Category Archives: Life Goes On

New Year 2021

2020 is over.  Finally.

The ball dropped in Times Square last night, but the public was kept out, with attendance limited to the TV crews and performers, and a handful of first responders.  The guy on NBC kept prattling on about his thoughts while the ball was dropping; someone must have finally gotten his attention about 15 seconds before midnight so they could finally focus on the main event.

While 2020 is thankfully over, alas, I don’t see the emergency ending anytime soon.

We have two vaccines against Covid that became available in December, which in itself is a fantastic achievement.  But wait!  There’s now a ‘super-Covid’ strain against which the vaccine may or may not be effective, and we’re now told that while the vaccine may protect the person who receives it against getting sick, it won’t prevent that person from spreading the virus asymptomatically.  So even if we all get vaccinated, the masks, social distancing, and occasional lockdowns for shits and grins will still go on.

For now, unless some makes me, I’ll pass on the vaccine.  As far as I can tell, Covid is perhaps a couple of ticks more severe than the Hong Kong flu that was a thing when I was a kid.  The Hong Kong flu killed perhaps 100,000 in the United States (160,000 or so adjusting for population between then and now), but at the time we didn’t have overly sensitive PCR tests to genetically identify the virus (or non-functional fragments thereof), and didn’t have a political interest in emphasizing the worst, including fussing over asymptomatic transmission.

Nevertheless, here we are, with a politically weaponized virus that served to take down a President.  I acknowledge that Joe Biden won the election, but not that he won fair and square.

My son voted for Biden, not believing the radical progressive rhetoric, thinking that he would govern as a moderate Democrat, rather like Bill Clinton.  If I had believed that, I might have voted for Biden myself.  If Biden and Harris ultimately govern as moderates, it would mean that the entire electorate, the Democrats and Republicans, the liberals and conservatives, had all been played (except, maybe, my son).

I hope my son is right.  Meanwhile, Uncle Joe has told us to look forward to a dark winter.

Making My Peace

For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to make my peace with the notion of a President Biden.  I don’t begrudge President Trump’s efforts in the courts to possibly change the results—the Democrats took similar measures after the 2016 election—but I doubt he’ll succeed.

I still haven’t made my peace yet.

It would help if I could believe that Biden won fair and square.  If Biden was this wonderful candidate, so much better than Trump, the election should have played out as a shining example of how elections are non-partisan in their execution.  But that isn’t what happened.

An election is supposed to be a social experiment: you poll the voters and the results are what they are.  But Biden’s win feels like an engineered result: from Biden’s non-campaign, to the suppression of news items unfavorable to him, to making President Trump look like a blithering idiot at every turn, to the post-Election-Day shenanigans, it’s happening by design.  The fix is in.

But if I suspend disbelief for a bit and presume that what happened was in fact a free and fair election, that’s even more troubling.  It means that the electorate has decided that we’d rather not be a free country anymore.  It’s better for the government to take care of us: we can’t manage it ourselves.  Then again, if you vote for Republicans, you must be an evil racist.

It took me a while (a couple weeks after Election Day!) to realize that this year’s Presidential election isn’t really about Donald Trump or Joe Biden: if the candidates had kept their personalities and Twitter habits and families and foibles, and traded policy positions, the news media would be going on about how wonderful Donald Trump is, and I’d have voted for Biden.  The difference is more stark than it has been in any election in my life, even going back to when I was three and didn’t know what a President was.

A vote for Trump is a vote to stay true to the ideas the United States started with over 200 years ago, ideas which made us the most prosperous and successful country on Earth.  We haven’t always been true to those ideas, but have so far followed them more often than not.  In general, the difficulties we’ve faced have been in proportion to our divergence from them.

A vote for Biden is a vote to reinvent the United States as a corporatist, authoritarian nanny state bent on telling us all what to do—for our own good!—and making our lives miserable if we don’t do it.  Big business will still be free to do as it wishes, but small businesses and independent thinking are too disruptive and will be sat on.

Nevertheless, the reinventors won: now what?

When I imagine the worst, I anticipate that within two years I will be dead, destitute, imprisoned, or will have my life changed in some other way for the worst.  But that isn’t realistic: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are not the Khmer Rouge.  I expect that taxes will go up, particularly corporate taxes, so I will go back to running my business not to be profitable.

More practically, things will slowly get worse.  If you weren’t fearful and suffering before, you will be made so now.  The ongoing Covid emergency won’t end, even with a vaccine, because it serves the purposes of the leadership to control the population.

But we can only be fearful and suffer with our own consent.  Abraham Lincoln remarked that ‘most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.’  For my part, I’ll carry on, trying to eat well, sleep well, and not stress out over events.  And I’ll enjoy, as much as I can, the cool parts of my work and the companionship of those around me.

That’s all I can recommend for anyone, for now.

Asbestos and Corona

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral, found in nature, which was for many years used for fireproofing and other thermal insulation.  It’s still one of the best thermal insulators known.  But asbestos fibers, when inhaled, lead to cancer and other lung diseases.  Asbestos has been the subject of vast litigation, and there is an industry built around the removal or abatement of asbestos.

The incidence of disease and death from asbestos has a random character.  In the time before the danger of asbestos was widely recognized, some people worked around asbestos their entire lives with no ill effect; others fell deathly ill over the course of a summer internship at the asbestos plant.  Most cases, though, involved repeated exposure over time.

Today, the discipline and procedures of asbestos abatement are built around the premise that the danger of asbestos is not random.  The probability of disease on exposure to asbestos above the ‘safe level’ is presumed to be unity, i.e. the stuff is presumed to be lethal.  Workers tasked with asbestos abatement must wear protective clothing and masks, and special arrangements are made to ventilate the work area and prevent asbestos fibers from escaping outside.

In an industrial environment, these rules make sense.  Employers are required to provide a safe work environment, providing training and protection against hazards in the workplace.  It would not be OK for an employer to pass the risk of illness of an incomplete protective regime to his employees, even with their informed consent.

But this character of randomness associated with asbestos applies to other agents in the environment, including tobacco and (this season’s favorite!) viral exposure.

Last week, 60 Minutes ran a segment on the military’s response to coronavirus.  The military had to develop policies and procedures on the spot as the threat emerged, without data on how deadly the virus might be or its propagation.  The result was a regime similar to asbestos abatement: the virus is presumed to be deadly wherever it might appear, and anyone not known to be safe is presumed to carry it.  Social distancing (‘tactical dispersion’) and hygiene procedures are ruthless.

And for the military, these rules make sense.  The first mission of the military is to be ready to carry out whatever other missions may be necessary, and being inconvenienced is part of military life.

But is this approach the right one for the rest of us?

What we are starting to know now from data is what many of us suspected in February: Covid-19 is similar to the seasonal flu.  It spreads almost as broadly as the seasonal flu, and while it is more serious than the seasonal flu, it’s not so deadly as to merit panic.

