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Chapter XVII

because you never know someone from the very beginning

Month

January 2009

Farewell, Hello Martin

A friend of mine died yesterday.  His name was Martin Schaedel.  He could be found online at Hello Martin and Flickr stream.

He died in a tragic plane crash at the Santa Monica Airport.

The LA Times has an article on him here

My husband and I had just had him over for dinner a couple of weeks ago.  I met him through work about a year and a half ago.  As you can read from the article, he was a man of the world.  When he passed through NY he would always reach out even for coffee.  I am not sure I ever met anyone so interested in meeting new people.  He was an adventurer and a free spirit.  I got the impression he really liked meeting people's families and hanging out with them as much as he loved his jet-setting lifestyle.  He was a child of the world.

He was young.  Maybe 23.

He certainly died doing what he loved.  I hope we can all say the same.  He taught me many things in the very brief time I knew him, but one lesson, live every day as if it's your last, is one I think I will always associate with Martin.

From Facebook, but it’s blogworthy…25 random things about MOI

1. I am a preacher's kid and though my upbringing was not really like
what's her name's in Footloose, there are aspects of that movie that I
can relate to.

2. I knew from age five that I would live in Manhattan. I NEVER thought
I would move off of the island. Now, I live in Brooklyn and fantasize
about getting even further out of the city.

3. I thought my dad "owned" our church and all of the related property.

4. Building on #3, I once charged admission to the church playground. I
made money. As an eight year old. Charging neighborhood kids to use the
church playground. If there is a god, I need to do some repenting.

5. I secretly wish I were a pop star, not because I can sing (I cannot
– but that does not seem like a prerequisite for the job) but because I
love to dance. This becomes not such a secret when the music starts
playing and I put on my fancy dance moves.

6. Though I cannot sing, I once played Sister Margaretta in the Sound
Of Music. I had a solo. I made sure that I performed my solo while the
audience was still clapping for the soloist who sang before me.
Clearly, I showed strategic thinking and survival skills at a young
age.

7. I was – yes – the captain of the Pom Pom squad in high school. It
gets better, I was the treasurer when I was a junior. I loved being on
poms and credit all of my rhythm to those days.

8. I was not a good captain. I hated making up routines and am not a good choreographer.

9. That said, I got to perform at Disney World once (as did the rest of
the squad) and was invited to perform in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day
Parade. My parents said "No" to the latter as it meant I would miss two
days of school. In the spirit of you only live once, to this day I
think that was a mistake.

10. In 1999, I quit working at Goldman Sachs to go work for Russell Simmons. Great career move.

11. In 2000, I decided to work for Primedia rather than Def Jam Records. Not such a great career move.

12. I hate listening to people talk about their dreams. Not dreams like
life dreams, rather, dreams like "Last night I had the craziest dream"
dreams. It's a pet peeve. I cannot explain it. I prefer to live in
reality and focus my energy there, I suppose.

13. I think my sister is about the funniest person I know.

14. I am a pretty darn good cook. I keep goose fat in my refrigerator.
I always have fresh chicken stock. Right now I am researching Italian
festival foods as that will be my next area of focus.

15. More on #14, one day I would like to own a food store, a food cart,
a food truck or all of the above, perhaps serving Italian festival
foods.

16. I am really really good at MSFT Excel. I used to be great at it. I
would have put my excel modeling skills up against any other Wall
Street analyst with no fear that I could build company projections
faster, more accurately and more elegantly than anyone else out there.

17. I realize that 15 years into my career, #16 is not something to be proud of anymore.

18. I achieved Executive Platinum status on American Airlines (flying
100,000 miles in one year) the year I was pregnant. That equates to
about 20 or so trips back and forth to CA in one year.

19. I met my husband in a bar in 2000. We shacked up in 2003.  He bought me two cats in 2004, at which point I said to myself "Hmmm, he likes cats, cats live a long time, he must want to be with me for a long time."  In 2005 we got engaged, and in 2006 we got married.  We still have the cats.  We really want a dog.

