September 04, 2004

I'm a liar.

I lied about something really important today. I told my daughter that there are no monsters in the world and that she is safe and that there really isn't anything scary. The thing is, she doesn't need, at 3 1/2, to know differently. But I know.

This woman knows:


Evil walks the earth and kills children for some perceived political gain. I don't know what it is. I sit, this morning, with my coffee and I look upon my daughter and I am so ineffably sad and I try so hard not to show it to her because she doesn't need that.

But I wonder, are we next? Will it be some pre-school in Tacoma or Miami or White Plains?

And so I sit there and I watch her and I know that I cannot keep her safe. And I lie to her. But I cannot lie to myself.

There are monsters and they bring terror in the name of Islam. I shy away from writing that last sentence because I know that muslim does not mean terrorist. I was raised to think differently and I like to think that I know differently. But something has gone terribly wrong somewhere if adherents to a creed or a cause or a system of beliefs think they are right and justified in shooting children in the back as they flee a burning building.

I lie to my daughter and tell her there are no monsters. But there are. And I fear. I am so very afraid.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:31 AM | Comments (9)

September 01, 2004

Baseball Economics and the Girl Child

I just put the Girl Child to bed after watching the Yankees / Indians game. We watched Jorge Posada hit a home run and I remarked that he was pretty good. She then said that she was not such a good baseball player and I told her that she was not a professional and we had the following exchange:

Me: They are professionals and they get paid.

Girl Child: They get paid? Money? To play baseball?

Me: Yes.

GC: [Stunned silence for a moment] Well, I don't know . . . [More silence] Well, I don't know EVEN what to say.

Never too early to learn it is absurd to pay men to play a kid's game.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:40 PM | Comments (9)

August 31, 2004

Art. Rape. Politics. Gender. Power: a reflection

My dad gave me a copy of "The Rape of the Masters", by Roger Kimball which I am trying to read on the train in the evenings. This is a great read and you should run to the store and grab a copy.

A little background first. I am by vocation a lawyer and by avocation a frustrated architectural historian. I am removed from the formal study of art history by about 15 years now. Having read Kimball's book, I'm happy I did not make art history my vocation.

Kimball's point is that art historians have stopped looking at art, stopped doing research in primary sources (like, say, journals written by artists) in favor instead of projecting their own views of politics, gender, racism, bias, and every other popular ideological movement from the last 30 years onto the painting. They stop looking at the art as art and start to call it a text, which they can thus read and search for hidden meanings "written" into the text. It is at once both absurd and disturbing. The effect is to destroy the art and to deny its important cultural weight, to remove from the art of Van Gogh its special character as something important in Western thought, to thus attack Western thought and culture as itself unimportant and, indeed, oppressive. The art becomes a tool in the hands of those who wish to deny the Western heritage and to disclaim it.

You should read this book. The art historians, secure in some of the most prominent sinecures of academia, are consumed by their own interest in seeing vaginsa (spelling intentional to avoid odd searches), some with teeth, castration concerns, fears of anla raep (sp., again), etc. It is remarkable. Kimball illustrates his point by picking ten paintings, including color plates of them, and then fisking the academics who write about these works and the artists who painted them.

The thing is, I happen to agree that art is political, to a certain extent. Not every work of art is a political message but I do believe that artists reflect and are part of their society, that they reflect to some degree the social mores of the time (whether reacting against or in agreement) and that you can understand art through its social context. What you can't do, however, is reach back with your own concerns and forcibly impose them on the art (which ain't a text) in order to distort the image to meet your own needs. That's uncool. And sloppy, no matter how many foot notes you include.

But the thinking and the material Kimball pokes fun at are seductive. It's fun to try to do this, as an intellectual exercise. While riding the train this morning, I tried to engage in this exercise. I envisioned Munch's painting, The Scream, and tried to write about it as if I were a modern art historian. The Scream is about a lot of things. I doubt strongly that it is about any of the things I subscribe to it below in the EXTENDED ENTRY (click away, if you dare).

Let the game begin (please note that I have done no research on this and am not copying anybody else's silly ideas, ok?):

Munch's Scream: An Essay on Sexual and Gender Confusion


Here we have before us a "painting", a text, if you will which lends itself to a close reading of the pseudo-sexual conflict and confusion Munch was experiencing at the time he created this, to the extent that any man can create as man was not made to give birth.

Look at the sinuous lines of the water and the air and how they are echoed in the form of the Screamer, a figure left ambiguous as to its gender. It is bald, perhaps a woman shorn of her hair, disfigured by society and robbed of her crowning glory, made unrecognizable in her robes. Or is it a man, thrown into conflict between his feminine nature, as made evident by his long, beautiful hands, and his angular, hard body. What horror does s/he contemplate? What is s/he looking at? For, by becoming the viewer, s/he becomes the viewed and is merging the two experiences into a text replete with meaning and submeanings. Much of this text can only be discerned by a careful and rigorous reading.

If it is a he, is he consumed by his fear of castration? By his overwhelming sense that society has removed his manhood? Note, if you will, that he is robed in black. Is he mourning his loss? His powerlessness? His hands held to his face in shock as the painter/surgeon wields his knife. We know that Munch's father was an Army doctor. Munch would not have been unfamiliar with surgery or the consequences and perhaps a close reading allows us to see that here, even if Munch himself was unconscious of it, as he must have been.

Or is his/her gender subsumed by questions of fear, questions of how a repressive society forced him to choose? We can see that in the approaching figures in the top hat. They clearly represent all of the rigid, patriarchal hierarchy in all its horrible repressive self. Note how that top hat thrusts into the air, punctuating the painting with a phallic object as if to mock the subject, to show the screamer what has been taken from him. It is clear, is it not, that the only permissible use of the penis here is where it is harnessed and restrained by existing societal expectations. The artist fears the penis and he constrains it within the teleological construct of the hat. It is a powerful image and a haunting progression of images as we move from the penis/hat to the scream of the castrated, dressed in doleful robes of mourning.

Ok, I have to stop here. I fear that this is going to warp my mind for the whole day if I don't stop now. Thanks for getting this far.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:00 AM | Comments (8)

August 19, 2004

The George Washington Bridge

There is a spot, in Washington Heights, where you can pull your car over and get a great picture of the George Washington Bridge. I tender it here for your pleasure.


Posted by Random Penseur at 08:29 AM | Comments (6)

August 17, 2004

Debasment is not another way to say da cellar in Brooklyn

[Warning: The following was composed primarily between the hours of 2 and 2:30 this morning and I have decided to publish it before I have any coffee.]

No, debasement is tradtionally something you do to currency. In Roman times, if I recall my Roman Law class from law school correctly, to debase currency meant melting a pure metal coin down, adding lead to the melted bit and reminting it in order to make more coins. Lead was a base metal. It had the effect of devaluing the entire currency and causing people to lose confidence in the monetary system. Under Roman Law, I seem to recall it was punishable by death.

