Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Putting the "special" in special election

So I voted by absentee ballot today - in person, if you can believe that - in the special school election tomorrow.

That's not really the point.

The point is how odd I feel, in the way I vote in local elections, now that I'm a homeowner.

When I was just a renter, not facing property taxes or really caring about what went on in the municipality, I voted more or less party line, pro-education, stuff like that.

Now that I own a home, in a community, I pay more attention - I think about what each vote means, how I would want things to be if my vote really meant anything (which of course, it never does, as most elections in my area are pretty one-sided).

Take school budget referendums (like today's). In the past, I tended to vote for them - hey, the children are the future, right? But now, I look carefully at what they're for, and why they're up for vote. My property taxes are high - it's Jersey, after all - and having no children myself, I'm deriving no direct benefit from the school system.

That's not to say I vote against any and all property tax increases. On the contrary, I've voted for some. But I'd rather vote for programs that could benefit the whole school district than, say, more stands for the football field (especially when the basic needs aren't being met). I'd rather make sure the district meets its basic needs than pay more for excess.

I worry you get what you pay for... but I also worry about paying the mortgage.

(Aside, it says something about "No Child Left Behind," that my school district wants to raise the budget because they spend so much to meet the standards they can't afford basic maintenance.)

On a legislative level, I find myself sometimes voting for Republicans - and I'm a Democrat - because I'm in a heavily Republican area, most of my local guys are Republicans, and I think they're getting things done that I want done.

They're working on a Route 206 bypass that would cut down on traffic in Hillsborough. The local state Assemblyman, a Republican, is from Hillsborough. So I vote for him - why? Because I figure he cares about getting things done in the township. Like getting rid of one of the nation's most impressive collections of mercury, stuff like that.

Funny how that works. I don't quite know what to make of it all.

But I keep thinking that this is why people care so much about the local elections I used to shrug at. Because it hits 'em in the wallet. And right now, my wallet's got just enough in it to feed me tomorrow.

And I kept my streak up with that absentee ballot - I've never missed an election, not even the screwy little school ones (where the polls are only open in the evening, when I'm at work).

The importance of voting to a naturalized citizen and journalist... well, that's another post.

Assemblyman Peter J. Biondi, R-16th Dist.
Hillsborough Township School District - Go Raiders!
The Route 206 bypass controversy
The Somerville Depot, which is really in Hillsborough

Totally off subject, I got the second season of "Law and Order: SVU" on DVD today. I love that show. It's addictive.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

God bless Google

One of the great joys of Google is when you search for something serious, say, for work, and find something random.

Like this:
Doing a Lynndie

I hope that brightens your weekend. It did mine.

Hypocrisy in all its forms

Today, the Baltimore Orioles told Rafael Palmeiro to take his ball, his steroids and go home.

Not along ago, Palmeiro was standing before Congress in the steroid hearings swearing up and down that he never took steroids.

Then he failed a test and got suspended, just in time for the O's to cancel an event honoring him for his 3,000th hit.

Which circle of hell is for the hypocrites, Raffy?

This post actually gets back to a post I was going to write a while back about Karl Rove, from the George W. Bush ("The buck stops there!") administration.

Rove, the architect of Bush's campaigns - you know, a guy who helped make a male cheerleader look tougher than a thrice-wounded Vietnam vet - was the subject of much rumor during that whole "who outed the CIA agent" scandal.

You know, the one where Dubya said anyone involved would have no place in his administration, then after it might have been his boy Karl, said, hey, innocent until proven guilty, right?

See, the thing is, to me, as a (halfhearted) Democrat, I think what my party needs is, basically, more assholes like Rove.

(That comment ought to get me one of those "celebrity" FBI files I was reading about...)

The thing is, Rove may be an asshole, as Lee Atwater was before him in the GOP, but the thing is, he wins - as Atwater did before him. And the Dems sure could use a winner. The Jim Carville way just isn't working if you don't have the charisma of Bubba Clinton - which John Kerry didn't, and Al Gore sure as hell didn't.

I noticed the other week, as I was covering the Raiders/Pats game, Tom Brady, the Patriots' boy wonder quarterback, has the exact same annoying smirk as Dubya. But like Rove, Brady's a winner, too. And no matter how much he bugs the snot out of me, I've got to give him that. He wins.

