The Unbearable Banishment: July 2010

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reason #857 why you should be glad you don't live in New York City

All I wanted to do was see a damn movie. The theaters in Times Square are convenient and have big, whopping screens. The kind that give you a headache if you sit too close. But there's this:

That's right. It's $13 friggin' bucks to see a movie out here! And if it's in 3-D, you have to kick in another $5-$7 on top of that! A small soda and a small popcorn set me back $9.50. I asked for the child's portion and it was STILL enough for two adults. It felt like one of those old-time Times Square scam job. Like a legal Three-Card Monte game.

* * *

After the film, (Inception. Quite good.) I walked through Times Square. There was troop of Boy Scouts who had set up tents along a cordoned off strip of Broadway near 47th Street. They were on a camping trip. They were sleeping overnight in the street! For real!

This is crazy. All it would take is one out of control taxi and it'd be instant carnage. And besides, there are nice, comfortable hotels just steps away. This is the most stark evidence of how far this town has come since I first got here. If the Boy Scouts had tried this stunt when I got here, they'd have had to fight off the transvestites for their uniforms and the bums living in Bryant Park for the tents.

Boy, I hate camping. The closest I ever get to "roughing it" is wearing socks that have holes in them. I work my ass off. I don't sleep in tents, thank you.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Love / Hate

Daughter 2 just turned 4 the other day. In my mind, she has crossed a threshold. I can now take her out to the diner for dad/daughter Saturday lunches and, soon, on forays into the city. Daughter 1 has been sufficiently indoctrinated and now shares my obsessive madness for New York. It's time to begin spinning my web for Daughter 2.

* * *

Dell agreed on Thursday to pay $100 million to settle civil charges…that its senior executives used fraudulent accounting tricks to make it appear that the computer maker was meeting Wall Street earnings targets. Michael Dell, the company’s founder, chairman and chief executive, agreed to pay a $4 million fine as well. Dell settled the case without admitting or denying the S.E.C.’s allegations.

The New York Times, July 22, 2010

The S.E.C. charged Goldman Sachs in a civil complaint on April 16 with securities fraud related to the creation and sale of a subprime mortgage security. On July 15, Goldman agreed to pay $550 million to settle the case without admitting or denying the accusations.

The New York Times, July 26, 2010

I don’t throw down the word “hate” hastily. I believe what I’m taught in my meditation class about being careful of what you put out there. But I really, really hate these guys. They’re gutless cowards. They can’t even admit they’re wrong, even when they know they‘re wrong. Do you really think that the parasites at Goldman Sachs would cough up half a billion dollars if they felt they were innocent of any wrongdoing? Why would anyone continue to hold their accounts at Goldman?

EDIT: And in today's paper:

Citigroup has agreed to pay $75 million to settle federal claims that it failed to disclose vast holdings of subprime mortgage investments. Citigroup will nether admit nor deny the S.E.C. accusations.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The King lies bleeding with his throat slit

I struck gold the other night. This is why I persist in chasing these small productions. I wish I were a better writer so I could do justice to these guys. Here’s how they staged the last scenes. Hang on.

It’s nearing the end of the War of the Roses. Having cut King Henry’s throat, Richard (who will eventually become Richard III after much violence, bloodshed and treachery) stands over him, knife in hand, thinks of his two brothers who are the only thing standing between him and the crown, and says with a malevolent grin:

I can smile and murder whiles I smile.

Henry lies at his feet, face down, in a crumpled mass. A thin trickle of blood starts from high in the theater rafters and drizzles on the King’s back. (Now THAT'S hitting your mark.) A small pool forms on his garment and then begins to puddle around him. All the while, Richard is spinning his evil intent.

The final scene takes place in the court of the newly crowned King Edward IV. He orders a celebration and gives a rousing speech assuring the kingdom that the long years of war are finally over and that they stand on the cusp of peace and prosperity. During the celebration, King Henry is still upstage and the blood continues to trickle and pool around him. The cost of that peace is made graphically clear.

