Category Archives: friends

The Hofheimers

When we started to plan this trip, the first thing I did was map out all the people on our route around the country we could visit.  There were family, friends we saw pretty often, friends we hadn’t seen in quite a while, friends we’d really lost touch with, and then there were what we might call secondary friends – people we knew mainly through other friends.  A number of whom said, if you make it to our neck of the woods, we’d love to see you.  The Africanos in Illinois were the first we visited in this category, and the Hofheimers in Virginia Beach were the next.

DSCF7575i first met Jo Ann and Buzzy Hofheimer 35 years ago.  Jo Ann is the oldest sister of my friend Karen Zeno (now in Seattle), and Buzzy is some level of cousin to Mike Zeno, Karen’s husband.  (This was our first introduction to the interconnectedness of southern families.)  We met at Karen and Mike’s wedding in Norfolk, and compared to us recent college grads, they seemed markedly grown-up – married, with kids and real jobs. They had both been raised in the Norfolk area, and settled down there, where Buzzy worked in title insurance and real estate, and Jo Ann owned a bookstore, while raising two charming children, Kate and Robert.  Over the years I would see them at Zeno family occasions – births, bar and bat mitzvahs, etc., and it was always fun hanging out with them, although it was always for short periods of time.  (At one point in the early 90s, their son Robert stopped in to Eugene on a cross-country drive, and I had the pleasure of taking him on an Animal House tour of the UO,  fulfilling one of his lifelong dreams.)

When you live in the northeast or the northwest, you actually don’t get to know many southerners;  you know people who have left the south, and you know some people who have moved to the south, but you seldom come across people who were born and stayed there. So in some way Jo Ann and Buzzy provided me with my model for what southerners were like.  This was obviously a somewhat skewed view, as compared to most southerners they are coastal and liberal, but the differences from the northerners I knew were evident – a deep gregariousness and immediate friendliness, talking at a less-than-frenetic pace, and a manner that is always  welcoming and gracious.  So as we started to head deeper into the south, it was wonderful to begin the acculturation process with them.

They are both retired now, and have sold their house in town to live full time on the beach in Virginia Beach, a few blocks from where Buzzy’s family’s house was when he was growing up.  They beautifully remodeled an older house on the dunes, which is simple and comfortable, and includes a feature most of us would love – a stair hall with bookcases two stories tall (with books perfectly arranged, as befits a former bookstore owner).  When we arrived Jo Ann shooed us out onto the beach so we could catch the light before dusk, and then we returned for a fabulous dinner of local fish.

DSCF7374The next day Greta and I accompanied Jo Ann on her four-mile morning walk in First Landing State Park, leading to the estuary of the Lynnhaven River.  We thought we were in pretty good shape from all the touring we’d been doing around cities, but she had us both sprinting to keep up with her.  Then we visited the Brock Environmental Center (which I’ve previously posted) – Jo Ann is a docent there, where their daughter Kate is the Vice President for Development for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  After an afternoon in Norfolk we rejoined them for dinner at a local seafood restaurant, where I began my renewed involvement with eating oysters (which has continued across the south, but which Greta will not be blogging about).

The sites in Norfolk were interesting, but we mostly enjoyed having the opportunity to sit around and talk (and eat and drink) with Jo Ann and Buzzy – just the four of us, not in the general hubbub of a big family party.  That has been the fun thing about secondary friends – people you’ve always really liked, but with whom you’ve never been able to spend enough time to really get to know them.  After a couple of days of conversation and hospitality, I think we can remove the “secondary” from the classification, and we hope we get to see them more often.

Kerry Moran and Mark Rylander

I’ve always warned Greta to be careful about whom she talks to the first day in a new school, as you might then be stuck with them for the rest of your life.  My first day in grad school at Columbia I found my assigned desk (no egalitarian lottery system as at the UO), and Kerry Moran was sitting next to me, one of the more fortuitous events in my life.  We would have become friends even if we hadn’t sat together, as she was one of the funnier and saner people in the class, and trying to fit in at Columbia definitely required some grounding with a few sane people.  Kerry had gone to Penn as an undergrad, and we were in the same boat, as well-educated people who thought about design a lot, but had never actually had to sit down at a desk and design something.  We were more than a little intimidated, as at least half of our classmates had BAs in architecture from really good schools such as UVA and Illinois, and their experience and skills were daunting.DSCF7300

Mark Rylander was one of those daunting people.  He wasn’t in school with us, but he had majored in architecture at UVA, and lived with one of our classmates in New York as he began his architectural career, so he effectively became a member of our class, albeit one that only spent weekends in studio when he was helping someone else out.  Mark did eventually head off to grad at school at Yale, where I believe there was a higher percentage of sane people.

Kerry became a close friend (not hurt by her being one of the few students who could or would cook).  She and her roommate Heidi began their long tradition of fabulous holiday parties, and at some point in grad school, they took over running the small lunch concession in Avery Hall; the food was so good that it was discovered by non-architecture students, and soon the business school students with their strings of pearls had moved in and squeezed the architecture students out.

In second year everyone had to tackle a large housing studio in pairs.  Kerry and I decided to work together, and it was eye-opening.  I would sit and talk about what we should be doing, and she would stare at me and say, What the hell are you talking about?  Then she would start drawing, and eventually I’d say, Is that a plan or a section?  And she would say, I don’t know, it’s just a drawing.  Somehow between these two approaches we developed a working method, and things turned out fine – we really worked as a team, complementing and covering for each other (although our elevations were ghastly).  This studio may be where I started to really get the nonlinear, intuitive side of design.  Later on Kerry pointed out how unusual our partnership was – we were the only female/male partnership in the class, and we were probably the only partners who remained friends.

