Thursday, July 30, 2009

a long time ago

New song. Olympia on the violin. I tried to be genuine with this one since all of my other songs, I've been told, are farces, which is in keeping with the fear of emotional expression that I wrote about yesterday. Anyway, here are my innards, have a look.
Half of my heart’s on a holiday
Half of the night I’m lying awake
All of the summer I’ve been running on low
Feels like I knew you a long time ago

From your last letter, I should have known
“Don’t bother to find me, for I have just flown
“I know where you’re going, but I will not go.”
The things you said, darling, a long time ago

Life in the city goes on as before
This part of the story I don’t know anymore
I can’t be bothered by what I don’t know
Someday it’ll all seem a long time ago

I’m easy to love and I am easy to know
I’m a wary old rover with a long tale of woe
I’m full of confession but have nothing to show
Someday we will all seem a long time ago

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

you've got me feeling emotions

I have been thinking recently about how to become a better performer. Generally, in life, and also specifically, a more mobile and expressive music performer, because the Corvairs’ first show was last Saturday, and although I felt triumphant about the quality of our amateur musicianship and with bantering with the audience, which was composed mostly of kind friends who guffawed generously no matter what was said, a trusted adviser on musical performance offered this criticism as soon as I asked for it: “You might want to work on lower body movement.” I had thought I was doing a fine job emoting with body language, but a later viewing of footage shot at the show confirmed that what I had thought was emoting involved subtle movements of the eyebrows that did not register to anyone else besides me, and that the four of us moved almost nothing except our wrists while standing on stage.

Performing emotion has long been difficult for me. My improv instructor announced at the start of last Thursday’s class that the evening would be devoted to “emotional work.” This struck a tritone-filled chord of sustained terror in my heart. I can pretend to stuff a nonexistent owl. I do great with exquisite corpse word games. I can describe invisible mise en scène like a champ. But tell me to convey the feeling of being wildly in love with someone who will not return your affection to a roomful of people simply through movements and nonverbal sounds, and I will excuse myself and stay in the bathroom until it is time to go home. I guess this is why I am taking improv, to get over this desire to flee from emotional performance.

The first exercise was simple. The class stood in a circle and pretended to pass an invisible ball. Each time you got the ball, you were supposed to respond with an emotion; any kind of emotion was fine, as long as it was exaggerated. One boy did a fine job of this, crying on the ground until a long, viscous string of saliva descended from his mouth and touched the carpet. Most people, on the other hand, failed spectacularly at this task. The anger was unenthusiastic, the ecstasy was obviously mimed, the grief was undermined by nervous, self-conscious smiling. When it was my turn, I choose disgust, because the emotion invites satire – even genuine expressions of disgust are often laughable in a way that genuine expressions of sadness or anger aren’t – yet even so I could not commit to more than a modest “Eeeeew!” and some tensing of the upper body.

It’s hard to communicate in words why it’s so hard to communicate without words. I find that I am turning to statements like “It makes you feel vulnerable to open yourself up” and “You really have to let go,” which, like all clichés, fail utterly at describing something to someone who has not experienced exactly what you are trying to describe. So look at it this way. Imagine someone who irritates you. Say, a person who talks incessantly, about herself, and talks much more than she listens. You suspect that she doesn't just exaggerate her stories but flat out lies from time to time, usually to make herself seem stronger or more heroic or more charming or more modest than she actually is. Now imagine this irritating person telling you about a new puppy she has just rescued. And it’s so cute. And it makes her coo. “It’s so fwuffy!” she says, in a dolphinesque whine. And she leans her head against the imaginary puppy and an expression of post-coital bliss crosses her features (which, by the way, are all compacted in the center of her face). And all you can do to keep yourself from vomiting is imagine a cold giant octopus coiled around her head, its expressionless goat eyes watching yours, its eight tentacles gripping different percussion instruments, as she says these things to you.

Now you see what I fear about emotional expression. There’s a chance that your emotions will be so obviously insincere that you will make people revile you as a fraud. I think this is what “it makes you feel vulnerable to open yourself up” actually means. Of course, the better you can express emotions, the more interesting your stories and music and presentations will be. But if you don’t succeed in conveying that emotion, your audience takes pleasure at the image of an octopus occupying the space where your head should be. Expression is high risk but high reward, and expressionlessness is no risk; your reward is the steady state, which is often not so bad. It’s much easier not to express at all.

I don’t think it’s my destiny to be a timid Asian woman. My trusted musical performance adviser performed a lion dance in the living room as an example of demonstrative body movement, and I learned a lot from it. I intend to lay down a rubber snake on the stage and leap back from it with leonine surprise at the next Corvairs show. I have also done some Googling today along the lines of “how to be a better performer” and “how to move your lower body when playing music.” It was interesting to think about things I'd never thought about before. This is what I have learned.

Five Steps to Becoming a Better Performer of Poetry.
STAND with your feet slightly apart, ground yourself. If you stand, it is easier to draw the poem, and your breath, from your whole body and not merely from your mouth. Later you will perform from a wheelchair, or from somewhere in the air.

Step Five (bell)

TALK to the audience, not at them. Before you start look at them, and without a word tell them, with your body and your eyes: thank you and fuck you. Read the poem for yourself as well as for them, conscious of every word. Weigh the words as you read, perform to discover your words as if anew, find new false notes not visible otherwise. Use performance to defend and stand behind your words, and to defend yourself against your own private self-enchantment.

(end with three bells one after the other, played clearly but much softer than above, with a one second pause between each bell; the last bell should be played to linger and echo slightly.)
Your Speaking Skills Can Make You a Better Performer.
Speech writers know that you have to grab the audience's attention in 30 seconds. That's where you make your biggest impact. If you ever see a musician get up on stage and fumble a "Hi. Um. We're the Barnyard Owls," you know what I mean.

As musicians, we can grab the audience's attention with a song. But it helps to think about other ways to captivate your audience too.

Wasn't it KISS who used to shout, "Are you ready to rock!" The phrase might sound cliche now, but it serves the point. KISS knew you had to draw your audience in fast to make an impact and put on a great show.

Or perhaps you prefer non-verbal hooks. You can use a light show. Or imagine band members quitely meditating next to their instruments before they jump up and rock the house.
This has nothing to do with how to become a better performer, but a lot to do with the Futurist Movement and performance studies. Performance: A Critical Introduction.
Despite a strong interest in the physical body in such manifestos as these, futurist productions very often emphasized the mechanical, surrounding (and even hiding) the actor’s body in the trappings of modern technology, for which futurism had an inexhaustible passion. Turning bodies into machines or replacing bodies by machines certainly can be found in modern performance, but the tendency of futurism to move toward theaters of puppets, machinery, even colored clouds of gas, on the whole ran counter to later more determinedly body-oriented performance. Most futurist performances also followed a variety format, with a sequence (or a simultaneous presentation) of bits of short performance material – skits; acrobatics, mechanical, lightning, and sound effects; rapid display of movements or objects. This dazzling and quickly moving variety was essential the futurist aesthetic of speed, surprise, and novelty, but it resulted in a presentation format that on the whole looked backward to the performances of cabaret, the vaudeville, the circus, and the variety stage rather than forward to the performance art of more recent times, which has been largely devoted to the display of individual acts, even if these are of very short duration.
Fundamentals of Stage Movement.
The actor must develop grace in movement...opening and closing doors, answering the telephone, picking up objects, rising, sitting. While these are daily activities in home, school,etc...they are also common business for the stage, television, and films. The actor must use the upstage hand or foot for the aforementioned, because it is more graceful to watch, BUT there will be exceptions.

