Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Loudness of Hulot

Long-time readers of the blog will already know that I am a big fan of Jacques Tati, and in particular the 1953 classic Mr Hulot's Holiday.  The topic has come up before, in particular in this 2004 post.

I submitted this post to Niklaus and Lucy for inclusion on the Be Loud! Sophie blog.  It is written in a somewhat pretentious way, but WTF ever.  There's a little bit a of a backstory. Early in Sophie's illness, I gave Niklaus my copies of Mr. Hulot's Holiday and Auntie Mame, both of them VHS tapes since I had had them for so long, thinking that Sophie would be in the hospital bored and would be in a position to appreciate classics.  Also because I knew she was a special girl. But what happens?  She is obsessed with binge-watching How I Met Your Mother and never watches them. Which is fine, I miscalculated.  But then Niklaus has the nerve to mock me (albeit gently) for my wacky idea that a teenager could have an interest in old movies. 

So I admit that I am a little eccentric. But still, Hulot is great, and plenty Loud. 

A dog lays in the middle of the main street of a provincial French town.  When a bus rumbles through, the dog moves, and then resumes its former place.  Soon thereafter, a small car appears, an ancient, claptrap, backfiring convertible, top up, beladen with all manner of fishing poles, nets, tennis rackets, and other vacation props.  The dog does not move. A hand reaches out of the car and squeezes the old fashioned bulb horn on the car's side. The dog languidly raises itself from its position of leisure and ambles round the side of the car to see who it is.  The hand pets the dog, before the car moves on.

And so the world is introduced to Mr. Hulot, the main character of Jacques Tati's 1953 classic Mr. Hulot's Holiday and several sequels. Perhaps never before, and never again, has so thoroughgoing a meditation on the nature of Being Loud graced the silver screen. Hulot is a bumbler with a heart of gold, Tati the king of slapstick. Everywhere he goes he wreaks quiet havoc, whether playing ping pong while bouncing from room to room, accidentally rearranging card game players and creating fights, listening to jazz cranked up to 11 in the dead of night while sitting stock still, smoking his pipe, or opening just doors that let in the powerful breeze off the sea, deranging everything from hairpieces to tea being poured.  Whenever possible, having accidentally created chaos, Hulot scampers unseen up to his garret room in the inn by the sea that is the film's central setting, often leaving telltale footprints.

Hulot, in short, is the great disrupter, the puncturer of balloons, the man of the hour.  If you haven't seen this movie, run out and do so.  It is the quintessence of summer.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Role Models

After it was suggested by our friend Lisa K, who in fact bought us a copy, we watched the movie Role Models the other night.

It is, no doubt a silly movie, implausible in a wide variety of ways, so many it's not even really worth listing them.  And yet I liked it. It was emotionally satisfying.  The good guys overcome some challenges and then triumph.  There were goodly yux.  It was a perfectly decent evening in front of the television.  1.5 thumbs up.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Rose-colored glasses

Natalie had some old pictures from Princeton of herself and Graham on her bookshelf, ones taken by Mary, so better than this, to be sure.  Looking at them I thought, "oh how cute, what an idyllic period of our lives," and so on.

Then I reflected again that, in fact, at the moment when Mary was taking them I was probably being pissy with her and in a hurry, stressed out about work, irritated that it was taking her so long to take them. Probably trying to figure out how to get my next snack. Because that is part of how we operate. She takes a long time to do things, and I get cranky, but the results are nice.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Big River and goals

Out on the lake today for a long swim before the afternoon storms rolled in, I realized I was getting a lot of sun, and was reminded of Big River Man, a documentary about a Slovenian guy who sets out to swim the Amazon from its source to the sea.  He does in fact achieve his goal, but he goes kinda nuts in the process and ends up pretty much back where he started, broke and half-broken.

