Thursday, December 21, 2006

Top Songs of 2006

It was a great year for music. If 2005 was marked by a resurgence of Coldplay and their signature exquisite agony and remorse, 2006 was marked by my return to the gym, and the house music, thumping bass lines, and shrieking women that came with it. This year's music was a lot faster than last year's. Timbaland was the major force behind most of the songs I loved, and you could find in gym class or on the treadmill to pretty much every one.

10. Ciara, "Get Up" - Your typical Jazze Phe/Ciara classic. Crunky. A great variety of stuff in this song, from the verses to smooth bridge to the chorus to Chamillionaire's great verse. This was the first song of my hip hop class, so maybe it's here for sentimental reasons. "To the city boys she fine and pretty / in the country boys she fine and purdy."

9. Dixie Chicks, "Voice Inside My Head" - I like country songs that tell stories, and this one offers a spare tale of a woman evaluating the choices she has made ("I've got a place, got a husband and a child") and the mistakes that may have followed ("but I'll never forget, what I've given up in you"). It was interesting to hear in the months preceding the wedding, but it's catchy and great, and I love the wurlitzer in the background.

8. TI, "Why You Wanna"
- What I love about rap songs with a great beat is, I get to look forward to learning the words. So when TI jacked Crystal Waters' old music for his song, I was pumped. It's smooth, low-key, and it only took a couple weeks for me to rock out the second verse. This was my favorite song at the time of the wedding, and when my alarm went off on the morning of the big day, the radio started playing, with perfect timing, the start of the verse. A sign from above.

7. Cassie, "Me & You" - I heard this for the first time at The Beach club in Vegas with James, and I turned to him and said, this is kind of awesome. Spare, creepy, with classic r&B adlibs and stylings. The harmonies are almost unpleasant, the overall tone kind of sinister, and I haven't stopped listening to it since May.

6. Beyonce, "Deja Vu" - Most people seemed to disagree, but I thought this song was a great followup to "Crazy in Love." The horns were great, Jay-Z's verse was excellent, and she sang it really well. Did you see her on the BET awards in June? I think it was the sickest live performance I have ever seen. I sort of expected her to drop dead, or physically combust, once she reached the peak of the song.

5. Robin Thicke, "Wanna Love You" - this song became an anthem to me. Another white singer doing R&B, with a classic Neptunes beat. Although the song is sometimes a bit somnolent, Pharrell's rap kicks it back up. The lyrics are good too: "she's the kind of girl you wanna marry / science would say that she's a second sunshine / and now my life is sweeter than berries / I guess if we had sex our love would turn to wine." I love wine!

4. Pussycat Dolls, "Beep" - Usually I hate the Black Eyed Peas, but hit it out of the park with this track. Great use of strings and heavy instrumentation, smart lyrcis, more bantering back and forth. And the video is hot.

3. Unknown, "Evergreen" - I can't find this song on iTunes or anywhere else. It's not the shitty 1970s ballad by Barbra Streisand (an alarming discovery at first), but it's a treacly ballad nonetheless, converted into a heart-pounding, irresistible house beat that is completely unrelenting. This was the first and best song I learned from the gym - it's great and still makes me work a little harder. The ballad version on iTunes is not indicative of the song's quality at all. L laughed derisively when I played it for her.

2. Nelly Furtado, "Promiscuous" - I hated this song the first few times I heard it (in the car in Vegas), but by the end of the weekend I was growing to love it. It's clever, funny, and sexy. The beat is undeniable. I feel like there's this totally basement-level rhythm of the song that I alwasy get hooked into - this syncopated beat that I have to follow every time. Also, this song turned out to be the main dancing highlight of the wedding (the other one being, when we were having our first dance to "Ribbon in the Sky" and I realized everyone was watching us very intently, so instead of having a shared intimate moment we sort of tried to entertain everyone, dancing-wise).

1. Justin Timberlake, "My Love" - This song was preordained to be my all-time favorite of the year the first time I heard it. The first fifteen seconds or so are unbelievable, and it only gets better: eight interwoven vocal tracks announce "Aint another woman that can take your spot my--", and then: dununu dununu dununu dununu, dununu dununu dununu dununu, dununu dununu dununu dununu DUH DUH DUH - DUH - DUH. The lyrics are smart, plaintive, Timbaland's contribution ("So don't give away my") essential, and TI's rap is awesome and good-spirited and fun. You should see me snarling down the street as I mouth the words on the ipod. I love this track, and I have loved loving this track.

This would be one hell of a mixtape. Also, before we put a close on the year, I would also note my favorite albums of the year: JT's, obviously, John Mayer's "Continuum," and Dixie Chicks' "Taking the Long Way." It's been a great year.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Justin's new song

This is one of the highlights from last week's SNL - Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake's awesome new song. I love this on two levels: 1) it's hilarious and 2) it's an actual song I would enjoy if I heard it on the radio.

Let me tell you, 1990s-style R&B is enjoying a real Renaissance right now. Not to mention how foxy Kristin Wiig is looking right here.

Friday, December 15, 2006


I just finished exam # 3 of 4. They have all had moments of gruesomeness, and confusion. Today, for example, the first thing to do was read ten quotations and then identify them and write a couple sentences about each. I started scanning them all, and I recognized....not that one.....huh, what's that.....I don't know what that word means.....shit. I recognized one out of ten. I felt that weird warm prickle across my sides and knew that my body was revving up for fight or flight mode. Three hours later, my brain had impressed me with its depths and I had gotten most of them, although I guess on two.

Haven't been sleeping well this week, either. Six hours, tops, plus a lot of intermittent waking up, lying in bed wondering what time it is. Last night L and I were strolling down the street hand in hand, when we saw a small gaggle of old people crossing the street, against the light. A taxi came blitzing down the road, beeping, and the old people darted in slow motion to the other side. Then they started going off: "That cab was rude! Did you hear him beeping at us! I can't believe that!" Suddenly I found myself yelling at them: "HE HAD THE LIGHT!" Why was I talking? They didn't hear me, thankfully, but my hand was tight on L's. "What are you doing?" she asked. "I don't know," I said. And I didn't know.

I thought this exam period would be easier than last year's, but it really hasn't. I'll be done on Monday. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, so this period of ratty sleep, hysterical laughter, and yelling at pedestrians will end soon.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Best Books of 2006

I was reviewing the list of books I read for pleasure this year, and these are the ones I loved the most. In chronological order:

The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow
Nice Big American Baby by Judy Budnitz
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John Le Carre
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Oh The Glory Of It All by Sean Wilentz
Sophie's Choice by William Styron
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House by John F. Harris
The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

and, the book I am currently reading, which is phenomenal and a great finish to the year:

Look At Me by Jennifer Egan

There's a lot to be said about each of these books. The Budnitz collection has some of the creepiest and most unnerving short fiction I've ever read. The Le Carre helped me get through that godawful pre-marriage Catholic retreat weekend upstate. The Wilentz memoir was my companion through an amazing few days in Utah and Nevada with James. The Smith and Ford novels reminded me of the gifts and power of two of the best people writing today.

All in all, I think Sophie's Choice was the best book I read all year. The scope of this book astounded me: from the Auschwitz to post-war Brooklyn to my beloved Virginia. At times I felt the narrator, a young man, was me. Styron created characters with such depth, so many layers... the book was ambitious and precise and humane, I loved it.

William Styron died this year, a couple of months after I read the book. I read his other big book, The Confessions of Nat Turner, in 2002 and was similarly dazzled. Now I can't wait to read his other work, especially Lie Down in Darkness and Darkness Visible. On to 2007!

Coming soon: top songs of the year. And believe me, I have been thinking about this selection for a long time.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Saul Bellow, I have failed you

Yesterday I reached the 250-page mark in Saul Bellow's novel, "The Adventures of Augie March," and I bailed. The book has never grabbed me; it's a meandering, picaresque plot, which I don't like; there are 300 pages to go; the book was sapping my energy, making me feel guilty; and it's finals time, and I want to read something more fun. Still, when I bought the book the lady at the bookstore really encouraged me and told me to stick with it, so last night when I returned to the bookstore I felt the need to apologize and make amends to her. She clearly didn't care. "That's why they publish more than one book!" she said. Ok, lady. No need to make me feel like an idiot.

Last night at the movie theatre there was a mouse running around, along the aisle and under the seats. Everyone was shrieking and looking around, everyone lifted their legs so they were against the seats rather than on the floor. Every once in a while someone would jump or make a noise and everyone would look around to find the varmint. The great thing was, nobody wigged out and had a fit; everyone laughed, and people said, "Only in New York!" And, it added another level of entertainment for the movie, which was kind of grim and pessimistic, even though I still liked it ("Flannel Pajamas," for those keeping score, a movie that I can't imagine anyone who lives anywhere else but here going to see).

I am in the library now for the day, and will be here all day, just like yesterday, and perhaps like tomorrow. It's finals time! Time to drink a lot of water, eat three cookies ever three hours to perk myself up, exercise as often as possible, use YouTube as my own personal 1990s jukebox, and remember to fidget to burn calories and maintain blood flow. Finaaaaaaals.

Monday, November 27, 2006

CD Review: Continuum

"Continuum," the new album by John Mayer, is definitely his blackest solo album yet. There is a strong rhythm & blues current running through these songs. While the same thematic elements that launched his career are here - tangled love affairs, a reluctant acceptance of adulthood, neuroses and nostalgia - this is a stripped, pared-down disc that presents him at his best. Obviously, I love it.

