Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Steady On

Yesterday, we paused to listen to some musicians at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. An obnoxious fellow knocked over the case the players had set forth for the receipt of tips. He then charged into me and returned to continue his assault. He proceeded to help himself to some of the bills left by the appreciative audience. After he deliberately threw me an elbow, I had opportunity to use the British phrase "Steady On" mentioned by me in a comment rejoinder to this post. Be careful what you wish for.

The INphrase.

The Mondschein sent me this, regarding my post of last week:

Another "hard by" reference in the NYT - and not an obit.

Third paragraph, second sentence.

A trend revived??

Yes, Mondscheiny, a delicious trend. You'll be pleased to know also that this weekend, in Central Park, I had opportunity to use "steady on" when a vagrant assaulted me. I mentioned this phrase in the comments of that same post. Let's be on the look-out for it in the Times.
PS: I have a video of the "steady on " moment that I hope to post as soon as this flight comes down in Fort Lauderdale.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Alla Prima

Last night, Joey and Aaron came over to the West Side and walked with us up into Columbus Avenue until we saw an outdoor table for four, set and ready for us, at the Cafe Rhonda.

We gossiped about you. And you. And you too. I don't think we left anyone out.

Alone at a table two feet from my elbow was a man sketching on the plain paper beneath his setting. I made no effort to disguise my inspection of his work. We spoke briefly about working quickly and in public. As he got up to leave, he tore off a large section of it and handed it to me, saying "that's you on the right".

@ cafe rhonda

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A favorite New York moment

From the archives.
In front of the fabulous Fairway market, one lady demonstrates against foie gras, while a gentleman challenges her ethics in terms of sweat shops. Of course, I can't keep my mouth shut.

On the other hand,

C, Tater and I saw this gentleman walking down Ninth Avenue in Manhattan during the International Food Festival last week.


As I've stated in the past few days, I don't much cotton to the pointy shoes and boxy jackets, and I'm OK with the red jeans when applied to skinny legs, but here's a man whose fashion sense I can admire. At home with his composition, he strolled through the crowd with the serenity and confidence of Grace Kelly. This is fashion and style the way they were meant to be: personal expressions and celebrations of the Self turned inside out for public enjoyment.

I can never remember the hanky codes, but I am pretty sure that a yellow one in the right pocket says "Please piss in my purse."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Trend Spotting

Our office closed at 3PM today in celebration of the Memorial Day weekend. I decided to avoid the subway and to walk north through the heart of Manhattan in what may have been the most gorgeous weather to date of 2008. Everyone was out and about, and I took note of several pairs of red jeans on some skinny-legged young men. You may recall my stated pleasure with this fashion turn some days ago.

Sadly, I've to report two other fashion trends that are distasteful.

Absurdly elongated shoes on men in which the toe area forms a sort of narrow slightly up-curved snout. I saw these on the television earlier in the week and assumed they had been made specifically for the singing performer who wore them. Now I see them on pedestrians. Really now. These shoes have about four or five extra inches in length beyond the natural occurrence of the big toe. Who are these men kidding? Even NBA players don't measure that far. And if they did, they wouldn't need to prove it with a pair of handmade Italian elf-on-steroid shoes. Let's hope this one dies a fast death.

The second is an inexplicably popular men's spring jacket. It is rather like what we used to call a "shell", in that it seems to be made of either thin poplin or nylon, but it doesn't have the bottom draw string. It's a shapeless thing, most often in bland beige or navy. Unlike the sexy bomber jacket that rides high above the waist and gives one the illusion of wider shoulders and an attractive butt, these jackets cut straight across the center of the hip and they seem to give the wearer a slump-shouldered look, rather like a banker's box. The more I saw of these, the more I tried to divine their etymology. I think I've figured it out. We have fetishized the nerdy "Can you hear me now?" guy of the TV commercials. This is his jacket. Dear God, can Brilliantined ducktails be just around the corner?

You wanna know what the benefit of age is? I'll tell ya. It's knowing the value of purchasing classic style. A perfectly fitted navy blue blazer. Sueded light-colored desert boots with those crunchy-crepey-cushy soles. A baseball cap with a soft brim and no words on it. A white cap-sleeved t shirt that breaks at the belt (get a boy's size if you have to). A black leather biker jacket. Buy only one in your life. Get it when you are young. It will age with you, conforming to your body, becoming more beautiful as the years go by, perfect in its distressed and battered condition. Men will find you irresistible in it. A pair of work boots, never polished and with the laces wrapped around the ankle. A single tarnished silver bracelet that you found rather than bought. An indestructible plaid flannel shirt. Bury me with these things or let me walk naked into the light of the next life.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Last friday, before going south to HK Lounge for the opening event of the GBV weekend, C and I, accompanied by Tater and Joe, attended a book release party heralding Joel Derfner's Swish - My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever.

