Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lilah in the Snowstorm

Lilah and Daddy to a quick trip outside. She loved the snow, though she did not like the wind.

She wanted to make a snow angel but decided against it once she realized she’d have to lay down. Instead, she loved making glove prints with her mittens, extra emphasis on the “tt” (mitt – ens).

It was snowing so hard, the camera flash kept picking up the snow in front of the camera instead of Lilah.

We lasted out there about 12 minutes, which was enough to get us both covered. But it was really fun. The rest of the night, she kept saying “I love you, Daddy” out of nowhere. If only it could snow everyday.

Amsterdam, Day Three

Woke up four hours later to force some breakfast down my throat and say bye to everyone. They were all going home, like I was supposed to before they asked me to attend a meeting in Paris on Monday. That meant an extra day in Amsterdam, could’ve been worse.

Got an early start and went to Richts Museum (which means riches, as in cultural riches) with friend who only had 2 hours. Learned all about the history of the country, the ion at the center of so many global issues. It’s amazing how influential such a tiny area has been. Rembrandt blew me away. Damn, he was good!! No one could compare.

Met up with Aimee, who was staying one more night, and went to the Anne Frank House. It was about the same size as my apartment. There was a chart to show how the girls had grown, just like my dad did. Made me realize that a) they had been there for 2 years, which is a long time, and b) they were a family.

Otto Frank ran a spices company, which shows the deep roots Holland still had to the spice trade (remember the Dutch East India Company)? They were arrested in August. Some of them made it to October, some December. The Mom died in February, the Sister in March. Anne had no one left, and died in April. The camp was liberated in May.

They had a moving video with Otto Frank, her father. He know she kept a diary, everybody did. She was a passionate writer. She asked them not to read the diary, and they didn’t. It was kept safe by a receptionist during the war. When he finally read the diary, he said it was a completely different Anne than he remembered, such bug thoughts she had never shared. He said, “it goes to show that most parents don’t really know their children.”

Took a long walk after that, trying to find new places in the city. Couldn’t find a cheap lunch spot for the life of me and started to get starving. Settled on the first place I saw and ordered a hamburger. The Dutch hamburger is four pieces of freshly grilled beef on top of 2 pieces of French bread with lettuces, cucumbers, carrots, and other fresh veggies and mayo. It was amazing! Had it with an orange fanta and was very happy.

Went to the main shopping area and bough black socks, because I had run out. Heller boys can never have too many socks. I wanted to buy gifts, but all that crap was so expensive. There was nothing purple or penguin related for Lilah, and I knew I’d get shit for getting Jack a $20 Amsterdam tee with a pot leaf on it (but it would have looked so cool on him!). Harley, I swear to God I looked all over for a gift, but we both know how that turned out (not good).

Bought a lighter for an entire euro and went to a coffeeshop. Lesson learned: always check the lighter before you buy it! Tried to get in touch with the London guys, who were there till 7pm. But they were all the way across town, and I was exhausted. Went back to the hotel and had an awful nap. I was lonely and missed my family. I was all alone and wasting the day in the hotel.

OMG - the TV was terrible. There were 5 channels, 3 of them in Dutch. Dutch is the ugliest language on Earth. I tried to watch a show about soccer and get a sense of the culture, but it was hard to listen to. Off putting, actually. The only options we had were to switch between the Travel Channel and BBC News. The Travel Channel had a show about hiking. Hiking, for real. This woman went around hiking and meeting people who had spent the last 6 months hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. BBC News it is! Did you hear about Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi getting it in the face? I got to watch the entire thing, live. I get some rest listening to Rift by Phish.

I get in touch with Aimee again, and we plan to go out for dinner together. Feel better now. We meet up in the lobby so I can check email. We meet this couple, who turn out to be Beth Hart, a successful R&B singer who tours Europe 8 months out of the year. Aimee knows her and talks to them while I check emails and drank my Grolsch. FYI, Grolsch is awful.

I finish my last joint on the walk to dinner. We pick what looks like a local place, very pub like. I get a beer and order the pork kebab (don’t ask me why), while Aimee gets the soup. I start fading before the food comes. I get my meal and I can’t eat it. Literally, I can’t force it down. Aimee lets me try her chicken soup, and the next thing I know it’s gone, wolfed down by a tired and stoned Jew in Amsterdam.

Back to the hotel, I pack and go to sleep at 9am to prepare for the 5am wake up call so I make the 6:16am train to Paris. I wake up to barrage of texts from Brian with updates on the Giants/Eagles game. Good brother, Brian! Sounds like I missed the game of the year, but at least we won.

Listened to David Bowie’s Hunky Dory 3 times in a row on the train. Paris was freezing, and I had 2 hours to kill. Went from café to café getting delicious coffee waiting for the team from London to show up. They do, and we go to an office park outside the city.

