Stephen Colbert and the good ole days

Depth of character goes deeper than an accent

Graffiti covered wall NYC 2013

Stephen Colbert was born in Tennessee had a southern accent growing up. He realized that having it was a detriment to how he wanted to be seen in life and worked to get rid of it.

I realized something similar when I went to college in 1990 and met non-New Yorkers, you see, New-Yorkers like to share Sublets in NYC, this is because of the high prices and population density. It’s probably more of a necessity than preference!

That year, New York City was the murder capital of the United State. Here are the murder and assault rates when I was a teenager.

And the little slice of the world I called home had one of the sharpest increases in murder and violence in 1988, two years before the height. It wasn’t Bed-Stuy, but it sure as heck wasn’t Stamford, Connecticut.

As I’ve said a number of times before, it’s always someone invariably not from NYC that pines for the good ole days of “gritty” New York. I figure they imagine it from reruns of The Cosby Show or Fame.

Waiting room in doctor's office

Lately, though, I’ve been having strangers tell me that I must have lived an easy life growing up. And my roll my eyes as they try to impress me with the the time they were once mugged outside a suburban mall.

I grew up carrying two wallets, just so I could still have some scratch to get home when I did get mugged. Still do when I travel.

Everyone is so quick to judge others based on how they speak or appear, which reminds me of that quote: We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.

Anyway, Stephen Colbert lost most of his family in an airline crash when he was 10, which is more horrific than anything I could ever imagine – or ever want to.

But you’d never know it from how he is or how he speaks because he controls how people see him so well.

Most people assume that, because the depth of their character only goes as far as their accent, the same must be true of everyone else. I don’t talk like the poor son of a fish monger so I must not have been one.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Him: It’s one thing to grow up in a rough area, it’s another thing to stay there.
Me: Why would we stay there if we didn’t have to? No one who was born poor wants to stay poor. It’s not like you see on TV.

Location: start of a new summer workweek
Mood: amused
Music: Wait for the day when I can save face and come to a happy home.
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What color is the sun?

We don’t see things as they really are

Sun setting over Atlantic Ocean
After the craziness of the past weekend, was hoping to find some time to decompress.

Unfortunately, had a full blown night of insomnia that’s thrown me off kilter for the rest of the week.

In any case, my friend Paolina asked me if what happened over the weekend was a Big City thing or not. Didn’t know how to answer her since I spent my entire life here.

It’s like that thing I told you about years ago where a frog in a well knows nothing of the ocean.

Wonder if the fish in the sea’d be surprised to know that that we’re up here shooting each other to death over parking spaces?

Most of us spend our entire lives unaware that we’re in our own little fishbowl in the universe. Some of us realize the net result’s usually the same.

Me? I read anything I can get my hands on, trying vainly to see the world as it is, rather than what I think it to be.

But every once in a while, someone reminds me that I don’t actually see things as they are, I see things as I am. Who I am. Where I am.

The sun is white.

It’s the atmosphere that makes it seem yellow. But it’s not yellow at all and only a handful of people ever has seen it as it really is.

That bothers me some.

But then I get some sleep, eventually, and forget that I once cared to know.

Drinking at Pier I

Location: in a newish room
Mood: philosophical from lack of sleep
Music: You want me down on earth, but I am up in space
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Why it’s so hard to get from Brooklyn to Queens

Frankie, Sofie, and the trolleys

Decorated Bus in NYC

Had to work over the weekend so I found myself in the middle of Brooklyn early Saturday morning. The nature of mass transit here in NYC is that: (a) there’s a lot of track work over the weekends and (b) it’s nearly impossible to go from Brooklyn to Queens without first going into Manhattan.

The former means that trips that usually take an hour take twice as long.

The latter is just a constant annoyance because that initial trip shouldn’t take an hour in the first place.

There was a great article written about this time last year called A Very Brief History of Why It’s So Hard to Get From Brooklyn to Queens that says that we used to have a really extensive trolley system here in NYC but these were destroyed by corporations that wanted to create a bus system instead.

