Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Spirit (2008)

These two are now teammates. I love the NBA.

It's Tuesday night. I'm tired and the long Thanksgiving weekend is coming up. I know that I need it and I'm sure most of you (who?) do too. I hope you all enjoy it and listen to plenty of Beach House. I'm listening to "Heart of Chambers" right now from Devotion in preparation of my big Beach House post after the holiday, once I reclaim an iPod touch after my apartment was robbed a few weeks ago.

Anyway, I was doing some revision work and I thought that I should post some more of "From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt." I think you will all really like it when its done.

Here is tonight's installment. Have a good holiday.

James

I’m kissing Eve and everything smells like stale beer but tastes like wintergreen gum. It’s her lip balm. I open my eyes and see hers. We’re up against the little banister and counter by the door. Her small eyes. Chinese eyes I called them when we first met. If the thing in her stomach is a girl will she…

This place is cramped – the people by the door moving in and out with smoke and the smell of moist night – and I can hear the sounds of the hunting game behind me: the virtual deer and antelope noises. One of the new digital online jukeboxes is playing “Don’t Stop Believing” in the corner – an old terrible fan favorite. The overproduced piano, the high vocals, but I don’t really know anything about music. All I know is that this Brooklyn beer is heavy in my stomach and would leave my mouth tasting completely hoppy if it weren’t for the wintergreen residue on my lips.

“I still love this place,” Eve says. “I loved it when I first came home with you.”

“A town cornerstone.”

“Was this Ben’s favorite?”

“I’m not so sure. He and Uncle Connor did come here a lot.”

I see Liza and Maggie playing darts in front of us. They are both really bad. Maggie lines up on the one floorboard that moves perpendicular to the rest in order to mark the dart line. She aims and her right leg lifts up as she tosses. The dart hits the wall beneath the board and falls to the floor. She throws again. This dart sticks in the cork behind the boards. Third time is a charm and she hits the outer level of eighteen. She strides up to the dry erase board and makes a slash next to her side of the number. On top of her column her name has a frowny face above it while Liza’s has a smiley face.

“Nice shooting,” I say.

She grins back.

“Are you drunk?”

“It would take a few more than that.” She pulls the darts out of the board and hands them to Liza. Liza puts down her Budweiser on the ledge next to Eve. Maggie walks past her and as they pass each other something about the flash of the two different hues of their hair makes my stomach turn. I don’t know what the feeling is: nervousness, earnestness, what? I can only think of dad and Uncle Connor and how they must’ve looked years ago with their long wavy hair sitting at one of those window tables drunk. Now will Uncle Connor even show up tomorrow? What about dad? I can see him stumbling over the casket in the church and spilling whiskey on mom’s body. This is no folktale – she’s not coming back. Will Uncle Connor, though? Brothers. I see auburn and blonde. Sisters.

Maggie elbows my side. The way I used to sneak up on her and prod her sides with my hands, the younger brother picking on the older sister – she hated that.

“You see Jane over there?”

“No, I didn’t. She’s here?” I saw her on the way in. I can see her now. She has the same sort of round face that she always did. Still has the same curves too, bigger breasts than Eve. Eve doesn’t know.

“Who’s Jane?”

“Ah, just this girl we used to go to school with.”

“I think I saw Dan Christian over there too. Those Christian Brothers. You and Danny were always so close.”

It was behind the junior high where Gertz and Cicero beat him up. Tom was riding on his bike. I chased him away, pushed him onto the cement. It must’ve been hot because that day was scorching and I could feel it in the old white Chucks I was wearing then. Dan had fucked Gertz’s girl. I didn’t want to push Tom, but he was there at the wrong time. I take a long drink of my Brooklyn. Thick, heavy and cold. Does the dirt feel that way?

“Didn’t see him either.”

“Well he’s over by the bar too.”

“I should go over and say hello. I actually just saw Arielle Gregors slip in the back door. I’ll be right back, Eve.”

“Shouldn’t I come?”

“Nah, you’ll be bored,” I say. “I need to do it to be polite.” I pause. The timing feels awkward to me. There’s an Elton John song on the jukebox - he’s wailing about something. “My mom knows their moms, you know?”

“Get me another drink?” She rubs my elbow. Gin and tonic with lime.

“You got it.”

I start walking and can hear Maggie behind me.

“Our James was the popular sibling in high school. You knew that right Eve?”

