Monthly Archives: October 2006

yes, my gourd

10/31/06

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if you’ve never seen it before, scooping out a pumpkin and putting a face on it IS pretty bizarre

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me, Mark Rizzo and David Petrarca bask in our pagan offerings

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Lucy was mesmerized by the addition of a candle INSIDE a fruit – who thinks up these things?

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Tessa was a witch, Lucy a rabbit, and I was a “demoted Secret Service guy stuck on Bunny Detail”

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Cute Halloween Kid Gridlock on Nowita Place

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First trick and/or treat accomplished! Now to bed, where she can dream of eating her candy (in six years)

vox populi, vox vaccae

10/30/06

Okay, so Time Warner is blanketing Southern California with their own unique brand of suckage, so none of us have internet – thus I’m just going to paste my first DailyKos diary entry on here and hope it’s at least mildly – and I mean mildly – amusing enough to keep you from falling into a gape-mouthed stupor.

***

My wife and I live in Columbia County, NY – however, we also work in television, which means spending a lot of time here in Los Angeles. My wife met Kirsten Gillibrand back in 2002 at a Democratic Women’s Conference, and was immediately impressed by what a smart, wonderful woman she was. When we heard she was going up against our embarrassing Republican congressman John Sweeney, we decided to spend September and October in Columbia County going door to door, and sponsoring a big donation party at our farm.

Work, however, had other plans. We were stuck in LA all through the election season. Inspired by exhortations for “D.I.Y.” campaigning, we hatched an idea that would introduce Kirsten to thousands of people in our district without actually being there.

The lands surrounding our farm are used as pasture for eighty milk cows each spring/summer/fall, and right by the road is a giant billboard. Usually it features an ad put up by our local lumber company, but after hearing about Gillibrand’s signs being stolen early in the campaign, I immediately thought of something impossible to steal: the billboard itself.

It took a little research to find out who owned the billboard, but it turned out to be Lamar Advertising, and once we pinpointed the actual spot (and which way it would face), it was easy enough to get in touch with Lamar and reserve it for the month of October. We asked the Gillibrand campaign if that was cool, and they were overjoyed.

Once Lamar takes your credit card info, they direct you to a site (Circle Graphics) where you can upload your own art. They do the printing for you on thirty sheets that equal 10.5′ high and 22.8′ across, and paste the whole thing to the billboard. In essence, you can accomplish the entire production without ever leaving your keyboard.

Then we contacted the Gillibrand campaign to see if they had a specific message – or existing art – they wanted to use. I suggested that it say something like “Columbia County: Home Of Kirsten Gillibrand” along with their usual art, since Sweeney had been implying she didn’t live there (another sleazy move from a totally sleazy dude). It also provided the name recognition Kirsten sorely needed on the only major thoroughfare from our part of New York to Massachusetts.

Coordinating the Lamar people, the Circle Graphic folks, and Kirsten’s campaign – with me as the go-between – was frustrating. I should have been on the phone every morning to ensure Gillibrand’s art people connected with everyone else. Instead, I assumed everyone was already talking, and we ended up missing our target date; the billboard didn’t go up until October 9. But we still hit the sweet spot before the election.

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The picture above is a recreation of what is currently there (obviously, I can’t take pictures from California) but according to the locals, it looks great. We have no illusions. It was always an uphill battle in Columbia County, despite the progressives in Hudson and the newly-hatched weekenders voting in Copake, Craryville, Claverack and points north. I suspect many of the older folks around us (we’re in our thirties) have never pulled a Democratic lever in their lives. But at least now they have seen their alternative while driving to work.

Some things I’d do differently: I’d get the dimensions and art first, then reserve the billboard. I’d also start earlier, with a 2-month lag time (instead of three weeks) and expect a fair amount of missed connections. All in all, however, we’re totally psyched. Kirsten is a great candidate for us and even remembered my wife after four years of campaigning, which is, to say the least, impressive.

It wasn’t cheap, but it was cheaper than three round-trip tickets from LA to NY for us and our eighteen-month-old. And with it standing tall all day, we have the inexorable feeling that we’re making a tiny difference, which is unbelievably rewarding when we’re stuck so far away.

