Sunday, December 30, 2012

This blog has moved to

Hi, folks. All of my personal writing now lives at The archives of this blog are all there. And it's prettier.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Californian brother meets Ohio winter

Last night Curt flew in from San Diego, where has lived for nearly 20 years. Then it started snowing. Then he did this:

Good to have you visiting, Curt.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A date with my best girl

I took Anna out to dinner tonight. It was a combination birthday dinner and reward for memorizing her multiplication tables up through twelve. A few weeks ago I asked her where she wanted to go. I had assumed she'd want Chinese or Mexican or something. Nope.

"I want to go someplace fancy," she said.

"Fancy? Like what grownups would consider fancy?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. "Maybe a steak place. I want steak."

So I decided to take her to Ocean Club. She may be turning nine, but she's a very mature nine.

Our evening started with drinks. I had a Cabernet, she had a Shirley Temple:

Next came a "birthday candle," which was dry ice in a martini shaker:

Cherry first:

I let Anna choose the appetizer. Sadly, she was unwilling to try oysters. But the Aged Wisconsin Cheddar Fondue was a hit. She ate the salami and crostini, I ate the broccoli and carrots:

Anna likes steak, but she's only ever had it cooked by her grandfather or me, and we just give it to her without much fuss. I prepped her about how one orders steak beforehand, including the part about how what most of us consider medium rare at home is closer to medium at a steak house.  When the waiter asked for her order, she said "petite filet, a bit above medium rare but still pink, please." The waiter smiled at me. The gray-haired couple just behind Anna later flashed me a thumbs up. Damn straight I'm raising her right.

She did not pussyfoot around. Oh, and the fries: Parmesan truffle.

Dessert is served:

Oh yeah:

And thus ends our night on the town.

The best part of a wonderful evening: it was so damn natural. Anna wasn't self-conscious. She wasn't constantly asking me questions about everything. It wasn't like some gimmicky and contrived event. We just enjoyed ourselves. We talked about all kinds of things during dinner. She told me about some stories she's been writing. We talked about our plans for the weekend. While on one level you could tell that she was enjoying doing a grownup thing, for the most part it was as though we go out like this all the time, and it was no big deal.

By the time the night was over I heard myself thinking "I'm going to have nice dinners like this with Anna for the rest of my life."  My little girl felt so grown up to me. It felt fantastic.

And if we can ever get Carlo to drop his "nothing fancier than Chipotle" rule, he can start joining us.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Great Moments in Customer Service

Back in November I bought two iPhones. One for me, one for Allison. Since we were both eligible for upgrades (and Allison was switching to my plan) they cost the introductory price of $199. Not bad for a little rectangle with more computing power than anything that existed until, like, a couple of years ago.

I got mine, activated it and was and have been happy ever since.  Then Allison's showed up, shipped to me. I was going to San Antonio the following week and was going to bring it to her but she was so eager to get it and I was so eager for her to have it I figured I'd ship it to her so she could get it earlier. Without ever taking it out of the box I slapped her address on it and sent it to her via Priority Mail.

Big mistake. Because it never got there. Just disappeared into the ether. Probably stolen by a postal worker. But the biggest mistake was all mine: I didn't track it or insure it or anything. Just stupid, but I didn't even really think about it. I've never had anything lost in the mail so I figured this thing would be fine too. And it wasn't. One of the dumber things I've ever done.

I followed up with the postal service. As of now that's still unresolved. They really have no clue and, because I didn't buy insurance, they have no incentive to find a clue.  Then I followed up with the insurance company that covers the phone, Asurion. Their position: even though I have insurance for all the phones on my account, no device is covered until it's activated and since Allison's phone has never been turned on they don't have to cover it.  Seems stupid -- I have proof I bought it -- but that was their policy and they were sticking to it.

So I called Verizon. Mostly to tell them about the phone being lost, but also to see if I couldn't buy another iPhone from them at the $199 price.  Their position: sorry, you only get one at that price and since it wasn't their fault it's lost -- it got to me just fine and then I shipped it off and lost it -- the best they can do is to sell me another one at full retail. Which is nearly $700. Christ on a crutch I wanted no part of that.  The next best thing they'd do is to try to persuade Asurion to cover it anyway. They'd contact them and call me back, but they literally told me not to count on anything good happening.

As of this morning it was two weeks since Verizon said they'd do that and I hadn't heard anything, so I called them.  While I was on hold, I started tweeting random things. Not out of anger, really, just out of boredom. Stuff like this:
And this:
That last part was because I was thinking about how I could game the system by, say, having my mom get an iPhone at the promotional price, decide she didn't like it, keep the phone, go back to her flip phone and then have Allison "buy" the phone from her and activate it on her number. Which could've worked, probably, even if I hadn't thought it all out yet.

But then something interesting happened:

And then, after some back and forth:

Which was rather surprising.  But not as surprising as the fact that, after I responded, my phone rang and the woman on the other end said "Hi, I'm calling from the CEO's office of Asurion, and we want to help you solve your problem."

Long story short: Asurion agreed to make an exception in my case and cover the lost/stolen phone even though, per policy rules, they didn't have to. Two minutes on the phone and they had another iPhone ready to ship to Allison. She'll get it tomorrow.  I'm gobsmacked.

Of course, I'm also pretty sure that neither Verizon nor Asurion get involved in this via Twitter if I don't have over 14,000 Twitter followers. Not that I'd start raising hell or anything, but I guess they don't know that.  Either way, I'm sitting here this evening feeling pretty satisfied, even if it's because, as far as social media goes, I'm part of the 1%.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The shady economics of law school

Back at George Washington I had a law professor named Lawrence E. Mitchell. He was my corporate finance professor. And we learned an awful lot about corporate finance.  The real takeaway from the class, however, was Professor Mitchell's teachings about dicey corporate accounting practices.

