Saturday, December 13, 2008

Time to put on a tux

A long time ago, I swore that when I finally had to wear a tuxedo for an event, I would buy one. After all, it seemed to me, every man should own a tux.

Some years later, I was asked to be a presenter at an awards ceremony at the MGM Grand Garden, during COMDEX, of course. The gala affair--and it really was quite a production--was in honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the microprocessor. I gave an award to one of the early important chips.

Yeah, I know, how much geekier could a guy get?

A tux was mandatory dress for male presenters, so, true to my word, I bought one.

I now seek occasions to wear it.

The thing about a tux is that you know you don't look as good in it (or anything, ever) as Cary Grant or Daniel Craig or Sean Connery or any of the many other Hollywood leading men who wore theirs with such style and who looked so good in them that the tux became the defining dress-up symbol for men. The problem is, once you're in a tux, you feel like maybe, just maybe you might have a chance to look like them.

As an entirely too fat, entirely too old guy with a white beard, I know I don't look good--but for no good reason, when it comes to putting on a tux, I keep hoping.

Tonight is the one night of the year I definitely wear a tux: my company's seasonal celebration (aka holiday party aka company party). I doubt I'll post any pictures (or take any), but I will wear a tux and for a few seconds, alone in my bedroom and away from a mirror, I'll wish again I could be as handsome and cool as, say, Cary Grant in Houseboat, and for just a heartbeat, I'll imagine it's possible.

One event, two reactions

When our plane landed in Portland, the flight attendant asked everyone on the plane to stay in their seats "while our soldiers returning home get a chance to be the first to reach Portland." Everyone complied, and the passengers spontaneously applauded as several soldiers walked down the aisle.

I had two very different, very strong, and immediate reactions.

I was happy that people were so supportive of our troops.

I was sad for my friend, David Drake, and for all the other Viet Nam veterans who came home to people spitting on them and calling them baby killers.

Both wars were, in my opinion, ill-conceived and wrongheaded. I did not and do not support either war. Both caused untold physical and psychological damage to our troops and to those who live in the countries where we fought. In both, however, the soldiers were simply citizens doing what they perceived to be their duty. They did the best they could in situations more awful than most of us will ever encounter, and they paid a huge price. The living are still paying it. They will until they die.

Consequently, though I want us to end this war as quickly as possible, I had no problem clapping for these returning Iraq War veterans. They've earned our support.

I do wish someone had done the same for Dave and the other returning Viet Nam vets. They also earned our support.

Friday, December 12, 2008

On the road again: Portland, day 4

I’m on the plane to RDU from DFW, and so far I really can’t complain about this trip. I was able to snag first-class upgrades for both flights, which meant I got in a great deal of work. The Big Red Binder and I continued our friendship, as I plowed ever closer to the end of the third pass on Overthrowing Heaven. I really want to send this book to Toni before Christmas, and given that the eARC has to go on sale sometime early in 2009, I expect she would like me to file it. I had a long layover in DFW, but I landed at the gate opposite the Admirals’ Club, which had great bandwidth today. As I said, no real room for complaints.
I did receive karmic retribution of a sort for an error I made in the same Admirals’ Club on the way to Portland on Monday. I was hustling to the restroom, talking on the phone, and thus stupidly walked into the women’s room. Fortunately, no one was inside, and I exited quickly--to the delight of several people watching my mistake.

Tonight, I went to use the men’s room and was in a stall when the restroom door opened and a woman called out, “Hello!”

I said, “I’m in here.”

The door closed.

Less than a minute later, the door opened, and the same voice said, “Hello!”

I said, “I’m still in here, and I will be for several minutes.”

The door closed.

About a minute later, the door opened, and a different woman rattled off a sentence in Spanish.

I said, “I’m still in here.”

Payback is a bitch, I suppose.

The pilot just announced that in about an hour we will encounter some significant turbulence, so if folks needed to move around the cabin, they should do so now.

It’s great to have something exciting to look forward to. Don’t worry, though; if you’re reading this, I made it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On the road again: Portland, day 3

Ramblings from a tired brain:

The hotel's Internet connectivity has slowed to a trickle, the bits flowing to my screen like drops of reddish water falling from a rusty spout in a sink in the kind of motels where they come to change the sheets after an hour. Either the Omni in Austin called here and told this hotel's AI to stop treating me nicely, or the available bandwidth crumbled under the weight of several hundred middle-aged male guests simultaneously downloading their favorite porn films so they can fall asleep happy. Eeew.

The world may be conspiring against me today.

Lunch was at a chain Tex-Mex place that should have been reliable but that instead was serving food from a chef whose wife absconded with his truck and his dog mere minutes before a meat salesman with a three-day-old beard showed up at his back door and offered him a great price on some gray looking chicken that happened to still have fur and cute ears. He bought the gray chicken, carved a few chunks, threw it under the salamander, and served it in my quesadilla. I'm still picking fur from my teeth.

Dinner was supposed to be the one big fun event of the day: a tasting menu at Sel Gris, which I have praised before. As we were heading out the door, the fine folks at Sel Gris called to tell us that they had just closed the restaurant for the evening. It seems their neighbors had decided to paint during the prime dinner hours, and the fumes from the paint were so powerful and so toxic that the diners and the staff were feeling sick. Their neighbors probably bought that paint from a sleazy guy who was selling it out of a box still covered in blood and fur.

