Monday, December 26, 2011

Dillon and me: A Christmas Love Affair

I like kids a lot, but they usually ignore me. I try to be friendly and fun, and in response, they run in the opposite direction.

So you can imagine my surprise when my grand-nephew Dillon requested that I sit next to him at Christmas Eve dinner.

Who, me???!!!


And what a meal it was. Dillon and I bonded over our borscht, fried shrimp and pierogis. I love a child who eats a beet soup.


After dinner, we had a surprise visit from Santa Claus! Here's a pic of Santa with Dillon and Martina. Audrey is hiding behind the couch. "I don't like Santa," she explained after he left.


(Doesn't Santa look an awful lot like Martin?--weird!)


Jesus was in the house, too. Here's Pete and Audrey.


Kasia and Andrej.


Santa brought a sack filled with presents including these awesome boxing gloves. Dillon got knocked out a few times.


Annette was the most excited about Cookie Bonanza. I was pretty stoked too!


The 2011 Cookie Bonanza Menu included: brown butter toffee blondies, gingerbread men and women, lemony slice + bakes, outrageous chocolate cookies, peanut butter surprise and 1950's sugar shuttles.


Then there was lots of cuddles (and fake burps) on the couch. When Tiffany (Dillon's mom) told him to stop force burping, Dillon said, "I can't handle it."


For dessert, Dillon decided that sitting next to me wasn't close enough.


We tried on Dan's glasses.


This is about the time my mom told us to stop. "It will hurt his eyes!"


When is the last time you heard someone say that?

At the end of the night, Dillon told me in confidence, "I like you a lot."

I like you a lot, too, Dillon.

Merry Christmas, everyone!



Most of these pictures were taken by Pete and Jen! Thanks for capturing the night so well.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas!

It's our last East Coast Christmas -- for a little while at least -- and with half our lives already in moving boxes, and the other half needing to be put into moving boxes, we decided it didn't make sense to buy each other more "things," things that would just go straight into their cardboard graves for who knows how long.

But if you think this means no presents at all, you really don't know us, 'Hamsters.

We continued our tradition of stocking stuffers, but this time with a focus on our future destination. We decided to get each other "gift certificates" for activities and experiences in LA -- like passports to a good time. We want to be able to explore our new city, and make it as easy as possible to do it. The move will probably be a little stressful in the early goings, and that's all the more reason to scope out activities we will each enjoy and to put aside the time and bread to make them happen.

So inside our stockings this morning was a series of homemade cards, created with the other person in mind. (Ain't we adorable?)


I got (clockwise from top right): two tickets to a Dodgers game, an issue of the LA journal Slake, reservations for two for the Art Deco walking tour of LA (I thought about getting Yvonne the same thing!), a little Amoeba money (that picture is me going through the bins while Yvonne sits in thes in the corner, uh, patiently), a birding expedition in the wetlands outside LA (!!!), and a donut run. (Have we talked about how vastly superior California donuts are to East Coast donuts? Example: out here, people have never even heard of an old fashioned! Trying to explain it to them is a lot like how I imagine it would be to explain rock and roll to someone who's never heard it before. Think about that for a second...)


Yvonne's cards were much less well made, though I was proud of my 5th grade desktop publishing skills. Clockwise from top right: a drop-in yoga class at the Jacksons' neighborhood studio, admission for two to the LA Arboretum and Botanical Garden (this place looks awesome, btw), admission to Joshua Tree National Park (Yvonne has been dying to go here), a cupcake at Susiecakes (the best in LA -- and we have a connoisseuse here who knows!), and a cooking class at the Silverlake vegan spot Spork (I'm excited for Yvonne for this one; the place comes highly recommended, and the co-owner I talked to on the phone could not have been nicer).

Good things await!

Merry Christmas, indeed!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

To Do List

December is always a busy month, but this year there is so much more to do.

In addition to Christmas card writing, cookie baking, shopping and all those fun things, we have got to condense our entire lives into 25 boxes.

We need to sell our furniture, donate to charity, throw things out and edit, edit edit. It's hard to decide what we can and can't live without. For Dan, the most important thing is the vinyl. For me, it's my kitchen stuff and my clothes. But then there's books and papers and stupid things that add up, like my yoga mat, framed pictures, electronics and my camera equipment. Dan thinks it will all fit in 25 boxes. I am not so sure.

Everything has to be packed with care. It's not like the stuff's going across town; it has to travel over 2,400 miles. We're still fretting/debating on how to get our stuff out there. After one dismal run at the post office, we're now thinking movers after all.

On top of this, I am trying to say good-bye to everyone. Since this is such a busy time of year, we decided not to have a going away party. Plus, I would rather have a little one-on-one time with my friends instead of a generic "miss you" and "good-bye" in a roomful of people. There has been lots of dinners/lunches/drinks with my favorite people; probably the most I have socialized in the last year. It's funny because everyone keeps acting like I have all this time. "Oh, I will see you one more time before you go, right?" Even the girl who waxes my eyebrows said that. Looking at my calendar, with nearly every date filled in with something or someone, the answer is probably no. This is it.

