Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas will be cancelled this year


Mr. Claus has fallen off the sleigh, so to speak...

On the brighter side of things, there are still 7 more days of Hanukkah and Eid is right around the corner.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ah well...




I've nothing at all to say. It's a quiet night. Again, my lament... It's never truly quiet in Brooklyn, and it is never actually dark. It's our version of quiet and dark.

It's not really snowing at the moment. It's not really not snowing either. The moisture in the air has formed into ephemeral crystals and they're just kind of... hovering. It's a caress. It's a tingle on the bottom of a bare wrist. It's thousands of tiny, cold needles on the palm.

It's a few days before a Christmas that may or may not be white. It's less than two weeks before New Years Eve, marking the end of a year that we will all look back on with mixed feelings of triumph and maybe a bit of horror.

It has been my custom... my tradition... in the final weeks of every year to try to sum up, or come to terms with the past (nearly) 12 months and find words that might define what I've seen and experienced, both personally and otherwise. The words simply aren't there this year so it seems pointless to try. Let other people define 2008. Let other people tell the story. They may get parts of it right, or not. Odds are they won't get yours or mine. Not even close.

We'll handle that ourselves, or not. It's all good. It is what it is.

Funny, those last two expressions, both just utterances of acceptance to forces and wills far beyond my own, got me into trouble earlier this year. Fingers pointed. Accusations. Indictment.

I don't care.

The year is behind me. I will go back out and stand in the freezing air, and extend my arms outwards and upwards and the minute fireflies will alight on my palms and I will repeat...

I don't care. It's all good. It is what it is.

Happy holidays all. Best wishes for the New Year.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dear Mattie

You know the drill...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

First snowfall and the myopic world



One day I will learn to use the settings on my camera.

I tried to capture the first dusting of snow last night and got this. People always ask what I see when I don't have my glasses on. It sort of looks like this.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Cry Me A River

20 MOST HEARTBREAKING SONGS OF ALL TIME

Hey, check it out! A list that doesn't totally suck!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Toltz



I finished A Fraction of the Whole a few days ago and I've been trying to find the proper words of recommendation, and have fallen short. I do, since I loved it, want everybody to read it but I'm hard-pressed to tell everybody why they should. It's easy enough to say that it's desperately hilarious. And that it's by far the funniest book I've read in years. That's really not enough.

I could describe it as an absurdist saga. I could repeat a lot of critical cliche and leave it at that. Everything that rattles from my brain to my fingertips to the keyboard though doesn't quite get it right. The reviews I've read don't quite get it right either. The repeated comparison is to Confederacy of Dunces, and I will say that if you enjoyed that you will love this. Steve Toltz tops John Kennedy Toole though. It might be closer to Lord of the Barnyard by Tristan Egolf (whom I found to my dismay only recently topped himself back in 2005) but even more ridiculous and definitely far more clever.

In any event, this book has devoured a good part of my attention for the last two weeks. I will most likely read it again at some point.

Others I've enjoyed recently:
Breaking Open The Head, by Daniel Pinchbeck--a chronicle of psychedelic exploration that I believe makes some interesting points about the failures and successes of western culture's quest for instant enlightenment. It's a good primer for those interested in an often maligned (sometimes rightfully) aspect of pop culture in the last 50 years, especially when measured against the history of shamanism.

Killing Yourself to Live, by Chuck Klosterman--say what you will about the guy, and there seem to be a lot of opinions about him, both positive and negative; I got a kick out of him.

There turned out to be a fairly solid philosophical thread tying all three of these books together. It really wasn't my intention to move in any one direction. Each book was recommended by a different person, all rather different from each other, and none of them connected in any way except that I spoke to them. All three books contain fairly sobering observations of the state of things... the state of humanity awash in media and information, and of course misinformation. All three in their own way make highly critical statements of western culture, as it were. None, however, left me in a heaving heap of misanthropy. Mostly I just chuckled an awful lot

So there it is... chuckling my way towards wakefulness and awareness, hopefully.

I've spent a great deal of time in the last couple years wondering what novels of the last 30 years, or of my lifetime, that will be added to the canon of definitive literature. What novels and authors will be added to the academic "musts" for students in coming generations. What will be considered important? And why and by whom? Who makes these decisions, when push comes to shove? I suppose that depends on where we end up a few years down the road.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Matthew 18:9

And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

I've been pondering this bit of scripture outside a religious context. It's probably a mistake to pull a thing outside its context and expect it to work. It might be best to go back and read the entire passage. Biblical quotes always seem to be excised from the whole though, and offered up as advice of one sort or another.

How could it apply to my own life?

How might it apply as a bit of wisdom to humanity as a whole?

I'm not quite sure yet that it does, but every time I hear it, or read it, there is a reverberation. There is a feel to it that as of yet, I've found no specific meaning for.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The road more or less traveled...

Subtitle: How the hell did you find me?

There is a little device attached to this blog... to this collection of rambles, rants and pixellated vanity... called StatCounter. It will appear to you as a scrolling series of numbers at the bottom of the page, tallying the number of times people have clicked this page. There is, behind the scenes, a scoreboard of sorts that compiles information on you, the visitors. It tells me what city you hail from, your ISP, your operating system, what browser you use, and most fascinatingly (to me) what words you searched to find this page.

These last bits of information have become an unrivaled source of amusement in my digital world. Here are some of the more popular searches from recent weeks:

Thursday's Child has far to go
The eagle shits on Friday
In the summertime when the weather is high, dry, nigh etc
Raymond Carver's Cathedral

My current favorites, though not the most popular, certainly the most amusing:

Jerry Dammers' Front Tooth, from a seemingly strange soul in The Netherlands
Really Big Dicks, from a seeker in Midland, Texas

I will admit in flushed embarrassment that I copied this last Google search to see how it was possible that someone could be led to my internet doorstep by those words. I found no connection to my blog nor any rhyme or reason, but I'll say this. It will be a long time before I can shower with my pants off.

The most popular search though, in the days leading up to and encompassing Thanksgiving weekend: This Be the Verse, by Philip Larkin. This makes sense, in a direct way, as I copied this poem onto these pages earlier this year. It just seemed sudden though that so many people would be searching it all at once. One explanation might be that the world of academia has decided all at once to assign this poem to students headed home for the holidays.

It seems a cruel joke though, to send an adolescent who has just had what is most likely his first taste of adult freedoms away at school, home to see the family with these words ringing in their heads:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

It is not unlikely that at some point over the long weekend that these kids, home for the first time in months, will become painfully aware of the truth behind these words. It's like these pedagogues... these denizens of the rarefied air... residents of the Ivory Towers... have kicked off the holiday with:

Happy Thanksgiving, kids! Chew on this for a bit!

Or not... But it amuses me to think that this might be true, that at some point during the doctoral process, aspiring teachers are conspiring on this big inside joke. How many others are there? Chemistry? History? Psychology?

Anyway... this is one thing that's been spinning my cranial hamster wheel over the last few days. And because, in the immortal words of that lovable purple dinosaur, "Sharing is caring," I decided to share this with you.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday?

I will no doubt be just one of countless throngs that trample THIS HORRIBLE STORY into the ground but it seems impossible to take a pass on.

Wal-Mart Worker Dies After Shoppers Knock Him Down

I received the link to this story this morning, from CelticGods, who by the way is the most rabid news hound I've ever known. My first thought upon reading the first paragraph was that it must be a story from The Onion. Then I looked up at The New York Times logo. Then I read the rest of the story. (It did not escape me that the ad at the top of the page was for big Christmas sales. Nice one, NYT webmasters.)

I will readily (and with no small amount of guilt) admit that is struck me as too horrible to be true. I laughed like a chimp for several minutes. Then I read the story again and slowly the horror sank in.

There is no font large or bold enough to express my sense of raw "WHAT THE FUCK" over this. I checked a few other news stories and each one was more explicit than the one prior. It immediately recalled the now legendary deadly stampede at a Who concert back in 1979 or so, but somehow seems even more tragic.

My thoughts--I could never promise that there would never be some desperate situation, where in blind fear, I might lose it and trample someone. Consider maybe the Triangle Coat Factory inferno. Or a terrible shooting rampage... Anything... It remains true though, and not just my truth, but something I perceive as a higher truth, that nobody but nobody should be trampled at the front door of a suburban WalMart at the start of the Christmas shopping season. It just seems unthinkable.

