Sunday, May 29, 2011

Moving - Part 1

Yesterday morning I rolled out of bed, bought out the box supply of the UPS store across the street, and in the next 24 hours transformed my apartment from this:

Into this:

During college I prided myself on being able to move the entirety of my belongings in a single trip in a min-van (thanks, Lady!).  Those of you who remember what my apartment looked like before probably suspect that I'm a bit beyond the mini-van stage (and you're right), but I'm happy to report that I'm still pretty lean.  All my possessions (except the furniture and some toiletries) condense pretty nicely into a manageable stack of boxes:

Which reminds me of my first Christmas in this apartment:  I invited a friend over for Christmas Eve dinner, and she asked me where all my "junk" was.  You know, all the stuff and clutter that people have.  To which I responded that I didn't have any.  She was skeptical at first, and then suspected me of some snobby aesthetic or a mania for tidiness that might approach OCD (and, frankly, she probably wasn't that far off the mark).  But, really, it's because of all those years of moving as a kid and hearing my parents say:  "Are you going to want to move that?  If not, get rid of it!"  Now that phrase runs through my mind, like a mantra, pretty much all the time -- to the point that throwing stuff away is just as therapeutic as cleaning (another shout-out to you, Lady!).

Funny, though, how one's perspective changes depending on how far into the packing process one is... A few months ago I thought certain items definitely made the cut.  Yesterday morning, some of them did, but some of them didn't.  And then by about 5pm this afternoon, I was ready to torch everything that wasn't already in a box.

Good thing I started with the important stuff.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flood! (A Tale of Woe)

I got home from work around midnight last night, looking forward to going right to bed.  I dropped my briefcase by my desk in the sunroom, changed into pajamas, and went to turn down the covers -- but found myself instead splashing through a good half-inch of water.  That's right:  SPLASHING.  At first, it didn't register.  I don't live on the Mississipi flood plain, or in a humid basement, or in a Cirque du Soleil production -- so a splashing bedroom was about the last thing I would have expected.  Nevertheless, about three-quarters of the carpet in my bedroom was absolutely soaked, as was nearly half of the living room carpet.  I hadn't noticed the water in the living room because I'd been wearing shoes before, and because the dark blue area rug had soaked up the water in a way that didn't splash. 

You can see my footprints because they're actually little puddles.
I called the management office's answering service and asked for maintenance ASAP, and then set about saving the furniture.  My first thought, naturally, was to save the Turkish carpet in the bedroom.  One doesn't fly to Turkey to buy carpets only to let them drown in mysterious flood waters.  Fortunately, that carpet had avoided the worst of the wet.  The other furniture, though wasn't so well situated.  The bed, being metal, was fine, but in the living room the wooden feet of the armchair and the TV cabinet had soaked up about an inch's worth of water, and the wood was already deformed.

When I'd moved everything but the TV cabinet, Oscar the maintenance man showed up.  He declared instantly that the TV cabinet needed to be moved (thank you Captain Obvious) -- and then waited for me to move it.  Because why would a 6'3" burly man in overalls be moving furniture when he had me on hand?

Once the TV cabinet moved safely to the side, he opened the air conditioning closet and discovered the source of my affliction:  The drain pipe for the air conditioning units in my apartment and every apartment above me had broken -- so the air conditioning water from 9 floors of apartments was flowing freely into chez moi. 
The culprit.
Inside the utilities closet.
Having identified the problem, Oscar launched into destruction mode:  The carpet was up, the padding ripped out, and we were down to bare cement and water in the living room by 1:30am.  Then he brought in four giant fans, trained them on the living room floor, and called for reinforcements to tackle the bedroom.  Once they'd taken car of that, they would focus on repairing the pipes in the air conditioning closet.

