happy

The People in My Neighborhood: The Big Dogs

Why do we have friends? Do we keep them around to prevent from being lonely? Do we have them because they make us laugh? Is it because they keep us sane? Because they bolster us?

I think all of my friends are incredible people. They’re all beautiful and they all have something great to offer, even if it is just something as basically vital as a voice on the other end of the line.

But in many ways, my friends are so vastly different from me. Like, my friend Kate is a really good literary agent, but that’s not something I’d ever want to try. And my friend Aileen is a die-hard classic New Yorker, but I don’t know how to be one of those, really, beyond loving the city and knowing it. My other friend Kate is a really good outdoors and travel journalist–something I always thought I wanted to do, but which proved not only outside of my ken, but outside of my area of interest, no matter how much I tried to force it.

So you see, I think of my friends as silos–perfect in their individual pursuits, which may not be for me.

Sport does bind us together. Jim and I have many friends that we’ve either followed into a race or friends we’ve tried to get into racing in some way, shape or form. But I was always more support crew or guide: “Here, you should try this sport. It’s super fun. Don’t worry, I’ll be the slowest on the course, so I’ll look out for you.”

Here’s proof:

Of the ten people in this photo (October 2001), only two did not race. I’m one of them.

Anyhow. I’m sure part of this is self-defense. I know I’m not willing to put in the time to train to the point where I can do a marathon in 3:30, or even 3:45. And I know I’m not a gifted enough athlete, although I did have some kind of competitive streak when I was younger. (Have you seen it lying around? I’d kind of like it back, please. Kind of.)

But last week, while I was mucking around in Surrey with Lara and Jody, I caught a flutter of feeling something new in my chest: aspiration.

It happened while I was chugging up a hill, chasing Lara and Jody. Jody’d just completed a fifty-mile race over the Grand Tetons. Lara is, in general, a conscientious and meticulous athlete. Both are stronger than I am by leaps and bounds, but both are generous with their abilities: they invite me places and whenever Jody comes to stay she invites me to run with her. When I went to visit her in North Carolina, where she lives, she encouraged me to “bring trail running shoes.”

Perhaps I should be more obvious: Jody is a four-time Ironman. Between her first Ironman and her second, she took an hour off her time. Her regular marathon time is well below four hours.

Lara’s first Ironman time was around 13 hours. She’s remarkably gifted on the bike, as far as I can tell, and manages her six-foot frame like grace incarnate. (Why, yes, your friendly local short and stubby over here is jealous. Thanks for asking.)

Anyhow. So there we were, mucking up this hill. Me, panting. I don’t know what Lara and Jody were doing because I could only just see them cresting the thing, and then waiting for me, ponytails mussed in the most chic of ways, pacing, looking not at all like running dorks, but rather like people who were inordinately comfortable in their own bodies, while I, overdressed and sweating up a storm, clomped and chugged like a pregnant sow waddling to the trough.

And then it hit me. I want to be up there, with my friends, where I belong. And where, apparently, they think I belong. although they’d never pressure me to be more than I want to be.

We did a 10-miler that weekend, a part-pavement part-trail race that had Lara elated and me and Jody muttering over the fact that we had to run over plowed farmlands.* I couldn’t help thinking, what a formidable set we’d have been, the three of us, if I could keep pace with them, egging each other on, running smoothly.

It used to be that I longed for a Girls’ Night Out group. It would be me and my girlfriends, walking swiftly down the street, an updated, better-looking female version of the Monkees.

Here we come/Walking down the street/Get the funniest looks from/Everyone we meet

And we’d get the funniest looks not because we were the Monkees, but because people could not believe how much fun we were having together. The looks would be looks of envy: Goodness, look at those girls. They can depend on each other. They are good friends. They are each others’ wingmen.

And then I had that for a brief shining year or two in New York, and it was beautiful and wonderful and everything I thought it’d be.

But I want more. I want to transfer my Monkees image to the race course, or at least to the training sessions.**

It occurs to me that this is why you have friends: They make you want to be better than you’ve been before, more than you’ve been before. I speak of this not only in sport terms; I speak of this in all walks of life: one of my friends has been through more this past year than can possibly be expected of a normal functioning human being, and yet, she’s worked through it, and moved on, with aplomb and good humor. This kind of attitude you just can’t buy. I don’t have it. I’m a moper; I wallow. Not for long, but I wallow.

