Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Through blizzards and desert heat," without the desert heat

I don't judge the early pagans for worshiping weather, of assigning gods and goddesses to the snow and wind, because when I woke up the other day to see New England cocooned in snow, I wanted to
sacrifice a goat right then and there, say a few words in Latin or Old English, perhaps, and poor out a libation on my stoop, if only to melt a pathway through the ice so I could get to work. My need to sacrifice a goat to Khione, goddess of snow, came about in part by my unpreparedness. The ancient Greeks didn't have Converse back then, but I'm sure their footwear was equally ill-suited to blizzards.

We forget to stand in awe of the effects of nature, though; we have our shovels and salt and snow plows (everyone and their mother has personal plows attached to their Fords and Jeeps here). You can't worship that which you don't fear. God forbid there comes a time when I don't fear snow or the Beauty that waylays the poet in the midst of her journey.

But it's not the difficulties snow brings on me (oh, so much slow trudging) nor the dull, numbing violence of cold that awes me; it's that muted-ness only snow can bring - when the whole world becomes soft and silent, and even the cars seem to tip-toe across town, afraid to wake some slumbering child; and the freshness of newly fallen snow. They say spring is the season of renewal, but it's winter: when the snow reminds us again how much we love the bowing pines and the empty space between houses; how we thank God for hedges and lampposts and even the wire waste bins, which now seem to be made for the express purpose of lifting white mounds of snow up to the light, how even the drab stoops of creaking houses are lovable again and every frosted alley deserves portraiture.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Last Walk

I refuse to believe your forgetfulness, as if you didn’t have an epiphany

when I had an epiphany. We hadn't spoken for some time, your brother had

just won a competition welding bicycles onto the shells of refurbished Impalas, and

Foster Wallace had just hanged himself, though we hadn’t yet heard

and this wasn’t the epiphany. I watched a man in rags on the opposite bank sway in tides,

hunching, unhunching, and you wore such a sensible scarf

for September, paisleys like pond scum rippling out across your neck.

You say you don’t remember the geese’s noisy irreverence or the birch dropping

their gold under our feet, mocking us. I took just enough

steps to keep up, all the while stealing

your private clich├ęs: your self-sacrificing ‘life lessons,’ your 'care deeply’

which you always claimed meant something

other than I meant. But this wasn’t it. I watched you look for his eyes

across the water, because when you see strangers seeing you, you want to wave.

You want to hold him there with you, but while finding his eyes you missed how his arms

arched toward each other, over his head, a wobbling circle,

as if embracing himself or the air. This wasn’t it either.

It was the moment of imbalance: you continuing ahead

in silence while I paused, and saw our man emerge

from the shade: two Canadian geese arching their obsidian

necks away from each other, fighting over something

solid floating out with the tide.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Christmas Letter

The family liked to think itself nomadic, and not only because it implied a certain distinction from permanence and things with roots, but because it rang of something ancient: old and sincere madness. "Nomadic" conjured images of hunters following herds of food, letting their livelihood lead them in a wild way, and even though the herds for this family might be small huddles of private colleges in the Northwest city of Seattle or a host of coffee houses pretentiously adorned with names such as "Vivace" or "Caffe Ladro" or "Appassionato," the family entertained this likeness. This is why the Father said, "We will move farther North and farther West," and this is why the family said, "Yes. We will go with you." And for two years, they lived, clan-like, at the edges of lakes and between mountains. They loved each other - the Father and the Mother and children: the Oldest, the Daughter, and the Youngest - and they loved their massive God, whom they found in renovated warehouses, in schools, in coffee houses, in used books.

But one year, everything changed - as everything usually does - not their love, but their possibilities. They moved apart from each other, each going his or her own way with only words to hold them together, so they chose their words carefully. They tried to create something pithy, like taking all the grapes in a vineyard to make a single bottle of pinot noir or, perhaps, more like the way Conan O'Brien takes national crises and makes a one-liner.

The Oldest moved upward in the ranks of his employer, working stolidly toward success, which might be called "the apex of the nearest radio tower." He filled data sheets, presented data sheets, traveled to be with friends (his great passion) and to escape data sheets. He wore half-zip wool sweaters, worked out of coffee shops, got his exercise playing Frisbee in city parks. He served and would soon lead in his church. When he spoke of himself, he used the words "full-fledged" and "stereotype." But he said these words with a certain measure of self-satisfaction, knowing he was born full-fledged and knowing everyone is a stereotype of themselves.
"All this to say," he said, "things are busy, but full and good." And this was his motto, his driving principle, the mantra of positivism he embodied.

The Daughter finished her schooling and decided to use her new bachelor's degree to work multiple hourly wage jobs across the country from her clan. She made an effort for romanticism (though she knew no such thing existed) by traveling to another water - the cold gray of the Atlantic - and the paradoxical state of Rhode Island. It was here she relearned how to read with means but no end, how to write for herself rather than for professors, how to live through soup cans and punch cards. She used the recycled words "Is it enough?" and "How soon is now?" In Rhode Island, she found the answers were, "Yes," and "Morrissey."

The Youngest was cherished by all because of his youth, which to the rest of the family would be eternal despite his towering height and wide shoulders and increasingly shadowed chin, and because he knew the hidden insufficiencies of words, so he spoke little, letting his louder siblings create the ruckus while he smiled his silent smile. He finished high school in this year of change and began college. Entertaining ideas of working in white laboratories and creating new, unseen, unimagined things, he studied biology and chemistry, and he studied the mechanics of Nerf guns and the beautiful ways in which foam darts weighted with electrical tape could arc through the winter air toward someone else's head. He used the words "collegiate freedom," laughingly, and "well on my way."

But it was the Mother and Father who changed the most, though their children had thought otherwise. It was the Mother who finally said, "This is home," a new appellation for the Northwest, and all the blue mountains covered in snow breathed a sigh of relief at her acceptance. She taught children who needed her, gave them a love not many can or will give, and because of this, she learned about hope, she felt her age, she could look to the future and say with her beautiful smile, "We'll see!"

The Father was employed by the church but worked for the people, in the way that a lighthouse never serves itself but serves the ships at sea. So, it was the Father who used the words "empty nesting," but he meant and later said, "roomier," because he knew there was little difference but perspective between emptiness and space, space to be filled by resurrected sense of adventure, conversation, prayer - unceasing prayer - and grace, which was his favorite.

In this way, the family ended a year of change, looking forward to another year (meaning more possibility), never losing sight of their herds, their nomadic lives.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Writing is Hell

Almost a full month has passed since my last entry. I blame work and new friends and laziness, but most of all, I blame the inherent daunting-ness of writing. Jorge Luis Borges said, "What a writer wants to do is not what he does," which is a little Pauline for my liking, but I can forgive Borges that because he's spot on. I want to write and yet I don't. I don't want to write and yet I can't process anything without it. Without the binding of text I think my mind would bounce aimlessly from pointlessness to pointless, eventually taken up by this New England winter wind and shuffled off to God knows where. Probably to Minnesota or Nebraska, if God operates as ironically as I think he does.

To avoid processing, I've let others process for me: Alice Munro and Toni Morrison and, most recently, Laurie Sheck. Unfortunately, Munro writes a world in which everything explodes in subtlety. Morrison divides everything in two. Sheck writes words all poets love/hate: "sometimes," "always," "enough."

The point being, I'm in a rut of avoidance. More coming soon!


No Summer As Yet

by Laurie Sheck

And no summer as yet, but it will come with its bright peices of whatever,
Sorted by the eye yet still uncaptured,
Greenly branched and various with promise. I'd like to watch it long enough,
Held fast by the laws of its sequencings and shappings, and be so carried, the way the mind goes in
Search of an after that will temper what has come before,

Or sometimes not—: Did I tell you of the man I visited last week, who hasn't lost the ability
To move his tongue, his lips, to laugh or cry or sing or use his voice, yet is unable
To utter any words, just a few unintelligible syllables,
And recognizing this, stares into the face of it
As at the eggs in an opened anthill? I don't know how to think of him. We are so rawly made,
So carried into the harsh and almost-dark.

As if stung in the throat. As if seared by a narrow wire-like blaze
Sharply upon the air and always.

Friday, November 13, 2009

This American Life-ish

As a result of spending the majority of my New England life in the locus of all capitalistic evil (the mall), I have started seeing my workplaces as microcosms representing everything spiteful of American life:

Customers leaving their shopping carts two feet from the shopping cart receptacle = the American lack of motivation to complete projects (e.g. Barack Obama's failure to conclude his inauguration by ceremonially sacrificing George W. on the White House lawn, the Mercer Street exit).

Customers cleverly hiding items they no longer want, hoping no one blames them when I find all 15 on-hand Robinson Home whisks tucked under the basket weave place mats = the American bad habit of hiding bad things in seemingly good things (e.g. using the Spanish-American war as an excuse to colonize small island nations, hiding spinach in my younger brother's pizza when he was three).

Customers' tendency to describe books they want as, "That new book Oprah likes" = the American obsession with stardom (e.g. stick-on "soul patches" during the Apollo Ono rage, hanging out with tax collectors and loose women because Jesus did).

