Saturday, January 28, 2006

Parisites Like Us

While moving into my new environs in North Beach, I was lucky enough to uncover an old journal I thought was lost forever, documenting my backpacking trip through Europe in August-September of 2002 with Noah Barish, Andreas Baer, and Bret Ballou. Since I haven't really done anything besides headhunt like a madman since the last entry, I offer, instead of an update, a window on the not-so-distant yet heretofore ignored past.

...Typically, I slept in the latest, then we embarked for Montmartre, Sacre-Coeur, and a lengthy period of Waiting For Ballou in front of Gare du Nord. So much about this country disgusts me, namely the hygiene, constant smoking, pay toilets, Eurotrash bedecked in black shrink-wrap T-shirts, and at the same time there is a sense of culture, or at least history. As Andreas said at Notre Dame, “So much stuff happened here”, which is quickly becoming the in-joke of the entire trip.

...We headed for the Tour Eiffel, storm clouds gathering ominously. Once there, we were caught in a downpour so emphatic the whole street was like looking through an aquarium.

…From the prix fixe menu, I selected potage de legumes (a lot like Mom’s, surprisingly), lapin a la moutarde, and tartes aux abrigots. After dinner, we sat down to red wine on the stone wall, drinking the night away like real Bohemians in the red glow of passing riverboat lights.

…Stefan, I thought, shuddering. I still can’t believe his grinning, sinister presence has been extinguished. We progressed slowly out of the hostel, making a few stops on the way into Paris proper.

…The Louvre is far too massive to form a cohesive impression of it, So I consider it bit by bit. The Italian masters are all well and good, but you can only look at so many creepy babies and swooning Virgin Mary’s before they all start looking the same. Noah and Andreas removed their shoes in the mass confusion of the Mona Lisa room, and shuffled around successfully in vagabond style, like young Ulysses, before being busted by the museum’s gendarmerie…We made a forced march to Room 77 to observe my favorite painting, Gericault’s “The Raft of the Medusa”, where I posed with dying histrionics for latest in a long series of photos mimicking the attitude of the painting in the background.

The most important event of the day was that Andreas and I committed to sitting on at least one bench in each room of the museum. At times, mainly around the home décor exhibits, this activity superseded our appreciation of the art itself. I fell a few rooms behind and had to frantically catch up to Andreas, sweeping through each room and swooping low over the bench like an eagle catching fish, just long enough for my buttocks to touch down on the cushions. And that, friends, is my defining moment in the world’s greatest museum.

…We passed a million brasseries before finally deciding we’d found one authentic enough for a last night in Paris. Andreas made his own way, opting for a hot dog over Parisian fare. He also eschewed the sleeper car, the cheap bastard. I was privileged to observe this exchange:

Andreas: “Uhhhh….Merci! Merci! Je would like, um, (gestures frantically to the hot dogs).”
Vendor: “Un hot-dog?”
Andreas: “Yes! Oon hot-dog!”

I might be the world’s worst ambassador for America, but I get respect from the waiters here.

…The sleeper car consists of six beds, factory-farm style. Thankfully, only Bret, Noah, and me inside. After much internal debate, I opted for the bottom bunk, which I had not been assigned. After an all-too-brief chapter of Kavalier & Clay, we popped the lights, and I fell asleep surprisingly fast, bathed in the noise of the rails, the sleepcase Mom had sewed so dutifully, and my own nakedness. Pillow surprisingly ample for train issue.

Monday, January 09, 2006

End Age Discrimination In Your Relationships!

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with my good friend Henry. Henry embodies what I want to accomplish. He’s been married to his beautiful wife Marcia for three years, and hearing him talk, you’d think they were still on their honeymoon. He recently sold off his real estate company to spend more time on charitable work. He’s planning an African safari, works out every day, and keeps a close watch over the art world. And yet, some of my contemporaries think it’s funny that I enjoy hanging out with him so much. I can only assume this is because Henry is 86.

Relationship-building is a hot topic these days, and many of my friends are getting right in step. Still, it amazes me how few people my age (24) are cultivating friendships with much older folks. I’m not talking about being guilt-tripped into calling Grandma on her birthday, or occasionally helping an elderly neighbor unload his groceries. I’m talking about older people that you call on frequently, confide in, invite to your parties, email the latest good joke – in other words, treat like any of your regular friends. Why, you ask? Well, it’s a nice thing to do. But for those of you who remain unconvinced, let me list some advantages:

Older folks wield more influence. It’s no accident that, at 46, Bill Clinton was considered extremely young to be President. Although this is changing with the rise of young ultra-entrepreneurs, business, industry, and politics remain largely the province of the over-50 crowd. And it makes perfect sense: Older people have more experience, more eminence in their fields, and, perhaps most importantly, have been building their networks for longer. Who wouldn’t want to join a circle that’s been expanding and improving for twice as long as you’ve been alive?