Oscar peeling back the first layer.
The state of affairs at 1:30am

Needless to say, by this time I was not a happy camper.  I don't do well with surprises at the best of times, and this was not the best of times.  I was in the middle of what was likely to be another 80-hour work week, with meetings early the next morning, and now I found myself shunted aside in my own apartment at 1:30 in the morning -- with no prospect of sleep anytime soon

So I grabbed my toothbrush and my pajamas (which I'd changed out of before Oscar showed up), and headed out to find a hotel.  Normally, this should not have been difficult:  there are three hotels within two blocks of my apartment.  And yet...  I walked to the Hilton:  no room.  I walked to the Holiday Inn:  no room.  Feeling like the Virgin Mary on Christmas Eve (minus the contractions), I made my way to the Westin.  Yes, they had room.  (Yay!)  That will be $400, please.  (Gasp!)  Apparently the Westin is a "business hotel," which apparently means they get to pretend that they are in Manhattan instead of suburban Virginia.  Since the Westin didn't offer a stable, and I didn't like the prospect of a night on the street, I handed over my card.  As I lay in bed, I began reviewing in my mind those law school classes about property law, especially the cases about when a tenant is entitled to withhold rent as a result of "constructive eviction" by the landlord...
The next morning, fans ablow.
Fans under the carpet in the bedroom.
And in the sunroom.
Unfortunately, that wasn't quite the end of the story.  For as expensive as the hotel room was, I only got about 4 hours of sleep before having to go back to work for an early meeting.  I worked through the day and, when I had a break in the afternoon, was surprised that I hadn't heard anything from the management office of my building, despite my many emails during the middle of the night.  (Cue the godmother.)   I called the management office and spoke with an idiot who apparently did not think it was management's job check in on tenants who are displaced due to major equipment malfunctions.  Nor did they think it was at all appropriate for them to have to cover the cost of my hotel room.  Why should they be responsible for my personal choice to go to a hotel when their maintenance staff had responded in such a timely manner to my request for assistance?  (Why indeed?!)  And no, a manager was not available to discuss this further.

I hung up the phone.  I was not okay.  I was stressed about my unmanageable workload, I hadn't slept well for days and was operating on less sleep than usual, I hadn't eaten properly since the day before, and I'd just been patted condescendingly on the head by a smug little prick of a leasing agent.  I needed a minute to regain my composure.  But could I have that minute?  No. Of course not.  Just as I had closed my office door and drawn the curtains, my secretary popped her head in!  (#$!@)  I did what any normal person would do:  I completely fell apart. 

Fortunately, for all her bad timing, my secretary is actually wonderful.  She came over and gave me a big hug and listened as I explained the situation.  Then she offered to get her ski mask and a baseball bat. 

From there things got gradually better.  My building manager actually called back and was willing to have a decent conversation about the situation.  She didn't agree to cover my hotel costs, but she said she would "see what she could do."  (Which might be code for "I hope you die," but at least on the surface it was a step in the right direction.)  Then I went home and ate some food.  (Or, rather, drank an instant breakfast, which is often all I can stomach when I'm in a state -- thanks to Lady for introducing it to my diet back in law school.)  And I got some sleep.

Lots of sleep.  I didn't go to bed any earlier than usual (the firm could care less that my personal life was in shambles; the work still needed to be done).  But I didn't wake up quite on time.  In fact, instead of getting up at 6:30am as planned, I woke up by accident at a quarter to 10.  (Gulp.)  The nice thing, though, about having had dinner and a good sleep, is that suddenly I could actually deal with the situation.  It wasn't ideal to be walking into work at 11am (which I did), but there wasn't a single thing I could do about it.  So why stress?  What a difference a few hours of sleep make.

Which, in addition to anything else I might have learned through this ordeal, was a great reminder of just how subject we are to the physical forces of our bodies.  As much as I might think that I'm an intellectual or spiritual or even emotional creature, at the end of the day I am just as much (if not more) a physical creature.  Even the things that I think are mental or emotional, like stress about work and anger about the flood situation, are so much a product of the chemistry and physics of my body.  I don't think I'm very good at being a physical creature.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


The number of hours I billed in the past seven days (24 of which were yesterday and today). 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mormons on Broadway

The new Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, has gotten a lot of attention lately.  The theatre world is abuzz because it's apparently really good.  The critic for The New York Times, for example, calls it "heaven on Broadway."  The show has 14 Tony Award nominations, more than any other musical this year.  The Mormon world is abuzz because, well, it's a very high profile depiction of Mormon missionaries, written by the (in)famously crude and profane creators of South Park and Avenue Q.  Not surprisingly, the show is crude, profane, and makes fun of cherished doctrines and core institutions of the church.  And that makes us nervous. 

