Archive for the ‘Weekend Update’ Category

Weekend Update:
Breaking Up the Breakfront

Sunday, September 20th, 2009


First, a word about the crap in front of the breakfront. The cute boxes with the ribbons contain a number of smaller pieces of silver that probably ought to be given away. (Wouldn’t you like some?) Beneath the skirted footstool lies the household supply of soft drinks (Kathleen does not believe in ice). On top of the boxes, a serving dish sits beneath a cunning screened dome, designed to keep insects away from outdoor treats. (I don’t need it at all, but I can’t get rid of it. Perhaps this photograph will shame me into taking action.)

Second, a word about the crap in the breakfront. You can’t really see it, but I want you to know that it’s all on the way out — either to the hutch on the balcony or to HousingWorks.

Third, a word about the pile of crap to the left of the breakfront: history in the making — if you know what I mean by “history.”


Aside from half an hour at the beginning of the day and another half hour at the end, I spent all of Friday with Quatorze. We were to meet at the Orpheum in time for the ten o’clock showing of The Informant!, but when I crossed Second Avenue, there he was, early as usual, killing time by walking an extra block that he would only have to backtrack. I don’t know who is going to win this particular war. Will Quatorze shame me into being as ahead-of-time as he is? I used to feel ashamed, and rightly so, because I used to be late. But now I am punctual and Quatorze is early. I’d much rather hang out at home until the last minute than spend extra time at the Orpheum, wondering if the projectionist will ever get round to starting the feature. As long as I’m not late, I’m not keeping anybody waiting — technically. But I feel ashamed of being the second person of two to show up.

After the movie, we had lunch next door, at Burger Heaven. This wasn’t to be one of our leisurely lunches, because we had a job to do. Quatorze wanted to know if the top of the breakfront/secretary desk could be detached from the bottom. We would discover that it can, thanks to Quatorze’s knowledge of furniture construction, nimbleness with tools, and heroic determination.  We would detach the upper, glass-fronted part of the breakfront from the lower part. Then Quatorze would convince me that the best place for the upper part, right now, is right where it was. We settled it on the dowels that projected from the lower part. The screws went into a ziploc bag.

We learned that the bottom has no top. When you take the upper part of the breakfront away, you see a lot of struts and braces, and some very fresh-looking mahogany, but no surface — and, thanks to those dowels, no easy way to improvise one. The plan is to have a top made — Quatorze recurs to the manmade composite known as “quartz” — and to put the glass-fronted top, which needs expensive repairs, in storage. That I should even think of removing the top is a sign of how profoundly my regard for old-timey possessions has shifted. I have resigned my position as curator of childhood dreams.

We’ll discuss the whys and wherefores some other time. Right now, it’s enough to say that, after the successful detachment of the piece’s two halves, I had to figure out what do with the contents, which ocvered almost every surface in the living room. I not only did the figuring out, but I went to the store and bought provisions for an impromptu dinner party. Discretion forbids my enumerating the guests, but Quatorze and Fossil Darling were of the party, which wouldn’t have taken place without Quatorze’s incredibly savvy assistance. Knowing Quatorze as I do, I have no business saying “incredibly,” but I claim poetic license.


We all had a great evening, and nobody stayed up too late. But I was shocked to be reminded by Fossil, when we talked the next morning at around noon, that I’d agreed to cross town for dinner at Shun Lee West. It was the last thing I wanted to do, if only because it involved leaving the building and crossing a street. Many streets! But one street was too many. Among the consequences of having a great time with friends the night before was the fierce desire to see nobody the morning after.

I went about my usual Saturday business, listening to opera and tidying the apartment. (I also ran two dishwasher loads.) But I never went for five minutes without worrying about dinner. Should I cancel? I wanted to cancel, but I was also suspicious of this desire. Why did I want to stay home on a Saturday night, cleaning out the refrigerator, when I could be enjoying Peking duck at Shun Lee West? And don’t give me that crap about how hard it is to get from Yorkville to Lincoln Center.

All afternoon this went on. Should I cancel? Or should I just go? And, if I decided to cancel, when should I tell Fossil Darling? What was the latest polite moment for letting him know that the reservation ought to be changed? Six o’clock, I decided.

There was so much that I wanted to do at home!  After tidying the rooms, and cleaning out the refrigerator, I planned to go through the mail. (A three-foot stack! Okay, mostly catalogues.) Then I would assemble a couple of cool new playlists. The gernaiums would be dead-headed! And maybe, if I was really dutiful, I’d write up a page or two for Portico.

The urge to write was kindled by Eric Patton’s latest entry at SORE AFRAID. On the eve of his fortieth birthday, Eric has been writing poignantly about the passage of time and the disappointment of early dreams, usually without calling attention it, but occasionally unfurling a banner:

We headed out to the Teas.  They were not very crowded.  I decided that I really liked the Madonna song of the summer, although the lyrics seemed to be mocking me on such a sad day.  Everybody wants to party with you?  It’s a celebration?  No more.

The wistfulness intensified with each parting ferry.  I wanted to stand atop the day and yell “stop”!

The last statement is truly worthy of Wallace Stevens, don’t you think? All right, it’s a tad emphatic. But when I read Eric’s entries, I feel that I’m reading Proust in English for the first time. My desire to encourage Eric is not unencumbered by the fanciful idea that, someday, readers might think of Marcel as the French Patton. But genug schon with the mash notes.  That the scene of Eric’s elegizing is Fire Island Pines simply ups the poignancy. I think: nearly thirty years ago, when I was not quite ten years younger than Eric is now, I drank even more deeply of the draught of Piney nostalgia. At the end of the summer of 1981, I did not tell myself that it was the end of the summer of 1981. What I told myself was that I should never be back. If I ever set foot on the dock by the Boatel and the Pavilion and the Miramar again, it wouldn’t be for many, many years; and, in fact, it has not yet happened.

What I learned in the Pines in 1981, at the beginning of the life in New York City that I had dreamed about since my childhood — a mere sixteen miles from Times Square and more dozens of layers of social awareness than I could count — was that familiarity, for me, would lead to unhappiness. If I ate the cookies that movies and magazines had made so attractive and appetizing, I’d always know where I was, but where I’d be would be in misery. I decided, that summer, against being miserable. The alternative was: difficulty. I settled on figuring things out for myself. It was not necessarily an intelligent to do. If the Internet had not been made available to civilians, I’d be worrying about mildew on the monarda, and wishing more than anything else that my lupines would prosper. I don’t regret my stint as a gardener in Litchfield County (all right, New Milford).  But the idea that I should find satisfaction in the health of a bed of plants makes me laugh now. I’m not that good man.


