Monday, May 29, 2017

I'm back

Just spent 4 excellent days out in Seattle, hanging with my boy Mark, kicking a new client relationship with another old college friend into gear, and seeing other excellent people I know from high school and grad school. But now I'm back.

I can feel my age. There is pain in my hip and, oddly, still in my groin from where I kicked too many goal kicks three weeks ago. Also in my hamstrings, and in my left hand (which I use on the fretboard, my picking hand is pain-free).

Looking out into my yard, I see two things:

1. The grass has been growing the whole time I was gone. No surprise there. Mary used to mow the lawn sometimes, but in later years has reverted to traditional gender roles, which designates this as man's work. Maybe it's time to train Graham on this. Natalie may be hard.
2. The sun is rising. On the one hand, that means the grass is drying and is probably cutable. It is also becoming a hotter chore.  It also means the lake is getting warmer by the minute, and less pleasant for swimming.

Which means it's time to get my ass in gear.  Just saw my neighbor Caroline walk by not too long ago, with her dog Pearl, a collie who is the sweetest dog in the world.  I heard a few weeks ago that Pearl had cancer, and may not be long for this neighborhood.  It will be a loss.

For now, it's time to get moving.  One thing I know is that movement eases the pain.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


In a little patisserie in the relatively upscale Magnolia neighborhood in Seattle, having walked here from the home of my friend Mark. Despite my hosts' downplaying the relative quality of the pastries, I would have to say they are pretty good.

In fact, everything here verges on perfect, especially since it seems like I bring sunny weather to Seattle and the region generally (I've never seen it rain here, though my sample size is small). Everyone is affluent, perky, of a non-deprecated ethnicity. It is the kind of place where a young person willing to work reasonably hard, take direction, smile, and make eye contact would find it hard to fail.

And in that regard, we might as well be on another planet from Morven, NC, which I drove through a couple of weeks ago, or even my mom's hometown of Roxboro, where I canvassed last fall. We all know this. There is no simple answer.

I was at a comedy show in Chapel Hill last week where this comic, a kind of manic guy (they all were) was talking to some of the young people in the front row, high school seniors and UNC freshfolx, and he kept saying "Oh, you're from Chapel Hill, you feel safe all the time, that must be nice." It is of course hard to impart his tone here on the blog, but there's a fundamental truth to that.

And I guess I have circled back to talking about the "Bubble" we were all talking about back in the fall. I live within it. But the military mom seated across the row from me on the flight out does not. She had three kids, infant, toddler, and big girl, 5ish, who held the infant when her mom took the toddler to the bathroom. I can't imagine doing that at that age. Her husband was just being transferred from Ft. Bragg to somewhere in Alabama. I wasn't about to start talking politics with her.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

End of the season

Though hot, we closed out the season in fine form today.  Neither of our top scorers were there, including the guy that pretty much dominates for us and probably scores an absolute majority of our goals, and we still won. Despite having an average age of 45 or so on the back line, we allowed no shots on goal.

Admittedly, the other team wasn't very good. But still.

And I am in no more pain, really, than I was when we started the game. No additional injuries. Not too shabby.

Though I had no huge highlight plays, I am still playing highlight reel in my mind.

Friday, May 19, 2017


The other day I had lunch with this nice Nepalese guy I had met at an event. In paying for lunch, I forgot to use the credit card I have made, here in 2017, my business card.

Knowing that I will have a difficult time remembering this at tax time next year, I used the business card to buy my sandwich at my favorite deli (less expensive than the business lunch) today. However, I was distracted by doing so, and by the mild dishonesty baked into this maneuver, and I forgot to get my frequent eater card punched, thereby depriving myself of one-twelfth of a sandwich.

However, this lapse was made up for by Monday's lunch when, back at my favorite deli (Cheerz, at the intersection of Alexander and Miami, where they roast their own roast beef and chicken and bake their own rolls), I got the frequent eater punch of the guy in front of me, who was visiting from out of town.

And so, there is order in the universe.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


So Natalie went out on a date with a boy from her high school. Her experience with the young fellas has been limited to date, owing to their clear lack of good taste and perception of what should be attractive in a young lady, which she of course exemplifies. Perhaps she is too petite for them, perhaps too clever. Who knows.

At any rate she was clearly pleased to have been asked out, and rightly so. Nothing is more validating than to be shown that you are attractive by a member of your desired gender. She had to adjust the time of their outing because her beloved cousin Caroline was in town for less than 24 hours for the memorial service, but she did it, and it was fine.

We too are happy. This is something that has been missing in her life. Of course, I do feel the territorial gene welling up from inside me, She was maybe 45 minutes late getting home from her date and Mary and I kept looking out the window. This is new territory for us. I would certainly like to lay eyes on this fella and talk to him for 90-120 seconds, but mostly out of curiosity. I think. I won't force it for a little while.

I thought about this this morning as Natalie and I were making breakfast, and I was briefly moved to tears. I turned away so nobody could see, because that would be embarassing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Eulogy for David

Good morning, I’m C......T....., the son of Joan Ontjes, David’s wife.
By 2004, plain old dating and had not produced the perfect -- let alone the right – guy for Mom. So when my sister Leslie and I heard that she had met this doctor fellow David Ontjes, whose kids we knew from junior high and high school, we were intrigued. That spring my wife Mary and I came down to NC for an event, bringing our newborn son Graham. We didn’t yet know that Graham was allergic to milk. So we left him with mom, David and a bottle and headed out for the evening. We got home around midnight and found that Graham had thrown up his milk all over David, who had nonetheless carried on dutifully dandling and rocking him around to keep him calm.

