Monday, April 30, 2007

Better Ideas Than Mine

Found on Flickr, found on Gothamist, and found on Found:

20th Century Man

From a Rolling Stone interview with Ray Davies, February, 2006:

You used to have insomnia. Did you write most of your songs at night?

Yeah, that's when I wrote "Rocky Skies." Same with "Don't Lie to Me" and "Nothin' in This World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl" -- which ended up in the movie Rushmore. I wrote "All Day and All of the Night" in the morning, and "Sunny Afternoon" I wrote in the afternoon. Now I don't write songs during the night -- I just worry.

Where was the sloppiest Kinks show ever?

In Virginia, in the early Seventies. It was on a revolving stage, and during the first song I jumped in the air, fell on my head and knocked myself out, and was carried offstage. My brother [Dave] was drunk, so he had to sit down for the set [laughs]. The moment my brother could have taken over the band, he was too out of it! So Mike Cotton, our harmonica player, took over center stage and began doing "You Really Got Me." I had to fight the ambulance crew to let me back onstage, because they sounded terrible without me. I did the rest of the set with my head bandaged up.

Dave was known for playing at ear-shattering volume. Did you ever turn down his amp?

Yeah. We had a guitar tech who worked out a device on the side of my amp, so I could control his maximum volume. We had Dave well in control.

Are you kidding? Dave didn't know you were doing that?

He didn't notice. The guy that took the heat was the monitor guy. We lost a lot of monitor men during that period [laughs]. But it had to be done. Then Dave started to draw a line around the area where he played, and nobody was allowed to walk in that space.

Has the hip-hop community embraced you, now that you've taken a bullet?

[Laughs] I'll tell you, it's not cool -- it fucking hurts. But it's cool I got shot and we're here talking about it.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

It's No Fun, It's No Fun, Reading Fortune Cookies to Yourself...

Four for your time wastin' pleasure:

Courtesy RM:

The Landlord

Courtesy SR:

Courtesy LG:

Courtesy our wasted youth:

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Commercial Breakdance

Picking up on my non-marathon marathon weekend for a moment, Reebok is running an odd ad campaign in which they are encouraging you to "Run Easy," and ask such questions as "What Are You Just Doing?" (which is sort of funny). I don't know what to make of it, but I do love when the shoe companies start senselessly cannibalizing each other, with no apparent self-awareness.

As an apology for discussing an on-going commercial campaign, please watch this:

[Courtesy of Nothing to Do with Arbroath]

I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City / Madmen

Spending a few days in New York City, sure gonna miss this place if it turns out that I head back out to the west coast. That's for sure. At the moment, sitting in JWW's apartment, listening to Bob Dylan's radio show. The theme of this show? New York City. Currently, Bob is playing Harry Nilsson's "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City."

Rough paraphrase of a great Bob Dylan line from the show: "Well, it's sunny and warm in Los Angeles, while it's cold and rainy in New York city. But in New York, there are six million interesting people, while in Los Angeles, there are 72."

JWW listens to the Dylan show regularly. I should be, too.

Stumbled across the following very promising-looking blog this morning. Take a look. Particularly their Madmen of the 20th Century gallery. [Courtesy of the always excellent Dust Congress blog]

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Rave: Momentum 7: Misaki Kawai

Check out the Misaki Kawai installation at the ICA, if you are in Boston. Whimsical and ridiculous, her Momentum 7 portrays a cartoonish space-party world in technicolor hi-def 3D. Worth the price of admission, should make you laugh out loud, unless your heart has become a cold, dark place.

Carry On, It's A Marathon...

Spent the weekend in Boston, but left before the Marathon started. The weather was atrocious, almost too cold, wet, and windy for sleeping in, forget running a marathon. But as Dick Beardsley said, if the weather can't be perfect such that you can set your PR (personal record), then it may as well be awful. That way you will never forget the race. And so, the masochists persevered. Congratulations to CC (3:05:43, pictured below, if he were a Kenyan) and CH (3:12:18) for running at all, and for running so well.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Human Giant are really hitting their stride. This video is too damn cute, and pretty funny. People, let's start up the baby factories, so I can start making movies again, too. Thanks to SR.


Is this for real? So real it hurts.

Ewok Living

The Times has a neat little spread on hyper-cool upscale treehouses. The sorts of things that could inspire young children to be wildly imagniative, romantic naturalist little monsters. If you're in to that sort of thing. From the always distracting Apartment Therapy.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

San Francisco in Jell-O

From SF-based artist Liz Hickock. Courtesy of MM.

