Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween 1986, New Haven, The Cure

Driving home from work today early for trick or treating, I found the box of tapes in the back seat and grabbed a handful. The Cure, Pornography is in there. And I was transported back to ye old college days, to the year of our lord 1986....

When, good and liquored up early in the evening, continuing my historical preference for treating Halloween as time to experiement with method acting, I headed into the streets in jacket and tie, hair slicked back with something, clutching in my hands the King James Bible I had been given in Sunday school at St Phillip's in Durham, which still sits on my shelf here, almost entirely unread. And I went up to people on the street, people in costumes, and I accosted them and promised them hellfire and damnation if they didn't mend their ways.

Between cigarettes. People got it, though they took a couple of steps back.

And then, because I worked at the radio station and got in free, and cuz they're a good band in their way, I went to the Cure concert at that big venue on College Street, where the plays used to stop before going to Broadway (did Auntie Mame do her disastrous show there?). And when I got there there were pasty-faced, dark eye makeup, Robert Smith wannabe types, and I lit into them good. Burn in hell you will, I said. But these guys started arguing with me, telling me how stupid religion was.

After a while I got tired of it and started drinking again. Lord knows where I ended up. I hope I got laid.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Who's watching the Watchmen, you ask? The Grouse is, bitch.

Looking at the traffic logs for the Grouse I see that a number of hits have come from TIAA-CREF servers, and also one from a DC Area company called Cyveillance, which found me by googling TIAA-CREF. Cyveillance is in the business of helping Fortune 2000 companies manage "online risk". such as pesky blogs like mine which insist on presenting to all 20-odd of their readers just how badly certain companies, such as TIAA-CREF, suck. My God, it's not even clear how to say the damned firm's name. What an acronym. And their TV spots are reminiscent of the old Beatrice ads from the eighties, "we're the soft quiet company behind the scenes."

I suppose I should be flattered for all the attention (not that it's that much) from the corporate weasils, and give thanks and praise to Little Baby Jesus for my Enduring Freedoms.

Graham on the playground

On the way back to the house around noon, I stopped by the pre-school to see if Graham was on the playground. He was.

Yesterday Mary had been saying that Graham spends all his time on the playground playing with this digger thingie in the sand, which ties pretty well with some of the obsessive-compulsive/construction equipment tendencies. Sometimes it gets a little extreme, even excessive. And he's often not that social either, rather self-contained.

But today I got there and he was right close to the fence, climbing up and going down this big slide with fistfuls of leaves in his hands. It was a sunny day and he was smiling, and his hair blew up in the wind as he went down the slide. Then he went over to this pipe thing that two other boys were sitting on, and he tried to pull their legs to get them off, but that didn't work. Then he sat in the pipe with some other little boy.

I had thought that I would go on the playground and say hello, but he was having so much fun that I thought all it would do would be to break him out of the flow, and he might not want me to leave, so I got back in my car and drove on.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Our dinner with Sophia, v.1

The Times Magazine goes on and on about how Sophia Coppola has such perfect taste, and when I see her movies and hear her taste in tunes and realize she could have scored her films (the good parts, at least) from my music library I realized that I too must be a mega-tastemaker. So I texted her, and said "Sophia, like, you should totally come over to our house for dinner. It'll be awesome." And she was, like, "You know, I actually need to scope out some locations right in your neighborhood, and I've heard through some really cool friends how fabulous you are."

So, to prepare for her arrival, we did some cleaning around the house. You know, toilets, that kind of stuff (Sophia's not so into the little brown spots, they say), but we didn't go overboard, because we wanted it to feel authentic, if not excessively so. And day of, Sophia rolls up in this perfect little mint-colored semi-stretch Prius with bling rims, and she kissed us all gently on each earlobe, just like they do in Buenos Aires these days.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


On our jaunt to the library today, Natalie twice called me mom. As in "Mom, um, I mean dad...." This is very endearing, at the age of six and a half, no less, this indifferentiation of parents. Hopefully, Freudians/Lacanians wouldn't disagree, though I guess they're generally discredited by now.

Graham has the mom/dad thing straight. All too straight for Mary's tastes, I'd have to say.

Your tax dollars on steroids

The Princeton Public Library is money well spent, despite certain bugs in the website, the occasional oppressive hauteur of the staff and the crappy, non service-oriented Sunday hours.

