December 28, 2012

We might as well appreciate Dickey while we have the chance.

Reasons to Love New York 2012
No.8: Because the best story in baseball is somehow a Met.
by Will Leitch

"We might as well appreciate Dickey while we have the chance. Nothing this great can stay in Flushing for long."

I wasn't crazy about this Reasons to Love New York edition, to be honest. There were a few fine pieces but nothing spectacular. Blogging this though because I'm a Mets fan, an R.A. Dickey fan, and a Will Leitch fan. Unfortunately, R.A. Dickey was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays the week this issue came out. So sad! A great person and player for the Mets so, of course, we had to lose him.

December 24, 2012

The one essential quality is curiosity.

I finally finished The Gay Talese Reader! Long overdue. Of the four stories I had left to read, I wasn't crazy about "Ali in Havana," but loved "The Brave Tailors of Maida," featuring an anecdote about Gay Talese's father as an 8-year-old apprentice for a tailor in Calabria, Italy.

Excerpts from the remaining two stories below.

Origins of a Nonfiction Writer

"I learned to listen with patience and care, and never to interrupt even when people were having great difficulty in explaining themselves, for during such halting and imprecise moments (as the listening skills of my patient mother taught me) people often are very revealing--what they hesitate to talk about can tell much about them. Their pauses, their evasions, their sudden shifts in subject matter are likely indicators of what embarrasses them, or irritates them, or what they regard as too private or imprudent to be disclosed to another person at that particular time." (p. 228)

"Although I continued to forgo asking young women to dances, I sometimes did go alone in my new role as a social columnist. For individuals who were as shy and curious as myself, journalism was an ideal preoccupation, a vehicle that transcended the limitations of reticence. It also provided excuses for inquiring into other people's lives, asking them leading questions, and expecting reasonable answers; and it could as well be diverted into serving any number of hidden personal agendas." (p. 240)

When I Was 25

"It was during my obituary-writing period that I also began to concentrate on writing for the Times Sunday Magazine, for I was in the "doghouse" with the daily edition. After my cat story I did about thirty more Times magaziners in the months that followed. I wrote about silent-screen actresses in an age of sound, about old men who rang the bells during boxing matches at Madison Square Garden, about the river captains of the Staten Island ferries, about the window designers of Fifth Avenue boutiques and the sculptures of the plastic but nonetheless alluringly realistic female mannequins ... Advice to young writers? The one essential quality is curiosity, in my opinion, and the energy to get out and learn about the world and about people who lead unique lives, who dwell in obscure places."

November 24, 2012

His pride of authorship is such that he can barely wait for that person to drop dead.

Mr. Bad News by Gay Talese

In my first news reporting class, one of our first assignments was to write an obituary for someone who was still living. It's a bit of a morbid task--to write about the living as though they were already dead--but I actually had a lot of fun writing mine; I chose Annie Leibovitz. Gay Talese's Mr. Bad News is about the New York Times' legendary obituary writer, Alden Whitman.

"Joan was fascinated by Whitman, especially by his marvelous, magpie mind cluttered with all sorts of useless information: He could recite the list of popes backward and forward; knew the names of every king's mistress and his date of reign; knew that the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648, that Niagara Falls is 167 feet high, that snakes do not blink; that cats attach themselves to places, not people, and dogs to people, not places; he was a regular subscriber to the New Statesman, Le Nouvel Observateur, to nearly every journal in the Out-of-Town Newsstand in Times Square, he read two books a day, he had seen Bogart in Casablanca three-dozen times. Joan knew she had to see him again, even though she was sixteen years his junior and a minister's daughter, and he was an atheist. They were married on November 13, 1960." (p. 174)

"The obituaries that leave Whitman untroubled are those that he is able to complete before the individual dies, such as the rather controversial one he did on Albert Schweitzer, which both paid tribute to "Le Grand Docteur" for his humanitarianism yet damned him for his lofty paternalism; and the one on Winston Churchill, a 20,000-word piece in which Whitman and several other Times men were involved and which was finished almost two weeks before Sir Winston's death. Whitman's obituaries on Father Divine, Le Corbusier, and T.S. Eliot were produced under deadline pressure but caused him no panic because he was quite familiar with the work and lives of all three, particularly Eliot, who had been the poet-in-residence at Harvard during Whitman's student days there. His obituary on Eliot began: "This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper," and it went on to describe Eliot as a most unlikely poetic figure, lacking "flamboyance or oddity in dress or manner, and there was nothing romantic about him. He carried no auras, cast no arresting eye and wore his heart, as nearly as could be observed, in its proper anatomical place." (p. 176-7)

"This is part of an occupational astigmatism that afflicts many obituary writers. After they have written or read an advance obituary about someone, they come to think of that person as being dead in advance ... Furthermore, he admits that, after having written a fine advance obituary, his pride of authorship is such that he can barely wait for that person to drop dead so that he may see his masterpiece in print. While this revelation may mark him as something less than romantic, it must be said in his defense that he thinks no differently than most obituary writers; they are, even by City Room standards, rather special." (p. 177-8)

"Occasionally all reporters must do their share of the smaller obituaries, which are bad enough, but the long ones are hard work; they must be accurate and interesting, they must be infallible in their analysis, and will be later judged, as will the Times, by historians. And yet for the writer there is no glory, no byline, it being a policy of the newspaper to eliminate bylines from such stories, but Whitman does not care. Anonymity superbly suits him. He prefers being everyman, anyman, nobody--Times Employee No. 97353, Library Card No. 663 7662, the possessor of a Sam Goody Courtesy Card, the borrower of his mother-in-law's 1963 Buick Compact on sunny weekends, an eminently unquotable man, a onetime manager for the Roger Ludlowe High School football, baseball, and basketball teams who is now keeping toll for the Times. All day long while his colleagues are running this way and that, pursuing the here and now, Whitman sits quietly at his desk near the back, sipping his tea, dwelling in his strange little world of the half-living, the half-dead in this enormous place called the City Room." 

