Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Subpar tennis

Z whumped me good at tennis yesterday, payback from the prior time, when I took him. My play wasn't as good as it had been last time, but mentally I held up. I accepted the fact that he was just flat out making his shots and wasn't making mistakes, whereas I was not and was, respectively. So I didn't flagellate and thereby handicap myself, which is a small but welcome triumph over the demons that befall me from time to time.

And there will be a rematch, oh yes there will.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

A fine day to canvas

Yesterday evening, after we got home from dinner after power was blissfully restored to our home (knocked out by Hurricane Michael), I asked Graham if he wanted to come canvas with me in Roxboro. Surprisingly enough, he did!

So off we were in the late morning to my mom's hometown, and a beautiful fall day for canvassing it was. We were supremely fortunate to get a knock list which was entirely in downtown Roxboro, so we didn't have to get back in the car at all until it was time for lunch.

So we walked around knocked on doors. As usual, there was a range of types:

  • The white guy, actually the only white guy we spoke to, who came to the door in socks but holding his shoes. Graham said he was a gamer based on the multiple screens visible from the front door. Certainly he was very resolute in saying the he did not vote, did not want to "get involved in all that."
  • The young woman who had no idea elections were coming up but who looked sufficiently serious and grave when I told her that they were coming and that they were important. I think she got that the six proposed constitutional amendments were stupid.
  • The older lady, whose apartment reeked of cigarette smoke, who very gladly took the materials I offered and promised to study up on the candidates online. I encouraged her to tell all her neighbors, and it seemed like she might.
  • The young guy, atypically engaged for a 25-year old black guy, who was very appreciative, but whose friend who had just come up on the front porch as we approached, but who was not registered and largely couldn't be bothered. I gave him a gentle nudge to register, told him his vote was important, and as we were walking away I heard him say to his friend: "that dude was like your mom or something."
  • Then there was Duane, an 8-year old who had a cold bottle of lemonade, who told me that "Grandma" lived in the derelict-looking house on Foushee Street, and that we probably shouldn't go up on her porch, where he had seen "green blood." But then he came up on there with us when we went up the stairs. Turned out it wasn't his grandma, and the house was probably empty, but he saw some spooky eyes come up to the window while we were up there, and he had lost a toy in her yard but then it ended up in his closet.
Then on the drive back I almost lost my glasses and was freaking out a little at the store in Hurdle's Mill that has the good slaw, but then Graham helped me find them. Whew!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


Parents' weekend in New Haven was very nice. We had been looking forward to it immensely and it was beyond lovely to see Natalie and revisit the old town, to show her places we had gone and to see where she is settling in: the ultimate club team, the Branford Buttery, to hear about her classes, to visit art shows, etc.

And yet. When we left on Sunday she was rather sad and, on the one hand, that infected me. On the other, it made me feel good to feel so needed by her. But since then she has been largely unresponsive to my trying to reconnect with her, except a brief call when she was confused by an odd text that I had gotten but which seems to have been intended for her.

She is of course distancing herself because she needs to, it is healthy. She has gone off to college and lives over 500 miles away and needs to fully stand on her own two feet. My brains knows that, but it is hard for the rest of me to accept it because the last couple of decades have been dedicated significantly to her. This is just a continuation of what began just before she turned 9 when she decided she would no longer snuggle with me "because I'm growing up" (a direct quote -- see here), and since then I've always looked for ways to stay close to her even as she separates. Parks and Rec, sushi, used book stores, hiking, theater, etc.

It's just hard.

Monday, October 08, 2018

The Port Authority Authority

Had to take a bus from the Port Authority terminal on 42nd yesterday out to Montclair, NJ.  I hate the Port Authority. It is a singularly confusing place, a veritable rabbit warren, though remarkable in its own way for how it routes thousands of commuters a day in and out of the city, like the tiffin-couriers of Mumbai. If not quite as cool.

