Friday, May 30, 2008

Jesse went to our 20th high school anniversary a couple of years ago and I managed to bow out under the pretext that my dad was getting a heart operation that he didn't end up getting. Jesse reported back. Bill Suits is clean and sober - "18 years" Bill declared sunnily, or some such number. Not a surprise there. The least surprising thing about Bill would be that he was still drinking; the second least surprising would be that he got sober.
On the train, a crazy Jamaican woman jabbered on about Christ. Salvation this and that, Jee-suss Christ of Nahzahret'. I peered down at her open-toed sandals and saw that her toenails were painted a dull and chipping red. At some point, she, her mind aflame with fire and brimstone thoughts, must have sat and reached down to her feet to paint her nails.

I imagined her barking some scripture at me, and me shouting back, cursing her, causing a stir among the others - some sympathetic to me and some to her - and startling her into silence. But it probably wouldn't have gone that way, and in any event, it didn't.

Illustration by Louise Asherson

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

While I sat at my desk upstairs and contemplated the tauntingly blank screen, trying to summon the gumption to write, the TV downstairs erupted into mad life.

"Johnny Damon!" it cried, then seemed to change its channel, or perhaps there was some other reason for the garbled non-sequitur that came, some obscure mishap in the DVR recorder or the cable box. I walked downstairs to shut the damn thing off but like sometimes, it didn't turn all the way off; the sound went out and the picture disappeared but the screen retained the faint luminescence of a moonlit night.

Now the wind's picked up and in the night behind me there's an insistent creak I've never heard before, a metal chirp, the complaint of some lifeless thing. It's a sound that belongs in a tiny town along the coast of Wales.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I stood in the corner of the backyard with Mr. Fun. Under a tent beside us there were folding tables burdened with hodgepodge holiday food: Sternoed steam trays of chicken, hamburgers and pulled pork; macaroni and cheese, cucumber salad, Nacho Cheese Doritos, potato chips; a crudité tray freshly divested of its saran so that some of its baby carrots and broccoli florets had spilled into the desolate crevasses between the dishes, never to be consumed.

Fun's default stance is disgusted sarcasm. I like hanging out with him.

Natuza sat on the steps beside Steve and picked at her meat. Everything seemed raw to her.

"It's cooked," Steve said. "That one's cooked all the way. Eat that one. Don't eat that one."

Don showed up and was winding his way through the crowd, saying hello, holding what appeared to be some kind of casserole and trying not to step on kids.

"Look at him, thinks he's all sexy," Fun mused.

Beyond the fence, a young boy stood at the top of a slide and peered blankly down upon us. There was an exchange of greetings: cheery hellos from our crowd reciprocated by a regal yet uncertain wave from the child, the salutation of an alien who has just crash-landed his craft and not yet gained his bearings.

Bunche said, "Should I moon the kid? Should I? Should I?"

We laughed.

"Someone tell me not to moon this kid!"

Finally Don reached us, half bent over from leaning down to peck the cheeks of prone women. Fun shook his hand.

"You think you're too good for us, don't you?"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

On my way home today, outside the comedy club, the big club on Broadway, there was a guy on a cell phone. Dressed-up guy, but young and fit. Looked at first like he worked there in some capacity.

"Walk over to Seventh and then the next one is Broadway," he said. "Broadway!"

A couple seconds passed. I looked back at him 'cause of the way he was pacing in that doorway there. I wanted to hear the next words outta his mouth.

"Stop talking! Listen! Stop talking! Listen!"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The air horns the spectators blow at races produce a curiously downbeat effect; they seem to drop in pitch in the second or so in which they sound. In the very first moment they're like a siren, brusque, alarming, but then the timbre emerges and it's a bit of a moan, and it trails into something like a baby's cry. You hear them the most when the race is over, on the victory lap, and they're saluting the winner of course, and all the drivers, in fact, jubilantly, but the chorus has a valedictory, melancholy quality. It's over and there's nowhere to go but home.

