Thursday, November 14, 2019


I always laugh when people say "I hope you enjoyed your retreat!" or "your vacation!"

I do enjoy it, all of it, but my life and my travel are almost militarily disciplined and at all times retain a pilgrimage aspect. I often fast in my way, I always walk miles. This last trip to NYC was no exception.

And it was a beautiful trip.

Why, however, did I make it? Even I don't fully know.

Maybe my goal was simply to lay eyes on the faces of my friends: Patrick, Tim, Matthew, Anthony. Maybe it was so I could go to Mass and pray at St. Vincent Ferrer, surely one of the loveliest churches in NY, if not all of creation. Maybe it was to pay my biannual visit to the Conservancy Garden in the upper NE corner of Central Park.  Maybe it was to walk the streets of Manhattan (and Queens, and Brooklyn), and to leave a little of my body and blood there, and to pray for the people and places among whom I walked.

Maybe I just had to savor a taste of the East Coat autumn.

All of this was made easier by a $213 round trip ticket and the fact that, because I write for Magnificat, I'm allowed to stay at the Dominicans' Holy Name Building on E. 65th, around the corner from St. Vincent Ferrer, for a generously small stipend (as who but the wealthy could ever afford a Manhattan hotel for a week).

Never will I get over the miracle of travel, especially air travel. How is it possible that a person could awake in a bed on Lexington and 65th and on the same day retire for the night on a bed in Pasadena, California? I'm always super anxious, afraid I won't make it, or something will go wrong, the upside of that being insane gratitude for every "tiny" thing that goes right. Oh, the downtown Q train showed up as promised. Oh Penn Station is still there! Oh United is going to honor the boarding pass it issued me! Et cetera.

I write from the United Lounge next to Gate 74 C at Newark's Liberty Airport. I came early for my 1 pm flight, partly because I couldn't bear the suspense of knowing whether or not I'd make it from downtown Manhattan, and partly because you can get free juice, coffee and food here, plus your own space more or less to work in. (My United Visa provides me with two free passes a year).

Here are the moments I'll take home with me: after a freezing cold, blustery day in Brooklyn, first having a new head shot taken, then wandering around Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden till I was shaking with cold and exhausted, stopping at the falafel truck on 65th and 3rd Avenue before returning to my room with a hot chocolate, a falafel plate with rice and salad, a warm piece of pita, and a rice pudding and DEVOURING the second best meal I had the whole week. Trembling with gratitude.

The best meal was at Morandi in the Village with my friend Tim, whose highly recommended first novel, Cornelius Sky, was published this year. The plan was for me to take him out but of course he insisted on taking me out, which I mention simply because I seem to be surrounded by people who give me 500% more than I ever seem to give them. The meal was stupendous but the meal took second place to the conversation, communion and camaraderie.

Tim is also a NYC Transit bus driver. His route begins at 72nd and Amsterdam at 5:07 on weekdays and takes him and his riders across Central Park and over to York. I met him at the beginning of his shift another day and rode over to Madison and that, too, was a huge treat.

Then there was the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum (meh), Dia Beacon, the Noguchi Museum and the Socrates Sculpture Park.


Now I'm safe home, with major jet lag, and headed to Pershing Square in downtown LA this morning for the grand opening of ice-skating season.

Last night I gave a talk at the Valley Hunt Club (!) for the Pasadena chapter of Legatus.




Saturday, November 9, 2019



I've been in NYC the past week and my time has been rich, fruitful, and jam-packed.

It's also been a bit overshadowed by the visit I paid to the probate attorney the day before I left, which was also jam-packed but not in a fun way. (Not that NY has exactly been "fun" either--is anything, ever?--but that's a different discussion). 

Like perhaps most of us,  "admin" is not my favorite activity. But I've been trying hard to remember to be insanely grateful that I have anything, of any kind, TO administer.

To that end, I looked up the etymology  and found: "late 14c., aministren, later administren, "to manage as a steward, control or regulate on behalf of others," from Old French aministrer "help, aid, be of service to" (12c., Modern French administrer)."

Note: on behalf of others. So let me try to administer with patience and love.

Anyway, one of documents the attorney gave me was a sheet with six different situations, each more outlandish, hypothesizing gruesome medical situations, that just COULD come to pass.

Then you're supposed to choose which of about fifteen different medial treatments you'd want, or not want: thorny decisions that I am hardly in a position to make even now, in full possession of my faculties.

For example:

"If I am in a coma or persistent vegetative state and have no known hope of recovering awareness or higher mental functions: I want OR I do not want: Minor surgery: for example, removing part of an infected toe."

I mean just try to wrap your mind around that. First, I thought, well for heaven's sake, no, at that point it's a little late to be worry about an infected toe. But then again, you don't just want to be lying there like a big hunk of gangrene. What if it were an infected leg? Or torso? Does a person feel pain in a vegetative state? On some level does he or she still want to "look nice?"

Situation B: "If I am in a coma and have a small but uncertain chance of regaining awareness and higher mental functioning: I want OR I do not want Chemotherapy: Drugs to fight cancer."

Well let's see. If I were in a coma, I probably wouldn't care all that much that I also had cancer. But what if I miraculously "came to," only to realize that if I had made the "right" decision, I wouldn't now have Stage 4 melanoma or whatever!?

Sitaution E: "I have an incurable chronic illness that causes physical suffering or minor mental disability and will ultimately cause death, and then I develop a life-threatening but reversible illness: I want OR I do not want Pain Medications: even if they dull consciousness and indirectly shorten my life."

I mean at that point I would want a quart of gin and/or a gun. Although in general I am for going through life (and death, for that matter) with as little pain medication as you can possibly muster. I like being awake, even though that means you're awake to suffering.

Because suffering invites us to ask the right questions, to figure out what is truly important in this crazy world, and to live accordingly.

And did you get
what you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on this earth.

--Raymond Carver

Me, too.




Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

Mike Birbiglia is an American stand-up comic, writer, and producer with a raft of comedy albums and TV specials under his belt. “Sleepwalk With Me” (2012), his award-winning directorial film debut, started with a one-man off-Broadway show that he wrote, directed, and starred in.

In 2011, he launched and then toured worldwide with his second one-man show, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.” Other credits include the 2016 comedy-drama film “Don’t Think Twice,” a recurring role in the Netflix web TV series “Orange Is the New Black,” and regular contributions to NPR’s “This American Life.”

Birbiglia grew up Catholic in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, the youngest of four. He is married to poet Jennifer Hope Stein. The couple have a young daughter named Oona.

His “everyman” humor tends toward body image issues, fear of growing up, and the perennial divide between men and women.


Monday, November 4, 2019


Here's how this week's arts and culture piece begins:

Every good Californian knows of Hearst Castle, the ginormous house on an enchanted Central Coast hill built by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.

The estate at its height consisted of 250,000 acres, bought at 70 cents per. The property featured its own airfield, a mile-long pergola planted with fruits, vines, and espaliered trees, and a private zoo that was at the time the largest in the world.

A couple of weeks ago I traveled north, boarded the bus at the Visitor’s Center, and gawked for the 5-mile-long trip up the driveway. I was there for the special Art of San Simeon Tour, which costs a hundred bucks, has an eight-person max, and lasts 2 hours, 15 minutes.

We started at the 104-foot-long Neptune Pool, the third incarnation of this luxe water-frolicking venue (Hearst, who as a child asked his mother to buy him the Louvre, changed his mind often). We learned of the Vermont marble, the Roman Empire-era columns, the statues that are a mixture of the ancient and the modern.

Next stop was the eight-bedroom Spanish-Moorish “Casa del Sol”...