Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When a man is in the room...

Well, well, well you might be saying like the late great John Lennon. Look who's back (no, seriously, that's actually what I look like). I know its been a solid few months - almost five and no one was counting - but I am back to post on this blog, this white space with pictures of things I like and then references to other things I like. The summer passed with lots of weather and days, the fall flew by with moisture and shortening days and now here we are approaching Thanksgiving with fire in the air. Now, I could go in to agonizing detail about how amazing these past five months for me (and I was voted World's Coolest Dude in 2007), but I will spare you the details, because your brain and head would probably explode. Instead, I will give you an abridged version, in the blogspirit, of things I liked and didn't like over the past five months.

The Good(abbreviated):

- Mad Men

- The State DVD

- Lakers winning the NBA Title, making things more interesting for this season.

- Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame Speech

- Hung

- Reading Ulysses on a hot day

- Judee Sill album I was recommended.

- Rediscovering my love of the Grateful Dead

- Mad Men

- Dinner

- Chinese Food

- The teacher from Mad Men

- Jerry and Larry's dynamic on Curb

- Beach House's set at the East River Park in August

- Watching UP in the comfort of your home

- Beatles Remastered Albums (was that really "Hello Goodbye"?)

- A tree

- Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball

- Dwyane Wade becoming the new spokesperson for Air Jordan Sneakers

- My ideas for a sketch comedy show

-'s review of the new Julian Casablancas album

- Federer losing the U.S. Open

- Me finishing the first draft of my manuscript for "From Here to the Last Mound of Earth"

- Mad Men

The Bad:

The Lakers winning the NBA Title

- Tom Brady

- The New Orleans Saints being a headline story

- Bored to Death

- Barack winning the Nobel Peace Prize

- Lebron to New York hype

- Me not winning the Nobel Peace Prize in literature

- Me not having a TV show

- Sarah Palin (?)

- The college campus murders (Yale med student)

- Continuing bad economy

- An ice cream scoop falling off of an ice cream cone

- Michael & Michael only getting seven initial episodes (I almost didn't put this on because its coming back - unless that was a dream)

- Pitchfork's review of the new Julian Casablancas Album


Well there you have it. That basically sums up the past five months. The best synopsis ever? Maybe too early to say. But before I leave this fresh and inspired post, let me just delve - albeit briefly - into the last season of Mad Men.

I'm not a TV watcher (maybe?), but Mad Men continues to amaze me. This season had perhaps the best dialogue I have ever heard. Not only on a TV show, but out of many of the books I have read as well. I would have to see the screenplays in writing, but the way the dialogue sounds has a feel that any writer, when they know they are writing or reading good dialogue, can recognize. The sounds are circular, the lines take jump steps, they are never direct. A topic or a line will come from a place that the conversation is not directing towards - which reflects the way we actually talk, the way we transition thought into language.

The most astonishing thing about the show this season, was the way that it was contrived in the way that any artifice is contrived, but yet so natural. I will not compare Mad Men to Tolstory (oh, I see), but this season reminded me of a Tolstoy novel. There is a contrivance in interacting with the work of art, with the story, with these characters, but in the end, the way it unfolds is completely natural. This third season of Mad Men unfolded in as completely natural a manner as you could hope for a TV show or any story. The relationships of so many characters were shredded apart, they were redefined, there was a darkness and an alienation not only surrounding the characters in their individual lives, but in their interactions with each other, some louder (for Mad Men) than others. However, that strain is what happens to people when they exist in the same realm as each other for a prolonged period of time. Now maybe this is not as apt to happen to friends growing up or college buddies, but when you enter a professional world, an adult world where your mistakes and your bad behaviour are magnified, things become strained, they become dark, because those lighthearted times are harder to scratch at and gleam knowledge from.

Yet, in the Mad Men season finale, certain of these relationships came back together again. Because as it is true that the longer you exist with other people, your relationships become strained, it is also true that there are moments when you have to pause and realize how important it is to tell them why they are great and why you appreciate them. Not only did Don Draper have to do that in this episode (not only Don, but Roger Sterling and Bert Cooper), but in a way the creators of the show had to. After three seasons, a show as paced and attentive to the minute as Mad Men can seem tedious to a viewer, can seem redundant, but with an action-packed episode like this (for Mad Men, this means human relationship fireworks) you let your own characters know - and your viewers - know how much you appreciate them. By having the characters act as an extension of the creator's intent, the art achieves its success. Which is what season three of Mad Men and especially the finale achieved. I have heard people say that Mad Men as it was is over and that a new show will be revealed when Mad Men returns again next year. That very well may be true. And if that new show is not as good as Mad Men as we knew it (highly doubtful), at least we (I) could talk about a television show like this. And I didn't even touch on Don's scene with Peggy where he mentions that "something bad happened," which is one of the most universal sentiments in the history of mankind.

