Thursday, May 31, 2007

Next blog

Tooled around with the "Next Blog" button today, hoping to enter into random consciousness. Was surprised by the passive prevalence of porn, of non-porn sites taking paid ads from porn companies, of videos that turn out to be porn on sites that don't look like porn. Perhaps I'm just naive.

It was also interesting to see which blogs don't have the next blog button, where you dead end. First off, there's a lot of them, maybe a third. Secondly, what, they want to be disconnected from the rest of the web/blogosphere, standing there unlinked? Like their discourse is better than anybody else's? It can't be sullied? Annoying.

In other news, the blazing hot Community Park school picnic was at least distinguished by being clever enough to have the food in the shade. As per usual, the Mexican food was phenomenal (sopas, taquitos), and each wave of it disappeared before the rumor of it could ripple through the crowd.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Thin veneer

I was picking up something, maybe a comforter, from the floor in granny's room, and it ripped a thin strip of veneer off the side of the old desk we picked up at the store off 202 in the fall of 1998, back when we were living in Somerville and still a pair of young of academics with a dog.

I stuck the veneer back on, and it stayed there, however precariously.

It was all so deeply metaphorical, as we shall see.

George Perec built his classic 1978 novel Life: A User's Manual, around descriptions and stories associated with objects in a Parisian apartment building. This would be an interesting exercise in our house.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Kingston, NJ 8:34 AM

As I got into the right hand lane to turn off 27 onto the road to the Forrestal Center, a woman pulled up next to me on my left in a 1988-ish Corolla, white with one of those faux-fabric tops you used to see on Tbirds, Coronados and the like. One hubcap missing. The woman wore a goofball quasi-skiing headband and some Zsa-Zsa Gabor sunglasses. When she stopped for the light she reached down by the gearshift and picked up a.....

....bowl of cereal! I kid you not, a ceramic bowl filled with cereal and milk with its very own metal spoon. I kid you not. Bowls of cereal do not make most people's lists of car food, but hey, why not? It's the United States of America, right?

I'm guessing she was a nurse headed for New Brunswick. Nursing is a very nerd-friendly field.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Little blessings?

Home safe from Cincinnati, I prep and then install our fleet of air conditioners to fight back the vicious Jersey heat. Later, getting an update from Natalie and cousin Sadie, I learn that there are new residents of our little patch of earth. To wit, kittens. Living with mama in hole in one of rotten floarboards in our old shed. These kittens are said to be, I'll have you know, quite cute.

Hmmmm... This could throw quite a wrench into the "we'll talk about getting a pet when you're a little older" line of argumentation we've been taking with Natalie. Should Graham perk up and join the fray, it could get complicated.

Denial, one would think, would be the right way to approach this. Act like it's not happening or like it's so trivial that it might as well not be happening. Is that the tack we take? Oh no. We have to feed the mama and kittens. For starters, half a can of tuna fish. And when I get home from the airport and eat the other half of the can, they all look at me like I'm some horrible kitten-meal-depriving criminal.

We'll have to see how this situation evolves.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A good place to be a white man

Off the plane in Covington-Cincinnati inter-frickin-national, I hasten to the place to catch a bus to terminal A. There are many signs saying this is the right place for me to be. There is also a portly Caucasian gent who informs us loudly, "Bus to terminal A here." Then, as the bus approaches, he informs us that it is approaching and, as the driver prepares to open the doors, he says "he'll have those door open in a minute."

Just outside of security, a somewhat angry, trim affluent-looking 45-year old with a business cut and neat shirt and tie held up a sign saying something like "Olmos-Fitzguerroya" or somesuch. That would have been inverted in NJ.

Then, the guy who drove the bus (also white) for Enterprise car rental tells me that despite high demand/volume, the rental car prices are low this weekend because prices are high in Indianapolis for the 500. Which makes less than zero sense.

Yes, the midwest is a fine place for a white man to have a menial job and feel no shame.

Later, at the 7-11, four high school girls in bathing suits and a souped up Civic snapped up twelvers of Mountain Dew and Fresca. Ahhhh summer. Straight outta Mellencamp.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Staff development day

Natalie won't have school tomorrow because it's staff development day in Princeton. I could rant and rave till the cows come home about my tax dollars blah blah blah.

But, the fact is, that with a simple application of a certain balm, every day is staff development day.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Books I thought I'd like

Deborah Garrison's The Second Child. The smart Jewish versifying equivalent of Sex in the City moves to New Jersey and breathes quasi-deeply into the experience of suburban living. Read a few poems and then checked out her earlier work. Hated it. And I'm not just saying that because I'm jealous. It scarcely qualifies as poetry, it's all would-be profundity scarcely wrapped in meter.