*          *          *

Prospect Park on a Saturday Afternoon

Yesterday, my wife and I bought lunch in a local pizzeria and enjoyed it al fresco in Prospect Park.  We took off our masks to eat and watched the people go by.  It was a glorious day: the first real spring day this season.  The park seemed busier than a normal Saturday: with everything else closed, what else was there?  We took a long walk, and when I got home, I realized I had a little sunburn.  It felt good.

Families hung out together in the park, but otherwise people were reasonably distancing themselves.  But I’m compelled to wonder: if you pass within eight feet of, say, 1,000 people, are you really safer than sitting six feet from four or five people in a subway car?

Were we taking our lives in our hands enjoying a sunny day in the park?  Even knowing about the virus, I find that really hard to believe.

Life Goes On

The father of a friend and colleague passed away from the effects of Covid-19 about two weeks ago.  I’m sorry for my friend and what he has suffered.

I was working with him on site last week, and I felt it best not to talk about the coronavirus or the current emergency.  My friend had his professional demeanor back, but it clearly wasn’t the time.

I’ve remarked in these pages (in brief) that the danger of the coronavirus, while real, has been overblown and used for political purposes.  But am I wrong to believe that?  Is it cruel and heartless, given that people are dying? 

The virus, at this point, is a force of nature.  It doesn’t care what we think or say about it.  We can’t control it.  We can only try to conduct ourselves to moderate its effects.

But we need to be mindful that our efforts to moderate the virus have their own effects.   While they may not be as lethal as the coronavirus, they bring their own pain and suffering.  And to say those effects don’t matter ‘because people are dying’ is the worst kind of virtue signalling.

Death hurts.  But life must go on.

*          *          *

Washington Square Park

Last Sunday, my wife and I went to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, wearing masks made from matching bandanas.

There were fewer people in the park than a normal springtime Sunday, and people were reasonably distancing themselves, but it felt, for once, normal.  A couple of musicians were playing.  We sat on a bench, listened to the music, and contemplated the scene.  It felt good.

Musicians in Washington Square Park

Ghostbusters 2016

Yesterday, my wife and I went to see the new Ghostbusters movie.  I’ve grown accustomed to present-day remakes and ‘reboots’ being a disappointment, but in that respect, the new version did well.  The characters fit the story, and the story flowed well.  I was entertained.  To its credit, the movie contemplates aspects of the Ghostbusters story that the original skipped, like the characters’ pasts, and the development of the tools.

To be sure, the movie turns, like most modern remakes, on overwrought computer-enhanced visuals rather than dialogue.  It has its funny moments, but lacks the sparkle and wit of the original.  I waited in vain for someone to say something like, “When someone asks if you’re a god, you say ‘YES!’!”  The scenes set in the subway were a bit lame, as well: I used to work for the outfit, and know how things are supposed to work.  But on the whole, I was enjoying myself, so these are minor quibbles.

What’s more distressing is in the details, where we see how the world has changed in the last 30 years.  It isn’t that the Ghostbusters are women this time around: it’s that they don’t know to call themselves ‘Ghostbusters’ until someone on television calls them that.  The original Ghostbusters entered the trade to ‘get rich,’ i.e. to make a productive living: the new ones don’t worry about that.  And the relationship between the Ghostbusters and the government is different: in the original, the Ghostbusters are left alone until an EPA bureaucrat decides they may be harming the environment; in the new version, they’re called before the Mayor before anything really happens, and are told to go about their business, even though they will be denounced as a fraud.

It’s a pleasant entertainment for a Saturday afternoon, but, alas, you can’t go home again.

Learning Something New


It’s a beautiful clear morning. I’m out for a morning ride, the endorphins are flowing, and I pause at the former Grand Street ferry landing (now a charming little park) to write a few lines.

I recently started playing with, er, testing, Microsoft Office 365, which comes with an app for my phone with pocket versions of Word, Excel, etc. So let’s give it a shot, I thought.

I had tried opening a couple of files that I had stored on OneDrive (Microsoft’s cloud service) with no problem, but couldn’t find out how to create a new document.

Some frantic Googling revealed the answer: from the very first Office screen, tap the symbol with the plus sign somewhere in it. If it had been a simple plus sign, I would have figured it out with no trouble.

It’s so simple, so very simple, that only a child can do it….

But typing on my phone actually works better than I expected. I’ve always found answering e-mails on my phone to be annoying and clunky, but Word on my phone just seems to work.

I only hope that I can retrieve this when I get back home to post it….

Never Say Never/Keeping the Old/Shouldn’t Be Surprised

OK, I changed my mind.  I’ll keep writing.

Whatever damage I may have done to myself from these posts is already done.  Beyond that, when the hammer drops, I’m sure the authorities will have far bigger fish to fry than me.

But it’s a beautiful summer morning here in NYC; I took an early-morning ride, so the endorphins are flowing; and my work has slacked off from its maniacally busy pace for the past few months, so that I have a few moments to write.

*          *          *

I got my current cell phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note, when they first came out in early 2012.  It was the first phone with a screen over 5″ diagonal; some suggested that it was too large to comfortably handle.  But my big complaint with my previous phone was that the screen was too small.  So it was great to be able to read e-mails and their attachments without having to scroll, and with a minimum of squinting.  The camera is also good enough to be comparable to a point-and-shoot film camera: good for pictures among friends, and most of the pictures I need to take for work.

Now, the two-year contract has run out, and I can go back to AT&T and get a new phone relatively cheap.  But looking at what’s available, the only phones I like are incrementally newer versions of the Samsung Note.  Casting about further, among unlocked phones, there’s the Lenovo K900, which was never offered for sale in the United States.  It looks really cool, but it’s from 2012, and is functionally not too different from my Note.  Not worth the $450 or so it would cost.  (Lenovo has a newer model, again not marketed in the US, which has a slightly bigger screen, but looks nowhere as cool as the K900.)

So I’m keeping the Note.  The battery was getting old, and wouldn’t hold a charge for a full day.  But a new battery fixed that.

Meanwhile, my 2009 laptop remains in service as my work computer.  I could probably upgrade it to Windows 7 or 8, but as long as everything works, I have no compelling reason to change from Windows XP.  (Yeah, I know, Microsoft stopped supporting it in April.  But in all the years I’ve had computers with Microsoft software, how many times have I contacted them for support?  In a word, zero.)

Part of me wants to get a new battery for my laptop, like the phone.  But the other day I learned about a new peripheral device that reads gestures, which requires Windows 7 or 8.  I’d like to be able to give presentations without a clicker, being able to make a little swoopy gesture over the machine to make it change slides.  (I was able to do this in the 1990s, when we had presentations as overheads or 35mm slides, and for a big enough group, someone else was working the presentation.)

So maybe I won’t be able to resist the temptation of a new toy.

