Sunday, May 31, 2015

The effects

So, at my boss's direction, and I may have written about this before, I don't feel like checking, I have been listening to sales training CDs and tapes (in the Volvo, where we still have a very nice cassette player, thank you) in the car.  People like Brian Tracy and Zig Ziglar, each of whom are very interesting figures, with considerable wisdom for me to soak in, if only I let it.  Which I am working at. I have therefore not been listening to that much music in the car, as I have in effect been working as I drive, as best I can.

So, after refreshing the music CDs in the car, as I chronicled yesterday, I've been listening to some tunes. Yesterday I listened to the Costello, and there were some good songs on there.  This morning, on the way to a meeting, I through Stephen Merritt's Obscurities in the player.  I bought this CD when the Magnetic Fields came to the Cradle a couple of years ago.

I have a mixed relationship with Merritt.  On the one hand, he is one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, and incredible librettist, for lack of a better word, writer of the words of songs.  On the other, he can be a little arch, sometimes unsufferably.

But today, with my spirit somewhat undernourished with song, and with me being a little bit tired from generally working pretty damned hard at getting my practice up and running and dadding and husbanding and whatnot, this song hit me hard.  I literally started crying while driving. It happens sometime.

It is, in so many ways, the perfect little love song, and I like this version of it.  Clean and pure.

I wrote on YouTube if not here about reading A Suitable Boy and how good Vikram Seth is at -- in the romance of Lata and Kabir -- capturing the intensity of young love, and how the sensation of young love is what we all (meaning me) yearn for at times.  This song, or at least this version of it, did it again.  Whoops.  The first verse is perfect.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Fresh tunes

I have a lot of driving to do today, which means some quality time with the car stereo, as well as the kids. I took a little time to refresh the CDs in my little CD holder thingie -- and yes, I am old enough that I still buy physical CDs, just like I like physical books.  I feel refreshed.  Digging through the stacks of discs I found all these things that I kind of remember buying, but kind of don't.  Like Elvis Costello's All This Useless Beauty.  I'm sure I didn't pay retail for it, that's all I'm sure of.  Have I ever actually listened to it?

I will soon find out.  If I remember to put it in the CD player, that is.  In any case, it's a good feeling to have different possibilities.  We tend to carry around excess bluegrass out of deference to Mary's tastes, which is fine, but a little limiting at times.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Plowing forward

At the library yesterday I made myself sit with A Suitable Boy and push forward.  I had been in a rut of reading only 3-5 pages at night before falling to sleep, which is really not a winning strategy with a 1500-page book.

I will confess that I have been challenged by the relatively late in the novel introduction of the Chatterji family. As if it weren't sufficiently challenging to keep straight all the Kapoors, Mehras, and Khans, and then other pivotal figures like Kabir Durrani, here's a whole nuther brood I have to wrap my skull around.

It brings to mind the concept of the Dunbar number, the idea that on average people can only have reasonably deep social relations with 150 others.  I think that's about right, but how much more mind-bending is it then to have to try to keep track of another 30 to 40 characters and roughly hold them in memory.

The functional limit on "knowing" is one of the things that drives us to abstract, generalize, and think in categories:  girls, boys, old people, people in golf clothes, liberals, Catholics, etc. To get by in the world, you have to do this. You cannot move through the world on a day-to-day basis and not utilize some abstraction.

And of course, this makes it all too easy to fall into prejudicial behavior.  Black people do this, hispanics do that, etc. Good novels, movies, and other art invite us to get to know individuals and remind us that, behind the generalizations we make, there are individuals.

Man, this post is degenerating into a little preachiness.  Oh well, must go to the store and put the laundry in the dryer.  This is what holidays are made of.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


After being together, and being kind of tightwad homebodies, for 20-odd years, Mary and I have watched so many movies, that we have grown a little tired of them. Mary, in particular, rarely cares whether we watch anything at all on a weekend night.  As I'm sure I have blogged before, we long ago fell into the practice of watching half of a movie on Friday night and if -- if and only if -- we found it compelling, watching the rest of it on Saturday night.

Often we get discs from Netflix and let them linger in the Almirah drawer below the TV for months. Such was the case with the 2013 Stephen Frears film Philomena, which Mary had put on our list because it had won some prizes.

But this was a very very good film, and it restored my faith in directors, and made me want to start digging around and looking for good filmic stories again. It tells the story -- based on actual events -- of an Irish flack/journalist type who gets fired from a pretty high level government job and is down on himself. He gets paired up with an older woman, in this case Dame Judy Dench, who had had a child out of wedlock when she was young, and had done so within the auspices of an evil nunnery, who gave the kid away, as per their business model. They team up to find out what happened to the kid, and in the process find themselves, blah blah blah.  Sounds corny, but it is masterfully done.

We watched the whole thing. We laughed, we cried.

Rent it.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Un Buen Carnicero

Saw this documentary about Tolo, a butcher at Cliff's Meat Market, at the Southern Documentary Fund event in Durham last Sunday.  It's a good video, worth the 15 minutes or so it takes to watch it. Or at least half of it.