And the other has a sh*t ton on her plate that I’m not sure I’d even know how to begin to handle. She looks at herself with a sharp, critical eye. She never sees her own skills, but that’s okay, because her friends do see them, and we remind her regularly, when she lets us.

Jody and Lara waited for me at the finish line of the 10-miler. Jody looked for me about a quarter mile before the end of the race course and ran me in, and I think it was then that I finally puzzled it out: My friends are my pack. As in any pack, there are alpha dogs and regular dogs. The difference in my pack is that all the big dogs want the regular dogs to grow up and be big, too.

*Jody did it with a stress fracture in her foot.

**The latter is somewhat plausible with these two. The former is nigh on impossible, but I’m okay with that.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

The People in My Neighborhood: The Guardian

Ricardo Pierre isn’t someone I’m likely to ever encounter again. I’ve only ever spent a couple of weeks in his company. I only have a few decent photos of him, and I had to poach one of those from someone else.

And yet, I’d trust him with my life. I know this because I did have to trust him with my life.

Ricardo has been one of our most consistent drivers and bodyguards in ShelterBox‘s nine months so far in Port-au-Prince. We hired him from the French Red Cross and just never gave him back. He is former detail for President Aristide, a father, a recreational boxer, a husband and the father to two boys. He is one of the nicest guys I have ever met. He is one year into law school and a damned fine electrician. Ricardo is also responsible for the caretaking of his elderly father and his younger sister.

Working on a tent

On my last day in Haiti as team lead, I sat in the front seat of our car with Ricardo at U.N. logistics base, counting cash to pass on to the next team lead. Ricardo would have to keep the cash on him until the next lead could fly in, two days later.

I pulled my stash from various places in my pack and on my body, and counted out several thousand dollars. I handed each hundred to Ricardo to double-check the math, counted it all one last time, and stuffed two envelopes with it, so that Ricardo could carry it around better, more safely.

With Steve, working on an interview

It wasn’t until Ricardo had both envelopes stuffed into his front pockets that I felt as if my tour was finally done, and then I thought about the curiosity of trusting someone you barely know with thousands of someone else’s dollars.

And then I reflected, briefly, on how absurd a world I was operating in at the moment: money was the smallest, least valuable thing I had trusted Ricardo with over the weeks I’d known him. When Ricardo said, “It’s not safe to go there today,” we trusted him. When Ricardo said he’d be back at the Deck (the bar and grill) to pick up me and my teammate no matter how late we stayed out celebrating a logistics partner’s birthday, we trusted him.

When he told us we were safe, I believed him. When he told us we needed to make a quick exit, we did it. When he stood by my shoulder and told me quietly to keep a sharp eye on the woman to my right, I did it, but I did it knowing that he was keeping an equally sharp eye on her–and the sketchy-looking blokes to my left. And when we needed him to run interference, I didn’t even need to think about it. He just did it.

Each day he told us he’d be by to pick us up, I trusted him. Each day we needed someone to back us up doing tent demonstrations, I trusted him to pass along the information accurately, and I could trust that after nine months in the field with our boxes, he knew the kit as well as anyone.

Finally, the day we took him and his family to an all-inclusive beach for a rare day off, when he looked at me and my teammate and told us how much it meant to them that he felt truly a part of the ShelterBox family, I believed it. Later that day, we all sang a noisy “Happy Birthday” in French to my brother over the phone, thousands of miles away in Los Angeles.

Ricardo, middle, with two other ShelterBox Response Team members on a day off.

Each day we needed him to be a member of our team, he came through. It’s why he’ll always be a guardian in my book–and why, when I go to look for someone like Ricardo on my next deployment, I’ll be looking for these same qualities.

I should say that they were qualities that are present in the three drivers that we counted on the most there. They were all men who, when shown that they were expected to become a part of our team, took to that role as naturally as could be expected.

I should also say that working with these men hammered home a critical point for me: You get the most out of trust when you give it as freely as you’re capable of giving it. In this area more than others, the rewards are boundless. I’m not saying that you need to trust everyone around you with your life. I’m saying that there are a few who are worthy, and that you should return the favor when you can, whether someone trusts you with a secret, some insight, or something as small as a couple bucks. These things are weightier than we know.