My emotions are so mixed that I just feel neutral. I don't feel super excited to be moving. I don't feel super sad to be leaving. It almost feels like I am going away to college, that this is some temporary measure. I will be going away for a while and doing my thing, but I will be back. What I sometimes feel is a sense of disappointment in myself. I guess everyone comes to New York City with a dream, and in my 9+ years here, I do not feel like I really "made it." Does leaving the city now mean that my dreams are dead? Will Los Angeles be the city of my dreams? Does it matter? Are my dreams even the same anymore? This is I think about.

And then there's the matter of getting a job out there. On top of everything, I have been updating my resume, trying to build my portfolio online and scouring job listings. But that will probably be more of a priority next month. There's just too much going on right now.

It does feel like we have gotten on the roller coaster. We have begun climbing up that first big hill, slowly and surely. We have no idea what lies ahead of us, and there is no turning back.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Countdown Begins

I finally bought my one-way plane ticket. I leave for Los Angeles on January 6--one week after Dan. I am going to spend one more week in New Jersey, cleaning up my stuff that has been sitting at my mom's house for the past decade and squeezing in some last minute quality time with friends and family. I was originally planning to be "responsible" and stay here to work a little longer while Dan gets settled. But my work prospect didn't meet my expectations and fell through, and I am kind of relieved that it did. I didn't really want to be staying here without Dan, commuting from NJ into the city each day and enduring another New York winter. I feel a million times better now that I have a departure date, and that Dan and I will be acclimating to LA and our new life at the same time.

Since I won't be staying longer, this week I finally "came out" about the news to my work friends. What a relief. I feel like I have been carrying around this huge secret forever, and now I can finally talk about it at work. It also makes it all feel much more "real."

How's this for real: Today, we started packing. We began with the framed pictures on the walls. Let me tell you, it's rather daunting to pack your life to travel across the country. Luckily, we're New Yorkers, and we really don't too much to pack because we have never had the space to accumulate a lot of stuff. But we're still going to sell/donate all of our furniture and be really choosy about what's going. It's crazy to think Dan only moved here from LA with two big suitcases! (The vinyl was shipped separately, natch.) It's kind of liberating to decide what do you really need. But also a real pain in the ass to pack everything as efficiently and carefully as possible. Schlepping this stuff to the post office without a car should be interesting. Yes, we looked into pricing and decided it would be most cost-efficient to mail everything!

I have been reaching out to people to plan final drinks/dinners/good-byes. With the holidays approaching, it is a strange time to leave because everyone is so busy and distracted. Dan and I don't feel as much in the Christmas spirit as usual, though Dan did hang up his wreath, our stockings and a string of lights in our apartment, just because. We're taking apart our apartment but decorating at the same time.

Dan has 27 days to go; I have 33. Holy moly!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My First Thanksgiving

My mom is usually the queen of Thanksgiving and all of our family holidays, but this year, she asked for my help. Most years, I tend to look indifferently at my Thanksgiving-themed food magazines that pass through my mailbox and toss them aside since I am never in charge of cooking. Plus, we usually have the same menu year after year.

But this year, Mom gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted, so I planned a menu based on Mom's classic traditions (Ritz Cracker stuffing! pierogi!) and a few new dishes to spice things up. I came to New Jersey on Tuesday night, and Mom and I spent the next two days cooking and baking to make the perfect Thanksgiving meal.


That's me and Mom, about to kick ass in the kitchen in our matching hair nets.


Here's a little insight to my mom's thinking (or some may call it, madness) when it comes to cooking food for holidays. I planned to prepare a chocolate cheesecake, an apple pie, a lime fruit tart and a maple walnut cake - pictured here. I thought that four cakes for eleven people seemed reasonable. But Mom had other plans. Before I arrived, she made a rum cake ("for the Polish guests") and asked Iza to make some vanilla wafers ("Dan loves them!"). Then, early Thanksgiving morning, she went behind my back and put a pre-made pumpkin pie in the oven ("just in case.") That's seven desserts for eleven people! To be eaten after a THANKSGIVING MEAL.


As you can imagine, we had MORE than enough food. After everyone ate, it didn't look like we even made a dent. We had leftovers for days. Here's my overflowing dinner plate.


I am really proud of the work, especially brining and roasting my first turkey! I loved the quality cooking time spent with my mom--even though she kept making fun of me because on the first day, I told her I am "an experienced cook." (She was trying to help me out, and I told her I knew what I was doing.)

Between you and me, I AM an experienced cook. Okay, I am not an expert and I still have a lot to learn, but I know my stuff better than most people I know. But considering my mom and sister Annette are cooking geniuses, my knife skills can perhaps look a bit questionable, I still rely on recipes and I was a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to food preparation, no one in my family takes me seriously.

But--they still ate my meal and said they liked it.


Dan and I hang out with the dinner rolls.

Being at this will probably be the last Thanksgiving on the East Coast for a little while, I am very grateful for the time spent with my family! I am trying to avoid thinking about the fact that soon we will be far apart. To make myself feel better, I keep telling myself, "It's like going to college. No big deal. I will be back soon enough."

At least I'll be taking my mom's recipes with me!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Commuting


Image by Improve Everywhere.

New Yorkers walk faster than most, a fact I notice about myself when I have out of town visitors. (You can always tell the difference a native and a tourist. New Yorkers walk quickly in straight lines with purpose, while tourists meander and take up the whole sidewalk.)

