Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ringing in the new

A good day here.  Coffee with Michael Goldman in Port Chester.  A prospect declared her desire to become a client at around 3, George came home from the hospital, so Natalie and Graham and I went up and visited with him and Susan an Paolucci late in the afternoon. We sat around his bed and told jokes. There was no traffic on 95 or 287 going either way. Just had lasagna from Mercurio's for dinner, and then snuck in a little peanut brittle for desert. Took Kevin to the station, and listened to a some fine songs by the Shins on the way back.

All in all, a perfectly decent way to ring out 2014, which was a reasonably serviceable year.  We're gonna ramp it up a little in 2015.  More energy, more joy.  Happy New Year to you, dear reader.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


Looking back to the beginning of the Grouse, one of my goals was to give myself a place to write, and to force myself to do it.  Daily.  In this last bit I have failed in recent years, despite knowing full well that it is the act of and effort it takes to do something that ensures that one remains good at it. Not that I am by any means positioned to comment on the quality of my writing.  At the very least, I know that writing more increases the probability that what I write does not suck.

And yet, as I have said, I am to the point in life that I really need to let go of the romance of being a writer, and certainly I can't let my ego hinge on my being one.  Nor, indeed, can I let my ego depend too much on what I do in general.  All too often I find myself reading about other people (just now about British statisticians during WWII in The Economist) and I become jealous of them for finding such a firm calling in life.

This I gotta get over. Do my job one day at a time, hang with the fam, read, write, exercise, sleep.

Right now I need to shower, shave, then maybe go to the hospital to sit with George.  Or play chess with Graham.  A new thing.  Last night I had a check mate opportunity staring me in the face for five moves and I kept not taking it, hoping he would see it.  In the end, it was getting late, I had to do it.

In retrospect, the better move may have been to alert him to the threat and help him think through ways of trying to get out of it.  That's my next move.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

All quiet on the Eastern Front -- Not

We've had busy holidays here in Larchmont.  George Jr. in the hospital, Mary Lee with the flu, Beth falling down the stairs and hurting herself while holding the injured dog Jenny, lest Jenny injure herself worse.  Graham having mysterious abdominal pain that, Praise the Lord, just cleared up. Mary and I have been fighting off colds.. or is it allergies in my case?  Flooding in the upstairs bathroom,, then the downstairs bathroom.  The stopped-up kitchen sink.

For the moment, all is calm, so I will stop tempting the gods with my litany.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Recovering joke oxygen

Visited with Frank Miller of Columbia yesterday, one of my professors from back in the day, a fantastic guy.  He's in the hospital at the moment for some trivial crap, but it's no fun to spend Xmas there for sure.

Like my dad, Frank is a great teller of jokes, and I found myself going back to Daniel Wallace's Big Fish, telling Frank about the old jokes that were in there, the ones my dad had told for decades, and being shocked that he didn't know them.

I tried to tell them again, but could only do so ham-handedly, forgetting many of the key inflections and the timing, only kind of remembering the flow.  As I think I may have said here on the blog, though I have been known to make people laugh now and again, I have never been a joke teller.  That was always my dad's domain.  He sucked all of the joke oxygen out of the room.

Now, all of a sudden, I am feeling somewhat energized about jokes.  I'd like to learn some, learn how to tell them.  I think you can see why.

Perhaps not coincidentally, at dinner last night my mind wandered back to the 1995 movie Funny Bones, with Oliver Platt, Jerry Lewis, and what should have been more of a breakout role for Lee Evans, as this kinetic comic savant from Blackpool, England.  I need to watch this movie again.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Back to the city

Some days in New York I'm just sad I ever left.  There is a vitality to being in the streets of this place unlike that of any place I've spent a lot of time, though in principle I recognize that some other places should be similar.  London, in particular.  Probably Hong Kong too.  Big, dense, open cities where people flock to from all over, but aren't focused on some kind of local of national purity.

So today, coming down Park towards Grand Central on the East Side, a security guard-type guy, African-American, greeted some other black guys with Local 147 jackets on. "Merry Christmas, fellas, don't forget to praise the Savior."  I had a feeling it was in solidarity, real happiness to see other black people in a pretty cold and white place.  But there was such enthusiasm in it that I, done up in quasi-Wall Street office casual, with my black leather briefcase and all that, was caught up in the moment and broke into a big and utterly genuine smile and merry christmased him right back.  And he was cool with it.  And why the hell not?

My shoes, which are pretty freaking old, were lacking in tread and slipping around on the wet pavement, and I remembered I intended to do some shoe shopping, so I hung a left and went back up to Saks Fifth, stopping in a couple of other footwear-dedicated emporia on the way.  Nothing really caught my eye, and when I went into Saks -- fed by the memory of snapping up some nice keds on sale some years back -- I found myself cruelly disappointed.  Everything was way more expensive than I was gonna pay.  All the shoes on the sale racks belonged there.  Butt ugly.

