Friday, October 12, 2007

Jesus Christ, Where Have I Been All This Time?

No, no, I'm not dead. It's just that things have been moving very fast lately, and I haven't made time to do a lot of things that men of leisure get to do. I have not been smoking my pipe or enjoying my usual snifters of pre-war cognac. I have not told my diary about the long fishing jags with Papa Hemingway. I have not even written a novel. I have been careening from one thing to the next without taking what The Onion once so memorably called, speaking of George Bush's (probably real) request, "just a goddamn minute, you know?"

So, to sum up: I have announced to all and sundry that I am leaving my job in December. Some of you know this, most of you don't. I have filled my head with visions of what I will do when I get out, which is exactly the correct turn of phrase. (I told one ex-colleague who asked what prompted my leaving that I don't want to become a barnacle and that it's time to try new things. This is essentially true, but polite.) I have been covering the federal government and environmental policy from what amounts to an offal-ridden foxhole for two years now, and it's time to breathe the fresh air again. I intend to see my family around Christmas and to travel, and then we'll see what I've managed to line up in the way of a triumphant return. I have my heart set on nothing in particular, other than hopefully a gig with one of the congressional oversight committees. Believe it or not, my experience is perfect for that kind of thing. I have been looking around for contacts and have several irons in the fire. More on this as it develops.

A brief final note here: At some point in the nearish future, it may be possible to print a few of the more colorful anecdotes from my time at my current position. Until then, those will have to wait for what I think are obvious reasons, especially my desire to stay on good terms with my employers (who after all have paid me to do a job I always found pretty easy to do well). There will be no further mention of my current career, unless it's discussing the relative merits of my professional photography exhibition. Which does (note the singular) not exist.

Furthermore, I have been studying a variety of kung fu every Wednesday after work, which used to be the slowest day of the week for some reason, especially after hours, but is now all Hung Gar, all the time. I will provide the lineage of my teachers etc. upon private request, especially if someone is working on a biography or something. We meet in a park near my office for an hour once a week (yes, ha ha ha), after which I am to go home and practice what I've learned so I'm not the same rank amateur every time he sees me. I can report that whatever you think about having strong legs is a load of butter-flavored crap, because he has strong legs and I don't. He has this amazing trick of making it look like he's sitting on a low stool, but there's no stool in sight. It's just his quadriceps holding him up like some sort of ass-kicking mime. And you should see him work out his shins (during my favorite part of the evening, "bone conditioning") on the cement lamp post. That baby rocks and rolls like the Titanic hitting its last iceberg. Come by some time and I'll show you where he accidentally tickled my nerve during two-man arm strength drills. Suffice to say I am having a lot of real fun so far. It's different than the Hwa Rang Do I studied in college, particularly in emphasizing basics before you move any further (whereas HRD, at least what I learned -- and this from a black belt I liked very much -- sort of taught you the scrub version of everything first and only later served the real meat). One day I may actually be able to defend myself from those guys who mugged me back in middle school. Man, that was weird.

I've made a point of keeping in touch with all my old friends, some of whom have recently moved to New York City, where I spent a few good days last weekend (getting Columbus Day off reminded me of third grade). My friend Paul and I spent a lot of time wandering around Manhattan not really sure what to do -- he's going to Sarah Lawrence, which if you'll recall was an all-girls school for a very, very long time and is out in the countryside -- and among other things came very close to the International Center of Photography without knowing where it was or what we could expect if we found it. Just seeing the posters with that famous picture of Robert Capa holding a movie camera was exciting enough, although now I really am kicking myself because I started reading his biography just this morning and remembered what an interesting guy he was. If you don't know who I'm talking about, that's because you're not a dilettante like I am. Funnily enough, I bought the biography (a snappy affair written by Alex Kershaw) on a previous trip to NYC in a fantastic bookstore I'll probably never find again, where I also bought a coffee table book full of reproductions of the first pages of a bunch of French manuscripts. I still don't ever want to live there, but it sort of makes you think sometimes.

Anyway, I'd like to give a shout out to my people on the block. You know who you are. Brooklyn represent. Etc. etc. etc.

Back in the Cap, which is what I just now started calling DC, Stephanie and I have been having occasional dinner parties as a way to be more sophisticated and fun and because we both are starting to like cooking good food. The next one is going to be a real set piece with more guests than usual. You are all invited. It's the night of the 20th. I'll understand if not everyone makes it. But there will be squash fritters and I don't even know what else yet. The menu is in flux; but one thing I can certainly vouch for is the decor. I found some old Mao posters. I'm saying no more until the curtain drops.

In and out of the Cap, particularly in New York, I have been engaged in a furiously paced reading contest with Stephanie for some time now, which has been one of the major reasons I haven't written a damn thing outside the office for a long time. The premise, which I have probably described here before but am going to repeat now: she has to read all seven Harry Potter books before I read seven books of my choosing, of roughly the same overall length give or take whatever. Everyone, and I mean everyone, predicted a rout in her favor. "I don't know, they're all pretty short," you said to me. "They're deceptively short pages," you told me. "You cannot win. You will lose." All of which is true, except that at 1:31 EDT last Sunday I proved the haters wrong when I closed the book, so to speak, on The Return of the King and called to announce my victory. It was that much sweeter because the bitter tears and wretched cries of the doubters rang clear as a bell to the four corners of the Earth at that moment. Remember all of this when you next tell me I cannot do something faster than someone else. Sit lower, that's another story. But I do things very fast.

The list, in order (of reading, not literary merit, which I leave to you):

1. The Merry Month of May by James Jones
2. Dune by Frank Herbert
3. New Spring by Robert Jordan (who very recently died, leaving his massive series unfinished)
4. Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend by Michael Dregni (a biography of Django Reinhardt)
5-7. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

It was never a particularly hard slog, because the books were all stuff I'd wanted to read for one reason or another, but you can probably tell there's not coherent theme, and I forbade myself to read any other books until this race was wrapped up one way or another, so I've had a head full of bizarre and disjointed themes and characters for a while now. (With the exception of the last three, which were better than expected except at the very end, which keeps ending every few pages only to not end yet again.) I don't want to overstate this too much, but you try reading seven books grabbed on the fly one more or less right after the other and then tell me what you learned. Journalism probably helped keep away the worst excesses of this, because policy covererage is the exact, manichaen opposite of imagination.

Stephanie has been at a classical quartet concert most of the night. I would have had to pay, so I came home. I should sign off for now. A last thought: wake up early once in a while. Don't overextend it, but this is among the keys to happiness.

Also next time I'll tell you all about the good wine I've been drinking lately.


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