Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Happy in Asheville

My desire to blog has been sapped by the hours spent in front of the computer in my efforts not to flunk the bar, but I would be remiss if I didn't write something about this last weekend.

We were in Asheville, North Carolina for John and Anna's wedding. North Carolina is a state I really like: beautiful beaches, great, evocatively-named mountain ranges and parks, clean and bounteous airports, and familiar-seeming people. Asheville lives up to all of this and adds its own weird element of hippie-dippie granola crunchiness. You look at the skinny bearded people traipsing around downtown with guitars slung over the shoulders and dredlocks springing out of their heads, and you wonder, how did you get to central North Carolina? Did your van break down or something? Because a lot of them were there.

The downtown was this beautiful tangle of art deco buildings -- sidewalk cafes, a great little bookstore, many art galleries, a metalworks shop, knitting supply company, art supply place, and the rest. We stayed in this palatial bed and breakfast with a wraparound porch and cool breezes wafting through the trees. John and Anna's families were staying in a sprawling old house with a backyard deck for grilling and a nice porch where we sat and enjoyed the day on the morning after the wedding.

The wedding itself was absolutely beautiful and very true to J&A. It took place in a vast old feed store with a high, beautiful ceiling. John and Anna walked in together in this short, brilliant moment of such simplicity and beauty, it really did catch my throat. During the ceremony they asked us to bring readings to share, so I read the third verse of LL Cool J's "Love You Better" and it went over very well. After the wedding the forty or so guests in attendance crossed the street to take a group photo, then it was back to the feed store for the reception. We danced, we drank. We went to a wine bar where it all continued. Too much white wine, but done in the name of a good and happy cause.

It was a beautiful weekend. I didn't do bar stuff, which caused me some guilt and heartburn, but it's ok. Our trip home proved to be a nightmare (disagreeable chicken from the Chili's in Charlotte produced its own problems, and then we didn't even get back to new York until 2 in the morning) but those things dissolved quickly in light of the time we shared in Asheville with J&A and their warm, happy families. We were lucky to be there and would not have missed it for the world.


PS -- I wanted to put up some photos of the occasion, but I don't like any of them. With the understanding that I am taller than most of my friends, apparently I am a lot beefier too, and my head is clearly bigger, resulting in a situation where I look like I am about to consume them with my giant, ever-expansive face. Maybe it was the alcohol, I don't know. Either way, in these photos I look like a combination of a Thanksgiving Day parade balloon, the late beloved Tim Russert, and that guy from "How I Met Your Mother" -- consequently, no photos. But it was still a great weekend.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

L is America's sweetheart

Three things happened today to remind me of how good I have it:

1) At Chipotle yesterday, the nice woman behind the register asked me where my wife has been. I explained that she had to work during the day, so I could afford to eat there. Then today, the woman said, "Did you tell your wife I asked about her? I hope she comes in." But of course.

2) This morning, L and I slept through the weights class we usually attend bright and early at 6:45 on Thursday mornings. The alarm went off, but we were both beat -- ultimately we flipped a coin and decided to sleep in. Well, tonight at the gym I saw our teacher, and he said he missed us in class, and I did my little song and dance about us being tired, the alarm, the coin flip, etc. "Who flipped the coin? Did she flip the coin?" he asked. No, I said, it was me who did it. "Good," he said. "If it was her I would've been disappointed." What? I don't know if I understand, but I think it's something good about my wife.

3) A few days ago we tried a new Chinese place in the neighborhood, and a woman from the gym came up and started talking to us for a little bit. Tonight she came up to me and started gushing: "Your wife is so beautiful! You are so lucky to have her!" (Since apparently my face makes paint curl.)

Well, that's my wife for you. A combination of Mary Tyler Moore (turning the world on with her smile), Jane Fonda (fitness-wise, not with the crazy leftist politics) (well, maybe), and Helen of Troy (beauty-wise). I am indeed a lucky guy.

And tomorrow we're off to Ashville, North Carolina for another love fest: John and Anna's wedding!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert

"If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press." We watch every week, and the best part isn't the main interview Tim Russert conducts for the bulk of the show; it's the political roundtable that follows, when Tim leads his fellow journalists and politicos in a discussion of the week's news. His love of politics, his passion for the process, and his rousing collegiality are in full force. Tim Russert was so obviously having such a great time during those segments, sharing anecdotes and poll data, making quips and digging deep into hypotheticals and possible outcomes. As a viewer, you felt lucky to watch this kind of ef exchange, like you had wandered into an old boys' club that was otherwise off limits.