***

So there it is. I was going for zero snark and maximum info, so it’s rather dull, but you can’t always make fart jokes and let your balls hang out of your pants. Again, I have no wanton prognostications about this election, but doing what we did felt wonderful.

mòine mhòr

10/29/06

I’m a firm believer in diving straight into peculiar, specific hobbies and skill sets: one thing about practicing violin for twenty years is that it gives clarity to your obsessions. I’ve had many in my lifetime, and in fact, am still perfecting a few as we speak. Just this week, I worked for a few hours on my 3-point shot, my putting wedge game, odd syncopations on the drum kit, practiced about 35 songs on the bass (and still wrote a treatment for a new movie – thank you, Mother’s Little Helper pills!)

Add to this, my curious love for valuable liquids. I’ve always been slightly turned on by the idea of a thimbleful of perfume costing upwards of a thousand dollars. During the dot-com days, the management chicks always had Crème de la Mer, a substance that costs thousands of dollars a tube. I’d read about immaculately virgin olive oils in Italy that fetch thousands per ounce. But there is one precious liquid that I actually enjoy: single-malt Scotch.

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While we were in Scotland, Tessa and Lucy put up with my desire to see every distillery we came across, and I hunted through Edinburgh, Inverness and London for the most hallowed spirit stores in town. Invariably, there would be some bottle of whiskey that was so dear as to be beatified: a Macallan 1928, a 40-year-old Ardbeg, a Bunnahabhain 1963. Inside would be this liquid, made by men in a completely different age, almost able to bestow magical properties on those who’d dare drink it.

After decades of girl drinks, I finally grew into whiskey about six years ago. Probably the only honest road to a tiny dram of scotch are the untold cubic kiloliters of wine coolers, woo-woos, Sex on the Beaches, cement mixers, purple schoolbuses, White Russians and finally, Jim Beam and Cokes that I had to ingest in order to be ready. I would certainly not start anyone out on a neat single-malt. I would begin with Midori and Kahlua, and discuss whiskey at a future date.

My first Scotch love was a Lagavulin 16-year-old I tasted in San Francisco the day before I moved to New York City in 2000. Having randomly sampled an 18-year-old Macallan, I switched immediately – the peat, the smoke, the layers of flavor were so wonderful. It became my regular scotch, which wasn’t easy, because that shit’s expensive.

Over the last two years, I searched around for different single-malts that might take that complex flavor even further. By the time I got to Scotland a few weeks ago, I was even beginning to understand the difference between a Speyside malt (in the middle of Scotland) and the Islay malts (from an island to the west).

Truly, delving into this subject is like falling in love with Dungeons & Dragons, and then seeing the four thousand different permutations of the game. My “a-ha” moment came at our hotel near Tessa’s grade school, where a knowledgeable bartender listened to my description of the perfect scotch, and then poured me a Bruichladdich 1973.

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Bruichladdich (pronounced “brook-laddie”) is a gorgeous distillery on a far western bank of Islay, and I swear, you can taste sunsets, seagulls screaming, water bubbling over ancient rocks, the peat deep in the soil… about fifty different thoughts, smells and tastes run through your head when you have just the tiniest tongueful. It was at that moment I truly understood why certain people spend their lives in search of their own personal single-malt grail.

I got about eight different rare Scotches while overseas and mailed them all back (miraculously, they all arrived). I found the Bruichladdich 1973 in the back display case of an ancient whiskey shop in London, and wrapped it in my luggage.

And still, I’m no drinker. I have a half-dram of Scotch maybe once or twice a week. I like the act of it enough to keep it special, and mostly, I just like looking at the bottles and appreciating the vast amount of time that goes into whiskey itself. There’s no faking forty years. It can’t be approximated. Soon enough I’ll know what that feels like.

It’s a joy to find the world interesting, but sometimes you wish you had more people to share it with, lest you find yourself out of the conversation. And so I ask – do any of you drink Scotch, and which kind? And if not, what was your last exciting collection, singular hobby, or obsession?

one degree of separation

10/26/06

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Tessa got to sneak into Queen Elizabeth’s monarchial stall in the forbidden part of Westminster Abbey, and I was allowed an illegal picture, and why? Because of the amazing friends you make in bizarre places. The best thing about traveling, besides the sheer delight of being somewhere else on Earth, is seeing old friends again from new vantage points. So I’d like to do a little blog for the amazing folks we saw whilst perusing our ancestral homelands.

