Saturday, April 30, 2005

Yalefestorama

Back from big swinging networking weekend at Yale this weekend. A pretty impressive event, where 400 self-selected people turned up and actually made a concerted effort to talk to each other, under the direction of the energetic if human Keith Ferrazzi. A few observations:

* Yale people, from President Richard Levin on down, are disconcertingly obsessed with being better than Harvard. Allusions to the rivalry were constant, as were accompanying self-congratulatory titters. I wonder if there'd be a reasonable way to do a statistical study of oral and printed allusions to the rivalry to compare their per capita incidence in New Haven and Cambridge. I'm willing to bet that, given the obscene size of Harvard's budget, they're not all that worked up about it up there. Yale should just shut up, not worry about it, and focus on being itself. Methinks it doth protest too much.

* Smart as he is, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld is an asshole. He moderated two separate panels and wasted ridiculous amounts of people's time (200 person hours?) by showing long excerpts from John Steward and CNN which he could have encapsulated quickly, thereby squelching time people like Paul Steiger and David Gergen could have had to relate anecdotes. If most people abused their audiences for the simple pleasure of hearing their voices like that, they would be fired. I may yet write to Levin.

* Roland Betts of the Chelsea Piers, on the other hand, is a really striking figure. Really interesting speaker. I hadn't a clue.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

NPRrrrrrrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzR!

On the way back to client from office in Hemant's car today listened to NPR, a rarity these days for Mr. Pedestrian. Mid-afternoon NPR no different than ever. The Philly affiliate was talking about Vietnamese-American mixed ethnicity sorts and how New York was a better place to live than Atlanta. Really. So I switched to WNYC, where I was being lulled to sleep by the dulcet tones of the generic NPR voices until, suddenly, I hear the phrase: "Aaron Lebedeff, the James Brown of Yiddish Theater." Them's big claims, demanding validation, for which no time today.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Oblivion

I promised a review of Peter Abrahams's Oblivion. Good, but the last two hundred pages aren't as good as the first hundred. The ending is pretty well telegraphed. I guessed some of the supporting details wrong, but the perp was pretty clear.

Ran into a neighbor on the street today walking to train to plane to Tampa for a conference on "Loving as Jesus loved." Trying to think up Christian alternatives to sex, drugs, and rock and roll, which we used to refer to as high school. It will be interesting to hear what they come up with. It will be interesting to see where I come down on this stuff when Natalie is 14, or 11, which they say is the new 14.

Think about it, if 50 is the new 40 and 11 is the new 14, where in middle is there the year which is the same as it was back in the day. 33?

Thanks a lot

Stopped into the neighborhood Coach store on the way back from lunch to price a business card holder wallet thingie. "$48" says the well-coiffed young sales person. "Hmmm" says I "I'll have to think about it." "OK" she says. OK? As if she had some sort of authority to approve or deny, some kind of recourse. How bout "Thanks for thinking of trying our absurdly expensive store."

Did I ever tell you my history with Coach? About the "lifetime guarantee" on a briefcase that turned out to cover the "useful life of the item?" Hell of a guarantee: It'll last as long as it lasts. Thanks.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

All is vanity

Feeling very mortal today. A good friend from college, someone who's been very helpful to me at a number of times in my life, mostly likely has cancer in the lymph system of her breast. They initially thought a lumpectomy got it, but now it's not clear, and she may have to have chemo.

So when Mary brings Graham in bed with us in the morning and he's crawling around over me and everything, being annoying but cute, I'm thinking that my life basically feels right, that it makes sense to have a less than scintillating or particularly remunerative career to spend more time with the family. Vanity of vanities, that sort of thing. And the whole thing with mortality being brought so close to home, so wierd given the seemingly infinite volume of the past, the infinite number of details from the past that one recovers only gradually and by happenstance, even as the whole slips away... which seems to point towards what feels like a similarly infinite future, which all of a sudden gets cut down to size.

