found from sandy shallows and reefs to the murky seabed nearly a mile down, nudibranchs thrive in waters both warm and cold and even around billowing deep-sea vents. Members of the gastropod class, and more broadly the mollusks, the mostly finger-size morsels live fully exposed, their gills forming tufts on their backs. (Nudibranch means "naked gill," a feature that separates them from other sea slugs.) Although they can release their muscular foothold to tumble in a current—a few can even swim freely—they are rarely in a hurry.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To (dinner in) New Haven...

Yesterday, my dear sweet friend Thomas Joseph Aloisius Conners (nee Piernikowski) was rewarded for nine years of (mostly) hard work on behalf of the world of linguistics when Yale University finally acquiesced and granted him his Ph.D. Hooray Tom!

I had the honor of driving up to New Haven in the front seat of my friend's Audi as he drove at ludicrous speed on the Merritt Parkway so that we could... well, so that we could miss actual graduation and arrive just in time for lunch. We were right on time.

We had a lovely lunch with Tom's family and then wandered New Haven for a bit, taking in the sights and stopping by the President's house, which was guarded by a SWAT team and a fierce looking lady guard in a nice suit. We think Tony Blair, who gave the commencement speech the day before, must have been inside.

After the walk we stopped by a friend's house for some champagne and cake and... well. That's when all hell broke lose. The party in and of itself was a lovely, civilized affair full of bubbly wine, peach cobbler and light and airy conversation. One man had been a drummer for Lisa Loeb. Another had an absolutely fantastic Mark Twain mustache. There was even a French Nuclear Physicist doing magic tricks. This is the kind of stuff you just can't make up.

As the party wound down and the last non-Tom-affiliated guest left, I was walking by the door and heard what can only be described as the sound of impending disaster. A combination clanking and flailing and thump thump thump, followed by a low, soft wailing. Yes, ladies and gents. A very nice Sociology graduate student had fallen down the stairs.

I opened the door and ran down - "Are you ok? What hurts? Your head? Your butt? Your foot? Your ankle?" - It was her ankle, and from the looks of it, it wasn't pretty, even from the get-go. I went back upstairs to fetch Tom's mother - a nurse - and some ice. Snap. There is no ice. There is no bag of frozen peas (always have one on hand for this exact purpose). Thankfully, the French Nuclear Physicist, who happened to live downstairs, had a 1/4 of a bag of frozen broccoli that we managed to turn into an ice pack. He said he'd almost eaten it the day before, but had take-out instead, suddenly proud of his decision to eschew vegetables in favor of Pad Thai.

For some reason, no one would let me call an ambulance. Someone was going to drive. It was almost drunk lady, until I pointed out that sending the person with the broken ankle off in the car with a probably drunk driver was not the best idea we'd had all day. We took two cars.

Oy. Fast forward through a misguided trip to the University Health Services building, where they do not have an X-ray machine and where I'm pretty sure they don't want to have anything to do with you on graduation day.

So we wove our way around campus to the Yale-New Haven Hospital Emergency Room. Where we learn that *someone* had gone and canceled our dinner reservation because she decided she wasn't coming. Even though the other 12 people who had been planning on eating at the restaurant were in fact already gathered there waiting for Team Hospital Visit to show up. Right? You're like "Who cancels someone else's dinner reservation without asking them? Or even telling them for that matter!" I swore somehow I'd managed to change my regular pair of pants for a pair of Crazy Pants. When had we gone through the looking glass? To top it off, there was a dude who was stabbed and the lady who had stabbed him sitting in the ER. Hoards of children were running around seemingly unsupervised, and as time went on it got later... and later... and later... and I knew my "I'm not getting home before midnight if I do this," premonition was in fact coming true.

If this weren't a family blog, I'd unleash a stream of profanity right here that would make a sailor blush. (Oh yes! AND in addition to BIRTHDAY WEEK, it's FLEET WEEK. Sometimes God shows love.)

A few hours later after an impromptu Malaysian meal that was mostly starch and salt, I was back on the road to New York City, this time sitting in the back seat of the Audi and encouraging my friend to take 95S instead of the Merritt Parkway because I was too tired to be afraid of death at every turn.

