January 2014


This was the final day of our trip. (Frowny face.) It started with a group photo in front of our condo . . .


. . . followed by a short walk . . .


. . . to this restaurant:


After breakfast, we packed up our stuff and got a ride to the airport:


Here’s my boarding pass:


(This is very exciting, no?)

The worst part about the flight was that it was delayed one hour. The best part was getting to walk outside to board the plane:


Only 46 days until I’ll be heading to Australia . . .


At around 9am, we headed down to the waterfront to check out the boat we’d rented for the day:


No, not the huge yacht on the left. I’m talking about the teeny motorboat on the right. The plan was to take a 45-minute ride to a town called Soufrière, do a little sight-seeing, and hit up a couple beaches on the way back.

My mom (Naomi) and half-sister (Martha) sat in the front. Here’s a photo of them once we got moving:


Martha’s girlfriend (Amy) and my girlfriend (Hayley) were sitting near me.

The ride was relaxing, and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery:


Here’s a photo of the captain of our ship — a local guy named Cuthbert:


He was a man of few words, but he showed us something I’ll never forget. It happened several minutes after we saw these two volcanic plugs known as The Pitons:


Cuthbert turned left and steered us toward a narrow gap in a cliff:


Ready to see what was inside? Take a look:


See all that lumpy gray stuff? Those are bats — hundreds and hundreds of bats. Maybe even thousands. Some of them were flying around, and they all combined to make a high-pitched squealing/squeaking sound. Yeesh!!

Soon after, when we docked in Soufrière, I helped guide my mom up and off the boat:


Did you notice the guy pulling her up? At the time, I thought he was just some random friendly dock worker, but as it turned out, he was our taxi driver and tour guide for the next three hours. His name is Dickson, and as you can see, he and my mom seemed to like each other:


We walked a short distance to his van and then headed up into the hills.

Five minutes later, he pulled over onto the side of a quiet road, lined on both sides with lush, tropical vegetation. His friend had a home there, and Dickson hopped out of the van to go get something for us. Check it out:


That might not look like much, so let me explain. It was a fresh cinnamon leaf that he had plucked off a tree, and when he bent/cracked it for us, it gave off the freshest and most intense cinnamon smell you could imagine.

Then he handed a big yellow podlike fruit to my mom:


He told us it was cocoa, the plant that’s used to make chocolate. Here’s what the inside looked like:


Those little white things were slimy — kinda covered in mucus. They looked nasty, but since it *was* just a plant (as opposed to goat brains, for example), I popped one in my mouth and chewed it up. The inside was purple, and it didn’t taste like chocolate — not even a little bit. It was bitter and somewhat unpleasant, but the whole experience was interesting.

After that, Dickson showed us the pods that produce coffee beans . . .


. . . and then he sliced up a sweet, fresh grapefruit.

This was our next stop:


See all that white cloudy stuff in the background? That was sulphur gas rising out of an active volcano. Unlike the cinnamon leaf, it was nice to look at, but smelled like crap.

There were a whole bunch of folks nearby taking mud baths in the natural spring water:


We were all tempted to jump in, but that would’ve meant getting back in the van in wet bathing suits. Bleh.

On the way to lunch, Dickson took us to a scenic overlook. Here’s an amazing photo, taken by Hayley, that shows him pointing out stuff to Amy:


Here’s what they were looking at — the town of Soufrière way down below:


Remember the bat cave that I showed earlier? If you click the photo above and zoom in, you can barely see dat gap in the cliff on the extreme left side.

After lunch, we went here:


In case you can’t read the sign, it says “Welcome to the Diamond Botanical Gardens, Mineral Baths, and Waterfall.”

Basically, we wandered for an hour and saw a whole lot of beautiful plants . . . like this:


It was exactly the type of thing I would’ve haaaated doing when I was a teenager, but now I kinda liked it. It was just nice to be out in nature with friends and family.

Here’s a photo of my mom and I walking leisurely along one of the paths . . .


