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Click on an image below to read or download Scott Lauretti's Up Front column in PDF form.

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Up Front, December 21, 2018

Maybe I’m getting old…actually, not maybe…for sure. I forgot something that has been second nature for 15 years – our deadline. So, I’m scrambling. Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’m involved with the search for a new Music Director for the Savannah Philharmonic. Between the search work and finishing my year at Harvard (including the first 20-page paper – crammed in at the last moments - I’ve written in three decades), I lost track of time. And now it’s Wednesday. And this was due – at the very latest – Tuesday. Therefore, my message will be brief. Thank you for a great year. Thank you for reading and engaging with us. I’m back in town and looking forward to developing our best product yet, in 2019. All of our team at The Skinnie wish you and yours the Merriest of Christmases, Happiest of Holidays, and a Wonderful New Year.  

 

Up Front, December 7, 2018

How do you tell the people at home about whom you care very much that coming back to them is hard? My year as a Harvard fellow is days from done. I have never died, but I wonder, if given foreknowledge of when I will, my last days will feel like this – an intense mix of melancholy and celebration. Days with morning light that is more noticeably brilliant than mornings usually are. Music in my head when it would otherwise host a running dialogue between my better instincts and worst fears. A brace of early winter’s cold that is more invigorating than harsh. These final few class days are precious; my heart soars as I grip hard to every word anyone says. Today, in literature, we are thinking about trees. Trees as symbols and metaphors and meaningful things. Read The Overstory by Richard Powers (seriously, do yourself a favor and read it), and you’ll understand why. Professor Warren, probably 20 years younger than I, has placed branches and spores and leaves around the seminar room, stuff he collected on the way to campus after dropping his three-year-old daughter at school. So we talk about trees. Soon, the professor tells us to write about trees. Next, he asks us to share what we have written, if we are so inclined. The other 13 students are undergrads, a fact that has not ceased to disquiet me since it became known. Appropriately, they participate more than I do. But, today, I (gingerly) raise my hand. I read aloud from my laptop screen:I bought a farm, and soon I recognized that I don’t own the land, I’m merely tending to it. Before, it was a place for cows. Before that, who knows? Now, it tries to birth olives, though some wither and return to the earth. Near one corner of the land, a big, old, unkempt tree stands alone. It serves no practical purpose and its isolation is odd, but there is an explanation – one that I’ll never know. I planted tiny olive trees, no bigger than a straw, with help from two people who are very dear to me, there on the land, one by one, by the thousands, day after day, for several weeks. Up and down in the dirt, with nothing more than a hand spade, we married the timeless soil to the tiny not-yet-trees. At the end of each day, I watched as water sprayed out across the field, rewarding my plants for enduring another merciless Georgia afternoon. Time passed, and some plants – many, actually - died. Weeds grew aggressively between the rows of seedlings, demanding attention and stealing from my trees. Obstinate, some trees survived and grew. Meanwhile, the big, old, lonely pecan continued to cast its shade and litter the ground beneath its branches with nuts. My father, upon seeing the tree, suggested the grass at its base that remains all day in shade as a place to bury what-remains-un-spread of my wife’s ashes. I listened, but didn’t respond. Louise never saw the farm. She has no connection to it. Yet my father’s idea made sense to me, for some reason. And now I know why. Trees represent permanence, or perseverance, at least. They stand quietly and strong, through conditions both calm and brutal. They don’t hide from crisis. They seem not to change at all; but when you go away from one for a long time and come back to it, it has grown enough to make you sad.   And so we dug a shallow hole, filled it with an urn, covered the urn with the same dirt that, with equal dispassion, sustains and claims my olives. We anchored a small white cross with an inscribed brass plate into a pool of quick-dry concrete, mixed minutes before in a painters tray. We smoothed the concrete, aspiring to a proper rectangle. In an oval pattern, working away from the cross at its center, we placed rounded white-and-ocher stones. Then we stepped back and looked down at the work we had done. For more than a minute, but less than five, neither my father or I moved. The big tree predates my birth, probably those of my parents’, too. It might outlive my children, and theirs. This tree is a living thing worth loving, and I do. Louise came and left in an instant, but in the soil that nurtures the big, old, stubborn tree, she is not gone. I suspect that’s why we put her there – to connect the temporal to the forever, or our version of it, anyway.I finished reading and looked up. Nobody moved or spoke. An uncomfortably long moment passed before I interrupted with: “Sorry to bring everybody down.”My professor said, his inflection more genuine than kind: “You didn’t bring me down at all.” I noticed a tear in one girl’s eye.At once, I was elated and crushed. Harvard had changed me, opened me, reintroduced me to the world. But I am finding my voice and losing my microphone, at the very same time. I feel both thanks and anguish, and the two don’t seem at odds.

