After Christmas every year, the city of Tonawanda floods Ives Pond Park, which is adjacent to the Comfort House, or Nachmu HQ. As soon as the persistent cold of deadly winter is forecast, a very predictable reality, in fact, city officials notify the DPW to close the drainage system of Ives Pond Park (which is a network of soccer fields and empty land in a four-foot deep depression dug out generations ago by a brick-making factory), and, once that is accomplished, they notify the water department to open the fire hydrant.

Between Christmas and the opening of the fire hydrant, anxiety rises throughout the city. Continue reading

The Rise and Fall of Momentary Barbarism

Nachmu made his way to the February 8 Buffalo Sabres game against Mordor’s Boston Bruins, bringing Nachmu the Lesser along. We had great seats, six rows up from the ice across from the benches.

I think within the first ten minutes of the game we had two goals and two fights. During the second fight, I felt barbarity rise in my heart as I stood and shouted for violent restitution for evil unavenged from last November. When the fight was over, satisfied I took my seat (by the way, I am never sitting in the 300s again. The extra few bucks buys exponential value), and I heard a clarion voice beside me, which made the barbarity settle and find its hidden recess.

She said, “I guess there are going to be many fights tonight.” “Yes,” I replied, “there’s a little energy in the building tonight.”

“I don’t like the fights,” she said, “I guess that makes me the anti-hockey fan.” I took my eyes off the ice and looked her. She was a lithe young lady, a young mother, with very light brown eyes to complement untreated long blonde hair and a visage reminiscent of a young and more petite Meryl Streep (I find Meryl Streep less beautiful than Audrey Hepburn and Mrs. Nachmu). “My children are so into the fights,” she added, “but I’m not. I think it’s unnecessarily violent.”

I pondered for a moment, and I said, “Really?”

“Yes, really,” she said, and turned away from me.

At the beginning of the second period, the crowd began booing some of the villains on Mordor’s team, and I took the opportunity to sound more civilized: “You may not like the fighting, but I don’t like the booing. Booing is low class. Fighting is acceptable behavior, but booing is downright rude.”

“At least you’re laughing,” she said, because I was.

“I thought you’d appreciate irony,” I said, feeling very clever.

“Indeed,” she said, “there is a level of politeness at a hockey game not at other games, no swearing and cursing.”

“Ah!” I exclaimed, prepared to relate my favorite hockey story, “The very same boys who, when skateboarding and playing roller blade hockey in the park behind our house during the summer, swear and curse with unfettered mouths, utter no such filth when they skate on the pond in the same place during the winter, playing hockey.”

“They do not desire to disrespect the game,” she said.

“It’s a strange game, hockey,” I said.

This time she laughed, saying, “Yet they’ll beat each other’s brains out as a necessary part of the game.”

A Shooting Star And A Thunderbolt

As I told some friends: someone must have hit me on the head to knock me out, slipped me a Mickey, then forced me to promise the Nachmu boys I’d take them tent camping. Either that, or I’m dangerously insane.

A lovely setting

What was I thinking?

Of course, dear reader, we’re having a ball, complete with a spectacular campfire (one match, naturally), a wiener roast, gluten-dairy-free s’mores, a tent (broken support, naturally, but it should make it through the night OK), and three beers, praise God. Continue reading

The Buffalo-Niagara Microclimate

Here’s how it works here, just to clear things up:

Winter’s the problem; everyone knows that.  Winter begins in December, just like it does for everyone else, but it extends through March.  Well, one of the seasons has to lose a month, and the unlucky season is Summer.  Considering what Summer looks like in the central Plains and Midwest, it’s not a terrible trade.

