“I’m working on my family tree” is a perfectly good excuse to swear at your ancestors ten times a day

One night a few weeks ago, instead of working on the family tree — which I have been doing in my “free” time (ha), rather obsessively, tbqh, for the past, oh, five months or so, judging by the increments of “ryansholin+freetrial5” accounts I am running on various genealogy websites — I tweeted about it.

And it turns out, somewhat unsurprisingly, that many of you also enjoy swearing at your ancestors in your abundant free time.

I never wanted to do this.

When one previously unknown to me relative, many years and email addresses ago, first shared some details, questions, and answers about his branch of the “Sholin” line, I was intrigued and entertained and it stopped there.

When another previously unknown to me relative — let’s call them a “PUTMR” (there may be more of these, let’s make an awkward acronym) hit me up several years later with the news that there was a “Shalin” branch, and expanded it, hey, cool, neato. (It was probably pronounced more like that anyway, transliterated as Zoling/Zolin and sounding like Tzhallen, if you know what that sounds like?)

Somewhere in between there, in a story I’ve told many times about all the reasons I decided to leave New York City before I had any real reasons, one of them sent me the naturalization record of my great-grandfather Sholin, and it included an address that was approximately the length of one F train platform away from my apartment at the time, and ONE HUNDRED YEARS had passed, and I was all there was to show for it.

Fast forward maybe a decade, and my father worked on his mother’s side (Weis/Weiss/Weisman/Wiseman/heck-let’s-get-real-it-was-more-like-Vaysman) so diligently that I became a little uncomfortable with the whole idea, and was unfortunately quite dismissive of his efforts. I AM SORRY ABOUT THAT NOW. He made trips to the National Archives. There were bus trips for seniors doing the same thing. He took them. He interviewed his oldest living aunts and uncles, and took…. chaotic notes. And logged his findings, errors and all, in one of these genealogy website tree thingies.

And I got an account. And ignored it. Until he died last year. And then I started poking around, curious about some of the email he was getting with exciting sounding “record matches” and the like. Well, a “record match,” hey, maybe new information has come to light and I should take a l—- no, no, no, I’m not going to get sucked in.

Here’s how they sucked me in: We did 23AndMe for health reasons (I know, I know, it is weird to throw your DNA on the Internet and give corporations access to it, but here we are) and after I got bored nosing around my ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ health reports and obvious ancestry (98.4% Ashkenazi Jew, maybe more) I looked at the DNA “matches” and started trying to figure out who some distant relatives were.

And then it hit me.

I could use this DNA match stuff to figure out more about who the heck my most mysterious (and not coincidentally most conventionally problematic) maternal great-grandparents were, where they came from, where their other relatives are now.

Reader, I am five months down the rabbit hole, and have built a “family tree” (ha!) with 1,830 people in it. THIS IS A SMALL NUMBER. Honest. I have seen trees from PUTMRs with like tens of thousands of human records in them. Like, football stadiums full of tangentially related people. Right now I just have a large auditorium full. Not even a Sportatorium’s worth yet.

This is the most fun and frustrating puzzle I have ever attempted.

Oh, and I still don’t know who my great-grandmother’s parents were.

On to the swearing at our ancestors.

WTF:

