A few words about sixty. But first, a story.
During internship, if I was fortunate enough to have slept during a Friday or Saturday night on call, I'd bike across the park the next day, to 65th and Broadway. There was a theater on the east side of the street that ran Eric Rohmer and Stephen Frears films. Shakespeare and Company was a few blocks north and Lincoln Center was a few blocks south, and right across the street was an enormous Tower Records where you could lose yourself for hours, in rock or Broadway, pop or jazz or classical, each type of music in a separate area, arranged with glass walls and sliding doors and on different floors, so that one type of music never drowned out another. Bernstein's quartet from West Side Story here and Talking Heads there. Classical downstairs, the cello solo from Brahm's third piano quartet, the CD box on the counter underneath a cardboard sign with "now playing" written in black magic marker. On a Saturday afternoon I could discover REM or hear Chopin for the first time, or rediscover Billy Cobham or Larry Coryell until fatigue sent me to the cashier and back out onto Broadway where I unlocked my bike, reattached the front wheel, and pedaled back back to York Avenue, where I carried the bike on my right shoulder into the elevator, a bright yellow plastic Tower Records bag swinging from my left hand.
There was one problem. 1980's compact discs sounded terrible, their highs clipped indiscriminantly, the sizzle of the cymbals traded away in exchange for the disappearnce of a little background hiss that we had already trained ourselves not to hear. They were also too small and too shiny, so we hid them on little mechanical drawers that disappeared into the front of the CD players. And they only had one side, with no break in the middle.
We made a bad trade when we switched away from record albums, which we rightly encased in artwork, handled with an almost religious gentleness, touched only on the edges and not on the grooves, cleaned with velvet Dustbusters and D3 fluid. Watching the record spin was as much a part of the experience as hearing the music, the tone arm balanced, barely touching the vinyl, the signal whispered from needle tip to cartridge to preamp to amp to speakers, every tone, music or pop or scratch, reproduced without judgement, somehow landing in the room as if the musicians themselves had knocked on the door and politely asked if they could come in, set up and use your apartment to practice.
And all the albums had a beginning (side one), a middle (turn the album over) and an end (side two), and the middle, the moments when you lifted the tone arm, flipped the record, dusted it off and lowered the needle to play side two were the filled with the best, purest, most sublime sense of anticipation. The best of those feelings came the first time you played a new album, something you only got to experience once per record, once in your life. You heard Baba O'Riley for the very first time. You turned over the record not knowing that Won't Get Fooled Again is on the other side. You listened in wonder as you first hear Kitty's Back-- having no idea that Incident On 57th Street and Rosalita were just a few minutes in the future. You flip over Sergeant Pepper. Could you possibly have imagined A Day In The Life?
All you had to do was turn over the record.
You can get to sixty from anywhere. It's divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20 and 30. Multiply just about any two or three small numbers and eventually you'll land on sixty. But like forty and fifty before it, sixty is not a destination. While you're there, its just the middle, coming after what came before and coming before what will come after, which may still be new and different and great. There are even more directions away from sixty as there were paths to it.
Time to turn over the record and hear what's on side two.
A Violent Encounter With Transparency And Other Adventures In Biotech Fund Management: My Unofficial Investor Letter 2017
Reliable Deli is on the north side of East 54th Street, midway between Park and Madison. It has a rust-colored awning with white lettering, with a string of Christmas lights strung around its edges that blink on and off year-round. I've gone there four or five times a week to take out breakfast or lunch for the past 8 years. It's a bustling place, one of those places where you can get hot food, cold food, toothpaste, batteries, boxes of cereal, sandwiches, wraps, spicy Korean chicken, fake crab meat, and real duck. Deep metal pans under heat lamps. Sneeze shields over the buffets.
You get the idea.
Reliable has two tall glass doors that can swing in or out, like saloon doors, only much thicker and much heavier. One day this summer I must have had difficulty deciding which way I wanted to open the door so I just walked into it as if it wasn’t there. Right knee and forehead met the thick, thankfully shatterproof glass while I accelerated from a standing start. I bounced off the door, shook my head back and forth like a puppy hearing itself bark for the first time, while soaking up the collective concern and secondary embarrassment of everyone inside.
