June 2, 2011
When I was a kid, sometimes on hot summer days my abuelito and I would drive in his big American car to Cine Elizondo in the middle of the day and watch movies. I remember seeing westerns, Santo movies, and American films like Herbie the Love Bug dubbed in Spanish. I loved the everything about those days, but the theater made everything extra-special. The air was cold and theater was spectacular, covered in dragons and golden temples. Audiences were loud and enthusiastic and they clapped at the end of each movie. Years later I would visit Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood only to be disappointed by it's relative plainness. I had been ruined.
The Elizondo was torn down in the 80's. Hearing about it from my dad who also loved that theater, I remember thinking it was the end of an era. I thought I would never again experience a movie like that. But then years later I found myself in India, again on a hot day. The food was a little different (samosas and vada), but there was the cool, the fantastic decoration, and the sense that you were experiencing something special.
Zubin Pastakia has been photographing Bollywood movie palaces which it seems are again being destroyed. The pictures make me nostalgic for places I've never seen.
April 18, 2011
What to do about an old journal?
Blank save for three overwrought pages from 1987 (full of intrigues from forgotten parties) and a small set of drawings (labeled December 1988 of a mountain in Mexico — the view from my abuelito's window).
Then, apparently, nothing. Forgotten until tonight.
Bound in hand tooled chocolaty leather and adorned with hand annotated vintage maps pasted onto the end pages by me, it is a handsome volume — the kind of thing a twenty year old me would think proper to keep on a desk. Inside, the blank unruled pages hate being empty... and I am eager to fill them...
And yet... the emptiness speaks of the years between here and there, so I hesitate.
January 3, 2011
In my 20's I went there regularly, not for the food—I never had a truly great meal there—but for the crowd. It was the type of place you might run into Woody Allen or Gregory Peck, you might be seated next to a table of pinky-ringed Italian men in shark skin suits, or you might find yourself next to a Mets pitcher who ate there for good luck. Why this place? The room was nothing special, just a dark rectangle hung with low grade office ceiling tile. The lighting was lousy, and there were those damned plastic flowers in cheap sconces. It wasn't like Dan Tana's in LA, with it's red leather booths and feel of faded glamour. Gino's was almost lowbrow, but it had an irresistible sense of style regardless. The yellow door was just the right yellow, the green sign was EXACTLY what it was supposed to be, and the red zebra wallpaper was... well, perfect. The zebras, in addition to being on the walls, could be found on the matches and the napkins and the doors to the bathrooms. Gino must have known he was on to something, because those zebras became design icons in their own right. Without the zebras, the room is nothing special. I always said the zebras helped carry the place through time.
When the restaurant was slated to close Gay Talese wrote, "All the items on the menu appear on a single plastic-covered page and were handwritten in ink sixty-five years ago by the restaurant’s founder, Gino Circiello, a dapper and debonair trendsetter in 1945 who thereafter ignored all trends. Even a year after his death at eighty-nine, in 2001, when the restaurant was described in the Zagat Survey as “frozen in the 40’s,” the regulars liked to boast that, at Gino’s, nothing was new: within the zebra-covered walls of this place everything remained the same, including the fact that a stripe was missing from the rumps of half the zebras—a mistake made by the original designer which Mr. Gino, a superstitious Italian of Neapolitan origin, chose not to correct, because to do so, he feared, might bring him bad luck." (full article)
Don't know why I was thinking about Gino's today, but I wanted the wallpaper for my computer. I couldn't find a digital copy so I made one myself: Gino's Digital Zebra Wallpaper. I left the stripe off the rump.
December 24, 2010
My wife hardly ever picks up a camera, but I love it when she does.
April 10, 2010
Eighteen years ago at dusty backpacker restaurant near the Labrang Monastery I encountered an English language menu item title "Beef Slum Galleon Spiced." At a table was my buddy JP, a few wayward Australians (one named Jennita Gay who was surfing her way around the world, but somehow ended up in Tibet), and a Japanese kid named Goto who rarely spoke. It's possible my friend Oliver was there too. We took delight in what we assumed was translation gone horribly wrong. Ever since then, every few years, JP and Goto—independent of each other—bring up the mysterious and wonderful sounding Beef Slum Galleon Spiced trying to imagine the tortured path that brought the string of words into being.
Today I came across the word "slumgullion". According to the OED it's a North American mining term for the "muddy deposit left in mining sluice" [Slum is an archaic English term for mining mud and gullion is a term for a mining pit]. Miners, being miners, started referring to their stews as slumgullion and soon the definition of slumgullion as a stew began to dominate. The earliest reference I could find to the term was in a book titled "The Best of Kin Hubbard: Abe Martin's Sayings and Wisecracks." The passage is account of a story from 1828 but it's unclear when the passage was actually published. [The OED 's earliest reference is from Mark Twain's Roughing It where the word is used jokingly to describe a "weak drink." By then and through the early 1900's the references are generally pejorative and associated with poverty or just a really crappy stew. Here's another reference, this one from Jack London. There is some speculation that term Mulligan Stew, also a hobo type stew, is a bastardization of slumgullion stew.... This seems like a stretch to me. Recent web references are generally nostalgic— septuagenarians recalling delicious stews of their youth.].
From the 1860's to the 1940's slumgullion seemed to be a relatively common American term. It was mentioned enough in literature and in news reports to turn up in modern google searches.
So it seems that our Tibetan restaurateur was not involved in a seriously misguided translation as we had suspected, but he was probably just using a pre-Communist revolution English dictionary from the 30's (these were common in China in the early 90's) and slumgullion was the proper translation of his dish. Somewhere along the line there was some phonetic spelling going on and gullion became galleon. An easy mistake! Mystery solved!
January 1, 2010
On this day exactly twenty years ago I lost my mother and my youngest brother. I've written about this on previous January 1rsts. The date because of it's neatness — January 1, 1990 — gives me an absurdly simple way measure the the time from that day this one. Sometimes in conversation someone will ask how long ago they died, and I always resist the urge to give the questioner an exact tally with months and days attached. Stating the elapsed time so precisely seems too intense, but the calculation is automatic and needs no mental machinery. Recalling death anniversaries not just by years but also with months and days was something my grandmother would do. She carried around the dates of her 9 brothers and sisters who preceded her in death. None of her siblings, except maybe Tio Tibero, fell on easily divisible days.
At the age of 22, twenty years would have seemed an eternity to me, and yet nothing about those terrible days has faded. After being told the news and summoned home, I remember standing on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street and hailing a taxi. In the cab I spun one of the buttons on my shirt back and forth until it broke and held that button in a tightly clasped fist all the way back to Texas. On arriving to my house which was strangely full of people, an aunt hugged me deeply and whispered through tears that she would fix my shirt. Wordlessly I handed her the button.
Christopher would be 39. It's hard to imagine he's been gone a year longer than he lived. Back then I was skinny but he was skinnier. We both carried cameras everywhere. I can't picture him thick and middle aged as I am now, still lugging a camera around. When he comes to me in dreams he is always young. Sometimes 19, sometimes 12, sometimes 4. In those dreams am always 3 years older. We play, or torture each other, or look at stars as we often did. My 5 year old son, Raul Andres, with his mad creative bursts of bookmaking and deep love of robots channels him sometimes. And sometimes when I reading to Raul Andres I get the sense memory of myself at 8 reading to Christopher. Often I am reading from the selfsame heavily worn books we read as children complete with our childish crayon annotations. Raul Andres happens to love the same stories and laughs in the same places.
My mom would be 65. She was only 3 years older than I am now when she died. But at 42 my life with kids is just beginning, while at 45, her life with kids was ending. Was she really younger than me now when I left for college? She complained bitterly of empty nest syndrome when I left. The scope and shape of her life versus mine is hard to reconcile. These days in my dreams of her she is always 45 and I am whatever age I am. In those dreams I am going about my life and will suddenly notice her in the corner of the room watching silently. I find myself asking questions, trying to fill in the holes, but she vanishes when I approach. I wonder if she will remain 45 in those dreams when I am an old man.
The deaths left me keenly aware of time and it's strange fluxuations. In the immediate aftermath, my old life, the life of a few days before, was suddenly distant. Thinking a week or a month or a year into the future was impossible. With all my nerve endings exposed, I existed rather than lived suspended in an excruciating endless moment. For some months afterward, the date had a gravity which I orbited at various speeds without regard for anything else. I focused on the timeline. Days would tick by painfully and yet everything seemed to be moving at lightning speed. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, one day it was over. Through a mysterious combination of good friends, travel, art, and love I reached escape velocity. I woke up, blinked my eyes in the bright sunlight, and time itself was righted, the continuum of my own life while disturbed was comprehensible again, and I could appreciate my strange new life without being tethered to a catastrophic moment. I don't know exactly how it happened, but I think it was because I realized at that I had a choice and I choose to move forward.
Someone asked me the other day whether experiencing tragedy at a relatively young age had made me more or less able to deal with tragedy now. I answered, no. You can't compare loss. Each one is uniquely capricious and each one ricochets through family and friends in unpredictable patterns of destruction. The irony of tragedy is that it is the inverse of friendship and love. The more you give of yourself, the larger your network of potential grief, but then again, the more people you have to help pick you up when you fall. We're all more vulnerable than we know, but we're stronger too.
So it's been twenty years. Mom, Christopher, you'd barely recognize me now, but I'd hope you'd be proud of the family I've created. We have fun. I miss you guys.
September 28, 2009
We lived there for 3 years. It was a little house—we always called it the little house, even back then—but it was the first house I remember, so in my memory it is vast. The front yard is an endless stretch of the greenest grass. The sky is always blue. My room is chock full of books and toys, and monsters live under all the beds.
Traveling back via Google Maps is probably just as ill advised as driving back when passing through Houston and standing in the yard, but I visit from time to time.
Here in Brooklyn we live only 4 blocks away from the place we lived for the first two and half years of my 4 year old's life. We walk by on the way to his preschool, and sometimes he asks to sit on the steps. He knows he can't go inside anymore, but sitting gives him comfort. Normally we don't talk, and after a bit he'll simply get up and continue on. Do I tell him he'll always want to sit on those steps, and that over time they will grower smaller even as they grow larger?