I may be fast, but compared to me, Dan is a speed demon. It is not uncommon that when we walk “together,” he ends up walking 15 yards in front of me. I am forever looking at his back. He has a nice back, but I would rather be looking at his face.

This happens especially in crowded situations such as subway platforms and staircases. We may exit the subway car at the same exact time, but his talent allows him to dodge masses of people and get many paces ahead while I am stuck behind a crowd. Luckily, Dan is very tall so I hardly ever lose him; the back of his head high above the crowd is a constant presence. Once in a while, he might even stop and wait for me to catch up. But if my “slowness” makes us miss the train, I often get the stink-eye.

From our apartment on the Upper East Side, it is a ten-minute walk to the subway consisting of three long blocks. Sometimes in the morning, Dan and I will leave together to go to work. He will walk next to me for the first block. Sometimes he will hold my hand so he can pull me to walk faster.

For the next two blocks, Dan has determined that if walks fast enough, he doesn’t have to wait for the lights which means he can get on the subway faster. I never want to rush to work so this is the time where we usually kiss good-bye. Dan will go full force ahead, and I will stay at my leisurely (though not exactly slow) pace and wait at the lights. About seventy percent of the time, his swiftness allows him to make the train faster, but often times, I will find him standing on the subway platform, face buried in his latest copy of The New Yorker, waiting for the next train.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dinner Conversation

"Occupy LA is so lame compared to Occupy NY," Dan said.

"I tried to read the LA Times online, and it was terrible," I replied. "That can't be my newspaper. I refuse to give up The New York Times."

"Are we going to be those annoying people who move to LA and say everything is better in New York?"

"Oh, totally. We're guaranteed to be completely unbearable to everyone around us for at least a year."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Smacktalk


Click here for a New Yorker's perspective on Los Angeles, as seen in Annie Hall.

So far, the worst part about moving to Los Angeles is telling New Yorkers that you are moving to Los Angeles.*


Sure, we have received tons of love and support from friends and family for taking this next step in our life. But not without a little friendly backlash. First, no one wants you to leave the city because it would be more fun for them if you stayed put. (A reasonable reaction, admittedly). Second, no one in New York understands why you would want to move out of the best city in America to--of all places--LA.


Upon sharing our news, here are some sample responses we have received from fellow New Yorkers:


“Why would you want to move there?”


“Are you sure?”


“How are you going to find a job?”


“LA is fine to visit...but to live there? I dunno.”


“I know this girl who moved to LA and she hated it and was back in three months. Said it was the worst experience of her life.”


I consider New York and Los Angeles to be very two different cities, and that is okay. Dan and I are not looking to recreate our New York experience in Los Angeles. We are actively seeking to change our lifestyle. (Although I am sure plenty of Angelenos would mock our serious conversations about trying to get by with one car and our hopes of taking public transportation to work. Let us enjoy our ignorance for a little while, please!)


I think people would be more understanding if we said we were moving to Europe. In terms of coolness, Europe is on par with New York City. As for California, San Francisco would be a more acceptable choice. New Yorkers love San Francisco because they perceive it as a quaint West Coast version of New York. We would get more love if we said Portland because even though no one has actually been to Portland, everyone thinks they want to live in Portland. Even when we were toying around with the idea of New Orleans, people were into it since Northerners find anything south of Virginia to be foreign and exotic.


Mention Los Angeles, on the other hand, and there is a lot of well-meaning head scratching and grimaces.


I know there is supposed to be a rivalry between the two cities, but this is simply not true. Because to most New Yorkers, LA is not even on the radar. It doesn’t even come close. How can there be a rivalry when one side is oblivious to the other?


And when you put the city on their radar, by saying things, “I am leaving you for this inferior-to-New-York place,” they just don’t get it. You might as well be moving to Ohio.**


Since it makes no sense to them, they try to come up with logical solutions that would meet their needs and yours, such as:


“Why don’t you just move to Brooklyn?”


*Disclaimer 1: This may or may not be an exaggeration.

**Disclaimer 2: I am sure Ohio is just lovely.


Just for fun: Some other places where we considered moving.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Move

Friends and Family, It is with great excitement that I officially announce to you that Dan and I are moving to Los Angeles next year.

While we have certainly left some not-so-subtle hints about our impending move throughout this blog, we didn’t want to come out on The Ham until Dan had given his notice at work. He did, in Dan fashion--two months early--and he has booked a plane ticket for December 31, the last day of our apartment lease. Unsure of my own work schedule, I haven’t determined my exact day of departure, but it will likely be on the same day or sometime in January/February--depending on my freelance work flow. Pretty cool way to start out the New Year, if I do say so myself!

For Dan, going to California is going back home, reuniting him with his friends and family and the comforts of year-round t-shirt weather, delicious Mexican food and ripe fruit. For me, California might as well be the wild west. While I always imagined living in California at some point, in truth, I have been a Type A East Coaster my whole life. I have no idea what to expect, but I will go with an open mind and heart. If my life will soon resemble the pages of Sunset magazine, I think I might be okay.

While I am excited/nervous about the move and ready to start a new phase of my life filled with sunshine, avocados, backyard barbecues, gardening, traffic jams and Ara, I am in complete denial that my days as a New Yorker are numbered. I really do love this city, and it's bittersweet to be leaving it, especially my friends and family.

