Saturday, December 20, 2014

Too young for that

Last night Natalie went to a party at a friend's house.  Before the party, her friend Melanie came over to hang out.  Both of them were very pretty in little party dresses.  I assumed that there would be boys at the party, and, indeed, when I knocked on Natalie's door to tell her it was time to head over, they were sitting in the middle of the floor reading The Good Girl's Guide to Boys.

Naturally, I inquired whether this was to be a co-ed party, to which Natalie responded "We're too young for boys."  There may well have been a note of sarcasm in her voice, but I believe that the party was, in any case, largely if not entirely boy-free.

But, I mean, whatever, she's in 9th grade, after all.  I'm sure that she rubs shoulders with the occasional boy on the debate team, or perhaps at model UN, or even at mock trial.  But not on the girls' frisbee team or in feminist club.  She stays busy, to be sure.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


So I continue with the reading of books recommended by my boss that I would never have even considered in earlier life, part of my program of radical submission to a new master.  Most recently, it has been Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937.  It is apparently a classic of capitalist inspirational literature, having sold something like 20 million copies.  And, to be sure, there is much wisdom in it, if also much hokiness.

One interesting point that made me stop and think.  He asks who the reader's heroes are.  And I have to ponder:  who are my heroes?  Beyond Dean Smith, it's tough to say.  Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, those are cool guys for sure.  Heroes?

Do I lack for heroes because of deep deep seated skepticism?

Monday, December 15, 2014

A clean well-lighted sandwich

The night we were married, Mary and I made off to Croton-on-Hudson for a mini-honeymoon of a couple of nights, having planned a real honeymoon in Italy already (see here).  We got to the bed-and-breakfast in Croton at about 4 in the morning, and the next day, whenever we woke up and then subsequently got up, we set off to have some fun.

First, we needed to feed ourselves.  I had memories from a teenage visit to our friends the Adamses of their some nice little spot down by the river in Garrison, not too far up the way from Croton, so we headed up there.   But when we got there and went down the hill to the train station, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to get where I was thinking of.

But there were a couple of teenager dudes hanging out there in the parking lot, leaning up against a Saab drinking Beck's (OK. At least that's how I remember it).  So I pulled over by them (and we, admittedly, were driving a Volvo) and asked if there wasn't a place to get lunch down by the river.  And one of them goes "Oh yeah, if you go around over that way there's a store where they can make you a sandwich, but it's maybe not the best from the point of view of, whaddayacallit, cleanity."

Cleanity.  He actually said that.  The rest of the dialogue is best effort on my part, but I'll be damned if he didn't say the word "cleanity."

And so we went around over that way and got ourselves a couple of roast beef sandwiches and sat in some little park down by the Hudson and ate them.  I believe there may have been a yellowjacket or two trying to get a piece of me.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Beanbag, fleece, and trivia

So Natalie spends -- as so many of you will be shocked to hear -- an inordinate amount of time in her room with her face glued to her iPhone.  In moments of inspiration and determination I go in there and plunk myself on her beanbag and pull over me the very fuzzy aquamarine fleece that, if memory serves correctly, her cousin Caroline gave her for Xmas in a recent year.

Of late, she has been playing a trivia game with her friends.  If I sit there long enough, she will start asking me for help with some of the difficult questions, and she actually appreciates the help.  I can get in a good solid 20-30 minutes of quality time on occasion.

Taking it to the next level might involve actually playing against her.  Gotta try it.  She will most likely win.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Prom

Went to the Splinter Group Prom last night at the Back Room of the Cradle.  Fabulous party -- all thanks and praise to Lane, Steve, and Frank for putting it on -- good food, good band -- but they seemed to have their instruments turned up to 11 the whole time.  Which was a little high, and the day after I have a little headache, either from staying up late or the loud music or something.

Events like that can be a challenge for me.  Everybody thinks I'm Mr. Crazy Social, but I am in fact fairly introverted, and drinking used to help me push through my anxiety about talking to other people.  I retain the muscle memory of how to do it from when I used to party, and have redeveloped it from being in client-facing and sales roles over the years, but it's still learned behavior and not entirely natural.

