Paris

A day after the 2013 Boston Marathon, I wrote down some thoughts on this blog. I was sore like hell, and the manhunt was still ongoing, and the city was in lockdown, and nobody really knew what to do. I knew I just needed to write. And so I grabbed a coffee and an Advil – and with great physical and emotional pain consuming my body, I wrote. I wrote about the thrill of running a marathon, of seeing the thousands of supporters along the route, of pushing the human body to its limits, of witnessing the chaos unfold in front of my endorphin-filled eyes.

It was the best and worst day of my life.

I also wrote that people tend to show their best in the aftermath of unspeakable tragedies. It was true after Boston, and it is true now after Paris, and it will always be true. The vast, vast majority of humans want to help. It is an inherent quality. I think back to the old Mr. Rogers quote. ‘When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me: Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’

We cling to these stories, of hope and courage, of the first responders, of the people running into the fire, of the helpers. What else can we do? A bunch of crazy people detonate suicide vests, open fire on a crowd, and 130 people are dead. There is no way to make sense of that.

I look to Twitter and Facebook to see what the masses are saying. Some are emotional. Some are political. Some use hashtags. Some disengage entirely. It is utterly fascinating.

We are grasping for answers, for justice, in an unclear and unjust world.

There are no answers right now.

So I sit here and I breathe and I write. I look for the good. That is all I can do.

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A picture I took from the top of Tour Montparnasse in Paris
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The Great Saunter

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On Saturday, my friend Drew and I walked 28 miles around the perimeter of Manhattan. Why? Because we’re idiots.

It’s called The Great Saunter. Every year a bunch of people get together, raise money for charity, and circumnavigate Manhattan. Drew and I had been talking about doing this for some time, but we didn’t want to wait until next year, so we just did it ourselves.

We met at East 34th Street. 7am sharp. There’s an underpass there that gets you on the other side of the FDR Drive. And then we walked downtown, clockwise, along the East River. The sun rose and delivered a magnificent orange hue over this great big city.

It was a chilly fall morning, but people were out jogging, walking their dogs, eating their bagel in the park. It was nice.

We reached the southern tip of Manhattan by 9 and walked through Battery Park. Lots of stuff going on down there – 5k’s, walks for cancer, just people standing there for no reason. Who knew this city had so many people?

And then we began the long walk up the West Side, over 200 blocks and 10 miles. The wind was howling off the Hudson. Somewhere around West 100th, the blisters started. OH GOD THE BLISTERS. Somewhere around West 150th, my knees started barking. By West 200th, I was having trouble walking. By that point it was 1 in the afternoon, and we had been walking for six hours, just shy of 20 miles.

We reached Inwood Park, at the tippy top of Manhattan, around 1:30. It was there we found a dead end. We then walked east, through some hiking trails, and it was hard to believe we were still in Manhattan.  It offered a brief glimpse of what life was like on this island a few hundred years ago. The trails deposited us around East 207th St. By that point, the blisters were seriously painful. My feet hated me. The human body is not supposed to walk this far, this long.

We made it to Harlem River Park, but there wasn’t exactly a clear path to the water. So we walked through Harlem for a bit. And we must have looked like we were dying, because as we’re limping through the streets, a young woman looked at us and out of the blue said:

Wow, you guys look baaaaaaad.

I’m sure we did.

At East 150th St, we had been walking for almost 27 miles. I could barely lift my feet off the ground. All I wanted to do was sit, anywhere, even in the middle of the street.

We had to call it quits at East 125th St. It was almost 4 in the afternoon, and we had been walking for nine hours and 28 miles. We “only” had 90 blocks to go to complete the full loop, but both of us knew we weren’t going to make it. I managed to get myself home in one piece and then slept for the next two days.

Was it a good experience? Sure. Was it cool to see the city from so many different angles? Yeah, I guess. But, I’m not going to sit here and claim that despite the pain, the whole thing was worth it. It wasn’t! It really wasn’t!

Don’t ever do this. Your body will hate you. Your feet will want to secede from your legs. Your spirit will be drained. You will probably get lost. STAY AWAY AND DON’T EVER THINK ABOUT DOING THIS. Manahattan is a big, biiiiig island, and we’re not supposed to walk around it.

