Tuesday, June 29, 2010
In the heat of the summer, I make my promises come true. On this slightly cooler Tuesday evening I bring you yet another episode of Puddles of My Podcast. In this, Episode 17 of Puddles of My Podcast, I welcome the artist, Chicago native and Lost fan, Lauren Gidwitz. In this conversation, Ms. Gidwitz and I discuss growing up in Chicago during the Chicago Bulls' 1990's dynasty, her B.J. Armstrong poster, her influences as an artist, her love of the human anatomy and youthful desire to become a medical student, how to manipulate paint, Beiruit, why she chooses subjects for her painting, the Lost series finale and so much more. This podcast took about a month of planning to finally complete and is completely worth it. I highly recommend listening to this podcast if you are of the mind to undertake any creative endeavour.
I will be back with a post on Thursday and hopefully another podcast will be posted on Friday. Stay cool my Puddlers and keep wishing for that breeze to blow through your non-air conditioned apartment, just like I am.
Monday, June 28, 2010
No, this post is not about the 1995 crime drama starring Al Pacino and Robert Dinero, its about how godforsaken hot and humid it has been over the past few days. I spent the weekend playing some pickup basketball near McCarren Park, which literally made me want to write another column about the pure joy of playing basketball. However, I may have to pair the joy of playing basketball with another topic in order to write something that deserves full length.
Now, I was exhausted from the weekend after I got back from work today, but I was listening to "Isis" by Bob Dylan and I realized in My Puddles of My Own Podcast that I should have said that "Isis" was my favorite song of all time. And I may just write an entire post about Isis in the upcoming days. However, I am lamenting the fact that it is doggedly hot and that I do not have any terribly new content to put up for all you poor Puddlers out there just trying to stay cool in Puddles of Myself. But, I am working on a few podcasts for this week that had to be rescheduled. I am editing From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt and I am working on setting up a real live reading of some of my work in the near future. Things will be happening. I should be finishing the recording of a podcast tomorrow night with Lauren Gidwitz and once I get back from that I will try to pump out a column for you all, either about "Isis" by Bob Dylan and some assorted delusions that are related to that song or a diatribe against all those who do not listen to Blitzen Trapper. Or, I may just discuss the novel Stoner and my immediate impressions. I definitely want to take a break from basketball as the hype for July 1, 2010 is rapidly becoming insane.
Don't worry my Puddlers. I got your back. Just be patient with me.
However, now, I leave you with the next installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt:
Eve is holding the book in her hands and flipping the pages nonchalantly. She is wearing a thin charm braclet with a whale’s tale as the only charm. I can feel a slight breeze from the book pass across my skirt.
“You can probably tell that this is much more my kind of book,” she says. “I know guys mostly like Hemingway, but this book seemed romantic to me for some reason even with all the bull fights. There’s just something about Jake I like and that last scene with he and Brett. That last line.”
“I’m not there yet.”
“Oh,” Eve covers her mouth quickly and laughs. “I won’t ruin it.” She puts the book gently down on the table, pats it and crosses her legs. Tom comes striding through the room with James following after. I catch myself laughing at the reversal of roles; though, Tom stopped following James after awhile. Eve watches James as he passes. You can feel the energy in the room change. This girl – woman – sitting next to me gives off the strangest feeling when my brother passes by. It was like mom and dad in a way. They both did that for the other. Maybe I’m exaggerating or maybe I am the only one who noticed because I was home alone the longest.
Eve turns towards me. “How are you doing?”
I feel water in my nose and I have to frown. “I think I’m OK. It’s been a long day. I don’t really know.”
She leans over and hugs me. I’ve been trying all day to figure out what perfume she’s wearing. I can almost place it. There is lavender in there somewhere, something strong and citrusy.
“It’ll all be alright,” Eve says. She grabs my shoulders. Her hands are actually strong. “I don’t know what else to say besides that.”