August 25, 2009
1. Koreans of a certain generation/ilk dye their hair into their 80's. It's normal, like cutting your fingernails. So anyone with grey hair, especially anyone under 50, at least in the eyes of this group, looks a) ancient b) ungroomed to the point of being disheveled.
2. My mother in law is Korean and of this certain generation/ilk.
3. For almost a decade she's been urging me to "Look younger. Feel better."
4. For a recent family wedding I decided to make my mother in law happy.
5. And that is how I found myself in the Jung Won Beauty Salon. The dying procedure was observed by my mother in law, her father, her sister, her sister's husband, a Pastor, and a couple of kids.
Mother-in-law: "You look sooo handsome now. Not like old man. Before you look sooo old."
Grandfather [laughing]: "Before you were older than me. Now, not so bad."
Mother-in-law's sister: "Yeah, you looked terrible. This is so nice."
Pastor Shin: "I really like the reddish color." It looks great!"
7. I forgot to mention that the hair lady decided to make my hair an unnatural looking dark red color. Yup.
1. After 3 weeks of hiding under a baseball cap, the correction.
June 3, 2009
Part of me doesn't believe I'll never be able to see Kashgar's old city again, but then again part of me doesn't believe a government would destroy old Beijing, and yet it's gone.
April 12, 2009
From one of my old journals:
April 10, 1977, Easter Woke up and read Encyclopedia Brown. Had to go to church. The egg hunt was fun, but I don't like eggs. Everyone ate eggs except me. Played kickball in our church clothes at Jeff's house. His mom wouldn't let us play football. We watched the movie Treasure Island. It was dull except for the black spot. Jeff's mom gave us eggs again! We went home and put on normal clothes and I played in the woods and lit firecrackers with Bill. Bill is a firecracker nut. We blew up some eggs. It was fun. No eggs tomorrow!
January 28, 2009
Twenty two years ago I was sitting in an empty dining car on a train from Princeton, New Jersey to Washington D.C., when a girl who I did not know slid into the seat across the table from me. I thought she must have mistaken me for a friend by the familiar way she bounded over. She was a few years older than me, preppy, and carried a copy of the New Yorker magazine with a man walking his dog in the snow on the cover. She smelled of vanilla. It was twilight out, a heavy snow was falling, and without looking at me she said, "I hate snow," to which I eventually answered, "Oh... How sad." She turned from the window looking at me carefully, pursed her lips, and began reading her magazine. I continued looking out the window. We sat there in silence for the good part of an hour and then she abruptly rose and said, "You will remember me," and left. I never saw her again.
I remember the sound of the train, the snow swirling by, and the color of the sky which turned from lapis to midnight. I remember I was wearing a plaid shirt with a missing button under my father's overcoat and I remember in my pocket I was carrying a polaroid picture of a lady in black carrying a black umbrella in the snow. I remember the blackwatch scarf the girl wore draped around her neck, cashmere probably, and I remember that smell of vanilla, but I couldn't tell you a single thing about her face, her voice, or even the color of her hair. So, if by some strange fate, you happen to read this girl on the train: "No. It turns out I haven't remembered you, you have flickered away."
November 14, 2008
September 4, 2008
"Message to my future self.
You were at Silvercup Studios tonight. It had been a long shoot and nothing much was going according to plan. When the director wrapped you walked up onto the set, a beach scene, took off your shoes and built a sand castle when nobody was watching. In the car home you passed a bar and remembered they had a photobooth. The place was closing up, but you decided to tell the driver to stop. You got out and made this series of pictures.
At home you have three varieties of tomato plants on the fire escape (Green Zebras, Black Krims, and De Pintos); all are in full bloom. You will eat tomatoes like apples before you sleep.
Lately you have fallen into dreams in which your room falls away and you are out under starry mountain skies.
You see beauty all around. Maybe you will read this in 2004 and think it naive. Maybe you will forget it or lose it. Maybe you will read it and remember what it was to be alive on this day.
-September 4th 1994."
April 29, 2008
Sometimes, on days like today, I will walk out past the creek along the rabbit trails, through the deep forest where the trees grow in a thick, to the clearing. I alone know the way to the single large rock that sits in the sun. It is as if the trees have stepped back to pay their respects. Climbing up top I close my eyes and and wander. I imagine the people who must have stopped and rested here through the ages. I imagine pre-cambrian oceans and I imagine the luminescent monsters that still hide in the depths. I imagine a couple touching fingers for the first time. I imagine births and deaths and all the things in-between. And when the world seems so full it will burst, almost always I will notice that I am not alone on my rock.
If I am quiet the clearing will come alive again full of buzzing things, hungry rabbits and the occasional snake. Deer munch on the blackberries that grow in the brambles on the forest’s edge and if I stay long enough fireflies appear telling me it is time to go home. While lure of seeing stars over the black silhouette of the forest against the fading blue of the sky is strong, I know if I stay too long, if it gets too dark I will be hopelessly lost and it would be better to sleep on that rock than it would be to venture into the maze of the forest in the blackness, so I run. I run from the cold of the night, from the unknown things in the dark, from everything, until I see the light of home. Then, when I am safe in bed, I will close my eyes and go back to my clearing revisiting the places I am already forgetting.
January 30, 2008
The truth is you never know what people are thinking.
I was eating lunch alone in a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown today—the order was a limeade and Bo La Lot over rice— when the waitress, perhaps seeing me staring out the window, asked what I was thinking about. How could I explain I was thinking of the bug trucks which would roll slowly through the backroads of my Texas hometown? They would appear at sunset spraying a fine mist of mosquito repellent in the air. I wasn't thinking of the trucks themselves, but rather of the kerosene smell and how we would ride up along side the trucks on our banana bikes holding onto ladders on the tanks with one hand so we wouldn't have to pedal. We would look back through the spray at the sunset which, because of oil, would flare into countless oily rainbows. We would call to each other. "Marco"
"Keep on truckin' dude."
Jay would flick matches back at the spray hoping to ignite a fireball. Having convinced ourselves that one day he would succeed creating an Evel Knievel Snake River Canyon style propulsion, we held the ladders with only our fingers ready to peel off at any moment. He could light and flick matches with one hand. It was an impressive skill which we chalked up to the fact that he was both double jointed and six months older than the rest of us. We would ride the trucks until twilight or until we were kicked off or until someone started coughing too much. Sometimes even a few days later you would still have the smell in your nose. It was hard to wash off.
Jay died in a car accident right out of college. He fell asleep at the wheel on one those long straight country highways and drifted off the road. And today sitting at lunch down on Baxter Street I was thinking about how I wished that just once he had managed to set the spray off and propelled that bug truck down the street like we had imagined because it would have been something to remember. But this was all too complicated to explain to the waitress so I just said I was thinking about the limeade and how delicious it was on a rainy winter day even though limeade is a summer drink that evokes Texas and August sunsets.
January 6, 2008
41 is one of those blah birthdays. Like 31 or 27 or 11 it’s a day to be marked and then quickly forgotten. 41 rates a Wikipedia entry which seems impressive at first blush, but so do all numbers under 100. 42’s entry is much more impressive.
My three year old can’t count to 41 yet and calls it a "big big very big number with a 4 and a 1". Nobody bothers to put 41 candles on a cake and as it’s a prime number there’s no easily divisible scaling factor. I imagine some get candles that look like the numbers 4 and 1 or candles arranged into 4’s and 1’s but most of us just get a random set of candles that fill the cake. I got 16 candles spread out in a circle. 16 was something to look forward to. I'm not sure anyone looks forward to 41 which is not to say there's anything wrong with actually being 41, it's just not as fun as 16 when you could get a driver's license picture from the front instead of from the side.
At 41 I’m the age my mother was when I went away to college. I’m a little over double my youngest brother’s age when he died. I’ve lived 14,975 days which is less than I would have thought. Actuarial tables suggest I have about 12,401 days left although family history would suggest something like 19,345 days. Perhaps counting days is morbid but I've been doing it since I was 11. Back then I was probably a little less optimistic than I am now. Back then if I thought 31 was ancient never realizing that the distance that separates 11 and 31 or 11 and 41 is much shorter in many ways than the distance between 11 and 1.
In my 41st year I plan on making things. On my post for 42 I'll resolve to list the projects completed.
September 9, 2007
July 20, 2007
From my baby book:
July 20, 1969 - Today Raulito is 2 1/2 years old and Neil Armstrong and Col. Ed Aldrin landed on the moon. Raulito fell asleep while Daddy, Mommy, and Titita all watched on color TV. We woke Raulito up to see the live transmission but he wanted to look at the moon outside so we walked into the lawn in our bedclothes. The street was silent save for the crickets. Everyone was inside and all the TVs were on in the windows. Raulito looked at the moon and asked 'I go up there?' and stared for a long time while I held him. He was fast asleep in no time.
related: Remembering the Moon Landing, The Search for the original footage
July 5, 2007
I remember a 4th of July somewhere in the middle of Texas out near the hills of Burnet. Bug trucks were running slowly up the lake spraying a fine chemical mist into the air. Sixteen and without wheels my friend Jack, his girlfriend Helen, and I ran alongside the truck jumping up behind the tanks covering our faces for the 10 minute ride up the hill to the dam. Helen kept pointing up at the petroleum rainbow created by the spray and laughing. She was already a little tipsy having had two peach wine coolers down at the lake.
At the top of the hill we hopped off and followed a dirt road up to where all the pickups were parked. Jack and Helen didn't waste any time and told me to go ahead as they climbed into the back of a random pickup truck and started laying out blankets from their backpacks. I headed over the fence and up the path to the clearing where the other kids were hanging out on the rocks overlooking the dam and the two lakes below. Someone put a beer in my hand, but not having much experience with beer I mainly held it, fiddling with the label and trying to look like I belonged.
I didn't know anyone so I sat on some rocks off to the side and watched the sky turn dark and the lightning come up in the clouds and all the kids shooting off bottle rockets and running around with sparklers. I sat there for a very long time thinking about the shape of things until I noticed Helen standing with her arms crossed nearby. "Hey," I said.
"Hey" she said.
"Where's Jack?" I asked.
"I hate Jack," she mumbled.
Then she came over and sat down right up next to me and I held her hand and listened to her cry. "I smell like gasoline," she told me.
