Goodbye to all of that

Sitting in on a Friday night with Coltrane’s Blue Train on, remembering jazz, reading cheesecake recipes in a new bakery book I bought. You may have heard I lost my job a couple weeks ago. I broke the news to Mrs Portfolio with the following text message:

I just got laid off. Yes!

Truth is, I was ready to move on but too scared to cut the cord. And they came along and offered to pay me to leave. Although my heart beat quickly in that conference room, there was a smile on my face.

Two days later I wandered up to the Barnes and Noble on 86th St and walked by a book with a beautiful chocolate cake on the cover. The cake was small, sized for one or two. The book is about baking in small batches, with chocolate. I bought it.

A man on the tv tonight said the average American eats six pieces of pie a year. Is it me, or does that sound low?

I haven’t made any of these desserts yet, but just flipping through is enough to widen the eye. Coconut, banana, strawberry, cherry, macaroons, cheesecake, pudding, muffins. Every recipe has chocolate. Could be a nice way to spend my unemployment…

Happy 2011

Happy New Year to all!

Mrs Portfolio and I moved into a new apartment for the new year, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan! Emphasis on east, but hey, we love the place and are really excited to be in the city after three years across the river in Hoboken. I’ll post some pics soon. Pull-out couch is available to friends swinging through town 🙂

Hung out with some friends yesterday watching football. I am further convinced that the Packers are going to win the Superbowl on the back of Aaron Rodgers. It really is looking like his year. The story of how he was passed over in the draft six years ago provides some great perspective on what is driving him. It’s going to be a great game against Evil Rapist Big Ben and the Steelers…

In other family news, Will finished just one shot out of the money in his latest effort on the Florida Professional Golf Tour. Hang in there buddy! Check out Will’s new blog for updates on his season. And Gia has a new blog too! Wow, Portfolio Family blog network!

Not Gonna Happen

Since I wrote about applying to business school here, and getting waitlisted, a lot of folks have inquired as to the follow-up. I took the GMAT again (scores barely increased) and hoped for the best, but around Christmas I gave up hope that I was getting in. Well, classes started today, but just in case I was still delusional, NYU officially denied me late last week.

In what may be the nicest rejection letter on earth, they invited me to reapply in the future, helpfully adding a list of qualities they look for in applicants. Below, that list reproduced, with my personal assessment of my own application against each criterion:

While the Committee saw positive qualities in your application, there were also some areas that could be strengthened. In order to maximize class participation and the overall learning experience, we have found that our successful candidates have the following characteristics:

  • A strong record of professional success and leadership, with recommendation letters that support these qualities; [I know that 2 of my 3 recommendations were outstanding; while I can’t say I’ve had much “success”, I think my quirky China background was a unique plus]
  • Demonstrated potential for academic success, as shown through impressive undergraduate work and standardized test scores; [Here the admissions committee would have been decidedly underwhelmed.]
  • Focused and well-defined professional aspirations that match our program offerings; [Ditto. I wish this were not the first time I had seen “focused” and “well-defined” on the list of desirables. I would have been much less vague about future business objectives.]
  • Well-written and insightful essays and excellent communication skills; [Zero modesty on this one. I know I drilled those essays.]
  • Overall personal and professional maturity and motivation. [No comment.]

There ya have it. I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Truthfully, I’m not disappointed. The more I think about it, the more I think the right decision was made. Thanks to everyone for the encouragement. I’m sure I’ll find something useful to do.

Taking the GMAT

I decided about a month ago to apply to NYU Stern and see what happens. Xianyi has really inspired me with her stellar academic work. She has been accepted to the Honors College at Pace on the basis of her outstanding freshman-year grades, which means they cut her tuition in half (NICE) and they are giving her a free Dell Mini-Netbook, which is cool. I’m kind of coasting at my job so I figure something like business school could kick up my career a bit. But mostly, I feel like I was really good at school for a while, and then I let myself down. Continue reading Taking the GMAT

Our Fourth Anniversary

X and I celebrated our anniversary in style. We checked off one of the city’s landmarks from our must-see list by heading to Carnegie Hall. In our typical fashion, we arrived just in time, scooting into our seats just before the conductor took the stage.