I knew Mark mainly from hanging out at parties, but then one summer we both ended up in Italy at the same time, and spent a few days together in Rome, Florence and Siena.  We enjoyed each other’s company, but I realized there were certain things I couldn’t do with Mark.  We were sketching in the Villa Borghese gardens, and after a while I wandered over to look at Mark’s sketchbook.  Then I just closed my book and walked away – it was just too depressing trying to draw when Mark was seemingly effortlessly cranking out sketches which were all much better than I’d ever be able to achieve.  I’ve felt that way about much of Mark’s career since – you think you have him pegged as a really capable professional architect, or as a cutting-edge expert in sustainable design, or as a really talented designer, and then you realize that he’s just superb at all of those very different things.

After school we all stayed in New York, and eventually Kerry and Mark got married and lived in Brooklyn.  They worked at a string of good firms – Polshek’s, Gwathmey Siegel, Bob Stern’s – and a few others, experiencing the peculiar joys of life in a high-powered professional world.  One summer in the early 90s I was back from Oregon visiting, and had dinner with them right after their daughter Lane was born.  Mark arrived home from work with a Xeroxed memo that had been placed on everyone’s desk at work that morning.  It was clarifying the extent of the workday, which began at 8:00, and ended at 8:00, and could you please just eat lunch at your desk because things were very busy. Mark and Kerry looked at each other, and at Lane, and said, it’s time to leave this city.

When Bill McDonough was appointed dean at UVA, Mark called him up to offer congratulations (Mark had previously worked for him in the early 80s), and Bill invited him to come along.  So they moved off to Charlottesville, and their son Peter was born there in the late 90s.  Mark worked for McDonough and Partners for 16 years, establishing his own reputation as a sustainability expert, chairing the AIA Committee on the Environment, etc.  In the past 20 years I’ve mainly seen Mark when a colleague drags him out to Oregon for reviews.  Since leaving McDonoughs a few years ago, Mark has worked on his own, with a combination of architecture, sustainability consulting and project management.

Kerry has had her own firm since before they moved, and has continued her practice mainly in residential work – houses, additions and remodels in the historically-compatible style appropriate to a place like Charlottesville.  The work is small and exquisite – seeing a refined modernist sensibility applied to these projects reinforces my belief that the best contextual work doesn’t copy historical architecture but complements it on a level deeper than style.  In recent years, it seems that more and more of Kerry’s attention has gone into community theater.  The whole family was involved when the kids were younger, but now Kerry is a mainstay of a few local troupes – designing (and usually building) sets and costumes, and frequently acting.  While we were visiting Kerry was up to her eyeballs in getting City Of Angels to the finish line, and we were able to catch the soft opening and see the payoff.  It was remarkable; I especially enjoyed the part where the character in an iron lung joined in singing the chorus.

DSCF6862We arrived just in time for Thanksgiving, for which Kerry cooked for days, and were part of a large crew of family, friends, and other passers-through.  We got to meet the latest incarnations of their children – Lane now graduated from UVA in architectural history and just back from working on an organic farm in Utah, and Peter now an art student at VCU in Richmond.  (It seems that both learned enough as children of architects to shy away from the profession, but you can only suppress those hereditary talents so far.)  Greta got her transient pet-fix from Ace, a terrier with a lot of personality who liked to lie on her feet.

I managed to get a picture of Peter smiling.

I managed to get a picture of Peter smiling.

We planned on staying for a couple of days, but Greta got sick, and then the weather turned cold and rainy, so we just hung out for a week, as we couldn’t leave without seeing the landscape around Monticello on a beautiful day. That was really just a good excuse to catch up with old friends, so we walked and ate and talked, and every evening Kerry would head off to the theater while Mark and I drank Manhattans.

High school friends

Grad74When I began planning this trip, the first thing I did was to map out where we had friends all across the country.  Reconnecting with old friends, often after decades of separation, has been one of the high points for me (although perhaps farther down on Greta’s list, below eating new foods and seeing cute animals).  What’s been most amazing is how these visits haven’t just been exercises in nostalgia;  these friends have grown up and changed, and I’ve found I like the new versions of them just as much as I did the older, familiar ones.  We’ve had great conversations, usually into the late hours, and I have learned a lot about their lives, the choices they’ve made, and how they’ve made sense of life as they’ve had careers, raised children, dealt with life’s inevitable crises, etc.

We visited friends across the country, but then in the northeast there was such a density that it’s been hard to see all of them (and even harder to blog about it, as we spend all our time talking).  Around Boston there were friends from every phase of my life – high school, college, grad school, New York, Eugene.  Perhaps the most surprising visits were with friends from high school whom I hadn’t seen in 41 years.  After so long you wonder whether you’re going to have anything in common anymore, whether you’ll even recognize each other; but that wasn’t the case at all.

DSCF6027Cos Rappoccio and I spent a lot of time together in high school.  We shared many classes, and he was notable as the quiet one who always did well.  (He pulled out our yearbook, where my note to him then emphasized how he made us look bad in German class, getting good grades while the rest of us were goofing around.)  We weren’t in the same cliques – I was from White Plains, and he hung with his buddies from Port Chester – but one of the best things about our high school was that there was a lot of mixing among all the different groups.  Jocks, preppies, stoners, smart kids, greasers – at some level we all knew each other and got along well, with most of us belonging to a few different groups.  Cos and I did reminisce about those old days, catching each other up on those mutual friends with whom we’d lost contact.

After high school Cos went to Clarkson and then grad school at Johns Hopkins, with degrees in electrical engineering.  He married Mary, a computer scientist, and they settled outside Annapolis, where they raised two children – their son Dave (who lives in Portland), and their daughter Rachel, with whom Greta bonded instantly, when she realized that her dogs were named Merry and Pippin. (Greta has been picking up new friends on this trip – a lot of interesting nerdy girls, who range in age from 8 to 30, and it’s been cool for her to meet other girls with whom she’s felt an instant affinity.)

