31 August 2004

Discovery of the Ancient Aztec City, "Cocciaquotes."

everyone has a teacher who changes their lives, except probably me. i had one of those educational experiences that slips through the cracks. influences have come from all over, and most of my earliest were rooted in what i felt to be reactions to the classroom. i have an extraordinary difficulty with authority figures, especially the beatrice gancher's of the world. you know the types, the ones who stand before you and demand, "take all of the questions you got wrong on the test, rewrite them, and then rewrite the correct answer (even though I photocopied the questions out of the regents exam in 1982 and made you mark your answers on a scantron sheet so i don't have to touch any part of you, not even your knowledge of the subject i'm teaching), and i will give 50% of what the questions were worth back to you." i had a tough old time with their ilk.

my teachers were all fairly decent people, contributing to the betterment of society and putting up with my smart ass. but they were all interchangeable cogs; with the charisma of exam proctors and the wit of receptionists. There was however Mr. Jim Coccia. falling far short of changing my life, he took a miserable career peddling US History onto 11th graders and turned it into a 9-month long running gag of absurdist historical critique. You were either in on the joke or you weren't. And the back row of the class; matt spence, nick mcdowell, bryan o'connor, and (i'll need a conformation on this one) eric schroeck, were definitely in on the joke.

the joke was, "you listen to what your teachers say and believe its true. well guess what, kiddies, i can say all kinds of weird ass shit." at some point far too late in the school year (i say october, admittedly missing a month or so of priceless gems) i began creating a list of his best pronouncements. when i would miss school, bryan would be my substitute scribe. the list grew by the months, as Coccia became aware we were doing it, to a dozen pages. it seemed every day he would let at least three politically incorrect napalm raids rain down on our impressionable minds.

there was a running gag where he swore there was a man living in his file cabinet. that if he opened it to show us something in there (usually an ancient newspaper clipping proving one of his wild assertions) the man would escape. there was one class where he announced his address, telephone number, and social security number, just to challenge us to do something with it. he would sit and do crosswords on days he didn't want to teach; never bothering to give us the historical background of the film he would put in unless it contained brief glimpses of nudity. by the time i got to his class, all hope for my high school teaching staff and my fellow classmates had been washed down the drain. fortunately, Mr. Coccia felt the exact same way.

compiled on 02.26.1997, this is the only relic i have of the original quote list. long before my class with Coccia was over and long before I stopped scratching down his beautiful altruisms, this was all i'd managed to type out. a brief taste of his madness. i remember when i went through my old packard bell six months ago and transferred the file to the new computer. my first reaction was, "it couldn't have aged well." i was wrong. this is still a mighty stiff drink to swallow. hailing from an era when the teachers beat you if you misbehaved, or at least claiming to be from such an era, Coccia beat the living shit out of us with his acidic wit. I share with you now the remaining twenty off-the-cuff, out of context (although I try on some) "Cocciaquotes."

20. [on girl scout cookies]
"Does anybody want to do my ironing? When the girl scouts come to my door, I tell them I don't want any of their cookies, but if they'd like to make some real money, there are some shirts down in the basement waiting for them."

19. [to two sisters, twins, whose parents he found out were from the Ukraine]
"Do you speak Ukranian? Really? Are you going to teach your kids Ukrainian? You don't know. You don't know if you're even going to have kids. (aside) At least for 9 months you don't."

18. [after handing in our 20-page month-long research project]
"Here's how I'm going to grade your papers. I'm going to set them down on my desk with a bottle of red wine. I'm going to grade three papers and have a glass of wine, grade three papers and have a glass of wine. You better hope you're on the bottom of the pile."

17. [on retirement]
"I retire in three years, goddamnit. Three years you won't even have jobs yet. Three years there won't even be any jobs."

16. [about the harper's ferry uprising]
“John Brown ran out of rifles so he gave the freed slaves spears. John Brown and his spear chuckers! Made ‘em a bunch of spear chuckers!”

15. [ no idea, but in 97 i wrote 'reference to gone with the wind']
“They wanted one who could drop 8 or 10 kids. And she’d say, ‘I ain’t know how to birth-a no babies!’”

14. [on our goverment's policies toward native americans]
“There all dead anyway. Hell with the Indians!”

13. [on his cat]
“Hate my cat, can’t wait for it to die.”

12. [on the furnace in his childhood home]
“Have you ever seen one of those really old wood stoves? Of course you haven't. The way they used to make em, the furnace would blow apart and kill your mother. Every day I'd come home from school and wonder if my mother was dead.”

11. [on a day nick mcdowell was absent]
“We scared him away, sent him back to Iowa. Good!”

10. [after a pointless rant about spiderplants, a dialogue between nick and coccia]
Mr. Coccia: I love spiderplants because you just chop up the mother and replant it. That's how nature works."
McDowell: “Mr. Coccia, how are babies made?”
Mr. Coccia: “Chop up the mother, put her in the ground.”

9. [to mcdowell, because he was 6'4" and from Iowa]
"Your mom sure fed you your corn. Look at you."

