Wednesday, November 9, 2016


I am sad but I am slowly making my peace with it. I am nourishing the hope that, while Trump has done a lot of awful things, and said a lot of awful things while running, he has always, in the years prior to now, been (politically) a fairly moderate person. He's so duplicitous that I think it's fairly likely most of what he said he would do on the campaign trail won't happen. I hope. My fear is really international relations. I don't want us to go to war.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The New House

We've now been here about two months and slowly things are coming into shape. For the last two weeks we've had landscapers shuffling and rooting around the home's perimeter. The dog is a constant state of furor and working on anything requiring unbroken concentration has proven impossible. But--and it's a big but--our yard finally exists. We no longer are surrounded on three sides by piles of grassless dirt. We have planter boxes and climbing jasmine and Backstar gravel (which is gray) and all variety of flowering plants. And our sprinklers have been made to work. The inside of the house also progresses. Two of our rooms are still uninhabitable, however--the formal living room and the dining room. Our dining room table, ordered off EBay, arrived last week. Then, as the movers were bringing it inside--check that: after they had brought it inside and were in the final stages of lowering it to the floor, the table slipped. A leg broke and they took it away. They claim they can repair it back to how it was, however. We'll see. Regardless, we have no light source for that space--the home sellers took the chandelier--so it's not likely we'll have any dinner parties very soon. Maybe before the New Year. In an hour I'm going to a football game--the first professional football game I've been to in maybe twenty years. My wife's father has season tickets to the Texans and he's been good enough to let us borrow them. We're going to go early and experience the tailgating. The way our QB is playing, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Coach O'Brien asked me to suit up, either. Given my knowledge of 19th century French poetics.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Jeopardy Test

First off, I am aiming to get back to regularly weekly blogging.  We've been laboring mightily these last few months to get our new house operational.  At the same time, I'm trying to reestablish my tutoring business in the city after many years away.  Add my growing cosmetics empire to all of that, and it leaves very little time for blogging.

But I will make the time.  Damn those women and their mascara needs!

Last night I took the Jeopardy qualifying test.  (They are offering it today and tomorrow as well, if any reader wants to sign up for it).  It went well, I think.  It's not a hard test--I passed it fifteen years ago, and I know more now than I did then.

The challenge, though, is blocking out one's nerves and focussing on the questions.  Not that I should be nervous, sitting in my room, typing answers into computer, but somehow I was.  It gives me insight into the real challenge of going on the show.   It goes without saying that it's far easier to summon up a fact when you're out with your friends than it is to do so when you're standing in a TV studio with lights and cameras all around you.

When I tutor, I suggest to my students that to really KNOW a fact means you can be woken up at three in the morning and instantly summon it up.  That's how it is with your name or your birthday--that's information that's always accessible.  For me, that's going to be the challenge going on the show: instant recall, no matter the situation.   At this point, I would say I 'know' 90% of what's likely to be on the show.  The question is, can I recall it all under pressure.  We'll see.

The test, though, was easy.  Easy easy easy.  A few questions that I can recall (not the exact wordings):
1) In what month was Julius Caesar murdered?
2) Biggest hit of Meghan Trainor  (knew this only b/c I'd studied pop music--and found I really like M Trainor, btw)?
3) What's the stuff in plants that effects photosynthesis?
4) What animal's name means 'water horse?'
5) What's a ten letter word to describe a country that doesn't border water?
6) Recent musical about someone buying an old shoe factory (knew this only b/c I'd studied musical theater)?
7) Where's the Simpson desert?
8) Who was ruling England when Shakespeare died?
9) What former first lady wrote a memoir called "Woman from Plains?"
10) in 2017 Charles Darwin will be taken off the UK 10 pound note and replaced with this woman.  (Did not know this)
11) The seven largest starts of Ursa Major are better known as ___
12) Who wrote 'The Naked and the Dead'?
13) What does LAN stand for, in computer-speak? (missed this)
14) What word that starts with an 'a' means 'to give up a throne'?

I think last time I took the test, a passing score was 30 out of 50.  Maybe 35?  But no more than that.  I can only think of three questions that I missed so far, and I doubt I missed more than six.  So, I should be ok.

Next step is to do some kind of physical audition.  If I get invited to do so, I'll let you know.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Echo Chamber

Here is a recent piece in the Times that tells you everything you need to know to understand why the GOP is no longer functioning as a viable party in presidential elections.  The fact that serious people can be conned into believing Hilary Clinton has hidden health issues based on the outright lies concocted by Sean Hannity should convince any genuine Republican that they need to do more--much more--than watch FOX News if they want to be informed.

In fact, I'll go further: to watch on FOX News

Note the pushback from Wall Street Journal and former Bush officials, however.   There is some sign of hope.

