Monday, December 29, 2008

Emmy, my family, and Dracula

This is my niece Emma:

(Taken by Jacob Slaton.)

This is my family:

(Also taken by Jacob.)

This is my buddy Joe and his poor, long-suffering, lovely wife Holly:

(Taken by someone else.)

Friday, December 19, 2008


I read today that MillerCoors is neutering Sparks, its popular, radioactive-colored alcoholic energy drink (or maybe that's energetic alcohol drink?), by removing all its caffeine, taurine, ginseng, and guarana. No more will Sparks be liquid cocaine.

Herewith, one of the best paragraphs ever, from the Wall Street Journal blog entry in which I read of Sparks' defanging:
Still, the [attorneys general] noted in their own statement that MillerCoors has also agreed to “cease particular marketing themes that appeal to underage youth, eliminating advertisements that feature a bright orange-stained tongue and not renewing its contract with William Ocean, an air guitar champion who does a back flip onto an opened can of Sparks at all of his shows.” They add MillerCoors will discontinue its Sparks Web site, “which looks like it was created by a college freshman.”
That's why you read, kids—Because every once in a great while you come across a sentence or two like that.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My niece

Friday, December 12, 2008

Post No. 300—Or, Wa Wa Wee Wa! (Redux)

That's right, Dear and Faithful Long-time Reader. This is Post No. 300 of FIGHTING FIRE WITH UNLIT MATCHES (now bigger, in bold, and in all caps). In honor of this auspicious occasion, lets take a look back, shall we?

This blog's first entry was posted on October 31st, 2005, a little more than three years ago. It was about some words I like, including "pogonip" and "snowclone," as well as Why I Hate Halloween and Why Last Night's Party (the photo website, not the party) Is Dumb.

My one-hundredth entry was posted on December 18th, 2006, less than one week shy of exactly two years ago. It was a sort-of review of the Beatles "album"/Cirque du Soleil soundtrack Love. (It—meaning the entry, not the album— is not very interesting. But feel free to click through.)

Post No. 200 entered the world on November 1st, 2007—again, about a month and a half more than one year ago. This post I'm kind of proud of. It's a poem about, on a sun-struck fall day, eating dessert with a friend after a movie, and talking about who from college we still talk to.

And now here we are at Post No. 300, on December 12th, 2008, three years and 1.5 months after I started this blog. Suffice it to say, a lot has happened. It's been nice to have this and to write in it, and to occasionally have people tell me that they've really enjoyed something I've placed here.

With that in mind, here's this (Happy holidays!, and thanks for reading):

Two Meals


Cameras were everywhere, both still
and video, in the hot Brooklyn loft apartment.
Periodically, a boom mike swung overhead
of the long table at which we were seated.
It was a dinner party that was being filmed.
Across from me and my date was a lawyer
and his wife. I kept saying to the lawyer—
seated diagonally across from me,
who worked in the district attorney’s office
and whose brother was a friend of mine,
also present, snapping pictures, stonily silent—
I kept saying things like, when the mic neared,
“So how much does it cost really to buy a judge?”

Somehow, as people at dinner parties searching
for topics are wont to do, we got on the subject
of old jobs, in high school and college. I told
about the summer I worked in the hot dog stand
of the minor league ballpark at Ray Winder Field.
That summer seemed like many summers, or the ideal
of a summer. At least it seems that way in memory.

Then the lawyer said, “Yeah, Andy”—his brother—
“is really the only one of us who’s living the dream,”
meaning taking pictures, traveling. I could identify.

The lawyer continued: “My best summer job was
the summer I cleaned pools. All day I’d just clean
pools and listen to Talking Heads on my Walkman.”

And the scene came to me in a flash:
T-shirt, shorts, flip-flops: Handsome Tom,
having not yet met his wife or moved
to the city, having not yet attended law school,
the blue of the pool echoing the sky’s own blue,
the summer after college and no plans yet made,
calmly trawling the pool with the net-on-a-stick tool,
the Talking Heads’ polyrhythms coming in
from the cassette through the cord and on into
his ears, between which was an untroubled mass
exulting, lightweight, in the methodical
and the elementary: warmth, sun, sky, pool.


This was later, on a Sunday in early October
on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Brunch.
My friend was telling me that on the way
to meet me, she’d passed by a building
on Smith Street that was besieged by firemen.
They were ripping and scrabbling at the side
of a building in which an electrical fire
was smoldering. The fighters-to-fire ratio
fell heavily in favor of the fighters, and so
a crowd had gathered to watch. “But,”
my friend said, “There never ended up being
any big flames. Eventually everyone moved on.”

“Sometimes there are big flames,” I said,
“Like when my place burned.” “That’s true,” she said,
“I remember the pictures. And then once
when I was little, there was a big fire
in the middle of the night on our street, and we all”—
meaning her family, including eight-year-old Maya—
“came outside to watch, and all the neighbors did, too.
Just stood in the street and watched the place burn.”

Then I saw Maya, too, on a dark New England street
in the middle of the night with her mother, sister,
brother, and father before he died, dressed
in a thin night-shirt with bed-mussed hair, holding
the hand of an adult as she looked up, face upturned,
bare feet on the asphalt, still-warm from the day’s sun,
orange light flickering over her face, which even then
bore foreshadowings of the beauty that came later—
Looked up with a child’s eyes at the whump and crash
of a big house being taken apart by fire—
and behind her eyes was an unformed mass that saw
the fire not as a tragedy, but merely a heretofore
unseen assemblage of sound, light, and heat.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Who are news outlets saying that President-Elect Obama will name as his Secretary of Energy?

A) The director of the Occidental Petroleum Corporation.
B) A former venture capitalist and chemicals company CEO.
C) A Nobel prize-winning experimental physicist and director of the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory research facility, at UC Berkeley, where he is a professor.

The answer is "C," and his name is Steven Chu. The other two choices were George W. Bush's Secretaries of Energy. The New York Times writes this about Dr. Chu:
"At the Lawrence Berkeley laboratory, he has sponsored research into biofuels and solar energy and has been a strong advocate of controlling greenhouse gas emissions."
It's nice to see that Obama is bringing the smart. Also it's nice to see that Obama is bringing the not-bought-and-sold-by-the-oil-industry.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Nick Adams

I just finished reading The Nick Adams Stories, by Ernest Hemingway. My roommate got it for me, along with two other "manly" books of short stories, for my 29th birthday. (Thanks Steve!)

Man, what a book. I've read some Hemingway before—I guess just The Sun Also Rises, though maybe another; I forget—but this one really bowled me over. I know it's probably cliched and old-news to say, but reading this book really has revolutionized how I think about short stories.

One story, "Big Two-Hearted River," particularly struck me. Not much happens in it. Nick Adams gets off a train in some burned-over country, and then hikes into unburned country near the river where he makes camp. He cooks, he thinks about a friend, and the next day he fishes.

All the while, downriver, there's a swamp. Nick kind of warily eyes the swamp out of the corner of his mind. In the preface to the collection, Philip Young writes of this story that, "Put where it goes chronologically, following the stories of World War I, its submerged tensions—the impression that Nick is exorcising some nameless anxiety—become perfectly understandable."

One of the things in the story that resonated with me was how, at Nick's camp, his mood seems balanced on some sort of knife edge. I know that feeling, the feeling of taking pleasure in some simple thing one is doing while at the same time it all seems very fragile and about to tip over.

