Thursday, November 27, 2008

Counting My Blessings

Hi Everyone,
So, it's definitely time to give thanks and count some blessings. Here I go.

1. My job. Sometimes it's stressful, and sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed, but it's been exciting and engaging too. I am writing more than I have in years, and it reminds me of how much of a job just writing can be. For the past two years I complained that I wasn't writing enough. Boy has that changed. I write at least one story a day, sometimes more. And I'm getting to talk about the key issues of the day financially.

Also, I should note that it's a very GOOD time to not be at a magazine, as I had been through mid-2007. I ran into an esteemed colleague from my old, very well respected financial magazine and they told me about how the climate there is one of fear and unease. They (no gender clues here) also complained about the drudgery they have to do at the Internet division of our firm just to ensure that they keep their job. I felt bad for this person, whom I've always like very much, and saddened by the death of that great American institution, the magazine.

Because, no mistake, magazines are dying. And it's a great loss. When I was a boy my dreams started to take shape around 13 years of age when I started to read magazines. I wanted to have a column, I wanted my little picture on the page, I wanted to have the respectability and platform that only a magazine, like Time, could give. As I got alitle older I read the investigative pieces with awe. How could a person, a reporter, know so much that no one else does? How could they open up the world to so many things it didn't know before?

So, while I never felt as strongly attached to the investigative, hard news side as the sassy columnist side I felt I wanted to know more. I dreamed of some day working at a magazine, Time preferably.

Well, Time these days resembles a news pamphlet, and worse still it's just one place that's going under. The worst part is that there is virtually nothing that can do the job that a fully staffed magazine, or large newspaper, can do. Long, time intensive investigative pieces that take months and months to report are not the meat and bread of most Internet journalism, although, of course, it can be. The 'net is more about spot news, in a hurry.

I fear that even though we can still report out those long pieces that change the world that it's not a perfect fit for a medium that demands constant updates. In a way working at web-site is a lot like working at a daily where the day never ends, or begins. It's an awesome place to be, but it's a category killer, too. And the category it kills is daily newspapers and news magazines.

So I am grateful, no matter what, to be here, rather than there.

2. Without being obvious I am gratefuly for my daughter. Every day she grows and thrives, and even though we have been scandalized by the presence of lead paint chips on our floors (for more on the read the Brooklyn Baby Mama's blog) I am thankful that we caught it early. I can't bear the thought of this child, my love, losing ONE IQ POINT. So we are all taking all appropriate measures necessary to clear this up. More on this front as we know more.

But I am thankful for Stella, in all her wonderful ways, and the joy that she brings to us, and that we hope to bring to her.

3. I am thankful for my wife, so supportive and loving. Randi understands me better than I understand myself sometimes, and whenever there is a problem that threatens to overwhelm me she is right there beside me, and we work it out together. When I worry about the future, she finds a way to let me know that we will work it out together, and that as long as we can be honest with one another we can have a strong marriage. And she makes me laugh. So, thank you!

4. I am thankful for the rest of my family. My mother has been the rock of my life, and can be counted on always. My brother is fiercely loyal and the one person I would want to take into a streetfight, provided it's not me against him! My sister and her family have lead the way on parenting, and I've learned so much from them. My nieces are delights, and I love them. I am thankful for my dad, because he gave me my sense of humor.

5. I am thankful for Brooklyn. It's fun, funky and at times almost affordable. This is a great borough.

6. I am thankful for my friends. I don't see them enough, but to the person they understand that I still care about them, and am still the same guy. Their patience with me is always a surprise.

Well, that's all for now, got to do some cleanup before Turkey Day. Take care.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Reflections On Being In Between

The move is over, new life in the apartment begins. The first thing to note about our apartment is that it is not quite anywhere specific. When we lived in Park Slope that was it, we were in Park Slope. You might love the area, you might not, very much not for some people, but it was someplace. This area is a little bit harder to pin down. It's near Ditmas Park, but is not in it. It's near Kensington, but Kensington itself is kind of not that sharply defined a place. We are near the Flatbush area, but, again are not in it.