"I do too," I replied and we left it at that.
February 15, 2007
The amusing thing about being an regular diarist is that if enough time goes by you eventually discover stuff you've utterly forgotten. There must be a term for looking at some younger version of yourself and feeling embarrassed because in looking back you once again get wrapped up in the emotions of that particular time. You are ashamed for yourself for not knowing what you know now.... Make sense?
Anyway... in college I had this idea for a "book of portraits" with one portrait per day for 50 days. But I was basically too shy to ask anyone else to participate so it became a book of self portraits. On the next page I included a list of girls I wanted to shoot. I never worked up the courage to ask any of them to be photographed.
If you haven't guessed it already from the cluster of posts of content from 1986/87, I recently found a box full of journals/photos from that era...
February 4, 2007
I recently came across this (somewhat self conscious) self portrait taken exactly 21 years ago. You're looking at my freshman year dorm room, a two room triple I shared with Nick ("The Rage") and Scott (Scott was the kind of guy who never merited a nickname. He was leader of the mime troupe and was always proudly proclaiming his virginity.) The things that draw my attention the most are the typewriter on my roommate's desk (which makes the picture seem ancient) and my dorky hat. I was trying out the hat thing... I've tried the hat thing many times over my life. These episodes usually last a week or two and, thankfully, fade quickly.
I remember taking the picture... A brand new Hüsker Dü tape was playing in the cassette player and I thought, "I'll probably want to remember this room someday. Nick is out raging, Scott is out miming, now's my chance, but then again I'll probably look back at the picture someday and think, man what a jackass I was. Oh well, at least I'm wearing a cool hat."
January 6, 2007
By the time I finish writing this post I'll be 40. Many friends have been sent into mini panics by this particular milestone (one friend who still has a few months to go before his 40th keeps making gloomy pronouncements like, "the first half of your life it is all about possibility and doing stuff, and then you just start losing things..." But then again he's been having midlife crisis after midlife crisis since turning 20), but this is not my style. It is true that by 40 you become aware of your own mortality. Most of us by 40 have lost grandparents and people in our parents generation are dying at an increasingly alarming rate. But this sadness is countered by the delight in all the children being born. At 40 virtually all of my long time friends are married and busy making families. Two of my friends have just had their 5th kids. (They have their own basketball teams!) And children are the enemies of complacency. I wish sometimes I had met my wife earlier and that we had had kids earlier. I was 12 when my dad turned 40. 17 when my my mom turned 40, she died only 5 years later.
My single friends my age are generally solo by choice, the few who are single but not by choice often voice regrets about their lives. This last category is populated almost exclusively with friends who had one great love who got away. Talking to them always makes me thankful I met my great love when I did, at an age when I could appreciate what I would be missing if I were to lose her.
As a teenager I attended a family friend's 40th birthdy party and remember thinking of the guy as ancient, but I don't feel any older than I did back then. I'm better at virtually everything today and I've lost most of the self consciousness which plagued my young life. Also and perhaps most importantly I've finally reached an age where I can wear hats and only look like a semi-jackass.
The truth is I'll wake up in a few hours and feel pretty much as I did yesterday. My grandfather said he didn't begin to feel old until he turned 87. I hope to follow in his footsteps.
December 5, 2006
I do not like cheese
a well known fact
nor rainy days nor purring cats
there are so many things
that displease me
now go away and let me be.
December 5th, 1976, Lufkin Texas
(written on the back)
p.s. Happy Martin Van Buren's birthday.
related: about a year later
November 21, 2006
Opening of a letter written by my younger brother to my parents. We were both at camp near Burnet Texas:
"June 1, 1980
Dear Mom and Dad,
Raul lost his glasses in the lake. He's gotten a lot of D Merits (which is not good). He really isn't trying. Please send him a pair of glasses."
October 21, 2006
This is the last week my show Travels Without Maps will be up at the Nelson Hancock Gallery... The show has led to more good things than I ever could have imagined and has been great fun. Please stop by if you happen to be in the Dumbo vicinity.
111 Front St. #204 (Dumbo)
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Gallery Open Wednesday-Saturday 11-6
**Update, the show was extended a week and now runs through Nov. 4th.
October 13, 2006
I was standing at a gas station on German autobahn at 2am holding up a sign that said 'Belgium' not expecting anyone to stop. But this guy in a floppy beret filling up the tank of his Citroën told me he would be happy to take someone away from Germany and back to his country. His English had been influenced by summers in Scotland and a year spent doing graduate work in Alabama. The resulting accent was absurd, but his utter seriousness made laugher impossible.
He was s supervisor in an industrial plastics in a factory and talked about his work with gentle enthusiasm. He talked about his Flemish wife's fish stew—"I dream of her visbouillon." He talked about his tulips. He smoked. I tried to imagine a house smelling of fish and cigarettes surrounded by gardens.
When we reached Luxembourg he breathed a sigh of relief, "I hate Germany. The language, the people, the landscape. Irrational. Racist probably, but there it is. Soon we'll be home." He smiled to himself and threw the cigarette out the window. The car accelerated. He turned the radio on, and turned the radio off. I tried to sleep.
I was woken with a nudge. "Here we are," he whispered. It didn't look any different to me except for the huge streetlights which line all the major roadways in Belgium. In the morning dim they lit the road with blue clarity. He noticed me noticing the light. "You know the astronauts can see Belgium from the space shuttle at night. The lights make it look like map. They say it is beautiful." He looked over at me. "Some day, I'd like to go up there."
He turned on the radio again. It was a someone with a slightly nasal voice giving a speech on the independence of the Congo. "Our king," he explained. Then the radio announcer said that the king was dead. That speech was the most important one he had ever given. The driver shut off the radio. "My god," he murmured, "Queen Fabiola will be devastated."
We drove in silence, but I noticed him tearing up. "I'm glad I heard it Belgium," he said. After that we didn't talk any more.
October 12, 2006
I got word today that a childhood friend has a terrible stomach cancer. He's my age and has a three year old. We haven't had more than 4 or 5 conversations since high school and yet he's someone I've known since I was 5 when we were in kindergarten together. When you grow up in a small town you know everyone's stories; there is a shorthand you have when you run into people—you say hello, exchange pleasantries, give updates. It is a way of being friendly without keeping up a friendship. The last time I saw him he had been recently married and his wife was pregnant.
They say all the surgeries that can be done have been done and he's now just waiting to die. Someone close to him says he has accepted his fate and is peaceful. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. He was the the tennis star, the prom king, and the hometown guy who made good. He left for school but returned home and became a huge success.
When I was a kid I imagined adult life would be a kind of paradise. At age 10 I wrote, "When I'm 30 it will be 1997 (almost 2000!), I'm going to do all the astronomy I want and stay up as late as I want every single night. I'll eat watermelon every day and eat hamburgers cooked on a grill. After work I'll shoot model rockets and on weekends I'll take trips in my hovercar like in Star Wars. I'll probably have a wife who will let me see her boobs whenever I want. We'll read together and go camping and skinny dipping for fun. She'll probably have long hair and a good personality. I'm pretty sure we'll crack each other up. My friends will come over all the time to use the trampolines and the pools in the back." What I couldn't have imagined back then was by age 30 I wouldn't be in regular contact with a single of my childhood friends I had imagined on my trampolines and that by the age of 39 tragedy would have touched so many of them. Still I do stay up rather late, I eat an awful lot of watermelon, and my wife usually has long hair and always has a good personality. We do indeed crack each other up. It is news from home like this that puts all those things in high relief and forces us to pray for small miracles.
Update: Nine days after I wrote this my childhood friend slipped away. I was told he was surrounded by his family and had found some peace with his fate. Although I know his wife and child are well cared for this news has left me with a heavy heart.
October 12, 2006
I discovered about 150 pages of negatives from my days as high school yearbook photographer today. Most of it is awful stuff, but even so, at least for me, the images bring back the era full force. The pictures posted were from the first three pages and were dated 1984. They are of a homecoming dance, a football player, and double exposure of a prom...
October 7, 2006
One of my favorite childhood books was a hand me down from my mom titled the 'Tall Book of Make Believe'. The inscription on the front page read "Greetings from Santa Claus, 1951" followed by mom mom's name written in her 6 year old hand. My guess is she wrote her name on that very Christmas day — her 'e's are rendered backwards. I knew the book was something special even as a kid. The worn corners of the cardboard cover and taped up back gave it the patina of love and I always kept it in a place of importance by my bed. When she died it was one of the first things I took from the house.
The text, mainly poetry, was a bit archaic even in 1955 with lines like "Their wings were blue and they sang 'Tilly-hoo!' Till away they flew." There are poems by well known authors like Robert Lewis Stevenson and Carl Sandberg as well as authors you've probably never heard of like Midred Plew Meigs, but the reason I loved the book (and the reason my mom loved it) were the illustrations by Garth Williams.
You might know Williams from his illustrations of Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, or Little House on the Prairie but the illustrations in the Tall Book of Make Believe are dreamier and occasionally scarier than anything you would find in those other books. Here the man in the moon looks like a sorcerer pulling clouds through the sky, rogue shadows follow wary bunnies through the fields, bad elephants are forced to eat coal, and teddy bears come to life to make mischief. This is just-about-to-fall-asleep—flashlight-under-the-covers reading at it's best. Today's children's books are too often filled with practical lessons about sharing, or diversity, or going to the potty. I prefer tales of an uninvited lions who lives under the table and out of control lollipop growth any day.
The Tall Book of Make Believe is highly sought after by collectors. There was a short run reissue in the early 90's but otherwise the only copies to be had are vintage and are hard to find at a reasonable price. The best place to look is Amazon where sellers will occasionally post copies in the $80 range (mint copies fetch up to $600). Less hard to find, but another great book for toddlers is The Tall Book of Nursery Tales".
September 21, 2006
April 14, 1986
Went to the beauty parlor today and cut off all my hair. Well not all of it, but it sure is shorter than it's ever been before. My head feels about 20 pounds lighter and I find sleep difficult. You wouldn't like it so I won't send a picture. My dad would kill me. He would say I look like a boy. Not that he ever visits.
My Linguistic Field Methods is interesting. I will subject you to an elicitation session and study your syntactic tree structure some day.
I still dream of Nebraska, the wide empty landscapes, away from all of this.
September 1, 2006
I'm sure I had taken other photographs before especially with our little 110 camera, but this is the first one I remember. It was 1974 and I was 7. Morning. A school day. My brothers were still asleep and my dad was trying read the previous night's paper before heading to work. I entered the kitchen with his Pentax around my neck having just figured out the light meter... Focus. Click. So satisfying. My mom said, "You shouldn't be playing with that," and I replied, "I'm not playing mom, I just took your picture."
August 21, 2006
My house in Los Angeles was owned by Esther Williams back in the 40’s. She of course put in the pool. She also, if old architecture magazines are to be believed, planted the gardenias, the palm tree, and the grand old olive tree in the front. She did not plant the plum tree in the back. Plum trees generally have lifespans of only 10-20 years and mine, according to an arborist who examined it, was almost 40 years old. "Extraordinary," she exclaimed while poking and measuring it. And completely unpruned." I had called in the specialist because the tree wasn’t producing fruit and I wanted to see if there was anything that could be done, you know, fertilizer or something. "If you want plums, the best thing would be to chop this tree down and plant another one," came the answer. The poor thing is about 20 years past it’s prime."
If she was right and the tree actually was 40 years old it would have been planted by the hippies who owned the housed throughout the 60’s and into the early 70’s. Silverlake had yet to be gentrified, places were cheap, and according to my 80 year old neighbor Rosita who was born on the block, "Those kids turned that house into a real love shack. There were 11 or 12 of them and they didn't like to wear clothes."
"Where did they all sleep," I asked (it’s a two bedroom house).
"Oh all over the place," came the answer, "there were two of them in the garage, and one of them sometimes liked to sleep out in the back in a tent. You know it was the 60’s. They smoked a lot of grass."
"Do you know if they planted the plum tree," I asked. "Oh they had a whole garden back there.", Rosita smiled, "Plums and oranges and all sorts of lovely tomatoes."
I did not heed the arborist’s advice. I pruned the tree. I made sure it was watered. I found fertilizer for stone fruit trees. But none of this had any effect. Summers came and summers went, and no fruit. At some point my then girlfriend, now wife, Jenn arrived. She breathed life into the house. After she arrived the kitchen was always humming, her actor friends would come and go sometimes doing acting exercises in the living room (she’s a theater director), and once again there was a garden out in the back. Each spring it would fill with heirloom tomatoes, carrots, and squash and winters would bring butter lettuce, arugula, and strawberries. A pair of mallards took up residence in the pool.
And then one day out back Jenn looked up at the tree and said, "Hey... plums," and I ran over, stood under it speechless staring up, and saw the tree was loaded with plums. I practically shouted, "We made plums! We made plums!" Throughout that summer the tree gave so much fruit we had to give some away and each time we would go outside to harvest it felt like a small miracle. Winter arrived, and we decided to move to New York by the end of the next summer. The tree flowered in the spring, but summer came and it was once again barren. Or so we thought. Right before we left as Jenn was doing a final walk around she called me over. There were exactly two plums on the tree.
We sold the house, to an actor of dubious taste. I made the mistake of returning to visit a few weeks after the sale. He had ripped out the garden, was surrounding the place with a high concrete wall, and worst of all for me, he had chopped town that plum tree.
I am not a superstitious man, I don’t believe 13 is unlucky, I don’t believe breaking a mirror is bad luck, I don’t even believe finding a four leaf clover is good luck, but I believe those plums were made for us. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that they would be almost indescribably delicious, and of course they were.
August 18, 2006
Twice this week friends have said they had extra tickets to a baseball game but didn't invite me because they didn't think I was "the baseball type.' For the record I love baseball especially live. Even minor league (especially minor league actually), even college baseball. Next time don't forget.
August 9, 2006
A friend of mine asked today, "when was the last time you felt cool?"
Hmmm. Bloggers are decidedly uncool. So subtract a few years. When did this blog start? Married people. Not cool. Now we're back to 2003. In LA I lived in Silverlake, which used to be cool, but by the time I lived there all the cool people had exited for Echo Park or Eagle Rock. I worked in the movies for a while. Cool from the outside, so not cool from the inside. The definition of uncool is being screamed at by your boss while on a Gulf Stream Jet and having the only other people in the cabin, 3 stewardess, snicker as you sit and take it. Also I was working on crap films like the Sabrina remake and IQ. The cool people worked on films like Bottle Rocket and Shallow Grave. My life as a nomadic backpacker... potentially cool for people stuck at desk jobs, but on the road there were always people who went further. When I arrived in Mongolia the talk was of mythic backpacker Ronnie from Tasmania. His exploits were discussed in hushed tones always ending with, "He vanished in the Gobi you know." That guy was cool. College? Please. I wore red socks (virtually every day), wrote a thesis on Chinese bronze casting, and thought it was fun to post xeroxes of raisin bread slices all over campus. Sigh. In high school I weighed about 90 pounds, talked with a deep drawl, and would get very excited when discussing "the world of the future." I was the school photographer. School photographers are never cool. Two words: Academic Decathalete. I showed up to Jr. High with a broken leg and on the first day broke my crutches. I had to hop from class to class. That pretty much ruined it for that year.
The last time I was cool? 1979. I was in 6th grade. Brookhollow Elementary home of the mighty Beavers. Mr. Johhny Futch, the principal (Futch is an unfortunate name for a principal), caught me doing a bit from Steve Martin's album Comedy is not Pretty to a group of classmates. But really I was reciting the bit for Janet, a transfer student from Baton Rouge who had only been in school two months (and would only stay month more before her parents mysteriously decided to move again.). Janet loved Steve Martin. She could talk dinosaurs and she loved orange velour. This last fact she told me over lunch a few days after arriving and within a week I had convinced my mom to buy not one but two velour shirts. One was red but could pass as orange. I told Janet it was tangerine and she deemed it "amazing." Janet was horrified when Mr. Fuchs grabbed me by my chain mid-joke (yes I wore a silver chain) and dragged me away.
Mr. Futch had a glassed-in office visible to anyone that walked by. Picture a square office with two glass walls open to the cafeteria. On the back wall, a painting of a deer and on the other, a big blackboard. In the corner a window and a potted plant. The desk sat dead center. It was bare save for a few framed pictures of deer kills, a soft focus portrait of Mrs. Futch, a microphone, and a large wooden paddle carved from a 2 by 4 and polished to a high gloss sheen. The office smelled of mimeograph ink.
Futch liked to lecture before he doled out punishment and he gravely informed me that "cussing" would not be tolerated. Speaking in a soft voice he contemplated the number of "licks" I would be receiving. One wouldn't teach me a lesson, and I needed a lesson as this was a second offense, but eight might be to much... "five, five is a good number". I was steeling myself for the blows when without warning he was called away leaving me alone in the office. "Don't touch anything," he smiled, "or you're looking at seven." I waited. I scanned for books to stuff down my jeans. Nothing. Ten minutes passed. Then twenty. Outside I saw my class in the cafeteria. They were almost finished and Janet was there. She saw me and made a sad face. I waved. She waved back. The bell was ringing. Lunch was over. I knew my class would be passing the office and in that moment I felt overwhelmed. "SOMETHING must be done," I thought. I looked outside. It was raining. On the chalkboard I wrote in big letters. "I did it for you Janet." I underlined Janet twice. Then I quickly opened the window and slipped out. In less than a minute I was on my bike pedaling full tilt down Live Oak Lane. I knew Mr. Futch would be calling my mom. I knew she would probably be waiting for me. Probably outside the house. She would drive me straight back to that office. But as I rode my bike on that rainy day I was cool as hell. I knew it. Janet knew it, and that's all that mattered.
August 8, 2006
I have a secret project.
That is all.
July 5, 2006
While other holidays blur together, my July 4ths are differentiated with strange clarity... I can count them back to about the age of 15 and tell you exactly where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing. Here are a few:
July 4, 1984, Marble Falls, Texas - Went bowling and walked out with a pair of red and blue bowling shoes, ditching my chucks. Had a bottle rocket war with friends near Inks Lake.
July 4, 1986, Boston - I was with a group of college friends one of those long nights when you end up at strange people's parties. I remember after the fireworks and very late in the evening I sat on the banks of Charles with a girl I liked. She was from Los Angeles and could quote Dickens, The Pickwick Papers to be precise. We could hear voices carrying from the other bank of the river.
July 4, 1988, Princeton - Wrote a letter to a friend in Kenya, illustrated it with zebras, and watched fireworks from the roof of Blair Hall. It was a perfect summer night and after a few beers we all fell asleep up there.
July 4, 1989, Philadelphia - I didn't know at the time, but my college girlfriend was breaking up with me. We fought about many things that day including a very long fight over a pound cake. Looking back at it now I wonder how 22 year olds could have made each other so miserable.
July 4, 1991, East Hampton - At some country club on the invite of a date. We watched little girls in white dresses and little boys in ties and jackets run around the beach with sparklers. The fireworks illuminated the sailboats on the still water. Went skinny dipping later.
July 4th, 1992, Pakistan - Looked at the stars (so many stars up at 14,000 feet) and thought of home.
July 4th 1993 Mongolia - Shot hundreds of tracer rounds into the sky at an ex-Soviet military base with a couple of ex-pat Texans. Had a grand time.
July 4, 1994 - Beverly Hills. Alone, tired. Strange. Watched the fireworks over the city lights in the far distance from my roof.
July 4th 1997 - San Francisco. The fireworks illuminated the low hanging fog in weird and beautiful patterns.
July 4th 2001 - Langmusi. Rounded up several other Americans and managed to improvise a bbq complete with yak burgers and apple pie. In lieu of fireworks we created a huge bonfire on the mountainside with our Tibetan friends. Everyone drank too much baiju.
July 4th, 2004 - Santa Barbara. We know we're leaving California by now and take a final drive up Route 1. We watch fireworks on the beach in a big happy crowd. Jenn is pregnant and the baby kicks when the fireworks boom.
July 4th, 2006 - Brooklyn. We walk down the street following the crowds under the BQE. The scene has a off-kilter Mad Max quality about it. Hasidic Jews, tough Brooklyn gangstas, Yemeni Arabs, scores of average New Yorkers, and a random celebrity or two all crowded behind fences and concertina wire to watch the fireworks over Manhattan. After we return home, Jenn IMs me from downstairs, "What just happened tonight?"
June 7, 2006
There are different levels of geekdom. Back in the early 80's you were a geek if you spent all your free time logging onto BBSes, the precursor to the internet, you were geekier still if you ran a BBS, and an uber geek if you actually coded a BBS. Hardware geeks were in another class altogether. But the difference between geek society and the rest of the word is that the closer to code and machine you got, the cooler you were. So if you were someone like me, a low caste geek who simply hung out on BBSes you had the worst of both worlds because you were just normal enough for regular society to reject you but not nearly smart or obsessive enough to be a high llama geek.
Ironically these days, lots of people claim high school nerdiness. Partially this is because anyone with half a soul felt like an outcast in high school, partially it's because of nostalgia, but mainly it's because memories lie. Even the most popular people claim to have been outcasts. You want to know about geekiness circa 1981? Let me paint you a picture. You had an Apple ][ or a Vic Commodor and you would wait by the mailbox for the mailman to deliver a fresh copy of Byte or Nibble magazine. Once the magazine arrived, you would flip through it at high speed praying for some code. If you were like me you were always looking for an easy way to get that code into the machine as reading back and forth from the page would surely introduce mistakes. My brilliant idea, record the numbers and dictate to myself. I have tapes and tapes full of code. Here is one small fragment, a data table of numbers. Enjoy.
June 5, 2006
My hatred of the heat is a well known and everybody hates heat plus humidity so why even mention it. By now I should have adapted. I was born in a hot place (although admittedly on the the coldest of days), I grew up in a miserably hot and humid place (although I constantly dreamt of snow), and I now reside in a place where heat and humidity are the norm from May to September and where apartments are often poorly cooled ovens.
My friends and family say hot months make me gloomy, that I act as if nature itself has betrayed me. I admit it, can't help it, and I can't fathom how life goes on in the truly sweltering places like Dehli or Baton Rouge. I visited Dehli once in August and each day in that broiling liquid soup they call air took years off my life. I would sleep covered with wet cloth under a fan and even so the only effect was that instead of being hot and sweaty I was now hot and wet, with sticky air being dragging round and around the room. Even the mosquitoes were too hot too fly, they would cling limply to the walls eventually sliding down to the ground.
Once when working on a movie scout I found myself backstage at Disneyworld. Why build an amusement park in a muggy swamp? Did Walt secretly hate kids? On the scout I would escape to an heavily air conditioned room used by the characters in what they called "breathing breaks". Inside those character suits, they are literally drenched in sweat. "Bad enough on a normal day, but when the temperature outside hits 103°F, it's murder. You could suffocate in there!" I practically screamed, "I would drop dead. Dead, dead dead." I announced this to a room to populated with several dwarves carrying their heads, a pig, Minnnie Mouse, Goofy, and a morose Tweedle-Dee . The room had gone silent. Minny helped Goofy push his head back to reveal a dripping red faced man, "We lost a Pluto last year in the dance routine; he fell backward and people thought it was part of the act.... but of course it wasn't..." he whispered. All the characters looked at each other. I thought I heard someone crying underneath the pig suit. I realized he an the others weren't getting all choked up so much because of Pluto, they were getting choked up because they were flirting death every day and they knew it.
Here in New York there is a small escape from the misery of summer: ice cream freezers. If you overheat while dragging yourself around the city, step into your nearest grocery store and find the ice cream freezer (the TV dinner section will do in a pinch). Open the door and bask in the cold. The cooling mist will envelope you and bring you down to near normal temperature. Even if you spend a very long time standing there with your eyes closed, most people will just ignore you. If a clerk asks you what you are doing, answer "thinking." This answer always throws them off, because it is irrefutably true and nobody want to interrupt a good thought... Anyway this is a long way of saying, if you see me this summer standing in front of freezer for a very long time, there's no need to worry, I'm just becoming human again.
June 3, 2006
This funny little comic book titled "REAL HEAT" published by Chick arrived through my mail slot today (I was actually standing in the stairwell and watched a man in a hat quickly push it through and scurry off)... and it was something I haven't seen since I was growing up in Texas--a fire and brimstone anti-Catholic comic about burning in Hell. Reminds me of the good old days of Brookhollow Elementary School.
Coach Savoy: You son are going to hell."
Coach Savoy: "I can help you open up your heart and let me show you the way. Unless you and your people stop worshiping Mary and accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior you are doomed son. Doomed to eternal damnation. You will not pass go, you will not get out of jail free, you will rot forever in hell."
Me: "Um. I'm nine years old."
The other reason I hated Coach Savoy was that he had a thing against foursquare. We always had to play in secret. My favorite part was at the beginning when the person in control would lay down the rules, "No bobbles, no babys, no slams, no moonshots..."
May 18, 2006
Do you ever find yourself writing something you're really into, put it down for a bit, and return to find total crap? That was my experience tonight so consider yourself spared of a page of heavy BS.
In the meantime, another old journal entry:
Monterrey, December 16, 1996
6:30AM Dreams of time travel and train wrecks last night. I’m sitting in the airport lounge watching Sylvester the Cat chase Tweety Bird (in Spanish). All airports should be so equipped. Oops Sylvester just got blown up. Again.
May 13, 2006
This is from a journal dated March 1996.
I saw the comet again tonight.
Carlyle called at sunset and asked if I wanted to go out and look for it. She said she knew I was the type of guy who would want to see it. She was right, I had already driven out beyond the city lights to find it twice, not the type of thing I would miss, but I didn't mention my previous excursions. "Let's find it together," I said. "Goodie," she exclaimed. She was the type of girl who could get away with a "goodie" now and then.
I picked her up at 11 and we drove out onto the PCH to escape the LA city lights. In her deep Alabama drawl she told stories about her father, about her broken down Cadillac that smelled of cat pee, about growing up in Alabama, and about this guy Ronnie she used to date. She said he would wear all black, and she would wear all white and they would go into bars like that and drink until they couldn’t drink anymore. Ronnie was dead now. She carefully enumerated all the reasons she missed him and about how she felt him watching over her, "He's an avenging angel. Bad ass," she whispered, before changing the subject to how she felt she would be famous someday. "I know I will," she said, "I just know it."
I was listening, but only half listening, I was thinking about how we carry around memories of people...how you can know someone for years and not notice them until they’re gone, or you can meet someone on a train for five minutes, and they can change your life forever.
We had been on the road for almost an hour now and were somewhere past Malibu, the sky was getting really dark. I could see the stars through the windshield. She had stopped talking but I hadn't noticed.
We drove off the highway onto the sand of a dark beach. I shut off the headlights and Carlyle giggled nervously. The comet was easy to spot even from inside the car. It was right up there as sure as anything and I was newly amazed because all my life comets have been a minor obsession and I couldn’t believe that I was actually seeing one without binoculars. We walked along the beach and I pointed out stars and constellations, but Carlyle didn’t seem to care. I asked what was wrong, "Oh nothing," came the answer.
After a long silence she murmured, "It’s him, isn’t it?" I had no idea what she was talking about but she explained, "it's ok his presence is strong tonight. You feel him too." Accepting her logic I said nothing and looked at the comet and the stars and the moon and felt thrilled for a while. In my giddiness I laughed and said that the comet was brighter than it had been the a few nights ago. She asked me what I was talking about, and I admitted I had seen it already. This was a mistake and she stomped off towards the water. Even with the waves breaking I could hear her crying. It was really dark.
After a while, I heard her walk across the sand, and get into the car. She flashed the headlights to hurry me up blinding me temporarily.
We drove home in silence which didn’t bother me, but I put on the radio to lighten things up. The DJ on KCRW was playing Mississippi John Hurt, one of my favorite blues singers, and sound of his quiet voice got all mixed up with the sound of the wind coming through the window. It all felt nice in my head and my mind was wandering all over the place, but I kept coming back to thinking how grand it had been to see the comet on the dark beach and that Carlyle would one day forget being upset and remember only the sky. I wondered how I would remember it.
When I was four or five my parents woke me up at midnight to see a lunar eclipse. Now I don’t remember the eclipse at all, I just remember being picked up by my dad and sitting on his shoulders and my mom tickling my back.
When my head starts going like that, time flies. We arrived back in no time and I drove Carlyle to her little house in Huntington Beach. I didn’t want the night to end on a bad note, so I kissed her on the cheek and said, "I hope you enjoyed seeing the comet." She got out of the car and started walking into the dark.
"It wasn't anything," she called back, "it was just a blur."
April 18, 2006
I have a large stack of notebooks I've been keeping since high school. This fragment comes from one dated July 22, 1988. No recollection of the context (story idea, overheard conversation, etc)...
The girl: You don't know what you are doing, how could you, because if you knew, you would not walk away, not like this. The truth, the real truth is, you are terrified because I make you feel something and after what happened you have grown comfortable in your numbness. You observe the world from afar but you are not in it. In these last hundred days, every morning while my head was resting on your pillow even before my eyes opened, I had this thought: I am not the girl you adore, but a subject of study, someone one should adore. You have used me so that one day you can write about the girl you once loved. But the girl in your story won't be me. You will change small details, you will forget things and you will make me say things I would never say. You will paint yourself as tragic and beautiful and you will make this moment seem inevitable, but it is not. I am asking you to say something. I am asking you to stop thinking. I am asking you to change.
April 10, 2006
We all have images stuck in our heads that drive us towards something or away from something. Indelible images that come to us at odd hours of the night.
Bernstein in Citizen Kane: " A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl."
I am haunted by a dozen and a half such memories several of which I did not actually see with my own eyes, but images I picture clearly nonetheless. My own constitution is such that no one vision dominates and they are equal parts pain and pleasure. Having a child has certainly added to the inventory and perhaps colored the collection in memory.
When I was a boy I was fascinated, as most boys are, with fireworks. In Mexico there was a grandmother in the neighborhood who sold bundles of gunpowder extracted from bullets. They would be delivered neatly wrapped in small brown bags through her bedroom window. She also sold handmade watermelon popsicles. I visited often. For a few pesos we would amass quantities of the dark powder, hiding it in cigar boxes in the back of a dresser. With a bit newspaper, a wick from a candle, and some wax you could make a pretty good firecracker. We would sneak out to abandoned lots and experiment. A stolen can of gasoline, rubbing alcohol, and motor oil were used to turn our small firecrackers into larger bangs and eventually we were blowing up rocks and cans.
One sweltering August afternoon after a particularly satisfying round of explosions things went wrong. A little girl, someone's young sister who had been watching from a distance, was upset by a fire burning in some trash. She picked up what she thought was was a cup of water but was actually a cup of rubbing alcohol and threw it on the fire. In a flash the flame raced back up the liquid and she ignited. She fell to the ground, rolling and making screeching like an animal. The fire was out in a few seconds but the damage was done. The skin on her legs and arms was melted and she screamed. The other kids ran away leaving me standing there alone.
For many years I saw the image of myself standing there immobilized with fear, guilt and horror. I remember her eyes and I remember closing my eyes before I could summon the will to do something. But now my memory has shifted. While I see the little girl, my primary image is now of the mother. Weeks after the accident I went to the girl's house to apologize. The mother opened the door but would not let me in. I understand now what she must of have felt in that moment and I know why she could not meet my eyes when I told her I was sorry.
April 6, 2006
Jenn and the baby have been down in Philadelphia for a few days and the house is unusually quiet. Too quiet. I can hear myself think, hear my footsteps... the hum of the refrigerators and the city sounds which I never normally notice. For the many years I lived alone, a quiet house and solo meals were never acknowledged. Never noticed. But with the family away our empty bed is cold and the incessant stillness keeps me awake.
I wonder how my father managed in the long years after my mother died in that big Texas house all alone. In that era he hated weekends and would often go in to work or fly somewhere, anywhere, just to be on the move. He had to get extra pages in his passport for all those long aimless weekend trips. I know now why sometimes back in those days a conversation over the phone would end (I would have something to do or read) and he would ask if I could just stay on a little longer. Sometimes we didn't talk, I doing whatever I was doing, my dad listening to the static. Sometimes I could hear him pacing. Those years were so hard, but eventually he fell in love again and we've all moved on. Life right now is almost unbearably sweet, but that sweetness makes me understand what my father lost and those long stretches of static haunt me because I could have done more.
March 31, 2006
Yesterday (actually the day before yesterday as it is already tomorrow), was our anniversary. Three years. Leather. THREE YEARS! Time accelerates at an uncomfortable pace. If I rewind to the moment Jenn and I were at the alter being lassoed together (literally lassoed, as this was a Mexican wedding and that's part of the ceremony) I remember time suddenly becoming very slow, expanding, and silencing the room.
It was an improbable situation. A couple of hundred people from the many disparate parts of our lives converged in a little village church 4 hours away from anything. The scene was pretty-radiating strands of flowers hung from the wooden beams down to the alter. Villagers in their cowboy hats had gathered outside to watch the men in tuxedos, and the women in hamboks, saris, and dresses pass through the old wooden doors. It was sunset just as we had planned and we knew by the time the long Catholic service was over stars would be peeking out in the desert sky.
So many things had gone wrong leading up to that moment- big things. Serious things like Jenn being stuck down for 3 days with food poisoning, my tuxedo going missing in a cab, and a bus of Koreans getting lost in the desert. When they placed that lasso over us, the same one that had married my parents, I felt it was the first time I could take a breath, look over at my lovely bride, and just relax. I held her hand. In a minute my godfather would give us thirteen gold coins (another Mexican tradition) and then in a few more minutes, I would put a ring on Jenn's finger.
I thought many things in that long moment most of which I have forgotten, but the one question that stuck was, "By what principle will we lead our life together?" Someone had just spoken about us and had said our greatest virtue and our greatest flaw was that we loved beauty. That we would search for it. "True," I thought, but surely beauty is ephemeral, hardly an organizing principle. 'Love' seemed too obvious, too broad; 'truth', self righteous. I decided the question needed more thought and of course consultation. This would be decided together. Three years later we're still asking the question, and perhaps the answer is that there is no simple answer, perhaps the important thing is to remember to keep asking the question despite the years rushing past and all the other things that make us forget the moments when time stands still.
March 13, 2006
Powder blue poly suit with deep bell bottoms. Check.
Cool pose. Check.
Earth shoes. Check. (essential)
W i d e & high open collar shirt. No tie. Check.
Show off your garden. No. No! So not cool. Stop.
March 11, 2006
February 24, 2006
From an old journal:
It's almost 3am. My friend died today. Cancer. She was only 26. I couldn't sleep.
I drove up PCH. The clouds were low. The ocean dull, dark, almost invisible. Hungry and awake, I drove inland and stopped at a diner somewhere in Ventura county. As always at diners I ordered a burger and key lime pie. The place was empty and Janet, the waitress poured herself a coffee, sat down with me, and talked about a dream of horses she had had many years ago. I talked about India and the things I had seen there. She asked a lot of questions about camels and monsoons and holy men. Except for the cook and a sleepy bus boy named Manuelito, there was nobody else. I didn't tell her about my friend. When I got up to go she told me to come again, turned the TV to old Star Trek episode. Kirk was fighting some alien guy. Janet said she had seen it before. "The Gorn," she says, "They are unstoppable."
I drove back down the coast past the lights and stopped on a deserted beach. I like to open the windows, crank the heater up, and listen to the waves. I sat there in the dark for a while with the radio playing static. The world seems less round on nights like this. Hard to imagine tommorrow much less ten years from tomorrow.
February 21, 2006
A few days ago a friend doubted my childhood East Texas accent. How wrong you are my friend. How very wrong you are: Recording dated December 28, 1977 (mp3 format)
February 18, 2006
February 1, 2006
Leon Bittick a man who worked for our family as a yardman for almost 20 years died last week. He was almost 90 and insisted on working right up to the end. Leon was a humble man who spoke with a honey-rich East Texas accent untempered by exposure to the outside world. His language indeed the world he lived in is fast dissapearing. A few Leonisms:
Lick by lick, that there cow ate the grindstone (nothing is impossible)
We've howdyed but we ain't shook. ( I know you but we're not friends)
He's studyin' to be a half-wit and I'm afraid he ain't gonna make it
There's something seldom about that ol' boy (the kid is a bit weird)
It's still as a pig a wettin'. (very very quiet)
He'd brag about the number of holes in his outhouse
We used her biscuits to chunk the dog. (bad cook)
He walks too slow to catch a cold.
Oh it was tasty. Tasty as day old lard.
Still as a bowl of spit. (calm)
When she says frog, he jumps. (man run around by his wife)
She buys crutches for lame ducks. (spendthrift)
Figures don't lie, liars sure can figure
That fella would drown a widow woman's hen. (mean)
Talk is cheap, but money buys whiskey.
She's so ugly she has to sneak up on the mirror
What in cornbread hell is going on?
February 1, 2006
From age 5 to 18 I lived in Lufkin, Texas. There was only one television channel. The first show of the day was Farm and Ranch News with Horace McQueen. The report always began at 6:00am sharp following the Star Spangled Banner (played over military jets) at 5:55. Abruptly the screen would change to a shot of a tiny desk in a cramped room with fake wood walls (later there were opening titles and music from a fiddle). Horace, a big man, would enter the room and sit uncomfortably behind the desk. He wore dusty western shirts and always gave the impression he had just arrived from birthing a calf. His deep bass voice projected assurance, but would always fidget. There were often technical problems with the steer report, so he would sip coffee and ruminate on the weather with lots of little observations about fishing or hunting. Sometimes he would play with his string tie.
After settling in he would take off his cowboy hat at throw it onto a hook on the wall. He would do this without looking back or breaking his verbal stride. He never missed and after throwing the hat, he would start speaking faster and faster until he reached an auctioneers gait...he would talk about soil and steers and grain prices with authority and passion. He seemed to know a lot about how the world worked.
It always bothered me that I could not see his eyes. He wore those glasses that turned brown in bright light, and the studio lights made the lenses really dark. Once he took off his glasses to wipe his brow and his eyes looked older and more confused than I had imagined. For years he was held an important place in my imagination, not because his reports had any bearing on my life, but because my brothers and I would watch because there was nothing else on and because cartoons would follow his show. His patter became part of the rhythm of our lives and even today I miss the conviction and joy of his weather reports. Cable arrived to my town in 1985 just as I was leaving for college. The town changed. Now with CNN, MTV, and 24 hour cartoon channels I can't imagine that anyone watches old Horace any more. The last time I checked a few years ago he had been moved to UHF 37. It must be lonely over there but I don't think Horace minds. I'm sure he's always awake before sunup and I doubt he ever misses that hook on that fake wood wall.
January 10, 2006
Walking in a dark forest I see a small fire burning and have the strange desire to eat it. It is an irrational desire, I know that, but the attraction is overwhelming--like a child to ice cream.
I pick up the fire and hold it in my hand and am surprised by the cold it gives off even as I see it turn my skin black. The decision to taste seems inescapable. I do so quickly with one motion forcing it down with a gulp as I would a pill. All the way home I feel it in my stomach, but I feel ok.
In the bath I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My stomach glows, it’s now hot to the touch. A cold shower does nothing to control the problem. My skin steams.
Lying in bed I can feel the fire spreading throughout my body and in the stillness of the night, I hear it. The fire is louder than my heartbeat and breathing combined. My arms are starting to glow as are my legs. Then the hands. Remember when you, as a child, would hold a flashlight to your palm and look at your bones through the other side? It looked like that. I am sweating.
Flame bursts through my fingertips and then in an instant I am engulfed in an inferno. I am inside the fire. Oddly, I feel no pain, but worried about the house I run to the middle of the yard.
My skin sloughs off in large hunks. I fall. The fire burns through my muscles and innards until I am just bones. At this point I just want it to stop. The agony is more emotional than physical, but it is agony. The noise and smell are overwhelming. But even the bones burn. They separate; lose their form; and slowly I turn to dust.
The dust burns. I wonder how I can still feel. Is this what you mean when you talk of the soul? I ponder. Time passes impossibly slowly, but the fire will not die. Strange people live in my house, then new people, then more, then too many to count. At some point, without noticing how, the house is gone. The neighborhood is gone. Trees have grown up all around. I am in a deep forest… waiting.
January 6, 2006
As I noted last year, my birthdays tend to pass uneventfully. Of course there were exceptions. When I was in the fifth grade my mom surprised me by gathering up my entire 5th grade class in the early morning. They surrounded my bed, as I slept and woke me with a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday. This would have been wonderful had I not been sleeping in the altogether.
My seventh grade party was also pretty good. We took over the Lufkin Skates Roller Rink Ranch and a kid named Mickey broke his arm while doing the roller limbo. I was kissed behind the rink by a girl named Pam (a fact which later led to my first real fight) and one of the older girl's boobs fell out of her shirt while roller discoing. It was a grand time.
But perhaps my most memorable birthday was the actual day I was born. Every year in certain parts of Mexico old footage of that day is played on the local news because on that January 6th it started snowing and the snow continued for 3 days. Snow in Dallas or Detroit would be no big deal, but in the state of Nuevo Leon snow was unheard of. Any snow would have been memorable, three feet was just unimaginable. The snowfall was the first in recorded memory and everyone went a little nuts. My mom always remembered it like this (from one of her letters back then):
[a little background, my mom was just learning Spanish and was in Mexico with my dad's family. He was in Vietnam. finishing his tour of duty]
It was very early maybe four or five am. I half sleeping, tired from the birth. Baby Raul was next to me in an bassinet, when a nurse came in the room saying "nieve, nieve!". I didn't understand. I said "no, no nieve." Nieve is the word for ice cream in Mexico and I didn't want ice cream. "No no" I kept saying. But she wouldn't stop pulling my arm. I was getting angry "No. Quiero dormir" but she wouldn't take no for an answer. I didn't want to leave the baby so I picked him up and the three of us shuffled to the window. Then I saw it. I saw the snow pouring from the sky in big fluffly flakes like it does at home New York. I felt it was all for me. For us. For me and the baby. A Christmas present. I stood there and for the first time began crying. Good tears. The baby looked at me with big eyes as if to say, don't cry, it will be ok and I knew that we would be ok. I stayed at the window all morning long.
December 22, 2005
As a work-at-home guy, someone with a car, and someone who walks the bridge regularly the transit strike shouldn't have affected me that much... but it has been annoying. Driving in the city has become a nightmare, not because traffic is that bad, but because the police have blocked off both 5th Avenue and Madison making getting around anywhere above 14th street a real pain.
Yesterday we at lunch in Koreatown and then Jenn drove off with the baby & my brother in tow leaving me to fend for myself. Walking down an empty 5th Avenue a few days before Christmas was eerie. The whole city was dead feeling like a summer holiday when everyone decamps... but it wasn't summer, it was the first day of winter with December's blue light blinding everyone who was walking south. The only part of the city that seemed totally normal was Chinatown. Once I got to Canal Street a sense of normality returned with people hawking umbrellas and christmas lights and cheap radios. Past Canal Broadway became clogged with walkers heading for the Brooklyn Bridge.
At the base of the bridge an encampment of transit workers glumly shouted slogans and the masses trudged by ignoring them for the most part, but cursing the group under their breaths. In the words of one policeman, "Why does that fatso think he deserves more money than me for sitting in a tollbooth when I'm out on the streets breaking my neck." The bridge crowd was shoulder to shoulder. Bicyclers had to walk it. People were chatty. I heard several say this was the first time they had walked the bridge since September 11th. Wall Street guys fell neatly into their stereotypes with their Gordon Gekko hair, big cigars, and obnoxious talk (re the union leader's personal fine of $1000: "I wipe my ass with a G.")
I'm a fast walker, but most in the crowd were moving faster than me, perhaps because the wind was blowing making it very cold up there. Many stopped to admire the views and I heard several say "We should do this more often." In the middle of the bridge a girl in her 20s stood with a big "talk to me" sign. Nobody was talking to her and she looked sad. I said, "Hello there skinny." to make her smile and she did. News reporters kept pulling people out of the crowd trying to get someone to say something interesting... but this blog post notwithstanding what to say really? On the far side of the bridge several Brooklyn politicians welcomed people home with bullhorns and a girl in a skimpy Mrs. Santa suit doled out Christmas tea. She was really really cold.
I'll be glad when I can hop on the subway again. I'll be glad when I can drive from 34th and Lex to 35 and 7th without taking a detour to 8th Avenue and I'll be glad when I have the bridge to myself again.
October 26, 2005
This is me at about the same age my son is now. Two things strike me about this picture. One: My mom was wearing heels in the house. Two: The Nixon era was so... well... Nixonian looking.
October 24, 2005
The image below was taken on this day, Oct 24th, 1988 in my senior year dorm room. I'm embarrassed to reveal that still have most of the stuff pictured. That kilm is sitting in our kitchen floor. The Tibetan mask is staring at me here in in my attic office. The postcards in a desk. Etcetera. I haven't even throw out the Macintosh IIf sitting on the desk (it still boots!). I never throw away books.
There is so much I did not know back on that date. Within a little more than a year a series of tragedies would turn my world inside out and send me reeling... So much I could not have imagined standing there looking at my tripod... but I should not feel smug in what little I know now, because that moment of complacency is when life's broadsides can do the most damage.
I do wish I could go back and talk to my college self and tell that guy that it all works out. That all those years in between are worth it. That you can end up exactly where you want to be, in love with your family, enjoying life more than should be legal, and looking forward to what's next.
October 11, 2005
Somehow it is almost 2am again. Try though I might I never seem to be able to get to bed before 3. It has been this way for a very long time. As a kid I would play possum until my parents were safely downstairs, construct a decoy with pillows and read under the bed with a flashlight. Later it was Letterman back in his first seasons. I would watch on a small black and white television set with the volume very very low and stifling my laughs with a pillow, later still I would sneak down to my Apple //e clicking away and connecting to far away BBSes. And there was one of the great joys of my adolescence: the late night listen to the full album (while wearing big headphones of course) in a darkened room. Long evening phone calls with girls came around junior year in high school and made me forget music and computers and everything else for a while...
In college, well it was college... and nobody ever sleeps. I tried to never schedule classes before 11 in the morning to compensate.
Then in those giddy first years in NY it was Elsie's Oke Doke Pub, a speakeasy run by the 80 year old Elsie Rene-an anachronistic little bar where the most recent song on the jukebox was 30 years old. Elsie often wouldn't open her doors until midnight and even then the place wouldn't get going until 2 or 3 (the truth is the doors were never open, she only let you in if she knew you). We would sit at the bar together sipping Jagermeisters ("It's medicinal," she would say, "full of herbs. Sip it.") as she told me stories of New York in the 30's and 40's. The entire geography of her life was contained in just a few blocks of Yorkville and after a few drinks she would always launch into tales too tall to be fiction. I would stop by virtually every night and eventually my picture hung on the wall. One of my great disappointments on moving back to the city last year was walking up 84 street and finding the place shuttered and dark.
Now of course there is a baby who fills so much of the day that many of the things I should be doing do get pushed until he is asleep and the house is quiet. It is very quiet now. I should get back to work.
September 16, 2005
My mom's birthday just past. She would have been 60 which is hard to imagine. She was only 45 when she died, 21 when she had me. In my mind she is always young, although always still my mother, the adult. Her voice rings clear in my head and I'm sure it will remain so when I am an old man. The Mexican side of me holds death close.
My grandmother had 10 brothers and sisters, nine of them preceded her in death, and yet she always spoke of them as if they were guests expected at any moment. She would catalog stories of their lives, but would always end by noting their burial places often lamenting the fact that they were not together to more easily talk in the afterlife. From the age of 3 until I was in my 20's at the end of every visit she would whisper, "hug me tight because this is the last time you will see me in this world." She would often press pictures of herself in my hands so that I wouldn't forget "when I am gone."
My mother's pictures, letters, and other small things scattered around the house do not provoke melancholy, but instead remind me how much I have to live up to for my own son. It is a strange bargain knowing that the more we give of ourselves, the more open we are to pain, but the more alive we become.
Octavio Paz, one of my favorite poets writes, "To the inhabitant of New York, Paris, or London death is a word that is never uttered because it burns the lips. The Mexican, on the other hand, frequents it, mocks it, caresses it, sleeps with it, entertains it, it is one of his favourite playthings and his most enduring love."
August 31, 2005
My first girlfriend was a Louisiana girl, a Cajun. We would rendezvous in New Orleans. This was way back in high school and in order to make the long drive from Texas and justify my absence I would always have to tell a bucket of lies. I liked the journey though and would always go with the windows rolled down and lots of tapes in the truck. Her family hated me. My family had no idea. We both knew the relationship was doomed which of course made the whole thing almost impossibly bittersweet in the way teenage romances often are.
That was all a long time ago and most of the details are soft and faded like polaroid left in the sun, but something she said to me way back then always stuck in my head. It was a hot and humid August night and the air was full of crickets and frogs. We were on Magazine Street sitting on the stoop of a friends house and I was talking nonsense as usual. I was going on about the city being below sea level and the pumps that kept the city dry and the Army Corps of Engineers. I had read in a book that the Mississippi in it's natural state moves like snake sliding across wet grass but that the engineers had straightened it all out which made the river keep rising. At some point I noticed she wasn't listening and was staring into the middle distance. "What's wrong?" I asked. And then she began crying. "This whole damn city is an illusion," she said softly. "It's like Jerico or Tyre or Babylon, one day all of it, and I mean all of it, will all be gone." She talked like that, the way real Cajuns do. In the years since I've only been back to the city a handful of times, and we lost touch years ago, but when looking up at the hulls of boats passing by from the bottom of a Mississippi levee her words always came back to me... and now of course it's all come true.
August 25, 2005
My photoblog is up and running again... expect daily updates from my Kham/Amdo work for a while.
I've been sleepy... caught in the nether-world of jetlag and babytime.