My eyes are getting watery with tears. I look up at her but I see the brick facades of the buildings at school and the titlted iron roofs over the walkways throughout the campus. The walkway roofs are a sort of green – green rust comes from the rain.
“You think so?”
Eve nods. Her brown eyes serious. “Sure. I think you’re a strong girl.”
I laugh. It sounds wrong coming from her.
“What?” Eve asks. She laughs too. “I’m not a motivational speaker.”
“No,” I say. “I think it will be alright.”
“You’ll go back to school. You’ll be fine. It’ll be hard. But it’ll be OK.” She pats my hands.
My stomach feels like its going up and down a hill. Like Mount Grey Road with all of its hills which made the car fly. I remember the night before I left for school. I was standing out in front of the garage and all of the trees were dark between our house and the neighbor’s house. Light from the pool was on some of the leaves and the crickets were making their noises everywhere. I looked into the garage at all of the things on the shelves: dad’s tools, the old sporting equiptment, the neon striped beach chairs – there just seemed to be too much in the world.
Mom came out of the house. She looked up and saw me. She shuffled her sandals on the loose rug and walked down the steps. She stepped out into the dark to meet me. The moon was above her.
“I can’t believe you’re going,” she said.
“I’m sorry.” She looked straight at me, tearing up. I always hated to see her cry. “I got like this with the others too.”
“But, Tom didn’t -”
She shook her head.
“What do you want from me, mom? Do you want me to stay?”
Mom looked out into the dark. “Don’t talk so loud.”
I felt so angry at her then. The night was full of something, some life some moisture. It was the end of summer and there was a breeze on my legs reminding me that I had soccer practice, but really didn’t because I didn’t have to do that anymore and I don’t have to do that anymore.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just hard every time.”
“I have to go, mom.”
“Yes, I know.”
I wanted to hug her so badly, but all I could do was look at the line where the light concrete from the garage met the the black tar of the driveway. There was still a small puddle from the rain. I looked at her and the crickets were so loud.
Eve is still looking at me. “What do you think?” she asks.
I have to confess and it might as well be her who I confess to because she is so nice and she smells the way I want to smell and I understand why James fell in love with her. Because she is just Eve and I don’t know what that even means, but it makes me want to tell her what I have to say. The feeling of the hill – the feeling of my stomach runs through me.
“I killed mom, Eve. I was the one who did it.”
“What?” She raises her eyebrows. Her hands still on mine.
“I killed her and I couldn’t help it.”
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Every few months or so, I like to take stock of what has occurred in music, sports, cultural and in my general mindset and create a list that is broken up into three distinct categories: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. So, on this night of an NBA Draft with two Good players, a lot of Bad players and a TON of Ugly players, I feel that it is only my duty to weigh in on what has been Good, Bad and Ugly in the past four to five months.
-The Boston Celtics memorable and gutsy run to the NBA Finals. Sometimes glorious, sometimes excruciating, but always exciting and (if you're an NBA fan) thought-provoking. I'll definitely remember the 2010 NBA Celtics for Good and Bad.
- The 30-Day Countdown to Season 4 of Mad Men has begun.
- The NCAA Tournament. Perhaps the most exciting NCAA Tournament in the history of college basketball. There were too many buzzer beaters, under achieving and mediocre teams to count. Who knew that mediocrity would ever lead to excitement?
- The neverending efforts of Janelle Sing, which can also be seen here and here. I'm telling you all: never stop working at those creative endeavors. If you don't stop, you'll never lose.
- Tinkers by Paul Harding. I can not say enough about this book. Just read it please.
- The Wall Street Ferry to Yankee Stadium. Who knew?
- Ms. Farrell being added to the Mad Men website. Meaning, hopefully, that America's new hearthrob (at least in my mind) will be a big part of Season 4.
- Brinsley Schwartz's version of "What's So Funny ('Bout Peace, Love and Understanding)?"
- Landon Donovan's goal. C'mon.
