Saturday, June 30, 2007

A moth got in the subway car somehow and its incongruous presence caused some alarm in the large, black woman seated to my left. Batting at the air around the flitting thing. Then a strange, strange thing happened. A Latino junkie across the way fell into his nod at the very moment the moth flew at him, slowly sliding off his seat, but it awoke him on its way by like it was a pinch of fairy dust. He sat upright, squinting straight ahead. The man beside him said, "Where you goin'?" and the junkie mumbled Bronx.

"This don't go to the Bronx," the man said. We were approaching 125th now and the man got up. "It go to... two-hundred seventh."

"Two-hundred seventh," echoed the other black woman to the other side of me.

The junkie grunted and made a small, dismissive gesture of the hand. Like, don't worry 'bout me.

"If you wanna go to the Bronx, you gotta get out here," the man insisted, standing at the door now. "Take the one."

No response.

"Be careful, man. You in Harlem."
Then another car erupted into its agonized whine. It was David Coulthard's car. We heard it wind its way around the track, echoey. As we sat at the last corner I kept expecting it to emerge when in fact it had a longer ways to go. Then suddenly it came 'round Rascasse and raced before us with an urgency. All navy blue and red and yellow. Zigzagging a little as it turned away from us, backfiring, backfiring into the distance.

Ahead of me in line at the Duane Reade, a teacher buying boxes upon boxes of chalk and a pack of Pall Malls; I thought school was out.

The thing about the Grateful Dead is either you really, really love 'em or you really, really hate 'em. You can't say the same of, let's say, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Can you? Or Dire Straits. The Cars? OK, Fleetwood Mac. Forgive me if I've named a band you really, really love. That'll happen. Or you really, really hate. But I think you know what I mean – whether you really, really love the Dead or really, really hate 'em. You know who you are. No other band has such a dynamic sweep in the public's perceptions. No band is so polarizing. And that's neither a good thing nor a bad thing, of course, but permit me to assert that it's interesting.

The truth is the Dead have a fundamental weakness and I know what it is. When you ask someone who hates the Dead what they hate they might say, "I hate the jamming."

Fair enough. "Do you hate jazz?"

"No, I love jazz."

"Well, jazz is jamming."

"You're right. It's not the jamming, it's the... it's the... it's the... aimless jamming. It's the noodling. I fucking hate it."

Now we're getting somewhere. The Dead's jams are aimless and they do noodle. And here's why.

Jerry Garcia was strongly, philosophically, disinclined to assert a theme. This was so deeply ingrained, evidently, in his personal philosophy and his musical philosophy that it is practically inescapable in either, and his considerable charisma in both realms ensured that others would adapt their strategies to his (forget everything you ever heard him say about the Dead being a "leaderless" band or how a drummer might lead them – that's yet more evidence of his aversion to assertion. But in that way, he asserted.). So whereas a great jazz improviser – Herbie Hancock let's say, or John Coltrane, or a thousand others – might stumble upon a theme and grab it by the balls, play it for all it was worth, play it hungrily, like it was the last musical notion they'd ever get again; when Jerry or anyone else in the Dead for that matter would cross paths with a theme they would leave it alone. They would curiously, agonizingly almost, yield to the imaginary space it occupied; they might indicate it; perhaps allude to it; but they would just about never seize it. The Grateful Dead's music, their improvisation that is (it being the aspect of their music that is most recognizably theirs) is a chronicle of frustrations, of incompletion, of allusion. Of metaphor. My fondest moments of the Dead's music are characterized by an ineffable, bittersweet melancholy: they are brief, they die upon the threshold of the ear; they describe a huge longing, a space far greater in every dimension than we have ever perceived, but they don't and can't quite take us there, because to take us there would be the end of everything. They flirt and tease, agonizingly; they tickle the itch. Where other improvisers hold a lamp and the best among them are a lighthouse, Jerry Garcia is a firefly, unpredictably aflame and never alighting anywhere.