During major inflection points in Donald J. Trump’s campaign, the advisers, family members and friends who make up his kitchen cabinet burn up their email accounts and phone lines gaming out how to get his candidacy on track (and what counsel he might go along with).
But one person in the mix brings more than just his political advice. He also happens to control an hour of prime time on the Fox News Channel.
That person is Sean Hannity.
Mr. Hannity uses his show on the nation’s most-watched cable news network to blare Mr. Trump’s message relentlessly — giving Mr. Trump the kind of promotional television exposure even a billionaire can’t afford for long.
But Mr. Hannity is not only Mr. Trump’s biggest media booster; he also veers into the role of adviser. Several people I’ve spoken with over the last couple of weeks said Mr. Hannity had for months peppered Mr. Trump, his family members and advisers with suggestions on strategy and messaging.
So involved is Mr. Hannity that three separate denizens of the hall of mirrors that is Trump World told me they believed Mr. Hannity was behaving as if he wanted a role in a possible Trump administration — something he denied to me as laughable and contractually prohibitive in an interview on Friday.
But he did not dispute that he lends his thoughts to Mr. Trump and others in his close orbit whom Mr. Hannity has known for years.
“Do I talk to my friend who I’ve known for years and speak my mind? I can’t not speak my mind,’’ he said.
Continue reading the main story
But, Mr. Hannity said, “I don’t say anything privately that I don’t say publicly.’’ And, he acknowledged, it’s unclear how far his advice goes with Mr. Trump, given that “nobody controls him.”
Mr. Hannity is unapologetic about his aim. “I’m not hiding the fact that I want Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States.” After all, he says, “I never claimed to be a journalist.”
That makes Mr. Hannity the ultimate product of the Fox News Channel that Roger Ailes envisioned when he founded it with Rupert Murdoch 20 years ago, as a defiant answer to what they described as an overwhelmingly liberal mainstream news media that was biased against Republicans. Mr. Hannity was there from the beginning with Mr. Ailes, who was forced out over sexual harassment allegations last month.
Mr. Hannity’s show has all the trappings of traditional television news — the anchor desk, the graphics and the patina of authority that comes with being part of a news organization that also employs serious-minded journalists like Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly.
But because Mr. Hannity is “not a journalist,” he apparently feels free to work in the full service of his candidate without having to abide by journalism’s general requirements for substantiation and prohibitions against, say, regularly sharing advice with political campaigns.
So there was Mr. Hannity last week, devoting one of his shows to a town hall-style meeting with Mr. Trump at which his (leading) questions often contained extensive Trumpian talking points — including the debunked claim that Mr. Trump opposed the Iraq invasion. (As BuzzFeed News first reported, Mr. Trump voiced support for the campaign in a 2002 discussion with the radio host Howard Stern.)
On other days, he has lent his prime-time platform to wild, unsubstantiated accusations that Hillary Clinton is hiding severe health problems. He showed a video of a supposed possible seizure that was in fact a comical gesture Mrs. Clinton was making to reporters, as one of them, The Associated Press’s Lisa Lerer, reported. He also shared a report from the conservative site The Gateway Pundit that a member of Mrs. Clinton’s security detail appeared to be carrying a diazepam syringe, “for patients who experience recurrent seizures.”
A simple call to the Secret Service spokeswoman Nicole Mainor, as I made on Friday, would have resulted in the answer that the “syringe” was actually a small flashlight.
People in Mr. Hannity’s audience of 2.5 million who are inclined to believe the health allegations, and who believe the mainstream media are covering for Mrs. Clinton, are unlikely to be impressed by the Secret Service’s explanation.
That’s the ultimate result of the hyperpoliticized approach Mr. Hannity and so many others use in today’s more stridently ideological media: A fact is dismissed as false when it doesn’t fit the preferred political narrative.
But while this informational nihilism appears to have hit a new high, the last two weeks have signaled the start of a possible reckoning within the conservative media.
First there was The Wall Street Journal’s deputy editorial page editor Bret Stephens, who, after trading insults with Mr. Hannity over Mr. Trump, said on the MSNBC show “Morning Joe” that “too much of the Republican Party became an echo chamber of itself.”
Those who spend an inordinate amount of time “listening to certain cable shows” and inhaling the conspiracy theories promoted on “certain fringes of the internet,’’ he said, wind up in a debate that’s “divorced from reality.”
Then there was the conservative radio host Charlie Sykes, who lamented in an interview with the Business Insider politics editor Oliver Darcy, “We have spent 20 years demonizing the liberal mainstream media.”
That criticism was often warranted, Mr. Sykes said. (Just take a look at the decision by the former Clinton White House aide and current ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos to give some $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation, for which he apologized last year.) But, as Mr. Sykes said, “At a certain point, you wake up and you realize you have destroyed the credibility of any credible outlet out there.” Therefore any attempt to debunk a falsehood by Mr. Trump, he said, becomes hopeless.
What really caught my eye, though, was the moment on Fox News on Wednesday when Dana Perino, a host of “The Five,” refused to go along with a colleague’s attempt to dispute the many polls showing Mrs. Clinton leading Mr. Trump. “That’s a real disservice to his supporters, to lie to them that those polls don’t matter,” said Ms. Perino, a White House press secretary for George W. Bush.
She went on to express regret for joining with other Fox News hosts who doubted the polls showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney in 2012.
You can’t help but see it as a sure sign that Mr. Ailes, who presided over all of that polling doubt four years ago, had left the building. Still, even Mr. Ailes occasionally reined in his more opinionated hosts when he worried they would tarnish the credibility of his news reporters.
It’s why, for instance, he abruptly canceled Mr. Hannity’s plans to attend a major Tea Party rally in Ohio in 2010 after it came to light that the organizers were using his appearance to raise money.
Mr. Ailes faced another Hannity-related issue shortly before his ouster, when CNN reported that the host had provided Newt Gingrich with private jet travel to Indiana, for a possible vice-presidential interview with Mr. Trump. (Mr. Hannity had been lobbying Mr. Trump to choose Mr. Gingrich.)
Mr. Ailes opted against forcing Mr. Hannity to collect the fare from Mr. Gingrich. He had a possible reason: Mr. Hannity was among those supporting Mr. Ailes amid the sexual harassment scandal, eventually even discussing a walkout in the event of Mr. Ailes’s ouster, as Breitbart reported a few days later. (After Fox News executives shared with Mr. Hannity and others the full details of the allegations, which Mr. Ailes denies, the talk of a walkout ended.)
Mr. Hannity says Mr. Gingrich is a very close friend and it’s his business what favors he does for him, though he left open the possibility that Mr. Gingrich might cut a check for the plane trip just the same. Since Mr. Ailes’s departure, Fox executives have not pushed the issue. Nor, apparently, have they warned Mr. Hannity away from giving advice to Mr. Trump and his campaign — at least not so far during a turbulent time at the network.
Then again, at this point there are questions about how much advice Mr. Ailes himself was lending to Mr. Trump when he was running the place, given that, as The Times reported on Saturday, he has already emerged as an influential Trump adviser.
Mr. Hannity told me his support for Mr. Trump makes him “more honest” than mainstream reporters who hide their biases. It turns out even “honesty” is a relative concept these days. For some people more than others.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Last Day

The home is in boxes.  Yesterday the movers were here all day.  Today they are coming to take us away.

