Sunday, August 30, 2015

Being quiet, '15

Be Loud! 15 has come and gone, and it was a rousing success, as last year.  Such an incredible couple of evenings of music and people and love.

As for the music, to my mind the technical high point was Preeesh! doing the Pretenders' "Kid" with Mary Huff of Southern Culture on the Skids channeling Chrissy Hynde.  So beautiful.  This morning, as I try to sing that part, I find my voice breaking a little bit, and I start to fight back tears.

I may have shared about this in the past.  Not infrequently, when I try to sing something that is genuine and emotionally charged, it is physically and emotionally difficult for me to do so.  I start to cry.  I think it has something to do with some sort of psychic disalignment deep within me, a sense that I am perhaps doing the wrong thing in life.

I am easily bumped off course internally, a little fragile.  Just now I was reading Stephen King's interesting piece in the NY Times about being prolific, and I fell victim to that old "I shoulda been a writer" vein of thought.  So, naturally, I came upstairs and wrote.

But it is a silly line of thinking and feeling for me to be dragged down into.  There is no one thing I should be doing with my life.  I did just fine yesterday.  I raised some money for Be Loud! Sophie.  I showed up on the soccer field and played 70 minutes in 85-90 degree heat in the first game of the season at sweeper, a position I haven't played in years, anchoring a decent defense to a 4-2 victory. In the middle of the day I even roped in a solid recruit on the spot because I knew we'd be a little short-handed.

I also talked to a bunch of people (50?  60?), so that at the end of the day I was just emotionally drained.  Today, I will hang out exclusively with family, as much as possible.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Boys in the Boat

I should have noted that my post on earlier this week on the high point of summer was prompted by my reading of Boys in the Boat, about the University of Washington 8-man crew that went to the Berlin Olympics and won, upstaging Hitler much like Jesse Owens had.  Admittedly, they weren't black, but still.

Up in Larchmont there was great fervor about this book, apparently some poobah of some sort anointed it the greatest work on non-fiction since sliced bread. Naturally, this called forth the sleeping cynic in my breast, ever-envious of anyone who might pretend to write the greatest book of any sort, which I believe, of course, is in fact crouched somewhere within me, waiting to pounce on something.

But I read it anyway.  And it was good, if not transcendent.  Even though I knew what the denouement must be, it was suspenseful nonetheless.  It was difficult to not like the main character, Joe Frantz, particularly since the author worked so hard to make him likeable. The fact is, even though I knew where it was headed, and even he telegraphed the moral thrust of the book -- that these hard-working honest working-class kids from bumfuck nowhere looked deep within themselves to rise up and conquer the elitists of the East as well as Nazis -- I found myself crying at the end.  It projects an ideal of America that we, or at least I, want to believe in.

What's more, I learned quite a bit about Goebbels, Leni Riefenstahl, and the pig dog apologists on the 1936 US Olympic Committee.  All told, a fine book.

And it reminded me of Seattle.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Reflections from our Northern swing

While up North, on those days that I didn't play tennis, I did some running around Larchmont.  It was difficult not to notice how many of the fine homes in the Larchmont Manor were being spruced up. One house that I have often thought amongst the worst exemplars of the "car commercial" house had apparently bought or begun developing some land across from it so it could have symmetrical semi-circle driveways on either side of the road (it's hard to see due to shadows in the pic below, but this gives you a notion of what the house is like)

So.  Lots of $ going into private residences.

Meanwhile, the streets and highways were falling apart.  They're building a new Tappan Zee, hoorah, but lots of other roads are just in crappy shape.

Meanwhile, the world's markets are going to hell because there is a commodities glut.

So, here's my modest proposal.  If things keep going south in the markets, we need quantitative easing that buys up not mortgage-backed securities and the like, as before, but that buys bonds slated to build bridges, roads, even the damned tunnel that Christie and Cuomo are arguing about.  Use the cheap commodities to build things at fire sale prices.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The End of Summer

The kids have gone to bed, and I will soon too, so it's time to reflect on summer's high points.  Truth be told, the apogee was probably right here, aboard the Seattle harbor cruise.  We had somehow been talked into buying these tickets that got you discounts to all the top tourist attractions.  Natalie had been excited about it, so I pulled the trigger.