Hemingway writes:
He started a fire with some chunks of pine he got with the ax from a stump. Over the fire he stuck a wire grill, pushing the four legs down into the ground with his boot. Nick put the frying pan on the grill over the flames. He was hungrier. The beans and spaghetti warmed. Nick stirred them and mixed them together. They began to bubble, making little bubbles that rose with difficulty to the surface. There was a good smell. Nick got out a bottle of tomato catchup and cut four slices of bread. The little bubbles were coming faster now. Nick sat down beside the fire and lifted the frying pan off. He poured about half the contents out into the tin plate. It spread slowly on the plate. Nick knew it was too hot. He poured on some tomato catchup. He knew the beans and spaghetti were still too hot. He looked at the fire, then at the tent, he was not going to spoil it all by burning his tongue. For years he had never enjoyed fried bananas because he had never been able to wait for them to cool. His tongue was very sensitive. He was very hungry. Across the river in the swamp, in the almost dark, he saw a mist rising. He looked at the tent once more. All right. He took a full spoonful from the plate.
I don't know. I remember, as I said earlier in these pages, walking down the street feeling good and then catching myself. Trying to order everything, turn on a dime, precision. Balancing.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


I have been chastised by not one but two readers for not posting anything since a day before my birthday, which was Nov. 13. So I relent. I'll post (most of) this from my recent work trip to Aruba and Curacao. Dig it. More TK.

It's night in Aruba. I'm sitting out on my balcony, smoking. I just got back from the casino, where I gave back $135 of the casino's money. Blackjack. It'll get ya. Before the casino, we had dinner at the Marriott Resort's Simply Fish restaurant, myself and the press trip group I'm with. It was a long, leisurely dinner. I was seated between Kara, one of the public relations hosts of the trip, and Jennifer, from Toronto—one of the journalists. Across from me was Carolyn, another journalist from Brooklyn, and John, the director of sales and marketing for the resort. John was from the English island of Jersey, and used to work for Marriott in Manhattan before coming to Aruba about eight months ago with his family. Down the table was the rest of our group—all women. There was Beth, from Nashville; Karen, from New Jersey; Hope, from Atlanta; Jodi, the owner of the PR company who arranged the trip; and Karen, another resort staff member.

These press trips are weird. When I find myself having fun, somehow a mental check comes in and I think but no, this isn't real. We're all just conversing and having fun because there's nothing better to do. We wouldn't be here and talking if we weren't on this trip. And that's true. But it's also a negative way to think about things, and so I try to stop that mental check from occurring when I notice it's happening. It's like when I used to—or sometimes still do—walk down the street and am feeling good, unreasonably happy, and I realize that and then try to check myself, thinking, "Be careful. Easy there. The higher you feel, the further you have to fall." What doom-y thinking. I do it less these days.

Off in the distance are four cruise ships; I can only see their lights, not their outlines, on the black sea which runs seamlessly into the black sky. No stars can be seen. Across from me is one of two time-share parts of the resort; six identical, well-lit stairwells on the outside of the building are stacked atop one another.


Six years ago, on the cross-country Green Tortoise trip I took, I was obsessed with S.

S. had a curly afro of brown hair and a cute snub nose. She'd gone to Dartmouth. Once she took too much acid at a party and hid in the corner all night long, thinking she was a squirrel. I hiked in Zion National Park with Scottish John and we discussed S., whether or not she felt what I felt and all sorts of bullshit.

I got really high among the prickly pears out in the desert with [REDACTED], one of the drivers, and then stumbled stoned through the dark, cool Carlsbad Caverns.

When I got home, I kept up with S., who lived in Brooklyn. We went on a couple dates and I spent the night once with her in her apartment, which wasn't far from mine in Williamsburg. [REDACTED] Still, sometimes, in the neighborhood, I think I see her. I'm not sure if she's still in the city. When I was coming home from San Francisco, after the Green Tortoise trip, I wrote a poem for her. Here it is:


Oh, the hell with it:


1. When I write, You,
in your tall skeepskin boots,

What I really mean to say
is your lighthouse look that illumines
like the green of lightning-bug glow;
no everyday electricity but rather
something more outside
of day-in, day-out laws like
socket, plug, cord, and bulb.

What I really mean to say is
me, deer, headlights,
only that's a cliché –
but then again, so is love.

I was saying, then,
Your tall sheepskin boots –
No, wait;
The underwater octopus-ink explosion of your curls –
Hold, wait;
The butter dish of your brown shoulderblades,
the way your sleeping form,
tucked, curled,
could be that of the first woman
one hour before awakening
when whatever all this is began.

2. I slept by a tree. When I awoke,
I spoke to the animals; there was a raccoon,
and Raccoon said to me,
"Who are you?"
and I replied, "I do not know."

Raccoon said, gesturing with mischevious paw,
"Go and find out, then. It's possible
others will help you, even if only
by eye contact."

And off Raccoon went.

3. Delusion, romance. Deluance, rolusion.
Deluromansionce. 'Twas brillig.

4. Bringing it all back home:

I am on a plane. The cold medicine
has gone to my head, as has
the last two weeks
of no email, the red clay of the Valley of the Gods,
the looming silence of Carlsbad.
Alcohol and all the stars
fraught with meaning up above,
under the massive New Mexico night sky
where I laid out in the desert with you.

Which is all to say,
You are like one of those rare places in the world
where cylinders roll uphill
and compass-points won't stay still,

and in your gaze I'm a magnet,
having deliciously lost its North Pole.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Color Purple

At the Republican Governors' Conference today in Miami, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who was considered as Senator John McCain's running mate, said the following about the future of the G.O.P. (these quotes were pulled from this New York Times story):
One perspective is, the Republicans lost their way. There will be calls, and voices across the country for Republicans to return to traditional conservative approaches in almost all respects.

A second viewpoint will be the country’s changing a lot. The country is changing culturally, demographically, technologically, economically, and the like. And the Republican Party isn’t changing in a way that reflects those major, or macro changes across the country.
I think this latter statement is reflected in the following map from this website, which adjusts the traditional red-blue state map by population size and also factors in, using the color purple, gradations in Democratic and Republican voting:

It looks like a thin spiderweb of red stretched across a blue and purple country, refuting the assertion that this is a center-right nation. As Pawlenty said, the demographics of these United States are changing, and I think that's a good thing—not just for the Democratic party, but for America as a whole.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Yes, I'm Writing about The Onion Again

The Onion, as usual, really nailed it with this one:

Kobe Bryant Scores 25 In Holy Shit We Elected A Black President

It's brilliantly written, how it bleeds back and forth between reportage of the game and awestruck commentary about Obama's win. And it accurately conveys a real sort of national mindset of, well, "holy shit"—Just like they (The Onion) did after 9/11. Several of the pieces they wrote in response to that day had an undercurrent of sadness, fear, and disbelief. One was about a woman baking an American flag cake because she didn't know what else to do—and the tone was perfect: They were mocking her somewhat, because what use is making a flag cake?—But they were also sympathizing, expressing a helpless fellow-feeling and throwing-up-of-the-hands. Read it here.

And finally, just a clip from the Kobe Bryant Obama article:
The 2008 league MVP was solid on the defensive end of the court as well, holding Clippers guard Baron Davis to just 12 points and when they called Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida for Obama, basically ensuring victory, that was a moment in which all Americans, regardless of race, creed, color, or party affiliation had to stand back and say, "Holy shit, this is actually going to happen. Holy shit.... Holy shit. Holy shit! Holy shit!"
Then at the end it just totally breaks down, and The Onion writer is writing directly to us about his or her personal experience on election night. It's really beautiful.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

NYC-area newspapers today

Click here for a round-up of the front pages of NYC-area newspapers today, including the (I predict) soon-to-be-iconic New York Times front page.

And click here for an inspiring short item about New Yorkers lining up outside the New York Times' building to wait for copies of the paper. It contains this fantastic quote from the design director:
People working on that floor hadn’t noticed yet that the line was forming, and when they realized its purpose, a feeling of delight swept over the newsroom like the friendliest wildfire I’d ever seen. Reporters, editors, photographers, everyone started clapping, hooting and hollering that people still find the newspaper valuable enough to wait dozens of people deep in line for their chance to buy a copy.


I won’t add too much to the mountains of words that are even now being written about what happened yesterday. But it was amazing, inspiring, and hopeful.