Alden Whitman died on Sept. 4, 1990. His Times obituary is rather dull in my opinion.

September 22, 2012

"I love all of you!"

Photos by Stacy LaBarge. Caption from Esquire magazine: Top left: Ruins of the Fastrip in the immediate aftermath. The people in the middle are waiting for others to emerge out of the cooler, which was smashed almost to the ground. To the far right, Corey, in white, is helping Isaac, who lost a flip-flip, steer clear of wreckage. Top right: A man walking on East Twentieth Street toward downtown. All life looked destroyed for miles. Bottom: The group reunited five weeks after the tornado on the spot at East Twentieth Street and Duquense where the Fastrip and cooler once stood. The lot has been cleared and a new Fastrip has been built on the existing foundation and footprint. 

"Heavenly Father!" "I love you all!" "I love everyone!" "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!" "I love all of you!" by Luke Dittrich
Esquire, October 2011

So, I'm still doing that thing where I'm catching up on all of the magazines I haven't read in the past year or so. I picked this issue up and as I started reading, I realized I read most of the stories before (i.e. Chris Jones' profile on Justin Timberlake was pretty excellent), and I couldn't remember why I saved it until I got to Luke Dittrich's story about 24 survivors of the tornado that tore through the town of Joplin, Mo. in May 2011.

I always meant to read it, and more so after Dittrich won the National Magazine Award for it in the feature writing category earlier this year.

I can't say enough about Luke Dittrich ... I am in just complete awe of his work. This is a sentiment shared by many in the industry so I am hardly unique in saying this, but still, I must say it.

Any time I doubt I want to do this or need to remember why, I just need to read and remember his work—his meticulous, careful, careful reporting, the phrasing of his words, the storytelling, his ability to grab the reader until the story's done.

Must read.

Update 11/24/12

About a week after I wrote this blog post, Luke Dittrich e-mailed to tell me he loved & appreciated what I wrote. I freaked out. I remember I was having a crappy day, and I received it at the end before I left for work and it just made everything better, instantly. I'm not sure how he found my post (I think my tagging his name had to do with it?) but him e-mailing me to tell him I made his day was definitely the coolest thing to happen that week!

July 31, 2012

But when Morgan Freeman says it, the words somehow minister.

by Jim Herrington
Really loved the lede to this Morgan Freeman profile.

This Earth That Holds Me Fast Will Find Me Breath by Tom Chiarella
Esquire, July 2012

"We halved the property on a footpath hypotenuse apparent only to him, gazed at his pond and his band of horses from the white, white rails of the fence line, visited his parents' grave site, peered at the house they once lived in, surveyed the trees he'd planted to soak up the drainage, walked the berm he created from earth he himself moved, regarded his ever-growing inventory of farm equipment (he with some consternation), then ambled back through the uncharged cool of his house out to his patio to settle side by side in lounge chairs on nylon cushions air-dried in the noon heat of a spring day in Mississippi. It was there that Morgan Freeman said, "Well, everyone lives somewhere." Not a particularly meaningful line, not by itself. Everyone lives somewhere. If you repeat it out loud—you, that is, just say it right here and now before you read forward—it will sound glib. Everyone lives somewhere. Displaced from this venue, the spread of Morgan Freeman's bucolic estate outside the tiny hamlet of Charleston, Mississippi, the vast tumble of his house with its seven gabled roofs, the words will likely sound arrogant, fatalistic, callow. But when Morgan Freeman says it, the words somehow minister. In his voice, in the familiar tone of a thousand voice-overs, it becomes a kind of punctuation. Everyone lives somewhere. Not to say that he meant for it to be anything very deep. He's not that manipulative. He was just saying. So, Morgan Freeman, uttering an unrehearsed breath line of regret and realization. You can hear him. This happenstance Zen, a plaintive caesura. He can't help it if everything he says sounds like a pregnant pause waiting to happen. He's saying only what's on his mind—that he's never really left, that he can't do as much as he used to, that it's comforting to have a home that lasts. He just doesn't want to utter these fat little muffins of truth. Morgan Freeman is far too grumpy for truisms. And that's probably why I can't hear the next thing he says at all; he must be explaining himself when his voice drops out. He never really stops talking, but sometimes his voice just vanishes."

March 25, 2012

"The Chinese attitude was more straightforward. Money equals power, that's it."

Liu breaks for lunch in Flushing (by Pari Dukovic) via NY Mag
Unlucky 800 by Mark Jacobson
New York Magazine

I remember when John Liu was elected to the NYC council! Well, I remember when he came to my elementary school in 2001 and spoke to an assembly of sixth graders about god knows what and someone (the principal? Or assistant principal?) presented him with a T-shirt. He had a successful career and eventually became NYC comptroller, which he still is today. But recent allegations challenging his use of campaign money have thrown him into the spotlight—two people from his campaign were arrested—and threatened his career and prospects of becoming NYC's mayor in 2013. Jacobson explores how Liu's Asian background and family have shaped Liu, his career, and the communities he represents.  Also, in turn, how those communities view him. Jacobson presented some interesting observations and conclusions.