 

Up Front, November 23, 2018

The local magazine business can be tricky, in that lots of people have things that they’d like you to write about and draw attention to. Sometimes, balancing the perception that a publication is some sort of a public asset with the commercial considerations of running a small business is tough. From the very beginning of this magazine’s life, we have stridently adhered to what we believe to be the highest principles with respect to the purity of our content. Generally, we don’t participate in tit-for-tat: the rather widespread practice of trading editorial attention for economic consideration, and disguising the treatment as unbiased.   

 

For the remainder of this essay, I’m bending my own rules, sort of. I’m writing about one of our long-time advertisers, but not because he/they asked me to or expects it. Rather, it’s a simple anecdote about the comfort of living in a small-ish city, where people are warm and welcoming. A place where, if you want to get something done, there’s a good chance you know someone who knows someone… 

 

I’m going to a white tie event tonight. This morning, the first snowy one of the season in Boston, I rushed to Logan Airport uncertain about the prospects for my flights, but confident that my tailcoat awaited me if I somehow made it home. After a delayed departure, I got to SAV only 30 minutes late. Straight from the airport to the southside men’s store, John B. Rourke, our first advertising client, appearing regularly in our pages since 2003.

 

Uh-oh. No jacket; in the blur of the stretch run of my time at Harvard, I hadn’t ordered correctly. One of the men on the sales floor walked into the back room. Alan Tanenbaum hurried out, greeted me, and shook my hand. He asked me to follow him to a corner of the store, where formal long coats hang on display. Alan knows his customers, so he pulled a 40-regular from the array. He slipped the jacket on me to be sure, then asked me to wait a minute and disappeared with the jacket into the back. In a few minutes, he returned to the front of the store with the jacket cozy in a garment bag. Alan had removed the tags and labels from the for-sale jacket and offered it to me in exchange for one-night’s rent. 

 

“Good thing I’m exactly the size,” I said. 

“It wouldn’t matter,” Alan replied. “Even if you weren’t, we’d figure it out and take care of you.” And I know his reassurance was 100 percent sincere. 

 

It’s my favorite underlying ethos of business: Whatever it is, we’ll figure it out. When a merchant or vendor or service provider exhibits a consistent commitment to this ideal, he or she has me as a customer for life. 

 

By the time you read this, Thanksgiving will have passed. Still, I’m thankful that I live here, that this is my home, that I know lots of kind people, and we all try to find ways to help each other out.

Up Front, November 9, 2018

It’s 8:30 in the evening. I’m 10 minutes removed from a heavy dinner, made moderately regretful by a decadent dessert. It’s raining sideways, blowing hard enough to damage umbrellas, and it’s sweater-and-down-jacket cold.

Earlier today, still pre-dawn, I started reading. Not much before 9, I stopped to attend my Divinity School class. At 10:15, wanting to make use of every minute, I Uber-ed home to my apartment and grabbed my third coffee of the day at the in-building ground-floor shop. Upstairs, coffee cup balancing on the arm of my comfortable chair, I revisited the book I had abandoned less than two hours before. By noon, I had finished the last of 600 pages that had been taunting me for more than a week. I stood up from my chair and walked to the wastebasket to disappear the empty cup.

In my smallest mixing bowl, I tossed some arugula with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt, and broke off several chunks from a substantial piece of a nutty-and-peppery cheese from the region immediately southwest of Venice. I allowed myself five minutes for lunch and the subsequent clean-up, minimal as both were.

For most of the next five hours, save for a handful of restless fits, I would edit the pieces in the magazine you hold.

At 5, I changed for a budgeted 75-minute workout – gym in my building, eliminating the nuisance of to-and-from time. A quick shower enabled me to make 7 o’clock dinner – the aforementioned substantial one (liver mousse on toasted bread, smoked AND grilled pork chop with barbecue sauce and apple puree, roasted brussels, and ricotta cheesecake with Nutella whipped into its filling and a dark chocolate crust) – shared (not literally…he had his own food and I don’t like sharing mine) with a man in my program who invited me to join him because he had inadvertently insulted me by musing wistfully and quite-out-loud in an instructional setting about the great day coming when everyone other than active or prospective democrat voters would be dead (see my column a couple of issues back for more detail, if you care).

For most of an hour and half, the man and I, my fellow Fellow, chatted and laughed and – generally and genuinely – had a good time. Which, if I were cynical, I would say was confusing for him, but I truly don’t think it proved to be so. For the record, I proclaimed my positions, issue-by-issue, on the matters of current public debate. I developed the sense that my dinner companion felt like he had taken a wrong turn down a crooked path at a zoo. He was expecting the reptile building but found himself standing in front of the chimpanzee habitat, thinking, “They’re ornery but undeniably cute. I think I read somewhere that they can talk – actual words – but they choose not to, and they have amazingly sharp teeth.”