I happened to be in the car this afternoon and heard an interview on NPR's Fresh Air program with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the play.  The audio feed and related story are available here.  Parker and Stone discussed the creation of the play, the their views on Mormons and Mormonism, and what they were hoping to do.  They also played excerpts of certain songs (the parts that were suitable for broadcast over the public airwaves).  The interview was super interesting, and frankly, I thought that what they had to say about Mormons was pretty positive.  Essentially, they're skeptical of the religion and the crazier parts of the stories we believe, but they acknowledge every belief system has its crazy parts and, at the end of the day, the Mormons really do offer something good and positive. 

I enjoyed, in particular, what the Parker and Stone had to say about the Church's official response to the musical.  They said it was exactly the sort of response they had expected, and that it stands as "Exhibit A" for the decency and generosity of the Church. 

A more full-fledged opinion about the show itself will have to wait until I see it (if I ever do).  The profanity and vulgarity give me pause.  And I do think that the authors and other (non/anti/pro)religious folk are wrong to think that the LDS church "moves along oblivious to real-world problems in a kind of blissful naiveté."   On the other hand, based on the clips played during the interview, I suspect that there's a lot of other material that the show gets just right (the "Hello" song and the "Turn it Off" songs were pretty spot-on).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Vamos a Peru!

At long last, plans for the 2011 summer trip have begun to gel:  Amanda and I are going to Peru for two weeks (last week of June, first week of July).  Both of us feel much better now, with something concrete that we can plan for.

Picking a destination for this summer has been no easy task.  We had originally wanted to go to northern Africa (Egypt, Morocco), but with the various uprisings this spring we had to scrap that idea.  Then we had the great idea of going to France right before Christmas, with a more modest summer trip to some domestic location.  As I looked forward to the end of the year, though, I realized there is no way I'm going to be able to get away from work for any vacation.  And, as much as we tried, neither of us could muster much excitement about a North American trip.  We batted around trips to major cities; ambitious road trips through the South or New England; visits to our respective parental units.  But nothing stuck.

So last night, when we stumbled across some good airfares to Lima, Peru, we were primed to sieze the opportunity.  Well, Amanda was primed.  I, being the spontaneous soul that I am, kind of freaked out.

Now we get to plan the rest of the trip!  Macchu Pichu will be a must, plus whatever else we can find.  Barnes & Noble, here I come!

[And for those of you (Ashley) who are wondering:  Yes, Amanda will be traveling as Yzma and I will be Emperor Cuzco (or a llama).]

Sunday, May 15, 2011


That is what the Valkyries say during their famous ride.  (Query whether "Geronimo" isn't a better war cry.)

Today was the live broadcast of the Met Opera's new production of Die Walkure, the second installment of Wagner's Ring Cycle.  The performance was supposed to start at 12:00, so I got to the theater at 11:00am to camp out with everyone else hoping to get prime seats for the performance.  (Waiting in line for a Wagner opera is strangely similar to waiting in line for a Harry Potter premier: lots of very enthusiastic fans, including some in costume (yes, there were people with viking helmets on).  Unlike Harry Potter, though, most of the people in line were 97 years old.

I managed to snag an awesome seat.  The start was delayed by half an hour due to mechanical problems.  The set consists of a 45-ton mechanical behemoth of moving levers and platforms.  Check it out in this trailer.  When the opera you're seeing is already 6 hours long, the last thing you want to do is add another half-hour; on the other hand, we can't have the Valkyries getting squished.

Once things got started, though, it was six hours of absolutely astonishing opera.  The last Wagner piece I saw was Tristan und Isolde, in London in 2003.  All I remember was that the staging was terrible, and the music pretty boring until you got to the transcendent Liebestod at the end.  What I saw today was a completely different experience.

Not only am I a more seasoned opera-goer, but I was seeing it done by the best in the world.  James Levine conducted, and Bryn Terfel (Wotan), Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), Deborah Voigt (Brunnhilde), Jonas Kaufman (Seigmund), and Eva Maria Westbroek (Sieglinde) were the cast.  The music is incredibly beautiful, and the singers executed it with such depth of emotion that I was captivated for the entire performance. 