Cos went to work for Northrop Grummon, and as he puts it, he’s had the same office phone number for 37 years.  He’s been involved in projects I can’t really understand, mainly making really small cool things like sensors, but it was interesting how our discussion on our careers showed many parallels in processes, organizational challenges, and how to carve out an interesting niche within a large organization.

Cos has been a bicycling fanatic for years, making me jealous with his Facebook posts showing long rides through beautiful countrysides.  He’s recently had health issues which have slowed him down physically, but not in any other ways.  We had a great talk into the night, picking it up again in the morning, and he was the same sane, thoughtful guy I remembered.  At this point I should put in a plug for Facebook – Cos and I would never have reconnected without social media over the past decade, and it was great to have the opportunity to reconnect with a friend from so far back.  We decided to not wait another 41 years to get together again.

DSCF6713Ted Sudol was another of the Corpus Christi / Port Chester crowd in our high school.  We too shared a lot of classes, but also had extracurricular interests which put us in contact, perhaps even competition.  I was editor of the newspaper, and Ted was a mainstay of the yearbook, and traditionally these groups carried on a low-level war of pranks and other idiocies throughout the years.  The percentage of conversation among teenage boys that is sheer bantering is astounding, and Ted and I did our share of that.  But Ted was also interested in serious issues, and I remember the depth he brought to such conversations, both in class and out.  We spent many an evening drinking beer (the drinking age was lower then) and solving the world’s problems.

Ted went off to Georgetown and then law school at Temple, and we haven’t seen each other since.  He married his lovely wife Jill, and they somehow decided that her having twins was a sane thing to do while she was in medical school.  They had two more kids after that, and Ted remarked that his children’s accomplishments – an anesthesiologist (like her mom), a creative writing professor, a math-econ-data whiz, and a sports-marketing intern – disprove the concept of regression to the mean, as they all seem to be more accomplished than him.  Not that he has been much of a slouch – having had a career mainly in fundraising and development, working for non-profits and universities (James Madison), and now as managing director of a firm which provides development expertise and consulting services for non-profits.

Ted and his family have lived in a number of places, but for the last couple of decades in Harrisonburg, in the Shenandoah Valley.  Their kids are all out of the house, and their sixth grandchild is on the way.  (This is almost inconceivable to someone who is travelling the country with a 14-year-old, and I wonder how they managed to get this all out of the way so quickly.)  True to form, Ted and I talked almost non-stop while we were there;  the conversation didn’t even slow down for his cooking exertions (which included creme brûlée french toast, perhaps the most voluptuous  breakfast we’ve ever had).  It was a quick but intense visit, and we’re trying to convince them to visit us, since they don’t have the kids holding them back.


Bob Ripp showed up during our third year in high school, his family having just moved from Long Island.  Despite the hard time we gave him about being from The ‘gIsland, Bob fit in immediately; he became one of our crowd as if he’d been there from the beginning.  Bob was always at the center of all teenage adventures, always up for a night out and for never turning in.

In the past few weeks, when I was sitting around reminiscing with the other classmates in this post, it was striking how they all said more or less the same thing about Bob – that he was the most genuinely engaging, friendly, outgoing and happy person they knew in high school.  He had a good word for everyone, and I think a lot of people left high school thinking that they were one of Bob’s best friends.  We’ve all known a lot of people who give that impression, but with Bob it’s never been superficial – he really is that positive, he really is a good guy, and you know he really is your friend, for life.

Bob had a large and entertaining family, and it became clear that this warmth and gregariousness flowed out from the whole group.  His mother and grandfather with their southern charm, his older siblings, his impish little sisters – they were all engaging and fun, and they immediately made you one of the family.  Bob’s little brother Michael was a couple of years younger than us, and also became a good friend.  Michael joined us for beers one night in Boston, and it was great to see him after all these years, a serious (somewhat), grown-up family man.  DSCF4380

Bob went off to Holy Cross for college, where he was a member of the rugby team and lived in the notorious rugby house across from the campus entrance.  Rumors reached us of their legendary exploits, and when we visited, the rumors were always proved true.  As in high school, Bob acquired a large set of great friends, and by extension, any time we saw Bob we were accepted into this boisterous crowd and dragged along on their adventures.  After college, Bob and most of his crew moved into Boston, getting jobs in finance and real estate, and the life continued as best it could, despite the inevitable attrition to marriage and families.

Bob has worked for a number of financial firms, having been at Morgan Stanley et al for quite a while now, ensconced in a tower downtown with a nice view of the harbor.  Bob and Beth got married, they settled on the North Shore in a very old town called Boxford, and they raised two girls, Annie and Katherine.  We didn’t get to meet them, as they are now off at college and boarding school, but there were so many pictures of them around the house that I’m pretty convinced that they exist.  We had met Beth once previously, at Linda’s and my wedding (which doesn’t really count as meeting someone since you’re a little preoccupied), where Beth kept getting mistaken for one of Linda’s sisters.  It was great to spend more time with her on this trip, and I enjoyed seeing Beth snap into “mom” mode when she met Greta, something Greta liked too, after being cooped up with just a dad.

Bob and I spent a bunch of time racking around – an amazing tour of the byways of Ipswich, Topsfield, and other beautiful towns, meals and drinks in a variety of locations, and most notably, Bob turning on the charm and talking our way into the Crane mansion when it was closed to the public.  In Oregon, I’m generally regarded as a pretty gregarious, funny and outgoing person (right?), but when I’m with Bob, by comparison I feel introverted and lugubrious.  After all these years, he still exudes warmth and engagement to everyone he’s with, from old friends to random people on the street.  Bob clearly loves the world, and it seems that the world loves him.


