Friday, May 31, 2013

Infinite Jest Ad Infinitum

This particular post represents two broken promises:

1) There had been a vow that I would never again mention David Foster Wallace's Ininite Jest.

2) I only recently claimed I would from that point on only post original  content.

Two birds.

One stone.

I'm posting an article about Infinite Jest, from Dangerous Times.  How can anyone resist having a 1200 page novel broken down into 25 digestible tidbits, beginning with this morsel...

If, by the virtue of charity of the circumstance of desperation, you ever chance to spend a little time around a Substance-recovery halfway facility like Enfield MA’s state-funded Ennet House, you will acquire many exotic new facts. You will find out…
That chronic alcoholics’ hearts are – for reasons no M.D. has been able to explain – swollen to nearly twice the size of civilians’ human hearts, and they never again return to normal size. That there’s a certain type of person who carries a picture of their therapist in their wallet. That black and Hispanic people can be as big or bigger racists than white people, and then can get even more hostile and unpleasant when this realization seems to surprise you. That some people really do look like rodents. That certain persons simply will not like you no matter what you do. That over 50% of persons with a substance addiction suffer from some other recognized form of psychiatric disorder, too. That purposeful sleep-deprivation can also be an abusable escape. That you do not have to like a person in order to learn from him/her/it. That loneliness is not a function of solitude. That it is possible to get so angry you really do see everything red. That evil people never believe they are evil, but rather that everyone else is evil. That it is statistically easier for low-IQ people to kick an addiction than it is for high-IQ people. That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness. That cats will in fact get violent diarrhoea if you feed them milk, contrary to the popular image of cats and milk. That it is simply more pleasant to be happy than to be pissed off. That pretty much everybody masturbates. That different people have radically different ideas of basic personal hygiene. That, perversely, it is often more fun to want something than to have it. That having sex with someone you do not care for feels lonelier than not having sex in the first place, afterward. That God might regard the issue of whether you believe there’s a God or not as fairly low on his/her/its list of things if s/he/it’s interested in re you.
- pp. 200–205
Click here to read entire article... 

It speaks for itself, doesn't it?  If you doubt a word of it, you've probably never been to Ennet House.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Great Gatsby (are spoilers possible?)

It is worth considering that there is never a good time, nor enough coffee to begin to re-analyze The Great Gatsby and how it may or may not resonate with one's own life and the effort's one has made escaping his own past.  Maybe it's better to simply skip across literature and the arts like a flat stone on a lake, never troubling yourself with the depths that you'll discover soon enough when you lose momentum and with that last slap sound and a ploonk, disappear.

Some of us just have to be nosy though. It's the way we're wired. We can't mind our own business.  We peek in windows. We inspect medicine cabinets in our friends' homes. We eavesdrop.  Worst of all, we pick scabs, pay attention to aches and pains, ask doctors' opinions, examine our own motives, and internalize what we read.  That last bit is the worst!  How many times have I dug too deeply and found ailments that demand redress and from all appearances, are incurable.  You can't undo what's been done, after all.  If you amputate your own arm there is technology to replace it, but it's not the same as the original.  There are many decisions like that. Some even seem pretty inconsequntial when you make them, but have cataclysmic results.  Others seem huge and lifechanging, but frustratingly yield nothing. What's done is done in either case.  There is no going back to change it.  It's so ironic then that it can come back and bite ahold of your ass and drag you into a hole where you're left with just what you're left with.

So you start again and hopefully make better choices on the next turn.  Or you make the same one's end end up worse. Remember that old cliche about the definition of insanity... Or the words of Santayana whom so many quote but few heed.

I've made so many decisions, both good and bad since I first read Gatsby.  Ive made many more since the point after several readings when I became aware of my own futile efforts to outrun my own past and reinvent myself as a newer, grander version -- the one I would be in love with and everyone else morseo.  Someone else. Anyone else! There was that moment of triumph at first that I connected with literature in that special way that I was told "intellectuals" connect with literature. Then there the inevitable sting! This self awareness thing can hurt, evem in small doses!

My relationship with Gatsby is long and complicated, beginning some 30-plus years ago as a freshman in college.  It has been, at times, a mystery, an enigma, a friendship, a love affair, a love-hate thing, and an estranged family thing.  It was, at times, several of these at once.  It's a novel I've often listed among the top five novels most influential on my life and my world view.  That's not a statement offered lightly.  The truth in it grows as years pass and my understanding of Jay Gatsby grows, and the parallels of his life and mine come more into focus.  

My complicated affair with the international man of mystery and the novel made going to see Baz Luhrmann's adaptation somewhat of an exercise in patience with myself and restraining both expectations and skepticism.  I'm familiar with Luhrmann's other films and was somewhat uneasy with Romeo & Juliet, for example, and I simply wasn't comfortable with him taking liberties with my old friend and lover.  

I'm not a reviewer though, and this is not so much a review as an exploration of my feelings about art and literature -- and maybe the power of the personal connection to art and literature -- so let's cut to the chase.

Really good.

Not great.  

Better than the Redford star vehicle that many are familiar with. 

More true to the novel -- And I'll have to qualify this one.  Jordan Baker, absent in the original film adaption is there, for example.  The narration is more traditional and in the spirit of the book, despite that having Tobey Maguire's Nick Carraway actually penning the "biography" seemed somewhat awkward.  They also missed out on a great introduction by skipping his intro from the first pages of the book.  The cinematography had the look and feel of a graphic novel, and despite my initial discomfort with that, it's been growing on me since last night.  The costumes and sets were stellar.  The entire film is a design extravaganza, but unlike the original film didn't overshadow the screenplay and acting performances.  And the latter were amazing.  Leonardo Dicaprio, in particular, was fairly much how I've always imagined Gatsby, without ever quite putting it to words.  Daisy Buchanan was always more elusive to me, perhaps because I'd internalized the story so entirely that I'd replaced her with any number of delusions I've encountered.  Carey Mulligan, however, captured something.  Tobey Maguire may be getting on just a bit too much in years to be walking around with that same little boy at Disneyworld face on, but one last time for this one wasn't so bad.  He was totally not how I've always imagined Carraway.  

