Hope everyone had a great and relaxing Thanksgiving. I have been MIA for the past several weeks…not for the lack of writing material, just extremely busy. My firm pays for me to take the CFA exam, and I have been putting my efforts into passing Part I, which I sat for this last weekend. The test apparently only had a 42% pass rate last time around, so it is rather difficult, plus me being liberal arts major and all in college I had to put in a lot of time to learn new material and prepare. We’ll see how it went come February…
Speaking of the CFA, if I never have to go back to the Dulles Expo Center again (well, ok, until Part II) I will be really happy. Totally inaccessible via public transportation, generally in the middle of nowhere, and essentially a no frill empty warehouse, it was the perfect place to spend 8 hrs of my Saturday. There were hundreds of people there to take the test, ranging from young guns like myself to 40 year olds, white, black, Indian, Asian, you name it, it was a pretty diverse crowd. Of course, the women were lacking… it is one of the few places in life where the line for the men’s restroom is longer than that of the women’s.
The testing tables were your standard Beirut tables (yes, that is my point of reference) with plastic wrap stretched over and stapled on top (presumably so one doesn’t leave with tetanus). There were proctors a plenty, who were in effect locals paid to spend a Saturday screaming and monitoring people. They must look forward to this moment, because they seemed really into it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to wear black jeans and a mock turtleneck, wear bright green reflectors reminiscent of school crossing guards, and find a way to tell the same person “No Cell Phones” five times in a row in different ways? Someone actually forgot to give up their cell phone, which promptly went off during the test, and which led to an amusing scramble by the Dark Side to find the culprit (of course they couldn’t find the person). We also had to place our IDs on the table for security purposes…I understand the importance of making sure that cheating does not occur, but I thought it was funny they walked around and looked over the ID for five minutes (yes, proctor, Connecticut is a real place) and multiple times several minutes apart. I mean, I think people would notice if I, say, got up, traded my ID with the Asian girl a row down, walked back to my seat, and tried to pass that off as myself.
Lunch was a mad rush, and since I foolishly hadn’t packed lunch I headed to the Taco Bell, which had a line out the door but still was a shorter wait than the other fast food places attached to the desolate mall that adjoined the Expo center. (One can imagine the potential ramifications of eating at a Taco Bell before sitting for the three hour second section of the test – but hey, I was hungry, and thankfully, I was ok).
At the end of the test everyone has to wait as they look through the books to make sure no one is stealing pages out of the exam book to fax to their West Coast friends, at which point I noticed how everyone decompresses by making small talk with those around them. I think this is since everyone has gone through such a long effort of studying and have been stressed out, and having that shared experience lends itself to finding an easy outlet for release. The two gentlemen behind me, a young white kid who just left college and the other a middle aged black man who spent his nights getting a masters degree, were chatting and I (clearly) listened in. They gradually got over the topic of spending so much time studying and delved into married life. The kid had just gotten married, and commented how leading a single life is fun, but in the end, he concluded, it was rather selfish. “All the time you are thinking of yourself…It is nice to have someone else to be responsible for, you know?” As the man pointed out, having a wife and kid are the greatest responsibilities one can have in life. I found myself agreeing with his comments, although his reasons for getting married or even having a kid are precisely those that turn people off to the prospect as well, I suppose…
Anyway, enough about that…time to get to Thanksgiving. I’ll keep it brief, but here are the highlights/lowlights…
-I couldn’t get my rear in gear in time to get an Amtrak reservation, so I had to resort to Greyhound to get home. My travels obviously never go well, so little surprise in how that turned out. I showed up at 6pm for the 6:30 bus, and had to stand in line, which was expected given the holiday traffic. However, the line refused to move, even though they had buses outside. WTF? I mean, it wasn’t like the traffic was getting better, or that they needed to be cleaned last minute or something (come on, are they ever clean?). So I had to resort to sitting on my luggage, putting together a last minute meal of overpriced vending machine edibles (Pringles, Coke, and a Snickers hit all the necessary food groups, right?) and reading a book/study for the exam. When finally the bus left, the driver announced on the PA system “Welcome to the 630pm bus to New York City…” I along with everyone else just shook our heads and groaned, as we looked at our watches. It was 8pm.