These methods have been found to be the most graceful ways of accomplishing simple actions, and so they have been called BASIC TECHNIQUES. They are simply techniques because they accompish the movement with the least amount of action and commotion.
And, of course, one learns from Freddie Mercury. Riot At the Opera: Queen Triumphant.
Freddie is not pretty in the conventional sense of the word; like Mick Jagger of '64, he is his own convention. Also like the Jagger of that time, his stage persona and action is unlike anything else. Although it borrows - like most of the group's plagiarisms - slightly from Zeppelin, in tandem with Freddie's supreme assurance and belief in himself - he always refers to himself as a star - it explodes into something that is a constant delight to watch.

He reacts to his audience almost like an over-emotional actress - Gloria Swanson, say, or perhaps Holly Woodlawn playing Bette Davis. At the climax of the second night in Bristol he paused at the top of the drum stand, looked back over the crowd and with complete, heartfelt emotion placed his delicate fingers to lips and blew a kiss. Any person who can consume themselves so completely in such a clichéd showbiz contrivance deserves to be called a star.

Freddie's real talent, though, is with his mike stand. No Rod Stewart mike stand callisthenics here, just a shortee stick that doubles as a cock, machine gun, ambiguous phallic symbol, and for a fleeting moment an imaginary guitar. He has a neat trick of standing quite still in particularly frantic moments and holding the stand vertically from his crotch up, draw a fragile finger along its length, ever closer to the taunting eyes that survey his audience.

It is wonderful to be alive! You can learn a new way to embarrass yourself every day.

Monday, July 27, 2009

coffee table

It is the second consecutive Monday morning that I have stumbled out of the house at 5 a.m. to go to work after a sleepless night. I got to work at 5:20 a.m. exactly at the moment that my judge walked in the door. It's all fine; in two hours I will be slumped over my desk, fast asleep. Meanwhile, this feeble brain gets to make some decisions affecting litigants in federal court.

During the very early morning hours, I puttered around the apartment, picking up random books and reading a few pages of each in no particular order, eating peanut butter toast, throwing away electronics packaging, cleaning out the fridge, and so on. I also decided that it was the right time to document everything on my coffee table. The objects are in bold.

The coffee table itself is composed of two $12 birch veneer particle board end tables from Ikea; I pushed two together on a brown rug left behind by Erica Christoff, the former tenant. It was $60 cheaper to arrange my living room this way than to pay for a real coffee table. Underneath the table is Olympia’s mandolin, rented from the Old Town School of Folk music for an eight-week course in bluegrass mandolin. She has so far missed more than half the classes, but it is no big deal because Olympia’s familiarity with the violin, which is tuned just like a mandolin, puts her left hand capabilities far above those of her classmates. We made improvements on this mando: I bought new strings for it and together we spent a few minutes cutting a length of orange parachute cord into a shoulder strap.

There are also 2.5” inch DKNY tan embroidered high heels, size 9.5, which I rescued from the Hungarian swimsuit model who was the former tenant in Ilya’s apartment. When Sonia and I visited him there in June, we discovered that Ilya had left untouched many of the swimsuit model’s ornaments, including a dressertop full of elephant figurines and other southeast Asian iconography, a jewelry tree holding many rings, posters of cats (including white Bengal tigers, lions, and a drawing of a cat looking in a mirror (posted next to the bathroom mirror)), and had not thrown away the diet pills, diet Red Bulls, photographs, high heels, and clothes that the woman left behind. All her possessions were so gender normative as to be exotic, and they became even weirder when left in place in Ilya’s apartment. The heels fit me just fine and have given me hours of delight, although I have yet to wear them outside the apartment.

Also under the coffee table is my first tambourine, the $10 “economy” one that I bought in 2007, which cradles ten thimbles, which I bought to play my washboard with. Just to the left of this is my percussion rig for the bluegrass duo: one of Erica Christoff’s leftover pillows, with my brass cymbal tambourine (much nicer sounding than the economy model and four times the price) resting on top, and a big hardcover book (The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Knots and Ropework) on top of that. I stomp on this. It is calibrated just right: the hard surface of the book acts like a pedal platform, and the springiness of the cushion restores the tambourine to its resting state in preparation for my next stomp.

On the left side of the coffee table are two sets of Martin acoustic guitar strings, an A major harmonica, my Rubik’s cube, a purple egg shaker, and a set of postcards that Desiree took from her librarian conference as a gift for me. They read “Hawai’i is a Book Lover’s Paradise!” and show images of white people from the early part of the 20th century riding surfboards; none of them depict reading, except for one in which a woman resting on a surfboard in the surf looks over a hardcover at the photographer. There is a quart-sized Ziploc bag filled with Olympia’s inedible Asian candies, including a red bean-flavored Kit Kat bar from Japan, a fistful of hard coffee suckers, some azure suckers, squashed Lindhoff chocolates, and melted mini-Snickers bars. The books on this side of the coffee table are Bluegrass Fiddle, Helen Vendler’s Poems, Poets, and Poetry (which I turned to for inspiration in writing a song this weekend), Acoustic Rock for Guitar, and Rise Up Singing. There is a short length of bike chain that the kind worker from Rapid Transit Cycles gave to me. There is a sleigh bell bracelet that Stephanie and I bought close to Christmas 2007 to entertain Malcolm with (with great success—he loved it), and sixteen miniature kazoos leftover from Bridget and Raul’s wedding shower, where Bridget’s mom and I directed the crowd to buzz along with us as we sang “Yellow Submarine.”

On the other side of the coffee table is a papier mache watermelon half that I bought from the Museum of Mexican-American Art, in Pilsen. Olympia and I have filled this with our guitar and mandolin picks. There is the Mason jar that I usually keep full of peanut M&Ms, but that I have let sit empty since mid-June because I don’t know whether we’ll finish another jar before I leave. More things related to bikes can be found on this half of the coffee table: Olympia’s long road bike pump, her pedal wrench, her allen wrench set, a bungee cord for my bike rack, my Harvard Cycling Team water bottle (which, because my diploma is lost, is the only non-testimonial evidence I have that I went there; but the letters are rubbing off, so all this evidence says is that I went to "H RVA D"), my small crescent wrench, my SPD pedals, a saddle maintenance kit, and spare saddle tensioner. There are two spent AA batteries that I keep around until I can find a place that takes batteries for recycling. There is a half-eaten bag of trail mix that Desiree left behind last week, which I have been steadily reducing since her departure. There is a pencil made from recycled Chinese newspapers that Olympia quarried from one of her recent meetings or conferences. The books on this side of the table are The Professor’s House, which I have read intermittently this weekend, Learning Through Listening: An Introduction to Chinese Proverbs and their Origins, Hot Licks for Bluegrass Fiddle, The Fiddle Fakebook, and Mandolin Chord Book. There is also a lot more sheet music on this side of the coffee table, including a badly photographed copy of Bach’s Concerto no. 2 in E major, which Olympia must have studied when she was younger because it is covered in markings and stars and has a little rainbow sticker in the upper right corner of the first page. There are also Partita no. 3, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Op. 3 (Concerto for Violin and Orchestra), Spring, Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin and Piano, Op. 64, Forty-two Studies by R. Kreutzer, Introduction et Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28, by Camille Saint-Saëns, and many photocopied pages of fiddle music bearing titles like “Jenny Lynn,” “Evening Prayer Blues,” and “Pig in the Pen.” Under Olympia’s music is my tablature for the ragtime and blues songs I have attempted to learn over the years.

Up until Saturday there was a pile of unread Chicago Tribunes under the coffee table and by the front door—Olympia got suckered into a subscription because somebody came to our front door with a sad story about how paper delivery routes gave troubled children a way to make money and stay out of trouble, and the papers just piled up unread day after day. On Saturday, I got sick of kicking newspapers out of the way to reach my shoes, so I filled a garbage bag with Tribunes and dumped it out in the recycling bin behind the house. There is now a newspaper-free path from the front door to the shoe pile to the coffee table, which will never look this way again.