. . . and just for the hell of it, here’s another weird-ass plant:


At around 2pm, Dickson drove us back to the dock, and we got back on the boat with Cuthbert. This was our first stop:


We didn’t stay there long. Martha wanted to snorkel for 15 minutes, so I played around on the beach:


That photo was taken by Hayley, who stayed on the boat with Amy and my mom.

A little while later, we went to a different beach. Check out the view and then I’ll point out three things:


1) The head poking out of the water between the beach and the boat belongs to Hayley.

2) If you look really closely, you can see Amy’s head just in front of the boat. She told us she was “flinking” — that is, floating while drinking (a beer).

3) See the gray blob just above the horizon . . . between the two boats? That’s rain.

It rained quite a bit on our way back, and of course it was windy on the boat, and of course I was wearing a wet bathing suit — funny to think that I was craving a hot shower in the Caribbean, but I really needed it.

In the evening, we all hung around the pool for a few hours and ordered food and drinks. Here’s the before-dinner photo . . .


. . . and here’s the after-dinner photo:


Back at the condo, Amy went to bed, and the rest of us played a team game of Scrabble — Martha and my mom versus me and Hayley. Somehow they won. Let’s not talk about it.

During the game, I spotted THE biggest cockroach of all time, climbing up the wall ten feet to my left. It was like a medjool date with legs. And wings.

Did you hear me?

When Martha tried to kill it with her flip flop, it not only escaped but FLEW RIGHT AT US, prompting a whole lot of shrieking and laughter. Best (or perhaps worst) of all, I got the whole thing on video, having instinctively hit the “record” button on my camera just as Martha took her first swat at it. During the commotion, I managed to whack my ankle on the metal edge of a chair, and when the bug proceeded to crawl toward me, I retreated to my mom’s room, never taking my eyes off it. Thankfully, before entering the room, it veered to the left and headed down the stairs. Martha scampered after it, half-screaming and half-swatting. Unfortunately the bug escaped yet again, and guess whose rooms were downstairs? Yup . . . the rest of us. We were all scared to go to bed — I had visions of that thing landing on my face in the middle of the night — but everything ended well. The bug survived, and so did we.


Saint Lucia is lawless!

Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but seriously, things are much more relaxed there. Take a look at the following photo and you’ll see what I mean:


I’ve never seen anyone riding like that back home in the States, but it was a common sight on this vacation.

Day 3 started with a 45-minute drive, which took us through a traffic jam in Castries, the capital of the country:


It was worth it, though, not just for the glimpse of city life, but because we ended up on this beach . . .


. . . with this view:


Here’s a dweeby photo of me in the shade:


Some people are willing to get skin cancer in exchange for being tan. I’m not one of them. I was perfectly content to lie there for a while and read a few chapters of this book:


Did you notice the words “uncorrected proof” below the image of the car? This book has not yet been published — it’s coming out in May 2014 — and the publisher sent me an advanced copy, hoping that I’ll like it enough to give them a blurb. I’m about halfway through, and thankfully for everyone involved, I’m loving it. It’s really funny.

As for the beach, part of it was terribly crowded . . .


. . . but after walking past all the dumb tourists for five minutes, Hayley and I found a nice, peaceful area:


Here’s something that made us smile:


It’s hard to tell, but there was a guy in that boat who was selling all kinds of tropical fruit. I bought two tiny bananas from him for a total of two Eastern Caribbean dollars. That’s about 80 cents’ worth of US currency, but it was worth it. We were so hungry that our stomachs were practically hurting, and it helped bridge the appetite gap until lunch:


In case you missed my first two entries from this trip (or have a bad memory), that’s my mom, Naomi, in the white shirt, my girlfriend, Hayley, in the black dress, my half-sister, Martha, wearing sunglasses, and Martha’s girlfriend Amy at the head of the table. (I ate lamb roti.)

After lunch, I decided to rent a jet ski. Here I am putting on my life jacket . . .


. . . and look who joined me!


