July 26, 2005

We have beer. We just need to find the opener

What does that title mean? It is what I figure I will be saying tomorrow night after the movers have left us with 835,003 boxes, 834,000 of which will be labeled "Misc.". I will look at the sea of boxes and say to my dear wife, "I have the beer, we just have to find the opener". And she will smite me. Being smited is not the same as being smitten, just in case you were wondering.

I am cautiously looking forward to having our house be ours. Cautiously, because I do not yet know what surprise awaits me in owning this house, although I assume that there will be many unpleasant surprises in my future. It is all part of owning a house.

In the midst of unpacking, for which I am taking off the next three days from work, we have deliveries up the wazoo, cable and telephone people coming, alarm system people coming, post office trips and town office trips to make, and generally speaking more work and appointments than I care to shake a stick at, even though I am not generally in the habit of shaking sticks at anyone. Nor should one be. You could put someone's eye out by over enthusiastic stick shaking, you know. Don't you listen to your mother? There's no talking to you, is there?

*Whap* Down, boy, down.

Sorry, I let my inner idiot take control of the keyboard for a moment and he revealed more about the inner dialogue in my head than he should of. Oh, well.

At least it isn't supposed to rain tomorrow. Today, however, is supposed to be the hottest day of the year, according to the weather people. Although tomorrow is supposed to be hotter. And I'm in a suit and tie today. Oh, joy.

Keep cool, y'all and send me nice happy thoughts as you think of me marooned in a sea of packing boxes, searching for a bottle opener.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:25 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

July 21, 2005

Conspicuous consumption

Lunch in New York, at a place with cachet, no matter that the cachet may be old, is conspicuous. Many are there to be seen, to see, to impress, to negotiate, to cut a striking figure, to cut a deal, to flatter, to flirt, or sometimes, to dine. But much of the time it is done conspicuously.

I just had lunch with an old friend. A friend who is both older than I am and a person with whom I have been friends with for long enough to qualify as an old friend. He was retired for some years, got bored, and is now back in the international finance game. In other words, he could afford to take me to a $250 lunch (I didn’t mean to see the bill, but I did). $250 for lunch in New York is also conspicuous. Lunch for two people. One bottle of wine. It was delicious, don’t misunderstand, but a part of me none the less is embarrassed by having been taken to a $250 lunch. That, by the way, was before tip.

What does one eat for $250? A bowl of chilled fennel soup with grilled tiger prawn and saffron oil followed by a burger. Not just any burger, mind you, but a burger of chopped sirloin stuffed with braised short rib, fois gras, and black truffles. We drank something white and delicious and I never actually got to see what it was. We spent about two hours there and caught up with each other.

On one hand, it was a delight. Catching up with a dear friend who is whip smart and well educated and opinionated is great fun. On the other hand, it was done in a restaurant not in my tax bracket and I think that made me a little bit uncomfortable. I can’t quite puzzle out why but I thought I could try here. Maybe it was the huge disparity in wealth between the two of us, although that never bothered me before. Maybe it was the in your face nature of the restaurant. Maybe it was being served wine in the middle of a very hot day – I am now officially sleepy, by the way. Maybe it was the sheer expense and the thought that $250 could have been spent better or wiser or just that it seemed like a lot of money to spend for lunch. Maybe I’m just hopelessly middle class.

Either way, I tried not to be conspicuously middle class. There was enough that was already conspicuously on display without me being there, too.


I finally figured out what really bothered me about that lunch: it made me feel like we got suckered. It wasn't worth $250. I have spent that much and more on dinners before, really fine dinners. I should not, or my friend should not, have to spend that much at a place billed as a bistro. The food was quite good, but not great. The service was competent and professional, but not at the top of the game. The room was packed too closely together and too noisy. For $250 the restaurant should furnish you with more of a quiet hum than a loud roar. Conclusion? The meal did not represent good value for the money. And that's why I was so uncomfortable. I walked out feeling like a mark, a sucker, like we were just conned out of a lot of money.

I feel better now that I figured it out. A day later, mind you, but better late, etc.

Thanks for all the comments!

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:40 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

July 20, 2005

And we were all changed

I went to a meeting last night at the private beach club I belong to out in Westchester. It shall remain without name here for a very good reason, as you will see.