Friday, July 24, 2009

the professor's house

I am in the midst of planning a bike trip in southwestern Colorado, starting in Durango and ending in either Durango or Montrose or Grand Junction. I'll be going alone, right before Labor Day, and hauling all of my camping crap with me. This may be a very bad idea. Yesterday a cab grazed my right arm as it sped past me on Dearborn Street. I caught up to the driver and asked him why he hadn't given me more clearance. I took a tone that was more wounded than angry. He screamed at me. "This is a city! What do you want me to do!" he said. "Give me six more inches so you don't kill me," I said. "Why would I want to kill you!" he said. His eyes were red. He gunned the engine and sped off as soon as the light changed. This is the scariest part about biking, the drivers who refuse to acknowledge that their recklessness could scatter you like the seeds lifting off a dandelion head.

Nonetheless, I feel very compelled to go to Colorado. I want very badly to see the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park. I didn't understand where this irrational feeling came from, until I recently remembered that one of my favorite passages in one of my favorite books, Willa Cather's The Professor's House, focuses on the protagonist's discovery of and relationship to cliff dwellings in the southwest. Willa Cather traveled to Mesa Verde National Park in 1915 and stayed for a week. Out of that experience came Tom Outland's story (in The Professor's House) and an article on "what Mesa Verde means" for the Denver Times. I know my imagination is more romantic than reality, and my experience of Colorado probably won't be revelatory but dangerous, exhausting, or merely banal - maybe I will focus more on the clouds of gnats swarming at dawn than the sunrise - but I haven't anything better to do and I might as well see.

I bought another copy of The Professor's House because the first was Stephanie's. It arrived today. The quality of the printing is so poor that it is intrusive - it is like the Dover Thrift edition of the Dover Thrift edition. The publisher put an unnecessary statement underneath the title: "This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race have changed before allowing them to read this classic work." Also, all the diacritics are messed up, as if the document was created in one word processing program and opened up in another, and nobody bothered to edit it: "That summer Charles kept him for three weeks in his oleander-buried house in the Prado, until his little brig, L'Espoir, sailed out of the new port with a cargo for Algeciras. The captain was from the Hautes-Pyrénées, and his spare crew were all Provençals, seamen trained in that hard school of the Gulf of Lyons." This is distracting.

Still, what a pleasure to read:
The thing that side-tracked me and made me so late coming to college was a somewhat unusual accident, or string of accidents. It began with a poker game, when I was a call boy in Pardee, New Mexico.

One cold, clear night in the fall, I started out to hunt up a freight crew that was to go out soon after midnight. It was just after pay day, and one of the fellows had tipped me off that there would soon be a poker game going on in the card-room behind the Ruby Light saloon. I knew most of my crew would be there, except Conductor Willis, who had a sick baby at home. The front windows were dark, of course. I went up the back alley, through a tumble-down ice house and a court, into a 'dobe room that didn't open into the saloon proper at all. It was crowded, and hot and stuffy enough. There were six or seven in the game, and a crowd of fellows were standing about the walls, rubbing the white-wash off on to their coat shoulders. There was a bird-cage hanging in one window, covered with an old flannel shirt, but the canary had wakened up and was singing away for dear life. He was a beautiful singer - an old Mexican had trained him - and he was one of the attractions of the place.

I happened along when a jack-pot was running. Two of the fellows I'd come for were in it, and they naturally wanted to finish the hand. I stood by the door with my watch, keeping time for them. Among the players I saw two sheep men who always liked a lively game, and one of the bystanders told me you had to buy a hundred dollars' worth of chips to get in that night. The crowd was fussing about one fellow, Rodney Blake, who had come in from his engine without cleaning up. That wasn't customary; the minute a man got in from his run, he took a bath, put on citizen's clothes, and went to the barber. This Blake was a new fireman on our division. He'd come up town in his greasy overalls and sweaty blue shirt, with his face streaked up with smoke. He'd been drinking; he smelled of it, and his eyes were out of focus. All the other men were clean and freshly shaved, and they were sore at Blake - said his hands were so greasy they marked the cards. Some of them wanted to put him out of the game, but he was a big, heavy-built fellow, and nobody wanted to be the man to do it. It didn't please them any better when he took the jack-pot.

I got my two men and hurried them out, and two others from the row along the wall took their places. One of the chaps who left with me asked me to go up to his house and get his grip with his work clothes. He'd lost every cent of his pay cheque and didn't want to face his wife. I asked him who was winning.

"Blake. The dirty boomer's been taking everything. But the fellows will clean him out before morning."

About two o'clock, when my work for that night was over and I was going home to sleep, I just dropped in at the card-room to see how things had come out. The game was breaking up. Since I left them at midnight, they had changed to stud poker, and Blake, the fireman, had cleaned everybody out. He was cashing in on his chips when I came in. The bank was a little short, but Blake made no fuss about it. He had something over sixteen hundred dollars lying on the table before him in bank-notes and gold. Some of the crowd were insulting him, trying to get him into a fight and loot him. He paid no attention and began to put the money away, not looking at anybody. The bills he folded and put inside the band of his hat. He filled his overall pockets with the gold, and swept the rest of it into his big red neckerchief.

I'd been interested in this fellow ever since he came on our division; he was close-mouthed and unfriendly. He was one of those fellows with a settled, mature body and a young face, such as you often see among workingmen. There was something calm, and sarcastic, and mocking about his expression - that, too, you often see among workingmen. When he had put all his money away, he got up and walked toward the door without a word, without saying good-night to anybody.

"Manners of a hog, and a dirty hog!" little Barney Shea yelled after him. Blake's back was just in the doorway; he hitched up one shoulder, but didn't turn or make a sound.

I slipped out after him and followed him down the street. His walk was unsteady, and the gold in his baggy overalls pockets clinked with every step he took. I ran a little way and caught up with him. "What are you going to do with all that money, Blake?" I asked him.

"Lose it, to-morrow night. I'm no hog for money. Damned barber-pole dudes!"
Now go and buy this book, and then read this informative criticism.

You're welcome.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

a pensioner going shopping

A hilarious but probably not very productive exchange.

Clinton Trades Jibes With North Korea

On Thursday, the Foreign Ministry in North Korea issued a statement criticizing remarks Mrs. Clinton made this week to ABC News, in which she said the best response to North Korea’s behavior would be to ignore it, as one would a child clamoring for attention.

“We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community,” the North Korean statement said. “Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping.”

not right in my head

New song for bluegrass project is up on my MySpace. You can also find it here, where I'm just collecting previously recorded bluegrass songs for The Cleaver Streeters. Please help me change the line about sniffing undies into something less creepy and more performable.

Monday, July 20, 2009

lest you forget

Boo is damn cute. And has great posture.

sunrise on lake michigan

Rose up from sleeplessness this morning at 4:30 a.m. Cousin Jen was asleep in my bed; I hugged her goodbye. She and Mike have been visiting for the weekend, to attend the Pitchfork music festival. Mike writes for Pitchfork. He didn't come back last night because he went to the afterparties and stayed at the Pitchfork office. Jen said that was fine, she'd rather him sleep with "all of his dudes" on the floor of the office than awaken her with his beery snoring. On the one afternoon I attended, the festival did seem to be full of dudes with Comic Book Guy social skills (one ginger I stood near declared loudly, "Anything a DJ does on stage is brilliant, especially DJ Rupture [the solitary, unmoving figure pressing buttons on a bank of electronic devices one at a time onstage as the ginger spoke]") who would disturb their girlfriends' sleep with snores, should God bless them with girlfriends at all. This, of course, does not apply to Mike.

Something kept me up again, and again I don't know what it was. I lay on the couch rehearsing phrases from the songs of the weekend - "Diana," "Donna," and Dvorak's Humoresque No. 7. Olympia played the last for me on Saturday after I came back from band practice. I lay on the couch and listened to her on the violin for ninety minutes, at the end of which I asked her whether she knew how remarkable it was that she could make music of such quality any time she wanted to. Olympia demurred. She found the timbre of her violin shrill relative to the warmth of her viola. I told her about the advice column I read recently in which a middle-aged woman described her love for music; she couldn't play but a few chords on the guitar but strummed them diligently nonetheless, content simply to release a few notes into the atmosphere.