Amongst these attractions was numbered the harbor cruise.  When we boarded, Mary and Graham opted to sit inside, while Natalie and I staked out some seats on deck.  But when we got going, it was too chilly or sunny or something, so we joined Mary and Graham inside.  It wasn't fancy, but it was cozy in there, and not crowded at all, and the guy who narrated the tour was just really good at his job.  He was almost as good as the guy who gave us the tour in the glass-bottomed boat at San Marcos, Texas in the spring of 2014, which I seem to have not recounted.  Alas.

In any case, it was comfy, and not crowded, and most informative and witty.  We got some kind of something, maybe a coffee or some such, and Graham requested a bag of Lays Potato Chips, which he declared to be his favorites.  He enjoyed them immensely.  So we just sat there and listened, and it was awesome.

Seeing my friend Mark for the first time in almost 20 years was also pretty epic, but that was more of a personal treat than a family one.

Our best meal of the summer, by general consensus, was at a French restaurant in Vancouver, after we had endured a hot and sweaty afternoon nearly circumambulating (oh yes I did write that) Stanley Park.  Natalie got many fine selfies there.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The waning of metaphysics?

Is metaphysical speculation, like sex, a young man's game?  10 years ago if I had posted reflections on a long drive from north to south, they would likely have been filled with more deep thoughts. Today, I am more empirical in orientation. Is it simply from a lack of energy for speculation, or am I intrinsically less likely to speculate?

The fact that I am asking these questions now suggests a couple of things:

  1. I ain't dead yet
  2. The morning is a better time to think expansively than late at night, when I am tired from a day of driving.
Maybe I am just a repressed morning person.

Or perhaps, as Chad McCracken put it in his poem many years ago about Bear Bryant, "heaven is where the ground is."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Home from NY

We drove home from Larchmont to Chapel Hill today, taking a slightly different route.  At the start, we took the New York Thruway rather than the West Side Highway down to the GWB, owing to traffic, and as we curled slowly around the entrance ramp to the Cross-Bronx, it was hard not to take note of the masses of filthy, melted plastic bottles that people had tossed out of their windows along with other assorted trash.  Nor could I say I could really blame them, because when you think of how the highways cut through the old Bronx nabes like they were nothing so that Moses could get suburbanites in and out of Manhattan and or from NJ to Connecticut, it's hard not to see the communities themselves as much other than human trash.

Further south, we took 301 from just past the Delaware Memorial Bridge all the way down to just north of Richmond, effectively skipping all but the easternmost edge of the DC-Baltimore sprawl. Maybe 30-45 minutes longer than using 95 and all its tributaries through there.  Or, depending on traffic, maybe not. Certainly not as much of a hellhole as 95 between Richmond and DC.  Lots of beautiful old motels and other roadside Americana, much of it just hanging on.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Before I forget

It being a quasi-vacation week, I have been somewhat remiss in my blogging.  Just sent Graham off to bed, and I'd better get my fingers, brain, and browser aligned here before I get distracted.

Tennis again with Rob today here in Larchmont.  We decided against keeping score, which was good, and we hit together well for an hour or so, but at the end I needed to hustle back to the house to head into Manhattan.  My phone, which had been snuggly nestled inside of my racket cover, went into my pocket and then, as if all that computing power gave it an actual brain of its own, it hopped right out and tumbled to the court.  Crack! Went the screen, and that phone is toast.  I can't even answer a phone call, so screwed is the screen.

And so, I fumed and flagellated myself mercilessly, but I had to get my shit back in gear, as Mary had convinced me that I should escort the kids into Manhattan to see Hamilton, which had received such rave reviews from everybody with a pen and a platform to publish on, and which Beth had somehow gotten tickets for, 3 days into its Broadway run after debuting to rave reviews at the Public.