Between five and six, I slowly ran out of steam. It also happened that, minutes after the stroke of six, I finished the apartment-tidying. I put the vacuum cleaner and the Pledge Clean away, and threw the dustrags in the laundry. I could call Fossil — or I could stop whining and just go, like a grown-up. Let me tell you: being me wasn’t fun! Then the complexion of the matter underwent a hormonal change.

It took, I should say, five or six seconds. Earlier, I’d thought about walking over to Fossil’s apartment before dinner. How virtuous would that be!

Even more: how solitary. But this scheme was premised on the idea that I would put off the Saturday housekeeping until Sunday, and spend the day either following through on the myriad projects that detaching the top of the breakfront inaugurated (I’ll spare you the list) or reading Chris Wickham’s riveting book about the early Middle Ages: a day of bourgeois Talmud. But now that it was six, and I had spent hours on my feet, dusting and vacuuming, I was hardly keen on more exercise. And yet, within those five or six seconds, it became the thing that I wanted more than anything else. I showered and dressed with the haste of someone who had just received a coveted invitation. As I did, I thought of this passage in Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland. 

There followed as pause during which, I decided, this woman was considering the retrospective significance of a taxi journey up the Edgware Road many years ago. Her hand made its way up to my thigh and tenderly applied pressure there. “Anyhow, I think that’s why I trust you,” she said, her nearest eye darting at me and then back at the ceiling. “Because you were a complete gentleman.” The phrase made her laugh loudly, and she began to make a lesiurely, more sensual motion with her hand. I reached out to touch her breasts, and it asonished me how much pleasure this gave me. Suddenly, in spite of all the notions with which I’d dismissed the possibility, this woman had my attention. I was fully alert now and fully aware of her particularity.  

I was fully aware of a desire to be out on the street, walking through the beautiful twilight toward Lincoln Center. The fear of getting mixed up, yet again, on the far side of the Sheep Meadow was just the right kind of bother. I’d figure out when to stop heading toward the towers of the Time Warner Center, even if it did mean traipsing through the Tavern on the Green’s parking lot. I’d step into an elevator and ride the nineteen floors to Fossil’s feeling as solid as mortal man can feel. Oblivious of all the crap. 

Weekend Update:

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

Al Baker in the Times: “Brooklyn Man Killed at South Street Seaport

The argument that preceded the killing erupted among people debarking the Atlantica, which had been chartered for a party but which never left Pier 17.

People yelled and hurled bottles as they walked off the boat and into an area of shops and restaurants — most of them closed for the night — near South and Fulton Streets.

Then shots were fired, the police said, and as the crowd scattered, Mr. Trent fell to the ground with a bullet wound to the head, the police said. Emergency medical technicians pronounced him dead at the scene.

The Atlantica’s captain, Dennis Miano, said in a telephone interview on Saturday that “a little over 500” people had arrived on Friday night for what was billed as a moonlight cruise. But he said the 150-foot boat “can only handle about 425 to sail with.”

“That’s why we did a dockside party,” said Mr. Miano, 60. “We didn’t sail the boat.”

Monday Scramble:

Monday, August 10th, 2009


 New at Portico:  Well over a year ago, I read one of the greatest novels that I have ever encountered, Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland. I was hugely impressed, but I was also in love — with the result that my response was short-circuited. I might have managed to squeak out a word or two if I hadn’t also been convinced that most of the reviews, even when they were favorable (and most of them were), were wildly off.

I read the novel again at Thanksgiving, and then again after Christmas. I took lots of notes, but my paralysing intimidation only increased. The paperback edition came out; President Obama was said to be reading it; sales spiked. Good for Joseph O’Neill! But what about me? Determined to say something at Portico, iI ferreted through my notes bowl and found a fragment that seemed publishable. It’s more a first word on the novel than a last word, but it’s up, and I’m not unhappy with it. I argue that Netherland is a novel about wistfulness, and I argue also that wistfulness is the polar opposite of nostalgia. These are ideas that I contracted from reading Netherland several times.

The week before last, I didn’t get round to writing up the New Yorker story, and this left me with two jobs. I took care of both of them, but not without a lot of revision. The page on Joshua Ferris’s “The Valetudinarian” had to be rewritten from scratch, and “War Dances,” by Sherman Alexie, threatened to be alien corn.

This week’s movie was, of course, Julie and Julia. The movie would probably have been heaven anyway, but more like paradise lost, because I’d have had to explain to Kathleen later. Under normal Friday-movie circumstances, that is. But Kathleen was determined to see the movie with me, so it was just plain paradise.

Last and least: this week’s Book Review review.

Monday Scramble:

Monday, August 3rd, 2009


Everyone was talking about the Rorschach inkblots last week, after a Canadian psychologist posted a Wikipedia page that was something of a vent. Who knew there were only ten? That was the impression conveyed, anyway.

I was obliged to take the Rorschach test in elementary school, and it was all I could do to keep frpm giggling. “What this looks like, doctor, is that you’re an idiot to place any diagnostic reliance on a bit of fingerpaint.” Not in so many words, perhaps. I should have just come out and told the doctor that I was sure that my mother wanted to kill me, if only he’d asked nicely. (And I was!)

Clancy Martin’s Diary entry about his substance abuse got a lot of follow-up. Other long threads raveled Mad Men avatarsChinese students’ identity theft, and Jamba Juice.

New at Portico:  Unprofessional as it may be to do so, I’m going to blame this nasty summer cold of mine for a slackening of page production. I have done the writing, I assure you — but not the editing, the formatting, the uploading, and so on. Stay tuned! At least I’ve taken care of the Book Review review. I also posted the first draft of a page about L J Davis’s A Meaningful Life, because I wanted to show off about having read it.

If I didn’t quite get to (500) Days of Summer on time, that’s because I wanted to tuck Adam into this entry along with it. Now I’m completely up to date on that front.

Monday Scramble:
Flying What?

