My grandfather and a colleague

My grandfather and a colleague were on a business trip in western Pennsylvania, driving across the state in a Studebaker with the windows rolled down. When they stopped for gas, my grandfather glanced at the map on the gas station wall, and noticed a 1,000-acre buffalo ranch about a hundred miles ahead. He got back in the car.


About twenty minutes later, he stuck his head out the window and sniffed. “Huh!” he said, puzzled. He sniffed again. “Huh!”


“What?” his friend asked him.

“I thought I smelled… no, it couldn’t be.”

What? What is it?”

“Well, it’s funny. I thought I smelled… buffalo!”


His friend laughed at him, and again several times during the next three hours as my grandfather continued to stick his head out the window, sniff the air, and knit his brows. “It’s buffalo, I’m almost sure of it.”


Finally, they crested a hill, and my grandfather earned a legendary and unearned reputation as the keenest tracker and sharpest nose in Mar-Tile’s stable of floor covering salesman. Spread out below them across the coal-mining hills was a colossal herd of prarie buffalo, imported to Pennsylvania by a livestock speculator.


Cleverness is a virtue on my mom’s side of the family. Christmas presents are disguised using elaborately-devised countermeasures. So I always prized this story as an example of inspired Baldwin bullshit-ery, until I just realized: who puts brand new 1,000-acre buffalo ranches on the gas station map?

My grandfather and a colleague

In re: the post below,

In re: the post below, Kate and I discovered the BEST STORE IN NEW YORK yesterday, called Holland and Holland. Seven floors of khakhi safari clothes, all of them screaming wordlessly in a a nasal Brit accent: “Towel wallah! Come here and sponge my jodphurs!” Someday, when I discover that I have a brain cloud and I only have 30 days left to live and a rich tycoon offers me a million dollars to jump into a volcano, Holland and Holland is where I will go to purchase the entire traveling outfit, including the shooting jacket, bush hat, and magnificent steamer trunks.


The main sales representative looked like a Thuggee assasin in a tight turtleneck and camel-hair blazer, and followed us from floor to floor, fingering something in his breast pocket (probably an ivory blowgun) There were Welsh knee socks that you wear with your calf-height gumboots, and green plaid walking suits that end at the knee.


And, I’m sure, lots of combs for your handlebar mustache.


As Kate and I were walking out, all five of the sales staff clustered around the first-floor desk. We were the only people in the multi-storey showroom, and one of the staff made the Ferris Bueller sound: “chick-a-chick-ahhhh“. Obviously, I have to keep going back to this store, so I can have some kind of giant Eighties-movie mistaken-identity spy adventure. With safari suits and volcanoes.

In re: the post below,

I’m much better now. Finals

I’m much better now. Finals are over, and life is calmer than it was. Kate and I went to Jonathan Stern and Francine Stern (nee: Millman)’s wedding on Saturday at the Americas Society on Park Avenue, and it was wonderful. I got to be an usher and wear a tux — Francine had decreed that the ushers should wear vests, not cummerbunds, and I discovered that the vest is God’s gift to those who don’t have 32-inch waistlines. Hurrah! Kate and I danced a lot, walked up and down marble carpeted staircases arm in arm, et cetera. Then we came home to West Chester, and I mowed the lawn, so all in all I’m feeling like I’ve got the best of both worlds, like some sort of groovy philosopher king. Or like the 13-year-old who isn’t used to shaving yet; Mike the neighbor tells me that the joy of mowing the lawn gets old fast. I dunno about that, though; I can always experiment with making MLB-style outfield stripes.


Really good news! Kate has her own Blog! She told me she got tired of chastising me gently when I take a normal, everyday event, add pirates, and turn it into Giant Caricature Story, especially when she’s one of the Giant Caricatures, so now she has a forum to say that no, in fact the guy behind the counter of Holland and Holland did not look like a Thuggeee assassin in a James Bond movie, and no, he did not finger a carved bone-white poison dart blowgun in his vest pocket while we looked at the chukka boots. Actually, she wouldn’t say that, because those were, in fact, her comments upon our discovery of the seven-storey handlebar-mustache, gum-boot, and safari-suit emporium on 57th street.


Deep breath. So, without further ado, here’s Kate’s Blog.

