Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Jersey City Discoveries

Tuesday was vacation day. It rained.
So, instead of heading down the shore to the boardwalk, we decided to go out for breakfast and head north to the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. We jumped on the $2.22 manager’s special at Friendly’s in Metuchen, then hit the Turnpike.
When we arrived 25 miles later at the Science Center, we were shocked to see the whole place under construction. A sign informed mom and dad that the facility will be closed until 2007, and we slowly realized that the vacation was ruined. At least we had an affordable breakfast, we thought. Now we'll turn around and go home.
What’s this? Well, what do you know? There’s a sign on the road pointing to a railroad terminal of some kind. Might as well take a look, right?
As luck would have it, Liberty State Park is home to an attraction that, for our purposes, outperforms even the world-renowned Science Center. You should have seen Theo’s face when we approached the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal. He was giddy. Three rail cars on a track stood outside a massive train terminal that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This, we would soon learn, is the launching point for ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Once the rain let up, we explored the grounds and took in the views of lower Manhattan. It got better: the Science Center had a temporary exhibit inside the terminal—bugs and reptiles, and such.
Yesterday, the Clarks of New Jersey had never heard of the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal. Today, it’s regarded as a family treasure to be celebrated and promoted.
We completed the outing with our first-ever family meal in Newark, at the famous Spanish Tavern in the Ironbound district. We justified the expense by looking at the entire day’s meals as one lump sum of a figure.
Oddly, we had the whole place to ourselves. Let’s note the performance of the waiter. As we were walking to the car in the parking lot across the street, the waiter rushes outside to hand me my credit card, which I forgot at the table. We walk to the car, take our positions, and begin driving off, commenting generally about the waiter’s thoughtfulness. Look out the window! Here he comes again! This time, he’s bringing us Natalie’s little puppy dog doll.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Opus 40 and Bear Mountain

We pulled out of the drieveway of 56 Voorhees Place at about 10:25 a.m. Destination: Opus 40 in Suagerties, N.Y. Opus 40 is Harvey Fite’s massive masterpiece of stone work. Some would say it’s an environmental sculpture, but it looks to me more like a really cool patio. Fite died after working 37 years to fasten the stones in place with simple, old-fashioned tools. He intended to work 40 years, hence the name.

Up the New York Throughway we drove for two hours and change. When we arrived, the rain was falling just enough to make the outdoors unpleasant. We made friends with Patrick the teenager in the gift shop, who showed us a seven-minute movie and advised Theo to be careful. Theo, in his shy mode, wouldn’t talk to him.

It was still raining when the video ended, so we took a walk through the museum, which looked like an old dusty attic. In fact, it was an old dusty attic. The rain continued. We decided to brave the elements and walk among the stones.

The kids loved it, even though the blue stone posed a double threat—it was a trip hazard, as well as a slip hazard—and the slopes weren’t easy to navigate (especially when carrying an umbrella, a purse and a baby). The inclement weather prevented us from achieving the goal of our trip: a picnic at Opus 40. Still, the entire Clark family was enriched by the experience. Theo, especially, was amazed by the steps and slopes and pools of the place.

Plus, we had the whole wet place to ourselves.

On the way home, blessed with more pleasant weather, we drove into Bear Mountain State Park, found a bench by the lake with a view of the mountain and enjoyed our picnic lunch. The ham sandwich was a particular success. Natalie and Theo were thrilled by the birds, who swooped down for crumbs of bread and cheese – a thrilling spectacle for the peanut gallery.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Television criticism

Comment yesterday from Theo: "Did you know that TV is bad for your brain? Did you know that TV turns your brain to mush?" With the word "mush" his little hands were shaking to emphasize his point.

At the time we were watching the PGA Championship on TV.

The Joys of Perth Amboy

Dad had the kids to himself all day Sunday, as Margie went into the city for a day of recreation and friendship. Let’s begin with the highlight for the kids: our trip to the Jersey Shore.

