Monday, October 31, 2005

The Ghost Pernicilous

We hung a ghost sheet up on our porch for All Hallows Eve. Natalie quickly called it "The Ghost Pernicilous." I have no idea where that came from.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

First fall on record

On Saturday Graham and I walked around the block after his nap while Natalie was over at Elijah's and Mary was off in the commercial realm. It was a cool fall day, the kind that sets would-be writers to musing reflectively. Leaves were dappled with stuff and crinkly and all that. Graham was pushing a stroller filled with gravel, and as we passed other gravel drive ways, he would stop, scoop some up, and put it in the stroller, so that he achieved a multi-colored collection.

As we came up the hill on Linden, a V-formation of geese flew overhead, cawing. Graham looked up, having perhaps never seen them before (they don't fly on weekdays, right?).

"Geese," I said.
"Geese," he said, pointing.

He won't remember much, but this will be his first fall as a speaker of language.

Soon we will make a leaf pile.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Big-assed crane

I know I've said this before, but there's a 20-story crane out my window here in the city. If only Graham were here. Even Natalie would appreciate this epochal thing.

Turner thesis and childhood

I grew up in the midst of thousands of acres of forest, owned by the University of North Carolina. There were big woods out back, it felt like the original frontier vision writ small, looking west, a great mass of forest. I identified more with your Davy Crocketts than your cowboys, but still. So when I read about the Turner Thesis in high school, it made perfect sense.

At our elementary school there was a big ditch in the area with called "down the hill." We thought of it as a canyon and staged epic cowboy and indian battles there. Nearby was an indian grave. I kid you not.

My kids don't have this same mythic construct. Near our house, behind a science building, is a drainage ditch that Graham was running down into not long ago. All grass, mind you, no mud. What is his perceptual background for this space? How will this impact him later in life? I guess kids have grown up around New York before without a sense of openness. But look at them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hankerin for an upgrade

At some point in time, even for the most stingy and bargain conscious of us, it becomes difficult to resist the relentless logic of universal commodification, and start measuring progress in life by the material goods one acquires. A house, first and foremost.

Small things can suffice for a while. Discounted ties. A couple of new shirts. Antique cruise ship deck chairs.

A storm door may be good, though less a purchase than a cost control measure. $4500 to blow in cellulose insulation to keep us from freezing our butts off is kind of similar.

Maintenance counts. Staving off decay. But it's somewhat distinct from the feeling of progress that comes from a new thing.

One day we'll get a new TV. We'll probably hate it.

Coming of Age in Sarajevo

This weekend I watched Emir Kusturica's first film, the 1981 Do you remember Dolly Bell?, for the second time. It had been a while since I saw it, so there was some risk of spousal rebuke when I Netflixed it up, but given the shallowness of the Netflix collection, what can you do?

I needn't have feared. Before he degenerated into the undiscriminating purvayor of south Slavic wildness and wooliness, Kusturica had a first period, extending through When Father was Away on Business and Time of the Gypsies, when he was a relatively discriminating purveyor of south Slavic wildness and wooliness. And damned fine with the coming of age theme.

Some scenes in Dolly Bell are striking, like the one when the uncle sings, plays sad songs on the Gusla about the fall of Sarajevo and dad pounds rakija and while the boys slip off to wrestle one another on stone in their best, white Sunday clothes. Just a good long shot.

I ask you this. Why did Yugoslavia produce so many good coming of age movies? All the Kusturica movies I've mentioned plus Hey Babu Riba and Tito and Me. Was the theme particularly appealing for a young, synthetic nation?

Watch all of these films. All good.

Why can't we all get along?

Steve said this the other day with regard to some intra-team squabble, and I realized it was a little odd, because he's so young (b. ca. 1981) that he was unlikely to know what he was quoting: Rodney King reacting to the riots which rose up when the police beat him mercilessly back in '91. And indeed Steve didn't. What he did know, however, was that everybody said these words ironically, and that they therefore could only be used in that way. This is a good illustration of Boris Gasparov's theory of language as a rich associative whole, rather than the rigid signifying machines inherited from the structuralists on the one hand and the Chomskyites on the other.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Jingle Bells and memory

Mary reports a sighting of Graham singing Jingle Bells. This might not strike you as remarkable, save for the fact that last Xmas he was 1 and change and not speaking at all. OK, it's true that Natalie like to sing Christmas Carols all year long (despite the lesson she should have learned from Elmo Christmas, a Sesame Street version of Groundhog Day), and we do sing carols in the car to calm Graham down when he's freaking the fuck out.