Customers who bring ten Danielle Steel books to my register and expect me to smile at them = McDonald's (e.g. McDonald's).

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Girl and the Pugilist: a True Story

A few weeks ago, while stirring a cauldron of boiling fudge, the word "pugilism" kept rearing its rather flatulent-sounding head, unbidden and flappy. The word wanted to come out of my mouth in a kind of involuntary linguistic ejaculation. I said it to myself. I said it to Hammer. I said it to the 22-lb. batch of chocolate walnut fudge I was making: "pugilism, pugilism, pugilism." I had read the word in a newspaper article shortly before but couldn't remember its contextual meaning. I asked my coworkers, texted my friends, but finally resorted to Googling the definition at home. Nothing excites me quite like learning a new word -- all that potential births a growing ball of pure nerdy energy bouncing around between my larynx and pelvis -- and using it in fantastically original contexts, usually involving fudge, alcohol or cigarettes.

But that ball-baby died pretty quickly when I discovered "pugilism" means, "n. the skill, practice, and sport of fighting with the fists; boxing," and stems from the Latin, pugnus, or fist. Thus, a situation as hopeless an anabaptist at sea: pugilism is, perhaps, the exact opposite of fudge, alcohol or cigarettes.

Words and/or phrases, like pugilism, often lodge themselves in my mind, staying with me for days or weeks, waiting to be spoken. Today, it's the phrase, "Nine times out of ten." A few days ago it was "solipsism," and before that, "effigy." Some words insist on permanent lodging: "brevity," "reify," "inextricable."

None of these words, though, seem appropriate in daily conversation, especially in my new job at Bed, Bath & Beyond; reification is entirely unnecessary and even insulting in the retail industry; brevity is on the cusp of archaism (probably salvaged only by merit of El Duderino); and no one shopping for 500-thread-count Wamsutta king-size sheet sets wants to hear about (or knows the definition of) solipsism.

For lack of an outlet, I have to ejaculate these words without any regard for context or audience. (E.g. At the top of a twelve-foot ladder in the center stock room, with three springform pans under my arm, the sudden urge to say, "Nine times out of ten," overcomes my concentration, so I say it -- this phonetically delicious sentence fragment, culturally poignant, floating in the air around my head -- and then I wonder, "Nine times out of ten ... what? What happens nine times out ten?" I don't really care.)

An obligation to communication faces all of us, and without our participation, beautiful words like "brevity" simply fade into the ether. (Oooo, another good/dying word!) I don't object to the evolution of language (thank Jesus, Mary and Joseph we don't use the words "clepe" or "puissant" any more), but I do object to the peril of Newspeak or a dystopia in which the only phrases that come to people's minds are, "Your mom," and "That's what she said."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Oh, heeeere are the coffee mugs."


While working at Bed, Bath & Beyond, I've learned several important life lessons: 1) Always call a manager to finish a task I don't want to finish; 2) Matching silicone grips on all my Oxo kitchen utensils IS a necessity; 3) My name tag gives me ultimate powers in all things decorative and utilitarian. I can defecate all this nonsense of the benefits of chrome electric mixers over steel electric mixers and they'll buy it, literally, and then buy one for their mothers.

The most gullible customers, not surprisingly, are men, usually between ages 45 and 65 -- men who wander in on impossible quests from their cuckolding wives, men who will stumble through our 4,500 square feet of merchandise wondering which circle of hell they're in, whispering repentances for every sin they think they've committed in the hopes of escaping this modern Cerberus (Bed, Bath and Beyond heads rearing for the kill). So, when I descend, little white name badge fluttering in the AC like seraphim's wings, my job is already done.

Just the other day, I approached a man in his late 50s.
He looked at me and said, "You HAVE to help me. I've been in here for an hour and a half!"
He needed a bathroom mat and a fitted bed sheet, which may sound like an Herculean feat if you're blind, illiterate and paraplegic. Luckily for him, he wasn't any of those, and luckily for me, all I need as a retail associate is a decent memory and articulation; I use soothing phrases such as, "I'll take good care of you," and, "I'll make you feel alright" (actually, I'm often tempted to sing The Doors at work, if only to drown out the Maroon 5 playing on the overhead speakers all day). Phrases such as "complimentary color scheme" for most women and "utilitarian" for men and dykes not only sells merchandise, but creates an everlasting bond between kindred spirits; "You have a need, and I have the power to meet it. After all, we're in this together." Such is capitalism.

My late 50s man bought a $50 Wrinkle-Free queen fitted sheet and three $25 bathroom rugs, and at that moment, I felt like Oprah Winfrey wielding her wand of consumer wizardry: I point and they buy. (Side note: every book Oprah recommends becomes a best-seller, she may have caused a $12 million deficit in the Texas beef industry in 1998 because of her personal refusal to eat beef during the mad cow scare, and she made the list of most influential people for CNN, Time Magazine and the American Spectator.)


Some day, I will rule the world, too. One 9" round Calphalon pound cake pan at a time.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Obtaining Nirvana is Locating Silence

My father once said, "Her world is getting smaller every day," and I cling to that, because isn't life just that: the opening and closing of a window? Or as Millay wrote, "presently / Every bed is narrow." But would she know? because her window stayed open her whole life; she was a fucking verandah! But I'm mixing metaphors, and, as they say, "comparisons are odious,"

in which case, your silence is a simple absence of noise; muteness. You conned me to think you a Coptic monk, someone I could admire but not know, that you retreated to a void where the only thing between you and God was holy sand.

I see it now, how you tried to shut me up with cheap films,

flowers and pot and two-act plays featuring confession ("Crime and Punishment adapted for stage, a cast of two and a half), but at the time I couldn't take a hint; silence is never diamond, and if it's golden, we've already traded for paper and/or plastic.

That night, all I wanted was your voice after months of silence, your voice like the crying of the frogs, something to frighten me into loving you, and you must've hated me for expecting so much, and the stairs outside my apartment must've felt cold, even in June, and you cried. I didn't touch you.

Instead, you made me love the voice of the Number 3 Empire Builder, southbound as it returns from the rainforests, traces the Puget Sound, passes my chain-link fence, all the while dragging itself over shimmering rails, wailing wraith, chanting ghost train, on its way to Portland.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"I am Bhikku Blank Rat!"

Academics disregarded him, critics burned him at the proverbial stake, professors exclude him, I'm fairly certain, if he were alive, Buddha would've murdered him with some lethal laser mantra, but Jack Kerouac, nonetheless, is attracting a new cult following among my generation--a collective of clones, the mini-Beats, imitative train-hopping, half-ass Buddhist, transitive, alcoholic artistes who genuinely respect Kerouac. This collective exacerbated my impression of Kerouac as an uneducated thrill-seeker, a man with little talent but large/lots of balls because I saw "Kerouac the original" via examples of the "Kerouac clones" of my creative writing classes, favorite Fremont coffee haunts, ALL OF CAPITOL HILL, etc.
I can understand the attraction: the Beats were a movement, but never members of a fold. My generation built a bandwagon of the Beats' leftovers, but I think few of us appreciate Kerouac's talent more than (even as much as) his supposed rebelliousness. When I read "The Dharma Bums" (Penguin Classics Edition, 2006, with introduction by Ann Douglas) I saw Kerouac as more of a literary genius and less as an anarchical superhero, an inspired deviant, a drunken bodhisattva.

"The Dharma Bums" focuses on Raymond Smith's (Kerouac's pseudonym) relationship with Dharmic poet/mountaineer/orientalist extraordinaire Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder). Japhy dominates the friendship; Ray, throughout the book, desires only to please Japhy (e.g. " 'And this is Japhy's lake, and these are Japhy's mountains,' " Ray thinks while spending a summer as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak, Japhy's previous job. "I...wished Japhy were there to see me doing everything he wanted me to do.")
Ray constantly seeks Japhy's approval, and Kerouac's self-awareness is apparent. Kerouac may have written this book in one fell swoop of "spontaneous prose," but his understanding of his relationship with Snyder is the primary theme, and after an entire novel of wine-induced orgies, Californian picnics, midnight ghost train rides, etc., Ray descends Desolation Peak with an image of Japhy in mind--not the "real-life Japhy," but the "realer-than-life Japhy" (a hyperreal Japhy, if you will) Ray created in dreams and idolized.

Kerouac is the Beat voyeur; he lived and wrote vicariously, in his quiet genius.

(In post-script, I need to expose Kerouac as a comic wit as well, whether or not he intended the following lines to elicit laughter:
"All alone and free in the soft sands of the beach by the sigh of the sea out there, with the Ma-Wink fallopian virgin warm stars reflecting on the outer channel fluid belly waters." [He sounds like the trippy version of Ashbery, and all from wine and Buddhism. Who needs opiates?]
" 'Fuck you! sang Coyote, and ran away!' read Japhy to the distinguished audience, making them all howl with joy, it was so pure, fuck being a dirty word that comes out clean."
"Pretty girls make graves." [A few things: I'm not sure if Kerouac was the originator of this saying; the band by the same name isn't half bad, or, rather, is more than half good; and this quote is more sadly true than comic.]
"... colleges [are] nothing but grooming schools for the middle-class non-identity ..."
"This Is the Impossibility of the Existence of Anything."
"For after all ... Augustine was a spade and Francis my idiot brother." [This reminds me of Augustine's own quote, "The Church is a whore, but she is my mother."]
"The Four Inevitabilities: 1. Musty Books. 2. Uninteresting Nature. 3. Dull Existence. 4. Blank Nirvana, buy that boy."
"... I laid my hand on myself to remind myself first and then felt gay ... ." [Yes, this is out of context, and yes, this is the "gay" of the 1950s, but I still laughed, especially since Kerouac was practically the only straight Beat in existence.]
"There's Wisdom in wine, goddam it!"
"I'm a dumb Westerner ... look what preconceptions have done to England." -Henry Morley [John Montgomery] [See also: everything Morley says in the book.])

Sunday, October 25, 2009

In Defense of Smoking

First off, the overview: see Bogie, drunk in his own restaurant, an American ex-pat in Morocco, lamenting, "Of all the gin joints..." Who is he without the eternal flame of that pale cigarette dangling out of his perfectly old-timey lips? A patriot. Steve McQueen would be a model driver; Barack Obama would win the Nobel Peace Prize twice; and (here's the seal to my deal) Katharine Hepburn would be Catholic. With all the indoctrination, can you blame us our death wishes?
I nearly stepped on a finch carcass today. I thought, "She is A-OK," because she's not smoking; I am.
We know life when we see death.
We nod at each other on the streets: doesn't matter that he's a sixty-something Mexican gardener with Gaelic crosses tattooed on his forearms. I imagine the gardener and I running through blossoming fields of alfalfa (or maybe just strolling because the pollen makes us sniffle and we already lost most of our lung capacity), knowing we will be friends forever because, if he's ever short, I have his back, just like that night in Seattle:
me all bitter because I spent twenty dollars on orgasmic rum then killed it watching three hours of British accents in the theater, when, walking home, up staggers a man without pants, and he wants a cigarette, and I don't even care that he's lost his pants, I'm happy I made a friend, and then he asks me for two cigarettes
and I say, "What?"
and he asks me for two cigarettes
and I say, "You're killing me, man"
but give him two anyway, so you may criticize the irony a situation in which I'm killing us both, but you should understand: this is a display of loving solidarity, and maybe, if Jesus were lucky enough to experience American Spirits, he would've given everyone smokes instead of a clear shot at his other cheek or five thousand fish or crosses to bear.
As Jack Kerouac said so sagely and probably drunkenly:
"There's nothing better in the world than a roll-your-own deeply enjoyed," and
"in fact laughter is solemn."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Precession of Las Vegas

They call it Sin City, but, honestly, my greatest offense against the Almighty was eating too much red meat, and if God is as Right Wing as Pat Robertson will have us believe, eating steak is the next best thing to cleanliness. (And making babies [within sanctified wedlock (and not with a turkey baster.)])

Las Vegas might be saturated with unholy neon lights (the city holds the record as the brightest in the world), topless women (the city holds the record for marriages), gay male strippers, godless drunks, obese Southern women with their husbands' credit cards, and married men looking to make a few secrets (the city holds the record for divorces), but the most drawing aspects of the city is its self-awareness and its absolute understanding of human nature.

The aura of the city simulates everything we consider "real": the Eiffel Tower, Venice, New York City, pirates of the open seas, women. Those simulations remind me of the unreality of the rest of my life. When I saw Winnie the Pooh posing for pictures on the south end of the Strip, I took offense at first.

"Look how this brutal world turned my childhood friend into a costumed whore!"

But who was Winnie the Pooh anyway? What is a Pooh? These fabrications we cling to hold no more importance than Vegas' fabrications of fabrications. As I watched dozens of drunkards crowd around Vegas Pooh, I saw the birth of a new icon, and who can say Vegas Pooh is any less life-altering than "original" Pooh?

As Baudrillard so obtusely said, "[Simulation] is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory -- PRECESSION OF SIMULACRA..." We live in a world in which Vegas -- in all its miniaturizations and replications, Madame Tussaud's, M&M World, Statue of Liberty shrouded in palm trees -- is reality, and preferable to the "territory." Why else do we flock there? We flock to see the painted skies inside Caesar's Forum. We seek refuge in something more real than real. Not a surreality, but a beautiful mind-fuck, a hyperreality. But thank God (and Seattle Fudge) I didn't have to pay for any of it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The "Reality" of Providence Junk Shops

Today I wandered into a junk shop near a (lackluster) cafe (with lackluster coffee) that I frequent (only for a change of venue). The shop, like all such shops, smelled of dust and cheap perfume, was filled with memorabilia of simpler, clunkier times, played "Lord of the Rings" scores and bad ska over the speakers. I find these places amusing and the people who buy things from them even more so.
A gaggle of middle-aged women with names like Doris and Fran and wearing Eileen Fisher walked in behind me and started fondling the lava lamp and faux fur overcoats. Doris hefted the receiver of an ancient telephone in her hands.
"Fran, Fran, here's what it felt like back when things were real!"

My first instinct was to turn to her and say, "Silly woman, stop living in your silly, gilded past and gird yourself in something other than a muumuu, because the future is here, and look! It's light-weight and comes with speed dial!"
But I didn't, 1) because my parents raised me to be polite to old folk; 2) because my second instinct was to be depressed at how right she was.

Our society is falling deeper and deeper (or is it upper and upper?) into a fantastical world of symbols (e.g. First we have an idea called "value," which we then supplant with a tangible symbol known as precious metal, which is then supplanted by paper money, which is supplanted by checks with your choice of Disney cartoon backdrops, which has led to the current coup of electronic credit), all thanks to bastards like Plato and Rene Descartes who, instead of acquiring "real" jobs like the rest of their peers, ruined "reality" by pedestalizing ideals and symbols. Phones will shrink until they fit in microchips shoved somewhere between the folds of our prefrontal cortexes. The unwieldy application we call "speed dial" will become a muscular twitch in our left pinkies, or something as fun and futuristic as that.

I stepped out of the store imagining a future in which food is replaced with tiny icons of cheeseburgers and chicken caesar salads that we drag from a Web site into an account labeled "Personal Nutrition." Muumuus will be reduced to mere (though, still unfashionable) serial numbers. Love, and cool feelings like it, is replaced by documents called "pre-nuptials" or "power of attorney letters." We become increasingly "unreal," until, finally, we turn into a Disney cartoon and choreograph periodic song-and-dance times with symbols of the local forest critters.

Just as I felt a nervous breakdown and/or song-and-dance time coming, I remembered that I plan on making my career in text, the most traitorous of all symbols, and then I found a box of free books on East Street (I took "Dorian Gray," "In Cold Blood," and Flannery O'Connor shorts), and my happy "reality" was restored.

The end.

Friday, October 9, 2009


The president we voted for just won the Nobel Peace Prize, I'm sure you've heard, amidst widespread dis-/a-pproval. I thought I'd add my ambivalence to the general ambivalence.

The NYTimes blog "The Lede" quoted skeptics and celebrants alike. Go figure that the skeptics they quoted (all but one) were Russians and Ahmadinejad's close adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, and the celebrants were happy Muslims. Far be it for the Nobel Prize Committee to sway over politics.

Sure, so he hasn't ended violent conflict in the Middle East or stopped North Korea from their adolescent baiting, but I admire the fact that he's offered a reversal in the tone of U.S. and international politics. His administration allows room for a future whereas the Bush administration seemed to wallow defensively in the past. However, the prize is hardly just if it's awarding a positive change in the presidency. "The Lede" quoted Ibrahim Assem as saying, “They are handing him the Nobel Peace Prize because he isn’t George Bush.” And I must admit, if my stoner American government teacher were elected, he would've made a positive change, too.

As far as I know, though, the committee has yet to rescind a prize (although Sartre and some other dude declined theirs), so skepticism over the decision is moot. What's left to see is if the prize motivates Obama to continue his crusade for peace or takes the $1.4 million to the Vegas Strip.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

From de Duve to Cuervo

In high school biology, we learned to remember the lysosomes' functions in cells by thinking of Lysol. Lysosomes were like little aerosol cans that made your cells shiny and/or lemony fresh.

But I just read this article in the New York Times today about the connections Dr. Ana Maria Cuervo made between lysosomes and aging ( Lysosomes constantly regenerate cells by deconstructing mitochondria, proteins, etc., and spitting out raw material used to make new cell parts. Toxins from old and malfunctioning cell parts are kept in the lysosomes then excreted later. This process (called autophagy, or "self-consumption") slows aging, and some scientists found leads pointing to the lysosomes' crucial role in deterring Alzheimer's, Huntington's disease, and cancer, in addition fixing your mum's wrinkles.

I can't help but find a metaphor in all this. Autophagy keeps us alive. Preservation isn't the key; renewal is. Cannibalism is. The paradox is the same with literature: we deconstruct it, we masticate it, we process old ideas, keeping the healthy ones and spitting out the flaws. The process immortalizes some literature and leaves others to fade away. Hopefully our literary lysosomes see fit to excrete toxins like "Twilight" and everything penned by Danielle Steele. Next time one of you thinks to suggest a book to me, remember, autophagize first. I don't want some -fresh-off-the-press, unautophagized young adult chiclit.

Just the other day, I was sitting by myself, doing some massive mastication, with some incense and candles lit, some Earth, Wind & Fire mood music going, when my lysosomes say, "Yo, bitch! Stop watching that 'Law & Order: SVU' shit. That shit's no good for you. Yeah. We're dumping that shit." So, I watched "Dogma," and as we all know, there's nothing like a little satire, a little Buddy Christ, and a lot of Alanis Morissette to keep the soul young.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

From The Dubliner to Wickenden Pub

Most of you who feel even slightly inclined to read this blog know this about me: more important than finding a comfortable place to live, more essential than finding good coffee within walking distance, more imperative than tapping a decent library system is finding a pub--a pub I can love as my own mother, a loving, supple, life-giving mother.

Of course, being the foundation of American alcoholism, New England provides a variety of valid candidates: Captain Seaweed, Abe's, Spats, Snookers, Muldowney's, etc. The list continues, becoming more Irish closer to downtown. But my trusty-though-sputtering liver lead me to Wickenden Pub, est. 1890.

I was the only patron there Thursday aternoon, so my personal bartender Ken and I get to talking. We cover sports and the ailing job market, school, beer in the area, beer in the Northwest, beer in general. Everything is normal. Until he opens a plastic grocery bag on the bar and starts unloading individual sacks of blue water, each with its own beta fish in it.

I say, "What're you doing, Ken?"

He says, "It's fish raffle day."

He then proceeds to pull empty clear bottles from beneath the counter. Bacardi, Patron, DeKuyser. I don't really understand New England humor yet, so I have to assume he's 1) playing an elaborate trick on the fresh meat in the area, or 2) serious.

He then proceeds to pour beta fish into the bottles. He's serious.

"The Patron is the easiest one. It's all about fitting the right fish to the right bottle. I've been doing this going on 20 years now. You should stick around. Get a ticket. Maybe win a fish."

I'm thinking, "This man is out of his fucking mind. He's going to get a crowd full of Rhode Islanders (who're all stodgy and pissed because of the I-95 redirection construction, by the way) drunk off their asses, and then let them take home a pet, a living creature, who's only going to die the next morning from breathing too much tequila."

But, I have to recant because of this epiphany: pair beer with anything and life gets better. Beer + beta in a Bacardi bottle = the American dream. The same with winter Olympic biathlons: Norwegians pair everything with skiing and make it a sport. Hence, skiing and shooting a gun. Americans, being slightly less athletic but vastly more entertaining, need to step up and introduce the consumption of beer as an Olympic event. We already regularly enjoy beer + ping pong. Why not beer + speed skating? Beer + volleyball? Beer + fencing? Beer + hurdles (which only seems natural)? Beer + javelins? Why not skiing and downing an Irish car bomb? Oprah Winfrey should've thought of that. Then, maybe, Chicago might've had the bid for 2016 instead of Rio, eh?

Friday, October 2, 2009

From Sketch UDistrict to "Historic" Fox Point

I heard from a reliable source that the Fox Point neighborhood is located in the oldest area of Providence, RI, and that it "retains much of its historical character" ( And I believed that source. I also believed the ad telling me this studio apartment is "historic" and, in so many words, quaint.
In Seattle, "historic" means it was most likely built around 1901, renovated from an abandoned speakeasy, but now comes with full amenities, new hardwood floors, a green roof to cut down on emissions, and a community garden complete with a compost bin that you share with your hippie neighbors who just moved here from San Francisco with their dog "Maddie."
"Historic" in New England simply means decrepit. These buildings have been here as long as Dame Maggie Smith has lived, and if you've seen her face recently, you'll kind of get a picture of my studio, because this unit is at least one hundred years old (and it's the new kid on the block), it hasn't seen a renovation since Ike was in office, and my upstairs neighbors are highbrow ivy league graduate students who stomp out their theses with their shoes every night.

I kid, I kid. My only real complaint is over the blood stains in the shower. I don't think Norman Bates had to scrub as hard after he killed that poor secretary. But how can I complain? I signed a lease with one K. Greene and her husband Bill; they named their company KGB, LLC.
After a few seconds of deep thought, I decided NOT to go to them saying, "Hey, so I found blood stains in the shower of the unit you left me. Also, a couple of bent knives. And some women's hair in the drain even though you told me a balding man lived here last. So I saved some samples and I was just going to pop over the police station just in case this is something they want to see. Is that OK with you all? And I love your tats, Bill. Is that prison ink? Is that Stalin's face with a backdrop of a burning American flag on your neck?"
And then I would die. In the shower. And I'd prefer to die somewhere more sanitary.

