Thursday, May 14, 2020

9:23. It’s always 9:23.

At seven o’clock from our roof there was the usual commotion down below, claps and honks and sirens, but almost no one else up on top. A neighbor to the right clapped gamely but inaudibly with garden-gloved hands before lying down to fuck around with the vines curling up around his deck. New Jersey glimmered far away. What would the guys from WBGO in Newark say tomorrow morning when my clock radio goes off at 7:30? It’s going to be a hot one.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

I flipped through the channels and landed on a tennis match. Was it a replay from years back? It didn’t seem to be. Anonymous players and no crowd. Not even empty stands. No stands. A plywood barrier where they would start. Mask-clad figures hovered just off court, watching vaguely, attending to some thing or other. So it was current, I thought. But then I looked again and wondered whether it was a video game. There was a vague stiffness in the movements, of the players but especially of the others, and of the leaves on the nearby trees and everything else. There was a suspicious emptiness in the grassy area adjacent to the court. No people or cars parked or infrastructure—why bother coding it? The gleam of the sun on the players’ shirts seemed too real—so unreal, really. The match proceeded a while and a more frightening thing became clear: it was real.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Everything Is a Virus

I contemplated the furniture ad banner at the top of the news site I visit again and again and again day after day. A mindless, unhuman mechanism—an algorithm—had placed it there in response to my browsing history. My behavior. My interactions.

There’s been some complaining about the glib use of “viral” in technology and marketing. How dare we? Viruses kill people. But we don’t use the term enough. It describes a kind of near-life, desirous to grow, expand, consume. It’s water running down a mountain or data surging through cables. It’s populations of people, of trees, of birds. It’s everything.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The ticket window was on the side wall of a head shop in an old Victorian in the sad little town between us and the city. My mom dropped me off there to wait in the freezing cold for spring tour tickets. Sweet coffee in a dented thermos. Camel unfiltereds snuck in my coat pocket. Just putting my hand in there would make it reek of that dark, sweet perfume, Turkish and domestic blend. But my mom didn’t know. Or she did.

The line snaked back into the dirt parking lot behind the building, filled with beaters and VW buses. It became amorphous there, people playing hacky-sack or huddled in little circles to get high. I sat on the embankment by the wall and watched. Someone blared a live tape circa 1979, “He’s Gone.”

A Deadhead invited me into his car, a beat-up old boat, to warm up and smoke a joint. He put on Neil Young, “Down by the River.” I’d never heard it before and it took a hold of my brain, that da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da on the guitar and the refrain, which I didn’t understand at first but then I understood and then misunderstood again, in circles and circles, shudder day, shutter day, shotty day, shut her day, shot her dead, shut a day, shudder day.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

We looked for the prickly pear and I didn’t remember what tree I planted it by. Finally I found it, lying flat on the dirt and leaves. It was gray and withered but I stuck it back in as best I could, tamped down some dark soil around the bottom of it. Who knows.

I told Jackie and her friend to stay away, it has prickly bits that fly through the air.

“Really?” he said.

“No, not exactly. But be careful.”

Then they took off running down what they called abandoned paths.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

I titled this Usual by mistake. That is to say, that’s what Apple autocorrect decided to name it. So here goes: Usual.

The world is converging on us, collapsing, like a dying star. Everything we believe and everything we desire. Even when those are in opposition. Music and video streaming. Porn. We’ve been hypertargeted to the point that soon we’ll all be demographics of one. The ads, the content presented to us now almost seems to wink: There you are. I know you. And here I am. For you. And then it’s a solipsistic dance until your synapses are exhausted and you die. E pluribus unum.

We urgently need new algorithms. Some that say: People unlike you like this. And Here’s something you won’t like. Based on nothing you’ve listened to. Nothing you’ve seen. Really: Here’s something for people who aren’t you. Or: This is not for one. It’s for everyone.

Otherwise we’re fucked.

Friday, March 06, 2020

I sat at my desk at work as the world fell deeper into dread and paranoia, wondering: Am I getting sick? How does it feel to be getting sick? A vague, watery nausea on the tongue. An aching head. Fatigue.

Of course I felt that way.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Doing dishes with the TV just cutting through from time to time, when I didn’t run the water or clank the plates and silverware. Didn’t matter what was on because I wasn’t watching but I wanted it to be something I’d watch just the same, sports news, comedy, a movie I’d seen again and again. Wouldn’t want to be exposed to bad TV, it’s like X-rays, you can only take so much. Then I move the little angel so I can water the Christmas tree, wouldn’t want the angel to get wet. Then I turn off the lights, the Christmas lights the normal lights, the TV. The TV last just in case it has one last thing to show me.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Shipbuilding

There was always this model ship on the shelf in my parents’ closet, its keel cradled in the felted holders of an elegant stand. A glorious warship but mastless, stripped of rigging or sails.

No one thinks it was there since the beginning of time but it was always there.

I asked my mom about it. I didn’t ask my dad. His side didn’t have scale replicas in the house.

“It’s your grandpa’s,” she said.

“Can I have it?” I asked, wondering why it wasn’t mine already.

“Sure.”

I took it down and put it on the bookshelf in my room. The rest of it—masts, yardarms, the boom that sticks out from the bow—was wrapped up in old newspapers and I took that too. There were no sails. Still I would restore this thing of beauty that time forgot.

I set upon the ship with plastic glue and sewing thread. I put the masts back in their holes and hung the yards where I thought they should go. It was hard to tie a good knot at the end of the smooth sticks and it was hard to get them to hang right, perpendicular. I fixed the boom to the prow with a big dab of cement. The surfaces didn’t really join, but they stuck together fine. I strung a black thread from the tip to the top of the front mast, and then another from the other mast to the middle of the stern. That’s what a ship looked like in my head. There were dozens of cannons strewn about on deck, with little pins at the bottom to stick them in place. I put one in each of the cannon ports and there were almost enough to go around.

When I was done I thought about my grandfather, dead long before my birth. He was a revered man, the beloved patriarch of a family riven by insanity, resentment and drink. It’s possible he would have loved me but he would not have been proud.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Digging through the trash to try to find a piece of the broken angel, I was traveling through the past, back to Tuesday’s dinner, those packages we received back when, the time before the fight. I would eat these coffee grounds if it would turn back time. I got down to the bottom and I didn’t find the piece.