Have the meeting, where I manage to say 3-4 smart things about a project I know very little about. I'm the token American on the team. We then take the cab back to Garde Nord and then to the airport. I am so excited to be going home. Have a final meal and bye European chocolate (on the company of course) and settle in to the plane. I watch The Hangover and laugh my ass off. We land at 9:30pm local time, 3:30am my time.

The story ends with me exactly where I wanted to be, on the sofa, holding Jack, sitting next to Harley, who's holding Lilah. The End.

Amsterdam, Day Two

Slept till 1:15pm. The NY office went for lunch, where I got an omlet (should have gotten the chicken sandwich). After that, we took a nice long walk around town.

Amsterdam is a cross between Brooklyn and Venice. The quaint brownstones are offset by scenic canals. The city is almost entirely a semi-circle, with all the canals arcing off the train station. The bridges can make getting around slow, but it’s beautiful and it always feels like there’s something around the next corner.

We made it to the Red Light District, which at 3pm is populated by women that look like the maid from “Flipped Out.” These were mature women. It’s just as quaint as everywhere else, just with women and more coffeeshops (which smell awesome).

Made it to a coffeeshop near the hotel and bought a joint. Over the counter weed = happy Andrew. The joints are mixed with tobacco, so I had to buy a “pure” joint. Kathryn and I had it while everyone else hung out. Man, that stuff is goooood. I decided then to write my paper on nutritional labels, doing a cross-cultural comparative analysis of the layouts to understand the meaning. Even the next day, it’s still a good idea.

After, we got french fries with ketchup and mayo. Then back to the hotel for a 2hr nap. Woke up, had some beer in the hotel lobby while everyone gathered for dinner. Tim and I went out with the London crew for dinner, where I shared a bunch of appetizers with Monica and Guy (from London).

After dinner, we were led through town by a Londoner who used to live in Amsterdam. He took us to all the tiny little streets where all the really beautful women are. The streets were so small, only 1 person could pass at a time. With traffic going in both directions, it got tense. You’re just standing there, right next to a barley naked woman who would be happy to have sex with you. Not an altogether unpleasant feeling.

Got in cabs to go back to the same area of town as last night. Blue Marlin owned the back space, where we kept drinking. The London guys went out for a cigarette, I joined them and had a joint (which come in handy little plastic travel cases). It was cold, but man was it fun.

Did I mention how cold it was the entire time? So cold. I didn’t have a hat and refused to pay 15 euros for one with a pot leaf on it. Did I mention how expensive everything was? Bottled water was 2.50 euro, around $4. I drank a lot of tap water.

A smaller crew went to another club and danced to loud, thumping music. Very surreal. There was a couple dancing very close but not so close it was gross. They looked very happy. Bex said “Who do they think they are?? I kind of want to be them!” I knew exactly what she meant.

After that, Tim, Parker and I went to Burger King. Fuck yeah, Burger King! We got a large shake to share, fries and whoppers, and perfect booth overlooking the square. One of the best fast food moments ever.

Made it back to the hotel and met up with the party, which was in one small hotel room. We hung out until 7am. I was falling down tired but laughing. Went back to the room and feel asleep happy. Then I realized I needed to extend my stay by one night and jumped out of bed to call reception. The typically gruff Dutchman on the phone told me I had to go down to the lobby to do do. Groggy, spinning, and not happy at 7:30am, I finally made friends with my pillow for a quick nap.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Amsterdam, Day One

My company trip to Amsterdam was amazing. I really had the best time. Here are some quick highlights:

Before the plane took off from JFK, we had time for a quick drink at the bar. I wanted a soda and a beer and couldn’t decide (that’s so unlike me!). Tim, a Brit, suggested a Shandy, which is a beer topped off with lemonade (we had to settle for Sprite). It’s a girly drink but it hit the spot.

There were 5 of us traveling on KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines). The plan was big, with rows of 3-4-3 and 1st class upstairs. But the back half of the plane was all cargo. Massive. Kathryn and I sat behind the 3 other guys, with a woman in between us. The woman offered to let me sit next to Kathryn, meaning I get the middle. I said no thank you. She flipped out and demanded another seat. In the end, we got a full row for just the two if us and were ecstatic.

I couldn’t sleep on the plane. I started to watch The Time Traveler's Wife. SPOILER ALERT: the guy dies. My biggest fear is that I don’t get to see my kids grow up, and that’s exactly what happens to him. Right after he dies, there’s a scene where his daughter climbs into bed with the mom and they snuggles, exactly the same thing that Harley and Lilah do. All I saw was my girls sad and me not there. I lost it. I couldn’t watch the rest and was fighting to keep hold, the same way I did when we watched Bridge to Terabithia (remember that, Brian?). I had to go to the bathroom and calm down while thinking to myself, what’s going on here? My mother’s father died young, and he had a daughter and a son, just like me. Anyway, that really, really sucked.

