Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Mudskipper

At my best friend's wedding, I gave a speech that centered on cars and girls. Two things that have bonded us since we were 12. We've talked about both consistently over the years - not sports, not politics, not fashion, not work just cars and girls (now wives). He's got the better collection now but a long time ago, I was the one with the headstart.

Every teenager growing up in the Midwest dreams of one thing - a car. Not everyone cares about sports though most do. Dating in private is only possible with wheels. If you were unhappy at home as all teens are, long drives to nowhere were a great tonic. It was no different for me. The shame of my mother picking me up after school or practice grew by the day. I was the only student in my class not yet driving and I was without any friends who were willing to carpool out of their way. My life felt stunted.

In my home state, you could get a driver's permit six months before you were 16. The law was that you had to pass a written test and drive with passenger that have had their license for more than 2 years. Realizing I was rapidly approaching that age, seeking to drive with my parents - it was somehow concocted that having my own car would be better since I could practice without borrowing the family car. Practice was really just driving up and down the street and gradually within the confines of the neighborhood. No main streets, no stop lights and nothing over 25 miles per hour. So with great anticipation I awaited for the best Christmas present to come into my non-denominational life in February.

Unbeknownst to me, the idea wasn't hatched so as to help me learn how to drive in the relative safety of my own slow car. It was much more machevellian. My father wanted to spend nothing to buy a car, in fact he didn't want to even buy a car since it would inevitably include insurance, oil changes, part replacements, and all manners of repair of damage I would inflict on said machine. But an opportunistic colleague was relocating to a foreign country and wanted to get rid of his car. Maybe my father would take it off his hands for $800? That winter, Bob drove up our short driveway to officially hand over the car. It was a ten year old Honda Accord Coupe. Somehow, it was in superb shape for it's age. Best of all, the car only had 80,000 miles. It had literally been Bob's college car and he'd kept it all these years for sentimental value. It was the first car he bought with his own hard-earned money plus, he hadn't really driven it for the past half decade.

The Mudskipper was going to be a slow and obviously dated car. The temperature controls meant very little in extreme weather. Rain meant water in the car, wind meant more noise and the clutch was really an anvil. It had power steering, no power locks, no power windows, a stick shift, two doors and a hatchback. It was the color of wet riverbank sludge with two thin gold pinstripes on the side panels. The bumpers were a worn matte black plastic. The equally brown cloth upholstery just re-affirmed the seriousness of the color scheme. Still, it ran forever on a single tank of the cheapest gasoline, the lack of electrics meant nothing could go wrong .The stereo wasn't even top of the line when it was brand new, though it did come with 4 speakers. I came to like the old cassette player and the nuances of a manual radio dial. The sound was terrible but other than having no bass, Public Enemy was still frantic and angry.

My first task was getting the car into first gear. The first day was complete frustration and bone-jarring engine fits. Finally, I managed to start the car and not stall immediately when I released the clutch. Reverse gear took another day. On the third day I managed to drive out and then back into our driveway. Second gear came faster. I didn't get much beyond that for the next two months. Just driving out of my driveway, up the street, doing a three point U-turn, then back again repeatedly at 20 miles per hour was exhilarating enough.

Soon though, I was 16 and I started my adventures with the Mudskipper in earnest. It may have been short, brown, slow and ugly but it moved and that was all I needed. The prospect of wheels trumps all else. It didn't matter that the car wasn't a looker, or that it lacked every basic creature comfort, or that it was deliberately designed to go slow. I drove it to school and back every day. And tried to use my newfound fortune to ramp up my social life.

By chance, one of the prettier girls in my class needed a ride to a volunteer event one evening. She casually asked to carpool with me and I acted like I had done similar acts of kindness when I agreed. Her introduction to the Mudskipper was relatively tame. I picked her up from her place and we had idle chit chat. On the way back, she was more comfortable and her usual spritely self. She asked me to turn up the music - P.E., because I wanted to impress her. And the puny high pitched speakers wheezed like a grandmother lecturing little brats. Disappointing yet still interesting she remarked. Then she decided that I should drive faster to show her what the car could do. The next stoplight, we were lined up with a Mustang. She wanted to race him. I hesitated. She reached over, honked the horn, and gestured to the Mustang that we were racing. He quickly revved up his engine. I did mine. At green we both took off. As expected, the Mustang took off much faster. All the yelling and screaming didn't work though she ended up laughing furiously and we got a thrill just by being in that impromptu drag race. The Mudskipper may have been slow and tone-deaf but it still managed to make a pretty girl smile and laugh.