*          *          *

At the beginning of 2013, I had to change health insurance.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the new Obamacare-compliant plan was a few ticks cheaper than the old insurance.  But then I wasn’t expecting a big change up or down because many of the features of Obamacare (no exclusion for pre-existing conditions, same rates for men and women, etc.) were already New York law.  The premium for my wife and me is currently about $1100/month.

Yesterday, I got a letter from the insurance company.  I received it in my office, as the employer, and at home, as the employee.  They’re petitioning the state for a 25% premium increase next year.  Part of the reason for the increase, they explained, was ‘the projected impact of the federal risk adjustment program that was put in place by the Affordable Care Act.’

So we in New York are still going to get whacked by Obamacare, it’s just taking a little longer.

Stuck Overnight

Yesterday at noon, I was racing to finish the task I was working on at an out-of-town job site.  I had a flight that would leave at 2:40, and a party back in NYC that I wanted to attend.

After some finagling, I had it.  I had achieved a milestone in the task I had before me, but still had more to do.  I told my colleague at the site that it was a wrap for me for the day, and that I should be able to finish the task in my office, but I might return next week.

A muffled boom of thunder sounded overhead.

Two minutes later, my phone rang: a recorded announcement that my flight had been cancelled.

The machine gave me the option to connect to an airline agent.  The agent helpfully informed me that there would be no other flights that day, and that the next available non-stop would be at about the same time the next day.  I rebooked.

I had stayed at a local hotel up the road from the job site.  I called them up and reserved a room for another night.  It was quick and painless.

The rental car was another matter.  I rummaged around my e-mails and found the telephone number for the airport office.  I was forwarded into the rental company’s monster voice-recognition computer, and what would have been a thirty-second conversation with a person: ‘My rental number is “xxx” … I need the car for one more day, at the same time….  Got it?  Thanks!’ turned into five minutes of automated hell.

I’ve learned to roll with the punches when things go wrong on a business trip: sometimes I believe that God is looking out for me.  If I had finished my task at noon, as I had planned, I would have gotten the call while I was en route to the airport.  I would have been really angry, would have booked into a hotel near the airport, and probably have ended up accomplishing nothing.  As it was, I invited my colleague to lunch, went back to my task afterward, and got most of it done.  There’s still some clean-up and tweakage, but the heavy lifting is done.

*          *          *

We finished late, and I headed to a Wal-Mart after dinner to find something to wear the next day.  (OK, I could rinse out my socks and underwear and use them again, but it had been a long day.)  I got:

  • Wrangler shirt from Bangladesh;
  • Fruit of the Loom colored T-shirt from El Salvador;
  • Russell briefs from Vietnam (didn’t they used to be the enemy?);
  • Dickies work socks from Pakistan (I had to look around on the package to find this).

But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Meanwhile, Beyond These Borders….

Earlier this month, I went to a professional conference in London.  One of my immediate observations is that while the US has been in the economic doldrums for the last few years, much of the world has dusted itself off and gotten back to work.  The presentations at the conference are about new and bigger infrastructure improvements going on in cities all over the world… except in the US.

What happened?

On the first day, one of the presenters told the story of the Docklands Light Rail, which was built to revive the disused Docklands to the east of London.  The system opened in 1987 as a two lines that ran single cars.  It was enormously successful: today there are seven lines that run 2- and 3-car trains.

Meanwhile, Detroit has been puttering about with the idea of a Woodward Avenue light rail line.  They were going to build it, and then they decided to run buses, and now construction has begun on a line expected to carry about 1 million passengers/year when it opens in 2016.  (The Docklands, in its first year, carried 17 million, and now carries five times that.)

To be sure, there’s an obvious difference: the Docklands are just east of central London, a dynamic business district that is thirsting for more space.  The Woodward Avenue line is in… Detroit.

But the Docklands story was one among many.  What are we doing wrong?

One easy answer is: Obamacare.  All across the US, employers have been cutting staff and hours in an effort to escape the law’s mandates.  Meanwhile, people all over the country are getting sticker shock over the insurance premiums they now have to pay themselves.  Not exactly a recipe for a booming economy.

But the problem is broader than that….

Dr. Bob

I first met Dr. Bob as a college intern in 1981.  I was pretty sure what I wanted to do in my life at that point, but the internship served to confirm what I had already believed.

Dr. Bob ran a series of classes in the technical minutiae of my craft.  Before I joined the group as an employee, I had the opportunity to take two of the classes at once.  I found I couldn’t quite manage that (even as a 23-year-old, one’s energy is not infinite), so I stayed with the more advanced class, which Dr. Bob himself taught.

When I joined the group as an employee, Dr. Bob was my boss for about a year.  From him I learned how to be professional and have fun at the same time, in a business which is deadly serious.

I left the company, and then returned in the 1990s as a manager.  Dr. Bob was still there, this time as my subordinate.  We worked together on a number of projects; for several years, I taught the classes he started.  He retired from the group in the late 1990s, but stayed busy; I looked forward to meeting him at professional gatherings.

About two weeks ago, he passed away.

I normally don’t bother with funerals, but in this case I had to make an exception.  Moreover, his son had called me, asking if I would attend the services.

The funeral was last Wednesday.  When the church service began, I shut off my phone, resolving to live in the moment until I was back on my way home.

His son and daughter told the story of a man who had lived his life in full.  He had faced cancer a few years ago: he lost weight but came back looking better than before.  More recently, he faced another serious illness: he could have accepted the treatments, which would have precluded many of the things he loved to do.  So he spent a last, peaceful few weeks at his summer home: the alternative, to him, would not really have been living.

One of Dr. Bob’s friends read a quote from Walden:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life….

I was not as close to Dr. Bob as many of those present, but I knew that this was how he lived his life.  It seems so different from the modern trend of pointless thrill-seeking under the banner of ‘You Only Live Once.’

We went to the cemetery, where we tossed back a shot of whiskey and said our final goodbyes, and then to lunch.  Dr. Bob loved oysters: his son, who made the arrangements, made sure that we had plenty.  I had interesting discussions with Dr. Bob’s son, his in-laws, and some of his friends.  I was surprised, though, that I seemed to be the only person from Dr. Bob’s professional life who showed up.  (Many of them had visited at the wake, but none at the funeral itself.)

Perhaps the others were too busy.

But you make time for the things that really matter.

Snarled City

On Wednesday, it took me about two hours to get to the office, and return home, mostly walking.  Yesterday, with the alternate bus and subway service, I was able to ride most of the way, but it still took two hours each way.  Con Ed says they’ll restore power in lower Manhattan by Saturday, and with that, hopefully, we can get trains over the Manhattan Bridge.

Still, I’m lucky I don’t drive, or else my life would be overtaken by the search for gasoline.

I was transfixed by the network news last night: I’ve seen disaster reports from other parts of the world often enough, but not from my own backyard.  A woman from Staten Island, which got hit badly, complained that her neighborhood was not getting help from the city.