Here is what I know. We are on Ocean Parkway, which is one of the nicest strip of roads in Brooklyn. We are within walking distance of all those places above. And our area does have a flavor all it's own, it's just not one that already has "marketing" so to speak.

My building, I get the sense, is very Jewish. All our neighbors have mezuzahs (sp?) on their doorposts out front. We are conspicuous for not having one. For those not in the Jewish religion, or still learning about it, a mezuzah (sp?) is a box, usually metal, that you attach to the doors of your home. It has a prayer in it, and is used to bless those who walk through the door.

The prior resident of our apartment obviously used to have one, and quite a large one at that, because the front door post has a massive space where a mezuzah used to be. It's almost like a chalk outline on our door. So we would like to get one. And not too long from now.

We had one, and I do mean had. It was made of stone, and was very pretty, I thought. The problem was that we tried to attach it to the door of our past building via double sided foam tape, because the door frame was metal. Before not too long the tape came loose and our beautiful stone mezuzah fell to the ground and cracked. Surely this was some kind of bad omen, or at least it felt like it could be. I tried not to think about it, to be honest.

While I am proud of such Jewish traditions I also put a Native American dream catcher above Stella's crib, and would like to burn sage inside to keep away evil spirits. If I could find any sage to burn, outside of what they sell in super markets.

Our new apartment is probably about twice the size of our last place. The living room alone, by New York standards is enormous. The kitchen, though, is actually kind of tight, and the bathroom is, believe it or not, smaller than our last one. But each bedroom is a nice size. We are moving in with all deliberate speed. We are trying to figure out the best way to make use of the space before we decorate so that we use our new space as efficiently as possible. I, for example, am typing this in our foyer, which doubles as our "office area." It's as far from the bedrooms as possible. I guess this is why it's the office. No one wanted to listen to me type.

But even though we have more space still, there are a few bugs to be worked out. To wit, when we tried to use the toaster and the microwave at the same time it blew all the fuses in the apartment. Some of our paint is already peeling, which worries us, as we have a little baby just waiting to crawl, and this apartment is quite old. So lead paint is a concern. I am sending out samples this week.

Our bathroom, oddly enough, doesn't have even one outlet in it. Now, I'm an analogue kind of guy. I like vacuum tubed guitar amps instead of transistors, my razor is a manual one, and I even make popcorn on the stove over nuking it. But c'mon, that's just kind of silly. No outlets in the bathroom? Not even one? To trim my beard the other day I had to make a three pronged extension chord from Stella's room, and bend down quite a bit as I faced the mirror. As you can imagine I got an immaculate shave.

Other problems. Our closet door just doesn't shut. Our front door saw the doorknob almost come loose today, and we could barely get out. I had to fasten the doorknob so we could leave. Which is not what I expected in a new place.

Oh, but the big one I left out. They polyurethaned the floors multiple times before we moved in, so it was extra smooth and shiny. Unfortunately it also not only reeked, but the fumes were making us all sick. I, in all my days, had never gotten sick from refinished floors before, so they must've done quite a job to accomplish that. To cure this, eventually, Randi, no lie, got on her hands and knees and rubbed down the surface with a lemon. Now that's dedication. I couldn't believe her discipline. But it got done, and now the room smells a whole lot better. Kudos to her.

Otherwise, living here is an adjustment but I'm enjoying the change of scenery. The area is also heavily Polish, as well as Jewish. When we go into the local shops that's most of what I heard spoken, Polish. And I am just getting into experimenting with Polish delicacies. I already bought a jar of imported pickles from Poland, and they were excellent. Now I want to try one of the seemingly infinite different kinds of canned fish these folks consume. We also have come to drink Baltica brand beer, made is Russia. (Which is close to Poland.) It's $2.00 for an enormous bottle, and strong too.

Culturally there was also some shock. It really does feel like a different world than Park Slope. For starters, there are all these middle aged Polish guys who hang out in front of a pharmacy, all wearing black, most with mustaches. There's like 10 of them. I would call it a minyan, but they probably wouldn't appreciate the joke. What they do there all day I have no idea, but they love hanging out, talking/smoking.

