Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Gender wars

Tonight was ridiculous. I went to see Times columnist Maureen Dowd, the scathing, intelligent, beautiful, curvaceous, well-facially-structured, name-dropping, thiry-minutes-late-arriving, nickname-bestowing, witty, erudite, urbane, Blue State queen Maureen Dowd, at Barnes and Noble in Union Square.

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.
Turqoise: [Silence]
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).
Turqoise: [silence]
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


This evening I got to hang out with my friend Russell today. He's a born-and-bred New Yorker but he lives in Colorado Springs, where he works with USA Swimming and goes all over the world for swim meets - Korea, Australia, the Olympics in Greece. I hadn't seen him for a couple months and it was awesome to catch up. But really we only had about two hours to catch up, considering the work I have to do and his plans for the evening. I'll see him in January, which is terrific, but I was disappointed that we didn't have more time to hang out. There's a difference between catching up with someone and sharing new and common experiences, and usually we strike a good balance. Like tonight, we hung out at Boston Market and fleshed out the stories we've traded over email and blogs (I know, right?) and then caught the tree-lighting holiday extravaganza at Lincoln Center. But I miss the kind of normal, unexceptional contact that makes a friendship and tacitly reminds you what exactly is so great about a person.

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

Thanksgiving updates

Thanksgiving at home was awesome. It turns out I was deeply exhausted by the time I made it home, so I slept for eleven hours the first night and about ten hours over the next several. We hit all my favorite restaurants, and I finished "In Cold Blood." My sister turned twenty. Here are some random tidbits from the trip:

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

The Plot Against America

I just finished Philip Roth's novel, "The Plot Against America." Definitely my favorite book of his, and one of the best books I've read in a long time. The story imagines an alternate history in which Charles Lindbergh (the aviator, bereaved parent, and Hitler sympathizer) beat FDR in the election of 1940. After signing pacts with Germany and Japan and watching the war creep across the continents, the Lindbergh Administration slowly starts making moves toward a final solution of its own - creating on Office of American Absorption to de-Jew the Jews, and forcibly relocating Jewish families from their long-established neighborhoods.

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

Let's not do this again/Ominous

It was a hell of a weekend. I have a big paper due tomorrow. Thursday I was in the library the entire day tapping away at it. Saw some classic episodes of "Survivor" and "The Apprentice," and then did some more work. Friday I worked all day in the library and went straight from there to see my old buddy Harry Potter, whose school years sure have a strange rhythm to them, with an appearance from the most evil creature in the universe happening with shocking regularity near the end of each term. You'd think someone would set a trap or something once the snow started to melt. Friday we were up until five drinking wine. Saturday I woke up, had some brief time with L and returned to the library for eight hours. Came home, ate a burrito stuffed with pathos and self-doubt and did more work until SNL. Eva Longoria was awesome and awesomely good looking. Then I was up til three. Today I woke up and went straight to the library. Worked for 8 hours, had dinner with law school peeps at Boston Market and came back home in the dark, and I've been working since then. And now the paper is done, I think. That's what it took.

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

My favorite place

At school, in the men's room, there is the typical industrial-strength toilet paper dispenser mounted to the walls. A thick, black plastic cocoon enclosing two massive rolls of gritty, angry TP. The manufacturer who makes the cases for my law school is called "San Jamar." So I often find myself thinking about "San Jamar, " and even uttering it under my breath if no one is around.

San Ha-marrrrrr....

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

Off topic

We got the place! This morning L and I met with the broker and the landlord and signed all the forms. It's so awesome and I'm so happy! Here's what I'm worried about: it's a free-market apartment, it's not rent-stabilized or anything. And what my budding legal-beagle mind wants to know is: then why are they renting it cheaply? Are they going to jack up the rent next year? Or are my fears of a subterranean demon whose sole portal into this earth happens to be in the through our toilet or something really valid? Assuming I survive exams, we will move in after Christmas. Of course we are paying rent as of December 15, so for that ten days or so I will merely consider the new place as our western bungalow. So that is all well and good.

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

The hunt

Last night was a very significant night in the apartment search. At L's request I met with a broker to go see an apartment on West 3rd. It was on a nice block, tucked behind Washington Square Park, with some markets nearby. The apartment was on the fifth floor of a walkup and the entire building smelled like Chinese food. m The apartment was cramped and cluttered with the previous resident's stuff. Too many dishes in the sink. They had put up a wall dividing the bedroom in half, which left room for only the bed on one side and a dank, crabbed office area on the other. I knew within a minute and a half (I knew walking up the General Tso stairway) that this would not be the apartment. But I felt obligated to look around anyway, thoughtfully examining ligh fixtures and room dimensions and muttering about the moulding.

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

Chips on my shoulder

I have been kind of a stress case lately. At school they are ratcheting up the pressure. I was there at 8 pm last night (Saturday) and talked to some of my bleary-eyed classmates who were talking about how they had been there all day, how they had so much else to do, etc. And my only questions was: Why? There's no reason to spend the entire weekend in the library. We already do that during the week. If you can't have fun at any point during the week, there is a problem. This I learned from my mother. So this weekend I made a conscious choice to exercise, to sleep, to have fun, knowing that it's back to a constant grind during the workweek. I won't let these law school masochists get the best of me. I'd rather be happy and well-rested than a Law Review editor with pasty skin, an ignorance of pop culture or current events, and atrophied muscles.

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.