The lunatic is in my head. Yours too? Here’s a neat trick.

Mental health is mostly a matter of personal choice. That’s the theory put forth by psychiatrist and ex-Clevelander, Dr. William Glasser, who just passed away at age 88. Dr. Glasser wrote a series of successful books about how mental health problems can be resolved by accepting personal responsibility for our own actions. He believed that people are more in control than they realize, which is a scary proposition for many. It’s a heavy responsibility.

“We choose everything we do, including the misery we feel. Other people can neither make us miserable nor make us happy,” he wrote. This will sound familiar to anyone who has dabbled in Buddhism or meditation.

These theories were rejected by psychotherapists who were proponents of prolong, deep-dredging psychoanalysis. Dr. Glasser shifted the power to heal from the doctor to the patient. You can see why this didn’t sit well with many. It’s hard to buy a sailboat when your clients are leaving in droves to cure themselves. Dr. Glasser was adamantly opposed to drug therapy, which upset the pharmaceutical industry. He also believed that efforts to change other people in our lives are doomed and could actually be the cause of further emotional duress.

He encouraged teachers to abstain from class rankings and grading, seeing them as corrosive. “Once children start failing, they begin to believe that they can’t do anything. They give up.” That was me. I was an academic failure. I didn’t do well early on and it fed on itself, like a cancer. If there had been standardized, mandatory testing in order to graduate, as is the case today, I wouldn’t have been awarded a high school diploma.

There are, in my view, valid criticisms. Children shouldn’t be burdened with that much responsibility. Also, there are serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, and cases of ongoing physical and psychological abuse that require outside intervention. But in many instances (certainly, mine), satisfaction can be achieved and sustained by avoiding the urge to blame others and relive past hurts. It’s hard work, but it can be done.

I’m not exactly a bastion of psychological strength, but I shudder to think of the mess I’d be if it weren’t for my continued efforts to stay grounded. To that end, I have a little trick I’ve been employing for years. Whenever I start to spiral into my dark, terrible thoughts, be it on my long commute or staring at the ceiling at 3:15 a.m. or even walking up Madison Avenue, I’ll stop myself and my inner voice will say, “Or, I can choose not to,” and I tend to snap out of it. Not every time, but often enough. It‘s beautiful.

I just reread that last paragraph and it sounds silly, but it’s a powerful tool. And the more you use it, the more effective it becomes. I’m terrible at meditation, but at least I took that much from it.

“People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Abraham Lincoln

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Here are a few selections from this weekend’s trip to the local botanical garden. I can’t name any of these flowers. Not a one. It’s not my thing. But I can tell a first edition of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter at five paces. That’s got to count for something.




I think these next ones are daisies. Right?




Your friends in the investment banking community

It’s the five-year anniversary of the financial crisis. My comfortable, dull, ordinary life was upended to a point whereby I still haven’t fully recovered. While gainfully employed these past five years (thank god), I’ve only managed to find consulting work. A staff hire with full benefits remains elusive.

In an interview reflecting on the TARP program that bailed-out failing financial institutions, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson commented:

“There was a total lack of awareness from the firms that paid big bonuses during this extraordinary time. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. There was a colossal lack of self-awareness as to how they were viewed by the American public.”

Allow me to enlighten Secretary Paulson. I’ve spent my entire career working in asset management (except for one whorey detour in advertising). I know what lurks in the hearts and minds of investment bankers and, believe me, it’s nothing good. There was no “colossal lack of self-awareness.” They knew exactly what they were doing. Those guys couldn’t give a flying fuck what the American public thinks of them. They possess a single-minded obsession with money. Wives, children, reputations, everything, takes a back seat to their manic pursuit of wealth. They’d sell their own mother’s burial plot (with her in it) to a strip mall developer if they could get a good price on the land.

The asset manager I currently work for allows company officers to choose original artwork to decorate their office walls. There’s a sizable budget for it. The Head of Fixed Income chose to decorate his office with beautifully framed currency from around the world. HE FRAMED MONEY. Money is their art. Their art is money. From what I’ve observed over the years, it seems that people who are drawn into this line of work are afflicted with a dreary psychosis. Happiness can only be achieved through wealth accumulation. Money is love. I’m actually kind of stunned that my career inadvertently became intertwined with these vampires. Henry Paulson is an idiot.

*     *     *

Speaking of art. (You knew I’d get around to it sooner or later.) There was an exhibit at the Whitney that, by description, didn’t sound very interesting to me. I had no enthusiasm for seeing it but I was in the neighborhood so I popped in.

Robert Irwin’s Scrim Veil—Black Rectangle—Natural Light was a reinstallation from 1977. It’s a simple idea. In an empty gallery (the one on the fourth floor with the odd-shaped window), they hang a translucent scrim along the length of the room. Doesn’t sound like much, does it?

I’m not sure the photos do justice, but it was actually pretty great.


The only light in the room pours in from the window and plays off the scrim.


The scrim is mounted on the ceiling and stretches the length of the gallery and falls halfway down. There’s an aluminum beam across the bottom holding it taunt that you can easily bang your head on if you’re not careful. I almost did.