Some of these high school friends have been long-lost, but Bill McGowan and I have stayed  close throughout the past four decades.  Bill was one of the hard core of Croton boys in high school, and a few of us down-county types attached to that core.  After college at Middlebury, Bill pursued varied jobs such as scallop and conch fishing out of Nantucket, turning that experience into his first published article in the New York Times Magazine.  Bill and I moved back to New York at the same time, and we lived together in a tenement on 82nd and Amsterdam while I was in grad school.  Besides being a good friend in that challenging time, Bill was responsible for my having any social life at all, as he actually knew people who weren’t architecture students, and he would drag me along to get me out of the architecture rut for brief periods.  (Bill also claims responsibility for introducing me to all my girlfriends in the early 80s, which is mostly correct.)  After grad school I moved a whole block away, and Bill and I continued to hang out for the rest of the 80s.  Those were the days, when New York neighborhoods hadn’t all been homogenized yet, and we watched the wave of gentrification roll up Columbus Avenue.

I remember Bill having one office job in the past four decades, which he quickly abandoned to pursue the life of a freelance writer and journalist.  He has had a remarkable career in that time, publishing many articles in a wide range of journals, and also publishing three books:  Only Man Is Vile, a first-hand account of the Sri Lankan civil war;  Coloring the News, which documented how political bias distorts much supposed hard news reporting;  and Gray Lady Down, on the decline and fall of the NY Times.  He also has a blog at, where he is not afraid to advance controversial ideas.

As I contemplated Bill’s career, it occurred to me that he’s managed to find the sweet spot of pissing off everyone on the right and everyone on the left.  Liberals find his questioning of accepted pieties and his association with such institutions as the Wall Street Journal to be anathema, while right-wingers are agitated by his unwillingness to toe the line drawn by the plutocrats who fund their think-tanks and magazines.  (Bill may be the only moderately conservative journalist in the country who isn’t living a lifestyle funded by the Kochs.)  Reading through his articles and blog posts, I find that he is willing to attack those of every political persuasion, based upon some pretty clear principles, and is seldom distracted by the current fads and conventional wisdom.  Orwell would have liked him.

When I’d visit New York in recent years, Bill and I would always have an evening where I could pretend I was a bachelor, and we’d go barhopping downtown to all the places where hipsters and supermodels hang out.  This has become a little more problematic on recent trips with Greta in tow, but being with Bill still always conveys a sense of being in the middle of the action in the big city, which our little Oregonian finds very exciting.  On this trip we met by the Bjarke Ingels building and wandered through Hell’s Kitchen to a fine neighborhood Italian place and had the kind of pizza you don’t get in Eugene.  I’ve spent a lot of evenings eating and drinking with this man, and it doesn’t get old.

College friends

As I was planning this trip and listing all the old friends we’d be able to visit, I discovered, to my amazement, that Greta was actually interested in meeting more of my college friends. She knew Dan and Mike and Bob, and she found them really entertaining – smart and funny and very offbeat, so she assumed the others would be the same.

I met Isadore Katz because he went to prep school with Bill, one of my freshman roommates. I distinctly remember this very intense person showing up during freshman year, complaining about Rochester and its miserable weather, where he had made the mistake of deciding to go to college. The next year Iz rectified this by transferring to Wesleyan, and he would stop in to visit us when he was back in Boston. He lived with members of our crowd sometimes in summers, and back in 1977 he and I spent a week together hiking the ridgeline around the Pemigewasset Wilderness in the White Mountains.peeps019

Isadore moved back to Boston to work as a consultant after college, so we hung out for a couple of years until I moved to New York for grad school. Isadore started at the Sloane School at MIT at the same time, and when I asked him how business school was, he said, You’d be surprised at what passes for a concept around here. He lived with us in NY during a summer internship in 1983.  After school Iz worked in the expanding computer industry, and met his wife Chris, a very cool and laid-back architect who had the good sense to not marry another architect. They moved off to Silicon Valley in the mid-80s, and after I moved to Oregon in 1990, I would see them whenever I went down to the Bay Area. Iz and Chris raised three wild and crazy girls, who have now grown up to be in law school at Berkeley, working in tech in Silicon Valley, and in college at Barnard. (One of the secondary goals of this trip has been to reconnoiter the terrain on how smart and independent girl-children turn out.)

Isadore has always had another one of those jobs where we can never quite figure out what he does, although in this case it’s not due to the vagueness of the job description, but rather to the complexity of the technology involved. He’s mainly been in the management end of the high tech industry, although after the Crash, he spent a couple of years working as a consultant at the Veterans Administration, essentially reconfiguring their database operation. About a decade ago, back in Massachusetts, he started a company that, as far as I can tell, designs software for chip manufacturers to help them model real, versus theoretical, chip performance, before they put a design into production.DSCF4787Is and Chris live in Harvard, Mass, out in the woods past I-495, a short walk from Fruitlands, the transcendentalist utopian community started by the Alcotts and others.  Staying with them felt like being home – a modern house with lots of windows looking at the trees, a few days eating and drinking, and relentless storytelling and joking with two of the cleverest people I know. Isadore’s brother Seth, another friend from long ago, dropped in from his home in Florida, and we all got to reminisce about crummy apartments in Somerville and life before we became middle-aged.DSCF4791


Bob Beckman was one of my freshman roommates. I walked into our five-person suite, and saw that half of one room was already occupied, by someone who had left an olive-drab, gigantic filing cabinet, with a bar and padlock across the drawers. I immediately decided to take my chances on the other double room. Bob showed up and confirmed my take on him – a serious science nerd from the Philadelphia area, whose career orientation had been jumpstarted by his technocrat father (who had also supplied the government surplus file cabinet). In high school Bob had been a Westinghouse science competition national finalist with his research into sleep patterns, and this direction continued with his advanced standing concentration as a pre-med.

