Aug 20

COVID-19 Diaries: What I’ve been reading

For a writer I probably don’t read as much I should, but I have been reading more during the pandemic.

The Trespasser and The Secret Place by Tana French

Although I watch a lot of crime dramas, I don’t read too many crime or mystery novels. However, Tana French is an exception. Hers are more like crime or mystery literature with well-developed characters and excellent dialogue. The Irish slang is an added bonus. 

I read The Trespasser before realizing I had skipped The Secret Place, which I promptly got with a generous birthday gift card. Back in my apartment in NYC, I have The Witch Elm waiting, and I wish to hell I had brought it with me.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

My friend Yiannis often gives me his books when he’s done with them, and this was one of them. I loved it. Set in NYC and San Francisco, it’s about a group of siblings who pay a fateful visit to a fortune teller, after which each of their lives is changed forever.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

I love true crime in podcast form but less so in book form. However, I felt like it was important to read this one (and it was another freebie from Yiannis). Of course it was well written and brought to life McNamara’s search and obsession for the Golden State Killer, but I think I’m just not that into reading nonfiction. And I feel like I’ve learned just as much about the GSK from the various podcasts I’ve listened to as well as articles and such.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Another freebie, this one picked up from a random office. Although I don’t often read hard science fiction, I was interested in these short stories since Chiang wrote “Story of Your Life,” the basis of the movie Arrival. However, “Story of Your Life” isn’t included in Exhalation. I was a bit disappointed but I still enjoyed the other stories, some more than others. I fee like a couple could be movies or at least Black Mirror episodes.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

I’m late to the game on these immensely popular series of books, but better late than never: I loved it! Set in post-WWII Italy, it’s about a friendship between two young girls, and also what it’s like being a girl and a woman in a very male-dominated society in which you basically can’t make choices about your own life. Will definitely want to read the other “Neapolitan” novels as they’re called.

The Suicide of Claire Bishop by Carmiel Banasky

I had been reading this novel off and on for months. It’s the book I kept at my mom’s place for when I visited and part of a book club I used to belong to. It’s well written but just okay, at least to me. It’s about a woman in the late 1950s NYC who is painted by a mysterious artist, and then basically her troubled life. The chapters switch between her point of view and that of a young man in present time who has schizophrenia so you can’t tell what’s reality and what’s his skewed perception. Again, well done but not a page turner and not a book I would read again.

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

Another one from the book club and another meh. Set in San Francisco, it tells two stories, one from the point of view of a middle-aged man having a crisis and the other from his troubled teenaged daughter who runs away to basically be a pirate. The writing is good and the characters are well drawn, but it’s also at times overly quirky. Also, it’s not a novel I would have picked up on my own.

Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Oy, was this depressing. Set in Texas, this book club pick is about a kind man in love with a beautiful yet deeply troubled woman, the titular Ruby. While beautifully written with well-drawn characters and an affective story (I straight up cried), there are several scenes that are so incredibly dark and disturbing, one of which I had a very hard time erasing from my mind. (Turns out some reviewers on Goodreads agree.)

Could also be my state of mind. Right now I mostly just want to escape while I’m reading, not be sent into further depression.

Saint Maizie by Jami Attenberg

I really enjoyed this novel, another one from the book club. Set in 1920-30s New York, it’s about a spirited young woman from a working class background who works in the ticket box of a movie theater. She loves having fun and is kind of wild but also is drawn to helping those less fortunate. It’s told through her diary entries as well as short “interviews” with people who knew her or had a connection to her.

I have several more unread books from that book club, but I might reread The Discovery of Witches of trilogy from Deborah Harkness. Sometimes you just need a bit of (slightly trashy) magic and comfort.

Aug 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge and Institute for Higher Learning

Again thanks to my friend Aki, I was able to get in some nature and exercise last weekend.

Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge

Aki picked this place because she had heard it wouldn’t be too crowded and it was pretty woodsy so we could enjoy the shade. (And this time we remembered to put on bug spray and so weren’t eaten alive.)

So pretty:

A popular destination in the refuge is a suspension bridge. One family asked us about it as soon as we got there, but of course neither of us knew since we had never been there before. Then kind of by chance we found it.

