Saturday, August 31, 2013

Layover rendez-vous

Okay, so this was awesome:  My flight from Salt Lake City to Reno went through Denver, where I had a two-hour layover.  Not enough time to leave the airport to visit Amanda, but plenty of time for her to meet me for a late lunch on the other side of the security line.
The food was a far, far cry from our preferred travel fare, but it was enough to prevent starvation and seemed reasonably free of disease (which is more than can be said of some of the food we've eaten together -- see here and here for that story). 
Quiche Lorraine
And besides, the real treat was to see Amanda.  I got to hear about the new musical her classes will be putting on and some of her recent dating exploits; I told her about work and how I want to use her apartment as my final project in the interior design class.  We didn't have quite enough time to solve all the world's problems, or even to plan our next big adventure (which, as our "Turning 35 Trip", will somehow need to top our previous adventures in Greece, Turkey, Peru, Morocco and Spain), but it was a great little visit -- and all the more pleasant for knowing that we'll see each other again in a couple of months for some theatre in New York.

Brunch with the ladies (and the Great Waffle Taste-Off of 2013)

There's nothing quite like last-minute travel changes to make for fun adventures. 

Take yesterday, for example.  The original plan was to fly out to Salt Lake City, where I would spend a few days helping to care for Lady (who just had total knee-replacement surgery) and, during the down time, catching up with some mission and school friends who are still in the area.  Well, about a week ago (well after I'd purchased my airline tickets), we learned that Lady was going to be discharged sooner than expected.  In fact, she would be back home in Reno before I even got to Salt Lake!  Fortunately, we were able to find a flight out to Reno the next day -- which was the main point of the trip -- but I admit I was a little bummed when I sat down to write to my friends, saying that I wasn't going to be able to see them after all.

Only I didn't actually say that I wouldn't be able to see them.  What I said was something to the effect of, "I'm going to be on the ground for 12 hours. You all should abandon your spouses and children and come have breakfast with me; and if we start early enough, we'll be able to have breakfast AND Belgian waffles." 

To my great delight, Peggy and Mary understood that the obvious right answer to this invitation was, "Yes, what time?" and then moved heaven and earth (and an awkward family party in Park City) to make it happen.

We met at the crack of dawn (and by "crack of dawn" I mean 9:30am) at Lamb's Grill, which, having opened in 1919, claims to be the oldest continually operating restaurant in Utah.
moi, Mary, Peggy
We were quickly seated in a cozy, leather-upholstered booth in the back of the restaurant.  The menu had the typical, all-American breakfast fare that you might find in any diner in this country. 
Corned beef hash; two fried eggs over hard, English muffin
I wouldn't say it was cutting edge or particularly delicious, but it was good, down-to-earth food over which we were able to chatter and gossip and catch up on each other's lives:   Mary's son just got accepted into an excellent school for autistic children, and she's in the process of applying for another degree program at the University of Utah.  Peggy is making soap and lifting weights and traveling around the country with her Basque dance group (and also trying to navigate her in-laws and the politics of family time shares).


We saved room -- both in our stomachs and on the clock -- for waffles.  All three of us, you see, had served LDS missions in Belgium and knew the unspeakable joy that is a freshly made Liege waffle.  Last time the three of us had brunch in Salt Lake, I had picked up some waffles to share from the Saturday's Waffle.  While Mary and I were perfectly happy to munch on the delectable sweet dough, Peggy declared them to be less good than the waffles on offer at Bruges Waffles & Frites downtown.  We hadn't had time to settle that score back then, but now we did.

Before joining us at Lamb's Grill, Mary had had the great foresight to stopp off at the waffle truck and pick up a few waffles.  Turns out, Lamb's Grill is also only a couple of blocks from the Bruges Waffles & Frites shop, so when we'd finished our eggs and hash browns, we took our waffle-truck waffles over to the competing waffle shop and had a waffle taste-off.

Option A:  plain waffle from Saturday's Waffle

Candidate B: vanilla waffle from Bruges Waffles & Frites

And the winner?  Candidate B, the plucky little waffle from Bruges Waffles & Frites. 

Now, in fairness I have to say that both waffles were delicious, and the waffle-truck waffle no-doubt suffered a slight disadvantage from not having been eaten directly out of the waffle iron, while it was still hot.  Even so, the waffle from Bruges Waffles had the perfect combination of soft doughy interior with a crunchy, slightly caramelized exterior -- and those wonderful sugar pearls in the dough that made it all the more authentically Belgian.  Peggy was right, it was clearly the better waffle. 

Bruges Waffles and Frites
The line and the wait were both long.  But oh, so worth it!  I can't wait to go back for the frites.

After we'd settled the waffle score, Peggy headed off to the mother-in-law's place in Park City, and Mary dropped me off at the airport.  It was a fantastic morning -- good friends, good food, and a little tasty competition.  Can't think of a better way to spend a few hours in Salt Lake City.

Friday, August 30, 2013

This is why they invented dark chocolate

I'm not gonna lie:  today was rough. 