I bought the book in advance of the event, just as I would buy your book if you were inviting me to drink your booze, sample your friends and eat your cookies in a huge, many-roomed apartment with interesting artwork on W111th St. (When I told C about this event, I told him it would be in Harlem, and didn't that have cache. C, the geographal lamb, corrected me. 111th St. is not in Harlem but is actually part of the same "Upper West Side" in which we reside, albeit in the triple digit section where strollers are better outfitted like hummers.

I haven't written about Joel's book until now because I wanted to read a bit of it first. I have. It's good. Buy it. Read it. Laugh. Chat about it, and when you go to dinner at a friend's house, buy another copy instead of that same old tired bottle of Chilean wine that you have to pretend didn't cost $6.99 in the bargain box. (Your friend knows how much that bottle costs because he bought it last week on his way to someone else's house.)

A word about Joel. He's red-headed, pretty, vivacious, excited, and, oh hell, he's a complete nervous wreck in the most endearing way imaginable. He writes well, but not like I write well. (I, who consider myself the last living Wallenda of daring sentence structure, having witnessed the repeated deaths of all my goombads, toppling as they have to the sawdusted floor of the three-ringed tent of impossible grammar.) Joel cares about you, the reader. He will engage you in a narrative, and just when you think you can look away and ponder your shopping list, he'll open a window (or a vein) into his soul with a startling candor that elevates his book to a level beyond loopy, beyond camp and beyond simply funny. (I hate reviews that are any more specific than this.)

In the pictures that follow, you see Joel with his editor, Andrew Corbin; Tater, Joey, C, and two gentlemen who are raising twin eight year-olds. They had some authoritative things to say about gay parenting.

(I also recall - or did I dream it - an incredibly handsome guest who brought black and white chocolate cookies. I don't recall his name, but he is one of the five most beautiful men in Manhattan, and he can bake. He stirred the yenta in me, among other things.)


Sorry, but the last thing anyone needs is

an annoying chair.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hard By

Now that's how to write an obit. Not only do we get the delicious bits (And really, what else do we whisper about over the cloying scent of carnation at the wake?), but Margalit Fox has used a phrase you don't hear much anymore. One that encapsulates the deceased:

At the time, she was living in Manhattan with her sister in a fourth-floor walkup hard by the Third Avenue El.

Update: Big Island Jeep Guy: I've answered your question in the fourth comment, but thinking more about it, I bet Margalit Fox is a Brit.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I love your blog! I read it every day. Really.

Great fun. Words were made flesh at HK Lounge. Frisbees were thrown and ropes jumped in Central Park. Toasts were toasted at the Eagle and the Dugout. Romance was had and reported on even before the first kisses had been exchanged. Lots of fun, food and exploring the city. My conclusion? If this group were running this country...

Go here for the higher resolution stills from the video, and if anyone knows how to get a high resolution video onto the blog, I'd appreciate the help. I made the original of this with imovie on the mac and it's a shame to have to step it down so that Youtube will take it.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bear Hill

class picture 2008

(Clicking on it will take you to Flickr where you can supersize it to get a closer look at your favorite blogger by clicking on "all sizes".)

PS: Dennis of NegligentMonster arrived after the class photos had been taken.

Friday, May 16, 2008

And they're off!

I'll have to add the links later, when time permits, but Stash organized a lunch at Mario Batali's delicious Casa Mono, and thus the first pic of the weekend. Counterclockwise from the bottom left, RG, Evilgnome, Stash, the boys from Oregon and Tater.

(The hostess yelled at me for gesturing into the aisle and almost causing a culinary miscarriage.)

Public Sector Pondering - Part 4: The Lark

The Italians have a phrase which, if you’ll pardon my probable murder of it, sounds like “L’acqua che non vuol bere”, or , “It’s the water you didn’t want to drink that you will drown in.”

I certainly did not wish to sip from the springs of state government.

I was late for my lunch with the ex-priest who had been enjoined by mutual friends to find me a job. Late for our follow-up meeting at his office. I wore faded jeans to both, and similar to the interview he set up with a district director of The Department of Social Services. This shabbiness seemed only to engender sympathy. They assumed my only other clothes were the black robes of ministry. My cold silence during those meetings was interpreted as charming meekness veiling the attractive emblems of energetic intelligence begging for the harness. I just could not lose for the winning.

I was also informed that state employment was considered highly desirable. Great benefits with the kind of stability that could see a man clear through his grandchildren and the replacement of both hips. Their eyes into mine sought some indication that I knew the value of what they were offering me. That I wanted this as much as the many thousands of applicants who would be turned away, and forced to work for paychecks elsewhere, perhaps on Broadway, or in Hollywood or in Amsterdam or Bangkok. Thank you, I said through the clenched fillings of my upper and lower teeth. Teeth that would now benefit from an excellent dental plan just because I had been fortunate enough to be offered this particleboard coffin of a job.

Actually, my first position was described as “temporary”. I was being hired under a Federal grant by the Small Business Administration to examine the coastal damage caused by a recent flood. I would be part of a team of state inspectors accompanied by the folks from FEMA. The entire project would be wrapped up by the end of October. Not to worry, said my new employers with gleaming smiles, for now that you have a foot in the door of government you’ll be first in line for something more permanent, and “something more permanent” always happens, winkety wink wink.