His love for the game was infectious. His bonhomie and good cheer were endearing. He was someone I wanted to talk to, a voice I always strived to hear to clarify the news of the day. He was always direct and sounded just so damn happy to do what he was doing. It seemed like his professional and personal dreams had been fulfilled in such a wonderful way, to create a special kind of telegenic and Buffalo-bred happiness that you can't find anywhere else.

I saw him at church once in Washington, years ago. He was in the row behind me; ever the gawky teenager, I craned my neck around to look at him. He met my eyes, nodded his head briefly, and returned to his prayer. I have loved seeing him on MTP and on NBC's election coverage for years now; I'm thankful he was able to experience the surreal highs of this campaign season, as well as guide us through its unexpected turns. I feel horrible for his family and colleagues; he was too young, too energetic to simply disappear like this. His death has been unexpectedly difficult to bear.

Tim Russert: Thank you. You will be missed. Go Bills.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I love the New Yorker

One of the things that has propelled me through this week of extreme heat and bar exam hysteria is the current issue of The New Yorker. I love this magazine, a lot, but I want to sing its praises now that the week is drawing to a close.

This is the annual Summer Fiction issue, a double-week behemoth that landed with a thud in the mailbox last Monday. The first thing I do when I get a magazine is rip out all the ads, especially the ones made of cardboard or burlap or whatever material some genius "creative" decided to throw at magazine readers so we can't roll up the magazine or actually carry it around without having to crease those extra-stiff ads they're so enamored with. (You know what I'm saying?) This issue looked great from the start: the cover is by Adrian Tomine, one of my favorite illustrators and someone who is doing New Yorker covers that are as clever and vibrant and beautiful as anybody else these days. (One of his previous covers spent several happy months on our refrigerator a couple years ago.) This cover has grown on me the more I've looked at it.

Inside, there was a newly translated story from Vladimir Nabokov that was eerie and haunting. There was a hilarious review of "Sex and the City" by Anthony Lane, who clearly hated it. There was a great review of Jeff Koons' installation on the roof of the Met, which we saw a couple weeks ago. There was an interesting, surprisingly personal review by James Wood of some new books wrestling with faith, theodicy (whatever that means), and suffering. One of my favorite music critics, Sasha Frere-Jones, had a piece on Auto-Tune, the technology used by T-Pain and others to create many songs I love. There were short reflective pieces by great writers like Tobias Wolff and George Saunders on faith and doubt.

Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite novelists, had an essay on his passion for distance running and how it has impacted his life as a writer. I find him to be so brilliant, yet so accessible -- I was tickled to see the slightest connection between him and me, at least on the running front (although he seems to be a much better runner and writer than me, so what are you gong to do).

Best of all, though was the fiction. The issue lived up to the hype. I stayed at Chipotle for an awkwardly long time to finish up Annie Proulx's story, "Tits-Up in A Ditch." Reader, it was brilliant. It started off as the story of a young girl growing up unloved on a ranch in Wyoming, and went to some unexpected and grueling places. I actually, almost, sort of, got emotional reading the ending, which I was barreling towards relentlessly (and it took me 2 refills from the Chipotle soda fountain to get there, I might add). I've been thinking about this story a lot in the last few days. Please read it -- I wanted to link to it but those savvy dogs at are hoarding it for the print version.

I've saved myself the last major story in the issue, fiction from Mary Gaitskill, for tomorrow. How I have loved carrying this issue around, reading snippets during breaks from lectures or enjoying it over lunch. I love this magazine so passionately, and am such a nerd for it. Sometimes I have dreams where I am reading an article in the magazine, yet the words are being written as I read them -- I see the letters flying onto the page, in the familiar font into their familiar columns -- yet my dream-self is consciously reading and understanding what's being written, and understanding that it's all coming from somewhere deep inside my subconscious. The most striking thing about the dreams, though, is the fact that I'm writing something that's appearing in the New Yorker (my bizarre dream-world New Yorker, but it counts). Sometimes I find myself musing on what it would be like to be published in there. It's definitely a goal for my life.

So, I'm the kind of person who blogs about a particular issue of a magazine because he loved it so. All I can say is: thank you, David Remnick and the gang, for giving me some beauty and wisdom and brilliance to carry around with me and read for two whole weeks. Can't wait til the new issue on Monday (which will probably include something insanely boring to balance out, like the time they had a major feature on chalk production, which I really struggled with and ultimately abandoned). But that might be the best part of a weekly magazine: no matter what you get this week, hope springs eternal for the new issue coming down the pike.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Gym class hero

Here's what may the best thing that happened during this weekend of sticky, unrelenting heat, besides the discovery of "Alvin & the Chipmunks" versions of my favorite songs on YouTube (be sure to check out "Falsetto"): today I taught a gym class.

