Friday, April 27, 2007

3/28/06; or, After changes, we are more or less the same

At Lodge again. Joe and Jeff are in the middle of a staff meeting talking about drinks to their servers off to the left; I miss the waitstaff camaraderie. It's definitely a group business, something the publishing industry lacks -- the room of one's own, the inky wretch, smells of the lamp; it's all solitude.

Whereas in the table-waiting game, and on the Ice, there was a real bonding, Us vs. Them mentality. Standing out on the back loading dock after Thanksgiving, passing the bottle of wine 'round the circle of blue shirts, with that white, sharp Antarctic sunlight making us all squint -- that was a killer moment, one of my all-time up-theres.

It's that camaraderie I miss, that maybe we used to have at the start of Rough Guides, at least in the beginning; and especially after 9/11 at the Afghan place on St. Mark's and the Grassroots Tavern next door.

That's part of the reason I like coming here -- to be, if only in a peripheral way, and only for a bit -- part of that club.

What does it remind me of? It reminds me of all the things I've been a member of: high school, ROTC, Collins' parties, the JYAs at Oxford, the SPIers at NYU, the DAs on the Ice, going over to John's roof after work all those days, drinking beer and looking at the Empire State Building. Knowing people and liking most of them, being part of a community.

Perhaps this is part of what draws me to being a cop.

Editor's note: I no longer want to be a cop.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The No. 1 Killer

This morning at about 11am, Derek and I were sitting on the chairs outside of the Champignon cafe, having a coffee and cigarette, as we do most mornings.

A old black man with a scruffy gray beard shuffled up to us. "Either of you have a cigarette I could have?" he asked.

"Sure," I said, and proffered my pack of Camel Wides. He took one while saying something like, "I been quit for a few weeks now, but it's stressful here in America."

"Sure is," I said, as Derek offered his lighter to the man. The man lit the cigarette and, as he puffed his first puff and gray smoke wreathed his face and he began to shuffle off, said, "Thanks. Stress, you know—that's the number one killer."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

On a quiet Cobble Hill afternoon

On a quiet Cobble Hill afternoon,
the season's first nice Saturday, I sit inside
at a window smoking
and drinking Diet Coke, outlooking onto
the brown brick building set below bright
blue sky, framed by the window
two rectangles, one above the other, seamless,
like a real-life Rothko.

A bumblebee, dronelike, is surveying me.
Against the blue he -- the bee --
is black, shadowed, shorn
of his yellow.

Earlier I was napping.
Earlier I was listening to Sky Blue Sky.
Earlier than that I was in the city.

The brown building's now lightening,
in response to what the sun does daily,
sinking off west.
The bee has buzzed off.
My cigarette's done and now a noise
of cars somewhere, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway,
gently, like a white apartment curtain fluttered
by summer wind,
breaks my reverie.

Friday, April 20, 2007


I recently finished a great book—one of those “can’t put it down but wish you could because it’s so good and you wish it would last longer” kind of books. It’s called Remainder, and it’s by Tom McCarthy, a Britisher and member of the International Necronautical Society, which I think he had a hand in making up, and which I don’t really know much about or really care to investigate further.


But the book is great. Riveting, odd, suspenseful and—in what I’m beginning to realize is kind of a hallmark of books that I think are great—it made me feel a little bit crazy, myself; I found myself sort of acting out some of the main character’s neuroses and patterns, putting on the face of that particular character.

Some books from before that have made me do this and feel this way include:

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry
Ulysses, by Joyce
and The Recognitions, by William Gaddis—this one the most so

Now, if you’re still reading, you might be thinking, “What a pretentious fucking list, and of course all those books made him feel that way—they’re great books, classics, and near-unanimously recognized as such!” Well, fuck off. Also you miss the point of what I’m saying, which is that—surprisingly—Remainder is now on that selfsame list. See?