My first driving year with the Mudskipper, I made no upgrades or modifications and there was no damage small or large. There were no trips out of the city, and no adventures worth noting. It was a very reliable and economical high school car. At the end of that first year, as a reward for responsible driving and good grades, my parents traded in the Mudskipper for a brand new car. I believe the dealership gave us $1500 for it. A tidy profit. I never saw that car again.

Friday, January 21, 2011


I was fresh out of college and working in my first job. Well, my second job technically but we're splitting hairs here. For the purposes of my resume today, that second was my first. I was an account executive at the biggest ad agency in town, and I was in the group that generated the most revenue. So, in the eyes of the ad world and my relatives who cared, I was off to a good start.

The problem was I was the new guy on the team and I had the clients that generated the least amount of revenue. In terms of overall client rank, mine were at the bottom. Which meant that within this group, I was nobody. Though outside the group, I lived off the aura of said group, but everyone knew that I was the runt of the litter.

It came therefore almost as a decree from Zeus when I got the call. I was being tapped to work on our agency's largest account. And not only that I was still going to just report directly to my Group Account Director. And! I was going to be working on the client's most technologically advanced product. Praise to Mount Olympus, my chariot had come after all.

I was all of 22.

So I get to my first meeting with our clients. It was my boss, the Group Account Director, the client's Marketing Director and her Senior Brand Manager. There was also a technical manager there who started us off by explaining this new product. I thought it was relatively simple actually. But this was back in the 90's and tech was a foreign word still to most commoners.

I wanted to impress badly. I wanted to prove I belonged in that room. And as luck would have it, my previous first job (now forsworn but then acknowledged freely) had me working with this client's direct competition. It was not quite the same bells and whistles, but conceptually I had a very good grasp. Which meant I was going to open my mouth. I asked, I answered, I poked, I prodded, I espoused; just stopped short of proclaiming. I might have beamed a little. I was wise beyond my 22 years.

My boss had asked me to wait in the lobby while he finished some outstanding conversations with the marketing director. I think I had two cigarettes while waiting. It was a short car ride back.

We were walking in the office corridor. Past the receptionist, past the keycard entry door. Right after the door closed, he turned around to face me.

"So, I spoke to the clients after our meeting. Overall, they liked you, they thought you were smart and very enthusiastic"

I guess I didn't realize it was an audition but that I had passed so what did it matter.

"One thing though". His eyes sharpened.
"You need to learn when to keep your mouth shut. You talked too much and I don't want that to happen again. "

I was 22.

To this day, I can replay that scene in my mind like it just happened. That walk back to my desk never felt longer.

It's been the best lesson of my corporate career.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Teeth are clear. Hair is in place. Tie is straight. Hands are dry.

Steve took one last look at himself in the mirror, and he was ready. Well, as ready as he was going to be. He slowly unlatched the lock on the bathroom door, and walked out of the Starbucks – making sure to look both ways as he crossed the street and entered the building lobby. A quick show of identification to the security guard on duty, and he was ready to board the elevator. The ride to the thirty-fifth floor was a lot faster than he had anticipated. In a matter of seconds, the doors opened, and he was at the reception.

“Hi. My name is Steve Howard, and I have an appointment with Cindy Long at ten.”

“Have a seat and she’ll be right with you. “


Impressive office. Bright and airy, and all these modernist touches, he thought. The life-size Darth Vader sure didn’t do anything to detract from the cool factor. Who put a life-size Darth Vader figurine next to reception anyway? What kind of an office was this? Anyway, what did it matter? He was here for an interview, and he needed a job. Any job. Times are tough and this was the only interview he could get after six weeks of sending resumes non-stop. The bloodletting had to end, and it better end today.

