- BIG CITY, COLD WATER February 21, 2017
That’s my daughter Ranie in the middle, with cold water swimmers from Finland and Texas. They were out at Coney Island over the weekend, doing their wild thing. Ranie swam 200 yards in 37 degree water.
Why? I have no idea. But she and her pals stayed with us and the striking thing was the intensity of the camaraderie among the people who do this stuff….and the people who swim the English Chanel and the like. Ranie turns out to be a bit of a star in this world…such energy, such endurance, such warmth.
I am deeply puzzled but proud of her.Continue reading →
- BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY, NICE NIGHT February 19, 2017
Went to the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center last night (that’s the entrance, beyond the skating rink) for a fancy dinner with 400 or so of my former law firm partners. It was and is such a terrific firm… brilliant people, alarmingly hard-working but with a tradition of civility that seems to last.
Pretty good place to have spent one’s professional life.
There were a bunch who had worked for me at one time or another. Two women separately said I was the first person they’d worked for. They remembered their cases in depth… said they were real fun. Most of my cases were fun. Someone once complained that I “got all the fun cases.” A pal of mine answered, “Yes, but they’re only fun once he gets them.”
Shameful of me to repeat that but i love it True. too, by heaven. The trick is to make your life a fun case. Serious business, but fun. Still true.
There were a number of people I’d been close to, most retired now. Some had done a brilliant job in their Third Act: One is a startlingly good, very “modern” painter…this very staid and WASPy corporate lawyer and now he’s just on fire as a painter. Raw, powerful stuff. How I admire that. One is a serious academic. Others are doing good works of various kinds. But a bunch have not made a meal of it. One, I heard, went bankrupt.
That, I should think, would be almost impossible for a “graduate” of this firm, but he managed it. Years ago, a handsome and able guy who had been on the Law Review with me at U.Va. wound up on the streets.
Poor man just went gaga. Life is tricky, all the way out. Keeps it interesting.
A gratifying number of younger partners came up to say how deep they were into Younger Next Year; gotta love that. Almost a celebrity. Love that, too.
In the Third Act sweepstakes, I think I win, although that painter is awfully good. One of the blessings of old age is that you don’t have to worry *too* much about where you rank any more. You can stew about other stuff…like, you know, your immortal soul. Things like that.
I like to boast that I was that comparative rarity, a Happy Lawyer. I was. I almost never go back to the firm, although it is wonderfully welcoming and gives me a “piece” of a secretary and so on. But I am deeply proud to have been part of such an attractive gang for so long. And to have occasional access to some people of whom I was awfully fond.Continue reading →
- WARM HOST February 6, 2017
When we entertain in the Berkshires, I like to walk people out to their icy cars for the long slog home…say goodbye, thank ’em and such. But it gets cold up here.Continue reading →
So very occasionally use this coat I got 30 years ago. Good for warm send-offs.
The guy in the hat is a frequent and much-loved guest…he deserves the warmth.
MINOR SEASONAL MIRACLES January 4, 2017
So, I’m sitting at the slightly messy dining room table, having breakfast alone in this lovely old house in the Berkshires, on New Year’s Morning. Yesterday, it snowed again – the fields are six inches deep – but this morning, sun is pouring in the floor-to-ceiling windows. There is a fire in the living room, and I’ll go there soon, but not quite yet. The dishes and the dozens of pots and pans and serving platters have all been done – amazingly – and we are mostly cleaned up. But there are still a few streamers hanging from the chandelier. And the lights are still on, on the big Christmas tree from last night. There are pine swags hanging all over the place.
It was the rule in my family that the Christmas tree had to come down on New Year’s day, without fail. But I absolutely love this particular tree, so the hell with it. We had gotten a smaller one which “made more sense.” But I couldn’t stand it and went out and got a giant, which almost fit through the door. And a crèche and so on. We keep saying we are “not going to do Christmas this year,” because there are just the two of us and Olive. No Christmas for Olive? And our pals? And me? Fat chance.