Then, the court clears, the lights dim, the scene changes and Richard bounds out from the back of the theater, mad and naked, hides behind the overturned throne and recites a few lines from the Now is the winter of our discontent... speech that begins Richard III, effectively linking these two plays.

The blood stops flowing. The play ends. The cast comes out for their curtain call. Everyone except for Henry. He's still lying on the stage in his own blood. The crowd files out and Henry never moves. Nervous laughter from the departing audience. Fucking brilliant.

This was Wide Eyed's production of King Henry VI, Part III. It's in a small, black box theater down on 13th Street and 3rd Avenue. The entire production was one, long (3:15) holy shit. There’s a guy named Ben Newman who played Richard who was so effective that I wouldn’t want to meet him on the street. Also, props to Nat Cassidy as Henry, the King who never wanted to be King and Justin R.G. Holcomb as the Earl of Warwick. Who are these guys? Three unknowns who don’t deserve to be.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

O Brooklyn! My Brooklyn! (with apologies to Walt Witman)

When I moved back to New York after 18 months of Phoenix, Arizona, I lived in downtown Brooklyn for a few years. I shared a brownstone in Boerum Hill and then had my own apartment in a brownstone in Fort Greene. I'm glad for the opportunity and feel privileged for having lived a portion of my formative years in Brooklyn. The man I am today was drawn from my experiences on those pretty, sometimes dangerous, streets.

The Brooklyn Bridge. The most beautiful stone bridge you'll ever lay your eyes on. It has distinctive cathedral window cutouts in the stanchions.

I got mugged three times while living in Brooklyn. Again, this was many years ago when things weren't as safe as they are now. Have you ever been mugged? It stays with your for a long, long time and the revenge fantasies to keep you up at night.

Once, I was having my haircut in Brooklyn Heights and two guys came into the salon and robbed everybody. Another time, I was walking down South Portland in Fort Greene and two kids from the projects on the other side of the park came up from behind me and mugged me. I never saw a gun but they said they had one. I took their word for it. I was wearing my grandfather's wedding ring and they took it. It was just a cheap gold band from Italy but, of course, it had great sentimental value. The third time, two guys came up and punched me in the face. It was racially motivated. This was pre-pre-gentrification. I was the only white guy in my building and one of the few Caucasians on the block. They made a comment about the pigment of my skin, hit me, and walked away. They didn't take anything.

The vast majority of my experiences were good ones and despite these incidents, I have a warm spot in my heart for Brooklyn. Sometimes, I miss it.

# # #

I paid a rare visit to Brooklyn Heights and had dinner with Señor C., someone whom I've known for a few decades.

The brick sidewalk leading to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade; an elevated walkway over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway with expansive, gorgeous views of Manhattan.

We walked from Brooklyn City Hall, down Henry Street and had dinner at Henry's End. I had a big bowl of Andouille. Chicken, Andouille sausage in a Creole mustard sauce with bell peppers. Scrumptious. Jesus Christ, I wish I had a bowl right now.

On the promenade looking at the southernmost tip of Manhattan near sunset.

Once, while riding my 10-speed bike through the streets I took a corner fast and almost rammed right into Norman Mailer. Later that same summer, I almost hit Quentin Crisp in the East Village! I am a menace to the literary community.

The Statue of Liberty with the Staten Island Ferry passing right in front of her. The spit of land on the left is Governor's Island, where I lived for three years while in the Coast Guard.

This is one of the many carriage houses that dot the neighborhood. It is exactly what the name implies. Where once carriages were stored, people now live. As you can imagine, they are meticulously refurbished inside.

The photo below is Señor C. taking pics of Manhattan. Here's why this city is such a wonder: Señor C. has lived in Brooklyn pretty much his entire life. I don't want to betray his age, but let's just say he a hell of a lot closer to retirement than he is the start of his career. And even though all those decades have peeled away, he still finds New York a fit subject to photograph. That's how we all feel out here. This place never gets old.


Friday, July 23, 2010

A cleaver, an egg, a fish, a lit torch, a bottle of cheap champagne

And by "lit torch" I don't mean a flashlight. I mean a stick with one end on fire. These are just some of the items juggled by the four lunatics who are The Flying Karamazov Brothers. Their new show, 4 Play, is currently down in the Village at the Minetta Lane Theater.