I ended up eating a lot of the ham biscuits (thanks Matt and Sheila of Neal's Deli).

The Prom was the fourth night in a row that I was out and about, talking to people.  That is a lot.  I'm very happy to be home tonight, and even today, as Graham just informed me that we're not going to martial arts today because he has a bit of a cold.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On the road

Yesterday evening, stuck in traffic in rain that was making me late headed into Raleigh to an event at Gerda's house, listening to the album by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks that I had picked up for $2 at the Friends of the Library sale on Saturday, I had to admit I was feeling good, despite the traffic and the rain.  I guess there's just nothing like a good bargain on some fresh tunes.

And being in motion.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Creative tension

On my left screen, I see that Galapagos Art Space -- an arts powerhouse in Brooklyn that I may have been to many years ago, not sure.  If I wasn't there, I was someplace similar many years ago.  I remember talking to some artist type and being astonished to learn that bananas have fat in them. Galapagos is setting out for Detroit, which appears to be gathering momentum in its epochal turnaround.  Seems very exciting.

And then, I turn my head to the right, and see the picture of Natalie that I recently placed on my desktop to keep me on task when my attention waivers.  There she is, happy as a clam, in the L&B room of Sterling Library at Yale, which is full of nooks and comfy chairs and middlebrow novels, to encourage students to kick back and enjoy a book for a while.

Is there a contradiction between the two?  Between the frisson of the arts community -- at least viewed from afar -- and the desire to support my kids and get them where they want to go educationally?  Tough to say.  Yes, we'll need money for her to go to a good school, but we also want to show her that we value vitality too.

(follow-up:  I think the actual tension I'm evincing here is that between the romanticization of the arts and the general cultural distaste for and suspicion of finance and for-profit endeavors.  Because the arts and creative pursuits are romanticized, at least within some circles, including the ones in which I travel, it is tough to convey the same degree of enthusiasm for the creative aspects of making money. But by gum, somebody's got to do it, in order for others not to)

Friday, December 05, 2014

A wierd dream

But then again, when was the last time you had a normal dream.  "So there I was, watching the game, and I needed to go to the bathroom, but I was afraid I would miss an important play.  And my kids didn't want to do their chores just then"

Anyway, the other day I was so happy to wake up and realize that the dream I had been having was just a dream and I could just go downstairs and have coffee.  In my dream, I discovered that Natalie and Akin had been having some wierd and unseemly correspondence in some chatroom or something.

I know where the Natalie side of this dream came from.  Like so many other teenagers, her iPhone all too often appears to be surgically welded to her fingertips, and it is her main portal to the world, to the seeming detriment of her relations to her family members.  Which is not to say that she is so much different from the rest of us and the overwhelming extent to which we seek validation from our little devices.  Facebook likes, blog traffic, texts, etc.  I know that I am all too susceptible to it, and that it is not my best feature.  But with my beloved daughter, yes, there is some concern as to what she may be up to out on the internet.  Yet I don't want to convey mistrust to her by micromanaging and controlling her.  She is fundamentally a good egg, just a teenage one.

I may have mentioned that my friend Katherine told me that she and her husband had instituted a no-screens policy after dinner or something, and that they find themselves sitting on the couch talking more.  I keep meaning to talk to Mary about that, but then I get tied up with whatever I'm doing on my computer.

Getting back to my dream, the Akin part of it was perhaps more disturbing.  First off, there's the problem with him being dead.  Not that the dream part of my brain should care about that. What was really disturbing, I suppose, was the idea that that's the kind of thing he would have been up to. He was a fine human being, albeit one with problems.  I'm sure he got slotted into the dream because Crabill and I had run into his parents after the Carolina game.  At which I needed to go the bathroom, but I was afraid I would miss an important play.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The receding of the writerly

When I started blogging 10 years and change ago, a large part of what I was up to, one of the intents of the blog, if you will, was to maintain the practice of writing.  I felt a need to write that had been suppressed or something in my first few years in the for-profit world.  So it spewed out of me, all of this pent-up barely warmed over grad schoolness.  Part of me, it would seem, thought I was just moonlighting as a wage-earner, but that I would eventually get back to charming the world with my deep observations and keen witticisms.

