Author Archives: Rob

Destiny

We went to the Clark in Williamstown to see the big Renoir exhibit. It was fantastic — and fun.

As we walked through the gallery, I whispered to my lovely companion — in a terrible faux French accent —  things I imagined Renoir and his models may have said to one another. She made me feel good by laughing at my stupid jokes, which is one of the reasons I love her so much.

“Ah, OK — put your hand in your hair.”  She resists. “But, Auguste, again? My arm gets so tired!”

We were reading about Renoir’s wife, Aline Charigot, who was the model in many of his most famous paintings. I commented on how Aline was 14 years younger than her husband, and an older man standing nearby said, “Just the opposite of me and my wife.”

Excuse me?

“My wife, she was 14 years older.” He launched right in, telling us about the woman to whom he was married for more than 50 years. They met when he was a 22-year-old student in Paris, and she was a painter. He took out a wallet and showed a picture of the two kissing. He had an eccentric air to him and it was a mildly strange encounter — but his story was so romantic.

I’ve had experiences like this before, brief encounters with strangers that feel like something more. They drop in at certain moments in unlikely ways, bearing what might be some sort of message. In the hospital just after my father died, a nurse appeared from nowhere and said she was, “here to take care of him.” To me, during that time of such intense emotion, it was like an angel descended on the dim room and I’d interrupted her work.

Because I’m always curious about this, I asked how the man in the gallery met his wife. He paused. “Destiny.”

Destiny, indeed. How else can you explain some things?

Bandwidth

There are some things about blogs that I hate, like when people allow their site to sit idle for months at a time.

I have become what I hate.

What I hate more is when people write about why they haven’t been writing. I’m always like, “Oh, shut the fu*k up and just write a post. We’re here to read what you wrote, not why you didn’t write something.”

I’m about to become that, too.

There was a time I could churn out interesting (in my opinion) blog posts on a regular basis. I’ve always figured that once was the minimum one should try to hit, and if you don’t have anything to say once a week, maybe you shouldn’t have a blog.

Based on that, I shouldn’t have a blog.

But best I can figure, this isn’t about interesting topics. I have loads of random ideas about things that could be a blog post, and in fact, I can usually take just a tiny thread of thought and make it into something sort of relevant.

So what’s going on?

I think it’s the thing my young management consulting friends call bandwidth. This refers to the amount of resources needed to complete a task, and in my case, I just haven’t had the bandwidth to focus on this thing. Extra demands at work and home eat up my mental energy in a way they didn’t used to. Things that were once easy now require more effort.

This is funny because I’m in very good physical condition right now, better than I’ve been in a couple of years. But my bandwidth? It just ain’t what it used to be.

The irony. I expected this to be the other way around.

Owl In a Box

In Albany, it’s not unusual to see a scraggly figure huddled against a downtown office building. But a downtrodden soul I encountered early one recent morning wasn’t clutching a cardboard sign. It was an owl.

A barred owl to be exact, common in these parts, but not commonly found sitting on a city sidewalk in broad daylight. You don’t need to know much about owls to know that this was a problem.

WTF, now?

As it happens, I went on an owl prowl in March at the Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville. Before we headed out to roam the woods, a wildlife rehabilitator gave a short lecture and showed live owls in her care.

Owls, she said, are commonly hit by cars or hurt by flying into things. What should we do if we find one injured? Carefully put it in a box and find someone who can help. So I went upstairs to the office for a box.

I folded her in a blanket and lifted her into the box. She was compliant, I was nervous. It was probably the first time for us both.

Amazingly, it only took a few calls and less than 10 minutes before I had a plan. The wildlife rehabilitator I contacted sent me to a local vet’s office that would take in the owl and manage its care.

I should probably mention that I taped the box shut before departing. Having an owl get loose in your car on the Thruway would not be good, though it would make for an interesting news story.

The owl — a Facebook friend dubbed her Hoota — is doing fine. She was not about to die, as I feared, nor did she have any serious trauma. The vet’s office thinks she may have flown into the side of the building and been stunned. Today, a week later, she’s under observation before they decide on releasing her.

Owls mostly move through the night unnoticed. If your lucky, you’ll hear one or see it fly past silently in the dark. They want or need nothing from us, but on occasion, we are the only option.

The Gospel According to Lebowski

Peter’s denial of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is one of the Bible’s best known passages, so to read it in front of the whole church on Palm Sunday was humbling.

But it was hard to keep a straight face.

I occasionally serve as a lector at my church and over the weekend was assigned to read part of the Passion, the section where Peter claims not to know Jesus. But the voice that rang through my had when I practiced the reading wasn’t the apostle Peter’s.

The servant says, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.”

And Peter replies,  “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!”

Peter sounds like the Dude.

No matter how I said it, it kept coming out in various shades of Lebowski. Hmmm. Let’s place the emphasis slightly differently and… it’s still the Dude. Wait — let me try it like this. No. His Dudeness.

It’s weird, yes. And by coincidence, there’s a character named Jesus in The Big Lebowski. 

I’m pretty sure a few people in the crowd picked up on this, for I could tell by the look on their faces that they heard the Dude when they were supposed to hear Peter.

Maybe it was just my imagination, but I don’t think so. And if you disagree, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

Patty Wagon

If you want to convince an Irishman that you’re an eejit, call March 17 “St. Patty’s Day.” Let’s be clear: Patty is short for Patricia, and Paddy is the nickname for Patrick.

Period.

A quick survey of the news reveals that there are a lot of eejits out there in the media using “St. Patty” — too many to count. To make matters even worse, the misuse of St. Patty is disrespectful to another saint.

St. Patricia was a 7th century noblewoman who gave everything to the poor, took a vow of virginity and devoted her life to the Lord. St. Patty ended up near Naples after being shipwrecked during a voyage to Jerusalem. She later died and is now the city’s patron saint. Her feast day — which one might call St. Patty’s Day — is celebrated on August 25. According to Wikipedia, people believe that the dried remains of her blood turn to liquid on that day — and on “every Tuesday morning.” The Tuesday part seems to make it less special.

So, let’s not mix up our Pattys with our Paddys. Do it once and you can be forgiven as a simple eejit. Do again? Then you’re a feckin eejit.

Me and My Mummy

People still ask me if I miss my old job. Not really. Well, yes and no. Yes, it was always interesting and it was work I excelled at, but do it today? No thanks.

But allow me to reminisce.

Lon Chaney Jr. as The Mummy

Early in my career, I produced cheap local commercials and we were doing a spot for Halloween Hall in Ballston Spa. We’d done a lot of shooting in the store, but this season they had a unique new item they wanted to show off: an elaborate mummy costume. This would require a special shot that could only be done back in the studio.

Our plan was for the mummy to emerge from the darkness into a beam of light — and to make it extra dramatic, we rented a smoke machine. Nothing makes things look cooler than a smoke machine.

We were all set — but someone would have to swaddle themselves in this mummy suit. Normally, I’d persuade an intern to do this, but that semester we didn’t have one, so I wrapped myself up and went to work. It looked terrific — exactly as planned — and with the studio full of smoke, I got out there and lurched around doing my best Lon Chaney Jr.

That’s when the station’s chief engineer ran in screaming.

“What is this smoke? Do you have any idea what it can do to these cameras? The PARTICULATE MATTER in this could corrode the circuit boards! Destroy the optics! How are we going to do the news in three hours with no cameras?”

Oh, shit.

Yes, we were in the same studio as used for the newscast, and in moments, a crew from engineering started disconnecting the hulking cameras and dragging them into the hallway.

It should have been funny, me standing there in a mummy suit getting yelled at, but my blood ran cold. I skulked off to my office and waited to be fired.

Later in the day, my boss, the director of sales, called me to his office. He said something like, “Hey, no more smoke machines in the studio,” and sent me on my way.

That’s the day when I learned a valuable lesson: TV stations are not run by the engineering or news departments, they are run by sales. The only media literacy lesson you need is this: it’s a business — and if you think the media is biased, you’re right. They’re biased toward making money.

