Sunday, August 31, 2008

Backyard Rainbow

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Genus - Stainless

We played a little game of animal charades in the basement this morning, the girls made their selections and then wrote the results out on the blackboard after successful guesses.

The theme held for a while, until Madison inexplicably veered off into silverware.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Fall In August

Starting to look like it, at least in some areas of our garden. Not an unwelcome development.

Labor Day begets a new school year, which begets Halloween, which begets Thanksgiving, which begets Christmas, which begets January, which - for at least one more year - begets Aruba!

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I took this shot earlier today, stopped in a momentary traffic jam while driving in New York City - through the sunroof of the car with the camera on my cell phone.

My whole life I can't go by this place without thinking about a certain deceased and short-lived punk rock icon, and for anyone who doesn't get the reference, there's always this.

Pretty vacant.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tony And The Lobsters

I was driving on a commercial road earlier today and noticed a large banner hanging on the side of a building, big picture of a lobster and the words "Wednesday Is Lobster Night!" in large block letters. As I went by the place I glanced up at the sign above the door and was more or less shocked to see the words "Tony's Pizza" hanging there.

I'm not trying to get all Seth Godin here or anything, but if you are a business looking to attract customers with something extra, something special, wouldn't it be a good idea for whatever you are offering - and making a concerted effort to publicize - to at least be in the same general vicinity of the baseline value proposition that would originally lead someone in the door?

If a pizza place wants to go out of its way to tell me it features a coal-fired oven, some unique kind of dough, sea salt from Sicily, imported mozzarella and sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes - or anything else that takes my basic expectations to a new and exciting place - terrific.

But lobster night? At Tony's Pizza?

Surprisingly enough, an adult video store just a short distance down the road seemed to get the concept that had utterly escaped Tony, by adding the words "Pure Pleasure" to the sign that also carried its fairly generic name. No idea whether or not the place delivered on that promise, but at least the message was consistent with the overarching theme of the operation.

A pizza place being out-marketed by a porno shop... I'm just guessing Tony has bigger problems than whatever he's paying for the lobsters. Not to mention the bibs.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Damage Control

My chosen vocation, at least the one that keeps us in home heating oil and pizza, is media relations. I’ve spent a number of years helping a variety of companies and entities communicate with the public, through the press, under all sets of circumstances. And as a longstanding practitioner and student of this work, I always find it fascinating to watch how others navigate through difficult situations, controversies and media firestorms. The facts the various subjects are confronted with, the pressing questions, what they say – or refuse to say – how they handle the unwelcome attention and manage their way through very visible troubles.

And so it’s been these last few weeks with John Edwards and his marital infidelity/possible paternity issues. I don’t need to go through the whole history, a quick Google News search will produce all the necessary background. The basic ingredients in this unfortunate stew include an elected official and erstwhile Presidential candidate, his (possibly gravely) ill wife, an affair that has now been acknowledged and a child that may or may not be his. He says no, many people out there seem to think yes. I guess that more or less covers the broad strokes.

It’s notable (and many have noted) that it was the tabloid press, in the form of the National Enquirer, that was single-handedly chasing after Edwards on these issues for several months. No other media outlet followed, even as “evidence” of the infidelity and its possible result mounted. At some point, the noise got loud enough that Edwards decided (or was told) he needed to actually say something. So he made the mistake that is so common to public people in his situation – he deluded himself into thinking that he was still in control, and what he said, how much he was willing to reveal, was up to him. You can almost hear the internal monologue that resulted in this classic, and chronic, miscalculation. “OK, they’ve hunted me down, these blood-sucking jackals, there’s a need to address the issue, so I’ll say this, I’ll give them what they want, and then things will go back to normal. They get this much, and no more!”

But the reality, for those unfortunate few who act badly and find themselves in the public crosshairs as a result, is that the opportunity to exit on their own terms with a partial or expedient response is already gone. You no longer get to decide how much to give, one way or the other the media is going to get it all – and you are going to look so bad, disingenuous and pathetic during the long death march it takes to get there that you will ultimately wish you had wiped the slate clean with that first cloth, not the one you get in the end – which is dirty, tattered beyond recognition and not even remotely up to the job.