- Newport, RI.
- John Williams' Stoner. An excerpt: "In his extreme youth Stoner had thought of love as an absolute state of being to which, if one were lucky, one might find access; in his maturity he had decided it was the heaven of a false religion, toward which one ought to gaze with an amused disbelief, a gently familiar contempt and an embarassed nostalgia. Now in his middle age he began to know that it was neither a state of grace nor an illusion; he saw it as a human act of becoming, a condition that was invented and modified moment by moment and day by day, by the will and the intelligenct and the heart."
- Treme. One of the best stories about a city since Ulysses. Including a very "Wandering Rocksesque" Episode.
- Blitzen Trapper's fifth album Destroyer of the Void.
- The cover art for the new Walkmen album, Lisbon.
- The beach.
- Rondo's diving steal/layup against the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.
- The Garnett to Pierce to Rondo play in the 2010 NBA Finals.
- The smell of a tree.
- Mad Men Season 4 coming on July 25, 2010.
- Kobe Bryant's performance in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals.
- Backlash to the Lost series finale. C'mon it was just a show. It had Sayeed and Sawyer and Hurley and Jack and Kate and Mr. Eko and Locke and Desmond and Ben Linus and the Smoke Monster and Boone and Shannon and Libby and Vincent the Dog and Michael and Walt and...
- Time. It's always just passing isn't it? So depressing.
- The Lebron James sweepstakes.
- The oil spill. C'mon.
- The phantom penalty/offsides called against the U.S. in the Slovenia Game. Awful. We all thought basketball was bad.
- My exclusion from the Top 20 Writers Under 40 List published by the New Yorker.
- Mad Men being overshadowed by the attention given to Breaking Bad. Just you wait until Season 4.
- The commercials for ABC's summer programming.
- The fact that I am not a TV writer when ABC is pumping out shows like The Gates and Rookie Blue. I'm not bitter but, c'mon that stuff is terrible.
- The New York State Government. Makes you long for the corrupt politics of Willie Stark, "Kingfish" Huey Long, or Boss Tweed. At least times were simpler.
- Apple Stores. That just has to be hell on earth, no?
- Michael Jordan's anti-semitic moustache.
- Hitting peak garbage smell season in New York City.
- The Haiti Earthquake.
And now, of course, it is THE UGLY:
Alright, my Puddlers. I should be back with another Puddles of My Podcast tomorrow. If not, have a great weekend. Enjoy the heat and enjoy the thunderstorms if they come. Watch the U.S. try to beat Ghana and make sure to vote on the newest Puddles of Poll on the sidebar of the blog. I do pay attention to what you have to say about the blog.
Until the next time.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
As much as it pains me to put this picture up as the heading for the blog post today, I have to do it because I can't deny reality. Last Thursday night, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. It was one of the ugliest, strangest, tensest and hardest played games of all time. You had Kobe shooting terribly from the field. You had Ron Artest coming alive to lead the Lakers. You had Pau Gasol showing the world why he is perhaps the best low post player in the game today. You had Rondo playing erratically. Pierce playing well but not well enough. Ray Allen playing well but not well enough. Big Baby defying his own weight and the principles of gravity on several lay-ups. Rasheed Wallace shooting terribly but making a three in the fourth quarter that made you say that you always loved him as a player. Basically, Game 7 fell in line with how the rest of the series played out. It was hard to decide who the better team was. Kobe pressed too much. The defenses were spectacular. The offenses had trouble running. There was ugliness, turnovers and it bascially came down to the last quarter and who wanted to seize the moment more. On this night, it was the Lakers as the Celtics came up cold in the final quarter and could not figure out a way to run their offense and get points.
Now, you may also say that terrible officiating came into it and you can throw out free throw stats. And that is always valid. Sometimes (well, very often in the NBA) the referees can take away the game from a team. However, despite my own proclivity to seek out referee conspiracy theories, in the end, a team will put itself in a position to win a game and if part of winning the game means putting yourself and your team in a position to sway the referees, then that is a part of the game of basketball.
