Monday, April 30, 2007

Update from bedtime

Some weeks ago we brought a big boy bed into Graham's room, and left it there with the crib. We needn't have bothered with the transitional phase. Graham climbed right into that bed as if he had never seen a crib. Had he watched enough mafia movies he would have looked at that crib, waved his hand dismissively, and said "you're dead to me."

So now we can snuggle in bed with Graham just like we do with Natalie, but Graham is proving exceptionally affectionate, matching kiss with kiss, nuzzle with nuzzle. And he's still very little.

It's a very nice phase.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The state of the Garden State

It was a gorgeous day here in Central New Jersey: sunny, mild, leaves a budding, and so on. At the end of the day, Natalie even deigned to play with Graham, who was in heaven.

Out on the soccer field, I got through my season opener without injury. That's saying something.

And, as a nightcap, I caught the end of that true classic, which should be on everyone's top 10 of all time list, Coming to America

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The money thing

So this headhunter calls me up about a job at a certain asset manager that has already spurned me twice, but the headhunters keep calling anyway cuz they don't know that. And he's talking to me about a financial advisor job, which usually I wouldn't consider but this one pays enough money to put it on the map. More than enough.

And so they talk to me blah blah blah and they make me put my resume in their format and write a letter talking about what clubs I'm in and what a jock I am to show that I'm both social and competitive. And after all that's done (net 3ish hours of the Grouse's precious time) the guy is like, "so how much did you make last year," and I tell him, and he's like "ummmm, errrr. Well, that's a problem, cuz they're gonna look at that and say: if he likes money, why hasn't he figured out a way to earn more? This is a job that offers the potential to earn seven figures eventually, and they want people who want that." And I'm like "I'm a friggin Slavist already, gimme a break." And he's like "They look at money as a proxy for aggression." Fact is, I probably don't want this job and I probably won't get it, but this is a diabolical logic: you can't earn more money because you haven't earned it before.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Death of Mr Lazarescu

This movie was the critics' darling when in came out in 2005, and it's easy to see why they loved it so much, which doesn't mean you should hate it. But you must be patient. Like 24, it unfolds in something close to real time, though, unlike the show, only one patient dies. It's a very solid example of naturalism, and gives you a pretty good feel for the lingering old Eastern Europe as it slides into the new. The main tension in the movie is between the humane feelings the surrounding characters show towards our rapidly degenerating hero and a wide range of dehumanizing, workaday disdain. But it's not like good guys bad guys. Most of the neighbors and medical staff come and go from caring the whole time.

If you can stomach two hours of characters and atmosphere, cat hair, urine, and obscure drug names and medical terminology, with almost no plot, but lots of humanity, you should definitely watch it.

Natalie rides

Last weekend I took Natalie out to my office complex to take off her training wheels in the secluded calm of glass box land. It was mild, and she rode beneath the allee of flowering corporate trees. At first she was timid, then once she got it, she fairly brimmed with overconfidence: "I'm gonna be riding good way before Canandaigua (vacation in July), and way before Helen!" I was surprised, a touched, at her resolve to kick her best friend's ass. No but seriously, it was great to see her feeling empowered.

Bored Indian security guards sauntered out to smoke cigarettes on the bench, and then one got in the security jeep to drive 50 feet then turn around and drive back.

Further out into the parking lot, a Plainsboro ambulance practicing backing up, beeping, and parking.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Cool hand

Why is it that men (can't speak for the ladies) always wash both hands when they've gone to the bathroom, when in every case only one of the hands is likely to have come in harm's way?

Don't get me wrong, now. I always wash both. But why?

Explanations

Today was national Bring Your K ids to Work Day, and, as happens every year, I had no idea that it was coming up and so was utterly unprepared. Across the courtyard, however, at SES Americom, they were 100% prepared, with T-shirts, goodie bags, activities, etc. I must say I was ashamed to have never brought either Natalie or Graham out for this festive occasion.