This I love, love, love, love, love and others hate.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

As we walked along the streets and past the barricades to our section of the track the din of engines ebbed into the whine of a solitary car, more poignant still as you could discern its progress around the slower turns and down the straightaways, its sound bouncing off of buildings and the rock beneath the Palace. And by the time we reached our seats the track was silent; that last car had since gone in from practice and we were left with mystery, like do the cars exist?
It seemed like not bad an idea to strip naked and run crazy down the street, banging the windows of passing cars, or to get a grilled chicken sandwich from the dark deli.

"I'm obsessed with them," said Britt.

"OK," I said.

The prices on the daily sandwich special signs taped to the deli case were drawn to look like the numbers on a calculator. Someone had painstakingly. Those blocky numbers, with the segments. At the bottom of these sloppy signs.

Britt had said it was unclear how much they'd charge you for the sandwich.

"They charge me four dollars and thirty-six cents," she said. "But they charge Tom three dollars and sixty-five cents."

They charged me four eighty-eight.

It was a hot day, hot fucking hot. And the AC in our office went out awhile and there was some issue with the door alarm so that it went "WEEEEEEEEEEEEE" and you just had to, you had to cover your ears. All day John pacing in the cramped confines of his cubicle proclaiming the energy in the office to be strange.

Out West there were developments afoot, an entire group being welcomed below our umbrella of products and services or is it just products or is it just services. Or a single product or a service. An entire, new group being subsumed that frankly seemed vaster than our own. That seemed a superset of the set it entered. "Welcome, welcome!" Higher-ups writing those five-paragraph e-mails. Thinkin' they're rallying the troops. One of them cocksuckers wrote something like, "Let's continue to have fun with what we do," with the bold and the italics, and it was about as convincing as a cuckolded husband saying please continue to love me with your body, baby.

Monday, June 25, 2007

We went up to see Shakespeare last night, at Boscobel, across the river from West Point. We could sit , plastic glasses of fine wine in our hands, and contemplate from our picnic chairs the lair of the brutally disciplined cadets where not a month ago the spectral Dick Cheney did deliver a commencement address. And it was not altogether irrelevant to the matter at hand, the fate of one Richard the Third.

There's a quote in this play that immediately struck me and released some poison in me from its spike. At one point later in the play the widow of the king, the king whose throne shall soon be usurped by Richard through his devious machinations, says, "So now prosperity begins to mellow, and drop into the rotten mouth of death." The metaphor is of fruit on the vine. Something ripe, something full of sugar and overripe, in fact; something past its prime. What happens? It falls, inevitably, from its weight; its fullness of pulp and syrupy nectar. It falls into the void. Where? Into putrefaction, into death. This is more than just a description of the sad and ironic cycle of life. That we all know. It's a frightening reproach to cozy complacency. Literally in the play, prosperity is the bounteous opportunity afforded all by Edward's death. Someone shall be King, and someone shall be his wife, and so on and so on. And that prosperity is "mellowed," in other words ripened, aged – here the term takes back its perhaps original negative connotations, those that point towards decay rather than the graceful burnishing of a fine old jewel, say, or the complex improvement of a wine or spirit. No, here "mellow" means "weaken." The way a fruit does before it loses hold of life and succumbs to gravity, then decay, then death. The way a serendipitous event is twisted and corrupted by egotism, selfishness, envy and spite. And we may apply a more contemporary negative connotation of the word "mellow" too – our tendency to soften, to betray our youthful passions, to rationalize, to accommodate. That, too, points to death. And it is when we are prosperous, glad of ourselves, sedate and sated, that we succumb most easily to this easy thinking. We mellow and we drop – before our time – into the rotten mouth of death. To fall into the mouth of death, after all, is not exactly to die. But once we do we are promised to it, and life is finished. It is a process she describes – prosperity begins to mellow, it hasn't already mellowed. So there still is hope, as of course there is hope for the characters in this play that in fact ends well. It's Shakespeare's version of Dylan Thomas raving, "Don't go gentle into that good night." It's Shakespeare saying, "Rage against the dying of the light."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The one guy, they call him by his last name. They all do. He had a strange and absent look about him. Pale hair above a numb and ghostly face. He seemed to be struggling a bit to pay attention and I almost felt sorry for him somehow, but of course this was really because he'd been all day drinking – Evan said he got promoted at his job and took Friday and Monday off to bookend a nice, lost weekend – but that didn't occur to me right away, so much as his awful and bleak persona.