I missed his blues moment a couple years ago, but the guitar licks, relaxed pace, and easy tempo of the album demonstrate that sensibility. He's working his falsetto a lot more, layering his vocals more often. Listening to the album, I could hear traces of James Taylor, D'Angelo, Jimmy Buffett, and (excuse me, but it's true) Justin Timberlake. Others can hear Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye in there, and that's great, but there are a few transcendant moments when he is right up there with the some of the best of today's R&B: the aforementioned D'Angelo, as well as Van Hunt. Seriously. If his last solo project, "Heavier Things," went a little heavy on the production, with horns and synthesizers and studio tricks aplenty, this album seems quieter, more mellow, more simple. One could imagine hearing a band run through it on a tiny club stage, and it would sound mostly the same.

The come hither song, "I can't trust myself (with loving you)" made me move the way I only do when I'm trying to seduce someone. On other tracks ("Vultures," "Belief") I was singing the chorus and trying to blacken it up a bit with some ad libs and some soul. "Heart of life" presents a simple and optimistic ditty that reminded me of James Taylor at his catchiest and most uplifting - this is a song I would teach my child to sing. There is a suite of bluesy ballads kissing off an unfortunate ex-lover (notably "I'm gonna find another you") that reveals his musical and vocal chops. Of course, I can't stand the current single "Waiting for the world to change," which I find annoying and preachy. But it's all uphill from there.

He continues his fight against growing up with "Stop this train," which is a great and ultimately touching song, relaying a dialogue between him and his father. He has made such a niche for himself with these quarter life crisis anthems ("Why Georgia," "No such thing," "Clarity" (the namesake of this blog) and others). I love them, believe me, and I plan my fits of weeping and journaling around them, but is this going to make sense when he's playing Wolf Trap in thirty years? Will we remember what the hell he's singing about?

As always, his lyrics are intelligent and warm and clever. Although John Mayer kind of seems cocky and sometimes obnoxious, and has let his hair grow to an unfortunate length, he can still deliver the goods. This is a CD to wallow in. I can't wait to learn the words. Hearing the album on the bus from DC for the first time, I was struck by how much it had won me over with just one listen. This is a strong, unified work, and I'm happy for Mr. Mayer, and I'm happy that I have received another dose of his music. For the last few years he has granted me a partial soundtrack to my young adulthood, and I am just thankful that my life is in rough parallel to his (in a way).

This is a beautiful album, and you should hear it.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Faux Thanksgiving 2006

Last night we celebrated our first ever Faux Thanksgiving - a holiday extravaganza that was so awesome, and required so much of our oven and stove, that our carbon monoxide alarm started shrieking obnoxiously the entire afternoon, and we eventually had to just take the batteries out. Since we all woke up alive, it worked out well. Anyways, the food was amazing, the company was great, and we sealed off the night with a few rousing rounds of Taboo. Here are the pictures:

L with our 11-pound masterpiece. It took a day and a half to prepare, but it was one of the best turkeys I have ever eaten.

The man of the house carving the turkey, which worked out well sometimes and less well at other times (see the next picture).

The spread, clockwise from top left: yams with marshmallow, two kinds of cornbread, an impish John, mashed potatoes (my specialty, and a true highlight of the meal), stuffing, asparagus, turkey, cranberries...

...Cous cous, salad, Lillian's grandma's jello salad (very different from the Dunn and Hall family jello salads, as we learned). And, finally, a few photos of the diners. Hopefully this will be the first of many Faux Thanksgivings to come.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Song review: "I can't tell you why"

Everyone who knows me, including the three of you who might read this post, understand the importance to me of mid-90s R&B. I already feel nostalgic for that period from roughly 93-98, the heyday of acts like Blackstreet, Joe, Monica, R. Kelly, Brandy, Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Aaliyah, and all the rest. Hearing the sounds of New Jack Swing brings back evocative memories of high school, my old Volvo, the confidence and confusion of adolescence. I loved it. Just in writing these last couple of sentences I have added more names to the roster of singers I listed three sentences ago - the list just won't stop.

I've been thinking about this particular musical era frequently. I found an iTunes playlist of 90s R&B that literally made me ache. The memories were overwhelming. Throughout my twenties, though, before the advent of the internet, two songs haunted me well past the end of their days on the radio: Aaliyah's "At your best" and Brownstone's "I can't tell you why." Both were remakes of older songs, both were slow but very distinctive and representative of a certain time and place. Aaliyah had quite a career until her tragic death in the summer of 2001, but Brownstone kind of fell off the map soon after this track. But I've been singing these two ditties in the shower for a decade, honest to God, and they both strike some great notes of love and melancholy and devotion.

Well, I caught up with "At your best" a couple years ago, and it was nearly as good as I remembered. And although I searched for it sporadically on iTunes and other filesharing sites, I never came across "I can't tell you why" - until tonight. I stumbled across it on YouTube and I was thrilled to hear it - I honestly haven't heard it since before the turn of the millennium. The damnedest part is that I remembered all of it - the words, the ad libs, the background vocals. The video is a little cheesy, definitly reflective of an urban aesthetic well past its expiration date, but there's still something magical (can I say magical? Yeah, roll with it) about the song. I am very thankful to have rediscovered it once again. Anyways, here it is, for your enjoyment.

Monday, November 06, 2006

State update: Connecticut

I spent the weekend in Connecticut, and in case you are wondering how things are there, I can tell you that Connecticut is: brisk. Not quite cold, definitely not warm, but very zippy and autumnal and worthy of a jacket and scarf. The leaves are mostly down, with a carpet of bright reds and yellows on the ground, and gray solemn tree branches poking into the sky. The sun sets quickly over the mountains there and the moon arrives earlier than you would hope. We were in a small town, home to a sturdy and impressive prep school and little else: a few coffeeshops, galleries, a bookstore or two and a restaurant with a name like "The Knife 'n' Ratchet." Maybe about three blocks, in Manhattan parlance.

Things in Connecticut are extremely old and colonial. If you can't date yourself to the American revolution, or the French and Indian War, or earlier, don't even bother. The people we saw were pure New England stock: brusque, leathery skin, deepset eyes, strong cheekbones. They all looked like John Updike characters, with that weird New England rural air about them (like some kind of mythical southern blue state). It seemed like a happy and complete life, meandering from the bookshop to the coffeeplace in you sandals and thick woolen socks.

Ah, Connecticut. It was quiet, relaxed, stately, confident. A great place for a weekend, that's for sure.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How to deal with a problem with your couch

... In 13 easy steps!

1. Own a couch that is honestly about 50 years old, a couch that your grandparents acquired after World War II, a couch that has spent significant amounts of time in many different zip codes, a couch that is a little worn and tired but still quite comfortable and no worse for the wear, except for the occasional hair spray stain from the 1960s-1970s.

2. Several years later, come to a dawning realization that the cushions of the couch all of a sudden seem kind of... dirty.

3. Two days later, mention this to your wife. Find out she has noticed it too. Be troubled.

4. A day later, look more closely at the discoloration. Note that it is kind of bluish, and is all along the top and edges and sides of the seat cushions. Could this have rubbed off from your jeans? Who knows?

5. Send a chummy email to your mother, asking if it's ok to put cushion covers in the washing machine. Don't feel reassured.

6. Call your mother five minutes later. Find out that you should probably dry clean it.

7. After you hang up the phone, look at the couch from different angles to see if it's really bad, or not really that bad. Ask your wife what she thinks. Ask your wife if this is something "people" would see, or something just you are aware of. Ask your wife about the odds of a drycleaner getting rid of the weird bluish fog on your couch. Is she 50% sure, or 80% sure it will work? Because you're like 35% sure. And what if it gets TOO clean, so that the rest of the couch looks weird and dingy compared to the newly pristine cushions? What if that is even worse than this?

8. Answer the phone when your mother calls again minutes later. Be reassured by the fact that, while you were obsessing over the couch, she had called your grandmother (after 9 pm, no less) for additional counsel. Consider that you come from a long line of people who are concerned about their couches. Listen to your mother's warnings of discoloration, and her recommendation to get some fabric cleaner and try to test it yourself.

9. At 9:30 pm, rally your wife for a late-evening run to the grocery store. Stop by Chipotle for a coke fifteen minutes before closing time. Always find the silver lining.

10. At the grocery store, fail to find any of the products you need. Buy a small plastic brush for more money than you think this item should reasonably cost. Wouldn't it be cheaper if it was made by some Malaysian orphan somewhere?

11. At home, strip the cushion, pick an unobtrusive area, and try to scrub out the fog with the brush and some cold water and some Tide. Watch in discouragement as the color bleeds a little bit. Drape the damp and bedraggled cushion lining over a chair and hope it dries in the morning. Make a tentative plan to maybe take it to the drycleaners in the morning, depending on how it looks. Or maybe try scrubbing it with just cold water, so the colors won't run.

12. Continue to worry about it. Can you afford to have a guy come in and clean the couch? Can you afford to replace the couch? Would you want to? Probably not.

13. Round up some NyQuil, kick back half a bottle of Pinot Grigio and wait until morning.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Watching a movie with my parents

I went home this weekend, and my parents and I spent Friday evening watching a movie called "The Sentinal," where Michael Douglas and Kiefer Southerland play secret service agents and Kim Basinger plays the first lady. Did you not see "The Sentinal"? Because it looked pretty mediocre? Yeah, I didn't either, but it was actually pretty enjoyable throughout, even though I had the bad guy pegged an hour before his true sinister nature was revealed. I am a true student of the cinema.

More amusing than the movie, however, was listening to my parents' commentary. They are the people who ask questions throughout the entire movie and never bother learning the characters' names. "Why is Michael Douglas running away from Kiefer Sutherland?" "So wait, is Kim Basinger still having an affair with Michael Douglas, or did they break up?" "Kiefer Sutherland will get the bad guy; after all, he's '24.'" Et cetera, through the entire movie. Although it does make you wonder about the whole stupid conceit of naming characters in genre movies where the actors' fame and reputation is vastly more powerful than the wooden stereotypes they're running around pretending to be.