And being in there reminded me of how intoxicating the wealth of Manhattan is.  All the svelte ladies and aloof gents. All the mirrors on the escalator which give you lots of time to assess yourself.  And I was reminded that it is not me.

On the way out, caught up in the spirit of the season, I thought "maybe I'll look into some pretty little useless trinket for Mary."  (What she wants for Xmas is a new mailbox, and she'll get it, too).  I stopped at a display of cashmere scarves and examined the price tag.  $1100.  Nope.  Kept on walkin.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Too young for that

Last night Natalie went to a party at a friend's house.  Before the party, her friend Melanie came over to hang out.  Both of them were very pretty in little party dresses.  I assumed that there would be boys at the party, and, indeed, when I knocked on Natalie's door to tell her it was time to head over, they were sitting in the middle of the floor reading The Good Girl's Guide to Boys.

Naturally, I inquired whether this was to be a co-ed party, to which Natalie responded "We're too young for boys."  There may well have been a note of sarcasm in her voice, but I believe that the party was, in any case, largely if not entirely boy-free.

But, I mean, whatever, she's in 9th grade, after all.  I'm sure that she rubs shoulders with the occasional boy on the debate team, or perhaps at model UN, or even at mock trial.  But not on the girls' frisbee team or in feminist club.  She stays busy, to be sure.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


So I continue with the reading of books recommended by my boss that I would never have even considered in earlier life, part of my program of radical submission to a new master.  Most recently, it has been Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937.  It is apparently a classic of capitalist inspirational literature, having sold something like 20 million copies.  And, to be sure, there is much wisdom in it, if also much hokiness.

One interesting point that made me stop and think.  He asks who the reader's heroes are.  And I have to ponder:  who are my heroes?  Beyond Dean Smith, it's tough to say.  Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, those are cool guys for sure.  Heroes?

Do I lack for heroes because of deep deep seated skepticism?

Monday, December 15, 2014

A clean well-lighted sandwich

The night we were married, Mary and I made off to Croton-on-Hudson for a mini-honeymoon of a couple of nights, having planned a real honeymoon in Italy already (see here).  We got to the bed-and-breakfast in Croton at about 4 in the morning, and the next day, whenever we woke up and then subsequently got up, we set off to have some fun.

First, we needed to feed ourselves.  I had memories from a teenage visit to our friends the Adamses of their some nice little spot down by the river in Garrison, not too far up the way from Croton, so we headed up there.   But when we got there and went down the hill to the train station, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to get where I was thinking of.

But there were a couple of teenager dudes hanging out there in the parking lot, leaning up against a Saab drinking Beck's (OK. At least that's how I remember it).  So I pulled over by them (and we, admittedly, were driving a Volvo) and asked if there wasn't a place to get lunch down by the river.  And one of them goes "Oh yeah, if you go around over that way there's a store where they can make you a sandwich, but it's maybe not the best from the point of view of, whaddayacallit, cleanity."

Cleanity.  He actually said that.  The rest of the dialogue is best effort on my part, but I'll be damned if he didn't say the word "cleanity."

And so we went around over that way and got ourselves a couple of roast beef sandwiches and sat in some little park down by the Hudson and ate them.  I believe there may have been a yellowjacket or two trying to get a piece of me.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Beanbag, fleece, and trivia

So Natalie spends -- as so many of you will be shocked to hear -- an inordinate amount of time in her room with her face glued to her iPhone.  In moments of inspiration and determination I go in there and plunk myself on her beanbag and pull over me the very fuzzy aquamarine fleece that, if memory serves correctly, her cousin Caroline gave her for Xmas in a recent year.

Of late, she has been playing a trivia game with her friends.  If I sit there long enough, she will start asking me for help with some of the difficult questions, and she actually appreciates the help.  I can get in a good solid 20-30 minutes of quality time on occasion.

Taking it to the next level might involve actually playing against her.  Gotta try it.  She will most likely win.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Prom

Went to the Splinter Group Prom last night at the Back Room of the Cradle.  Fabulous party -- all thanks and praise to Lane, Steve, and Frank for putting it on -- good food, good band -- but they seemed to have their instruments turned up to 11 the whole time.  Which was a little high, and the day after I have a little headache, either from staying up late or the loud music or something.

Events like that can be a challenge for me.  Everybody thinks I'm Mr. Crazy Social, but I am in fact fairly introverted, and drinking used to help me push through my anxiety about talking to other people.  I retain the muscle memory of how to do it from when I used to party, and have redeveloped it from being in client-facing and sales roles over the years, but it's still learned behavior and not entirely natural.

I ended up eating a lot of the ham biscuits (thanks Matt and Sheila of Neal's Deli).