Debasement is also something that the clever alchemists at Reuters and the A.P. and other "news agencies" (dig the scare quotes) are doing to the English language. How so? Let's take some examples, one at a time.

Instead of saying terrorist, we hear: rebel; militant; militia; or, my personal favorite, activist.

Terrorist means or meant (all definitions adapted from a radical who employs terror as a political weapon; usually organizes with other terrorists in small cells; often uses religion as a cover for terrorist activities.

Rebel means or meant: To refuse allegiance to and oppose by force an established government or ruling authority. To resist or defy an authority or a generally accepted convention.

Militant means or meant: A fighting, warring, or aggressive person or party.
[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin mlitns, mlitant- present participle of mlitre, to serve as a soldier. See militate.]

Militia means or meant:An army composed of ordinary citizens rather than professional soldiers. A military force that is not part of a regular army and is subject to call for service in an emergency. The whole body of physically fit civilians eligible by law for military service.

Activist means or meant: advocating or engaged in activism, n : a militant reformer.

These words, all perfectly good words with their own distinct meanings, are being debased, being melted down in a large Reuters kettle and, weighted down with lead, being reminted and contorted into the shape of the word terrorist. Soon, if not already, they will be read to be mere synonyms of the word, terrorist. And then our language will be rendered poorer and the readers will, if they have not already, begin to lose confidence in the whole system of reporting "news" (sorry about the scare quotes again, I can't help it). Why? Well, if activist is a word you might normally associate with someone trying to unionize apple pickers and then you start seeing it turn up in connection with a fellow who's activities include, say, firing an AK-47 at a school bus full of children, your view of that activity is warped by your perception of what an activist really does, or did before Reuters got ahold of the word. See it enough times and your brain, which is more sensible, will start to substitute the word terrorist for activist or, maybe, you will start to lose the meaning of the word activist which you had fixed in your brain. Everything just sort of melts down. And eventually, you distrust the messenger just as much as the message and you are not sure what anything means any more in any context.

I won't advocate a death sentence for these terribly earnest editors who, in their haste to avoid making some kind of value judgment about the activities of our hypothetical "activist", as the Romans might have, but I am open to suggestions for an appropriate punishment for those who continue to debase and contort this beautiful language and deprive it of all absolute meaning until everything is relative and not one word means anything until they tell you what they want it to mean.

One final thought, maybe we should just call the terrorists, freedom fighters, since by and large, they are fighting freedom all over the globe.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:21 AM | Comments (8)

August 16, 2004

Abbott Joseph Liebling


AJ Liebling is probably most widely known for his oft-repeated quotation that: ""Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one". In that regard, we might even consider him the spiritual father of blogs everywhere. If you disagree, just look at all the guest bloggers at the recent Democratic Party Convention where the blogger was elevated to the status of journalist and publisher in one fell swoop. But, that's not why I want to write about him. I want to call him to people's attention because he was a fantastic writer.

This is from a biographical sketch I found on him on the net which also has a nice list of the books he published:

After early schooling in New York City, Liebling wrote in The Wayward Pressman that "I went up to Dartmouth in the fall of 1920, lacking a month of being sixteen". Liebling did not finish his schooling at Dartmouth, claiming they threw him out for missing compulsory chapel attendance. He then enrolled in the Pulitzer School of Journalism at Columbia University and after finishing there, took the job at the Evening Bulletin. After his stint in Providence, Liebling went on to report and write for New Yorker magazine. While employed by New Yorker he served as a war correspondent; filing many stories from Africa, England and Europe. Following the war he returned to regular magazine fare and for many years after he wrote a New Yorker monthly feature called "Wayward Press". Liebling was an avid fan of boxing, horse racing and eating, frequently writing about each. In 1947 Doubleday and Company published Liebling's The Wayward Pressman, a highly quotable collection of his writings from New Yorker and other publications. Liebling's father was employed in New York City's fur district and his mother grew up in San Francisco. Liebling was married to Jean Stafford, a poet.

I am a big fan of Mr. Liebling and am re-reading his wonderful book, Between Meals, describing his time in Paris in 1926-27 when, as a 22 year old, his father gave him the gift of a year of study in the City of Light. The title refers to the fact that Paris, for him, became one long study in eating and drinking and this book is about that and what he did in the time between his meals. It includes time spent boxing and time spent rowing. It is a marvelous memoir.

How could you not love someone who writes like this about Vodka:

The standard of perfection for vodka (no color, no taste, no smell) was expounded to me long ago by the then Estonian consul-general in New York, and it account perfectly for the drink's rising popularity with those who like their alcohol in conjunction with the reassuring tastes if infancy -- tomato juice, orange juice, chicken broth. It is the ideal intoxicant for the drinker who wants no reminder of how hurt Mother would be if she know what he was doing.

Click below on extended entry for the rest (I put this in bold for my wife, who has problems with the extended entry function and I figure if she does, someone else might).

I went to the trouble of typing out some of my favorite quotes to illustrate how beautifully he writes about a whole range of topics.

On Wine

It is damn hard to find good writing about wine. Most writing is pretentious and does nothing to evoke the whole experience. Liebling can do it.

Tavel has a rose-cerise robe, like a number of well known racing silks, but its taste is not thin or acidulous, as that of most of its mimics is. The taste is warm but dry, like an enthusiasm held under restraint, and there is a tantalizing suspicion of bitterness when the wine hits the top of the palate. With the second glass, the enthusiasm gains; with the third, it is overpowering. The effect is generous and calorific, stimulative of cerebration and the social instincts.

On Getting to Paris

Here is his description of how he helped his father to execute on the suggestion that AJ spend a year in Paris before he got married, as his father said he was afraid AJ would do. It made me laugh out loud.

I sensed my father's generous intention, and, fearing that he might change his mind, I told him that I didn't feel I should go, since I was indeed thinking of getting married. "The girl is ten years older than I am," I said, "and Mother might think she is kind of fast, because she is being kept by a cotton broker from Memphis, Tennessee, who only comes North once in a while. But you are a man of the world, and you understand that a woman can't always help herself. Basically . . ." Within the week, I had a letter of credit on the Irving Trust for two thousand dollars, and a reservation on the old Caronia for late in the summer, when the off-season rates would be in effect.

On Boxing

Liebling was one of the great sports writers ever and his field of expertise was boxing. I recommend picking up The Sweet Science. Here, in Paris, Liebling describes what boxing is, at its heart. As I typed this in here, I realized that it's a darn good philosophy about the war on terror as well.

Defense is either preliminary to attack or an interlude between attacks. You move to beat the other fellow, not to avoid being beaten. Safety, relative though it be, lies in attack, too. You are safer inside a punch -- which means inside its arc -- then stepping away from it and possibly into its sweep. More, if you are inside a punch you are in position to strike, but if you are outside it, you have merely escaped. This is the simple essence. Whatever other inferences may be drawn from it are optional and incidental.

On Food

Liebling wrote very well about food. I happen to like eels, although I know many don't, but I chose this passage for the simple joy of it.

