Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The official endorsement: Vote Obama

The remarkable thing about this election is that there's a candidate I really respect and admire, unlike every other time, when it's been two vaguely repulsive figures. Back in 2000, Gore was too sanctimonious and Bush seemed like an amiable dunce. Go for the dunce! What could possibly go wrong? In 2004, I had recognized the error of my ways and was looking forward to voting for Howard Dean, who was like a "West Wing" fantasy come to life (plucky Northeastern governor comes to Washington) yet I ended up voting for John Kerry, who looked and acted like one of those dour talking trees in "The Wizard of Oz."

This time around, I hitched my star to Obama way back in April 2007, and boy, have I been pleased with how that turned out. From the stunning victory in Iowa to the soaring convention speech to his cool, professional demeanor in the debates against grumpy old Senator McCain, he and his campaign have had remarkably few missteps. Not only do I see Obama as an inspirational figure in America -- a symbol of progress and a bellwether of great things to come -- but McCain, for whom I voted with passion in the 2000 Virginia primary, has done a thorough job of losing my vote: The selection of Governor Palin by a man who promised "country first." The constant drumbeat that the city where I live and the region where I grew up is not "the real America." A wholehearted embrace of smear tactics and strategies designed to appeal to our worst impulses and fears. An acceptance of the right-wing ideologies that he fought so long against. And the introduction of Joe the Plumber to the national scene. Every time I read "Joe the Plumber" I hear it in the chirpy cadence of a parrot voice. Thanks a lot, John McCain.

So, in the spirit of these final few days, as everybody hunkers down and all the newspapers and magazines put their cards on the table in one last appeal for wisdom and clear judgment, here's my own, the first official presidential endorsement in the history of this blog.

Take it from your old pal Mike the Lawyer: vote Barack Obama for president.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Young, gifted, and white

Tonight I was at a country club steakhouse in Carlsbad with six other partners and associates from across the country. After a couple vodka gimlets and a glass or two of red wine, I excused myself to go to the bathroom and asked the hostess if I might borrow a pen and paper, and I wrote this:

To be young, gifted, and white: arrive at a steakhouse in Carlsbad - gilded walls, warm familiar lights. Loud red-faced men in dark blazers represent a possible future. A room of garrulous laughter, multiple cocktails per setting - rich men, white men, salads of prosciutto and greens and thick beet juice dribbling down our chins. The power! The ease! Who have we become?

Yet the music - Jill Scott, John Mayer, Erykah Badu, D'Angelo. "Cross My Mind," "He Loves Me," "I Don't Trust Myself," "Didn'tcha Know." Even here, in Carlsbad, among the privileged class, with a blazer and a soft belly awaiting me in some hazy potential future - this is who I am. I tell the waiter the music here is fantastic - amid everything else, he agrees.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Blogging by blackberry

Right now I am in Los Angeles, blogging with my thumbs on my brittle little blackberry because this is my lone connection to the internet. I'm here for new associate training, where they teach us how to be lean, hungry, fire-in-the-belly type lawyers. We came here as boys but we'll be leaving as men.

Soft, pasty men, actually, since we haven't really left the hotel compound where we eat, sleep, abd slump in conference rooms all day (except for last night's dinner, drinks and salsa dancing downtown, which should not be underemphasized--these hips, after all, do not lie). Tomorrow we move on to a resort in Carlsbad for another three days of rest, relaxation, and powerpoint. For now, here's a poem I wrote during a session today:

Hotel conference room
Downtown Los Angeles
Beige room, chairs
Outside, California dream
Tangle of freeways
Cars' dull roar
Bright empty sky
Stifled behind glass.
My golden state
Of nowhere. California!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

October farmers' market

Yesterday at the Farmers' market the bins and crates were bursting with color. As L diligently sorted through the apples and squashes to find our week's worth, I was swooping through the crowds with the camera, waiting for the elusive moment when my view of the riotous color was unbroken by a reaching hand. There were as many people taking photos of the produce as actually purchasing it; maybe us city folk have an acute need to memorialize the changing of the seasons. To capture these delicious colors so they'll endure longer than this brief, perfect moment in the year.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The email I expect to receive every time my Blackberry buzzes on evenings or weekends

Why aren't you here? Everyone is here working hard, and you're not. That's really disappointing. You really screwed the pooch on [some work issue] by (a) being bad at your job and (b) not being at your job right now. If you're going to be bad at something, at least be bad at it here in the office. That's just common sense.