"That was John Liu's story back in January, when there was every reason to hope that he was telling the truth, or close enough to it. This was because John Liu's story is that same old New York story we never tire of hearing about ourselves, preferably with swelling Aaron Copland music and the Statue of Liberty in the background. Liu's family were "pioneers," part of the initial wave of Taiwanese to come to Queens following the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which swept away the last vestiges of the neo-genocidal Chinese exclusion acts that once effectively prohibited Chinese women from entering the country. The Lius settled in Flushing, in part, because Manhattan's Chinatown was viewed as a packed tenement pile, devoid of grasslands and terrorized by youth gangs. Chinatown was also controlled politically and economically by a Cantonese-speaking Old Guard with strong ties to Chiang Kai-shek's mostly despised Kuomintang. In comparison, Flushing, which had maybe a couple of chop-suey restaurants, was wide open, a veritable golden mountain of opportunity, and low rents, with access to the 7 train. With people like me moving out, there was plenty of room to build another, better life."

"Nowadays, no serious pol can afford not to show his face on Chinese New Year's."

"People say that if you want to figure out who John Liu really is, you have to go back to the day his father Americanized the family's first names. "Dad was a Kennedy fan. So when we came here, he changed his name to Joseph. He had three boys, so I became John and my two brothers Robert and Edward," Liu said, adding that when his own son was born, he was named Joey, which "broke the tradition."
"The Taiwanese tradition?" I inquired dimly.
"No," Liu replied. "The Kennedy tradition ... you're supposed to name the first boy after the father, which would have made Joey named John Jr., but we decided not to follow that and name him after my dad.""

"Nonetheless, this was how a number of people, Asian and otherwise, felt about Liu's current predicament: It was a cultural thing. Much of this has to do with money, or at least the perception of the Chinese attitude toward money. In the late nineties, after my father died, my mother decided to sell our Flushing house. My parents had purchased the place for $12,000 with the help of a G.I. loan in the early fifties. But this was a whole new world, the real-estate lady told my mother. The place was worth at least $300,000, maybe more if the buyer turned out to be a stooped-over Chinese guy who got out of his dented Toyota holding a suitcase stuffed with cash.
"Sounds typical," said Jeff Yang, who writes the "Tao Jones" column for The Wall Street Journal and once edited a book called Secret Identities: The Asian-American Superhero Anthology. "In the West, we tend to think about money in the abstract—what does my money and what I do with it say about me? The Chinese attitude was more straightfoward. Money equals power, that's it," Yang said. For the immigrant, cash mattered because "they can't speak the language, they can't vote. Yet they need some control, some power over their surroundings. That power is cash, and the transfer of it is simple, direct. If a John Liu comes along, he's the comptroller, a successful and powerful man with an even better future. So people want to connect with him in the best way they can. They want to give him their money. It doesn't matter how rich they are, if they're broke, or what some convoluted law they never heard of says: It is an honor to give money to John Liu."

There's more but the article is worth reading for it. Lastly—because I think it's become evident I'm a sucker for great endings—I loved the end. Jacobson is with Liu at the Chinese New Year's parade this year when he noticed him talking to the "Money God" (sort of Chinese equivalent of Santa Claus; the figure hands out red envelopes with money and candy inside to children). When Jacobson later asked the man what he said to John Liu, the reply, from one money figure to the other, was: "I told him good luck, because he is going to need it."

March 18, 2012

It was an electric summer, with the nymphets batting around like moths against the screen.

Looking for Hemingway by Gay Talese

Really loved this one. For some reason I didn't expect to, or didn't expect anything but Talese painted such an interesting, magical portrait of what the early years of tbe Paris Review was like for the men (and few women) who were involved. It was such a wonderful read and the way James Baldwin brought it all back to reality in the end perfected it.

"He became a chess hustler in cafes, earning several hundred francs a night. It was in the cafes that he met Peter Matthiessen, and they both talked of starting a little magazine that would be the Paris Review. Before coming to Paris, Humes had never worked on a magazine, but had grown fond of a little magazine called Zero, edited by a small Greek named Themistocles Hoetes, whom everybody called "Them." Impressed by what Them had done with Zero, Humes purchased for $600 a magazine called the Paris News Post, which John Ciardi later called the "best fourth-rate imitation of the New Yorker I have ever seen," and to which Matthiessen felt condescendingly superior, and so Humes sold it for $600 to a very nervous English girl, under whom it collapsed one issue later. Then Humes and Matthiessen and others began a long series of talks on what policy, if any, they would follow should the Paris Review ever get beyond the talking and drinking stages.
When the magazine was finally organized, and when George Plimpton was selected as its editor instead of Humes, Humes was disappointed. He refused to leave the cafes to sell advertising or negotiate with French printers. And in the summer of 1952 he did not hesitate to leave Paris with William Styron, accepting an invitation from a French actress, Mme. Nenot, to go down to Cap Myrt, near Saint-Tropez, and visit her fifty-room villa that had been designed by her father, a leading architect. The villa had been occupied by the Germans early in the war. And so when Styron and Humes arrived they found holes in its walls, through which they could look out to the sea, and the grass was so high and the trees so thick withg rapes that Humes's little Volkswagen became tangled in the grass. So they went on foot toward the villa, but suddenly stopped when they saw, rushing past them, a young, half-naked girl, very brown from the sun, wearing only handkerchiefs tied bikini-style, her mouth spilling with grapes. Screaming behind her was a lecherous-looking old French farmer whose grape arbor she obviously had raided.
"Styron!" Humes cried, gleefully, "we have arrived!"
"Yes," he said, "we are here!"
More nymphets came out of the trees in bikinis later, carrying grapes and also half cantaloupes the size of cartwheels, and they offered some to Styron and Humes. The next day they all went swimming and fishing, and, in the evening, they sat in the bombed-out villa, a breathtaking site of beauty and destruction, drinking wine with the young girls who seemed to belong only to the beach. It was an electric summer, with the nymphets batting around like moths against the screen. Styron remembers it as a scene out of Ovid, Humes as the high point of his career as an epicurean and scholar."