There are certain simple and unavoidably cheap dishes that are the I-beams of French cookery and are not to be tampered with; wine and ells and bacon and onions and herbs and judgment go into a matelote, and the eels should be fresh. The wine can be as old as you please. Within these classic limits, as within the rules of a game, there are gradations of success, dependent on the quality and proportion of the ingredients and on the termotactic gift, since no two stews reach their nearest approach to perfection in the same number of minutes -- or to be meticulous, of seconds. The good cook, like the good jockey, must have "a clock in his head".

Joy. That may be why I like Liebling so much. He wrote with joy and enthusiasm and verve. He treated everything with voracious reflection and seemed to appreciate the importance of the small, the every day. Liebling celebrated life.

I hope you all go out and discover him, too.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:25 AM | Comments (9)

August 13, 2004

Telephones and Toilet Bowls -- A Cautionary Tale

I managed, all by myself, to get my mom home from the hospital on Wednesday and to get her comfortably installed back in her own house. She was happy to be back, although, within 5 minutes of sitting down, the phone rang with the news that one of her dearest friends had died that day. She looked quite diminished by the call when she hung up. As I was leaving, she asked me to have my daughter call her when she got up from her nap. I told her I would.

After the girl child's nap, I gave her the phone and ran out to pick my wife up from work (I had her car for the day). The rest of the story is as told to me by my mother.

The Girl Child and her grandmother had a very pleasant chat until GC told her grandmother that she had to go to the bathroom and her grandmother said that she'd call back later. Well, the GC insisted that she could take the phone with her and my mother just sort of tagged along. Until the GC tried to drown my mother by dropping the phone into the toilet bowl.

When my mother called her back, the GC told her:

"Nanna, I am so embarrassed! That has never happened to me before in my whole life!"

The GC told us about the incident when I returned home with the wife and she concluded her narrative with the words, said very solemnly: "It was a very silly thing to do."

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:44 AM | Comments (6)

August 10, 2004

$209.28 -- warning: sad

That's all it costs, I found out today. That's what they charge you to take your friend away. I said that I was going to get my mother from the hospital but there was another problem today as well. And in fact, I will not be able to take my mother home from the hospital until tomorrow. But that's ok, I had other things to do today. See, when I left the office today, I was also going to deal with a medical emergency at my parents' house -- the dog was sick, too.

Well, the dog was more than sick. By the time I got there, she was dead. I find myself curiously reluctant to use the word dead. When I called the vet I told him that the dog had expired and later, when I called someone else, I used the expression, given up the ghost. I kept hesitating over the word, dead, like a mental stutter. But that's what she is all right. There was no question when I walked in that she was gone, that she had departed her body. She was lying on the floor and so terribly and utterly and unchangeably still.

I called the animal hospital and they gave me the name of the pet cemetery to call them to arrange a pick up. I was not going to try to take this dog to my car and drive her there all by myself, she weighed over 80 pounds in life and frankly I was just too sad to do it.

They came to take her and dispose of her for $209.28, including tax. I keep coming back to that number. I guess it provides a prism through which I can focus on the act of dying itself, on the sudden lack of the dog in our lives. I don't think it will make a good point to tell the girl child, but she has to be told something and I am leaning towards honesty here, to tell her that her friend is dead, too. She loved this dog and could say her name before she could say my father's name. Any suggestions about what to tell her?

I loved this dog. My parents got her from a rescue group. She had been abused but she found love in their house. And she died with someone who loved her sitting next to her and stroking her. Really, that doesn't sound too bad, does it? I think that this is what we all might want at the end if we are given the choice. This woman who was with her told me that the dog knew that she was dying and she kept looking out at the driveway because she was waiting for my parents to come home to be with her. But then she couldn't wait any longer and she sighed and went still.

$209.28 seems like not very much money to measure the worth to you of your friend when they're gone.

When the man arrived from the service, he put the dog into two plastic bags. Rigor had set in very quickly. I had to leave the room when it came time to put her head in the bag. I am finding it hard to write about it now, in fact. She was too heavy for one person to take. I helped carry her out to the truck and I lifted her very gently and the nice man was gentle, too. And then she was gone. A sweet and gentle animal, most of the time.

$209.28 is not much when your heart breaks a little as the plastic bag is closed and the door to the truck thunks shut and your friend is gone. It's amazing what a credit card will buy.

I'm going to go play with my children now. Writing about this did not, in fact, make me feel any better, as I had hoped it would. Instead, I feel the pressure of unshed tears.

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:11 PM | Comments (11)

August 03, 2004

Behind the Curtain: Le Marquis de Mores

Our newest “look behind the curtain” subject is Le Marquis de Mores, a Frenchman who came to America, married well, moved West in the late 1800's and broke his teeth trying to compete with the meat packers by introducing ranching and meat packing at the source, challenged (maybe) Theodore Roosevelt to a duel, and moved back to France. I will show you how we go from cattle ranching in the Badlands to the Dreyfus Affair in France. After all, that's why I initially found him interesting.

I also found this guy to be fascinating because, after doing a little research, it appears that his story has been sanitized in English sources, including on US Government websites. This is an example of historical revisionism at work where the unsavory bits of this guy’s story have been swept under the rug so as not to scare the children or the animals. Seriously, this fellow may look normal enough for those times on the surface, but when you probe a little deeper, you find a real whack job, lacking only the certification from the professionals to be official and to compete for a world ranking. I elucidate below.

The Marquis and the Badlands

The Marquis first came to prominence in the US due to his ranching activities in the North Dakota Badlands in the 1880's. There is a particularly gushing tribute to him at the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation where you learn that the Marquis was dashing and "inquisitive". You also learn that he founded the town of Medora, ND, named for his wife, and which by 1884, "had a population of 251, and in addition to the packing plant boasted a newspaper, a brickyard, several stores and saloons, a hotel and St. Mary's Catholic Church." You don't learn that it was mostly his father in law's money that paid for this town and the Marquis' schemes.

The town was built to challange the Chicago meat packing cartel. Most of the cattle from the West was shipped to Chicago stockyards and killed and packed in Chicago. I'm sure you all remember Upton Sinclair's work about the horrors of that world: "The Jungle". That book actually led to goverment reform of the meat packing industry. The Marquis intended to slaughter and pack the meat right there in Medora and ship directly to consumers. It would be cheaper for consumers, cut out the middle men, and he'd get rich. He failed.

Competition from the Chicago meatpackers and a consumer preference for corn fed over grass fed beef are the reasons generally accepted for the failure of the venture, although as you will see below, the Marquis had an alternative explanation. Need a hint? Think about Cynthia McKinney’s father’s statements.

By 1886 it was all over and the Marquis returned to France in 1887. The Roosevelt Medora Foundation website sort of glosses over the further career of the Marquis.