"Steve? Hi, I'm Jen, Cindy's assistant. She's ready for you now. Would you follow me?"

"Great. Thanks. Impressive office by the way"

" Yeah, our CEO is a huge architecture buff and designed everything himself."


"Here we are. This is the CEO's office, but he's out this week. Have a seat and she will be right with you. Can I get you anything to drink?"

"No thanks."

It was the most impressive office that Steve had ever laid eyes on. It was easily bigger than his apartment, and it was a true corner office with a view of Central Park. Central Park! Damn. Must be nice to walk in to this every morning. The opposite side of the office was dominated by floor to ceiling mirrors. It reflected that same magnificent view of Central Park, only it had a wood bar across the middle. That was odd, he thought. Wait a minute, those are ballet bars. What is going on here?

He took a quick look at the door. Well, there were two doors. One from each corner of the office. Two entrances. That was a first for him. Both had a sleek metal disc that looked like a giant stainless steel frisbee affixed on the mirrored wall. And in between those two doors was what appeared to be a hidden panel. I wonder what was behind that, he curiously wondered. Well, no one was around. Steve got up and two the three quick steps towards the panel and gave it a slight push. The hinge creaked a little, and with the small opening, a hidden secret was revealed. A bathroom. The guy has his own personal bathroom. Now that is cooler still. Of course, the ballet bar is still there, but hey, no one is perfect.

Quickly, he pulled the door shut, and sat back into the Wassily chair. Mental note. Make a point to mention that he likes the Wassily chair. That design history class really came in handy - who was the designer again? What else do I say other than the view and the chair? He started to make a list of all the points of interest in the room. View, mirrors - wait was that too obvious? Scratch the mirrors. Chair, the Noguchi coffee table. The awards. That was it really right? Right. Not too much. He was there to talk job not design.

More minutes passed. Still no interviewer. This is strange. Why hasn't anyone come in? Slowly he began to let his mind loose. Is there a camera in here? Are they watching me? His eyes darted around every corner of the room. No, protuding lenses. The computer? Screen's not pointed at him. Teddy Bear-cam? Hidden between the awards and the books? Not that he could tell from his seat five yards away. Ok. Now he was starting to sweat. He could feel the dams slowly opening and the deodorant was kicking in. His palms no longer dry. This was stupid. I'm here for an interview not Punk'd. Still more time was passing, and every second brought another morsel of panic.

A good twenty minutes later, he heard footsteps. Mercy.

It was Jen.

"Steve? I'm sorry but Cindy can't make it today."

"Oh, ok. Should I come back later today or should I reschedule for later in the week?" He really needed the job.

"Um. I don't think she'll be available any time soon. But let me check and see what is possible."

"I'm sorry. Wait. What do you mean what's possible? So, I'm not getting the interview?"

"Well, Cindy just went into labor, and she's going to be on maternity leave. I'm not sure what her plans are for the position, and I'm going to have to get back to you."


"I'm sorry, she's early."


"Here's my card. Why don't you e-mail me tomorrow, and I will see if I have an answer for you."

"Oh. Ok. I'll e-mail you tomorrow then." Repeating her instructions because fog had moved in.

"Let me walk you out"

"Thanks. I'll e-mail you tomorrow then."

"I'm so sorry"

"It's ok. I'll e-mail you tomorrow then. Thanks."

Friday, January 7, 2011

Subway Star

Woman 1/7/11

I wish Scott Schuman was there to take her picture. That's how good this look was. Literally from head to toe.

First the toes. They were encased in turquoise cowboy boots. The best part? Each had a prominent large white star with red outline debossed onto the the front of the boot. Her boot tips were distressed and dark, possibly from the first snow that was falling this morning, but given the salt stains on the sides, it was more likely that these were no snow virgins. On their own, these boots were already making a statement.

Interestingly enough, her scarf was this large New York Red Bull team scarf. Red polyester on one side, and blue on the other. The team logo was featured prominently, and she was evidently not ashamed to be sporting the team colors.