The short-term greed of a handful of men has resulted in decades of wasted time and money for millions.

That’s probably why I enjoy history so much, because so much of the past still affects our lives to this day, we just don’t know it.

Right now I’m reading about Franz and Sophie Ferdinand and I am amazed how one couple’s death changed the world so profoundly.

In any case, made it home in time drive my dad to the supermarket, pick my brother up from the airport, and see my sister and her kid. Pretty full family weekend.

Right now, I’m back in Manhattan but I have to go to midtown to argue with someone over a bill, then the gym, then out to Long Island for some more work.

I’m traveling a lot. Just don’t know if I’m going anywhere.

Location: midtown
Mood: irritated
Music: been traveling a hard road Had been looking for someone
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Logan’s Chinese Food, Gyro, and Chili Extravaganza

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

Hit and try-to-run-but-cannot-run-driver

Wife: You can’t have 19 Big Macs in a row!
Me: Technically, I could.

They’re having this deal where you get two burgers for one and I look for any excuse to stuff my fat face.

Which reminds me of a discussion I had regarding Jennifer 8. Lee’s book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, where she said that Chinese restaurants in America outnumber McDonalds, Burger Kings, and Wendy’s combined.

The thing is that there’s no one single large Chinese food chain, like Logan’s Chinese Food, Gyro, and Chili Extravaganza.

The reason why, I think, is because of the sheer number of items that a Chinese restaurant carries. There’re too many dishes, recipes, and ingredients in most restaurants to be consistently good at all of them.

This is versus McDonalds, which only has a few dozen different items – in fact, one guy just wrote about How to Hack a Big Mac from other dishes.

Relate it to my own life because I find so many things intellectually stimulating but I gotta force myself not to concentrate on the things I actually really care about.

Speaking of things I really care about: The wife is heading to her parents for a spell for a little break while I get some work done around the house. So we’re trying to cram in together time while we can.

In our own special fashion.

Her: (hugging me) I’m gonna miss that face…
Me: Aw, thanks…
Wife: …and your giant, giant, head.

Location: back to wrasslin in just a bit
Mood: sore
Music: Does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?
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When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you

Demons and Darth Vader on the Washington National Cathedral

Been sick so the insomnia’s been pretty bad.

Have you ever heard the saying, When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you?

It’s from Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil,” and the full quote goes:

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

In a nutshell, the idea is that, as you fight demons, you have to be careful not to let the demons affect you so much that you’re consumed by them. And potentially even become one of them.

We see it all the time in literature and movies: Oedipus, Macbeth,  Darth Vader, etc.

It’s an explanation as to why narcotics cops can become dealers and defense lawyers become criminals themselves. It’s why we have to always be on our guard.

But lately, at night when I’m awake, the demons come and sit beside me and tell me that it won’t be ok.

And there’s always a possibility they’re right. So I listen to them.

For now, at least, they seem to be wrong and I hold out hope.

Him: I’ve got some good news!
Me: Man, I could use some. What is it?

A lot of people don’t realize that there is a grotesque of Darth Vader carved into the Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? To have our modern devils beside our historic ones?

Location: an hour ago, still in bed sick
Mood: still sick, but less anxious
Music: I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait
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Winning a Bronze makes you happier than winning a Silver

How you look at your life depends on how you look at others

Took a moment to watch the Olympics this past weekend and it reminded me of a story from NPR.

If you look at the picture carefully, you’ll see that the gold medalist in the middle is beaming, the bronze medalist on the left is slightly smiling, and the silver medalist on the right is barely smiling at all.

Researchers went through picture after picture after picture of other Olympic winners and saw the same thing.

It’s obvious why the gold winner is so psyched – she won. But the other two?

Well, it turns out that the silver winner is almost always unhappy because she compares herself to the gold winner.

If only I …ran faster, longer, better, that would have been me up there with the gold.

In other words, she compares upward, ignoring all below her and only seeing the one person above her. But the bronze winner always compares downward.

I made it! I can’t believe I beat all those other people and just made it.

Two scenarios, again.