I understood the imperative to hear music. I could listen to Olympia sitting on the arm of the couch playing portions of Partitas all day. We talked about the music; Olympia said that the middle section of the humoresque was satirical, because its minor chords were comically grave in contrast with the light skipping theme of the surrounding sections. She said that it was often transposed to an easier key for young players. She played it in D. I said it was originally G, but I was wrong: it's in Gb major. I heard the first twenty-five notes of it over and over between the hours of 1 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. today.

I packed oatmeal into bags, heated up water for tea, and then left the house by bicycle at 4:55 a.m. The streets were all mine. Hardly a car passed me on Milwaukee. (There was only a lonesome cyclist, riding a humping mountain bike with the front wheel terribly out of true.) I waited for no lights, but paused to take pictures of the glass facade of a skyscraper that was exactly the color of the sky, and the emptiness of Jackson and Columbus Boulevards. There was a figure stumbling after a giddy bulldog puppy. Some men were at work spraying water on the sidewalks. Delivery trucks backed slowly into alleys. Otherwise, it was still too dark and quiet for the day's work to begin with any conviction.

(A building the color of the sky in my quiet city at 4:55 a.m.)

I biked past the courthouse and continued on Jackson to the lakefront next to Grant Park, where Harry and I sat for our 2.5 hour Mittagessen mit Bier on the warmest day in early April. A woman in a blue windbreaker was standing on the quay pointing her footlong telephoto lens east, toward the boats bobbing in the marina and the sky lightening far in the distance. I dropped my bike and sat down to watch. The air was not warm but I had hot milk tea from my thermos. Anyway, my heart was racing from the insomnia and the exertion, so I didn't feel the chill.

I took a snapshot every five minutes or so, but my camera was of too poor quality to capture the way the light changed. Everything came out the same shades of magenta and pink. I realized suddenly that I might finally be patient enough now to appreciate Impressionist art. In front of me were small sailboats with their sails drawn down. Dozens of rigs chimed against dozens of metal spars. Gulls squalled overhead. I noted the boats, their reflections on the water, the ripples that a goose couple left behind them, the sky, the sparse clouds, the circling gulls, the busy photographer, the dark buildings to the north, the aquarium and planetarium to the south, and then a swarm of gnats captured my attention and I watched them dancing in a cloud near my head for a while. The horizon was crowded out by boats.

After twenty minutes, a glowing pink line appeared behind a row of boats, and quickly grew into an arc, a crescent, a hemisphere, a boule, and finally, a perfect red circle rising up over Lake Michigan. It was ten times the size of the weak moon I watched rise over the lake from Zion, Illinois, last week. Words appeared on the boats, and I saw that the boat that had been forty feet away from me for half an hour had "Miss Be-Having" painted on it. An increasing population of postdawn speedwalkers, one wearing a gold-accented salwar kameez, passed on the lakefront path behind me. The sun soon became too bright to look at, and I gathered my belongings and left.

I have no occasion to go through my city so early in the morning. I have no business with dawn. My most memorable encounters with city scenes like this have come when I have been traveling abroad and arriving on transportation at odd hours to see ice haulers in Mexico City, fruit vendors in Kaoshiung, etc. The way mornings go in other countries seemed so foreign to my American experience until I learned, today, that it is mornings, not other countries, that feel so alien to me. Today I cruised down the hill at Blommer's Chocolate factory, the one whose operations fill the northwest corner of the Loop with the smell of chocolate chip cookies every day, just before dawn, with an idiotic grin on my face. I was very, very happy to be awake.

Friday, July 17, 2009

moral laxity

After my improv class last week, a person who had been making lusty eyes at me asked me for my number and suggested that we go on a date. Let us call him Tattoos, because he has several visible tattoos, one of Africa on his left bicep, one of a dark undefined shape on his wrist, and the Arabesque names of his twin 8 year-old daughters on his neck. The last one is a warning sign that reads: carrier of hepatitis. I judge like this, I do.

I gave him my number, and avoided his "c u later" and ":-)" heavy text messages while Olympia and I were cycling slowly north over the weekend. He also texted during the week, and called me "sweetheart," and I avoided these also.

Last night he was at improv, and he continued to give me lusty eyes. (Also, the 24 year-old boy who wears shirts covered in Chinese characters and who brought Japanese chocolate snacks from an Asian mart to share with the class this week is giving my slanty eyes his googly eyes. My class, fifteen men and five women, is a heterosexual meat market. This is fascinating, flattering, gross, and totally hilarious! I'll write more about this at some later time.) After class, Tattoos walked me to my vehicle and stood off to the side as I strapped on my helmet, blinky lights, reflective pants-clinching slap anklet, and Kryponite chain.

We sat down for a few minutes on a sidewalk planter, and then he spoke at me for about ten minutes, saying things like, "I would make a really good boyfriend. I'm really sweet, but not clingy. I can be loving." I thought it was interesting how literal he was being. Why do people feel compelled to advertise themselves in this way?

Soon his literal descriptions turned physical, and he described how he was attracted to the way I looked, and then the physical actions he wanted his body to do to mine, etc. I found this all very distasteful, the lack of metaphor, of filter, of finesse, of understanding, and the obvious desire for sex. I think I am more conservative than I admit to being; maybe this explains why I am so uncomfortable when the limber Russian 20 year-old girl in my improv class announces to the to the fifteen salivating men watching her, "I love porn!", or how when the petite 21 year-old Northwestern junior tries to fill our improv vocalization scene with sexy "Ooohs," I respond with rooster and goat noises.

Tattoo kissed me, and then I stopped his roving hands from their exploration of the Great Plains. Something was happening to his face where his eyes got half-lidded and his jaw slackened. Seeing somebody else's lust when you don't feel the same way is somewhat repulsive, I have learned. Is it old-fashioned to want symmetry of desire? How'd I get to be so old and so unable to distinguish between experiences that are interesting to have and experiences that are good to have? Now I must find avoid his texts and looks for the last two weeks of my improv class.

Well, this is all TMI. The moral of this story is that I should spend more time reading.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

july 4, 2009

Eleven days ago Raj and I celebrated the 233rd anniversary of the speech act that carved a new country out of an old one. He flew in on a Thursday while I was in my improv class. When I got home, we ate gummy bear vitamins and watched the video of Michael Jackson's other duet with Paul McCartney.

Olympia and I played Raj our Mark Sanford tango for guitar and mandolin. We sang "You Are My Sunshine." I took the higher harmony. Raj and I retired to bed. After contemplating the world map tacked up over my bed, Raj noted with some alarm that Canada had many more islands than one would have thought. I slept intermittently and saw Olympia, who was staying up all night to catch an early-morning flight, peering into her laptop around 4 a.m. In the morning Raj and I dawdled until it was time to slowly pack up a pannier and take two bikes for a spin. The Cannondale touring bike got a flat on the rear tire as soon as we stepped out of the Jefferson Park el. I fixed it in front of a tacos al carbon shop. A friendly cabbage with a highly developed torso paused to offer suspiciously generous help. "There's a bike shop just two miles down the road. I can drive you there!" he said. We beamed back at him. He handed Raj a slip of paper that said "Jason, 312-[555-1212]," which Raj reported was the respectful thing to do, to hand the man in a male-female pair a telephone number to signal only neighborly helpfulness, not sexual availability. We biked sixteen miles to the botanic gardens, and ate sandwiches sitting by an artificial river. Raj could not contain his excitement for the vegetarian mixture of fixings: wheat toast, avocado, hummus, local cheddar, greens, tomatoes, mayonaise, mustard, honey, Sri Racha, pepper. I placed my two liter water bladder under my shirt and instructed Raj to pet it as if it were a roll of fat. We ranked nuts: Raj favored cashews; I chose macadamia; we agreed that almonds were top tier. After lunch, we toured "Fruit Island" and found robins' eggs nested in the branch of a trained fruit tree.

