Archive for the ‘Doodaderie’ Category

Weekend Note:
12 February 2012

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

We went downtown today to take Will to the park for an hour or so. It was incredibly cold. Running around in the playground kept us warm for a while, but a few minutes’ standing outside the big dog run nearly killed us. We repaired to Sustainable NYC, a shop on Avenue A that we’ve visited many times without being aware of the café in the back (perhaps it’s new?). We learned the real meaning of the word “oasis.” As well, in any case, as we’re ever going to learn it in New York. The moment we sat down, Will’s cheeks, rosy until then, bloomed a livid purple.

The other night, when we were babysitting, we discovered that Will loves money. What he loves about money is scrunching it up and holding it very tight. If you were unaware that American currency has a large fabric component, you would know all about it after handling one of Will’s macerated bills. All I can think of is a new twist on the phrase, “interest-rate squeeze.”

This afternoon, Kathleen placed the change from purchasing our refreshments on the table, and I handed it over to Will. There was a ten and a five and some change. (Sustainable NYC is truly sustainable for customers as well.) After the squeezing, there was much laying-out and counting. At one point, I asked Will for the ten, and he gave to me, just like that. When I asked him for the five, though, he refused. “Nope,” he said. “Well,” I said, “give it to Darney, then.” “It’s Darney’s,” I said. Putting the five in Darney’s hands was an immediate urgency; Will couldn’t hand it over fast enough. As well he might: nothing short of himself would have roused Kathleen on a frigid Sunday in February.

When we weren’t with Will this weekend, we were more or less hibernating. ‘Tis the season. 

Gotham Diary:
5 December 2011

Monday, December 5th, 2011

At about four o’clock yesterday afternoon — evening, really; it gets dark so early these days — Will was in his stroller and I was about to push him across Avenue C. Kathleen and I were taking him to Tompkins Square Park to play for an hour. On the opposite corner, outside the beer garden, a fair-complexioned woman in her fifties was smiling at me. She had the open, un-made-up face of a former nun, with slightly flyaway hair. She was walking with a cane that she did not seem particularly to need. I could tell this because she did not wait for the traffic light to change in favor of our crossing Avenue C. She was already across the street by the time the light changed. She had beamed at me — well, beaming is perhaps a bit intense — the whole way, and I had smiled back, something I’d never have done if I’d been alone. Will has made a proudly gregarious grandpapa out of me, and I am not shy about acknowledging the appreciation of strangers. But the woman was smiling at me, and I probably oughtn’t to have been so surprised when she said, as she passed us, “You have a beautiful beard.” Emphasis supplied.


On Friday morning, I went to see Hugo. I encourage everyone who likes going to the movies to see it, because, as a beautiful tribute to the inventiveness of Georges Méliès, it honors the roots from which the “filmed entertainment” of today has grown. It’s a reminder that movies can be as great as they are hokey.

Hugo is based on a Young Adult novel by Brian Selznik, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I’m finding that there are two kinds of Young Adult fiction. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, by Peter Cameron, is the best book that I can think of that really deserves the classification, but Jane Eyre is probably the most famous. The other type of Young Adult fiction ought better to be described as Ageing Child. Unlike true Young Adult novels, books for Ageing Children — and Hugo Cabret would seem to be one; David Mitchell’s last novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet turned out to be another, even though it was ostensibly aimed at Adult Adults — are closed off from complexity. Complications abound, but they’re all sorted out in the end, and often long before. There’s nothing wrong with that, really, but it can be heavy when it isn’t amusing. And Hugo’s tale is not very amusing.There is not a lot of fun in the story of Hugo, an orphan who winds all the clocks at the Gare du Nord in the middle of the 1920s. Fun for us, I mean; Hugo’s story is implausible where it ought to be interesting. But I’ll be making it sound like Dickens if I keep this up.

The joy of Hugo is that Martin Scorsese has embedded the boy’s own story in a Wunderkammer of cinematic treats. Who’s that man in round-lensed spectacles whom Hugo nearly knocks over as he flees the monomaniac station inspector, who loves nothing so much as sending urchins off to the orphanage? Why, it’s James Joyce! Why are those immense statues in the cemetery so familiar? Because they’re blown-up versions of the mourners from the tomb of Jean sans Peur in Dijon — they were exhibited here, at the Museum, last year. Most of all, stealing the show as it nears the finale, is the story of Méliès, and the recreation, in 3D, of famous bits and pieces from his vast output. As an homage to the movies, it outclasses anything every produced for the Academy Awards. The story of Hugo aside, Hugo tremendously moving without being disagreeably sentimental.

 Two things keep Hugo from being truly magical, at least for this grown-up. First, the cast. The cast is superb (insert formulaic encomia here), but its members are British, or at any rate not French. This bit of catering to American provinciality, exploiting English accents to signify “abroad,” is nothing less than embarrassing, and embarrassing more or less every time an actor opens his mouth. The other thing is the movie’s indulgence of a perverse desire to look down on the Eiffel Tower from a great height. You can look down on the Eiffel Tower from a great height if you are in some kind of airplane, or dirigible, or other flying contraption. You cannot look down upon it from nearby mountaintops, because there aren’t any in Paris, and you most certainly cannot look down on the Eiffel Tower from the campanile at the Gare du Nord, because there isn’t one of those, either, and even if there were it would only be tall enough to look up. There’s a perfectly dreadful moment when the little girl in the story asks Hugo where he lives. They’re strolling along the Seine, near Notre Dame, at this point, but that doesn’t stop Hugo from pointing, “Over there,” to a cgi shot in which the terminal is given a more convenient, riverside location. Hollywood.


On Saturday night, we went to a birthday party. We thought that we were going to an Orpheus concert at Carnegie Hall, but life is not simple. The concert turned out to be a tie-in, broadcast live, with the 75th anniversary of the founding of WQXR, the radio station that was owned by the New York Times for decades and that now forms a part of New York Public Radio. Seventy-five years! When I say that that doesn’t seem a very long time, what I mean is that this portal to classical music that I discovered on my own when I was nine or ten and passing the time on a sick day, is only twelve years older than I am. Which isn’t old at all, right?

What with announcements from various representatives of the organizations involved, the music didn’t begin until 7:25. The evening’s soloist, oboist Albrecht Mayer, tacked two encores onto his performance. These were followed by the world’s longest interval. You could have enjoyed a turkey dinner during the intermission, and perhaps taken in a night-club act as well. Kathleen was in agony. A nerve in her shoulder got pinched somehow, and her left arm ached no matter how she positioned it. Ordinarily, I would have offered to take her home, but I really really wanted to hear Haydn’s Drum Roll Symphony, and Kathleen indulged me. She said that she’d feel better at dinner, after she took some Advil, which, in the event, she did. But before the Haydn we had a new composition by Andrew Norman, a young composer who now lives in Brooklyn. Even in her pain, Kathleen thought that it was interesting. But she had no taste for Haydn afterward. Abandoning herself to daydreams of walking on the beach (“It worked”), she got through the final half hour without giving the music a thought.

It was exactly the sort of performance that is the whole reason for going to Orpheus concerts. It made the familiar symphony entirely fresh, which is to say, I suppose, that it completely rewrote my impression of the work. I mean to use the idea of rewriting in its recent digital or cognitive sense. The rewriting didn’t involve very much that was absolutely new, but even as it clarified my response — I saw the first movement as a study in framing, and grasped (partly, no doubt, because Kathleen wasn’t feeling well) that, aside from the minuet, its movements are reluctant to conclude. In the minuet, at about Bar 19, there’s an orchestral thickening that brings Schubert’s arduous workouts to mind, and that quite shatters any notion of a courtly dance. My overall feeling about the symphony — that it ought to go by the nickname “Creation,” not “Drum Roll” — was reinforced at almost every moment of the performance. Never more so than in the finale, however: this movement more and more strikes me as a fraternal twin of the “Hallelujah” chorus that ends Part II of Das Schöpfung, “Vollendet ist das große Werk.” Like the oratorio, the symphony is as grand as it is possible to be without an iota of pomposity.

The concert began — when it began — with Hindemith’s Kammermusik Nº 1, written in 1922 for the Donaueschingen Festival. I am not crazy about Hindemith, and I thought that I was being funny when I told Kathleen that, although the program allotted sixteen minutes to the work’s performance, its duration was actually eternal. This turned out to be fatuous. After a rambunctious but very brief overture and an agreeable opening movement, there’s an enchanting quartet for winds and percussion that sets the mood of classic Chinese landscapes, hushed, delicate, and sweetly forlorn. As for the finale, with its ostinato growls it might well be thought of as Le Sacre de Weimar. It’s otiose to ask if Hindemith had Stravinsky in mind (of course he did!), but the surprise is the completeness with which Hindemith makes his borrowings all his own. It goes without saying that a German response to Stravinsky’s mad ecstasy would, after the Great War, take the form of chamber music.


On the front page of today’s Times, there’s a story about the soon-to-be-discontinued visits that the submersible vessel Mir has been paying to the wreck of the Titanic. Further proof that the centenary of the world’s most famous shipwreck is upon us came to me during the coming attractions trailers that preceded Hugo on Friday. Among the many marvels that I have lived to see is the ability to refit an old movie in 3D, and Titanic, one of the worst movies ever made, is getting the treatment, for release next year. I mention this only because the trailer afforded a glimpse of Bernard Hill, as Captain Edward James Smith. It was the first glimpse that I’d had, since Willy, the barber who keeps my beard looking beautiful, took to calling me Capitán because I remind him of Captain Smith. It’s not a comparison that, given the outcome, I’m particularly keen about, but it’s certainly more dignified than Santa Claus, so I go with it. On balance, I think that I have a much more beautiful beard — er, well-shaped — than the the one with which Bernard Hill was supplied.

Not my beautiful grandson. (And he is beautiful.) My beautiful beard. But what was I thinking? I was in the East Village!

Gotham Diary:
Two Boots, Three Cars
1 December 2011

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

It was good for ten minutes at least. Will struggled — but calmly, determinedly — with the problem of fitting three little train cars into two little Western boots. The boots were still a bit too big for him (had I even seen them before last night?), but the train cars weren’t so very small, and the short answer to Will’s problem was that it couldn’t be done. Neither he nor anyone else could ever fit those three train cars into those two boots. But Will, with a manner that made me feel that I was having an out-of-body experience, had to discover this for himself. What was not so familiar was his patience; he didn’t get frustrated or cross. Eventually, like the WOPR in War Games, he concluded that the best way to win the game was not to play. He may have to give the game a few more rounds before he establishes this conclusion firmly in his mind, but I won’t object, as long as I get to hold the boots, as I did last night.


It’s the beginning of the month, and, not only that, but it’s about to beginning of a new year, so: resolutions and changes. For a long time, I’ve been meditating a thumbnail version of this blog, so that readers could tell at a glance what the daily entry was about. (I believe that there are Daily Blague readers who aren’t interested in Georgian ministries.) Happily, there’s no need to start up a new blog; all I’ve got to do is revive an old one — and, what d’you know, it’s called The Daily Blague. Youu may remember it. During the coming month, I’m going to try to make it look more like this site — exactly like this site, actually, only with different daily entries and a slightly larger font. The idea, in case you haven’t guessed it, is to develop a site that looks great on the Kindle Fire.

Another resolution: to make one Twitter-like pronouncement every day at Civil Pleasures. (There will be no 140-character maximum.)

Gotham Diary:
11 November 2011

Friday, November 11th, 2011

You will have to excuse me, this morning; I’ll be spending time with this young gentleman. It’s his mother’s birthday, which means that, although she rarely gets a working holiday, the people she depends on often take the day off. So, while Megan participates in a conference call from home, I’ll take Will to the park. It’s not enough to play with him in his own room; ever since whenever, he has demonstrated that he knows when his mother is on the telephone on business — and that he doesn’t like it.

Although perhaps those days are over. He can play for hours now with his trains. When he gets tired of rolling them around on their tracks, he pushes them through the archway in the bridge, say, and sees how far his arm can follow. Or he might explore the many ways in which the trains fit and don’t fit in his other toys. If I were a mathematician, I might propose that Will is deeply involved in set theory these days. It’s quiet work.

I won’t chance it, though; I’ll take the stroller along with me. The air is a bit snappy this morning, perfect for running around the playground.

Later, I will tell you what I thought about J Edgar, or why I found it to be an unpuzzling movie full of puzzlements. If I don’t get run over by a train.


But before I get to that, I’d like to tell you how I spent the afternoon, once I returned from the Lower East Side and lunch, for the first time ever (amazing, really, that it has taken so long) at Veselka — where Will’s contentment at the table furthered a sense, adumbated last night over pizza, that he is once again content to sit through a meal at table. Before it was time to head downtown this morning, I read Charles Rosen’s generally favorable review of Roger Nichols’s new biography of Maurice Ravel, in the process of which Rosen characteristically ventured an appreciation of Ravel’s keyboard oeuvre. Fully a quarter of the piece is devoted to Gaspard de la Nuit, about which I have never read anything so cogent.

Gaspard de la Nuit is a suite of three piano pieces that, considering how sinister and difficult-sounding they are, ought to be more demanding, harder to listen to, than they are. You don’t really have to pay attention to the first two, “Ondine” and “Le Gibier”; the first is appropriately bathed in watery ripples, while the ostinato bell tolling at the back of the music works pretty much like moonlight, steady but fascinating just for being there. The final piece, which, as Rosen notes, has “the reputation of being technically one of the most difficult pieces ever written,” is less modest about grabbing attention, but it is never tedious — always the threat posed by “morbid romanticism.” (Rosen applies this phrase to “Le Gibier” only, but I think that it describes Gaspard as a whole.) The suite lasts a little longer than a quarter-hour. Rosen’s program notes made me keen to hear it, and I had no trouble locating the CD of Angela Hewitt’s performance.

When I got home, I went to see what else there was in the cupboard, and quickly found Marta Argerich’s recording. Quickly found it in iTunes, that is; finding the CD was trickier, thanks to my incorrect assumption that it was issued on the Philips label, but I found it (on DG) eventually. Then I discovered that there was no more. No more in iTunes, anyway. So I ran to Arkivmusic to refresh my memory; just the other day, looking for a recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 13, I was reminded that I own Daniel Barenboim’s set of all the concertos. But nothing familiar turned up, so I dug deeper in my collection and found two more Gaspards, among copies that I’d made of CDs that I’d given away, back in the days before iTunes playlists — back when I played only my favorite recordings of anything. Well, at least I kept copies. On the visit to Arkivmusic, I picked up recordings by Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Hewitt and Argerich play the hell out of Gaspard, but Philippe Entremont’s performance has its moments, and Monique Haas, while not great, is good enough to set a benchmark. Here’s what puzzles me still, though: why have I devoted an afternoon to listening closely to music that, upon increased familiarity, I’m prepared to agree with Charles Rosen in judging “the greatest tone poem of the school of Liszt.” (“Scarbo”) But don’t wait for me to figure this out. Read Rosen and get yourself a recording ( Hewitt’s complete Ravel would be my choice; it’s only two discs). I’ll tell you what Roger Nichols’s book is like when I read it, which, with luck, will be during the Thanksgiving break; I ordered a copy today.


Clint Eastwood’s new movie, J Edgar, is a very glum affair. Perhaps it ought to be. It’s not so glum as to be disagreeable to watch, but I’m in no hurry to see it again. Even Leonardo DiCaprio can’t make the FBI director an engaging character; we watch his story because the man had such a baleful effect on our nation’s life. Obsessed, like most conservatives throughout the Western world, by a dread of alien Bolshevist infiltration, Hoover sounded like a time capsule by the time I was growing up, in the Sixties. (For an idea of what I’m talking about, revisit Spike Lee’s deployment of Enver Hoxha’s orations in Inside Man.) Hoover clearly outlived his usefulness by at least 25 years.

Eastwood’s point, of course, isn’t to reconcile us to Hoover’s abuse of office; on the contrary, I think that his film ought to make it more difficult than it is for righteous tones to develop uncritical momentum. In my book, Hoover is an Augustine figure, someone whose sexual peculiarities, combined with a position of authority, inspired a rule book that we’ve found it difficult to live with in the long term. it’s hard to sympathise with the pains, such as they might have been, of those peculiarities. Eastwood shows us the suffering, and Mr DiCaprio certainly projects it, but I found myself feeling the same sort of pity that the site of a cow in an abattoir would rouse. Thwarted love, dented self-awareness — these are the most terrible things that can happen to a free and healthy human being. The fact that the first director of the FBI had to endure them does not make him more attractive. The terrible thing about J Edgar Hoover is how ordinary he was in everything except persistence.

For the moment, the only thing that I want to say about the film is that its sepia coloration is ultimately rebarbative, or at least tiresome. The special effects makeup is hard to overlook. By excising Hoover’s middle age, Eastwood avoids the problem of grading his leading man into prosthesis; we have the young Hoover and the old Hoover, and never the in-between Hoover. The old-man getup is very convincing. Ditto Naomi Watts’s. Alas, I cannot say the same of whatever was done to Armie Hammer, who does such a fine job of playing Hoover’s companion, Clyde Tolson. His old-man look is utterly unpersuasive. At the best, it reminded me of Keir Dullea in 2001. Most of the time, though, I thought of C3PO in a plasma attack. There were moments when Mr Hammer looked like a strange, beautiful-eyed tropical fish in a suit. But he never looked a day over 30. It was most disconcerting. 

Of course you have to see it. I’m hoping that J Edgar will prove to be Clint Eastwood’s warm-up for more interesting mid-century biopics. George Kennan would make a great subject.

Gotham Diary:
1 November 2011

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Depleted — c’est le mot juste! Thank you, Daniel Kahneman. I’m not sick, I’m not really even tired. I did drink a tad too much wine last night, more than I’m now used to drinking. I spent almost the entire day yesterday catching up with feeds on Google Reader; it’s difficult to imagine anything more depleting. In any case, I’m going to spend today repleting.

At some point, I must say a word about the two movies that I’ve seen recently but not written up — not written up because, by Friday afternoon, I am no longer quietly at home, but running errands for the weekend. I have my stay-at-home days and my out-and-about days, and the latter cluster toward the weekend, with the result that I am depleted at the beginning of the week. (If I’m depleted today, I was even more depleted yesterday.) For example, this past Friday I was determined to mail out the new round of postcards of Will on the beach this summer. The project was so overdue that it had to be done at once. This meant that I had to go out again, late in the afternoon, to buy Dymo labels that I didn’t know I’d run out of. What drove me crazy about this errand was that I could have done it in the morning when, finding that I’d shown up at the movie theatre forty minutes early (this is what happens when you’re depleted: you forget to check Movie Showtimes before leaving the house [and I see now that I was depleted at the end of last week]), I quickly ran a round of errands that could have easily included a stop at Staples. Had I thought to do so, of course, I wouldn’t have bought a new paper shredder, which I did do in the afternoon, thus necessitating a walk straight home and a separate outing to Fairway — all very depleting. It’s depleting just to read about this!

It’s just one of the many things that they didn’t teach us when we were young, viz, that you can’t get anything done properly without being adequately rested. This was as true when I was twenty as it is now, but I was like most twenty year-olds a shambolism of inattentiveness when it came to personal management.

So, enough depletion.


The movies were Margin Call and The Rum Diary.  I enjoyed them both very much, but my thoughts about writing them up were scrambled by all the Pauline Kael that has been in the air lately. When the Library of America collection of Kael’s reviews was announced, I thought about buying it. I remembered how sharply I had disagreed with Kael during her New Yorker days, not so much with individual judgments as with her general world-view, which, all too apparently, did not take in the place I call home. Just hearing her name revives wearying waves of pointless dismissals of bourgeois this and bourgeois that, made in case after case by utterly bourgeois writers who would have traded in a limb to cleanse themselves of their bourgeois provenance. Paul Kael was certainly one such. Like so many critics coming from the Left, she failed to see that almost everyone in America, aside from smarty-pants like herself, who did not already belong to the bourgeoisie was keen to do so, and that the mission to educate the uneducated into a state of utopian transcendentalism was trans-Quixotic. It’s people like Kael who did everything but lick Reagan’s welcome-mat clean.

I don’t think that Kael would have liked either of the movies in today’s hopper. She wouldn’t have liked Margin Call at all, and she would have wanted more Deppness in The Rum Diary. There is nothing in The Rum Diary that wasn’t presented in sharper focus in Public Enemy, and there was a lot more Deppness in The Tourist, that underrated romp in which two of Hollywood’s biggest Big Stars completely, and with hambones dangling from their mouths, upstage Venice. The Rum Diary is clearly a valentine from its star to his idol, soul brother, and sometime housemate, the late Hunter S Thompson, and this makes it more of a literary work than a movie. Qua movie, it’s composed of worthwhile scraps of other movies, covering a range from the Bournes to Body Heat. If you had to say something nasty, you could say that it is The Quiet American without the everything. What it really needs is not so much Deppness as Ribisiness: everything that has ever made you raise your eyebrows in amazement that Giovanni Ribisi ever got into the movies (with that squeaky voice especially) is given the mighty Wurlitzer treatment here, and you want more of it. You also want more of Amber Heard’s dress-up doll act; rarely — not since Now, Voyager, anyway — has an actress been rendered, within the context of one movie, so protean by makeup. Aaron Eckhart is his usual, cool-cucumber-gorged-python self; you have to wonder where he goes to get bank loans. But, hey, it’s a fun movie, as guilty a pleasure as raiding the minibar. The LSD trip taken by the hero and his sidekick, Sala (Michael Rispoli), is a masterpiece of articulate understatement that manages to convey the dynolysergic experience with only one loony special effect at the start; the natural look and feel of a fishing pier on a breezy, somewhat foggy night is just about as accurate a postcard as director Bruce Robinson could have sent from the late great’s gonzo files.

It’s interesting to reflect that Aaron Eckhart is not in Margin Call. You might at first wonder how a movie about Wall Street sleaziness was made without him, but the very point J C Chador’s astonishing directorial debut seems to be that Wall Street sleaziness is committed by people who aren’t very sleazy. Breezy, yes. Paul Bettany is, as it were, the reason why Aaron Eckhart isn’t in Margin Call. His character, Will Emerson, is a Brit who sends a piece of his winnings home to his folks and spends the rest on laddie equipment. He’s pumped by his income, not by master-of-the-universe powers that he doesn’t seem to believe in anyway. He likes being very well paid. He likes it well enough to risk never being paid again. He is a salesman, not a con man. If there’s a difference.

What Pauline Kael wouldn’t have liked about Margin Call, I believe, is that it is ultimately a filmed play. This isn’t to suggest that it suffers from the airlessness of that unfortunate genre. It’s only afterward, when you ask yourself what made the experience so powerful, so shattering, so overwhelming but in the end so satisfying, that you realize that the film’s production values — sets, lighting, and so forth — have been just good enough not to call attention to themselves while at the same time providing the perfect stage for outstanding theatrical performances. I’m not sure that Margin Call, even with its excellent cast (many of whom, and certainly the two principals, Jeremy Irons and Kevin Spacey, are stage actors of the very first rank), would be as effective in a Broadway theatre, but for all I know it might be twice as effective. I vote for the movie treatment because the story is already so claustrophobic — more than three-quarters of the action takes place during a very long night in largely empty offices perched too high atop Manhattan to feel attached to anything — that it needs the atmospheric rush, paradoxically more persuasive in the movies than in the theatre, of the morning ride across the East River that Will and Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) take to round up Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) at his Brooklyn Heights doorstep. The exhilaration of speeding across the Brooklyn Bridge in a convertible sportscar after an pulling an all-nighter at work is something that you appreciate in the audience every bit as much as the two bankers, one of whom knows, by the way, that he is about to be let go.

For some reason, the marketing angle on this film focused on Peter Sullivan and Mr Badgley, as if, I suppose, to bring in younger audiences. But they are the least important figures in the film precisely because they’re so young. At mid-range, you have characters, played by Demi Moore, Simon Baker, and Mr Tucci, as well as Mr Bettany (don’t let me forget Aasif Mandvi),  complicated people who are very ambivalent about the risks that they take at work. And, at the top, you have the head trader, played by Kevin Spacey, and the head banker, played by Jeremy Irons, uncoiling at full length the helices of their personal mystery (they are mysteries to themselves) while the actors themselves, well-known to you as they are, show you things that you’ve never seen.Their appearing on the screen, and not onstage, signals their immense powers of destruction; what’s wrong with modern banking is that it hasn’t taken place entirely in the movies.


In the interests of repletion, I have set one of my Nanos to play the Bach in Order II playlist, and it is repleting me nicely. Ralph Kirkpatrick plays the English Suites, Andras Schiff plays the Partitas, and Maria Tipo plays the Goldberg Variations. The Cello Suites are played by Pierre Fournier. The Corelli Concerti Grossi are performed very deliberately by an outfit called Ensemble 415. As I write, the late Scott Ross is dashing through the Italian Concerto. (With all the things that people have done to and with Bach’s music, I’ve never heard a “fleshed out” concerto version, with orchestra, of this piece.)

The postcards reached local destinations very quickly. We had dinner with a friend last night who, earlier in the day, encountered another friend of ours as he was walking down 72nd Street. She told him that she had just received a postcard of Will; he kept his miffed-ness at not being able to say the same to himself. When he got home and collected his mail, though, there it was. Small town.

Gotham Diary:
The Second Time
24 October 2011

Monday, October 24th, 2011

This time, it counted for sure. Will was wide awake throughout his second haircut, and although he eyed the two of us warily when we sat down in the barber’s chair before the plate-glass mirror, he on my knee, and held on to his bottle, he cooperated more often than he didn’t, sitting still as Tito gathered swatches of hair between his fingers and cut them centimeters at a time. Tito worked very quickly, obviously aware that his client wasn’t going to sit still (or still-ish) indefinitely. I’d have been happier if he’d taken a little more off, but he quite rightly worked around Will’s head so that the result, when time was up, would be even.

Will’s parents were very pleased.


I haven’t been a fan of the Times Magazine for quite a long time — I like the new, Monocle-esque design, but there is something brutish about the cover editing, and this week’s close-up of Haruki Murakami is no exception — but as does happen in almost any magazine from time to time, I found not one but two valuable pieces in this weekend’s edition. One was Mark Bittman’s master recipe for pounded cutlets. Bittman rarely has anything new to tell me, but he’s invaluable because he makes me remember and re-prioritize what I already know.  My formation culinaire, like that of so many ambitious autodidacts, was designed (by me) to enable me to impress dinner guests; if something was easy to make, it didn’t count. Bittman’s columns are balm for the recovering would-be master chef. His recipe for Chicken Scallopine al Limone was almost completely familiar — improved by replacing chicken breasts with more favorable thighs — but I somehow needed to read it and then to follow it. I marched across the street for the boned thighs and got to work. I prepped the dish and then waited for two potatoes to be done baking. Execution was a snap. I must put the recipe in the list of 25 weeknight recipes that I’m compiling. Why, you may ask? Because I rarely think about food these days when I’m in the kitchen, and when the late-afternoon moment of decision arrives (what are we having tonight?), I’m a deer in headlights. I need lists — and Mark Bittman’s variations on everyday themes — to remind me of the possibilities.

The other piece was Stephen Marche’s indictment of Roland Emmerich’s madly irresponsible new movie, Anonymous. What makes Anonymous so regrettable is the way it harmonizes with and glorifies the junk thinking that is choking Western civilization to death.  Ordinarily, making a movie in which it is posited that somebody other than Shakespeare wrote “Shakespeare” would be just a movie. But there’s more to Anonymous than counterfactual fantasy. It’s an apotheosis of our snobbish anti-elitism, as Marche observes; but it’s also a craven tribute to our hunger for celebrity self-exposure. The trouble with Shakespeare is that he doesn’t seem to have had much of an offstage life. His record, aside from a handful of legal documents, is in his work. What he thought about his work — well, that’s in there, too. What’s maddening about Shakespeare is the absence of secrecy in his life. We want to catch him keeping a private diary, an alternative to the published poems and plays; we want to see him relax and admit that “work sucks.” His exemplary discretion ought to inspire us; instead, it enrages us. And Anonymous is nothing if not a tantrum. We can only hope that brighter young viewers will be prompted to take a look at John Madden’s equally fictitious, but more reality-based, 1998 biopic, Shakespeare in Love.

In his Op-Ed piece on Anonymous, James Shapiro explained how today’s idiot conspiracy theories work. They begin with an exciting but untelligent proposition (“How could a hick from Warwickshire have written all those great plays?”) and end by asserting that the best evidence is the complete absence of evidence. Just goes to show how dangerous the secret really is! Until now, that is. Somehow (and this is never explained), the lid has been lifted, and ordinary civilians have been given a glimpse of the “truth.” I don’t know why, but I’m reminded of Linda Colley’s blithe dismissal of Freemasonry, the popularity of which throughout the Eighteenth Century (the period covered in her magisterial book, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837) she attributes to “the male delight in secret rituals and dressing-up.”

Which reminds me of a third good piece in the Magazine: an excerpt (or something like) from Daniel Kahneman’s new book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman’s contributions to what I promise never again to call Wrongology are nothing less than seminal, but what caught my eye was his approving summary of someone else’s work.

[Terry] Odean and his colleague Brad Barber showed that, on average, the most active traders had the poorest results, while those who traded the least earned the highest returns. In another paper, “Boys Will Be Boys,” they reported that men act on their useless ideas significantly more often than women do, and that as a result women achieve better investment results than men.

“Useless ideas” — would that there were no more to Anonymous than that. But, hey, it is “only” a movie. A specatacular, action-filled, delusion-infused movie.


Later, after dinner on Saturday night, we learned that the very inexpensive yardstick that I bought at the hardware store isn’t going to help us to measure Will’s height anymore: he tops out at a hair over a three feet. This means, as if there were any doubt, that he will almost certainly grow to be six feet tall at least; the rule of thumb is that you double a child’s height at 23 months. Or is it 25 months? Nobody can ever remember — except that 24 months isn’t it. Will will be 22 months old next week.

I missed the best part, though. While I was out of the room, Will asked Kathleen, “Where are Mama and Daddy?” His first complete sentence. That he asked her couldn’t surprise me less. If he was a little anxious about the answer, Kathleen was obviously the right person to soothe his fears. Just as his mother had known when, older to be sure, she leaned up to Kathleen as they were walking on the beach at Fire Island, and asked why “those two men over there” were kissing. Will was reassured by Kathleen’s answer, and went right back to whatever it was that he’d been doing.  


Gotham Diary:
18 September 2011

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Somebody is tall for his age (20½ months). Somebody needs a haircut, too. Will it be his “first one”? He slept through his first one, and everyone agrees that it doesn’t, therefore, count. But what interests me most about this image is that some parts of Will are in motion while others are very still, and his head is somewhere in between.

At five o’clock, I had just put the blue room in order and was enjoying a cup of tea with Kathleen. I was slightly distraught, however, by the work that lay ahead: the dining table, every square millimeter of it, was still covered with teapots, aperitif glasses, and assorted breakable whatnots. Covered. Where would I put any of it, much less all? I had devoted the entirety of the previous day to finding new places for numerous pieces of furniture, large and small, almost completing the project begun on Monday. It was a two-pronged project, the idea being to bring the secretary desk that had always been intended for Kathleen’s use closer to Kathleen’s bedside, while removing a good deal of the clutter (which I could no longer write off as “cosy”) with a view to making the apartment safer for Will. I had exhausted my reserves of ingenuity.

When I got up to grapple with the final phase, it was 5:20, and at that very moment, the phone rang. It was Megan. Megan apologized for the very late notice, but could she and Will and Ryan come for dinner? If it wasn’t convenient, she assured me, then we could get together tomorrow, but there was an undertone in her voice that it took me a moment to hear clearly. Megan’s talk about “tomorrow” was delivered in a sort of fatalist mode, pleasant but whistly. She was perfectly sincere about wanting to get together “tomorrow” — if it were still possible, once “tomorrow” had dumped its daily ration of surprises on her household, to do so. I remembered Megan’s mentioning in G-chat that she hadn’t had a full night’s sleep all week. She was offering to come uptown now. As I looked at the dining table (where we would all have to eat, as it was too chilly for the balcony), my dismay gave way to resolution. The problem with tomorrow is that it is indeed another day. We’d have dinner tonight.

What followed is a blur. I can say that having Fairway right across the street was the deciding factor in the evening’s success; I was spared the walk to 79th Street for a nice steak. Kathleen, who had been just about to take a nap, was a great help, and between us we had the apartment in presentable shape by seven o’clock. Megan’s being half an hour late didn’t hurt, either. We were well into dinner by eight, and the O’Neills left at about nine.

There is a Bean’s tote bag in Kathleen’s bathtub that is full of silver service. Porcelain and glass items cover the balcony table and (on a tray) one of the easy chairs. I have all day to deal with that. Some parts of the apartment are in disarray, while others are very tidy. Most of the place is, warmly and livably, somewhere in between.

Gotham Diary:
Opera and Its Discontents
Thursday, 23 June 2011

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

The other day, I bought an iPod. Now he’s lost it, you’re thinking; how many times has he bored us silly with his Nano Notes? But this time, it isn’t a Nano, but a Classic iPod, or iPod Classic. It looks like a Nano that ate one of those cookies in Alice in Wonderland. It is quite ridiculously large. But with the storage to match (about ten times the capacity of a Nano), it is the perfect place for my opera collection, or as much of it as will fit. Every day, I load another five operas onto the thing. I still can’t listen to opera if the page that I’m writing requires actual thought, but as you can see there’s nothing here that Un Ballo in Maschera (Bergonzi, Nilsson, Molinari-Pradelli) would get in the way of. 

It’s Thursday, which means that I’m planning to go downtown in a few hours to sit with Will while his parents have dinner alone somewhere. Tonight, I am going to take a bunch of the shirt cardboards that I’ve been hoarding. There was a time when shirt cardboards were the joy of my youth, and I got in a lot of trouble once for advancing myself the cardboards from my father’s shirts drawer. For a while, I was very into constructing hybrid castle/stage sets. I was very into hidden doors and secret passageways, and even though these were not easily realized in shirt cardboard (which at least had the merit of being stone grey), it was exciting to create three dimensional models of the houses of horror that I hoped to live in some day. I have no memory of outgrowing this pastime, so maybe I didn’t. Maybe it’s going to blossom again in the guise of “playing with Will.” 

Being with Will is always quite straightforward — we do this, we do that — but remembering my time with him is quite strange; it’s as though I were reviewing my recollections through someone else’s prescription glasses. It is impossible, when he is not actually in the room, to think of him as a child of nearly eighteen months. There are too many precocities, or at any rate moments when I feel that I’m with a teenager, or a third-grader. There are shards of his personality, as it were, that are already fully grown. They’re surrounded by undeveloped parts, sort of like a Roman Forum but under construction, not in ruins. Most of what he says is still — unintelligible, and it’s not always clear that he knows what talking is for. (Or, rather, what it isn’t.) But he appears to understand a great deal of grown-up talk. Like his mother, he has a formidable memory, and just because he hasn’t been exposed to something in a while doesn’t mean that the unguarded mention of it won’t kindle an insistent interest. (When in doubt, I spell things out.) 

He’s also “musical” — he dances, bangs drums, and even riffs on the harmonica. There is a spectrum of his vocalizing that could be called singing, sort of. But we are a long way from Aida. There has been no listening to music at our house. When he and his parents come to dinner, there might be a jazz playlist purring away somewhere, but not loud enough to catch Will’s notice. And when he’s here with Kathleen and me, we somehow don’t think to play anything — except, of course, for Shaun the Sheep. There’s step dancing in Shaun, which Will gamely attempts to imitate. It is mostly a matter of shaking his butt. If there’s one thing I’m looking forward to, it’s taking him to see Paul Taylor. There are always lots of kiddies in that audience. But although it’s very easy to imagine Will sitting rapt through a twenty-minute dance, it’s also easy to imagine that he might respond in a manner more typical of his age. Pretty soon, I expect, I’ll be learning all the minimum ages. At the Museum, happily, there isn’t one, but you have to be ten to get into the Frick. If he keeps growing at his current rate, Will will pass for ten when he’s eight.

But I mustn’t push things. I must remember what happened when a friend of ours was taken, as her first opera ever, to Parsifal. Amazingly, her date’s passion for this masterpiece proved not to be contagious in the least!

Gotham Diary:
Thursday, 16 June 2011

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

About a thousand years ago, I had the bright idea of pulling a wool ragg sock from LL Bean over a Rubbermaid quart drinking bottle, thinking (rightly) that it would do good enough a job of absorbing condensation — I fill my water bottle with plenty of ice — to allow me to stash it in tote bags alongside books and other things that oughtn’t to get wet. I soon discovered, to my great delight, that the sock was an extraordinarily effective insulator. The water bottle chuggles with ice cubes hours after they’d have melted otherwise. I can’t tell you how much I wish that the socks were available in more appealing colors, and I regret that drinking from a sock — an athletic sort of sock at that — is going to trigger a lot of gag reflexes. But, boy, does it work.

I tell you all of that to explain what Will is holding in these pictures. That he is holding it ia nor surprising, I suppose, although I feel slightly immodest in saying so. He wants the grown-up water bottle. (He wants the grown-up everything. His joustings with the three-gallon watering can out on the balcony are absolutely heroic.)  He can barely hold it when it’s full, and even when it’s not, he likes to grip it by the top fold, which runs along the seam between the sock part and the ankle part. Inevitably, the sippy straw disappears in the wool, and Will hands me my water bottle for repairs.

Over pizza — when I’m not up to catering as well as babysitting, we order a fantastic sausage pizza from Lil’ Frankie’s; I’d give anything to have one up here in Yorkville — I was treated to all sorts of conspiratorial winks, nods, and leers. Of course it was nothing of the kind, but that’s what it seemed like. Not boys’ night out, exactly, but close. There was one squinting grin that seemed to say, “We are two cool cats, man.” For all I know, Will could have been imitating someone he saw making this expression sincerely. He is a quick study. The alternative explanation is that we ought to be worried that he hit his head twice today, once by running into a pole at school and then by later pulling down a small curtain rod.   

Later, it was clear that Shaun the Sheep’s adventures have become very familiar to Will. This was good, because I had no trouble getting him to go into his bedroom to play with things and to read books — for a little while at a time. Whenever he got wound up, we’d troop back to the living room for another favorite episode. I find that I’m developing protective feelings for the hapless sheep farmer, even if he is a jerk.

I was a little tired, what with the remnant of a cold and the wake of the infusion, which is always a bit exhausting, if only for a day; so I was really, really grateful for the taxis that appeared right away, on 86th Street heading downtown and Avenue C heading home. I don’t think that I’d have been able to write this if they hadn’t. 

Weekend Update:
Icumen In
Memorial Day 2011

Monday, May 30th, 2011

From one of the dankest springs that anyone can recall, we have been hurled into midsummer sultriness. It’s surprisingly incapacitating. I had big plans for today, and followed through on precisely none of them. Here’s how bad it was: I read feeds, faute de mieux. Feeds! On a holiday!

This morning, I persuaded Kathleen to get out of bed on the earlyish side, so that we could see the 10:30 showing of Midnight in Paris. There were still plenty of aisle seats when we walked in, especially in the back, where I prefer to sit (so that I don’t block people, but also so that I can dart out unobtrusively when the first gallon of Coke hits my bladder), but there was a good crowd for that time of day. Kathleen loved it, as I knew she would. I saw a lot of details that had flown by on Friday — for example, the party atmosphere in the old Peugeot that picks up Gil on his first trip back to the Twenties babbled and swayed in much the same way as the rooftop crowd of night-clubbers at the end of Radio Days. I don’t think that the similarity is at all referential; rather, Woody Allen has an Idea of “hobnobbing with the rich” that animates both scenes. And another thing: I’ve been increasingly aware of how the filmmaker sees himself as a magician, and how his movies become most amusing when you let him show you something unexpected, such as the presence of Edgar Degas. He is even better with old tricks, although I must complain that the great Gad-in-the-Galerie joke, which still makes me laugh just to think about, was over much too quickly.

Will was with us yesterday afternoon. He is shown above at the sprinkler basin in the playground at Carl Schurz Park. I was sure that he’d want to Get Wet, but, in the event, he didn’t, so he didn’t. Not long before, he had been asleep in his stroller, which I pushed to and fro with one hand while holding Bharati Mujkherjee’s Miss New India in the other. I finished Miss New India this morning, and I liked it very much; but I wish that I could put my finger on why the book struck me as “unsophisticated” and “old-fashioned.” You could say that it’s an exciting fantasy, in which a vibrant young woman is granted a very unusual chance to exchange the traditional life of her hometown in Bihar for a self-realizing career in Bangalore. Mukherjee handles the golden opportunity pretty realistically, but it is nonetheless dogged by the muffled creaking of machina. The material will come into its own as a feature film — a medium that will liberate the tale from the point-of-consciousness (not just -view) of a twenty-year-old girl from the mofussil who all too often “hasn’t the p’oggiest” idea of what other people are talking about. (To be fair, Angie/Anjahli gets her big break because she can actually say “foggiest.”)

On Saturday, we had brunch out on the balcony with my very first Internet friend, someone whom I met digitally over the Independence Day weekend in 1996. We had met once in person, already many years ago. This time, I was introduced to her husband as well, and the four of us had a lively conversation in a mercifull breeze. I had big plans for Saturday afternoon as well, but in the end I did nothing but read. Christianity, mostly. I’m loving that book! It was great fun, this evening, to see Dan Brown implicated as one of the “mediocre novelists” who imagine that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were man and wife. “Mediocre”: le most juste. What’s really exciting, of course, is reading church history, a field that used be owned by the Church! But no more. I’m deeply glad that I read Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ a few months ago. I’ve been recommending it to everyone, although I haven’t written much about it here. More anon!

Gotham Diary:
At the Museum
9 May 2011

Monday, May 9th, 2011

As Kathleen put it to Will at lunch yesterday, “You are probably the youngest person to have paid three visits to the Museum.” Who can tell? I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are several kids Will’s age (16 months) who have been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art a lot more often than he has. We can’t be the only folks to have discovered what a child-friendly place the Museum is.

Who’d ‘a’ thunk it? When Kathleen and I were Will’s age, no one would have dreamed of taking us to a museum of any kind. It might well have been prohibited (as indeed it still is at the Frick). Then, too, there were none of the vast interior courtyards that abound at the Museum these days, none vaster than the plaza surrounding the Temple of Dendur — a bit of Central Park under glass, really. Kids seem to be just as comfortable running around in it as they are on the other side of the huge window, and nobody minds.

The guards certainly couldn’t be more welcoming. Kathleen says that they’re nice because Will is a good boy. Even though Will is a good boy, I can’t agree. It would mean that the guards were sizing kids up one at a time and giving those who are well-behaved special treatment. Too much work! It’s my hunch that the guards actually prefer children. They take up so much less room, and they never try to take flash photographs.

You may wonder why I’m publishing the image below. There are several reasons, but the most powerful one relates to why it makes me so happy, as best I understand it. I look at the picture and I see a boy impelled by curiosity to go off on his own. It’s true that, in the very next shot, he turns around and summons me with an extended hand. But his instinct is to take off first and to look for support later; he doesn’t doubt that he’ll have it. (Whenever he approached a flight of steps, he reached out for a hand.)

Coming up: the museum on the other side of the Park, where the dinosaurs live. Saving for a rainy day: the Guggenheim spiral. Watch for us!

Gotham Diary:
Going with the Flow
Will and Water; Paul Taylor at City Center

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Photo by Kathleen Moriarty

Until last Thursday, Kathleen and I were planning to go to Venice in September, to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Some time ago, concluding from the debris of our junked plans to visit Italy for the first time, that we’d never get there until we narrowed our ambitions to a few days spent in one city or the other, I’d asked Kathleen to choose between Venice and Rome, and she chose Venice. But on Thursday, she changed her mind in favor of another island, this one much closer to home. At dinner, Megan had said that she would like Will to spend some time on Fire Island this summer. What a nice idea, I thought — but I mentioned that Kathleen was already busy planning Venice (as well as a business trip to Amsterdam in May).

Little did I know. When Kathleen got home from a bar association meeting, I told her Megan’s wish, and she got right online and scouted the offerings for a few hours. Before we went to bed, she had four very attractive rentals in mind. The next morning, Kathleen decided that what she wanted in the way of an anniversary present was not a few days in Venice but a month of weekends (at least) with Will and his parents, on a beach where she’d been very happy as a child. The glamorous pleasure of top-drawer sightseeing in a distant Oz was replaced by the richer one of extended family time on a local sand bar. If I’m a bit wistful about Venice, it’s probably because I don’t have to travel there, not for the moment, anyway. And a month on Fire Island is actually more fun to look forward to. 

We change our plans fairly regularly in this household, which is why I avoid mentioning them. I was looking forward all week to Paul Taylor on Saturday. I’d had the bright idea of making a day of it, and seeing both a matinee and an evening show. It did not threaten to be an ordeal; in the three hours between the events, we’d do some shopping and have an early dinner. And that’s exactly what happened; it couldn’t have been simpler. When the matinee was over, we cut through the arcade that runs for four blocks south of 55th Street to 52nd Street, where there’s a men’s clothing shop that I like and that is never open when I’m in that part of town; and then we went to Cognac, where we enjoyed a very leisurely meal. Instead of shooting back to City Center, we walked up a bit to Carnegie Hall, so that I could take some photographs that I might use as  decoration here. The second show let out at about ten, and we dashed for a taxi. We were home by 10:20, exhilarated but nicely exhausted as well, our brains still popping from the day’s workout. 

No doubt because I happen to be reading James’s Gleick’s The Information, I’m seeing and recalling Paul Taylor’s dances as fountains of information — fountains as fancily up-to-date as Mark Fuller’s celebrated installation at Lincoln Center. No: fancier. Most information that we process as such comes to us in streams that are comprehensible because they’re filtered according to overall expectations. Within the context of dancers moving voicelessly, Taylor tells us a lot of things that we don’t expect to hear, not in the order in which we hear them. A good deal of it looks meaninglessly decorative, but if we suspect that this appearance is misleading, that’s because the vocabulary of movement, no matter how wide-ranging, is coherent. What seems decorative or unintelligible is as much a part of the story being told as the bits that we easily get (fists shaken at heaven, for example, in The Word, or in the very different Phantasmagoria). Taylor tells his stories in his own kind of time; it is not the linear sequence of narrative but something more neural. Meaning often feels short-circuited, as if too much information were being pushed through too narrow a pipeline; and yet this effect always seems quite calmly planned. A lot of information is addressed to parts of my brain that know nothing of logic or history. I don’t know if I’ll ever put much of it to use, but I enjoy taking it in. 

We very much liked four of the six dances that we saw, including one of the premieres, Three Dubious Memories. This dance, which Alistair Macaulay didn’t much like, overtly foregrounds three little love stories, involving a man in green, a man in blue, and a woman in red (Robert Kleinendorst, Sean Mahoney, and Amy Young); and in each iteration the point of view is that of the exluded lover. Behind them, however, a chorus, dressed in grey (and led by James Samson), plays out a larger drama that is not so easily grasped. Indeed, this dance subverts the very idea of a chorus. Here, the chorus does not comment responsively on the colorful romances but rather it resists them, as if to remind us that life is more complex than boy-meets-girl. The choristers warn, they agonize, they resign themselves. They even try out the lovers’ gestures, but experimentally, not reflectively. The lovers, for their part, ignore the chorus, and their movement is designed to look spontaneous. The effect is oddly like that of a Bach chorale, with a steady, singable tune cutting through highly worked, almost complicated counterpoint. 

I must say a word about Company B, which is set to pop songs sung mostly by the Andrews Sisters but in two instances by Patti Andrews alone. Santo Loquasto’s costumes, always interesting, are here truly superb: clothed in generously-cut, pale-colored outfits laced with bright red belts, the dancers are animated by a period ease recognizable from the old movies; but unlike the studios, Paul Taylor does not want you to forget that this is a ballet set in war time. At the end of his number, the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B (Robert Kleinendorst) falls dead under fire. It is a moment, as they used to say, of great pathos.

The Paul Taylor Dance Company is made up of sixteen dancers, some of them starrier than others. Everybody gets a chance to shine, but some manage, by whatever theatrical alchemy, to make more of the opportunity. The tension between dancers’ distinct personalities and their mastery of the common Taylor idiom is one of the company’s wellsprings of excitement. The wonderful Annmaria Mazzini danced her last season with the company this go-round, but she leaves behind three full-blooded peers in Amy Young, Parisa Khobdeh, and Laura Halzack. It’s harder to foresee what the inevitable loss of Michael Trusnovec, the company’s senior dancer, will do to the make-up. The only dancer to remind me of him is the most junior, Michael Novak; both are sly understaters who pull of the stunt of making a complete spectacle of art concealing art.

Robert Kleinendorst, on the contrary, is a virtuoso on the lines of Robert Downey, Jr or Johnny Depp; morsels of the scenery are always disappearing into his brilliant smile. In her nice reflection on Paul Taylor and this season’s performances, Gia Kourlas calls James Sansom “rigorous,” and this seems just right, if not the whole story; in Company B, donning a pair of horn-rim spectacles, Mr Sansom teases the girls in “Oh Johnny Oh!” so bewitchingly that Laura Halzack walks away spouting a spoken line: “Oh, phooey!” Of Ms Halzack, Kourlas writes, “Laura Halzack is the most versatile and beautiful company member: versatile because she’s not afraid to appear uncomely, and beautiful because she has a sense of humor,” and that seems just, too, except that, er, Laura Halzack is beautiful.

Sunday was a wet and gloomy day, and sensible people everywhere stayed at home. But Kathleen and I ventured forth to take Will for his Sunday walk, which may or may not delight him but which gives his parents an hour or so of precious time to themselves. At Tomkins Square Park, the very air was sodden, and there could be no thought of sitting on a bench of putting Will in the swings. What Will did want to do was to splash his hands in the small puddles that accumulated on the railing surrounding the dog run. He was very entertained when Kathleen flicked at the water herself, sending it flying. (This turned out to be a trick that I could not pull off.) We pushed on toward Third Avenue and the St Mark Bookshop, our usual turning point. Back in the literature shelves, an attractive Japanese woman asked with great decorousness if she could take a picture of the “cute” little boy. When she had done so, she petted Will lightly on the shoulder and murmured “arigato.” Kathleen decided that the woman must have been as surprised by a child’s being carried by a man as she was delighted by Will’s appearance, but I wonder if this is entirely fair.  

Gotham Diary:
Sunday, 27 February 2011

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Here’s my excuse for not writing as much as I used to do.

Now that there are occasional free-standing moments during our Sunday outings, I can take pictures of Will. Actually, I can shoot him when he’s in the carrier, if he throws his head back. I’m still learning that my eye doesn’t have to be anywhere near the camera when I open the shutter. My own view, when I captured the image above, was of the top of Will’s cap.

Yikes! In this hugely foreshortened image, you can see the camera’s reflection in Will’s pupils.

Weekend Open Thread:

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Daily Office:
24 August 2010

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

This isn’t what we were planning for today’s Daily Office, but late-summer schedule changes required some last-minute flexibility, so Tuesday became Thursday, or the other way round. All we had to work with was this photograph, together with a note from the Editor.

The photo was taken just before Will and I set out for an indefinitely long walk. He had not so much as closed his eyes all day and needed to be rocked to sleep the modern way. A neighbor’s advice (“take small steps”) turned out to be helpful. Will turned into a sack of cement at the corner of 87th and Second and didn’t budge until we ran into a stiff breeze at the end of 91st and East End, hard by the FDR Drive. After looking round a bit, Will passed right out again, waking up for good in the playground at Carl Schurz Park. He remained quiet and grave until we walked in on his mother, who had gotten some work done while we were out.

Sorry for looking as though I’d just performed in one of Ingmar Bergman’s less cheerful dramas. Megan said, “But you always look serious.”

Daily Office:
Thursday, 19 August 2010

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Thursdays with Will come to an end in a few weeks, so we’re making the most of the remaining ones.

Gotham Diary:

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

This evening, we had our first family dinner. I didn’t cook, but that’s beside the point. We all sat round the table — Megan, Will, Ryan, Kathleen, and I — and carried on like a family that has been eating together forever. We joked, we complained, we forgot that there was anywhere else to be.

We have enjoyed such evenings before, but tonight, for the first time, Will set the tone. In doing so, he marked what Henry James used to call an era. He had been devouring spoonfuls of banana-rice cereal. I can’t decide whether to tell you about the evolution of this evening’s plat, because, like most baby-food stories, there’s an unavoidable impasto of ick. This one involved my ricing a banana onto Megan’s open palm. (She’ll always be able to say that she had Will eating out of her hand, technically.) Later, the banana was mixed with rice cereal and water and no forumula just like I said but we’ll let that pass. Will joined the Clean Plate Club with flying colors. But then he did something remarkable. Really!

He picked up a paper napkin and dabbed his lips. Then he put the napkin back down on the table, without having tried to eat it as well. He indicated that he was ready for another spoonful of ambrosia.

Ryan, seated to Will’s right, was initially horrified — how could he have overlooked such a shredable menace right alongside Will’s dish? It was only when Will didn’t eat the napkin that his father could appreciate what had happened. (Or so it seemed to me; in this Rashomon moment. Ryan is more likely to be a Responsible Dad than an Impressed Dad.) But Megan and Kathleen were jolted by the composure of Will’s gesture, and they both jumped as if shocked. They cried out, even. And that’s what shocked me. What were they upset about? I saw what Will had done, but it didn’t seem at all odd to me.

I must have been getting tired. We all knew that Will hates to have his mouth wiped; how nice, I thought, that he had decided to take care of it himself! If he had started quoting Shakespeare’s sonnets, I’d probably have taken that in stride as well. Addled with admiration for my grandson as I am, I’m not one of those DID YOU SEE WHAT HE JUST DID grandfathers. I’m the more maddening kind. I smile sweetly, as if to say, “What did you expect?”

What I did actually say, though, was “You know, of course, that he’s not going to do that again until he’s six.” He has five and a half years to prove me wrong.

Doodaderie: A Break from the Break

Thursday, May 27th, 2010


Will arrived bright and early this morning. We haven’t even read the paper!

Dear Diary: State Visitor

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010


Here we were, snowbound. I had canceled an outpatient skin surgery, and Kathleen had decided to work from home. So we were both here even though, according to the calendar, neither one of us ought to have been. When I learned that Megan and Will were, against all the weather odds, out and about, I asked my daughter to make our house her next stop, and she did. Thus did Will O’Neill pay his first visit to his maternal grandparents, at the ripe old age of not-quite-six weeks.

Nana Penny made it all possible. Of all of us on Megan’s side of the family, Penny is the only one whose experience with infants is better than theoretical. (Given that Megan is not far from forty, I hope that I’ll be excused for having forgotten what little experience of babies I have that hasn’t been superseded by no-smoking regulations.) She burped him into contentment after his second feeding, which was not preceded by sleep of any kind.

As I say, he’s an intellectual. Megan says, “We’ll see.” I say that I’m not talking about the future. He’s an intellectual now. Which is not at all inconsistent with his loving his Texas boots.