In a few hours I'll set out to drive by myself to Houston.  It's been a long time since I drove across the country to move.  In my youth I seemed to do it every other year.

For our last meal, last night we ate at In-N-Out.

And it was righteous.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The House Is Ours (Probably)

So it's all over.  The original sellers--the ones who walked away from the deal on Monday night--have come back to the table.  All has been forgiven.  The band and trumpets are sounding.  The parade grounds are filled.

Here's what happened.  After our disastrous and dispiriting Monday night, we moved on to a new house.  We began to have our realtor feel out the new seller about terms and conditions.  (I should say that this second house was one we'd seen on our house-hunting trip last month, and that it had always been our second choice).  We spent all of Tuesday mentally adjusting to the idea that the new house--Swimming Pool House, as I call it (because it had, in the back yard, a giant greenhouse.  No, no)--would be, if not as good as the first house, still perfect acceptable.  It was smaller, yes, and a little more generic.  And there was no real backyard.  And we'd never wanted a pool.  And it was haunted by the ghost of Stonewall Jackson.  And there a pit of iron spikes in the middle of the master bath.  But other than, that, you know.  It was fine.

So we had mostly gotten our minds around the idea that Swimming Pool house was going to be our new home.  And then, on the same day our agent had been dispatched to Swimming Pool house to do some scouting, he got a call.  The original sellers--from the First House--had a new offer.  They would give us [substantial sum] off of the price of the home if we'd come back to the table.  In money terms, it was a clear home run.  Even adding in all the repairs we'd have to make, we'd be getting the house at a great price.  The only consideration was the sellers themselves.  Had their lack of forthrightness in disclosing the plumbing situation the first time round ruled them out as someone to do business with?

In the end, we decided it hadn't.  Maybe they aren't the most ethical people out there, but given all the many, many inspections we've performed on the house, there seems very little chance that it could have any other hidden problems.  I should also say, though I don't want to go into details on a semi-public forum, that we've since learned something about one of the sellers that has made me reconsider my earlier judgement of their lack of ethics.  They have some other big things going on in their life-- troubling things--and it's possible they weren't so much unethical as...what...distracted?

Anyway, point is, we got the first house--the one we wanted--and we're feeling good.  Tired, emotionally, but good.  There's now the issue of effecting a large amount of repairs and remodeling in  the relatively brief window between the time the Sellers depart and we move in.

But that's a story for another post.  Or, more likely, several.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Or Did It?

The sellers have changed their mind.  They've just come to us with a new offer, to rebate us a significant amount of cash--more than we'd asked in the beginning.

Stay Tuned!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How the Home Purchase Fell Through

There is no joy in ANCIANT land; our home purchase has fallen through.  Yesterday was a dark, hard day.  It was 110 outside, for one thing, and even though we had the AC on inside it was still sweltering.  Plus I hadn't slept well the night before, and all day I felt kind of dizzy and tired.  And then, the house....

As you know if you've bought a house, throughout the process of escrow buyers have several opportunities to exit the deal.  Contingencies, they're called.  For us the only relevant contingency was Inspections.  Inspectors come out to look at the property.  They make sure it's structurally sound and they identify any hidden problems.  If there are problems you ask the seller to fix them (or, more often, you ask for money to be taken off the price off the house, which you then use to make the necessary repairs).

Last week, our realtor had a number of inspectors come out, and we hadn't turned up anything major (there were some termites, and there were mild drainage issues).  But he wanted also to get something called a HydroStatic test.  This is a test in which they pressurize your outgoing water pipes and see if there are any leaks.

It's not a test everyone effects; most realtors will get a basic inspection report and maybe on top of it, a structural report.  But our guy (who's fantastic, btw--if anyone needs a realtor in (CITY) let me know)--gets as many inspections as possible.  In part, he wants to do his due diligence, but he also wants to increase his own bargaining position going into the inspection negotiations (the more things you can find wrong, the more you can ask for).

So, he wanted the HydroStatic test.  And the sellers, at first, refused.  They had to sign some kind of waiver to allow the Testing Agent to go in and pressurize their pipes, and somehow last Friday they "couldn't be found" in time to sign said waiver.  But our realtor pursued them, and he got it set up so that the test would be done yesterday--Monday.  Which was the last day we had to negotiate our inspection contingency. 

The HydroStatic report showed that the pipes on the left side of the house (site of the Master Bedroom) were leaking fluid into the area underneath the home's foundation slab.  This was very bad--and something that has to be fixed.  (If not, you risk softening and ultimately destroying the foundation).  The cost to do so was twenty thousand dollars.  And this, at least from our point of view, was not a negotiable repair--you can't move into a house where water is pooling under the foundation. 

Well, you can, but it seems stupid.

Keep in mind that we had to have all this negotation finalized, and a final number agreed upon, by 6 pm on Monday night (8 PM central time).   We've just gotten the HydroStatic report at 5 PM (our time).  We have an hour.  So this is a very hectic and tense time (in our sweltering, sweltering house).  Remeber, we not only asking for the pipes to be fixed, we're also asking for a lot of other smaller repairs (drains, termites, etc).  And we're trying to decide, as we wait to hear from our Realtor, the minimum amount we would accept in repair allowances.  They've already promised to give us money for the termites (that's about 4k).  We're assuming they're going to give us the money to fix the pipes.  But will they give us any more?  They should but how much more?  That's what we're wondering.

The answer is: zero much more.  Not only will they not give us any additional money, they're refusing to give us enough to cover the plumbing fix.  Their total number turns out to be 8k.  That's for everything.  The termites, the pipes, the drains--all of it.  So that's very bad.