Ricardo with his son Eduardo at the beach.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Port-au-Prince to Coupeville: what lies between

It all comes down to left brain versus right brain.
I was shocked at just how exhausted I was coming back from my Master of Fine Arts residency at Whidbey Island. With some reservation, I noted that it might have actually been a more difficult recovery than those following deployment for ShelterBox, and I wondered why.
So I sat down and broke it down. (Okay, not really. What I did was to spend a couple of days mulling it over in my head, and then Gwen Bell posted something about writing 750 words a day for the month of September, so it’s September 1 and now I’m posting my thoughts. Because, you know, it’s useful to have external motivation, so on.)
When I come back from deployment I try and unpack, first thing. Who knows what creepy crawlies are lurking in my baggage? (My return from Taiwan yielded the largest squashed cockroach I’d ever seen in my life.) If I can’t be bothered to do the laundry I leave it all on the balcony.
Then I eat something incredibly indulgent. Ice cream, maybe, or potato chips. Something totally unreasonable to be carrying around in your pack. Soda pop is a good choice.
Then I turn on the boob tube. Typically it’s Turner Classic Movies. If I’m lucky I find some Rock Hudson/Doris Day flick, something I’ve seen before, and then I fall asleep on the couch. Eventually I crawl into bed and sleep for about 10 hours.
When I got back from Whidbey, it was almost all the same actions. Except my brain, my brain was on fricken fire. And that’s when I realized just how different the two events are, even if they share the concept of being on overload for 10 days.
Deployment is 100% action and logistics, all the time. You’re messing around, dealing with people, but not on any level other than cursory. There’s no room for emotion, no room for rumination. You think, you act, you fling tents and boxes and build stuff. Then you go home and crash, maybe process some stuff. That’s all left brain.

Building something like this is all left brain.

Whidbey Island? Whidbey Island was all right brain. Writers get to be writers because we think we have something to say. You spend all nine days at Whidbey immersed in words, your own and others, trying to make your words fit what you’re learning. You meet people that fire up little neurons in your head that then spawn more thoughts. You spend all of your time thinking, thinking, thinking about stuff that might not be immediately connected to your actions of going to class and writing papers, but at some point, some of that stuff starts to sink in, and you get even more excited because you can immediately find some way to apply what you’ve learned to your work.
You spend a lot of time thinking about yourself, and not in a navel-gazing, “what am I about?” kind of way. It’s more like an excavation of the stuff you didn’t remember coming to surface; and then there’s the added layer of worrying those events over; how you can express them in a pleasing manner that leaves room for more thought.
Everyone around you gives you something to think about. Every word out of someone’s mouth has the potential to give you something to work with.
It’s a pretty special nine days.
That’s the other part of why recovery was so hard–that kind of energy is hard to come by. I’ve written about this kind of energy before, where everyone in the room cares about just one end point. It happens in group events, like the AIDS Ride, where it was the end goal to get everyone from point A to point B on any given day. To a lesser extent it happens on deployments, where the whole point of your existence is to make sure people get out of the elements and into shelter, but even in that there are smaller more personal investments at play.
At Whidbey, everyone wants everyone else to publish. At graduation, the chairman of our board of directors said, “Your success is our success.” When only three people are graduating, and there are fewer than 50 people in the room, 35 of which are actual students, you know what? You believe that stuff. Whidbey has invested in you. Its future depends on your success. I believe it.

"Our success depends on you having your nose buried in a book all the time." Uh, okay!!!

Funny, though–before this experience, I’d come to believe that true exhaustion came from hard physical activity. This is the first time I’ve ever been so pooped from just thinking, although I did put in four morning runs during my time at Whidbey.
I think, too, that it was truly an amazing experience to sit up both late and early talking about literature. If I’d had any doubts at all that working with words is what I want to do with the rest of my life, 10 days at Whidbey would have knocked them clear out of the park.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Photos from Whidbey

My first indication that I'm not where I thought I was: a campaign sign on Whidbey Island

Between 11:10 and 12:30 I took my books down to the rocky beach and did homework. If I turned to face away from the ocean, this was my view.

And now, some up-close things I spotted on the beach. First, this cool infinity-shaped whorl on some driftwood.

The beach is mostly rocky. Almost every clustering of rocks is a mini still-life.

Sometimes I was reminded that there is life outside of reading, writing, new friends, and the rocky beach. This piece of driftwood was one such reminder.

Sometimes I spotted other writing students on the beach. Here, Nancy and Steve, on a rock-hunting expedition.

from the building that serves as our classrooms, you can see lots of ships going by. these huge cruise ships were a shock, though.