Any more and I risk giving something away, at least for those who don't know the story already.  It really did adhere that closely that there will be no glaring omissions.  How is it that they phrase it back in Brooklyn?  Oh.  I'm not mad.  I probably did myself a disservice by not waiting to see it on one of the larger screens at Bedbug Pavilion in Park Slope.  This film lends itself to the largest and loudest you can find.  

I'm left today though with images of the film -- the ashy wastelands of Queens with Disney/NYC in the background -- and everything else that revisiting the story and discussing it afterwards dredged from the lake.  It's not all bad this time around.  I am more selective about what can stay down there at the bottom and that takes a lot of the weight off my boat and makes it a bit easier to row.  Boats against the current indeed.  

Perhaps more later, as everything that has been brought up settles a bit.  Maybe the good bits will float. Maybe not.  Maybe I should just re-read the book with fresh eyes. It's been a spell.  

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

But hold up!  Don't be so certain!  It may not be you!  Nor me, for that matter.

And here, you will find another interesting, little video essay on how we derail our progress, on both personal and professional levels WITH OVERCONFIDENCE (click to view).

This resonates on a personal level, as I've experienced that it's far too easy to lay back and rest on my own laurels when things are going well.  It may better be described as when things are going my way.  Experience has also taught me, however, that when I rest on my own laurels I am often hoisted upon my own petard.  Not exactly a worker among workers, I'm more productive on an empty belly.

The lesson, and it doesn't seem so uncommon either, is stay hungry, and to stay teachable.  The Ducatti example cited in the video is an interesting example of this principle as a business model, but it applies up and down the ladder.

There is danger in value judgment, particularly in relative value judgments.  There is a difference between 'being better than that guy,' and being the best that you can be.  The latter will always be the most useful measuring stick.

The 'Heaven' example in the video of course gets me to thinking about our scales of morality, as they apply to people who are 'not like us.'  We are in the habit, as a culture, of assigning moral judgment and  hierarchies of good and evil to behaviors that really have no relation to either.  Our way is good.  Their way is bad.  No different than the business model.  'Better than that guy' probably won't rate a trip to Heaven, provided such a place exists.

I'm going to scale the whole thing back to my personal goals.  Things are better than they were, but I'll keep that in direct proportion to how things were for me, and not what you're doing.

The bitterest pill I ever had to swallow...

(apologies to Paul weller)

I tried the better part of my life to live, breathe, and most importantly present Kerouac, and usually only managed on a good day to feel Kafka.

I guess that's a fair definition of irony.  Perhaps it would have been best to take Jack's biography into account rather than live by the autobiographical details that informed his books.  His life was relatively short and it seems a fair portion of it had very little to do with that rambling, shambling, rushing, in-the-moment thrill-ride that came across in the poetry and novels.

Do as I say, and not as I do?  Whatever... The information was there for anyone to see.  Either there was something missing in his message, or an awful lot of the young men from my generation, myself included, very stubbornly chose to ignore the underlying truth.  It always seemed to me though that the sheer momentum of a generation of young, willful joy-riders could break through into something brand new and real.

Except if we were only pretending to begin with... if we were really only faking it in the dire hope that if we could only keep it up long enough it would become reality... I mean, after all, isn't that how everything else comes together?  Every trend?  Every movement?  Every change?

Perhaps not.  History may show that there are other factors that we should have been taking into account, not the least of which was the violent push back we got from the prevailing powers -- that which had already grown immense and had gathered momentum.  A bitter pill to swallow.

There are powers bigger than my dreams and there is no small irony that my dreams, which were only vapor to begin with, would cut like broken glass when shattered.  And it was me, after all, having not gotten all the facts in advance, that dropped these shiny things -- these my only real possessions, made fragile really only by my own inattention to detail in manufacture -- to the hard surface where they would break into countless sharp edges.

It was me also, who having shattered everything into a million pieces, kept sweeping them up and trying to reassemble them time after time.  Each attempt became more difficult as subsequent clumsy spills fragmented them further, until they became sand and slipped right through my fingers.

Those final failures though may have actually become blessings.  Delusion becomes impossible when there is nothing left to rebuild from -- when you wake from the nightmare and realize that there was nothing ever there to begin with.

So what then?  Horror?

Or freedom?

I haven't quite figured that one out yet.  There was the Kafka-esque nightmare.  There was daylight.  What now?  Anyone perhaps can reach these junctures when there is nothing left to go back to, despite the gravity of the past tugging away.  It's like post-Katrina New Orleans.  Tens of thousand of people were bussed out of the 9th Ward and other poverty stricken areas that were rendered temporarily uninhabitable.  Now after the ten years of recovery many of these areas are still uninhabited, or largely so.  The people there, it seems, were always miserable there anyway, so why go back?  To do the same old thing?

I feel no compunction to return to my spiritual 9th Ward, even as I have little idea of exactly how I'll get by where I am, and no idea where I'm going.  It's apparent though that I'm not driving the bus.  I'm sort of the co-pilot and I'm not quite sure yet who is at the wheel.  It may be just one very good driver, or it may be a string of mediocre drivers that I unwisely put in the seat.

I'm figuring it out.

But there is no longer misery.

The Sky Is Falling!

Well no, Chicken Little. It's really not.  It's really not.  It's really doing EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE (click here to view).  If it's that important to you to be right, however, look at it this way.  You are fried either way.

The crispy recipe.  Pull around to the window for pick-up, please.


There comes a point where you have to reconsider how you start your day.  The news seems to make the most sense, but that might just be counterintuitive, unless you stick to The Arts, The Book Review or Film.  Don't even try Real Estate.  That's like reading about an ebola outbreak at the local elementary school.  As a matter of fact, it may be best just to avoid the news altogether, at least until you've had a few cups of coffee and gotten yourself spiritually together.

Put on Bach's Cello Suites.  Sit down.  Pick up a book.  Relax.  It's Sunday and you have no place to be.


There's a lot of shit going on that nobody is going to address until after the weekend.  There is no redress for your anxiety but patience.