What does this have to do with hypocrisy, you ask?

It has to do with calling people on it.

George Bush, as many people pointed out pre-election, stood up and talked about how if he weren't re-elected, it would make the country less safe. He all but stood on the ashes of Ground Zero, wrapped himself in that torn flag and sang the national anthem.

Um, George, when 9/11 happened, you were the president. "My Pet Goat" can't have been so good a book that you forgot, can it?

So let me get this right, I should vote for you because... you were in charge during the most collossal fuck-up in the history of our national defense? Because you're a "wartime president" - who started a war he can't seem to finish?

The point isn't actually Dubya-bashing here. The point is, despite this serious leap in logic - remember when the mission was "accomplished"? - Bush got re-elected.

So Karl Rove did something right. Something really, really right.

And where was the Democrat to stand up and go, "Dude, you can't even prove you were at the job you got to dodge the war, and you're knocking a guy who went, fought, and got shot for saying that maybe war sucks? You've been no closer to war than I am watching 'Tour of Duty: The Complete Season 3' on DVD." How would you know if it's good, bad or indifferent?

There's a judge in New Jersey who's on trial in a kiddie porn case. This is a guy who lost a leg and his more important below-the-waist bits in Vietnam, and is now claiming insanity as a defense.

How many crooks is that going to turn loose on the streets if the guy who went "Guilty! And may God have mercy on your soul!" is a whack job - pun fully intended?

Hypocrisy is everywhere.

I'm as guilty as the next guy, but at least I can admit it. Unlike some presidents who can never come out and say they did something wrong. I do stuff wrong every day. I confess.

How about the deeply religious folks who ignore that whole bit about loving your fellow man? They hate gays. They hate foreigners. They hate minorities. They hate Jews. They hate anyone who isn't just like them. Hell, Pat Robertson suggested assassinating the democratically elected president of Venezuela the other day. Maybe the members of the 700 Club shit light, sweet crude oil or something, but $3-a-gallon gas aside, and even if this guy is a nut, wasn't "Thou Shalt Not Kill" one of those rules a minister's supposed to follow?

You know, it's somewhere on the tablets with "Don't Fuck the Altar Boys" and "Don't Cover for the Ones Who Do."

Whenever I think of hypocrisy and religion, with typical Jewish guilt, I think of the seder I went to that included a prayer with the line, "wherever there is suffering, Jews are there," meaning Jews understand the suffering of others, as they have suffered.

And God help me, I keep thinking, "Tell that to the Palestinians."

Rafael Palmeiro's official Web site (God knows what they sell in the shop)
Exposing Karl Rove (not that way, mercifully)
An excerpt from a book on Lee Atwater
A great "Tour of Duty" fan site
The two faces of Judge Stephen Thompson
Venezuela wants Pat Robertson... in jail!
The Pope and pedophilia
The Passover seder

I don't like negative posts. They make me sad. But sometimes, I just have to rant. I guess that's hypocrisy, too.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

California Dreamin'

I know, it's been a while. Sorry. I was away, and that's the point of this blog.

The past couple of weeks, I've had the pleasure of covering my favorite football team, the Oakland Raiders, for Raiderfans.net. (Well, they lost both, so maybe "pleasure" is a bit strong of a word.)

Anyway, this past weekend was the big RFN tailgate - where I could meet other cool members of the site and they could meet me. Lots of fun. If you're really interested, go on over to RFN and check out the forum. My game coverage is there, and so are a lot of photos and good stuff like that.

But that's not what my post is about. My post is about flying, because I haven't been on a plane in a while, and it was a real adventure.

I flew from Newark to Chicago Midway on ATA, then got on Southwest to Oakland, and reversed the pattern coming back. Flew out on Saturday morning, back on Monday afternoon.

So you know how you're supposed to get to the airport an hour early for domestic flights? This is where the fun begins. I was thinking of taking the train, to save a little $$$ on parking and the like, and not have to drive home late Monday night. But I overslept, and I would've caught a train that put me at the airport at about 45 minutes before the flight, whereas if I drove it would've gotten me there about an hour and 15 minutes ahead. I've never used the NJ Transit stop at Newark Airport, so I figured this wasn't the time to experiment, and drove.