I'm trying to take all of next week off, you see, to visit family and reground myself; pretend like I have roots or something.  And with today being the last work day before I left, I needed to get everything in a place where I could be gone.  I knew it would be a challenge -- it always is -- but today was particularly bad. 

A few things contributed.  First, I came into it at the end of a particularly long and demanding month.  I think I've billed more hours this month than I have all year.  Second, I got only four hours of sleep last night.  That's because last night I went to my class, and then had to do more work, and then had to pack for my trip, and then had to get up at the crack of dawn to do more work -- because it JUST WOULDN'T STOP COMING IN and all the other lawyers I work with had already checked out for the weekend, so I had no one to delegate to.  Third, I had to call Delta.  As with any call to an airline, the purpose could have been anything; the experience was the same as it ever is:  I jumped through hoop after hoop of automated directories, ultimately reaching an agent who told me that I was stuck between one policy that required me to change my ticket or have all of my flights be canceled and be forced to buy new tickets, and another policy that would permit me to keep my tickets but which required me to pay hundreds of dollars as a penalty for making that airline-mandated change. 

And then, THEN, when I objected and pointed out how the airline had created an artificial dilemma where I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't (and either way they wanted money), the woman started interrupting me and talking over me.  I couldn't get a word in edgewise.  And she just kept saying the same script over and over and over.

Remember what the straw did to the camel's back?  Yeah.  Let's just say the call didn't end well. 

The thing of it is, for as annoying as the woman was, it really wasn't her fault.  Her employer has stupid policies and doesn't empower her to make any decisions to accommodate the consumer.  Nor could she have known that I had come into the call tired and basically in a state of controlled panic as I watched the work pile up and the minutes tick by.  And for my part, what I didn't realize is that the acute sense of powerlessness and insignificance that you get when you try to confront a giant, impersonal corporate bureaucracy was essentially going to tap into (and unleash) a month's worth of frustration and stress and feelings of powerlessness in face of my work schedule.  For my sake and the Delta agent's, I should never have called Delta in such a state.  But I did.  And the result?  Well, I think "meltdown" captures it.

I managed to hold it together long enough to finish the call and close my door, but then things got messy and I was grateful the guy next door to me wasn't in, because he might have thought I'd gotten a cold.  Or something.  I sent off some texts -- which were fairly Robespierrian in tone -- to my Dad, and ate all the dark chocolate that I'd brought as a snack for the plane.  Because really, when all is wrong in the world, there's nothing quite like the French Revolution and dark chocolate (mostly the dark chocolate) to make things better. 

And things did get better.  The last few hours of work were furious and intense (and a little jittery from the sugar rush from the chocolate).  I left late for the airport and only just made my flight; they made no promises about my luggage.  But overall the trip went smoothly.  I didn't miss my flight.  The Atlanta airport was comfortable, well stocked with food and WiFi, and the layover was long enough for me to get another meaningful chunk of work done.  We landed early in Salt Lake, my luggage did arrive, and Salt Lake taxis have apparently seen the light and decided to accept credit cards. 

So here I am, safe and sound in a hotel in Salt Lake.  I've brushed my teeth and done a little ironing to relax.  Work awaits, but there's nothing I can do about that now.  Tomorrow will be another day of travel as I make my way to Reno, but along the way I'll be seeing good friends and getting some much needed sleep on the flights.  Time for the vacation to start!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

First day of class

Holy cow this is weird.  I've got a student ID and a parking pass, a syllabus, and homework.  What is happening?
I'll tell you what's happening:  Today was the first class of the semester for Intro to Interior Design at the Corcoran College of Art & Design. 
As predicted, it was a nightmare trying to extricate myself from work in time to get to class.  Seriously, the confluence of starting class and trying to leave on vacation tomorrow must have created a vortex in the space-time contuum of work, because I'm in way over my head.  (But, then, what's new about that?)
The class, once I got there, went fine.  The first-day chaos in the administrative offices was a tad unpleasant (that's one thing I do not miss about being a student) and I definitely felt out of place running around in a suit with a briefcase on the campus of an art school (everyone else was, like, barely twenty and so artistically bohemian).  But once I got into the classroom everything turned out okay -- most of the people in the room were actually Master's students or Continuing Education students, like me.
In fact, that was something I hadn't quite expected:  As we went around the room and introduced ourselves, the majority of the students said they hated their full-time jobs and were taking the class because they wanted to become interior designers.  I was the only lawyer, and also the only one who didn't say I hated my day job. 
Speaking of day job, I reminded myself over and over today that I couldn't treat this like a normal school class.  I have a job; this is secondary.  RELAX.  But the minute we sat down and started going over the syllabus, all my perfectionistic, competitive tendencies started firing up!  I wanted an A and I wanted to be the best (which is not necessarily the same thing).  I started looking around the room, sizing up the competition -- and then reminded myself that I'm not even taking the class for credit, and there's no way I'm going to be able to compete with a bunch of students with nothing better to do than pick out fabric swatches.  As long as I keep pretending to believe that, I might manage not to stress myself out over this!
The fun part, though, is that (a) I get to go shopping for art supplies (pencils and rulers and sketch-books!), and (b) I get to start designing a residence of my choosing for the final project.  Bathroom will be first; then the kitchen; then the whole thing.  And since I have no intention of designing for an imaginary client, and I don't want to redesign my own place, I'll be looking for some brave soul to let me redo her place (on paper, at any rate). 
Oh, and P.S., that subscription I've had to Elle Decor for the past three years?  Thanks to that, I had already seen and read about every room the instructor had us look at today.  It's like I'd read the summer reading list without even knowing it.  I'm pretty sure that warrants some extra credit right there.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mrs. Blanche