It has been a wonderful Christmas season and I sit here, alone – Hilary and our guests are still asleep – and think how lucky we are. Like the sappiest Christmas card ever. But it’s true. Putting politics aside (and people like us have to do that this year), it has been just heaven.
That’s a problem, actually. I worry that a guy who sits down and tells you what a hell of a year he’s had – or weekend or whatever – runs the risk of sounding as if he’s telling you what a hell of a guy he is. Think of those endless Christmas cards/letters where you read that all four of the sender’s kids got into Princeton this year, and the Pope himself came to take a peek at his amazing grandson. Spare me! And I apologize, too. But consider this, from Jim Salter: “Everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.” That is true. And I want the stuff in this little note to be real, because it was a sweet time. And I’m grateful. And you have to be able to talk about things like this or life slips away. Which is much worse than sounding like a dope.
This house was built for Christmas (in 1859) and we have lived up to its promise. On the 23rd, we had a caroling party for 70, which was just about the right number. Printed music. (No piano but there are several strong singers to lead the way.) Tons of finger food, egg nog and all kinds of wine and such. Booze to get some past their shyness. It has become something of a local event, and this one was the best yet. People are always surprised to discover how much they love to sing but they do. The whole thing felt wonderful. And I – who do like to sing and to entertain – was floating. That was partly the egg nog, which I had spent more time on this year. Such a good idea to have decent egg nog. And Cosmos and wine and Martini’s and like that. I do like mixing drinks, too, and have a tiny flair for it.
One of my oldest and best-loved friends and his wife drove two hours (each way) to be here, unannounced. That was a pleasure. And at one point he and I stepped off to one side and said – very shyly and very uncharacteristically – that we loved each other. Wow! Does that count as a limbic wonder? Well, yes, Yes it does. It was the wonder of Christmas Present.
The next morning Hilly and I – just the least bit ragged – drove into New York and took off for San Francisco to spend Christmas with our daughter and her family. Hideous, long flight but so worth it. My daughter Ranie – the Great Channel Swimmer – is the best mother in the world and her two girls (25 and 23) show it. It does not hurt that their father is besotted with them too, as are Hilary and I. My much-loved former wife, Joan, joined us for part of the time, along with my step-son Brian and his wife; I am told it is a miracle but Hilary and I are almost equally fond of her. (I wish they’d all just come and live with us. Might lead to murder in a month or so but I’d chance it.) We went one night to a Vietnamese/French restaurant (not fancy) which Joan knew about. Heaven and so different. Helped by a bottle of Joan’s own “Crowley Vineyard” wine…the best wine most of us will ever drink. Three days out there and then home again. The travel was a torture but the trip absolutely made the season.
When we finally got home, our beloved friend from Aspen, Melissa Coleman (a wonderful author who now lives in Maine) had already arrived with her spectacular twin girls, aged 12 and 12 (they’re twins, you dope!). If we had gone out and rented perfect guests to round out the season, we couldn’t have done better. I wish they’d move in, too. Then, by heaven, our lives would begin to have some limbic heft. How we miss Walter Robinson, the Boston Homicide cop who lived with us for a while. And Harry. And Sarah and Bill. We do like to have a house guest or two.
We were all supposed to go out for New Year’s Eve but our host pulled up lame at the last minute. Hilly and I quickly pulled together a dinner party at our house for fourteen – gathering some of our pal’s guests and adding our own. By sheer luck, it turned out to be a near-perfect guest list. Nice meal too: salmon, fingerling potatoes with chives and hericots vert (cooking green beans correctly is tricky and important business; these were merely perfect, a fact which only I noticed. Odd.) Good salad, too. For once, the salmon came out right (always a crap shoot with me) and desert (brought by a friend) was heaven. But mostly it was the guest list, as always. I am not nuts about New Year’s Eve, but, for some reason, this was the best party of the year.
Not everyone stayed til twelve and I walked ‘em out, in ones and twos, into the cold, icy night. It is my invariable custom to walk every guest out to their cars and wave them down the long driveway. Dunno why but it is. And tonight I have my huge, funky raccoon coat to make it bearable. I am not father Christmas out there, but close enough.