(I confirmed Graham's command of Jingle Bells this morning, subsequent to the initial drafting of this post, when I entered the room of crabby "I puked my guts out last night" Graham and charmed him into submission with his favorite Xmas carol.)

But still, he's got a monstrous good memory. Corroborated by the testimony of his speach therapist. Not unlike his father's memory back in the day, prior to the time he took up with tha kine on a more than once a day basis for about 7 years.

Songs are a typical case of rhyme as a mnemonic device: Graham knows rhyming words and the words at ends of sentences. Compare with Natalie, who came away from watching a They Might be Giants kids video singing this little ditty:

If you see a Christmas tree or a stack of newspapers or a 2x4 frame of a house
It's probably made from pine trees and pine trees are conifers, that's what this song is about
Or if you see a plant in the shape of an elephant, or in the shape of a dog
It's probably a shrub, a conifer shrub pruned into that shape by someone
There we have a song without rhyme or real meter, nothing to hold on to, a self-consciously avant-garde affair, designed to create mnemonic links out of logical rather than physical connections. And Natalie was down with it. She doesn't know a 2x4 from squat, but she learned the song and is piecing it all together. But she wouldn't sing it for Mary later.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Sleep soundly

If anyone was concerned about the advance of Avian flu from the Moscow region, becalm yourselves. Russia's chief epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko, is on the job:

Onishchenko also said supplies of poultry from the Tula region would continue uninterrupted. "Eating this poultry is safe. It poses no harm to anyone, but you should not eat it raw,"

Which is kind of sad. When I was in Moscow, we pretty much survived on raw chicken. It was considered a delicacy.

More comforting stuff:

Tatyana Grachyova, a veterinarian with the Petelinka poultry giant, based in the Moscow region's Odintsovo district, said the farm was closely following state regulations. "We are enforcing all measures as mandated by law," Grachyova said, refusing to elaborate.

Let there be no fears that there will be a poultry shortfall in Moscow anytime soon. No no: "Moscow now has a stockpile of 75,000 tons of poultry." A hen in every pot, indeed.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


The truly diligent and underemployed amongst you may have been checking the responses to my blog, and you may have noticed that of late a lot of the responses have been, well, machine-generated. Yes, it's the newest thing, blog spam. Check out this response to my post on last Tuesday, entitled Nothing going on or somesuch

Thanks to my prodigious member all the hedge fund greyhairs want my male enhancement product magic!!
I hadn't understood how this was happening, but clearly the spammer has some sort of algorithm to find and grab select, less-frequently encountered words from the blog ("grey hairs", "hedge fund") and stick them into the response. Not the automated text generation is anything new. Bloomberg generates stories like that everyday ("Microsoft rose/fell by [trigger threshold] % on volume of x shares).

Oh yes. Look at the response to this entry. At least it's clever enough to include a link. It also shares the common trait of all of these things: they praise the blogger. "What a clever blog you have, do you collect coins?" This is good-old fashioned yankee ingenuity, even if it's furners at work.

Thing is, lets say I wanted some of this guy's male enhancement product. Who wouldn't? He's left me no link.


As I lie in bed at 4AM, my mind lockjawed upon some trivial piece of fucked-up data in somebody's half-assed database, I wonder to myself, do I have an obsessive-compulsive disorder or am I (like my mother, father, sister, and, in some sense, my children) just an adult child of an alcoholic, with all the delusional and obsessive things that follow from that?

When mom used to talk about the ACA thing, I always used to tune her out, thinking, "I'm an alcoholic myself, I don't have time for all that namby-pamby shit." Years on, I can see that I fit much of the ACA bill: workaholic, rejection averse, guilt-ridden. Then again, much of it I don't fit, and I'm not really keen on getting back into another 12-step program with all the heavy groupspeak thing. But maybe that's just resistance speaking.

Big Mac legislation

House passes bill to block class-action lawsuits against fast-food firms on obesity charges.

"As one judge put it, if a person knows or should know that eating copious orders of super-sized McDonald's products is unhealthy and could result in weight gain, it is not the place of the law to protect them from their own excesses," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican.