At the artificial pond, a toddler fed muffin crumbs to giant black koi whose pallid mouths broke the surface of the dark green water. Raj speculated that the mist from the fountain in the artificial pond was aerosolizing bacteria and feces for easy entry through our mucus membranes.

(This image comes up when you search for "aerosolized feces.")

We walked away from the water. We were unable to take the commuter rail home because ridership from the large street fair in Chicago had crowded out the bikes, so we gamely rode the sixteen miles back to Jefferson Park through clouds of gnats. An insect struck my right eyeball. We passed the miles by imagining ourselves biking in New York. Raj said mile six was going to Williamsburg and back. Mile five was "Hey, let's go to the Park Slope food co-op." Mile two was biking from the Village to the Empire State Building. We got seats on the #56 bus and were home by eight. For dinner we made the same sandwiches we had eaten for lunch, but Raj declared that the sandwiches that had spent an afternoon in the heat and compression of the pannier had been tastier. Raj forced me to eat radishes and pickles and a honey beer and then sprint two nauseating blocks to catch a bus along Chicago Avenue, which we just barely missed, so we watched the 11:45 pm showing of Up instead of the 11 pm showing of The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. Perhaps it was just my exhaustion clogging up the warm-feelings valves in my body, but I forgot everything but the first fifteen minutes of the movie instantly. A cab driven by a lunatic—the second such ride Raj and I have endured in two weeks—bore us home along the legs of the triangle, rather than the hypotenuse, causing us to pay $(fare * √2).

In the morning, Raj called up his friend Anne from urban planning school and conveyed to her our intention to rent a car and drive it to Gary, Indiana, to the childhood home of Michael Jackson. Anne wanted to go, and offered to drive. Raj and I took the bus to her apartment and met her husband Gordon, a new professor of computer science at the University of Chicago. I knew instantly that I would like Anne because she had arranged a sofa so that a person seated on it would look out the window at the people in the high rises across the street. She also had a Trek 520 and later explained that she had biked across the country as a teenager. Gordon insisted that we eat extremely fresh strawberries before leaving. We bought white roses, peach-colored rose petals, and miniature cupcakes with red, white, and blue sprinkles at a nearby supermarket for the trip to Gary. Raj and Anne made precise and thoughtful observations about the built environment around us as we drove past it. There was a forty-foot tall alien inflatable attached to a building by the highway right at the Illinois-Indiana border; Anne suggested that this was the "Welcome to Indiana" alien. To me the road looked just like Taiwan. Maybe it was just because it was humid and overcast, and the roadside was overgrown with weeds.

We entered Gary at Broadway Street. Ninety percent of the storefronts we passed were empty. All were falling apart. One marquee above a closed theater read “JACKSON IVE TONIGHT.” It was unclear whether the letters had been up for thirty years, whether they were a recent memorial for Michael, or a prank. Anne slowed to a stop on the main thoroughfare to admire an old neon sign. Raj, who is from Detroit, said that the decay were seeing in Gary was worse than what he had seen in Detroit. Almost every other house on 23rd Street was abandoned (Anne said, “It’s beyond repair now, but what beautiful housing stock it must have been,” and sighed) but the ones that were not were tidy. The Jackson house was at the end of a road a stretch of which was a sidewalk on one side and only a weedy field on the other. It was apparently abandoned. The house was not more than thirty feet square.

It was hard to imagine Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Michael, Randy, Janet, Joe, and Katherine all squeezed into the space. There were a dozen fellow mourners. I had brought the American flag that I’d bought on election night in Grant Park. Only later, when Raj and I concluded that Barack Obama was the only person whose worldwide celebrity could grow as large as Michael’s, did I realize how pleasingly symmetrical was the journey of my star-spangled banner. We snapped photos of ourselves exhibiting a variety of moods inappropriate for the occasion.

Raj called this picture a “weird, fascinating conflation of patriotism, grief, and documentation.” Raj lay the flowers down. I spread the flower petals. I wrote a note to Michael on the only piece of paper in my backpack—a New Yorker reply form—and left it under a stuffed animal. I will say nothing about the contents of the note except that it was, upon later reflection, troublingly similar to what Barack Obama had written in the note he left on the Wailing Wall.

Others had left notes also, some heartfelt, some in different languages, some simply advertising unrelated services (“Nuñez Towing”). Mounds of stuffed animals and flowers were heaped up in front of the house. Somebody appeared not to have thought of the implications of putting a single glove on a stuffed monkey.

Across the street, a few people had set up a vendor tent to sell unattractive memorial t-shirts and DVDs. We pondered these. Raj said that the t-shirts only invited regret; he would regret spending the $20 to buy one, and he would also regret not buying one. I offered to buy him one. He declined. We left. Anne drove us along weedy single-lane roads to the Indiana Dunes, the south shore of Lake Michigan. She said that when the driveways became dominated by pick-up trucks, she knew that we were in the white part of Gary. We found an aquatorium structure and a statue of Octave Chanute that had been erected by The Society for the Restoration of the Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium and Octave Chanute’s Place in History, Inc. All things around us were colorless under the overcast sky. Anne found a plastic doll with one arm and no head, and said, “This is the kind of thing you always find on beaches like this.” On the drive home, we stopped to buy a Fanta and a loser lottery ticket. We could find no place to buy food. It started pouring. Anne drove us home.

(Indiana Dunes, Lake Michigan.)

Raj and I watched episodes of 30 Rock until dinnertime and then, so moved by the ads we had seen, we went to Jewel/Osco to buy Jello chocolate pudding cups and pizza. My young gay Asian couple friends came over in the evening with board games. We closed all the windows to keep out the noise and then played Settlers of Catan and Modern Art as M-80s exploded loudly in the street. It was the Fourth of July. Derwin took ten minutes at the end of the evening to explain, in great detail, how a player could win Die Macher. They left. Raj and I stayed up until 3 a.m. taking turns showing each other our favorite Michael Jackson-related YouTube clips, including the videos for “Scream,” “Rhythm Nation,” “Rock With U” (Janet’s, not Michael’s).

On Sunday morning, Raj read aloud a passage from a book that described how the human population of Easter Island exhausted the island’s resources after several hundred years of habitation and then developed a culture of cannibalism. We went to the new modern wing of the Art Institute, where Raj’s art school friend worked the coat check. He got us in for free. Now I remember nothing about the art except for one very large photograph of an African-American woman in a floral print dress reclining on a floral print couch. Remembering one piece of art is my goal each time I go to a museum or gallery. The natural lighting of the new building was very pleasurable to walk through. Raj recalled a critic’s admiration for the “gradients of light.” From the museum, we took a bus to North Avenue and found a spot on the beach. I waded in the lake. I think my nipples broke off. Raj read Resilience Thinking and I read a magazine. We observed the sky and enjoyed the 5-15 minutes of sunshine that the breaks in the clouds afforded. Raj did not need to use the tinted ski goggles I had insisted he bring for reading in the glare. Attractively muscled boys in drooping shorts tossed balls all around us. I waited patiently for their shorts to fall off. Raj left to attend a pizza barbecue. When he came back to the apartment, we watched Dave Chappelle’s Rick James video. I showed him how Electronic Case Filing worked and told him about Monday’s notices of motion. Raj laughed and said that “motion” meant “bowel movement” for Indians. This gives me as much delight as the doodie element of negligence. He put a hand on his stomach, wagged his head and said something like “Notice of motion: I am having a loose motions” in his Indian accent. Raj left early Monday morning and I was not awake enough to remember his departure.