  • Winter: December through March.
  • Spring: April through June
  • Summer: July and August
  • Autumn: September through November

In truth, it’s very lovely, with a late Spring and a full season of Autumn. Winters are fairly mild, but, as the caricature hints, a little on the wet side.  Chilly and snowy is the best way to put it.  Summer is pleasant enough, with just enough hot to make it interesting, and the lakes take the edge off any storm systems.  April, the first month of Spring, is miserable.  It’s generally rainy and cool, extending the heating season because the sun is hidden, and cabin fever really sets in because you can’t go out into the snow or onto the ice because it’s too warm, nor can you start preparing a garden because it’s too squishy.

Autumn (returning to emphasize), is long and full.  The sun is still nice and bright, but the air is light and cool.  September and October are great months to sit outside around a fire after dark, roasting hotdogs and marshmallows, staring up at the sky, and talking about nothing in particular.  Apple orchards, grape harvests, pumpkins and gourds, hay rides, blue skies, warm sweaters, and all the happy things we associate with Autumn are in the cornucopia of the Niagara Frontier.

There ya go!

The 12th Annual Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts

Indeed, it was the 12th Annual Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts this weekend.  It’s a blowout affair in mid-town Buffalo, the Elmwood village area.  Every year the Nachmu family treks down there from our fortress in Tonawanda, mainly so that the Nachmu Boys may participate in the Buffalo Suzuki Strings concert, but also so that we might expose ourselves to the freaks, weirdos, and ne’er-do-wells who pretend to be haute couture.  It’s fun.As with every Arts Festival, the Elmwood Avenue Festival is long on contrivance and short on arts.  That’s not to say that the contrived isn’t good; in fact, it’s spectacular.  That is to say, however, that the arts community in Western New York isn’t particularly idiosyncratic.  This is Nachmu at his most arrogant, I admit; a most severe critic, indeed, but a weary consumer of the arts.

This is just the Kidsfest area.

Nevertheless, I feel that of the 170 or so vendors, a dozen or so did distinguish themselves.  In addition, the organizers of the festival have succeeded in creating an environment that borders on avant garde, but remains within the comfort zone of the intellectually curious family. In addition, they have balanced the displays, activities, music, and performances to give the festival a feel of constant motion and excitement without a sense that one is missing something.  In short, the place was packed until after closing time on Sunday. I honestly don’t know how they emptied the place of patrons and party-seekers.

What follows is my limited perspective on the festival, highlighting what I liked and the one piece I did buy. Continue reading

The Earth Shook

Some Pro-Mods, that is, the truly insane drag racers, came out to Dunn Tire Raceway Park. In truth, they weren’t a true “Pro-Modifieds” class, but the class was open to, essentially, crazy cars competing for a $3000 prize.  After the second qualifying passes were completed, Nachmu the Younger took Tony aside to tell him that “they vibrate.”  They sure do. I was reminded of Psalm 18, which includes the following verses:

Can't see the craziness, can you? This car did the eighth-mile in 4.5 seconds.

Can you see the craziness now?

Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.

God rides on the Wild Side, doesn't he?

These vehicles must be related to the chariots of fire.

I mean, Dunn Tire Raceway Park is known for a notorious quote by John Force, fearless Funny Car driver of many championships, who, in 1997, upon inspecting the drag strip at DTRP, turned to an official and said, “Where’s the other lane?”

The track has done nothing but deteriorate since then.

Believe it or not, the track that John Force feared has been conquered: a record was set by one of these insane dragsters, running down the strip with a competitor in the other “half” in 3.97 seconds at 163.5 mph.  Just so you know whom to avoid if you meet him in a dark alley, the guy’s name is Bob Frigon.

Lookit, any aficionado will tell you that 3.97 seconds is only respectably fast when it comes to pure speed on an eighth-mile track, but this is at Dunn Tire Raceway Park in Lancaster, NY.  It’s not set up for that kind of speed.

Chariots of the Divine

To be sure, at other tracks, one cannot stand literally two feet from the car as it thunders by, so DTRP offers a unique experience, something akin to standing next to God when he makes an appearance.  One feels fear and awe, nothing less.  It’s a divine experience to feel the heat of the exhaust, hear the pounding of engine-compression, and have your heart stop for a moment because the ground is falling out from beneath your feet.