And that's not all.  Our HydroStatic guy has had, for some reason, to have a phone conversation with the Seller.  What he reports back to our realtor is that the he believes that Seller KNEW THE PIPES WERE LEAKING FROM THE START.  HydroStatic can't prove this conclusively, of course; the Seller hasn't come out and directly stated that he knew--to do so would be admitting to an illegal fraud.  But based on the Seller's deep familiarity with HydroStatic testing, and judging by some very pointed 'in the know' questions Seller has asked, HydroStatic guy is confident the Seller knew the whole time.  He's been trying to con us, in other words.

Later, the Seller's Realtor ("Sara") concludes essentially the same thing.  This is after the deal has collapsed; she has called our Realtor to apologize for how it all went down.  She was acting on behalf of friend, and she had no idea that they were up to something.  But now, in the light of what's been discovered, she's gone back over their interactions and put together other fragments of their conversation, and she thinks it smells bad.

(The Seller, I should note, just to finish up on the scintiallating 'pipes discussion'--has had their house partially--but not entirely--repiped three years ago.  So they're likely to be very cognizant of the pipage situation in their home). 

Anyway, it's all very sad on many levels.  I feel great anger and rage against the sellers, who have revealed themselves as liars and frauds.  I'm sad we didn't get the house.  I'm sad and weary that we have to go through this whole process again.  And I'm glad we have a good realtor, who was able to ferret out this deception before we got took.

From the start of our interaction with these sellers, my wife has been calling them 'squirrley.'  And I have been saying she was wrong.  But I was wrong.  She was right.  I guess she sensed from the outset, that they were no good.  And, credit where it's due: she was right.  I think it just never occurs to me, in these situations, that people will deceive you.  I think I assume that everybody in the world is like my parents, and they all act with integrity, and that their word is their bond.  [That to me, is what it is to be an adult.  It's certainly what it means to be a man.  Integrity.  Your word is your bond.  All that good stuff.]  So I'm kind of a loss when I learn people are otherwise.  Which, I suppose, shows how naive I am.    

A final note--now that Sara knows about the plumbing leak in seller's house she is obliged, legally, to disclose said leak to any new potential buyers.  If she fails to do so, she could lose her license (and Sara, we're confident, is an honest person; she's on the hook for any of this).  What that means is that the Sellers are going to face the same negotation about fixing the plumbing with whoever they find to buy the house.  Now, possibly a new buyer might accept the leak--they might not insist on the repairs being made.  But that seems unlikely (would you buy a house knowing that water was leaking under the foundation?) 

The Sellers could get around this problem by firing Sara and bringing in a new agent.  Doing so would make it possible for them to continue to hide the information about the leaking pipes to new buyers (the new agent would presuambly not have been told about the plumbing problem).  However, our agent has already indicated that, should the Sellers puruse that parth--should they fire Lisa and hire a new Agent--he will make sure and be in touch with anyone who enters into escrow to buy the house, to make sure they know about the leak.

Also, we're going to where they live, these sellers, in Wyoming, and burning down their house.  At least that's my thought.  And the land will be sere and dark wherever they may dwell, and their children shall eat the crusts of broken bread, and locusts and plague shall be their comforters, in their dark streets of Babylon.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

It's All Been Forgiven

Temperatures today reached 107.  Tomorrow they're projected above 110.  Yesterday I played tennis in 97 degrees.  That was bad, but bearable.  But 107 is not bearable.  I saw a couple walking their dog at 330, on their way back from the gym, and I was filled with anger.  Subjecting the bare paws of an innocent dog to the boiling pavement, it's unacceptable.  Probably the owners were just stupid, but stupidity is not justification for cruelty.

I spend at least an hour a day watching TV and freaking out.  LA is starting more and more to feel like an apocalypse.  I don't know why, but I have this impending feeling--something bad is about to happen. An earthquake.  I don't know.  I watch TV every day to find out what's happening with Trump.  I'm unable to accept that he's become the nominee, but if he becomes president--it's unthinkable.  That IS the apocalypse.  No words can delimn what a disaster he would be.

The brother has written a great review of a book about Dudo of St Quentin.  I'm sure none of you need any background about the storied life and times of Dudo.  His legacy speaks for itself!  Go to Speculum and read it.  I'll find the link, probably, pretty soon.

The new Garbage album doesn't do much for me.  Why do I keep trusting the reviews on Pitchfork?  Because I'm a fool.  Rock is an emptied-out husk, really.  It's Dixieland Jazz: its every ore has been mined.  We need the next new thing.  In an interview with Bowie a few years ago, he talked about how if he were starting out now he'd not go into music--he'd try to create something on the internet.  Not a Facebook, I don't think, but some kind of interactive art experience.  That's going to be the new frontier.  Not the Holodeck, exactly, but something along those lines.

Peaky Blinders, on Netflix, shows promise.  It speaks to me because I also ran a gambling and betting ring in Manchester, UK, in the 1920s.  (Actually I think it's set in Birmingham).

A final trivia question: under whose presidency did the greatest number of new states enter the Union?

Hint: it was NOT Millard Fillmore.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Buying A House

Last weekend we went to (Southern City) to look for houses.  We'd been searching online for the last month, hoping to find something good enough to justify flying into (City) early, but nothing great came up.  So we flew in, spent an entire Saturday looking at houses and finally found one we liked.

Since at least half the people who read this blog have already heard (or were part of) the riveting bodice-ripper that is the ANCIANT HOUSE HUNT TALE, I won't rehearse every step of the quest.  The summary is: we bought a somewhat quirky house in a very unquirky neighborhood.  At first we thought the sale would go very smoothly.  As we prepared to board the plane to return to LA, however, we learned that someone else other than us wanted our house.  Drama ensued.

Below is an email I sent to some friends describing the last few days.  Apologies for not writing up afresh; the email captures most of what there is to say about the process....

[Couple friend has sent us email saying how much they like house: this is the context]

....Thanks for your email. We have gotten so frazzled by recent events we have begun to question all our thought processes and reconsider the decision (not fundamentally, but, you know. Doubt creeps in).

