30 July 2008

WHAT Are You Wearing?

So I promised you yesterday that I'd bring more fashion to your attention, so I begin with this:

I want to eat this boy alive. See that dark alley behind him? I’m waiting there, in the shadows, teeth bared, like a vampire. Those shoes! Just after this photo was taken, I jumped his beautiful bones and left him dizzy and clutching his neck in the shadows of the grand archway to a Florentine courtyard.

This vision of masculine beauty is brought to you by The Sartorialist, the number 9, and the letter F.

Seriously. I want to devour him, like I just devoured the best dinner in MONTHS at Gordon Ramsay at the London. Weezer Monkey needs to go there and take lots of pretty pictures. It's not for me to blog on, but it was for me to devour with lots of good wine...

But I digress from digesting hot boys in purple moccasins. As the gorgeous boy above demonstrates so nicely, fashion is at best a conversation, and at worst it's a discourse with an ex-boyfriend who's hell-bent on taking everything you say out of context.

This hit home for me this morning, as I sat in a quiet examination room at my doctor's office on a thin piece of waxed paper. I woke up this morning with the desire to be adventurous in today's fashion choices. Diabolina is a muse of mine, and she has the advantage of being a woman, which in addition to the miracle of childbirth means greater latitude in her daily fashion choices. For men, it's a little different. So I woke up--knowing my boss would be out of the office today--and decided to have a little sartorial adventure.

My adventures are not solely sartorial. I am going to Peru in a month, and therefore needed a bevy of exotic shots and medications; Typhoid, Tetanus, Polio, Malaria, and Yellow Fever are all just a handful of the hazards of whitewater rafting in Cusco and hiking to Macchu Pichu. I can't wait. It is, without a doubt, the greatest adventure I've been on. I intend to find a crystal skull, and Shia, and take them both home with me. I'll give Indy to my mother.

Proof of my adventurousness! The Sagittarian in me is so proud!

But before we get to the conversation, you must be let in on its particulars. I have been getting in touch with my shadow self lately, only my shadow self, as you can probably tell from my website, isn't dark and brooding, since that's my everyday self. No! My shadow self is happy, glorious, and radiant, and I'm trying to let HIM out more often. I did so today. Naturally, it manifested in my clothes. To wit:

A savvy reader might recognize the jacket, used by the King of Pop himself at a recent party, and reimagined here. It clearly made me happy.

A pocket square tones down the white-white-white of the jacket, and suggests a little pattern as well as coordinating with the new jeans.

Here, my Kasil jeans and white shoes give new meaning to a "white shoe firm".

The overall effect: My colleague likes to name the location I embody best each day. Rome, New York, Los Angeles, the Hamptons. Today it was Miami Beach.

So I hung my jacket on the inside door of the examination room, and when my doctor entered (he's handsome, but quite the Negative Nelly) he exclaimed, "WHAT is that!?!" There was no fun in his voice. Now, I have some history with this doctor, as I--admitedly--teased him about his shoes on our first visit. He was bragging, and I felt the need to put him in his place. I assure you, dear Reader, that I did it in good fun, and with appropriate grace. I think, however, that he's still trying to reclaim his nuts after that. Alas for him.

At any rate, fashion is a conversation, as my colleague knows ("Where are you saying you're from today, and what does it say?") and as The Sartorialist knows with his gorgeous purple-shoed vamp-snack at the top of this post. What are purple shoes if not the opportunity to discourse on cause and effect? What is a white sport coat (linen, natch) if not the chance to feel a little daring in one's office--suddenly transformed into a yacht, or a speedboat? It's the chance to share with you what I did today, and why. Perhaps to look a little foolish, but also to be glad for the chance to look foolish. The ability to be oneself is a powerful statement, and clothes are such a unique way to express our individuality. Yes, they invite comment, but in their best moments, they bring us together to discourse.

And like any conversation, we can choose to take part, or we can choose to remain silent. There is dignity in both. The only hazard is in the uneducated criticism. I chose to educate my poor doctor friend (I find my patience with MDs rather thin these days) on the power of the white sportcoat, and what it meant for me: the closing this morning of a large transaction for my employer, the effort that went into it, the drama of the closing of the deal by phone before I left my home this morning--all before 8am. If there was ever a day to wear white, it was today, I explained. My comfort and rationality confused him, and he shifted to complaining how he needed a vacation himself, and then complained about Peru. There's no accounting for people.