At lunch, I rightly made a beeline for the cafeteria to beat the rush. Couldn't have been righter, as a crush of folx and younguns ensued. Which would have been unremarkable, had I not witnessed this: adults explaining to teenagers the lunch offerings: "Right here are the french fries, and there are meat balls, and peas..." I knew that the youth of today had problems, but I had not known that an inability to identify common foodstuffs was amongst them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Take em down

At a hedge fund conference today a certain former SEC Commissioner who has a beard and a freshly minted hedge fund of his own held forth on regulation and other matters, and then some guy in the audience asked a question pertaining to the SEC's recent proposed rule change restricting hedge fund investment to people with $2.5 mln plus to invest: "I don't like the government telling me what I can and can't invest in! That's not the role of goverment."

And our speaker agreed heartily. Since nobody else was gonna ask a question and I stood up and said: "That's a spurious line of argument. Nobody argues that babies shouldn't ride in car seats, or that seatbelt laws are outside the government's domain, and we've had graphic evidence of their utility in NJ recently" (i.e. our stupid cocky governor not wearing one and getting himself almost killed).

You woulda thunk I had dropped sweet little baby jesus off the motel roof. This hirsute former regulator actually said this: "I don't wear a seatbelt because it's the law, I wear it because it's rational to do so. Blah blah blah" This is rank puerile crap. The effectiveness of seatbelt laws is evidenced by reduced incidence of traffic fatalities. It's not about some cowboy sentiment of who's got a right to do what. Corzine should be made personally liable for the expenses his recklessness caused the taxpayers of our fair state to incur, and the trooper who was driving him should be fired for not making him wear a seatbelt.

And somebody should come back around to address the fundamental point about the government's right to protect citizens from themselves as per hedge funds. Which is a different argument altogether from whether the government should exercise that right and how it should do so.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Energy and Rigor

Intellectual rigor is overrated and overrepresented. Energy is what's all too often in short supply. There's always some hardass around to put discipline around a thought process. What's important is to generate flow.

Attitude

"Early" in the morning today was feeling my usual grouchy self, but when I took time to pull back the curtaines and put the chair pillows back on the bed I felt instantly more positive, and effect light and order sometimes have on me.

Over the weekend gossip filtered back about a woman who, upon taking possession of her dream home (hell, we all like the house in our hood) went on and on bitching about how dirty the previous occupant had left it, how their timeline for renovations was blown, blah blah blah. I mean, it's one of the houses house envy is made for and of, and blah blah blah.

Which is all to say that it's astounding how important attitude is to one's experience, and how hard and easy it is to control attitude. It's hard, because it is, and easy, because there's often something you can do if you remember to do it. And there's the rub.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Why LG sucks. Why Best Buy sucks.

We bought a shiny stainless steel LG Dishwasher in November or so, and were mighty proud of how clean and modern at least part of our kitchen looked. Then it broke. Standing water in the bottom. That was about 3 weeks ago. That's when the warranty kicked in, and we called so-called Best Buy, where we had gotten the thing.

I won't bore you with all the details, my hands haven't the strength to type it, nuffbeit to say that they mis-diagnosed the problem, had ridiculous internal communications issues, and the problem dragged on and on without anyone being accountable. I'm sure you're shocked. So a part that was supposed to have arrived Monday finally got here yesterday, and they sent a guy over. So today this guy Winston shows up, and he pulls the dishwasher out onto our hardwood floor with no protection and he's flipping it all around on the wood floor, fixing it, and we -- mindful of how the guys from Lowe's scratched the floor when they put the stove in and how the local free-lance Mexicans scratched the stairs when they brought the treadmill up the stairs (our bad from the jump) -- got kind of jumpy. And we're like "you need help with that, you're going to scratch the floor" and he's like "Look, this is my job, I do this all day, and if the floor gets scratched Best Buy has insurance." Which is absurd. We don' t want to be dealing with Best Buy's frickin insurance, we just don't want our floor scratched. So we get a little worked up and Winston calls his supervisor Brian and, very calmly, says: "I'll be back Tuesday with another guy, this is a two-person job." Winston was pretty impressive, must say, poised, calm, well-trained.

But Best Buy sucks, make no bones about it. Shitty LG product, poor service generally, bad attitude.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Odelay


Just bought it. Like it.