The brothers, Dmitri, Alexei, Pavel and Zossima (no, they're not really brothers), have been around in various iterations since 1972 with Dimitri, second from left, as the founder and one constant member. This is exactly the type of light, pleasant entertainment you want in the heat of summer before the really thick stuff sets in. [A revival of Mamet's A Life in the Theater with Patrick Stewart can wait until October.]

The show is classic Vaudeville. :90 minutes of comedy, music, dance and loads of juggling. It's all sounds too quaint and pedestrian but I had a great time and more than a few moments of inspired awe. One segment had audience members bring items up to the stage for them to juggle. The bet is that Dmitri can keep them aloft. He gets a standing ovation if successful and a pie in the face if he fails. This evening, he successfully juggled a pink tutu, a surgical glove filled with water, a lipstick tube and a tin coffee pot. The video on their site shows that someone brought in an entire pizza for him to juggle. C'mon! How can you not be entertained by that?! I'm hoping I can bring The Girls into the city to see it before the end of the run.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tooth decay and lung cancer

I live about two miles from the town center. It's quaint. You've seen a million places just like it. Little mom-n'-pop shops, restaurants, nice places to stroll. In the summer, they have weekend music festivals whereby local musicians play on the sidewalks. They are cleverly spaced apart and around corners so that no one performer interferes with another.

We took The Daughters for a walkabout. We listened to some weepy, sensitive singer-songwriter types and then got some ice cream at the local parlor. In addition to ice cream, they sell "vintage" candy. That's not to say that the candy is old. It's the kind of stuff that yuppies use to buy when they were kiddies.

I am happy to report that all of the tobacco products are still represented. Did you ever buy these bubblegum cigarettes? I sure did. If you take one out of the pack and gently blow into it, the powder from the gum will come out of the other end and it'll look like smoke. It's genius! If these are intended to be a gateway drug, they worked. I smoked for a few years when I got old enough to buy the real thing.

The "Victory" cigarettes are supposed to be Viceroy, the "Target" are supposed to be Lucky Strikes and "Round Up" is supposed to be Marlboro. I think it's a hysterical coincidence that there is a company called Target that uses a big red dot in its branding identity.

For the more sophisticated (and male) audience, they have bubblegum cigars. My fav was always El Bubble. The "Pink Owl" is supposed to be White Owl cigars. I'm not sure what the others brands are. (Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) The bubblegum cigars were always kind of hard and they hurt your jaw if you chew them for too long.

They didn't want to leave out the red neck contingency so they also have bubble gum chewing tobacco. I never bought a pack. Everyone knows that chewing tobacco isn't good for you.

These are candy buttons. Solid sugar. After you eat a sheet, you end up with a wad of wet paper in your mouth. But I always ate them, anyway.

Did you know that if you eat these and drink a Coke at the same time, your stomach will explode and you'll DIE! That's how Mikey died, poor thing.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My what a big carafe you have

I’m designing a brochure with the usual insidious aim of trying to separate small business owners from their money and as part of that I was conducting a search for some photos to incorporate into the piece. I spend an inordinate amount of my day searching for just the right imagery. Look at this ridiculous photo that was on the LANDING PAGE of a stock photo house!

Is it my overactive imagination or does that wicker wine carafe look like something other than a carafe? And the placement couldn’t be worse (or better). My favorite part of the photo is the look of astonishment on the face of the woman on he right. She’s probably never seen a carafe quite that big. I’m definitely going to try and work this into the brochure.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It’s the little things that haunt you

8-Year Old Daughter has developed a peculiar sleeping habit. When she goes to bed at night, she sleeps on top of her covers. She refuses to get under the sheets. Refuses! I had an epiphany the other day and realize where this behavior was born.

I do housework. Shut up. I just do. Among my other duties, I take care of making and stripping the beds. Daughter’s bed is almost impossible to make. It’s against two walls in the corner of her room and a chest is at the foot, which leaves just one side open. I get into terrible wrestling matches with the mattress trying to get everything tucked in properly. Sometimes I get so angry it’s comical.