It was unexpectedly scary to walk across since it was so narrow and bouncy, but kind of fun at the same time.

Institute for Advanced Study

This school where Albert Einstein taught is walking distance from the refuge. It was nice but kind of eerie because of course no one was around. Also some of the buildings have an old 1970s look, which make them seem even eerier for some reason.

At one point we were looking for a shady place to sit and have our snacks. We thought about sitting at one of tables outside the cafeteria, but they were a little dirty and covered with dead leaves. It was like something out of The Walking Dead. Instead we ended up on a bench in a field area (where I also peed behind a tree, far away from the bench natch) where we had wine and random snacks.

It really makes a difference to get out of the house, talk to someone, and walk around. It’s these little things that keep me sane.

Aug 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Film holes filled plus newish movies

I did manage to watch some previously unseen and newish movies in addition to all the rewatches and Christopher Guest films (minus This Is Spinal Tap, which as of now isn’t included for free in any subscriptions). 

Holes filled

In Movie Crush parlance, I had the chance to fill a couple of holes, i.e., see films that I ought to have seen by now.

Dead Ringers. From David Cronenberg and starring Jeremy Irons, this 1988 movie is about a pair of creepy gynecologist twins who get into weird shit. Obviously it was really good. I had no idea it was based on a true story. Ick!

The Ninth Gate. Kind of random but Noel on Movie Crush mentioned it, and I realized I had never seen it. Troubling aspect is that it’s from Roman Polanski although that didn’t bother me enough to not watch it. Although it’s about the devil and his worshippers, there’s a weirdly cozy aspect about it since Johnny Depp plays a rare book dealer, and so there are a few scenes with nice libraries and collections. Not the best movie but I give it a thumbs up.

Newish movies

Midsommar. From Ari Aster of Hereditary fame, this horror film centers on a young woman who goes to Sweden and gets much more than she bargained for. It got mixed reviews. Movie Crush did a “crush to judgement,” but I held off on listening to it until I watched it. All I knew was that Chuck and Noel liked it overall except for some aspects. So I think my expectations were slightly lower.

In a nutshell: I thought it was great. There was this ominous feeling throughout, made even more so by the backdrop of an endlessly sunny day. So when crazy shit goes down, it’s really disturbing. As for how it compares to Hereditary, it’s tough to say. They are two very different movies. But I guess I’d say I loved Hereditary (although the first time I saw it, I was like what the fuck) and I liked Midsommar.

Knives Out. I had heard people say (namely Chuck from Movie Crush) that this was the best movie ever, but while I liked it, I thought it was just pretty good. It’s a delightful, well-done murder mystery with a stellar cast. I certainly enjoyed it, but I didn’t keep thinking about it afterward. 

The Lighthouse. Unlike with this movie. Very weird and interesting, The Lighthouse is about, well, a lighthouse, and the two men (or “wickies” as they’re called) keeping it. At first nothing seems to happen, then all kinds of weird shit happens, and then in the end it all makes sense. At least that’s my impression. The acting is phenomenal — Willem Dafoe of course but also Robert Pattinson. Damn, Cedric Diggory can act!

Nocturnal Animals. I had heard good things about this one, and while it was well acted, I feel like in the end it amounted to nothing. There are some harrowing scenes but those are from a novel within the movie so there’s nothing at stake. While that story is about a horrific tragedy, the main one is about a failed marriage. I mean, obviously there’s an analogy there, but I didn’t buy it.

Uncut Gems. Another one that earned high praise from Chuck, and this time I agree. About a jeweler with a gambling problem, this film was really well done and acted, and also extremely stressful. One bad decision after another. Not a movie to unwind with.

The Goldfinch. Although I had heard this wasn’t that good, I still watched it. My friend Aki said it wasn’t bad and she hadn’t even read the book. And it wasn’t! The acting was great, and I loved the Boris character and the dynamic between him and Theo, as I did in the book. It wasn’t a masterpiece but I still liked it.

The Lovebirds. My friend Yiannis mentioned this was a fun movie, and I love both Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani so why not? It was a little bit dumb (their characters’ fights didn’t seem like real rights) but it was entertaining and like Yiannis said fun. A good pick for if you’re stuck on a flight or at home because it’s a pandemic.

