31 October 2004

The Flaneur At Grant's Tomb.

I was introduced to a character type known as “the flaneur” a few years ago, and rediscovered him in The Arcades Project, by Walter Benjamin. What Benjamin says about this character is instructive, and essential to understanding the mental condition of the city resident. Benjamin believes the flaneur is “in full possession of his individuality,” and the relationship between the flaneur and the crowd is what establishes his identity. The flaneur is not the type to proclaim, “How beautiful the street.” What Benjamin finds in crowds is that the individual must relinquish his pursuit of happiness. “The hundreds of thousands of all classes and ranks crowding past each other – aren’t they all human beings with the same qualities and the same interest in being happy?”

The idea that public spaces force us to be in the presence of strangers for long periods of time – that the malls, sidewalks, and public transportations require that we stifle our pursuit of happiness and submit to the flow of the crowd – is what sets the flaneur apart from the crowd’s function. In the crowd, Benjamin’s flaneur pursues his happiness. The flaneur is not reliant upon the function of the crowd or the function of the society that produces it. The flaneur’s idleness can only be realized if he is not subject to salary, occupation, or profession. Benjamin calls the flaneur “a demonstration against the division of labor.”

When I get myself all worked up about western civilization’s desire for death by its own consumerism, I have no place to flee but literature, music, film, and art. Too exhausted to continue my review of Benjamin’s essay tonight, I went for a walk. I found myself in the old neighborhood, a few blocks west of where I live now, but a neighborhood so different in its appearance, mood, and purpose, that it amazes me all of the same buses I still ride can be found there.

I followed the footsteps of my old after-dinner walk, at 122nd down Riverside and back up Broadway around 106th. What I found when I reached the eerily lit monument to Ulysses S. Grant (known as “Grant’s Tomb”) was an anomaly to the Central Harlem apartment where I spend too few hours each day. Silence.

The virtues of silence are lost on Harlem. If you live here, you are fighting the noise that has filled the air. If you are a member of this community, you function as an exhale that fills the street’s lungs, not as an inhale sustaining it.

Grant’s Tomb imposes a strange memorial to the silence of our heroes in death: sitting solemn by the river, taller than the trees around it, and like a forgotten rhetoric lost in a cobweb of concrete. This is not a graveyard but it functions in the same manner; a place where the living respect its peculiar brand of silence. We never search out silence precisely, we listen for a noise that is as common to us as the screen door slapping the wood molding on the backporch, the idling sedans at the drive-through window, the mowers and the leafblowers, the river and the wind that drags along its shores. We are not looking for silence, but the perpetuation of the sounds we yearn to hear.

Because I know there is silence; in Rockland County they’ve perfected it and sell satellite dishes to combat it. Grant’s Tomb has this lazy passing of cars, weak chatter spread thin by a block’s distance, runner’s feet, bicycle wheels and the clicking of the stoplight changing from green to red. I find it irresistable.

Do the rest of us want to hear ourselves, to drown out jazz with “jazz,” blues with “blues,” gospel with a long op-ed piece in the Times agreeable to our strongest convictions?

Because that is not “community,” but an aesthetic preference. What exactly does a solitary man need with a community without an intimate attachment to a place, a family, or an institution to belong to? I am always, to a degree, among strangers; the desire to obscure them with the silence I search for is, lacking a better term, my neighborhood.

A city resident has two roles, to be the pace of the crowd or the reaction to it; the silent drawing of breath on which the city survives, or the rag held to its face. The fear of understanding the flaneur is that you become one yourself. It is never a wise decision to call a neighborhood a flaneur, but to call my generation one might be a thesis for another day. If we have found our Paris, our Athens (one might cringe to hear this on the walk back to Lenox Ave at 1am), the flaneur can pursue happiness among its shapes and sounds. Harlem is not a place to pursue happiness; it is a place to flee from it.

To relinquish my pursuit of happiness, to determine it something not to be pursued, is hardly the same as saying I’m unhappy. I must begin to focus my happiness on other pursuits. The flaneur learns nothing from his street, and therefore only the silence he chases can be his subject. I was looking for silence and I found Harlem, a neighborhood of jackhammered calamities, sleeplessness, bobble-head salesmen, and a strange trail of chicken bones on every damned sidewalk. There is nothing crueler than the unbridled desire for silence, that, unfulfilled, endlessly spurns the residents of a neighborhood.

26 October 2004

Time Magazine.

“I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, a new pop opera by avant-garde composer John Adams, radical black poet June Jordan, iconoclastic director Peter Sellars and 26 urban-graffiti artists, raises an interesting question: Is it possible to be so politically correct that one becomes politically incorrect? Or to put it another way, Are some groups of people so inherently villainous that it is perfectly acceptable to stereotype, ridicule and otherwise bash them?”

–Time Magazine, 5.29.95

John Adams is a grey-haired white guy who attended Harvard.
Peter Sellars is another skinny white guy who attended Harvard
June Jordan went to Barnard, but somehow she comes off sounding like either a nutcase (strongest inference), or (weakest) the one who’d be responsible for word “pop” in the “new pop opera.” I can't even begin to comment on the rest of it.

What do you get when you google an estimable writer for whom you’re looking to find quick biographical information? What do you discover when you too hastily consult history? You get Time Magazine.

25 October 2004

The Subway Inn Will Do Me In (...if it hasn't already)

On Friday evening at 7pm I decided to top off a day already 14 hours old, by meeting up for A drink with Jon Cristaldi at The Subway Inn. My fourth night there in a week. The wishful "A drink" went from a 35mm snapshot to a 5.1 megapixel "DRINKS" when Mario appeared like a fly on my vaseline-smeared lenses. Haven't seen him since we sent Kevin Matha to Belgium so many months ago. Three doubles on the rocks (two paid for, one on Mario), and it was settled. Jonny and I were going to put together a Jonny Cigar sequel in the spring, and ready it for a summertime release. It'll be good to dust off Mr. Cigar, and I'll keep you posted on any upcoming developments.

Such as the new blog. Jon re-debuted Jonny Cigar's blog a month ago, and if you haven't checked it out you absolutely should. The link is below. I also added another blog for Cigar's agent Dean Ashwell, and you should check there for bi-weekly posting or mid-monthly postings or whenever the hell I get around to it. Dean is a character I expanded from the pages of Heinrich Bol's novel The Clown.

I added a link to Dean's page, as well as an updated Nick McDowell nod and a wink wink over to Invisible Downtown's site (really classy). Legendary Jerry Shevy's new Boston-based rock band. Invisible Downtown will be playing New York City on Friday October 29th, The Lion's Den (Sullivan and Bleecker). Do stop by at least the website, if not the gig itself.

And after a month-long holdout, I caved to the pressure and added AJ's site to the list. You win this round, Charpentier...

Oh, and then after the stiff whiskeys I went out for who-knows-what at a Vietnamese restaurant with Bess (also linked below), then over to some bar where I met up with a slew of less-familiar-than-they-should-have-been faces. I promptly launched into 4 stories told simultaneously, finishing none of them, and after another whiskey I hadn't paid for, dragged my dim bulb back to Harlem for a four and half hour through-the-night-drive to Sleep Depriville, population 1.

And now, magically, it's Tuesday.

24 October 2004

On Postcards.

Between 68th and 74nd, Lexington Avenue has 11 shops where you can get a cappucino. That's almost 2 per block. Because this string of shops connects my college to my gym, while passing by an art gallery where I do freelance work, it's inevitable that I would have frequented all of them. I know the best latte and the best drip coffee, the shortest line and the easiest place to get a seat. There are other neighborhoods that replicate this, but whereas Soho, Greenwich Village, and Brooklyn Heights have their tourists and passers-by, the Upper East Side has (save the museum crowds closer to Madison and Fifth) only its residents. The residents of this neighborhood are some of the city's wealthiest, and they demand these kinds of establishments. To pass an hour idling is the Upper East Side's cultural contribution to the rest of the city. It provides New Yorkers with places to be idle, and caters to the very wealthy in restaurants like Payard and Orsay. There is something only vaguely french about these restaurants and their is something still more french about doing nothing for a living and enjoying the hell out of it. I pretend I am among these citizens most days, and usually betray myself miserably when I bolt out the door at Oren's Daily Roast to catch the bus.

But the tourists go to Chelsea and they get their lattes too. This trait seems to be a requisite of travel; go to the cities with the cafes, the leisure places. It is true some of us can't function on the beach. So we book flights to cities with cafes and see only the neighborhoods with those cafes. The restaurants and the lounges and the galleries. Places to unwind. Do we visit industrial centers? No. We choose London over Leeds, Edinburgh over Cardiff, Buenos Aires over Rivaderia. For good reason. We can't relax otherwise. But do we learn anything but a higher aesthetic of cafe culture, our standards raised? Do we return from Paris and say, "We have to create a better mass transit system!" or do we say, "We need their cafes!"?

I received a postcard in the mail from a dear friend who shall remain nameless. Before I get going I must say this: It is one of life's true pleasures to be thought of by someone else while they are traveling. And I must not alienate this feeling with my staunch opinion against the art form of writing postcards. There is no art in it, to be honest. It's hackery.

So what am I to think as a writer of too many words, that the rest of the world should be as superfluous with their descriptions? No. What I have to say about the postcard genre is very direct.

1. They put pictures of places I haven't been on one side, taunting me cruelly with what I see when I lift my eyes away from them. For this brief shock at my own surroundings I am grateful. But then..

2. ...on inspection the pictures are never very illustrative, and never offer a sense of the place visited. They gloss over the details, making generic that which distinguishes the postcarded place from others.

3. The photographs I have almost always seen several times before. Who in their right fucking mind would send an Eiffel tower photo to anyone but the most distant relative? Some member of the family belonging to a Tutsi tribe in East Africa, perhaps, but a relatively modern man with even a dial-up connection has seen most of the modern world's great tourist attractions. Postcards like these remind me of a webpage, never an actual place.

4. Postcards offer less than six square inches to open a dialogue. This is never the writer's fault. Postcard dialogue always sounds like what you'd say after running from Marathon to Athens to deliver a report of your travels. Typical postcard fare:

"The weather is good. Wow. Saw the (tourist site x) today. Wow! Wish you were her-
e. Hope h-ome good. Bye."

So why do I have such expectations? I don't. Postcards are postcards. The postcard I received, to be honest, was none of these things. It was well-written, thoughtful, and humorous. And it had to have been penned as precisely as possible in order to achieve those things, requiring far more effort than a page long letter. For which I am truly grateful. But it did provoke me to ask these questions:

1. If you are traveling to a city, and you find yourself in a neighborhood designed for the leisurely traveler, how is it not possible to find the time to pen an actual letter?

2. What is the fear of the letter?

3. I'm envious of your travels, but my envy is vaguely apportioned. I would be able to live more vicariously through the sights you see and the trip you're having if I could extract more from these four sentences then a casual yawn. So why did I get this?

I understand stationery, envelopes, stamps; they can all be disasterous "chores" to undertake in a foreign place. And the last thing I'd want to do is spend a whole day running around in an attempt to think thoughtfully of someone else, especially when I'm supposed to be treating myself to time away. The postcard is as efficient as an email. But that's just it. That's all it is.

I hope to recieve many postcards in the future, and because they've come from travelers, I won't be able to scrawl nasty comments and send them back. But I have to get this off my chest:

Postcards are not letters. They are not a form of correspondence.

Thank you for allowing me to be completely ridiculous. I'm a crusty old son of a bitch, I know.

22 October 2004

What a week(s).... "!"?

Well, I have had some of the longest days these past few weeks, and I'm realizing now, from the haze, that it was probably all for nought.

A tiresome recap:

1. I've learned never to accept money in advance for tutoring. Three students asked if they could get a discount by paying upfront, and I foolishly accepted. The three eighth-graders all needed help in the same test: The Specialized High School Entrance Exam. All three were taking the test on the same day. All three gave me limited availability until the middle of last week, when I became their personal whore. Three-hour sessions back to back, repeating myself at length, speaking only in terms of x and preaching the holy writ of isosceles triangles. And the worst of it is, I lived on the MTA, ate on the MTA, and had already been paid. Something about tutoring is not as rewarding when, after a thorough three hours of talking like a textbook, you don't have a fat check waiting for you.

2. As if my classes haven't soused me with enough of mediocrity's urine, midterm week has arrived and I'm plowing through all the uselessness that I actually had to learn so far this semester. Normally I just drop shitty classes, but you can't drop 5 of 'em. That's called unemployment.

3. After writing every day for the last 8 months or so, I haven't penned a sentence these past 10 days. I feel like I barely know how. It would have been nice to have a break, but this was no break. I just plain feel empty inside. And I know there's a word for "exhausted to the point of stupidity," or "stupid to the point of exhaustion," but I ain't thunked of it yet.

4. Saw the best baseball of my life this week, and had to drink like a fish to do it. It was worth every second of Fox's nauseating coverage; crowd shot-Jeter cutaway-bullpen-manager-ump-fan-rallycap-pitcherface-PITCH-reactions-reactions-Jeter cutaway.... Between batters I'd forgotten who was hitting and which team was winning. But those seven games - which could've been broadcast on my cell phone to be honest - was the best thing to happen to this city all month. Thousands of closeted Red Sox fans have turned up everywhere, coming out like fall foliage. With the Expos gone, another minute of the Yankees post-season would've questioned my faith in baseball. Cards-Red Sox is the best World Series I could have hoped for,
and I'm looking forward to another "stomach churning in its own whiskey" seven games. Here's a list of home fields my drunkeness took advantage of:

1- The Subway Inn, 60th and Lexington Ave
2- Clean Rite Laundromat, 129th and Lenox Ave
3- Toast, Broadway and LaSalle Street.
4- Bess and Jacqui's apartment, 137th and Broadway
5- The Subway Inn.
6- Frenchy's Bar, East Tremont Ave, Bronx
7- The Subway Inn.

If a man can survive 32 innings at the Subway Inn, he can cheat the Yankees and death itself. If you're looking for me on Saturday, that just might be the first place to look.

11 October 2004

Paris Etc...

“For a Midwestern like me, Paris was a Leslie Caron musical, a heavy, grown up perfume, exaggerated hem lengths dictated by the top five couteriers; Women. La Parisienne. I read English translations of Balzac’s novels or Zola’s in which a dozen millionaires contended for the affections of a single mistress.”

-Edmund White, “My Paris,” Iowa Review.

For White, Paris is a sensory experience, and he uses one of the senses so difficult to incorporate into praise writing; smell. “A heavy, grown-up perfume” is simple yet precise enough to elicit our close attention. When we were young perfume had two categories, light and overbearing, and in adulthood, despite our pretensions of aestheticism and our choice of magazine reading or coffeehouse preferences, we are still subject to those two categories of perfume. No different than the millionaires chasing Nana or this New York, here at Starbucks on 47th Street and 9th Ave, catching up on a little bit of typing.

I write every day, whether I need to or not, but typing is another story altogether. Because of my dual professions – tutor and student – I am at the will of mass transit and pressed firmly inside its ripening armpit far longer than your average commuter. This facilitates a dual role for me. I am at once sporadic and spotty, grammar failing me when the idea forces itself out between transfers from express trains to locals or locals to buses. Yet I try desperately to compliment this kind of writing with a more deliberate long-form writing that attempts to take a few ideas and find a way to stitch them together in something that might hold a reader still for longer than an email. What I didn’t realize, and did from reading “The Best American Essays of the Century,” is that more than a handful of theses have been driving essay forms for the last half-century, and only in an edition where they’re stacked upon each other did I notice.

Sontag’s “Notes On Camp,” Rich’s essay on lying, Didion’s “The White Album,” all possessed frantic shifts in tone and subject, unapologetically broken up. I was forced to rub sentences with my finger to see if they were actually there on the page. Did she just stop mid-sentence and abandon her original thesis? Will she ever return to it? These reactions followed from all of the three essays above, and settled in my scotch-scarred mind the fact that American women have been pushing the essay form for the last quarter-century and I’ve been reading none of them. Even my reading list of a few posts ago is scantily dotted with women, like parsley on a giant, over-cooked hunk of sirloin.

I’ve been working with elliptical forms for the year. An essay that begins with one topic, only to abandon it and spread precariously into another before ending up at the first topic, hopefully a bit more enlightened. But the hit and misses are just as pretty for their failures as they are for the wisdom they cannot court, and the form is intoxicating once you begin using it. You can explain away any flight of fancy you want, because there is always that challenge waiting in the last page for you, that “Can I possibly string it all together?” Only now I realize that more and more the shift in nonfiction has been to tackle as much as possible within one title. Coming back to your original thesis is your grandfather’s essay; even your maternal and paternal grandfathers, Emerson and Thoreau, couldn’t hold onto an original thesis without denouncing it on page two, and that was the quality for which you admired them. If this were an ellipse I’d have some point about Paris that would rival the wit of Edmund White, but to be honest, I can barely remember Paris. I know it can’t be like New York but I can’t for the life of me sniff out in the dank, flooded basement where I store my nostalgia, what precisely distinguishes it. Amazing to think that cities I’ve visited half a dozen times live in the words of other men. Paris is Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited,” Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon, and Bogart’s Casablanca. New York will always be mine, I can safely say, but it is possible this city could, after a number of years, be my only city.

And there’s my ellipse after all.

06 October 2004

What's This Nascar Shit?


While I was working on an essay about the Montreal Expos, I got a little sidetracked with baseball statistics. As 2004 became a record setting year (at least in hitting) with Bonds, Dunn and Ichiro posting incredible numbers, I decided to look at some other players' grossly inhuman seasons during Major League Baseball's 120-plus years. Here is a sample of some of the single season player stats I was able to find. And they're Yankee-free!

Ed Delahanty, 1899 Philadelphia
Games, 146; At Bats, 581; Hits, 238; Doubles, 55; AVG .410; OBP .460
...First player to hit 4 HRs in a game. Murdered during the 1903 Season.

Chief Wilson, 1912 Pittsburgh
Games, 152; At-Bats, 583; Triples, 36 (Record)

Ty Cobb, 1911 Detroit
Games, 146; Hits, 248; AVG, .420 OBP, 459; SLG .621

Barry Bonds, 2004 San Francisco
Games, 147 At Bats 373; AVG .362; OBP .609 (Record); SLG .812

Hugh Duffy 1894 Boston
Games 125; Hits 237; AVG .440 (Record); OBP .494; SLG .694

Adam Dunn, 2004 Cincinatti
Games 161; At-Bats 568; AVG .266 OBP .388 SLG .569; Strikeouts, 195 (Record)

Willie Wilson, 1980 Kansas City
Games, 161: At Bats, 705 (Record): Hits, 230; AVG .326

Ichiro Suzuki, 2004 Seattle
Games, 161: At-Bats, 704 (2nd); Hits, 262 (Record); AVG .372; OBP .414; SLG .455

Mordecai Brown, 1906 Chicago Cubs
W-L, 26-6; ERA 1.04 (2nd); Innings, 277.1; Complete Games, 27
Lefty Grove, 1931 Philadelphia A's
W-L, 31-4; ERA 2.06; Complete Games, 27; Innings, 288.2

Eddie Walsh, 1908 Chicago White Sox
W-L, 40-15; ERA 1.42; Innings, 464.0; Complete Games 42; Shutouts, 11; K's, 269.

Pedro Martinez, 2000 Boston
W-L, 18-6; ERA 1.74; Innings, 217.0; K's, 284

Roy Face, 1959 Pittsburgh
W-L, 18-1 ERA 2.70; Innings 93.1; Win Percentage .947 (Record)
...The guy won 18 games in 93 innings. You couldn't win 8 games with 93 innings in 2004.

Dutch Leonard, 1914 Boston
W-L, 19-5; ERA 0.96 (Record); Innings, 224.2


John Clarkson, 1885 Chicago Cubs,
W-L, 53-16 (Wins Record); ERA 1.85; Games Started, 70 (2nd to himself)
Complete Games, 68 (Record); Innings, 623.0 (Record), Walks, 93; K's, 308

John Coleman, 1883 Philadelphia
W-L, 12-48 (Losses Record); ERA, 4.87; Complete Games 59;
Innings, 538.1; Hits allowed, 772 (Record) Runs allowed, 510 (Record)
Earned Runs, 291 (Record)
...Also holds the record for most single season records set in a single season. This was his rookie year. He pitched half the next year and then became an outfielder.

04 October 2004

from "The Prologue, Book 2;" Gargantua And Pantagruel, 1532.

"...I therefore, your humble slave, willing to increase your solace and recreation a little more, do offer you for a present another book of the same stamp, only that it is a little more reasonable and worthy of credit than the other was. For think not, unless you wilfully will err against your knowledge, I was not born under such a planet, neither did it ever befall me to lie, or affirm a thing for true that was not. I speak of it like a lusty frolic onocrotary (Onocratal is a bird not much unlike a swan, which sings like an ass’s braying), I should say crotenotary (Crotenotaire or notaire crotte, croquenotaire or notaire croque are but allusions in derision of protonotaire, which signifieth a pregnotary.) of the martyrized lovers, and croquenotary of love. Quod vidimus, testamur. It is of the horrible and dreadful feats and prowesses of Pantagruel, whose menial servant I have been ever since I was a page, till this hour that by his leave I am permitted to visit my cow-country, and to know if any of my kindred there be alive.

"And therefore, to make an end of this Prologue, even as I give myself to a hundred panniersful of fair devils, body and soul, tripes and guts, in case that I lie so much as one single word in this whole history; after the like manner, St. Anthony’s fire burn you, Mahoom’s disease whirl you, the squinance with a stitch in your side and the wolf in your stomach truss you, the bloody flux seize upon you, the cursed sharp inflammations of wild-fire, as slender and thin as cow’s hair strengthened with quicksilver, and, like those of Sodom and Gomorrah, may you fall into sulphur, fire, and bottomless pits, in case you do not firmly believe this present Chronicle."

-Francois Rabelais

01 October 2004

Where's Middleton?

SPIN magazine remains a publication that spurred my mind when I was younger, but has since become a curio. I still see it - a pitiable object on the shelf - looking waxed up and shiny for sunlight and curiosity to reflect off its cover. For one issue a few summers ago, it returned to that estimable position of bent-back spine clenched in my hands. I was at Indigo Books and Music on McGill College Avenue in downtown Montreal, noticing among the string of music magazine covers the face of Axel Rose. The cover read, "Where's Axl?"


Inside was an article about the disappearance of one of the biggest icons in music's last fifteen years. I could really give a damn about him, but I can't say the same thing for the millions and millions of people worldwide who bought G'N'R albums, t-shirts, concert tickets, and red bandannas. Whenever I visit my hometown, I am as sure to see a deer strapped to the roof of a car as I am to see one of their fucking t-shirts. Sometimes simultaneously. But I too wondered, what the hell happened to Axl Rose?


I bought a pack of cigarettes today and unwrapping them, remembered a picture I once saw of Jack Kerouac leaning up against an East Village tenement having a smoke. Back in my SPIN-reading days I considered Jack's the only way to smoke, and swore off cigarettes for life less I could be as cool doing it. I don't consider myself a smoker's smoker, have never smoked a pack in under a month, but do occasionally buy them to remind myself why I shouldn't. The picture below is a primer on how to smoke a cigarette.


There is only one other way: the cigarette smokes you. This is how 97% of us smoke. It burns, dangles, takes over the front of the face and renders you a parasite to nicotine and its frail weight in dumb fingers. I should know, because this is how I smoke. 2.9999% of smokers smoke like Jack. My old roommate Kevin Matha smokes like this. He would hoist the garbage bag out of the can in the kitchen, throw it over his shoulder, and bite down on the cigarette as he flung open the door. He'd leave it in his lip till the trash was on the curb of Claremont Avenue, and leave it still when he removed his Red Sox hat and wiped the sweat caused by the exertion off his brow. Red faced and dizzy, he could still smoke like Jack.

Then there's that other .0001%.

Mike Middleton was an acquaintance my last year of high school. I shared lunch with this character and a sea of vague caracatures. I don't know if I consciously pursued his genius or accidentally stumbled across it, but it was there; I recognized it the first time I visited his bedroom. He lived in a one-room suburban flophouse on Skid Row Drive. The closest thing to a homeless shelter you could find in Queensbury, NY.

Mike slept on the floor in a New Kids On the Block sleeping bag, kept cheap porn mags fanned across his bedroom floor. Beer cans full of piss on the book shelf. Drawers open, contents emptied onto the floor. Chip wrappers, cereal boxes, a convenience store held up for its high fructose corn syrup, a wrapper factory fallen on hard times. Just beyond, his parents owned a four-bedroom two-bath cedar-sided house with an inground pool. He was a black sheep relative who moved in after a string of bad luck and never left. I can't imagine his younger sister's face every time she stumbled into his room.

He wore six t-shirts at one time, always, rotating them from inner to outer, once a day. His fashion sense begged: If one t-shirt is visible and one is touching your skin, which shirt are you actually wearing? With his underwear no queries need be posed; he wore the same pair of boxers for months on end. His record; two and half months without changing them.

Extremes of personal hygiene have never fascinated me entirely. Filth is filth, a one dimensional subject with which one can write a few meager sentences. Excess however is a good start... to live vicariously through someone else's excess is to begin a search for the character traits of a genuine individual.

Middleton always had his drunkeness to fall back on, whether at the liquor store stocking shelves part-time (he'd have done it for free) or down by the "Shanty.' His Shanty was his home away from home. A half-room shack in the middle of the woods - too small to drink in but a great place to drink next to - to share a drink with the woods. At parties he would piss himself for free beers. I once saw him funnel half a bottle of gin, only to throw it up and forge on with another half bottle of Goldschlager. Throw in two packs of Camel Wides and we're getting somewhere.

Filth, excess, and the desire to provoke outrage. The latter is not teeing off and skirting the fairway. You have to be nuanced; you have to know your audience and proceed delicately.

Mike would announce every day in the middle of lunch that he was going to the bathroom across the hall to masturbate. He would leave and come back 15-20 minutes later, no explanation of his absence save a lazy smile. To this day he holds the dubious honor of concocting the most outrageous method of self-satisfaction. He claimed that lying on your back in an empty bathtub, listening to a recording of yourself reading Penthouse Forum in a cowboy accent was "making love to yourself." In his school bag for months he kept a ziplock with what he claimed was a vaginal secretion from his junior prom date. I would never admit to making such a thing up; Middleton's disheveled appearance alone put all claims under suspicion. One day he asked her to come over to our lunch table and showing her what looked like a small, stale booger, she confirmed it. "Yeah. Weirdest thing. Mike wouldn't let me throw it out."

Despite these details one pervades. He was incredibly charming. His girlfriend (not the one mentioned above) was two years older and a former prom queen. The extent of his filth offended no-one, and his desires to provoke were not met with outrage but with gentle prodding. When Mike asked a girl named Michelle to come over to our table to touch his crotch, and confirm for all within earshot the size of his penis, she curiously obliged. Her impressed surprise mixed with his triumphant expression was a delicate situation handled flawlessly. It could've gone horribly.

I remember stopping by his house one afternoon and finding him a victim to one of his own gags; "There's three plane tickets to Orlando on the kitchen table." It turns out his parents arranged a trip to Disney World and found the best way to break it to Mike that he wasn't invited was to just leave the tickets on the table. They left for a week over Thanksgiving Break, leaving him $50 for the week's groceries, expenses, etc. If they'd left him more he'd have turned up dead. As it was, Mike got a bottle of cheap gin and a carton of cigarettes, first thing. Then he brought his sleeping bag down to the living room.

I last saw him, a little heavy-eyed and six beers the wrong side of sober sometime in the fall of 1999. He was talking about the relationship between rockets and candy, his appearance was a bit more managed, and he was taking classes at a local college. His potential seemed a little less infinite than before, but it could've been just a long day. I haven't thought about him much since, but today, smoking cigarettes, his style of smoking came to me.

As if every inhale was a matter of preserving life, Middleton smoked as asthmatics hit inhalers. First he'd fill his throat with a drag, then expand his chest cavity a harder gasp. Hold it in for a few second's pause, then force out the smoke. The cigarette would last less than a minute, and the filter would usually put the cigarette out. When you see heroine addicts stick their arms above their heads in the movies, well, it was a little like that. And although his tobacco inflations were always memorable, one question still pervades.

Where the hell is Mike Middleton?

I could propose a lot of theories. He could be this guy. And I'd like to believe that almost as much as I'd like to have a cup of coffee with him and hear about how the last half-decade's been.

The best I can figure, Middleton runs a bait shop, specializing in blood worms and silver minnows in a small dockside shack on Lake Okeechobee, Florida. This is of course, only a front. For a full-time job he's a swing voter. And on election day Mike will stroll down to a touch-screen voting booth and decide who will be President. But something will go terribly wroing, his brain so waterlogged with poll results and debate footage, pundit rants and half-blurred 'Nam-era documents clouding the clouded functions of his cerebral cortex, and his mental breakdown will cause first state-wide and then nation-wide voting machine failures. Blindly he will keypad-write-in (can you even do that?) the first name that comes to mind. A lot of votes will be cast in Florida for men like Kush and Berry, Glinton, Kore, Buchanan, McCarthy, etc; but Middleton's write-in choice will be weighted as 51 million votes, and his choice will be the next President of the United States (and you read it here first): Axl Rose.

Middleton will have the last laugh. While we stand idly by and wait for tragedy to unfold, Al Qaeda will harness mother nature's indifferent wrath and assassinate first lady Stephanie Seymour with a cold November Rain.