So, for the record Tom. Your friends do love you. We just want to be in charge of dinner next time.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Better Than American Idol

If you're alive and on Earth right now, chances are you have been inundated today with chatter and news about the American Idol battle of the Davids in which David Cook stole the crown from would-be front-runner and all-around-adorable kid David Archuleta.

Over the course of today I've managed to forgive Fox for purposefully having the show run over its alloted time slot so that my recording on my DVR cut off right here... "The winner of American Idol is... David...." END. Yes, folks. That really happened. I have had to move on, and let it go.

I confess that I love watching American Idol, especially when the singers are bad because being a normal person, I'm wicked into Shadenfreude.

However, tonight, the real Best Reality Show Ever starts up on Fox...


So You Think You Can Dance is simply awesome. 20 highly trained dancers doing choreographed, costumed routines in so many dance styles your head will spin. Everything from waltzes to hip hop to krumping to the Argentine Tango. It's that awesome.

I highly advocate watching this show.

And as a bit of a teaser, I've included this snippet from one of the best performances last season.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cross your fingers.

That's all I'm sayin.

But what I really wanted to share with you is this:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Tomorrow morning before heading in to work, I will finally surrender my Massachusetts drivers license to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.

(OMG, how precious is David Archuleta? That boy is what America is all about. But that's a different story. He fills me with love for all mankind.)

So, tomorrow I will finally take the plunge and become a resident of New York.

I have lived in New York City since August 2005. Technically the state says you have to turn your license over 30 days after you become a resident. They don't, however, get too technical about what it means to be a resident. If they're being all simple and literal, I'm almost 3 years overdue and New York can officially do bad things to me for squatting.

But I have a feeling they have more pressing matters on their hands than punishing me for dragging my feet on giving up a part of my past.

This is apparently nostalgia month on Metropolis Unbound.

You see, I've kept my Massachusetts drivers license with its picture of me with beautiful curling brown hair and a nice mid-summer tan even though I've moved on. (Hell, I've bought real estate in New York City. You'd think that was commitment enough. In fact, Citibank just sent me a check for $48.03 to clear out the escrow account on my old mortgage. That's hard core grown up New Yorker.)

But no. Its the last thing. The last piece of me tied to my six years living in Boston, moving between my Beacon Hill studio to live with the ladies of 1426 Commonwealth Ave. to my years in Cambridge. It has my final Boston address and a crease from sitting on an airplane seatbelt the first week I had it. It has a picture of me in younger times, happy and optimistic.

I don't meant to say I'm not optimistic. Quite the opposite. I'll be 31 this month and part of me is grateful every day that I'm still happy and healthy and able to appreciate all of the wonderful things I have while still continuing to strive for more and learn more.

But if I face it, I have a mortgage.

So I have mixed feelings about turning this driver's license into one that shows the face I have now. The older look in my eyes. The slightly sharper lines of my cheeks. But it will make it official in a way I've resisted.

I told an ex-boyfriend once that I had always put off moving down to New York because when I did, it would be done. I'd be home. And if I can hold out financially, I will stay. Brooklyn is now home to me. It's like I'm back with my people. Maybe if I moved back to Manayunk in Philadelphia I'd feel even more so, living back in the neighborhood where my dad's mother and my mom's grandmother were girls together. But for now, I guess I feel more like a New Yorker than anything else, even though I confess again to being raised in New Jersey.

Maybe I'll get priced out like so many people do. Or maybe I'll evolve into a new home. A new state. Or heck, maybe even wind up back on the beach in Ocean City.

The first time I saw my apartment in a photograph on the Internet, I knew that's where I was going to live. Something about it just hit the spot. I called my sister immediately. I almost passed up going to the first open house because it was raining, but I got up and went, thinking that to not go would be a mistake. I was probably right, because when I went back the next day with my sister, brother in law, two roommates and one friend (open house overkill), I made an offer.

So, maybe its exciting. Registering officially that this is where I think I belong right now. But it does mean giving up a little something that I've held on to all this time. A tiny document that I could glance down at and see where I'd come from.

Maybe its about Phatiwe. Maybe turning over this leaf means really saying goodbye to all that and it has been too hard to face. Maybe the license and the gold paper fan hanging on my bedroom wall are my talismans.