But the business... the business at hand.  I think, rather than continually repost other peoples' photos and stories, I'm going to make a concerted effort to produce and publish ONLY my own content.  That way if it's depressing there is nobody to blame but me and no resentments to be had.  There are better minds than mine to look after global warming.

It was a goal I'd pretty much given up on, believing myself to be a bit long in the tooth to be starting over.  It seemed somehow pointless and even a bit boring.  Why now?  Maybe it's really a question of "why not" so that in mind... And this way there can be no disappointment that there is nothing good to read anymore.  Someone told me years ago to write what I would want to read were I in the store looking for something.

Then there was a question of believing that even if there were no new ideas under the sun, that it was worth the time to re-tell it in an original way.

It's time though, rather than to talk about it, to give it a shot.  I'm boring myself here to the point of not caring if the Earth is dying.  Click that link above and watch the video, by the way, if you're feeling inordinately happy and feel you need a leveler.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

If you build it, they will sit..

A little journalistic musing on the deliberate creation of "social spaces" from random outdoor spots (click to read)

This may, to those who have known me for some time, seem to run counter to my practiced misanthropy, but hear me out for a spell.

Countless social commentators and comedians have remarked on how New Yorkers are always walking somewhere really quickly, even on weekends.  That does appear to be true.  "Mosey" is not a verb you'll often hear ascribed to anyone here.  Even the homeless and jobless seem to be going somewhere with a great amount of urgency.

That is until recent years when the good folks who run Metropolis made a concerted effort to create more viable, usable public and pedestrian spaces, including in this process some unlikely spots like the middle of Broadway in Midtown.  Bryant Park, Madison Square Park and Union Square were no brainers.  Just offer more seats so people don't have to roll in the grass in their business casual sort of Tiger Woods outfits and little Laura Ashley flowery flings.  They did it, and people sat.

The Broadway business was another story altogether.  I was skeptical.  The plan to close sections to ease the number of motor vehicles seemed more than reasonable.  Any plan that may discourage people who don't need to drive into town from doing so made perfect sense.  Creating "park" space for people to park their behinds, however, I wasn't behind.

I was wrong.

I've seen people occupying these cafe tables in the center of Broadway at 7:30 in the morning, having coffee, laughing and joking and putting on nail polish, and easing into their day.  The cynic in me sneers, BUT, I can say this.  People less rushed are much less likely to run you down like a stray 'possum crossing the street.  Something appears to be working.  There are more people smiling in Midtown.

The string of parks running down the center of the isle of Manhattan seem now to be, what they were intended to be -- urban oases -- and all we needed was more seating.  We could remark upon the evils of gentrification and whatever also, but I noticed in the last year that there is still a location in otherwise posh Union Square for anyone, young or old, well-dressed, poorly dressed, or undressed, to buy heroin.  A little something for everyone.

I will refrain from any comment on why I have no interest in joining most of these flowering, outdoor conversational spas.  Yes, I'm still a crab, and I'm walking quickly with nowhere to go.  That's by choice though.  It's comforting to know that if I want to sit, I can.  I might yet!  Promise not to tell anyone if you see me plonked down in the center of Broadway.  There are images to keep up.

All kidding aside, the importance of stopping in the middle of whatever one is doing to sit down and breathe cannot be overrated.  Whatever the city can offer to facilitate this is welcome.

Now let's see what happens with these cannonades of empty bicycle racks.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sometimes it's about endurance...

Somewhere in that place where half-informed reflection becomes conjecture, which becomes projection, which becomes insinuation which becomes accusation, which becomes assassination of a more insidious sort than just a bullet behind the ear... it all gets really tired.

Why Rational People Buy Into Conspiracy Theories

Wherein here The New York TImes chronicles a scientist in Westminster (that place in England... yes England, one and the same, the place we silently revere for being the birthplace of all things posh and civilized... and the English who might just STILL be running the show here through the presence of big banks like Barclays.. he said in hushed tones) who has spent a good deal of time studying the human predilection for CONSPIRACY THEORIES (click to read more).

It seems to conclude thusly:  
Psychologists aren’t sure whether powerlessness causes conspiracy theories or vice versa. Either way, the current scientific thinking suggests these beliefs are nothing more than an extreme form of cynicism, a turning away from politics and traditional media — which only perpetuates the problem.

What it appears to me to be breaking it down to is this.  We buy into conspiracy theories for things we are powerless to explain, much the way primitive humans conjured up beliefs in magical rocks, and deities in trees and wind and fish and... well, pretty much anything.  I'm not going to get into a theology argument here either.  

My suspicion is that there are other forces at play here, and that they're rooted in more recent events.  No doubt that all these outlandish accusations flying about have become incredibly divisive.  Some simply defy credibility -- think back just a few years to when Matt Drudge started talking about presidential interns and cigars -- that was one of the more innocuous rumors that turned out to be fact.  That's just the thing though.  We laugh and point fingers at each other when we're sitting around sharing the latest conspiracy.  Then a bunch of the most unbelievable turn out to be true.  So we may in fact just be prone, as the article suggests, to Neanderthal superstitions, and seeing that the Neanderthals are now extinct (despite who and what you thought you saw on the Q train yesterday), superstition might be dangerous to our health. Recent experience has taught us though, to believe the unbelievable, so there may really be things more threatening to our collective well-being than our Neanderthal brains.

Be very careful though, of the measures you take to protect yourself from The Evil Empire, whether you believe that to be Russians, Al Qaeda, China, Koch Brothers or Barack Obama.  Some of the tried and true methods MIGHT JUST BE WORKING AGAINST YOU (click to be frightened).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Time is a cruel teacher... a placeholder

Time is the cruelest teacher; first she gives the test, then teaches the lesson. - Leonard Bernstein.

It is doubtful that anyone is going to point me out as the example of slouching towards the manger of old gracefully, waiting to be born, or reborn if you will, as the Silver Fox. There are many of course who wear their dis-ease or discomfort or panic with less aplomb, or less resignation.  Most of my worry is internal, folded and hung just a little more neatly in mental-emotional closets, and some in sealed chambers that I haven't the courage to exhume just yet.