It has come to pass that Daughter will not get under her covers because, in her words, “The bed is too hard to make.” Do you see what I did to that poor little thing? She won’t sleep under her sheets because she’s afraid it will displease me. I can’t tell you how bad I feel about this.

This is a small matter as things go, but I wonder what other little time bombs I’ve unwittingly planted inside of her head? I worry about how the world is going to hurt my kids but I forget that they hang on every single word that comes out of my mouth. I don’t want her to inherit my neurosis.

* * *

Front page story from today’s New York Times:

Pakistan’s Elite Pay Few Taxes, Widening Wealth Gap

Call me an old Pinko but that’s exactly what’s been happening here in the U.S. for many generations. Why would they expect Pakistan to be any different? Did you know that in 2009, General Electric made a global profit of $10.8 billion (That's billion with a "b".) and paid exactly $0 (that's ZERO) in taxes?*

* Money magazine

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My beachy weech

This summer's fluff beach reading includes British comedian/ actor/ drug addict Russell Brand's autobiography, My Booky Wook. It's a terrible title and he admits as much in the forward. I think it's derived from Cockney slang, but I could be wrong. In the U.S. printing of the book, he helpfully includes loads of footnotes that explain British cultural references for us clueless American readers. It just came out in paperback, which is the only way I roll. It's a fun read and surprisingly literate. Take a look at this well-constructed paragraph:

My relationship with Topsy quickly grew very intense. Perhaps because she was a problem dog, we had more in common than I'd initially realized. I sometimes cuddled her too hard so that she would yelp. "Here, have some of my painful love," my febrile embrace would tell her. "It is constrictive and controlling and painful, like all love should be." In later life, I have come to realize that any expression of love which ends in a yelp probably requires modification.

Isn't that great?! I think so. And there's plenty more where that came from. I'm a big fan of his work although I think his remake of Arthur with Helen Mirren and Jennifer Garner is ill-conceived. But it's a perfect book when your toes are buried in the sand.

* * *

In the past 24 hours, 4-Year Old daughter has:
  • Peeled the wallpaper off the wall while sitting on the toilet (bad) at my mother-in-law's house (worse).
  • Put a handful of pennies and nickles in her mouth. Gross.
  • Ate sand at the beach. Why? "Because I like it." WTF!? Who in their right mind would try to consume the Jersey Shore?!
For new readers, this is the same demon who cut our curtains with a pair of scissors last year. What should I do?! 8-Year Old never did stuff like this. Can I put her on medication if she didn't really need it from a medical standpoint? It's second child syndrome. I hope.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I had some friends but they're gone now

We went to Washington D.C. for a surprise birthday party. It was held in a private room in the back of a bar. The place was PACKED. It was a nice moment. I don’t think the birthday girl knew ahead of time. She seemed truly taken aback. I was commenting to someone there about what a great turnout it was and he said that the birthday girl and her husband are two of the most socially active people he’s ever met. It made me sad and a little jealous. I don’t know very many people and I wish I did. The friends I’m closest to are 500 miles away and I only see them every year or two if I’m lucky. A surprise party in my honor would be a bit of a joke.

I wasn’t a high school loser, but I didn’t run with the cool kids. College seems to be the place where most people foster lifelong friendships. Birthday girl belonged to a sorority and is still close to many of her classmates. The Coast Guard kept me on the move for six years, so friendships were fleeting and transitory.

I lost touch with a lot of people when I left Manhattan for New Jersey. Mrs. Wife has taken me on several husband play-dates but I’m a fish out of water out there. Nobody gives a shit about the Andy Warhol exhibit that just opened at the Brooklyn Museum and I’m not interested in how many home runs Alex Rodriguez hit so far this year. They’re nice people but I have no chemistry or common ground with those guys. Most of the plays, museums and walks through Times Square that I enjoy are done alone. It's probably why I enjoy this blog so much. My fear is that when The Daughters become self-aware, they’ll start to see their dad is a friendless drip.