“Well, I think so,” I hear Eve. And she says it in that sweet way she has of honestly trying to answer a stupid or sarcastic question like Maggie’s. She just wants to defend me.

I walk over to the bar. There’s a Mets game on one TV and a Yankees game on the other. The Mets are losing 2-1 to the Marlins in the sixth, while the Yanks are tied at two with the Twins in the third. There are Christmas lights up, draped in and around the liquor bottles on the shelf and the behind bar mirror. I can see myself, my face looks thin, my cheek bones sticking out. I fix my hair and hold up my bottle. Mike knows us. He gets me a beer.

“Buy back,” he mouths. The buy is a little elongated and the back is short. The way any good Long Islander would say it. I grab the beer by the neck and lean into the bar. He’s a nice guy – he’s been working behind the counter for awhile; he and his brother Tony. Their dad owned the bar. Mike’s got a stubbly beard - wearing a grey sweatshirt - and he’s slightly heavy. I lean and expect to be seen and before I know it, I feel a light hand on my shoulder. I turn my head back and it’s Arielle. She’s still pretty as hell with shiny black hair and those eyes that are big and brownish – hazel. Her eyes are big but not too big.

“Well, its one of the famous Gregors girls.”

She laughs. “You sound like an ass.”

“You know I was always good at that.”

She gives me a hug and all of a sudden I feel the warmth of a good drunk. The kind I used to get in college when I knew a good night was coming. When the feeling hits and the voices around you swell and seem important maybe more important than they really are and the lighting seems like it is already part of your halycon memories yet still painfully alive and present. That’s dangerous the way I can recognize it. It’s probably the way dad…

“So, did you see Jane and Danny over there?”

“No, I hadn’t seen them.”

“You should come over and say hi.” Her voice lowers. “Jane told me about your mom. James, I’m really really sorry. She was the sweetest woman. You know how we all liked coming over to your house.”

She’s touching my shoulder and her finger grazes my neck. I felt a quick small rush of goosebumps. It has to be hormone impulse.

“Yeah,” I sigh. “Its tough. I’m going to miss her.”

“It was sudden, huh? I'm sorry”

“Well my dad saw it coming. He tried to diagnose it. He thought it was a form of cancer and that she’d have longer. But I don’t know.”

Dad did see it coming. He tried to heal her. I don’t know the depths of the work he did, what they went through in the house during the past four months. I didn’t know it would happen like this. Liza must have some kind of idea. Dad on the phone in the summer. He knew that Uncle Connor could help him if he could only bother to call him up. They were brothers and it was a shame that that one disagreement could break them apart. But disagreeing over a death, especially in their profession will lead to life long silences and feuds – drinking problems. Lucky for dad he had his already in young age.

“That’s rough.” She hugs me again.

“Thanks.”

“She always did make the best brownies. It seemed like she’d always happen to be baking when we’d be over.”

“She liked to make it seem that way. That’s something she was good at.”

“Huh?”

“Appearances.”

“Oh.” She’s quiet. I know she’s uneasy at the situation. Does she have any delicacy or tact or is she just simply beautiful? Do I have tact?

Mom is in the kitchen except that the kitchen is separated from the rest of the house. It’s all black beyond the borders. There is no den and there is no side hallway to the garage. It seems like we are on a TV set somewhere in space. The kitchen smells sweet and like chocolate. I don’t smell any of the savory roasting meats that make my stomach growl. She’s in front of the oven wearing a long yellow dress. She turns around and the oven is open and red. She’s holding a metal cooking sheet.

“James,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“It’s OK, mom. I didn’t know I would be late.”

“I made brownies.”

I laugh. “Mom you didn’t have to.”

She bows her head and I notice that she’s wearing the apron with the food groups on it. The one I used to wear when she helped me make those Chinese dinners I tried to make for everyone or on Christmas when I’d try to make the pork loin.

“Yes, I did.”

“What do you mean?”

“Did your wife like my apron.”

“I think so, mom.”

She pulls out a cake knife and cuts into the pan. Steam rises up from the cuts she makes in the hot brownies. It smells like I’m ten.

“Everything goes on, James.”

“What do you mean?”

“Light, colors, sound. It comes from all different places.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Have a brownie”

And I take a bite. The kitchen fills with yellows and whites. The taste in my mouth is rich and it is hard work chewing through the brownies and their entire flavor. Now there are thick whisps of steam and swirling around my mother the kitchen is filling and moving away from me.