The show, in point of fact, was phenomenal.  I will try to give it its due in a later post, but now I must go and put Graham to bed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The inner game of my tennis

Played tennis with my friend David the other day in Princeton.  It followed a pretty predictable script. I started off serving poorly, but playing well, even as I felt in my mind that I was fucking up.. But I kept playing conservatively, letting him make mistakes.  Pretty soon I was up 4-1.  He was frustrated.

On the one hand, I felt good for playing well.  But a conflict arose.  David and I are generally pretty evenly matched, and to crush him would upset the balance of power, and we don't see one another very often.

I by no means tanked the match. I would have liked, honestly, to have had the discipline to keep executing according to plan and playing well. But I didn't really care to mess with my boy's head.

Plus, playing conservatively and letting him make mistakes is somewhat boring.  Also, he was a little angry.  He stepped up his game, and I started going for some winners.  Indeed, I hit some.  But before long, he was up 6-5, and the sun was getting high in the sky, and it was time to swim.  We decided that we would not be playing a tiebreaker, no matter what.  It ended up 6-6.

Although I lost the eye of the tiger as far as winning goes, the second half of the set was much funner than the first half, because I stopped focusing on beating him and got into the groove of having fun.

Which brings us back to the broader question of goal-directedness, and the general focus thereupon in contemporary "success" thinking.  What was my goal in getting on the court?  Winning?  Exercise? Having some yux with my boy?  Clearly 2 and 3 were more important than 1.  So that's how it went down.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Quick to judge

So there was a guy who went to college with me, he was friends with some guys I roomed with freshman and then sophomore year, they all played soccer for Yale.  One time he was working on a paper on Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, and he was asking me about it and talking about how he thought it was a commentary on the oppressive Soviet regime.  Never mind that it was written in the early 1860s.  I thought he was a lunkhead.

While in college, I told that story to others in the tony literary circles in which I circulated, as a demonstration of how limited some student athletes were and how, by extension, superior we self-appointed intellectuals were.

I ran into him on the subway once when I was in grad school.  He was in med school or in residency uptown at Columbia Presbyterian, and he was very friendly and pleasant (as indeed he always had been).  I tried to be the same.

Not long ago, I heard that he had died.  Suddenly, at the age of 48.  It turned out he had become a... brain surgeon.  In fact, the head of neurosurgery at a major hospital, where he mentored lots of people, performed 300 operations a year, published hundreds of peer-reviewed articles, all about aggressive brain cancer.

The moral to the story is, aside from the fact that insecure 20-year old potheads do not have the greatest judgment, is that it's really difficult to know people in any way unless you make the time to talk to them at length.  What the hell did I know about this guy?  Diddly.

And, unfortunately, this really seems to validate the theory of the Dunbar number, which says that any given person can really only begin to know about 150 people, and of them you can claim to know only a handful well.

So, eventually, you have to abstract up and start to behave towards people based on gross generalizations.  But the best way to do it is to try to be generous and assume the best.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Stewart and Cronkite

We hadn't watched John Stewart for a while, he is on too late, but when I heard on NPR that last night was to be his last show, I knew that it would be special.

And it was.  The first bit where he gathered all of his alumni together ran on a bit, but it was sweet in nature, and I guess that's how it had to be because that's how big his posse was.  Same thing for the second bit, where he went backstage and introduced us to everyone who was back there.  It was a big team, but he did the right thing by introducing every single one of them, seemingly.

Then there was the last bit when he just looked at us and gave us a little sermon on bullshit.  And then Springsteen played.

By the end, I was in tears.  I am, in fact, crying a little bit now.  Partially from exhaustion from having gotten up early two days in a row and then staying up too late last night.

But partially because it is, in the end, just sad, truly the end of an era.  When I had watched the show in recent years, which was an infrequent occurrence,  I felt like it had slipped a little bit into a rut. But who doesn't, after all?  Doing a show, or even a blog, daily over years is an extraordinarily hard thing to do.  Staying funny and relevant is incredibly difficult.

