netWert Quite Keen

Quite Keen
My grandmother, too
August 8, 2004 +
My father had me read "Are You My Mother?" in the New York Times Magazine this evening, a wistful piece about the author's diminishing Alzheimer's patient of a mother. The pieceŚcentering around the mother's ability to remember songs long after she had forgotten everything elseŚis a near perfect mirror of my grandmother's recent history.

Unlike Floyd Skloot and his mother, though, my grandmother has been rather pleasant and good-natured through the later phases of her disease, and even as she dwindled she has left behind memories for the rest of us, things I'm going to remember sooner rather than later, for her sake and ours.

For example: Grandma, age 82, playing Scrabble with me in her one-bedroom assisted-living facility, slowly fading in awareness, but still with a dish of M&M's on the pedestal next to the table, her hand diving in for a quick fix of chocolate every time she walked around the corner, teaching me rather definitively where I got my sweet tooth.

And Grandma, not wanting to stop driving, until she got lost enough in her Alzheimer's that we could take her keys without her noticing, and we could count with a laugh the 13 separate dents and scratches her skilled driving had accumulated.

And Grandma contentedly eating the sweets we bring her in the home, even when we make a mistake, like the day we brought her a pastry with raisins and Grandma tossed each and every raisin onto the floor as she ate.

And Grandma, still singing songs and playing the piano, even when she doesn't know what day it is.

And Grandma, eyebrows raising high with recognition, startledly declaring, "He's my son!" when the words "Donald" or "Marvin" penetrate her consciousness.

And Grandma meeting my now-wife for the first time, a story that still brings a tear to my eye, as it did the day it happened.

Grandma will be 91 this October, at least ten years into her Alzheimer's, more than five years confined to a wheelchair at a home, several years beyond recognizing her family, a tiny, shriveled version of her once-strong self, and somehow perfectly healthy and, as far as we can tell, rather at peace with herself and the world. I will see her Thursday, and it will be sad, yet it will still make my day, and I will still smile.

May 13, 2004 +
When I was 18 I was down the Jersey shore and walked by this ridiculous airbrushed T-shirt of Gene Simmons of Kiss, all made up with a silly tongue that extended down and twisted around like a pretzel. It was $40, which was a fortune for a T-shirt to a high school senior in 1991.

After staring at it for a few minutes, my friend Adam said to me, "Buy it. If you don't get it now, you'll always wish you had."

So I bought it; spent the forty bucks and worried the heck out of myself whenever I put it on. I've worn it a total of three times in 13 years.

The most recent time I wore it was to a Kiss meet-and-greet at a club in Manhattan in 1997. Each member of the band stood in a row onstage, and fans got to walk down the row and shake hands with the band members. The rules were strict: keep the line moving, no posing for photos around the back of the podium, autographs on albums and papers only.

Every member of the band loved my shirt. Paul Stanley: "Nice shirt!" Eric Singer: "Great shirt, man." Bruce Kulick: "Love that shirt," then, turning to Gene Simmons: "Hey, Gene, check out this guy's shirt."

When I got to Gene he gave me a great you-and-me-pal smile. He pulled me aside, leaned in close, autographed the shirt in permanent marker and gave me a firm handshake, nodding knowingly.

I'm not that star-struck but that's about as fun as music fandom has ever gotten for me. I came home, sprayed the shirt with some sealing solution, and haven't worn it since. It took six years for it to pay off, but in the end, my decisiveness led me to a singular event with a unique memento.

Any time I'm on the fence about something I think about that shirt, and how my greatest wisdom is often the one in my gut.

Dog walk 3
January 13, 2004 +
Nearly midnight and freezing. The return of Arctic chill has cleared the streets; tonight is among the quietest I've seen Union Square, before the subway lets out, that is. A young man, stoned and chatty, exits my building with me, asks for the nearest ATM, then disappears. The temperature is easily below zero fahrenheit when the wind whips, which is often. My wool hat itches my widow's peaks; my earmuffs hush the already quiet side street. I am nicely alone, chilled but peaceful, head filled with sophomoric prose trying to commemorate the evening, impatient to get home.

The dog, on the other hand, charges ahead, wholly unaffected by the cold, straining his leash to investigate every scent and speck, wondering why no other dogs are in the run. Because it's cold, Dog, that's why. If only we all had his fur coat.

A peek
October 24, 2003 +
Jake's prominent features of my graduate school experience report mirrors my own, right down to the HP12C calculator (but not the Dr Pepper; I drink Diet Coke and spring water).

October 11, 2003 +
I am in Athens, a wide-eyed tourist until my EMBA International Emerging Markets Global Study Tour kicks in tomorrow evening. So far I know the whereabouts of only one of my three dozen colleagues, and she's asleep, so I spent the day meandering the city on my own.

First, the fun: Greece is visually stunning. The ruins and archaeology are awesome, in the classic sense of the word, and staring at the Acropolis from below is a thrilling experience. I had a nice lunch, spanakopita and all, and I like my hotel for the night, the Grecotel Athens Plaza. Tomorrow the class checks into the Grand Bretagne, which appears to be Athens' equivalent of the Plaza in New York City.


When packing, I opted for comfortable-American gear instead of mesh-in European attire, figuring I'd be traveling in packs of 30ish Yanks most of the time, so why not wear my jeans and Nikes instead of khakis and Campers?

Here's why: I am a mark.

In four hours of strolling around Athens, I was approached no less than three times by opportunistic locals. First up was a chatty middle-aged man proud of his English, and his son goes to school in Texas, and why don't you come see the car, jingle jingle, complete with following me halfway down the street when I declined and turned away. Next came the homeless man who nearly walked into me and tapped my shoulder as I went by, followed not long after by a trio of youngish women--nearly girls--the middle one of whom held her leering eye contact and talked Greek as I walked past. Not to mention our cabbie from the airport, a friendly and responsible man who drove us to our hotel without issue, then demanded a 25-euro fee when the meter read 10.63, to cover "toll, and tip, and you know." And the FUCK BUSH graffiti on side streets (not that I blame them). And the yes-we'll-help-you-but-notice-our-indignation tones of voice of most of the retailers I encountered, from the newsstand staff to the spanakopita woman.

Within 24 hours I will be reunited with my class, and I expect things to go more smoothly once we're working as a group. For now, though, I feel like quite the Ugly American.

(P.S. Email and phone contact will be spotty until October 21. Have a great week.)



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