A Hike in the High Sierra

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View from the top: Emerald Bay and Cascade Lake from Mount Tallac.

I did reach the top of Mount Tallac, the craggy mountain that dominates the Southwest shore of Lake Tahoe. But only just.

The last few hundred vertical feet had been very hard, because my thighs were in that pre-cramp phase where you have to control each step up to stop the cramp settling in, and I was feeling a little dizzy. Maybe it was the altitude above sea level – close to 10,000 feet – maybe it was feeling so drained by that long slog up about 3,500 vertical feet.

But I was finally there, with views to die for in every direction. I sat down on one of the jagged rocks that make up the summit, carefully relaxed my limbs so that nothing would lock up, ate some cheese and crackers, drank some more water, and topped it all off with a sugar-free bar of chocolate.

Looking the other way toward Tahoe Keys and, above and behind them, the casinos.

Looking the other way toward Tahoe Keys and, above and behind them, the casinos.

Not a bad lunch on top of the world!

After taking a few photos of the now miniature lakes below, I started clambering over the rocks to head back down, a voice said “Ian, you made it!” It was Fresno, an attractive brunette in a group from Fresno I’d asked directions from on the way up. She’d remembered my name.

“Yep, but only just, the cramps almost set in.”

“Oh, do you have some ibuprofen?”

Looking the other other way, still from close to the summit. Falling Leaf Lake.

Looking the other other way, still from close to the summit. Falling Leaf Lake, the the Keys again above it and to the left.

No, I didn’t, because of course I hadn’t set off to climb Mount Tallac, just to hike a few hours in Desolation Wilderness (yes, that is its real name!) to commune with the high Sierra. She pulled two gels out of her pocket, gave them to me, and the hike back down went off without a cramp. Thanks, Fresno.

And that started me reflecting about women, something which of course happens a lot, even when I’m not daydreaming my way through paradise. Fresno had the maturity to be thoughtful and kind, even with a man whom she had barely spoken to. Many women don’t, I think because they are scared of attracting unwanted attention. So I was thinking about how each of us, men and women, could make that attention less of a threat. That would be in men’s interest as well as women’s.

One more time! Looking west from Tallac summit toward Gilmore Lake. The other lake is Susie Lake, I think.

One more time! Looking west from Tallac summit toward Gilmore Lake. The other lake is Susie Lake, I think.

I remembered Jody’s little story about a homeless man whom she had “made the mistake” (her words) of smiling at once, and who had pursued her with smiles and attempted suggestions whenever she crossed paths with him ever since. I remembered being hurt as a teenager when no girl on Marlow High Street would smile back at me. That was a lot of girls!

Needless to say, this train of thought barely left the station, because it takes so many changes in attitude, so much elucidation of subconscious prejudices, to even start making unwanted male attention less of a threat for women.

Finally, a different perspective! Looking up at Mount Tallac from a meadow between Lake Tahoe and Falling Leaf Lake.

Finally, a different perspective! Looking up at Mount Tallac from a meadow between Lake Tahoe and Falling Leaf Lake.

Still running this thread as I walked, I ran into a group of Palo Alto High School kids, and they were sweet and horrified to hear me badmouthing Brock (“Stanford”) Turner, the dumpster rapist, and the institutional prejudices which enabled his conduct to go so lightly punished. Cal’s law Dean resigned this spring after accusations of sexual harassment were made against him: it’s not just Stanford.

But that institution’s administration has banned hard alcohol at campus parties as its hopelessly inadequate and stupid response to the Stanford rapist scandal, and its website counsels women there not to get drunk, to avoid “high risk behavior.” As Lisa Plank points out in this terse and funny (if it wasn’t so awful) video, https://www.facebook.com/Vox/videos/563893040464969/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE, that is tantamount to holding the victim responsible for getting raped. If she hadn’t drunk too much, she wouldn’t have passed out, and the whole dumpster ordeal would never have happened. GOOD GRIEF!

One of the stunning meadows on the way down, between the summit and Gilmore Lake, peeking through the trees on the right. Beautiful and fragile plants dotted the landscape.

One of the stunning meadows on the way down, between the summit and Gilmore Lake, peeking through the trees on the right. Beautiful and fragile plants dotted the landscape.

Then I remembered a friend’s observation about sexism in the workplace. She has her own startup company, which is doing very well, and is a poster child for women entrepreneurs, one of an impressive list of her achievements.

Here’s the observation: she noticed that when women and men applied for almost minimum wage jobs with her company, the latter regularly asked for, and received, a higher hourly rate than the women. Almost all women applicants were fine with the hourly rate that the company was offering.

So ladies, ASK FOR MORE!!! This is business, commerce, betterment through bucks: ask for them!

A tree sculpture on the way down.

A tree sculpture on the way down.

That brought me round to dating ethics, and the ease with which men pay for women in a dating context even when the latter profess to want to keep things even. Maybe this is not the case for everyone, but as a lawyer it’s certainly the case for me. What does it suggest? Does the same woman who may have a difficult time asking for more in a professional context have no trouble accepting more in a dating context?

I think so, and that is a terrible thing for the women concerned. Ladies, ACCEPT LESS on dates! If it remains easier for you to obtain cash or its equivalents in a dating context than in a professional context, your professional aspirations will be muted and and your dating aspirations polluted. That is obvious, right? I don’t need to explain it further?

Well, after leaving the question unanswered for a few days when I did not have the time to follow up on it, I’m actually going to answer it, at least in part.

Suppose that you’re a young professional woman with an active single life. You could end up letting the man pay on dates because you know that you’re likely earning only about 70% of what he earns for the same work. (I don’t know the actual number, just that it’s a disgrace!)

Further down the mountain, the terrain includes the occasional waterfall.

Further down the mountain, the terrain includes the occasional waterfall.

The logic is reasonable: from each according to her ability; to each according to his needs. Except for the gender issue. When you let him pay, for whatever reason, you’re allowing his spending money on you to be tied up with any intimacy that the two of you ever share. Without using the obvious words, I think that your intimacy is then polluted, as is his.

I also suspect that as you’ve figured out a way to get relief from financial pressures in a dating context, you have less incentive to obtain relief from those pressures on the job. Of course, there are many other factors that have come into play in creating that gender-based income disparity, and those you may not be able to overcome even if you don’t accept disparate payment on dates. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do all that you can to resolve the work disparity at work. Maybe then you’ll ask for more, as my friend’s job applicants did not.

Another tree sculpture on the way down. Stunning.

Another tree sculpture on the way down. Stunning.

I really was thinking this sort of thing plodding down the rocky trails and across the flowering meadows of Mount Tallac. Hiking in the High Sierra opens my mind. It’s a kind of mindful meditation, only this one plays with thoughts and feelings, not just the beautiful sights and sounds of the tableau evolving around me.

At some point I started thinking about John. He’s an artist friend from more bohemian times who now collects art in his Tahoe home. A visit there is better than a visit to a well-staged gallery: objects and lighting are beautifully and apparently effortlessly arranged. It is always heart-warming to visit him, hear his anecdotes about the fascinating provenance of his pieces, and sit with him feeling those treasured and cosseted works of art silently illuminating us.

The man has cancer, is undergoing chemotherapy after surgery, and this is what he does with the flowers on his deck. Way to go, John! "Don't let it bring you down."

The man has cancer, is undergoing chemotherapy after surgery, and this is what he does with the flowers on his deck. Way to go, John! It’s all still beautiful.

It’s been a bad year for him, with cancer rearing its disgusting head and chemotherapy giving him terrible symptoms. At his place the evening before Mount Tallac, I had tidied up the kitchen for him, over his objections of course, because his hands appeared almost arthritic under the chemo and he couldn’t do it himself.

He and I had watched a movie later, called “The Sorcerer.” It’s a William Friedkin thriller, one which I had never seen. John estimated that he had seen this underappreciated 1977 movie about 30 times. Its dark message is one that a cancer sufferer might well select. “No matter how much you struggle, you get blown up, ” as the director put it. Roy Scheider gives a convincing performance as a New Jersey gangster who must flee to South America after robbing a priest of his bingo proceeds. The priest’s brother was a mafia don.

John standing in front of one of his paintings, back in his loft in Oakland. It was late 1982 or early 1983. We would hang till the early hours.

John standing in front of one of his paintings, back in his loft in Oakland. It was late 1982 or early 1983. We would hang till the early hours.

On that long hike down, I was comparing Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea with this film. Not a sophisticated critical comparison of course, just reflecting on both the book and the film. The darkness of the movie is shared by the book, the sense that whatever wonderful or amazing things you accomplish, however much skill and panache you display, will ultimately be devoured by cruel fortune.

Yet that was never the case for either Hemingway or Friedkin, each of whose work continues to enthrall, effortlessly proving its author wrong, and it’s not the case for John. He was a painter in his youth, and his paintings will last. The pieces that he has brought together in his own personal collection will last in a way, even if they are shared among his heirs at the end. His vision will inevitably be black when he’s suffering through chemotherapy, but his life’s work throws off its own light in the darkness.

Feeling it at Gilmore Lake on the way up.

Feeling it at Gilmore Lake on the way up.

That was my hike, seven hours in the High Sierra culminating in a few gorgeous photographs. They too will last.

Well, okay, you’re right, maybe not!

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Nick’s 30th Birthday

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Charlotte and Nick in Tahoe during their visit with me. I then left them up there to get reacquainted.

Nick came home for his 30th birthday.

At least, I feel like it’s his home here in Santa Cruz, although his mother makes her home in Paris, and he spent half his childhood there, so he could easily feel that Paris is his home. Paris is where he lives now too, but he came here for a well-deserved long vacation, almost two months, and went on a road trip with me to Tahoe before spending his birthday with our family’s Santa Cruz contingent.

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Nick timed his trip immaculately. Lots of family milestones happened while he was here, including this one: Alex graduated from Scotts Valley High School, on his way to UC Santa Barbara in the fall, becoming our last high school graduate. Nick , our first, graduated from the same high school 12 years ago.

What made this extra special was that Charlotte, his girlfriend from Paris, also came for the last two weeks of his vacation, including his birthday, as did his brother Arlo, all the way from Athens.

The latter had not visited here for five years (although we’ve seen each other in Paris a couple of times). Arlo too went on a road trip with me to Tahoe while Nick and Charlotte were on their own road trip to Mendocino. Arlo was a man with a mission this trip, an inspiration to those of us who sometimes need reminding that it is best to forgive. Thank you, young man.

All things considered, these vacations and this birthday were a real peak dad moment!

All the birthday plans went wrong, of course, in one way or another. I wanted to offer Nick a new Wii console for his birthday, once Charlotte suggested one (what? he’s still playing video games!) but the power supply on the one that I found in the local electronics store was wrong for France. Still a fan of birthday cards, I found two which felt suitable. One I had the brothers all sign, and the other was for me. In the excitement of the various parties I forgot to give him both of them! They will be sent shortly to him back in Paris, where they will arrive about three weeks late. Ditto my present.