This was in the mid-90s, years before Enron and all of those other book-cooking corporations crumbled under the weight of their Alice in Wonderland balance sheets.  Professor Mitchell was WAY ahead of the game on this stuff, though, noting how rampant and wrong it was that corporations were valuing things as assets when they really were costs, setting themselves as virtual ponzi schemes designed to pay executives now and screw investors later and the like.

I found all of that incredibly useful as a lawyer. Indeed, I remember and use the concepts from that class more than any other class I took at GW. And not just in legal practice -- when all of the corporate scandals began in the early 2000s, I knew exactly what was going on thanks to Professor Mitchell. The man, quite literally, wrote the book on corporate irresponsibility and I am a much smarter and well-informed person because of him.

Flash forward to today and I read an editorial in the New York Times from one Lawrence E. Mitchell.  I had lost track of him over the years, but he is now the dean of Case Western Reserve Law school in Cleveland.  His editorial is about how, contrary to the growing sentiment over the past few years, law school is a good investment:

For at least two years, the popular press, bloggers and a few sensationalist law professors have turned American law schools into the new investment banks. We entice bright young students into our academic clutches. Succubus-like, when we’ve taken what we want from them, we return them to the mean and barren streets to fend for themselves.
The hysteria has masked some important realities and created an environment in which some of the brightest potential lawyers are, largely irrationally, forgoing the possibility of a rich, rewarding and, yes, profitable, career.

I realize a dean of a law school has to say such things, but the cold hard reality is that, unlike it was for me and my friends back in the 1990s, law school is no longer a good investment for most people. It's a piss-poor one, actually, and unless you (a) have rich parents or already have the money saved to pay the exorbitant tuition; or (b) have a great chance of getting a well-paying job due to family or personal connections in private practice, law school is a sucker's bet.

If you choose to go to law school, you will go into outrageous amounts of debt and you will come out facing a job market that no longer hands out jobs with six-figure salaries as if they were samples of Genral Tso's chicken at the food court.  It's brutal out there, and new graduates are killing each other for increasingly scarce and increasingly lower-paying jobs, all the while law schools -- which are used by universities as profit centers -- belch thousands of new graduates into the job market each May.

To be fair, later in the editorial, Dean Mitchell notes that the market is rough and that it may be wrong to focus on that first job out of law school. Look beyond that first job out of law school, he says, to the rewards that will come later.

There is some truth to that part. Indeed, I'm the living embodiment of a law school education helping one do things other than practice law. But as I have noted quite often, the road I traveled is not an easily replicable one. Indeed, if it wasn't for sheer dumb luck and the unexpected and possibly undeserved generosity of other people at a couple of key times in my journey, I never would have made it. Oh, and I also had the benefit of 11 well-paid years in private practice before that -- with jobs obtained in a radically different legal job market than the one exists today -- to help me along the way and to give me the comfort to take the sorts of risks I took to get to where I am.

So as I sit here this afternoon, I am more than a little dumbfounded. Dumbfounded that the man who taught me everything I know about financial mismanagement, shady accounting and corporate ponzi schemes -- the man who, more than anything else, warned me against anyone who would classify something as an asset when it truly represents a cost -- is in the New York Times advocating that students continue to go into crazy law school debt and defending what has become, in essence, an educational ponzi scheme, all because he believes this thing that is literally bankrupting students is truly an asset.

But hey, I bet there will be more applications for Case Western as a result.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Talking Head

When I was a teenager and people asked me what I wanted to be someday, I'd jokingly say "An expert."

When they asked me what I meant, I'd say "You know, those guys on CNN who they beam in via satellite. The ones you only see from the waist up, in front of some fake backdrop of a city?  Those guys who, somehow, just happen to know everything there is to know about whatever random topic just happens to hit the news that day?

"Man, where do they find these people? Do they just sit around, knowing their one little subject and nothing else, hoping that someone would call and ask their opinion?"

Oh ... wait:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

On the road again

Just over a year ago the wheels came off. In order to avert a head-on collision I steered into a ditch. As soon as I stopped skidding the engine blew up. No matter how good it looks in the garage, and no matter how hard you try to fight the rust, old wheels always stand a good chance of betraying you.

I started talking to Allison right after I crashed and burned. Talk turned to friendship, friendship turned to affection and affection turned to love. It's been close to a year now, and it's still wonderful. We just get each other and give other what we need without even thinking about it. Who knew things could be so easy?

It has not been totally easy, of course. We've had to work through some of my stuff, some of her stuff and a bunch of other stuff. But most of all distance. Distance is a bitch. We talk and, thanks to the Internet, see each other every day, but that's a pale substitute. We've visited each other often, but because of their rarity, our visits are imbued with a certain weight, as though we have to pack three or four weeks of a relationship into a long weekend. We've managed as best as we can to keep having fun and to keep living in the moments we have. We've managed to not get bogged down too much by stormy pasts, uncertain futures and those damnable, damnable trips to the airport which send us off on our separate ways. But it's hard. About as hard as something that you can still call happy gets. No one is meant to fly so much. It's such an uncivilized way to travel.

The future always remains at least a little bit uncertain and there is still stuff to be worked through, but we're about to eliminate a good bit of that uncertainty and all of those damnable drives to the airport.  In late December I'm flying to San Antonio on a one-way ticket. The next day Allison and I are taking off in her car and we're driving back to Ohio. She's moving up here for good.

Because of the kids and all of the changes and adjustments in the offing we're not setting up housekeeping just yet. But it is an important step. And an exciting one. For the first time we'll be able to get on like most folks get on. To hang out, go out and be together without all of that weight and distance getting in the way. Without having to worry that, if we pick the wrong restaurant, we won't be able to make up for it for another month. Most of all we're both creatures of habit and routine and it will be awful nice to fall into some comfortable ones with each other at long last.