Gotta hurry down to the park to eat some ribs.

On the left is my dad being crowned Poet Laureate of Hillsborough, NC.

Kids

Went to a hedge fund industry happy hour at a swank bar on Central Park South with a bunch of business cards, thinking that business could be done there. Wrong. It was all beautiful bronze boys and girls shinnying up to each other, waitresses with major cleavage and 5 dollar seltzer and loud thumping music. Like a liquor ad, only it charges money.

So I went to the Harvard Club for a talk on private equity in Africa, which was more like it. Industry nerds of all colors.

On the way home, took the Dinkie (small train) to Princeton. No cabs. Rats! On the walk home, at midnight, a dodgeball tournament was letting out of the gym, and boys were roaring from the eternal pleasures of beer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Marvels of transparency

I may have written at some point in time of my frustrations at looking for one record, the New Order EP 1981-1982 of the singles they put together in the years right after Ian Curtis killed himself. It's great material, but the dickheads went and rerecorded-remastered it sometime in the 90s and sucked all the texture out of it, and that's the only versions you can find most of the time.

So I search for it intermittently, and imagine my glee when I saw a rare Canadian CD of the original material. 3 days from the end of the end of the bidding cycle, the bidding stood at 5.99 and I put in a maximum bid of 15 bux, and was outbid in the blink on an automatic eye. Bidding has now risen to $42.37 with 35 minutes to go, edging closer to the $98 I've seen asked at used music vendors.

The behavioral economists and advocates of the time value of money amongst you may argue that I should just plunk down the ducats and buy the thing, that it's a waste of my time to keep looking, but you would overlook the powerful forces of spousal rebuke, which makes the world not go around, at times.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Once more on repetition

It's astonishing how much people repeat themselves. Today at AA a woman was telling a story and, as she was telling it, I realized that I had already heard her tell exactly the same story, and when she got to the punchline ("I stood at the top of the stairs and heard that vodka bottle calling my name") I had this feeling that her repetition was more or less verbatim. The theoretically inclined would call this type of repetition the performance of self.

Who am I to talk? Particularly in sales, I find myself repeating myself endlessly. In fact, all businesspeople today are supposed to have "elevator speeches," verbal mini-mes. I know that, at parties, I return to well-rehearsed themes and turns of phrase to overawe males and enrapture ladies. You could almost say that we craft a set of linguistic masks to be used with interlocutors of differing distances from ourselves: strangers, people at the school, neighbors, friends, family, self . Theoretically, when you get to the core there ought to be something authentic.

And that's the problem. It's hard to dissociate yourself from what you do most of the time, so you become your elevator story, because it seems easier that way.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A kid, not a girl


It is immensely pleasing to see Natalie in dirty soccer clothes with hair unkempt, more kid than girl, not oppressed by gender or beauty, which will come soon enough, and will send me out to the shotgun store to keep the varmints off.

It warms my heart.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Ride for the cure




Grousereaders,

Once more the June 16 date for the Tour de Cure, Princeton is coming up fast, and I'll be joining in for the second time, raising money for a cure for diabetes. This year I've set an ambitious goal of $500, and once again I'll be keeping track of donations and seeing who gives more: southerners or yankees. We'll be counting region of origin by where you went to high school. So don't let your region down, visit my site here and make a pledge for a cure.

As soon as a reach my goal, I'll back off in the promotional effort.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Pan em all

Sophia Coppola, we have been told, has exquisite taste, and it is everywhere in evidence in Marie Antoinette. All too much so, to be sure. Homegirl need to get some supersized fries and back off a bit, because she lays the aesthetic on as thick as a two-hour perfume commercial. Some of the tunes are good, but the juxtaposition of 80s tunes and 1700s scenes gets overwraught, if no more so than everything else.

We made it through 24 minutes of Miami Vice, in which Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx try to elevate eyebrow lifting to a new art, and fail.

