La di da

30
Jan
2009

Just had dinner at a mostly fabu restaurant in Brooklyn called Al di la with a new friend of mine. I had heard a lot about the place before going, and we were thrilled to get a table with no reservation, even though the place was packed. The starter (red beet ravioli) and main (flank steak in a balsamic reduction) were both really fantastic. So much so, that I was really looking forward to dessert (pear chocolate tart and chestnut-honey ice cream), but alas it was awful. The ice cream in particular tasted like a musty lead pipe smells. How can a place that has such fantastic starters and mains be so completely off the mark in dessert?

Whose reality, really?

27
Jan
2009

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine today. We were talking about the bad economy and she was saying how a number of her friends aren’t “facing up to reality”. I asked her what she meant and she told me that they just weren’t “dealing” with the enormity of the economic crisis in before us. In what way, precisely weren’t they dealing, I was curious. Had one of them just lost their job but was spending like a drunken sailor? Were they about to get laid off? Were they out of work but not looking? My friend told me it was none of these, but they just seemed blithely unaware that the economy is in TATTERS, and that this is BIG. People all around them are losing their jobs, and they just go on with their lives. I asked my friend what exactly she expected them to do, but no information of that sort was forthcoming. She repeated her line about them not facing up to reality, and I pointed out that at a macro level, there is not much that any one person can do about what is happening in the economy. And what good did it do to worry about it? I get the feeling my friend feels that if we are sufficiently freaked out about something bad, that we are living in “reality” and if we are not, that we are in “denial”.

Applying this to my own life, I must not be living in “reality”. I don’t have enough work to live off of completely yet (although my contracts are growing), but I am not especially freaked out. I am doing what I can to generate more, and not terribly concerned. I find it a useful exercise to imagine the very worst possible thing that could happen in any situation, and realize it usually isn’t the end of the world. In my case, the very worst thing that could happen in me not finding enough work would be that I would have to go live with friends in California or with my family in Indiana, both of whom have offered me shelter and food if I need it. Neither is hardly a terrible outcome. When I look at it this way, I feel comforted and very lucky.

I asked my friend to imagine similarly what would be the very worst thing that could happen to her in this terrible economy and she talked about losing her home and everything in it, likewise being forced to move in with some family member. But for her, this was clearly a fate too horrible to imagine, and it really made me think again about a subject I often return to, our possessions. We are a society of consumers, and at least partially status and self esteem in our society comes from one’s possessions. The more one accumulates (and the more one spends), the more one takes part in the economy and society. In a very real way, one’s value in a consumer culture is directly proportional to what one spends and is capable of spending. The problem with owning a lot of stuff is that it requires a lot of care and upkeep. Our possessions end up owning us as much as we do them. Especially for large purchases (like a house) is is natural to feel a greater attachment and weight, as the effort to acquire is so much greater. I realize after my years of travel that I really have little desire to acquire such things. At least, If I do head down that road (which may be inevitable in a society such as ours) I hope to be calm about the possibility that it could all disappear tomorrow. All the better to enjoy life’s gifts in the present. We of course do what we can, but complete control is an illusion. The reality is just much more chaotic.

Metro Mystery

26
Jan
2009

Scheduling to do work on the subway system must be quite a logistics nightmare. I get it, I really do. But is it really necessary to have almost every single line in the system under some kind of closure or detour AT THE SAME TIME? One of the advantages of a vast system is that if one line is closed there are always others than should be running normally. Of course the problems multiply the farther you have to go with this kind of massive upheaval. It was a bit of a mess getting to and from upper Manhattan tonight. Are there improvements being made to these tracks or lines? Repairs? Staffing problems at these segments? A master sadist behind it all making ice cold commuters jump through hoops for his (or her) sick amusement? I haven’t lived in NYC in many years, but I don’t remember ever having such a large number of train route service advisories in all the time I lived here or during my many visits. Is it my imagination or is this excessive? Is this (gasp) normal?

Altitude sickness

25
Jan
2009

My friend Gabe invited me to a dinner party at a friend’s place up on 155th street. This is far higher than I have ever been in Manhattan (I am not entirely sure it isn’t in another state). I will stop off at Gabe’s (who lives way down on 113th street) for a drink beforehand, and hopefully will acclimatize enough at that altitude before heading uptown. If I should get dizzy or short of breath, the subway is reasonably quick and should allow me to descend at least as far as Hell’s Kitchen before suffering pulmonary edema.

Game theory with Rachel Maddow

23
Jan
2009

I had an odd dream (aren’t they all?) last night.