You know what we all thought you were? A team player. But it turns out we were wrong. You're not a team player. Playing on a team with other people is not something you're good at. Maybe that's why running is the only sport you're sort of good at. One of us came up with the idea (but the rest of us agree) that if you were running in a relay race, you would probably mess that up too, because you would toss the baton into the street, or just not show up for the race, like how you didn't show up for work right now. Because you're not a team player.

We are so disappointed in you. Don't even bother coming back. Learn to play on a team. But not our team.



Monday, October 06, 2008

Aunt Evvy

My great-aunt Evelyn died today. She was old -- ever since I was little, she was old -- and she lived a good 90 years or so. After a long battle with illness, her death came as a relief, and she died with her sisters and loved ones nearby.

We called her Aunt Evvy, although I've seldom seen that name written down, so I'm not even sure how to spell it. As I said, even when I was little, she was old and wizened. She was a tiny woman, small and trim, with a heavily-styled bloom of white hair and a raspy voice worn by cigarettes, a gruff voice leavened with kindness and reassurance. Like many of the older folks in my family, she carried a smell of cigarettes that was somehow rich and comfortable.

But the remarkable thing about Aunt Evvy was that she had none of the coldness, or detachment, or impatience that you think of when you think "wizened old lady." She was always so kind and thoughtful. When I was little we would go to her house and she would give me my first haircuts. She always had candy in a bowl in the family room, and a painting of dogs playing poker in the basement, near the pool table, which seemed to be Uncle Dan's domain. He carved wooden ducks as a hobby, mallards with brilliant green heads and the females with a more subtle palette of browns and grays. When I would spend the night at my grandparents' on Saturdays, Uncle Dan would always drop by in the morning with the Sunday paper, and we would all sit around the kitchen table and eat donuts, me reading the comics while they all drank coffee and smoked.

Aunt Evvy was known among the family for her pies. She was a brilliant cook, but dessert is when she really flexed her muscle. My favorite was her chocolate pie, but she had plenty of others in her repertoire, and she would bring several to every family event, enough to leave entire pies to be divided -- thick, overflowing, rich and painful pies that would kill lesser men than us -- after everyone had eaten as much as they could bear.

She and my mom seemed to have a special connection. My mother has been utterly vigilant during Aunt Evvy's long illness, and I heard about many visits where Aunt Evvy could barely communicate, or struggled to talk, or just spent her time yelling at the nurse, which was reassuring to see. But there were moments when Aunt Evvy was lucid and able to communicate with my mom, and I heard about times when the old Evvy was shining through -- kind and loving, rubbing my mom's back to comfort her even as she had come to comfort Aunt Evvy. I was so happy Mom got to share these moments with her.

In the last couple of years, she suffered a lot of loss and pain in her life, and death seemed to be a welcome relief at some moments. I wrote about it here, a couple of Easters ago. She was a strong and resilient woman. It seems fitting that as I sit here writing, I can smell the pumpkin pie L baked tonight -- the first pumpkin pie of the season.