Sanjaya: I'm in Your Corner

I am a snob. I dislike most of pop culture - by which I mean, prime time TV, blockbuster movies, top 40 music, and so on. This is not posturing, and I don't take secret and guilty pleasure in watching and listening to the majority of what the rest of America is paying attention to. This excerpt from Wikipedia pretty well captures everything that causes my confusion and disdain, I would assume:

On March 19, 2007, Howard Stern announced that he was launching a campaign with his listeners to vote for Malakar to win the competition. Some Stern regulars, such as Jeff The Drunk, have claimed to have voted for Malakar at least 300 times -- largely in hopes of tormenting Wack Pack member and American IdolEric the Midget. The weblog Vote for the Worst has Malakar as its current "pick" for the sixth season top 12 after previous candidates Antonella BarbaSundance Head were eliminated.

A few American Idol fans who use MySpace have claimed to be on hunger strikes. Other members of the MySpace online community who liked Sanjaya created a page entitled Team Sanjaya in support for him. However, members of the online community have contributed semi-fictional web sites such as Sanjaya-Idol, appearing to portray Sanjaya in a more satirical but supportive way. A 13-year-old girl named Ashley Ferl was highlighted repeatedly during Malakar's performance in the Top 11 episode, crying tears of joy, although Ferl also cried for Melinda Doolittle, Jordin Sparks, and many other contestants.

Last night, while I was working in my parents' study, the shouting started. "Sanjaya! It's Sanjaya! Sanjaya's on!" My parents were in their bedroom, watching TV. My parents do not watch American Idol and have never seen Sanjaya perform before. I'm not sure how they found out about him, but I'm not sure how they could have avoided it. "You can come in after the commercial!" my dad added, helpfully.

I wandered in. I had no choice. Standing in the doorway to my parents' room, dark save for the blue glow of the television, I watched Sanjaya sing. Curly locks framing his face, seated, making playful eyes at the camera that circled him, Sanjaya performed a soulful rendition of "Besame Mucho." Soulful, for a 17 year old. After the performance, as Simon Cowell begrudgingly told Sanjaya that his singing "was not terrible" (or whatever), my parents laughed, made gleeful noises, exulted. Another victory for Team India.

Between yesterday and today, I've decided that I like Sanjaya. I like Sanjaya for many reasons:
  • I like Sanjaya because he is, I would wager, the second most famous Indian ever to inspire hunger strikes in sympathy for his cause.
  • I like Sanjaya because a Sanjaya Army exists on MySpace - and apparently so does a Obesity for Sanjaya group (both MySpace sites are media-rich, so I won't link to them). The man deserves an army, an army of fat Indians, I hope. I'll be a general. We'll win the war.
  • I like Sanjaya because of the apocryphal notion that the "India effect" is driving Sanjaya's rise to glory - the notion that Indian call-center workers are the motivating force that keep Sanjaya winning. Even if this isn't true, I love the spectre that it raises, of a nation of a billion cell-phone armed Indians texting mediocrity to the top. If not now, soon.
  • I like Sanjaya because his sister is apparently not afraid to pull on a Hooter's waitressing outfit (does she actually work at Hooter's?)
  • I like Sanjaya because he inspired, and also, inspired somebody to launch a denial-of-service attack on
  • I like Sanjaya because he has led me to a website called "Ultrabrown."
  • I like Sanjaya because there are theories about Sanjaya. And people do research about Sanjaya.
As Sanjaya says, "I think America is ready for an Indian American Idol. Indian culture is really popular now, a lot of people wear bindis as a fashion statement," said Malakar. "It's time for an Indian musician to come to the scene and I'd like to be that person."

Sanjaya, I think America is ready for you. And, for what it's worth, I'm in your corner.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Buddy, The Prince of Providence

For the past month, I've been making modest excursions out in to the wild charms of my home state -- remembering what a quaint and insane little place I come from. Walking around the beautiful but unnervingly quiet and weirdly populated Downcity Arts district of Providence on Monday, I picked up a copy of the Providence Monthly. Gracing the cover of the magazine was the beloved and enigmatic talisman of the city: former Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, Jr.

The occasion for a giant, smiling Buddy in a tan suit and bright red boxing gloves jabbing at the Providence skyline? His imminent release from prison. Or more precisely, the federal penitentiary, having served due time on corruption charges, stemming from "Operation Plunder Dome."

And Rhode Island welcomes the convicted ex-mayor back, with open arms. Again. For the second time. (To be fair, the mood is more mixed this time -- but there is also more than enough adoration to go around).