At the dinner table we talked about each person’s predictions for the coming year. For a room of mostly-Democrats, we were surprisingly cheerful and optimistic. They were a smart bunch, too, so it was interesting…got you thinking. About the new year and about yourself. Nice stuff. Awfully nice people, which, again, is what it was all about.
The one thing we did not do last night was count our blessings. So here I sit, at the empty, slightly messed up dining-room table, drinking coffee and thinking silently about that for a moment. I won’t bore you with the whole list but here are a few items: First the usual. I am wildly blessed with a wife whom I adore and who, beyond all hope, adores me. Go figure. Then there is a surprisingly wide and loving circle of friends, family and colleagues – only about half of whom are dead which is pretty good. My three children and six grandchildren are an unmixed joy, all year round. And we are close, despite cruel geography.
Then, boringly, I have to mention health, energy and fitness. This stuff that we peddle – Harry Lodge, Bill Fabrocini, Jen Sacheck and I – it does work like a charm, and I owe it to “The Brand” to mention it. I am in near perfect health, despite being shamefully old and self-indulgent…a little fat, to be sure, but in awfully good health. No heart disease, no cancer, no falls. No nothing, really. And (this isn’t boasting, it’s advertising) I have more energy and raw enthusiasm – and do more stuff – than most of the people in the room (all of them younger). I went cross-country skiing today and each of the last four days in cold, dreadful, weather, and I was absolutely grinning with pleasure, much of the time. Soon we’re off to Cuba, for ten days. Then to Aspen to give talks and ski. Other than that the next year is packed with plans and pals and tasks that I cherish. New books in particular. Melissa has been helping me with the endless novel. I SO hope that gets out this year. And I am hard at work with Aspen pal, Jeremy James, on a new Back Pain book. Major task, major fun…maybe a major help to a few million sufferers.
On a different note, we are learning to be a little more careful this year. As Billy Fab wisely says, the margin for error shrinks with age, no matter how much you work out and all. Nothing like the way it shrinks for those who do not work out, but some. So we give ourselves a little more room. No more red-eyes from the Coast. No skiing Highlands Bowl. And more time just lolling over breakfast and The Times in the morning…stuff like that.
Will all this magic go to hell at some point? You bet. There is death, after all. But not in 2016. And not in 2017, is my guess. And maybe not for quite a while after that. Mother was 89, her brother was 96 and my beloved mentor, Hazard Gillespie, was 100. Not sure he counts but maybe. Maybe a gene or two hopped the wall during our long years together. In any event, remember the sacred example of Wylie E. Coyote: head for the waterfall at a hundred miles an hour. Do not listen to the roar of the cataract, listen to the roar of your own fine engine and your love and your ambition and your hope. And, you know, go for it. Oh…and don’t look down.Continue reading →
- After the election November 10, 2016
Back in New York after the election. Went to Florida, like good citizens, to help get out the vote. We’re New Yorkers of course so we’re a bit stunned and saddened with the result. Guess we should have worked harder. Or someplace else. But here are two thoughts: first, we sure are in for an interesting time…and God grant wisdom to the new President. It is the miracle of our Republic that he’s ALL our President now.
And here is some great advice: if you’re for Trump get in great shape. You’re going to need all your strength to make wise changes And if you’re not, then get in even better shape, especially cardio. Aerobic exercise is the great antidote to depression, regret and despair. So jump on it
Taking my own advice – and feeling better for it. – I just went to spin class and went absolutely nuts. Feel much better. Now on with our lives.
ChrisContinue reading →
- Old girls fall down September 20, 2016
Drove to Boston yesterday, Hilly and I, for the funeral of particularly wonderful friend. A woman named Polly to whom we’d been pretty close for twenty years. She was 89 so it was alright, in a way. Though, as I chip away at my early 80’s, the notion that death is ever “alright” rankles a little. I am not going to be a good sport about it, ever. No, No,No.
