A day after loading up on Turkey Day with Charley and friends in Rogers Park, I headed to New York City for my cousin Pam’s formal celebration of her wedding vows to Nat.
Whatever your particular reason why, Manhattan is already an easy enough place to drop in on, and even if my own tolerance for life on the ever-crowded isle generally runs out after about three full days, this was an irresistible opportunity, especially given an unused travel voucher and the opportunity to crash at the home of a friend near Union Square to move the dial from easy to ludicrously easy. With my logistics well in hand, this would also be the chance to see my folks face-to-face for the first time in a year, and also see both of my brothers, meeting the second wife of one and the new girlfriend of the other.
Petty personal considerations aside, this was also the chance to celebrate the good fortune of a family member for whom too many good things can’t happen to — Pam deserves the lot. If, in some way, we all seek to balance the beauty within and the beauty without in who we are and what we do, it would be difficult to invent a more worthy paragon of the virtue than Pam. So, it’s my good lot to call ‘cousine’ as warm and wonderful person as it would be anyone’s eminent good fortune to be related to, and she’s long been up to her share of cool things. I’m still personally grateful that she put me in touch with the folks from Friendfactor when they were first starting out. Add in that her marriage to Nat is a true love match, and even a bonne vivante like yours truly can’t concoct a better excuse to raise a glass.
So off I went…
Day 1, November 23: … was fairly straightforward, flying into Newark, training to Penn Station, uptown to catch the shuttle to Grand Central, downtown to Union Square and dropping off the luggage, then cab over to Dublin 6 in Greenwich Village in time for drinks the night before the big event. Nat’s a long-time local businessman, so we were definitely on his turf. The party was crowded and lively, a reminder of how much New York is still essentially alien to me, but nevertheless gives an impression for being a city of the young (and, perhaps none too coincidentally, willing to crowd within its tiny spaces).
I quickly catch up with Nat, winging my way through a hockey conversation — including my lone thought on the subject, that it was a long-term mistake to abandon so much of Canada for short-term gain to move to markets where generational loyalties don’t exist. Whether that proves prescient after the NHL’s labor war ends or utterly besides the point, beats me, but that’s the reliably lovely thing about sports, we can make conversation and express opinions on the subject easily enough. Here as ever, sports proves to be America’s indispensable social lubricant, suitable for every occasion with any level of mastery.
Saying a quick hello with Pam to ask after sundry matters, I also catch my uncle Mike’s ear, and we catch up about the aftermath of the election. We spend some time going over how much those family members who’d invested all their hopes in a Romney win had joined the chorus of despair. Our family survives such disagreements time and again. We drain a few glasses, celebrate a toast to Nat & Pam’s good fortune, and call it a night.
Day 2, November 24: First up is grabbing lunch at Union Square Heartland with a gaggle of baseball girlfriends and colleagues. Reflective of the vibrant chatterocracy we’re all members of, some are those I’d previously known only virtually — like Jessica Quiroli of “High Heels on the Field” and the ubiquitous Stacey Gotsulias — while Diane Firstman is a friend of long standing, going back to my days at Baseball Prospectus. I’d hoped that Rebecca Glass could join us as well, but she wasn’t able to make it.
It’s a disparate group: Diane’s not just cheery good company for the wordplay that she flashes in person as well as in her prose, she’s one of the few non-players associated with baseball who I literally look up to, no easy feat when I’m pushing six feet in heels. Stacey is an outspoken blend of brassy and brittle, a self-aware writer with much ahead of her and the strength to achieve it. And Jessica proves to be as passionate an advocate for women in the press box in person as she is online, unapologetically impatient with any hint of the double standards that still exist.
I’ll admit to being delighted to be among them. Is it selfish of me to feel validated? Perhaps, but regardless I see it as a matter of my own honor to think ahead of times to come that I can help each of them, however I can. In the meantime, lunch is time spent enjoying the camaraderie born of shared love of the game, an effortless thing that knows no gender and flits across any boundary. Rather than disappoint my hard-won reputation for long-winded pedantry spiced with infrequent humor and useless anecdotes, I bring up my big-picture concerns with sabermetrics and social media, and in my conceit offer a few bromides and suggestions of speculative value.
Three hours later, I have perhaps worn them out and we break. I head back to confront the truly difficult challenge: The full-length gown, or an open-throated brocade blouse & silk skirt from Chinatown? The “black tie-optional” invite makes matters no easier, but in the end I stick with the Chinese glad rags I love best, and trek uptown to the Edison ballroom. No sooner do I enter than I spot Mom & Dad, each resplendent in their finery. Moments later, my brother Justin appears with his girlfriend, Brittany. The ceremony starts quickly so there’s no time for chatter, but after a suitably lovely and wonderfully personal service reflecting Pam & Nat’s transparent joy to be together, we get down to familial palaver over drinks and food.