* * *

Here’s a photo of the Coke machine in the hallway of our hotel:

Isn’t that sweet? A little baby drinking a coke. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s probably not a good idea to give a COKE to a BABY. This idea is brought to you by the same idiots who would poison children by giving them chocolate encrusted breadsticks that you dip into chocolate sauce as a dessert after eating a pizza.

DC is cool. Aside from the usual Capitol Building/Washington Monument, I saw the I.R.S., the E.P.A. and a lot of other agencies I read about in the newspaper every day. It’s like spotting celebrities. Nice architecture, too. We went to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. I thought it was kind of boring, to be perfectly honest.

The song lyric in the title is too obscure for anyone, right?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A meal fit for a king. Here, King! Here, King!

I missed dinner with the family because I wanted to go to the gym. It's been a while and my pants are a little tight in the waist. When I got home I was on my own and had to fend for myself. Mrs. Wife offered me some lovely leftover pasta and shrimp, but I decided to graze instead. Have you ever done that? Just kind of picked around the kitchen until you've nibbled about a meal's worth of food? It's hard to know when to stop. Here's what I ate for dinner:

A tuna sandwich
A slice of (leftover birthday) apple pie
A handful of Life cereal
A half a dozen grapes
A dollop of Skippy extra crunchy peanut butter on my index finger
The rest of the Lay's Kettle Cooked chips
A Klondike ice cream sandwich.
One red Twizzler

How positively revolting.

* * *

In the summertime, every New Yorker knows where to get dessert during their after-meal walk up the Avenue.

Mister Softee and the Empire State Building: two New York City icons

Be careful of imitations! Accept no substitutes! No matter where you are in Manhattan, from May through August, a Mister Softee truck is just steps away. They're like cockroaches. The ubiquitous Mister Softee jingle has been driving New Yorkers mad for 50 years. There were so many complaints about the jingle over the years that, by law, it can now only be played while the truck is in motion. THAT'S what I call an earworm. Imagine what it must be like for the poor drivers.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Oh, how I love bad theater

I love bad theater. The worse, the better, if you know what I mean.

I hadn’t been to a play in about six weeks and I needed a fix. Stop all that eye-rolling. It’s my thing. You do whatever it is you do and I go to plays. Don’t judge, least ye be judged by my wicked hammer of sarcasm. You don’t want that, trust me.

This past season I feasted on a fairly steady diet of Broadway and off-Broadway plays that were celebrity-driven vehicles. Famous actors do a play for 10 weeks to burnish their credibility as artists. Sometimes it works (Scarlett Johansson). Other times, not so much (Catherine Zeta-Jones). I feel like I’d gotten away from the small, black box theaters. These are intimate productions of not-always popular material with actors in training. It’s where the rubber meets the road for actors and audience.

The Potomac Theater Project has taken up its summer residence at The Atlantic Theater Stage 2 in Chelsea. My mind was turning to mush by too much easy, popular fair, so I thought it was time to shut up, take my medicine and suffer through some avant garde theater.

I saw Plevna: Meditations on Hatred and Gary the Thief by British playwright Howard Barker. I knew what I was getting myself into. The two brief one-acts, each with a single actor, are called “theatrical poems.” In the program, Barker describes his work as "'Theatre [sic] of Catastrophe' in which no attempt is made to satisfy any demand for clarity."

Oh, brother.

This stuff is hard to absorb. The dialog was Joycean in its complexity and my understanding (and attention) would fade in and out. But it was a Herculean effort by the actors and I can always appreciate that. The audience included an acting class and the students seemed impressed.

So that's that. I'll probably take in a few more of these small, serious, dreary, experimental plays before the fall season kicks it, just to keep my chops up. In a few weeks, the Potomac will present A Question of Mercy by David Rabe, which is a bit more mainstream. I might drop in on that. But no worries. In October, James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave are doing a revival of Driving Miss Daisy on Broadway, so it won't be long until my brain is back to populist mush. Darth Vader is subservient to an activist for Palestinian rights. That's what you get with famous actors. A lot of baggage and preconceived notions.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

I'm glad it's your birthday

Today is Billy Crudup's birthday. Also, Graham Jones, guitarist from Haircut 100. Kevin Bacon, Wolfgang Puck, Billy Eckstine, Beck and Nelson Rockefeller.