Think of the derision in the tones of your Western (and usually Christian and Jewish) neighbors when speaking of those stampeded in Mecca during the yearly pilgrimage. Those deaths do seem horrible and pointless but weigh the idea of dying at a holy site with dying at WalMart. Dead is dead, but death by consumerist frenzy seems to me to be an indictment against us as a whole. It's abominable. We are infidels. To quote Jim Morrison, in the first line of The Lords & New Creatures, which upon afterthought seems to be a moment of self-recrimination from Lord Jim:

Look where we worship

The line hangs alone in the middle of an otherwise empty page, not unlike how this news story stands apart from everything else I read today. This bit of news, along with a bit of a hangover if the truth be told, drove me back to bed where without removing my clothes I pulled the covers up and went back to sleep.

A scenario struck me, when I woke up a few hours later: Imagine Christmas dinner at the tables of those who were at the front of that crowd at WalMart. Many of them will know in their thick heads and weird hearts that they pushed to be there at the front. To be the first through those doors. Some of them will know that they are the ones that knocked that guy down. Some will remember stepping on something and they will know. How can you ever be the same knowing what you did?

I hope they got the fucking bargains they were after.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

They say everything can be replaced,
Yet every distance is not near.
So I remember every face
Of every man who put me here.

I used to read that last line from Dylan as recrimination. I'm certain now though that it was just reflection. It seems just an observation that the good and the bad are equal in that they are simply part of who we've become, and if we're okay with that, we can be thankful for both. I could be wrong. I've never spoken with Bob about it, but that's what I take from his words.

I've received no less than three letters in recent days, from concerned friends, suggesting that my recent missives here reflect inner turmoil and crisis. I am thankful for that concern, however, it is unnecessary. I'm in a good place despite that I probably spend more time thinking than I should. Thank you, though. You know who you are.

To follow up on this thing about being a salesman:

Every vocation, every calling, every relationship, every interaction involves a sales pitch. Lawyers sell guilt and innocence, or the infallibility of a contract. Writers, poets, painters and musicians sell the contents of their hearts and minds. Priests sell eternal life at the God Shop. Police sell a sense of security (at the Cop Shop?). Politicians sell stability. Teachers sell knowledge. Friends sell loyalty. Husband and wife sell happily ever after. And so on...

My own vocation involves a money transaction--some are on the barter system--but everything involves a sales pitch--and trust. And every transaction requests something in return. Selflessness? It can be there, but we would all prefer something in return, even for the smallest of transactions. It's nature. It's neither bad nor good, for the most part, even if some are trying to over-inflate the value of what we are offering. We often doubt the value of our wares ourselves, but we pitch it. It's out there and we all want the biggest possible return.

This is not cynicism at all. I'm not calling it dishonest. In most cases we are, to the best of our ability, trying to cut honest deals... with some exceptions. The goal for most of us, to quote the late Richard Manuel from The Last Waltz, just trying to break even.

To paraphrase a couple other cultural icons, who always seemed to find words for people when their own failed:

And, in the end, the love you take,
Is equal to, the love, you make.

I've done better than break even. I've even gotten more than I've given. How often does that happen in life? No clue. I can only speak for my own condition.

Again, I am in a good place. I did not get here on my own. So on this Thanksgiving, I reflect on that and I am grateful for all of you. And finally, to paraphrase yet a third singer/poet:

But I swear by this song
And by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.

Post script:

I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east.
Any day now, any day now,
I SHALL BE RELEASED

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Chilled Out

The first voice I heard today after turning on the television, before the picture came up said: You might encounter a few flakes this morning if you venture outside, so be prepared.

Prepared with what? A gun? A cross and a wooden stake? A scarf?

Once more though, it was just the weather report. I took the warning to heart though and only left the house once to get soup, bread and Excedrin--the latter to combat a thrilling headache. (Cut to Arnie: IT'S NOT A TUMOR!) It has gotten cold though, so that wasn't just more sensationalist New York City weather propaganda. It is cold. And Exedrin should come with an additional warning on the box: Do not open container in sub-freezing temperature or you will painfully remove a quarter inch of skin from your knuckles before you remove the child-guard cap. The headache is currently dancing around the Exedrin, somewhere right behind and above my right eye, throwing sharp jabs and taunting and laughing. As the immortal Huey Lewis is wont to repeat, I want a new drug.

I noticed today, looking out the front window, that the trees across the street, though otherwise bare, each have one single sprout of new green leaves, each on a branch reaching back across towards the houses. It appears as if they're using every last bit of effort and will to get indoors and stay warm.

I've decided, or we've decided, this headache and I, on foregoing the usual fin del la semana fiestas and stay home in the quiet... as much as it's ever quiet in Brooklyn. (It's never really completely dark either.) Even when it's quiet it's never quiet. Then there's this little matter of tinnitus, which I've suffered with since seeing Led Zeppelin when I was fifteen. That little ring is always there. I've had my ears tested and I'm doing well for a man my age, especially a man that has seen upwards of 1000 live music events. Note to self: Earplugs are dorky looking but might not be a bad idea anyway. That little tone... my personal and permanent test signal. I would prefer a lower register, perhaps a 60Hz ground hum, or Yoyo Ma playing Bach's 6 Unaccompanied Cello Suites on a permanent loop, but you get what you get.

That recording, by the way, is simply beautiful and the only known antidote for existential angst driven headaches. It's been on repeat since I arrived home yesterday evening. I crawled onto the sofa and pressed play and decided at that moment it was how I was going to spend Saturday. Fine, so I'm not all that ambitious, but I do know what feels right. It evokes such a forlorn landscape, like rowing out to the middle of a lake and pulling in the oars, and just drifting.

Drifting.

It's easy, when you work in sales and marketing, and spending your days blowing smoke up the asses of strangers, to come to a point at the end of the day, when you are no longer selling, where everything that comes out of your mouth sounds like a pitch. You can come to moments of doubt about everything that you say. You might question your own sincerity.

But I can assure you that I am nothing, if not sincere. This is my own headtrip, and fortunately, it goes away in a short time with rest, Exedrin, and Bach.

I've never met anyone, I don't believe, that isn't moved by the sound of the cello. It seems to resonate in some cellular realm... genetic memory... in a time before Bach, or even before cellos. I will confess that I've never been a fan of classical music (Bloody longhairs, as Joe Strummer once said), but this moves me beyond words. This is also as "close to live music" as I've ever heard committed to tape. There is so much space. You can hear the room. You can hear the sound of the inside of the instrument... the pull of the bow across the strings and the strain of the neck. It transports you to the recording space. The music, for me, is a spiritual realignment that puts me back where I was before I spoke with dozens of strangers in my efforts to keep the lights on.

It makes things just about right.

Selah

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Severe Weather Advisory



"TEMPERATURES ARE EXPECTED TO FALL INTO THE MID TO UPPER 20S
ACROSS NEW YORK CITY AND HUDSON COUNTY TONIGHT. THIS WILL RESULT
IN A HARD KILLING FREEZE AND EFFECTIVELY END THE 2008 GROWING
SEASON."


I will tell myself that this is merely the first news story I read this morning upon crawling out of the bunk, and only a weather story. I will revisit my earlier thoughts on messages and metaphor. I will leave the house confident that all I need to take from these words is a warning to button my jacket and wear a scarf. I will assure myself that any sense of foreboding I'm feeling is simply the snap, crackle and pop of pre-caffeinated nerve synapses misfiring. Yet the words, "HARD KILLING FREEZE" give me chills despite the warmth of my rattling, Brooklyn radiators. They only mean that I should bring my growing things indoors, and that's good advice in any context.

I dreamed last night that I was reading news stories and trying to find myself in the accompanying photos. I kept repeating as I moved from headline to byline to new headline, "I was there... and I was there." There was no sign of me though in word or photo, and that disturbed me. There are probably some obvious interpretations. Decide for yourself. I'm having a hard enough time with headlines this morning.

In another dream I was writing but ink was ejaculating from my pen in pools and large blobs of gel. It was obscuring words and sentences and punctuation. I kept flipping the leaf of paper to see if it was bleeding through to the next blank page. Would I be able to continue on that next page or skip, or stop altogether?

I scooped up a large dollop of black gel ink and stuck it in my mouth, only to realize with horror that it would stain. That I'd walk around all day with black tongue and teeth. People would know... what? That I was eating my own words? Again, dream interpretation. I'll try to save that for those more clever than myself.

I've been thinking these last several days of Jean-Paul Sartre, sitting on the park bench watching the black roots of the tree. Nausea was the most tedious book I've ever slogged through. It was more an exercise in monotony than a novel, but that may have been the point, because parts of it stayed with me. Like a mouthful of ink? Jean-Paul, it seems to me, was sleep-deprived.

"To sleep perchance, to dream... ay there's the rub."