So if you don’t mind me, as we begin packing up our lives here, I will be spending the next few weeks sharing some fun New York stories as a way to say good-bye to my home for the last 9+ years.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How to Succeed in Business

I have this 15-minute speech to write on the subject of "Faith and Doubt in Politics" and I've been dreading it. That explains why I'm still slogging through a first draft 24 hours after I outlined it and less time than that before it must be delivered. So I think I deserve on-sale drug-store candy corn. That's how this works, right?

UPDATE: Nine days after Halloween, and there's no candy corn to be found at Duane Reade! Aargh! BTW, how did I get vanilla sugar wafer crumbs all over my lap?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Odds & Sods

--Million-dollar Idea #1: Candy corn on the cob. Some of you (Ara, Kunka, et al) may have heard this one before, but tonight I came up with the breakthrough. The question has often been asked: What would the cob be made of? Yes, it could be disposable plastic, but it dawned on me....the cob could evoke an inedible object while still being made of the same tasty goodness as the main object. Like the McRib!

--Million-dollar Idea #2: You're cold at the office. You think you could be so much more productive if you were just a little cozier. I present to you...the work Snuggy! It would have a shirt and tie design painted on it. And pants! And lots of black around the edges to deceive the eye and minimize the wizard-sleeve appearance. So brilliant.

--Million-dollar Idea #3: This + this = this.

--Yvonne usually gets her Us Weekly delivered on Friday. The past few weeks, though, it's been coming on Saturday, or even Monday. This Saturday, with no sign of it in the mailbox, I said, "By the time it comes, it'll already be out of date. It'll have a story on Kim Kardashian's marriage, and she'll already be divorced." Sho' nuff!

--I asked Yvonne earlier tonight if it was actually confirmed that Kim Kardashian was getting divorced. She said that Ryan Seacrest confirmed it. And then I actually said, in all seriousness...."If Seacrest said it, it must be true." WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Roommates

Last night, I went to a wine bar with my friends Meagan and Julie. What made the evening particularly special was that the wine bar, which opened maybe a year or two ago, is nestled right next to the apartment building where I lived when I first moved to New York City, and the girls I was drinking with were the people I lived with. Here we are, nine years later, still together.

When I was 24 years old, there was nothing I wanted more than to live in New York City and work in magazines. Having recently graduated college, I was living at home, working odd jobs seven days a week for little pay, feeling bored and restless. We were in the midst of a recession, September 11th had damped the spirit of the country, and I was ready for my life to begin.

I was obsessed with the new web site called Ed2010, which was essentially a job board for magazine wannabes like me, and one day, someone posted a message that went something like this: "I am new to the city, and I want to work in magazines. I was wondering if anyone was in the same boat and wanted to meet for a drink to swap stories." A few girls replied, including myself. This was before internet dating was the norm, but for some reason at the time, it seemed perfectly reasonable for me to get on the NJ Transit for one hour into the city to meet up with a bunch of strangers.

This random meeting proved to be quite magical for me. I still can't believe how well it all worked out. One of the girls, Cheryl, worked in the marketing department at a magazine and helped me secure an internship there a few days a week. Then, another girl, Kate, who never came to our regular get-togethers but was on the mailing list, ended up referring me--sight unseen--for an advertising assistant job--which led my first magazine job. And then it was through this group that I met Julie, an entry-level magazine editor from Michigan, who was living in Brooklyn. Julie mentioned her roommate was leaving the city, and she was hoping to get a place in Manhattan. Julie also knew a girl named Meagan who she met at the gym who would be a potential roommate, and perhaps I could join them? I met Meagan at another night out, and after it seemed like we would all get along okay, we all decided to become roommates.

We settled on a converted three bedroom apartment on East 50th Street. Renting an apartment in New York City is not for the faint of heart. Not only do you have to put a tremendous amount of money as a down payment--plus pay a hefty fee to your broker at the same time--but you are forced to make a decision whether you want an apartment minutes after seeing it. Apparently, the competition is so fierce, it might be taken off the market an hour later. (Or at least, the overpaid broker makes it seem that way). The whole thing came with a lot of nervousness and anxiety, especially for a broke and naive 24-year-old like me, but somehow it was all made easier dealing with it alongside these two strangers, my new roommates, my new friends.

Looking around the table last night, I couldn't help think about how far we've come and how overjoyed I am in that these girls are still in my life.

After drinks, we went to Buttercup Bake Shop, a favorite old neighborhood haunt. Julie and I reminisced how we used to go to Crunch gym on 59th St and then pick up two cupcakes on the way home.

For good time's sake, we did the same thing....only without the whole gym nonsense.


The good old days...Meagan, Julie, and me at E 50th Street.



The three of us (and Leo!) at Julie's wedding last May. Still crazy after all these years...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Birth of a Playlist / The Playlist of a Birth

We visited our friends Annie, Mark and 4-month-old Bridget today. They're awesome.

Annie mentioned that her doctor gave her the option of plugging in an iPod to be played during the delivery. (She didn't have one on her, so the doctor put his on and asked what she wanted to hear. She went with Stevie Ray Vaughan...which, she said, led to a discussion among the nurses about musicians who died young. Real nice!)

I think Yvonne could start to see my gears turning at this point, and I must say, I do like the challenge of creating the perfect playlist (oh and to be clear, said playlist is not imminently needed). So, what would make sense here? Something soothing? Or better to have the pump-you-up power anthems, like "Jock Jams" for the delivery room?

I think I know what I'd want to hear, but it's not really up to me, is it? Anyways, I'll be off with the other dads, pacing around the waiting room, giving out cigars, right? That's still how these things go?

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Weekend(s)

Last night Yvonne and I had dinner with my cousin Janie and her friend Ben, who were visiting New York from Portland. Janie is 20 and it's probably been AT LEAST 10 or 12 years since I've seen her, so I've literally never had a real conversation with her, which is weird to consider about someone who's family.

She is intelligent, poised, articulate, and dedicated to serving those in need which is hugely admirable. Hooray! No rotten apple on the family tree, this one! (For that matter, her older sister is also doing some impressive work, as an artist.)

Anyway, she asked at one point what we like to do on the weekends. Having a pretty quiet domestic life whose weekend highlights are...working out? catching up on reading? watching some birds?...and then telling those activities to a college kid...THAT'S how to feel old at 32.

And yet, is life passing us by? Meh.

I'm generally pretty happy -- I just wish there was more time for books and birds. And I think we're going to enjoy some good hangs with some good friends real soon.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Norman Corwin, 1910-2011



Some sad news. Norman Corwin, a giant from the golden days of radio, an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, the subject of an Academy Award-winning documentary, and a pretty swell teacher, has died. He was 101.


He was 90 when I was in his class for two semesters at USC. He was so genteel and still pretty sharp -- and he would prop his feet up on the desk and lean back in his chair in ways that seemed to invite danger for a nonagenarian. We should all be in such great shape at 90. In fact, it's surprising Norman went as
early as he did: his dad lived to 110, and his older brother, Emil, died earlier this year at 108. But Norman had this on his brother: He kept teaching until he was 100; Emil retired from the FDA at a measly 96, the oldest employee in the federal government (Bill Clinton feted him at the White House). Clearly these Corwins are a force of nature.

You should do yourself a favor and
read his obituary. He created what is probably the single greatest work in the history of an entire art form (more on that in a bit). His poetry earned praise from Carl Sandburg. Hell, he swung the '44 election for FDR with a single one of his broadcasts!

He was a living legend.


That was half the appeal of being in his class. It was like receiving wisdom from one of the ancients. Even though radio had died long before he did, even though he was perhaps
too supportive of our work when we could have used a tougher editor, even though few of us could fully appreciate the moral of the story in which he had told his good friend Aaron Copland that one of his new symphonies was crap, we recognized that we were learning under one of the greats, and that there had to be some value in that.

Of course, the time warp could keep him from fully understanding our era, too. He used to encourage me to submit pieces I wrote in class for publication (he jokingly said he was going to fine students 25 cents every time they used the word "interesting" in a piece -- he thought it was a limp adjective, and he was right -- and put it towards a postage stamp fund for me), and as his proof that publishing may not be as hard as I thought, he told a story about his first book. In the early '30s, he had a crush on this girl and schemed for a way to be near her more often. So he proposed that they write a book together, a book of quotations. She went for it, they wrote the book, and he decided to try to sell the manuscript. So he took the train in to New York, popped into a phone booth and looked for the nearest publisher to Penn Station. And then he walked down to the publisher's office, manuscript in arm, and sold the book. Easy!


Also, it's one thing to appreciate the reputation of your teacher. It's another to appreciate his work. I never really did that until years later, when I finally heard
On a Note of Triumph, his broadcast from V-E Day in 1945. Whoa, mama. The language is so rich, you'd think it wouldn't play, but it totally does. And on the biggest day of the war, Corwin dares to not only celebrate but also to ask, "Have we learned anything from this war, and is it going to happen again?" Powerful stuff. Such a rewarding listen, it's almost dizzying. (NPR has the whole thing: if you can't commit to the full hour, at least hear the first 3 minutes.)

Here's a sample:

"Lord God of trajectory and blast, whose terrible sword has laid open the serpent, so it withers in the sun for the just to see, sheathe now the swift avenging blade with the names of nations writ on it, and assist in the preparation of plowshare."

See what I mean? That's the kind of stuff we won't get again.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The 0.5% of the 99%

99.5 percent of "the 99 percent" at Occupy Wall Street are good people, interested in participating in something bigger than them and making things better for all of us.

Tonight, I met the other 0.5 percent.

There was a dude at the General Assembly clearly up to no good. Like, holding his lighter like a gun and "shooting" people. Then stomping across the middle of the seated gathering. These weren't political acts in any way, just disruptive.

Then he steps on the kitchen table and just starts grabbing handfuls of food. Some people call security (OWS has its own security team), and I made that call, too.

Then a thrown slice of pizza hits me in the side of the neck / shoulder.

Yeah, it pretty much looked like somebody puked on me.

I just glare at the dude because (1) I'm not interested in fighting him, (2) this doesn't seem like the place for it even if I did and (3) I figure security (dudes bigger and scrappier than me) will handle it.

What happens instead is that one of the peace-hippies is like, "Don't do anything, I'll handle this." I think he started to try to calm the guy down.

As things were tense and people were milling, one of the facilitators was like, "If you don't need to be here, please clear the area." He said that generally and to me. So I left. Why didn't I say, "That guy just threw a slice of pizza at me, so I think do I have a reason to be here"? I guess I thought he knows what he's doing, and this is his home not mine. But that's not right.

