Friday, June 27, 2008

The Walking Fool

In 2001, my friend Mark started walking from New Jersey to California. Several months later, in Sioux Falls, SD, he decided he was finished with the heat and mosquitoes, and came back to New York.

This March he set out again. I got a call from him tonight outside of Bancroft, Nebraska, and he wanted you all to know he was doing very well, but wouldn't mind a cool drink of water from friendly strangers now and then.

Please to visit his site and read his blog, then tell your Nebraskan friends to keep a friendly eye out, and wish him well. Someday you'll get to see the full documentary, the quality of which can be deduced from the trailer he made for a filmed version of his first trip.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Taking Out the Garbage

Our household waste goes into a bunch of piles.
  • Compost
  • Glass, plastic, metal
  • Cardboard, paper
  • Back to the diaper service
  • Traditional garbage -- paper towels/tissues, packaging, non-compost food waste
  • The corpses of those who would call us self-righteous and smug

So what's actually great about this is that I get to go outside a lot, where the animals dwell. It's not that we're BETTER than anyone else. Anyone who clogs our landscape -- and the children, and freedom -- with cigarette butts, Schlitz cans, old stuffed animals, etc., is perfectly fine with me. I just like making piles. And if every time I wash out a dirty cloth diaper it makes the Virgin Mary smile, so much the better.

I can't believe I'm going to post this, but I checked in the bucket of things to say and it was empty except for this post. You have my apologies. Do check back sometime, wouldya?

UPDATE: You deserve better. Here's something from the commute:

Monday, June 23, 2008

Did You Guys See That Year Go By?

A year ago I left the world's oldest international auction house for the last time and embarked on a new job. Not sure if I'm calculating this correctly, but I think I've saved 25 days' worth of commuting time. Which would explain why my kids look so much older; I've jumped ahead a month!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chips off the old block

My wife and I were driving a babysitter home not long after we'd moved up to this town from the other town to the south, and as we passed the country club where I'd married a beautiful, intelligent, progressive and funny woman one time, I saw a white-spotted pink boulder nestled in a stone wall.

"Rebecca," I said to the babysitter. "Do you know what kind of rock that is?"

Rebecca did not. Not because she wasn't smart, but because there was really no reason for a 16-year-old girl to know anything about Schunnemunk conglomerate, not unless she wore thick braids and coke-bottle glasses and played English horn and collected bugs, and these things Rebecca did not do.

Nevertheless, for a couple of minutes — as long as I harangued her about the distinctive rock, which is found nowhere else in the region and appears only in smaller patches in northern New Jersey — she was edified on the subject. Schunnemunk conglomerate. Doubtless she forced the mineral out of her mind as quickly as possible upon arriving home (home, which was back in the town we'd lived in earlier; this was before we'd integrated into our new digs, when the people of our new town still called us city folk and threw kittens into our well) by listening to that M&M and that Molly Cyprus woman or watching Dancing with the Chef.

This is what it looks like, and this is where it comes from.

Schunnemunk is a long narrow ridge, recently named a state park, that is ribboned with trails and rattlesnakes. That scene in Michael Clayton, when Clooney runs away from the burning car? He runs up the northern terminus of the Jessup Trail, which continues for about ten miles along the ridge. Also up there are the Dark Hollow, the Sweet Clover, the Long Path, and the trail up High Knob. At the high points where the soil doesn't cling, this peculiar pink stone larded with quartz shows itself between the pine scrub. It's a tacky-colored puddingstone, mauve, from the late Devonian, when such things were in fashion.

Here's where a better or worse writer might go for the metaphor. Certainly the territory is rich: remember, we're driving past the site of our wedding, the stones of this mountain are made up of these tiny quartz moments embedded in sandstone, and the whole ridge — a 3,000-foot thick cap of conglomerate atop earlier Devonian deposits — is highly durable and resistant to the elements. People have used the stone for centuries around these parts, and it has made its way from town to town. There's a millstone made from it beside a pond in Monroe; chunks of the rock are mixed in with the local gneiss in the stone planters outside the Town Hall in Highland Mills; Central Valley's got it in spades. Like the bits of quartz in their sandy matrix, pieces of Schunnemunk are embedded in the lives of the people who live in this region.

A better or worse writer might say that it is like my wife and me, this slightly tacky but useful stone, comprising sand and fire, part of the earth of these valleys; sometimes slightly invisible to the residents, but slowly incorporating into the local fabric.

But what a better or worse writer might not realize is that there's no excuse for boring a high school junior with her whole life ahead of her so badly that her eyes wander to the distant horizon, over the ridge she doesn't even see anymore, to dream of a place — far, far away from this town and the aging nerd in the front seat, babbling about rocks — from which she will never want to return.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Meeting the Internet

The last couple of months have seen several in-person meetings with actual live bloggers. (Not actual live-bloggers, although some of them might do that if witness to something fascinating, or if they had a cell phone, a restroom and a Twitter account. Because they're addicts.) Big bloggers, regular ones, all of them very talented and incredibly good looking. And here's the weird thing: like the runners I'm privileged to know, they all seem to be decent people who support one another in their endeavors and who don't politicize the dynamic or judge you for your skill or your reactions or your thinning hair. I know that's not everyone's experience, but I'm new here.

