Thursday, August 18, 2016

My First Impressions of Omaha Nebraska

We flew out of Newark and flew into Omaha. We picked up our rental car and headed out of the parking garage.

In Omaha - Pulling out of the Airport Parking Garage

"We're not in Jersey anymore, Toto," I said to Tom.

Our hotel billed itself as 'located in the heart of downtown Omaha.' Which confused me. All I spied nearby were flat-topped concrete buildings sprinkled along wide-ass four lane roads with passing lanes separated by expansive empty parking lots. No pedestrians. Basically, no traffic either.

Downtown Omaha

"Where's the city?" I asked the front desk clerk. She gave me a funny look. 

"I mean, where are all the things?" I continued. 

"What kind of things?" replied the front desk clerk. She was really very pleasant.

"I mean, where's your downtown?"

"We're right in the middle of downtown, actually."

I took a moment to regroup. Clearly I've lived east coast way too long.

Basically, it turns out, Omaha consists of three high rise-ish buildings in a cluster. They call this "Midtown." And then a couple miles away, there's a block or two of revitalized warehouses lined with cute shops and restaurants. It's kind of like a tiny little meatpacking district, but with fewer streetside pharmaceutical peddlers, B&Ts and blond Russians in stilettos and micro minis. 

Someone also mentioned a neighborhood where "all the immigrants live" and where the tacos are amazing; but I never got a bead on the specifics.

I decided to go out for a walk and investigate what lay in between this "Midtown" and "Downtown." 

Midtown in the distance
A few blocks out, I passed a yard, patchy brown grass and a car sitting on the grass with the hood open and a guy in a wife beater bent over it. A woman stood nearby talking loudly and shaking her finger. A cat ran by. 

At some point it became clear that although Omaha boasts 400,000 residents, it might be because it covers like 200,000 square miles.

But seriously, the people were lovely. They put up with my shenanigans and puzzled blank stares. They are very proud of Omaha for many excellent reasons. It's just not really a city is my only and main point. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Every Four Years

photo credit:

The expertise in my family unit is amazing, especially when it comes to synchronized diving (“Obviously the Chinese dominate in both synchronization and execution”), uneven parallel bars (“Oh boy, that hop on the landing will cost her”) and the Nigerian men’s soccer team (“Well played in the backfield although clearly outmatched when it comes to that side-of-the-foot maneuver.”) 

On the whole, we are easily qualified to take over the expert commentary. Or maybe the color commentary.

Or at a minimum just commentary.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Gustav Klimt, Dead (and Alive) at the Met Breuer

Gustav Klimt is the guy who painted "the kiss" which everyone has seen a million times, usually in your first apartment after college. Your roomate bought the poster on sale, squashed it into a shitty frame from Ikea and hung it right above that white sofa no one realized was an ass bad idea until the inaugural coffee incident ten minutes after delivery.

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt
on sale at
I never was a huge fan of The Kiss. A little too gooey twee with a glass slipper and chirping forest creatures. Plus the gentleman's desperate spinal stenosis situation. But I warmed up to Gustav after I saw Hope, up close and personal, at MoMA a while back:

Hope III at MoMA
Wow. She's something to stand your ground and stare at. The size, the party colors.

And then there's this one I stumbled across at the Met Breuer in the spring:

I went back yesterday for another look. It's in the exhibition called "Unfinished." Meaning, the artists never finished the work. Generally because they kicked off. On the whole, it was all gloriously morbid and haunting. I was fully onboard.

Here's the caption on this one:

Gustav Klimt
Austrian, Baumgarten 1862-1918 Vienna
Portrait of Ria Munk III, 1917-1918

Death stands at the beginning and the end of this work's history. The young woman, Maria ("Ria") Munk, committed suicide on December 28, 1911 after the write Hanns Heinz Ewers called off their engagement.

Klimt, the most sought-after portraitist in Vienna at the time, was commissioned to paint her posthumous portrait. He struggled with the task and the first two portraits did not meet the family's approval.

While still working on his third portrait of Ria, Klimt himself died. A beautiful example of his famous portrayals of women, this unfinished work gives fascinating insight into the artist's process. 

Note the tentative placement of painted color patches amid rapidly sketched charcoal lines, the precisely outlined ornaments waiting to be filled in, and the fully developed flower pattern that envelopes the upper part of the figure.

It's the flowers that get you.  Blooming and stone cold dead, all at once. I'm a sucker for this whole paradoxical unity thing.

"When the work is done, it is forgotten. That is why it lasts forever." 

That's a soundbyte by Lao Tzu, ancient eastern philosophizer.

Also there's this dictionary definition I always kind of liked:

Eschatology (eskatalogy): the part of theology concerned with death, judgement and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind. eschatological. eschatologist.

Put them both together and you get me, at the Met Breuer for the same show, two times. Maybe three times if someone is interested in getting hauled around the joint. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Tom's Birthday Ice Cream Not Cake

The ice cream thing started when I decided to get Tom a cake for his birthday. Tom's favorite cake is ice cream cake. But ice cream cake poses logistical challenges for someone such as myself who eschews grocery stores and has little understanding of how such a thing as ordering an ice cream cake transpires.

So I decided it would simply be less of an ordeal to just make Tom an ice cream cake. I felt a bit more confident in this endeavor because my friend Darcey would be around. I've seen her whip up spontaneous and tasty snacks from gluten-free kitchen scraps and like a tennis ball. So I would make an ice cream cake. Done deal.