Monday, July 20th, 2009


The death of famous people is something that a lot of bloggers feel obliged to report, perhaps because it is the last word in news. Walter Cronkite’s death last week was very widely mentioned, even though he must have been, for most bloggers, an historical figure whose most important work, between the Fifties and the Seventies, preceded their birth — or at least their post-toddler sentience. (As I noted at Twitter, broadcast news ought to have ceased when Cronkite retired; the man who defined the genre proved to be irreplaceable.) Frank McCourt’s more recent celebrity (his best-known book, Angela’s Ashes, was published thirteen years ago) is a different matter altogether — in terms of fame, McCourt was a contemporary of the late David Foster Wallace.

But the big story, the one with plenty of wrinkles still to be ironed out, concerns Amazon’s blunderously peremptory removal of digital copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from the Kindles of people who had bought the book. The purchase price was refunded, but all the legal arguments in the world are not going to restore faith in Amazon’s probity unless it makes clear that it will never do any such thing in future. M Ryan Calo rounds up some of the better write-ups of the Orwell fiasco at The Millions.

Also, not to be confused with the Flying Spaghetti Monster: Humboldt squid, at the Guardian, and at Outside.

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition):
Making It Clear

Sunday, July 12th, 2009


Notwithstanding Kathleen’s convalescence, we had a good weekend, which I rather think we were owed. I had a wonderful sense of being ahead of schedule, whatever that means. What difference does it make whether I finish reading The Economist before 2 PM or before 3 PM? I don’t know why, but it makes a big difference. I’m learning that the passage from 2 until 4 is the tricky part of my day; the morning ends at around 2 (finally!), and the evening begins at 4 (already?). With only two hours of afternoon, it’s no wonder that I get edgy. It would be nicer, though, if I had a clearer idea of this Platonic ideal that my schedule is pinned to — and where it came from.


What if I gave away all but three or four cookbooks, and stopped reading Saveur? What if I threw away all the food catalogues? I think I’d be happier — I do! — but I’m not willing to risk having to buy new copies of all those cookbooks. Perhaps I ought to experiment with the catalogues and the magazines, though. Talking with Ms NOLA the other day, I realized (or said out loud for the first time) that I already know everything about cooking that I’m ever going to need or use.

This certainly doesn’t mean that I plan to rely on the same old recipes for the rest of my life. Quite the reverse, in fact — and that’s the point. I have a sound culinary technique, I know the foods and the flavors that I like, and I’m far more likely to turn out a good dish by relying on my own imagination than by following somebody else’s ideas.

This afternoon, for example, I was casting about for a sauce for cold salmon. Kathleen couldn’t eat mayonnaise (just to be safe), and dairy was out as well. But the doctor had excepted yogurt from the dairy ban, and I decided to except avocado from the raw-vegetable ban. I happened to have a tub of plain Greek yogurt in the fridge, and a perfectly ripe avocado in the vegetable basket. I had already run downstairs for a bunch of dill: preparing to poach the slice of Scotch salmon, I’d sniffed the jar of dried dillweed and smelled only dust. And, for that prized frugal touch, I had a quietly aging half-lemon lying on the counter. Into the food processor with all of it!

The result was not perfect. The taste of (one) avocado was muted by the plain yogurt. And a teaspoon of curry would have added significant interest, if (a) Kathleen weren’t convalescing and (b) I’d whipped up the sauce about three hours earlier. To thin the sauce, which was thicker than mayonnaise, I added a few tablespoons of water — which felt very odd but which was just right, as I needed liquidity without (extra) flavor. The sauce, spooned over the chilled salmon, went delightfully with steamed zucchini slices as well. Capellini tossed with parmesan cheese completed the summer-luncheon plate.

I’m sure that the avocado-yogurt-dill-lemon sauce appears in a million cookbooks. It’s even possible that I followed a recipe for it once, long ago. It really doesn’t matter. Originality is not the name of the game.

When I asked Kathleen yesterday what she wanted for dinner, I could see her flesh crawl at the prospect of yet more chicken. But the more robust choices were out. How about veal, she asked. So I toddled down to Agata & Valentina and bought a nice rib chop. This I rubbed with a drop of oil and a tablespoon of crushed sage. Broiled for eight minutes on each side, the chop was done to perfection, retaining the faintest blush of pink at the center. I served it with haricots verts and Yukon fingerlings. The potatoes were steamed, and Kathleen had hers plain, without the butter that I swirled mine in. The beans were snipped, parboiled, and sautéed — in Benecol. The Benecol didn’t fool me into thinking that the beans were buttered, but it came close enough.


At Crawford Doyle on Friday afternoon, I remembered that Ms NOLA had strongly recommended reading Peter Cameron’s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You. She also assured me that I’d “knock it off in a day.” Which indeed I did, even though I didn’t start reading it until late yesterday afternoon. I not only read it, I read most of it aloud to Kathleen, while she knitted receiving-blanket prototypes. I was hugely moved.

Well, as you know, I’m hugely moved all the time — I’m lucky that way. But yesterday’s movement was more of a scraping. The way that I’ve developed of remembering my adolescence was what got scraped away. So much of Mr Cameron’s book reminded me of what my teens were really like — which was somewhat surprising, since the novel’s narrator was born in 1985 or thereabouts, nearly forty years later than I was. You’d think that our experiences of adolescence, given everything that has changed, would be rather different, but no.

James Sveck is a very intelligent graduate of Stuyvesant High, class of ’03. He spends the ensuing summer scheming to avoid going to Brown in the Fall. He thinks that college will be a waste of time, and he is very articulate about why. Reason Number One: he hates people his own age, probably because they are adolescents. This displacement was extraordinarily familiar. Teenagers are supposed to suffer all sorts of existential doubts about themselves, but, like James, what I experienced instead was a conviction about others. Especially other adolescent males.

“What’s so bad about college students?”

“They’ll all be like Huck Dupont.”

“You’ve never met Huck Dupont.”

“I don’t need to meet him. The fact that his name is Huck and he got a full hockey scholarship to the University of Minnesota is enough for me.”

“What’s wrong with hockey?”

“Nothing,” I said, “if you like blood sport. But I don’t think people should get full scholarships to state universities because they’re psychopathic.”

I may have put it better myself at the time, but never mind. Forget Holden Caulfield; I knew how to piss people off big-time. As does James.