In case you aren't familiar with one of the best politicians in America, a couple of quick, unsourced tidbits:
  • "I'm not afraid of this. Ninety-seven times zero is zero" - the Mayor's reaction to the 97-page indictment in the Operation Plunder Dome case, in April 2001
  • The secret of the "Mayor's Own Marinara Sauce," a well-regarded bottled pasta sauce, is in the carrots. Thus according to the Mayor, from prison. The sauce was widely available in Providence, and all of who proceeds go to local school charities. Sort of like Paul Newman, if Paul Newman were a mob-tied twice-convicted felon who singlehandedly resurrected a moribund Providence downtown.
  • Once threatened to have Harry Connick Jr.'s stage manager "whacked."
  • First jail term was for assault and kidnapping of a friend that he believed to be sleeping with his estranged wife. Buddy's driver testified against him, and some of the apocryphal stories of that fateful evening include Buddy beating his friend with a log from the fireplace, putting a cigarette out on his friend, and urinating on his friend.
  • Buddy was re-elected as the Mayor of Providence as an Independent immediately after his release from prison.
  • Buddy was the visionary and motivating force behind the revitalization of Providence's once-decrepit downtown. It's safe now. There is a waterway and a real gondola from Venice. Public art flourishes. Families bring their children out on summer nights.
What can you to prepare for the second coming of Buddy?

Monday, April 9, 2007

No Faking

"It's a waste of time if I can't smile easily, like in the beginning..."
- Ira Kaplan, Yo La Tengo, "Autumn Sweater"

I might go for a girl who would walk down the aisle to "Autumn Sweater," if only for the knowing looks at "Is it too late to call this off? / We could slip away / Wouldn't that be better?" But this isn't about that. What this is about is fake smiles, and faking it, in general. First, take this test.

I do not like to pose for pictures. I do not like standing there, waiting for someone to take a photo. Most people have no idea how to take a photo. They stand there, squinting and grimacing behind the camera, covering the only part of their face that can tell you when to be ready and count off "1-2-3" and then sort of fidget a little, and then the camera mechanism itself whirrs and clicks, and finally, the pre-flash, and then the flash. I never know what to do with my hands.

Other people know how to pose for pictures. My cousins know how. My sister knows how. My sister is awesome at pictures. Me, I've got problems. Reviewing the multiple prints from the multiple cameras at the multiple events, with me in multiple costumes from this winter's wedding made me painfully aware of this. But worse than posing, and worse than the results, I've come to realize that I have forgotten how to smile.

Or more precisely, fake a smile. Every photo, I think I've done it, smiled. But it always comes out wrong. At best, the half-grin that to me, from the inside, feels like a smile, the slight rise in the cheeks, the forced upturn of the corner of the mouth, turns out to be sort of a flat, close-mouthed stare. And worse, forced into the full toothy smile, the lips awkwardly parted and drawn up above my teeth, the enforced squint, the saliva-y squeege noise from my gums and the corners of my mouth, the slight quiver of the lower lip, the slow tug of gravity as I wait and wait, I look like I'm taking a before picture for a dentist or maybe a plastic surgeon. It's terrible.

Of course, it's not as bad as all that. I can smile, easily, when I mean it. But the faking, I don't know hot to fix. I've thought about spending an hour in front of the mirror every night, plying at my face, train it into working. Or maybe I need to go back to my Stanislavsky.

I scored 12 out of 20. I'm not sure what my being optimistic or pessimistic has to do with anything, or my level of confidence. I took the test again, and still only scored a 14 out of 20. The body part that tells you the most about the smile are the eyes, of course. But I told them "the aftersmile."

I'll readily admit, the older I get, the less I trust the science that men do. Part of this is knowing more about the scientists, and part of this is knowing less about the science. PK told me about a study the other day where they sit you down and ask you to tap with your left finger or right finger if a name shown is more associated with a white person or a person person. Then they ask you to tap if a word is positive or negative. Then they ask you to tap with one finger if what they show you is either a positive word or a white person's name, and with another finger if it is a negative word or a black person's name. People are good at this, they tap quickly, assuredly. Then they ask you to tap with one finger if it is a white person's name or a negative word, and with another finger if it is a black person's name or a positive word. People are bad at this, the fuck up a lot. They tap slowly, and wrong.

This tells us something about our brains, perhaps, and what society does to our brains, perhaps. PK also told me that it shows how dumb some science is. I think that's what he said, I could be wrong. PK cuts open men's brains, and takes things out with an ice cream scooper. I listen and stay credulous.

This experiment, I don't know if it has a name, but I would call it the "Beautiful Sheneeqa."
In the past six months, a word has crept up in conversations that unsettles me. Talking to colleagues, and ex-colleagues, people who've spent lots of time with me at work, and in that respect, know me fairly well, they have had an uncanny habit of telling me that I have "integrity." This specific adjective has come up in multiple, distinct conversations. Unsolicited and a propos of nothing, really. It's a complement, and well intended, but it feels heavy and damning. Like I've cast my lot in with the grand, anonymous middle.

