Thursday, January 31, 2008

As I read our project management professional training text in class today I was gripped by a sudden chill and aching heart. It occurred to me, the relentlessly drab language. The repetitiveness. The preoccupation with documentation, with process, with exhaustive steps and procedures. Inputs, tools and outputs. The obsession with outcome that's in scope with plan, the outcome being a product, a service, or, sinisterly, a result. The inarguable mandate intimated by the charter. The enormity of whatever task it must have been to drive its performers to the codify these methods in every possible combination, covering every conceivable circumstance, over hundreds of soul-obliterating and life-negating pages. It occurred to me, this was the project plan for the Holocaust, abstracted from its particulars.

I never run out of breath until I reach the top floor of our building, the fifth floor, our floor. I pant like an old man as I approach, lumbering, reaching for the keyhole with my key.

The key never fails to make a spark on the lock.

They installed new lights in our lobby and dilapidated stairwells, bright lights that are surely meant to conform to code or evince a renovation for which they might have cause to jack up rents. They are dismal, garish lights, too bright. And some cocksucker from Domino's Pizza left a stack of menus to fan out on the foyer floor.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ronke is our project management certification trainer and she was born in Nigeria and now she lives in Dallas and she used to live in Connecticut. People call me Ronnie because it's easier, she said in her accent. So Ronnie, Ronke. Whatever you like. In the end we were perfectly unsure what she wanted us to call her.

"I seldom eat lunch," she said today after she came back from break and John inquired. She said she'd been window shopping in the rain.
The Japanese guy at the Columbus Circle stop who does the one-man-band thing, playing boogie blues on the guitar and some kind of percussion with his feet, over and over again, excruciatingly.

Monday, January 28, 2008

We used to go down to the ice cream place at the end of the road, and then you turn left and there it is the next intersection. Down a hill, past the peeled-paint, haunted barn, and up a hill, and down another. To a place called Four Corners, due to the fact it's an intersection four corners result. Gas station, gas station, gas station, ice cream. A farmer's market when it's warm, in one of the parking lots of a gas station. The ice cream place was called Kathy John's, and it had this idiotic old-timey theme, a sign with a silhouette of corseted woman on one of those bicycles with the giant front wheel. Suppose she was Kathy. Inside, the high school kids who worked the scoops were required to wear candy-striped vests and little fucking red bow ties and those fucking beribboned straw hats that remind you vaguely of Mark Twain or someone in an Impressionist painting who has a mustache. There was a replica of a nickelodeon that showed little grainy black-and-white films of what I want to say were Victorian women in scandalous states of undress and engaged in all manner of unseemly and ungodly activities, all the glorious uns at once, but I'm pretty sure that's another memory. It was maybe really the Keystone Cops.

When I dawdled in the morning before getting dressed for school my mom would say, "Put a nickel in it."

They piped in the ragtime and the dixieland nonstop I do not need to tell you.

There was also inside of Kathy John's a retail store for candy and it seems to me that the entire place, maybe ten feet wide by thirty feet long, was stocked with varieties of rock candy and rock candy only. Rows upon rows of jars of rock candy rods in every imaginable color and flavor: lime, root beer, raspberry, butterscotch, chocolate, tangerine, cherry, orange, green apple, strawberry, watermelon, lemon, blueberry, cinnamon, ginger. The favored configuration was the rod. Like the radioactive rods they put in the water in nuclear reactors to provoke the steam, I suppose, but a whole lot smaller and a whole lot sweeter.

So I'd had these rods from time to time and I recall even shoplifting a fistful or two but the big idea was the ice cream. We'd go there after dinner sometimes and there was never any junk in our house, that was the type of family we were. So it was a pretty big deal, going down to the end of the road and left and up and down to Four Corners.

Something today in the 42nd Street subway station reminded me of vanilla ice cream cones from Kathy Johns, anyway. The place was a restaurant too, with corned beef sandwiches and onion rings and hot dogs and shit. With the menu all dolled-up and cute to look like a newspaper from 1912. So I remember the cold, cold plain sweetness of the vanilla ice cream, with steam coming up off the top, the almost meaty quality of the first bite you take when the ice cream's still hard, and you get that shock to your solar plexus and to your brain because it's so cold, and there's the faint smell of fry oil in the air, oil that's had onion rings and fries. Anyway, it made me remember.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

It occurs to me, about Hillary Clinton's fabled welling up of tears, her famous hushed and halting and speech, it was not purely earnest nor contrived. It was both. If you want to know what was going through her mind then, and you know she won't be the one to tell you, read on. She had a pang of pathos, of feeling sorry for herself, not without reason mind you. But once she felt that pang she let it linger within her, and thought, This is great. I'm going to use this. And she did, brilliantly. It was real. But make no mistake, she was always in control.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I hear the creaking of the door.