Rob Sheffield's Love is a Mix Tape. I'll try read some more of this, and I feel tremendously for the guy for losing his wife in the blink of an eye, but this book sucks. Sappy sentimental claptrap wrapped around a self-glorying enumeration of cultural items consumed. All those years of working at Rolling Stone have clearly gone to his head, leaving a 40-year old shilling to his mental image of himself as a 23-year old. Which he ain't.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

PJ Clarke's, 55th & 3rd

Lunch today took me to PJ Clarke's, a Manhattan "Institution", a fine olde pub with a dark olde bar tended by an Irish guy and with bulbous urinals as tall as your shoulders which fairly catch you up in their come-to-Mama embrace. Which makes for some splatter.

At the height of the lunch hour, a variety of lunch-eating types came in, from young besuited banker boys to scraggle-faced francophone hipsters to women with heels and tan cleavage, and everything in between. In between these types of people, you sickos.

On the menu, classic bar fare, from crab cakes to burgers to steaks etc. There in the dining room with scarred up tables, and ambiance, I assumed it would take a few minutes to bring in the food. Wrong. All this dark wood and leather was but a thin disguise for a food production line of uncharacteristic efficiency. No sooner had we spoken than food arrived to our table. It was OK.

But I dig the joint.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Body farms

I recently saw a story on about body farms, where enterprising young law-enforcement researchers test human cadavers for decomposition to help them date time of death. This is what our tax dollars get spent on? How often do cops actually have to establish time of death?

Here's a little brain tickler from

Consider this scenario: a victim is found, shot in the head, inside a car on an off-road trail. The temperature has been in the 80s for some time; however, since the car windows are closed, the temperature inside the car has been well over one hundred degrees. Because the car windows were closed, the insects normally involved in decomposition cannot reach the corpse, so the rate of decay is not what might be expected. How do investigators determine a PMI? The Body Farm's database contains data on experiments performed with corpses in closed cars under a variety of similar situations. Access to this data allows investigators to compare known results to the corpse in their situation, and to more accurately determine a PMI.
This is some important shit, and I feel a lot safer knowing that the various arms of government are working hard to make sure that real-life cops aren't getting outpaced by their specular brethren on the various CSI shows, as once they were put to shame weekly by Night Rider and McGyver.

No but seriously, what's with all the reconstructive frenzy? As if DNA analysis didn't do well enough. It's just like with the fetishism of 9/11 remains.... didn't some construction project get kiboshed recently because they found an ankle or two? Who cares? If they're dead, they're dead, I say. Society as a whole shouldn't be spending a bunch of money to becalm relatives and solve mysteries that aren't really mysteries. They're dead.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A fine line

In preparing my talk on "The Trouble of Marcie Flint," in which a dug into why I identified with Charlie Flint, the male lead, it never occurred to me that the story might be read as a parody, how the guy's thoughtful earnestness could be construed as ridiculous abstraction. Try this passage, for instance:

And then, like some trick in the movies, I saw myself as my son, standing in a like garden and sending up out of the dark a plane, an arrow, a tennis ball, a stone -- anything -- while my sister drew hearts in the gravel. The memory of how deep this impulse to reach into the light had been completely charmed me, and I watched the boy send the plane up again and again.
So what, is this guy deep, or is he a sap? Is he more Clark W. Griswold, or Clark.... Or, indeed, is there any difference?

The thing is, the reason the suburbs offer such ready material for parody is that they are always teetering on the edge of self-parody.

The firm handshakes.
The convivial greetings "Hello! So glad to see you!"
The complements "My! Your flowers are beautiful!" or "Isn't she just precious"

You can just go around saying this stuff and never have to think about anything.
Try it. "My, those steaks smell delicious!"

As with the society of the aristocracy and gentry whose mores it seeks to mimic, suburban society glides through on a set of rituals and formalities. However, unlike its predecessors -- which acknowledged their artifice -- it pretends to itself that it is natural. That's why streets and subdivisions so often have bucolic names "Shady Lawn", "Windy Hill", "Brook Lane".

Damn, it's confusing.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Moving on

Now that last night's lecture on Cheever and waspiness in general is done, I can move on in my reading.

Back, perhaps, to Rory Stewart's book about walking across Afghanistan, The Places in Between, which somehow cried out for a rest on the bedside table somewhere around page 55.

Forward, perhaps, to Rob Sheffield's Love is a Mix Tape, in a stacko on the radiator, written by a guy I went to college with but never really hung with whose wife died nastily young.

Sideways, conceivably to Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, also about sudden spousal death, but on many a must read list and now, thanks to my thievery, on my chest of drawers.