And I didn't even mention the teacher.

Next: Musings on a young NBA season

Now: the next installment of "From Here to the Next Mound of the Dirt," which will be coming to you soon in its full form (hopefully in a bookstore).


I saw them outside eating blackberries. They weren’t close like that the last time I was home. They never were. Liza and Tom are complete opposites. Tom so strange he never wants to let anyone know about anything, riding the trains the way he does. The only one of us who really hung onto going to church. I’ve often wondered if he was going to become a priest. I think he’d be good at it because he could be eloquent if he wanted to. I don’t see him sermonizing but just giving sermons. God, he is strange but that’s what I love about him. He’s got dark and he’s hurt like me.

Eve is moving around the kitchen wearing an old yellow apron. The apron doesn’t say anything, it just has a picture of a loaf of bread, a carrot and some other vegetables, an apple. I think it’s supposed to represent the food groups. Yes, I forgot that there are eggs on there – dairy. Mom used to put it on us. James even wore it. But he’s leaning on the island where mom always leaned and talked to us. He’s leaning and watching her cook. She’s been over the stove for a while now and she even has something in the oven. It’s a kind of steak she’s making. The kitchen smells like cooking tomatoes and garlic. She’s trying to feed us all.

I look across the table. Dad has his glasses on and he’s doing a crossword. He takes a drink from the bottle but keeps his stare down at the puzzle. He’s almost three quarters done with it. I feel like I should be worried. I haven’t seen a binge like this. Jake tried to once. He couldn’t handle it. He needed me. Something strange about that.
“What puzzle is that, dad?”

He looks up and frowns, his glasses coming forward on his nose bridge.

“Sunday Times. Your mother started it and,” he looks back down at it, then up. “Well I guess I thought I could finish it.”

He sounds like an actor. I feel like I should be watching him on a screen curled up in a ball on my couch or back at college in my dorm room with my comforter over me feeling warm and wanting to be touched by a boy that only lives in my head and who’d never really touch me. How is it that my father is a movie? I want to cry listening to the way he pauses after “well.” I want him to slide the Cutty Sark across the table to me and take a long slug too. James is turned round, though. He heard it too.

“Dad,” he says. “Maybe you should lay off the scotch a little?”

“What? Are you afraid I’ll have the shits all night?”


Dad looks down at the crossword. “That’s the worst that it can do to me at this point.”

“But, dad…” James tries again.

Dad turns up, glasses leaning forward. “Trust me, Jimmy. I know this stuff.” He stops and looks over to me. “I’m entertaining enough, right? I’m not being a sad bastard.”

“You’re doing well,” I say. I can’t think of anything more clever.

“How does it smell, Ben?” Ah, there she is to chime in.

Dad ruffles the puzzle, sits back, and lifts the bottle and glugs. He puts it back down on the table and it hollowly bangs. “Great. Like a Saturday Night off Mulberry.”

Eve laughs and James is still just leaning. I hear the padding of feet and Liza enters from the den.

“Jesus, it smells good in here.”

“Don’t take your mother’s favorite name in vain,” dad says.

I have to keep myself from laughing. James turns from the island again but he doesn’t say anything. Liza is dead in her tracks.

“Damn, dad,” she says. “I don’t know if that’s funny.”

Dad looks up from the puzzle. I can tell he is or has entered an area of rare territory even for him. The glasses are up front and he is looking above their frames at her standing in the opening. She’s framed with her terrific blonde hair out and long. I wish my hair were light and easy like hers sometimes.

Dad sighs. “Maybe you’re right, dear. I’ve lost my timing.” Stop. “I’m sorry.”

“Thanks.” She moves into the kitchen and sits closer to my head of the table.

“Did you and Tom have a lovely time picking berries?” I ask her. I can’t resist.

Liza seems put off by this. Her skin is a little thin. She knows that this is the way that dad and I can always be. Her eyes are wide and it’s amazing how blue they are. I can see my reflection in them and is there even a bit of pride or indignation in those pupils? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in my little sister before.

“So you saw us?”

“Yes. I never knew you and Tom were so buddy buddy.”

“He’s acting a little strange.”

“That’s Tom,” James says, his back still turned.

Liza shakes her head still looking at me. “It’s different.”

“He seems fine to me.” It looks like Eve is stirring. I can see her right elbow. So much motion going on in this kitchen right now. I feel like I’m seventeen again. Liza was only what, three then? What is she making? It smells delcious and my stomach is rumbling.

“Well first we have a lovely filet mignon with a bĂ©arnaise sauce.”


“If that is not to your liking then perhaps the bronzini? Full body, head on. We do all the cutting tableside. My personal perk of the job.”

