May 8, 2012

Night Sounds

When I was a kid I imagined the sound of night to be wind in the branches and the beat of firefly wings.

As a teen I imagined it to be the breath of the sleeping.

Night in New York where the quiet hours were never so quiet, was always a conversation, muffled and rich.

In LA it was the tinkle and chime of a distant party.

Today, if I close my eyes after 2 or so, wherever I am, night is always full of keyboards... clicking away, endlessly, out there in the dark.

September 28, 2011

Undefined (Part the Second)

A word for things that are equal parts delicious and terrible.

A word for specific feeling of seeing a long lost friend who has forgotten you.

A word for satisfaction that comes from drawing a perfect circle.

A word strange revulsion of hugging someone you thought was a dear aunt, but then realizing it was someone else entirely.

A word for days in which there is an awkwardness to everything.

A word for the strange pleasure of the first few moments in a hot car on a hot day in Texas, and another for the misery of the next few minutes.

A word for friends who used to exist for us in real life, but now only exist in pixels.

A name for the absurd rage one experiences on possessing too many remotes and not knowing which one will switch the TV to the mode you want it to be in.

A word for the exact moment in dreams when we break the bounds of gravity and fly.

A word for the pleasure of opening a book and finding a note in the margin that feels as if it was meant only for you.

A word for the strange symbiosis we have with our children, and and one for the wash of fear when it feels disconnected.

A word for all the things people know about us that we will never know ourselves.

A word for the pause in a room after one speaks out loud of the dead.

A word for seeing the past and the future simutaneously.

A word for looking but not seeing.

A name for all of you people, out there clicking away, reading things like this, thinking; alone and yet together.

Related: Undefined, Concepts that don't exist in English, Words not in English

November 25, 2010

The Big Book of the Future

The future is close.

The future is when you finish these words.

The future is far.

The future is when the stars die a million million years from now and everything is so cold.

Sometimes when you're waiting for your birthday or Christmas or some special secret thing, the future seems like forever.

A long time ago, today was the future.

A long time ago they thought we would have floating sidewalks and flying cars and everything would be automatic.

(Automatic was a big part of the future for those guys.)

They thought the future would always be beatiful.

They wrote "We want no part in the past."

Funny it was so very long ago.

Some day, a long time from today, we'll all be old and we'll remember lying here talking about the future and we'll laugh about everything we did not know.

October 26, 2010


The thing about Salad Days
And Golden Ages
Is that you never know you're in them
Until years later
When their reflected glow is almost painful.

October 19, 2009

On the Appeal of Static

We're headed for a day when static will be a thing of the past. Signals will all be binary, either there or not with nothing in-between. I couldn't be more sad about this.

Radio Static
Truly local radio was once one of the great appeals of a long backroad drives. Dime store preachers in Texas. Blues in Alabama. Punk whenever you hit a college town late at night. Ranchera down along the border. Almost as good as hitting a great station was listening to it fade away. It gave you a sense of that you were going places and it made you feel you were traveling from someplace known into the unknown.

Record Static
When I play a record I often imagine the stylus bouncing up and down along the grooves of the vinyl moving the magnets that send vibrations up to be amplified. Part of me knows that each play will inflict tiny scratches and bits of wear. One day the records will sound like like grandfathers' obscured by a warm blanket of noise. Play a record enough and noise is all that will remain.

Telephone Static
It wasn’t so long ago that most local calls were as clear as a bell, but long distance calls were progressively degraded depending on the distance you were from the caller. It made long distance calls seem special. The static volume determined the importance of the call and as those calls were often from people you loved, the high noise to signal ratio made the love seem that much stronger.

Walkie Talkie Static
We were kids in the woods with walkie talkies exploring alone but together just out each other's of visual range. The static was the tether that kept us safe.

August 26, 2009

Kennedy & the Ocean

It's 4am. Edward Kennedy died a few hours ago. On hearing the news, I immediately thought back to second time I saw the man in person. It was a black tie event here in New York. He was stuffed into a tuxedo, red faced, tired, and seemingly bored with the gaggle of bejeweled dowagers surrounding him. This was in the early 90s. I had seen him many years earlier on a junior high trip to Washington D.C. We were on a tour of the Capitol building. This was well before the era of 9/11 and you could pretty much roam the halls. The group was looking for our local congressman's office, and while navigating a narrow hallway, Kennedy hustled by, a man in a hurry, carrying nothing and being trailed by several young aides. A teacher in my group shouted "Senator Kennedy!" Perhaps it was her thick East Texas accent that made him turn. He brightened, "Welcome to the Washington everyone," he said in that voice. That voice was startling, it made him real. I waved and he waved back. I could have sworn the wave was for me even though the rest of the class waved as well. That stuck with me.

So when I saw him all those years later, stuck at that table I had the ridiculous thought that a wave from the crowd would lighten his mood. I convinced my date to wave with me. Kennedy seemed to notice us for a second, but then quickly went back to looking bored. The second memory started to color the first.

The third time I saw Kennedy in person was a few years later, I had flow to Hyannis Port from from California for a fall wedding. After arriving I escaped the hotel/wedding party for a walk along the shore. It was drizzling and cold, not good walking weather, or good beach weather, but I needed to stretch my legs. The beach was empty save for a solitary figure in the far distance. I wasn't until I got close that I realized it was Kennedy. He was wearing a windbreaker and staring out to sea, hands in his pockets. He was a big hippopotamus of a man, wind whipping his hair around, but he was calm. He stood there for a very long time. What does a guy with that much incident in his life think about in those moments? Policy? Fending off enemies? Family? His aches and pains? I thought about how in the tiniest way I had been part of the noisy background of his life and how nice it must be for someone like him to look out into the empty ocean without yappy people constantly vying for attention.

Later that weekend I remember trying to take pictures of the sea. This is something virtually everyone who owns a camera does at some point no matter how banal the results. Virtually all of us have sat there staring out at the sea and wanted to hold on to that feeling. The sea connects us in some strange way because that mental frame of sky / horizon / water is so powerful. Sugimoto suggests (rightly) that that frame is one of our most primal visions.

Here are three seascapes. I could have just as easily picked 6 or 16. Here are 3 more and some more. I believe we all carry these images around even when we are landlocked, even when can't take solitary walks in the rain.

wolfgang.jpgWolfgang Uhlig

yumiko.jpgYumiko Kinoshita

olaf2.jpgOlaf Otto Beck

June 20, 2009

Your Secret Age

I believe most of us have a secret age separate from our actual age. It might be 4 or 8 or 62. If you want to know someone's secret age, watch them ride a bike.

May 4, 2009

Mountains and Valleys

There's a Korean saying describing sleeping arrangements for young families that goes, "the parents should be the mountains, and the children are the valley between." While the words probably sound better in Korean I like the imagery. As a kid I remember that feeling of being nestled between my parents or my grandparents as the safest most secure of hideouts. I also literally remember the adults as mountains—huge and immovable. I remember studying their arms, legs, and torsos noting patterns of freckles and wear, climbing over and around them, and even of tracing the whirls of their fingerprints. I would put my head to their chests to listen to the murmur and rumble of their internal machinery, and I would survey their slack sleeping faces inch by inch. More than once I had the thought that I should I ever get lost in the dark I could find them by scent alone. So when I wake up from a nap and sense my two year old an inch away from my face, or gently pulling at my earlobes, or studying my toes, I leave my eyes closed and play possum. I want him to make a good map.