I'm a helper, so I'm going to pass along this advice. If it's almost four in the morning, you've been up for about twenty hours, you haven't slept much in weeks, and suddenly the little bit of dirt under the nail of your right big toe takes on an unholy fascination, a force so compelling that you absolutely must get it out immediately, without hesitation, then do not--I repeat, do not--under any circumstances get a pair of new and extremely sharp scissors, stand naked on a tile floor with one foot on the ground and the other on the bathroom counter, start to use one blade of the scissors to clean out said dirt, catch sight of yourself in the mirror, realize in a flash of insight that perhaps this is it, the defining moment, the one at which you will later look back and realize it was indeed the instant at which you began the great downward slide into insanity, and in that split second of distraction punch a hole in the tender flesh under your toe. Just don't do that. It's a mistake.

Neither knowing nor, I must assume, caring about whether their speakers have toe injuries, the fine folks at Intel's Take Five video filmed three different segments of me yakking today. I don't have a clue what I said, but I guess I'll learn when they post the videos. Assuming I didn't reveal anything too incriminating, such as, say, my inability to clean my toes, then perhaps I'll post links to the videos when Take Five releases them.

For no good reason whatsoever, I feel the need for a romantic song I like, you know, the kind of song that has been true for at least a few minutes each time you've ever loved someone. Ah, here's one. Enjoy Patti Scialfa's "As Long As I (Can Be With You)." She's the bomb.

I'm out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On the road again: Portland, day 2

I'm sick and tired of my own exhaustion and my whining about my insanely long work days, so I'm going to give it a rest for a few entries--or until I can't stop myself from complaining again.

Today's highlight was, as it often is on such trips, dinner. As we do most Tuesday nights we're in Portland, we ate at Le Pigeon, which long-time readers of this blog will know is one of my favorite restaurants. Chef Gabriel Rucker and the two other chefs work in an open kitchen in an intimate setting, and the food they produce is always a treat. If you can get a seat at the bar, grab it, so you can watch them work. We were lucky enough to sit there tonight.

Winter is truffle season, so many fine restaurants, including Le Pigeon, are actively using this sublime ingredient. Check out their dinner menu to see the several mentions of it. I was torn between two of the starters, the pork belly and the foie, so I asked Rucker for his advice. He said I could always order both, so I did. I know: what a pig. Indeed, I was, yet both were superb. The pork belly was crisp and flavorful, while the foie was perfectly rendered. I think two arteries sealed shut as I ate these dishes.

I also sought Rucker's pick of the entrees, and he chose the poussin, which I ordered despite its description's inclusion of the brussels sprouts, an evil little cabbage I generally despise. As happens with the best chefs, however, Rucker turned the little demon into an ingredient in a mix I quite loved. I'm not saying he's converted me into a fan of this nasty tormenter of children--far from it--but if he's serving it, I'll eat it.

We arrived at 8:00 for our reservation, and Le Pigeon was busy. Shortly thereafter, it emptied. When I asked Rucker if the economy was hurting them, he waved his hand to take in the empty tables. He said, though, that they would stick. I sure hope so.

If you're reading this and you live in or will be going to Portland, eat at Le Pigeon. Rucker and his team are too talented, too nice, and just too damn good for us to let Le Pigeon vanish. Long may it fly.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

On the road again: Portland, day 1

I can summarize the day's start in a very few words:

Lights out at 2:45.
Alarm rings at 5:30.
Even though I was on an exit row aisle seat on my first flight, working was difficult because we were so crowded. Still, I managed--but not as productively as I'd hoped. I ate lunch while eating at the Admirals' Club, and I worked the whole next flight, then for hours after I got here.

A high point was a walk to pick up soda and water at a local drugstore, because evening was tucking in the city and all the lights had come out to play. We strolled and drank 72% hot chocolate from Cacao, and the beverage and the sights were treats indeed. In a square downtown we walked by this enormous tree; for perspective on its size, note the buildings behind it. This is not a photography trick; the tree really is many stories high.

As I say often, magic really is everywhere.

After a lot more work, we had a very nice dinner at Paley's Place, which features a Beard winning chef, a wonderful cheese board, and a strong emphasis on local sourcing of ingredients. The biggest surprise of the meal was the tiny ball of sweet potato ice cream we shared. I basically hate the taste of sweet potatoes, but this ice cream was wonderful.

I've been up for about 24 hours straight (it'll be longer when I can finally fall asleep), and I've slept well under seven hours in the last two nights, so I'm going to crash now. I'm hoping for a gentler tomorrow.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rough day ahead

Determined to beat back the budget box brigand, I worked until 7:15 this morning, slept about four hours, and got busy with the day. Walking two miles on a cold, windy morning certainly helped me wake up. I am pleased to report that the result of that insane night is that I have paid all bills and reconciled all credit card statements, with only one three-hour task remaining. I will tackle it next weekend.

I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. to begin the trek to Portland, and as is my wont I have not yet shut down any of my computers, packed, or in any way prepared for the trip. So, I will do that now.

I expect to be Mr. Cheerful on the plane tomorrow.


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