Friday, September 23, 2011

september 23, 2001

What I was thinking about on this day, ten years ago:

I spent the last two hours grooming myself and my clothes. Chores are no fun; note to oneself; maintain the lowest acceptable level of hygiene; saves time, money, time. Only what's necessary and sufficient.
As a friend pointed out, time = money, so what I was really saving was time cubed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

november 15, 2001

On the tenth anniversary of September 11th, I decided to pull out my journal from 2001-2002 and see where I was then. There are 32,696 words in a Word document answering that question, but to summarize: I moved to the Lower East Side in Manhattan on September 9, 2001. I didn't know anyone in the city or anything about it. I had three duffel bags, a bucket, a guitar, a computer, and a bicycle. I moved into an apartment I found on Craigslist occupied by a woman named Diane. I saw things I didn't expect to see. I learned a lot. Everything felt new, exciting, and a little terrifying.

I'm not quite ready to post my entries from around September 11. Here's a non-event from November 15, 2001:
In other news, I have been trying to steal little things from Diane without her noticing.  Mostly it is food.  She buys more food than any single woman waif with a bowel condition who is never home than I know.  So I steal a slice of toast and a pinkytip of peanut butter every so often, a fourth-cup of grapenuts and a squirt of ricemilk diluted with water and a blot of honey, an indiscernible millimeter of toothpaste, a swipe of the soap.  Fuck.  I’m starting to get quite bad.  I’ve been eyeing the bananas trying to figure out whether or not she’ll notice that a fifth of the bunch is gone.  I would take a smaller portion but stealing half a banana is more conspicuous than stealing the whole.  This much I have learned in my short but informative life.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

terry again

Here's a repost of something I wrote two years ago on another blog. Reposting it now because I'm about to fly away and I hope to rekindle some of that enthusiasm for connecting with strangers that I felt so passionately about at the end of my time in Chicago.

There was a light sprinkling of rain and a few bolts of lightning in Chicago on Friday, so all outgoing flights from O'Hare were canceled. Terminals B and C were overflowing with travelers, who waited petulantly in hundred-person lines for hours for refunds or reroutes, sat on the tile near electrical outlets with their laptops burning their crotches, and lay supine on the heating vents with Cubs caps pulled over their eyes. I was trying to get to Boston. My flight was first delayed 45 minutes, then two hours, then three, and we shuttled from one gate to another awaiting, what we discovered later, a fictional flight that was never to take off.

At B5, I dozed and snapped photographs of fellow travelers. It was a rare chance to document so many expressions of unhappiness under one roof. I was at peace because I had a soft serve. I was sitting right next to the people standing in line for the United attendant, so I watched them and listened to their conversations. One man had the face of a 38 year-old but wore screened t-shirts, thick leather bracelets, and dark jeans adorned with decorative flat chains in the style of somebody fifteen years younger, in a nightclub, in Hackensack; he touched himself on the biceps and abdomen and adjusted the cuff of his jeans several times, but the intended audience for his presentation was unclear. One man had a small cell phone device in his ear and looked right at me and shouted directions, which I assumed were not for me. I heard a boy named Terry tell a man named Mario about the missionary work he was planning to do.

Half an hour later, Terry sat down next to me. I asked him whether he was going to Boston like me, but he said he was going to New York. We didn't say anything else for a few minutes, but I looked over and smiled a few times, and eventually I said, I couldn't help but overhear that you were going to do missionary work in New York. What exactly are you doing? and from there, our conversation took off.

Terry was 20 years old and headed for a six-week mission in Brooklyn. He was on summer break from his studies in marketing at a small state college in Michigan. He would be leading a group of fifty teenagers from as far away as Canada in restoration projects on a church on Flatbush Avenue whose motto was "Doing Good in the Hood Since 1654." He wasn't going with his church members; his only partner would be a girl about his age whom he had only met once before, at the previous week's mission orientation. He and his crew would be living in the dormitory connected to the church. He hadn't been to New York, but he was excited to go, and he asked me where he should go and what he should do. I said that he might like the city upon first impression but feelings of love would develop after he exhausted his tourist sites and turned to the people around him. He asked where the restaurant from Seinfeld was, and I gave him precise directions and added my own trivia to his understanding of the storefront, but he didn't appear to care too much about Suzanne Vega. Terry had the letters "WWJD" repeated in scrolling text on a tight blue bracelet around his wrist. He wore a baseball cap and glasses, and was exceedingly polite, without being formal, in the way he addressed me.

