Friday, February 26, 2010

Some Progress

So the screen capture above is from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award PDF of the list of manuscript entrants who passed on to the second round.  The second round consists of a field of 1,000.00 candidates for a potential publishing contract with Penguin and a $15,000.00 advance.  Know, by putting this up, I know I may have jinxed myself already.  Although, I entered this contest last year with The Journey Forward and apparently I made it at least this far or further because the guidelines say that you will receive reviewer feedback in the quarterfinals.  And if you look at this old post from April 2009, I seem to have made it to that level.

In any event, I put this up to encourage you, my millions of fans, to keep reading this blog as one day your attention to whatever it is I am doing when I press buttons that put these symbols that are in black up on a white background will pay off and you can say, "Yeah, I remember him before, he was better then. He used to write about basketball and beer and that was more entertaining than a book about a damn family funeral that Ron Howard made into a movie that is garnering serious Oscar buzz before the 2012 Academy Awards. And if it wins he won't get to enjoy it all because 2012 will all be happening in December anyway so what do we even have to buy Christmas presents?"

See, keep reading here and that could be you. So keep getting it while its free.

Now, the next installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt. This is an extra long one to tide you through the weekend. Feel free to analyze, overanalyze, etc.:

Maggie stood and approached the casket.  She remained standing and regarded the roundness of her mother’s face.  Her mother looked round and smooth.  It appeared as though she were one with the coffinbed, that they both existed as a single shape.  Maggie marked her mother out, she separated the lines of her face from that of the pillow and the wooden finish of the casket.  Her eyes felt strained, as if she’d been in the dark room for too many hours or had drank too many cups of bad coffee.  She knelt onto the cushion.  It was so important to separate her mother from those other parts of the casket.  She couldn’t let them all become one – her mother’s  body would not be assimilated into the fabric of the bed, the cushion of the pillow, just like in some way it would never be a part of the earth. 

    The cushion stuck to her exposed knee and Maggie recalled the first time she gleaned the importance of keeping an object separate.  To her, the idea had at first seemed silly to even dwell on.  A person first knew themselves as a separate object, or knew how to separate objects from other objects when they were an infant – breast from mouth, hand from foot, head from table.  So when she sat in her photography class, her brow furrowed, feeling very much sixteen and misunderstood, the goosebumps that rose up her shoulders in waves that could almost have been palpable, were not be to taken seriously.

    “Maggie?” The teacher had said. “Is something wrong?  Do you understand.”

    “Yes,” she’d said curtly, the only tone she knew. “Why?

    “Oh, you just had a funny look on your face.  Like you didn’t understand.”

    Maggie had shaken her head at the teacher, Mrs. Teller.

    Mrs. Teller continued. “Which is why I emphasize, that when you want to take a picture, you do not need to see a whole scene.  It would be foolish to concentrate first on the complete scope that is in your lens. Focus on one object and see how it stands out.  Focus on those lines, what sets it out.  What makes it what it is.”

    The goosebumps slithered in more waves and then felt as though they emnated off of her body out into the art room with the olive paint and the grey corked stools.  Mrs. Teller was the fifth best teacher she’d had in her life.  However, those lessons were – at their core – elementary, not just in theory, but in relation to photography, as Maggie saw and felt it.  It would be foolish, it seemed to her then, looking at the white paper scraps on the dull peach floor, and still did now as a photographer looking at her dead mother, to not take advantage of the complete scope of a lens.  To see the space provided for its full area, to the edge of its boundaries.  However, the logic then would reverse itself.  For a panorama, a shot of mountains on purple orange sky, the vision of a noontime Turkish marketplace taken from its from its most removed perspective, still would separate itself from what was not marketplace, what was not mountain and maroon sky.  The fault being, that you couldn’t just decide to focus on one object – that would be amateur.  You had to learn to negotiate both. Like a child, who at first thinks itself one with the world, one with each object it encounters and only later knows the pain of bumping the crown of its head on the edge of a glass table, so too did photography have to be learned.  It was only later in life and in taking pictures that you could separate what is what from what is not what.  And cognition in many ways is easier than art, than photography.

    Without realizing it, Maggie was in the dark.  She opened her eyes again and the casket was still there.  Her mother’s nose, the flowers backing up the wood – these separate entities were all there.  Each one with an inner light  begging to be rendered.  If I took a photograph of my dead mother, is that maudlin or is that beauty?

        Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
         They called Maggie O’Donnell
        A fire-crotched…

    She had learned the term “inner light” in college.  It was in an aesthetics class and it was in relation to Cezanne.  The professor was a large man with a well kept goatee, his hair was thinning and stuck out around his ears in strands.  She had forgotten his name, which was not to say that he was a bad teacher, but like most college students she had been too full of herself to remember many names.  It’d been a Cezanne still life.

    “Look at the way he paints the table.  Three legs seem to be in harmony.  Three legs of this table are something you would buy in a store.”

    “This dude know about Ikea?” a student in the back asked.

    The professor laughed, took off his glasses and cleaned them. “No,” he paused and put his glasses back on. “In any case,” the class laughed as he continued. “Then we have the fourth leg, the leg in the foreground, it is shorter than the rest and if you follow the edgeline of the table, it is uneven, keeping true to the form.  Now follow the table’s top to the fruit bowl.  The bowl is off-balance, the fruit looks like it is about to tip.”

    “So he could draw a crappy table, what is so impressive about that?  We could all do that,” the same student in the back said.

    “Yeah,” Maggie spoke. “We could all say that in response to art, 'I could do that.'”

    The professor laughed.

    “Very true, Maggie.  If you look at the shapes you will see how true to life Cezanne keeps them.  In many ways it is only important because he was coming out of an era of the French academic painters.  But it was also important because he was coming out of the impressionist era and bring the importance back to the objects themselves, the imperfections, not just the imperfection of seeing them.  He knew that objects were imperfect, but that their inner light lets us see them as imperfect and as beautiful.”

    The way the professor had described the theory struck Maggie as wrong.

    “That is some real sixties bullshit,” she’d said.

    The professor shrugged.

    Later, Maggie walked through the snowflakes across campus.  She felt furious at the idea of letting something just be imperfect for the sake of being imperfect.  There was no point she felt, with her short uneven hair, her knit woolen gloves and scarf, and used maroon rain boots, to give yourself up to that thinking, whether it was in life or in art.  She looked at students skipping to class smoking cigarettes, wearing expensive winter hats and boots.  That idea had led her generation for too long.  She turned her face down the brick path and watched as snowflakes melted on the cracks where little bits of grass still stood even in the cold.  And she felt like she could cry from her great anger, and the beauty she felt in herself and in the sight of a snowflake melting on red brick.

    Maggie’s lids were squeezed tight and she felt the moisture right on the edge of her lashes.  She opened them once more.  She had no sense of time and immediately felt a pull on her heart as she looked upon her mother.  It seemed as though there were no way Maggie could ever understand how she had come from that tortured academic youth to the position she was in now, a woman over thirty, with pictures and postcards from all over the world and now a mother who no longer existed.  Why had she never called her mother on the phone in college and talked to her about aesthetics?  Maggie knew that she was interested in those things.  The image of her mother sitting on the wicker rocking chair in her room, the corner lamp on – the worn book of Thomas Aquinas open and, even though it was made of cardboard and coffee colored thread, the old cover seemed to shine onto the unlit portion of the room.

    “Mom, I’m going out.”

    The dull pain persisted in Maggie.  How could one hope to see their life as something complete and understandable?  You could never see the point to point creation that put you into whatever position you currently saw the world from.  Maggie knew this all too well as the image of her apartment appeared again and she saw the one clean pan sitting next to the sink.  She thought of Jake, as one who, in a state of emotional flux, will think of the person who they have loved more than anyone or anything else in their life.  She saw him by the sink in his grey sweatshirt - the one he had worn since he was a junior in high school - cleaning the dishes.  She saw and thought of him and felt a terrible earnestness, because for the first time she could feel the word “mistake” come to the very front of her mind and to her lips.

    She looked behind her and saw her family still sitting in the front row.  Maggie turned quickly back to the rail in front of the kneeler.  A flush came to her cheeks.  She felt foolish and incredibly angry at herself to look back, to hope that he was standing there or sitting in the room. How could she possibly think of going back?  How could she possibly be thinking of her love that went wrong while her mother was dead and gone and now laying with a bed of flowers around her, but not in the way that any poet would’ve written it or any folk song would have sung it? She was dead and now she was just another object to be taken in with the rest of them.  Maggie felt sick at Siberia, the Turkish evenings she’d seen, the Morocco she would be flying to in a month.  She wished that her camera were there so she could smash it right on the edge of her mother’s casket, right where the glare from the lights reflected on the wood making it seem white.