The club is old, about 100 years, and filled with members who grew up there as kids and now are raising their kids there. I have described it before, I think, as idyllic. It is a special and wonderful place, by the water, where kids can be kids and where the older kids are actually nice to the little kids. The Girl Child is at camp there this summer and appears to be having a wonderful time. In short, the place feels like a protected throw back to a more innocent and happier time. I am often soothed just by being there. Seriously. I think it may be a combination of the light, the water, the breeze, and just something in the air. I really do love the place.

Last night, there was a special meeting. It transpired that a child, under the age of six, has alleged that she was assaulted on Sunday night at the club. Now, go back and re-read that sentence very carefully. An allegation was made of an assault.

I think that we all assumed that the assault was sexual in nature, although the police chief who addressed the meeting last night declined any opportunity to confirm that. In fact, and what I thought was particularly interesting, was that the police chief seemed to stress that while they were fully committed to the investigation, they still didn’t necessarily know whether an assault had even been committed.

Kids lie. Little kids lie all the time. They may not mean to, but they do. Our pediatrician says that they simply don’t know the difference between reality and their own thoughts. I don’t envy the police chief his job in sorting out whether an assault actually took place. Either way, it will be a horrible task and everyone who comes into contact with the investigation will be changed in some way. I’m just glad we weren’t there on Sunday night.

I hope that no assault took place. I hope that this turns out to be a huge waste of time and that the child never experienced anything that will change her life. I hope this with a yearning so strong. I hope that if she did tell her story from reality, that the adult who assaulted her is caught swiftly and punished.

I sat in this meeting for over an hour. There was scant information proffered. There was a lot of parental anxiety in the room and some hostile questions for the board of the club and for the police chief. I think that by the end, everyone had calmed down a lot. Both the police and the board seem to be on top of things.

Still, for me at least, something died in that room. No matter how this investigation turns out, it will never be the same for anyone. For me, no longer will I be so quick to pick up a child who has fallen and is crying. I will no longer throw other people’s children around in the kiddy pool when they ask me to after they see me sling my daughter around in the water. I won’t take that risk that an innocent touch, an innocent contact, can be misconstrued or misunderstood. That makes me very sad.

Another thing at the meeting. A woman made the suggestion that the police come and talk to the children at the club about, well, sexual predators. I would not want my child to be included in that discussion. She’s only 4.5 years old and would have way too many questions about things she doesn’t have to know about. She doesn’t have to take responsibility at her age for her own security. That’s my job. That’s why my wife and I do not let her or her brother out of our sight anywhere at any time. We may let them run ahead, but we can always see them. That’s called parenting. When I asked the chief at the meeting what I should tell my daughter about this, since I thought she was too young to have a conversation about sexual predators, there was a small chorus of dissenting voices. That’s fine. They can raise their children and I will raise mine. Right now, I choose that my daughter and my son stay innocent a little bit longer. Right now, my vigilance preserves their idyll. My daughter knows vaguely to be skeptical about strangers. More than that, she’s too young to have to deal with.

I wonder if everyone in the room looked around and wondered if that assault took place, was the assailant in the room with them?

In any event, given the age of the girl, odds are that I know her and her family. I kind of hope I don’t. Either way, my thoughts are with them.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:16 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

19 Days before the first problem hit

The bank and I owned this house for 19 days before the first problem reared its ugly drip. I got a call from my wife who got a call from the contractor that the air conditioning unit in the attic was gushing water onto the floor of the attic and screwing up the ceilings below. Enter crisis mode. Immediate call to a/c people who promised to dash over in the afternoon to see what they could do. Meanwhile, the contractor promised to do what he could do. I took the next train out to CT to see the damage for myself.

First, of course, I stopped for a moment to bang my head on the desk a couple of times. Know why? Because it feels so good when you stop.

I got out to the house just fine. Did I mention that it was in the 90's yesterday and so humid that it felt like you were swimming? Any advantage accrued by living so near to the coast was purely theoretical yesterday.

So, there I was, drowning in my clothes, looking at the pretty new patterns on the ceiling of the guest room and on the ceiling of the first floor below the guest room, when I realized, gee, it isn’t nearly as bad as I feared. The a/c guy fixed the problem easily – blaming it on an improper installation coupled with a filter clogged with saw dust – and I realized that this is only a painting problem at the end of the day. And you know what? I just happened to have a painter standing right there who could fix that problem lickety split as soon as it dried. How about that? In the great scheme of things, not so terrible.