Last night, after Obama delivered his victory speech, the music swelled and the families joined the candidates onstage. One of my friends (I’d had people over for chili—Obama’s recipe—and apple pie) said, “I’m waiting to see the credits roll!”

Later on, someone else not at my house echoed the same sentiment, with almost exactly the same phrasing. I felt it, too: Watching Barack speak in Grant Park, echoing the words of Lincoln and Dr. King, it felt like an amazing movie where America rises to the occasion and is actually as good as we hope to believe it is.

But this isn’t a movie. It really happened. Barack Obama—Think about it: A mixed-race man named Barack Hussein Obama!—will be the 44th president of the United States. We and the world should be proud of ourselves.

I’ll end with this. Last night, toward the end of his speech, Obama spoke about a woman named Ann Nixon Cooper. Now, usually I hate these little homilies that candidates seem hidebound to work into their speeches. (“Recently I spoke with so-and-so from Nowheresville, and she can’t afford her medicine.”) So I was skeptical when Barack started to go down this rhetorical road.

But then it shifted and widened like a river delta, as Ann Nixon Cooper’s story was expanded and magnified to encompass the whole of the 20th century, now put to sleep. Obama asked what, if our children are lucky enough to live into the 22nd century, will we have changed for them?

This is how he closed his speech. Feel the sweep of history and the hope for the future. Yes we did, yes we can, and yes we will:
This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight's about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America -- the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.

And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.

Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves -- if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment.

This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.

Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I voted this morning. It felt great to fill in that X next to Obama and Biden's names.

I don't have much more to say about this election, except that if Barack loses tonight, I am going to loot my own apartment. I am going to run screaming into my living room, grab my roommate's TV, put it in my room and shut the door. End of looting.

We are about to elect the coolest president ever. As Alex Balk wrote, "Holy crap, it’s like we’re voting for president of The Matrix":

And then there is this, from an MTV news interview. This quote is funny, sure, but it also speaks to something very important and essential about the man—namely, his eminent reasonableness.

Barack said (and thanks to Jen for turning me on to this), in reference to a question about laws against "sagging" pants:
I think people passing a law against people wearing sagging pants is a waste of time. We should be focused on creating jobs, improving our schools, health care, dealing with the war in Iraq, and anybody, any public official, that is worrying about sagging pants probably needs to spend some time focusing on real problems out there. Having said that, brothers should pull up their pants.
True that. Fingers crossed, everybody. I don't want to have to loot your apartment, too.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Today was a sad day.
Had pho with D.
Shy of Manhattan,
the J enters the king borough
and quickly turns away,
curves back toward Brooklyn.

Then on an everyday Tuesday
afternoon it all at once encrystals:
A bomb-scare morning, the Port Authority
Bus Terminal cleared out by men with badges,
plainclothes, an annoyed commute and late to work.
It was a real tap-tap, sir there’s a line day.

But on the downtown A,
a man next to me’s starting
a book I love. I point and give the thumbs-up.
Then a young woman with an interesting face
and holding a square, clear vase
of purple flowers smiles
at some children in pink, one girl playing
with the other’s ponytail; while a band
whose songs I’ve never been able to get into
suddenly all sound perfect. The lyrics appear
like the scene unfolding before me, into which soon steps
a thugged-out violinist, with an ammo T-shirt
and corn-row braids: He plays,
and, piqued, I pop out my earphones and listen
to subway street-violin, a passionate caterwauling
I’d never known existed.
I give him my last gold Pocahontas dollar
as we ruck into the station, thirty charmed blocks
as the rat scurries.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hard Times in New York (Magazine) Town

Well, it's up in the mornin' tryin' to find a job of work.
Stand in one place till your feet begin to hurt.
If you got a lot o' money you can make yourself merry,
If you only got a nickel, it's the Staten Island Ferry.
And it's hard times in the city,
Livin' down in New York town.

—Bob Dylan, "Hard Times in New York Town"
This week and last have not been good for magazine publishing in New York. First it was announced that the twice- or thrice-dead-already Radar would again be folding; then it came down that Rolling Stone would axe seven staffers and Time Inc. would lay off 600 employees. This story in The New York Times detailed the cuts at magazines and in other city industries.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the 100-year-old Christian Science Monitor newspaper—which, despite the name, has always been pretty respected—would shutter its print operation, electing henceforth to publish only on the web (and in a forthcoming weekend magazine).

And then today: It has been reported by Gawker and The Observer that editors and publishers at all titles of the giant of giants in the magazine business, Conde Nast, have been ordered to trim their staff levels and budgets by five percent. (For those who don't know, Conde Nast publishes The New Yorker, GQ, Vogue, Vanity Fair, and many more magazines, and has long had a reputation in the industry for being a citadel of prestige and indifference to market conditions.)

Most sad to me are what's happening to Portfolio and Men's Vogue, detailed in the links behind "The" and "Observer." I always liked Portfolio's quirky, off-center covers—they made you stop and take notice, unlike most business magazines' covers—and I'm a subscriber to Men's Vogue.

Long story short? It's bad out there for those in the publishing industry, and getting worse. If you have a job, be thankful. If you don't, learn to pick rutabagas and perfect your hobo diction.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hobos 'n' Obama

Writer John Hodgman (you may recognize him from The Daily Show or, if you turn in early, the I'm-a-Mac, I'm-a-PC knife fight commercials) has a new book coming out soon called More Information Than You Require, a sequel to his bizarrely hilarious The Areas of My Expertise, a fake almanac that contains a list of 700 Hobo names. The best, and my chosen hobo moniker: Cholly the Yegg. ("Yegg" is wonderfully defined as "an inept safecracker.") Other great ones: Douglas, the Future of Hoboing; Ol' Barb Stab-You-Quick. Click here for the full list of hobo names.

Hodgman is one smart cookie. In this long interview with The Onion A.V. Club, it is mentioned that he has been supporting Barack Obama with much vim and vigor, on his blog and his Twitter account and what-not. He's asked, "What has made this election so compelling to you?"

Hodgman answers:
The thing that I find so compelling is that right now Obama's whole campaign strategy is simply [to] speak to people as though they were adults and trust that the truth of the world situation will be evident to them. For him to be attacked as a friend of a terrorist, for "palling" around with terrorists and to simply go back and say, "No, I'm not"? That was such a refreshing political moment. It's like he's saying, "Oh, you know that's not true. You know what's happening here." So much of the past eight years in politics, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, you have to acknowledge is based on what the Bush people to themselves have described outside the reality-based community. That the words they were speaking had no basis in reality and they felt no compulsion to exist in a real world. They were creating a world of their own imagining. They were writing their own book of fake trivia and that's a fine way to make a living, but I don't know that it's a very productive way to run a country. And I think we are seeing the results of that right now. So from a very selfish point of view, I'm enchanted by the idea that a politician can come along and speak simply and clearly and truthfully to an electorate as though they are grown-ups and to feel the electorate respond to that. I've found that to be astonishing and especially now that we are in the end game and you see basically the McCain campaign has nothing left but conspiracy theories to throw at Obama. It really has become a fight between fantasy and reality, and although I don't make my living off of it, I endorse reality.
I was just thinking about this very thing the other day; that the reason that McCain and Palin's whole "Americans are cravin' that straight talk," "Joe the Plumber" angle hasn't gained any traction is because ... that's what Barack has been delivering all along. McCain and Palin accuse Obama of all these things, of misleading eloquence, of being elitist—But Obama has consistently been very plain-spoken and direct with the American people. His is not a gilded language; it is sturdy and simple, though also majestic and uniquely American, and I think that is a big reason why he is winning this race. Obama's words, and how he delivers them, are the linguistic transubstantiation of "purple mountain majesties" and "amber waves of grain."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Greenspan Recants

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Allen Greenspan said the following in a statement yesterday to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:
[T]hose of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions [aka self-regulation—ed.] to protect shareholder’s equity (myself especially) are in a state of shocked disbelief. Such counterparty surveillance is a central pillar of our financial markets’ state of balance. If it fails, as occurred this year, market stability is undermined.
Then this happened, as reported in the New York Times:
“You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others,” said Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, chairman of the committee. “Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?”