But as far as I can tell, the city’s plans emergency plans did not include bags of goodies for people whose houses had blown away.  You were encouraged to stay with friends on higher ground, or failing that, go to a shelter.  But if you own a home, fixing the damage is your own responsibility, with the help of insurance, or possibly federal disaster relief money.

Most of the residential areas subject to flooding in NYC are occupied not by the very poor or the very rich, but by middle-class homeowners.  Their woes may be just beginning.

Back to Work

Last week, when I knew the storm was coming, I thought I’d have a couple of quiet and productive days at home.  It didn’t work out that way: just turn on the tube, and there’s a gush of urgent reports about the storm, 90% of which I had heard the first time.

But it’s an ’emergency,’ demanding one’s immediate attention.  Yeah, right.

I had to go back to work, in my office.

The reports indicated that local buses would be running on a weekday schedule yesterday.  Simple enough, I thought: take the local bus to the Manhattan Bridge, walk across the bridge, then get a bus on the other side.

The first two parts went well enough, but it turned out that the local Manhattan bus was mostly a creature of myth and legend.  And while I cursed my laziness for getting out at 6:30 a.m., it turned out to be just the right time: lower Manhattan was still blacked out, and I crossed the bridge just as dawn was breaking.

On the way back from the office, I hopped a bus for part of the way in Manhattan, then walked across the bridge, and after waiting 20 minutes for a bus back in Brooklyn, walked the rest of the way home.

Today bits and pieces of the subway are running.  There are no trains to lower Manhattan because either the tunnels are flooded or there is no power.  I can take a train to downtown Brooklyn and get a bus over the bridge into Manhattan.  I seriously wonder how this scheme will hold up under the onslaught of even half the normal volume of passengers.

We’ll find out….


The other day, my pajamas wore out.  Time for a new set.

Once upon a time, actually not that long ago, I went to Macy’s and bought a set of pajamas, a top and a bottom, in a cellophane bag.  I think the last set I bought that way, admittedly made in China, cost about $20.

But more recently, most of the stores have stopped selling pajamas as sets: you buy the top and the bottom separately.  So my wife and I looked around:

At Macy’s, they had a selection of designer pajamas, with the pants costing $19 to $38, made in China or El Salvador.  (At least El Salvador is on this side of the planet.)  The colors were blah: blue, yellow (charming, but not $38 worth), pink (for the man who’s really sure of his masculinity), and grey (looking rather like a pinstriped suit fabric: I tend to think of pajamas and pinstriped suits as mutually exclusive).

At jcp (the department store formerly known as J. C. Penney), they had Chinese pajama bottoms for $12.  I found a blue/green plaid pair: done.

But what if I wanted pajamas not from China or El Salvador, but the dear old United States?  At Macy’s and jcp, I’d be out of luck.

There’s American Apparel, with little stores in my part of Brooklyn.  I’ve actually never visited one: from the outside it looks like mostly women’s items.  But their Web site has pajama bottoms for… wait for it… $38, the same as the designer brands at Macy’s.

There’s Red Flannel Factory in Michigan, that offers pajamas in red flannel (you were expecting lime-green Kevlar?) for $43.  I’d probably feel better if I could see the goods first.

Some further searching uncovered the Vermont Flannel Company, ‘dedicated to world comfort.’  A few clicks yielded pictures of a beautiful array of pajama sets in a selection of colors.  But a set costs $83.60… if they had any in stock.

And then there’s BedHead Pajamas, based in Los Angeles (but with a shop in NYC).  Pajama bottoms are $78 with most sets around $140.

Trying to support American manufacturing is all well and good, but I can’t bring myself to pay triple the price.

A Few Days Later

I’m sitting in the park on the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge.  It’s a pleasant summer afternoon, I’ve been riding my bike, and the endorphins are flowing: it’s all good.

When I was a kid, I lived near here, and my parents and I would go out on our bikes on Sunday morning.  It’s good to see that the park is, if anything, a little nicer than I remember it.

It’s been a crazy week with the alleged resolution of the debt brouhaha:

  • Each side is now yowling that it was taken advantage of by the other.  Obama sold out to the Tea Party, while the Tea Partiers wimped out.
  • On Wednesday, the government borrowed nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars, apparently making up for lost time.
  • Some Republican (mainstream, not Tea Party) noted that the GOP was more than willing to let the deadline pass, until they considered that the Treasury, having to prioritize spending, would short the things that would make the public the angriest (like Social Security) so that they could blame the Republicans.  I find it hard to believe that the Obama administration would do that, but I suspect that a Republican administration would.
  • After a 500-point drop on Thursday, the stock market had a barf-bag day on Friday.
  • On Friday afternoon, after the markets closed, Standard and Poor’s downgraded US government debt from AAA to AA+.

But where does that leave us as far as the rest of the economy?  Sadly, not too well.  But that’s not really new.

The national government is a one-trick pony: there is only one thing it can do to address a sluggish economy: deficit spending.  Whether this takes the form of tax cuts or new spending programs, the goal is the same: provide loose money to encourage commerce and tide people over until new growth takes hold.

But in fact, the government spigot has been stuck on ‘loose’ for many years now.  Between the bailouts, the stimulus, tax cuts, and the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing, we’ve delivered enough stimulation to launch the Empire State Building into orbit.  It hasn’t worked.

Now is the time to re-examine our premises and seek a new way forward.  It won’t be easy, and some of it will certainly be painful, but it’s still better than the alternative of yet more debt.

Unemployed Again

No, not me.

A few weeks ago, after months of trying, my son finally found a job in a media office of some sort.  He was working as an office assistant, doing scanning and other tasks, and hoping that they would take him as a permanent employee (not there is actually any such thing in our era of employment at will).

The other day, he learned that the company would not take him as a permanent employee, and he was back in the street again.

I’ve been contemplating buying a new tablet computer, but on learning this, I shelved those plans.  He’s my son, and I don’t feel right enjoying a shiny new toy right now.   Instead, I’ll buy him driving lessons: he’s 25 and does not have his license.

Things are very different for him than for me.  Both of us grew up in the city, without cars in the household.  But I took driving lessons when I was 20, with my own money.  When I was 25, he was already one year old.

I wish I knew what to tell him, beyond the obvious, as he embarks on another job hunt that seems almost pointless.

The New Scrooge

Christmas came and went: after moaning about it for a couple of weeks, I jumped into the spirit sometime Friday afternoon (24 Dec), bought some presents, and my family had a nice Christmas.  We’re holding together; we have our health; God bless us, every one.

This year, I bought new Christmas tree lights.  I’m a procrastinator about this, and it used to be possible to get a full set of Christmas decorations up until 24 Dec.  But in recent years, it seems that the supply of goods has been adjusted to match demand, and perhaps come up a little short: for several year I’ve wanted to get new lights, and every year I went looking on Christmas week and came up empty.  (I would swap lights around on the sets we had, and be able to light up the tree.)  This year, determined to get new lights, I looked in a half-dozen stores before I found them.