We sat down in the theater. It was a pan-cultural drumming show, lots of leaping. Music made with the unlikeliest of tools.

Last Name Guy belched loudly and not for the first time. The woman in the seat in front of him turned around and said, "Would you stop it with the burping?" Almost immediately, as though he'd expected her to say this, he replied with "My bad." The effect of this was somewhat dismissive and perhaps mocking but for the moment it was accepted and everyone let their eyes drift to the stage.

I tried to relax and pay attention to the performers. They were wearing a confusion of scant, outlandish outfits, suggesting mythic Middle Eastern harems and the extras in "Mad Max." They were really quite good and the music, even, was not in the least offensive.

A peal of chatter erupted to the right of me. Evan and Last Name Guy, and maybe Lauren too. I don't know what they were fucking talking about. Then Last Name Guy burped good and loud this time and the woman turned around and, quite a bit more spitefully, said, "Will you STOP with the TALKING and the FUCKING BURPING?" and immediately there was a confused commotion farther down the aisle. Others in the woman's row had turned around and evidently someone else had spoken, perhaps gestured, and Lauren was saying, "They have to leave!" and Evan was up on his feet and – swinging! – connection on his punches, holding the guy in front of him with his left hand and hitting him furiously with his right fist, again and again and again and again. I perceived an almost soundless gasp rise collectively from the crowd about us, thinning out the atmosphere as in a storm.

I noticed that the players were still playing upon their stage. Pictures of professionalism. Every other neck was turned our way, though. I felt mildly hypnotized by the commotion; even as Evan was swinging and Last Name Guy was trying to dart into the fray I felt quite safe. Sara had to lean over to remind me to get out of there and I said oh yeah, and we slinked away to empty seats in the back row. It took a strangely long time for the staff to descend upon the scene, to understand it and order the transgressors out. This seemed to be done silently, by the way, with emphatic pointing, perhaps in deference to the performance still underway. But the clipped shouts, pushing, punching – this seemed to go on for a surprisingly long time, let's say a minute.

And finally it did end and Evan, Lauren and Last Name Guy walked past us, out, and we watched the rest of the show, happy for its pantomimes of violence, its slapstick drama.

Friday, June 22, 2007

A young man on the train, to his friend: "I'm gonna dead it. I take her out, I spend mad dough on her yo. She can't be... treatin' me like that. I'm deadin' it."
We arrived in Monaco after a stint shrouded in mountainous tunnels. Arrived in its clean station, underground. Or in the ground. In the mountain, still, it would appear. We thought about which way to go and then we went there, along the shiny platform. Uniformed persons ushered us further, down the stairs, toward our eventual exit. We rounded a couple corners, curiously makeshift, or in the midst of renovations, and then we were out in the open.

It seemed like it might start to rain.

There was a howling, moaning din out in the distance, reverberating upon the hillsides, in the trees. But in the distance. The sound seemed to present an alternate reality; a strange juxtaposition with mere people in their clothes and shoes, with shops, sidewalks, street lamps and earthy knolls.

The sound haunted us. Got softer and then louder. It was evidence of a fierce intelligence at play out there, unseen, but in our midst. I could not wait to get nearer it.
You can't wear shorts, the state decrees so. You can not play music publicly on portable music-playing devices. You may not be intoxicated from spirits nor from herbs. You may not. Not. You may not contradict this sentence.