In the end, it was his purity of heart and spirit which distinguished Stewart, and will continue to do so. Watching Colbert speak straight from the heart to Stewart last night was truly special.

And I realized this morning that there has been only one true parallel moment to Stewart's passing the baton like this. Not Carson.  Not Letterman. Not Leno.

Cronkite.  Walter Cronkite defined what it meant to cover the news and public discourse when we were young, and he did it with incredible dignity and forthrightness, and his retirement was an epochal moment, really, the beginning of the end to broadcast news.  I was 15, and I still remember it. Stewart, despite operating within an ironic mode, did the same thing.  He was funny, he told jokes, but right below the surface he was deadly serious, and we knew and know it.  It wasn't the many layers of indirection of the Colbert Report, beneath which we knew what Colbert was up there.  Stewart's earnestness was always just millimeters away.

And so, sigh, we will wait to see what comes next.  Hopefully, it will air earlier in the evening.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

This actually happened

So some friends told us how they had been at the beach last week somewhere in North Carolina. Their kids were swimming in the waves, and it being this summer, everybody's got sharks in the back of their mind.

Except for those who have sharks in the front of their mind. These rednecks came down the beach, planted a confederate flag in the sand, and started shark fishing, running bloody bait out into the surf using some sort of small boat or something and luring sharks and other big fish back towards the shore where they could be caught.  Eventually they caught some massive stingrays or something.

But it was no longer a good place for kids to be swimming, that's for sure.

America's proud white men will always find a good way to say fuck you.  Of that we can be certain.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Loudness of Hulot

Long-time readers of the blog will already know that I am a big fan of Jacques Tati, and in particular the 1953 classic Mr Hulot's Holiday.  The topic has come up before, in particular in this 2004 post.

I submitted this post to Niklaus and Lucy for inclusion on the Be Loud! Sophie blog.  It is written in a somewhat pretentious way, but WTF ever.  There's a little bit a of a backstory. Early in Sophie's illness, I gave Niklaus my copies of Mr. Hulot's Holiday and Auntie Mame, both of them VHS tapes since I had had them for so long, thinking that Sophie would be in the hospital bored and would be in a position to appreciate classics.  Also because I knew she was a special girl. But what happens?  She is obsessed with binge-watching How I Met Your Mother and never watches them. Which is fine, I miscalculated.  But then Niklaus has the nerve to mock me (albeit gently) for my wacky idea that a teenager could have an interest in old movies. 

So I admit that I am a little eccentric. But still, Hulot is great, and plenty Loud. 

A dog lays in the middle of the main street of a provincial French town.  When a bus rumbles through, the dog moves, and then resumes its former place.  Soon thereafter, a small car appears, an ancient, claptrap, backfiring convertible, top up, beladen with all manner of fishing poles, nets, tennis rackets, and other vacation props.  The dog does not move. A hand reaches out of the car and squeezes the old fashioned bulb horn on the car's side. The dog languidly raises itself from its position of leisure and ambles round the side of the car to see who it is.  The hand pets the dog, before the car moves on.

And so the world is introduced to Mr. Hulot, the main character of Jacques Tati's 1953 classic Mr. Hulot's Holiday and several sequels. Perhaps never before, and never again, has so thoroughgoing a meditation on the nature of Being Loud graced the silver screen. Hulot is a bumbler with a heart of gold, Tati the king of slapstick. Everywhere he goes he wreaks quiet havoc, whether playing ping pong while bouncing from room to room, accidentally rearranging card game players and creating fights, listening to jazz cranked up to 11 in the dead of night while sitting stock still, smoking his pipe, or opening just doors that let in the powerful breeze off the sea, deranging everything from hairpieces to tea being poured.  Whenever possible, having accidentally created chaos, Hulot scampers unseen up to his garret room in the inn by the sea that is the film's central setting, often leaving telltale footprints.

Hulot, in short, is the great disrupter, the puncturer of balloons, the man of the hour.  If you haven't seen this movie, run out and do so.  It is the quintessence of summer.