Probably not to Emmanuel Berman's My Life as a Quant, in which the author is recounting being a physics grad student at Columbia in the 60s. That should be read at work.

Whichever way it flows, it's good to move on.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Next steps

Speculation that Vladimir Putin will move from the Kremlin to the helm of gas gian Gazprom when he's forced to relinquish the presidency are, in fact, quite welcome. I wouldn't have considered it a foregone conclusion that Putin, like Yeltsin before him, would step down at all. I thought he might prefer and custom-built loophole in the constitution. In fact, I still would lay odds on it.

Here's a scenario: sometime between now and the March 2008 elections there's another bomb or terrorist attack, blamed on the conveniently placed Chechens or Al Qaeda, which threatens the stability of the Russian state and just demands that Volodya stick around. We shall see.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More of the same

I'm doing my part, I assure you of that. Just look at me at left, lean muscles churning, pumping up the hill, faster and faster....

Towards a cure for diabetes! (thanks to my upcoming participation in the American Diabetes Association's Tour de Cure in Princeton on June 16).

So as I said, I'm doing my part, but some of you, fair Grousereaders, are bogarting on support for a cure. You know who I mean, you select few down there in North Carolina. You who would enlarge with cream. Don't make me name names and put this down on your permanent internet record.
Don't make me turn this into an NPR-like fundraising filibuster.
Break out those credit cards and make em do what Sweet Little Baby Jesus designed them for. Put em here.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Poster child

So we're in Battery Park on a fine spring day yesterday and I'm showing Graham this tugboat that was actually towing a barge, and this kid comes over to me with a wallet: "Is this yours?" He says, handing it to me and walking away. So I look in the wallet for a card with the guy's phone number, and before finding it I look at his driver's license and find that he's 35-ish, white, lives in Tribeca. Upon inspection of his business card, I learn that he's a VP at US Trust. I call his office and leave a voicemail, and then I scan the crowd as Graham and I make our way back over to the playground.

Later, as the fam and I head back to Beth's place, the guy calls me and I wait for him at a designated spot. And here he comes, happy as a clam to have been reunited with his billfold. After brief pleasantries, he reaches into the wallet and foists a twenty onto me. I'm like, "No no, I don't want it" but he's persistent so I take it. And then he turns and literally runs off. Perhaps he sensed that I was gonna network up to him and ask about his role and talk about the people we knew in common and generally make him want to throw a little business my way. I know he wasn't headed anywhere in particular because I saw him going into the convenience store 10 minutes later when I headed into Starbucks for a tall cold one.

Anyhow, I really shouldn't sweat it because a weasel like that is likely to be amongst those who get sliced away when US Trust continues to fail to integrate well into the Bank of America culture after BofA snapped it up off the side of Schwab, where it was also failing. US Trust has a very nice lobby, to be sure, but go upstairs of their Manhattan flagship and you fall into a shithole straight out of Office Space. It's a failing company, and it's because of rude schmucks like Mr. Tribeca.

And his twenty is headed straight for a United Homeless Organization jug.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Kids going in circles

At the carnival at the middle school, the DJ was playing the 1991 hit "Jump Around" while middle school kids walked in a circle playing some game. Despite the classic beat, none of them could make him/herself dance, preferring instead to walk while staring embarassingly at their feet. Now and again one of them would twitch a little, as if making a brief foray into the world of rhythm before retreating.

Later, I learned that "Cotton-Eyed Joe" has a set Macarena-like dance. Tellingly, it was black girls and white jock boys who dominated the dancing.

Friday, May 11, 2007


At first I thought Clockwatchers, a 1997 film starring Lisa Kudrow, Parker Posey, and Toni Collette -- which came out when I was in Moscow working on my dissertation -- was going to be a pale chickflick shadow of Office Space. But, for starters, nothing with Lisa Kudrow and Parker Posey in it can be all bad. While much is formulaic and telegraphed, you have to admire the disciplined cinematography -- with dystopic hints of Tati's Playtime, and there were plenty of yucks. Toni Collette, as per usual, is the good girl.

It's a 2nd tier film, worth having on your Netflix list.

Circle of futility

On the way to work today I passed a nice old house that was having some kind of sale, estate or otherwise. In the driveway were no less than 4 Volvo wagons of different vintages, bumper to bumper. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's a crime the way Volvo (ahem Ford) holds us hostage with the only usable full-sized station wagon. Those of us with driveways too narrow for an Odyssey are hosed. So why, I ask again, does Honda bogart the Accord wagon to us Americans? There it is right there in the picture, the Euro/Japanese variant. All they gotta do is ship those puppies over or make em here, throw a hybrid engine and a rear-facing seat in there for carpooling. And cupholders. And they'd be rich! Oh yeah, they are rich.