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Father’s Day also happened while he was here, which we celebrated with English food in an Irish pub.

Then there was the birthday treat. I had arranged for us all, me and the four boys, to go to Levi’s Stadium on the Saturday, his birthday, to watch Liverpool play AC Milan. That looked like it would be a real treat for this soccer loving crew. And it was indeed, with the English team winning and our seats giving us a perfect view of the game.

But I had assumed that it was an afternoon game, and it wasn’t. We figured out the week before that by the time the game finished, it would be too late to do the birthday party that we’d been planning on his birthday.

So we belatedly switched the birthday party to the Sunday, creating confusion because it ended up clashing with a party thrown by one of Nick’s less sensitive friends. Whoops! Three things saved the delayed party: Bill Turner’s easy hospitality and great barbecuing, the inflatable dinosaur that Duncan offered Nick for his birthday, and the appearance at the end of the evening of Alban and Christy. They had been out of town for the weekend, but made it anyway, after I left, of course.

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While we were up in Tahoe, Arlo arranged to see his Aunt Shawn, his mom’s sister, and Uncle John, and we all had dinner together. It’s been a while.

Fortunately, even though we had switched the birthday party to the Sunday, we still arranged to eat and hang out after the soccer game. It was his actual birthday after all. And I had a surprise in store for the birthday boy and his brothers. Their cousins Antony and Courtney were in town from San Diego helping her mother celebrate her 75th birthday, and they were going to come visit Nick for his birthday late Saturday. None of the boys knew this, and it was a bit dicey for a while keeping them all together. But it worked.

Everyone was thrilled to bits when they made their appearance. And with each of us settled down with a soft drink, beer or Jameson’s (in a few cases, both the latter: the Jameson’s was gone by the next morning), Antony came up with a great idea: everyone should tell a favorite Nick story. After all, Nick is the kind of guy who has stories to tell and to be told about him.

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Nick during the Liverpool AC Milan game at Levi’s Stadium

Duncan broke the ice with a story about an evening’s revelry years back which ended up with him (Duncan) in the drunk tank and Nick in the isolation cell across the corridor! I am trying to remember the details, which were hilarious as Duncan told the story, but failing. There’s definitely some stuff that a dad does not want to hear, let alone retain!

Then Alex regaled us with a story of Nick picking up him and Charlie at the airport about seven years ago, when he was 11 years old, and lighting up a “spliff” on the way home! Help! No-one could remember why neither Marie-Helene nor I was available to pick them up at the airport, but Nick was, as he often was for his little brothers.

Charlie too told us a big brother story, about an evening when Nick lived in the cottage, the separate studio next to our house that was the privileged older child’s residence after 2001. The atmosphere in the house had apparently been so poisonous one evening that Charlie had sought refuge with Nick in the studio. The house was that way a lot in our later years together: the poison was the main reason that I moved out. Charlie must have been pretty upset this particular evening, because he recounted that Nick had invited him into the studio, and comforted him, and sung him Hey Jude again and again until he fell asleep.

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This was Antony’s idea too, that we Stocks should all line up in age order on the couch in Bill’s RV, where we all gathered after the game. Good times!

No-one told a story about his passion for coding, a passion that has continued unabated since about his junior year at Scotts Valley High School, but that’s in the mix too. Nick is pretty much equal parts big brother, coder and party animal.

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Another birthday pic in the RV: Charlotte, Nick and Charlie.

Here’s my story. It was late on a warm summer evening, and Nick’s heavily pregnant mom and I (she asked me not to use her name) were in our Manhattan apartment watching a movie on TV, Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” when she had a sudden craving for mangoes. I don’t know how we had them – they weren’t an everyday menu item – but we did, and she devoured them greedily. Then she started complaining about cramps, and maybe an hour later unapologetically threw up the mangoes in our bed. Arlo Guthrie kept playing, but I was beginning to realize something was happening here, Mr. Jones.

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Nick, Alban, me, Arlo, Charlie and Alex, together in a photo for the first time since 2007. We threw a small going away party for the three Europeans, thanks again Bill, the night before they left. The brothers are gratifyingly solid.

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Arlo helping me try on new sunglasses at Costco!

The law firm where I began my career, Kronish Lieb et. al., now Cooley’s New York office, offered its associates a good limo service, and we were soon belting up Manhattan in one of those limos. Dr. Mary Wilson, the mother-to-be’s obstetrician, was supposed to be near us at St Vincent’s in Greenwich Village (we were living on 14th Street), but of course she already had a delivery in progress at Columbia Presbyterian way uptown. The limo driver was making good time up 6th Avenue and Broadway as Sunshine wailed and howled with increasing frequency laying across the back seat.

He pulled up to one of the hospital entrances with an audible sigh of relief, until he realized that this particular entrance was locked late in the evening. She howled again, and he took off the wrong way on a one-way street to take the shortest route to another entrance. This one was open, and she was given a wheelchair and the two of us were shown promptly into the delivery room. Dr. Wilson showed up not long after.

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One last brunch before the three visitors left together for Paris. It’s been a bit quieter since!

I’d never experienced anything like it, of course, and I was the dad! Then Nick was there, pretty quickly it seemed to me in my adrenaline haze, and pretty loudly from day one: some things never change! I walked all the way back down Manhattan, over 100 blocks, as the sun rose over the East River. I found a blood opal ring somewhere on the Upper East Side for the new mom, although how I ended up that far off the straight line home is beyond me, and completely lost my sense of time and distance in the beautiful skyscraper morning. We had a dark-haired, brown-eyed baby boy!

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Back home at 55 W. 14th Street, his mom took this one of Nick and me on the floor. Love!

Thirty years ago. Happy birthday, Nico, and thanks forever to your mom.

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Suzanne and the Jolly Schlepper on Holiday

Three minutes from our apartment, the first night.

Three minutes from our apartment,  during our first evening’s stroll.

The AirBnB listing for the apartment said that it was a fourth floor walk-up, but the comments on AirBnB warned us that it was more like five floors. It was five, and it sometimes felt like six because the stairs were so steep, but it was also three minutes on foot from Notre Dame Cathedral, the Cluny Museum, Shakespeare & Co, the English language bookstore, and an M&S Food store (my favorite food market) on Boulevard Saint Michel.

Charlotte and Nick out for dinner with us near their place at the

Charlotte and Nick out for dinner with us near their place at “La Belle-Mère qui Fume.”

In short, it was in the heart of the Left Bank and pure Paris, down to the water leaks that appeared during our eight nights there, one in the toilet and one above the kitchen sink. At least it dripped in a convenient place!

In any event, the number of floors to climb became insignificant when Nick and Charlotte showed up unannounced to meet our flight from San Francisco and bring us to the apartment: the jolly schlepper only had one suitcase to carry up those five floors, my own, and Nick carried Suzanne’s! And Charlotte drove us in her car from the airport to the apartment, enabling us to avoid public transport with suitcases.

The great thing about having children living in Paris is that when I visit my children, I end up in Paris. Double the pleasure! Suzanne and I spent the first jet-lagged early morning walking from our apartment (it immediately became ours) across the Seine and past the Hotel de Ville to Place des Vosges and the Marais, where we explored up and down the little streets, so full of character, and savored our first perfect baguette, all before 10 am.

This is a part of the lovely house on Place des Vosges which I helped a client purchase back in 1997. Do you see the detail which Charlie noticed in the summer of 2014?

A part of the lovely house on Place des Vosges which a client purchased back in 1997. Do you see the detail which Charlie noticed last summer?

Walking was our favorite activity throughout our stay. Not only is there history and beauty at every turn, but having lived there for ten years, the memories don’t quit. One client lived in a beautiful apartment above Metro St Paul that was several hundred years old, and another bought a listed corner home on the Place des Vosges where he and his wife stay when in Paris. We duly admired both before breakfast that first day. Another day, we explored the “quartier” where I had lived in Paris, Denfert-Rochereau, above the catacombs and next to rue Daguerre, a pedestrian precinct for locals.

Silicon Valley comes to Paris: Tesla Model S taxicab. Not sure that I grasp the economics of this.

Silicon Valley comes to Paris: Tesla Model S taxicab. Not sure that I grasp the economics of this.

Visiting Paris with a nice Jewish girl added a dimension which I had not focused on previously. My former employer in Paris, Jack Kevorkian, had revealed the astonishing statistic that the Gestapo had received one or two million (I forget which, but it was seven figures) anonymous letters in Paris or the Paris area denouncing Jews or other enemies of the Third Reich.

Most of those denounced in this cowardly manner found themselves deported in cattle cars to an awful fate. Passing through the huge railway marshaling yards at Drancy on my way to the airport, yards where now commercial freight cars and wagons are shunted from one train to another, I remembered with a shudder that Drancy was the departure point for these evil trains of cattle cars.

Then, exploring the Catacombs, the odd tourist attraction comprised of caves under the city where, they announce, six million skeletons were moved from city cemeteries in the 1800s, hundreds of years of earlier inner city burials moved out of town, Suzanne remarked that the same number of Jews were killed by the Nazis.

We spent a day exploring St Malo, the privateers' city bombed flat by the Allies in 1944 and then rebuilt. The falling tide allows access to two islands just offshore, which we duly visited.

We spent a day exploring St Malo, the privateers’ city on the northern Breton coast. The falling tide allows access to two islands just offshore, which are fun to visit, and we did. The signs warn you in several languages to watch for the tide coming in.

Her Hungarian grandfather survived Auschwitz, as did one of his sisters after “treatment” by Josef Mengele, the cunning Nazi sadist who escaped all retribution after the war, but several of their siblings did not. Seeing things through her eyes, I was taken aback by the realization this time that Paris was populated in significant part by those anonymous letter writers and their progeny.

I eagerly pointed out to her a plaque attached to an elementary school near our apartment which said something like “In memory of the Jewish children deported from this school during the Second World War, with the complicity of the Vichy Régime.”

In pride of place at the Musée d'Orsay, right there for you to look at, as close as a TV in your living room.

In pride of place at the Musée d’Orsay is this portrait, which hangs right next to you, no real barrier, at eye level and as close as your TV at home.

The plaque was in French, and thus inaccessible to most foreigners, and dated 2002, at least 58 years after the events apologized for, but I wanted to show her this (albeit hedged) admission of official responsibility. She was suitably impressed, considering.

Of course, we happy tourists also took in a museum or two. The Quai d’Orsay stood out: where else in the world can you stroll around rooms that feel like your living room in a converted train station, only beautifully lit and displaying a choice selection of original impressionist and post-impressionist art. Original Renoirs, Monets, Gaugins and van Goghs, the list goes on, paintings that we have all seen on posters, beautiful paintings, are right there on the walls. It was the strangest feeling. In the middle of the van Gogh room was a gorgeous, flowing self portrait. Moving slowly around that room, taking in one familiar wonder after another, Don McLean’s “Vincent” was playing in my head: “This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”

Selfie in St Malo

Selfie in St Malo

My beautiful boys: Nick and Tom in a restaurant in the shadow of Beaubourg.