And while I waited for the a/c guy to finish up and then to go forth to procure correctly sized filters and return with them, I hung out outside on my new property. This was probably the longest time I had been there by myself, so far. It’s lovely. Really lovely. A view of old, huge, majestic trees. Pretty little fawns. I heard what I am reliably informed was the sound of some wild turkeys calling in the woods behind. I went ahead and tasted one of the wild strawberries. I pictured my children running around the yard, chasing soccer balls with me. I painted quite the idyllic picture. I was content. Hot, sweaty, dripping, soaked through and disgusting, but content.

And to top it off, the a/c tech serviced my a/c units and told me that they were in great shape and should last for years and years. I heart good news like that.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:11 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 18, 2005

Random Collection of thoughts

Hi, all, I had some random thoughts which, again, don't rise to the level of a post all by themselves and I decided to air 'em all out here:

*Why would anyone ever want to swim in a lake where they do baptisms? I mean, if the water in the lake washes away all of a person's sins, why would you ever want to swim around in all that sin?

*I had forgotten how good the novels of John D. MacDonald are. He's best known for the Travis McGee series. I have, at my parents' house, all 21 of the books. I re-read one of them over the course of the weekend. That's one of the nice things about going home again (despite everyone saying you can't). Becoming re-acquainted with old books. It is like seeing old friends again. Friends you've forgotten, faces you can't place, but personalities which start coming back to you and remind you why you liked them in the first place. Tastes change over time so it is especially fine when you still appreciate the yarns you read 20 years ago. If you stumble across one of his novels, I highly recommend the experience.

*There is a farm about a half a mile from our new house. It is a very small farm. They had a sign out on Sunday advertising fresh tomatoes and corn and squash for sale. I bought some small and ugly tomatoes. They had just been picked that morning. We ate them with blue cheese and onion and fresh basil. It was sublime. It made every other tomato, the ones you buy at the super market, taste like nothing at all. It was what all the other tomatoes aspire to be when they grow up. I think we're going to be regulars at this farm stand.

*I have not been to the beach or in the water for two weeks now. I think I'm going to shrivel up if I don't get some salt air on my skin.

*It rained very hard, very briefly, yesterday. I sent the Girl Child out on to my parents' deck in her bathing suit. She danced and cavorted and gamboled out in the rain with a huge grin on her face. That was kind of magical. When did we all lose the capacity to take delight in a good rain storm? How do we get it back?

*In free moments, my mind is occupied by thoughts of death and dying, by how one dies, by how dying seems to involve a loss of dignity, by how the health care system works, by how the system processes you on your way out. I try not to draw lessons from it all. I do know that I don't ever want to be a burden to my wife or children if it came down to it. That thought fills me with horror. And I worry that I'd be too quick to check out, that I wouldn't fight hard enough, because I wouldn't want to be a burden. I wonder if the really fastidious people die faster.

*I have deer in my yard at the new house. I’d like to plant roses. I hope deer do not eat roses. That would make me sad. I want masses and masses of heavily perfumed roses all over the place.

*Did I mention that my backyard at the new house is practically carpeted with wild strawberries? I heart wild strawberries.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:09 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The kids in the car

We were driving home on Saturday night, after going out for dinner with my parents and a cousin and my grant-aunt, all of whom had been visiting with my grandfather. The children were a little over tired and maybe not on their best behavior. The Girl Child and the Boy Child were squabbling a bit in the back seat. He'd reach over and touch her and she'd object, loudly, and then complain that he was touching her. Then she made a noise that the Boy Child imitated. That infuriated her. She demanded that the Boy Child stop copying her. So, I started to copy her, too. (I never claimed to be a grown up). Then, with all three of us making a huge cacophony, my wife yelled at us all in Norwegian and told us to be quiet. She then told us it was quiet time and the next one to talk would lose.

Silence reigned in the car.

And then a little voice in the backseat whispered: "Boy Child, snakk." [speak]

And he did, of course. And it was all my wife and I could do not to laugh.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 15, 2005

Not blogging today

Nope. Not me. I had an entry roughed out in my head about my experiences at the DMV in CT yesterday, including encounter with anti-semitic whacko and me telling him off, but I don't quite have the motivation to write it up today. I blame the humidity. It made my clothes feel wet walking back from lunch. It sapped my strength and sucked out all motivation.

All I want is a nap. And a drink. And a piece of chocolate. Not necessarily in that order, mind you.

Have a nice weekend, y'all. I'll give this whole blog thing another shot come Monday.

Oh, and by the way, if you are looking for someone who exhibits excellent motivation, great skills, and a sensitive treatment of some beautiful architecture, go check out Mr. Cusack's post on the Old Irish Parliament House. Great pictures, too.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 14, 2005

Go West, Young Man!