There’s one line in the book that screamed RJ! so loud that I felt slightly violated. Having “acted out” — a phrase that sadly didn’t exist in my day — on a school trip, James has been sent to a therapist. After weeks of sessions, the shrink finally confronts James about his meltdown. Typically (I’m speaking from experience), James parries her questions with further questions, as if he were the doctor. But he’s not the doctor. At a crucial point, she gets a rise out of him.

“So you assumed I was arrested?” 

“I suppose I did.”

“Well, I wasn’t arrested. And the so-called trouble with the police wasn’t my fault. It was my parents’. They got the police involved. They filed a missing persons resport. If they hadn’t done that, everything would have been fine. Or less bad.”

“Were you missing?”

I realized she had tricked me into talking about what had happened in Washington, and even though I felt okay about talking about it, I wanted to make it clear I was aware I had been tricked, so I didn’t answer.

I think you could say that I spent my youth — not just my adolescence, but my the years between the time when I was first commanded to play baseball (to which I responded with a passive ressistance that I did not need Gandhi to teach me, perhaps because even in fourth grade I was larger than Gandhi) and the time when I decided to buckle down and study for the law boards —  you could say that I spent my life “making it clear.”

Weekend Update (Friday Edition):

Friday, July 3rd, 2009


How about this: the world is divided into two groups. Photographers who like to include people in their compositions and photographers like me who wish that everyone would stay at home. Just staying out of the frame isn’t good enough; I see best when no one is around. When I’m trying to think, the presence of other people is cripplingly distracting.

Which certainly makes New York City an exciting place for taking pictures!


This picture would have been pretty good (allowing for its many technical imperfections, notably a slight blur due to palsy), if only the fourth finger of my left hand hadn’t been doing its thing, hovering over the lens (not shown). Here’s “what I saw”:


So, knowing how I could crop the shot, the obtrusion didn’t really matter. But if I’d wanted to use the whole image, I’d have been in for a long wait, because the emptiness proved to be totally momentary. Head bobbed up from below; worse, bodies coming in from the left blocked the view. It isn’t that I wanted to take a picture of a “deserted” subway station entrance. It’s just that the entrance interested me because, deserted, it was visible.

After Public Enemies, which Kathleen, LXIV, and I saw at the Union Square Thetre, and a nice long lunch at the Knickerbocker, I headed up to Union Square by myself, to take some snaps for next week’s Daily Offices. It was an assignment that I was prepared not to enjoy. There were a lot of people in the park, and they all looked alike: young. Given the location, what did I expect? People my age still regard Union Square as the ideal place in which to catch a disease, possibly death. It seems quite safe now, but the presence too many young people is as off-putting as that of too many old people. En masse, demographic groups always look their worst. All one can think of (vis-à-vis crowds of young people) is the flood of rude health and easy beauty, thrown away on minds that are either callow or naive. Young people of both types think that they know a thing or two about the world, and they’re right, but they don’t know very much about themselves. Such as, for example, the remorseless dispatch with which time is going to steal the unearned benefits of being twenty-one.

The upshot is that a park full of young people is almost as depressing as a mausoleum.


Almost but not quite. When my quiver of images was tolerably full, I contentely blocked that view with my very own self and was soon speeding homeward.

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition):

Sunday, June 28th, 2009


What might have been a lovely weekend was bruised on Saturday morning by an unexpected encounter. As Kathleen and I were walking out to have breakfast at the coffee shop across the street, there in the makeshift lobby was a member of the building’s tenants’ association. He was seated at a card table, and he was soliciting signatures for a petition. The petition opposes the MTA’s plans to plant an entrance to the Second Avenue subway right in front of our building. Opposition to the MTA and its works has been simmering here for years, and it has always struck me as the rankest NIMBYism. But I’ve never investigated the issue for myself. The very fact that there was a vocal opposition to the proposed subway entrance meant that I was for it.

The committee member, whom I chat with occasionally, was genuinely surprised when I announced, with one of those smirks that make you want to hit somebody, that I was “on the MTA’s side.” This idiotic remark was true only in the sense that the enemy of my enemies is my friend, for the tenant’s association is my enemy. Okay, not my enemy. But I don’t approve of it. I don’t believe that such groups are effective or, if effective, intelligent. I do not, on the personal level, believe in democracy at all.

It was unpleasant to be reminded of how thoroughly uncooperative I can be, especially when I am asked to be cooperative. The acid reflux revives the dread that I had, throughout childhood, of ever having to serve in a military unit. I knew that the only outcome of military service for me would a court-martial proceeding triggered by my gross insubordination, and then death by firing squad. Even the Boy Scouts, then a rather genial organization, was far too regimented for me.

You might think that I display high levels of cooperativeness just by walking down 86th Street in an attentive way, and by doing all the other little things that make dense city life bearable, but you would be wrong. I am Setting An Example. Abominable conceit is what it is. And when this abominable conceit isn’t functioning, I can be sociopathically surly.

Kathleen signed, of course — on the way back. We did not discuss it. I knew that my resistance was a matter of private pathology.

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition):

Sunday, June 21st, 2009


This afternoon’s junket to Coney Island, to see the Cyclones play at Keyspan Park, was scrubbed pretty early in the day, owing largely to uncertain weather. I shouldn’t have been able to go even on a good day, because I contracted a touch of Kathleen’s malady, and would have found the long subway ride — inconvenient. But plans were changed without regard for me, thank heaven, and most of the party got together at Jane, a restaurant on Houston Street that Megan and Ryan like. (Me, too — although waspish words may quite reasonably be anticipated from LXIV, seeing as how the kitchen goofed his order, so that his dinner was limited to strawberry shortcake.) In connection with the Solstice, both Megan and Ryan reminisced fondly about enjoying the long and late twilight in Amsterdam last summer — before venturing to Uganda, where there was no twilight at all.

Kathleen suffered a bit of a setback yesterday, but she rallied in the evening, and we went to the 7:15 show of The Proposal. If you’re a regular reader, you already know this, from my Aviary of Ideas tweet. Also, if you’re a regular reader, you can imagine that I wouldn’t shut up about the movie when we got home. While Kathleen experimented with various knitting stitches, I went over what increasingly seems to be an extraordinarily well-scripted show. Why the critics don’t share our enthusiasm (the Metacritic gives it a score of 48, which seems nothing less than cognitively dissonant. Conspiracy theories, anyone? Or is The Proposal one of those movies that appeals specially to New Yorkers? A great deal of the film’s narrative richness is implicit — maybe that’s what it is. Well, it will be a challenge to write up. I wasn’t taking notes last night, and many of my aperçus will have flown forgotten, as a dream dies &c.