I might be half-inclined to agree with him if he didn't sound like such a smug bastard. People should know that smoking is bad for them, yet they do it. God, I can't get started on this argument. The long and short of it is that Republicans will argue for anything so long as it benefits their deep-pocketed corporate bunkmates.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A beautiful day...

...half-wasted as we drove from Princeton to Somerset NJ for a showdown with my client's administrator. A lot of bluster as they hide behind their new parent company's policies for IT change, and also behind the fact that they don't know what the hell is going on inside their system.

Outside the window, bland Central NJ, condo complexes and corporate glass boxes. Inside the car, talk of tennis and even golf. How did this happen to me?

Oh yes, in the morning I heard Graham singing "Rockabye baby, on the tee top...". That's how this all got started.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Nothin going on

Once more I'm being made to work. What can I say?

Graham scratched the hell out of me last night while bouncing on my belly and saying "trot trot trot." We need to clip his nails.

So I'm headed off to this would-be swanky hedge fund gathering at the Union Club in Philly, home of substantial wood panelling, towering portraits of grey-hairs, and offset-printed paper towels in the wash room, and I'm looking like I had a night of passion with a tomcat. Just grand.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Labor market indicators

In Philly over weekend without kids (a first), we dined at SusannaFoo, a much-ballyhooed place which proved to be just fine but not really supporting the hypothesis that the restaurants there are better than those in New York. What was surprising was that our waiter, and pretty much the whole wait staff, was a hispanic guy whose English was, shall we say, nascent. This is a restaurant with big bills and good tips. When I got out of college people were fighting in the streets for those kind of jobs.

His lack of a command of our fair tongue was a mild impediment in the noisy room, but it didn't hinder him much. The floor staff in general did a fine job, if perhaps displaying excess alacrity at filling the glasses with Pellegrino, but that's more a management than a labor thing: forcible sales.

All told, it's good to see recent arrivals scoring these kinds of jobs. It gives you hope.

Much more so than what we saw in the some of the poor black parts of town. The word intractable came to mind. Though there was one 70 yr old woman with an awesome sparkly hat in a McDonalds on 40th.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Accidents happen

15 minutes after Mary left to go to dinner last night Natalie comes round the corner and tells me that Graham must have gotten milk on him because he's really itchy. I look at him. Indeed he must have. Itching. Red skin. Wet shirt.

And there I had thought the milk on the floor in the kitchen was Natalie's doing, perhaps because she had spilled milk in the dining room twice in ten minutes and dropped cheese-infested lasagna noodles on the rug. But what must have happened was this. Graham stole upon the blue cup on the counter, reached up on tiptoe, grabbed and upturned it, spilling it all over himself, and then (and this is where the narrative strains credulity unless he had an accomplice....) put it back on the counter. But he didn't drink, because he would have puked if he had. And wanted soy milk right after.

So he's itching, and I give him Benadryl (generic). On the bottle it says kids might get revved up, ironically. And he surely does. All during Natalie's story reading, he's jumping on my belly going "trot trot trot", or trying to climb over me to his sister and the book, while I fend him off all the while.

I've got to be more careful.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Aluminium foil

Mary baked some very nice egg-free, casein-free (for Graham) zucchini bread this evening, and when the time came to wrap it up I measured out an amount of foil that only just covered the fresh loaves, narrowly averting a disastrous shortfall due to waste aversion. Such is the way of our people.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Here we go

Try this out. As Polar ice caps melt, why don't we offset rising global sea levels by letting water flow into all the subterranean space made available by offshore oil and gas drilling? It'll be awesome! Imagine the aqua-spelunking opportunities.

ground zero is not about freedom

Out biking a week or so ago I ran into a woman at the Griggstown Causeway who had a table set up for riders riding the D & R canal, and she was seeking funds to complete a greenway from the Liberty Bell to Ground Zero. Very symbolic.

On 10/8 the NYtimes likened the slurry wall of the WTC foundation to the wailing wall, writing "Now that the slurry wall has been laid bare and infused with meaning." And, indeed, pilgrims from states red and blue make their way to this space of awe to pay tribute.

I'm sick to death of it all. 9/11 was scary as hell, and it sucked, and it changed many things, but it was not about freedom. 9/11 is not part of a grand narrative of liberation, and it's shameful that Wolfowitz and Rove and the xenophobic interior have coopted for their own purposes. They flew airplanes into buildings because they hated us for dominating the world so, for being so rich, for managing our presence in the world so ineptly. And because they were and are a bunch of deeply fucked up miscreants. They weren't right to do so, but it's not about our freedom, which is not and never has been threatened from without.