    Her mother’s face was round and waxy. The plastic quality of her skin and the whiteness of the glare made Maggie remember a full moon.   The night she remembered was dry and cool she could see her breath, but it was a night that is usually unique to December in that there was a mild quality to its edges – you could feel comfortable taking off your coat for a while to soak in the winter darkness.  The night was the night before Christmas Eve.  The white lights were draped along the front gutter and, with the strength of the moon, it made the bare flowerbeds glow; even the old mulch seemed distinct and profound.  She stood out on the front porch, running her shoes along the mortar that filled in the spaces between the stones.  The door opened and Jake stepped out with a glass of whiskey in his hand.  Maggie looked at the perspiration collected on the sides of the glass.  Jake blew smoke as he stepped out, shutting the door and rubbing the curled collar of his black sweater simultaneously.  He asked her what was wrong, knowing well that she was anxious and uncomfortable having him this close to her family. To her, having him this close, having him look at ornaments of her sitting on Santa’s lap, made their intimacy all too real – which forced her further away from the two of them together as a couple, as finacees as, perhaps, soul mates.  She told him nothing was wrong, she could just use a cigarette.

    He curled his glass towards his left armpit and poked his hand into his right pocket.  She could freeze him there carelessly rummaging his pocket, handsome like a movie star entering the  frame.  He kept moving and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.  She hated him for doing that.  She hated that he could know her and buy things for her.

    A cigarette hung from his fingers – one solid cylinder. She took the cigarette and let him light it.  She smoked and he kissed her cheek.  Her anger faded again with the comfort of the night and the way branches and stones were lit; even the grass as one whole uneven shape.  Jake could, at that time, feel the strain in Maggie.  He knew that for all her talking and articulation, that she could still not articulate herself.  He wrapped his arm along her waist and pulled the corners of their hips together so that they locked in the strange way that bodies familiar with each other have a habit of doing.  He looked out into the edge of the lawn where the light turned abruptly to black and wondered what more there was.

    The front door opened, the handle clicked and Maggie saw her mother.  The sound of Django Reinhardt’s music drifted out.  She quickly flicked her cigarette.  A trail of smoke rose from the bush where it landed.  Rose smiled.  She told the two of them to come in for coffee when they wanted.  Jake put his whiskey down on the arm of the bench.  He grabbed Rose by the right arm and swayed drunkenly with her as the guitars strummed in an ignorant and timeless bliss.  Maggie watched Jake spin her mother in the door and state that she was too good a dancer for someone as clumsy as himself.  He looked to her with his hands on his hips, his chest broad, sticking out in his sweater.  He smiled and his well defined jawline followed.   Maggie felt herself grow restless then as he stood there with her in the comfortable cold.  But with him dancing with her mother, nothing was comfortable.  The white lights and the shadowy tree limbs, which had seemed familiar and enchanted, now mader her nauseous.  Her cheeks itched.

    And as Maggie pulled her kneees up from the kneeler, she inhaled the flowers.  They smelled sour.  Love is not charming someone’s mother.  Maggie’s eyes fell upon her mother’s waxy cheeks once more.  She turned her head back.  He wasn’t there, the flowers stunk and Maggie felt weak.  She could feel her ears and feet itch.  But she walked back to her seat, unable to itch either place.  She knew that it was her problem, not her dead mother’s, and certainly not Jake’s.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

O, the Wind and Rain

I found myself thinking about the Garcia and Grisman song "Dreadful Wind and Rain" today.  It was definitely a crappy day, but as I trudged home from work burning the 8:00 PM oil, and let the snow pelt down onto my hair and into my eyes, I felt a certain refreshment in the walk.  My boots held strong and didn't slip in the slush at all.  And maybe it is the intensity of my days, but walking in the cold and the snow eases my soul. Perhaps it is just that vision of an object, something white and small and fragile, falling gently through the air, that moves me or causes a stillness in my soul - because you don't often just get to see that.  Maybe that's what Joyce was talking about in "The Dead."

Nah, couldn't be.

Anyway, after that devastating Walkmen post, its time to just mention a few points of interest for all ye faithful that follow mine blog.

First, I would like to share a bit of just absolute genius with you.  This comes from a news story about NBA Star, Caron Butler recently of the Dallas Mavericks - and recently of my NBA Trade Deadline Breakdown - and how the NBA has banned him from chewing straws during games, a hobby he has done for years.  Later in the story, it is revealed that another habit of Caron's was outlawed.  Just read:

In summer 2009, Butler blogged on that he had lost 11 pounds just by giving up his daily "addiction" of drinking at least six 12-ounce bottles of Mountain Dew.

"I was going through withdrawals," Butler said on "... Honestly, those first two weeks without the Dew [were] the roughest two weeks of my life. I'm talking headaches, sweats and everything."

Butler said he used to drink the caffeinated soda before Wizards practice and would "knock back two" before games.

Genius.  Just absolute pure genius.

Continuing on the NBA path, if you haven't read the past two Bill Simmons columns, then you really should. He just has his finger on the NBA pulse and provides insights into the league and its players and innerworkings that can only be found on this blog otherwise.  No, you didn't buy that?  Ok, its true he is the best NBA writer out there.  You can read his Trade Value Column or his NBA Quick Fix Column.

In other links, my friend Janelle Sing reminded me of the website of a former classmate of ours in high school.   His name is Brett Jutkiewicz and he has plenty of terrific shorts and features on this website to keep you entertained for hours.  I hadn't seen him in years until this past summer when I ran into him during a pickup basketball game at the gym in that Catholic school on North 7th between Driggs and Bedford. Who knew?

Anyway, coming up we will have more about that theme of history and taking one's place in it yet remaning fluid and not static.  How sports fits in to all that is the challenge I will have to think up.  There is something that ties Joyce and Peyton Manning together, you better believe me.  We'll also have some good book talk.  I've been focusing on my Thomas Wolfe to provide a now honest opinion of a writer I once blindly admired.  I'll write something good.  Of course as basketball season moves closer and closer to the playoffs I will keep you on the edge of your seat especially when Wade comes to the Garden in April and I have less than front row seats, but the advantage of a notebook.

Now, though, the next installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt:

Liza stood up and flattened her skirt against her thighs, the fabric felt soft and cool.  She listened to her shoes as they pushed the carpet on the way to the kneeler.  She reached it and knelt.  When she looked up at the coffin, she first felt nothing.  Liza groped within herself to try and connect the finished wood and gold she saw in front of her, with the final resting place of her mother.  She closed her eyes and pressed her lips close to her pressed knuckles.  The touch made her smile reflexively.  It just looks like a big bed.  An uncomfortable bed, too.  I wouldn’t want to be put into one of those.  But would I want them to burn me?  This is my mother!  Her mind soon turned to thoughts of beds, of James’ big bed with the black blanket and white sheets, to Maggie’s bed that still had that blue and brown patchwork quilt, to her own bed with the white and fluffy douvet, and the pink striped sheets.  But then, her mind led her to Christmas morning.  She was only seven and with the shape of 6:57 from the clock beside her bed behind her she’d moved into the hallway.  Her small feet had padded on the carpet, down the hall to her parents’ room.  She reached up and pulled down the curved handle and the white door swung open to darkness.  At first she saw the red numbers in the darkness of her parents’ room. 6:56.  Then, she felt the first tinge of coldness in her little feet. “I used to carry you around in my pocket. Did you know that?”  That’s what he used to say to me and then mom would just nod at him and smile.  Nod and smile. I feel like much of a girl’s life is spent nodding and smiling.  And is that right or wrong? Even though her feet were cold, her cotton pajama leggings - with Disney figures embroidered in them - kept her warm.  There was The Little Mermaid on her thin thigh, Princess Jasmine on her undefined calf, and Minnie Mouse pointing toward her ankle.  She padded onward toward the dark, soft, square mass that stood outlined in the room. 6:57.  When she was close enough, she slowed her movement and lifted her right, leg onto the bed.  The quilt was soft and cool with air.  She shook this off and raised her other leg up.  She made sure that every move was light.  It made her almost giggle aloud when she heard her father’s snort from further ahead.  There was a tightness to the quilt right by where his feet were.  She could make out their shape; she even touched one, curious if there would be a reaction.  One foot flinched.  The valley between her mother’s form and her father’s form was open.  She lay down in it, listening to the sounds of her parents sleeping.  As she looked up, she saw the darkness turn to ceiling – the off-white color she knew when she’d run in and jump on the bed after school.  The light slowly showed its true color.  All the dark forms of objects she knew were becoming grey, if only in slow progressions of shade.  She couldn’t lay in the valley any longer.  She turned toward her father first and jumped on his shoulder.


He didn’t budge and the room’s grey became a dull orange of the morning.  She heard her mother stir and mumble.  But, then, it was her father who she wanted to wake.  So she redoubled her efforts, propelling and sprawling herself gently across her father’s shoulder like children often do.  His shoulder gave slightly and she could feel its softness.  It seemed, to her, that with each shove she gave her father, each press of the matress, a sort of smell was released out into the room.  The first description would have been stinky, then perhaps stale, but that morning, as she lay and smelt her father’s arm while he woke, she realized that that smell was what she smelled like.  Liza was dismayed, slightly, because a little girl didn’t smell like what her father smelled like: sweat, sleep, laundry, whiskers, his nose.  Little girls were supposed to smell like soap and small touches of their mother’s hug and perfume.  However she was proud of it, because if she smelled like her father, then James smelled like him too, Tom, Maggie, and even her mother – maybe that was the smell of them all, the smell of their home.

