Saturday, December 25, 2010


No, that’s not this year’s beachwear in the Hamptons, but it is de rigeur in the Sahara.  We spent two terrific weeks in Morocco last March, on a walking tour that covered Casablanca (there are as many Rick’s Cafés there as there are Original Ray’s Pizza parlors in New York), Fez, Ourzazate, Marrakesh, the Atlas mountains and of course, the desert (spent a night in a tent, and Dick got to jam on drums with the Berbers).   We made lifelong friends whose names we have already forgotten – or never knew, like this guy.

Other trips:  the annual pilgrimage to Utila, the gem of the Caribbean, to visit to the kids, where we participated in a variety of activities above and below the water – diving, picnicking on Water Key, drinking with 30-somethings in ramshackle bars.  Nice to trade New York taxis for water taxis for a few weeks each year, though the drivers are, if anything, even more reckless:

And of course, like many little boys, Maxim is fascinated by airplanes, and has a large collection of model and toy aircraft.  Not too many 3-year-olds, however, get to fly real ones:

Then there was Las Vegas in November, where DEMA – the SCUBA convention that Benoit attends every year – was held, and where we spent a lot of time gawking like the tourists we were at the Strip.  Here’s Maxim (who loves hotels) contemplating Steve Wynn’s latest from the monorail. . . .

. . . and even more fun, having room-service breakfast with Papa.

(Nancy made a video of the Las Vegas sojourn which can be viewed on YouTube at:

The big news, though, is that Danielle is expecting a daughter next March.  She and Ben have a name picked out but they won’t tell us.  And, as if another baby wasn’t enough life-change for one year, they’re building a house, which has been said by many of their friends (who hope to freeload meals) to be the nicest on the island:.  As you can see below, it’s almost finished.  It will have a thoughtfully-designed soundproof room for grandparents, though we don’t know why the door locks from the outside.  Here’s an aerial view:

Danielle puts the finishing touches to the porch:

Everything else remains pretty much the same:  Nancy is still potting, and enjoying a certain vogue among fanciers of bowl and vase; Dick is still teaching at NYU, and just has finished one of his most satisfying semesters ever.  In short, life is good. Plans for 2011 include a trip to Utila in March for the birth of our granddaughter and a possible African sojourn next winter.

So, from all of us to all of you, here’s to a great 2011!

Nancy, Dick, Danielle,Benoit and  

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Some years ago, my godmother Wanda gave me and Nancy a pair of antique chairs she had no further use for.  (That was always her rationale for gift-giving; her high-school graduation present to Danielle was a used Rolex that was appraised at $400 and cost $500 to recondition.)

These chairs, spindly and often mended, were never my favorite pieces of furniture, but we needed them in our NY apartment, so that's where they ended up -- until last night.  Our friend Michael Rosenthal (pictured above) came to dinner, to cheer up Nancy (who was on crutches due to a bunionectomy she had just endured) and me (who had just lost 12 straight games of squash to him).  We were eating Chinese takeout.  I was sitting in one of Wanda's Chairs.  I leaned back slightly and with a startling report, the horizontal strut across the back splintered and dropped to the floor.

I couldn't meet Nancy's gaze for some time, though Michael's laughter was clearly audible.  But instead of justifiably reproaching my famous clumsiness, Nancy laughed too.  "Oh, well," she said.  "I never loved that chair."

Twenty minutes later, Nancy labored to her feet and seized her crutches.  For the first time, they failed her; she toppled backward.  Michael sprang catlike to his feet, caught her, and they both sat heavily on Wanda's Other Chair.  Crack!  The whole back snapped off.  Michael was aghast, but we reassured him:  what good was one chair of a matched set?  And anyway, he was clearly the agent of fate.  I shlepped the remains of both to the basement, leaving the staff to deal with them, and somehow, it felt as if a burden had been lifted from us.


My grandmother Yetta came to Saskatchewan from Odessa over a hundred years ago, speaking not a word of (what the Canadians call) English.  She eventually learned English, imperfectly, a rough-and-ready, heavily accented speech that enabled her communicate with the taciturn farmers who were her neighbors and later on, when she and my grandfather retired to Vancouver, the more cosmopolitan types whom she encountered.  But as she aged, her English left her.   She remembered her Russian perfectly, but at the end, she could neither speak to nor understand her children or grandchildren.