The story is epic and incredibly complicated (think Lord of the Rings on steroids).  A synopsis is available here.  Since that synopsis focuses only on Die Walkure, I'll give you some additional background:  The god Wotan (married to Fricka) stole a magic golden ring in order to pay some giants to build Valhalla, a palace for the gods.  He also had a bunch of children with women other than his wife:  With the earth-goddes, he had Brunnhilde, who is immortal, a warrior (Valkyrie), and Wotan's favorite child.  With a mortal woman, Wotan also had twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde, who are mortal, and who were separated as children.  In Die Walkure, Siegmund meets Sieglinde (who is unhappily married to a brute), they fall in love, commit incest/adultery, and run away.  Wotan loves Siegmund and promises to protect him by giving him a sword and sending Brunnhilde and her fellow Valkyries to help fight Sieglinde's husband.  But Fricka (goddess of marriage) say absolutely not, because incest and adultery are not okay.  Wotan realizes she's right and tells Brunnhilde to help the angry husband instead so that Siegmund will die.  Brunnhilde tells Siegmund that he's going to die and tries to get him to ditch Sieglinde and come to Valhalla without dying.  Siegmund refuses because he loves his sister/wife.  Brunnhilde is really touched by this, and so she defies Wotan and protects Siegmund in the battle.  Wotan shows up and breaks Siegmund's sword, so he is killed anyway.  Brunnhilde, meanwhile, escapes with Sieglinde and hides her in a forest so that she can have Siegmund's baby.  Wotan, of course, is outraged that Brunnhilde betrayed him, so he banishes her, turns her into a mortal, and condemns her to sleep unarmed and unconscious until some man wakes her up, at which point that man will be her master/husband.  Brunnhilde of course is humiliated by the thought that just any man could master her, so she pleads with Wotan to make sure the man is the best hero ever (namely, Siegfried, the baby that Sieglinde is going to have).  Because Wotan really loves her, he grants her this wish.  So he puts her, unconscious, on top of a rock surrounded by a ring of fire that will kill anyone other than Siegfried.  To be continued (in two more 5 or 6 hour operas).

For all the action and the fantastical setting, the emotions are tremendously complex and poignant.  Siegmund and Sieglinde love each other so deeply, and they're so devoted to each other that you want to excuse the adultery and incest.  Wotan for all his godly power, is bound by the laws that he himself created, and so is devastated when he realizes that his children, because of the choices they've made, must die and never live with him again.  The most complicated and beautiful parts surround Brunnhilde.  Her devotion to her father, and her decision to betray him, are both awful and completely understandable -- because, in siding with Siegmund, she does what everyone in the audience wants her to do, and you can't help wondering if, deep down, she's also responding to what Wotan really wants in the deepest part of his heart but isn't able to do.  And poor Wotan, who has no choice but to hug his cherished daughter good-bye, as he gives her the kiss of mortality (which will kill her, eventually), and then to leave her alone and unconscious on a rock!  It's heart-rending!

Three video clips are available here, and information about the entire Ring cycle is available here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Kafka sur le Rivage

A lot of contemporary novels seem to follow a distressing pattern:  They captivate from the very first line with dazzling prose and a "voice" that seems new and fresh, but then the cleverness turns out to be preciousness, and reading becomes a chore; I wish they would end about a hundred pages before they actually do.  (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)  In a sense, the modern novel is the opposite of the nineteenth century British novel, which often require wading through a couple hundred pages of tedium before opening the gates of heaven and leaving you a quivering mass.  (A Tale of Two Cities)

In the past few years I've come across a different sort of contemporary novel that doesn't follow either pattern.  It starts off a bit inauspiciously; I sometimes wonder during the first few pages whether it's worth continuing.  But then I start seeing signs that things are going to be all right -- that I am, in fact, encountering what in another person might be called a kindred spirit.  When that happens, I know I can sit back and enjoy the ride:  I will enjoy pretty everything along the way.

Sometimes it's a function of the plot and the other elements of the story.  For example, I knew I'd found a winner when the first few chapters of Shadow of the Wind took me from a bookstore to a library, past a shopfront with a fountain pen on display, and into a world chock full of gothic tropes.  Other times it's a function of what's being said.  For example, early on in Jane Austen's Persuasion, the line about the importance of remembering our own nothingness beyond our immediate circle felt a little like revelation.

