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One Little Piece of Holy Ground

April 9, 2010

This past Thursday night I met up with an old co-worker who, after being laid off from our company about this time last year, ended up being unable to find another job in New York and eventually was compelled to move back down to Florida, where she’s from, and in with her parents. I was in Orlando on business, and so I gave her a call and let her know I was in town. We decided to have dinner, at Epcot.

We took the monorail to the park and chose to eat Mexican, at the San Angel Inn. After some wandering in the wrong direction—and with much sneezing and sniffling on my part, my allergies in full bloom, and with a 14-minute, “circle-vision” film about Canada intervening—we got directions and went south of the border.

The replica Aztec pyramid, within which the San Angel Inn is housed, contains a replica Mexican market peddling sombreros, tequila, and blankets, and the like. At the back is the San Angel Inn, whose tables seem to be set underneath a vast night sky, with (another) Aztec pyramid and a smoking, red-rimmed volcano off in the “distance.” It was somewhat hokey, the set-up, but was not without its charms.

We were seated and caught up. I drank a virgin lime margarita. My friend drank a passion-fruit margarita. We ordered tacos for dinner from the appetizer menu and talked. At first, when my co-worker came on staff at our mutual company, about a week after me, I thought I wouldn’t like or get along with her. I learned a lesson with regard to that judgment, one usually doled out in terms of books and covers.

At some point during the meal, a mother and her son, who was probably about 10 years old, were seated next to us. At first I didn’t really notice them. Then I noticed that the boy, who was generously freckled, fairly overweight, and wearing a black AC/DC T-shirt, had a deep Southern twang. For some reason his accent caught my ear; or maybe it was the way the boy seemed to say things, with a self-assuredness that was beyond his years. He talked to his mom (who, as a result of being quieter, I can’t really comment on) in the way that you might talk to an old friend with whom you are very comfortable, and both of you know exactly how much you mean to the other.

Perhaps I am ascribing overmuch agency or self-awareness to the kid. But it tickled me, his animated way of talking and exclaiming about things. I didn’t even really hear much of what he was saying—rather just the way in which he was saying it.

But one thing he said I did hear, and it just killed me; made me mist up, in fact.

At one point the mom and son’s waiter was at their table, talking with them, and evidently telling them about how the Aztecs used to make human sacrifices of beautiful young women to the volcano—which, as I said, was in the background.

The kid kind of boggled over this, and then he responded, happily, “Well, it’s a good thing I’m ugly, then!” And chuckled and smiled at his own joke.

That damn near did me in. Later their food came and the kid tore into his with gusto, like no one had ever made fun of him or had made him feel bad about himself. During this, I intermittently tried to alert my friend—Jen—to the truly dazzling display of human fireworks going on the table adjacent to us; and I think she picked up on it, though perhaps not to the degree that I did.

Thinking about this, since then, I’ve thought about Annie Dillard’s blue crab, in the Jordan desert; the scores of birds just going nuts in that one tree at twilight on Bedford, outside of the cheese shop; and the terribly silent, white view from atop Antarctica’s Observation Hill. And then, having just finished reading J.D. Salinger’s “Seymour: An Introduction,” on the plane back up to Brooklyn, there is this:

“Seymour once said that all we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next.”

Some (Very Minor) Thoughts on the Occasion of Both Easter and of Reading Salinger

April 4, 2010

The question of whether or not god exists is far too weighty for anyone to think they have figured out any sooner than five minutes before their death.

One thing that heartens me is the fact that I will never run out of books to read at lunch, by myself.

The true mark of a god-seeker is whether or not he or she is able to discern holy bells in the sound of house keys tied to a jogger’s shoelaces.

There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured
As April’s green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.

What Health Care Reform Really Means

March 23, 2010

I received the following message via Facebook from a friend of one of my brothers last night.  Not only did it make me feel good, like I’ve been doing my part, but it’s also a perfect illustration of what health care reform really means.  Health care reform is not about a “socialist government takeover” or about taxes for taxes’ sake; rather, it’s about making sure that individuals like this young man aren’t run over by a capitalist system that pretty much only takes profit into account.

I agree with capitalism; I, like the GOP, believe that it is the best economic engine out there.  But left unchecked, it can be a vicious, inhumane thing.  That’s one of the reasons why a relatively activist government is necessary: in order to protect more vulnerable individuals from being exploited and harmed by the more powerful, whether in the form of a human (say, an armed robber) or a corporation (say, a health insurance company).

Here is the text of this courageous young man’s email (his name has been redacted in order to protect his privacy):

Hey, I’m a friend of your brother’s. I think we’ve met once before. Anyway, this might be weird to say but thanks for being really passionate about health care reform here on Facebook. I have a pre-existing condition and I have to rely on Medicaid for my coverage. Things are looking up now though and a part of my life is actually about to change for the much better. Just wanted to say that your updates, blog entries, and such have been a relief amid the usual bickering I read on here everyday. Thanks.


Now tell me who can possibly be against that?

Unlike President Clinton, I Know that President Obama Truly Feels My Pain

March 1, 2010

From today’s Times, about the president’s recent physical (especially see the bolded bit below):

As for Mr. Obama’s smoking, Mr. Gibbs said the president had tried to quit, but had “admitted lapses.” It is not known how frequently Mr. Obama smokes, or what the figure is for his total “pack years,” a standard measure of a smoker’s risk for diseases like lung cancer.