It is there though, an ever-present collection of aches and anxieties that tug at me.  I pore over this grocery list daily the way I self-consciously make sure that I have pulled up my fly, or check for food in my teeth after a meal. And still I get caught by surprise.

There are those moments of personal revelation when I spring from my chair to sally forth on some mission or another, only to find that my knees surrendered before leaving the chair, and I remain stooped halfway down the hall to the door.  And more demeaning is that no matter how many times I urinate beforehand, the urge is back upon me like a piranha before I am halfway down the hill to the train.

Then there are those worst-of-Middle-aged-Guy moments, when admiring a young woman, when you suddenly realice that she was born about the time you left grad-school.



That's a double-ugh in case you didn't catch that.

Where do you go when you're resigned to the decline, so to speak, but not quite ready to give up the cool ghost. There must be a series of steps between Cole Haan and Walmart-brand Velcro sneakers... Between a hair stylist and an aging Italian in a stained blouse who may or may not help you out with the growth from your ears and nostrils.

I am determined that this not turn into that crisis they talk about. I am more determined to not be perceived EVER as "That old guy who tries too hard.". That may be too late, and perhaps it's unavoidable.  There will be those still blessed with and possessed of youth who are not so kind.

The line resonates, "Then just be yourself.". That is easier said than done, especially when you have moments of surprise when passing mirrors or catching your reflection in a shop window.  There are further more insidious surprises when you encounter surprised behind your eyes.  Dangers lurk for those not transitioning the self-awareness wardrobe of youth to that of... Maturity? You might recoil. There may be rebellion.  There may be all out war, but the battle is lost before you begin to fight.  You can ease into it by making changes in your diet and exercise routines.  You can read self-help books.  You can find religion. Whatever works for you is cool, but you may as well stop fighting.  It is bigger than you.


"Your I's are too close together."

This criticism was first thrown at me in a creative writing workshop back in about 1983.  It took me a few minutes.  How did where my eyes set in my face have any bearing on my most recent masterpiece?   It was a criticism.  That was certain.  It was voiced with a certain amount of what appeared to be derision.  Maybe it was just said with authority.  Authority was problematic in any context.

The pain grew deeper as the play on words came into focus.  Who was this egomaniac to call me egocentric?  He explained:

"If you are going to write about yourself and nothing about your setting -- the world around you -- the people around you -- you'll first have to establish yourself as interesting."  The word 'interesting' was drawn out.  So he wasn't just saying that the writing was boring.  The problem was with me.

It was thirty years later that the phrase came back around, "Your I's are too close together." This time it was in the context of spirituality and healing.  It took nearly as long for it to sink in.  There was less anger this time though, when the meaning of the words came into focus.  This time it was more a feeling of resignation.

The problem was still with me.  It not only reflected in my writing but in everything else as well.  In writing, and in life, there would be no progress until this was fixed.  I counted the number of times the pronoun "I" appeared in the first two pages of a recent project.

Staggering.  There was still nothing to indicate anything particularly interesting or unique that might set me apart or make me different.  "I" wasn't special."  That's not a put-down.  It was the realization that my biggest obstacle was the inability to look beyond the tip of my own nose.

And so today is brought to you by the letter "W" for WE.

: I and the rest of a group that includes me : you and I : you and I and another or others : I and another or others not including you —used as pronoun of the first person plural — compare iouroursus
: 1i —used by sovereigns —used by writers to keep an impersonal character

Origin of WE

Middle English, from Old English wē; akin to Old High German wir we, Sanskrit vayam
First Known Use: before 12th century

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Baby, it's cold outside...

Unseasonable temperatures...

Unseasonable chill... A step above early or late frost but on either end of the season it means you don't want to fall asleep with your windows open.

I'm cold. It's the third weekend in May. It's 50 degrees at 8 am and raining.  It's not like you want to jump straight into a New York City summer, but you don't want to wake up cold, achy and stiff either.  It brings back memories. It kicks shit up. And goddamit it just starts the day with a feeling that something isn't quite right.

But maybe I was going to wake up feeling that way anyway.

It happens.

Get up.  Get moving. Get... Distracted. It won't last. Feeings are like weather. As long as you don't live in the Sahara or Antartica, it changes before you know it.

I had, despite falling asleep around 2 am, awakened before before it was quite light.  It was there.  This sense of impending something, beyond the weirdness of the temperature, had already sunk into my bones like the damp.  It was too late to get up and shut the window so I pulled the quilt tighter around me and curled into the pillows.  The dog was somewhere towards the bottom of the bed breathing heavily.  I let my eyes adjust to the darkness and foggy shapes slowly emerged.  The red LED on my "smartphone" blinked insistently, like a tiny lighthouse with a tiny, red beacon, warning me that I was slowly approaching the day and everything and everybody I might run afoul of during the day.  Sadly, a smartphone is really only as smart as the person who operates it and puts in the information and connects with whomever had already sent messages.  

Were the phone truly, truly smart, it would know that there is only one person that I really want to hear from and it is unlikely he will call unless it is an emergency... and in that case the red warning beacon would still be an unwelcome sight in the darkness.  The trouble is that the mind, chugging along under the strain of too little sleep and too little healthy psyche maintenance, can conjure any number of horrible scenarios that might make that light blink with a dire cry for help from my prodigal son.  

He is 21 years old.  He is crafty and cunning and well-connected.  Yet after all this time I still get the same grip of fear that seized me on the first day I let him walk to school by himself.  And then the feeling of a noose tightening as I waited for him to arrive home at the end of the day.  He doesn't come home every afternoon or evening anymore.  I recall how furious I got when he first started getting home after midnight, and then 1 or 2 or 3 am.  I wanted more than anything to beat him silly and choke him out, but then I would hear the door open and shut.  Then the fridge door would open and shut several times, and only then would I sleep.  I would still poke my head into his bedroom before I left for work to make sure I hadn't dreamed the bit about him coming home.  I would count the dishes in the sink to see that he had eaten, and always smile when I saw that it was cereal.  Always breakfast cereal.  