The main ingredient of ice cream cake is ice cream. I'm very quick like this. So I sped over to Bed Bath and Beyond on 6th Avenue and purchased an ice cream maker. Subsequently, I mentioned this consumer accomplishment to three people and all three immediately asked if I had used a 20% off coupon. The answer is no. I'm not a top decile BB&B shopper, this is totally clear.

I carried the over-priced ice cream maker home, ripped open the styrofoam and immediately attempted to make ice cream happen. This was not meant to be. Because it turns out you have to put the mixing bowl thing in the freezer for 24 hours. Shit. They should put this information in really big type on the box.

24 hours later meant basically making the ice cream during Tom's birthday dinner and then figuring out how to transform raw ice cream into a cake in some sort of lightning round before dessert. Luckily Kent was on the scene and he just kind of made the ice cream while I was outside waving around mosquito incense sticks.

I went into the kitchen, spotted Kent's completed ice cream and told Darcey I was going to pat it into the form of a cake. She insisted this would not work, even after I told her my full plan: I would pat the ice cream into the form of a cake and then stick cookies all over it. The cookies would serve as a sort of exoskeleton, holding things in a secure cake position.

Darcey was not really on board with this plan.

We did it her way.

The final result was really celebratory, I thought:

Tom's Celebratory Birthday Not-Cake

Monday, July 04, 2016

Distraction Addiction Fix

Let’s just kick this off by mentioning what I have accomplished since sitting down to write this blog post. And by “sitting down to write this blog post” I don’t mean to imply it was an open and shut affair. Not counting the eight to ten false sits would be disingenuous. But I’ve been called to duty by an endless sequence of important tasks which has hindered my progress. For example:
  • Buying mosquito repellent bracelets on Amazon
  • Looking up what a mushroom expert is called (a Mycologist)
  • Finding the best electric switch you can turn on and off with an app, and then deciding I don’t need one.
  • Skimming a lot of popular NYT articles
  • Aggressively deleting duplicate photos on my computer
  • Copying and pasting quotes about distraction into Evernote.

This distraction business is really distracting. In between watching Ozzyman YouTube videos, I read a book by Charles Duhigg. Charles says distractions and interruptions are addicting. I mean like, actually addicting. Like crack cocaine and raisins. I love raisins.

I took a break from wishing someone a happy birthday on Facebook and clicked through to an article about Seneca, writing in the first century:

"No activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied … since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply. 

Living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man.

Learning how to live takes a whole life, and it takes a whole life to learn how to die."

Shit, this is worrisome.

We saw some art in Miami by Penelope Umbrico. She cruised around on Flickr and printed out all of the photos people had posted. Of sunsets. 

Everyone loves a sunset, even though they happen every single day in every single place. You just have to get yourself properly positioned and eureka: a sunset. It’s just that we don’t often bother to get us a sunset. Because we're distracted. Even though sunsets clearly make us get all weepy and broody about dying after a meaningless life.

But even if we stick it to distraction and manage to tingle beneath the beginning of some sunset, we can't hold out until the end. Because right in the middle of all the gloriousness, apparently a whole lot of us simply must look away. 

We fumble around with our cellular telephones and snap a photograph. Or eighteen. It's irresistible! And then there's the allure of #filters. 

Back to Joan Dideon:

"In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here."

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Blue Nights and Memories

Just finished reading Blue Nights by Joan Didion. Clawed through it, beginning to end, in like three days. Which is record time considering that every word in the book is meticulously fussed over and concerns dying, death, or scenes involving a child you are fully aware is on a fast track to dying and death. It was harrowing. It was riveting. 

I like the idea of the Blue Night. I'm watching one unfurl through the window. 

It's that distended hour between daylight and night that lingers -- but only in summer during those few weeks before and after the solstice, when the sun rises highest in the sky. 

Now, in other words. 

I like the idea of the Blue Nights as a reprieve, where time hangs in the balance and memories fold themselves into the present.

Here's what Joan Dideon had to say:

"If only I could keep people fully present, keep them with me, by preserving their mementos, their 'things,' their totems. The detritus of this misplaced belief now fills the drawers and closets of my apartment in New York.

In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here."

I've been going through a few of Grammy's things which found their way to me. Her home is cleared of all her treasures and freshly repainted; there's a for-sale sign swinging on the lawn. I have Grammy's silver teapot and a quilt and some knick knacks. She saved every letter I ever sent her and my mom brought them all back to me in a plastic tub. 

I will have trouble letting them go, these relics now in my care. But I think I'm with Joan. 

It's not about the rubble left behind. I'm not Hercule Piorot, I can't recreate the scene by clutching a scrap of velvet and a penny nail. I need to start big, to start with the entirety of it all. The meaning of family and love that is pure and achingly unconditional. 

Here's what I've discovered over the past few weeks: 

In the midst of the Blue Night, the sky is weird and otherworldly. It wraps around itself and shimmers, like an infinite reflection in a mirror. It's haunting and immortal and fleeting. I've begun to believe the light is an aura, some kind of quiescent force.

And I feel like if you remember to notice, you can capture that elusive moment: the one which will embrace you long after the person you loved is dead. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

My niece and nephew singing Helan Går

I consider it my responsibility to teach the kids important life skills. Like Swedish drinking songs. They almost have it nailed. A couple tweaks and they'll be ready for kräftskiva season.