I'm really looking forward to that. I'm especially looking forward to the drive back from San Antonio. It's been a while since I've been on the road. It will be nice to cruise down the highway again, confident that the ride will be smooth and steady.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Drugs, illness, the pro-PED doctor and other fun things in San Francisco

I posted this at HardballTalk, but it's mostly personal rambling anyway, so why not here too?
I had some aches, a mild fever and a cough over the weekend. It felt better by Monday night and I felt as right as rain on Tuesday, so I figured I had shaken whatever crud I was harboring. It came roaring back at me during the game last night, however, and as I stumbled back to my hotel room, I nearly dropped, my body wracked with violent coughing and awfulness.  I took a shot from my Batman flask — yes, that’s it in the picture — and hoped that frontier medicine and a night’s sleep would do the trick. Alas, it did not, so at midnight I called the front desk to see if there was an urgent care in the area. Instead, they hooked me up with a doctor they keep on call and we talked.
Doc: What are you in town for?
Me: Covering the World Series.
Doc: Hey, I was at the game tonight! Great stuff, wasn’t it?
Me: I suppose so. So, here’s what’s –
Doc: Three home runs! How about that Panda! [and many more minutes of baseball talk as I neared death]
We talked about my symptoms, he gave me a couple of things I could do in the meantime, and then said the best bet would be for me to come by his office in the morning.
“Is it walking distance from the hotel?” I asked
“Depends how sick you are,” he said.
I tried to sleep but did a poor job of it. When I finally woke up my fever seemed to have spiked and my cough had gotten so bad that I was tasting blood. If this were a 19th century novel there would be “telltale flecks of crimson on his handkerchief, his consumptive doom foretold!”  As it was, I sent emails to all of the NBC people I could find to tell them how useless I’d be today and/or what my last wishes were if I died before I was able to talk to them again.
The only thing that had made me feel moderately better the night before was a little warm food, so I sought out breakfast. I walked towards Dottie’s True Blue Cafe, which is a couple blocks south of where I’m staying and which many have recommended. There was a line of people out the door so I moved on — I’ll get it next time – turning the wrong way down Market Street where things start to get a bit sketchy. There I witnessed a deranged woman in her late 40s wildly swinging two garbage bags full of what looked to be pillows at another women while yelling at her to commit anatomical impossibilities. The other woman, who looked a bit less troubled, was dodging the blows but wouldn’t retreat. Instead, she kept trying to take pictures of her attacker with her cell phone. Not sure who was crazier.
Realizing I was heading the wrong way, I turned around and walked back north on Market. I walked by a group of three guys, one of which asked me if I wanted to buy some pot.  I have been on this Earth for over 39 years and, at one time, knew a lot of people who partook in such things. But never have I literally had a stranger bark out a sales pitch like that. I wanted to look around for cameras to see if it was some kind of joke, but I kept walking.
I found a little cafe where I ordered some coffee and some eggs. An older couple sat down at the table near me and I heard the husband ask the wife if she happened to see the score of the game last night. When she said she didn’t know I said “8-3.” They thanked me and asked me if I went to the game. I said yep. They asked me if I’m going again tonight. I said yep. Then they asked me if I’d be willing to sell my tickets. I explained my situation and the man said “Oh well. I can’t find a pair for under $500 so I’m asking anyone I can.”
After I ate I made it up to the doctor’s office. It’s just off Union Square.  I had a minute so I walked around the Square a bit because “The Conversation” may be my favorite movie of all time. I pretended that Cindy Williams and I were planning Robert Duvall’s murder, that Gene Hackman was listening to us and then I hummed a few bars of “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob Bobbing Along.” There were no mimes to be seen.
It turns out that the whole practice is devoted to hotel guests and tourists and stuff, which is something that makes sense in such a hotel-and-tourist-heavy area, but is the sort of thing I never considered. Seems like something they’d invent in a Charlie Kaufman film. The doctor saw me right away. He’s a short Chinese-American guy, probably in his late 40s or early 50s, but dressed like he’s 25. A smile on his face at all times. I instantly liked him. Even when he creeped me out a bit by saying that he Googled me before I came in and was happy to see that I had lost some weight in the past few years based on older pictures. That’s … not weird.
Most of the visit was spent with him asking me baseball questions — he was really concerned about Bruce Bochy’s bullpen choices last night despite the victory because he thinks that an 8-0 Giants win would have “sent a stronger message.” Then we talked about PEDs at his prompting. Let the record reflect that if this guy had his way everything would be legal, blood spinning with added HGH would be mandatory and Barry Bonds would be canonized. “Just wait ten years and see what they have available,” he said. “The stuff everyone frets about now will seem like throat lozenges.”  Did I mention I really like this guy?
But it wasn’t all juice-talk. Another huge chunk of the visit was him giving me a vaguely new-agey lecture about balance — this included him taking pictures of my face with his iPhone to show me how I was “unbalanced on [my] right side” — and him explaining the need to excrete all of the bad things from our bodies lest we have no room for the good.  He then demonstrated the proper way to clear one’s sinuses and to inhale hot steam in the shower — it’s all about being upside down — and it all sounded rather like Annie telling Nuke how to breathe through his eyelids.
That was all nice, but what I was really there for was some weapons-grade pharmaceuticals. Thankfully the Good Doctor had the hookup. After the new age talk ended, he told me I either had a severe sinus infection or strep and that there was no use doing the strep test because either way he’s giving me the same treatment.  He had his nurse inject me with an antibiotic/anti-inflammatory cocktail (although based on the earlier conversation it may have also had some HGH and metabolites of Stanozolol), and then he loaded up a bag full of all manner of drugs for me to take with me.  Come to San Francisco: EVERYONE will give you drugs if you want them.
I took a big swig of the codeine cough syrup and walked down the street past Union Square. As I passed the Westin Hotel I saw a crowd of people with cameras and baseballs surrounding the entrance. Tigers outfielder Quintin Berry was standing there with an attractive young woman. He stopped to sign autographs.  The only question for him that came to mind was “why on Earth are they starting Delmon Young in left when your legs aren’t broken?” but I didn’t think I could ask it with the nuance it required what with the cough syrup and all, so I moved along and eventually back to my hotel room.
Here I sit. The game starts in about three and a half hours, but (a) I still feel like utter garbage; and (b) I have this feeling that my Baseball Writers Association of America application will meet with strong resistance this winter if I cough up blood and mucus all over the membership in the cramped confines of the press facilities at AT&T Park tonight.  Doctor Feelgood told that it would be about 24 hours of taking the antibiotics and stuff before I’d really be OK be active and not, you know, be Typhoid Mary. As such, I’m leaning strongly toward bagging tonight and coming back strong for Game 3 in Detroit on Saturday.
If that is what I ultimately decide to do, I will still be posting and tweeting and generally covering World Series business this evening from the comfort of my sick/deathbed, and of course Matthew and D.J. will have all kinds of coverage tonight as well.
See what happens when you leave your mother’s basement? Bad things.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Welcome to Texas

