Words o’ wisdom

I was hugely honored to give the commencement address at Simon’s Rock, which I attended as a wee lad.  Video here.



-I have a story in this week’s New Yorker for which I sat in the orchestra pit of the new Broadway production of “The King and I”

-My two most recent manners columns in the Times: the etiquette of asking someone if he’s gay, and the tyranny of being constantly reachable.



-I had lots of fun being a judge in the Piglet, the annual cookbook competition held by the website Food 52. I was asked to weigh in on–and cook from–Brooks Headley’s “Fancy Desserts” and Sean Brock’s “Harvest”. Here’s my judgment.

-In my monthly New York Times column about manners, I looked at the etiquette of being in therapy.

-When I hear that Apple’s new smart watch may have been inspired by cartoon character Dick Tracy’s two-way radio watch, I realized that lots of digital innovations had unexpected precursors.


“Alford to attend Alfordpalooza”

Oh, this is lovely: the Key City Public Theatre in Port Townsend, Wa. is having an evening whereat three of my stories will be read aloud. It’s tonight! And I will be one of the three readers—or, as the local paper put it, “Alford to attend Alfordpalooza.”



-I’m not exactly technophobic; I guess I’d be more accurately described as techno-churlish. So it was a surprise to me when I realized that having Scrabble on my iPhone has improved my life greatly. I decided to spend three weeks using apps to try to improve my life in other ways, too: here’s the story that ran in the New York Times.

-In light of the Sony phone hacks, People magazine asked me to weigh in on the topic of apologizing to someone you’ve offended.

-Thanks to the munificence of Travel and Leisure magazine, I got to ride, herd, and wash elephants in Laos: never has my day-job been so thrillingly adorable.


Kale Scrivenings Get Some Love

The New Yorker’s Emma Allen nicely mentioned my kale story in her round-up of “not-to-be missed” humor pieces from the magazine in 2014. Thank you, crucifer gods.


Tabular Splendor

Here’s the previously unavailable link for my Splendid Table appearance (it feels weird to call a radio gig an “appearance,” but I’m going with it.) I’m at 1:40:22. Thanks.


Recent excretions

-Like you, I have often wondered, How could a hostage negotiator help the average family get through Thanksgiving? So, for my New York Times column, I interviewed nine hostage negotiators–three of them formerly with the FBI–and asked them for holiday guidance. One of the former FBI men suggested that you apologize even if you know you aren’t in the wrong—a gambit that I think we’d ALL love to encounter more often. (Later, I got to talk about the article on public radio’s Colin McEnroe Show. And there were nice mentions of the article on the websites of the San Francisco Chronicle, Inc., and Real Clear Politics.)

-I also talked turkey etiquette (and, to a lesser degree, hostages) on The Splendid Table’s special, 2 hour-long Thanksgiving episode, Turkey Confidential, alongside culinary luminaries like Lidia Bastianich, Melissa Clark, Francis Lam, David Leite, and Carla Hall. Alas, I didn’t get to meet the divine Ms. Bastianich, as I conducted my interview by phone from my sister-in-law’s new home decor store, Off the Green, in Guilford, Ct. However I did once meet Melissa Clark, and ate leftovers from her handbag. (Long story.)

-Back in my Times column, I tackled the etiquette of becoming friends with your friends’ friends. And in Vanity Fair, I asked the question, What does your preferred greeting style say about you? (I’m an inappropriate hugger. Beware.)


Recent Work

-Is there too much hugging going on today? Is there any way for the huggily-inclined to co-exist peacefully with the non-huggy? I tried to answer these questions in a recent New York Times column. Afterwards, I got to talk about it on the excellent Colin McEnroe Show (I’m on at about the 38:37 mark).

-Recent news reports suggested that the popularity of kale is leading to a shortage of everyone’s favorite cruciferous veg. My spoof, from the New Yorker.

-Also from the New Yorker: I imagined why Martha Stewart is so enamored of the drone she has at her house in Bedford, NY. (And, then, praise God, Ms. Stewart mentioned that very piece in her own explanation of her amour de drone.)

-I tackled the etiquette of books–reading them, suggesting them, rearranging them in stores–for the New York Times Book Review.

Is there a decorous way to get over an ex? What are the viable options besides genital cuffs or libel?


What I’ve Been Up To

Here is some recent stuff that has occupied my datebook and cerebellum. Apologies for the sloth-like way in which I update this site; as a closet exhibitionist, my usual m.o. seems to be to try to get your attention, but never to be caught trying to do so. Which typically translates to: do nothing. A winning strategy!

Here I am on the public radio show Q discussing whether or not the fistbump should replace the traditional handshake, as certain academics and scientists (and President Obama?) advocate.

I spent a week on a working farm in Umbria, where I had a scarefying episode with pig transport.

In the column I write each month in the New York Times about manners, I’ve addressed how celebrities feud differently than they used to , and about how easy it is today unintentionally to come across as “cybercreepy.”

I joined Toastmasters to hone my public speaking skills.

I reviewed an anthology of Garrison Keillor’s work for the New York Times Book Review.