But if you don't know the place -- and I don't -- it sucks. So on a Sunday, when the information desk was closed, it was doubly confusing. But the markets, in their ineffable way, stepped in. An older African-American guy, maybe not homeless, but not rich either, was there to help idiots like me figure out what bus to take. He knew how to operate the information screen and interpret it, and he kind of knew where was where in New Jersey (another arcane bordering on occult science, even for those who have lived there).

And in the middle of it all, I got a call from Mary saying I had sent her the boarding pass for the wrong flight (I hadn't).

So this guy helped me out, and I gave him two bucks. I could have given him one, but I also could have given him five. Then he went right back over to the screen to help somebody else. That is hustle.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Easter egg

Mary has been working diligently in the yard pulling up Japanese stilt grass by hand, and while she was at it she came across and old and faded pink plastic Easter egg, which she put in the path that leads to the basement door. I came across it this morning when I went down there to get a ladder, and I got choked up a little, as it occurred to me that we might be fully done with Easter egg hunts.

The level of enthusiasm for them had trailed off in recent years as the kids got older, but I'm pretty sure they did them right through Natalie's high school years. Towards the end, Natalie would hide them for Graham, and vice versa, with one getting the front yard and the other the back. It was still a nice tradition. But they are likely done for now. Until we get some grandchildren going on! No pressure.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Calm before storm

Our fundraiser is Thursday, which means I am pretty much in wind-down mode for this project, though there are still a bunch of details which need tending to: windows to wash, stiltgrass to mow (I know it's useless in the long term, but it must be done), things Mary hasn't yet told me...

Fact is, I am already tired. I've made maybe 150 phone calls, sent many more emails than that, etc. etc. But it has been all good. The legislators I'm supporting have been able to focus on getting out and doing other stuff.

In the evenings, aside from watching the new season of The Blacklist, where it has been lovely to see Elizabeth grow into the family business and learn the joys of killing people, especially bad guys, I have been learning some songs on the guitar. The Shins, Leonard Cohen, that sort of thing. It's good to get back to feeling like I'm making a little progress on that thing.

The one place I am not making much progress is with Knausgaard. Slow going trying to get started on an 1100 page book reading only at bed time. Probably should allocate a little time to that this afternoon, particularly as I'm going away for 4 days next weekend and really can't take that beast with me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


A client recently cited "prestige" as a factor driving him to go after a contract, which I found curious. This is a person who is quite economically secure, is about my age, so 50ish, has degrees from highly respected educational institutions, and is very grounded in and committed to doing good work in the world, for the benefit of others. I was surprised that prestige would be much of a driver for this person.

I have to reflect on what it means to me going forward.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Spike's politics: the birthday party

Yesterday for Graham's 15th birthday party we took him and a bunch of his friends to see Spike Lee's Blackkklansman. I hadn't seen a Spike Lee movie for many years. It wasn't filled with as many ha-ha laughs as some of his earlier movies, but was essentially a Spike Lee joint, as they say: a mix of humor, black pride, seriousness of purpose. Certainly his cinematographic sheen has risen through the years, as has his ability to recruit black women who look like/are supermodel-like.

As we were leaving, one of Graham's friend protested or offered the observation that he was surprised at how transparent the movie was about its politics. He specifically objected to the way so much of the KKK rhetoric in the film anticipated Trump slogans: for example, having a young David Duke say "America First" back in the 70s. I was a little surprised at this, but in retrospect I have to chalk this up to youthful idealism. What Graham's friend was asking for was better art, more nuance and ambiguity, not heavy-handed sermonizing. Good for him.

One of Graham's friends, a young Chinese kid whose parents are graduate students or recent grads, showed up in a T-shirt and formal black pants and shoes. When I asked him why he was so dressed up, at least on his lower body, he said "I wasn't sure what to wear." It's very nice that Graham and his friends are buddies with this kid, gives me faith in America and what we are about.

