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.