Bob’s seemed to conform to the absent-minded nerd stereotype: incredibly brilliant and relatively incompetent in dealing with the real world (manifested in such incidents as his first attempt to cook a hamburger, when it became clear he had no idea that you had to flip them). But contrary to type, Bob was one of the wittiest and most social people around. After graduating from college early, Bob worked in a lab for a year, and had weekly gatherings at his apartment for his college buddies, featuring endless guitar jams and truly awful spaghetti dinners.   He also began his association with a lab at UW, furthering his research into a mathematically-based approach to understanding cancer. (Yes, Bob has another one of those careers I can’t understand, despite his repeated efforts to explain it to me.) Bob then entered the Harvard-MIT joint MD-PhD program, sharing an apartment with Isadore throughout this period, as his cooking skills marginally improved after determined effort.  Bob moved off to California for his residency, where he met his wife Susan, a medical social worker from Rhode Island, whose good sense, unflappable disposition, and extreme competence have provided the bedrock upon which Bob could continue his stereotypical scientist life.DSCF6265Bob worked as a pediatric oncologist, but finally gave up on the clinical career when the unique American medical insurance situation made it impossible for him to practice medicine in the way he knew it should be practiced. He went to work on the East Coast for a succession of pharmaceutical companies over the next two decades, designing cancer drug trials, and trying to survive the corporate politics, while he and Susan raised two great kids, Daniel (now working for the NPS at Saguaro, whom we plan on visiting next month) and Laura, an artist in New York. Bob was appointed a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, where he furthered his continued interest in cancer research, while still holding down his day job.

A few years ago Bob mentioned that with the kids grown and retirement money stashed away, he’d like to return to research full time, using the last decade of his career to consolidate his theoretical approach to cancer. I warned him that the institutional nuttiness of academia was different from, but not necessarily any better than that in large corporations, but he didn’t listen. So last fall Bob got an appointment as a professor at Georgetown. He works with some graduate students, but his main job is to secure funding and pursue his unique direction in cancer research. We stayed with Bob and Susan in the little rowhouse they’re renting in Georgetown, where they are thrilled with the possibilities of urban life, after a few decades in suburbia in the northeast.DSCF6267


Norman Rave was another resident of our freshman dorm of misfits and savants. He arrived as a relatively conservative graduate of a Jesuit high school in Cincinnati, and along with us other lapsed Catholics, left the trapping of that life behind fairly quickly. Going off to college allows you to reinvent yourself, and Norman took advantage of this in the best possible way, combining his academic interest in biochemistry with his other strong predilections for literature and philosophy. Long rambling conversations with Norman about the meaning of life were some of the highpoints of college for me.

Norman always wore a weirdly wide range of eclectic tee-shirts, which I at first took to be the expression of an extremely ironic viewpoint, but it turned out that he just shopped at a store in Cincinnati which sold remaindered and misprinted shirts really cheaply.  When this sartorial approach combined with Norman’s decision to stop cutting his hair or his beard, his appearance became the quintessence of the mid-70s college student, and he was known as Troll thereafter.
redwood021Norman got into grad school at Berkeley, so the summer after college, he and Dan Rabin and I drove across the country together, packed into an old Datsun B210 with all of Norman’s possessions. The person riding in the backseat was unable to move at all, and our overall appearance was such that we were shocked at the laxity of US law enforcement in that no one ever pulled us over. This was the first cross-country drive for any of us (I am in the middle of my 11th right now), but it just started a trend for Norman. He decided he didn’t like grad school, so he drove back to the east, and then back and forth a few times as he tried to figure out what to do with his life.

At some point he stumbled upon a position working in a lab at Princeton, which was of little long-term professional import, but where he met Ginny, a post doc in the lab, who would later become his wife.  (I didn’t get  a good photo of Norman and Ginny, but they still look remarkably like they did 35 years ago, except for the hair length.)  RavesThey lived in Boston and then DC, as Norman decided he was more interested in the policy side of environmental issues, and he attended Georgetown Law School. Norman eventually ended up at the DOJ, while he and Ginny raised three kids in Rockville. Ginny spent years as a full-time mom, but began teaching high school science about ten years ago, and recently led a group of students on a field trip to the Amazon (she is nothing like any of the science teachers I ever had.)

We got to meet Kate, who is living at home while considering grad school (maybe in Oregon), and Will, who attends George Washington University. (Greta realized she had picked up yet another member for her cool nerdy posse when Kate opened the front door wearing her Welcome to Nightvale tee shirt.) Helen is off at Harvard Law, where she has actually studied environmental law cases that were argued by her father. Greta and I had a great time hanging around with all of them; most of my friends are now empty-nesters, and eating family dinners and spending time with a crowd was a nice change on our trip. And Norman and I got to sit around drinking bourbon and yacking, which we hadn’t done in 20 years.

At one point I asked Greta what she thought about all these friends she’d now met. She said it was fun, but strange. Little kids largely grow up in the world their parents construct for them, listening to the stories their parents tell. Greta had heard stories about these people throughout her life – Bob Stories are an especially iconic category among my people – and long ago they had assumed almost mythical status in her cosmology.  So while it was nice to meet the real people, the legends were somewhat diminished now.  Greta enjoyed getting to know Norman, but she’ll never have the same innocent fascination with Troll that she had before.

Family (northern edition)

DSCF6551-copyTraveling to the Northeast not only meant catching up with many old friends, but also seeing the family, in New York and Pennsylvania.  We didn’t get to see everyone, and we couldn’t stay as long as we wanted (as we could sense the change in weather closing in on us), but we shall return soon.

