Saturday, December 31, 2005
Costa Freaka. "It's this 1 thing that's got me trippin." Scholars and Fellowships. Mariah Carey. The Great Saunter, 30-some miles. Italy and Sicily. X & Y. San Francisco, Yosemite. "Will you be my first wife?" Goodbye, Columbia. August adventure: Six Flags, Nashville, Cracker Barrel, Rowan Oak. "That beautiful river." A wretched half-marathon. Eric Benet and Coldplay. Fordham Law School. Toni Braxton. 77 Barrow.
...And now here I am on New Year's eve, typing on my computer while I sit here with my unmarried cohabitant, L. 2006 is going to be an amazing year and I can't wait for August 12th. After the wedding I feel like there will be nothing to talk about, but I am enjoying the anticipation. If 2005 felt like a year of such promise and fulfillment, I can only imagine how life will feel on the cusp of 2007. So much to be thankful for! Happy New Year.
Friday, December 30, 2005
The historical truth of it was sobering. Steven Spielberg made a strong statement at the end about September 11th, which was challenging. This was a strange topic for him, in that you usually expect a Spielberg film to have a certain humanistic worldview, a world of mercy and love and families at the dinner table and anthropomorphic aliens on bikes. This was a departure for him in a sense, and it was a brave and confident move, and I think this was the best big movie of the year.
...The only other thing I love about movies that "Munich" lacked can be found in one scene of "The Family Stone," where Sarah Jessica Parker's straight-laced character gets drunk and works her inner Carrie Bradshaw, happily dancing and singing to her favorite song without a care in the world. I love it when people break it down in movies, I think it is so realistic but pretty underplayed in film.
...And no points for our lame waiter at Cosi before the movie, who was late with our food and messed up our drink order. Me: "Excuse me, we ordered two Cokes and a water and this [the lone beverage he brought to our table] tastes like Diet." Him: "Yeah, I heard Diet. They ordered two Diet Cokes at that table over there." Thanks a lot, Erick.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
My parents and sister came up with us to help with the move and it was extremely stressful. In fact, yesterday I learned that they had a big fight yesterday afternoon, as soon as they arrived back home. I have noticed that I feel completely exhausted most of these days, and I think a large part of it is from the stress of moving. We all got so short-tempered and angry from the logistical hell and the pure physical strain of moving my 18 tons of shit from one apartment to another. Finally on the night my parents left my new place for the last time, L and I went to the window to wave to them as they drove away. Yet as we watched from the apartment, they turned on the car but didn't go anywhere. My parents were looking for something in the front seat. My sister called me on the phone and told me that Mom couldn't find her gloves.
"Can't they just fucking leave, " I thought. Good lord. We watched them search for a little while, and the gloves weren't in our apartment. After a couple minutes we moved away from the window and took care of something or other in the apartment, and by the time I went back to wave to them as they drove away, they were already gone. No waving goodbye. This was the kind of weekend it was.
I need to go home in a few weeks, once all of this blows over, and have some quality time with them. This was just too much.
L and I have been having fun. We saw "The Family Stone" a couple nights ago, and caught a Hitchcock double feature at Film Forum last night ("Suspicion" & "Spellbound"). No cable til tomorrow, so we are enjoying a nice midwinter film fest.
You know those people who sit at tables on the sidewalk with the empty water jugs, asking for money for the homeless? What the hell charity are they from? I think it would be funny if they were from some group that gave music lessons to homeless people. I can't imagine a more well-intentioned but useless charity purpose. Unless the really good ones started a band, and then moved off the streets because they lived in a tour bus. That would be a real success story.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
This is also my last night in the apartment. At the bar today I learned that one of my classmates (a decent guy, I never talk to him) lives on the same block I do. I am excited about the move but I am sad to be leaving this apartment - I was only here for a year, but it was a momentous one and I was really thankful to live here.
The transit strike is over, too, and not a minute too soon. I was angry at the strikers, and I think they're being selfish and greedy. The walk to school took exactly an hour, 50 blocks north and three blocks east. I enjoyed it, but not that much.
So tonight I am just puttering around the apartment cleaning a little bit and thinking. I wish we could move immediately. I am not yet ready to deconstruct this place, but I am also very aware of every minute passing - as in, "this is the last time I'll be in my place at ... 6:56 pm." This is not healthy or constructive. I think I might step out for a bit, grab a bite, go to a bookstore, walk around a little now that I've changed socks since my five mile walk today.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Then I went to the holiday market at Union Square, where I picked up a picture frame that has a small sculpture of a woman sitting on a toilet (for my mom, of course). And a watch for my sister that is expensive but kind of trendy. Among the assorted Manhattan weirdos currently staking out Union Square, they had some animal rights people roaming around with actual cats draped over their heads and upper bodies. I laughed out loud when a woman working at one of the kiosks said loudly, "Those people have cats on their heads! I don't want to know them. I don't even want to know them." It was hilarious.
As I walked home, thinking about how much money I had spent in just 90 minutes, as if I was on a madcap shopping spree (when I was young that idea seemed so grandiose and appealing - for 30 or 60 or 120 seconds, you just sprint through a store with a shopping cart and get to keep whatever you can dump inside! Even the shopping cart?), bemoaning my poverty, I came across three dollar bills in the street.
I don't know what it is, but for the last few months I have been finding money all over the place when I'm out on the town. This is either a karmic reward or an insistant signal that my wallet is about to be stolen. Merry [holiday]!
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Monday, December 05, 2005
The "Carol of the Bells" is one versatile Christmas song. It has a sinister edge to it - the ever-increasing number of singers, the rapid pacing, the rising tension. It always seemed slightly creepy to me, but in a good way, haunting and eerie. And now, thanks to a striking new set of ads from Victoria's Secret, it's erotic as well! There are these insane ads out with exotic leggy women lounging and writhing around bedsheets saying things like "Give me Rrrrap-ture." It's awesome. As the song builds and builds and the bells are ringing, here comes Gisele prancing down the hallway in a teddy and Tyra contorting herself 'round the Christmas tree. Instead of the Grinch stealing Christmas, it's like a supermodel in garters and heels is going to come down your chimney and hump the shit out of it. Get your Vicky's for the holidays, y'all.
Law school finals, like a python or quicksand, continues its slow invasion of my life and personhood. I am actually giving up major chunks of my own autonomy, as evidenced by the law school dreams, word associations, and boring conversations I keep indulging in. It should reach its peak around December 13, and then I will be fully submerged until the 22nd, at which point (if we go with the python idea) I will knife open its belly and stagger out into the winter merrriment, covered in entrails and gasping for a newspaper.
I saw an ad where the Honda chorus people sang what sounded like "We wish you a happy holiday" instead of "We wish you a merry Christmas," and I was working myself into a nice red-state Christianist fervor over the decline of American values when I realized they were probably just singing "Happy Honda days," which embodies the spirit of commercialism and successful branding that really define the holiday season, so I was ok with it.