There’s a black line painted around the perimeter of the gallery that’s the exact same hight and width of the aluminum beam. In this photo, the border extends from the camera, down the wall and then turns a corner. From this viewpoint, your eye is tricked into thinking it’s a giant triangle.


 *     *     *

Professor Xavier and Magneto (or, if you prefer, Captan Picard and Gandalf) stroll Times Square hawking tickets to their upcoming Broadway production of Waiting for Godot.


My 9/11

nine1clock1 elevator

Not all anniversaries today are the weepy kind. “I do” happened for us 14 years ago. Not such a bad ride, right baby? You make me a better man. Okay. As Bukowski advised, scramble two.


*     *     *

Adieu, summer, adieu. I started the season off with a short video clip of my daughter expertly wrangling a fistful of fireflies. I’ll use the same motif and bookend the season with her on a New Jersey beach.

7-year old daughter: “Dad, do you have a blog?” !?!?! And, a bit later: “Dad, why don’t you go to church?” Jesus! She’s only seven! How the hell does she know about blogs?! What’s she going to ask when she’s 14?!

I met my old lover on the street last night. Really.

I met my old lover on the street last night.
She seemed so glad to see me. I just smiled.

Still Crazy After All These Years
Paul Simon

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I did more than just smile. I was equally glad to see her. I walked out of my office at the end of the day and bumped into her, almost literally. That’s one of the many magical aspects of Manhattan. Your past can walk down 6th Avenue and right into your office building.

We exchanged surprised greetings and since we both had time to kill, sat down at an outdoor table for a chat. I don’t know what precipitated our break-up but whatever it was has been long forgiven and forgotten. The conversation was easy, like no time had passed at all.

I showed her pictures of my daughters and she did the obligatory ooh-ing and aww-ing. Then something unexpected happened to me. Something extraordinary and unwelcomed. She revealed that she was engaged to be married. I found myself suddenly overwhelmed with heartbreak and loss. It felt like someone hit me with a bag of mud. What’s WRONG with me? We were intimate but never that close emotionally.

Next week is my 14th wedding anniversary. No mean feat! Lots of folks don’t make it past 14 months. I have two beautiful daughters who, as anyone reading this space knows, I adore. I don’t understand what provoked these feelings. I didn’t even grieve when we broke up but there I was suddenly deeply saddened.

We touched cheeks, wished each other well and parted. We didn’t bother with “Let’s keep in touch,” because we’re both old enough to know it wouldn’t happen. I slunk off to a Brooklyn-bound subway, where I was meeting friends for dinner.

I tried reading but as you all know, there’s no distraction when you’re in a cage death-match with your raging emotions. I got off the subway in Williamsburg, walked down the stairs, north on Broadway, looked up and saw this:photo-1

THAT cheered me up right away! I might’ve had a heartache, but things could be a hell of a lot worse. I was having dinner with two good friends at Peter Luger, a 125-year old steakhouse, one of the oldest and most highly respected in New York City. Reservations have to be made months in advance. I had a glass of Pinot Noir. Then guess what? I had another one! Then, a medium-rare steak. I told my friends about my bizarre heartache and they found it to be a tremendously entertaining dinner story.

Take a look at this menu:photo-2

Hummm…let’s see…should you order the Steak for Two, Steak for Three, Steak for Four or the Single Steak? Oh, they have other items on the menu, but if you order anything other than steak, the old world, Eastern Block European, Iron Curtain professional waiters give you a dirty look. As well they should.

Eating across the aisle from us was a family of four. They sat down and dad immediately pulled an iPad mini out of his briefcase, propped it up in front of junior and this is how he spent the ENTIRE EVENING:photo-31

Father of the year. And I thought I didn’t know what I was doing! This isn’t Applebee’s.This is an expensive restaurant. Going here is an event and a privilege. Call me a judgmental old coot, but I think that kid should participate.

Later, we heard a loud THUD. So loud, in fact, that everyone stopped talking. A man passed out and banged his head on the table so hard that they couldn’t revive him. I’ll NOT have what he’s having. An ambulance was called but it took about :10 minutes to arrive, which seemed an eternity. He never revived. The waiters continued to scurry around delivering giant platters of sizzling meat. Heartache, red wine, beef and death. It was a lot for one evening.

*     *     *

Do any of you guys play ATM poker? If there’s a receipt sticking out of the ATM from the previous transaction, you examine it while waiting for your cash to be dispensed. If your checking account balance is higher than that of the receipt left behind, you win! Well…you don’t actually win anything, but it gives you something to do while waiting for your cash.

Take a look at this receipt I pulled the other day. Look at that balance!photo-11

Who, in their right mind, keeps $44,922.18 in a checking account?! The checking account interest rate at Chase is 0.01%. Literally. Perhaps there’s a high-interest checking account for the über-wealthy that we commoners are unaware of? Needless to say, I lost that round of ATM poker.

I’m the man in the box.*

* Buried in my shit.
Won’t you come and save me?
Save me.

Man in the Box
Alice in Chains

WordPress behemoth/800-pound gorilla Le Clown invited me to contribute to his Black Box Warnings project. I wrote an amusing little ditty but if you’re having a bad day and are in need of a healthy dose of perspective, click on any of the other links. Therein lie tales of struggle and redemption the likes of which most of us, thankfully, never experience.