Some things are as they ever were: Dad is thoughtful and avuncular, a man who clearly delights in the company of his family; Mom is regal, quick to laugh or provide critiques by turns thoughtful or sharp. Brother Justin is what some might call an “old soul,” a man who may only be just entering his thirties but has the gravitas of someone much older. It probably helps that he’s the lone Kahrl with the self-discipline to have transcended the love affair each of us have with the sound of his or her own voice; his dry asides crackle like lightning in the desert, lighting up a landscape deliberately left featureless for this and other reasons all his own. But perhaps most of all, he is an admirable man, a serious man, an adult in a country where a few too many men never grow up. All of which I share with Brittany at dinner out of Justin’s hearing; she quickly strikes me as his match, whip-smart, attractive and eminently capable of making him laugh, making him think, and perhaps making him happy.
The others retire early on, while I trail Nat & Pam’s crew to the afterparty. I move from wine to vodka, figuring that my liver may have gotten bored with the proceedings. I engage a young couple (one of whom used to work with HRC, and doesn’t seem to remember them fondly) about activism and its discontents, and finally decide I may as well call it a night before I strike someone dead from boredom with my conversation. Besides, I have to be up in six hours to get to the family breakfast.
Day 3, November 25: Breakfast at Rue 57 is a perfect exercise in full-throated Kahrlist noisemaking, jabbering about football, the source of the best donuts in Chicago (Do-Rite, of course), tattoos and more. The obvious glee we take when we’re all together results in an inevitable cacaphony of catchuppery, and having Ben and his active, engaging children adds to the fun. Ben’s wife Ann asks about the tattoo on my left forearm, sharing that she has one of her own; I explain the backstory of its meaning to me — those lost or slain but never to be forgotten, the avoidable examples who animate my desire to do before I’m done.
Aferwards, Mom, Dad & I repair to their hotel before seeing the afternoon show of Mamet’s “The Anarchist.” I brief them on my activities in Chicago, and my short-term objectives now that I’m on the board of the Lakeview Action Coalition as well as that of Equality Illinois. I’m hopeful for what we can achieve, but that’s my persistent optimism peeking out from under poorly maintained hauteur. (I’ll have to set aside my thoughts on “The Anarchist” for a separate post for brevity’s sake, but the short form: It’s provocative and well worth seeing.)
They have plans all their own for the evening, so I kill the balance of my afternoon at the bestest time-filler/killer ever: The Strand. A few hours among the shelves, and I walk out with a stack of spurs for curiosity, may it never wane: Histories of Prussia and the Vikings, an evaluation of the impact of smallpox epidemic in the 18th century America, a biography of Queen Christina of Sweden, Solzhenitsyn’s out-of-print novel about Lenin’s life in Switzerland.
Dropping off the loot, I find my hosts have returned from Connecticut: Nancy and Bob, loquacious and engaging, Nancy with her far-ranging reporter’s inquisitiveness and insight (we first met almost three years ago, when she was researching a story on Christine Daniels for GQ); Bob because of his background in sports, publishing, and web work, common ground between us. I have little time to catch up beforehand, though, because I have dinner plans in Brooklyn, joining old BP comrade Jay Jaffe, Emma Span, ESPN colleague Amanda Rykoff and Diane Firstman for dinner at Fort Reno BBQ in Park Slope. The food is excellent — I strongly recommend the fatty brisket, the pulled pork, and the hot pickles. The company was even better, not least because congratulations were due to Jay for the triumph of seeing his indispensable Hall of Fame metric, JAWS, added to the equally indispensable Baseball-Reference.com. We retire to a bar to watch the Giants build up a big first-half lead over the Packers before packing it in ourselves. Then it’s back to Union Square and more conversation with Nancy and Bob, late into the evening.
Day 4, November 26: Getaway day, but it starts early with a trek up to the Neue Galerie to have breakfast with the parents, followed by a trek through the exhibit. The current exhibit of Hodler’s work has its moments but provides no conversion experience; happily 10 minutes with Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer more than makes up for it. Popping into the superb bookstore, I add the first volume of Harry Kessler’s diary to what figures to be an increasingly heavy suitcase. Over lunch, we jabber or argue agreeably enough about the election, Weimar & its discontents, the utility of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, reproductive rights — no middle ground to be found there — the career of Helen Mirren, and more. Even when we argue, I’m struck by how much my parents are who they have always been to me: Friends, mentors and role models, all in one. Another reminder of my immense good fortune, of course.
As they made their departure for LaGuardia, I popped by Forbidden Planet for some comix shopping, grabbing volumes 2, 3 & 4 of Alan Moore’s riff on the Wonder Woman-like theme, Promethea. The first volume grabbed me — with a reference to Hypatia, one of Reason’s martyrs at the hands of a mob of religious zealots, how could it not? — so I figured I’d indulge my sporadic taste for lighter fare. OK, it’s official, I’m checking my bag and carrying a satchel full of books aboard with me.
Repairing to Nancy & Bob’s place, I find that the copy of The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily for their daughter has finally arrived in the mail at their place (I’d ordered ahead, knowing the Strand would disappoint me on this one score); I cannot imagine a childhood without its tale of glory, monsters (ursine, human & more besides) and properly Italianate vengeance, any more than I could one without Thurber’s reliably wonderful The 13 Clocks. It doesn’t even begin to repay my debt of gratitude to them, but I’m out of time.
This story’s done; ’tis time to jet
Having found New York & I this time well-met.