My beautiful boys: Nick and Tom in a restaurant in the shadow of Beaubourg.

Talking of beautiful, my son Tom came to town about half way through our week there. Nick’s younger brother, he is now 25 years old and lives in Athens. Using his middle name, Arlo, as a working musician, he was justly proud of having written 15 songs during his time in Athens, and of the progress he has been making in recording them. I was really thrilled that Sunshine, his and Nick’s mom, had enabled him to return to Paris when I was there. He has inspired his brother to grow his hair almost as long as his, and I must say that I much appreciate the way that the two of them look.

Athens, where he was introduced by his mother (she has Greek ancestry, her maternal grandmother’s family having come to the US from Crete), apparently agrees with Tom. He felt to me as if he was an enthralled college student (even though he’s not been attending college since leaving Paris last fall), enjoying nothing more than philosophical reflections and debate over a beer or three. I struggled to keep up! He is reading voraciously, finding among the classics (he had asked me for the “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” duly delivered) odd philosophies which I have never heard of.

One more for the road: me and the boys ay La Belle Mère qui Fume

One more for the road: me and the boys at La Belle Mère qui Fume

As he jumped from topic to topic, covering each with equal enthusiasm, I found myself in the traditional role of the old when confronted by the eager and challenging voice of youth: trying to smile while muttering grumpily under my breath!

What the French and the English have in common: their sacrifices during the first world war. This memorial is outside the front door of the Abbey, an Irish immigrants' church. I wonder if that monthly mass is still held.

What the French and the English have in common: their sacrifices during the first world war. This memorial is outside the front door of the Abbey, an Irish immigrants’ church. I wonder if that monthly mass is still held.

The one regret of his visit was that Tom’s first live performance, an open mike, took place on the evening after Suzanne and I left for our respective next steps of the trip. We didn’t see him play at all. She took a plane to visit her ailing father (who turned out to be doing much better than she had feared) in Tel Aviv, and I took the Eurostar to see my family in the UK.

Perhaps it is a function of aging, but I find myself more preoccupied than before with the dearly departed. Booked on the overnight sleeper (schlepper on a schleeper!) train from London to Inverness, I figured out that there was time to visit mum’s grave in Birmingham first if I joined the sleeper at its second stop in Crewe.

We had a lovely chat, mum and I, at dusk in the graveyard of the Abbey, Erdington, as another mourner cleaned up her loved one’s grave nearby and arranged vases and flowers around the plot. We always do have a lovely chat, her and I, every time I visit. I told her how well things were going for each of her grandchildren, and she told me not to sweat the little things. Suzanne came into the conversation a couple of times.

Love this land, always have. Every time I visit the UK, I have to go to the Highlands. It's a compulsion, and I have no idea why.

The Isle of Skye.

No longer jet-lagged after a week in Paris, I slept like a log on the Caledonia Sleeper to Scotland, lulled by the sound of the rails roaring and grinding underneath us and by the lights flashing by through the window. This train is comprised of just about the oldest rolling stock on British railroads (not me, the carriages!), and I remembered similar trips in the same sleeping cars with mum and dad many years ago. One of our first long distance family holidays was on the sleeper train from Birmingham to Stirling, followed by the drive up to Nairn and then across the Highlands to Fort William.

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More Skye

Not a lot of time in the UK this holiday, but I was going to take a day trip around the Isle Of Skye in a minibus. Every time I visit the UK, I have to go to the Highlands. It’s a compulsion: maybe that early family holiday has something to do with it.

Skye was beautiful, with its wild streams and crags, all that it was cracked up to be. I first saw it across the sea from Mallaig during that early family holiday. This was the first time that I had toured the island itself, to its west coast and across its central mountains: “over the sea to Skye.”

Inevitably, a train! This High Speed Train was travelling in excess of 100 mph through Maidenhead station

Inevitably, a train! This High Speed Train was travelling at in excess of 100 mph through Maidenhead station

My other UK obsession is trains. The BritRailPass took me from London Euston to Birmingham New Street, Birmingham New Street to Erdington and back (visiting mum), Birmingham New Street to Crewe, Crewe to Inverness, Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh and back (visiting Skye), Inverness to London Euston (and a shower in the Virgin Trains lounge in the station), London Paddington to Exeter (visiting Ian Summers), Exeter to Reading General (visiting David Milsom), and then on local trains around Marlow (visiting Sue and Derek) before finally heading out to Heathrow, still by train. I took a total of 17 trains in under five days in the UK: such a jolly schlepper!

Sue said that we should have at least one picture together so that the family believes it: here you go!

Sue said that we should have at least one picture together so that the family believes it: here it is!

My sister Sue had invited me to stay with her and her husband Derek in Marlow before flying back to the US.  Marlow is my home town, and it was a real pleasure to be able to spend time there with the two of them. There’s no place like home, in both senses of the phrase, geographic and emotional. Whenever we surviving Stocks are together, we laugh a lot (it helps that we share the same sense of humor) and get along very well. Then we somehow manage to go years without getting together at all. Not this time, though: we’re already arranging our next visit, this time in the US!

Sue and Derek in Burger's. The ceiling is low going down a few steps:

Sue and Derek in Burger’s. The ceiling is low going down a few steps: “Duck or Grouse!” Grouse”

Roots are so reassuring, and my roots are in Marlow. Walking into town from Sue and Derek’s home, we passed Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School, the high school where I started smoking so as to spend breaks between classes with friends at smoker’s corner. We bitched and moaned, of course, we were at school, but with hindsight it was a wonderful place. Just next door, between the school buildings and the playing fields, is Albion Cottage, where Mary Shelly is reputed to have completed Frankenstein, the “ghost story” that she wrote on a dare from Lord Byron.

Not entirely sure what the school is trying to say here. Isn't this an invitation to walk in if only one gate is open?

There’s something about one’s old school which prompts a critical impulse. What is the school trying to say here? What if only one gate is open?

Further along West Street, we walked past the Ship, the pub of my adolescence where the toasted ham and mushroom sandwiches were a stoned delight and the ex-army landlord did not like long hair. We walked down the High Street, where dad and I did the Saturday morning shopping, the family’s main shopping for the week. He would shop at Clark’s, the butchers “established in 1662,” for the Sunday joint, I would shop at Coster’s, the tobacconist’s, for four cartons of cigarettes, yes every week, and we would share the supermarket and split the specialty stores depending on what was needed.

Sue, Derek and I ate brunch at Burger’s, the bakery and cafe on Marlow High Street where she and I have been eating for 49 years, since our family first moved to the town. Burger’s was where mum and dad and Sue and I ate our Saturday lunch throughout Sue’s and my  high school years. The Sunday roast was at home: Saturday lunch was at Burger’s: lighter food, reasonably priced, and something for each of us. It has been tastefully refurbished recently, but still feels the same as it always did, a quaint little cafe in a green and bustling riverside town. Marlow is a lot wealthier than it was when we lived there, but still feels the same, like home.

The bride and groom after the ceremony with his two children, Shawn and Jordana

The bride and groom after the ceremony with his two children, Shawn and Jordana

Suzanne and I reunited for the last leg of our holiday. Her older brother Michael was marrying the adorable Cindy at their home on Long Island, his third marriage and her first, and I was looking forward to meeting Suzanne’s family. For one thing, Michael and I already seemed to have something in common, although he does have some catching up to do! For another, she is very close to her whole family.

It was a great wedding! Seriously. The ceremony and reception were both held in the couple’s lovely home on Long Island, only recently rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy. The place felt like a Hollywood movie set one minute and Disneyland the next, lights, LEDs, toys and gadgets everywhere. I love toys and gadgets!

Suzanne with Ira, Michael's good friend who performed the ceremony.

Suzanne with Ira, Michael’s good friend who performed the ceremony.

The family name is Small, and at the end of the formal ceremony, as the bride and groom walked toward the reception, the music playing was “It’s a Small World after all:” a theme song from a Disneyland ride!

Over breakfast on the morning of the wedding day, we met the bride’s father, an unassuming fellow who had been a helicopter pilot for the Vietnamese army during the Vietnam war. An immigrant who had just returned from my country of origin, I asked him how often he made it back home. “Never,” came the terse reply. Cho was not much into telling the story, but his new son-in-law, Michael, prodded him.

The bride's parents, Mout and Cho Nguyen

The bride’s parents, Mout and Cho Nguyen

It turns out that Cho had discovered that the US was withdrawing from Saigon a day before it happened. He called Mout, his wife, and “borrowed” a helicopter, flying it to open land outside her village. She was waiting for him there, as he had asked, with their three children, the youngest a babe in arms. And with the whole village! Mout had told everyone in the village that he was coming, and not surprisingly everyone wanted a ride.

That was not a doable proposition for a helicopter, but Cho took around 20 people with him, he estimates, including his wife and children. That was the most that that he could carry. He couldn’t go straight across Cambodia, he explained, or they would have been shot at, and so he followed the coast around to Thailand.

Suzanne's other brother Scott, an Alzheimer's researcher at Columbia University, with his charming wife Alexis and a multi-layered wedding cake.

Suzanne’s other brother Scott, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Columbia University, with his charming wife Alexis and a multi-layered wedding cake.

It was a long flight, and he was obliged to stop to refuel. Army helicopters did not typically refuel on civil airfields, and he was asked to pay cash for the fuel. His passengers did what hitchhikers do, and chipped in. They all made it safely to Thailand, and that explains why Cho has never been back to his home. Someone didn’t appreciate that lost helicopter.

The wedding was an eclectic kind of gathering.  The war hero and his friends mingled with the happy couple’s glamorous and good-looking peers. Suzanne’s father couldn’t make it, but his wife Doris made the trip from Israel to bring him closer to the celebration, and she brought her children and grandchildren. The cockney side of my family taught me long ago that the best parties include several generations, and this wedding proved it again.

Doris's grandchildren in focused conversation while the adults milled around, suitably ignored.

Doris’s grandchildren in focused conversation while the adults milled around, suitably ignored.

The children from each side of the new family got to know each other, and some even visited Manhattan together the next day. Their parents pretended not to notice, but mentioned the young people’s collective trip into the city to each other. Suzanne’s academic brother, Scott, and her toy-loving professional brother, Michael, chatted eagerly with each other and their hippy sister, Suzanne, catching up. The maid of honor lives in Florida and works at the House of Blues in Downtown Disney at Disney World: Disney again!

On the dance floor, the bride and groom!

On the dance floor, the bride and groom!

There was also what every wedding should have: lots of chocolate, a ton of cake, and mounds of ice cream.

Why their grandparents survived. Three of the four members of the next generation (Shawn was off somewhere) allowed me to take one photo of them. Thank you Zohar, Jordana and Barak!