I couldn’t stop laughing. “Stop it.”

“Is it wrong for a handsome young waiter to be enthusiastic about his work?”

“Well with vanity like that you must not get a lot of tips.”

“You’d be surprised.”

He stood close to me playing his role. I looked up at him and held his hand. I pet his knuckles and those bones that stretch down to our wrists, which make us all living skeletons. But I was tired and our apartment and the streets always smelled of thick frying garlic.

“We can really just go out somewhere. Let’s just walk down the street. Or let’s just go downstairs to Cibo.”

“No, I want to cook for you. You’re home now. That’s the whole point.”

I sighed. Seeing myself now why did I sigh?

“Aren’t you happy to be home?”

He nuzzled up to me. I never would have imagined the way he turned out to be. This man with the build and the look of a boxer. On Sunday’s when he wore that old worn charcoal sweatshirt with the frayed neckband he was a boxer. He was a boxer who was in love with me and would do anything for me, the most romantic fighter I’d never seen fight. I saw his clean shaven face, his five o’clock shadow gone. Why did he do those things for me? All of his gestures. Because he loved me, because that apartment was home. But is my apartment among Italian restaurants home? Was it ever? Are the windows? Those blue and yellow plaid couches, the round table, the wicker chairs? He was my imaginary boxer and he couldn’t fight what’s inside of me.

“Yes, of course I am.”

He kissed my thighs through the hole in my light thin jeans I’ve had since college. I ran my
hands through his hair trying to push and spike it up. His arms wrapped beneath my knees. He looked up at me.

“Then let me cook for you.”

“OK, Jake.”

That was the week before I found the ring. Two weeks before he proposed. Now it’s over a year later and everything still stinks of garlic.

“Tom has always just been a quiet, I don’t know, thoughtful guy. That’s just the way it seemed to me anyway. He’s deep.”

I like Eve and everything but sometimes she goes too far with her analysis of our family. It was cute before to hear that she admires our dynamic but I’m not in the mood for this right now especially her cooking and wearing that apron. It always happens, though, doesn’t it. That time of the month sneaks up when you have to come home for your mother’s funeral. My body knew somehow. No, its on a cycle.

“He’s definitely deep, your brother,” Dad mumbles, his face set on the puzzle.

“You think so, dad?” Liza asks.

How did this all come up anyway? Are we doing a report on Tom?

“I know so.”
“What do you mean, dad? Has Tom opened up to you?” James is suddenly curious. He’s the oldest son so he should be the deepest one.

Dad takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. He crinkles the magazine’s pages and flips the puzzle over. Then he leans back in his chair and puts his hands behind his head. He is a satisfied farmer at the end of the day, a relaxed slacker in the back of class.

“You know your children, James. A father doesn’t need to have his son open up to him to understand. He can read him, he made him. A good father knows anyway. That’s what I’ve come to believe.”

James is looking at dad and he seems confused, he doesn’t know what to say. Now he looks at the floor.

“Its one of the mysteries of being a parent,” Dad says.

We’re all quiet. Eve comes up from behind James and places her chin on his shoulder. He kisses her cheek. I never did that to Jake. Maybe he wanted me to.

Dad puts back on his glasses. “In any case, I hear the pitter patter of not so little feet upstairs so why don’t we all just lay off your brother.”

“Right.” James takes a big breath. “How is everyone doing on packing?”

I groan. It’s a natural reaction to him.

“What, Maggie? I just want to make sure we’re making progress.”

“Yeah, yeah I’m making progress.” I’m not making progress and I don’t know what that even means.

James frowns and turns to Liza.

“I’m almost done,” she says. “A little bit more tomorrow and I think I should be good.”

James appears to be satisfied by this and Eve pokes him in the side.

“Alright, dad, that’s enough.”

Dad looks up at hearing this. He cocks his head and realizes no one is talking to him. He goes back to the puzzle but then turns up again and takes a drink of scotch before returning to the black and white boxes.

Tom thuds in from the den with wet slick hair.

“Smells good in here.” He’s smiling.

“Good,” Eve says. “Because its done. We can all eat.”

James motions to Liza to help him set the table. She gets up and they begin clattering around with silverware and drawers. Tom sits by the window. He pushes his wet hair back and leans against the table. Liza places a trivet down in the middle. Eve comes over with oven mits and a glass pan, she lays it down. It smells delicious and looks delicious. I can see the steak beneath the tomato sauce and peppers and onions that are covering it.

“Steak pizzaola,” she says.

“Good job,” I say.

“I think we should all go to the Checkmate tonight,” Tom says.

I see the bar on Mill Road. It’s an old house in the middle of a neighborhood of other old colonial homes. The only difference are the red neon lights that flash beer brands.

“I can’t think of a better idea,” I say.

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