Over time, it has become clearer and clearer that I'm over here in the moneymaking world for the duration -- and that that's OK, because there is no end of fascination and growth and challenges to be had in the course of feeding the family and vouchsafing its future.

But, as time as rolled forward, the style of the blog has -- and I think my gentle readers will concur -- gone downhill some.  When I get a chance to write, I am generally tired and/or squished for time.   All too often I look back at a post and see that half the sentences start with the word "I" and the other start with the word "And" and I'm, like, whatevs.

At the same time, I feel like I'm getting realer and realer, doing less fronting and bantering of fancy phrases for their own sake, and trying to actually lay out where I'm at on a given day and a given theme.   To which you yourself may well say, whatevs.

In any case, if you are reading this, I love you, because I do appreciate any and all attention my humble blog is accorded.  Keep coming back.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Why I rake

I've seen a fair amount of discourse out there about how raking is silly, how Mother Nature intends for the leaves to stay there on the ground and decompose and enrich the soil.  I totally get that.  I do. But I am married to a gardener, and she has plans for our backyard, the hardwoods out there be damned. So it has been ordained that our backyard will be raked, and for the sake of marital accord and household harmony, I participate.

But, you might ask, why not just blow the suckers?  So much easier.  I expect you know the answers to that question. First, and foremost, leaf blowers are noisy, and spew emissions.  Perhaps just as importantly, if I let a machine do the work, that means it's work my body is not doing.  Right now I'm in from a good solid hour of raking, and I can totally feel it in my back and arms and lateral abs or whatever those damned muscles around the side of my body are.  They just got a little workout, and are sore, and the sleep I sleep post-raking has a special quality.

And then there is the social aspect of raking.  If you are using a leaf-blower, people just pass right on by.  They may want to say hello, but they can't, because you are pushing them away with your decibels.  When raking, people amble by and say hello, often making some wise comment about the great bounty of leaves bestowed on us.  Which is true.  The door is thereby opened for me to make some wisecrack about how we've got it all under control.

Plus, I collect and put in lots of kindling for the burning season ahead.  Mostly, though, I work, and then I stop, and I look down the hill at the lake or the stream way down below in the gully, and that is enough.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


It is the order of the day to post about gratitude, so I will make a placeholder post for now.  I have been up at my computer now for over an hour, working on things I needed to get done.  Stuff for the family, to be sure. Meanwhile, Natalie and Mary are downstairs baking pies, one pumpkin with dairy, because Natalie really wanted to make it, and one apple non-dairy, because we must have justice for Graham on this holiday, now mustn't we?  Mary just put on a very nice Linda Thompson CD that I hadn't heard for a while, Versatile Heart.  Time was, back in Princeton around 2008 or so, we probably overlistened to that one.  But today it sounded refreshed after lying fallow for a while.

I had a dream last night about a friend of mine who has been having some wacky turns in his life.  I ran into him in the hallway of my office building, near the bathroom.  I asked where he was staying, and he showed me the down comforter in the back of his SUV, saying it was quite comfortable indeed.  I got in the car with him, and noticed that the steering wheel was on the right. When I asked if he had gotten it in the UK, he said no.  Then he proceeded to drive slowly into my office building (there was plenty of room, but still it was a silly thing to do) and through the gift shop we had in there.  We were able to move the racks of merch out of the way, nothing was hurt, but still it was silly to do it, simply because he didn't feel like putting the thing in reverse.

I should give him a call.

To return to gratitude, I am, in fact, deeply grateful for everything.  The more I keep that front and center, the better I do.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Being quiet at meetings

Sometimes at AA meetings I hear something that I identify with and feel a need to share, and then look for a good time to do so.  Or I may waffle and think to myself:  "is that even worth taking the group's time about, should I talk?"  In either one of those cases I get distracted on the issue of whether or not I should speak, and end up listening poorly and reflecting less.  So the quality of being there is lessened.  Essentially my mind wrestles with my ego's desire to poke itself out and demand attention, like a small child saying:  "Look mom, look mom."  Often I'll wrestle with this right till the end of the meeting, and then I'll just go ahead and say something.