My many trips to Texas this year have given me a new appreciation for Texas.

Most of the stereotypes can be found if you look hard enough, of course, for all stereotypes have at least some basis in truth. But my overarching takeaway is that (a) Texans really love Texas; and (b) Texans simply don't give a fuck what you think about Texas. They're too busy really loving Texas, you see, to worry about why you don't.

This is a good thing.  Because while I don't ever see myself living in Texas, I would love to one day live someplace people really love to be and in which folks really take pride.  Ohio has its particular charms, but pride of place is not one of them. We'll tell you why Ohio isn't as bad as you think it might be, but at the end of the day the biggest thing it has going for it is its basic convenience and efficiency. People don't tend to put that kind of thing on coffee mugs and beer koozies.

And the Ohio hotel continental breakfast bars certainly don't have waffle irons like the one I encountered here in Dallas this morning:

Yee ha.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Kinda simple, but undeniably true.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Beef Tenderloin, Bitches

I'm continuing to cook things. The other day Allison sent me a recipe for beef tenderloin so I figured why the hell not?

Step 1: Spend way too damn much money for a 2.3 pound beef tenderloin at Weiland's. Don't care, because Weiland's is the best.

Step 2:  Look at raw beef on counter with daughter. Have daughter ask if the red stuff is blood. When you reply "yes, that's blood," have daughter say "ew, gross," and leave you on your own. Thanks for the help, Anna:

Step 3: Tie the sucker up:

Step 4: Get your garlic and rosemary on:

Step 5: Let the beef, garlic, rosemary and some oil hang out for a while:

Step 6: Brown the sucker in the cast iron skillet you stole from your dad. Realize that you never really lived life until you had a nicely seasoned cast iron skillet.  Let the house turn into a wondrous land of good smelling searing meat:

Step 7: Throw that stuff in the oven, in the skillet for about a half hour. Surprise the hell out of yourself that, at a half hour, it was at the exact temperature you wanted. Because, really, you were obsessing and were convinced that it was gonna take longer than that and you were just checking it early because of said obsessing.  Consider buying lottery ticket:

Step 8:  Eat with the potatoes and asparagus you somehow managed not to screw up while your were obsessing on the meat:

Sit back awfully damn proud of yourself for acing beef tenderloin the first time you ever tried it. Realize there's pretty much nothing you can't do because you're awesome.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Stanford or Berkeley, a play in one act, with a surprise ending

Bath time, about 25 minutes ago. Anna is soaking in bubbles, almost up to her nose. I am cleaning the bathroom counter.

Anna: Where did you go to college?

Me: You know where I went to college.

Anna: Ohio State?

Me: Yes.

Anna: Are there colleges in San Diego?

Me: A couple, sure.

Anna: Are they good colleges to go to?

Me: [trying not to be that guy, but failing]: There are some better ones up near San Francisco.

Anna: Which ones?

Me: U.C. Berkeley. It's part of the University of California. Most people call it "Berkeley."  And Stanford.

Anna: Which one is better?

Me: It depends, I guess. One is probably better for some things, one is probably better for others. A lot of people who went to one say that it was better than the other one and vice-versa.

Anna: Do you know people who went to those colleges?

Me: I have a few friends who went to Berkeley.

Anna: Which of those colleges is better for being a rock star?

Me [a beat]: Probably neither. If you want to be a rock star, you probably don't need to go to Stanford or Berkeley. Probably shouldn't, actually.

Anna: Which one is better if you want to be a teacher?

Me: Um, I don't know. I suppose I could look it up. There are a lot of colleges you can go to if you want to be a teacher.

Anna: But I want to go to college in California.

Me: OK, we'll figure it out by then. We have nearly ten years.

Anna: I want to teach elementary school.

Me: OK.

Anna: Aren't you going to ask me why I want to teach elementary school?

Me: Why do you want to teach elementary school.

Anna: Because middle school kids STINK.

Me:  Yes, I suppose they do.

Anna: [farts in tub, bubbles come up, Anna dies laughing]


Sunday, September 16, 2012

"The things that are the worst to undergo are the best to remember"

I just read some pretty damn good insight from Ted Hughes, writing to his son Nicholas back in the 1980s.

The central idea: our only real selves are the people we were as children, when we felt and processed everything without regard to how we presented ourselves to the outside world. And that since childhood, our lives are mostly a function of us creating and strengthening that outer shell -- armor, he calls it -- that is adulthood.  Our public, professional and social personalities. The stuff that makes us grownups.

However, we still only truly feel things with our childish selves, and that's where life happens:

That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world. That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster. So when you realise you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self — struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence — you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenge, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself.

This resonates pretty strongly with me these days.  It's nothing I had considered consciously before reading that this morning, but it definitely explains my past year an awful lot.  In some ways it was the worst year of my life. In other ways, however, it has been the best.  Because whatever else has been happening, I've definitely been feeling and experiencing things this past year, after so many years in a superficially happy but ultimately numbing protective shell in which my job, my marriage and all of that armor defined me.