On that note, I try to remind myself regularly that I’ve won the lottery in life. Some days are easier than others. But I keep hoping.

As for you, when you watch the Olympics this week, watch the winners faces and you’ll see the above repeatedly.

After all, you can’t un-notice something you’ve noticed.

And I’ve noticed I’m late to start my work week.

Hope it’s better than last.
Image (c)Julian Finney/Getty Images

Location: 6AM, in front of yet more @#$@#$ snow
Mood: anxious
Music: alright, the nights settling, settling in your bones
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A Review of Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath

Only time will tell what makes you better or worse

Just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.

Actually enjoyed it better than his other books – which I also enjoyed – particularly because it seems to echo things I’ve always believed to be true. For example, he notes that there’s a difference between:

  • Direct hits – where something kills you, literally or figuratively
  • Near-misses – where something almost kills you, literally or figuratively, and it’s enough to send you spiraling into despair
  • Remote misses – where something almost kills you, literally or figuratively, but it’s far away enough from you to help you become stronger

Although not mentioned in David and Goliath, I think that two quotes best sum up the basic idea of the book:

Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong. – Winston Churchill
All experience is great provided you live through it. If it kills you, you’ve gone too far. – Alice Neel

It’s only with the passage of time that we’re able to see if the remote misses are near-misses and vice versa. Of course, that’s only if you overcome the blow in the first place. It’s not a perfect book – what is – but that rings true to me.

David and Goliath uses a lot of religious references (obviously) in order to show how these ideas have been with us since the early days of humanity.

And whether you believe in the biblical god or not, I’ve always like the story of how Jacob wrestled the angel and the angel was overcome. The angel could easily have destroyed Jacob but allowed him to survive to learn how to survive.

I’m not a parent, but I would like children of my own one day. I’m just not sure how to pass this type of knowledge down.

After all, a parent doesn’t wish troubles onto their children. But it’s only through stress does something become stronger, become anti-fragile.

Maybe that’s why I want them to fence, to wrestle, to struggle. I’d want them to know what it means to  get beaten, and then get back up again.

I think that’s why I do what I do. To give myself a daily dose of remote misses and to struggle to get back on my feet.

Location: getting dressed to go struggle for an hour
Mood: geeky
Music: a rattle and hum; Jacob wrestled the angel, and the angel was overcome
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Another rough stretch of insomnia

Who knows what battles we’ll have today?

Her: He looks good.
Me: He does. Goodbye Sal. Say hello to Dino.

Spent Thursday getting to the wake and then went the next day to the funeral. All funerals are the same in the sadness but unique in the details.

And that’s all I’ll say on the subject.

On a different point entirely, had a sleepless stretch from Thursday through last night.

Interestingly, the face of the world changed with a sleepless night. Not my sleepless night, the night of a man named Darius.

Almost exactly 2,344 years ago, at the Battle of Gaugamela – which is an amazing story for a million reasons – Alexander the Great went to sleep the night before the battle and Darius of the Persian Empire did not.

The Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander's Decisive ...
The Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander’s Decisive Movement, 331 B.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Moreover, Alexander told his men to get some sleep while Darius told his men to stay awake in case of a nighttime raid.

After that single battle was over, Alexander took over Babylon and gained half of the Persian Empire. Darius escaped with his life only to be murdered and betrayed by his men soon afterward. That lack of sleep the night before cost Darius and his men everything.

I think of that story from time-to-time when I’m up at night. Last night, slept for just under seven hours – the most in a week – so I feel a good deal better but still, not quite myself.

Coincidentally, my sister just wrote me to ask if she could crash at my apartment for a few hours because of her insomnia.

I’d like us all to get some rest.

Because who knows if we have to go to battle today?

Wife: (laughing) I can tell when you haven’t had sleep.
Me: How?
Her: You start talking funny. (imitates my voice)
Me: I’m always worried I start sounding crazy. (sighing) I need to get some sleep.

Location: in front of a lotta coffee
Mood: anxious
Music: Sometimes it feels just like I’m falling in the ocean
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Ollie’s, Heisenberg, Mill, and Chock Full o’Nuts

How much change can we take before we’re not us?