I think they should make movies where the characters have the same name as the actors. To me, it is much more hard to believe that Kim Basinger is pretending to be someone named "Helen Naughahyde," or whatever, and she is the first lady of the United States, than to simply go into a movie and accept the fact that Kim Basinger is the first lady of the United States. That is a fact I could handle, and a country in which I could live. It could actually be fun to make movies this way, to subvert people's public personas (personae?) so that you have a movie where Tom Hanks turns out to have a meth lab in the back yard and America's Sweetheart Meg Ryan is actually battling a persistent case of Hepatitis-C. This would be much better than dealing with the stupid names movie characters have.

....One more thing that happened this weekend. We were sitting around debating the constant family issue of whether I need new clothes, and trying to end the discussion, I said they could just buy me new jeans for Christmas. My parents looked at each other, then said: "Well, when we got married Grandma and Pap Pap started to just give us a check for Christmas. We won't really do the whole pile of presents anymore, since you're married and all grown up. Also, you have to buy a gift for Grandma and Pap Pap yourself now. We won't sign your name on the card anymore."

What?! If someone had told me that getting married would be the death knell of Christmas, I would have reconsidered. If only I had known! I think back to last Christmas when I blindly and stupidly enjoyed the familiar pile of gifts and loot. This year, I'll run downstairs to find... an envelope. With a check in it. That I have to share. That is not the Christmas ideal I know and honor.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Music review: "Autumn in New York," Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

Autumn in New York
Why does it seem so inviting?
Autumn in New York
It spells the thrill of first-nighting

Glittering crowds and shimmering clouds
In canyons of steel
They're making me feel - I'm home

It's autumn in New York
That brings the promise of new love
Autumn in New York
Is often mingled with pain

Dreamers with empty hands
May sigh for exotic lands

It's autumn in New York
It's good to live it again

* * *

My friend Kateri first introduced me to this song before I came to the city four and a half years ago. It's a duet between Ella Fitzgerald and froggy Louis Armstrong, and when I first heard it, it was a prophesy of things to come. Now I'm in my fourth New York autumn, and every year when I hear it a familiar chord of nostalgia is struck. I think the song really captures something about the life here - it's weird, but the song really reminds me of a tactile sensation of walking through Central Park at night with damp leaves underfoot. That is autumn here, to me.

New York is the most autumnal of cities, I think. So many dreams have been made and lost here; everyone has come here in order to pursue their own futures, with the same sense of optimism and naivete in 2006 as in 1956 as in 1906 as in 1886. Everyone you meet who has come from somewhere else has a story, and aspirations. Among all of those people rising and falling is a certain undercurrent of wistfulness and melancholy and jealousy and happiness - and if that isn't the fall I don't know what is.

Anyways, this song is beautiful and it's worth 99 cents on iTunes. Every year when I hear it reminds me of previous layers of memories, and gives me a glimpse of how it will feel to miss the present moment. The singers couldn't be better, the tempo and melody couldn't be more lovely, and my autumns would never be the same without it.

Autumn in New York - it's good to live it again. Thanks, Kateri.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Work it

I was making the bed this morning and noticed a weird flash of light coming in from the street. There was a strange clomping sound, too. Ever curious, I made my way to the window and saw an extremely silly photo shoot taking place on the sidewalk. They were decked out with the huge lights, the big white screens, about ten or so assistants and prop-holders and hangers-on. The subject of the photographs was: two cherubic and ethnically diverse little girls, holding a long jump rope, and in the middle, a grown woman in a tan business suit and high heels on. The photographer would yell at them to start, and the girls would start swinging the rope, and this poor woman would start lurching upwards in her heels, her arms flailing as she tried to keep time to the rope. She actually did pretty well, I guess, although she would take her shoes off between takes and have a sip of Red Bull (!) from an assistant.

Long ago I was reading or watching something about models, and learned that some of them mentally repeat the word "C---" as they prance down the runway in order to maintain that certain constipated look that the fashion world really seems to devour. This morning I laughed thinking that this poor model in the business suit was thinking it every time she jumped upward: "C---! C---! C---!"

What a great neighborhood.

Monday, October 09, 2006

New Yorker Festival 2006

It's the greatest event in the New York City calendar! The New Yorker Festival 2006: three days of authors, thinkers, and insufferable snots. A few highlights:

FRIDAY: We went to see a reading by Jonathan Safran Foer and Edward P. Jones. Foer is a young Jewish writer, Brooklyn all the way, who is quite talented and read a short story involving Power Point slides and gimmicky typography. An entertaining story, pretty compelling and with more of an emotional punch than I had expected, but kind of weird with the slides and the Wingdings characters interposed in the middle. Edward P. Jones is a newly-discovered literary giant, a black Washingtonian with a major novel and some amazing short stories under his belt. His narrative voice is omniscient as in God-like, and his technique is just remarkable. The contrast between the two writers was jarring and unavoidable -- Foer seemed a little young and punky, while Jones was quiet and reserved and a little miffed. I was thinking of the book I've been reading lately (Jane Smiley's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel"), and how it describes the life/work trajectory of novelists. Tonight we saw two writers at different points in their careers. I look forward to the day when Foer has the experience and the confidence of Jones, eschewing silly computer graphics for a self-assured and relatable voice.

I actually got up and asked a question of Jones, and I was terrified: knees knocking, heart pounding. As I spoke my voice rose higher and higher, so my question actually trailed off and ended in some inaudible realm of panic and sweaty palms. But Jones answered it (no, he doesn't see his work in the context of other writers) and he didn't seem to think I was a moron....

...Unlike the person who introduced the two writers. This guy was the picture of Manhattan liberal snotty elite. He had ridiculous adverbs ("harrowingly audacious"), he mistitled the writers' works ("The Lost World," rather than "The Known World"), he sort of insulted Jones in the introduction ("I found his first book, 14 years ago, on the bargain table outside a bookstore in Cambridge") and he made up a word that does not or should not exist ("heartful").

* *

SATURDAY: We went to a panel discussion on the midterm elections, moderated by political stud Hendrik Hertzberg, with Congressmen Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Dana Rorhrbacher (R-Calif.). Unfortunately it turned into an actual debate of the issues, rather than a discussion of political predictions, trends, etc - the less acrimonious stuff. Sadly, Dana R. was intellectually outmatched by Barney, so it wasn't even sporting. The audience would groan and laugh when Dana said something particularly galling ("I have a petition signed by 12,000 scientists saying man is not responsible for the increased temperature of the earth") and I was sad to see our collective liberal smugness emerge yet again. Hendrik didn't moderate the thing too well, either. I left the event with raised blood pressure and anxiety.

The comical part came from the two stuffy gay dudes who sat in the aisle next to us. As we stood up to let them walk past us to their seats, one of them looked at me with this utterly disgusted grimace and eyed me from head to toe. Then he did the same to L as he walked by, remarking, "Is the seating general admission?" I turned to L and asked her if I had snot smeared across my face, because we just had received the dirtiest looks ever. She was laughing about it too. When the dude got up later to ask a prickly and logically incoherent question about gay marriage, I took my sweet time standing up to let him pass. Oddly enough, I saw him again later in the day by Union Square, 5 long blocks east and 20 blocks south.

* *

SUNDAY: We saw Zadie Smith give an extremely boring and dry and abstract lecture about.... something. I was definitely falling asleep during it, and was only surprised that I was able to fight Lecture Fatigue for as long as I did. She had powerpoint slides, too, and was using them to (unsuccessfully) counteract the academic talk she was giving about novels, the nature of writing, success and failure, etc. I enjoyed being in the same room as her -- she is smart, physically striking, and has a surprisingly rough and rich voice. Things perked up during the Q&A session, which I left early to go to the gym. Michael Cunningham was there, and he asked a good and somewhat bitchy question about the evolving nature of literary criticism. There was a small ripple in the crowd when we realized another esteemed novelist was in the room.

The lecture did get me thinking, though, about the nature of writing. Zadie talked about how hard the writing process can be, and it made me wonder if writers are only able to convey on paper a fraction of their intelligence and wit and brio. I'm always surprised at how easy to read Zadie's books are, and perhaps they are some compromised shadow of the perfect novel banging around in her head. Consequently, perhaps I would be able to write some crappy detective story or something, whereas Zadie writes these socially astute comic novels, and gods like Updike and Roth and Faulkner are just so far beyond the pale that they can even tap into that ideal novel in the sky.

* *

In sum, the festival was as awesome as ever. I have been reading a lot about novels and the nature of writing, so I have a lot of ideas right now floating around, and a strong intellectual desire to write (this desire it not matched by an actual desire to write, however, strong enough to get my ass off the couch). I love seeing writers and other readers, and sharing a common familiarity with the book scene. For one weekend, reading and reveling in books is a distinctly social phenomenon, and you have to take that wherever you can find it. When I die, I want somebody to chuck the new issue of the New Yorker in my casket with me (in a respectful, reverent way -- although how funny would it be if like a subscription card fluttered out of the casket as they closed the lid).

Other fantastic things about the weekend: an uproarious Friday night with John and Anna, a great afternoon on Saturday with the affable and globe-trotting Russell, a sweet time at the gym on Sunday, and ... this is the kicker: I happened to walk past the Virginia Sil'hooettes singing in Union Square. They were awesome and still completely cute, even if they were disturbingly young. I hadn't hung out with Russell while listening to a capella in way too long, and I'm glad we could take a break in the quick tides of Manhattan for a little beat-boxing and semi-circled harmony. So heartful. So, so heartful.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

All my awesome new friends at the gym

Case in point #1:

There's this chick I've been talking with, waiting for our Thursday class to begin at 6:30. She seems friendly enough, if a little chatty. I know a lot more about her than she does about me, because I generally have a policy to not reveal personal information among that bizarre self-selected coed fraternity of gym-goers, whereas this girl has no such compunction. She told me how she was supposed to be on some reality show with her mom, how she comes to the gym as often she can, when she's feeling tired or hungry or whatever. I also saw her conspicuously flick her eyes down to check out my wedding ring, when I came back in August. Another broken heart, I thought. I hope she can accept the fact that I simply can't be with her, the way she wants to be with me. Obviously.

Well, a little while ago, we were talking before class and she said, "....tomorrow's my tough day, I've got precalc and physics." Wait a second, back it up. I said: "Oh, are you in college," knowing the answer already.

"Nope, high school -- I'm a junior." Oh, wow! Neat! I've been pretending to flirt with a high school student! They make movies about this, and let me tell you, it never works out well for the dude (See: "Lolita," "Election," etc).

Case in point #2:

On Thursday, after the awesome hip hop class, I was drinking water and trying to absorb the sweat coming off my face into a towel. This is physiologically an embarassing moment. A dude in the step class that immediately follows mine, a large and swarthy man of color who is pretty darn gay, who I am on a head-nod basis with, said hi and I waved hello. With sweat stinging in my eyeballs I noticed that he was still looking at me. I must have smiled or made some other gesture of assent, because he started ambling towards me, as I continued to focus on trying to block up my pores. He came up to me and PUT HIS HAND ON MY SHOULDER/BACK/BACK OF THE ARM - an ambiguous zone. He said, "I have to say, you looked really good in that class."

Oh, wow! Neat! I tried to say something out of gratitude ("Huh, thanks, ha ha") and quickly return to sweating, but he was still smiling ("You did, you did!") I was a bit thrown off, but also flattered, I must say. My reluctance to exercise with L comes from my conviction that I look like a total knob when I'm working out -- limbs flailing; bizarre, asymmetrical sweat stains; saliva crusting at my lips from breathing through my mouth -- so when you get some positive feedback on your gym performance, it gives you a bit of a boost.

Anyways, this is not especially newsworthy (or even interesting) but I haven't written in a while and I wanted to get something up here. In other news, things are pretty good: James swooped into town for a couple days, so I got to see him; I've got a couple of job offers to consider; and L made a great dinner tonight. Happy campers all around.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

CD Review: FutureSex/LoveSounds

Last week we bought the new Justin Timberlake CD, "FutureSex/LoveSounds." When I learned several months ago that he was coming out with a new album, I was pretty darn excited. His last release was pretty much the soundtrack to my life, 2002-04, and it helped me come to the realization that, musically speaking, I *am* Justin Timberlake. If I made music, it would be like the music he makes. Now, when I say "I *am* Justin Timberlake," I don't mean that in a creepy way. I just mean that his music says what I would say, in the way I would say it, with approximately the same approach to love and life. I can't be John Mayer, because he has a slight trace of weenie in him and is presumably not much of a dancer. I can't be Eric Benet, because I haven't failed at as many relationships as he has, nor have I spent intimate time with Halle Berry. I can't be Stevie Wonder, because I'm not blind. But, I *am* Justin Timberlake. That's not creepy, right? Right?

Anyways, onto the music. The entire album is a seamless collaboration with Timbaland, music producer extraordinaire and a Virginian to boot. The disc creates this synthetic whorl of beeps and rising scales and pushing bass lines, kind of Prince, kind of Bowie, capped off with Justin singing pretty darn well. He's got a pretty unique voice that is aptly suited for the somewhat robotic and futurey nature of Timbaland's beats - he brings some life to it. There are several interludes on the album that offer extended introductions to some of the tracks, or serve as mini-remixes of others. The constant interactions with Timbaland makes the album kind of like a buddy movie, two guys on the prowl looking for love, and their easy friendship is pretty awesome too. It reminded me of me and my friends when we're in a bar. I'm sure as I listen to the album more I'll figure out some other awesome aspects to it - as it is now, it's just great listening to quality music that I know I will memorize, and quick.

The songs are all fantastic, but the second single, "My Love," is definitely my early favorite. It is simply awesome - it's got me bopping down the street, lip-syncing in the hallways, suppressing a dance face as I strut to school every day. I don't think I've loved a song this much since... I don't know. But it's the kind of song I can hear over and over again, which I am reluctant to do because then I will grow to resent it and hate it, like a friend you meet on the first day of school and then gradually realize you loathe. I don't want to loathe this song.

Anyways, this album is killer. Looking over this post I realize I look a little creepy, but deal with it. It's a great album, it's black music by a white person with talent and a sense of humor and a certain sense of rhythm and style, and that's all you could want. FutureSex/LoveSounds - a great album with kind of a stupid title. Maybe a better one would have been, "Songs by Justin relating to Mike." But not in a creepy way.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years later

It is a rare day that begins in sadness and ends in some state of happiness or satisfaction. I was eager to wake up early today, to be alert and respectful for the moments of silence and to watch all the memorials on tv. So we got up and turned on the telly and watched the spouses of the victims reading names. My throat hitched when one woman lamented the death of her fiance - they never even had a chance. I looked at the photos on the Washington Post site from that horrible, indelible day: people peering out from the windows of one of the towers, trapped above the impact area; people emerging from the dusty caverns of lower Manhattan soaked in feasrsome gray ash; a man tumbling heels over head from his previous perch in the building; people holding candles in vigils across the world.

We are five years removed from that, but the sadness and anger remain. This was horrible on a micro, personal level -- the lives lost, the fear, the last cellphone calls, the decisions to fall from the twin towers rather than be consumed within them. Yet it was also horrible on a larger level, in the bitter fruits it has bestowed on our body politic: a misguided war, cynical manipulations of the truth, the politicization of national tragedy, Orwellian contortions of language: "terrorism," "patriot act," "homeland," to say nothing of the ubiquitous flag lapel pin, now a symbol of jingoism and political ideology. Yet the worst part of all is that there has been no redemptive moment for this entire ordeal; nothing good has emerged, no justice has been done, yet our country has paid a price in its liberty, security, youth, optimism, national character and hope. And we have not yet been redeemed.

Tonight I was walking home, towards the two towers of light jetting upwards from lower Manhattan to commemorate the day. They reached so high above that I felt aware of the curvature of the earth. I considered that five years ago, these streets were filled with ash and billowing smoke and utter confusion, and yet tonight I saunter down these same roads, towards the same ground that witnessed the horror.

People on the sidewalks around me were eating dinner and talking and laughing. They were taking photos of the lights. Everyone was aware of what this day means, but life endures anyway. Pain becomes more bearable, perhaps anger turns into patience and peace. One day New Yorkers are fleeing up from the streets of lower Manhattan with crashing buildings at their backs; another day you walk back down, towards home, after the smoke has dissipated and with a strong light to guide your way.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

It always ends like this

It always ends like this: too much wine, not enough of whatever else I am seeking.... why can't there be more time for conversation, why can't there be more wine to drink, more night to explore, more time to endure. L is gone for the weekend, I've had a great evening with Ashesh (dinner, drinks with law school types, SNL and cab savignon) yet it always ends like this. I love my apartment, I love my life, I miss my wife, and the sum total of all is this feeling of bittersweet/wistfulness/nostalgia. Wistfulness -- can I just say wist? Is that a word? It should be.

How about this: Wist - melancholy, the way you feel once the party is done, the feeling you have when you are tired and perhaps drunk (definitely drunk) but when you ardently wish that the party could continue. Wist - knowing happiness and missing it? The emotion you wish you could recapture, the emotion you are too impatient to wait for. Don't end sentences on a preposition, Mr. Dunn, but on the plus side, you used the word "ardently" in a sentence somewhat correctly. Has "ardently" ever popped into your head before? Why, no, actually it hasn't, so good for me.

How about this for wist: the pleasure, the deep and painful and irrepressible and addictive pleasure of missing the happiness you've known and the people you've loved. How about this: L, come home, baby, I miss you. James, come back so we can eat burritos and drink and watch tv and laugh at this life. Russell, Patrick, Trish, Kateri, come back and let us live our young days again. (You know, one time my 2nd year of school I was walking with Russell to the Treehouse from Dobie, to get a late night snack, and there was a wounded bird or insect on the sidewalk, and Russell took the time to move the injured and dying thing off the sidewalk and into the relative safety of the shrubbery and underbrush, and that's when I knew we would be friends.) And how about this: Mom Dad Kels Grandma Pap Pap Grammy Grampy, come here and let me redeem the love and pride you've invested in me...

Sometimes I feel that I am too weak a vessel to contain everything within me: good intentions in a paper grocery bag. Indefatigable. Nonsensical. Does anyone even read this shit any more?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Stop being polite

I was running today, thinking about my marriage and the life choices I've made, and the bright future that lies ahead of me, and I had a realization: I can't be on "The Real World" anymore. I know, I know, I aged out of the "RW" demographic about a year and a half ago, but my main concern today was that they never cast married people on the show. How would that even work, anyway? I guess L could come to visit for a weekend, the way other Real Worlders' significant others do, but I think she might be a little angry that I was leaving for four months to live in some Ikea-furnished loft and work in some menial yet trendy capacity (tanning salon, sailboat minion, drug mule). I bet our visit would actually be not that fun, now that I think about it.

I think I would have had a lot to contribute. I would have been a moderating force in the house, and my narrative interviews would have been witty, insightful, and humorous. I would have helped people be on time to work and I always would have pitched in with household chores. I could have made a chore wheel, if my roommates thought that would be useful. And maybe I would have learned something from them, too, about my own latent racism or sexism or homophobia. I would have taught my roommates about reading for pleasure.

So I guess that boat has passed. I always hoped I would have had the "This is the true story" line of the opening credits. The glory days of the show are well behind it -- I wouldn't want to participate in its current iteration of booze + hot tub + STI outbreak -- but it would have been fun. I've been watching that show since I was too young to be on it, I relished the golden era when the roommates were truly my peers, and now I offer them a wistful look back as an older brother figure, a mentor. Do they need an RA on that show? Because I could definitely do that.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Family conversation

L and I spent the weekend in Virginia, attending a big party my mom organized to introduce L to the extended family. Since a lot of my mom's cousins and aunts and uncles weren't invited to the big show, she wanted to organize a family party to make sure there were no hard feelings. It was her first effort at a big multigenerational gathering, and she did quite well, so I was happy for her.

It has been a weird summer for the family. There were three big events: my mom's uncle had a major, $270-million dollar water treatment plant named after him (you know, standard stuff, really), so there was a big reception and party for that; then, my 40-year old cousin died after a long and horrible battle with cancer; and then I got married. I went home at the end of July for my cousin's funeral, but hadn't seen most of the attendees at my mom's party since then.

People were passing around a photo album with pictures from the water treatment plant party. There was one skinny, dark-skinned guy there who I didn't recognize; he had a mustache and was sitting in a large armchair for most of the shots, with people wrapping an arm around him or holding his hand. "Who's dating the Indian guy," is what I thought. Of course, this was my cousin -- I didn't recognize him with a mustache, and much more profoundly, his kidney failure (?) had lent a horrible yellowish tint to his skin color. He looked awful.

Well, this scenario provided the scene for a perfect storm of conversational awkwardness in our kitchen. My grandma was looking at the photo album, and chatting with someone about that, while a cousin of mine, balancing a toddler on her hip who was trying to clamber all over her, spoke about her kids. This is how it went down:

Grandma: These photos are hard to look at.

Cousin Whoever (with the kid): I tell you, this little guy loves food.

Grandma: I just can't believe anyone could look this awful. It's just awful.

Cousin Whoever: At Christmas, he dragged a chair in front of the food - he didn't even want to open presents!

Grandma: I think they should just keep these photos separate. You just with there was something you could do for him.

Cousin Whoever: I mean, take him to Old Country Buffet, or Sizzler! He just wants something to eat! Come on! [rueful laughter]

At this point, thankfully, the conversations veered away from each other, and the horrible conflation of cancer and hungry toddlers. But at this point I was also trying to figure out how I could unobtrusively light my mom's tablecloth on fire so that everyone would switch to a new topic.

As people were leaving, everyone was happy to meet L and glad that they family had reunited so often this last year. They all looked forward to seeing people more often, as the new generation (mine) started getting married, having kids, etc. Later that night we were opening gifts that people weren't supposed to bring, and the mother of my cousin who passed away had given us a Christmas ornament of his -- "a special delivery from Heaven," as the card said. Apparently she is spreading his belongings throughout the family, so that no one will forget him. But his absence this weekend was a current underlying the entire event, and there is no chance we would or could forget him.

I don't know, this is a rough topic. When this was all happening over the summer I thought about reflecting on everything here, but it was too much to get into, and I don't think now is the time either. Family is a whole mess o' stuff, though, ain't it?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Thirteen point one

The last time I ran a half marathon (the only time, in August 2005 -- see blog entry from 8/28/05), I staggered to the finish line with bloody ankles, distended muscles and a throbbing in my stomach and chest. It was the worst running experience of my life, through heat and rain and the kind of smutty fog that only settles over this blighted island during the worst days of summer.

With 8 months of gym time under my belt and fresh athletic socks on my feet, I attempted another half-marathon yesterday. Beloved reader, it was fantastic - one of the best running experiences of my life. Nike and a few city agencies joined forces to organize this ass-kicking course through Manhattan: a loop and change around Central Park, straight down 7th Avenue into Times Square, then a turn onto 42nd Street over to the West Side Highway, then down to Battery Park. They closed the streets for us, and we had to line up a bit earlier than usual, slogging into the Park for the 7 am start time.

Once we began, it was so packed that during the entire 8 miles in Central Park, I spent more time and energy jockeying for position than paying attention to distance or the clock. There was just this incredible sea of people you had to wade through.

But then when you turned onto 7th Avenue and started a straight shot down into the canyons of Times Square, it was simply exhilarating - bands playing on the sidewalks, cops guarding the streets, people watching and cheering - even when the heavens opened up and these huge, fat raindrops came pummeling down, I felt so good and so strong. The stretch down 42nd St, to the West Side Highway, was a bit depressing in the rain and cold, and I tried one of those carb infusion goo's (like a cross between icing and toothpaste - not cool). The stretch down the West Side Highway was surprisingly boring, and I felt my energy lag at the monotony of running on flat highway, as the buildings of lower Manhattan slowly emerged in the fog. in the last two miles I had a stitch in my side and my knees were aching, but I kept pounding away, 800 meters left, 400, and that was it. I ended up running 1 hour, 47 minutes - 8:09 per mile, 13 times over - a full 20 minutes better than my time last year, during the massacre of August 2005.

Anyways, it was a brilliant race, one of the highlights of my time as a New York Road Runner. I took James' advice and walked through each fluid station, sipping on water and Gatorade. We took this photo later that night, after we were all cleaned up (but while our legs were still twitching from the exhaustion and strain): L and I triumphant on the couch, holding our medals, as well as the "Run Like Jimmy" button L created in honor of our friend who just ran across an ocean. It was a great experience.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ready to run

This is true for me, and it is true of a lot of other people, based on personal experience: at the gym, people think it's ok to be a jerk. I'm paying big money to go there, and when I'm stuck in some horrible group exercise class, I have no qualms about stomping out of there with a furious scowl across my face. A few months ago I was all pumped up for my standard Thursday ass-kicking bass-thumping step class, when some perky substitute came in and started prancing all around the room. Like bad step teachers everywhere, she had stupid names for stupid moves: "Ok, let's loop the loop! Loop it! Loop it! Loop it LEFT! Loop it LEFT! Loop it! Loop it! Loop--" With a grim look on my face, and muttering the words "this is horseshit," I stalked past everybody else, put my junk away and left. Do I care if people were looking at me weird? Do I care if I offended the teacher? No, I don't. It's my time, my workout. Perhaps this is the kind of thing I should never bother worrying about, ever, but I do, so this is big for me.

Anyways, last night I was stuck in the worst group gym class anyone has ever participated in, and I include the activities of Hitler Youth in that statement. Maybe it was my fault -- the class was called "Cardio Video Dance," I was bored, I figured, what the hell, I watch enough music videos. I walked in and everyone was on the floor stretching like it was the prelude to "Flashdance." The teacher struts in with her posse of J.V. Pussycat-Dolls types, and announces that "today we're going to be 'Mimi.'"

Oh, like Mariah Carey? OK, that could work -- maybe some "Say Somethin'," "It's Like That"....

"...Mimi from 'Rent.' So, all you guys [eye contact from teacher to me], today you're going to be girls."

You know, usually I only grit my teeth when I sleep, but at that moment I felt a familiar tension throughout my jaw. Still, I tried to be a good sport and lined up with the group. First was the toe-tapping thing, then this chest-thrusting thing - awkward but still within the realm of my dignity. Then the teacher starts shimmying her hips and running her hand along the side of her body - moving into a squat on your haunches, rub another hand down your torso.... OK. Yeah. I'm in the wrong room. Not daring to look at anyone, I grab my music and towel and scurry out of there.

I can hear the music pounding in the studio but I hop on a treadmill and start running. I was pissed that I wasted my time and felt embarassed for looking stupid in front of a room full of dance chicks and local gays. I ran for half an hour in that mincing, cramped treadmill way: my pelvis bonking against the front of the machine when I moved too fast, staring intently as the time crawled forward, considering the variations of heart rate and calories burned and when I could stop and go home. It was not cool. I did three miles and walked home, careful to avoid eye contact with the dance class people who were now filing out of the studio.

Outside it was beautiful out in the last waning hours of light, and I knew what I had to do. I went home, dropped off my water bottle and headed out for a real run, outside, along the Hudson down to Battery Park and the Statue of Liberty. Running outside I felt weightless, free, legs reaching outward and into the breeze from the river. The setting sun cast a warming glow on the bricks and glass of lower Manhattan, and I was struck once again by the narrow and beautiful palette of this city: rich browns and ochres and reds, in contrast to the roiling blues of water and light reflected in glass windows. I kept running, the streetlights flicked on one by one, my shirt was sweaty but cool in the night air. I tell you, it felt so good.

I'm doing a half-marathon this weekend, so I was glad I could run eight miles or so last night. To be outside among the anonymous community of Hudson River runners was the perfect antidote to the wretchedness of the gym. It was as if I had burst through the mirrors of the studio and the metal and plastic of the treadmill to come back to reality, to forget the artifice and attitude of the gym to run into and through a place of nothing more than night, water, sky, and sweat.

It was perfect. And I bought a new batch of songs on the internet to get through it - here is a nice little night-running mix you may use for your own devices: "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" by Panic at the Disco, "Deja Vu," by Beyonce, "When You Gonna Give it Up To Me," by Sean Paul, "Me and My Gang" by Rascal Flatts, and --this is the kicker -- "Get Up," by Ciara. Ring the alarm, y'all.

Open letter

Dear Reader(s),

First of all, you look great. You look really tan and relaxed from the summertime. Oh, really? Wow. Yeah, timeshares sound really neat to me too. I'm glad you had the moxie to go ahead and do it though, that's really awesome. Totally. Totes.

Yeah, my summer was good too. I actually got married -- no, to L. Yep, her. No, it wasn't a secret engagement or anything. No, she isn't pregnant. I actually don't think that's funny, no. The wedding was unbelievable, though, I honestly don't think I could have asked for a more perfect day. Well, I was going to try to write some massive summary of my summer -- talking about the wedding, and MK.D.Day, and everything leading up to that, as well as the time a guy drove past me in a car and rolled down his window and said "blow me," but I actually don't think I'm going to do that. Yeah, I thought instead I would just return to the ol' blog in standard form and just write kind of randomly about the random things that happen. I actually just want to write better, that was the whole point. Oh, thank you. No, thanks for the tip, I will try to make it more interesting this time around. That's a really constructive suggestion, so thank you.

What else is new? Well, the social deck has been reshuffled. James has moved to Barcelona, Spain, to teach low-income students -- oh, I'm sorry, he's actually educating the wealthy upper-crust of international expat society in Spain. The real top layer of the paella, if you will. But I guess they need education too, lest they cuss out their groundskeepers in an ungrammatical way once their prize fighting bull-slaughtering toreadores are injured in some comically unfortunate polo mishap. So, they need learning too (and it is more pleasant for me to be resentful of Spaniards I don't know than to consider just how sad it is that James moved away). Anyways, I'm also in my second year of law school, looking for work for next summer, and my friend Dima is moving into the neighborhood. Also, since this is just like the season premier of some awesome TV show, please assume that everyone I know and love has gotten trendy new haircuts, and there's a new montage that plays with the theme song, complete with some of these pictures:

This pretty much sums up June through July: James and I, drinking, making faces. This actually sums up the entire thing.

This was a tame moment from MK.D.Day, the now-legendary bachelor trip. Note the ass-kicking shirt I am wearing, which James made for everybody.

This is me and my new blushing bride, L, in our new state of marital/conjugal bliss.

Welcome back, old friend(s). Thanks for sticking around. Let's meet up for a Jamba sometime, aight?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Summer break

Hey guys. I have decided to take a break from the blog for the summer. I realized that I live d the entire academic year perched in front of a computer, and the blog has been a great outlet for writing and trying to be funny and making notes to remember some of the smaller and weirder details of this brief moment of life. The summer is off to a great start - I'm enjoying my work as a legal intern, and the trip to Vegas was nothing short of epic - and part of that pleasure has been the emancipation from my laptop. I'm not lugging it all over town, I'm not compulsively checking eight different websites to procrastinate or avoid listening to professors. This freedom (which, pathetically enough, is something I actually do feel and enjoy) tastes good.

So a theme of this summer (besides the other themes, "You're Getting Married Really Soon," and "Be On Time for Work, Even Though You're Not Getting Paid") is "I Don't Need the Internet to Have Fun Or Be a Good Person." We'll see how it goes.

Anyways, take a look back here in mid-August. I will be a new, different, and married man, and I'm sure I will have something to say. Have a great summer.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Departure gate

In one sentence: Final exams are done, no grades yet, I submitted the worst piece on nonsensical drivel ever written for the writing competition at school, and now I am boarding a plane in five hours to go to Las Vegas, Nevada.

I guess there will be some sort of travelogue once I get back. But the great thing is this:

Summer. Has. Begun.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Movie review: "M:I:3"

On Friday we went to go see Tom Cruise's new movie, "Mission: Impossible: III: Die Hard with a: Vengeance." It was fantastic. I left the movie in such a good mood.

Given the events of the last year and a half, I went into the theatre completely braced for an unrelenting barrage of the Tom-Cruisiness of it all. And it was there: the bizarre intensity, the permanently clenched jaw muscle, the robot-like competence that allows him to jump off buildings, perform his own medical operations, sprint down the alleys of China like a freaking cyborg, etc. I never really bought into the fiction of the story, but it was a fun ride, and all the more ludicrous for Tom's real-life antics, the ones that fictional ol' "Ethan Hunt" is not quite equipped to handle (see couch-jumping, placenta-snacking, etc). Yet the context of real life really added to the movie. I would sit there and think, "Wow, Tom Cruise's wife looks like his real-life wife, Katie Holmes, the girl who used to be attractive before Tom cut all her synapses in half," or, "Hey, for a Scientologist, Tom Cruise is pretty handy with a difribillator."

The story of the movie was a pretty solid cat-and-mouse thing, with some good-looking women and exotic locales. Of course the end of the movie was a standard mess of betrayals and double-crossings, and I'm not quite sure who was a bad guy, how bad they were, etc, but I'm not there to diagram the thing, I'm there to binge on popcorn and laugh at the wooden exposition. But, there were some unexpectedly awesome action sequences, and the movie took a few more risks than I was expecting. It was edgy in a cool way, and JJ Abrams knows how to weave an air-tight narrative. And I loved Philip Seymour Hoffman playing a total slouchy badass. Ever since the movie I've been trying to imitate saying his lines: "I'm going to kill her in front of you" (insufferable tight-lipped grin, head tilt, slight nod) "and then I'm going to kill you." Or something. It was like "kill you behind her, and when he comes back, then I'm going to kill him astride them both, and then kill them both, sequentially" or something like that. He was a really bad guy.

Anyways, the movie is awesome. If you've ever been a 12 year-old male, or been involved with one, you'll love it.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Dispatches from finals

1. The night before the day before my first exam, I had another dream about my teeth falling out. This is my standard dream of anxiety and stress. In the dream I realized that a hearty chunk of one of my front teeth was gone, and when I looked at it more closely, I saw there was a gray spot in the enamel of this poor beleaguered tooth. I touched the gray spot with a finger and the tooth broke and fell out of my mouth. It was traumatic and I woke up really, really anxious, and the feeling didn't quite leave me all day. I remember learning from a dream interpretation book - or maybe it was a gypsy, I can't remember - that a lot of people have stress dreams of their teeth falling out, and let me tell you, that dream book or gypsy was right.

2. Two days ago some girl went batshit in the library. You're not supposed to bring food or drink in here (here, the library -- it's 7 pm on friday and I've been here 11 hours, dear reader -- I don't like to work this hard) but this girl walked in carrying an iced coffee. The librarian told her she couldn't have the beverage in here, and she got pretty snappy with him and kept moving. He followed her, and seconds later she was screaming and cussing him out, and then she threw her iced coffee at the librarian. Apparently at that point she sat down and maniacally began typing really loudly. Eventually an entire posse of librarians came and escorted her out, and now she has to meet with the dean after exams are done.

How hysterical is that. Everyone was hoping it was a girl in their section, since hopefully her meltdown would translate to her GPA and it would be good for the curve. Anyway, the story spread like wildfire that day -- I got an email from our third-year mentor about it that afternoon. From my perch in the library I had heard someone either laughing or screaming, I couldn't tell. But no matter how I'm doing, at least I can hopefully assume I'm doing better than her.

3. Step class last night -- and this is ridiculous, I know, but it's true -- was a musical journey. I swear to God, I came out of there feeling spent and exhausted and happy and like I had just lived a thousand lifetimes. I think it's the accumulation of stress and need for physical relief. Now my question is, is there a way to do this competitively? I mean, if you're not a black girl? Let me know. And wish me luck -- next exam is on Monday, then Thursday.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Rules for finals

1. Don't panic.
2. Don't try to divide your study time incrementally per credit hour per day.
3. Don't think about the math at all -- for example, how many less days you studied for your 6-credit course than you did for your 4-credit course -- this is not a productive line of thought.
4. Bring your own lunch.
5. If you know people who are sick, stay away from them. If you see someone who is ill walking towards you along the sidewalk, cross the street. It doesn't matter where you're going.
6. If you happen to eat in the cafeteria, even though you brought your own lunch, don't pay attention to the little table-fulls of students chittering away behind a mess of papers, binders, and laptops. Don't look to see if they take the same classes you do. Don't judge them based on the ugliness of their sweatshirts or even try to guess how long it's been since they've washed their hair. Just keep your head down and eat your sandwich.
7. Maintain a regular schedule. Say, "I'll work eight hours every day, and that will probably be enough," and try to convince yourself that this is true.
8. Recall that to most adults, and nearly everyone you see on the streets, in the subway, or even in your own apartment, your final exams don't really matter.
9. When you hear someone talking about something you don't know, or someone asks a question that you consider confusing and/or dumb, think: "I'm not going to listen to this chickenhead!" and pretend that instead of their words, all you can hear is "BAWK BAWK BAWK."
10. Don't compare study methods with other people. Learning about someone's else color-code post-it system or meticulous transcription of the entire textbook will not help you.
11. Smile even when you don't mean it. If you have to be anyone, be the happy one.
12. Don't panic.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Worst haircut ever

Yesterday I went to get a haircut at one of the barber shops staffed by Russian emigres. As I sat down in the chair, the hair cutter, Gregory, asked me how I was doing, and I said I was doing fine. Then he asked me what I wanted, so I told him to keep it short around the sides and back with the clippers, and then let it go a little longer on top and use the scissors. He said that sounded good, and started fussing around with the clippers or something. Then he said to me:

"You're hair's thinning on top, huh?"

What. Oh, hell no. Inside it felt like someone had stuffed an ice sculpture into my chest cavity. "Huh," I said. "Hmm mmmm. Huh." Gregory pressed on and started doing his work. In my head, people were screaming. I was determined to produce no bodily reaction to what he had said, even though I desperately wanted to grab the mirror out of his hands and check out what the hell was happening on the top of my head, holding him at bay, if necessary, with his own scissors.

As the haircut progressed I thought I was doing really well at staying calm until I noticed the beads of sweat on my forehead. "Excuse me," I said and I brought my arm up from under my smock and wiped off my brow. "It's pretty warm out," I said, although it clearly wasn't. After he finished, I got the hell out of there as quickly as I could, gingerly patting different areas of my skull to gauge any possible differences in hair density and/or volume.