Horse Girl. This looked intriguing and stars my woman crush Alison Brie. She plays a lonely woman who may or may not have — well, I don’t want to give the whole thing away. Basically it’s unclear what’s reality and what’s not. While well acted, the film wasn’t satisfying to me overall. But I wouldn’t say it’s a bad movie.

The Vast of Night. Unlike this one. I feel bad saying it was bad because it’s not just some dumb schlock. It’s trying to be something and do something different, but it was boring as fuck. I thought I had heard it recommended on some podcast, but maybe I got the title wrong. Set in the 1950s in a small town, a girl operator hears a weird noise on the line, and it all goes from there.

I think the problem was there’s not a lot of action, just so much talking. The first 15 minutes goes on for so long with just talking talking talking about something trivial, and then there are these two long monologues. I wonder if it would have been better as a radio or podcast play. From what I read, it’s an homage to the War of the Worlds broadcast so maybe that was the idea. Doesn’t quite work on film.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Overall I liked this movie but I had a few problems with it. Number one, the anti-Asian vibe, not just the ridiculous and insulting portrayal of Bruce Lee but the scene with Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in the theater watching herself on screen, how people cheered as her character beat up Nancy Kwan. 

The second thing I hated was all the women’s feet. Quentin Tarantino famously has a foot fetish, and it was SO OBVIOUS in this film, from Margot Robbie’s dirty feet in the theater to Dakota Fanning as Squeaky Fromme pointing with her toes to even more I won’t get into. The third thing was (SPOILER ALERT) the brutal deaths of two of the Manson girls. Their beatings seemed a lot more violent than the one guy’s.

Of course all the acting was awesome, and I was totally engaged the whole time. It didn’t feel like almost three hours. 

The Old Guard. This, on the other hand, had strong, fully realized women characters. Netflix was promoting it a lot, and I sort of just ignored it until I heard someone on a, you guessed it, podcast rave about it. Then I watched the trailer and was like I’M IN. It was so fucking good. The concept, the characters, the action scenes, the acting. Charlize Theron and Kiki Layne are both badasses. They totally set it up for a sequel, and I can’t wait for the pandemic to be over so it can come out.

Bonus: Yorgos Lanthimos catalog

I watched these before March so they don’t count as pandemic watches, but I still have strong feelings about them.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer. I watched this because I saw someone recommend it on the Movie Crushers Facebook page. They wrote something like, “What the hell did I just watch?” which intrigued me. I had the same feeling. At first I thought, What in the world is going on here? because of the characters’ very deliberate way of speaking. But that grew on me and gave the film a sinister, creepy atmosphere. Plus Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, and Barry Keoghan were so damned good. I was rapt the entire time and thought about it a lot afterward.

The Lobster. I really liked this film too. Surreal and somewhat disturbing, the film is set in a world in which single people are condemned to a very strange life. After watching this movie and Sacred Deer, I thought, I’m spoiled for “normal” movies now. They can only be as strange and interesting as these two.

The Favourite. Speaking of which, this was the most normal of his movies that I’ve seen. Of course it was great and I liked it, but I liked The Lobster and Sacred Deer better. 

Now I want to see Dogtooth, one of his earlier films. Looks like it’s free on something called Tubi.

Aug 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Movie rewatches and Christopher Guest

Video streaming has been a very good friend during the pandemic. Not only have I watched (and am watching) a lot of TV shows, I’ve seen quite a few movies too, more than I realized. And this isn’t even including rewatches of all the Harry Potter movies and the Lord of the Ring trilogy.


The Sure Thing. For some reason this is one of my favorite movies. I’ve rewatched other ‘80s teen comedies in recent years (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink) and I think this one holds up the best. Maybe because the main characters are in college and therefore more adult-like (although John Cusack was only 17 when he filmed this).

I love the dynamic between Alison and Gib so much. I also love the way Alison dresses. She’s very preppy but also kind of tomboyish. And you can still see she has a figure. Her wardrobe totally holds up and I would wear it now (well, not literally now because it’s almost 90 degrees). She’s just the right amount of pretty, and I love that the uptight, brown-haired girl gets the guy in the end.