The Further Career of the Marquis de Mores

The US Park Service has a biography of the Marquis and this is what they have to say about his further career:

Perhaps a word should be said here about the career of the Marquis de Mores after the failure of his Medora venture. Since his name is inextricably associated with the history of Medora, it is of interest to recount what eventually became of him. The story of his subsequent life is both stirring and tragic. De Mores returned to France, and then went to India for a year. Then he journeyed on to China where he toyed with plans designed to increase the influence of his native France. Returning to France he became involved in its political storms and it is alleged he took a part in the Dreyfus Affair and in trying to overthrow the government. He dreamed of augmenting the power of France in Africa, and as a means of doing so he is supposed to have conceived a plan to unite the Moslems against England. He went to Tunis in 1896 to lead an expedition into the Sudan and unite the Arabs in resisting the English advance in Africa. Against the advice of friends, he exchanged an Arab escort for one of wild Touareg tribesmen. They led him into an ambush at the well of El Ouatia. There he fell, but not until after he had left a ring of dead men around him. French colonial officials later recovered De Mores' body and returned it to Paris. He is buried there.

What's reaction upon finishing that? He's a hero, right? A romantic hero with a life that was both "stirring and tragic"? It was “alleged” that he became involved with the Dreyfus Affair? What, he fell in with bad company? Excuse my vulgarity, but, what the fuck? No mention at all of his less “stirring” activities? You read this and you're left with no understanding about what a strange and vile whack job this guy was. Let's continue.

The Missing Career Information, or why I think he's a whack job

The National Park Service and the Roosevelt Medora Foundation are sanitized versions. Let's look instead at what David McCullough says in his book, "Mornings on Horseback" at p. 345-46, where McCullough pulls no punches:

Followng a tiger hunt in India, he went home to France to proclaim himself the vicitm of a Jewish plot. The Chicago beef trust was now protrayed as the "Jewish beef trust". He turned to politics, launced a crusade to save France, a blend of socialism and rabid anti-Semitism, and went parading about Paris at the head of a gang of toughs, all of them dressed in ten-gallon hats and cowboy shirts. With the collapse of the French effort at Panama, he joined iwth the unsavory Eduoard Drumont, a notorious anti-Semite, in an attemtp to blame that failure too on the Jews. It was this mania that led eventaully to the Dreyfus Affair, and the Marguis, before he went storming off to Africa, kept himslef in the forefront. His platform rantings set off riots, and in a series of duels with important Jewish army officers he became known as on of the most dangerous duelists in France.

The Marquis was himself murdered in June 1896 by a band of Tuareg tribesmen in North Aftica, where he had set off on a lone, harebrained scheme to unite the Muslims under the French flag in an all-out holy war against the Jews and the English.

Well, that puts a different spin entirely on it, doesn't it? Suddenly his adventures back in France and in North Africa look a little less "stirring" and a lot more insane, don't they?

There you go, from North Dakota and the Badlands to the Dreyfus Affair in one or two easy steps.

I don't know about you, but I am bemused by the idea of Frenchmen walking around the streets dressed in ten-gallon hats and cowboy shirts in order to look tough.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:39 AM | Comments (8)

Story Time

Last night I got home from work and I was cranky and overheated. Cranky because work was less than fulfilling yesterday and overheated because dear, OLD, Metro North had no air conditioning on its train cars last night, at least on my train.

I walked in and was greeted by my daughter gleefully telling me: "I was a pill today, an absolute pill." That set her tone for the remainder of the evening. My wife gave the baths but, due to poor listening skills by my daughter, had to tag out. We do that, the two of us. When it gets to the point where you feel like you are going to lose your patience, you can call out to the other parent, "I'm tagging out" or "you need to tag in" and, like in wrestling, the other parent steps into the ring. It has kept us from losing our minds, this little game. The problem will be when the kids figure it out and start to game us on purpose. But, that's another day, I hope.

After the baths was story time. Story time is a critical time of the day for my daughter. We lead up to it with negotiations concerning the number of stories, the mix of stories (if shorter ones are chosen, can we read more of them), and the selection themselves (because I insist on new ones from time to time). Usually, the boy child could not care less about story time. He has shown no interest in sitting on my lap while I read and when I try, he loudly demands to be set free. Last night was different, though.

The girl child selected three books: "There's a Wocket in my Pocket"; Cecil's Garden" and "Kiss Good Night". I pulled the boy child up since he was within reach and we began with the wocket book. He lasted all of two pages before wanting to get down. So I let him down and continued reading to the girl while keeping watch on the boy with my peripheral vision. He picked up the stethoscope from the girl child's doctor kit, put it around his neck and then, seemingly content, came back and held his arms out to be picked up again. Whereupon he rejoined us for the remainder of the wocket book and seemed to pay close attention to the last two books as well. He didn't reach for them or try to turn or crumple the pages, he just sat there happily as I read with, I must admit, greater animation than usual. I gave a different voice to each character and tried every oratorical flourish I could think of to keep his interest and get him hooked on the experience.

After we finished the three books, I began to rock in the glider chair and he slipped down a little in my lap to lay his little head in the crook of my arm. He was obviously very tired. I told the girl child that her brother was tired and she leaned forward a bit to take a look and then promptly lay down herself across my lap and put her head on his little chest and shoulder.

And we rocked in total peace and tranquility and I didn't want that moment to end for anything. I'd rather be home with them now, honestly, even if the girl child is being a pill.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:36 AM | Comments (8)

July 27, 2004

Stealing time

I stole some time out of my day today. I just reached into my employer's back pocket and plucked it right out. It was about a half an hour, but it was mine, all mine, and it was glorious. It was freedom and it was irresponsible and it had no agenda or address or anything and it was mine, all mine.

I took papers down to court this morning to file with the motion support office at the Supreme Court of the State of New York for the County of New York, (known to us lawyers as Supreme New York or simply S/NY). This courthouse borders on the surreal. No, well, it may, but what I meant to say was that it borders on Chinatown. I handed in my papers which the clerk accepted without a problem (which is always nice and never a sure thing) and headed off with no agenda to wander the streets a bit. Chinatown is congested, smelly (lots of fish markets), filled with tacky gift shops and just downright fun. Probably because of all of those things.

I walked through the park behind the courthouse and observed a beautiful tai chi class conducted to music and using swords in an intricate and very controlled ballet of movement and internal tension. I also was treated to the odd spectacle of Chinese senior citizens, looking very fit, stretching and twisting on the jungle gym. No kids, mind you, but lots of senior citizens. Their teenage grandchildren, quite a bit less fit looking, were screwing around on the basketball court.

Most of my favorite stores were still closed, so I couldn't do any serious shopping. I had decided to see if I could break some international trademark laws and buy my wife a cool knockoff bag. She's been a bit down of late and a bag never fails to cheer her up. Unfortunately, none of the knock off stores were open yet. However, our favorite bakery was open. Ever have coconut cream bread? It is so yummy, being both sweet and salty at the same time. I bought four pieces for the kids, wife and nanny. I also got two lotus leaf sticky rice packages for the kids. The girl child ought to enjoy unwrapping the package and eating the sticky goodness contained therein.