Oh Hamlet, indeed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Madness, madness, they call it madness...

It doesn't escape escape me that my inclination to find metaphor in the commonplace... to infer hidden messages from sights and sounds that surround me... despite that it's my greatest source of amusement... might be interpreted as madness. Once you've made that leap of faith though, that there might be other realms of influence that perhaps you should be paying great attention to, pretty much anything has meaning. And to negate that possibility could suggest that there is no meaning in anything at all.

Bobby O was an old-time neighborhood gangster. He was a real character, part clown and part psycho. It was hard to tell where fact and rumor began and ended with Bobby but according to Brooklyn mythology he had more bodies than the Greenwood Cemetery. He was an affable sort, despite being just over-the-top enough to be frightening. You just knew, even if you hadn't heard the legends, that you didn't want to see this man angry.

The police hadn't tagged him for a single murder, but he finally rode a RICO charge to a 5 year stint in one facility or another. Some said Leavenworth. Others said a cushy minimum security spot in Virginia. Stories fly from stoop to stoop and block to block in Brooklyn. You never truly know the truth, and every story ends with, 'and that's the God's honest truth." It's hard to keep sane when you've got ten disparate truths coming at you, each one just once-removed from the lips of God. Or ten different gods telling different stories?

The funny thing is, is that when Bobby O returned from Neverland, wherever that is, he too had been speaking an awful lot with God. The first thing he said to me, grinning like he had just won the Mega, was that he was saved. I responded in the only way someone who really doesn't believe people get "saved" would.

"You're shitting me."

"I'm not! I've been saved!"

He continued to tell me that he had started to go to church while he was locked up. One Sunday morning after services he was sitting in the TV room with all the guys, and God's word started to come to him through the television. Not through a broadcast ministry but through the political shows. Apparently, God had entered the bodies of Brit Hume, or Bob Schieffer or one of these guys and was delivering private messages to Bobby O. God told Bobby O he had a special purpose for him.

Un-fucking-believable.

Firstly, I have to say, if I believed in god, and I thought for one instant that he had a purpose for Bobby O, I'd have a serious crisis of faith. Secondly, if there were a god and a special purpose I'm certain it would have had something to do with a racetrack or some sort of "sporting" venture.

"Every day now, when I watch television. Or when I'm walking down the street and I see a license plate..."

"A license plate, Bobby?"

"A license plate! IT'S IN CODE! I know it sounds crazy..."

Pause. You bet it sounds crazy. I figured at that moment that either Bobby O had either lost his mind completely, OR, perhaps like that old Mafioso walking around Little Italy in his bathrobe, he was trying to beat a new charge with an insanity plea. To make a long story short, it was both. He had completely lost his mind, according to everybody that knew him intimately, including his mother. There was also a brand new trial coming up, and he didn't beat that charge. Not by a long shot. There was a comeuppance on a Missing Persons issue when the Missing Person came up dead... with witnesses testifying that our nutso neighbor had done the deed. There may or may not have been many more but we would never find out. God called Bobby home during his first month back in jail and it was ruled suicide. The prison shrink had diagnosed Bobby as a paranoid schizophrenic.

Was he crazy? Was he saved? Both? Well, that's not the point. The point is that if Bobby O was a lunatic, then how far off am I? I don't technically believe that I'm "receiving" messages from any particular source. What I believe is that certain things trigger paradigm shifts and within that shift, one aspect of my life or another may be reflected. I believe that Bobby O, with a lot of time on his hands to think that he never had, started to reflect upon himself and ask questions. I believe he externalized the answers he received and called his inner voice "God." Not that I'm willing to say with any certainty that there aren't "other" sources... He took his own life never having confessed to anything, but he did apologize to "God" and his mother for "everything." In the final days before he went away that last time he never seemed penitent for anything. I, on the other hand, feel guilty for everything, including things that I have nothing to do with. Of course when I approach it rationally I know I'm innocent... let me rephrase that as the opposite of guilty isn't innocent. It's "not guilty." I know I'm not guilty of everything. That would make me Catholic (just a bad joke, sorry). Perhaps I really am crazy because I find myself at times unable to slow down the metaphor trigger and get caught weighing the relative truths I've found in eight somewhat different viewpoints in the same day. Perhaps I'm just not well enough armed emotionally or intellectually to spend this much time thinking.

And I shouldn't be measure myself against a murderer anyway. There must be a better basis of comparison.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fontanelle

I was dreaming this morning before I woke up that I was looking in a mirror. My head was shaved and I didn't know why. There was a scar though. A smooth even scar. The skin had been peeled back and replaced skillfully. I didn't remember why. There was a soft spot, like the top of a baby's head, and I could see my pulse there.

Fontanelle?

How would I explain this one to my co-workers and friends?

They had to go in to fix something. Or let something out?

Trepanation?

What were they after?

This one would be hard to explain though everyone has come to expect Monday morning surprises. There would be no hiding that something happened. Aneurysm. Tumor. They'd only get suspicious if I wore a hat. I don't wear hats.

I woke up the sound of a light rain hitting the bedroom window. The forecast yesterday said there would be rain all day, and possibly thunderstorms. I don't recall when I last heard thunder this late in the year. Maybe once years ago during an early December blizzard, which had turned out to be the only real snowfall of the year, here in New York City. The weather has gotten unpredictable. Many things have become unpredictable. Very little can be taken for granted.

Maybe that's always been the case.

The rain hit the window softly. A stiff wind from the west pried against the eaves, making the roof timbers groan. I often lie here in this tiny room listening to this old house heaving like that. It recalls the sound of ships shifting heavily against their moorings. I rolled over onto my back, the mattress springs and bed frame protesting loudly. Why does it sound like that? It's only me here. I lay propped up against my pillows. Against my moorings. I took both hands and inspected my skull.

Everything is still intact. All the hair is still there. No scars. No fontanelle. No need for explanations. But I had to be sure... you know?

Thanksgiving is two weeks away and that's hard to believe. It gets dark before five. The leaves have mostly fallen from the trees, as I predicted, with no splashes of gold, red or rust. Not even a single burnt siena. I lay on my back in bed, and finding my skull as it was last night, let my mind drift back to the bigger questions. Like where did 2008 go? What have I accomplished? Who does an atheist thank on Thanksgiving? Clearly no great revelations forthcoming and no great philosophical answers pending... It was just time to make coffee.

I'm troubled today though. If there is no hole in my head, how did so much escape?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Things That Suck, Part 2

We established a couple things in the previous discussion. We partially established the validity of a few other relative truths. We may never have the answers to other questions.

Let's work with it: Is it lazy and immature, at age 47, to use the term suck (or sucks, suckful, suckitude)? Maybe. Who cares? I don't. I think we've all agreed that certain things just suck. And nobody disagreed on anything else, so... What have we got?

Madonna and Michael Jackson, for various reasons, similar and dissimilar, both suck.

Rude, misbehaved children suck, especially when these children are not one's own.

The parents of these children suck.

Hangovers definitely suck but drinking enough to have a really bad one may or may not be a sign of immaturity (or alcoholism). Being harassed by rude children whilst in the throes of a rotten, fetid hangover certainly tops the list of things that suck.

Getting dumped sucks, yet the humor behind the dumper's friend sharing all the dirt they shared about you, and asking you to dinner, presumably with an eye on the Zipper Prize (see prior entry) cannot be denied... even if it sucks. Snitches suck. Foolish consumers also suck, and if a person hears a laundry list of complaints about you and still thinks they might take you for a test drive anyway, that person is a foolish consumer, and probably has another more insidious, hidden agenda.

Insidious hidden agendas suck.

But back to foolish consumers--Five years ago I fell victim to a stellar sales pitch and bought a rather expensive upright vacuum cleaner. It was, for a while after I brought it home, one of the more impressive pieces of power machinery I had ever owned. It was second only to the illustrious Milwaukee Sawzall, which really will saw all. This sucker was also a particularly sensitive piece of equipment and quickly started to break down bit by bit. First the headlamp went and I found myself no longer able to clean in the dark. Then attachments stopped attaching. Belts started slipping, Beaters ceased to beat. And as soon as I fixed everything else, the suction disappeared. And it was right here that we come to a higher truth: Sometimes things don't suck until they stop sucking. But we knew that already.

Warranties that run out a week before your gear breaks down suck.