And a few minutes later, after the dude caused another disturbance and made like he was going to hit people and the peace hippie walked him away and the dude could be overheard saying, "I can be here. I'm a good person" -- why didn't I say, in the presence of actual cops just five feet away in case things went down, "If you're a good person, will you apologize for throwing that pizza at me?"

I didn't really want his apology, but I wanted him to learn a lesson or leave or get himself arrested. But I did nothing.

Does that make me a pacifist? No, I think it just makes me a sap.

I hope for the sake of everyone else there that the peace-hippie modulated this kid's attitude, but still he should have been made accountable in some way for his act of aggression -- and I should have sought that accountability. If I believe in justice, if that's what I'm down there for, then I should demand justice for me, too.

(I guess I oughta take my grievance to one of the Working Group meetings. I mean, if throwing a pizza at a person isn't enough to get someone ejected from the movement and protect the safety of everyone, what is? But maybe the moment for justice has passed.
)

I debated not telling this story because I don't want people to get the wrong idea about the OWS scene. It also felt wrong to keep this a secret. Draw your own conclusions.

If nothing else, the notion of personal security -- like the notion of passing controversial proposals about the when the drum circles can perform** with "nine-tenths consensus" (sort of a contradiction in terms) -- reveals the natural difficulties of managing....governing for lack of a better word.... a large, diverse and growing group of people. I keep reading stories from pundits about how the movement being "co-opted" by the Democratic party or Michael Moore or fill-in-the-blank-here is going to break up and kill off this movement. I haven't heard anyone who's actually been down there express this sort of sentiment. More likely it will just be the petty stuff that starts to fester. (That said, it doesn't really require living there full time to embrace the movement, and the petty aggression is most felt by the cats who are living there full time. So maybe it won't even be that big a problem.)

I hope none of this makes me sound naive about what's going on out there. I don't think I am. Frankly, I'll take a night of disappointment and a sauce-ruined shirt if it means people will speak out about the problems in our country and we get some change.


** the great drum circle controversy sounds silly, I know, but it's a big deal to these guys. Uh, I'm not helping make them sound serious, am I?.....but really, it's all caught up with freedom and fears of outsiders trying to fracture the movement, and....ok, I'm done talking.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On the Next Episode of 'Hoarders'



Look what I found on the street!

It's a giant bag of Styrofoam peanuts!


Can you believe somebody was just
throwing this away?

This is like a $50 bag of peanuts. Seriously. This is like somebody saying, "Oh, you're moving soon? Here, take 50 dollars."

And a little research indicates they're the biodegradable kind!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

33-Years-Young

On Wednesday, I celebrated my 33rd birthday. Tomorrow, I start menopause. Just kidding.

It was a great birthday because I didn't have to go to work. (Is there anything more soul-sucking than having to sit inside a cubicle on your birthday--especially when it is nice and sunny outside?)

I met up with Nell for lunch, and we got manicures and pedicures at my favorite spot. Then I met up Dan for dinner at Osteria Morini. Great pick by Dan. Amazing food, ambiance, company, the works. I have a very good husband.


Me at 33. (me at 29, 30, 31, 32 - don't I look like a completely different person each year?)

I always get a bit introspective around my birthday. I can't help it; it's in my nature. A lot is going to happen to me this year. Within a few months, my life is about to change a whole lot. Year 33 will definitely be a year to remember. Am I being too vague? I will get deeper into it in another post.

As for today, I spent the afternoon with Heather and Drake in Brooklyn. We got me some birthday cake (a glorious chocolate cake with chocolate frosting!) and then we checked out the carousel in Dumbo. My old point-and-shoot camera died over the summer, so I bought a new one for when I don't want to carry around the big guy, and I have to say, it's been pretty fun taking snapshots with it--especially at super-wide 22mm mode.









I think Heather and I liked the ride better than the kid. Have you ever seen such a sad little face? Oh, well. Better luck next time :)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Occupying Wall Street


Honey, bring me my checklist of '60s dreams come true. (Yes, that's Peter Yarrow on the left. And we're singing "Blowin' in the Wind." At a protest!)

By now you've heard of the Occupy Wall Street protests, yes? You may be skeptical of them. I was, too, so last Tuesday night, on Day 11 since the kids started camping out downtown (and two days after that really nasty pepper-spraying episode), I went to check them out. This is what I wrote in an email to some friends:

Can I get sincere for a second?

I went down to the Occupying Wall Street protest tonight....I'd been meaning to check it out, and then this afternoon I saw that Cornel West was going to be speaking, so that settled it.

There were a good 500-700 people there....hard to be certain how many were tourists and protest-tourists (inc. myself) but the core group was definitely in the hundreds. The conversations I listened in on were intelligent, naive, passionate, respectful.

Brother West was amazing, of course. He doesn't shake hands; he hugs. Also he's like 6 feet tall -- 6-3 with the afro. Everything that's conducted there is done so without microphones, so anyone who is speaking (on "the people's mic") says a few words at a time, then waits for them to be shouted out by the crowd in unison. And I have to say, it was pretty electric when we were shouting along with West's mini-sermon.

From what I saw in an hour, including a portion of their evening General Assembly meeting which was much, much more organized and more democratic than I expected, these kids (and they are mostly kids, with a few O.G.'s scattered around) are earnest and committed.