February 11, 2009

Used Book Store

I love used book stores, but
there is always that forlorn melancholy
Of knowing that one day your copies
of Arabia Deserta, Stock Photographs: The Fort Worth Fat Stock Show and Rodeo, and
The Voyage of the Beagle,
will one day be jumbled amongst
someone else's cook books, Judy Blume,
and, God forbid, self help literature.

So I write notes in the margins.
I hide pictures between pages.

If I'm feeling magnanimous, I'll tuck a dollar near the good part of the story.

Sometimes I circle words leaving secret messages.

I see these things as little whispers
to the people of the future.
I want to let them know that
that these books too once had other lives.

December 23, 2008

Unwritten Letters Part I

In my file cabinet I have several folders dedicated to letters. There is a section for letters received, a section for unsent letters, another for half-finished letters, and one labeled 'unwritten letters' containing fragments of letter ideas.

In the spirit of the Unwritten Letter file here are a few of the unwritten blog entries I started over the last two years... partial ideas for posts. Here are a few I wish I had fleshed out. I can't recall writing most of these and have no idea how I was planning to finish them off.

It's 1951.
You're directing Clash by Night, a B movie but things could be worse. Marilyn Monroe is starring. No need to push her down the stairs as you had done to Peter Lorre.
It's been twenty years since M, seventeen years since defying Goebbels and losing your wife to the Nazis. The Americans will come to know you for The Big Heat, but that's two years away and eight years after that you'll direct your last movie. A horror flick. For the next 16 years after that you'll try to make another film but will never will.


guy bullet pants: I'm gonna call that bitch Happy Meal.

guy puffy jacket: Grins is fine enough for me.

guy bullet pants: I got it. We call him Emoticon.

A modest proposal. It's not a stretch to say that museum websites are generally, terrible. They are over-designed or under-designed, are often overproduced, and generally lack the very thing people are coming to find within them- pictures, audio, and video of the items within the said museums. Instead of all the Smithsonian and MOMA and everyone else reinventing the wheel with each website, why not spend some money to license a version of flickr that can be customized for all museums. Include all the normal flickr-like features substituting institutions for users, but with organizational levels beyond mere commenting and single institution-set making. Give it depth. Allow for scholarly documents to be attached to images. Allow wiki-style editing of explanatory text as well as official texts. And allow connections to be made between objects/images. Allow users to curate collections, and allow any and all organizations that play by certain rules to join.

The best images I think are sensual, not sensual in the libidinous modern sense of the word, but in the original meaning of the word... that they provoke the senses and give us shorthand for experience... (Aside: Milton coined sensuous to avoid the sexual overtones that were attached to sensual, but sensuous was also soon co-opted as shorthand for infused w/ sex)... Sometimes all I need to get through the day is one great image, something to hang onto before I close my eyes at night. Here is today's image:
[there was no image]


I walked into the kitchen tonight and found my wife sitting alone at the table and upset. "What's the matter?" I asked. She tells me the story of 3 young friends of friends who died in a car accident, one was killed on impact, 2 others were burned alive while people tried in vain to rescue them. I noticed she was holding our new baby's socks. "You raise a child for twenty years and then THAT?" she said quietly.

Sometimes it takes half a lifetime to think of a retort. Twenty years ago today after a longish hike in the Welsh countryside I walked into a pub and met a man who said

September 19, 2008

Picture Threads

Someone named Henry send a short email today saying, "You said you would answer questions, here's mine: What's your thought process when you look a picture? Thanx.
-Henry in San Diego."

A few minutes ago I saw the image below by Cornelia Hediger which is part of a new show here in NY:

The collage evoked both Kelli Connell's work and Hockney's groundbreaking series of polaroid collage portraits:
david hockneyImogen & Hermaine, Pembroke Studios, London, 30th July, 1982, by David Hockney
That thought inspired me to dig up a book about polaroids which I found, but didn't end up reading because I picked up a book about photobooth art which was next to it in the shelf. And then thumbing through that book I thought about how photobooths allow the same sort of interplay of space and time, and how much I enjoyed all the photobooth art books featured on the photobooth blog this week. Here and here for example:
All this reminded me of how much I love photobooths and how, like polaroid film, they will soon be relegated to memory. And then I thought a day in 1975 when I went to a photobooth in Monterrey with my grandfather and how he told me to make a serious face and how he would make funny ones and how he kept half of the strip and I kept half of the strip and how that strip was our little secret. He kept his in the back of his wallet and I kept mine in the bottom of a treasure box. And I remembered how I always felt connected to him across the miles when I looked at my half of the strip. And then I imagined my treasure box rudely stuffed into some larger cardboard box and transported to some storage facility in the middle of nowhere in East Texas. And I thought about the heat and humidity there and how my picture of my grandfather with me wearing my most serious face in that photobooth in Monterrey is probably faded and yellow. And I missed my grandfather who I just realized has been gone for ten years now. I remember how at the end of each summer he and my grandmother would hug me tight and cry and tell me they would never see me again because they would be dead in the new year, and how I would cry too because I would believe them. Then I thought about how our youngest son has my grandfather's ears, and how our older son has his laugh and I felt that tug of a connection across both time and ether, so strong that it hurt. And I thought about how it always comes back to these things.

August 1, 2008

Your Name, Pomologist

They are building a building in the vacant lot next to the firehouse we call home. Rather they were building a building. One morning 2 backhoes trundled in and dug a hole about 15 feet deep and 20 feet wide. Workers put up a big fence blocking the lot from the street, and then everyone left. The diggers rumbled away and the lot has been quiet ever since. Two months have passed and... nothing. We have back door onto the lot so we can go out there, not that there's anything to do. If we were smokers it would be the type place we would excuse ourselves for a minute or two to have a cigarette.

I don't smoke, but I do eat plums and drink coca cola. My family has been visiting my mother in law all week leaving me here alone. You can live alone for 20 years and never notice silence, but after 4 years of marriage and 3 years with kids, the silence is heavy. So all week I keep finding myself venturing outside with a coke or a plum in one hand and chair in the other. Tonight it was a plum.

People who study plums trees are called pomologists (Pomology is the study of fruit trees—not specifically plum trees). Can you imagine how great it would be to have a business card reading Your Name, Pomologist. (I've always imagined the Pomologists have an intense rivalry with the Olericulturists who study vegetables and who take pomological abuse in silence: "You study the radish?! Celery?! Cucurbits?!! Live man, for once in your life, live! Get your head out of the dirt and consider the glory of the peach and the pomegranate! Persimmons! We KNOW the persimmon. Go now, enjoy your arugula. Be gone.") Many Pomologists think the plum tree originated near the Caspian Sea in the Caucasus Mountains, but nobody really knows for sure. I've seen plum trees in the Hunza valley in Pakistan and a man there told me his valley was the site of the Garden of Eden and that it wasn't an apple that Eve ate but a plum. He also claimed to be the bastard son of the Mir of Hunza and to be one hundred and three years old, but that's another story. Anyway, I was sitting there in the dark, I ate my plum, and then I said out loud to no one in particular, "There are sweeter things." With that I finally felt the day was done and it was time to start dreaming of tomorrow when the house would be quiet no more.