That’s Hayley sitting behind me — and did you notice the expression on her face? Here’s a closer look:


When we reached open water, the only thing louder than the roar of the engine was her constant shrieking in my ear. She thought we were gonna die. It was cute.

As you can see below, we didn’t die:


That’s a photo of us back at the hotel, reading near one of the swimming pools.

When it got dark, we returned to the condo and started a game of Scrabble:


Poor Hayley. I went first and played IGNORES for 70 points. She then played DEAN for 12 points, at which point I threw down ADDiCTs to take a 146-12 lead. To be fair, most relationships have a mismatch of intellect, and she happens to be the smart one. No joke. You know how some people need to have everything explained, and they’re still like, “What? You mean . . . wait, I don’t get it.” Hayley is the opposite. It’s scary. So yeah: poor Hayley because she has a dumb boyfriend (although I *am* quite good at Scrabble).

Halfway through the game, all five of us headed out to dinner. We had to walk to the nearby waterfront and wait for a ferry, during which time I got hustled by this guy making palm-leaf grasshoppers:


I didn’t want a palm-leaf grasshopper, but I couldn’t help it. According to my family, I’m too friendly. They told me later that when the guy said hello from 10 feet away, I should have ignored him and kept walking — easy for them to say, but it contradicts my nature. When someone says hello to me, I say hello back, or in this case, I glanced at him and gave a friendly, subtle nod. That prompted him to scurry over, and before I could blink or say “no thanks,” he was already performing palm-leaf origami in my face. At that point, I knew it was too late to get out of it, so I figured I’d take a photo and give him a dollar. After all, the grasshopper *was* pretty cool, but then of course he started making another and ended up asking for five US dollars “for the grasshoppers and the photo.” I reluctantly handed him the money, and as I walked away, he said, “Give me another dollar.” I flat-out refused and felt unsettled about the whole situation. I hate to say it, but that’s how I often felt in Saint Lucia. There was a level of desperation and shadiness that went beyond what I’m used to dealing with back home.

Anyway, let me now return to being a “privileged ass-hat,” as Hayley just called me. Here’s a wannabe-artsy photo I took on the short boat ride across Marigot Bay:


We had dinner at a really nice place called Rainforest Hideaway — the one legitimately fancy meal of our trip. Here’s what the outdoor seating area looked like:


I started with Thai-spiced coconut and pumpkin soup (and a unicorn horn):


For my main course, I had salmon, or, to quote the menu: “parmesan crusted salmon with cauliflower puree and roasted root vegetables and fire roasted pepper pesto”:



We all shared a bunch of desserts:


In the four-part photo above, starting on the top left and going clockwise, you’re looking at 1) pineapple and coconut cheesecake with caramel and pineapple sauce, 2) rum sauteed bananas with rum raisin ice cream, 3) white chocolate creme brulee with lime and raspberry compote, and 4) rich velvet chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream.

I don’t consider myself a foodie, but damn! Sometimes I feel the need to document my meals. Is that so bad?

This was the scene outside the restaurant as we waited for the ferry to retrieve us:


Back at the condo, Hayley and I finished our game of Scrabble . . .


. . . and went for a midnight swim. Here she is testing the water at the smaller/colder of the two pools:


Here I am in the water:


Everything was so beautiful . . .


Our first full day of the trip started in the hotel pool. Here I am tossing Hayley around:


We swam for about half an hour and then had to get going. Here’s a gratuitous Hayley-in-a-bikini photo that shows her getting out of the pool . . . just because I like it:


Here’s a gratuitous photo of me in my bathing suit, just because Hayley likes it:


A little while later, we walked a short distance to this free ferry . . .


. . . which took us just across Marigot Bay to a small beach. Here we are walking ashore . . .


. . . and here we are at a restaurant soon after:


In the photo above, that’s my mom, Naomi, in the white dress, my half-sister, Martha, in the blue tank top, and Martha’s girlfriend, Amy, at the far end of the table.

I had ordered chicken roti, which was excellent.

