Archive for the ‘Weekend Update’ Category

Weekend Note:
A Bundle of Letters
25-26 February 2012

Saturday, February 25th, 2012


Not once, since I began this Web log in 2004, have I seriously considered changing its title, or abandoning it for something altogether different. I have poked and prodded and picked up and dropped off, but the idea of writing something more or less amusing every day has remained the governing idea, however imperfectly realized. Not once — until today. This morning, I received a letter from a friend who, not meaning it as an unqualified compliment, wrote that reading the site gives her “a feeling of looking in on your private letters.”

This had never occurred to me, perhaps understandably, but I knew at once that I was delighted to have had that effect. I can imagine nothing more arresting than coming across a cache of someone’s letters, presumably somebody dead, not for discretion’s sake but simply to rule out the possibility of knowing the writer in any other way. My favorite sort of book in the world is the collected exchange — the correspondence of Mary McCarthy and Hannah Arendt, for example, or that between Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh — and the less edited it is, the more I like it. I love the slow adjustment to the light as, over time, I learn more about the people and things that the writer is talking about. Personal gossip doesn’t interest me as much as book talk does, and when the writer has seen a movie or a work of art that means something to me, I’m thrilled by the connection, even when — especially when — we disagree about it. The wonderful thing about not being able to get to know the writer in any other way is that, unless I take up writing myself, there is no way for the writer to get to know me.

So it would appear that staying up-to-date on Daily Blague entries risks reading the material very prematurely.


What struck me most about Will’s birthday party this morning (nine weeks closer to Will’s complete understanding of such an event) was how quiet it was. Will and his favorite pals played with almost conspiratorial silence, and while there were a few bursts of tears, there was no gratuitous screaming. When Will and Walt explored the legwork of of the long folding tables in the Community Room of the 14th Street Y, they lacked only slide rules for the compleat engineering look.


Last night, I watched Made in Dagenham, Nigel Cole’s movie about women workers striking for equal pay at a Ford plant outside London, in 1968. I rented it in order to see Andrea Riseborough again. What a range she has covered in the latter two of her three feature films: from beehive-topped, fast-talking cockney to the utterly soignée Wallis Simpson of Baltimore.  I’d have bet that there is nothing that Ms Riseborough can’t do on the strength of W./E. alone, but now I know.

There are many other stars in Made in Dagenham — Rosamund Pike, Bob Hoskins, Geraldine James, Miranda Richardson, and Rupert Graves, just to name a few who come to mind — but the movie belongs to Sally Hawkins, who plays Rita O’Grady, a harried wife, mother, and seamstress (she and her colleagues stitch the interior upholstery) who surprises everyone, herself included, when she exclaims “Bollocks!” at a meeting in which she was not supposed to say anything. Scorched by the condescending brutality of her son’s teacher, Rita refuses to sit by while the Ford executive played by Mr Graves and a complaisant union boss make a deal that effectively deep-sixes the women’s protest. It’s a rousing good show, but it’s also a somewhat sour reminder that the Equal Rights Amendment never became the law of the land on this side of the pond.


Left to myself, I probably wouldn’t watch the Academy Awards this evening. The exploitation of passive cognitive systems that goes by the name of “advertising” will one day, I hope, rank with the Spanish Inquisition as a Bad Thing That We Don’t Do Anymore, and I can hardly bear to endure it. I’m also mildly offended by the awards program’s pretense that it is deepening our acquaintance with the stars. Bollocks! (Neither of these objections is new, but both have intensified over recent weeks, as I’ve been mulling over the importance of not wasting time on worthless, unrelaxing pastimes.) But Kathleen intends to tune in, and as I have no intention of asking her to wear earphones, I might as well sit alongside her.

I lazily assumed that I’d seen seven of the Best Picture nominees. I reached this inference by counting the three that I hadn’t seen and subtracting them from an imaginary total of ten. In fact, of course, there are only nine nominees, and I’ve only seen six of them. The three that I haven’t seen, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,
The Tree of Life, and War Horse, are movies that I probably won’t see unless one of them wins the award. Well, I probably won’t see War Horse even if it does win, because of an aversion to the films of Steven Spielberg, which always leave me feeling exploited and soiled. I’ll  be happy to see any of the other nominees win, except maybe not so happy if it’s Moneyball, which I liked but considered inferior to Warrior.

I sort of hope that Jean Dujardin wins as Best Actor, because that might have very interesting consequences — look at what Marion Cotillard has been up to. But George Clooney deserves it, and I sort of also hope that he wins.

Weekend Update:
On the Eve
Sunday, 31 August

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Part of it is, I’ve gotten tired of the sound of my own voice. Part of it.

On this last day of July, I’m preoccupied by what Augsut will bring. Kathleen and I have agreed that we will aim to take the 4 PM ferry from Bayshore to Ocean Beach (why does the schedule say “Ocean Bay Park”?) to meet our landlord at the Fire Island dock. In order to do this, we will take a train from Penn Station and “change at Jamaica.” Thirty years ago, the last time we did this, that meant crossing a platform. I hope that it’s still so simple. We’ll have twenty minutes to make a five-minute taxi ride from the station to the ferry.

We expect to spend the night in the house that we’ve rented, and to return to New York early on Tuesday morning. I’ll probably return to the house on Thursday. Everyone else will arrive on Friday, some for the weekend and some for longer stays. Megan and I have blocked out a calendar that indicates who’s coming when.

Beyond that, I know nothing. I don’t know what the supermarket in Ocean Beach is like, or how long it takes to walk from the ferry to the house, which is not in Ocean Beach but Robbins Rest, a two-lane development off the western edge of Ocean Beach. I don’t know what I’ll want to bring out to use in the kitchen. I don’t know what kind of wireless reception we’ll have. I have no idea at all what I”m going to want to do with myself.  All I know is that I”m going to the beach for a month (with a few quick trips back into town), and that whole point of being at the beach is taking it easy. Which means letting go.

Letting go doesn’t come naturally to me, but it seems that I’ve been doing nothing else for weeks now. I’ve been reading instead of writing. And I’ve been reading books instead of reading feeds. I’ve sunk back into the old world of long reads and limited voices. That has perhaps inevitably meant spending time in the company of older minds, and I’m almost ashamed to say how congenial I’ve found that.

Sometimes, I think that I’m molting, shedding an old, outgrown skin. Sometimes, I think that I’m having a nervous breakdown in slow motion, too stretched-out to be painful. Sometimes, I think that I’ve undergone a Copernican revolution: I’m simply no longer at the center of my own life. My grandson is. This isn’t to say that I love him more than I love Kathleen or anyone else; it’s not really a matter of love. It’s a matter of meaning. To put it another way, Will is the future, and I’m not. They say that you don’t appreciate your mortality until your parents die. I’m finding that you appreciate it even more when your first grandchild is born. What can I give to Will that he’ll find useful to take into that future, even if its value isn’t apparent to him until long after I’m gone?

I have decided not to make a decision about posting here (or elsewhere) during August. Regularity means a great deal to me; it’s often all that gets me going. I’m thinking of posting very brief daily entries here — as one blogger years ago put it in deep shame, “What I had for dinner last night” — while keeping an ongoing diary, with the oldest stuff at the top, at Civil Pleasures. But that thought will have to contend with the realities that I encounter late tomorrow afternoon and the next morning.

Wish me luck. I wish you a cool and pleasant August.

Weekend Update:
Weekend II, 2011

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

Somebody’s having fun.