My childhood memory of winter in New York City was that the outside was cold, but the inside was usually very warm.  The apartments I’ve lived in–even as an adult–were generally overheated during the winter, and the places outside home were generally toasty warm.

Today, my landlord is responsible for heating our apartment.  But it isn’t toasty anymore.  There’s a dollop of heat in the morning, another dollop in the evening, and just a little through the night if it’s below freezing.  The apartment is heated enough to comply with the law, so I can’t complain, but I’m still chilly, and I run an extra heater in our bedroom.

My office is the same way: a burst of heat in the morning, and a little more through the day if it’s really cold.  (The building lobby, however, is nice and toasty.)

We like to believe we have abundance in this country, but it’s getting nibbled away….

Chilean Mine Rescue

I spent part of the day yesterday transfixed by the spectacle of the Chilean mine rescue, in which 33 miners were rescued after being isolated in a mine chamber for 70 days following a collapse.  It was uplifting to see happy news unfolding live, as each miner was brought to the surface, to be greeted by his loved ones.  Congratulations to all, not least the American firm that drilled the rescue hole, and best wishes to the miners, who face perhaps a more difficult challenge now that they have become instant celebrities.

I was going to stop there, and resist the impulse to say something snarky about the event, until I saw the front pages of today’s newspapers:

Daily News Front PageNew York Post Front Page

So all that really matters to us, apparently, was that one of these guys was cheating on his wife.

Glass Bank

Glass House Bank

One of my earliest memories of midtown Manhattan as a little boy, besides obvious things like the Empire State Building, was the glass bank building at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street.  I most keenly remembered the safe deposit vault at street level, that used to be opened during business hours.

Glass Bank Vault

As I grew up, it remained in my mind as the essential image of what a bank ought to be.  When I was a young man, it was a Manufacturers Hanover, which got swallowed by Chemical, which then got swallowed by Chase.  The ATM lobby was added as the machines came into use.  I don’t remember exactly when they stopped opening the vault during business hours, but it hasn’t been opened in a while.

It was pretty clear that the sleek, modern bank building had become an anachronism: a horrific waste of value to have a four-story building in midtown Manhattan.  It became clear that the end was near when Chase set up a new branch in an office building one block north.

Today was the last business day at the glass bank.  I don’t know what will happen next: perhaps some other bank will set up there, but I rather doubt it.


“Why would you want to be in a relationship?” my son asked me.  “You can’t do what you want.”

I considered his remarks as I went out with my wife this afternoon to the Museum of Modern Art.  Left to my own devices, I’m not much of a museum-goer; when I was living alone in the early 1990s, and I had a free weekend, I would go to see a movie and prowl the bookstores for a couple of hours.

But if all doors stood open, and I had the choice of doing what I wanted to do by myself or going to the museum with my wife, which would I choose?

It isn’t even close.

Things go much better with a  companion.

Why I Resent Summer

I never liked hot weather.

  • When I was a kid, I never really liked summer camp, but the absolute worst was when we had a day at the beach.
  • One of my mantras in my early twenties was, “Hang on baby, September’s coming.”
  • When I got divorced, I surprised both my lawyer and my ex-wife’s lawyer when I proposed that, after Thanksgiving and Christmas, which we would share, I would get to see my son for the cold-weather holidays, and my ex-wife could see him on the hot-weather holidays.
  • To this day, I still celebrate Retro-Rockets Day, the first genuinely cool day in late summer as a harbinger of things to come.

Until a few years ago, I accepted summer as part of the human condition.  More recently, I’ve become resentful with the hot weather, and annoyed with the TV weather reporters who make it seem so wonderful that it’s broiling out.

And now, I understand why.

Up until about 2003, my life slowed down for the summer.   Ultimately, some years after the divorce, my son moved in with me, but spent much of the summer vacation with his mother.  Work slowed down, too: ten years ago, I would commonly take a summertime Monday or Friday off as a vacation day, as everything was under control and there was nothing I urgently needed to do until the next ‘real’ workday.

But not anymore.  In particular, work doesn’t slow down anymore.  Business doesn’t have an off-season.

On The Road

I’m on vacation this week in the Berkshires, staying in a comfy bed-and-breakfast in western Massachusetts.

One of my colleagues asked me, “Why go there?”  It’s an escape from the heat of the city (although it’s been a cool summer so far); the people are friendly; and there are places and things to do that interest me and my wife.

So this past weekend, I rented a car for the trip.  I told the guy where I was going, and he asked me if I’d like to rent a GPS box for the trip.

Thirty years ago, if you had asked me what sort of gizmo I’d like to have in my car, I would have salivated at the thought of a device that established my location and displayed it on a map.

Alas, now that one can buy a GPS box for $200-$300, I don’t want one.  I still think the idea is cool, and I will watch the GPS display if I’m riding in someone else’s car.

I always thought that a basic element of driving is knowing where you are, and where you want to go.  I don’t like it when someone tells me to follow them; I want to know the way myself.

So when I travel by car to a place I’m not familiar with, part of the exercise is to get out the maps and understand the route.   And it works: I’ve never gotten lost.

OK, in fairness, I can’t quite say that: I’ve sometimes lost track of where I was exactly, but I knew I was heading in the right direction, and eventually came to a spot that I did recognize where I could continue onward.  I’ve never had to backtrack in such cases.

And last night, I did, indeed, go around in circles, but that was because the place I was visiting advertised itself as being located on one road, but was actually on an adjacent road.

But neither of those cases really counts as ‘lost.’  Navigation is part of the joy of driving, and I don’t want to give that up, least of all to a made-in-China, value-engineered, plastic turd.

Except that I’m sure that most people who buy GPS boxes do it for exactly that reason: to save themselves the trouble of thought.

Funkbuster Ducky

I woke up this morning in a foul mood, not sick, but not wanting to do anything.  The last few weeks have been frenetically busy, and this week is not so much a lull as a pause before the mayhem continues next week.

“Do you have any meetings today,” my wife asked me.


“Why don’t you ride your bike to work?”

When the weather is nice, and I’m working in the office on Sundays, I like to bike to work, but not usually on a weekday.  But today was a gorgeously clear day, a little cool for late May: why not?

I left the house a little late, and missed the peak of the rush hour.  The traffic was there, but nothing too terrible.  In my previous trips I tried a number of schemes to avoid Houston Street, a horribly busy place with lots of trucks.  But the schemes usually involve an awkward left turn, which didn’t work in the heavier weekday traffic.  It turned out the Houston Street wasn’t so bad after all.

And, just like that, the funk was busted.  The endorphins were flowing, and all was well.  I had expected a calm day, but it didn’t happen that way.  Not to worry: the problems of the day were just targets to get blasted, nothing to get upset over.

So many thanks for the suggestion, Ducky.

Shea Stadium

Editorial Note:  I know, it’s been rather a while (over a month!) since I last wrote.  Once upon a time, I pretty reliably had at least a half-hour a day for contemplation and… blogging.  But it is a harder world out there, and one of the ways that it is harder is that one has less time for such things.

