Categories
cats family glamorous

A Cat Tale

Snow White in repose, prior to our story’s beginning.

First thing after her breakfast, Snow White climbed into a small, half-filled paper and cardboard recycling box. It was barely wide or deep enough to contain her. Her little brother Mango instantly appeared, sliding into a position that was barely an inch from the box. As Snow White arranged the papers and cardboard beneath her, Mango watched with tremendous concentration.

Moments later, with a pretty little jump, Snow White abandoned the box, striding off in the direction of the living room in slow, deliberate, dignified steps.

Seizing his chance, Mango leaped into the box.

As soon as he had settled in—the work of an instant—he turned his head to gaze at Snow White and confirm that she was watching him.

But she was still slowly walking away, not paying him the slightest mind.

So, half a moment later, Mango too sprang out of the box, sauntering off meaningfully into the front hall.

Categories
family glamorous

A Tale of Two Pools

Two swimming pools hold an almost holy place in my heart:

The indoor pool and gymnasium of the Chatham Center Hotel in Pittsburgh, where our family lived before our house was ready for occupancy. And where the gym manager Mr Kaufman, a mountain of lazily contented flesh who was never without his lighted cigar, unfailingly greeted my brother and me thusly: “Hello, boys. How’s your mother?” And where I taught my younger brother Peter to swim. We would hold our noses and hang upside down, our legs gripping the edge of the pool. When water went up our noses, we would shout “Angela!”, emulating some character on a TV show who had shouted that name, and cracking ourselves up over nothing, as only two close siblings can. After swimming, we would have spaghetti in the Howard Johnson’s that served as the hotel’s restaurant. That world is long gone.

The Big Pool at the Grand Floridian hotel in Disney World, several summers in a row, starting when my daughter Ava was six. The hotel is on the Magic Kingdom’s grounds. Entering the park an hour before general admission began, we’d hit our favorite attractions for an hour or two, while the temperature and humidity were still bearable. It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean were of course our favorites, but we also enjoyed the singing bears, and even the dreaded hall of presidents. Before lunchtime, our Magic Kingdom needs sated, we’d have returned to the hotel for a long day’s lounging in and around the pool. We made up imaginary and ridiculous Disney movies, describing the trailers to each other. (In “The Dog Who Shit Nickels,” when the suburban neighbor, pointing to a pile of coins, complains to dog owner Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Look what your dog did on my lawn!”, Arnold says, “Keep ze change.”) We splashed, we swam, we paddled. We floated on our backs, gazing at the palm trees and getting giddy over the ducks who roamed the grounds and used the pool as their toilet. My nostalgia for those moments is enormous. They will never come again. For we will never again travel to Florida.

Categories
glamorous

I’m Here

All my life I’ve known I was “creative” and “different.” Only recently have I realized that I’m both neurodivergent and bisexual.

In my youth, as I struggled with drugs, alcoholism, depression, and underemployment, it never crossed my mind that I was neurodivergent—not that the term existed then.

Even after I was diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder some ten-plus years ago, I didn’t make the neurodivergence connection. It was only as my ex and I began coming to grips with our kid’s autism that I began to recognize many of her autistic qualities in myself and other members of our family.

And it’s only in the past year or two, and only with my daughter’s help, that I’ve come to realize I’m bisexual. 

I’ve known I was attracted to women since age five, when my mom took me into the powder room at B. Altman, where I gazed with open mouth as ladies touched up their lipstick, fluffed their hair, and adjusted how their bodies fit into their dresses. I was dressed in a wee suit with short pants and a bow tie. Two of the ladies picked me up and called me handsome. A lady kissed me. I smelled flowers as she enveloped me in a hug. A deep hunger was born in that moment. (I know. That sentence is gross.) Years later, in college, as I watched the adoration sequence during my first viewing of Fellini’s 8 1/2, I recognized my own experience of awakening.

Yet for all those years of knowing I loved women, I didn’t understand that the love I felt for male friends could also be a romantic attraction. 