Polly was a hell of an heiress, with fancy houses all over the place, but that didn’t get in the way. Somehow, she didn’t seem to think of herself as an heiress, any more than she thought of herself as a beauty, although she was certainly both. Astonishing blue eyes and bones to die for. We must have met in Maine, but pretty soon we were being invited to stay at the chateau near Gstad to ski. It was plenty fancy, as I say, but somehow she and her husband John were not. In this vast, near-palace (to give you an idea, it had its own church, which the townsfolk attended), the main thing you thought was “cozy”. Quite a trick.
They both skied all the time… he a little beyond his ability, she a little short of hers. There were two, resident ski instructors, husband and wife, whom one got to know well over the years. The wife took Polly and the less bold skiers, the husband got John and the rest of us. Took us to some scary places, too, but the most he ever said was that the next bit was “a little complicated.” One day the former ambassador to someplace important had to be helicoptered out after a bad fall; it got “complicated”.
There was a place in Maine, on an island…the most perfect and modest Maine house I have ever seen. Meals and parties were always wonderfully low-key, even when they were big. And she was low key, too. One picnic day – maybe sixty guests, spread all over – I was lolling on the lawn with her, absorbed in my own talk. And she said, gently, “I think this man needs to speak to you.” He did: he wanted to tell me that my beloved, cruising sailboat had dragged its anchor, and now was up on the rocks in their front yard. Apparently anxious to join the party. We waited for the next tide and did a lot of tricky stuff to float it off before the waiting Coast Guard could get their mitts on it. (Yacht folks don’t want the hassle of the Coast Guard unless they’re really in a jam.)
No panic, no harm done. Drinks all around.
Part of her charm, for me, was that – just like you and me – she was not completely comfortable in this life; she worried that she might get this or that wrong, or that something would go to hell. You’d think that a beauty like that – and an heiress and a consummate charmer – would never worry about anything for a single instant and always be cool. But she did and she wasn’t. Partly because, she said, she had been something of an ugly duckling as a kid. Hard to believe but maybe true. Anyhow there was this touch of humanizing unease about her, an awkwardness (not about John who was not an heir…or a beauty…but was utterly at home, always). It warmed those nights in the Alps…the perfect house on the coast of Maine.
We were fairly close because we had both grown up north of Boston and both loved Maine and skiing. And mostly because she loved to laugh. And now, beyond all reason, she’s dead. Does that make any sense to you?Continue reading →
Of course not. My God! Death, man. It takes the beauties and the Graces as remorselessly as the rest of us. And there’s a lot of it going around, too, so watch it. And treasure the stars who turn up in your life.
Like Polly in ours.
- Why Posture Matters At The Gym March 17, 2014
The primary purpose of the typical exercises we do in the gym (whether at home or in a club) is to reinforce good patterns of movement that we need for everyday life. Think about it: squatting is simply sitting in a chair, lunging is what we often do to pick things off the floor, and pushing and pulling mimic a wide array of daily tasks — such as lifting objects over our head and opening doors. These movements are also common to sports such as golf (rotational movements) or skiing (lateral lunges). If we exercise with proper alignment and form in the gym, we train our body to repeat the same movements in daily life. I’m convinced that most ailments such as low back pain, hip or knee arthritis, or tendonitis, are a result of moving the wrong way over and over again. If you’re, say, 50 years old, how many times do you think you’ve squatted in your life (not counting squats at the gym!)? A few hundred times? A few thousand? How about a few hundred thousand times — possibly more than a million times? That’s why doing it right — to reduce the wear and tear on your joints — matters.
Watch a one-year-old learning to walk. Every step is a conscious effort: the step’s length and width; the arm position; the head. The toddler’s mainframe computer — the brain —analyzes and corrects thousands of steps over time until the process of walking no longer becomes a conscious effort but rather automatic — an ingrained software pattern in the toddler’s brain.
Similarly, squatting, lunging, rotating, pushing, and pulling in correct alignment, should be ingrained software patterns in our brains. The problem is that for many of us the software is flawed, because for years (maybe decades) we’ve been moving the wrong way. It’s time to use our workouts at the gym to move away from task-completion mentality (counting the number of sets) and to focus instead on how we move.
