December 28, 2006

Inspiration took the long way around

I was waiting and waiting for inspiration to strike. Instead, it seems to have taken the long way around and gently pinched me behind the knee. I have had a confusing couple of weeks, packed with changes, and not a lot of time to reflect on their meanings or ramifications. In no particular order:

*As of Jan. 1, I am a partner in my law firm. I have mixed emotions about this. Very mixed. It complicates things greatly.

*My mother started chemo.

*The Boy Child, yesterday, fell and cut his face from the corner of his left eye to almost the side of his face. The plastic surgeon believes it will leave a scar. I take him back tomorrow morning for another consultation. I am simply very sad.

*The Viking Bride has decided that she wants to stop working outside the home and instead devote her considerable talents and energy to caring full time for our brood. This has consumed much of my thinking. I am concerned about the finances (very real since she is particularly well thought of at her job and compensated accordingly), about the changes for my relationship with her, about the changes she may experience, about how my relationship with the children will change (will I be more of an outsider now that she is spending vastly more time with them?), and, well, just how it all would work.

*And, if she does stay home, we are kicking around the idea of her taking the kids to Norway for an extended visit (4-6 weeks) this coming summer without me. That's a long time for us all to be away from each other. And it was my idea.

*I am consumed by hope and tortured by thoughts that a certain family enterprise is going to work out such that we could afford, no sweat, to have the Viking Bride no longer contributing to the family coffers and I would no longer have to earn my bread by practicing law. These thoughts are not healthy as they depend on a million things, all outside my control, and thus verge on fantasy. Even if this fantasy flies, it ain't gonna happen before 2008. That's a long time to wait to see if a fantasy is going to come true and a lot can happen in between.

Yup, just a whole lot going on.

I cannot wait to turn the page on this year. As if the act of writing a new year on the next to do list will magically transform everything. As if.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:50 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 15, 2006


The title of this post is the sound that the candle makes when both ends, both furiously aflame, meet in the center. I discovered it last night. I mean, I absolutely heard the sound. But first, a little background.

It has been a long week. My normal routine has my alarm bleeping at 4:40 to catch the 5:16 train to be at the gym at 6:30. This is my every work day routine. So, I kind of like to be in bed by no later than 10 at night. If I cannot be in bed because I have some obligation or another, I tend not to cut myself any slack on the next morning side of the equation. I just tough it out.

Tuesday, I was taken out by my old college room mate. It was in celebration of my birthday past. We dined at Cafe Boulud. It was yummy -- wild mushroom soup, venison, a chesnut mousse Mont Blanc -- all washed down with a very nice Mersault. We dined a bit on the early side so we could make the 8:00 lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where the architect Richard Meier was speaking about his career, illustrating his talk with slides, of course. He was very good, very interesting and very patient with the uniformly insipid and vapid questions that followed. All in all, a wonderful evening, the kind of evening you kind of take for granted in New York City sometimes. I managed to catch the 9:37 train home and was in bed by 11:30. The baby, teething, was up seven times before the alarm went off.

Wednesday was tired. The whole day. I was supposed to have dinner with a very good client that night but I am happy to say that he cancelled. I arrived home normal time to find the Boy Child happily expressing surprise at my unexpected arrival.

BC: Pappa! You're home! I thought you were out for dinner tonight?

Me: Well, I was supposed to be but it was cancelled.

BC: Did you call your friend and tell him, 'Fawget about it! I want to go home and see my chillwen!'?

Me: Almost exactly like that, sweetheart. Almost exactly.

But Thursday, last night, was going to be the bear of all nights. I am on the boards of two organizations. Both had their parties last night. Same night. The first one I made sure to be at early because the Club serves, for the Member Christmas Party, all the end of bin yummy wines. I drank five glasses in about an hour -- a Fronsac (a red Bordeaux) and four white Burgundy's (2 chassagne montrachet and 2 pouligny montrachet). White Burgundy is sunshine made liquid. The Viking Bride joined me in time for one or two glasses.