I then ducked into a little galley of a shop, it was long and no more than 7 or 8 feet wide. It was crammed to the gills with food products from: Malaysia; Thailand; Indonesia; and other exotic locales. I bought some new chili sauces and some Thai fried garlic bits and Thai fried red onions. I passed on the Thai anchovy snacks. They were pieces of anchovy fried in palm oil and seasoned with chili, salt and sugar. The owner of the store insisted that I try one out of the open container he had on the counter. He claimed that they were a great seller and good for your bones to boot. It was chewy, spicy, sweet, and tangy. In fact, it was a bit too chewy and dry for my taste. I ate one but passed on the entire package.

I tasted the anchovy snack all the way back to the subway and wondered, is that fishy taste the taste of adventure or the taste you have in your mouth that signals the return to responsibility?

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:03 AM | Comments (8)

July 22, 2004

New Holiday

My daughter reminded me of the new holiday today that she had invented some time ago. I haven't heard about it in a while.

We were chatting this morning while I was getting dressed to go to work and I asked her what she was going to do today. She said that she was going to the park to play and then she wanted to make and decorate cupcakes. I replied that I thought she was going to camp today and maybe she could do the other things on Friday. She said, no, that she was not going to camp because today was "Play-All-Day-Veen". This is her holiday, based on Halloween I think.

I could use a little "Play-All-Day-Veen" myself today. Well, maybe I'm going to do the grownup equivalent and go take a long lunch with a friend.

I wish you all a very happy Play-All-Day-Veen!

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:08 AM | Comments (2)

July 21, 2004

When the wife's away. . .

The wife is on a business trip to Germany all this week and when the wife's away (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), you know what happens, right? Daddy comes home early from work and gives all the baths by himself and reads all the stories by himself and kisses all the boo-boo's better by himself and just has such a great time alone with the kids that he doesn't want to go to work at all. It has been pretty close to sheer bliss.

I come home, take off the suit, and we play. I then partially undress the little guy and let him run around with his shirt off. He likes to stroll about the place, after the shirt comes off, slapping his naked chest with both hands. The girl looked at him last night and said, "hey, stud man". I don't think she knows what it means but it was funny. We then get milk for the little guy and I throw them both in the bath where there was much splashing of each other and of me. Here's a tip, by the way, for when you are dealing with overtired little pills -- throw 'em in the bath. They love it, it relaxes them and they are in a contained space. The boy then gets put in his crib, after milk, and the girl comes downstairs with me, in her pj's.

The girl keeps me company while I dine. She sits, we chat, and we clink glasses -- my glass of (last night) vino verde (Portugese Green Wine -- the perfect summer white) to her sippy cup of chamomile tea (she's been reading Madeline). She eats off my plate with her own fork. It's very companionable. After, I thanked her for sharing dinner and she told me that she had already had dinner and this was just a "snack". We go off and read stories and then we try to put her to bed. She won't go to sleep, mind you, but she will go to bed. Last night I was treated through the monitor to a moving rendition of "head, shoulders, knees and toes" as she sang to her animals.

This morning, as I was playing at the computer in my bedroom (we have a lap top at home), she came sneaking in with her blanket and climbed into my lap. She didn't say a word. She just arranged herself in my lap and put her head between my shoulder and neck and lay there for five to ten minutes while I gently stroked her shiny, golden hair. It was totally silent and so peaceful. I was content with everything at that moment and filled up with love and with happiness. It was beautiful. It ended when she looked up at me and said, "Pappa, is it ok if I toot?" I guess she thought our little moment was pretty special, too, since this was the first time she ever asked my permission to pass gas.

The wife returns on the late flight tonight. I will be happy to have her home but I will treasure the little moments when I had the single parent duties.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:40 AM | Comments (9)

July 18, 2004

The NY Times and my blood pressure

I read the paper at the table this morning and it pissed me off for the whole morning. One of these days, I'm going to check my pressure before breakfast, not have any coffee (as a control), and check it again after reading the Times.

Roger Cohen is a _____ (supply your own appropriate word here, my choices don't make the cut since, while they are all heartfelt, they probably make me look less and less like an adult). His article/editorial (hard to know which since it wasn't on the op/ed piece but it certainly wasn't reporting), was an unmitigated horror of moral relativism which places a lower value on the lives of Jewish children killed by suicide bombers than it does on the consequences to the Palestinians because of the wall. I will explain.

The article starts with some facts which one senses Mr. Cohen disapproves of. "If Israelis are going to the beach and to clubs again, and if bombings have become rare, it is thanks in large part, they insist, to these ditches and guard towers and coils of barbed wire and miles of wire fencing that separate two peoples, demarcating the gulf between them." Meaning, the wall has allowed Israelis to lead normal lives with less fear of someone strapping on a belt of explosives with a package of nails dipped in rat poison in their pockets, and blowing up a bus or a nightclub. Cohen seems to me to minimize the importance of everyday normalcy by choosing the most frivolous possible examples to illustrate the larger point that the wall is taking away the fear. The ever present, grinding you down, fear. By putting it in this way, Cohen trivializes it and makes it seem ridiculous.

But let's continue, shall we? Cohen notes that while there is no one single explanation for the sharp decline in the number of suicide bombings, everyone agrees that the wall plays an important role. Cohen then contrasts the high tech nature of the wall monitoring center with the Palestinian condition on the other side of the wall and writes:

"What often seems to be missing from these Israeli musings is any grasp of the life of the Palestinians on the other side of the barrier. On those war-room screens the most common sight is a Palestinian in a donkey cart trundling along a dirt track. The contrast between the high-tech Israeli cameras that deliver these images and the abject existence of the Palestinians photographed provides an apt summation of the divergence of the societies: a first-world Israel forging ahead as best it can, a third-world Palestinian society going backward."

Neat juxtaposition, no? By choosing to put these concepts next to each other in his arti-torial, Cohen leaves you with the impression that the reason for the plight of the blameless Palestinian is the wall. What else could be to blame for their society going back to the Third World standard? He goes on to outline the effects of the wall on the Palestinians compared to life for the Israelis -- dirt tracks v. highways, donkeys v. cars. The impact is clear for Mr. Cohen. The wall is a disaster for the Palestinians.

Here, I ask myself, so? I don't believe that the wall is to blame for Palestinian economic disintegration. Their economy imploded when they turned to violence from negotiation. The Intafada killed it, not Israel. The most basic human right that any society needs to provide to its citizens is freedom from death from outsiders. Israel is doing so now with a non-lethal barrier. Israel has no real choice -- build a barrier and separate or watch its buses blow up all over the country. This is not an option. Palestinians have to stop trying to kill Israelis and have to stop teaching their children to hate. Or else, they should not be permitted access to the First World on the other side of the wall.

I started by saying Cohen's arti-torial was an exercise in moral relativism and I'm not sure I made my point. My fault, of course. Let me be clear, by comparing the inconvenience of the Palestinian farmer and his donkey who have to wait for the Israeli soldier to let him through to his orchards with the freedom of the Israeli to lead a life free from the fear of an explosive device, he has elevated the one concept of the Palestinian right to convenience to the level of the moral right of the Israeli to live at all. It elevates the one while diminishing the other. Even if it is the freedom to go to the beach, that is still the freedom to live without fear. If that inconveniences someone else, well, so be it. To put these two concepts on the same level, is the basest kind of relativism.