Integrity is not transcendent. It doesn't move you from shore to shore. Integrity is the mooring, not the boat.
My interest in writing this is not to dwell or debate my integrity, or lack thereof, but to cast off on a slightly different tangent. Let me begin by excerpting a lengthy passage from Bright Lights, Big City:
"When you were growing up you suspected that everyone else had been let in on some fundamental secret which was being kept from you. Others seemed to know what they were doing. This conviction grew with each new school you attended. Your father's annual job transfers made you the perennial new kid. Every year there was a new body of lore to be mastered. The color of your bike, your socks, was always wrong. If you ever go into psychoanalysis, you will insist that the primal scene is not the encounter of parents in coitus: it takes the shape of a ring of schoolchildren, like Indians surrounding a wagon train, laughing with malice, pointing their vicious little fingers to insist upon your otherness. The scene repeated itself in schoolyards across the country. Not until you reached college, where everyone started fresh, did you begin to pick up the tricks of winning friends and influencing people. Although you became adept, you also felt that you were exercising an acquired skill, something that came naturally to others. You succeeded in faking everyone out, and never quite lost the fear that you would eventually be discovered a fraud an impostor in the social circle."
For the longest time, my parents kept a framed photograph of me, in the room that I would stay in when I visited. I must have been twelve or thirteen in the photograph, at the height of teenage awkwardness, and it was ever so evident: my too large head, with eyes, nose and ears outgrowing the rest of my face, sat on top of my rail thin body. I wore a pair of cut-off read sweatpants, fraying above the knee and bunchy in the wrong places, a white t-shirt with "Singapore" and a picture of a dragon on it, and a black University of Kentucky baseball cap. In the photograph, taken at a charity fair at the Montessori school, I had a rangy, toothy smile. Happily, I was the height of uncool. It's one of those photographs that your parents keep and display that you can't, for the life of you, understand why.

At an increasing pace, but currently about once every three or four meals, dinner with my parents, devolves, in the end, into cheerful bouts of nostalgia. Generally, I am a passive observer. Normally, it goes like this:
"Do you remember the time when Mr. Carr gave you the assignment to trace your family history back to the Mayflower? And you didn't know what to do, so you went to him and asked him to change your assignment?"

"Do you remember when when you came home from school one day, and you asked me 'Mommy, are we poor? Because why do I have to wear shoes from Payless?"

"Do you remember the time the McElroy kids locked you out of the apartment building in Evanston, so you just sat in the snow for three hours?"

"Do you remember the time that you got so angry with your uncle, who was staying with us, that you ran away from home, and we had to drive around the neighborhood in the car to find you? And you were hiding under the deck the whole time?"
Each memory ends in peals of laughter. Of course, half the time I don't remember the story, and the other half, I remember being less plaintive, and more ironic, oh-so-ironic, precocious me. Certainly, this doesn't represent a collection of enduring pain. I was a steady kid. These things didn't rattle me.

Where these memories and passed-on recollections matter now, is in how they resemble the recollections in Bright Lights, Big City, the ring of children, Indians surrounding a wagon. The experience I'm describing is widely shared, of course, by almost any child of immigrant parents forced to turn up at a grade school or middle school. Exaggerating the mis-steps of youth, the clash of cultures, of the inherited culture of an old world, and the enforced culture, of a new, and ruthless, world at school, demanded the questions of, at best, How do I fit in? and at worst Do I fit in?

And almost always, these questions meet a natural resolution, as part of growing up. People find their feet. Immigrant children lose their accent, or never pick up their parents accents. People fit in.
The literary chronicle of America's fraudulence is a lengthy one. I don't know where it begins, but I'm betting early on. It finds a great height, of course, with Gatsby. We reach, we strive. We change, we grow. For money, for status, for women.

Or our motor is wound around some much deeper coil. We are living out a life that we do not own. Our father's life, our mother's life, the life that we see on TV.

Then one day, some artifact surfaces, some tiny missionary from our past, shining a light of truth into our world. Things crumble. We break down. It's a sad, terrible, beautiful story.

Faking it, of course, is also at the core of the American Dream. It is what allows us Gatz' to become us Gatsbys. Or, maybe we come from families that have been here forever. We live in the wide swaths of America that isn't New York, or Hollywood, or Washington, D.C. So we turn up in New York or Hollywood or D.C., like Jay McInerney or Johnny Depp in the "Into Great Wide Open" video. We stare for a moment, we marvel, we take it in. And then we start to hustle. We write home, we tell small lies. We keep up appearances, things are moving forward. But eventually, we have to retreat. Water finds its level. Like Jim Croce sings, "New York's not my home."

We are not the people who turn up on your TV, and we do not want to be.
The problem I had with the passage I lifted from Bright Lights, Big City is that I've never felt like I'm faking it, I've never felt a fraud. I feel like I've had ample opportunity, but the feeling never comes. It is from this that I think the slur arises, integrity.