A woman who looked a lot like Rachel Maddow was our new teacher in some kind of class. She spent a long time giving an orientation, then set up some kind of couch-like thing and had all the students line up to jump over it, one by one. This took a very long time, almost the entire night. When it was just about my turn to go, Rachel called an end to this and told everyone to follow her to the next room for some other thing to do. I stayed behind with my friend and we were complaining that it was almost morning and we never got our turn to jump. And we were complaining that jumping over a couch seemed like a stupid thing to do anyway, and why did we have to stay up all night to do it? Then we commented on how our teacher really looked a lot like Rachel Maddow and wasn’t that strange. Since I was still awake, I decided to complete some work for Rachel’s class, a task that involved installing some game console into my computer (even though I never play games on a computer). As I was doing that, my mom called and told me she was running for president and that she needed some help with something.

“Really?”, I said, “President of the United States?”

“No, of course not. Of the organization I am in.”

That made a lot more sense to me. I said goodbye and continued to install the hardware when I realized I had to open up my computer and put in some extra memory chip thing that came with the console. It was giving me a little trouble, and so I busted out an impression from Mommie Dearest and said to the chip,

Why can’t you give me the respect that I’m entitled to?…

Wouldn’t you know it, right at that minute Rachel Maddow walks back in and starts laughing good-naturedly at the sight, and then I woke up.

Overheard in a locker room

21
Jan
2009

“Hi, it’s John…because we need to talk…I don’t want to go into that…we have been over it before…you are a jealous person… anyway, I have a meeting and I am not sure what is going to happen. The last one was a disaster, the clients were being complete assholes. I hate them, but in this economy what can you do? …What?…I am calling you because I am a generous, nice person. I want to invite you to dinner with us…why not? What do you want? I do not have a jealous bone in my body, darling. That is YOUR problem. sigh…we have been over this, I don’t want to rehash it. I called to be nice. Why what?…because I love myself, that’s why. And no one can take that away from me. I told you, being jealous gets you absolutely nowhere, now why can’t…hello?..hello?…fuck.”

What in god’s name makes someone initiate this conversation from a cell phone in a locker room? One can only guess because he wanted to put on a little performance for the others in the room. I am not sure if he intended to come off as high minded, attempting the cool detached demeanor and voice of the therapist, but he just ended up sounding like a dick. There are a number of situations like this where people makes calls for no other reason than that they have a cell phone and some need to fight the void. I have noticed a similar situation with businessmen in suits waiting in an airport or restaurant or lobby. They will often call and leave a message reconfirming some meeting or setting up a new one or asking for an email to be resent, but one really gets the feeling they are just uncomfortable being alone and attempting to fill the emptiness.

Inauguration notes

21
Jan
2009

– I love that Obama mentioned “non-believers” in his speech. I believe it is the first time that a president has included and validated them as part of the American family.

– It was somehow fitting and satisfying to see Dick Cheney confined to a wheelchair.

– Aretha’s hat, my friends and I agree, was stolen from a drag queen, albeit a fierce one.

– Speaking of hats, none of the major figures get to wear them in that cold (for image purposes, one imagines). Brrr.

Sensus, Interruptus

20
Jan
2009

I can’t believe it, we are actually here, living this. Obama is our president, Bush is no more.

This morning I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be alone, warm and cozy at home watching the events, or in a crowd. Ultimately I took Sivan up on her offer to join her at a bookstore in SoHo with some of her friends. I decided this was a moment of coming together and sharing, not separateness. We arrived at the bookstore to a pretty jovial atmosphere and some tech guys trying to set up their projector and internet feed. I was worried a little because let’s face it, streaming videos watched by millions can be jerky and overload the best of servers. Sure enough there were a ton of technical difficulties with stuttering video and periods of total loss of streaming. Interesting that the longest such lapse was during Rick Warren’s invocation, so at least not much was lost there. Sadly though, even at parts of Obama’s swearing in and speech we lost some important parts, leaving us feeling quite emotionally cheated. As long as the video was steady, I noticed that we could collectively engage with what was happening, and people were tearing up in disbelief that our long national Bush nightmare was at an end and a new hopeful era upon us. But as the video jumped or cut out, we (or at least I) sort of lost our emotional hard-on, left to attempt to get the excitement up when the video resumed. Maybe this was for the best, as I am not sure how the collective kitsch of  these Hollywood style buildups of feeling serve us in common good. Then again, the emotionalism of this moment in history is a kind of catharsis, allowing us to wipe away the bad feelings of the past and reorient ourselves towards a better future. As we walked the streets towards Union Square, we noticed happy faces all around. Were we projecting our good cheer onto them (and did it matter)? Since we were in the area, it seemed appropriate to go into the “W” hotel for a celebratory drink, saying goodbye to the fear and hello to the hope.