Similarly, my Volkswagen was born in Germany and emigrated to this country in 2003.  At the time, its various displays spoke English flawlessly.  But lately, as it's aging, the same process that made my bubbi revert to her native tongue seems to be taking place.  It's a European car now.  The readout above was in Fahrenheit until last week,

Thursday, November 25, 2010


 Danielle, Maxim, and Maxim's new friend

What happens in Vegas doesn’t necessarily stay in Vegas.  We met up with our kids and grandkid there (Benoit had a DEMA convention to attend), and though I summoned my most imperious scorn for the occasion, it wasn’t half bad.  Since we were last there (23 years ago), big changes – the old, tacky town of run-down ex-luxury hotels has been razed and rebuilt, and the new places – the Bellagio, with its fake Eiffel Tower, Wynn and its new neighbor Encore, Bally’s – are monumental in scale and opulent in amenities.  The people are still pretty tacky, though, especially those poor souls who sit all day in front of slots, endlessly pulling the lever with no hope in their eyes.  We did very little gambling.  The hotel gave us $30 in free chips, just to get us hooked; Nancy put them all on Even at the roulette table; 16 came up; she took her winnings and walked away.

The food was a revelation.  We ate at a Thai restaurant called Lotus of Siam, which we learned about from the Times article heralding the opening of its sister eatery in New York, and it was, as promised, the best Thai food we’d ever encountered – in fact, some of the best food we’d ever encountered.  And Sen of Japan was as good as it gets, too:  wonderful, inventive sushi at a third the price of Nobu.  The reason we went so heavily Asian is that Danielle, living as she does in Honduras, goes without for months at a time, and being pregnant, she has cravings we’re only too happy to satisfy.

And there was a terrific golf course across the street from out hotel, where I played three successive days.  I think the whole city must be economically depressed; resort golf at only $80 a pop is almost unheard of.  So, all in all, one of the best family vacations ever --- even if, unlike our better-connected friends the Patells, we did have to fly coach.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


My friend Deborah challenged me to revive my blog by posting every day for a month.  I won't be able to do that (we'll be computerless in Vegas  later this week), but le't see how close I can come.

Last night was Nancy's birthday, and we went with the aforementioned Deborah and husband Cyrus to Tom Collichio's much-touted Craft.  Daughter Danielle ate there a couple of years ago and raved.  But it seems Craft has strayed from its original concept -- create-your-own-meals by huddling with someone who functions as a sous-chef -- and now offers, simply, an a la carte menu, which is another way of saying very expensive food.  What's new and different about choosing an app, a main course, and sides?  The short ribs were terrific, but at $38 the portion was a bit skimpy, and needed to be fleshed out with cippolini onions and roast potatoes, each about $11.  Things start to add up, and though the ingredients are top-quality and the preparation faultless, we left feeling a little empty, both in the stomach and wallet departments.  .

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Standing next to the ninth green at Montauk Downs State Park, I squint to make out Paul Dickinson, one of the club’s assistant pros, preparing to tee off a quarter of a mile away. Paul makes an apparently effortless, perfectly balanced swing. I don’t see the ball until it lands in the fairway, almost 300 yards from the tee. When he reaches it, he hits an iron shot so high it appears to have escaped earth’s gravitational field; finally, it decides to land seven feet from the pin. Paul brushes in his birdie putt.

No big deal; he’s been making birdies here most of his life. Golf ran in his family: “When I was a kid, my dad bought me little golf clubs, and I’d hit a whiffle ball around the house,” he says. Born in Montauk to a clan that goes back four generations (his grandparents owned Deep Hollow Ranch and managed Third House), he and his folks moved to Texas when he was eight, but he came back to Montauk every summer.. After playing college golf, he tried to turn pro, but the game didn’t always come easily; at one point, he felt like the marginal golfer who famously said, “I’m not good enough to make it, but I’m too good to quit.” Paul tried other, more conventional jobs, but the pull of golf always brought him back and he was highly motivated by his late brother, stricken by cerebral palsy, who inspired him to make the most of his talent. Now, at 33, he’s playing better than ever. He credits much of his recent success to Michael Hebron -- part swing coach, part sports psychologist – who teaches at Smithtown Landing CC.