But I don't know what that skinhead freak is doing on the kids' floor back in the corner, standing next to his boom box with headphones rubber-banded to his forehead, doing some sort of home grown pseudo Tai Chi. Yes, it is the United States of America, and he's practicing one of his enduring freedoms, and their should be no prior restraint on such exercise, but still, freaks is freaks, and this is the kids' floor, and this is Megan's Law territory. They should keep that shit on the adult floor. "Excuse me sir, we have a story reading scheduled for that corner." Or some such.

Friday, October 27, 2006

TIAA-CREF, the tussle continues

So this woman from TIAA-CREF calls up Mary and tells her she can extract some of her money but not all of it. This after the woman in Benefits at Mary's former employer signed off on the transaction. They need to hold on to the employer contribution piece until Mary is 55. Which I was thinking, delusionally, is a long long way off. Thanks again, TIAA-CREF.

Which means we're going to have more accounts: Fidelity, UBS, Smith Barney, TIAA-CREF, Merrill, and BofA. Preposterous.

My friend Matthew says TIAA-CREF is where advisors go when they fail at UBS. Sounds about right.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Yet again I say, TIAA-CREF sucks

Because I'll be away all day tomorrow and couldn't blog last night because the Blogger server was overloaded, let me just take a moment to say, once more, how badly TIAA-CREF sucks. Getting Mary's 403-b out of there was like pulling teeth. The "consultants" at the call centers (not to be confused with "brokerage consultants") were universally confused about how to get money out of there, who could do what where, etc. Like something out of Kafka.

And yet David Swensen, head of the Yale endowment and TIAA-CREF trustee, is all excited about how great they are, what "low-cost, client-focused" products and services they provide. Low-cost indeed, until you try to actually do something, then the transaction costs mount.

Head spinning

Talking to too many people about doing or not doing business. Still need to call someone, a thread I initiated, and send one guy my picture to put on his website and another guy some URLs where he should look for jobs and much much more. Posessed by an urge to just flip a burger.

And tomorrow, another conference, at which I'll actually learn some stuff, I'm sure, and I can ride in Steve's shiny new Lexus with a rear-facing camera. Would just as soon rake, honestly.


In another blast from my box of the past, was listening this morning to the Neats, a mid-80s Boston band midway between REM and Mission of Burma. Has aged surprisingly well, and the drummer expresses his forcible love for the ride cymbal and kick drum infectiously.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The horror, the horror

Amongst the tapes my mom shipped to me was a jam session I did with Randy Pelosi early in 1989, in the months after I returned from doing the Mayakovsky play at Bowdoin College and when I was, shall we say, not at my peak.

So there we were, out at my house in the country, "jamming", first Randy on the stick and me on the bass, and it's quite clear that he was a real musician and I was not. And then we switched and I was playing guitar while he played saxophone, and the distinction between our skill levels became less clear. I had the old classical guitar miked and going through an amp with a reverb petal, and it's clear from listening to me talk that, on the one hand, I thought I was cool, but that, on the other, my confidence level as a musician was not high.

The horror, then, was listening to me talk, late at night, to the relatively spacy Randy, and try to impress him -- and myself -- with my hip verbal stylings. And also to listen to me playing to him the same riffs I had been playing endlessly to myself in my room, looking out the window, at once kind of wanting to be an artist and not really working at it very hard, while at the same time being eminently conscious of my general directionlessness and having not clue one of what to do about it. Not the best time.

But some of the guitar work is at least respectable. And Randy sounds good on the stick.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A strange calm descended on me

When, after having looked for something for a long while without knowing what it was, I saw something that looked an awful lot like what it might be. Sophocles might have referred to scales falling from my eyes, but I'm not all that dramatic, nor should I be expected to be. Which is not so say that that the search has ended, but only that the end would appear to be closer to hand.

And then I can tell you what the fuck I'm talking about.

Meanwhile, a snack.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Blair Witch Family

A lovely fall day. Pizza and used books in Lambertville. A walk in the woods. A 3:45 appointment at Marketfair for Mom. It all seemed so innocent.

The scene: the Stonybrook Watershed. First, dallying with turtles and stuffed animals and feathers at the Nature Center. No, we are not there for the birthday party, we alone.

At last, we head out on our trek. The paths are wet from rain the night before, but it's cool and the sun is out and, save for watching our step, a perfect fall day for a jaunt. But when we reached the back of the field and faced the eternal question, "which way do we go?" A fatal error. "The Stonybrook trail. We saw signs for it over there. It'll double back." As indeed it would.

But it took a long long while. It was, as they say, a long loop. And we start to run late for the 3:45. Graham's moving too slowly, so I pick him up. Natalie blazes the trail. It keeps going. And going. "We'll turn the corner soon," I say. Famous last words.