  • Shoutout to the scribes who kept the birth, marriage, and death records in places like Russia and Ukraine and Poland and Romania and Moldova and did you know these are all the same place during some of the periods of time I’m working with here? More on that later.
  • The records are handwritten. The handwriting is TERRIBLE.
  • That makes OCR comical. And it makes manual translation and data entry rather variable.
  • Special kudos to the Montreal record keepers. I am not clear if it’s always the same Rabbi, or if it’s one scribe per synagogue, or if there was some central scribe to which the Rabbis called in their births, marriages, and deaths, because they are absolute butchers when it comes to names. Just, defying logic. And, yes, I am not surprised if an officiant forgets how to correctly spell the name of somebody’s mother when the babies just. keep. coming. so. relentlessly. So many babies.
  • Oh, an absolute gold star to the two guys living contemporaneously in Montreal named ESSIE and ISSIE with the same last name and the aforementioned Rabbis/scribes destroying both names differently every time. THEY ARE NOT RELATED. I think. For now. One of them was married to my great-grandfather’s sister for a few years? I think? For now. But on his third marriage record (there are so many marriages, anyone who tells you people get divorced more now has never seen the Ukraine-Brooklyn-Jersey-Montreal pipeline of Jewish couples in the 1920s-1950s) he says he’s widowed, and I’m like, whoops, GG Aunt Freda died, but… then she appears with A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT LAST NAME many years later in someone else’s obituary.
  • I have no complaints about newspaper obituaries. They are giving me life these days. I also have no complaints about the people who photograph gravestones for fun and upload them to websites with reasonable databases, and many of them are reasonable. I am getting lots and lots of practice reading Hebrew on gravestones to validate or discover someone’s father’s name. Well, their Hebrew name, at least.
  • Back to sarcasm, though: Gotta appreciate the entire concept of all those scribes in the “old country” writing down Hebrew names and Yiddish names, neither of which might have anything to do with the name they used in secular life, and certainly neither has to have anything to do with what they name themselves after they migrate to North America.
  • Then again, I’ve learned a lot! Did you know Ariyeh (and many variations in Hebrew and Yiddish, like Leib) means “lion” and many of the men with that name chose “Louis” after migration. Trends like this make for some good educated guesswork, sometimes.
  • Then again again, sometimes it’s just a trend created because “there was a popular song about a girl named Tillie, so we liked that name, and chose it, and there’s no relation to our original names, sorry, descendants, good look figuring that one out.” I AM NOT MAKING THE TILLIE THING UP.
  • Speaking of Tillies, let’s talk about this one Brady Bunch Cubed branch where my other maternal great-grandfather leaves one wife and three kids in Lithuania (it might’ve been Belarus), comes to New York, marries a woman who has three kids from a previous marriage (divorced), THEY HAVE THREE MORE KIDS, and then, AND THEN, the first wife dies and the O.G. three kids show up in Brooklyn like “hi who are all these children and why are there so many” and to be fair, they get along eventually, but not immediately.

The point, if there is one, is that this stuff is messy AF.

WTAF

Speaking of messy, among the things I’ve learned while working on this puzzle include big geopolitical lessons, like:

  • It was WILLFUL IGNORANCE on my part to grow up thinking my “Russian” ancestors were unaffected by the Holocaust, because, dear reader, they were affected. It is dark. Many of my ancestors fled “Russia” after some truly awful and deadly pogroms (with their own geopoltiical impetus) in their towns, but for the most part, anyone who was left alive is later murdered in the Holocaust. (I’ve also observed that “murdered” is a particular and clear way these victims are described by the organizations that have done the hard, hard work of cataloging them all. And it’s accurate.)
  • The geopolitical impetus of the pogroms, at least in Ukraine in 1919, the push that sends my least organized great-grandparents across the continent? It has to do with power vacuums, the Bolshevik revolution, and who both Ukrainian and Russian nationalists blamed for their problems. GUESS WHO.
  • Wait, there were Ukrainian nationalists? Yes, because Ukraine was briefly independent for a minute after WWI, and, hey, so was Romania, but it went kinda poorly, and hey, this part of Poland is now part of Ukraine, and this part of Austria-Hungary is now part of Poland, and also there’s a place called Bessarabia for a short while? All of these details are literally academic in 9th grade World History, but for the people who lived it it was rather chaotic, with whole armies sloshing across their neighborhoods in one war and then another — and, dear reader, different generations living in these places had very different expectations of the Germans based on their previous experience. Prior results don’t predict future results. Hard lesson.
  • Reading some of this stuff is a little traumatic, and I don’t recommend it.
  • But it’s mildly joyful to map out the families of the survivors, where they exist. (If you’ve ever met a Holocaust survivor, you’ll know it, because it’s a bit like the old Ski Instructor joke — well, at least it was told to me by a skier as a Ski Instructor joke, but it works with just about anything: “How do you know if there’s a Ski Instructor at the bar? Oh, THEY’LL TELL YA!” Only this is a much more important thing to not shut up about.)
  • On the lighter side, geopolitical turmoil also makes finding some records a bit of challenge. These people really did live in four or five different nations over a very short period of time with little-to-no physical movement on their part, so YOU try and figure out whose current country to look ’em up in.
  • To that end, there are… complications in record-keeping, like, fires. That burn the records. But sometimes there’s another copy, and at the moment the current hero in the Ukrainian records world is the guy who rescued the other copy AS THE CURRENT WAR IN UKRAINE STARTED and is scanning it, book by book.
  • Oh, but no one has translated those records yet, so you’re going to need to learn some Hebrew AND Russian cursive to look through hundreds of handwritten entries from 120 years ago. Good luck with that.
  • Just because I haven’t mentioned them yet, a pox on all the houses of the shipping company staff who handwrote records, often in cursive, often in weird slanty cursive that must’ve been “professional” for the time period, because, no. It is not very readable. Dutch port workers, I am giving you some very orange side-eye.

