Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
In August of 1987, my family moved from New York to Memphis. But a few weeks before leaving, I had the privilege to go see a game at Shea with my friend Cliff and his family. Cliff’s parent’s were German and knew little of baseball and cared even less. But Shea was (unimaginably) the place to be seen in the mid-80’s so they went with me in tow. They sat through the game with patented Germanic stoicism, probably mulling how or why they’d toted along this peculiar skinny boy with the Irish afro who screamed through the game like the worst of their homeland’s deranged bundasliga fans.
I felt I was in for a treat – the championship roster took the field. Hernandez, Strawberry, Carter, Backman, Wilson – even Gooden was on the mound. They were playing the Braves who’d just unveiled their return to traditional uniforms which they still wear to this day.
But the Mets, perhaps still hungover from the World Series they captured nine months earlier, would lose that night 8-3. Clearly they didn’t take this foe seriously, this dog of a team that would become the Team of the Nineties.
Perhaps what I didn’t realize was that the new Braves uniforms were a harbinger, an omen of change that wasn’t simply cosmetic. The Braves were leaving behind the days of powder blue pajamas and with that passing, the Braves were likewise parting with the fruitlessness that had plagued them. In the decades that have followed that night at Shea, the Braves have systematically bullied and flummoxed the Mets with no relief in sight. On occasion, I can resolutely say that the Braves have ruined entire patches of my 20’s and unquestionably done irreparable damage to my nervous system and liver.
But back to that night at Shea - I want to go back to that little boy with the afro and take the seat next to him. I want to look him in the eyes and say – ‘things are going to change’ and not just the fortunes of the Mets. I would tell him that his impending move down to the American South would be a bizarre, trying odyssey. I would tell him that he was leaving childhood for the random and often ridiculous world of adulthood, rife with enigmatic ambitions and problematic relationships. Our conversation would only be broken by the sound of a crack – Dale Murphy at bat, hitting what would be the most amazing line-drive homerun I’ve seen achieved over the vacuous outfield of Shea, as if to usher in the Braves new era of domination, and for me, childhood’s end.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
I don't understand why people are criticizing Obama for not initiating a pro-wrestling style raging rant about AIG. We live in a nation where outsized executive compensation has been the norm for the past twenty-five years. In 1982 CEO compensation was 42 times the comp of their related lowest compensated workers. That ratio has increased over tenfold since then. All the while, our nation's wealth continues to be centralized and polarized. And all the while democracy dies a little.
I know...blah, blah, blah, Slimbo. Bring back the baseball cards, already!
Well, I could go on and on but I'll stop here and share something worthwhile. Over the years, I've kept a manila folder that's now fat with articles and clippings that have caught my eye. In 2002, I swiped this article from the New York times by Kate Jennings.
Like me, Jennings is a Wall Street exile. Unlike me, she now has a successful career as a writer. In this article, titled "The Hypocrisy of Wall Street Culture", she beautifully demonstrates how Wall Street firms, long revered as the bastions of pure capitalism, actually function on a day-to-day basis within an autocratic, Stalistic paradigm.
This article came out in 2002. Keep in mind that this was when we were all reeling from 9/11. With our economy in the doldrums, we were all to be good little cogs in the 'ownership society'. We were all out to keep the economy afloat by shopping till we dropped. And most of all, we were to let Wall Street do it's thing, baby. Remember? Jennings was a nice dose of reality during those days.
The Pop Tunes chain kept the name of its original store, where The King used to shop, as it was located downtown on Poplar Avenue.
My favorite branch was on Summer Avenue, a main artery that runs east-west on the northern side of the city. It had this magnificent round sign that featured neon musical notes that would dance around the perimeter (which you can barely make out in this picture). At night, you could see it a half-mile away. It was beautiful.
Pop Tunes was a great place to shop in the early nineties as traditional record stores were beginning to disappear. Today, on-line downloads of music and amazon.com have killed the traditional record store. But even before this technological extinction, a record shop existing as an independent entity within a standalone building was on the decline. Music stores had become abbreviated occasional nooks in soulless anesthetized malls before disappearing completely.
