Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Keep running past the finish line

Unless you've lived here or been present for Patriot's Day in Boston, it's nearly impossible to adequately describe what the day means to us. It's our high holiday and our proudest day to be Bostonians. The Red Sox 11am home game and the moving party that starts on the town green in Hopkinton and ends in the Back Bay are part of our DNA.

Twenty years ago, I was in Washington D.C. I was working in Barney Frank's office at the Rayburn Office Building on Capitol Hill. On that Patriot's Day, the Branch Davidian compound in Waco went whoosh. There was a grand total of one television in the office, and no internet. For hours, people just stood and watched the building burn. I found myself incredibly homesick. All I could think (and unfortunately, say) was "Ok, but who won the Marathon? How did the Red Sox do? How can I find this out?" It (rightly) pissed off a lot of people, but all I wanted was to be back home in Boston, watching my beloved Red Sox and the Marathon.

The Marathon is Capistrano, and we can't help but come back to it. I've been at the finish line lots of times. I once lived on Beacon Street in Brookline near Cleveland Circle, and had the great joy of the runners streaming by my front door. I had briefly thought about taking yesterday off and heading downtown to watch the race and enjoy the atmosphere in Copley Square, but I had a client meeting in the morning, and so I was at my desk when P called to ask if I knew what had happened.

That the attack was timed to take place on Boston's holiest day can't be forgotten, or forgiven. Since the moment of the bombings, public and social media poured out millions of expressions of support and solidarity. Americans in every city know this could have happened anywhere, at any public event. Yesterday, it hit Boston. We don't know yet who is responsible or why. The answers will come, but in the meantime, we're all walking through the stages of grief together. To that end, this link describes the soul of Bostonians better than I could. Finally, there's a piece of dialog from the West Wing episode "Isaac and Ishmael," which was created as a set piece immediately after 9/11. In it, Aaron Sorkin (through Sam Seaborn) teaches the most important lesson about the nature of terrorism.

Like every city ever hit by senseless, murderous cowardice, we'll get through this. Today it seems ludicrous and impossible that we could even process this monstrous insult to the collective psyche, but we will. As a people, we always do. We should probably acknowledge that Patriot's Day may never be quite the same again. We may never be able to erase yesterday's memories from our collective consciousness.

Perhaps it's best that we don't.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The balcony is closed

Film critic and writer Roger Ebert died today after a valiant battle with cancer. It isn't how he died that I'll remember. His cancer-ravaged face and loss of speech only spoke to the cost of the fight. The fact that he kept going and wanted to remain relevant spoke to who he was.

I always admired Roger Ebert. I wanted to be him. Not a film critic, per se, but I wanted to be who he was. The man was all about passion and communication. He was passionately devoted to the movies and the directors who displayed the excellence that made movies memorable. He spotted Spike Lee's talent early on. He recognized Martin Scorcese's greatness when most other critics scoffed.  He also suffered fools and mediocrity poorly. One of the most entertaining books I've ever read was "Your Movie Sucks," which was a brilliant collection of Ebert's reviews, but only his scathing pans. Movies were art to Ebert, and bad art offended him. He loved movies, and when a movie was great, he wanted you to love it, too.  The "two thumbs up" meme came directly from Ebert and his longtime partner in criticism Gene Siskel. When a film deserved to be skewered, few did the job better than Ebert, and to more devastating effect.  One of my favorite paragraphs of Ebert's entire career was part of his review of Tom Green's 2001 disaster "Freddy Got Fingered."

"This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."

Ebert's passion extended to politics, as well. He cared deeply about the country, and the political system that was often inexplicably broken. No matter what he wrote about, Ebert was quite simply, a great writer. His Pulitzer Prize was a testament to that.

Roger Ebert was an influential giant in the industry, but he didn't care about celebrity, and had no use for interviews with cinematic stars. He cared about the product more than the process.  Roger Ebert was all about style over substance, and in his final, deeply personal pitched battle against the disease that ultimately claimed his life, he demonstrated grace and dignity in impossible circumstances.

He was, in the end, not unlike a heroic movie hero. He knows he'll die in the last reel, yet he never wants to let the antagonist get the best of him. It's ok to root for the guy who won't get out alive, because he's still the hero. His humanity makes him a better, more admirable character, not a lesser one.