Reasoning that my domestic steed was likely suffering from a mere clog, I attempted to heal it. I'm pretty handy. I grew up on a farm. Why not? Fifteen long, sweaty minutes later, fate took an awful turn. I accidentally flipped the on switch before sealing a gasket and found myself sitting at ground zero of an explosion of filth. in the middle of the kitchen floor, choking and sputtering in the mushroom cloud. That really really sucked. It was a moment not unlike other moments that suck though. It was not entirely lacking in humor. The look on my son's face when he came through the kitchen door and saw me sitting there doing my best imitation of Al Jolson... a defeated, deflated and very pissed off Al Jolson... was fairly priceless.

I dusted and swept and cleaned and showered and made a vow that I would have this machine fixed. The estimate came and I vowed that I would surely not have it fixed. There followed a period of denial during which there was not a soul in the world that could tell me that a small apartment couldn't be cleaned with only a handheld Dustbuster, a broom and a little elbow grease.

I was wrong. This past Sunday, after the aforementioned incident at the bookstore, which really did suck, I hiked down to the appliance store to purchase a new, larger, better machine. There would be no listening to lofty sales pitches or idle boasts. I was off for something humble, or somewhat more humbly priced than before. The store jingle goes:

Ask your neighbor about PC Richard...

Had I asked my neighbor, I would have only heard what I already knew. It sucks. It's crowded and noisy. There are more salespeople than customers and not a single one of them wants to talk to you unless you're looking dewy-eyed at something very expensive. It was time though. The deed is now done. There was a pile of boxes under a huge sign that read SALE!!!!! Just like that with all the exclamation points. !!!!! Each box was adorned with a photo of a space-age looking machine, and emblazoned with the word EUREKA! Only a single exclamation point which was a bit of a letdown, but the catch phrase sold me: DESIGNED FOR HOW YOU CLEAN. Perfect. That would be about once every six months. It only has to work once. It only has to suck a little bit.

My apartment is clean (nearly). If you're planning on visiting, make it soon.

Selah

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Things That Suck, Part 1

Maybe I should begin with the word 'suck.' Suck is perhaps the most overused and misused word in the English vocabulary, third behind 'hipster' and 'yuppie.' It's a word that multi-tasks through our daily interactions the way a good Burberry raincoat with a woolen liner eases from season to season, accommodating a wide range of climactic conditions. Even when it doesn't really go with whatever else we've put on, it works. Yet it's not always wholly appopriate for every situation. Some may say that resorting to it as the old standby constitutes laziness... or immaturity.

What can I say? I am, if nothing else, immature. A girlfriend once called me immature, or rather a woman in the process of making herself an ex-girlfriend did. She didn't tell me though. She told a friend of hers in a series of e-mails. She also told her friend about every manner of character flaw, emotional problem and physical shortcoming and capped it off by saying she made more money than I do. The last part is far from true. I can't speak for the rest. This friend then e-mailed all this to me (I didn't ask for it and had never before corresponded with her.) and asked if I'd like to have dinner the next time she was in town. This all just plain sucked. I declined, by the way. One of the few things worse than a pissed off ex is a snitch. Informants suck.

Add this sort of event though to a long list of things that may or may not be in your life, that suck. Let's move on. Even the last bit is rather funny when you've had a bit of distance... a couple weeks to think about it.

Going to Barnes & Noble in Park Slope on a Sunday sucks, in all the worst senses of the word. It's overcrowded, smells of burnt coffee grounds and wet raincoats, and is teeming with the world's most precious, precocious, untended, unruly, and uncorrected children that ever scampered the face of the earth. Going to Barnes & Noble in Park Slope on a Sunday with a heroic sort of Jack Kerouac, Tom Waits, Charles Bukowski style hangover really sucks. There is no explanation needed on that one. Had I more foresight... more common sense... were I not immature, I could have prevented Sunday.

I don't know what possessed me to get up on Sunday, having come off a long session with my apparently equally immature (and all single) male friends, and only a few hours sleep, to believe that there were a half dozen books that I must, must own before noon. As if I were going to read all of them and digest the information and knowledge, taking copious notes and footnoting etc. That's how my brain works though. I muse and ponder and mull over and then decide that it has to be done at once, and done as if the lives of my children and memory of my ancestors depended on it. Not unlike The Crusades... I did though, knowing full well the obstacles that lay in the path of my Vision Quest (remember that movie? Ugh!) You might say that I deserved whatever punishment lay in my path.

It was bad. It was all I knew it to be and worse. Weekends at Barnes & Noble are like a Bizarro Library where the the librarians, rather than shush and scold, exhort everyone to run around like lunatics in blindfolds and scream at the tops of their lungs. The experience makes a Monday morning hangover seem like a day in an iso-chamber listening to nothing but your heartbeat and warm, gentle water sloshing against your isolated, bare behind. I shambled about the aisles collecting my treasures, and then a few for consideration, and sat in the most remote corner I could find to assemble the coming weeks of reading.

I was immediately set upon by a trio of children who showed all the socialization skills of starved badgers. In an unfortunate turn of events I had been elected 'homebase' in a frenzied game of tag. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. It may have been tag. It seemed like a purposeful plan by self-entitled miscreants to choose the most defenseless victim they could find and fuck with him mercilessly. Benefit of the doubt.... right. I will readily admit that my tolerance, under the circumstances, was especially low. That said, it wasn't long before I'd had enough.

My children, and most people who've spent an hour with me, will attest to the fact that I was cursed with only two volume settngs. I'm incapable of a whisper. I have a regular speaking level and then Harry's Hippopotamus Hurrican Holler. The former was out of the question as I was quelling an esophageal rebellion, so it was the latter that followed:

GO AWAY!!!. It was thunderous. It was effective. The badgers stopped in their tracks momentarily, looked at me, and then let out squeals like hogs in the abbatoir, and took off. There was a moment of silence across the store, rather like that moment in church where all you hear is the odd cough and the shuffle of prayer books. That lasted about 5 seconds before I heard the next sound. It was the shrill alarm call, the indignant howl of Brooklyn's most fierce predatory beast.

WHOOOO TALKS TO CHIIIIILDREN THAAAAT WAAAAAAY????

I didn't have to look to see what was coming but I did. And there she was... upright on her hind legs in the menacing stance and moving forward. Headed for the kill. Long, unstyled hair, shapeless sweatpants and crosstrainers, sweater scattered with cat hair, yoga mat in its special yoga mat bag complete with shoulder strap, and a frenzied Paxil/Klonapin stare... accusatory, angry, self-righteous... the famous Park Slope mother in her natural habitat... about to prove to the entire world that her children are the focus of not only her entire being, but yours too. There is no more frightening creature on the Brooklyn veldt. I could have retreated. I should have retreated. I was too scared. Or too hungover. I stood my ground as she approached with a steady torrent of self-righteous reprimands.

It was my original intention to apologize gently but explain politely that her children were misbehaving and that I overreacted... that I wasn't feeling well, and couldn't she please just curb them as any responsible parent might. That's not what came out as she neared. What came out was quite different, but not quite unlike my prior outburst. What I heard as I opened my mouth--and it seemed to come from another place but was clearly my voice:

FUUUUCK OOOOOOFFFFF!!!! It thundered across the basement level of Barnes & Noble like an August storm rolling down the Hudson Palisades. And then: WHAT IS IT ABOUT WOMEN IN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD THAT THEY ALL SEEM TO THINK THEY GOT UP IN THE STIRRUPS AND PUSHED OUT THE FUCKING BABY JESUS???

I instantly felt remorse, despite that it stopped her in her crosstrainer tracks. Her head recoiled like a puff adder, about to release its deadly venom into my eyes and she hissed, "I'm calling security." They were already there.

Is everything okay? The small woman in front was doing her best not to smirk. I knew instantly that I had an ally, but I still couldn't help but feel a bit of shame. Some of the shame was undoubtedly that my regret was quickly receding. There was even the beginnings of self-satisfaction. What can I say? I'm immature. I retreated with my purchases while She-Ra desperately pleaded her case to security. I slumped onto the escalator, paid for the books and left the store quietly. News had already spread while I was at the counter. Clerks and guards smiled softly to me as I pushed towards the door. I almost expected a slow clap.

In total though, once outside, even my glimmer of satisfaction faded. It was a reminder that the Winds of Class War are blowing across Brooklyn. In total, the entire experience sucked.

Part 2 will follow...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The names have been changed to protect the boring...

or simply eliminated...

(I love ellipses...)

(and parentheses...)

We won't even get into semi-colons and em-dashes.

It was six months ago with some grandeur and hullabaloo that I announced I was embarking on an inner journey and exhuming a memoir. It was several months after that, having dredged tens of thousands of words from my tragically non-linear memory, assaulted my wee MacBook and burned out a hard drive (both literally and figuratively) that I fell from grace with my ego and walked away. It wasn't unlike buying a hopelessly broken down Coupe de Ville with all the best of intentions for loving restoration and then leaving it on blocks in the barn to gather dust.