And me.

Apropos of nothing, here's a rare full-frontal shot of Daughter and I on the roof of the Met at the Big Bambú exhibit. Just so you know who you're dealing with.

Yeah, that's my man-purse. I got it for free from Kenneth Cole. You got a problem with that?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A day at the drunken races

We like to take the girls to the local thoroughbred track a few times over the course of the racing season. Monmouth Park (The Shore's Greatest Stretch) is actually a pretty big deal in the racing community. The Breeder's Cup is held there on a regular basis.

Horse people are an economically diverse bunch. They're either hat people or track people. The hat people own horses. The well-heeled wives wear wide-brimmed hats, smile big toothy grins, and greet one another with air kisses. Some [actually, many] are cosmetically enhanced. The husbands wear pastel jackets and pinky rings. They seem to be a happy bunch. They sit in the clubhouse. We don't ever sit in the clubhouse, so the only time we ever see hat people, is when they come down from their lofty perch to have their photos taken in the winner's circle with the jockey and the horse.

We'll usually sit outside with the track people. Track people are grinders. They are there to make money. So are the owners, of course, but the track people seem to need it a hell of a lot more than the hat people.

There's a thread that runs through track people that ties them all together. There is a common element. Aside from horses and $2 bets, they have an affinity for the drink.

(This one was a loser. They all were.)

Some of them drink beer for breakfast. I don't think this guy is kidding.

That's his son playing in the dirt. I'll bet he'd like some attention from dear old dad. I wouldn't say I was anti-alcohol but, like organized religion, it should be used in moderation. Too much of either is a bad thing.

This is the tattoo du jour. She had the footprints of her newborn tattooed onto her leg. I've never seen that before, so she get a point for originality. Seriously. Do you know how difficult it is to do something totally original?

* * *

Mrs. Wife was out last night and I put The Daughters to bed. About :30 minutes after tucking her in, 3-Year Old got up and said her chin hurt. (?!?!) It was a ruse, of course, so I took her back to her room, sat down in the rocking chair, she curled up in my lap and I rocked her for a while.

She'll be four in about three weeks and I realized that that was probably the last time I'll ever rock her to sleep. She usually goes to bed without a problem and if something is wrong, she'll call Mrs. Wife. So that was it. I'll never rock her to sleep again. I haven't rocked 8-Year Old to sleep for years and years. I can't remember that last time I did. It just slipped away without my noticing. Nothing last forever. Not the good stuff and, thankfully, not the bad stuff either.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Play me: 5,288 keys

Play Me*, I'm Yours is the installation by British artist Luke Jerram. It follows a successful run in London. Jerram gathered 60 used pianos and placed them in parks, plazas and on street corners throughout the five boroughs. Anyone can walk up, sit down and bang out a tune.

This is one of two pianos in Times Square. It was smack dab in the middle on an island on Broadway and 47th Street.

All 60 pianos were painted by volunteers. Each piano has its own distinctive design. One of them was painted by Sophie Matisse, granddaughter of Henri Matisse. (Not this one.) The pianos are protected from theft by being tethered to big cinder blocks. That, and the fact that they're pianos.

I thought it was going to be a lot of people just plonking away at the keys but most of the people I heard play seemed to be quite accomplished. There were dozens of brief concerts in a wide variety of music styles. For free!

This piano was painted a boring battleship gray. Not very imaginative at all.

But it was in a great location. Right behind the New York Public Library's stone lion, Patience. (Or is that Fortitude? They all look alike to me.)

The paint job on this one was also nothing to marvel at. They placed it in a playground in Madison Square Park. This piano took a lot of abuse. Many of the kids were playing with their balled-up fists. But what can you expect?

Of the several I saw, this was clearly the most imaginative paint job. It had a great location, too; at the southern end of Times Square.

