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."