Why oh why is it so? Is it payback for Iraq?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Blowing the doors off!

Grousereaders, I just wanted to let you know that thanks to a phenomenal $500 gift from one of our Yankee donors, I've now blown past my initial goal to raise $500 towards a cure for diabetes and have raised it to $2000. Again, I'll be riding 30 hilly New Jersey miles in the heat of summer to earn these ducats.

On a somewhat more somber note, the scorecard in our traditional Northerner vs. Southerner (regional affiliation is defined by where you went to high school) contest stands at:

$650 North
$250 South

My fellow southerners, I say to you now, are we going to let these smug bastards walk all over us in the race to cure Diabetes? The corract answer: "Hell no! We too will have a voice in supporting research to ameliorate and end the suffering of 20 million Americans (and that's just the Americans!)." Step right up and show your pride with a donation.

ps. Northerners. Don't let those rebs get the best of you. Donate here.

Europeans, midwesterners, emerging markets representatives, extraterrestrials, doppelgangers, pets and golems may give at this location.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What can I say?

It's New York in the spring, a good day after a crappy commute, if not a commute from hell.

Our sparsely populated office is being painted, which is not enhancing my head.

Saw no freaks or events on the streets today, nothing more memorable than two Japanese girls passed near 46th and 5th on the way to see Genna at 48th and 8th, musing to each other about the right way to pronounce economics, with and e like bleak or and e like bleck: "Is it economics or economics?" That's actually a good question.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Growing old pains

In the shower this morning, I realized my razor was in the medicine cabinet. As I stepped out of the shower onto the glorified towel that serves us slackers as a bathmat, I tried to gain some leverage with the foot still in the tub and slipped -- catching myself on the shower enclosure with my arm, which is now suspiciously sore.

I used to have no comprehension of how anyone could slip in the shower. Now I get it. I suppose if we had managed the multiple risks involved a little more proactively, I'd be in better shape. Which goes to show you that consultantese is good for something.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tech n*rs

A few weeks ago during a pretty good talk on Private Equity in Africa, this South African guy with McKinsey and Harvard Business School firmly stamped on his oral resume began to show a snippet from a documentary on his laptop. The sound quality was crappy, so he said to the guy running the lecture series: "Lets get IT in here to fix this." His tone -- haughty and disdainful -- was of the sort which was once saved for the pronunciation of the n word in certain circles, which was picked up on by at least one member of the largely African and African-American audience. Later, he showed an utter lack of regard for the IT guy's time, keeping him waiting around for 10 minutes like he had nothing better to do.

It was funny, and kind of ironic, as he was trying to pump up Africa in his talk.

Commuting use

Humming along the Parkway today, turned off the stereo to be quiet for a while, thought about what I would do if I needed to commute along that road. Perhaps I'd listen to more classical music, I thought, or talk on the phone more. Then I realized how ridiculous it was to think that I needed to be using all my time productively. For what, honestly? This is the Protestant work ethic run absolutely amuck in my delicate skull. Why should I not kick back and enjoy the delicate beauties of our fair state.

And then I go an blog about it.

Oh yes, today was a big day for the Grouse, which got exposure from Felix Salmon's Market Movers blog on Conde Nast's oh-so-tony My traffic went straight through it's thatch roof. One discerning reader in Utah even lingered and perused so long that he or she may even join the merry band of Grousereaders.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


I was sending out an initial email exhorting friends and family to support my ride in the June 16th American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure to raise money for diabetes research, and found that I was having a difficult time adopting an unironic, enthusiastic tone to ask those nearest and dearest to me to donate to support this most worthy cause, fighting a disease which afflicts some 20 million Americans. If I had been better indoctrinated in the ways of corporate America, like, say, with an MBA, or by working at Walmart, I would assumedly have less trouble donning this mask of unaffected and perky sincerity. I have not had this training, however, so however much I may believe that it is an unalloyed mitzvah to give in support of diabetes research, I will be at pains to express myself directly.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Slow day in the city

In Manhattan today, not much to report, unless you count this big lunk all dressed in hockey gear, probably Rangers I guess -- skates, goalie gloves -- walking out onto the grass in Bryant Park (behind the library), sitting on a chair and reading a newspaper. Maybe the Post. And yes, I looked in the direction he was looking, and yes, there was a camera crew. 3 guys in all, with facial hair. So who knows, maybe it was for YouTube, maybe it's for an indie film, deeply ironic, or maybe it's for a television commercial. By now, same diff.

Later I ran into little Ms RyeandFlax, who informed me that her decided response to her mid-life crisis will be to leave her Big 4 accounting firm and go to an investment bank. Personally, I think she's just early stage in her crisis. Time will tell.