Monday, March 31, 2008

Went to Brooklyn on Friday night to see Yo La Tengo play as the Condo Fucks in a goodbye to the apparently beloved bar Magnetic Field. It's disconcerting that the bar came and went like that - I first heard of it from some people who lived or moved out there I suppose, and it was always, Hey, come hang out with us at this cool bar. There was a sense that it was new then, or maybe just new to those of us who fell upon it, I suppose. But it seemed like it was in discovery, that it was in the early stages of becoming some kind of institution. I hardly ever went and now it's gone. Yet another measure of my advancing years I guess, or all of ours, really. Or, more disturbingly, a measure of my inattention. While you were out: Worlds were born and then collapsed, perhaps to see the spring again someday.

Yo La Tengo was very good - they played a set to suit the occasion I guess; no slow, beautiful tunes, just loud rock 'n' roll, get it on, get it over with. It was a novelty to see such a "big" band in such a small setting but after a minute or two it wasn't. There they were - just another very good band with very good songs playing in some doomed bar in Brooklyn.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I'm about to cap the candle flame for one more day and what is there to say?

Across the street today, as I exited to go buy lunch, across 53rd Street I suppose it was, there was a cacophonous shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits beat played with sticks and spoons on tuneless objects by a looping train of men and women. It was some sort of picket line for who knows what. Is there anything sadder than a picket line, sometimes? I don't mean the big old lines that take up the entire block, with the giant rat, the ugly anti-deity, looming front and center. I mean the anonymous ones where it's six or seven people and you can't read the fine print on their placards, and they're segregated from the tourist traffic by three or four steel barricades, and that's all, not even a cop on guard to maintain the peace. But I guess it's when no one cares that it really matters.

Illustrated by Louise Asherson

Thursday, March 27, 2008

You know that thing that happens when you're walking along and you think of someone for no good reason, someone you know, some friend or just a friend of a friend, and you're thinking how weird it would be if you saw that person right now, emerging between the sets of people all moving crosscurrent before you, on the sidewalk on Sixth Avenue right about 52nd Street. Because you were just thinking about them. And it hasn't happened yet of course so you think about how extra weird it would be if now that you're thinking about how weird it would be, they in fact do appear. And since you're thinking about how weird it would be to see them when you're thinking about how weird it would be to see them when you're thinking about them, now you're really thinking about thinking about thinking about it now, and you decide that if you see them at this point, you're just going to have to hurl yourself under a bus, because it's all over. There'd be no other proper reaction. And once you've introduced that perverse and nihilistic fantasy into your logic, you decide that, well, now, if you happen to see them, say in the next five seconds or so, it's really, really, really, really going to blow your mind. It'd be the heaviest thing to ever happen to anyone, anywhere - no, wait, now, now it'd be heavier still, because you're realizing how incredibly crazy it would be if you saw them now. NOW! With your mind aflame at the very thought! You're practically trembling at the prospect of such a powerful confluence of mind and matter. It'd be like the cold hand of God reaching down and gripping your shoulder while you tied your shoes. It'd be a bolt of right out of the blue, enough to teach you that nothing means everything. And guess what happens?

Of course not.

But tomorrow? There they ARE!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

On Saturday we went to Brooklyn to visit Lis and Jake and their baby who looks just like Formula One World Champion Kimi Raikonnen. We ate at a Moroccan restaurant with fancy drinks they invented yesterday and a freshly renovated interior that used to be an old Pakistani liquor store. Only the wall on one side was original, the man said, and there it was, unfinished, cracked and a bit mottled from decades of who knows what.

Later we were turned away at the Clinton-Washington subway stop. The lady in the booth patiently outlined to us our alternatives at precisely the time that an express train tore through, out of reach, making its callous, fuck-you racket. I watched her mouth move in the din. It occurred to me that the Plexiglas insulated her from the roar and so she had no idea we couldn't hear her. Her lips formed words deliberately and emphatically, and she punctuated them with little nods and all the other cues. The beating of the eyes. I watched her as time distended and the clamorous procession behind me seemed to have no end, like a hundred-car freight train in the Mojave desert. I tried to appear to be listening because that's what she expected of me. Finally, the train passed, and she stopped.