How could I not know that? I suppose it’s because the other drive was more dominant—and, let’s face it, was also far more socially acceptable in those benighted days. As a short, nonathletic, curly-haired, unaggressive Jewish male in a world that beat me down for every one of those adjectives, I suppose I wasn’t eager to throw an extra (and even heavier) albatross around my own neck. 

So much so that I could not accept or even recognize that aspect of myself—not even when my unconscious tried to tell me.

I remember writing a short story about a failed connection between two male high school friends. Thinking I was another D.H. Lawrence, and that my hermetically sealed tale was secretly ripe with deep meaning and profound feelings, I shared the story with my peers in the graduate creative writing program where I was hiding to avoid growing up. 

A colleague in the program, who was a far better writer than me, and an out gay man, disdainfully labeled my work “another failed male bonding story.” I thanked him for his honesty and because his ability to use words that way amazed me, but I didn’t understand why he didn’t understand—because it was I who didn’t understand. (Understand?)

And so the decades have passed.

At this point in my life, being single works for me, and, after two marriages, I have enough to get on with, just working and being a dad. So why even share these fragments and evasions? Surely who I find attractive is of interest to absolutely no one.

Except that Fascists in my country are drawing lines, turning back the clock on human rights and human decency, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit silently warming my feet at the hearth of some late-recognized private truth.

If they want to outlaw queerness and Blackness and ovaries and pretty much any identity other than Ward or June Cleaver, then they’re not just a threat to humanity and a wrong turn in the arc of history, they’re my enemy to fight. I’m right here, motherfuckers.

Categories
Advocacy Archiving Browsers Community Design glamorous HTML industry javascript launches links Off My Lawn! people Publications Responsive Web Design Standards State of the Web Stories The Profession W3C Web Design Web Design History Web Standards Websites

He Built This City: The Return of Glenn Davis

You may not know his name, but he played a huge part in creating the web you take for granted today. 

As the first person to realize, way back in 1994, that the emerging web could be a playground, he created Cool Site of the Day as a single-focused blog dedicated to surfacing interesting sites, thereby demonstrating the web’s potential while creating its first viral content. (As an example, traffic from his followers, or, as we called them back then, readers, brought NASA’s web server to its knees.)

He co-founded The Web Standards Project, which succeeded in bringing standards to our browsers at a time when browser makers saw the web as a software market to be dominated, and not a precious commons to be nurtured.

He anticipated responsive web design by more than 20 years with his formulation of Liquid, Ice, and Jello as the three possible ways a designer could negotiate the need for meaningful layout vis-a-vis the unknowns of the user’s browsing environment.

He taught the web DHTML through his educational Project Cool Site. 

And then, like a handful of other vital contributors to the early web (e.g. Todd Fahrner and Dean Allen), he vanished from the scene he’d played so large a role in creating.

He’s ba-ack

Glenn Davis wasn’t always missed. Like many other creators of culture, he is autistic and can be abrasive and socially unclueful without realizing it. Before he was diagnosed, some people said Glenn was an a**hole—and some no doubt still will say that. I think of him as too big for any room that would have him. And I’m talking about him here because he is talking about himself (and the history of the early web) on his new website, Verevolf.

If you go there, start with the introduction, and, if it speaks to you, read his stories and consider sharing your own. That’s how we did it in the early days, and it’s still a fine way to do it—maybe even the best way.

I knew Glenn, I worked with him and a lot of other talented people on The Web Standards Project (you’re welcome!), and it’s my opinion that—if you’re interested in how the web got to be the web, or if you were around at the time and are curious about a fellow survivor—you might enjoy yourself.

Categories
Education glamorous

Education is its own privilege

When I think back to my college friends and me, what a beautiful bubble we lived in! Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a fancy college—it was state school, and we were all from out of state. And we certainly weren’t rich kids: my friend J came from a Lower East Side single parent family, back when the Lower East Side was the Lower East Side. 