Had some fun quality time in the daylight with L yesterday, an all-too-rare occurrence: a random movie ("The Dying Gaul") at a random theatre (Village Cinema), a great wintry walk, intensive browsing through two bookstores. One of my favorite things in the world is escaping a cold winter day and going into a movie theatre. It's pretty much the only occasion where I actually prefer the sharp sweet taste of Pepsi - something about the contrast between the cold outside and the comfortable warmth indoors, the shedding of layers, the relaxation, the knowledge of a few hours' solace before you face the elements once again. I love it. Love winter. Resent pea coats, but deal with them as I can. Law school may take my life but they cannot take my freedom.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
The discussion was to start at 7, and I arrived at 5:45 and dumped my bag in the seat beside me to continue reading a case for class tomorrow. I had spoken with James on the phone and knew he was coming. There was an announcement from the Book Clerk Nazis, the frustrated writers whose only chance for real literary success is through osmosis - thus the smock and nametag at B&N. There was to be no saving of seats, they said. It was packed.
I thought long and hard about this rule. I thought it was dumb. I thought Maureen Dowd could never love a man so gutless as to succumb to such a rule. So I kept the seat for James, refusing to acknowledge its unoccupancy. It's not a free seat, I would think. It's James', he's just not here yet.
A woman in a turquoise sweater sat down on the other side of the empty seat. "Are you sure he's coming?" she asked after another barking reminder from the Book Clerk Nazi. I did not appreciate her concern. "Yes, he lives two blocks away," I said quickly, pleased and dismayed at my ability to lie effortlessly. Finally he arrived and I smiled curtly to Turquoise, reasserting my honesty and ability to handle my business. Thanks, amiga.
Twenty minutes later. Mo is nowhere to be found and the seats are packed. People are restless. Suddenly a woman walks up and starts speaking to the man on the other side of Turquoise. The order of people is: Woman (in the aisle), me, James, Turqoise, Man. I couldn't bear to look up, so here is the exchange as I heard it (with some corroboration from James):
Woman: You didn't save me a seat?
Man: No, I had to give the seat up! They didn't let us save seats.
Turquoise (clearly sitting where Woman should have been): [Silence]
Woman: So I have to stand in the back alone? It's packed back there.
James and me: [dawning realization of what is happening]
Man: They wouldn't let us save seats! Should I just meet you afterwards?
Turqoise: [silently plotting the dissolution of another marriage]
Woman: I can't believe I came all the way here for this.
General Audience: [suddenly interested]
Woman: Look, I'm just going to go home, I'll see you later (she makes a dismissive swatting motion with her hand and walks away).
Me: [daring to look up and around me]
Man (pathetically): We couldn't save seats.
Turquoise (turning to Man): ... So are you a big Maureen Dowd fan?
What the hell. As soon as wifey left, Turquoise launched into a discussion of their respective careers and apartment living on the Upper West Side. There were so many chances for that encounter to have ended correctly: Turquoise could have volunteered her seat, Man could have switched with Woman or joined her in the standing room only area. And yet, she ended up stomping away while Man weakly sits there with Miss Turquoise Wrecks-a-Home as she licks her chops and enjoys the spoils.
The rest of the reading was awesome. Like every other reading I've been to, the cranks came out and asked obnoxious, selfish questions, and were booed into submission. Maureen handled herself with grace and aplomb, responding to aggressive questions directly and in a take-no-horseshit kind of way. She is my number one Washingtonienne.
All in all, it was a great experience. Human drama, a beautiful woman speaking truths and cracking wise, and another motley group of New Yorkers pretending to get along. Love it.
Monday, November 28, 2005
So I felt kind of melancholy tonight - bummed that I get to see one of my good friends so rarely, when I consider how few people in this world exist in that orbit and how much I rely on them, and disappointed that it was my stupid studying schedule that cut things short. I know this time in school is an investment, but damn - this is one hell of a rate of return. I feel like I'm on a treadmill and not moving an inch in any direction. My life is circumscribed between W. 4th St. and Columbus Circle 59th St. And right now there's hardly anything to show for it - and nobody wants to talk about law school, myself included, for good reason.
But anyways. The key points would be: Russell is quality. I get to see him rarely. That is a bummer.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
At Thanksgiving, L and I were talking to my aunt-by-marriage's brother, whom I had never met. He lives in Richmond, is a banker, has a friendly wife. He was wearing a sweater vest and talking to us about networking and working in the legal field. My uncle walks up. "Take off that fag vest," he says to the guy. "You need to take off that fag vest, I don't know who's making you wear that." Whoa. Red state moment. "That is one fag vest," my uncle reiterates, helpfully. "I don't know what you're talking about," the guy says, "it's just a vest." My uncle meanders away as I make eye contact with L. Many phrases pass between us unspoken. "Don't worry, honey," the guy's wife chirps merrily. "After eighteen years of marriage, I think I'd know if you were a faggot!" I take a sip of my drink and consider how to extricate ourselves from this situation.
L and I watched "Pride and Prejudice," and I really enjoyed it. It is true that a girl who can be witty and sly and smart will always distinguish herself. I think back to all the women I've known who are able, in the midst of some dull conversation, to inject some barb or joke that makes you pause and reconsider her in a whole new light. This is one of the major charms of women, in my experience.
On the ride back to New York, I sat next to this young asian guy who was friendly and talkative. Turns out he goes to Princeton, and we went to the same high school. I didn't want to mention it - this fact that always springs to mind when discussing high school, this fact that signifies one of the most earnest and sincerely happy days of my life, one of my major life achievements before moving out of the house - but he left himself wide open. "So, uh, were you active in school activities, like Homecoming?" (This question indicates the quality of our conversation up to that point.) "Actually," I said, as evenly as possible. "I was Mr. Jefferson. 1997." "No way! That's awesome!" His face honestly lit up and he was impressed. The power and the glory live on. Rafael at Princeton, thanks for some good in-flight conversation.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
On top of all this grim alterna-history, which is fascinating in itself, is a simple and touching portrait of the narrator's family, the Roths - his admirable older brother, his hardworking and smart mother, his tireless and decent father. The narrator, Philip Roth, is the autobiographical duplicate of his creator, and the narrative voice has an adult's grasp of the language (better than an adult's grasp, he's Philip Roth for crying out loud) and a child's simplicity and moral clarity. I was engrossed in the Jersey neighborhoods of the 1940s, of the extended social networks that were dashed and the conflicting impulses that echo in the public discourse today - about the willingness to stand up for our beliefs, about the fear of death and war, about the fear of strangers and the fears of our neighbors.
This books was so profoundly good. It was worth the wait for the paperback version. I devoured it in four days and could not put it down. I thought about it in class. It was fantastic. So I recommend it to the greater blogosphere.
Happy Thanksgiving - flying back home tomorrow, will return on Saturday to face final exams in a little over two weeks.
Monday, November 21, 2005
Here' s what I didn't do this weekend: Go running. Go grocery shopping. Get a restful night of sleep. Have fun in the daytime. Spend enough time with anyone.
On the plus side, this kind of weekend is rare and this won't happen again for a while. But the next few weeks, with exams approaching, are going to be tough.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
In San Jamar, there are beautiful white-sand beaches. Palm trees sway gently from the breeze cresting off the lapis lazuli waters. Girls in coconuts offering drinks in coconuts. Dry air, warm sun, the cry of the sea birds, the lapping of the waves - bienvenidos a San Jamar.