The Prom was the fourth night in a row that I was out and about, talking to people.  That is a lot.  I'm very happy to be home tonight, and even today, as Graham just informed me that we're not going to martial arts today because he has a bit of a cold.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On the road

Yesterday evening, stuck in traffic in rain that was making me late headed into Raleigh to an event at Gerda's house, listening to the album by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks that I had picked up for $2 at the Friends of the Library sale on Saturday, I had to admit I was feeling good, despite the traffic and the rain.  I guess there's just nothing like a good bargain on some fresh tunes.

And being in motion.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Creative tension

On my left screen, I see that Galapagos Art Space -- an arts powerhouse in Brooklyn that I may have been to many years ago, not sure.  If I wasn't there, I was someplace similar many years ago.  I remember talking to some artist type and being astonished to learn that bananas have fat in them. Galapagos is setting out for Detroit, which appears to be gathering momentum in its epochal turnaround.  Seems very exciting.

And then, I turn my head to the right, and see the picture of Natalie that I recently placed on my desktop to keep me on task when my attention waivers.  There she is, happy as a clam, in the L&B room of Sterling Library at Yale, which is full of nooks and comfy chairs and middlebrow novels, to encourage students to kick back and enjoy a book for a while.

Is there a contradiction between the two?  Between the frisson of the arts community -- at least viewed from afar -- and the desire to support my kids and get them where they want to go educationally?  Tough to say.  Yes, we'll need money for her to go to a good school, but we also want to show her that we value vitality too.

(follow-up:  I think the actual tension I'm evincing here is that between the romanticization of the arts and the general cultural distaste for and suspicion of finance and for-profit endeavors.  Because the arts and creative pursuits are romanticized, at least within some circles, including the ones in which I travel, it is tough to convey the same degree of enthusiasm for the creative aspects of making money. But by gum, somebody's got to do it, in order for others not to)

Friday, December 05, 2014

A wierd dream

But then again, when was the last time you had a normal dream.  "So there I was, watching the game, and I needed to go to the bathroom, but I was afraid I would miss an important play.  And my kids didn't want to do their chores just then"

Anyway, the other day I was so happy to wake up and realize that the dream I had been having was just a dream and I could just go downstairs and have coffee.  In my dream, I discovered that Natalie and Akin had been having some wierd and unseemly correspondence in some chatroom or something.

I know where the Natalie side of this dream came from.  Like so many other teenagers, her iPhone all too often appears to be surgically welded to her fingertips, and it is her main portal to the world, to the seeming detriment of her relations to her family members.  Which is not to say that she is so much different from the rest of us and the overwhelming extent to which we seek validation from our little devices.  Facebook likes, blog traffic, texts, etc.  I know that I am all too susceptible to it, and that it is not my best feature.  But with my beloved daughter, yes, there is some concern as to what she may be up to out on the internet.  Yet I don't want to convey mistrust to her by micromanaging and controlling her.  She is fundamentally a good egg, just a teenage one.

I may have mentioned that my friend Katherine told me that she and her husband had instituted a no-screens policy after dinner or something, and that they find themselves sitting on the couch talking more.  I keep meaning to talk to Mary about that, but then I get tied up with whatever I'm doing on my computer.

Getting back to my dream, the Akin part of it was perhaps more disturbing.  First off, there's the problem with him being dead.  Not that the dream part of my brain should care about that. What was really disturbing, I suppose, was the idea that that's the kind of thing he would have been up to. He was a fine human being, albeit one with problems.  I'm sure he got slotted into the dream because Crabill and I had run into his parents after the Carolina game.  At which I needed to go the bathroom, but I was afraid I would miss an important play.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The receding of the writerly

When I started blogging 10 years and change ago, a large part of what I was up to, one of the intents of the blog, if you will, was to maintain the practice of writing.  I felt a need to write that had been suppressed or something in my first few years in the for-profit world.  So it spewed out of me, all of this pent-up barely warmed over grad schoolness.  Part of me, it would seem, thought I was just moonlighting as a wage-earner, but that I would eventually get back to charming the world with my deep observations and keen witticisms.

Over time, it has become clearer and clearer that I'm over here in the moneymaking world for the duration -- and that that's OK, because there is no end of fascination and growth and challenges to be had in the course of feeding the family and vouchsafing its future.

But, as time as rolled forward, the style of the blog has -- and I think my gentle readers will concur -- gone downhill some.  When I get a chance to write, I am generally tired and/or squished for time.   All too often I look back at a post and see that half the sentences start with the word "I" and the other start with the word "And" and I'm, like, whatevs.

At the same time, I feel like I'm getting realer and realer, doing less fronting and bantering of fancy phrases for their own sake, and trying to actually lay out where I'm at on a given day and a given theme.   To which you yourself may well say, whatevs.

In any case, if you are reading this, I love you, because I do appreciate any and all attention my humble blog is accorded.  Keep coming back.