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Me and Lasala, July 2002

First off, any Lodge dude reading this will know how cool a cat John Lasala is. John and I had several adventures around America, without even knowing the other was going to be there. We both had a hilarious obsession with the Pi Phi house at Carolina, and could always regale each other with near-misses and bashful conquests.

Little did I know he’d also gone to high school with my future wife, having helped her out at Choate more times than she could remember, feeding her family meals at the Lasala household and guiding her through some turbulent times. We got to have two dinners with John this trip, and I broke out a 12-year-old Ben Nevis sample from Inverness, ‘cuz he has a sense of adventure and is always worth the most interesting stuff.

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We also reconnected with an old friend of mine, Heike Berg. The gorgeous Heike had a trajectory similar to mine: surprising non-fiction book success right out of college, followed by a few years in the wilderness, landing in NYC in 2000, and then on her feet a few years later. Like so many old friends, we reconnected through this blog (thank you, Google).

She now lives with her husband in St. Albans, just north of London, a stunningly beautiful town with an ancient church, unending fields of flowers with duck ponds, and Roman ruins. Our mom took us there all the time when we were kids, and now I can take mine!

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20s Party at the Pink House circa 1996: N’Gai, Zia, Jiffer, Chip, Jay, me

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Zia and me in June

London is made ineffably cooler by the presence of Zia Zareem Slade, who provides the place a sassy dose of chavvy sarcasm, just like she did for the Pink House in the mid-to-late ’90s. She and her fab husband Warren came over for pasties (which are meat pastries in Britain, not things you put on your nipples) and we spent the day talking shit.

I have had many housemates, indeed, many of you are reading this right now, but Zia may have been the most inspiring. She’s a prominent character in a TV show we’re pitching next year, and if we can translate 1/9th of her effervescence onto the screen, it’ll be a job well done.

She also designs websites for Virgin Atlantic now, and got us upgraded to Premium Economy for our 12-hour flight home. Obviously, Lucy blows her a huge kiss across the ocean.

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me, Adam Regis and Sean crankin’ it Civil War style, Busch Gardens 1981

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Adam with Molly, me with Lucy (and Janet with Annie) in Scarborough last week

The greatest reconnection of my later adulthood happened last week as well: we got to visit the home of Adam Regis, my best mate as a child in London. I had a few friends growing up by dint of next-door neighbors or family connections, but Adam was the first friend I ever made by myself. I’ve prattled on about Adam and his seatmate Heidi Downing, but the day he decided to be my friend at the age of ten, everything changed in my theretofore-hobbled heart.

We met his fantastic wife Janet, and their ravenously adorable kids Charlie, Annie and Molly – the latter two glommed directly onto Lucy, and she elevated them to the status of Rock Star Gods. Even now, a week later, Lucy will stop what she’s doing and sing “Molly… Annie… and Cholly!”

Being in Scarborough with Adam, Tessa taking me to her grade school in Aberlour, Scotland, and seeing our other friends was an incredible salve to an oddly difficult summer. If this crazy, nonsuch wedding hadn’t sent us packing 10,000 miles with our toddler, it’s shameful what we would have missed.

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Annie, Lucy and Molly

john o’groats says so

10/25/06

I don’t know how many of you have driven on the left side of the road before, but it is totally exhilarating. The joy is ultimately followed by exhaustion, from the mental energy required for making a right turn in Scotland. I was fine with everything else, but making a right turn in the United Kingdom is an exercise in paranoia. Still, what a ride.

Once in Inverness, I laid my hands on another SD card, and the camera took its last few gasps of pictures. Lucky, really, because we went to Tessa’s grade school, a now-abandoned mansion called Aberlour House, sitting silently on its hill overlooking the Spey, wondering what happened to the hundreds of kids that once burst from every misshapen door. Lucy had fun on the grounds, however:

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And it seemed to rejuvenate Tessa:

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What was truly miraculous is that my wife went to grade school about five hundred yards from my favorite everyday single-malt Scotch, The Macallan. We popped over to Craigellachie long enough to take in the awesome barley smell, and purchase some rare classics from the Macallan line. For those of you who find such things boring, be prepared: I have a whole blog dedicated to Scotch coming up.

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at the Macallan distillery

I have gone on so many road trips that they all blend together in a treacly syrup of fond memory, but I have to say tooling around the back roads of Speyside with Tessa and Lucy is way, way up there. Up there with midnight treks to New Orleans and drug-fueled exhortations to Wilmington.

