Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ties That Bind

A month or so ago, while standing on line at a CVS waiting to fill a prescription, I bumped into my old boss, the one assigned to fire me several years ago.

He didn’t say “we’ve arranged for you to spend more time with your family” or “the timing is perfect for a transition; you’re going to get to take on some new challenges.”

They save that for corner C-Suites and the Oval Office. He just said, “The company has eliminated your job. Curtain. A year later they got him.

So there we were, waiting on line.  He’s a Crestor man, while I favor Lipitor.

Turns out we clog pretty much the same.


It used to be that every once in a while I liked to tie one on. I’m going through a period now of wanting to tie one on every day. I’m talking about ties, of course, les cravates as the French say, not the two martini lunch.

I’ve got a closet full of ties and shoeboxes full of them in the basement. Why let them go to waste?

When I was a young man, my grandmother used to claim with some certainty that the world had gone completely crazy ever since we landed on the moon. With the experience of age, I now know exactly what she meant. The world has gone to lunacy ever since we developed an aversion to wearing ties.

So, I’m on a tie campaign. It’s Monday morning and I’m wearing a tie. This particular one, my wife the DG * bought for me at a flea market in Milan for lots of lira – but few dollars – just before we were married, which means I’ve had it for over thirty years.

Classic style is never out of “fashion;” it is always “now.” This tie is thin enough and long enough to look as though it just arrived in a J.Crew box, yet its “rep” stripes might also say JPress circa 1956. Or, Milan, 1982.

My old boss looked as though he was spending way too much time at home. He had gained weight and hadn’t worked steadily in several years. In our brief conversation, he did not seem bitter exactly, but he clearly wasn’t so happy. Things hadn’t gone his way. Maybe he was still wondering when those challenges were going to kick or when his family would appreciate the extra time he was spending with them.

We agreed to meet for lunch soon. Parting, I mentioned that I had to get going because I had to deliver papers –which we do every issue on the little paper where I work. I realized later that he thought that I’d fallen pretty far to have taken on a paper route.

Standing there in the parking lot, I had a “Groundhog Day” moment*. It seemed as if we were still having the same conversation from seven years ago, except there was no desk between us. We were just two guys stuck in time chatting in a parking lot.

Not long after that encounter, the DG** and I went to see “Le Weekend” in a nearly empty theatre (appropriately called Bow Tie Cinema). It’s a story about a British couple on their thirtieth anniversary trip to Paris.

Their initial hotel room, booked by the husband is a tiny walk-up-a-narrow-staircase type of thing. His disappointed wife icily bolts in a taxi, with the man barely catching up.

That little room looked exactly like the one I booked for our own twenty-fifth anniversary in Paris; only we stayed for a cozy two nights before moving to better digs.

The movie’s couple, Meg and Nick, wind up in a suite that they can ill-afford at the Plaza Athénée with a balcony view of Tour Eiffel. Talk about style! It may be the exact room we stayed in on another of our trips to Paris.

At lunch in one of those little Parisian places, Nick finally confesses that he’s just been sacked by his university, and it also becomes clear that they’re pretty much broke.

Sound dreadful? Despite instances of discomfort, it is not, especially since it all ends with a whimsical, hopeful moment, an improvised dance scene borrowed from an old Godard film. At least it struck me as whimsical.

Not so for the woman across the aisle in the theatre who pronounced the end “stupid” to the man next to her, presumably her husband. While storming out, leaving the husband in his seat to read the credits,
she looked straight at me and said “awful film.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was my second time seeing it.

The DG and I headed home after the movie to watch the Yankees beat the Red Sox together.

Postscript: A couple of weeks after writing this, I had a cordial breakfast with my old boss. He was becoming involved in a wind power business and I connected him to a friend who happens to own one. 

* "Groundhog Day:" if you have not seen this Bill Murray movie, you must do so.
** "Darling Girl," for those few who might not know.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Gimme an "F"

OMG. You thought about this day for many years and now it has finally arrived: college graduation for your youngest child.

A long time ago you calculated that at the same time this graduation would take place, you would be a) signing up for your first Social Security check, b) finally thinking about retirement, and  c) sitting pretty.

As if.

At first, this one looked like your typical small private college graduation: the quad filled with folding chairs, the library steps set up for faculty and dignitaries, the pipes-a-piping, a chill in the air off the nearby lake, and rows of attractive, expectant families. You noticed that they skipped the National Anthem. Were they making a point? Then the Chaplain spoke, careful it seemed to avoid actual mention of the “G” word.

You caught yourself thinking these thoughts, which were really about you and your own prejudices and sarcastic sense of humor. But, this was about your daughter, who worked really, really hard through, count ‘em, 18 or 19 years of pre, public, private day, boarding school, plus this fine college from which her mother also graduated.

This was not about you.

Well, maybe a little bit about you.


Having given a graduation speech yourself for another daughter, you knew a thing or two about these things. When speakers do their research as this one said he did, they find that there are only about 10 themes used over and over again.

He was, in fact, a heart-throb, at least according to the women seated nearby. He created and produced one of the most popular, groundbreaking TV shows. The college President described him as a storyteller and he turned out to be a good one.

Brad Falchuk, the Executive Producer and Director of “Glee” also turned out to be very funny,  irreverent, informal, and somewhat self- deprecating. He graduated twenty years ago. His subject: Failure!

Brad Falchuk, in Geneva NY
Sorry moms and dads, but he wanted our sons and daughters to fail miserably at something. He wanted them to lose at love, big time; get turned down for that dream job; get nastily, hopelessly fired; get shut-out, no-hit, slammed, belly-flopped; he wanted tears jerked, hearts broken, souls crushed so that our precious ones become miserable, shaking-on-their knees messes. We’re talking summa cum lousy, folks.

He was once a pretty nerdy undergrad with no athletic talent, who figured he could “get girls”  (the Women’s Studies Chair shuddered!) by getting into the coolest frat house on this campus. He put everything into it and got royally rejected.

At that point, he had nothing to lose, so he took an acting class, then another, then wrote a play, performed right behind where he was speaking. He made a campus film that got him into film school in LA, and the rest we know.

He arrived back on campus to speak as a big-shot and he got to stay in the big-shot house by the lake, to which he was escorted by a student. Naturally, it once housed the very frat that rejected him twenty years previously.


He had you laughing and crying while telling his story, You sat there listening, surrounded by family, your daughter up there somewhere in her cap and gown. You re-lived getting fired, the savings dwindling, losing a lot of stuff you once thought was essential to your life. You remembered years ago walking the little white dog at night, shaking your head at the whole thing, wondering when it would bottom out, touching the old ginkgo tree in front of the house for luck. It felt for a while as if you had a big fat “F” printed on your back.

Virginia W. McDermott, B.A.
And yet, as Falchuk did, as many of these grads will do if they’re lucky, you re-discovered long-dormant passions and skills. You're still on that course, learning to mine those skills a little bit every day.

Dear Grads, Dear Ginny, in life a gut course is not the easy one leading directly to an “A.” It is the one you feel in your gut, the course that scares you at least a little and probably a lot, one your parents may have missed. The one that deep down you know is right.

Take it.

E Note: You can view Brad Falchuk's excellent address here:


Friday, June 13, 2014

High Line II: West Village & Soho

All photos ©twmcdermott2014
Gansvoort Street / "Meet" Market

Jane Street 

Mary's Fish Camp / Charles Street / Go!

Soho Scene / Van Leeuen's Artisan Ice Cream

McNally Jackson / Mulberry Street/ Paper & Things for the Study

A Walk Along the High Line I

All photos ©twmcdermott2014



In Tune

No More Room /South End

Monday, June 9, 2014

"Monday, Monday…"

Those of a certain age and younger musical nostalgia buffs will recognize this Mamas & Papas' title and know its first line, "Monday, Monday, so good to me."

Well, not exactly.

The Little Jeep That Could, shown at left, sent me a message on its dash during my short interstate commute this morning, "Check Gauges."

I always do what my little truck – the back seat has been removed – says.

Gauge to cockpit, temperature rapidly rising. Memo to self: there is slow radiator leak that apparently rested in winter and is now back in bloom and you'd better make that Shell station before it blows.

And so I did, and await news of whether or not this situation calls for a new radiator. Let's speak this next sentence in a hush so that TLJTC can't hear. Is it finally time, after nearly 18 years and 60,000 miles together, to pull the plug and pass it on to one of its several eager young admirers?

Certainly not; it has an important role to play as the getaway vehicle in a September wedding. And, after all, this is a small thing in this world. Lots of worse stuff could happen on a Monday morning.

How did I get such a remarkably mature, if fleeting, attitude in the face of utter calamity?


Glad you asked.

There used to be a shop on the high street – aptly named Purchase Street – in the town where I work and do most of my living these days. In its window was a sign quoting a Buddhist saying, "Every day is a good day."

Pretty close I'd say. The more technically correct way to say that, especially in the Zen tradition, would be, "Every day is a day." The difference being that it is only our limited and busy human egos with their questionable "organic" judgment systems that label days good or bad.

Remember that pretty lame saying, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." The Zen tradition took sentimental pap like that a couple of thousand years ago and simply said, "This is a day." Not
exactly the Romans "Carpe Diem," not seize every day, just live the day.

Easier said than done, of course, but the little book shown here helps get you in the right frame of mind, so that when you get a "Check Gauges" today – sorry insufficient funds, this is not covered under your policy, do you remember your password? – you'll be better prepared.

Over the last 20 years or so, I've used a number of guides to teach me how to sit. They all contain a message that could be reduced to, "Don't just do something, sit there," which sounds like pablum or malarkey to some, which is okay, they're probably out there right now Carpe-ing their Diem. Good for them.

But, if you want another approach, Nhat Han Hanh's little book can't hurt. I bought mine at McNally Jackson in Soho. And, since Amazon is currently busy stomping on our friends at Hachette and bullying all writers by extension, you might want to get it directly from:


"Monday, Monday, it's here to stay."

And, one way or another, so is  the Little Jeep That Could.

Update on the sit-uation: As it turns out that will be with a new radiator.

Where's that chair!