Nobody knows anything

The older I get and the more I learn about things, the more I realize that nobody knows nuthin’ about anything.

Those self-proclaimed experts are lying. Predictions are pointless. Anyone that tells you that they know for certain how something is going to turn out is probably going to be wrong.

All simplicity is a lie.

I think sometimes humans – usually writers or sports announcers or people on the internet – feel like they have to definitively state something in order to prove that they are smart and know a lot about a particular subject. They feel like they have to take a side in order to exert their dominance. Except sometimes the more prudent approach is just to wave your arms up in the air and say: I don’t know what’s going to happen! I don’t have an opinion on this issue! Loud noises!

Back in March, lots of different people – like, at least five – told me that it’s going to be a rough season for the Yankees. They are, for sure, not going to do well this year, let alone make the playoffs. And I said: ok bub, you might be right, you might be wrong, I’m going to go eat a sandwich now. And then I wrote a blog post about how, I don’t know, isn’t it possible the Yankees do well? Weird things happen, right? Do we have to  take away the wonder of watching the season unfold?

And here we are in the first week of October. There’s an autumnal chill in the air. And wouldn’t you know it, the Yankees are in the playoffs.*

*Well, I’m not so sure the Wild Card game is really the playoffs. It’s really just a one-game, crapshoot of play-in game to make the ALDS. The sport of baseball does not really lend itself to these one-game playoffs because so much of a team’s success is built around enduring a 162-game marathon of a season. But there’s no doubt it’s exciting.

This doesn’t just apply to baseball. It’s true for everything, ever. Take the economy, for example. The other day, the Wall Street Journal had this gem of a quote:

“We could see the economy accelerate; we could see this global weakness pass,” said Brian Rehling, co-head of global fixed-income strategy at Wells Fargo Investment Institute. “But you could also see things go the other way, where the global economy continues to weaken.”

lol

But, hey, at least they can admit that they don’t know what’s going to happen — they being the most intelligent and sophisticated analysts in the entire frikkin’ country.

Oh man, it really grinds my gears when those self-proclaimed experts on CNBC make predictions about the stock market. Sure, I’d like to hear some thoughts on where the market might be headed. But when they say: THE MARKET IS GOING TO DROP 50%, I HAVE WORKED IN THIS INDUSTRY FOR 30 YEARS AND I KNOW EVERYTHING, SELL YOUR HOUSE AND FLEE THE COUNTRY … well, I get angry because that is probably not going to happen. It’s disingenuous and counter-productive and, worst of all, people are going to believe that crap. I’m not saying the market won’t drop 50 percent – who the hell knows – but why make such a ridiculous statement as though it were fact?

Fellas, here’s what you do when you want to make a prediction about something. You present fact-based information. You use history as a guide.  You act with reason. You keep an open mind. You admit when you don’t know, because it’s hard to predict a lot of things. It’s not a sign of weakness.

Nobody knows anything, and anyone that tells you they do might just have an agenda. In the end, we’re all just clueless evolved apes floatin’ out here on this big blue planet.

My grandfather and the swan

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My 82 year old grandfather – Opa – saw a family with this floating swan in the distance.

“I want to ride that swan,” Opa said. I laughed it off, but then we got closer and closer to the swan.

“I really want to ride on that,” Opa said again, without any fear of embarrassment. Finally, Opa waded up to the swan, politely asked the family if he could jump on, and he did.

There’s a life lesson in there, a tenacious attitude that’s admirable. When you want to ride a floating swan, you do it.

Sonder

Everyone has a story, as vivid and complex and weird as yours. This isn’t something you think about when you walk down the street, passing dozens of strangers that you’ll likely never see again. But it is inherently true. They all have stories. You are not the main character. You are a small piece in a sprawling, chaotic world.

There is a website – and now a YouTube channel – called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. They wrap profound concepts into tiny little word packages. And they call this sonder.

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n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

Gen Y

I really dislike the word millennial. I dislike it for a few reasons. For one, the word comes with a certain stigma. Young, spoiled, pretentious, entitled. For two, I think Gen Y sounds cooler. For three, it’s four syllables, and I’m not a fan of any word with more than three syllables.  For four, I think the whole concept of generations (The Greatest Generation*, The Silents, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y) is ridiculous and just a completely arbitrary construct.