In what other city can you stumble upon this unlikely pair of strangers—a young Japanese guitar player and an old black piano player—and watch them find their way through a quiet song, all with the warm, summer Times Square night swirling around them? This town is pure magic, I tell you.

* Every time I stumble across one of these pianos and see the exhibit name painted on the side, I get Neil Diamond's Play Me in my head as an unwanted earworm. This is courtesy of my mother, who played Diamond's Moods album constantly when I was a kid.

You are the sun
I am the moon
You are the words
I am the tune
Play me


Friday, July 2, 2010

My loserdom is exacerbated

Spent some time feeling inferior
Standing in front of my mirror

Every Picture Tells as Story
Rod Stewart

For the past two months I’ve been employed as a consultant at a financial institution doing what I’ve always done—slaving over a hot Mac designing marketing material and print collateral for new business development. It’s certainly not the most creative way to spend the day (that would be Mapstew), but it’s decent enough and it allows me to live a fairly comfortable existence—especially for someone with my amount of university-level education (which is to say, none).

The stuff I produce is intended for institutional investors. Pension funds. Endowments and foundations. Union funds. City and municipal funds. SOMEONE has to manage all that money that's sitting around!

My current gig, however, is something new for me. The material I design is for the private banking sector. Not faceless institutions, but people with an astonishing amount of personal wealth. These people are called High Net Worth individuals. Old family money. Executives with 7+ figure bonuses every year. But it doesn’t end there. There’s a category above that. They're called (and I’m not kidding about this) Ultra High Net Worth individuals. This job has given me a peek into a rarefied world that you and I can only dream of. And it hasn’t been good for my sense of accomplishment or self.

Here’s a section of a proposal that address the healthcare services available:

The United States offers arguably the best healthcare in the world. Paradoxically, many times that does not result in finding and receiving the best care, even for people with the means to pay for the latest treatments and with philanthropic relationships to top hospitals.

The audience for this material is people who have had entire hospital wings named after them. But this is the part of the proposal that laid me flat:

[You will receive] 24-hour access to your own advisory team, objective data on the best physicians and treatment options, expedited access to care, the collection and secure storage of comprehensive medical records for every family member.

My mom didn’t have a very comfortable end and the thing that kept gnawing at my guts throughout her last year was, “If I had more money, I could make things better for her.”

Expedited access to care. That means they never see a waiting room. They step over people like my mother. They don’t share an antiseptic-smelling room with someone who is dying. What if my wife or daughters get sick? Where’s my advisory team for them?

In the back of these brochures are biographies of the investment advisers. I get lost in reading them. Unbelievable accomplishments. Ivy league pedigrees and study abroad. Important associations and a series of capital letters and Roman numerals after their names. The bios for the institutional investors are purely factual. Do you have your Series 7? But in the world of private wealth management, they’re trying to make a personal, one-on-one connection. The bios include the spouse’s name, how many children, hobbies (Sailing. International travel. Fencing.) and important philanthropic work.

I’m not filled with self pity and I'm not fishing for compliments. I don’t think these people are any better than I am. And I certainly don’t think that all Ultra High Net Worth individuals are inherently happy. But I do sit awe of the incredible lives they’ve built. I’ve never had the intellectual capital or, more fatally, the ambition to live that large. How did they do it? I’m sure many of them had advantages that I didn’t, but that’s no excuse. I work pretty hard but the truth is that I never really tried my best. I liked having a lot of time off. I was always just coasting.

I’ve never felt more ordinary and ill equipped to handle the crisis that will inevitably come my way.

For more information, please contact your Family Wealth Director.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I received some horrific news this morning. Someone wrote to say they were unable to enter a comment on my last post. The only reason I blog is for the warm, whorey feeling I get when I read the comments. And, let's face it, what’s better about blogging than the party going on in the comments section? Not much.

So I hope it’s just a temporary glitch and not something that’s been taken away from me permanently. How dare they. How dare they introduce this satisfying, albeit trite, thing into my otherwise humdrum life and then deprive me of it. If I weren't so damn lazy I’d tuck my tail between my legs and head over to Wordpress.