Which struck me as kind of a cautionary tale to all the one reads about goal-setting, the importance of having clear and well-defined goals if you're going to achieve anything noteworthy.  Case in point: there was an important and oft-cited study involving Yale (or was it Harvard) grads about goal-setting that showed that those who had written down their goals early in life were more likely to achieve them.... or was there?

Here's a blog post that suggests that this famous study is in fact apocryphal, though the blogger did find another small study that validated the basic idea.

Whatever. If in actual fact an unexamined life is not worth living, and I buy that hypothesis, setting goals early in life and mindlessly following may help you reach your goals, but at considerable cost.

In any case, it is time for lunch.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Free stuff, enjoyment, and productivity

The Wall Street Journal ran an article yesterday about how economists in Silicon Valley, including and especially Hal Varian, Google's Chief Economist, believe that standard measures of productivity don't adequately account for the improvements to our lives that technology has ushered in.  How much easier it is to search for things, get directions, to do any number of other things that the web and smartphones other technologies have let us do.

There is some merit to their arguments, though they are awfully reminiscent of how neo-Austrian and other economists argue that products are so much better (dishwashers and cars break down less often, etc.) that we should adjust how we measure inflation, and thereby reduce the annual increases to government benefits such as Social Security, which will therefore make it easier to balance the budget.

In essence, the argument is:  if a unit of production or productivity (the ability to find a movie, cool milk, or drive a mile) is cheaper over time, people need less money to maintain their standard of living.

This flies in the face of all the research that indicates that people's perception of their economic well-being hinges less on their absolute ability to do live in a certain way than in how they compare to their neighbors.  I think, in a sense, that people feel well off if they feel that they are in a position to influence the arc of their life: that there is hope that they and their children can do and get better.

I had lunch with a guy who spends a lot of time in China a couple of days back, and I asked him if he would rather be poor in the US (where they objectively might have higher income and be able to buy more stuff) vs. rural China, and he said probably the latter.  China, messed up as it is, perceives itself to be moving forward, whereas we don't.

The other big issue with the Silicon Valley argument that the internet makes us better off because it gives us more information and more choices about a variety of things is that, as behavioral economics has taught us, more choices is not necessarily better than fewer ones.  More choices complicates decision-making, on average.  That's why there is consensus that the right number of investment options in a 401k is 10 or 12 max, because otherwise people sit around second-guessing themselves.

Oh yeah, one other thing.  If we are all sitting around looking at the internet researching and choosing and shopping, it decreases local interdependency.  People are less inclined to walk next door and ask a neighbor's opinion, and thereby get into a conversation about a thousand other things and get to knoiw one another better.  Facebook etc. facilitate complex peer-based decision-making, but in a virtual, rather than a physical model. Jane Jacobs thought that Le Corbusier and Robert Moses were the death of the neighborhood and the city, but maybe it's the internet.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The end

So after 3 months or so I have come to the end of my re-reading of A Suitable Boy.  Certainly, I am glad to have read it again, no doubt.  But I confess I was a little disappointed in the denouement, I thought it was going to go in another direction, towards the ideal, rather than what Vissarion Belinskii -- back in the 1830s -- called the "reconciliation with reality," and Franco Moretti, much later, termed "The Way of the World."  That is, the way that fictional characters grow up and come to grips with life as it is, as opposed to how we would like for it to be. I am being deliberately cryptic, and I won't spoil it any more for those of you who haven't read it yet.

But I am nonetheless excited for the sequel to come out in the fall of 2016, if all goes according to schedule.  A Suitable Girl, it will be called. I remember vividly how I wished for the sequel when I came to the end of it for the first time.

Perhaps I should go back and re-read The Golden Gate in the interim.


Between home and work today I heard of two recent deaths:  the expected one of the 93-year old mother of a client's husband, and the shocking one of the 36-year son of a friend.  It is in the nature of things at this stage of my life that, as someone who talks to a lot of people both by inclination and profession, I hear more and more of these things as I age (admittedly, I heard from the father of the 36-year old of a wedding too, so it wasn't all doom and gloom).