Not as long as I have one good foot left with which to slam that door in your faces, I thought, as I drove to the actual first workday of my first thirty years on earth.

As I entered the parking lot of the surly state office building that regarded me through the beady eyes of its sullen little windows, I decided to make the day a cheery one. This would be a lark. Soon, I’d be back in leisure, and with swell stories for my medical school room mates, them with their sagas of nymphomaniacal nurses and stunningly handsome Jewish doctors and frightening OBGYN rotations. They had been in the seminary with me, having left before ordination, so church stories were dull ones for them. They had wanted descriptions of the Puerto Rican racquetball players with whom I had shared my summer mornings, but when no off-court sex had transpired, they had lost interest in my heterojuans.

Accustomed to modifying the reality of any given moment of my life by selecting a role to perform, I put on a Mary Tyler Moore face as I briskly, winningly and confidently entered the building.

I remember the wide metal Venetian blinds. White, but heavily yellowed, crimped and bent in places where perhaps someone nearing retirement had expressed impotent rage, or had, over time, simply slumped to the floor, raising a withered arm and grazing the blinds in a failed effort to break his fall. I remember the bright overhead tubes of fluorescent light monitoring me through dusty metal diffusers. Why not open the blinds and turn those lights off, I wondered. Oh, yes, I thought. This place needs me. There’s a purpose to this, after all. The corn is green. This house will be clean. Just a spoon full of sugar. My name? Mrs. DeWinter, as in I’m Mrs. DeWinter now. As God is my witness I’ll never go hungry again. Vox clamantis in deserto. This is a good thing. Can you surrey? Can you picnic?” Who’s your daddy? Who isn’t your daddy? You’re gonna make it after all. Hail Ceasar, those about to die salute you. We’re movin on up! Fasten your seat belts. St. Brigitte deliver us to Beekman Place. Big girls don’t cry. Happy days. Are. Here. Again.”

Three of us were hired that day. A powdery Sweeney Toddular bird of a woman processes me in the personnel office. Without my having asked them to do so, the administrators of this agency let me know that they will keep my background a secret from the staff. I am grateful for this. I feel as if I’ve entered a witness protection program.

I am introduced to my two co-workers.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gay Blogger Weekend

GBV white xmas

Friday night. 9PM. HK Lounge. 405 W39th St @ 9th Ave. Password is GB5
Weather forecast for Saturday in Central Park: 70s, but 30% chance of rain. Possible alternative rain plans are under discussion. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Where's my Brick? Where's My precious Baby?"

OK, so that's a line from "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" said by Big Mama, but that's not what this post is about. This is about my observation that the "in color" for 2008 Fall mens' fashions is what I am calling "brick red". I'm sure professional fashionisti know it by some other official name, but it seems like brick red to me. And, judging by their TV ads, I bet I could find a pair of brick red jeans at Target. While I am no slave to fashion, I do think color has a cyclic appeal. When we have saturated our eyes with, perhaps, waves of teal, we find ourselves yearning for something like the color of fire. When we have had enough of Marimekko lime green, we move to the muted rusty plums of Alexander Julian. And so it goes. One color is a salve for too much of another. My natural color is sapphire, and I should stick with it, much as Katharine Hepburn learned that her natural color was camel offset by black. When she found the tops and slacks that she felt great in, she bought fifty sets.

Yesterday, I ordered some sapphire blue contact lens. Not that I don't like my natural golden brown eye color. It's just that color is everyman's luxury. It's sad and foolish to deny one's self the delicious embrace of strong and varied color. The time to be careful is when you are furnishing your house. You are going to have to live inside your color choices for quite a while. For Florida, I just took delivery of glass tile in a color that is like the sky before rain, or through polarized glasses, or, cornflower, or maybe the color of a pack of Gauloise, This, for the kitchen backsplash. I know I won't grow tired of that color.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Public Sector Pondering - Part 3

Indoor pool water, at your gym, under artificial light and in a windowless room is never any of those celebrated blues of lake or ocean. It does not sparkle, in the way that the eye of fresh fish on ice in a market does not sparkle. You slice through it, dutifully counting your laps, fearing the germ count. Plasma more than water. Like a guppy in a lava lamp, back and forth you go, and because the pool is short, you take its length below the surface in one held breath.