Now, obviously, one cannot only court suffering as a means of accessing and stimulating that true inner self.  if you did, you'd probably end up like poor Nick Hughes and his mother. But there are other ways to do it.

Like letting yourself actually experience things -- even the goofiest things imaginable -- without forced ironic distance and too-cool-for-school posturing that is so common among people my age.  Not assuming that your life has to go in the direction inertia sends it is another. Finding love and actually appreciating it as something new and something special is probably the most rewarding way.

Ultimately we need that armor to function in a world full of people who, understandably, prefer to deal with armor-clad adults and not emotional children. I mean, work has to get done and anyone who has kids knows that children are the greatest impediment to efficiency in the known universe.

But when you're home? When you're thinking about your life and processing all of the things going on around you?  Do it naked. It's the only way to truly live.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dear Fartyfart

I am in Connecticut doing NBC SportsTalk this week.  Today, twenty minutes before I went on the air on live television, I received an email from Anna, which I present to you now. For the record, I do not have heart tighty whiteys, nor do I drink cappuccino.  But I'm glad Anna has a vivid fantasy life and wants me to be my best on television.

From: Anna Calcaterra 
Date: Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 5:41 PM
Subject: meep
To: Craig Calcaterra




Monday, August 27, 2012

Now we're cookin'

I never really cooked. I made some easy quicky things like a bowl of pasta or, occasionally, a lasagna, but I never did the cooking at all.

In the early days it just never came up. We ate out a lot or we ate like twentysomethings, scarfing whatever was around while watching TV. When she did have the urge to cook she did so because there was nothing but time. She's a pretty good cook, so there wasn't ever really an urgency for me to mess around in the kitchen.

As time went on, however, a narrative was created in which I not only didn't cook but I couldn't cook. It eventually turned into the notion that I could never cook, even if I tried.  A joke was made about how clueless I was in the kitchen and, like so many other things a married couple neither questions nor challenges, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. A bowl of pasta from time to time. An occasional box of macaroni and cheese for the kids if she were out or running late. But that was it, really.

When we split up last fall one of the first things that made it all seem real was the fact that, at least when I had the kids, I had to cook.  But the thing was, I really didn't have to and, for the most part I didn't.

One or two nights a week I'd make some attempt at something. The kids decided Tuesday night was pasta night, and that's easy. Another night involved rushing the kids around to ballet or soccer, so some convenience food like mac and cheese or hot dogs was excused. Friday night has always been pizza night, and I was quick to make sure that tradition was upheld on my every other Friday with the kids. They're suckers for breakfast for dinner, so pancakes, sausage and fruit was a staple there for a while. On the weekends my parents, God love them, have made a point to cook for us ("Here, I roasted ten chicken breasts for you to freeze!") or have us over for dinner, always going out of their way to say that they're doing it because they want to, not because they feel they need to. I think there's a sliver of truth to that, but when I'm being honest with myself, I know that they've been looking out for us. Not that there's a thing wrong with it and not that I want them to stop.

I could probably have bluffed my way through feeding my kids in this haphazard way indefinitely. They're not malnourished, obviously. I make sure there's lots of fruit and, when I'm feeling tough, vegetable matter going down their throats when they're with me. But it certainly got into a rut as the summer wore on, and began to become a source of self loathing. How many pancakes and grilled cheese sandwiches can one really feed their kids?

For my birthday, the kids (read: my mother) got me a cookbook. That got me thinking about trying to do more, but I really didn't get moving with it. What did get me moving was Allison. She did something extraordinary: she refused to buy the old narrative that I couldn't cook and insisted that, if I tried, of course I could. And she encouraged me to do so by collecting all manner of recipes and resources and putting them on a Pinterest pinboard just for me.  And she bugged me about it some. So last week I decided to actually try to cook stuff.

On Wednesday I made pasta e fagioli:

On Sunday I made a caprese pasta salad with a white balsamic vinaigrette:

Tonight I made salmon with garlic, lemon and dill:

The pasta e fagiloi was a little too tomato-y, but tasted great. I made too much of the caprese salad, but at least I was finally able to send some food to my parents instead of the other way around.  The salmon was flat out perfect.  Obviously none of these were terribly difficult, and of course practice makes perfect, but I'm rather proud of myself for cooking a little. I'm gonna keep messing with things until I find a nice rotation of favorites that the kids like to eat and I like to cook.

But I'm getting more than the food out of this. I'm getting some self-confidence and a feeling of greater independence out of it.  To be sure, I have never lacked these things in most areas, but cooking has always been an exception. It won't be anymore.

And all it took was me getting tired of old narratives and the encouragement and support of a person who believes I can do anything if I put my mind to it rather than assumes that I can't simply because I never have.

What a difference those things make.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Anna and Carlo watching "The Empire Strikes Back": a play in three acts

Anna: Why don't they just shoot the ion cannon at the Imperial Walkers?

Carlo: Yeah.

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Carlo: Who would win in a fight: Chewbacca or Harry Potter?

Anna: Harry Potter would.

Carlo: Incorrect.

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Me: If the Millennium Falcon can't go to light speed, how do they make it from Hoth to Bespin? That would take years, even if the planets were as close together as the Earth and Mars. And they're clearly not.

Anna: [rolls eyes]: That's a dumb question. It's just a movie.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The spotless mind

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd

I'd seen it before, years ago. It didn't mean much to me. I guess I was asleep then. I'm awake now and everything has meaning.

A technology which can eliminate the rough patches of our pasts and our memories seems so appealing. Sometimes so appealing that its costs seem worth it.  How much simpler would life be if we could get rid of everything that caused us pain?