The Cleveland Orchestra was not what I had in mind when I went looking for tickets to the symphony – no offense to Tristan, but Cleveland is not the first city that comes to mind in that department. But I give respect where it’s due; they put on a very strong performance. The first piece was a Mozart symphony (No. 25 in G minor), which was nice, but the second piece, Debussy’s Nocturnes, was outstanding. It brought together all the elements of a beautiful symphonic piece, the grand crescendos, the deafening silence, and all the unique sounds that you don’t get from pop music. There was one point where I was scanning the stage to find the soloing oboist.

Unfortunately the last piece was a real downer, Janácek’s Slavonic Mass. Talk about a snoozer. I couldn’t dig the melody, couldn’t even find the rhythm. I ended up dozing off in the middle of it, a trick I must have picked up from my dad, who in the old days could be counted on to fall asleep before the end of the overture when we used to go see the Nutcracker.

I managed to rouse myself towards the end of the Sanctus and we watched the conductor and the four soloists take several more curtain calls than I thought necessary. We lingered while people filed out and then walked down to the edge of the level we were sitting on, the Dress Circle, and had a look around. Carnegie Hall is truly a majestic theater, a testament to the ages. As we stood there taking it in, nearly alone in its hallowed warmth, it struck me that that is exactly what I want this marriage, this love, to be.

The New President

Obama on the cover of Southern Dailymebeli
Obama on the cover of Southern Daily

Back on Election Night, Xianyi and I ventured out to Times Square, and then to Rockefeller Center. The latter was pretty crowded, so we ditched out. But then five minutes later we got a call from China asking us what Rockefeller Center was like: Nate’s mom had spied us on TV and called him in Shanghai. Pretty funny. There had been all sorts of decked out preparation for the election in the public squares that night, so I figured when Barack Obama was inaugurated as President of These United States, they’d have a similar effort for the occasion. As it turns out, not quite.

My company was telling people they could gather in the conference room to watch the swearing in and the speech on television, but I wanted to share it all with Xianyi, who has been kind of getting into the whole democracy thing since she’s been here (she’s come at a pretty good time: we arrived in America in August 2007; the Presidential race was just starting to dominate the news). So I told her to come into the city at 11:30 and I ditched out like I was going to lunch.

We met up right by the police station in Times Square, and soon found a little real estate on the island in front of the ABC studios. There was a crowd, but it wasn’t crowded; about fifteen minutes later it was busier, but still nothing like we were seeing on TV on the Mall – literally a sea people. It was stirring to see those spaces so full, when I’ve seen them so many times empty and peaceful and ordinary. Seeing the National Mall really as the front yard of the country, and everybody out there, was invigorating.

Unfortunately, we were only seeing it, not hearing it. There was no sound. Whereas in November, ABC had piped its audio feed into Times Square to accompany the broadcast, on Inauguration Day all was silent. And it was quite strange. We were watching Diane Feinstein speak, but not hearing; we were watching Aretha sing, but not hearing! That was it. After 15 minutes of wondering when they were going to turn it on, seeing Aretha sing in silence made me snap. “Let’s get out of here, now,” I said, and Xianyi and I wormed our way through the baffled crowd.

But now what? We had to find a bar fast – there was the little “Brooklyn Diner” (great name – in Times Square?) so we ducked in. “Two?” asked the maitre’d – and my reply was “Yes – actually if we could just get a view of the TV at the bar…” and he shrugged us off. His demeanor was flaccid. There were already 30 people at the small bar, but almost every table was empty. Well, shove off – we came to see the President. To his credit, his attitude changed after several more groups did the same thing we did. His face changed, as if to say, well, it’s only 20 minutes every four years, and this one is pretty special…

Having secured our spot behind the occupied stools at the bar, I tried to get an order in edgewise – the barback was overwhelmed for the moment and ignoring everyone. So I gave up. We watched the botched swearing-in. And then the speech. In the middle of it, Xianyi went and ordered us two glasses of wine, and we toasted Obama. People cheered at several moments. The speech was not memorable, but it struck very professional, serious tones – I thought it was a good speech. I was happy to see Obama taking over, taking power, assuming the mantle. I felt sorry – but not that sorry – to see Bush taken away, removed. Change is good, and this country does it better than anybody.