But it does put things in perspective, and reminds me to keep facing forward and staying positive, wherever possible, because I profit little if at all from going the other direction.

Before either of those conversations, let me add, I had a very interesting conversation with a dental hygienist about epigenetics and leaky guts and food allergies (she had lots) and Celine and, now that I think of it, my growing preference for happy endings in books as I age.  Which is right on topic.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The root of all...

So Natalie was just recounting to us her experience her first week at Duke TIP, where she's taking Criminal Trial Advocacy, and she told us that she had won best in the class for some argument they presented, even though many of the kids in there are older than her and have copies of the Declaration of Independence and/or the amendments to the Constitution posted above their beds.  She also said that nobody's arguments had been particularly water-tight, including her own which she considered rather half-baked.

And within me I felt swell up at the same time tremendous pride, and deep below that a sense of relief that "my child will be OK."

This, I submit, is at the root of the hyper-competitiveness for our children to achieve at the absolute highest level, to get into Ivy League schools and then keep going, it is this fear that if they don't, they will not be OK later in life, that they will be subsumed within the wave of global competition and automation and shifts in the competitive landscape (you should hear doctors talk about the projected impact of Obamacare on their earnings prospects going forward) that continues to eat up once seemingly safe white-collar professions.

I don't think this is a new insight on my part, but I felt it pretty viscerally just then.

But the idea that my daughter-- super-smart, born into a family and place that prioritizes education and with other socio-economic advantages -- is at particular risk is, well, silly.  Compared to kids from truly at risk populations?

But we, members of the chattering class, are nonetheless driven by a deep-seated need to protect our littluns.  And, lord knows, we do.  We wear ourselves to the nib driving them to activities and paying for enrichment opportunities. We advocate for gifted programs in already high-achieving school systems.    And then we wonder why there is an achievement gap and blame the school system.

Anyway, today on the phone I did what I considered the most important thing for my daughter: I encouraged her to not be hard on herself for any imperfections in her legal arguments, because she had done great.  And when she said that she had been fighting a little cold and hadn't been running in the mornings as she had planned (because she wants to stay in shape for an ultimate tournament she has the day the summer school ends), I told her to rest, hydrate, and have fun and don't beat herself up.

Because, lord knows, I am all too good at that, and that's what I don't want her to learn to do.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


Having short hair is an addiction of sorts, and it can be expensive.  For years I have been going to barbershops, rather than to hair stylists, to feed this addiction, and also because barbershops tend to be a little less rarefied than their upscale cousins, and as such they are places where I can dialog with less fancy people than those who are my natural cohort, having gone to fancy schools and gotten advanced degrees.

My most recent barber is kind of country, though he went to the same schools as I did (Seawell, Phillips, CHHS), his household had a different educational/socio-economic profile than my own. But once he had to leave his old location because of price, his prices have crept up to where I've been paying $23 after tipping him out.

And that's expensive, since I have to go in monthly or so to keep it tight.  So yesterday Crabill and I had lunch at Jamaica, Jamaica, out where 54 hits 55, and I had noticed that there was a barber school next door.  Like the one in Durham I went to a couple of years ago, this one appeared predominantly African-American, judging from the guys who hung out outside it at lunch time, as I had seen before on other occasions when I had ducked in for jerk chicken or fish in gravy.

But it is cheap, only $5 a cut, so I decided to give it a shot. I went in, paid my fiver, and was assigned to, shockingly, the only other white person in there, a skinny white guy with longish hair pulled back tight in what looked like a hairnet but wasn't. Low melanin count notwithstainding, he was very African-American in his diction. As he cut my hair diligently and with great attention, we talked, as one often does. Turned out he had seen tours of duty in in Iraq and Afghanistan, and had another part-time job over at Syngenta.

The place had great music and a great vibe, Marvin Gaye and the like, and I watched all the other guys (it was almost all guys) working with clippers, being very attentive to detail as they cut people's hair. There was much more attention to detail then to speed.