When I just commit to being silent at a meeting and listening, and just let my mind drift off to whatever, it often ends up being more fruitful.  Not unlike being in church when younger.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Commerce and guilt

I've been writing some about my transition to an increasingly sales-focused role, though the fact is, it's not my first time.  I had a spell as a consultant when I was selling my firm's services, looking for clients, spinning what we could do. The big difference is that now, more than ever before, what I am selling is my own services.  Though actually, in some regards it's not all that far from being an academic, going to conferences, presenting one's research, because that was all about trying to win the audience over to your point of view, and trying to be the best one on your panel.  And one of the keys to it then was to always have the shortest paper with the fewest points to make.  People loved it when you got done before their eyes glazed over.

But it's different when you're asking people to entrust their money to you.  It's a big ask. And people have a negative association with sales, in particular financial sales, but sales in general.

And some recent conversations have made me think back to what I think may be the best post I ever wrote here on the Grouse, certainly one of the most amazing conversations I ever overheard.  It was on the NJ Transit train from Metro Park into Manhattan, a mid-afternoon train.

I slunked into a seat and broke out my lunch. Roast beef on rye, fritos.

Across the aisle from me sat a woman sitting facing her roughly thirteen-year old daughter, dressed in a hot pink shirt, jeans, sneakers. I munch away, not paying much attention, until I hear her say to the girl: "And now I want to talk to you about negotiations. What happens when a supplier is trying to get a higher price out of you and you want to keep the price low" (door opens, random train noise) "You've got to always keep a stone face, impassive. Never let a customer get to you. If you have feelings, save it for home, for the dinner table."

By now I'm convinced that I'm not hallucinating. The mother is briefing the daughter on how to be a merchant. At this point mom reaches down and takes the daughter's hands in hers: "(train noise) is going to teach you about cash control, inventory management... there are three types of corporation: a sole proprietorship, a C corp, and an S corp (open door)... You should always have more than one product, and never buy stock in a company with only one product."

And so she went on, passing to her daughter all the rudiments of trade. And always very tenderly and solicitously, never turning imperious. I looked at the daughter to see if she was bored and annoyed, but no, she was fine, listening to Mom hold forth.

Wild. It was like a whole nuther dimension. My mom fancied herself an entrepreneur, even went to the White House for some small business hoo-ha when (cough cough) Reagan was occupying it , but she never passed on the gems to me like this. Just the parable of the talents, and some yummy frozen tacos for the nights she got home late from the office.

This conversation was so striking to me because, having been raised somewhat Christian, certainly liberal, often in quasi-Marxist circles, I circulate within a world which is at the very least profoundly ambivalent about money and material success.  We all like to live nicely, and we appreciate a good bargain, indeed we search for them, but we tend to regard commerce as low and dirty, even as we benefit from it.

So the idea that a mother could be instructing her daughter about commercial education in this deeply loving way was just bizarre.  And yet every day now, time and again, I put myself out there asking people to let me help them with their money.  After working my ass off for many years to get to the place where I'm skilled enough to be able to help them.  And it's hard at times to get past the wierdness of it all.

In truth, the cultural rift here goes back to the way Max Weber elaborates out the way the concept of salvation differs from Judaism to Christianity.  In short, the way he saw it (could be wrong), Jews believe in this-worldly salvation, whereas Christians believe in other-worldly salvation.  Which endows us with profoundly differing feelings about commerce and profit.  Hence "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Big Fish

I had been meaning to introduce myself to Daniel Wallace, who lives just over the ridge from me, but it seemed like it would be polite to read one of his books before doing so.  So I snapped up a copy of Big Fish at Nice Price Books, or maybe at the thrift store.  Dunno.

But when I peaked inside, I saw that it was about the death of his father, which seemed a little close to home. So I put it aside Then, leading up to the release party for a new children's book he has out, I thought I'd read a little.  I knew I could use a little fiction.

So I looked everywhere for it, but couldn't find it, until Sunday, when I found it.... just where I thought I had put it. It was as if I had been purposefully blind to the thing.  I started to read it, and have found it relatively easy going, cast in a mythopoeic groove just this side of Carl Sandburg's Rutabaga Tales.  It didn't seem too close to home at all.

