Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Prada Pair: Oh, Sole-a-Mia

Even those who know me well will be surprised to learn that I have not one but two pairs of Prada shoes. I’m not really a Prada kind of guy – and don’t possess a Prada type body for their clothes. But, when it comes to shoes, I can be seduced by the most unlikely soles.

    I bought both pair on a whim, and also on sale at Prada’s Fifth Avenue shop while on a lunchtime stroll from my nearby office. It was a particularly tumultuous time in my corporate career, which is saying something, since I worked at a famously tumultuous company that was always merging, acquiring, or being acquired. Plus, we spent far more time competing internally for favor, jobs, budget money, and, well, just because.

    I had eyed these shoes for a while on previous strolls, but could not get over the list prices for even one pair. The idea of having Prada shoes appealed partly because I had a new, young dynamic boss who was kicking you know what and not bothering to take names.

    She had surrounded herself with a group of adoring young managers, and I was one of the few remaining holdovers from a previous “regime”. It was also a time during which I learned to practice  meditation in my private office each morning, as a way to cope,  and bought a scooter that I rode around the corridors to meetings. Even I have to admit that the scooter thing was more than a tad ridiculous.

    Having a pair of Prada shoes seemed like just the right touch. The brand said that I was a little more contemporary, but the cap-toe style, especially the black pair, denoted a serious side. Corporate with a bit of an edge, so to speak, and a far cry from my buttoned-down, bow tie days.

    But, which ones should I get, black or brown? The brown, with its glove-like leather, was far less structured. Plus, they had the trademark red heel mark. The black ones were shiny-stiff, close to being patent leather. Both had rubber soles and a very flat heel.

    In the end, I bought two for the price of one. I distinctly remember the look of surprise on my wife, the DG's, face in our old kitchen when I returned home that evening. I don’t recall her being impressed with the “on sale” argument. My youngest daughter didn't say a thing.

    As with some relationships we simply cannot say no to, this one was a mixed affair. I still love the idea of having these shoes a dozen or so years after purchase. It’s the reality of wearing them that hurts. “Literally”, as that daughter, Ginny,  would say today.

    The browns have practically no arch support and require inserts that make the right shoe too tight. The black are still stiff and hurt after a couple of hours of even modest walking. With both, I get back pain. They are like those marvelous Italian sports cars of the 60s with beautiful lines and sweet purrs, which spent most of the time in the shop, not on the road.

From the black box
    Still, these are things of great beauty. Sometimes I admire them while contemplating a day with them on my feet, and might even put them on before abandoning the idea of walking around the city in them as being totally impractical.

    Maybe I’ll get around to sending them to Miuccia Prada’s fellow countrywoman Paolo Antonelli, Design Curator at the Museum of Modern Art. But, not yet. My head tells me not to ever wear them again, but my heart can’t quite let them out of my life.

Vicky Rogers McEvoy, Still at the Top of Her Game

    At the dawn of the open tennis era in 1968, teenager Vicky Rogers walked onto Wimbledon’s fabled No. 1 Court with her partner Roy Barth for their match against defending mixed doubles champions, Billy Jean King and Owen Davidson. Although she lost that day, you can still hear the youthful pride as she recalls  “actually playing really well, and being relieved at not being embarrassed.”

    At Bournemouth that summer, she took a set from future Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade (1977). And, in singles at Wimbledon she got to the Third Round where she lost to Shirley Brasher, which she describes as “disappointing, since I had beaten her a couple of weeks before, and I had such a good draw.”

    Once ranked as high as third nationally, and a finalist in the 1967 Under 18 Nationals on grass at Philadelphia Cricket Club, Vicky will be inducted into the Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame at Beach Point Club in Mamaroneck April 24.

    She grew up in Rye; her father, Frederick, was a lawyer and mother, Janet, became one of Rye’s first women City Council members. In summers, she and her three siblings spent their days at Manursing Island Club. At age 9, Rogers McEvoy played in a tennis clinic led by John Vinton, who coaxed his young players with free Cokes from the snack bar if their shots hit his target. She won a lot of free Cokes.

    Her parents supported the rapid development of their daughter’s tennis. After ninth grade, she left her family and Rye Country Day to attend The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California. There, she took full advantage of the endless summers and continued to improve, playing in the fiercely competitive California junior tennis circuit. Along the way, she met her great friend and fellow-player Val Zeigenfuss and many others. La Jolla native, Karen Hantze Susman, who won the Wimbledon singles title in 1962, became her hero.

    At that 1968 Wimbledon, she recalls getting paid a whopping £50 stipend, since she was still an amateur, and exchanging her player’s tickets for a flat in London, a far cry from today's rich professional payouts.

    While she was fulfilling her tennis dreams, another dream developed. Returning home, arguably at the top of her game and poised for more court success, she left it all behind, confidently telling her parents that she’d decided to become a doctor.

    When asked about her decision, Vicky said, “I found myself as a player being an entertainer; it was one-dimensional, and I wanted to do more with my life; it wasn’t the way I wanted to go.”

    A self-described “all-or-nothing person” and armed with the discipline and problem-solving skills cultivated through her tennis career, she became a pre-med student at Hofstra University.

    In 1971, she married a hometown boy, Earl McEvoy and moved to Cambridge to attend Harvard Medical School. The couple have four children and two grandchildren. Dr. McEvoy is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Chief of Pediatrics at Mass General West Medical Group. She is also an author; one of her titles, “Taming Your Child’s Temper Tantrums”, might have been helpful to the parents of another local New York left-hander, who became a Wimbledon champion.

    As a pediatrician, she recognizes the perilous position of kids today who get into the sport at such a young age. “I worry about children going exclusively into one sport. With tennis, you must commit so early; academics can suffer too.”

    She cautions players against overuse of certain muscles, which can lead to chronic injury. The risk ofoveruse has been exacerbated by tennis’s evolution into a sport where topspin, which can cause problems particularly with wrists and elbows, is dominant and players are continually trying to “brutalize” the ball.
Vicky picked up a racket again in her 30s and still enjoys

playing on grass at Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline. She

recalls learning for the first time how to really “enjoy” tennis as

a social player. Eventually, she began playing USTA senior events. Today’s young players, she believes, could take a lesson from the seniors who are able to remain social and leave the competition on the court. She urges today’s players to "really enjoy the journey; it's a fun game. Work hard, but have fun."

    Her dedication to her game and profession catapulted her to success in both, an impressive combination that that sets an example for young athletes today looking for a purpose beyond the courts and playing fields.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snow Job

Vermont evening/photo by author

Once again, we’ve survived Armageddon in the form of a “blizzard” named Juno. By my reckoning, this makes three or four “storms of the century” that we’ve survived. And, we still have more than 85 years to go!

Last night, I received a message from the mayor of the city where I work, basically saying that he was shutting the little city down, and reporting that the county was closing all roads at 11 p.m. Then New York State closed its roads. 

We the people, in our little 10-unit hamlet in Greenwich, CT parked our vehicles up the road in the protected Town Hall garage overnight, illegally, and went home to drink and pray by the fire. There we hovered, hoping our wood would outlast calamitous Juno and that we might see our other friends and loved ones again.

There hadn’t been anything like this in about 11 or 12 months since the last end of the world. 

At 6 a.m. this morning, I could barely bring myself to peek out the window. When I did, my first thought was, “Oh, the storm hasn’t even hit yet.” Wrong. There were about eight inches of snow around, four of which had already been there from an earlier storm, and the winds seemed like normal late January winds.

The local correspondents  on cable channel 12 had already gone into a more understated frenzy mode. A ticker at the bottom of the screen declared that everything was closed, which made one wonder why we don’t just list what’s open instead. The storm’s center passed much further to the east than predicted, and eastern Long Island and central Connecticut bore the brunt. But, a reporter on the ground in that brunt was standing in six inches of snow on an already plowed street, amidst vehicles in driveways that barely needed dusting. 

Does the term “snow job” come to mind?
Real Juneau

The city that never sleeps shut its subways, and the commuter lines that feed it were still.

Another reporter cruising downtown New Canaan, CT. stated that it looked like a ghost town, while the camera showed fairly clear roads and about six inches of snow around. She forgot to say that all the roads were officially closed, the schools were closed, and people were told to stay home or face possible annihilation by snowflakes speeding down from space at 1.5 m.p.h. Duck!

The so-called “Greatest Generation” is passing rapidly now. These are the ones who lived through the Depression and World War II. What do they make of us, quivering while we gaze with gullible curiosity into our…phones? 

Even I can recall the seriousness of air raids in elementary school where we ducked underneath our little desks to avoid being harmed by nuclear fallout. And, one day in October 1962, I went off to high school on 16th Street in New York City wondering if I would ever see my family again, depending on what Comrade K. and President K. did about those Cuban missals.

And, there I was in my Juno-bunker with leftover she-crab stew and a bottle of J&B.

At about noon, the sun came out, and it became increasingly apparent that we would all survive this latest test. The inevitable death, taxes, and Kardashian Tales awaited us.

We have lofty national goals, like making some sense out of healthcare and fixing education. We roam the world making other places safe for democracy. But, I’m beginning to think that we might do better to concentrate on getting this weather thing right, so that a snowstorm can be just that, a natural part of a northeastern winter.

photo by author
The new “content” makers have turned the weather into scripted reality (distorted) TV.
What does it mean when we cannot even tell the truth about the weather out of fear that advertisers will be displeased if we do? And, what does it mean when we continue to pretend that what didn’t just happen really did, so that we will tune in as believers next time?

But, as the Cuban philosopher Ricky Ricardo used to say, “Maybe Juno more than I know.”

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Winter Strategies

photos 1,2,3,7©twmcdermott2015








Saturday, December 20, 2014

Encounters with Havana, 1958-1995

Photo by David Burnett, Time

My first encounters with Havana occurred circa 1958-1960 while sitting in Dr. Herbert Ernst's orthodontist's  chair in his cramped office on Lefferts Boulevard, Kew Gardens Queens (let the record who that I traveled there alone by bus, aged 10-12). Ernst, with his dark blonde slick-backed hair and toothy expression, along with his equally scary-looking assistant, Dennis, made Boris Karloff and his "Bride of Frankenstein" crew look like pikers.

While Ernst was busy twisting my braces around my bicuspids nearly to the point of bursting, I could glimpse a color photo of his Havana hacienda hanging on the wall over his right shoulder.

He used to serenade me with stories about how "Castro" had stolen his vacation house from him, but that someday he would get it back. I didn't yet really know who this "Castro" was, but I couldn't imagine that he could be more terrifying than Ernst himself, with a set of dental pliers in his hand and a wild look in his eyes that were but a few inches from my own. It was as if, with each little twist, he was extracting revenge on me as a kind of mini "Fidel."

Cut to November 1995, when I received a call at my office at Time Inc. – at the time, still the dominant American magazine company judged by advertising revenue and a division of Time Warner – from the company's lawyer in Washington D.C.

He told me that a member of the Senate was sending out signals that he wanted to know how a group of company executives and prominent guests were able to accompany a few accredited journalists and photographers to Havana, Cuba a month earlier. He also wondered how we paid for it, since financial transactions by Americans were illegal in Cuba.

Why was he calling me? Someone told him that I would be the point man for any questions regarding logistics, documentation, and payment for the recent round-the-world "Newstour", whose first stop was indeed Havana.

After a brief discussion of my actual relatively minor role in this corporate caper, the lawyer intimated that he would find a way to get rid of the inquiry. Case closed.

I did not mention anything to him about a conversation I had several weeks earlier with our contact "in the White House" about how exactly we would be able to document 70 people for that trip. People "in the administration" had noticed that the list of "journalists" wanting to visit Cuba included many names of people who were well know for not being journalists; to that I explained that they would indeed receive accreditation for the length of the trip. She said that she would see what could be done and gave me a contact in U.S. Customs with whom I could make certain unusual arrangements.

While I'm not at liberty to share the final arrangement, we left Dulles airport in our all-first class L1011 charter on October 6, 1995 and flew directly to Havana, where we arrived in the early evening and got settled into the grand old Hotel National. The trunk pictured below was the actual one used on our office at the hotel. The other one, marked "Beirut" was never used; that city was scratched from the tour at the last minute; both trunks were presented to me as mementos at the conclusion of the trip by Time magazine.

Since we were only in Havana for a short time, I did not get to see too much of the island. I did have a Hemingway mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio, buy a hand-rolled cigar in the lobby of the Nacional for a dollar and smoke it under the pans on the terrace. I also shopped in the tourist market in Old Havana, and visited a farmer's market with a government minder who praised small farmers' ability to practice a meager from of capitalism (we suspected that the market had been concocted solely for our benefit).

Finca Vigia
My one regret is that I did not have time to visit Finca Vigia
Hemingway's hacienda. I hope to have that opportunity again one day, a hope that now seems much more realistic after this week's announcement of a new relationship with Cuba.

I was on duty at the hotel on the night that our group dined with El Presidente and missed having to listen to him drone on and on and on for three or four hours. The photo shown above was taken that night.

On the morning of  October 7, my crack American Trans Air crew had our aircraft loaded, prepped and ready for take-off. The bus with our guests arrived right on time, boarded, and we were waiting for clearance from the tower. And we waited. And waited.