That was fine because long-term parking was cheaper than I remembered anyway, I caught the shuttle right away, and got to the ATA counter exactly an hour before my 10:25 a.m. flight.

And stood there. In line. With just about everyone else on that flight. Until 10:10 a.m. Me, no carry-on, online ticket purchase. But they wouldn't let me go through the outside counter because I changed planes and airlines in Chicago.

So there I stand, as the two ATA agents at the counter get confounded by...

1. A couple with a dog. (Yeah, you can bring a little rat-dog on an airplane. Who knew?)
2. Any and every group of more than three people. (Including the second group, which had stood in line laughing at the first group.)
3. International passengers, with foreign passports. (I think they were Chinese.)
4. Everyone else.

So while it's amateur hour at the check-in counter, the people in line are literally starting to sweat making the flight, especially because of the little sign that says they stop checking people in 30 minutes before flight time.

If they'd actually done that, the flight would've been 40% full instead of 90%.

I went cheap. My new philosophy is you get what you pay for. I was already nervous because ATA's pilots were talking about striking, and I had visions of being stranded somewhere.

So I finally get through and get on the plane, where I promptly slept through most of the flight to Midway, despite being stuck in a middle seat. (I like windows; I like to watch the scenery go by when you take off or circle for landing. More on that in a minute.)

So Midway's fine, got a nice sandwich at the Harry Carey's there, and it's time for Southwest.

Southwest, for those who have never flown it, has cattle-call seating. No assigned seats. How this saves money, I have no idea, but having gotten stuck in the last boarding group, I'm not too keen on this.

The last time I was on a flight that didn't reserve seats, I think it was Air Pakistan, back from France on a school trip. The chaperone told all the guys to commandeer rows at a time. I was in a row with a girl who was afraid to fly and a smelly foreign person who elbowed his way into our group. We got even with him by cheerfully discussing her fear of flying, the possibility of her throwing up, and how many ways we could die on the flight.

This was before either Flight 800 or "Final Destination," so that was then, this is now.

Anyway, cattle call sucked then, and it sucks now.

The good news was, I ended up in a row with just one other person, so we could stretch out. The bad news was, it was the next to last row, so I kept getting elbowed by people on the way to the bathroom (I was on the aisle), and the family behind us had a little toddler who just wailed through the whole flight. I slept anyway, after getting about three hours Friday night. So not all was lost. And I finished Douglas Preston's "Tyrannosaur Canyon," which was quite good.

But what's best about Southwest is, they give you a little snack box full of food, like cookies and crackers. For some reason, I just love getting something for nothing. I don't mean a gift or whatever, those are great, but I mean those things you're not expecting, just little things. They just make my day.

Like when you order 10 Buffalo wings and get 11. Or you find a quarter. That kind of thing. It just makes me happy.

I might point out, the Southwest pilot flew perfectly. But taking off and landing... not his strong suits.

Maybe it's the wind in Chicago, but we took off with a wobble that would make the proverbial drunken sailor say, "Hey, straighten up!"

(Speaking of drunken, at least I wasn't on another Southwest flight, where my buddy threw up in his snack box, on his Raiders jersey, on the girl next to him, and so forth.)

As for the landing, he stuck a dismount that would have made Kerri Strug hop for joy. I'd never been on a plane that stopped on a dime before. Thud. That's why you leave your seatbelts on, or I'd have ended up in the next-to-next-to-last row.

So that was fun, and my (mis)adventures in Oakland are a story that you probably had to be there for. So let's fast-forward to Monday.

I got on Southwest on Monday, again in the last group (grr...) but this time, I got a window seat next to what must have been a couple of newlyweds.

I figure that because a) she had a rock the size of a small dachshund; and b) they kept making out. I mean, we haven't taken off, and the guy accidentally elbows me, I instinctively turn to look, and they've locked lips. For almost a minute.

If I'd known this was going to happen, I'd have taken a middle seat farther back. Evidently, my voyeuristic streak isn't nearly as impressive as I'd hoped.