I recently picked up a copy of Kafka sur le Rivage by Haruki Murakami (recommended to me by Quynh-Nhu last summer; I think the English translation must be titled Kafka on the Bank), and I've been delighted to discover both the rightness of the plot elements and the trueness of the thoughts.  I've only just begun, but already we have a well-read teenager who runs away from home to hang out in a famous library, and an old man who talks to a cat named Mimi (as in La Bohème).  And tonight I encountered these two statements, both of which were uttered by an elegant, hemophiliac librarian who likes to listen to Schubert piano sonatas while driving his sportscar:

 « Si j’écoute l’interprétation parfaite d’un morceau parfait en conduisant, je risque de fermer les yeux et d’avoir envie de mourir dans l’instant.  Mais quand j’écoute attentivement cette sonate, je peux entendre les limite de ce que les humains sont capables de créer, je sense qu’un certain type de perfection peut être atteint avec humilité, à travers une accumulation d’imperfections. Et personnellement, je trouve ça plutôt encourageant. »

« On se lasse très vite de ce qui n’est pas ennuyeux, alors que les choses dont on ne se lasse pas sont généralement ennuyeuses. »

Made me feel like a kid on Christmas.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Follies poster (Fraver)Yesterday the Kennedy Center launched its new production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies.  Naturally, I was in the audience. 

According to the press, the production costs topped $7 million, making this is the most expensive local theatre production ever: for Washington DC.  When you look at the cast, it's not hard to imagine that most of the budget went to pay the actresses.  Leading the crew was Bernadette Peters, a long-time favorite from Into the Woods and, well, everything else she's done.  This was my first time seeing her live, and she certainly lived up to expectations, although in a much less attention-grabbing way than I'd expected.  (And, btw, if I'm well-preserved at 31, then she's miraculous at 63.)  Then there was Elaine Paige, who was the first person to sing Memories in Cats, and who was the first Evita -- she's a tiney woman with an enormous voice.  And the rest of the cast was equally remarkable.  My favorite, in terms of colorful characters, was this outrageous French-woman named Regine, who apparently invented the concepts of disc-jockey and discotheque; she once had a vast night-club empire, but has since scaled back to clubs only in Paris and the capital of Khazakhstan (because why wouldn't you have a club there?).  She was the most obviously fossilized of the old ladies on the stage and her accent was delightfully and completely unintelligibly thick (the only time I could understand her was when she was speaking French).  I think the most moving, though, was Terri White, who I thought was really wonderful, but who has had a rough career and is actually just bouncing back from being homeless.

I liked the production.  It was fun to see the older stars (all in their 60s and 70s) tap dancing and singing -- their somewhat diminished agility (thrown into relief by the 20-somethings dancing behind them) was endearing and poignant.  The staging was pretty cool, too, with show-girl ghosts creeping creepily about the stage, revealing glimpses of the older dancers' pasts.  There were some pretty obvious technical difficulties too, though, that I never would have expected from a production of this calibre (except, maybe, Spider Man).  I hope, for the sake of the Kennedy Center and the reputation of DC theatre, that it polishes up its rough spots and makes it to Broadway.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Le Beau Monde

Tonight Ron and Debbie H (my mission president) hosted an open house to celebrate their youngest son Matt's recent marriage.  I went and had a great time.  It is always good to see the H family, and there were a few other former missionaries there, as well, so we were able to catch up.  I didn't know anyone else, though, so I spent most of the evening wandering around the house and chatting with some of the other guests.  Here are some highlights:

First of all, the house was AMAZING!  I knew the H's had built a new house last year and that Debbie was particularly delighted with it:  Said she when we had coffee last fall "I never thought of myself as a materialistic person, but I love my new house so much that I just want to stay home all day wrapped up in the curtains!"  Now I know why.  It's an elegant estate in the French provincial style out in Potomac, Maryland (rivals Beverly Hills for the wealthiest zip code in the country).  There was valet parking for the guests and a pretty tree-lined allee leading up to the house.  The house opened into a two-story entryway with a curving staircase on the right, with an all-glass sun-room extending out to the back of the house.  From there the other rooms opened up one after another:  the living room, the formal dining room, the family room, the kitchen and breakfast room, and the library.  Oh, the library!  Richly paneled in wood, with a luxurious Turkish carpet on the floor, the bookcases rose two storeys.  The second storey was accessed by a narrow spiral staircase hidden in the wall.  There were bedrooms upstairs that were bigger than my entire apartment and a playroom that no doubt will secure the H's a position as "favorite grandparents" for any grandchildren who come along.  My favorite elements upstairs were the window seats in the dormer windows:  full of cushions and pillows; perfect for reading.  Downstairs, there was an entire antique soda fountain, along with a movie theater (where JWM, of M hotels, was watching the Kentucky Derby), and a full-length indoor swimming pool with adjoining gym.  The poolroom, I thought, was particularly pretty, all in blue and white tile, with white columns and lots of ferns and other green plants.  It was the sort of house that you would expect to see in magazines -- very beautiful and comfortable; a place you would want to come home to.  Exactly what you would expect from a family whose business is hospitality.