And yet - here I am in the men's room. In November. Surrounded by linoleum and plastic and buzzing, unforgiving fluorescence. Wishing for San Jamar, my mythical paradise found only in the toilet paper dispenser.
...Everyone else thinks about this, right?
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
I do worry, though, about the money we put out. Going to school, getting engaged (and then presumably married) and moving to a new place within the span of a few months is a lot to do. It's like fourteen young adult novels wrapped into one, or two episodes of "One Tree Hill." Which I've never seen. But I liked that girl Hilary when she was on Mtv. I don't know. The point is, the money is moving and shifting all around me, from a variety of sources, and what can I do but think of it all as an investment that will blossom and explode into an adulthood of happiness. Honestly, I can't let myself think about this. This topic I think is a weakness L and I share, mutually cringing at the financial terriers nipping at our Achilles heels. Wow, two metaphors in one - you are getting your money's worth tonight, dear reader.
I have a long memo due on Monday - ten pages, synthesizing 10-12 cases. I have read 10 cases and have 6 more to deal with to make sure I hit the mark. I feel like I am about four days behind everyone else, and I attribute this to my conscientious decision to have fun on the weekends and to watch tv in the evenings. But I have to, or else I will become pale and baggy-eyed, like Gollum. Except "My Precious" becomes "My piece-of-shit Vaio laptop that doesn't have wireless internet because I can't afford the card, and the clips on the prongs of my ethernet cord have snapped so I can't maintain a decent internet collection, Precious."
So that's where we stand. I was treading water in law school for a long while but something is churning under the sea. It could be a shark, it could be tsunami, it could be killer bees or a manatee with a shotgun. But something is down there.
The worst part are my friends who I have neglected in the last few weeks or months. The calls I haven't made, the emails unwritten. I think of you a lot. I hope you would be happy with what I'm doing - this premarital cohabitation can be a dicey subject, and I hope I'm balancing my time well, and I hope I'm handling my money in a way that wouldn't make Suze Orman lunge from behind her CNBC desk to swat me on the head with a lapel mic. And I hope I can see out of my self-centered cocoon to wish you well, too.
And yet it's 12:00 am, I should make my lunch and go to bed, but I feel like I should read another case, since tomorrow I have to read everything, make an outline, and do my criminal homework for 2:30. I don't know. Time for an abbreviated dance hour and some quality time with the new yorker.
You know what song I'd like to hear right now? The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." I don't think I understand it, but the tone and the melancholy are something I can understand right now. Goodnight and good luck.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Next the broker attempted to show me another apartment, this one on the ground floor of a building on a rowdier part of West 3rd. It was crammed in between a sandwich shop and a Chinese massage parlor. Walking through the entryway you saw a poster of the human body with all of the major muscles labeled - it was really educational. The interior hallway was painted a medicinal mint green. Sadly enough the tenant wasn't around, so we couldn't see the actual apartment. But we went ahead and ruled it out anyway.
Then! But then! I met L and another broker at a beautiful place in the village. Spacious, old, well-kept, charming. I really loved it. I'm afraid to say too much, but we spent the rest of the evening pulling together application materials and copying our financial documents. We are contacting our guarantors, trying to pull things together, trying to figure out how the hell we can afford to pay a broker's fee. But it's very exciting. I would love to live there, I really hope we get it.
In law school we have been talking about property that is jointly owned by married couples or non-married co-habitants. Most courts refuse to recognize relationships that are between non-married people in which sex is the defining factor - as the courts say, "meretricious relationships." Basically the courts don't want to acknowledge prostitutional relationships, but it is interesting to see all of these different ways of living and being sliced and diced into neat judicial categories. This new place in the village would be a great place for our non-married, soon to be married, and eventually married relationship (which is obviously extremely not meretricious).
Sunday, November 06, 2005
The other stressful thing is apartment shopping. L and I are moving in together. Isn't that great! Or is that not great, since most of our friends are not the kind of people who really embrace premarital cohabitation. But we are getting married. And we want to do this, and it makes sense for us pragmatically, financially, relationally. It's funny, I'm really excited about it but I'm a little hesitant to tell people. What will the priest say? But our parents are happy for us, and it will be great. I am just nervous as things barrel to a climactic finale in December: what happens when your exam schedule slams right into the end of one lease and the beginning of another? We'll find out soon.
Monday, October 31, 2005
This afternoon, I went to the men's room, as I so often do, a little while after consuming my lunch. In this particular chamber there were three stalls. My fatal error was in selecting the middle one, although I had no choice: the last stall was out of service, but there was someone already occupying the middle stall. A stranger. Someone who will haunt me for the rest of my life....
I was going about my business as well as minding my business, as one does in the men's room. Yet this person next to me (was it a man or a devil? I shall never know!) was having a difficult time. His feet were moving and he was breathing erratically. It was weird. Then, after a moment's respite, he suddenly spoke. He said: "You can start ket glot ack to now ran, app toe kee rack." What? I froze. I had the slow comprehension you sense when you realize someone is speaking in another language, and you stop trying to piece together words in English. Then he said: "You know?"
I was the only person in there. I could hear him breathing next to me. I quickly wrapped up and left the stall. There had been a small puddle of water by the toilet (it had to have been water) so I discovered that I left a footprint behind me. I could see his feet moving behind the stall door, and I heard a toilet flush. I didn't want to have to face him - had he been talking to me? Was he on a phone somehow? A bead of sweat gathered on my brow. I could hear him opening the latch on the stall door as I pulled a towel out of the dispenser. I saw my footprint from the water all over the bathroom - I didn't want him to follow me. Thank God my shoes were nondescript. He cleared his throat and he started opening the door, but he was ensconced in shadow. Not daring to look back, I flung open the bathroom door and darted down the stairway. Who the hell was that? A poltergeist, a spirit, the ghost of a long-dead 1L? I raced down three flights of stairs and back into the safe anonymity of the library, hoping my footprints wouldn't lead the creature to me. There, in my carrel, weeping and convulsing, I composed this blog post.
So consider yourself warned - there is a ghoul in the third floor men's room, a ghoul who speaks in tongues and makes things very uncomfortable and awkward for other users of the bathroom. Can you imagine anything more horrifying, frightening and suspenseful than that? Dear reader, neither can I. Happy Halloween!
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Last week a fire in the subway station near my apartment shut down all the train lines on the west side and snarled up a morning commute for millions of people. There were more than ten fire trucks and ambulances glaring around the neighborhood, police tape blocking the walk, and on the news they showed great waves of green smoke billowing upward from the street grates. Green smoke one day, maple syrup the next. Easy come, easy go, I guess.
Monday, October 24, 2005
Why is Toni Braxton the one? Let me count the ways. Her voice is husky and low, but with a great range. She peppers her music with "oohs" and "yeahs." The love she sings about is mature, passionate, angry, unrequited. She whoops. Her songs are written intelligently, with irony and confidence. Her songs are well-produced, and unlike many other singers, she is not afraid to ride the instrumentals for a minute or two. Her albums are interesting, not formulaic, yet her music fits squarely into a consistent, larger ouevre. She is continually having her heart broken.
She has a new album out, "Libra," and it's awesome. Her last album was a bit of a disappointment, but this album has the smoothness, the pain, the beauty, the sex appeal that are her hallmarks. It helped me get through last week, which was characterized mostly by computer issues and law school malaise.
Now I'd like to offer an Amazon.com/"American Psycho" style review of Toni's albums, for those not in the know (and to delay the inevitable start of my Torts homework). This is about to get dorky, real fast:
Toni Braxton blew onto the scene in the early 1990s, riding a wave of mushy Babyface-produced ballads. But despite the synthetic beats and velvety orchestrations, the songs were catchy and lyrically nimble: "Seven Whole Days," "Another Sad Love Song." The inescapable, respiratory anthem, "Breathe Again." The daughter of a preacher from Landover, Maryland, Toni was not the cutest singer in the world with her short hair, but that's ok.
1996 brought a big album, "Secrets," featuring the ubiqitious Diane Warren ode to grammatical liberalism, "Unbreak My Heart." She also had long hair now, which was a big improvement. This album included "You're Making Me High," my favorite Toni song ever, produced by Bryce Wilson, with an awesome intro, great bridge, and slightly dirty lyrics. This title was the inspiration for the small sign I made when I got to see Toni perform on Broadway in 2003 in the title role of Aida. [TONI / You Make /Me High] She enjoyed it and blew me kisses, clasping her hands in the empathetic symbol of "thank you, please sleep with me."
Her best album, "The Heat," came out in 2000, featuring the Rodney Jerkins track "He Wasn't Man Enough for Me," the acoustic masterpiece "Fairy Tale," and the pure erotic bliss of "Maybe." "Heat" marked Toni's departure from Babyface's shadow. She and her husband, Keri Lewis of Mint Condition, produced this album and gave it a sound that was contemporary, lively, and true. This album had legs, and I listened to it regularly for about - oh, five years now.
"More Than A Woman," Toni's 2003 follow-up, was problematic. The album's title came from a song from the recently deceased singer Aaliyah. Why she did this is unclear to me. (The only time Toni and Aaliyah collaborated, as far as I know, was when Toni vamped it up in a memorial video after she died. Everyone else looked somber and mournful, and there's Toni, caressing herself. Awkward.) There was an ill-suited but effective Neptunes track, "Hit the Freeway," and some wretched hip hop collaborations. But the album's suite of ballads had some great numbers - "Rock Me, Roll Me," featuring full orchestration and a smooth coda, and the Jerkins track "Do You Remember When," as well as "Tell Me," a sly nod to her aural predecessor, Anita Baker.
And now "Libra," which I've been listening to for two weeks. This album is strong. She is on a new label and has something to prove (not unlike Mariah, last spring). "Take This Ring" is a pretty blatant derivation of Amerie's "1 Thing," both by one of the best producers out there, Rich Harrison, but it is awesome. The tight syncopation of the chorus, the relentless neo-gogo drumbeat, and the jagged edges of the background vocals make for a supremely interesting song. Other highlights include the last track, an acoustic number called "Shadowless" that was recorded live, and "Finally," in which she shouts out herself by citing all of her song titles in a look back at her romantic past.
Anyways, I am glad to see Toni is doing well. She has a voice like no other. I've learned a lot about love, music, singing, and sex from Toni. I like singing her songs late at night because then I can really wallow in the low notes. She's a fun chick. Frankly, she's everything rhythm and blues should be.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
The night continued, and a group of the guys - young, fratty, sort of decent, mostly well-intentioned guys - were intent on getting me plastered. I said, "But it's Monday," or, "I have a memo due tomorrow," but they were relentless. Every time we took a swig, they said my name: "To Mike D---!" And they would all clink. And stupidly, like a lemming with low tolerance and a paper due, I would drink. The thing is, I can't stand that appellation of my name. My skin crawled every time they said it. But I let them do it.
I drank about 36 of the 40 included ounces. Why? I didn't need it or want it. It was a Monday night, I had work to do, I was in an outer borough. Later all the camaraderie and hearty bonhomie evaporated when I poured the last few ounces of my drink down the sink. Then I was a bitch, a pussy, a loser. Hey, thanks guys. That's what friends are for.
Ever since then I've been mad at myself for succumbing to the peer pressure. Why did I let those dumbasses make me drink? What was I doing? And to have that idiotic toast each time - "To Mike D---!" - it made me angry and shameful. I thought of Tom Wolfe's novel, where the main character's name is her own mantra and reassurance, and now my name, for that evening, to me, represents stupidity, weakness, and useless, pointless, wasted debauchery. I am too old to fall for that shit and too smart to waste my time with people who would do me that way.
At lunch today they resurrected the idea and clinked their water bottles and soda cans. "To Mike D---!" So I left the table and went to the library. Fuck them. If that night was a moment of weakness, it has left me with some clarity as far as putting myself in a different orbit at school. And clarity is the name of the game.
Yet, in this week of verbal assaults, peer pressure, and unexpected intoxication, there has been one great thing -- and her name is Toni Braxton. More on that topic soon.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Standing by the wall, I am holding my elbow out to prevent the guy from crashing into me. His body contacts my elbow once, twice, three times. You'd think he would adjust his trajectory or try to avoid the person obviously behind him. He hits my elbow again. Then he turns around and looks at me and says:
"Back the fuck up, you fuckin faggot."
What. What. What. What. I am aghast. The last time I was called a faggot was when I was thirteen, by some asshole in junior high. What. What. I'm not wrong! He's the one bumping into me! What! WHAT!
I don't say anything and just gape at him. The couple continues dancing. I think about things I could have done - I could have kneed him in the balls maybe, or slugged him? Or I could have told his girlfriend some wicked lie about him? And then run like hell? I don't know, I've never been in a fight before. I tried to laugh it off and we stayed for a while but I was bothered. Watching them dance out there, totally unaware of the shitstorm they kicked up in my head. I was livid.
We didn't stay much longer. On the way back I felt defeated, and found myself reliving the scenario again and again, going through all the different things I could have done or said. I was mouthing the words. I had dark fantasies of cut lips and blackened eyes, public brawls and squad cars. But I felt defeated nonetheless.
Postscript: Karmic sympathy - one good thing, though, is that a genuine black person gave me some respect for my dancing ability. And tonight at the movie theatre I found $11 on the ground. That helps in a way.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Why am I going to law school?
Why am I going to Fordham law school? I never even heard of it until I moved here.
Why did I leave my job?
How did I end up here (New York City, law school, this subway car)?
Who are these people I go to school with? Do I belong with them, am I one of them?
Why again am I in law school?
When exactly did I decide to go to law school? Like, fifteen minutes before orientation started?
Am I willing to give everything it takes to make law review and be at the top and thrive there, or am I willing to step out of that race in order to be happy with the I've cobbled together already?
Am I willing to step aside from anything?
Am I willing to take a different path from the others, when that puts me out someplace by myself and I don't have the safety of a crowd to comfort me?
And if I do take that lone path, can I do it without second-guessing myself?
What will I do after this is over? Where will I go?