Given that she was on the waifish side, it wasn't surprising that she was clad in skinny jeans. The fact that there were these bold zippers on the inside of the jeans - they were almost a continuation of the statement started by the boots. On her fingers though were oatmeal wool fingerless gloves. No nail polish.

She was bundled the entire time in her black wool overcoat. Military-inspired, double-breasted and epaulets on the shoulders. I think she knew it was a plain winter coat because on her right breast area, she had decorated the coat with a cluster of three pins. Two buttons and one broach. The buttons? One was the Union Jack with "Anarchy". The other was placed upside down deliberately and after much investigation, this seemingly political pin actually said " United We Bargain. Divided We Beg". The broach? A pair of lips outlined with rhinestones. Individually, each says something. Collectively, I'm not sure but it made for a great addition to her coat.

Of course, the hair was an essential part of her look as well. She had bangs and a shoulder length poofy style. Think Supremes and not Snooki. Her chestnut locks were quite voluminous, and just about overpowered and covered the blue hoodie.

And what woman's look is complete without the bag? It was a vinyl travel bag with a shoulder strap - reminded me of the old Pan Am bags that were so ubiquitous in my youth. White with blue accents, and distinct use markings and stains all over. When I finally caught a glimpse of the logo on the front, it said " Jetsave. The Transatlantic Holiday People". Do a search.

Finally, her face? Cherubic. Very young. Innocent bordering on angelic.

The main question that lingered was? How old was she? High school? College? And did she consciously know she had a style? What did her friends think? What did her enemies think?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thom Browne on the Subway

R Train
- headed uptown
- 3/19. 1:17 pm

I got on at the Canal Street station and I kid you not, sitting right there in front of me was Thom Browne. Not a facsimile, but the actual superstar designer himself. Not that one doesn't see Thom Browne around NYC. I've seen him at parties and of course walking around Soho, the Meatpacking District and once in the Garment District. But this was the NYC subway.

He was dressed - well, you know how he was dressed. I was ready to write this long description but its not necessary. The point about Thom Browne is that he is dressed the same everyday with few variations. I did notice that his shirt cuff buttons were undone, though they could have been French and just without links.

It was cool and weird at the same time. Cool well, because he's Thom Browne and he's in the subway. Weird because I was in my own version of the look - no socks and folded pants cuffs, but next to him I look like I'm dipping a toe in the pool of style while he is just dripping in fashion's oh-so-cool waters. Next to him, most mortals, let alone me, look uncool.

So, what did I do?
I wandered over to sit right across from him.
Made eye contact.

"Thom Browne takes the subway, huh?"
"Yes" came the reply

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Color of Money

Saint Patrick's Day

What happened? St. Paddy's Day used to be some drinking, and some wearing of green. Now, it's all drinking and wearing of green and apparently orange as well just in case Northern Ireland feels left out.

Seen on the subway:

- Green Eyeshadow
- Green Plastic Leprechaun Hat
- Green Fabric Scottish-inspired Soccer Cap
- Green and Silver Mardi Gras-inspired Beads
- Green Feather Bunny Ears
- Green Tees of every Style
- Green Scarf
- Green Handbag
- Green Socks
- Shamrock Earrings ... obvious color.

Is the vomit also green?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Snow Drive - pt 1

The cancellation flashed across the laptop screen and the choice instantly popped into my head. The flight to Charlotte tomorrow morning was now canceled, and I wasn't going to make my very-important meeting. Well, on the one hand, I could have made a few calls and see about getting the meeting re-scheduled for a different day. Of course, nothing is ever so black and white. Logic doesn't apply when money has been invested, people from other parts of the country are awaiting your arrival, the meeting had already been postponed from two weeks ago, and the window was closing - very, very fast.

The weather outside my window looked exactly as the forecasters had predicted. Snow everywhere, winds whipping and visibility like McMurdo Station. A quick check on Google. 10 hrs. That was the drive time from Brooklyn to Charlotte. A quick check of the weather. Well, it looked bad but mainly in Jersey and Pennsylvania, and of course New York. If I left before the worst hit NYC, I could possibly do the drive in about 12 maybe even 14 hrs.

I calmly called my wife. Told my partner, and the sales guys in Charlotte. Packed and squeezed in a quick ramen lunch. 2 pm and I was in the car on the way out of Brooklyn.

The 1st 30 minutes was so easy. No cars on the road. Blizzard conditions, yes, but manageable. I had a long drive ahead of me and I drove as cautiously as possible. No sense rushing if the goal was to make an 11 am meeting tomorrow. I was at the Holland Tunnel in what must have been record time for such adverse conditions. New Jersey never looked so manageable. Once on the interstate things started to deteriorate, albeit very slowly. Driving 30 mph was fine until it dawned that even that was an unsafe speed. Semis, SUVs, sedans, trucks, coupes. All manner of makes and models were on the road with me now. But what was normally considered a rather empty interstate was now a one lane snow-covered country road with the occasional side lane for passing. Still, I was encouraged by the fact that I was moving and making good time in this tempest of a snow storm.

Was I scared? I didn't really have time to think about it. I was so focused on the road, the cars around me, and the ice that kept creeping up the lower part of my windshield. Plus, wiping the excess condensation off the inside of my windshield every minute.

By now, I was probably about two hours or so into the journey and approaching the Jersey - Pennsylvania border. Looking ahead, the sign said "Last Exit in Jersey". Wow. I was doing ok. Then I looked around and realized that there were no cars around me - front or back. The Interstate was now one barely there lane with snow banks that were about a foot high and rising. I couldn't even see more than 20 feet around me with all the snow coming down, blowing around and swirling. Michael Kay described it best when he said that it was like being in a snow globe of New York.

That was my first moment of real fear and regret. I had driven in impossible conditions alone, and now for this desolate stretch I was really alone. The snow seemed to eat up every bit of road ahead of me and the tracks of the cars that had passed before were rapidly disappearing. I was scared. I didn't pray. I thought about choice and how I had made my choice to risk my life. I thought about how I needed to not dwell on my mistake and keep focused on the task at hand. It wasn't about getting to Charlotte at this point, it was just about driving in survival mode.

A good 30 minutes passed before I made it into Pennsylvania. I thought that the worst was over and I was well on my way to Charlotte. But as I've learned since - it 's probably in my karma to be tested beyond what my feeble understanding of my mental threshold is. My sixth grade teacher once told me that she thought I was one of the better students of that particular class of hers, but that I had never really been tested so I would never know what I was made of - until my back was against the wall. I've spent the following years trying to live up to her expectations and tackling every challenge like it was the penultimate test.

Perhaps that's why I chose to embark on the drive in the first place. I needed to pass this test.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Man with the Golden Companion


For someone riding a mobility scooter, he was far from the usual stereotype of a rider. He wasn’t overweight. Not particularly old. No real visible signs of disability. If one didn’t know better this would another George Costanza-like situation. Not pretty.

He was dressed like an old high school teacher. Attempting to dress up and convey some gravitas, but ending up looking rumpled and a caricature of what academics think is fashionable yet comfortable. In his case, it was a dark navy blue blazer that though the standard two button, the cut and the design betrayed the truth that it was probably bought a good decade or more ago. The lapels were slightly larger and the blazer itself was about a size too large for his frame.

Adding to that lost fashion sense was a navy blue crewneck worn under that blazer. A curious choice to pair with a blazer for him, but it went perfectly with the faded black denim jeans he was wearing. Both were equally generous with the fading of color, and in keeping with his now obvious near monotone taste in color.

The black chunky boots were a real surprise though. For a person on a scooter to have these hybrid hiking and walking boots was an oxymoron right? If one isn’t doing much walking, why wear those meant for others who are to do much of it?

His glasses on a black tortoiseshell frame completed his look.

At his feet was a dark grey messenger bag. A cell phone sticking out of the side pocket, looking like it was supposed to be in more comfortable quarters.