The staff sprung into action. A small stack of clean napkins was quickly applied to my forehead. A first aid kit appeared, its contents probably long expired. A heavily accented New York voice repeated over and over: “Get him to an emergency room. He needs an MRI. I'm a nurse. I know”
I had no intention of going anywhere except back to my office across the street. I felt okay. I am not a stranger to concussions, having suffered one while ice skating with my son years ago, and I somehow knew that the door had enough give to have not made my brain rattle around inside my head. The skin on my forehead, however, was not so fortunate. Just to left to the midline on the mild frontal bossing over my eyebrow there was a terrific gash, the result of the impact followed by a little bit of a smush and tear. I folded the stack of napkins to hide the soaked-through part, applied pressure again and this time successfully exited Reliable Deli.
I was quite a sight in the elevator, going back to the office, holding a white plastic bag containing the styrofoam container with my lunch in one hand and the other hand pressing the folded stack of bright napkins against my forehead. Thirty minutes later I sat in the exam room of a nearby urgent care center. A half hour after that I am back on the sidewalk, having replaced the paper dinner napkins with a folded stack of sterile gauze pressed against my forehead, dismissed from the Urgent Care Center and directed to the nearest emergency room. (“Too deep. And you need an MRI.”) I stood on Second Avenue, left hand against head, right hand holding cell phone, speaking to a helpful representative of my insurance company, who reassured me that as far as United Healthcare was concerned, I could choose between the equidistant emergency departments of Cornell Medical Center and NYU Medical Center, confident in the knowledge that my co-payment, deductible, access to care for the rest of my life, and future list of pre-existing conditions would be the same.
I went north to Cornell. “I used to work here,” I said over and over, eliciting a flash of semi-interest from the security guard at the door, the triage nurse, the admitting nurse, the intern who took my history, the attending who retook my history, and the volunteer whose job seemed to be to observe me for any signs of rapid cognitive decline.
I turned down the MRI and was content to let the intern place four interrupted stitches (it may have been silk or vicryl but I forget) into my forehead, although I was offered a plastic surgery consult. At that stage in my training, I could have thrown those stitches my sleep. The intern’s handwriting was good so I figured his hands were steady.
I returned to the office with a bandage wrapped tightly around my head, returned to the ER a few days later to have the stitches removed, filled out a nice evaluation online about the quality of my treatment at the hospital, and ignored the monthly solicitations for donations that came for the rest of the year.
The next day, I was a celebrity at Reliable. Breakfast was on the house, as was lunch. The cashiers, the short order cooks, the stock guys all greeted me with warm smiles and curious glances to the scar on my forehead. Menus were taped on the glass doors at eye level.
I made a point of joking about the incident and repeating over and over again that I had been careless and preoccupied and stupid and that it was my fault. And that I was fine, no crazier than before, no ringing in the ears, and certainly no intention of talking with a lawyer.
After a few weeks, the menus came off of the glass doors, and the customers of Reliable Deli were again trusted to use their hands or back sides to enter and exit. The scar slightly to the left of the midline just above my eyebrow faded away. The Intern, who by now has rotated to the Intensive Care Unit or to one of the med-surg floors, had done a good job. Whatever acute or chronic damage that my brief violent encounter with the glass door may have caused will forever remain undetected by the MRI scan that I refused to have done.
Every semester, as my students get to know me better, their questions get more and more personal. Towards the end of each semester I get asked wisdom questions, about success and happiness. I’m no expert, but I do think that humility and the ability to laugh at yourself are good places to start. Also: the fund did just fine this year.
There’s a scene in “Night at the Opera” where Groucho checks into his little cabin on the ocean liner and then hears a knock on the door. A porter enters. Another knock. Room service. Another knock. Another. Five people, then ten-- all in the little cabin, and they keep coming.
Fall, 2007. I sat slumped on the couch, Tarana tucked lazily under one arm, Nikhil lying on the other side, the top of his head brushing against me. One window was cracked open and the air felt like leaves on the ground and smelled like pine needles in a campfire. It was a dark and rainy late afternoon, a ways to go before dinner. By now all four Marx Brothers were in the little cabin, surrounded by assorted plumbers, housekeepers, and lost travelers all repositioning themselves around suitcases, toolboxes and silver serving dishes with steam escaping from under the lids. More knocks on the cabin door, and more people: sea captains with monocles, women with bumpy blond hair parted on the side.
The scene reached a critical combination of too many people in too little space and the kids started laughing, and the laughter ratcheted up a little with each new knock on the door. The camera caught Harpo’s big eyes and nutty smile, the kids got on their knees on the floor to be closer to the screen. I forget how the movie scene ends, but I remember the black and white from the screen lighting their faces. Tarana laughed and bit her lower lip. Nikhil was catching the light in his mouth like a snowflake.
Our children fly past us, riding on a star. But every once in a while we get to ride along.
David Sable MD
writer, teacher, fund manager and retired reproductive endocrinologist