Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Two Things

Both from the Times:

From this article on seven new sandwiches in NYC and environs:
One day last year at the Watchung Deli, at the request of a student from a nearby school, Ben Gualano piled mac-and-cheese onto a chicken cutlet sub with barbecue sauce and bacon, squeezed it shut somehow, and the Benny Mac was born.
They left out a phrase before "student"; namely, "high-as-shit."

And, more seriously, this, from an editorial on the Obama/Wright fight:
Senator John McCain has continued to embrace a prominent white supporter, Pastor John Hagee, whose bigotry matches that of Mr. Wright. Mr. McCain has not tried hard enough to stop a race-baiting commercial — complete with video of Mr. Wright — that is being run against Mr. Obama in North Carolina.
That is damn straight. It's about time far-right Christian pastors began to be held accountable for their lunacy. But will he be? No he will not.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hell's Kitchen

At the backside of Columbus Center,
which previously was only a Circle,
I kill time—
having walked twenty-six blocks up Ninth—
in a café, not a bar.
The movements are the same.

The center’s twin towers rise
in perfect parallel
like a key from the future. The two frame,
between them, an equally shaped bolt
of severe blue; together the three
look like the optical illusion
in which a fork’s tines appear variously
to be four or three.

I am unfamiliar
with this part of the city,
save for the day, nearly
a year ago now, when I went
to inspect an outpatient rehab
with a soon-to-be sponsee,
and coming here

assaults me and my balance,
a head-rush when one stands
up too quickly, or how in Abu Dhabi
the city spread out before me
like a dusty Oriental rug:
I can only ever know a corner
of anything.
And what if everything
is similar?

Only a corner of Carolyn,
ever a sliver of Serena.
Perhaps within my own self under
thick opaque ice
warm seas I’ll never see
slosh and wash, submerged,
unknown underwater peaks
of my blinkered consciousness.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Please to meet

My new monkey niece, Emma Kaye Slaton. I love her!
More pictures of Emma are here.

Standing outside of my laundromat yesterday afternoon

I saw the following:

1. A drug deal.
2. A portion of the hardware store sign that read, "Keys Made Her." They certainly did.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pilgrim at Rodney Street

Waking up Saturday morning, it's begun to get warm; the heat through the open window is warming the left side of my face as I type. Last night I had some books returned to me: For the Time Being, by Annie Dillard, and The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. He (Apsley) is one of my heroes; the book, which I'd loaned to a co-worker nearly a year ago, is just a monument. Apsley—or "Cherry," as he was known to friends—was a member of Robert Falcon Scott's last Antarctic expedition, during which Scott and a small group of men reached the South Pole for the second time in history (they were beaten to the prize by about a month by the Norwegians under Roald Amundsen) and, on the return journey, died.

Today, on the top of Ross Island's Observation Hill, there is a cross commemorating the five men—Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Evans—who made the Polar Journey and died on the way back, inscribed with a quote from Tennyson's Ulysses: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." You're goddamn right.

Also on my desk is another book by Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I first read Dillard back in college, when I reviewed her then-new release For the Time Being for my college newspaper. In For the Time Being, Dillard attempts to answer the following questions, in the roundabout, impressionistic, enchanting linked-essay style that has become her hallmark: "Does God cause natural calamity?"; "What might be the relationship of the Absolute to a lost schoolgirl in a plaid skirt?"; and, "Given things as they are, how shall one individual live?" It is a stunning book, one that I've returned to over and again in the close to ten years since I first read it.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, however, I've only had for three years, and have never fully read (until now). On the back of my copy is a price tag that says Scorpio Books and $29.95. This is because I purchased it in New Zealand, on the one free day I had back in that country after I got fired from my dishwashing job at Antarctica's McMurdo Station, in late-January of 2005—about 93 years to the day after Captain Scott achieved his greatest victory, I achieved my greatest defeat.

But I bought Pilgrim and I flew back across the Pacific to L.A. and I had no fucking idea what to do; it was so weird to get off the plane into LAX and have nowhere to go, no one to meet, nowhere to be. I wandered to a hostel in Venice Beach and I went out to the boardwalk and I sat at a cafe with my newly purchased copy of Tinker Creek—I'd gone from great dreams of Worst Journeys, my lodestar before my Antarctic folly began, to meek, supplicant Pilgrims, seeking stupidly on a beach in the warm (everything is relative) L.A. winter.

I started the book then but I never finished it. But I wrote two things in the book three years ago, on blank pages in the front and back. Now they live in the book, and, as of late, they have been going with me where I go. They are unfinished, like Captain Scott's final entries, which Cherry includes in The Worst Journey in the World. Scott wrote:
"Thursday, March 29. Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale from W.S.W. and S.W. We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more."
And his last entry: "For God's sake, look after our people."

My entries are equally (if unjustifiably) dramatic. But everything is relative, and in my world the journey I'd just experienced was My Personal Worst. So, gentle reader, be kind. I wrote:
I'm thinking of a fish I never saw, sitting here at the Sidewalk Cafe in Venice Beach, the very end of America. The smell of patchouli is on the air and across the way is this painting of a fish that's mottled orange and white, with whiskers and feathery fins and a purple lotus blossom floating on the water behind him. The sun is going down behind clouds to the west, and in a few hours' time will sizzle out orangely into the Pacific. It's January and everywhere are people, but no one I know. The fish I'm thinking of which I never saw (but you did, in the ocean) is what Art studied, the Antarctic toothfish, an ugly, though ethereal, creature. They had"
Like Scott's, it, too, ends abruptly.