He spent the majority of his train ride reading the New York Times. The boardsheet in all of its splendor on what is normally a train too crowded for spreading out.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Golden Companion

Man 10/8/09

Golden Companion. Rather, Golden Companion II. That was the name on the prominent label affixed to the front and rear. The Golden Companion II is an electric mobility scooter. Now a scooter in a NYC subway is a rare sight and one simply cannot let this pass without a closer look.

It was a metallic navy blue scooter. A large sticker on the steering column to indicate the name, Golden Companion II, and an even larger sticker on the rear of the scooter on the casing where the battery is located to do the same.

It was a man sitting on this scooter. The seat was similar to a seat one would find on an electric wheelchair. Large back and seat, though curiously no seat belt on this one. Perhaps it was removed? The grey chair was made from a PVC material and the foam sticking out from the worn corners suggested a lot of mileage. It was also slightly discolored and darkened adding to the patina of age and abuse.

At the very top of the steering column was a small circle headlight flanked on both sides by black foam padded handlebars. There were no brake levers on that handlebar, but directly underneath each grip was a small lever obviously meant for the thumbs – the left was marked R, and the right was marked F. On the dash board was a battery meter in the middle of that rectangle console. To the left and right were two little buttons – one for the headlight and the other remained a mystery. At the bottom of the steering column was a rubberized accordion sleeve that was most probably there to protect a suspension or some sort of hinge.

The rather thick chassis sat on three wheels. One in front, and two in the rear. All grey in color and about 10 inches in diameter. There were also two other smaller wheels right next to the rear wheels. Those two smaller wheels were roller wheels that sat off the ground, and probably there to aid transportation of the vehicle.

On the front panel of the battery casing was a large faux wood sticker. Not sure why it was there since it didn’t obviously serve a function nor was it aesthetically appropriate.

His feet rested on a large footbed that essentially dominated the chassis of the scooter. On the front edging of the footbed was a protective metallic gold strip that ran the length of that edge. In keeping with the theme, there were portions that were held down by masking tape and a small portion that was missing completely.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Original

Woman 9/24/09

It was a simple tee with a rather striking black and white image. At first, the initial reaction was one of irony – Oh, how cute that she’s wearing a t-shirt with the face of Pam Anderson, who is clearly the antithesis of everything this woman stands for. Focusing more on the face on that tee, it began to be obvious that it wasn’t the infamous Pamela Anderson who was being subtly mocked, it was the great Brigitte Bardot who was being celebrated.

Brigitte Bardot the icon. Brigitte Bardot the woman who epitomized French sensuality in Fifties and whose influence is still felt today even though the height of her fame was in the Sixties. Unlike those who needed to die young to remain so, she is still remembered as an effervescent beauty who conjures fantasies at the mere mention of her name. What’s probably more striking is that instead of being just remembered for her sexuality, she’s long been a favorite of fashionistas as well.

This fashionista wasn’t channeling Bardot but perhaps celebrating her French style. The tee aside, she was in dark skinny jeans tucked into tall leather boots. The boots just like the jeans were unadorned and offered clean simple lines for the eye. The heels were just about 3 inches and the tan rich enough to impart the craftsmanship and the probable high price.

On her lap was a large handbag. It was an ivory leather with just two handles. All other details though were obscured by the large cotton anorak that she had on which partially cloaked the handbag. The anorak was meant to sit loosely on her shoulders. A thin canvas jacket for cooler summer or warmer spring days had found itself in demand on this cool late early Fall day in NYC. It was a sand color with a hood that had drawstrings of the same color. One could make out the zipper which indicated that the hood was removable. The zipper of the anorak was brass, but the buttons on the side hand pockets were both brown. The relative simplicity of this long jacket was essentially in keeping with her signature taste.

She had a long pixie cut. The hair was dyed in what looked to be two different layers – brown on the outside and black on the inside. The roots were brown, so this just wasn’t a simple case of her black hair growing out. It was a deliberate dye pattern.

Her make-up was equally deliberate. Light on the blush. Heavy on the mascara to highlight her eyes. And a pale powder around her cheeks to offset the pink of the blush. The eyebrows were painted brown. There were a light sprinkling of freckles across her face.

She looked like she stepped out of a fashionista Manga comic.