I sat too near someone on the subway train today, as we both were sitting down, and I apologized after his hip grazed my knee.

Had lunch with John at a restaurant made up to look like a circus. Except it wasn't full on a circus. Just a round room, a rope ladder suspended horizontally in an arc above the bar. A candy-striped menu, like an old tent I suppose. We talked about the absurdities in theoretical physics, about as best we could.

Illustration by Louise Asherson

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

As I was cooking dinner tonight, sweating, things on the stove and a thing in the oven, I heard a knock upon the door, shave-and-a-haircut-two bits. It was a smiling young man I did not recognize.

"Hey!" he said, extending his hand. I took it. "Your neighbor! From across the way?"

"Oh," I said, "yeah, yeah." Niceties ensued.

Then this: "I'm an A&R rep for Atlantic Records and I heard you singing and playing your guitar. You sound really great. Do you, uh, have a CD I can have or something?"

I was dumbfounded, sort of confused, harried, but I saw no reason not to play along. "Really?" I said. "Wow, that's, um, that's incredible! Thanks. I'm glad you say so, I'm really..."


"I don't really have anything I can give you but I can, you know, get something together." I was trying to say all the right things. The steak was cooking.

He smiled. "Great!"

"Yeah, thanks for..."

"Yeah! Yeah. One other thing: Could you keep the volume down? You know, after about midnight. We're trying to sleep."

Then there followed me saying of course, and him saying you probably hear our stereo too, blah blah, me saying no, no, I don't, because in fact I don't, and then at the end he gave a cheery reiteration that he likes my music, it's just a little bit loud, OK, goodbye, thanks.

I don't need to tell you that I was angry and embarrassed. What a miserable little humiliation. But then as I mulled it all over I wondered a few things, wondered which of them was true:

1. He is an A&R rep for Atlantic Records and was lucky to count on that gambit to, he imagined, soften the unpleasant impact of delivering the message he wanted to deliver. A funny sort of coincidence, but why not?

2. He is, of course, not an A&R rep for anyone. He contrived that fiction because he figured it'd be, as above, a humane way to shut me down.

3. The entire episode was sarcastic. He was sick to death of being kept up nights by my squawking voice and emphatic fingerpicking, like the plucking of feathers from a goose. What can I do to really fuck him up, he thought, and that's what he went and did.

I'm leaning towards #1, with #3 a not-so-distant second. He did seem very agreeable the whole time, not the least bit angry. But who knows with people. And yet, to assert to a neighbor that you circulate in a certain line of work when you do nothing of the sort is a little dicey. He could very well find me at some undefined point in the future, introducing him to some other music biz mucky-muck, as "my neighbor who works for Atlantic." Then again, who works for Atlantic? Isn't that too obvious? Haven't they been absorbed into some nondescript multinational, Hachette or Universal? So the reason #3 seems more likely than #2 is this: Just about every goddamn decent normal fucking person in the world who's kept awake by his neighbors has the decency and candor to tell them - whether in person or in a coward's note slipped under the door - that they'd appreciate a little more quiet late at night, thank you. And that's perfectly fine. To fuck with someone, you'd have to be cruel. Then again, I feel I should guard myself against any paranoid conclusions, for these are often false. It's the simplest answer that's usually the truth. So maybe it is #1.