You know how sometimes you get on Facebook and start clicking on friends of friends and pretty soon you've gone down a rabbit-hole and suddenly you're sending a friend request to your middle school band teacher, along with a note about how her encouragement and teaching were instrumental in setting you on the path to a life-long passion for the performing arts and that you're a better person, leading a richer life, because of it? 

And then, as soon as you hit send, you realize that there's no reason why she should remember you 20 years later and that maybe she doesn't really want to be contacted by former students because, well, because you're not the center of everyone's life, and shouldn't it be enough that she gave the best years of her life teaching insecure teenagers without having to deal with them as adults (with or without insecurities)? 

Yeah, Facebook is cool and awkward like that. 

BUT here's how it all turned out:  Mrs Blanche remembered who I was (it couldn't have hurt that there's a trove of information about me in my Facebook profile) and responded saying that she was, at that very moment, in Washington, DC, visiting her daughter (who works at the Smithsonian) and grandchildren.  Not only that, but when I suggested meeting for lunch, she accepted. 

And so today I sat down for lunch at a French bakery in Washington, DC, with the woman who taught my 7th and 8th grade band classes back in po-dunk La Grande, Oregon, all those years ago.  She asked about everyone in my family, especially Heather and Ashley, both of whom had also been in her classes.  And, despite the fact that she's been living in Wisconsin, she was able to give me news about other favorite people from La Grande with whom I lost touch years ago.  It was fun to catch up and see how the years have passed. 

It was a little strange, though, to see just how much she knew of me, based on my Facebook profile (I speak French; traveled to Vietnam; am a lawyer), and also what large gaps still existed (I didn't go to BYU; I haven't played the bassoon in years; I'm single).  Catching up with people in this social media era doesn't feel as organic and linear as it used to feel.

It was also strange to see how in some ways the roles had switched.  When I knew her as a student, she was the more experienced adult.  Now, though I'm still younger and less experienced in some ways, I've traveled the world and seen and done things that, at least as far as I can tell based on today's conversation, she's never done:  She's visited Paris only once.  She's been to a major opera company (in Chicago) only a handful of times in the past 20 years; never to the Met Opera in New York.  I don't judge her for that -- our paths have been different -- but there's a bittersweet quality to the realization that, while she helped me into the world of music and the performing arts, I've explored corners of that world that haven't been available to her.  It makes me want to bring her more into my world when she comes back to DC in the future.  And perhaps I will -- she said she comes five or six times a year, so maybe we'll be able to go out to the theatre or see an opera or ballet.  That would be fun.

P.S.  What's really weird is that this is not the first time I've met one of my teachers from La Grande in DC.  Years ago I ran into my sixth grade teacher in the sculpture garden at the Hirschorn museum.  Just goes to show that this world is not so big after all.  That and there's a correlation between the fact that the people I liked in La Grande are also the people who are likely to turn up in interesting places outside of La Grande. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday night ambition

My post on Friday was kind of a downer.  Sorry about that -- I was having a moment.  But things are better now.  MUCH better.  There's nothing quite like logging in on a Sunday morning, expecting to spend the day reviewing documents, only to see an email from the partners saying, "I think we're set; have a great day!" 

I did have a great day.  In fact, much to my surprise, I had a great weekend.  I managed to keep other looming work projects at bay long enough to spend time with Kirt on Saturday -- we did a quick 40-mile bike ride in the morning, ate German brats with sauerkraut for lunch, and had a chance to compare his life as a Navy pilot (very cool) to mine as a lawyer (I don't think "cool" is the right word...), and discuss the possibility of his moving to Japan (he doesn't want to go but I'm already planning my trip out to visit...).  After Kirt left to stay with our other cousin James, I met up with some friends for dinner, enjoyed a good night's sleep, and then had a fun pre-church yoga class.  The "no work" email came when I got back from yoga and lifted a cloud off the rest of the day.

Do you remember how, back when you were a student, Sunday nights would often be filled with the dread of the coming week?  I think of that sometimes, especially during this back-to-school season, and I realize that I haven't felt Sunday-night-dread for a long time.  In fact, usually Sunday nights are the exact opposite of depressing and dreadful.  Having had a chance to unwind, catch up on sleep, see some friends, and eat, I'm usually totally wired on Sunday nights -- full of ambition and visions of Things I'm Going To Do. 

Usually the way it works is I get all excited, stay up too late making a bunch of goals, and then wake up Monday morning with an ambition hang-over, chastising myself for having delusions of grandeur and telling myself to be happy with the simple routine that I've got.  Then the busy-ness of the workweek sets in and the whole thing repeats itself the following week. 