The most comfortable of us came from middle class homes with a single professional breadwinner (engineer, dentist). Some of us had been caught in the American legal system as teenagers—although, as white teenagers, we’d had it comparatively easy. 

We’d all experienced prejudice, not only witnessing bigotry against friends, but coming up against it ourselves due to our ethnicity, or sexuality, or religion, or looks, or weight, or height, or comparative lack of athletic prowess, or disability, or the way we thought, or the way we talked, or what part of our town we lived in, or because we did well on tests, or because we did poorly on tests, or because of some other thing, or (usually) some multiple of the above. 

In Pittsburgh, where Cadillacs were called Jew canoes, the kids who tolerated me in ninth grade called me Mini Kosher, and I was subjected to daily humiliations until I proved myself by getting arrested and becoming a low-level pot dealer. But I digress.

We weren’t rich or cheerleaders or jocks (not that those kids don’t have problems of their own), and we weren’t the kind of white kids White America approved of, but we were privileged as hell not only by skin color, but also because we were educated. 


Education should be a right and American public school was initially set up, however imperfectly and even accounting for the racial segregation and deep unfairness of the time, to make sure everybody, at least in principle, would be educated enough to read books, understand political issues sufficiently to participate in America’s representative democracy, take care of their children, earn a living, grill hot dogs in summer, and pay taxes—the good life. 

For the luckiest, those whose families cherished learning, those whose parents read to them, those who looked forward to a Saturday library visit to pick out new books to read (novels and history books and science books and science fiction novels and fantasy stories and books about insects and books about reptiles and books that shed at least some light on the thrilling secret mysteries of adult relationships)…

Those who understood how to take tests so as to do well in school (which is a completely different thing from learning and retaining information), those whose parents encouraged reading and learning and cared and asked about grades and teachers, those with parents at least one of whom had time to spend with them, making them feel loved and safe, those who came from cultures where learning was cherished, so that their aunts and uncles talked about art and science and politics, and not just ball games and recipes…

Those whose families strenuously opposed all racial and religious bigotry, who taught their kids to stand up for the underdog, those who taught their children to approach all others with love and respect (even when, in reality, approaching everyone with love and respect means you sometimes get bullied and ridiculed, because some people are damaged and hateful and will see your humanity as a weakness)…

Those whose families (like all families) were far from perfect, but who somehow, despite failings and tragedies, instilled a love of learning or blew on a spark that was already present…

…So that their kids could do well enough in high school to attend a college, even if they really wanted to run away and join a rock and roll band…

And whether or not it was the most expensive or most competitive college in the land (it wasn’t), it was a place where they’d encounter other smart kids from different backgrounds and discover Truffaut and Bergman and stay up all night enthralled by great ideas or ridiculing them, cracking each other up, sleeping together, experiencing new levels of romance and heartbreak, discovering possibilities.

The ultimate privilege: having a sufficiently educated background to discover possibilities and think for yourself.

If only we all had that.

For Judith

Categories
glamorous

Walking Through Fear

I used to medicate my anxiety by drinking, but that was not good for me, my friends, girlfriends, family, coworkers, liver, or wives, so I stopped.

One way I manage anxiety today is by avoiding or delaying indefinitely the tiny tasks that stress me out—tasks other people do without blinking. Like checking my postal mail. The mail carrier used to think I was away from home, traveling. Nope, just scared to open the mailbox.

Today, I will tackle a series of important tasks I must get done before nightfall. I cannot avoid or postpone them. I’ve already tried bargaining, rationalizing, and pleading with myself, but was unable to find a loophole. What’s gotta be, gotta be.

By the end of this day, I will have done it all.

Categories
Advertising client services Design glamorous industry

Fear of getting noticed

Back when I was in advertising, one of my team’s clients was a well-known Irish Airline. They could only afford an 1/8th-page ad in the travel section of the paper. But my partners and I didn’t think creativity was dependent on budget. We were determined to deliver great ads for them—ads that would make a viewer look, even though the ad was tiny and was surrounded by other ads.

So we created a standout campaign for them—the kind that would not simply be noticed, but would also make travel-focused consumers smile and encourage them to buy tickets.

We blew up our tiny layouts and mounted the enlargements on illustration board, for an impactful creative presentation when we met to show the client the work.

The great day came. The work was good, and we had rehearsed our presentation to perfection. We booked the conference room, had the client’s favorite snacks and beverages spread out when they arrived, and sold our little hearts out as we presented.

Silence.

The lead client blinked, cleared his throat, and finally said, in a thick Irish brogue:

“I’m afraid it’s far too clever for our needs. It calls too much attention to itself on the page,” he explained—as if getting a distracted newspaper reader to notice his company’s message was a bad thing.

The lead client asked us to set “Ireland $399” in bold type, stick a shamrock in one of the 9s, and call it a day.



Fear of getting noticed is a terrible thing. It’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Clickbait headlines get a deservedly bad rap in digital marketing, but you know what else should get a bad rap? Blind, boring, infinitely ignorable links and titles, that’s what.

Crafting messages that get noticed and acted upon by their intended audience—the people for whom you create your company’s digital products in the first place—isn’t a crime. It’s your job.


Hat tip to Mark Mazut and Tim Irwin, my fellow passengers on the above disaster. Bit o’ nostalgia for those who remember The Ad Graveyard.

Categories
glamorous work Working

My First Job

I was a teenage telemarketer. Reading from a script, I attempted to raise money for St. Jude’s Hospital for Leukemia-Stricken Children. I was fired after three days for departing from the script. 

We were supposed to hard-sell, no matter what the person on the other end of the line said. But when the people I cold-called talked about their financial hardships, I sympathized, asked questions, and didn’t try to force a donation.

Our boss listened in on the calls. My empathy toward the people I called was not appreciated. 

My boss failed to see any irony in the job’s requiring psychopathically cold-hearted behavior toward some needy people in order to raise money for others.

Probably he could not allow himself to see it.

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An Event Apart Appearances art direction better-know-a-speaker books Career conferences Design Designers Education events Genius glamorous Illustration industry Interviews New York City NYC Off My Lawn! speaking Stories Surviving Teaching The Profession UX Web Design Web Design History work

My Night With Essl

Mike Essl and I discuss his portfolio.
Mike Essl and I discuss his portfolio on Night 2 of An Event Apart Online Together Fall Summit.

Herewith, a scene from last night’s interview with legendary web & book designer (and Dean of The Cooper Union School of Art) Mike Essl, who shared his portfolio, career highlights, early web design history, and more. Fun!

If you get a chance to meet, work with, or learn from Mike, take it. He’s brilliant, hilarious, warmly human, and one of the most creative people you’ll ever have the good fortune to know. 

Mike Essl

So ended Day 2 of An Event Apart Online Together Fall Summit 2021. Day 3 begins in less than two hours. You can still join us … or watch later On Demand.

Categories
glamorous Health

A little vitreous humor

Vitreous humor lines the backs of our eyeballs. We are born with a full supply of the stuff, but as we age, it begins to dry out or evaporate or some damn thing—the ophthalmologist shining a beam into my eye wasn’t overly explicit on this point. 

Sometimes the stuff detaches and comes to the front of the eye. It can be discolored, particularly if the detached part used to be close to the optic nerve. The result is a vitreous floater, which is like having a microscopic slide of an insect’s leg in front of one of your eyes. One eye sees the world. The other eye sees the world but also sees the microscopic slide of the insect’s leg. 

At times the “slide” moves around. At night there can also be white flashes that go off every two minutes or so—spaced just far enough apart to work like Chinese water torture.

The ophthalmologist told me it’s caused by aging, it happens to most people eventually, and there’s nothing doctors can do about it, other than monitor the situation to make sure it doesn’t get worse—because if it gets worse, that could be a sign of something more serious.