Mr. Gibbs referred reporters to the president’s own words from last June, when he was asked about his smoking addiction while signing a law aimed at keeping children from starting to smoke. The president noted that 90 percent of smokers began on or before their 18th birthday.

“I know — I was one of those teenagers,” Mr. Obama said. “I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it’s been with you for a long time.”

He added: “I would say that I am 95 percent cured, but there are times where I mess up.”

Mrs. Obama admonished him to quit smoking when he started his campaign in 2007, saying, “He couldn’t be a smoking president.”

Mr. Obama chews nicotine gum to cut down on his smoking.

“Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes? Yes,” Mr. Obama said last June at a White House news conference. “Am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No.”

True that, Prez.  As Mark Twain once said, “Quitting smoking is easy—I’ve done it hundreds of times.”

For me, it’s Day 23.

I’m Sure the Winterovers Would Appreciate This

February 26, 2010

Tropicana built a little sun in the Canadian Arctic:

For more info about the ad, read about it via MediaBistro’s AgencySpy here.

Have One on Her

February 23, 2010

Joanna Newsom at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Feb. 1, 2008

Joanna Newsom’s new album, the two-hour, triple-CD Have One on Me, drops next Tuesday.  NPR’s All Songs Considered has its “first listen”  of the whole album—here’s the link.

I can’t wait for this—Newsom’s last full-length, Ys, is probably one of my top ten or fifteen albums of all time—and to see her play Town Hall on March 18th.

An Email Exchange Between Me and My Executive Editor

February 22, 2010

Him: Thanks! I’m away from my desk circa noon to 1, and will give this a look when I get back.

Me: You better not be getting coffee. Coffee is for editors only. ABE. Always Be Editing.

Him: You know what you’ll say? Buncha losers, sittin’ around a bar. “I was an editor once. It’s a tough racket.”

Wait + Chicago + Saturday Boy + Great Plains

February 21, 2010

Twice tonight on television I heard the Kills song “Wait.”  Here it is; listen to it as the soundtrack for this post:

I quit smoking.  Fifteen days tonight.  I’ve got a piece of Nicorette gum in.  My lungs feel, newly, like a bellows.  Breathe in, breathe out, very deeply—lungs fill up like a strong balloon.

From Wednesday to Friday evening I was in Chicago for work.  (Here’s a picture.) I love the people in New York City—nowhere has better diversity; you look around the subway or the street and you could be anywhere in the world, from the faces—but for triumphal, Manifest Destiny, American architecture, the Windy City can’t be beat.  I remember, and I told my work people this when we were walking to dinner, that Chicago was the first city I fell in love with.  It all happened in one night, too: A friend and I had driven up from Fayetteville, Ark., my college town, to see Bob Dylan play in Normal, Illinois.  We took a northern detour and visited Chicago first.  We got into the city, it was snowing, and we checked in at the YMCA hostel and got ready and went out and big fat flakes were falling in February.  We walked along the streets and I was surprised to see all the people still out, walking around and being out in the evening.  I remember very distinctly a man and his son buying tickets to see a movie at one of those old-style movie theaters where the white marquee, with the movie names in black letters, juts out over the street.  I thought, “I want to live in a place where people live like this.”  That was in 1998.  I have done that—lived in a place where people live like that—since 2001.  I love it.

I also love this Billy Bragg song (“I’ll never forget / the first day I met her / that September morning was clear and fresh / The way she spoke / and laughed at my jokes / and the way she rubbed herself against the edge of my desk”):

I finished the book The Great Plains, by Ian Frazier, in my Chicago hotel room, at the Peninsula.  An amazing book about the history and myth of the Great Plains, Crazy Horse and settlers and trappers and buffalo and grasslands and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

You Stay Classy, Conan

January 23, 2010

“And finally, I have to say something to our fans. The massive outpouring of support and passion from so many people has been overwhelming. The rallies, the signs, all the goofy, outrageous creativity on the Internet, and the fact that people have traveled long distances and camped out all night in the pouring rain to be in our audience, made a sad situation joyous and inspirational. To all the people watching, I can never thank you enough for your kindness to me and I’ll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask of you is one thing: Please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

Back on the Job

January 18, 2010

Dear Reader,

It’s been so long since I’ve written, more than a month now.  There is no excuse for my tardiness—but there are reasons.  Allow me to enumerate them:

My last day at Meetings & Conventions magazine was Friday, December 18th.  On Monday the 21st I flew down south for a week in a North Arkansas cabin with my family, including my precious baby niece Emma.  I left my laptop at home.

A week after returning to New York, I started my new job as a senior editor at Convene magazine, which is published by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA).  Then, three days after I started, I got on a plane to Dallas for a week for PCMA’s annual meeting, which is pretty much the busiest time of the year for the association and the magazine.  We put out a show daily while on site, which meant long hours and quick deadlines.  But, it was a lot of fun.  I really like my new co-workers.  Dig us all:

From left to right: Roger, our art director; Barbara, my fellow senior editor; Michelle, my editor-in-chief; Chris, my executive editor; and c'est moi.

I returned from Dallas late last Wednesday night, after having worked straight through the weekend.  Then I worked on Thursday and Friday, ending a good long twelve-day run.  It’s been a well-deserved three-day weekend.  But back to it tomorrow.  Hopefully the blog will be revived after I get into the swing of things at work.

I remain,

Your faithful correspondent,


P.S.—Up in the Air is fantastic.  Avatar is visually incredible and the story/dialogue isn’t distractingly bad.  WFUV (90.7 FM on the New York dial, online) is the best radio station.  Hoarders is a really screwed-up show.