The last few days have been incredibly hectic and tension-packed. On Sunday night we wrote an offer on the house, thinking we were the only ones interested. Because the house had already been on the market for a month, we assumed we’d get it for way under asking price. Then on Monday morning we learned another buyer had also made an offer. Various calls went back and forth—the sellers wanted us to be able to give them all their money at the end of June, all sorts of other stuff—and we assumed, as we boarded the plane to fly back to LA that we were going to have to make what’s called a “highest and best” offer. (Basically, both interested buyers make their best offer blind, and the seller chooses one).

We spent the whole flight trying to decide what that highest and best offer should be, while at the same time working out what would be our fall-back house if this house fell through. Then, when we landed we learned that the sellers did NOT want us to make a ‘highest and best' offer. Instead they sent us a very unorthodox (at least according to our realtor—who called it ‘amateur hour’) email in which they stipulated exactly the offer they wanted us to make. Make that offer, they said, and you get the house. Since their offer was actually BELOW what we we had been prepared to make (the money was the same, but we were going to throw in a number of ancillary inducements) we happily gave them what they wanted. We still got the house below its list price, too, but not as much below list as we’d hoped.

Then, in the last 24 hours we’ve each of us—the Wife especially—started to worry that maybe we were rushing into something, that we were buying a house just b/c we HAD to, that it was too unorthodox and odd, etc etc. This house is definitely better than anything else we saw, but is it our dream house? Maybe so, maybe not. On the other hand, are we going to find our dream house in two or three weekends? Probably not. So we’re happy, if a bit trepidatious. It’s a soulful house—not another [Southern City Neighborhood] cookie-cutter, and I think it has a lot of appeal. It’s on a huge lot, relatively speaking, but the outdoor space is a bit chopped up. It’s not necessarily a house where you have three kids running around on the lawn with a golden retriever—more like a house where you have one introverted child who locks himself in his room to memorize the name of all the French Generals of the Napoleonic wars—but, that’s probably what our child will be like. So, that’s ok. If he wants to frolic on lawns he’ll have to change families.

I don’t know if we mentioned this, but [WIFE] has recently gotten involved in providing HIV care for the Trans community. That will be one of her specialities, perhaps, when we move.  I’m very taken with the idea of introducing ourselves to our neighbors by telling them that my wife is an expert in HIV Trans care, and to please remember her when they’re referring their friends. Also, maybe, we could tell them our house will be a sometimes clinic for Trans sex workers.

Shake things up a little, as it were.

Friday, May 20, 2016


As of today, we're in escrow.  The top offer came in about 8% above listing.  Plus they waived the appraisal contingency AND gave us a free lease-back (meaning, we can live in the house for month after it's sold and they won't charge us rent).  AND we have a backup offer already signed in place--meaning that if this offer falls through, somehow, we are legally already committed to someone else (who's agreed to the exact same terms as the initial buyer).  AND they agreed to install a fountain that makes gumdrops in both our old AND new house.  And the gumdrops are lemon-flavored only!

Many more hurdles to get through, escrow-wise, but (maybe) the worst is over.  Tomorrow night we're going to see a performance of Mozart's Requiem.  (No connection to the house sale--wife got the tickets weeks ago).  I've been listening to it all day trying to get to know its contours before seeing it live.

Here's an article I'd recommend strongly: I've been thinking about it a lot since I read it last month.  It's about the most effective ways to use money to buy happiness. It assumes, in other words, that money can, if used well, make you happier.  What it wants to know is, what does it mean to "use it well?"  What's worth spending money on?  And what isn't?

A sample:

...f you take nothing else from this post, take this tip: buy great soap. I think that people strongly undervalue the happiness to be had from excellent products in cheap categories. A Chanel bag costs $5,000 not because it’s 1oo times better at being a bag than a $50 bag, but because it’s a signaling-positional-keeping-up-with-Joneses-luxury good. On the flip side, in every category that’s not consumed conspicuously the highest quality things will not be overpriced. I drive a cheap car and wear $30 jeans but I buy the best soap, underwear, toilet paper, tea, socks, shaving cream and bbq sauce I can find.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Offers Are In

As of noon today we have six offers on the house.  They're all over list price, some by as much as 5%.  Now our agent is putting out 'best and final' counter; essentially he sends everybody who's made an offer a description of the best offer on the table.  They try to beat it (if they want to).  Then, I guess, we pick the best offer.

Bink, in collar and tie.  He's preparing for Escrow.
It's been about as painless as it can be so far; we're lucky, I guess, in that we have a house that people want.  Of course I attribute that to our incredible good taste and decorating skill (not to mention my wife's reverence for the house, and ongoing insistence that we maintain it as well as we can).  But who knows.  The whole process awakes a complex stir of emotions.  On one hand, it's nice to feel like you have something people want--to be desired, in a way.  Two different clients, we're told, have told our realtor that "this is their house."  Yesterday afternoon I looked out the window to find two people standing at the foot of our driveway surveying the property.  They were discussing the tree, they were discussing the view.  Clearly they were imagining themselves in it.

That's the unsettling part of the whole thing--the sense not of losing the property, but of losing its meaning.  This is the house where we started our marriage.  This is the house where we dealt with the vicissitudes of California.  It's filled with our meaning--things we did here.  People we have over, movies we watched.  Everything.  And those meaning are about to emptied out.

My wife wants to take the front door with us when we go.  It's unlikely this will be possible (the door is a statement piece; it has a complicated stained glass and wrought iron pattern on it) but I understand, fully, the desire.  We want to retain something of who we were when we lived here.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

One Down, Several More to Go

Thursday night we had our first Open House.  It's an odd and unnerving feeling, having to first clean and then vacate your house so that a horde of strangers can tromp through it.  This was on Thursday night--what they call a "Twilight Open House."  The idea seems to be to give prospective buyers a sense of how wonderful it will be to come back to your house after a long day of work.  We never did one when we were buying houses: maybe it's a new thing?