The ophthalmologist at the space-age eye hospital told me that over time I would see less of it, or learn to ignore it, or something—he wasn’t overly explicit on this point.

I’m to go back and see him again in a month.

Categories
glamorous

The ship and the city

I DREAMED I’d boarded a ship that was slowly making its way to an exotic vacation locale, somewhere on the other side of the world. I’d bought a giant new steamer trunk for the voyage. I thought I’d have a cabin to myself, but, below decks, the ship was like a passenger train, with row upon row of seats. Voyagers had to sleep sitting up in these seats, and we had to hunt for a vacant seat. At first, I had a row of seats to myself, but I realized that the remaining seats would soon be filled, and perhaps by a group of noisy, aggressive people who knew each other. I’d be the odd one out. So I moved into an occupied row, next to a Japanese passenger who was already half-asleep, his hat pulled halfway down over his eyes, and was traveling by himself, like me. My arrival woke him, slightly, and he nodded to acknowledge me, then closed his eyes again. I realized, as I settled in beside him, each of us slouching away from the other for privacy, that I did not have my trunk with me, and did not know where it was being held. I couldn’t even be sure that it had made it onto the ship.

The ship docked at an American city for a quick break. It was a quaint old town, with buildings that seemed to date back hundreds of years, including a picturesque ruin or two. The dock was filled with similarly set-up cruise ships; this was obviously a major rest stop for the seaborne travel industry. The dock was infinite, an endless perspective of identical cruise ships, each disgorging thousands of passengers who merged into an oncoming throng. So many were coming that they raised the dust before them. I wondered how the quaint old town could possibly accommodate so many travelers.

I had wandered into the city for many blocks when I realized I didn’t have my wallet with me—it was packed in the trunk, presumably back on the ship. I came to this sudden understanding while trying to complete a trivial purchase at the register of a small store.

“I came on a ship, my wallet’s on board, perhaps we could call the ship and have them read you my credit card number?” I suggested to the frowning cashier.

“Which ship?”

I didn’t know.

“Where’s she headed?”

I suddenly didn’t know that, either.

“Look, I’m on a three-week cruise,” I said. “I don’t remember where I’m going. I don’t know why my family’s not with me.”

The embarrassing admission did little to improve my standing with the cashier.

Cross-fade.

I had given up and was trudging back to the ship when I realized I did not know where it was docked. I asked townspeople where the dock was located, but they frowned at me as if I were mentally ill or horribly disfigured, and scurried quickly away.

So I wandered, through blocks that resembled Dresden after the Allied bombardment, with no adults to be seen—only underfed, half-naked children, who darted past like hurrying ghosts, presumably scouring the bombed-out buildings for scraps of food or dry places to shelter.

Dissolve.

After hours of walking at random, I began to pass buildings that looked vaguely familiar, and thought that I must be approaching the dock again. I could hear distant gulls, their cries half-muted and oddly modulated as they echoed off the broken buildings of the old city.

If I came out upon the dock, would I remember which ship I’d been traveling on?

What was my name? Could my luggage identify me if I knew where the crew had stowed it? Could I describe my luggage to help them search for it? No, it was new and I was unfamiliar with its design. I couldn’t even remember what I’d packed, except for a faint impression that I’d stowed the contents in many small boxes inside the trunk.

But to even reach that impasse of being unable to describe my luggage, I’d have to first identify my ship, and they all looked the same. My ship might already have left. And I didn’t even know its destination.

7 June 2021

Categories
family glamorous Health kitteh!

A thousand tiny pieces

Snow White pushed a stack of ceramic espresso dishes off of the kitchen counter this morning, to see how many of them would smash into a thousand tiny pieces. The answer was most of them. 

I couldn’t find my broom, so I had to clean the scattered ceramic chips by stooping over a dustpan. Which made me wheeze and gasp for breath. 

So the whole thing turned out great, because I’ll be able to tell my doctor, when I see him on Tuesday for my first annual physical in two years, that my COVID long-haul symptoms have not improved one bit. Which I might otherwise have lied to myself about.