Mr. Cohen, you should be ashamed of yourself for adding your pen to this cause at this time.

I really hate the Times.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:57 PM | Comments (3)

July 16, 2004

Last night

I walk to and from the train station each day. Unless it rains and my wife agrees to pick me up on the way home. I don't attribute that to any great humanitarian impulse on her part. No, she just wants the whining to stop. She's a pragmatist, she is.

I stayed late last night to have a meeting with a new client who wants to do something that will surely get him sued. While I obviously cannot go into it in any detail, let me note that when you want to leave your job, and you are an officer of your current employer, and you want to take some of your direct reports with you, and then go into competition with your current employer, you are going to get sued, non-compete or no non-compete. A couple of bourbons and sodas later, he seemed to get the picture.

As I came home, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a young woman in a sun dress who occupied herself by reading through a script. She was very pretty in that sort of fresh-faced "I'm-going-to-be-a-star-one-day" kind of way. You know the look right? It's that look they still have while they're living at home with their parents and before the fickle hand of fate has smacked 'em around a couple of times and they're looking at the wrong end of their late twenties with not quite enough time in to get that SAG card and they start thinking, hmn, graduate school in social work seems like a really good idea. She was pre-that second look. We had a pleasant and flirtatious chat for about three stops. Is there anything nicer on a warm evening than a harmless flirtation with an attractive young woman? An exchange of witty banter that does not start with, “so, come here often” or end in, “so, can I get your number”? Nope, just some gentle conversation.

So, I got off the train feeling pretty darn good. New client with bound to be difficult (read: expensive and interesting) problem, slightly buzzed from the bourbon, recipient of the flirtatious attention of a delightful young woman. Does it get better? Well, actually, it kind of did.

It was twilight, that time of Le crépuscule du soir that Baudelaire writes so interestingly about in Fleurs du Mal. That poem starts:

Voici le soir charmant, ami du criminel;
Il vient comme un complice, Ă  pas de loup ; le ciel
Se ferme lentement comme une grande alcĂ´ve,
Et l'homme impatient se change en bĂŞte fauve.

My rough translation:

Here is the charming night, friend of the criminal;
It comes like an accomplice, on the feet of a wolf;
The sky closes itself up, slowly, like a great alcove,
And man grows impatient to change himself into a wild animal.

Beautiful, isn't it? Even with my not so great translation (which I expect to hear about in the comments section, no doubt).

Well, that wasn't my night or my twilight.

My twilight was cooled by the breezes off the ocean, a scant mile away. It was lit by the dying sun, in cool oranges and pinks and eight different shades of white. It was quiet. And it was punctuated, to my delight, by the incandescent little bursts of fireflies, as I turned onto my little street.

I love fireflies. I remember chasing them around the yard as a child, trying to catch them to put into a big jar to watch them blink and blink. My mom would always let them out after I went to sleep but I never minded. I could always catch them again the next day.

What makes them so bright? What gives that glow? Well, according to the scientists at Ohio State University, the bioluminescence is produced by a chemical reaction "consisting of Luciferin (a substrate) combined with Luciferase (an enzyme), ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and oxygen. When these components are added, light is produced." The cool fact about this is that the firefly produces almost 100% light from this reaction, as opposed to a lightbulb which gives off only about 10% light with the rest of the reaction wasted as heat. I am surprised to learn, by the way, that science still does not know exactly how the firefly throws the on/off switch for their lights.

Why do they flash? Well, either sex or defense, seems to be the reasoning. To attract mates or repel things that would eat them.

Or, I’d like to think, to welcome me home after a long day at work.

Pax tibi!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:34 AM | Comments (7)

July 14, 2004

A little Sartre goes a long way

I defaced a poster last night on the way home from work. Well, not a poster exactly. More like a sign. The conductor posted a handwritten sign with the words "No Exit" over the door to the train carriage closest to where I and many others were sitting. Of course it was an exit. In point of fact, it was the chosen exit for those of us in that part of the carriage and we all did actually end up exiting through it. I think the sign may have been left over from a different route. No matter. I was the first to line up at the door to await my station stop. I stood in front of this sign and couldn't help myself. I took up my pen and glanced quickly over my shoulder (thus establishing to the complete satisfaction of even the most casual observer that I was about to do something either suspicious or improper or both). I then wrote huis clos on the sign. Often enough, when you commute sitting near some idiot who has his cell phone fixed to his ear and his voice set to stun, you agree with Sartre that hell really is other people.

Inject a little existentialism in everybody's day.

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:49 AM | Comments (5)

July 01, 2004

America, etc.

I am feeling pretty damn dapper today. I have a rare victory under my belt from yesterday, and let me tell you, what I convinced the judge to do yesterday is something rarely accomplished. I am wearing a seersucker suit with an orange* and blue tie and I stopped to get my shoes shined in Grand Central Station before continuing on to work. Yes, pretty dapper indeed. I haven't worn these shoes in a long time and they are beautiful -- purchased before I had children -- monk strap shoes from J. M. Weston.

So, I was sitting there, feeling dapper and relaxed as this very nice young man from somewhere below the U.S. Southern border with Mexico (I really don't know where he was from and didn't want to ask) put a mirror shine on these shoes. (Digression: If you haven't worn your shoes in a while, get them shined, the leather needs the polish and will soak it up. Also, use shoe trees when you take your shoes off). It's an interesting feeling to sit down in Grand Central and watch the ebb and flow of the race tide as people hurry this way and that way in their haste to get to work. You sit elevated when you get your shoes shined and so you are looking down, a little, at this pageant of humanity. They have newspapers at the stand, but I am a people watcher and I prefer to watch the crowd. No startling observations to report from my crowd watching. In fact, as there were way too few attractive young women in light summer dresses to observe, I turned my thoughts to the young man shining my shoes.

He did a first rate job. Shining shoes is not complicated but it is very hard work to do right and to do it right all day long. Some people just swipe the polish on and leave a surface shine when they are finished. This fellow worked the polish into the leather of the shoe. To do that requires the application of some force. I tipped him $5 on a $3 shine when he finished and thanked him sincerely so he knew I noticed how hard he worked and that I appreciated it. Remember, the money is nice but the kind word lingers in the memory long after the money is spent.

But, I was thinking about this young man as I walked away in my shiny, spiffy shoes and I realized that there must be something still very special about this country of ours that people think it is worthwhile to cross dangerous and guarded borders to come here and shine shoes. That they will have a better life here. That they may be shining shoes today, but they will be paying someone tomorrow to shine their shoes. This is still the land of opportunity for many, many people. We may forget what a special place we live in, but look around you more carefully and I bet you can find reminders all around you of people who have risked much to live here.