As for the people, the majority clearly moved in a sphere above my own.  These were high-powered businessmen and women; the moneyed class.  My little manual transmission Kia stood out among the Lexuses, Mercedes, and BMWs at the valet stand.  And everyone was very elegantly dressed.  Also very engaging.  One of the things that I love about this "beau monde" is the way people know how to behave at these sorts of parties.  For the most part, the people one meets are smart and interesting and generally interested in the other people they're meeting.  And they have the manners and social skills to make it all work.  They graciously greet new arrivals, introduce them to the others in the conversation circle, and then move on to the next conversation so seemlessly that you hardly know it's happened.  It's fun, and it's a skill that I wish I was better at (probably would have been, had I stayed at the Kennedy Center; the law firm isn't so strong in the social skills department).

Two encounters in particular were enormously entertaining:

Scene 1:  I met Kourtney (Matt's new bride) in the receiving line and discovered that she hopes to go to law school; I mentioned that I was a lawyer.  Kourtney then introduced me to her mother, saying that I had just finished law school and moved to the city.  I clarified that I'd been practicing for almost three years now. 

Kourtney:  Wait, how old are you?

Me:  31

Mother:  No way!  You look great!!  You look so young!

Kourtney:  You really do!  I would have guessed 25 at the most!!

Matt:   Yeah, Jason looks way younger than he really is.

I hadn't realized that I'd already reached the age where "my you're looking well" is the proper response.  But I'm not going to argue.  I'm proud to be a well-preserved 31-yr-old.

Scene 2:  I was walking through a corridor at the back of the house when two women in their late 50s or early 60s came through the other end.  I smiled and nodded as we passed but did not engage further.  One of the women, though, just kept looking at me, slowed and turned back toward me.

Woman 1:  What's your name?

Me:  Jason [mentally racing -- should I know her? does she think I'm someone else?]

Woman 1:  I'm Mrs. X.  Are you married?

Me:  No [whew! I'm not supposed to know her]

Woman 1:  Well, you're very cute.  Did you know that my husband is the bishop of our church, and the only people who come are singles between the ages of 18 and 30?

Me:  I did not know that.  Which ward is it?

Woman 1:  You know it's a ward!  [to the other woman, delightedly]  He's already a member! [back to me] How old are you?

Me:  31.  So you see, it's too late for me -- I've already been kicked out of the singles ward.

Woman 1:  [dreamily] My daughter's 31, too, . . . .

Woman 2:  [to woman 1] Now, now, you can't go stopping strange young men and asking them if they're married and how old they are.

Woman 1:  [to her companion] Of course I can.  [to me] You are very cute.  Tell me your name again?

And she walked off as if memorizing it.

* * *

It was a fun evening, but it also made me think.  It was a good reminder that there are whole worlds out there beyond the little circle of my daily experience.  This happened to be a particularly nice sort of world; one that I wouldn't mind frequenting more often.  I don't know how I'd get into it, although I suppose I've positioned myself pretty well to make a go of it if I decided that's what I wanted.

It's good to get perspective like this.  When I'm in the midst of the daily grind at work, it's so easy to be caught up in, well, the grind, and to lose sight either of the things that I want in life right now (which might require a change in what I'm doing) or of the things that I want later in life (and which might require sticking it out for a while longer).  I don't think I have it figured out yet -- with "it" being what I want and how to get it.  But hopefully if I keep trying, I'll figure it out someday.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Midwest Adventures, Part 2: Indianapolis

For some reason, it is impossible to fly from Columbus to Indianapolis without going through, say, Phoenix, which of course is absurd.  So, having finished my work at the Columbus station around 3pm yesterday, I packed up in my little red rented car and drove the 3 hours from one city to the other.  This is what it looked like (the whole way):

Très boring.  So I stopped off to get a bite to eat at Perkins and remind myself that just because someplace was a "nice restaurant" when you were 6, doesn't mean that it actually is.  Fortunately, I had a waitress whose name was Barbie.  She didn't quite live up to her namesake, but it wasn't for want of trying (her makeup and hair were certainly ambitious).  I think the problem may have been the tattoos.