We stayed with my brother Jerry in Westchester, to which he has returned after a long hiatus in New Jersey.  Jerry is eight years older than me, but from the earliest age, we’ve always been pretty close.  PAK016a

And as is probably typical with most siblings, there are ways we are polar opposites (politics, musical taste), and ways in which we are pretty similar (sailing, traveling, dark sense of humor).  As we’ve been traveling down to the south in recent weeks, I realized we were going places that I first visited when Jerry was a teenager and took his little brother along on a road trip – the Shenandoah Valley, Charleston, etc.  Those were the first trips I made without a parent, and I think they planted the idea that one could just get in a car and go see the world.  In the past decade we’ve gotten together every summer, as jerry flies out to Whidbey Island, and we sail and hang out.
Sailboat-shots-017After a career in insurance and banking, Jerry retired two years ago, about 15 seconds after he was eligible, and retirement seems to suit him very well.  (For the last three years of his working life, his screensaver was a photo of his sailboat with a count-down calendar on it.)  His good friends Pam and Steve sold their house and bought a two-family house in Mamaroneck, and after a year of renovation, they live in the downstairs unit and Jerry lives upstairs.  They are three miles away from the boat club where they all spend much of their time, and one mile from the train station into the City.  It seems like a very good model for retirement.

After a day in New York, Greta and I both caught a cold, and spent two days hunkered down at Jerry’s, where we caught up on all the 1960s sitcoms that I hadn’t watched since the 1960s.  (My brother has an encyclopedic knowledge of the classic shows of the past 60 years, but it was good to see that he has expanded his repertoire to include more recent television.)

While we were killing time, my nephew Sean (upper left in the top photo taken last Christmas) showed up with pizza and soup, and to entertain us for the day.  Sean grew up nearby in Larchmont, and now lives in Connecticut.  He is Greta’s first cousin – although 34 years older than her – so she really thinks of his three fantastic kids (Connor, Eleanor and and Alexandra) as being more her cousins.  Sean was always athletic, and in college he started the crew team at SUNY Oswego;  in recent years he has kept up this rowing, while also adding marathon running to his portfolio.  (He has also generously shared his rowing insights with Greta, suggesting “more forward body angle at the catch” when she was eight.)

Sean has one of those  jobs that I don’t really understand what it is he does (it is interesting how many more of those jobs I run into every year as I get older and more clueless).  I at least can tell that it involves advertising and the internet.  Somehow between the job in the City and athletic endeavors he still manages to be a great dad, and arguably the funniest person in the family.

My sister Pat is the oldest of us five, seen here in the first known picture of us together.  I was clearly the practice child for her raising four kids, including Sean.
Once her kids reached a certain age, Pat went to work as a pre-school teacher, for a couple of good reasons:  she enjoyed the company of little kids, and she really enjoyed having summers off to sit in the back yard and read non-stop; over her lifetime, Pat has probably been one of the steadiest supporters of the Strand bookstore, frequently hauling shopping bags full back to Larchmont on the train.  I sometimes have students ask me how I acquired the wide range of random facts that I seem to know, but I am nothing compared to my sister. (She also talks faster than I do.)    She not only retains facts, but she somehow always stays abreast of what everyone is doing, and what they are interested in.  Over the years, I’ve often been surprised by some gift from Pat that tied in perfectly with an interest of mine that I didn’t know she was aware of. This year’s Christmas present was no exception.  DSCF8973Pat retired a few years ago, and so she too was able to come by Jerry’s and spend the afternoon entertaining us when we were sick.  This trip has been rather intense for me and Greta – it seems that every day is dense with new experiences, usually of new places and things that are not that familiar to us.  But this one afternoon spent with Jerry, Pat and Sean was definitely the most dense with talking, joking and reminiscing, and we were really grateful to them all for dropping everything to do it.

Leaving New York, we headed to the Philadelphia Main Line to stay with my nephew Justin and his family.  Justin was a remarkably cute kid, but also a scarily smart one, memorably besting me in an argument when he was three.  He was always precocious, seeming much more mature than his age.
With that background, and his current career managing a mutual fund company, it is hard to believe that in an intermediate incarnation he spent some time following the Grateful Dead and supporting the trip by selling peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

In recent years, Justin has also turned into a serious weekend warrior athlete – marathons, triathlons, mountain biking, etc.  But like Sean and all his other cousins, Justin has become this super family guy.  His wife Joanie is perhaps the most energetic person I’ve ever known – raising two kids while working as a kindergarten teacher with an expertise in special education – and somehow fitting me and Greta into her agenda, making us feel right at home and then sending us on our way with enough food to snack on for a week.  Their daughter Abby is a charming high school senior, but being a high school senior she’s completely over-committed, charging around with her friends, but managing to join us for dinner one night.
Although Tyler is a only year older than Greta, living on opposite coasts they’ve only met each other a few times in their lives.  But getting together over the past couple of years, they’ve realized they have a lot in common – they’re both kind of quirky, willing to follow their own inclinations rather than the crowd, and they share a wide range of nerdy, fan-boy interests.  Tyler immediately roped Greta into multiple rounds of backgammon, and we spent a really fun day with him, at the Mercer Museum and then the new James Bond movie, as he guided us through the intricacies of Main Line geography.
DSCF5687We’ve gotten a little homesick from time to time on this extended trip, and it was really good to stop in places where we were at home, with family who love us and welcomed us in.

Jim McCarthy

DSCF3388Jim McCarthy and I first met almost 40 years ago.  I was in college and got a note from my mother, saying that my second cousin from Oregon was at the Bio Labs at Harvard and I should go meet him.  I dropped in, we chatted for quite a while, and then I moved to New York and didn’t see him again.  About 30 years later I was web-surfing and watching a Bill Moyers program on climate change on PBS, when this bearded Harvard biology professor named James J. McCarthy appeared.  I emailed him to ask whether he was my cousin, and he replied yes, he had been on the Harvard faculty ever since, and by the way, he had grown up in Sweet Home, and all the rest of his family lived in or around Eugene.