I think I'm lucky in that many of my friends are the same way. Our chests are not puffed up, our voices are not too loud. We smile when we feel like it. We are privileged in this way.


It took me two weeks to break three of the rules that guide this blog. It was my hope to write on a tight line, to keep my language, thinking, and ideas taut, precise. It was my hope to stray from the maudlin, confessional indulgences of the medium. It was my hope to stay light, funny, and true. At best, today, I have bent those rules, at worst, laid them to waste. Chalk it up as an experiment, and if it falls flat, or worse yet, pretentious and naive, sorry for it. If you've gotten this far, thanks for reading.

Rave: Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis is one of my absolute favorite authors, and he seems to be living about as cool a life as anyone I know, to boot. His writing is clear, precise, and direct. He writes with warmth, humor, charm, and a sense of perspective about everyday experiences: working, raising children.

Currently, he writes a diary of sorts about his experiences as a father for While writing about something so personal as raising your kids is a little strange, the essays themselves are excellent. Read this, and then this, and then continue here. Enjoy.

Saved by Science / We Make Money Not Art

Two great finds today on the internet this morning. First, photographs by Justine Cooper at the Daneyal Mahmood Gallery (a past show, I believe). Apparently, she gained after-hours access to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and was able to take some very cool photos.

Second great find is the website that brought me to these photographs, We Make Money, Not Art. Worth a look.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The March Raves List

The Greatest, Cat Power
New Morning, Bob Dylan
Ce, Caetano Veloso
Writer's Block, Peter, Bjorn & John

The Lives of Others
Notes on a Scandal

Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney
The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
Fiasco, Thomas Ricks

Food & Drink
North of New Orleans (NoNo) in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY.
Rasoi in Providence, RI.


Not working
The Nintendo Wii for 45 minutes

It's All Just Paranoia

I get fidgety in elevators, if I'm by myself. Only for a moment. I'll tap on the carriage walls, or sort of stretch and contort in to some odd position, or maybe do a little twirl and dance. Until I remember about the video camera. It always happens one second too late, after I've done something to prove that I'm not an adult.

I have three basic reactions when I notice a security camera. The first is to stare at them and smile. The second is to give them the finger or make a face. The third is a desire that I had a can of spray paint, so I could spray paint the lens.

The Institute for Applied Economy, whose stated mission is:
The Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA) was founded in 1998 as a technological research and development organization dedicated to the cause of individual and collective self-determination. Our mission is to study the forces and structures which affect self-determination and to provide technologies which extend the autonomy of human activists.

has put together the iSee website, by which you can map a destination route from one Manhattan location to another, encountering the least possible amount of automatic surveillance. Handy.

Make Your Party a Hit Record

Stupid title, I'm sorry. JWW and I were wandering around SoHo last week, looking for a birthday present for PK. We finally found one, a good one, but before we got there it was more Oscar-and-Felix than Ernest-and-F.Scott. Grumbling as we wandered around the MoMA store, Crate & Barrel, and go knows where else, looking at stemware, trying to find the perfect martini glass. As if turning 30 was the same as getting married. And PK already got married. And I'm sure he got plenty of stemware.

What we did find is that apparently people are totally OK buying a lot of really cutesy-crap, specifically, adult-type people buying anime backpaks, Teletubby-esque furniture, and god knows what else. The only redeeming thing that I found on this excursion was dip bowls, from Vinylux, which are sufficiently hip. I guess. Also, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who starred in last year's stylish but non-sensical Brick, has a new short films project called Hit Record. But I think he's flipping the verb and the noun. Just FYI.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The March Reading List

The Golden Gate, Vikram Seth
Fiasco, Thomas Ricks
Being Dead, Jim Crace
Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney
The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

Unemployment offers you a lot more time to read, and I am loving it. Funemployment. This month, I’ve read three outstanding books and two decent, but unexceptional ones. I purchased both Being Dead by Jim Crace and The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth while wandering around Park Slope with RM, more than a little buzzed. Both novels are very much literary exercises, playing with the formal elements of the novel, and both tell sad and poignant little stories about people slightly mis-fit to their worlds. Both are quick reads, neither failed to engage me, but in the end, I cannot heartily recommend either novel. I will try to spend as little time on them as possible.

The Golden Gate is a novel written entirely in verse, approximately six hundred fourteen line stanzas of Ogenin verse. And for such formal verse, it is generally clean, unforced, and witty (with occasional transgressions). That alone warrants consideration.

The Golden Gate
relates the story of a love triangle (or quadrangle, depending on how you count) among four Bay Area misfits, their friends, and family, set in the context of Reagan-era boom and cultural weirdness. While Seth manages to characterize both the kookiness and general isolation of life in Northern California, and evokes likable characters, they never quite seem like real people with real lives. Perhaps this is due to the highly stylized verse, perhaps only to the highly stylized characters themselves.