The book depository. Books upon books upon books upon dusty shelves of books. Books are important. Our children need books to read.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Accident & Its Prolonged Aftermath

The accident happened and we laughed at it from on high. Was hard not to. All that metal bent now. Two cars prone, at odd angles in the intersection. Took a while for the drivers to get out but they got out. Presently there was a siren sound. An undercover on the scene. As he got out and walked to one car, a guy on a bike and two pedestrians approached the scene in a deliberate and somewhat stately manner like the three goddamn wise men come to see a birth. And our attentions drifted and we went back to work and the accident's aftermath progressed in its oddly languorous way, the drivers out of their cars now, one standing nearby smoking. And later on two uniformed cops took charge. Somehow the cars had been moved to opposite curbs. And a great rain fell, and veiled the scene from sight, and the sun shone for a thousand years without a trace of night, and the city fell to rubble all around; and a finer, more glorious city was built and stood for 10,000 years; and women and men grew to be strange and awful beasts, and perished in a calamitous famine; and finally a fine white silt settled upon every surface; but through it all still stood the dented cars, the two cops watching, the one driver smoking but the other one gone.
Anthony Bourdain narrates his show in loud commas. "That night COMMA we ate COMMA we drank COMMA and we drank again until the sun came up."

An elderly Hasid on the train, with his felt hat wrapped in plastic against the rain. Reading the Torah for the hundred thousandth time. Strange that there could be reason to plumb any text like that. But in fact there is for any text. He could just as easily be gleaning new insights from a tattered old TV Guide. It's the mystery of language, the leap of faith of words.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

There was a sharp, dark shout on the Grand Street platform as the D pulled in. I turned around.

I spied nothing but that placid Chinese couple, an older white man - a tourist? - trotting in his sandals after his wife who'd gotten on the car behind him.

Sad that jazz players, for all their wily chops, don't change up their game a bit. Clean, suit-wearing mothafuckas. Introducing Mr. This and Mr. That, this tune by the great Mr. So-and-so. Christian McBride motherfuckers.

Someone vandalized the graffiti museum.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I felt so old and tired at that club on Friday night. The way you feel when you're patronized by children. But they were all quite kind. Putting my bag in a safe place behind the bar and pointing me to it when I turned around to find it gone, and panicked, and pretended not to panic.

I spoke to Rumana and her friend about Little Italy, where they'd been to see the Italy-France World Cup final and where I'd just been with Sara to have a dinner at a tourist trap that was not so bad mind you. The waiter said salud after he poured our wine.

Of course.

Rumana said an African worker at the place they went tried to wear a France journey, I mean jersey, but I'm honoring my mistake as somehow significant, a France journey, the journey you take to France as an African immigrant, a journey you're compelled to wear on your back.

He was told at once by his boss to take it off, which is interesting, but not surprising in the least. Nor is it controversial, nor should it be, but it's interesting.

I spoke to Jim about his twin uncles, one of whom once was a monk and married a woman who once was a nun.

Imagine that.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The din in the club, a nuisance if you're working there, a pleasure if you're there at play.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

On the Boardwalk there were two birds fucking. Up on top of a pylon. The one was shrieking and flapping his wings and staring out to sea from behind her. Precipitously, she flew away.

Also we saw a man kneeling on the shady seat of his rickshaw, prostrate, facing Mecca for his midday prayers. Seemed he might have been facing north but what do we know. He oughta know.

A lot of the rickshaw guys seemed to have nothing to do. They'd park in rows along the side of the Boardwalk and sleep or watch the world go by.

An old couple riding in one, the man looked angry. He ashed his cigarette out the side, low to the ground.

We played that claw game. In a long and narrow and empty arcade. Luna dropped the claw right on a bear and it clutched feebly, gaining no purchase, and just as quickly withdrew to the machine's roof.

We kept along down the arcade and drove the go-karts. There was a view of the Atlantic Ocean, checkered flags fluttering in the breeze. You could keep it flat out around the track.

Ed's senior show at FIT consisted of toothy monster heads growing out of craggly trees.

"He's had a rough year," Sara remarked.