Saturday, June 28, 2008

Some like it in the pot...

Alternate title: Quest for Aspirin

Sometimes a man just has to do what a man has to do, and there are consequences. There are always consequences. It wasn't exactly something Billy Wilder would have made a film about, but there it is. The somewhat diminished vodka bottle is taunting me from the butcher block. Look what you've done, man. Just look what you've done. It wasn't sneering and jibing last night, when it called so innocently from the cabinet. Oh, MacGregor, pick me, pick me. Yes, young man. You can play on my team. Come on over to my side and let's play ball.

Conventional wisdom dictates that a man shouldn't drink alone. Even more conventional wisdom has it that a man shouldn't drink at all. Far from conventional, sometimes I get have my own ideas. Sometimes a solo flight is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Other plans having been canceled, a Ray Milland style flirtation with the spirits seemed like a good idea. No regrets though, except for not inspecting the cabinet for aspirin before setting forth to turn my bloodstream into the Gowanus Canal. It wasn't an unproductive evening either. If you happened to see a mushroom cloud rising above the rear end of Prospect Park last night, it wasn't terrorists. It was just my kitchen. I donned the white lab coat and set about conjuring a huge pot of chili. Now lest you think that is just far too bacheloresque--I don't want to paint such a cliched portrait--I do keep a stocked fridge and cook regularly. A refrigerator for many divorced men is little more than a stockpile for assorted hot sauces, dangerously spoiled vegetation and beer. I do take pride in a few things and regular grocery trips and proper meals are two of them. There are, despite all this boasting, about 20 bottles of hot sauces from around the world, varying in flavor, intensity and lethal venom.

So despite that I've got a head like a jack-o-lantern out on the stoop 2 weeks past Halloween and I'm fairly sure I'm sweating tonic water (really attractive, no?), it was a productive evening. There is enough chili now to open a Salvation Army pantry. The evening was dedicated to another Ray though... Ray Winstone. Back to back Rays, first Sexy Beast and then Nil By Mouth. These are decidedly not date movies and should be watched alone or with other men, or at least a woman that really trusts you.

So what to do with Saturday? I've been sitting here listening to Iron & Wine's A Shepherd's Dog... dark and a bit morose... the music, not me. It recalls memories of when I first heard it, riding in a car through upstate New York, past bare vineyards and mountains. It was cold as hell and just the little bit of air through the cracked window stung my forehead and eyes. It is a very cold sounding album, distant and melancholy. As am I, feeling the same. It's not quite so maudlin and self-indulgent as waking up and putting on Leonard Cohen. Somebody please shoot me if you catch me getting up to that. There is probably at least one amongst you who read these missives with any regularity who isn't gun-shy. Just lock and load if you hear the plaintive sound of So Long Marianne emanating from my flat.

I've found the aspirin though and tucked Georgi back below the sink... little bastard you are Georgi! Away with you, foul demon! Duppy! Dybbuk! You've done your work. I hope you're happy with yourself.

I am, for now, going to leave you with the image from Iron & Wine that I can't get out of my softened melon:

And we'll undress beside the ashes of the fire
Both our tender bellies bound in baling wire
All the more a pair of underwater pearls
Than the oak tree and its Resurrection Fern

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I didn't need a book to remind me of the distance that time can put between a man and himself. Between a man and his childhood, nor between a man and his dreams. To remind me of how action and inaction, and time spent fretting a decision creates further distance. Few men, at least men with a moderate supply of self-awareness (and in my vanity I count myself among those men) make it to their mid-40s without this knowledge becoming part and parcel of their daily lives. Sometimes it's only a brief look in the mirror after that first trip to the morning porcelain. Just as surely as the parallel furrows between my eyes have deepened a formed a permanent Rock Island Line between my forehead and the bridge of my nose, it takes only one look to send me hurtling (and hurdling) back down the track into my own personal history... and my personal mythology also.

The book did the trick though and it was a good long look into that mirror. I still recognize the face. Still me. A bit startling though.

Mental note: Up the number of crunches in the morning. Stretch for a while longer. Meditate a bit longer. Find that special place. Think about a fifth lap around the park on the next ride.

Try to maintain a bit more contact with the ghost of that boy superimposed over that furrowed face in the mirror.

It doesn't take a book though. And if it's not a look in the mirror it's going to come from someplace else. Latches are undone and doors open and the past parades out in all its glory.

Last night the ghosts came through the wires and set up camp in my e-mail inbox. My cousin has been creating a digital archive of all her mother's photos and slides... Last night it was the slides. Her history... and my history too. They were mostly of my Aunt Moira and Uncle Ian, and their children... my cousins. Most were from the 50s, before I came into the picture, and I was by circumstance a fair approximation of one of their children. I lived a good part of my childhood with the. There were Christmases, and birthdays, and family picnics... the women in casual skirts and the men in trousers and shirtsleeves and ties. My cousin Doug in tweed trousers and Buster Browns... the girls in matching outfits... the family dog.

There was a slide of my grandmother waving from the rail of a freighter that would take her back to Scotland. My grandmother... a ghost, gone for more than 40 years but waving at me from some distant past. She spent a lot of time with us but my memories are few. The most vivid is from our kitchen in the old house on Fair Street. Every small town has a Fair Street, like something out of Sherwood Anderson or Thornton Wilder. How many live up to their name? Excavation behind the house had displaced a family of rats and one ratted itself alarmingly across our laundry room floor. My most vivid memory... my grandmother who fairly well terrified me taking up a heavy mop handle and trundling off after it in a quiet, homicidal fury. She looks happy though on the rail of the ship. Going home.

Another sea-going spirit... a photo of me at the wheel of a sloop on the Hudson River and I hadn't thought about this for decades but I know I was either 7 years old or about to turn 7. It's the same face I see super-imposed on mine when I look in the mirror every morning, and it's a kind reminder that at least I don't have to worry about my eyesight failing. It was already failing then. I was told to steer towards a buoy that I couldn't see. A buoy they insisted was there and I cried because I thought it was a joke at first. Then thinking, what is wrong with my eyes? Shortly afterwards we visited Dr. Zinney who fitted me with a pair of horn-rimmed glasses reminiscent of those worn by the father on Dennis The Menace. Fashion was not kind.