One Crazy Summer. That sent me off on an ‘80s John Cusack rewatch, and unfortunately this was one of them. All I can is at least I didn’t pay for it. It is not a good movie. I mean, there’s a sweetness to it, but it’s pretty dumb. 

Better Off Dead. This one is also dumb (the saxophone for instance) but holds up better, mostly because of Monique and that love story. I love Monique because she’s an outsider who gets the guy in the end. She’s tomboyish (sensing a pattern here) and skillful without being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I also love her sense of style.

Groundhog Day. I feel like I’ve seen this movie many times (hmm, strikes of irony), but there was a lot I didn’t remember (for instance, Rita’s favorite drink is just straight sweet vermouth). It totally holds up and is just as good, maybe better, than the first time I saw it. 

The Secret of Roan Inish. The last I watched this Irish movie was around the time it came out, so the mid-90s. It’s just as beautiful as I remember. And the music is so lovely. No wonder I owned the soundtrack (and it’s still on my old ass iPod). This time around it brought tears to my eyes, making me remember the time I watched the movie, when I was so young.

Magnolia. I rewatched this after hearing it discussed on an episode of the Movie Crush podcast. I only saw this once back around the time it came out. One of my coworkers told me the ending was unexpected and bonkers, and early on I made some assumption (I thought the William H. Macy character was the grownup version of the kid quiz star) and so when (SPOILER) it started raining frogs, I was like, “Huh?” 

I think I didn’t appreciate it back then (although again I bought the soundtrack). But this time around I really loved it. So much of it is so heartbreaking.

Tootsie. I enjoyed this, but I didn’t realize how many times I’ve seen it because it was as familiar as an old shoe. So ‘80s.

Sleepless in Seattle. This was dumber than I remember but again, brain candy. I cried a lot more this watch during the scenes of the kid missing his dead mom.

Christopher Guest catalog

Best in Show. This is technically a rewatch, but it sent me on a Christopher-Guest-hole-filling quest. I wanted to watch Best in Show so badly, I was contemplating paying for it on Prime, but then suddenly I saw it was available on Hulu (I think). It’s so wonderful and heartwarming and hilarious.

A Mighty Wind. I thought I had seen this one about folk singers but turns out I hadn’t, or I have zero recollection of it. Like all his movies, it’s pure delight. The last song performance made me bawl.

Waiting for Guffman. How many times can I say delightful? In this one, a theater in a small town puts on a play and anticipates the arrival of a Broadway producer. Only more fun than the play are the audience’s faces watching it.

For Your Consideration. This was great too. Different than his other films in that it’s not a mockumentary. I feel like I got a pretty good taste of the filmmaking world, and it seemed realistic, and kind of sad, in terms of film careers and vying for awards and recognition.

Mascots. This is his most recent movie. It wasn’t as good as the others, but I still enjoyed it. It also made me look up if there really is a World Mascot Association championship.

As always that was much longer than I expected. Another post for the rest!

Aug 20

COVID-19 Diaries: The rest of my pandemic watchlist

So I’ve been watching a lot of British TV, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching other stuff. In the below list, I’ve left out a few shows that I had already been following or that are not as top of mind right now (The Magicians, The Crown, Killing Eve), not because I didn’t enjoy them immensely.

Locke & Key. This wasn’t the best show but it was well done and enjoyable. Based on a graphic novel, it’s about a family who’s moved in the weird family home of their dad who has passed away. They discover these, you guessed it, magical keys that lead them into strange worlds. A little bit of tension and darkness but not too much. It’s almost like it was made for older kids. 

Never Have I Ever. THIS WAS SO FUCKING GOOD. I had heard good things but was resistant for some reason. Then my friend Yiannis raved about it and I had to watch it. It was better than I even expected. Bitingly funny and heartwarming without being sentimental. From Mindy Kaling, it’s about an Indian American teenager, her friends and family, a hot crush, and dealing with the recent death of her dad. I laughed! I cried! I loved how the cast was so diverse.

Avenue 5. From the creators of VEEP (although not as funny), it’s about a pleasure cruise space ship that’s gone off course and is stranded in space for an ever-changing amount of time (weeks to years). It was a little too close for comfort in terms of the quarantine: being stuck inside for an inderminate amount of time. In one espide (SPOILER ALERT) some people start to think they’re not actually in space and that the outside is a simulation, and against their better judgement go into the airlock and promptly die:

Sound familiar?