Mr. Greenspan conceded: “Yes, I’ve found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that fact.”

Mr. Waxman noted that the Fed chairman had been one of the nation’s leading voices for deregulation, displaying past statements in which Mr. Greenspan had argued that government regulators were no better than markets at imposing discipline.

“Were you wrong?” Mr. Waxman asked.

“Partially,” the former Fed chairman reluctantly answered, before trying to parse his concession as thinly as possible.
OK. Moving forward. John McCain told the Wall Street Journal the following this past March:
I’m always for less regulation. But I am aware of the view that there is a need for government oversight. … But I am a fundamentally a deregulator. I’d like to see a lot of the unnecessary government regulations eliminated.
And then he said this in a speech on March 25th:
In financial institutions, there is no substitute for adequate capital to serve as a buffer against losses. Our financial market approach should include encouraging increased capital in financial institutions by removing regulatory, accounting and tax impediments to raising capital.
"Removing" regulatory impediments. Got that? Removing.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama said the following in his speech at the Democratic National Convention on August 28th:
And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as President of the United States.

What is that promise?

It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves - protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.
Keep in mind that these statements by Obama and McCain were all made before the Dow blew up.

In summary:

Greenspan, former acolyte of deregulation, “partially” renounces his ideology; McCain “is fundamentally a deregulator”—While Obama says that American business “should … play by the rules of the road” and that “government … should do … that which we cannot do for ourselves.” One of those things being: Regulate the financial institutions who have dragged the U.S. public into this current mess.

So who you gonna vote for?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuning Up

Angry and running
a little late on the subway rucking
over the Williamsburg Bridge, and rehearsing
what I’ll say to her and why,
with a running color commentary
as to whether I should say anything at all
on the TV in another room of my mind,

suddenly a shaft of trumpet-colored light
bugles its way up the boulevard
through the lots, Luger’s, Bambini Art—
“fans, cups, kites, cops, eats, nights”—
to stop me warm in my thoughts,
like a C major seven amid cacophony.

Diffuse, the light stroked, almost petted
over the tops of buildings and the bay—
I thought of Brooklyn spread out in the morning,
its zip codes strewn like carpet samples.

But soon we were across
the bridge and back underground,
the cars having crept
their way above us, and the hate—
the winter, the jockeying—had returned.

Then I dreamed of spring and coffee,
and of one day not far off when,
layers having been shed
in dribs and drabs,
we’ll ride in rolled shirtsleeves
with the train windows triangled open
and the light returned but changed: opalescent,
like the pearlized snaps on a Western shirt’s front,
the subway car’s air perfumed by the smell of sea.

Monday, October 20, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different

I’ve been focusing a lot on politics, which is good and I’m glad people have been responding to it, but one’s gotta mix it up at some point. So today is about music.

One: Two Saturdays ago I was riding into the city on the JMZ train at 7pm and was reading The Onion’s concert listings. All of a sudden I see this Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour thing, organized by former Neutral Milk Hotel member Julian Koster (now performing under the moniker the Music Tapes), along with members of the Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, Elf Power, and more. “Oh man,” I think to myself, “this is great! When is it? I have to go!” (Elephant 6 is an old Athens, Georgia-based record label, on which some of my all-time favorite bands recorded.) The bad news: The show was that very night at the Knitting Factory, and I was headed to something I couldn’t cancel.

Oh well. “I grow old, I grow old. I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled.”

But then on Monday I see a post on BrooklynVegan about the show, and I kick myself even more: Jeff Mangum, lead singer of Neutral Milk Hotel, was there, and sang on a few songs including Olivia Tremor Control’s “The Opera House.” Now, I don’t feel as bad as I might have, as I got to see Olivia Tremor Control a few years back at Bowery Ballroom, when Jeff came out and sang on a couple of songs of theirs, including “I Have Been Floated” (which he sang on back in the day on their record), but I still felt pretty bummed out. Why?

In 1998, Jeff Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel released their second album, called In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, which quickly became a cult classic. I first heard it in the fall of my sophomore year at school, and it is one of the very few albums that I have loved from the first notes (one other being Yankee Hotel Foxtrot).

After touring on that album, though, Neutral Milk Hotel disbanded and Jeff Mangum more or less disappeared. Stories would surface about him having serious mental problems, about him playing a weird show at a pub in Australia—all adding to the myth of Neutral Milk Hotel, which by that time was legendary.


But so for any of you out there in TV land who haven’t heard In the Aeroplane, I highly recommend you go out and buy/find it immediately. It is simply one of the best 39+ minutes of music—a real album—that I’ve ever heard. It’s weird, and joyous, and very sad, and angry, and all the stuff that life at its very best is. Strangely, a ribbon of Anne Frank runs through the album, alongside an earthy, sticky-sweet sexuality. See these lines from the song “Oh Comely,” for example:
Your father made fetuses
With flesh licking ladies
While you and your mother
Were asleep in the trailer park
Thunderous sparks from the dark of the stadiums
The music and medicine you needed for comforting
So make all your fat fleshy fingers to moving
And pluck all your silly strings
And bend all your notes for me
Soft silly music is meaningful magical
The movements were beautiful
All in your ovaries
All of them milking with green fleshy flowers
While powerful pistons were sugary sweet machines
Smelling of semen all under the garden
Was all you were needing when you still believed in me

And I know they buried her body with others
Her sister and mother and 500 families
And will she remember me 50 years later
I wished I could save her in some sort of time machine
Know all your enemies
We know who are enemies are
So beautiful and strange. And Jeff’s voice was (is!) so distinctive: adenoidal, almost (at times) unhinged. But sometimes he just sounded sweet. And that’s where I come back around to the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour. I read today on BrooklynVegan that, in Pittsburgh this Saturday, at the end of the show, Julian and Jeff came and sang in the middle of the crowd a simple song called “Engine.” I first heard “Engine” on Oh, Merge, a 10th anniversary album for Merge Records, which label Neutral Milk Hotel was on, and it grabbed me immediately—a lament with singing saw and Jeff’s voice, about a dreamtime sort of ship:
For I am an engine and I'm holding on
The world is all bending and breaking from me
For sweetness alone who flew out through the window
And landed back home in a garden of green

You're riding alone in the back of a steamer
And steaming yourself in the warm shower spray
And water rolls on off the round captain's belly
Who's talking to tigers from his cafeteria tray

And sweet babies cry for the cool taste of milking
That milky delight that invited us all
And if there's a taste in this life more inviting
Then wake up your windows and watch as those sweet babies crawl away
Here is video (dark, with only intermittent flashes of camera-flash) of the two of them performing the same song the following night in Columbus, Ohio. (Video exists of the Pittsburgh performance, but the crowd is loud and talking and the sound quality is much worse than this one.) Just put it on in the background—You don’t have to actually watch, the video is nothing—and listen to the song:

And then finally, this one goes out to my brother Jacob, who I know—with as much certainty as I know the sun will rise tomorrow morning, or that Obama will win on Nov. 4—will love this song. I am sort of ashamed to say that I heard this song last night during an Axe Chocolate Body Spray commercial (a product which I still don’t entirely understand), but hey—You get older, you gotta catch as catch can; otherwise you end up sitting on the JMZ at 7pm, rucking over the Williamsburg Bridge and wishing you kept up with music like you used to.

Dig, cats:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Enough already about Joe the goddamn Plumber.