All that might happen again tomorrow.  Because, you see, in my relief at not having to do any more M&A due diligence, I may or may not have committed (and by "committed" I mean "paid money") for a 100-mile bike race in four weeks and a fifteen-week course in Interior Design at the Corocoran College of Art and Design.  Because, you know, I have SO MUCH FREE TIME to spend training for a bike race and taking night classes.

But regardless of how I feel tomorrow morning (or on Thursday when I'm trying to leave work in time to get to the class, or on the morning of the race, when I will have only gotten four hours of sleep due to having spent the night before at a 6-hour opera), I have to say I'm excited for this fall.  Take a look at what's coming up:
  • Intro to Interior Design (every Thursday from now through the end of the year)
  • Family vacation to Reno (Lady and Dad!) and Boise (Heather and Mark and everyone else!), with a few hours in Salt Lake City (breakfast with Peggy and Mary!) and a layover in Denver (lunch in the airport with Amanda!)
  • Weekend camping trip to Assateague Island
  • Tristan and Isolde, starring Deborah Voigt, at the Washington National Opera
  • St. Mary's Century Ride in southern Maryland
  • Weekend trip to New York to see Eugene Onegin, at the Metropolitan Opera
  • Weekend trip to New York to see Peggy perform with her Basque dance group
  • Weekend trip to New York with Amanda to see Then She Fell and as much other theater as we can see
  • Seasons tickets to the Shakespeare Theatre Company (September through next June)
  • Seasons tickets to the Ballet season at the Kennedy Center (October through next spring)
And I haven't even planned Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years!  (Not to mention the fact that, in theory, I'm going to try to buy a condo and move sometime in the near future...)

It's going to be a busy season, and I may well wish that I'd planned more down time, but it will also be exciting and fun -- and of course I'll keep you up to date on all the stories as they come.

Uncle Jason likes worms! (or, Proof that I'm an awesome uncle)

So here's the lunch buzz at Heather's house this week.  (And for those who haven't met these kids, Shae is 4, Jaron is 7, and Brynn is 9; Adri is a newborn.)
Shae: "Hey Mom, Rachel found a worm at the park, and she was holding it. We should have brought it home for Dad. Ya, we should have put it in a plastic bag to give him."
Brynn: "Why Shae, Dad does not fish with worms."
Jaron: "Ya Shae, and then it would die, and that would be gross."
Brynn: "Worms are good!"
Shae: "eeeewwwww!!! Worms are gross!"
Brynn: "I was talking about the fact that worms are good for the ground."
Jaron: "Na, uh! Uncle Jason likes to eat worms! He thinks worms are good! We should collect worms for Uncle Jason to eat when he comes. Remember, we saw that picture on his blog. He likes to eat worms."
Brynn: "Wait! Uncle Jason is going to be here for Shae's Birthday! No fair! Does that mean he is coming on my Birthday next year?"
 Jaron: "Ya, then he can come on my Birthday, then on Adri's Birthday"
 Shae: "Yep, I'm lucky! And Uncle Jason likes worms!"
This, my friends, is why you eat worms and tell small children about it.  Can't wait to see them all next week!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Still here

I promise, people, I'm not dead or boring -- just completely swamped at work.  The last couple of weeks, and this week in particular, have been one of those periods when I feel like I earn every last one of those "big bucks" they pay me.  From a sheer hours perspective, it hasn't been as bad as those 120-hour week slogs that I had last December, but even so, working from 8am until Midnight or 1:00am every night for two weeks is still nothing to sneeze at.  When it gets to the point that I have to cancel all my social commitments and don't have time to clean my apartment, shop for groceries or go outside long enough to realize that, yes, it is still summer, that's when I start to fray.

For better or for worse, I've been at this job long enough that this state of affairs isn't exactly new.  And the interesting thing is that, because it's familiar, I've been able to notice a few things this time around:

For example, my body really is physically weaker when I don't eat or sleep.  Seems obvious, but I'd never seen it play out quite so starkly until this week at the gym.  I've been recording the results of my workouts to track my progress, but this week I've made no progress -- in fact, I've gone materially backward in my results.  I don't have the strength to lift the weights I normally lift, and I don't have the endurance to ride or run or whatever for as long as I normally do.  My muscles feel sore and fatigued prematurely.  Why?  Well, I've also been tracking calories and sleep, and I see that I've been averaging between 1,000 and 1,300 calories most days for the past two weeks, and getting only about 5 or 6 hours of sleep each night.  It's hard not to see a causal link between these numbers and the way I feel.

Another observation:  I've finally come to terms with the fact that I hate M&A work.  As in, flames on the side of my face, heaving breath, type of hate.  M&A is short for "mergers and acquisitions" and it's the category of corporate law that involves buying and selling of companies.  I haven't done a ton of it, but it's supposedly one of the "Things I Should Know" to be a successful corporate lawyer; every year my professional development advisor at the firm encourages me to get more M&A experience.  The role of an associate in an M&A deal requires, among other things, incredible stamina and focus, an ability to sift through and synthesize enormous amounts of information, and a level of organizational skill and attention to detail that borders on the supernatural -- all things that I think I'm particularly good at.  Only here's the thing:  It stresses the hell out of me.  The work schedule is relentless and demanding, entirely unpredictable, and completely out of my control.  And I hate, HATE not being in control.  I'm working on an M&A deal right now, and I'm watching as all these things play out again, as they do every time I'm on an M&A deal:  I perform well and make people happy, but I feel out of control and miserable.  So I've decided that from now on I'm going to do everything I can to avoid M&A work, even if it hurts my long-term prospects at the firm.  There are other types of work that I'm equally good at that don't destroy my life; surely I can develop a practice that will let me do those and not do M&A.