I had grown bored with myself. I looked at the fruit of my labor and saw little more than a gaudily mismatched wardrobe comprised of high ticket items that taxed the limits of my credit. There came a moment of realization that throwing half of it to Good Will would exponentially increase the value of the other half. That's easier said than done when you're desperately attached to the material wealth of your personal history. Some of the attachment is born of egomania and some from sentimental value and even more simply for token reminders of how one came to a destination in the first place. But which label to attach to which items... What will come back in fashion with your next season and make you wish you hadn't been so rash in your judgment whilst cleaning house?

It's grown clear though that now is the time to move forward and take on the deep cleaning that my house so desperately needs. There is nothing to regret but regret itself.

I think... think... that what I'm getting at here is how does one define the defining moments in life? You have to know where you are before you can backtrack and figure out how you got there. It takes a measure of confidence to stand in one place and look around say say THIS is where I am. I'm fairly confident I can do that. It took a bit but I may just have it.

I believe (do I?) that I've successfully separated fact from fiction... or moreover weeded out collective mythologies (my own, my family, my friends) and can accurately tell the story. This presents another question altogether. How important is the accuracy to detail? Simply because my ego is immense enough to believe that I will be published and fantastically famous one day, I imagine myself being scolded by Oprah when some skeleton dances out of my closet and corrects me.

What can I say, Oprah? This is all, to the best of my recollection, which may admittedly be dodgy, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me Bog! What did you expect me to do? Just sit there in Brooklyn week after week accosting my liver with bargain shelf vodka, molesting my heart with stupidly inappropriate romances and electrocuting my brain with a stultifying career? There's a story to be told and maybe there will be movie rights with perhaps Harold Ramis or the much maligned Ed Begley Jr. in the lead role! Damn it, Oprah! Should I not have dared to dream?

But I digress...

How does a man go about addressing who he is and what made him that person? How would you present yourself if you were to write your own story? Any omission could be a misrepresentation, intentional or otherwise, no?

For what it's worth, the Coupe de Ville is out of the barn and back on the highway... the back quarter-panels rusted out and rattling, and missing on a few cylinders, but it still gets out of it's own way... despite that it burns an awful lot of gas.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

8 Times Lucky?

Yesterday I went out and voted for president for the eighth time in my life. It was the first time I voted for the winning candidate. I'm happy this was the one.

It's not about me though.

I hadn't realized how many people I know were holding their breath. The phone started ringing just before 11 p.m. Friends and family called sobbing.

It seems the world exhaled.

Now it's time to get to work.

I mean, there are a lot of comedians who are out of work today...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day 2008: And here we go...

Election Day never fails to get my blood pumping, and this morning is no exception. This despite that I'm never been particularly enamored of either option that's been offered up by either major party... and this morning is no exception.

I'm not going to be obtuse. The Bush administration must go, and John McCain represents nothing but a third consecutive Bush victory. McCain must be defeated.

What does Obama truly represent though? That's my quandary this morning. It's impossible to overlook the historical significance of our first non-white president. It's an event I never thought I'd witness in my lifetime. It's a bit too early to celebrate progress in this respect though, until equal opportunity exists everywhere along the spectrum. It doesn't. There are small signs of forward movement here and there but... When I close my eyes though, I hear another Democrat not unlike the other Democrats that have done little to inspire me. I don't have much faith. I don't believe in saviors.

So what does he represent? Hope and change? Again, I don't believe in saviors. This hope and change thing scares me. My biggest fear is that many of us have put far too much faith in the man as the one who will deliver us, and that after giving us the fire of hope, he will spend the next four years chained to a rock, being eviscerated by our disappointment after things don't change at all.

My fear is that too many people are looking for deliverance that no man can offer; that people will vote today and then go home and wait.

My hope is that the door has been opened a crack. My hope is that more people will take this as a rallying cry and force the door open. I am skeptical but hopeful. It is encouraging that a man can be elected by the populist vote, and that is rare, but it appears to be happening. This would be a second time in my lifetime, but we saw what happened with Jimmy Carter. We threw him to the wolves and went home for dinner.

Time will tell.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Dedicated To Faux News

Trouble Coming Every Day

An Election Week dedication to the media in general, but especially to Fox News, who have more than any other outlet abrogated all responsibility to the truth.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Dia de los Muertos



DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, the Day of the Dead, seems to have been overshadowed this year in Sunset Park, one of the bastions of Mexican immigration and culture in New York City, by preparations for the marathon. I wandered down though with Knucklehead #2 in hope of finding something. We figured that since none of our own are interred here in The Big Apple, perhaps we could visit with other peoples'. It only struck me later that few of our newer neighbors have anybody here either. We're all immigrants from some other place and some other time.

It was like any other Saturday here in Brooklyn, the only reminder of the season just patches of broken eggs and shaving cream on the sidewalk. No Day of the Dead parades. No calaveras de azucar. No catrinas. No tokens of homage to distant homelands. Just blue police barricades at each intersection, awaiting the big run tomorrow. Maybe some of tomorrow's runners will be visited next year on this day. Twenty-six miles would do me in.

We climbed though to the top of Sunset Park, with its expansive views of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to the South, and Staten Island, out across to The Statue of Liberty and New Jersey, and northwest along the Manhattan skyline which remains alien to me. It's not the same skyline I first viewed from Sunset Park more than twenty years ago... standing in the bitter, hazy cold, face to the oncoming storm still some miles beyond Manhattan and the World Trade Center. My friends and I standing up there in army surplus overcoats, smoking cigarettes and passing a bottle, and laughing... a band of tattered, laughing young men... all immigrants in our own right from here and there. No family and no roots in Brooklyn to speak of. Ignorant, ill-informed young men.

There are several high-points in Brooklyn, all man-made and all designed to have everlasting, unobstructed views of Manhattan. The top of the Greenwood Cemetery and the crest of Sunset Park among them... and the original laws stated that no building shall ever, ever be built to block those views. Manhattan was for industry. Brooklyn was for the rest of us. It was ours.

Ours.

Whose?

Theirs. The people that built the stuff over there. City planners had originally designed it so that there would be a balance. The monument to this would never be bigger than the monument to that. Everything has a place, but this was theirs' and hence now, ours.

It's not hard to see that the best laid plans... and all that. K2 and I walked back up 5th and 6th Avenue today, shaking our heads at the new constructions. Many of them are in clear violation of the old laws. Laws still in place. But laws being challenged both in and out of court. Seems someone has forgotten what the original intent was. So we pass by the Greenwood Cemetery where monuments still stand at the top of the hill, built by people who went to their graves having been promised that they will always have the sky. They would always have the view. Someone has very little respect for the dead.

Then again they have little respect for the living.

The Aztecs, and Olmecs and Toltecs, and even more recent cultures came to honor their dead. They would come once a year to visit with them. Commune with them. Celebrate them. We build over them.

I really should have said...

I think I suffer from "fear of commitment." I'm not talking about the traditional sense of the term, though that may or may not be the case. I'm speaking more of a pervading sense of doubt -- that anything I've done or said in any particular circumstance was the right thing to do or say. I can't commit to the idea that it all couldn't have been handled better. What's left then, but resignation. Life is not like a child's game.

INTERFERENCE! DO OVER!!!

You can't go back and change things. Or can you... I've always been fascinated by that Dali painting. The Persistence of Memory, also known as The Persistence of Time... also known as The Melting Clocks... also known as "you know that Dali painting with the clocks???" By any title, I "get" it. I've got a strained relationship with Dali's paintings but this one persists in my memory, across time. If you've ever suffered from insomnia, lying awake at night, sweating events in your life that you wish had gone differently, then you understand that time is elastic. You remember these events like they were yesterday. Like no time has expired at all. Yet the distance between waking up with this exhumed skeleton stuck in your present and the morning is immeasurable. One might believe that time isn't linear at all, but entirely random. One might believe that it's not a counting exercise but elastic, like those clocks draped over those desiccated trees. How far can it be stretched? If you are a person of the night, an insomniac, Batman, a coyote or some other nocturnal beast, you are bound to question this more than the average beast.

Can time be stretched at all? It can certainly be manipulated. Seconds are seconds and hours are hours because we measured them and named them so. A year: The length of time it takes the Earth to traverse its path around the sun... and then broken up into tiny pieces.

And when mankind realized that the sun didn't rise and set at our beck and call, we played with time. We manipulated it. We set the clocks back.