This thought seems particularly appropriate today as today is the anniversary of the first vote, taken in 1776, on the Declaration of Independence. You know, the men who signed that document were courageous, don't you? That these men were marked down on British lists for execution as traitors if captured, their lands forfeit, their families thrown out onto the street. These men knew that when they signed this document what they were risking. This makes them heroes in my book because they took the risks knowingly and willingly and not in the heat of passion. Would they sign it today? Would you? Interestingly, I recall that sometime in the 80's, the Declaration was reprinted in the form of a petition and college students in Iowa (or maybe Kansas) took to the streets to ask people to sign it. Distressingly, most people did not recognize it and a startlingly high number refused to sign on the grounds that the document was too radical.

So, today, as I walk the streets of Manhattan in my dapper little suit, with my shiny shoes, I feel grateful to be an American, grateful that my ancestors took the leap of faith and got on that leaky boat in Europe and came over here, and I feel even more grateful that this is still the country which attracts those ambitious people who want to build a better life for themselves and their families. I think that as long as remain a magnet for these kinds of people, we will endure.

Anyways, that's my little thought for the morning. Thanks for reading.

* As for the orange tie, I am, perhaps, leaving myself open to being accused of making an unintentional political sartorial statement today. Today, in 1690 the army of England's Protestant King William III defeated the Roman Catholic King James II in the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland (Now celebrated on July 12 as "The Battle of the Orange" ). I intend to give all Irish bars a miss today and hope no one notices!

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2004

Look. See.

What's the difference? The difference is being open and willing to become engaged by what you are looking at it. Most of the time, we look but don't see. Last night, coming home on the train, I saw. It just lasted a moment, but I saw. I'll try to describe what I saw.

I was on the train. We had passed over the bridge going from Manhattan to the Bronx and were entering this little canyon where the tracks are depressed and the walls on either side are high. I happened to look up out of the window for a moment and I saw a building, all alone, with nothing else around it. It was silhouetted against the sky. It was brick painted a tan or beige color, probably about 8 stories high, maybe 10. It was at an angle to me so that I was looking at its corner. And it was set against the sky, all alone. The sky was like thirty different shades of blue, streaked by some small clouds floating here and there. All of those shades of blue melded together into a blue that was achingly perfect and made more perfect by the small imperfections of the clouds. And this building thrust itself up against this perfect sky and looked, maybe because of the position of the angle or because of the juxtaposition of the three basic colors, two dimensional. It was like a painting.

The train moved on and it was evanescent. I think I gasped quietly at the perfection of that moment. I hope I conveyed it here.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:55 AM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2004

Elevator etiquette

Up and down all day long in a small cabinet the size of two or three old fashioned telephone booths. If you are lucky, you have the place to yourself for the trip. If not lucky, you've caught the local on the way down and it feels as if you've stopped on every floor for someone to get on or for someone to hold the door open until it buzzes while they're waiting for their friend to catch up.

What button is worn down to the plastic cover on an elevator in NY? The "close door" button. Not the open door, the close. In fact, you regularly hit the close door button before you push your desired floor button. Helps to keep the rif-raf out, don't you know.

What happens if you end up in the local -- crowded or otherwise? The etiquette is interesting. First, the make up of the cabin helps determine the etiquette. Perhaps your fellow travelers include the nice woman from the African country UN Mission a couple of floors up. Well, then you chat with her in French. You discuss only the weather. Nothing more, nothing less. You hope you do not see her more than once in a day. If you do see her, hope that the weather has changed in the meantime. Maybe the elevator contains the mailman or the FEDEX guy. These guys you say hello to. You know them and it's important to be friendly. To them, a quick word about sports is in order.

Then you may have a cabin filled with strangers. What do you do then? Again, while it depends on the kind of stranger, you can't go wrong following the general Urinal Rule. Men will be familiar with this rule. The Urinal Rule means you look only down or up and never to the side. Translated for the elevator, you look only at the floor indicator as it changes or down at your watch or keys or shoes. No eye contact. Do not check out the young woman no matter how little clothing she may be fashionably almost wearing. Not polite and probably even vaguely threatening to her when she's locked up with you in that small space. Try to tune out other people's cell phone calls or conversations. The exception is the messenger. The messenger always wants to talk. Maybe he doesn't get a lot of human interaction. Whatever the explanation, he'll want to pass the time of the ride in conversation of sorts. Indulge him. It's safer that way.

The thing I've noticed the most though is that when strangers are thrust into close proximity with each other in a confined spot like an elevator cabin in a big city, mostly, they all pretend that no one else is in there with them. They pretend so hard, that they are clearly acknowledging the other people.

It's odd. But at least, usually, it smells better that the urinal.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:44 AM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2004

So Proud of her

This is another story about my daughter. We, as a family, had a wonderful day yesterday. We spent a few hours at the beach -- we joined a beach club not far from where we live. In fact, it is only 1.9 miles from our driveway to the entrance of the beach club. The kids played on the beach all day and ran in and out of the waves and dug in the sand and ate a big lunch and took long naps. The weather was beautiful and it was really quite perfect.

After naps ended, we returned for dinner. You can have dinner very casually outside. When we finished dinner, we went for a walk along the shore and my daughter, who had picked up an old tennis ball, saw some kids playing a sort of baseball game on the big lawn with a tennis ball and tennis racquet. She got very excited and ran over to watch, about a hundred yards away. At that point, the boys hit their ball into a flower bed and couldn't find it. My daughter went over to the flower bed, too. I suppose she just wanted to see what the boys were doing. The boys, by the way, were probably about 10 or 11 years old and towered over my little 3 1/2 year old daughter. Two of the boys saw that she was carrying a ball and took her ball from her. I was too far away to do anything more than watch here but she told me what happened when I did arrive. The boys said to her that it was their ball. And she stood up for herself and said that, no, it was her ball and she brought it with her from dinner. And so the boys gave it back. This is what she told me when I got there. Then she said to me, in a very quiet voice, that she was too shy to say thank you to the boys for giving her the ball back. So I told the boys thank you for her.

I was so proud of her for standing up for herself to these older kids. I was also quite grateful that these were nice boys who let her stand up for herself. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I want to raise a strong woman who never lets anyone push her around. I have worried that she is too nice, that she lets other children take her toys and that she, in essence, won't push back when the world pushes her first. Well, she pushed back last night, when she was outnumbered, outsized, and all alone. And she did it calmly and didn't cry. I hope that she learned a lesson from this. I know I did.

Someone once wrote that when you have children, you have given hostages to fortune. I have felt that way all along. I want to protect her from everything and I know that I can't. So, instead, I concentrate on building character in small ways, so that the big ways will come naturally and more easily. I am trying to make a person here. I am trying, because I can't protect her always, to give her the tools to protect herself and to stand up for herself and, especially, to have the self confidence and to instill in her the belief that she is valuable, valued, and intrinsically worth standing up for. She made me so proud and, as I reread this post, I don't think that I managed to convey even a portion of what I was feeling and how I reacted, inside, to this little incident. I lack the skills and feel it too keenly.

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:42 AM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2004

Have I found my political niche?