This continued throughout the flight, I might add, so perhaps she was afraid of flying and he was comforting her. It got worse when they switched seats late in the flight, because before that, he at least blocked out most of my forced side-of-the-eye view.

Fortunately, I had plenty of reason to look out the window, as this (smooth) takeoff out of the Bay Area was one of the best I've ever seen as far as sights. We circled right over the Bay, and it was a beautiful day so on the way up, I could see PNC Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Rock, and everything. It's great, once you spot a landmark, you can really enjoy picking things out.

This pilot wobbled his way INTO Chicago, so maybe it's the wind.

But even then, I got a great look at something cool: A storm. Way off in the distance, a giant thunderhead had lightning going off inside it. Very cool. And not close enough to be scary, although there was another plane right nearby it.

I did finish my book on gladiators, which made me think of "Airplane." ("Tommy, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?")

So we get to Chicago. By now, I'm on to Brian Keene's "City of the Dead." And I get an assigned seat.

But I wound up not finishing my book, because I fell asleep, mercifully, on this near-empty flight.

And coming back over New Jersey, when I woke up, I found it's much harder to figure out where you are when it's dark and all lit up - by the time I found anything I could recognize, we were over downtown Newark.

And miraculously, despite accidentally deleting the text message I sent myself, I remembered where I parked my car, even at midnight.

A lot of fun, on some very strange flights.

Newark Liberty International Airport
The Oakland Raiders

By the way, Southwest is running some kind of protest called "Set Love Free" (its ticker symbol is LUV). I don't know what this is about, but it's not very reassuring to board an airplane out of a gate covered in elementary-school style bubble-letter writing and construction-paper cutouts.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Boys to men

Today, I was talking with a co-worker about her days on an exhibition gymnastics team.

(She described what she did as parallel bars "and other novelty acts." The invitation to use my filthy mind there sounds like my days on Safewalk, in college. Safewalk was, for lack of a better way to describe it, an escort service. What we really did was walk around with Maglites and walkie-talkies, walking girls too scared to cross campus to their dorms. Well, what we really did was hang around at the sororities, since we averaged about 1 call a shift. Technically, we were "escorting" them. But when people ask what I did, I like to see the look on their face when I say I was part of an escort service.)

Back on point, we got to talking about gymnastics, and I told the story of the gymnastics troupe that visited my junior high school. They were locals, and had a big reputation, and they set up in the gym and did their thing.

So there we sit, eighth-grade boys, bored out of our minds, pondering the curves in the leotards, when this girl falls on the balance beam.

Splat. One leg on each side. WHAM!

Every 13-year-old boy in the audience groaned.

(As Sara pointed out, this is why she stayed away from the balance beam. Yeah, me, too.)

Now I'm sure seeing a good groin shot will make grown men cringe, too, but there's something about being in the middle of puberty that just makes it godawful. I mean, you're already painfully aware of how sensitive you are down there, and how sensitive you are about being sensitive down there.

So I was a bit of a late bloomer, I guess, and a year younger than all my friends, to boot. That doesn't mean much when you're 29 and they're 30 - in fact, that's kind of fun. But when you're 15 and they can drive, when you're 17 and they can vote, when you're 20 and they can drink... who am I kidding. I was a frat boy. I was drinking at 17. But the worst part is, when you're 12 and they're 13, they know all kinds of interesting things they've forgotten to tell you by the time they happen to you.

This isn't really about those nighttime moments, when you start questioning the wisdom of letting your Mom do your laundry.

This is about how I was scarred for life by the eighth-grade Christmas play.

I've been an actor, on and off, for years. I got my start when I was about 10 and the Bloomsburg University drama director, a friend of my father's, needed a "Boy" for his "Waiting for Godot." He'd given me a pirate coat to wear as a Halloween costume, and when I went to his house to say thanks and trick-or-treat, he liked how I looked so much, next thing I know I was on stage. In hindsight, this probably makes me the only person who's ever had any fun having anything to do with anything written by Samuel Beckett.

But by seventh grade, I was more interested in playing soccer than playing a role. But my parents figured being in drama would give me something to do - after all, hadn't I enjoyed the other play? - and make me more friends.

Well, as Meat Loaf would sing, two out of three ain't bad. Good thing I had some good friends already.

So in the seventh-grade Christmas play, I was a Snidely Whiplash-esque villain, down to the fake moustache. (I still can't grow a real one. Sheesh.) They say you never forget the first time, but it was my second play, and I can't for the life of me think of the title. Hell, I even found a photo from the paper of it, when I was digging through some family pictures for the family tree. All I can really remember is one of the characters was named Anemia Strongheart, and Jim Dietterick kept pronouncing it "Anna-mia," thus ruining the joke and driving Mr. Ryan, the director up the wall. But I digress...

In the seventh-grade spring show, I was the comic relief handyman. (I still can't do anything handy, except file key blanks to fit warded locks - see previous post!) This was "Vaudeville's My Home," and the best part was I got a scene with Shannon Laudermilch, who I had a serious crush on. Plus, I got one of the bigger laughs of the show, but it's a visual joke.

And eventually, in the eighth-grade play, I was a doctor, probably raising my grandmother's hopes far beyond what I would achieve in her lifetime. That was "The Velveteen Rabbit," and marked the first time I really got hosed on a role in a musical because I can't sing a note.

But in the eighth-grade Christmas play (this name, I also don't remember, because I think Mr. Ryan wrote it), I was - I shit you not - the fairy godfather. So there I am, 12 years old, in front of the entire school, opening my trenchcoat like a flasher in front of Marci Gerasimoff...

... and I'm wearing a tutu.

Again, I might point out, I got the biggest laugh in the show. And fortunately, I was supposed to look mortified. But if, psychologically speaking, my other ball dropped about a year late, I think this was why. Hell, I was smoking in eighth grade (not the record, by any means; my eighth-grade friends got me started, and I remember little Tommy Riegel was smoking at 10 years old) so I probably had a shot at maturity that didn't really kick in for about another year. Before the dress.

This is one of those moments I remember with a vague sense of disquiet, even as I'm turning them into a joke among friends. Like the time I got really sick in about 10th grade and required one of those Fletch "Moon River!" exams. That's how I learned I wasn't a homosexual. That freakin' hurt.

Shifting gears; two jokes about rectums, neither of them mine.

The vet gave my dog (get well soon!) a rectal thermometer once. He lifted Morgan's tail, and Morgan's standing there, puppy that he was, looking innocently cheerful, trying to wag his tail, when YIP! Head up, eyes bulging out of his skull, accusatory look at me. Maybe that's a visual joke, too.

Other joke: When I went to college, my Mom gave me a digital thermometer, and so my friends could use it, a bunch of plastic sleeves one of my friends immediately dubbed thermometer condoms. So one day, Ed, my roommate, wants to take his temperature. He snags the thermometer (which he's never used), pops on the thermometer condom, pops it in his mouth.

Which was the moment I'd been waiting for, just so I could yell...

"Ed! That's a rectal thermometer!"

He spit the damn thing all the way across the room.

The moral of the story? (The drama one, not the thermometer one, that one should be obvious.)

Never put a boy in a delicate phase of life in a dress in front of everyone he knows.

SafeWalk, which still exists
Bloomsburg Middle School, where I didn't go, because I was in high school when they built it
The Tumblejets, the gymnasts who performed at the Middle School that awful day
Samuel Beckett information
Bloomsburg University theatre arts, a program my best friend from high school flunked out of in one semester
Put on your own version of "Vaudeville's My Home"!
Cross-dressing, Wikipedia style
And slightly later in life, Bloomsburg High School drama, where I learned way too much about acting and life

My latest acting gig? (Blatant shilling!) A small part in "Dead Hunt," coming to DVD this fall/winter from Timewarp Films. Maybe I'll fill in the space between (the high school and college part) sometime.

Randomly, I might mention another embarrassing moment from middle school: square dancing in gym class. Yeah, if they taught you to square dance in school, for a grade, you might be a redneck. That's not the point. The point is, who do they make square dance partners? Me and June Yen. The two Asians. The only two Asians. This is a genetic impossibility, like anti-racial-profiling. Yeesh.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bonus second post!

NOTE: This started out life as my random remarks at the end of the previous post, on recycling. But it quickly grew so big, it was almost as big as the "real" post. So I gave it a post of its own. Here it is, verbatim:

Some of you may recall from an earlier post that one of my goals in life is to learn some kind of trade, something more useful than copy editing. Well, I've taken the plunge. I'm learning locksmithing. By correspondance course.

And as stupid as that sounds, it's been exhilirating.

(Correspondance and exhilirating are two of those words I'm never sure if I'm spelling right. See the rules about not editing.)

Anyway, I've gotten perfect scores on all my tests (got the second set of results back today!), and the other day I hand-filed a key blank to open a warded lock, using the impression method. And I actually know what I'm saying, unlike when I use my "Iron Chef" knowledge to talk about food. Funny thing is, I hate school. I hate the concept of school, despite how good I was at it. So you'd think taking tests and reading texts is the last thing I want to do.

But I'm having so much fun. I was petrified of the actual hands-on portion (the filing), because while I think my academic record speaks for itself, handiness has never been one of my characteristics. Let me put it this way, Mr. Lynn, bless his soul, my seventh-grade shop teacher, gave me an A for two reasons. First, I don't think he wanted to ruin my straight-A record, and second, he pretty much built my bookshelf, and he wasn't about to give himself a B. I'd like to think somewhere up there, he was smiling down at me while I filed that key, sweating and swearing over my portable vise.

I can't wait for my next set of lessons to arrive. Ten down, 20 to go in the basic course, plus another 11 in the advanced courses. Up next: Picking locks and opening cars! I expect by next summer, I'll be letting cute girls back into their cars at the mall when they've locked their keys inside.

Bonus links:
Foley-Belsaw Institute's locksmithing course
Locksmithing, Wikipedia-style

I hate recycling

My HT pal Renaldo writes every post in his blog about something he hates. (See that link to the right?)

Tonight, I'm going to give in to peer pressure and write about something I hate: recycling.

OK, it's not that I hate recycling as a concept. I hate recycling in the practical sense. Well, it's more like, I hate recycling in Hillsborough.

Why? Because it's one-third fun, one-third work and one-third the complete and utter suck.

Here's the deal: We recycle three things every other Tuesday: cans and bottles; newspaper; and cardboard.

Cans and bottles are fun. They give us this big blue barrel that we can keep in our garage and just fill with cans and bottles. Basketball!

Newspaper is work, but easy work. You've got to tie them into bundles with twine. I can deal with that. I only put out the cans when the barrel is full, but I only put out the papers when I've got enough of them that I worry about the structural integrity of the garage shelf I toss them on. So like tonight, I put out about three months' worth of the paper.

But it's the cardboard that's the complete and utter suck. Why? Because we can't just break down the boxes and tie them up. (Wow, that sounds way too S&M...) No. For whatever reason, in Hillsborough, we have to cut the cardboard into 2-foot-by-2-foot squares. The only good part is they don't require mathematical precision. (And no, when I lived in another part of New Jersey, we didn't have to do this - the boxes just had to be broken down flat and tossed in the right dumpster in the complex.)

Do you have any idea how hard it is to cut, say, the box a couch came in, into 2x2 squares?

Let me put it this way: In three years in Hillsborough, I've put out the cardboard twice. I've got a mountain of boxes in the back of the garage so high it's got its very own Sherpas to guide the Brits and Jon Krakauer. And I'm devoting an entire Monday of my vacation week in October to cutting boxes and clearing out the garage.

Last time I did it, I wore gloves, used a box cutter, and my fingers still hurt like hell when I was done.

So every time I park my car, I have this irrational (or possibly rational) fear of a cardboard avalanche. And while I can drag the barrel outside, and tie up the papers pretty easily on a random Monday night after work, the hours it takes to deal with the cardboard would probably keep me up until dawn.

Not that I'm not up until dawn sometimes anyway, but it's not a goal. Hell, I snuck a couple of small boxes into the trash, also collected Tuesdays, just to avoid adding to the pile.

And that's why I hate recycling.

Hillsborough recycling information
Why recycling is good, and apparently shouldn't be torture
Cardboard, Wikipedia-style

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Fish heads, fish heads, roly-poly fish heads

I drove to New England on Thursday to cover the Raiders/Patriots game for Raiderfans.net, and on my way home Friday, I stopped at not one, but two aquariums.