On Thursday, my work took me out to Queens.  Riding the 7 train, I saw the nearly-completed Citi Field.  But what had happened to Shea Stadium?

I had sort of expected that it would be demolished in a grand theatrical style, but I guess that Citi Field is too close for that. Or perhaps we’re still in shock over 11 September, and can’t stand to see something blown up.

Instead, it was quietly taken down, piece by piece, leaving only piles of rubble.  By April, it should all be carted away and replaced by a parking lot, as one cannot have a modern stadium without ample parking.

Citi Field, the new stadium, looks vaguely like pictures I’ve seen of Ebbets Field.  It’s charming, I’m sure.  But Ebbets Field doesn’t mean anything to me: it was gone before I was born.  My baseball memories all live at Shea.

And now it’s gone, in the name of… what?  A ‘more intimate venue for baseball’?  It’s baseball, dammit, not ballroom dancing!  One can only pack so many seats close to the field: for the rest of us, baseball is something that is inherently witnessed from a distance.

What else is Citi Field supposed to give us?  I’ve bought Mets tickets often enough that they sent me a flyer in the mail:

  • Superior sightlines:  Does this mean, ‘you can see the field better’?  Shea had some really crappy seats with only a partial view of the field.  But from the rest of the seats, you looked out and saw… a ballfield.  Maybe you’ll be able to see it better now, but a billion dollars’ worth better?
  • Wide, comfortable seats:  I never had a problem fitting in the seats, and I’m watching a baseball game, not flying to Europe.  (Or is it that the general population has gotten wider?)
  • Spacious aisles and rows, with generous legroom:  OK, I’m 6′ tall and always can go for a little more legroom.  If you give me a foot more legroom, I’ll be tickled.  But from the pictures, it looks like only a few more inches.
  • Wide concourses that invite fans to move around the entire ballpark:  Why, why, why???  When I go to a baseball game, I make one trip to the concession stand, and one trip to the can.  If I want to go wandering around, I can walk around the neighborhood with my wife: it’s much cheaper.
  • Upscale dining options, including… a climate-controlled restaurant:  Spare me!  Part of the live baseball experience is the concession-stand food, eaten alfresco in the stands.  If you want air conditioning, stay home!  (And if they’ve gotten rid of the sausage sandwiches, my preferred downscale dining option, I may consider becoming a Yankees fan.)

At Shea, there were ten major categories of seats, not counting the really fancy seats behind home plate.  Now there are 26, a feat accomplished by zoning each level into ‘infield’ and ‘outfield,’ and further charging extra for the first few rows. The better to juice the fans, I guess.

Yes, I’ll go to see the Mets at Citi Field.  I may even like the new stadium when I see it.

But for now, I’m ticked.

Where are the Brains?

On Thursday afternoon, a US Airways jetliner encountered a flock of geese shortly after takeoff.  The geese fouled both of the plane’s engines, but the pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, managed to ditch the plane in the Hudson River.  All of the passengers and crew were evacuated, with only minor injuries.

Mr. Sullenberger is a hero of the sort that we don’t hear about often enough.  It seems rare to read a story in the newspaper about someone who did something right: it’s usually the other way around.

But then, the world is filled with people who do things right.  They may not be heroes, but they keep the lights on and the trains running and the supermarket shelves filled.   It’s natural that in the normal course of events that the people who make mistakes make the headlines.

What I really worry about, though, is why the people who are in authority–the people that we should be able to count on to do things right–seem to make the biggest mistakes.

  • Earlier this week, I watched part of the documentary No End in Sight about the Iraq war.  One of the ground rules of warfare is to know your enemy, but we blundered into Iraq reveling in our ignorance of the enemy, thinking that a two-week show of precision munitions would leave all of Iraq happy to go along with us.  Time after time, our plans blew up in our faces, and it was only after the surge (in 2007) that things began to move in the right direction.
  • Aside from Captain Sullenberger’s heroic exploits, the rest of Friday night’s network newscast was a litany of dread: bank failures, bankruptcies, and layoffs.  Our current economic difficulties seem to be the result of astonishing lapses of judgement on the part of both our political and financial leadership.  Worse, today nobody seems to know what to do about it.

If the airline pilots and subway motormen and all the other people who build and operate our physical world were one-tenth as inept as our leadership, we would be living among piles of smoldering wreckage, having to kill rats for food.

Somebody send help….

It’s January

It’s 15 degrees Fahrenheit (-9 C) tonight in New York City, and it’s supposed to go down to about 9 degrees overnight.  When I was a kid, every winter had three or four days like this, or even colder.  I simply assumed it was part of life.

It’s been getting colder as the week has gone on: time to accustom one’s self to wearing long johns and dressing in layers.  And once you get used to it, it isn’t bad: the cold weather is invigorating.

My work today took me to Long Island via Penn Station.  As I got off the subway, the effluvium of the pizza parlors, hot-dog places, and sandwich shops assaulted me: although some of the individual stores have changed over the years, the overall smell of the place has changed little.

It took me back to a simpler time, when one of the biggest stores in the station concourse was the Station Break arcade.  I could have gone for a couple of games of pinball if it were still around.

Those were the days….

Some Observations

  • Yesterday’s Daily News included a full-page ad from Macy’s, indicating that their one-day sale on Saturday would be extended to a second day on Sunday because of the ‘inclement weather.’  It snowed about two inches in the city over yesterday afternoon and evening, with probably more in the suburbs: not really what qualifies as ‘inclement.’  Considering the lead time in setting up a full-page newspaper ad, I have to believe that Macy’s was going to extend their one-day sale (which was a two-day sale to begin with, as it started Friday) to Sunday from the beginning, and was just betting that since it’s January, it must be snowing somewhere.
  • Our New Fearless Leader released a report claiming that his recovery plan would create between three and four million new jobs.  Unfortunately, there’s no clear description as to just what this plan would consist of.  The same report includes a graphic indicating that the unemployment rate would top out at about 8% with the recovery plan in place, but 9.5% without it.  I’ll agree that a 9.5% unemployment rate is not good, but it’s hardly the end of the world, as everyone seems to make it out to be.
  • I was watching the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man yesterday evening.  The movie is set in about 2020, in a US where, due to ‘the economic collapse of 2017,’ many Americans don’t have a pot to piss in.  Arnold is an honorable Army officer who disobeys an order, is jailed, and eventually can earn his freedom if he participates in The Running Man TV show.  Besides showing Arnold breaking things and killing people, the movie is a commentary on government and the media.  In 2020, the two have converged, and they’re both flaming liars. The really distressing part (sorry for the long setup) is that we’re now two-thirds of the way from 1987 to 2020, and television is very definitely two-thirds of the way from what it was in 1987 to the world of The Running Man.  The concept of gladiatorial combat on TV was radical in 1987; it’s a much smaller step from the state of TV today.  And there was an appetite for the details of politics back then, while today the public would rather do something–anything–than try to understand the real aspects and practical details of politics.