July 6, 2008

Things I know about Night

Nights in LA smell of sweet, like honeysuckle and jasmine,
Nights in Harbin smell of coal and cabbage.
Nights in Monterrey smell of smoke from a grill.

Nights in the desert smell of dew and dust.
Nights in the mountains smell of starlight.
Nights by the sea smell of salt.

Nights in New York smell of silver and burnt electricity.
Nights in Los Vegas smell of old smoker's smoke.
Nights on the moon smell of fresh gunpowder (or so I hear).

Nights holding a newborn smell of piss and lime.
Nights in my grandmother's arms were full of vanilla and cinnamon.
Nights holding my wife are ripe with plums.
Nights alone are full of other nights remembered.

June 14, 2008

10 Ghosts

Ghost #1
The house, a solid four bedroom colonial on an acre of land in Buck’s Country, had been on the market for years, and each year the price had come down. The stain of death bothered Jenn’s parent’s but their immigrant’s love of the deal overcame any sense of trepidation. Each house they had owned since moving from Korea had been a little bigger than the last, but this one was two steps up the ladder.

Soon after moving in, Jenn, who was 8 at the time and who had heard nothing of the dark history of the place, would complain about a man whistling in the hallways. “Can you tell him to stop,” she would ask her mother. Her mother would shush her. Ghosts should be ignored. Later, through the network of 8-year-olds at school Jenn found out about the dad who had been murdered in the basement. Friends were scared to sleep over. She told the whistling man to go away and as suddenly as it started, it stopped. Four years later when her own father dropped dead of a heart attack in church, everyone blamed the ghost. To a certain extent, they still do.

Ghost #2
One of the previous owners of a house I lived in on Coronado Street in LA was a man named Fink. Fink had died in the tub and wasn’t found for several weeks. While I avoided tub baths in that house, I didn’t think much of the story until I found an old suitcase full of Fink family snapshots. Most were apparently taken by Mr. Fink himself. There was his shadow at the Rose Bowl, the shadow at the State Fair wearing a hat, the shadow wearing another hat at the Golden Gate Bridge. There was Fink's date at Chasens. Fink's cat. Another cat and another (Fink apparently had many cats). And at the bottom of the suitcase in an envelope, there was a single picture of Fink himself. A picture of Mr. Fink in a bubble bath wearing one of the saddest expressions I have ever seen.

Ghosts #3-#8
My grandmother was one of 11 children. Nine of her brothers and sisters died before her and she claimed to have had premonitions of each death. Her mother was also a frequent visitor in dreams.

Tio Gorgonio had come to her in a dream the night before he died. In the dream he was wearing his best suit, but without shoes. He did not speak when she called to him, but just waved and walked away.

At the very moment someone called to tell her of Tiberio's death, a wind blew up the curtains and slammed the doors of her house. It was a windless day.

With Tia Honda it was a nighttime vision of her sister alone on a bus carrying a live rooster. When my grandmother would call out her sister's name, Honda would turn towards her with a twinkle in her eyes, shush he,r and tell her to get off the bus.

When my grandmother would sleep in her blue rocker, she would dream it was Tio Nacho who was rocking her, and indeed even in the deepest sleep her rocking would never stop.

Her mother, Mama Juela, would show up in afternoon dreams as a 10 year old in a confirmation dress eating Polvorones.

More often than you might think, my grandmother woke up with tearstained pillows.

Ghost #9
Most of all I remember the silence. In the mid-90's I worked for for a movie producer for a few years and we had offices near the top of the old Gulf an Western building on Columbus Circle. The building was on its last legs (it was about to be gut-renovated, renamed, and clad it chintzy bronze by Donald Trump) and our offices were less than glamorous (and made less so by a boss who had a habit of punching holes in the walls), but we all had spectacular views.

One afternoon out of the corner of my eye I saw a man falling. He was out across Columbus Avenue. It was not a graceful fall. It happened in slow silence although the fall itself was incredibly fast. I was spared the impact by some intervening buildings but some officemates were not and I remember the startled yelps that echoed through the office. The man we later learned was a college professor. In the middle of a lecture, he had paused mid sentence, gone to the window, opened it, taken off his glasses and jumped.

A scrum of police cars and fire engines arrived quickly on scene. An ambulance showed up, and then men with power hoses. An hour later it was as if nothing had happened. When I walk that particular corner I always feel enveloped in the cold and helpless silence of that moment.

Ghost #10
My brother Christopher would probably enjoy being thought of as a ghost. He always had a thing for the supernatural although he was an intensely rational soul. In my dreams he is usually reading in the back of the room. I'll have been doing something else and will only notice him after a long time of being engrossed elsewhere. He is always 19 always with a fresh haircut. I try to ask him how he's been, but by the time I reach him, only the book remains, always with one of his elaborate homemade bookmarks. I collect the bookmark hoping that finding it missing he will have to pick up the book again, and I will have another chance at saying, 'Hey there little brother, I miss you'.

More Ghosts
I am in Maine for the week and ghosts are plentiful here. People talk of the ghost of a headless sea captain who roams Damariscove island, the ghost of a mother who lost her baby in the sea, and the ghost of a girl who walked into the woods one day and never returned. In thinking about ghosts I realized the ghosts that scare us are born of other people's tragedies, the things we can't understand, they are the mental form of our fears— a clumsy way of marking the unspeakable and warning us that danger is all around. But there are other types of ghosts, these are the ghosts conjured from our hardest memories, the ones that give shape to sadness. In their strange medicine of allowing us taste to loss anew, these ghosts provide deep comfort even if we must occasionally wake as my grandmother did with tearstained pillows.

March 18, 2008

Lies I've told my 3 year old recently

Trees talk to each other at night.

All fish are named either Lorna or Jack.

Before your eyeballs fall out from watching too much TV, they get very loose.

Tiny bears live in drain pipes.

If you are very very quiet you can hear the clouds rub against the sky.

The moon and the sun had a fight a long time ago.

Everyone knows at least one secret language.

When nobody is looking, I can fly.

We are all held together by invisible threads.

Books get lonely too.

Sadness can be eaten.

I will always be there.

March 11, 2008

Polly Miller Ranch Road, Night

If you happened to be driving around the Texas hill country tonight you would have seen a huge waxing crescent of a moon hanging low in the sky. It was painted blood orange and loomed ever larger as it fell. I stopped on a particularly dark stretch of road, got out of the car, and communed in the darkness. With my hands in my pockets I spent fifteen minutes watching the moon slide below the horizon. I won't talk about how beautiful the scene was, because beauty is so difficult to telegraph but I can tell you how it made me feel.