During the three hours we had to be gone we went to a top-rate wine bar.  Throughout the evening our realtor sent us updates.  News seems to be very positive: he said this was one of the most crowded and well-attended Twilight Open Houses he can recall.  Today he told us that he is "confident" our house will sell above its listing price.  So that's good.

Monday, May 9, 2016

House Is On the Market. Our Dovecote May be Evil

The listing for our house is now on the MLS.  A "For Sale" sign will soon appear in our yard.  It is sad.  We love our house.  It's where we started our marriage.  It's where I first learned to play the bassoon.  It's where my wife first intuited that HIV could be cured by only eating oranges.

No, no.  But it is sad.  We are excited to return to a city with friends and families, and LA has been mostly not great, but I do love our house.  And now strangers will tramp through it, casting a cold and judging eye on the contents within.  Strangers!

Our realtor, in writing up the description of the house for the website, has described the dovecote as being 'infamous.'  I now must a polite email asking he change it.  The dovecote is many things, but it is not infamous (I hope).

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Inside the Bowl

We've had painters at our house for the last three days.  They're working on the exterior right now--getting things prepped for our Open House next Thursday.  They start inside next week.

The problem is, our house is 80% windows.  At least, that's how it's felt the last few days.  Having strange men wander around your home's exterior tends to make you want to close those windows.  It's a little disconcerting to be in the midst of trying to read or change clothes or engage in ritual disembowelments and looking up to see a painter's face two feet away from you.  So, I close all the shades.  The result is that I've been essentially living in a cave since last Thursday.  It's like I'm Trent Reznor, or Des Esseintes.  It's very gloomy.  Plus, there's constant scraping noises coming from outside.  It makes me feel like I'm holed up against a siege.

During these days of darkness, we've taken the Bink to be boarded; he does not do well with strangers  at his perimeter.  Today, though, we've decided to keep him in the front room.  Even now I hear his beleaguered howlings.  The siege engines draw nigh, he says.  To the battlements!

I know how he feels.

Here are some of the photos of the house, btw, from our listing online.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

House Works

So judging by the comments on the last post, the real way to keep people reading your blog is to talk about bees.  Who knew?

We have an update: the bees, it turns out, were not what we thought.  (Just like in X-Files).  Turns out the photo sent by my realtor--the one in the post below--was NOT a photo of their hive.  Yesterday the realtor showed me where on our tree he'd seen the "hive"--towards the front, facing the house.  When I showed him the actual hive--which is in the back of the tree, away from the house--he was confused.

So what had he photographed?  A swarm.  Bees living in the hive had outgrown the space and decided to emigrate.  When this happens, they first assemble in a pack.  That's what he had seen--a group of departing, colonist bees getting their marching orders.  Sitting on the docks, waiting for their outbound ocean liners, so to speak.

But now they're gone.  The hive is massively reduced, and there are no bees visible from the house.  So all is well, at least bee-wise, with our home.

* * *

I spent the last day and a half finding and haggling with the tile guy cum painter who we're using to spiff up our home before next week's showing.  First, I bargained his initial quote down by 20%.  Then I felt bad that I was making him do a big job (four days of work) for too small an amount.  So I told him I'd give him back 10% of the fee at the end of the job, assuming it was done well.  Not exactly the most ruthless of negotiators, am I.

Bink lobbying to leave the beehive alone.  "Can't we all just get along?"

* * *

I've just finished Grand Expectations, part of the Oxford History of the US.  It covers the period from the death of FDR to the resignation of Nixon.  Nixon was a terrible terrible person.  That's my 5 second prĂ©cis.  Even worse than I knew.  There's really almost nothing good you can say about him--even the much-ballyhooed 'opening up to China' was mostly a sham.  I'm going to write some more about that soon.  Also surprised by how little impressed I came away by JFK.  The more I learn about him, the more hollow and inadequate he seems.  All charisma and good lucks, but very little real acumen.  They were ruthless, those Kennedys.  Not a very inspiring bunch.

Reading now a truly unusual book: Nightmare Alley by Thomas Love Peacock.  I'll try to talk about that too.  But now, the painter has arrived.  He is about to start power-cleaning the outside of the house.  Thank God the wife took The Bink to be boarded.  If he'd had to stay indoors all day while men worked on the exterior of our house he would have lost his fuzzy little mind.

Friday, April 29, 2016

To bee or not to bee

How it is with selling a house is…you're constantly being asked to make an endless series of small but seemingly crucial decisions.  None of them necessarily feels heartbreakingly important on its own, but as a collective--an integral, as it were--they add up.

And the decisions never abate.  You make one; five more appear.  Since you're talking about, potentially, hundreds of thousands of dollars they all take a feeling of momentousness.  They none of them have clear and obvious answers.  In some ways, they all seem too insignificant to even bother with.  But then as soon as you start to bother with them, they threaten to drag you into insensibility.

The issue right now is our beehive.  We have a beehive in our backyard; it resides in a cavity in our biggest tree.  We like the bees.  They keep the flowers pollinated; they don't bother us (they sleep most of the day); and we basically support and approve of their existence.  Beehives, as probably a lot of you know, are dying all around the world--some kind of hive sickness no one fully understands--and so the thought of having our bees relocated (which we've considered once or twice) has never appealed to us.

Now, though, we're going to have strangers coming to our house (only two weeks away) to consider buying it.  The beehive is, we think (and our realtor agrees) a definite plus for buyers: bees are good for yards.  But, he suggests, there's a chance that one of our visitors might get stung while touring the house and sue us.  So maybe we ought to relocate it.

The beehive was there when we bought the house.  It dates back to the previous owner, the woman who bought the house in 1950.  We don't want to get rid of the beehive.  But maybe we should.  Who knows.  It's just one of the millions of picayune choices facing one buying a house.  Like bees they swarm around you.  They don't seem like they will sting--but you never know.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Take On Me

I wish I could access some photos.  They say that photos are the key to getting your posts read.  And how am I to overawe and destroy Justin Bieber if I can't get photos?