I skipped out of work early last night to go up with a friend to a very spiffy little club called the Grolier Club. The Grolier is a bibliophile club. You have to be actively engaged in the book collecting or book dealing world to be a member. They have an astonishing collection and the best library in the country for research on books and book collecting. The club has a beautiful little brownstone in the lower 60's on the East Side. No dining facilities, but you can't have everything, I suppose.

I went, though, not to see the clubhouse but to see an exhibit of manuscripts, maps and artifacts relating to the American West. It was pretty damn cool. Highlights included: a strand from the original Morse telegraph wire; Peter Stuyvesant's signature; Lewis and Clark signatures and letters; Brigham Young letter describing the original trek West; and, the playing cards used by Frank James, Jesse's brother. Here's the text of the hand out:

Rich in natural resources, cultures, legends and opportunities, the American West has made dreamers of generations of Americans. On view at the Grolier Club from May 11 through July 30, 2005, the exhibition The Western Pursuit of the American Dream chronicles the vast historical panorama of the American West through the outstanding holdings of collector Kenneth W. Rendell. Nearly 150 objects document this national adventure through the actual words and artifacts of explorers, travelers, warriors, gold seekers, merchants, outlaws-dreamers all-who shaped the American frontier.

The Western Pursuit begins with the Spanish in Mexico and ends with filmmakers in Hollywood. It chronicles the dream of freedom and opportunity in the West and how it inspired adventures, trade, and legends, exploring the history of the fur trade, cartography, industry, artistry, and Western tourism. The Rendell collection includes fascinating letters, diaries and first-hand descriptions, as well as intriguing western artifacts collected over decades. Rarely-seen volumes such as a first edition of the History of the Expedition…of Captains Lewis and Clark, and personal accounts by explorers, traders, trappers, and travelers provide an intimate glimpse of the West. Its history is also conveyed through remarkable artifacts such as a gold pan used by forty-niners, letters of Davy Crockett and Wild Bill Hickok, Pony Express envelopes, and Frank James' playing cards. As Mr. Rendell has pointed out, "These remnants of the past express, as no historian can, the realities, anxieties, and hope of a new life that the West represented. This sense of hope was not exclusive to the people who actually went there, but was also felt by those who merely fantasized about escaping to the frontier."

The trek by Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their Corps of Discovery is one of America's legendary adventures. Silver peace medals like those used by Lewis and Clark to gain the trust of Indian leaders are on view. An extraordinarily rare, first-edition map of Lewis and Clark's journey, which portrayed far more territory than anticipated and further fueled the lure of the West, is an exhibition highlight.

In the 1840s, the era of Manifest Destiny, Americans were consumed with dreams of settling the West. This period is recalled through a fascinating selection of guidebooks used by travelers to cross the continent. Publications like The Route Across the Rocky Mountains (1846) and A New History of Oregon and California (1847) present a first-hand look at the great overland migration. Miners soon followed and the story of the California gold rush is told through evocative early photographs of miners, panning equipment, travel guides, gold nuggets, and a rare letter by John A. Sutter---all evoking the dream of striking it rich in places where the streets were purportedly paved in gold.

Others found ways to earn a living in the West. Soon after the Civil War, industrialization spread with the transcontinental railroad. Within two years of its completion in 1869, passengers and freight could cross the continent in a matter of days. Stereograph images from events like the Golden Spike Ceremony, and the idealized prints of railroad travel by Currier and Ives fueled enthusiasm for many to pursue opportunity in the West.

The exhibition also reveals the tensions between the romance and the realities of the West, as Davy Crockett stories and tales of cowboys often portrayed an idealized view. Even lore of the infamous outlaw Jesse James depicts a complex character that was both admired and loathed in his day, while the legendary Pony Express is shown to have been a short-lived venture that operated for only 18 months. Similarly, the widespread public fascination in the 19th century with Native American culture and artifacts, even as the U.S. government worked to eradicate traditional Indian communities, is examined.

The Western Pursuit concludes with a look at how the history of the West was further codified in the twentieth century by Hollywood film studios. "It is important to remember that the people presented in this exhibition were dreamers," said Mr. Rendell. "In fact, the American West still inspires modern-day dreams in industry, education, and business. This is the story of the pursuit of dreams. You could say it is the story of human nature itself."

We capped the evening off with private drinks in the lounge and conversation. It was delightful. Boy did it make me miss living in the City.