Now...their mission statement is straight-up kooky. They look way too "dangerous" to get any traction with middle America. Undoubtedly one of these kids is going to say or do something stupid. They're easy to write off in any number of ways. But every day they're out there (this is Day 11) gives them a little more credibility, that at least they're serious about sticking it out. It gives more time for Michael Moore and Cornel West to attract attention and people like me. And, best case scenario, enough non-threatening, establishment-type regular folks get on board that it gives cover for a mainstream Democratic politician to embrace at least the underlying emotion behind the protest. We're not going to get Wall Street out of Washington, but if this could convince one of our elected officials to show a little spine, well, it will have been worth it. That's an extreme long shot, but hell if we can't show some love to some people who are out in the streets.

As Occupy Wall Street has continued to grow as a national movement and in the attention paid to it, I've become even more fixated. So I went back down there today (I thought I'd make a couple donations to their "library" -- the Autobiography of Malcom X, and the Portable Voltaire) and my trip confirmed that it's a really positive, inspiring scene. Just good vibes.

The protests have taken some flak because "they don't have a central message" or "they don't have any solutions." That's what I thought, too, until I went down there. But that's not really where it's at. These protests are about the frustration that the 99% of us are, now more than ever, at the mercy of the other 1%. So what does that mean? Income inequality? Corporate influence in politics? Wall Street recklessness? Media fecklessness? The housing bubble? College tuition costs?

Yes.

And by drawing sustained attention to these issues, these kids are doing something meaningful.

It's not on them to come up with the solutions. (Might I add at this point that they've revised their mission statement in the past week to make much less kooky. Some of them still look "dangerous;" some of them are street urchins. But most of them are decent, friendly people.) What this movement needs is for ordinary, voting Americans and establishment politicians to work within the system to make the system work for us again. The pendulum swings, and it's time for it swing on back a little.

There's a lot more I could say here, but let me just sum it up by saying that on the whole, it's an incredibly positive scene. That if you have a chance to check it out, you should (and perhaps even refrain from judgment until you do). If you're not happy about the way things are going, join in.

New Yorker Festival 2011

Yvonne has finally, successfully, nudged me into recapping this year's New Yorker Festival, also known as "my Super Bowl."

She said we needed a recap, if for nothing else so we don't forget what we saw.  (Indeed, I'm not totally clear when we started going to the festival....but we must have started going in '05, then missed it for Ara's wedding in '06.  Then I had some CLASSIC panels in '07 when Yvonne was launching this blog's predecessor, Polish Ham....then we were in New Orleans in '08, but managed to hit up '09, '10 and now '11.  Not bad!)

By only going to two events last year, I felt like I missed out.  This year, I did four.  Yvonne, for whom this is not quite a personal Super Bowl, still went to two.  A quick rundown:

** Friday night:  Yvonne, Kim, Kayleen and Nien saw a talk with the novelists Jeffrey Eugendies, Nicole Krauss and Jhumpa Lahiri.  She'd been waiting six years for Jhumpa!  And then found her a little cold.  Still, good stuff.

** Saturday:  AWESOME war reporters panel.  Badasses (male and female) telling war stories.  Jon Lee Anderson is the coolest man alive.  And the way they're all so matter-of-fact about being kidnapped in Libya, or persona non grata in Sri Lanka, or how they just had to go to Iraq -- all without glorifying what they see there -- makes a person wish he'd never left journalism.  Just a little.

Also went to a fantastic panel on capital punishment.  The panelists on both sides were very persuasive, but I'm still against it.

**Saturday night:  Our main event:  a one-on-one interview with Owen Wilson.  Except it wasn't one-on-one, because out came surprise guest Wes Anderson.  And then all the questions were directed to Wes Anderson.  This was not really what I had in mind.  However, I asked a question for the first time at one of these events (about the LEGENDARY unaired pilot Heatvision & Jack), and it wound up being the best question asked all night.  

**Sunday:  For the third year in a row, a 75-minute lecture by finance page columnist James Surowiecki.  I didn't love it as much as Jason did.

But really the best part was getting together with the poker people over drinks and bar food (which we did three times in one weekend) to compare all the different events we went to, all the cringe-worthy questions from audience members who aren't us, and all the glory that is....the New Yorker Festival.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cooperstown: The Non-Baseball Parts

Yvonne with the Great Pumpkin.  Yep, Pumpkinfest 2011: We Were There.


Cooperstown sits on a big lake.  It's real purty.

Back to the pumpkins.  At the big weigh-off on Saturday, local businesses buy a pumpkin and sponsor it in the Pumpkin Regatta.  On Sunday, they paint them, hollow them out like canoes then race 'em in the lake!

With some time to kill before the regatta, we snuck in some birding at Goodyear Swamp, on the opposite end of the lake.  Four positive IDs in one hour; Yvonne spotted some good ones.

Another view of the wetlands.  Lovely, right?

Seriously.

We made it back in time for the second of three races.  That pumpkin in front -- the Hampton Inn pumpkin -- crushed it.

Other highlights:  The sweet old inn where we stayed (the photos don't do it justice), the one traffic light in town, and seeing the tourist who broke the color barrier! 

Cooperstown in Pictures* (*Mostly)

The Hall of Fame is a serious place.  They spell "Museum" with "v"s!