When you entered Pop Tunes, worn linoleum was under your feel, faded wood paneling surrounded you and a musty smell hit your nostrils. It was like walking into a friend’s basement lounge: plain, familiar and welcoming.
Pop Tunes was the last store I’d seen in the early nineties still devoted to the LP. In my trademark repulsion of technology, I was stocking up on blues LP’s rather than embracing the compact disk.
So as MLS franchises have since gratefully ditched their earlier mascot names, opting for more authenticity as of late, DC United has stayed plain old DC United.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Friday, March 13, 2009
My reasons for this purchase were thus:
1. Some weeks ago, I was playing in a late night poker game at a local country club.
2. It was really late.
3. I had enjoyed a few beverages.
4. Upon perusal of the club's card room book selection, I noticed a copy of The O’Reilly Factor among the many golf and financial planning selections. I pulled out said selection and tossed it into the fireplace. It went quickly.
When I woke up the next day (painfully), I immediately felt like an impetuous adolescent schmuck and quickly set out to make a replacement purchase. Upon reaching the cashier, I placed the book face down in the hopes that the cute young girl (goth, obviously a liberal arts major) would NOT see the title. It was as though I were purchasing porn. Actually, she might have preferred that it had been porn. She ended up flipping the book over, looking at the title and then gave me the sneer I anticipated.
My reasons for making the replacement purchase were as follows:
1. I destroyed someone else’s property. This is something I teach my children not to do.
2. We are blessed with freedom of speech…Nazis burned books. The Taliban burn books. So it is wrong to burn books…even books written by the Irish-Catholic equivalent of a Taliban Nazi.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Before our children came along, my wife was a flight attendant. Along the way, she has seen many places and made many friends. Among the people she’s met, however, no one can truly compare to her friend Gerri. Despite having lived in New York City since her late teens, Gerri is a Dubliner through and through, by which I mean that she possesses the attributes I always associate the Irish of Dublin: savvy, lyrical, tough, loving, resilient and overwhelmingly charming. Among the many books Gerri has sent our way is this amazing 1976 book of photographs by Ian Finlay and Mike Bunn titled, Dublin. These pictures capture a Dublin that is jarringly earthy, textured and moving.
Through perseverance and economic galvanization, Ireland became The Celtic Tiger. Once the melancholic, poetic underdog of Europe, her capital, Dublin became vibrant, sophisticated and materially successful. I visited Dublin twice, in 1995 and 2001. Like any Irish-American, I visited Ireland hoping to experience something of my own expectations. This is impossible, of course and completely at odds with what Ireland wants to become. The Ireland of my mechanization has moved on to the better things of its own dictates. In my own opinion (and God knows every Irishman has one), the Dublin of these pages is, for better or worse, no more.
Still, the current economic crisis is hitting Ireland hard and it now appears to be headed towards a potential unemployment rate that will exceed its peers and neighbors. There was once a time where Ireland’s unemployment rate was in the double digits. There’s a mood in these pages that could make a return.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Yes, yes, yes….we all know J.K. Rowling walked the earth with the first Harry Potter manuscript in a battered shopping bag, and blah, blah, blah, blah…. But seriously, a good writer getting a book deal is as random as a trailer home getting obliterated by a tornado while the other three hundred neighboring trailers watch.
In light of such Sisyphean obstacles, Chuck Bukowski’s philosophy was ‘don’t try’ (it was also his cryptic choice for his epitaph). But despite choosing obscurity, Bukowski became the Legend of Bukowski – the postal worker novelist, the tramp, the poetic drunk portrayed by Mickey Rourke in the film, Barfly. Like Harvey Pekar, Bukowski is the average guy who has given a voice to the disaffected outsider, to those who have either shunned or been run over by the American Dream.
A strong sense of Pekar comes through The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken over the Ship as this memoir was illustrated by Pekar's ally, Robert Crumb. I’m sure if Crumb were commissioned to illustrate Henry James’s work, he’d easily turn Portrait of a Lady into a sour, soiling experience. His touch then, is perfect for the contents of Bukowski’s mind.