Liza opened her eyes.  She had been pulled so far away from the moment.  However, the coffin was sitting exactly where it had been.  That wasn’t even praying, what I was doing.  Those were just memories coming back to me.  Its amazing how I can put memories onto that coffin, onto what is and is not my mother and make them part of me in a way.  Liza readjusted herself on the kneeler and closed her eyes.  She set herself to pray in the way she’d been taught in religion class.  Dear Lord, please take care of my mother as you bring her into this new world she is about to enter.  Please let my father get over this loss easily and also Maggie, James and Tom.  Eve too.  I don’t know how we are going to do it, but we need to try.  I know I can say it better than this, Lord, but I’m sure you understand how tired my brain is.  Liza couldn’t help but open her eyes.  She looked at the coffin again.  Her mind was wandering. Kneeling and praying were not going to help her, she couldn’t formulate a prayer.  I’m sorry, Lord.  I just want to lay between the valley of my mother and father.  She felt stale and she made the sign of the cross.  As she rose, she flattened her skirt against her legs once more.  She hoped that the touch, the smoothness of the fabric would bring her goosebumps, that it would make her feel something important – or at least make her feel alright.  However, she felt nothing.  She bowed her head and clasped her hands as she sat.

Maggie wasn’t sure what to make of her sister.  Watching her rise and sit, it had immediately struck her that Liza was depressed and taking their mother’s death harder than she’d let on.  Maggie’s vision lingered on Liza’s meek and uncomfortable form.  It didn’t surprise her that Liza might take their mother’s death the hardest. She had been the youngest and the last one in the house – the only one of the children who had not been given the chance to see themselves in a relative distance from their parents and also their home.  She couldn’t be sure, and that also upset Maggie, because it had occurred to her the night before that she didn’t know her sister at all and that she had no way of being able to read her.  Maggie had always taken pride in her perception of people’s demeanors and moods – she felt it enhanced her ability to take a good photo.  However, looking at Liza smooth her skirt once more, she felt that she may have neglected her sister – and perhaps her whole family – for too long.  There was a nervous flutter in her stomach and an image of her quiet apartment appeared before her.  One of her sandals rested under the coffee table, her boots lay on their sides by the door.  A sundress of hers was draped on the couch.  Three stainless steel pans were stacked next to the sink, only the top one was clean.  There was no one there to help her clean.  She could not smell Irish Spring soap.

2006-2008: A Fan's Notes

In the summer of 2006, I was maybe as lost as I’ve ever been.  That summer vacation marked the thankful end to an alienating second semester of my junior year of college.  I had returned from my study abroad in Ireland which was nothing more than a prolonged drinking binge with little study of linguistics and a brief visit to the Martello tower on the sea where Joyce lived with Oliver St. John Gogarty where I watched an old couple swim under grey December skies.  I had returned to a school I wasn’t quite fond of to see most of my friends either graduated, graduating or dismissed.  This semester had begotten quite a few bad habits that I was more than hoping to get rid of.

As that May got off to a wet start, I found myself looking for ways to occupy my time, which is also known as a summer job.  I had spent most of my summers before 2006 working in my father’s warehouse that was part of his veterinary supply business.  However, we both thought that it would be better for my own sake that I move on from those canine and feline anesthetics, antihistamines and antibiotics to something less dusty and more substantive. 

I applied for jobs as a strawberry picker (not a racial or sexual innuendo), a waiter at a country club, a janitor at a pool club and a journalist at the town newspaper.  None of these options took and I was beginning to get desperate.  However, I soon found a job working as a camp counselor for a summer camp at a boarding school near my home whose campus happened to sit right up on the waters of Head of the Harbor – anyone who is familiar with the North Shore of Long Island knows that this is quite a beautiful area. Simultaneously, I had happened to land a minimally paid (read gas money) position at a local fitness magazine with a staff that was comprised of myself and an overweight woman who would sometimes massage people by candlelight while I interviewed local fitness celebrities over the phone.  Although, I did once interview Victoria Recano of Entertainment Tonight.

That June was tremendously hot - as the rest of the summer was, or maybe I just remember it that way – and work at the camp seemed easy enough.  They needed me to “float” from group to group, but when one of my teenaged colleagues would be spending too much of his summer vacation vacationing with his family, they stuck me with a group of fifth graders.  Although the work was fine, I was still finding myself in bad habits: getting drunk at strangers’ houses and falling asleep to wake up in the middle of the night and walk home or to call the mortalest of enemies to “just help me with a ride home, man,” littering beer cans in the roads in my neighborhood, riding around with drunk people.  As I saw my final year of college approaching once the weather grew cooler and more exciting in September, I began to feel anxious at the walls of my life, which I had constructed with such uncaring indifference and distance, caving in.

It was at this time that A Hundred Miles Off by the Walkmen came out.  I had followed the Walkmen sporadically before that album.  As most people my age, I was infected with “The Band Fever” during high school and scrounged for any new piece of music by a band that had inserted the word “the” in front of their name.  So, I had gotten my hands on the Walkmen’s first two albums in bits and pieces, downloading singles.  I knew they had come from a cult band by the name of Jonathan Fire*Eater as well.  However, it was A Hundred Miles Off that set the tone for that summer and for perhaps some change in me that I am still feeling or trying to understand.

During the heat of the day, I would take the kids to the pool, to the harbor of Head of the Harbor, to the sound at Long Beach in Smithtown, to the dirt fields to play soccer, to the basketball courts to teach them the art of the layup and the bank shot and to relive my past high school hardcourt glories; I would encourage their weirdnesses, hobbies and secret interests that they may have normally been embarrassed to share, because if I thought it was OK and if I looked like an older kid who was not quite an adult but not quite a kid, then I must know something about what was cool.  So while my colleagues were groping and horny teenagers or teachers trying to make money during their summers, I was a privileged college student, daydreaming rock n’ roller/country singer (listening to a LOT of Gram Parsons in these days) and aspiring writer who was prematurely trying to dry himself up on the short side of forty (40). 

So, after the last pieces of dust from the last SUV picking up the last kid had settled around 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon, I would hop in my own SUV - a 1997 Nissan Pathfinder - and slide A Hundred Miles Off into the Bose CD player.  Then, I would begin to imitate Hamilton Leithauser’s insane Dylan whine as the mariachi horns of “Louisiana” spoke to me about having “my hands full all summer long” while there is “thunder and lightning a hundred miles off.”  I’d get wistful – and so did the plunking and playful piano - as I drove along the sloping horse field lined streets and through the shimmering leaf sunlight and think of hammocks under trees and of past summer girls that I’d lazily cared for and of Levin standing on the balcony of his home looking at the storm clouds roll in over his lime grove.  It seemed like things would get better just like he’d thought at the end of Anna Karenina.

Or on other days, I would feel my restlessness rise and subside, just like the insane rubber band tempo of “Tenleytown,” which thrashes and then stalls like no other song in the history of mankind. I’d listen to this gem of a song and scream at the top of my lungs with the windows of my car rolled down, feeling young and unjaded, feeling everything very immediate and real and knowing that even though when I got home, things would all be still in the late afternoon to evening light, that the energy was always out there.  That I could grab it and access it whenever I wanted to and that even if things were still and hazy, that it was OK to sit on the porch and think about that.  Or, in the dank basement of the magazine office, flubbing my way through another interview with a mother of three weightlifter while my “boss” and her Latvian boyfriend fed each other cheesecake, that in the end its all just a damn joke anyway, tempered by our own made up melancholy and seriousness at not getting the whole thing.

And yet, there were other days, when I would temper my own perceived melancholy with a real melancholy while I listened to “Emma, Get Me a Lemon” with its pounding verses and soaring gut wrenching choruses.  And I would think about moments with girls that I actually did love or maybe could have loved if I paid attention or were astute enough to listen to myself.  I’d play my air guitar behind the wheel of the car and while thinking about those passing, starry visions of my past, would feel the extreme restlessness that the chorus builds in a listener as well.  Sometimes I would be driving at night and listen to the album, and if, while stopped at a stoplight or stop sign, “Emma, Get Me a Lemon” was on, I would look out into the darkness and smell in the perfume from the trees and homes all around me.  First, I would let the car stall and wish I had a cigarette, then a notion would hit me, something profound, something to due with the slight shade between the darkness of tree leaves in the summer and of the sky when its clear.  That notion would pass and I, not knowing what it was, would drive on, ambling after it in my mind.