I give Roger Ebert's life two enthusiastic thumbs up. Once and for all, the balcony is closed.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Who are we?

In the book Les Miserables, Victor Hugo’s protagonist Jean Valjean spent an inordinate amount of time asking himself existential questions, including trying to figure out what his purpose was on earth. In the Broadway musical and movie, that internal battle gave rise to the song “Who Am I.”

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court is presented with the opportunity to ask the same question: who are we as a country? If you want the details of the two cases, read this from the Washington Post. In a greater sense, the challenge before the Court today isn’t any different from the one put before them in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education. Once in a lifetime, we reach a crossroads where have to determine as a people what matters to us, and we have to put ourselves in the place of Jean Valjean.

I knew once and for all in the early 90’s how I felt about gay rights, and that was when I understood deep down that it wasn’t about gays and lesbians but essential human rights. I watched the public policy debates over what became Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell from within the Washington maelstrom, and it was so clear to me then this was just one small skirmish in a much bigger movement.

Fast forward a couple decades and here we are. Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law, and even he freely admits it was a bad idea and needs to be struck down. The current Justice Department didn’t want to bring it to the Supremes. Nobody is defending DOMA before the Supreme Court except the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives. Polls are now showing an inexorable trend toward an embrace of marriage equality. Some of the factors may be due to education, geography, and even religion, but there’s one larger than the rest. Acceptance of gay rights is predictably generational. Chances are good that if you remember when JFK or LBJ were in the White House, you’re less likely to to accept men marrying men and women marrying women. If you grew up during or after the Reagan administration, you can’t believe this is still a thing that people are arguing over, and you believe that history will consider your homophobic parents and grandparents to have been almost as bigoted as those who fought against Dr. King in the 60’s. The truth is, you’re probably going to be right. The good news is, as harsh as this will sound, the people who are wrong are inevitably dying off, and they're being replaced in the electorate by tens of millions of citizens who aren't hung up on irrelevant religious dogma as a rationale for otherwise mindless discrimination.

I’m hopeful (though I can’t yet say confident) that in another couple months, the Supreme Court will find a way to proclaim a new birth of freedom for all my friends from all corners of my life who just want to live like everyone else, free to enjoy the same benefits and make the same decisions on which relatives are going to have to be pissed off by the seating arrangements at the wedding reception.

This spring, through the judgment of the Supreme Court, the country has the chance to make a proud, Jean Valjean-like statement and join the civilized countries of the world who already know what nine states and the District of Columbia have already figured out: marriage equality makes us a more perfect union.

Photo credit: screenshot of Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean, courtesy of YouTube.

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 was a good year

Around this time of year, it’s chic to say “this year sucked. Good riddance. Next year must be better, because it can’t be worse.” Personally, I couldn’t disagree more.

For me, a lot went right in 2012. The only resolution I made for the year was to finally see New Orleans for the first time. I understood immediately when we landed at Louis Armstrong Airport that it was the fulfillment of a long overdue dream. We sat at the feet of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, in Preservation Hall. We enjoyed coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde. We had a spectacular dinner at Commander's Palace. If I could afford it, I'd happily return to New Orleans once a year, every year, for the rest of my life. There is no city in America like it. The food, the people, the music, the food, the sights, the history, the food, the stories, the city's unique vibe, the food...P and I had the best time, which continues a string of memorable vacations since we said "I do" in 2001. Maybe it's not the locations. Perhaps it's the company. Hard to tell.

As for P, 2012 started off with multiple personal and professional challenges, but she's had a good year. She now has a more sane (read: lighter) work schedule on her own terms. There were terrific musical gigs, and she now has a new artistic outlet: Periwinkle Meadow Designs. Check it out!!

In October, there was a small family reunion when my niece Leigh married her new husband Thomas in Ridgefield, CT. Family celebrations are handy reminders that we're not getting any younger. I'm enormously proud of her, of course, but jeez, I'm old. Out in San Diego, my niece Mandy and her husband Corey are about to welcome their first child into the world. That’s going to be a memorable gift for the new year!