The trail is wet. I'm carrying Graham, back and forth from arm to arm as my neo-corporate physique gets maxed out quickly. I grunt. I snarl. I curse (in my mind). Graham holds on to my collar. Choking me. I sweat. The woods keep going, seemingly endless in their woodiness. Back behind now, Natalie starts to whine. Mary says "never again without a map." The trail is wet, I tell you. My feet are soaked, through, and I keep stealing a glance at the time on my cell phone and it's looking bad for the 3:45 until....

We emerge from the woods, and the sign says: "Nature center." It is now clear that Graham needs a diaper change. Strap em in, and we're off to the mall, making the appointment by seconds.

A mango frosty at the food court.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Scenes from a wedding

At long last, I've got photos loaded up from my mom's wedding to David Ontjes (henceforth "Pa") back in August. Here we go. It's worth noting that everyone is wearing Carolina Blue, not Duke Blue, which bodes well.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Only at my office

Two mathematicians, recently introduced to one another, are currently discussing game theory and equilibrium and stuff like that. Their discussion is being facilitated by a classicist.

This is all very fascinating.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Masterbator of the Universe

I met today with a master networker. A guy who proclaims himself to have "a very deep Rolodex, the 6th largest database of Stanford alums in the world." He did not clarify whether that was an AP or a UPI ranking, though it was clear that he had designs on going higher even. Another actual statement: "My emails have 80% clickthrough."

This guy, we'll call him Steve, likes to do deals. With one prestigious hedge fund, lets call it the Snickers Fund, he said he had "at least a couple, a few, no five deals on right now." I nodded.

At 11AM, with a lunch date coming up "with a Harvard woman who used to be at Morgan Stanley", he ate a chocolate cupcake with a knife and fork. Steve invited me to be on the hedge fund committee of his new network to set up events for elite financial services professionals from elite universities. I hope we will serve cupcakes.

While at Starbucks I saw Ashi, the stylingest turban-wearingest Sikh in all of alternative investments business process outsourcing. We're gonna kick it soon.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Cry, freedom

Also found amongst my effects from bygone days, tapes galore. Still can't find one New Order song which the jerks digitally remastered and rerecorded sometime in the early 90s. Lots of stuff holds up OK but not great. The Pressure Boys, for example, sound tinny recorded, though you can hear how on it Rob Ladd is. Echo and the Bunnymen have their moments. Many things sound more like the cure than I remembered.

But Black Uhuru shines through clear as day. This was one great band. Sly and Robby redefine the back end. So I'm riding around Princeton in suit and tie rocking out, fifteen years sober, singing "I got a stalk of sinsemilla, gleaming in my pocket" (backyard?). And it all makes sense, and I'm clearly the coolest cleanly shaved person in all of Central New Jersey.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Mom recently sent me a box of stuff from childhood, including letters, tapes, and photos. I shall blog about all of them, I swear I will, if I get deeply bored. I'm having a vague feeling that I might have blogged about this before, but oh well.

Amongst the photos are ones of a trip Leslie and I took to Great Britain and Switzerland in 1981. We thought we were bad. I know I did. I had a frickin Hasselblad camera, and I used it to take artistic and scenic pictures of the olde countries and a select few of their denizens. But almost no pictures of me or my sister. Beg though she might, I hardly shot her, even in the crowd at Charles and Diana's wedding. Oh yes, we were there. I thought pictures of people in tourist spots were as uncool as you could get. She may have forgiven me by now.

Only recently did I realize that my attitude was very close to that of the Muslims or the Medieval Christian Iconoclasts: "no graven images" and all that.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Immigrants and sandwich construction

Lets make no mistake, I'm immensely pro-immigration. When I see Mexican guys riding their bikes to work at 6:30 in the morning in the cold, I feel tremendous respect. My man Geo takes mighty fine care of our vehicles down at the corner Gulf. etc.

But there's one area in which generations of immigrants, from the Greeks of New York diners to the latinos of today's cafeterias make the same mistake, over and over again. They put the lettuce and tomato under your turkey burger on the roll, instead of between the cheese and the roll. They do the same thing if it's beef. And then the cheese sticks to the bun so you can't even move the LT up there so as to put your mustard or mayo below. Often you get the same nonsense on deli sandwiches. Lettuce and mayonnaise on the bottom, in particular, is a troublesome combo.

