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.