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry
Ulysses, by Joyce
Remainder, by Tom McCarthy
and The Recognitions, by William Gaddis—this one still the most so

At any rate, it’s a great book. It is about a man who has an accident—he’s hit by something falling from the sky—and who later, after coma and physical rehabilitation and memory loss and so on—receives a large monetary settlement from the company or companies responsible for what hit him. But that’s not the important part. The important part is what, in a flash of inspiration in a bathroom at a party one night, he decides to do with the money.

Will I tell you what he does with the money? No I will not. It’s too bizarre for me to spoil here. But suffice it to say that the book, as all good books, isn’t even really “about” any of that—the guy, his accident, what he does with the money. Rather it’s about why we do anything; the ways in which we move through and relate to the physical world and other people; and what this “means”—and here I’m talking deep, existential meaning; what it means for consciousness, perception, and life on the macro level. How we relate.

Friday, April 13, 2007

I am so famous

Check my just-younger brother's blog for a link to a small piece I did recently for Men's Journal. I do not necessarily believe such flattery as Jacob gives of my writing, but I certainly appreciate it.

Here is the link to what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Green Tortoise

I did not take this picture. It comes from Green Tortoise.

For two weeks we traveled, on a unique version of the Great American Road Trip. We didn’t go like Sal and Dean did, balling that jack hard along Route 66; rather we rambled in style—de gustibus non est disputandum, mind—on the Green Tortoise, a green-painted, ramshackle and raucous “sleeper bus” that makes the trip several times a year (along with its turtle brethren) from East to West Coast.

We loaded up our colorful packs in NYC; and as we rolled out of Manhattan across the George Washington Bridge, a sense of swelling rose within our breasts. As Simon and Garfunkel sang, “We’ve all come to look for America.”

And what’d’ya know—we found it. From the Big Apple it was down the Eastern Seaboard, to Cape Hatteras and Okefenokee, where the gators lurked in the swamps. Thence we turned right and started that long crossing. We partied all night in New Orleans, where one of us, we thought, had got pinched by the cops. We had a big party down by a Louisiana river, spanned by one of the last elevator bridges in the country. The morning after, our campsite looked like the scene of some mad war. We blew through the rest of the South and right by Houston, which loomed up on the left, an alien planet silver and shining.

Out west, though, where we began to meander and linger, was where things got really interesting. We smoked a joint among the prickly pears and wandered stoned through the cool Carlsbad Caverns. We gambled in Vegas, the Great Unwashed at Caesar’s blackjack tables. One early morning after a hard rain we coasted calmly into the soaked, red Valley of the Gods—and, after a hike as we drank “cowboy coffee” on a hill, the strains of Van Morrison’s “And It Stoned Me” reached our ears for the first time ever and, well, stoned us.

After that was denouement. We pulled, ragged and ravished, into San Francisco and the Green Tortoise Hostel in North Beach, just up from where Ginsberg published Howl. Fog-wracked and fresh, San Fran felt like a city with no memory—but memories, of a whole continent behind us, were all we had left.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Ob Hill

The peak in the back is Observation Hill. The buildings about a third of the way up are a disused nuclear power plant called ... well, read on below.

On Antarctica’s edge, ice-locked into the France-sized Ross Ice Shelf, lies Ross Island, the primary base for the British expeditions of a century ago. Many reminders of their efforts remain, including a stirring monument at the crown of the 750ft Observation Hill (or “Ob Hill,” as it’s known at McMurdo Station, America’s chief Antarctic research facility, which lies in its shadow). Ob Hill was so named because it was used as a lookout for ships returning to the Ice; today it is climbed by station residents to get a view of their utterly alien, white environs.

The first third up the extinct volcano consists of loose volcanic scree, which must be scrambled up until one reaches a road that winds partially around the hill to “Nukey Poo,” a decommissioned nuclear power plant. Here, most climbers turn to look for the first time—much like a new Manhattanite walks to the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge before turning to look at his city’s towers—at their temporary home. McMurdo looks like a small mining town from this vantage point, with homey curls of steam topping each parti-colored yet faded building.