Nine holes is all Paul has time for on this day; he’s a busy man. He typically rises at 4 A.M. and puts in some computer time related to become a head club pro – a fallback position in case Plan A (becoming a professional golfer) doesn’t pan out. By 6:30, he’s working on his game at the club, followed by giving lessons from 8 to 4, aand a lunchtime workout with his trainer. After his last lesson, he’ll play some a few holes, have dinner with his wife Nicole and two young sons – “I try to separate my golf from my time with my family,” he says – and he may even go back to the course to practice until it’s too dark. Most nights, he’s in bed by eight o’clock. He has virtually no social life aside from widely-spaced restaurant dinners with Nicole. When does go out, he told me, ruefully, “People I know give me a hard time – ‘You haven’t been around in two years!’”

Nicole is “more than supportive” of this grinding regimen, as is Kevin Smith, head professional at Montauk Downs, who allows Paul a flexible schedule. One great round will get him into this year’s U.S. Open, the second of golf’s four “majors,” to be held at world-famous Pebble Beach. Paul won the local qualifying round at Noyac in Sag Harbor last month, shooting a 67, and there are spots waiting for four to eight of the 120 entrants at the 36-holes-in-one-day sectional qualifier, in New Jersey this month.

But Paul’s long-term goal is to become a member of the PGA Tour itself. He has friends who have made it and are doing well, like Zach Johnson (who won the Colonial Invitation on May 30th), so he has an idea what the ambience and level of play up there are like. His ultimate ambition, he says, is to win a PGA tour event, not just for the million-plus-dollar purse but because that’s the crowning achievement of any golfer’s career.

Whatever his success in qualifying for the Open, he’ll play several events this summer, and the cost of travel, plus the entry fees, adds up. Since Paul is, in addition to being a prodigy, a patient and talented teacher and one of the most personable guys around, he has a big rooting section at Montauk Downs, and lots of people buy tickets in fund-raising raffle there. Paul’s quest is very special to the Downs community, because it would validate the local golfer community who play at what is, according to Paul, a “spectacular” golf course – long, hard, and in beautiful condition, in a class, says Kevin Smith, with the great local-area private clubs like Atlantic, The Bridge, Maidstone, and National. If Paul Dickinson makes it to Pebble Beach, you’ll hear the cheers all the way from Montauk to the Shinnecock Canal.

Monday, June 14, 2010


How often have I bitched and moaned about Utila, where Danielle lives -- its inaccessibility, its lack of cultural diversions, its removal from the civilized way of life available to children who grow up in New York, as I did and Danielle did. How often have I disapproved of Maxim's lack of access to the museums, the plays, the concerts, the private schools?

On the other hand . . . neither Danielle nor I got to drive the boat when we were three years old.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Grading term papers is a chore, but once in a while you come across goodies like this, from the pile sitting on my desk:

“In Sonnet 116, [Shakespeare] ruminates on love that 'is the star to every wandering bark, / Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.' In this instance, the nature of love seems to accept both extremes of the dog. As its tone wavers from violent to doleful, the bark (or the blind groping for love) is not measurable in the traditional sense, but the moon serves as a captive audience that manages to absorb each discrete sentiment that the bark emotes.”

It reminded me of all the other moments like it – the student at Brooklyn College who confused “burrow” with “burro” (I told him he didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground); the other BC undergrad who wrote that “Oedipus fell through his tragic floor” (I think the borough’s accent was to blame), the kid who described himself and his girlfriend as “shits that pass in the night.” There was another student who began a freshman essay with “I was born of poor but Jewish parents,” which is not exactly a blooper, but wonderful in its own way.

Monday, May 10, 2010


The other night, I went with my friends Jim and Carol (Nancy was in Florida) to see City Island, which seemed to us the best of a pretty bad selection of movies playing in East Hampton. The summer silly season has begun early this year, and local theaters were showing films like Babies, Iron Man 2 and Furry Vengeance. We settled on City Island despite the lukewarm critical response it engendered. Owen Gleiberman in EW gave City Island a grade of C+, disparaging “the quirky parade of family contrivances that fill out the movie."