Fort Casey was built in 1897. Obviously, some of the buildings have disappeared. Ripe for ghost stories!

After my morning run, I met my roommate Cyn on our porch for coffee each morning. This is the view from our porch.

At 7:25 or so Stefon would walk by on his way to breakfast. (Cyn and I opted out.)

Sometimes Robert stopped by for coffee and a chat.

Here's what it felt like.

Some days it was too cold. Then we decamped to living room and pot-bellied stove fire.

We were fed quite well at Whidbey. Dessert every night if we wanted it. I am a sucker for bread pudding. Stefon thinks this is funny.

One evening we decided it would be a good idea to jump into Puget Sound. It must have been about 54 degrees in there. Not bad.

One day, Merone, Cyn and I went into town for lunch. I was enjoying mussels when I looked up and spotted this. I think my first coherent thought was "Oh, gross. Moose drool."

We took the ferry to get off of Whidbey and onto the mainland for the drive home. From left to right, Nancy, Stefon, Jackie, and Mandy. Until January, friends!

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

The People in My Neighborhood: The Planner

Sometimes, you meet people in one capacity, and you never think that you’ll see them in other capacities. Sometimes our friends are silo’ed. They stay in their individual little places. We call them when we want specific things: I have friends I got out Drinking with; friends I Do Outdoors Stuff with; friends I Eat with, friends I Cook For. I have friends I Shop With, and Movie friends, and then there are the friends I Learn Stuff With.

I am squashily fond of the friends with whom I Chat Deep into the Night With Only a Bottle of Wine to Entertain Us.

My friend Peter the Planner is one of those, but he didn’t start out that. I met Peter in early July of 2002. i remember because this is the same weekend I got together with Jim. We were camping at Round Valley, mountain bike camping; and we packed in and packed out all of our stuff. We led a quick clinic on flats and cables and stuff, and then were off.

I know that Peter had said he was going to meet us somewhere en route. I’d never met the guy before. I was doing some pro bono media work for a non-profit racing association that we were both a part of. At some point on the trail a really sexy bike went by pedaled by a guy with impossibly long legs and perfect riding form–it looked as if his riding was effortless, and I was immediately annoyed–why couldn’t I ride like that?

Hello, Peter. Nice to meet you.

At some point after that we all went to see a movie together; and then we went out to celebrate Karen, Peter’s wife, on her birthday, at a vegetarian joint–was it VP2?–and then we went to a triathlon clinic together, and shortly after that we did a triathlon together, where we off-road people reveled in the three miles of trail run that broke up all of the awful asphalt; we had dinner together that night, and he came out a couple of times to meet me for drinks, and

Then

I

Moved.

To Chicago.

And I began to notice what happens when you leave the right people: They Call You.

And keep track of you. And when you come home, they make every effort to see you.

Peter and i haven’t done anything athletic together in years. But I know that if we wanted to, we could make it happen.

While I was gone, I learned a lot about Peter:

  • His writing, when he does it, is remarkably evocative of whatever it is he’s feeling at the time. (If you think this is easy, you don’t  know jack, and you need to read more.)
  • His sense of organization is ridiculously good.
  • He is a tangential thinker: His train of thought goes in different directions and then he actually connects the dots, and whatever he’s saying is almost always useful.
  • He knows Stuff. Or knows where to find the answer.
  • He is the right person to talk to when things look grey and confused. Peter will either add some color or sit with you until the cloud passes.

Peter is the planner not only because he works for a major urban-planning think tank, but also because when I am having problems organizing my incredibly disorganized brain and life, I know he can help, and that he will be vested.

I met Peter mountain biking, but our lives revolve around people now. Here is proof:

We go to movies. We go to museums. We have picnics on the High Line together. Sometimes Jim and I get to see Karen, and Peter and Karen’s hilarious and wonderful twins, John and Henry.

Isn’t it nice when someone you thought would only ever fit in one area of your life suddenly spills over into everything else?

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Photo crazy

Is it art?

Sprocket doesn't think so.

I call this one "study in noodles"

We went to the PepsiCo Gardens with Jim's family.

I like this sculpture of a bear crawling out of the pond.

I also like the filagree pattern this tree casts on the ground.

Wow, look at the pooch on me. Not the dog, the belly.

Lillies! I like!

big fat tadpoles were on every stalk of the lily pads.

Love this angular tree trunk. Dunno what happened to it.

I went to Philadelphia last Wednesday. Nice city. Great clients.

The sky over White Plains on Friday evening was wonderfully Hudson-River-School-like.

I caught Jim mooning over this deluxe edition of Stratego.

We took our friend Anna, her soon-to-be stepsons, and her fiance on a hike in Harriman. Here are the stepsons.

Here's crazy dog Sassafras, Joe, Anna, me, El Jefe, and Sprocket,

Sprocket got wet.

I went into the city yesterday to meet my friend Alexandra for lunch. She was in from Chicago. We had a picnic on the High Line and I got a burnt nose.

The MTA set up a TV in Grand Central so everyone could watch The World Cup finals. Beat sitting in a sweaty bar.

Perfect clouds again over White Plains

Look! The Ritz-Carlton building is the same color as the sky! Or maybe it's just a reflection. 😀

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Photodump

I like this photo of Alison.

Alison and I went to the New York Botanical Gardens last weekend. We had a terrific time despite hot and sticky climes, and I took some photos. So nice to see some new plants and immerse myself in greenery.

Gorgeous trees greeted us at the Botanical Gardens.

This plant looks like it was inspired by a roller coaster.

This one was reminiscent of a waterfall, but felt much pricklier.

This one, called, appropriately, Lamb's Ear, was very comforting to the touch.

Not a copper sculpture, a cabbage. Gorgeous.

I have left the NYBG and entered Whoville.

Alison and me. We are spotted because we stood under a sprinkler for a bit; it was that hot.

Not a leather bookbinding, tree bark. Warm and lovely.

Not a stencil in the sky; a breed of maple leaf.

love these colors. the tonality is so soothing.

butt-cactus. yuck.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

The People In My Neighborhood: The Teacher

Almost at the bottom of my second cup of coffee. In accordance with my self-imposed rule of posting more than once a month on this thing, here’s a series of posts about the past week and the people in it. But really, it’s about the varied people in my life, and how they got there.

On Wednesday I went down to my friend Alan’s school, Bronx Science, to talk about ShelterBox. Alan and I have been trying to put this together for a long time. He managed to squeeze me into his Comparative Government class, all seniors, all two and a half weeks from graduating.

The awesome mural at the entrance of BxSci HS (photo: BXSci)

People, can I just say how incredible it is to watch a friend teach? Even if it’s just taking brief command of a class and then turning it over to you; there is something remarkably moving about the process of watching someone you know and love; someone who’s lived a long and storied life, part of which you’ve been there for; stand in front of a class of students who could be unruly, but aren’t, in his presence.

Alan’s students are thoughtful and kind; smart and curious; loving and giving. They are reflections of Alan. Anyone who’s ever doubted the influence teachers have on their charges should witness something like this.

Later Alan took me to lunch. We had mac and cheese in the school caf. I love school cafs. We were in the teacher’s cafeteria, but whatever: same food. I only wish there were fish sticks and tater tots. Alan looks unimpressed here.

I, however, was impressed by the milk cartons:

Hello! “El Moo!”

Would you like to know how Alan and I met? It is a classic New York story. It was early summer, 2001. Maybe even late spring. I was working in advertising sales, and living in Astoria, Queens.

I liked it there. On this particular late-spring day, I dashed down the subway stairs at 59th and Lex, eager to get home, and ran into a wall of people. This is always a bad sign; it means the trains are bogged down someplace and we will all get home a little later, after a sticky subway ride all the way back.

I breathed out, “Ugh,” and looked at the guy next to me, doing a crossword puzzle. “Wow. How long has it been like this?”

He looked up from his puzzle and shrugged. “Dunno. Just got here.”

“Oh, okay.”

I opened my book (Carl Hiasson, but I can’t remember which), and he went back to his crossword puzzle. Not long after, our train arrived, and I looked at him. “Not bad after all,” I said, and he nodded.

We got on the train and I promptly fell asleep, which I did often in those days. You get to knowing where your stop is and your body figures out pretty quickly how long you can nap for, but the crossword-puzzle guy had no way of knowing that. So he watched, nervous for me, as stop after stop went by and I slept.

At the last stop, he got up and reached for my foot to shake me awake, but I snapped awake just in time.

“Oh. I was just about to wake you,” he said, and I grinned.

“This is my stop!”

