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.