Tuesday, July 31, 2007

One more wedding...

...out of a Julia Roberts flick. A sandal-wearing priest holding up cheat sheets for the longer prayers. A wedding planner with a plastic smile and keen eyes sharpening after each detail. A tired cathedral stretching its muscles, waking up a coy sun for the ceremony. A dutiful best man with a sincere, "funny by being honest" speech. Three other groomsman who consumed enough alcohol to make Russian sailors jealous. Four gorgeous bridesmaids pretty enough to make the most flamboyantly gay man rethink his orientation. Two young people in love whose faces must hurt from holding a perpetual smile and saying "thank you" and "appreciate" repeatedly. And one smirking, joke-fishing groomsman who's glad and a little wistful.

This is my second wedding in two months. Perhaps there's something behind this whole commitment and marriage business. Maybe I'll see them less often as they pursue new adventures like antiquing, furniture shopping, worrying about enough time at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Sometimes I think the rhythm of my life is this way - party, recovery, nostalgia, repeat. And I'm in the third stage now. I miss our good times - not just the wedding, but when he was just dating, we discussed girls in grand detail, struggled in school against white haired professors and shitty Ithaca weather, and sakebombed our way to our beloved Dryden bars. I know they'll have kids and I'll be an uncle, and there will be new memories yet to be remembered.

Still, I miss my friend. Thinking of all this makes my heart stretch like an overinflated balloon. Despite my self-impression of being toughened by three years of post-colleagiate experience, I'm a softie at heart. At least some things won't change.

What I was listening to while writing this post:

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

More b-school essay stuff

B-school essay topics range from stating your motivation for obtaining an MBA to describing specific leadership experiences. These questions dig beneath the paper, scores, and resumes of each candidate. Unfortunately, such questions are difficult to answer and, in the wrong hands, can produce verbose and unrevealing essays.

One twist might be having students pick their own question. I imagine mine might be: "You and 86 other survivors of a mysterious plane crash now struggle within the confines of an unknown island somewhere in the south Pacific. What do you do now? Do you fight for power against the dominant doctor who's got some serious father-son issues? Do you hit on the spoiled blonde chick without any skills, or prefer the brunette who seems tough - a little too tough. Do you humor the has-been musician? Make fun of the fat Hispanic surfer? Hunt wild boar with the old guy with random knives? Make friends with that really Korean couple?"

Wouldn't answering questions about how'd you fit in along the cast of your favorite TV show reveal much more about your personality than broad philosophical questions? Doesn't your answer about disagreeing with Jack Bauer's use of torture show your values than talking about the time you convinced a client to fire 100 FTE's to save costs?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

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Steven Jenkins was the kind of guy who asked to pee before going, not out of politeness but to actually ask permission. He always carried this soft, forced smile, seemingly always wanting approval and always searching for it. When you find out such men have trouble keeping a woman, that they complain of "doing all the right things," and the dames still leave, who's really that surprised? No girl wants to date a a guy who wonders if his balls are in the right spot every morning.

So it was shocking to hear he had been accused for leading a seven million dollar embezzlement from the firm. Some nerdy expense scheme whereby a few extra bucks was taken off the top of everyone who was traveling over a period of seven months. It was like the plot of Superman 3 or officespace, but without the android or Michael Bolton (not the "no-talent assclown").

Turns out that Steven was only accused and not arrested because he went missing two days before the release. And while I should have thought stealing was wrong, he should have been caught, and so forth, part of me was impressed and glad for his little illegal action. It was like he was finishing off some self-assertiveness program and completely misinterpreted the last step to becoming a "self-actualized" individual. But hell, if I were his life coach, I'd give him points for originality. Some men speak louder or risk their lives to prove their toughness; Steven committed white collar crime.

So it was with a half worried smirk when he gave me a call, wanting to meet at the stone fountain in front of Central Park in an hour. I'm sure there was some wise decision I could have made about contacting the police and helping the investigation, but it was a Tuesday at 2 pm and I could use the coffee break.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Strangers in the story

Being in NYC, I spend a fair amount of time in transit to my locations of destination, and inevitably I also spend a fair amount of time in close proximity to strangers. When I first moved here I would treat such time as annoyance, and recede within the depths of my vast and detailed (my friends might say "crazed" or "drunk" which is sometimes true) imagination, or perhaps staring inadvertently or furtively at an attractive stranger's exposed cleavage (I doubt I am in the minority regarding this habit).

But after reading so much detective fiction the past week, I've tried to be more conscious of the unspoken characteristics of the strangers I meet, and if possible, what back story they might be harboring. For example, clothing can meet a lot or a little, but body language speaks volumes: I remember one blond girl wearing a white tanktop, jean shorts, bracelets, and a gaudy necklace - at first glance I thought she was some fun-loving college girl who went to concerts and was likely to harbor a valley girl accent. But her shoulders were hunched, her posture sunken, and she had twitching, scanning eyes, her mind never losing itself in imagination or thought and remaining always alert. Her face conveyed a defeated, angry appearance, as if it were a barren desert facing a recent drought of fond memories and honest smiles. Another older, black woman sat with quiet politeness, her voice responding to a fellow passenger's query with a bright tone, her voice exuding a sense of soft warmth, her hands placed elegantly on one knee crossed over the other, and her face an easy canvas of wide eyes and plentiful smiles.