Check out the beautiful view I had during the meal:


Yeesh! Talk about a gratuitous photo! But seriously, there *was* a nice view, which included this at one point:


That guy ended up selling one of those leaf-woven bowls to Martha for five bucks.

This was the scene on the beach:


The worst thing about that beach (and about Saint Lucia in general) was the steady flow of locals who kept trying to sell us stuff — meals, drinks, jewelry, souvenirs, boat rides, rain forest tours, and so on. When I got up for a minute, one guy tried to rent me a beach chair, and when I told him that I already had one, he mumbled a question that I had to ask him to repeat.

“Do you smoke?” he asked cautiously.

“Oh . . . no thanks,” I said, feeling dumb and completely un-slick. He then gave me a fist-bump and told me to let him know if I need anything.

When I told Martha about it, she was like, “How come no one offered ME any weed?” This became a pattern and a joke among our group; whenever we went somewhere new, I’d inevitably get the same offer, and the others would complain about it. It’s not that Martha or the others wanted to smoke weed. They just wanted to at least be asked.

Anyway, after relaxing in the sun for a while, Hayley and I went for a swim. You can see our heads in the red circle in the following photo:


The water was surprisingly shallow, which was good for Hayley — a novice swimmer. In fact, it was shallow enough for us to touch the bottom several hundred feet out from the shore.

Back at the hotel, Hayley and I started up a game of Scrabble in the late afternoon, and as the sun was setting, we found Martha and Amy at a different pool:


The Scrabble got interrupted by (a) the darkness and (b) dinner plans at a nearby restaurant. Here are the five of us, about to dig into our entrées:


Here’s a closer look at the chicken curry I ate:


Hayley was shocked to see me drink this:


That’s because it had alcohol in it, albeit a sugary concoction of coconut rum with pineapple juice and lime.

Check out this cool photo of dessert — banana flambé:



After dinner, Hayley and I finally finished our game of Scrabble. Here’s a photo she took of the final board:


Good times. Stay tuned for Day 3 . . .


Let’s talk about timing for a moment, shall we? This was the weather forecast for New York City on the day we were scheduled to fly to the Caribbean:


Thankfully, we had an 8am flight and the snow wasn’t supposed to start falling until the late morning. It was the best possible scenario: we saw some HUGE snow plows standing by on the side of the runway . . .


. . . and took off without incident.

So long, suckers!!

Four hours and ten minutes later, this was my view just before we landed in Saint Lucia:


Our group consisted of five people:

1) me
2) my girlfriend, Hayley
3) my mom, Naomi
4) my half-sister, Martha
5) Martha’s girlfriend, Amy

Because of some flooding last month that destroyed a few roads, we had a long drive to our hotel — 75 minutes, to be exact — but the scenery was beautiful. Here’s what it looked like as we got close:


After checking in, we got a brief tour of the grounds on the way to our condo:


Here we are on the balcony:


Then we wandered a bit. Here’s a photo of my mom and Hayley checking out the pool:


Here are Martha and Amy fantasizing about a humongous yacht:


Despite our plan to have dinner at around 7 or 8pm, the others insisted on having a “quick bite” in the late afternoon. Here they are sitting around the table:


Does that look “quick” to you?

The meal lasted an hour and a half, ended after 5pm, and left us completely full and not in the mood to eat anything later. (How come no one ever listens to me?)

After linner, we walked along the marina . . .


. . . and eventually found a small grocery store.

And that was pretty much it. We were all exhausted, so we just lounged around after that. Hayley struggled to get an internet connection on her laptop:


My mom read a magazine (about how we’re all screwing up the planet):


Amy and Martha got (more) drinks at the same place where we had linner:


On the way back to our condo, I took a photo of the pool:


As nice as everything was, the highlight of my day was seeing THIS before heading to bed:


I really love New York City. There’s no place I’d rather live . . . but not this week.

New Wilson glove

Check out my newest piece of leather — a Wilson A2000 infielder’s glove:


Yes, I already own several gloves (including this and this), but I got this new one for free, courtesy of Wilson Sporting Goods and Pitch In For Baseball.