And then the lactic acid in my legs brought me back to the soccer field on Sunday, when I ran an overlap and that moronic Swede passed it back to me from behind me instead of playing it through in front of me or chipping it over the defense, where surely I could have controlled the ball in the air and either hit a man on the far post for a header goal, or knocked it inside the keeper to the near post with the outside of my foot, all without letting the ball touch the ground. That's what I was gonna do.

Monday, April 25, 2005

A modest proposal

At the Y on Saturday, Graham was playing in a play area (and rightly so) while I observed. Two moms were hanging out waiting for their kids, having a conversation which was entirely generic and familiar to me, from "I don't have anything at all to wear" to "I can't get one thing done all day. There's no time." And it occurred to me that, if suburban plaints and arguments ("Dinner is at 5:30! You can't bring them home at 6 and expect to get them in bed by 7:30! Are you crazy?") are entirely generic, there's really no reason why one need argue with one's own spouse.

The entire function could be randomly outsourced to someone else's spouse. So, say you're calling home at 6:45 to say you're going to be home late. If you punch a code into the phone, designating the genre of call you're about to make, you should be able to have it routed to someone else's wife with similarly aged kids, with whom you could have the same argument you would've had with your own. Your spouse, of course, would go onto the list to be a next routee. She could argue with them freely and furiously, saying whatever she felt like, knowing that her specific words would not come home to haunt her later. Another triumph for modern technology!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Picks and pans

Sideways. Basically a good movie. Funny. The characters develop. Well cast. And yet, there's something pretty depressing about the movie. It's not the pathetic alcoholism of the characters so much as the fact that, the whole time, they're drinking wine. Wine wine wine. With all the fine beers there are in the world today, so many delightful looking varieties, and the microdistillery bourbons that just weren't there in my drinking days, their heads never turned, they drank wine wine wine. It was a pretty boring movie, if you ask me, from the point of view of alchohol. I'd rather watch a beer movie anyday.

Also, here in April, we're entering a new phase of the media year, as I've just unrapped and gave a listen to my last Christmas CD (Coltrane's Traneing In) and almost simultaneously worked my way through to the end of the Times Magazine's 2004 Year in Ideas issue. That should give you an idea of how up to date I am.

Coming up soon, a review of Peter Abraham's Oblivion, a damn fine mystery novel with structural components cadged from Crime and Punishment and Sebastien Japrisot. First gotta finish book.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Graham doing reps

At the tender age of 18 months, Graham's already displaying an athlete's discipline. When he discovers a new thing to go up and down (a pile of rugs in a store, a pillow which somehow found itself on the floor, etc) he ascends and descends it over and over again, savoring a new flavor of gravity, punctuating it all with little ejaculations of joy.

Unless, of course, he climbs up on a chair, falls down, and hits his head on the floor or, perhaps (I wasn't in the room), a radiator, like he just did. Then he screams for a bit and steers clear of the vexing chair and its cousins. We'll see for how long.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Mr. Bullet Point

For this high-powered Yale networking conference I'm going to next weekend, featuring such luminaries as David Gergen and Nicholas Brady, the organizers had us fill out professional biographies and lists of personal interests to facilitate getting to know you and you and you. I like.

So I laid out my life in the style to which I've become accustomed: bullet points. Then a whopping 100-page document arrives in my email with the bios and interests of all those who had taken the time (or had their admin person do so) to fill it out. And lets guess how many did it in a bullet-pointed, resume-like style. You guessed it. One. The chewer of grouse.

When I first left academia, I was outraged at all these bullet points, all this PowerPoint. "Why are we boiling complexity down?" I asked. "We should revel in it and its cousin ambiguity." But I've unlearned that. Neither complexity nor ambiguity is the modern corporation's middle name. So I learned to love and appreciate the bullet point. Succinct. Economical. But it is, in fact, also a subordinate means of communicating, meant to respect the more expensive time of the executive being addressed or to grab the eye the many passing by the poster next to the elevator or lunch trays.