Merry Christmas

It’s a little late, I know, but Merry Christmas to all.  Or Happy Holidays.  Or whatever.  I hope all is well for whomever might be reading.

Christmas was pretty quiet in our house; we had a nice dinner for Christmas Eve, and on Thursday, my wife and I went to church, and we went with the choir to a home for the sick and sang some Christmas songs, to spread a little holiday cheer.

We performed the music first during the church service, and my wife introduced the songs in Korean.  Afterwards, she asked me to introduce the songs in English when we went to the home for the sick.  I live it when she drops things like that on me.  But the performance went well.

I had done a lot of running around on Wednesday (‘Why didn’t you do some of that beforehand?’ my wife asked), and Friday was a day of rest.  Today, we’ll probably go shopping, taking advantage of the after-Christmas sales. 

Black Friday

Today’s newspapers, like last Saturday’s, brought news of a gruesome death: a Wal-Mart employee on Long Island was fatally trampled by shoppers when opening the store yesterday morning.

Yesterday was Black Friday, when we’re all supposed to go out and buy stuff.  And I missed it.

As near as I can tell, we started calling the day after Thanksgiving ‘Black Friday’ about ten years ago.  Before that, it was simply a day that most of us had off from work, possibly given over to shopping, but mostly for hanging with one’s relatives, rest, and recovery from excess turkey ingestion.

But somehow it became all about the shopping.  And since no marketing phenomenon is complete without a catchy name, we called it ‘Black Friday,’ in a paroxysm of political correctness, in which the color ‘black’ is divorced from its usual sense in Western culture of death and destruction.

Of course I looked over the deals that were in Thursday’s papers: each newspaper came with an advertising supplement bigger than the newspaper itself.  But there was nothing that I really wanted.  As far as big-ticket items, we’d all like a new TV set, but the sets we have are serviceable.  If they were offering a nice TV for $100, I might have made the trip, but the sets that I was considering were going for $700, down from $1,000 or so.  And I’d like a computer to replace my desktop machine, which I bought in 1999, but that will have to wait until I’m feeling flush.

In any case, I had work to do at the office, and money is tight this month.  So I went in to work, and enjoyed the productive peace and quiet.

Happy Thanksgiving

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to whoever might be reading this.

It was another quiet Thanksgiving in our house.  We don’t go visiting relatives: my wife and I are both only children; our parents have all passed away; our other relatives don’t live nearby.

For many years, I didn’t have much to do with my relatives.  It wasn’t that I had anything against them, but later I understood that my relatives thought there was something vaguely wrong with me.  Or maybe it’s just that we have don’t have much in common.
So for Thanksgiving it was just my wife, my son, and myself.  I think I like it that way.

This morning, I made a traditional dinner.  I cooked the turkey according to the directions on the Butterball Web site, and it came out slightly overcooked.  Not terribly badly, but a little bit dry: it would have been better if I had taken it out of the oven about 20 minutes earlier.
I have to believe that the lawyers have figured out that nobody will sue them for an overcooked bird, but people will sue for an undercooked bird that makes them sick.  The published cooking times are therefore overly long for their protection.

In the evening, we went to see the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace.  The ‘rebooted’ Bond, in his second outing, has already gotten tiresome.  Whereas the old-school Bonds (Connery through Brosnan) got by on their wits and Q’s clever gizmos, Daniel Craig’s Bond is simply indestructible.  If you try to shoot him, he wil simply bounce out of the way.  It was clever at first, and now it’s just repetitive.

Quantum is, apparently, a secret organization of powerful men who hold meetings during live opera.  And their sinister plan for world domination is actually a part of the normal business-school curriculum (How to Screw Over Third-World Peasants).

So are they really villains after all?

Even the Bond-movie-as-travelogue disappoints: we’re told that Bond is traveling to Haiti and Bolivia, when in fact, the scenes in those countries are actually shot in Mexico, Panama, and Chile.

Perhaps I can’t go home again.

In a Funk

Last week, I was on a most remarkable business trip.  I was sitting in a park there, starting to write up my observations, when something happened that caused me to reconsider everything I was thinking.  I’m going back again in the near future, and will write about it then.

But since returning on Monday, and in spite of the business-class seat on the airplane on which I could actually sleep, I’ve been in a funk.  I’ve been tired and not wanting to do very much.  And in all, it’s been a crappy week:

  • My PDA phone seems to have failed.  The battery, which used to be good for 3-4 days, barely lasts one day now, and about 70% of the time that I try to make a call, it fails.  I’m back to using my old phone for communication.  I know that I can probably get a replacement if I go to the AT&T store in midtown, but beyond that, the PDA phone hasn’t been as useful as I imagined it.
  • New York State is going broke, but the Legislature doesn’t want to do anything about it.  Both the Democrats and the Republicans are beholden to the public employee unions, and so will not do anything that would inconvenience the civil service.
  • It was another barf bag week for Dow Jones, with the Industrials closing below 8,000 on Wednesday and Thursday night before gaining ground on Friday.
  • In yesterday’s paper, there was a report of something that I knew would happen someday, but hoped never would: a young man killed himself while broadcasting the experience over the Web.  He took an overdose of sleeping pills and tranquilizers, and it was only after a few hours of watching him immobile in his bed that something seemed wrong.
  • And the Sunday Daily News, which cost $1 since the 1980s, went up today to $1.25.

This week can only be an improvement!

A Peaceful Weekend

The news for the last few weeks has been a relentless saga of the economy and how we’re supposed to be in terrible trouble.  Congress passed, and the President signed, a plan to provide $700 billion to help ‘unfreeze’ credit markets.  Ever since that happened, the stock market has gone down every day.

For my part, things seem unchanged.  Some time ago, in an idle moment, I made a loan application at the bank: they denied it, saying that they could not lend to the company with its present management.  (I’m surprised they didn’t say something unsavory about my mother!)  Since then, I’ve financed my business out of the till.  Meanwhile, at least twice a week, I receive an application for a ‘pre-approved’ credit card.

Yesterday, my wife and I went to Governor’s Island, a place shrouded in mystery: it was once an Army base, and then a Coast Guard base, and was off-limits to the public.  Even now, the island is only accessible during spring and summer weekends.  We visited in 2006, and looked inside many of the historic buildings.  Our visit on Saturday was motivated by an art exhibition.

But first, we wanted to explore a little.  We started walking, but then discovered a plase that rented four-wheeled pedal vehicles.  It was fun: it hit my bicycle spot, but my wife (who never learned to ride) could share the experience with me.  We rode around the island, mostly staying close to the water, looking out at New York Harbor on a gloriously clear day.

“Tiring, wasn’t it?” the rental guy asked me when I returned it.

No, it  was invigorating.