Soon, though, the camp was over and my body had been appropriately sunburned with little use of suntan lotion throughout its duration.  I wrote the kids nice messages in their camp yearbooks and told them that I wished them the best.  I meant all the things I wrote to them; because what I learned from them was that their little lives were infinitely more interesting than mine and that if these little kids thought that I was a good camp counselor, than there must have been something still human left in me after all.  And that was something to build on; that was something to have confidence about, as small as it may have been. 

The summer wore on for a few remaining weeks and I drank comfortable beers by my pool with whatever friends were still around and I cooked dinners with my family.  But, I always found myself up late at night driving and listening to the album.  The last song is a cover of the Mazarin song “Another One Goes By.”  It’s a shuffling soul beat that could have even been a Roy Orbison song.  I’ll break my little “voice” character here to say that it is literally one of the best songs of all time.  There was one lyric that always stuck with me, “Don’t know what to offer you when I’m only broke and lonely.”  It struck me because that was how I had often felt towards the people in my life.  And yet this summer had gone by, another one floated by, and there was more that I could offer and I was bound to determine that as I packed my gold SUV full of crap to take to my final semester at a college I had outgrown enough to finally enjoy.

Flash-forward two years and I’ve of course fallen in love with other bands and other girls and other waterfront settings.  Now, I’m living in Brooklyn, finishing up one of the best and most exhausting summer of my life and lo and behold (Bob Dylan and the Band Basement Tapes reference) the Walkmen are releasing a new album under the radar.  I of course leap on the damn thing once I hear about it.  I get it early and I start playing the songs to death on my rooftop sitting there in the heat with my friends and piling up beer cans and laughing while the fluorescent light of my kitchen shines out onto the black tar and above us, the light pollution makes that terrible illuminated canopy bed that feels so inevitable.  The songs this time around were subtler, refined in places were  they were edgier.  They had not lost their edge, but rather they had grown into it, expanded on it.  There was something comfortable in the guitar and vocals on these songs and there was something comfortable in my foot up on the white table on my black tarred roof.

I got tickets to a show the Walkmen played at the Bowery in August 2008.  They blew me away.  It was the most excited I had ever been to see a show.  I knew all the songs and the show took place on the day the album was released.  And those reverby, echoey songs stuck with me as the summer died out with the romances I had.  Those wailing and wistful vocals grew stronger and bolder as the winter months came and I enjoyed the first snowfalls of my living in New York.  And as the rest of the world caught on to how good the album was.  I realized that this album and this band had transcended being simply good or important to me – they were a part of me, or rather they felt like they had come from the source of my creativity of what causes me to speak and want to put something out into the world.

You & Me is an extremely melancholy album. The single “In the New Year” is all about a narrator who is still living at an old address even though things around him are changing.  His friends are married to all of his sisters, and even though everything is changing and his heart is in the strangest place, its going to be a good year moving out of the darkness and into the “fire.”  This song was an anthem – at least to me and those I knew – when it came out.  It was to me because my life had certainly changed and was – is – continuing to change and I could only see the good in that.  Even, if sometimes those old yous and those old times get blurry and out of focus and don’t seem familiar to you, you have to believe its going to be a good year, because even if you are living at the same old address, your old bum friends got it together enough to marry your sisters.  And if your heart is in the strangest place, then you are on the verge of figuring something out.

And then there is “Red Moon” a slow pirate or boat waltz that makes one think of a calm night at sea.  The singer and his horns think of some loved one that he’s lost and the dynamics and space of the song allow this common tale to gain a resonance.  The rest of the music falls out at the right places to emphasize the echo of the vocals and then the horns come in to suggest the warmth of the breeze before the singer says, “I miss you, there’s no one else. I do. I do.” And the song comes to a graceful end.  It doesn’t matter who that’s about.  Those lines are true because they’re simple and we all want to say that to someone. Whether the motion or the words are inappropriate or misplaced or not.

“Red Moon” flows perfectly into “Canadian Girl,” which builds and builds from a pleasant little shuffle to a soaring coda with horns and chiming guitars as the singer tells the girl he’s singing to that she’ll miss him when he’s gone because she “is the morning” and he “is the night” and only he “still calls her” his.  I could never quite figure out what this song was about, but it sounded romantic enough and if you don’t fall for that horn coda, then I don’t know what kind of soul you have or if you are even capable of romanticizing the small postures in life.

The Walkmen don’t lose their edge ever and “Four Provinces” proves that.  Maybe the most artfully aggressive song since “The Rat” this song packs a thump that doesn’t allow you to not shake or groove.  There is a break in this song where the horns come in that adds an element of grace that “The Rat” never achieved.  When the singer says “the next time I see you at Sophia’s place” there is a mastery over the phrase.  He knows the world he’s traversed in and even moved past, however the familiarity still makes him uneasy and puts him on edge as he finishes the song “every bone in my body broken one time or two/every hour of the long day trying to spend it with you/every year that I’m living trying to stick by your side/the sun goes down moon comes up sky is black and blue/me I stand running with you.”  There is something simple and also tumultuous in the lines, which is just like the whole song itself.  When you know your world in and out, it can be very simple, but the simplest things, when focused on can breed endless complications and disturbances.  Just ask Joyce’s Dubliners.

The main event of this album is “If I Lost You,” which perfectly melds the two sides of the Walkmen – the aggressive and dramatic, and the cool, controlled shuffle.  This is all about a car driving through the night, maybe even just circling a neighborhood with the kids in the backseat.  Yet, just like in all the songs on the album there is a line about missing someone when they’re gone.  The song picks up steam and you can start hearing those horns in the background, while the drums begin to pound a little louder and that guitar chime becomes more of a wail to match the singer’s vocals as he asks someone throw him a rope. “I knew you when I was young…I wish you were still around/I waited a long time/I lost you/ I was sleeping in the backseat when I got home/I lost you.” That’s how the song finishes on a dramatic and powerful blast.  And that’s very much how I felt – and still feel – about a lot of things in that end of summer through winter of 2008.

I saw the Walkmen two more times in that stretch.  They were the band of that moment for me even as Animal Collective became the band of the moment and of the scene and perhaps rightfully so.  However, what this has all been for is the fact that the Walkmen grew with me as I grew up.  I could have described that time period when You & I came out in the same Frederick Exley voice I did for my description of A Hundred Miles Off, however, I grew up.  In 2006, I was wild and all over the place just like The Walkmen were.  They were fidgeting and couldn’t stay in one spot.  Then they reached a mood on You & Me, they reached a mood and fleshed it out as far as they could and in doing so, they touched on levels of poignancy and craft that they never had before.  That’s what we should all be capable in our lives and our arts.  Focus and flesh it all out, know your form and your craft to its fullest to create what is timeless and forever poignant to others.

And maybe you can’t just compare yourself to a band or an album and maybe I haven’t grown up and maybe most of us haven’t grown up.  Sure, this isn’t anything that is going to change the world or make tragedy any easier.  Art wasn’t made for that, art was made for us to question our own makeups in a cracked looking glass and it is only through doing this that we can then go out and make that decision to change and heal the world – to take on the pain and toil that others can’t.  I’ve seen glimpses of that in myself and I’m going to try to find more and more of it as I figure out that I’m the least interesting person I know.   I can only hope the same for the rest of you.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Grateful Deadline

If there are two things that I love, they are Jam Jerry and the Grateful Dead and the NBA.  So, of course I enjoyed this last week of NBA trade speculation.  How do the Grateful Dead fit in you might ask? I was listening to a lot of From the Mars Hotel the past week - especially album closer, "Ship of Fools."

As far as the trades go, there were a few big ones.  The most notable perhaps being Antawan Jamison going to the Cleveland Cavaliers. There was a lot of speculation that Amar'e Stoudemire was going to be traded from the Suns to the Cavs in an attempt to keep Lebron in Cleveland past this upcoming summer, however that did not pan out.  In the end, it was decided that Antawn would be a better fit for Cleveland and I have to agree with this decision.  Antawan will stretch defenses with his outside shooting, whereas Amar'e would only pack them further in.  This will play well with Lebron's ability to penetrate and kick.  Also, Antawan is a much better defender than Amar'e.  He may be older (33? Wasn't it 1998 just yesterday?), but he has consistently put up 18-20 points per game over his entire career and pulled in about 8 rebounds per game.  Of course, I've been a huge fan of Antawan's since he was a UNC boy.  He was an All-American low post player when he was at UNC, but developed an extremely effective outside game since moving to the pros.  Unfortunately, he has played on many mediocre teams throughout his career and was involved with the underachieving disaster that were the Washington Wizards - now a crazy amalgamation of bench players, Josh Howard, Al Thornton, and a bunch of free salary space.  I'm not a big fan of the Cavaliers and I always have to reluctantly admit to Lebron's transcendance since I am firmly entrenched in the Dwyane Wade camp - better overall player, better competitor, better crunch-time player - but with the addition of Jamison, they become a much more likeable team to me and I believe they do have what it takes to handle the Lakers.  They can easily stick Antawan on Odom if they meet the Lakers in the Finals.  He can also provide some help defense on Gasol and will give Artest trouble if the Lakers try to stick him on Antawan.  It was a savvy pickup.