As part of my ongoing preparation to go on Jeopardy, I've been trying to become current on today's pop music.  I downloaded a whole bunch of recent hit songs and have been trying to listen to them.

So I guess I'm old because I mostly hate all of them.  In fact, the wife and I went to Vegas last month and I got so depressed by our car ride--when I listened to a whole smorgasbord of Kesha, LMFAO, Bruno Mars, et al, that by the time we got there I just wanted to go home.

What a good pop song has to have, at minimum, I think, is wit.  It doesn't have to move you, necessarily; it doesn't have to make you feel; but it has to be clever.  Maybe it's melodically clever; maybe it's lyrically clever; maybe it's both.  And Drake, for example, is neither.  He's not even close to clever.  He can't even see clever through a telescope.

And I just think--b/c I'm old--the pop music of the 80s: it was just better.  Objectively, clearly better.  Boy George or Human League or Adam Ant--all of those guys produced songs that were orders of magnitude better than the stuff that's being done by, say, Maroon 5.  And why that is--maybe it's just that pop and rock is an exhausted genre, and there are no new ideas left--or maybe it's a less sophisticated listening audience--I don't know.  But it's dispiriting.

Two small bright spots: Meghan Trainor and (small selections of) Bruno Mars.  Actually, only one song of Bruno Mars (well, really Mark Ronson with Bruno Mars): "Uptown Funk."  Highly derivative of James Brown, but man is it good.  And M Trainor is pretty good too.

But that's it, as far as I can see.  Give me The Thompson Twins and Thomas Dolby any day.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Home Sales

We're meeting with listing agents now, looking to find someone to help us sell our house.  All very frightening.  Well--'frightening' is too strong, but it's stressful.  Essentially you're entrusting someone you've met only for maybe an hour, and read about some on the internet, to handle an incredibly significant action for you.  And it's significant not just financially, but also emotionally.  For all that I dislike the city where we live, I love our house.  Every morning I come in and work, sitting by an enormous floor to ceiling window that runs the length of my den.  Outside the bees circle around a limb of the giant tree in our backyard.  In the summer, a smaller tree gives us lemons.  Our front yard has a white picket fence covered in rose bushes.  Right now the roses are in bloom, and the blossoms and the flowers tower into the air.  It's fantastic.

On Saturday we met with two different realtors.  One was recommend--through a friend of a friend--and the other we found off the internet.  Both had good and bad qualities: I think I have to meet with them both again.  They both work in teams; it seems like one person does negotiations and contracts and the other is in charge of 'prettifying' the house--getting it looking sharp and snappy for sales.

A greatly embarrassing moment: the Bink bit one of the realtors!  He was one of those guys who, when told a dog is not good with strangers, responds "It's fine, I love dogs.  And they love me."  So then he stretched out his hand and Bink bit him.  And drew blood!  Which has never happened before, ever.  But it was terrible embarrassing.  Of course he laughed it off, but still.  Urp.  We're going to have get the Bink some training when we move.  I'm planning for our house to be a center for swirling gay cafe society--a constant stream of dinner parties, intellectual salons, and wine tastings.  And that means we can't have a dog who loses his mind anytime strangers come around.  What's frustrating is that, around us, he's the most sweet and docile little bear in the world.  But, he isn't used to strangers.

He's very much like his parents, I guess: very kind to people he likes, and very grouchy towards people he doesn't know.


Sunday, April 3, 2016


I've been trying to put together material for a post on the election but I'm not sure where to start.  I've been intrigued and horrified by the Trump phenomenon--it's like a car wreck that I can't look away from.  How prescient and relevant this blog's last debate about presidential politics now seems!  (I'll have to cut some relevant excerpts from that into a new post, soon).

My main take-away about Trump right now is this: I don't think he wants to be President.  I don't think when he started running he'd ever given any thought to actually winning.  I think he thought it would be a great way to go on TV and get publicity--to build his 'brand' such as it is.  That's why he doesn't have handlers; that's why he doesn't have a lot of staff.  He isn't interested in trying to win.  He just wants attention.

I'm not saying that he ever necessarily said to himself--I have no chance--I just don't think he thought that far ahead.  And now that he's at least likely to be the nominee, he wants a way out.  He doesn't want to spend all summer campaigning.  He doesn't want to face the vast forces that have finally arrayed against him; he doesn't want to get pummeled in the general election.  He wants a way out.

How he contrives that way out, I don't know.  Maybe that's why he keeps upping the ante on the outrageousness and offensiveness of what he says; he's hoping he'll finally cross some boundary that precludes him from running.  But if the GOP could work out some non-humiliating drop-out mechanism--some way to frame his leaving not as a defeat or an admission of giving up, but as something triumphant and noble-- I think he'd take it.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What Was the First Recording To Become a Gold Record?

I'm losing my mind a little bit.  I've decided to go on Jeopardy!  That means I've decided I need to learn all the trivia information I have previously not known.  That means I spend all day memorizing.  Every location and date of every Summer and Winter Olympics?  Check.  Every State nickname.  Every body of water.  Every mountain.  Check check check check check.  Every Best Picture winner. Check.  Every Best Actor and Actress Winner?  Not yet, but we're working on it.

It becomes a way of thinking where everything is a question that leads to everything else.  My wife mentions Say Anything.  I think: Cameron Crowe, married to Ann Wilson.  Heart.  What were their singles?  What were their hit albums?  What other films did Crowe direct? Did he ever win an Oscar?  Was he ever nominated?  Who won on the years he was nominated?  And it just goes on and on.  "Take My Breath Away" is on the radio.  Oscar winning song from Top Gun--obvious--but somehow I forget who sang it (Berlin--though they didn't write it.  But the writers are too obscure to be asked about, Thank God).

I don't know when I'll take the test--I'm thinking in a month--but the test isn't the issue.  The test is easy.  I passed it easily in 1999, without any study.  The problem is, there's often only a lag of one or two weeks between passing the test and being asked to go on the show.  So I need to be show ready.  That's the crux.