Why they survived. Three of the four grandchildren (Shawn was off somewhere) allowed me to take just one photo of them. Thank you Zohar, Jordana and Barak!

And then there was the person who was long gone by the time this wedding came around, but who was present in the minds and hearts of her three children throughout the weekend. Together, they all looked through photographs of her and their dad from their happy past, all stacked in a shabby cardboard box which Michael had produced from somewhere.

Their mother too had been in a concentration camp as a little girl, with their grandmother, but it was a camp which the Nazis showed to the Red Cross, and so at least they were fed. When her children started enjoying summer camps in the US and Israel, she asked tongue in cheek what was wrong with her camp, why hadn’t it boasted any swimming pool or other play activities, and her children had all laughed.

And that’s how you do it.

Paris has the last word, a collection of real human skulls placed in the shape of a heart in the catacombs under Denfert.

Paris has the last word, a collection of real human skulls placed in the shape of a heart in the Catacombs under Denfert. This is what Suzanne’s family have done, I think, with the carnage of the Holocaust. 

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2014: a great vacation in Europe, and then some!

Another year done, as Charlie delicately reminded me recently. I was trying to help him recognize a girl he knew whom I had met, and told him that her hair color was similar to mine. “What, grey and receding?” he asked. Receding is not a color, kiddo!

Alex and some of his Thunder teammates on the Real Madrid bench at the Bernabeu, their famous home stadium in Madrid.

Alex and some of his Thunder teammates on the Real Madrid bench at the Bernabeu, their famous home stadium in Madrid.

Our summer vacations were this year’s headlines. I hadn’t wanted to return to Europe until I could afford to take the boys too – neither Charlie nor Alex has been over there since 2010 – and this year decided a little irrationally that I could do so. A little irrationality can be a good thing!

Alex’s soccer team, the Scotts Valley / San Lorenzo Valley Thunder, had a tournament in July in San Sebastian, Spain. This was obviously not a common or garden event: it was a reward for the boys after years of hard work playing together and developing their considerable skills as a team. They are a delightful group of teenagers, with good chemistry on and off the field. Alex spends a lot of time with his teammates, both virtually playing video games together online and at school.

Overlooking San Sebastian, Alex is with his big brother and some of his teammates.

Overlooking San Sebastian, a beautiful surfing town, Alex is with his big brother and some of his teammates.

That’s where the additional advantage for the parents shows up: these boys all work hard at school too! Alex applies himself to his schoolwork the same way that I did in England way back when, consistently and hard. He doesn’t flinch from the most stringent teachers or the most difficult courses, which is no mean feat in his International Baccalaureate curriculum. He’s in the middle of his junior year, the difficult high school year, and with the soccer and his internship is working his butt off.

Yours truly napping jet-lagged on a beach near San Sebastian. Courtesy of Olivier Béraut: a token of his esteem, don’t you think?

Yours truly napping jet-lagged on a beach near San Sebastian. Courtesy of Olivier Béraut: a token of his esteem, don’t you think?

Perhaps not unrelated to our appreciation of that schoolwork, this family (mostly his maman) came up with the immodest amount of money needed to participate in the tournament, as did a bunch of other happy parents, and the whole team flew to Madrid, the first step. I joined up with them there, and we visited the Bernabeu, home of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid, before our bus trip to the Basque country. This tournament, called the Donosti Cup, had teams participating from all over, including quite a few from the US, and our boys had a fabulous time.

Okay, admittedly, the parents accompanying them did not suffer. It’s a beautiful area, the World Cup coincided with the tournament (and who can forget the Brazil-Germany game, which we watched live in total astonishment in a local bar), and ten of us had an incredible meal at a restaurant called Bodegon Alejandro in San Sebastian. The restaurant was originally owned by the parents of Martín Berasategui, who has taken it over and whose eponymous restaurant nearby holds three Michelin stars. He uses Bodegon to train and experiment for his three-star neighbor. I never knew that food could taste so good.

Charlie in his room with friends. All the boys played soccer for his high school team. This was right around their graduation, a fun time for all!

Charlie in his room with friends. All the boys played soccer for his high school team. This was right around their graduation, a fun time for all!

Then Charlie dropped in, with his friend Cameron. A bit of background here: I gave Charlie four weeks in Europe as a High School graduation present. This was affordable principally because Nick and Charlotte, his very patient and long-suffering girlfriend, made a very significant contribution to the trip. When Charlie and Cameron were not gallivanting around to London, Amsterdam or San Sebastian, they both stayed with Nick and Charlotte in Paris. I say that Charlotte is long-suffering because for a portion of the week that I too was staying there, she had Charlie, Cameron, Alex and me, as well as Nick. At least she chose Nick!

Charlie had a rough year with his soccer, the love of his life. He was scoring in every game in his last high school season back in January when he hurt his foot in a training accident. He still made offensive player of the year in the local high school league, but the foot caused him a lot of pain and slowed him down for the rest of the season. That was rough, turning his last high school season into a serious disappointment.

Alex and Tom during our guided tour of the sights of Paris. According to Tom, through the arch and in alignment are the obelisk at Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe and the Grande Arche de la Défense. We are standing here at the boundary between thee Jardin des Tuiléries and the Louvre

Alex and Tom during our guided tour of the sights of Paris. According to Tom, through the arch and in alignment are the obelisk at Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe and the Grande Arche de la Défense. We are standing here at the boundary between thee Jardin des Tuiléries and the Louvre.

Then, after the excitement of graduation and his Europe trip, the same thing happened in his first Cabrillo College season this fall. Not exactly the same thing, but he started out the season playing like a master, and then in the third or fourth game suffered a concussion when his own keeper kneed him in the eye after an opposing team corner. Again, a complete accident, but one that kept Charlie out of the team for the rest of the season. He’s understandably a bit discouraged, although he will still have four more seasons to play in college. More good news is that he’s found himself a role helping out the coach of his old high school team, which Alex still plays for.

Of course, life is not all vacation: there is also work. Here are Kirstin, NextSpace’s accounts wrangler, and Jeremy, its executive chairman, dancing on our shared desk in our shared office. Fortunately, it's a big desk. Go CoWorking!

Of course, life is not all vacation: there is also work. Here are Kirstin, NextSpace’s accounts wrangler, and Jeremy, its executive chairman, dancing on our shared desk in our shared office. Fortunately, it’s a big desk. Go CoWorking!

Back to San Sebastian. In keeping with the spirit of young people reducing their traveling costs as much as possible, Charlie and Cameron made their way to Spain with a French ride sharing service. Their driver was continuing on to Portugal, and did not want to dawdle or go far from the freeway to drop our boys off. We spent a fascinating couple of hours trying to guide the driver to the right freeway off ramp in San Sebastian for the game that the Thunder were scheduled to play. Then, right at the last minute, Thunder’s stadium changed, and we had to redirect the driver in a slightly different direction. The boys’ arrival at the new stadium just before the Thunder game started was a triumph of coordination and modern technology: i.e. smart phones and GPS!

Paris followed San Sebastian: not a bad vacation, was it! We bade farewell to the Thunder families and made our separate ways north from the Basque country. Charlie and Cameron took the TGV first class from Biarritz, a cut above the ride sharing but somehow at the same price through a Spanish SNCF website, and Alex and I rented a car. That’s a long story, which I’m sure that you can happily live without! The amusing part of the trip was blocking autoroute toll booths for five to ten minutes on several occasions because the automatic machines sometimes refused all US credit cards. Now that is bureaucratic planning: who wants American money anyway?!

Me and the boys, all together again for the first time in three years, July 13, 2014, the Blues Bar, rue Ordener, Paris.

Me and the boys, all together again for the first time in three years, July 13, 2014, the Blues Bar, rue Ordener, Paris.

We all got together, Tom included, for the World Cup third place game at a bar close to Charlotte and Nick’s place near Montmartre. That was the first time in three years that the four boys and I had sat down to eat together! It felt so good. As they each spread their wings, finding that feeling is not going to get any easier.

Tom left home seven years ago already: a foretaste of the emptying nest.  I keep in touch mostly by listening to his songs on the iPhone and watching his YouTube videos. Here’s one:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8cDlEkH9CM. He was spending his summer break from studying French literature at the University of Paris as a bicycle guide helping tourists explore the city’s gorgeous tourist attractions. I lived there for ten years, and still don’t know half of what Tom knew. He took me along on one of these bicycle tours, a nerve wracking snake of tourists straddling busy taxi lanes on bikes, and I learned a lot. He walked with Alex and me around the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuiléries, and we both learned a lot.

Adapting to the new city wasn't easy, but within weeks Tom was finding gigs in Athens. This was at one posted on his Facebook page.

Adapting to the new city wasn’t easy, but within weeks Tom was finding gigs in Athens. This was at one posted on his Facebook page.

About three months later, I called him to ask him what he wanted for his birthday, to be informed that he had moved to Athens. What!! “And how about your literature studies?” “I got out of them what I could, dad. And they respect my music so much more here.” Really? And what did Tom want for his birthday? The broker’s fee on the studio that he was moving into for 170 Euros a month. Done. He’s already finding gigs and paying restaurant work. In Athens.

Back in July, Alex and Charlie wandered off, separately and both by TGV, to visit their maman and grandfather in Brittany. I explored Paris, beautiful Paris, with its echoes of our lives all together, when the children were young and ran around uncontrollably every which way in every park and on every street, so many wonderful memories. This time, I hung out with Charlotte and Nick.

I've always enjoyed amusing advertising, and this provocative thought caught my eye on the Métro. I sent it to a French-speaking friend, but did not hear back form her!

I’ve always enjoyed amusing advertising, and this provocative thought caught my eye on the Métro. I sent it to a French-speaking friend, but did not hear back from her!

The high spot was the pleasure of an evening in the gardens of the Chateau de Versailles watching an outdoor “son et lumière” performance, where Charlotte was responsible for the sound. Wow. You can sort of imagine, right? Choreographed flames erupted as high as the trees, with fireworks exploding around them and in the sky, all played out against a royal chateau backdrop complete with fountains and ponds, accompanied by symphonies playing in time with the flames and fireworks.

Nick and Charlotte are still in Paris, still together. They jointly took Charlie and Cameron to Amsterdam in Charlotte’s car before I made it to Paris, staying in an Air B’n’B apartment. Wonder what that was about: no I don’t! All had a great time, of course, and the younger boys had the time of their lives. That’s what a high school graduation trip is for. Thank you Charlotte and Nick!

Charlotte's charming parents invited Nick and me for dinner in the garden of their home in Rambouillet, southwest of Paris. Marie-Helene and I spent our first three years with Nick, Daphne, Alban and Tom (and first two years with Charlie) in the forest of Rambouillet. Merci beaucoup Rosaline et Philippe: à la prochaine!