And the most jarring vision of all, after a slide of my mother's high school graduation, photos of her wedding. My father has always been a phantom figure in my life, more conspicuous by the mystery of his absence which was never discussed, then had he actually been there, I'm certain. He wasn't discussed. When mentioned there was silence, averted eyes... a quick change of subject. It seemed to me then and always that he was best not discussed. All that was spoken was that he was a very handsome man and had been in the army. These few tokens were always brought up in the past tense, leading me to assume that he had been killed in one of the great wars that my brother and I were always re-enacting with GI Joe and legions of plastic soldiers. This turned out not to be the case but if memory serves the truth didn't come about until my early teens. He had simply taken off. A few more tokens... he was a wild, unsteady man. Still so much mystery and at this point I was certain it was not to be discussed. And yet here he is walking out of this backlit slide image towards me. Smiling... looking very much like my brother David, sans the ubiquitous crutches of David's, and the glasses that all his children ended up with.

I just sat back in my chair. So there you are, after all these years... and you haven't aged. You look not so much older than my eldest son. You are indeed a good looking son of a bitch! So what's your story, old man? Where have you been? What do you have to say for yourself? But spirits don't talk, and maybe that's for the best. It would take a lot of time to catch up on 46 years and maybe there's not much to say anyway. Just maybe you were a crashing bore, or a giant asshole. Just maybe.

Maybe it's a blessing that there are holes in my past. Maybe I've got enough to remember anyway. And it's not all that grim and I could tell the old fellow some funny stories if he were here. And maybe ghosts don't listen any more than they speak.

It was a heavy experience though... I look at his picture... and I look at the photo of myself as a child... and I look in the mirror. There is a connection there but if anything it may just create more distance... further removed from that part of my history. It could take a while to process this. I'm certain it will and at my standard glacial pace there might never be a resolution. And does it matter? I have no intention of running off like an adopted child and finding anybody. At least I don't think I do at this moment. Yet I've embarked on this memoir and what is that if not a search for closure? For resolution...

I'm sitting here now with 100 slide images before me... all spectral and distant. Some of the people in them are long gone, either by death or by time, or both. Some of them no longer know me and I certainly don't know them... and I have doubts that we ever had more than a platonic familiarity or things might be different now, right?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dear American Airlines, by Jonathan Miles

It's not rare for me to read a book twice, or even several times. It is, however, uncommon for me to re-read that I've only just finished. Consider this an exception to my own rule, by which I end a book, give it a month or so to digest, and then return to it for a more focused visit. It needed to be done. This short book is so dense with metaphor (and if you visit this blog regularly you know how I feel about such things) that I'm quite certain I missed a few things on the first tour.

Dear American Airlines can be added to what my friend Andre, in describing Fred Exley's A Fan's Notes (in my top 5 of all time), calls The Canon of Burned Out Male Literature. A translator, a failed poet, a failed husband, a failed father (all wrapped up like a nicotine burrito in one character) is stranded by an unexpected layover at Chicago's O'Hare airport on his way to his daughter's commitment ceremony in Los Angeles. He takes this opportunity to write the airline a complaint letter, and in a tobacco-fueled rage--fueled also by his frustration at missing his shot at some half-assed version of redemption as a father--and ends up writing his life story. The intent of the letter, ostensibly, is to exact revenge on the airline. They leave him in the lurch and he is determined to bring them down with him. He will choke them with the muck of his own history and self-loathing.

Of course this doesn't make Dear American Airlines all that appealing, unless of course like me you're a fan of tragic comedy and confessional literature... and I am a fan of just that. It may not be quite accurate to say that the book is well written, though it is in its own right. It's a letter--a well written letter. It is, as mentioned above, rife with metaphors--some of which are, in the words of the narrative himself--a bit of a stretch. He's a man in love with language and in love with words and in love with writing. He's enamored of the world in his head it creates and the beauty and power... and essentially everything there is a dearth of in his life.

It is brutally funny. Bennie Ford's self-deprecation knows few, if any, limits. His cynicism is boundless and his view of the world acid scorched... but not without compassion also which comes through the nihilistic humor. Nothing he says about anybody, with the exception of the airline and himself, is a condemnation. It's just driven by his frustration, self-criticism and sense of impotence. Even when he tries to do right, he fails. Once you've become practiced at something, it's often difficult to do anything but... and if you haven't had that feeling, you might not appreciate any of this at all. Most people I know have been there.

So... my ringing endorsement... Call it what you will. Bennie Ford--the new champion of the fallen.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Salif Keita Prospect Park June 22, 2008

I can complain about gentrification. I can complain about paying far too much for a crappy little apartment. I can complain. Oh boy, can I complain.

I cannot complain, however, about seeing a world famous musician playing in my backyard, and that happens every summer in Prospect Park. I've seen Salif Keita in football arenas in England and France but tonight I got to see him for a $3 donation with a few thousand of my neighbors. Knucklehead #2 and I withstood the driving rain during the opening act, a stellar singer named Halle... Bronx born, sings like an angel in Farsi and English... red wine and coffee took the chill off that. There was no chill left for Salif Keita. I can only say, he rocked! Pardon the shoddy quality of the photos, damp digital and distance and all that. It was a great show.

Friday, June 20, 2008

And by request...

Summer themes: I've got a complex relationship with the summer because it seems summer plans often get stymied and they're often spent doing other than that which I thought I might be doing. I've never had an egg cream. They seem to be part of traditional Brooklyn lore. My ex father-in-law would besiege me with such lore, along with tales of vaudeville, jazz clubs, Coney Island and freak shows... all the "back in my day" stories. I'd half-listen and nod and smile and try to tune out the rest of the family shouting over each other at the end of the table. It was like surrealist theater.

AC vs. no AC: My AC died with a horrific death moan right before the first heat wave of the season. The thought of standing in line at PC Richard with other sweaty people outweighed my desperation so I made it through with fans and vodka. Now while I like refrigerated air and cool, crisp, cotton sheets, there is something about the hum of air conditioners and fans that irritates me... I close my eyes and see electric current. It's a post-modern, Al Gore hallucination. I will probably be getting another AC this weekend. To hell with Al Gore and to hell with the planet. I will be an indentured servant to Con Edison, if a bit underslept.