On Sunday, as we walked away from the beach, Raj asked whether I was happy about my decision to have lived in Chicago for a year. I said that the only possible answer I could give was yes, since it was unproductive and meaningless to validate regret. He wanted to know whether I had friends in the Bay Area; when I responded yes, he wanted to know the specific people I had in mind. I listed them. The way that he asked these questions and listened attentively and actively to my answers filled me with love and wonder. Love, for obvious reasons, and wonder because in my time of lonesomeness in the frigid Midwest I have sometimes forgotten what it feels like when someone pays attention. If I have any regret about living in Chicago, it is my choice to be far away from this. It is not so bad here now, of course, with the people and the weather. Still, thank you, friend, for the excellent weekend.

Monday, July 13, 2009

marshall islands

The Marshall Islands came up several times last weekend, first on Thursday night when R and I were looking at the hazy world map over my bed without our glasses on. He discovered Canada's Queen Elizabeth Islands, and I then told him of my recent interest in the ports of the Caspian Sea and the concrete dome on Runit Island.

(This 350' diameter concrete dome covers radioactive debris leftover from the U.S. military's nuclear tests. For scale, those dots on the dome are people. This dirty finger is just one link in a necklace of coral islands comprising Enewetak atoll. I highly recommend reading the Wikipedia entry on atolls if you would like to restore your awe at the grandeur of the universe. Also, coral reef, lagoons, shoals, and century plants.)

The Marshall Islands came up again on Saturday afternoon when Anne told a story about how she was two weeks from flying out for a yearlong teaching job there when she learned that her mother was very ill. She canceled her plans to tend to her.

It is total cliche for one to imagine places like the Marshall Islands when blogs, bikes, online underwear shopping, and viola jokes fail to distract one from the drudgery of daily office work. This aside, the Sargasso Sea, trebuchets, the franking privilege, and ETAOIN SHRDLU are also items of interest.

july 2, 2007

Procrastinating from writing up what I've been doing in July 2009 by reposting journal entries from July 2007. First day on the job at the Palo Alto office:
I'm tired and groggy, because in addition to staying up until 3 a.m. EST to webcam puppet shows with Stephanie - the mini vulva I drew between my fingers in order to pantomime female masturbation remained on my fingers this morning, and I frantically licked it off in the lobby of the Palo Alto office after accidentally proferring my mimetic vulva to another summer associate's hand - mom woke me up at 7 a.m. to pet Boo, who was under the bed twitching and sleeping. I got back to sleep but dreamt that I was late to my first day on the job, and that I had a fight with mom and dad, who forced me to ride the car instead of my bike to work today. It turns out that I was not late to work, but I did indeed get in a tiff with dad about riding my bike. He called my hair "a hat" last night, so I think that's enough criticism for two days.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Strange news from Chicago. Four cemetery workers are accused of digging up 200-300 old graves and reselling the plots. They used a backhoe, and dumped the remains a weedy pile.

Exposed bones, chunks of concrete and broken coffins litter the hilly, overgrown area about four blocks long, authorities said.

"Literally, they were pounded [down]," he said. "They pounded the other [body] down and put someone on top."
And see:
There were broken caskets and concrete grave liners in the mounds, too, and detectives said that when the grave robbers got tired or sloppy they just dumped the bodies on the ground.

So there were human teeth and leg bones, hips and finger bones scattered out there in the weeds.
See also:
"EMPLOYEE B said that sometimes during transportation a bone will fall off the back of the truck and land on the ground or along the roadway."
This is apropos of nothing. Read the readers' comments for the expressions of shock and disgust. It is objectively disgusting to imagine bones, gristle, flesh, and hair being moved en masse to an open weedy pile: it offends biology and anthropology. Olympia and I debated last night whether these acts qualify as "violence" when the subjects dismembered are already dead. The victims are the family members who have invested emotion in the ritual of commemoration. Even if it's not violence per se, it is offensive and gross, and really, really weird.

I recalled a scene from J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace which describes the main character's work in an animal shelter. His job, which he does poorly, is to cremate dead dogs. The other workers casually snap the dogs' death-stiffened legs in order to fit them better into the furnace, but the protagonist cannot bring himself to do this. Olympia let me know, in so many words, that she thought this analogy was inappropriate.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

dear god please leave me alone

V____ from three posts back is back at it. I waited 18 hours after his last email invitation to say, "Sorry, I'm busy. But I'll see you in class!" Collegial, short, evasive. A good reader would understand that I have expressed a lack of interest in friendship. But V____ is not a good reader.

Just now I got this email:
What up [Bananarchist],

Hi, how are you? I hope all is well. I'm going to be in the city Sunday working with my first client and was wondering if you wanted to grab brunch at 11:00AM at
1010 W. Washington Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60607
Let me know by Saturday at noon.

He wrote it just like this, with the "What up" and the Let me know by Saturday at noon in italics and bold.

What in good God? I honestly don't think he's trying to ask me on a date; he wants to make friends. But who makes demands for friendship like this?! With italicized deadlines, in bold?

rancid lying demon

On Tue, Jul 7, 2009 at 12:09 PM, [B] wrote:

it's really funny when wonkette describes bill kristol as a "rancid lying demon." just saying!

On Tue, Jul 7, 2009 at 12:09 PM, S____ wrote:

i love wonkette! their post about italy hosting the G-8 summit is amazing! on the front page paragraph alone, italy the country is referred to as

a wacky do-nothing ice-cream colony
an ancient land-phallus
this embarrassing pizza-bagel of a country


On Tue, Jul 7, 2009 at 12:46 PM, [B] wrote:

heehee!!! is that berlusconi?!! does he shave his abbondanza?

can i tell you about something cringe-inducing? my improv class has an email list which we use to set up nights to go out together to watch shows. one of the guys from my improv class, a friendly but socially inept 28 year-old attorney (i'm not describing myself here) has sent some regrettable emails over this listserv. the first came last week: "I noticed there are some cliques forming in our group. I challenge everybody to take some time to talk to somebody they don't know at the next class!" note that no cliques had actually formed, but poor v___ just felt lonely. the email expressed a weird mix of hope and dismay that seemed totally inappropriate for our light-hearted, very friendly, very social group. during the next class he took a position at the far end of the room and spoke to nobody, although a few times people went over and tried to be friendly.

i just got another email from him:

Dear [Bananarchist],

Hi, how are you? I hope all is well. I haven't had a chance to talk to you and would like to make a new friend. So how about we meet at the corner of North and Wells and grab a bite at a restaurant near Second City at 5:30pm before class?


nothing too wrong with this friendly gesture, except he sent reply-all to EVERYBODY IN THE CLASS.

i felt pretty awful until he did this, two minutes later, again replying-all, to another person in the class!

i haven't responded bc my life is too short to go on friend dates with people i am certain i don't want to spend alone time with. do you think he's a shooter?

On Tue, Jul 7, 2009 at 12:55 PM, S____ wrote:

oh no! oh no!!! totally cringe-inducing, eye-averting! poor v____. BUT also annoying and irritating v____ who is killing everyone else's buzz. you can't demand friendship (the way he is demanding friendship). as i say all the time, friendship is beautiful because its parameters are flexible and ambiguous and organic, therefore it is very sturdy, unlike a rship. it's hard to ruin a friendship, unlike a rship. similarly, it can be hard to force a friendship. you can't just be like, i don't know you very well, let's meet at this place at this time on this date so we can get to know each other better. that's just bossy.

advice: ignore. life is too short to pretend-make friends with someone just because you worry that there is a chance that he is the mass murderer in your midst.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

the missing witness

My stupid fucking brain cannot explain in plain language why Seventh Circuit Pattern Criminal Jury Instruction 3.24 ("The Missing Witness") should or should not have been threatened to have been not given. Passive voice. Present perfect progressive tense. Double negatives. Uncertainty. Grammar fails. My job is killing English; killing English kills me. I hardly ever write or talk about my job because for long spells it is difficult, maddening, and uninteresting in precisely this way.

