Monthly Archives: September 2006

snuggle fabric softener mascot bear


Everyone’s favorite Lee (oft from the comments section) is here with is in Los Angeles kicking promotional ass for a certain fabulous periodical in the Triangle area, and because I have now temporarily painted myself into a corner with the blog, I asked her to give me a topic for today.

She said, “You know how Britney Spears does something stupid with her baby, and the paparazzi always catches it? What’s something you’ve done with your baby that you’re really glad was NOT captured by paparazzi?”

Curiously enough, I had just done something a few hours before. It was so stupid I hesitate to bring it up, but here goes: our babysitter was unloading some laundry, and her son was playing with Lucy, who was sitting on top of the dryer. Before today’s big meeting, I went into the laundry room to kiss Lucy for luck. Lucy pulled away (as she is wont to do sometimes) and I leaned in further, and almost – ALMOST! – pushed her off the dryer for a four-foot drop.

I managed to grab one leg, and the babysitter grabbed her torso, but Lucy was dangling and, dare I say, scared shitless and FURIOUS. I almost hurt my precious little daughter just trying to kiss her. With her plaintive wails in the background, I drove off to the meeting, and basically had to wipe my own tears on my sleeve.

I am happy to report that NO PAPARAZZI WERE PRESENT DURING THIS INCIDENT and that is something to be thankful for. Oh, and Lucy was fine. That’s what I truly have to be thankful for.

And your story?

granite and chisel


I’ve been keeping this blog running like clockwork (with the occasional power outage) for four and a half years now, which makes it among the longest-held online diaries out there. Something like 90% of all blogs are abandoned in the first three months, so many of you are already beating the odds. I mean, I’m no Evan Williams or Dave Winer, who have been doing this for ten years, but I’m doing pretty well.

However, this site has reached a midlife crisis, or at least a bumpy adolescence. I have several things working against me: I can’t write anything concerning my job, which would get me millions of more hits because I’d be discussing famous people and facets of entertainment that you, the reader, consume every day.

In addition, I am no longer in the lead-up to Lucy’s birth, my wedding, a piece of history, a Presidential election or a naturally-occurring phenomenon that necessitates breathless commentary. And in the face of such horrendous leadership by our current American leaders, my political posts have become apoplectic with rage. The kind of rage that is so intense that I can barely begin to write anything that isn’t laced with profanity and the kind of ill-wishing that would land me on a FBI watch list. But ceasing to write about politics in this era would be like keeping a blog in 1349 and not mentioning the Black Death.

The last of all these reasons has proven to be the most destructive. I know many people have stopped reading this blog because of the politics: my Doom ‘n’ Gloomâ„¢, and the inevitable heart-stopping intractability of the conservative commenters. The political debate on these pages has gone from vibrant to disastrous. More often than not, the people on the right wing have simply outlasted the writers on the left (or middle), by parroting the same talking points and occasionally devolving into mania. My progressive compatriots have simply packed up and gone home, only returning for the occasional pictures of Lucy.

I’m to blame for it, because I believed so whole-heartedly in a free debate; I’m the one who brought up the subject and provided a “comments” button. I let J-Booger (now posting under a variety of pseudonyms before I can block his IP address) harass me and my family for months until I took action. Many of the other right-wingers are good guys whom I’ve met, but they seem to be the only ones left standing.

Every blogger has a reckoning. They all come to a begrudging acceptance of the imperfection of the blog form, or else they quit. I’m at that crossroads right now. Greg T. once mentioned how I’m always “one bad hair day away from retiring,” so I know how boring and self-obsessed I can sound when I contemplate why I do this, but I am either going to have to change my approach to an online community, or get serious about my drum lessons.

Nobody listens to anyone any more. Everyone goes into every situation with their mind made up, waiting for their turn to talk. It has been 14 years since I saw an opinion change. For my part, I feel like I’m open to different viewpoints if someone were to present a strong argument.