Going to the gym shouldn’t simply be about losing weight or making our muscles bigger and stronger; instead, it should be about performing purposeful movements that transfer over into our everyday lives — with losing weight and developing muscle mass as byproducts of moving with correct alignment and form, especially when under the loads of weights.
- Why Mobility Matters March 17, 2014
Everything we do in the gym — squats, lunges, pushing, pulling, rotating, etc. — should become a reflection of what we do in everyday life. Longevity of our bodies, especially our joints, is largely dependent upon good movement patterns that are reproducible. So if you want to spare your lower back, and save your knees from debilitating arthritis, you must take the time to move with purpose both in the gym and daily life.
What does this take? How do you begin? There are many facets, which we’ll be taking step-by-step in this and future issues; the first is mobility. I like to think of mobility as the ability to move freely and easily into and out of positions that are essential for everyday life. If you can’t squat in a balanced position with your thighs parallel with the floor, your upper body upright, and your feet facing forward — then you lack mobility. This lack of mobility may be in your ankles or your hips, and may be combined with a variety of short and tight muscles such as your hamstrings. This inability to squat correctly — this lack of mobility — must be addressed; it makes no sense to overload your squat patterns with weights, or to perform heavy leg presses, until you establish a good squat pattern. Otherwise you just wear your joints down.
So the question is: how do you improve mobility? Keep in mind that mobility is much more than muscular flexibility — so the traditional approach of simply stretching tight muscles, such as your hamstrings or quadriceps, will do very little by itself to improve the way you move. This so-called “static stretching” does have a role, but by itself it’s not enough. In order to move better, we need to also enhance joint mobility — and put that mobility into motion. Hence the dynamic approach to stretching, in which you move into (and out of) various positions; with each repetition the joint being addressed is stretched a little more, and the muscles being stretched are under tension. This results in greater range of motion that is controllable by muscular contractions. This is the key to moving better: don’t simply attempt to get greater range of motion, but rather greater range of motion with control.
Here’s a little insight for most of you: the areas of the body where most people begin to lose motion as they age are in the shoulders, the midback, the hips, and the ankle. Loss of motion in any one of these areas will effect the overall quality of your movements in almost anything you do. For instance, if you need to lunge down to pick things off the floor you need mobility in your ankles, hips, and midback; if you lack mobility in any of these areas, you’ll compensate in the way you move — and put abnormal stress on one or more of your joints. Often the knees bear the brunt of this compensation, which is why so many aging people experience knee pain. So the best way to prevent knee problems is to make sure you have good ankle and hip mobility — and the muscular control to support your knees as you move into and out of positions.
- Time For A Juice Cleanse? Really? March 17, 2014
If you want to see me grit my teeth, ask me about a cleanse — you know, a one-week kick-start to a whole-new-better-you simply by subsisting on a “proven” blend of herbs, juices, and whatnot. Even better, proclaim that you’re doing a cleanse — and that it’s worth every penny you paid to an online guru, your local personal trainer who’s “a nutrition expert,” or the celeb author with a picture of a puke-green shake on his or her book cover.
BEWARE. Because they’re hailed as a quick fix to rid your body of toxins (sounds great, right?), lose weight and cure just about every ailment imaginable, cleanses are all the rage. As it turns out, they’re not a new phenomenon: the lemon juice/maple syrup/cayenne pepper cleanse, commonly referred to as the “Master Cleanse,” was popular in the 1940’s, long before our fast-food revolution and bloated midsections began to appear. Are cleanses new? No. Are they a big business? Yes. A cure-all? Heck, no!
Let’s start with the toxins that cleanses are purported to rid from your body. WHICH TOXINS? As a scientist, I want to know. And how come we don’t flush these toxins like we do other toxic substances in our bodies — like ammonia, for example, which is a by-product of protein metabolism? Ammonia is toxic to the brain in high concentrations, so the liver and kidneys do this amazing thing — they help clear the body of it, through our urine.