Other trades included the Mavericks picking up Caron Butler and Brendan  Haywood from the Wizards in exchange for Josh Howard and Drew Gooden (O, lost days of Kansas!) and some other irrelevant trade pieces.  This move makes Dallas significantly better.  Butler gives them all the tools that Josh Howard did with less of Howard's lackadasical tendencies (aka not showing up).  Haywood is another UNC product who provides the Mavericks with an improvement to their interior defense and also helps their rebounding numbers and can give around 10 points a game.  The Mavericks may not be able to overtake the Lakers and may still have trouble finding a way to stop Carmelo if they meet the Nuggets in the playoffs, but they have enough pieces in place now to make a run and to hang tight in a series - and that is all you really need as the Mavs found out in the 2006 Finals when they lost to the Heat (OK, there may have been some questionable officiating and lucky breaks thrown in that equation as well).

The fraud known as Tracy McGrady ended up on the Knicks and looked good in his debut.  It remains to be seen if the Knicks will keep him and his huge contract on the roster into the summer. They picked up McGrady in order to dump his salary in an attempt to lure Lebron and another top notch free agent this summer.  I hope they dump McGrady and let him scratch his way onto another team.  The way he quit on Houston last year with his decision to have surgery was inexcusable.  He has been an overrated player for most of his career (maybe not 2000?) and never delivered anything when it mattered.  I never usually sound off about NBA players, but McGrady deserves it.

The other big trade was the Kings sending Kevin Martin (terrific two guard scorer in the mold of Reggie Miller and Rip Hamilton) to Houston in exchange for Carl Landry (a shame they had to let him go, because I liked him on that front line with Scola, those guys were tough, young and hustled) and a few other pieces.  This was a necessary trade for Houston because they needed to pick up scoring and Martin will certainly add that, and it takes pressure off of Aaron Brooks to score and allows him to focus more on distributing the ball from the point.  I don't know if they have enough left to make a push for the playoffs this year because the West is seriously deep (Jazz getting hot, the Thunder just continuing to surprise with how good they and their high level of team chemistry for being so young), however, if they draft smart and get a healthy Yao back next year, they may be able to make some noise as a higher seed.

In sadder news, the Celtics (I don't know why I've gotten so attached to the Celtics in recent years, I think it stems for my love of Kevin Garnett and watching him in his 2003-2004 MVP season playing against the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals when I was the last one left in my dorm.  Everyone had left me all their remaining beer, which added up to about 70-80 beers, so I polished them off the entire week watching basketball and listening to the Beach Boys, namely Friends and Sunflower. I sang very loudly out my windows and enjoyed the sunshine coming in.  My friend Miles even stopped by on one of the last nights - his mom had a family friend in town and they had stopped over there for a few nights on the way out of town - and we drank beer and whiskey and had a walking adventure around the back roads of Saratoga Springs) gave up Eddie House and some bench players to pick up Nate Robinson.  This trade is basically a wash and doesn't achieve anything for a Celtics team that seems to be floundering in a precarious position since the guards are changing on the team.  Rondo is clearly their best player and one of my top ten favorite players to watch and yet he doesn't have the crunch-time chops yet and still feels the need to defer to Pierce, Allen and Garnett more than he should.  He is developing a devastating behind the back fake and some of his curling layups are just absurd.  Once he can make foul shots and never miss his tear drop in the lane, he will be as close to unstoppable as any other point guard - namely, Chris Paul.  However, there is an awkward shifting of the team focus on the Celtics and I don't see them organizing it at any time soon.  I may be wrong and maybe the team roles and identities will fall  into place, but as for now, there is a cause to be concerned if you wish the Celtics the best - and I do.

This bit about the Celtics has me thinking about something I touched on in my recap of the Super Bowl - its the accepting or grasping of one's role and one's part in history that is so prevalant and essential in sports - although, it is essential in art and nearly everything else as well.  I don't know if I have the time at the moment to correctly articulate it and I think it would be better suited to an entire separate post.  There have been plenty of examples of it in contemporary sports, the rise of Lebron and the rest of the 2003 draft class, this 2009-2010 Celtics team,  Federer's dominance in tennis and the inability of any of his peers to try and rise to the opportunities that sport and history have given them to try and etch their name in stone and of course Peyton Manning and his recent defeat in the Super Bowl.  This is all tied into something greater about how we interact with time and what history means in order to reach our potential and to prolong our respective creativities and ability to give to the world and make the most of the materials we are given to work with.  I think I'll let you figure out where I am going to go with this and meanwhile formulate a more polished column to describe it to you all.

In new related to this blog, I want to point out some new additions to my links.  These are part of some Brown University graduate acquaintances I have picked up from my friend Janelle Sing.

The first link is one that I meant to put up a long time ago.  Her friend Phoebe (don't know last name) has a food blog that has generated some steam and even a cookbook deal, it is called Big Girls Small Kitchen. I went to a Chili Throwdown that Phoebe competed in back in November and she placed third from a panel of judges with a damn good chili.  I'd check out the blog/website as it is very helpful even for a dude like me (albeit World's Coolest Dude 2007).

The second link is from a friend of Janelle's I just met named Geddes.  She keeps a blog called Officially an Artist where she posts much of her art work.  She has some great stuff up there including some work that she and Janelle did this past weekend in Providence, which is an excercise called 12 paintings in 12 hours, which is exactly how it sounds.  I believe this is a great excercise, just as Kerouac's bop-prosody and spontaneous were perhaps better as excercises than as a style to build a collection  of work on.  "First thought best thought," as Kerouac said, is admirable, but not necesarrily successful when it comes to art.  "First though best thought" is important for actualizing work, to making your concepts and ideas hard truths that can then be manipulated and molded into a higher art, the art that steals, and shifts in the shadows of prior and current ideals, and finally transcends to to encompass those values and pillars of life, love and the universe that never go away.  In any event, it is a good excercise to be productive and if you look at the blog, you will see that Geddes is certainly productive.

Ok, that's it for me today.  This week we will have all my history and grasping of the moment ramblings, some gushing for the Walkmen and the continued overall greatness that is Puddles of Myself.

Now, the next installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt:

Douglas Bryant looked at Ben O’Donnell with his hands around his youngest daughter and that enigma of a son – the one who tried to off himself.  He’d seen him take that drink from his flask.  It took everything in his power not to go over there and scold Ben O’Donnell, even if it was his own wife’s funeral.  However, that’s what made the Bryants who they were – cold composure. Funeral Director Bryant checked his watch.  He’d give the general attendees a few more minutes to pay their respects before he ushered them out and allowed the immediates (Rose’s nuclear family) to pay their respects privately.  Then, when they were ready, even that drunk, they’d have the body transported past the house andthen to the place of rest – which was to be out in Calverton if he was not mistaken.  He didn’t quite understand why they were not going to have the requiem mass as most Catholics did.  Especially when he knew that Rose O’Donnell was a dutiful parishioner at St. James.

Douglas Bryant felt the wall against  his back.  Besides the moistness in his armpits, he was comfortable.  He looked at the O’Donnell family sitting together in the front row.  To him, it was a funny thing to have watched those front rows occupied by so many different families over the years.  There had been families stoic in their grief, others who calmly displayed their sorrow with tasteful tears, and still others who put on displays of distress that bordered on something maudlin.  Days and nights of mourning passed and then, if all concerned parties were lucky, no business or interaction had to be done again.  But the chairs remained sitting there in neat rows, and the platform always stood in the front.  These objects marked the space, cleanly and orderly.  And even with the passing of people in and out of the home, Douglas Bryant remained a fixture for them, for the town.  A person who provided a service of death – or more appropriately, memorial – or more optimistically, of closure.
Funeral Director Bryant took a cloth out from his back pocket and lightly tapped the back of his neck.  He checked his watch again.  He’d give them a  few more minutes.  Douglas surveyed the O’Donnell’s.  He did feel bad for them.  Rose O’Donnell was a kind woman.  It seemed as though she knew everyone in the town.  He could recall many meetings he’s had with her in Stop N’ Shop.  She’d catch him by the melons and ask how business was; how Frank was.  She’d even commend him on how he continued on in a line of work that faced him with such everyday sadness.  And he’d weigh his banannas and thank her for that.

It baffled him that a woman of her caliber could stay married to that full-time drunk, or how a son of Rose O’Donnell could try and drown himself in the St. George Creek.  Or, also, how the eldest, Maggie, could be the spitting image of her mother but be so flamboyant, such a rebel and so uncaring for a stable home life.  He’d seen her accolades in the Herald.  He’d also heard the announcement of her broken engagement.  In so many ways, the O’Donnell family was beyond Douglas Bryant’s understanding.  Especially the fact that they had only attended this final wake and that is was the sister-in-law, Erin, who had made all the arrangements.  Nevertheless, it was time to give them their space, it was time to give them their time.