I am not out to solicit praise. Someone please tell me how I can do this blog differently, or what they would do with this space. Dialogue is all but dead, and the rest is gossip. If this is merely a place to put photos, I could do it on Flickr. Are blogs really just the domain of knitters and people who are still dating? If we’ve all made up our minds, why are any of us still talking?

rolling blackout


I just got home, put my wife to bed, rocked Lucy to sleep (twice) and realized… I’ve just been in planes, cars and funeral homes for two days and I don’t know what happened in the world. How was the September 11th 5-year anniversary for everyone else? Did anything happen with that “Path to 9/11” docudrama? Was there any news besides the Chargers blanking Oakland?

with tangerine trees and marmalade skies


I write to you, yet again, from deep in the heart of Texas: Cut & Shoot in Montgomery County, about an hour north of Houston. Sadly, we have come here to mourn the passing of Tessa’s grandmother Lucille Tessman (known to everyone as Nonnie), an incredible character if ever there was one. Fans of “Five Wives” will remember her back-porch bon mots, but those closest to Tessa will know her as a touchstone of stability in my wife’s childhood.


Sandy, Nonnie and baby Tessa, 1969

Nonnie’s mother died of the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918 when she was a baby. The actual story is that she died from dancing (caught the flu at the party), but losing your mother is only slightly worse than losing your father, which Nonnie did two years later. He had a heart attack in the driveway and collapsed dead on top of her brother. The locals blamed the new “iced water machine” that was put in the press shop, which led Nonnie to say “my daddy died from iced water, and my mamma died from dancin’.”

Her troubles were only beginning: she was then shipped to an aunt’s home, where she was routinely harassed by the other kids, and then came the “Tomato Tom-Tom” story which I told you about a few months ago (read it if you haven’t yet, it’s unbelievably sad). She stopped growing at 4′ 11″. She then married an abusive husband who died a year into the marriage while having sex with her best friend. It’s a miracle she came out of any of this with her mind intact.

But then she found the love of her life, married him before the war, had two great kids and lived to be ninety. I knew our last visit with her would be our last, but at least Lucy got to meet her namesake, if only for a few minutes of wonderful lucidity.


Today we went to the wake, an open-casket viewing ceremony that, admittedly, was my first. I had seen many on television, but was wholly unprepared to see Nonnie’s body right there in front of us. I don’t know why it has taken me this long to truly get it, but there’s something about the open casket that seems… culturally bizarre?

Note to Lucy and family: please, please don’t do this for either me or Tessa.

On the way home, the rain began to pour in thundering loud sheets, the kind of rain that even the “fast” setting on the wipers can’t handle. Lucy hasn’t really seen rain since she was a newborn, and studied the ferocious window intensely. Finally, she smiled. “Bubbles!” she said, “Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles, bubbles bubbles bubbles bubbles bubbles bubblesbubbledbubbles!!!”

She knew bubbles from her Gymboree classes, but the thought of millions of naturally-occurring bubbles in nature has to be the best thing I’ve ever heard.

After putting her to bed, Tessa and I went through Nonnie’s stuff, including her purse – one of those odd, intimate objects you never expect to end up in the hands of others. I never thought Nonnie particularly remembered who I was, since I met her in the twilight of her memory, but inside her purse was a picture of me and Tessa on a rowboat from September 2001.

It said “Tessa and Iren.” She may have not fully understood my name, but she carried us around in her purse for the last half-decade of her life, and that’s something. So here’s to Lucille, to Nonnie, to the gifts she gave my wonderful wife, and the name she gave to my daughter. We won’t remember her as that little gray person in the casket, we will remember her worrying, her laughing with Tessa, her puttering around the 20th century, a tiny hurricane blowing in from the Texas coast.


no one wept except the willow


We’ve all heard hundreds of stories about how badly September 11, 2001 affected this country; in essence, history has given us a lot to look downward to. New Yorkers have reactions from “I lost my three best friends” to “I don’t know what the fuss was all about,” but many of us inhabit that sad liminal in-between.

Anyone who has read this particular online diary for any amount of time is no doubt tired of hearing my plaintive wails about 9/11: the descent into impenetrable darkness, the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the Celexa. However, I would like to take this anniversary and put away all the ugliness and sadness and give a huge thanks to that day for what it gave me.

That I was able to wade through that much anguish was one thing; it taught me I might survive any depression, and forced me to reckon with all the humiliation I suffered as a kid. I began to understand my apocalyptic paranoia for what it really was – a lasting, chronic fear of being young, unprotected and abandoned. The events of that day played right into some deep psychosis, and if I hadn’t rooted it out, I’d still be a ticking time bomb ready to implode into worthlessness.

But that’s just solipsism. The real thanks I have to give is this: September 11 allowed me to have a family. It wasn’t until I saw those bodies falling from the sky, it wasn’t until I helped people find their children, not until I dusted off survivors and helped feed families whose brethren were irreparably lost, that I was able to shrug off my own disgusting ego and come to grips with a simple phrase: “you’re not going to live forever.”