So, what do we learn from the 2010 NBA Finals if we take the Lakers victory over the Celtics in 7 Games on face value. Well, there isn't much to take. Kobe may have helped to cement his legacy as the greatest Laker ever by tying Magic Johnson for championships. However, it looked as though Kobe would wilt when the pressure was highest as he has done in the past. Kobe idolizes Michael Jordan and Michael Jordan would have never allowed himself to play that poorly in the most important game of the season. Rondo did not seize the moment as I hoped he would and we have to see how he will rebound next year knowing full well that he is and should be the leader of the Boston Celtics but will need to become a better shooter to fully wrap his mind around the psyche that is needed for that position. The only thing that we can safely say about the 2010 NBA Finals was that it featured some of the best defense from two teams in recent years and that it featured a presence of effort and urgency that is often lacking from the NBA.
One of the reasons why people have grown away from the NBA is because of its high level of showmanship, the ease with which the players play the game, the perceived laziness of the players at times. Obviously the proclivity of officials to call fouls and slow down the game is unattractive to an average fan, but I think the ease and the perceived laziness of the game is also a main factor. To compound this trait, we also have an era where we have a bevy of larger than life SuperStars who tend to underachieve. Lebron James obviously has immense talent, but he underachieves. Carmelo Anthony can't get players around him who understand that he is the best player and that in order to win, they have to defer to him. Dwyane Wade has won one championship but has recently been mired with terrible teams who have no desire to win. Chris Bosh has been on terribly put-together teams and has played in obscurity in Toronto. These players have all (with the exception of Wade in 2006) lacked the opportunity to seize the moment, to show that the game of basketball is all about effort. That is not to say that each of these players and that most of the current SuperStars that are in the NBA do not play hard. These are some of the hardest working stars the NBA has had since the late 80's and early 90's. However, with the Lebron Sweepstakes and the Summer of 2010 monopolizing the headlines it is not hard to infer that sometimes these SuperStars do not fully grasp the effort that is needed to win an NBA Championship - the dedication and reliance on the team that is necessary.
Now, you may say that these players do care about the effort, because they are trying to position themselves, in a rather groundbreaking and organized way for professional athletes, in the best situation for them to win and to add to the level of competition in the league. I absolutely understand that. Yet, there is that lingering desire of Lebron James to be the next billionaire athlete that disturbs me whenever I hear it. That same feeling is tied to watching Lebron laugh and joke in the middle of a playoff series where the Boston Celtics are stealing destiny right in front of him. That feeling is tied to watching Dwight Howard get outworked by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals and still be smiling in the fourth quarter of a game.
I am not a Boston homer by any means. I have become invested in this Boston Celtics team over the past few years because I have always been a fan of Kevin Garnett and the effort that he has always dedicated to the game of basketball since he was only 17 years old. I have become a fan of the Art of Ray Allen, the likes of which I may not see for a very long time. I have also become a student of the nuanced range of skill that Paul Pierce possesses. And obviously, I am very much invested in the rise of Rajon Rondo as one of the premier players in the NBA and a genuine freak of nature. But what this Boston Celtics team has showed us over the past three years and this past year especially is the vast difference between successful and enjoyable basketball and basketball that turns people away. When the Celtics are at their peak, as they were in 2008 and through much of this 2010 Playoffs (and to a degree in the 2009 Playoffs with the grit they showed), they exhibit a brand of basketball that is completely team oriented without being bland. They have an exciting shooter; a point guard that can control the game and have an impact by not putting up huge numbers but by making big plays at the right time and filling up the stat sheet; they have a pure scorer; they have a determined defender in the low post who refuses to give in to age and reality, which can be neccessary in life (although in not such large doses); and they have a bench with whacky personalities who chomp at the bit (sometimes too much so) to play basketball. When these Celtics have been great, there has been a palpabale sense of effort, of energy, of excitement - which are the fundamental elements of good basketball. When they have been bad, like when egos and age got in the way of the majority of the 2010 season, they show all the problems of basketball: complaining, laziness, coasting on talent to try to win games and not being successful. We have seen much of the latter from the majority of the NBA in the past 15 years, but as of late we have been emerging from that medieval era.
