28 December 2016

My Year in Books - My 2016 Favorite Reads

2016, you've been a bugger of a year. From the election of a tiny-handed, bigoted, xenophobic, mentally unstable, Tweet-baiting megalomaniac as Fuhrer President of the United States to the untimely deaths of icons from my growing up years (Prince, Carrie Fisher, George Michael) to ongoing mayhem in the Middle East and the drama of Brexit, 2016 has been a bit of a suckfest.

One of my escapes from the cavalcade of crap that has been 2016 has been books. Books are transformative. Books are enlightening. Books are instructive. Books have been a relief. In that context, you'd think I'd read a slew of fiction to make my escape complete. In fact, it's been quite the opposite. Of the 38 books I read in 2016, only one was fiction and it was pretty "meh" for me. The other 37 were non-fiction. Aside from a couple of misses, they were all awfully good reads. For your consideration (or not), here are my Top 10 Reads of 2016:

10) Alexander Hamilton /  by Ron Chernow - Admittedly I was late to the game on this one, but man was it worth the wait. At 818 pages, no one is going to call this light reading. It was a fascinating  study of a flawed but brilliant man. Interestingly, as an immigrant were he alive today, Hamilton's experiences would be completely different and not in a good way.

9) The Wright Brothers / by David McCullough - 113 years ago, man took flight on the North Carolina shores. In his biography of the Wright Brothers, McCullough paints a very unexpected picture of the two unassuming men that made flight - something we take for granted - a reality.

8) American Heiress / by Jeffrey Toobin - I was about eight years old when a young woman called Patty Hearst was kidnapped and her name was splashed across newspapers and televisions across America. I can remember bits and pieces of that coverage even today. Since her pardon, outside of her own writings, Hearst hasn't had much to say about her experience. This was a fascinating trip into the mess that was the kidnapping and her conversion (or not). It was something of a metaphor of the 70's in general.

7) The Boys in the Bunkhouse / by Dan Barry - This was a deeply unsettling read (Social Justice Warrior Alert). It chronicles the lives of a group of mentally disabled men who were essentially sold into slavery (eviscerating turkeys) just a few years ago. The story of those who worked to free them is powerful but ultimately I was left shaking my head, asking how could this have happened in our nation?

6) Grunt / by Mary Roach - Science, especially the study of it, and I are not friends. We are not even frenemies. However, if it's a science-related topic in the hands of Mary Roach, I will read it all day long. She could write the Yellow Pages (a telephone book - a book that has everyones' telephone number listed in it - oh forget it) and I would read it. Her previous books on death, sex, and our guts are funny and you learn junk. This look at the science of war/warfare was no different.

5) Another Day in the Death of America / by Gary Younge - This was a deeply disturbing look (Social Justice Warrior Alert) at the deaths of ten young Americans on November 23, 2013. They all died by gunfire. These children, ranging age from nine to 19, died in shootings that barely merited attention in their local news because our country has become so desensitized to the madness of gun violence. Younge puts a face on the effects of our gun culture and that face isn't particularly attractive.

4) Hillbilly Elegy / by J. D. Vance - As much a very personal memoir as a window into the culture of America's mostly broken working class, this was a riveting read. It is a case study in Modern America. I'm certain it will be cited by historians in the coming years when they try to explain 2016.

3) Disrupted / by Dan Lyons - Let me first say that I am no relation to the author. We share a last name and an abundance of gray hair. I only wish I shared his funny, insightful writing style. Lyons recounts his work at a Boston startup where he was, essentially, the only adult in the room. He spins a tale of what happens when every child is told they are a very special snowflake and how that plays out in the working world. Spoiler Alert - it's not pretty but in Lyons' hands, it's excruciatingly funny.

2) The Last Goodnight / by Howard Blum - I am fascinated by the history of World War II and this one was literally a book I could not put down. It's the story of an American woman, a Mata Hari to be sure, who spied for both the Americans and the English, and her actions were vital to key wins for the Allied forces. It was an unbelievable story and yet it happened, and it made for an unbelievably good read.