I miss that peace, and that is ironic, because there was very little peace in living with him.  There were countless arguments, and to be fair to the muse of truth and honesty he is, or at least was, the most inconsiderate little bollix I've ever met.  I'm certain that living together again would be a disaster, yet I miss him anyway.  Or I miss having a real connection with him, and there was one, however problematic at times.  I am confident there will be again, but certain that it wouldn't be like before.  It couldn't be.  So much has changed.  I've changed and from the conversations I've had recently, he has has well.  It just could not be the same, if for no other reason than neither of us was happy with the way it was.  

I still wake up in the wee hours unsettled because I've not heard the front door, nor the fridge door, nor his huge feet clumping off to bed.  It wasn't the only ghost rattling chains at the foot of my bed this morning, but it was there and the message was clear.  Something has been lost; probably not forever but something is missing.  Something is just not right. 

The beacon was still blinking and while I was fairly certain who it wasn't (and it wasn't), the question remains.  Who is it?  What is this day going to bring?  There are days when I just don't want to know -- that I'm actually afraid to know.  What's that about after all this time?  Or is it just that sometimes I feel I simply don't have the strength to face it?  Bring sleep back, dear God, please and I promise... The Foxhole Prayer.  I've a list of those, all promises made and unkept.

Maybe what this is all about is that I'm dreadfully frightened that the Powers-That-Be, and I haven't quite wrapped my head around who or what that is yet which makes it more frightening, are going to call in those debts.  But if He/They is/are all powerful and all knowing and everywhere, then it would be just as likely that I would be taken in my bed, shivering and middle-aged and stupid looking in my baggy middle-aged man boxer shorts.  

So do I get up?  Or do I just throw out one more request?  How about a loaner?  Just a few hours?  C'mon.  I'm good for it.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Uncle Sam Wants You

This photo, which has been circulating around Reddit and various other sites for a couple days, is a great find, because I've become weary of blogging and Facebooking about politics.  It's gone way beyond politics anyway.  It's about generally crappy behavior and a laundry list of fear-based behaviors that have sunk below reprehensible.  This will be my stock answer from this point forward.  Nothing else is really necessary, because this takes aim at the very root of it, and drives a spike through the cold, black, flinty heart of the vampire.

And a name for everything...

"I call this kind of thinking label-locked because people get so invested in what the word for the thing is that they no longer see the thing itself."

The vanity of our words and vocabulary... I've come to an awareness in recent years of a phenomenon that might be called "functional invisibility," that is that things -- people, places, events, otherwise noticeable phenomena -- seem not to exist until they are pointed out specifically, assigned a detailed description, and most importantly, given a name.  Global warming could be a good example of it.  We walk around for years immersed in the symptoms, but with the exception of a handful of scientists, brush it off until Chicken Little tells us that the sky is falling.  It would seem that in this case, the sky really IS falling, despite the Flat Earthers among us who are still deep in denial.

There is, however, a broad spectrum of functional invisibility (similar to the breadth of Autism Spectrum Disorder, if you will).  Take for example the space between leaves on a tree.  Is there a name for this?  Have you ever looked at a tree and looked at the space within and around it rather than focussing on the tree?  Give it a shot this weekend.  The trees are nearly full so it shouldn't be a problem finding a good sample.  Yes, the spectrum is as broad as the number of (insert noun here)s in the world that we don't have a word in our vocabulary for.   I would assert here that any given person's world -- their functional world -- is only as big as the number of words in their vocabulary.  Something has to witnessed personally and assigned a name before it begins to exist.  Thus, the vanity of our language.  Our words.  Our vocabulary.  Note:  I'm not assigning a qualitative measure to this but merely stating what I have witnessed in people around me -- that would be personal acquaintances, co-workers, bosses, journalists, TV personalities and society in general.

I might cite another example as being that weird phenomenon by which certain concepts don't translate from language to language and culture to culture.  It may be outside our realm of experience, so we cannot translate it either in language or even in basic understanding -- until it is pointed out and explained.

But onto Temple Grandin, the woman and the gorgeous brain behind the above quote:  THIS ARTICLE click to read notes how this vanity of needing a name for everything and a too specific explanation for the name, actually limits our ability to understand what are very real things for SOME of our population, but not for others -- or how certain people, just through variations in our Holy Bible of Diagnostics, can become functionally invisible to the world of science and medicine.  Furthermore, they become so married to a specific definition or array of words, that the thing itself becomes invisible WHILE they are looking directly at it.

Having lived with someone (my son) who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome almost ten years ago, I can tell you how dangerous these limitations of language might have been to him -- how it would have certainly hampered our ability to seek out and find assistance for him.  There are still to this day clinicians with a more narrow definition of the austism spectrum, limited by the vanity of their language and vocabulary, who would insist that this is not his problem at all.  Yet even I had no real understanding of the spectrum and exactly how he was different, until I spent a significant amount of time with other children grouped together under a much more broad list of parameters.  There were, despite all the differences in behavior (and personality) among these children, undeniable similarities and commonalities.  It was only after spending this time that I truly understood and appreciated just how different my child was, and how different the world was for him than for me.

The broader lesson here though is how profound our limitations are and become by our insistence that every little thing must be named before it exists.  And then after it is defined in a broad sense that it is broken down to minutiae.  This is of course an important process in scientific analysis, and for our own understanding of what we go through in our own worlds, but there must come a point when we allow for new information.  We have a tendency to shut the door and stop looking after we come to a working program based on what we already know.  New information is... invisible.

This is for me, on a very personal level, so important in my relationship with my son.  There was a time when I viewed him as boxed into a special, closed, little world.  I became terrified for him when he appeared to be shutting down and shutting out the flow of information and detail of what was happening around us.  He was, as I've come to find, neither shutting down nor shutting out anything.  He was closing off other functions of movement and communication so that he could process the experience in a way that I have no points of reference for.  A good (simple) example of this is his relationship to music -- we were sitting one night listening to the Ramones and Social Distortion at crushing volumes and after a bit he became quiet and seemingly withdrawn.  His brother and I continued with our jumping about for a bit.  Later that evening Evan was fiddling with his electric keyboard and I realized he was playing some of the songs -- not uncommon for children on the spectrum to have a facility for music -- but after a few minutes it struck me that he was deconstructing the songs and improvising.  He was mashing them together and hammering away joyously.

Another example:  We were wandering through an art museum in Madrid looking at modernist paintings.  "Modern" art has often eluded me.  He was enrapt.  He looked closely at each piece, and read the tag on the side which described not just the name, but the medium... oil on wood, watercolor etc.  We were standing in front of a Rothko and I remarked that I had never "understood" these swaths of color and how they qualified as art.  Evan looked at me and said (he was about 6), "It's about how it makes you feel.  It's not just color.  The different paints have different textures."  He didn't need the prescribed definition, really.  He was experiencing it outside the box I was in.

Functional invisibility...

And so my life lesson, I suppose, is to keep my door open, and maybe see things the way my beautiful boy sees things.

I need to remain teachable.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Everything you ever wanted to know about porn

But were afraid to ask?  So here we go, answering the age-old question, as posed by bearded existentialist Shabba Ranks, "Where does slackness come from?"

Or rephrased, where does all this pornography come from -- this bane of modern existence that I'm told we're plagued with?  If the above infographic is to be believed, South Florida and Southern California are turning out a yearly bumper crop of harlots and hung gentlemen.

Want to know more?  Well, maybe or maybe not.  It's not quite 6:30 in the morning here and none of these questions seemed really pressing before I opened DEEP INSIDE - A STUDY OF 10,000 PORN STARS AND THEIR CAREERS click to read.

Laugh all you want.  Curl your lip in disgust and despair.  This information is more compelling than you might think.  I may never look at girls named Nikki the same way again!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The truth of the matter...


We could argue this one all night.  It is not my intention to do so.  There are some old saws that really need to be retired though.  Maybe rephrasing or qualifying it would help, but the truth of the matter is that when you have no money and someone tells you what it will or will not buy you anyway, they should fully expect a smack right upside the head.

Update May 15, 2013:  I came across this article this afternoon and it resonated.  I'd never considered it quite in this context, but POVERTY IS A CHILDHOOD DISEASE (click here to read).

It's really easy to poke fun of the poor.  We have People of Walmart.  We roll over laughing at videos on WorldStarHipHop.  There are parodies of the United Way Hunger Campaign ads.  It might just be that we are so inundated by images of things that we feel powerless to prevent or even lessen, that we turn it over.  It might just be too much.

It's not really funny though.

Do you remember a time?

There was a time when you could count on pretty much everything but the most outlandish characters and behavior to go entirely overlooked.  The garden variety alcoholic or addict could come and go, and go about his business entirely unnoticed.  You had to be batshit crazy for anyone to bat an eyelash. Unless of course that anyone was your wife or husband or parent or child.  It wasnt exactly "ghetto.". Let's just say there were some colorful sorts running about day to day. It was easy for a middle class white guy to fly under the radar. The rule, even among the hard nut kids was "leave the white people alone and the cops never bother.". As long as I minded my own business, and I did mostly. It took an awful lot to flap me anyway.  I had my head stuck up my own ass and my own mess to contend with.

Frankie, the blue-eyed Palestinian from Gaza, who owned the bodega on the corner, was a bit more tightly wrapped. He was a great guy and rarely denied anyone credit no matter how gnarly a skell they were, but the clowns used to drive him nuts.  About once a month or so he'd chase someone down the street with his baseball bat, screaming in some variation of the Arabic-English pidgin he used when he was pissed off.

"I swear to God," he told me one day, "I think one time there was a big mental people hospital here and they just open the door and kick everybody out! Now they here make me mental too." But he loved everyone too and was related to half the neighborhood by marriage. His wife was a pretty Irish girl whose family had four generations in Brooklyn.  She was one of about ten children. Half were on Wall Street and the other half were on the street. Or living in the park.  Dope fiends.  There seemed to be one in every family on the block.  At least one. Either in some stage of recovery, some stage of relapse or up in Greenwood Cemetary... The tourist destination for those who still give a crap about famous dead people like Brendan Behan or Basquiat.

It's something just a little shy of nostalgia but I find myself missing the way things were "before the yuppies moved in," as you will still hear a lot around here. Sure, yuppie is an outdated term but it roughly translates to "before the white people moved in.". Yes, there were white people here before but even they will tell you that this was a whiter sort of white that drove the real estate up, and the regular people out. Define it how you like but all the rules changed and it got really suburban and staid, and well... Boring sometimes.

Warm weather sparked backyard barbecues this week -- they used to be out on the front walk by the domino tables -- and memories engulfed me like greasy chicken smoke. There was this wiry little dope fiend named Petey that used to come around every weekend selling steaks and chicken he had lifted from various grocers around Brooklyn.  Word was he had been doing it for years and was so notorious around Park Slope and Downtown BK that he had been forced to hit markets further and further out.  Someone said his photograph was posted in all the D'Agostinos like Most Wanted signs at the Post Office.  He used to drive around with his childhood buddy in a pimped out Nissan Stanza on his sales route.  His pal was also his dealer. Petey was his best customer, apparently. Quite an arrangement.  A match made in.. somwhere.

I bought from Petey a few times.  It never really occured to me to ask how he managed to get all this uncooked meat out of the stores.  I just sort of assumed he knew peopke and that it was a backdoor thing.  It was one sunny Sunday that I had just bought some steaks from him that the little Puerto Rican lady next door asked me how I could eat food from Petey's pants.  I'm thinking, no way.  Really?  I went ahead grilling the steaks and stewing on what kind of germs might be cooking in a heroin addict's pants.  The heat would kill it, right?

The steaks went straight from the grill to the garbage.  The next time Petey came around and the time after that I told him I had no money.  I also stopped accepting invites to barbecues on the block.  I tried.  God help me I tried, but there were visions I just couldn't get out of my head.  And there was no amount of liquor that quell my gag reflex with the very thought of putting pantsmeat in my mouth, no matter how well done.  