When I think about these things, it's like pulling bricks out of a wall, deconstructing my life until there is nothing but a pile of rubble. And then the order I think I've created is slapped back down into chaos. I don't think anything could withstand the kind of interrogation I'm willing to put myself through (for whatever reason), but even when all of these external issues are on the ground below me (school, job, apartment) there are still the strong and tensile relationships binding me to my life (L, my family, my friends). If the choices I have made post-college form a brick wall that can be chipped and broken apart, the relationships form a web behind it that I couldn't break even if I tried. Sometimes I feel like my life has been this aimless, erratic flight ever since college. At times I feel like I've spent too much time in school, especially when I consider that of the six years after college, I will have been in school for four of them.
When does it become clear? Does it ever? Do these questions ever abate?
I'm not depressed or anything, just pensive. Spending all my days at the law school, reading the books they tell me to and thinking about the topics they assign, I wonder what exactly it is that I'm doing. My life right now, as much as I enjoy it on one level, seems comically and irredeemably random much of the time.
I told one of my new law school friends my strategy for answering questions in the class, and then I heard it again from the hapless Shawn just before she got booted from The Apprentice: Martha and now I wonder if it is the way everyone stumbles through adulthood, faking it 'til you make it.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
It was an awesome trip home. My sister came up too, of her own volition, and the entire time she gave very strong signals that she is slowly learning to pull her head out of her butt and act like a cool adult person. So that was exciting. We watched "National Treasure," which is a cheesy Da Vinci code of a movie about the Declaration of Independence, the Freemasons, and Nicolas Cage, in his finest work since "Captain Corelli's Mandolin." We visited the new mall. Did you know that Victoria' s Secret has shed its previously classy image and is now going for a "Sexiest Store on Earth" motif, complete with black walls and pink neon? It looked like a brothel at Disneyland. I don't know how I felt about that. It was awkward walking by it next to my parents, I can tell you that.
So that was my weekend. I am trying to post more regularly, and this happened to be on my mind. Seacrest out.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
You begin to install Norton right before your morning torts class. Something is wrong - the screen is frozen and an error box has appeared - fatal error - the mouse is not responding - so you restart. When you restart it is as if you have opened a door into the wrong room. Your icons have been replaced with uniform blank boxes. You cannot open any files, any programs. Somehow, in this fog of uselessness and utter confusion, you are able to access the internet.
You spend two hours of class wracked with nerves, sweating. You hastily take out a notebook to take notes, but you can't focus. You hastily scrawl a note: "My computer died - should I stay or go try to fix it?" but you don't know who to show it to. You stay. You can't restore it, you can't work in safe mode, you can't access the twenty-odd documents that are the sum of your nascent law school career. At one point in class your arm starts shaking. You think of what you will say if you are called on. Once, in class, your computer emits a loud and broken beep and many people turn to look at you. A death knell.
After class you run to the tech center and they can't help you. You need to reinstall Windows, apparently, but your files should be ok, and until then you are stuck with a thousand-dollar paperweight. You eat lunch in ten minutes before class starts. Your body is anxious and exhausted from worrying. In a fit of inspiration you realize that you can email your notes to yourself, so you do that - you'll be ok.
People were talking about you and your dying computer today - you heard your name in the cafeteria. You left law school today feeling low, low in the dirt, stressed and discombobulated. You needed a drink, you almost needed a cigarette. Your new goal over the weekend is to restore your computer.
Thank God you spent $40 on Norton Antivirus to avoid any debilitating problems with your laptop.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Well, there was no wine. Nor was there cheese. There was an open snack bar, though, and a woman selling programs and Statue of Liberty foam crowns. And there were 85 Asian tourists as well as a smattering of Europeans, other miscellaneous tourists from other countries like the Midwest, and a few New Yorkers who had clearly gotten on the wrong boat. Right as we left the dock, the announcer (Paul, who regaled us with a two-hour lecture and a helpful tutorial on tipping practices) pointed out the other boats across the pier - the ones with sleek lines, the ones with tinted windows and provocative curves. Those were the dinner and dancing boats, the ones we should have been on. But they were too expensive. So instead we spent a romantic evening on Toot Toot the Ferryboat, moonlighting as a night cruise from its usual duty of shuffling bored Staten Island workers to the city.
But that was all right. It was awesome. A beautiful night, chilly, with a good woman at my side. I almost fell asleep, but that was natural given the conditions and time of day. The city was so beautiful at night - the buildings offering their own mosaics of light, the water a wine-dark mirror reflecting it all. Very romantic, very Gatsby in a way. Not quite the casanova moment I had hoped for, but when the lecturer stopped talking and you could focus on the lapping of the waves against the side of the boat and the distant twinkling of flashbulbs from the top of the Empire State Building, the night gained an unexpected charm of its own.
Monday, October 03, 2005
When I was taking improv classes at the UCB I saw Amy a few times in different shows, and she was the most endearing thing on two legs. She's funny, smart, and good-looking. She can do a lot of accents, she's good with prop work. One of the only lines I can remember from an improv show was when she was playing a wacky detective and described her technique as "sensalytical." I know improv stories don't translate well, but I almost peed myself at the time.
So that's that. I love Amy Poehler and I think she is the alpha and omega of Saturday Night Live right now. That's all I have to say - I just wanted to put this out there to pander to her and write about some happier things.
Saturday, October 01, 2005
On friday morning I came in late to work, because I had to pick up a tuxedo for a big banquet that night (a banquet to which Lea had dedicated a great deal of time and effort). I breezed into the office, tux in hand, and went back to my office. Tara came in and told me I should sit down. I said no, immediately knowing why she wanted me to sit and also being irritated that she was being so stereotypical. "Just tell me," I said as I reached up to hang the tuxedo. She told me Lea had died that morning, and I dropped the tux and it crumpled into a pile on the floor. I squatted down there and stayed for a minute and then hugged Tara. "It's ok to cry," she said. "I know," I said. She was talking like a Hallmark card.
I went to see my boss who had to keep doing banquet planning, even though she was devastated, and we couldn't even talk about anything. We just had to keep moving forward. That day I wept in my office a bit but that was all. And that day it stopped raining for the first time all week, since she had slipped into wherever she was.
That night, after the banquet, after everything, I walked home with my tux in a bag and cried as I walked. L came down and took care of me that night, and I felt utterly broken and defenseless. I slept in her arms and I woke up at some point and we made love, and oddly enough I thought of Lea at the time and felt that it was good - this was the most alive I could be, and I wanted to honor Lea's memory by living.
I think of her all the time still, and we kept Lea's spirit with us through the rest of the year. I dreamt of her once and felt such a sense of peace when I woke up. I was able to say goodbye and speak to her - in the dream I was an inconsolable mess, and she was calm and friendly, warm, vibrant, happy. It was the goodbye I wanted.
So now it's been a year. The weirdest thing, maybe the saddest thing (certainly the dumbest), is that for her memorial, someone forgot to proofread the program. Instead of noting the date of her death October 1, 2004, it was listed as October 1, 2005. And now here we are. One year later and: I remember her voice, I remember her friendship and gentleness, I remember the sense of unfairness at her sudden departure. She walked a rough road - mistreated by men, ravaged by illness, aged before her time. But she was a kindred spirit to me in some ways - a reader, a lover of the Delaware shore, a woman who embraced the city as her adoptive home. I think of her a lot and maybe that's only because death places those we miss in high relief, but she was a friend to me and she knew a lot about me.