Tell me, who in their right mind buys this folksy Joe the Plumber B.S.? Are Americans really so dense that all it takes to get their attention (and their vote) is laying out economic policy like it's a children's book? I personally am very very tired of:

Joe Six-pack
Joe the Plumber
Hockey Moms
Soccer Moms
And all the rest

I wonder. How can we tell whether or not Americans lap up this Joe the Plumber pablum? Hmm. I wonder. Oh, I've got it! The highest-rated TV shows in America would surely be an indicator of the nation's collective mental and emotional maturity—right? Meaning it would follow that if smart shows like The Office and Mad Men were at the top of the Nielsen ratings, it would indicate that the majority of Americans don't like this Joe the Plumber nonsense, either.

Well let's go to the tape:

Drat. Foiled again.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

That's Right, This Is Where I Live.

Rodney Park is directly across the street from my apartment.

From the New York Post today:

A new offshoot of the notorious Bloods gang has raised its ugly head in South Williamsburg, sparking a police crackdown in the Brooklyn neighborhood, authorities say.

Since September, the Pretty Boy Goonies have repeatedly clashed with the Trinitarios, a Dominican gang whose power base is the Marcy Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

"We have a serious problem here. This escalates from robberies to murder and more youth-on-youth violence," said Democratic Councilwoman Diana Reyna.

"This is not fist-fighting we are talking about. They are using machetes to stab and slash, and screwdrivers. There are brawls in the streets, in broad daylight, stopping traffic.

"We can't revert to the times . . . where gangs took over our street corners ."

The Pretty Boy Goonies, aka PBGs, have about a dozen members, authorities said. Gang members gather to fight for turf in Rodney Park under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway near the Williamsburg Bridge.

In response to the concerns of Reyna and community groups, cops have begun arresting gang members; a sweep last weekend nabbed 14 suspects, authorities said.

Authorities have also increased the number of cops and narcotics detectives patrolling the area, placing some on rooftops and installing a Sky Watch, a video camera manned by a cop at Marcy Avenue and South Fifth Street.

The device has been used to fight crime in Harlem.

That's just great. I saw this Sky Watch thing going up last Friday night (literally a block away from my apartment). I also talked to a cop on Saturday and he told me pretty much the same thing as this article describes, though in less detail.

And yes, Joe, that's right: Pretty Boy Goonies.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Southwest Airlines Moves One Step Closer to Being the Greyhound of the Skies

P. Solomon Banda reported in the Associated Press on Saturday:
Wallace and the two sisters, ages 9 and 16, were seated in the same row on a San Diego-to-Denver flight Aug. 1. Officials said Wallace did not know the girls or their brother, 10, who was seated behind them. The siblings were traveling without a parent.

In a preliminary hearing, FBI agent Joel Nishida said Wallace tried to take pictures of the younger sister, seated near the aisle, but that she covered her face.

During the flight, the older sister said Wallace took out some strips of white athletic tape from his backpack and used a figure eight pattern to tie her hands together with the tape.

When she asked him what he was doing, "he gave out a creepy laugh," Nishida testified.

The younger sister managed to free her sister, tearing the tape off using her teeth. Afterward, Wallace allegedly tried to tape the younger sister's hands to those of her older sibling. A flight attendant who saw what was happening then moved the two girls to a different row with their brother.
Made me think of this.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

McCain to the Rescue

Frankly, I find this passage—from a New York Times story by Elisabeth Bumiller—utterly fascinating:

[Mr. McCain's] temporary embrace of Mr. Obama came as Mr. McCain was repeatedly implored by voters at the town-hall-style meeting to “fight back” against Mr. Obama at the next presidential debate, on Wednesday, and to stop him from becoming president. But unlike at an earlier town-hall-style meeting this week in Wisconsin, where Mr. McCain sharply agreed with voters who urged him to punch back, this time he drew a line.

When a man told him he was “scared” of an Obama presidency, Mr. McCain replied, “I want to be president of the United States and obviously I do not want Senator Obama to be, but I have to tell you — I have to tell you — he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.” The crowd booed loudly at Mr. McCain’s response.

Later, a woman stood up at the meeting, held at Lakeville South High School in a far suburb of Minneapolis, and told Mr. McCain that she could not trust Mr. Obama because he was an “Arab.”

Mr. McCain replied: “No, ma’am, he’s a decent family man, a citizen, who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that’s what this campaign is all about.” (He did not correct her false depiction of Mr. Obama.) At that, the crowd applauded.

Wow. I have been saying for several months now that I thought McCain would ultimately lose this election because he is, at his core, an honorable man, and that he would refuse to do absolutely whatever it takes, as dirty or underhanded as that might be, to beat Obama.

I said that McCain would not go as far as George W. Bush did against him (McCain) in the Republican primary in 2000, and that given Obama's charisma and intelligence, plus the generally poor view of Republicans right now as a result of eight years of the Bush Administration, that he (Obama) would win.

And I think that unless his advisors, like Karl Rove protege Steve Schmidt, somehow hijack McCain's campaign, this is just what's going to happen. I don't agree with McCain on a number of issues, but I applaud his decency, responsibility (which doesn't unfortunately extend to all areas of his campaign, but still), and patriotism in this matter.

I will refer you now to Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, during which he said the following:
Now, I don't believe that Sen. McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know.

It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it.

But what I will not do is suggest that [Senator McCain] takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain.

That, Dear Reader, is what's called Elevating the Discourse. Let's encourage both candidates—and not the crazed supporters at Palin rallies shouting "kill him," "off with his head," and "terrorist" with respect to Barack Obama (and no I am not kidding; look it up)—to keep it up.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Office

I never post stuff like this, but last night's The Office contained one of the best lines ever. The episode was about business ethics, and during a meeting Andy proposed the ethical dilemma of, "If your family were starving, would you steal bread to feed them?" To which Dwight replies,
"Trick question. The bread is poison, and it's not your real family. You've been cuckolded by a stronger, smarter male."

Thursday, October 09, 2008

New York State Voter Registration Deadline Tomorrow

Hello all. Tomorrow is the deadline for New York state residents to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election. Why should you care, and why should you vote? Here, let my friend Kevin tell you (the video is only two minutes long, so quit yer whining):

Makes sense, doesn't it? Do what Kevin says. If you live in New York City, click here to download a PDF copy of the voter registration form. All you have to do is fill it out and put it in the mail. Postage-paid. Zero cost to you, and it takes < 5 minutes.

If you don't live in New York City, go here to see A) whether or not you are already registered, and B) if you're not, how to get that way (registered). (Yes, the site is associated with Obama, but it's not a shill for him or the Democratic party; it's a strictly nonpartisan tool to help more people get registered to vote.)

As Mark Twain said, Where every man in a state has a vote, brutal laws are impossible.”

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Sign of the Times

From Gothamist:
After the end of the Clinton era, the National Debt Clock in midtown was temporarily turned off because the number had actually started to go down for the first time since it was installed in 1989 by real estate developer Seymour Durst. Now, after eight years of The Decider, the number's gotten so vast and incomprehensible and depressing that the sign isn't big enough for all those digits.
Click here for the full post, along with a picture of the sign as it stands today.

Monday, October 06, 2008

What is the real America?