It's just a laminated plastic card that lets me drive a car and convinces the Department of Homeland Security that I am me, but what I'm afraid of losing is the smile of the beautiful woman in that picture. I got to look down at it every time I opened my wallet. But now I have to let go.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The more things change...

I'm back in Washington DC for a work event, but managed to sneak away this evening to have dinner with a wonderful old friend in one of our old haunts. Cleveland Park, up Connecticut Avenue from the Boston University building where I lived in the fall of 2002 when I was in graduate school and an intern for the

He picked me up and drove through the District, up 18th Street through Adams Morgan, and it was as if the five and a half years in between had never happened, only back then he drove a White Volkeswagen Golf. The same bars. The same restaurants. Madam's Organ, Tom Tom, the jumbo slices of pizza... The same crowds of 25-year old girls. The same Ethiopian place that always seemed on the verge of closing, still going strong... in that "on the verge of closing" way.

We drove back to Connecticut Ave. over Rock Creek Park and up through Woodly Park, my old neighborhood. Same restaurants. Chipotle. The two Indian places... Maybe one or two had turned over in all that time, and I was amazed.

Even when we got up to Cleveland Park, most of it was still the same. In fact, what stood out was what was different. The Pizzaria Uno was some low-budget burger joint. The expensive Italian restaurant we picked at random because it had outside seating (and ridiculously bad service) was new, I think. But Atomic Billiards, where we'd spent many a night drinking cheap beers and battling it out in the pool hall? Still there.


This is something you don't really get in New York in the same way. Sometimes, if I go a few weeks between visiting my sister on the Upper East Side, the entire neighborhood is turned over. Penang is a diner. The diner is now called Vynl, and some souvenir shop is a new Pinkberry (yum! addiction! not as bad as "House" though...) There's a transience almost in the way things come and go in New York City. Even things that we considered staples sometimes disappear overnight, never to be seen again, or sometimes to re-open three doors down with the same tables but slightly different.

Being back in the District was like falling into a time warp, back to a time when I could drink til three and still go to work in the morning at the Capitol building and be fine.
When I thought I was in love with someone who turned out to be well... wasted space.
And when I got to photograph George W. Bush sign the order from Congress authorizing him to go to war with Iraq.
When the DC Sniper had us all terrified that we would be randomly shot walking anywhere we went.
When while photographing the 30th anniversary of the Vietnam Memorial in the rain, my camera bag spontaneously combusted. (Yes. I caught fire in a rain storm. Batteries are not toys.)

I felt young and old at the same time, and just found myself smiling and watching the lights as we drove back to my hotel, wondering where all that time had gone.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May = Birthday Month!

Since just about the time I was born, I've been kind of obnoxious about my birthday. Many people I know don't even let you know when their birthdays are come and gone, but I'm not really very good at that. Sue me.

You have 30 days to prepare. Maybe now I can fixate on my birthday instead of on Hugh Laurie, although this is probably unlikely.

My father's birthday is the day before mine, you see. (May 29 and 30th. I'll leave you to figure which is which.) And I happened to be born on a national holiday, so my birthday often falls during a 3-day weekend.

This means that my father and I have been kind of obnoxious about Birthday Weekend for approximately 31 years. Before that, I'm pretty sure he was obnoxious about birthday weekend but didn't have an ally. However, once we team up, my mother wishes she could be sent into space in a pod so that she wouldn't have to deal with us.

But its very important to celebrate being born! If you've ever watched it happen, it's a major accomplishment. And then not getting hit by a bus, year after year? Definitely worth celebrating. You see, to me, birthdays aren't a time to sit and be sad about being older. Older is awesome! Older is the opposite of dead. So you're doing fine. Birthdays celebrate the fact that you're still alive, and anything is possible.

The best way to spend one's birthday is on my parents dock in South Jersey, drinking white wine and eating crab cakes. Perhaps going to the beach. Getting in a boat ride around the bay, maybe heading out and cruising by Atlantic City.

This year, however, is one of those rare years when my birthday is actually several days past Memorial Day weekend - its on the following Friday. So it's like I get 2 three-day weekends in a row! Not like. It's actually true. How awesome is that?

And I'll have friends in town. AND the Sex in the City movie opens that day. The universe is conspiring to make me happy. Now if I could only find a way to actually *meet* Hugh Laurie... but then my life would be perfect and I believe at that point, you spontaneously combust.