Sunday, February 28, 2010


Well, I broke. I don't know if it was seeing all the baby loot we acquired at the shower last weekend, or else the time I spent the other night considering the mechanics of baby clothes, with all of their snaps and clasps and tiny little safety pins, or else our trip yesterday to Baby Buy Buy Buy, when we selected a mobile for the crib of plush pastel little insects -- fireflies, ladybugs, caterpillars -- all sleeping peacefully and smiling gently from their cozy orbit, or else the moment in the store when I found myself binging on onesies, pink ones, yellow ones, with their snug matching hats and bibs and burp cloths, embroidered roses or butterflies or bouquets, imagining soft tiny sleeves filled with fat baby arms, imagining the snaps and clasps and pins securing a warm tiny body, imagining my rose, my butterfly, my bouquet -- sometime in the middle of all that, I admitted to myself:

"Ok, this shit is fucking cute."

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Today is my 30th birthday. It's been a quiet day, but eventful in its own right -- a slow day at work, a trip down to L's office to surprise her at her baby shower, and a lovely taco night at home, punctuated by messages and phone calls from people I love. I always find that the fact of my birthday becomes a secret burden to shoulder. On the subway, at work, in meetings, on the street, you want to tell everybody, "It's my birthday!" But this is not something you can do in polite conversation. No one ever asks a question where the direct answer is, "It's my birthday!" It's not like people go around saying, "Is there a reason today is special for you in particular?" But that's ok. Carrying that secret is part of the fun.

This morning L gave me my birthday gift, and it's a doozy. She compiled all of the blog entries I've posted here, from January 2005 through December 2009, and had them bound as a hardback book: "Clarity," by MKD. She had a bunch of our friends and relatives write blurbs about the blog that she posted at the front of the book. She had a little "About the Author" section at the end. She meticulously formatted the book, and selected a cover image, and the right font, and she produced a book of my blog entries that's approximately 700 pages.

I was floored when I realized what she had done. At first I thought she had gotten me some random book called "Clarity" because it had the same title as this blog. Then I saw my own name on the dust jacket and just couldn't believe what I was holding. I took the book to the office this morning (wrapped in bubble wrap to protect it) and spent a lot of time today rereading the words I wrote back in 2005, before I was in law school, back when L was just my girlfriend, two apartments ago.

To be honest, it made me proud to read all those old entries in a book, continuously, one after the next. I could see some themes and common ideas emerge that I hadn't noticed previously. It helped me understand what I'm trying to write about. Although I was nervous to read my old stuff I was pleasantly surprised -- there were some good turns of phrase, and some old memories which were suddenly cast in high relief. It almost felt like a real, standard memoir -- maybe with just a little work to bridge some of the gaps, you could really have something. I've read it up to March 2006 and I'm excited to follow that old trail back to the here and now. I find myself stupidly excited to read about old trips, or the marathon, or fun times with L. Like I told my parents tonight, I find the book to be a real page-turner.

One of my colleagues at work today said that L had given me the best gift anyone ever could, because she had given me my memories. This is very true. I am astounded by my wife. I am so thankful for her and for the opportunity to look back and reflect on the last few years -- it seems like a good use of a birthday. It made me almost giddy to hold this thick old book of my own words, my own report of the last five years of my life.

As I mentioned earlier, L composed a brief little "About the Author" at the end of the book. She told me she had been very thoughtful about what she said and how she said it. She wrote:

MKD is a writer. He was born and raised in Virginia and educated at the University of Virginia, Columbia University and Fordham Law School. Michael lives in New York City with his wife and daughter. This is his first collection of writings.

When I read that I felt a pang of anguish and happiness and love in my heart. I thought: What a life ... To live that life!

P.S. By the way, if anyone is interested in purchasing their own copy of this ridiculous book you can order it online for about $28 (to cover production costs). Let me know and I can send you the link.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Beautiful Saturday

Yesterday was a really magnificent day. The weather was a little warmer and the sun was strong in the blue sky. It was L's baby shower, so Melissa and Anna arrived early to set up and bustle around in the kitchen for a while. I had made plans with John to head down to Benny's Burritos for some margaritas while the ladies feted our wee baby.

I was in a good mood heading downtown; the air was crisp and the skies were clear. Upbeat music in the headphones, spring in my step. The Village sidewalks were crowded with people enjoying the day, out and about with their shopping bags or strollers. I got to Benny's around 2 and went inside; John wasn't there yet. I left the restaurant to wait outside on the sidewalk, to watch the people and enjoy the old neighborhood, when who do I see coming up but -- Ashesh! I have a distinct impression of seeing his face and the bright green triangle of his scarf. Even though he's only in Philadelphia (studying at Wharton; I think he's taking some kind of evening-division part-time GED prep class or something) I haven't seen him since he left the city last summer. We stood on the sidewalk chatting when who comes sauntering up but -- Russell! Russell lives in Colorado and spends some time in Virginia, and I only get to see him a couple times of year. I hadn't seen him since Thanksgiving and I wasn't sure when we would hang out next. A little while later John arrived, brandishing a bag from my favorite bookstore and laughing at my incredulity, and we went inside to sit.