Cleanses also promise quick weight loss. Well, yes: restricting your intake to a funky concoction of juice and spices, or only pulverized vegetables, for 10 days will lead to temporary weight loss. It’s simple math — and simply unsustainable. And it’s not nutritious. By completely ignoring several food groups, you’ll be depriving your body of many essential nutrients. (Well, some adherents say, “take a supplement while you’re on this cleanse to ensure nutrient balance.” Huh? If you’re cleansing your body, why would you take a PILL?!) You’ll be starving yourself, which results in your body SLOWING down its metabolism — which is the last thing you want to do if you’re trying to lose weight.
When people come off a cleanse, which they always do, and resume a normal diet, which they almost always do, most gain back all the weight they lost — and then some. Finally, if you’re devoid of calories and low on energy during a cleanse, how do you exercise? In fact, exercise is a key part of reducing your body’s quotient of THE great toxins: excess sugar and fat, both of which raise your risk of excess inflammation and chronic — and life-threatening — diseases.
Exercise boosts metabolism, burns fat and calories, and moderates your blood sugar levels. So you want to get rid of toxins? Great. Don’t put too much alcohol, caffeine, processed foods, or artificial sweeteners in your body in the first place. And then exercise — and let your liver and kidneys do their job too.
But if you must cleanse, try my “vegetable, fruit and exercise cleanse.” It includes skipping all processed and packaged food items, which are loaded with added sugar and bad fats (trans and saturated)…along with banning things like caffeine and alcohol and pastries and chips, which we could all use a little less of. Load up on wholesome foods, including lean protein and some whole grains, with a major focus on WHOLE fruits and vegetables (don’t pulverize them!) — which are loaded with great nutrition; are “all natural”; and are packed with loads of fiber, which has a funny little way of cleaning you out. And then exercise daily, at a moderate-to-vigorous level. Try Jen’s cleanse. It WORKS.
- Let Us Teach You About The Neutral Spine March 17, 2014
When your mother told you to sit up straight at the dinner table she knew what she was talking about. Most of the patients I see these days in the physical therapy clinic suffer from back pain not because of a traumatic injury such as an automobile accident but from years, if not decades, of poor posture and incorrect movement. The first thing I teach them is how to find and maintain a neutral spine posture. So just what is this, and why is it important?
Our backs consist of three small spinal curves—the neck, the mid-back, and the lower back (the lumbar spine). These small curves are essential for shock absorption and to minimize the loads through the entire spine. When we slouch or bend over from our backs (as we often do when we lift something off the floor), we are in a forward flexed position. On the other end of the spectrum, when we backward bend or overarch our spines, such as when we look up at the ceiling, we are in a position of extension.
Keep in mind that our spines should be able to move freely into both flexion and extension along with other motions such as rotation. However, most of the time, we should be in neutral. Sitting slouched over for hours at a time (at a computer) or failing to stand up straight during normal, everyday activities, can seriously compromise the health and flexibility of our spines.
Imagine lifting a 20-pound bag of groceries off the floor and doing so while rounding and twisting your lower back. Better yet, imagine lifting a 40-pound dumbbell off the gym floor doing the same thing. On any given occurrence, it’s no big deal. But after a couple of decades executing this faulty movement, one day your back is going to seize up and spasm. If this has never happened to you, trust me: the pain is excruciating.
The spine is up to 40 percent stronger and more resilient to compressive load when you’re in the neutral spine position. The neutral spine also optimally positions your back muscles to protect your spine. The back muscles attach to our spines on several different angles, much like the cables on a suspension bridge. When the spine is in neutral these muscles can optimally support our mobile spine structure. When we fall out of neutral, they become much less efficient.
So now you know the importance of achieving and maintaining a neutral spine. The next question is, how do you get there? Well, it’s really quite simple. The easiest way to find your neutral spine is to lie flat on your back on an exercise mat, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Relax your body and allow your back to rest into the floor, without tilting your pelvis. You should be able to fit a finger or two in between your lower back and the floor, but not more than that.
Once you know what a neutral spine feels like, roll up gently from the floor and stand up. Try to maintain the same posture you had on the floor. When you lift weights or groceries or even a child, be sure to lift from this same neutral position, rather than bending over.
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