What Will is having fun with requires a bit of product description. In 1942, among my parents’ wedding presents was a set of coasters. Does everybody know what a coaster is? I’m not sure. They’re usually useless*, so there’s no reason to have them around, and nobody would if it weren’t for housewarmings and hostess gifts and whatnot. (Just buy “cocktail napkins.”) My parents’ coasters are emblematic, I think, of their time. Ringed in sterling, their bases are a weird transparent pseudo-cut-glass plastic that isn’t like the plastic that was ubiquitous in my boomer’s life but harder, more like glass somehow, but not glass. Modern but very traditional, à la fois.

Megan used to ask, “Do you like all this junk?”, meaning the stuff that I’d inherited from my parents and somehow felt obliged to display in our apartment. She had a point. I didn’t like a lot of it, and the coasters were near the top of the list of things that I could do without. One of these days I’ll give them the home-studio treatment, so that you can see them if as I were putting them up for sale at eBay. Why did I keep them? More to the point, why did I put them on a table in the living room, as if they were useful and/or decorative, when in fact they are neither? Call me Virgil, as in the Fourth Eclogue: I clearly must have foreseen the coming of Will.

The coasters are one of Will’s favorite toys. His playing with them follows a two-stage program. First, he holds them up and does things close at hand. Then he throws them around the room. As his pitch isn’t very serious, “around the room” means “on the floor in front of wherever he happens to be,” but that’s going to change.  Just now, as you can see in the photo below, he has discovered what to us looks like the deep-sea diver possibiltiies of the coasters: he can look through them! Later in the day, he would discover that he could look throught two coasters at the same time, but even if I’d caught that with the camera, I’d prefer the image below, because it has a weird Nineteenth-Century craziness vibe.

I ought to point out that the coasters spent almost the entirety of my parents’ marriage locked up with the other silver items in a breakfront cabinet in the dining room. My mother was a lot less attached to things of the past than I am: why did she hold on to them? No matter, no matter. The point is that, being “modern plastic,” they’re safe for Will to throw around as well as to peer through. They have finally found a purpose. I believe that, now that we know what these objects are really for, we must make sure that he keeps them for his children.


Last week’s “Summer Reading” edition of the Book Review was so difficult to get through that I decided, finally, that I have had enough of reviewing it week after week, as I’ve been doing since the summer of 2005. I’ve learned a lot about book reviewing, and especially about what a general-reader-oriented paper-of-record Book Review ought to look like, and the Times’s offering is so off the mark that if it ceased publication next weekend I should probably feel more relief than regret.

I never got as far as the first fiction title. The line-up of books about figures from the worlds of sports and entertainment was as endless as a coach class check-in line at Thanksgiving, but what made the pieces indigestible was the snarky condescension of reviewers who ought to have been in some sort of analytic therapy that would help them either to embrace their heartfelt values or to renounce them as elitist nonsense. The Book Review walks an impossible line, not that it has to but because, I think, the world of New York publishing from which it emanates is so awfully confused right now. As I say, I learned a lot from poring over the reviews for six years, and wondering why most of them were written in the first place. There will always be a place at this blog for Liesl Schillinger and for other thoughtful commentators. (Lydia Davis on John Ashbery’s Rimbaud — fascinating!) But the energy that I’ve spent on the Book Review reviews is needed elsewhere.


Unless I fall asleep at the wheel, Will will be allowed to toss one of the coasters as if it were a frisbee just once. There will be no second toss; the coasters will be taken away, regardless of wails and sobs, if any, and put away for a future in which, who knows? a future Mrs Will decides that coasters circa 1942 are just what she’s been looking for. Or the other thing. I know that there will be an attempt to “throw a flying disc” (as Wikipedia so discreetly puts it) because of the Shaun the Sheep episode entitled “Fetching.” This episode elicits an exceptionally keen response from Will, and even though the part that appeals to him has little to do with discurgy (I just made that one up), it’s a big part of the action, and the inevitable is the inevitable.

The scene that Will likes is the dalliance between Bitzer, the show’s sheepdog, and a lady dog who is traveling with her human owners in neighboring caravan. The lady dog looks just like Bitzer except: (a) she wears a beret instead of a watch cap (b) she has proposterous eyelashes and (c) her long ears roll out in what I believe is called a “flip.” The moment Bitzer signals his determination to win this lady-dog’s favor, by spitting on his paw and smoothing down the hair (?) under his watch cap, Will starts to laugh, as if Johnny Carson had just made a funny, and he continues to laugh throughout the entire dalliance, which, let me tell you, involves the most discreet stand-in-for-sex scene since smoking became immoral (the two dogs’ tails — the upraised tips of the two dogs’ tails — go round and round, while the beasts do their carnal sniffing offscreen). Will laughs when Bitzer whistles, faute de mieux, his appreciation of the lady-dag’s charms. The thing is, this episode is the only one in all of Shaun-the-Sheepdom that makes Will laugh. He is an ardently engaged follower of all the episodes, but this he finds funny. This makes him laugh.

As if it were Preston Sturges. Hoo boy.

There will be no frisbees thrown in my living room! I hope that I’ve put my foot sufficiently down.  

* Drinks that require a coaster are invariably cold, and invariably the condensation that accumulates on the tumblers’ exterior causes the coasters to adhere to them, for a moment or two, before they clatter down onto the table, splashing wet everywhere and defeating the whole purpose of their existence.

Weekend Update:
No Time
Sunday, 13 February 2011

Monday, February 14th, 2011

This brief note will acknowledge the obvious: this week’s Grand Hours never got written. It ought to have been composed during the work week, of course, but the blagueurs and I haven’t begun to figure out to do that. And the weekend turned out to be unavailable for reading, writing, and reflection. When I got back this afternoon from taking Will for our Sunday walk, I sat down at the desk and — hey, presto! woke up ten minutes later when a friend called to thank us for yesterday’s party. I realized then that, while the flesh was willing to sit through the ordeal of putting together a few interesting links, the spirit was entirely AWOL.

As for the party, it was as good as ours ever are (which is pretty good, in my opinion) — but it was also incomparably super. Technically, this was Will’s second party at our house, but let’s be realistic: he was a baby last April, when we celebrated Kathleen’s birthday, and he is not a baby anymore. His parents decided that they would stay as long as Will seemed to be having a good time, and that turned out to be an incredible four hours. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like when Will adds conversation to his bundle of charms. 

I’d better publish this before I fall asleep again. What is it about age that is supposed not to wither? That part’s not working for me.

Weekend Update:
In Which Will and I Pay a Call

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

This afternoon, Will and I paid our first social call. Until now, our Sunday walks across the East Village have always had the same destination, St Mark’s Bookshop, on Third Avenue at Stuyvesant Street. I’ve longed to go someplace where we might take off our coats, sit down for a minute, and visit. The “visit” part, of course, would consist of my showing off my grandson to admiring friends. But that’s putting it crudely. Will would show himself off, without any plugging from me. And that’s exactly what happened today.

From the moment that I unzipped his snowsuit and sat him on my knee, he behaved like an angel — and angel who dropped a lot of crumbs on the floor, but an angel all the same. He munched on bits of mini-cupcakes from Le pain quotidian — our hostess bought them specially for our visit — and took a few sips of water. But it was obvious that his attention was held by new people and new surroundings, and not once did he attempt to place himself at the center of ours. After half an hour or so, I felt that we had visited for long enough, and I zipped Will up without any making any announcements. I had to be helped a bit with his arms and legs; this was the first time that I had taken him out of the Becco carrier, much less unzipped his coat, without one of his parents’ being in the vicinity. Getting him back into the carrier was awkward, too, but Will didn’t complain.

