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.