“Only The Good Die Young” is on the jukebox now. Who would’ve thought? I take a drink and look over at Eve talking to Maggie. She’s looking at me, she must’ve been for a little bit. I hold my finger up and roll my eyes to pretend like I’m bored. But I’m not bored, it feels good to be recognized and remembered. I can remember my old excitements. Now I’m looking at Dan Christian. I never hit him, but I never really apologized anyway.

“I’m sorry about what happened between you and Gertz, Dan,” I say to him.

He frowns and takes a drink of his pint. “I never held it against you, O’Donnell. Just that dumb polock.”

I take a drink too. It’ll be like a silent agreement, even though I don’t agree. But everything else seems about right – the voices, the accents, the music, and the taste.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Your 2009-2010 NBA Season

(Listening to "Isis" by Bob Dylan on repeat. Which logo doesn't belong?)

Now, since I've taken a little while to step back into the room, there have been quite a few things that I missed speaking out about. I missed a chance to analyze an agonizing World Series between the two best teams in baseball this year. A series that could have swung in a number of different ways, but really ended up finishing the way we could have predicted it: the team with the better pitching one. I could go on for paragraphs and sentences about sitting on the edge of my couch, cursing at the Phillies' inept middle relief and shouting "Fuck the Yankees!" at a Yankee team that I actually kind of liked all year. In any event, it was an entertaining series and a week of baseball (maybe the whole month?) that may very well be repeated next year when we come to the fall.

But, in the end, October is memorable for really only one thing: (no, not the Alien marathon on AMC; no, not the Mad Men season finale - that was November) the beginning of the NBA season. Each year, in the week leading up to Halloween, the NBA kicks off its season on TNT with the best in-studio analysts in any sport: Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and the immortal Ernie Johnson. Plus, now we have Chris Webber to add to the mix as well. And if anyone has read any Bill Simmons, they will know that his take on Chris Webber as an in-studio personality is quite true - there is something about Webber as a personality that strikes similar to him as a player, he is polished, well rounded, gifted and full of potential, will this end like his NBA career (i.e. mildly fulfilling but not the satisfaction you were hoping for)? We'll see. In the last year, he has been a welcome addition to the studio.

This NBA season had some intriguing storylines going in:

- Lebron free agency (read "to New York") hype. As well as the rest of the 2010 Class (Bosh, Boozer, Wade, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tracey McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, etc.)

- Dwyane Wade pushing himself even harder to become MVP.

- The Lakers vying for a repeat.

- Ron Artest living in L.A., playing with Kobe, with even greater odds to out-crazy himself, starting with picking his number 37 after the amount of weeks Thriller was the #1 record. (Artest is my all-time crazy person and I have a proclivity for enjoying crazy people.)

- The Celtics looking for a bounce-back (read "winning the NBA Title") year, especially Kevin Garnett.

- Shaq & Lebron (terrible combination?)

- The Orlando Magic quietly improving after a run to the Finals.

- The Spurs having perhaps the best offseason of any NBA team

- Blake Griffin hype and the fact that if you look at the Clippers, they actually have a good team.

- Can the Thunder become everyone's new favorite team because of their young talent?

Anyway, with that last one, we are becoming a little bit more minute, but needless to say there were a lot of storylines heading in. I, for one, was particularly excited about this season. Although, this summer's draft was not the deepest in years, the league is slowing regaining control of itself and building a core of talent that is entertaining and enjoyable to watch. Good teams like the Spurs are getting deeper so that can obtain that "look-back" factor, when you think back about a good team and remember, "Damn, they even had (insert player you can't believe played for the team)." After one month of the season, here are my top storylines:

- The Atlanta Hawks. Who knew? After years of bumbling draft picks and ineptly constructed teams, the Hawks are legitimate at least in the early going. They had a breakthrough year last year (maybe even in the 7-gamer against the Celtics in 2008?) and have gotten even better. Their roster is freakishly athletic and long with Al Horford, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and quick with Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague, experienced with Mike Bibby, and all-around talented with Joe Johnson. The question becomes, in crunch time, who is the star? Joe Johnson is a fine player, but we won't be looking back at the "Joe Johnson Atlanta Hawks." He lacks a star power, and although he is a terrific shooter, I don't know how clutch he is. The Hawks have a lot of likeable players and they do play tough, but they are missing a killer. They strike me as a slightly more experienced and gelled 2006-2007 Chicago "Baby" Bulls. Lots of nice pieces, some of which should be moved to get a killer in the summer of 2010. Or another veteran?