The actual art exhibit was a disappointment: everything that gives modern art a bad name.  Still, it was nice to set aside all of the troubles of the world, and the economy, and the upcoming Presidential elections, to share a pleasant sunny Saturday with my wife.

Today was another Sunday workday, and I rode my bicycle to work in the office.  The weather was nice, if a little warm for mid-October, and the endorphins were flowing.

Remembering 11 September

Seven years ago last Thursday, Islamic terrorists in hijacked jetliners destroyed the World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon, and brought the War on Terror upon us.  And so we remember the dead, pray for the living, and moan about the crappy replacements the politicians are serving up to replace the majestic Twin Towers and the glacial pace of their progress.

And then what?

We’re supposed to be intelligent: when some problem befalls us, we’re supposed to study it, learn from it, and do better in the future.

An article of faith among conservatives seems to be that we were the innocent victims of the 11 September attacks.  Obama, and the Democrats in general, are full of self-hatred when they declare that we brought it on ourselves.

As a gross approximation, it’s probably accurate to say that we were innocent victims that fateful day.  But the fact is that we, the United States, built Osama bin Laden to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, and we built Saddam Hussein to fight the Iranians.   While we were indeed victims, we were not quite as innocent as we’d like to imagine.

And since we’re not that innocent, we should have been more careful.  The signs were there that something was afoot: the President was briefed a month earlier that bin Laden was potentially preparing to attack us.  Now the report didn’t say that he would have his henchmen hijack airplanes on 11 September and fly them into things, but a word to the wise is sufficient.

But then again, one could plausibly believe that our leadership wanted the attacks of 11 September to take place, for their own political ends.  But in that case, in the long run, the responsibility for addressing this abuse of power lies not with our leadership, but with ourselves: we still have a representative government, and we still have the right to vote.

And it certainly seems possible that our leadership wanted the terrorist attacks to happen as a pretext not only for war, but also for curtailing our civil rights and for torture.  Yes, it’s a new kind of war and a new kind of enemy.  But I’d like to believe that we’re better than such things.

But maybe we’re not.

And maybe that’s what I have to learn.

Am I allowed to want? and other soggy sagas

For the last couple of weeks, my flaky Internet connection at home got even flakier, to the point where it was up for only a couple of hours in the middle of the night. “Call the cable company and complain,” my wife told me.

But then I’d have to dig up their phone number, and the account number, and wait for twenty minutes on hold, and then they’d tell me, “We’ll get right on it,” and then I’d probably have to call again. It was easier to simply live without it. Pointless Web surfing is a bad habit, except that I can’t update my blog.

A couple of days ago, the connection came back up: I guess someone else complained.

* * *

All of that is rather pointless, except as introduction to my current funk. If my mother saw me writing this post, and read the title, she’d knock me upside the head. “Stop your self-pity,” she’d tell me.

*     *     *

Yesterday afternoon, my wife called me at the office: there’s was a concert in Prospect Park, and she wanted to see it. As I read the description, it was a performance of music from the movie Powaqqatsi. I was mildly interested, so I agreed.

We got to the Prospect Park Bandshell, paid our admission, and I saw that we had a choice: we could sit on seats in the bandshell, or spread out beyond it, on the lawn. This is good, I thought: I had brought a ground cloth, and we could stretch out and relax, since the performance was not due to start for another hour.

Instead, my wife pulled me toward the bandshell, to the second row behind the seats that had been cordoned off for VIPs. I really didn’t want to sit in an uncomfortable metal folding chair for four hours, with no legroom, hemmed in by crowds so that it would be a major production to go to the can, but I’m the good husband, so I went.

Worse, I hadn’t brought my computer, or anything to read. But my wife had brought a play that she was studying for one of her classes, so at least I could read over her shoulder.

Powaqqatsi is one of a series of three movies about life and (although those responsible will jump up and down and swear otherwise) how modern civilization is screwing it up.  There is no plot, no dialogue, not even any visual references to specific places: we’re somewhere in Asia or Africa or wherever, but we can’t quite tell where. The visuals are a series of mostly dreary images from these exotic locales, of people doing the little things they do to keep their world going. These are interspersed with images of our modern world, chosen and edited for ugliness.

This is accompanied by grinding music that is somewhat related to the visuals, occasionally echoing the sounds that would have been present during filming, but mostly just grinding. Sometimes, the music evokes a feeling of triumph, but there is no triumph on the screen.  In fairness, the live music was the best part of the production.  It would have been stirring if it had been presented by itself, or with better visuals.

Perhaps the real art of Powaqqatsi is that it causes a group of people to assemble themselves, experience it, and feel edified.

*     *     *

And while I was writing the previous section, the Internet connection at my house went down.  About an hour later, it’s up again.  I had better finish this quickly….

I went to Powaqqatsi by default: it was my wife’s idea.  But if it was my decision, what would I have done?  I probably would have wanted to watch the tube for a bit, and then go to sleep.

But  what do I really want?  If all doors had stood open, and I weren’t tired after a long work week, what would I want to do?

Alas, I really don’t know….

Peaceful Saturday

I haven’t been writing for the last few days because my Internet connection at home has been flaky. (Even though I’m in business for myself, and don’t bill for unproductive time, I still can’t quite bring myself to write posts at the office.) I’ve lived at the same place since 2003 and had Internet access through the local Cable TV company. Up until this past week, we’ve had maybe one or two brief interruptions per year. But now it’s really hit or miss.

I was about to give up this morning when I decided to give the setup one last kick in the pants. I disconnected and reconnected power to my cable modem, and everything started working again. I can’t say how long it will last, though.

* * *

“I have a terrific idea,” my wife said on Friday night.

“Should I be terrified?” I asked.

“I want to go to a Polish restaurant for lunch tomorrow.”

Technically, I’m a Polish-American, but I have no desire to learn Polish, or eat Polish food, or go to Poland. I wasn’t terrified, but I was a little ticked off: I wanted to have my Saturday lunch at Bar Tabac, a French bistro place on Smith Street.

“I don’t know any Polish places.”

“Do some research.”

The Internet was working briefly yesterday morning, and I found a couple of plausible spots. I had no reason to be terrified: they generally served what one would recognize as ‘American’ food, as well as some distinctly Polish items. So we went to Christine’s in Greenpoint (the Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn) and had a good lunch.

After lunch, we went to the Union Square Greenmarket and bought some vegetables. There is one place that sells vast piles of bright magenta radishes: fresh and juicy and spicier than the tepid red balls one finds in plastic bags in the supermarket. They disappear in November or so; we’re glad to see them back.

We went to Madison Square Park and sat there for a while, contemplating the line that was waiting to buy hamburgers at the Shake Shack. I’m sure they make good burgers, but I couldn’t bring myself to wait a half-hour for one. Is part of the charm of part of the Shack Shack burger the ability to moan about waiting on line for it?

And then we went home and took a nap. I run around like a maniac the rest of the week; I need a day off.