We arrived in Perth Amboy at about… yes, that’s right. Perth Amboy. Surprised? Did you think I was going to say Point Pleasant Beach or Spring Lake? Well, let me explain that Perth Amboy is 7 miles from 56 Voorhees Place, straight down Amboy Avenue, turn right on High Street (spectacular Victorian-style homes) and there you are at the beach – a broad expanse of sand and a fishing pier at the intersection of the Kill Van Kull, the Raritan River and the Atlantic Ocean. Granted there’s no boardwalk. Sure, the big sign says “NO SWIMMING,” but those are the only two drawbacks I can see. We arrived in the late afternoon and we didn’t mind the fishing pier or the view of South Amboy condos across the bay. Theo would not have been more excited if he were at Waikiki Beach. Natalie enjoyed getting her feet wet, too.

I subscribe to the theory that the No Swimming sign reflects the inability to secure life guards, and not concerns over water quality. This is my theory. Three large Spanish-speaking men were submerged in water up to their shoulders, with no noticeable negative side effects.

We also enjoyed a trip to Jiffy Lube and we bought a tent at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Woodbridge. We paid $40. It’s in the backyard right now. Theo sat in it yesterday and ate Watermelon, despite 95 degrees of heat inside the sun drenched two-man pop tent. Can’t wait to camping with the little adventurer.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Giants of the Midwest

At the Seagram Building, from left: Spaulding E1, Spaulding E2, Clark, Ginley.

The arrival of the boys from Indiana electrified 56 Voorhees Place in Metuchen, N.J. Theo and Natalie looked up in wonder and utter shyness at the new arrivals, several of whom were more than six feet tall. Nathan Ginley (son of the legendary Ty Ginley), his three cousins Ethan, Evan (or was it Evan and Ethan) and Eli Spaulding and their father Rob dropped by at about 6:40 p.m.
“Nice place,” they said. “Great to see you, nice to meet you,” they said. “Say, by the way: we have to be in Elmhurst, Queens at 9 p.m. – Eli’s job interview.”
This last bit came as a blow. I had intended to sit out on the patio against the sinking light of day and share tales of the Ginley clan – the dominant Edgewood family of the 1970s (the greatest decade in the history of the United States of America). Instead, I dropped them off at the Metuchen train station, gave Eli my monthly transit pass and wished them all luck.
The following day at lunch, we met up again at the Seagram Building on Park Avenue. A beautiful afternoon in New York City it was. Ordered from the Fast Food Indian guy, and toured the great St. Bart’s Cathedral, one of three churches designed by Bertramm Goodhue in Manhattan. Off they went again, to Ground Zero – still a mess after five years, an utter failure of public-private redevelopment. (I suggested, perhaps not eloquently enough, a visit to Central Park, the city’s great monument to public planning and civic beauty.) Off they went to pay their respects to the fallen towers.
We met up again at 9:30 p.m. at Ollie’s in Times Square. A nice dinner, and a nice walk through the crowded tourist district was enjoyed by all. During the drive back to Metuchen, we shared Bible stories and tales of courage. We visited the Alexander Hamilton rest stop, to the delight of Evan (or was it Ethan), a history buff, apparently.
I wish they could have remained with us for a trip to the boardwalk on the Jersey Shore, but time, she is a jet plane. We said goodbye the next morning in the parking lot of the Menlo Park Diner.
Theo was just beginning to warm up to the Hoosiers when they had to leave. So it goes.
Oh Giants of the Midwest, you came and you gave without taking. And we miss you today.

New Furniture

Aug. 9, Pottery Barn delivered the new dresser for Theo’s room. It looks fantastic. Margie and I rearranged the bed, moving it perpendicular to the back wall, instead of parallel. This subtle move has paid huge aesthetic dividends. Now, when one walks up the stairs to the second floor, one catches a glimpse of the handsome headboard and matching dresser. Many thinks to Joyce “Mimi” Clark for her efforts to secure Theo’s new dresser.

Beating the Heat

The heat broke all records, but luckily Pat Donahue from across the street supplied us with a purple kiddie pool. The kids love it.