Guns and Drugs

Petersburgh, New York is only about four miles from both Vermont and Massachusetts. If it weren’t for the road signs, you might not know where one state starts and the other one ends. But even if the borders are invisible, there are profound differences when you cross them.

Two examples.

People in Vermont are very much like the people in Petersburgh, except they can very easily buy guns. In fact, Vermont has fewer gun laws than most states in America, and Vermonters can buy as many handguns as they like with no license, permit, or waiting period. Then they can carry concealed with few restrictions.

In the time it takes you to buy a gun in Vermont, you couldn’t even complete the application in Petersburgh.

A short way south, in Massachusetts, ordinary people can walk into a store and buy marijuana. Recreational sale is still in it’s infancy, so it’s not quite as easy to buy weed in Massachusetts as it is to buy a gun in Vermont, but give it time. People are standing in line to buy pot in Mass, but there are no lines for guns in Vermont.

In Petersburgh, marijuana means you need to know somebody —- or know somebody who knows somebody.

It’s true that there are more important measures of freedom than guns and drugs, but to many people, these are meaningful symbols of personal liberty. Both can be misused. Guns, sometimes, in terrible ways.

Petersburgh, so close, yet so far. If the wind is blowing right, you can smell the marijuana, and hear the sound of gunfire drifting over the hills.

Rolling Boil

Dominick Purnomo grew up around the work, stress, and pain that comes with carrying the weight of a restaurant. His parents, Chef Yono & Donna Purnomo are local legends in the food world, so he saw the business at its best too, with all of its triumph and joy. It’s a tough game. Restaurants are a place of great successes and epic failures. 

Dominick’s parents may have tried to steer him away, but he jumped in with both feet.

On Thursday, he tweeted a copy of a letter he was sending the Times Union, setting off a skirmish on social media where food and journalism collided.

You can read Susie Davidson Powell’s review here. To say she hated Boil Shack is understating things, for her review wasn’t just negative, it was gleefully nasty.

It’s fair to say that some people find Powell’s reviews annoying. When she started at the Times Union, her pieces were thick with Britishisms, so full of pip-pip-cheerio nonsense that they sounded like parody. Not so much now. Thank God for editors.

The president has taught us that Twitter is a great place to show how thin skinned you are, so Purnomo’s post drew a tart response from several prominent TU folks, like managing editor Casey Seiler.

Maybe Purnomo will get a polite and reasonable response to his letter from a senior manager at the paper, but that time isn’t now.

I don’t completely agree with Dominick Purnomo on this. A restaurant can have a bad night and fix it the next day, but your bad night may have ruined somebody’s special occasion. Or maybe you took the $100 bucks they put away for a nice dinner and you didn’t deliver. There’s no taking that back. 

As for Susie Davidson Powell,  her schtick is unfair and unprofessional. She may have been right, but she was not just.

Blackout

So, Governor Ralph Northam’s of Virginia had a tough couple of days.

Interesting, because it brought back memories of painting my own face on Halloween. Wore a robe once, too. As a matter of fact, painted the face and wore a robe on the same day.

But unlike with Governor Northam, my face was painted white and my robe was black.

The getup was supposed to be some sort of phantom druid or something, who the hell knows. What do you expect from a weird teenager who’d seen too many 60s British horror movies.

But it’s easy to remember doing it — and that’s why this Ralph Northam thing’s so strange. It seems to me that you’d recall wearing blackface or a Klan robe on Halloween when you were in college.

Fast forward to 1986. The Mets had just won the World Series, and the legendary Mookie Wilson/Bill Buckner play in Game 6 was a very big deal. So this guy — a friend of mine — showed up at work on Halloween in his Mookie jersey and his face painted as black as coal.

Think about that, walking into work in blackface. Pretty crazy. And I don’t think the boss did anything about it, except maybe tell him not to go see any clients dressed that way. He was in sales, and God forbid his Mookie costume cost the TV station some money.

Today he’d be fired on the spot.

Halloween’s a funny thing.  How far is too far when it comes to costumes? Or is Halloween like stand-up comedy, where anything goes and no topic is taboo or too offensive?

Either way, it’s a different world out there. If pictures of me in whiteface emerge, I could be in hot water with the phantom druids.