1) Evicted / by Matthew Desmond - Wow, just wow! This book was a gut wrenching look at American poverty (Social Justice Warrior Alert) through the lens of eviction. I found myself having to put the book down from time to time in order to breathe. Throughout the book, I asked myself time and again how would I handle the circumstances of those Desmond chronicled. It was thought-provoking and disturbing. Like "Hillbilly Elegy," this book will be cited time and again in years to come. It's that important.

So there you have it. My favorite reads of 2016. My reading list for 2017 doesn't look like it is going to deviate much from this year's pattern. If there's a non-fiction book that rocked your world, I'd love to know about it. Let me know.

Read on, people, read on!

27 December 2016


Let's talk about 28.

28 is the second perfect number.
28 is the sum of the totient function for the first nine integers. (I swear on all that is holy that I have no idea what anything in that statement means - I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that I was an English major!)
28 is the atomic mass of silicon.
And here is today's fun fact: 28 is the average number of days that concrete needs to cure and is also the average number of days of the human menstrual cycle. Connection? I'll let you ponder that at your own risk, of course.

28 is also the number of years that the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I have been married as of this day. It is our anniversary today.  We spent the bulk of the day apart, as I had to be in my Manhattan office for meetings and she had to be in Costco, which is pretty much her favorite place. So if we had to be apart, we were both pretty happy with where our choices took us.

I was able to get home in time for dinner - a dinner that our two children who are home this week made for us. Nothing says 'romantic' like having your 24 and 21 year old children sitting next to you during your anniversary dinner. It's a good thing I'm essentially bereft of any romantic notion. Otherwise, it would have been really awkward trying to whisper sweet nothings over The RM to my wife.

We've made it another year - 28 and counting. Our three children represent the best of what we've managed to do together in all these years. They're all right if you ask me. Who knows what the next year or twenty eight will bring, but I'm just glad I've got the best partner I could have ever asked for to take it on.

26 December 2016


Let's talk about 24.

No, not the Fox series of old (and soon to be rebooted). Nor the fact that there are 24 hours in a day. Nor the fact that the number 24 is is the only nontrivial solution to the cannonball problem. In a shock to no one, I have absolutely no idea what that problem is. None.

Instead let's talk about the fact that we have a Den member turning 24 today. It's CAL's birthday and we are lucky to be together today. It's nice to have her here to celebrate and even nicer that we got to spend it in one of her favorite cities - New York. One of the benefits of life behind the Connecticutistan Curtain is the ability to slip from underneath it (it helps that our iron-gloved overlord, Martha Stewart, is presently distracted by her dalliance in the form of a cooking show with Snoop Dogg Lion) and make our way to either NYC or Boston.

New York City the day after Christmas is not for the faint of heart, especially if you find yourself in Midtown, which we did towards the end of our day. First, though, we started our day at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum as CAL had not yet seen the Museum and that was top o'her list. If ever I am not moved as I visit that sacred place, please find the person who bought my soul and try and get it back. I was stunned this time by one of the things I had missed in previous visits and maybe I'll talk about that in a later post. Suffice to say, it took my breath away.

After that, it was time to celebrate CAL's birthday with a little indulgence in the form of the goodness that is available at the Momofuku Milk Bar. Their six layer birthday cake looked awesome but they don't sell slices - only the whole cake for $42, so birthday cake pop truffles were the order of the day. This location of the Bar is on 56th between 5th and 6th, smack in the middle of Fuhrer Trump's lockdown area (our cab driver was not happy with the blocked streets as it is impacting his ability to get into very busy and popular areas -given that he was of Arab descent I suspect the Fuhrer could care less about the impact on this man's ability to earn a living), so we knew we wouldn't be getting a cab anywhere near  there to get us back to Tribeca. CAL wanted to see the Tree at Rockefeller Center anyway and the crowds on 5th Avenue were teeming. We got as close to the Tree as we could - close enough for this picture:

Then we made our way over to 6th Avenue into a crowd of people that can only be described as "Tourists As Far As The Eye Can See." Most were clambering to get to Radio City to see the Rockettes, while all we wanted to do was get to a subway station. Fortunately, we made it and on the F and C trains we went. After a three borough tour (Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens), which is what happens when you accidentally wind up on the Brooklyn Bridge instead of the FDR (don't ask), we were on our way home.