It was natural that I'd combine the two pursuits sooner or later, so when I read on the Internet that Heather B. was running 5k's I thought "oh, I'll have to invite her down for a run sometime this summer," and as I thought that I passed a big banner for the first annual 5k at a local church, and I thought "yeah, I'll have to remember to find a race that makes sense and email her," and then I ran over a guy painting arrows to mark the course and I thought "yeah, if there were only a race of the correct distance nearby, I could totally invite her" and then I crashed my car into the race director and said "duh! I could invite her to this race! The one that starts about a foot from my driveway!" And naturally, having read her blog, seen her photos, read her Twitters and met her once, my next thought was "what kind of booze should I use as bait?"

I needn't have bothered with the booze: she never hesitated from the moment I suggested a run. An excellence of spirit and openness to new experience seem to be what Heather B. is all about, and I now know that "No pasa nada" translates to "yeah, I'm in." So she came down, refused mojitos and had some wine, got up completely game, and ran that race like an absolute pro with a form-perfect kick for the last fifty yards that was grace itself.

I made eggs, but didn't serve mimosas. Then Heather offered (ahem, for the record) to watch our kids for an hour when we announced that we had an appointment, which I had sort of neglected to mention. But after that lapse in good hosting, THEN, we took her to watch Polly turn seven, which is not something you see every day, I don't care what kind of fancy blogger you are.

Friday, June 13, 2008

$1m Ideas: Niche Social Media & Retiring "Wooooo"

I was writing an email earlier and started describing this novel I'm listening to on the CD, when it occurred to me that I should just put my impressions on Goodreads, where my correspondent would still see them, and I wouldn't have to go to the trouble of re-keying my opinion every time I wanted to tell it to someone. It then occurred to me: why not continue the fragmentation of subject-specific social media sites to the point of utter absurdity? For instance (and I'm sure these URLs are already taken, but obviously for the wrong reasons):

If you want to… then visit… and…
tell someone what you’re doing update your status for your followers.
recommend a moving book apply five stars to your latest read.
seek sympathy during your kids’ illnesses update the phlegm volume monitor and color chart.
describe an argument with your S.O. create a graph of how many times that jerk said "you're pronouncing it wrong."
proclaim allegience to your local professional sports franchise log in to your home field and place a fanpoints wager on the big game.
discuss the way you feel when you see your child succeed at something new use the big hammer to hit the pride bell, which causes ring.wav to launch on your followers’ pages.
let your professional connections know about your latest project complete the “What are you working on?” field.
note that you’ve found a weird bruise on your leg, but can’t remember bumping it on anything build-a-bruise™ using a color palette in yellows, purples and browns while your friends rate your injury with up to five(!) ice-packs.
extend this joke any farther the comments link do it there.


Can we please stop screeching "Woooooo?" It's embarrassing. I recommend that "Woooo" be replaced with a simple humming sound. How majestic that would be as it swelled over the crowd at the parade, sports event, or concert.

How old I must be.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Do Not Read This Post

Because there's a giant spider in it.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Benchmarking: a Study in What Passes for Discomfort Among the Affluent

I’d never really encountered the word benchmarking until I came to my current job in the financial services industry. I’ve since warmed to it. Because it’s what I do all the time as I wonder just how other people are making it.

Don’t get me wrong: we’re making it. I’ve been told that enough times by enough people who know, and things are definitely more comfortable around here this year. I’m convinced, finally. But if we’re making it, why the pit in the stomach? Why the sense that we’re one room short of a full complement of rooms? Why do the ceilings seem a couple of inches too low and we powerless to change that?

I started writing this entry, then came up against the fact of our making it and had to cast my mind back, had to relocate my principles. Oh, that’s right: we chose it. A manifesto was perhaps written.

Once in a while, that rankles. The principles and justifications seem a little more elusive, a little less apparent. Are the kids just growing faster than we thought? Are the toy piles and innovative storage solutions (nooks, crannies) getting overfilled? Is it just the persistent sugar ants and nonresponsive exterminators that make us feel a hair below the comfort zone of privilege we feel we should inhabit? Hard to say. The people I meet, the bloggers I read, I want to know: how are they making it? It’s not about status per se. It’s more about the practicalities. "Look honey, that’s a one-income household but their ceilings are higher than ours!" It’s not about the high ceilings. It’s about the how. How do they have higher ceilings than ours?

If we’re making it, and we wanted higher ceilings, why do we have these low ones? I go back to our decisions, and realize again: we chose it. [Just squashed an ant.] Tonight, again, writing that first paragraph, I reran the math we ran when we sold the more expensive, larger house to purchase this 1,100 square foot one. I see what we did. I remember why. And I calm down a little.

But here’s the rub, for me: my fiscal conservatism is characterized more by fear of failure and pessimism than it is by frugality and intelligently converting money into more money.

So I benchmark, and it comes out like this: There are people with a near-innate self assurance. It comes across as street smarts, business savvy, negotiating skill. Sometimes there’s physical handiness. It combines tolerance for risk with an apparently willful lack of imagination regarding risk. Some of the least socially adept people I know have it. CEOs have it. It’s in the easy self-assurance of the lawyer, or the contractor, or the banker. It’s not just blind certainty; it’s that coupled with skill at mitigating risk. Many entrepreneurs have it—but it doesn’t seem prevalent in the more distant reaches of the cube farms. Sometimes those who possess this complex of traits actually fail, but I suspect they simply pick up and move on to the next project.

I haven’t got the gene. So what I DO have is a small old house whose purchase was very safe and which left us in pretty good shape for college down the road, PLUS a job in a cube, swoopy floors, little sugar ants, unfinished novels, a floody basement, poor air circulation, bats, and, sometimes, a sense that even this can’t last.

And that, friends, is what passes for making it. How are you making it?