I just missed my 7:10 train home so I had to console myself with a glass of Champagne with a friend at a restaurant bar in the PanAm (not called that anymore but I intend to keep calling it that) Building. And to top it all off, the 28 year old bartender, a delightful young woman who is an excellent judge of men, flirted with me. A lot.

Some nights just make the day totally worthwhile.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 13, 2005

Rare books

Books and manuscripts are interesting things, I think. I spend way too much of my day reading things in electronic form. Just pixels on a screen arranged to form letters or images all to convey information. It is a rather cold and lifeless experience. To me, reading online can never replace the book. The book is a much fuller experience. The heft of it, the feeling of the papers on your fingers, the sound it makes when you turn the page, the slippery cover of a new book, the excitement of turning the page. Reading a book is tactile. Reading a screen is not.

Older books are more tactile still because they also smell different. The bindings are often nicer, too. There is something quite wonderful about a nice binding.

I have been thinking, idly, about old books and manuscripts of late. About the attraction they hold for so many collectors. Heck, even used books can become an obsession for some. Ever been to the Strand in NYC? Or browse the book sellers along the Seine in Paris? Addictive, I tell you.

But none of this would have been possible without the invention of moveable type and the printing press. Without Gutenberg, who can say just how we'd be transmitting information and ideas to large numbers of people. I don't think it's a stretch to say that Gutenberg made our world possible and without him, the world would be completely different.

At least, that's what I was thinking the other day when I found myself in the NY Public Library (Main Branch, 41st and 5th), very near my office, all by myself, except for a guard, contemplating the first Gutenberg Bible to make its way to these fair shores. They have it on display at the library. I stood there, all alone, and contemplated the page printed in 1455, the page that changed the world.

Go see it if you can. It's on display until the end of the year. I think it may be the most important thing ever to happen. If you disagree, I'm happy to debate it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:59 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Odd little fact for today

Did you know that light bulbs used in the NY City transit system screw in counter-clock wise? Most light bulbs screw in clock wise. This means that if you steal a light bulb out of the subway, you can't use it at home.

And no, I did not learn this little fact by trying it out for myself. My father told me. I don't know if he learned it from experience, but you never know and I didn't ask.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:22 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 12, 2005

An Episode

NOTE: I wrote the below post on Monday, July 11, at around 9:00 in the morning. Internet is down at work so I can’t post it.

An episode. What an innocuous word, episode. It might just mean that the next installment of whatever vacuous television show currently in vogue is due to be aired. Or it might mean something far worse. It might mean a sudden and unexpected incident or manifestation of deterioration.

The latter meaning is what I am referring to. Or rather, what the doctors were referring to when my grandfather was hospitalized again this weekend. The medical types attribute it to an episode. All by itself, that word means nothing. It certainly doesn’t function as a word should. It does nothing to explain or elucidate. Indeed, if anything, it invites further words, questions, demands for understanding. I suppose, as words go, it is a flag word in the medical community. By flag word, I mean a word that should stand up on the page and look like a big flag waving and telling the reader, hey, stop and inquire here.

He slumped over into his lunch on Saturday. He was confused. He has, in the last six weeks, lost 10% of his body weight. He lacked the strength, all of a sudden, to keep his head up. This from a man who played fullback on the Harvard Freshman team in the 1930's. He didn’t know where he was. He told people, when asked, that he thought he was in Texas or Boston or Norway. It’s like he’s already gone. My uncle E was with him. E is a psychiatrist and lives in California. Lots of business for shrinks in California, I gather. E is a lovely man, very bright, very compassionate. I’m glad he was there to ride herd on things.

E dined with us on Sunday night. After dinner was over, he pulled me to one side and he told me that my name appeared on certain legal documents for my grandfather. I didn’t know what he was talking about. E is my grandfather’s health care proxy and also holds his durable power of attorney. E explained that I was selected by my grandfather to be the backup on both of these documents. Upshot? If my uncle is unavailable and there is a question about whether my grandfather is to be intubated, that decision will be mine to make. When my uncle asked my grandfather if he had discussed this with me, my grandfather told him, no, but that “RP is incorruptible”. I gather that is a reference to the fact that with a durable power of attorney, I could sell his house if I wanted to.