Still, I'd sit on the stoop and talk with Petey while his pal was out making HIS deliveries.  Petey wasn't really a bad guy at all. He talked about all the times he had tried to get clean.  All the detoxes and rehabs and religions and shrinks and programs and cures. He had a wife that wouldn't leave him no matter what, and a couple daughters in high school.  I couldn't imagine what his relationship with them was like.  No more than I could imagine how he got 20 lbs. of raw meat out of the Pathmark on 4th Avenue entirely unnoticed.  The family stuff wasn't for me.  None of my business.  The meat stuff wasn't either but I had to ask.

"I have pockets sewed inside my pants," he replied with a big, toothy grin.  Yes, he was one of those rare dope fiends that took care of his teeth.  He told me about that too.  About how the guys on methadone lost their teeth first.  He took meticulous care of his teeth and was proud to say so.  I have to admit they were impressive.  Cleanliness is next to Godliness, or something like that.  All I know is that he must've had legs like Gandhi inside those jeans to fit all that raw swag down there.  I still wasn't eating it ever again, but whatever.  I have to admit I do sort of miss Petey.  He was a-okay really.  Some of the new people don't talk at all.  You say hello, and they may or may not respond.  When they do it is either guarded, or utterly exasperated.

I guess it could be misconstrued that I am make qualitative judgments about the changes in my neighborhood.  Note first that I call it MY neighborhood.  It is.  I've been here for more than 20 years now and I've witnessed the quantum leaps in gentrification.  Gentrification isn't necessarily a bad word in my book, though.  It's more complicated than that.  Many of the changes are good, and those who had the foresight to see that the low rent and Section 8 housing and being left alone wouldn't last -- those who bought cheap and dug in for the long haul -- they get to take advantage of those changes.  The streets are cleaner and safer.  The schools are better.  There is more park space.  There is better political representation.  

Yet there is a loss of something too, and it goes well beyond the loss of affordable housing and a lower cost of living.  There is a certain freedom missing.  It's hard to explain.  It's not that people before minded their business.  Gossip was the neighborhood cottage industry.  Se forma el bochinche was the rule of thumb.  "That's how the gossip starts."  Yet it was innocuous silly chatter.  Everybody did it.  Nobody really took it seriously.  Now, people really get into your business.  Your music is too loud.  The barbecues on the sidewalk are too loud.  This is wrong.  That is wrong.  These new people -- they will tell you what you're doing wrong about everything, and even I have to admit, despite having an opinion on every last thing, that it gets irksome.  It gets tiresome knowing that these new people see you as "other."  Even me.  How (fill in the blanks here) do I have to be to be accepted into the new way?  

But nothing lasts forever.  LIke the indigenous Australians say, there is no such thing as owning land.  Private property is a myth perpetuated only in the last few hundred years.  You don't and never will truly own land.  So these new people have their time for now.  Petey is gone.  His buddy is gone.  All kinds of people have disappeared.  One day I will go too.  

And so will these new people.  

Wednesday, May 08, 2013


And though I am loath to post inspirational quotes... the sanctimonious and the self-righteous often cast them out in front of themselves like rose petals foreboding the imminent regal boredom they are about to inflict upon you...

“to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.” 
 Ellen Bass

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Oh, Death....

Won't you spare me over for another year...

I've been thinking an awful lot about death lately.  Not so much in an obsessive, morbid sense, but there is definitely a heightened curiosity that was never there before.  It could be simply a case of reaching mid-life and being more aware that it's that much closer than ever.  It could be because I've reached that age where I'm going to that many more funerals.  People age.  People get ill. There was this magazine article a while back that said that although the rate of cancer deaths had gone down, the number of people getting cancer between 40 and 50 had gone up.  That had me running to doctor for a friendly finger and a referral for a scope.  That region, the undercarriage if you will, seems particularly vulnerable in men.

Or maybe I spent so much time not thinking about death, and not caring one way or another, that I'm simply making up for lost time.  Whatever the reason, it's been on my mind a lot more lately.  I am, for the first time in my life, wondering what happens.  There are a lot of theories and I've had a lifetime of listening to different factions argue it out.  The atheists, by the way, are the most annoying, if only because they are so Catholic and austere with declaration of, "ABSOLUTELY NOTHING."  People who are always to sure of themselves give me the willies.

One of the old neighborhood birds, Scary Mary, launched from this mortal coil a couple weeks ago and I made my standard, black sportjacket, clean shaven appearance at the wake.  It was really rather surprising to see that not only were a lot of people there -- one wouldn't have gathered from her solitary March to November, all-weather perch on the stoop with her Kool 100's that she had much in the way of family and friends -- but that so many people had so many nice things to say about her.  Nobody had seen her engage in a conversation longer than "nice day, thank Chhhrriiiist!"  Nobody I know anyway. Either she had some secret existence off the stoop and behind closed doors, or I was in a roomful of liars.  Everyone was a fountain of nice words -- so kind, so charitable, neighborly, quiet, inspirational, blah blah.  Feisty.  I love when people use that to describe old people.  She wasn't feisty.  She was mean.  And she hung on for a really long time. Funerals have a way of bringing out the bullshit in people.

I mostly kept my mouth shut.  My most fond, and lasting memory of Scary Mary was her walking off the stoop and smacking some hapless schmoe who crunched her garbage can while parallel-parking.  It was incidents like that one that she was most known for.  A neighborhood legend, even!  Everybody had a Scary Mary story of that ilk, yet nobody breathed a word at the wake.  Who knows?  Maybe she had a public face and a kinder, gentler private face.

And THAT was what really struck me.  I remembered as I bent my knees to the little bench in front of the casket, how many times I'd heard the standard funeral lines:

"She looks good, doesn't she?

"Yah, she looks like she's just resting and she's going to wake up any minute."

"She looks so peaceful."

It was kneeling in front of her lifeless body that it hit me.  She looked really beautiful, and every bit as peaceful and wonderful as people were saying.  Having lived across the street from for the better part of ten years it would have never occurred to me that she was even capable of anything other than a scowl. Her ever red-painted lips were always curled downward in what appeared to me to be utter scorn for the world.  She may have had good reason.  Who knows what she had gone through?  There were stories.  Holocaust survivor.  Depression survivor.  Buried all but one of her children, who (and this was always whispered) wont even talk to her.  She'll die alone, and so on.