In the intervening years, Jim would come to Eugene from time to time to visit his mother (who has since passed away), and we got to spend some time with him and meet more of his family.  It was quite intriguing to get  to know a branch of your family that you weren’t really aware of – certain looks or expressions seem improbably familiar;  Jim actually looks a lot more like my grandfather than anyone in my immediate family does.

Jim has had an extraordinary academic career.  I won’t list all the details (I don’t want to  mimic those colleagues who introduce a visiting lecturer by spending 15 minutes reading their CVs), but he is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard, and for twenty years was the Director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ).  Most importantly, he has been at the forefront of climate change research and action throughout his whole career as a key member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and currently is the chair of the Union of Concerned Scientists.  (There are more details at  I’m frankly in awe of what he has accomplished in his career, as he embodies this ideal of the academic life – a cutting-edge researcher whose activism has had a great impact at the international scale, all while being very involved in university governance and caring deeply about teaching.  (We at least have the last two characteristics in common.)

Throughout this trip I’ve visited many friends in academia, and it’s been revealing to discover how similar our concerns are about the direction in which universities are moving, even when our institutions are quite different.  Jim and I also share an academic  focus on climate change – his at the fundamental level of figuring out what is taking place in the global environment, mine at the more pragmatic level of how the architectural profession and building industry should respond to this most important challenge.

Greta and I were walking across Harvard Yard and ran into Jim (we were going to try to find his office later in the day), which I regard as payback for the time I was biking home in Eugene and unexpectedly ran into him as he headed to the Law School to meet with Mary Wood.  We rendezvoused with him the next week for lunch, and then he took Greta on a behind-the-scenes tour of the collections at the MCZ, where she saw the marine specimens, supplementing what she’d seen of amphibians and reptiles with John Wenzel in Pittsburgh.  (Meeting leading scientists and learning about their work wasn’t one of the planned goals of this trip, but it has emerged as one of the most important ones for her.)  I  sat in Jim’s office and Skyped into the thesis presentation of one of my honors college students back in Eugene, and I think the backdrop of his bookshelves and papers lent me an appropriate online academic gravity that calling in from a Starbucks wouldn’t have.  (I’m currently thinking about how I might be able to bring this semblance of academic gravity back to Eugene with me.)

Greta and I both really enjoyed talking with Jim, and we appreciated how he let us barge into his busy academic life (the longer we’re on this trip, the harder it is for us to remember that most people have normal lives with commitments and job and schedules.)  Greta got a glimpse into Harvard as it really is – an amazing collection of smart and engaged people working on serious issues – which was a good antidote to the old alumnus nostalgic sightseeing trip she was getting from me.

Mike and Cathie McGowan

At every new job, you acquire new work friends.  You spend a lot of time with your co-workers, and you often go out for drinks and get to know them pretty well.  Then you move on to a new job, and it’s interesting how few of these friendships endure.  It’s not that you don’t like your former co-workers, but perhaps the bond of working together isn’t enough to cement a friendship in the way that going to school is, or maybe it’s just that you’re at a place in your life where you have too many other commitments (family, etc.).  So the work friendships that endure are notable.DSCF3875

Mike McGowan and I began working together in the summer of 1981, when I had a summer internship at a firm doing commercial projects in New York.  Mike came from Boston where he worked as a welder for a few years, until he realized that he had reached the limit of how interesting that career was going to be.  He moved to New York and attended Pratt, and headed out into the working world a few years ahead of me. We worked in that office together for a while, but then stayed in touch when we both moved on.  (Even though he always lived in Brooklyn and I would have to venture out there once in a while.)

Cathie hailed from Chicago, and met Mike while she was working in the garment industry for Perry Ellis, and Mike was the project architect for the gut remodel of three stories in a 1920s building for the new Perry Ellis showroom and offices.  (perhaps Mike is just really good a maintaining work-based relationships).  They got married and lived in Park Slope, and we hung out together throughout the 80s.

Perhaps due to his background as a builder, Mike didn’t act like your typical young architect.  He took me on a tour of the Perry Ellis project just before it was finished, and all the subcontractors greeted him warmly, which shocked me – subs usually have a very adversarial relationship with the architect doing construction administration.  Mike always had a different perspective on the profession.  When he got his architectural license, he observed that what you learn in architecture school has very little to do with what you do as an architect, and the licensing exam had nothing to do with either of them.

In the late 80s, Mike and I started talking about opening a firm together, combining my experience in housing and his in commercial projects, hoping that might downturn-proof the firm.  But then the massive building recession of the late 80s happened;  I moved to Oregon to teach, and Mike and Cathie moved back to his hometown of Scituate, where Mike took a job as the in-house architect at Talbots.  DSCF3882They raised their son Patrick, who was educated in industrial design, and is now living in a converted schoolbus in Las Vegas, working on their startup designing hydroponic farming in shipping containers.  Cathie has put her massive organizational skills to work in a few local organizations and businesses, and Mike has moved on to Bergmeyer Associates, a Boston firm where he is the wise old guy who has seen everything.

Mike and Cathie seem to be happily adjusting to being empty-nesters, and we started thinking about how to maintain the friendship as we transition to being old retired friends.

Ray Porfilio and Rickie Harvey


Ray and Rickie have been good friends of mine since graduate school days in New York.  They had met while undergrads at Williams, and then Ray spent a couple of years studying law at Oxford (and rowing lightweight crew) before architecture school, which provided him with a broad education.  Getting to know Ray during first year turned out to be problem, as we sat next to each other in one studio and found that we had so many interesting things to talk about that it seriously interfered with getting our work done.  (Those of you who know me from later stages in my career can nod knowingly here, but it was really much worse in grad school than it has been since – when you put two people together who have this proclivity, it goes exponential.)