I was and am flabbergasted. E pointed out to me that this decision by my grandfather, taken some time ago, might be regarded as very sensitive in the family and was otherwise not generally known and maybe, unless circumstances required, might be better left unknown. I couldn’t agree more. My grandfather has three children and six grandchildren. I think it would cause hard feelings if it was known that I was picked instead of, say, his other son. On the other hand, I feel immensely honored to have been so trusted by this man who I admire above all others. There isn’t much more to say about that. Except, maybe, that I am nervous about ever having to make a decision about whether, say, heroic measures should be used to preserve my grandfather’s life. We’ve never spoken about it, he and I. I wish he had initiated that conversation since he had picked me to make that decision, under certain circumstances. I wish I knew more about his wishes. Especially now, when my uncle tells me that my grandfather lacks the competence to make these decisions or to even have the conversation.

That’s not to say that he doesn’t have moments of heartrending lucidity. Saturday night, in the middle of his “episode”, he reached for my uncle’s hand and said to him, “E, it is very hard coming into this world and it is equally hard to go out of it”. I cried, just a little, when my uncle told me this. It was like the curtain got pulled back for just a moment and my grandfather was able to peer out and report back. And we were able to get a glimpse of how it is on the inside for him, said with his usual devastating understatement. He’s dying, or at least thinks he is, and in that moment communicated that he knew it. It must be a terrible thing to be able to contemplate, at a leisurely pace, your own mortality as something more than a distant philosophical construct. To lay there and review your life, weighing the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, and consider its cessation. No more kisses from children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. No more responsibility to provide, to protect, to act as pater familias, to be the head of a family.

Of course, because of the dementia, I gather that these moments are few. But I guess that while he does have them, he puts them to good use, as evidenced by his comment to my uncle.

I’m glad that we went over on Friday night with my parents and my children. Four generations in his room at the rehab facility. We gathered, at my suggestion, to celebrate Shabbat with him. My wife brought candle sticks and matches and I bought challah. He sat in his wheel chair and joined us in the prayers over the bread and the kindling of the Sabbath lights. He ate his piece of challah. My dad made him.

The eating thing, or not eating thing, according to my uncle is a combination of three things which suppress appetite: pain; pain killing medication; and depression. All of which lead to weight loss and to muscle loss. This leads to loss of mobility and makes him more suceptible to infection and less able to fight off an infection if it comes. According to my uncle, this is what could end his life.

Still, hope is not over. My mother says that while she is hopeful, she is not optimistic. She spoke to him this morning and he told her that he’s ready for this bad luck to be over. If that’s true, maybe he hasn’t given up fighting. My uncle thinks my grandfather is at the point of no return, or close to it. They are going to put in a feeding tube to bring his weight back up. If they can, and he has the will to come back, it might work. As my mother said to me this morning, if he doesn’t want to come back, they won’t be able to bring him back.

I’m glad we saw him on Friday night. I’m glad I picked up my son and held him so that he could give my grandfather a kiss goodnight. Thinking about that now, actually, is making me choke up. So, I think I’ll stop writing now.

I have my fingers crossed. I just don’t know if it will do any good.

By the way, assuming you went this far, I am not re-reading this before posting it. I don’t think I can, frankly.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:07 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

July 08, 2005

London, continued

My entry on London yesterday sparked an argument on my comment board. Fair enough. We're all adults and can handle the bruising comment and the rough and tumble free exchange of ideas.

But when it comes to a reaction to what happened in London, Mia said it best. Go read her Fuck Off Letter. I have nothing to add but that I found it inspirational.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:43 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Taking things for granted

We all take things for granted. Basic things, simple things. It's normal, isn't it? You live in a routine, for the most part, and the more routine, the more dependable the thing is, the more you stop noticing it. For instance, you don't really notice each time you take a breath, do you? You don't notice the pavement you walk on, unless you trip because the frost heave has caused the pavement to twist or buckle, right? You expect the pavement to be relatively uniform in height and so you get accustomed to lifting your feet a predictable number of inches off the ground with each step. Then you stumble because the height has changed, even just a little bit.

Routine can be good like that. It can, at its best, free up your mind for other things. When you're walking, you can be thinking about anything you want because you already know that the pavement doesn't require anything even close to your full attention to be able to keep on moving along.

I like routine. No, that's too much. I am comforted by routine but I crave something else other than routine.

Ok. This damn post is going off in two or three different directions, none of which were intended when I began to click away at the keyboard.

Let me return to my first thought and leave routine and the pluses and minuses thereof alone for a bit.

What else do I take for granted? The sun coming up, the light turning on when I hit the switch, the chair supporting my weight when I sit in it, a dial tone when I pick up the phone, that my body will move when I will it to. Ah, the last one. My body moving.