Fall back. Spring ahead, and fall back. Ostensibly so gardeners could avail themselves of an extra hour of daylight, we manipulated time. Not so much stretching time as shifting it over a bit. There is no longer any practical purpose for it but we've held onto it since 1945 anyway. A reminder of a time when we felt more righteous about growing tomatoes and potatoes and invading foreign lands? Perhaps we need reminders, despite that we invent new scourges yearly, compare them to 1941 and sally forth with guns.

Fall back! This isn't about that! This is about time! And regret. What I wouldn't give to free myself of the twin yoke of time and regret. I've often spent nights wishing for a sort of Daylight Savings Time that would allow me to fall back a bit and till my past and turn the earth over and bury regret... things I could have done differently... things I really should have said.

Matters of the heart: Fall back! Pay more attention to her. Pay less attention to her. Don't talk to that one at all! Run away from THAT one! Don't say that. Don't try to put that THERE!

Matters of fashion: Fall back! DON'T WALK OUT OF THE HOUSE WITH THAT ON!

Matters of pride: Fall back! Don't give him the satisfaction of firing you. Quit first. Walk away first.

Education: Fall back! Read the book before you take that test.

Fall back! It doesn't bear giving this much thought to. It's not worth another night of lost sleep. Time is merely a counting exercise until someone more clever than I am proves otherwise. You are born, and the clock starts, and at some point it stops. You can never go home.

Fall back! Time is not elastic at all. Time is, for all intents and purposes, a straight line. You cannot spring forward. It would be nice if you could. Get something over with. Get it behind you. Prepare now for the next second. Regret later... or not. Spring forward. Talk to someone over 40 and if they're honest they'll tell you that they don't understand how they leapt forward so quickly.

Leap year?

Fall back! That's not really a year. It's just an extra day.

Fall back! It's all just words. Nothing to lose sleep over, but you might anyway.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Big Ol' Jet Airliner

I never liked THIS SONG until I heard the original. Proof that sometimes a song can only be done right by the person that wrote it.

Airports. Airport bars. Departure lounges. Duty-free shops. People in transit. People saying hello and goodbye and then hanging in space between here and there. Expectations. Hope. Regrets.

I'm a simple man and I'll never understand what gets these steel pigs up in the air and keeps them there. Most of the time, anyway. It never fails, up there in the belly of the flying pig, that the song comes to mind... Coming in on a wing and a prayer... It's not fear of flying. Nor fear of crashing. If it goes down there's not a lot to be done. The flight attendants can skip the safety demo. If anything goes wrong, as Billy Connelly says, you're going into the ground "like a fucking dart." Cheerful, no?

The pleasure of travel for me, whether by plane or train or bus, is slipping into the envelope of anonymity for that period of time between here and there. It's never mattered where I was going. The in-between though is pure zen. Dissolution of self. For that time and that time only I'm nobody in a universe of nobodies.

People sit down next to you at the bar, or on the plane, and talk. This is who I am. Who are you? Does it matter? They could be lying. You could lie. That's sort of a violation of the social contract, isn't it? The rules here though cease to apply. The odds are you're both just trying to put off the deepest fear that you could be sharing a ride into the side of a mountain at 500 miles per hour. Or maybe the darker fear that if you do, it doesn't really matter. The entire world will go on without you, as world's have that annoying tendency of doing. Perhaps being up there at the mercy of fate is too easy a reminder that we are all nobody outside the travel hubs too. Don't get me wrong. This is not such a solemn thought if you think about it. It takes a lot of pressure off when you've a tendency towards egocentrism, pride and vanity. I do. So yes, I exhale up there in the ozone, in a deeply satisfying way that I can't seem to manage on the ground. Exhale, smile... and be pleasant to the old bird next to you who is off to visit family... to the IT guy headed off to Cancun... to the kid headed off to college for the first time. Try to keep the self-mythology to a minimum just in case. The people you meet on the way up are the same people you will meet on the way down.

In 48 hours I'll slip back into the envelope--Charlottesville by way of Detroit--a roundabout way to tour the East Coast, but I always seem to end up taking the scenic tour between here and there, no matter where I'm going. I always end up taking the roundabout way home. Off to see an old friend. It's been nearly two years since we've spoken face to face and that two years seems alternately like ten minutes and ten years. So many things can happen in two years, or ten years, or ten minutes. I've never been able to keep up, or catch up. I've never been able to stay on top of events in my own life, let alone that of others. I accept that time moves faster than my ability to keep up, much the way I accept when I board the flying pig, that I am a passenger, and not the ride.

So I'm off for a few days and I'll be back at some point next week, God willin' and the crick don't rise.

Cheers

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

From the Northwest...

Winter, in what ever form it will take here this year, is coming. It's hard to tell what kind of winter it will be. The weathermen can't be trusted. Even old Bill Ayres, another kind of weatherman from bygone days, is more reliable than the man standing in front of the map. The world is a bit more unpredictable than it used to be. You used to just know. It will be cold. How cold? Cold.

It's coming though. I woke up this morning to the smell of not the first frost, which I have dim memories of, from growing up north of the city. There would be one evening in October when the air changed. "You can smell Canada," my Uncle Ian would say. The next morning the ground would be frozen and we'd trudge off to feed the animals with our boots crunching against the earth. We'd break a layer of ice from the tops of the water buckets and begin the day.

The first harbinger of winter in New York City has always been, for me, the smell of the radiators that first morning when the boilers have fired up overnight and the steam has been forced northwards to wherever I've been perched. It's a somewhat sweet, if musty aroma of hot steel and dust. I can't explain exactly what it is that I've always found comforting about it. It's easily as soothing as that first chilly scent of Canada. Maybe it's just always signified for me that something still works. This centuries old technology still does what it's supposed to do. And that the kitchen will be warm. Genetic memory? In what cold climate is a warm kitchen not the most comfortable feeling a person can ever know?

I'm probably more prone to sentimentality and nostalgia than I'm often willing to admit. I sat in the kitchen today before sunrise in the official middle-aged man morning uniform, pyjama bottoms, robe, dark socks and slippers, just like so many other middle-aged men, my stepfather, my uncle and countless others in millions of households, and mused on the changing of seasons. The smell from the radiators blended with the smell of french roast, wheat toast and melted butter. This wasn't a moment of deep reflection so much as pure sensation sweetened by nostalgia.

My first apartment... a dingy railroad flat in the village. The shower stall was in the kitchen and the radiators painted over a hundred times and anemic. The shower was a vinyl stall in the kitchen where a pantry had once stood. I'd turn on the oven to warm up the room and drink coffee and wait for 60 degrees or so to take that icy plunge. It was kind of a dump. I didn't care. It was mine.

My first girlfriend's family's place, not so different than mine but more crowded... You would walk in there in mid-January and great columns of steam would be rising from the radiators, the windows would be open and the whole family was walking around in shorts and tanktops like they were on South Beach. There was always something cooking in their kitchen. It always smelled great. They never let me leave without feeding me.

So many kitchens before and since... and now this one. I spent most of the summer thinking about escaping it, and the city. Thinking of going somewhere else. This morning, however, it felt like home.

And tonight there is a stiff, cold breeze coming in from the Northwest. I can smell Canada through the open window. The ground will most likely not be frozen tomorrow morning. It rarely gets that cold here in New York City anymore, and when it does it's not for all that long. I'm not a farmer so I won't be going out before light to feed any hairy beasts in an array of shacks and barns. The heat will be on though and that's very nice.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Into The Wild: The Brooklyn Years





In the tradition of Laurie Lee, and Wordsworth and so many poetic souls before us, Evan and I set forth into the wilds of Gowanus and Red Hook this afternoon. I'll let the photos speak for themselves though.

One day soon all this bucolic splendor will be gone though, erased to make room for luxury highrises. The good people of these lands who have held onto the land that nobody wanted will be relocated to....


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rubin Museum of Art

A suggestion for those perhaps looking for a more mellow sort of Friday evening in NYC...

It can be frustrating for working stiffs, like myself, to live in a city surrounded by arts and culture and never have time to avail oneself of everything the town has to offer. You'll know what I'm talking about if you've ever wanted to go to a museum and you're limited to Saturday afternoon stampedes at MoMA or the Guggenheim etc. It's really easy to simply give up altogether and cede all the fun to visitors.

I just found out last week though (my loss) that many of the museums here have extended hours on Friday night, and many of the programs are free. Lordy... free... How often do you hear that. And so armed with this knowledge I ventured forth this past Friday to the RUBIN MUSEUM OF ART, on 17th Street right off 7th Avenue in Chelsea, to see Art of the Himalayas. I can't even remember when I didn't want to visit that part of the world (Nepal etc. not Chelsea), or didn't have an interest in their history and culture.