I had to wonder if I potentially messed with the groove of the place by being a rare white business guy going in there.  There's only one real way to tell:  keep going back. On day 2 he seems to have given me a fine cut, a little bit shorter off the top than the country guy I usually go to, but that's good.  I had been meaning to see what it looked like if we went shorter up there.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Territory and deterritorialization

I was listening to My Bloody Valentine's collection of EP's from 1988-1991 this morning, the couple of songs that fit into a short drive.  The first song is really good, but then it drops off a little.  I find myself wondering if it was worth the money to buy it, even if it was given to me as an Xmas gift. Then the fourth song comes on, and at first I think "this is a pretty good song," then it occurs to me that, indeed, the song is no more than pretty good, and that I am cutting it some slack because I like the band and, as I said, I don't want to feel like the money or even the time spent listening to it has been wasted.

It occurs to me that a large part of aesthetic judgment is just like this:  we really root for our own stuff, the home team, because it's just so much easier for us and it justifies our own behavior.  So, for instance, all the players on Manchester United or Chelsea seem like big stars because we see them on TV all the time, they are familiar.  It is much more difficult to be objective in evaluating players on minor teams who you don't see all the time.  And we have to like or appreciate what we see, or we must admit to ourselves that we have been wasting our time watching crap.

So much of life is like this.  You have to pull for what you know, for what you do, because that's all you have to go on, and the alternative is to go around beating yourself up continually for doing or buying the wrong thing.

The world needs for people to specialize, to have a well-articulated division of labor, in order to have some efficiencies of scale.  How screwed would I be if Mary and I had to both build and maintain my living structure, raise and prepare all my own food, be 100% responsible for raising my kids and curing them of maladies, etc.

But specialization by its nature creates silos, and to be firm and secure in our ever deeper ensconcement in our own silos, we have to keep digging in.  But the deeper we go, the less oxygen and perspective their is, so we must diversify too.  Or, rather, we must always seek a balance between specialization and generalization, a mix of desk time and interaction with others.

To bring it back to culture, we need particularity and local culture, folk music and landscapes and landmarks and street food and barbeque regional chauvinism and dialect and all that.  We need a sense of place.  But if that was all we had, we would be screwed. We also need a healthy interaction with the big Other.

Finding the right mix is the crux of it.

I am reminded of Deleuze and Guattari and their talk of deterritorialization.  It was always a bad-assed sounding word, though I never really knew what they were talking about, because it was so impossible to read them.

Friday, July 03, 2015

The jungle

As a member or the LFA Board, and the one living closest to the dam, I have been made responsible for overseeing the dam.  Which fits squarely within my qualifications as a rusty scholar of Russian Literature and a financial advisor to a growing host of wooly Chapel Hillians, Brooklynites, and the like.

Soon, we will have an engineer come and examine the dam, which was apparently put there in the 30s as part of a CCC project.  Because it was so far back, and there aren't really great records, we're not really 100% sure how it's constructed.  But we do know it has been faithfully restraining 70-odd acres of water, going as deep as 16 feet, for a long time.

The thing is, this being the south, and it being rather moist, plants like to grow.  And since there are little crannies in the stones and mortar which form the exterior of the dam, plants like to grow there. In particular vines. Rather aggressive ones at that. I'm sure they have a name, I'm just not very good with plant names.

What I have gotten rather decent at, however, is ripping the plants from the face of the dam. It is difficult, however, to kill the bastards.  I took all that crap down sometime last year, maybe September, and I looked at the dam today and the damned things had grown right back up the face of the dam.  So I weed-whacked a little, and got down to the roots as best I could, but I know that the fact of the matter is that they'll be growing right back up the dam, because there's no way I can really get down to the roots, which are hidden down beneath a bunch of rip-rap.  Together with, if I am to believe the young fisherman with rather ornate moustaches who was there today, at least one copperhead.