It’s comforting to know that God is angry at my enemies.

Drag Racing at Dunn Tire Raceway Park in Lancaster

One of the Pro Mod competitors finishes a spectacular burnout.

Drag racing is a completely different beast from stock car racing. I would not consider myself a novitiate any longer, but I am still quite new to the experience of drag racing.  The Niagara Frontier has three good places for drag racing, and Nachmu HQ is nearest to the eighth-mile track at glorious Dunn Tire Raceway Park.

DTRP has its history, and, as is true with almost everything in the Buffalo region, its history is an albatross.  As is true with almost everything in the Buffalo region, however, the people make the ruins of a once-great facility into a near-great facility.  Thus the local drag racing scene. Continue reading

Start Your Engines

Saturday Night at the Races

Saturday nights are glorious in the Niagara Frontier: during the winter, there’s Hockey Night in Canada; during the summer, there’s asphalt circle-track stock car racing (dirt track racing is on Friday nights, but I’m at the drag races then). Racing night is a special taste of paradise, in my estimation.

We're still under the great wide open...

Walking through the gates at any decent local race track leaves me with a certain sense of awe.  It is a sublime thing that we have accomplished, capturing a wide open space within a fence, filling it with bleachers and pit-boxes, a tech barn, and all sorts of food and drink.  Smells of elements which do not belong together create an environment in the mind, too, which cannot be recreated anywhere else except at the race track: burnt rubber (old and new), nacho cheese, beer, racing fuel, body sweat, old wood, mown grass (from the parking lot), perfume, and fried food.  It wafts like the nose of a fine scotch, the several creating a greater one, a single malt of Saturday Night at the Races.

All sorts are necessary to have stock car racing.

When I first made my foray through the gates into that realm, I was surprised at the variety of nations and peoples within it.  I realized instantly that it was an advertiser’s dream, but even beyond the immediate business opportunity, I realized that this realm was for everyone; everyone could experience pleasure within these gates. It was almost cliché: fat people, skinny people, old people, young people, rich people, middle-class people, poor white trash, well-to-do, you name it.  I was most surprised to see entire families like mine there, a professional-looking husband and wife with a few kids, taking in the evening.  Indeed, I would say that at least the simple majority of fans were made up of small business owners, or those who worked in small-business, entrepreneur-types.

This is generally the wrong way to win a race.

These are the family and friends of drivers and owners of the cars on the track.  These are people of an understated joie de vivre. These are the people who make their own lives within a framework of ambition and freedom.  When you see a car racing, which, in stock car racing, is strictly regulated for the sake of competition–nevertheless, you are seeing freedom as it is meant to be: absolute within moral limitations.  At those speeds, it is impossible to keep the moral component pure; at that point, a driver is penalized, perhaps later confronted, but most assuredly received back into the realm as a friend and a family member.  Naturally, the most recalcitrant cheaters are sent away to race elsewhere, but their reputation follows them, and I can’t imagine that they are ever happily received.  Thus, stock car racing is a wonderful projection, a spinning model of the lives of free people.  How difficult it is, and how fun, to complete a few circuits around a half-mile track!

I sponsor the 74 car, sitting on the pole.

The rewards for good driving and good mechanics are, essentially, great rejoicing, even among the fiercest competitors: it’s tough to win a race.  A few bucks, maybe, are handed out, very few, if the owner is a skinflint know-nothing, but he can only do so much harm; the racing is the thing.  Even so, everything is re-set for the next race, a kind of Jubilee Re-draw for the Pole Position, and the competitors are rounding from the start to the finish, friends no more, but family altogether always.

Behind Turn Two

The racing at Dunn Tire Raceway Park is good.  It could be better; it could be much worse.  Some nights the racing is thrilling; other nights, merely entertaining.  The party in the pits, however, is always an event, which demonstrates the character of the realm within the gates.  Though the world will end, stock car racing will continue.