I thought, by leaving Seattle, I could escape all those Asian mafia-owned rental spaces, but I suppose law-abiding landlords don't exist in these times of economic turmoil.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

From Seattle to Providence, by Amtrak

Harken back to the days of the railroads, coon hats, and Manifest Destiny. We could shoot buffalo out of coach windows and piss off the steps of the caboose. Weren't those just the golden days? They were, I would think, if you're James T. West in a Stetson and you get the girl at the end of every episode. Anyone who thought a cross-country train ride would be romantic (including myself) is either a sadist or a TV producer. Four days in a chair next to a variety of middle-aged men who can't take a hint (hello, boy-cut hair, nasty rat tail, rainbows all over, NAKED LADIES ON MY T-SHIRT) is plenty enough "experience" for me to recant everything positive I said about Amtrak or America or traveling previous to September 28.

In all seriousness, though, I would do it again. Maybe not Seattle to Providence, but Providence to Miami, Miami to San Antonio, San Antonio to San Francisco. Traveling, for some people, is like blood in a sow's mouth; we just want more, even if it means eating our own babies, or gorging until our organs rupture. Is that just me? I do think traveling is addicting, though. The feeling of arriving in a place utterly foreign, surrounded by people utterly alien is my new high. (For those of you who want me to quit smoking, I just might, so rejoice. But Amtrak is more expensive and possibly more dangerous; I swear the pillows are made of asbestos. Cancer is still an option)

That high from, or anyway, that desire for, traveling, drove Millay to write, "there isn't a train I wouldn't take, / No matter where it's going." I would hardly compare myself with the great Millay, but I would say we share a certain willingness to sacrifice some things (comfortable networks, stable jobs, safety nets) for movement - be it physical or otherwise.

Everyone I met on the trains carried lifetimes of travel under their proverbial belts: Tommy the Thai manicurist (if somehow you're reading this, you crazy stalker, please understand I write this with only sweet tenderness) tracked me down in King Street Station. I saw him approaching and couldn't do anything. I was an abandoned pack animal - a llama, maybe, in the Andes - weighed down by 55 lbs. of baggage. Easy prey.

"What are you? Korean?" he says.

"Japanese," I say.

And for next 45 hours, he tells me the stories of the half dozen Japanese women who fell in love with him, from Tokyo to Baltimore.

"You like Korean boys?" This is about 21 hours out of Seattle. "You like waking up and smelling kimchi? What kinda boys you date?"

"I don't date... boys," I say. And that's when he gives me his number, saying, "If you ever change your mind..."

Goddamn, if I had a dollar every time I heard that. And if you can answer this question, I'll give YOU a dollar: Why do men think they can change everything with their dick?

But now I'm on a tangent. The point was Tommy can barely speak English, but he knew about all the best hiking in New Hampshire, the estimated size of spiders in Texas, the cleanest hospitals in New York. This man, despite his political incorrectness and raging sex drive, is a regular Rick Steves, complete with nerdy glasses but sans nerdy family.

Cliff the Canadian cattle rancher jumped on board in Shelby, Montana, and by the time he disembarked in Grand Forks, North Dakota, I knew intimately his whole "operation" in Alberta (5,000 "head" of red angus), his daughter's thriving family in the states, his online dating career with women half his age, his cell number, and his Canadian cellular service provider's number. I suppose when you live the romantic life of a solitary cowboy out on the range, you tend to be an insufferable chatterbox among company.

He did offer me one brilliant insight, though. We passed a small gaggle of antelope somewhere between Nowhere and Shithole, Montana.

"There must be coyotes if there are antelope," I said.

Then he, fabulous man that he is, said, "There be coyotes, alright. There be coyotes." (As in, "There be monsters in these here waters.")

And the heavens opened up, and God appeared all glowing and dressed in Gucci, and touched my eyes with his heavenly middle finger, and I had my revelation: Canadian cowboys = pirates.

But again, I was talking about traveling, and Clifford is the king of travel. He's spent the majority of his life sleeping outdoors with a herd of cattle. He buys month-long Amtrak passes and hops trains all over the U.S. He has never traveled outside of North America, but he has traveled to EVERY SINGLE PLACE in North America. I have nothing but admiration for his ability to simultaneously run a business and do what he loves: explore. And rape and pillage and bury his booty on godforsaken islands that only Johnny Depp can find.

This post is too long. If I were Natalie Tran from communitychannel (I desperately wish I were), this is the point at which I'd say, "It's porno music slash comment time."