Speaking of stress and control, when I logged into the computer this morning, I literally had about three full days' worth of work to do, including three major projects that were all supposed to be done "as early as possible this morning."  Earlier in the week I suspected this might happen, and so I had been working long hours to try to ward off the train wreck, knowing full well that it was probably futile.  It was very stressful and unpleasant; there was too much to do, too many demands, and too many unpredictable twists and turns.  This morning it all came to a head:  Everything was finally due, everyone was breathing down my neck, and it was physically impossible for me to satisfy everyone.  And guess what?  As soon as I realized that, all the stress and pressure went away.  Poof.  Because there's a great release that comes when you realize that things are finally beyond your control and there's just nothing you can do.  So I turned on my focus music, stopped taking calls and ignored emails, and churned out work all day long.  By the end of the day, sure enough, I'd finished two days' worth of work; the third went undone.  Those clients just weren't going to get their thing tonight.  Knowing that I'd gain nothing by staying up all night  I called a car and went home.  Because that's life, folks, and there's nothing I can do about it.

I'm not out of the woods yet.  Tomorrow will be hectic, and I'm a little terrified for the weekend -- mostly because, in addition to needing to finish everything that I didn't get done today (plus everything that was already on my plate for tomorrow), my cousin Kirt will be staying with me from out of town and I have a dirty apartment, no food, and no idea how I'm going to be a decent host if I'm stuck working all weekend. 

But things will work out in the end.  They always do.  And then, next weekend, I get to fly out west to see my family.  By then hopefully this will all be in the past.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

In the press

One of the partners I work for is featured in The National Law Journal's list of DC Deal Makers of the Year.  The write-up goes beyond Catherine's work, though, and mentions several of the recent large deals that the firm has handled in the past eighteen months. 

And guess what?  I got a shout-out:
In the sports arena, Covington is a major player. When Time Warner Cable entered into a joint venture with the Los Angeles Dodgers to form a regional sports network, the cable company was represented by partners Douglas Gibson and Benjamin Hoch, special counsel Scott Roades and associate J. Jason Davis. The broadcasts will start with the 2014 season.
Kind of cool, if I do say so myself.  This job isn't always a walk in the park, but it's fun to be involved in deals that make headlines, and I love working with such top-level partners and clients.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Catching Up

I'm apparently terrible at catching up.  Here are links to a couple of new posts about Vietnam.  I need to focus on getting through the rest of them or it'll be Christmas by the time I'm finished!  (I've left the other catch-up posts on this list, too, in case you missed them.)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Pippin, Vanya et al., and another Michelin star

As much as I love the Met Museum, what I really love in New York are the performing arts and the food.  So after spending this morning at the Met, I walked back down to Midtown and spent the rest of the day eating and seeing two wonderful shows.

The first show I saw was the current revival of Pippin, which won the Tony this year for Best Revival of a Musical. 

I had never seen Pippin before -- I knew it was a 1970s musical and that it was one of the more popular choices for high school theater productions; I'd written it off as not really worth seeing.  I guess I'd never heard that the original was a major Bob Fosse piece.  Nor had I heard that the revival had taken Fosse's choreography and put it in a blender with crazy avant garde Canadian circus acrobatics (think Cirque du Soleil).  Add in some really top notch Broadway performers (and say what you will about high-profile movie and TV actors in Broadway plays, you just can't beat a good old Broadway actor who can sing and dance the hell out of a good musical) and about thirty seconds of a well-trained dog, and you get a fantastic, magical theatrical experience.  I'm still not sure that I'd see the show at the local high school, but this production was wonderful.

Also?  I'm feeling newly motivated to learn how to do handstands.  Those guys rocked.  Check out this video (it's from the Tonys -- just ignore the sappy intro):

By the time Pippin got out, I had just enough time to go back to the hotel and change into something warmer (lest I die of exposure after sitting through another two hours of arctic air conditioning in shorts) and get some dinner before the next show.  My first instinct was to stop at Dean & Deluca or Schippers for a quick bite on the go.  But then I remembered the Michelin Guide app that I'd downloaded to my iPhone a few months ago.  Turns out there's a feature that locates nearby restaurants -- and there was a Chinese restaurant called Hakkasan with one star only 0.30 miles away.  Seemed too good to pass up.

