Thursday, June 26, 2003

summer at the pool over the phone

Summer at the Pool
I called home late yesterday afternoon, and got no answer. So then I tried my wife's cell phone. I wanted to give her some news about an appointment we've been trying to arrange. When she answered, I could hear in the background: kids laughing and talking, parents calling out, a life guard whistle, the sound of feet walking in short, fast steps through the shallow puddles that form at the edge of the pool, the sort of twangy hard thump of the diving board, followed by a splash, my daughter and her friend rustling in the beach bag that was very likely hooked over the back of the chair my wife was sitting on as we talked.

Yesterday was hot and a little bit humind in the Boston area, and the town pool was the place to be. As we talked, I could almost smell the chlorine.

Monday, June 09, 2003

New Blog: Teaching Writing in an Online World
I began a new blog, Teaching Writing in an Online World that I started a few days ago as a way to experiment with using a blog in TechNotes. TechNotes is a newsletter with tips on teaching writing, focusing mostly on technology.

I first created TWOW because this blog, Odds and Ends, has drifted into being a place for me just to post short essays on, well, odds and ends. TWOW will be predominately about issues that in some way connect teaching writing in a time when networked computers are increasingly the default writing technology.

Friday, June 06, 2003

Odorless Supermarkets

Tuesday night I went with my wife and two daughters to the supermarket. We were in the neighborhood and decided on a whim to get some ice-cream to make sundaes, and a few other odds and ends. We entered the store and diverged in teams of two. I trailed along behind my 12 year old, who made a beeline for the bread section; she loves crusty breads, baguettes, that kind of thing. It's a favorite snack (along with snap peas, go figure).

So as she ran ahead, towards the bread, I flashed on an image of me having done the same kind of thing when I was her age, skittering ahead of my mother to where we were heading in the grocery store to select and make a case for the variant of the staple that I liked best (or disliked least in some cases). The flashback was strong, I remembered the store, a neighborhood market, with worn and warped wooden floors, and shelves that seemed more loosely grouped than regimented by product rows. But the thing I remembered most in that flashback, were the odors from that old store.

When I was a kid, we spent a lot of time in grocery stores that had odors, places where you could smell the food the minute you walked in. So on Tuesday night, as I stood there in the supermarket, with its garish lights, and abundance, was the absence of scent. Even in the bread section, there was no smell of fresh baked bread. Even in the vegetable section, where fruits and vegetables are laid out, there was no odor of fresh vegetables. And forget about meats and cheeses, which are shrinkwrapped, boxed, cellophaned and styrofoamed into odorless units. Between the packaging, the cavernous size of more and more supermarkets, and the air conditioning, 1/3 of the intimacy and sensuality of food shopping (texture and taste being the other two thirds) evaporates. I think it literally evaporates into the large cavernous spaces of the modern supermarket, with its broad expanses and conditioned air. The odors are either locked in plastic or pushed out by filtered air.

Stores should be clean, of course, but shopping for food shouldn't be so sterile, so plastic, so distant from the olfactory pleasures food can offer.

This summer, if you find a small neighborhood grocery store with good produce, meats, and cheeses, breathe deep, and remember that scent, a mixture of earth and green and fruit, the smell of tomatoes, of an orange's pectin, of arugula, of corn, the flavors of cheese in the air, that sort of tangy sweet muskiness of combined meat odors, that all together mix and give the store its own perfume. Remember that scent the next time you stand in a large supermarket and can't smell anything.

Small stores with fresh vegetables, with cheeses and meats that hang by cord above the counters where you order your slices and cuts, with baskets of beans that you scoop into bags on your own, with stacks of potatoes and beets; small stores with lower ceiling, narrower aisles, those are places where you can still smell food when you walk in, where you can look at it, ask about it, get small tastes of this and that. If you've a store like that in your neighborhood, visit it often.

And shop there too, buy something, keep it in place. Your food will taste better if you do.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003


My Aunt Lucille sent me a clipping from the Hartford Courant that she had saved for 34 years. It's a picture of me when I was ten, getting a golf lesson from the golf pro at Goodwin Park, a municipal golf course in Hartford, CT, where I grew up. The year was 1969; the lessons were sponsored by the Police Atheletic League (PAL). Victoria Rd., where we lived, was the last street in Hartford before you entered Whethersfield, if you walked west, the street lead into Goodwin Park. If you entered the park there was a skating pond, with an ice-house, a picnic pavillion just near it, and then just beyond the picnic pavillion, a path to the club house of the golf course. Goodwin park has two courses, an 18 hole course and a nine hole hacker's course -- mostly flat and straight, the hacker's course, with no water and I think no sand traps, but I can't remember for sure.

The path to the club house wasn't marked really, but essentially one walked up between the 18th hole of the 18 hole course and the 1st hole of the nine hole course.

And that's what I did that summer, I'd walk up Victoria Rd., past the pond, through the picnic grounds, between the fairways of holes 18 and 1, and get a golf lesson. For a few years after that, until I started high school, I played golf almost every day in the summer, nine holes in the morning and nine in the afternoon on many days. It was only 50 cents a round for city residents.

I played most often with a kid from the neighborhood named Brian Sherry. One of Brian's arms ended about where his elbow would've been -- a birth defect -- but he played all kinds of sports -- golf, football, baseball. In baseball he'd gotten real good as a fielder and could quickly snag a ball, tuck his glove under his short arm, pull his hand out of the glove and get the ball to the infield. In football he often quarter backed, and in golf we swung away.

I think those summers, between when I was 10 and 13, were some of the most idyllic I've yet lived.