"But as much as anything else, the Paris Review survived because it had money. And its staff members had fun because they knew that should they ever land in jail, their friends or families would always bail them out. They would never have to share with James Baldwin the experience of spending eight days and nights in a dirty French cell on the erroneous charge of having stolen a bedsheet from a hotelkeeper, all of which led Baldwin to conclude that while the wretched round of hotel rooms, bad food, humiliating concierges, and unpaid bills may have been the "Great Adventure" for the Tall Young Men, it was not for him because, he said, "there was a real question in my mind as to which would end soonest, the Great Adventure or me.""

"A few blocks away, in a small, dark apartment, another exile, James Baldwin, said, "It didn't take long before I really was no longer a part of them. They were more interested in kicks and hashish cigarettes than I was. I had already done that in the Village when I was eighteen or seventeen. It was a little boring by then.
They also used to go to Montparnasse, where all the painters and writers went, and where I hardly went. And they used to go there and hang around at the cafes for hours and hours looking for Hemingway. They didn't seem to realize," he said, "that Hemingway was long gone."

February 26, 2012

She could only see the back of its great, beautiful head, still lifted high.

Esquire caption: Not the actual animals but the number and types killed that night, from top, left to right: two gray wolves, two grizzly bears, two macaque monkeys (one eaten, one presumed so), eighteen tigers, eight lionesses, six black bears, nine male lions, and three mountain lions. All were buried in a mass grave on Thompson's farm.

Animals by Chris Jones
Esquire, March 2012

This story made me sad, excited, scared. It was wonderful. It started off a little slow (necessary though to introduce everything), but once Chris Jones got to the meat, the action, I couldn't put the story down. I hadn't heard of this when it happened (though I feel like I should have...), but Jones indicates that there was a lot of misunderstanding about what happened that night, so he got to the bottom of it. The massacre was a necessary choice the police had to make given the circumstances. And like Todd Kanavel, one of the detectives, told Jones, "I think people were thinking we were hooping and hollering, like a bunch of rednecks. This was a police operation." 

There was range of emotion. One officer felt tormented by having to kill the beautiful animals. Excitement. There's confusion and awe regarding Thompson's suicide. Man, the part with the white tigerit just killed me. In the end he was torn to pieces by one of his animals. Just wow. Also, Chris Jones is just a really great fucking writer. GQ's Chris Heath covered the same story in its March 2012 issue, so there was talk about that. I've only read the first graf, just now. They both started with the same scene: the horses. I imagine I'll read the rest later but for now I'll say: no competition. 

Esquire also released the first ever magazine article trailer to hype the story.

This part. Wow.
"They got out of the cruiser, and they both saw Terry Thompson, down a short enbankment, bloody and lying flat on his back. There was a pistol on the grass; Blake didn't see the blue bolt cutters that were lying about ten feet away. A tigera white tiger, a genetic mutant was gnawing at Thompson's head. Most of the top of his head was missing; other parts of him had also been eaten. Now the white tiger dragged Thompson around, puncturing his throat with his teeth. There was a lot of blood. Behind his body, a small trash fire smoldered. Smoke rose into the darkening sky. "I'll always wonder what he didn't want us to find," Blake says. The tiger continued to feed."

This was kind of funny. Jones introduced this part after some of the intensity had subsided and I just thought it was so ridiculous that a group of people drove up to the farm that night after hearing what happened and tried to steal one of the dead lions. Also, kind of shows the extent of Jones reporting. When the police (I assume) told him someone had done this, he went and found them.
"The five friends, who were later charged with misdemeanor theft, were told to return their stolen lion to the farm. A deputy followed them in his cruiser, and he radioed Lawhorne and Swope, asking them to meet him at the bottom of the driveway. They lashed ropes around the lion and dragged it out of the Jeep, leaving a bloodstain in the back. After, Lawhorne and Swope talked about what would have happened had the lion theft gone uninterrupted: Most important, there would have been a lion missing from the count. For weeks or months or even years after, there would have been calls about the phantom lion of Zanesville, a knife-toothed ghost that would appear in nighttime imaginations until it finally became legend, when all the while it was just a skin spread out on the floor of a house in Cambridge, warming the feet of five friends playing cards."

"Depending on your proximity to Zanesville, Ohio, and your feelings about the relative value of animal life, what happened at the farm was either one of the worst mass shootings in American history or a miracle. Other than Terry Thompson, no humans had suffered an injury outside of hearing loss. More than forty animals had been shot. One, a monkey, had been torn apart by the big cats, its shredded body sprawled out by the house. Six animals had survived, because Thompson had left them locked away in their pens in the house, for reasons known only to him: the three leopards, the small bear, and the two screaming monkeys."

"Wolfe got her tranquilizer gun, a black, bolt-action rifle with a scope. She also had a plastic case, like a tackle box, filled with darts of varying size. Tranquilizing animals is a tricky business. Animals fight artificial sleep, especially panicked ones. Their systems might resist the tranquilizer for ten or fifteen minutes, maybe more. Different animals also require different drugs and different amounts of them, depending on the species, how much they weigh, and whether they've eaten recently. Too much tranquilizer and the animal might die; not enough and the animal will only be enraged by it. Trajectory physics also complicate matters. Darts don't behave like bullets. They are not nearly as consistent in their flight, and it doesn't take much to knock them off their intended course. They need to find muscle."

The death of the last animal. Can't lie, this part made me tear.
"Wolfe shook her head and told the men to wait. After a full ten minutes had passed, she crept back into the woods. And there was the tiger in front of herstill alive and still awake. Its breathing was labored, but its head was raised. Wolfe watched the tiger for a moment. She stood in the rain and watched, the only time in her life she had ever been so close to a living tiger without seeing it through the bars of a cage. The tiger's head was turned away from her. She never did see its eyes. She could see only the back of its great, beautiful head, still lifted high, while its body settled deep into the soft ground, sinking deeper with each breath. Wolfe stepped back, and the men took her place. Lawhorne raised his M4 to his shoulder, and he pulled the trigger, and the last Zanesville tiger finally fell, the sound of the bullets echoing between the trees."