It stars Hugh Laurie playing a Brit pretending to be an American and also has Rebecca Front as a literal Karen character. I had no idea she was British until I saw her on Love, Lies and Records.

The Witcher. This wasn’t that great. I had high hopes because it’s a fantasy with witches and magic and fantastical creatures. But I hated it at first. I had no idea what was going on. There seemed to be three different plotlines and I didn’t get the connection. It wasn’t until about the fourth episode that it became clearer. Also, it was confusing because the show is a combination of one-off adventures but also a larger plotline that, like I said, doesn’t become evident until a few episodes in.

Yes, I’m complaining about it, but I still watched the whole thing. It was brain candy and Henry Cavill looks awesome with his shirt off.

Outlander. Although partly British produced, I don’t really think of this as a British show. More of an international sensation and the main reason I subscribed to Starz. Netflix only has up to season three so when I saw that Starz had not just one but two seasons, I said sign me up.

It has not disappointed. Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan are so fucking good together (and an impossibly beautiful couple). At one point I thought, “I want Claire and Jamie to be my parents.” It’s a combination of comforting and stressful/upsetting. I like that they don’t whitewash things like slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans (at least as far as I can tell).

Discovery of Witches. This show wants to be Outlander but lacks the chemistry between the two costars. The love scenes are stiff (not in a good way) and cringey. But again I watched the whole thing on Shudder (which is nicely offering a whole month free) because I had read all the books and enjoyed their so-bad-they’re-good-ness.

A kind of Twilight for adults, it’s about a woman, Diana Bishop, who was born into a family of witches but isn’t into being a witch until a mysterious book and a mysterious man (a doctor vampire who doesn’t twinkle) comes into her life. Although not fantastic, the show is well done and I like Teresa Palmer who plays Diana. She’s an Australian who does a decent American accent. Alex Kingston, on the other hand, who I normally love, does a super exaggerated one that’s pretty distracting. Anyway, if there’s a second season, I’ll still watch it.

Red Oaks. Set in 1980s New Jersey, this show has been on Amazon since 2015 but I’ve never heard of it. Emily and Chuck on Movie Crush talked about it as being comforting so I gave it a go. It’s delightful. I wouldn’t say I love it but it’s enjoyable. And I just learned the guy who plays David, Craig Roberts, is Welsh! I had no idea.

Derry Girls. SO FUCKING GOOD. Set in northern Ireland during the Troubles in the 1990s, it’s darkly hilarious. All the characters, especially Erin, Orla, and Claire, crack my shit up constantly. Another show for which I have to watch with subtitles. Hmm, I guess this technically counts as a British show, but it doesn’t have the same old-fashioned vibe. It’s much more hip.

GLOW. I’m late to the game on this one about professional women wrestlers set in the ‘80s. I wasn’t very interested until I went looking for half hour comedies. And I love Alison Brie. (I watched Horse Girl recently, and while I’m not sure I liked the movie, she was fantastic in it.) GLOW is even better than I expected, and I’m happy there are a few seasons of it.

Ghost Hunters. Dumb but comforting. This was a show I watched a lot after my divorce, and for some reason I found solace in it. It’s been off the air for a while but was recently brought back, with Grant Wilson only and minus Jason Hawes. I miss their dynamic as well as pairs, Steve and Tango and Amy and and Adam, but I’m enjoying the new team. I don’t think I realized that there’s something oddly soothing about ghost hunting in the dark. Maybe it’s all the whispering. Paranormal ASMR.

More shows to come I’m sure.

Aug 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Rewatches and British TV

In addition to educational art videos, I’ve been watching a lot of other stuff. Outside of movies and shows I had already been following, much of it is comfort fare — in other words, rewatches of old shows and random British TV.


Designing Women. This was funnier than I remember, especially Delta Burke as Suzanne and Jean Smart as Charlene. Of course there are a lot of problematic aspects (the word “bitch” and fat/slut shaming are thrown around quite a bit). Other surprising things: Julia (Dixie Carter) gets on her soapbox a lot more often than I remember and when Suzanne gets “fat” she’s only chubby. They make it seem like she’s obese. 