In a piece posted Friday on Slate, ("Alaska vs. Hawaii: Why is Seward's Folly the 'real America' and the Aloha State not?"), Timothy Noah writes, regarding Governor Sarah Palin and why her homespun Americana doggerel is being viewed as, for better or worse, the "real" America:
Why is Alaska authentically American when Hawaii is not? At bottom, of course, it's a silly question. Both states, while disconnected geographically from the continental United States, are populated with people whose American-ness is beyond dispute. Every corner of each one of the 50 states is "authentically American." But Alaska leans Republican while Hawaii leans Democratic, and the GOP long ago intimidated the media into believing that only Republican strongholds represent the "real America." These Republican strongholds are usually sparsely populated, and I suppose the media's been sold on the idea that because the United States started out as an agrarian nation, rural areas are somehow more authentic than urban ones.
That's spot on, and a nice articulation of something I've been thinking about and noticing as well. Bob Herbert, in an excellent Sept. 8th op-ed in The New York Times, raised sort of a similar issue in his defense of liberals being patriots and real Americans just as much as (if not more so) than conservatives. Herbert writes about something Mitt Romney said ("Liberals don't have a clue") during the Republican National Convention:
Why liberals don’t stand up to this garbage, I don’t know. Without the extraordinary contribution of liberals—from the mightiest presidents to the most unheralded protesters and organizers—the United States would be a much, much worse place than it is today.
And I would argue that without the contribution of the cities and of the values of tolerance, acceptance, and civil rights that the U.S. would be a much, much worse place than it is today. I don't know, either, why liberals "don't stand up to this garbage," fight back. One reason of course in this campaign is that Barack Obama has set out to really change the tenor of the public debate; to not descend to the level of Sarah Palin's mean, sniping, red-meat attack during her acceptance speech at the RNC. And that's good. I think Barack is pursuing the higher path.

But Jay-Z, in his song "Justify My Thug," off 2003's The Black Album, makes a good point—One that Malcolm X might have agreed with, and that I in some ways agree with as well. Jay-Z raps:
They say an eye for an eye, we both lose our sight
And two wrongs don't make a right
But when you been wrong and you know all along that it's just one life
At what point does one fight? (Good question, right?)
Part of me wants to say it's time for Democrats to fight back, to be all like, "Y'know what, Republicans? Fuck you. Fuck you, Alaska. We did this and this and this and you are the party of the past and your time is dying and falling away. We represent the cities, where 80 percent (and growing) of Americans now live. We represent the spirit of progress, tolerance, and learning. We represent the future, and we represent a proud, strong America; and henceforth we refuse to be labeled as unpatriotic or bad Americans."

I don't know. That's probably wrong—in fact I'm sure it is—but I still want to say it. I do think, though, that liberals need to take back that word, to proudly claim their heritage and no longer allow themselves to be marginalized by Republicans and their so-called "heartland" values.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Well then allow me to retort

My dad told me last night that my brother Jacob's blog had blown up a bit, comments-wise, after his recent post endorsing Barack Obama. So I went there, read the comments, and now have a few responses for Messrs. Skelly and Fatt.

Regarding Obama's supposed lack of experience, here’s a bit of a history lesson:

1983: Obama graduates with a degree in political science (with an emphasis in international relations and a thesis on Soviet disarmament) from Columbia University.

1985: Obama moves to Chicago and becomes a community organizer with a church-based group dedicated to improving living conditions in poor neighborhoods. (Hmm … that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I bet Jesus would like this guy and his efforts. You know, Jesus? The guy about which Obama said, earlier this year in Christianity Today magazine, the following?:
“I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful.”
Y’know, that guy.

Moving on:

1988: Barack Obama matriculates at Harvard Law School.

1990: Becomes first black president of the Harvard Law Review.

1991: Graduates magna cum laude from Harvard Law.

1991: Rather than taking a cherry, high-paying job at a prestigious law firm (which, as a magna cum laude graduate from Harvard Law, he certainly could have), Obama instead chooses to move back to Chicago and work as a civil rights lawyer and a constitutional law professor. He also runs Project Vote, which gets 150,000 people registered to vote in the 1992 election.

1996: Elected to the Illinois State Senate. Serves for eight years, during which time he sponsors 233 bills on health care and public health and 125 bills on poverty and public assistance, among many others.

2002: Makes speech against pursuing war against Iraq. You know, Iraq? The country that didn’t attack us on 9/11 and that didn’t, it turns out, have any weapons of mass destruction? Weapons of mass destruction being, of course, the entire reason given to the American public for the Iraq War in the first place. (There weren’t any.)

2004: Elected to U.S. Senate. Serves on the Committee on Foreign Relations; the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Sponsors 121 bills and co-sponsors 490 bills since taking office in January 2005. Misses 303 votes in the Senate during this time—117 votes less than John McCain, who missed 109 more votes than Senator Tim Johnson, who had a brain hemorrhage in December of ’06. That’s right: McCain missed more votes than a guy who had a brain hemorrhage.

Now, that should answer the experience question. I am not, of course, saying that John McCain isn’t experienced; of course he is—But “experience” is a slippery metric that doesn’t really mean anything in and of itself. It’s the quality of the experience that matters—not the quantity. I would argue that the quality of Barack Obama’s experience is much better suited than the quality of John McCain’s experience to fixing the problems facing America in the 21st century.

Joe Biden is of course experienced as well. That guy got elected to the Senate when he was 29, which is great—But he’s not a visionary like Obama, and so I think the ticket is in the proper order, Barack on top and Biden in the veep slot.

Quick note: Sarah Palin is not experienced for shit. What was she doing in 1984, a year after Barack graduated from the (Ivy League) Columbia University? She was coming in 2nd in a beauty pageant. Then she went to the University of Idaho and worked as a sportscaster and pitched in with the family fishing business.

This is getting long, so I’ll quickly address the following comment by Skelly, who wrote: “the government is going to be the government, and until they’re stealing my house, burning my clothes, and eating my food - i’ll have a damn good life”

Of course, “they” are not stealing your house—But, according to an editorial in today’s New York Times, “At last count, six million people were expected to default on their mortgages this year and next, putting them at risk of losing their homes unless they can catch up in their payments or catch a break on their loan terms.”

People are losing their homes. Maybe you aren’t, but other people are. And then so what about this?:
This verse enjoins us to care about our neighbor and his or her possible lost home, no matter who or where they are. Biblically, not caring about someone else's foreclosure or mortgage default is clearly not an option.

Now regarding not voting: Of course it is your right to not vote. But I contend that every single vote matters. Sure, one vote in 100 million doesn’t make all that big of a difference—Unless, of course, something happens like it did in Florida in 2000, when the national election was decided by just over half a million votes.

Finally, we should all desire to vote, because only by voting do we keep Washington accountable. The fewer people vote, the more that corrupt politicians (of which not all of them are, believe it or not) can and will get away with. It’s our responsibility to vote for whom we think would best serve the nation and our fellow citizens, for we are our truly our brothers’ keepers.

Also Obama will lower your taxes:

OK, I'm finished now.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

And but so: Last thoughts on DFW (for now)

For the past week and a half, since I learned of David Foster Wallace's suicide, I've been reading the papers, the magazines, online, saving the clippings, putting my favorites in the folder I have on top of my bookshelf where I keep all of my favorite magazine pieces. I've cursed at some of the obituaries and teared up at others. I've read the growing tribute McSweeney's thoughtfully has made a place for (and among which my stab at memorializing the man, previously posted here, is included). People I haven't heard from in a long time got in touch, whether via email, phone, text, or blog comments to express their condolences. People knew what he meant to me. People seemed to like what I'd written about him, after. And but so I sat on Sunday morning, after a good visit from my dad and my brother for most of last week (with a special guest appearance by my sister on Saturday), and flipped through my books of his, including my three copies of Infinite Jest (it's the only book of which I own multiples). I saw the highlighting, the underlining, the notes, the bits of in-class comminques preserved within, the weather, the wear, the tear. All of which I've got, too. And so sitting there in the half-light of my room, Sunday morning, brother just departed—and feeling that sense of disconnection, that sense of one's plug being pulled out from the wall socket that I've begun to see is a pattern for me—I sat there and it got to be more OK. The notes from people throughout the week, the appraisals I'd been reading in the papers, his books on my shelf, my and others' deep feeling for the man and his work—

I got to thinking about Bob Dylan's "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie," a poem from Bob for his idol, which ends thusly:
And where do you look for this hope that you're seekin'
Where do you look for this lamp that's a-burnin'
Where do you look for this oil well gushin'
Where do you look for this candle that's glowin'
Where do you look for this hope that you know is there
And out there somewhere
And your feet can only walk down two kinds of roads
Your eyes can only look through two kinds of windows
Your nose can only smell two kinds of hallways
You can touch and twist
And turn two kinds of doorknobs
You can either go to the church of your choice
Or you go to Brooklyn State Hospital

You find God in the church of your choice
You find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital
And though it's only my opinion
I may be right or wrong
You'll find them both
In Grand Canyon

I like that. I also started to think just now about how people used to graffiti "Frodo Lives!" on things back in the '60s and '70s, after the hero of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (which was the first Big Important Book for me). So I hereby propose another graffiti: DFW Lives! And he does.