Then we beat feet up to the Harvard Club to attend the other party. I chose not to drink any of their wine. Typical party Chardonnay. I mean, can you blame a guy? To go from liquid sunshine to sucking on an oak barrel? But we only stayed for a bit because we had to join our friend who kindly included us in his invitation to join him and 10 others for a private dinner party following the Christmas party. He took us all to DB Bistro Moderne. Yes, if you are keeping count, that means Daniel Boulud fed me dinner this week as often as I will have eaten at home. My friend gave us lovely wines -- more mersault and a Barolo. I ate way too well -- the house smoked salmon, the DB Burger Royale (that would be a burger made from sirloin and "filled with braised short ribs, foie gras, black truffle" and "layered with shaved black truffle"), and the milk chocolate mousse. Dinner was lively and entertaining and went on a bit long.

How long?

We missed the 11:22 train home. We ended up taking a car.

I bet you are still wondering about the popping sound I led this post off with; assuming you are still reading.

The popping noise came when my bon vivant friend leaned across the table and asked: "Don't you think we should have a bottle of Champagne with dessert?"

*POP* The candle exploded when I agreed with him. Just blew up.

I turned the bedside light out at 1:05.

The alarm went off at 4:40 and I made my tired way to the gym where I did make the full workout.

I just think, maybe, I left everything out on the gym floor. Because that candle? It is not giving off any more light today.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:46 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

December 12, 2006

Behind the Curtain: Charles Gridley

It seems like forever and a day since I have done one of these. But, over the weekend, I got thinking about famous American naval sayings. You know them: "Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!" or "I have barely begun to fight" or "You may fire when ready, Gridley". And I got to wondering, who the heck was Gridley?

Are you wondering? Probably not. But am I going to let that stop me? Heck, no.

On May 1, 1898, the United States Navy was engaged in combat operations in the Philippines. Specifically, we were fighting the Battle of Manila. a key naval battle during the Spanish-American War. There is an interesting website devoted to it. But, if you don't feel like clicking away, basically, the battle was a huge victory for the American fleet and established the US Navy as a major world force as the fleet, under the command of Commodore Dewey, the US fleet sailed in under the Spanish guns into Manila Bay and destroyed the vastly larger Spanish fleet with practically no loss of life for the Americans (although great loss of life for the Spanish).

Dewey was on the USS Olympia -- the third oldest surviving warship (after the Constellation and the Constitution). The Olympia, a National Historic Landmark (an odd thing to call something important that floats, don't you think?) is in Philadelphia at the Independence Seaport Museum:


It was on the Olympia that Commodore Dewey gave those famous instructions to Captain Gridley: "You may fire when ready, Gridley". He gave this command after enduring Spanish fire for about a half an hour, in order to position his fleet exactly where he wanted them to be able to best engage the Spanish fleet. Gridley was the Captain of the Olympia.


Gridley left his command shortly after the capture of Manila and died, as a result of illness, on May 25, 1898, on his way to Japan.

Gridley was a native of Indiana and a graduate of the US Naval Academy. He was involved in the Civil War, fighting for Farragut during the Battle of Mobile Bay.

Gridley may have been forgotten by many, but not by the Navy, who has named an Arleigh Burke class destroyer for him, to be commissioned February 2007 in Florida. Here she is after her "float off":


-and the Christening-


-and her first sea trial-

Sea Trial3_jpg.jpg

The best on-line biography I've seen of Captain Gridley is here. He was buried in Erie, PA:

Gridley Grave_01_JPG.jpg

I hope you enjoyed this; I enjoyed researching and writing it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:03 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

I could use a manual

I mean it, a manual would be good. Something I could consult in times of stress or difficulty. Or maybe I just take everything way too seriously. But, just the same, there I was last night, just me and the Girl Child and she told me about a problem she was having in school. I knew that there was a problem and I knew that getting her to tell me about it would be difficult, not because we don't talk but because asking a not quite six year old to figure out what was upsetting them was maybe a lot to ask.