But the past isn't a linear thing. You can't cut out everything after a date certain and leave what came before. Pleasure and pain have an awful way of becoming bound up together and ultimately they become inseparable. After all, you can't be hurt by someone about whom you never cared. And you can't move on from someone if you remember only the good and forget what sent everything sideways in the end. If you try to eliminate the bad memories you eliminate everything. And then you are nothing.

So you forge on, your burden heavier over time. You're wiser, that's for sure. More savvy. Better able to handle the road ahead. But you still have that added weight. Some days it doesn't seem so heavy. Other days it's almost impossible to lift. If you're lucky that sharper mind overcomes all that extra matter. You're not always lucky.

The most perverse thing about it all? It's easier to carry that pain than it is to remember the pleasure. At least you're moving forward away from the pain. The pleasure beckons to you from way back. Mocks you even.  God damn the path ahead would be simpler if the path behind was nothing more than a slog. But as you move forward it feels like while you're retreating from some things, you're abandoning others.

Maybe it's better to just obliterate the past. Even if it means obliterating part of yourself. I don't know how one would do that, but it often seems appealing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It's funny because it's true

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Craig chooses poorly

Craig feels a little blue.

Two things usually make Craig feel better: (1) writing about what is making him blue; and (2) running on the treadmill for 45 minutes.

Craig starts to write about what is making him blue. Craig searches back through old emails and journal entries to remember a detail or two. Craig gets derailed and reads them for an hour.

Craig realizes that he should have ran on the treadmill for 45 minutes.  Craig closes the email/journal tab and goes to get his running shoes.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

California Stars

Last August, difficult circumstances and unfortunate coincidence caused me to have to take the kids on a family vacation by myself. It was only 24 hours before we were all to leave together that it became apparent that my wife wouldn't be going and that I'd be doing it solo. I was somewhat overwhelmed at the idea, but I managed to pull it off.  While a week's vacation with the kids isn't a lot in the grand scheme of things, having done that made me pretty confident that I could do this single-dad-on-the-go thing when it later became necessary for me to do so.

Maybe too confident. Because this year I got it in my head that I'd take the kids to California.

Last year's vacation was a car ride up to Lake Michigan and a condo stocked with all of the comforts of home. This time it would be a two-leg cross-country flight and a hotel where every little extra thing cost $24.

Of course I figured that the logistical difficulties would be balanced out by how easily impressed they are.

"How big is the Pacific Ocean?" Carlo asked.
"Pretty big."
"Can you see the other side?"

And so on.

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I briefed them on air travel weeks ahead of time. They quickly understood that they could take their backpacks stuffed with books and video games and anything else they could carry with them on the plane, but that they could not take water because someone once tried to blow up a plane with liquid explosives.  They further understood that they could put anything that would fit in the suitcase this side of atomic weapons, but that they had to take their shoes off at security because someone once tried to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb. They never asked why anyone would want to blow up a plane and never exhibited any anxiety about it. They'll never think that stuff is weird.

On the first leg of the flight we sat in the seventh row, which is the first row in coach. Anna saw the people in first class getting drinks and food and asked me what was so special about those people.

"They're in first class. They pay extra to get bigger seats and more legroom and food and stuff," I told her.
"How much extra?"
"Hundreds of dollars, I guess."
"The food can't be that good," she said.

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We landed in San Diego at 1:30. By 3 P.M. we were in the ocean. By 3:17 P.M. we were in the pool. By 3:46 P.M. we were in the ocean again. It's possible they were a bit overwhelmed. My brother arrived at the hotel a little after 4pm and began throwing them -- literally throwing them -- all over the pool. This did not calm them down at first but contributed to them passing out later, so thank you, Curt.

Thanks to the pool fun and the time difference the kids were almost unconscious by 6:30 P.M. We had to keep them awake, however, because (a) we had arranged for a bonfire and s'mores on the beach at 8; and (b) I didn't want them waking up at 4 A.M. the next morning due to jet lag. The only way to beat the lag is to stay awake, so we did so by taking them to the Coronado Police Station where Curt's girlfriend Kim works as a dispatcher. A nice police officer gave the kids a tour. She showed them booking and let them sit in the back of a police car. She also put Curt and Carlo in the drunk tank.

They looked a little too natural in there, frankly.

The police station gave them enough of a second wind to make it to the bonfire.  We sat in little chairs on the beach next to a roaring fire, made s'mores, watched the stars come out and felt the cool Pacific breezes. We had the setup ourselves for an hour and a half. The kids lasted approximately 27 minutes before crashing. It was the best/worst $100 I ever spent.

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For the next two days we woke up, ate a fantastic breakfast each morning, spent almost all day alternating between the pool, the hot tub and the beach and having a nice dinner someplace. Curt would show up after waking up, throw the kids around the pool more and give me an extra set of eyes so that I could take a kid back to the room if they needed it without having to make the other one come too. Really, that's the most difficult thing about taking your kids on vacation by yourself. Not the travel, not the sleeping arrangements, not the carrying things. It's all about having to make both kids do the same thing at the same time because you can't leave one alone. Did I mention that having Curt around for this was a godsend?

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On Monday night Curt and I took the kids to their first major league baseball game. It was the Rangers vs. the Padres at Petco Park. Jason Marquis started for San Diego and, thanks to a huge park, a Josh Hamilton-free Rangers lineup, cool, heavy marine air socking in the place after sundown and a stiff breeze blowing in from the outfield, the Rangers hitters were fairly helpless against him after the first inning. He somehow struck out ten guys. Carlo now thinks Jason Marquis is a great pitcher. One day I'm going to have to sit him down and tell him the truth about it. May be the hardest thing I'll ever have to do.

The Rangers won 2-1. The kids somehow made it through all nine innings and were into it the whole time, yelling "let's go Padres!" and voicing their annoyance at the umpires at the appropriate times. They also consumed a soft pretzel, a hot dog and a soda each and split most of a bag of peanuts. Carlo added soft serve ice cream in a helmet. Anna wanted the helmet but not the ice cream so Curt ate one and gave her the helmet. I'm not entirely sure, but I don't believe the kids ate a vegetable or a piece of fresh fruit all week. I'm the best dad ever.