February 25, 2012

The easiest way to get rid of a Minus is to change it into a Plus.

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

Life has been messy lately. Have been disappointed, displeased, dissatisfied, dis, dis, dis, with several parts of my life. Crummy feelings. So, a couple of friends suggested I read Tao of Pooh for some happy thinking.

Not saying it was amazing, but it was sweet. Made me smile every now and then. Slightly cliche but still, some words to remember.

"Once you face and understand your limitations, you can work with them, instead of having them against you and get in your way, which is what they do when you ignore them, whether you realize it or not.  And then you will find that, in many cases, your limitations can be your strengths." (p. 48)

"Sooner or later, we are bound to discover some things about ourselves that we don't like. But once we see they're there, we can decide what we want to do with them. " (p. 58)

"So quite often, the easiest way to get rid of a Minus is to change it into a Plus. Sometimes you will find that characteristics you try hard to eliminate eventually come back, anyway. But if you do the right things, they will come back in the right ways. And sometimes those very tendencies that you dislike the most can show up in the right way at the right time to save your life, somehow." (p. 61)

"There are things about ourselves that we need to get rid of; there are things we need to change. But at the same time, we do not need to be too desperate, too ruthless, too combative. Along the way to usefulness and happiness, many of those things will change themselves, and the others can be worked on as we go. The first thing we need to do is recognize and trust our own Inner Nature, and not lose sight of it." (p. 65)

February 12, 2012

"There was a time when you couldn't get me out of there."

The Silent Season of a Hero by Gay Talese

So excited to tackle this book. The only story from this collection I've read is "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold." Really liked this one about a few days in the life of Joe DiMaggio, who 25 years after the peak of his career became a pretty lonely, solitary, sad man.

"Everywhere he goes the questions seem the same, as if he has some special vision into the future of new heroes, and everywhere he goes, too, older men grab his hand and feel his arm and predict that he could still go out there and hit one, and the smile on DiMaggio's face is genuine. He tries hard to remain as he was--he diets, he takes steam baths, he is careful; and flabby men in the locker rooms of golf clubs sometimes steal peeks at him when he steps out of the shower, observing the tight muscles across his chest, the flat stomach, the long sinewy legs. He has a young man's body, very pale and little hair; his face is dark and lined, however, parched by the sun of several seasons. Still he is always an impressive figure at banquets such as this--an immortal, sportswriters called him, and that is how they have written about him and others like him, rarely suggesting that such heroes might ever be prone to the ills of mortal men, carousing, drinking, scheming; to suggest this would destroy the myth, would disillusion small boys, would infuriate rich men who own ball clubs and to whom baseball is a business dedicated to profit and in pursuit of which they trade mediocre players' flesh as casually as boys trade players' pictures on bubble-gum cards."

"The reporters waited silently then DiMaggio walked slowly into the cage and picked up Mantle's bat. He took his position at the plate, but obviously it was not the classic DiMaggio stance; he was holding the bat about two inches from the knob, his feet were not so far apart, and, when DiMaggio took a cut at Benson's first pitch, fouling it, there was none of that ferocious follow through, the blurred bat did not come whipping all the way around, the No. 5 was not stretched full across his broad back.
Di Maggio fouled Benson's second pitch, then he connected solidly with the third, the fourth, the fifth. He was just meeting the ball easily, however, not smashing it, and Benson called out, "I didn't know you were a choke hitter, Joe."
"I am now," DiMaggio said, getting ready for another pitch.
He hit three more squarely enough, and then he swung again and there was a hollow sound.
"Ohhh," DiMaggio yelled, dropping his bat, his fingers stung. "I was waiting for that one." He left the batting cage rubbing his hands together. The reporters watched him. Nobody said anything. Then DiMaggio said to one of them, not in anger nor in sadness, but merely as a simply stated fact, "There was a time when you couldn't get me out of there."

January 22, 2012

I wished that we would always be terrified of death.

Oh my god. OK. I decided to pick up the November 2011 issue of Esquire again tonight. It's been sitting on my desk, near a large, continually growing pile of magazines. I hate looking at it because it stresses me out to think that a) It's contributing to the disorganized mess on my desk and b) I'm not reading enough or as much as I'd like to. But I finished some of what I had to do today and decided I'd finish this issue so I can finally store it in my bookshelf with all of the others.

I decided to start from the end and found Esquire's Mental Health 2011 package, hidden between the end of the Style section and the credits/ads. I almost feel like they didn't want anyone to find it. I couldn't find it on, but found this pdf instead.

I was going to skip it but noticed that "Panic" was written by Chris Jones so I kept reading. He didn't say he was the subject until the 4th graf. It took me by surprise.

Someone asked me the other day if I had any fears or phobias. And in the moment, I really couldn't think of one to say. I love heights, I'm not afraid of needles, sometimes I'm afraid of the dark (but isn't everyone spooked if they find themselves in the darkness alone?), and bugs freak me out, sure, but I'm not around them enough to have a fear of them.

How could I forget? I'm scared of dying. Which seems so morbid to admit. Death is not something I think about obsessively, but it's... always there. That sounds so odd, but, I don't know. I feel gratitude every day and a sense of relief when I make it home. I'm just so scared of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, of dying in some freak accident as always reported in the news. I've developed defensive habits. When a train is arriving, I always take a few steps back on the platform, etc. The first excerpt I post, the one where he talks about the perfect time--I think about that a lot. I always feel like somehow I've escaped death by the seemingly insignificant decisions I've made: sitting in a certain car, walking on a certain side of the street,  running back to grab something else.