20. I absolutely love to go fishing. My husband taught me to fish. I am
now learning to drive the boats. I am also pretty good at tying the
knots that go along with boat management.

21. I almost got straight A's as a sophomore in high school, did get
straight A's as a junior, then as a senior, got really bored, accepted
admission to Georgetown, stopped doing homework or even trying, and
ended the year with two C's in addition to more B's than A's. I wrote
about this as a mistake when I applied to Harvard Business School. They
seemed to buy my story.

22. I once ran the NYC Marathon and still count it as one of my
proudest days. Years later, right before I got pregnant, I completed a
half-marathon. I have barely run three miles since then but ANY day now
I will start again!

23. I won a pancake eating contest in first grade on Shrove Tuesday.
Apparently I ate 22 pancakes and washed it all down with an orangcicle.
I have no way to confirm that this is true, but I remember eating,
winning and the number 22…and the look of astonishment on the faces
around me. What can I say. I was a growing girl.

24. Despite all social media evidence to the contrary (twittering, a
blog, facebook participation), I am more of an introvert than an
extrovert.

25. #24 is clearly debatable by yet another fact – I proudly have a bra
on the bar at Hogs and Heifers. Said bra landed on the bar after I
danced on the bar and they offered free whisky shots to those of us
that tossed our bras onto the bar. What? I was young and living in NYC
was expensive! Drinks cost a fortune. You would have done the same
thing.

Ups Downs F U Cancer and Major Inspiration. Life is GOOD.

  • Do you ever worry that you will live your life on the edge of greatness?
  • I have learned life is all about perspective.  On my flights out
    and back to San Fran last week, the menu offered a "Pre-Arrival
    Refreshment of Sparkling Water with Citrus Garnish".  Never have I
    heard a glass of club soda described with such flourish.  Optimists,
    those American Airlines folks are.
  • Tonight I had quite possibly the worst dinner I have had in months
    – all because of whole wheat pasta.  No good deed goes unpunished.
  • There were times last week when I was so tired I could not fall asleep.  Cruel and unusual punishment.
  • Feeling a little "ahh, well" and "ho, hum" these days.
  • But determined to BUCK UP! 
  • I am having frequent flashes of what my life felt like when my dad was alive – and then in an instant, the feeling goes away. 
  • I love how the snow sticks more in Brooklyn than Manhattan, even if
    it means I am more likely to wipe out walking to the subway…which I
    did the other day, only to have some asshole honk.  Seriously?  You are
    HONKING!  Dude, I FELL! 
  • I need a book recommendation.
  • I wonder what it's like to live in Savannah, Georgia.
  • Was it really 10 years ago that I graduated from business school?
  • Braising a pork shoulder right now.  There is nothing like the smell of braised something in the oven.
  • Tempted to watch "24" but the husband is not home yet…he may have to watch it on his own.
  • I may stop watching the news.
  • And seeing people for lunch.  It's all just so depressing.  NYC is like a nuclear war zone these days.  Not just jobs, but companies and dare I say, industries, have ceased to exist.  It's all people talk about.  And there is talk about the tech industry saving NYC.  Really?  I invest in that industry.  No doubt, it has promise, but not when businesses with no idea how they will generate revenue continue to "thrive" because they get funded.  That is false achievement.  Go ahead, call me a revenue snob.  You would still be wrong, I am a PROFIT snob.
  • I am drinking more tea these days.
  • I need to be walking more.  I read the other day that the average American walks 1.4 miles per week.  TOTAL.  That includes all steps – in the house, from the car to the store, every last one.  If that is true, how pathetic is that!  More walking = lower fuel emissions and lower health care costs as people get into better shape.  Brooklyn and NYC in general is pretty walker friendly.  Is your town walker friendly?  If it's not, try to make it so. 
  • Enough chastising and depressing talk.  Need a little inspiration (or a lot)?  Look here: Cycle for Survival This is a charity my friend started.  She has a rare form of cancer and rather than being upset about it (though, I know she has her moments) she chose to run at it head on and raise as much money as humanly possible to find a cure.  I hate to say that it has become my annual workout (I used to be in shape.  Really) but yesterday – in ONE day – she raised more than $1,000,000 for her treatment center.  One person, rallying a lot of other people, pulling the pieces together to say "F U CANCER!".  Check it out.  Be inspired to DO STUFF, create something, face a challenge head on.  I need some of that these days as we enter this period of economic oblivion (sorry, but the word "downturn" just does not quite cut it – this is a drastic situation and we all need to recognize it as such) and Jen Goodman Linn provides just that and more.