Ray and Rickie moved to Boston soon after graduation, where Ray worked for or managed a succession of very good firms at a range of scales, and Rickie continued her work in publishing and museums.  They lived in great old neighborhoods in Roslindale and West Roxbury,DSCF3869where I visited them whenever my travels took me to Boston.  They raised two children, Parker and Jaqueline, who to the amazement of all parents of recent college graduates, are employed full-time and living on their own.

Greta got to spend one evening with them before she flew back to Eugene for a visit with Linda, and then I stayed for several more days (the most extended visit we’ve had in over thirty years) which still didn’t give us enough time to cover all the topics at hand – book recommendations, architecture and growth in Boston, the vicissitudes of middle age, etc.  Rickie and Ray have both been very active in local politics – this year they are helping to lead an effort to stop or mitigate a natural gas pipeline that will be running five miles through dense Boston neighborhoods with few safeguards – and one evening they hosted a reception at their house for Michelle Wu, a first-term city council member whom they’ve know for years.  For an Oregon resident who has become used to bizarrely transparent and simple political processes over the years, it was eye-opening to spend an evening with their neighbors, all of whom seems to have much higher understanding of the inner workings and craft of politics than anyone on the West Coast.

Ray is now a principal at Epstein Joslin Architects (, a firm that works in  a wide range of building types, especially known for their work in performance spaces.  We took a brief tour of their office, which felt strange to me, as I hadn’t been in an office in years where at least a quarter of the employees hadn’t been students of mine.

As with so many old friends on this trip, it was a gift to be able to send so much time with Ray and Rickie, jumping right back into a conversation that has continued for decades.

Back in the day

Trigger warning:  I decided to separate the mostly personal from the mostly professional in my blogging about Cambridge.  The following post is about revisiting the places I lived while there, and may trigger recovered memories or waves of unanticipated nostalgia.

We started at the beginning:  Hurlbut Hall, my freshman dorm by the Union, which was full of misfits, eccentrics and savants.  It had a high percentage of single rooms, usually filled with those the authorities deemed too off-beat to share a suite in the Yard. DSCF3361I pointed out the various rooms where I and my friends and lived, and once again repeated my warning that you have to be careful to whom you speak the first day at college, as you may be stuck with them for the rest of your life.

I then dragged Greta to see the residential colleges, especially Leverett House, where I lived for three years.  McKinlock Hall (the older part) had recently undergone a major remodel designed by Kieran Timberlake, which I wanted to see.  Paul Hegarty, the building manager, took the time to take us on complete tour, so we got to see the excellent conversion of a former dead-pigeon space between the dining hall and the residential wing into a new entry/commons/lobby for meeting rooms,DSCF3462

the stately dining room, which was largely the same,DSCF3457

and the library in the new (1960) section, a serene space by Shepley Bullfinch, whose quality I had forgotten.  Greta got a gold star for spontaneously stating that the structure reminded her of the Johnson Wax headquarters.DSCF3443

Paul also introduced us to a lot of undergrads, and it was a pleasure to find that they were largely as I remembered from my day – funny and smart, and not all on the fast track to Wall St., as had been rumored.DSCF3461

Greta was especially pleased to meet a pre-med varsity football player, who averred that he didn’t know much about UO football, as he just wasn’t that into collegiate sports. On the other hand, I was pleased to see that Jeremy Lin was a Leverett alumnus.  DSCF3451

Then we moved on to Somerville, where I lived for two years after college.  The area in Cambridge near the Somerville line (Myrtle and Line Streets) was actually nicer than I remembered – well-maintained triple-deckers and houses on quiet tree-lined streets.DSCF3616

But then I crossed Beacon Street to Somerville.  I had heard that Somerville had gentrified;  perhaps the rents have risen (we paid $220 per month for a floor in a triple-decker), but the streetscape was as depressing as I remembered.  DSCF3634

A few more trees would help.  And then on to 66 Dimick, home to generations of friends:DSCF3624

our back porch, second floor on the right, hung with many string hammocks in the 70s.

our back porch, second floor on the right, hung with many string hammocks in the 70s.

The neighborhood was still unattractive, still full of graduate students, but there was one major, emblematic change:DSCF3638Johnny’s Foodmaster, one of the worst supermarkets on the planet, had been transformed into a Whole Foods.  Goodbye Slummerville.

Jenny Young

A developing subcategory of “seeing friends” on this trip is seeing friends in places where they don’t really live.  Jenny is in this group, as normally we see her in Eugene, where she and her husband Don are both faculty members in the architecture department.  But they also own a house in Edgartown where they spend the summers.  This year Jenny is on sabbatical, staying in Edgartown and working on a book, so we decided to go distract her from this work.

A lot of Jenny’s work – design, research and teaching – has involved architecture in small towns, including an article she once wrote comparing the structure of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, so she was the perfect guide to these places.  We walked around the campgrounds in Oak Bluffs, strangely deserted in the fall, and wandered to all her favorite haunts in Edgartown, including her daily ritual of drinking coffee (or in this case, cider) at the end of the yacht club wharf.

Besides being a great colleague, Jenny is also a great mom, and so she immediately slipped into mom (or aunt) mode with Greta, which was appreciated, as Greta had been living in dad-world for a month and a half.  Jenny cooked some wonderful meals, on what were the coldest, rawest days of our trip, suggested an endless series of snacks, and invited some friends over to dinner to meet us.  There was also the flip side of mom-mode, where she badgered us into a long bike ride to the beach into the strong wind and possible rain, when we might have sat inside and blogged, if left to our own devices.  (But that all turned out well, with a walk on the beach and the collection of a horseshoe crab shell in perfect condition.)

On a trip where we’re visiting many friends whom I haven’t seen in decades, it was fun to see someone who is normally part of our day-today lives;  it felt a bit like being at home.