March 28, 2007
Glitchy Glitchy Ya Ya Ya
We're still stuck in the mud here. No one has been able to comment on posts or visit the archives since our move to a new online publishing system a week and a half ago. Blinq's blunk. The 'why' part is complicated. There's lots to sort out still with the move, but the online folks are working on it.
So I haven't been posting, just working on the column, which I can report is now a full-time, permanent gig. I passed the tryout. I'll move to two a week shortly. Meanwhile, I've been trying to figure out the space requirements -- a blog can be any length, but a column requires me to tell a tale in 17 inches. It's a skill, and it getting a little easier.
I think writing for you all made it easier to write for the paper's readers who are hungry for voice. It's been an adjustment actually talking to readers on the phone instead of dealing by email. My favorite came today, after the piece on the H.J. Menningen collection of mid-century U.S. print advertisements.
Some guy named Marco from South Jersey left a message letting me know, "I saw your ad. Pretty good ad." He didn't really want to buy the 500,000-piece collection. He was looking for a few James Dean items. But I called him back and explained that it wasn't really an ad, it was a column. But he got the gist of it.
March 18, 2007
Is This Thing On?
No, we haven't been decommissioned, as the BM Rant wrote this weekend. Blinq was just a momentary casualty of the switch to a new publishing system at Philly.com, and it took lots of woman hours to make it look the way it does now. (Thanks Jennifer and Nadya) We lost the pictures, though I'm told those will be back. But we found the animated Blinq title, which Nadya designed nearly two years ago, and which the overlords at Knight Ridder nixed because it was too .... well, it was too something, so they said no. It's nice to see it again.
All this work makes me want to write something. Something about "Rome?" I'm pretty bummed about the end of this HBO series - and sad about the end of HBO, which disappeared from our house because Comcast has decided to pull it from all places that have analog, not digital service. And I see no reason to pay more money for digital, when people are starving in India, so no HBO. Thanks to a friend at work, I got to borrow copies of the last two episodes, which I watched this weekend. I'm not telling how it ends - other than its written in history books, so look it up. But the guy on the ROME board at HBO's Website who predicted an Opie and Andy in Mayberry shot to end the series ought to handicap the mayor's race.
March 14, 2007
No. 3 is in ... the town that got hooked on eBay. The idea was to explore how this little pocket of Lumberton, N.J. could be the part of America with the highest rate of wheeling and dealing on the online auction service. It has to do with Barbies and smelly Ben Franklins, but read for yourselves:
Daniel Rubin | On eBay, no one tops these people
By Daniel Rubin
You almost expect a sign on the Mount Holly bypass that would read:
"Entering Lumberton, feedback rating 99.8 percent positive."
The gas stations would take PayPal. At the Lumberton Post Deli you'd bid on bologna.
Which would be appropriate, seeing that you're in the most mad-for-eBay corner of America.
When the online auction house commissioned a survey in the fall to find its most active customers, no other places were busier, no folks more wired, no hearts more yearning, per capita, than in the 08048 zip code in this fast-growing township in Burlington County.
The 46,000 items up for auction in Lumberton during the first three weeks in November would be a striking number anywhere, not just in a zip code where the last census counted only 663 people. That's about 70 items per person. If you take babies out of the survey, it's higher than that.
How could this be? A place that art dealer Peter DeStefano used to call Deer Tick, N.J., beating big-time burgs like Nashville and Las Vegas?
Knock on a few doors in Lumberton, and you'll hear the same reaction: "It's got to be a hoax," township clerk Maureen Horton Gross said.
But no. The explanation has something to do with free time, disposable income, yards of yard sales, and a population explosion, which skews the ranking, since it's based on current eBay activity and six-year-old census figures.
Let's start with Lee Yeash.
Four kids, no storage
"I can almost bet you I'm part of the reason," says the 45-year-old preschool aide with four children, no storage space, and a degree in marketing.