After that came some terrible Bollywood movie. Still no sleep, so I played Minesweeper and got a few minutes sleep here and there.

We landed at 11am local time, 6am my time. First thing we do is go to the closest Starbucks. I lead the way. “We come all the way to Europe and go to a Starbucks” can be interpreted in both a good and bad way. I got my bold roast with a shot of peppermint and was very happy.

Got to the hotel and took a walk through the flower market, which would have been amazing if I had any interest in flowers. I force the group of us to go to the first supermarket we seeing, and Albert Hein (a chain I know all too well from work). I love supermarkets, and all the different shapes, sizes, and products were way more exciting than they should have been. After that, I started saving little packs to take back home with me.

We had a lunch that we all struggled to stay awake through. Back to the hotel for a 2 hour nap before the company party. They had us all gather in the lobby. There, I met all the people in the London and Bath offices that I've spoken to but never actually met. It was exciting and fun.

At 5:30pm, a flurry of cabs took us from the hotel to a boat on the river for a short cruise, drinks, and dinner. We passed a hotel with a bicycle parking lot that was 3 stories high and must have had at least 1,500 bikes. No joke.

The party was fun. Open bar, 3 courses including lamb steaks (I had 2). They had a belly dancer as random entertainment. I got pulled up, along with 4 other guys. I did not want to go, but I could either be embarrassed while dancing or be the dick who refused to go up. I did what I had to do I think people appreciate that.

After the party, cabs to a club where we danced until 3am. I kept getting drinks but still have no idea who paid for them. Awesome. Spoke with the CFO of the company, not sure about what. After that, we met back at the hotel and went to another bar, a small gay bar where a guy unsuccessfully tried to steal Kathryn’s purse. Tim and Parker almost got into a fight, and we ended up swigging Hendricks Gin from the bottle in some one’s hotel room.

We finally shut down at 5:15 am, with the New York office setting the pace for the night. We planned to meet for a 10am breakfast. Yeah right.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What's The Weather Like Today?

Two exciting things in this video.
1. Jack is standing like a champ (but not crawling) in his newly lowered crib.
2. Lilah is singing the weather song she learned at school. Harley and I are cracking up off camera.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Hey, Did Something Die On Your Face?

I've been growing a beard. Yes, that's right. A Heller boy has facial hair, just like a REAL boy!

I always liked the idea of a beard. I could never stand the feeling for more than a day or two. About 3 weeks ago, I found that I preferred shaving every other day. I started thinking more about the beard.

You know how when you buy a new pair of shoes, you start to notice everyone else's shoes even more? Well that happened to me. I'd be the only guy in meetings without any facial hair. So many people around me have the 'cool guy' beard, I wanted one too.

Last Tuesday, I forgot to bring my razor with my to Philly for our Thanksgiving visit. I figured this was my shot. I had an excuse and several days out of the office to see it threw. I could always shave the Sunday before work.

It's itchy and blond. It makes me look like Spencer from Heidi & Spencer. Harley hates it. Brian hates it. Lilah wants it off. Jack seems ok with it, but who knows. But everyone at work likes it. The guys all have beards, so I think they may be a little biased.

Well, I made it to Friday morning, about 10 days. The itch got too much, and the hairs when I touched them. Plus, Harley said I couldn't have a certain something until I shaved. The beard didn't stand a chance.

I took these pictures this morning to memorialize the beard. It's not me at my best, but these powerful images will help us top never forget how much the beard gave to us for the short time it was here. A moment of silence, please...

This New York Magazine article here talks about the new trend among mean for facial hair. Basically, guys grow it because they can, because it makes them feel cool. 100% correct. I thought it looked cool on me. The only time I liked it was when I was in front of a mirror. It may look ugly, but believe it or not, beard = vain.

The Worst Poster Ever

I take the same route to the subway every morning. I tried out a number of different paths when we first got to 80th Street. Over time, I determined that 1st Ave to 79th St to 78th St to 77th & Lex was the best.

The decision was based on a number of factors, such as:
- minimal volume of foot traffic
- time efficiency
- visual appeal of the route
- scenery
- timing of traffic lights

I do not like to deviate form the path in the mornings. On the way home, things ae much looser. I often try other routes, but not in the morning. I know what's the quckest (or at least feels like the quickest), and I take it.

There's a new poster up at a bus stop. I can't stand looking at it. It literally pains me to see these words together.

I forget it's there, somehow, and always get shocked by it. I cross the street before I hit it. I want to put black paint on it and erase it from my memory. As Jack grows, he looks more and more like this kid. GOD FORBID.