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It was 11 PM when we got back from the ballgame. Outside the window of our hotel room we saw little green lights bounding up and down the rocks along the beach and heard men yelling. After a few minutes we figured it out: Navy SEALS training. Hell week. Dozens of soaking wet, freezing cold, totally exhausted SEAL trainees carrying heavy logs and rubber boats above their heads while being run to near death as the guests watch, drinks in hand, from the verandas and balconies of one of the most cushy and luxurious hotels in the country. God bless America.

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Tuesday was the San Diego Zoo. The zoo trip itself was a joy and a success. There was one notable failure, however: I left the sunscreen in the hotel room, which required me to purchase some at the zoo. Ounce per ounce it was only slightly cheaper than weapons-grade plutonium.

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Some time on Tuesday afternoon the kids discovered that the nice lady with the tray would bring them whatever they wanted while they lounge in chairs poolside. The peanut butter and jelly and Capri Sun was not as expensive as the zoo sunscreen, but it wasn't cheap either. Of course, given that I was drinking $8 beers, I didn't have standing to argue. Instead, I took the time to think about how at this rate next year's vacation is going to be someplace more reasonably priced. Like, say, the Maldives, Dubai or on the moon.

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Anna and I were looking out at the ocean on our last morning.

"I don't want to go, Dad."

"I don't either, honey. But that's how you know it was a good vacation," I told her. "It's always better to leave a day too early than a day too late."

"How about we just not leave at all. Why don't we just move here?"

"Thinking like that is another way you know it was a good vacation."

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I spent more on this vacation than I really needed to spend. And yes, I could have made life easier for myself by taking them up to the lake again. But at some point, I reasoned, Anna and Carlo were going to look back at 2012 as the year their parents got divorced and I wouldn't mind them having something they could look back to from around this time that didn't suck. An over-compensation vacation? Yeah, there was probably an element of that at work.

But as we sat in the airport waiting for our flight home on Wednesday afternoon, I asked them about what they liked and what they'll remember from the trip. They went on for nearly an hour:

  • They talked about how fun it was to fly on airplanes;
  • They talked about palm trees;
  • About the smell of the ocean and how great it was to fall asleep listening to the crashing waves;
  • About how nice an 82 degree pool is on a sunny 69 degree day;
  • About how it probably wouldn't be fun to spend a night in the drunk tank, even in a fancy little town like Coronado;
  • About how avocados and freshly squeezed orange juice make every breakfast better (OK, they had a little fruit);
  • About how big and beautiful and exciting a major league baseball game is even when it's a 2-1 game and all of the runs were scored in the first inning;
  • About pandas at the zoo;
  • About In-N-Out Burger and how all shakes should be Neapolitan and all food should be made "animal style;"
  • About how freeways are referred to with a definite article ("the 5," "the 163");
  • About looking down at aircraft carriers from Point Loma and looking out from the hotel room and hearing the Navy SEALS who -- after my explanation of who they are and what they do -- the kids roughly equate to The Avengers;
  • About seeing their Uncle Curt on his home turf and having more than a day in my living room during some brief visit back east to play with him;
  • About this strange and exotic land called California which they'd heard of but had never really grokked before now. 

They've only had a few vacations in their life, but they say this was the best one they've ever had.  I've had a lot of vacations in my life, and I know that it was the best one I've ever had.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Middle

Carlo called to me from his room.  It was about 9pm.  He had been in there since 8:30, but hadn’t fallen asleep yet.  Sometimes he wants water.  Sometimes he wants me to open or close his window.  Tonight, because it was the first night back at my house after five nights at his mom's place, he needed a hug and some assurance.

It’s become a pretty predictable pattern.  He has trouble adjusting back to life in this house after extended time at hers.  I presume it works the same way when he goes back to her place.  It’s anxiety.  A generalized insecurity and discomfort with his surroundings that a sensitive boy who is a creature of habit and who hates change will inevitably experience.  It passes after a day but it always happens.  He’s not able to articulate what it is that’s bothering him exactly, but I have a sense of it.  He’s lost something in between his time at his mom’s and his time here.  He feels in between and uprooted in that middle period and, because he and his sister are the only consistent presences between homes, he feels like they're on their own in some important way.  It’s going on eight months now but shows no signs of stopping.  And every single time it happens it breaks my heart.

Anna is better at dealing with this but she has her own in between too.  Rather than a time and space in which she feels anxiety, she has a time and space in which she can hold on to secrets and experiences for an extra day or two before she feels she has to share them with me.  The details of her time at her mother's place seep out slowly, days after they occur.  In the interim she keeps things to herself, often savoring good things, often mulling things that trouble her, but always having this middle space where she is essentially on her own, mentally speaking.  This is less heartbreaking.  Unlike Carlo, I feel like what Anna is experiencing is more or less typical.  An independence which all kids eventually experience.  The only difference is that she’s getting it earlier than most kids do, it having been imposed on her rather than sought, even if she does find it welcome in some respects.

Eventually everyone has to face the world alone.  Eventually everyone carves out their own bits of autonomy.  It’s part of growing up.  And I know they're loved, cared for and protected wherever they are.

But 6 and 8 feels way too young for that.  When I become aware of them floating in this middle space I feel less like they’re growing autonomous and more like they’ve been left to fend for themselves in some important way, however briefly.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Lunchtime. About forty-five minutes ago. Anna and I are at the kitchen table. Carlo is ... well, that's a good question, but he always comes back, usually dirty and sweaty and happy, but that's not important right now.

Anna: Daddy?

Me: What, Anna?

Anna: Would you die if someone chopped you in half?

Me: Almost certainly. Why would you ask me that?

Anna: Just wanted to know.