Note to friends: we all must do this together sometime. Golfing in St. Andrews, three choice distilleries on the way back, then a few nights at some Inverness pubs. Throw in some poker, and how can any of you say no? You heard it here first: Scotland is the new Vegas.

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select single malts at The Whiskey Shop

aeternum superba ab alto

10/24/06

I don’t know if trips themselves can have a horoscope, or if they can have their own Mercury in retrograde, but we have struggled mightily against basic equipment failure. It took me two days to figure out British internet, the London Underground didn’t seem to like where we were going, and I’m pretty sure my PCMIA port zapped my SD card. In layman’s terms, that means all the pictures I took of the wedding and the castle no longer exist.

Oh yeah, and my sweet wife dropped my camera in Yorkshire, sending nasty little metal bits thither and yon, thus ending its brutish, short life. So as I write this blog, I’m simply going to describe the picture you would have seen, and you have to pretend you see it.

The wedding itself was a culture clash for the ages; not only did the thought of a Texan doyenne marrying a Lord make the gossip pages of the Daily Mail, it spilled over Stateside as well. Loraine and Adrian had met 23 years ago this week, and found each other again in February – by last Saturday, they were standing together in the Crypt Chapel underneath the Houses of Parliament exchanging vows with a pew of Texans on one side, and a pew of Brits on the other.

Here you would see a picture of Tessa, her mother Sandy, and me dressed for the wedding under Big Ben. Tessa’s wearing a fabulous midnight blue number with a red cloche hat, Sandy has on a sleek black/gray dress, and I am wearing a chocolate brown tux and have, as always, stupid hair. It is sunny.

About the hats. All the women wore them, which is how it is done in fancy daytime nuptials in Britain, and they were fabulous. Peacock feathers, two-foot brims, entire birds – it was awesome. The woman sitting in front of me hit me in the face every time she talked to her neighbor.

Imagine seven older ladies talking to each other at the reception, their various hats all touching.

Tessa gave the first reading at the ceremony, the “wither thou goest, I will go” line from Ruth. Of course, Ruth was talking to another woman, a fact that was not lost on Westminster Abbey’s pastor, who admitted there was very little in the Bible about weddings. Almost zero, in fact. The only real mention is Christ’s visit to the wedding feast at Cana, but even that is tangential to the plot.

Tessa in her hat, smiling, looking to the left. Above her is the ceiling of the Crypt Chapel, adorned with the martyrdom scenes of various saints: St. Catherine at the wheel, a woman being boiled alive (St. Martina?), and other greatest hits. Photography is not allowed in the ancient church, so I had to be very sneaky.

After the ceremony and reception, most of the Americans were herded onto the train at King’s Cross for Manderston, a few miles past the Scottish border. Words fail the grandeur of this old, huge house – more like a castle – and we were shown our rooms by a butler who had worked there for forty years. As we plopped down our bags and looked around the exquisite, haunting hallways, I turned to Tessa and said, “We are a long way from Los Angeles.”

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Imagine this staircase, the only actual silver staircase in the world, with me and Tessa on it, trying to look like we belong.

The next day, some opted for tennis, some opted for the fox hunt, but I opted to sleep in. The energy required to keep me at my best behavior is exhausting, lemme tellya, and the formal dinners tested my abilities. According to my sister, I usually have rotten manners, so I sat up straight, used all the correct cutlery, and didn’t say anything unless spoken to. I haven’t done that in twenty years.

Lucy was staying in a little inn about four miles away with Sandy, and after two days of not seeing her, we were jonesing hard. Finally, she came to Manderston and spread her love to the bride and groom.

Imagine Lucy in a little red skirt and petticoat, delighting in the gravel of the immense driveway, with the estate sprawled out in the background.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong – there are not only second acts in American lives, but third, fourth and fifth ones as well. Loraine, in perhaps her fourth act, is no longer Ms. McMurrey. She is The Lady Palmer, and will be addressed as such wherever she sets foot in the United Kingdom. As we drove off – on the wrong side of the road – we thought how her buoyancy, love of adventure, and unending thirst for the next horizon has taken her to every continent and now, as befitting her vast personality, the lady is now a Lady.