Tom watched as Mr. Bryant walked up to the kneeler in front of his mother’s body.  He whispered to Mrs. Post who was kneeling with her sons Mike and Bryan.  Mrs. Post stood and fixed her long business skirt.  She ushered the boys along and they followed Mr. Bryant, looking uncomfortable in their blue and silver striped ties.  Tom closed his eyes take and seeee and listened to the sound of people exiting the room.  He heard coughs, shuffling of loafers on carpet, the thump of an odd chair leg or three.  With his eyes closed, Tom felt a growing presence within his stomach.  It was as if something were spreading and beating throughout his whole body.  I feel my heart beat rapidly. I feel it even though I didn’t see her when I walked in.  How could I have really hoped she would come? What is it that happened to us last night?  In that dark, the moistness of her chest skin.  My soul was hot – my soul was –is – a flake.  It wasn’t just his heartbeat, he felt the pumping coming from even the small roll of fat right above his groin.  In the darkness of his eyes, fluorescent squares gave way to shifting and grotesque visions of bodies.  He couldn’t control their ebb and flow.  He saw raw flesh, he saw the stink of carcass and the rise of flies in the air.  The form of the crucifix appeared too, but quickly flew out of the sight of his darkened vision.  Tom took a breath.  I breathe and pass the throbbing from my mouth to the air.  It feels like I am breathing too heavily.  I am strange, aren’t I, doc? With his breathing, came an ease.  He smelt the perfume of the flowers all around the room and, reminding himself that flowers did exist and that they were beautiful and fragrant, felt relaxed.  He opened his eyes and looked at the coffin.  His mother’s nose stuck up in profile.  Nothing in him told him what to do, so he felt the curiosity to look behind him.  Uncle Connor was still standing behind Aunt Erin who remained in her seat in the back; they were the only two left.  Tom bowed his head in the direction of his mother.  Then, he felt his father’s hand on his knee.

“What do you say we pray?”

“Sure, dad.”

“Who first?” his father asked.

I want to be the first one to go up.  I’m the one who killed mom, so that gives me the right.  Who would she’ve wanted to be first?

“Well, I’m the oldest,” Maggie said, “so I might as well…”

“No,” Liza said.  Maggie first looked surprised, but quickly smiled at her sister. “I want to be first.”

Maggie held out her arm towards the coffin.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Breaking News

Just a quick update today.  If you'll notice at the top of the page, I have added a link for From Here to The Last Mound of DirtThis link will take you to all of the excerpts of the manuscript that have been posted up here so far.  As I continue to add them on the main page, they will also be added to this section of the blog.  So, if you have been having trouble following the riveting plot and timeless drama, you can easily remedy your problems.

I'll be putting up my thoughts on all of the NBA trades either tomorrow or Monday while I mull over the next music post that I will be putting up during the week. Front runners right now are Walkmen's "You and Me" and The Rolling Stones' "Sticky Fingers."  I am open to suggestions, so please post.  Any new albums?  That new Field Music album if I can get a hold on it.

Always new stuff to come. Just stay with me.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I just learned how to put videos onto this blog.  Things are about to get a lot stupider and more basketball related on here.  Well maybe, not too much but only when I am tapped on energy to write up long entries and need to get something up here.

The NBA trade deadline came and went today with a few significant moves.  I am going to mull over what I think about the moves and also what I think about an OT classic that took place tonight between the Cavs and Nuggets.  However, I am busy doing some revision work on From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt and need to keep focused on that.  Soon I will put up another page on the blog where you can read all of the excerpts that have been posted so far - I'm getting better at this. Wait until I actually know what I'm doing.

 In any event, I was thinking about this Stella short recently.  My Damn Channel posted it up and they also put up Wainy Days for your reference.  I applied for a job there and got a phone interview.  They wanted me to have video editing skills.  All I  had was a thorough knowledge of The State (especially the sketch "Slinkys").  That almost got me in for an interview, but it did get me a "you're a cool dude," so at least that's something.

Check it out below.  This is what the sketches I am working on are going to be like, only better.

Until next time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cash Wednesday

It's Ash Wednesday today.  The beginning of Lent and its time to give something up before Easter.  I am a Catholic by birth and upbringing but certainly not by dogmatic or doctrinated belief.  However, this was always my favorite.  It really became my favorite at college when I'd go to mass in Saratoga Springs at St. Clement's by myself.  There was something poignant and earthy about the whole trip and ceremony and being among people on cool mid-winter school nights and thinking about the homes and warm ovens they went home to - it was all unknown to me, which made me love it and cherish it in all of its normalcy.  I wrote a brooding story about it in one of my fiction workshops.  I was always torturing people with brooding stories about young men who thought they might be artists in those days.  I don't wonder why, but I do apologize to all those involved.  I've improved only slightly.

It's the beginning of lent and I'm spent.  My sister took the dog from me to keep her company and we celebrated our own Fat Tuesday by going out to Mesa Coyocan on Graham Avenue.  This  has some of the best mexican food around and I stuffed my face and drank sangria before having to say goodbye to the dog.  Nothing beats having him around.

Anyway, this is another one of them in between posts.  I've been writing a lot about the NBA lately and some people have seemed to enjoy it.  This week a few trades have been going on and tomorrow there may be a few more, so I'll do a little wrap up of that and also discuss some of the labor issues that are boiling up in the NBA.  I've been reading some of my favorite columnists about the NBA  and they don't paint as rosy a picture as I do.  For some reason and at some point I've become quite the optimist - I don't know when this happened.  Trust me, I used to be quite negative.

I've also been going college style and reading three books at one time so just be patient and I will regale you with my literary two cents. I'm also planning on turning my eye back to some short story writing which I haven't done in a long time.  As those pop  up, you can rest assure that you will see them up here.  I've also been holding back on starting on my third novel idea, which has been brewing since I was in Spain back in the fall of 2007 and saw an interesting sight one night when I was walking around by myself.  I'll explain all that at a later date and when I allow myself to give in to the story. For now, its holding back and letting the details and life elements wrap around the idea, which pushes it further and further from my immediate experience and allows me to write about it more objectively, more artfully.

Finally, I am still trying to think of the next album or band to discuss.  I was listening to "Moonlight Mile" by the Stones tonight and was thinking about throwing my hat in that ring.  I'd also like to do something a little more contemporary.  Maybe a rundown of the Walkmen's last album "You & Me" in preparation for their new album coming out in the spring? Maybe something from the classics again, something that makes me feel desperate?  Throw out any ideas.

So, to recap:

1. NBA Trade Wrap-up/Labor Talk
2. Book writeups and discussions: Thomas Wolfe, Fan's Notes, Family Album
3. Short stories
4. Music review/rumination: Stones? Walkmen? Reader's Choice

As always on Puddles of Myself, the conversation is riveting and self-centered and the content is always new.

Concurrently, enjoy the Winter Olympics - Vancouver has never turned its back on you and they always serve a stiff drink with a smile.

Now,  the next installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt.

That’s my favorite picture of mom.  I sit next to James and keep my eye on it.  I just think she looks so young in it, so glamorous.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that it’s in black and white.  It’s romantic, its like one of those old snapshots they show of Bob Dylan from when he was in New York.  Liza sighed and looked down at her black skirt.  Then, like a swan, she pulled it up and leant forward.  Her hands became limp and fell between her thighs.  She considered the casket.  It was raised on a small platform, which was the same hideous color as the red carpet in the rest of the home.  She couldn’t say that the casket was ugly, because in some way it was beautiful.  The wood looked like a finely finished wood floor in Better Homes and Gardens, it was a brown that didn’t have a good name to describe its brownness.  It reflected the light nicely – Liza could see the reflections of her family sitting in a row.  Tom, Ben, Her, James, Eve, Maggie.  Their forms were shadowy and smushed in the coffin’s smooth corner reflection.  I heard they call it a wake because originally the family and townspeople who gathered to mourn hoped that the body would wake up and come back to life. I can see the profile of mom’s face peeking up above the edge.  It rests on a satiny pillow.  She never slept like that.  Liza continued to regard her mother’s still form.  Then she turned over to the more recent picture of Rose.  She’d taken that picture.  It was to be for a school project, but she never decided to use it – she never thought it was any good.  But as she looked at it now, it seemed that it might be a good picture after all.  For some reason, feeling stuffy in a black blouse and skirt, and unable to look anyone in the eye, the picture now seemed to sum up her mother perfectly.  Liza focused back on her still mother.  She wondered if maybe Rose was thinking of her at that moment.  It was never like her to think of the soul and of afterlife – she certainly didn’t care much about heaven or hell – but maybe part of her mother could still think, and if she could still think maybe she was thinking that Liza had let her down.  However, Liza hadn’t let her down, she’d only lived her life.  That knowledge, that piece of truth and acceptance, didn’t make the understanding any better, it didn’t ease the loss.

Liza recognized a few of the people who were kneeling on the pew in front of her mother’s body.