Summertime, and the living is easy. Oh how it is my friends. How it is.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Gone Baby Gone

I recently finished a crime noir novel by Dennis Lehane called Gone Baby Gone. Freakishly good, it describes the mystery of a missing child with the gritty backdrop and cynical humor of two Boston detectives. The writing is crisp, as if the narrator were drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette the entire time he unfolds the story.

But it's goddamn depressing. Descriptions of horrible crimes against children probably inspired by real atrocities, the hopelessness of the uneducated and drugged up poor - Lehane is no judge nor saint: he just writes. And yet you understand you need that all that shit in the world for anything to make sense. And you realize your life hasn't undergone any real trauma like losing a child, going to prison, or being trapped in poverty. Sad shit man.

Movie's coming out too:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

B-school essays

So I'm thinking about b-school and found this book on HBS essays. And of course they're all great and inspiring, but there does tend to be a trend toward 1) high powered finance/consulting and 2) non-profit, third-world work. It's almost cliched - I'm nearly surprised when someone doesn't write about leading/managing a case/analysis team which outperforms/impresses a client/target or describes the saving of a thousand starving Burundi children from an onslaught of marauding Eskimos.

Here's an essay which will be sure to either get me admitted or possibly arrested.

When I first heard about "BetterCons" I was sure it was the copycat of the Bridgespan Group or New Sector alliance, consulting firms providing strategic expertise to a variety of non-profits. But being involved with BetterCons proved to be so much more - instead of reforming criminals and helping them adjust to "normal" life which usually meant distrustful employers, poor wages, and social stigma, BetterCons chose to help current criminals improve their practices to better support themselves. Through a variety of strategic frameworks and best practices designed around specialized industries as money laundering, drug dealing, and armed robbery, we helped these non-law abiding citizens realize higher profits, less (or more, depending on client) violence, and more effective escape routes.

Why, in one case example, we helped turn a generic counterfeit scam into a full fledged racket, with pyramid schemes, bookkeepping, and "enforcement." It wasn't just planning but doing, from finding underage customers for heroin to literally "breaking kneecaps." Sure, sometimes our strategies didn't always work, which would result in the client being arrested, but even then we added value by planting evidence on unsuspecting innocents and bribing key judges and law enforcement personnel. There's really no greater feeling of accomplishment than seeing a guilty, hardened criminal receive a suspended sentence, with the full intent of resuming his illegal activities upon release (I get goosebumps remembering that day in court :-).

When I think back on my experience with BetterCons, I'll know I made a difference. Like their motto says, "If you can't change them, it's too late! :-)"

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Just came up with this in my sleep. Do you ever wonder where the "you" in "you" came from? The general definition has been theorized as stemming from genetics and environment, but the second category is really broad: is it just friends and family? Difficult/challenging experiences? What else is there? It sounds like a college admissions essay because it is - aside from your pedigree, the people you interact with (friends, family, lovers), your work, education, what else makes up who you are? How do we develop this identity? And the answer to that question is culture, and not just any culture but pop culture. The movies you watch, the songs you listen to, the books you read, the video games you play, the clothes you wear. And it's not just using this culture as archetypes, e.g. our ancestors making the Odyssey popular because particular characters like Achilles or Hector exemplified certain values or traits people wanted to (or were encouraged to) emulate. It's also how you interact with that culture - like loving zombie movies, hating certain rap lyrics, or having a fascination with Malcolm Gladwell books.

It's also what you put on your facebook/myspace page, and also what other people (namely your friends) put up ABOUT you on such social networks. In fact you could argue the most successful social networks will be the ones which have nothing to do with software (like facebook) or monetization (like myspace, to some degree with their $900M google deal), and not even with viral effects which enable fast growth and user engagement, but with helping you understand who you are and who other people are. To that end you might argue facebook has an edge, because after F8 becoming released and the ecosystem of FB apps proliferating, I would say I know more about my friends, and my friends know more about me, than they ever did before. But the important point is that interacting with facebook is primarily a passive activity - it's not necessarily culture producing but culture facilitating. It's an information transmission process which enables people to experience culture based on shared or divergent interests.

I mention all these points because as human culture becomes more advanced and we have more spare time, it seems unlikely we'll find the answer to our identity from enlisting in wars (which was a huge impact on the pre-boomer and boomer generations), through work (which at times seems so unfulfilling depending on your job), education (which tends to end post college or grad school), or other avenues, but really through the content we consume and create, because it's an active, reciprocal process. It becomes a safer, more easily recognized way to express and more importantly, understand one's self.

There's probably a book somewhere in this mess of prose, I just have to find it. Thoughts welcome.