We walked out together, and he asked about the book I was reading. We made small talk until I got to my corner. He lived only a block beyond, and it seemed we’d been living in that small radius for the past two years or so.

We didn’t exchange information.

But we ran into each other steadily for the next few days, weirdly enough, returning books and videos; picking up stuff; things like that.

We never once exchanged information, and then there came a stretch where I didn’t see him. And then came moving day.

I was moving into Manhattan, and I took the day off to do so. I tried to pack up and then, at around 10:30, realized that I still had dry-cleaning to pick up. I locked up my apartment one last time and went down the street. I turned the corner, and bumped right into Crossword-Puzzle-Carl-Hiasson-Book-Video-Library-Train guy.

“I’m moving today!” I squawked, or something like that.

“I’m late to work!” he returned.

“Okay, we have to do something about this,” I said, and finally, finally, we exchanged information.

We’ve been friends ever since. Alan was with me in the days after 9-11. He’s seen me through breakups and worse; several job changes; he’s been a constant shining star in my life.

I know his students feel the same.

yes, the only photo i have of us together. so lame!

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

‘sTrueth! A good time was had by all.

Jim and I spent the weekend at the Trues’. I had a ridiculously busy Friday that involved a ton of networking (which, it seems, could be a full-time job even if you’re not actually following up on any of the networking with anything concrete); took some time off for lunch with a friend here in White Plains; and then bolted home to throw some final few things in a bag and drive up to Boston to squeeze in an overdue visit to an old friend before heading out to Melrose via the convoluted-but-beautiful Route 1. (Evans: Are you reading this? You are next.)

(Only in Boston would a relatively straight course end up looking like a misguided bowl of noodles.)

This route goes over the Tobin Bridge, by the way, which is stunning, to say the least.

photo: Estrip.org

Anyhow. We went to visit my friend Sarah, who had her baby boy, Jesus Jr., back in late December. I don’t know why there is only this photo of me, Jim and JJ and none of Sarah, me, Jim, and Jesus Sr. It seems people disappear when there are babies involved.

Baby Jesus is cute. He is just like the teddy bear he looks to be, warm and squashy and round.

Jesus and Sarah took us to the really great Village BBQ, where I had beef brisket, and Jim had…something I can’t remember. Jesus had hot wings whose flames could only be quenched by tequila, and Sarah had an entire rack of ribs. Have I mentioned that Sarah is but a mere waif? I never understood where she put the food. For that matter, I’m not sure where she put Jesus Jr.

Then it was off to the True household for a promised weekend of mountain biking.

That didn’t really happen. I mean, Jim and Colin went, and came back suitably muddy. The story is that Jim executed an awesome endo, but there were no photographs. However, as these were the photos that happened that night, I think it’s obvious that everyone had a good time. Indeed, Jim look properly relieved to have gotten out of the afternoon with nothing more than a good endo story to tell:

We girls went to hot yoga instead. It was very, very hot, although I know it wasn’t the 100 degrees on the thermostat. It was aggressive and I had some sort of aggressive woman next to me who flexed her hands wide open when she was doing Warrior and jumped back and forth with an annoying plip plopping noise whenever our instructor said to “jump or step back into upward facing dog.” You could see her tendons and she seemed to be very competitive. Anyway, Carli lost the lid to her WaterBox and it went rolling in a lopsided confused way underneath me before she caught it, which sent me into fits of snorting laughter that, thankfully, no one but Carli heard, I don’t think. This must be why Carli and I look so composed in this photo, because all of the giggling snorts had been sweated out of us.

Lily is a right proper angel.

Most days Carli is, too. I said most days.

Later on that night there was watching of the most ridiculously gleeful movie ever, The Hangover. Bradley Cooper has incredible hair in that movie. And that’s all I’ma say about that.

Photo: David Gabber, TopNews.in

Er. What happened just now? I got distracted. Oh, right, the weekend.

Perhaps one of the most clichĂ©-and-yet-not moments of the weekend was when Colin dragged out his home videos, made back when he was, oh, I can’t remember, eight or so. People. You’ve never seen home videos like this. To be fair, they were shot by someone I think was an aspiring filmmaker (not Colin, but a childhood friend of his). There are sound effects and visual effects and great costumes and fake fighting and everything. They are from “Peter/Paul Productions,” with a proper nameplate, and they. are. hilarious. Seriously. I think I might have liked watching clips of those better than I liked.

Bradley.

Cooper’s.

Hair.