We loved it. Those contrivances (which all hinge on family members telling lies about who they are) are what make the movie as much fun as it was. Carol said it was Shakespearean, and she’s absolutely right: the plot hinges on disguises, hidden identities, fantastic lies, and the unexpected consequences of them. Vince, the husband-father, is living a double life: he’s a prison guard but he secretly wants to be an actor, and he’s been taking acting lessons – a shameful activity in his particular cultural milieu – which leads his wife (Juliana Margulies with a Bronx accent, several rungs down the social ladder from her role in “The Good Wife”) to suppose he’s having an affair. In addition, Vince has reconnected with a grown illegitimate son who’s imprisoned where he works and moved him into the family manse, admitting that the kid is a convicted felon but concealing the family relationship. Add to this mix a daughter who’s supposed to be a college student but is really a stripper and a teenage son with a fat-lady fetish, and the lies start to take on lives of their own, all culminating – in the best Shakespearean tradition – in an orgy of truth-telling that almost magically solves every problem and leaves the family not only intact but cleansed by its ordeal. So it’s a very funny comedy with a romantic ending. If I were pitching the film in a story conference, I’d tell the studio heads that it’s The Comedy of Errors meets The Winter’s Tale (and of course they'd turn it down, which is why I'm not in the movie business).

And adding to its charm is the setting. City Island itself is (again in the best Shakespearean manner) a never-never land; despite the fact that it actually exists (Nancy and I years ago used to frequent Sammy’s Fish Box for its excellent clams), it’s an improbable place – a little New England fishing village stuck onto the Bronx. It seems made-up, like Illyria or Prospero’s island, which is why the improbabilities of the story work just fine.

An added benefit: as is not the case with Shakespeare's more outré locales, Jim and Carol and Nancy and I made a date to go there and scarf down some sea food some fine summer night. Nancy's seeing the film this afternoon by herself to bone up for this final exam.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


If only I were writing this post about the Mets' new home, I could have titled it "A Tale of Two Citis" -- but that's life. But to the point: a lot has been written about the new Yankee Stadium (the soullessness, the corporate rapacity), and there's a lot of nostalgia floating around Bomberland for the old place. The other day, Nancy and I took the 4 train to see the team perform on a beautiful, sunny afternoon, and as the train slowed for the 161 St. station, we were somewhat aghast by what looks like Dresden or Nagasaki but is in fact the remains of old homestead.

But look what awaited us only a few hundred yards to the north: how could anyone find fault with this vista, particularly since the myth that no one can afford the seats from which this picture was taken is just that, a myth. We paid a total of $60 for them on Stubhub, and if we hadn't requested e-mail delivery, it would have been $10 less. The fact that the Yanks got routed seemed almost incidental.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Nancy and I spent two weeks touring Morocco in March. These are a few of the 1,028,391 pictures we took.



Saturday, February 13, 2010


Nancy's mother, Beulah Wasserman, died four years ago; her father, Joe, followed his wife of 65 years into the great beyond in 2008. They lived a rich, happy life, and their family and countless friends mourned their passings, grieved for an appropriate length of time, but then, as we must, moved on.

All but the IRS, which went into a state of total denial. Having been duly informed of their deaths by Nancy, who as the eldest daughter took on the task of dealing with the estate and related matters, the IRS decided to stonewall. Letters addressed to Buelah and Joe Wasserman appeared regularly, demanding information -- why had they not filed tax returns? Had they changed domiciles? -- and making veiled threats: you are liable to penalties if you do not etc. etc.

Nancy dutifully replied to each missive, explaining in language that any child could grasp that the taxpayers in question were deceased. Last month, another letter arrived (by this time the IRS seemed to believe that B & J had cunningly taken refuge in East Hampton with us) that said, essentially, Prove it! Send us the death certificates! We'll send them back when we're convinced they're genuine.

So I scanned the death certificates and Nancy mailed them off to Washington. Today, an envelope arrived from the IRS with the certificates in them. It was addressed to Beulah and Joseph Wasserman.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Last night, Nancy and I went to a play reading at the Player's Club (founded by Edwin Booth in the late 19th century, and looks every day of it). The play was called "Mortal Terror," and its subject was the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when a malcontent named Guy Fawkes tried unsuccessfully to blow up Parliament and everyone in it, including King James and the rest of the Royal Family.

I went partly because I knew that Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights Ben Jonson and John Marston were characters in it -- though they had no connection with the Plot, they figure prominently in the plot, Shakespeare to the point of having a clandestine affair with Queen Anne. But primarily I was there to renew my acquaintance with the playwright, Robert Brustein, who had been my advisor at Columbia during my first year of grad school and for whom I had written a thesis on the Modern French Theater. The proseminar on drama that he taught changed my life; it was my first experience with the academic side of theater, and it both scared me a little and thrilled me. If I'd never met Bob, I doubt I'd have finished graduate school and become a professor.