I stopped watching when Suzanne and Charlene left. I had also forgotten how utterly unlikeable Julia Duffy’s character is. At least Jan Hooks is funny.

A Different World. This holds up better than I expected. The first season is SO DIFFERENT from the rest, but still enjoyable. Also problematic aspects (fat shaming again, accepted sexual harassment from Ron, and Whitney’s racist attitude toward Kinu). But unlike Designing Women, I’ll most likely watch until the end.

British TV

For some reason I love British television shows. I think it all started with Doc Martin (which I watched after a heartbreaking breakup) and Midsomer Murders. During the shutdown, I was looking for the same kind of comfort.

Agatha Raisin. I ended up signing up for Acorn TV because Midsomer Murders left Netflix. (I had also canceled HBO because it was no longer compatible with my Apple TV.) Agatha Raisin was promoted like crazy so I gave it a go — and LOVED IT. Agatha is in her 40s and divorced. She’s left her high-power PR job to settle in a small town she vacationed in as a child and has fond memories of. So it’s like single independent woman with quirky townsfolk. Then someone gets murdered and she gets roped into solving the case. So good. I only wish there were more episodes.

Queens of Mystery. Needing more of a murder-mystery-with-women-investigators fix, I checked this out and was not disappointed. A young woman returns to her hometown to take a job as a detective sergeant. Her aunts are all mystery writers and always try to butt into solving the murders. Again, need more episodes of this.

Dead Still. This was terrific. Set in Victorian England, the show is about a photographer who takes pictures of dead people, which was a thing back then. The photographer is a loner with a troubled yet unclear past. Things change for him when his spunky, independent-minded niece joins him and he unwillingly takes on a new assistant. Macabre yet humorous.

Pitching In. This show wasn’t as good as the others, but I still enjoyed it. Set in a beachtown in Wales, it of course has a cast of quirky characters and the plotlines aren’t too stressful. I also found the seashore environment very relaxing. 

Love, Lies and Records. This, on the other hand, was pretty stressful. I mostly watched it because Ashley Jensen from Agatha Raisin is in it, and I kept watching because it’s very much like a soap opera. The scenarios are a bit ridiculous, but I wanted to keep watching. And it’s just one season so not much of a commitment.

Gavin & Stacey. This more-than-10-year-old show co-stars and was co-created by a pre-Late-Late-Show James Corden. It’s also really good. So funny and heartwarming. It also has Mathew Horne from Agatha Raisin as Gavin. Ruth Jones who plays Nessa cracks my shit up, and the slang and accents are so crazy, I have to watch with subtitles. I’ll be dedicating an entire post to the Welsh slang of Gavin & Stacey. So bummed I’m done watching it except for the 2019 Christmas special (which for some reason is on BritBox instead of Acorn).

Mount Pleasant. Kind of dumb but still entertaining. A light and funny soap opera type with a whopping seven seasons, five of which are on Acorn. I’m only on season one now. The agro husband from Love, Lies and Records is on it as a deadbeat husband, and Nico from Killing Eve is completely unrecognizable as flirty neighbor Jack.

Lark Rise to Candleford. I just started watching this BBC production (on Hulu rather than Acorn). It’s not my favorite show but it goes down easy. Set in 19th-century Oxfordshire, it’s about a young woman who takes a job at a post office and all the lives of the people in Lark Rise (more rural) and Candleford (more citified). It’s extremely wholesome and has a post-Ab-Fab Julia Sawalha (Saffy) and pre-Downton-Abbey Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates).

Whoa, that’s a lot more than I realized. I’ll save the other shows for another post.

Jul 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Van Nest Park

Last night my friend Aki and I got together for an outdoor happy hour.

We met up at in Van Nest Park, which I’ve seen many times from the side of the road but never thought about going. It looked pretty small, but since we would just be eating and drinking, I didn’t care. It turned out to be much nicer than I expected.

That body of water is Grover’s Mill Pond, which I remember being always covered in green sludge. Turns out back in 2008, the pond was cleaned up. And I’ll say! The water looked so pristine, and just prettier and prettier as the sun set.