When “the rest of your life” didn’t seem so daunting anymore, the concept of marriage became not only acceptable, but a delight. And when you accept a certain fatalism and are ready to face the possibility of a broken heart, you can have a child, and in the years following, we did.

There will be much talk today of “are we safer?” There will be political parties jockeying for position over the dead bodies of New Yorkers absent for five years. There will be so many things we could have done better, yet instead opted to choose fear over intelligence. But in this one moment, I need to thank the worst day in our memory for giving me the best gift I’ve ever known.

a few good men



Thanks to our wonderful friend and next-door-neighbor, the lovely and talented David Petrarca, we got to go onto the set of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and it was completely fabulous watching him direct one of the upcoming episodes. Easily the best television set I’ve ever seen (indeed, one of the best sets ever built, the workers assured me). They basically recreated an entire theater inside a warehouse studio on the Warner Brothers lot, and it’s like a jungle gym: every single room, every staircase, every nook and cranny can be used in the plot. It’s like an M.C. Escher painting filled with monitors.

I got to meet Aaron Sorkin, the Patron Saint of Smart Television, and see some of your favorite stars in action. David himself was terrific; laid-back and completely in control. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the previews (or the pilot leaked on YouTube) but we’re super-psyched for the season. Set your Tivos to STUN, baby!

Which leads to today’s CODE WORD: Which new TV shows are you aware of, and which are you psyched to watch?

when the saints go marching out


We sat in our car today, mouths open, listening to the mood-obliterating story on the murders currently being committed in New Orleans. The murder rate is the same as it was a year ago, but half the population is gone; you do the math. It took some detectives three weeks to crack the case of a 15-year-old boy riddled with bullets lying face-down in a ditch. He lay there for twelve hours with the life flowing out of his chest. They solved the case, but in the meantime, 21 more people were killed.

This is America, folks, not some third-world country along a tribal-warring AIDS highway. Not only that, but it is what used to be my favorite city in the world, completely left for dead by people who swore to save it. The story of Katrina has to be one of the most egregious cases of neglectful homicide perpetrated on American soil since the Trail of Tears.

There used to be 35 homicide detectives in New Orleans; now there are nine. Just take that fact alone. Why is our government not sending in trained professionals to pick up the slack? I’ve heard many people, not just nutjob lefty conspiracy theorists, posit that the Bush administration is voluntarily letting blue-leaning New Orleans die on the vine to ensure Louisiana stays a red state forever. I don’t believe that yet, but it’s not an impossible leap of faith.

Why can’t this country have Compassionate Capitalism? Even a small re-arranging of finances, a modicum of common sense, and a dose of empathy, and almost every American problem could be fixed. We spend billions on bunker-busting nukes, and we can’t give New Orleans twenty detectives to solve crime?

According to Newsweek, we have basically budgeted $26 billion for New Orleans: $6 billion to fix levees that are guaranteed to fail, and $20 billion to come up with a better plan. Meanwhile, Hans Vrijling, the superstar of Dutch levee-building (who protects a town a hundred feet lower than NOLA) said he could protect ALL OF NEW ORLEANS from a storm TEN TIMES THE STRENGTH OF KATRINA for $10 BILLION. And he could start tomorrow!

Our crimes are not of compassion, since almost everyone feels awful about what has happened to this country over the last five years, nor is it absolutely a crime of apathy, since plenty of people have given a lot of time and money. Ours is the worst sin of all in a world of such plenty: a crime of inefficiency.

Can we please elect some people who know how to do stuff? These feelings of utter helplessness are making America morally ill, and there’s no drug for it except a sweeping revolution of thought, and an abrupt change of heart. When that kid lay in a New Orleans ditch waiting for help, nothing less than the American character flowed out of his body, pooling in red puddles by the cypress leaves.

the right trousers


A few random thoughts while people filter back to the internet after a nice long, hot summer off…

– First off, speaking of North Carolina music, Jamie Block will be playing a reunion show at Arlene’s Grocery tomorrow night at 11pm sharp. Sadly, I will not be attendance to bring you the melodious violins and scrumptious piano chords evident on “The Last Single Guy,” but I can guarantee he’ll break a few strings en route to a glorious evening of twisted, anti-folk, folk, sample-infused pop.

– Secondly, a heartfelt “happy birthday” to Lindsay Bowen, who turned thirtysomething this weekend.

– Speaking of all of the above, two of my fave people, pictured in yesterday’s blog, are having kids right as we speak. Clay Boyer and wife Amber just had a wonderful li’l tyke named Jacob – and Matt McMichaels’ wife Carrie is currently a week late and counting. Huzzah to kids and the mothers that bear them!

– Speaking of kids that mothers have borne, Lucy’s language skills have taken off in the last month; however, her translations are so endearing that I try (mostly in vain) to record them on video. From the first week of her life, I always referred to her pants as “pantaloons” because I was (and am) reading the Aubrey/Maturin seafaring series by Patrick O’Brian. Now she knows all pants as “pantaloons”… but pronounces it “pantapoon.”

In this clip, I ask her what garment I’m holding, and she replies “Daddo’s pantapoon.” Maybe I’m the only one who think that is heartbreaking, but it took weeks of carrying around the camera to capture it, so I’m posting it!

all i ever wanted was to be your spine


Thanks to a post by the Gribster, I spent the better part of Labor Day perusing the NC Music History blog, and if you had anything to do with Chapel Hill from 1985 to 1999, perhaps you will find yourself lost as well.

Bands break up in the same manner as hiccups disappearing; you never quite know which spasm was the last. In the case of many of these bands, I haven’t thought about them since actually experiencing them up close and personal at the Cradle – one always assumes there will be another show, so you don’t mark it in your short-term memory. Pretty soon the band breaks up without you knowing, and the next time you hear of them is FIFTEEN YEARS LATER on the NC Music History site, and you’re left wondering “what the hell happened to those guys?”

I was privy to many of these bands, not because I was a big fan of the so-called “Chapel Hill sound” or that I particularly liked the music. In fact, I found most of the bands too fucking loud, and I didn’t really get what they were going for. I mean, I understood it intellectually, but I didn’t enjoy it. My tastes – and my own “bands” – were unabashedly twee, and my favorites of the scene remain Johnny Quest, Dillon Fence (pronounced with French accent), the Sex Police, Metal Flake Mother, Bicycle Face and the Popes. That list would have gotten you laughed out of a Polvo show, but them’s the breaks.

I was granted access to the inner workings of the scene because my roommates were all part of it. I lived with the Archers of Loaf, Ben Folds, members of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, some of the Mayflies USA and, of course, Greg Humphreys. Like any good cultural anthropologist, I knew that era – the early ’90s – would be considered halcyon, so I stayed up until 4am to listen to the stories.

There was an intensity to that sort of mid-to-late-20s creativity that was palpable. In late 1992, I had just helped write a nicely-selling book and had been commissioned to write a cover story for the Washington Post Magazine on why Generation X hates Baby Boomers so much. It was late on a Thursday night, and the Archers of Loaf were downstairs at the Purple House hammering out a song. As I approached the rousing climax of the piece, the boys in the band were crescendoing to an unbelievably frenetic, apocalyptic frenzy. I put the last period on the article, and Mark Price crashed the cymbal at the end of their explosive practice session.

I ran outside to catch my breath, and so did the Archers. We exchanged stories of what we were working on, laughed in the humid breeze, and drank Jim Beam. Their song became the unbelievable one minute and forty-three seconds of sonic chaos known as “Sickfile” on the seminal Icky Mettle LP. My piece wound up on the cover of the Washington Post. And we didn’t need to live in New York, Washington or Los Angeles. We did it all from a creaky fucked-up purple-colored house in the middle of the North Carolina Piedmont.


The Purple House residents in early 1993: Caleb Southern (Ben Folds, Archers producer), Matt McMichaels (Mayflies USA), Jon Gray (The Swedes), me, Clay Boyer (early Archers, Shek a la Shek), and Matt Gentling (Archers of Loaf bassist)

In essence, the NC Music History site celebrates those kids who rejected the paradigm of the “real world” and chose to make their mark in the confines of one of the best places in the world: the great State of North Carolina. Mac McCaughan may be a Dook fan, but he never sold Superchunk to the highest bidder – their headquarters is still in Carrboro.

In many ways I miss the dream of that perfect world: never having to leave the Southern Part of Heaven and still being a vital part of America’s artistic discourse. Many of us had to finally let the umbilical go, and moved to New York and Los Angeles. Perhaps it’s age, and the need for a million new voices for inspiration. When we were twenty-six, we figured the million voices in our own heads were enough.