Thirty minutes earlier I had been on a bus and I was full of that all over bone-tiredness unique to night time bus and car rides amplified by a slight chill and damp. I told my fellow bus riders that being a little cold, a little damp, very tired (and on a bus) made me remember the childhood versions of those feelings as well as the ones that inevitably followed—those of being lifted from the car, of being carried through the night and into the house, and being tucked into bed by my parents. Now that I am a parent who ferries his small children to bed after long trips I get some of that feeling back as I carry them. It's one of those strange parental feedback loops in which you simultaneously a) feel what your kid is feeling, b) are flooded with intense childhood memory, and c) feel what your parent must have felt when they were holding you. So I was looking at the moon thinking of all of that.

Simultaneous to those thoughts, I was remembering a time when I was 16 or 17 when I stopped on the same road to watch a new moon rise over the same hills. I remember thinking then that I hoped I would always be the type of person who would drive out to the middle of nowhere, stop his car, and look at the moon. At sixteen I imagined some future version of myself doing just that. The sixteen year old self was hoping I could share the view with a girl rather than imagining putting children to bed. But my adult self was recalling how my wife and I, after putting the children to bed, sit on the couch under a blanket and talk and how sometimes we fall asleep ourselves and how nice that is and how someday perhaps when the kids are older we'll miss doing that.

Back then I remember hoping for a shooting star. None ever came. None came tonight either. Maybe next time.

February 16, 2008

My Next Life

In my next life I will be a Japanese game show host.
I will hand out cream pies to ladies in bikinis.
I will supervise games of human tetris.
I will watch grown men in diapers yodel the Beatles.
My hair will be streaked purple
My suits will be boxy
My manner: always enthusiastic.

I will smoke
and drink santori whiskey
and be the lovable liar
A fixture at dinner parties
and late night karaoke booths
My bed will never be cold.
Everyone wants to know a famous tv personality.

When the camera's red light is on
I am on
My hangovers hidden
My hollowness masked with an enthusiastic “Genki des!”
but in my quiet moments
Amidst the human cannonballs and noodle eating contests
I will dream of another life
Maybe one with two boys
A wife who loves me despite my flaws,
And the knowledge that
The best parts of life while hidden,
are sometimes glimpsed
In the glimmer of what might have been

Related: TV in Japan

January 22, 2008


Mongolia has never been known for its salads, but on my first trip there in the early 90's there were virtually no green vegetables to be had in the entire country. Fruit was impossible to come by, in fact I could find nothing to eat but mutton. For almost two months I had mutton for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Occasionally the lamb would be served with a bit of onion or some sickly looking rice, but generally it was just mutton. Boiled, fried, or roasted three times a day you would be served meat on a plate until you couldn't stand the site of the stuff. You would sweat mutton, pee mutton, shit mutton. If you were lucky you could wash the mutton down with mares milk, but it was more common to be given a bowl of mutton broth. I slept in homes with sheep skin pelts on the floor. I chased sheep with kids who played games amongst the livestock in the streets. I killed sheep with a sharp knife (apparently an honor, rude to refuse).

Counting sheep did not lull me to sleep but instead sheep became the stuff nightmares in which I could feel my chemical composition tipping toward the bovid. Eventually I stopped eating all together except when starving.

If you can imagine all that, think of what it was like to take a night train away from Mongolia and waking up in Ulan Ude in Siberia and seeing a woman selling a can of pineapple on the train platform. The can's bright red Vietnamese and Cyrillic letters printed over an obscenely lush pineapple drawing hovering over a turquoise background practically shouted at me. I paid the woman, a Buryat with a pleasant open face and bright green eyes, one dollar which was probably 10 times the value of can. Still, I would have paid 10 dollars. Maybe 20. The can was marked 'Hanoi' and was 2 years out of date. It was heavy duty. Like the kind you see in 60's movies, But it opened right up. And the pineapple? Well, I close my eyes in pleasure at the thought of the first scent of that opened can. You will never known pineapple until you have only eaten mutton for a month or two. When I finished the fruit, I drank the juice and then added water to leach out any remaining flavor. For years that can would remain on my desk holding pencils until it was finally lost in a move. I don't know why I am remembering this at 2:55 in the morning but I can't stop thinking about that can, about how it felt to open it, and about how rare it is to get such pleasure from such small things.

December 31, 2007

Obsequies for 2007

Remember when years measured the time between Christmases and birthdays?
A year was 4 summers.
A year was a new notch on the doorway, your height scribbled nearby.
A new year felt new because
A year was everything.

On television the crowds in Tokyo and Paris would smile, and cheer, and kiss while we waited...
In Times Square the ball would drop at eleven o’clock.
This was the burden of living in Central Time.
The hour between eleven and twelve would crawl slower and ever slower....
Fighting sleep.
Until those last seconds.
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 3, 2, and then...
A dive into the unknown.

We would write out the new year because it felt weird to see it in ink.
In a year we could learn geometry, the stories of Athena and Apollo, and how to catch catfish on rainy days.
In a year we might fall in and out of love 20 times.
In a year we might kiss a girl. With tounge.
In a year we had time to build forts in trees.
A year was something.

Does the calendar change anything now?
Wasn’t it just... Wait. That was 4 years ago.
My favorite winter overcoat is six years older than some of my friends.
I return to places and find trees I planted towering above the rooftops.
I see someone else in the mirror.
Birthdays mean nothing to me.
I’ve forgotten how to measure things.

August 25, 2007

The Alchemy of Oatmeal

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to camp out in the open under starry skies you know that if you stare up long enough and get yourself into the right frame of mind you can see the stars slowly rotating through bowl of the sky. If you happen to be near a mountain the little dots of light blink out as they pass behind the silhouette. I am always overcome with the hard to resolve simultaneous feelings of slowness and extreme speed. Some geeky part of me knows the earth is spinning at almost 1000mph and barreling around the sun at 67,000mph and yet you almost have to slow your heartbeat down to experience that nightly show starry transcendence. Look away for a second and the sky stills, the show ends, your brain readjusts to a normal recording speed and it takes a long time to find your groove again.

A few have asked what life with 2 kids is like now that we’re almost 6 months down the road and the first thing that comes to mind is that same sense of paradox: of speed and of slowness. Our baby Gabriel sometimes demands to be held in the middle of the night. So we will spend an hour, two hours rocking him while he ever so slowly falls back into sleep. Time stops. It is almost possible to believe the world is all still and yet.... overnight he grows, literally. He’ll fall asleep fitting his pajamas, he'll wake up and we'll find they are too small. Fingernails must be cut every few days. Pictures from a month ago are almost unfamiliar.

Our other child, a 2 1/2 year old might spend an hour preparing his oatmeal—picking exactly the right blueberries to add, carefully spooning in brown sugar and a single icecube. It is a s l o w process. And then he’ll put his head on the table looking deeply into his bowl and say that the milk is the ocean and the oat grains are like the land—a first metaphor, a leap of imagination he couldn’t have made a few weeks ago. The terrible twos for all their whininess and tantrums are also a time of staggering sweetness. You’ll be sitting there sleepily, grumpily accompanying the daily oatmeal extravaganza when apropos of nothing you’ll get a heartfelt hug, "I love you daddy. I love mommy too. Daddy, Mommy, Gabriel," and then it’s back to eating the oatmeal. "I love oatmeal! All done. I dump it out?" And as much as you enjoy the moment you know it will pass quickly, the baggage of life will accumulate. Things will not be spoken. You see yourself and your own father and your father with his father. You see the little boy next to you chattering away and can’t believe he was was once like the infant in your arms. You try not to be distracted and look away too much because you know it can take a long time to find your way back.