Charlotte’s charming parents invited Nick and me for dinner in the garden of their home in Rambouillet, southwest of Paris. Marie-Helene and I spent our first three years with Nick, Daphne, Alban and Tom (and first two years with Charlie) in the forest of Rambouillet. Merci beaucoup Rosaline et Philippe: à la prochaine!

The latter continues his part-time degree program in software engineering at the CNAM, where they give him credit for his years of self-taught coding. Not on a one-for-one basis, of course, but it’s encouraging to receive any academic recognition for his years of hard work. He still works full-time coding, for a start-up. That company even brought him to the Bay Area for a week or two this fall, and so we had the pleasure of hosting Charlotte and him here too.

Alex and Charlie flew back home from Paris, and I moved on. I took the Eurostar to London, jumped on the sleeper train to the Highlands at Euston, and finally changed trains again in Inverness the next morning for Thurso. Now that’s my part of the vacation!  I love the Highlands, and trains, and South Devon, and the friends I still have in the UK, and spent a whole week indulging each of those loves, courtesy of a Britrailpass and online reservations. If I didn’t make it to see you this time, don’t worry, I’ll be back! If I did, sorry, I’ll probably be back!

Dunrobin Castle, ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland, with its own train station on the line from Inverness to Wick and Thurso. My kind of castle!

Dunrobin Castle, ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland, with its own train station on the line from Inverness to Wick and Thurso. My kind of castle!

I’ve avoided dwelling on the divorce up until now, and will continue to do so this year.  Overall, the bad news tends to stay where it belongs, in the background.

The tube gave me this useful tip on how not to date!

The tube gave me this useful tip on how not to date!

In part, that is because being a bachelor again is a blast. I’ve had relationships in the almost five years since moving out, not a lot of them, but dating is so rich and rejuvenating, so much more rewarding than the ingrained bitterness of a marriage gone wrong.

It’s not just the dating which goes well. Charlie and Alex stay at my place more and more, Charlie full time and Alex half plus. They have a bedroom each, small but their own rooms. We’ve been getting closer again. They both have a great sense of humor, not forgetting a wide streak of kindness which makes me very proud.  In response to my admission that cooking is not my strong point, unlike soccer and work, Alex added, “and unlike self-pity!” Haha! They do okay out of my culinary failings, because to compensate I’ve developed a specialty of providing a healthy supply of adolescent snack food for them and their buddies.

James and Charlie approaching the stage to receive their diplomas at their High School graduation. Alec and Noah are behind them looking the other way. The ceremony was held on the field which was the site of most of thier home soccer games, and the boys talked about their memories of those games as they waited in line.

James and Charlie approaching the stage to receive their diplomas at their High School graduation. Alec and Noah are behind them looking the other way. The ceremony was held on the field which was the site of most of their home soccer games, and the boys talked about their memories of those games as they waited in line.

And as the fog of misery disperses, I’m starting to look ahead. Where will I live in the future if there are still two boys in Europe and two in California? How will I keep in regular touch with all of them in person? I’ve had a few ideas, made and unmade a few plans, and relish thinking them all through.  Whoever would have thunk it, dating and dreams at the tender age of 62!

 *      *      *      *

Here’s a holiday anecdote. A friend at NextSpace, a single thirty-something woman, recently attended a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show viewing party with a group of her friends, some of whom had been to high school together. They do this every year, watching the fashion video together: some of them wore pyjamas and some angel wings. Think Tupperware with lingerie.

Another shot taken on West Cliff Drive during one of my regular bicycle rides, this one at Natural Bridges State Beach. Greetings from Santa Cruz!

Another shot taken on West Cliff Drive during one of my regular bicycle rides, this one at Natural Bridges State Beach. Greetings from Santa Cruz!

Only somebody brought a guy to this party, which was admittedly unusual. She said that Sergio was allowed to stay, meaning no-one there raised the question, because he was very quiet and charming and carried a kick-ass camera. The latter gave him immediate cachet, because every year at this party they take pix in front of the Christmas tree, and the better quality, the better.

The party was held in a small condo in Capitola, a couple of miles down the coast from Santa Cruz. Come Monday morning, my friend is texting her friends and fellow lingerie viewers looking for her Christmas pix. She got them, through the party’s host, who got them from the photographer. Turns out that his name wasn’t Sergio; it was Sergey. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show party photographer was Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, a guy like any other at a Victoria’s Secret party.

May you have as much fun over this Holiday Season as Sergey!

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2013: me and the boys

Happy Holidays, everyone!!

It’s been a solitary year here.

I don’t say lonely, because with the possible exception of holidays built around families, I’m having a fine time – so many little hobbies to keep me busy – writing, trains, soccer, the Sierra Nevada, photos, memoirs. There is so much to explore that it’s sort of mindboggling. I had somehow expected life to be winding down by now, and it’s just the opposite: I find myself getting up in the middle of the night to find the time to attack a project which can’t be fitted in otherwise.

During Nick's visit to California in September, Charlotte took this one of me and the boys outside Chili's in Capitola. Left to right, Charlie, yours truly, Alex and Nick.

During Nick’s visit to California in September, Charlotte took this one of me and the boys outside Chili’s in Capitola. Left to right, Charlie, yours truly, Alex and Nick.

A lot of solitary, and then there are days like my birthday in December. Wow! How do days like that still happen?

It fell on a Saturday, and even though bloody Man United managed to lose at Old Trafford again, it was an otherwise perfect day. Whitney gave me a free haircut when she found out that my birthday was the next day, a drunk barmaid in a San Francisco club gave us free drinks after forgetting what we had ordered, brunch was a delight with Charlie and Alex in Paula’s, a surfer café by Pleasure Point where one of the tables is in a van parked out front, and friends from Santa Cruz invited me along for dinner when they found out that I had no plans for my birthday evening. We ended up numbering 18, evenly mixed between adults and children. Good things happening all around!

Tom busking on a bridge over the Seine. You too can suffer the privations of being a struggling young musician in Paris.

Tom busking on a bridge over the Seine. You too can suffer the privations of being a struggling young musician in Paris.

But the best thing happening was the children. Two were there in person, Charlie and Alex, and Nick and Tom called in from Paris. Let’s go with Nick and Tom first. A bottle of Lagavulin arrived a few days before the birthday. Bingo! Nick had sent me a well-chosen present, not cheap, and it arrived on time. I am not falling out of my chair, because he is very kind. But he’s also at times uncoordinated and at other times a bit short on the ready cash. This year, he got it all together.

Charlotte and Nick in a selfie taken on Venice beach during their trip to Southern California.

Charlotte and Nick in a selfie taken on Venice beach during their trip to Southern California.

Tom called twice on the day, the first time before he started working, playing guitar in a Paris bar, and the second time during a break between sets. He was very effusive during the second call, telling me that Nick was a genius, and then that I was a genius. Thanks Tom! Have another drink, why don’t you!

He explained why he was so happy with Nick. Tom is a creative lyricist and musician, very talented but a little reserved on the self-marketing front. Motivated by his frustration with his current start-up (yes, he even finds them in Paris!), Nick started looking for other places where he could use his commercial skills.

There was Tom! He talked the latter into accompanying him to a trendy bar to offer Tom’s services. Not only did Tom pass the audition with flying colors, but also the brothers somehow ended up helping run a new weekly open mike in that bar. You might say that their first collective attempt to get Tom exposure and work was a success.

Charlie too managed to find me a birthday present, a collection of English chocolate bars to complement Nick’s Scotch. My only two remaining vices are English chocolate and good single malt Scotch, and the boys covered them both! And then Alex and Charlie gave me thoughtful and funny birthday cards. It’s the thought that counts, especially with young people: merely arriving at that thought is often a challenge!

Cameron, Jilli, Alli and Charlie on their way to the senior prom, a great tradition.

Cameron, Jilli, Alli and Charlie on their way to the senior prom, a great tradition.

Charlie and Alex had their own special moment of cooperation, a week later. Preparations for the high school soccer season have started, and the Scotts Valley High Falcons have two boys wearing Stock on the back of their shirts. Dad is in heaven!!

The pre-season included several scrimmages. Alex was nursing a dodgy ankle for the first few, and he then he joined the team. On Friday 13th, Charlie grabs the ball a little on the left just outside the box, a position from which he scores regularly. Alex is running unmarked into the center, and Charlie glides him a perfectly weighted pass. Boom: great shot! Alex gets his first varsity goal, assisted by his big brother.  Merry Christmas!

There are only two heroes here, Charlie and Alex. Someone asked Alex on social media in 2013 who was his idol growing up, and this photo was his response. You're the best, guys.

Someone asked Alex on social media who was his idol growing up, and this photo was his response. I choked up.

I loved watching that, not just the skill that they both displayed, but also that selfless fraternal gesture: what a big brother! Down the bleechers from the parents was a group of students including Brett Turner, a friend of Charlie’s who used to play on his team until he turned to American football. He’s a big fellow, and when he saw that play, he started howling and clapping and jumping up and down on the metallic bleechers, bringing the boys around him into action adding their noise to his own, a cacophony of banging and cheering sound.

And that was how I felt.

Only four of the children shared that wonderful birthday. The one time that I saw Daphné during the year was through my office window. She lives in Tahoe, and I never know when she is going to be in town. She was with her mother when I saw her, using the pay phone across the street from my office in NextSpace, where I almost couldn’t help but see them. Weird: she and Marie-Hélène both have cell phones. Perhaps her mother was showing me something. The last time I texted Daphné, after running into a couple of her high school classmates, she replied that I should not text her again. “Ever.”

One of my hobbies, steam locomotives. This one hauls a replica logging train through the Sierra Nevada near Yosemite.

One of my hobbies, steam locomotives. This one hauls a replica logging train through the Sierra Nevada near Yosemite.

Alban texted to wish me Happy Father’s Day, but that was about it for contact with him this year. I finally had him take over his cell phone bill himself, ten years to the day after giving him his first phone and starting to cover it, because that had become our only relationship.  He thanked me for covering it for so long, but stayed away. The financial relationship remains, after a fashion. Marie-Hélène still occupies the house, on my dime of course, and Alban lives there most of the time.

I miss both Daphné and Alban terribly. As their absence shows, the continuing divorce remains on the sidelines of life. For some reason, it no longer weighs on me as it did the first couple of years, but it is still there.

Back to the children who remain in view.

Nick spent the entire year in France, except for the month of September, which he spent visiting California with Charlotte, his girlfriend. September was a good month in Santa Cruz!  They drove down to San Diego, to visit his cousins, the Nashes, and spent a few days on Venice Beach. But most of the time they stayed with me in the condo. They’re 27 years old, and so I didn’t see too much of them even when they were here, but it felt warm and fuzzy to have them around. Charlotte does Nick a lot of good, and her family rent them for a steal the two-bedroom apartment they live in near Montmartre.

Merci les Gégouts!

Tom during his travels around the Mediterranean. I think that this was taken in Chania, Crete.