At some point in time in one's career, it seems, one re-accedes to the paragraph, luxuriating in its calm pace and relative freedom. I may yet get to the place where I can write interesting professional paragraphs, on top of these blog ones that I will let the reader characterize.

But my biographical bullet points certainly leap off the page. They've got that going for them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Bloggadah

There are voices from the peanut gallery claiming that the Grouse concerns itself too much with religious questions. Sorry, guys. In fact, the best term for what's going on here is probably "Bloggadah", i.e. using the blog as a channel for content which would be otherwise found in a Haggadah, if (and this is important) I was a Jew from back in the day. I.e. non-doctrinal narrative which nonetheless contains important moral lessons for the reader. If I didn't already have a name for my blog, I'd name it bloggadah. Dag.

Oh yeah. Just because she asked me not to write about this, let me say that the woman Stacy Mann was with today at Palmer Square did a horrible job parallel parking. Just horrible.

A new pope

And there was much rejoicing.

Seriously, most knowledgable commentators have compared this to the installation of Bill Guthridge to the throne of UNC basketball upon the retirement of Dean Smith. Not so much a decision as, given the career level and age of the selected replacement, a deferral or a refusal of a decision.

As if I really care. The old German guy at least looks liberal next to our homegrown life-loving fag-hating thumpers. Somebody just needs to design better entertainment to get those people out of their churches. What would you do for fun if you lived in a red state? Go to Cracker Barrel?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The One and the Many, v2

One day a few years back on the way to work I found myself listening to JM in the AM (Jewish Moments in the AM) on WFMU. JM in the AM is always a quirky listen, as its host Nachum tries pepper his talk with enough Hebrew words, and his playlist with enough soupy ballads, to lure young secular Jews back into the observant fold. This day was telethon day, and it was pretty striking. Nachum was reading pledges aloud: "Marlene Epstein of South Hackensack donates $25 in honor of her great aunt Esther. Jacob Smithberg of Trenton has given us $20 in loving memory of his dearly departed mother Janet," and so on, and on, and on. Nachum read aloud all the details of every single donation, no matter how small. I heard half and hour of it myself. And at the end, they totalled up the contributions to the exact dollar and cent. And there was great rejoicing and singing, accompanied by the house band.

A goy telethon would have rounded and focused on threshhold points: "We've now reached the $100,000 mark." Maybe the MC-Wink Martindale type reads testimony from exemplary contributors, but in general attention is paid to signs of volume: rising collection totals, volunteers in the background busily working phones, lights lighting up, etc. An aggregate view.

On the one hand, this is a contrast between, Judaism and Christianity, "this-worldly" and "other-worldly" soterioliogy (theory of salvation), in Weber's terms.

On the other, the contrast bears witness to a post-Holocaust mentality. "Every one counts." Like the AIDS quilt. Or, to some extent, the Vietnam memorial. Or, indeed, the coverage of the Iraq war and the growing difficulty of sustaining both casualties and good PR for an offensive. We're a long way from the "human fodder" view discussed here a few days back.

Love that penis

There's no greater joy, for Graham, than bursting into the bathroom when I'm taking a shower and pressing his face against the glass of the enclosure, fixated, the whole time, on the most exciting part of the male anatomy: the penis. And it's so much better when I open the glass when I'm ready to dry off, and he can view the object of his fascination with nothing intervening. Perhaps he'll even point and say "Ahhh!" Mary claims he's mastered the nomenclature of this body part in record time, and indeed he has. I ask him, "Graham, where's your penis?" He gives a big smile and points straight at mine.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A mellow weekend