When we got back to Will’s house, his mother was a little bit anxious; we’d been gone for almost two times longer than ever before. And Will had fallen asleep as we walked thorugh Tomkins Square Park. Was he okay? Watching Megan peer at him with concern just about sank me, but as I lifted him out of the carrier he showed all the desired signs of life. Waking up, he looked just like hisGreat Grand Uncle Fossil after a nap — faintly surprised to find himself on Planet Earth, still, but deeply pleased to have stolen a few Zs.

But I’d forgotten that I’m an old man. Buoyed up by the mildness in the air — it wasn’t warm by any means, but there was no bite to the temperature — I’d walked across the East Village as if I were worried about being late, which is standard whenever I’m doing something for the first time. When we got to the house of our friend (whose delightful contribution to our Valentine’s Tea next weekend gave me the delightful idea of picking it up at her house today) I was a Niagara of perspiration. I was even damper when we got back to Loisaida Avenue (via St Mark’s Bookshop, natch). I didn’t stay long at the O’Neills’; I wanted to be sure of catching a cab before the witching hour of 4 PM. I asked to be dropped off at Agata & Valentina, where I picked up a few supplies (but not the pancetta that was on the list that I’d — left at home; just as well; the charcuterie counter was mobbed). When I walked back outside, my undershirt went chilly, and I knew that I’d better get home and into dry clothes as quickly as possible. What I didn’t expect was that the moment I sat down, showered and dressed, I’d feel totally bushed. Well, duh. (But that’s why Advil was invented.)

When we crossed Second Avenue the first time, I pointed uptown and told Will that Doodad’s place was eighty-two blocks thataway. “That’d be a long walk! But we’ll do it someday.” After today, the sky’s the limit.  


Weekend Update:
Winter Hours
Saturday, 29 January 2011

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Here it is, the end of January, and I got to the Museum for the first time this year only yesterday. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to go. It’s that my priorities have been difficult to establish, beyond rescheduling all of the everyday routines, some of them forty years old. If I’d tried to pull of such a palace coup any earlier in my life, it would have killed me. This time, I waited until I knew where all the bodies were. (That is, I had taken full and honest measure of all my weaknesses and bad habits.) Regime-change at home has made it difficult to conceive of outings abroad, so it was helpful that Ms NOLA wanted to go to the Museum, too. I might not bother to go for myself, but I would go to indulge her.

And a good thing, too, because she quickly spied a notice for the current photography show, Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand. Three rooms packed with beautiful prints of iconic images, including three large variants of Stieglitz’s image of the Flatiron Building. The dozens of largely unfamiliar images in a pendant show, Our Future Is In The Air: Photographs from the 1910s, mounted in the photography gallery proper, made an apt antiphon to the Americans’ show. We found, when we strolled out into the chamber of horrors, that we’d looked so intensely at the photographs that we didn’t want to see anything else. Which was a shame in a way, because the crowd was unusually thin, and we should have had most galleries to ourselves.

We soldiered on, to Crawford Doyle and Williams-Sonoma, and how I’d have got myself and all my purchases home without Ms NOLA’s help I’ve no idea. My arms felt ready to pullfrom their sockets before I had even crossed Lexington Avenue. Four books and my shoulder bag in one hand (the shoulder bag won’t stay on my slopy old-man shoulders), a Staub Cocotte in the other. Cast iron and paper — all I lacked was a backpack full of bricks. Ms NOLA carried the lightweight but bulky box of Riedel wine glasses that were available in a pay-for-six, get-eight stems carton. Later, at dinner, Kathleen and I would wonder if we’d opened a freak bottle of our house wine (a Montes Alpha syrah), or if drinking from proper wine glasses really made the difference.

Now I am on my way downtown. A certain grandson came down with an ear infection this week, and his parents need a break. I don’t think that Will and I will be going for any walks, but I’m taking the carrier just the same, along with a box of delicious boat cakes that J— brought up the other day when he came to configure my new laptop.

Ms NOLA and I were both surprised to see the Museum’s fountains burbling amidst the piles of snow. They’ve been shut off for so long that one hoped that one had seen the last of them. Not having swung by the place in a while (as I say), I couldn’t say when or why the fountains were restored to life. I couldn’t complain.  

Weekend Update:
Out of a Hat

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

Wendy Pollak-Reilly

Because it was a lot easier for Ryan’s family to gather a the home of his uncle, just across the Delaware River in Easton, Pennsylvania, Will’s first birthday party was held there, and not in town. The pictures taken by Wendy Pollak-Reilly, from one of which the image above is a crop, make it clear that a good time was had by all. Will climbed the flight of stairs seven or eight times, quite unaided on most ascents.

But enough about him — lest I fall into besotted mode and lose interest in talking about anything else. When Ryan extended the invitation to the party, I asked how we would get there. That sounds confrontational, but I was thinking — panicking — out loud. I knew what the answer was: “by car.” But I don’t drive anymore; with my unmoving spine, I can’t be a safe driver. As for Kathleen — she hasn’t drive a quarter of the trip’s mileage in her entire life. So when Ryan said, “By car,” I asked if Fossil and XIV would be invited. He said that they would be, and that cleared everything up. Fossil loves to drive. As soon as he heard that the future of our long friendship depended upon his giving up an entire Saturday to ferry me and my wife to a non-adjecent state, not to mention renting the car, I knew that he would jump at the chance.

Fossil zipped an email to our host asking for directions — the two men were good buddies, having made back-to-back speeches at Will’s parents’ wedding — and got one of those MapQuest lists of turns that traffic in fractional mileages. Turn left in 0.7 miles, that sort of thing. (There is much to be learned about computer-generated instructions.) I asked Fossil to forward the directions to me, so that I could see where we were going on Google Maps. I decided that there was a better way of getting where we were going — and a good thing, too, because, even though I was mistaken about “better,” one of the crucial MapQuest instructions read “near left” instead of “far right.” We whizzed by the intended exit in a distant lane. This wasn’t your garden-variety Interstate exit. There would be no doubling back from the next exit. We had just crossed the Delaware River and missed the turn into the old part of Easton. We were hurtling along US 22, following the snaking trail of a creek. Happily, I knew where the next exit was and where to go from there. More or less.

I didn’t have my “better” route with me, though. I hadn’t printed a copy of the map, or written down a list of roads. (I had my iPad, but in my experience, Google Maps overwhelms the iPad.) All I had was my recollection of where the house stood in relation to the Easton, the Delaware River, and the next exit. So, we climbed Hackett Avenue, and proceeded on Greenhill and Edgewood. (I had no idea if these streets would get us where we were going, but they seemed to lead in the right direction.) When Edgewood ended in Bushkill Drive, I couldn’t decide which way to take, but I was tickled to discover later that it wouldn’t have mattered. I went for left, then changed my mind. We turned right. We took the next left, at Mitman Road, and climbed another hill. At the corner of Arndt Road, I told  Fossil to take another right. If I’d told him to go straight ahead, we’d have reached our destination a minute or two sooner, but my sense that the house stood to the east of the intersection of Arndt and Mitman was correct — another tickle. At Indian Trail, I thought that we’d gone far enough (correct again), so we turned left onto that, and in two blocks, lo and behold, the very street that I was looking for, Old Mill Road. A couple of turns later, and we were parking.