At 8:20, I was Uber-ing again, back across the Charles River, which I typically cross four times a day, the haste making it possible to balance coffee number four on my armrest and slump into a medically-imprudent posture in my comfy lounger before the distant single bell signaling half-past.

And now we’re back where we started, at the top of this page. I have 90 minutes, tops, to conceive what you have just consumed, and put it to page. When that time is up, it’ll be 10.

Have you ever read Robinson Crusoe? I suspect I was supposed to once, either my parents purchased a copy and put it somewhere on our bookshelves or a teacher included it in a syllabus – a line item for me to subsequently ignore. Well, tonight, at 10 o’clock, when this essay is erased from memory with the click of a “SEND” stroke, I must devour Daniel Defoe’s early-18th-century classic (some say it’s THE first narrative novel), from preface to glossary, in time for a robust discussion in a 9:30 a.m. two-hour undergrad literature seminar, in a room much too small for the only 54-year-old in it to hide.

One problem: I’m achingly tired. The kind of tired you get when you’re driving east on I-16 from Macon well after midnight, the violently spasmodic head-nods jolting you awake, barely keeping you alive.

Two hundred fifty-two pages, very fine print. At two minutes per page (seems doable), that’s roughly 500 minutes, or eight and a third hours, without breaks. I’ll have 11 by the time I crack the spine, leaving two hours and forty minutes for sleep.

There’s an argument to be made – and it’s a reasonable one – that being a full-time Fellow at Harvard University is a special thing…and, trust me, I appreciate the great good fortune that has placed me here. And there’s also the reality that keeping up with kids the age of my own is tough.

Crusoe’s father counseled his son to resist the temptation to wander; life would be easier closer to home. Crusoe didn’t listen, and look where it got him: in both a really rough spot and the middle of an adventure that still captivates our imaginations 300 years hence.

Anyway, sleep is overrated...you only have so much time in a day and so many days in a life.


 

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Up Front, December 21, 2018

 

Maybe I’m getting old…actually, not maybe…for sure. I forgot something that has been second nature for 15 years – our deadline. So, I’m scrambling.

 

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’m involved with the search for a new Music Director for the Savannah Philharmonic. Between the search work and finishing my year at Harvard (including the first 20-page paper – crammed in at the last moments - I’ve written in three decades), I lost track of time. And now it’s Wednesday. And this was due – at the very latest – Tuesday. Therefore, my message will be brief.

 

Thank you for a great year. Thank you for reading and engaging with us. I’m back in town and looking forward to developing our best product yet, in 2019.

 

All of our team at The Skinnie wish you and yours the Merriest of Christmases, Happiest of Holidays, and a Wonderful New Year.  

Up Front, December 7, 2018

How do you tell the people at home about whom you care very much that coming back to them is hard? My year as a Harvard fellow is days from done. I have never died, but I wonder, if given foreknowledge of when I will, my last days will feel like this – an intense mix of melancholy and celebration. Days with morning light that is more noticeably brilliant than mornings usually are. Music in my head when it would otherwise host a running dialogue between my better instincts and worst fears. A brace of early winter’s cold that is more invigorating than harsh.

 

These final few class days are precious; my heart soars as I grip hard to every word anyone says. Today, in literature, we are thinking about trees. Trees as symbols and metaphors and meaningful things. Read The Overstory by Richard Powers (seriously, do yourself a favor and read it), and you’ll understand why. Professor Warren, probably 20 years younger than I, has placed branches and spores and leaves around the seminar room, stuff he collected on the way to campus after dropping his three-year-old daughter at school.

 

So we talk about trees. Soon, the professor tells us to write about trees. Next, he asks us to share what we have written, if we are so inclined.

 

The other 13 students are undergrads, a fact that has not ceased to disquiet me since it became known. Appropriately, they participate more than I do. But, today, I (gingerly) raise my hand. I read aloud from my laptop screen:

 

I bought a farm, and soon I recognized that I don’t own the land, I’m merely tending to it.

 

Before, it was a place for cows. Before that, who knows? Now, it tries to birth olives, though some wither and return to the earth.

 

Near one corner of the land, a big, old, unkempt tree stands alone. It serves no practical purpose and its isolation is odd, but there is an explanation – one that I’ll never know.

 

I planted tiny olive trees, no bigger than a straw, with help from two people who are very dear to me, there on the land, one by one, by the thousands, day after day, for several weeks. Up and down in the dirt, with nothing more than a hand spade, we married the timeless soil to the tiny not-yet-trees. At the end of each day, I watched as water sprayed out across the field, rewarding my plants for enduring another merciless Georgia afternoon.