I can only imagine what he'd have to say about the purple shoes. I--for one--adore them, and wish I could ask the guy in the picture what it meant to him to wear them. Freedom, I hope, and a bit of joy. I have a sportcoat he could borrow...

29 July 2008

Ben Bernake Ruined My Dessert

Ben Bernanke ruined my dessert. He did. Imagine it: I'm innocently living my LA life, filled with parties, and dinners out, and Sundays on the beach, and I decide, "Well, it's been a tough Monday, I'm going to reward myself with a roasted chicken, some mac-and-cheese in a tub, and some Dreyers Premium Grand Rocky Road Ice Cream." It's my favorite. I've worked hard in my life, and I deserve it. Even my trainer would agree.

So I get me on over to my local grocer and buy my chicken, my tub of mac-and-cheese (Who knew Country Crock made mac-and-cheese? What executive planning committee came up with that over some lunch in New York?), and I mosey on over to the ice cream isle.

Now, those of you who know me know several things about me: I eat what I please, and I'm still skinny. Before you say, "You're so lucky" I want you to imagine being called skinny for 30 years. I want you to imagine being beat up in the school yard, being too lanky for sports, being forced therefore to play D&D with other skinny kids where we imagined we were warriors or Elven wizards who could--with a flick of their skinny wrists--pummell the bully warriors into fantasy pulp. I'm not saying I did any of these things, I just wanted you to imagine them.

Back to the frozen foods isle, where my story is getting cold.

I reach for my ice cream and LO! Something isn't right! For a moment, I'm confused. Yes, it still says Dreyers. Yes, it's Grand, and yes, it's Rocky Road. No problem there. The container has the same circumference; the print has changed a bit, but that's no cause for alarm--WAIT!! Something is missing!!! I heft the half-gallon container in my hand, and it feels light.

Now, you must understand that I can have a half-gallon of ice cream in my freezer for months--literally--and not eat it. I forget about it. It doesn't call to me. But I KNOW how much it weighs. I can feel it. And the damn thing is too light.

So I do what anyone else does, I checked the label for the weight. 1.5 Quarts!!!! A growing realization dawns on me: They've chopped off the bottom 2 inches of ice cream. "Well," says I, "At least I'm not paying for..."

WHAT?! The price has ALSO gone up $1?!

For those of you not mathematically inclined, this is what ran through my head, in an instant:

25% less ice cream, with a 20% increase in price works out as follows:
  • If a half gallon, or two quarts, cost 5 bucks, that amounts to about $2.50 per quart.

  • Now, 1.5 quarts costs $6, or $4 per quart

  • $4 is a 60% increase from $2.50!

Imagine me, standing there in my tailored suit, numbers blazing in front of my eyes, temper rising, and the over-priced ice cream melting ever so slightly with the rise in my body temperature. Approximately 60% increase in the price of a goddamned half-gallon, no!, quart-and-a-half of ice cream!

But wait, it turns out I have another half-gallon of ice cream in my freezer (don't be so surprised, I wasn't kidding about forgetting the stuff) and it isn't a half-gallon either! It's been 1.75 Quarts for who knows how long! That still makes the increase 40%!

Now, the fashionistas among you have surely noticed the ratcheting up of designer prices. Do you know that clothing is actually one of the few areas of our economy that has DISinflation?! That's right, folks, the government says that clothing prices have been declining for years. Please don't expect them to look at designer stores; they only look at t-shirts at WalMart and jeans at CostCo. This is, afterall, a consumer economy, and most consumers aren't shopping 3.1 Philip Lim.

Quelle Surprise. The geniuses at the Federal Rerserve decided a few years ago that they'd put on blinders and ignore any source of inflation built into their calculations. These are the same good-natured folks that brought us the housing debacle--"stimulating" average Americans to load up on debt they couldn't afford in the form of bloated housing prices. Are they included in inflation? Nope. "Owners equivalent rent" is, and it hasn't gone up that much. Right... Food and energy? Excluded. Clothing? Doesn't matter if YOUR prices are going up, production costs in China are down, so we'll say the cost of clothes is down, too.