This was in the 60s. Bob, though he's now in his 80's, is still straight-backed, with all his hair and a brain in perfect working order. He's actually as handsome now (see picture) as he was then. Having not seen him for decades, I was sure he wouldn't have any idea who I was, but he remembered me -- the name and the thesis were familiar to him, though we haven't seen each other once during all those intervening years, which he spent at Yale Drama School and then at Harvard, running the American Repertory Theater, which he founded.

We don't often get a chance to make connections over that span of time. It telescoped virtually my whole adult life to a vanishing point; suddenly I was 22 again, and he the Young Turk of the Columbia English department. Before Columbia, he had taught at Vassar, and his charisma was such (I have this on good authority) that Jane Fonda, then an undergrad, got up an hour early to apply makeup before showing up in Bob's class. He was a little intimidating in those days, but now we met almost as equals, and he couldn't have been warmer; he seemed to be getting as much of a kick out of our reunion as I was. So here's to you and your new play, Bob -- may we all age as gracefully as you have.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Driving down Park Avenue at dusk yesterday, stopped at a red light, I had Hamlet on my mind -- specifically the scene in Gertrude's bedchamber, in which Hamlet forces his mother to confront two pictures -- his father and her present husband -- in which his villainous uncle comes off far worse:

Look here, upon this picture, and on this,
The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.
See, what a grace was seated on this brow;
Hyperion's curls; the front of Jove himself. . . .
This was your husband. Look you now, what follows:
Here is your husband; like a mildew'd ear,
Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes?

The light turned green, and I looked forward, down the avenue to its vanishing point -- which used to be the graceful silhouette of the Grand Central building, but is now the shapeless colossus of the Met Life Building just to the south, which (as one architecture critic said when it was built as the Pan Am Building in 1963), is wedged into the space it occupies like a fat lady trying to get through a narrow doorway.

So, like Hamlet, I superimposed the pictures of past and present, and came to the much the same conclusion: Park Avenue, whose terminus used to be as graceful as the Champs Elysee leading into the Arc de Triomphe, now simply hits a brick wall, so to speak. Lever House and the Seagrams Building, which had brought some architectural distinction to the famous boulevard, has been decisively trumped -- and not by the Donald, who later accelerated the process. The Pan Am / Met Life usurper, like Claudius, has irreversibly blasted its wholesome brother.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


I’ve lived in many New York apartment buildings – I think the total is up to ten – but none of them more wonderfully situated than 2 West 67th, to which my parents moved when I was about 13, and which was my home away from home during prep school and college. Aside from fronting on Central Park, our building had the advantage of being situated directly across the street from the storied, landmarked 1 West 67th, better known as the Hotel des Artistes, built in 1916 as an artist’s cooperative (all the south-facing windows are double-height) and home, during its illustrious history, to Child Hassam, Isadora Duncan, Noel Coward, Norman Rockwell and Howard Chandler Christie who, in lieu of paying rent, executed the murals that graced the restaurant that, until last year, graced the main floor, the Café des Artistes. What he painted was a series of panels featuring naked woodland nymphs gamboling about a Grecian landscape, and I believe that the elderly woman who could be seen almost every afternoon during the 60's sipping an aperitif under one of the larger panels was the model he had used for all the figures 50 years earlier.

I’d never been inside any of the apartments until last night, when a very well-connected woman in Nancy’s pottery class threw a birthday party for a friend, the centerpiece of which was a piano recital by the composer Philip Glass, who filled the huge, stunning apartment with his own piano works. Sipping champagne as the music rolled in lushly around me, I marveled at the architectural details – the 25-foot ceiling, the kitschy second-floor balcony – and that wonderful mix of West Siders that no other neighborhood can boast, the multiracial academic/intellectual/bohemians of a certain age, leavened by a sprinkling of young men and women whose collective coolness was easily a match for lower Manhattan, a few toddlers, and an enormous cat who prowled among us as we listened.