In the end of this 2010 NBA season, we had a Lakers team that woke up as well and was game for the challenge of trying hard, of playing great defense and wanting to win an NBA title. So, we had a Finals that was baffling, that was ugly and that many times did not feature one stand out player. It was a definite change from the NBA we have all seen recently, where many times the dominant player stands out and is very often not successful. And as simple as having two teams that are trying hard, that are leaving everything on the court in order to win the championship of their sport might sound, we don't often see it in a world where becoming a sports billionaire is a priorty; where being seen with Worldwide Wes and Jay-Z is what helps determine who your next head coach will be.
I'm not an old fashioned guy. I understand the world and I understand Lebron James. I just really like basketball.
P.S.: If you want to know about the NBA Draft. Just go to Bill Simmons. He'll help you out here.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
My friend Andrew Freimuth once drew a fantastic Dilbert cartoon at a party we had at our apartment. I believe that it beats out many actual Dilbert originals.
There is not much new to post tonight. However, there is a new Puddles of Myself Poll up on the sidebar of the page. This poll is brought to you by The Gates, airing Sundays at 10:00 PM on ABC.
I have been working hard at a variety of projects as well as killing time in the lunch room at my regular work job. I'm polishing up my manuscript of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt, as well as drafting sketches to submit to Saturday Night Live (don't ask me how). See, those stupid screen shots we put up on the blog weren't just a threat. We can actually do it.
However, later this week we will have a full-time NBA podcast with Paul Sicilian where we break down the NBA Draft and what went wrong in the NBA Finals for the Boston Celtics as well as ramifications for the NBA and NBA legacies going forward. That should be a good one.
Also, I will be doing a podcast with Ted Robinson of Forest City. Ted plays guitar and writes some of the shortest and most poignant songs you'll ever hear. Ted and I will hopefully discuss the project that Puddles of Myself and Forest City will be working on together, which is tentatively called "Forest For Yourself: A Tale of Two Bottles". This project will be the presentation of free tracks from the upcoming Forest City album that will be available on this blog. You can follow track by track and then download the whole album. You will also be able to provide a donation. More details will follow in the podcast itself. That is a podcast I am looking forward to very much.
I'll also try to get you a column on my thoughts on the NBA (as if you didn't get enough in the most vain Puddles of My Podcast episode to ever be recorded.). And next week I want to explain to you all the glories of Blitzen Trapper, who are one of the most underrated bands playing today.
But now, another excerpt of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt. We have reached Part III of the novel and we now return to the first person perspectives of the O'Donnell family. The funeral and burial are over and now the family members return to their home in order to empty out the house for sale and to return to the problems of their individual lives. No wonder I am trying to write sketches for SNL.
As always, my Puddlers, enjoy:
“I can’t believe you did all of this, Aunt Erin. We could’ve handled some of it.”
“Please, James,” Aunt Erin says to me.
I want to say something about responsibility and about mom being my mother and that I should do better, but instead I don’t say anything. I smile and I put my arm around her little body and pull her close.
“I love you, Aunt Erin.”
“Thank you, James.”
I let her go and look around the kitchen. There are about a half dozen aluminum catering trays filled with food. There are plenty of plastic cups and plates and untensils all wrapped and stacked on the counters. She has two liters of soda and also plenty of beer.
“That was a nice service. They have a good cemetary out there in Calverton.” Uncle Connor is sitting at the kitchen table. The fading grey light comes in from the skylight. Behind him against the back windows there is a little red and purple from where the clouds are breaking and letting the sun through. He drums his fingers on the kitchen table. “And Douglas and his family have always had a fine business at that home.”