Whatever it is, I'm fucking pissed, and tonight I played and sang until the clock struck 12.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Stumbled up windy Third Avenue late last night and right into this place, one of these new places that seems to be run by kids out of college and caters to drunk kids out of college and serves them cheesesteaks and cheeseburgers and fries and as I stood in line I thought someone was going to say something about football and I'm wearing my Eagles hat. Someone sitting at a table, a black guy in his twenties, was talking to someone in line in front of me, something about the Giants and who are they rooting for, and then he saw me and said, "This guy's an Eagles fan," and I said yeah but I'm a Giants fan for today and it was as though I hadn't said a word; he paused a beat and went on talking to the others.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Played decent pool tonight at the Stoned Crow, won the first game with a little run that left me buzzing with adrenaline. I couldn't for the life of me remember the name of the waitress, but she remembered me, turns out her name was Emmy. Natuza thought she knew but asked her, at the end, just for good measure. We tipped extravagantly and then parted ways, those of us who still remained, in opposite ways on Washington Place.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I've been captivated by the Air France theme music, audible when on hold with the reservations desk or, more invasively, and more strikingly, in the cabins of their aircraft as you board or at the end, when you've just awoken from the thud of the landing gear upon the runway, when you've had a night of wine and cramped reverie, you've had just about enough and you're abstractedly gathering your luggage, which may have shifted during the flight, so be cautious, and you're preparing to deplane to a Jetway or down the passerelle to a waiting tandem bus in the cold, white morning. It's a strikingly melancholy song, slow, sung by a woman in an aching voice. It's got lyrics like "away with the sea" and "the miles that lie between us." This whole musico-mass-transportational experience, with the deep, vague sadness, the fractured beauty, and the instructions to fasten your seatbelt, or perhaps the jetlag as the case may be, it's enough to send you into a formidable state of dissociative intoxication. The willingness of this enormous corporation to use such a heartrending piece of music may well be French; it reminds me of years ago when I was in Paris and there was some kind of film festival going on. All it amounted to was something like a Euro off admission on Tuesdays or whatever; it was just an initiative to get people into theaters, smudgy with the fingerprints of bureaucrats from the chamber of commerce. But there was a little video and a theme song they played before every movie that played in every theater in the city that week. It was a montage of city scenes, I believe, but what was striking was the music. It was a song sung in harmony by young male and female voices, and its melody followed a cascade of minor chords. The lyrics were something like - translated into English - "The city of Paris invites you to the festival of cinema." But the melody was grippingly moving, and I wanted to cry every time I heard it.

I saw a beautiful, young woman on the subway platform at 72nd Street today, earnestly masking-taping a flier to a pole. I have to see what it says, I thought. I craned my head and perceived just these words, on the left side of the page beside her gloved hand:


Thursday, January 17, 2008

J.H. is gradually losing his mind, no longer appearing at work. He's a disembodied voice, suddenly present on conference calls, intoning glumly on some technical matter or other. No one knows quite where he goes or where he is.

I looked into the P&G Bar as I often do. Just into the picture window, you see. On my way up Amsterdam & home. Pretty inviting in there though. Today there was an old man at the bar, wearing a hat. A scarecrow type, Burroughsy figure. Wearing a cheap brown suit about as well as anybody could. I thought to myself, Is that some great old man perched on a barstool in a bar? And it was.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I walked morosely down 50th Street after work, in the light, cold rain. At the intersection of Sixth I perceived a commotion in the corner of my left eye. The walk signal was on and some were walking but in the middle of the crosswalk two figures stood in opposition. One was a white-aproned delivery man, a short guy, with a baseball cap, probably from Ecuador, wherever. One of these spectral illegals who risk their lives on wobbly bikes to bring us our cheeseburgers deluxe. He was in a protective, recoiling stance beneath a towering man in a suit and pricey shoes, a haircut you could polish diamonds. The tall man was berating the delivery man, indignant, enraged. I saw then that the bicycle lay in an inelegant heap in the middle of the street. So I guess he almost hit the guy, or did hit the guy, or who knows really. To be fair, I didn't see what happened. But then the tall man disengaged and turned around, and finding the bicycle before him he stomped on it, four or five times, with the heel of his shiny, right shoe. Didn't do much good. The old beater of a bike - streetworn delivery bike - rattled against the street a bit but didn't seem to break. Delivery guy just stood there. I scrutinized the tall man as he walked away. I wondered if he'd vent more rage, shout a curse, appeal to passersby for vindication. No one had seemed to notice any of this, by the way. I followed him from across 50th Street to the 1-2-3 stop; he went down on his side and I went down mine. When I followed him through the turnstile I wondered if I'd perceive by now an expression of shame or regret on his face but I found none as he walked up to the edge of the tracks to stand and wait.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Right as Rain

A while back I was flat on my back flipping through the channels on the teevee. I came upon an absolutely enchanting documentary on the Travel Network or Discovery or some shit. One of them, you know. It was filmed on that rich and glorious celluloid, the type they'd always use in the sixties and seventies I guess. Technicolor. I'm not too retro, nor am I sentimental much, but they really should bring that shit back. The reds are enraging, the blues like some kinda narcotic. And the sunlight, never mind the sunlight.

