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 This Saturday, with no sign of it in the mailbox, I said, "By the time it comes, it'll already be out of date.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


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


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?


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.