For my entire life Aunt Evvy has been a fixed point in my family -- part of the bedrock of men and women who had always been around, whose proximity and reliability and good will and assistance and love were taken as a given. I think about how close she and my grandma were, how much my mother loved her, how much my grandfather valued his friendship with her and Uncle Dan, and that's when I get a better sense of the brunt of the loss. She was a good and beautiful woman, and even after the pain of these long last months, there's nothing to do but miss her.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Thursday, October 02, 2008


Get this: yesterday I worked all night. I went to work on Wednesday, expecting another normal day at work. Cut to the part in a movie where the hands of the clock keep spinning, yet I remained working at my desk. Outside it got dark out, and all the lights in the buildings came on, and I was still working. Even later the lights of midtown started flicking off one by one, and I was still working. Even later the sky began lightening again, which was surreal, yet I was still working. A couple hours later people started coming in to work -- people who had showered, wearing clothes they had just put on, and I was still there, looking like a zombie with greasy hair in some extremely battered business casual clothes. "I haven't gone home yet," I croaked to my admin.

By 10 am this morning I felt like death warmed over. I could barely concentrate and was closing one eye to read. My contact lenses felt like hockey pucks in my eyes. Thankfully once our work was done I came home early, around noon, to eat some food for the first time since dinner and get myself cleaned up.

I was really excited because I figured I could easily make the gym tonight, then be home in time for the VP debate. I took a nap around 3, figuring I would wake up in time for the gym. Later, much later, I woke up to find a dark apartment. At first I thought it was early in the morning, and that L had woken up before me, but then I remembered that I hadn't had a night yet. I looked at my watch, and it was 7:15 -- too late for the gym. But I guess I was too tired anyway.

Here's the thing about literally working all night: I felt kind of tough, like I'm proving myself in an admittedly stupid way, and I feel sort of ridiculous for having to do it. The last time I did this I was in college, writing a horrible paper in Spanish about Erasmus. (Or, as he's known among the Spaniards, "Erasmo.") But the real kicker is the fact that it messed up my Thursday plans, and I suspect I'll be a little run-down through the weekend as well.

My tips for working all night: (1) Don't eat crap. I stuck with ice water and frequent trips to the bathroom to stay awake, and ate some candy but otherwise didn't eat a lot of junk and soda the way I wanted to. (2) Listen to music, but keep it mixed up, so nothing gets labeled as "the music I worked all night to," because then I would grow to hate it. And I just got new albums by Ne-Yo and Eric Benet, who seem to be bookends in a way (I feel like Ne-Yo's stuff represents my past and present, while Eric Benet is singing about the kind of love and relationship that I'm still a couple years away from experiencing, in some ways), and as great as both albums are, I didn't want to permanently associate them with my wretched night in midtown.

Moving on...

Debate-wise, tonight I thought both sides did pretty well, given the expectations that were set. I really appreciated the dialogue between the candidates and the points of mutual respect and agreement that both sides were happy to note. But I thought Biden wiped the floor with Palin, in terms of specifics, directness, context, and understanding. I don't need or want a Vice President who winks at me from the television.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Too much

I think I'm becoming a weirdo about recycling. The combination of L's locavore wisdom and scathing disdain for bottled water, plus the reams of paper that fly around my office on a daily basis, have pushed me over the edge.

Our printers at work (where I am at this moment, mind you, and there's a long time yet before I'm going home) are set so that the first page of every document is a paper identifying who printed the thing. So today I casually told my administrative assistant (!!) that if she wanted to set aside all those papers, I would be happy to bring them home to recycle, since there isn't really any recycling here at the office. She looked at me like I was crazy. I began to feel stupid, and all of my environmental righteousness leaked out of my body like toxic waste out of a drum barrel as I explained how I set aside all my recyclable, non-confidential papers to recycle at home. Is that weird?

At Chipotle tonight for my pathetic lonely dinner, which I squeezed in between billable minutes at some alien midtown Chipotle, I set aside the bottle I had purchased with my meal so they could recycle it. Then I saw another bottle lying on top of the garbage, so I plucked it out for recycling, too. Then I noticed a second bottle in the garbage, under some napkins that didn't look too dirty, so I pulled that one out. Then I saw a third bottle, just a little deeper, and I was going to reach in when I realized -- you need to leave. Do not root through the garbage at Chipotle. But that's not weird, right?