I don't think I could ever kill myself because I'm always grasping onto life so tightly, so afraid I'm going to lose it. I was so touched by his honesty, and his revelation. The second excerpt (the end) was especially beautiful. Chris Jones! I think I can put this issue away now.

"Whenever it was that my own blackness took hold, I didn't feel a thing. It must have been sometime that past fall or winter, months before the bridge. It surfaced at first in little hiccups and tics, a life gone slightly askew. I developed obsessions, weird ideas of perfection. There was a period when I couldn't bring myself to leave the house, because I'd decided that there was one perfect time--when, if I left just then, my day would go smoothly, and every other departure time meant some disaster awaited. But of course it was impossible for me to know when that one perfect time was, so I never left."

"I walked very quickly to the hospital; I was almost running. There was a bench, and I sat down to catch my breath before I checked myself in. I was struck by how many people there were outside, even though it was in the middle of the night. There were maybe a dozen patients, some of them having come out for a smoke or just to feel the cool of the night, propped up against the walls or wrapped up in their wheelchairs. I sat among them, and I felt stronger for their company. I felt as though we were all in this together. There are so many dead, but there are so many of us still alive; there are so many of us still in love. I sat on that bench and realized that I'd walked so quickly to the hospital because I was scared of dying. My heart nearly burst open. It was the best feeling in the world. I felt so good that I never did go inside; I spent a few hours on that bench, in that company, and that was all the help I needed. I watched my breath turning solid in the cold, and I looked up at all those little lights in the sky, and I made a wish for me and my friends: I wished that we would always be terrified of death, every last one of us, that we would spend the rest of our lives running away from it, that we would dream about dying and wake up screaming, that we would be pathological in our fears--scared of heights, scared of bullets, scared of trains. Oh, spare us, I remember thinking. Spare us, please spare us, because there are so many ways to die."

January 16, 2012

Always stay humble. It's the only way you can't get humiliated.

Meaning of Life, my fave! Personally, I liked last year's better, overall. But there's good stuff in this one too. And it's a good theme ("the other guys" sans George Clooney). A few:

George Clooney
"There's ten of us, we've been best friends for thirty years. Ten guys. And their wives, and their kids, are all family now. I'm not big on keeping up on the phone, none of us are. Some guys I won't talk to for two months and then you pick up the phone and hear, "So, anyway." There's no guilt or where have you been? or what's been going on? or why haven't we talked? There's an ease to it.
I remember when Richard Kind's dad suddenly died. This was about seven or eight years ago--maybe more. Richard's a really wonderful character actor. He loved his dad, and he was very grown-up about passing on the news. He called and left a message: My dad died, I'm in Chicago, the funeral's going to be in New Jersey tomorrow morning. I'll talk to you when I get back. This was five o'clock at night. I was in L.A. Rick is a Jew. They bury the next day. They don't screw around. They get you right in the ground. So I called up Michael, Grant's brother, and told him Richard's dad died. He said, "We should be there." The guys were all around the country. One was in Denver. One was in San Diego.
So I got a jet and we spent the whole night flying around the country. San Diego, Denver. We landed in Trenton, New Jersey. Richard didn't know anything about it.
We got to the synagogue, this giant synagogue, with the people up front. And Richard didn't know we were going to be there. We're sitting there, the nine of us in the back row. And Richard gets up to speak about his dad and he sees his nine best friends there. And what I loved about it was that all of us understood that there are moments in your life that are real passages. Your father dying is a very big one. Because you are now the man of the family. We understood how important that was at that time."

Joe Biden
"My dad used to say, "You know you're a success when you look at your kids and realize they turned out better than you." I am a success. But I should have had one Republican who wanted to be an investment banker and make a lot of money so that when they put me in a home, I get a window with a view."

Gary Oldman
""Fuck 'em." Shortest prayer in the world."

Vanna White
"People don't know the real you unless you tell them."

Jon Cryer
"Critics can say horrible things. It only hurts when I agree with them."

Jeffrey Tambor
"The secret of life is to be surrounded by people who get you--just the people who get you."

Scottie Pippen ; Really liked this one, hard to pinpoint one quote, you've got to read 'em all together. It starts with:
"The first NBA game I ever saw in person was the one I played in."

Charlie Murphy
"I was sitting in this mogul's house. My brother was there, and they were having lunch. It was real nice, going down to the beach and everything. And then we see this woman walking on the beach. It's Diana Ross. I ran down there and got her. So now we're sitting in this room. Diana Ross is sitting with Eddie in the mogul's section. I'm with some common folk on the other side. We're talking, having fun. One guy happens to use the f word. And Diana Ross comes all the way across the room and says, "Excuse me, I don't know who you gentlemen are, but I don't tolerate any profanity in my vicinity." Now, we're not at Diana Ross's house. We're in another house. We don't work for her. That's what we were all thinking. And one guy goes, "Fuck you, Diana." She was stunned. Her face, it looked like pieces of it were falling off. No one was sorry. Because what sticks out in this story for me is: Why are people kissing Diana Ross's ass? Is she God? No. She sang on some records and did a good job! I give her her props. But that doesn't make you more of an adult than me. That doesn't give you any more rights than me. Being your fan is optional. If you forget that, because everybody's been blowing sunshine up your ass, you're putting yourself in the position to take a fall. That's the moral of the story. Always stay humble. It's the only way you can't get humiliated."

"For me, it was an instant. The first night I met Tisha was on a boat. She was having dinner with her friends. She didn't know who I was, and I asked her to come with me. Her friends told her not to go. But she did. We drove straight to my brother's house. My mother was there. My stepfather was there. Eddie was there. They were all in the kitchen. I walked in and said, "This is my future wife."

"We fit. I don't believe that you can meet another person that fits just like that. She wasn't even another person. She's a mirror, you know what I mean. It was like that for twenty years."