- An Improved Heat? Miami started off the year (much to my pleasure) playing as if they wanted to keep Dwyane Wade in South Beach. They have cooled off some (they were never as good as 7-2, but it was nice to see at least), but you still have to be pleased at the progress of Chalmers and Beasley in their second years as well as Jermaine O'Neal's knees holding up. If they can hold up all year, the Heat may have a chance to make a run in the playoffs, if only because they have Dwyane Wade (see his game-winner against the Nets). The most interesting aspect of the Heat this year does have to be the legitimate theories that Wade and Lebron want to play together next year. This strikes me as a terrible idea. I think they could both co-exist on a team, but you want the two best players in the league (yes, the two best) to be playing against each other in their primes, not with each other. Bird and Magic on the same team? Jordan in the backcourt with Isiah? Doesn't work.

- Blake Griffin's injury: Of course.

- The Lakers may be the best team in the NBA. They are deep at all positions. They are talented. Bynum is coming to play this year and Gasol has been on the bench with injuries for most of the early games. Kobe is playing to regain the league MVP and the Lakers do look dangerous. I don't know who stops them in the West. The Suns will run out of steam and they don't have the toughness to outlast the Lakers. Once again, it comes down to Duncan and that deep Spurs team. If they can all gel (too many nice guys to not gel) then they are the only ones to stop the Lakers from getting to the Finals out of the West.

- The Dysfunctional Cavaliers and Celitcs. The Cavaliers started out abyssmally while the Celtics started out on fire. The Cavs have turned it around and are developing chemistry with Shaq. I still think Shaq handicaps them when the playoffs come. I think Mike Brown mishandles their lineup and doesn't play J.J. Hickson enough in crunch time (playing real well so far). The Celtics are missing Big Baby (don't even get started on that) even though Sheldon Williams has been a nice surprise for them off the bench. Rondo has been playing remarkably besides setting historic lows for free-throw shooting and this team's season is going to come down to Garnett's health and whether or not Rasheed can last for the whole season. A player I have enjoyed for many years (UNC ties, but he did underachieve) could very well be past his prime and mix that with an aging Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and this could be a disaster come May. However, I think Rondo has fireworks coming this year and he may carry this team to a Finals run and we could remember this Celtics team as Rondo's.

- The Orlando Magic: Best in the East? The certainly look like it again at this point. However, it is still early in the year and we are getting middling performances from many of the Eastern conference teams. The Atlantic Division is atrocious, while the Central (the Bucks?) and Southeast Divisons remain competitive. Meanwhile, the West is just as competitive as always, and the Mavs are definitely a team to watch this year - they are playing well together, even if they are extremely bland. Dirk seems rested and is putting up great early season numbers.

Other quick points:

- Brandon Jennings: is he really this good?

- 2009 Rookies: underrated?

- The Bulls: some nights so entertaining, other nights, perplexing

- Stephen Jackson: will Captain Jack get moved again? I think so.

- Carmelo: Where does he finish in MVP voting this year? Third? He's going to have a huge year.

- The Thunder are going to get attention for a lot of televised games next year. They are definitely fun to watch if you get the chance.

Alright, that is all I have for NBA rambling for the moment. My writing on this doesn't feel inspired, even though I love it so much. Just watch the games. You can't go wrong with the NBA on TNT on a Thursday with a few beers. And read Bill Simmons' Book of Basketball, it really says it all. Remarkable, remarkable basketball book.

Next: review of Beach House's upcoming third album Teen Dream and some musings on Jerry Seinfeld's improv genius this past season on Curb Your Enthusiasm

Now: an excerpt from From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt. I am currently revising my first draft and hopefully during this winter I can make something happen with an agent or a publisher. If you read this blog, tell someone how good I am.