Tom during his travels around the Mediterranean. I think that this was taken in Chania, Crete.

He continued his part-time studies programming, at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, or CNAM, and his part-time work for a start-up.  The work isn’t easy in the sense that he has a group of young bosses, fresh out of school, who know less about programming than he does  but still want to run it all themselves.  Difficult to manage, that, but he is. The best part is that he has been calling here regularly, both for business guidance and for help handling these political complexities.

Tom lives across the Seine on the left bank, and he too is pursuing a University education, reading literature at the University of Paris. I like saying that as much as writing it! He works constantly on his music, developing his own voice is several senses of the phrase, and sends the occasional recording. I was listening to the recordings one after the other a couple of days ago, and they make up an eclectic group of songs demonstrating how much he is on his own musical track. Where does he get that from?

Dylan Nash, having ably and easily woken up Alex, who had been sleeping comfortably on the Nash couch. Alex rather likes this picture!

Dylan Nash, having ably and easily woken up Alex, who had been sleeping comfortably on the Nash couch. Alex rather likes this picture!

I know where he gets his urge to travel from! This year he took another trip around and across the Mediterranean, with a group of other musicians. Six of them fitted themselves, their sleeping bags, their luggage and their instruments in a Chrysler minivan, and drove it to where exactly, Croatia, Montenegro, I don’t know, sleeping rough or in the van, and playing for passers-by on the streets in towns that they visited. Then Tom took a ferry across to Crete with a couple of his friends, and visited his family there: his mother’s grandparents emigrated from there to the Central Valley, and she keeps in touch with the family left behind.

Théo, our Parisian exchange student, with Charlie and Antony on the latter's roof terrace.

Théo, our Parisian exchange student, with Charlie and Antony on the latter’s roof terrace.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t manage to take Charlie and Alex to Europe this year, although I’m not sure that they cared! (I cared, because it meant that I didn’t see Tom once this year.) They spent most of the summer with me, while their mom was in France and Spain for eight weeks. In fact, Charlie stayed put after she returned until school started. All very rewarding for the three of us, I think. Male bonding: you have to be there!  Plus I fixed the brakes and replaced the tires on Charlie’s Mustang, for which he was very grateful, and sent them both to a Nike soccer camp, which also seemed to meet with their approval.

We welcomed Théo, a French exchange student for a couple of weeks, and all went down to visit the Nashes in San Diego, shamelessly plonking ourselves in their house for the weekend. So we did make a fun summer of it. Plus, they are both still in that period when all that counts are their friends. I get it!

The Thunder, Alex's team, after winning a tournament in the middle of the season. Alex is third from right on the lower row.

The Thunder, Alex’s team, after winning a tournament in the middle of the season. Alex is third from right on the lower row.

A word of thanks to the Nashes, Antony, Courtney and their three children. They have two demanding jobs, one each, and refer wryly to their lives juggling children, jobs and friends as “chaotic.” But they always seem to be able to fit their cousins into that chaos, and me too for that matter. I know that Nick and Charlotte had a great time at their place in September, and Alex, Charlie and I had a wonderful time during the summer. Their home is a sanctuary for all of us, and their children a source of particular fascination and glee for Charlie and Alex.

Alex is a sophomore at high school, and works his butt off. How to make a dad happy!  He’s in the lucky situation of being a part of a group of friends who all enjoy their schoolwork. They just happen to play soccer together as well. Not a bad situation as 16 approaches, in January. He’s also had the good luck to have a very able soccer coach. As you can imagine, that is far from a sure thing in the US!

Charlie worked part time all year at a surf clothing store in downtown. This was one of his more fun days, when customers mistook him for Dave Franco! Of course, I have no idea who that is, but Charlie looks happy about it!

Charlie worked part time all year at a surf clothing store in downtown. This was one of his more fun days, when customers mistook him for Dave Franco! Of course, I have no idea who that is, but Charlie looks happy about it!

Victor, the coach, decided this year to move his charges up a couple of notches in terms of the league that they played in, to give them more of a challenge. The boys barely won a game in the first half of the season, and then pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and barely lost in the second. The hard work paid off, and the parents glowed on the sidelines.

Charlie is a High School Senior, which is a good place to be, one of the few times in your life when you’re securely at the top of a totem pole. It only lasts a year, of course, but it’s typically a pretty good year. He’s also a star at soccer. Soccer may not have the prestige here of the more American sports, but being a star athlete at High School always has its own cachet. He’s living the dream!

I sit downstairs in the condo, watching TV or on the PC, while he’s upstairs in his room with his friends. They’re playing video games, listening to their weird music, making noise in one way or another, and I’m so grateful. For a while there he and I were going through a bad patch. It’s over. One of his kind friends privately wished me happy birthday on Facebook, and called me an “awesome” dad. Oh yeah!

Way too few photos in this post! So here's one of my birthday brunch in 2013. The shark is a coincidence!

Remember that birthday brunch in Paula’s surf cafe? Well here we are.

I learned something very valuable this year. I’d started to date again in the fall of 2012. Dating brought me back out of myself, a little tentatively, only occasionally, ready to flee at the slightest provocation, but at times I felt human again. Peeking out from under the shell where I’ve been hiding for years from a world of pain, I saw that good times could still happen.

That lesson led me to the good times in our blended family of six children, all of whom are currently suffering in one way or another through our divorce. Our best years were those after Marie-Hélène and I finally got together in 1994. First, our existing families were blending with each other, never a dull moment, and then Charlie and Alex came along and sealed the deal. Nothing could ever beat life raising six wild children. It’s the little things that you never forget, like watching them scamper backwards and forwards like puppies along the street, or playing hide and seek with each other running up and down the aisles in the supermarket.

So rather than mope around indefinitely, I am bringing those years back to life in a set of memoirs of our sixteen years together. The little things will have their day! I can’t show you them yet – it’s a work in progress – but we’re well on our way.

It is not easy for the children to retain the positive when their parents divorce. Well, by the time I’m done, these children will have a hard time escaping the positive: so there!

 The setting sun during a bike ride along West Cliff Drive, a typical Santa Cruz view. Except for the birds on that flat black rock. What rock?! That was a whale, one of a pod gorging themselves just offshore. “They called it paradise, the place to be, they watched the hazy sun sinking in the sea.” The Eagles, from “The Last Resort” on “Hotel California.”

The setting sun during a bike ride along West Cliff Drive, a typical Santa Cruz view. Except for the birds on that flat black rock. What rock?! That’s no rock, that’s a whale, one of a pod gorging themselves just offshore. “They called it paradise, the place to be, they watched the hazy sun sinking in the sea.” The Eagles, from “The Last Resort” on “Hotel California.”

It’s a beautiful world, people, enjoy it to the max and even, if the spirit moves you, feel free to pretend that you’re 19 again! In small doses, at least, doing so can be rather fun.

Best wishes to all of you for 2014, which is really going to be something else!

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Happy Birthday NextSpace!

Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty is a chocoholic, as am I. We both work at NextSpace Santa Cruz, Ryan for PredPol, an interesting start-up that uses technology to help police forces do their work more effectively, and me under my EntrepreLaw shingle, helping start-ups get started.

Unfortunately, Jakey no longer works very often at NextSpace. He was a great foil for some of his friends and colleagues. During a nap, they TP'ed him, added a few props like the bottle of Jack on the floor, and we had an iconic moment!

Unfortunately, Jakey no longer works very often at NextSpace. He was a great foil for some of his friends and colleagues. During a nap, they TP’ed him, added a few props like the bottle of Jack on the floor, and we had an iconic moment! The Jack was actually the property of Sol Lipman: see below for more on Sol.

To satisfy an almost insatiable craving for chocolate, I keep various kinds of Trader Joe’s chocolate in my desk drawer at the office. Ryan knows this. As a rule I’m happy to share, of course. Occasionally, friends with a chocolate craving will stop by and, if I’m in the office, bum a chocolate or two. Jeremy, NextSpace’s CEO, whose home base is in Santa Cruz when he isn’t gallivanting around other NextSpace facilities, occasionally can’t resist the temptation, and will delicately wangle an invitation to munch a chocolate or even, occasionally, two.

Then there’s Ryan’s approach. Two or three Trader Joe’s Smores whenever he’s in the office, expropriated in installments over the course of the day, with thanks if I’m there, or more likely “don’t mind me!” And of course, I don’t.

Ryan's almost apologetic note: "I almost feel bad enough not to eat the last one," or "the first one!" Needless to say, he ate both.

Ryan’s (sort of) apologetic note: “I almost feel bad enough not to eat the last one,” or “the first one!” Needless to say, he ate both.

One day I found a little note on an empty box of Smores. It was Ryan almost apologizing for taking the last one. I left it there as a reminder to him, and he modified it weeks later to apologize for taking the first Smore from a new box. He is currently running for the County Board of Supervisors, which puts the pressure on and, I suspect, increases his Smores consumption. So be it.

The reason that the Ryan chocolate story is here, despite its evident lack of substance, is because it is full of human interaction, as is NextSpace generally. I love NextSpace! I know, that’s sort of an odd thing to say. How can anyone love something that looks at first glance like a collection of offices? But NextSpace isn’t just offices. That’s the point. It is a deliberate community of members, and one that works.

This was actually the first note to appear in the chocolate drawer. Glen certainly did not steal a chocolate!

This was actually the first note to appear in the chocolate drawer. Glen certainly did not steal a chocolate!

To give credit where credit is due, much of that community is the creation of Jeremy Neuner, NextSpace’s co-founder and CEO. He has a feel for what works, an instinct for what people want to live during their workday. His efforts are constantly directed to building the community of members which is NextSpace, and not in a trite and simplistic manner in order to satisfy some cynical marketing goal. No, he’s looking at innovative ways to channel our needs for professional interaction, commercial interaction, even human interaction, while we work. Remember Walt Disney’s Snow White singing “Whistle while you work” to the cute little creatures cleaning the seven dwarfs’ dusty cabin? That’s the starting point: work does not need to be drudgery.

A couple of random members in their office, with Mac and cricket bat. No, he does not play cricket! The bat is still there though!

A couple of random members in their office, with Mac and cricket bat. No, Mike he does not play cricket! Both Mike and Lydia kite surf.

The trigger for these efforts, the trigger for NextSpace, was Jeremy, when he was in charge of the Economic Development of the city of Santa Cruz. He found that the corporations which we grew up with, the traditional targets of economic development professionals like him, were no longer coming to town, in large part because they were no longer doing much in theUS at all. He and Ryan wrote a book together called the Rise of the Naked Economy: How to Benefit from the Changing Workplace. It’s all about what we are to do now that the business corporations which nurtured our families after World War II have downsized and outsourced themselves almost to oblivion. That was one hell of a business strategy they all had, like lemmings to the slaughter!

A couple of other members, Daryl and Glen, on the couch in my office. Scott sold me the couch when he moved on: he's back now!