So basically, the nut jobs ignore anything that doesn't fit, and arbitrarily assign an inflation number. You heard it from me, kids--rates are going up. Way up. They have to.

Housing market be damned--and it is--core inflation is rising and the Fed is sleeping, too afraid to do it's job. Instead, we get brilliant things like this:

Here are the phrases to beware: "baseline forecast" (which means they don't take any responsibility for it), "work itself out" (which means no new help from Uncle Fed), "inventory of unsold homes comes down" (which means prices have to decline steeply to get those homes moving), and "strengthen somewhat" (another phrase that abdicates responsibility). He knows he has to raise rates later this year, and that the housing market will get even more damaged in the process. He has to. Prices on everything--including ice cream--are going up.

I love this blog: http://bigpicture.typepad.com/

So now, as I sit here typing, eating my bitter, bitter ice cream, I fear I may have bored you, dear Reader. Fear not! I'll blog about more fashion and style in the next entry. In the meantime, Diabolina has done a nice job for me, here.

And--assuming our dollar is worth anything tomorrow--here's something pretty I like:

And I bought a great pair of sneakers at DDC Lab in water-repellent grey suede with black soles. Delicious, and will look smashing with my new Kasil jeans (bought 30% below the store's cost!). See--I can get a deal, too.

Now, I better get off the computer and back to my ice cream. I can't afford to let it melt...

18 July 2008

An Unexpected Question

I was doing an interview today and asked if he had any questions for me. We'd been talking about college, and I'd talked about how much I enjoyed my undergraduate experience. His undergraduate experience had been incredible, and was the subject of much of our conversation. "Yes, I have a question," he said. "Are you happier now than you were in college?"

It seems to be a theme lately. When my mom and I were talking this past week, she shared that she and a friend had been talking about me. I imagine it was a very general conversation: "He lives in L.A. He has a good job. No, he's not seeing anyone." As my mom describes it, her friend at this point stopped and asked with great gravity, "Is he happy?"

I spend a lot of time thinking about happy. My parents have always told me that's all they want for me, to be happy. I've always resented that a little. It's a very high bar, and not one that's easily maintained, once achieved. Much easier to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or to get married and have children--all of which are generally uncorrelated to being happy.

I look at my friends, and try to assess whether they're happy. Most times, they appear to be so. Perhaps that's because, unless they say something or look miserable, I don't really consider happiness to be a normal state of being. A state of being 'well' seems good. 'Fine' seems to be another serviceable permanent state. 'Happy' just seems so aggressive. In this age of market meltdowns, lurking inflation, political unrest, housing foreclosures, and ever-higher divorce rates, who has the balls to claim they're "Happy, thank you"?

Perhaps my family is to blame. Ora et Labora is the motto of my Scottish family. Pray and work. There's no happy there. The Italian side of my family has a name derived from "fortified stronghold." Clearly, nothing about happy there either. It was considered a great revolution when our Framers put the "pursuit of happiness" into the Declaration of Independence. We've been arguing about that one now for over 225 years.

So like any adult faced with a question they can't really address in the time allowed ("Mom, why do I like boys more than girls?"), I fell back on a good standard.

"Yes," I said. "I'm happier. But it's a different kind of happiness."

Bullshit. The truth, my reader, is that I'm much happier than I was then. Much of it comes from letting go of the things that were making me unhappy. I could be just as lonely, but I'm working on letting that go a little. I could be just as heart-broken, but it gets easier each time to let that go, too. I understand love a bit better, and find fun ways (like this article) to make it not hurt so much. I have more money than I did in college, which has changed my lifestyle but not my happiness. I understand happiness better too, and its utility, which itself makes me happy. I know that some of the best, most productive, dynamic, and powerful times of my life have been times when I've been decidedly, militantly, brutally, unhappy.

The gyrations this week on Wall Street underscore the perils of happiness or despair. Just when you think one of them is your permanent state, you're served up a big heaping pile of the other one. At the end of this week, I'm far better off than I was on Monday. But I am no happier. I am just not unhappy anymore.

The perils of hitching your happiness on external things has been a life-lesson in the last several years (or lifetimes, depending on your belief system). I have an ongoing debate with one of my close friends about being "connected" with everyone else in a spiritual sense. We are all connected, the philosophy goes, and our experiences are shared by everyone else. When we face something we dislike, it's really a part of ourselves we dislike, since we are all one to begin with. You've already picked up on my orientation to this: I'm skeptical. I'm an individualist, a capitalist, and an objectivist. Such identity precludes a shared experience with others, and prides itself on the solitary experience. You didn't write this blog, dear Reader. I did. See? We're separate.

"But wait," says my friend. "Someone is reading it, and in their mind a dialogue has been created that didn't exist a few minutes ago. They may also comment on your wacky ideas. Therefore, the philosophy of connectivity is cohesive."

Alas, I fear she may be right. This is challenging because I've always imagined happiness to be something I get for myself. It's not so much a state of being as a state of being in possession. This broke down a little this week when I realized in a flash (I was driving at the time) that all of the material things around us can be taken away in a blink. This is not always bad! Sometimes, they're taken away and replaced with even better things. The challenge: they're just things (and I include possessive friendships and lop-sided relationships here) and they will inevitably change. What doesn't change is ourselves. Take away my blog, my eyesight, my wardrobe, my ability to walk, and I'm still me.

In a world like that, happiness isn't something you achieve, it's a state of being--a delicate balance that must be maintained. It has its own autopoiesis, I word I came to adore when I studied for two years with the Aji Network. And if it's a state of being, then asking whether anyone is "happy," including me, must come along with a temporal specification: "Are you happy right now?"

Considering I'm about to get in my comfortable bed, my answer would be "Yes."

And how did my mom answer that question posed by her friend? "I think so," she said. And then called me to make sure.

15 July 2008

Seekers and Saviors

Such a rough time. Go go go, from work to social engagements. I've started several blog entries, only to have them become irrelevant with the passing of a few hours (or days). So I'm putting this down now, before the next 12 hours have the chance to render it irrelevant, too.

So dispirited lately. The stock market really has been in the crapper, and the self-doubt has been slathered on thick and rich these last couple weeks. Then BAM, my single largest holding reports whiz-bang earnings and raises it's dividend and POW the market is up 300 points. This stock? Wells Fargo. Its numbers today? Up more than 30%.

Whew. A sigh of relief (at least until tomorrow's sell off, which will certainly be referred to as "taking some gains").

So many things on my mind, but sleep is the foremost right now. For those of you bloggers who are more familiar with this world, I'm still trying to figure out RSS feeds and the like, so let me know if things work, or if you're frustrated. Chances are I've never even heard of the things that might make you happier.

It's 11:11. Make a wish folks. I'm going to wish that I have a good block of time to stop and think and write and share. At this point, it looks like that's going to be sometime Saturday.

12 July 2008

On Emporio Armani...

So as part of my self-flagellation, I subjected myself to the Emporio Armani fall season collection on Wednesday afternoon for a little recreational asset destruction (RAD). Those familiar with the Cold War will remember MAD, or mutually assurred destruction, which was the philosophy that no one would use nuclear weapons because it meant that all parties would be annihilated. For me, shopping is similar.

I snagged this conceptual and flexible vest, which was all over the fall runway shows, and which--upon seeing--I proclaimed: "That's my fall piece!" I think it's important to identify one luxe piece each season, and grab it.

Jules Verne meets Thomas Edison

Same vest, very different look.

Note that the vest can be worn with the top tab buttoned, creating some really awesome collar action, or with the top tab unbuttoned, creating a lusciously full double-breasted collared vest. Yum. Surely it will earn me a tag on My Super Sweet Fashion Diary.

I also coveted a few beautiful things, that are now on order. When times get tough, the tough see their favorite sales associate. Let's talk about that: as in business, in shopping, we buy from people. Successful brands become personalities with which we can identify. Chanel isn't clothing, it's tailoring, and class, and simplicity. Armani isn't suits, it's subtlety and understated modernity. So, like our designers, a good associate is critical for a positive shopping experience.
Emporio Armani has ruined me for all other shopping: they greet me by name, are genuinely happy to see me, and SO excited to show me things they think I'd like--or that might challenge my personal sense of style. To wit: Christian (the menswear manager) asked me on Wednesday (knowing my personal style VERY well), "Are you ready for double breasted suits?" Imagining brass buttons and stuffed shoulders, I scoffed. I'm a modern, sleek, tailored man in shades of gray. Double-breasted is for mobsters and sub-prime mortgage brokers, not Wall Streeters and fashionistos! But BEHOLD!