The novel further suffers from the fact that the plot jerks along, plausibly but inexplicably, where people fall in and out of love, do things, and then some of them eventually die for no reason. You could call it “like life,” I suppose. The novel is a fine enough read, if you find yourself in possession of it, and not in possession of another. A better bet would be a twenty-minute perusal to marvel at how adroit Seth is with his verse.

Random, senseless acts of violence as a motivating force in the plot of a novel have always miffed me. Sure they happen in life, and sure they may force us face to face with those deep and textured existential questions about the meaning of this and that, but they always seem too convenient in novels, where nothing is random at all.

Jim Crace’s Being Dead is a novel that is predicated entirely on a random and senseless act of violence – the murder of the unhappily married biologist couple Joseph and Celice, by heavy stone, at the hands of an unnamed vagrant, on the dunes of an isolated bay. From the aftermath of this grim act, the formal play of the novel arcs out in three intertwined tracks – the first traces in reverse the second-by-second minutiae of the day leading up to the couple’s murder; the second, a set of thirty-year old flashbacks set the context for Joseph and Celice’s improbably love and mundane marriage; the final, follows their estranged daughter, Syl, forward into her moments of recognition and then grief in dealing with her parents’ death.

The writing is good, if distinctly British in tone, and Crace has his virtuoso moments, particularly when indulging in a biological precision to describe the death and decomposition of two dead bodies left a week in the sun. The sadness he imbues into the familial loves and life of Joseph, Celice and Syl is touching, but commonly evoked, and not particularly revelatory. Again, another quick, un-taxing read, perhaps good for a holiday on the Cape, but not something that you should feel desperate that you missed, as I thought I did.

Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco is the first non-fiction book that I have read in a few months, and it is brilliant. Given that I’m not privy to either the political or military decision making in this country, I can’t swear by this, but Fiasco reads like a comprehensive analysis of America’s engagement in Iraq, from 2003 to late 2005, documenting the good, the bad, and the ugly (and sadly most of it is bad or ugly).

Ricks, a senior Pentagon correspondent for The Washington Post, and prior to that, the Wall Street Journal, surveys the war from its inception, placing it in the historical context of both the 1991 Gulf War and the 2001 terrorist attacks, through its success and failure, with an incredible level of access to active military personnel, civilians in relevant government agencies, retired military and government officials and academics with insight into our current situation in Iraq.

Ricks tells a history of an engagement driven by the civilian leadership of the current administration, often over the objections of the military leadership, founded on assumptions and principles that have either proven to be wrong or are simply sophistic and inarguable (for example, the habit of Wolfowitz, in his rhetoric, to cast any early opponent of the war in the role of a modern day Chamberlain). More troubling is the complete failure of the highest levels of civilian and military leadership to adequately plan for, resource, and respond to the reality of an Iraqi invasion and occupation, from the outset. While Ricks paints a mixed-bag of the efforts of the on-the-ground forces, with some commanders and units praised where others are damned, at no point does the senior leadership seem adequately prepared to deal with, or even aware, of the severity of the conflict to which they have bound this country.

Given how grave the Iraqi conflict may be to America’s future, Fiasco is a must read. The evidence and analysis that Fiasco provides unfortunately raise more questions than answers. Some of those questions are worth articulating, which I’ll spend some time on later.

As a habit, I generally allow overlaps in what I am reading, such that I may be reading more than one book at a time. This may not be a good practice, but sometimes it is symbiotic. The lucky pairing of Bright Lights, Big City and The Year of Magical Thinking on my recent trip down to New York provided a wonderfully complementary, if heartbreaking, reading experience.

Bright Lights, Big City actually works a lot like the cocaine (or Bolivian Marching Powder) that fuels its protagonist. At first, I didn’t like it. But I decided to stick with it, and after awhile, it was alright. Soon, it was actually pretty fun. And then, sort of out of nowhere, I felt like I was punched in the stomach, all the wind was knocked out of my sails. I crashed. And I was left emotionally worn through, a little dazed, crying for no reason. Metaphorically.

Having lived in New York for six years, it’s always a little funny to read the drugs-booze-and-glamour soaked tales of midtown bankers, publishers, and adverstising people. It’s an orbit I’ve mostly skirted, toiling away in the post-boom wash of Silicon Alley, then retreating to the easy slackness of Brooklyn nights. But I’ve seen it, sometimes been it, certainly know enough to know enough.

Jay McInerney tells the story of an unnamed protagonist, initially only vaguely likable, working, and frustrated, in the fact-checking bowels of a prominent New York literary magazine, married to and then abandoned by a vapid, but gorgeous model from the Midwest, going out dancing at night, drinking and getting high, meeting Pat Benetar-lite girls, and generally trying to figure out what the fuck he is doing with himself while being dragged from party to party by his dangerously bon vivant buddy Tad Allagash.