If Edwards was getting good advice in this situation, he would have been counseled to admit to everything that was true, and fight everything that wasn’t – fully and resolutely. The child is yours? OK, you made a terrible mistake, you are working with your family to secure the forgiveness you don’t deserve, and the offspring that resulted from your indiscretion is going to be taken care of, you are going to play a role in this innocent life, it’s all terrible and please give us our privacy while we deal with this. Then go away, get out of sight, out of the public eye, and at some point far down the road we can talk about a re-entry strategy.

You had an affair, but the child is not yours? Take the first half of the response above and make sure that as soon as the “I strayed” statement is out of your mouth you are in a position to wave at the assembled media throng the results of a paternity test that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you did not father this child. Then go away, get out of sight, out of the public eye, and at some point (maybe not quite so far) down the road we can talk about a re-entry strategy.

Because the central truth that overhangs this situation and others like it (Martha Stewart comes to mind, Bill Clinton, Paris Hilton, anyone who has been in the center of a storm severe enough to motivate sleep-deprived reporters and photographers with coffee breath and three-day stubble to camp outside their door) is that people are ultimately forgiving – as long as they believe they’re being leveled with and witnessing genuine and heartfelt contrition from those who have been found to have acted badly.

Too often, those who find themselves on the wrong end of the media stick compound the objectionable behavior that got them there by clinging to the belief that they’re too smart by half – they’re still in control, they make the rules. But that ship has sailed. You know who’s running the show now? The guy sitting in a diner in Nebraska, reading his morning paper and seeing what you said. The woman going out to the movies with friends, deciding which ticket to buy based on how she feels about the names up there on the marquee. The shopper trying to decide between product X and Y, motivated by the public events and recent headlines related to the companies that make them. Start with these people, manage the things you are going to say and do all the way back from there, and if you see a disconnect or break along the way you know you’re going down a wrong or incomplete path.

Don’t get me wrong, there are all kinds of people who do terrible things and are never caught, never have to message their way out of a resulting public crisis. That’s life. But for those who are found out, who get to endure the unsettling experience of watching the media (a designation that continues to expand, for better or worse) grab the end of a string that leads to an uncomfortable and unfortunate place, the only real option is rational and reasonably expressed self-immolation. Take your lumps, with a forthright explanation that gives people something real to hold onto, hopefully to empathize with. In the immortal words of Miley “check out my new camera” Cyrus, “everybody makes mistakes, everybody has those days… nobody’s perfect.”

Manage through the crisis with honesty, then retire, regroup and – if you are lucky and blessed enough for the stars to properly align – prepare to rise.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The World Through Fresh Eyes

We hadn't planned on watching the Olympic opening ceremonies last night. I came home from work, we had some dinner together, and the agreed-upon choice for "Movie Night" turned out to be "Enchanted" in HD. At one point, during a bathroom break about halfway through a film we've seen from start-to-finish at least a dozen times, I flipped over to NBC and - apologies to Gisele and McDreamy - we never went back. The girls were blown away, and so were we. What a jaw-dropping spectacle. We literally could not take our eyes off the screen.

Ava was tired when we first turned on the TV, it was the end of her last day of camp, so by 8:30 or so she was essentially out and ready for bed. I carried her up the stairs. I can still do that, barely. "Camp is hard, Daddy," she said as I tucked her under the covers. I said I understood.

Went back downstairs and Madison's eyes were still live, staring at these amazing high-definition images. She asked about a million questions about the Olympics, about China, about the things she was seeing, the kids on the screen and how they got there. At one point, the footage captured George Bush sitting in the stands, during the parade of athletes, looking slightly hassled and checking his watch. Madison doesn't wear a watch, and even if she did it would have been the furthest thing from her mind. She did, though, want to know why the President didn't have a better seat. "Shouldn't he be in the first row, Daddy," she asked. I said I wasn't exactly sure how the ticketing process worked.

I suggested bed a few times, starting around 9:30, she was having none of it. By 10:30, I exercised parental privilege and ordered her there. Gwen had long since fallen asleep on the couch. Madison resisted, "I want to see America!" she said, but I reminded her that we were filling our DVR with this incredible show, and we could pick it right back up tomorrow. She reluctantly agreed to call it a night.