What? Ahem.

Okay, so we knocked off to bed shortly after that, as Jim had to get up the next morning to ride in the King of Burlingame time trial race. People. Watch the video. Sometimes I cannot believe Jim rides this stuff. Sometimes I am sick with envy.

King of Burlingame Time Trial

Other times I look at that and go, “Agh, mud, trail erosion…eeeEEEeee…bridges!” In this case, I was not around to see the actual race; I was inside the car, trying to get a head start on editing the newspaper. We left shortly afterwards, and stopped on the way home to consume what would eventually be The Bane of Our Existence.

Doesn’t it look benign? And lovely?

It was, at the time. And then, four hours later, it was not, as Jim and I were rapidly overtaken with horrible food poisoning. I still haven’t decided if I can write up a Yelp review of this restaurant. Jim has fond memories of it from his days working in Groton, CT at Pfizer, but…oh, le sigh.

Anyway. So our wonderful weekend fizzled to a stop, as we both, in separate rooms, moaned our ways through the night (we didn’t know if it was flu and didn’t feel like passing it back and forth to each other). Jim gamely went to work Monday morning and I moaned my way through all of Monday and into Tuesday morning and now finally feel 100%. I am convinced that the hot yoga which made me sweat out all of the water in my system contributed to a slower recovery time for me.

Anyhow, we’re already halfway through the week, and I ahve a ton of work to do, because I have a houseguest coming Friday and things to do in the city tomorrow evening, I think, and then I am going to Haiti on Sunday.

Yes, I’m going to Haiti on Sunday. More on that later.

Bradley Cooper’s hair!

What?

P.S. Carli made this thing out of WikkiStix. I have never heard of them until this past weekend, but I was suitably impressed:

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Speaking the gospel

Okay. I have been thinking about this post for a really long time. I’ve been speaking to audiences since I started ARFE, and now, as I’m working with ShelterBox, I speak at least once a week. And in January I gave one of the most important speeches of my life.

At first, this post was going to be very simple: I love public speaking! And then I was going to say a few words on why and all of that. But I let it roll around in my head a little bit more, and percolate (burble, burble) a bit longer, and then, on Tuesday evening, as Jim and I were watching The Biggest Loser, I had a brainfart: this is not just about public speaking, and why I love it. It is about all the things it can do for you, and how good it can make you feel.

I know, that sounds insane. Isn’t public speaking  one of the most common phobias, or something like that? I’m going to tell you briefly why it shouldn’t be.

1. You are speaking about something you care about.

Even if you’re terrified of public speaking, the fact that you’re talking about something personally meaningful to you is a huge boost. Take advantage of it. If you aren’t speaking about something you feel invested in, get someone else to do it. Really.

2. You know your audience.

This sometimes has to be accomplished on the fly. If you walk into a room and it’s all stern-looking suits, make sure you speak  their language. Likewise if it’s a bunch of college students who’ve just rolled out of bed.

Many speaking engagements are preceded by a meal of sorts, or at least some lag time. Get there early, and use the time wisely: Observe the people at the table; mingle; get to know the people in the room. Ask questions about the group. Engage from the first minute. And, for God’s sake, do your research. Take every advantage you can.

Learn to read body language. Reading people on the fly is immensely useful.

3. You are a role model while you are speaking.

At the very least, you are an expert on your topic. This is an incredibly powerful idea. For 45 minutes, or whatever, you are the end-all, be-all of the reason people are in the room. Use this knowledge!

4. You can only be yourself.

No one is asking you to be anyone else. Be casual. People came to see you. Surely, that’s worth something. Big public-speaking gaffes, like inappropriate jokes, or drinking so much prior to said speech that you’re woozy and slurring, happen because you’re nervous. Little public-speaking gaffes, like too many “ums” or “y’knows” happen because you’re nervous. Don’t be. It’s OK.

OK. So now back to the Biggest Loser. They do this thing on the show where, at some point during the season, they make it so that each contestant has an opportunity to become a role model. Last season they did it twice: once they made the contestants go round getting people to participate in a Biggest-Loser-led exercise class on the Washington Mall, and, later in the season, they had the contestants speak on what it’s like to find motivation for losing weight. They had them tell their own stories, in short.

And I think every contestant suddenly felt, after watching everyone applaud and give standing ovation after standing ovation, that they were worthy of something.

How precious is that?

At a recent ShelterBox event at East Woods School

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.