A couple of other members, Daryl and Glen, on the couch in my office. Scott sold me the couch when he moved on: he’s back now, but I get to keep the couch!

Jeremy’s and Ryan’s book has something to say about filling that corporate vacuum. More importantly, it has something to say about replacing with something better the outsourcing, offshore dinosaurs which used to employ so many of us. In their place, they say, buzz thousands of displaced individuals seeking and finding alternative places to work, alternative drudgery-reducing places to work, like NextSpace.

So many, like me, want to work in freer worlds. Rather than bemoaning the disappearance of old-fashioned employers, yesterday’s engines of economic growth, Jeremy and Ryan came up with another, and added personal satisfaction to the mix. They didn’t invent co-working, of course – I gather that Margaret Rosas initially relayed the idea to Jeremy – but they added a whole lot to the idea, and that is NextSpace: COWORKING PLUS!! Anyone can sit down in a room and work alongside others: that’s Starbucks. Getting a community thrown in: that’s NextSpace.

In 2012, we even had a prom! Here's a lovely family, photographed by the professional arranged by the space.

In 2012, NextSpace Santa Cruz even had a prom! Here’s a lovely family, photographed at the event by the professional arranged by the space. Alan and Iris are the happy couple.

October 26th, 2013 marks my fifth birthday in NextSpace Santa Cruz, their first facility, which had opened its doors a few weeks before. For once in my life, I was an early adopter!

Having felt a misfit in most of the six or seven professional offices I have inhabited over the last 30 years, here I actually belong! Why is that? Well, on the one hand, despite being a lawyer I have a hard time working with lawyers in groups. Law firms are basically lawyers working in groups. It is hard to imagine a more rigid and stultifying work environment than a law firm, and it never ceases to amaze me how such smart people create such miserable working environments for themselves.

The simple alternative was working at home (and occasionally in cafes), but I’m a social being. I work for an hour, and then like to stroll around and chat with a friend for five minutes.

Almost every Friday, we have a happy hour! Lisa and Sean made it to this one in 2011.

Almost every Friday, we have a happy hour! Lisa and Sean made it to this one in 2011.

I had been back at home for a couple of years when Marie-Hélène found NextSpace: she almost insisted that I take an office here (I needed an office rather than a cafe membership because of the need to protect confidential client files). 

There was no long-term commitment, and the only furniture that I needed to add was my locking wooden file cabinets. I also brought in a couch to complement the desk, chair and bookshelves which were already there. This was easy! I was hooked in a month, and have been here ever since.

Back to strange messages: I left a delicate negative as a reminder that the remaining half sandwich (from Zoccoli's) was not to be touched. Someone disagreed with the no!

Back to strange messages: I left a delicate negative as a reminder that the remaining half sandwich (from Zoccoli’s) was not to be touched. Someone disagreed with the sentiment!

There are synergies occurring in any good community, and Jeremy christened those in NextSpace the “NextSpace Effect.” I can vouch personally for this effect. Not only have I found clients here and helped others here when they could not afford it, I became NextSpace’s corporate counsel!

Equally significantly, Daryl Tempesta, another NextSpace member, pointed out how I could create a marketable product out of my services. Okay, okay, I haven’t completed that project yet! Always too much to do: but the seeds have been sown and real progress has been made.

We all have our NextSpace effect stories. Here’s a random example, this one taken from a recent edition of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, on September 16, 2013:  SANTA CRUZ — If you’re bothered by the fact that 1,200 advertising companies are tracking your activity online and your email address can be bought and sold to determine what ads you see online, then you might want to know more about PrivacyChoice, a company started in Santa Cruz in 2009 to give consumers control over their own data.

Yours truly at work, taken by Jeremy.

Yours truly at work in 2011, taken by Jeremy.

Founder Jim Brock, 51, and co-founder Jason Beatty, 42, met at NextSpace in downtown Santa Cruz and grew the startup to the point where a big player took notice of their product, PrivacyFix, for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. AVG Technologies, an Internet security firm based in the Czech Republic, bought PrivacyChoice in May for an undisclosed sum. Since then, Brock and Beatty have been working on privacy products for AVG’s 155 million customers.”

Like all corporations, NextSpace has regular Board meetings and the other accotrments of corporate life. They just don't look quite the same. This Board package, traditionally given to Board members before the meeting to give them background on the agenda, features Jeremy Neuner, CEO, fooling around in a "morph" suit! (Is that what those things are called?)

Like all corporations, NextSpace has regular Board meetings and the other accoutrements of corporate life. They just don’t look quite the same. This Board package, traditionally given to Board members before the meeting to give them a little background on the agenda, features on its cover Jeremy Neuner, CEO, fooling around in a lycra morph suit!

People with different skills and ideas meet while they work in NextSpace, put their complementary talents together (the NextSpace Effect) and boom: something significant and worthwhile often happens. This not an occasional event. It happens to everyone here.

What surprises me the most is that such a productive environment has been able to continue so long in its original format. It has greatly expanded of course: there are now nine NextSpaces, including one “NextKids,” featuring professional infant care for parents working in the space, which just opened in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill. But the company has not yet been acquired.

The acquirers’ loss is my gain, but still. Haven’t commercial office lessors noticed that their properties are sitting empty, because the businesses that used to rent them have moved offshore? Are we NextSpace members the only ones who notice how clever the coworking concept is for the new world of independent contractors working for several clients (like me)? Or for the start-up founders dreaming big but funding small? Hasn’t anyone in real estate noticed how the commitments required of commercial lessees are rarer and rarer the sort of risk that small or medium-sized businesses can make in a fast-changing world? Apparently not.

Sol in his Tomfoolery flat hat.

Sol in his Tomfoolery flat-brimmed hat. He puts great teams together for his start-ups, and he put together his best team out of people working at NextSpace. True! AOL bought the whole works.

Sol Lipman was presenting his latest start-up, Tomfoolery, at a Tech Meet-up recently, held in another Santa Cruz coworking space a couple of blocks away. Nick and I went, because we love Sol, who birthed two of his start-ups at NextSpace (12 Seconds and RallyUp), and because Tomfoolery, like NextSpace, wants to make work fun. Sol sat next to us before the presentation, worrying vociferously that he had no idea what he was going to say.

We told him not to worry: he’s got the gift of the gab, and all the heart that implies.

With Parisian law professor Karim Medjad in my office. Karim also works for the World Bank, helping new States daft working commercial codes.

With Parisian law professor Karim Medjad in my office. Karim also works for the World Bank, helping newly-formed States draft commercial codes that work.

Once on stage, Sol talked about Santa Cruz and about all the tech talent he’s found here and worked with here, and he talked about his start-ups over the years and how each time he did so much wrong and learned so much from it, and how culture is so important to both start-ups and work.

As he reached the end of his presentation he spontaneously announced, straight from the heart, just the way he is, “and I love NextSpace!” Of course, he wasn’t in NextSpace and immediately realized the error and corrected himself, adding that he loved all the coworking spaces around town.

But I knew what he meant. This space is special, like Sol, like Jeremy, like a lot of past and present NextSpace members. We’re the lucky ones: in the right place at the right time. Let’s enjoy it while we can. Nothing lasts forever!

NextSpace moment: curious child meets tin man in corridor!

NextSpace moment: curious child meets tin man in corridor!

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When bankruptcy doesn’t work.

On Monday morning, August 1, 2011, Nick (my oldest) arrived at work to be told that he was being laid off immediately and would not be paid the last month’s salary of $8,000 which he had already worked very hard for and, of course, pretty much spent. His employer was Keeping Cash’n’Code, Inc. (a pseudonym), whose CEO was the Eskimo (also not his real name).

The first page of Nick's Employment Agreement with SquiggleChimp.

The first page of Nick’s Employment Agreement with Keeping Cash’n’Code.

Nick immediately moved in with me in the condo, which was a definite silver lining to a rather cloudy event. Love having him around! The other silver lining here is that the US Bankruptcy Code has a very real preference for employees laid off by a bankrupt company. The preference is so real that it places former employees ahead of most taxes: believe that?!

We settled down for the long fight to obtain his salary. He ran the first leg, before the State’s unemployment tribunal, obtaining his benefits over the objections of Keeping Cash’n’Code. Then when the company filed for bankruptcy in March 2012, I took over.

Ultimately, fifteen months later and nine months after Nick had returned to live and work in Paris (boo-hoo!), the bankruptcy court ordered the trustee to pay him 90% of his last month’s salary, but no other individual creditor received anything of substance. 

The second page, with highlights on some of the parts that confirmed his status as an employee.

The second page, with highlights on some of the parts that confirmed his status as an employee.

Nick’s finally getting paid for most of his last month’s is not the subject of this post. Willing to work for nothing to help my son out, I had an unusual perspective on the inner workings of the bankruptcy process and its rather troubling failings. They are the subject here.

*        *        *

Bankruptcy is supposed to let off the hook the debtor, the person or entity which owes money to others, who are its creditors. The debtor does not have to pay those debts which it cannot meet: it is relieved of those repayment obligations. In return, all of the debtor’s assets are supposed to be distributed to those same creditors. It’s what they get out of losing the balance of what they are owed from the debtor. It is a simple bargain.

In the case of Keeping Cash’n’Code, that simple bargain did not work in two different ways. The company here kept a lot of the cash and a lot of the code! But most of its creditors got nothing.

 *        *        *

The email from Trustee Tom confirming that Keeping Cash’n'Code had made a significant sale of its intellectual property, and sending me the contract. Very thoughtful. The Eskimo’s summary of the use of the $13,000 was to pay the IRS, Franchise Tax Board and “other urgent claims.”

The email from Trustee Tom confirming that Keeping Cash’n’Code had made a significant sale of its intellectual property, and sending me the contract. Very thoughtful. The Eskimo’s summary of the use of the $13,000 was to pay the IRS, Franchise Tax Board and “other urgent claims.”

First, the cash. Nick shared a bush telegraph with his fellow coders, including those who had worked for Keeping Cash’n’Code, and before the company actually declared bankruptcy, the telegraph had informed him that there had been a big sale to a customer in San Francisco.

When we sat down at the initial creditors meeting in April 2012, Tom (again not his real name), the trustee appointed by the court, announced that he could not open a case to take care of the creditors because there was no cash available to distribute.

I gulped. What had happened to the San Francisco sale? But the bush telegraph isn’t proof, and so I waited until after the meeting to tell Trustee Tom and the Eskimo’s lawyer about the big deal with the San Francisco customer. They duly asked the Eskimo about it. He sent them, and Trustee Tom sent me, the Purchase Agreement with respect to the deal.

The first page of the San Francisco sale contract itself, showing that the customer had made a loan to Keeping Cash'n'Code in July, right before the company laid Nick off without pay.

The first page of the San Francisco sale contract itself, showing that the customer had made a loan to Keeping Cash’n’Code in July, right before the company laid Nick off without pay.