So instead of boasting about my grandson, I’ve trumpeted my talents as a bushwhacker. I could never have been a cartographer; I gave surveying a try in Boy Scouts and was bored to sobs by it. But I could look at maps all day, and with Google Maps, with its satellite photographs showing actual houses and trees, I get a good sense (as I discovered yesterday) of distances.

I have to say that, by the time we turned into Indian Trail, my hope was sinking fast, and I was preparing myself for a humiliating cell phone call. Kathleen never doubted for a moment that I wouldn’t need to make it. “I’ve been watching you pull these things out of a hat for over thirty years.”

PS: Aside from one guy chopping wood in his driveway — a long way from where we were going, it turned out — there was no one to stop and ask. Driving home, we were able to follow the directions that Fossil had been given — in reverse. We got a nice look at Lafayette College, which Fossil almost attended.  

Weekend Update:
New World Order

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

Here’s a New Year’s resolution for you: I’m not going to spend Saturday afternoons tidying the apartment anymore. I’m going to look after the household on weekday afternoons, after lunch, one room per day. The amount of work won’t change, but its impact on my reading-and-writing life will be greatly diminished.

I hope. I’ve been doing the dusting on Saturday afternoons for nearly forty years. It used to be something to do while listening to the Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts — which I stopped listening to over twenty years ago. But the center of my daily pattern has been reversed in the past couple of years. In the old days, I worked at a job, took care of the house, and wrote, in that order. I had no real idea of what to write, and that lack of drive and direction made most of what I wrote (outside of letters, a significant note) fairly unreadable. When I stopped working (practicing law), I allowed housekeeping to take its place: we had a house in the country, with a garden, and between the two places I was busy every day. But was this what I wanted to do with my life? No. And the house in the country often kept Kathleen and me apart. So we got rid of it.

That was in 1999. (I stopped spending time at the country house two years earlier.) It would take a full ten years to reverse the polarity between housekeeping, on the one hand, and reading and writing, on the other. What is all this housekeeping, you may well ask, and I do mean one of these days to write something about it; for the moment, I’ll just say that: it’s a great deal more than washing the dishes, doing the laundry, and running a vacuum over the rugs. Library management, for example. That’s part of housekeeping — a rather headachy part if you have a few thousand books and are always buying new ones. More recently, as I’ve written about in Nano Notes, I’ve put the iTunes playlist to work as a device for filling the air with the sound of many times more recordings than was practicable in the days of “putting on a record.” It takes oceans of time — I’ll never get to the end of the job I’ve set myself, unless someone comes up with some intelligent apps for handling classical music on iTunes. Bref: housekeeping is simply personal hygiene, conducted on an exoskeletal basis. The walls of this apartment are my true skin.

Something that’s true for everybody, I believe — although most people are unaware of it. I have the sneaking suspicion that more men would be aware of it if their housekeeping weren’t being seen to by women. (Or, as in bygone years, by servants.) And the fact that women (and servants) do most of the housekeeping explains why it is not thought to be important. Or interesting. I’ll agree that dusting is not very interesting, and I hope that I haven’t bored anybody with a description of my way of seeing to it. But look what has happened to cooking in the past thirty years. Happened, that is, as a matter of interest. Now that it is generally understood that men do most of the serious cooking in the world — there are more Anthony Bourdains than Julia Childs in professional kitchens — cooking has an edge. I don’t think that dusting will ever have its own TV show, but I do hope that home storage gets more attention from designers and essayists. What do essayists have to contribute? Nothing less than thoughts on the most pressing philosophical question that we face in our everyday lives: what do I keep, and what do I pitch, and why? 

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition):
Room Service

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Our birthday present to Megan, a few days after the event, was brunch, served at her house but prepared at ours, using plates, forks, napkins, glasses, and even a frypan that we brought from home (and meant to bring back dirty). I packed everything in two giant Bean’s tote bags, and, if I do say so myself, it came off very nicely. The sausages were still warm when we got downtown; the fresh-baked sweet rolls slid out of their baking dish without any fuss; the pineapple corer not only handily provided Ryan with a bowl of a favorite fruit but made a nice present to leave behind; and the carafe of orange juice, squeezed minutes before leaving Yorkville, never came close to tipping over. It was really nothing but what I do every weekend at home; and, because I do it every weekend, it didn’t require much thought to make it readily portable. I scrambled the eggs on Megan’s stove — so much for cooking on arrival. As I went along, I deposted used utensils in plastic grocery store bags, and trash (eggshells!) in a Hefty bag that I’d brought along for the purpose. When the eggs were ready, Kathleen took over and served everyone. I’d meant to toss the dirty plates into shopping bags as well, but Ryan got to them first, while I was playing with Will. All I’d asked him to do was to make the coffee, which he did to perfection. Will liked the sausage, but not the pineapple. Astor licked the eggs that weren’t served right away.

You’d think that breakfast would be the hardest meal to prepare and transport, but it turned out not to be, not at all. It was no big deal — because, I hasten to repeat, I do this every weekend.

Then again: beginner’s luck?

Kathleen and I took Will for a walk in the neighborhood, covering the usual route, with Dinosaur Hill, a toy shop on Ninth Street just east of Second Avenue, as our destination. Among many wonderful things, Dinosaur Hill sells real wooden blocks, and in different languages. Today, we bought Will a set of Chinese blocks. I must get another set for up here, so that I can have a good look at them. (We already have one in Nederlands.) Will has loved toppling towers of blocks for some time now, but he’s beginning to give some thought to his demolitions, instead of just reaching out to knock them down.

Walking back along Ninth Street, Will’s head pitched forward into my chest. He slept like a teenager, so dead to the world that I actually roused him for a moment just to make sure that he was still with us. He shifted heavily and fell right back to sleep. It’s the walking that tires him out — his, that is. As Megan says, we may have already seen his first steps. He took two solo strides between Kathleen and his mother. At another point, he stood for a few beats. There is no clear line, no aha! moment. The interesting thing is that he walks with his feet more flat to the ground when he’s receiving assistance on one arm only. It is very clear that he is looking forward to unassisted self-propulsion. As he is already keenly attracted to the prohibited, the coming months are likely to be frolicsome.

The sun was low in Tompkins Square Park, and it felt late in the day at two. We came home shortly after bringing Will back to his house, and took a nap ourselves. Sunday afternoons in winter are always a little bit triste. We’re looking forward. you can bet, to finding ourselves, next Sunday at two, on the patio outside our room at the Buccaneer, looking out over the Caribbean to St Thomas and St John on the horizon. We won’t mind the late sun so much then.

Weekend Update:
City Life

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Huzzah! Hooray! The fourth season of Mad Men is over! I loved it, but it’s over, and now I don’t have to watch television again until July!

This season — well, the novelty had worn off, of course. Mad Men was great, but the fact that it was, after all, a TV show began to obtrude. We had to be in our seats on time. We had to wait a week to find out what happened next. We had to sit through commercials for BMW and I won’t miss any of that.

And Rubicon is over, too. Everything about the show was great, except for the writing, which was Grade X melodramatic garbage. A telenovela would be more surprising. People said the most inane things on tonight’s final episode, things like “It’ll be all right,” and “You can trust me, I promise.” The combination of great production values and dreckulacious dialogue convinced me that the Koch brothers are at the bottom of Atlas International. As if I didn’t know!


I took Will for a walk yesterday. It was our second Saturday walk. The second of many more, I hope. We walked all the way over to the St Mark Bookshop, on Third Avenue. I wanted to acquaint Will with Theory at an early, pre-impressionable age. A lovely young woman tried very hard not to show that the two of us (me and Will) struck her as a very cute couple, but she failed; I caught the last of an involuntary wistful smile. I hadn’t been to the store since before Megan and Ryan were married, I realized. I used to stop there on my way to have dinner with Megan at Jules. I used to think that it was a really cool bookstore. Then I was introduced to McNally Jackson.

(And nowI hear that McNally and Jackson are getting divorced. Another name-change party? I’m up for it!)

The contentment that I feel when I am carrying Will on my chest is the most complete pleasure that I have ever known. As a documented besotted grandfather, I need say no more on this subject. (If I do, Fossil Darling will have to pretend that he skimmed through it.) Will seems to have a good time, too. Mostly he looks out at the world from his perch. Every now and then he vocalizes, I never can figure out why. But for the most part he is quiet and almost grave. My attempts at cajoling him to look up at me are dismal failures. Every once in a while, he throws his head back, looking always to the side, and when I tickle his neck he smiles faintly, as if doling out a treat for the old man. But he enjoys the ride. If he didn’t, we’d all know.  

If I had grown up with people who knew me as well as Will and his mother know me, and as well as their knowing me has helped me to know myself, there would have been a lot less ennui and indigestion in my early life.


Three and a half of last week’s allotment of five days were preoccupied by household matters. Largely home improvement, but also that dead modem thing. I’m cautiously optimistic that the coming week will be different, although already there’s a big conflict on the horizon. I intend to deal with it by resorting to a technique that is not really part of my toolkit: sleight of hand. Yes, I shall seem to be in two places at once. In one of them, though, Will will really be sitting on my chest.

Why does anyone who lives in this amazing city watch television? 

Weekend Update:

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Interesting times! (I wish.) My friend Migs, in Manila, writes to say that he may have one of those English editions of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom that published an earlier draft of the novel. Migs doesn’t want to read it if it’s not the author’s final cut (so to speak), and I couldn’t agree more. But I’d love to get my hands on the draft. What did Mr Franzen think that he ought to change? Almost forgot: I’ll send Migs the copy of Freedom that I bought two weeks ago, when I couldn’t find the copy that I’d read. The copy that I’d read did eventually turn up, but in a very strange place. That’s how it has been around here this year: things get stashed in very strange places.

It occurred to me today that this urge to sweep out cluttered corners, getting rid of books that I’m probably never going to look at again and pitching bags of old papers as if I were unfamiliar with the very concept of “archives,” is the masculine correlative of what women of a certain age call “work.” The object is the same: I want to travel lighter and with fewer wrinkles. I want to get rid of the part of my past that is mere dead weight. The clincher to this metaphor is the fact that I find the process of streamlining my life to be the most important thing that’s going on in it — together with an awareness that it is no more interesting to anyone else, and only slightly less repulsive, than immediate effects of plastic surgery. The difference is that recently rejuvenated women have the sense to retreat to wings of private hospitals. Retiring in decorous silence doesn’t seem to be an option for me: in the Blogosphere, silence is, if not death, non-existence.

There are good reasons for hoping that the work is almost complete, at least in its most disruptive phase. The domestic upheaval that began last month, when we had the entry to the apartment painted (what New Yorkers call the “foyer,” heaven knows why), may have ended yesterday morning, when Quatorze gave me a hand with schlepping eight shopping bags full of books to the storage unit. The books were displaced by CDs, which lost their shelving (Ms NOLA has it now) when I decided that the hallway leading to the blue room, painted the same deep green as the foyer, ought to be — but never mind; this is too boring to write about. It’s enough to say that my CD collection, which is very large for one that’s free of freebies, has, while remaining quite accessible, become invisible. I don’t really play CDs anymore. I still buy them by the bushel, but after they’ve been uploaded onto iTunes, they go back into their sleeves more or less permanently. I listen to MP3 playlists on my Nano collection, which is colossal for one that’s free of freebies.

In the meantime, I acquired a new computer and a new table to put it on. I can say that for the first time in 25 years of computer use I am sitting comfortably. Working with a new text editor (KompoZer) is not so comfortable, but FrontPage is not compatible with Windows 7; at least one basic operation (inserting hyperlinks) crashes the app. Can’t have that.

The TV season galloped toward its finale this evening. In three weeks, we’ll be back to having Sunday dinner at any old time, and the cable box will go dark for another three quarters. Rubicon wasn’t nearly as terrible as it usually is, even if we all knew that Will Travers would survive the assasination attempt in a more or less rinky-dink manner. I hope that I’ll get to the bottom, before the season ends, of my visceral dislike of Michael Cristofer, who may be doing such a good job of playing the bizarrely-named former Fisher’s Islander Truxton Spangler that I want to kill him. And, while I like the actor John Slatttery perfectly well, I hope that Roger Sterling will kill himself next week. I was ready for suicide to occur this evening, and rather disappointed when it didn’t.I think that Joan was, too.

Speaking of Christina Hendricks, Life As We Know It, with Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel, opens on Friday, and I can’t wait. The scene in which Mr Duhamel’s character pushes a newly-walking toddler back down onto the floor so that the moment can be virginally re-enacted for his domestic collaborator is already the funniest thing that I have ever seen in a trailer.

Weekend Update:

Saturday, September 25th, 2010


“Then read from the treasured volume the poem of thy choice.” Thanks to the miracle of Google — and it’s still a miracle, on this unseasonably warm evening in September of 2010 — I now know, sixty years on, that the line comes from Longfellow’s “The Day Is Done.” Although I have provided a link to the poem, I’ve never read it. I knew that Longfellow wrote it, because his name, together with his profile, was incised above it on each of a pair of bronze bookends that came down to me before I was really a reader. I don’t know when I got rid of them. They were unattractive in the way of a late Nineteenth Century beaux-arts monument’s unleavened ponderousness. For the longest time, I had no idea what the line meant. The syntax was clear enough, but the significance, wrenched from its source, remained profoundly obscure. Nobody in the 1950s would have been caught dead speaking of “treasured volumes,” reading Longfellow’s sort of poetry, using the archaic second person singular, or beginning a sentence with “then” except in exasperation. “If they don’t have pizza, then order po’ boys!”

Significant or not, the line burrowed deep into my brain, in a slightly truncated form — I lost “the poem” — and it sprang readily to mind this evening as I was looking at the bookcase that’s full of art books — massive catalogues entitled “Watteau,” “Vuillard,” “Piranesi,” “Hans Holbein,” “Versailles,” and so on. I was finishing up my spaghetti alla carbonara and thinking of hauling down a tome. And that’s what I probably would have done, if the laptop hadn’t been up and running. Leafing through Degas would be all very well, but I’m in such serious arrears on the writing front that I might be arrested for loitering with intent to malinger. Still, the possibility was sweet: “then look at the treasured volume of thy choice.” Now that I’ve glanced at a few lines of the Longfellow, I know that post-prandial art appreciation is not what the poet was thinking about. He had something more erotic in mind: the next line reads, “And lend to the rhyme of the poet/The beauty of thy voice.” In Longfellow’s day, that sort of remark was intensely sexy. You could get arrested for making such a suggestion to the wrong person.

Longfellow — will we ever? It’s difficult to imagine that Longfellow will ever be read again, not by scholars but as he was read (and beloved) over a hundred and fifty years ago, unless and until his prosody chimes in nicely with some as yet unimagined dialect of a now-sprouting language. Admirers in those future days will recall, rightly, Longfellow’s immense popularity. They will not mention how utterly uncongenial he has sounded to English-speaking ears for nearly a century.

Hiawatha. Evangeline. These epics are almost party stunts. We had to read a huge chunk of the beginning of “Evangeline” in middle school. There was a reference to the sweet breath of kine (cattle) that I found so unspeakably revolting — all right, uncool — that I was obliged to bluff my way through the rest of the assignment. Yes, here it is. “Sweet was her breath as the breath of kine that feed in the meadows.” Is that not the most disgusting thing that you have ever read? Can you imagine being asked to parse such filth at the age of eleven or twelve? When the only breath smell is that of “bad breath”?

The other day, my grandson exhaled a puff of breath in my face, and it was — not unpleasant. It was very not unpleasant. My grandson is a festival of lovely smells, but this is something that I don’t talk about, for reasons that ought to be obvious in this world of rampant perverts (or perverts rampant, to give them their due), and I wouldn’t have brought it up if I hadn’t been talking babies with Kathleen’s cousin Tim, who is the father of first-grade twins. (That’s to say that, while they’re indeed tops, they’re six.) Tim brought up the smells. Since Tim is a mensch of an accountant who lives in Indianapolis, I decided that it must not be as deranged as I thought to celebrate the smells that emanate from my grandson’s person. Breath of meadow-feeding kine should be so sweet.

I saw Will today at brunch. We picked up Kathleen’s father, who’s finally paying a visit to Our Fair City, and taxied down to Avenue B between 11th and 12th, where there’s a justly popular restaurant called “The Back 40.” If you added up all of Will’s moments of fussing from the two hours that we spent at the table, they wouldn’t amount to sixty seconds. My besottedness as a grandfather has ascended to a new plateau of foolishness: I want to run off with Will to an ashram in the Himalayas so that he can teach me the Secret of Life. That Will is in possession of this Secret I have no doubt. Or perhaps it is I who am in possession. The Secret of Life is: Grandchildren.

What will be the rhymes to which Will first adds the beauty of his voice? Probably not:

And in silence all the warriors
Broke the red stone of the quarry,
Smoothed and formed it into Peace-Pipes,
Broke the long reeds by the river,
Decked them with their brightest feathers,
And departed each one homeward,
While the Master of Life, ascending,
Through the opening of cloud-curtains,
Through the doorways of the heaven,
Vanished from before their faces,
In the smoke that rolled around him,
The Pukwana of the Peace-Pipe!

But certainly it will be sweet as the breath of kine.

Weekend Update:

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Diarists have a habit of apologizing for not having written much of anything lately; they’ve been too busy, they say, or perhaps they haven’t been doing much of anything. I haven’t been writing much lately, diary-wise, but I’m not inclined to apologize; on the contrary, I think that I ought to be thanked. You really wouldn’t want to know what I’ve been up to. But don’t take my word for it! Let me give you an idea.

About a year ago, I suffered a tremendous nervous shock, something between a conversion experience and electrocution. I saw in a flash that the principles upon which I organized my domestic life were very broadly mistaken. I was running my home as though it were an information-age bomb shelter. I provided for every interest that I might conceivably have in the event of a connectivity blackout — or, in other words, the onset of what used to be called desert island conditions. What books and discs would I want to have on hand in case… but I never spelled out the ghastly eventuality that would throw me back upon the resources of my apartment. Part of last year’s shock — only part — was the realization that I am now quite at home in cyberspace. Without a connection to the Internet, the failure of my books and discs to amuse me would be total.

So, I started gettting rid of stuff — a lot of stuff. This was no orgy of disencumbrance. Oh, no. I’ve had that inebriated pleasure a couple of times in my life, but never again will I impetuously dump my possessions for the sake of feeling light and free for a week or two — only to have to buy them all back at twice the price. The reason I’m still getting rid of stuff a year later is that it can take a lot of time to determine the point at which the marginal utility of something faces to zero. Sometimes, the heave-ho is obvious, and that’s a great feeling. But it’s unusual.

(I haven’t started giving you the idea yet, just in case you’re wondering.) A few months ago, I bought an Aeron desk chair. Aeron desk chairs are completely passé now and not remotely cool — they always looked funny but now they look funny — but it turns out that the Aeron chair is the right chair for a man of my size. The problem was, the Aeron chair made it clear that my desk was also defective, because its drawers and such kept the chair from pulling underneth the work surface and allowing me to get close to (ie “read”) my computer screens. (Also, they pinched my legs.) So I had to find a new desk. The problem was: I liked my old desk. It might be that I couldn’t use it to write blog entries anymore, but I wasn’t ready to part with it, and this reluctance wasn’t just sentimental.

The new writing table, which arrived in a box from Levenger yesterday, has not been set up yet, because the old desk can’t be moved to where it’s going to go until the dresser in the corner finally moves on to wherever it’s going next — and now, I hope, you’re getting the idea of why I haven’t been writing more. The dresser is going either to charity or to my grandson’s bedroom — it’s his mother’s call. It happens to be the dresser that I grew up with, and I hope that its next stop will be Will’s. But if it’s not, I’m ready to let it go. My old desk, which was never meant for computers anyway, will serve me well at the many jobs that (alas!) aren’t yet digital. (Such as sorting the mail.)

D’you know, this is all so boring that even I can’t figure out where I’m going with it. More accurately: I can’t see what comes next if I’m not going to share with you this morning’s rapture, when I stood in the room and saw — another, milder nervous shock — that if my old desk went there, then I’d need to get rid of a wing chair as well as the dresser, but so what; the old desk really ought to go there. If that, then a thousand other small outcomes, most of them too microscopic to be described in the English language. Let me just tell you, though, that the old desk is going outperform the dresser as a dresser. It’s going to do a much better job of holding my socks and handkerchiefs — I can scarcely believe how much better a job. Aren’t you happy for me?

Or do you want to shoot me? If so, there’s a line.

Gotham Diary:

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Monday was the only entirely free day last week. On Tuesday, I paid an overdue visit to the podiatrist, and an even more overdue visit to Bloomingdale’s, where I replaced the tattered wallet that I replaced years ago but put back into circulation after my pocket was picked one overlubricated evening circa 2005. Then I went to Lady D’s for lunch. I tried very hard to leave before four o’clock, and managed to depart at half-past three. Lady D always claims to enjoy listening to me talk, a compliment that, while perfectly sincere, makes me feel slightly bilious — perhaps because I know that I could talk until six. The weather was so beastly hot that I did not stop in either at the storage unit or at Agata & Valentina, both on the way home, but took a taxi straight to the front door.

On Wednesday, something snapped in the tank of the commode in Kathleen’s bathroom. I called for the handyman, and proceeded to fret for him to arrive in time for my lunch and Wednesday errands. Most distracting! He came soon enough, but of course he realized right away that he would have to turn around and “get a part.” While he went out for the part, I got back to work in the blue room. When the handyman returned, he cried out. I still don’t know just what he had done or forgotten to do, but the bathroom was flooded, as was the corridor leading to our bedroom, and water was pouring over onto the foyer floor. About an hour later, all was more or less in order — although the carpet, of course, still stinks to high heaven. I mopped up a lot of the water while waiting for the handyman to come back a second time, with another handyman and a heavy-duty vacuum cleaner that sucked up the remaining water. I did get down to the Hi-Life for a club sandwich, and then I got a haircut, as I do now every other Wednesday. Then I ran a few errands on Madison Avenue.

On Thursday, of course, Will was here, bright and early. Kathleen was still asleep when he arrived, and I carried him to her bedside to wake her up. Will, who had a fit once when I assumed my faux sportscaster’s voice (something that anybody who has worked in radio can produce), smiled weakly at Kathleen for a moment and then burst into tears. Perhaps if Megan had been holding him at the time? I’m not sure: Will seems to have definite ideas about our appearance. He and his mother did not stay to dinner, because they were having a sort of party after work at Megan’s office, and she wanted to show off her boy. Had been truly conscientious, Knowing that I’d probably be out for most of Friday, I spent the evening composing the next day’s Daily Office.

Another doctor’s appointment kicked Friday off. It didn’t take long and I had plenty of time to make the first show of The Switch, which got a terrible review in the morning’s Times. I loved it. I can see why Steven Holden didn’t, but I took the movie on entirely different terms. Afterward, I had lunch with Quatorze, and then Ms NOLA came up for a cup of Summer Hours tea — after which we went to the Museum to see how the bambú was coming along. Then we walked over to Agata and bought the fixings for dinner, which Ms NOLA was graciously helped me to prepare. We settled on a risotto with shrimp, fennel, and cherry tomatoes. It was extremely yummy. There were only three of us at dinner — Kathleen came home at “a reasonable hour” — but there was enough risotto for six. Ms NOLA assured us that she would take the leftovers home and enjoy them for breakfast. Yes!

One of my newer routines is to tidy up the bedroom on Friday afternoons, so that it’s done in the event that Kathleen wants to sleep in on Saturday morning. Obviously, I never got to any of that on Friday, but there was no risk of Kathleen’s sleeping in, because we expected a business friend of Kathleen’s from Kuala Lumpur for tea at three. When our friend took off for Newark and the long flight home, I hunkered down in the kitchen and cleaned out the refrigerator. This has become an activity that reminds me of weeding the garden — when I had a garden. Then I did the same with the pantry.

None of foregoing activities is at all interesting to read about, I know, but they make a pile-up that explains, to me at least, why I didn’t get more done here last week. I’m trying to establish reasonable expectations, but budgeting one’s time is never fun. I long for the buffer of an extra day — a sixth weekday, say — but I know that it would very soon cease to be buffer, and the persistence of such foolish hopes has begun to annoy me. There won’t be any extra days any more than there will be extra millions or extra lifetimes. This. Is. It. What’s sad about it is that I went through nearly sixty years without any such sense of urgency.

Come to think of it, Monday wasn’t entirely free, either. Jason Mei came to install a backup drive — two backup drives, “mirrors” — for my ever-growing iTunes files. There was something going on every day of the week! And in the middle of August, too! Oy!

Weekend Update: En français

Sunday, May 16th, 2010


Oh, dear. This picture isn’t going to do at all, not, at least, unless I come right out and confess how bogus it is. The glasses are a giveway — where are the glasses? I don’t need them, of course, because I’m not actually reading my iPad, the screen of which is dark. (Maybe that explains my frown: I can’t make any sense of a black screen. ) The picture is a pose, taken to illustrate this very entry. Gee, I’m good at looking natural! The picture makes even me feel a little uncertain. It’s as though I’m reading my latest report card, and finding it wanting.

What the picture was supposed to convey was the pleasure of reading things on an iPad — which, as I say, it’s no surprise this isn’t, since I’m not actually reading the iPad, only pretending. At first, I was just going to write a note to my friend Jean Ruaud, the author of one of the first Web logs that I began following back in 2004, before I had my own. Jean just celebrated nine years of  blogging, an anniversary that puts him well ahead of the pack. By the time I tuned in, Jean was on his second blog, Douze lunes. He doesn’t say just how long Mnémoglyphes has been going, and I’m the last person in the world to ask. But it has been going for “many years.” Even if you can’t read a word of French, you ought to have a look at the stunning photograph that illustrates his anniversary entry, “Neuf ans.”

I was going to write to Jean, but I decided to write to you as well; isn’t that what blogs are for? This afternoon, for the first time, I caught up on Mnémoglyphes in the comfort of my favorite reading chair. Instead of craning my neck at a computer screen, I held Jean’s texts in my hands exactly as I would have done had they’d been published in a magazine. When I wanted to check a word in the dictionary — Jean is far too gifted a writer for me to settle on getting the general drift of what he is talking about — I set down the iPad exactly as I should have set down a book. It was all quite pleasant and civilized, and — I know I’m repeating myself but this point cannot be trumpeted too loudly in these early days — I was in no hurry to get to the end of the piece. The act of reading HTML has been humanized, at long last, by Apple’s invention. The only people to complain will be people who aren’t very serious readers — by which I mean, of course, readers for pleasure.

As the photograph above so beautifully illustrates.

Weekend Update: Sudden Death

Sunday, May 9th, 2010


What happened to The Aesthete — the author of The Aesthete’s Lament? Out of the blue, she bid a grateful sayonara to her readers on Thursday — and then proceeded to take her site down, so that there’s nothing to link to now for those who weren’t following The Aesthete’s Lament‘s feeds. People get tired of blogging all the time, but they don’t, as a rule, dismantle their sites right away.

Was The Aesthete a man or a woman? The real question, of course, is why anybody cared. The importance of The Aesthete’s Lament is, at least at the moment, best captured by the difficulty of summarizing its mission. To say that it was devoted to “traditional” interior design would be awfully wrong-footed, because one of the things that the site’s series of white-on-white interiors demonstrated was a yearning for the modern, but on terms of comfort that Modernism disdained. The Aesthete had a view of household decor that was every bit as personally seasoned as those of the famous designers whose work she covered.

But The Aesthete did not stop there. There were pictures of her home, of a dining room in progress, of prettily -laid tables in holiday candlelight. We thought that these entries, combined with The Aesthete’s anonymity, were a mistake. They excited a perhaps lamentable but utterly inevitable curiosity about the author’s gender. Word filtered down, from authoritative sources, that The Aesthete was a woman, but the intensity of interest in clarifying this matter was a itself sign of sensed instability. Certainly, The Aesthete’s references to her husband, and even those to her daughter, supported the leaked wisdom. On the other hand, there were confusing images, such as the following celebration of a birthday. It is possible that the child in the photograph is a girl, but it’s a possibility that demands a lot of explanation. It’s possible that The Aesthete was once upon a time the toddler on the floor alongside this little fellow (not shown). But the entry is a frigate of ambiguity.


What difference it makes, whether The Aesthete is a man or woman, is a matter for discussion some other time; for the moment, we’ll content ourselves with stating what seems to be obvious, which is that, for better or worse, human beings want to know whether they’re listening to men or women: it does make a difference. More particularly, readers interested in interior design, a subject that most men dismiss (to their detriment) as womanly, but also one that few women write about, understand that the observations that men make are seasoned by a struggle that simply doesn’t present itself to women. What a woman has to say about a white-on-white drawing room is not, in the end, equivalent to a man’s judgment of the matter. Neither opinion is inherently superior — superiority is not the point — but both have been shaped by very different pains and struggles. And that gives what The Aesthete has to say about, exempla gratia, the wit and wisdom of Van Day Truex a gender-specific point that is baffled rather than muffled by anonymity.

It’s impossible to dissociate this identity murk from the hunch that the sudden shutdown (more than a mere abandonment) of the site was somehow related to a short-circuit in the expectations that The Aesthete had allowed anonymous blogging to mourish.

Weekend Update: Bominitious

Sunday, April 11th, 2010


How do you refer, in notes and lists, to the person closest to you? What do you actually write down? A full name? That would be fine, but I’ve never done it. I write down Kathleen’s initials, because, for me, everyone’s service name is a monogram. This will surprise no one who has received an email from “rjk.”

I spent the day reading. At about five, I began to worry about Kathleen. It was getting on eleven where she was (Amsterdam), and I had a hard time not knowing that she was safe and sound. She called at twelve-ten her time, just back from a conference dinner. The worrying uncertainty always feels terribly corrosive, but the moment the phone rings Kathleen’s ring, my heart lifts up as light as can be.

What I read took a back seat to an ongoing meditation about the iPad. It’s not that I want one — and, even if I did, I’d wait for the preliminary bugs to be unkinked, and for the preliminary price to be reduced. But I knew by Wednesday morning (7 April 2010, for the record book) that my work here and at Portico is going to be read, sooner or later, on instruments such as the iPad, and not on what we now call computers. As someone who rails on against writers who never read, I’m especially bound to familiarize myself with the new environment, which seems, at my ignorant remove, to have succeeded in extracting everything humanistically useful about the PC and discarded the rest, a voluminous residuum.

Nevertheless: Russell Baker on Gerald Boyd (NYRB), Jonathan Lears on Ralph Nader (LRB) and David Samuels’s amazing piece about Balkan criminality in The New Yorker. Also Bernard Friedman on Cassidy and Lanchester.

Weekend Update: Eleven

Sunday, March 21st, 2010


On Friday afternoon, I played a game with my grandson. It was a very simple game, but it was our first, and the memory of Will’s chuckling delight — he can’t quite laugh yet — is never far from front-and-center. 

With both hands, I gripped his chest and held him over my lap; we both pretended that he was standing on it. This is a favorite posture of Will’s, these days, but what may also have increased his pleasure was the fact that he was looking down on me, slightly. His eyes were eager and wide, and his mouth wavered between a crooked smile and an expectant “O.” What would happen next? What happened next was his grandfather’s angling him forward, feet in place, until our foreheads touched, whereupon I said “boom!” in a silly voice. Then I eased him back to the original position. After a few seconds, he gurgled his approval. The gentle noggin knocking was repeated about a dozen times. Inevitably for Will (who takes after his mother in this regard), hiccups ensued, but the game was grand while it lasted.

Will’s development is riveting, of course, but I’m learning that the development to watch is mine. For one thing, I’ve become the most frightful bore. On Friday night, I suggested that we’d better watch an episode of Inspector Morse, if only to spare Kathleen the fifth or sixth re-telling of the afternoon’s doings in Alphabet City. Kathleen is probably not going to leave me on account of my inability to talk about anything but my grandson for three days after I’ve seen him, but I don’t expect my friends to be so tolerant.

Another problem that I’ve got to work on is anthropomorphism. True, Will is already a human being. But when he laughs, I’m ready to buy him a ticket for the revival of Lend Me a Tenor! — I’m sure that he’d love that! No? He likes to play with my big black wristwatch so much that surely he ought to have one of his own. Eleven weeks, Doodad, I tell myself. Patience!

Eleven weeks — is that all? But as spring burst out over New York this week, beginning on St Patrick’s Day, the holidays and winter dark quickly came to seem unimaginably distant. So, although Will has only just arrived, he has also been with us forever.

At one of the playgrounds in Tomkins Square Park, which Megan took to visiting on Thursday, we sat by an open space between two play structures, and as the children whizzed by in one direction or the other, crossing directly in front of us, I felt that I was watching a performance choreographed by Paul Taylor: the idea of children playing was perfectly realized by these children playing. Will may be on the brink of telling time well enough to show up for a Broadway curtain, but even I can tell that it will be a while before he scurries up a slide or climbs out on a low-hanging branch. There’s plenty of time to build up the stamina to keep up with him.

For the time being, though, I’m feeling an entirely new kind of tired.

Weekend Update: New York Minute

Saturday, March 13th, 2010


Last Sunday, Megan said to Ryan, “We need to move.”

On Monday, Ryan found some good listings

On Tuesday, Megan looked at apartments, including a place that she liked.

On Wednesday, papers were processed; certified checks were drawn.

On Thursday, a lease was signed.

On Friday, keys were handed over.

On Saturday, Ryan and an excellent friend schlepped bedding and basics through torrential spring rains to the new flat. Now Will has a new home.

A New York Minute can take an entire week, but, oh, my, the changes.

Weekend Update: Pot au feu

Sunday, February 7th, 2010


This afternoon, I made a beef stew, from a recipe that I made up as I went along. I don’t know whether I’ll like it, because that wasn’t part of the plan. Of course, I hope that I won’t hate it; but the idea was to cook a simple beef stew out of stuff on hand — to recreate, along purely imaginary lines, the French pot au feu, of which I have no experience whatsoever but which I envision as a pot on the fire, as the name indicates, full of long-cooked odds and ends. I read once that somewhere in the Garonne there is a pot au feu that has been simmering since the 1620s — a preposterously amusing thing to say. My own concoction will probably taste heavy and monochromatic, only slightly brightened by the handful of minced parsley that I’ll toss onto it at dinnertime. But that’s okay, as along as I can bear to eat it. If I can eat it while overlooking it, so much the better. When I’m alone, I read my way through meals.  

I’ll be alone at dinner. Kathleen is on a plane, flying from St Croix to Miami. She’ll stay at an airport hotel and fly into New York early tomorrow. I can’t quite believe how much more flying time this itinerary involves — almost two hours more than connecting at San Juan. But one forgets how far west Miami is — Atlanta lies almost directly below Chicago. It was only when I looked at the globe and imagined drawing a circle with a compass centered on Miami that I could accept that St Croix and New York are roughly equidistant.

Kathleen had a wonderful time at the Buccaneer. Although she missed me, she wasn’t lonely, and she claims that she never talked to anyone but staff. This was the aftermath of fatigue, to be sure, but it also signaled Kathleen’s attention to take a rest from society. I had a bittersweet time listening to her daily accounts. Having been to the Buccaneer on three previous visits, I always knew what she was talking about, and I remembered what fun it wasv to walk this beach or to listen to that musician play after dinner. All week, I told myself that I really must get my affairs in order, so that by Thanksgiving-time I’ll have only the dreadfulness of flying and of being in airports to worry about.

I mustn’t fear, as I did quite viscerally ten days ago, that, if I left Manhattan Island, I would forget everything that I have learned about life in the past six months. I won’t elaborate; there’s no way that I could make sense of this anxiety in fewer than ten thousand words. The point is that, about six months ago, life began to make a lot of sense. Not life in general, but my life. I began to understand it, or feel that I understood it, for the first time. It has never been very important to me to understand my life — just one of the things about me that I didn’t really know until last fall — but now that I did, I found it very useful.

This week, while my friend Jean Ruaud piloted The Daily Blague, I thought seriously about taking a long break from blogging, so that I could devote myself exclusively to the pivotal project that I find myself in the middle of, the one that I jokingly call “I Am My Own Executor.” As I had no reason to believe that increased attention would actually speed things up — I’m very conscious of the way that insights have, these days, of falling down on me, like fruit that hasn’t been rushed to ripeness —I abandoned the idea of abandoning The Daily Blague. There’s no reason to doubt, in fact, that it was last year’s intensification of blogging effort (most notable in the Daily Office) that triggered the growth of this understanding that I’ve been talking about. There’s no question that the effort of reading thousands of Google Reader feeds a week, for months on end and with no prospect of ceasing, didn’t alter the quality of my life, at least for the first time since I stopped practicing law, over twenty years ago.

I just had a taste of the stew, and I think that it’s exactly what I had in mind.