With a half mile done, I clamp a hand over the rounded tile edge of the deep end and shove the goggles up over my brow. Startled to find that I am not alone in this pool, I am greeted by a familiar voice. The auxiliary bishop of my diocese is treading water and smiling. A man I have known since I was thirteen years old. He had been the one to greet my parents when they delivered me to the seminary. A handsome and athletic man with a warm laugh and a natural ability for languages. I had been in awe of this man. He would teach me introductory French in the morning’s first period. At the bell, he would close his briefcase, exit the classroom and stand quietly, looking at the floor in the corridor while the happy din of students echoed about him. At the next bell, he’d teach others an hour of Italian, and at the next, an hour of Spanish, ending the morning with an hour of Latin. After I had my driver’s license, he would let me borrow his car and grant me special permission to leave the seminary grounds at night to view the foreign language films shown at nearby colleges. Once, when I went to his rooms to pick up the keys, he was in a mood to chat. He invited me in and showed me how he arranged his briefcase for the day to come. For some reason, we talked about shoes. He brought me into his bedroom and showed me his meticulously lined up collection of identical pairs of black and sensible shoes. He laid out for me the rigorous schedule for their polishing and maintenance. It was clear that he was trying to teach me the value of discipline in all aspects of one’s personal life. He was trying to bestow the tools of his life, convinced that I would certainly and forever need their structure. He might just as well have tried to breathe the black plague into my soul. As I drove his car off the grounds, I felt only pity for him with his antiseptic restraint and routine. Still, I loved the fact that he never once asked me about the movies I was going to see. Never felt the need to censor my exposure to the secular. He’s OK, I used to think, and he had a beautiful vibrato to his singing voice, and the only truly flat stomach on the faculty. No one was surprised when he was named auxiliary bishop. Our cold and hide-bound Ordinary needed someone to minister to the growing Hispanic community. We had no Hispanic clergy but we had one seminary professor with shining credentials and shoes who spoke their language flawlessly. Everyone was surprised by what happened soon after his consecration. It was as if some tiny and hard-shelled seed deep within him burst into life in the warm moist ground of his new ministry. He became dangerously liberal. The grapevine reported that Rome was not pleased. He would never be given his own diocese. He became the unofficial underground advocate for the local gay community. At the bars, men who knew my position in the Church would tell me how much they admired him. Some claimed to have slept with him. One man was able to describe with accuracy the interior of the rectory in which he now resided, in the heart of the poor part of town. How could I not have seen this in him, I would wonder to myself. His floodgates had been perfect, I concluded. Finally, I learned that another priest living in that house was the one turning tricks in the rectory and that our auxiliary bishop, alone in his neatly made bed, suffered the slander without protest, absorbing it perhaps because he had no choice, or because he felt there was some greater good to be had in the shouldering of such a cross. I never asked him about it. We greeted each other in French and he did not switch to English until the conversation took a crucial turn.

“Antoine, I hear you have an apartment not far from your rectory.”

“Yes.” I answered calmly. I was not surprised that he knew this. I never made an effort to hide it, spending most of my nights there, rushing out the door in collar and black suit to drive to my parish for the delivery of my assigned morning Mass. My pastor did not care. He himself had a boyfriend and a house in a nearby suburb. I had been to dinner at their place on several occasions. The boyfriend was a decorator fond of Wedgwood. I ate shrimp cocktail in a room that felt like a robin’s egg on white cotton inside a Tiffany box. Drunk on sweet wine, they showed me their complete collection of Village People LPs, and the elaborate biker, cop, Indian and construction worker costumes they had sewn, worn to foreign carnivals and now kept in clear plastic shrouds.

I did not want to become my pastor. I did not want to become the auxiliary bishop. I did not know who I wanted to be, but I knew that I should not remain in the priesthood which had become for me like a tightly belted seat on a ride through the scary fun house of an amusement park, each new year like the jolt of the chain pulling you through swinging doors into another dark room with some fresh horror for the shrieking.

And so, we spoke calmly to each other, sending small ripples over the two feet that separated our heads, as the murky pool became for me a comforting baptism, a relief no less refreshing than the water of Lourdes. I told him that I planned to leave the ministry entirely but that I did not know how to go about it. I had never had a life outside of my childhood, the seminary, Rome and finally the parish. The apartment was my lifeboat. It had three bedrooms. I rented the other two to friends, ex-seminarians who were now medical students. He knew their names. They had been among his brilliant students. I told him that I was thinking of going to medical school but that I had no money and that at the age of twenty-nine, I was probably too old for it. I reminded him that I had no scandal attached to my name. No need to leave town, although I could see in his eyes that he felt that that would certainly be more convenient for all concerned. All except for me, and this was, after all, about me. Not about celibacy, obedience, vows or the will of God. Yes, I blamed the Archbishop for breaking his promise to send me back to Rome. He had been cruel. He had insisted that my willfulness was probably due to some drug or alcohol problem to which I was not admitting. He had tried to have me committed to some type of sanitarium for troubled priests. I had refused this, reminding him that if I had that on my record, I would most certainly forfeit any possibility of a return to Rome. What bishop would take damaged and suspect goods? Finally, I had agreed to a daylong session with a psychiatrist of his choosing. Three weeks later, I sat in the Archbishop’s office and watched him tear up the letter from that psychiatrist. A letter saying that there was nothing wrong with me. That I should be given a ministry to match my intellect or a release to find suitable work elsewhere in the Church. The archbishop, red-faced with anger, told me that he would never write a positive letter of recommendation for me, even if I should find what he described as a “benevolent bishop”. I responded that my record was clean and that without a positive recommendation, no bishop would touch me. I thought he was unfair. He thought I was disobedient. We were both right, and at an impasse.