Appropriately understated, as so many good Michelin restaurants are.
I completely missed it the first time around.
Assorted dim sum, all delicious.
Crispy duck with black truffles
Vanilla panna cotta with fresh strawberries, rhubarb, strawberry sorbet
and champagne foam.  The "lid" to the terrarium is a sheet of crystallized sugar, which
you break with your spoon to get through, kind of like the crust on a creme brulee.
After the dinner -- which was delicious -- I wandered over to the theatre for what turned out to be a thoroughly delightful evening.  Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a new play from Christopher Durang, with a cast of stars, that started Off-Broadway but was so successful that it moved to Broadway and won the Tony for Best Play this year. 


I can see why it won.  It's very well written, wonderfully acted, and (thanks to the writing and the acting) incredibly funny -- even funnier, I assume, if you're up on your Chekhov, which I'm not; there were references (some subtle, some not) to Chekhov's plays throughout.  Fortunately, there were lots of non-Chekhov jokes too.  I tried to keep track of the one-liners to share with you, but then Sonia came out dressed as "the evil queen from Snow White, as performed by Maggie Smith accepting an Oscar" and the sheer hilarity of the ensuing scene drove everything from my mind.  (It's really too bad Amanda's not going to make it out here before the show closes later this month -- I would totally see it again with her.)

Oh, look!  Here's a trailer for the play (and yes, one of the characters had a harder time keeping his clothes on than Jake in the Twilight movies):


Punk and bagpipes at the Met

There's nothing quite like an unstructured Saturday in New York -- especially when it follows a super-structured and tedious day of recruiting.  After spending all day yesterday interviewing eager young law students (and then spending much of the night making notes and getting ready for all the reference checks and meetings with the hiring partners first thing next week), I awoke this morning at the unbelievably late hour of 8:00am and thought, "I'm in New York, and I can do whatever I want today." 

So I rolled over and went back to sleep.

But only for a few minutes.  By 8:30am I was up and on my way.  I breakfasted and showered and packed my bags.  I'm not going home until tomorrow, but since a third night is not technically necessary for the recruiting gig, everything here on out would be on my own dime and not the firm's -- which meant I needed to move to a more economical hotel.  Fortunately the new hotel was willing to let me check in early; I dropped my bags and headed out.

First stop?  The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 


Every year the Fashion Institute puts on at least one big fashion-related exhibition at the Met, and they're inevitably fascinating.  Their exhibition from a few years ago -- featuring 18th Century French fashion and decorative arts -- remains the best museum exhibit I've ever seen, and I always go out of my way to see the new exhibitions.

This year's theme was "PUNK: Chaos to Couture," and it was awesome.  The goal of the show was to explore the relationship between the punk movement and aesthetic and high fashion.  More specifically, it focused on the "do it yourself" ethos of punk (think slashed clothing, safety-pins, etc.) and the "made to measure" concept of haute couture.

 I'm not going to lie -- much of the clothing was (to me) hideous. But I guess that's kind of the point: Punk was all about turning clothing and style into something that was aggressive and subversive. What I loved, though, was seeing how the couture designers adopted the punk vernacular into their high fashion creations. I mean, these clothes -- mostly dresses for women, but a fair amount of men's clothes, too -- combined that aggressive expression with the most exquisite craftsmanship, with stunning results.

Photo from 1977
(authentic punk style)
Rodarte dress, in Vogue from 2008
Not all of the clothing was ugly, though.  The highlight, by far, were three dresses by Alexander McQueen.  The fabric intentionally resembled black trash bags and bubble wrap, but they were breathtakingly beautiful.  It's hard to describe the feeling they inspired -- I just stood there smiling, delighted.  McQueen was clearly a genius. 


The McQueen dresses were just to the left of this shot.  I tried to take a picture but got yelled at -- apparently photos are not allowed in special exhibitions; I've pulled all the photos here from the Met's website.

Photography isn't prohibited everywhere in the Met, though.  After I'd seen the PUNK exhibition, I stumbled upon a smaller exhibition focusing on artwork and interior design.  Apparently the concept of interior design -- decorating a room with a coherent design aesthetic -- didn't really exhist until the 15th/16th centuries.  The exhibition contained drawings made by architects and designers for rooms and furniture.
This drawing caught my eye because it's by Ogden Codman Jr.  He was one of the leading
architects in America in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  He and Edith Wharton
(who would become a famous novelist) co-wrote a book on decorating when they were both in
their early thirties, before either of them was famous.  Amanda gave me that book a few years
ago, and I'm reading it again right now -- I just finished the "Fireplaces" section.

There's only so much museum-going I can take, though, before I get hungry.  The Upper East Side -- where the Met is located -- is a lovely residential area, but it's kind of a wasteland for restaurants.  Fortunately, there's a string of hot dog stands on the sidewalk at the base of the steps leading up to the Met. 
I never noticed before today that the carts are all dedicated to Marines killed in Vietnam.
Hot dogs, properly understood, are really just vehicles for mustard and relish.
Oh, and I also like to eat my hotdogs to the sound of bagpipes.  Thank heavens they had a guy with a kilt on hand...


Thursday, August 8, 2013

In which Jean Valjean doesn't sing, but Rory does.

I'm in New York right now, sitting in my hotel suite on the 20th floor above Times Square.  Tomorrow I'll be interviewing kids from Columbia Law School who want to come to work at the firm.  The interviews start early, so I came up in advance.  And, as I always try to do, I came sufficiently in advance that I could spend the afternoon working from the New York office and then catch a show on Broadway tonight. 

I saw Once the Musical, and I'd intended to write just a short post about the show and go to bed.  But as I sit here, I realize how many great little moments happened today -- and they're all floating around in my head.

*    *    *

This morning, while I was in a taxicab on the way to the train station, the radio newscaster announced that Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu's home had been burglarized during the night, but that Tutu and his wife were both unharmed.  The taxi driver chuckled and said, "Burglar better watch out.  Burgle good people and it might change your life!"  Whereupon he tells me this story about how, a number of years ago, he picked up a passenger who, he realized, intended to rob him.  The guy wouldn't tell him a specific destination, but kept directing the cabbie into rougher and rougher neighborhoods; in the mirror, the cabbie saw a gun in the guy's lap.  So the cabbie just pulled over -- before the guy actually demanded anything or made any threats -- pulled out his wallet and asked the guy how much money he needed.  He handed over all of his cash to the startled would-be robber, and then told the startled would-be robber to get in the front seat of the car.  Once face to face with the man, the cabbie proceeded to lecture him -- "advise him" were the words he used -- about what he was doing; about how taking the money wouldn't change anything, but that growing up and taking responsibility and seeking out "a father, an uncle, a man to advise him" would change everything.  When he'd finished, the robber handed back all the money, except for a twenty, which he needed, and said it was the first time anybody had ever talked to him like that.  From that moment, said the cabbie, the guy finished his basic education, got a job and then a promotion, and is now a father of three children and a manager of fifty employees.  "And so I'm telling you," said the cabbie knowingly, "you can't just run around robbing men of god without it changing your life."

*    *    *

One of my favorite things about wearing a bow-tie is that I always, always get attention.  At parties strangers go out of their way to introduce themselves, in bars people shout across the room to give me a thumbs up, in restaurants and train stations and on the street random people (and by "random," I mean everyone from teenagers on skateboards to distinguished older gentlemen in three-piece suits) will say that they like the bow-tie.  That's because bow-ties are cool.

Only apparently there may be limits.  Today I wore a bow-tie in what I fancied to be a particularly natty outfit -- a navy blue bow-tie with small white polka dots, with a white shirt and pocket square (natch), a slim-fitting suit in a light grey summer fabric, and double monk-strap shoes.  In all my normal milieus I got all my normal comments on the bow-tie.  BUT THEN, I get in line at the TKTS booth in Times Square to buy my theatre ticket, and I hear one of the crowd control guys behind me say, "Hey look!  It's Pee Wee Herman!"  And all the other crowd control guys (there were four or five more of them) all chuckled along.  I realized they were talking about me.  ME!  I looked like an uber-nerdy comedian-turned-pedophile.  Quelle horreur.  I decided to behave as if it were a compliment, so I smiled bravely -- and held the smile long enough to realize that it WAS a compliment.  Those guys were chuckling along appreciatively.  Whew.

So, while I would have preferred some other cultural reference (say, Doctor Who), I guess I'll take what I can get -- and keep my fingers crossed that, among the middle-aged African American male crowd-control demographic, Pee Wee Herman is still more strongly associated with "star of a successful TV show" than "disgraced creepy guy." 

*    *    *

Somewhere in the middle of the elevator ride from my hotel room on the 20th floor to the ground, the elevator stops to pick up three more passengers -- a father, mother and teenage daughter.  As the three work their way into the elevator amongst the four of us who were already there, the daughter jostles the mother, who happens to be holding a paper cup full of wine (super classy, that), causing the mother to spill wine all over herself.  The mother gets upset and starts lecturing the daughter about how horrible it is to have wine all over.  At which point a couple of the other passengers chime in:

Guy 1:  Well, look, at least it's just wine, right?  Could be way worse!

Guy 2:  I dunno . . . not much worse.  It is wine.

Guy 1:  Yeah, you're probably right.  I mean, I'd be pretty--

Mother:  FECES!


Mother:  I mean . . . feces would be much worse than wine . . . I'm just saying.

At which point we reached the ground floor and the elevator doors opened.  Thank heavens for a mother who knows how to keep things in perspective.

*    *    *

And now, finally, we get to the play.  Like I said, I saw Once the Musical (with "the Musical" serving to distinguish it from the 2006 movie by the same title).  I hadn't seen the movie or read anything about the musical, but its signs claim loudly to have won infinity Tony Awards, and Arthur Darvill (from Doctor Who -- there seems to be a recurring theme here) was playing the lead, so I bought a ticket. 


I liked the musical well enough, but it's one of those where I suspect the movie is probably much better.  I kept wanting it to do what movies do best: intimate close-ups, montages that tell stories without words, and a swelling, crystal clear soundtrack.  That's not to say there weren't nice moments; there were.  I particularly loved an a capella segment during the second act, where all the actors sang in a delicate, shimmery multi-part harmony, very much an ensemble moment.

And the story was good.  It's a love story.  Or three love stories.  Or a story about two people who meet and fall in love but recognize that they love other people, too, and have the integrity and courage to keep those other commitments.  Potentially powerful stuff, I think; certainly there were tears in the audience.  But I didn't really feel it.  Possibly because I couldn't get over Rory's mediocre singing voice (Darvill may be charming and Britishly good looking, but his voice isn't up to the role), but perhaps, too, because I've never been passionately in love or heartbroken like that, and so I had a hard time relating. 

*    *    *

After the play I wandered around Times Square.  I realized that I came to New York for the first time 11 years ago.  I was with Amanda and we had no money and rode the Greyhound and stayed in a horrible little hostel with bunkbeds, and we saw Thoroughly Modern Millie in the theatre inside the hotel where I'm staying now.  I remember thinking how exciting and glamorous it all seemed.  So far outside anything I'd experienced before; so much what I wanted my life to be.  Now here I am, 11 years later -- I've lived in the city, I'm sleeping in that "fancy hotel," and I've seen more Broadway shows than I can remember.  My love for the energy and vibrancy of the city hasn't changed.  New York never gets old.




Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Ride: Mason Neck

This morning dawned grey and chilly and very humid.  I wasn't exactly ready to get up, but I'd agreed to meet up with some friends from the ward for a Saturday morning bike ride.  We left a little after 7:00am and returned right before 11am, and in the intervening three-ish hours we made it down to the Mason Neck State Park (which is south of here, on the banks of the Potomac River, near the birthplace of George Mason, whoever that is) and back.  Fifty-six miles on the dot.
It was kind of a weird ride.  The route was totally new to me, so I had to rely on the others for directions.  It took us a while to get out of town, wending our way through a maze of residential streets and jogger-filled paths; both tedious on a morning ride when you want to stretch your legs and get a real workout.  But once we'd gotten out of town, we had great stretches of uninterrupted road -- and quite a few hills that were more than willing to make good on the workout. 
Speaking of which, I went into the ride expecting to feel depleted from a killer workout yesterday morning at the Crossfit gym (where I back-squatted 205 lbs!), but for the most part I felt great.  It wasn't until we got to the steepest hills that my glutes started screaming at me, "YOU NEED A STRONGER BUTT FOR THIS!"  To which I responded, yes, I know, we're working on it
By the time we got back, I was more than ready for a hearty second breakfast, which I decided should consist of banana waffles with natural maple syrup.  Not only do I like waffles, but I had also read in a cycling magazine that the burst of carbs would help with the post-ride recovery.  Only they didn't, really.  I overate (I was ravenous, and they were delicious, and I kept reminding myself to feel guilty about not using up all the batter, what with global hunger and all), which meant that thirty minutes later I had a double whammy of a too-full stomach and a sugar high that made me feel all fluttery. 
So what do you do in moments like this?  Well, I started by ignoring it but then got impatient.  Why not help things along, I thought, by just throwing up part of it?  No need to throw up everything, but maybe just those few extra bites that seemed to have put me over the edge.  Seemed like a great idea (how could it go wrong?), so I went into the bathroom and tried to figure out how to make myself throw up in a minimal, controlled way.  Turns out, it's really hard!  I mean, I tried and I tried, but all I managed was a burp.  Seriously.  I WOULD BE THE WORLD'S WORST BULEMIC EVER. 
Fortunately, the burp helped.  That, or by the time it came I'd simply digested all the waffles like a civilized human being.  Either way, I felt better and was able to go productively about my day.  I got a haircut and took an hour-long nap and then met Amy at the artsy movie theater downtown to watch Blue Jasmine, which ended up being sold out, so we walked over to the nearest commercial theater and saw The Wolverine instead.  Because if you can't watch Cate Blanchett in a Woody Allen movie, you might as well watch Hugh Jackman in a superhero movie, right?
By the time Wolverine had saved the day and all the fans were geeking out about the possibility of a sequel with a resurrected Patrick-Stewart-as-Dr-Xavier, I realized those problematic waffles had finally worn off and I was hungry.  So we stopped for a little post-movie snack at the Shake Shack (which I did not later try to throw up, I promise).  Yum! 
Our order: two SmokeShack burgers with a side of fries to share

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The "mot juste"

Earlier this week I called my sister Ashley as I was driving home from work.  It was about 10:30pm and I was just leaving the office and needed to do a little grocery shopping before going home and going to bed.  As you might imagine, the conversation started off with my muttering some remark along the lines of, "I'd get a lot more done in my life if I didn't work all the time." 

The conversation rambled on from there.  Eventually we got to the subject of TV shows and I waxed  enthusiastic about The West Wing, which I recently started watching on Netflix:

Me:  It's so much fun!  The writing is excellent (it is Aaron Sorkin, after all) and I love that it's set in Washington, DC, and follows the lives of the senior White House staff.  The funny thing is that I watch them and I get all enthralled and start thinking, "Hey, I totally want to have a high-powered Washington job where I'm surrounded by brilliant people and work all the time doing Important Things" -- but then it hits me and I'm all, "I've GOT a high-powered Washington job where I work all the time with brilliant people -- YAY!!  . . . oh wait."

Ashley:  Yay, you're a llama again!


Leave it to Ashley to hit the nail on the head with a movie quote.