You’ll see one flaw in this procedure already. The Eskimo must have already told Trustee Tom that there was no cash, or Tom would not have told the creditors meeting the same thing. If the coders’ bush telegraph hadn’t worked and I hadn’t followed up, this game would already have been over, and no creditor would have received one cent, even though Keeping Cash’n’Code had taken in around $25,000 since it stopped paying its bills.

It gets worse. I duly sent this San Francisco Asset Purchase Agreement to Dick, the lawyer (not his real name either, but it does roll off the tongue!) retained by Tom after the creditors meeting. I pointed out that there was about $25,000 in proceeds paid to the company from this asset sale. The amount was important because the Eskimo had summarized in vague terms the company’s use of only the $13,000 that he admitted to receiving. In addition to checking what the Eskimo said that he had done with the $13,000, there was an additional $12,000 for Trustee Tom to follow up on.

The top of the second page of the IP sale contract, showing the components of the purchase price as well as the "Excluded Software." Squiggel Chimp was earning a decent chunk of change for just one piece of its intellectual property.

The top of the second page of the IP sale contract, showing the components of the purchase price as well as the “Excluded Software.” Keeping Cash’n’Code was earning a decent chunk of change for just one piece of its intellectual property.

I was pleased to have brought that serious piece of change within the protection of the bankruptcy court. But no, I hadn’t. Whoops! Trustee Tom never formally accounted for one cent of that money. In other words, as far as we know that money was never distributed to the people whom Keeping Cash’n’Code owed money to, its creditors.

After the event, the Benevolent Judge let that happen. At a hearing in June 2013, he explained that in a voluntary bankruptcy such as this the debtor (Keeping Cash’n’Code, the entity which owed everybody money) could game the system, for which there was no real remedy. In other words, the Eskimo could choose the time when he filed for bankruptcy protection, as well as the time when he brought in money. Depending on the timing, maybe he allocated what he brought in among the company’s creditors. Or maybe not.

This portion of the transcript of the June Hearing in Bankruptcy Court includes the Benevolent Judge's explanation of why the proceeds of the San Francisco asset sale were not accounted for by Trustee Tom: because they were not in Keeping Cash'n'Code's bank account when the Trustee took charge of it. It had "apparently" been spent on taxes "and other expenses." How can that be apparent when the Trustee has not accounted for those expenses? The court found "ludicrous" my suggestion that the money should have been included in the bankruptcy estate and accounted for.

This portion of the transcript of the June Hearing in Bankruptcy Court includes the Benevolent Judge’s explanation of why the proceeds of the San Francisco asset sale were not accounted for by Trustee Tom: because they were not in Keeping Cash’n’Code’s bank account when the Trustee took charge of it. These proceeds had “apparently” been spent on taxes “and other expenses.” How can that be apparent when the Trustee has not accounted for those expenses? The court found “ludicrous” my suggestion that the money should have been included in the bankruptcy estate. Really?!

But, said the Benevolent Judge, the Trustee had a duty to investigate where the proceeds of that sale went. The judge suggested that another time I should have asked more questions. Wait a minute!

I had informed Trustee Tom and Dick his lawyer about that $25,000, underlining the difference between that amount and the $13,000 which the Eskimo admitted to receiving, but didn’t ask enough questions about it: give me a break! Didn’t the Trustee have the duty to account to the court where that money went? What’s his job, if not that?

Dick’s portrayal of what had happened here in his firm’s invoice to Trustee Tom basically dissimulated this San Francisco sale, not from the trustee but from the judge. That suggested to me that Dick thought that there was a problem with how his client, Trustee Tom, had handled that sale.

Dick believed that “the debtor’s activity in the months before (March 15, 2012) . . .  revolved around an effort to sell the business. . . . (A)fter  . . .  Keeping Cash’n’Code . . . failed to find a buyer for its business or a buyer for its intellectual property, Trustee Tom undertook the effort, and with the generous assistance of the Eskimo, succeeded in finding a buyer for the intellectual property.” I added the bold text. This refers to a second buyer for Keeping Cash’n’Code’s intellectual property, or IP, but the quoted language made it sound like the first.

The portion of Dick's firm's invoice referred to in the accompanying text. Note that his fees, by far the highest payment from this bankruptcy estate, far exceed Nick's last month's salary.

The portion of Dick’s firm’s invoice referred to in the accompanying text. Note that his fees, by far the highest payment from this bankruptcy estate, significantly exceeded Nick’s last month’s salary.

The Eskimo had not failed! He had found a buyer in San Francisco for a valuable chunk of the company’s intellectual property. Why was Dick telling the judge that the Eskimo had failed?

*        *        *

With the Eskimo’s able assistance, Trustee Tom had now found a second buyer for another chunk of Keeping Cash’n’Code’s IP. Congratulations guys! I mean it.

But if there were two buyers for big chunks of the company’s IP, couldn’t others have been found?  I think that the answer is yes, and this raises the second troubling issue here: the source code, the debtor’s principal asset, still exists on a server somewhere and was never distributed to any creditor. That source code could be at the core of other valuable chunks of IP, in existence or to be created.

This was the email sent to Dick alerting him to the cash to be located. In all of these documents, the mess is attributable to not wanting to name names. This is not a vendetta.

This was the email sent to Dick alerting him to the cash to be located. In all of these documents, the mess is attributable to not wanting to name names. This is not a vendetta.

I first exposed this issue too during that initial creditors meeting in April 2012. “Even if there is no cash now,” I told Trustee Tom when he informed us that there was none, “the source code is still on a server somewhere, and if you do nothing it will remain in the control of Keeping Cash’n’Code’s management.” The company’s software was based on servers which its customers accessed, what they call “software as a service” or SaaS: the code was not at the customer’s site.

I asked Trustee Tom then and again in June 2013 to take possession of that code and make it available to the people Keeping Cash’n’Code owed money to. In my mind, that was what a bankruptcy trustee was supposed to do, locate the bankrupt entity’s assets for the benefit of its creditors.

Tom never did that here.

Mini course in contract interpretation: part 1. This page of the New York Asset Purchase Agreement makes a convincing case that all the intellectual property was being sold this time by the trustee. The "Purchased Assets" include "all of the Seller's assets . . . except the Excluded Assets." These are cash, office furniture and equipment, receivables and claims. Open and shut: all the intellectual property is being sold.

Mini course in contract interpretation: part 1. This page of the New York Asset Purchase Agreement makes a convincing case that all the intellectual property was being sold this time by the trustee. The “Purchased Assets” include “all of the Seller’s assets . . . except the Excluded Assets.” These are cash, office furniture and equipment, receivables and claims. Open and shut: all the intellectual property is being sold.

The second buyer of Keeping Cash’n’Code’s intellectual property, this time in New York, was again focused in its purchase. It wanted the patent application owned by Keeping Cash’n’Code.

Most software is protected as a trade secret (in other words, the source code is kept confidential) or copyrighted. In this case, the Eskimo believed that he had come up with a patentable invention, and this New York buyer’s focus on the patent application meant that what it really wanted out of the deal was the exclusive right to use the software application protected by the patent.

Source code like that owned by Keeping Cash’n’Code can be used with any number of software applications, almost. The limits on this are limits to the creativity of the coders working with and developing the source code. Because of its focus on the patent application, and the peculiarities of an asset purchase from a bankruptcy estate, the New York buyer effectively did not buy all of the company’s source code.

Mini course in contract interpretation: part 2. Existing "originals and copies of source code" will be delivered to the buyer "to the extent available from" Keeping Cash'n'Code. The company held on to what it felt like here.

Mini course in contract interpretation: part 2. Existing “originals and copies of source code” will be delivered to the buyer “to the extent available from” Keeping Cash’n’Code. The company held on to what it felt like here.

That’s where review of key provisions of the Asset Purchase Agreement comes in handy. At first sight, it does look as if all of the intellectual property of Keeping Cash’n’Code was purchased, an impression which Trustee Tom and Dick, his lawyer, were eager to foster. But delivery of the source code is at the discretion of the seller. So long as the buyer was properly assigned the patentable software application that it cared about, which it was, it did not care how many copies of the source code it received, or even if it received the original.

This conformed to bankruptcy procedure generally. While the buyer in a normal M&A deal will reserve itself the right to pursue the seller if all that it buys is not as the seller promised, there’s no-one to pursue after sale of a bankrupt’s assets, because there’s nothing and no-one left. The case has been closed. So the trustee makes no guarantees. Which played right into the hands of the Eskimo here. Trustee Tom could not guarantee that all copies the source code were sold, and the buyer did not care so long as it obtained the patent application at issue. The source code sat basically untouched by the bankruptcy proceeding.

In April 2012, I asked Trustee Tom to take possession of the source code. By June 2013, when I again raised the issue, he had never done so. That source code is still out there on a server somewhere, I believe under the control of the Eskimo. Nobody took the source code away from him. He may have held on to it, or delegated it, or disposed of it in such a way that the San Francisco and New York purchasers’ software applications were not included. All that he can’t do from an M&A perspective is use those two software applications. The rest of the source code is now basically unrestricted.

The page in the New York Asset Purchase Agreement which repeats in several different ways that the buyer has no recourse if it does not get what it wants. Added to the page which says that the bankruptcy estate will only deliver the source code which it feels like, this page allowed the source code to remain physically untouched by the bankruptcy. I found this on the USPTO site when Tom and Dick did not respond to me request for a copy.

The page in the New York Asset Purchase Agreement which repeats in several different ways that the buyer has no recourse if it does not get what it wants. Added to the page which says that the bankruptcy estate will only deliver the source code which it feels like, this page allowed the source code to remain physically untouched by the bankruptcy. I found this on the USPTO site when Tom and Dick did not respond to me request for a copy.

Why does this get my goat? Investors in Keeping Cash’n’Code were individual creditors of the company, as were the coders (all but Nick were independent contractors who did not have the benefit of his employee preference in the bankruptcy) who turned their capital into code. Yet investors and independent coders got nothing from the source code which they collectively contributed. Frankly, that stinks. 

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Here’s why I bothered writing this down. Tom, Dick and Harry, the trustee’s accountant, were paid over $16,000 out of this bankruptcy estate, more than twice Nick’s last month’s salary. They paid themselves so much that they shaved about $850 off of the top of that last month: those administering a bankrupt’s estate are its most preferred creditors. They then blamed me for this shaving, which did not improve my mood!

That was the point when I formally raised to the Benevolent Judge the “missing” cash and the untouched source code. I was a perfect storm for Tom, Dick and Harry. Not only was I prepared to put in substantial legal time without payment to help out my swindled son, I am also by trade an M&A lawyer, and can read and understand subtle nuances in Asset Purchase Agreements like this New York one.

The reason that I am more understanding of the judge is because having these issues thrown at him for the first time late in the bankruptcy process put him in a very difficult position. But if Tom and Dick had been doing their job, as a bankruptcy outsider like me understands that job, he should never have been put in that position.

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