What does “college” have to do with any of this, you ask. It is part of a family joke that will be explained in due course of time.


Weekend Update (Friday Edition):
Guys and Dopes

Friday, June 19th, 2009


Comparing notes afterward, Ms NOLA said that she’d wondered why the marquee lights weren’t blazing, while I remarked that the emptiness of the sidewalk had struck me as very odd. When we all assembled in front of the Nederlander Theatre to see Guys and Dolls this evening, we were met by a closed production. Our money was promptly refunded (quite a sum), and we headed uptown for dinner at Cognac (also quite a sum).

Who was asleep at the wheel? How was it that none of us had noticed that the show closed last Sunday? Ahead of schedule, yes, but not without notice, I’m sure. A handful of other ticketholders showed up, just as confused and disappointed as we were, but most of the prospective audience, it was clear, knew to stay away. Unless, of course, those of us who showed up were the only people who had bought tickets for the evening’s performance.

It was the damnedest thing, and neither Kathleen nor I had ever heard of the like.


Although I doubt that we should ever be friends in real life, I wouldn’t want anybody to think that I don’t hold Times movie critic Manohla Dargis in high esteem. I disagree with her about everything, but I have schooled myself to allow no unpleasant feelings to poison my response to her reviews, which I find to be salutary. They remind me that not everyone sees the world as I do, and that people who see the world differently can be quite intelligent about it.

In her review of The Proposal, which appeared in this morning’s paper, ready for me to read before I actually went to see the movie, Ms Dargis wrote,

The director marshaling all these clichés and stereotypes is Anne Fletcher, whose last gig was the similarly obnoxious “27 Dresses.” Working from a script by Peter Chiarelli, Ms. Fletcher betrays no originality from behind the camera and not a hint of visual facility. The opening scenes, including shots of Andrew rushing through the streets while balancing coffee cups, are right out of “The Devil Wears Prada,” minus the snap. The scene in which Margaret runs around naked is borrowed from “Something’s Gotta Give,” though here the point isn’t that desirability transcends age but that at 44, Ms. Bullock still has an amazing body. The rest of the movie looks like many industrial entertainments of this type: it’s decently lighted and as lived in as a magazine advertisement.

I didn’t see 27 Dresses, but I may rent it now: The Proposal became one of my favorite pictures before it was halfway through. It may be the only genuine screwball comedy to have been made since 1945. (I may be daft.) I wasn’t reminded of either Prada or Something, despite Ms Dargis’s warning that I ought to be.

I watched the movie carefully just to see if I thought that there was any merit to the “visual facility” crack. I did not. I found The Proposal to be gorgeous, and never moreso than in its existentially simple close-ups of the principals, eerily lighted and with nothing more than the oceanic horizon behind them. There’s a lot of darkness in The Proposal, and if it is an “industrial entertainment,” then I beg for more, at least of the same caliber.

Here’s why I doubt that Ms Dargis and I could ever be friends:

(Mr. Reynolds is equally likable, though more decorative than anything else.)

I may have said this before, but Mr Reynolds has a knack for playing men whom I should like to grow up to be — even if he is only slightly older than half my age. In The Proposal, he seems decorative in the way that Henry Fonda, say, might seem decorative.

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition):

Sunday, June 14th, 2009


It wasn’t the most thrilling weekend in the world, but it did what a weekend ought to do: refresh and restore. It would have done the job a lot better if Kathleen hadn’t been struck by a nasty intestinal flu. Is anything more miserable? Being me, I hated my impotence. The only thing that I could do that was guaranteed to be effective was to leave Kathleen alone.

But I read all of Jeff in Venice, and really liked it; and I concocted another chicken salad, this one with avocados and corn, parsley and cilantro, in a curry mayonnaise. Of course, there was far too much for one.

Now: how boring can I be about my DVD collection? In one sentence: since I no longer have room to keep the DVDs in their plastic boxes, I’m storing them in paper sleeves, with round plastic windows on one side and Dymo labels on the other. It’s all very neat and efficient.

It’s all very neat and efficient, that is, if I know what I’m looking for. Most of the time, I don’t. I paw through the boxes just like anybody else. (I find that the first DVD that captures my interest is the one that I’ll end up watching, so now I just go with it.) In an intermediate phase of disc storage, I kept 250 movies on a bookshelf in the hallway; these were the pictures least likely to require a special frame of mind for viewing. (Consider, as an alternative, Eraserhead. You may be someone who would watch David Lynch’s amazing subcutaneous debut without any prior deliberation, but I’m not.) The rest of the collection — more than half — was kept in vinyl albums from Staples. Each album held 96 discs, variously grouped: Movies made before 1970. Foreign-language DVDs. TV series (I have almost all of the Inspector Morses. ) I would leaf through the albums in search of something to watch. Sometimes, the relevant information about a DVD is printed in maddeningly small letters around the inner rim, but, for the most part, each DVD is a kind of poster for itself.

For reasons that I’ll spare you right now, the prospect of flipping through the drawers of paper sleeves and uniform Dymo labels had to be rejected out of hand. If nothing else, it would subject the sleeves and the drawers to a lot of wear and tear.

I had a brainstorm. As your reward for wading through the preceding verbiage, a picture will tell the rest of the story. My very provisional “Top 20” list, at Portico.

Other “categories” to come:

  • Top 100
  • Screwball comedies
  • Films noirs.
  • Depressing movies
  • Alfred Hitchcock
  • Really scary!
  • Corporate sci-fi
  • “Why did I buy this?”

Conceivably, any one movie could appear in all of the categories — that’s the beauty part. For example, Mr and Mrs Smith would appear on both the Screwball Comedy and Alfred Hitchcock pages.

So, I got that going. There is much to be learned about the HTML of tables. I’ll try not to be the one who has to.

Weekend Update (Friday Edition):

Friday, June 12th, 2009


Of all the side-effects of discovering my vocation at the age of sixtyish, the urge to have a distinct workplace is the most unexpected. For all of my life, I have been a dedicated home-worker. So far as I have worked at all, that is — and it didn’t amount to much until a few years (or a few months!) ago. I’m talking about work here, not “productivity.” I’m talking about meeting defined goals whether I’m in the mood to do so or not.