He was from Niles, Michigan, a town of 15,000 just north of the Indiana border. He said he was from the "cornfields," and that his college was in a town that was even more full of cornfields. He'd spent the entire day, starting from 8 a.m. shuttling by car and regional jet between his hometown and Grand Rapids and O'Hare, and here he was at 6 p.m. a bit tired from travel but happy to have already met so many interesting people. I liked his attitude, and told him this. I said I liked meeting people, but you don't know whether they want to be meeting you. We agreed it was nice when two people who didn't know each other both wanted to talk. One can get a sense of another's values in the way they talk about even value-neutral subjects, like whether to be irritated by a long day of rain delays, or in the simple fact that they will talk openly with a stranger. Maybe it is foolish or dangerous of me to go on believing in strangers like this, but I trusted Terry immediately.

I suppose Terry was something of a cliche, because he was kind, polite, genuine small-town boy who expressed unpretentious, open-mouthed awe when I told him about the institutions I'd been affiliated with ("Is Harvard really as hard as everyone says it is?") and who spoke of his (paltry) summer salary like it was an unfathomable sum of money. It only made me like him more. He wanted to know more about what I liked about New York. The liveliness, I said. Go to the Mermaid Parade. (He was fascinated.) Go to Central Park on a Saturday. Go to the gay pride parade.

At this, he hesitated. Well, you know, I don't know if I would personally feel comfortable about that because of my religion, he said. I had with purpose instructed him to go to Pride; I am making the slow transition from sustaining conversations with strangers by pretending to be more politically moderate than I am to actually speaking my mind, but doing so without breathing stranger-repellent radical fire; so I felt too a gentle missionary zeal in speaking to my missionary about matters of the spirit.

Terry was hesitant but not insulting, and not even conservative. He spoke about his personal discomfort - "I" statements - not about other people's sins. He was a good boy, a curious boy, a cornfield boy compelled by New York, so even though his brain had been taught to close, his heart was wide open. I am gay, I said, and some parts of the parade make even me feel uncomfortable (I said this with the Log Cabin Republicans in mind), but it's good to go and see that people are people no matter how different their identities might seem from yours. Or something equally platitudinous, and probably less grammatical, came out of my mouth; I was trying so hard. Terry responded immediately by talking about how one of his friends had come out to him but prefaced his remarks by saying that Terry was the last person he had come out to. This remark saddened Terry, because he felt that some "out there" Christians had made it seem like the whole religion was about hating other people. Terry sounded hurt when he said that Christianity was about love. God is love. He said he protested against the conservative protesters at his school, because he didn't like how they made others feel.

We drifted from this topic into the next: cops and lawyers. Everybody considered the cops in his small town corrupt. Terry had been pulled over and given a ticket for having expired car insurance because he had shown the cop two copies of his insurance papers, one of which was older than the more recent set. The cop was corrupt, the magistrate presiding over the case was corrupt, and in the end he felt that he had been roughed up by a bunch of jackasses. There was no justice. Contempt for corrupt authority, God as love, curiosity - my dear, dear boy.

Over the intercom, the kiosk attendant announced, triumphantly, that Seating Area 1 was permitted to board. I shook hands with Terry and left, because it was time for me to fly to Boston. Terry wrote down my email address and we shall see if I ever have occasion to see my dear missionary again. I left it up to him.