Monday, May 19, 2008

At the race I noticed for the first time a remarkable sound the cars make. I first heard it from the GP2 cars on Saturday, and it's a sound that seems only to occur when the cars are on their warmup laps. It must be that the drivers open up the throttle but the clutch is lifted, though not quite in neutral, so the cars edge forward a little; you've got to really know what you're doing or you'll shoot into the back of the car in front of you like a canon. The engine races very hard and makes a stuttering, staccato, keening wail, like the whinnying of a spooked horse. I heard it at the end of the lap, as the cars were about to take their spots on the grid, so it was like horses that didn't want to enter the gate.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

We went to find the best sandwich in the world, at an inconspicuous shop that looked like it could be closed, when we saw it from the Rambla, until someone swung open the door and walked in. There seemed to be mostly locals there, seated around a bar with two women working it. The menu was mostly unpromising - wraps and melted-cheesy sandwiches, the kinds you'd find at an airport terminal. In fact the Iberico ham sandwich had sort of been promoted out of the menu and into its own rarefied spaces, on the board and on the walls, scrupulously accompanied by references to and quotes from Mark Bittman's effusive New York Times review, in English and Spanish. The Times review calls the sandwich a "flauta," which means a baguette sandwich I guess, but at Cafe Viena they just call it the Iberico, and they could probably just refer to it as it.

A human statue from the Rambla came in and darted to the bathroom.

The sandwich was great of course, and the greatness comes from the Iberian ham, which I made sure I ate plenty of every damn day we were in Spain. The fat on it had a buttery, vaguely sweet quality. Like many other squeamish Americans I tend to pare ribbons of pale, cold fat off the meat when I'm faced with a plate of ordinary ham. But this fat was appetizing and delicious - it had none of the throat-clogging, unpleasant blandness of other fat. The meat itself was rich and slightly chewy, and delicate, and aromatic. The baguette was good and crusty, and the sandwich included only one other ingredient, one that you barely notice but which probably is crucial to the entire experience: a layer of fresh crushed tomato, gossamer-like, thin enough to convey just the spirit or the idea of tomato.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The fat doorman directed me to the eighth floor, sir, and got in the elevator after me 'cause he was going upstairs too. I wondered if he'd say anything while we were in there. He opened his mouth and intoned a bored and tuneless melody. I wondered if he'd say anything when he got out. He didn't.

The Curse of the Now

It occurred to me as we wandered the Ramblas in Barcelona that the manifestations of our existence, all of us, of our presence on earth, are becoming uglier and uglier - ugly cars, ugly clothes, ugly buildings and parks and fountains, footbridges and barriers, shopping centers, sidewalks, signs. The old is still beautiful of course, in kind of a suspect way. Old things seem to have long ago skulked beyond the reach of aesthetic reproach. Or earned a free pass by virtue of persistence. The plainest, creaking, hundred-year-old tenement glooming up a narrow city street has this authority for some reason, and I'm loath to question it. But its upstart neighbor, the bank building with the curved-glass facade, is naked to judgment, and the verdict can't be good. Did the world look this way a hundred years ago? Certainly many people were appalled by modernist architecture, and reviled those fume-belching motorcars, and were scandalized by the immodest dress of the youth. But look at a picture, a crowd scene or a streetscape, from the forties, sixties, even the eighties - every detail has a period charm and conspires with the others to tell a poignant, coherent story. Not so today, with all our rounded, plasticky cars in colors of unearthly dreariness; our garish storefronts, billboards and marquees; our bad shirts and belts and hats and sunglasses. Are we reaching a fever pitch of postindustrial hideousness? Or maybe it'll all look different when we see it from the future. Maybe it's just the curse of the now.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

We took our seats in brilliant sunshine, with the chicane bending toward us. We were surrounded by beauty - the gravel traps and walls of tires, the candystiped ribbons of curb, the ads that repeat repeat repeat: Movistar Movistar Movistar, ING ING, Santander Santander Santander. And then the mountains and then the sky. I sipped from my bucket of Catalunyan beer.

Then there arose a distant whine, like the crying of the sun, and everything became a little more alive than it had been before.

Monday, May 12, 2008

When we arrived at the track on Saturday it was hard to tell where it was. A grandstand loomed, Sovietically, high above the trees and brush, but not much else; you couldn't see any bands of asphalt emerging from the hills. The circuit seemed to be embedded in some bowl or crater, just beyond our view. We crossed a footbridge that seemed to cross the track but it didn't cross the track; it crossed a shallow ravine of rocks and bushes, and only then were we even close to the track, finally, on that paved footpath that seems to ring every racecar track, shadowed on the outside by an informal one, of beaten dirt.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The first thing I did with my Internet fortune is I bought a diamond-studded salad spinner.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

There was a wide-eyed woman on the subway today next to her burly and inattentive man. She seemed charmed by everything she saw; she gazed at my hat with a strange smile and then laughed at the antic gestures of a retarded woman who sat with her helper beside me, but it wasn't a mocking laugh, it was an open and delighted laugh.