retail news in context, analysis with attitude

I remind myself constantly how lucky I am. And when I forget, usually something happens to remind me.

Take last night.

A friend of mine, Terry McSpaden, invited me to his restaurant, Sails, which opened late last year in Rowayton, Connecticut, just a couple of miles down the road from where I live. I love Terry - he’s a great, grizzly bear of a guy, and I first met him 27 years ago; I’d do anything I could to help him out. In this case, he had hired some folks to take a series of pictures for Sails’ new website, and he wanted a table of folks that he knew to be amendable to having their picture taken during dinner. I can do that, I said. and I showed up on time, resplendent in jeans and clean white sneakers. (My good sneakers. My others aren’t as white.)

In addition to amazing lobster risotto, I ended up sitting next to a more formally dressed fellow in his 90‘s named Dr. Lee Davenport, a physicist who regaled us with tales of his exploits during World War II, talking about his involvement with the development of microwave radar systems, anti-aircraft guns, and the nation’s first drone aircraft. He spoke of his time in Normandy in the days just following D-Day, He talked about how he worked in the area of nuclear energy decades ago, and he patiently explained to us what needed to happen to make nuclear power affordable in 21st century terms.

He was, in a word, fascinating. Hardly your ordinary Thursday night dinner companion.

And I couldn’t help but think, as I was listening to his stories, how lucky I was to be sitting there - drinking great wine, eating wonderful food, and being exposed to someone with compelling stories and greater insight and perspective.

(The evening was made even better when the woman I was sitting next to, a beautiful thirtysomething model named Laura, told me that she thought I was about her age. Either she needs glasses or Sails needs better lighting. But I’ve been glowing from the compliment ever since.)

Life is good.

The same kind of experience took place about a week ago in the Red Carpet Club at Los Angeles International Airport, when I ended up in an extended conversation with an American doctor who teaches at the college level in Australia. His subject of choice - the science of mating.


He told my daughter and me how he teaches a class in Australia that endeavors to explore how people meet up in social situations, and that he sends his undergraduate students out into bars to try to pick up three people ... and has his graduate students shadow them and then do a debriefing of the people they try to pick up. We had a long conversation about he moved from serving in the US military (he was born in NY) to getting his doctorate and then moving to Australia, where he can teach what he loves and go surfing his his spare time.

Great guy. Fascinating conversation.

Lucky me.

Good news for “Fringe” fans (and I know a lot of them read MNB, because I love your emails whenever I mention the show). As of this morning, what may be the best series on television has been renewed for a fourth season; the ratings-challenged challenged series has gotten what is called a “full season” pickup from Fox, which is both a little surprising and a total thrill to those of us who are hooked.

On another TV note, I’ve consistently found the reimagination of “V” to be a disappointing exercise, with none of the audacity and creativity of “Fringe.” But I’ve kept watching, hoping to be surprised, and enjoying the performances of Elizabeth Mitchell as the ultimate Earth mother looking to protect her planet, and the fabulous Morena Baccarin (of the late, much-lamented “Firefly”) as the Alien queen who is the ultimate bad mother. Other than them, though, there hasn’t been much to watch.

Until the final episode. Because the producers have no idea whether the show will be renewed or not, they essentially threw everything but the kitchen sink into the episode - which made for a wildly thrilling hour that actually had some suspense. There was matricide, patricide, the murder of a child, the imprisonment/torture of another, the threat of alien invasion .... it was great!

And, it had one of the best camp lines ever delivered on television. I won’t give it away, but it was delivered by Baccarin with amazing relish after a particularly dramatic moment. (“V” watchers will know exactly what I’m talking about.)

But you have to do it more than once. If “V” comes back next year, they need to do this weekly, not just at the last moment in order to save their own skins.

Pun intended.

I loved The Lincoln Lawyer. It has a strong plot, focusing on a slightly sleazy LA defense attorney looking for redemption, from the novel by Michael Connelly. It has wonderful supporting performances by Marisa Tomei (who gets better with age) and William H. Macy (who does more with about 10 minutes of screen time than most actors do with entire films).

And, it has a fabulous star turn by Matthew McConaughey as Mick Haller, the titular attorney of the film, who is compelling, charismatic and utterly perfect for this modern film noir. He’s made a lot of forgettable romantic comedies in recent years, but this performance is reminiscent of his first star role, as a lawyer in A Time To Kill.

The Lincoln Lawyer is a smart legal thriller. I recommend it highly.

I’ve been watching a lot of legal movies lately because of one of the more improbable speech bookings that I’ve ever gotten - I’m giving the luncheon speech tomorrow at the meeting of the National Court Reporters Association in Baltimore. They were looking for an amusing speaker on an unusual subject, and Saul Farber at Leading Authorities, the awesome speakers bureau that represents me, suggested that I’d be a good fit talking about a certain business book that I co-wrote but am trying not to plug too much here on MNB.

It’ll be fun, and it has given me an excuse to re-watch everything from To Kill A Mockingbird to Inherit The Wind, The Verdict to Michael Clayton ... which has been its own kind of fun. Legal movies are great - they tend to be smart, filled with interesting dialogue and featuring excellent actors.

A note to the folks who asked a question about yesterday’s video commentary.

Yes, it was a bird.

Just wanted to see if you’d notice.

My wine of the week - the 2009 Marquesa de Valserrano Rioja Blanco, which is soft and silky, but has enough body to stand up to a nice spicy tilapia.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

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