Seconds after the attendant made the boarding announcement, she got back on the intercom and said, pausing heavily, "Well...sorry folks, looks like your flight has been canceled." This was uproarious for the crowd, who raged, and also uproarious for me, because I found the comedy utterly delightful. O'Hare and its gentle Christians could not control the 12th largest downpour in Chicago history, and there was nothing to do but laugh and laugh! The delays and detours resulting from this uproarious announcement also gave me the opportunity to have half hour conversations with two additional strangers, Blake and Klaus, which I will document here tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

death in norcal

I drove to Palo Alto on Sunday to have dinner with my grandma, parents, and extended family. I was heading south on Highway 101 at a normal cruising speed.

This is what happened next. I couldn't have made this up. A yoga mat fell off a Prius a few cars in front of me. The yoga mat unfurled and fluttered in the air like the wings of a majestic butterfly. Then these majestic wings went SPLAT across the front of my windshield. And then for two panic-filled seconds, I could see nothing. My car went forward at 75mph but its driver was blind.

Then I thought, This is it. This is how you die in Northern California.

I hate them.
Post script: It fluttered to the next flower after two seconds, then came to rest on the shoulder. Everyone lived, except the butterfly.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

two letters separate celebrate from celibate

Once upon a time, I sat behind a couple during a high school wrestling meet. A boy and a girl. The match was especially close and tense. The boy seemed very invested in seeing his wrestler win. His body language said as much. He clutched at the girl. He hunched over and clenched his fists. He leaned in. He squinted. The girl did not seem to care one way or another about the wrestlers.

When the boy's wrestler pinned the loser, the crowd exploded in celebration, and the boy too. He leapt up and pumped his fists. He shouted, Aaoooaaaaooo!!! Then he grabbed the girl and gave her not a celebratory squeeze, not a kiss and a mess of tears, not happy gurgling noises - no, he turned to her and tried to eat her face

"I'm so happy my friend won his wrestling match!"
I was so impressed with their face sucking, salivating, dry humping, public works plumbing theatrics that sixteen years later I still remember the clothes they were wearing vividly. (Sweatsuits.) Also vivid is the memory of my confusion: why is the appropriate reaction to seeing your team win frantic making out?

But now that I've had a good few weeks - a good few months - and I'm seeing my efforts to remake my life come to fruition, and I'm feeling good, and I'm feeling triumphant - all I want to do is make out! Team Me is fucking winning! I feel so horny for life! Come here and let me eat your face!

Oh baby!

Friday, September 02, 2011

bait a hook

Awesome things about country music.

(1) The instrumentation, the sound.  The Telecaster over the acoustic playing rhythm. The clear vocals. The constant harmonizing. Twang. The way a pedal steel player can go from a bright major chord to the saddest minor you ever heard with just a slight motion of his knee. Also, in this particular video, the matching matador-inspired costuming, and the total stiffness of the lower body. Buck Owens, "Tiger by the Tail."

(2) The storytelling. Maybe because it's a folk form, maybe it's just the musical convention, but country songs are more narrative than other popular genres.  Here's Dolly Parton's "Joshua." Maybe I just like it because I first heard the song just as I was moving into an apartment near the railroad tracks occupied by a huge man named Joshua who had a big dog!

(3) The honesty. Sometimes all you want is someone clear-eyed saying, This is my truth, and I'm going to share it with you. Even though my truth might be sentimental, or boring, or conventional, or fantastical, I'm not going to hide it with loud guitars or complicated turns of phrase. Country is a very sincere form of art.  Here's Zac Brown's "Highway 20 Ride," telling the story of a father who rarely sees his son.

And Taylor Swift's "Tim McGraw":

(4) The themes. How can you argue with a sentiment like "cigareets and whiskey and wild, wild women / they'll drive you crazy / they'll drive you insane"?  "Cigareets and Whiskey and Wild Women," recorded by Buck Owens. 

I'm listing the things I like about country music because I recently heard two godawful country songs that made me want to pull my car over and stab myself in the face.  The first is a crass stupid song-length pun called "Fish," by Craig Campbell.  The key lyrics:
Jumped on in and we drove to the lake
Put her hand on my knee and said I can't wait
I had everything we needed in the bed of my truck
Turns out my baby loves
"Fish" stands in for another four-letter F word, get it??? Get it?????

Sometimes that's the problem with being so sincere! It's not that I don't find songs about sex sexy - but would it kill you to add poetry to your expression of desire?? See e.g. this or this. Also, I don't like songs that make me think about gender-conforming Republicans having sex, and this one does just that.

Then there is Justin Moore's "Bait a Hook."  This song just makes me feel sorry for the singer and his anxiety about times a-changing. It's the kind of anxiety that's disguised as boastfulness. He's upset that his ex-gal is dating a namby pamby with a hybrid car who likes to eat un-American things, so he responds by strutting around listing all the things he is capable of doing that the namby pamby can't do - 
I heard you had to drive him home after two umbrella drinks
I heard he's got a Prius, 'cause he's into bein' green
My buddies said he saw ya'll, eatin' that sushi stuff
Baby that don't sound like you, that don't sound like love, sounds like it sucks...
He can't even bait a hook
- which doesn't change the fact that he's singing from the reject pile. I feel embarrassed by Justin's delusional sour grapes act.  

Also helllllooo hating on Toyota and sushi and Japan is so played . . . 'cause 
China is the new boogeyman! Justin Moore didn't even try to identity new foreign (pronounced "farn") things to be irrationally scared by; he just relies on tropes developed during the 1980s! Maybe your ex-gal didn't want you because you were LAZY and UNCREATIVE, Justin!

Sometimes country music can be just as conservative and stupid and white and conforming as everyone who says "I like all kinds of music except country" fears that it is. I listened to this big-legged fellow ask, at a concert in Chicago, "Where my rednecks at???" And the crowd went "Wooo!!" And those of you who know my sallow pallor don't need me to explain why I couldn't wooo at that question. I retreated to the concessions stand for a sausage. Seriously friends, that man has such large, thick legs. They're like body pillows.

Let me leave you with something positive, a song and a video that I really like. Townes Van Zandt, "Waiting Around to Die."

Thursday, September 01, 2011

what a pickle

You don't wake up in the morning thinking, Oh I know! At 2 a.m., I'm going to take all of my clothes off and wander into the kitchen and empty a jar of extra large pickles into a plastic bag and then I'm going to put on a shirt and size 10.5 Ferragamo slingbacks but no pants and carry a massive painting of the background farm house from American Gothic from the laundry room to my bedroom, but then sometimes it's 2 a.m. and that's exactly what you just did!

There are so many more where these came from.
Some days you go to bed with monkeys and parrots linguistics like this in your head:
i want so badly to fuck you
i want to fuck you so badly
i want to fuck you really well
And then you wake up to a thank you email like this:
When my earnest 22 year old assistant brought in the book, and the postcard featuring an abstraction in a thong, i immediately thought "she shouldn't have", and then realized that was a saying, and apt on a whole lot of levels. If I was less lazy, I would send a tasteful dildo to your office, half wrapped in old sports-pages from the palo alto daily news. Fortunately for you, I am lazy (which is one reason i don't deserve such kindness). And while i send nothing to help their arrival, i do wish you a hundred additional leg-numbing orgasms this calendar year.
Men's legs! To be numbed.
And later in the day you sit in your car you can't stop giggling. Not maniacal laughter, not cheerful chortles, but the kind of giggling that happens inside a car in Sunnyvale, California, with a secondhand Ikea table top in your backseat, awesome news on your phone, and you're saying to yourself "HEE HEE HEE HEE HEE HEE HEE."

I am never going to let this painting go.
And then your favorite ridiculous person calls just to confess that she finds breastfeeding disgusting except when done by one particular weird-looking person she knows. You shush her because you're progressive. She goes on: "Sometimes you just don't want to see someone you're not really friends with have their nipples licked by another person." The problem with the latest feeding, she said, was that the person doing the licking - i.e. the baby - "took charge." You ask but she cannot elaborate on the meaning of taking charge.