At that point in time, we knew he was a keeper.  But Mom and David weren’t even “going steady”. They had been on a number of dates, but David kept saying that he was “seeing other people.” Mom eventually said to him, “Well so am I and, if you don’t decide quickly, I may not be an option.”  A couple of days later, David invited her over for a glass of wine. Mom expected him to break up with her. When she got there, David asked her to stay for dinner, and she agreed. Light conversation continued. Finally, after dinner, David, a little nervous, got down to business, saying “I just can’t date two people at the same time. Would you like to date me exclusively?” She said yes, and 13 wonderful years began.

In 2006 they were married here at University Presbyterian. Because they were married late in life, David and mom knew that, according to standard protocol, they wouldn’t have as many anniversaries as they would like. So they crafted a system of 5 anniversaries
1.    First date
2.    Going steady
3.    First trip
4.    Engagement
5.    Wedding
And so they celebrated some 50-odd anniversaries together. And David, frugal though he may have been, even agreed to go to nice restaurants every time.

David and Mom did a lot of fun things together: they kayaked together, and they biked up and down the East Coast and in Europe. In fact, they were so photogenic a couple that their smiling faces graced the cover of the catalog for VBT Bicycling tours.

They performed together in a variety groups, including the choral group Voices, and the musical comedy company the Prime Time Players. Both of them really loved singing, so I know this brought a lot of joy to each of them. Check out the videos at the reception.

David was a wonderful presence in the lives of our children. He had great trips with them to places like Lake Matamuskeet and the Virginia Creeper trail. He genuinely loved to share entirely age-appropriate TV shows with them. David and Graham spent many happy hours together watching “Popeye” and David’s personal favorite, “Spongebob Squarepants.”

David was a fine presence at the table. He loved to make waffles and to grill, and was always a hearty consumer of whatever was served, especially dessert and chocolate. Leslie’s son Daniel marveled at the number of Dove chocolates he could snarf down. In dinner table conversations, he provided our typically liberal Chapel Hill family with a valuable conservative counterpoint. He was also fond of dredging up tales of yore of dubious veracity, like a fishing tale he retold several times over one weekend, in which the fish he caught grew in each retelling, from a guppy on Friday to a monstrous hundred-pounder by Sunday dinner.

The long and short of it is that, over these thirteen years, David grew to be a full-fledged member of our family, from a minnow to a scale-breaking prize winner.  We will all miss him dearly.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A long, full week

It has been a long, full week. As some of you know, my mom's husband, David Ontjes, passed away. I'll post the eulogy I wrote for him as evidence that I have not fallen down entirely in my scribal duties to Being.  As if Being gave a fuck.

Since Mary has been reading the New York Times on her laptop, even on Sunday mornings, just in case He Who Must Not Be Named and his lunatic chronies in the White House have done something earth-shattering overnight, I have been reading the front page on sundays once I finish up the sports section, instead of going straight to Week in Review.

There is a lot of stuff on the front page.

This week there's an article about Google's very successful efforts to take over the education market. Part of the thrust has been to nudge students to use online sharing tools like Google docs to learn to collaborate better, as part of an overall Zeitgeist shift away from the mastery of arcane facts and methods towards learning to work as teams.  Here's what one Google exec says:  "I cannot answer for them what they are going to do with the quadratic equation. I don't know why they are learning that. And I don't know why they can't ask Google for the answer if the answer is right there."

My guess is, that if kids don't learn the quadratic equation, they ain't getting no jobs at Google. By and large. Certainly not as programmers. Fundamentally, kids need to be pushed to master challenging intellectual material both to learn to think and to master complexity. Period.

The fact that they aren't forced to memorize multiplication tables, to develop a basic proficiency with numbers, is scandalous. How are they going to be able to estimate things and, most practically, know if they are getting ripped off if they can't work with numbers in their heads?

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Morven, NC

Thursday took me down to Columbia, SC.  Google Maps said it would be 3:36 by interstate, or 3:56 by smaller roads. That was an easy choice. Somewhere along Rte 1 south of Sanford, my phone said that Rte 1 and some other backroads route would be about the same. I took the road lesser traveled, per Sergei and Larry.

Driving along state road 145 towards the South Carolina border, there was a sign on a tree, featuring a fetching, seemingly hand-painted picture of a sandwich. "Cheese Steak, 1 mile on right." It was speaking my language, though sadly I had lunch plans in Columbia with Jack Pringle so I couldn't really investigate as I would have liked to. You know what I mean.

But one mile passed, and there was no sign of a cheese steak. Then two miles. I began to think it was some sort of cruel joke, or that somehow the sign had outlived its signified. Finally after three or fout, I came into the town of Morven, NC. The old main block of downtown was more forelorn than most by a degree: every business was shut down. But then, on the right, I saw it: Mama Noi's, featuring Philly Cheese Steak, Hamburgers, Fresh Pizza, and Fresh Hot Subs. What's not to like?

And then it was over. I passed through the south end of Morven. An African-American woman was out in her yard. I waved to her. She waved back.