Monthly Archives: February 2003

2/28/03 Columbia County, NY I’ve been

2/28/03 Columbia County, NY

I’ve been missing my friends terribly lately. Part of it has come from this utterly aborted ski weekend we were supposed to have right now 15 of the 16 people I invited initially expressed interest, and then bagged, one by one. You’d think a free ski weekend up in the beautiful Berkshires during the best snow season since 1847 would be enough to motivate some folks, but I keep forgetting that New York is a town that makes plans about a month in advance. If you don’t get your wishes in the hopper early, you can forget about it.

Tessa and I will go skiing tomorrow anyway (along with the delightful Shelagh Ratner) and I know circumstances frequently come together to deny your desires it’s not a personal thing. But I do feel bereft of my community, my clique, my commune. I miss living in group houses where impromptu parties, dinners, outings and projects could spring up like spontaneous combustion.

By no means does this demean my life with Tessa; my life with her is spiritually, romantically and soulfully bursting at the seams with delight. I could be stuck in a car for two months with this girl and love every second of it… wait a minute, I just did that.

But my circle of good friends is too spread out, too lightly sprinkled over too much land Salem in GA, Jon in NJ, Chip in NC, Stasia in CA, Bud on a mountain – and everyone else with whom I once broke bread, paid water bills, and laughed over cokes spiced with generic bourbon.

Last year, while we were in North Carolina, in the middle of reshoots for the Pink House movie, my choking fog of anxiety was effortlessly lifted for the first time in a year. And I realized it was because there we were all together my friends, living in three rental houses side by side. I suppose I’m the type that thrives in a tight-knit community; I mean, there doesn’t need to be a campfire and someone singing “Both Sides Now” or anything, but at least a little Utopia that requires regular attendance.

I don’t feel like I have any of that now. I feel tolerated by most of the people I do see: at basketball, at work-related things, out and about. My darkest theory is that now I am no longer single, I don’t try as hard to be charismatic or charming, and without that smokescreen, I’m just too much work. Perhaps it was losing my job, perhaps it was terrorists blowing up two of my favorite buildings, perhaps it was a movie that took everything out of me, or perhaps it is the natural transition from a gregarious world of omnidirectional affection to a nation of two. Or maybe it’s the slow dawning realization that I might not be growing up, but all of my friends are.

the Pink House residents in May 1996

Mercy, Where Art Thou?

2/27/03 Brooklyn, NY

I’ve had a theory percolating in my head for several months now considering the sorry, tragic state of this country, and I need to give it a name: The New Mercilessness. Our culture, government and teeming populace has entered into a time that harkens back to the barbarism of Medieval times, the selfish cruelty of the Old West, even the dying, bloated, complacent gasps of the Roman Empire. I think being a sensitive person in the United States is currently a loser’s game of disastrous proportions, and the New Mercilessness is to blame.

I’m certainly no censorship freak, and I appreciate shit blowing up in movies and fart jokes as much as the next red-blooded American, but our culture is fucking awful. Reality TV shows are mercilessness in their naked competition, their chewing-up-and-spitting-out of ten-minute celebrities, and their unwavering fixation on women’s beauty. These shows screech with the lame-brained observations of both contestant and host, but are nothing compared to the daytime talk extravaganzas – watched by millions of voting Americans, mind you – that are so lobotomized that their mere existence is a cruelty. I thought things would change after the Jenny Jones shooting back in 1994, but things only got worse. With the confusing exception of “Jeopardy” and “The West Wing,” network television chafes the public consciousness with the red-hot irritation of the recently masturbated.

You have to go back to Shakespearean times, when bears were tied to a pole and attacked by wild dogs, to find a culture so mesmerized by the snot-encrusted wood chips at the bottom of the barrel. My least favorite phrase to come out of inner-city gangbangin’ movies was “two in the head, you know they’re dead.” This was handy advice on how to shoot people, y’know, just in case the first bullet that tore out the back of a victim’s skull didn’t seem to do the job. “Two In The Head, You Know They’re Dead” ought to be the motto inscribed on the flag for the New Mercilessness.

After September 11th, you’d think the Buddhist-like calm that spread over New York City would seep everywhere and be longlasting – boy, you couldn’t be more wrong about anything. While New Yorkers posted signs saying “our tears of grief are not a call for war,” the ultra neo-conservatives in the Bush Administration were having the epiphany of their lives: kill them all, kill them all now. The good will shown the United States in the fall of 2001 has not only evaporated, but it could be said that more people hate our country now than at any time since the 18th century.