Here’s a photo of the outside of the glove . . .


. . . and here’s a close-up of my favorite part:


The problem with getting something for free (even a pair of socks from your aunt) is that you’re expected to use it. And love it.

I hate that.

Last year I was offered a free glove by a small company who wanted me to promise to use it full-time — and I said no. It’s one thing to agree to eat BIGS Sunflower Seeds for an entire season, but my glove is another story. You just can’t mess with my glove.

As for Wilson, they’re not trying to sponsor me or make me agree to anything. They have a partnership with Pitch In For Baseball (the charity I’ve worked with since 2009), and they’re just being cool.

And so . . . I’ll give this new glove a shot. (I happened to need an infielder’s glove, so it’s actually quite useful.) I doubt it’ll be broken in by Opening Day, but I’ll keep working on it, and eventually the time will come.

Hurricane Sandy vs. Argosy Book Store (update)

Fourteen months ago, I blogged about the damage that Hurricane Sandy did to my family’s book store — the Argosy. Remember when these bricks fell off the adjacent building and crashed through our roof and caused lots of flooding which damaged rare merchandise? Well, it just occurred to me that I never posted an update, so here you go.

Let’s start with a four-part photo of some damaged books:


You know what? “Damaged” isn’t the right word; “ruined” is more like it. I photographed all this stuff for insurance purposes. Thankfully the other building’s insurance company paid for everything, but we still had to do an insane amount of work, including dealing with all the framed items that had gotten soaked. See all the empty frames below?


Some of them were able to be salvaged, but the mattes were trashed:


Those last two pics were taken in the 2nd-floor gallery. That’s where we have all the antique maps and prints, along with our framing department. There was no damage there; it’s just where we brought the damaged frames to be dismantled.

Meanwhile, this was the scene in the First Editions department on the 5th floor:


In the photo above, that’s my cousin Ben (who has worked full-time at the Argosy since 1999). He was inspecting every book and placing the damaged ones on the floor.

FYI, the Argosy has six floors, and the flooding went all the way down to the 4th-floor office, speaking of which . . . look what was in the freezer in the lunch room:


Remember these Thomas Jefferson documents? Yeah, we stuck them in there to halt the spread of the water damage, literally by freezing it. More on that in a bit, but first, look what happened the following day:


Let me explain: our roof had just been patched up, and then it rained like hell, and the ceiling in the Autograph department on the 6th floor started leaking again.


This time we scrambled to move *all* the merchandise away from that portion of the room, and by the end of the day, the Autograph department looked like this:


Of course, we kept discovering more ruined items, some of which we hadn’t noticed after the first round of flooding. Here’s a book with a fresh coating of mold . . .


. . . and here’s another that “bled” all over the inside of the dust wrapper:


Here’s a book that was signed by someone you’ve probably heard of:


Although Shirley Temple’s signature survived the storm, the outside of the book suffered some water damage.

Here’s something else that got messed up:


That’s a game-worn pair of uniform pants, autographed by Doc Gooden and stained on the crotch. By the way, I still have these pants, and I’m thinking about giving them away as a charity prize this year. What do you think? Even with the stain, it’s still a really cool item, right?

Anyway, several days later, an insurance inspector came to look at all the damage. Here he is on the roof with Ben and my mom (who has worked full-time at the Argosy since 1958):


Here he is with Ben on the 5th floor:


As you can see, we had draped plastic sheets over the shelves because there was STILL water trickling down.

Twenty-four hours later, this was happening on the 6th floor:


As you can see . . .

1) Most of the green felt wallpaper had been removed.
2) Workmen were dismantling bookshelves and other stuff.
3) The ceiling was STILL leaking, and buckets were set up to catch the water.

Three days later, a different set of workmen ripped a chunk out of our soggy ceiling:


In the photo above, did you notice the plastic sheets in the background, behind the glass partition? Here’s a better view of the back of the Autograph department:


Here’s some of the stuff that had to be demolished — mostly old book shelves and large pieces of drywall:


Here’s a photo that I took the following day — November 14, 2012:


Did you notice the remaining portion of the carpet?