“Who’s that again?” She asked her father.

“Er,” Ben squinted. “They’re your second cousins.  Aunt Erin’s side.”

“When’s the last time we saw them?”

Ben smiled. “Oh, probably awhile.” He stopped for a minute, but held his smile.  He took a long and caring look at his daughter. “Its funny having extended family.  I always preferred the smallness of my own family.  Just me, my brother – your Uncle Ben – and our parents – grandma and grandpa.”
Liza looked at the family paying their respects.  It was a simple family:  mother, father, a sister and a brother who both looked about fifteen or sixteen.

“I think I do too.”

She felt her father squeeze her arm tenderly.  I look at dad.  He doesn’t seem sad, he’s loose, he’s just looking up there at mom.  Did he even see Uncle Connor?  I wonder if I will ever have the same thoughts he’s having right now, whatever they may be.  I look back down at my skirt.  I try not to wear black too much, but I forgot how comfortable this skirt was.  I was supposed to be planning outfits for the weekend nights out – but now here we are.  Dad’s reaching into his coat. Is he? No, he can’t.
Ben took a good pull of his flask.  His lips felt puckered, but only because he couldn’t bear to bring them to a smile or a frown. 

“Dad,” Liza said to him. “You can’t drink in here.”

“I just want this to move on.  These things used to be shorter.”



“Shhh. If James sees.”

“Ah, he knows as well as I do that if I spilt whiskey on your mother she’d wake right up.  That’s the secret of these things you know.”

“Dad,” Tom said from the other said.

“Yes, Thomas.”

“Let it wait.”

Ben looked at his son.  Tom’s face appeared tight, his cheekbones stuck out strongly.  My son, my strange son.  His voice had a weight in it.  It could’ve been the weight of someone who was almost in one of the pine boxes that Rose was laying in. Or, if the body had been lost in that cold winter water, it could’ve just been an empty coffin with rocks approximating his weight.  Although he was sitting in front of his wife’s dead body, the lifeless form that still carried so much life for him – more than fifty years worth – what made Ben’s heart lose its humor, lose its guard, was his son’s strange face and voice.  The fact that he tried to kill himself.  In a house where nothing was sacred, there were two things that were sacred: Rose and Tom’s attempt at suicide.  My son my strange and smart son.

“You know what I mean, Thomas.”

“Finnegan’s Wake.”

Ben smiled.  He put his arms around Tom and Liza.  He hoped he didn’t look too pleased.

Monday, February 15, 2010

That's What a Golden Age Looks Like: NBA All-Star Weekend 2010


The 2010 All-Star Game was a success.  Although the weekend was marred by probably the worst or one of the worst dunk contests of all time, the rest of the events held up. 

As I mentioned in my brief post on Saturday, the weekend started off right with the Rookie/Sophmore challenge on Friday night.  This game pits first year and second year players up against each other so that they may exhibit the skills that they are usually prevented from showing when they are on their actual teams and limited by veterans and limited minutes.  This game featured a ton of highlight worthy dunks and moves and was characterized by plenty of fast and loose action.  What this game showed was that in young stars like Tyreke Evans (Sacramento), Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City), Dejuan Blair (Spurs-next Charles Barkley like loveable persona), Brandon Jennings (Milwaukee), O.J. Mayo (Grizzlies), Eric Gordon (Clippers), and Brook Lopez (Nets – unfortunately) that the NBA will have plenty of marketable faces for years to come.  Out of the 18 players in this game, it is not a stretch to say that 9 or possibly 10 of these young guys will end up being All-Stars (Evans, Mayo, Gordon, Beasley, Curry, Blair, Westbrook, Lopez, Jennings, M. Gasol) and the rest will be almost at that level and at least likeable guys (Love, Flynn, Harden).  This has not often been the case with young talent in the NBA over the past ten years.  While I was watching the Rookie/Sophmore game, I muttered to my roommate, Erik Gundel,  “if this game is this good, I can’t wait for the actual All-Star Game.”  The league is once again building a solid foundation of players from winning college programs who learned under excellent head coaches.  Although, the “Lebron Rule” only keeps most of these players in college for a year before entering the NBA, I believe that they get a certain sense of discipline and perspective from having that one year of college experience as opposed to jumping just from high school to the NBA.  That is how the NBA rose to its golden era in the late 80’s and 90’s.  Guys went to college, played under winning coaches and in winning programs and then entered the NBA were they were humbled playing under greats like Magic, Bird, Dr. J, McHale, Parrish, Isiah and Jordan.  The same thing is happening now.  These young guys are all supremely talented, but they now enter a league where they have to face guys like Wade, Lebron, Kobe, Carmelo, Howard – legitimate stars who are larger than life and who have actual “good guy” personalities (yes, even Kobe in some respects).  This is all good.

Saturday night of All-Star Weekend is usually the most entertaining night because of the skills competition and of course the Dunk Contest.  This year there was an entertaining 3-Point Shootout with Paul Pierce winning in surprising fashion over Chauncey Billups and Stephon Curry, who I am sure will be in the contest many times. Steve Nash won the Skills Competition over younger players like Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and Brandon Jennings.  Finally, Nate Robinson won the Dunk Contest in disappointing fashion of Demar DeRozen.  This year’s dunk contest featured too many obscure players in order to garner any actual interest or excitement.  The league really needs to figure out how to incorporate the stars back into  the contest in order to make it exciting.  There needs to be some kind of campaign within the ranks of the superstars where they talk each other into doing the contest again, otherwise the Dunk Contest may fall back into obscurity after its resurgence in the past few years thanks to Nate Robinson and Dwight Howard.

Now, the All-Star Game itself. I already broke down the merits of the rosters in my preview of the weekend and although the rosters were slightly tweaked because of injuries, the replacements that were put in were more than serviceable.  There are no two back to back weekends that are more similar or more entertaining in sports than Super Bowl Weekend and NBA All-Star Weekend.  With the record crowd of 108,713 on hand to watch the game, the NBA went for the true Super Bowl spectacle effect. Much has been made today in the aftermath of the game that the NBA cannot go back to doing the game in regular arenas and they should cater to the large domes, much like the Super Bowl caters to warm weather environments with excellent stadiums. I don’t know if I would get that worked up about the concept yet.  There is a certain novelty to the size and newness of the new Cowboys Stadium that may not be present in other domes.  I  happen to enjoy the touring aspect of the All-Star Weekend that allows each city with a franchise to play host.  It allows for crowd favorites and a certain pride for the history of each franchise to be showcased for good and for bad.  However, it is terrific to know that the NBA is able to draw a crowd of that size to witness its product.  It is something that is encouraging to a lifelong fan of the game and the league such as myself.

The actual game, too, was terrific.  The East seemed to have the game locked up with maybe not total superior talent, but a superior competitive edge (Lebron and Wade), until the West staged a late comeback.  Deron Williams’ mental error in fouling Wade when he didn’t have to ended up costing the West the game.  The final score: 141-139.  It had all the offense you could want and even some excellent defensive plays from time to time.  Each player had his chance to showcase his abilities and at each time there was one player whom you thought would take away the MVP: Carmelo early, then Dwight Howard, then Lebron, then Durant for a short period, then Wade, then Lebron, then Wade, then Lebron, then Wade, then Carmelo if he makes this three at the buzzer-NO!.

In the end, Dwyane Wade (my man) was named the MVP.  And with the line that he put up, there was no argument: 28 points (game high), 11 assists, 6 rebounds and five steals.  He simply did what he does all year round and play perhaps the most complete all around game in the NBA.  He and Lebron worked seamlessly together and put on a fantastic display of dunks, passing and (most importantly) defense.  Watching the two of them play together is truly amazing and it will be treat to see this continue for hopefully most of this next decade.  I don’t want them to ever be on the same team, because it is too much fun to watch them compete.  Even in the game, they were neck and neck with scoring and you found yourself rooting for each one to top the other.  While Lebron sat out in the second quarter, Wade upped his scoring.  Then, when Lebron was back in, he became more aggressive and you could almost sense he was thinking “gotta match Dwyane, gotta match Dwyane.”  I don’t know if there have been two players so closely linked in their styles and competition in the history of the NBA.  That is not to use “closely” as an adjective to describe their similarity in style, but to describe the scrutiny that each has  placed on them by the rest of the league and in their comparison to one another.  Wade edging out Lebron to win this award just ups the ante that much.  Lebron has two All-Star MVPs and one League MVP, while Wade as one All-Star MVP, one Finals MVP, one Championship and one Scoring Title.  These guys could go back and forth with the accolades and awards for years to come and we will be all the richer for it.  Especially if the NBA begins is climb back to the forefront of cultural consciousness as it once did when Michael Jordan ruled the court and the world.  I hope these two are able to bring it back to that level because then the world can be further exposed to the great personalities and talents that were on display last night from players such as Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh and Derrick Rose.  These players are all terrific but they need the powers of Wade and Lebron to bring this game to everyone’s TV sets and not just to devoted, beerswilling fans like me.