Work is a neverending adventure, but it is also a great ride. I had managed to avoid client travel completely for the last 15 months, until July. I made up for it over the next few months, though. It felt like a nonstop blur, with stints in Manhattan, Washington, D.C., Budapest, Connecticut, and Halifax, N.S. Let's just say there were a whole lot of expense reports. In part because of the travel, it occurred to me that maintaining a desk in a company office I rarely visited was a bit silly. In October, I officially became a remote employee. So now my office is on the second floor of my house. The upside is obvious: I can wake up at 7:00 and be at my desk by 7:30, and if I want to conduct training online in a t-shirt, sweatpants and slippers, no problem. Also, a break can include quality doggie time. The downside is I don't take nearly enough breaks. Some days, I'll start at 7:30am and not pause or even leave my desk until 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. Lunch? Oops, forgot again. It's not unusual for me to not leave the house for days at a time. Everyone, from my parents to my wife to my doctor to my boss, have reminded me that I can't do that, and they're right. Taking time during the day, and taking more vacation time in general, are explicit goals I have set for myself in 2013. How sad is that? I have to promise to be better at taking time off. That said, part of the reason I'm such a workaholic these days (apart from the Greene Family work ethic) is it's almost embarrassing how much I love my job. My two year anniversary with NetSuite is coming up in April, and I still say it's the best work environment, with the best boss, the best colleagues, and easily the best software I've ever been privileged to be around. Oh yeah, and our stock keeps going up, so that's a nice perk. NetSuite is one of those companies that you dream you can work for someday. I have had enough terrible experiences with less than honorable (or competent) colleagues and/or substandard environments to appreciate my good fortune today. Needless to say, I am immensely thankful to be here.

The dogs remain the sweetest, most adorable souls. This year they were diagnosed with his and hers matching heart murmurs. They each had developed mild mitral valve disease. Part of the aging process in the breed, I learned. The medications keep the condition in place, so all is well. It's hard to believe we celebrated their 11th birthday at the end of October, but the growing gray fur around the face gives away their age.

Finally, I need to say something about my friends both near and far. From local friends in P's music community to work colleagues, from Facebook pals from all over to high school classmates with whom I celebrated our 30th reunion last spring, I have come to understand we all live within a greater community. We are linked through our our shared experiences and our mutual support. Whether we celebrate triumphs (the election results) or struggle with heartbreak (the tragedy in Connecticut), it's so much easier to process everything together. It's great fun to fly to, say, Sacramento for work (as I'll need to do twice in January) and know I can have dinner every night with friends, and even enjoy quality doggie time. I am blessed with tremendous friends, and for that I am forever grateful.

In the new year, the only resolution I am making is to try to practice peace. I will work harder to wait a minute before lashing out, to pause and think before I say (or do) something I'll regret later. Perhaps I'm too old a dog to learn new tricks, but it's worth a try. Can't hurt, right?

Wishing you all a prosperous, happy and healthy 2013!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The future of Blahblahginger

You'll notice this blog has been eerily quiet over the last months. There is a reason for that.  I have indeed been very busy, and time to blog has been limited, but that doesn't mean I haven't written anything. I have started and abandoned six different posts.  All of them were concerned with national conversations. The election and its aftermath, the bizarre fight over tax policy, the astonishing mendacity of the Romney campaign and the right wing echo chamber, and most recently, gun control in the wake of the catastrophic horror in Connecticut.

As I said, I abandoned all those posts. The reason is both simple and complex. It seems to be increasingly impossible to have rational, adult conversations on a national scale about serious issues any longer. When the response to the massacre of 26 innocent souls (20 of them small children) is to suggest arming every school in the country, we've left the sphere of the rational. When an election is called for the President, and the chief political consultant of the propaganda network refuses, on live air, to believe what he's been told, that's simple denial. However, when people then decide to lodge petitions of secession, we've gone off the deep end.

I can't perpetuate the divisiveness or take part in the lunacy any longer. I'm going to stop editorializing on things I can't control. Instead, from here on in, blahblahginger will be purely personal. I'll limit myself to what's going on in my own world. 2012 was a busy, adventure-filled, and memorably *fun* year. I'll talk about that in the next post.