Eventually, the Captain called me, as operations director, to the cockpit to say that the tower had orders directly from Castro to hold us at the airport; visions of the "Execs Captured" headlines in The New York Times danced in my head.

About fifteen minutes later, two military looking vehicles drove through the gate onto the runway and pulled up next to the huge, four-engine L1011. Through my translator I discovered that El Presidente had decided to send departing gifts to each one of the guests: 70 boxes of his favorite Cohiba cigars, and 70 sets of three bottles each  of Havana Club rum.

We loaded up, a plane-full of happy guests. Already, I was wondering how I was going to get those gifts through customs in Anchorage, Alaska upon our return home.

Our merry journey continued to Moscow, Bangalore, Hanoi, and Hong Kong. On October 14, our last night in Hong Kong, after a lunch with the last British head of government, Chris Patten at The Peninsula Hotel, I called that customs number. "Hypothetically speaking," I said to my contact, "if someone was returning to the U.S. with 70 boxes of Cuban cigars and 210 bottles of Cuban rum, how would they get those through customs?"

"That would depend," he began, "on whether or not you purchased those items, which, of course, would be illegal in Cuba, or if they were gifts; but, you would need to pay duty."

"They were indeed diplomatic gifts from a head of state and I will pay the duty," I replied. "can you call ahead to Anchorage?" Yes, he could.

I still have one of those cigars and El Presidente's card that came with it. The rum is long gone.

I wonder if Dr. Ernst's hacienda is still there? Perhaps some day soon, I'll have a chance to look for it, after a long postponed  visit to Finca Vigia.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Artificial Intelligence? Not So Fast, Dave

HAL from "2001 Space Odyssey"

Despite what Mr. Kevin Kelly has to say about Artificial Intelligence in the 22.11 issue of Wired (see link, below), I have ample anecdotal evidence demonstrating that AI is impossible to accomplish.

It’s not the engineers I am thinking about when I state that; it’s the rest of us.

AI presupposes human intelligence in the first place. With this, I have a problem. How could we make something artificial when there is scant evidence of its existence in the first place.

Allow me to present a few examples:

Crosswalks: On one of my recent morning walks, I was reminded once again that human beings behind the wheel of a moving vehicle in the northeast are pretty much incapable of stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks even half of the time. If you drive a Mercedes, that figure drops to twenty-five percent. Teenage driver? Fifteen percent.

Even the best-marked crosswalks, with signs and flashing lights, like one I use on many mornings (in front of Town Hall!), do not help much. A Google-car would stop? Why? The Google Boy Geniuses are basing their product on how we drive, with modest improvements.

No. I say scrap all pedestrian crosswalks except on the west coast. In California, Oregon, and Washington drivers actually stop for pedestrians. It must be from generations of eating whole wheat bread, tofu, and seaweed. The one exception is L.A. where being a pedestrian is against the law and will get you a summons.

Turkey Burgers/Turkey Baloney: It’s one thing to have the food-industrial-complex come up with these things, but quite another when people actually fall for them. Sure, they’re healthier due to having less fat, but the whole point of a good burger and a beef or beef/pork baloney sandwich – never, never on whole wheat – is that they taste great because of the fat.

"Gobble. Oink."
Occasionally, while driving through nearby marshlands, I will see a family of wild turkeys crossing the road. I have never heard one of those turkeys moo. Not once. The parents teach the little turkeys to gobble, and in school they learn about their proud history as the choice of the local Siwanoy tribe to offer early settlers for use in a Thanksgiving meal.

There is one highly unusual exception to my objection: turkey bacon. Through some quirk of creation and/or evolution, it turns out that a few, special turkeys can oink. Turkey bacon is actually not bad to eat, although its aroma when cooking in the skillet in the morning cannot compare with the porcine standard.

Self-Checkout: Just before Halloween, I went to a national chain pharmacy/convenience store to get some inexpensive candy for treats. I found four bags of candy, each marked $1.88, and proceeded to the automatic checkout counters.

I successfully swiped each bag. The total came to more than $18, which is not the same as 4 X $1.88, even in the new Common Core Math.

The only attendant helping customers get through these counters was occupied. So, I got on line at the one real checkout counter to lodge my complaint.

That line was not moving. The patron being served in front of me wanted Euros as his change, as he was about to leave the country. No, I do not make this up. The most amazing thing is that the human checkout person clearly did not know a) what Euros were, or b) that the store or any other store nearby did not give change in Euros. Non. Nein. Nada.

I replaced my candy on the shelf and went to a grocery store near my home to buy pretty much the same candy from a human who charged me $21. And, I was happy.