The point of all this is to be able to buy a new house, by the way.  We're probably moving.  We might not though. Who knows.  Does it matter?  Of course not.  What matters is being able to exactly explain and delineate all the mythic figures from Ancient Babylon.  That's what matters.  And that's what I must go do.

The answer to the title by the way: Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cold Tired Fingers Tapping Out Your Memories

I just can't write about Bowie.  I'm not trying to sound melodramatic, but I want to not think about it.  The New York Times has had ten articles a day about the man.  Pitchfork has an endless stream of reminiscences from past colleagues.  He's everywhere.  And he should be.  And it's not as if he died unexpectedly.  He was nearly 70.  There were rumors of his poor health in the ether for a while.  And I didn't know the man.  And when the sorrow is so public, and so shared in by so many people--I don't know.  I don't want to participate in that, somehow.  Not that I had a better or more important relationship with his work than anyone else, but my experiences with his music are my own.  They encompass a certain amount of darkness and a certain amount of light.  In college, under the influence of newfound...activities, I felt, often, that his music was all I had.  That sounds melodramatic, I guess.  Which is why I don't want to write about it.  It's too much. 

But that's what he was.   He was too much.  He'd like to come and meet us, but he thinks he'd blow our minds.  Like when I hear "Heroes" on the radio, I always change the station.  It's too much--to feel deeply.  90% of life is an exercise in avoiding deeply feeling.  My life--everyone's.  That's not wrong.  That's how it should be.  To feel deeply is paralyzing.  Because, in the end, what you end up feeling is: what the hell are we doing here?  Why have we been given consciousness of our own existence?  What's the point?  What's the meaning?  And that's not a mental path we want to go down very often--at least not one I want to go down often.  And art leads us, often, down that path.  Not all art.  Pride and Prejudice probably doesn't.  But his art did.  At least, it did me.

So forget that for now.  And instead let's talk about champagne.

Image result for strangers when we meetChampagne is what I drink now.  And everyone should drink it.  That's it.  That's what I have to say.  I never drink these days--maybe once every two weeks.  I'm getting very serious about my tennis--I’m probably better now, at 40 plus than I've ever been--and drinking does bad things to my already minimal athletic gifts.  It takes like four days for me to purge its effects, and if I'm playing a strong opponent in those days my game suffers noticeably.  (And recently I've started playing a bunch of teenage prodigies who are very strong opponents.  Like, if I can take a set from one of them, I feel good). 

Anyway...champagne!  It's good!  Drink champagne!  And only champagne!  That's what I say about that. 

Oh, and Woody Allen.  He's NOT good.  He gets worse and worse, too.  I don't just mean his new works, I mean all his works.  He ages badly.  He's the most overrated director of my lifetime, I think.  (Or not?  Who's worse?)

The problem is, essentially, he's really dumb.  And yet he wants to be, and writes for an audience of, intellectuals.  But he's just so dumb!  Is that why he ages so badly?  Because as we get smarter, we become more and more aware of how dumb he is? 

I don't care if you are or are not an intellectual!  That's the thing.  Probably, I'd rather you NOT be.  (Intellectuals are loathsome).   But whatever you are, don't front.  Will Ferrell is funny and great and I love his work.  But he's not trying to write dialogue about Plato, and nor should he.  But Woody Allen, at some point, decided he wanted to be Chekhov or (director) Renoir or Ozu.  And he's so so far from those men, it's just embarrassing.  Just be a witty Mel Brooks, Woody!  That's ok!  You don't have to try to be Tolstoy!

I just saw Midnight in Paris, is what prompts this. 

So bad!! 

I mean, just terrible.  And the premise was great.  But the execution was horrible.  Crude and stupid.  Why is Owen Wilson even engaged to this woman (Rachel McAdams)?  She's unremittingly horrible.  Like a cartoon Disney villain.  Like, if you were teaching sixth grade creative writing, and got a story with her as the villain, you'd say it was too much.  Even then you'd say it was a caricature! 

And we're supposed to believe Owen Wilson's character's genuinely in doubt about marrying her?  Good lord.  And the guy (Martin Short/Sheen whatever) who's meant to be the pompous pedant (What about the Frenchwoman guide who knows the word "pedantic!"  Most English speaker don't know that word!  And we're supposed to believe a French guide does!)--he's so badly done.  He's not a pedant!  He's a jerk and a boor, sure, but he's so dumb!  It's impossible to believe that he could be a professor anywhere, much less the Sorbonne.  Like, because he knows the dates of Rodin's lifespan, he's some kind of intellectual? Come on!

Foals.  That's a good band.  Maybe the best one I've encountered in a while.
God, it was unsatisfying, that movie.

Except--and it's a pretty big except--the Ernest Hemingway character (Carey Stoll, I think was the actor's name) was fan-fricking-tastic.  

Basically if you do nothing but fast forward to the scenes with E Hemingway, and ignore the rest, you'll be happy.  Because HE was funny.  And the whole premise that he speaks, all the time, as if he's narrating one of his novels was really excellent.  Just great.

Maybe it's useful to engage in activities at which one is bad at.  The tendency, as one ages, is to stick to one's strengths.  We should celebrate the woman starting to learn guitar at 40.  The man taking up boxing at 50.  It's hard, very hard, to be ineffective and foolish.  It's not too hard at 5.  It's very hard at 50.  To not be afraid to fail--that's the great skill.

A Chesterton quote comes to mind--"anything worth doing is worth doing badly."

I'm not very good at Latin.  But I keep doing my lines.  Ten a day.  I learn so little.  I miss so much.  I constantly feel how stupid I am.  I brim with self-hate.

And I'm reading The Recognitions.  I was hoping I'd dislike it after fifty pages, but sadly, I have to concede it's likely a work of genius.   At minimum,  I'm going to have finish it.  Which is too bad, since it's not only long but dense.  I can read ten pages of it at time, max. 

But worthwhile, I think.