I love aquariums. I'm fascinated by fish and undersea life, especially things like sharks and funny-looking fish and cool stuff like that.

My gold standard is the big aquarium at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. But I've been to plenty of others, including the one in Camden.

This particular trip, I stopped at the one in Mystic, where I haven't been in years, and then at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, the one Connecticut Gov. John Rowland used to tout, at least until he went to jail.

I'd driven all the way through Connecticut to Rhode Island for the game, and was driving back pretty early in the morning on Friday, all the way back across. Mystic is at the end farthest from Jersey, while Norwalk isn't much beyond NYC.

Anyway, the Mystic aquarium is bigger and nicer and more fun, but the Norwalk one is usually somewhat disappointing; nonetheless, it has its good points.

I first stopped in Mystic, since it was closer. That was very cool. They have a beluga whale - it screeches and they feed it and you can pay extra to touch it, though I didn't. And what's cooler is the tank is on two levels, and you can go down a level and look through windows to see it underwater. The white whale (not THAT white whale) even can get about halfway out of the water.

And they had penguins. I love penguins. Like the hockey team. I want to see that penguins movie someday. But the cool thing was, it was warm and yet they were just waddling around - apparently these are South African penguins that can tolerate warmer temperatures - but not freezing ones.

Seals are nice (more on that later), though I'm generally in favor of clubbing. But the sea lions just lay there. Not that this is a bad life, laying out on a rock in the sun all day long.



Too late.

It didn't work the last time, either. But there were ducks.

And then there were some pretty cool fish and jellyfish and other stuff inside the main pavilion.

But the highlight was probably the undersea stuff, which included a wild ride on one of those chairs that rocks and shakes with the 3D movie you're watching. It was some kind of space coaster, and I almost lost my glasses a couple of times. I haven't been on one of those rides since Kings' Dominion in college.

Plus there were exhibits on PT-109, the Titanic and other Bob Ballard-related undersea discoveries. I really love that stuff.

And of course, as with all American tourist attractions, all roads lead to the gift shop. I was hoping to get a new frog-no-evil T-shirt, but they didn't have my size.

So it was back on the road.

I stopped at Norwalk with low standards - I missed the albino alligator they'd been advertising on the radio, and also missed their special exhibit, one of three highlights of the place.

I always hear ads for the Maritime Aquarium on the radio, and a few years ago, I drove all the way up, battling traffic on I-95, because they advertised the robot zoo. Now that sounded awesome, but was actually just kind of so-so and underwhelming. I guess nothing could live up to the idea of an aquarium with a ROBOT zoo!

But this smallish aquarium does have its good points. It has an IMAX theater - touted as the only one in Connecticut. I made it to the last show of the day, and was the only one there - I saw a documentary on the Nile, which wasn't the one I wanted to see (the one on the vikings), but it was the only show left.

And I got to see the seal feeding - which was the highlight the last time I was there, too. The people who do it are really funny and friendly, and the seals really have their own little personalities.

The fish exhibits are just OK, except they have a ton of sharks in this one tank and a very nice jellyfish tank.

But it's much closer than Mystic. Still, I think for an extra half-hour each way, next time I'll go to Baltimore, or even Camden, which wasn't that great the last time I was there, but I've heard has been completely redone.

Of course, they've got a dinosaur exhibit coming that'll probably sucker me in anyway.

And honestly, just about every aquarium probably has something that'll keep me staring at it, and make me feel like a little kid again. I love 'em.

The Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn.
The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Conn.
The National Aquarium in Baltimore
Adventure Aquarium in Camden, N.J.
Raiderfans.net, where you can read my game coverage from the NFL 2005 season debut

I finally enjoyed a "Trading Spaces" again. A few weeks ago, they did a show where they played a joke on the designers (Doug and Hildi, the "gruesome twosome") and hired actors who just went nuts all through the weekend, before fessing up at the reveal. I laughed like mad then and tonight, when they showed the repeat. But I still think the show sucks without Paige Davis. Damn you, TLC, damn you!

And on a more somber note, today's the fourth anniversary of 9/11. God bless the survivors, and may the dead rest in peace.