The title was "The Man Who Skied Down Mount Everest." It's about this Japanese guy who climbs Mount Everest, and I only knew it 'cause of the title at first, but I guess he was gonna ski back down. Lots of shots of the entire expedition trudging through Nepalese villages, sherpas with their burdens, prayer flags flitting in the wind outside misshapen stone monasteries, meals eaten around the Coleman stove. You know the drill. And the guy, he's the focus of the whole thing, everyone gives him a little extra elbow room. Little mountain urchins run up to him in wonder. The narration is from his diaries of the whole experience and its syntax is mesmerizing. He's got a sort of modesty in the shadow of the mountain's majesty, and of the audacity of what he's proposed to do. But there's always a sense of the tragic, futile beauty of his whole endeavor, sometimes crossing into narcissism, sometimes into nearly despairing self-doubt. Lots of deep scrutiny into the enterprise.

Eight people die at one point.

I was astounded and enraptured. And there was something about the whole experience of watching and listening that was really turning me on, pushing some button in me that was queerly familiar, pleasurable and terrifying all at once. The narration was in this absurd, stentorian accent, British but not really, the sort of voice that might emanate from some rich, perverted recluse, some fallen noble who's never left his Xanadu. At some point I realized, of course, that this was not the actual voice of the Japanese guy - though it did seem strangely appropriate to his exploit and persona. Then, in a second, I realized. It was Hal from "2001: A Space Odyssey." I looked it up on IMDB and in fact it was the voice of the very same person, Douglas Rain.

He does ski down but I won't tell you exactly how it ends, except to say it's beautiful.

She pointed to a painting in the window. I don't think her boyfriend looked.

It was a painting of young Frank Sinatra.

He was black, she white.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Today on "60 Minutes" Lara Logan asked Pervez Musharraf if he "liked" Benazir Bhutto. Are Americans all regressing to the third grade? Does everything have to be couched in preadolescent, cutesy terms? Musharraf smiled awkwardly and said, well, it's not a question of like or dislike, it's not personal, it's not like that. Have seven years of George Bush subconsciously dulled all our intellects, so we actually produce and desire the level of rhetoric that he favors, that hokey moronic talk? Then in the next segment, Steve Croft asked some mafia killer, "Do you like guns?" Jesus Christ. It's as though we're trying to evade responsibility for the woefully adult things that take place in the world by making the language we use to describe them more innocent.

Do you like ice cream? Do you like terrorists? Do you like scrapbooking? Do you like global warming? Do you like girls? Do you like waterboarding?

Friday, January 04, 2008

I struggled to fall asleep last night, my head bright with weird imaginings. I was John Edwards on some talk show, declaiming on the Iraq war and his principles compared to Bush.

There are people in public life who commit the cardinal sin of mistaking personal virtue for moral authority. Bush and his coterie of course. Condoleeza Rice with her treadmill, goddamn her. Up at the asscrack of dawn. How can she be wrong when she is sweating? This seems to be a tendency in the righteous, religious right. A temptation. Bush himself - he quit drinking, now he thinks he has the upper hand that allows him to invade countries and murder people by the hundreds of thousands. But Elliot Spitzer does it too, according to a recent New Yorker article. Apparently he drags his ass out of bed and jogs at 5 am each day, even when all he wants, like the rest of us, is two more hours' sleep. Careful what you do with that credit, boy.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The master contemplated his puppet from across the sidewalk and through the scissor legs of the public, who stalked by, oblivious. Up the street the headless accordionist was playing the same old ditty to a new gaggle of mothers and children. What an imbecile, the master thought. Still, there was something not quite right with his own condition. The puppet bore a guitar. Should it be a saxophone? The master smoked and pondered, in the shadow of Notre Dame's arse, of its flying buttresses and clover windows.

This was the territory of postcards and magnets, of sodas and ice cream and pale, doughy panninis to be pressed. Tourist Paris in the dead of winter, the sun pressing in vain against the entrapping sidewalk gray.

We resolved to walk along the Seine.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

In a review in the Times about some bigass new book on Modernism, the reviewer makes the great point that "In France, civilization is invincible and eternal." This is to contest the author's view that somehow conditions in France at the turn of the 20th century bred the types of outcast that make ideal Modernists. In fact, it is the condition of France always that creates such vigorous artistic and intellectual movements. Because French civilization is "invincible," there is no hope and therefore also no fear of ever changing it. You can assert or even do the craziest things in art, philosophy, politics, and still go to the café or have a good meal with plenty of wine. If the civilization were any weaker it would be vulnerable to the agitations of the avant garde - it might actually break down into the new forms insinuated by radicals, into some unknown which is in fact terrifying to all, not just the cozy bourgeoisie. So that's really why France is full of revolutionaries of all kinds, always clamoring, taking to the streets, crying out for change. The awesome responsibility of actually getting the exalted, ambitious things they want is never upon them. They're not afraid of winning.