And but so for now that's where I'll leave my memories of the man. Now, onward and upward. Dave would want it that way. Soon we'll return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

* Last (foot)note: Thank you—sincerely, deep down—to everyone who wrote, called, texted, or posted on this blog or Facebook to say hey, and that they were sorry to hear, and hope I'm OK. I really truly appreciate it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Eulogy for David Foster Wallace; Or, Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is!

Toward the end of 1996 I was in my parents' living room reading a Time magazine. It was one of those year-end wrap-up issues, with various lists and capsule reviews of the best books, films, art, and so on of the year soon to bow out. This was my senior year of high school. I had a girlfriend, or was moving toward having a girlfriend—My first "real" girlfriend. I was reading the magazine and in the books section, one book caught my eye: A book called Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. I don't remember why, but something in the capsule review sparked my interest. I had always been a reader, but this book—1,079 pages, about an "entertainment" called Infinite Jest that is so pleasurable that those who saw it lost all desire to do anything but watch it, and thus died—seemed a whole other order of magnitude beyond what I'd been reading.

I bought the book. I think this was in December. I bought the book and started reading it. For the whole second half of my last year of high school, January through May or thereabouts, I read Infinite Jest. I read it in class, and got in trouble for it. I gave it to my girlfriend, Shannon, for Valentine's Day, and she was touched because a boy had never given her a book before.

Infinite Jest was indeed about this entertainment, but it was about so much more. It was about addiction and a real American sort of sadness; it was about the future, and maybe where we were headed. It was also about two characters, Don Gately and Hal Incandenza—characters that are as alive to me as any other real living and breathing person. They live with me still today.

Infinite Jest turned me on to serious reading, and to the style of writing that I've come most to prefer: the sprawling, encyclopedic novel. David Foster Wallace turned me on to Pynchon, to Joyce, to Gaddis, to DeLillo. DFW—as he would come to be known to me—made me want to be a writer. But why?

For this reason: Infinite Jest made me feel less alone. And DFW meant to do that. In an interview published in 1993 in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, he said the following:
I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction's job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction's purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves. Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience, more like a sort of generalization of suffering. Does this make sense? We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy's impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with characters' pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might be just that simple.
I was disturbed and Infinite Jest comforted me. I was comfortable and Infinite Jest disturbed me. Infinite Jest made me feel less alone. And but so, ever since that late winter, spring, and early summer of 1997, I've been trying to write—and trying somehow, in my own small way, to follow in David Foster Wallace's footsteps: To make others, through writing, feel less alone. If I have ever written anything that anyone liked, that even for a moment made them feel unalone, then I have succeeded. And success is entirely relative; though I will in all probability never achieve near as much as DFW did, it doesn't matter—A drop of water is the ocean in miniature.


David Foster Wallace is dead. He hanged himself on Friday at his home in Claremont, Calif. He was 46.


I could go on. I could tell you about reading all his other books, from Broom of the System (his first novel) to his most recent, a collection of essays called Consider the Lobster; I could tell you about how I gave Infinite Jest to a friend once, and how she later brought it back to me, signed; I could tell you how another girlfriend got another of his books, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, signed by him for me, the summer she was in New York, and how she gave him a copy of our school's literary magazine, in which I had a couple of poems; I hoped that maybe he flipped through it on the plane ride back to the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, where he was teaching at the time, and read my poems and maybe liked them; I could tell you about how I very nearly went on a pilgrimage to see him in Illinois, but didn't, and how I wish now that I had.

I could tell you about how he was a laugh-out-loud funny writer—He had to have been to have worked into a 10,000-word review of a dictionary an analogy to a stoned person watching the PGA Tour with Oreo crumbs all over his shirt's front and being caught in a loop of thinking about what the color "green" really means. I could tell you about all the times I've told friends,s significant others, and virtual strangers, "You have to read this book." Or I could tell you about how, in the special edition of Rolling Stone published soon after 9/11, David Foster Wallace's take on that day's tragedy, called "The View from Mrs. Thompson's House" (since reprinted in Consider the Lobster), was the most dead-on and honest assessment I've ever read about 9/11, in its throwing-up-the-hands-and-saying-I-just-don't-fucking-know-ness. I could tell you about how once I got to see him in New York, with Jonathen Franzen, as part of The New Yorker Literary Festival, and how he blasted Franzen—no dope himself—entirely out of the water.

Or how now, reading Infinite Jest for the third time around in 11 years, having gotten sober myself, in the last 100-page home stretch, this evening on the couch before a dinner party, and then the dinner party and outside, after, smoking a cigarette with some people, and a guy getting a text message and saying that David Foster Wallace had killed himself felt first like a friend had died, and then like a repudiation of something, a core-shaking of my own personal foundation—

But I'll not tell you about all that. I'll leave some things for memory and choose not to go down certain roads; I think DFW would want it that way. But, I will tell you this: David Foster Wallace's writing made me and millions of others feel less alone. I know that. And for this he should be praised, and mourned. I hope he has found the peace that eluded him in this life.

Rest in peace, DFW. I'll still be here, pushing your books on friends.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I Turn My Camera On; Or, Letter from Bryant Park, Fashion Week

I'm sitting here in Bryant Park watching people go apeshit over fashion models and designers. Just saw a bunch of photographers run to get shots of Anna Sui, who I sort of recognized but didn't know who it was until I heard someone say "Anna!" The photogs, schlumpfy guys all, are standing around in little clusters of two and three looking down at the little screens of serious-looking black cameras they've got slung around their necks. Then there are also a lot of younger women, Japanese and American, milling more hesitantly, with smaller ordnance cameras.

One guy, earlier, almost fell into me at the little green desk-table I was sitting at, as he got pushed out of a scrum of photogs surrounding two tall black models, with aquiline features and wearing Egyptian goddess, Isis-type garb. The big cameras, when they go off, sound like thwack thwack thwack. Directly in front of me, a middle-aged black photog, with a French bulldog's squished-up expression and the suggestion of an afro, is taking pictures, but not getting up to do so from where he's sitting, of random women who look good but obviously aren't models as they walk by. One other civilian-looking woman saw this just now, as she was standing here. She smiled, and walked on.

The scene has now calmed down somewhat. Directly across from where I sit is the Bryant Park Hotel, all black brick and gold trim. To my right is the green and gold, old-style carousel, ridden by kids on ornate up-and-downing horses. A blue baseball-capped black man just pushed a flat of cases of Peroni beer past me. Impossibly thin models, vaguely Russian-looking, keep swishing by. Photogs move up and away, as the models pose while walking or stop and pose, either giving a smoldering look or smiling wanly. It's like a kind of chemical or magnetic reaction, electrons drawn and then repelled from a nucleus. The models' breasts move around in their shirts or dresses like a sped-up grandfather clock's pendulum. Another flat of 25 cases of Peroni beer, pushed and guarded by five black guys, just rolled by.

It occurs to me that, women-wise, a man could probably clean up in this vicinity of town with civilian women during these Fashion Weeks.

I am wearing a tie and pink tennis shoes. I look good but not great. Thumping, irregular bass is and has been this whole time issuing from the big white tent complex (where the actual fashion shows are held) directly behind me. I am sitting at the back end of the tent complex, away from the entrance, which is festooned with voting- and election-themed Fashion Week slogans, on 6th Avenue at 41st Street.