She has a simple rule, perfected during husband John's Air Force career:
"If you have to clean it, dust it or move it, it's gone."
A tour of her townhouse in the Bobby's Run development might as well be an ad for eBay:
Forty-two pieces of vintage Barbie clothing, a couple of American Girl minis, all the Nancy Drew mysteries, and some of the Left Behind series. Plus, Topps and Fleer baseball cards from 1986 to 1990. Candelabras that look like palm trees, CDs, DVDs, puppet theaters - in fact, nearly all of Christmas 2006.
Then, in the kitchen, dishes, champagne flutes, wine glasses, a coffee maker, teapots, water filters.
And that's just the stuff she bought. She has sold treasures in equal amounts - her son's Scooby-Do costume, her grandmother's vintage underwear.
Her husband testifies with rolled eyes to her cold efficiency. "I have to go to eBay to buy back all the stuff of mine that she's gotten rid of."
A second career online
On eBay, Nate Wood, a 32-year-old financial adviser, has found a second career. Each week he sells things his mother-in-law drags back from yard sales, flea markets and store closings.
The great flood of 2004 put Wood in the game. He wound up spending $270 on a custom-made door that didn't fit. When the hardware store refused to take it back, he put it up for auction. He finally unloaded the thing for $200 plus $100 shipping. But that was the last time he lost money.
"You know what I think it is?" he says. "You work at a job and you start thinking, 'There's got to be a better way to hit the American dream.' "
For Peter DeStefano, in his gallery, that dream smells like aftershave - little George Washington and Ben Franklin figurines that reveal spray pumps when their heads come off. He has quite the collection, courtesy of eBay, including a faux-porcelain hot-water spigot filled with Sweet Honesty - a fragrance he describes as "just horrible."
For some reason, this makes him think of the father of his best friend from his 20s, a German emigre named Egon von Haferburg.
"He looked like he fell out of a Ghostbusters movie. He'd say, 'You guys know nothing. When you are older, you'll be able to do banking on the telephone. You'll be able to get on a computer and talk to people around the world.' We thought he was nuts.
"Now I'm 49, and I can sell a picture to someone in India. It's like going to a marketplace for the world."
Daniel Rubin, who wrote our blogosphere column "Blinq," is now turning his attention to local people, places and issues. Contact him at 215-854-5958 or email@example.com.
March 07, 2007
Persona non Ph'der
This week's New Yorker has a curious editor's note on page 10.
It sheds light on something that's become known to the magazine since its July 31 piece on Wikipedia -- mainly that the site administrator whose bio identifies him as a tenured professor with a Ph'd D in theology is really some dude from Kentucky who has never taught and holds no advanced degrees.
The magazine found out that EssJay, the Wikipedia mediator of contested facts, was really named Ryan Jordan. A BBC account reports that Jordan, 24, used such expert texts as "Catholicism For Dummies" to wrestle with theological disputes.
My favorite part of the editor's note is this line:
Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikia and of Wikipedia, said of Essjay's invented persona, "I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with it."
Way to go Jimmy. That is so whatever.
Wales has since asked for Jordan's resignation. Jordan has complied.
Tossing and Turning
I forgot that a return to print meant a return to those 3 a.m. wake-ups -- the sort that turn your mind on like a switch, and set it running through everything you wrote. It always finds something to feast on.
In this case, as my second column was already rolling off the presses, it was the fact that I described listening to' 70s Rolling Stones with Tony McCloskey, just back from Afghanistan. Accurate, but in the interest of shorting an already long sentence, I missed the opportunity to give a detail that would help build this portrait of nursing a beer with a sensitive, salty sort - a South Philly guy who'd just done a very intense year based at Bagram Airbase.
The album was Black and Blue. We were listening to "Hand of Fate," among other things.
Couldn't you have worked that in Hemingway?