It's been a good day. We are fortunate and blessed that our now 24 year old was happy to celebrate her day with us. We are even more fortunate to be her parents.

Happy birthday, CAL!

25 December 2016

On Christmas

Our Tree
As our Christmas Eve celebration drew to a close last night, The RM announced that the Christmas morning festivities would begin promptly at 8:00AM. He was as serious about that statement as I've ever seen him. Since he was a wee one, he has been our primary Elf on Christmas day and apparently after two years of missing out on his duties, he was prepared to take them most seriously.

Sufficiently warned, we took to our beds, thinking we'd close our eyes for just a moment in order to do the things Santa proxies do. We were wrong, as that moment turned into a full night's sleep. I awoke and did my Sunday morning thing, including two crosswords, a shave and a shower, when it dawned on me that A) we'd not done our duty as Santa proxies and the tree was looking pretty barren and 2) it was uncomfortably close to 8:00AM. I roused the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML from her slumber and we quickly got things taken care of before The RM woke up.

He woke up shortly before the appointed hour and he was immediately agitated concerned that not every one was manning their battle stations, as it were. We woke CAL and we proceeded downstairs to first see what had made its way into our stockings (Poo Pouri was a big hit with one of us! Guess who?). Then our six year old, I mean twenty one year old, insisted we get to the main event - the opening of the presents. Although he ceded the "Elf" role (gift distributor) to me because I was closest to the tree, he directed it (my pacing was no good so I think I will not be reprising my role). Even as a young adult, his reactions were classic. For CAL, most of her gifts were shipped to her place behind the Zion Curtain - lots of things to stock your new adult world. For the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I, the joy of Christmas came in having two-thirds of our children with us. It has been simply wonderful. Simply wonderful.

As we gathered at Church later in the day for a brief service, I ruminated over the the third verse of the carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,"

And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

and I was saddened that there is little peace in our world and hate is strong and sadly is only going to get stronger under the hate-based regime of the newly elected Fuhrer President of the United States, but I did see hope today. I saw it in my children, sat beside my wife and I as we worshipped. I saw it in the joy we felt as we opened our presents this morning. I saw it earlier this week as we relished being surrounded by dear friends during an all too quick visit to Chicago. Also earlier this week, I saw so much good as people from near and far rallied to help another dear friend find her missing father (delighted to report that it turned out beautifully).

So, yes, there is good in this world and there is yet reason to hope. Merry Christmas, my friends.

We missed these guys, but they're having a sweet Christmas
celebration behind the Zion Curtain

24 December 2016

On Christmas Eve

The ghosts of Joan Rivers and Rabbi Krustovsky are a touch of genius!
It's Christmas Eve. It is on this night that we prepare to celebrate the birth of...well, let's see what Bart Simpson had to say about it:

"Aren't we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas? You know...the birth of Santa."

Suffice to say, Bart missed the mark on that one. But who can blame him? In our consumption soaked society, the real reason for the season, the birth of Jesus Christ, is, at best, an afterthought.

His birth for millions around the world is not an afterthought. It truly is the reason for the season. Tonight families and friends will gather in churches, in homes, or wherever to honor Him and prepare further for Christmas Day. In Little Havana, pigs that have been slow roasting for days in backyard pits will shortly appear on plates, laden with yuca, frijoles negros, and plantains and those people feasting will celebrate loudly and joyously. As a result, Christmas Day is the quietest day of the year in Miami. In our home, we dined on brisket and roasted green beans among other good things. We didn't celebrate as loudly as my Cuban friends but we did rejoice. Two of our children are home with us and it has literally been years since that has happened.