My people, I realized. I’ve lived on the East Side for 40 years now, and such a gathering would never have taken place on Park Avenue. Money on the East Side is stodgy; everyone wears a suit, and it would have been a charity event to be endured. Money on the West Side has style; everyone wears what they want, and it was a musical event to be cherished. I’m so glad, after all these years, finally to have found my way into a building in the same class, culturally and architecturally, with the Dakota and the

Friday, January 1, 2010


On New Year's Eve, Nancy and I stayed home and watched DVDs. I'd like to pretend that we turned down invitations to all sorts of glamorous parties because it's a long-standing tradition with us to view It Happened One Night every December 31st, but such was not the case. We went to a friend's house for a drink at 7, and were home by 9.

The friend's daughter, however, is a member of the Motion Picture Academy, and she offered to lend us "screeners" of two possible Best Picture contenders, Up in the Air and Precious (whose full title, annoyingly, no doubt for legal reasons, is actually Precious: Based on a Novel by Sapphire). We took and watched them both.

Disclaimer: Stop reading here if you haven't seen, and want to see, either or both of them, because I'm going to have to tell you a little about them to make my point.

On the surface, no two films could be less alike. Up in the Air is about Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) who has no life and likes it that way; he travels 300 days a year for his soul-destroying job (he works for a company that fires people for other companies), and he hates the days he's not travelling. The element in which he lives is the world of business class, airport lounges, car rentals, and hotels, all of which he enjoys mightily because his huge total of amassed frequent-flyer miles entitles him to upgrades in every department. He has no friends; he's estranged from his family; the only women in his life are one-night stands he meets on the road, and his only ambition is to become only the seventh person to achieve 10-million-mile status on American Airlines.

Precious is about a depressed 16-year-old black girl who lives in Harlem and faces a future so bleak it's painful to contemplate. She has a child with Down's Syndrome and is pregnant with another, both fathered by . . . her own father. She lives with her satanic mother, who abuses her emotionally and physically, screaming at her to give up school and go on Welfare, as she, the mother, has. And, though she fantasizes about herself as a celebrity, she's startlingly obese. At school, Precious is doing all right in math but she can't read the simplest of sentences. The second pregnancy causes her to be expelled, and just as she's settling into an alternative school, she discovers that her father has given her AIDS.

I had been looking forward to Up in the Air because it sounded like a breezy, sexy comic recreation for grown-ups. I had little interest in Precious because it sounded like something worse than tragic -- the inexorable downward spiral of someone whose life is insupportably awful and who never expected or had a shot at anything else. Wrong on both counts. What makes the films similar is that both Ryan and Precious blossom as the narratives unfold. Ryan reconnects with his family, saving his sister's wedding; he mentors his young assistant, who manages to teach him a thing or two about what's wrong with the business they're in; he meets a woman in an airport bar who turns out to be smart, funny, and interesting enough for him to abandon their transient relationship (meeting in hotels whenever their business travels intersect). He takes her along to the sister's wedding, and the relationship develops depth and human texture.

Precious, too, comes to life. Monosyllabic throughout the first half of the picture, she's taken under the wing of an extraordinary teacher at her new school, and she begins to read and write and talk out loud. This sounds like a lot of inspirational-teacher movies you've already seen, like Dangerous Minds, but it's not; such is the brilliance of Gabourey Sidibe and her mostly anonymous supporting cast that everything looks, sounds, and feels almost unbearably real. She rescues herself from her mother, moves into a halfway house, finds the courage to live with her disease, and at the end of the movie is well on her way to her GED and a life with some dignity and the promise of rewards in it.

Ryan is not so lucky. Breaking a cardinal rule, he surprises his new-found ladyfriend at home, and discovers she's married with children. He learns that one of the countless people he's fired on the job has committed suicide, and his career breaks into a thousand little pieces. Achieving his 10-million-mile status, he finds himself indifferent. The assistant goes off to a real job in San Francisco; the girlfriend says she's still up for intermittent escapist sex but nothing more; what passes for his home is a studio apartment in Omaha, where the movie leaves him contemplating the bleakest future imaginable.

So what begins as a feelgood movie turns out to be a downer, a story of a clever, resourceful, sympathetic man who loses his way in a life that has become a trackless wasteland from which he'll never emerge. And the movie that looks to be a heartbreaker is instead that rarest of beasts, a heartwarmer for adults, a story of someone who seems doomed but who will survive and if not thrive, at least cope. So in the end, they are, indeed, very different films, except in two ways: they have the same narrative structure, if not ending, and they're two of the best movies of 2009.