But in this series of journal entries, we are seeing Bukowski in his last days where he lives a life that is materially comfortable and artistically recognized. Still though, Bukowski’s thoughts seem to rumble and grapple with the Greater Question of Life, and here, in his life’s coda, he mulls that there is perhaps no answer.
It’s best encapsulated by the following episode: Bukowski attends a function with his wife. He goes to the bar to order a drink. He orders and then challenges the bartender to a fight out in the alley after he’s completed his drink. To his disappointment, the bartender declines by saying, “Oh…hey, you’re Chuck Bukowski…I love your work!”
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Thursday, March 5, 2009
The whole thing is pretty spectacular but for me the highlight is when Harrison comes out at the beginning and tells a rowdy (and undeniably stoned) NYC crowd that the evening will start with some traditional Indian music, “…so settle down!”
The voice of Ravi Shankar soon follows and (unbelievably) asks an audience in 1971 to extinguish their cigarettes. Incredible.
His band then do an extended version of the raga, ‘Bangla Dhun’, a beautiful building and arching song. Dhun is also featured on this Ravi Shankar album Ragas and Talas.
I don’t want to portray myself as being even marginally knowledgeable as to the subtle meanings seeped in this music. And I certainly know that my featuring this work aligns me with pretentious venti-drinking yuppie dickheads who stock up on ‘world music’ to fit upcoming cocktail parties.
But to me when these sitars and sanods dialogue amonst each other amid these works, they create three pillars that I seek in music: melancholic beauty, meditation and indigenous expression.
A man has completed his tennis game yet he lingers, emptily pondering his racquet. Is he merely trying to stretch out these last moments before he must put down his racquet and join the men behind him or is he so paralyzed by terror that he is entirely unaware of their presence?
The man in white seated at the far left bores a look of accusation into the man who shares his table. Why didn’t you order ME an iced tea? Why did you sleep with my wife? This man he confronts writhes in his seat, too filled with shame and loathing to meet this gaze.
The other two men seated at the adjacent tables want nothing to do with each other or the argument brewing in the foreground. They don’t drink their beverages because they never wanted them in the first place. They are not waiting for someone to join them because no one is coming. They don’t leave because they don’t know how.
Though they wallow in The Leisure Class these lives before you are devoid of meaning and they have lost the capacity to feel love, to feel joy, to feel anything.
Seconds turn into minutes, minutes turn into hours. Nothing will happen today. They know this. Everything must erode like the dying light of the afternoon sun behind them. And then there will be nothing but the bleak, black sleep which calls us all home.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Sunday, March 1, 2009
“The groom has a PhD from M.I.T and is a senior consultant with The Magnanimous Group, a New York based private equity firm. He has completed the New York City marathon 3,867 times. The bride is the chief surgeon of all major tri-state hospitals. While simultaneously graduating from Yale and Harvard, she invented the human lung. She completed her doctorate while walking across the surface of the English Channel carrying a wounded lamb in her healing hands.”
Okay, so I’m jealous that these people are blessed with the holy trinity of youth, success and recognition. If I’d had one of these write-ups on my wedding day, the man they’d describe would be pretty damn unremarkable. “The groom works anonymously in middle management and has written a novel that is not getting published. He plans to continue working, progressing laterally and writing more unpublishable novels. Actually, he may or may not continue writing unpublishable novels. But he will continue working laterally, though.”
The Sunday Styles section also features a kind of kaleidoscopic array of pictures taken of attendees at big name black tie events. Last Sunday, there were a slew of pictures from an event ironically named ‘Hedge Funds Care’ (shouldn’t that name have a tail tag like ‘…no, really we do’). Among these pictures, I saw a guy I worked for years ago when he was a partner for Arthur Andersen and I was a drone fresh from college. I recalled this guy as being the type of man everyone thought I was going to turn out to be – brash, smart, confident, energetic, decisive, and relentlessly successful. I even envisioned myself this way when I caddied during college. Rich men at the country club that employed me used to say I was destined for big things (each proponed that he was a great judge of character).
A few years into working for this schmuck from the styles section, I realized that I was not destined for The Magnanimous Club. I was learning that I lacked a lot of core competencies that seem vital for success. Maybe I also learned that lacking those things might not be a bad thing.