Colophon?

I guess that night on Twitter, I said I would about how I’ve been doing this research, but so far, this is just an extended version of that rant thread.

If you haven’t messed around with any of these apps, I will tell you now that the technology is decent! Despite all my complaining about the quality and cleanliness of the data — and sometimes its existence in unburned digital form at all — the basic premise of a lot of these tools is good.

They work on some basic matching principles, like “Hey, there’s a census record with the name you said was your grandmother’s, in the city you said she lived in, and the other people in the record are the other people you said she lived with, so should we save this to her entry in your tree?”

Rinse and repeat a few thousand times.

Census records, birth, marriage, and death records, city directories, Social Security stuffs, other “public records” collections of dubious but directional quality (not too different from what you can find using Google)… all of these are theoretically free public records, but the apps pull it together in a useful relational way so they can tell you “hey there, it looks like you’re looking for a person with this name and birthdate, maybe this is her?” a hundred times a day.

  • MyHeritage is where I paid for a year and have been housing the tree. It’s fine. It’s pretty good about surfacing stuff from JewishGen, but after a while I realized it was a good idea to get an account at JewishGen myself, make a donation, and use the database (and forums) over there.
  • JewishGen, yes, if you’re Jewish, it’s well worth the $100 donation to get access to use additional fields in the database search form. Yes, that’s how it works. No, there are no permalinks to the search results. Yes, you’ll be taking a lot of screenshots and pasting tables into Google Docs. This is the way, apparently. JewishGen is the central clearinghouse for what I call the “old country” database. If it was inscribed in a book in The Pale of Settlement in the 19th or early 20th century, AND it’s been microfilmed, AND it’s been translated, AND the data has been entered into the aforementioned database, then, yes, it’s there. FALSE POSITIVES will lead you astray here. Someone whose details kinda look like your great-grandmother if you squint and assume there’s some flexibility in the details over time due to various needs to lie to various governments to achieve various ends to survive and thrive? Yeah, it’s not actually her. And that’s fine, it’s probably a cousin. They’re all cousins. We’re all cousins. Hi, cousin.
  • Ancestry has a better search engine, and I think a better algorithm for surfacing the good stuff with less fiddling, but I’m not sure why. They also have more Canadian records, if you need those. If I’m still working on this (ha) after my first year of the MyHeritage subscription, I might move the whole tree over here.
  • FamilySearch is the LDS (yes, them) project cataloging as many humans as they can, and they are diligent about it. It’s designed to be a well-organized canonical list of people, but in reality, it is only as organized as people like you and me make it, because people who don’t know our great-grandmother will not transcribe her name correctly from a handwritten record. Or maybe they will, and we were looking for the wrong name all along, which is always a distinct possibility. FamilySearch is free, use it as a reference, and use it as an instructional guide to help figure out where to look for records from all over the world. There’s even a wiki with lots of helpful information about where to look for answers, depending on what countries you’re looking in!
  • FindAGrave.com — Gravestones are useful; especially if you have no information about someone’s father and are looking for a clue in the form of a Hebrew name. Obituaries often mention a burial location; the FindAGrave search engine works very well and has lots of filters; sometimes it might be wrong! Sometimes a gravestone has dates that are a little bit off, despite being literally carved in stone, and sometimes the names are not necessarily precisely what you were expecting. It helps to have a clue going into your search, and using FindAGrave to validate your theories. I’ve also had good luck getting cemetery names from here, and then searching for a cemetery website that might have a better, fuller index of graves with names and sometimes even pictures of gravestones.
  • DNA matches — Let’s talk generically about uploading your DNA to these sites, or taking the tests. Listen, it’s not for everybody, and I really don’t understand all the technical bits, but it opens up a very big world (you are related to tens of thousands of people, I promise) of distant relatives. You will politely shrug at some of them months before you figure out they could tell you lots you want to know about your great-grandfather’s family, and then they won’t check their messages for years. As mentioned previously, I did a 23AndMe test, and honestly, their “DNA Matches” feature is suboptimal, and obviously not intended to be a big part of their product. Others are better. What you really want to do is download your DNA — and let me tell you, I was humbled when it was delivered as a .txt file in a ZIP — and then you upload it to wherever you want. I uploaded mine to MyHeritage, and the whole matching scenario is very cool over there, including some tools to cluster overlapping matches together, which helps give you ideas about which family they’re from, mostly, if you know which family one of them is from, mostly. Outside of the big apps, there’s another place called Family Tree DNA that a PUTMR recommended so we could get a better look at our overlaps. Your genetic code mileage may vary.