My family has been having an email debate over whether or not George Bush is an “idiot” – all I know is what I see: a man so simpleminded in his approach to the world (“you’re either with us or with the terrorists,” “axis of evil,” etc.) that it surprises me to learn he can even register different colors with his eyeballs. His advisors have cooked up a needless timetable for war, and have beaten us savagely about the head with Iraq for so many months now that even fence-sitters want him to go to fucking war just to fucking shut up about it already. Kill them all, kill them all now, kill, kill, KILL! America cannot show ANY sign of weakness, says our government, the only thing Arabs understand is BRUTE FORCE.

Is there anything less nuanced, and lacking in mercy? And yet, TV pundits and AM radio talk show hosts ALL of whom are acid-breathing conservatives by their own admission, can’t stop themselves. They see any questioning of their philosophy as an attack on their crusade, and fight back with means incommensurate with the argument. Throw a jab, and they’ll blow your head off with a shotgun. That savage media pundit Ann Coulter actually suggested assassinating Clinton, and after 9/11, famously ranted “we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

Stemming the blood-drenched tide of the New Mercilessness is next to impossible; the brilliance of their methods is that they force you to play by their rules, and they’re better at it than you are. There’s an old cliché that liberals can’t command the same air time as conservatives because their arguments are way more subtle and don’t fit into sound bites. Just because it’s a cliché doesn’t mean it isn’t true; it is. The world itself is a contradictory, weird place full of people who end up behaving very differently than you thought, and liberals understand this. A liberal argument is by nature equivocating and self-questioning, whereas a conservative can throw out any half-baked theorem he or she wants, and it sticks in the ear drums of anyone within listening distance. Conservatives will almost always win debates, because afterwards, they will have seemed louder. How else do you explain a New York Times poll that says 42% of Americans think Saddam Hussein was behind the World Trade Center attacks? I mean, assuming for a minute that we’re not in a country full of goddamn morons?

I live in a nation rubbed raw by the constant clamoring for war, by a culture that glorifies either the brain-dead (Am I Hot?) or the soporific (Norah Jones); by sports teams expected to humiliate their opponents by 40 points; by linebackers that dance over opposing players after having crushed their spines; by chicken hawk commentators that have the historical attention span of a mayfly; by the utter lack of calm, of divinity, of silence, of serenity, of mercy. I don’t want to be a part of it anymore. I want this country to leave me alone already. The conservatives carry guns of moral certitude; my friends and I haul cages full of very complicated doves. It’s faster to fire bullets into the air than to release the birds, but you have to hope that the doves that aren’t shot can get a lot farther.

2/26/03 Columbia County, NY I’m being

2/26/03 Columbia County, NY

I’m being forced to vamp a little bit because someone stole my digital camera while I was on the subway two nights ago. I’ve been trying to deny it, but relentless searching of the car, and the retracing of countless steps, has turned up nothing. And I was on a PACKED #2 train during rush hour where anybody with limited pickpocketing skills could have unzipped my jacket and absconded with my beloved camera while I was zoned out listening to Johnny Marr.

It was only when I discovered it was gone that I felt like I’d been robbed of a huge element of self-expression. I take pictures the same way lonely men look at their own names in the phone book: to prove that they were there, that they exist. It’s a distinctly un-Buddhist principle (as is all archivism, I’d expect) but I’ve been in love with the photographic image ever since my first camera at 8 years old. My allowance was $1.50 a week, and I spent all of it, every Saturday, on a fresh roll of 126 cartridge film. The fruits of those labors are still around:

my grandma walks up the street in Pontypridd, Wales (our ancestral homeland) in 1978

Plus, I tire easily of blogs that have no images; I feel like I’m not really immersed in their owners’ lives. And though I’ve been guilty of the occasional Photoshopping (my chin, bullshit adult acne, etc.) I think it’s liberating to expose yourself to the world and fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke. I spent the first fourteen years of my life avoiding being noticed, convinced that my existence was nebbishly discounted by all who mattered and now, I keep a diary on the internet that gets me into trouble every fifteenth day or so.