There are also some Mexican delis down the street, and even a place where I can get my fortune told Santeria style. I have no idea what that would mean, but it intrigued me, although the fortune teller is never actually open. Maybe she just pops up when there's a customer.

Overall, our little stretch of Ditmas road isn't exactly pretty, but it's real. I am not a critic or foe of gentrification, in many cases, but it is interesting to live in a place that so far has not been completely exploited by white, middle-class yuppies like, well, us. Maybe we are the harbingers of doom, or at least Thai restaurants. (Thai restaurants are my personal indicator that an area has been yuppified. It's high-end kids stores for Randi.)

We also had to switch our cable service, and now are on the Optimum Triple Cast, I think it's called. We get phone, Internet and cable TV, all for one low, low price that escapes me right now. One thing that's been really great is that they have some free channels on demand, and Randi and I have gotten totally hooked on Mad Men. Such a cool, stylish show. And, really, who had ever heard of any of these actors before they got onto the show? Jon Hamm, who plays lead guy Don Draper, was virtually a bit part actor, for years. And then he got his break in a role that looked like it was created for him, he owned it, and now everyone can't get enough of him. For someone, like me, still looking to sew his creative wild oats on the world's biggest stages, this is an inspiring story. Believe in yourself, no one can do it for you. Easier said than done, as always, but I would like to start living what I say in this department. And taking responsibility for my impact.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Moving Day

Stella enjoying the good life in her new bedroom. It's the nicest room in the apartment, of course!

Our new living room is vast

It's late Friday night now, after a long week at work. After a long move on Saturday. After a long week spent packing for that long move on Saturday.

Well, miraculously we ended up getting everything packed in time for the movers to show up Saturday morning. And when they showed up, oh, what a sight they were. The first guy I saw stumbled out of the truck and looked both high and drunk, and it was only slightly after 9:00 a.m.

"Wonderful," I thought. "We get the guys who look like they could star in the moving version of 'Disorderlies.'"

Eventually though the stoned guy's boss emerged, and he seized control. He introduced himself, I did the same, and the moving began.

Moving creates a weird power dynamic. You pay guys to pick things up so you don't have to. I pay for this because, well, dammit, at some point I became too old, or at least felt too old, to keep bribing friends via pizza and beer. If I could get any friends at all, for any price.

It used to be so much easier. When I lived in Colorado if I had to move I could pack everything in my car, tie my mattress to the roof and off I went. The whole project might take 15 minutes.

Things change. Now we have so much stuff that is so specific. We have a white noise machine for Stella so that she sleeps. We have a baby monitor it's base and an adapter--you need all three--so we can listen to white noise machine as she sleeps. Seriously, you cannot imagine quite how terrible a white noise machine sounds pumped through the world's smallest, and worst, speaker.

Stella also has a puppy dog lovie that she curls up with in the pack 'n play. For the males out there a "lovie" is the term of art for a toy that the baby snuggles up with in order to feel comforted as she drifts off to Sleepytown. Randi made the puppy dog especially homey for the Brooklyn Baby Baby by wearing it around in her cleavage for a while. So now Stella smells mommy with every restful breath.

We also had all Stella's clothes, and all her books. Then there is her antacid medicine, because apparently our seven month old daughter has the digestive system of a seventy year old man. There is also the dropper for her medicine. In other words, we have so many little things that we can't lose. Have we? Ask me when we've fully unpacked.

And that's just stuff for Stella. I don't want to make it seem like all the things are hers. For starters I have six guitars. Six! I am not ambidextrous, and I've barely picked up any of them in a month but there you go, six guitars. Now we use them for when Stella sleeps on our bed. To keep her from rolling off we'll put guitar cases on either side of her, and a laundry bag at her feet. So I might not play my Les Paul, or my beloved Fender Telecaster, but they still serve a purpose, albeit one to make Aerosmith cringe.