Epilogue

This draft post has been open in my browser for a few weeks. In the interim, I have more or less quit Twitter for good, so don’t go looking for the aforementioned thread. Unless I haven’t deleted all my tweets yet when you’re reading this. Assuming you still follow me and I haven’t removed you as a follower yet. Anyway, RIP Twitter. I hear Tumblr is lovely this time of year.

During the weeks I’ve been (not so much) editing this post, I also took off a few hours during a work trip to New York City to visit four cemeteries, capturing photos of gravestones from a few different sides of the family.

Every cemetery was a little different, but my favorite was the first one, about halfway to Coney Island on the F train, where the train stop drops you in the middle of a big six- or seven- way intersection, and each triangle off the intersection is a part of the cemetery. There was no website or phone number online, so it was a bit of a leap of faith to go, but taped on the inside of the glass door of the big old weird house that was the home of the cemetery office, there was a phone number. The gentleman on the other end of the line was efficient, accommodating, and appeared at the door within minutes to deliver a map, instructions, and a Hebrew calendar or two.

The moral of the story? Ask questions, talk to people, and they’ll help you find the answers the algorithmic tools can’t know, because the data doesn’t exist yet in machine-readable form. Humans! Still helpful.

Today is the 152nd day of the year 2021

Seems like a good day for a blog post!

One Song Everyday

Building (healthy) habits is not something that comes easily to me, so I always find “do this one thing every day of the year” projects appealing. A few years ago I made a “one second everyday” #1se video and surprised my family with it on the following New Year’s Day. (That was really nice.)

In 2018, after starting a new job, I blogged every day for the first month of the year as a bit of a dogfood exercise.

(And really, I “blog” using internal tools at work most every weekday.)

This year, I am recording a song every day.

Why and What and How

They’re all covers, and they’re all on video. There’s a bit of an About page that I wrote on the first day about why I’m doing this and what I’m trying to learn. It comes down to being OK with not being great at playing and singing, being especially poor at completing songs — playing them all the way through — over the years, and seeing this as a way to make myself accountable (to myself, obvs) for playing whole songs and trying to learn more.

And it’s working. I’m improving, learning about recording, toying around with GarageBand and considering other software, getting out old guitar accessories,

There’s an Index that lists all the songs I’ve done so far from a few different angles, too.

I’ve been meaning to go through and tag some “favorites” but that’s a lot of self-reflection, and I might not be the best judge of this sort of thing, and they’re all good or bad or mediocre or terrible for their own reasons, no favorite children, etc.

Tools and Choices

  • Breedlove acoustic guitar
  • Squire J Mascis Jazzmaster electric guitar
  • Fuzz Factory pedal
  • GarageBand, lots of things
  • Nektar MIDI keyboard
  • Samson C01UPRO microphone
  • black cowboy hat
  • lack of shame

Maybe notable: I’m not posting these on traditional “social” media much at all. I’m just not in the mood this year to give all this content to Google or Facebook or Twitter, or to automate anything like that, though I reserve the right to drop a little snippet in my Insta story from time to time. I’m using WordPress.com for everything, including the video hosting. Some of this isn’t free for customers — it turns out a four-minute song video with multiple tracks is hundreds of MBs? — but I work for Automattic, so I’m using our stuff for free.

Coda

Oh, and yes, as an added benefit, I walk around every day knowing how many days have passed this year. Today is the 152nd day of the year.

Any requests?

Leaving behind WebFaction

I started hosting This Website with WebFaction in 2008, just after moving to Rochester, with the plan of also using WebFaction’s notably flexible and well-supported systems to host sites using Django (ReportingOn), and ended up using them for multiple other WordPress sites that came up from time to time, as well as other experiments, side projects, and cron jobs over the years.

It was great!

A couple years back, GoDaddy acquired WebFaction, and although I don’t really have anything against GoDaddy — they’re a much better company since switching CEOs around 2011 (you’ll note their Super Bowl commercials took a couple years to catch up, though) — I decided if I was going to endure any switching of control panels and whatnot, I would do it by switching to host This Website at WordPress.com, where I happen to work these days.

This is the point where a better Automattician might write a point-by-point walkthrough of how they moved their personal blog from another host to WordPress.com, but 1) it wasn’t that hard, and 2) I didn’t take proper screenshots along the way. Suffice it to say that all I really needed to do was mash the export button in WP-Admin on my WebFaction-hosted site and mash the import button on my WordPress.com-hosted version.