At the Bambino's locker.  As you'll see below, I loved the Hall.  But this seems like a good place to express a beef:  all the goods are behind glass.  I get it.  It's priceless stuff, you don't want it touched or damaged -- but the Met has 500-year-old tapestries hanging al fresco; certainly SOME of the treasures of baseball's past could be en plein air.  It just makes it more immediate, more real.

Re-creating a memorable photo from my '89 trip, inside Hank Aaron's locker.


Yvonne loved how I was loving this section.  They had this whole exhibit on baseball's record books, with lots of fascinating stuff -- like how Ty Cobb's lifetime average of .367 (one of those stats I committed to memory long ago) is actually .366.  Some dude went back and looked at all the official scores from Cobb's career and found that he wasn't charged for a number of at-bats that he should have been, which lowered his official lifetime average.  Insane.

Second place in the day's trivia score.


This is where we took a break after the three-hour mark.  Above is a shot of Yvonne's favorite player, Hideki Matsui.  Yes, this is a photo of a photo of Matsui's face painted on a jumbo jet.  You gotta love the Japanese.  

At the entrance to the Hall itself.  That ethereal glow behind me?  That's greatness.

If I'm gonna rock the Oaks jersey, I gotta give some love to the greatest Oak of all time, Kirby Puckett.  You're my boy, blue!
 
Addendum: I wasn't the only Visalian "in the Hall."  He doesn't have a plaque, but he does have a mention in the chronology of the game which makes up the main exhibit:  Orval Overall, a pitcher with the 1906 National League Champion Chicago Cubs -- who were, incidentally, led by Fresno-native first baseman-manager Frank Chance (who IS enshrined). 

Addendum #2:  Yvonne was an impeccable sport.  Five (!) hours in the museum and nary a complaint.  Although this did happen over a photo of the first night game, from May 24, 1935...

Me:  That was as good as it would ever get.  It's been all downhill from here.
Yvonne:  Do you even listen to yourself?  The things that come out of your mouth sometimes...
 
(No one is surprised that my favorite era of baseball pre-dates my birth by a good 40 years though, right?  And I'm not entirely serious about night games...especially after I read the letter that FDR wrote to the Commissioner in 1942 urging him to keep baseball going during the war, and in fact to keep up with the night games so that the boys on the day shift could catch a game.  Love FDR.)

All in all, not a bad way to spend a day!  Thanks, love, for the gift of baseball!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Birthday Season, II

Birthday Season swung into high gear today, D-Day, as it were:  cookies at work (some of them were portioned out to the rest of the office, the rest I ate by about 4:30), then a preview screening of Moneyball (thanks, Danielle!) -- the perfect starter to our weekend in COOPERSTOWN!

Oh, did we not mention that we're taking a long weekend upstate to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame?  Because that's totally happening.  It's a combined birthday-anniversary gift from my awesome wife (the first anniversary being the "paper" one, I got a couple of tickets to the Hall back in May).  When I went 22 years ago with my family we spent a solid 3 hours in the museum and I was ready to go back in for more.  We'll see if it holds up this time.  I'm guessing yes.  Yvonne is on photo duty.  She's thrilled.

A word about Moneyball.  Continuing with the tradition that was established in Bull Durham, the town of Visalia once again gets much love in a baseball movie.  Not only does Brad Pitt's character mention our town by name (with the correct pronunciation even -- thanks, Brad!), but some real-game Oaks footage plays a prominent role....and that's all I'm going to say about that. 

V-town rules.

Baseball rules.

Hooray for birthdays!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Birthday Season

Sunday commenced the beginning of Birthday Season in the Team Squeen household, which can only mean one thing: Birthday cake. I have made Dan chocolate concoctions in the past, but this year, I went all vanilla all the way.


I think he likes it.

I made his cake a bit early this year since we'll be going away this weekend for a birthday baseball extravaganza (more on that in a later post) and I wanted to make sure we would have time to enjoy it before we left (someone had four slices this evening after his dinner, so enjoyment is definitely in abundance!)

Speaking of enjoyment, we went to see The Lion King in 3D over the weekend which is my favorite Disney movie next to The Little Mermaid. I used to watch it all the time but hadn't seen it in over a decade. I couldn't stop crying. I loved it so much. It's crazy how well I remembered some of those lines considering I am the type of person who can barely recall the plot of a book I read a few months ago. I get very sentimental about the circle of life. Dan, who never saw it before, thought it was a bit cheesy. He doesn't know goodness. Or what cold means. The temperature dropped to the 60s this week, and you would have thought we were experiencing Siberian winter from his reaction. The long underwear are minutes away from being pulled out of the drawers.

Coinciding with birthday season, I am finishing up my summer job this week. I really liked working at this magazine and am bummed to go, but time's up. The life of a freelancer; you never can get too attached to one job. We moved into a new office building on Monday, so for my last week, I have been demoted to a freelance workstation in the corner, a mile from my other co-workers, with my punishment being that I have to stare at this hideous green wall all day.


The window seat is nice, but my eyes hurt looking forward. Maybe it is time to go.

Birthday season, end of a job, cool autumn weather, the circle of life -- it sure feels like change is in the air and great new things are coming our way. I'll be sure to blog about it on a more regular basis. (I hope!)