The new double-breasted


Sable Crow has been a VERY bad boy. Another one before I sign off to do some hard-core investment reading (Seth Klarman's Margin of Safety). I can't get this one of out of my head, and I know it's because I'm secretly upset that I don't drive a leather dirigible to work with shiny brass fittings, and I don't hunt dragons from a silver steam-powered airship. I so wish this worked for my life, because I love every bizzare stitch of this outfit.

Emporio Armani does Steampunk

Full steam ahead.

11 July 2008

Ancient Chinese Curses, and other blessings

You know the curse I'm talking about... the one about "interesting times?"

So I thought I'd take a squawk at my favorite subject--no, not babies--the macroeconomy, in light of today's spectularly riotous market action and equally spectacular bank failure. IndyMac is dead. Long live IndyMac.

For those of you who have asked me about this stock in recent days, you'll know I predicted its failure by the end of next week. The lesson: Bank failures always happen on a Friday afternoon, after the stock market is closed, so next time I'll be more precise in my prediction.

Diabolina, among her many talents, has my favorite indicator for bourgeois economic woes. She always asks me the ultimate fashionista question: "Tell me when I have to sell my bags for food money." I thought designer resale was a good thing? Maybe not when it's compulsory. I also love that she has her own supply of food stamps tucked away in her closet, wrapped in cloth covers that say Marc Jacobs, Chanel, and Gucci. I've said it before, I'll say it again: "Don't worry, dear. You'll be fine." As an aside, it helps to have a partner who works in an industry that we investment folks call "counter-cyclical": when there's banks failing and arguments over money, then there's a need for good litigation attorneys. BAM! The perfect counter-cyclical profession. Boom times in bad times. Maybe fewer lawyers to go around, but I know a smart, ethical, well-mannered attorney who will come out on top. So as not to ruin his reputation (he's a lawyer, afterall), I'll refrain from naming him.

As for myself, I'm a fan of GE at this level (worth a conservative $300B of book value, priced by the market at $275B) and, because I have a soft spot for tragic messes (please refer to my dating life), I'm a buyer of Citigroup. Let's talk about Citigroup. Uncle Sam is trying to teach us--by using poor cousin IndyMac as an example--that "no bank is too big to fail". That's bullcrap. Countrywide was too big to fail, so it got pawned off onto BofA (I ask: who sinks $2B into a bad investment, then agrees to pay $4B more to save face?!), and we all know the story of Bear Stearns and JP Morgan. Also too big to fail. Which brings me back to Citi. Yes, it's loaded with bad debt, and yes, the consumer is under pressure so there's likely to be deterioration on the credit card and consumer lending side. WE ARE NOT ALL GOING TO DEFAULT ON ALL OF OUR DEBT. As in love, this investment is the perfect gay man's project: beautiful, adventurous, well-connected, great on paper, kinda shady past, and one hell of a mess. I don't see anything wrong with that... ;)

This week has brought lots and lots of self-recrimination.
  • I'm not writing=I'm a bad person
  • I'm not making money in a losing market=I'm bad at my job
  • I'm not very baby-friendly and I'm scared of losing my friends to lives of their own=I'm a bad friend

For the record, when the stock market drops more than 20% from its high, it's considered a bear market. It also has a dramatic effect on my mood, and savvy readers would be advised to be investing at times when Sable Crow is unhappy and self-flagellating. You will inevitably make money. Equally, savvy readers will be well-advised to sell their holdings and sit in cash when Sable Crow buys luxury automobiles. It is a 100% accurate leading indicator for a bear market. I'm 2 for 2, people. I knew it this time, and I warned my boss about it. But nobody listens...

Let's get back to self-recrimination, which leads to self-exploration, which--if we're lucky--leads to self-realization and self-acceptance. Times are tough for lots of us. Maybe it's not gas prices, nor having to hock our designer bags for food, nor stock portfolio woes. Instead, I've talked to friends who are worried about their other friendships, or their families, or the lives they're living, and I've gotta say: it seems like a tough time for lots of people right now, in many different ways. I was shocked last night when a friend of mine echoed advice I've smugly doled out a half-dozen times to close friends who were struggling to be happy: "imagine doing something that would make you feel good, and then do it". For those of you into disclosures, remember the Rede: An it harm none, do as ye will. My immediate response was that I couldn't have imagined anything that would have made me happy on the evening in question. I glumly suggested--Eeyore-like--that such was my current lot in life; nothing would make me happy. I then got into my great big black convertible and drove to my trainer, where I talked about the markets, flirted with straight boys, and made my muscles bigger.

I was, in a way, correct; nothing would have made me happier recently. The realization that came to me during the pull-ups (brutal) was that I'm hell-bent on beating myself up for NOT BEING something nobody expects of me anyway. I'm not expected to write. I'm not expected to be perfect at work. I'm not expected to be baby-friendly. I expect those things of myself, and I'm a tyrannical and merciless codger if I don't live up to my own expectations. This behavior leads to fundamental unhappiness. So I've been working on being more present to what might make me happy. And then doing it. I know that in "interesting times" like these, I'm most inclined to be hard on myself, when these are probably the times to be most forgiving. It happens in my driving (the last time I was stressed, when my subconscious knew that my relationship was ending, I crashed my brand new car because I was being recklessly self-destructive and harsh in behavior and attitude toward innocent fellow drivers).

Bear markets are good for this stuff, but most men don't have an outlet. Here's an observation: Men have only one emotion that's culturally acceptable (in our culture at least). We can't be sad. We can't cry. We can't laugh too much. We can't be too nice (we can, but we'd be considered weak by the other men). We can't grieve. We can't be in doubt. We can't be scared.

But be sure, we can be angry. Be as angry as you want. Be Donald Trump "You're Fired!" angry. Furl your brows. Turn red. Shout and scream. That's all okay. On the golf course. On the road. In the Board Room. I had a boss that would--literally--shout and scream at me SO loud on the phone, that other colleagues would look over at me with a look that said, "I'm sorry, but better you than me." Yikes.

All this is why it's so easy as men to be angry at ourselves, and so hard to distinguish its source. We aren't taught to make the distinction in our feelings that way. I think this is part of why men and women have such a hard time, because their emotional experiences are so different. I also think it's why some gay relationships work better (and why some fail); there's a better chance that the men will have similar emotional capacities. Please note: I said "better chance" and I said it with a very skeptical tone in my digital voice.

I've ranged far afield from Chinese curses and the markets, and yet not really so. We live in interesting times. Banks are failing, which is not something that's supposed to happen. It would be like Mickey Mouse murdering Donald in cold blood: there's a LOT of marketing and conditioning and psychological training that goes into making us trust banks, just as there is an equal amount in Disney's carefully-constructed image. The trust we have in the financial system is all that we have. No gold standard, no saftely net. Only trust. We have faith in the numbers on our bank statements. You can't show me your assets (even if I'd like to see them).

It's no wonder that Diabolina points to her bags in times like these: they're a hard asset in world where we never have hard assets. It's also no wonder--on a global scale--that the other hard asset of choice (oil) is having it's own bubble. People need reassurance. They're afraid. And these times have effects on us that go beyond our brokerage statements. They affect our moods (I would LOVE to see a study relating stock market declines and sexual activity; I bet performance in the bedroom is perfectly correlated to the performance of the Big Board--and I bet the Big Board is the force that dominates, not the other way around!). They affect our relationships (ditto for the study of relationships and money stress). They affect our self-relationship also.

So this weekend, I'm going to take the advice of that friend of mine: I'm going to think about things that make me happy, and I'm going to do them. I'm going to see Hellboy to escape (so will a LOT of people, and for the same reason--take note that the success of fantasy literature and film depends on an uncertain world: the Lord of the Rings books had the threat of nuclear annihilation and the rebuilding after WWII on their side and, similiarly, the films had the collapse of the internet bubble). I'm going to write more. I'm going to read academic books that make me happy. I'm going to lay in the sun (if there is any), and I'm going to take it easy--mostly on myself.

07 July 2008

Hang in there!

I'll post a new post soon. My goal of writing weekly has been SABOTAGED! by a stomach flu that would really like me to sleep 12 hours a night. Sentient stomach flus. What's next?