It was an almost utterly eventless weekend, mostly in the good sense. Nice weather. Went nowhere, except when I got on my bike late in the day Sunday and tore off along the Delaware & Raritan Canal towpath, pumping and grunting the whole way in an attempt to get enough exercise to justify the food consumed at the multiple social events I had attended or hosted earlier in the day. The towpath is a fine place to ride a bike, but it's also a jim dandy place to walk with one's family, dog and/or stroller. Many's the time I've been out in the family way along the path and have half-cursed the jerks who come along on their bicycles, pumping and grunting in an attempt to get enough exercise to justify the food consumed at something earlier in the day. I tried to mitigate this risk by taking the path in a less-popular direction (towards Trenton), to no avail. Instead, New Jersey in all of its glory was out. Big families of Indians lingering under blooms. Linkin Park fans fishing. People running and walking at a wide variety of speeds, with and without personal music devices (ie. in various stages of oblivion). By the time I got close to Trenton, it had finally emptied out and there was no one to terrorize.

Seriously. I'm not all that bad.

One other thing. At the yard sale at the Westminster Choir College, where Graham was wandering into the street constantly and playing with a tennis ball (he actually said the word "Ball"!), there was nothing to buy. Except, except except, a groovy brown suede briefcase and overnight hanging bag for $25. Trouble was, when you opened the briefcase, you found some fine gay hardcore pornography. You can imagine how delighted the corn-fed choir girls were to learn about this hidden present, which was quickly squirreled away in a pillowcase by some guy. It had not been his earlier in the day. Who knows if it was later.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Home value appreciation

The 1050 foot 1910 semi-detached house we sold in 2003 for $360,000 has just come on the market for $499,000. Lets see what's changed in that time, based on the advertising copy for each of the sales

2005
This handsome circa 1900s half house has been totally renovated while retaining its charming period details... Featuring sparkling refinished hardwood floors, a delightful turned staircase, plaster walls, high ceilings, a welcoming front porch and walk-up attic.

2003
...a home solidly built in 1910... Hardwood floors are featured throughout...

2005
You will be delighted with the light-filled living room and dining room.

2003
(Passed over in silence. All this light must have been an effect of the putative renovation, cuz it was dark when we lived there).

2005
A fenced back yard with gorgeous English country perennial gardens.
(just plain not true.)

2003
It overlooks a spacious fenced yard, shared with its neighboring unit.

If the house appreciates in line with houses in Princeton Borough, it will sell for $445,000. So that's about 50 grand worth of adjectives and possibly spurious claims. Admittedly, we ourselves did list for an aspirational (and quirky) $418,900, and then came down about the same amount.

Adjectives, of course, are valuable in New Jersey. Restaurant menus, for example, use adjectives to account for high prices.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Closer

With Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, and Natalie Portman, how could you go wrong, a young Hollywood exec might figure. By making a movie like Closer, that's how. Don't believe whatever reviews you might have read. This movie sucks. The dialogue is worse than Mamet, and that's saying something.

One thing I wanna know, who's checking in with the Grouse from Norwalk? I can't decipher that one. Give us a shout out.

The One and the Many, v1

Beth and Kevin have an extremely wide-angle photograph in their bathroom of 1000 odd troops near Charlotte in 1918. When I first saw it in the mirror I assumed, from the massing and the tones that it was in Russia. The arrangement, like the massing and clustering of soldiers' bodies in war paintings from the Middle Ages through the 19th century, really brings home the point of what those guys are there to do. Die. For so many of those guys, that photo was probably one last look.

I remember, in '87, walking somewhere in Moscow with a Russian guy and he points up a hillside and says "See up there. That's where, back in the Great Patriotic War (WWII), some guys thought up a new technique. The Germans had a pillbox up there, and our troops couldn't pass by the foot of the hill without being cut down. So one guy charged up the hill and threw his body in front of the pillbox, while some other guys came round the back and took out the Krauts. Then our guys proceeded on." I was, like, shit. Nobody ever thought of that back in my neighborhood.