Imagine a picture of The Lord and Lady Palmer sharing a secret cigar as they plan the next few years.

pinchfarthing

10/23/06

Okay, I suck. But I’m operating on ten minutes of sleep over the last two days. Do we still have healthy commenters out there? How about the wonderful caveman to provide today’s blog topic?

The Golf Standard

I really like talking about theater, and I really love talking about art. All kinds of art. It’s all good with me, if you know a lot about sculpture, I will sit in rapture, even though I barely notice sculpture. I also love disciplines that are treated as art by their practitioners. My friend Ehren, although not technically an artist, is a fellow “enthusiast” (which my wife calls me. Often. As a mild insult…) and I will talk to him about anything.

I should say that I also like talking about sports. When my friends Steve and Deb picked the Tampa Bay Bucs as their team (they live in Chicago, but when they picked teams, the Bucs had just won the Super Bowl) (man, they’re *laughing* now, tell you what…) I started watching a little football, and then when Tampa Bay went in the shitter, I started calling them.

I’ve got some teams I like. Lakers, Nets, Teams With Funny Guys On Them In The NBA, Charlotte… these are teams I like. Boston, Indiana, Teams With Guys Who Used To Be On Sacramento, UTAH… not so much. I loved Andre, hated Pete Sampras. I love Martina, TOTALLY loved Capriati… Etc.

There is no love like the love I have for Carolina. That’s a whole ‘nother blog. I have felt feelings as strong during a play or a movie, but it is a different thing. It’s just… It can’t be explained. It would take me forever. Some of you know. It’s a love unlike any other.

Now, in terms of playing sports, I like to have fun, but mostly at other people’s expense. I have played five sets of tennis in an afternoon, and it wasn’t best of five – I lost every set. My friend Mac (normally that would be a hot link, but he is, seriously, the worst blogger *ever*) and I would play basketball with our friends, which consisted of the two of us standing in the middle of the court talking about movies while eight guys would go back and forth past us.

We sucked. And we quit. I’ve been bad at every single team sport, but individual sports are pretty good for me. I was a good wrestler, an okay bowler, a pretty good, y’know, checkers player, etc. However, about two years ago I took up golf, and I’ve been lost every since.

I’m not good, but the nice thing is that nobody is. Everyone is a crappy golfer, you will very seldom meet someone who will nod “yes” when you say “are you any good?” I don’t hit it very straight, I don’t hit it spectacularly far, but GOD…

I don’t know what to say. It’s white as hell, it’s not great for the environment, and it has a horrible history in terms of exclusion, I know that. That’s not what I’m talking about, I’m talking about the tuning fork that goes off in your soul when you strike the ball. I’m talking about the dance you have to do, the choreographed moment of dance that you have to do right in order to do *anything*.

Again, I could go on and on. But here are some things I discovered about myself while swinging a club.

– You don’t achieve more by trying harder. You achieve more by doing each simple step you need to do, and those steps will come together to make something great happen.

– Every day you will have to remain open to changing tiny things in your habits in order to stay productive.

– Every single moment is an opportunity to do something spectacular.

– Your good moments last only for that one moment. Your bad moments just keep adding up and adding up.

– One bad shot, then one horrible shot, then one bad shot, then one amazing shot is par. One great shot, then a second great shot, then one bad shot is, two shots later, a bogey.

– Every six months someone comes up with some new thing that is gonna make your life better. Sometimes it’s based in science, sometimes it’s a new faith, but they will always try to make you think this is the secret. It’s a lie.

– If you want to go 140 yards, you can whack and top a 9 iron, hit an 8 iron perfectly, hit a 7 Iron nice, take a lot off your 6 Iron, take a half swing with your 5 Iron, tag your 5 wood or wack the crap out of your 9 wood.

(Why do I have a 9 wood? Better question, why do I have a pitching wood that looks like a pooper scooper? And why do I have a 560 cc head driver that sounds like a shotgun blast and hits the ball 285 yards even when I swing it? I have these things because my father in law and brother Ian are a) crazy, b) love me and c) obsessed with golf.)

– Every time I try to do something, it doesn’t work. Every time I just do it, it works. I know, I heard Yoda say it, and I read it in the Tao Te Ching, but it didn’t sink in until I picked up a club.

– The more golf I play, the better I write.

All this, and I’ve only played for a coupla years. I’m willing to bet that everyone out there either feels like golf is better than I do, or they totally hate it. It’s worse than religion or politics, but I just totally adore it.