8. [on his 18th birthday]
“For my eighteenth birthday, my old man slipped me a 5 dollar bill. I went out and bought a pack of Parliament’s and a Playboy.”

7. [to michelle barber, a petite girl who needed to use the bathroom. the bathroom pass was an old stovetop clothes-iron] “Like that pass, weighs more than you. (to class) On windy days she carries rock in her pockets!”

6. [claiming to have cut wood treated with arsenic, that made his hand swell up, requiring a trip to the emergency room]
“Arsenic...mmm!”

5. [on the civil war]
“Damn southerners!”

4. [winter vacations]
“What did you do on your winter vacations? I remember my winter vacations. Mostly just ended up drinking beer.”

3. [on the job he had one vacation, changing lightbulbs at a state-owned warehouse]
“We were only allowed to change six lightbulbs an hour, that was the quota. So we'd change em all in 20 minutes, and spend the rest of the day screwing over the taxpayers and the government.”

2. [on his career choice]
“Retire at age 42 and get 10% more working for the state, or get 10% less and retire at 55 teaching at Queensbury. And guess which one I picked!” (Smacks himself in the head)

1. [on coal mines and labor laws]
“Miners? Ever heard of miners!?! You know, they'd mine the ore, die.”

30 August 2004

On Avocados.

a few weeks ago i ate at el paso taqueria on 104th and lexington. when i was seated, the waitress asked if i'd like guacamole. when i answered yes, she asked if i'd like mild, medium, or spicy. having just learned guacamole can have different levels of spiciness, and having never been to a restaurant serving three different styles, i chose medium. it arrived in a heavy, handsome wooden bowl, resembling any other kind of guacamole i'd ever had, except maybe with a pinch of mayonnaise added for creaminess. my dining companion, miss danielle florio, was not going to be eating. she was just pausing briefly in the city after a drive to long island to see the family, having a beer with me before heading up to peter atlas's in the bronx. but then we started slowly poking at the bowl, then competing with each other for better chips and better chunks of avocado. served with the avocado were bowls of limes and salt. seasoning wildly, consuming guacamole at a breakneck speed, i remembered how often danielle used to talk about avocados before she sliced her hand cutting one last july.

while visiting a friend in DC, she fashioned an inch-long, sickle-shaped incision between her middle and index fingers. damaging the nerve, she had to have surgery on her hand when she got back. i spent an afternoon with her about a week afterwards. i remember this because she kept her hand elevated (doctor's orders) the entire day. she looked as if she was timidly and perpetually raising her hand, requesting permission to make an observation. it was ridiculous. i also remember, when we would meet for lunch last year, her telling me about practically every avocado she bought. "i had avocado sandwiches today, i made guacamole," etc. i think the hand injury has ruined for her the mystique of the avocado.

but the mystique of the avocado still is strong for me. there is such a ceremony involved with preparing an avocado to be eaten. you peel it or you slice it, wash it, spoon it, seed it, mash it, dice it, spread it. i love them, such decadent fruits, but the process overwhelms me. although i eat avocado about once a week, i will shyly admit i have never purchased an avocado at a store and prepared one myself.

back to el paso taqueria, if only briefly. when my tacos arrived the guacamole was gone. sipping on a sol and talking about the upcoming reading series at the 92st Y, i remembered a drive i'd taken up to Purchase College this past winter. i ran into jersey walz on the train, and she offered me a ride to campus. i rode in the back with her friend, whose name escapes me (if i ever knew it to begin with). what i do remember is that she was living in the outremont district of montreal, and we had a fascinating conversation (or maybe it was just me) catching up on random spots in montreal. jersey reached into her bag to show off the avocados she bought, proud of them. they were so enormous they looked like loaves of pumpernickel in her small hands, like barbecued canteloupes. her friend asked if they were organic and we laughed. jersey knows her from when they went to school together in Rome, she lives in Montreal now, and it was funny to us her lack of experience with genetically modified food. she was innocent to this peculiar trait of our culture, not because she was misinformed, but because it was just so surprising to her that all of our produce was engineered. regardless of their mutant appearance, the women were excited about the sushi jersey was going to make.

and i thought to myself, what is it with women who like avocados? they are a decadent fruit, and they possess a rich flavor similar to other extravagant members of a staple culinary family. they are the lobsters of shellfish, the butternut squash of vegetables, the cracklin oat bran of cereals, the porterhouses, the bisques, the hazelnuts.

women who like avocados may be beautiful, as are the three women mentioned above, but it's not so simple to say beautiful women like avocados. and not decadent or extravagant women. perhaps it is only their tastes that are extravagant... regardless; surround yourself with women who like avocados, is i guess, my advice to you.

"what i love about avocados..." (you knew this was coming) is they are one of those extraordinary metaphors that aid us when we feel our language is too cold. no word can do what an avocado can do. but the image of one (john berryman's "dream song 120" comes to mind) can be more powerful than "lust" itself. when a writer cannot say what kind of lust lives inside of himself, he can effortlessly compare lust to an avocado. there is something about lust, drama, sex, and promiscuity, that so closely resembles the deliciousness of an avocado.

tomorrow i will buy two avocados. if you do as well, try this:

2 ripe fresh California Avocados – halved and pitted
1 tomato – medium, cored, peeled and seeded
½ Cup red onion – finely chopped
1/3 Cups cilantro – fresh, chopped
2 Tbsp lime juice
½ tsp ground cumin
¾ tsp salt
¾ tsp jalapeno pepper sauce

I'm not sure what they say about men who love cumin. there's an essay in that i'm sure.

Civilization And Its Discotheques.



From The New York Times, “The High Road To Andes,” 8.15.04.

“As we chugged past Piscacucho, conventionally known as Kilómetro 82, we spotted the colorful fauna endemic to the Andes near Cuzco: hikers and their porters, carrying tents, sleeping bags, stoves, long johns, food, water, and everything else required in a four-day trek along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

“I turned back to my table and dug into a tasty hunk of alpaca tenderloin.

“Grilled to perfection, it was drizzled with pink pepper sauce and flanked by crisp baby carrots, turnips, and string beans. The railroad car rattled a bit as a waiter offered to refresh my glass of Tacama Blanco de Blancos, an excellent Peruvian Sauvignon. Why not? It was only 11:30 a.m. I didn't expect to be at Machu Picchu until early afternoon.

“…While dress on the Hiram Bingham (the train’s name –ml), which started service in October 2003, tends to khaki, the décor calls out for black tie -- Deco interiors, single red roses in white bud vases, bottles of chilled champagne perched on the long, wood bar. And so does the price -- a whopping $416.50 per person, round trip. The next-most expensive train on the route, the Vistadome, costs $89.25, and the aptly named Backpacker is just $59.50.

“…While this May visit was my first to Machu Picchu, my boyfriend, Moico Yaker, a Peruvian, had been there several times. But not overnight. So we decided to splurge on a room with a king-size bed and mountain view at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge for $626, three meals included."

Travel writing like this (and “travel writing” being used as liberally as possible) prompts me to invoke the four word Rolling Stone review of Bob Dylan’s 1969 album, Self Portrait.

“What is this shit?”

Don’t get me wrong, I fucking love The New York Times. I’m lucky to be able to walk seven paces and get a fresh copy every morning, or read every page of it online for free. But I have to say; what a vacuous, kitsch-centric, anti-cultural, potpourri-sprinkled, arrogant piece of a stale Rice Krispies treat this is.

I’ve been researching a trip to South America for the past few weeks, and toying less and less with the idea of visiting Machu Picchu with every personal account I come across. briefly, Machu Picchu is the name given to an abandoned Incan city discovered by a western explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911. Deserted since the 16th century, it lay mostly in ruins but otherwise untouched by the invading fingers of colonizers. the reason for this is that it rests on the peak of a mountain in southern Peru, thousands of feet above sea level. I first learned about the ancient city from Pablo Neruda’s epic poem, “The Heights of Machu Picchu.” his writing, and the story of the city’s discovery (but mostly Neruda), have created a special place for the city in my imagination.

however, it has become South America’s number one tourist attraction. www.wirednomad.com has a piece about it, and the writers refer as much to the crowds clamoring up the trails as they do to the city’s majestic setting. I’m planning on visiting in January, during the Peruvian summer, and have nearly crossed it off my list.

One of my favorite sayings that I try to slide casually into any conversation when I’m out of the city for a trip, is:

I’m from New York. No matter where I go everyone else is a tourist.

I see tourism every day in New York and I’m not settled really on how I feel about the tourist’s role in our culture. While the city avoids offering the resident a narrow sample of everything, tourists included, certain neighborhoods produce the same tourists, day in, day out. One of my main fears is that when I arrive at Machu Picchu, I will see one type of tourist; the foreigner who paid for the privilege of visiting one of the world’s most remote treasures, who is constantly searching out new and extravagant products to (as indicated in the paragraph excerpted below) ‘write home about.’

NYT: “In Cuzco, we considered the elegant Hotel Monasterio, an affiliate of the Sanctuary Lodge, but chose the Picoaga, a pleasant four-star hotel in a renovated colonial mansion, for less than half the price. Arriving in the afternoon, we relaxed, adjusting to the air at 11,000 feet and ambling two blocks to the main square, the Plaza de Armas, where I quickly spent the money we'd saved on the hotel on baby alpaca knitwear.”

I see a woman walking down Crosby St in autumn, late sun painting a gentle orange at the corner of Prince in front of her, toward where she walks wit her hair up and where I follow close behind. She negotiates the cobblestones effortlessly, tosses her hand up to a doorknob and slides into The Housing Works to meet her husband and her daughter for a lemonade. I follow her in, take a table close by to eavesdrop, and hanging now on this graceful woman’s every word she introduces herself secretly to me with “Now don’t you look cuuuute in your little alpaca knitwear!”

I’m not saying I want enlightenment or the account of someone else’s in a newspaper article. but to encourage soulless, materialistic tourist adventures is to say to one’s readers, “by spending a little extra money, you can afford not to learn a damned thing.”