July 12, 2007

An Old Dream, Three Times

Once, a long time ago, I walked out of the city and over the hills until I reached a cliff overlooking a rocky shore. Peering over the edge I saw you standing there alone looking out to the sea. So I went down to you. "Hey", I said, but you didn’t answer so I too looked out at the sea until the light began to fade and the tide began rising around my feet. "Can you build me an island," you asked. "Sure," I said and I began to throw stones. All through the night and day after day, I threw rocks until they were no longer splashing in water beyond but falling onto one another. Tides came and went. Seasons passed. Birds began landing on the pile to rest bringing with them seeds and bits grass, and before too long a tree began to grow. Then, another. "I built you an island," I said. "But where will I live?" you replied. "I’ll build you a house," I said. And once again I began throwing rocks through the days and nights, until I had built a castle. When the last stone fell, I looked over to you, but you had already left leaving only a trail of footprints towards the sea.

We are lying on a bed in a field. I turn and say, "Well, what do you want to do now?"

You say, "Lets throw rocks." I laugh and say ok.

We climb down a tall white cliff to the ocean, but I don't see any rocks. Sensing my confusion you motion for me to wait. A few moments later a wave pulls back to reveal a ribbon of smooth stones and pebbles that stretches to the horizon. We both begin picking up pebbles and throwing them as far as possible into the sea. We do this for a long time.

Eventually I hear something and look over and see that you are crying. "What's wrong?" I ask.

"My heart," you say placing my hand on it. "You're breaking it." And indeed I can feel it breaking in half. Frightened, I ask what I can do--something, anything--but you say, "I’m sorry. There isn’t anything to be done. Nothing." You continue throwing stones and out of desperation I do too. We do this for a long time.

I don’t look over now because I can't endure your tears. The rocks we throw begin to form an island and then a tall castle. I feel myself age and grow small and weak. We continue across the months and years until the beach is sandy and white. As I struggle pick up the last pebble I am impossibly ancient and tired--my hands are shriveled beyond recognition. But I can’t bear not to look any more and I turn to you. So many years have passed… I am scared that I have forgotten your face, but you are still as beautiful as the moment we first met. My wrinkled flesh embarrasses me.

"What now?" I ask.

You says nothing, but reach into your chest and remove a broken stone where your heart once was. You drop it on the sand, slip into the waves, and swim away.

The waves break around my feet and I stand there full of longing, but to old to swim, looking at the castle. I do this for a long time.

I walk through a dark night until I feel stones beneath my feet and hear the sea. I hear someone following me.

The moon rises and in the moonlight I see a girl beside me. She is sitting on a rock and I can’t see her face but I know we’ve met before.

"Hey," I say but the girl turns away. "Is anything wrong?" I ask.

The girl throws rocks into the water and having nothing better to do, I do too.

Eventually, an island forms, so I throw more rocks as fast as I can.

"You don’t have to do this," the girl says.

"Just let me finish," I say. So I keep throwing. Hills form and then a mountain.

"Let’s swim now." I say, but the girl is gone and I’m left alone in the moonlight.

April 5, 2007


About a week ago I found my wife sitting alone at the kitchen table with tears in her eyes. "What’s wrong," I asked.

"Three kids were killed in a car accident in Chicago. One was killed instantly. The car caught on fire and the other two were burned to death as people tried to pull them out." She began to get teary eyed again...

"Were these people you knew?"

"No. Friends of Theresa and Grace... I mean you raise a child for 20 years and then this?"

Now things were becoming clearer. Of course there’s death all around, and mainly we ignore it, because we have to, because life would be too painful otherwise, but when you imagine a tragedy like that with own kids, it all changes. That’s the thing about being a parent. For all the cool points you lose walking around with your baby bjorns, you are forced to be more vulnerable and maybe more humane. Dealing that that vulnerability is one of the hardest tasks a parents face, because love inverted is an abyss...

A few hours later my son and I are sitting in a hot allergist’s office full of jumpy kids slowly becoming unnerved by the muffled sounds of other kids screaming as their backs are being pricked with tiny doses of potential toxins, you are finally led into an inner office. The doctor is distracted and exhausted, he keeps sweating uncontrollably and patting his brow with a handkerchief. I think how quaint it is to carry a handkerchief. He looks so different from man in wedding picture on the wall—a smiling young man in traditional Bengali garb with his arm uncomfortably around his bride’s waist. He’s doing paperwork and only seems to notice us when my son picks up a snowglobe on the desk. "Don’t let him throw that." he says. Then glancing down at the test results on his desk, "The boy has a peanut allergy. He had a strong reaction. It is serious, maybe life threatening. So no peanut butter for him."

"Do people ever grow out of these allergies?" I ask.

"There is so much we don’t know about allergies," he answers.

Soon we were whisked out the door... My son is glad to be out of hot office and the screaming kids. We chase each other home. Every time I stop he says, "More daddy more."

That night I keep dreaming of my son in school. Another kid offers him an M&M. He's happy. "Treats" he says. They're hiding away in a corner... He doesn’t hear me calling for him....

I wake up in a cold sweat, but when I wake up I see those kids in the car. The scene plays out in excruciating detail. In that moment I see my own life as a series of near misses. The collision in England. The crash in Texas. The undertow. The man with the knife at 2 am. My poor dad. Then I imagine the parents of those kids in the car who guided them through life and protected them from so many dangers but couldn’t save them from the one they couldn’t see.

March 10, 2007

How my mind works late at night

cornell.1942.jpgThis piece by Joseph Cornell comes to mind for no reason in particular.

Every time I think of artwork by Cornell, this portrait of him by Duane Michals sticks in my head. portraitofjosephcornell.jpg
I think of Cornell living out there on Utopia Parkway with his mean mother and his sick brother. And I think of all the boxes scattered around his room in various stages of completion. I think of the boxes he made for Hollywood starlets. I picture the care and love that went into each one, the precision with which he wrapped them in brown paper, hand addressing them and then sending them from a Queens post office (In my imagination he always mails things on rainy days). Then I see a sunny day in California; the package being received by a maid at a house high in the Los Feliz hills. I see the packages opened, considered for a moment, and handed over to a star who waves it away without ever a second thought.

Cornell must have known this would happen 9 times out of 10, but was kept going by the hope for that 10th time and the knowledge that while the connection was intangible he was connected—if for a moment—to his intended audience...

And this brings me back to Duane Michals who wrote in one of his books:

"It is no accident that you are reading this. I am making black marks on white paper. These marks are my thoughts, and although I do not know who you are reading this now, in some way the lines of our lives have intersected... For the length of these few sentences, we meet here.

It is no accident that you are reading this. This moment has been waiting for you, I have been waiting for you. Remember me."

January 21, 2007

From a book of imagined conversations

We were on the grass looking at the sky and you asked, "What if we had never met?"

And I said, "Hey that cloud looks like a Japanese castle."

And you said, "I've never seen a Japanese castle, but if they look like that cloud, I can imagine them."

And when I finally turned to answer your question, you had fallen asleep.

-July 12, 1986

January 16, 2007

The Central Paradox of Dentistry

All day long you look into their mouths
Teeth unflossed.
Gums receding.

You hate candy.
You hate garlic.
You hate their hot breath on your hands.

This pain you inflict,
The pain they feel—
It's their own fault.
You have no remorse.
You think, "Go ahead curl your toes in agony,
I'm helping you."

You live with knowledge
This woe is preventable.
If they would just listen.

And yet
If they do listen.
If they really listen
And change their ways.
You're out of a job.

January 12, 2007

Another reason to hate cats

letter found 6/23/99, original date unknown:

I ask myself, "Where is she right this second?"

I tell myself, "She is on her bed. It is dark. She's asleep."

I ask myself, "Which side of the bed, left or right?"

I answer, "Hmmm. Good question."

I think, "I can imagine her breathing."

I ask myself, "If I were there would she be facing me or would I be holding her?"

I tell myself, "It doesn't matter, at least you would be there."

I ask myself, "Why do you torture yourself this way?"

I tell myself, "It's like a wave crashing over an ant. The ant has no say in the matter."

I think to myself, "The cat is there. The cat is on the bed. She is not alone, she is with the cat."

I ask myself, "Why do cats have all the luck?"

I think, "Damn cat."

I say out loud, "I hate cats."

January 4, 2007

The Physical Threads

One of my many hats is college interviewer for my alma mater. Every year I meet with nervous high school students trying to impress. And generally they do with curiosity and enthusiasm and great promise. But one trend I’ve noticed in the last few years amongst the recruits is the tendency to look at the internet as a complete reference to all things. This disturbs me. One unsmiling young man told me he no longer owned a single book. "Everything I need is online. Why be tied down?" he asked unblinking with complete seriousness. A girl looking for a career in politics happily informed me she had never read a physical newspaper. "I read 10 newspapers on the web, why should I get my hands dirty?" Another student, as she was about to leave, asked if I would prefer a thank you note by snail mail or email. "You haven’t hand written many letters have you?" I asked. She blushed and giggled, "Well actually I don’t think I’ve ever written one.... well, maybe except to my grandmother and that was a looong time ago."

I’ve always been one to embrace new technology. Growing up I was invariably the first kid with a computer, with a printer, with a modem etc. I’ve had email in one form or another since the 80’s, but I also appreciate the almost sensual pleasure of hand written letters, of words on paper, of books and bookstores and spending a day walking around without a cellphone unreachable by anyone. While I read plenty of newspapers online, none is a substitute for my morning New York Times. Online we tend to read the articles already of interest. RSS feeds give us an even narrower more filtered view, but with a paper spread out before us, we are much more likely to browse and read about that volcano in Guatemala, or the new species of lizard they just discovered in the Borneo or of an artist we’ve never heard of. What happens when everyone only reads narrowcast filtered stories catered to their specific interests? And what fun is it to read online anyway? Is there a better way for a couple to spend a lazy rainy weekend than with the Sunday paper spread all over the bed, reading side by side over one another’s shoulders?

We are probably the last generation who will have the pleasure of discovering bundles of our parents love letters. I pity the poor children born today. I imagine them in 2045 trying to revive a corrupt CD-R with data written in some abandoned Outlook format or trying to come up with a forgotten password of a long dead email account. Oh wait, I’ve just been informed email is passé, "You still use email?! I only SMS and chat," a sixth grade cousin told me last week, "Email is for old people."

We all take digital snapshots, but how many people back them up? What is the lifetime of a hard drive? Ten years with extreme optimism? Three is more like it. The great danger of the digital world is the very thing that makes it so appealing: in it’s forward speed, in it’s churning volume, we endanger our individual personal history, the documents that tie us to our past and our future... not to mention the tactile pleasure that comes from holding a book or a letter or a photograph. These are things each with their own histories passed from hand to hand. So while will I bite my tongue with my young forward looking interviewees here’s a long loud hurrah to slowness, to books, to newspapers, to letters and journals, to drawings, to photographs stuck in shoeboxes, and to all the physical threads that connect us to one another and perhaps also, over time, to ourselves.

related:: one of my favorite bookstores closes, on the disappearing pleasure of solitude, my mother's address book, This American Life: Letters

November 8, 2006

Dear O'Clery Family,

Thank you for your letter.

Getting a real letter from anywhere is a good thing, but one from Derry, Ireland is an especially good thing.

As requested these are the answers to your questions:

1. Under a tree somewhere in Texas.

2. Paul Klee once wrote, "I comfort myself with the thought that my words do not address themselves to you in isolation but will complement and bring into focus the impressions, perhaps still a little hazy, which you have already received from my pictures."

3. Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta

4. Is there anything finer than a naked woman in your bed in the morning?

5. Once again I must produce a quote, this time from Fitzgerald (Tender is the Night):

I want to give a really bad party. I mean it.
I want to give a party where there's a brawl and
seductions and people going home with their
feelings hurt and women passed out in the
cabinet de toilette.

6. They don't serve fish in aquarium restaurants. When you ask why, you always get the same answer: "It makes the kids cry."

7. The Sleestacks.

8. No preference as I would be quite dead.

9. The best secrets are the ones never told.

10. Someday. For sure.

all best,


October 26, 2006

Mysteries of Syndey Place

At least 3 or 4 nights a week at around one in the morning the black car pictured above will stop in the middle of Syndey Place, with it's lights on. The drivers of the car are always men with mustaches and they usually growl in animated bursts into a cellphone in what I'm guessing is a Slavic language. Assuming these were car service drivers cooling their heels, I tried to flag the car and was turned away with a brusk bark, "Get away from car." Sometimes a cop will walk by and the car will circle the block to return to exactly the same spot a few minutes later. Once a second man in a mustache sat in the passengers seat arguing loudly with the driver. Once a fancy looking lady sat in the back, lips pursed without saying a word. Usually by 3am the car is gone leaving behind only cigarette butts thrown from the window.

also on Sydney Place:3:14am

October 19, 2006

A life of letters

Sometime last week in Brookline Massachusetts Alan Gagne died alone in his room of a heart attack. He was a mailman, a social misfit, virtually without friends and his death would have gone unnoticed, not even meriting an obituary, had his house not been found full of 20 years of undelivered mail. His kitchen cabinets were stuffed with junk mail, circulars mainly, his drawers were overflowing with letters, and under his bed they pulled boxes and boxes of postcards. Entire closets had been stuffed as had the extra bathtub. Virtually all the pilfered mail was undeliverable for the usual reasons—address changes, deaths, bad handwriting, that sort of thing. None of it was opened. Five mailtrucks were required to haul it all away.

The New York times titled the story "In Postman’s Death, a Mystery of Mail Left Behind", another newspaper said the death was "shrouded in mystery", but the story doesn't seem the least bit mysterious to me. I once asked my mailman in Santa Monica, an odd character himself, if he ever got tired of delivering mail, he answered something like this, "I carry invitations to weddings, birth announcements, death announcements, letters from girlfriends, bankruptcy papers, checks from grandma, you name it. People send postcards from vacations all over the world. They put them in a mailbox in Japan or Africa and they end up in my mail bag. Nobody ever writes to me, but it doesn't matter, I get mail every day." I imagine Gagne kept all the undeliverable mail because he felt it was safer with him, because it connected him to the river of life outside his door which he apparently found impossible to enter. Maybe in odd hours he would imagine the mail was for him, waiting to be opened. No longer would he be a living illustration of Thoreau's quiet desperation, but a man with friends near and far, a man with a place in the world beyond the neighborhood he walked every day in sun and rain and snow. Maybe, just maybe, those letters allowed him to feel something which was sorely lacking in his life, maybe in them his empty house felt full of love.

August 24, 2006

3:14am Sidney Place

A little while ago, I turned off the lamp which let me see out the window and noticed a guy in a suit standing motionless in the middle of Sydney Place. He's holding a briefcase and he's been like that for at least 5 minutes.

The city is empty, everyone seems to be taking off to enjoy an extended Labor Day vacation. Most all the lights in the houses are dark. I walked home 2 hours ago and for about the last 15 blocks I didn't pass a soul. My family is away so I was returning to an empty house. A few blocks from home, I stopped in the middle of the street myself to enjoy sound of the cicadas and the strange light in the sky coming from Manhattan. I watched the wind in the trees and waited... I might have been that guy in the suit myself for a bit. He's still down there.

July 20, 2006

Churros y Chocolate

When I was a kid my mother told me invisible threads connect us all together... She whispered this in my ear one night while trying to explain some life lesson, "Can you feel them?" she asked. And indeed in that moment I felt them tugging here and pulling there, hundreds of them, tied to all parts of my body. The lesson I forgot, but the image remained. For years, late at night I would wake up and imagine the threads connecting me to Ed 'Too Tall' Jones, the girl down the street with the trampoline in her backyard, my grandparents, and even Jimmy Carter. Sometimes I would kick my arms and legs and imagine the tugs being felt around the corner and on the other side of the world. Tonight we went to dinner with a friend here in Madrid who I met via this blog. In adult life it's easy to forget all those threads, but it's nice to know they are still there and that sometimes we can follow them all the way across the ocean to the person on the other side.

July 15, 2006

Dinner Guests

Last night I was startled out of a deep sleep and led by the hand down the stairs to a loud room crowded with well dressed dinner guests. "A wedding perhaps," I said to myself and surveyed the crowd for familiar faces. Everyone was turned away from me engrossed in conversation. No-one looked familiar so I pressed on. Above the din, someone called my name and I turned to find a table of people I hadn’t seen in years.

There was Lee in his natty plaid jacket from Ireland, Tia Elva eating a big plate of cabrito, and even Marie who vanished when I was 16, "Hey" she said, "long time."

Everyone immediately and simultaneously started in with questions about the baby and Jenn and my life while I was still standing there. "Get him a chair," someone shouted. I tried to fill them in, but my mouth was cottony and I was having a hard time keeping focused so instead I listened because although there were questions, everyone also had so much to say. As I went around the table kissing and hugging everyone, each person would draw me close and whisper a little nothing. The table was so crowded that by the time I made it around, before I could settle in or even taste the wine I was pulled away again.... out of the loud room, and up the stairs. Soon I found myself back in bed in the cold blue light of early morning. Jenn and the baby were cuddled together sleeping silently on the far side big bed and I, stuck in the middle registers between dream and consciousness, found myself immobile, still between worlds trying in vain to remember all that had been said.

In the morning I told Jenn the dream. "Koreans say never to follow the dead," she shuddered... "Never go with them. I’m not kidding." But the Mexican view is quite the opposite. My grandmother told me one she had danced with her dead brother. "I was like a star of the cinema," she would say. Even in the middle of the dream knew she would never dance like that again. "But never trust them," she warned, "the dead only tell you what you want to hear, because they know life is short and want you to be happy in it. Maybe their lies are so sweet because in their own lives they were whispered enough of them."

June 20, 2006


A word for the sense of nostalgia you have for a period of time you haven't experienced.

A word for the feeling that washes over you when you see something so embarrassing you feel embarrassed yourself.

A word for not recognizing yourself in the mirror.

A word for a person who always chooses bad fonts.

A word for the collective oohs and ahhs of a crowd watching fireworks.

A word for the limbo you enter when you are in a good dream and wake up halfway, but push yourself back, because you don't want the dream to end.

A word for the spaces between words when we talk.

A word for goodbyes for someone you know you will never see again.

A word for the dusty emptiness left by suicides and the murdered.

A word for a memory so powerful it smothers the other memories around it.

A word for time, when time goes all out of whack and moves either too slowly or with agonizing speed.

A word for the moment when you know everything that follows will be different.

A word for the lightest touch, when that touch means everything.

A word for the rush of warmth you feel when you hold the person you love the most.

May 2, 2006

Consider the Lettuce Maker

In Japan most restaurants feature lifelike plastic displays of the the various items on the menu. Low end restaurants use prefabricated dishes heaped with noodles or sushi or veggies, but better restaurants will actually have their dishes custom sculpted. The realism is startling. Soups practically shimmer, rice is slightly wet as if fresh from the pot, edamame come complete with plastic fuzz. At a Mexican restaurant in Osaka a display of tortilla chips featured individually molded pieces complete with a slight dust of salt. Artificial noodles sometimes drip from their bowls onto plates. American places show hamburgers complete with individual plastic sesame seeds on the bun. I asked everyone I knew about how such individualized displays were made. "Plastic food is art and science," my friend Daiki explained. He told me of high end studios where apprentice artists worked their way up from the lowly lettuce to American food and finally to fish and octopus. "Of course only masters create delicious looking octopus."

A few years ago while in Tokyo I sought out one of the most famous studios in the Kappabashi district and managed to talk my way in. Specifically I wanted see the apprentice lettuce makers in action, and after some confusion I was led by a secretary to a big windowless room full of small desks with men and women hunched over them. Over in the back sat an old man wearing a dirty smock over a dark suit, his workspace covered with paint tins, bits of plastic, and sharp modeling knives. Several pieces of lettuce in various states of completion had been carefully positioned on a plate. Before I could get started in precise English he explained, "to you, all lettuce looks same, but variety is infinite and each piece is unique. Our competitors try to copy life perfectly which is of course impossible. They make molds. Ha! I look at these an am ashamed. We do not even look at photographs. Our employees visit restaurant, eat each dish without taking notes. Afterwards our memory is the guide. We return to eat if we forget this thing or that. For lettuce to look like lettuce or fish to look like fish it must be better than reality but it also must be imperfect. This is the most important thing. If you make things perfect of course they will look fake. Think of American women and their plastic breasts. Of course breasts are never the same size! "

I asked how long he had been making lettuce. "36 years" was the quiet answer. I asked if he ever wished to do something else (a woman nearby was putting the finishing touches on a pastry that looked like a jelly donut). Of course I am a master, once I made a snake for a Chinese restaurant so full of life it was removed from the window for scaring customers, but lettuce is my passion. I would never start an artist on lettuce. Only someone with years of experience can get it right. Our artists start with rice which not easy, rice is just as difficult as anything else, but people are easily fooled with rice. And then maybe they move on to meat. Only then do sit with me and learn lettuce."

"And then they go on to fish," I added helpfully...

"After lettuce they can do anything," he smiled.

April 27, 2006

Too late to dream.

Thought: what must sleepwalking feel like?

Answer to self: perhaps something like this.

April 19, 2006

A Theory

Think of 3 scenes from your life-inflection points from which you defined things as before and after. Describe the moments and why they are important. My theory is this:

If you are a man, you will describe the overall scene often including your geographical location. Then you will move smaller until you get to yourself. At this point you might throw in a few details: the smell of the summer air, the crackle of the car radio... When you explain the before and after you will tell it as a story.
If you are a woman you will start with the personal details, the sweater you were wearing, the feeling of the wind on your face, and then move outward. You will gloss over details of place but will locate the memory precisely in your emotional history. When you explain the before and after you will tell what the moment meant ignoring narrative.
It's just a theory, but in my tests so far it's been accurate. I don't know why.

3 Inflection Points (without the descriptions):

1. It is 1979. August in Texas. I am in the corner of Tim Almond's living room on Live Oak Lane. The sofas and chairs have been pushed aside to make a ring. 10 boys are chanting "fight, fight, fight!" Bill Melton is standing on the other side of the ring without a shirt on cursing me at the top of his lungs daring me to hit him. Angry and scared as I have ever been, I step forward.

2. I am on the 53rd floor of the Citicorp Building in an office looking out onto the Chrysler Building. It is January 2, 1990. A secretary tells me I have a phone call and the person on the other end is speaking in Spanish. It is my uncle. When he hears my voice he can barely speak. He tells me my mother and brother are dead.

3. New York City, the Lower East Side many years later. I have a dinner with a girl named Jenn. We had met the night before. We talk through dinner. We walk around the city. Hours pass. We end up at the Cloister Cafe in the garden. Flowers from a tree are falling onto our table. We have been talking for 8 hours now. A strap on her blouse falls off her shoulder. She is still talking but I am not listening anymore. I reach over and replace the strap with my index finger. I say, "I'm sorry I couldn't concentrate." She smiles.

April 13, 2006


About half an hour ago I was standing in the middle of our kitchen in the semi-darkness eating an apple and thinking about stuff. These are all things I do often: apple eating, hanging out in the dark, thinking.

The scene: The family is asleep downstairs, the house silent save for the occasional blast of Arabic from the baby monitor picked up from the mosque down the street . Rain is falling pulling flowers from the tree outside the window. Across the road my neighbor is watching TV as she often does at this hour. Blue light flickers against the back wall of her room. In the brighter flashes she is revealed spread out across the bed in her bra, panties, and socks. She hugs a pillow and eats some sort of cracker. Woman relaxed.

There have been times when I have caught her in her window looking over at us... my family at dinner, Jenn and I on the couch reading in the living room, sitting on the stoop with the baby. She always runs off or pretends to be doing something if we look in her direction, but she's not very quick and her staring is pretty obvious.

It is rare to see strangers so completely unwound hanging around their houses late at night in their socks. Rare indeed, and the knowledge of seeing such moments is necessarily private. I mean it's not like I can say anything if I happen to run into the woman on the street. What would you say? Anything said would sound terribly inappropriate. Possibly creepy. And yet there is that desire to say something: "I have seen you in repose. I know you exist." But of course I never do. God no. We smile, say 'hello', and leave it at that.

Related: Neighbors on This American Life

April 6, 2005

Frederick Barbarosa

For some reason all this talk of the conclave electing a new pope has reminded me of a book I read in high school. Set in the time of Frederick Barbarosa the Holy Roman Emperor when there were rival popes, it follows a group of Robber Knights (unlanded German knights, who preyed on merchant travelers) on an adventure north where they encounter a group of Asian barbarians. The thing about the book that struck me is that these Robber Knights all thought of themselves as ruthless characters (they would often leave merchants nude and penniless by the side of the road), but the barbarians were infinitely more cruel. They would castrate their enemies and leave them nailed to a tree by their tongues. There is this great shift in the book as the hunters become the hunted. Anyway I don't remember the title, so it's neither here nor there.

As an aside, I always found it amusing that Frederick Barbarosa managed to unite the German tribes, captured Rome, and brokered the peace of Constance but drown in a river after he fell off his horse while wearing full armor.

March 25, 2005

about bees

Little known bee fact. Bees, those members of the genus Bombus, are often held up as models of discipline and order--worker bees (sexually undeveloped females), drones (fertile males), and a queen all working in perfect harmony each in it's caste working productively until the hive gets overcrowded and the old queen flies off with some drones to establish a new one, while the remaining bees raise multiple queens waiting for them to hatch and then fight to the death to establish a new ruler. And generally, generation after generation, that's how it works.

But sometimes, very rarely, something goes awry. A group of workers will surround the queen denying her food. Eventually one will sting her, then the others join in until, inevitably, she succumbs. Workers try to mate drones. The brood is killed off one by one and work on the hive ceases as chaos and fratricide become the order of the day. There are no survivors of this breakdown of social order. It is said other bees will avoid recolonizing the broken hives for years to come.

December 14, 2004


Things are finally quieting down around here. The relatives are gone, and we're figuring out a routine. It's just the three of us now. The last week has been intense and things are just now starting to feel normal.

Managing family has been interesting. Jenn's old-school Korean mother for example left a few days ago to return to Philadelphia. Yesterday, I saw her number on caller id.

"Rara," she said, "I have groceries. Are you near 8th Avenue?"

"You're here in New York?" I answered somewhat confused.

"Yeah. No problem. Jenny need meat. So I brought meat. Also she doesn't eat enough soup, so I make her eat seaweed soup. Koreans are weak and must eat lotta soup."

Half an hour later Jenn's mom and 2 aunts showed up, cooked up a storm of Korean dishes, filled our refrigerator to the brim, and then hovered over Jenn watching her eat under pressure. They left as quickly as they came, but I expect they'll be back regularly.


Tonight was the Geminid meteor shower...with the family asleep downstairs I snuck up un the roof for a bit to catch the show. I got a lucky break in the clouds and was immediately rewarded with several displays over the rooftops of Brooklyn before the obscuring clouds sent me back downstairs. Good stuff. If you are out tonight or tomorrow you should see clusters of shooting stars a few hours before and after midnight. Bundle up, it's cold out there.

October 22, 2004

Sea Cucumbers

A long time ago Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom did a show on sea cucumbers. I remember Marlon Perkins saying there are more of them then there are of us, and that they move across the ocean floor in herds scavenging for fish leftovers falling from above. Sometimes on quiet nights I'll lie awake and think of them moving like silent buffalo across the ocean plains always on the lookout for their enemies the sea turtles and, in their quiet moments, wondering about the world beyond.

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