What It Is: 10/19/09

What I’m reading: I finished Moby Dick last week, and got swept up in George, Being George, an oral history of George Plimpton, over the weekend. Reading the section on Plimpton’s divorce from his first wife, I felt really sad for his kids. I went to college with his oldest daughter, but don’t recall having any interaction with her during our time at Hampshire. When I finished that chapter, I thought, “Man, I hope she has kids and they give her a big hug today.” Outside of that, the book’s very entertaining. The scenes at the Paris Review offices sound like they were wonderful, although I’m guessing that, had I submitted a resume back in my post-college days, my name would’ve triggered a lack of a callback. (Not that Plimpton was anti-semitic, so much as, um, well, it just sounds like there weren’t many Jews (or black people) working at the Review, is all I’m saying.) Midway through the book, it occurred to me that Plimpton was “Fitzgerald who wanted to be Hemingway.” I thought this was a pretty good insight until I reached the last quarter of the book, where I learned that Plimpton had in the 1990’s adapted Fitzergald and Hemingway’s correspondence into a dramatic dialogue that he performed with Norman Mailer and Mailer’s wife Norris Church (who played Zelda). So I’m no genius. Anyway, it’s a really fantastic book, despite the sadness of the closing years of Plimpton’s life, where it became clear that his devotion to the social sphere had taken its toll on his body (and was part of his inability to be a good husband). Here’s the only passage that I dog-eared:

JAMES SCOTT LINVILLE: The only time I saw George nervous was when he was about to interview Andy Warhol for the magazine. There was something in Warhol’s voice, which had always been so flat, almost inhuman-seeming, but here . . . well, I thought: My God, he really wants George to like him. I realized he’d have had to have been hurt by the Edie book years before, and here he was talking to him. And George, George clearly did not like him, but he was fascinated by him. I suddenly realized these two guys had in some sense studied each other, for decades, how the other fashioned himself in the media — George of course with his effortlessness, the patrician thing, and Warhol . . . well, whatever he was. It was clear they had each paid attention to how the other had moved through some grid of public awareness.

It’s a topic I’d love to spend time writing about, trying to understand these two representative figures and how they shaped our ideas of celebrity. But I’m too busy watching the Balloon Boy story unfold. (Just kidding; I laughed about the story when it first began and devoted zero time to it after that.)

What I’m listening to: Nothing specific; just letting the iPod shuffle away.

What I’m watching: Adventureland (meh), the Yankees (yay!).

What I’m drinking: Not a thing till I’m over this cold.

What Rufus is up to: Wearing his coat when we go out for walks, and making friends at our local dry cleaner. I was a little nervous when the proprietor said, “Greyhounds are very valuable in Korea!” but he didn’t make any comment about how tasty their haunches are, so yay.

Where I’m going: Probably down to suburban Philadelphia, to deliver a TV. Don’t ask. Also have a get-together with a bunch of pals at Peter Luger in Brooklyn on Thursday evening.

What I’m happy about: That my wife’s pal Kate delivered her baby! Welcome, Charlotte!

What I’m sad about: Getting snow on Thursday. And being sick for basically two straight weeks. Grr.

What I’m worried about: Pettitte will have That One Inning this afternoon in Anaheim. You Yankee fans know what I’m talking about.

What I’m pondering: When NJ diners began getting liquor licenses. Was it around the same time they got rid of their jukeboxes?


Day 1 of our annual conference is over! It was a huge success: the exhibitor companies were ecstatic about the quality of the attendees they got to meet, while the attendees really enjoyed the 5-speaker slate I lined up for presentations. And I was ecstatic because the day’s final speaker, the FDA guy who hadn’t returned an e-mail from me for six months, showed up and hit a home run.

(To be fair, he did e-mail yesterday at noon to tell me that he’d be driving up from Maryland today. After six months of radio silence.)

I sat in on the first conference session, a keynote address from Pfizer, but after 5 minutes, I had to get up and leave. I headed upstairs from the conference ballroom to our registration area and checked on all our staffers, who were doing a great job of handing out attendee and exhibitor badges and conference bags. (It’s a lot of work, with a ton of people showing up at once. They do an awesome job.) I headed to the exhibit hall, which was filled with people building their tabletop displays and setting up their promotional material.

And I kept thinking, “I really should go downstairs and listen to the sessions.” I mean, I recruited all the speakers; I set up their time-slots to develop a good rhythm of topics and speaker-demographics; I coordinated all of their hotel needs; I collected their presentations and edited them (mainly for font issues on our laptop). But I just couldn’t sit down in the conference hall.

Fortunately, I was able to identify what I had become. And because it’s me, I was able to tie it to . . . yet another book in my life.

A few years ago, I read Moneyball, Michael Lewis’ entertaining book about the practices of Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s. Beane had caused a stir in baseball by focusing on certain player statistics that were valuable — in terms of contributing to wins — but undervalued by other teams. By snapping up players who excelled in these more esoteric areas, Beane was able to build a playoff contender on the cheap.

It’s a really wonderful book, following the A’s over the course of a season while exploring the history of sabermetricians — the “stat geeks” of baseball — and how their obsessive pursuit of metrics for baseball performance led to a new way of seeing the game.

The part of the book that came to mind while I was walking through the exhibit hall was when the playoffs began. Even though he worked incredibly hard to put together an A’s team capable of battling a Yankees team of nearly triple the payroll, it turned out that Billy Beane wouldn’t watch Oakland’s playoff games. He got in a car, turned off the radio, and drove around.

Why wouldn’t he watch? I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically said, “My system is good enough to get them into the playoffs over 162 games. But in a short playoff series, the sample set is too small. Luck plays too big a role.” He couldn’t bear to watch a team that was built statistically to excel in an MLB season, because it was all-too-easy to lose a series on a fluke.

And I thought, “That’s where I am. I’ve put too much energy into getting these speaker lineups together. I’m too burned-out from waking up at 3 a.m. wondering what I’m going to do if the FDA guy doesn’t show up. Now everyone’s here, but it’s up to them. I can’t make any of their presentations better, and I would be too bummed out if one of them had a bad day and left the attendees disappointed.”

So today was the playoffs, and I let my manager (my able moderator Frank Chrzanowski) take over. Like I said, they were all great. I have a couple of pals who will always be honest with me about my speakers’ performances. They raved today.

I actually did go downstairs to the conference to see the second half of the FDA guy’s presentation. He turned out to be witty, acerbic, and entertaining. I thought, “Man, I oughtta get him to write an article for us on this” before remembering, “Oh, that’s right. You swore you were never going to work with him again because he didn’t get back to you for six months.”

So there you go. I’m the Billy Beane of Contracting & Outsourcing 2009.

What It Is: 8/10/09

What I’m reading: Moby Dick.

What I’m listening to: The soundtrack to The Big Lebowski. I really never imagined that “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” was sung by Kenny Rogers.

What I’m watching: Yankees sweeping the Red Sox, Diner, and Slaves to the Rhythm, the Princes Trust charity tribute concert to Trevor Horn from 2004. We saw a shorter version once on HDNet, and got the DVD from Netflix. It’s a really amazing concert, with performances by a ton of great acts that Horn produced, including ABC, Pet Shop Boys, Grace Jones, Seal, Yes, and Frankie Goes To Hollywood (with a new lead singer because Holly Johnson apparently has irreconcilable differences with the rest of the band and Horn). We also caught I Am Legend, which, um, hey. . .

What I’m drinking: Juniper Green & tonic.

What Rufus is up to: With the promise of another Sunday thunderstorm, we canceled our grey-hike. Of course, it never rained. Still, it was so muggy that the hike would’ve been awful.

Where I’m going: Nowhere in particular.

What I’m happy about: That I was able to disassemble a Mac Mini, upgrade the hard drive and memory, and actually get it to work again when I put it back together! Now I gotta figure out how to configure it as a media server . . .

What I’m sad about: That the Red Sox managed to score two runs in the finale of the Yankees’ 4-game sweep, after being held scoreless for 31 consecutive innings. I was hoping for 3 straight shutouts, but I’ll take a 4-game sweep, esp. after the team’s early-season struggles.

What I’m worried about: That I too will fail a steroid test because I was careless with my supplements and vitamins.

What I’m pondering: How to integrate my pal Mark’s recent post on our dumbification and partizaniness with this article by NYTimes movie reviewer A.O. Scott on Hollywood’s responsibility for national infantilization. And how to tie it up in a neat bow with this ad for the new Melrose Place:


Family Affair

This piece by baseball player Doug Glanville on how little players know about their teammates’ lives reminded me of the story about how Michael Jordan was shocked to discover that his teammate Steve Kerr’s father had been shot to death, albeit under much different circumstances than Jordan’s dad’s shooting death (PLO vs. two of the dumbest criminals ever).

I can’t recall if Jordan learned about that common bond before or after punching Kerr in the face during practice for guarding him too tightly.

What It Is: 5/25/09

What I’m reading: Plutarch’s Lives of Pericles and Fabius. I had a devil of a time getting into the Pericles section. It’s possible I was more distracted than usual, but the prose seemed utterly unwieldy and drowsiness-inducing. Which bums me out, because I expected that sketch to be one of the greats. Still, he kept me going with the life of Fabius Maximus and the comparison of the two.

What I’m listening to: Good News for People Who Like Bad News, by Modest Mouse.

What I’m watching: Burn After Reading, Doc Hollywood, Helvetica, and Local Hero (which really should get remastered/reissued on DVD). We moved my 24″ iMac downstairs (along with our guest bed), so it’s just been selective DVD viewing down in our rec room / library.

What I’m drinking: River Horse lager, picked up on a whim at Whole Foods.

What Rufus is up to: Recovering from surgery to repair the damage inflicted by a neighbor’s Akita, which took 2 chunks out of Ru’s right rear leg. He’s spending most of his days & nights in his crate. It’s a good thing he spent the first 2 years or so of his life crated, otherwise he might really object to being there. As is, he gets antsy if he doesn’t have access to it (when we get back inside after a bathroom break and I have to change the dressing over his wounds).

Where I’m going: Nowhere. I had to cancel my participation in an overnight PR junket in NYC this week, because of my poor boy’s condition.

What I’m happy about: Barring complications (read: infection), Rufus has a good chance of being “back to normal” in about 6 weeks. Oh, and my pals Ian & Jess are visiting next weekend! And the day before Rufus was attacked, I had a great visit with my grad school pals Joy & Miguel and their kids, who live about 15 minutes away from the hotel I was staying in in downtown Atlanta. Also, I’m happy that I went out with some client-pals on Wednesday to a Braves game. They knew all about my troubles/stresses with Rufus and were hoping to take my mind off things. Go look at some pictures.

What I’m sad about: All the anxiety and stress about Ru, as well as my assumption that “none of this would have happened if I’d been here.” I got over that self-centered guilt soon after getting home from BIO on Thursday night, faced with the immediacy of Ru’s situation (and not mine). And I’m sad that I missed the fancy dinner I was going to have in Atlanta, because I got the news about Rufus about 2 hours earlier. My coworkers and work-pals enjoyed themselves, so that’s good.

What I’m worried about: That the Animal Control dept. will fail to do its duty regarding the offending Akita, which attacked another dog 3 weeks earlier.

What I’m pondering: How to TASE a dog without risking “back-zap.” Just in case.