So the other day, I'm talking to this Kievan guy Genna, and he's telling me that Gorbachev can rot in hell and that everybody in Russia agrees with him and spits when they hear his name and that Stalin understood Russia and people were ready to die for him and Russia made great strides under Stalin... All standard stuff you're used to hearing from liquored up semi-educated Russians, but Genna's neither of those. He's straight intelligentsia. The point is, there are attitudes towards masses of dead bodies and sacrifice and necessity that we can't begin to process.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Big 39, for better or worse

Yes, in the natural rhythm of things, my birthday has come back around, after 364 other days in a row. Lets review some of the goods, bads, and the uglies of the day.

Good

  • It's my birthday
  • Delicious meal at Ethiopean restaurant last night
  • Graham is crossing a threshhold with speaking. We're pretty sure he's said a few words beyond "mamamamama" and "dadadadada", including "up" and other stuff too
  • Natalie is learning to swim
  • Graham has mastered coming down the stairs
  • Natalie may have passed the worst of her psychotic clinginess and noisemaking
  • Graham has been cured of his mullet. Cute new haircut.
  • Spring has sprung: Witherspoon Street is awash in blooms
  • Large project has sold, meaning a nice bonus for me and accolades and protection from various evildoers and I can walk to work for a while
  • Other good stuff I'm not talking about on the blog
    (available for select individual distribution)
Bad
  • There's nothing that's bad but not ugly
Ugly
  • My project involves building a system
  • Spring having sprung, Graham has a fit when we try to bring him in from outside
  • I have a rash. It's itchy. It's hell. Hard to sleep.
  • I'm wearing a suit.
  • The bastards are going to tear down the trees across our back fence any day, and it will become a construction site for butt-ugly houses.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Slow day

Graham up again at 5:15, plus have actual work to do, so groggy.

Did a quick troll of various media sites looking for something to be wryly smarter than, could do no better than the seeming incongruity of some poor hostage in Iraq between black masked thugs with guns, with a banner ad below it of an absurdly busty bikinied Victoria's Secret model at (shockingly) Fox News. Normally I would fear that putting in link to a top level domain would mean that the content would shift quickly, so the reference wouldn't make sense. Given the target, I'm not all that worried today. There'll always be something ridiculous at Fox.

Actually, just went back to Fox and found the breasty woman had been replaced first by Billy Graham, then by "Family Values," a banner for Ameriquest mortgage, ETrade, Lenscrafters, and on subsequent reloads by various tax preparers, IQ tests, and other mortgage shovellers. In other words, my first sighting was really just a little ironic serendipity from Doubleclick.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Chinese Bakery, 35th and 7th

Felt like Moscow. Sweet smell of sugar, white flour, and something like lard. Don't ask. People pressed together against the greasy glass display case, transacting in monosyllables. There's a different sense of personal space entirely. Pork bun is delicious.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Shall I Compare Thee to a Revolution?

The March 5th issue of The Economist has lingered on my one of my desks. That's not a particularly long time, for that "newspaper" (as it likes to call itself), but this one is special because it's attractice to look at. Rarely does The Economist fall into the trap of using the common wisdom that pictures of attractive women can sell anything, but the democratic marches in Beirut let the staid periodical break through the wall and put a babe on its cover. Not that there's anything new in that. The French tradition of Marianne, the proto-lady liberty, has been inclined towards buxomness and much skin since the time of David and Gericault. And when, in 1999, time came to vote on an embodiment of Marianne, they didn't track down some French Yelena Bonner or Aung San Suu Kyi or even a Norma Rae. No no, they elected Laetitia Casta, whose political assets speak for themselves.

I must confess it strikes me as a strange metaphor, the alluring woman standing in for liberty. Perhaps it's meant to portend what comes after.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Scott on Bellow

From Times Week in Review, A.O. Scott's encomium to Saul Bellow

"(Bellow's) characters are unthinkable outside of the cities that tormented them, and in this they became something of a lost tribe. The postwar Americna novel resembles, for the most part, a suburb, populated by standardized ciphers who dream of becoming charcaters and wonder (along with their readers) why they can't quite succeed."

Boing! Especially the part about the suburbs. That's a good strong sentence that holds a lot of water. And yet the fact that suburban un-drama of accomodation and dreams less stifled than not dreamed is repeated millions of times in reality and a similar number of times doesn't make it less compelling or real. The romantic vision of the urban eccentric, from Joseph Mitchell through Jane Jacobs and Jim Jarmusch, is really something of a foil, and antipode, to the suburban vision of getting the kids in bed on time, plied with vegetables. Or rather, it is the mental spice, kicking out a stream of cultural commodities with which suburbanites can leaven and lessen their boredom. That is, for those that are actually bored.

Dunno, one thing it ain't is simple.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

My Architect

Anyone who's ever been fascinated with Louis Kahn should definitely see My Architect, a documentary in which Kahn's illegitimate son follows his famous dad's tracks around to try to get to know him posthumously.

Anyone who's just into the romantic myth of the self-centered, purist, eccentric artist should also definitely see the film.

Anyone who wants to see a film which really gets at the core issues of being a kid of an absentee, jackass father should probably see the film. I'll be more certain tomorrow when we've watched the whole thing, thus far some of that has been overshadowed by the luminaries of the architectural world praising Kahn.

Anybody who likes the quirky sorts of types that documentaries can dig up should very probably see the film. The Kahn kid has an Arbus-like eye for the quirky ones.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Station wagons

Walking around Larchmont the other day I counted 25 Volvo wagons in an hour. All of them in the rounder body style, post-1998 or so. The Volvo wagon is like part of the bourgeois uniform up here in the Northeast. My sister has one. Lord knows I think they're purty. I myself sport around in one of the littler Volvos, the S40, after retiring my mom's 1987 240 not long ago. It was her divorce car, you see. So I'm a member of the tribe.

But then my father-in-law, whom we shall call George, gives me a subcription to Consumer Reports, starting with the 2005 Auto guide. Japanese cars take 9 of the top 10 spots for best in class, and totally dominate just about everything. It's unreal. Detroit sneaks a few in, as do Mercedes and BMW, but it's radically disproportionately land of the rising sun.

The Volvo wagon gets a good rating overall, even though some of its sub-ratings aren't so good. Why? Because it's the only non-SUV non-minivan full sized wagon on the market. That's not a Mercedes. Somebody has to occupy the throne.

My point is, why doesn't doesn't Honda/Acura rise up and blow Volvo out of the water? Revive the Accord wagon with a fold-down seat in the rear like the Volvo. Make a spunkier version of it and slap an Acura badge on it. Would you buy that car? I sure as hell would.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

WalMart makes gas

I had been planning a post about how reduction in oil consumption should be driven less by development of hydrogen cells and hybrids than by people just driving their cars less, walking more, and having more mixed retail/residential zoning to support this. Which would argue against building big boxes. But I kept looking at the post and thinking it looked preachy and boring.

Then today WalMart comes out and blames bad numbers on bad weather and rising oil prices. As in, if the price of a tank is $3 higher, you can't really think about buying a snorkel, motor oil, chips, even dungarees. Or perhaps it's because driving out to where the big boxes are feels more expensive.

Netflix is shallow

30,000 titles my foot. All the hype is that Netflix has everything, but that's nothing like the truth.

Case in point #1: for Emir Kusturica, Netflix doesn't even have The Time of the Gypsies, a rock-solid 1989 film that followed his Best Foreign Oscar-nominated When Father Was Away on Business. Not an obscure title. Netflix goes 2 of 7 for Jacques Tati's films, and the selection of Dusan Makavejev is similarly weak.

It doesn't inspire much confidence for depth, though they do arrive quickly. What're you gonna do? They shut down the West Coast Video up the block. And the attached tanning salon too!

After boarding at Metro Park -- Redux

For some of the newer readers, I'll occasionally reach back into the earlier days of the Grouse and republish posts I like in particular, moments I was happy not so much to have a blog as to be seeing stuff worth writing about. Just being in the world.
----
10/27/4
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 alway 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.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Pink! Bitches

Good old SI.com reported how the University of Arkansas football coach has decided to quit punishing goldbricking players by making them wear pink jerseys. He took this dramatic decision after realizing that a number of breast cancer related survivors wore the pink ribbons as a mark of solidarity, and received some harsh rebukes from the breast cancer community. What about the horrible psychological scars he was imposing on these young manly men, making them wear pink? Surely these were lawsuits waiting to happen.

The controversy took me back to the glory days of the "Monk's Boutique" basketball team in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the Southern part of heaven. Monk's, funded by pizza and alt rock impresarios, had pink and green jerseys for home and away games, respectively (I guess). I can tell you for damned sure that the referees never got comfortable referring to the jerseys as pink. They would say either "grey" or "white," as in "Foul on grey." It's hard to say pink.

Mary took this whole pink jersey controversy as another example of how all sports are stupid. Which is ridiculous. Not only do sports make it fun to get exercise, and therefore let you eat more delicious food, they are the primary way our educational system teaches kids to work together on teams. Yeah yeah, there's bands and theater and little research projects and other stuff, but there's not the same degree of pressure and momentary interdependence on the team which really teaches you get things dones. I'm sure there's research out there showing that, with some baseline of basic academic achievement assumed, there's a strong correlation between team sports participation and income later in life. The trick is learning when to stop watching Sport Center.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Overheard bathroom dialogue

Two groundskeepers, one NJ native, one hispanic.
8:51 AM
Generic Corporate New Jersey (ok. my office)

Hispanic: "How you doin?"
NJ: "Good. How bout you?"
Hispanic: "Good. You?"
NJ: (a little puzzled)
"I have good days, and bad days, this is somewhere in the middle."
Hispanic: "What?"
NJ: (slowly) "I have good days, and bad days, this is somewhere in the middle."
Hispanic: "That's good."

I think he was working on his English.

Do a little dance

One of the best moments after North Carolina's victory last night was Sean May out at mid-court, doing a goofy little dance all by himself. There's something decidedly kid-like about May, good kid-like, and when he stood up and gave a speech he hit all the proper and orthodox notes: "team, coach, together, work hard all year" and you know he meant it all. He looks like an amiable cartoon character, though it's hard to figure out which one exactly. Maybe one of the ones off of Dragon Tales.

In short, Sean May is a veritable poster child for college basketball. Something like Shane Battier was for Duke, but without those wierd folds in his scalp. One wonders how May might eventually be marketed in the NBA, as a counterweight to all the brash young high schoolers? Or does the brash thing just inherently sell better because they're shinier and more consumerist from the jump? ("get this year's model, early!")

Rashad McCants, on the other hand, is Goofus to May's Gallant. Disappears in the second half and then declares he's going pro the next day. OK.

Champions for a reason

North Carolina, for the third time since my puberty, has won the national championship, and there is order in the universe. We have pulled back from the same abyss of discord which brought UCLA low after Wooden left and never really let it come back to its former level (but then how could it have, given how dominant Wooden made them?).

And through the nasty years with jackass Matt Doherty, the program stayed true to itself and what it's supposed to be, continuing to be in the upper reaches of graduation rates for Division I programs. So what if they're Communications majors. That's OK. Communication is important. A diploma is what it's about. The tradition is intact, despite that one major hiring boo-boo which was corrected in time.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Stevens on the brain

The name Wallace Stevens has come up a lot recently. 2 people from way back, Jon and Hilary, invoked him practically on successive days, completely unconnectedly.

Stevens and William Carlos Williams seem like the rare poets who held down regular jobs, and who therefore should speak to the souls of those of us who also have jobs. Like a high brow Dilbert. But people appear to identify with Williams less, maybe because he was a doctor dealing with actual bodies and so not subject to the same degree of tedium as Stevens, lawyer and insurance exec. Or maybe because Williams with his red wheelbarrow became an over-anthologized icon of an insufficiently threatening avant-garde. Me, I like the guy.