Ben

They’re all gone now. I feel bloated sitting in this damn comfortable chair. I’m passing my hand over my round food belly. I’m sticking it out a little, I never really grew a gut. That has to be one of my greatest achievements, staving off the onset of middle age old age fat. It’s bound to happen to so many people. You lose metabolism, you work longer hours, harder hours for the wife the kids, you don’t eat meals when you’re supposed to – I even did it sometimes too. Sometimes when I’d be stuck in our office looking over patient files or doing the god damn books when we had some fuck-up of a bookkeeper the greatest thing was to think about coming home and devouring whatever roast or dinner that Rose would’ve had still waiting for me. So it’d be cold but you just warm it and it didn’t matter because she’dve been waiting for me there anyway. I can feel the acid in my stomach eating away at all that steak in there. That girl can cook cant’t she, Jimmy? I toast his little league lacrosse picture that sits on the shelf. I bet that steak pizzaola would taste great late at night.

I listen to the drum sound of my stomach. I try to play it like bongos. There is no resonance. Only a good fleshy smack. Thock. Connor and I both never grew bellies. Our father never had one either. We weren’t a lanky family, all just sort of lean, gaunt maybe. My father’s hands and arms sinewy strong. His palm disproportionately large looking and feeling to the rest of his body. It wasn’t fleshy or soft and you wouldn’t call it a bear paw either with an encompassing vice-grip. No, it was slightly rough, it was weathered, it had lived and touched. I think Connor and I both aspired to something like that in our whole appearance, genetic or otherwise. I don’t know what he eats or how Erin feeds him, but when we worked together we both tried to keep a diet, stick to the words and promises that came out of our mouths during the day to those people sitting on blue paper waiting for us.

I didn’t want to go to the Checkmate with them all. It’s not my place anymore and it hasn’t been in such a long time. Checkmate, oh checkmate, my home away from home! Just the sound of my own singing voice coming back to me in this room. It’s funny to think of all the songs and all the times wasted in that ramshackle house of a bar. Were they really wasted times? Well in the one hand they look wasted and they absolutely were. Aye stood meself quite a few droonks standing aside the barnacle. However, on the other hand they weren’t wasted at all, there was a remarkable clarity that usually comes with the passing of time, or the strange once in a blue moon occurance of recognizing the significance of a moment as it occurs. But our president hires the poets, writers and playwrights to do that and they still haven’t taught me so I guess that government laureate spending is going to waste. Who started that? Clinton?

I can’t help but laugh out loud, though. The nights Connor and I would have there when we were young. He was so much more reluctant to take a drink than I ever was, but when he did it was a different side you’d see to him nothing like the quiet and thoughtful appearance he’d always give though I suppose the reason he took that on was probably due to me and the way I acted when I was younger, in middle age and I guess even now with me entering old age or already well into it.

That one night when he and I were playing darts – cricket – and we met those girls. The sassy ones who’d just moved here from Minnesota. It must’ve been some time before my accident. Yes, it was because I had been hanging out with Billy and his whole gang or I guess entourage is what it was really. The practice was doing alright but I still felt I could get somewhere going to the City all the time or out east, doing my best to rub my elbows and make people laugh – to know me as a character because its always been my belief that the secret to life lies in how you can read someone’s character. And the trick to success was to know that about other people and then to do your best to emit a sense of character a sense of wholeness within yourself that another person could make out amid all the other bullshit and clutter of life and truly grab onto and lose themselves in whether over a few drinks or if you were really good at it, over two hours on a movie screen.

That night, though, we’d been going at pints of Budweiser. I can’t remember who was winning the game – I never really cared for darts.

“It’s not like how we’d imagined it, is it?”

“No, it’s not.”

One of them was blonde with long hair. She was tall but I couldn’t tell how tall she was when I saw her in the corner of my eye as she sat.

“People make such a big deal about the glamour. All this Hamptons bull and the Great Gatsby.”
“I know.” The other laughed. “The Great Gatsby.”

I couldn’t help myself. I was drunk and feeling funny. So I staggered over to their table by the long front window that looks out to the street. I placed the darts between their glasses. At first they were startled, but I smiled. They seemed amused then.

“And what is wrong with The Great Gatsby?”

“Excuse me,” the blonde said.

“Gatsby. What’s wrong with him?”

She paused and the other sized me up. They weren’t sure what to make of me? Was I oppressive or playful. The blonde touched the tip of the dart.

“Well I just think he’s not all that he’s cracked up to be.”

“Sure he is. I think he’s a great guy and a great character too. That is one beautiful book.”

The other laughed, short and halting.

The blonde held her finger to her lips, then she looked up at me blinking.

“I don’t know. I’ve been living here for almost a year and I haven’t seen anything like him or the world he was supposed to live in. Seems kind of seedy around here. Things have fallen off haven’t they?”

“Scathing reviews!”

“I just don’t see what the big deal in romantizing him is. He’s just a guy from Long Island. Billy Joel is too and I hate that “Piano Man” song.”

I turned around to check on Connor, but he’d left the dart area. I saw him hovering by the jukebox and the bar. I went back to the blonde.

“Well, Billy happens to be a friend of mine but I think you are getting a bit off the topic and missing the point of the book.”

“This guy sure thinks a lot of himself,” the other said.

“Where are you girls from?”

“Minnesota.”

“Ah, give it some time. You’ve both got cold charms and you need to have them warmed by a few glorious Long Island summers.”

“Cold charms?” The blonde pushed the darts toward my waist. “What does that mean?”

I shrugged. I was about to speak, but from the speakers I heard the beginning of “Piano Man.” I pointed up in the air as if it were some divine coincidence. Then I felt Connor’s hand on my back. He stood beside me cradling his pint glass.

“ ‘Piano Man’,” he said. “Great song.” He winked at me and I broke up. The girls groaned but they warmed up to us. He could’ve made the blonde one when the night was all said and done but he didn’t. He and Erin were off and on and not so serious at that point, but I think he saw a future in her and didn’t want to mess that up. She ended up picking us up that night anyway. A sweet brunette who was originally from New Hampshire but ended up at the university and she stuck around.

“What are you doing going out like this, Ben? You’ve got a baby daughter at home. You should be helping out your wife. Why she stays with you I have no idea.”

“She’s got a good sense of humor.”

“You’ve got to control your big brother, Connor.”

“He’s not such a bad sense of humor.”

I started giggling in the back of the car.

“What? I don’t get you two.”

No one did and we were terrific together.

There’s that picture of the two of us at my bachelor party. It’s on the shelf above James’ lacrosse picture. We’ve both got our ties loosened and dishevelled around our necks, our hair still thick and brown, arms hooked. You can’t put a price on a good sibling. I hope all of the kids know that. I think they do otherwise they wouldn’t all be going out together tonight. I’m surprised it was Tom that had the idea. He is my strange son and I don’t think I’ll ever know everything about him and I’m not supposed to. But it was good to have a drink with him watching the rain today. What’s he going to do with himself? I don’t know the what but I know that he is going to because he will. He’ll solve his mysteries without my help. Without James’ help and certainly now without Rose’s help.

He reminds me of Connor a lot. They both were reserved and Connor was quirky though not as introspective or strange. I reach next to me and take a drink from the bottle. It’s almost done, so I ride the burn and the bloat and take another glug to finish it off. It’s time to start on the next one. I stand myself up and drag myself over to the desk. I slide my hands along the top listening to the squeak of my palm on wood. That’s all I’ll have for now on – it’s what I’ve been used to for many years now. But what is wrong with me to be thinking like that. I’m drunk and I slouch in the rolling chair. It’s leather too. My eyes are closed. My arm drops to the bottom drawer and my fingers pull at the handle which is cooler – metal.

She’s there against the blackness. It’s all auburn now – auburnette more accurately. It’s her white sundress that makes her shine more than the hair. But where is this? No its not heaven. This isn’t the afterlife – it couldn’t be because even though I’m Catholic I never thought about it: she thought about it. But she must be thinking about me because of that dress, she knew I loved that dress more than anything more than her naked.

It has to mean more than that. She walks along the black. It gives way to the rocks down at the jetties. I took her there on our second date - an afternoon walk. The sun is shining just the same. Is this it? Is this eternity? An endless day remembered in my eyelids? She’s pointing out to the sound. I see a sailboat, someone is actually sailing the way they used to by the beach.
And its gone its all gone and I can see Connor. It’s nothing but Connor his hair like mine blowing in the breeze. We’re down by the docks. He stands behind me sitting on the planks looking into the water. I’m holding an O’Doul’s between my thighs. It’s his reflection I see. That’s what brothers are for.

“You let her die,” he says.

“Which one.”

“Maybe it’s both. You’d have to decide about Rose.”

“You’re right, Connor. Are you tired?”

Then it’s my desk. It’s the wood everywhere – the brown shades, the shines. Me and the bottle in between my thighs at the desk. I look to the shelves.

They’re all gone or going.

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

- Allmusic.com'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

THE UGLY:















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).


Maggie

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?”

“No.”

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.”

“Jake…”

“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.”
Liar.

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.