“I don’t know how with that crook of a father of his and the faulty hearses they used to send around.” Dad walks in with the bottle of Sark the girls found him with last night.
“He wasn’t a crook, Ben.” Uncle Connor says. I can see him want to smile.
Dad grabs two tumbler glasses. He turns to Uncle Connor and points a finger. “Revisionist.” He puts the glasses down on the table and unscrews the Sark cap. “Scotch?”
Uncle Connor shakes his head and looks at Dad. “I don’t think so, Ben.”
I watch Dad meet Uncle Connor’s gaze. Dad turns away and pours himself a glass.
“Well, I think so.” Dad says. “James?”
I shake my head. “I think I’ll just stick with beer.”
Dad sits down at the table and pulls his glass in. He takes a long drink off it and exhales.
“James,” Aunt Erin says, grabbing a tray. “Why don’t you get Tom and help me carry this stuff into the dining room to set up.”
“You got it.”
I walk out of the kitchen, through the living room where Eve is sitting with Liza and looking over a book. Eve looks at me and smiles. I feel the hollow dread in the bottom of my stomach.
“Why did you hide my grandson from me?”
“I didn’t, mom. I didn’t mean to.”
She shuts the oven and my mouth tastes like an onion.
I move through the main hallway and to the front door. I look out and Maggie is sitting on the front step with Jake. The sun is shining red. He still looks good and it surprises me how happy I am to see him. Surprise isn’t the word – I always admired him and thought that we saw eye to eye in some way. Even though I always felt that Maggie would break his heart somehow. But he’s back and it would be like him to show up to the funeral without telling anyone.
I jog quickly up the stairs, my feet making that soft warm thudding sound on the carpet.
“Tom?” I ask again. I turn down the hallway and look into his room. Tom is sitting on the ledge of his window, legs draped out the window. “What’s going on, Tom?”
He turns around and smiles. “I’m not going to jump.”
“I didn’t say that.” I cross my arms.
“You looked that,” he laughs.
I shake my head.
“Aunt Erin wants us to help set the food up for the guests.”
Tom turns his feet back into the room. Red light enters onto his tan carpet. It reminds me of too many summer afternoons.
“I don’t really know. Friends?”
He nods and steps into the room. He slides the screen back over the window. I suddenly feel hot around the collar of my shirt. Tom stretches up. He looks lean and sharp. He looks healthy and slightly sad.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “About the look.”
He walks over and pats my shoulder.
“Thanks for coming up to get me.”
He passes me and walks out into the shadow of the hall. I follow him.
“Who was that girl from last night anyway.”
Tom doesn’t answer and disappears down the stairs. I begin to descend but I can feel mom behind me. I turn.
“Be patient with your brother. He needs your help just like everyone else.”
“I know, mom. I know. I love him.”
“Good,” she holds her arm against my cheek. “Now where is that grandson of mine?”
Of course she’s not there.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Well, it may be a bit premature, but this is the podcast that you all (may have) asked for. We break the drought of podcasts with this episode of Puddles of My Podcast, where Nick Mencia sits down with me, Matt Domino, for an informal conversation that is primarily based on chance. In this Episode 16, Nick and I discuss theories on writing, the evolution of the pivot as a basketball move, Rajon Rondo, Game 7 predictions for the NBA Finals, what to do if you get the juice of a pickled pepper in your eye, Robinson Cano's MVP-worthy season, Nora Joyce and Zelda Fitzgerald, being a good human being, deciding between a redhead or a brunette, my top 5 albums, my favorite song, as well as the starting five for the All-Time NBA Team. A bonus feature of this podcast is that you can also play the official Puddles of Myself - Who's Podcast is Longer: Nick Mencia or Matt Domino's Game, which is officially sponsored by Rookie Blue on ABC every Thursday at 9:00 PM EST. As Larry Sanders said, this is a private and intimate conversation that should be enjoyed by me alone. I hope you all enjoy it.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Well forgive the translation, that was the title of a brooding poem I wrote in twelfth grade in order to memorialize 9/11. What I forgot to mention on Monday was that this past Saturday marked the one year anniversary of the Brooklyn Invitational, an event I put on with my friend, Rich Lee in DUMBO. It was our first real foray into putting on an event that we completely funded and lets just say that it was a learning experience. Some feelings were hurt, some bouncers cost us money with graffiti, plenty of beer was drunken, roads were driven down the wrong way at dawn and friends peed and the floor and fought - all in all, it was a terrific and memorable experience that I would not trade for anything in the world.