So No. 2 has landed, the second in this month-long series of metro column try-outs. I bought that beer for the sailor who served as a soldier in Afghanistan and blogged about it so strongly. Wrote about him once in Blinq. Promised him a beer, since it seemed like he wasn't getting enough props from the homefront. He turned out to be a very good man.
You can read his unfiltered look at the front at his blog.
My piece is here. And printed in full, so you don't have to go digging through our Web site for it:
Daniel Rubin | Discovering what 'courage' means
By Daniel Rubin
At night, inside the wire at Bagram Air Base, Tony McCloskey dreamed of falling - falling down steps, falling off a narrow mountain pass.
And when awake, he couldn't push away the fear that just as his tour in Afghanistan was ending, he'd get blown up or shot.
He wrote this on his blog, called "War In the Sandbox," where he tried to understand how anyone back home could think those who serve should be ashamed of what they had done.
"How easy it has become to send men into harm's way," he wrote. "It takes nerve to blame us for it."
Someone owes this guy a beer, I wrote on my own site, which was how Tony and I wound up spending a few hours at Chickie's & Pete's in Wissinoming the other night, nursing black and tans, listening to 1970s Rolling Stones, and talking about the land he calls "the Bible with Toyotas."
McCloskey, 29, is a berm of a man - short, low, immovable with a round face, shaved head, and a physique hardened by dead weights and six-mile runs.
The year 1386
"Nothing can prepare you," says the Navy fire controlman. "In Afghanistan, it's the year 1386. You can read about poverty, desolation and hunger, but until you see it..."
For a year and a day he was shot at, mortared, cheered and jeered as he served in an Army special operations division, trying to win the hearts of the Afghan people from the Taliban.
Ask for a high point, and he tells of the time he delivered 1,000 kites to the children of Kabul, and watched their joy as they rushed his vehicle.
A low point: the day he lost $70 worth of books in a desert rain.
McCloskey is not an easy man to peg. Over the course of the evening he will share that he's a deist, a libertarian, a Central High grad who at age 10 dreamed of being a master chief, the Navy's highest enlisted rank. He comes from a long line of sailors, and speaks of standing up for one's beliefs, of making a difference.
With the Army stretched thin by Iraq, the South Philly sailor was picked to serve with soldiers in a special operations unit.
Somehow, upon their return the soldiers got counseling and the sailors didn't.
Two days after landing, McCloskey was back in Philadelphia. He'd be driving his Dodge Nitro truck, see a plastic bag in the street, and swerve as though it were an IED. He handed his girlfriend the wheel after realizing he was jerking away from other cars on the highway, bracing for explosions.
"Any noise, and I'm ready to fight someone," he says. Three weeks of leave have helped. At first, he stayed with his girlfriend, a grad student in nursing at Penn. But he felt like a visitor, he says. She had managed without him. So he found an apartment in Northeast Philadelphia to share with his niece and Morris, a fat tabby cat.
He's starting to sleep through the night.
Finding peace in war
"I had to go to war to discover peace," he says. "Before I went in, I guess, I was an angry guy. Some part of me was a little bitter, felt I got a raw deal. I grew up poor. I've never been that good-looking. When I went over, I saw real problems and what anger can produce."
The experience has left him with a new definition of courage: "It's not an absence of fear. That's insanity. I was always scared. Courage is not letting the fear get the best of you.
"At the same time, I don't feel it's courageous just to go with the status quo. I think people need to stand up for what they believe in, to try to make a difference. A lot of times in the military that isn't career-enhancing, but I tend to do that."
He has been assigned to an admiral's staff at a naval supply center in the Northeast, where he's looking forward to wearing a tie. Soon he must choose whether to reenlist for another 10 years.
He's leaning toward it. We can use the sort of serviceman who reads up on the Taliban, al-Qaeda and kite running before shipping out to a foreign land.
I just wish we could take better care of him.
Daniel Rubin, who previously wrote our blogosphere column Blinq, is now turning his attention to local people, places and issues. Contact him at 215-854-5958 or firstname.lastname@example.org.