*You want to talk about pretentious? How about referring to your collective selves as the GREATEST GENERATION. 

I was reading a column in the New York Times about millennials. It was not positive. There are a lot of those types of columns these days as we slowly make our way and slither our tentacles into the U.S. workforce. The premise: we’re terrible people, we love our phones, we have no attention spans, we can’t talk to anyone, and the world is doomed. Here’s an except:

The art of conversation is almost a lost one. People talk as they ride bicycles – at a rush – without pausing to consider their surroundings. What has been generally understood as cultured society is rapidly deteriorating into baseness and voluntary ignorance. 

OK, listen, I know we talk fast and we text a lot and we sometimes … oh no, wait … that’s not from the New York Times, that’s a quote from Marie Corelli in 1905.

Alright, here’s the real quote:

Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority. They show disrespsect for their elders.

Alright, bro, I know our manners aren’t the best and we’re sometimes disrespectful and we tend to … wait a second, that’s a quote from Socrates in 500 BC.

Here is a quote from 100 years ago:

A hundred years ago it took so long and cost so much to send a letter that it seemed worth while to put some time and thought into writing it. Now the quickness and the cheapness of the post seem to justify the feeling that a brief letter to-day may be followed by another next week – a line “now” by another to-morrow.

The point I’m trying to make here, if you haven’t figured it out already, is this:

1. Every generation hates the generation that comes after it.

and

2. The reasons are similar.

You think that the pace of modern life is too fast and the world is changing too quickly and everyone is spoiled and no one can have a conversation, but what you don’t realize is that everyone has been saying that forever.

I think this cycle plays itself out over and over again because: as you get older, you start to feel like you don’t matter anymore. You see new technology and new slang and new ways of doing things and you think, Jesus, this is so different than what I’m used to, this is terribly confusing, this doesn’t feel right, this is uncomfortable. Heck, I feel this way sometimes and I’m 24 years old.

But this type of thought process lends itself to criticizing an entire generation, with supremely broad strokes, just like Socrates did in 500 BC and some random woman named Marie Corelli did in 1905. And of course the cycle continues to play itself out today.

I loved this exchange from an episode of Louie a few weeks ago:

24 year old: Do you want your kids’ world to be a step above yours? Isn’t that what we’re all doing?

Louis CK: Sure.

24 year old: So, doesn’t it follow that if you’re a good parent and your kids evolve and are smarter than you, they’re gonna make you feel kind of dumb?

Louis CK: Yeah, yeah, I guess so.

24 year old: So if you feel stupid around young people, things are going good!

Whenever I see some writer or TV talking head complain about this generation, my immediate reaction is a cringe. I feel embarrassed for them and wouldn’t want to come off that way myself. I think it’s important to stand up for people, not tear them down.

And then I sing The Who.

People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

That was written 50 years ago.

IN CONCLUSION … I think it is good to be optimistic, I think it has never been in your advantage to discount the generation that comes after you, I think the world will be OK. Like always, humans will figure out a way to survive. We’ll be fine.

The gift card

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A few months ago, some co-workers and I went to Happy Hour* at a bar called Stadium. We hung out, we chatted, we ordered some drinks, and all was well.

*Massachusetts actually implemented a state-wide ban on Happy Hour in 1984 that still stands today. The idea was that by eliminating promotions with special low-priced alcoholic drinks, there would be fewer incidents of drunken driving. So Happy Hour is technically illegal here, but no one really follows that.

About an hour after we arrived, some dude walked into the bar, pounded fists with the owner, and set up a game of Team Jeopardy in the back. We signed up. There were maybe ten teams, and we didn’t think we’d win or anything, but at the least it would be fun and something to do.

Well, we dominated. Turns out, we’re really smart and know a lot of things!

After the victory, the guy that was running Jeopardy set up a prize table and was basically like, “Uh, yeah, you can take whatever you want.” I cleaned up. I got a shirt, a hat, some gloves, and a $50 gift card.

A week later, I went back to Stadium, happy as a clam and prepared to buy the whole city of Boston a beverage with my new, shiny gift card.

The bar was boarded up. It was totally empty. There was a sign on the door. They went out of business. And now I have a stupid, pointless gift card sitting in my wallet.

Rodeon.