It was still soaked.

Here’s another photo of the Autograph department:


All that plastic was there to protect everything when the ceiling got patched up and painted. See the ladder up above? That’s pretty much where I normally sit and work.

Here’s what the 5th floor looked like:


On November 16, 2012, there was an article about the Argosy in the New York Times . . .


. . . which prompted a film crew from CBS News to do a segment on the damage. Here’s my aunt Judy being interviewed:


Here’s my mom showing the Thomas Jefferson documents to the camera . . .


. . . and here’s my other aunt Adina being interviewed outside in the “arcade”:


By the way, those Jefferson documents — Acts of Congress that he had signed as Secretary of State — were eventually sent to a professional restorer.

After some demolition on the 5th floor (which lasted several days) . . .


. . . Ben and another employee named Neil boxed up *all* the books in the First Editions department:


All those books had been shelved alphabetically by author, so they tried to keep everything in order.

Here’s where the boxes ended up:


They sat there for several weeks, during which the room was completely renovated. The following photo shows the new floor, along with several shelving units:


When the shelves were installed, guess who single-handedly re-shelved ALL the books.

Yep . . . me.

Here’s a photo that I took during the weeklong process:


The biggest challenge was leaving a uniform amount of space at the end of each shelf. Obviously, because of all the books we’d lost, it would’ve been dumb to shelve the remaining volumes as tightly as possible. If I did that, we would’ve been left with a whole wall of empty space, so I tried to plan it out. No, I didn’t get it right the first time. Yes, I had to reshuffle lots of books to make it fit just right.

By the end of 2012, the 4th-floor office was in the process of being emptied . . .


. . . and so was the entire Autograph department on the 6th floor:


We crammed most of the stuff into storage rooms, which were already cluttered to begin with. Look at this mess:


Here’s what the office looked like on January 10, 2013:


Yeah, it was sealed off for asbestos removal!! That’s why we had to empty it out — and that’s why we had to do the same thing on the 6th floor. You see, when the carpeting upstairs was removed, it exposed a layer of old, crappy tiles which began to curl up at the edges and reveal a small trace of asbestos — not enough to be harmful, but enough that we were legally obligated to eliminate it.

Meanwhile, the 6th floor had been stripped bare:


Here’s another photo of it:


So sad. But hey, at least we didn’t have to pay for any of this, and I knew that everything would end up looking much better . . . eventually.

By January 15, 2013, the Autograph department had a new floor:



Here’s another photo:


Of course it was nearly impossible to breathe up there. The paint fumes were overwhelming, and there was sawdust covering everything.

Once the asbestos had been removed from the office, the 4th-floor renovation got underway:


Because the new floor in the Autograph department had to be varnished and then left to dry, we weren’t able to start putting things back in place until February 14, 2013. Here’s a photo of my mom watching two of our longtime employees, Byron and Juan, reassemble a pair of large metal racks:


While all of this was happening, would you believe that we were *still* discovering damaged items? Check out all the mold in this book . . .


. . . which had been signed by Andy Warhol:



Here’s a random photo of some 6th-floor clutter, just because:


Here’s what the 4th-floor office looked like on February 21, 2013:


Nice, huh?

Check out this before-and-after comparison:


Nearly one month later, the construction in the Autograph department was still dragging on. Here are two workmen hauling in a new bookshelf on March 18, 2013:


Those guys also installed a big storage unit:


Can you imagine how long it took us to sort through all the clutter and merchandise and put it all back where it belonged? It took months, which is why I neglected to blog about it. By the time everything was fully operational, the 2013 baseball season was well underway, and my life was being pulled in a different direction.

Fast-forward to January 2014. Here’s what the First Editions department on the 5th floor now looks like:


Here’s a current photo of the Autograph department on the 6th floor:


Here’s another photo of the back:


Finally, here’s a shot of the main floor (which never suffered any storm damage):


Come visit sometime. I promise you’ll like it, and I might even be there to say hi.


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