As to us bringing them freedom and democracy, lets keep watching.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Adventures on the left and right banks of the Hudson

Sunday I braved the wilds of the big boxes to go to the big discount shoe retailer. Only Wednesday I had hoped to go to the small shoe discounter over by our office, in order to support it, but after lunch I discovered that my support through the years had been for naught: my little discounter was gone. So there I was, crawling amongst the boxes behind shiny SUVs, listening to the Pogues belt out a disarmingly earnest anthem about how generations of Irish immigrants "celebrate the land that made them refugees."

In the store there was a tall woman who surely harbored a deep-seeded desire to join Abba: round floppy leather cap (don't even know what to call it), corduroys made of vertical strips of many colors of fabric, with lace around the knee (nor do I know what to call them). Ridiculous sunglasses. Hmmmm... I thought, Russian. And, sure enough, her 6'5" broken-nosed boyfriend soon started speaking to her in a thuggish, mealy-mouthed Russian.

Back in the car, I listened to the Pogues song again, and my mind raced back to the mid-90s, at Columbia, when I was studying for my writtens one summer. OK, 1995. There was pick-up soccer on the field in front of Hamilton at dusk, and one night these Irish guys showed up. Fresh off the plane, they were in transit through a dorm at Columbia, destined for a kitchen somewhere on the Vineyard or some such for the summer. And they wanted to play soccer. And they did. And they were good. And I guess they were pissing me off by scoring goals or something. So this one guy and I are going for a loose ball and he slides and I'm trying to clear the ball, and I nail him in the Achilles tendon. He lies on the ground, writhing in pain, and I say something about we don't slide tackle when I knew that, though it wasn't intentional, I hadn't needed to strike the ball that hard, I was just basically pissed. And I could have injured the poor sap pretty bad, fresh off the plane.

That was the last time I hit anybody that hard. A final initiation into restraint.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Princeton Y, 10:55 AM

During Natalie and Jackie's swim lesson Saturday, Graham and I hung with Jackie's dad in the Y's other building, near the "Garden Cafe." There was a sad scene over there. A number of stockbrokers, insurance salespeople, mortgage brokers, and others had organized a workshop on women's financial independence, complete with juice, coffee, muffins and seasonally appropriate orange tablecloths. Nobody showed. No women desiring financial independence. Just a bunch of sad producers networking vigorously amongst themselves, unable even to give away Reese's Peanut Butter cups.

So John and Graham and I hung out by the little play area, and there's this guy there with a daughter who's going straight from ballet to a swim lesson at 11:30. Double-dipping. And so this guy strikes up a conversation with us, giving his name as Adam when I said mine. Standard guy small-talk. # of kids. Where you live. Etc. And then he's asking John when his kids were born, he had one with a birthday of April 19, while John's got one that's April 23. We'll I'll be. And he was digging oddly on some other small point in an inappropriate way.

On such occasions, the mechanical devices for finding common ground with an interlocutor are laid bare as mechanisms: "Where ya from? Where'd you go to school? How bout them Yankees?" You've got to have them, but step over a line and you vear ever closer to pathology. Who cares when your kids bday is? What sort of common bond could a coincidence establish? It's almost random, save for mating patterns (July vacations) that concentrate births at certain times. Was Adam just lonely, looking to loop us in quickly, or does this betray a deeper insecurity. One thing's relatively certain. We'll find out in coming weeks at the Y.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

My Summer of Love

What are you gonna say about this little Irish treat. Beautifully shot, smoking and drinking, hot lesbo action. Born agains too. But no depth, a relatively pale shadow of the films from which it derives: Chtilova's Daisies and the bemusingly psychotic Heavenly Creatures.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The other King

Picked up a copy of the CD Elvis Costello made with Burt Bachrach at a yard sale last fall, from a couple of gay guys who also sold me a copy of Auntie Mame and a black Banana Republic bowling jacket for all of two dollars. Mary objected that it was dry clean only until I pointed out that it was only two dollars.

Anyhow. I had looked askance at the Costello-Bachrach project when it came out, but, as with most things Costello touches, it was well worth the price of purchase, especially since it was from a yard sale. Now I've listened to it a few times and I see that there are many excellent songs on there. Who else could write a hauntingly beautiful and poignant song about empty nesters getting divorced and dealing with the pain of leaving the family home.