Besides looking at the water, we enjoyed snacks and drinks and catching up. Only downside were all the mosquitoes. We both forgot repellant and got covered in bites. I counted about 15. Luckily the view was so nice.

Jul 20

COVID-19 Diaries: A found thing

I brought two books with me to my mom’s — My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and The Secret Place by Tana French — and have already finished them. So I went digging for more.

I used to belong to a book club so there are a bunch I never read sitting in the closet. I decided to go through them, pull out the ones that sounded interesting, and put them in the bookcase. That meant rearranging stuff, which led me to discover this unassuming little notebook.

At first I thought it was one of the many ledgers my dad used to keep notes, but instead I opened it to find:


When I was kid, probably around 11 or 12, I started collecting stamps. My dad would get mail from all over the world at work and started bringing them home, I think, because he thought they looked cool and that my brother and I would like them.

I have vivid memories of soaking the envelopes so the stamps would peel off and then laying the stamps out to dry. Then I’d put them in the little notebook, which I guess my dad got for us. Of course the stamps are in alphabetical order by country. I remember I loved organizing them, even if that meant having to shift all the stamps over to fit a new one.

Here are some of my favorites:

The former USSR (yes I’m old)
The former Czechoslavakia (my favorite)

I can’t believe my dad kept the book after all these years, moving from our house in Freehold to the one in Plainsboro to their retirement home here. I’m glad he did.

Jul 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Princeton outing

Yesterday I had the chance to get out of the house, get some exercise, enjoy some nature, and have some social interaction.

Princeton Farmers Market

My friend Aki had the idea of walking around these canals, but first we stopped at this farmers market. It felt a bit eerie with everyone so spread out and wearing masks, but I was glad everyone was being safe. I didn’t get anything except a bag of cinnamon sugar donuts from Terhune Orchards. I was psyched since another time we went, there was such a long line for the donuts, which of course smelled incredible. Plus I knew my mom would enjoy them too.

Canals and downtown Princeton

Next were the canals and surrounding park. On our way we saw a mother deer with two babies. It was like something out of a Disney movie.

The canals were lovely, but it was quite hot and humid out. And there were a lot of people, which meant having to wear a mask, which made it even hotter.

Eventually we made our way to downtown Princeton. I haven’t been to a populated area in more than a month so I was little nervous. But of course it was fine. There weren’t too many people out yet (it was barely 11), and it was cute to see all the outdoor dining set up.

One problem was I had to pee so badly. Like a dumbass, I had my usual two cups of coffee that morning instead of just one. I assumed no public restrooms would be open, but finally I found one at, randomly, an auto repair shop. It was pretty rundown but seemed clean. Of course I washed my hands like crazy.

We made our way back to the canals and grabbed food and beverages from the car. We got ourselves a bench by the water and feasted on cheese and crackers, salami, cucumber, and wine. I was starving and inhaled everything. The wine, a vino verde, went down way too easily, and I got pretty tipsy.

The perfect end to an active morning.

Jun 20

COVID-19 Diaries: A visit to the Audubon Plainsboro Preserve

The suburbs are pretty boring, but at least they’re closer to nature.

The Audubon Plainsboro Preserve is a huge park just a 15-minute drive from my mom’s. It’s even closer to where we used to live — seven minutes — and I kept wondering why I never knew it existed. That’s because it wasn’t established until 1999, several years after I lived there, and was previously land owned by a company called the Turkey Island Corporation as well as the Walker Gordon Laboratory. Over the years, the county purchased more land until it had amassed over 1,000 acres.

It’s really beautiful:

My friend Aki and I had a great time walking and chatting. We had gotten there early to beat the heat, and so at first there weren’t too many people out. Whenever we got near anyone, I made sure to put on my mask.

At one point we took a rest by the water:

Something Aki asked me was if I would ever move to the suburbs. Pre-COVID-19, the answer would have been a definitive no, but now things are so different. If I’m almost always working from home and rarely venturing into the city, why pay all this money for a Manhattan apartment? Why not move out here for a bigger, cheaper space near nature? Then again, who knows what things will be like a few months from now, or even a few weeks from now. But it’s definitely something to think about.