I know I know. I'm blaming the victim, and this is really a failure of management. But what. Are there no instructional websites or videotapes about this? Perhaps there should be late nite public-service announcements on Univision explaining these principles. Taxpayer funded.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Block party

Just watched Dave Chappelle's Block Party. Neither Mary nor I listen to much rap any more. She never has. And, funny as he is, the movie isn't all that funny most of the time. And yet, and yet, we both liked it quite a bit, quietly, as it were. It's very infectious. You can tell just how much Chappelle is into what he's up to, providing this big fun mysterious party for a bunch of city and country folx. In the end, what it is is sweet.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Caught the last third of Deliverance last night. By today's standards, the whole thing is intensely homoerotic, and not just the time when one of those guys is tied to a tree taking it up the orifice back there. Jon Voight shoots that freak with an arrow and then goes over to him and cries on his chest, opens his mouth, looks at his teeth, what's up with that? Maybe if I had seen the earlier parts.

Burt Reynolds lies in the back of the canoe and cries like a baby. You don't see much of that these days. A wierd frickin movie. Probably worth watching from the start.

I think it's mostly about Vietnam. Post-traumatic stress and all.

But what do I know about that?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Presentation at the Harvard Club

On the way in, saw a guy on the street I hadn't seen since college. Gotta love that.

Gave a song and dance on hedge funds to the Harvard Club last night. They were supposed to be hedge fund neophytes, but a few salty industry dogs made me dance and answer all kinds of questions about investing, when I'm just a poor tech guy, and a fake one at that. I squirmed out of most of that, and deflected the other parts.

They didn't get my frontier / cowboy theme at all. It's not like it was all that complex either. I'm not sure I got any laughs, really, and that with some of my best material.

Afterwards, dinner in this big fancy room. The menu was more impressive than the food.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A new one

On the way into the city on the train I saw a guy hunched over, talking into his cellphone and his Blackberry at the same time. Bravo! Guys like that power the economy for all of us.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Mystery solved. For any of you who've wondered over the years whether or not you can take prescription drugs after the expiration date on them has come and gone, let it be known the that Department of Defense and the FDA have done research for a Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP) which would seem to indicate (is that sufficiently hedged?) that it's usually fine. Don't take the word of a pseudonym, though, consult:

Monday, October 09, 2006

Friends with Money

OK OK, it's a total chick flick. And yet, I say unto you, see it. It's just good.

Good characters. Good humor. I laughed, I cried, I scratched myself.

It's one of those quiet classics that will fade towards dust until you're flicking around on a Sunday in February and there it is at 3:00 on UPN and you'll intend to keep flicking through the channels looking for a basketball game but will stay and watch because it's well acted, hitting last channel back to a sporting event only to cover yourself in case another guy walks past.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Drinking alone at noon

Had lunch the other day at the Alchemist and Barrister in Princeton, where the food sucked, but where's the surprise in that. It's Princeton, after all.

A woman in her 50s came in, blonde, alone, and sat near us facing away from the door. She ordered a chili with cheese melted on top, and a glass of white wine. She drank the latter like she needed it. This is classic alcoholic behavior, and one couldn't help but to wonder what was up with her, a type A absent husband? Cheating on her with a younger woman? This was a comfort lunch if ever there was one.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Lions, of liberty

More missteps on the free speech front from the students of Columbia. This week protesters took to the stage and protested a speech given by the violent bigot head of "The Minuteman Project," which supports and instigates free-range armed citizen patrols of our southern borders.

Frankly, it is kind of a First Amendment issue, but the practical ramifications loom larger. I had never heard of the Minuteman Project, now I have, so the young Columbia lefties have effectively vaulted it's reactionary program into the national mainstream. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? Only time will tell. If this galvanizes right wing support for this kind of thing, it's a bad thing. If it simply raises it up into national political discourse, it's a good thing.

Really, we can't have non-uniformed, non-governmental agents patrolling our borders enforcing their interpretation of laws. That would make them unlawful combatants, who should be sent to Gitmo and tagged and head-bagged.

But this probably isn't the best trend for campus political discourse.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Another one bites

So I was looking for this article Gene gave me a couple of years back about hedge funds providing credit to sub-prime consumers, and I tracked in down in the Financial Times in August 2004, using the trusty internet. Actually, Gene found it.

And I'm reading in there about this fund that finances car purchases for losers and miscreants with no credit -- Centrix Capital Management --, and I think, well, that's two years ago, I wonder whassup with them. Turns out, after getting big and successful and financing the Denver Grand Prix and becoming one of the biggest auto financers in Phoenix, to some extent supporting the car market there, the retail arm of the thing went bankrupt a few weeks back after a regulator sat on it and some shareholders sued because the founder seemed to be playing shell games with $5 million or so.