What's interesting is that, though it's "about" Tolo, the theme that jumped out at me was that Tolo and Cliff are basically just embodiments of a Platonic ideal of the butcher -- or anyone in customer service, for that matter.  Which isn't surprising, since Tolo was trained by and works for Cliff.

On the one hand, it's nice to see a cross-section of Carrboro's legacy African-American and newer hispanic populations.  On the other, there are almost no hipster white people in this doc, which seems a little out of keeping with the reality of Carrboro today.  It is a sentimental casting of a "real" or "authentic" Carrboro which does, as we see, still exist.  But it's not all there is, not by a long shot.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cambria Suites, Morrisville, 6:43 pm

So I went to an event co-sponsored by the local MIT Alumni Club and The Indus Entrepreneurs, which, as you might imagine, is an organization of Indian expats who support entrepreneurialism.  I was surprised, when I got there at around 6:15, that everybody was already getting dinner.  I was expecting coctails and milling about for an hour or so, which is traditional at this kind of thing.  That's how you get to meet a bunch of people.

But I nonetheless bellied up to the buffet and got myself some chicken breast, really delicious and cheesy noodles -- like mac and cheese from a box on steroids -- plus salad and a pecan chocolate tarte thingie.  Not bad all told.

I found myself seated next to the guy in charge of the Google Fiber rollout to the Triangle.  Except for those of us who were there to mill about and prospect, he was the guy everybody was there to see. And he was a cool guy. From Ann Arbor, moving to Chapel Hill.

So a little bit later he gets up in front of the room and starts presenting, talking about the experience of the pilot Google Fiber rollout in Kansas City and how much energy that spawned.  Very cool. Steve Rao of Morrisville asked some intelligent questions. Then the open Q&A starts. And it goes like this:

  • "Is there a special package for small businesses?"  "Yes"
  • "Is there a special package for non-profits" "No, use the small business package"
  • "When can we expect Google Fiber to come to my house" "I don't know.  It depends upon permitting in specific towns and how long it takes to do the physical rollout. Impossible to predict."
  • "Is there a special package for a company like mine, an IT services company that co-locates within a data center."  "No, Google is not a wholesaler."
  • "No but seriously, when can we expect Google Fiber to come to our houses" "I already told you I don't know"
  • "But really.  2 years?  5 years?" "I don't know"
It kind of got old.  It would have been better to have more time to mill and learn about the other people in the room instead of having him answer the same stupid questions over and over again.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Long weekend

Busy busy.  Driving hither and yon.  Talking to people.  Eating a lot.

Ended the soccer season with a 2-0 loss, but concluded the season with only the most trivial of injuries, which must be considered a victory.  Looking forward to the fall with gusto.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Played tennis with Adam Thursday, then soccer yesterday, and now my knee is swollen and sore. Today I took Graham out to throw the frisbee a little and found myself pretty immobile, unnable to chase the damned disc.

This should not come as a shock to me, as I am several weeks past 49, closing in on (gasp) 50.  But it was, in fact, rather disconcerting to me to be constrained in my ability to get around.  I found myself viewing it as rather portentious.

Fact is, however, that I am much less immobile than I was, say, 5 years and change ago, when I yoinked my butt muscle while waterskiing after getting shitty advice from Niklaus on technique. That took a while to heal, and I wasn't 100% certain that it would.  I seem to recall being somewhat philosophical about that incident.

The difference is, I think, that my next birthday is in fact that big 5-0, and that I am therefore fearful about and in denial of aging.

Baltimore and the banality of evil

The NYTimes ran a story today on the cops who were involved in Freddy Gray's death in Baltimore. Basically the story is that they were normal people:  the black woman cop was a particularly good egg, a church-going model citizen who was from Tnd lived in Baltimore, unlike 65% of Baltimore cops (normal -- cops get paid lower-middle to middle-class salaries and typically don't want to live in a ghetto and/or can't afford to live in expensive pockets of infill/reurbanization). One of the white cops had some mental health issues and had had his weapons confiscated three years previously -- which is pretty normal too, from a number of perspectives.  Per NAMI, the National Association on Mental Illness, 6.7% of the population lives with major depression, 18% lives with anxiety disorders.  The guy driving the van was a passive guy, hadn't made great career progression, which is pretty normal too, not everybody is gonna make captain.

These cops worked within a dysfunctional police department in a city with a challenged political culture.  Normal.  There was institutional racism.  Normal.

I'm deviating from the point I set out to make.  These were regular people who fucked up in the course of doing their jobs, and a kid died.  There may have been malice (I admit I haven't been following the details too closely) Now there are heavy charges filed against them.

I was reminded first of Marx's old phrase from Das Capital:  "Sie wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es", "They know not what they are doing, and yet they are doing it."  Marx used this phrase to characterize commodity fetishism, the way in which the social relationships between people were made material items within the economic system, so that the original relationships (the way in which commodities are produced) are forgotten.

Slavoj Zhizhek came along 140 years later and used the phrase to characterize ideology as such. Ideology, per Zhizhek, is the process of sedimenting relationships into the everyday so that their origin is forgotten).

And so, back to Baltimore, normal cops, some exemplary, some simply human, all-too human. Between them, they cost a kid his life.