Of course, Costello has long since been the songster counterpart to Cheever and Updike. Songs like little novels that complicate rather than disdain the suburbs.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Melvin G, RIP

A sad call from my mom this morning. Melvin, her boyfriend through much of the 90s, is dead.

Melvin popped into mom's life sometime in the early 90s, when mom, still getting over divorce from Dad, despairing of meeting an upstanding upper middle-class guy who wasn't a major jerk in some way, hauled in home from a shag club (those of you in Great Britain, it's not what you think). Tan, bearded, he had a bit of Kenny Rogers going on, and he claimed, at least, to have kicked substances. He claimed, as well, to have been in Vietnam, though subsequent discussions would call this into question. He claimed, in fact, to have been trapped below deck on a ship or something which gave him some sort of disability. In fact, it turned out he had been involved in a bad wreck sometime in the 60s, had a head injury, and had never quite recovered.

Melvin's was a sad tail. It's not that he was poor or disadvantaged from the start, he came from a pretty well off family, he just frittered himself away until he flipped the car and busted his head. His first wife died a long, slow painful death. He was basically illiterate, not too skilled, watched a lot of TV, ate a lot of ice cream. He was polite without being terribly charming.

He died more or less of malnutrition. He had a stroke, perhaps because the woman who inherited him from my mom (and would let him drink) decided at some point in time that he should be pushed down the stairs. Discharged, the VA put him in a chain nursing home, where they basically didn't feed him or fed him crap. When he went back to the hospital, the doctors were shocked at how he had deteriorated. The doctors let his girlfriend take him out of the hospital during the day, which now appears to have been a bad decision, as it did him precious little good.

It's all very sad because, although he's survived by a number of children, one of them a one-time racist psychopath who passed for a normal guy in Eastern North Carolina, it was kind of a wasted life. He never accomplished much. He never conquered his demons. He never really learned to read.

May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A fine grind

Caught up in cycle of mild boredom, precious little to blog about. As I've said before, walking to work is delightful, but I see the same things every day: that woman with horn-rimmed glasses who I could swear hung out at the Anchor in New Haven in the 80s. The couple of homeless guys. A bunch of Passats and Volvos.

Then there's work. Work. OK, we just pretty much sold another big chunk of work. That just assures more of the same, from a blog perspective.

Those who draw a connection between blogging and insomnia have a point. I've been up since 5 over here, for no really good reason other than I'm in the habit of doing so. And it's a good time to write, if there's something to write about.

Reading Elizabeth Kolbert's series of New Yorker pieces on global warming now, having recovered all three of them from the deep archives of magazines on our bedside tables (going back to late 2004, in some cases). Scary stuff. Arming myself to better argue with conservative thumper ostriches.

Mary hassling me about my weight.
"Boss" hassling me about my team not billing enough hours.
Graham has started calling many people big and small by name. And, at bedtime, he furrows his brow, looks me in the eye, and says "One more book. Last book."

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Cat in peripheral vision

On the toilet this morning, a little groggy, saw a small plastic cat down by the radiator out of the corner of my eye. For a second, I thought it was both real and dead.

Which I guess it is.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

John Roberts day 1

Scratching, distorted sound over intercom. Tapping:

Testing, testing 1 2 3. Can everybody hear me? Great.

This is John Roberts, your new Chief Justice here at the Supreeeeeeeeeeme Court, and I don't want to take up too much of your extremely valuable time today, but I did want to let you all know how excited I am to be on board with the team here. I have a feeling this is going to be a great year in jurisprudence!

But first, a couple of announcements. The Supreme Court company picnic is coming up this Saturday in Rock Creek Park, and I'd like to encourage everyone to show up and bring their families and favorite sporting equipment. We're going to be collecting canned goods, diapers and whatnot for the victims of those hurricanes, so bring a little something and show that you care.

Also, health care open enrollment commences next week, so review those brochures and contact Janine with questions.

One other thing, we're having an attorney transferred over from the Pennsylvania Avenue office. She's a great gal, and she's going to be a great addition to the Judicial team, so everybody be nice.

As I was saying, this is going to be a great year. Lets all hunker down together, keep our eyes on the ball, and beat the heck out of our numbers!"