It really is a freaking jungle out there, in short.  Plants just grow. And we have to cut them back, and then do something with the stuff we cut off.  It's a never-ending process, a no-win situation.  Which is why I sometimes think it would be better to get out of this land-owning business.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Driving culture

Driving around the Pacific northwest, a couple of things jumped out at me

  1. In Washington state, people pretty scrupulously adhere to the posted speed limit.  Even in a 70 mph zone, very very few people were exceeding 71 or 72, and many were going 65 or so.  This is very strange coming from the east.  Compare, for example, the 70 zone on I-85 between South Hill and Petersburg, VA, where, despite signs warning that speeds are being monitored by airplane, people routinely are pushing 83-84 and up.  I myself trend towards 77-78 through there.
  2. When you cross the border into British Columbia, all of a sudden people start testing the limits again.  Even though it's Canada (or, as I like to call it now and again, Canadia), where people are reputed to be so law-abiding.
Part of me wants to say this has to do with an urban/rural divide, because once you cross into Canada, you transition from a pretty rural to a very urban zone, as 95-98% of the population of BC lives south of the mountains just north of Vancouver.  And urbanites push the envelope. But that doesn't explain the limit acceptance of the drivers in the Seattle region, so very law-abiding.

The speculative me wants to attribute this to Turner thesis* driven behavior.  In the east, we are always conscious of the loss of the Frontier, and we buck against its absence, as if to demonstrate our desire for the elemental freedom forever lost to us.  In the West, where they have lived beyond the bounds of the Frontier ever since they got there, and where wide-open spaces still seem, at least, to abound, there is less of a need to demonstrate freedom.

In any case, I'm off to the coal mine.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rental Car

I had an opportunity to get a luxury rental car from Sixt, a company I had never heard of, for this trip, for the same price as everybody else was charging for your domestic 4-doors.  I figured, what the hell.

But when I got to the pick-up desk at the Seattle airport, all they had was a Mercedes SUV, an ML-350. This thing was a tank, and it drove like one of those Oldsmobiles from the 80s, which is to say, like a boat. It had a big engine.  It was "swag," as Graham has taken to saying, but I was not very comfortable driving it, physically, or socially.

And then on the second day, while we were still in Seattle, I started to get a message on the dash saying it was low on coolant.  "Check the owner's manual," it advised.  Not really my plan for vacation.  So the day we were to leave Seattle, I called up the rental company, and they said "just bring it back and get something else," which is the plan I had decided made sense too.

So I went back out to the airport, and I saw that they had a BMW 5-series, a Camry, and maybe a Volvo wagon too.  And when I got to the counter to trade in the paperwork, I said, "just put me in a Camry," and then I paused, before saying "or I could take the BWM 530 or the Volvo." But it was too late.  She had jumped on opportunity to give me the Camry.

I think it was the right thing.  The controls are just like my Prius, it gets good mileage and, now that I am out here in the hills, I see very few fancy cars.  Lots of Subarus, Hondas, Toyotas, and, yes, trucks.   It feels like a place where people aren't expressing themselves through cars, which is nice.

Chapel Hill used to be a little more like that.  Now I see more Porsches and even more exotic Italian things.  I am at home in this Camry.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Loose grip

I did 90% of the planning for this vacation, all of the logistics (where to overall, flights, lodging, car, etc.). Natalie did the rest of it, looking into what we should do when we were in the places we were going to.

So my goal for this trip was to try to maintain a loose grip, to just drive the car and help get us from place to place, from attraction to attraction, and otherwise just enjoy the ride.  I am discovering, however, that that is more easily said than done, because I have something of a control tendency.

Yesterday, for example, while driving through the North Cascades on Route 20 (gorgeous, do it!), we had to figure out where to stop to hike.  Although Mary and Natalie had been doing the reading about where to hike, they weren't sufficiently decisive for my tastes, and I got crabby and pissy.  Our car was a smorgasbord of rainjackets we haven't needed, bottles of water, bags of quickly browning bananas and other snacks, and maps of various granularities.  And I was pressing for the right map, and getting a little short with my ladies. Graham, of course, just wanted to get to the hotel so he could read books and play on his iPod.