It was a really rare and unexpected treat. A moment when the "world" got in with something positive, stunning, moving and affirming. An introduction worth making, as opposed to a new problem or issue that needed to be explained, rationalized, warded off before it could take hold and do any damage. "What's that, Daddy?" directed at some jarring picture in the newspaper, or an urgent request to download a new Miley Cyrus song featuring the words "jerk" and "hate" in the lyric (no thanks, Miley), or grabbing onto the end of a thread of a conversation that probably shouldn't have been undertaken with little ears in the back seat, or the next room.

Ava climbed into bed with us at 7 this morning, just a few minutes later we were downstairs. I made coffee and gave her some warm milk in a sippy cup. Gwen followed us down and we settled into Franklin. At 8, Madison wandered in, her first words were, "When Franklin's over can we finish watching the Olympics? I want to see America come in, and then I want to watch the whole thing again, OK?"

And, for once, we had no objections.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Proceeding nicely, thank you.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Tell It To The Foot

Sorry, loyal readers, I know it's been a while. What can I say? My new job's a hassle and the kids have the flu, but it's sure nice talking to you. Actually, I don't have a new job, and the kids just have mild cases of sunburn from days at camp with teenage counselors who can show them all kinds of nifty ways to make friendship bracelets, but can't seem to remember that one application of sunscreen doesn't really make it all the way from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Although it is nice talking to you, and the title of the song plagiarized above is actually pretty appropriate for recent events at our house.

If you would have told me, back in March, when we were driving up the Jersey Turnpike with a little kitten named Olive sitting next to Gwen in a carrying case, that just about four months later we would be making the same trip - another kitten sitting next to Gwen in another carrying case - I guess I would have been willing to bet just about anything that you'd be wrong.

And yet, that's exactly where we found ourselves last Saturday, making the long drive home from our breeder, the benevolent source of allergy-free Siberian Forest Cats. Yes, it's true, Olive did indeed prove to be a gateway drug, and while we haven't exactly changed the narcotic, we did up the dosage. Doubled, to be exact.

Unlike the months-long wait for Olive, this one came up pretty quick. Whether or not our little four-legged friend wanted some feline companionship had been a topic of discussion around here for the last month or so, and I have to admit there was something a little sad about mobilizing as a family and leaving our little fifth Beatle behind, the whole lonely place to herself, for a few hours or the better part of a day.

So a couple of weeks ago we e-mailed our breeder, asking about getting on the list for another kitten. Turns out they had one new arrival who was not spoken for - same parents as Olive, subsequent litter. They were thinking of keeping this one, but after receiving another kitten from Russia, they had reluctantly decided to let her go, and would we want it?

Took us about a day to resolve to move ahead and welcome a new family member. This expedited process was great from the standpoint of efficiency, but unfortunately it only gave us a very short window of time during which to use the line, "I swear, if you don't stop [whatever objectionable thing you happen to be doing] RIGHT NOW we will NOT get this cat!" as a disciplinary technique with the girls, which was sort of like buying a gun very short on bullets. We did our best to get our money's worth, before delivering to Olive some prized companionship.

And as she sat up there on her perch by the window wondering how in the world to thank us, chasing this little fur-ball all over the house and hissing warnings and admonitions - when she wasn't full-on attacking - must have seemed like a pretty good idea, because that's what we've been dealing with since we made our formal introductions a couple of days after the new one, an absolutely amazing and adorable creature we're calling Orly, arrived.

To be fair, it's getting better. The cats have staked out their respective territory and seem to be adjusting to life together. Orly was never really too engrossed in Olive and what she was doing, except for when her life was in peril. Olive has been watching, and moving, and wondering what exactly was going on and where this new arrival came from for most of the week, but seems to be coming to peace with her new state of affairs. We've taken to screaming, "WE DID THIS FOR YOU!!!" when swatting our first-born feline off her much smaller prey, and the message appears to be sinking in.

As I was driving home from work Thursday night with a big mondo order of take-out Chipotle for the family, I noticed an incoming Google Talk message from Gwen and looked down at my BlackBerry to find this:

"the cats were laying together on madison's bed - touching tails and paws - no hissing"

Which was followed immediately by a smiley-face emoticon, probably the nicest and most meaningful one I've ever seen. Additional details most definitely to follow. Until then, it's been sure nice talking to you.