The fact is that I could have, with very little effort, found a benevolent bishop or cardinal who would have taken me on conditionally and with probation. I was much too proud for that and I abhorred the thought of fighting for my place in the Church. I wanted it given to me. Granted. Bestowed. Awarded. Invested. I had an inflated sense of my own nobility, and with the chair kicked out from under me, I was about to find out what I was really made of. In truth, I wanted everything except another bishop.

“Bien, Antoine” said the auxiliary bishop as he swam away, looking back at me with deep sadness, and worry and not a little fondness. We promised to stay in touch with each other. We did not.

Three summer months went by during which I was now officially “gone”. Every morning, I’d get on my bike and go to a shabby public park where I would play racquetball with the unemployed Puerto Rican men on the outdoor courts. Their girlfriends would sit in the shade of oaks and occasionally bring us fruit or beer. No one asked my name or my background. I was entirely anonymous. It was as if living my daily life in Spanish was an adequate new beginning. In the evening, I’d go to the local gay bar with my roommates. One of the three of us usually managed to score, and I always enjoyed making breakfast for whoever emerged from one of our bedrooms. Over time, we developed a roster of men who had slept with each of us in sequence, just as one might acquire a new Nancy Drew novel, assuming that if you liked what you’d read of the series so far, why not try the next one?

In September, with the change in weather, my friends grew in their concern about my plans, or lack of plans. I received a phone call from a lady who was the housekeeper at a parish where a close friend of mine was pastor. She, a gracious lady, and privy to priestly secrets that would curl the hair of the faithful, had heard about my situation and had a suggestion. A married ex-priest with whom she had remained friendly now held some sort of appointed position in state government. She gave me his number and suggested I call him. Perhaps he could do something for me.

This irritated me. I certainly did not want to work for the state. That was not my idea of an exciting and new future. I wanted to become a banker in New York City where, on weekends, I was being kept by an elderly man who looked like Dwight Eisenhower and who brought me breakfast in bed and my own copy of the New York Times. (We would race to see who could finish the crossword puzzle first, but not as swiftly as I would try to race us through sex with my eyes closed.) On Mondays, he’d go off to work and I would watch the Young and The Restless with his maid while she ironed his shirts. See? I did have a plan. He had gotten me some excellent interviews. With no training, I had botched them miserably. I lost out on an internship to Prince Albert of Monaco. On the train back home, I began to realize that I was in over my head and out of my league.

I knew that the lady housekeeper would call the ex-priest and convince him to meet with me. I had no choice but to contact him. I avoided this, and eventually, he called me, and I agreed to meet him for lunch.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Public Sector Pondering - Part 2

So. The developer is angling for a better deal. Just what I had suspected. Thinking that he’s snagged the project, he’s now trying to renegotiate the terms set out by the MTA when the bids were solicited. Not nice. Wish I were a fly on the wall of the Mayor’s London apartment during his discussions with Mr. Speyer. Bloomberg will hold him to the bones of the accepted offer, but he’ll probably add some subtle sweetening that will make Mr. Speyer not feel that he is returning to Italy empty handed. Such are the moments of artistry in public-private partnerships that elevate the negotiations to Olympic caliber. I predict success for Bloomberg, and I would not at all mind having him in the White House, although that no longer seems possible.

While in the public sector, I was fortunate to work for some very astute negotiators. I spent years sitting in on their meetings, taking notes, observing dynamics, keeping quiet, and, only after the meeting was over and the outsiders ushered out the door, did I pepper my bosses with questions. How did you know how to calculate the gap? How did you know that they couldn’t handle any new debt? Where does that show up in their financials? All I saw was that their sales have been growing wonderfully over the last three years. They’ve added hundreds of new jobs. What makes you think they are ready to tank? What was that whole business about an off balance sheet solution? How did you know they would flinch when you began talking about their working capital? How did you know about their relationship to their parent corporation? Inventory? Receivables? Payables? How did you calculate those cycles just be flipping through their annuals? How do you know what questions to ask? What the hell is “cash flow”?

I am seated in the office of the Governor’s chief economic development czar, and I am sweating dark patches into my gray suit. (None of my male co-workers wore suits. They preferred putty colored khakis and open collared shirts, but I had once read that one’s professional dress ought to be a less expensive copy of what your boss wears. My co-workers were not shy about telling me that I was pretentious. During a Christmas party skit, I was referred to as a fop. It did not bother me.) I am convinced that my longer-than-perhaps-acceptable lunch hours at the gym were about to catch up with me. Maybe my tendency to roam the halls chatting with my co-workers with coffee mug in hand would be called to my attention. I had been given so little to do. Always had a week’s worth of work completed in two hours. Maybe I should have begged for more. I had no business in this agency, and now, I’d be let go. Unlike my co-workers, I had never owned or managed a business. I had no MBA, no MA in economics. He told me to shut the door, and he stepped from behind his enormous mahogany desk and sat down next to me on the sofa.