I can't say that the show wouldn't have been more satisfying did I not lack a greater knowledge of the religious context of the items exhibited. The pure beauty of it though, made it more than worth the trip. While it's impossible to divorce the art from the spiritual history, it's also impossible to not feel it when surrounded by it. It was a very moving and uplifting experience. The images are all more than familiar, but it's quite different than the knock-offs we might be more familiar with, and in fact, that many of us have at least a little of decorating our homes. And within the context of the times in which it was created, the attention to detail and devotion to the work is truly inspiring.

And since it was a Friday night, it was impossible to ignore the allure of cocktails at the K2 Lounge on the ground floor of the Rubin. A museum with a bar? Now that is indeed a novelty! And uplifting in it's own right, even if you're a bit averse as I am, to the Ibiza Chill-Out sounds being spun by the DJ. It was a great way to open up weekend,and for those who find it difficult to wrap up a Friday night that doesn't end on Saturday morning, it all wraps up early enough for other adventures of a less heady nature... a perfect jump start for bacchanalians with erudite leanings.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cyber-Bullies

The best part about my job, and working in media in general, is being utterly awash in the flow of information. There are days, of course, when it can be tedious and I get to thinking hard about this "all the news that's fit to print," idea and believe that there is nothing left that's fit to even whisper about.

It is, for the most part though, an interesting career and I'm thrilled to be up to the top of my waders in the stream. I've found food for thought in even the most boring papers, magazines and journals. I was working with The Psychiatric Times today and came across a study on CYBER-BULLYING. It's a phenomenon I've witness in every on-line forum I've ever visited or participated in but something I never gave all that much thought to. I wrote it off to a-holes taking advantage of anonymity to act upon their most foul instincts.

The advent of less anonymous fora like Facebook, Myspace etc. and the possible implications have really eluded me until now. Young children now, and as a parent this resonated deeply with me, exist at least partly in a pixellated universe where interaction on the web is an extension of their day to day lives. Where schools and other public offline venues have been putting their best feet forward with zero tolerance for bullying and hostility, there are no such measure on the internet. There is only very limited parental intervention and even that is only possible on a house by house basis. Our children are out on the net, essentially without a net.

Now while I'm not sure how much intervention crosses the line of individual freedoms, it was good to learn through this article that there are people working to raise the awareness of what obstacles a new generation faces in growing up healthy, happy and... well... safe? So in any case, rather than make cute little html links around these resources, I'll just list them. Click at will--some of the stuff may surprise you.

http://www.stopcyberbullying.org/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyber-bullying
http://www.cyberbullying.us/
http://stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/adult/indexAdult.asp?Area=cyberbullying
http://www.cyberbullying.info/

But on a lighter note, WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOUR CHILD DOESN'T EVEN WANT TO HANG OUT WITH YOU ON-LINE???

--

Remembering Chris Whitley

DIRT FLOOR

There's a dirt floor underneath here
To receive us when changes fail
May this shovel loose your trouble
Let them fall away

Well the mist shall be your blanket
While the moss shall ease your head
As the future is soon forgotten
As the dirt shall be your bed

There's a dirt floor underneath here
To receive us when changes fail
May this shovel loose your trouble
Let them fall away

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why? Because I have a really big dick. That's why.

Okay, you got me. It's not so big.

Okay, honestly? About this big.

MacGregor, you dirty rat!

Oh that MacGregor guy cracks me up!

Because it's really not so funny...

To live in a world run by malevolent cretins...

It's all well and good to make fun of George Bush, but when push comes to shove, it's just not all that funny. We're in a world of crap and all they can give in return for lost lives is rhetoric of god and country and freedom. Bail out? Buy in? How about sell out and we're not buying into it any longer? Tax and spend? How about borrow and spend? Thank you so much for my share of the debt! The financial debt and the moral debt. Would you invade Pakistan? How come neither of you have said we've been bombing across the border daily? I could go on...

THIS SONG by The Jam, written nearly 30 years ago, sums it up. No more blood for oil. No more war. No more killing children, ours or theirs. Don't sell my soul to save my ass. I don't need it.

Little Boy Soldiers

Its funny how you never knew what my name was,
Our only contact was a form for the election.
These days I find that you don't listen,
These days I find that we're out of touch,
These days I find that I'm too busy,
So why the attention now you want my assistance -
What have you done for me.

You've gone and got yourself in trouble,
No you want me to help you out.

These days I find that I can't be bothered,
These days I find that its all too much,
To pick up a gun and shoot a stranger,
But I've got no choice so here I come - war games.

I'm up on the hills, playing little boy soldiers,
Reconnaissance duty up at 5:30.
Shoot shoot shoot and kill the natives,
You're one of us and we love you for that.

Think of honour, Queen and country,
You're a blessed son of the British Empire,
God's on our side and so is Washington.

Come out on the hills with the little boy soldiers.

Come on outside - I'll sing you a lullaby,
Or tell a tale of how goodness prevailed.

We ruled the world - we killed and robbed,
The fucking lot - but we don't feel bad.

It was done beneath the flag of democracy,
You'll believe and I do - yes I do - yes I do -
yes I do -

These days I find that I can't be bothered,
To argue withthem well what's the point,
Better to take your shots and drop down dead,
then they send you home in a pine overcoat

With a letter to your mum

Saying find enclosed one son - one medal and a note -
to say he won.


--

Go ahead! Pull my presidential finger!

Yah, I told you there are WMD!

Ha! Gotcha again, commie!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Divorce Song

I've long had a gigantic crush on Liz Phair. Unrequited of course, and that's probably for the best, because I know I really couldn't handle it if we split up and she wrote a song like this about me. I'd never recover.

DIVORCE SONG (click to hear it live, folks)

And the lyrics here:

And when I asked for a separate room
It was late at night, and we'd been driving since noon
But if I'd known how that would sound to you
I would have stayed in your bed for the rest of my life
Just to prove I was right
That it's harder to be friends than lovers
And you shouldn't try to mix the two
'Cause if you do it and you're still unhappy
Then you know that the problem is you
And it's true that I stole your lighter
And it's also true that I lost the map
But when you said that I wasn't worth talking to
I had to take your word on that
But if you'd known how that would sound to me
You would have taken it back
And boxed it up and buried it in the ground
Boxed it up and buried it in the ground
Boxed it up and buried it in the ground
Burned it up and thrown it away
You put in my hands a loaded gun
And then told me not to fire it
When you did the things you said were up to me
And then accused me of trying to fuck it up
But you've never been a waste of my time
It's never been a drag
So take a deep breath and count back from ten
And maybe you'll be alright
And the license said you had to stick around until I was dead
But if you're tired of looking at my face, I guess I already am
But you've never been a waste of my time
It's never been a drag
So take a deep breath and count back from ten
And maybe you'll be alright

Monday, October 06, 2008

Damn!

After all that morbid stuff, I wish I had something funny to say. I'm quite sure nobody wants me to go back to my old blog with reviews of condiments.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE

We're all gonna die, and what if there's nothing?

Lest I become a very dull, morbid, broken record, I'll get off this age and mortality kick shortly, but not before this comment:

The average day will bring many jarring reminders of age and death to anybody who keeps their eyes and ears open. You need only watch the news and pick up the paper. It's all right there in black and white. It can seem so far away so it's probably too easy to skip over those stories and evade thoughts of such things altogether. Barring serious illness, or the death of a loved one, you can go an awful long time without addressing the idea that you, like everybody else, are going to die. We, as a culture, are practically trained to spend as little time preparing for that event... not a possibility... an event. It's happening. All the praying and talk of eternal life, and medicine and anti-aging creams, anti-oxidants, plastic surgery and spackle isn't going to stop it. Get used to the idea.

Why am I thinking about this today? Oh MacGregor, you're always thinking about it, you may say. That's not exactly true though. I'm thinking about it today because I went yesterday to meet with my lawyer to hammer out the details of my will.

I, MacGregor Rucker, being of sound mind and body... etc. etc. Leave all my worldly possessions...

So this missive isn't really about death, per se. It's about worldly possessions. Life, has sometimes seemed to me to be a prolonged smash & grab. Or like one of those game shows when they put you in the booth with money blowing about and the goal is to snatch as many of those bills out of the air as is possible in the allotted time. I always thought the people in those booths looked rather unseemly. They look desperate. They look ugly, eyes gaping and faces contorted.

