Thursday, February 22, 2007

We went to the Ear Bar today for lunch and to scribble on the papered table in crayon.

I had the chili.

I love the Ear Bar, a New York City institution we take for granted because it's three or four steps from our office. It's one of those fucking bars that claims to be the oldest in Manhattan, founded in 1837 or some goddamn thing. Back when the Hudson shoreline came up to the plaque-commemorated mark right outside the door and a few feet to the left. Back when sailors would stagger off of ships on wobbly sea legs to drink whiskey, sing their chanteys, fuck whores and then be off to sea once more.

I love the Ear Bar but lately I've hated the food. The room has an oppressive stench, not unpleasant but inescapable, irremediable. It's the smell of 175 years of goddamn beer and whiskey, beer leaking out of tap lines to gently rot the bar wood till it wasn't rotten any more. Whiskey spilt in the cracks of the floor, blood let from lips and noses, falling richly on tables and chairs, vomit in the bathroom sinks, in the toilets, on the floors. Upstairs – whores, itinerant ne'er-do-wells and seamen sleeping, fucking, shitting. Performing their ablutions. Water pipes with rusted joints and cracked and peeling paint bearing their unspeakable filth to parts unknown.

And so it has a smell. A smell you cannot really describe, you can only faintly conjure in your mind when it's not there. It's the smell of the damp and of the stale. And of cheap spices and of grease, of salty grease. And beer and booze, detergent. Crayola crayons. The crayons they put in glasses on each table. Maybe that's what it is, mostly. Crayons.

And two centuries of puke and booze and blood.

So for whatever reason. I've been balking at the food. It's just not a place where it feels like you should chew on something. Seems like a place, you should be careful when you open your mouth. So I got a whiskey and a bowl of chili and I drew a picture on the table, and Jim and John got martinis and we were at the Ear Bar in the year 2007.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

This morning late out the door and down the elly, past the doorman saying hello, out into the bright, bright cold and left to the weird street coming out the Lincoln Tunnel; there's a man there, standing in a scarf, muddy, brittle ice along the border of the sidewalk and the street and trucks and cars are stopped in the middle of the corner, caught as the light turned red, and now I walk among them and a car swings right before me, in from 34th Street, tires squealing, what the fuck.

I sat glumly on the E train. Passively, docilely. Obediently, even. We enter some station after a certain length of time and I look up and out the window just like anyone would and it says BROADW – Jesus Christ, this fucking train took me to Broadway-Lafayette.

A husky Hispanic man sidled up to me.

"Do you know why the train – "

"I have absolutely no idea."

Out on the platform a forlorn middle-aged black lady approached.

"Do you know how I can get back down to Spring Street?"

I wondered if there was anything in the world I could say or do to help.

"I have no idea. Sorry. I have no idea."

And so I got on that downtown 6 and to Canal and emerged amidst the throng of merchants and their dazed and wide-eyed marks.

Friday, February 16, 2007


I watched on YouTube a gruesome and probably inevitable video: a compilation of Formula One racing deaths. At first my interest was, in spite of better judgment, juvenile and prurient. Ooh, crashes.

And I remembered the excitement I felt as a kid going to races and hoping for a crash. And when a crash began, let's say in a race of modest, open-wheel Formula Fords, with one car seeming to slowly lose grip with the wet track on a sweeping left-hand turn, the rear giving way, and it's a yellow car, a beautiful raincoat yellow with a red-and-black-and-white Champion Spark Plugs sticker and a number 17, and what is going to happen to this bright and beautiful thing now that it's lost grip with the surface of the planet, this pretty, fragile, angry thing in the rain, with the white helmet of the sweating and bewildered man inside, struggling against chaos and fear; and behind him there's a car that's green and blue and it says Valvoline, and the yellow car has red wheel rims whose spinning ceases in the skid so now you see the lug nuts and the bright, white GOODYEAR on the tires and the green and blue car slams into it, the nose all crumpled now from this brusque, perverse encounter with the misshapen and delicate – intimate – parts in the rear – exhaust pipes, brake light, suspension and wing buttresses and now everything's fucked up and the yellow car has been jolted off its tenuous orbit around the corner and onto the wet, green grass and it's zigging and zagging, trying to cut across and rejoin that winding ribbon of asphalt where its adversary is limping along lamely, nosewing askew and engine whining for a lower gear.

I loved this. And it seemed so evidently to be essential to the appeal of car racing, at its very aesthetic foundation – control erupting into chaos, mystery mixed up in beauty – that I wasn't the least bit ashamed of it and one morning at the track declared to my dad that I couldn't wait to see some crashes.