The summer before she died, Lea sent me and my boss a postcard from Cape Henlopen, where she and her sisters had gone for vacation. It read:
Hello Lavinia and Michael,
We are camping about a mile from this breakwater. Gorgeous days, great campfire meals, star studded evenings. We are in paradise. Michael, I've been collecting info for you on the young and hip life around here.
I may never return, so carry on! Going for a swim now.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
"Stems and seeds, stems and seeds," someone was saying. Mentally I was trying to remember what that meant, because I knew I had heard that before, but I wasn't quite - OH MY GOD. MARIJUANA.
I had never been in the same room as it before. It lay there limply - there wasn't much left. Everyone started talking about this apparently epic night last week, when they returned from a solid six hours of boozing to get high and watch movies. Two people started comparing dealers. "Do you know Andres?" "Do you know Turkey?" Somebody mentioned some other drug they had ingested that night. They talked about pot dates.
I was shocked. I didn't say anything about my narcotically-virginal self, or how I had to ask my parents what pot smelled like. I didn't say anything about how when I first moved here I would nearly break into a run to get away from the dealers in Washington Square Park, who walk up to you with a smooth yet insistent whisper, "Smoke? Smoke?" At dinner we somehow avoided comparative drugs stories, which I was grateful for, but it was a very odd night. The whole time I was preparing some kind of Nancy Reagan/Just Say No quip to avoid the issue.
I'm going to school with a bunch of casual potheads... maybe it will be that much easier to make law review. I don't know. It was weird and funny and kind of sad. Mostly shocking.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
This weekend was the New Yorker Festival, what has become my favorite event in the Manhattan calendar. The first time I went was in 2003 - L and I saw Michael Cunningham, Jhumpa Lahiri (be still my heart), Dave Eggers, and others giving readings across town. It was an amazing night - hopping on trains to get from one venue to the next, getting lost downtown, stealing a flyer advertising the festival that I had framed and hung on my wall, and finally seeing my fellow New Yorker compatriots. I didn't get to go to any events last year because of work obligations, but this weekend L and I have been out at full force.
Last night we saw two readings over at the Directors Guild. First up was Michael Chabon and Stephen King. Chabon read the first chapter of his upcoming novel, a Jewish hard-boiled crime fiction/noir type deal. It did not keep my interest - I actually fell asleep at the reading, which was embarassing. But with Stephen King I was back on board - I've always loved his books, and he read an excerpt that was suspenseful and scary. He is so down to earth and unpretentious about his craft.
Next up was Zadie Smith and Jonathan Franzen. Zadie read a chunk of her new novel and decked it out with a variety of accents (her native English, American, Jamaican, Nigerian). It was awesome, very funny and winsome, and she was surprisingly pretty. Very tall, and she walked very purposefully up to the podium. Her voice was deeper and more rugged than I thought it would be. Jonathan Franzen read part of his latest New Yorker essay, "My Bird Problem," encompassing his passion for birding, global warming, and the collapse of his marriage. He was incredibly droll and tentative, almost embarassed by his presence. I loved this essay so much - it was one that I read aloud to James while we were driving through Tennessee or Mississippi - and to hear the author recite it, knowing what was ahead, was wonderful. Although I think I read it just as well as he did. I felt such affection and affinity with him - he reminded me of me in a way, with his smarts and neuroses and use of humor as an attempt to bind the two (sorry for the ego there). During the questions and answers, the two were an utterly charming pair - Franzen had no patience for foolish questions and deflected them well. They talked about the challenges of writing, the struggle to find the right tone, fiction versus non-, and their feelings about poetry ("Sometimes we worry that the novel will become like poetry in a few years," Franzen said. He talked about how much work it took to slog through the typical New Yorker poem - he is so right). It was chilly in the auditorium, and Jonathan gave Zadie his blazer to wear. It was very titillating for the crowd, in an odd way, seeing these two people we loved getting along so well. He loved her generosity and affection for her characters, too. The best question of the night was from a young woman who talked bout how Jonathan's work doesn't provide answers to the big questions, but does at least try to illuminate the arguments. She said reading him was like not knowing math and doing the homework with somebody who didn't know math either - you weren't sure about things, but at least you knew someone understood you.
Boy, do I love Franzen. I want to be like him (in a limited way) and I want to write like him. His essays inspire me to make this blog (and the rest of my writing) something I can be proud of.
Today L and I went to see David Remnick (another lit-hero of mine) interview John Updike. It was interesting, but it was still listening to an old man ramble for 90 minutes. I can only take so much. He talked about his influences, how he got started, his own ambiguity to New York. He said people who live here travel in very narrow routes, which makes sense. He actually saw the towers fall on September 11th, and he said the way the collapsed in on themselves and shimmied it down - it was like "a silk dress falling off a woman." Beautiful. He said to write at least an hour day if you want to make it. He was very smart and spry and erudite. I think in hindsight my appreciation for that conversation will grow.
So that's my New Yorker festival. I love it so much. If anyone is interested, they're blogging the hell out of it over at Beatrice. To be among other readers is such a delight. I love this city.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
They had an amazing light board behind them. They opened with “Square One” and immediately the board lit up in white behind them with a string of four numbers running along with it. What will happen when it reaches zero, I absently wondered as the band’s silhouettes crossed the screen. Well, let me tell you: the clock flattens to 0000, the chorus of the song kicks in and the lights on the lightboard and around the stage explode with color – the whole place is lit up and moving, green, red, blue, bursting from the stage out to us, the band may not even exist anymore, it’s just this kinetic explosion of sight and sound that announces to 15,000 people that something is happening. And that set the tone for the rest of the two-hour set. Most of the music was from the new album, which I loved for the total rock-arena anthem tracks, where we used hand gestures to follow the notes up the scale and sing along to them like this: “Bup be doo be doo boo dee boo boo” (that’s the opening line from “Talk”). Except for a few of their glacially paced, funeral dirge, evolution-is-passing-you-by ballads, I was in hog heaven.
Not to mention the fact that Gwyneth Paltrow and precocious wee Apple were sitting about 50 feet from us, and that when Chris Martin ventured into the audience he ended up about 35 feet from us, and that basically I couldn’t have asked for better seats or a better companion or a better experience. And do I regret spending 35 dollars I don’t have on a concert t-shirt that I’m almost afraid to wear? No, I do not. Not for the music, not for the emotion, not for the sight of the whitest crowd in
Sunday, September 04, 2005
The best thing, though, is her songs - they are catchy and she has a great range, starting low on the verses and swooping up on the choruses, then riding a crest of adlibs back to her gospelish roots before the song shudders to a finish, spent and breathless. The bridges of her songs are always the best, always, with their attitude and vocal altitude and clear, declarative sentences. Swallow me then spit me out. Shut your mouth I just can't take it. Her two songs are a bit contradictory, sure, but the woman remains the same. And that's what we - me and the rest of America and the recently-converted musico-cultural elite - love.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
The actual course was two loops around Central Park, plus a bonus mile. I tried to stay positive, but "You can do it!" eventually became, "You have to do it. You can't tell people you failed. Don't humiliate yourself, don't shame the family." Cowed, I pressed on, availing myself of the rest stops and trying, honestly to not throw up for the last five miles. My mantra, besides "Don't shame the family," was "Make it a burp, make it a burp."