(This surprise was orchestrated by L, of course. Amid the hubbub of her shower and everything else going on, she engineered an early birthday celebration for me. I was floored.)

It made me so happy to share a table with these guys. As we were sitting there, eating and drinking, I tried to take in how it felt - a beautiful afternoon outside through the plate glass windows of the restaurant, good drinks, catchy songs playing in the background, John on my left, Russell across the table, Ashesh on my right. A table of some of my favorite people, somehow finding themselves in this old dive. I had a dumb grin on my face, feeling happy and at ease and very thankful. I couldn't believe these guys would make the time to be here and shoot the breeze for an afternoon.

To be honest, during this whole pregnancy there have been some moments of extreme loneliness. A few weeks ago, when we were at the Buy Buy Baby Maternity and Childcare Emporium, I remember feeling very overwhelmed by the sheer amount of junk and information and decisions and childrearing philosophies that seemed to demand immediate analysis and commitment. I have missed having family close by, to impart some wisdom, offer guidance, and help contextualize this new baby into the larger story and tradition of our families. True, our families are never too far away, and we speak with them often and think of them even more often, but the idea of raising our kid here by ourselves can be daunting. We have relied so much on the new community we have knitted here, but I miss the old comfort and shared history of old, genuine friends.

That's why yesterday struck such a deep chord with me. After we left Benny's we made our way to Wogie's for a couple of beers. Finally we returned to John and Anna's, where we rejoined Anna and L. John cooked up a delicious dinner, we watched the Olympics and played some poker, sipping on Old Pogue and sambuca.

Yesterday I felt contented and grateful and at peace. To be honest, I felt a kind of easy happiness with life that I haven't enjoyed in a long time. I tell you, man -- with the love of a good woman, and the kind of friends who will come up to the city on a lark for a long, late winter afternoon of margaritas and poker -- these are the days and the people I can't wait to introduce to my daughter.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" by Sloan Wilson

"'I was my own disappointment. I really don't know what I was looking for when I got back from the war, but it seemed as though all I could see was a lot of bright young men in gray flannel suits rushing around New York in a frantic parade to nowhere. They seemed to me to be pursuing neither ideals nor happiness -- they were pursuing a routine. For a long while I thought I was on the side lines watching that parade, and it was quite a shock to glance down and see that I too was wearing a gray flannel suit.'"
When I was little, when we would go spend summer weekends at my grandparents' place in Rehoboth Beach, I was always drawn to the few old hardbacks on the bookshelves. I distinctly remember two of them, always found in their same alcove every year, next to an old photo in a plastic frame and a few hardy seashells: Sloan Wilson's "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," and a book by Ian Fleming on Jamaica. The Wilson book in particular stood out; the cover was old and tatty, a relic from the 1950s or 60s, and featured a man in silhouette wearing a fedora, hands clasped behind his back. Why didn't he have a name? Why was he in shadow? Like most objects and events of my childhood, I was vaguely afraid of this.

I was thinking about this book recently and bought it online on a lark. I found an edition from 2002 with an endearingly ugly cover -- preserving that iconic silhouette man -- and featuring a new introduction from Jonathan Franzen.

Reader, I loved this book. I don't know if I've ever read a book that so closely matched my own life and circumstances. I was expecting another typical post-war suburban angst book: man and woman in bitter marriage, loathed or ignored children, drunken escapades, casual violence, sullen train rides into the city. And yet: the protagonist here was a decent young guy with a smart, beautiful wife. He changed jobs in an effort to find meaningful work that challenged him yet allowed him time with kids. He was loyal to his old grandmother. He treated people fairly. He was honest with his boss when he could have been a yes-man. He struggled with his past in World War Two, with the violence and infidelities that had somehow made sense in a senseless place. Ultimately he reconciled his shameful past with the future he wanted to build for himself and his family. He did it with integrity.

I found this book to be so inspiring and appropriate for me right now. The author's afterword from 1983 highlighted how young people have always been very responsive to the novel; how they have understood, unlike the critics who caricatured the book as yet another backhanded slap at postwar life, that this is actually a story of unironic aspiration and resilience. I was surprised by the sourness of Franzen's introduction which highlighted some of the weaknesses of the book (notably its rushed, pat conclusion).

I consider it a real gift, and a funny little curlique of life, that I happened to read a book I've been toying with since I was a little kid at this particularly apt moment of my life. The edition that I just read was published almost 40 years after the original hardback I eyed for all those summers, yet the man remains, waiting to be read, waiting to be understood. The passage I highlighted above really bowled me over, and the lines that followed resonated as well:
"'I needed a great deal of assistance in becoming an honest man. If you hadn't persuaded me to play it straight with Ralph, I would be thinking differently now. By a curious coincidence, Ralph and a good deal of the rest of the world have seemed honest to me ever since I became honest with myself...I would have gone on, becoming more and more bitter, more and more cynical, and I don't know where that road would have ended. But now I'm sure things are going to be better. I've become almost an optimist.'"