Until it did.  All of a sudden we find the narrator sitting at the side of his father's deathbed, in multiple versions, like Rashomon, or the multiple versions of Abraham and Isaac with which Kierkegaarde opens Fear and Trembling.  And his father, lying there in what promises to be the location of his last breaths, keeps his family members at a safe distance by telling jokes.  Constantly. The son tries to get him to be serious, to no avail.

Thing is, some of them are good.  Like the one about the kid who keeps dreaming that kinfolk are dead, and then the next day they die.  So one night he dreams that his father dies.  And the next day the father paces back and forth in agony, fearing his imminent demise.  At the end of the day he's fine, but he says to his wife:  "Good god, I've had the worst day of my life."  And she responds, "you think you've had a bad day, the milkman dropped dead on our porch this morning!"


I have never taken a yoga class, so I have no idea whether I'm using the term mindfulness correctly. And I don't feel like looking it up.

However, I will say that having an injured right hand -- and this is my strong hand -- certainly encourages what I think of as mindfulness.  That is, thinking about what I'm doing, trying to be purposeful in my actions. Because if I am not "mindful", to my way of thinking about it, I can aggravate my hand doing almost anything.  And, sad to say, I do.  Pulling back the blankets on my bed, getting into the car, etc.  Almost anything can tweak it and make me go "ouch."

So, I was thinking about this while making lunch.  And I opened a new bag of baby carrots after cutting some cheddar, only to realize that I had been insufficiently mindful of what I was doing from the point of view of Graham's dairy allergy.  So I had to put the carrots in a new Ziploc bag.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Graham sweeping the deck

One of Graham's chores is to sweep stuff off of our back deck.  Yesterday, after I pushed leaves off of the roof, there were a lot of leaves there, so we sent him out to take care of it.

Through the rear windows, we watched him take care of business.  He would push the big push broom around, sometimes in a little dance maneuver, and then stop, and look out across the lake at the sun as it got low on the horizon, lost in thought.  Then he laughed a little, and kept going.

He did a decent job on most of it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Change of pace

I have gotten into something of a rut in my reading.  It is probably hard to imagine how that might happen, given that I have read maybe 3500 pages by one white guy over the last couple of years, in biographies of two white guys.  And then, on weekdays, I read the Wall Street Journal every morning, and then the Economist during the week.

On Sundays, to mix things up, I read the Sunday Times in a less practical order.  First I read sports, then I resist the temptation to read the business section, and instead work through the Review section, which focuses on bigger, slower-moving questions of policy and/or life, death, etc.  It is all very Bob of me, I know.

So today I decided to mix it up.  I've been conscious of feeling a little bit frumpy while I've been out in the world calling on people during the week.  These barbershop haircuts I've taken to have been getting pretty loose pretty quickly, and all of my pants are too big, because somehow I've managed to lose weight and keep it off over the years, without really trying too hard. I picked up the Style section of the Times, figuring I'd look at lapels and shirts and shoes and whatnot, to get an idea of how I might refresh/reboot myself, Instead, I found myself looking at the profile of one Anya Hindmarch, leading British handbag designer,  And in particular how she had been inspired by Philippe Haisman's jumping photos, which I had never heard of, but which do, as she notes, bring levity to some pretty sour people.  Below there's Nixon.  And then I read about Olafur Eliasson, which was a name I knew but didn't know much about.  Now that I have read 3 pages about him, I still don't know much, except that he sounds pretty cool.

I also got an infusion of Bloomberg Businessweeks from the office.  My subscription had lapsed.  Compared to the Economist, it is like candy, but that's good.  I can lie on the couch and read it and hear about stuff I didn't know about.

Certainly, I need to read some fiction.  I've been looking around my room for a copy of my neighbor Daniel Wallace's Big Fish, but I can't find it.  Had been hoping to knock it back before his book release party tomorrow.  Had tried to read it 6 months or so back, then saw it was about his dad dying, which was a little too close to home.*

In any case, this reminds me that I need to stay diverse to stay fresh.  Yes, it's important for me to read the articles about how doubling up in itemized deductions in one year and then using a standard deduction the next can result in tax savings over time, but assholes aloft are important too.