But I remember when I went into consulting and found myself working for insurance companies, I thought that Stevens was gonna speak to me, that we would be sharing some deep insights into some alchemical blend of the literary and the actuarial. So I bought a collection of poems. In my old house, I never got to reading it much. When we brought our new house, the front porch seemed like the perfect place to sit and read Wallace Stevens and consider things. So I put the little book out there on the bench. And it gathered dust. Or I would pick it up and Natalie would come round the corner screaming. Or I'd start reading something and space out. And then the dog or Natalie must have mangled it, because the cover got torn up. And then fall came, and the cold winds and rain set to blowing, and it was clearly time for the poor neglected cheap used book to go inside, and wait for another spring, when maybe I would read some of it.

I've done better with Cheever. Short stories lend themselves to being read.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Bigger than a Big Box

The Grouse does not tout products or stores all that often, but today he's making an exception. Material Culture, in Philly. Like any physical place, you've got to get there, and the path to Wissahickon Ave is studded with fun.

  • 95 South See billboard for the House of Wax, with a picture of a panther or something and the slogan "Prey. Slay. Display. " Man, you know we're taking the kids there.
  • Exit 30, Cottman Ave: It's the kind of neighborhood we have none of down south. City Irish, with long decrepit row houses made of mixed brick and stone. Note the Block & Cleaver butcher shop. Very old school
  • Left on Roosevelt Ave: Many are the attractions here, including Regan's Pub, with a separate "Ladies' Entrance". After that stop into the place advertising "24 Hours Billiards and Steaks"
  • Right on Wissahickon. By now the neighborhood is all black and poor. You're almost there

Material Culture occupies a big rotting old factory building in the middle of a slum. Under mixed Turkish and Serbian management (no mean feat), staffed by groovers and people from the neighborhood. Football fields of space, with almost no climate control. It's hot in summer, today it was pouring rain and leaking inside. So they picked up Chinese copper basins from their inventory to catch the drippage. There's a pettable free range Weimaraner to entertain the kids.

What do they sell? Turkish rugs, Indian cabinets and other furniture, Romanian chests, various Chinese bits of furniture, some modern stuff, wierd folkish paintings of celebrities, tons more. Much of what ABC Carpets sells, for 1/3 the price. We paid $830 to have an antique Indian dining room table delivered too our house.

There's always a seasonally appropriate free snack and bev.

Midwesterners and Yankees like to fly to High Point, NC to buy new furniture. Which is fine. This is so much a better deal, for people from up this way. It's the coolest store I've ever been to. Makes me want to have a bigger house just to buy more furniture. It actually gives back to its neighborhood. Go there.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Brothers Kaufman

"Equal parts Andy Kaufman, Henry Kaufman, and Walter Kaufman. And seltzer."

That's a little hermetic even for me. Here's a guide:

Andy Kaufman: Latka, prime Mighty Mouse advocate, champeen wrestler, not welcome in Memphis, Tennessee.

Henry Kaufman: Longtime economist at Salomon Brothers. Dry, grandfatherly, but very informative writer. In a characteristic flourish, he writes of his wife, Elaine: "She has been the center of my world for more than four decades, and has shared all the strains and triumphs of my life and career." Ya gotta like him.

Walter Kaufman: Professor of Philosophy at Princeton. Copious translator of Nietzsche. Oh too prone to footnoting himself, as if nobody else had written anything on a given subject. Liked to treat his introductory essays to school of thought anthologies as if they were equally weighted with the selections, so the table of contents would go: Kaufman, Kierkegaard, Dostoievskii, Heidegger and so on.

Seltzer: My beverage of choice.

Princeton Junction station. 10:15 AM

13-year old boy: "Summit," he says, utterly disgusted. "Summit is such a pathetic excuse for a place." He speaks with an authority born of years.