Doctrinal law courses, at their best, are storytelling sessions. There is a brief story. "The farmer agrees to buy a filly to breed with his stallion. Nobody knows it, but filly is barren." Questions of justice follow from the story. "Must the farmer buy the filly if the truth is discovered?" The law chooses a just outcome: mutual mistake, no contract. One is satisfied, one stretches one's legs, one walks out of the classroom to purchase a lemon-infused fizzy water. One graduates expecting to be stimulated by clean stories of injustice forever.

My experience with justice has been less clean. In metaphor: in the deli sections of Chinese supermarkets, there are live fish swimming in tanks alongside the iceboxes where carcasses of cleaned fish are displayed. (There may also be some western supermarkets with live fish, but I haven't paid attention.) One wants a catfish but thinks, I would like a fresh one, not one that has been dead for seven hours, and one points at a medium-sized manx in the tank. The butcher scoops it out with a net. Then he slams the net on the ground. He takes the fish by its tail, and hammers its head against the tile. He uses a short, sharp knife to make a quick incision the length of the fish, and in one practiced motion, he sweeps the new cavity of salty, wet, dun parts. Only then do the gills stop heaving. The innards go on top of thirty gallons of fish parts in a heavy duty trash bin. Flies move from the old parts and descend upon the new. The butcher then uses the dull side of his cleaver to scrape the sequins off the fish's black dress, and the sharp side to hack off its head. The fish offers a final convulsion, and then uncurls on a piece of white paper for one's delectation. It then costs $1.99/pound. It looks just like the clean fish on ice, but through the process of the slaughter one loses one's appetite.

The issues, boiled down to the stories, are simple: was he fired because he was black*, or because he failed a drug test? Can he seek medical leave if he has only been on the job for 340 days and the FMLA coverage begins after 365 days? Should the defense attorney have been permitted to argue that the government's failure to call a witness suggests that the witness's testimony would have been favorable to the defense? Is "this offer expires after 30 days" misleading, if other offers are available after 30 days? In abstract form, these issues are delectable. When I must tell stories about my job, these are the stories I tell.

* I note that I am not actually so stupid as to use any REAL examples from my work. These are hypotheticals, people!

But the actual process of reading, researching, and applying the law is a dull, gory slaughter. In a Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a) motion, the issue and its outcome are pretty clear. The interests of justice do not require a new trial because of one confusing thing the defense counsel said in closing statements. But one can spend nine hours here - typing fifty words, then checking email and blogs for half an hour, then reading a Tobias Wolff short story, then eating bi bim bap, and then typing another fifty words, then Googling "how do disc brakes work," then watching Michael Jackson's daughter cry, then typing some more - because one's stupid fucking brain cannot parse a relatively simple issue of procedure in plain English.

I could do this in the style of unclear extended metaphors with muddy referents. I could do a zen koan. (Here, e.g., "A rancid grape can be clipped from the bunch.") I could draw this in pictures. I could do it Illinois state court style, with the parties filing sample orders and the court official just circling words he agrees with and crossing out words he doesn't. But Memorandum Opinion and Order style? Word Perfect is the cruelest irony of them all.


Just fiddling around with the blog template. The orange was a little stressful. I'll put up some words about my and R's July 4th trip to Michael Jackson's childhood home soon.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

animal rights

I went on a date on Monday with an animal rights activist I met on my online dating site. Since I respect him, I wouldn't ordinarily reduce him metonymically to his convictions about animals - in the same way that I would describe Tapered Jeans by his only memorable feature - but it defines so much of him that I don't think it's an unfair description.

We went to a vegetarian fast food restaurant in my neighborhood, at his suggestion. I made sure to wear my second most animal-printed shirt. The first, a red sweatshirt with dozens of antelope silhouettes in pink, is for winter wear. I also flossed the turkey leg tendons from my teeth. N and I had gone to Taste of Chicago the night before, and had shared many pounds of barbecued poultry sitting on a curb near the Buckingham fountain. I was vegetarian for ten years and vegan for six months, but this was for environmental reasons and to woo a hot vegan, not because I cared about the animal suffering behind my diet. In fact, I believed that concern for animal suffering was only an ancillary and not very compelling reason to go veg, and a bad way to pitch the plan to potential vegetarians.

This guy I met on Monday has almost changed my mind. He didn't make arguments that were new to me - in fact, he didn't make arguments at all. He wasn't proselytizing, although as always with a conviction that the speaker feels so strongly, any conversation with an outsider about it will feel to her like evangelism. I was honest with him about the limits of my sympathy for his cause. But I liked what he had to say a great deal. First, I just like people who can speak enthusiastically about the things that matter to them, no matter what those things are. It's the sort of nauseating relief you feel when Mark Sanford describes his Argentinian consort as his "soulmate"; nausea because OMG TMI, but relief because his honesty about his lovesickness is easier to understand than the soulless and politic contrition we have come to expect from our horny politicians. I felt the same way recently when IB explained that he stockpiled Kashi Autumn Wheat cereal in order to achieve a "honeycomb" effect in his bowel movements: more fascinated than repelled, more accepting than judgmental.

Second, he was very smart, in a limber and associative way that reminded me of the people I admired most in college and law school. Schopenhauer is a dick, but a person who can talk about Schopenhauer on social movements and animal rights is a person I want to listen to. Move from Schopenhauer to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, and I might even break my prohibition on second dates to see you again! We talked about the latter when he described to me the sentences meted out to his activist friends for trespassing, videotaping conditions in the meat industry, protesting, etc.

Third, he was sincere, kind, and sympathetic. I asked him his animal rights activist story. The story started with him being "one of ten Chinese people in Indianapolis, all of whom were evangelical Christians," being shunned, bullied, and beaten in his all-American high school, and finding companionship and solace in Vivian, his dog and his best friend. People who haven't had a connection with an animal think dog owners/animal lovers are nutjobs when they talk about their animal friends, but as someone who has crawled underneath a bed and whispered "Nobody understands us, my friend" for half an hour, to Boo, during a raging house party, I get it. So he and Vivian went off exploring together, and grew up together, and he still regrets that he chose to stick to his GRE study schedule rather than drive back to see Vivian in her last hours. He said he quit his economics Ph.D. at MIT in part because he had stepped on a mouse that had made a home inside an old shoe.

It's easy to dismiss this as kooky, and animal rights activists generally as kooky, but I didn't think he was kooky. Who am I, anyway, to tell someone that the pain he feels upon seeing animals hurt is unreal pain?

Incidentally, I ate a fried tofu burger with a cream soda, which made me sick for two days, and he ate a wrap with a vegan chocolate chip cookie dough milkshake. He declared fruits and vegetables to be his "mortal enemies," which I have never heard a vegan do.

Anyway, I didn't change my mind. I started out from a sympathetic place. Like the other yuppie liberals you know, I believe that unnecessary animal suffering should be minimized and that consumer and dietary habits should change to reflect the true cost of eating meat, so that you pay a couple more bucks to eat a decently-raised chicken once in a while rather than having cheap and plentiful meat from toxic, tortured birds for all meals. I don't like how wastefulness drives up demand for products that suck up animal and natural resources. But I am also a bit more brutal and profligate than my new friend, and I accept that sometimes animals must die for human use.

Well, who cares about my thoughts about animals. I liked this person a lot. I liked that he likes Ratatouille, I guess because it depicts parasitic animals and humans living in harmony. (I didn't tell him about my desire to chop into a thousand pieces the rat that has been hiding in my kitchen for two months.) I liked also that afterward he texted me to say "New mission. Find gem of cyttorrak for [Veggie Bite] owner," and clarified that said gem "gives wielder unstoppable powers." Still later, he declared by text, "Hell yea! Im a lvl 7 conjurer w a pet iguana and a powerful, uh, staff...Cloud strife has nuttin on me!" I have never developed my fantasy/comic nerd potential but I am attracted to those who have.