*Found it!  Right where I thought it should be.  Somehow I missed it the first two times I looked for it.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Population growth and assimilation

Tyler Cowen had a piece in last week's NYTimes about how important a driver of economic growth population will be in decades to come, and how societies that can assimilate newcomers will have a competitive advantage over ones that can't.  So, the USA and the UK, for example, will have advantages over Japan, China, and Italy.

That took me back to a couple of moments over the last few weeks of ranging across the Triangle. One of my regular readers has made the point that, however liberal Chapel Hill may think it is, nice restaurants do not hire lower-income people, and particularly people of color, to serve as wait staff.

Recently the labor market seems to be changing that. At Bull City Burgers and Brewery in Durham, for example, an African-American woman who clearly wasn't brought up middle class was working the front of the house.  At the University Club the other night, an hispanic guy was serving deserts and an hispanic woman was busing and serving coffee, etc. There was something else but Mary just distracted me.

Oh yeah, on a tour of the homeless shelter at Urban Ministries of Durham, I saw help wanted ads for Hardee's and Bojangles.

All this says to me that labor market pressures are making it harder and harder to fill roles, which are opportunities for assimilation and growth.

I know you're thinking, big fucking deal, people of color getting shitty service sector jobs that don't pay well.  The point is that they are turning up in higher-touch, client-facing roles in more expensive types of food service establishments, the kinds of places that have historically preferred to hire younger, somewhat career-confused middle-class white kids. And that is where one learns how to deal with demanding customers, more complicated service needs, and more fluid processes, which are themselves more susceptible to improvisation and improvement.

Friday, November 14, 2014

At Rite Aid

In Roxboro today, we stopped in to see mom's cousin, who works there, and who had recently lost a sister.  She was happy to see us, and in fact said that the lord had sent us by to brighten her day.  I'm fine with that.

While we were talking to her, an African-American guy was buying some lottery tickets, then he asked if he could use the store's phone.

A heavyset woman in her twenties then asked if a photo she had submitted for printing over the internet had been printed.  It had. It costed 20 cents.  She reached into her change purse, and gave mom's cousin two dimes.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Features and benefits

I met with a woman early this evening to talk about potentially working with her, and I started off by talking about how we help clients, and then we talked a bit about her situation, what she owns, what she owes, etc.  Maybe 20 minutes into that she brings the conversation back around to her goals, which is where I should have started.  This is what is meant when we speak of leading with benefits rather than features, because nobody really gives a hoot about what any product or service does, they want to know how it will help them.  And rightly so.

In any case, no biggie.  Another piece of wisdom I am gleaning is to focus less on what I did wrong, and more on what I did right.  And the next thing to do right is to set up more meetings, where I can do them even righter.

Meanwhile, I got home early enough to go pick up Natalie from Mock Trial, and then after Graham and I unsuccessfully scanned the internet for Episode 7 of Avengers Assemble, Season 2 (it won't air until Sunday), so we had to watch an episode of some Spiderman thing.  Not as good.  Mostly, I am sad that they cancelled Young Justice, which was most righteous.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Books are so long

I'm reading Tim Tyson's Blood Done Sign My Name, which is a good book.  It's about racial politics, the KKK, and so on in North Carolina, specifically in Oxford, NC.  This is rather close to home.  My mom's dad owned a couple auto parts stores, one in his hometown of Roxboro, the other in Oxford.

The book is kicked off in 1971, when a black guy goes into a store in the ghetto owned by a virulent white racist, and is chased out into the street, pistol-whipped, and then shot dead.  This was when I was 5.  My granddad's store was right around there.

Not shockingly, some violent rioting ensues, rather Ferguson-like.  Black people burn up a bunch of shit, then the white power structure of the town lays down the law and puts a curfew in effect.

Anyway, it's a good book, I'm glad I'm reading it, but it goes on for 320-odd pages.  I feel like the material could have been handled in maybe 200-250 or so.  It seems like there's a bias in non-fiction towards bulk, as if a shorter book can't encompass a serious topic.