For that and so many other things, we are especially grateful this Christmas Eve. No matter how you celebrate, may this Eve be a special one in the lead up to an even better day tomorrow.

19 December 2016

To the DLT Triumvirate

No, not that DLT
A long time ago, in a kinder, gentler America, one not choking on the specter of soon being led by a nepotistic, tiny-handed spelling challenged megalomaniac who happens to own what may be the worst restaurant in this great country (as a reminder, this IS a great country), a restaurant you may have heard of, McDonalds, decided that we, the eating public, had had enough of lettuce and tomatoes getting warm on its burgers. So they foisted upon us the McDLT (presented above in its environmentally friendly polystyrene glory). It was in a word a failure, with a capital "F." For those of you who remember tasting it, you know why. If you don't, count your blessings.

I flashed back on the DLT this past Saturday when the mighty fine and stunningly patient SML and I went to see "Collateral Beauty." It was either that or "Rogue One," which was not an option really, as I owed her a 'chick flick.' Without giving it all away (Spoiler Alert: watch any of the treacle featured on the Hallmark Channel and you'll know the entire outcome of the movie in the first seven minutes), the protagonist, played by a weepy Will Smith, writes letters to Death, Love, and Time (DLT). That got me thinking and I've penned a few thoughts of my own to the DLT Triumvirate. Here you go:

Like taxes, unless you are *smart* like our Precedent-oops, I mean President-elect, you, death, are as unavoidable as you are inevitable. You are the one constant in the life of every.single.person.ever. Ever. That's nothing to sneer at. You hold every one of us at bay, with your uncanny ability to strike most of us with complete surprise. That's funny because we all know who you are and that you will take us. But, for most of us, we don't know when you are going to make that snatch and grab and that makes life, well, interesting. I'm sometimes envious of those who know you are coming for them. They have time (I'll get to you, Time, shortly) to prepare, to get their houses in order, to say what still needs to be said. I think that uncertainty is one of the reasons so many people fear you. I'm not one of those people though. That's not to say I'm living each day as if it is my last. I can't live that way. There's still too much to live for. That is how I choose to face you, living this life as best I can, in spite of knowing that you're gunning (bad, bad pun) for me. Also, I have faith in what awaits after this life. It's pretty darn good. In the end, Death, this life is not some weird version of "Logan's Run." I know you'll get me at some point, but I've outrun you, living this life as best I can.

Ah, Love. You've been awfully darn good to me, in spite of the fact that I have adamantly refused to celebrate the fraud that is Valentine's Day, wherein we are supposed to honor you. First, a birth mother who loved me enough to let me go. Second, parents who brought me into their home and loved me from the moment I was introduced to them at the wise old age of two days. You then jerked me around a bit in high school, as you do most of us, making me think I was the good guy from a John Hughes film (most of you have seen my high school pictures - you know this was epically delusional on my part). Then you introduced me to the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and that was it. Mic drop. Then came three children and you redefined yourself, becoming something so powerful and unbreakable that I still don't completely understand it after twenty-six years of being a father. Then, just to make things really interesting, you brought out the big guns with the arrival of our grandchildren and redefined yourself. Again. I gotta say, I like how things have turned out with you, Love. You've done really well by me.

You're a bit like Death, aren't you, Time? You never go away either. You're always looming around, but you're a bit more present than your partner in crime, Death. There are reminders of you everywhere. On my wrist. On my phones. On every device I have, there you are, ticking away. Why then, if you are everywhere, are you so scarce? Why do we wish there was more of you? Why do we regret wasting you? Maybe it's because we know you are there and you seem finite. There are 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, 365 days in year and we know that we've got stuff to do within those parameters. Because we know that when Death decides to make its move on us, you are done with us. Time as we know stops then. So, with the time we have here, we have things to do. Ironically, as we have you, Time, looming over us knowing that Death is coming for us at some point, we can miss out on the joys of the third part of the DLT Triumvirate, Love. That's what makes you tricky, Time. Figuring out how to make the most of you in this life is one of my biggest challenges. Thanks for that, Time.