Although I still believe in the ideal of a harmonious (if hardly seamless) overlay of domestic life and personal industry — living above the shop, as it were — I recognize the impediments more honestly than I used to do. If I were a Victorian master of the house, I could close my study door and expect not to be disturbed; but in fact my position is much closer to that of the Victorian mistress of the house: I’m the one who has to see that the household hums. Don’t we all? Only the richest of the rich can afford to employ the kind of servant who is truly capable of housekeeping, and in fact such employees are not called servants anymore.

So: wouldn’t it be nice to “go to the office” for at least part of every day? Wouldn’t it be loverly to have a room, somewhere in the neighborhood — a studio apartment, say — to which I could move the contents of the blue room (books, mostly). I wouldn’t have a landline, and hardly anyone has my cellphone number. For a few hours every day, I wouldn’t see anything that didn’t pertain to site-related projects.

That’s the problem right there: I wouldn’t have a moment’s peace. I happen to be one of those creatures who is more disturbed by what he can’t see than by what’s in plain sight. I’d worry about a break-in at home. I’d remember that I’d forgotten to water the pots on the balcony. I’d obsess about dinner (what to make, which store to shop at, the possibilities of ordering in). I think far too much about dinner as it is, but I don’t obsess, because the kitchen is right here, and I can have a look in the freezer at any time. (Later, thanks!)

So I pigeonhole the dream of a separate workplace among my other fantasies — arrangements that cannot obtain in the universe as it is currently constituted. Then I get out the vacuum cleaner.  

Weekend Update (Friday Edition):
Out All Day

Friday, June 5th, 2009


As planned, Ms NOLA came up to Yorkville when her office closed for summer hours at one. M le Neveu, who was to come as well, was feeling under the weather, so he stayed in bed. It was a good day for staying in bed here in New York, and we wanted the late graduate student to be in a good shape for dinner. He is here for the weekend, and Kathleen and I took advantage of his presence in town to insist on a celebration at BLT Steak. What with her acquisition of a book, and his graduation from Columbia, there were ample grounds for congratulation. He is a genuine PhD now, and she an equally genuine editor in New York publishing. Both of them worked very hard to pass these milestones, and Kathleen and I are hugely proud of them.

So Ms NOLA and I had lunch by ourselves, at Tokubei, the Japanese pub across the street that is now open for lunch. Then we packed up enough Spode Blue Italian to serve six people. Once upon a time, I had twenty place settings of the pattern; it was our everyday china in the country. Kathleen kept saying that she didn’t like it very much, but I would always answer that, because it has been in continuous production since the year after Jane Austen died (or thereabouts), replacements are never a problem — unlike every other pattern in our pantry. Ten years after selling the country house, however, all that Blue Italian has turned into something of a white elephant. I was going to take a stack of it to Housing Works, but Ms NOLA expressed an interest, so we stashed stacks of plates and bowls in plastic grocery bags and stashed the plastic bags in sturdy LL Bean totes and (most important) grabbed a taxi to Hamilton Heights.

It was my plan to take a look round and then head home. But the weather outside was frightful, and it was much more agreeable to sit in Ms NOLA’s flat and talk about Aquinas and Kant with my nephew (who, in English, is really my cousin). Because our dinner reservation was for 6:30, I looked at my watch at 4:20 and decided just to hang until it was time to head for Park and 57th.

It has been a very long time since I just passed the time of day, as the saying goes, at home, much less at someone else’s house. Given the company, I found the experience most enjoyable, and my friends, who don’t get to spend enough time together these days, were most gracious about sharing themselves with me.

Just before lunch, I told Ms NOLA that I’d discovered a site that gives pronunciations for the tricky names of certain New Yorkers, and I’d learned that Nicholas Lemann, New Yorker contributor and dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, pronounces his name to sound like a well-known citrus fruit. Ms NOLA nodded her head with slightly melancholy smile, looking on the bright side of my catching up, once again, with the rest of the class.

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition):
Sur le balcon

Sunday, May 31st, 2009


Rather late this year, but never more sweepingly, I whipped the balcony into shape over the weekend. No monumental cleaning was required; just a bit of potting. I have finally accepted the impossibility, for reasons unknown, of building a perennial garden on our balcony. (I suspect that emissions from the trucks on First and Second Avenues poses a long-term insult, at least to the potting soil.) I ran the knickknacks on the hutch through the dishwasher, and wiped down the marble ice-cream table, and that was that. Or rather, that would have been that if I had not been on a stuff-ridding rampage.

There used to be five very large tubs of dirt; now there are two. There used to be a stock of empty clay pots. Now there are two empty clay pots, and they’re going to be filled with ivy the next time I make it down the street to Nicky’s. there used to be a stack of old (and very dirty) baskets. Those have been tossed, along with the hamper that housed a friteuse that I no longer use. There used to be a Blue Italian teapot that I had repaired and repurposed as a planter. Gone. A neat halogen lamp that we had gotten our use out of. Gone, gone, gone. It was immensely satisfying.

(The hutch was Kathleen’s idea: she had it built at Gothic Cabinet Craft (maker of everybody’s starter bookshelves in this part of town), thinking that it would be nice to look at from our bed — as indeed it is. It’s a bit the worse for wear, having spent six or seven (or more?) years out in the elements, but it hasn’t lost a whit of its charm. On a rare weekend, Kathleen spends hours in the wicker armchair, knitting or poring over catalogues. On a good day, it’s as nice as a cruise ship — a statement that I make in perfect ignorance of conditions aboard cruise ships.)

(The quaint bricks are actually a very durable plastic, installed by me shortly after the hutch arrived (it wouldn’t have been before — oh, no). They’re hollow and about two inches deep, so the step down from the living room isn’t what it used to be, and rainfall puddles out of sight.)

Ms NOLA came to dinner last night, and we celebrated happy developments in her career. Dinner was not especially complicated, but we sat at the table until just past eleven. I had already chosen links for tomorrow’s Daily Office, and I thought that writing them up would be a breeze. Ahem: Not after the bibulous evening, they weren’t. (Sancerre, Gigondas, Perrier-Jouet) Oh, no. I could hardly read the html page of the WordPress interface, and any wit conferred by Bacchus appeared to have evaporated — cooked off, as it were. I clawed my way to bed the moment the entry was finished.

