The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony and the Ecstasy was my favorite dish at a stylish Japanese restaurant on the Upper West Side during the ‘90’s and has stayed with me since that time as a short hand description for living. As a dish, it was tarted up with wasabi and overpriced Tokyo style curry poured onto rice, but as a metaphor, is aptly descriptive of my life as a constant outsider. What curry and wasabi agony that was offered by the dish was paired well with the moderately ecstatic Asian sweet potato humming nicely with some carrots, interposed by the mediating beef, its fat and broth filling out the dish. It was a particularly nasty looking green which gave it the look of Star Trek food, the kind that would give Scotty and McCoy fits when offered by alien dignitaries.

One of the habits that I have is that if I like a particular dish at a restaurant, I get stuck on it and will only order that same dish over and over again. The corollary to this rule is that after about two years, I stop going. Two years is about when I get tired of it. As I had mentioned in prior posts, the half life of human desire is about six months. In two years, whatever passion I had for the dish drops by four half lives or over 90%. Without a meaningful change in the dish, the natural refractoriness of my dopamine receptors kicks in –refractoriness refers to a nerves inability to give off the same intensity of signals if used again and again. The dish, once ambrosia becomes sawdust.

I am ecstatic when reveling in the new. I like the new car smell on the latest gadgets as they come out of their box, and figuring out the essence of a new surgical procedure has that same allure. New people, new surroundings, new foods –this is what gets me going. Of course, life wouldn’t be what it is without the agonies, and I engage these with the conviction that no matter how overwhelming the circumstances, brain chemistry dictates that the intensity of feelings on the agony side of things will wane too. All bleeding stops eventually, we say in the OR. So it is that life change takes about two years to settle into a steady state. A new job, a new relationship, fresh grief – any life change takes about 2 years to reach a digestible state. It took Tiger Woods two years to win again after all.

Which makes you think about marriages and how they survive romantic love. The old coffee machine that we got on our wedding day lived with us for the past 17 years. It was a Krups combination drip brew and cappuccino maker. My wife, Jennifer, says it was a metaphor for our marriage. At the start, we kept a variety of beans to grind fresh for every pot, occasionally making espresso and cappuccino, but eventually, we settled on cans of Melita Classic, which we found to be a superior ready to brew grind. At about year 7, I broke the pot, but Jen found a replacement. Two years ago, the heating element broke, but Jen managed to find a source for spare parts and she performed the necessary surgery on it to repair it. It was this year she realized that our coffee was not as good as it used to be after she tried the coffee that came out of our friends very expensive European coffee maker, and it was it some sadness we are saying goodbye to the old machine –the new one arrived from Amazon. It’s letting go of the past, accepting change, and anticipating the new that is both agonizing yet full of hope. Marriages, by definition, are rife with moments of agony and ecstasy, but when faced together with your partner, they become surmountable.

If I am to escape the fate of the old coffee maker, I have to actively engage, fearlessly renew, and aggressively freshen. Sophomore slumps are the result of passivity and laziness of the mind. Looking back on seventeen years of marriage, I can see that at some point, I was a drip coffee maker, once shiny and new, but now I am a fully automatic, self cleaning espresso machine, slightly used, but perfectly serviceable. Ciao.

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The Lover

The Lover

Stress tests are used to determine the quality of things. In medicine, we have a stress test that gives us an idea how strong a heart is. In auto manufacturing, there is the crash test. In professional golf, we now have the sex scandal.

The sex scandal is a stress test most often seen in the realm of politics. But the peccadilloes of a politician became passe after ten solid years going with the tapping of shoes in airport bathrooms sandwiched between Clinton and Berlusconi. This is a stress test that reveals dimensions to Tiger that we’ve never seen before.

Tiger married Elin, a beautiful woman, but his aloofness and occasional public displays -hugging wife/children after win, revealed little. The more cynical among us could only wonder -was this all scripted? There are plenty of wealthy men with exquisite trophy wives who are revealed to have predilections across the sexual spectrum -at least in movies and novels.

So what did the past week reveal. If we are to believe the rumors, Tiger likes women with a certain body type -athletic, muscular legs, size B cups, and serious lips. We also find that Tiger has a misunderstanding about the call history function and contacts program on his cell phone. The US Magazine’s voice mail audio reveals that the purported Tiger is worried that his wife is checking his phone call history and requests the woman that he is calling remove her name from her phone number. The problem is that names are not tagged with phone numbers, but do show up in call histories with names when said names are in the contacts directory. Meaning Tiger kept only one cell phone.

What does this reveal? It confirms Tiger’s legendary miserliness or naivete. Billionaires with mistresses usually keep separate cell phones for booty calls and keep it in the golf bag or with a trusted assistant like Stevie. They keep contacts for Ginger, Misty, and Nicki, under Frank, Otto, and Rocco.

If the rumors that he was assaulted with a golf club are true, that means that he took his punishment like a golfer who hits the ball out of bounds. I frankly think he was running for his life after being hit on the head with Elin slamming the club into the back window as he drove out of the garage. Passing out, he hits tree and hydrant.

But what does all of this say about us? Why all the schadenfreude? Why all the venom? First, there is the issue that if there was an assault, there was a felony, and to hide behind gates and walls of privilege stinks to a public that is economically stressed. Refusing the request of the FHP for an interview and all the second hand communication through blogs and lawyers is a poor substitute for a visit to our society’s confessor, Larry King. The second is our need to destroy heroes, crucify them, worship them when they’re dead but kick them when alive. And finally, the third is the need for men to vocally disown this and for women to narrow their eyes and purse their lips. I for one completely do not condone any of this. The cell phone stuff was given for informational purposes only.

As I have written previously on this blog, the half life of human desire is about 6 months. That romantic love, that dopamine rush of courtship which is pretty much the same reaction people get on crack, dissipates and we bond, replacing dopamine with oxytocin. Children help this bond. Ultimately, the strength of the bond is related to the strength of character of the parties involved. We should not be rubbernecking this terrible crash site, but rather focus on our own game. Keep your head still and your feet on the ground.

It goes without saying, I love my wife very, very much. Bad Tiger, Baaaad Tiger.

15 Things Learned from 15 years of Marriage

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  1. I am not telepathic, but my wife apparently is.
  2. I have corrected eyesight, but apparently no vision, at least for car keys, my wallet, or for my wife’s inner thoughts (see #1).
  3. I am one of several things in a list that includes: 3 guppies in a fish tank, several potted plants and shrubbery around the house, my son (he’ll learn), bills, and internal combustion engine maintenance that she has to “take care of.” Gone from the list are our departed beta fish and hermit crab. I suppose I’ll join them one day, out in the garden.
  4. I drive too rough, too slow, too fast, and with far too little consideration of others, mostly her.
  5. My sense of direction aided by GPS, Google maps, and more GPS cannot possibly match her extraordinary geosynchronicity.
  6. She’s right, I’m wrong (repeat)
  7. There can never be enough retellings of all the family disasters that have occurred from the moment we met regarding my side of the family.
  8. She’ll put up with enough golf in my life, but draws the line at the Porsche 911 Turbo 4S in Darth Vader Black -but I really don’t care about that stuff.
  9. I’m good for opening jars of jam.
  10. She’s suspicious of all the time I spend writing, but generally refuses to read it -finds it boring.
  11. My memory for detail regarding emotions, clothing, people know, and minutiae of our intimate life are greatly aided by blogging so that strangers can remember for me. Hi guys.
  12. I proposed after a 4 month courtship because I kind of knew no one else would put up with me. I now know that men as they age, if they are without women in their lives in the form of a wife, a girlfriend, or daughter, look like nothing else but homeless men.
  13. I know she loves me because she’s still here of her own free will.
  14. I’m not as half-witted as she generally makes me out to be -I married her after all.
  15. I love her very much.

Man-Anger, more potent but shorter lived than Woman-Anger

graham-fussyMen tend to get angry about small things like particles of sand clinging to the skin between the fingers (above), and the bigger picture gets lost. But if you can distract him with small shiny gadgets or the keys to a Porsche, the moment passes and all memory of it will be lost. Women, on the other hand, get angry about big picture issues, and stay angry, and have the amazing capacity to get angry again if the issue is brought up, even after years and years have passed. I just saw a couple in my office who are celebrating their 65th anniversary, and I asked what the secret to their success was. The man who hadn’t spoken a word the entire visit, piped up, “you’ve got to give up and surrender.” And he raised up both of his arms. Very funny, only the young lady was not laughing.