For those who have rued the death of the sitcom, may I suggest The Devil Wears Prada. Meryl got nominated for this? That's like giving Marty the Oscar for The Departed, just doling out honors for lack of anything better to do.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Stamford Marriott, 9:30 AM, 4/6/07

A gathering of private equity and hedge fund folk. The publisher of Trader and DealMaker magazines stands at the podium with the "Top 100 Traders of 2006" issue, including the guy from Centaurus in Houston on the other side of the Amaranth trade who made $2 billion for the year. "Can you imagine what that feels like?" she asks, awestruck. It was pretty pathetic to see a grown human -- who herself made surely reasonable money -- get excited like this, and the mostly guy crowd tittered a little as well at the mere thought of it. Thing is, the Centaurus guy was smart, but he got lucky as hell, and he basically did the same thing as Brian Hunter, just got luckier. There's nothing to emulate. And the problem is that there's no downside, failure is understigmatized. Hunter is back in business, as is John Meriwether of LTCM.

Next, a stop off at the Burlington Coat Factory in city center for a good value on a raincoat. Feels a lot like deparment store, not all that discount an atmosphere, rather pleasant. But there are shirts with 20-20.5 necks, and a 16 is very hard to find. Which says something.

The Target across the street looked like an old-fashioned department store too, making the downtown feel almost real.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Figaro, 44th St, bet 5th and 6th, 4:05 PM

Sat down next to a guy watching Tottenham vs. Seville. At first he seemed like a nice guy, interested in chatting, but then he turned out to be concerned with soccer and only soccer. For some reason he never could really explain, he was a Tottenham fan. As it got down to crunch time he criticized almost every play loudly and with intermittent stomping: "Oh no no no, why are you playing the ball there, you idot!" It was pretty tiresome, pretty typical guy stuff.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I repeat myself when under stress


As this blog drags on and on and blends with my day, I realize that it incurs more and more the same repetition risks that conversation does: "Have I blogged this story before?" I ask myself. Time was I might have combed the archives to see, but it's too hard: the naming conventions for stories aren't normalized, I cant' be certain of a keyword occurence if I search on it.

So I blather on. And you, fair reader, have the same options you would have if you were talking to me at a party and I was going on about some shit from back in the day, though at a real party might be able to eyeball a tray of hushpuppies or perhaps a Cheerwine over my left shoulder. So the blog is in the end a written form of conversation in which I talk about life, the peanut gallery talks about penis enhancement, and pay them no mind. And lord knows I repeat myself in conversation.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

I'm sorry to say this, but, having just watched the movie, I think that Al Gore really needs to wise up, run for President, and reclaim the crown that was stolen from him back in 2000. He should kick Hilary and Obama right the fuck out of the way. They're young and have plenty of time to figure what to run on. Now they're just running on personality and perceived debts. Admittedly, Gore is the only southern white male I'd vote for around now.

The sole risk is that campaign and job would knock him off message.

Why not?

One of Graham's best sayings at present is: "Why not?", meaning "Why?"
As in:

Mary: "Graham, it's time to go home now"
Graham: "Why not?"

or

Clark: "Graham, put down the tractor and go eat dinner."
Graham: "Why not?"

Sadly, Blogger does not offer intonation functionality, because the way he says it has a charm all its own.

Also of note: Graham is saying "willn't" instead of "won't", just like his sister.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Closing gaps

Henry Paulson, late of Goldman Sachs, seems to have been appointed as much the post of chief whipper of Sarbanes-Oxley as that of Secretary of the Treasury. Not that I'm all that pro-SOX, even though the big accounting companices refer to it as "Y2K without an end date" (quoth Rye and Flax). So Paulson goes around banging on tables saying that SOX is making US Capital markets fall behind those of the rest of the world. As measured by a small uptrend in companies listing with exchanges.

I might protest that he's overreaching, but it took me back 23 years to my AB Duke interview at Duke. For starters, I spilled the soda I had brought in all over the table.