Some memorable shots from the Brooklyn Invitational:
The only other thing I would like to mention in this post, is this link, which was sent to me by this man today. Ah, sometimes you just have to marvel at the world.
That's it for today - oh, if you are that beautiful girl on the subway, just give a shout the next time we run into each other. I know leave you with the next installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt. Kindly read this while you are taking breaths of hyperventilation during Game 6 of the Celtics vs. Lakers NBA Finals.
No one broke from the crowd of mourners to move beside the casket. The priest lifted one hand in the direction of Jack Simmons and Ed Verlaine. Ed pulled his spade from the turf and they began walking slowly to the mound of dirt. The priest straightened his posture and led the mourners away from the gravesite back to the winding cemetary path where hearses, limos and other luxury sedans idled.
As they approached the hole, Jack followed the girl with the crimson hair as she walked across the grounds, the spring of turf underfoot. The crimson bobbed along with the black and white of the rest of the crowd. He watched her stop and hug the older man who had spoken. Behind them, the boy stood, his hands in his pockets. His hair fell across his forehead, giving his head a round look, though his face and chin were sharp. He was a dash of grey next to the crimson and black and white.
One of the heads groundskeepers, Louis, came from the crowd. He approached Jack Simmons and Ed Verlaine.
“Ok, boys. We’re going to lower it down now.” He nodded. “Good service. I like that Father Charles.”
Jack Simmons raised his mouth slightly, keeping his brows lowered. Louis walked over to the platform the casket was seated on. He reached below one of the edges and hit the switch. Jack had never seen the switch before – he just knew where it was. The casket slowly sunk into the ground.
“You’ve done burials with him before?”
Louis looked at Ed Verlaine. Ed shrugged.
“He looked familiar.”
Louis nodded as the casket moved halfway into the hole. The top of it still brown-red, sheen, with panes of white running along its edges from the sun and clouds.
“He did John Lennon’s funeral,” Louis said, tucking his chin and watching the casket. He rubbed his red cheek skin. “He did it in New York.”
Jack Simmons listened to the hum of the machine and the rattle of the casket as it burrowed further and further into the hole. The shadow cutting away its shine more and more. He looked at Louis’ well kept brown moustache.
“Strawberry Fields Forever. He was there for all of that.”
The coffin nestled itself within the walls of the grave. Stray pieces of dirt crumbled down the neatly packed sides of the hole. Jack saw the coffin snugly fit in the grave, a shadow cast upon its entire face. The sun beat on his neck and it felt good to him as did the familiarity of the humidity. However, the coffin fit, it was dark with shadow and it was cool. The coffin was as familiar as the harbor in winter, or following Emma by the shade of the docks. Jack felt that the mother inside of the indian orange wood panels and on that soft silk pillow was cozy in her bed. There were pieces of root sticking out of the grave wall.
The machine stopped.
Louis bent down and checked the button. He stood up and clapped his hands, they gave off a soft echo.
“OK, boys. It’s your time now.” He tipped his head first to Ed and then to Jack and moved across the grass towards where the mourners were in the distance.