"I come home and she's in the kids' room, crying. That's when she told me. Cervical cancer. You don't really grasp it. When the person tells you they're going to die, you go crazy. You become a different person from the moment you hear those words. A young woman like that--don't drink, don't smoke, don't do drugs. I know people that's ninety who do all of that. She's a very organized woman. When she died, all the arrangements had been made. She made her own arrangements."

Allison Janney
"I got to know Paul Newman. I played ping-pong with him. He once told me, "If you ever need a favor, let me know." I never called him on that favor. I used to carry his favor around in my pocket like it was a Valium. Just knowing I had it in my pocket made me feel really confident."

"We joke in my family that my father learned to play the piano so he wouldn't have to talk to anybody. I wish I could play the way he did so I could go to parties and be present but not have to be called upon for small talk. Everybody loves the person playing the piano."

"I don't trust people who don't like dogs."

"I used to think Les Paul was a guitar. I didn't know he was a real guy. When I got to know him, I found out that if you're really obsessed, he was the guy you'd want to be like. He was always trying to find an answer for what he was looking for in his mind."

"It's not something you can find. There's a moment you arrive at--there's no words for it. A bunch of people come together at this place where a note hits your heart and your brain tells your finger where to go. It's an otherworldly thing, like when a painter gets the right combination of colors together."

January 15, 2012

I train in Krav Maga, do or die, so that way I'm prepared for any situation.

I've written before about how much I love when the sources tell the story so I absolutely loved the latest issue's "The Classifieds: A Workplace Confidential." Had no idea this was in the works. Some heartbreaking, funny, unusual, others disturbing, all honest. All worth reading. Excerpts from some of my favorites:

"You could ask, "Did Michael Jackson need a rhinoplasty?" Probably not. But he wanted one. If you look at his first rhinoplasty, it was very nice, restrained. But your client is Michael Jackson, and he keeps coming back to your office, so you keep going and all of a sudden it looks like a disaster. 
So when you ask, Is it Heidi Montag's fault or Michael Jackson's fault--or is it the surgeon's fault for not telling them?--you're in a gray area. My personal opinion is, it's always on you. You did it. 
As for my own views on physical beauty? You know, breast augmentation can be done well, and it can look very good, and it can feel good. And I guess the knowledge of that has changed me a little. Once you do it all the time, you get desensitized to it. When I walk down the street now, I look at people and think, "I can do this, I can do that." That's a curse. You become hypercritical. My wife--when I'm just standing there looking at her, if I'm not saying anything for a while, she'll be like, "What? What? You're trying to...!" I'll say, "No, I'm not!" But that does sort of happen."

"And of course there's the drug culture. It filters down in the most interesting ways. The kids sell Pop-Tarts in school like they're drug dealers. This one kid would go to Costco and buy in bulk and then sell Pop-Tarts in the morning. He actually made enough money selling Pop-Tarts to buy a car. So one day he got busted by security with a huge bag full of Pop-Tarts, and they asked him, "What is this?" He said: "They're my snack." And they were like, "No, they aren't." So he sat down and ate them all. He graduated and went back to Africa."

"We can tell a lot. We can tell if someone's a shopaholic or when they drink too much. The always order liquor--like daily. Drug deals, the dealers come in, they say "Um, I'm here to see...," and they say the wrong name. They go in and get out quickly. We can tell if a couple's divorcing. Usually, they're screaming and hollering in the lobby, like we're not even here. The husband or wife will apologize later, but still. Sometimes one of them will try to get us to take their side, but we can't really do or say anything. Cheating, we see plenty. But we never tell. This one woman, she had regulars every time her husband was away. Different guys. I felt bad for him, but it's none of my business. Sometimes I see things I shouldn't see on the cameras, like couples getting intimate in the laundry room. We like to watch." 

"It's really sad to see what the Mets have become: A great franchise, on the biggest stage in sports, is now a laughingstock. Ownership is trying to turn the Mets, a big-market franchise, into a small-market franchise. That's not just sad, it's disgusting. You know what I think when I read about the Mets nowadays? We've become the Oakland A's. We're the Pittsburgh Pirates. Our fans deserve better than that."

"Reyes and David Wright were the heart of that team. Those were the guy the Mets had to build around. But now that Reyes is in Miami, Wright will be traded by the All-Star break. If they're going to run this like a small-market team, that's the way it's going to fold. If I'm David Wright, I'd want to be gone."

"What makes it worse is being in the same market as the Yankees. Obviously they have more money, but there used to be a time when the Mets and Yankees were equals. Today, it's totally lopsided. But that's not to say I have a problem with the Yankees--I don't. I'm not jealous of them. They've given New York a product their fans can be proud of, like it's supposed to be. I like Derek Jeter, I think he's a class act. I read some of the good and the bad things that were said when he was renegotiating, but he ended up having a pretty decent year. Is he overpaid now? Sure, but he earned it when he was younger. The Yankees took care of him, the way you're supposed to. I'm waiting for the day when the Mets get back to doing things the right way. In the meantime, it's a disaster."

"Thank God for peepholes. You can see craziness at the door. That's one reason I decided to train in martial arts heavily. I train in Krav Maga, do or die, so that way I'm prepared for any situation."

"I've had guys last 30 seconds. I've had other clients who get really nervous and can't get it up. That happens a lot. It can be a little bit overwhelming at times for them, which I understand. Sometimes there's a client who has to inject his penis with something to get it up. There are some who are in wheelchairs. Money is money; sometimes you gotta grin and bear it, but it's not really the most enjoyable experience. It takes a lot out of you, actually, to make believe you are having a good time."