One thing I've noticed about men and women in my age group, and perhaps it's because of some subconscious realization that their time is limited, are smashing and grabbing at a much more frantic pace. And of course it makes sense. These "assets" that we accrue during our short time here are all we have to shelter ourselves from the harsh reality that the world that we've spent our lives holding upright will one day have little use for us. We will be turned loose from the working world and tucked away somewhere in the back of the closet with the other outdated equipment and fashions. These possessions are our security blanket, and I'd love to say there is no need to be a part of this game, but there is. It's how things work. We do not take care of our elderly. We could, but we don't. It's every creaky old bastard for himself.

I'm sure I'm being hypocritical here. I've spent as much time as the next guy not only taking part in the process, but being a part of the process. I know I take a lot for granted. I know I was born with a lot of advantages, not quite at the top of the food chain, but being born a white male to middle class parents, in a country where amassing assets is the birthright of white, middle class males. I definitely take a lot for granted

Yet sitting there in the lawyer's office yesterday, I couldn't escape the truth, and that is that I've never really seen the point. I am, at the age where I should be using my assets to collect more assets, feeling not unlike Jacob Marley shuffling about the world with miles of iron chains around my ankles. I am, at the time of my life where the world dictates that I need to be thinking about what happens when I'm put out to pasture, dreaming about divestiture. Why gather more when the piles surrounding me already make my head thump? There seem to be very few alternatives though.

So you may say, give it away you hypocrite fathead... But it's not that easy is it? Who will take care of me, provided I live long enough to need taking care of? It won't be you, will it? Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm... No, you won't. And despite my seeming fascination with aging and death, I think you know that life is short enough, and I'm not so into the idea of abbreviating it.

There's a really distasteful tee-shirt or bumper sticker slogan that says "He who dies with the most toys wins." I prefer to believe that the ideal life would be more like a game of UNO, where the objective is to finish holding nothing.

But that's how it is in the end anyway, isn't it? Even were all the tales true, I've never heard anybody talking about closet-space in the afterlife. Until that day comes, whether it comes tomorrow or 30 years from now, it appears I've got to hold onto all this stuff.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Dirty Thirty

There are few more sobering reminders of the passage of time than the first notification of one's 30th High School Reunion.

Mine came yesterday via e-mail and it did seem like spam at first so it nearly suffered the itchy trigger finger. The last name was vaguely familiar though so I decided to risk hard-drive obliteration and opened it. The sender turned out to be an old classmate who was destined (or doomed) by the alphabet, small class size or fate to spend 13 years of school sitting 1 or two seats away from me. I hadn't thought of her for years though so I was a tad surprised by the warm feelings that accompanied my recognition. She was such a pretty girl, and popular, but moreover she was so incredibly sweet and compassionate. I was not a popular boy by any stretch of the imagination.

Of course you're thinking now that I'm lying...

She was a doll though, and I don't remember ever hearing her utter a single negative thing about anybody.

I've never been particularly nostalgic for my high school years, despite having a few good friends and having a lot of good times. On June 28th, 1979 I walked down off the dais, diploma in hand, and headed off in a natural straight line and have never looked back. Taking a lesson from Lot's wife I kept my eyes forward and kept moving as fast as possible. There were definitely casualties behind me, friendships broken, bonds destroyed etc. It was a question of survival. If I stopped moving I'd certainly be dragged back in and drown. My most sincere apologies to those in my wake. Please understand. It had to be done. I wouldn't be writing this now if it hadn't been done this way. This is not melodrama. It is what it is. I'm sorry.

There are 10 months to decide what I want to do. I'm thinking of going. It's not that there is any closure needed. Most of my hard feelings were laid to rest years ago. Nothing needs to come full circle. I'm just thinking that there are a few people I'd like to see.

One part of the event that they've made note of is a tour of the old school building. I did kindergarten through 12th grade in that building with mostly the same people. I remember that every year you progressed your locker would move down a floor. The seniors got the lockers on the lowest floor, between the cafeteria and the gym. I can still remember how I looked forward to getting one of those lockers. The number is blurred in my memory but it was about 8 in on the left side facing the stairs. Funny how things like that stick in the brain, even when I no longer remember faces. Thirty years is a long time. Things are bound to get lost.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Urban Decay: Part Two




I've long heard the phrase "Nature abhors a vacuum," but not being possessed of a great deal of scientific knowledge, I've never quite known what it meant, nor how it applies to my physical or emotional world. I can certainly relate on some levels as any visitor to my home will see quickly that my own relationship with my vacuum suffers. Every pet I've ever owned as abhored a vacuum. That's not quite what they mean though, is it?

Another "law" I thought until recently to be absolute truth is that there are no straight lines in nature. This is apparently a myth. A bright, young co-worker informed me that there are many, the most common being a ray of light. I've yet to find undisputed, corroborating evidence that this is true. Please feel free...

One unwritten law which I know to be the truth, and the evidence is in the above photos, is that nature abhors interior design. (NO THAT IS NOT MY SHOWER WALL!!!) Nature especially abhors industrial design and doesn't seem to be all that fond of the straight lines that we've erected and called New York City. I've spent countless hours watching the city crumble while countless men and women busy themselves in the Sisyphusan task of keeping it together... and pretty. There is so much time and effort into repairing and maintaining something that Mother Nature seems so intent on gnawing away at. There is so much rot still, despite the vast armies dispatched daily to do battle with water and gravity.

It doesn't take long at all for water and gravity to make a shambles of the best laid plans... Those who chose to fight it may feel free to borrow my vacuum.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Urban Decay: Part One



What is done is slowly being undone.

I didn't see the skeletal faces here until I uploaded the photo. Just in time for Halloween. There's even a human silhouette inside one of them. Or maybe I'm seeing things again.

Family lore moment: There were three human figures in the wood grain in the door leading out to the balcony. A man. A woman. A child. Over the years they aged with the house. The man's beard grew much longer and wispy and his eyes drooped. The woman's shoulders sagged and her chin sank into her chest. The child grew just a little taller and more broad. His eyes became wider and he took on a look of surprise or fear. They never said a word. They just stood there and watched us.

Autumn In New York

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK

lyrics by Vernon Duke:

Autumn in New York
Why does it seem so exciting (inviting)
Autumn in New York
It spells the thrill of first-nighting

Shimmering clouds - glimmering crowds (glittering crowds and shimmering clouds)
In canyons of steel
They're making me feel - I'm home

It's autumn in New York
That brings a (the) promise of new love
Autumn in New York
Is often mingled with pain

Dreamers with empty hands
(They) All sigh for exotic lands

(But) It's autumn in New York
It's good to live it again

This autumn in New York
Transforms the slums into Mayfair
Autumn in New York
You'll need no castles in Spain

Lovers that bless the dark
On benches in Central Park

(But) It's autumn in New York
It's good to live it again

Few songs have ever truly captured the mood or the season like this one. It doesn't matter if it's Billie, or Ella, or Frank -- the pervading melancholy against the backdrop of the hustle and bustle -- the tourists being tourists -- the fine ladies and gentlemen in their brand, spanking new seasonal ensembles -- the new students/newcomers to New York and the excitement of renewal and re-invention. I've never felt anything like it anywhere else I've traveled. Or maybe I haven't traveled enough to truly know...

All across the Northeast the deciduous forests are putting on their autumn gala in a spectacular show of color and shadow for deciduous autumn people. It's the only time of year I've noticed people stopping to take notice. Deep blood reds, oranges and blinding golden -- colors that defy recreation -- if you painted these colors as you see them, people are not likely to believe you, because nothing but nothing can really look like that, can it? It's ironic that the most unreal color is actually the only real color.

Here in the city though, with the exception of blessed pockets, the change of season isn't marked by the changing of the leaves. We are often denied the show and too many trees go straight from green to brown and gray, and they become camouflaged by the drab brown and gray of concrete erected by people, who when exposed by the absence of green, seem to have been lacking in imagination. You wake up one day to that first frosty breeze from the north coming through the window. You feel that bit of excitement, a spiritual relic perhaps of a change of season many years ago in the place from where you emigrated, and look outside. Brown and gray...

I don't know if what I've always seen as the spiritual and emotional rebirth of the city that comes when everything else is passing on really compensates for the divorce from nature. There is no lack of excitement and energy. While the countrysides surrounding us are settling in to hibernate for the winter, New York City always appears to be just rising and getting ready for the ball. We've had our autumn colors all summer with golden tans, and orange beach towels on the green lawn in the park, and red painted toenails on sandaled feet.

But still something is missing. It all seems backwards. I wonder sometimes if living here exiled from nature, that we haven't created some grand illusion, but somehow gotten it all terribly wrong. And if just maybe this pervading melancholy is upon us because we know that just below the surface, none of it is true.