On the razor edge of keeping his shit together, our hero binges and crashes his way through a horrible few days, in the process losing his job, embarrassing himself with a kind, co-worker, embarrassing himself for his worthless ex in front of the New York fashion world, embarrassing himself at a party, embarrassing himself in front of his brother, finally waking up in time to sucker punch the reader into realizing how precious and beautiful life is, and how often we fail to be honest and true with the ones we love. Or at least that’s what I got from it.

McInerney writing is clean, direct, and generally fun. He conjures up a few great, antic moments and certainly sets that ridiculous early 80s New York scene, not to mention showing great taste in quoting the Talking Heads’ "Cross-Eyed and Painless." If you want a fun, but potentially devastating read, Bright Lights, Big City is a worth a run out.

The Year of Magical Thinking is mostly about death, grief, and coping. It is also about the mystery of love and the richness of life, and how we live it, right or wrong. Joan Didion is a writer whom I really like. Aside from her iconic and sexy status as one of the chroniclers of the sixties, seventies, eighties, and so on, I find her prose to be phenomenal. Her writing has the weight of a feather, but the impact of a stone. When it hits you, it hits you hard.

Written in the wake of the death of John Dunne, Didion’s husband, and the hospitalization of Quintana Roo Dunne (who died young, after the publication of the book). Most of the memoir focuses on Didion’s attempts to understand the death of her husband, to understand her life without her husband of forty years, and documents the year following his death, in which her life was clouded in grief, loss, and uncertainty.

In the memoir, Didion tells of her efforts to probe the medical specifics of John’s death and Quintana’s hospitalization, her badgering of doctor’s, paramedics, nurses, her efforts to exert control and influence over her situation through technical understanding. She relates the physical and emotional symptoms of her grief, exploring clinical and common sense salves to a soul at sea. She puts her grief in the context of her personal literary life. She portrays her life as an empty vessel, wading through the days and nights of her widowed life, only to periodically struggle and thrash against the current of grief, realizing finally that she cannot reverse time, cannot bring the dead back to life, and has to try, only, to understand how to live.

Didion’s treatment of grief and loss are heartbreaking and haunting. Her prose, as always is, simple and exacting. But the powerful moments, for me, in The Year of Magical Thinking were not her meditations on death, but her meditations on life.

As grief and loss dislocated Didion from the rhythms of her previous life, she describes what she calls vortexes – moments, objects, senses in her current life that transport her to moments in her past; a hotel in Los Angeles where she is staying while her daughter is hospitalized for the second time opens vistas into her years spent in LA; an elevator in Madison Square Garden reveals an evening a year before when she and John decided to make a trip to Paris, a trip that he thought might be his last; a fleeting thought about a couple they’d only twice met in Indonesia leading to John’s notebook, and his and her notions about how they did and didn’t live their lives as well as they might.

Through these vortexes, we get a portrait of a marriage, of two lives lived together as one, and two lives lived quite richly. As always, we only have the smallest glimpse into these lives, but in the end, its these lives which form the context of Didion’s grief. We only grieve for those that we will miss. We grieve not for the dead alone, and not for their memory along, but for their lives, with us, and who we are with them. And eventually, grief brings us to a point where we must live without them. As Didion writes:

I did not want to finish the year because I know that as the days pass, as January becomes February and February becomes summer, certain things will happen. My image of John at the instant ofh is death will become less immediate, less raw. It will become something that happened in another year. My sense of John himself, John alive, will become more remote, even “mudgy,” softened, transmuted into whatever best serves my life without him. In fact this is already beginning to happen. All year I have been keeping time by last year’s calendar: what were we doing on this day last year, where did we have dinner, is it the day a year ago we flew to Honolulu after Quintana’s wedding, is it the day a year ago we flew back from Paris, is it the day. I realized today for the first time that my memory of this day a year ago is a memory that does not involve John. This day a year ago was December 31, 2003. John did not see this day a year ago. John was dead.
I was crossing Lexington Avenue when this occurred to me.
I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us.
I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.
Let them become the photograph on the table.
Let them become the name on the trust accounts.
Let go of them in the water.

Flying and Falling

JG, over at Cup of Jo, has been posting awesome photos and articles all week. A rave for that blog on another day, when people actually read this. In the mean time, I am going to totally cheat and steal some of her photos, but you should head over there and check this stuff out!