So basically, this was the most emotionally taxing haircut of my life. It was like a kick in the shins all day, and it ushered in a really lame pity party where I felt bad for myself and mourned the loss my youth and whatever good looks I think I'm hanging on to. I was mad at the guy for saying such a dumb and callous thing (what was I supposed to reply? "Oh, you're right, Gregory, guess I don't need a haircut after all, sorry to waste your time, and by the way, nice English skills"?) and I was mad at myself for nursing such a gaping Achilles' heel of vanity.

I called L, I called my sister, I called my parents. They reassured me I was fine and that they had never noticed a problem. Doing some contortions in the bathroom making use of the double mirror, I checked out the scene on my scalp and I guess things are acceptable, I don't know. I've had 26 years of decent hair and I already have picked my spouse. I can't let myself dwell on something I have no control over. But I told L that it is up to her to make sure my haircut/style is appropriate to whatever amount of hair I actually have. I don't want to wake up in ten years and realize I've been combing over the dry, pristine, milky white hairlessness of my scalp for all that time. I also told James to keep an eye on this as well, because frankly I would not sleep well if I did not have an emergency backup vanity patrol.

So that was my Sunday. An offhanded remark and some serious emotional scarring. And you know what the damnedest part is? I still gave the guy a totally decent tip.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Movie review: "Sir! No Sir!"

Last night we saw a documentary called "Sir! No Sir!" about the anti-war protest movement among active duty soldiers and military personnel during the Vietnam era. It was a good documentary, very intense, the kind of movie that makes you feel like the world is a cold and dangerous place. The director actually introduced the film at the theater, which was pretty cool. He, like most of the people in it, were overgrown hippies who still wore their leftiness in ironic fedoras, buttons, vests, t-shirts, or facial hair manifestations.

This movie got me thinking a lot. I really admired the soldiers featured in the movie -- they really grappled with the morality of what they were doing and why they were there, and when they reached the unpleasant conclusion that they wrong, they tried to correct their mistakes. I think now we look back on that movement and it's seen as something to apologize for or make fun of -- these dirty, lazy hippies high on pot and carelessly fighting against some kind of vague, suit-wearing Man. But there was a lot of thought and compassion there, and I had never really thought about that before. They even interviewed Jane Fonda and I found myself appreciating what she tried to do.

At the end of the film they talked about the old myth of the Vietnam soldier coming home from the front in San Francisco, and being spit on in the airport by some bedraggled hippie chick. But this never happened, according to one sociologist featured in the film. The soldiers themselves made their opposition well known, through demonstrations, petitions, the underground press, and sometimes acts of civil disobedience or criminality. They even had some touching footage of a USO-type tour through Asia, of which Jane Fonda was a part, bless her heart, where anti-war entertainers would rally the troops, protest the actions of the government, and reassure the soldiers that they were loved and would be welcomed home with compassion. There were ideas and information there that I had never really considered before.

To understand the moral uneasiness these soldiers felt as they did their job and killed their enemies was powerful. It was extremely disheartening to think of the civilian and military leaders who sent them to fight for cynical reasons and with little plan and hope for success. The parallels to our current situation were all too vivid.

Anyways, it was worth seeing. More information can be found here.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Geriatric Easter

I was the youngest person at our family Easter celebration this year. One person in her eighties, five in their seventies, two in their fifties, one forties, one thirties, and me. I had a few odd conversations that reminded me that there is so much I don’t know about life, and that being a precocious 26-year old doesn’t count for much in comparison to the slow accumulation of waking up and getting out of bed every day for the better part of a century. You see some things, during all that time.

On the car ride down my great-aunt was saying how she feels so tired all the time. She actually said she felt ready to move on. My parents, joshingly, were chiding her about not meaning what she said. But she replied, “You don’t know how it feels to get up every day.” She talked about how her husband died too soon, and how yesterday she was at his gravesite and said, “Where in the world are you, Dan?” And believe me, that shut up everybody in the car.

Later on in the day I was talking to my grandfather, who is one of the best men I’ve ever known, who is like a second father to me. I carry his name and I am so proud of that. He was giving me his standard talk (or lecture, let’s keep it real) about work and preparation and life and love and family and generosity. I actually got to tell him some things I’ve never said before to him – about how well he has done for this family, about what he has made possible – and he told me that even though he doesn’t need to work any more, he still does it out of love. How much he loves us and wants us to be happy. He talked a lot about working hard in school and making sure you have a fallback plan, general lessons for life he’s been telling me so many years now.

At one point he took a weird turn for the macho: “You don’t want to be fuckin’ cutting down trees for your life, you know?” I had no idea what to say. What was he talking about? What’s the proper reply to that? “No, I sure fuckin’ don’t”? We don’t cuss in this family. But like a Cadbury crème egg, I know that behind that crusty chocolate exterior of bumbled curse words is the warm gooey caramel center of familial duty and the love of a strong and gentle patriarch, in the best sense of the word. Then he was like, "You want to be successful in your life, and happy, and then you can decide if you want to go cut some wood, you know what I'm saying?" Actually, um, no. I don't.

On the way home my mom asked me what we had been talking about, and we laughed about it in the car. He also told me he was proud of me, very proud, and my mom said he had never said that to her. I guess that is true, and even if it is, perhaps it just shows you how much people can grow and change and learn through every one of their days on earth. It was quite a day.

Book review: "The Namesake"

This from Saturday, April 15:

Since I’ve been home for the Easter weekend, I reread Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel “The Namesake.” I started on the train yesterday and finished it this afternoon, reading on the patio watching the sun go down. Sometimes I would look up from the reading and see a robin on the roof or a squirrel by the trees – it was great.

I first read this book in August 2004 in Rehoboth Beach. L and I were trapped inside because of a storm, and it took all the willpower I had to not devour the novel in one or two sittings. This time, though, I abandoned all restraint and consumed the novel the way I had hoped to. Even on a second reading, I was amazed at the scope of what Lahiri has done – in a mere 300 pages she covers two generations of a family, leapfrogging through time but still giving the reader enough to feel invested.

I think of all the novels I have ever read (ok, since becoming an adult), I have never been more affected emotionally by a book. Sure, I’ll give a good cry at “Stepmom” (damn you, TBS, for your constant airings) but books have never really hit me at the core. This one, though, put a lump in my throat several times over. The relationship between father and son reaches into a huge weak spot of mine, and the discussion of names and what people call us and how we call ourselves is also very familiar to me. It’s funny that when I’m home I respond to nicknames so instinctually, and how weird it is to hear my parents call me by my given name when we’re out with people.

Anyways, “The Namesake” remains an amazing book. Thematic elements of family, migration, trains, naming, love, maturity, books, reading, gifts. I love it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bad dog

I was walking to school today along Broadway when I saw several blind people getting off a bus. One had a white cane, but three or four had seeing eye dogs. They all got off the bus and were walking along, and I was admiring the concentration and aplomb of their seeing eye dogs, who were plodding steadily forward, when one of them (the dogs) suddenly turned to sniff the legs of a mailbox. The dog stopped dead in its tracks and the blind person behind it said, "Whoa!" and kind of stumbled into the dog, who clearly had no intention of moving.

At this point I kind of laughed a little bit, which I hope those blind people with their heightened sense of hearing didn't detect. I have never seen a bad seeing eye dog before. I mean, this one obviously missed a day of training, and he probably won't last long "out in the field," as they say. Maybe he was new, I don't know. I'm sure they straightened it all out in the end.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Waiting/David Gray/registration

Right now I'm sitting in the library at school, done with all the work I am going to do for the day. It's 5:37. At 6:15 I'm meeting a bunch of my classmates at a bar where our TA is buying us drinks. It should be fun. I am disappointed to miss going to the gym, though.

I'm listening to the newest David Gray album, "Life in Slow Motion," on the Ipod. It is so nice to have new David Gray music to listen to -- I find his voice so unique and comforting, and I like the mix of live and electronic instrumentation. He puts you in a good, mellow place. His album "White Ladder" is definitely one of my top recordings ever -- there was nothing I listened to more my third and fourth years of college -- and even the melancholy and sadness has a warm tinge to it now. So I'm glad DG is back.

Well, honestly, that's about all I have to say. Oh, I registered for classes this morning. A frustrating process but now I've got Corporations, Copyright Law, International Law, and Race and the Law for the fall. I am currently tired from waking up earlier than usual, and being stressed out and angry way earlier in the usual. Who cusses at 7:15 in the morning? I do, buddy, when it's a morning like this one. But then at school today everyone was commiserating and bemoaning the fact that none of us got what we wanted, and that we were all cussing at the computer and feeling our blood pressure skyrocket as out internet connections failed and the law school site froze or expired. As a result, people were walking around with glassy eyes today whispering things like, "I have 8 classes on Tuesdays," "I signed up for medical school classes by mistake," or, "I think I accidentally withdrew myself from school."

I wish I could go home now but I'm sticking around. I can't think of any more websites to visit, and after a couple of very long blog entries I wanted to dash something off quick. So here you go. Hooray for David Gray.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A weird evening with Toni Braxton

The setting: The Nokia Theatre in Times Square, probably the coolest underground lair in all of midtown. It was like the underground hotspot at Epcot Center - undulating ceiling, subtle lighting that shifted to cover the whole color spectrum, cheerful, good-looking employees in black. Eight dollar cans of beer. The main theatre area was suprisingly small, to the point where I looked around and thought: "Oh, poor Toni." The crowd size was about equivalent to, I don't know, say, Back to School Night. There were really cool chandeliers on the ceiling, comfortable seats, and intricate shadows thrown on the walls by the lighting systems. Nokia is doing well.