Older folks can show you how it’s done. The older you get, the more responsibilities you have (well, unless you’re a certain uncle of mine, but that’s another story). Marriage, parenthood, your own parents’ aging – these are all challenges they don’t teach you how to face in school. And how could they? You don’t have to go it alone, though. Your older friends have been there, and are usually only too happy to pass on the benefit of their experiences and insights.

Older folks know how to have fun. Seriously. Although they often grew up in less permissive times, chances are your older friends bent a few rules in their day. They can teach you how to short-sheet a bed, and other age-old but ageless pranks. They know dirty jokes you’ve never heard, and they learned how to be bad boys from the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn. Who were they? Listen up.

Older folks have great stories. My friend Howard served in the B-25 squadron that inspired Catch-22, and you have to figure the wits he developed there made him the crafty poker player he is now. My friend Myles grew up in integration-era Mississippi, forging the democratic ideals he volunteers for today. My friend Taelen went to the same school as I did, forty years earlier, and knows a thing or two about stirring up trouble there – and getting away with it

Older folks can improve your karma. I’m sure that when I’m gray, I’ll want younger people around to keep me energized, share new ideas, and hear my stories. If I am so fortunate, I can’t help thinking it will have been because, having once been a young person who made friends with older people, I understand how an older person can befriend younger people.

There is much for us to share with each other as human beings. Why limit ourselves by spending 99% of our time with those born the same decade we were? I move we end age discrimination not only in the workplace, but in our relationships – and start enjoying all the tremendous gifts we can offer one another, young and old.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Ding-Dong, The Witch Is Dead!

It’s a bit out of date, but I thought I might weigh in on Wednesday’s classic Rose Bowl. I am not going to attempt to hide my glee, though I must admit I never thought I’d find myself cheering this wildly for Texas in anything. It is true that the shirts that were removed at game’s end included my own. Although my previous post bore the headline “it’s as big as the promise, the promise of a coming day”, I spoke too soon. After what was mostly a miserable year for sports, the bad guys finally got what was coming to them. And how.

The real story of the game as USC’s utter ineptitude in containing Vince Young. That he was going to run early and often came as no surprise to anyone – except, apparently, the USC defense. It was a spectacle worthy of the great Hollywood epics – the parting of the Red Sea over and over again. USC’s “defense” ought to be taken out and whipped as a disgrace to the memory of previous units. Granted, you don’t replace a unit that includes Mike Patterson, Shaun Cody, Lofa Tatupu, Matt Grootegoed, and Jason Leach all at once, but I’ve seldom seen a defense demonstrate such a serious lack of pride. This is not, of course, meant to take anything away from Young, who was nothing short of miraculous on the biggest stage of his life. Now, when he says he needs to meet with his pastor, it’s to pray he’s not playing behind the Texans’ offensive line next year.

Honorable mention should go to tight end David Thomas, who went over the middle several times to preserve the Horns’ comeback bid, including an incredible sideways diving catch on one of their most critical drives. A reliable and fearless receiver who doesn’t get enough credit for his hand in shaping one of the comebacks of the century.

Most of all, it was great to see the wind vacate the sails of the obnoxious parade of sycophants and bandwagon-jumpers that has swelled USC’s already despicable fan base. Much has been made, for instance, of Matt Leinart’s friendship with Nick Lachey, the former Mr. Jessica Simpson. It’s a great country indeed when the golden-boy quarterback’s prestige is increased by hanging out with a mediocrity whose only claim to fame was having been married to one of the most vapid celebrities of our time. How about Spike Lee, former New York Knicks eyesore, and his late-season bid to catch the USC fan-cam? On the other hand, given the state of his directing career, whatever works, right?

What’s most disappointing is the people who root for USC because “you have to support the Pac-10”. This is wrong on so many levels. Ignoring the fact that the school is the right hand of Satan, it’s just stupid. I should suspend my bitter rivalry because they happen to be from my conference? As Voltaire was rumored to have said, “Le fuck that”. I don’t hate a team all year long and then turn around and support them because the prestige of the league is on the line. Does it somehow enhance the reputation of my school? Maybe if our games had been a little bit closer, but not really. Everyone knows that the Pac-10 is a second-rate league with no defense and one team that dominates the other ones, and the best way to change that perception is to have some of our other schools win every once in a while.

I actually talked to Stanford alumni this week who were rooting for USC in the Rose Bowl. To those unnamed people, you deserve to be stripped of your diplomas.