Bina Shah: Everybody should read her book, Blessings... and her others too. She is as great as she says she is. Hurrah hurrah, Bina Shah!!!

Art: I came late to the world of visual art... painting and sculpture etc. My origins are not in the world of museum and gallery attendees but I've made up for a lot of that in the last dozen years. I don't know if I have a favorite painting but I'm very fond of Caravaggio and Ribera... I worked backwards to Caravaggio from Ribera actually after a visit to the Prado in Madrid. Caravaggio could be the great-grandfather of punk rock. He definitely took painting to a new level and it's not hard to see how shocking he must have been for his time. The Incredulity of St. Thomas... some of his other religious-themed works are stunning... the suffering so evident on the face of Jesus... the looks of mocking and scorn and derision surrounding him are so chilling and real. And Death of the Virgin--it takes such bravery (and would now) to clothe the Virgin in bright scarlet. His characterizations are not beautiful. He painted a much darker side of human nature. His work floored me.

Maybe Narcissus...

Maybe Narcissus got off with a light sentence. He was certainly absolved of the burden of watching himself age, if nothing else.

The very least vain of us will find ourselves engaged in some daily ritual that puts us in front of a mirror. For women, make-up. For men, shaving. I've shaved so many times now that I could, and have, managed without a mirror but the mirror takes a lot of the work out of it. You can't really discount though the potential troubles involved with confronting yourself, or at least your image on a regular basis. Focusing solely on the image, for now: I've discovered in recent years that age is not a slow progression, but quite similar to adolescent growth spurts. It comes on in fits and starts. Having gone longer than usual without shaving I am struck by how much more white there is in my beard than the last time I let it go for several days... not all that long ago. Were I to let it grow out more than half my face would be clothed in white bristles, like the ass of an old hog.

It doesn't seem all that long ago that there was no hair on my face at all, and I stood in front of the mirror, very close to the mirror, looking for traces of manhood to spring forth. And I remember the beginning of a shadow on my upper lip, very fine jet black hairs too sparse to shave. "Wash your face," my mother teased and smirked. Then it progressed in leaps, beginning below my mouth... the soul patch... sideburns that I let grow as thick as possible. It took forever and I had windows in the hair pattern well into my thirties. And now it's thick, coarse, and mostly white. I shave almost daily and the tide of age is pushed back to the temples. Distinguished they say. Of course were I not getting a bit jowly it would cut years off my image... but I'm not really trying to cut years off. I'm merely curious.

I'm not at all dismayed by the progress of time. By aging. I'm definitely conscious of the effects of age on my face and my body. The first thing most men feel would probably be HRT... Hangover Recovery Time. What once took hours now takes days. I don't think about it too often unless forced to but it's there every day when I go through my morning ablutions. It's not troublesome. I look in the mirror and see more than traces of hairless teen years. I've viewed the process with almost a detached curiosity, maybe the way I'd watch a hushed argument between two lovers on the opposite side of a room... or noted the progress of a tree root pushing up a slab of sidewalk in front of my house.

And on occasion, when I'm feeling really daring, I get to thinking about time.

But maybe Narcissus got off easy. I think about that a lot.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I thought it would never come to this but it seems I've talked myself right the hell out! I've nothing to say about anything. Feel free to suggest a topic. I'm blank.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fathers Day

The smile says it all. It's been a good day...

Woke up early and hit the park on my creaky, old bike.

Note to self: Break down and buy helmet.

Note to self: The fourth lap of the park was rough. Pedaling hard down the last half mile on the fourth go didn't feel quite as good as on the third. Perhaps I was a bit ambitious signing up for the centennial.

And the hunt for the proper apartment continues. I looked at some places today that I wouldn't pay half the asking price for. They're still moving fast though because there are plenty of people willing to share. Even were it not for Knucklehead #1 (not the one in the photo) living with me, I'm not about to get a roommate. I can afford to be choosy though. The right place will come at the right price. And not fer nuthin' I am pretty sure I'm not moving to Bushwick.

We did the 7th Avenue fair in Park Slope today and despite a couple hard rains... oh the rain... a lot of parades were rained on this weekend... it was a good day. We waited out the rain in Tutta Pasta, one of the few restaurants in the area I'd not yet been to. The boys got me a CD from the Congotronic collection... a band from Kinshasa called Konono No. 1... great stuff... electric likembe dance funk. Highly recommended.

And at the end of it all... a righteous nap.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Passing Strange

No, not the play currently running, which if you haven't seen, you should. Stew is probably my favorite songwriter currently and the show is stunning.

The strange I'm referring to... I saw two different people today, a teenager and a young adult that I've known since they were small children. Angel, Cookie's daughter who was such a feminine, little girl, looks like a man. Jonathan, Sonia's son, a quiet little boy, now looks like a teenage girl. He's no longer quiet. He's out and loud and proud. Gender, is appears, is sometimes fluid. I do believe it's natural, but I don't pretend to understand how it happens. Then again, there are many things I don't understand. It just caught me off guard today. They were barely recognizable. Criss cross... one to the other. Identity... how fluid is it? Are they working this or is it who they've always been?

The weekend has started well. I saw a nice, bluesy set by Adam Levy last night at Barbes, my favorite little bar in Park Slope. It's like seeing a show in your friend's living room, that is if your friend's living room smells like a dank bar and you have to pay for drinks. It's intimate though and not at all like going to a club. The highlight of the evening is when they played a single request for a tiny old man... Sunny Side of the Street, and said gentleman stood up and danced and sang along, joyful. My future? I hope so. I hope I make it that long and with my hearing, and with the capacity for joy. Afterwards we went around the corner to Perch Cafe, home of the birdy coffee mugs, for eats and a nightcap. It was an early night after a long week. The heat is gone. Things aren't so bad at all. My tendency on this page of late has been to pour out angst. It could lead to a somewhat inaccurate impression that I'm a miserable bastard. Somewhat.

Johnny Thunders now on the radio... my favorite dead rock star. Things are not so bad at all.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Instant Popularity Disorder?