Also awesome: one of Graham's friends who was not into scary movies and had once before been freaked out by a scary movie preview -- and who also hadn't gone to the same middle school with the other boys so is sort of a newcomer to the clique -- decided to wait out the previews in the hallway of the movie theater. Graham's most mainstream friend, an athletic, super-social alpha boy, went out to get a slurpee. When the previews were done, I went out to let the first boy know. He was out there hanging out with the anxious one. Good kid.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The struggle continues

Volume 6 of Knausgaard's My Struggle has finally appeared in English translation. Thank God. It has been a long wait.

I have said it before, and I will permit myself the pleasure of saying it again, even though many others have said it better: there is something very special about these books. It takes tremendous courage to do what the guy has done, which is to open the kimono as wide as it can go and keep it open. It is as if he walks around naked all day, or even with his various organs exposed to the wind,  rain, and insects. His most embarassing, his most pretentious, whatever. Here it is.

This thing is almost 1200 pages long. On top of the 3000-3500 pages that have come before. It is a beast in the shape of a doorstop.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Between them

While I was sick last week, and a little sick of the books I was reading, I espied Richard Ford's Between Them at the bottom of the stack of books next to my bed. I hadn't finished reading it earlier in the year (according to the Grouse, I was reading it back in January). It is split into two reflections about his parents, one focused on his dad, who died while he was still a teenager, and one about his mom, who passed when he was already an adult. So I just read the one about his mom.

The most interesting thing about it is his sense that his relationship with her was, in the end, pretty quotidian. Throughout adulthood, he tells us, she would visit him and his wife wherever he was, in Princeton, in New Hampshire, what have you. They would hang out, road trip, eat, talk, etc. He never perceived a deepening he was kind of looking for. Their relationship was somewhat generic, or abstract.

I have to think that part of it has to do with the fact that he never had kids. I know that's a very breederly thing of me to say, but I think that so much of the deepening of relationships between me and my mom in adulthood and also Mary's parents, has been around the consultative/sharing relationship between me and them about observing the kids, using our own upbringing and behavior (and theirs) as a reference point. Trying to figure this whole parenting thing out, day by week by month by year by decade.

Since my dad didn't really interface much with us on that level, he was kind of left out of that dimension, which is its own sadness.

But, back to Ford, I have to say that part of what he was experiencing is the essential abstractness of all of our relations to everyone else, that as much as we would like it to be individual, we are all always playing roles -- albeit shifting and overlapping ones, never exactly the same -- (mom, dad, spouse, friend, child, teacher, advisor) and our ability to instantiate those roles is limited by the weight of expectations of the role, and by our own limitations. As I've said before, the best illustration and recognition of this is in the early films of Atom Egoyan, where the characters spend a lot of time saying exactly the same things to others. Watch Elias Koteas in The Adjuster.  This is probably most true for those of us who deal with more people. We are all of us all the time auditioning for and playing ever shifting roles, not entirely of our own making.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Nosy old dude

I was sitting outside at Open Eye Cafe in Carrboro today, minding my own business, reading my book (Jimmy Clayton's autobiography, great stuff!) when a septuagenarian walked by. "If there weren't so much pollution in the rain it would be cleansing, we gotta do something about that" he allowed. OK, I thought. This guy is the very model of the negative liberal that gives us a bad name.

There was an older African-American guy sitting there down at the other end of the row of tables, having a cigarette with his coffee. The old liberal says to him: "have you had something to eat? I've got half a chicken salad sandwich." The black guy didn't look particularly down on his luck, he was smoking a cigarette, after all. And drinking a cup of coffee that costed at least $2. So, it's a little condescending to assume he was homeless.

On his way out, he offered the black guy the sandwich again, and then walking past me he says "Do you want to go to church with me?" and then "What are you reading?"  "A book." I told him. He got the message.