Whether we like it or not, the DLT plays a critical part in each of our lives. Make the most of them. Let's just be grateful it's not the McDLT.

10 December 2016

A square to spare

It didn't end well for Elaine.
Earlier this week as I got off my commuter chariot of choice, the Metro North, and shuffled into the Main Concourse at Grand Central, I took a moment to A) count my blessings that I no longer commute through the snarling, gaping maw of Hell that is Stankfest Penn Station {if there is a skeevier rail station on the planet, please share} and B) how beautiful the Main Concourse was adorned in its Christmas finery. My reverie was interrupted by a homeless man bellowing "Merry f!&@in' Christmas" to the hundreds of commuters who poured past him. At that moment, I knew it was going to be a good day.

It was a good day until it got weird. As noted, I work in Midtown and am a glorious five minute walk from Grand Central. Now Midtown is dotted with towers reaching to the sky, some gleaming brilliantly in their newness and others are, well, a bit worse for wear. I happen to work in one of those towers that if you saw it, you'd suddenly start singing, "The old gray mare ain't what she used to be"or you'd think to yourself, extending the horse metaphor, "She's been rode hard and put away wet."

My building has been through it and one need look no further than our restroom facilities for the pungent proof of how things were in restroom design {Spoiler Alert - they weren't good} when the building first opened, given that nothing has changed since that fateful day. It was in one of those facilities where things got weird. Even before I got to the door, the noxious odors emanating from the Palace of Relief suggested several people had made poor lunch decisions. Upon entering and seeing that all the stalls were ocupado, the poor decision making hunch was confirmed. Fortunately, my needs were not stall-related, so I was able to do what I needed to fairly quickly. I then made my way to the sinks that are so close to the stalls that one cannot enter/exit said stall without knocking into whoever is at the sinks. That's super awesome. While washing my hands repeatedly, not because I'm OCD but because that bathroom is a HazMat incident gone awry, I heard this from the stall behind me.

"Sir, excuse me, sir. Please, can you help me?"

Of all the things one might ever hear in a public restroom, this has got to be one of the things you really hope not to hear. Given that the crack in the stall door was wide enough for said assistance seeker to see me, there was no way I could feign ignorance nor could I visibly grimace. So it was that I responded.

"Um, sure, what do you need?" 'Please be a heart attack, please be a heart attack' is what I was thinking (I know. I know. I'm going to Hell but I was really concerned about the alternatives.).

"Sir, there is no toilet paper in here. I really need some toilet paper. I'm really sorry. I usually check. But I didn't and I really need some toilet paper. Can't you please help me?"

I instantly had to silence a laugh and bite down hard on my lip as I was immediately transported to one of the seminal "Seinfeld" episodes wherein Elaine finds herself similarly stranded in a stall. It took all I had to not say, "Sir, I don't have a square to spare." Instead, I opted to do the appropriate thing and I said, "Let me see what I can do."

One of the stalls had been vacated so I pulled out an excessively large amount of the toilet paper that my stranded stall resident needed and then had to quickly ponder how I was going to deliver the bounty to him. I wasn't about to ask him to open the door because nobody needed to see that. I wasn't going to lean down and pass it under the door either. So I went for the dunk shot, lobbing it over the top of the door. Fortunately, it was a good shot because, in a relieved tone, he uttered, "Hey, thanks, bro."

"You're welcome, bro," were my last words as I made my exit. Hopefully he'll pay that one forward but happy to not know those details. Note to self - always, always, always make sure there's enough toilet paper. You never know when some one won't be willing to spare a square.

May you never find yourself in this situation: