Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sublet Surrealism

Last year I got a screenwriting gig - a project that I actually want to write - and headed out of town for a month to get started. The cavalcade coming through to sublet the apartment was the usual motley lot, mostly film production people in their spring migration to NYC.

I had three of them in the living room at once, including a gigantic African-American man who made the apartment seem like a doll house.

'Most hipsters are scrawny and small,' I said, watching him closely in fear that he would turn too quickly and smash a hole in the wall.

So why are you going? the slender camerawoman sitting on the couch said.

I need to be somewhere quiet to write the first draft of a screenplay, I said.

You will write the screenplay in one month? said the black guy's friend, a short, bald man with a heavy mitteleuropa accent.

A first draft, I said.

It took me five years to write my screenplay, he said.

I felt guilty.

Well, I said, Your screenplay must be good.

When Miramax calls you back in four hours, he said, You know it is good.

What's it called, the camerawoman asked.

It is called, 'Twin Souls', he said.

Oh, she said, There hasn't been any good twin things in a while. Now is a great time to pitch twins.

No, he said, They are not twins. It is about two people with shared souls who manage to find each other across the world.

That does sound wonderful, I said.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Ramble on the Internet

So I'm listening to jazz on (what a great invention), when a soloing pianist starts to riff on the Flintstones theme. Quite charming. The listing says it's Ornette Coleman's Congeniality off the Ken Burns jazz set. I want to find out who the pianist is so I start poking around but can't find a Congeniality that's 13:59. In fact, I'm starting to wonder if it's Ornette at all. I wasn't paying that much attention when the song was playing but Ornette didn't pop into my head. So I ramble a little further and come to a much more likely candidate - 'The Egg' by Herbie Hancock. What does it mean though, when music is being so casually mislabeled in the Interverse?

I did discover that the composer of the Flintstones theme was a man named Hoyt Curtin, a commercial jingle composer before his big breakthrough with Hanna Barbara - and that musicians often riff on the tune.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Jock Genetics

Article in today's NYTimes on genetic tests that might allow families to determine what sports their kids are suited for.

Read about the eagerness of parents to start programing their kids for a jock future. Marvel at statements like: 'What if my son could be a pro football player and I don’t know it?' What if indeed, mom? What if he could be like star wide reciever Plaxico Burress who accidentally shot himself in a nightclub over the weekend?

See a coach praise the Chinese system that identifies athletes at an early age and drags them off to special camps for the rest of their childhoods. A lot to admire over there in China, coach.

So disgusting and so sad on so many levels.

The Altamont of Big-Box Store Capitalism

Temp worker trampled by mob trying to get into a Walmart on Black Friday. Walmart of all places.

That kind of thing only used to happen at Who concerts.

Gimme Sales (to the tune of 'Gimme Shelter')

Oh, the economy is threatening
My holiday shopping today
If I dont get some credit
Oh yeah, Im gonna fade away

Walmart, shoppers, its just an exit away
Its just an exit away
Walmart, shoppers, its just an exit away
Its just an exit away

Ooh, see the downturn is sweepin
through all the box-stores today
Burns like a variable-rate mortgage
Ikea lost its way

Walmart, shoppers, its just an exit away
Its just an exit away
Walmart, shoppers, its just an exit away
Its just an exit away

Discounts, bargains!
They're just an aisle away
They're just an aisle away

Layoffs is threatning
My kids' Christmas today
Gimme, gimme a discount
Or Im gonna fade away

Discounts, bargains!
They're just an aisle away
They're just an aisle away

> In a message dated 11/28/2008 2:09:12 P.M. Pacific Standard Time,
> writes:
> what a bunch of fucking pigs:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

At the Dermatologist's

I went to the dermatologist's today for my annual exam. It's the exam you need if you spent your teen years - and beyond - working as a landscaper and are as Irish as a hangover. I have atypical nevus - renegade moles - but am in no immediate danger. Just the annual trek to the clinic.
I have health care now, in a new part of the country, and visited a new office for the first time. It was pure David Lynch. I stepped into an office with a dozen grandmas and grandpas crowding the seats. They were all fixated on the TV screen, which was showing old episodes of the Johnny Carson Show. Johnny wearing a dress, Johnny joking about Ed's drinking, Johnny holding a kinkajou. At one of Johnny's excruciating jokes they'd all start cackling like the witches in Macbeth. Now either there's an Alzheimer Channel or the office was playing DVD's of Johnny. I don't know which is worse.
In that office, the only folks not collecting Social Security were me and a tweaker metal chick covered in scabs. She also had a bandage going all the way up one of her arms. She looked at me and smiled. I looked at my shoes. A minute later she turned to the old lady sitting next to her.
'Hey ma' she said in a cigarette-scarred voice, 'You can go if you want. Joey will pick me up.'
Her mom, a little old white-haired lady from Pasadena murmured that no, she would wait. I considered the possibility that Joey might be the last person she wanted picking up her daughter.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Weather Report from Irvine, California

62.8 °F / 17.1 °C

I can smell the wildfires through my bedroom window.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Is This the Story of Johnny Rotten?

The Ritz Carlton Hotel case
On 23 January 2008 Lydon was reportedly involved in a string of offences, including battery, sexual abuse, sexual assault and physical assault. Ms Davis (Lydon's employer on his television program) was punched in the face by Lydon after being called a "cunt" several times. It is believed that Lydon wished for a door between his hotel room and his male friend's room at the hotel Ritz Carlton, but was given a separate room without a dividing door. Lydon reportedly became infuriated with the hotel staff, before assaulting his own employee who was staying in the same hotel. Upon being questioned by journalists over the incident, Lydon was unavailable. Davis has taken legal action against Lydon, her lawsuit is underway in a San Francisco court room.

I think the key lines here are: '...wished for a door between his hotel room and his male friend's room...'

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Anyone You Know?

The most agreeable vocation for business.
- from The New Yorker (11-4-08)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Nietzsche Sez

Life is worth living, says art, the beautiful temptress.
- F.N.

Friday, October 24, 2008


So I started getting flamed on my blog with really nasty, rather personal comments along the lines of, 'My friend read your book and said it was junk. I played college football for year and I sucked, but I didn't go out and write a book about it.' And 'So what are you, in your mid-40s now [not quite], but still living in Williamsburg banging that 30-year old pussy. Who do you think you are, Che, or Hemingway?' Pretty rude stuff, and somewhat creepy as I realized that I must have met this guy as he kept referencing my height (Hey, I’m short. But fierce).

Then I got this comment.

"btw, sorry about the recent assaults. Had a rather rough time with you some day. No fighting. Just something that ailed my liking of you. I get wild too much so. I'm the first to admit it. Get carried away w. my drinking & writing. And i apologize. I'm sure you're a descent fellow.......Keep those gloves raised high, Rob."

It started me thinking about what the ‘rough time’ had been, and when I combed over the previous few weeks of my life I realized that it could have easily been a half dozen incidents. I’d gotten into a fight on the soccer field; I’d had words with a jerk who almost hit me riding his bike the wrong way up Bedford Avenue; a neighbor had gone crazy and started shrieking at me on the street. The conflicts were due to my obstreperous nature, but also to city living with all its tensions and proximities. The flaming made me feel vulnerable, to know that some brief disagreement'outside' could so easily follow me back home.

I finally decided on the most likely conflict. I was sitting in my café catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in over a decade when I noticed a guy sitting at the next table eavesdropping. Every time I looked up, he was looking right at me – and I was pretty sure he wasn’t cruising me. He was a burly guy, late 30s, kind of professional looking, very tense. So as we were getting ready to leave, I said something, loudly, about people who listened to other people’s conversations. He took offense, we had a loud exchange then and there, and then and I left.

Obviously, I thought, he had been eavesdropping, since I was filling in my old friend on my life and career and he’d picked up enough details to track me down.

Our exchange on our blog continued. This after I was conciliatory (because I've been a drunken lunatic once or twice myself):

'thanks man. Very noble of you. And, believe me, it's definitely a two way street. I can be an utter nightmare given the time of day (especially when it's drinking time). Truly, no harm meant, although i know i come across as crazy vicious, throwing as many low blows as i can manage. That's just me. I fire off a lot of blanks at a wide array of targets when i'm exploring one of my glamorous 75 beer weekends. You could say i'm a rather self loathing dick head way too much of the time. And, believe it or not, i'm also working on being more respectful. Mr. Hyde on the other hand.....Funny thing is, is that you seem to lead a very cool lifestyle & i admire the boxing you did. Growing up i always wanted to box & play hockey, but given my limited options in the sticks, football was what i had to work with. So, long story short, i'm a pretty easy read; obviously jealousy rears it's head a lot with me. Maybe i'll drop you another line, some day. For now, i gotta' get the fuck back on course. Truly sorry to have tossed some refuse in your direction during my most recent storm. Gotta' a lot more apologizing to do...later dude.’

We had another friendly exchange in the following week.

What made it all interesting, I think, was how it resolved. It was a very old-fashioned masculine sense of disrespect transferred to a new medium. As soon as my enemy felt he’d been acknowledged, he backed off. We had recognized each other has people.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Agon

It occurs to me on the occasion of Red Sox's loss in the ALCS that losing has its beauty. Our culture only cares about the winners but has little to say about losers who fight until the end. Winning isn't even interesting if you don't beat someone good but we treat losers, even when luck plays a role, like pariahs.

The struggle has its own beauty. I lost my last fight as a boxer - to a pretty good kid who turned pro - but I felt satisfied afterward. I'd left it all in the ring, I just happened to be matched against someone who was more experienced. I learned more losing that fight than I did from my victories.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

No Country for Old Men?

Who had B-Hop beating Kelly 'The Ghost' Pavlik? Not me.

Yet not only did the old man take the decision, he dominated, winning almost every round and nearly knocking out a celebrated fighter seventeen years younger than him and the heavy favorite (Hopkins is forty-three which is like eighty-four in boxing years).

As I sit here nursing my strained oblique, my fractured wrist, my torn MCL, I lift a pain-killing glass of bourbon to an old warrior who can still thump the kids.

Thank you, Mr. Hopkins.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Civilization Don't Come Cheap

"I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization."
- Oliver Wendell Holmes

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Airhead

We all know the the airhead, that girl who forgets what you told her five minutes, who is oblivious to all chaos around her - fistfights, hurricanes, head on collisions. In fact, we've dated her.

All things being equal, there should be male airheads. But while there are plenty of male idiots, the male airhead almost doesn't exist (except for some dudes I went to high school with who took several hundred hits of LSD).

What I never considered though, was how being an airhead was a defense mechanism, passive resistance. Young women are taught to be nice, not to say 'no', to agree with group, while men are allowed to be surly, obnoxious and poorly groomed.

Faced with these obstacles to expressing her feelings, the young woman turns to the 'airhead' defense. She's smiling, polite, agrees and then proceeds to do exactly what she wanted to do. If you get angry at her, she smiles, apologizes, shrugs. She's young, she's charming, ninety percent of the time she gets away with it.

As woman get older and more assured, they tend drop the airhead defense. After all, the downside of being an airhead is that nobody takes you seriously.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Few Thoughts on Raging Bull

Scorcese doesn't use a lot of close-ups on DeNiro, except during the fight scenes. It seems to help maintain the distance from the character. We're watching this character from a certain remove.

When DeNiro gets angry or is fighting, Scorcese goes to slow-mo, to show the speed of adrenaline through its opposite (because adrenaline slows time). You think that adrenaline and pain speed things up but it just speeds you up, so that you're moving faster than the world around you.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Land That Time Forgot

What I need to know, says the handsome teenager, Is if you’ll marry me.
He's proposing to a short, round woman who’s about twenty years older than him. She can’t believe what’s she hearing. We can’t believe it either and start laughing. The woman buries her hands in the pockets of her MTA jacket and stares at the ground. But Handsome isn’t finished yet.
Listen, he says and takes her by the shoulders, then starts to sing in a wavering falsetto:

When the visions around you
Bring tears to your eyes
And all that surrounds you
Are secrets and lies
I'll be your strength
I'll give you hope
Keeping your faith when it's gone
The one you should call
When standing here all alone

We’re in the shadow of elevated train-tracks and Handsome is wearing a black sleeveless t-shirt. The visuals, along with the doo-wop crooning, make me feel like I’m watching an old movie – The Lords of Flatbush, maybe, or West Side Story or something about Dead-End Kids. Except that everything here is in color.
When you get off the subway at the Myrtle/Wyckoff stop you’re in the heart of modern New York City: bodegas, Chinese-Spanish restaurants, beauty shops. Walk east though and you start going back in time. At first the neighborhood is racially mixed – black, Latino and some Asian – but the further east you go the lighter it becomes until, after about ten blocks, you’re in a mostly white world. The strange thing about finding all those Caucasians on the borough border is that they’re not all immigrants, like, say, the Poles in Greenpoint or members of insular religious sects like the Hasidim. No. A lot of the white folks in Ridgewood, maybe most of them, were born there. It’s like discovering a lost tribe of stone-age hunter-gatherers in the rain forest. You keep telling yourself, ‘I thought these people became extinct a long time ago.’
The little round woman tells Handsome she has to get back to work and heads for the bus depot under the M tracks. Handsome isn’t discouraged; the show must go on. He flexes a lean bicep for our edification and then walks down the street striking body-builder poses in store windows. Handsome’s older, quieter brother shakes his head. Out on Fresh Ponds Road the time shift is almost complete. The storefronts on the street are of the mom & pop variety and all the signs are in English: Krystal European Bakery, Alan Discount, Rainbow Gift shop, Henry’s Department Store. Ice coffee costs a buck, a loaf of bread, sixty cents. Most of the lettering over the shops is in archaic fonts and dingy with age. The signs are decades old and missing letters.
The two brothers don’t exactly fit the Ridgewood motif. They’re extras from more modern movies – Boyz in the Hood, Colors and Dead Presidents, movies from the era of the crack wars. My friend Joe has just introduced us. He met them a few years back while driving the B56 bus through Bushwick. When they told him they wanted to box, he brought them to meet his boxing trainer. The interview didn’t go well: the trainer made fun of their boxing skills and the brothers threatened to shoot him (To this day Joe believes that only his intervention saved his trainer from death). The brothers never did start boxing but they remained on good terms with Joe.
The boys want ice cream and Joe leads us to a Carvel where we take seats in the back. Within seconds the manager is on top of us, saying that we have to buy something if we want to stay. Joe gets up and treats us all to cones. I wonder why the manager is so uptight and decide it might be due to the quieter brother’s t-shirt, which reads Murder in big letters. The manager has seen the movies too and the TV cop shows and the nightly news and to him these Puerto-Rican brothers are advance guard for a nightmare, a nightmare spreading up from Bushwick to swamp his store.
On its border point between Bushwick and Glendale, Ridgewood is a divided neighborhood: half in Brooklyn, half in Queens; half urban, half suburban; half in the 30th congressional district, half in the 34th; half Democrat; half Republican; half white half…‘other’. Like all contested borders, it’s been a flashpoint for controversy. When she was a state senator in early 80s, Geraldine Ferraro pledged to change Ridgewood’s zip code from one in Bushwick to one in Glenwood (property owners in Ridgewood claimed the Bushwick code raised their insurance rates). More recently, a redistricting plan to move the southern, heavily-Latino section of Ridgewood into the Bushwick congressional district brought protests and local headlines.
So the Caravel manager can’t tear his eyes away from the nightmare sitting on his benches, the Ridgewood that could come to pass. We take our ice cream and leave. I ask Quiet about the T-shirt. He tells me that it represents his gang, ‘The Murder Posse.’ His gang name, he says, is ‘Optimus Prime’ leader of the Transformer ‘Megabots.’ I tell him I know some Cripps up in the Bronx. ‘We don’t like Cripps,’ he says, ‘We run with Bloods. We’re not violent though. Only when we have to protect ourselves.’
Handsome butts in.
‘We run with Bloods sometimes,’ he says, ‘But a few weeks ago a Blood cut one of our guys with a razor. Gave him a buck ten [he meant stitches]. Cut him here to here.’
He drew a line from the top of his cheek down under his chin.
‘So we caught the Blood,’ Handsome continued, Held him down and did the same thing. ‘See what you did? See how you like it.’ Gave him a buck fifty.’
Joe tries to lead us on a tour of the bus depot. The MTA security guard has other ideas and Joe can’t sweet-talk him into changing his mind. Security, Joe tells us, has been a lot tighter since 9/11. I try to imagine Al Qaeda swooping down on Fresh Ponds Road.
‘Terrorists wouldn’t care about this place,’ I say.
‘Oh no?’ Joe says, ‘With all buses and diesel fuel? Those guys would love to get in here.’
Joe shakes his head fiercely. ‘They would love it,’ he says.
My girlfriend wants to go to a restaurant a few blocks away so we start walking. Well-made, six family row houses of tan brick line the street in every direction. They give the neighborhood a strange but pleasing Old World appearance. I haven’t seen anything like it anywhere else in the city (In 1983, 2980 of these buildings were designated the largest historical district in the country). The owners live in about half of the buildings and they take care of their investments. The sidewalks are clean; trees shade the sidewalks and flowers fill yards and boxes. Of course, resident-owners have an easy time keeping out the ‘bad element.’
On the stoop of one of the buildings a fat woman is talking to a kid. ‘Well, when you decide, she says, ‘We can talk.’ Except that ‘decide’ sounds like ‘de-soid’ and ‘talk’ is ‘tawk.’ It’s Brooklynese, something I didn’t know existed anymore until my girlfriend moved to the neighborhood. Ridgewood is the last living link to old Brooklyn, a Brooklyn I’ve sensed the wreckage of in my own neighborhood of Williamsburg when seniors tell me how it was before the factories closed. The past is alive in Ridgewood; the neighborhood built up by German and Italian immigration in the 20s and 30s. Some churches still have Sunday mass in those languages. We walk by a restaurant called ‘Hans Gasthaus’ with a ski-lodge façade and a menu that includes weisswurst and schnitzel. Old Brooklyn has endured out here, decades after people stopped paying attention it, stopped representing it on television and in films (as the people who make television and films don’t grow up in places like this anymore).
It’s an insular world: Archie Bunker land. One my girlfriend’s neighbors has an army of cats that swarm through the backyards. The neighbor told me that two of her cats had disappeared. She pointed across the yard to a new development, all Chinese. ‘I think they ate them,’ she said, stone serious, ‘They do that you know.’ Other long-time residents show the same suspicion. There have been screaming matches in the street over the shoveling of snow and an old man who has lived here all his life watches a Chinese woman walk by and whispers: ‘None of us like them.’
Yet the future of Ridgewood belongs to the immigrants, to kids like Quiet and Handsome. The old-timers in Ridgewood are just that, old, and while some of their children stay, the majority move further into Queens or out to the suburbs. Every few months on my girlfriend’s block someone dies after fifty years in the same apartment and the debris of a lifetime is cast into a dumpster (how old would Archie Bunker be now?). There are shuttered businesses on every street. We pass the Ridgewood Democratic Club. It’s in a pretty corner brownstone with stained-glass windows but some of the panes are broken and plywood backs the glass.
On our way to the restaurant, we pass a school complex just as the day is ending – big brick building, blocks of blacktop playgrounds and basketball courts. There are hundreds of kids, most Latino and black. They head toward Bushwick while the handful of white kids go deeper into Ridgewood.
We end up at a burger joint under the train tracks. The Bosnian owner talks about hamburger in rough tones.
‘I tried to buy meat in American grocery store but is disgusting, brown and grey. I would not feed to rat. I go to special butcher shop.’ He takes one of his beef patties and presents it like a newborn baby. The disc is the size of Frisbee, blood red and speckled with fat.
‘This,’ he says, ‘Is real meat.’
His tiny restaurant stands in an Eastern European enclave: there’s a Polish butcher, an Albanian café, a Montenegrin social club. These are the immigrants that old Ridgewood prefers.
Boxing photos fill the restaurant walls. This excites the brothers and Joe tells the owner he used to fight. ‘My son is boxer,’ says the Bosnian. A few minutes later the son walks in, a cruiserweight with a blonde crew cut and a square head. Everyone starts talking about boxing and that too seems like a scene from an old movie. Quiet asks my girlfriend if she has a rubber band. The one he was using for his red ponytail has broken. She gives him a scrunchie and explains that they’re better for hair. ‘I didn’t know that,’ he says, wrapping his ponytail. Looking at Quiet I realize that my perception makes the biggest difference between the teen gangsters of the 1950s and those of 2003; that one person’s urban predator is another’s troubled youth, what matters is the lens you look at them through (and whose kids they are). Of course things have changed since the 50s: Handsome points to the long scratches on his neck and tells us that his mother’s lesbian lover put them there. ‘She and I don’t get along,’ he says, ‘She’s jealous of us. I don’t like to hit women but she hit me first.’
Handsome notices some teenage girls across the street and runs up to the window to stare. He tells Joe to go get his car – a 1982 Cadillac Caprice – so we can cruise by and impress them. Joe is amenable and we head back toward the depot.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Writers and Cats

Sometimes I wake up thinking that my cat, Scratchy, is walking on my bed. But she's in Brooklyn, far away. This poem by an early Irish monk brought her to mind.

I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

'Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

-- Anon., (Irish, 8th century)

- Written by a student of the monastery of Carinthia on a copy of St
Paul's Epistles, 8th Century. Tr. by Robin Flower.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Brother the Fed

I went surfing today with the older of my two brothers. I haven't seen him in over a decade and, up until last month, hadn't spoken to him in at least five years.

We met outside a Carl Juniors south of San Clemente. It's a pretty well-known surf spot and the streets were filled with surfers on bikes, surfers with dogs, surfers sitting in cars, all porting boards of course. We weren't surfing there but heading to a more isolated beach further south, Trails, past the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

My brother was driving his brand new, government-issue black Suburban. It doesn't have license plates. Built into the back are two heavy steel cases with combination locks. When I got in, my brother had to take a clip of ammunition off my seat. Federal regulations state that he isn't supposed to carry passengers but we weren't going far.

The beach was down an arroyo between steep bluffs colored rust, orange and yellow. The shore break stirred small rocks back and forth. It sounded like a subway train passing when you're on the sidewalk.

The surf wasn't that steep, maybe 2-4 feet, but a strong breeze made it choppy. My brother had brought a long board for me because I hadn't been out in years. I got caught inside the surf line and pounded for a while. Still, it was good to be in water again.

One of the guys surfing with us claimed he saw a big shark. There had been great white sightings on the beach before. The park bulletin board even had a posting about it.

We huddled on the beach deciding what to do.

Ah, my brother said, It's probably down there by now.

He pointed to some other surfers a quarter mile down the beach.

We paddled back out together.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Saigon Sarah

Maybe right-wing book-banning religious kooks aren't all that bad.

Monday, September 8, 2008

To the Rogues

A regular reader of my blog asked me, tone suspended between fascination and disgust: Who are these people whose blogs are linked to yours? They seem like a bunch of degenerates!

I love you all.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Naked Spur

I'm not a huge fan of westerns but Anthony Mann's 'The Naked Spur' with Jimmy Stewart (one of three westerns they made together) is brilliant. Stewart plays a morally ambiguous character, something that seems eerie against his all-American personae. I'd thought that only Hitchcock had utilized this aspect of Stewart, but Mann does just as good a job. The end, far from being triumphant as is normal in the genre, is strangely ambiguous, with the couple riding off through a clear cut forest.

Lost in Translation

There is a certain charm to literal translations of these terms from Spanish.

en la sala de estar
in the parlor, in the living room
(literally, 'in the room of being.' How cool and philosophical is that? I want a room of being).

la sala de profesores
the staffroom
(Room of the professors. Where professors gather to exchange lofty ideas, or, a la 'White Noise', throw rolls at each other).

la sala de espera
the waiting room

('Room of waiting' sounds very existential. Also translates as 'The Room of Hope' or 'The Room of Fear).

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Can I Sue?

I was just poking around the web looking for the James Baldwin quote that I used to open my book, when I found a financial blog that has adapted the first couple of pages of 'The Gloves'. It's written in the first-person, like my book, and the writer uses a number of my best sentences. Uncredited, needless to say. It's having an actor play you. It's like I stepped into an alternate universe.

‘The male cannot bear very much humiliation; and he really cannot bear it. It obliterates him. All men know this about each other, which is one of the reasons that men treat each other with such a vile, relentless, and endlessly inventive cruelty. Also, it must be added with such depthless respect and love, conveyed, mainly, by grunts and blows.’

James Baldwin, The Evidence of Things Not Seen

The gym becomes a way of life. Arrive at 4.30 am after just a couple of hours sleep. Park the car, on with hooded top over 3 t shirts, lace trainers, find the torch. No one about – today is ‘roadwork’ day. That means 5 miles through wooded terrain at pace. Roadwork is a boxing euphemism for running at pace interspersed with sprints, hill climbs, shadow boxing.

It’s tough. Tough enough at -5C temperatures to make the sweat freeze to your scalp and burn your eyes whilst you squint through tears. The torch is a poor substitute for daylight, holding it distorts your natural running rhythm, there’s no street lighting where I’m running this morning, the local council don’t see the need for it in Bracknell forest which is where I’m headed.

Check running watch, deep breath, here we go. The freezing air greedily sucks oxygen from your lungs, hamstrings lengthen, abductors, gluts, and quads all start to protest, aching from yesterday’s sparring. The rubbery sheath of my skeleton is fatigued, just not up for this today.

I start a debate in my head, figuring out whether my opponent is going to be out at this time. No matter, I am, I have to be, I’ve got my fight date and now all that stands between then and now is what is known as ‘boxing twilight’, a world of punishing yourself for up to four hours daily at a level you would find in an Army Paratroopers selection process.

The 5 miles that I’m doing now is the precursor to meeting Matt the guy who trains me, schools me, and mentors me in the art of the ‘sweet science’. He’s a professional boxing coach, intelligent, articulate, and street tough. He’s fought a few times too, there’s intensity about his personality and economy in his movement that suggests he could have been a very good fighter.

Matt specialises in ‘taking you to places you don’t want to go’, for once the spiel lives up to the reality. Today is Tuesday, which means 90 minutes of being in the ‘don’t want to go’ zone, it’s brutal but effective. The highlight is 3 minutes on the punch bag, interspersed with 30 seconds of all out punching followed by 30 seconds of non-stop jabbing and head movement. Every muscle fibre screams for oxygen that isn’t coming anytime soon, hyper ventilation takes over after the first 60 seconds, sweat runs and streams and pools in your eyes so you see double and your hands and arms are like anchors, breathing in gasps, there is no air. In between this Matt is shouting commands, ‘get your hands up, ‘left hand back to chin’, ‘hit it harder‘, ‘you gonna hit your guy like that he’ll laugh’, ‘work harder like it’ s your last round’. In between at the ‘rest stages’ as I am bent double trying to catch breath Matt looks on dispassionately whilst uttering ominous sounding sentences like ‘we’ve got to get you fitter for this fight’.

An old boxing maxim is that ‘power thrills but speed kills’. We’re working on speed today, the innocuous sounding ‘foot drills’ which involve excruciating power jumps , sprints, Matt’s speciality the ‘duck walk’ and of course the infamous burpees.
All that after the run and I mean run that I am on at the moment. Four miles to go, three months to the fight, and thousands of boxing rounds ahead of me. You don’t play boxing

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Highlight of My Boxing Career

I was working on an article about a prison boxing team maybe five years ago. For the article, I visited the maximum security prison a good half-dozen times. On one trip, I got to spar with the head of the prison boxing team. Shadell was my size but about forty pounds of weightlifter bulk heavier.

We sparred in the prison gym and it was just me, the prison boxers, and the director of the prison recreation program. No guards.

At one point, Dell and I met in the center of the ring. He jabbed, I slipped it, and threw a quick one-two. When my left missed, I slipped under his counter and spun out of range, rotating on my heel. It's a common boxing move but it was very smooth.

He's one of us! Shouted Edrick, a baby-faced twenty-three year old from Puerto Rico who'd already been inside for six years for murder.

I savored his words on the long drive back to the city. I was one of them.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

R.I.P. Bear Stearns

A good twelve years ago, I worked at Bear Stearns. At Bear Stearn's I was a 'print lane manager.' Which meant: I printed documents for lackeys. Thus I was a lackey of lackeys, although I often had hours of peace and would write and trade jokes with my equally over-qualified fellow lackeys. I also made about twenty-five bucks an hour, no mean wage in 1996 but dot com was coming on strong.

On the window of my office where the first-year associates came to collect documents for the Masters of the Universe, I would post quotes such as 'Adversity makes men; prosperity makes monsters.' (Victor Hugo). Or, 'Everything belongs to me because I'm poor.' (Kerouac).

This confused the associates to no end. They were kids, just out of college. One out of ten probably made the cut there. Some of them still had values, god bless them.

'I work really hard,' one of them said after reading my 'quote of the day' pissing on the rich.

'I'm sure you do,' I said. 'But do the rich people you're trying to suck money out of work hard? Maybe, the ones who haven't inherited gazillions. And do they work harder than peasants in Bangladesh or drones in a poultry-processing plant in Louisiana? I don't think so.'

Would it surprise anyone if I admit that I did not keep that job for long?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Go West, Old Man

So I'm driving cross-country for the first time since - well, let's just say that Reagan was president and I wasn't of drinking age.

The first two times I went for a woman - to be with her, and then to be without her. This time is for a fellowship at UC Irvine, which is not quite as bad as getting a job.

I took the northern route the first time, Highway 80. Nebraska, I recall, is really long and flat. The second time, on Greyhound no less, I went through the Southwest and then up through the Midwest. It was high summer and I drove with a tattooed redneck who fed his three year-old brandy to make it sleep.

This time I'm thinking maybe via Nashville and the Southwest again. I've never seen the Grand Canyon.

Wondering if anyone has thoughts on sights along the way.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Le Plus ca Change

England's populace is "second to none that the Earth nurtures in her bosom for being disrespectful, uncivil, rough, rustic, savage, and badly brought up."
- Giordano Brun0, late-16th Century

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Giving Frat Boys a Good Name

This article is so entertaining, on so many levels, that it's almost a highlight reel.

Some of the choicest moments.

This perhaps: “They scream, they sing, they fall down, they take their clothes off, they cross-dress, they vomit,” Malia’s mayor, Konstantinos Lagoudakis, said in an interview.

Or this: “I’ve never seen anyone get stabbed the whole time I’ve been here,” said Chris Robinson, 21, speaking outside the Loft bar, which had a special deal: four drinks and two shots for $8.

Some Britons Too Unruly for Resorts in Europe

Published: August 23, 2008

MALIA, Greece — Even in a sea of tourists, it is easy to spot the Britons here on the northeast coast of Crete, and not just from the telltale pallor of their sun-deprived northern skin.

They are the ones, the locals say, who are carousing, brawling and getting violently sick. They are the ones crowding into health clinics seeking morning-after pills and help for sexually transmitted diseases. They are the ones who seem to have one vacation plan: drinking themselves into oblivion.

“They scream, they sing, they fall down, they take their clothes off, they cross-dress, they vomit,” Malia’s mayor, Konstantinos Lagoudakis, said in an interview. “It is only the British people — not the Germans or the French.”

Malia is the latest and currently most notorious in a long list of European resorts full of young British tourists on packaged tours offering cheap alcohol and a license to behave badly. In Magaluf and Ibiza, Spain; in Ayia Napa, Cyprus; and in the Greek resorts of Faliraki, Kavos and Laganas as well as Malia, the story is the same: They come, they drink, they wreak havoc.

“The government of Britain has to do something,” Mr. Lagoudakis said. “These people are giving a bad name to their country.”

They are also hurting themselves in the process. A recent report published by the British Foreign Office, “British Behavior Abroad,” noted that in a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007, 602 Britons were hospitalized and 28 raped in Greece, and that 1,591 died in Spain and 2,032 were arrested there.

The report did not distinguish between medical cases and arrests associated with drunkenness and those that had nothing to do with it. But it did say that “many arrests are due to behavior caused by excessive drinking.”

So it would seem. Reports of scandalous incidents rumble on regularly here and elsewhere, helping to cement Britain’s reputation as the largest exporter of inebriated hooligans in Europe.

Earlier this summer, flying home to Manchester from the Greek island of Kos, a pair of drunken women yelling “I need some fresh air” attacked the flight attendants with a vodka bottle and tried to wrestle the airplane’s emergency door open at 30,000 feet. The plane diverted hastily to Frankfurt, and the women were arrested.

In Laganas, on the Greek island of Zakinthos, where a teenager from Sheffield died after a drinking binge this summer, more than a dozen British women were charged in July with prostitution after taking part, the authorities said, in an alfresco oral sex contest.

More alarmingly, a 20-year-old British tourist partied with her sister and a friend into the early hours in Malia also in July, then returned to her hotel room and — although she had denied being pregnant — gave birth. Her companions say they returned later to find the baby dead; she has been charged with infanticide.

And in Dubai, also this summer, a British man and woman who met during a drinking bout were arrested and charged with having sex on a beach, after repeatedly shouting abuse at a police officer who ordered them to stop.

All of which leads to a natural question: Why?

“I think that in their country, they are like prisoners and they want to feel free,” said Niki Pirovolaki, who works in a bakery on Malia’s main street and often encounters addled Britons heading back to their hotels — “if they can remember where they are staying,” she said.

David Familton, a Briton who works in a club here, said that it was a question of emotional comfort. “It’s because of British culture — no one can relax, so they become inebriated to be the people they want to be,” he said.

Worried about the increase in crimes and accidents afflicting drunken tourists, the British consulate in Athens has begun several campaigns, using posters, beach balls and coasters with snappy slogans, to encourage young visitors to drink responsibly.

“When things do go wrong, they go wrong in quite a big way,” said Alison Beckett, the director of consular services. “What we’re trying to do here is reduce some of these avoidable accidents where they have so much to drink that they fall off balconies and are either killed or need huge operations.”

As much as they depend on the tourists’ money, the resorts are balking at their behavior. Last year, shopkeepers, residents and hotel owners in Malia held an angry anti-British demonstration. Now, 20 officers patrol the notorious 1,000-foot-long strip of bars and clubs catering to tourists in the center of town, keeping the peace, breaking up fights and making arrests.

Local officials say the blame lies not just with the tourists themselves, but also with the operators of package tours promising drinking-and-partying vacations, and clubs offering industrial-strength alcohol at rock-bottom prices. For about $50 in Malia, tourists can go on unlimited-drinking pub crawls.

“British tour operators present them with these packages that promise a wild holiday in Malia,” said Brig. Fotis Georgopoulos, the police chief of Iraklion, which takes in Malia. “This predisposes them. They are automatically put into a wild and lawless mind-set that is beyond them.”

On the strip late one recent night, downtown Malia felt like a nonrainy version of downtown Birmingham, as young Britons in skimpy clothes moved in herds from bar to bar, drinking, boasting and shouting as they went.

The tourists confessed to drinking a lot. One 21-year-old man from Essex, for instance, said that his consumption the night before had been five beers; six specialty drinks combined with Baileys, tequila, absinthe, ouzo, vodka, gin and orange juice; five vodka and lime drinks; and then five cans of Stella Artois, all of which, he said, emboldened him to pick up a woman to spend the night with. But they said that the lurid stories are media exaggerations.

“I’ve never seen anyone get stabbed the whole time I’ve been here,” said Chris Robinson, 21, speaking outside the Loft bar, which had a special deal: four drinks and two shots for $8.

Similarly, Eleanor Seaver, 20, said that she had been in Malia for two months, working in a club, and that she had never once been in a fight. On the contrary, she said, people are comradely and helpful. “If there’s a girl being sick in the streets, you see people helping her out,” she said. “We watch out for each other here.”

Paul Fisher, a 49-year-old Welshman who runs a bar and a motorbike-rental shop, said the stories both depressed the tourist trade and, perversely, drew the sort of visitors for whom drunken anarchy is an attractive prospect.

“We don’t like you lot coming in and ruining the place,” Mr. Fisher said, referring to reporters. He opened a drawer and produced a copy of the celebrity magazine Closer. An article inside featured a young female British tourist’s “booze-fueled orgy with four men” in Malia.

Things like that give Malia a bad name, Mr. Fisher said. “This is wrong and it’s overexaggerated,” he said.

On the other hand, he conceded, “for 10 weeks, this place is littered with kids being sick and unconscious in the streets.”

Just then, several young men who had the pale, queasy look that suggested the end of hangovers not yet muted by new infusions of alcohol, passed by, and Mr. Fisher asked them why they drank so much, night after night.

“It’s what everyone wants to do,” one young man said.

His friend said: “We have stressful jobs, and we don’t get much time off, and we like to enjoy ourselves and have a good laugh. And we love a bargain.”

Friday, August 22, 2008

Catholics Will Get This

The mystery of communion in the tedium of the mass.

I remember being in church at age six or seven waiting for that moment, when the altar boys rang their bells and bread and wine became body and blood.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Love Letter to Jack Vance

Jack Vance is one of the more graceful of the post-war American writers. Unfortunately, since he works in the slum genre of science fiction, he's received nowhere near enough credit. The author of over ninety novels, Vance has some of the drollest dialog since Jane Austen and is a remarkable stylist, with a touch of mauve decadence. Early Wallace Stevens, if Wallace Stevens had churned out SF for paychecks. Vance also was one of the first SF writers to introduce anthropology, and travel writing, into SF. Think Douglas Adams but more understated and inventive. I laughed out loud reading him as a kid and I still do today.

I posted about Vance in my old LJ but I can't find the entry. Hating LJ these days.

The Dark Ages of Pugilism

I was playing soccer today with a bunch of Mexican guys. I wanted to talk about Cotto/Margarito.
Did any of you guys see it? I said.
I think so, one said, Margarito won by knockout, right?
By knockout in the 11th, I said.
The rest looked at me blankly.
What happened? Another said.
Truly we live in a fallen age.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

O Coen Brothers, Where Art Thou?

I'm watching the Coen brothers 'Ladykillers.' It's mediocre! I didn't even know they could make a mediocre film! (this from a guy who sat through 'O Brother'....). When I first saw the trailer for it, I thought, 'This movie surely sucks.' Because Tom Hanks is the bland, ex-urban Angel of Death.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sizing Them Up

Every time I find myself sizing up an opponent on the street - and in NYC, this happens several times a day - I look at how large and muscular they are. It's automatic. Sometimes I think, 'That would be easy.' Other times I tell myself, 'He could just fall on you and you'd be dead.'

I'm ashamed to admit it but if a guy is really big, I won't be as righteous as I would be if he was Peewee Herman. I rarely worry about women that way and when I do, it's some enormous bull dyke. And even then, I'm not all that worried.

I thought like this before I ever started boxing. It's natural, I'm afraid, something I remember as far back as the second grade (before the second grade I would just hit anyone, boy, girl, large, small, adult, child. And bite). Actually, I think every man has the same impulse, more or less repressed. With women, it seems to be about who is the prettiest one in room.

Boxing has only expanded the range of those I think I can take. Nowadays, even if he's seven feet tall and his knuckles are scraping the ground, I think, 'Yeah, but he probably doesn't even know how to fight.'

Monday, August 11, 2008

Prison Boxing Blues

Trickhouse, an online quarterly, just published a piece of mine on the Greenhaven Correctional Facility boxing team, the last prison boxing team in the state of New York. I wrote the piece a few years back but this its first official appearance. It's an impressionistic essay with a little analysis thrown in.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Visions of Cody

I've been reading a Jack Kerouac bio and realizing - yet again - how he's gotten a bad rap as a writer, trampled by his devotees. Yeah I know, we all wish we could be killed by success but it's amazing how forty years after his death, he still gets so little respect. Even avant-gardists who celebrate Burroughs tend to sneer at drunk Jack.

Visions of Cody is kind of a literary anodyne to false impressions about Kerouac. It was written at the same time as On the Road and works as its companion volume, as it covers the same subjects, Neal Cassiday most of all (I would definitely teach them together). It's a mishmash of experiments in style - tape transcripts, automatic writing, fantasies, multiple narrators, false narrators, you name it. You can smell stale benzedrine sweat and pot smoke when you read it. That said, it also has some of the most beautiful passages and scenes in American literature. There are pages where he so perfectly captures a mood, an immediacy - high in a subway station at 3 a.m., a touch football game on the street, a film shoot in San Francisco - that he recreates what life is like at its most intense moments. Kerouac was no mere primitive - he consciously draws on Joyce but the debt to Proust is more interesting. His fascination with jazz is evident as well. If On the Road is a bop novel, than Visions is 'The Shape of Jazz to Come.'

Kerouac's experimental techniques were very influential on the following generation of writers - Pynchon's prose style comes to mind, or the Cormac McCarthy of Sutree. He's always had a huge effect on me and not always in a good way; with my novels I leaned to much on journal entries. I wanted my life and the lives of the people I know to matter. I guess there's a romantic born every minute.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Ship Sails On

Near the beginning of a long summer twilight a sailboat moves across the horizon. The white sails and white hull reflect the shifting colors of the changing day. Blue tints the sail, soft blue of sky, blue of clearest ocean, yet there is a translucency to the sail, something like the nacreous luster of pearl. The hull is more opaque, the gleaming fiberglass more stable, but that too takes on some of the mutability of August twilight, everything shifting with the night. The sailboat slides paralell to the shoreline, moving across my beach. I go out to swim and follow the same line. Every time I look up to breathe the ship is there moving with me. My beach ends with a heap of boulders, glacial till, and I stop before I leave sand for dangerous rock. I stand waist deep in the cool water watching the ship sail on.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Back at the Beach

Just got back to the beach from three days in my hometown where I stayed at the house of one of my oldest friend (25+ years). Her boyfriend is a socially- retarded semi-lunatic who is incredibly jealous and possessive of her. He kept storming out of the room in a frenzy every time me and my friend started talking (dude, I can't help it if I look good without a shirt). Twice he said he was moving out and took some of his junk back to his mom's house. But he was always back a few hours later. It got so bad that he'd bolt out of his bedroom to make sure I wasn't sneaking into her bedroom when I came down to use the bathroom in the night.

Yet she is often involved with these isolated losers and I finally figured out why. They don't challenge her or compete with her - she's the leader and they follow like needy puppies. Not one of them has ever had a career or a steady job. But they are all hers. If I sound angry it's because I am - that lunatic gave me nightmares on my one trip home this year.

The first thing I did after driving through ungodly traffic back to the beach was put on my swim trunks and jump in the ocean. There is nothing more relaxing than floating a few feet underwater where the light is dim, where all is quiet and cool. After a swim I lay back on my towel in the sand and looked out over the water. Skim boarders made their swift runs at the waves. A fisherman stood at the small breakwater, casting. At the deepest point of the breakwater a double-crested cormorant dove and rose and dove and rose, flipping over like a seal on the way down. I love the beach in the evening - it's almost empty and it's so quiet, so perfectly quiet.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Joys of Fighting

I sparred for a half-hour today with one of my oldest friends. Si is out of shape and has a sizable Buddha belly but he's also 6'2 and 240, plenty of which is muscle. We agreed to try and to restrain our blows to the head, the groin and the joints, but everything else was fair game.

Si isn't a boxer, he's a martial artist (Indonesian kung-fu) but he isn't afraid of contact. We had some great exchanges on a field in a kiddie park while the bemused mommies looked on. It's good practice for me to go against his skills because he's always looking for kicks and throws, while I'm much more focused on striking.

As normally happens, he pushed me around the field with his reach, weight and height advantage. But it wasn't so one-sided as to be dull. I landed some good combination on his body and danced away from all but one of his throws. Since I'm about a hundred times more fit than him, I began to score more frequently as the fighting went on. Towards the end we forgot about our restraints and were going close to full, fists and feet flying. Sweat made a bib on the front of Si's blue oxford.

I ended up with some bloody cuts, a fat lip and the beginnings of a black eye. Yet I was blissful when we finished. I loved mixing it up - in a friendly sort of way - when I was seven and I love it now. It brings flavor to life.

For Boxing Fans Only

Some Thoughts on Cotto-Margarito

A really gripping fight between a talented boxer-puncher and a force of nature. The analysts did screw the pooch on this one by making Cotto such a heavy favorite. Cotto's chin is a bit suspect - even a four round fighter with a 'B' punch like Judah stunned him a couple of times. Also, Cotto was on the run at the end of the Mosley fight, only his excellent jab saved him from a past-his-prime Sugar. Cotto has good boxing skills but not great ones, which is what he would have needed to keep away from Margarito for twelve rounds (plus that's not his psychology). He also lacks one-punch KO power. None of this is to say Cotto isn't a top-shelf fighter but it should have raised some warning signs when he took the match against 'My Head Is Solid Bone' Margarito. Teddy Atlas disappointed me the most; he really should have known better. Still, two talented warriors beating the spit out of each other for eleven rounds - what could be better?

Friday, July 25, 2008

College Graduates: Then and Now

A College Graduate in 1955: I guess I better grow up, have some kids and get a good job.

A College Graduate in 1970: Growing up means exploring the world and discovering who I really am.

A College Graduate today: I don't ever want to grow up!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Butterflys in the Jungle

When I was on expedition in the Andean rain forest, the butterflies were probably the most varied and numerous species that I saw. The range of colors was astonishing - they were orchid with wings. For years, I wondered why the butterflies would hover around the urine puddles our horses left on the trail. Now I have my answer (see posting below).

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Christopher Smart Loved His Cat

A talented eighteenth century poet, and a bit of religious maniac, Smart is best known today for this remarkable poem about his cat, which he wrote while confined in an insane asylum.

"For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry"
(from Jubilate Agno)

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacous of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Savior.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord's poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually--Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon rat, very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

Why Do You Call Her Scratchee?

On this vacation I've been separated from my one true love, Scratchee Rascal, aka 'Scratchee the Cat' a tuxedo cat of 'a certain age.' Recently, Scratchee had a falling out with my sublettor, leaping up to the top of the couch and clawing his face. The next night as the sublettor came in, Scratchee sprang upon his nude thigh and sliced him again. Now the sublettor is afraid to be alone with her. I find this charming in a way, as Scratchee weighs about twelve pounds. My sublettor spoke darkly of 'not wanting to hurt Scratchee.' I spoke with equal force of not wanting to put various parts of the sublettor's anatomy in cake boxes and post them around the country.


A fascinating bacterium that has a profound effect on the reproduction of insects - in some cases killing all male eggs (since they don't pass on the germ) or making it impossible for females to reproduce with other insects that are infected with a different Wolbachia strain. Natural selection in all its creepy and profound glory.

My Life Aquatic

After two weeks at the shore I'm finally starting to find a rhythm with the ocean. I go out in the late afternoon to my
beach and scan the waves for surf. The hurricane winding through the North Atlantic has brought fairly regular swells so there's something to paddle out for. The surf isn't West Coast dramatic - 3-5 feet - but it makes for some good rides. My beach is mostly nasty shore break but there's one sandbar and when the tide is right you can fly for a good hundred yards. I have a decent boogie board up here and so I swim out and do what I can without flippers (which I might buy tomorrow). This is WASP territory, a lot of blonde teens with surf shorts, but today there was a guy near sixty out there moving beautifully.
In the first days the ocean was alien and disconcerting. Getting wet and seawater in my nose felt unpleasant. But now I lust for it. Paddling out through the surf line, bobbing at the edge of the break waiting for one good wave. After a
severe wipeout today I found a a horseshoe crab the size of my fingernail on the board. Oily black cormorants dive in the water around us. Surfcasters come out at dust and work the rocks near the sand bar. You want it to go on forever.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Celluloid Ghost

I was watching the first episode of 'In Treatment,' an HBO miniseries, when I saw the main actress and thought - besides 'she's really beautiful' - that I knew her somehow. She was eerily familiar, like I'd watched her across a bar one night or had a brief conversation with her in line at a coffee shop.

Of course it turned out that she's a successful actress by the name of Melissa George who I had seen in Mulholland Drive and The Limey among others.

I had the same reaction to her each time, the strange familiarity without immediate recognition.
Part of what makes her so...vaguely that she's unusually protean and mutable for a beautiful women, a character actor in the body of a Deneuve. Yet her shifting identity seems as much a creation of the camera - and makeup and costuming - as of her acting ability (although I might not be giving her enough credit). She seems to represent the mystery of cinema in some way, and maybe of desire, like the two women who play the lead in That Obscure Object of Desire.' Oddly enough, a friend said she saw George in In Treatment as well and had the same reaction - so that she too went to IMDB and tracked the actress down.

Now I know what Godard meant when he said that Hollywood 'colonized the imagination.'

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Machete Mania

A Dominican weed dealer who grew up in Bburg told me that when he was a kid in the 80s, Dominicans, as the newcomers to the neighborhood, were often picked on. This changed one day when a Dominican gang showed up at the local high school and attacked their foes with machetes.

The more things change...



Posted: 4:16 am
July 13, 2008

A man wielding a machete sent two men to the hospital early yesterday in Williamsburg - in the latest of an explosion of assaults in the gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood.

The man approached a group of people at South Third Street near Bedford Avenue at about 2 a.m. and started swinging, police sources said.

A 26-year-old man suffered a wound to the arm, and a 19-year-old was cut in his right shoulder.

Earlier in the evening, the assailant and friends had clashed with the attacked group at a feast, the sources said. Both injured men were listed as being in stable condition at Woodhull Hospital.

There were no arrests as of last night.

The last five weeks have seen another five slashings in the neighborhood, mainly in its eastern section.

Two of those bloody attacks took place at Graham Avenue and Devoe Street. The others were knifings on Flushing Avenue and Humboldt Street, Berry and South Eighth streets, and Borinquen Place and Grand Avenue.

According to the latest NYPD figures, felonious assaults in Williamsburg are up 21 percent this year, from 96 to 116 as of last July 6.

Just within the past month, the number of arrests in the area has skyrocketed from 14 to 29.

NYPD Assistant Chief Michael Collins said yesterday that he couldn't say how many of those assaults were stabbings or slashings.

"It's a spike we are looking at now," he said.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Strange Lack

I just realized that I haven't had a sense of smell for about three days. That was when I opened a bottle of wine and it didn't have a bouquet. I thought it was just mediocre wine but the same thing happened tonight so I started smelling everything - flowers, fish sauce, pickles - nada. Then I opened up a jar of thai hot pepper sauce and got a faint whiff of spice but that was it. What a subtle, profound sense to lack. I'm really disturbed. It had better come back soon.

I had a pretty severe cold this week and I've been in the ocean a lot which is hell on the sinuses but this is a strange misfortune.

BTW: Without a sense of smell, a hundred dollar Bordeaux tastes like Three-Buck Chuck.

Friday, July 11, 2008

One Stop Shopping: Ikea and Methedone

It's nice to know that a little of the old New York remains. Oddly enough, I worked in Red Hook in the late 80s and the methadone clinic was right across the street. In the mornings the line of junkies ran all the way down the street.

IKEA Shuttle Buses Wildy Popular with Non-Shoppers

2008_07_ikeamini.jpgThe free coach style shuttle buses that deliver riders from two Brooklyn subway stops to the new Red Hook IKEA are filling up with passengers who never set foot inside the Swedish retailer. "I'd say before one o'clock, about half the riders from Smith and Ninth Street don't even go into IKEA," one bus driver told the Daily News, adding that many riders are going to a local methadone clinic for treatment. And, as predicted, freeloaders are pulling the same move with the free Water Taxi between IKEA and lower Manhattan, an area also renowned for its methadone.

The Limits of Utilitarianism

"Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied."
- John Stuart Mill

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On Politics

I'm splitting my blog so that my left-wing rantings will be on another site.

Lima, La Ciudad de los Reyes

Of all the cities I've visited, Lima has had the most profound effect on me (along with Cairo). These lines from Melville capture something of its strangeness.

'Nor is it, altogether, the remembrance of her cathedral-toppling earthquakes; nor the stampedoes of her frantic seas; nor the tearlessness of arid skies that never rain; nor the sight of her wide field of leaning spires, wrenched cope-stones, and crosses all adroop (like canted yards of anchored fleets); and her suburban avenues of house-walls lying over upon each other, as a tossed pack of cards;--it is not these things alone which make tearless Lima, the strangest, saddest city thou can'st see. For Lima has taken the white veil; and there is a higher horror in this whiteness of her woe. Old as Pizarro, this whiteness keeps her ruins for ever new; admits not the cheerful greenness of complete decay; spreads over her broken ramparts the rigid pallor of an apoplexy that fixes its own distortions.'
- from Moby Dick

Monday, July 7, 2008

Slow Going

I dropped a 250 page manuscript on my editor's desk this morning. The book is far from finished but this was a real step. I managed to put it together in a year while also writing a few long articles and - occasionally - working for a living.

It's far from being done and the writing is mediocre in places but it's starting to come together.

This book was hard to research, hard make the contacts for, and even harder to sell. I gave up on the project a few times but kept coming back to it. I can't say if it's an important subject but it certainly became important to me.

With all the disappointments and failures, I did learn a lot about what not to do next time. Which is why it's good to lose some times.

Still, I don't want to go through that again. I want to write a book where I don't have to interview assholes, travel anywhere crummy, or do a lick of research. I want to write six novels in a year like Philip K. Dick and make up every last word. Of course, Dick ate a thousand methedrine tablets a week produce at that rate - with some anti-psychotic medication thrown in to level out the meth-induced paranoia.

You Will Not Be Missed

Here's a little sample from the charming career of Senator Jesse Helms.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

It Takes an Army to Stop a War

A good short piece from the New York Review about Bush continued sabre-rattling toward Iran. It's gotten to the point where senior army officers are speaking out against him, often at the cost of their jobs.

Friends Become Troglydytes

In the last year or so, an old friend has becoming a raving neo-con. At first, I thought it was a joke because he always had an ironic tone when he espoused such positions; a number of savage exchanges later, I've discovered that he's not joking. It's an odd time for that movement to gain a convert - they've failed in so many ways. Yet it has. He even goes so far as to say the Iraq war was a good idea, just poorly executed. According to him, the war was the brainchild of Bush and Cheney and anyone who claims Wolfowitz and Feith were involved is anti-Semitic.

My friend labels himself a 'realist' but what could be less realistic than the belief that invading Iraq would spread peace throughout the Middle East (he also claims that 'everyone' supported the invasion until it went south)?

It's strange and sad to see a friend undergo such a conversion in early middle-age - it's as if he joined a cult. I've tried to trace the evolution of the change. My friend, from the working class, always resented the liberal pieties of the upper-middle class and rich kids he went to college with. His attitude for years though was generally contemptuous and nihilistic (with some left elements). I remember reading a Trotsky review of Celine's first novel. Trotsky presciently wrote that someone who so intensely perceived the filth and misery of world and hated the bourgeois as much Celine did, would soon become either a fascist or a communist. We know what happened to Celine.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

An Interesting Sentence

In these forlorn regions of unknowable dreary space, this reservoir of frost and snow, where firm fields of ice, the accumulation of centuries of winters, glazed in Alpine heights above heights, surround the pole, and concentre the multiplied rigours of extreme cold.
- Francis Spufford, I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination

Americans are taught to not write like this. When I get notes, they usually tell me to shorten my sentences and simplify my prose. Yet there's something lavish and intriguing about the sentence above, something Mevillean or 17th Century. I get tired of our clipped phrases.

I don't know anything about the book, which got roundly panned on Amazon. The writer seems to have praised for other of his work, however.

You Mean There's Oil in Iraq?

More good press on the recent revelation of American companies getting no-bid oil contracts in Iraq, this from Bill Moyers.

My favorite line: 'the press mogul Rupert Murdoch [...] once said that a successful war there would bring us $20-a-barrel oil. The last time we looked, it was more than $140 a barrel.'

Friday, June 27, 2008

Anasi Versus the TLS

I have a review on Kasia Boddy's 'Boxing: A Cultural History' in this week's TLS. I don't think it's online so all you boxing eggheads out there will have to go to the bookstore.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Free Heroin for Everyone: A Junkie Utopia

"In 1900 morphine addiction was considered such a serious social epidemic that a group called the Saint James Society offered free heroin in the mail to anyone wishing to kick morphine."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Philadelphia Freedom?

An article about Philly police busting crunchy activists for no particular reason. My favorite line from one of the cops: "We're trying to drum up charges against them, but unfortunately we'll probably have to let them go."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Kenneth Patchen

A friend listed him as one his favorite writers and it made me think of 'The Journal of Albion Moonlight', which is lyric, violent and exhilarating, and one of the strangest novels ever written (and really not even a novel). I had a beat up copy for years then lost it - or somebody swiped it - but I see it's back in print. Maybe they'll let me read it in grad school.

Sunday, June 22, 2008