Doctors... yes... bless the doctors... in finding a treatment for ADHD, have stumbled onto a cure for being unpopular too: ADDERALL.

Your ADHD child will never lack for friends (or lunch money) when he's got a prescription for pharmaceutical amphetamine.

My kid happened to mention to me the other day that one of his schoolmates was peddling his meds to friends at a party recently. Now, I've heard of this stuff but really had no clue until now that it's our old friends benzedrine, dexedrine etc. in new packaging. Lovely world, eh? One might think, given the history of speed, that doctors would think twice before prescribing it for anything at all, especially to treat a diagnosis which is often dodgy... symptoms that many adolescents outgrow, in exchange for a pattern which follows nearly every single one of them into adulthood.

It brings me back to the question of faith. We put an awful lot of faith into the realm of science and medicine and for most of us our understanding of these practices is about the same as faith in the supernatural. We're willing to follow if there's a promise of the removal of pain and discomfort, not the same as pleasure but we seem to be a culture that does equate the two. Less pain and discomfort = pleasue. Pleasure = happiness. Does it really? I've never been too quick to buy into that. Not anymore anyway. This credo is dangerous at best, but it's not hard to see why this is so appealing to a teenager. Self-medication = self-determination, or something like that. What else do we give them though? We can sit drinking a vodka and tonic and tell our children to have faith--faith that if they work hard and take care of business then all good things will come to them. That's quite a promise isn't it? Perhaps the religious people aren't such crackpots after all.

Scientists and doctors, despite their successes, are the priests and we are often the deacons and ushers in their churches. Take them away though and we are left with what? Priests and ministers.

by Charles Simic


Best of all is to be idle,
And especially on a Thursday,
And to sip wine while studying the light:
The way it ages, yellows, turns ashen
And then hesitates forever
On the threshold of the night
That could be bringing the first frost.

It's good to have a woman around just then,
And two is even better.
Let them whisper to each other
And eye you with a smirk.
Let them roll up their sleeves and unbutton their shirts a bit
As this fine old twilight deserves,

And the small schoolboy
Who has come home to a room almost dark
And now watches wide-eyed
The grown-ups raise their glasses to him,
The giddy-headed, red-haired woman
With eyes tightly shut,
As if she were about to cry or sing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Quick Random Movie Recommendation


I'm not always a prisoner of my own existential angst. Sometimes I watch films and get involved with the existential angst of others! This is truly a beautiful film. Has me thinking about redemption, if not necessarily in a religious sense.

Hello God, It's me MacGregor

The New York City summer is a brute for sure, if not quite the Gollum that people here have made it out to be. It’s no joke though when the temperature is at 81 at 5:30. Mr. Zhou was already out picking away at the weeds in the sidewalk seams with his stubby, worn old fingers. I’ve no idea how old he is but his grandchildren all have gray hair. When I returned, having lapped the park twice on my creaky, old bike (lots of people already out too!) he had finished about 3 linear feet. I watched him do the entire walk around his corner house last year. By the time he’d gotten to the end it was time to start over at the other end. Mr. Zhou must like picking weeds.

Been thinking more about this God character and all that, and still can’t put my head around it. There are definitely times when I feel the entire world is connected and that I’m connected to it in a very meaningful way… beyond sharing genetic material in common with all creatures… beyond knowing that we’re all just bits of the same stuff in different combinations all held together by electro-chemical impulses, though I do find some comfort in that. Most days, there is plenty of comfort in just that.

Most days things seem pretty random and pointless though and I think of that old prick Ambrose Bierce, whose very pointed observations make all too much sense:

Faith: Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel….

And at the end of an answering machine message yesterday, calling the CFO of a very large corporate bank:

Have a blessed day!

Yeah, sure. I'll do that.

I’m quite sure that this God thing doesn’t care if we’re broiling out on the pavement here in New York. Feel free to argue with me, but it’s hard to even see this as real suffering, despite the Masque of Death so many people have on today… even at 8 a.m. on the corner of 7th and 35th… 4 young women, otherwise very attractive, looking up the avenue like they were watching a school bus full of orphans burning. Horror. I figure if a natural disaster can snuff 100,000 people at once, I can do another New York City summer. And it took an awfully big leap of faith for me to believe that Al Gore exists. I can’t be expected to believe that there’s a higher power that thinks we should all sweat our asses off!

It’s primal… my intellectual capacity dulled (no wisecracks, clowns!) I find myself overwhelmed by sensation. Up and moving after a fitful coyote sleep and then out as the sun comes up. Moving. It’s hotter if you stand in one place.

So much flesh. Definitely an animal reaction… sitting in Luxe yesterday for lunch and a pretty fashionista comes through the front door in a blast of heat and bare legs and shoulders. Nothing but pure animal reaction… it starts low and up my belly and spine… a twitch in the jaw and a tic along the cheekbone. Quick… stop. The girl behind the bar just caught it from the corner of her eye, and looked away smiling. The feeling settles for a bit at the base of my skull and then subsides. No god involved here… pure coyote and maybe even closer to reptile. All god’s creatures? Well, not the snake. Not too fond of reptiles, this god person. Coyotes? The jury is out.

But honestly, it’s already gotten a bit overwhelming… this heat and all that comes with it. This temptation… and lead me not into temptation. Jesus Christ!

I did try, early this morning, to dial in on the shortwave with a prayer. I do that most when I’m feeling alone, up on the mountain on the fire lookout, as it were. Looking for a contact somewhere out there. A sign. A voice. Are you out there? Hello God? It’s me, MacGregor. No answer.

Perhaps God reads my blog…

Sunday, June 08, 2008

God (damn it)

Alternate Title: Why Good Things Happen To Bad People

Simple answer there, isn't it? Bad people happen to things, specifically other people. They get what they want because they take it. Good things happen to bad people because we give it to them.

Alternate Title: Why Bad Things Happen To Good People

A bit more complex here, isn't it. I have no answer for that but if there is any kind of a god, perhaps he (she or it) should be the one doing the explaining.

My stoop sale purchase yesterday (see below) got me to questioning this whole thing with collecting religious/ceremonial artifacts and items from other cultures. There are many of us who fill our homes with these things when many fewer of us would ever consider displaying any sort of Christian iconography. I do have one St. SomebodyOrAnother that I found and held onto because my friend Father Stephen, an ex-seminarian told me his name (which I promptly forgot) and said he's the patron saint of writers. I figured I could use all the help I can get. Other than that, I generally hold churches in utter disdain on many days, and can sometimes work it up to complete disregard. I am though, quite fascinated with the older religions.

I'm not an atheist really, nor even an agnostic. I will most willingly accept the existence of some connecting force and power not necessarily greater than us. I'm just not into the idea of this anthropomorhic eye-in-the-sky who supposedly has a plan and is looking out for us. I simply don't buy it and don't understand why people do. And let's face it; by and large the religious people of the world have made a royal pain in the ass of themselves. I'll defer here to the experts like KAREN ARMSTRONG whose book, The Battle for God, lays it all out. Religious fundamentalism is neither religious nor fundamental (talk amongst yourselves). Yet my understanding that this ex-nun has reaffirmed her faith in Jesus. I don't get it. My understanding is also that champion of evolution STEPHEN JAY GOULD also became religious in his later years. He went to meet his maker before he could explain that one fully but I'd love to know what he'd have said.

Coming back from a long bike ride early this morning (signed up for a charity centennial in a month, and I'm sure I'll be praying I finish) and the old folks were swarming into the early mass. Why do the ancients always hit the earliest mass? Perhaps like bagels, Jesus is fresher first thing in the morning. I wonder if these folks have always been faithful or if they figured as they got closer to the end they'd better hedge their bets. The only young people lined up to go in were a troop of Boy Scouts. Funny organization, that. Even notwithstanding the anti-gay thing there is something creepy about it to me, but there they were lined up to go in. God loves boys in uniform. Just ask George Bush. Start them young. It makes me grateful for my freaky, little rock stars.

Nobody else out on the street though except for the faithful. The first words spoken to me today came from Junebug Kemp, who was displaying the pinned eyes of an all-nighter.

God bless you, MacGregor! Always good to see you. Have a blessed day!
Thank you, Junebug. I will try to do just that.

A blessed day? I have no answers and I'm not really looking regularly. I pray sometimes for different things. Strength. Patience. The good health of a friend. I've no clue though, to whom I'm directing these pleas. Some days it would be comforting to think of a heavenly father, or mother... a benevolent hippie son. I don't know if I want their afterlife though. I can think of nothing more comforting on some days than release from myself. Absolution in dissolution, maybe. Faith doesn't come to me though and on most days I'm certain that there is no rhyme or reason. I don't hate religious people, even when they knock on my door early on a Saturday to talk about my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Sorry, I don't know him, but I used to buy pot from a hippie that looked like him... I don't share the contempt for them that JOHN LYDON does in this song. I dearly love a few of the faithful from several faiths.

So... questions... curiosity. I'll end this rant with song lyrics, as I am wont to do. The Finn Brothers sum up my feelings:

We're all God's children
And God is a woman
But we still don't know
Who the father is

I can't help thinking
There's a fortune riding
On the answer to that question

We stop for a moment
And forget the enemy
There's a something
You're not telling us

(Got to make you less lonely
Time to make you less lonely)

We're globalizing
But we don't like competition
And we still don't know
Who the father is

But you're so damn pretty
And don't you know it
There's a kiss and then
We all make up

(Got to make you less lonely
Got to make you less lonely)

All sides
Die happy
This is the last chance
You've got to do it now

People are waiting
For him to come around
All his attention
We've got to stick around

(You might be less lonely
Got to make you less lonely

Some people now
Help me
Don't make me less lonely
Don't you drive me out)

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Doors of Perception

Not quite... just another stoop sale treasure, and now the latest addition to my collection of random stuff and nonsense.

What exactly is it, I ask.
It's a door to something, answers the man with the Boer accent.
A door to what?
Dunno, that's the fun of it, innit?

I often wonder with ethnic art, if there aren't people somewhere having a go at us. What if all these things we adorn our homes with are actually bad luck totems? What if those Asian letters we tattoo on our arms don't spell our names but say something like, "COCKSUCKER?" But perhaps it's not what it originally represented anyway, good or bad, and the key is in the intent with which we present it. For the moment it just symbolizes something I like that looks better than the bare wall behind the sofa.

Old friends, sat on their barstools like bookends

CelticGods and Sir Glossophagia the Word Eater raise a glass with the ghost of Mr. Swift.

In the summer time when the weather is high...

Did Mungo Jerry live in New York City? I always thought he might, but Lord Google says they're English. When In The Summertime came out of the AM radio in my stepfather's car, I always had tar beach visions of New York City, tenement stoops, open hydrant's and stickball and dark, skinny kids in tanktops. That's the exotic world of 70s NYC that I saw on television. English, huh! That puts a slightly different spin on it, but take out the stickball, and that's how I found it in 1979.

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't it a pity
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city

It wasn't the Lovin' Spoonful playing though in 1979, though they did get the "feel" right. It was tinny salsa playing from discount store radios. And now nearly thirty years later, and the weekend of the Puerto Rican parade, it's still tinny salsa, and flags and those representive frogs... dark, skinny kids in tanktops made of flags.

The sauna heat hasn't descended yet but the guy with the perfect hair is warning in War of the World tones about mid-90s. I put the air conditioner in the window last night and flipped it on, but it was a case of appliance rebellion. Call it a revolution because it seems to be in collusion with the vacuum and the toaster, both having gone on a sit-down strike and then just quitting for good. The AC flipped on with a promising whir but then let out a horrid groan, shuddered, coughed and gasped one last time... and settled into death, like an old moose. I heard yesterday that the line outside the appliance store went down the block... rainchecks on cool air handed out to desperate New Yorkers in tanktops. I think I'd rather sweat than be a part of that... twenty minutes to Coney Island or a bit longer to the Rockaways.