I smiled a bit right there, imagining the undertaker wrestling the frown back to something presentable.  Yes, the mind goes strange places when I'm uncomfortable and despite having been to a thousand and thirteen funerals I still get squirrelly.  But perhaps the frown just melted away as whatever lived inside her lifted away and went wherever such things go.  Maybe all the hurt that she held close to her fell away.  All the armor.  Her protection from whatever it was she thought might still be in store for her on this side of The Universe.  

I'd like to think that's what it was, if only because that might be what's in store for me too, at some point hopefully forty years down the line, or even tomorrow.  I felt so much lighter though, leaving Scary Mary's side and walking home.  It was the first time I ever left a wake feeling better than when I walked in, shy of a few from back in the day when we saw the odd friend out with a bash.  This was better though.  Much better.

My ego got the better of me later that day when my brain walked down the inevitable path of narcissism.  Who will attend my funeral?  What will they say?  What is everyone's favorite memory of ME???  I always go there, even if just for a bit.

Thanks, Scary Mary, for this last memory of you, so different than what I expected my last memory of you to be.  Oddly, I sort of expected for some reason that you were just mean enough to outlive all of us.  Proven wrong again.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Give me a sign, if you like.  Send me a smoke signal from your Kool 100's on the other side.  Let me know what I might expect.


Let's get Chinese tonight!

I ran into Ch-ch-chuck coming out of the Chinese liquor store this morning.  Wait.  Let me explain.  They don't sell Chinese liquor, as far as I know, despite that China seems to export everything but liquor these days and we buy it up.  The store is owned and run by Chinese people, and they sell... you guessed it.  Liquor.  And lottery tickets.  The combination makes sense.  Add cigarettes and you'd have the Trifecta, but for some reason you can't do that in New York State.  The Powers-That-Be seem to want to keep the drunks and smokers and gamblers mobile, maybe so they don't gather in one place all day like they did when OTB was open.

So Ch-ch-chuck is walking out of the store at 10 a.m. with his supplies for the morning, and if memory serves that's four half-pints of Popov vodka and a fistful of scratch-offs.  Don't ask me why he doesn't just get one big bottle.  It would probably be less expensive, and he is on a fixed income, having drank himself out of a sweet city job.  I guess old habits die hard.  Time and alcohol haven't been kind to this guy.  Let me tell you that when I first met him he wasn't pink and bell-shaped.  Gravity and testosterone depletion are a cruel hoax that we men suffer.  I'm only about ten years behind him, and I'm not trying to be cruel, but he looks like shit, these days.  I'm not trying to be cruel by calling him Ch-ch-chuck either.  It's just that he stutters -- so I guess I'm not trying not to be cruel either.  I'm just glad he didn't drive the crosstown bus for twenty years the way he speaks.

You kind of have to admire also that he never tried to hide the stutter either.  He was one of the chattiest  chatty bastards I ever hung out with.  And a wealth of information too.  He has read more books than any academic I've ever met, on really diverse and eclectic subject matter.  A photographic memory and driving a city bus on pretty much every route in town for twenty years, and moonlighting in a taxi has made this little, pink mother the go-to-guy for anything New York.  And every other continent too, it would seem.  Ch-ch-chuck should have been a history teacher.

He's also truly the kindest man I ever met during my time drinking.  He would give you the shirt off your back if you'd just sit patiently and listen for a bit.  I guess this is why it's so painful to watch him in decline.  He was never Cary Grant, but when I met him he was built like a man, if a bit rubbery around the middle.  He had teeth.  He didn't shuffle.  He's not anywhere near old enough to shuffle either.  And most importantly, he didn't look off into the distance and struggle to remember what he was trying to say.  He always had it down, even as it took him a bit to spit out the words with all those hard consonants in the way.  It's really disconcerting now to watch him wandering around in his own head searching for the misplaced information.

God forgive me, but I couldn't wait to get away from him this morning.  I was searching equally hard for excuses to pull away and run back home.  One thought kept running through my head.  It was like looking in the mirror but ten or twelve years down the line.  I'd stood on the line at the Chinese liquor store with Ch-ch-chuck countless weekend mornings and afternoons, having just left the boozer or waiting for it to open.  Let me tell you that it was the last place you wanted to wait for your first drink of the day too.  They never separated the liquor line and the Lotto line so no matter what time you went you were stuck behind old Puerto Rican ladies playing all kinds of numbers for themselves and for all the shut-ins in their buildings.  You could die on that line if you were sick for a drink.  Bob Friggin' Geldof could organize benefits for the misfits sweating it out and dying on that line.  Stuttering Chuck and I had toughed it out many times.  We had some great conversations though, but those days seem long gone.

Or not.  There is definitely an element of "there but for the grace of God" in these encounters.  Many of my old barfly pals are scuttling about the neighborhood still.  Some look just fine.  Some look like Hell.  Some, like my stuttering friend, look about ready to melt right into the sidewalk and disappear forever.  And who would remember them or what wisdom he imparted or what deeds he had done?  How many children or old people did he let on the bus when they didn't have the fare?  How many neighborhood kids did he feed?  How may street people did he reach into his pocket for, saying, "Hey, I guh guh grew uppah wit dee dee dese guh guys!" Again, I'm not trying to be mean.  I sort of love this man.  Truly so kind and decent.

And sick.

So there but for the grace of God... however you want to define God.  I am lucky, because I'm not standing here because I am smarter or better than anybody else.  I feel guilty about that sometimes, because I haven't always been the kind one, if you know what I mean.  I got up every day and did what I felt I needed to do for me.  I wasn't Pol Pot either, but there were...lapses of decency.  They say you get second, third, and fourth chances though.  This might be about the hundredth for me.  It would be really easy some days to say "fuck it" and get on that line behind the Lotto Ladies.  Just too easy.  The funny thing is that I've never trusted anything that was too easy so it might just be my own skepticism that's kept me out on the sidewalk talking to the random ghosts of my past.

Yet there are some mornings where it seems perfectly reasonable to throw my hands up in defeat and follow that itch... listen to the voices that ask, "What difference does it make anyway?"  But for today, I'm cool with this. I will not be getting Chinese.