Ob Hill’s next two thirds must be bounded up, billy goat-style, over large, haphazardly strewn rocks. About 250ft from the top a small, boulder-topped peninsula flattens out in front of the climber, offering another opportunity to take a breather and look out. Now the frozen McMurdo Sound and, further off to the left, the imposing Royal Society mountain range can be seen. To the right looms the smoking cone of Mt Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano.

Climbers corkscrew up the hill’s left side, which obscures the top so that one is nearly at the summit by the time one sees the solid wooden cross which stands as a memorial to Captain Scott and his men, who perished on their return from the South Pole. The cross is inscribed with a line from Tennyson’s Ulysses which—as the town, sound, mountains and volcano spread out in front, with the seemingly interminable expanse of the ice shelf behind—serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made so that the climber can stand here today and survey: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Friday, April 06, 2007

A short history of fire in Joanna Newsom's Ys

Fire—a thing that, of late, has been kind of a preoccupation of mine, for obvious reasons—is a big lyrical concern in Joanna Newsom’s latest album, Ys. The word, or some variation thereof, appears multiple times in four out of five songs on Ys.

From “Emily”:
that the meteorite is a source of the light
and the meteor’s just what we see
and the meteoroid is a stone that’s devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee
From “Sawdust and Diamonds”:
then the slow lip of fire moves across the prairie with precision
From “Only Skin”:
it was a dark dream, darlin’, it’s over
the firebreather is beneath the clover
beneath his breathing there is cold clay, forever
a toothless hound-dog choking on a feather


and when the fire moves away
fire moves away, son
why would you say
I was the last one?


through fire below, and fire above, and fire within
sleeped through the things that couldn’t have been if you hadn’t have been


clear the room! there’s a fire, a fire, a fire
get going, and I’m going to be right behind you
and if the love of a woman or two, dear,
couldn’t move you to such heights, then all I can do
is do, my darling, right by you
From “Cosmia”:
water were your limbs, and the fire was her hair
and then the moonlight caught your eye, and you rose through the air

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

When the hits keep on comin' ...

... read some Larkin.

A co-worker reminded me of him today. He—Philip Larkin, by the way, is who we're talking about, the late English poet—was an odd bird. A galumphing, bald, bespectacled, sexually frustrated bird—and also, it just so happens, maybe the funniest, most sad, and most poignant poet of—the century? The whatever? Who knows. I have no authority to say anything beyond the fact that I never ever get tired of him. (Another I don't never get tired of? Miller Williams, Lucinda's dad.)

Most of the time, reading Larkin, it's a light, or feels like a light, affair; he rhymes a lot; he makes jokes; he curses ("They fuck you up, your mum and dad /// They don't mean to, but they do"); he seems to have a wry smile, very English, on his face all the while. But as my co-worker and friend this afternoon reminded me, Larkin also often swerves sharply, becoming strangely sad and deep.

My co-worker reminded me of this facet of Larkin by sending me the following, in response to my bitching about not having enough money to afford, well, life.

Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
'Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex,
You could get them still by writing a few cheques.'

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
They certainly don't keep it upstairs.
By now they've a second house and car and wife:
Clearly money has something to do with life

—In fact, they've a lot in common, if you enquire:
You can't put off being young until you retire,
And however you bank your screw, the money you save
Won't in the end buy you more than a shave.

I listen to money singing. It's like looking down
From long French windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.
Always with the windows, with Larkin. What a strange obsession. I wrote something about windows, once, in response or inspiration. Here it is (and keep in mind this dates from '98, so read on forgivingly):

I like distances
And far off places.
I like high windows
That frame miles
Of steaming interstates
And strip malled green valleys.
I like how sometimes
From rooftops
After rain
The suburbs
Look like Aztec jungle.
This was written in the Honors Lounge of Old Main, on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where I went to school (and which some of you reading no doubt know).

Hopefully I've gotten better, writing-wise.