Categories
family glamorous Ice Breakers

What’s your favorite season?

As a child, I loved summer—no school! I could stay indoors all day and read! But summer camp, which I dreaded, ended my romance with that season. Even as an adult, no longer forced “for my own good” to do things I hate, the humid misery of August in New York is a hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Where were we? New York has two glorious seasons: Spring and Fall. They last only a few days each, it feels like, but that bitter brevity contributes to their sweetness. Spring has a slight edge over Fall in my heart, especially after the twelve months we’ve had.

Photo by Sergey Shmidt on Unsplash

Categories
family glamorous

My Life is a New Yorker Cartoon

“Why are you uncomfortable having a nonbinary cat?”

…my teenage daughter demanded as we sat together on the couch.

Categories
glamorous Health

In which I am vaccinated

Got vaccinated against COVID-19 today. Stood in line for just over 90 minutes outside a Lower East Side high school that was being used as an immunization pod. There was an old couple in front of me in line; the man initially thought I was standing too closely behind him and demanded I move back. Fair enough. I spent the remaining 90 minutes keeping my distance from the couple.

After a while I began to worry about the old man. His wife, no youngster herself, said he had just had heart surgery. She wasn’t getting immunized—perhaps she didn’t yet qualify. Mainly she was there to hold his hand and keep him from falling down.

Over the 90-odd minutes, as unobtrusively as possible, I set myself to guarding the old man in case he needed any help his wife couldn’t provide. At the last corner before the high school entrance, there was a little plastic seat. The old man’s old wife asked him to sit and rest a while, and I told them I’d watch their spot in line.

It had rained, but the sun was beginning to come out, and the temperature was warm for January. I did little stretches in place, moved forward occasionally (when the line moved), and let my mind wander.

I had my phone on me but I didn’t look at it for fear of draining the battery—there was an access code on the phone that I needed to present to a gatekeeper to get my shot, and I couldn’t do that if the phone died. Also I kind of dug the boredom. At home, I can look at screens for hours. But outdoors, standing in line, anxious about losing my place or not realizing the line had moved or losing my ID (I have an anxiety disorder and worry about many small, stupid things), I prefered to just be bored for 90 minutes. It was rather restful.

Mural on a Lower East Side Garage.
Kenny Scharf mural on a Lower East Side garage. Spotted across from the high school where I got my jab.

There were many workers helping move the line along, mostly young folks in their late teens and early 20s. Their work day had started at 7:00 AM and would continue until 8:00 PM. Thirteen hours of standing in place. Thirteen hours of answering the same questions. I made a point of learning their names and chatting with any of them who were willing to talk. Catastrophe may bring out the worst in some people, but it was bringing out the best in them.

One of the helpers, an MTA worker, told me he looked forward to standing 13 hours a day after weeks of sitting around at his regular job with nothing to do.

Eventually I made it into the building itself, and then I was getting a jab. Didn’t hurt. Uneventful. I thanked the doctor for his gentleness.

Afterwards I sat in a makeshift waiting room for 15 minutes to be sure I didn’t have an adverse reaction. Then I left, thanking cops, guards, doctors and volunteers as I did so.

Walked around the Lower East Side a few minutes longer and then caught a Lyft home.

Later today I may have soreness or nausea or a headache that could last a couple of days. No big deal. I have to wait 28 days before getting my follow-up dose, and it has to be the same vaccine I got today—the Moderna vaccine, not the Pfizer. (The Pfizer has a waiting period of 21 days.)

When I got home, my daughter was awake and cuddling our big white cat. I went online to register for my second dose. There are no available locations in Manhattan in that time period, so I chose one in Brooklyn, and I’ll go there in February. 

The first dose makes you 50% immune, they had told me. The second dose makes you 75% immune. Nothing makes you 100% immune. We will need to keep masking and maintaining social distancing for a long time to come.

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