After it was over – the speech, that is, not the ceremony (the bar cleared out during the poetry reading, just like the National Mall) – we went to Sichuan Gourmet for lunch. It’s the best Sichuan place in the city, according to Xianyi, who ought to know. When lunch was through, I had to go back to work, and she went home to enjoy the rest of her last day of Winter Break. Sascha happened to call me at that exact moment, to go over the ceremony, share in the joy and whatnot, and I regaled him with some of the TV I’d watched the night before. Because I’m a huge dork, I actually tape Meet the Press every week, and I was catching up. The guests assembled were talking about the economic stimulus bill before Congress, which they often referred to as “the package.” As in, “The question is not the size of Obama’s package, but the degree to which it will stimulate the economy.” Or, “Barack Obama’s package is built to grow.” I mean, really – what were they thinking? Good Lord, they make it too easy sometimes.

Later that night, I came home, Xianyi was watching the parade on TV. Obama’s daughters looked bored at the sight of yet another marching band. Xianyi decided she wasn’t up for cooking, and so we settled on taking a walk through Hoboken and choosing a restaurant at random. We thought about Thai food, and went to a place up the street that happens to be closed on Tuesdays – no luck. So we walked on, in the cold, dry air. People were shuffling to and fro; the night was clear. “Bangkok!” Xianyi said, and led me toward a garish neon light heralding a differnt Thai place. We walked in.

I’m not sure why, but every restaurant in Hoboken has a television in it. Whether it’s full every night or empty, there is at least one TV blaring away in every single eatery on Washington St. Bangkok City is no exception. We sat down, the only customers, and tried to ignore the informercials the owner was immersed in. I thought we had gone for takeout, but I guess Xianyi had other ideas. I tried to talk to her, but between the TV and being the only customers in the place, it was awkward. I cursed the TV, and cursed Hoboken, for having such an infantile restaurant industry. I thought of Jarrett, with his sophisticated ideas of food and the dining experience, and I thought of how he would laugh at Hoboken’s terrible restaurants. But then the news came on.

There was Obama, again, giving the same lines I had heard live at lunchtime. We both watched again, engrossed again. Some other people started coming into the place, filling out its empty corners and breathing life into the room. Everyone watched Obama; no one spoke. I thought to myself, this is the day that the first black president was sworn into the White House. Wow, what a trip. I tried to let that sink in for the rest of the meal.

Of dogs and birds

Last week during the Christmas holiday I woke up and went to check on the garden. Our little fire-escape garden out the kitchen window had done well for us over the season, producing thyme, rosemary, and even a few cherry tomatoes as well as a bunch of nice plants and flowers. Of course, when the weather started getting cold we started moving everything inside that hadn’t died yet. I wanted to save all the excess dirt and dead leaves and roots, because I had a crazy vision that it would be even more fertile next year. I even bought a bucket from the hardware store and put all this dirt and organic material in it and left it out on the fire escape to serve as a sort of compost heap.

My first indication that this wouldn’t really work was last week when I checked it and found it had first filled with rainwater and then frozen. Continue reading Of dogs and birds

Gold Medal Competition

uncle_sam
Uncle Sam

The Olympics are on, and Xianyi and I are engaged in a little friendly national rivalry – we’ve got a $20 bet on who wins more gold medals, the US or China. Guess who I took?

Right now it looks like China’s multi-billion-yuan effort to rack up medals is paying off. I checked in with the NYT medal tracker this morning at work and they were leading all countries with nine gold medals already! And the lowly US with only three. Then I saw that some of those Chinese golds came from the air gun events, and I thought: some golds ought to count more than others.

Last night we watched the Americans win the men’s 400m relay, and it was easily the most exciting swimming race I’ve ever seen. Which I know isn’t saying much, but it was still a thrill. Probably because the backstory was that the French team was talking smack, saying they were going to “smash” the USA… and then that dude – the one who isn’t Michael Phelps – caught up to and just barely surpassed the French guy in the last 25 meters or so. Watching him speed up like that made my eyes widen. That was really something. Even Xianyi was excited.

***

UPDATE 8-12-08: Interrupted last night. Was making dinner and Jarrett called and Xianyi came home and then I was watching Team USA sweep gold medals up from the bottom of the pool. Phelps easily won the 200m freestyle – by about a length. Aaron Peirsol and Natalie Coughlin took the 100m backstrokes. And now the US has seven golds – but China has eleven. This is going to be closer than I thought.