The photogs have this way of running up ahead of the models, humping gear, about 15 feet, then turning and shooting. I wonder if the civilian women walking by, in their own finery, harbor a secret desire to be mistaken for a model, and shot.

Several people walking by, Anna Sui one and maybe Ralph Lauren another, have been wearing black T-shirts bearing the legend, in a stone color, "Save the Garment District." A leaf just fell from the air in front of me—the first falling leaf I think I've seen this fall. Soon more, soon all, will fall. All of my friends at the Rough Guides office in New York, where I got my first real job, as an editorial assistant, were laid off this week. With respect to Fashion Week: I cannot decide whether I do not care about the models, the hubbub, or whether I do care, deeply, but refuse out of pride to admit this to myself, and move up to the front. I feel sort of the same conflicted way that I do about Anne Hathaway and The Devil Wears Prada, when I see it come on TV.

I have freckles and am 28, for a little while longer.

A white bum named Tim, carrying a metal-frame rucksack and wearing two hospital bracelets—one blue, one white—just approached me. He had a twang in his voice so I asked him where he was from.

"I'm from Savannah, Georgia," he said. "Where you from?"

I told him.

"I just get outta the hospital," he said. "My lung collapsed."

I gave him a dollar and he shook my hand, a strong handshake that lapsed into looseness.

"I been panhandlin'. I just get outta the hospital but I'm gon' panhandle the shit outta these people."

He shook my hand again and asked my name. I told him.

"Hell," he said, "I got a son that's got a son named Hunter."

To my left, a couple dressed in black that both seem very drunk, she tottering on heels and he holding the smoldering ass-end of a cigarette, keep putting their tongues into each other's mouths, slowly and very deliberately. Tim had reeked of alcohol. I don't know whether these fashion shows are ending or beginning. I have an hour to go until my therapy appointment. A motherly-looking handler woman who's holding an iPhone keeps hustling up late girls, coltish, into the back of the tent. She just called one "sweetie." Two women walking with a pair of NYPD just walked by, one woman shaking one of the cops' hands.

The trees are the kind that look camouflaged, from shedding bark, and their green leaves, way up high where the sun breaks in over the skyscrapers surrounding, have begun to have a yellowish tint about them. The flagstones are big gray squares and rectangles. No one has taken a picture of me directly, but I bet I'm in some anyway. Watch the newsstands, the magazines. You might see me there, writing this, mustached, pen in one hand and cigarette in the other.

* Late-breaking correction: A woman did just take a picture of me, a long woman with long brown hair and a handsome face in a white dress and a slim, flow-y, almost ankle-length orange sweater-type thing. She said, with an accent I couldn't place, that "I looked so cool. I like your style, weird and funny." This picture she took was for "her fashion blog." This was right after I ran into my friend, former roommate, and fellow Arkansan Jessica, a red-haired beauty who walked by where I was sitting and whom I wolf-whistled at, to get her attention.

The McCain Campaign, not the Hadron Collider, Will Be the Death of Us All

By now you've all probably read about the "lipstick on a pig" controversy. If not, let me sum up. Yesterday, Sept. 9th, Obama was talking about McCain and his policies and said the following:
“John McCain says he’s about change, too—except for economic policy, health care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy and Karl Rove-style politics. That’s just calling the same thing something different. You can put lipstick on a pig; it’s still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change; it’s still going to stink after eight years.”
Not long after, the McCain campaign comes out blasting against Obama for a "schoolyard insult" against Sarah Palin. Wait, what? Just because she mentioned lipstick in her acceptance speech, suddenly an old idiom is off-limits? Also, McCain's memory may be going: He used the exact same idiom to describe Hillary Clinton's health care plan on Oct. 11, 2007.

Reading about this trumped-up, ridiculous, so-called controversy this morning made my blood boil. And then Obama's remarks about the controversy calmed me down. He's just so reasonable. Really, if you have four and a half free minutes, watch this—He's amazing.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Letter from Raleigh

It's hot in Raleigh, N.C. Hurricane Hanna's passed, which last night had the weather cloudy and spitting rain, while overnight she hit, blowing over tents downtown and dropping a few inches of rain. This morning was gray, rainy, and windy, too. We ate breakfast at Big Ed's, in the City Market portion of downtown, little shops and old brick buildings. Ed's is famous for its owner, the barrel-chested, red-checkered snap shirt and overalls-clad owner, who sits down to tell stories at table after table—Plus of course for its grilled biscuits and pound cake-batter pancakes.

I'm sitting outside of Big Ed's right now, on a bench flanked by rusty brown farm implements, right across from the 1914, redbrick City Market building, with stucco tile-roofed overhangs around its sides, like the French Market in New Orleans. But the place is empty, disused, with a green and white "available" sign in its window, bearing the logo of Hunter & Associates. There are more than a few H&A signs in windows around here. Journey is playing from the speakers of a bar/restaurant called Woody's @ City Market across the way. A gray H2 Hummer just rumbled by. I'm sitting on the redbrick sidewalk on Blake Street, between Parham and Wolfe. There are a couple of choppers out in front of Woody's. A country-fried voice just called out, "Ain't that a purty motorsickle?" There are more black people in this part of town. Last night at the brand-new Marriott City Center, a debutante ball was going on, all white faces in tuxes and dresses, the girls with their skirts hiked up as they waited for shuttle mini-buses, because of the rain pooling on the ground.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Let's Contrast & Compare, Shall We?

From Senator Joe Biden's V.P. acceptance speech:

John McCain is my friend. We've known each other for three decades. We've traveled the world together. It's a friendship that goes beyond politics. And the personal courage and heroism John demonstrated still amaze me.

But I profoundly disagree with the direction that John wants to take the country.
From Senator Barack Obama's acceptance speech:
Now, I don't believe that Sen. McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know.

It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it.

But what I will not do is suggest that [Senator McCain] takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain.

From Governor Sarah Palin's V.P. acceptance speech:
I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organizer," except that you have actual responsibilities. I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening.

My fellow citizens, the American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of "personal discovery." This world of threats and dangers is not just a community, and it doesn't just need an organizer.

Our opponents say, again and again, that drilling will not solve all of America's energy problems — as if we all didn't know that already.

We've all heard his dramatic speeches before devoted followers.

Al-Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America ... he's worried that someone won't read them their rights?
Now who's bitter?

From Senator Barack Obama's acceptance speech:

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that's to be expected. Because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

And you know what — it's worked before. Because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn't work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it's best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.

Bingo: That's the Republican strategy right there, as exemplified by Palin's smug, sarcastic, and mean-spirited speech last night. The Republicans have one worn-out playbook, and they won't put it down. Let's hope that enough of the country has gotten wise to their game over the past four years that we don't allow this cynical strategy to work yet again.

Here are another few lines from Obama, to close out this post:

Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.

Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.

There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.

We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.

There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?

That's from the Democratic National Convention—in 2004. He's been saying this all along, and he's calling us to something better, something higher. He is saying (and has said), "America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this."

Are we? Do you want to find out? If so, maybe go here to donate $10 or $25 (or more if you've got it) to this inspiring, historic campaign.

I'll close with a story. Back in early 2003, in the run-up to the Iraq War, a big protest was held in Manhattan. I debated whether or not to go. At this point, most people believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, as our government told us they did—and, if they did, well, I wasn't sure what needed to be done. I had bought some of the lies. But I was thinking about it and I was also wondering, What does it matter if I attend the protest? It won't change anything.

In the end, I went. I talked to my dad and decided that, whether or not we went to war, whether or not Iraq had WMDs, and whether or not the protest changed anything, that I wanted to be on the right side of history. Five years later, I feel I was on the right side of history, and I'm glad I decided to go into the city that day, to stand and march with hundreds of thousands of others—because "they" really, finally, completely win only when no one shows up to say "no."

So, in this election, which side of history do you want to be on?