The crowd: I expected it to be another buppie crowd: young black men and women, well-dressed, stylish, fit, like a Terry McMillan novel come to life, sauntering and strutting in complicated hair and suits white men would never dare to don. And there was a significant buppie contingent, as well as ... middle-aged white couples. Who I guess really enjoyed "Unbreak My Heart" for three weeks in 1996, because otherwise why are they there. It was a bizarrely diverse crowd. More immediately, we were sitting in the back near a strong group of Proud Black Women who were very fun and sang every word, and the gay dude to our left (who, tragically, came and left alone) was actually quivering with pleasure during the concert.

The opener: was a comedian, Kyle Grooms. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and was generous with my laughter, and had a good time. He had this great joke about being "fuck-it drunk": when you're so drunk, you just say "fuck it" and don't even care; that's the point when you're dancing when there isn't even any music, you're just fuck-it drunk. I need to work this into my lexicon. Anyways, the comedian was way better than the standard hack opening R&B singer, who drags you through ten songs you don't know, including six ballads you never want to hear again and vocal gymnastics you didn't ask to hear in the first place. Put the melisma back in the bag, homie.

The Toni: OK, this was kind of a weird concert. She started out with "You're Makin Me High" and "Take This Ring," the two songs I was most excited to hear, and she was prancing all around, sort of dancing. She had two white chicks as her dancers, and she made the backup singers, two tall black girls (who happened to be her sisters, she said), dance as well, although they clearly weren't exactly Madonna, or even Paula Abdul, dance-wise. (Poor Toni can't even afford backup dancers and backup singers, y'all. It's that serious.) But the performances were awesome, the choreography was hot, instrumentation solid, but then ...umm... you realized.... Toni... wasn't really..... singing. Oh, no. Oh, snap. We are not listening to pre-recorded vocal tracks for this whole thing. This is not an Ashlee Simpson concert! No!

After the opening aerobics she settled down, flipped a switch, and actually sang. The difference was clear, and then it got pretty awesome. Here's the rundown: despite her cold, her voice sounded good and she hit all the notes; she had many costume changes, but she's looking a little thick in the middle; L thinks she demanded backup dancers who were kind of hefty so she would look better, although I disagreed; she played a lot of her early stuff, and the crowd loved it. She invited people onstage to sing and dance, and she wandered through the audience, which was at first endearing and then weird. She sat on a lot of laps, received a lot of bouquets. There was a crazy skinny white bitch who security was pulling back. There was a lesbian who looked like Jabba the Hutt who brought Toni flowers before she tried to, you know, eat her. There were cool dudes and sad dudes, and a dude who brought his son onstage. It was like Toni had decided, "Hey, my career's not quite where it used to be, maybe tonight let's just get to know each other a little bit.

Besides the audience antics and the strong set list, Toni was right there with all her singing tics that I love ("ooh," "yeah," "Woo!"). The audience would even jump in and supply some of them, which was awesome. We were so on point. But she had some diva tendencies, though, like the two fans (machines, not concert-goers) blowing air towards her during a few of the more torchy, ridiculous ballads. She talked to the audience in a weird way, kind of like a children's tv host, or a weatherman, I don't know. When she sang "You Mean the World to Me," she had this intense "You mean the world to me! You mean the world to me! You do!" thing that was a bit much. (Kind of like Oprah's "You get a car! You get a car!" tourettic episode.) And she had one song where she made a saluting hand gesture every time she talked about soldiers, which, as a Boy Scout, I found off-putting. Speaking of gestures, though, she definitely had the Mariah Carey disease where you can't really move your limbs in a normal standard way, and instead look like your puppetmaster thought it would be funny if he made you do the Macarena. It was comical, to say the least.

But am I mad that she had no encore? Or that she didn't sing as much from the new album as I would have liked? Or that I didn't get to go up there and sing and dance for Toni? No, I am not. For all of its faults and oddities, I would never have missed it. You can't miss Toni Braxton.

Spring fling

This was the first great weekend of spring. Here's how it went down:

Law school happened, as it usually does on weekdays. I went to go volunteer with my housing group and ended up downtown at the courthouse for four hours. I needed to drop off a form for a judge, get his signature and notes, copy his notes, and return to the office. Of course, when we got there we went to the wrong office; then we learned that the form would not travel the eleven floors up to the judge for another 90 minutes; then, when we came back 90 minutes later, we learned that the judge had gone home early to start the weekend (not a bad idea, actually); then we went back down to the original floor to meet with a substitute judge. Sometimes I feel frustrated by things like this, but I figure that some things you just have to learn the hard way, and this is part of the dues-paying process for this new legal career. I mean, I did learn about "orders to show cause," and a process called "conforming," and I won't forget them any time soon.

However, when I got home at 6, needless to say I was pissed. I went for an emergency stress-relieving, soul-cleansing run and it was fantastic. I was literally bounding with happiness along the Hudson River, feeling great, strong, listening to happy music, watching the sun set over the water and the lights come on in Battery Park. It felt so, so good. The rest of the night went like this: Benny's , for dinner and a margarita; a sighting of Project Runway's Jay McCarroll walking down 7th Ave; "Inside Man," which was all right by me; and Wogie's for two buckets of Rheingolds. Came home at 4 am drunk as a skunk and loving life.

Woke up at 10, did not leave the house until 6 pm to go watch basketball and eat good burgers. I opened the window, read the paper, watched shitty tv. Yet I don't feel guilty about this.

Did the Scotland Run in Central Park - 6 miles at 7:48 per mile. I was pleased with my time, given the ridiculous crowd-jockeying for the first half of the run. L returned from DC, unexpectedly early, so we met James for a congratulatory burrito at Chipotle. There is something nice and refreshing about the mid-day Chipotle visit. Then we moseyed home, stopped at a bookstore and did some browsing. Then I did work, watched some tv, and went to the gym again for the awesomely fun step class. And then, dear reader, L and I scooted up the 1 subway line to go to the Nokia Theatre to see, live in concert, in the flesh, TONI BRAXTON. It was ridiculous. More to come soon.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Back from the mountain

We have returned from our big fat religious premarital counseling retreat weekend. It was a mess - I was really kind of disappointed by it. We came back to a dark city on Sunday night feeling exhausted, dirty, resentful, with L's glasses broken and my mood wrecked.

The retreat house, up in Poughkeepsie, looked like the hotel from "The Shining" - an imposing stone seminary built 100 years ago on the banks of the Hudson, surrounded by bare trees and stubby grass. It was creepy but interesting. There were 27 (!) couples there, and two lead couples who directed everything. Now, these couples are volunteers, and they are amazingly generous with their time and unswervingly open about their personal lives (over the course of the weekend we heard about their: battles with depression, mentally ill children, fertility troubles, financial woes, weight issues, troubling long-term arguments with their parents, resentments towards each other, and their sexual proclivities). They were very nice but hard to relate to - one couple was in the sixties and had an athletic team's worth of kids; the other was in their forties and lived in Connecticut. Neither pair really fit the mold of the hep-cat, urban-living, cool hipster-with-a-dash-of-metrosexual couple L and I plan on becoming (and frankly, to be perfectly honest, already are).

As soon as we got there we went around the circle of fiances and -cees and had to say one reason why we loved our partner. I turned to L and said, "I can't handle this." People extolled the wonders of their partners' sense of humor, generosity, warmth, selflessness, caring. I said I loved L's baking skills. It was that kind of weekend.

Basically the entire time a couple would give a talk to us about ourselves, our relationship, our future, the sacrament of marriage, the process of decision-making, religious family life, etc; then L and I would separate and write each other letters based on questions and things we were instructed to consider; then we would reconvene to meet in private and discuss these issues (or, alternatively, nap). From Friday night to Saturday night, we were good, and we made an honest, good faith effort to participate. L and I communicated in ways we usually don't; we were kind and open and loving in the written word in a way that is difficult to sustain when you are battling all of the distractions of daily life. So I am thankful that this retreat brought us closer together and gave us some insights about our commonalities and differences, our abiding love, our relationship with God, and the family we hope to create.

But then, on Saturday night, the whole thing went to hell. They started talking about birth control and natural family planning, and all of a sudden we had become these subversive rebels, like in "V for Vendetta," but instead of blowing up Parliament we wanted to hotwire a car and follow the Hudson back to the city before they made us write another got-darn letter. During the talk of natural family planning, the speakers were making some statements about contraceptives, and abortifacents, and the value of a child conceived out of wedlock that made L snort with derision and made me unable to maintain eye contact with anyone in the room. I thought what they were saying was insulting and patronizing, and wrong-headed. At that point, all of the day's frustrations came to head and they kind of lost us for the rest of the weekend. The next day, during what was supposed to be the spiritual highlight of the weekend, a renewal of our engagement promises, we couldn't even do it - I was not in the right mood, my mind was racing, and I just wanted to leave. It was sad.

So, over all, I think the curriculum of the weekend can be improved. I felt like it was a little simplistic at times, like they were assuming we had gotten engaged on a lark instead of getting engaged as the culmination of a process that took years. At times I felt like we were getting beat by a dogmatic 2 x 4, with an insulting lack of nuance or intelligence behind the explanations. Sometimes it was very New Agey and schmoopy, and there seemed to be an expectation of such blatant openness that I just couldn't sustain. I don't feel comfortable opening up about the dynamics of my relationship with people I don't know. I don't want to hug people I don't know. I don't want to be told what to do by people I don't know.

We were making jokes the entire weekend about our dismal plight - the monotony of the sessions, the frustration of not being able to go anywhere or really break new ground with our conversation. There weren't many new ideas introduced. L and I always took our engagement seriously, and we know the depth of the commitment we are preparing to make. But the retreat was disappointing, and sad, all the same. I tried to make the most of it, for the first 24 hours at least, so in large part it's my failure. But the resentment and disappointment and relief we felt on that train ride back to the city are not emotions I plan on bringing up to the altar.