Me: You know what our problem is, don’t you?
Bryson: What?
Me: Even though we know we’re 40, inside, we still think we’re 17.
Him: (laughing) That is so true.

Gave my buddy Bryson a ring the other day. Been laid up with my bum leg again; got injured a few weeks back and it’s not getting better. Bit the bullet and called up the doc today. I’m praying it’s not another ACL tear but it looks more and more likely as the days go on.

Disconcerting. Moreover, it’s the main reason behind my insomnia these days.

In one of those hazy nights, remembered when I actually was around 17. Was at Columbia University at the time. There was an Italian diner on the corner of 116th and Broadway called Ollie’s, run by an Italian dude named Ollie, natch. You could go in and get spaghetti and meatballs – which I did often – a burger, and Chinese food. The reason was because it had a Chinese cook.

Down the street was a diner called The Mill. Picture your typical diner with spinning stools and that was The Mill. They had a Mexican cook and a Korean cook so you could go to there and not just get a burger, but also a burrito or a Korean dish.

They’re both still there but The Mill’s been gut renovated and is now a Korean restaurant. And Ollie’s? It’s now a chain of Chinese restaurants in the City.

No one remembers what they used to be. That’s not true; I remember.

Did you know that Chock Full o’Nuts, the coffee brand, is called that because a fella named William Buck used to sell nuts. But then the depression hit so he had to sell coffee for a nickle.

Thought of that Sunday night when the Breaking Bad series finale came on. The Mill, Ollie’s, and Chock Full o’Nuts – they were born one thing but the world changed around them and they became something else entirely.

Like the Ship of Thesus, I wonder how much change we can go through before we’re no longer the person/thing we once were. Sometimes, something changes us so fundamentally the only thing left of us is our name. In Heisenberg’s case, not even that.

Bryson: The wife is telling me I should take up running.
Me: Ha, mine is telling me the same thing. I’d do it if I didn’t find it so boring.
Bryson: It’s hard to explain why we are the way we are, isn’t it?
Me: Don’t really think I understand it myself. (pause) But it wouldn’t be us if we didn’t do what we do.

Location: my pad, with ice on my leg
Mood: concerned and #$@#$ tired
Music: really want to stay inside and sleep the light away

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The oldest thing we had was a tree called the Methuselah tree

Can’t deny feeling my age these days

Me: Should I wear my wedding ring or will you keep the women away from me?
Her: (putting on shoes) Yeah Logan, I’ll swat them away like flies.

The weather’s finally turned from summer to fall so the wife and I went out for a walk. Had to stretch my legs.

Pinus longaeva, Methuselah Walk - Methuselah G...
Methuselah Grove (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Work’s been slow because judges are usually away for the summer, as are most of my clients.

But just this week, several of them called me out of the blue so I assume that we’re back to the grind.

I did want to take advantage of the slow week to hit the gym but my old injuries acted up again. The buddy I train with had some useful insight:

Him: I think I know what the problem is.
Me: Really, what?
Him: You’re seriously old, man. I mean, really, really, really…
Me: (interrupting) That’s just mean, man.

It’s funny, I look in the mirror and I don’t think I look all that different. But I had to take most of last week off from the gym because something. went wonky in my knee.

Suppose there’s no two ways around being 40.

For years, the oldest thing on the planet was a tree called the Methuselah tree; records put it at 4,845 years. But they just found an older tree nearby at 5,062 years old.

Me? I’d like to make it to three digits if at all possible.

It doesn’t actually feel that far off for me any more. After all, the last decade seemed to go by in a heartbeat.

I figure I’ll blink and it’ll be 2073. Wonder if I’ll be able to teleport to California by then.

In any case, there’s a line from the song below that goes, I want to be the best I can. For me, for you, for every man, But I can slip, I lose my place.

But then there’s not much to do but get up and get back up and try again.

After my knee stops aching, that is.

Location: the Duane Reade on 72nd Street and the upper west side
Mood: hopeful
Music: I might ignore, just close the door before you have your fun
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