I had received some clues. Recently she asked me for her own cell phone because "sometimes school isn't fun" and she wanted to be able to call home and tell people it wasn't fun. If that isn't a major clue that our happy-to-go-to-school child was not happy. . .

It boiled down to this -- her now former best friend doesn't like her anymore and says mean things to her when she is not otherwise ignoring her. For instance, when the former best friend questioned her about Christmas, and the Girl Child said she doesn't celebrate Christmas, the other girl called her a grinch.

I wish you could have seen the Girl Child as she struggled to explain all this to me last night -- sitting at the kitchen table; hair glistening wet from the bath; nibbling daintily on her snack; and an expression of hurt and confusion (confusion because she didn't understand what was going on). I knew that this was going to happen to her one day, that one day another girl would turn on her and attack her. She is basically a straightforward child and not used to this mode of relations. I didnít want to tell her that it was because girls often do mean things to each other while boys donít, at that age.

Instead, I struggled. What, I thought, was the right thing to say to her? How to guide her? My first reaction was that she had triggered all of my protective instincts and I wanted to defend my little cub. But, here's the thing -- it isn't about me, I decided. It was about her.

So, I told her, after reflection, that I had three suggestions. And after explaining to her what a suggestion was, since she asked, I gave them to her.

1. Speak to her. Tell her that you don't understand what's going on and ask her if she wants to talk about it, discuss it, and see if the problem can't be solved. Then, if it cannot, be solved, go to No. 2.

2. Never let the other side see you are upset. Pretend, on your part, that the other girl herself does not exist. If they are trying to be hurtful, then don't let them. In some ways, I told her, you can only be hurt if you give someone else permission.

3. Don't let insults or attacks go unaddressed. I told her, "Nobody plays for free". She says something to you that you perceive is an insult, you reply, "You. Are. An. Idiot. And I don't talk to idiots". Then walk away. I explained to her that just as she is supposed to stick up for her brothers, that she has to stick up for and protect herself. I told her that sometimes it was not a nice world and that if she wanted not to be picked on, she had to stand up for herself.

She said she understood it. I hope so. I do hope that she figures this out a bit.

I tried as best I could to distill all the wisdom I possess on these points down to small, easily understandable nuggets for her. I suspect we will have that conversation again. My wife thought I might have been a bit too heavy for a not quite six year old. I donít know. Do you think that I handled that correctly?

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:20 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

December 04, 2006

Slowing the Pace Down

Sunday was a day spent slowing down to the pace of a three year old.

By way of background, the Girl Child had a friend last year in pre-school. The friend had a mother who was possessed of a strange brand of militant feminism. She convinced the girls in the Girl Child's class that "girl power" was better than "boy power". This divisive nonsense has continued to this day and the upshot is that the Boy Child has become upset that he is a boy, that he has "boy power" and not "girl power" and that maybe he'd rather be a girl. I think that this is ridiculous. The Viking Bride thinks that this is ridiculous. I have come to loathe this other mother, by the way. This attitude is not what we want our kids exposed to or influenced by. So, it was time to take corrective action. It was time to show BC just how cool it can be to be a boy. And yes, he already knew that only boys can write their names in the snow, but we have not had any snow yet!

So, it was time for a Boys Day Out, just me and BC. We caught the 8:33 train out of Westport on Sunday morning to go into the City. As you may know, trains occupy a large percentage of his thoughts on a daily basis, that is, when he's not thinking about planes or buses. So taking a train was already a good start. He talked, loudly and excitedly, the whole way into the City. The conductor gave him his own ticket on which the conductor punched out a smiley face. More excitement!

We arrived in Grand Central and walked up to Madison Avenue to catch a bus. This was a big moment for him. We had to run a little bit but did manage to get on a bus going our way. The Boy Child yelled at me to sit down quickly because he was afraid the bus would start moving. When we got off, we had to pause to watch the bus head off again.

I had decided, while taking the train in, that we were going to have our Boys Day Out completely at his pace. So, if he wanted to watch a bus pull away from the curb, or even three buses pull away, that's what we were going to do, his little hand firmly tucked in mine.