I was asked what I’m reading. What I’m reading! An interesting idea — reading. I really ought to give reading a try. All I have to do is to stop writing. It’s too bad that I seem to be stuck in a tedious adaptation of a classic British film, called (in my case) The Red Keyboard.


Weekend Update (Friday Edition):

Friday, May 29th, 2009


Well, there they are, my new collection of blidgets, over there to the left. Instead of explaining what they are, I’ll ask you to play with them — you won’t get hurt! I think they’re pretty cool.

It’s my plan to change one or two of them every month, as the whim suits me. For the most part, I’ve chosen Web logs that have strong visual components; and I’ve steered away from ultra-well-known sites. For a start, anyway.

With luck, Widgetbox will take off, and all busy bloggers will offer their own blidgets, just as I’ve done way down on the right-hand side, below the Archives. I don’t know what happens when someone tries to “get” it, but these are early hours, much less days.

Right now, I’m waiting for one of the blogs to which I’ve blidgeted add a new entry.

* * *

I had a good day. I got to the movies very much on the early side —10:20 showings are rare — so, even with lunch at Burger Heaven and two grocery stops, I had a full afternoon for pottering. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, and a lot of time at my desk, but I was never rushed or tense. It was just one thing after another — the way I like it.

For dinner, I made fried chicken again. When I dragged out the deep fryer last weekend, it had been a very long since I had made fried chicken. I made two miscalculations: the fat was too hot (by ten degrees), and, once it was done, I kept the chicken warm in too hot an oven. In other words, it was rather miserably  overcooked. This week, I avoided both mistakes, and the result was excellent.

* * *

And since I’m talking about food, I’d better describe the shrimp and vodka sauce that I improvised the other night. I shelled and deveined seven shrimp (don’t ask me, “why seven?”), and cut them into small pieces — three or four per. I minced a bunch of green onions, including a bit of the green. I minced two cloves of garlic. The shrimp, onions, and garlic stayed in separate bowls until I was ready to cook.

Into a hot saucepan that could have been smaller, I poured a teaspoon (or maybe two) of oil, and tossed in the shrimp right away. When the shrimp bits were partially pink, i tossed in the onions, and when the onions looked halfway done, in went the garlic. Less than a minute later, I deglazed with a splash of Vermouth. Then I threw in half a tub of Buitoni vodka sauce. I spooned in a few globs of Eli’s roast-tomato pasta sauce, just for texture — and to use up the sauce. When the spaghetti was cooked, I tossed it into the saucepan.  Lordy, it was good. And since I had a tub of frozen shrimp in the freezer, and the vodka sauce was left over from an earlier use, the only thing that I bought fresh for the dish was the bunch of green onions.

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition):
At Large

Sunday, May 24th, 2009


This evening, right after Kathleen went off to see Star Trek with Fossil Darling and Quatorze, I packed my leather shoulder bag with a few accoutrements and padded down 86th Street to Carl Schurz Park. I climbed the stone steps to the right of the allée and threaded my way to the walk the lies between the paved playing field and the children’s playground. I sat down at the first of the four (or is it five) chess table that alternate with park benches on the playground side of the walkway. I withdrew the accoutrements from my shoulder bag, placing them, as illustrated, on the table. I pressed the I/O button on the small, playing-card sized object that you can see to the right of the netbook. When the smaller light, the one to the left, began to flash, I opened the netbook, woke it up, and clicked to connect to the Verizon wireless network that headed the list of “available” wireless networks. And it really was available, because the password was already stowed in the dialogue box. 

The first thing that I did when machine connected to the Internet was to write to JM, signing myself as his Number One Satisfied Customer. JM calls himself a technician, but I regard him a local Manhattan deity.  

Shortly afterward, I packed up my bag and walked home. Mission accomplished. And without a hitch. The MiFi — Verizon’s wireless cellular router — works as advertised.

Weekend Update (Friday Edition):

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009


The picture that I want to run for this entry shows Kathleen and Jean Ruaud in the midst of a twinkling exchange at Le Bateau Ivre, the wine bar in the Pod Hotel. Perhaps Jean will give me permission to run it; maybe he won’t. He does not publish clear pictures of himself at his own blog. So, instead, you’re getting the Yodelling Pickle. Not to mention the Blue Willow mousepad.

But enough about fun and larks; let’s talk about activating our Verizon cellular wireless router. Wireless cellular router? I wouldn’t count on anyone at Verizon knowing what to call it, let me just tell you. Trying to activate the account online, house technician JM ran into a snag, and decided that we’d better call. To me, calling any kind of computer service provider is only marginally more bearable than being tossed into a dark closet for an indefinite term. In the end, JM achieved the activation online, but not before a the woman at FIOS Tech Support to whom we’d been shunted responded indignantly to my taking up her time. If I weren’t superstitious, I’d lodge a complaint. She certainly didn’t know what a MiFi was, and she made it clear that she couldn’t have cared less. Not the clearest speaker in America, she couldn’t be bothered to pronounce “FIOS” clearly enough for me to know whether the acronym began with an “F” or with a “V” — so I asked her to spell it, and that just about blew all her gaskets.

Let’s talk about how “simple” it is to install the new iPod Shuffle. Not interested? Now that I’ve mentioned it, I’m not, either.

Don’t ask me why, but I didn’t expect JM to be here for very long. I thought that the three installations du jour would be as painless as most are, but they were all difficult. A piece of gunk in the Dymo label printer’s feeder caused no end of trouble until it was found. Downloading the latest version of iTunes took preposterously long; indeed, it seemed to have stalled — an unpleasant reminder of the good old days of DOS, when the latest version of Word came on thirteen floppies. And printers never worked.

In any case, I didn’t get much done this afternoon. I was particularly looking forward to my new Friday routine of inventorying and tidying the kitchen. I was going to fry a batch of chicken, and  whip up some cole slaw and potato salad to go with it. I won’t say that I’ll do it tomorrow night, because I’m notorious for taking it easy on Saturdays, once I’ve tidied the apartment. And my “Friday routine” is still pretty aspirational: I’ve done it once.

“What do you mean, Jean’s permission? What about my permission?”

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition):

Sunday, May 17th, 2009


The gent in the photo is a newspaperman by the name of Arthur Brisbane. Kathleen and I are always struck by the resemblance that this particular likeness, standing on the edge of Central Park, bears to my father.

But enough about me. Jean Ruaud, of Mnémoglyphes, is in town, and he’s going to have to battle manfully to carve out some free time this week. Free time from me, that is. At dinner this evening, we planned trips to the must-see lunar craters that happen to be on loan to the city this month. Not to mention the ordinary stuff: the Staten Island Ferry, Prospect Park, the Isamu Noguchi thing in Queens “from which is gained [as Robert Benchley would have put it] an incomparable view of the Yorkville skyline.” Fort Tryon Park and the Brasserie have yet to be ruled out as beyond the strength of mere mortals. Happily for Jean, Kathleen and I have a long-planned dinner date with old friends on Wednesday night, and tickets to see Blithe Spirit for Thursday, so he’ll have some respite.

The wonderful thing about Jean is that Kathleen likes him as much as I do. It’s usual (and entirely natural, really) for me to like my friends just a little bit more than Kathleen does; but, in this case, I stand pre-empted.

Tomorrow will be Jean’s day off, relatively speaking. We’ll have lunch at one, and then I’ll conduct a walking tour of the quartier that won’t last more than two hours. Jean thought that he was visiting the Land of the Free, but in fact he has stumbled into the Gulag of Gotham. “And right over here, we have this interesting sculpture that resembles my father.

Weekend Update (Friday Edition):
Pleasure Before Business

Friday, May 15th, 2009


Although I cleared my day for rare productivity — I dreamt of writing a good deal while also taking care of lots of little things. But I blew it by going downtown for lunch with Fossil Darling and Quatorze. Quatorze got a break from my esoteric movie roster (you’ll see what I mean) by accompanying the Fossil to the first showing of Angels and Demons. Although I’ve never seen The Da Vinci code, I will probably sneak a look at Angels just to see Ewan McGregor. But certainly not in a theatre.

When I got back from lunch, I frittered away two hours on who-knows-what. Then, when I sat down to work, the RoadRunner connection died. It was out for fifteen minutes at the most — but what a fifteen minutes! I can’t wait for MiFi, which Verizon will be releasing in a few days.

Although I saw the official “Friday movie” last night, I went to the movies again this evening. Kathleen has been wanting to see The Soloist, and tonight we finally found the time and the energy to catch the last showing. As I expected, I had a bit of trouble with aspects of the picture, but tears were running every time that Jamie Foxx’s character put bow to cello string. And I couldn’t help but wish that the actor would assume his given name, Eric Bishop. Kathleen, I’m happy to report, loved The Soloist, even though she found much of it harrowing. As who wouldn’t.

What really ate up the clock today was Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn. Yes — I think that I’ll blame it all on that. It’s a mistake to give these wild Irish authors the time of day, because that’s exactly what they’ll cost. Taking the train down to Bleecker Street before lunch, I read the passage in which a priest assigns a penance of just one Hail Mary, and it was so kind and beautiful and humane (not to mention pre-William Donohue) that I felt myself on the verge of a sob. When I got home, I swallowed as fast as I could, staving off the direr symptoms of froth-in-mouth disease, the final section of the novel, which turned out to be one of the most astutely constructed cliffhangers in the history of literature. Would she or wouldn’t she?

I was so moved by the reading of Brooklyn that I thought that I had better start keeping a list of books that prompt swooning responses. Books that, as I read them, I cannot imagine having read, living without, moving on from. Like Eilis Lacey, however, I do finish them and move on to other books, which sometimes take their place in my heart so completely that I forget about them — hence the need for a list. I asked myself: what other books have made you feel this keenly? And I couldn’t answer it. I hope to be true to Brooklyn, but, as the novel itself teaches, I’ll need a little help from circumstances. We are where we are, not where we loved being.

Weekend Update (Friday Edition):

Friday, May 8th, 2009


Just before we reached the Chinatown Brasserie on Lafayette Street, where we were going to have lunch after watching Tilda Swinton’s harrowing but really rather funny performance in Julia, Quatorze tapped my arm: someone famous was approaching. I looked up and saw Lauren Hutton. She looked at me and saw something as well. She gave me the strangest, most wonderfully complex look that I have ever received from someone I didn’t know. It said: “How sweet that you recognize me. Be the gent that I can tell that you are and don’t stare.” I dropped my eyes at once — to her interesting sneakers. Her look was equal parts smile and admonition. I’m sure that I remember her giving it to Richard Gere in American Gigolo.

It was no surprise that, even without makeup or dyed hair, Ms Hutton was a beautiful woman. What did surprise was her height, which IMDb gives as 5’6½”. “Shorter than me,” marveled Quatorze.

At lunch, I realized that I was going to be late for my appointment with JM, the computer wizard whom Kathleen, coming home early this afternoon, finally met, and thanked for “making it possible for me to live with my husband.” Quatorze and I didn’t dally, but the trains were against me, and the doormen, whom I called the moment I emerged from the subway, didn’t answer the phone. So there was JM in what passes for the lobby these days, as patient as a saint. I don’t think that I was as much as ten minutes late,  but I wasn’t best pleased with myself. He did venture that I might have called him. But no, I insisted, I have never made a record of his telephone number on the very rare occasions when we have communicated that way. I should have considered that a kind of theft. (JM has done everything imaginable to make my computing life easy. But he has never, ever said “Here’s my number; just give me a call.” He always responds to emailed SOSs with alacrity.) The thing was, if the machine that he had come uptown to configure — a netbook — had been operational, I’d have emailed him from the table at the restaurant. This thought had peppered my pleasure with a lunch of dim sum and cold sesame noodles — Chef Ng’s adaptation, by the way, is refreshingly underspiced. 

My resolution — what would Friday be without a resolution? — is to treat the Asus netbook as a toy for at least a month. I won’t expect it to work, in other words. I won’t count on it to connect me with the Internet when I’m running around town. I’ll just see what it does, and what it doesn’t do. “Getting to know all about you” — that sort of thing. On the seventeenth, Verizon will start selling MiFi wireless cellular routers, and we’re going to get one. That’s when the trial month will properly begin. It’s funny, but I haven’t been as excited by a new computer since my very first one, an IBM Peanut.

Eventually, of course, I will insist that the netbook work. That’s what computers are for — PCs, anyway. Apples are for play. It’s astonishing, how many Apple users think that play is better than work.