One half hour later, I was back at my little metal desk at the end of a long row of similar desks with no partitions. I was on the phone booking a flight to DC. It had been decided that our State needed a business specialist who could manage a multi-million dollar revolving loan program capitalized with Federal funds. Someone who could demonstrate the Governor’s commitment to the small businesses of our State, and who would structure the financing needed to leverage the bank loans that would help manufacturers expand. Someone who would be able to identify that rare small business with strong growth potential. The boss reminded me that the statistics about small business survival are grim. Only one out of ten survives into its second year. When I had reminded him that I had a background in theology and that I could barely add or subtract, and that I had never even touched a calculator, he waved aside my concerns and told me that I would be enrolled in a course taught by the National Development Council leading to certification in financial analysis. This series of week-long courses was held in various cities around the country and that I should probably not delay in making arrangements for travel and accommodations. All my expenses would be covered.

In the private sector, this sort of opportunity is not uncommon, but in the world of state employment, a world in which people sit at their desks for decades, serfs to a time clock barely legible through the dust as they grow old filling out the same reports and receiving framed congratulations as milestones are met: ten years, fifteen years, twenty years and finally a cake and the dragging out of old photos before clapping co-workers who were not even born on the day you were hired and issued your blotter, stapler, staple remover and rolodex, what I had been offered was simply an unanticipated surprise.

I was assigned a state car, and for a few years, I rarely went into the office. I made my own schedule, traversing the state, meeting with the owners of businesses hoping for state assistance. In those years, I walked through almost all the factory space in the state. Tired workers wiping dirt from their brows would look up from huge gun-metal machines as the owner, shouting over the roar of production, would try to explain to me how his gizmos were made, my eyes blinking behind safety glasses as I pretended to understand the manufacturing process. I often felt slightly ridiculous, and very much the fraud, and yet, once, a few years into this assignment, at a conference in St. Louis, I was able to report that my loan program had a default rate of less than 2%. The national average is 40%.

I seem to have gotten ahead of myself in the telling of this rather pointless tale. I have skipped my early years in which I learned some key lessons about government, involving an ex Miss Florida, a young man conveniently named Tran Van Tran, a subscription to The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, and a set of colored magic markers. And, there were those later years when I found myself traveling around eastern Canada with a bunch of governors and premiers, swimming in the pool of a hunting lodge with Kitty Dukakis, swallowing oysters and sipping champagne at Newport mansions and speaking about international trade regulations and the effects of air borne pollutants on maple trees, all in the name of state service, but those are stories for other days.

In all things, my friends, I would advise you to select the admirable from among your superiors, to bind yourselves to the work of enthusiastic emulation, to see the window at the center of organizational chaos and upheaval and to jump through it before anyone else does. Learn to deliver only 5% of what you think ought to be said by you to your bosses, co-workers and underlings. Your spoken contribution is never as worthwhile as you think it is. Edit yourself until you feel the pain of it. And remember that only he who is not too proud to pick up the broom will know where the dirt is.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Public Sector Pondering

Most of us are granted no access into the minds of the public and private players who make and break a deal like this one. We only get what is reported. In this case, I laughed aloud, making a tsunami on the north brim of my coffee mug, when I read that the spokesman for the anointed developer, Tishman Speyer, said the following:

“We share the same goal as the M.T.A. and the city, to transform Hudson Yards into a successful and vibrant community,” he added. “We still hope to be able to complete this deal and reach an agreement that satisfies the needs of everyone.”

Not really. What the developer wants is a smooth road to a lucrative return on investment that will gleam like an ace in their hand when they talk to lenders. What the MTA wants is not to lose control over the project. They don't want to be Jed Clampett who probably sold his oil field for less than its value. And Mayor Bloomberg? He wants a diamond for his crown currently riddled with bullet-sized holes where jewels of stalled big projects like this one had been intended. What do I want? I stand among the street level prophets waving the commandments of "New Urbanism" and howling about mixed use, walkable, low-rise, eclectic and green development with river-access and in synch with the High Line. (We are the first to be trampled in the playing out of this game.)

The first fascinating aspect of this is the fact that New York has a mayor who must think to himself - but can never say aloud - that if it was his project, he'd have had it done by now. The ribbons would have all been cut, and the New Urbanists would be drinking lattes on river-viewing benches or dodging prams while trains rumbled faintly beneath their skates. He's right. He could have picked up the phone and assembled a team in less than five minutes, knowing what each one wanted and needed to get out of the deal, and able to use his power to make sure that none of the partners went hungry. Unfortunately, the times we live in do not permit that type of expediency. Why elect a man with that kind of skill and then hobble him with doomed process? I almost wish he were a strong-armed boss working under the table but giving us Guastavino tiles overhead even if it meant that a few guys in Jersey got their driveways paved with public funds.