I had submitted an essay on National Industrial Policy a la Robert Reich, and cited a fifteenfold increase in Airbus's market share (from 1 to 15%, while Boeing and McConnell-Douglas retained 82%) as evidence of how we needed some government investment. "Is this really a threat?" asked Professor John W. Cell (father of Jon and Tom Cell of CHHS soccer). A little flustered, I said "the trend of which it is representative is a threat." He huffed and puffed. I did not get the fellowship. (Not that I would have wanted to be in school with Christian Laetner)

And now what? McConnell Douglas is history. Airbus has majority market share. Small trends can grow to be big ones, that's for sure. Maybe Hank's on to something.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Why we have children

As we reached the bottom of the driveway in Larchmont today at the close of Spring Break, I saw that Natalie was tearing up a little bit. "You're sad because we're leaving grandma and grandpa's house?" I said.

And here's what she said, as close to verbatim as possible: "Whenever we leave the house of relatives I have sorrow, but my spirit rises when I think that soon Daniel and Caroline (cousins) will visit us." That's one smooth talking little girl.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A pale yellow envelope

Just momentarily fondled an envelope from Columbia inviting me to a global leadership dinner, for which the cheapest ticket is $500. It clearly fell into my hands by mistake, though I should probably go.

But it brought back memories of that most welcome pale yellow envelope of 1991, informing me that Columbia had not only let me in but had hooked me up with a full ride for 5 years, which was as good as it got for the young Slavist. That was the pale yellow envelope that released me ended the long purgatory period served in Chapel Hill, drinking, reading theory, running ball and chasing beauty, a period I thought would never end.

Perhaps this pale yellow envelope will also offer deliverance. But can I expense it?

Kind and gentle




An article in the Times today talks about using Border Collies to corral geese in Central Park praises them for not harming the geese. Earlier campaigns, we are told, included: "education campaigns to stop people from feeding the geese; letting the grass grow taller to disrupt the birds’ eating habits; building fences to confuse them and try to limit access to certain areas."

Now, I understand that one doesn't want to discharge firearms in Central Parks, but if there's a relatively fixed population of non-migratory geese, here's what I suggest: catch them and cut their little heads off with hacksaws. They are not example of nature, any more than the under-predated deer and bunny who traumatize us are: they are almost purely cultural phenomena. Nature would have a certain amount of all them die violent deaths, and our interstates and other roadways assures some of this too.

I would bet that the people who worry about geese have few qualms about the treatment of acknowledged vermin such as cockroaches, mice, rats, and pigeons.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Culture slock

Am I getting lazy or just unobservant. Used to be every time I was in NY City almost I saw something compelling.

Today, what do I got: two young tourist girls came around an intrablock corner on 49th and looked up at this nondescript building and said "Oh my God! Look at this building" And I wanted to stop and go see what was so special but I was running late to meet a woman named Sioux (I kid you not).

Beyond that it's just hustle and flow. All my deep thoughts are getting sucked up into my quickly approaching lecture on John Cheever and suburban Soteriology. It's gonna frickin rock, dude.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Trains to and fro

8:10 AM Metro North express from Larchmont to Grand Central.
In the bar car, standing. All of a sudden a murmur then a mild hubbub at the other end of the car. Above the crowd a pale female hand flails, fishlike, before disappearing. "Get a doctor! Is there a doctor in the car?" comes a cry from the crowd.

I turn and walk towards the other car, bravely leaving my computer bag behind. I open the car door and walk through to the next "Is there a doctor in the house." A woman turns and looks at me. "You should get the conductor," she says. Thanks a lot, bitch. A conductor comes through, takes a quick look, jumps on the intercom and asks for a doctor. A minute or two later a doctor arrives, a man of 5o or so, loping casually, insouciant in twead and entitlement.

By now the wheels are turning. She's awake. Police and EMT will wait for her at 125th. The doctor sidles away.

3:30 PM NJTransit, NE Corridor
I'm in the loudest seat ever. A couple arguing to one side. Some Algerian guys talking loud in French behind me. An Indian family with very cute little girls in front of me (not that loud). And then a woman with a cellphone behind them, talking incessantly: "And then this bitch comes up to me and is like, 'you a bitch,' and I is like, 'I'm not a bitch, bitch'. And she's like, 'yes you is a bitch,' and I'm like 'no, the hell I'm not, bitch!" And this goes on for 20 minutes.

And I'm thinking, I guess this is what the pre-rush hour trains are like. Then I go one car back to use the bathroom and it's totally quiet.