This guy was psychically the spitting image of my dad. Walking around, talking to everyone, more or less demanding attention. And why? Deep-seated insecurity, a need to be loved by everybody? I was happy to see his backside.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Bad night's day

Awoke feeling groggy this morning. Has a hard time falling asleep last night, then overnight I had odd dreams about opioids. To wit, I dreamt that -- having learned a lot about the opioids market from the Quinones book I mentioned, somehow I decided that I had a handle on the whole thing and that I was going out to score some buprenorphine or something and was gonna go resell it at a tidy profit. In my dream it wasn't clear to me if I had tried it before, but the clear implication was that I had, and that by God, I liked it.

I think this was somewhat inspired by my discover of this Newen Afrobeat group, see the video below. That just took me back to my youth. Not that I was ever even capable of being in the same room with those people as a musician, but from a lifestyle perspective, yeah, I was right there. And look at those kids. Livin the dream, and they have it nailed.

Probably the great disconnect was between the music and what I was actually doing last night (went to a meeting of the committee of our HOA's Board that has been running the process for evaluating management company vendors. At this meeting we considered communication strategies for our upcoming meeting with the general members) was too much for my little brain to handle. That and the storm. And my lingering cold.

Ahh, fuck it, just watch the video. It rules.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Palate cleansing

After finishing Sam Quinones' amazing Dreamland -- really I can't recommend it highly enough -- I needed something down to earth, so I picked up William Trevor's stories and read "Le Visiteur."

Lovely. Trevor captures an instance of wish-fulfillment of seeing someone across the room, feeling deep attraction, and then actually having it come to fruition. Yes, that. Actual sex, in an instance of what Walter Benjamin called -- in his meditation on the flaneur -- "love at last sight." We all know it well, but not as well as our narrator.

There is of course more going on in the story, as there always is with Trevor. An entire little world packed into 8-10 pages. Or, rather, glimpses thereof.

Hurricane season

Each year, September marks the beginning of what seems like an ever-stronger whirl of things to do -- in the sense of things I might do, things I ought to do, and things I must do. It is difficult at times to sort them out one from the other. This is largely a function of getting ever more, daily, incrementally, integrated into the community. If I leave the house here in Chapel Hill, I usually see somebody or something I know, which reminds me of something that falls into one of those three categories. If I go out into the broader world of the Triangle or even further abroad, much the same thing happens, though it is less often a question of seeing a specific person, but a generality or phenomenon. If I open an inbox, there is largely something there that piques my interest at some level. If I look at my bookshelves, particularly the large one filled with unread books.... forget about it.

The key thing is for me to always remember that very little is mandatory beyond eating, sleeping, and some level of engagement with others, first and foremost my family.

Graham and I are thinking about going for a bike ride tomorrow, something we haven't done for a while.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Vendor evaluation

Our HOA board committee on retaining a management company (yes, odd as it may seem, I am on such a committee) met with a vendor yesterday as part of a bake-off. The third of three vendors.

This one touted itself as "local," and in true Chapel Hillian fashion, they paraded forth their eccentricities: one of them was a jazz singer, another had been a great surfer or skateboarder. They marketed heavily on their localness.

But they didn't know much about managing lakes, and really couldn't offer much wisdom in managing communities. They wanted to custom-build software for a low-five figures contract with a whole lot of other responsibilities. Not a recipe for good software. In the interviews with other companies I learned a lot. Not so much in this one.

So they are out of consideration for the role. This caused me to reflect on my own marketing and presentation. Why should any prospect care that I got a PhD in Russian Literature? If anything, it is perhaps a red flag. It attests that I stuck to a big goal in the past, and am not like your average advisor. Beyond that it's just something that needs explaining.

I just had the pleasure of sending the email that let the vendor know they are out of the game. We had to move quickly so they wouldn't work their butts off making their proposal more detailed. I hope my bedside manner was good.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Busy days

Neighbors coming over for dinner, which means toilets must be cleaned, cobwebs gotten off of windows, and so on. Meanwhile, a snafu on scheduling with Graham's executive function coach brings me up to a busy cafe in Carrboro not once but twice in a day. Could be worse.