This resonated with me (sorry, I forgot to get the link):

"Andrew Sullivan dubs the fans of all this cable-nurtured satire “South Park Republicans”—people who “believe we need a hard-ass foreign policy and are extremely skeptical of political correctness” but also are socially liberal on many issues, Sullivan explains. Such South Park Republicanism is a real trend among younger Americans, he observes: South Park’s typical viewer, for instance, is an advertiser-ideal 28."

I'm a bit older, but the rest may fit pretty well. By way of illustration, I support the rights of gays to marry and of women to choose freely concerning abortion. I also support a strong military and a foreign policy that does not depend on or require the permission of France or the United Nations before we take actions in our interest. So, clearly I would not be at home in either of our two tradtional political parties. But I do have a home in South Park, I suppose.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:21 AM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2004

Adventures in Blind Dating, Chpt. 1

The Meeting.

Last night, I took B to meet with L at the Royalton Hotel bar. The Royalton is a very cool space. It was one of the first of the now ubiquitous boutique hotels in NYC. Designed by Phillipe Starck, the doors to the hotel entrance are unmarked and the space inside is low lit with low tables and chairs. Some of the chairs look like small animals with huge bases and small backs comprised of thick metal bars bent to provide some type of embrace. This is the lobby, by the way. You know, where you check in and say king size, no smoking, please. The check in desk is in the middle of the cocktail lounge and quite a bit smaller than the bar. There are these odd looking glass rhino-horn light fixtures jutting out from the wall every five feet or so. I did not like them. The bar is a great people watching place. Not to be too NYC bitchy, but you get the tourists who wandered in wearing matching sweat suits with bright new sneakers and very big hair (I think it was a mother/daughter team) and you get the Euro-trash types who have not been told that this bar is, to quote a friend, so two weeks ago. Interesting mix and they are all looking at each other trying to figure out what the other one is doing in their bar or hotel.

Then there was blind date table. B and I were in suits and ties. B looked quite dashing in a dark suit, pink shirt, and pink and purple tie. Not very lawyerly but certainly nice for a date. When we arrived, L was already there. She snagged a table for three and was drinking a light beer. She was as I remembered her and we quickly introduced each other and sat down.

Quick first impressions. What do you base these on? What a person orders from the waitress? Well, I did not expect her to be drinking a beer as she seemed more of a Cosmo type but a beer gives a good, honest, down to earth impression. B had a martini with a specified type of gin I had never heard of before. What does that make him? Fussy, perhaps? I just had a single malt scotch. I'm married so I don't care what it says about me particularly, except, I suppose, it says, hah, he's doing a low carb diet!

The conversation flowed easily and I'll be curious to hear B's reactions when he gets in to work today. I thought she was nice, but. . . . I have to admit, I was distracted some of the time by trying to figure out whether she was chewing gum while drinking her light beer. If so, turn off for me and I suspect for B who is really quite picky. Hmn, did I say fussy before based on the drink choice? Perhaps there is some truth to that.

In any event, I think that they got along. I stayed with them for a half an hour and then rushed to catch a train to see my children before they went off to bed.

B is usually in to work by this time. I will not read anything into the fact that he is late. I will wait for the report, which I will share with you, dear readers. Do the adventures continue? Tune in and find out!

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2004

Life's a beach, when you're three

I am at work today (Sunday) preparing to go to Court tomorrow morning and argue with a judge who probably has not read the papers I spent hours preparing -- more on that later, I think.

But yesterday, despite the hangover and because my wife's was much, much worse, I took my daughter out of the house for several hours in the afternoon so my wife could rest without interruption while the baby was napping.

We went to the beach, about 10 minutes drive from the house. There was practically no one there. When was the last time you were at an empty beach? It smelled of the sea. It was this iodine like decomposing rich smell. There were mussel shells all over the place. We came on a whim, so we were neither dressed for it nor in possession of toys. Still, I took off her shoes and rolled her jeans up to her knees and did the same with my pants and shoes. And off we marched. The sand was warm from the sun and went right between our toes. Then we hit the high water mark (and clearly the tide was out) and the sand there was wet and hard packed from the ocean rolling in and over it. That sand was a little cold. I stood there for about an hour watching my daughter run in and out of the waves as they rolled over her feet. She shrieked and shrieked with laughter. We threw sand at the water and I tried to show her how to skip rocks (doomed to failure, but still). The sun was strong on our heads -- it was over 80 f. It was a beautiful moment.

We sat on the steps leading down to the beach afterwards to let our feet dry so we could get the sand off and I picked her up and pulled her onto my lap. She was happy and I was happy.

Her hair smelled like sunshine and all was right with my world as we watched the waves roll in.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:03 AM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2004

Work/Life Balance

(finally figured out how to put titles up!)

So, I was right -- I totally missed the lunch. I am told that she was a very good speaker. Ah, well.

One of the many (well, one of the two) comments I received touched on the issue of work/life balance. How do you achieve it? You don't, really. You cheat. All the time. Either you are taking time away from your kids or your work. In the end, there is not much time left for yourself and when you take that, you know you are depriving either children or wife.

And I think I do mean depriving. Let me take my daughter, for example. I have seen studies which I have found credible that suggest that girls who have a healthy and strong relationship with their fathers have a better life -- more likely to stay in school and less like to marry a dirtbag or end up in an abusive relationship. You see, these studies found, a girl is less likely to enter a relationship looking for the love she didn't get from Daddy if she actually had a Dad who made it clear that she was loved all the time and without reservation. So, deprivation because I feel a responsibility to make sure my daughter doesn't end up making a bad choice out of the fact that she had a poor relationship with me (perhaps through my own neglect) or because I did not spend enough time with her making sure that she has a strong enough personal values system to make good decisions in morally ambiguous situations.

So, where does that leave you? You prioritize your kids because they need you and you have serious responsibilities there, not to mention the fact that most of the time they make your heart go ~squish~. You prioritize work, because it pays the mortgage and the bills and because you have duties that you owe to your clients -- they depend on you to represent them to the best of your abilities. Where are you in this?

For me, I've come to rely on the quiet time on the train home from work when I can just read to myself or catch up on the enormous to-do list that runs my life. Thank goodness for the train. You have enforced time that you can't be with anyone -- its like time caught in the interstices of your day. But a half an hour a day is really not enough to recharge batteries.

Equally, where is your wife? Remember her? She needs time and attention and you need her time and attention because you know that she is struggling with the same issues you are with respect to time management. And if you don't find time to be with her, than what was the point of the exercise in the first place? Besides, you may never have sex again! At best, you may get to go out once a week for dinner and you try really hard not to spend that time discussing logistics for the coming week and all the garbage that remains on the master to-do list, because, that is not a relationship. And frankly, come Friday, you might even be too damn tired to go out at all.

So, you cheat. You steal time from one to give to the other. And it probably isn't enough in any sense. But its the best you can do and you hope its enough.

I suspect every parent in America is struggling with this. I certainly had fewer problems with work/life balance before I had kids.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:27 PM | Comments (0)