August 24, 2005
June 2, 2005
Sorry to keep posting these old journal fragments, but it is always curious to find something in your own hand that you do not recognize:
Letter to my future wife wherever you are:
Forget the ocean... forget last night and try to remember that long afternoon near the end of summer when we spoke for the first time. We talked of the color ultramarine and of the ideal day. A day in which every moment is polished and perfect and even our breath overlaps. I tried to imagine this but found my mind wandering... round river stones tumbling, the word s o m n a m b u l a n c e kicking around my head... But too much thinking is pushing away this future memory so I turn off that part of my brain and just let your words flow over me. Listening to you I knew you could make me forget and perhaps for a while, even now when you are just an illusion, you did. Do you remember all this because I do? and I know that that perfect ideal day will be the first day, the beginning of something.
June 1, 2005
From an old journal:
June 1rst, 1993
Stung Treng, Cambodia
Last night we awoke to the sound of a woman screaming nearby. There was no electricity, no light but starlight. It sounded as if she was being assaulted or worse.
The racket if I had to describe it would be of a woman being sawed in half. Soon her screams were joined by the voices of other women. I was awash in the chill of pure terror. Despite every instinct to run in the opposite direction we (myself and the other men on bus garroted in a cheap guesthouse) made our way outside towards the noise up the steps of the other platformed guesthouse where the women were sleeping. A snake, an enormous one of at least 60 pounds, had fallen from the rafters onto the women's mosquito net and began writhing to free itself. The woman had been trapped and paralyzed with fear. None of this was apparent before a match was lit... upon entering the room we just saw two dark shapes struggling with manic energy. Finally a match was struck, the scene revealed & much shouting.
An old man deftly and with practiced precision did away with the beast with a quick sharp jab of a knife through the eye. The woman bruised, and almost mad with fear had been bitten several times, though the bites weren't poisonous she was hysterical. When the blood was cleaned she was left with just a few puncture wounds. By the time the excitement was over the sun was breaking, the snake had been skinned & gutted, and put into a pot where it boiled for two hours.
I was just served a bowl of the oily dark flesh. I think I will pass.
March 31, 2005
The year was 1978. The Yankees were the league champions and entire 1977 team was returning so the coaches only had two draft picks, last round. The picks: Yours truly and a kid named Alec who would pee his pants when he got really excited (he got excited lots).
A year or two younger than everyone else, uncoordinated, and of course the only kid with glasses, I spent practices in mortal terror. There was the coach who would hold a hand missing two fingers in front of my face and say "How come I can throw better than you with this?" There was the chubby kid, now a cop, who punched my arm black and blue every time I stood too close to him. There were the older kids dipping snuff, sending tight streams of dark wintergreen scented spit at my feet. And how could I forget Joshua, the kid with the soft spot in his skull. I was always scared of throwing a ball wide, beaning Joshua and killing him, something he constantly warned was a possibility. "Right here," he would glare and point behind his ear, "get me here and I am dead. D-E-A-D dead. Understand?"
I didn't play much, but it was required I sit in for at least one inning. Because my fielding was terrible I felt I had to make up for it at the plate, and the easiest way to get on base was to simply lean into the pitch and get nailed. One of the coaches would silently encourage me from the bench if I had two strikes. He would lean his head over and give me a thumbs up and wink. I knew that the best strategy was to make it look good, so when I got myself pegged I would always fall to the ground for dramatic effect.
Out in left field there was little I could do right. Being vaguely dyslexic and massively nearsighted didn't help. I had a tendency to daydream and would spend my time in the out on the damp night grass busy trying to identify constellations and would forget to focus on the game. I dropped countless fly balls, had a weak arm, and was generally feckless. But all those little failures contributed to my greatest accomplishment: Big championship game. My inning was up. Two outs and bases loaded. The kid at the plate was a slugger who went on to spend a few years in the minor leagues. I remember praying: "Don't hit it to me. Don't hit it to me. Don't hit it to me..." But of course on the first pitch came the crack of the bat and the ball arced up straight at me. I could see the dismayed faces of my teammates and the people in the stands jumping to their feet. For a moment I was frozen. Then cursing I ran, jumped and stretched and channeled Willie Mays.
The game was won and I had won it.
I was carried around the field a hero. The kid who spit on me was chanting my name, my coaches were jumping up and down hugging each other, my parents were beaming. I knew it would all vanish quickly and I would be runt again in a few days, but it didn't matter because that moment was perfect, so I closed my eyes and just let it wash over me because even then I knew perfection is the rarest of all things.
January 6, 2005
Today was my birthday. While I enjoy celebrating other people's birthdays my own have never had much meaning for me. I have never quite understood all the anticipation and fuss (Nor do I understand people who get gloomy talking darkly being another step closer to the grave--Hey buddy, you are one step closer every day, why single out your birthday). Perhaps it's simply timing. Falling twelve days after Christmas and only 6 days after New Years, I tire of being jolly. The weather is often miserable. People are out of town. So my birthdays tend to pass quietly or at least they have since my big roller skating party in the 7th grade.
My 20th was spent in the library (someone had actually planned a surprise party but couldn't find me). My 25th was spent locked out of the house with a vomiting dog. The only reminder of my 30th was a card from my dentist who sent me a limerick incorporating a birthday message with notice of an upcoming appointment. "There was once a man named Raul..."
These days people have reminders in email and calendar programs so you get those automated electronic postcards. I got 6 today. One with a dancing pig.
My wife will have none of my indifference. Year by year she's been wearing me down with carefully selected gifts, nice meals and general thoughtfulness. So while I still don't completely understand why birthdays should be such a big deal, and I make mistakes (like blowing out my candles on the first 2 bars of the song and accidentally opening my gifts early), I've come to enjoy the day and even sort of look forward to it.
This is us, a bit out of focus, on my birthday last year.
November 19, 2004
There is this place far away from everything called Oatmeal where they used to listen to fishing on the radio. It's not much of a town--just a cemetery, a store, and a boarded up church. You can get there by turning off the main road between Austin and Burnet and following the the signs for "Live Homegrown Minnows by Pearl". The road is thick with cottonwoods and sometimes you have to swerve to avoid deer darting just in front of you. I used to drive out there hoping to find something.
An old friend having heard a few of my stories paid the place a visit. Apparently they don't play that radio show anymore.
October 25, 2004
Sometimes when I encounter childhood friends I have not seen in almost 20 years there is a subtle instinctual reaction of recoil and sadness before the hellos and hugs. We look at each other's faces trying to push away the years and see the person that was. Perhaps the sadness comes from seeing our own aging reflected or perhaps it comes from all that we have missed from each other's lives and of friendship unraveled. Voices don't change much though. Speaking bridges the gap and helps bring us back. A familiar laugh can do much to ease the divide.
I ran into a friend this morning. She was shopping with her 17 year old daughter who was born when her mom was 19. The daughter looked more like my memory of the mother than the mother did and I had to stop myself from staring. When the daughter waved goodbye she sparked the memory of the last time I had seen the mom... it was a late night high school graduation party out near Zed Creek. She was holding court on a diving board above a pool full of revelers and caught me slipping out the back gate. She alone noticed my exit, smiled, and waved for me to come back... Although I wanted to, I acted like I hadn't seen her, turned my back, and walked into the darkness. I remember the stars above the pines that night. I remember standing out by my truck looking back on the scene and I remember the Earnest Tubb on the radio as I drove away down the gravel road.
That whole complicated humid evening of June 85 came back to me complete in the moment of the daughter's wave... but of course I said nothing, waved back to mother and daughter, and continued on.
September 25, 2004
I went in for another round of acupuncture and I came out feeling like a new man. Dr. Zhuang can't speak a word of English, but the guy seems to know exactly how to fix me. He even fixed my big toe which has been numb and pins/needlesy for weeks. Today's treatment involved pins both in my back and my legs. The latter had a very slight sting... Amazing how quickly you feel better. I wonder if the pins stimulate adrenaline production which numbs pain? Whatever...it works.
Weird day out there.
We kept breaking things in the house (including Jenn's ibook which we dropped).
There were cops in random places for no apparent reason (these guys were on Baxter):
And the encounters I had with people were kind of out there.
Example: This is a conversation I had with a young Korean deli guy (with a SF/Bay area accent):
deli guy (apropos of nothing): Do you believe in ghosts?
me: It depends.
deli guy: What do you mean by that?
me: I think I believe in ghosts in Mexico, but not so much in New York City.
deli guy: Mexican ghosts. Oooh. Very interesting. What kind?
me: Well for starters there would be the ghosts of the dead, and the ghosts of those not yet born.
deli guy: So many souls.... (picks up a guitar) Do you play guitar? Mexicans are musical people.
deli guy: Is it ok if I write a song about Mexican ghosts?
me: Knock yourself out.
August 29, 2004
We're onto finalizing things with the painter. He begins on Tuesday. When we were settling things today in his apartment up in the West 90's he me nervous. "I don't let my guys smoke or drink on the job. You know if they drink and paint they get real sloppy."
In order to cut costs we went with one of the cheaper painters... also we're not painting ceilings or moldings as they need lots of repair (we'll look at the cracks as a patina). Our landlady isn't pitching in and I don't feel like spending the extra money to improve her place for her... it's only a year or so and we hope to buy something and start get renovating. But we do want some real color on the wall. White and grey is so dreary.
We're going with a Korean inspired color theme. This is an example of korean colors commonly used on fabric borders and so on:
These are somewhat different that the colors I've used in the past. Jenn found the colors of our last house (painted pre marriage) too masculine. For reference at Lakewood Ave I used:
So the challenge was finding something we could both live with... We couldn't use a pure set of Korean colors. They are too intense for our existing furniture so we have to tone them down a bit. This is our current plan (so far):
The transition from living room to bedroom looks funky on the computer, but it's ok on the wall. The bedroom color is a complex Islamic looking blue that could also be a Korean blue. At least that's the impression we hope it gives. The fear is that the bedroom will look like a swimming pool. We're a bit stymied by the kitchen. I had wanted to do some sort of linen colored walls with a rich blue ceiling, but that would be a hassle to repaint when we move out... Right now we've settled on a green similar to what we had in our old bedroom. Boring but we can't come up with something better. The red room is jenn's concession to me. I've had a red room in virtually every place I've had since college. We plan to put all my horns and maps and things in this room.
Once we have our own place again we'd like to get a bit more advanced with color-a modern Bloomsbury look. I'm thinking glazes, painted decorative ceilings, but one step at a time. Let's find the place first.