My view, or "Suburban Desolation"
Eventually, I got to my destination and discovered, to my horror, that my firm's travel agency had put me in a horrendous Hilton out in the middle of nowhere.  Literally.  I've been to Indianapolis before, so I kept expecting to find myself in its little cluster of downtown skyscrapers.  As I peered out my window, nary a skyscraper could I see (let alone the Eiffel Tower).  And the experience of staying there turned out to be as awful as the location augured:  The toilet had been used and not flushed before I arrived; the wallpaper was hanging on by shreds of scotch tape; I basically had to pull teeth in the restaurant to get any service, and even then it was exceedingly grumbly; there was hair in the fruit; and the place was entirely inhabited by middle-aged businessmen attending a conference and speaking loudly about watching American Idol.  More materially inconvenient, I discovered upon consulting the map that I would have to leave an hour earlier than I normally would so that I could finish crossing the plains (through morning rush hour traffic) to get to my early meetings on time.  It was a godmother moment.  My secretary and travel agent got a little note explaining, for future reference, that when I ask for a hotel downtown, I don't mean a hotel in the neighboring county.  And, upon checking out, the front desk attendant somehow felt the urge to knock $100 off the room charge. 

The day at the station itself went really well.  My meetings flowed nicely and the people were nice and helpful.  I actually ended up finishing everything I needed to do fairly early, so they took me to a nice lunch in a hip, artsy part of town, and then I spent an hour or so visiting the sights.  Here are the highlights:

The State Capitol
Some Monument

Fountain in a park designed by the guy who designed the Lincoln Memorial in DC.
World War Monument
After my brief tour, I sat in a cafe for a couple of hours to knock out some additional work before heading to the airport for a quick and uneventful flight home.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Newark is a town in Ohio.  No fear of confusing it with Newark, New Jersey, though:  this one is pronounced "Nerk."  A few years ago some comedian said it that way to make people laugh -- and it stuck!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Columbus, Ohio

All that work over the weekend was in preparation for a business trip to the midwest.  Over the next few days, I will be conducting an audit of a client in Columbus and Indianapolis. 

Fortunately, today went like a charm.  I may dislike working weekends, but I love, love, love having everything go exactly as planned:.  I got to work in the morning, finalized all of the materials that I needed to bring with me, and then flew to Columbus, met with the CEO (and, because I had done my homework, could speak intelligently with him about what was going on), had a great dinner with him and his wife, and then they took me on a short tour of downtown Columbus.  It's not a large downtown, nor particularly interesting, but it has a certain midwestern charm; I think it's probably a very comfortable place to live.

The great thing about this version of business travel is that it feels almost like having a vacation while at work.  I'm doing work, but I'm in a new city, meeting new people, staying in a nice hotel and eating good food -- and, best of all, everyone else at the firm knows I'm away, so I'm not expected to be immediately available all the time!  So here I am at 9:30pm, blogging away, about to curl up with my French translation of a Swedish crime novel before heading to bed.

Tomorrow I'll be up bright and early to get started with the real work -- I'll spend most of the day here, and then drive 3 hours to Indianapolis, where I'll do it all again at the client's offices there.  Meanwhile, here's the view out my window:

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Those of you who watched the Masterpiece Classic "Downton Abbey" that aired in January will recall a scene in which the young lawyer (newly heir to the estate and title) discusses his plans for the weekend with the dowager countess (played by Maggie Smith).  The countess responds condescendingly sneers "Week end?  What is a week end?"  Her point, of course, was to emphasize just how unacceptably middle class the new heir was.   

She's right, of course.  For aristocrats who never have to work, the concept of a weekend is meaningless.  The same is true at the other end of the spectrum:  Many people have to work non-stop just to feed and clothe themselves (and even then not everyone makes it). 

I wish I could be as middle class as the lawyer in Downton Abbey.  (Alternatively, I also wouldn't mind inheriting a landed estate and a title, but I was born in the wrong country for that.)  Having worked straight through yet another weekend, I realize that over the past month, I have worked through every week-end but one.  Granted, working 6 or 9 hours on Saturday and Sunday is still fewer hours than the normal workday (which ranges between 11 and 15 hours), but still on those days the other hours are spent cleaning, running errands and trying to organize a move into a new apartment.  I'm tired!