I’m much better now. Finals

Friday was the last day

Friday was the last day of my assignment to Bridgespan, and my last multi-day trip to Boston. On Friday morning, the team gave our final presentation, which went well, and they presented me with the consultant’s equivalent of the black roadie jacket: the clear lucite block with a “Bridgespan Group” 5×7 card embedded inside. It’s actually my first lucite thank-you block; my friend Kieran Downes at [My employer] worked with the Consumer Cards Services Group at [A client], which seemed to crank them out right and left. And the Blue team? Some of them are able to build Lego castles with their stacks of glossy product-launch cubes. Me, I was working for Interactive Enterprise Development, the Jesuit branch of [A client]. The upside? Unlimited power to make and enforce rules*. The downside? No lucite blocks.


So, plastic trophy in hand, I climbed onto the Acela Express at Back Bay for the last time and headed for Philly for the weekend. Where I joined the ranks of an organization as old as human habitation, as venerable as the mighty sweep of civilization itself: I joined the hoary ranks of the Back Yard Lawn Fighters. I borrowed Kate’s dad’s 4HP Lawn Boy walk-behind mower and, nodding hello to the other suburban men returning from the hedge-trimmer sharpening shop with their weapons rolled in brown butcher paper, I yanked the starter cord and rejoined a battle I haven’t fought in fifteen years.


The lawn kicked my ass, of course, and my little 4hp steed was whinnying for mercy before I had trimmed a tithe of the bushy quarter-acre. But I stained my running shoes an honorable shade of green, and I learned some tricks, too (if you pull the lawnmower backwards, instead of pushing it, the clippings escape more easily, and the mower runs faster.) And I formed comradeships with other soldiers in the unit, including Jerry, the grizzled veteran next door who told me all about the “Weed-n-seed” fertilizer that the previous owners had primed the lawn with the previous year: “Yep, in twenty years here, I’ve never seen the grass grow that fast!” He was a wellspring of encouragement: “As long as it keeps raining, that lawn’s gonna keep growing! You’ll have to mow it every day!” That’s right, old man, the Hun is just on the other side of that hill, and every one of them is seven feet tall and shaves with a blowtorch. Maybe so, but wait’ll the Hun sees the size of the lawnmower I’m gonna get.


So I enjoyed myself immensely. Kate was in New York at my friend Francine Millman’s bachelorette party, downing drinks at the Tribeca Grand named after the seven deadly sins** and dancing at Sugar with Moby, and I had a ball reverting to my pre- New York “Country Bear Jamboree” mode. I even re-strung my banjo, now that I have a house and yard to play it in without risking gunfire through the apartment wall.


The challenge, of course, is the commute. If I make the round-trip to New York every weekday, I’ll leave the house at 6:15 AM and get home at either 8 PM or 10 PM, depending on which afternoon train I catch at Penn station. It’s possible to do; there are three people in Exton that I’ve seen do it for the past two years. And if you buy a monthly pass, it’s about 30 bucks per round trip, which is about a third of what I was spending on rent. Aaand, with my wireless card, I can work on the train; (I’m on the train now.) In fact, I seem to be more productive on the train than I am in the office. So I know it’s possible, but I’ll just have to see if it’s do-able. I might get a room in the city to stay for a couple of nights during the week. And I probably need to get a cheap used car for trips to and from the station; I rode my motorcycle this morning, and the weather was cold and rainy. Though I think it’s hip to wear a Thomas Pink shirt under a Belstaff jacket on a tiny Japanese starter bike. Plus, I get to see the dogwoods in bloom every day. Which is wonderful.


* Over the website style guide. Let me rephrase the statement above: unlimited power to make and enforce rules concerning the way the horizontal rules extended to the right side of the screen, or not.

**“Sloth” was a martini with blue-cheese stuffed olives. I don’t know about the others.

Friday was the last day

What with so much itinerant

What with so much itinerant wandering between Boston, Philly, and (occasionally New York), I’ve been bothered by the fact that my webcam has been showing a mostly empty chair at [My employer]. It’s the principle of the thing, really — if your website purports to show a porthole into the poster’s world, it should jolly well show a porthole, not an old picture of where the poster isn’t.


So I went wireless! I attached my Logitech webcam to my laptop, and am uploading real-time pictures of a bleary self on Acela Express 2190 from NYC to Boston. My rig now includes a laptop with a stubby wireless antenna and an eyeball-cam on a little tripod. I haven’t been this nerdy since sixth grade, when I attached a pedometer to my “Doctor Who” baseball hat and made it on to Channel 10 as the poster boy for the Hill School Computer Camp.