 

Time passed, and some plants – many, actually - died. Weeds grew aggressively between the rows of seedlings, demanding attention and stealing from my trees. Obstinate, some trees survived and grew.

 

Meanwhile, the big, old, lonely pecan continued to cast its shade and litter the ground beneath its branches with nuts. My father, upon seeing the tree, suggested the grass at its base that remains all day in shade as a place to bury what-remains-un-spread of my wife’s ashes. I listened, but didn’t respond.

 

Louise never saw the farm. She has no connection to it. Yet my father’s idea made sense to me, for some reason. And now I know why.

 

Trees represent permanence, or perseverance, at least. They stand quietly and strong, through conditions both calm and brutal. They don’t hide from crisis. They seem not to change at all; but when you go away from one for a long time and come back to it, it has grown enough to make you sad.  

 

And so we dug a shallow hole, filled it with an urn, covered the urn with the same dirt that, with equal dispassion, sustains and claims my olives. We anchored a small white cross with an inscribed brass plate into a pool of quick-dry concrete, mixed minutes before in a painters tray. We smoothed the concrete, aspiring to a proper rectangle. In an oval pattern, working away from the cross at its center, we placed rounded white-and-ocher stones. Then we stepped back and looked down at the work we had done. For more than a minute, but less than five, neither my father or I moved.

 

The big tree predates my birth, probably those of my parents’, too. It might outlive my children, and theirs. This tree is a living thing worth loving, and I do. Louise came and left in an instant, but in the soil that nurtures the big, old, stubborn tree, she is not gone. I suspect that’s why we put her there – to connect the temporal to the forever, or our version of it, anyway.

 

I finished reading and looked up. Nobody moved or spoke. An uncomfortably long moment passed before I interrupted with: “Sorry to bring everybody down.”

 

My professor said, his inflection more genuine than kind: “You didn’t bring me down at all.” I noticed a tear in one girl’s eye.

 

At once, I was elated and crushed. Harvard had changed me, opened me, reintroduced me to the world. But I am finding my voice and losing my microphone, at the very same time. I feel both thanks and anguish, and the two don’t seem at odds.

Up Front, November 23, 2018

 

The local magazine business can be tricky, in that lots of people have things that they’d like you to write about and draw attention to. Sometimes, balancing the perception that a publication is some sort of a public asset with the commercial considerations of running a small business is tough. From the very beginning of this magazine’s life, we have stridently adhered to what we believe to be the highest principles with respect to the purity of our content. Generally, we don’t participate in tit-for-tat: the rather widespread practice of trading editorial attention for economic consideration, and disguising the treatment as unbiased.  

 

For the remainder of this essay, I’m bending my own rules, sort of. I’m writing about one of our long-time advertisers, but not because he/they asked me to or expects it. Rather, it’s a simple anecdote about the comfort of living in a small-ish city, where people are warm and welcoming. A place where, if you want to get something done, there’s a good chance you know someone who knows someone…

 

I’m going to a white tie event tonight. This morning, the first snowy one of the season in Boston, I rushed to Logan Airport uncertain about the prospects for my flights, but confident that my tailcoat awaited me if I somehow made it home. After a delayed departure, I got to SAV only 30 minutes late. Straight from the airport to the southside men’s store, John B. Rourke, our first advertising client, appearing regularly in our pages since 2003.

 

Uh-oh. No jacket; in the blur of the stretch run of my time at Harvard, I hadn’t ordered correctly. One of the men on the sales floor walked into the back room. Alan Tanenbaum hurried out, greeted me, and shook my hand. He asked me to follow him to a corner of the store, where formal long coats hang on display. Alan knows his customers, so he pulled a 40-regular from the array. He slipped the jacket on me to be sure, then asked me to wait a minute and disappeared with the jacket into the back. In a few minutes, he returned to the front of the store with the jacket cozy in a garment bag. Alan had removed the tags and labels from the for-sale jacket and offered it to me in exchange for one-night’s rent.

 

“Good thing I’m exactly the size,” I said.

 

“It wouldn’t matter,” Alan replied. “Even if you weren’t, we’d figure it out and take care of you.” And I know his reassurance was 100 percent sincere.

 

It’s my favorite underlying ethos of business: Whatever it is, we’ll figure it out. When a merchant or vendor or service provider exhibits a consistent commitment to this ideal, he or she has me as a customer for life.

 

By the time you read this, Thanksgiving will have passed. Still, I’m thankful that I live here, that this is my home, that I know lots of kind people, and we all try to find ways to help each other out.