NYT: “Only hotel guests can experience the 6 a.m. sunrise, since the first buses arrive at 7. So over sea bass and salad and Peruvian white wine, we tackled another burning question: wake-up call? Opting out of the sunrise, we slept in.”

You certainly did.

29 August 2004

Nighthawks


"nighthawks" is one of the first images of city life i fell in love with, and i come back to it from time to time. when i was sixteen i wrote these lines in an unlined notebook i still keep on my bookshelf:

"the dominating men of my forties revival"
(hopper study)

'awaiting the arrival of the rat pack'
-a lousy card shark son of a bitch

pale faces grinding out the dawn,
is there something on its way out of your mouths?
...about that moment at midnight
when its warmer than it was at noon...

and if i scream out the sincerest perversion in my soul
not even the wife of the man with the red head
bats an eyelash in a picture perfect

four post bed
by the window
two blocks uptown.
-----
i had been to montreal, new york, paris, amsterdam, london, boston, munich, zurich, glasgow, dc, edinburgh, santa fe, denver, brussels, and many others by age sixteen; but what i didn't have was a permanent image of the ideal city burned into me. this painting became my ideal city scene, and captured endless possibility instead of a moment frozen in static time. in "nighthawks," the characters have a potential that is equivalent to the potential of the viewer's imagination. for me, these characters were capable of extraordinary things, they just needed some time apart from the extraordinary to gather their composure. a copy of edward hopper's painting hung in the french wing of my high school, where my locker was located for each of the four years. it took me two and a half to look at it. to this day, its vague countertop and soft interior are what i look for when i walk into a diner.

great cuban sandwiches can be had at la floridita, a diner on 126th and Broadway by my old apartment. the recipe varies from place to place, but la floridita's version goes like this; for three dollars you get your ham, your roast pork, your cheese, some fresh garlic, and length-wise, razor-thin pickle slices. pressed flat and served hot, the sandwich is tantalizing bait for a swarm of nighthawks. i love la floridita best after dark, but even then i can only credit it as an adequate diner. i mean, i love the 24-hour, pastry shop connected, mexican-menu, breakfast all day, booth, cakes, green awning, and its white table clothed vip section. i adore the view from the north windows, into the parking lot of a BP. surrounded by oil change places, gas stations, and huddled like a glowing pistachio beneath the twisted steel teeth of the manhattanville station overpass, i find it a strong contender for the best diner i've ever been to. with $10 heineken pitchers, it certainly puts the diners back in upstate new york to shame.

my hometown had a streak going during my formative years where every major diner succumbed to some unexplained economic disaster that forced it to shun the latest of late night crowds. two dunkin donuts (and i mean real DnD's, with counter service, orange headed stools, and booths), the saratoga diner, steve's place, sarge's; all cut back their hours or did some kind of strange renovations just when i was becoming "a regular." nighthawks has regulars. and when i think about myself as a regular at the counter at la floridita, i see the lights in the ceiling; i listen to their hum. i see the dimmed back section where they host private parties during regular business hours. some overdressed extended family staggers in from the heat and orders 14 cokes, all arriving on a teetering tray. the whole diner should have the same dim lighting at 3 in the morning, but it doesn't. the rest of it, and the counter space especially, is bright as hell. coming over the speakers, "you are my inspiration..."

look at nighthawks. it seems to be night out only by the excessive, unnatural lighting found inside the diner. the same lighting at la floridita. but better lighting can be found at the diner by the greyhound station in downtown salinas, CA. the old saratoga diner had better lighting, and it had the dim booths and the drab counter. but in both these examples the food was fucking awful.

i look for ideals in diners, and i seem to have such an unrealistic measure of what a diner should be, that i ignore the basis for my own idealism. this is all inner-dialogue here, and really probably nonsense to read, but hell, i just realized i don't even find my ideals ideal enough. nighthawks is the basis for my initial romance of the city and the reason i haven't figured out what to do next. sitting in a diner, alone, bathing in light, with the circumstances of one day and the possibilities of the next, i find myself sitting in this painting, "grinding out the dawn." when i was sixteen that was precisely what i wanted to be doing. but now i know the characters in the painting, every one of them, and i don't know if i have the same faith that they'll get up and be extraordinary anymore. not that they have to be. but it makes the painting more to me than a pleasing image on which to rest my eyes. but tonight, without mustering more enthusiasm than the subjects deserve, hopper's painting is only that to me. a delicate balance of light and shadow.

28 August 2004

Two Figures in Dense Violet Light

I had as lief be embraced by the porter of the hotel
As to get no more from the moonlight
Than your moist hand.

Be the voice of the night and Florida in my ear.
Use dasky words and dusky images.
Darken your speech.

Speak, even, as if I did not hear you speaking,
But spoke for you perfectly in my thoughts,
Conceiving words,

As the night conceives the sea-sound in silence,
And out of the droning sibilants makes
A serenade.

Say, puerile, that the buzzards crouch on the ridge-pole
and sleep with one eye watching the stars fall
Beyond Key West.

Say that the palms are clear in the total blue.
Are clear and are obscure; that it is night;
That the moon shines.

-- Wallace Stevens

27 August 2004

Music For You.

Peter Atlas found a mixed tape in the dumpster at Purchase College. it was probably one of his last trips out to the Incredible Hulk-green metal boxes behind the New Apartments; where medium-to-large sized creatures will always live full and imaginative lives wallowing in student trash. dodging possums, skunks, raccoons, and alpacas, Pete unearthed a mixed tape discarded by a departing student. written on the cassette was “Music For You.” he put it in the tape player of his car. what does this have to do with me? I’m getting there. just very slowly…

when he replaced the tape player in his car with a cd player, he gave the cassette to danielle florio, his girlfriend. this is how I came across it, driving home from upstate New York today on a sunny afternoon, wearing sunglasses, drinkin’ Stewarts milkshakes, Ulster rest-stoppin, tappan zee bridgin,the whole routine. just basically living large.

she has a cassette player and a cassette adapter that connects to a cd player, but the cassette adapter never works for shit. so with only the prospect of tapes and conversation with a person I drove three hours with the day before, danielle puts in Music For You.

she didn’t know more than three or four of the songs, and I was a little envious. she has an extraordinary music collection, but it was a tape far closer to my sensiblility than her’s. it’s been so long since someone hit me with a mix of music I didn’t know. to be able to pop something in, something like a cassette, where you can’t skip tracks, its not meticulously labeled and it runs on an endless loop; no beginning and no end, and at 90 minutes a little too much music for one sitting. something to go back to. Music For You is one of the best collections I’ve ever heard. here is a rundown of the setlist as best I can remember. songs in question marks are beyond my education:

Belle and Sebastian “mayfly”
Nick Cave and Shane MacGowan “what a wonderful world”
The Church “under the milky way tonight”
The Beatles “long, long, long”
Lou Reed “perfect day”
Modest Mouse “night on the sun”
Elliott Smith "angeles"
Pavement “our singer”
Rufus Wainwright “oh what a world”
Neil Young ?
Velvet Underground “pale blue eyes”
Conor Obst/Bright Eyes ?
Van Morrison, warm love
Robert Johnson “sweet home chicago”
Neil Young “leave the driving”
Sonic Youth “winner’s blues”
Bob Dylan, "just like a woman" (live 1966)

just when I thought there couldn’t possibly be anything more ML than the last track from slanted & enchanted, on comes the first track from Want One. danielle: “who is this I love this song?” me: “this is my least favorite rufus wainwright song.” d: “I love it.”

I was able to compile about half the tape from my iTunes library, and the rest I can get from various russian websites and friends. there are a few songs I didn’t know, so if anyone is interested in helping hunt them down I will, of course, have to find some way to tape them for you. I can’t believe I’m even talking about tapes, let alone listening to them. but I swear whoever spent the time meticulously crafting this one had a certain white-boy post-gen X aesthetic that makes my head spin.

26 August 2004

On "In The Wee Small Hours," 1954.

Song For Young Lovers astounds the harshest critics of Sinatra. None of it is duck and jab, a fevered pitch, a swelling, an unnecessary dragging out of brass and choirs to move the listener. One can listen to “Theme From New York, New York” and “Softly, As I Leave You” and get two complex reactions; a revulsion at Frank’s overcompensating his emotional attachment to the material; or the sound of a man who is allowed to make such indulgences because he did Songs For Young Lovers.

Initially, the purpose of the album format was to collect as many songs as a vinyl disc could hold on two sides: less than an hour’s worth of music or 15 songs. One attribute is that its purpose goes beyond the goal of marketing a hit single. It may be achieved, but it is never a great LP’s lasting achievement.

In The Wee Small Hours is the first concept album, what I will call a “lifestyle” record. One assumes a particular mood when listening to the record as a whole. This is Nelson Riddle’s accomplishment as much as Sinatra’s. But the difference between that record and In The Wee Small Hours is May’s production does not possess the delicacy of arrangement necessary to invoke a setting in his music. Let’s say that the effect of a film’s soundtrack is as much responsible for how the audience responds to what it sees as how the character responds to his setting. If it night on a rainsoaked runway in Casablanca, we gather as much from the misery of wet raincoats as we do from the actors's expressions, and from the plane propeller throwing off droplets clumsily (which have always been to me like lovers falling back to life). As an audience we require setting’s universality. One can’t be expected to enjoy Bogart eating an ice cream cone on this same runaway. Billy May makes Come Dance With Me! (1959) a rousing listen, and achieves the feeling of a swinging nightclub, but no one is making a drunken pass at someone else’s wife. Everyone goes home with their tie knotted tight and their mascara in place.

Songs fail when the music itself strives to sound like the emotions named in the lyrics. When one attempts to create a sound that resembles how the musician feels, it's already over. Usually the result is an over-everything’ed plea for even more fucking emotion. Rushed, excited deliveries, sloppy playing, and oversinging abound unchecked (see Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness, everything by The Hives). Folk blues musicians like Skip James, Blind Willie McTell, and Robert Johnson are able to take themselves out of the emotional complexities inherent in their lyrics and just sing the material as if it has been discovered, plucked over and howled for the first time. Part of the charm of Beck’s Sea Change is his insistence not to add any tones or edge to his voice. He just sings the songs, he performs them as an impartial musician. The guitar is always impartial to the lyrics.

What is left is the performance of the material. We love to hypothesize the shape of a record, the ideas behind the construction, but really it comes down to the damn songs. Sinatra is barely conscious of his own message. He sings “My mind is all a jumble,” more concerned with phrasing the word ‘jumble’ than believing in the statement. So much of the record is understated, inviting the listener instead of entertaining him. This is what the concept can achieve. But other observations come immediately to mind. None of it can be danced to. No percussion, no songs over 3:48, no lyrical flourishes beyond the legitimate perspective of the narrator, no hit singles. Cohesive perspective, theme, and instrumentation. A dedication to its concept. As accomplished an innovation as Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen or the plays of Bertoldt Brecht. We are granted a new way of perceiving ourselves through the thematic structure of an emerging art form. I’ve heard arguments for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, The Beach Boys’s Little Deuce Coupe, and Spirit’s Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. But very few LPs rival In The Wee Small Hours in the control of its execution.

25 August 2004

Buster Keaton Rides Again.

One should never begin any statement with "these days" or "in our times," or "the way things are nowadays." It is so easy to trivialize an honest contemplation with "as is customary in the post 9/11 epoch." This is bullshit, and makes the speaker into a pseudo-source, unaware of the weight the past exerts on our every thought, our every conclusion. The speaker believes his own modernity allows him to indulge in a more worldly discourse than any that has come before him. This is like a cheap prejudice against the past, where a series of circumstances have yet to be examined by our backward glance and our estimations of the present, faultless. Sadly, there is a power to this kind of speaking. But the second one estimates the present they are setting the present apart from the past, talking as if "these days" are more difficult to comprehend, unique in their incomprehensibility. Again, this is just plain bullshit.

"For the Middle East and the world, there will be no going back to the days of fear -- when a brutal and aggressive tyrant possessed terrible weapons. And for America, there will be no going back to the era before September 11th, 2001 -- to false comfort in a dangerous world." -GWB, 9.7.03

If a historical perspective is so essential to writing literary criticism, how come it has such a weak influence on our criticism of current events? Nationalism exerts such a strong force on our current events studies it seems taboo to reflect on how similar we are as a society to say, the Roman or British Empires. Here is an excerpt from General F.S. Maude's speech to Baghdad, 3.19.17,

"O people of Baghdad, remember that for 26 generations you have suffered under strange tyrants who have endeavored to set one Arab house against another in order that they might profit by your dissensions. This policy is abhorrent to Great Britain and her allies, for there can be neither peace nor prosperity where there is enmity and misgovernment. Therefore I am commanded to invite you, through your nobles and elders and representatives, to participate in the management of your civil affairs in collaboration with the political representatives of Great Britain who accompany the British Army, so that you may be united with your kinsmen in North, East, South, and West in realising the aspirations of your race."

At the same time Maude was coughing up these imperialist’s posturing, Buster Keaton was in New York, debuting in Fatty Arbuckle's film "The Butcher Boy." It was his first film. He stole the show.
And while I was typing this, there appeared in today's New York Times an article about banning protesters from Central Park and the increased security measures planned to confront those that do.

"Speaking before the state court judge made a ruling on the rally ban, Mr. Bloomberg said: "We'll comply with the law, whatever it is, and we expect everybody to comply with the law." Asked if he thought people might be frustrated with the extra security measures, Mr. Bloomberg said: "I think New Yorkers look forward to having extra security in this day and age."

Buster Keaton has an ability to transcend language with an expression, a gesture; the fact that he is buried in silent film, trapped in a wordless vault, doesn’t mean he has rendered himself obscure. If anything he is more vital to us than the Maudes and Bloombergs. He has taken no sides except his own. I hold Buster Keaton in the highest regard, yet I’ve never heard him utter a single word.

24 August 2004

well, it looks like i'm back.

although i will probably denounce everything written here within a few days - will see how the immovable posting sits there on my screen and betrays me - i think i'll be posting here frequently. what is beautiful about drafts is that they are never finished, always boiling just below the skin, but never your skin. never you. i love going through old drafts. most remain as drafts, and are always there to give you a fresh point of departure. there's a certain amount of power in that, at least for a profession such as this, where powerlessness is nearly all of the time and contemplation the only respite.

you see the thing is is that i stole my roommate maya aravind's chair while she's away for the week, so i have an excuse to be typing here as much as possible. the arm rests are a perfect height. plain pine, but they curve inward slightly. with my elbows propped upon them, my fingers meet about an inch below the chin, and to do any contemplating i really have to hunch. rodin's statue is precise because with the chin rested firmly at the end of a hunch, on some knuckles, one's thoughts sink right down into the mouth.

at Nussbaum & Wu this afternoon, Broadway and 113, i saw a hungry baby offered a french fry by his mother from off of the father’s plate. instead of letting the baby bite off the piece of fry slipped into her mouth, the mother pulls it back at the last second. the baby gets only the oily and salty taste from off the air-cooled fry. like any creature of common sense, the child extends her hand toward the father’s plate, beyond the mother entirely, toward that universally tantalizing taste.

broadway and 113 is as good a place as any in New York to watch, for brief moments and in teased out performances, beautiful women. in any other city the pace of life would slow us all to a parade lingering too long on the eye. this is uncomfortable for the voyeur at any other pace. the voyeur would begin to isolate the intricate flaws of the women walking by. i suppose an argument can be made that a voyeur perceives slower in other cities, and that the speed of the women walking is relative to his skill for ignoring the obvious and celebrating the ideal. i suppose an argument could be made that New York has the most beautiful women and the best admirers of them. i would personally find it a difficult point to argue. if anything, they certainly walk faster here than anywhere else women have some place to go. where exactly they're going, i have no idea. it ain't toward me.

22 August 2004

...is this... am i talking to someone?

i seem to have signed up for a blog. my intention was to post a comment after seeing my name used in some kind of article on a blog entitled http://dontyouhatepants.blogspot.com.. i know now it was written by an old friend named nicholas "zach morris" mcdowell, but at first glance (from a link on the schroek blog) i thought i was being fooled by some kind of cookie-manipulating, sarcasm-generating cyborg joke site. i seem to have been half right. anyway, i might as well tell you about my week and mention that if you visit the "hate pants" site you'll see i made some comment about cowing out. cowing out? i've never known a soul who would store such a phrase in their vocabulary. i felt i needed to respond and now i've got a fucking blog. i do however use the word "anywho."

my week.

anywho last saturday was a trip to one of the half dozen fabulous cinemas on houston st, the sunshine, for a first-time viewing of the princess bride. i went with max oglesbee, his sister phoebe (13 yo), and her friend abby. they were practically hyperventilating at the midnight showing of one of their favorite movies, and it was as fun to watch them as it was to watch the movie itself. we met tara lorenzen for a brief minute before the movie. she was at the sidewalk cafe on avenue a (gorgeous phrase right?) and carried her beer out with her in her purse. tara and i went into the ace bar on 5th street, watched pat moynihan botch a game of pool, introduced tara to rob, then walked her to the train and went to see the movie. highlight of the evening was the after-film piss with max, where my comment on mark knopfler's soundtrack got a surprising chuckle out of the urinal between us, a man who later commented that the rainbow colored rainboots we used to sneak beer into the movie theatre were "the kind of shit i'm talking about!" whatever-in-the-living fuck that meant. seriously, that hombre was "cowed out."

sunday i worked at my part-time 2-day a week for a free membership job at the 92nd street Y. its a cultural center more than a gym, and you can learn more about it at http://www.92ndsty.org.

monday i was invited by a dear friend mr. josh peskowitz to a fader magazine/cornerstone party at a gallery space on 18th street betwixt 9th and 10th. free beers provided by red stripe and harp, a free show of ted leo/the pharmacists and the libertines. the libertines were great looking, and ted leo was great sounding. at least to me. i'm not sure if max o. and jersey walz, my friends in attendance, enjoyed, but i certainly did. a vague head-nod and hello to a mr. james iha, in attendance; who ten years ago would have made me crawl across the floor to gush unscripted professions of adoration. nice to see he's still... turning japanese. i really think so. the after party at the maritime hotel was more of a before party. max and i left before it seemed to really get off the ground.

tuesday i was at the gym again and at the evening took a phone call from danielle florio to hear about the last phish show. despite not being a fan, i was enthralled at the experiences she encountered and couldn't help the mild pangs of jealousy i felt at missing what seemed a pretty historic event. slept well for the first time in all of august i think, drifting to sleep with images of vermont dancing vicariously through my head.

wednesday at the libraries all day, researching and editing an old piece of nonfiction. et ceteras...

thursday i had lunch with jersey walz, a brief stop at her father's lawyer's apartment on 72nd and central park west. had her homemade granola for the first time since the day she left for italy last summer. with rice milk. i gave her 12 blues songs on a cd-r, and she gave me a bag of granola to go. saw her new portrait camera ( a knockout ), some of her mother's antartica photos, and then hailed her a cab outside the building on the way to port authority. workers were tearing up the sidewalk out in front of the dakota, where 24 years ago john lennon was shot. i'm sure its been replaced several times since, but i had to wonder. rode with her bags and waited with her till she got on her bus to boston. she's staying at kurt vonnegut's house in barnstable mass this week, and will probably have some extraordinary photographs of the author and the ocean when she returns. you'd think in such a situation a man who pretends to be mildly intellectual could've figured out a way to get hisself invited along, but i was too stunned to even think of it.