Body moving is partially about health. Health is something that too many of us take for granted. And if we don't take it for granted, we only pay it lip service. We assume that our joints will work and our body will move when we command it to. We assume that and we take it for granted. Really. When was the last time you thought about moving your leg, or standing up when you were seated. When was the last time you traced your movments, slowly, to see what actually was happening? Probably not recently, if ever.

You learn something, it works, you take it for granted that it will work that way forever.

I took my children yesterday to various medical appointments. The Boy Child had his 2.5 year check up. The "Dock-her" said he was perfect. When we got home from the appointment, the Boy Child clutching his new matchbox truck or, if he's speaking Norwegian, his "ah-ah bil", ran around showing his grandmother and his sister his "art" (heart) because the dock-her listened to it, his "ouchie" because the "mommy" (nurse) gave him a shot, and his band-aid. For the record, he gained weight despite his steadfast refusal to eat and he grew. He is now 29 pounds and stands 36.25 inches tall. This puts him in the 48th percentile for weight and the 52nd for height. Like the dock-her said, perfect.

The Girl Child had a dental check up. It went just fine, as it should. She was brave, did not cry, and selected an extra toy out of the box to bring home for her brother. She also, I think for the first time, consciously spoke to me in Norwegian to avoid other people understanding what we were talking about. I think she is beginning to grasp the notion that Norwegian can be her secret language and I think she likes it. We had, by the way, the most overqualified dental assistant ever. She was a dentist herself, just graduated from dental school and temping until her post-doc program starts at NYU Dental in the fall.

On the way home, we drove past a cemetery and she had a lot of questions about death, dead people, how they were buried and why. She also wanted to stop by and visit her great-grandfather, about whom I've written before.

He is in his 90's and is a most impressive man. He's also someone who never seems to take anything for granted, not the important things, not his mind or the small pleasures vouchsafed us by our creator -- the joy of a ripe summer tomato, for instance.

But his mind is going. It's cloaked. His doctors told my mother and my uncle (a shrink) that he is suffering from mild to moderate dementia. The things he has taken for granted, that we have all taken for granted, are no longer to be treated so. He is disappearing before our eyes.

It was quite a contrast yesterday, my children in perfect health and my grandfather at the end of his.

Here's the rub for me. He is not eating and I understand that. This broken hip and confusion of the mind is robbing him of his dignity and pride. He has loads of both. I understand his not wanting to live without them. But you know what? I miss him already.

While I had the Girl Child at the dentist, my wife visited my grandfather with the Boy Child. She told me later that my grandfather's face lit up when the Boy Child kissed him. It's these little things, like kisses, that we ought not to take for granted.

You can't live your life taking note of every single thing. But every now and again, examine your world and marvel at it. It will do you good, I bet.

Sorry if this one turns out to be as confused a mess as it felt while I wrote it. But, you take the good with the bad, right? Even if the bad is a really long post.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:33 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

July 07, 2005


I am totally numb with the news from London. I used to live there and I know the places those cowards bombed.


Helen, thank goodness, was not in London today.

May God's mercy and light shine down today on London.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:23 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

July 05, 2005


I am back at work today for the first day in a week (feels like a month) and back blogging for the first time in a week (feels like a couple of months).

Thanks for all the lovely comments you all left on my last post regarding the move. I'll try to update below. But since this isn't really a journal, I'm just going to do it in a series of random observations and vignettes, as is my wont, rather than tell a blow by blow account.

*We got packed up and moved out. I learned a little something about myself during that process. I packed over 50 boxes of books but only 2 boxes of DVD/Video tapes.

*I did buy a bottle of Champagne for the buyers of my house. I couldn't not. Karma, etc.

*Watching all your stuff disappear into boxes and then loaded on a truck is both scary and liberating. All the important stuff is with me: my family. The rest could just totally disappear and, sure, there would be times I'd have pangs of regret for certain sentimental items, but by and large I think it would not be a big deal. That's the thing about sentimental items. You have them because they evoke memories and the memories are the things that are precious, not the items in and of themselves. I have always opted for the things that evoke memories and not just the things for having things.