Then this morning, I woke up before Mary, and took on the epic quest of figuring out how to get us breakfast without spending $50, while making use of the fact that we have a cabin (here in Winthrop, WA) with a kitchen and a dining room table, so we can skip restaurants for all three meals today.  I did figure this out, but not without heading into town and getting a little bit bossy and crabby with various baristas (one of them was out of breakfast sandwiches, in the other, another didn't know what kind of bread the pre-wrapped $4.75 sandwiches were on).  All told, I kind of acted as a poor ambassador for the East Coast. Though I did speak Russian with a Ukrainian barista, and even apologized for having to use Russian rather than Ukrainian, so I get a gold star for that.

Now, I am sitting on my deck looking out over the Methow River, enjoying the cool morning breeze, wondering what these itsy-bitsy birds are diving for.  Must be insects of some sort.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sunny Seattle

The latter day-Griswolds, us true ones, not to be confused with the ones in the new remake of Vacation, thus find ourselves out in Seattle, where, despite its reputation for gloom and rain, it has been admirably sunny.  And we have been playing our roles of good tourists in a perfectly dutiful manner, hustling and bustling to all of the greatest attractions.  Thus far, the best has been the harbor tour, not so much because the boat ride was special, but because the guy who was giving us the play by play on the intercom was exceptionally well informed and enthusiastic.  We learned a lot about orcas and containers, and indeed the regional economy.  Graham, for his part, enjoyed a bag of Lays Potato Chips.  Which hit the spot.

We then saw some otters and octopi in the Aquarium, before lunching and sprinting to the Space Needle via the monorail, before Graham and I made our way back to the hotel for some iced coffee and cold chilling.. Natalie is very happy to make all the right photo ops, while Graham is happy to pass on many of them.

But I will tell you that, after reading a good hundred pages on the flights out here, my heart is with Lata Mehra and her extended family as she thinks through the epic choice between Kabir Durrani and Haresh Khanna, though perhaps even Amit Chatterji will reemerge as a contender for her hand.  I remember finishing A Suitable Boy 20 years ago and thinking how perfect it was, and wishing for the sequel (which has still not come) immediately.  The resolution was emotionally right, but pointing towards an intriguing future.  I cannot recall who wins Lata's hand eventually, I only know it is right, and she has a number of good options.  Which is a fine way to be.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


So there I was, plowing through A Suitable Boy, actively angry at Vikram Seth for making me read 30-40 pages about the festivities at Pul Mela (historically, it was actually called Kumbh Mela), when all of a sudden there is a dramatic event, wherein the child and math prodigy Bhaskar is separated from his mother Veena during a crushing crowd event.  And all of a sudden I couldn't put the novel down, I had to see what had happened to Bhaskar.  Would he be OK?

And then it turns out that Seth will use this event to surmount one of the great gulfs in the novel, between... well, I really shouldn't say.  I am back to believing that, challenging though this book may be, it is worth it, it is magical, if not each and every one of its 1474 pages, then a good chunk of them, and as a whole.

I was reading it outside of Graham's martial arts studio when these dramatic plot turns started turning, and as I realized what was happening, I started crying.  Not quite bawling, mind you, but yes, overcome with emotion, and like any good male I tried to cover it up using hat, sunglasses, walking out to the car (where I discovered that someone had just dumped a huge amount of trash out of their car in a most inconsiderate manner), but tears were flowing.  Thankfully, nobody was around to notice, so no one need ever know about it.

Material goals

One constant of the sales and inspirational stuff I have been reading and listening to of late is the importance of setting goals, so as to provide oneself with impetus to improve ones skills and sell more.  Most of my goals are non-material, which is easy enough for me because we already have a pretty nice house, etc.  Our basics are in good shape.

But one thing that rings true from this material, especially Brian Tracy's Psychology of Selling, which is a pretty good 6-CD set, is that we have a mental image of how much money we are worth and that we earn pretty much in keeping with that, and that this mental image is a self-limiting concept. So, for example, I am mentally geared towards thinking of myself as earning what I used to earn as a management consultant, and my baseline goal is to get back in that ballpark.

But why don't I want to earn more than that?  Why don't I believe that I could and should?

Part of it certainly derives from coming from a place that did not really prize money first and foremost.  In a university town, we prioritize education and travel first and foremost, and that's what I'm about.

But I think another part of it derives from beating myself up for not having embarked on a path of earning and saving earlier in life.  I feel no little shame and (vis-a-vis my kids, and especially Natalie, on whom we spend less than others on things like traveling to other parts of the world) guilt about it.

And partly this comes from growing up Christian, Scotch-Irish (thrifty), and left-leaning, but also from growing up in an alcoholic household in which it was communicated to me that, whatever I did was fundamentally insufficient to warrant consistent love and attention.  I'm talking about dad here, not mom, to be clear.

In fact, a line of thinking within the 12-step world says that self-abnegation is in fact a direct reflection of low self-esteem. We (I) don't want more nice things because I don't believe at deserve them.

Anyway, the fact of the matter is I have a lot of baggage around earning and spending on myself, but a deep-seated belief in saving and aggregating.  So I gotta work on it.  There is no good reason, for example, why I shouldn't want to get a newer car to replace the 2001 Volvo?  Or a more comfortable couch to replace the futon here in the study that Mary got before she went to graduate school in 1989? Nobody ever sleeps or sits on it, hardly. I just put my briefcase down on it. I could nap and read there, in my ample spare time.

Gotta hop.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Beam me up

Somehow, we had never gotten to this, but I have convinced Graham to watch Star Trek with me, and so we have started at the beginning, in 1966.  I had never done this, I have always watched the show randomly, just when it has happened across my screen, but I must confess that I am digging it.

From the very first episodes there is an ethical complexity and richness to the plots.  Civilizations that have undergone catastrophes, races that are dying out, and must use shape-shifting powers to trick humans and lure them to their fates.  Admittedly, as Graham pointed out, episode 1 -- the pilot, in which only Spock is there from what would become the classic cast -- and episode 2, in which the gang is for the first time all there, were pretty much the same thing.  But that's OK.

I did, however have to assure Graham that there would be greater plot variety as the show rolls forward, and that damned well better be the case.  Because I'm enjoying this, and it promises to be some major and quality bonding between the two of us.  Much better than Ultimate Spiderman and Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., each of which subsisted on an all-too-steady diet of wisecrackery and random smashing.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

A quiet afternoon at home

Getting ready for the Champions League final shortly, though I've resisted the temptation to turn it into a social event by calling around to see who's watching it where.  I was just lying on the couch with Graham, quietly plowing my way towards the halfway mark of A Suitable Boy, when I remembered that I have been somewhat remiss in my blogging.  And though I really have nothing specific to say, it is only by saying a little something that I can preserve an appropriate input/output ratio.

Natalie turns 15 tomorrow, and Mary and I will have been married 18 years, a fact which we all too often forget as we celebrate Natalie's birthday.  What's more, Leslie will be 51, up there in the Beantown region.

Meanwhile, a wide range of tasks are piling up around me in various inboxes, out in the yard, and here in the house.  Sigh.  It is never-ending, and therefore I struggle with the wisdom of even beginning.

And completely by accident, I just turned my head and watched an awesome video of people doing flips and jumping and whatnot on Facebook.  Whoops.  Perhaps I am slipping.

Game time.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Being Loud at Farrington

It was an amazing evening yesterday at the Barn at Farrington, as the Red Clay Ramblers with special guests Don Dixon and Tift Merritt played a great show, with Eric Montross MCing and auctioning off some very cool experiences.  There was much magic in the air, but for my money the best was Tift telling the story of how, some years before when she was a busperson at the restaurant at Farrington, she had the opportunity to clear the dishes from the table of Eric Montross and his family, and she was utterly starstruck, and marveled at the size of his hand relative to her own rather petite one.