and then afterwards i went to r.a.w. cuts barber shop next door to my building for a haircut. only white face in the premises. normally i can get by in these kinds of situations; talk hip-hop, talk jazz, talk r&b, talk movies. these particular guys just weren't havin' it. listened to my barber anthony tell me about the finer points of black pussy, asian women, and the barbershop basketball league. my big white irish face reflected off two mirrors, and a deep sadness that i could not, after all, "hang." but after the cut (45 minute cut for $12 bones, unbelievable), they invited me back to chill out front and have some beers. anthony's brother stanley told one of the best stories i've ever heard. one of those classics where nothing really happens, and its all in the telling (and unlike this one you're reading), but damn!

friday was a gem. worked the Y in the morning, tutored a 4th grader in math in the bronx after lunch, a college student in queens (requiring a 1.75 hour train ride through brooklyn to richmond hill), and then back to another student's on the lower east side. in all, four boroughs before dinner. danielle florio took the train in from westchester and met me on 125th street. i showed her my new harlem apartment, which she loved more than i ever will. we had a beer in the living room and then dined at the quintessential soul food restaurant, charles' southern fried chicken on 152nd and 8th avenue. the world's best fried chicken, in case you were wondering. the ribs, collards, sweet potatoes, and pulled pork are also in the world's top ten. took a stroll through one of my favorite neighborhoods in all of new york, the well-preserved and oft-overlooked hamilton heights. i love taking people over there and talking my usual over-factual conversation through these near-silent, immaculate streets. its about convent avenue from 145th to 135th, with a stroll down hamilton terrace at 143rd to see the house used by wes anderson in the royal tenenbaums. at 141st the preserved former house of alexander hamilton, where he lived from 1802-04, when he was killed in a duel in... of all places...hoboken.... saw a sign across from hamilton's crib stating "apartments $1000-1600," prompting me to speculate ways to get out of my lease.

and so we're only at 10pm on friday. waited at the D train stop on 125th, at a popeyes, for danielle's new boyfriend peter atlas. a very sweet and overwhelmingly laid back cat from middletown ny, who accompanied us back to my place while i took a shower. while i was in the shower, six gunshots rang out from a guy going by on a motorcycle. i didn't hear it at all, but the hip couple in my living room swore it was true. lenox ave was shut down right outside my window, and our ride to the evening's party was mildly rerouted.

the evening's party was at the yankee ferry, a boat parked on pier 23 in tribeca, at the end of north moore st. to be brief, which i haven't been, its a boat owned by a friend of a friend. a 1909 former staten island ferry, its the only boat in manhattan you can live on, and since the owners were gone for the weekend, max o. was in charge. which meant a very rare opportunity for a small gathering on the upper deck, surrounded by the financial district, the holland tunnel ventilation towers, abandoned piers, and the warehouses of tribeca. out in the hudson, a gorgeous, humid evening, with a collective of great folks celebrating morgan whirledge's 21st birthday. a well-timed joint created a blur of wildly nonsensical topics of conversation, one of them being the heaven better than the heaven from stairway to heaven. I know you're thinking "stairway to better heaven," but actually we preferred to call it "stairway to uber-heaven." max described this particular heaven in these quotes below, which i scrawled on an atm receipt in my pocket and deciphered this morning.

"stairway to uber-heaven, the eiffel 94 supersonic master plan! the relative major of the tonic brigade! did i say tunnel bridge? you can't have a tunnel that's a bridge, that's impossible."

after this, we calmed down slightly, and max told morgan and i another one of the best stories i've ever heard: the entire history of the yankee ferry. it included trips through both world wars, decades-long tours as a staten and block island ferry, and its last ten years as a historical landmark and a controversial eyesore in the new york harbor. a completely fascinating story, including how the boat got its water, electricity, and its docking privileges. it wouldn't be worth mentioning at all if it wasn't in constant threat of sinking or being removed from the pier by the ny/nj port authority.

on the pier at around three (vagueness starting to settle in), we took off from the boat and ran through the sand of the beach volleyball courts on the adjoining pier. soft sand between the toes is a luxury rarely known by the city resident, while the drunk city resident ponders the beauty of lying down in it and never getting up again.

and so that brings me to tonight. just returned from a relaxing evening spent at a party in the building on the fourth floor. played three vicious games of spades at the card table in the kitchen, where despite a rusty start, finished the last two games with my teammate julio in the victory collumn. the last game went to a third tie-breaker, all bets wagered, a crowd of onlookers and four spades left in my hand for the final rounds. won the last two hands for a meager ten points victory. risked it all and came out huge. could have spent the evening hitting on the pretty peruvian girl celia who came into my apartment hours before looking for one of my roommates, and instead i played cards with a harlem local, a brooklyn native, and a spaniard. and a white boy from upstate new york who has a lot more game with a stack of cards then with the ladies.

so that's my week. i wanted to post it and then maybe someday i can come back to it and seen what i did mid-august of 2004. i'm not much into the blogging thing. the reason the post is so long is because well, i can see this being the one and only post of this site. i've had better weeks and plan to have better ones still, but its nice every once in a while to capture this shit and have it the way it was when i remembered it freshly, and not out of some haze of a few years on. who knows. hope you enjoyed.