But what about me, sitting here comfortably in my leafy abode?  Where do I fit into this?  I think a lot about soccer. I love the game. It was a game I could compete in when I was young, being too skinny to play football or basketball when very young.  We had a great team.  We won the state championship.  We were all white.

Fast forward 30 years and soccer is the great warrior sport of suburbia, dominated by white, affluent kids who can pay for expensive coaches from a young age.  Yeah, the hispanic population does pretty well too, but you don't see that many black faces.

When in school I had some black teammates in track and field, and lord knows I tried to be a good basketball player, never with much success, but that's where I got to know some other black guys at the most basic of levels.  But mostly I lived in a segregated world.

And now, it's even worse.  I see almost no black people in my work, except when I go to lunch, where I might be served by some at Jimmy John's.  Excellent guys, both the guy who works the register and the older guy who works the sandwich line.

Anyway, I ramble, and I must stop.  My point is this:  it is a shame that good people were involved in Freddy Gray's death, but we all are.  The officers getting charged are in a sense serving to exculpate us, to ascend the cross to atone for our sins.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Good meeting

Caught the second half of an AA meeting near my office today.  A woman shared about her deep gratitude for her job, which was at a family casual kind of restaurant, which was hard for her to get. She had a few felonies, it seemed.  She was in her 50s, and lived with her mom, who has dementia. But she had a number of years of sobriety, which had been inconceivable to her before she got started, in prison.

This is why I go to meetings.  This was true, deep, and earnest gratitude, of the sort one so rarely hears outside of "the rooms."  There's nothing like it.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

In progress

Graham appears to have lost the key to the Prius, and he swears it's somewhere in the mud room.  So I have been going through the mud room looking for it.

I don't know when the whole mud room concept bubbled up into consciousness and became a thing that we all must have, but it did happen, and we have one.*  It is, to pull back one of the greatest hit words of era of literary theory, very much a liminal space -- that is, a threshold -- designed for taking things off, and putting them down, before continuing on.  Conceptually, it's first and foremost about getting things off while heading into the house.

In our case, it has evolved or devolved, depending on how you view it, into the place where things slow down before heading out of the house.  For example, paper and plastic bags headed either to the thrift store or to the grocery store to be recycled. And other stuff, similarly headed out for its next, new life.

It is very easy for me to get judgmental about this kind of thing.  In my mind, I am very much the get things done, drive things through to completion kind of guy.  One of the things that sometimes drives me crazy about other people (and I won't name names here) is their tendency to let things sit and not finish them up.

Excavating the mud room looking for the Prius key is kind of driving home the point that I am deluding myself.  Things I have found that are on my plate include:

  1. A bag of tennis balls that came with the hamper I bought at least 7 years ago so I could work on my tennis serve.  I never have.  The balls suck.  I should throw them away.
  2. An old headset that went with some cell phone. It sucks.  I did just throw it away.
  3. A biker-type bag for Tata Consulting Services that I picked up at some conference.  It is ugly, and I have never used it. Should go to thrift store.
  4. A bookmark from a used book store in Durham which was new within the last year or two.  I stuck it in a book.
  5. A bike bottle holder, which I undoubtedly bought to put on some bike.  I put it in the cubbard above the washing machine
The list goes on and on.  Similarly, there is a pile of old New Yorkers dating back well into 2014, perhaps 2013, that have been sitting on top of my dresser waiting for me to go through them to see if there's anything worth reading.  I sorted about half of them last night, then it was time for me to help with dinner.

In any case, the point here is that I too am always behind in everything, that there are always too many little projects, that I need to really let go and focus on the most important stuff.  Right now that includes eating lunch with Graham, and then getting outside to enjoy the beautiful spring day.

Soon, it will be hot.

*I am shocked that the mud room did not make it onto the list of "Stuff White People Like." It belongs there, I think.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

A wee vacuum

Graham is out at Sam's birthday party.  Soon they will be headed off to see the Ultron movie, having enjoyed their pizza.

Which is odd for me.  Normally Graham and I would be getting ready to settle into the couch to watch an episode of an animated superhero series ourselves.  Right now, we're watching Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H, a pretty stupid show featuring, as you might guess, a lot of smashing by Hulk and his crew of other Hulks (Red Hulk, She-Hulk, SCAAR, and Blue Hulk).  It's a nice time of evening.  I'm able to look out across the lake as Graham snuggles into me and the gamma-irradiated crew does battle with a host of evildoers.

At least it gives me a few minutes to blog.  Not that, strictly speaking, I am all that short on time to do so, it's more like energy and impetus.  All too much of my days these days are spent doing things which would once have seemed almost a bit far-fetched:  cold-calling, warm-calling, following up, lunch, coffee.  I haven't been listening to music or NPR in the car, I've been listening to sales training and other "inspirational" CDs, which I have been told is what salespeople do.  And I, right now, am developing sales discipline.

Fact is, there is much wisdom in what I am consuming these days, as I know I've mentioned before. It is just quite distant from what I once considered wisdom, so that it's difficult to say what's so wise about it.  Except for the fact that it counsels belief in oneself, courage, and persistence.  And rest.