Nylon

I haven’t picked up a classical guitar for at least a year, and it’s been two or three since I was practicing regularly. But, in the move, I found mine under the bed, pulled it out, dusted it off, and promptly broke two of the five strings.

While my parents were in town, my father kindly popped in to Rayburn to secure the cheapest classical strings they had. (As he explained to the clerk who tried to push a far nicer set, I’m an experienced trumpet player, but a terrible guitarist, and my father was rightly sure I couldn’t tell the difference between one set of strings and another.)

This morning, at a mind-numbingly slow pace, I restrung and wound and wound and wound the new set. And then, I pulled out Mills’ Student Repertoire, and slowly worked my way through a handful of songs: Fernando Sor’s “Study in C (Opus 31, No. 1)”, a Ferdinando Carulli Andantino, and a Dionisio Aguado Lesson.

The sharp strings were cutting into the uncalloused fingers of my left hand, and it took me a slew of passes on each piece to make my way through error-free. But I was also reminded of how much I love the sound of classical guitar (and have since, as a small child, I used to fall asleep every night to a record of Julian Bream lute suites, The Woods So Wild). And, even more so, how satisfying it is to make that sound myself.

Hash

Here’s one thing I just don’t understand: why do New York City diners serve soggy breakfast potatoes, rather than crispy hash browns the way they do in the rest of the country? It’s a total travesty.

Fortunately, I’m now down the block from Landmarc, which appears to be one of about three places in all of NYC that serves real hash browns.

Even better, breakfast there overlaps with the night staff from CNN upstairs stopping in for post-work drinks. If you’re slightly hung over at 8am, it’s somehow oddly soothing to see a group of people still getting actively drunk.

Fountain

Another upside of the new apartment: we’re across the street from my favorite spot in NYC.

lincolncenter

Bummed

Ten years ago, I was an early adopter of flushable wipes.

Then I moved into a pre-war building, with pipes so old that they were literally plumbed (from lead, or ‘plumbum’ in Latin) by hand, rather than assembled from pre-existing copper and galvanized steel lengths and bends as plumbing is today. Given those small and uneven pipes, wet wipes more or less instantly gummed up the works, so it was back to traditional toilet paper.

Freshly moved to a modern construction building, I’ve been asked by a bunch of friends about the building’s amenities. Sure, there’s a pool and a roof deck. But what I’m particularly happy about is the flushability. I may be wrecking the NYC sewage system as a whole, but I feel cleaner than I have in years.

Victor

Yesterday was my grandfather Victor’s yahrzeit – the anniversary of his death, observed by loved ones (but especially by one’s children). A dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneur (as was his father, Max, who was also an accomplished inventor), Victor loved his family, and loved his work. But he didn’t particularly love Judaism. As he once told me, after his mother died when he was a child, any religious observance in his family went out the door with his mother’s body. While he was alive, he would tell people he didn’t even want a funeral; he just wanted the people still living to enjoy their lives for the day.

So, rather than heading to synagogue as would be traditional, my parents observed Victor’s yahrzeit with a ritual much dearer to his heart: dinner at Denny’s. There was no Denny’s in New York when he was still alive, so any time he came out to visit us in California, a trip to Denny’s (particularly for the coffee, which he inexplicably loved) was inevitably on the must-do list.

I think sometimes about the New Orleans tradition of the Jazz Funeral: friends and family, led by a brass band playing somber songs and spirituals, slowly march from the deceased’s home to the cemetery. And then, as soon as the body is in the ground, as soon as the members of the procession have said their final goodbyes, there’s the ‘cutting loose’ of the body. The brass band switches to raucous jazz, and everyone drinks and dances and parties in their dead loved one’s honor.

I think the New Orleaners, like my grandfather Victor, have it entirely right. The best way to remember someone isn’t to sit at mourn, but to get right to living. As Joan Didion wrote, “the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can.”

Nested

Yesterday, I moved into a new apartment. I was supposed to have moved in on the 1st, but due to some construction snafus, the space wasn’t ready at the start of the lease. So, for a week and a half, I was essentially homeless. Thanks to the kindness of friends and family, the dogs and I had places to stay. But, whoo boy, was it a pain in the ass.

Previously, I’d always thought of myself as a potential digital nomad. Needing nothing more than a laptop and the contents of my suitcase, ready to work and live on the fly from anywhere with a bed and an internet connection.

Turns out, that’s not so much the case. Perhaps it’s a result of corralling two small dogs through the process, or just of aging in general, but I felt out of sorts the entire stretch. And now, back in a more permanent spot, my brain is ready again to engage with work and the world.

Life Imitates Art

Saturday, I rewatched the 1999 Thomas Crown Affair remake, and found it held up quite well; still near the top of my guilty pleasures film list.

Then, Sunday, I ended up in the same subway car as Mark Margolis, the actor who played art forger Heinrich Knutzhorn in the film.

Baader-Meinhof indeed.

Rebooting

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”
– Joseph Campbell

Focal

Let’s say you need to meet a stranger tomorrow in NYC, but you can’t communicate in advance to coordinate time and place. So where and when do you meet them?

The answer is: the information booth at the center of Grand Central Station, at high noon.

That’s actually the empirically correct answer, as nearly 3/4 of respondents will say the same thing, thereby making it your best bet.

It’s an effect first illustrated by Nobel-winning economist Thomas Schelling: people naturally default to certain ‘focal points’ (later called ‘Schelling points’) in the absence of communication. In many problems, there are answers that seem inevitable (or specially meaningful), and people tend to gravitate towards them whether they mean to or not.

It’s a particularly useful concept in friendly negotiations, where you need to strike a balance between competition and coordination, rather than just fighting out every point. Try and find Schelling points that work for you as a compromise, and it’s easy to get your counter-party to accept them too, as they just seem right.