Rave: Cat Power - The Greatest

I will ignore well-regarded artists for strange reasons. I don't like their look, I don't like the name of their band, I don't like what they titled their last work. Strange reasons, but not without logic -- each of those choices helps create an aesthetic. So it was with Cat Power - whose tough pixie persona was never a winning one for me. Then someone sent me the "Lived in Bars" video, and SC put in on her 2006 best of CD. I bought The Greatest. And it is very good. Listen to my favorite song, "The Greatest" (mp3) from the Matador site or check out the video for Lived in Bars, which is a bit twee, but still charming:

It's not Dusty in Memphis, but it sure ain't bad.

Babyklappe: Is Europe Winning the War on Babies?

Unwanted pregnancies, young mothers dropping babies in dumpsters, German efficiency and practical design: these are not things you should joke about. However, when KP mentioned at dinner the other night that (in her words) Denmark or wherever has post-office style drop boxes (the Babyklappe) where you can drop an unwanted baby into an incubator, I was incredulous. But it's true. And ridiculous. And terrifying.

I'm not going to make any comment on the social mores of this, but rather, simply direct you to the article titled "Unhappy German Drunk Puts Himself Up For Adoption."

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Cynthia Daignault at Plane Space

CD opened up her first solo gallery show in NYC last weekend, at Plane Space. She is a painter of enormous talent, intellect, and humor - and her paintings, luminescent renderings of everyday scenes juxtaposed with some very high-concept art in-jokes (or vice versa), reflect that entirely. Fun to look at, fun to laugh at. If you are in New York, see her show. And buy her paintings.

Moko and the Mignon

EBC returned from Finland and brought us all Mignon eggs for Easter/our birthdays. They are real eggs, drained of their content (presumably sterilized) and then filled with delicious chocolate. Totally charming and delicious. But this is not the blog for reading about chocolate. This is.

Agent Zero: Gilbert Arenas

It has been many years since I've celebrated a professional athlete. Really, not since I was a kid. Athletes have become a different species - physically freakish, nurtured to megalomania, rich, boring, and stupid.

Gilbert Arenas is worthy of attention. He's a good basketball player. He's a bizarre person. Take a look at this Esquire interview from November, 2006, and follow-up on [one of the best sports blogs around]. Choice passages excerpted below:

ENTRY 8: UNUSUAL SLEEPING RITUALS SUBJECT [interviewed while playing two-man Halo in his bedroom]: You can't see very good. I'll sit down on the floor if you want.

OBSERVER: No, I can tell you like to play on the bed. I'll stay here.

SUBJECT: I just started sleeping in this bed after three years. I used to sleep over there.

OBSERVER: Where? On the couch?

SUBJECT: Yeah. I trained myself to sleep on the couch.

OBSERVER: Why would you do that?

SUBJECT: You know.

OBSERVER: Not really.

SUBJECT: I don't like women all up on me, touching me. So I get up and go.


SUBJECT: Then they get up and go. [Subject points to the video-game screen.] Stay there. Wait for me behind that door.

OBSERVER: What door?

SUBJECT [shaking his head]: I discovered that women don't like that much.


ENTRY 13: CONSTRICTED DIETARY HABITS On the road, I eat hamburgers every day. The team tries to get me to eat differently, but no. Burgers, burgers, burgers. I like burgers. McDonald's burgers. Wendy's burgers. Burger King burgers. There's this one place in Canada—I even look at the schedule to find out when we play there—best burger I've ever tasted. Real soft and sweet. I ate twelve of them in one night.

A little more:

ENTRY 15: SELF-IMPOSED COMMUNICATION BARRIERS When I get a new cell phone, first thing I do is turn it off and call from my house phone and leave stupid little messages to myself. Like: "It's me." "It's me." "This is Gilbert." "It's me." "It's Gilbert." I just fill it up, so no one can leave messages. If you don't, you leave for an hour and thirteen people have called. So there are thirteen new messages you have to listen to and it's like, Oh, man. I don't feel like hearing people's stories. Most people love leaving messages that they don't want to tell you in person. So I cut that off.

And finally:

ENTRY 19: SUBJECT HAS AN IDEA FOR A SHOE COMMERCIAL You know how I always throw my jersey into the stands after a game? In Washington, they just go crazy for it. So in this commercial, that's what I'm gonna do with my shoes. I've just hit a game winner, and I throw these shoes. Everyone starts to react, and you see everything in slow motion. Everyone's pushing, shoving, doing whatever it takes to try to get to these shoes. People from the 400 level, they're jumping off the ledge, they're missing the pile, hitting nothing but chairs, and you can just see in people's faces like, Ooooh, that hurt. While all this stuff's going on, one of the shoes pops out of the crowd, and a little girl gets it and she takes off. A couple of people see she has it, and they start chasing her, and she's looking back running—and then she gets clotheslined by a kid in a wheelchair. So he picks the shoe up and says—he's gonna have the only line in there—"They said I couldn't get it. Heh. Impossible is nothing." And then he rolls off.

[via The Basketball Jones]