But, wholly unrelated to this person, I am still feeling so squeamish about dating and intimacy that I'd might rather just be friends so I can continue to distract myself with half hour sessions of conversation with and blind trust in total strangers. It remains to be seen what the heart (and the nether heart) will allow.


One thing I find very distressing about American reporting on the Iran demonstrations is that the writers seem to be surprised that Iranians act like normal human beings. Iranian women play rugby and softball, even while wearing scarves! Iranian young people go the gym, and ride motorcycles, and get pissed, and believe in justice! Wha!? This is news only if you didn't believe that Iranians were cognizable as human in the first place. I guess you have to believe that if you think the best way to help Iranian democracy is to blow the demos to smithereens.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

old stories

Sorry not to have posted anything recently. My brain is in a sleepless backlog right now. But I rescued some journal entries recently and found some stories that might distract you momentarily from studying for the bar/avoiding work/passing the weekday in an unproductive stupor.

Wednesday, 1/30/08 11:42am

I've heard a couple of good stories lately so I thought I should write them down.

1. Richard from the dog run. Richard was talking to some other stranger when I got into the dog run. I'd seen him talking to people in the run before, but I had assumed that they just knew him. Turns out people were just being friendly to a lonely, garrulous old man who attached himself to them and talked about himself. I had jogged to the run and was stretching out my hamstrings on the bench while Boo trotted alongside a Jack Russell who had a worn tennis ball. Richard said, "Keep going, you need to touch your toes!" I was irritated, and said only, "I'm doing the best I can!" Richard said, "When I was in the Marines, I could go six inches past my toes!"

This was his opening. From this exchange, he went on to tell me how he could do 120 push-ups in three minutes, and 100 sit-ups in two minutes, and most importantly, how he could do 48 pull-ups in a row in his heyday in the Marines. "But I didn't do it for my ego. You know how some guys just want to be big. I was the biggest and strongest guy in the Marines. But I did it for a woman." The winner of a company-wide pull-up contest would get five days leave in England. A few months before he had spent a weekend with a British girl named Audrey Hooper. "But it wasn't sexual at all. We had a thing - it was intellectual. Well, as intellectual as 18, 19 year olds can get. But it was just comfortable, you know? There wasn't any sex." He trained for the contest and won it, and as a reward he was the only enlisted man who was permitted to wear civilian clothes on their warship. He also got his leave, which began with him stepping off his ship, walking down the street and seeing a Rolls Royce, which stopped for him and his friends. A man inside said, "Come on in, Yanks!" and drove them into town.

Richard did not find Audrey that week and never saw her again. He said he written to her in the intervening years to tell her that she had given him the best weekend of his life. Richard proclaimed even in the dog run that that weekend was the best of his life. It was in 1964 or 1965, and he was young. "I sent her a watch - Bulova. I wrote to her." He didn't say if she ever wrote back.

I said, "That's a great story, you really should write it down" and went over to put Boo back on the leash and take him home. He was still eagerly chasing around a softball, so it took me a few minutes to pin him down. Richard took this as a slight and went up to the next stranger and said, "Okay! Who is my next victim! She doesn't want to talk with me anymore!" I felt bad and wanted to say that I really was preparing to leave, but I mumble too much and throughout our conversation he didn't appear to hear any of the things I said - things admittedly limited to extraneous interjections like, "Hm!" and "That's how it happens, isn't it?" - so I wasn't too confident that he would hear my excuse. He tried speaking to a woman he called "Jessica," but Jessica said, "Nuh-uh, you're speaking to him, not me, Richard!" in a jovial but firm way. I guess she'd fallen prey to him before. Richard then said, to no one in particular, "I'm lonely, you know? I'm just a lonely old guy who has no one to talk with so I have to talk with people here." I left.

2. SV's latest threesome. SV, a woman in her last year of her doctoral program in history at NYU and one of S and R's friends, told me and S this story two nights ago when we were at an afterparty for the NYU grad students who had seen the Jerry Springer opera at Skirball. I missed the opera because I didn't think to get tickets but I'm not sad to have missed British people mocking what they believe Americans to be like, because it only arouses feelings of jingoism which are usually so foreign in me, and I would only have gotten into a fight with some Europhilic self-aggrandizing liberal grad student about why England isn't exactly a classy lassie herself. Instead I spent an evening in the clinic offices typing up a memo for TLDEF about the possible claims a transgender student could make against his school district for being forced to home-school because the district could not regulate the bullies who tormented him, and afterward made my way to Nowhere Bar on 14th and Second Avenue, with Freddie Mercury's spinto tenor singing to my ears on the walk over.

The party was a combination of NYU grad students who had just come from the opera, and R's ex-boyfriend's M's friends - it was their first of (they hoped) many Monday night parties at Nowhere, with M's lesbian friend Carly "spinning" music on iTunes whilst bedecked in Shane regalia, which included eyes beleaguered by liner and shallow, short-brimmed hat, and a self-consciously sly approach to approaching women. I avoided her. I bought a $2 Pabst and sipped it with S while SV told us her tale.

SV is a recently-divorced thirty-something who is experiencing a second sexual adolescence in the sausage-heavy region delineated by the L stop at Lorimer, the NYU-side of the Village, and the Williamsburg bridge, with jetties reaching to basement speakeasies in the Financial District and strangers' apartments further south in Brooklyn. She lives with R and another divorcee named S_ in a newly-renovated apartment unit just a block away from one of Williamsburg's largest bars. S describes pictures of SV from the mid-1990s, when she was married, as images of an unhappy East German hausfrau. I guess marriage will do that to you, and getting out of a marriage will do exactly the opposite. SV now has a cute hipster haircut and wears tall boots with tight jeans that draw attention, as the jodphur-style of hipster fashion is meant to do, right to her ass. She also has this way of leaning toward you when you speak to her, which I found a little discomfitting at first (so I rocked back on my heels more than a few times).

SV told us that she had been at a bar with her friend D, whom she had slept with before. They were squeezed into a picture booth when D told SV that his new roommate Richard was interested in her. Richard had apparently just gotten out of a long relationship that was mostly devoid of sex ("The reason was supposedly that he was too big, so she would give him handjobs once a week," SV said), so D wanted to cheer his friend up by facilitating sex for him. SV turned around and said, "Well, that's great but you're the one I want to sleep with," and strutted away before D could think of anything to say. She found him lamely hitting on some other girl at the bar later. D, SV, and Richard left the bar together for SV's house, where she got into her pajamas and directed D to sleep in the middle of the bed, between SV and Richard. SV somehow managed to get between them anyway, and had concluded that nothing was going to happen except for sleep, at dawn. D got the hiccups and began describing what he thought was going to happen ("Does this mean that in *hic* five minutes *hic* Richard and I will be sucking each others' dicks?"). Richard, meanwhile, began groping SV from behind. She batted his hands away but he was persistent. The details get hazy at this point, but SV said, in confidence, again leaning toward me, "I sucked Richard's dick while D fucked me from behind." I gasped and covered my mouth with my hands. She could not remember who had the bigger penis ("because D is pretty big too") and the next morning closed her eyes and grasped bottles with each hand and called upon her motor memory to compare their two cocks.

Alan, another friend, was out in the living room on the couch. He had to catch a flight back to his apartment in Mexico City that morning, and his belongings were in SV's room, so at ten a.m. she got into her bathrobe and pulled all of Alan's stuff in to the kitchen. Then she got back into bed and ignored D and Richard and Alan as they milled around the kitchen trying to make sense of the night before. She told D if he was hungry there were English muffins in the fridge.

This was all very scandalizing, and I did not stay to have a second beer.