We then walked off to a private club I am a member of, both of us in our blue blazers. We sat for a while in the Reading Room, overlooking Fifth, so that he could watch the buses go by some more. Then we took the "Elligator" down to the basement to have a swim. We stopped at the door so I could show him the sign -- "MEN ONLY" and he said to me, "I are a man!". We stripped down naked and hit the whirl pool which is really about the size of a kiddy pool. He liked it and enjoyed getting out to press the button to activate the jets. Again, we did whatever he wanted to do so we kept getting in and out to walk over to look at the lion's head fountain and to take long ways back because certain paths were "closed" and "the police might stop us". Eventually, I coaxed him into the big pool and we played on the steps there where I chatted with a much older man and told him about our boy-esteem building mission. He helped out by later telling the Boy Child in the changing room how much fun it was to be boy and the Boy Child agreed. The one thing the Boy Child did not care for was the sauna, but he gave it a shot.

After swimming, he kept me company and "we" shaved together. I put shaving cream on his hands and, after watching me, he rubbed it all over his cheeks so that he could shave too. He was concerned about whether the razor hurt and when I told him that it did, sometimes, he decided not to remove the cream with a razor but would wait until he was older. The other men thought he was adorable with the shaving cream on his cheeks. And, of course, he was.

Then we went up to see the Men's Squash Lounge and watch some other boys playing squash. I think he was getting a kick out of being only where boys were allowed to go. After a little squash viewing and some more elligator riding, we went off to brunch where after discussing how boys need to eat protein, the Boy Child was indulged to his heart's content (and the boy has a big heart) with the dessert buffet. He was, by this point, getting in to the boy thing because he called across the dining room to me when a woman came in -- "Pappa! There's a girl here!" I explained that it was ok.

After brunch, we watched some more buses go by and then, appropriately re-covered up, we walked the five blocks up to the Plaza Hotel building to see where Eloise lives. That was exciting for him since he likes the Eloise books. Then, we went into Bergdorf's Men's Store so he could push the revolving door. That was the whole point of that visit, to go through that. After Bergdorf's we made our way down Madison Avenue, pausing whenever a bus went by to watch its progress up the avenue. We continued our walk down, turning East on 54th Street again, where we happened to pass by the B. Club. The B. is an all male, very exclusive private club and I am not a member. So, of course, we didn't hesitate but went right in where, after explaining to the attendant what our mission was, were invited into the inner sanctum to see the huge Christmas tree and to be treated to a discussion by the attendant of why being a boy was so cool.

After leaving the B., we wandered into Citicorp Center where I recalled they had their display of holiday trains. It is, hands down, the most elaborate display of model trains I have ever seen. We spent an hour looking at it and I only managed to entice The Boy Child away by mentioning the waffles at the Norwegian Seaman's Church, where we were going to stock up on supplies for the Viking Bride. We continued our walk over there, on 52nd between 2nd and 1st. Are you getting the impression that for a little boy he did a lot of walking? Well he did and with not a single word of complaint, either. We walked totally at his pace.

The people at the Church were very nice and we shopped and got waffles and coffee (he declined a cup, although I offered, much to the horror of the older women who may not have realized I was joking). After our visit, we went off to catch a bus down 2nd to go back to the train. To the Boy Child's huge delight, it was a "tic-ya-lated" bus (an articulated bus). We rode all the way down, got off, waited to watch it leave, and he held my hand and skipped all the way over to Grand Central Terminal so we could catch our train, the 3:07.

His wonderful behavior continued for the whole train ride home. And to cap off the perfect Boy's Day Out, he captivated a five year old girl who was really adorable. She kept coming over to show the Boy Child her stuffed dog. Her parents had to yell at her because she wanted to keep talking to him as their stop came up. She made sure to lean in at the window and wave to him as she walked down the station platform. He is sure going to break some hearts, I think.

All in all, it was just a grand way to spend a day. And I thought you all might enjoy reading about it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:13 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack