Gotham Diary:
The Second Time
24 October 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.