And then there is this:
"Antarctica was, in the end, like a dream. Which is not to say dreamy, or magical, but rather dreamlike, along with all that a dream can be: unreal, beautiful, disturbing, exultant, comforting, dull. I fell into this dream for six months and awoke suddenly, stupidly blinking at the bright Christchurch light, a Kiwi summer of babies and skirts and birds and bars and foodsmells. Ducks in the water, diving their heads in for food, seemed to me like pictures of ducks come to life, surprisingly duck-like."
So, now: I've picked up Pilgrim at Tinker Creek again. It's time. The book, which was published in 1975, Dillard's second (the first was a collection of poetry), won the Pulitzer Prize, and for good reason: It is literally changing the way I'm looking at the world. She writes about how blind people who have operations to restore their sight, in the first days or weeks after their surgery experience the seeing world as patches of bright and dark color, without depth. I've been trying, as she was trying when she wrote the book, to see in this way: The other day I got a bagel at work and smeared some strawberry jam on it; the color kind of stopped me in my tracks, and I put my eyes close to the rich red splotch. Walking home three nights ago in Brooklyn, to my apartment on Rodney Street, I passed a small tree on the street, flowering with pink flowers. I put my nose right in the flowers, and saw the little gold and black stems coming out of the middle of the flowers, and the pink petals. I both inhaled and saw deeply.

Try it sometime: Put your eyes really close to things. Just look at them, I mean really look. You'll be surprised at how it can affect you. After all, as Dillard writes in Pilgrim,
"It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won't stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get."
And again I say: You're goddamn right.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Urge to kill rising

Just a minute ago, I sent this email to a friend of mine. I thought it's worth reposting here.

This article about something being somehow spoiled and not-right and anti-women about Obama supporters is WAY too long, but it raises some interesting points: Namely, the point that I want to hurl my computer through a plate-glass window after reading it.

It contains such gems as the following:

“Maggie Merrill, a 31-year-old graduate student in urban studies ... is a Clinton supporter who told me that she will happily vote for Obama in the general election. But, she said, "There is this Obama-mania, where these young men get glassy eyes and start spitting out vague things about how Barack Obama is going to save humanity. Really, have you seen their eyes? It's this faraway look. It's scary."”

So now we’re cult members, huh? Sort of like wild-eyed feminists who see a woman-hater on every corner? Is that right?

And this:

“Obama loyalty, like white masculinity itself, has become normative -– if you're not for him, you'd best be prepared to explain your deviation.”

Yes, that’s right: Obama loyalty—loyalty to a BLACK man—is somehow “like white masculinity itself.” What a beautiful fucking backflip of doublespeak.

And this:

“That does not mean that all privileged white male Democrats are sexist, anymore than it would be true to suggest that all working-class white Democrats (the segment of the party that is breaking for Clinton) are racist. But a lightly disguised uneasiness with female power, as well as the "we love women, just not that woman" rhetoric will be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the reception of the feminist movement.”

Oh, thanks, that's sweet of you. Thanks for saying we are not all sexist. All Arabs aren't terrorists, either, by the way. You see what that does? Saying "All X aren't Y" implies, without having to actually commit and say "Most X are Y," that in fact, really, "Most X are Y. I mean, come on. You know it to be true."

Also, and: Except maybe it’s not rhetoric? Maybe we think that Hilary has—sadly, because lots of us once liked her—chosen to take the lowest possible road as she has descended into a primal panic over not winning, and THAT’S why we don’t like her?

And this beautiful para:

“Valenti continued, "I pinpoint sexism for a living. You'd think I'd be able to find an example. And I hate to rely on this hokey notion that there's some woman's way of knowing, and that I just fucking know. But I do. I just know." When it comes to feminism, she continued, so much proof is required to convince someone that sexism exists, "even when it's explicit and outrageous. So when it's subdued or subtle, you don't want to talk about it."”

Oh that’s great. “You just know.” Wonderful. I’m a UFO expert, and I just know that there are aliens. So now it’s true. Also, relying on the stereotype of “some woman's way of knowing" (aka "women’s intuition”) to “prove” a point about the existence of sexism in a particular instance is so fucking beautiful and symmetrical it kind of makes me happy.

But so: Doesn’t this all smack a bit of McCarthyism, and the Red Fear of the 1950s? I think so. And of course I will vote for Hillary come November if somehow she subverts the will of the electorate via superdelegate shenanigans and ends up the nominee—I just won't be as happy about it as I could have been if she had run a more hopeful, inspiring, high-road campaign, LIKE OBAMA HAS DONE (which is why I like him).

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The world is over

From the Washington Post review of the new Gaylord National hotel in D.C.:
There is a lot of "above" to be had in the Gaylord National, the newly opened, $800 million resort and convention center built so ridonkulously large that it makes you think of those Bruce McCall cartoons in the New Yorker.
That's it, I quit.