*I am a sentimental person. I don't do change well. I really don't. And yet, I have nothing but relief and happiness to be out of that house. Really. Couldn't be happier. I always like to be the last person out of whatever place we're living in. I like to be the one to lock the door for the last time and savor the poignancy of saying goodbye to a place. No poingancy here. Except for a moment. It was Wednesday. The movers had loaded everything out. I was alone in the house waiting for the cable guy to come pick up the cable box. The heavens had opened up. Rain was pouring down and all I could do was sit in the little window seat, waiting for the cable guy, hoping fervently that no new leaks would appear and that this damn house would let me go. I sat there, happy in my no sadness about leaving state, and then I noticed that the glass on the front window overlooking the street was smeared with marks. And then I had a pang. The marks were made by my children as they would wave to whoever was leaving. They would kneel on the window seat and blow kisses and wave and lean against the glass and smear it and streak it with their palms and fingers. I looked at the rain falling through the smears and listened to the rain echoing in the empty house and just for a moment, I was sad about leaving. After all, we brought our son home to this house. And then I remembered, I was bringing my son with me. No need to be sad.

*Almost every day last week I got to peek in, while the movers took lunch break, at my daughter who was at camp at the local beach club we belong to. It was her first summer there. I visited her life every day. See, as a working parent, I don't share much of my child's life. She lives her life -- at school or camp or play -- and I live mine at work. Our lives intersect for a couple of hours a day, at best. So observing her at play at camp, without her noticing on one occasion, was like a really sinful dessert. I savored it. I ate up the expression on her face as she took in the fact that I was where she did not expect to see me. I also stumbled on a truth. Science has said that the most attractive, the sweetest sound to any person is the sound of their own name. Untrue. The sweetest sound is someone else calling the name of my child. I loved listening to her counselor call her name while they had beach play time.

*The close on the house we were selling was easy. It was nice to feel rich for an evening. The lawyer for the other side was an hour late due to a flat tire.

*The close on the house we were buying was not easy. Our closing statement required 45 minutes to review to make sure it was correct. The lawyer for the sellers was on time but was a slime ball. We found water in the basement in the utility area where water had not been seen previously. That made me unhappy. I had, happily, thought to bring with me my digital camera and took a picture of the seepage. This became important later. We argued about the water. The closing took 5.5 hours. I wanted money in escrow in case it was a serious problem. The sellers did not want money in escrow. Then the lawyer told me that the basement may be covered by a warranty from Basement Systems (“BS”). Fine, I said, check with the seller. And then we had the following conversation when he (Charley) returned:

Charley: I checked with the sellers. The basement is covered by a 25 year warranty from BS.

Me: [thinking it over] Charley, would appear to have left an unfortunate ambiguity in the conversation. Did BS do work in the utility portion of the basement such that the warranty runs to that portion?

Charley: [long pause] No. [bullshit, right? I mean, that was the impression he was trying to finesse his way into, to mislead me into believing, right?]

Me: So, now I have to ask, with respect to the remainder of the basement, are we now in year 26 of that warranty?

Charley: [offended] No!

Sellers’ Broker to me: What do you do for a living?

Me: I’m an attorney and I do complex corporate litigation. [turning to Charley]. But Charley already figured that out, right Charley?

Charley: [nodding his head] Yes, I did.

Upshot? Money is being held in escrow pending my satisfaction concerning the water.

We were exhausted at the end of the close.

*Our contractor was in by Saturday and the painting has started. I think, tentatively, that I’m going to love the new house. Remember, not big on change, me. So I am kind of shocked I can’t seem to locate any buyer’s remorse. I think my wife is more shocked.

*Picked up a nasty cold right in the middle of this. I think it was from the stress just breaking my body down.

*The weekend was spent at the beach. I swam out to the float the club keeps in the middle of the Sound and lay out on it for 15 minutes or so while it rocked in the waves. I felt safe and protected out there. Odd, no? I think it had something to do with the motion and the sound and the light. I heart the ocean. Deeply. I used to think I preferred the mountains. I was wrong.

*We have all taken up residence at my parents. My wife and I are on an air mattress in my old room and the kids are in my sister’s old room. The Boy Child chatters at night and the Girl Child complains that his noise is “disturbing” her. I can hear her at night telling him to be quiet.

*The Boy Child is 110% stubborn mixed with the terrible two’s. He is unmovable and willing to push every single issue to the brink. I admire this “damn the consequences” attitude. He stands there, refusing to listen, and when the tone of my voice gets more serious, the thumb goes in his mouth and he starts sucking furiously as he continues to defy. The trick I face is how to get him to listen without doing anything to break his spirit. This requires more thought than I ever anticipated.

*I hate being back at the office. I miss my kids. This is not new, mind you. It is, rather, a constant refrain running quietly in the background.

*What else do I want to remember about this week? Beats me, right now. If I think of anything else, I’ll update.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:58 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack