Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009



I had no intention of cooking this year until Kyle weighed in, reminded me, "You said that living well is the best revenge, and why shouldn't we do it right since none of know where we're going to be next year."

Eyebrow up, Spock position... hard locked. Very interesting.

He was of course, right. I did say that. I say a lot of things and often too much, but he's going to catch hold of something there are worse he could remember and hit back at me like a spinning forehand hurtling way down the baseline where there was no chance to recover and volley.

No regrets. His sentimental lead brought us to a moment of normalcy, and the Fortress of Solitude filled up with the smell of turkey and the percussive bubble of spuds on the stove--a proper, quiet sit-down in a warm home.

And now it's Black Friday and I'm on a news blackout while I sort out what follows us to the next spot, and what gets passed along, passed down or simply discarded. There are six and a half years of sorting out the other kind of baggage, discarding what no longer fits and stowing away what should be saved. Six and a half years of trying to get things in order, and amassing new clutter, and some days it seems as though I exchanged the old clutter with new messes to be collated and filed. Most days though, despite the complex hassles and the ensuant pains and discomforts, are pretty light with a sense that I am spending most of my time on the right road... no destination but forward.

The notice that we would have to leave The Fortress of Solitude, although coming along at a rotten time financially, seems well-timed with other changes that we are surfing along with. It is time to leave the cocoon and its restorative history and make a clean break.

And so the purging... it started with books that I've dragged behind me, some for thirty years or more, living with the comfort that I had read them, and could again if I needed to. It's more than plain with many of them that this isn't going to happen. There are some that I cannot part with. Getting rid of them is as unthinkable as exiling an old relative. And there are others...

The music is a somewhat harder task. It's a task akin to going through endless photo albums or slideshows. They are full of friends and family and ghosts, and the odd devil. There is a visual archive of my entire life in all these songs. I remember with utter clarity where I was and who I was with and what I was doing when I first heard these... and with laser focus how I felt in those moments. It is of course dangerous to be too attached to material items, but it's impossible to consider these material items. It feels sometimes that if I were separated from the music I would lapse into amnesia. I would risk forgetting who I am and how I got here.

Dangerous, no? It is what it is. It's the Dewey Decimal system of my entire memory. There are quite a few that can go, in the same spirit that a person can eventually part with clothes that are out of fashion, or love letters from someone you can no longer remember.

And riding back on the holy metaphor... I disassembled an old computer that was sitting at the back of my closet. I remembered the panic when it began to sputter and die. There was a wealth of... something... on the hard drive that seemed at the moment to be irreplaceable. That was not true, or at the very least I don't seem to be missing anything. It was quite a task to pull out the hard drive today... just in case. How unpleasant might it be if someone else revived the information! It came out eventually though, a 5 pound block of aluminum and silicon bits. It's on its way to some landfill now and what's gone is gone.

Selah

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On questions...

As a young man, and certain that there were men on Earth... my heroes... to whom all the answers to the important questions had been mysteriously gifted, I came across this. I was more than certain at the time that it was a condemnation of God and faith, but I've come to know that it was a condemnation of man.

Look where we worship. -- Jim Morrison

I have, upon reflection, decided that nobody is endowed with the big answers by a benevolent higher power or by stroke of fate, but by long, often painful treks through one's own reflection, and more often only by smashing the mirror.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Admiration

I have long admired those that can lower themselves to their knees, to supplicate before their personal God, rather than hidden beneath the covers in a shamed fetal position, begging for answers that are already clear.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

They all come down...

The leaves that is... and other things, but the leaves... if you live in New York City, they just go straight from green to brown and come down. You wake up one morning and it's cold. Then if you're lucky you wake up one cold morning a couple weeks later and the radiators are pissing, and the leaves are coming down and you decide maybe you should draw the curtains, not because it's cold but because your neighbors can see in once the leaves are gone. Or not. Some people never draw their curtains. That's annoying and I don't know if it's because I really don't want to see them or that I can't help but look in. This is a town of and for and by voyeurs. It's funny (not haha funny alway) that a city full of people so enrapt with their own reflections (myself included) that there is always time to peek in a few windows.

A thought on reflection: If you really want to grow weary of looking at yourself, write a memoir. You run the process first; you start at narcissism and run through fascination, discovery, revelation, mortification, Sartre-esque revulsion, weariness and finally on to stultifying tedium.

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

Is hell other people? Try looking too closely at yourself for too long and see whom you think hell is or isn't Perhaps those unshaded windows are there for a damn good reason. If you see a person on the street with the thousand yard stare, who is most certainly too young to be a Viet Nam vet, there's a good chance they've written a memoir. They've just seen too much. If you recognize it in yourself, break the gaze with the image in the mirror and get out there and start looking into other peoples' windows. Those windows are God's gift to battle-weary narcissists, navel-gazers, and assorted misfits of introspective natures.

I'm not recommending you desist entirely from self-examination. Just balance it, or most assuredly you will fuck yourself up big time.

It's easy, neighbors' open curtains notwithstanding, to fall into long spells laser sharp self-examination, self-dissection and emotional seppaku in the fall. You're more apt to find yourself alone and inside, or alone and outside and in the dark, for that matter. The season lends itself to solitude, and all the gin mills, facebook pages and cell phones can't stave off the eventual moment when you find yourself at home alone thinking. I can offer no advice for those moments, except that if you are not relatively certain of what you'll find, don't mine your past and write a memoir. Or maybe just do it a bit at a time, a child with a soup spoon digging to China, rather than the gargantuan hedgehog tunnel blaster. Take it slowly, or you may find yourself in a spot you are ill equipped to deal with.

My own memoir... I shelved it, not so much out of horror, but because I found what I needed to find, or at least enough. I've moved from the role of miner forty-niner to archivist or librarian, tagging and sorting and stowing it all away in it's proper order, where I can pull it up on demand. It's still rather chaotic at the moment but we're getting there.

There were others to consider also. The greenery turned brown and fallen, it didn't seem my place to decide whether or not their curtains were drawn or open.

But with that, the radiators are pissing, the coffee on and the forecast is dire. I've got things to do.

Selah

Friday, September 11, 2009

Do you know what today is...

I've thought a lot about this--I suppose everybody has--of how the day should be best commemorated. It's hard not to internalize it on a personal level, and then on a national level, and so on.

I was standing on the 7th Avenue overpass of the Prospect Expressway in Brooklyn when the second plane hit and the realization with it, like a huge wind, that this was in fact a terrorist attack. A woman standing next to me, never taking her eyes off the scene said, "Huh! America just joined a much larger world community," and she gathered her children and headed for home. I had no response but felt instantly that this would be the most poignant statement I heard that day, and it was. I collected my own children from school and brought them home, no idea what was next.

So here we are, eight years later and there is no way I'm going to recap the events that have ensued since then. I was reading a petition online though, that if successful, would mark September 11th as a national holiday. I've mixed feelings on that. It's very complex really but my gut tells me that to commemorate the day as such almost trivializes it. The event stands quite apart from what I've always perceived as the nature of Independence Day, or Memorial Day, or other national holidays. It doesn't seem connected in the same way to our national identity but it's hard for me to explain.

I keep going back to what the woman on the bridge said and my instinct is that any commemoration of September 11th should be taken beyond our borders, and perhaps tied into our identity with the rest of the population of the world. In the greater scheme of horrible events--and not to demean the loss of human life by any event as it would have been horrible if there had been only one victim--the day does not make us special. We did actually become part of something bigger that day.

Perhaps we should all, everywhere, petition our leaders for a real world peace day. Maybe Worldwide Memorial for Victims of Really Pointless Horrible Shit... No seriously. I'm not making fun. Maybe International Memorial Day...

I don't really know. I'm just thinking aloud, so to speak.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Mercy, more than life

Reposted from a Facebook thread, simply because it makes sense in ways I have been unable to articulate:


"Mercy More Than Life"
Why is Universal Health Care "Un-American"?

By Rev. JIM RIGBY

Last week supporters of health-care reform gathered around the country, including in Austin, TX, where 2,000 people crowded into a downtown church to hear speakers talk about different aspects of the issue. Asked to speak about the ethical dimensions of health care, I tried to go beyond short-term political strategizing and ask more basic questions. This is an edited version of what I said.

September 02, 2009 "Counterpunch" -- Is anyone else here having trouble with the fact that we are even having this conversation? Is anyone else having trouble believing this topic is really controversial? I have been asked to talk about the ethical dimension of health care. Here’s one way to frame such a discussion:

If an infant is born to poor parents, would we be more ethical to give medicine to that child so he or she does not die prematurely of preventable diseases, or would we be more ethical if we let the child die screaming in his or her parent’s arms so we can keep more of our money?

Or, let’s say someone who worked for Enron, and now is penniless, contracted bone cancer. I’ve been asked to discuss whether we are more ethical if we provide such people medicine that lessens their pain. Or would we be more ethical to let them scream through the night in unbearable agony so we can pay lower taxes?”

I can’t believe I am standing today in a Christian church defending the proposition that we should lessen the suffering of those who cannot afford health care in an economic system that often treats the poor as prey for the rich. I cannot believe there are Christians around this nation who are shouting that message down and waving guns in the air because they don’t want to hear it. But I learned along time ago that churches are strange places; charity is fine, but speaking of justice is heresy in many churches. The late Brazilian bishop Dom Hélder Câmara said it well: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.” Too often today in the United States, if you talk about helping the poor, they call you Christian, but if you actually try to do something to help the poor, they call you a socialist.

Some of the other speakers today have been asked to address what is possible in the current political climate. I have been asked to speak of our dreams. Let me ask a question. How many of you get really excited about tweaking the insurance system so we just get robbed a little less? (silence) How many of you want universal health care? (sustained applause) I realize that insurance reform is all that’s on the table right now, and it can be important to choose the lesser of evils when that alone is within our power in the moment. But we also need to remember our dream. I believe the American dream is not about material success, not about being having the strongest military. The American dream is that every person might have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s amazing to hear Christians who talk about the right to life as though it ends at birth. They believe every egg has a right to hatch, but as soon as you’re born, it’s dog eat dog. We may disagree on when life begins, but if the right to life means anything it means that every person (anyone who has finished the gestation period) has a right to life. And if there is a right to life there must be a right to the necessities of life. Like health care.

I believe the American dream was not about property rights, but human rights. Consider the words of this national hymn:

“O beautiful for patriot’s dream that sees beyond the years. Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.”

Doesn’t that sound like someone cared about the poor? There are those who consider paying taxes an affront, but listen to these words:

“O Beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life.”

“Mercy more than life” -- have you ever noticed those words before? Supporting universal health care does not make you socialist or even a liberal, it makes you a human being. And it makes you an ambassador for the American dream which, in the mind of Thomas Paine, was a dream for every human being, not just Americans. As we struggle to get health care to all people, we may have to settle for the lesser of two evils, but remember your dream -- the true American dream, a human dream. Whatever we win through reform is just first step toward a day when every human being has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Rev. Jim Rigby is pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin. He can be reached at jrigby0000@aol.com.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Gowanus

Multi-culturalism is the subject of national debate (for whatever array of idiotic reasons that people feel the need to debate it), but it's hard to to argue the sheer wonder of hearing a Spanish ballad done to the tune of Loch Lomond.

I grew up listening to this song and hearing it flowing out of a storefront in Brooklyn in Spanish is a powerful trip--a nostalgic journey not at all at odds with the significance of hearing it transformed.

Wistful homesickness and longing is the same in every language.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 2009 Roundup, Part 2

July 2009, as it happens, will also go down in history as part of the summer when the nation declared open season on Hipsters.

Nobody seems to have come up with a definitive description of what exactly a hipster is or isn't. It seems rather like what the GOP used to say about pornography, "We know it when we see it." The term itself has gathered a rather broad, catch-all, meaning, becoming the most overused (and mis-used) word since Yuppie." I have, over the years, been inaccurately called a yuppie, presumably because I am white, middle-class, and work in an office. Whatever...

Everybody seems to know what a hipster is though, and rarely has any word describing a fairly innocuous idea been thrown about with such a degree of derision. Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, is now world-famous as the hipster equivalent of the Borg Collective headquarters. I was speaking with a client on the west coast, who when she found out I live in Brooklyn (a place she has admittedly never been), asked if I were a Williamsburg hipster. No, I replied with a laugh. I am a nerdy, middle-class salesman and a dad.

It wouldn't be honest to say though that I haven't had a few laughs of my own at the expense of shaggy-bearded, tattooed, pierced, mutilated and otherwise affectedly freaky looking people. Don't get me wrong! I have a fondness for freaky people. I'd prefer that they are more than freaky looking, but who am I to judge. Self-expression is a sacred entity and let those who wish to, go at it wholeheartedly. Every so often though, I allow myself some cruel fun.

And in that vein, here is a site that I've had a great deal of fun with lately, which was first sent to me from my dear friend in Pakistan (yes, it's gotten all the way out there too!):

LOOK AT THIS FUCKING HIPSTER

Ah well, it is what it is. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

July 2009 Roundup, Part 1, Appendix B

"I'm not going to spend my life being a color."

Yep, I'm going there...

"It don't matter if you're black or white."

Here are two lines that have been quoted out of context as often as most popular excerpts from the Bible.

We are going on more than two decades now of discussion on Michael Jackson's supposed race and gender dysphoria. I won't speak for the latter, but the business about race sticks in my craw.

Consider this: Michael Jackson, like most people born black in a Eurocentric world, never once experienced the luxury of NOT being judged as a black man. I don't buy that he tried to escape it with plastic surgery, skin dying and hair straightening. Millions of other people go to great lengths to alter their appearances and rarely does anybody accuse them of being ashamed of their race... unless of course they happen to be black and famous. It's not like the accusations didn't come from all corners, and all races. There seemed to be a universal condemnation and throngs rising up to say, "Michael Jackson is ashamed to be black."

Was he?

An aside: There have been an awful lot of people over the years involved in the discourse of "what it means to be black." Conversely, there has been an awful lot of discourse in recent decades, when North American demographics are changing, on what it means to be white. Pat Buchanan is really big on that. Rush Limbaugh is really big on that. Think about it...

I will say right here that I have no business whatsoever discussing what it means to be black. You know why? Look at my picture. More white people might want to consider that. There is little more irritating than a roomful of white people discussing race and racism. It is not uncommon that if a non-white person amongst them challenges them on any aspect of the discussion, they take great offense.

Yet I'm also uncomfortable hearing black people accusing other black people of not being "black enough." Think about that for a moment and those whom you've heard lumped into this group--Bill Cosby, Bryant Gumbel, Colin Powell, Michael Jackson, and perhaps many of your friends. (****plug here for the documentary Afro-Punk**** which you should see) White people get in on this humor too. I will slap the next white person I hear call someone Uncle Tom. Seriously...

A thought from Thurgood Marshall which may lend perspective. Upon his retirement in 1991 he was asked about progress in race relations in the United States, and how he felt now traveling in the South. His response was that there was no single place in the United States, North or South, then or now, that he ever had to look at the back of his own hand first to be reminded what color he is.

I can't speak for Michael Jackson and his views on race. I know one thing: There came a point in his career when his videos were supporting MTV and he found it necessary to go before them and threaten to ex-communicate them if they continued to refuse to play other African-American artists. Being a supporting musician in the Power Station and the Thompson Twins was about as far as they had ever gone. I figure he didn't have to do that.

This isn't even really about Michael Jackson though. It's about us. Michael Jackson was only ever judged as a black man, no matter what he did cosmetically. I can't, despite any misgivings I may have about him, believe that for one instant he didn't recognize that. I don't believe there was shame... at least not about that. We all, white, black, brown and yellow, judged him as a black man. Let's be honest about that.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

July 2009 Roundup, Part 1, Appendix A

A placeholder--my last missive came across as far more angry and embittered than I had intended. Just wanted to say quickly that I have no ill will towards Michael Jackson nor his fans. None whatsoever...

It's really just a question of frustration at the celebrity death phenomenon and media-driven cult phenomena in general. I was laughing when I wrote the last business but there is much to say related to the public discourse of the last several weeks.

But that requires time, and that is a limited commodity at the moment. Watch this space.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

July 2009 Round-up, Part 1

Forgive me Father Google, it has been nearly a month since I've blogged...

Blogging is not unlike making confession in that the longer you go between confessions, the more there is to talk about. I suppose it is also not dissimilar in that it often seems as futile as farting into a hurricane wind because it doesn't really matter all that much anyway.

You can read the news though. Nothing at all has happened in the last month, except for one huge event. The summer of 2009 will go down in history as the summer that not a single thing happened except for Michael Jackson dying. Watch the news if you think I'm lying!

I actually made a vow not to mention it at all. What can I add that hasn't been picked over ad nauseum by every news outlet and every last person you know? That's a hard call, but I'm going to say something that probably won't go over well in light of Michael's post-mortem resurrection and deification. Cover your ears, oh ye faithful.

Fuck Michael Jackson. I was impressed when he danced backwards, but that was 25 years ago and the man had no bearing on my life in any single way. Genius? Get a grip! Humanitarian? The jury is out on that and you damn well know what I'm talking about. King of Pop? Whatever. He entertained a lot of people and now he's dead.

What I'm going to say next may be more unpleasant, but it's the honest truth. I have not heard a single person say a single nice thing about Michael Jackson in more than 20 years. I've heard nobody even discussing his music in a positive light and let's not even get into his personal life! I'm not talking about just the ever-false celebrities who have all come out singing his praise. I'm talking about friends, co-workers, acquaintances.... I've heard NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON utter a single kind word about the man.

Until now that he's dead.

So seriously? Fuck all of you too. I love some of you, but you are lying. As much as the media who picked on his bones while he was alive is now profiteering upon his demise, there is a friggin' trailer-load of dishonesty on every level.

More on the Michael Jackson phenomenon in the next post... I've got a lot to say and it ties into some other thoughts.

And please understand that this is more light-hearted than it sounds. I'm mostly laughing.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Obsolete Language

The subject of dead languages is another topic that I have trouble wrapping my simple mind around. Sanskrit is dead. Aramaic is dead. What killed them? How did they become obsolete? I guess, from reading the dictionary, that there are still traces to be found in our vocabulary, though certainly not as many as Latin. I've heard people call Latin a "dead language."

So before I bloviate further, I found a glossary of English words that have fallen out of favor and use. It seems to me that this list was deliberately populated with those that sound the most awkward. It's interesting nonetheless that English speakers, for the most part, have let them fall by the wayside. There is no apparent reason, except in the concept that language itself is an organic entity and grows, shrinks and changes like foliage. There are yearly news bytes about what new words are being added to standard dictionaries. I've yet to see a story on words being removed, yet certainly it must have happened.

Then there are the ironists who decide they will make a concerted effort to revive the daily use of a particular word. "Groovy" comes to mind. It appears also that David Foster Wallace was a proponent of this practice. I wonder if he did this purposefully or if he simply had a more vast vocabulary than anybody I've ever read.

This is, in any event, a fun list. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The End of Analog

June 12, 2009: The End of an Era. You've never been able to see it, but it's been up over your head and all around you for over 60 years. Technology that has been deemed outdated, was put to rest today. Television is still there, but rather than the ubiquitous wave, it looks something like this, or it would if you could see it:

0101001010101010101

Or something like that.

Television, is, I repeat, still there. Those that chose to replace their aerials and rabbit ears with digital converter boxes that will translate all those zeroes and ones into moving pictures, are probably watching it right now. It's what we do, isn't it?

I decided a couple weeks ago, in what was until now some sort of silent protest against something or another, not to make the conversion. It was partly because I haven't really been a frequent watcher for some years now, except for the morning news and sports that I usually view from a bar stool. The networks, last week, opted out of live broadcasts of Barack Obama in Egypt in favor of their normal morning broadcasts, which aren't exactly chockful of news to watch while drinking my Chockful o' Nuts. They weren't struggling to make themselves all that relevant in my life. That was part of my decision.

There was something beyond that though, and that is my inability to let go and accept that things... technology, fashion, and people, can be deemed outdated and archaic. A personal fear? Perhaps. It's not something that came on with a middle-aged sense of mortality though, as I slide faster into my own obsolescence. Call me the original Doubting Thomas, or maybe I was born a crabby, old man, but it just didn't seem necessary. I didn't give up my turntables when they told me that technology was obsolete. I also have an inordinate fondness for 50s fashion, old toasters, early-60s vintage Chevys and women over 40. Okay... not such an inordinate fondness on the last one.

I am, despite my best efforts to embrace the new, mired in nostalgia. I am, despite my best efforts, unable to dissuade myself from the notion that the end of analog television is a metaphor for... something.

But moving on: The Knuckleheads and I watched a wee Australian film called Bad Boy Bubby and I can't speak for them, but I loved it and I'm still processing it. Thirty-five year old Bubby has been imprisoned indoors for his entire life by his mother, who tells him that the world outside will kill him in an instant if he sets foot beyond the door. "If the poison don't getcha, then God will!" Upon her passing (I won't give that away) he is a set free, a man with a child's mind, to learn the truth(s) for himself. He is ill-prepared to deal with what ensues in a world that is simultaneously wonderful, frightening, horrible, mean, and ultimately beautiful if you are lucky. Far be it from me to be a spoiler, but I will say that we all probably go through the same thing, if not so extreme and grotesque. Nothing our parents can teach us, even the best of them, with the best of intentions, can ready us for what's out there. We all have to learn for ourselves and make our own way. They cannot protect us from the future. Fair warning though... this film is, at points, stomach turning. If shock and revulsion were all there is to it though, I wouldn't mention it. It's worth the temporary descent into the terminally toxic and ugly.

We watched this on DVD, ordered through Netflix, on the Internet. See? I'm not such a Luddite after all.

I want to impart one more thought for the week, since my blog posts are becoming more infrequent. I am often found dallying with peoples' ideas of God and the Universe and such (Doubting Thomas again). No concept of a higher being, or fate, or pre-destiny has ever left me more awestruck than single incidences of utter randomness and pure dumb luck. There is nothing that brings me to a higher state of wonder than an event that makes me shake my head and ask, what are the odds? Really! How man have you ever been hit by a meteorite? This boy has. It's a possibility I haven't ever thought of beyond what might have wiped out the dinosaurs. There is certainly evidence of catastrophic strikes at points in distant history. How many people have their own personal meteorite though? Or so I was thinking as I started this story. I found, reading further, that in 1992, a woman named Michelle Knapp from Peekskill, New York, or her car rather, took a direct hit. I graduated high school with her brother. Small world. This is a point where I could go off on a tangent about the folks that believe that some things are simply too random to be truly random. Creative design? Magical realism? I'm not a fan of either. I'm just waiting for my own personal meteorite.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

It's just gone 8 a.m.

I've been up for an hour, and have accomplished precious little beyond putting on a pot of coffee. The sun has me beat by a couple hours, but after three hours has done as little, despite a few skittish, anemic pokes through clouds that have sprawled heavily over Nanny Goat Hill, and the rest of Brooklyn, and the whole of the Northeast. Everything is sticky. Every surface, the kitchen linoleum, the counter top, the fridge door handle, the surface of the chair, and the rim of the coffee cup feels greasy and sticky. I am sticky.

This week has been a malevolent bastard, and it's not like I take it personally. That's just how some weeks go. Sometimes the weeks line up so they can each take their shot, one after another, and you run the paddle gauntlet like a fraternity hazing. Really though... take your best shots guys. The only way out is straight through, and I'll be standing at the other end, despite anything you think you can do.

There are faces on TV veiled in black crepe and horror and howling economic funeral dirges. I think it's true what they say about watching a loved one suffer through a long illness. It doesn't always prepare you for the inevitable end, and when that end comes, it can seem out of the blue.

Out on the wards we've been witnessing the wasting for months now. It's gotten worse by the week. Numbers have dwindled slowly and steadily since last autumn. Staff and resources have been cut. The distance between the bells has grown longer and longer, and the faces of the folks in charge have mirrored these distances. Then there will be the occasional rally and we'll all grin and look at each other hopefully, but ultimately the next week will be worse.

They called us in a couple days ago and gave us the first bad news. There will be cuts. It will start with the work week. Four days now with a 20% cut in salary--there isn't enough coming in to justify what we've been doing. I was prepared. I saw it coming. I'd done the math. I can't say I'm prepared financially though. Things are going to get strange very shortly.

The surprise on the faces of my comrades though, caught me off guard. Surely I don't have the best math mind in the bunch! Perhaps they've been running on faith. That's not such a bad thing I suppose, to have faith. You have to keep doing the math though. There is some anger as well, but I don't share that anger. This isn't the callous, corporate axe-job that you can see all over the news. It's not a bit of news that there could have been, in any manner, any joy in delivering. The folks in charge really have been tremendously thoughtful throughout this business. Everything has been cut to the bare bones. All other possible routes have already been taken. Even the staff that has been cut, for the most part, seemed to be working to make themselves redundant. This is just the reality, and since we all chose to remain through it, we will have to share the burden. There are good people at the helm, and it's my own fault that I've only really just come to fully understand that. I don't believe this is terminal, but unlike a good number of the others, I'm old enough to have seen it before. This is the first time though, I will admit, that recovery doesn't appear imminent.

Things are going to get strange very shortly. I have, up until now, not made many adjustments to prepare for this, and haven't seen many other people shoring up the walls either. I think people started to, and then as time wore on, it became rather like that point in The Plague, by Camus, when the need for companionship and human contact overshadowed the fear. People left their houses and hit the streets, and the cafes, and the theaters, en masse.

As for my cohorts on the wards, I am sad to say that there have been some desperate acts. They have ranged on the lesser end from self-promotion at the expense of others, to blatant back-stabbing and sabotage. The first attack on me infuriated me for a while. It came from unexpected quarters, someone I had believed always had my back. The anger dissipated after a bit though. It was an act borne of serious fear and desperation. There are a few easier targets though and that's where the desperate have now turned. I'm not angry. Simply disappointed. I had hoped for more--that we could work together and at least all go down with some sense of pride and honor. There are a few that will, and this will be a very special time for those who remain on that side. I will certainly do my best to be among them.

I can't sit here crying though. It's already worse for a lot of people.

Selah

Friday, June 05, 2009

Obama speaks in Cairo

And the major networks could have carried the most important foreign address in 30+ years live, but didn't.

I have to ask why. My only conclusion is that certain powers on both sides of the fence would rather we couldn't view it live and judge for ourselves--they both Republicans and Democrats wanted to wait until they could spoon-feed it back to us pre-spun.

I am desperately disappointed. Was there a single news story more important that they would pre-empt this historic speech (whether you love him or hate him, agree or disagree)? No. Just the regular morning crews with weather, traffic, and entertainment news. It was only 51 minutes. What else was happening that was more important?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Infinite Jest, again

The build-up and the let-down...

After five disjointed months into the disjointed narrative, the deed is done.

I finished Infinite Jest, the novel a friend said he might pick up again if he found himself doing a three year stint in prison. Well, Jim, my friend, my recommendation is that you skip that and spend the time doing what everybody else does. Lift weights, play cards, have a go at yourself if you find yourself with the privacy. Just save yourself the frustration and disappointment of toiling through a novel that despite moments of brilliance and promise, leads nowhere.

If memory serves, at about the 400 page point, I had described Infinite Jest as half a dozen decent short manuscripts thrown into the air and reshuffled as one confused and confounding exercise in experimental style, shifting tenses, disconnected plots, and sometimes tedium. There was a spell, somewhere around the 800 page mile marker, that it started coming together and the various plots began converging. My excitement built and it no longer seemed to matter that tenses shifted or that paragraphs often ran on for three or four single-spaced pages. There were fewer technical descriptions of tennis matches that are only rivaled in pure boredom by Melville's tangents on blubber-flaying. The novel was coming together at an exhilarating pace. It was beyond clever, infinitely compassionate and moving. There was action. There was excruciating, clever wit. The characters fleshed out and became viable and human.

And then it was done. The connections fell to pieces and half a dozen clever, shorter novels fell apart, like a house of cards, just a few short of finishing on each wing. I spent another couple hours combing the copious footnotes looking for answers and found a few, but ultimately, felt nothing but disappointment.

It seems to me that David Foster Wallace might have purposefully derailed the entire process when what might have been an astonishing literary redemption was within sight. It was like he looked up one day and just said, "Screw it. What's the point?" Or perhaps the decision wasn't that simple, but it does come across to me as a willful act of sabotage. Maybe that's the entire point. Maybe, as I suggested at the 400 page mark, that is the Infinite Jest. It would certainly fit in with what was happening with at least a half dozen of the central characters. If that is the case, then there was definitely a point where DFW blurred the lines between fiction and reality and became a part of his own narrative.

There is nothing I've ever read in any review or criticism of this novel that would suggest it was anything other than a work of genius. My original guess was that critics were so awed by the scale of the work that they were afraid to name it as such... the Emperor's New Clothes... afraid of damaging their own credibility. I may stick with that assessment, because despite moments of rapture during this undertaking, I was left feeling empty. It became like one of those romances (my relationship with the book and not the book itself) that started tentatively, and then reeled into ardor, and then fell apart with the realization that you were only fooling yourself and seeing what you wanted to see.

Which only leads me ultimately to the question: Should reading a novel be work? I don't have the answer to that. Ask Jonathan Franzen who seems to have endless opinions on the matter.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I just wanna celebrate

another day of livin'...

May whatever God you pray to forgive me, I just can't for the life of me say why I find shit like this so hilarious!

This is even funnier than Death Clock!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Edgardo Vega Yunque

When I first learned of Edgardo Vega Yunque's passing last summer, I wanted to write something but the words never materialized. Eulogies are often fraught with cliche and since we weren't exactly what could be described as friends, it just seemed inappropriate. It wasn't from a lack of sadness nor lack of understanding that a truly unique and talented voice was silenced. It just seemed that there were people more qualified to handle it. I spent the afternoon down in Loisaida by the East River in the park between the bridges, sipping Palo Viejo and just watching; then wandered up Houston Street, back into New York City.

I first "met" Ed Vega in an AOL chatroom called The Author's Lounge back in the late 90s. The name Author's Lounge was somewhat of a misnomer because of about 40 regular attendees, only a few were actually working, published writers. There was always a bit of skepticism amongst the usual suspects, myself included, who really should have been in The Frustrated, Often Bitter, Aspiring Author's Lounge. It was quite a while before anybody believed that the person that called himself ThomJones, a somewhat difficult individual, was actually the man who penned the acclaimed Pugilist At Rest (it was him). Then there was Ed, whom few people had even heard of, and was often described by regulars as obnoxious, pompous, insert-pejorative-adjective-here... Let's face it. It's not easy to like a person whom you've only just "met" who will freely tell you that he is great, and you are most definitely not. I did come to learn though that when Ed said, "Talk to me when you've published anything at all," it wasn't really so much a put-down as a challenge to stop talking and go to work... to please, please, please write something or make a film, write a song. Please create art. He was nothing, however, if not utterly lacking in people skills, a trait I later came to find kind of endearing. The Daily News piece notes that he had alienated a lot of people over the years and one writer describes him as a "brilliant, conflictive man." Yes, that about describes it.

We corresponded for a time and then lost touch until about the time that he published No Matter How Much You Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blew It Cause Bill Bailey Ain't Never Coming Home Again: A Symphonic Novel. He e-mailed the press release and my first reaction was, "Ed, you insert-ugly-noun-phrase here, with a title like that it has better be good," and "Symphonic novel? Are you kidding me?" Symphonic novel is just about all the review it needs though. It is truly about the most grand, fantastic, cohesive novel I've ever encountered. It is Wagner's Ring Cycle of literature. I won't bore you with a synopsis that you can get at Amazon.com. I'll just say that it is so immense in every sense of the word. Three weeks after he sent me the press release (it took me that long to read the book) I replied with embarrassing, sycophantic gushes. He wrote back:

"You want to buy me lunch?"

We met face to face for the first time at a Dominican place in the neighborhood, which was mercifully inexpensive. The man had an appetite. He was nothing like his online persona, which admittedly surprised me a bit. He was very warm, and smiled a lot. He asked a lot of questions about my family, places I'd lived or visited. He asked me about my favorite places in the city and favorite people. We spoke for a long time about music, particularly Latin music, and The Fania All-Stars, and concerts at Orchard Beach.

He invited me the next time to buy him lunch at a place down on Stanton Street and we walked around the Lower East Side after, and I got a Nuyorican history lesson... places I'd walked by a hundred times but never knew their social or cultural significance... I learned the connection between the Lower East Side and Loiza Aldea back in P.R. Hence Loisaida.

We met a few times after that and corresponded every so often. I was always struck by the difference between my first impression of him as a somewhat bloated misanthrope and the real love he had for people. He seemed regularly moved emotionally and spiritually by everything he encountered. Perhaps the hardness was just the defensive structure around a very fragile heart.

This is not to say he didn't have a very clever, if often brutal sense of humor. When I first told my friend Dalia about Ed's next book, titled The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle, she said, "with a title like that he'd better be a friggin' genius!" We're both still laughing about the book 5 years later. Again, hard to explain and you have to read it for yourself, but it showed a side of Ed that maybe few people saw in person: Funny, self-deprecating, humble, a remarkable sense of the absurd... One of the highlights for me was a side-splitting piss-take on magical realism that had the author, his two main characters, Puerto Rican brujas, and Puerto Rican Nationalist guerrillas plotting out the end of the novel, and the demise of the U.S. government, in an AOL chatroom.

And that brings us back to the beginning, where I first encountered the guy. I guess he was doing research for a novel yet to come.

I am, as of yet, unpublished. I'm working on it, but there seems to be too many distractions, like paying the rent. And sometimes when I should be writing I'm walking around the city, tracing the footsteps of countless other frustrated, often bitter aspiring writers.

So cheers, Eddie... I hope they don't fuck up the pernil wherever you are.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Curses, Batman...

Heard in Brooklyn:

13th Street, May 17, 2009

Little girl: You shouldn't curse like that, Tommy!!!
Little Boy: Everybody fucking curses, Tanya!

Boy, is he ever right! This seems especially true if you live in Brooklyn. Glaswegian Comedian, Billy Connelly once said that nobody outside of Scotland can curse like New Yorkers. And if one is to judge by Billy Connelly, the Scottish do know how to curse!

It probably has nothing to do with my Scottish heritage that my daily language is so colorful. My mother and her family, rarely if ever cursed. Yet there are spells where nary a sentence issues from my mouth without something monumentally offensive. My favorites are the words I can hurl from my face with a mighty Fuh or a harsh, exagerated fricative, at the beginning or the end for the most emphasis. I've been described as an artist. I have conversely been described as a complete and utter slob. You decide.

It's been said that dependence on cursing is borne of laziness. That might actually be true in some places, or perhaps in a different era. Or maybe it's true now, but I'm lazy. Water does always choose the course of least resistance. It just seems to me sometimes that it is borne of economy and practicality. Nothing else works. I am nothing, if not a passionate soul. I either love a thing or a person, or I hate them.

Or I FUCKING love them, or FUCKING hate them! There is rarely a middle ground. And I am confident that I FUCKING love more than I FUCKING hate. Or perhaps even that depends on the day.

The fact remains--I have a filthy mouth. I'm not proud. I'm not ashamed.

I have to, for now though, get this %#@@$*# day underway, &$%^, shower and shave and go deal with all these #%$^@ on the @#@@$*# F train.

Cheers

Sunday, May 17, 2009

5th Avenue Street Fair, Brooklyn 2009







Some captions would be fair, but Blogger kept misplacing them. Knucklehead #2 and I tackled the 5th Avenue Fair today--the opener of the street fair season and one of the few still worth going to. So in no particular order, two thirds of a jazz trio I don't know at Puppet's Jazz Bar, The Nouvellas and the phenomenal Persuasians outside Southpaw.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Empathy--part 3

I'm generally not the sort of person, when sad or upset about something, to seek out a sympathetic ear. I prefer to be alone to sort it out and get some perspective. Same with being ill. I've a handful of close friends that I know I can depend on. Thank you all, by the way, for the kindness and sympathy you've bestowed upon me. You all know who you are, I hope. If you are in doubt, then I am to blame.

This aside... I have noticed a tendency among many people though, when someone tells them of what may be ailing them, to respond with what I suppose may be an honest attempt to say, "I can identify with that, and I'm truly sorry." It often comes in the form though, of a story of even more horrific sorrow, that comes off as a sort of oneupsmanship. You might say that you've just lost your job and you're worried about how you're going to make ends meet. They might respond with a story of their own, detailing every dark aspect of the situation as if it is the worst thing that's ever happened to a person.

Same with sickness... you might say, I've been diagnosed with such and such and I'm kind of worried. They respond with a story of their own, or that of someone they know, and so on...

Is this empathy? I have my doubts. I don't doubt that they care, but wouldn't the more appropriate response be something along the lines of, "Jesus, that sucks. What can I do to help?" Or simply, "I want you to know that I'm here for you. Please don't hesitate to ask."

Again, I stress that my closest friends are the sort that take this latter approach, and that they are driven by empathy and kindness. In this, I am blessed. It is also worth mention that I am fortunate in that I've rarely encountered a crisis that I could not manage myself.

I see this other phenomenon though and it stops me in my tracks.

Empathy--part 2

My original intent wasn't to address the idea on the scale of large, global issues, but that's hard to avoid. So...

Waterboarding: Torture or no?

It comes down, for me at least, to a very simple question. If American troops, or civilians for that matter, were detained for interrogation in a foreign country and subjected to waterboarding, would we consider it torture? I think the answer is obvious. Of course we would...

Not that a large number of Americans don't consider it torture now, but even of those that do, many consider waterboarding and any other "interrogation techniques" to be in the interest of personal safety and national security.

How far then is it acceptable to go to save one's ass? And why the double standard? Are other people allowed to have concerns for their own national security? How far is it acceptable for them to go?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Empathy--a placeholder

This is sort of a bookmark for a later post. Feel free to comment in the meantime.

I've come to believe that the human capacity for empathy may not be a natural instinct but perhaps a conditioned response. Or perhaps if instinctual that it is deeply buried beneath more immediate responses or concerns.

Or maybe survival dictates that we not be too empathic so a balance is set between how much we feel and care and what we need to get by. Clearly that balance is tilted dangerously towards our own self-preservation and we, as a species, need to reevaluate what we actually need to get by. What we need to survive.

That can be witnessed on a micro-scale in individual families (the basic socio-economic unit) who are downscaling consumerist behavior. This falls painfully short of what will be required to make meaningful change on the macro-scale.

Anyway... a bookmark, or an invitation for thought or discussion.

An example: Natural disaster... following the money donated to charitable organizations for disaster relief. When several natural disasters occur, the first in a chain will prompt a rush of donations. The second will receive less, despite that it might be more severe with many more victims. The third may prompt even less.

Where the disaster occurs is a factor as well. There seem to be many factors in the decisions, conscious or unconscious to identify with the victims... to identify them as worth saving. How do we decide who is "the other" and why? What stands in between our sense of our own humanity and our sense of theirs?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

When he looked down he saw a big snake...

Every man's dream?

Or every man's nightmare?

One can only wonder what the snake was thinking. (a bald rat?)

The film version: Snakes on a Plane II (oof! Sorry.)

The adult film version: Glory Hole Massacre (Surely even Samuel L. Jackson would turn down this role.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Irish Poet Laureate Crowns Himself

Either too hard or not hard enough...

I admit that it's very difficult for me to be objective where Bono is concerned, but when I found out that BONO WAS WRITING POETRY I rightly predicted that he would make Jewel Kilcher look like Sylvia Plath.

Yet it's so bad (see for yourself) that I don't even have the usual satisfaction of saying, TOLD YOU SO!!! It goes so far beyond my ability to even imagine that I feel cheated out of a good laugh. I can find cheesy humor in people dying for chrissake, but this left me... sad.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

To lay me down...




To lay me down once more, to lay me down
With my head in sparkling clover
Let the world go by, all lost in dreaming
To lay me down one last time, to lay me down

(Yes I know I will get abuse for posting Grateful Dead lyrics)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A picture is worth 1000 words...



I should, considering what I do for a living, stop taking photos from random websites, but I found this one particularly moving and felt that it should be shared.

Every photo has a story, or several. You could run countless variations on a single theme with this particular
photo. Old age, for example... Just let your mind run with it. I often joke about what lies in store for me in years ahead, and describe an old man, sitting on a bench, otherwise alone but for a dog. The responses to my musings are invariably the same.

Negative.

I don't see the negative any more than I see anything negative about this photo, but the responses, I believe, echo two of our biggest fears as humans. Aging, and loneliness. Are these my greatest fears? Not really, but it would be dishonest to say that it's not something I think about. It would also run contrarily to many things I've written on these pages. No, I don't really want to grow old. No, I would prefer not to do it alone. That's not really what I'm getting at though.

What are the first thoughts that ran through your head when you see this photo? What is the first emotion you felt when you looked at it? My own were mixed. The first thought came with a wry laugh because I was only just joking the other day in the context of my own future. There was no sadness involved though because there truly are countless story paths running from this picture. And of course, who are any of us to say that this man isn't the most content soul on the face of the planet? Who is waiting at home? Wife? Children? Grandchildren? Or blissful solitude?

Try hard not to project!

So I ran through the permutations, and smiled. The little ship on the bench next to him... what's up with that?

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Ocean

I have, as years go by, found the idea of living too far from salt water increasingly abhorrent. And now, heading into a weekend with forecasts in the 80s and nothing but sun predicted, the ocean, with all it's mysteries, and immensity (and salt?) is calling. Two days of work are also in the forecast, but perhaps there will be a window of respite through which I can follow these others...

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth;
whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul;
whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet...
I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
~Herman Melville from Moby Dick

My soul is full of longing
For the secret of the Sea,
And the heart of the great ocean
Sends a thrilling pulse through me.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Why is almost every robust, healthy boy with a robust, healthy soul in him, at some time or other, crazy to go to sea? Why, upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land?
~Herman Melville - Moby Dick

The sea speaks a language polite people never repeat. It is a colossal scavenger slang and has no respect.
~Carl Sandburg

This last quote from Sandburg is intriguing, maybe because it gives voice to unspoken thoughts in the others. There is something just a little bit frightening, but compelling and thrilling, about standing waist deep in the surf and staring out towards the horizon. I always feel the call to go farther, as the waves and undertow pull outwards. It tugs at some genetic memory, inviting me home.

Bury me at sea
Where no murdered ghost can haunt me
If I rock upon the waves
No corpse can lie upon me
-Shane MacGowan (no lesser a poet)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Space: The Final Frontier

I've been rather ambivalent about the news lately, or rather, taking it all in like usual, but feeling hammered by redundancy. It rarely seems worthy of comment anymore. I've just about talked myself out.

Every so often though a headline gives me pause, like this one:

EARTH-LIKE PLANET FOUND

We have, as a people, spent eternity looking up at the stars and wondering if there is any other "intelligent life" out there. The Church says no; this is it. Scientists have come to say, having somewhat come to a decision on the enormity of the universe, that odds are there is. The most talked about astronomy stories usually involve the "discovery" of planets similar to Earth and perhaps able to sustain an eco-system similar to our own. And hence, the possibility that we are not alone in the universe.

One can only hope that, similarly to us, there isn't a race of beings out there staring out at our little, blue orb, looking for ways to get here and claim it as their own... or fight bitterly over it.

We still haven't conquered our own worst nature--that inside us that drives colonialism and imperialism--and we're already looking for new places to fight over.

No offense to the astronomers, by the way. I'm sure that this isn't their intent, but let's face it. Behind every astronomer stands another salivating Napoleon.

Happy Earth Day, by the way. And Happy Earth-Like Day to our distant neighbors.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

One Way Ticket

I ain't goin' out like no punk bitch

How you gonna come?

Death or Glory

The concept of the noble death is as old as time itself and doesn't start with it, but the idea lives in every aspect of western culture... in legend, history, film and music. Even sports... Consider the "sacrifice fly."

I have, as a boy raised on western movies, war movies, and GI Joe (dolls for boys are cool as long as they are dolls who kill), spent what may in modern times be considered an inordinate amount of time considering how I want to "go out." Or maybe not so inordinate if our nation's current fascination with the idea of "heroic death" is taken into consideration. I do tend to think that sometimes the words victim and hero are seriously confused, but that's another story altogether.

What I'm saying is that I don't think it's all that odd, given the cultural obsession with immortality and mythology, that I've spent many an hour thinking about what I want to be known for when I go.

Backtrack, though. Everybody wants to be remembered fondly for eternity, but for the most part, nobody wants to go right now, despite the amount of time spent thinking about how it might happen when it happens. And how we'll behave in the face of the end. Funny how that works. Beyond thoughts of how we would prefer to go, peacefully in our sleep or during an act of heroism, nobody wants to talk about death at all.

It just might be the one thing that we should be discussing. It is, after all, the one thing we know is definitely going to happen, at some point. (please no "and taxes" jokes here. It's just not that original, ya know?) If you know it's coming at some point, and you don't want to go out like a punk, it is definitely an idea you might want to pay more attention to while you've got the chance.

Don Juan said to Carlos (if you're not a Castaneda-gnostic) that death is always stalking you and could come at any moment so you must remain constantly mindful of your words and needs. After all, you don't want your last words on earth and hence what you will be remembered by, to be petty or hurtful. Whether or not you believe The Teachings of Don Juan was a serious anthropological study is irrelevant. It's a good thing to think about. If you're serious that you care about such things, you'd best be careful.

I've accepted fully that I will probably not die one of those noble, heroic deaths anyway. I think I knew that at some point in late '77 or early '78 when the truth of Elvis Presley's passing came to light. It was at some point during those months that it struck me that there was a likelihood that any of us could leave this mortal coil, fat, bloated and straining another mortal coil into the porcelain.

I've accepted fully that there is a good chance that I will not live to 118 and move on peacefully in my sleep, having made peace with all creatures I've made contact with in any way. Hell, at the time Elvis strained himself into the hereafter I couldn't comprehend being 40 though, let alone 47. Yet here I am. A couple years ago, on a drunken lark I wandered into one of those palm reading places and a pretty, dark girl, with a trace of a mustache, looked at me with big, troubled eyes and told me that I would meet an untimely end but she couldn't say when. She said I would have a short life. (It nearly became shorter when I asked for my money back for getting a particularly shitty reading). Short is relative. I don't feel my life has been short. I remember reading at some point in the late 70s, about the same time that Elvis tried to pass a 700 lb. quaalude, that the average lifespan for a male in regions in Southeast Asia was 35. Weighed against that I think I've done okay.

Men I know who are roughly the same age have protested violently (or nearly so) when I've referred to myself as middle aged. I can only laugh at them. Really. The average lifespan of a white American male is still less than 80. Where does that leave me now? Changing the semantics doesn't change that. I'm not going to fall back on bullshit like "you are only as young as you feel" because if I believed that at 7 this morning my age would have been about 80. The three rings of darkness under each eye aren't exactly indicative of teen idol status.

People have said to me, "you look young for your age." That's nice of them but it's not true. I look 47 and maybe older, given that I know people older than myself that are less weathered and leathered. I'm okay with it.

I'll cut this short. Time=Age=Death. It is what it is. It's all good. We are born with a one-way ticket in hand. I'll defer to Conrad here. His words say it all for me. I don't find this depressing. Again, it is what it is. It's all good.

"I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid scepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be. I was within a hair's-breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say."

For myself, in the end, no matter how I go, saving children from a burning orphanage, or sitting right here in my chair tapping out more digital vanity like this, or however... Just follow the instructions. Let the doctors harvest what's still usable. Burn the whole. Bollocks what's left out over the rail of the Staten Island Ferry. I have only one wish and that's to not take up any more space than I already have.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

And I think it's gonna be a long, long time...

A quiet, rainy, Saturday in Brooklyn, just the way I like them... When you speak for a living there is often no greater comfort than not speaking at all. There are weekends when I go so long without speaking that I don't recognize my voice when I finally venture forth into the world of the living. The sound is jarring, an alarm clock after a few hours of broken sleep.

At the bodega:

And five dollars quick picks for the lotto... that's it, thanks. Have a great day!

And back to silence until a neighbor intervenes:

Great, thanks. How are you? Good! Have a great day!

And slip back indoors like a ghost.

It's Easter weekend, or Resurrection Weekend, as a co-worker calls it. I admire her faith, and the joy with which she practices it, seven days a week. She is no slacker with anything in her life and less when it comes to Jesus. It's a joy and a faith that I don't share, but her joy is infectious and makes me happy. I've never heard her speak ill of anybody in any context. That's not a shared thing either. I am judgmental and sharp-tongued. It's not something I'm proud of but it comes as naturally as breathing. There is a lesson here. For the meanwhile, this is another holiday I don't observe. I don't feel it. It's been said though that you can't wait for God to come to you because that's not going to happen. You have to go to him with an open mind and an open heart. I'm not possessed with either of those, yet.

And wouldn't it require speaking?

A few items of note--recent events:

The invitation came earlier this week for a 30th High School Reunion. It has been that long! There are people I've not seen nor heard from or about since walking down off the dais by the old bell in late June of 1979. There is a reason for that--nothing against them really, but my escape was planned for years before that. Jettison the old life and lighten the load for speed. No real destination in mind. Simply distance. They were not good times and in all honesty and sincerity, there is little nostalgia. The question is often asked, what would you do differently if you could go back and do it again? These are not notions I entertain. Not even a bit. Life is good here in space. They'd have to drag me back kicking and screaming and if forced to repeat it, I'd lean in loaded and cocked and take one for the team.

The invitation comes on the heels of watching a flawed but watchable little film called BANG BANG, YOU'RE DEAD. The quote transcripts on the IMDB page spell it out better than I ever could. The short one speaks volumes, from the main character, Trevor:

"Jenny, I don't mean depressed like your dog died. I mean where you feel like you've got nothing to lose where you don't, you don't care if you live or die. That kinda of depressed. You ever been there?"

High school.

It was no surprise. I've been "reconnecting" with people, old schoolmates and family recently, through Facebook. My experience with this Facebook phenomenon is not unique from what other people have told me. You get these invites from people you've not had any contact with in years. You don't remember ever having been friends with them in school, or even speaking to them all that much about anything. Moreover, if you force yourself to recall the details, you may remember that you didn't even like some of them, and if the fierce punch-ups serve as evidence, they really didn't like you.

Just being honest here...

You have to wonder how they remember things. Do they even remember at all? What exactly are they doing? What are they up to? Is it about making peace? I'd like to think the motives are pure. Or perhaps it's just curiosity. I'm open to the idea that they've lived and grown, and that the whole thing is about making things right. In fairness, the woman organizing the event is someone I do remember fondly. She is someone, like my Christian co-worker, I don't recall ever having an ill word to or about anybody. I do admire this sort of person.

It's made me think about things though. It's made me wonder if my escape plan was at all successful. Life is mostly good though so I'd have to say yes. Perhaps it's time to face the past and get complete closure once and for all.

I've also, through Facebook, reconnected with some family members that I haven't seen nor spoken to in decades. Yes, for those of you who have never been estranged from family and can't comprehend that distance, it's been decades! The first step was a wonderful lunch with my cousin Doug and his family. It had been, if memory serves, 22 years since I'd last seen Doug and his wife Barbara. Their children are grown now, and successful, and about to have children of their own. They were in grade school when I last saw them. It's strange putting my head around that.

I don't know what events created the distance in my immediate and extended family. No specific events anyway. I'm not the only one that hit the ground running. My brother David disappeared off into the Southwest ether and only resurfaces now and again around holidays and birthdays. There have been others too. Yet now everybody seems to have landed on the same page, reading the signs that it's time. The motives here are good and pure, I believe. It's not like there are huge inheritances to be gained from any quarter. No money. No property. It just seems like everybody decided independently that it is overdue.

This again, is not without moments of sadness. Another cousin, Gordon MacKenna, whom I hadn't spoken to in an age, and had only recently found me on Facebook, was found earlier this week, dead in front of his computer at 53. I'm still processing this news. In one sense it was like reading an obituary for a stranger that I'd only met a couple times and didn't know. In other senses it strikes me as incredibly sad in the way that we might mourn relationships that never got off the ground. Gordon did appear to be making an awful lot of effort with everybody in the clan. He wasn't particularly well loved though and his actions in recent years, were to my understanding, pretty vile. I get squirrelly though speaking ill of the dead, so I'd prefer to think of him as an extremely misguided soul, and apparently desperately lonely. I understand lonely. I've been there too.

I'd be lying though if I said his death didn't resonate. It's not just that he was only 5 years my elder. Sitting dead in front of your computer, which he used a great deal to connect to the world (sound familiar?) just seems so sad. There is a good chance, being that I spend so much time pecking away on this little box, that's how I would be found. I only hope I'm not looking at something embarrassing! I'm a little embarrassed that this was one of the first thoughts that went through my addled brain when I got the news of Gordon. Clean your cache regularly, clowns!

So it's about words that begin with "re." Resurrection, reunion, and just maybe redemption. I can't help but believe these reunions are largely about redemption. I can't help but think they're about doing the right thing and coming clean.

I've been thinking a lot about this pending high school reunion. My first response upon hearing about it, having not given it much thought, was yeah sure. I'll do that. There has been some doubt since then, and the appearance of the invitation in my inbox gave me pause. I'm pretty certain I'll go through with it, but it is not without some trepidation that I plan my return trip. Fear and doubt though... I am not yet cleared for re-entry.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ill-advised Strategy to fight Hate?

Is BANNING HATE GROUPS progressive, or does it drive them underground, where it's harder to tell what they're up to?

I'm never unhappy to see them get grief from any quarter, but I do have some fear that such legislation puts the rest of us at a disadvantage. Curtailing free speech also sets a bad precedent and leaves everybody vulnerable in the long run.

Government attacks on 1st Amendment rights in The United States in recent years make this a relevant issue, despite that this story is from Germany. While I'm sure the German lawmakers are well-intentioned in this case, we all know what they say about good intentions.

It's simply easier to fight an enemy who remains in the open.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Medium is the Weapon

Whatever, call me Martial MacGregor...

CelticGods posted this information as a comment on another post but I thought it deserved front page.

FOX (faux) NEWS Fought for the right to lie

FOX NEWS RIGHT TO LIE UPHELD IN COURT

And now they're punishing honest people, and will probably win.

Further evidence that our lives mean less than nothing to the people at the top.

Whizz Quiz

Alternate title: The Peasants Are Revolting

If you are ever required to pass a urine test to collect government benefits that you have paid for out of every paycheck you have ever received, give them what they want. Bottle your urine and mail it to your state senator, congressman, city council people... the lot of them.

Render under to Caesar the things which are Caesar's...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The War On Poverty

That's my catchy headline. That's my attention grabber. The phrase I really want you to consider is "The War Against The Poor." That's what is happening in this country. It's no exaggeration. The richest Americans hate the rest of us and that has become increasingly evident, going far beyond the slobs at AIG and other corporations blackmailing us into a bailout and then using the money to party and dance on the grave of the dead economy. They think we are scum.

Yes, I'm angry. Does it show? My latest outrage is fueled by this latest story that many states want to pass LEGISLATION THAT WOULD MAKE DRUG TESTING MANDATORY for anybody on public assistance.

Excuse me?

No executive at any auto manufacturer, banking institution, or insurance company has been asked to piss in a cup to collect their welfare money, but now a person whose job has been cut due to the vulgar excesses of their bosses will have to test to collect an unemployment check? That is beyond insulting. Parents who have lost their homes and livelihood will have to test to get food stamps so their children don't starve?

Excuse me?

And this fat bastard from West Virginia has the gall to say that "Nobody is being forced into these programs." That is sickening and a good example of just how out of touch the people that run this dump remain.

I repeat: These people hate us. They wouldn't piss on any of us if we were on fire, let alone piss in a cup to prove they were worthy of our bailout money.

Yes, I am angry. I am furious and sickened.

These latest attacks on the poor are shameful. Expect more to come. They are out for our blood.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jersey is pro-Bush

or anti-immigration or something...

But it looks to me like they plan to BRING BUSH BACK!!!, and ban Brazilians.

Oh, the horror...

The horror...

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The stars are very very far away...

Long before the internet boom and long before the Yahoo IPO, there was Jonathan Swift. And now there there is Wikipedia, and you can believe what you read there or not, but the Wikipedia folks put it this way:

Swift describes the Yahoos as vile and savage creatures, filthy and with unpleasant habits, resembling human beings far too closely for the liking of protagonist Lemuel Gulliver, who finds the calm and rational society of intelligent horses the Houyhnhnms far preferable. The Yahoos are primitive creatures obsessed with "pretty stones" they find by digging in mud, thus representing the distasteful materialism and ignorant elitism Swift encountered in Britain. Hence the term "Yahoo" has become synonymous with "cretin," "dinosaur," and/or "Neanderthal."

Far be it from me to pass judgment on the human race, but sometimes that sounds just about right. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised. There are times, being also guilty of digging through the mud for shiny stones, that I even surprise myself. Maybe the truth is that we are all part Yahoo and part Houyhnhnm, in varying degrees, sometimes both within the same day, or hour even. I do try, putting more effort into it some days than others, to remain level, four-legged, and rational. No delusions though. When I'm not digging in it, I'm looking down into it. I want those shiny stones.

But I digress. I always digress. I wake up every morning and forage in the digital mud for shiny stones. Yahoo (the new Yahoo), for me, is the source for two things: Weather, because God forbid I'm caught unawares in a situation that would undo the crease in my trousers, and my daily horoscope. I've become fascinated by astrology. It's not so much a fascination with astrology itself but a fascination with the fascination for astrology. It's yet another "higher power" that I can't really put my faith in, but can't discount either. Who am I to dismiss it entirely? Yet it's part of my daily routine. Today's astral wisdom: You're in the middle of the madhouse today, no matter where you may be. Work, school and even your home seem filled with people who all want a part of you -- try to call for reinforcements! Too late. All my friends have other plans, and I'm too tired to invoke the devil under the sink. We're going to have to wing it in Brooklyn tonight.

The most cutting indictment of the daily horoscope I've ever encountered came a few years back, while out tempting my own romantic fate. I was joking, but she didn't know it. Of course she didn't because we had really only just met. What kind of buffoon would look a woman in the eye, especially a beautiful, sexy, tattooed, downtown gypsy woman ("I'm not dark and scary. I'm just drawn this way.") and ask, "What's your sign?" She rolled her eyes, looked away for a moment and looked back and replied, "The stars are very very far away."

Indeed.

There are a ton of them out there though, aren't there? They seem to form shapes too. Gods and monsters, some of them so clearly gods and monsters and noble beasts you could almost start thinking about intelligent design.

Almost.

Stars, mythology, cards, dice, chicken entrails, UFOs, religion... shiny things dredged from the sludge. Or not? Again, who am I? Agnostic, but rarely dismissive.

I believe in Jonathan Swift. I have used the word "Swiftian" in conversation. He makes more sense every day, if you're paying attention.

The stars though: How many years does it take for their light to get from them to us. It's strange to think that by the time we see the light, the whole big ball of gas might have burned itself right the hell out.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

All apologies?

Hardly! Rupert Murdoch today released an official "apology" for last week's publication of a blatantly racist editorial cartoon by Sean Delonas:

"As the Chairman of the New York Post, I am ultimately responsible for what is printed in its pages. The buck stops with me.

Last week, we made a mistake. We ran a cartoon that offended many people. Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted.

Over the past couple of days, I have spoken to a number of people and I now better understand the hurt this cartoon has caused. At the same time, I have had conversations with Post editors about the situation and I can assure you - without a doubt - that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation. It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such.

We all hold the readers of the New York Post in high regard and I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community."

What is he really saying here? It seems to me a complete denial of intent, but based on the history of the editorial content of The New York Post and other Murdoch media outlets, it's too transparent. This is not an isolated incident. His claim that they will attempt to be "more attuned to the sensitivities of our community" is an outrageous lie. They had many opportunities to do so before last week. And what's this about "sensitivities" anyway? It's not about being sensitive. It's about sensibilities. People with any sense saw the cartoon for what it quite obviously was. He's not going to say he's sorry people are so sensitive???

Fuck him, and his papers, and TV stations, and his dog. He can keep his insincere apology. This further exposes Rupert Murdoch and his editors for what they are.

Small, Small World

Okay, call me immature...

Wait... we've been down this road before...

But...

Imagine my surprise today when I had to contact someone named Dick Land. It tops (no pun intended) when I had to contact a man named DICK WEEKLEY.

And yes, he answered the phone, "Hello, this is Dick Land." I hung up immediately and decided on e-mail instead. Call me immature...

The jokes are far too obvious, but the dollar signs tripled up in my eyes like a Vegas slot machine. Imagine, if you will, a theme park, for those so inclined (or even prostrate or maybe waiting standing on line impatiently, where nobody will ever sing, "It's a small world, after all."

It would seem though that the ever so industrious people of The Republic of China have HAVE BEATEN ME TO THE PUNCH.

Perhaps they will offer franchise opportunities?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How far have we come

when one of the three largest news dailies in any major market, particularly a locale which is said to be the bastion of liberalism, publishes THIS RACIST GARBAGE

I encourage any and/or all of you to speak out against this. Write to The New York Post. All their top editors and advertising contacts have e-mail addresses available online. Write to their advertisers first. Boycott. Please. It's about time we showed these creeps the pimp hand. The majority of their major advertisers will have corporate contacts on their websites. Google is our friend.

My letter to Richard Johnson and other members of The New York Post staff, including Sean Delonas, who has polluted the media for far too long:

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I'm writing to express my utter disgust with the Sean Delonas cartoon published in The New York Post today. I have copied my letter to him below. I will stress, however, that my primary displeasure is not with Sean Delonas. I'm not naive enough to believe we live in a city and a world without hateful racists. My primary displeasure is in fact, with the editors of The New York Post for allowing violent rhetoric of hate to be continually published within its pages. This is just the icing on the cake compiled of layers of bizarre hateful entries onto your editorial pages. Please know that whether or not you terminate your contract with Mr. Delonas, I will be contacting advertisers en masse, and organizing others to do the same. Mr. Johnson, there is no place in our city for this. This is NOT a First Amendment issue. This is about Decency.

My letter to Sean Delonas:
Mr. Delonas,

I am sure I have not been the first today to express disgust at your editorial cartoon published in The New York Post, February 18, 2009. This has nothing to do with politics, sir, nor whether or not I agree or disagree with the new economic stimulus package.

Certainly sir, you are not unaware of the historical context of the portrayal of African-Americans as apes. This particular brand of virulent, racist journalism was widely practiced at points decades ago. We were shown examples when I was in journalism classes, also decades ago. We were told in these classes also that ugliness of this ilk was distant history.

Imagine my surprise then when I thumbed open a co-workers copy of The New York Post this morning and saw your latest. Mr. Delonas, I am not unfamiliar with your "work" and I've always thought you to be a bilious, wretched, racist, homophobe. You have today, however, reached a new low. This cartoon is not only racist, but it is obviously a very thinly veiled call for assassination. It goes beyond bad taste and strikes me as out of line with even the First Amendment.

I will be sending copies of this letter to The New York Post, as well as the Investor Relations and P.R. departments of as many of their advertisers as I can find. I will be forwarding calls for your removal from The New York Post and any of their syndicated affiliates. I will be contacting neighborhood civic and religious organizations. I'm here today to tell you, Mr. Delonas, that there is no place for you among people of conscience. You have been served notice. Your time is just about up.

With profound disdain,

MacGregor Rucker
Brooklyn, NY

It's time to deliver the message. We are fighting back.

RELATED: Attorney General Eric Holder says we are a NATION OF COWARDS. I happen to agree. He has taken a lot of flack already for these comments. The GOP's official line is that the accusation is "reprehensible." I believe, on the contrary, it takes a courageous patriot to "man up" and speak out about what he thinks could help his country meet its true potential.

We are utterly yellow-bellied on the subject of sexism also.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Should we talk about the weather?

Yes, let's TALK ABOUT THE WEATHER!

Okay, let's not.

New Yorkers spend an inordinate about of time, it seems to me, discussing the weather. That wouldn't be nearly so annoying if nice days rated more than a quick mention like oh my what a beautiful day, blurted out over the shoulder in a rush on the way to someplace else.

The irony is that the lengthier conversations are usually held out on the pavement when it is either too hot or too cold. It's always one or the other in New York City. Too hot or too cold. People here spend all winter complaining about the cold, and all summer griping about how they can't wait for summer to be over.

And the linked story above tells me only that I can expect to spend hotter, rainier days standing out IN the weather, discussing it.

Great. I've been thinking that's just what I need. Now I don't have to worry about planning my summer.

Many of pithier conversations these days have been via text and instant messages. I find these mediums to be the conversational equivalent of a steeple chase. It is often necessary to reread them later because of uncertainty that nuances might have been missed, or that I might have said something that could be somehow misconstrued. Both scenarios are usually the case.

Then conversely, many "face-to-face" conversations are not conversations at all, because with the exception of a few canny friends and acquaintances, the people I'm with are carrying on text messages rallies with someone else. Okay, so maybe I'm crashingly dull and this is a survival technique, but I can say this for myself: I do try.

I've watched a half dozen people walk into a bar or lounge, take a table together, and within 10 minutes, 4 of the 6 are conversing by text or phone with someone outside the group. The other two become happy spectators and kibbitzers... and so on. I won't even go into my biggest pet peeve, and that's those who go see a live performance and spend the entire show texting some absent other about how great it is to be at a live performance... presumably to be texting someone else about how great it is.

Perhaps I am just old...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Yes... there I've said it!

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!

There, I said it again!

I believe, perhaps, that I've misrepresented myself over the years as too crabby and cynical to acknowledge what the most practiced cynics refer to as a "Hallmark Holiday." The truth of the matter is, giving the day mention in a negative light, only exposes a softer heart in a person that would prefer that the holiday might live up to it's name in a way more meaningful to one's self.

Yes, the day has been commercially exploited, but what holiday hasn't? Yes, people in love should express their feelings 365 days (and nights) a year. That said, what in the world could possibly be wrong to take one extra day a year to celebrate romantic love? It doesn't really matter if you have some special relationship to fete on Valentine's Day. Why not just celebrate the idea of it anyway? We've all loved passionately. We've all lost painfully. That's just the way things go.

I do believe, with all my heart, that even those of us/you/them that are most skeptical of romantic love, secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) long to feel it again, whether permanently in some eternal storybook way, or even just in a "live-for-the-moment" sense.

And for the most adamant naysayers... I don't believe you. Ha! I DON'T BELIEVE YOU!

So for those of you who are happily in love, and for those of you who are not at the moment... for those of you who stand steadfast to disbelief... for those of you who live by it...

I tip my hat to all of you... Or I nod my Gel-Helmeted Johnny Bravo head to you.

Happy Valentine's Day. Raise a jar to love today.

And a musical recommendation for the day. The Heartless Bastards are decidedly not heartless in any sense of the word. Their latest release, The Mountain, is absolutely beautiful... strange, droning, haunted, hopeful, crunching power ballads (not in the hair-band power ballad sense) and jaunty, strutting rock, neo-bluesy numbers... just a great album.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Crime & Punishment?

I don't know what to make of THIS CASE of a 9 year old boy, charged with the premeditated killing (note I will not use the term murder) of his father and another man. Seems an all around tragedy, really.

We, as a culture/society, seem all too willing to take credit for any successes and good deeds a child does, but all too ready to throw up our hands and punish children to the fullest extent of the law when things go wrong. This is, of course, an extreme case but it evokes a lot of questions about this business of punishing minors as adults. It doesn't seem moral to have allowed this practice to begin with, let alone to allow it to continue.

We continue to tell children that violence is no solution, but turn and lead by example and murder and facilitate murder all across the globe.

We delude ourselves and say that we offer the best of all possible worlds for children, and absolve ourselves of any guilt when things go horribly wrong. We call these children aberrations when perhaps their behavior is only the logical conclusion of our own example.

I'm a bit confused though. What do you do with a child that's gone to this extreme? In 10 years we would have allowed this child to enlist and taught him to kill without remorse... It all gives me a pain in the pit of my stomach.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Infinite Disjointed Narrative

no disrespect to the late David Foster Wallace intended... yet...

(note the ellipses)

400 pages (or roughly one third) into the most challenging narrative I've ever encountered, I'm beginning to wonder once again about critics, and critical acclaim in general. It would be entirely unfair at this point to pass my own judgment on Infinite Jest. There may actually be something to it far and beyond a seemingly rough collection of what may or may not be several novels (or rambles) set in and around what may or may not be a futuristic vision of The United States.

I've always fancied myself an advanced reader, and never one tied to traditional narrative structure. This one makes me question my standing though, among the ranks of enlightened fans of "the novel." The leaps from tense to tense, atop the bounds from setting to setting, from scenario to scenario, and so on, have quite frankly made me somewhat insecure. I'm hesitant to throw up my hands and say, this truly is the Infinite Jest. That this is merely an extended ploy to put pseudo-intellectuals into a typically pseudo-intellectual quandary... that this might just be what a malevolent cynic like Goebbels would have called, "the lie so big that everybody believes it."

Greater minds than my own, or perhaps greater cowards than myself, or perhaps those who've finished the book (?) haven't a single negative thing to say about DFW's magnum opus.

I was always proud to claim, with all sincerity, that I understand novels like Naked Lunch--or particularly novels like Naked Lunch, another challenging read--and that I carried away from it meaning... reflections, albeit horrid reflections, upon the human beast. Naked Lunch was not 400 pages long, let alone 1,100+ pages long. It seemed to me, admittedly not on the first read, to be cohesive and complete.

My fear with Infinite Jest is twofold: 1) that I am missing something important, and 2) that I will complete it having not missed a thing.

I have no point of reference aside from suspicious raves from critics. I know nobody who has read it, but would welcome any reliable source that might come along and pat me on the back and say, "stick with it, Old Man. It's worth it."

So far it's given me little more than an understanding of the word "infinite."