"Excuse me?" I asked.

Monday, March 24, 2008

One word in front of the other in front of the other in front of the other.

I walked out into the brash world in the early afternoon, having not yet had a sip of coffee, to get blown about and battered by the buildings and the many, many words.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Saw "The Filth and the Fury," a movie that sneaks up on you and has you finding yourself thinking, How can I further the cause of rock 'n' roll and combat oppression and conformity in every little thing I do each day? An oddly sad movie, what with the tender moments between Sid and Johnny, staring rapturously out the window of their bus to nowhere at the ceaseless scenery of garish and tragic America. And as always, the dirty din of the electric guitar, delirious, ecstatic. It's curious how good it sounds bad, and how much better it sounds worse. There were recordings of their raucous, early rehearsals. Awful, awful, awful, and yet great, great, great. And at that infamous last show, with Steve Jones playing those two idiotic chords over and over and over, when there was just no use, when it was all long ago gone, when it already seemed like it all had been a dream, and been distilled into a black, bitter pill of a bad joke. That's when it sounded best.

Monday, March 17, 2008

I saw by the light of the moon that the clock on the outside wall was still on daylight savings time.

It was a languid day of idle pleasures and minor chores, punctuated by the chugging of the dishwasher, the hum of the oven fan, the ticking of the kitchen timer and - once - the urgent, piercing wail of the smoke detector, an extravagant nuisance when it's not saving your life.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Little Paul

Working at the lube place was pretty weird. It wasn't affiliated with Midas or Jiffy or any of them so we were always kind of having our last hurrah. Never knowing whether our next paycheck. The tedium of the work was astonishing. Clamp the filter and twist, clamp the filter and twist. Drain, drain, drain. If it was an old lady that was waiting in the waiting room for those guaranteed fifteen minutes or less, clutching a styrofoam cup of all-afternoon coffee cut with Splenda and Cremora in her wrinkled hand, well then tell her that her so-and-so's out and we can fix it for fifty bucks if she likes, while she waits, or she can wait until an officer of the law pulls her over for the offense at some vague point in the future. It's up to her.

The boss, Paul, had a son. Little Paul. At the outset he'd been expected to take over the whole operation but as he entered early adolescence it became clear that he was irretrievably stupid, a moron. And by moron I don't mean an asshole like his dad. I mean he was retarded in the head. Paul once tried to teach him to do the job but he'd leave his wrench on the toilet tank, pour the oil on the floor, lose the pan plug beneath the secretary's desk. Her name was Sis, on account of being Little Paul's sister, but because of who he was, it was almost like she was the sister of nobody, which made her name even more bizarre.

To be perfectly blunt Little Paul was unable to dress himself in the morning and Big Paul and Sis were reluctant to admit the degree of his incapacity. So they let him haunt the office and garage, getting a bit in everybody's way, always on the verge of breaking something or getting hurt. He was like a big, unwieldy dog.

Little Paul had a very strange and unnerving habit. He couldn't talk much but he would tell everyone he saw he loved them. "I love you," he told his dad and me and Sis and Hector and Robbie in the morning. I love you, I love you, I love you. I guess it was just one of those obsessive behaviors, shouldn't mean much to anyone. Like a parrot, I guess he'd heard it somewhere before. Some people need to wash their hands twenty-seven times a day, Little Paul had to tell each and every person he saw he loved them. Including the mailman and the Chinese food guys and the guys from Sharky's across the street where we'd all go to drink. (Some of whom, I should point out, were very, very, very unkind to him.) And every last little old lady spilling Cremora on the floor. No one needs to make much of it, you roll your eyes and go on home. It's a moron who can't stop saying I love you. But tell you the truth, it drove me damn near to tears listening to someone say something like that when it wasn't true. Every day, every day, every day. I love you, I love you, I love you. I love you Sis, I love you Dad, I love you Steve which is me. All in the same wide-eyed way, perfectly confident, emphatic. I've never told anyone I loved them with that much conviction.