I went to the gym as usual this morning, ready and waiting for the strength training class. The teacher, who I really like, was late getting into town and had missed his earlier class, but the gym people said he would arrive in time for this one. As the minutes rolled by he didn't show up. Some people started to trickle out, but one chick wondered aloud, "does anybody know the routine? Maybe someone else could teach it."

You never know what you'll do when duty calls. Do you stand up to meet it? Do you shrink away and hope it doesn't try to make eye contact? "I sort of know it," I mumbled. The girl was direct: "Why don't you do it," she said, pointing at me through the mirror. After a few sheepish rounds of "No, I couldn't....No, it's really not possible...No, I....OK, I'LL DO IT," suddenly the class was lurching forward with me at the helm.

We didn't have any music, which made it difficult to keep everything on a consistent time. The first few minutes were awkward, as I tried to remember what the teacher says and keep a good rhythm going. We did fewer sets than usual, because time was short, but we hit all the exercises in 45 minutes. Mostly I just announced the exercises, kept the count going, and tried to maintain a steady rhythm. It was hard to work out and count out loud at the same time. As I got more comfortable I tried to offer some asides and extra motivating tips, like: "Dig in!" or "I find these push-ups to be the low point of the workout!" or "Bring that squat all the way down!" The crazy thing was, these actually seemed to have an effect, as people would bring their squats to a markedly lower point. I felt like a god.

As we progressed I started feeling really good. The exercises were flowing along nicely, we were doing a good number of sets of each one, and our timing looked to be about right. I started thinking about alternative career paths -- why couldn't I be a gym instructor, too -- I could make some hot mixes, bring in some good hip hop and r&b, keep the people moving, make them laugh a little bit...I felt like Charlie Bucket after Willie Wonka turned over the keys to the chocolate factory.

As the class ended we were all stretched out on the floor, and I wrapped up with our teacher's signature ending: "Aaaaaand, shake it out! Good job guys!" There was some appreciative laughter and applause. On the way out everybody thanked me and told me I did a good job. It was a really remarkable, really good feeling, and not one that I ever expected to have. Is there anything I can't do?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The way we live now

After a couple weeks I have stumbled into my new routine for the summer. Here are the bad parts:

I spend three or four hours, starting at 9 a.m., sitting in a classroom at NYU taking notes from a videotaped lecture about some facet of the law I haven't thought about since first year. I am scribbling alongside other people I don't know, so during the ten minute breaks that come every hour I eat my yogurt very pensively, or read a magazine, or just sit and stare. Or think about how beautiful NYU is, how the sweeping staircase and elegant lighting makes me feel like I attended law school in a subway station. Later in the day, after I wrestle with the obligation to do an additional three or five hours of work, I reach a point where I know there's no way I can accomplish everything I've been assigned to do. I try to work hard until L comes home, then I try to be lively and fun, all the while being nagged by guilt about the work and the studying that isn't happening...After dinner and some TV and conversation I do some more work, but it's never enough, the books and outlines are piled around me yet I never feel like I learn anything. A deadening routine that feels completely unproductive. Beneath the monotony and the boredom there lies a genuine fear, which becomes slightly sharper and more clear each day, as I wonder what would happen, and how things would be, if I failed the bar.

Here, then, are the good parts:

This summer I have more freedom than I have had in many years. I don't go to an office, I'm not riding the subway. I put on my shorts and flips and walk ten minutes to the school, and then by lunchtime I'm free again. I walk around Washington Square Park and up to Chipotle, where they say hi to me every day because they know me. On the way up I set my course through the sunshine and listen to my burgeoning soundtrack for the summer, like the insanely enjoyable "Touch My Body" remix, in which a new, chopped-up synthesizer beat swoops into the last minute of the song, followed by some deeper bass lines that give the song this sense of urgency and intensity -- I can never get enough of it, it only lasts a minute and then fades out, but I always want more, so I'm cranking up the volume to hold on for just a few more moments, dancing in my head and enjoying this 60 seconds of pure music bliss as I soak in my newfound freedom for the afternoon. That's what I'm doing as I walk to Chipotle by the park, with the long languorous summer day stretched before me. I've gotten back into road-running, too, doing a couple races already and getting some respectable times, and with the New York Half Marathon to look forward to in July. If I plan my day right I can get out by the river just as the sun begins to falter, taking in the tones of the water and the brick and glass when the colors are at their fullest. That's what the architecture of my day can look like, if it doesn't always live up to that kind of early-June promise. No matter how the day goes, though, it's hard to ignore the knowledge that this summer, for all of its pleasures and all of its anxieties, will never, ever last.