Hopefully, this time around, no wedgies will ensue. Though some of the ex-jock bond broker guys are giving me the hairy eyeball. Oh well, if I do get wedgie-d, at least it’ll make for good webcam.

What with so much itinerant

On my dad’s recommendation, I

On my dad’s recommendation, I stayed at Habitat NY last night, a European-style hotel on 57th and Lexington with the bathrooms and showers down the hall. If all you want is a place to crash, it’s fine — and the price is right. It’s a quirky place — the first room I was given didn’t have an air conditioner, and the second room has three cylindrical cavities in the floor, like bowling-ball finger holes. Plus, the place is packed with smirky Europeans: “Ja, the hotel is inexpensive. More money for unpasteurized yogurt, sehr gut!” None of which I minded, as long as the Teutons keep their damn yogurt to themselves.


I had a good book with me: my friend at [My employer], Steve Farrell, stopped by and lent me a copy of Jack London’s The Road, about his travels as a hobo in the 1890s. It was my favorite kind of book — a new library-bound hardcover, with the original typeface photographically reproduced. And the contents! I can’t believe I didn’t know about this book before — Jack wanders the country at 18, wide-eyed and not so innocent, spinning stories to soft-hearted housewives, outsmarting railroad bulls, and riding the blinds through snow-sheds over the Sierra Nevadas. At every town, he throws feet for breakfast, bumming “light pieces” at the firehouses and carving his monica on the water-tower. It’s like Kerouac, except without all the god-awful introspection. Plus, with a depression on, London had a better excuse to bum around the country.


So I devoured the book, reading about London’s march on Washington with Kelly’s Army — a spontaneous movement of thousands of unemployed men, moving en masse to demand work, and commandeering trains from the Southern Central railroad to do it. I had no idea about this! A Google search revealed traces of the march: a trail of local historical society pages about small grange halls and mercantile houses that, for one day in their history, had been forced to feed the hoboes (and, hopefully, speed them along down the line.)


Good reading for an itinerant couple of weeks! I think I’ll go carve my monica on the cubicle wall now.

On my dad’s recommendation, I

I drove my rental car

I drove my rental car back to NYC this morning, and realized that after taking public transportation for eight years, I’m a junior-varsity driver in a varsity-league commute. I got cut off again and again in my beat-up Hyundai, and kept getting mad for no reason, really. I wonder if there’s any other daily activities that get people as mad as commuting in a car? Anyhow, I tried to find my Zen place, with limited success. It’s so easy to tell yourself to stay calm next time, and so hard to keep your cool when someone else starts acting like a jerk.

I drove my rental car

Kate and I closed on

Kate and I closed on our house on Thursday morning; there were eight people around the table — two real estate agents (ours and theirs), two buyers, two sellers, a mortgage broker, and a title clerk, all very friendly and nice. We signed form after form, initialed page after page, and there was some good-natured teasing between the various brokers and agents about the various “sweeteners” they had managed to get into the agreement. Our agent had a “transference fee”, common on the East coast, apparently. Our mortgage broker had given us the mortgage through a local company, who was immediately selling it to Wells Fargo, resulting in a twenty-dollar transfer fee that we were paying. The total amounts in play weren’t terrible, though, and I think that we could have saved all of $100.00 by popping a blood vessel and having to glare at our agents every time we see them in the coffee shop. So I feel like we made out okay, overall. Had we done the transaction in New York, I bet we’d both be wearing barrels with suspenders right now.


A flurry of handshakes, a passing back and forth of champagne bottles in silver party bags, and the next big thing on our horizon becomes home improvement. First thing: remove the metal awnings over the doors. Second thing: rip out the pink-and-purple ceiling fans. Third thing: remove ye olde colonial number plate from the lamp outside. Fourth thing: start painting. Small rooms take just as long as large ones, I discovered to my chagrin, as I spent all Saturday cutting in around closet doors.


The neigbors are nice, and I have a whole new cast of characters to Blog about: Dudley, the 15-year-old cocker spaniel next door, who barks ferociously as he creaks towards you, picking up and putting one leg at a time: the squirrels that our predecessors had been feeding, who come and beg outside the door, and the kid across the street who’s in one of Chester County’s big marching bands and does Peking-opera style kung fu with a polyester flag in the evenings, throwing it waaaay up in the air and catching it behind his back.


Pictures to follow!

Kate and I closed on