The second fascinating aspect of this is the impact of our nation's having fed and diapered the monkey in the White House for eight years. Trillions spent on a stupid war. An untreated addiction to oil. Increased longevity. Horrific health care costs. Home equity plunges. And somewhere to the north, a globaly warmed chunk of ice as big as Montana will soon dislodge itself and begin a floating and devastating tour of the east coast, scraping clear the surface of Manhattan where it will stop and be declared "Glacier Park" featuring the first and only frozen casino. (It will, of course avoid the Upper West Side, where homes like ours will not just enjoy the descriptive "Pre-War" but will also be labeled "Pre-Ice".) This national malaise has caused developers to sharpen their pencils. They are not comfortable with tight margins. In this climate, vacant lots sit like a bedouin's ugliest daughter. No one will take her off his hands until the dowry is big enough. And that is exactly where this project sits at this moment.

I am recalling all the large redevelopment projects I managed while in the public sector. The excitement! The thrill of the deal. Learning how to pull it off, from the initial site visit, riding shot gun with a small town mayor out to some desolate and polluted red brick shell of a factory, having pizza with him at the local eatery where every man stopped at our booth, and I'd be introduced as "The Guy from the State" who was going to take that old mill property and bring in thousands of new jobs, and then the flight out to the parent corporation of the high-tech venture whose in-state expansion we coveted. I'd unveil the incentives I'd had approved by the Governor, I'd tour their headquarters, glazing over. I'd be passed off to a senior VP for dinner, and I'd lie awake in a hotel bed wondering if they would bite. I would never hand off a deal to the financial team at this point. Too dangerous. I'd work up the numbers myself, making everyone's ROI clear enough to be attractive. I would write my own press releases, saying to the media guy in the Governor's Office, "I'm faxing you some words you might want to use for the announcement and the Governor's speech. Thought it might save you a little time." I would drive myself out to the site hours before everyone else, to make sure the chairs were arranged correctly, and that the reporters had my one-liners in their hands and access to the politicos who needed their attention like oxygen. I knew when to fade into the back row. Yes, I know something about control. And when I got kicked upstairs as a result of my success, I spent a number of years hiring people I thought could do that job and training them in the art of public-private deal making. A few of them did not disappoint me.

How on earth did I get that job? Me with a degree in Philosophy and odd Papal baggage. I remember sitting across the desk from a low level manager at a state agency. I had just left the priesthood, sort of left it anyway. It's not like I was suspended or defrocked. I simply walked out, leaving the bishop angry and with wounded pride at the disobedience of a good son who didn't want to be good any more. That manager was telling me he couldn't hire me because I was over-qualified. The job in question was an entry-level one in which I'd be required to inspect obvious things and fill out absurd reports that no one would ever read. It paid less than $12,000 a year. I looked him in the eye, calmly and steadily. I could see that I had guessed correctly that he was a Catholic second-generation Italian American, married, with kids, probably a weekly church-goer who now squirmed a bit under the scrutiny of an uncollared priest who had maybe heard his confession (the kind of confession married men sometimes drive to other parishes to make in dark booths where the priest won't recognize their voice.)

I remember walking out of his office feeling rather launched. I didn't know anything about the structure of state government but I guessed correctly that there were other offices bigger than his. I didn't want his job. As I drove home, I envisioned the pyramid of state government. At the top was the governor. I knew I'd never get that job. Not with my background, and not with the husband I would most certainly acquire very soon. Lieutenant Governor? Nope. Same deal. Same prohibitions. That is when I realized that I had no idea what titles or names roosted on the level just below Gov and Lieutenant Gov. If I didn't know this, one might assume that most others also didn't know this. I suddenly realized that although the costuming would be drab (offset by better pay) that invisible tier would have been the same level to which I would have aspired in the Vatican. I had a game plan. A target. Something to do during the day that would allow me to go out at night. But that is a story for another day.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Lithuania is near Albany.

Ever notice how a raccoon creep-hops out of the brush at dusk? Or, the way a possum slithers across the road at midnight, caught in your headlamps? Those are the shapes and fluidities I think of most often when I see the work of Zaha Hadid. Supine. Horizontal. She seems to envision her buildings as lumps beneath a stretchy cover for the landscape of an ironing board.

Quite surprised, I really like her winning design for the art museum to be built in Vilnius, Lithuania. It's a glistening thing that appears to have crawled up out of the Neris River where the locals will have to perpetually spray it with water, just as the eco-sensitive residents of Cape Cod always rush to the beach to douse a confused whale before the riggers arrive to shove it back into the water.

I suppose I'll trundle down to the Maya Stendahl Gallery when I'm back in town, to see what the losers had to offer.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Richard Goldstein corrects himself tacitly.

I'd get a good snicker out of thinking that my post resulted in this revision to the title of the New York Times obit in question, but there may have been other noise about it elsewhere. It now reads

Frank Whiteley Jr., 93, Dies; Trained Ruffian

It still carries a hint of ambiguity, but I am satisfied.