Number Two Son has wanted to go to the beach for weeks. He didn't inherit the coyote gene from me like his older brother--he doesn't jump and tic with the nervous energy. He doesn't skitter about after dark looking for... anything... like his brother does. He's generally content to sit in one place for hours roaming about the inside of a book, or his head. He'll sit and tinker on his Kalimba playing Happy Birthday, or the Star Spangled Banner or Purple Haze. He does want to go to the beach though. Like me, he likes to stand waist deep in the ocean staring out at the horizon, ignoring the 8 million or so people behind him. We will most likely run into his brother and the other rock stars out on the boardwalk, goofing and chatting up nervous girls. Number One has nobody special but the all look the same to me, more or less. Long hair pulled back, bare bellies and painted on jeans and shorts... all with one earphone in bobbing their heads slowly... the other hand clutching the mobile, checking texts, answering... and smiling at my son. Coy, sexy... the girls, not Number One. He's got his affected distance, broken by the occasional goofy grin that sneaks past his guard. I'll get the filtered version of his weekend's activities tomorrow night... Dad, the funniest thing... The funniest, eh? Who were the girls? Oh, they're from school. Nobody really.

Morning... coffee... heat warnings... nothing of note yet, but was Skyped this morning by Dee, a woman I dated briefly a couple very hot summers ago. She's given up the roaming life and settled down to a home office job. She's been living with a guy for about 18 months and expecting her first child in August. I always really liked Dee, and admired her... traveling around the world to war zones, fighting the real war, setting up midwife schools and developing maternity hospitals, training nurses... the war on Infant Mortality. She's done her part and deserves this. The communique made for a happy start to the day. Funny to think of her pregnant though, a tall girl that describes herself as lanky... I guess that doesn't apply now.

So that's it for now... Time to do some stuff. No lost weekends. Time is too short. Already a busy morning. I picked up my dry cleaning from the old shop, two young girls behind the counter that Linda used to occupy. It was sweaters mostly that probably could have waited since they'll be idle for another five months. I wonder if I had just left them alone for long enough if they'd just be clean again. I suppose nothing really works that way though.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

What did you do in the war, Daddy?

Sometimes I feel like I can't even sing
I'm very scared for this world
I'm very scared for me
Eviscerate your memory
Here's a scene:

The balmy,wet air in BK this morning brings it all back. Brings me back. Twenty-five years or so and I'm walking down the path through the woods behind St. Mary's on my way to work. To get to my ride to work. The air is thick and earthy and when I exhale the smoke hangs out in a solid floating mass. A few hits before the ride. We're not going to do this straight. Not today. What's the point?

Even just ten years ago, the conversation went:

What are you going to say when your sons ask you about the dope?
Dunno, hadn't thought about it. I'll probably lie.
Damn straight you will lie. How can you tell the truth?
How can I lie?
I think you have to. You'd better!

And yesterday: I didn't have to think about it. No moral quandary. There would be no lying. He already knew. He said he didn't want to know the details. He just wanted to know what I thought about it. He knew though. God knows how he knew and I don't know if I really, truly want to know how he knew, but he did.

Parents who haven't had this conversation... It's coming. Just as surely as the morning comes every day, so will the questions. You should be prepared. We'd beat around the bush before, me and this all-knowing (oh he knows everything, just ask him), and I'd nearly asked him once why he didn't come right out and ask me. It seems he was just waiting for the right time. He went down a quick laundry list of substances and chemicals that "are around," not asking specific questions of my own familiarity but definitely looking intently for the signs... a glimmer of recognition in my eyes, a tightening of the lips, twitches and tics. He told me about people he knew. He told me he thinks stoners are boring and stupid. These other people are "playing with fire." He told me he would never, that he and his friends avoid... and so on.

But he was definitely fishing and not dishing, as the saying goes... It was annoying in a way. I didn't want to discount his knowledge and experience. I don't want to. But there he is citing writers, musicians, Carlos Castaneda and even Aldous friggin' Huxley. It was like time travel for me. Deja vu doesn't come close.

Yet the last thing I can say to the boy is, "You don't know shit!" There is no volume of horror stories I can lay on him that will prevent him from doing anything but making his own decisions. All there is to go on is really some amount of faith that when he says he would never... that he means... he might dabble a bit but don't worry, Dad? That's about as realistic as it can get. Now, despite my parental hysteria about some of his other behaviors, I put together a list of exactly what all those behaviors have been. He's not exactly a problem child. He's just a royal pain in the ass. I've had other parents look at me while I moan about him and say, "MacGregor, you've got your hands full with that one..." And I realize that I've unfairly painted a fairly grim portrait.

There are certainly paths that I don't want him to take. They happen to be paths that I took. And realistically I know that the vast majority of young men and women that idle down this path never go to far before they decide there isn't much there, so I'm stuck weighing the potential danger. But I want there to be no danger at all. That's what every parent wants. A parent desires, unrealistically, to eliminate every iota of potential hazard that lays before their kid. A parent will inevitably fail in doing so. There is a balance somewhere between protecting, and teaching, and letting go and I don't believe that most parents ever find it. If anyone is going to find it, it's the kid... their own balance of accepting the security, and learning and deciding for himself.

Trust... perhaps we as parents don't trust because we don't trust ourselves. Listening to my boy talk reminded me that he's on his own trip and that I have no idea what part of me, and what part of my experience that I've tried to impart, that he will take with him. Last night I realized how much he knows, but how much more he needs... and how much he will not accept from me. And parents may read this and shake their heads and maybe partly believe their kid is not on the same trip. (imagine now MacGregor, annoyed eye roll and furrowed brow) Trust though... It's about trust, and not so much that the boy trusts me, but that I trust him. But fear... will not leave me. Fear of exposure that I haven't done well enough? Honestly, that is part of it. Mostly though... fear for everything ahead that I have no ability to protect him from.

It used to be a bit more simple... apologies to Michael Stipe but here are words:

You're in the back seat laying down
The windows wrap around
To sound of the travel and the engine
All you hear is time stand still in travel
And feel such peace and absolute
The stillness still that doesn't end
But slowly drifts into sleep
The stars are the greatest thing you've ever seen
And they're there for you
For you alone you are the everything

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Dark Knight?