Life of Pi

I recently finished reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  If you have not read it, I strongly suggest it.  There were many quotable passages in the book…examples:

“I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently.”

"Don't you bully me with your politeness! Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?"

I love that last line – what is your problem with hard to believe.  One other passage struck me in particular.  It was the chapter on fear.  It seems particularly relevant in this turbulent time.  Words I wish I had written myself:

"I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy. Doubt meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out. But disbelief is a poorly armed foot soldier. Doubt does away with it with little trouble. You become anxious. Reason comes to do battle for you. You are reassured. Reason is fully equipped with the latest weapons technology. But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread.

Fear next turns fully to your body, which is already aware that something terribly wrong is going on. Already your lungs have flown away like a bird and your guts have slithered away like a snake. Now your tongue drops dead like an opossum, while your jaw begins to gallop on the spot. Your ears go deaf. Your muscles begin to shiver as if they had malaria and your knees to shake as though they were dancing. Your heart strains too hard, while your sphincter relaxes too much. And so with the rest of your body. Every part of you, in the manner most suited to it, falls apart. Only your eyes work well. They always pay proper attention to fear.

Quickly you make rash decisions. You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust. There, you've defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you.

The matter is difficult to put into words. For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation, such as you feel when you are brought face to face with your mortal end, nestles in your memory like a gangrene: it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it. So you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you."

‘wichcraft. A Feedback Letter.

UPDATE: On January 9th I received a call from the person to whom I addressed this letter (below).  He was absolutely terrific and managed to restore my faith in the 'wichcraft franchise.  We discussed point by point what I had written and gave me some background on the situation.  I now have a restored interest in heading back to the restaurant, and am hoping my friends will do the same.  This is a place with terrific potential, that really cares about customer experiences and feedback.

Original Post:

Every once in a while I get irritated enough to fire off a feedback letter.  My husband has done this as well.  It might be part of how we try to make the world a better place.  I complained to Target via a letter about how miserable their Atlantic Terminal location is.  I got a letter in response.  My husband complained about an American Airlines credit expiration policy.  He got our credits re-instated.  Slowly, the world will come around.  I really like Top Chef and think Tom Colicchio has created some amazing restaurants, so I was more than dismayed when I had a bad experience at his place 'wichcraft at Rock Center.  Here is my letter:

Dear Mr. [REMOVED TO PROTECT THE GUILTY]:

I am writing to tell you about a disappointing and depressing experience I had at the Rockefeller Center ‘wichcraft.  I met a friend at the restaurant on December 23rd at 8:30AM.  We were meeting for breakfast.  There were several issues.

First, the restaurant was nearly impossible to find.  I realize you might have little control over this, but the Concourse at Rockefeller Center is barely navigable, with directories nowhere to be found.  Finally, after asking three people, I found your restaurant (and sadly, after passing a very full Starbucks, where, had I not been meeting someone, I may have landed after probably giving up on finding ‘wichcraft.  Thankfully, this did not happen, but it was a near miss).

So there it was, at the end of the corridor.  I had to stop for a minute and really look because it appeared to be under construction.  The doors were open and the lights were on, but other than that, the space is bare and unwelcoming.  Yes, there were chairs and tables, but nobody was there but the two ‘wichcraft employees.  I suspect other potential patrons had the same impression – this is not a place to eat.

But I pushed ahead and went in.  What does ‘wichcraft sell?  Not an easy question to answer in a space that seems to go to great lengths to hide the menu.  Not a word on the wall behind the counter.  Had I been walking by, I am not sure I would have known this is a place one can eat.  No food even for display.  No wait, not true.  There was a small, half-full bowl of oranges on the counter.  Décor, perhaps? 

I met my friend and we spotted a beverage cooler to the right.  Ah, food.  Or, drink. 

As people who live in NYC and have enjoyed other ‘wichcrafts, we knew what to order.  The oatmeal was good.  My friend enjoyed the yogurt.  Coffees were rich and delicious.  Clearly, the food is not the problem.

But as you have shown by your commitment to creating restaurants with inviting environments, the food is not enough.  So, we got our food and then thought, should we stay?  There are tables and chairs but it’s just so dull and depressing.  No, let’s sit in the common space out there, we concluded.  Honestly, we could not get out of there fast enough.  It was the beginning of the day, and a festive season, and there was no need to remain a second longer in such a mind-numbing locale. 

So what next?  Well, I doubt I will recommend said ‘wichcraft again for any coffee/breakfast/casual meetings.  It’s just too depressing.  For what it’s worth, I suggest the following:

       A little music would be nice.

       A menu, visible and attractive. 

       Entice me with say, food.  Yes, baked goods in sight might lure a few people in.

       Having something baking in the back would also be interesting.  Nothing like the smell of fresh baked goods to get people thinking “Wow, suddenly I am hungry.  Wonder why.”

       Maybe some mugs.  I realize it’s a To Go sort of place, but everything about this ‘wichcraft screams “Get me out of here.”  Mugs might make people feel more welcome.  Or a few comfortable chairs.  Maybe lighter lighting.  Wifi?  I know you are not trying to be Starbucks but what has been created in terms of an atmosphere is a shade away from a rest-stop on the Turnpike. 

Lastly, perhaps I am not your target consumer, but I doubt that.  I have attached my bio below for a bit of context on who I am, for what that is worth.  I do hope you will take this feedback to heart.  There is a big opportunity to create an alternative to a cookie-cutter coffee chain, that offers real food, a nice aesthetic and a taste of greatness as you partake in food and drink that is part of such an esteemed family of restaurants.  It would be a crying shame for you to miss this opportunity.

Kind regards,

 

What it’s Like to Lose a Parent

For about 20 years, I had wondered "what will it be like."  Specifically, what will it be like when my father dies.  I never even considered that my mother might go first.  Thankfully, she did not.  She is alive and thriving.  But Dad, well, he was like a cat as he tricked death several times starting when I was about 15 years old.

So I wondered, what will it be like to get The Call.  There were moments when I thought he was dying and he did not.  In one such moment I was there right with him.  I was panicked and calm and not thinking of anything more than being right there.  And then, grateful.  Eternally grateful when he came back to consciousness.  That was last April when I took our new daughter down to see him and he had what he liked to call "An incident" with his heart.  There was another time in I think 2004…maybe 2005.  I had to get on a plane when he was unconscious.   That was pretty terrible.  In that instance, I was pretty useless and paralyzed.  My then boyfriend, now husband, had to pack for me.  I was visibly upset and unable to manage tears the whole flight.  I landed and learned that the minute my flight took off, he had stabilized.  Those 45 minutes in the air, in limbo, were some of the worst moments of my life thus far.

And then of course there was the actual event, just over two months ago.  He had been home from the hospital for about a week.  We had all been there the weekend before to spend time with him.  Hospice had taken over in our house, and that was a god send.  I talked to him around noon that day.  He and my mother were on their way to one of his favorite places, The Olive Garden.  He wasn't eating much those days but on that day, he had a hankering for some soup and breadsticks.  When I spoke to him that was the last thing we talked about, how he and my mother were going to go out and he was going to get some soup.  He said "Let's talk later."

My mother called me later that day just to mention that she had spoken to the funeral home to get things in order.  I asked if she thought the need was imminent.  Always the planner, she said she did not know but wanted to be prepared.  Interesting timing.  I think she knew.

Later that evening, my father, mother and the hospice nurse sat down to dinner.  He offered up a toast to them, thanking them for all of their help.  This was odd.  I am not sure I remember him initiating a lot of toasts, but on this night he did.  He had some hamburger, one of his favorite meals.  Only a few bites.  Then my mother made him an old favorite, a chocolate milkshake.  He drank the whole thing. 

Several hours later he was experiencing restlessness.  This is a sign.  It's even somewhat official, from what I understand, Terminal Restlessness.  My mother and I were keeping in close touch that night on the phone.  Things continued for the worse.  I won't go into the details.  Near the end – we did not yet know it was the end – my daughter who is a pretty sound sleeper all of a sudden started dramatically crying in her room.  This was around 11:45PM.  She had been asleep since 7PM.  I went to calm her.  A bit later, the phone rang again.  My husband answered the call.  I was in with Avery but I heard him on the phone.  I knew this was The Call.  I took the phone and my mother said she thought this was it.  She put the phone up to his ear so I could speak to him.  I said a few things – things you might imagine one says at that moment.  I did not hear him but apparently he was alive, yet approaching death.  Hearing they say is the last thing to go.  After only a few seconds of this my mother got back on the phone and said she thought he was gone.  It was 12:05AM.  I told her I would call my sister.

Deep breath.  That is what I did.  I stood in my living room and took a very deep breath.  That was quite a moment.  My husband came out with my daughter – and then took her back to her room.  She calmed down right away, right around the very moments after he died.  I called my sister.

And then I felt an incredible sense of calm.  Calm like I had not felt in years.  All anxiety about pain and suffering was gone.  He had finally found peace.  And for me, his daughter, that was joyful.  I know it sounds odd to say – surely, I was not happy.  But I was calm.  I thought I would be non-functional.  Not at all.  I had traded anxiety, fear for him, hurt for him and concern for him (and much for my mother too, by the way, who was a saint through the entire 20 year health management process – that is another story) for loss.  Big, deep, fundamental loss.  But not entirely.  I did not and do not feel emptiness.  I thought I would.

I miss him a million times every single day.  I cry.  I have so many unanswered questions.  But I don't fear for him anymore, and I must say, there is a lot to be said for that.  He lived an amazing life, and I had an amazing time with him.  I can still see him and hear him.  I have no regrets about my relationship with him and I don't think he would either (though I am sure he would still say I should go to church more often).  We spent never enough time, but it was excellent time.  I have a lot to hold onto.  And for that, I am eternally grateful.

An Inspiration

We could all learn a lesson or two from the thinker Buckminster Fuller (what a name, right?).  I am reading about him now.  I learned of him after reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a long time ago (great book).  He was a man very much ahead of this time.  Take a read here for more info on Mr. Fuller himself.

Draft Resolutions

A few minutes to jot down some notes on resolutions.  Consider this a rough draft of things I would like to add to my life (or subtract) in 2009, starting now…

Chess
Homemade pasta
Crossword puzzles
Dinner parties
Walking.  Lots more walking.
Early morning yoga.
Less coffee
Maybe more tea
More regular contact with friends (phone and in person – hello!)
Actually finishing a few books.  2008 was a terrible year for reading for me.
Drawing/sketching
More impromptu…generally.
Photos into a scrapbook (real photos I mean, not just those online) with commentary
Beyond the boroughs exploration
Industry outreach
Earlier to bed
Vitamins
Focus focus focus
Do one thing at a time, seriously.

Curious what others are doing – or thinking about – beyond the usual exercise more, save more, drink less, blah blah.  Creative resolutions?

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