He said nothing at first but fixed me with a withering stare. He raised his finger.

"We don't come to races to see crashes," he admonished. "We come to see racing. Crashes can be very serious and the drivers can get very hurt."

I hung my head to ponder my shame and what it all might mean.

I thought guiltily about the drivers. Like it was me who might hurt them just by wishing.

And tonight, watching the video, those early feelings were reawakened, the child's diabolical pleasure in destruction and then of course the guilt. And it struck me that you really can't parse it all out after all. It's a carnal sport. Awful, nauseating, poignant, beautiful. The colors and the wheels. Fire. The ferocious, howling cars. The swooping lines they follow; blood. Vomitous splatters of oil and gas, of extinguisher foam. Men in fire suits and helmets, tempting death. And crowds, standing, cheering, waving. Signs, words, Marlboro, Shell.

And the worst accident of all is there, in real time and in slow motion: the South African Grand Prix in 1977, Tom Pryce hitting a teenage track official who was scurrying across the track to aid a stricken car. Pryce's front wing clips the boy, whose body seems to disintegrate a bit and flips many times end over end, straight up about forty feet in the air. The fire extinguisher the boy was carrying hit Pryce in the head and partially decapitated him and then was sent flying who knows where. Pryce's car kept going, banging into a side rail, crossing the track and then exiting it, onto the grass, but not to get back on again.

The Interview, Pt. 1

Q. What's the importance of proper grammar?
A. Well... (shrugs and waves unlit cigarette with a slow, fatalistic flourish). Well, I don't think anyone should get carried away. But a writer has to learn his craft (leaning forward, finger raised and unlit cigarette gripped in fist). It's important. (Reclining, eyes closed. Softly tapping cigarette base on the box, held in the other hand, by lifting it by the thumb and forefinger and letting it fall.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

There. There! There... There was? There is.

There's this feeling you get out in San Francisco, of airiness and of isolation, of night falling only upon the bejeweled metropolis, of couching it on all sides with the dark.

This is the cool air you get. The never hot and never cold. Never the bitter Northeastern nor Midwestern gales. With their ice attaching everywhere, hanging off of roofs, of branches and car bumpers. Not on this insular peninsula. In San Francisco you're sheltered in the middle of the air.

Monday, February 12, 2007

I remember telling Vanessa I'd resolved to write every night. I was sitting in the middle chair in the living room in Sally and Jay's house, the one Sally would sit in if there was something she wanted to watch on TV. She was sitting on an ottoman I think. The TV flickered in the background like it always does. I told her there's no excuse for not writing every night if you want to write. You have writer's block, forget it, you write about what you did that day. There's always something to write about. Everyone has something to say. I woke up this morning and then what? You had a piece of toast. There's always something to write about.

She was nodding and smiling and seemed to agree.

One morning a few years later Noah made Vanessa breakfast and kissed her as she went out the door to work. But she never came back. That's it. I think she sent him a letter, or left him a note. Maybe in her dresser or under the pillow or some other quiet place where she knew he'd find it soon. It said, I never, ever want to see you or speak to you again. It said, I hate you very, very much and you have no friends because everyone else hates you too. It said, I'll never forgive you for the time I wasted with you.

Or words to the effect.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

It's so cold, people aren't showing up to work. To work in our drafty, semi-industrial space. Those who do huddle in their coats, maybe lucky enough to have a purring space heater at their feet, warming a zone about a foot or two around.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A curiously sad and fraught day. The day after the Super Bowl, figures. It's the only universally celebrated holiday, and just about the only one we don't get a day off for besides. It's inevitable that the half of our dreams that are dashed, or our prideful, whimsical bets that are lost, would combine ferociously with the beer and the chips and the beer and the whiskey and the pretzels and the beer to provoke dark mornings of self-loathing indeed, all across the land.

Tony Dungy said they proved they won it the Lord's way and I don't like that, I don't like it one bit.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I had the distinct impression tonight, the man swimming in the lane with me. He thought I was a simpleton. Me no goggles, swimming like Mao in the river, head straight up and out of the water, clunking my toes against the ladder. He'd wait at one end while I swam slowly halfway down before wearily diving into his crawl.

I Love To Brush My Teeth

I love to brush my teeth 'cause when I do I know that's what I'm doing. I'm not supposed to be doing something else.

Don't have to worry that I'm hurting nobody.

And then I walk back out with my mouth stinging of mint and I hear the squeal of truck brakes down outside my window.