It was a beautiful moment, with her on stage as the star of the show, for that moment at least, and him out there in the audience, and at the end of the show he came out and gave her a high five to compare their two hands.  I was into it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Crazy woman in a bar

So Niklaus and I were up at the Be Loud! Sophie First Monday at the Tiger Room at the Station (where most of you were sorely missed, and which was the best ever).  There we were, sitting at the bar, talking about our kids and the other things discussed by homo suburbanus, when this blonde sits down at the bar near us.  Not altogether unattractive. Yet.  As we shall see.

So she leans over to us and says:  "I'm going to go out on a limb here, are you guys gay?"  And we were like, um, er, well, no not exactly.  And she clarifies:  "It was just because of the checked shirts and khakis and hair product."  And indeed Niklaus had recently gotten his wig tightened at Syd's and it looked good.  So we weren't offended or anything.  Yet.

Anyway, she starts blathering on about how she had met some woman and thought she was cool but then she found out she was in fact rather reactionary.  And she just goes on and on.  Really pretty annoying, honestly.

A few minutes later she asks Niklaus how old he is, and he says 50, because he will be in October, and you might as well round up.  And she doesn't believe it, and she says how much younger he looks than Lucy, whom we had pointed out earlier as his wife.  So now she's starting to veer into offensive territory, insulting Lucy.  Then she says how 50 is so hard to imagine, and I look her over and go "Well of course, given that you've got 18 years before you turn 50." (being polite, guessing way young on her age) To which she allows that she is in fact 40, and I hinted that I was just guessing low to be polite because I was raised well.

Then she starts railing on how people in the South, as well as the MidWest, have these fake manners that drive her crazy, her being from California and all ("this place was just a blip on the map to me before I moved here.").  So I say "Would you prefer that I be direct and frank with you?" "Yes", she says.  So I just say "Well, before you got here, we were talking," and then go back to talking to Niklaus, shutting her out.

She was, in short, and this is a term we don't really use that much for women, but perhaps we should, an asshole.  It reminds me of the danger of going into bars, where you are fair game for sad, lonely people with mixed drinks.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The effects

So, at my boss's direction, and I may have written about this before, I don't feel like checking, I have been listening to sales training CDs and tapes (in the Volvo, where we still have a very nice cassette player, thank you) in the car.  People like Brian Tracy and Zig Ziglar, each of whom are very interesting figures, with considerable wisdom for me to soak in, if only I let it.  Which I am working at. I have therefore not been listening to that much music in the car, as I have in effect been working as I drive, as best I can.

So, after refreshing the music CDs in the car, as I chronicled yesterday, I've been listening to some tunes. Yesterday I listened to the Costello, and there were some good songs on there.  This morning, on the way to a meeting, I through Stephen Merritt's Obscurities in the player.  I bought this CD when the Magnetic Fields came to the Cradle a couple of years ago.

I have a mixed relationship with Merritt.  On the one hand, he is one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, and incredible librettist, for lack of a better word, writer of the words of songs.  On the other, he can be a little arch, sometimes unsufferably.

But today, with my spirit somewhat undernourished with song, and with me being a little bit tired from generally working pretty damned hard at getting my practice up and running and dadding and husbanding and whatnot, this song hit me hard.  I literally started crying while driving. It happens sometime.

It is, in so many ways, the perfect little love song, and I like this version of it.  Clean and pure.

I wrote on YouTube if not here about reading A Suitable Boy and how good Vikram Seth is at -- in the romance of Lata and Kabir -- capturing the intensity of young love, and how the sensation of young love is what we all (meaning me) yearn for at times.  This song, or at least this version of it, did it again.  Whoops.  The first verse is perfect.