One wonders: is it a good thing that a hedge fund was there to provide liquidity to that market? Could this excess liquidity even be an ecological ill, if it supports unsustainable sprawl? Praps.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ever so slightly on the road

Usually when I head out on the road I figure I'll see something interesting to write about. Today, however, we went to Darien, Connecticut. It's a cute little town, with cute little restaurants and a cute main street and cute old houses, much like Julianne Moore's crib in Far from Heaven and even more so like the house of Patrick's fiancee in Auntie Mame, which was in fact situated right there in Darien. Who could forget scene of the would be father-in-law offering Mame a cocktail in which the secret ingredient is "honeyyyyyyyyy" (hard to type this one), which she tosses over her shoulder into a plant, or how Mame buys the plot of land nexts door and donates it to a home for blind Jewish violinists, or something like that. If you haven't seen it recently, watch it.

Not much appears to have changed in Darien.

On the way back, traffic on the Garden State Parkway. Not a shocker.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Grouse, and they will come

It would appear that all I need to do is complain about my traffic, and I get some. Good work guys.

I'm getting on an evening schedule, I guess, what with doing actual work during the day.

Tomorrow, work takes us deep into the heart of Connecticut's Gold Coast, where we will be conferring with consultants who are both like and unlike us. Like us, in that they are white males who wear ties and sell to asset managers, unlike us, in that they are clever enough both to have their offices in Connecticut and to not do IT. You may be assured that I will witness and chronicle much wildness, and that I will report it back to you unvarnished, right here on Chew Your Grouse.


So I was mowing the front yard the other day and some grass came off as if I had scalped it. That was the first clue.

Enter Mary, who investigated and discovered... grubs. Disgusting little buggers. And she picked them out with her bare hands and drowned them, she did, leaving a fair portion of the yard exposing the deep brown earth of the Garden State.

I had never thought that I would fall in love with my yard. I resent the thing. Should be kicked back by a pool with a drink with an umbrella. But, by gum, when I look out the back window and see brown commingling in the green, I get all worked up. And I rake, though I know it's stupid and Sisyphean and that more brown leaves will fall on there almost before I can turn around. A sucker am I.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The warm icy wall

Wall Street is not a gentle place, pretend though it may. I had a brief visit today with a woman who is a Managing Director at a private bank. Went to college with her, I did, and I played that card when I called her up. I set up a an appointment, and she was fine with that, 30 minutes, her office, no skin there. In e-mail lead up, I pointed up people we knew in common, including former boyfriend (or two) and her brother too.

But when I got there, there's none of the traditional "how's so and so?" or "how's Princeton?" (whence her husband hails, a quick Google showed). No pretense at small talk. No attempt to find common ground. And I couldn't make her talk much about her biz. I was in and out in 15, all very polite, not inviting. Basically she had no interest in a new consultant best friend. Which is, I suppose, not shocking.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Regressing to the mean

I think I recall that The Economist said that McKinsey said that the average piece of user-generated content gets seven views a day. If I've got that right, it is a depressing fact. I work very hard at this blog, and for all my mental sweat equity, my traffic has died back from 13 view per day to 11.

You would think that I would be happy to be trouncing the average by a margin of 57%, but instead it saddens me. I've got a frickin PhD, you know, and my shit is deep. Universities pay hard cold cash for this kind of text, if not much of it.

And what's worse, my numbers are going down. Yes, I know, I should send more promotional emails. Maybe. I should link more. But who has time for that? Before long, I'll be one of the seven hitters, most likely. If posts like this persist.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Cycle du siecle

Where are we now? A cyclical bull within a secular bear? Climbing a wall of worry? About to rock?

All the data guys pull out history going back to 1929 or 1934 or to wherever they've got data, and draw inferences: "there were lots of little bulls between 1966 and 1982, but the markets never went anywhere." As if there were enough data to abstract from. The whole history of market data is very short, and takes place within the context of radically changing external economic forces. Mass production was kind of a big deal, as is globalization. It changes stuff. Nobody knows what's up. They just have data, charts, pointers, and gestures.

And another thing. I'm almost ready to argue that -- just as Sarbanes-Oxley drives public companies into the arms of private equity, so Bogle and Random Walk Theory drive the hedge fund business: if a business walls itself off from disciplined data collection, nobody can prove whether it's doing a good job, in aggregate. Excessive risk-taking and blow-ups like Amaranth derive from a short-term returns focus not unlike the pressure to hit quarterly numbers that called forth all manner of creative accounting from Enron to Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Not that I would argue that we should return to the days on long-only mutual funds. But. as a middle class taxpayer, I have to think that hedge funds could stand a little more oversight.