I must admit readily and verily that I am often tired of my own brain. I am tired of some of the thoughts that occupy it, often like an invading army, or germs. I don’t really need to look at a subway map of the five boroughs and see a side-view diagram of the male genitalia. Manhattan dangling like a limp penis over the misshapen scrotum of Brooklyn. The urethra opening at Whitehall Street and Staten Island lying out there in the blue space like… No, I don’t need to see that or the entrance to Jamaica Bay where the rectum is in the medical journal illustrations. I am weary of my teenaged brain.

There are nights that it doesn’t allow me to sleep and like generations of New Yorkers I often head to the roof for air and… peace? Peace is often elusive. I’m not comfortable with the imagery but I often feel like Batman, an emotional Batman… the Dark Knight of Gotham, keeping watch over the city… simmering in helpless anger over the things I wasn’t able to protect and preserve… that I wasn’t able to save my parents from their own night crawlers. Anger at myself that I sat and watched it unfold horribly. Impotent. Somewhere along the line I made this unconscious vow that I would never stand by and watch it happen to anybody again. And therein would lie my salvation. Perhaps. The simple fact of it is that I can’t protect myself from juvenile visions where simple things become boys’ room graffiti. And when push comes to shove, everybody has to don their own tights and cape and stand watch over their own nights. I know that intellectually but it’s hard to let go of it.

I’ve developed this horrible talent for finding chinks in peoples’ armor. I’ve an eye for it. An ear for it. A special touch. I’m not proud to admit that it makes me a lethal adversary, and equally uncomfortable that it makes for some strange friendships. I’d like to find some sort of selective amnesia and hypnotize this talent away. It’s burdensome. It’s a vehicle by which my brain drives me to some awfully strange places. I would rather be up on the roof for the view, and it is a beautiful view. I can see the Manhattan skyline to the Northwest. The Verrazano Narrows Bridge hangs like a string of pearls to the Southwest… and a million lights laid out in every other direction. And each light marks another household. Each marks another kitchen or bedroom or living room and the people in those rooms… why are they awake? Do they work nights? Do they, like me, suffer from insomnia and an overactive brain? And it goes on like this and I begin to worry about them, and worry about me and then I’m back to Batman. What can I do? Absolutely nothing. I can take care of myself. That’s about it. Why is that sometimes so dissatisfying? Greater minds than my own couldn’t figure that one out. Billionaire Bruce Wayne stayed up around the clock trying to piece the answer to that together.

At least he had a stunning outfit and some good hired help... I'm surprised that didn't take the edge off some of it.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Like a bird on a wire

Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way
to be free...

Screw you, Leonard Cohen!

Home again, home again jiggety jig, and I'd like to tell you about my new coffee mug. Simple design, no jokes... just birds resting on a wire. And we could go back to the metaphors or just say it's a nice, simple, tasteful design. You choose.

Decisions, decisions... I'm not thinking about metaphors. I'm thinking about real estate and all mod cons and taxes. Looked at another condo today after work. 450K. A much more reasonable range but perhaps I should have a visit with the accountant before considering my options. If you're not from New York, you might not understand the weight of such thoughts. Or you might. I suppose it's all relative

But enough about me. Here's a passage from Richard Price:

But for all this reborn carriage house's ingenuity, it's artful attempt at appeasing it's own history while declaring itself the newest of the new, it was the double layer of evicted ghosts--pauperish tenants, greenhorn parishioners--that still held sway for him. Matty having always been afflicted with Cop's Eyes; the compulsion to imagine the overlay of the dead wherever he went...

Hate to tell you but you don't have to be a cop. That aptly describes every rehab real estate project and reno in New York City, including those I've seen in the last couple days. You can dress it up any old way, or any new way as the case may be, and you can't evict the ghosts. This is a city of ghosts and they're not just my own. Layer upon layer, generation upon generation, all ages, colors, religions... the people that never made it out, those that took a stand and raised families, celebrated a million old countries and heritages. German neighborhoods became Irish neighborhoods, became Puerto Rican neighborhoods became... everything they are now. For better and for worse... and for better. Lots of ghosts.

Of course, most of them won't give you any grief... the odd mischief maker. I have my own special ghosts. My crew. I see them sometimes when I'm out wandering about. You're still here? Yep, I am. Still here. No, it's not so bad at all. Have you seen...?

I'm enjoying Lush Life though. Richard Price can do no wrong in my eyes. The American Dostoevsky indeed... Don't know if I'll bother with a review down the road. I suppose it could be described as too masculine. It could be called genre fiction. It transcends the crime genre though. It's more. It's literary necromancy, a communique from another place, not necessarily history but maybe parallel.

Monday, June 02, 2008


Twenty + years ago I was chained to the gates of nuclear facilities working to shut them down. Today I had to call one of the biggest nuclear power companies in the world to talk to them about marketing their stocks. How strange life can be...

The next catch word: Conflicted

I don't know that how conflicted I feel about this, if at all. Could be force of habit? I don't know. Issues are a lot less certain than they were back then. I've been blown away by conversations on nuclear energy of late. Hard to believe that it's now considered, at least in some circles, as environmentally sound. Perhaps there is just a desperation to end dependence on fossil fuel, but given what I learned about all this years ago... made it a point to learn... playing with the most dangerous substances on earth (aside from those that make up the human brain) hardly seems the solution. Solutions though... do seem elusive.

I'm sure I'll have more thoughts on this later, but for now...

In an addendum to yesterday's thoughts on moving: I went after work today to look at a new apartment building in Prospect Hgts. or whatever the realtors are calling that area north of Flatbush Avenue these days. Beautiful place... 600K for a good sized two bedroom. To bid or not to bid... It's a hard call. Again... conflicted. I read back on my entry from yesterday and examine my feelings on staying in this town. Then I look at that price tag. Conflicted.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

HMS Metaphor

In looking back over the last few weeks, where I've been writing up a storm both on the memoir and these silly missives, it strikes me that I've found myself lost in this loop of "magical thinking" where everything seems connected to everything else and it all connects to me. Omens... signs... messages from the ether... Everything seems a metaphor for something about my life. I'm not reaching for them, despite that in re-reading, many of them seem so forced. Blame that on my inexperience as a writer, and I know I'm prone to defining many of my emotions in the words of others so much more appropriate than my own, words from those so much more articulate than myself. Poets, writers, pop artists and such. I'm still only just learning this language.