I tried to fall asleep, but for some reason this bus was ridiculously small, and even though the kid next to me was of average proportions, somehow he had half his ass on my seat, and I had to resort to essentially awkwardly sticking half my body and head into the aisle. This resulted in me getting hit seemingly every five miles by those getting up to go to the restroom. I finally felt the bus come to a halt, and groggily opened my eyes and checked the time. It was already 11:30. My hope was to get to Grand Central by 1pm, so that I could make the last Metro North trains. I wandered out of the bus, and discovered we were some place in New Jersey, according to the license plates on the cars around me. However, there were no maps in the rest center, just a gift store and a closing Roy Rogers selling its now cold sandwiches to eager bus passengers. Great. If there is one thing that is the opposite of being with your family at home for Thanksgiving, its waking up to find you are in an unknown area somewhere in the middle of New Jersey. I called my bro and we decided he would leave a car for me at the station in CT, which ended up working out…
-Wednesday was NYC day. We piled into our car and took off around noon. My mom had discovered that there was a Pissaro exhibit at the Jewish Museum, so this was our first stop. The museum is located in an inconspicuous building on Museum Mile alongside Central Park. I thought it was an odd choice of museum, not only because I had little Jewish heritage to speak of, but also because I found it strange an impressionist artist was Jewish. Well, I was wrong. Pissaro was Jewish, although he was the only one. He was also born in the Caribbean, and spent his earlier life there. Which I guess makes him a Caribbean Jew Impressionist living in France – quite an anomaly. I liked the exhibit though, and you could clearly see how much Pissaro liked the harbors from his earlier days, as he painted these more than the other impressionists. He also was friends with Van Gogh, and his choice to use broader brushstrokes was evident from spending time together.
On the bottom floor was an even more interesting exhibit on William Steig. I had no clue who Steig was – until I took one look at the artist’s renderings. Steig was a cartoon artist for the New Yorker, responsible for the iconic covers and captioned illustrations we now identify so closely with the magazine. In fact, his first cover he presented to the New Yorker editor they liked so much, they offered to but the idea, but insisted someone else draw it. He came back and said, “My mom says I shouldn’t accept your offer, and I should paint it myself.” Quite the momma’s boy indeed. In fact, he grew up lifeguarding, and he said if he earned $500 dollars a summer, his dad would take $492 of it, which he thought was perfectly reasonable since his dad provided and cared for him throughout his life. I’m quite sure most youth would not have seen things the same way he did. During the Great Depression he helped his dad wallpaper houses and perform other construction tasks. The patterns from the wallpapers he dealt with in his youth and other details depict themselves in his children’s books, which have an attention to these elements that such illustrations typically lack. Oh, yeah, he only started writing children’s books in his sixties, but what a career he had. I think I read everyone one of his books as a kid, from Dominic to Amos & Boris, from Doctor De Soto to Brave Irene and the Amazing Bone. He won numerous awards, all well deserved. Perhaps what he is best known for is the book Shrek! , which was the basis for the DreamWorks picture of the same name. The exhibit had book on display, as well as his letters to the producers of the movie with suggestions. He sketched out what Shrek would become and provided suggestions, such that Shrek’s mother be they typical ever worried Jewish mother (I’m picturing George Costanza’s mom from Seinfeld here), but clearly this never made it into the movie. All in all, a great exhibit well worth the while.
After the museum, we wandered down the street, getting a great view of the lake in Central Park at dusk.
After dinner, it was Opera time. I don’t think I have been to the Opera since Middle School, and it was quite the experience. My family had tickets to Le nozze di Figaro, and after mingling in the foyer and reading up on the story (operas can be confusing, regardless of what language they are sung in), we headed inside. Our seats were on the upper tier, but it was a pretty good view (I brought binoculars just in case). The performance was very well done, especially by the Countess. The opera was three and half hours long (with breaks), and while I enjoyed every minute of it, it was impressive just how much singing the leads managed to almost effortlessly do (plus memorize all the Italian!). During the break we saw Pavarotti’s costumes on display from the past performances he had done at the Met – pretty cool. The building has a pretty neat design as well:
The binoculars came into use as well, as I kept checking out the orchestra members in the pit and what they did during and between songs. Most were pretty stoic, but the bassoonist player, who resembles Dwight Schrute, kept cracking up, making jokes and sarcastic gestures, and even at one poignant point of the opera where multiple audience members inexplicably coughed he could barely retain from laughing out loud. Almost as amusing as the opera, I swear. The best moment came when the Countess came out from backstage to join the congratulatory line, and someone from way, I mean way back, rifled a bouquet of flowers in her direction. I saw the throw form the corners of my eye and I kind of gasped, anticipating an ugly collision. Thankfully, she managed to halt right as it fell to her feet, and we were saved an ugly scene. I don’t think she expected it either, as she looked quite startled, but she recovered well and received the loudest applause for her performance.
-Thursday was Turkey Day. Aside from watching football, I had the chance to take a walk around the neighborhood with my mom. My coworker once commented as to why Connecticut has some many stone walls, so I decided to take some pictures of them. I live near the Old Post Road, which back in the day was the main stretch of roadway between Boston and New York City, and many of the original walls still exist and line the street.