I wrote a pretty successful column for the student newspaper in Chapel Hill for a while, and one of the new editors decided we were all going to have our pictures next to our names. I was horrified at the idea, because then I’d be judged on (the way I look + the way I write) rather than just (the way I write). I staged a small revolt among the other columnists, and convinced the paper to run cartoon caricatures of us rather than photographs. I felt that I got a lot more accomplished as a cartoon character, and was allowed infinite freedom within that space. When I talked about romance, nobody looked at my picture and said, “Well, of course he thinks that way just look at him!”

Age, however, has mellowed me into not caring about those things. I have always known that I could be considered quite appealing, but you had to acquire a taste for me. Like Perry Farrell said in Jane’s Addiction: “I am skin and bones, I am pointy nose… but it motherfucking makes me try.”

In that end, the relentless pictures on this blog are a necessary solopsism, a way for me to exorcise the worst parts of my childhood and maintain a comfort level with my physical existence. I have friends, like Chip, or relatives, like my mom, who don’t fully inhabit their bodies. Like a tortilla chip, their corporeal forms are simply delivery mechanisms for the good stuff. In a large part, I feel the same way, but this blog allows me to assume a human shape without retiring into blushy embarrassment.

2/25/03 Brooklyn, NY Now, why

2/25/03 Brooklyn, NY

Now, why would you want to beat up this kid? He didn’t mean any harm just wanted to practice violin, watch “Mork and Mindy” and finish his paper route. To my fellow members of Miss Kasperek’s 4th grade class at Grant Wood Elementary in Cedar Rapids, Iowa: if I see any of you in New York City, I’m going to kick your fucking ass.

2/24/03 Brooklyn, NY A few

2/24/03 Brooklyn, NY

A few key points from today:

1. At Tessa’s office – where I am currently helping her move out – I threw away two full boxes of unused 3.5 inch floppy disks. They still had that new plastic sheen of technology, yet not one of our computers has had a floppy drive in years. I also threw away 80 lbs. of software and books – stuff like One Word, FaxSTF, Word Perfect, Organizer. All of them made for Windows 3.1, and all of them useless on this planet except for the one bastard on eBay who is recreating a 1994 PC just for the hell of it.

2. My imagination may be failing me, but I think the construction is largely finished in Union Square. I think you can actually take Broadway all the way to 14th Street without aging three months in the process. Suddenly you can kinda remember how nice Union Square used to be.

3. Anybody wanting my favorite basketball shoe ever – last year’s Nike Shox VC in a hightop – can skip the online prices of $100 or more and call up the Nike Factory Outlet and order any size or color you want for stunningly cheap. I swear by these shoes, as someone with ankle and back issues. Great support, sproingy, and I think they look coooooool.

3a. As a tangential addendum, if you are playing your first hoops game with a bunch of strangers who happen to have an indoor court on Monday nights in Brooklyn – and you see a clear lane to the rack – DO NOT blow the layup. This bodes very poorly for your hoops career with them. Trust me on this.

4. I’d like to point out that it is AVERAGING 15 degrees colder than normal every day. The average high for late February here is 44, and this week we’ll be lucky to see 35. At this point, I feel like we may need earmuffs for my wedding on August 9th.

5. While packing, I heard the song “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band and was stunned to actually hear the lyrics:

Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight

Gonna grab some afternoon delight

My motto’s always been ‘when it’s right, it’s right’

Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night?

Rubbin’ sticks and stones together makes the sparks ingite

And the thought of lovin’ you is getting so exciting

Sky rockets in flight

Afternoon delight…

Why didn’t anyone tell me the song was about fucking? I mean, I know all songs from the ’70s are about fucking, but this one’s REALLY about fucking. In the daytime, no less. Rubbin’ sticks and stones together? Sky rockets is ejaculation! Why am I always the last to know about these things?

2/23/03 Brooklyn, NY Among the

2/23/03 Brooklyn, NY

Among the gems I unearthed on my recent travels was a huge panoramic picture taken of my forefathers and foremothers at a giant family reunion sometime around 1929. To give you some sense of it, the picture is more than two feet long, and this is only the middle section of three:

My grandfather, who would have been in his mid-20s, is in there somewhere, although the only people who could have spotted him have long since vanished to the ages. However, just to the right of center, there is one person who keeps staring at me.

I don’t know who she is, but I like her.

2/22/03 Columbia County, NY If you

2/22/03 Columbia County, NY

If you don’t care about college basketball, stop reading now.

I mean it, stop.

Being emotionally invested in a sports team must seem like sheer lunacy to most people. I’ve seen people in movies (“Field of Dreams,” “Any Given Sunday”) and plays (“Take Me Out”) try to explain how you could possibly hinge your mood on the actions of a bunch of guys playing a sport hundreds of miles away, but they all fail unless you already believe it. I won’t explain here why I have loved the University of North Carolina Tar Heels since my formative teenage years (there are books already doing that anyway) but suffice to say I go through enough hormonal gymnastics during games to create several poltergeists. Sociologists note that spousal abuse rates skyrocket after each Super Bowl; while that makes me want to go beat the shit out of these guys, their pathology doesn’t surprise me.

Dean Smith, Carolina’s coach from 1961 to 1997, said “if you live or die by winning or losing, you’re going to do an awful lot of dying.” And he’s right, I’ve been doing a lot of dying lately. Today we played Maryland at their new arena, and while I had only dim hopes of victory (they’re ranked Top 20 nationally), I suspected we’d probably lose by eight. Into the second half, we were down sixteen. I went to the bathroom, and suddenly we were down by twenty-six. I told Tessa we would lose by thirty-five, and switched off the game in misery. Turns out we lost by forty.

To put that into perspective, it is our worst loss in 53 years. The last time we took an ass-whipping that hard, Harry Truman had just handed the reins over to Ike. To find a more dreary low for us, you have to go back to 1915, when Woodrow Fuckin’ Wilson was president, when the basketball was a laced-up hog stomach and the game was still played in a cage. That year, we lost to the mighty Lynchburg Elks by 43.

No doubt some kid wearing breeches and a detachable collar was really bummed out about that game. Perhaps he didn’t have the religion of basketball quite the same way I do, but for his memory and mine, I’d like to post a picture of Michael Jordan wearing the blue & white, to remind us of what once was, and what one day could be again.

Jordan in ’83

2/21/03 Columbia County, NY I sat

2/21/03 Columbia County, NY

I sat atop a mountain today that allowed me a vista of the Berkshires and the Catskills that I never believed existed. Words pauper the experience, so you’ll have to see it for yourself: take Lift 3 at the Catamount ski resort and you’ll know what I mean. The most amazing part was seeing our little farmhouse and barn, straight into our bedroom window, thousands of feet up and a couple of miles away. It allows a man the perspective to take stock of his position. It also allows a man the ability to ski his first “black diamond” run ever, which I did without wiping out once (although Catamount’s definition of a black diamond might be stretching it a bit).

Part of “taking stock” means telling myself, the blog, or whomever I am writing to (my future self? Peter in Canada? my mom? that guy in Minnesota who called me a “self-involved fuck” in my own diary?) what is going on in the bigger picture.

1. First off, I’m getting married on August 9th to the exquisitely unbelievable Tessa Blake. My proposal to her was much documented, but since then despite her occasional lapses into Bridezilla

2/20/03 Columbia County, NY A semi-heat

2/20/03 Columbia County, NY

A semi-heat wave descended upon New York today (48 degrees!) which turned the state into a diesel-flavored Slurpee. It was not enough to keep me away from Mulberry Street Hoops, although in retrospect, it should have; besides a nice volleyball-style putback and four long-range threes, I played like a teenager taking his first crack at driving his dad’s car.

The problem with playing poorly with this Thursday group is that it disproportionately hurts your chances at getting a pass or two the following week; you are constantly having to prove yourself, and since Back Injury 2000 I have pretty much trod water in the brackish swamp of B-minus basketball.

Perhaps losing a little weight will help, and I’ve sworn to do so before my wedding on August 9. Nothing is more boring than hearing about someone’s weight loss (for some other bloggers, that’s all they talk about) but perhaps mentioning it will thrust it into the cognitive ether, allowing me better access.

I lie tonight in Columbia County, our first time back in two months. The place is a shambles, with walls missing, dirt from the contractors all over the place, and an entire bathroom bereft of things that make it “a bathroom.” I thought most of this would be finished by now. I close tonight by pushing the boat away from the dock, into the sea of sleep, a little demoralized, very tired, and overwhelmed by the number of things one must juggle in order to be a functioning adult.