Me: No one is going to chop you in half, Anna.

Anna: I know. Just wondered ... Maybe if they got really mad at you they would.

Me: No one you know could ever be that mad at you that they would chop you in half.

Anna: Carlo gets mad at me sometimes. Like, really, really mad.

Me: I'm not going to let Carlo chop you in half. Promise.  And I don't think he'd do that anyway. He doesn't get that mad at you.

Anna and I eat our lunch.

Anna: Would you die if someone chopped off the top of your head?

Me: Like, just the top?  How far down from the top are we talking, here?

Anna: [holds her hand at eyebrow level]

Me: Yes, you'd die then because your brain would be gone.

Anna: Yeah, I guess you couldn't live without your brain.

Me: Anna, no one is going to chop the top of your head off.

Anna: I know. I was just wondering.

Anna:  You need your heart and your brain. Have to have both of those, right?

Me: Yes. But I guess you could get a heart transplant or an artificial heart. You have to have some sort of heart, but you can live without the one you have now if you have to if everything goes just right.

Anna: Yeah.

Anna and I eat our lunch. Ryan Adams' Ashes and Fire plays in the background.

Anna: What do people mean when they say you have a "broken heart?"

Me: [thinks about how to answer this].  Well, when people are in love, they say that they can feel it in their heart.  And when that love goes away for some reason, people say that they can feel the pain there too. As if their heart is ... broken.

Anna: [thinks about the answer for a bit]

Anna:  Daddy? Have you ever had a broken heart?

Me: [silently crumbles, silently dies]

Me: Done with lunch, honey?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Anna's PowerPoint Part II

First she did a baseball PowerPoint. Now she has gone after my second obsession: Batman.

I'm starting to get the sense that my own daughter enjoys fucking with me.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Anna's PowerPoint

Anna is learning how to use PowerPoint in school. I told her that I never learned how to use PowerPoint. Which is true. I used to just tell a secretary or a paralegal that I needed a PowerPoint that said blah, blah, blah and it just appeared. Ah, those were the days.

Anna thought this was sad, so she said she would make me a presentation. I had no idea what it was going to be until she was done with it. This is it:

Ain't gonna lie. Kinda proud.

UPDATE: Oh good, there's a second one.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Goin' to California

Place matters a lot to me. I think less about time than I do of places. The years 1995-98 don't always cause something to spring to mind, but Washington D.C. does, and that's how I define those years. Maybe the best year of my youth was 1985, and when I think of it, I think of the weird city block I lived on in Parkersburg, West Virginia that summer more than I think about the things that actually occurred.

I've written before about certain places representing unhappiness for me. Florida, which had always seemed to hold ghosts for me. Interstate 71, which holds dread.  But there are good places too. California is a good place. It always has been.  I haven't spent a lot of time there. Six trips across 15 years or so. But all of them stick with me.

My first trip there was in 1997. My brother was at the end of his second enlistment in the Navy and had been stationed in San Diego. My two best friends from college, Ethan and Todd, had, in the previous two years, moved to San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively. We visited all of them and, unwittingly, had pretty much the quintessential California vacation experience: beaches, Hollywood, wine country, San Francisco, strange grad students in Berkeley, the works. Touristy and cliche? Sure. But I fell in love with the place.

In 1998 I was there for a wedding. My love of San Francisco weather hit home on that trip, as I traded muggy gross late-summer Ohio for the cool foggy Bay. Whenever I'm uncomfortable in the summer here, I think about falling asleep in the attic bedroom of the old house in which we were staying in the Berkeley hills, window open, cool breeze coming in, pulling a blanket up to keep the chill off and wishing it could always be that way.

I was back in 1999 for a ski trip. I flew into San Francisco and rode with friends to Lake Tahoe, sharing a car with a guy whose tech company had just gone public. He was a millionaire on paper and spent the entire drive trying to wrap his brain around it all. Looking back, it was such an on-the-nose portrayal of the dotcom bubble days that I sometimes wonder if it was all put on for my benefit.

In 2003 The Great Road Trip wound its way through the Golden State. Some of the most pivotal and meaningful moments of my life and the lives of my friends occurred at that time. Or were in the process of occurring, even if we weren't then aware of it. I learned that I was going to be a father in Los Angeles. I had what may have been the closest thing I've ever had to a real breakdown in a hotel room in Berkeley, but it was followed up immediately with one of the few moments of catharsis I have ever known. I also had two of the handful of moments of pure bliss I've ever had in my life, the first sitting by the San Francisco Bay in Sausalito and the second while laying in the middle of the highway in Death Valley. It's taken me years to unpack all that went down in the two weeks or so I spent in California during that trip, and I still don't think I've unpacked it all.

I was back in 2007 for a short L.A.-San Diego trek, centered around my then recently renewed passion for baseball. Dodgers and Angels games with Todd, Padres games with my brother. Grasping for the first time that maybe, maybe, that could somehow be my life.

The last trip there was 2009. Another wedding. I was filled with optimism at the time. I was deep into negotiations to leave the law and write full time and knew it was only a matter of weeks before that would happen. For the first time we had left our children for more than a day or two -- giving us precious time away together -- and it was going great. One afternoon on that trip, as she took a nap, I sat in a cafe in Calistoga marveling at how well everything was going, thrilled that all of my dreams involving my work, my family and my marriage were within my grasp.

Obviously all of that didn't come to pass. But the fact that I can think of that trip with my ex-wife -- and the particular moment of thought I had in that cafe -- without any hint of sorrow when I still can't think of other times I had with her without a sense of loss and waste says a lot for where I was at the time and how uniquely powerful the place in which I felt those things is to me.

I'm going back on Thursday. To Los Angeles. It's another wedding but, more importantly, it's a weekend with Allison, who I haven't seen in six weeks and who I miss dearly. And it's in California, where everything has always felt right to me, and where I have always felt peace.