I feel though that I've been put out to sea on this expanse of connections and correlations. I'm a bit embarrassed to find myself engaged in this line of thinking. I know realistically that when the F train rounds the corner at Smith St. that:

The gaping hole in the skyline where the World Trade Center used to be is not a metaphor for any part of my life.

The Gowanus Canal, green and murky, it's surface slick with oily rainbows, is not a metaphor for any part of my life.

And the old chocolate factory converted to expensive condos is most definitely not a metaphor for any part of my life... though I nearly moved in there a lifetime ago.

So please forgive me my seeming vanity. Just an accident...

I took the train into town today to hang out with one of my oldest friends left in NYC... one of my dearest friends from any period of my life. I realized today, when looking at a picture of his son, whom I met when he was only four, that we have twenty years of history together, and another ten at least in experiencing the same place in the same way, though not as friends... In 1988 we were witnessing radical transitions here in NYC, and we've lasted long enough to see the big transformation. We live in the one of the world's largest upper class shopping malls... in competition with London and really only overshadowed by maybe Dubai? We're certainly not the last of the people who remember the Lower East Side as it was... Chelsea as it was... the Village as it was... but it often feels like it. We discussed today how removed and alienated we've felt from this new city for so long. We discussed how strange it was when the first sushi bar opened on Avenue A... when Ed Koch and the NYPD declared war on the working class and homeless. We discussed the decimation of the neighborhoods... and yes now this drifts even further into cliche. So many people are discussing their nostalgia for "then." But nobody is exaggerating. The change is vast.

I don't hate or even slightly resent some of the change. I'd compare it to the difference between digital and analog music. The former is cleaner and more simple and often more dynamic, but the latter has a depth that the former cannot reproduce with even a small amount of credibility. It was in that depth that this city really existed.

So there are a few of us about that remember the depth. But we often feel like dinosaurs... often ghosts... anachronisms... or pawn shop curios that the newcomers pick up as kitsch.

I've thought a lot about leaving the city. The south of Spain looks better every day. I'm not quite able to make that leap yet. I've too many obligations here. I've thought that maybe a move within the city would be good for a change of pace. Certainly my older son and I need a bigger place. The size of the apartment has quickly become a third entity in our living arrangement, shaping and coloring the way we get along. We are "pot bound" in a sense. We will grow with more room. Of course this move is imminent. I've been looking but I've yet to see a place in a location I'd be willing to spend the extra cash for. I've done the buy vs. rent argument also. I could buy a place, but again... I've yet to find a place that I'd lay down the long green for. And I'm not so keenly fixed on staying in a city that I feel I've outgrown. My relationship with the city as changed. It's like a marriage to an older, experienced woman whom I once loved. She took me in and cared for me and taught me and shaped me. She made me a man. Then again, long before I grew up and outgrew her she had messed with my head and screwed all my friends. But for the next year or so... maybe longer... obligations here. And it's not so bad. She's familiar. She's still beautiful. The sex is still mindblowing.

But its Sunday night... many promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and all that. It's time to prepare myself for the show.

La petite mort

The French may have something there... the little death.

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

Robert Frost may have something there too. Reluctance. How does he know me so well? An old summer job, sitting high atop three pallets of books in a remaindered book warehouse, reading Robert Frost in the dust. So much dust. How do books collect so much dust? Reluctance though... he knows me so well.

The last drag on a cigarette before it's flicked to the gutter has always seemed a little sad. Always a bit of hesitation and regret sending it off to the curb. The last swallow of the last drink of the weekend on a summer Sunday evening... resignation. It's finished, that last one and the taste will probably linger the next morning. Next comes Monday and it's back to the same old.

Sex is over and you're back to sweaty silence. Or back to talking. Exhaling words.

La petite mort... the French are a curious bunch. Robert Frost even more curious. I know nothing about Frost... about what he was like when he wasn't writing poems that would resonate with total strangers decades later. Was he a cheerful man? Did he tell dirty jokes with his friends? What did he do for fun when he wasn't enrapt in his poetry? He evidently spent a lot of time thinking. Did he torture himself with self examination? Regret? Remorse?

March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. June comes in like... like what? The jury is out on that for now. Sitting in my kitchen drinking coffee and pondering... stuff. Like why I can't write poetry like Robert Frost. The obvious answer is that I'm not Robert Frost. Listening to Lisa Germano and wondering how one little person can take music and words and create emotional landscapes so huge and staggering. I'm not one generally given to celebrity crush, but I've loved Lisa Germano from the first time she whispered out of my speakers. I have a better feeling for what she's about than I probably ever will Robert Frost. Or at least I think I do. Both seem to know me so well.

I think both would understand how pained I am about a decision I've made that most people probably wouldn't think twice about. I've decided to retire my coffee cup, throw it in the trash, and replace it. I inherited it back in '92 when I inherited an office on Park Avenue. It was sitting on the window sill, unwashed by it's previous owner. On the side is a cartoon drawing of a harried man sitting behind a stack of paperwork and in large letters above it reads WORKAHOLIC. Some doubt that the previous owner was not that or it might have been clean. The label doesn't suit me either or I might have spent more time in that office.

Reluctance... the joke doesn't seem so funny any more, but there's the familiarity. I've raised that old mug to my mug so many times over the last 16 years that I'm sure there are two permanent indentations where it's met my upper lip no doubt tens of thousands of times. It holds the same amount of coffee every time, just enough to drink before it gets cold but not too much. There's the familiarity and that's always so hard to let go of. The joke though, just doesn't seem funny any longer. Nobody, it seems, got it but me either. And so the mug will make the trip to the barges with all the other detritus of my weekend... torn envelopes, a milk carton, the wrapper from a pack of sausages and an empty egg carton. I'll go to a housewares store today and pick out something of a suitable size and design and I will assign that design a meaning. I will embark on a personal relationship with it and my lips will touch it first thing every morning for perhaps another 16 years before reluctantly sending it to the curb. So that's my big decision. It's more ambitious than one might surmise.