In the humidity and dampness, trying to jockey for position among improbably swift old people and apparently bionic professional runners, I tried to distract myself. "Wow, you're in law school. What do you think of that?" and "How does it feel to be engaged? To L?" But I was only fooling myself - I spent the entire race thinking about how far I had come, what percentage of the race I had completed, whether I had to repeat this section of the course, what hills were coming up, when the water station would appear, how quickly I could comfortably run, what my mile time was.... It was horrible, like computing obscure baseball statistics for two hours.
But the point is, I did it and I am proud of myself. It was as painful as the Great Saunter back in May, but it wasn't as pleasant to endure. After this race, my catalog of injuries includes: a painfully sore knee, blisters on my right foot, and chafed and bloodied ankles. The backs of my socks and sneakers were bloody when the race finished. Think about that. It was like the Passion of the Listless Runner out there. No good.
And yet -- doing it gave me a sense of satisfaction I rarely find nowadays, a sense of physical pride; I took one of the best naps ever afterwards (the most fun I've had in my bed alone); the rest of the day was nonchalant and pleasant; and I will sleep like a rock tonight. I think, after the pain fades away, I will look forward to doing this again in Staten Island in October.
And also: I have another reading coming up in three weeks, on September 19. I have to learn how to write again. Topics to discuss: the engagement, law school, the southern trip, Six Flags, this race. I have to learn to write.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Season-wise, I don't think you are likely to improve on summer 2005. I went on three trips: the comically bad bus tour through southern Italy with my family in May; the life-altering Calfornia trip in June with L; and the profoundly fun southern odyssey in August with James. I am a lucky man. I also left one job, in a way that was much harder and more heart-wrenching than I thought it could be, and braced myself for the student life, which begins right now. And I read some good books this summer, too, especially: "Heaven Lake," by John Dalton, "War Trash," by Ha Jin, and "Politics: Observations and Arguments," by Hendrik Hertzberg (friends call him Rick).
It was a great season, my winning season (I also got to see two minor league ball games, both wonderful). I am thankful for it, and I guess I am ready to do well in law school. I can do this. I am this. I am wearing flips.
Wish me luck...
Monday, August 15, 2005
It was an amazing trip but I'm afraid I can't do it justice - I didn't keep up my travel journal while we were in the thick of it, so I just have the summary notes I took after we had returned. But this trip scratched an itch I've been nursing for a long while, since I learned about Andrew Jackson in high school and suffered an instant infatuation and desire to get to the Hermitage, his house. So far, this is my first and only presidential crush.... not counting Jefferson. Or FDR. But this is getting weird.
Everything was so Southern about this trip, the way I hoped it would be. Friendliness, heat, the buzzing of insects, the smell of cedar, old, drooping trees, dilapidation. It was romantic but uncomfortably so. Faulkner's house, Rowan Oak, was a dream: less of a musem and more like someone's home. Seeing his writing room was genuinely inspiring, and seeing the origins of the world he created - a literary genesis, a Big Bang - imagining an entire mythology and landscape being spun from this house, these walls, that desk - as a reader I was inspired.
The rhythms of the trip were strange as well - driving until ten or eleven at night, staying awake until late to drink or watch old reality shows, eating a big meal at lunch and little else through the day. As always traveling with James was fantastic. It was a great trip - bigger than I thought it would be. I've been watching more than my fair share of CMT as a result, inspired by our sojourn in Nashville and the beautiful country girls we saw playing in the bars. Chely Wright, anyone?
I'm back home now and will probably head back to the city tomorrow. There is not much for me here, I'm a bit bored. Law school is seven short days away. Very excited and looking forward to writing this thing a bit more often now that summer is winding down and my real life is resuming.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Two important things came out of this day trip: (1) I may be getting too old for this. After the second coaster, which was particularly violent and seizure-inducing, being one of the sleek new modern ones that are made of fiberoptic cables and videogamers' darkest fantasies, I felt like someone had applied an Indian burn to my brain stem. We kind of staggered around and waited for our synapses to reconnect. Meanwhile we watched a wide variety of adolescent social dynamics: the teenage guys who learned all of their cuss words (thug #1: "Fuck this shit!" thug #2: "Bitch!") and the gaggle of ten girls with their sad lonely one male friend who clearly has no guy friends of his own ("Justin, come ooonnnn!" "Oh my God, Mallory, you are so hurting me right now!"). From all of this I ascertained that I may be too old to subject my body to this kind of experience, and that I shouldn't spend my leisure time with teenagers.
(2) We saw at least three overweight people be ejected from the roller coasters they had just boarded after the safety harnesses and lap bars could not contain them because they were too fat. This was embarassing each and every time. Here comes Bobby or Melinda Thunderchunks, waddling up to the car after a thirty or forty minute wait, and they can't get the overhead safety bar to latch into place. Soon Attendant #1 comes over and leans their entire body into the structure, but it won't click. #1 makes a not so subtle hand signal to Attendant #2, and then both of them are straining with all of their mat to displace this poor bastard's body mass enough to strap them into place. Finally they give up, exchange a brief word with the kid, and the kid waddles down and out.
This made me sad for the kids, while at the same time repulsed by them. It was humiliating for them, and everybody waiting saw it happen. A couple of them tried to laugh it off, but nobody else was laughing with them - everybody was disgusted (and, he shamefully admitted, kind of thrilled by it too). Let's face it, extra wide seats on roller coasters are just not a good idea. Slim down or stay home, I guess. It was just so pathetic all around. No wonder the terrorists hate us.
I had never seen this before, and today it happened time after time after time. What is wrong with this country?
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Tomorrow I have lunch plans, though. That is the rock upon which I will build my day.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
I thought long and hard about how to make myself unattractive to the lawyers. I decided to nourish some of my own attitudes and plump them up, teasing them out like the hair on a midwestern person: well, I do sort of think police officers are more reliable than other people.... and if someone was innocent, why wouldn't they testify on their own behalf? Sure enough, after five jurors had been selected, I was called to a jury panel. There were nineteen of us, and I presumed they were looking for nine others. I made my first volley with the prosecutor, discussing my cousin who's a cop and my trust in the profession. I didn't want to toe the line into blind faith, but I came sort of close. Another attorney asked the group if we thought the indictment was proof of any wrongdoing, and I said, "well, where there's smoke, there's fire." He didn't like this, and started talking about how we could endlessly battle in cliches...
At lunch I started to get nervous. I knew the odds weren't good, and how could I compete with the jurors who had been crime victims themselves? I briefly considered buying a laxative at the drugstore and consuming it right when I went back in, but this would have been a little rash. I think I sealed the deal, though, when the prosecutor was (in a certain interminable prosecutorial fashion) reminding us that this wasn't "Law & Order" or "CSI" - there were no scripts, no neat resolutions, just real people. Could we all agree to that? I was nodding and smiling as she droned on. "Yes, Mr. ----, I see you nodding?"
I opened my hands. "I think we can all agree that this isn't a movie," I said. One other juror laughed. I don't think the prosecutor appreciated it.