Here are some pictures.
Here is a fountain where the horses refueled:
An old mile marker:
Here is some foliage, which I miss in DC:
-Friday I ended up back in the city again, to visit a friend and go out. He is getting a PhD at Columbia, and I was supposed to meet him at his place off of Amsterdam and 120th. So I took the train into Harlem, and figured I could walk from there. Bad idea. One, it was cold out. Two, I had no idea where Amsterdam was except to walk towards the Hudson. Three, as my friend pointed out, there were two parks in between the train station and him, and walking through those at night was probably not the best idea. So I smartly cabbed it, and after following the ride along on the in-cab monitor (did you know they have ESPN on those things?) I realized it would have taken me a while to walk anyways.
We threw back some beers at his place and then headed out to dinner. Dinner ended up being at this Chinese restaurant, called Silk Road, I think, and it had unlimited white wine alongside generous portions of Chinese cuisine. And they did not hold back on the wine either. In fact, we tried to see if we could even pour out a whole carafe without it being filled by a server. We could only do it once, and that was on a technicality. Sure, it was boxed wine, but it was great. A long line for tables began as soon as we sat down, but as people were waiting they were given wine as well. Our entire meal, with tax and tip, ended up amounting to $15 per person, which in NYC, for food and drink we got, was well worth it.
After stopping by a bar and playing a round of beer pong (they seem to have this a lot more than in DC), we headed to Evelyn’s Bar. As we entered there was a sign that read “Scarsdale High School Reunion 2002”, but we figured there was room for us. The bar is set up with a Moroccan style motif, so we found some couches in the back and ordered drinks. Conveniently, there was tons of free food for the high school reunion, which of course no one else was eating, so we helped ourselves to some chips and hummus to prevent it from going to waste. I went to look for the bathroom at some point, and I overhead one girl asking another guy, “So how many young single friends do you have?” Yikes. I was so tempted to walk up to a random person and pretend like I knew them…maybe say something out of the blue, like ” Wait, you are straight? All this time…No way!” and then look around and say, “Can anyone here vouch for this?” and then shake may head in disbelief. Maybe another time, I feel like eating their food was bad enough. I did encounter problems when I tried to reenter the back room though – apparently I was supposed to have a stamp on me. However, we had already been there for 20 minutes, so there was little the man could do to stop me.
We left the bar after several drinks and headed to a more typical bar, which was fine with me, since I was pretty tired at this point anyway. Granted, the combination of car bombs and boxed wine may have contributed to that as well…
-Saturday night I attended an annual Thanksgiving party food family friends of mine throw each year. It seems like people are always away during Christmas, but almost everyone is in town for the Thanksgiving holidays, so it is always a great opportunity to see people. It’s pretty much what you would expect: old Victorian style house, catered drinks and hors’douvres, parents trying to extol their children’s latest accomplishments, and us twenty year olds spending time around the bar. I actually ran into some people from my high school days I hadn’t seen in six years, and man, was it interesting to see what was going on their lives. Nothing too shocking (although one was going to crew a boat in the Caribbean), but it was nice to see what they ended up being interested in and talking about their college experiences. Oh, and one girl got married, apparently at the protest of her parents, who wore black to the wedding and whose siblings didn’t attend. They even cut off her college funding (I guess they don’t think too highly of the guy. The also heard the bachelor party was ridiculous, since somehow it merged with the bachelorette party, and the bride to be slept with a female stripper that night. Oh, and the groom punched a wall in anger and had his hand so swollen the wedding ring couldn’t even fit on his finger. Oh, am I sorry I couldn’t have been there for that…
My mom apparently was talking about seeing “Knocked Up” over the break to some guests, but called it “Knock Off”. A friend of mine overheard and quickly offered to provide clarification, insisting it was called “Knocked Up”. My mom, who clearly is missing some idioms from her vocabulary, asked everyone, “What does knocked up mean? How is it different from knock off?” At which point she got strange looks, and my friend explained that ‘knock off’ is a cheap imitation of something, while ‘knock up’ is to get someone pregnant and have a child. To which my mom promptly replied, beaming, “Oh…then considered me knocked up for a span of thirty years!” Just priceless…
After the parents mostly left someone whipped out the Playstation module and hooked up Karaoke to a projector which was showing a slideshow earlier in the outside tent. This of course resulted in some drunken singing of classics, including a group rendition of Whitney Houston’s “And I Will Always Love You” that I hope my ears will never hear the likes of again. When I left the tent to go home I could still hear the singing even as I walked further down the street…I am sure the neighbors loved it.
Anyway, I’ll leave you with an appropriate picture of some guests to sum up the fun evening.