Reading Sam Quinones' Dreamland, an amazing book about opioids, heroin, and America. I must say it has given me a little anxiety thinking about Natalie circulating out there in the big world, in the place where my issues got worse.

But we talked to her on the phone today and she sounded great. Graham too is doing well, and we're psyched that he's finally getting to know the neighbor boy who is coming over for dinner tonight, with whom Graham shares a lot of features. Full circle.

Back to my book!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Exclamation points

Natalie is off in college but we of course talk on the phone and, this being 2018, text. She continues to punctuate with multiple exclamation points where we would have none. I hope this practice persists through the college years and onwards.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Drop off day in New Haven

In the end it was, of course, anticlimactic. A typical day of meeting new people, reconnecting with old friends, observing human nature, walking around, eating some good food, checking stuff out and, in the end, a bit of a rush because we hadn't been studying the calendar properly. You don't need to know the all the gory details.

Natalie's roommate (the only one we met), seems very nice, as does her family.

It was fairly astonishing -- but not really surprising, given the intensity of her focus on what it is she is doing at any given moment -- that Mary had basically never been in many of Yale's buildings, so she was kind of blown away by the splendor of it all. To me it just looked like college.

Graham, who had himself been overwhelmed by the Gothic architectural detail of Sterling Library on Monday, had pretty much a normal day, which is to say he was tired and a little droopy by the end. I think on Monday it was really the weight of expectations on him. He fears that he can't do what Natalie did. And, from an organizational perspective, it will indeed be a bit of a lift for him to get to Yale or the like. From a management and motivational perspective, the challenge is ours.

Natalie, of course, was like a pig in shit. She will be very happy there, and we will miss her terribly, but we will see her very soon.

Monday, August 20, 2018


Yesterday evening Mary, Natalie and I went for a walk before dinner. One last walk before dropping Natalie off for her big hiking orientation, also one last chance for Natalie to break in her hiking boots and get her legs in shape for what may be a little arduous for her.

Natalie studiously went slow, and stopped to take pictures of all the bunnies she saw. Mary and I both would have walked faster, trying to get some exercise benefit in, but Natalie wasn't having it. She was making a little declaration of independence. I'm outta here, yall.

Today, we dropped her off. We have dropped her off at summer programs many times, so we are used to it. We will see her on Friday when we go and check her into her dorm. Then we will be back in six weeks for Parents' Weekend. Then she'll be home for October break. Then for Thanksgiving break. So we'll be seeing a lot of her.

But still. This was a little bit different.

After we got home, I went for a run. I saw a lot of bunnies.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

One down, one to go

Tomorrow we take Natalie off to Yale, for a week of hiking on the Appalachian Trail for orientation. Everybody seems to do it these days.

Today she is pretty much keeping to herself, coming out for meals, promising to watch have dinner and watch some TV with us later. She's supposed to go for a walk with Mary later, I may have to opt in because the rain won't let me and Rob go play tennis.

Graham asked her to play cards. He's never done that before.

And so, she is pretty much off. It must be owned, we've done pretty well. She is a very nice young person, able to stay positive and focused even when we have been a little cranky at times.

Now all we have to do is shepherd Graham through high school, which may be a little higher touch.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Quiet day

Rob and I hit the tennis courts early. After getting down 1-3 and beginning to psych myself out, I wrestled control of myself, started to hit deep to his backhand, and beat him 6-3. That was good. Though my serve was not so good.

Then, as we had arranged before, Natalie and I walked up to the Larchmont Library and, as planned, went and got our favorite sandwich at the deli. Soon we must head up to Uncle George's in northern Westchester. It is well air-conditioned here in the library. That, along with the sandwich, is why we are here. It has become mini-tradition for us.

On Monday we take her to New Haven. This is a big step. I am not sure I am ready for it, but I will get through it, as I must

I am pretty much taking the day off from raising money for our October event, after at least a $3k day yesterday. Still waiting to hear what the Silicon Valley VC I know from college stuck in there.