So it stuck in my craw you might say, this habit of Little Paul's, and what it might imply for me and the rest of mankind. I'd get into weird little games with him where I'd stop him right before he told me he loved me, I'd say, "I know, Paulie, you don't have to say it," and I'd smile and nod and try to be gentle about it. Each time I did that he'd wait an awful moment, as though to let the sulphurous vapour of my antagonism fade, and fix me with his open gaze. "No, Steve! I love you!" He had to tell it to every person he saw, every day.

I played it all like a joke for a while, tried to be a good sport. But one night while I was not asleep, staring directly at the ceiling, when I was wondering whether I would have to quit my job or kill myself or both, it occurred to me: This is what love is. It's what you say when you have no idea what it means, no idea at all. Maybe you have no idea what meaning means. But you say it and mean it all the same.

Illustration by Louise Asherson

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sometimes I dream I can't hardly play the guitar at all and sometimes I dream I can play it a hundred miles an hour. Just the other day, I dreamt I was hanging out with Bob Dylan. He was his weird self, the Dylan everyone but no one knows. We rode over hill and dale in a Jeep, I think. He gave me a guitar at a certain point, and in my hands it was quickly reduced to some precious piece of porcelain, or scrimshaw, God knows what; I was meant to play it by plucking its delicate tines emerging in two toothy rows outta sorta half-shell of something all of a sudden, all sculpted and pretty. I did the best I could and made a honking twang or two, the noise of a fumbling ignoramus, like the toot you make on a flute after several breathy attempts, if you don't know from a flute. And last night I dreamt I sat down in a darkened living room with an unplugged electric guitar and played extremely fast, the pick flickering across the street, across the strings I mean - it was a dream but on the money - like a hummingbird's wings.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Put-Upon Put-On

Is there anything appealing about Hillary Clinton's woe-is-me act? Her "Why do I always have to go first" whining at the debate in Ohio, followed immediately and infuriatingly by "I don't mind"? You can't have it both ways - you can't complain about something and then try to score stoicism points. If you're stoic, you shut up and deal with it. If you're going to complain, complain directly and candidly and then shut up. Maureen O'Dowd cited another example of this, when Hillary said, "Every so often I just wish that it were a little more of an even playing field, but, you know, I play on whatever field is out there," on "Nightline." Surely this infantile, disingenuous and pathetic attitude can't be helping her gain ground against Obama - can it? Do people really feel sorry for her? Do they somehow see the sorriest, most self-pitying aspect of themselves in her, and find the invitation to wallow in its pathos irresistible? Is it - yikes - a semi-coded cue to women, who've long, and justifiably, felt that the cards were stacked against them? I wonder what button she's pushing, and why it's working. Could be that her vaunted comeback is just a coincidence, but I can't see how her sore-loser, the-sun-was-in-my-eyes routine could possibly endear her to anyone at all, let alone to any voter.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The reason Republicans tended to defend Roger Clemens and Democrats tended to attack him when he testified in Congress is that the Republican Party is the party of lies, pure and simple. They have made such a habit of obfuscation, of disingenuousness, of hypocrisy; of outright, craven dissembling, often in the name of absurd, abstract notions like honor and one's good name, that they don't even know themselves anymore. And when they see a liar before them they viscerally, emotionally identify with him. He was perfect for them - pompous, indignant, headstrong, unintellectual - and they responded like the Pavlov dogs they've become; they drooled over him. They are constitutionally disinclined to the truth.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

We were atop a double decker bus in London, near the Thames and Parliament and all that. Big Ben. An Indian family came aboard, the mom and dad and a little boy and girl. They all had food in lidded takeout tubs, from some Italian restaurant, dishes of pasta in red sauce, already cold and gummy in the plastic. The dad was sternly admonishing the little girl to "eat, eat, what is wrong with it?"

She made a face and looked away. "It's not spicy enough," she said.