That’s about it.

OK, OK, so I also had to dig through a decade of bad habits in terms of where I had dumped files and various side projects I had spun up, partially spun down, and left some shred of application standing in my WebFaction admin, just in case I ever wanted to take another run at it.

So where will I house my silly side projects and toy with other programming languages now that I’ve given up my push-this-button-to-launch-a-Ruby-app web host? Heroku. GitHub. My local development environment, now that I’m getting to better know my way around VVV and Docker. (Read as: Copy/paste from documentation and Google the error messages, as always.)

So, thanks for the training wheels and the memories, WebFaction. I’ll never forget the way you burst into flames shortly after I moved my site to your data center.

Days twenty-nine, thirty, and thirty-one: Reflections on trying to blog every day for a month

I didn’t blog every day for a month. I didn’t miss by much, but it’s definitely easier to be disciplined about it at home than it is on the road.

I thought it would be a good experiment, writing slightly longer, compared to a tweet, and it often felt satisfying to mash the publish button. The daily pressure was noticed, though, and reminded me of the year I did one of those one-second-per-day videos. Sometimes you just need to point the camera at the sky; sometimes you just need to jot down some thoughts about jotting down thoughts.

I’m writing this on my laptop on a plane — not on my phone, where I wrote all (I think?) the other posts this month.

Maybe writing those posts didn’t help me separate myself from my phone, but it did give me an outlet for the spare energy of rattling-around thoughts, pithy ideas, and rambling about platforms and projects and photos and it was fun to pull some old file art off my phone.

About Not Tweeting Or Posting On Facebook

Um, many people have spit many hot takes on this topic, and there’s not much I can add. It felt like I was measurably reducing my daily anxiety by not spending much time on Twitter this month. When I did check in from time to time on my laptop during the week (or, admittedly, stealing down to the basement once or twice a day on weekends to get my fix), it was nice to see a joke or two, or someone’s Personal News, and there was that day I unfollowed more than a thousand people, that felt pretty good.

I was still checking news sites multiple times a day on my phone, to feed the “has anything blown up overnight?” monster in my brain, but if you feel overwhelmed and like maybe you need a break from the unrelenting wash of news, then yes, indeed, I would recommend cutting down on Twitter.

And Facebook, sure, although checking in there less was a good reminder that I’ve done a decent job of curating my friends and my feed there, so more often than not, looking at Facebook on my laptop a couple times a day made me feel good.

I kept Instagram on my phone, and although the babies and kids and dogs and meals there have a lot of overlap with my FB feed, I’ve been enjoying Stories.

What now?

Am I going to keep aiming to write a blog post every day? Uhhhhhhmmmmmm hmmmm errrrr… How about I just try to blog whenever I feel like it, whenever I have a thought longer than tweet-length, whenever there’s one of those empty cans making a lot of noise in my head, whenever I want to, more or less, without the long-gone pressure of worrying about my brand or how my work responsibilities and personal opinions (usually about future-of-news stuff) might not always be in alignment.

Am I going to start tweeting again?

Ehhhhhhhhh probably. But I’m going to keep curating pretty hard. I definitely have the thought of making my account private, and/or deleting my old tweets.

It’s tempting to just leave it behind.

Fish tacos, El Pescadito, Mexico City, 2019
Fish tacos, El Pescadito, Mexico City, 2019

Days twenty-seven and twenty-eight

Written on the morning of the 29th, natch.

Whenever I hear the words “business traveler,” I picture someone older than me in a suit. When I travel for work, I see those people, and except for the single-meeting trips where I might wear a suit jacket (honestly, I have no idea what’s a sport coat and what’s a blazer, so use your imagination), I usually look pretty casual and beardy and not businessy.

But there I am, moving through airports, traveling for work, doing my best to feel less like an electron going through a wire and more like a human being experiencing the world.

Even if that experience is trying to be invisible with my headphones on and saying as little as possible to anyone. 😉

Days twenty-five and twenty-six

Hey this daily habit thing is challenging!

Whatever I thought I might write about today was just wiped clean because we just watched BlacKkKlansman and it’s going to take a few minutes to recover.

Spike still has some shots left in him, that’s for sure. I remember one time he gave a talk at NYU, in the coffee shop on the ground floor of Tisch, when one movie or another of his was coming out, but he had to get to the Yankees game and was a little impatient with us, short on time, and how many times had he given the same talk to every group of film undergrads who wanted to think of themselves as auteurs.