The protracted death of written English.

In receipt of an email from Mark's List, I decided I might like to attend the following:

The following text provided elaboration and a good laugh. (The bold highlights will direct your eye.)

This Thursday, May 8 OAGproductions and Halo Lounge invite you to experience the transformation of Halo Lounge into the exhibition, "Art of Life." An Art - Photography - Projection exhibit featuring some of today's well known diverse photographers. This will be the first Art Project this dynamic team embark on. The art of life will take place the second Thursday of the every month.

The Art of Life is unlike any other event, raising awareness of art in Miami while including a sheik social environment like Halo Lounge. Known best for its long, lavishing white walls, Halo sets the mood for an exhibit that is creative and innovative. Come and mingle with local artists, scene regulars and industry residents whom have similar interests within a positive, fun and trendy environment.

The inaugural exhibit takes place from 7pm till 1am Thursday night and is open to the public with no admission all night long. Complementary Champaign from 7pm until 8pm with drink specials throughout the night

I can overlook the smallish mistakes in the first paragraph, chalking them up to the writer's bubbly excitement about the event.

I have less sympathy for the next paragraph. I would however, like to lavish some praise upon the writer for his use of the word "lavishing" in a literally erroneous but artistically justified way. It's the sort of thing you or I might do when we cannot decide between "lavish" and "ravishing". We'll just be polite and pretend to think that the writer intended this device.

I suppose, given our dalliance in Iraq, "sheik" would naturally prevail over "chic", its correct but poultry-conjuring ancestor. And, I can almost forgive the writer becoming flummoxed in the undertow of his sentence beginning with "Come and mingle with", and feeling the need for "whom" instead of "who". Almost.

But I am thoroughly delighted with "Complementary Champaign", surely referring to a set of similar political angles deployed by the Hillary faction while stumping (stomping?) in a grapey region of France.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Mi Ricordo

In questo paradiso strano,
la mia vita non cambia mai,
ogni giorno lo stesso,
ma, nella distanza,

A laughable lesson

It takes time to adjust to your age.
Figure about twenty years.
If you work at it.
Of course, by then...

On the Dixie Highway

I had to pull over.

There is a desolate stretch of The Dixie Highway north of Oakland Park Boulevard and just south of Floranada Road. It will make you breathless. Surely I have driven onto another planet. One of those lifeless ones with a surface pock marked with the cryptic maybes of an expired civilization.

Sun-bleached oil slicks on old concrete parking lots for buildings that have been demolished or literally defaced. A row of ragged palms marks a worthless property line between two such toothless lots gumming sand pits where there had been buildings. There is no shade. Weeds don't cross here alive. Older trees set here by the dead cool their roots under the pavement. The traffic lights change for nobody.

One or two desperate men per mile. They lean against stucco, squinting at me with mild curiosity and not enough energy to menace.

Can a landscape be both glaring and beautiful? Isn't this what Giorgio de Chirico was after in his paintings? And how about Dixie Carburetor as a porn name?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Richard Goldstein, Headliner

There, Mr. Goldstein, in the title of this post, is illustration of why your headline for the NY Times obit of Frank Whiteley Jr. is not so good. You wrote

Frank Whiteley Jr., Trained Ruffian, Is Dead at 93.

The reader immediately wonders just how rough Mr. Whiteley had been, and where he got his training.

Don't claim that your economy of headlining words is acceptable for the NY Times obituaries, because in that day's list are examples of the inclusion of the who that would have provided the needed clarification. The capitalization throughout also necessitates extra care.

As William Grimes wrote Philipp von Boeselager, Who Attempted an Assassination of Hitler, and as John F. Burns wrote William Frankel, Who Edited Jewish Chronicle, so should you have written Frank Whiteley Jr., Who Trained Ruffian.

We must be vigilant about ambitious ambiguity, Mr. Goldstein, to prevent concoctions such as the title of this post that might imply your sharing a Las Vegas dressing room with Cher.

We can hope that the family of Mr. Whiteley, and the ruffian himself, wherever he may be, have a sense of humor.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

kentucky derby

I'm going with
Smooth Air
Cowboy Cal

(Update: Jeez. Good thing I didn't bet anything.)

Friday, May 02, 2008


I do like a blog that teaches you new and valuable things. Perhaps Homer can deliver a brief lecture on the subject when he's in NYC for GBV later this month.

2 Columbus Circle (yuck)

Here is a great audio-visual synopsis of what has happened at 2 Columbus Circle in Manhattan.

We sat by the fountain last week and looked at the newly unveiled building. The "iridescent" tiles that the architect intended are not iridescent. They look like cardboard. The irregular cut-outs for windows are offensive and make the building appear to be inside a packing crate partially opened by movers who went to lunch before finishing the job.

There is no way to return to the original quirky lollipop facade that has been destroyed. We can only hope that this iteration will either melt or leak or prove unstable. Some critters shed old skin by molting. Maybe if we all give it a good kick when we walk by...