"Some people say they could never go into pediatrics because they couldn't stand the parents. But that's one of the best parts of my job for me. If you're taking care of an elderly patient, you walk into the room and it's just the two of you. With pediatrics, oftentimes, there's not only the mom and dad, sisters and brothers, but sometimes there's grandparents--it's like an audience. And I enjoy that the patient has other people there caring about the child ... But in pediatrics there's usually a very caring parent. Especially in Manhattan, you have the overbearing mothers--I love them. I understand them; I have one myself." 

"There's nothing more fun than to wait on someone who is genuinely interested in the food. You'll get a couple that comes in, and this is their one time a year, and they're just so happy to be at the restaurant. There was this kid blogger, he was like 16 or 17, and he had blogged about how he was saving up his allowance to come to Per Se. And he did. He came by himself and had lunch."

"Most of the VIP guests get to be VIPs because they spend money and tip well. The wait staff fight over the VIPs because of the way the system works. Basically, there's a service charge, so everyone gets an hourly rate, which is fantastic because that means the kitchen all get more money, paid vacation--all these other benefits come from that. Then, if people leave any money on top of that, which they normally do, the head server keeps half of it and the other half goes in the tip pool. So the captains will fight over the people that are ballers and spend a lot of money. The more senior captains can make anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 a night. That's very rare, like once every two years. But there was a private party where these people left like $8,000 as a tip, so the captain walked with $4,000."

"There's a hierarchy based on position, so there's servers, bussers, back servers, runners. Then there's an ethnic hierarchy. There's a huge Bengali population that works in restaurants, and they all have their own hierarchy. You'll have the Spanish-speaking--Dominicans, Mexicans, and Guatemalans. They'll kind of get along, and within each group they'll have their own hierarchy. There's usually one key person who has hired everyone else or who has gotten their friends or family members to come work there. The staff is incestuous. I think half the staff is dating the other half of the staff right now. I mean, you spend 60 hours a week with these people, so what do you think is going to happen?"

January 08, 2012

After the slow introduction, the violins unfurl a gently swelling theme, made piquant by syncopations.

Adam Platt's list is cool, but I can't afford to dine at any of the places listed so I skimmed. But Justin Davidson's What Does A Conductor Do? is wonderfully written and provides great insight to an underrated, difficult profession.

"I have been wondering what, exactly, a conductor does since around 1980, when I led a JVC boom box in a phenomenal performance of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony in my bedroom. I was bewitched by the music--the poignant plod of the second movement, the crazed gallop of the fourth--and fascinated by the sorcery. In college, I took a conducting course, presided over a few performances of my own compositions, and led the pit orchestra for a modern-dance program. Those crumbs of experience left me in awe of the constellation of skills and talents required of a conductor--and also made me somewhat skeptical that waving a stick creates a coherent interpretation."

"I've chosen the Don Giovanni overture because it distills almost everything I adore in music: darkness, humor, violent emotions elegantly expressed, the subtle play of human interactions. In the opera, virtually every conversation is an argument. The Don bickers with his complaining servant Leporello, fends off the grasping Donna Elvira, humiliates the peasant Masetto, and seduces the young bride Zerlina. Mozart weaves this banter into the overture, developing a rhetoric of interruptions and contradictions. After the slow introduction, the violins unfurl a gently swelling theme, made piquant by syncopations. The phrase breaks off in mid-thought and skitters impishly back down for a couple of measures before being interrupted by fanfare full of bravado. Mozart, the showbiz professional, has introduced three moods, personalities, and styles in eight bars, all with seamless charm. How to translate this into movement? Will I just wind up exaggerating the contrasts with silly pantomime?"

"As I get deeper into the score, I focus on one crucial but difficult aspect of the job: preparing a moment before it arrives. Gilbert urges his students to stop living in the moment; giving a Get ready! cue just one beat head of a Now! creates a little shiver of panic. A conductor has to be simultaneously ahead of the music and with it, experiencing and expecting at the same time--manufacturing an extended déjà vu. When Gilbert works, you can see the pulse thrumming through his body, diggadiggadiggadiggadigga, yet he also projects a commanding serenity."

"In Italian, the word maestro also means teacher. As we power toward the final cadence and I exchange glance after glance with the young musicians, it occurs to me that they are bombarding me with unspoken questions and it's my job to convey answers. That's what a conductor does: mold an interpretation by filtering the thousands of decisions packed into every minute of symphonic music. The clarinetist inclined to add a little gleam to a brief solo by slowing down slightly, the tuba player preparing a fortissimo blast after twenty minutes of nothing--each will look to the podium for a split-second shot of guidance, and the conductor who meets those fleeting inquiries with clarity and assurance will get a more nuanced performance. My efforts haven't made me a good conductor, or even a mediocre one, but they have given me the glimmerings of competence--an intoxicating taste of what it might feel like to realize the fantasy of my boom-box days."


January 06, 2012

Reasons to love New York & Bread

I wasn't super impressed with the "Reasons to Love New York" list but there were a few items I liked. Not because I liked the reasons, but because I thought they were well-written, including: 4) After 64 Years Together, Louis Halsey and John Spofford Morgan Finally Got Hitched 7) There's Nothing Like a Great Old New York Hack (Except a Great New York Hack) 10) The Best Tabloid Story Was the One About the Owner 13) To Hell With the NBA. Go, St. Francis! 21) To Us, a Natural Disaster Is Just Another Excuse to Say Who's Better Than Whom 25) It Turns Out You Meet the Nicest People Huddled Outside in the Cold Trying to Kill Yourself and 26) The Skyline Is Soaring Again

What impressed me most from this issue, what I loved, was the BREAD package. Oh my god. Seriously, props to every single person who worked on it because it is fabulously executed. The Breads of New York slideshow = amazing. Props to Danny Kim (staff photographer) for taking all of the photos. I was pretty disappointed to learn I missed the day when they let staff have a taste of the samples.