But there’s Spike, in 2018, saving the signature ride-the-dolly move for the last shot of his movie. Sorry, I guess that’s a minor spoiler for a certain class of nerd.

The tie-ins to the present of the black experience in America, the garbage rhetoric of those whose idea of greatness is whiteness, the clear cross-cut storytelling of what “white power” and “black power” and “black lives matter” mean — somehow all pulled off less heavy-handed than usual — and I even like it when he’s heavy-handed, heck, I cried thick tears at 25th Hour and needed a drink after it to calm down.

Day twenty-four

Part of what I love about Vampire Weekend is the fact that my wife likes their music, too. Spend your life with someone, and it’s nice if there’s not just music you can enjoy together, but music you can enjoy together across multiple states on road trips, for the 19th time, playing on repeat, and maybe if the kids can bounce around in their seats, that’s a plus.

There’s new music from Vampire Weekend (yes, yes, asterisk minus Rostam, fine) for the first time in six years, and it’s lovely enough.

Last time around I spent lots of time with MVOTC early in Genius’s run, and ended up building a spreadsheet out of all of VW’s lyrics from all their albums, looking for narratives and themes and clues to some bigger story, sure I’d heard a snippet of a song referencing some past character. There wasn’t some overarching epic woven through that I could discern, but it was a fun corpus for data science projects that never took shape.

In one of the new songs out today, there’s a completely transparent interpolating (as the kids say) of a song from the prior album, so there’s something to pull apart there, maybe, or it’s just their way of letting us know they still don’t want to live like this, but they don’t want to die.

Day twenty-three

When I was in third grade or so, I thought “23” was going to be the perfect age. I’d be out of college, a successful adult in the world, driving my Maserati or whatever I thought was cool — but not that cool — as an eight-year-old, and living the good life as the founder of Sholin Industries, whatever that was going to be. Business!

Maybe that was the year I wanted to be “a businessman” when I grew up, which no doubt led to grandparents telling me I should go to Harvard, because that’s where you go to become “a businessman.”

I ended up with a Harvard sweatshirt, and it was great.

Was that the same year I wanted to be a lawyer? Because that’s where you go if you want to be a lawyer. And of course, as my own children have entered the “debate every suggestion with ten minutes of pedantry” phase, I wonder out loud if suggestions from adults that children “would make good lawyers” are perhaps no less than 97 percent in jest.

I had a busy day, didn’t check the news much, and only now in the evening read about a shooting today in a bank in my home state. This is the moment where I’d like to check Facebook on my phone to see if my friends and family are all fine — although I’m not sure how useful FB would be for that — or really, to figure out whether I know anyone there.

When you grow up in Florida, every Florida Man story is an opportunity to worry about whether you know the weirdo in question. Usually, you don’t.

Day twenty-two

A busy day of work and parenting, somehow fitting in XBox skating with the boy and measurable progress on the Vargas Llosa book I’m reading (translated into English), but practicing my Spanish has been one of the highlights of my week so far.

I’ve explained hundreds of times, en Español: Soy de Miami, y cuando era joven, estudié Español por muchos años en escuela. Despues, estaba viviendo en Nueva York, y estaba hablando Español con mis vecinos Puertorriqueños y los camioneros Mexicanos a mi trabajo.

(I can go on, often mentioning my wife’s family, or where I practiced Spanish when we lived in Santa Cruz, or Albuquerque, or somewhere else along the way.)

These days I explain that I don’t know much business Spanish, but puedo hablar de comida o familia sin problema, context is everything. And probably repetition.

Day twenty-one

It was so cold today here that I ended up with Tom Waits in my head: “…colder than a welldigger’s ass…”

And I can’t remember now if Diamonds on my Windshield is on Heart of Saturday Night or if I first heard it on the hilarious/sad/underwhelming Beat Generation box set I bought myself (likely with my employee discount) all those years ago, after coveting it for months in the record store.

It had some real gems on it, Ginsberg reading America as the closer, touches from Burroughs, Lenny Bruce (beat??), Kerouac himself reading his own work, implanting his cadence on my memory of some of his favorite words, exposing how much he enjoyed them himself.

But also, for some reason, Tom Waits makes multiple appearances.

Whenever I spot these sorts of oddities, it’s my record store days and my understanding of film rights for music that make me wonder if the same label had the rights to a bunch of it and just flipped through their own catalog for filler.

Need something else tangentially about Route 66? Check Tom’s stuff. Probably something in there about a road.