But no more politics, no more rants on the utter stupidity that's become epidemic in the public domain, and no more yelling into the hurricane. The sentiment that's been running through my head recently is going to be the guide for the future of this blog:

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Laissez les bon temps rouler

I know I still owe you a story about Budapest, but first I’ve got to tell you about last week’s vacation. P and I got back late Sunday night from the most incredible four days in hot, steamy, glorious New Orleans. The idea for the trip was born last New Year’s eve. P and I happened to watch the PBS Great Performances episode “Let Them Talk.” It’s a love letter to New Orleans jazz and blues by the British actor Hugh Laurie. As soon as the show ended, I turned to P and announced that in 2012 we were going to visit New Orleans. I’d never been to NOLA before. I’d always wanted to listen to great jazz, enjoy the famous restaurants, have an order of CafĂ© Du Monde’s famous beignets by the banks of the Mississippi, and generally soak in the essence of the Big Easy.

Last week, we made it all a reality. P and I enjoyed some extraordinary meals. If you go, make sure you get a table at Ralph's on the Park (across the street from City Park). You need to order their BBQ Shrimp. It’s the best anywhere. Above and beyond the rest was one truly memorable meal at Commander's Palace. I started with a soup sampler of shrimp and okra Louisiana gumbo, their signature turtle soup (finished with aged Spanish sherry), and a shrimp & fennel bisque. That soup sampler was paired with a perfectly balanced glass of wine (a Barolo). My entree was pistachio crusted duck breast over a bed of rice and dried bing cherries. For dessert, Commander’s Palace’s famous bread pudding soufflĂ© and the classic New Orleans coffee with chicory. The whole meal was topped off by our wait captain giving us a tour of the kitchen, wine room, and presenting us with a signed menu from the executive chef.

Of course I made a couple pilgrimages to Cafe du Monde. After the first visit to the original location on Decatur Street just off Jackson Square, we took a short trip up the Mississippi on the Steamboat Natchez (the Natchez happens to be the first camera shot in “Let Them Talk.”)

You can’t spend any quality time in NOLA without hearing great jazz, and we certainly did. Just walking along the street you’re bound to catch some good musician, but the real music neighborhood is Frenchmen Street. It’s hard to find a bad club there. You can wander into The Spotted Cat, d.b.a., Three Muses, and so many more.

Before we flew home on Sunday, we had a great time at the House of Blues’ long-running gospel brunch, but the biggest musical highlight was Saturday night. For a whopping $15 each, P and I stepped into the hallowed Preservation Hall, where we quite literally sat at the feet of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It was like seeing the Hall of Fame gallery in Cooperstown for the first time, only the players had suddenly come alive and were playing in front of us, at the top of their game. Preservation Hall is tiny. It seats, perhaps, a hundred guests. The ceiling is low. The accommodations are spartan. It’s an ascetic chapel dedicated to the worship of jazz. The picture at the top of this post was our vantage point. I could easily have just extended my arm and hit the clarinetist.

We stayed in the Quarter for two nights, and then went to Ashton's, our originally reserved bed and breakfast on Esplanade Street, for the last two nights. The B&B had lost power in Hurricane Isaac, and so we improvised a little. That was a brilliant decision, as it turned out. The Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter was a perfect choice, and along with its legendary history for hosting great writers and artists, it is also home to the Carousel Bar, which rotates. Definitely worth seeing. Most everyone wants to stay in or near the Quarter, and for good reason. However, I'm so glad we spent two nights at Ashton's. The hosts were gracious, and the house is spectacular. Also, the breakfasts are to die for.

On Friday, we took a walking tour of the Quarter and St. Louis Cemetery #1, which houses the tombs of Marie Laveau, Homer Plessy (of Plessy vs. Ferguson fame), and former mayor (and New Orleans’ first African American to hold the position) Dutch Morial. Dutch is right next to Marie Laveau -- that was a neat trick. The oddest sight was the future tomb of Nicolas Cage -- given its location, it's one of the strangest things I've ever seen. See the link "explaining" it. There are so many things we didn't get to see or do, restaurants we still need to visit, and I know we have to go back.

Now I get what people have told me for years - there is no place on earth like New Orleans. You can't describe it, you just have to experience it. So yeah, P and I need to return, probably many, many times. I'm hooked now.