But you know what? They excused me from the jury. I was kind of a jerk, but I didn't lie or lose my integrity. (I see that now I sound like a booted reality show contestant, but whatever.) I served my duty for three days and I've fulfilled my jury requirements for the next six years. It was an interesting lesson for law school, that's for sure.
Monday, July 25, 2005
I am afraid to say too much about today, because I learned all about juries and the history of Western-style justice and the dangers I risk in sharing too much information thanks to a twenty-minute video the clerk made us all watch. It had surprisingly high production values for government work and began with a dramatic reenactment of the trial systems of yore. At first I thought they were kicking things off with a MOnty Python clip, but I was mistaken. I did laugh, though, when the narrators turned out to be Diane Sawyer and Ed Bradley (others did too). For some reason it was funny to hear things like this:
"In medieval England, suspected criminals were bound at the hands and feet and thrown into the river. If the suspect floated, it meant he was guilty. If he sunk, he was considered innocent... Hi there - I'm Ed Bradley of Sixty Minutes."
I didn't make any jury friends but it was an interesting cross-section of Manhattan: doctors, artists, TV people, journalists, lawyers, teachers. MD, JD, PhD, GED. When 18 potential jurors were seated in the jury box, they had to give a narrative statement explaining where they lived, their occupation, education, experience with the criminal justice system, etc. It was interesting to hear people summarize their lives so succinctly. I tried to practice my piece from my seat in the gallery. Don't try to be funny, just be direct. Mention the fiancee, but the not the cousin who's a police chief. Should you say you're going to law school? Questionable. Anyways, after a fairly monotonous day today (reading Morningside Heights, the Virginia Quarterly Review and stray sections of the day's Times) hopefully tomorrow will run smoothly or excitingly. I've reached the point where I'd almost rather not be selected for a trial than serve on one. We shall see. I'm still waiting for some Grishamesque excitement.
Over the weekend, my parents came into town, following an unprecedented two-hour blaze of cleaning, powered by pure Lysol, sweat, and gristle. I hung out with Russell. I briefly saw part of the improv marathon at UCB. And I ended my job in a haze of Persecco and sentimentality. Thankfully I was too tipsy to really consider what was going on.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Finally the appointed hour arrived and we went over to the West End. I was nervous as hell. They had printed up Lavinia's notes from my initial interview, back in the summer of 2002, and rereading my own words was a humbling experience. I was proud of some of my language and a touch embarassed by my naivete. People began trickling in and I developed a stock set of small-talk retorts and anecdotes. Yesterday I went to the movies again at midday - and Lavinia told her colleagues and boss about it, so I took a fair amount of crap for it, but it was very funny. L came, too, so she was very impressive and I was glad people could meet her. The conversation was smooth and it felt genuinely fun, which you can't always say about an office party.
For the main event Tara and Lavinia clinked on some glasses and got everyone's attention (maybe 30 people there in all at that point). Tara read a brief thing about me and it was heartfelt and touching. I shifted where I stood and put my hands in my pockets, then crossed my arms, then tapped my foot. I wasn't sure where to look. Lavinia read a longer piece recounting our august history together, and it was funny and embarassing. Afterwards they presented me with a big scrapbook - chock full of emails and flyers and programs, the result of two years' work, as well as their speeches and my own words from the infamous 'Scholar Weekly' emails. The book is really spectacular. And they gave me an orchid, too, our signature gift to our speakers. I said a few words of praise about my two lady colleagues and talked a bit about the office and what I was taking from it - I feel like I was incoherent - I was definitely tipsy at the time, but I covered these bases: "Lavinia was a great friend, and occasionally, a great supervisor;" "I couldn't leave the office unless I knew it would be take care of, and Tara is going to do an amazing job of it;" "I believe in our work here in S&F and I am so honored to be a part of it;" "I hope I can learn half as much in law school as I did here;" and, "there just aren't enough words..." and I thanked them for coming. This is what I remember. Winston Churchill I was not.
The party was supposed to end at six but we didn't leave until 7:30, and L and I returned to my house with the book and the plant in tow. I drunkenly fell asleep and woke again a little while ago. After L left I started reading through the book they gave me and found a surprisingly large section of testimonials from my students and my colleagues. I was listening to Eric Benet's song "India" at the time and lost it a bit. It was really touching to read what people had taken the time to say about me - things I did that I didn't think anyone noticed, things that made a difference for people that I didn't even know. I was so grateful to work in the kind of position and in the kind of community where you can make an impact like this. Receiving a book-ful of people's good will and encouragement for this next chapter of my life -- like when Tara was talking about me, and she mentioned my engagement to L, and this murmur of approval went through the room -- it breaks your heart in a way to realize that people care and that you haven't just been a shadow on the wall.
I'm so thankful for this chapter in my life, and to even have a tangible reminder of it. I'm not the same person I was when I waltzed into this world as a 22 year-old, and I miss that guy, but I'm thankful for the lessons I've learned. But still, it is heart-breaking to me, now.
On the card of the orchid Tara and Lavinia wrote, "With love, affection, and a touch of sadness." As excited as I am for everything ahead, it is so hard to walk away from the people who love you and make you feel like you matter.
But the race was different. I was one of ten thousand people decked out in the same red shirt and following the same instructions issued by the same chipper British man. (Being herded around, though, reminded me that I would much rather be alone than one of a crowd - it is easier to follow your own instructions.) Along the five miles they had different musical acts set up to goad your progress: Fountains of Wayne (what?), Chingy (who?), Nina Sky (who's she?), DJ Z-Trip (Is that like EZ Pass?), and, finally, Joan Jett (she's not dead?). Running sans iPod was nice, and Nina Sky's "Move Your Body" was surprisingly rousing. I attempted a thunder clap but started cramping up, so it was abortive, tragic as that may be.
The actual run, the progress of my feet across the pavement and my body's willingness to supply energy and adapt to this endeavor, was awesome. The entire time I told myself to take it slow. When I would see myself becoming ambitious - passing other people, charging up or breezing down a hill - I would force myself to slow down to a stately pace. This was hard to maintain, but I never felt any severe pain or stiffness. Once I reached the fourth mile marker I opened up a bit, and I sprinted through the last half mile, making up for lost time and passing many people on the far right edge of the path, weaving around metal fences and up onto curbs. At the line I had energy to spare and I felt fantastic. I didn't stop, and I think I came damn close to my 40 minute goal.
But the actual speed is not what matters - what matters is the discovery of a new way to run, to move. Usually I am hurtling forth at the brink of mayhem, pushing my body to move as fast as possible and demanding the rest of me to keep up with a stubborn will. Today, though, every step was under my control. I felt in control of myself through the entire race, and saying no to my desire to speed up somehow took more than the eager abandon that usually drives me to sprint and compete.
I am still knee-deep in Potterania, and I felt like Harry himself being able to accomplish a great deal but meting out his efforts calmly and assuredly. I think exercising this control and being pleased with the result (respectable time, no major injuries) was a great antidote to some of the fears and insecurities that have been whispering to me in the quiet moments. In this time of transition, I do maintain control over some elements of my life - and today I was deeply grateful for this physical manifestation of my own agency, an ability to know when to let others pass and when to run without feet even touching the ground. It feels so good.