So there were all those things to consider. But I must want to get back the moving power dynamic. It's an intimate time, this time spent with movers. They arrive in your life for just a few hours and you are completely locked in with them for that amount of time. You can't ignore them, and you can't really leave them alone. There are too many things that can go wrong, and too many specific sets of instructions for what needs extra care, and extra packing.

Maybe I am the strange one, I don't know. I've found that I simply cannot walk away and let them move my things. I need to be there, hanging out, encouraging them, getting in the way probably, even as I try to help. And sometimes you have to admonish them. At one point, for example, one of the movers was throwing our garbage bags filled with clothes down the stairwell. I had to tell him to not do that.

"You know, there are some things in there that are fragile," I said, thinking of our inflatable air mattress. The mover was abashed, and promised to not do it again. And he didn't, I think.

Two of the movers were from East New York, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. My mother was from there too, way, way back when. But when I mentioned this to one of the movers--trying to build rapport--he gave me a knowing smile.

"That was a long time ago," he said. "Back before the white people moved out and the black people moved in."

He was right. He and the other movers were black, I am white. Obviously we're from different places, and their job is much harder than mine. I tried to help make their day a little easier, though. I bought them juice, and cups with which to drink water, but there's only so much I could do to help. They have to haul ass to get paid. And chitchat, while appreciated, is not necessary.

I have to hand it to them. Despite my initial impression these guys were quite good at what they did. One guy, for example, hauled my entire bureau down the stairs on his back on his own. I was amazed. My friend and I, together, barely got it up the stairs eight months ago. He didn't get a scratch on it, and didn't scratch the stairwell, either.

In so many ways the move itself, the emptying of the apartment where we had lived for four years was a revelation. As we packed I found two T-shirts I had simply thought were lost. It turns out I had created a special, new T-shirt area in my bureau about three months ago, and had immediately forgotten that I'd ever done it.

When the couch was moved I was truly disgusted and fascinated by what I found. Disgusted, because there was quite literally a warren of dust bunnies that had reproduced under our sofa. Fascinated because the area under the sofa could easily be called the Land Of The Lost Cat Toy. Under there were toys we had lost, in some cases, years before. I found one crinkly Mylar ball, another knobby ball, two dented plastic balls that make noise when they roll, and other various cat curiosities. I took all these toys and threw them away, because if they can get marooned under the couch once, they surely will again.

I also found an blue bulb syringe. The syringe had originally been bought years before to help me flush out my ears. But it had instead become a cat toy without my knowledge. Now filled with filth and dirt I thought the better of keeping it, aware that I probably shouldn't clean my ear with something so disgusting.

Under our bed I found a picture of me from when Randi and I started dating. In it I wear a Centre College T-shirt, and stand at the kitchen area of her old apartment. It's not a good picture of me, and I didn't miss it, but Randi seems glad to have found it.

We also found an orange plastic fish teething toy for Stella that was also under the bed. This one we kept, washed and plan to use in the future. She's not only teething now, but also starting to get into the rudiments of crawling, so exciting times here.

Loose coins, I also discovered, had gone everywhere. I am sorry, but nothing looks more shitty than an apartment with loose change all about. One penny had wedged itself into the corner of our bedroom, a perfect fit. I didn't even bother trying to remove it.

Once we moved out, I was also amazed by how much dust we had collected. We swept, and vacuumed when we lived there, sometimes multiple times a week, really we did, but you wouldn't know it to see the floors as we moved out. Dust was everywhere, and the movers started to get teary eyed, allergic to the dust itself and our dander, I guess. Which is a kind of disgusting thought, really.

I guess that's part of why we pay them so well, they have to wade through our filth, as well as carry our crap.

In total the move took five hours, and we were well satisfied with the job the movers had done. I paid the guys their money per hour and gave them a fairly nice tip, or at least I thought it was nice. I came to think of these guys as kind of my friends by the end of our time together, and why shouldn't I? They made our life in our new apartment possible. It was a bargain.

More about the new place next time. Stella is crying, and someone is speaking a foreign language outside my door. Goodnight.