The mixture of  aging veterans (leadership and poise), rising veterans (awe, grace, envy or the “I wanna be like Mike Effect”), and young players (hope, skill, potential) that is present in the NBA right now is bound for success.  All of these aspects were on display this past weekend and it left me, while I was watching the All-Star Game on Sunday Night, mumbling “Now things are finally back in order.”  And this year more than I ever I truly believe it.  After a decade of trying to fill the shoes of Michael Jordan and restore order to the league, it seems that the solution is not to find the next M.J. per se, but to find a level of competition, sportsmanship and personality for the league that will breed the next M.J. or transcendant player.  Lebron may be that player, Wade may be an M.J. copy and neither of them will ever be the “next M.J.” but they are laying and have laid a foundation for the league to be that great again, for the league to produce players that have the competitive fire, the knowledge of the game and the extreme level of skill that the majority of the stars in M.J.’s era had.

We will never get Michael back again.  But we can get his league back again.  And in many ways, that is a much better reward.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Small Updates

Saturday morning.  Found this picture while cleaning up the old computer.  This was from about a year ago I believe.

Small little update to some of the content on the site.  Now, at the top, you will see that I have added the "Blogger" function called "Pages."  I now have a separate page as part of this blog, which is aptly titled - Puddles of My Friends.  This is a space I will be using to post up live events that my friends are putting on.  This could include concerts, art shows, recitals, pick-up basketball games, eating chinese food, etc.  As they let me know I will let you know, which is actually one in the same so now this have become sort of meta, hasn't it?  So check it out up at the top.

Anyway, the rave reviews are coming in for my 1992 NBA All-Star Game play by play.  This has led me to think about doing a play by play for tomorrow night's game.  I think I may try to do that but ultimately just make some notes about it.  I'll have my dog at the apartment as well so I'll be busy.


Speaking of NBA All-Star, the Rookie/Sophmore game last night was a real treat to watch.  I'll be providing my thoughts on that game when I do the whole All-Star rundown after the weekend.  Dunk Contest and the rest of the Skills Competitions are tonight. 

Now, the next installment of "From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt":

Maggie turned toward the door.  It was hard to discern from the wall.  She went to take a step forward, but before she did she looked at James.  He didn’t make a move.  Maggie stepped –there is something off about him.  What is he trying to prove by this?  How is he playing this into his favor?  Get rid of this imposter and give me my brother! – toward the door.  She took one step after the other, watching her feet on the red carpet.  As she reached the door, she went to touch the gold square that served as the handle.  The tips of her fingers touched the gold and she turned back to the front entrance of the home.  There was only a slant of light coming in.  It’ll be a beautiful funeral.

Maggie faced the door and slid it open.  A strong blast of mixed perfumes hit her and she was overwhelmed. Death smells so much like life.  A garden, I guess.  She couldn’t focus on the people, the family that were there.  All she could see was the coffin standing up above the seated figures.  There were flowers – of course – but she only saw the form of the coffin, its smooth looking edges, the shining wood finish.  The gold that lined the sides.  Maggie felt like crying as she sniffed in the overbearing scent of wellwishers.  Is Liza going to cry?  Is James?  An image came into her mind of standing next to him at church on Easter.  She’d kept stomping his boot with her heel.  But he didn’t do anything.  He’d just looked at her, no emotion at all.  How did he do it?

She looked back and James was right behind her, still holding Eve’s hand.  He wasn’t looking at the coffin.  He had his eyes set on a man, tall and gaunt, standing at the far corner of the room.  His face was well defined by sharp cheekbones and, although it was reddish with a few lines by the eyes, held a vitality and ease in its skin.  Uncle Connor’s hair was full, whisping by his ears – a little longer than Dad’s – where the brown seamlessly became grey – a little greyer than Dad’s.

Maggie followed James’ glance.  She looked at Uncle Connor standing upright, very straight as he always had.  He looked like Thomas Jefferson – or at least what Thomas Jefferson’s portrait appeared as.

“Do you see?” Maggie whispered to James.

“Of course I do.”

“Does he?”

Maggie craned her head past James and saw her father staring at Uncle Connor. Uncle Connor remained unmoved by their presence.  He kept his head bowed.  Maggie had been so taken in by his presence that she hadn’t noticed Aunt Erin sitting in the chair right in front of him.  The man stands and the woman sits.  It’s like that in so many ways. Not only in the bathroom – though I did sit and pee while he stood and shaved before we had sex – but in the many other poses of life.  Now where’s my camera?

She felt an arm on her shoulder.  It was James’.  He nodded in the direction of Douglas Bryant who was puffing his cheeks and breath impatiently.

“Let’s go.  We have to sit up front.”

“Oh, right.”  Maggie thought briefly of the dog funeral she’d kneeled for in the snow.  That ceremony appealed more to her than what she was now engaged in.  To her, this seemed already like a pagent after a few moments, while that burial had never seemed forced, only natural.

Maggie led the way to the front.  She kept from looking at faces as she passed.  All she saw where the curved archs of the chair backs.  She didn’t even notice that they were poorly gilded with imitation gold.

James watched his sister hurry in front of him with her red hair bent.  He felt inclined to do the same, but kept himself erect.  There was something in him that couldn’t help but scan the crowd.  It was tied to the same feeling he’d felt at the Checkmate the night before.  It was a longing to see someone he knew, to be reminded of his youth, that he hadn’t felt in so many years.  And as his eyes settled on the shape of  James Cicero and Paul Gertz sitting next to each other, he felt a dread in the pit of his stomach at knowing what tied those feelings together and made them one.

Cicero was still thin, but Gertz had gotten much rounder – especially in  the face.  I knew that would keep happening to him without the sports.  He was a good drinker.  Actually, he was more of a big drinker.  Of course all that sloshing and slugging and chugging caught up to him.  James nodded towards the two of them.  Cicero and Gertz nodded back.  But I’m judging what has happened to them? Why is that my defense against what’s sitting up there?  And all of this around me - the flowers, the home, the funeral arrangement, what happens from here to the last mound of dirt – I didn’t plan.  None of this is me.  But at the same time it is. He looked away from his old friends; the friends who’d fed him liquor; helped him learn how to get girls.  He looked away from them and down to Eve at his side.  James took her hand and pulled it close to his thigh.  He wrapped his free hand around it also and squeezed.

As he walked embracing her hand, adding once more to the already innumerable times he’d held it, kissed it, outlined it, and simply looked at it, a wash of ease came over him and gave him goose bumps.  He thought of Eve.  He thought of her delicate nature, the nature that always instinctively told him to swoop her off her feet right now and hold her high into the air.  Twirl her in some way.  Would it be wrong if I did that in front of the family and friends gathered here? Would it be wrong for the baby? James pictured Eve huddling over a swaddled child.  The baby looked generic, a movie baby.  His mind couldn’t wrap around it.  He’d had images of getting a dog, but could never pull the trigger on that.  What was more important than being young, recently married and completely in love with your wife?  He looked back out at the crowd.  Someone out there would tell him “Nothing was wrong with it,” he was sure of that.  In the fourth row from the front, he thought he saw his senior English teacher, Mr. Roland.

Maggie reached the front row of seats set up on the left side of the room.  All of the places were empty.  James was struck by the large amount of flowers that were set up along the left corner, directly across from the front chairs.  There were small potted red flowers and then there were also huge arrangments, pink, white and yellow flowers.  He didn’t know the names, but there were anemones, peruvian lilies, bunches of baby’s breath, daffodils, hyacinths, roses, and carnations.  In front of these startling arrangements were two boards that were set on easels.  In the center of each was a picture of Rose.  The one closer to the coffin and her body had a picture of her when she was young.  James couldn’t remember seeing it before.  Her head was turned slightly away from the camera or whomever was taking the picture.  She looked off, past the limits of the frame, and out.  There were out of focus trees behind her and, even though the picture was black and white, her hair seemed vibrant – redder than if it were in color.  It’s amazing that a color can stand out even when its taken away.  I can’t believe I never saw that picture before.  Mom looks fantastic.  I look at Maggie and then I look at the picture of young mom.  I can feel my heart about to burst comparing them.  I always knew they looked similar but this is unbelievable! Who took that picture?  On the board furthest from her body was a more recent photo.  It was in color.  She was in the backyard wearing loose sweatpants.  There was a straw hat on her head and she knelt close to the dirt of the flowerbed by the den windows, clutching weeds in one hand, while her other was frozen in a wave.  My heart won’t slow down.  Mom looks so old in that picture!  I need to breath.  I squeeze Eve’s hand again.  I hope it isn’t bothering her.  It probably isn’t.  She can understand all of this.  I can’t understand who did all of this.  I know dad didn’t arrange for it to all be done.  Was it Aunt Erin?  Uncle Connor? James let Eve sit first next to Maggie.  Then he sat next to her, he let his eyes focus on his mother’s dead body for the first time.