Ed Verlaine dug his shovel into the mound and held it there. He pulled out his pack of cigarettes and lifted one with his mouth. He held the pack out to Jack Simmons. Jack took a cigarette. Ed threw him the lighter. Jack caught it, lit the stick and passed it back to Ed who did the same. Ed dropped the lighter into the pocket on the front of his uniform. He pulled the spade out, weighed with dirt and turned it down into the grave. It hit the casket with a scratch and a thud.
“Thank you,” Jack said.
“Strawberry Fields Forever,” Ed puffed.
Jack looked over his shoulder and saw the girl with the crimson hair up the hill on the gravesite grounds. He turned back to the mound. He struck his spade in and pulled it out swiftly, turning dirt earthward. His back flexed with his hamstrings and he moved the dirt once more.
The scratching continued below Ed Verlaine and Jack Simmons as they worked.
“It’s a shame isn’t it, Jack?” Ed thrust his shoulders forward with the shovel, weighted, then lightened his load.
“What is a shame?”
“That after all the nice craftsmanship they do on these caskets that we go and scratch them all up with dirt and pieces of clay and little rocks when we cover them up.”
Jack Simmons’ biceps strained as he lifted a spadeful of dirt. Sweat moved up and under his jaw.
“That’s just the way it is.”
“Why do they spend so much time on them? I always wondered that. We should’ve just left them like the old west coffins like in A Fistful of Dollars. Planks of wood. At least when the Egyptians used gold they gave them pyramids and plenty of room.”
Jack Simmons stopped shoveling. He took a long pull off his cigarette and exhaled it. His short hair was soaked with perspiration. He rubbed it and felt it spike.
“It’s just the way it is.”
Ed looked at Jack standing and smoking. “I suppose you’re right. I suppose that’s the way it has to be. Especially for someone you love. You’ve loved someone right, Jack?”
Jack nodded his head and picked up the shovel, setting to the mound of the dirt again.
Ed Verlaine smiled. “They loved her. That family that is. They must have. That’s why they all spoke so strange. She must have been a good mother.”
Ed let his eyes move up the hill of the grounds to the mourners who still remained. The crowd had grown smaller. He listened as Jack scraped and dumped dirt, quietly grunting and breathing. He used to watch the girls outside his window in class as the water from the icicles fell. He’d sat in his backyard underneath the porchlight and drank cool beer and let the fireworks play in the sky above him. Jack shovelled more dirt onto the coffin. He’d let the dark of the night, the navy of the night sneak in and wrap around him as his canvas shoes rested on the sedimentary walkway in the middle of the grass. Ed sighed and flicked his cigarette. It hit the edge of the dirt pile, slightly red and still smoking.
“What was the next hole?” Ed asked, holding a shovelful of soil.
“Olivero, that’s right.” Ed dropped the dirt. “That red head is still up there.”
Jack Simmons nodded and dug deeper into the mound. They were making good progress. He stopped and turned his neck to see the girl with the crimson hair. He could see her up the grounds. The crowd had thinned considerably. She was standing with a man. Her posture was slightly slouched and he seemed to stand above her; stand into her. Jack resumed digging. He dug slowly and without effort. He turned again to watch her. She and the man had walked away from the remaining mourners. Cars continued to idle by the roadway. The girl with the crimson hair and the man she walked with stood by one of the neatly contained thickets that were littered throughout the cemetary. There were small yellow and purple flowers in the thicket. Jack tilted dirt into the hole – it made thumping sounds now, hollow, warm repeating thuds.
The girl with the crimson hair sagged her shoulders and threw her arms around the man. Her hair fanned and swished. The man held her and turned to the side. The girl moved her face from his shoulder and kissed him directly. Jack felt his stomach rise and fall deep inside, he felt his kneecaps grow warm and then cool with sweat. They stood by the thicket, the clouds covered the sun again leaving few slants of grey light to fall solemnly by the yellow and the purple eminence of the flowers. The wood of the shovel chafed Jack Simmons’ palm calluses. The faces of man and the girl with the crimson hair separated. Jack thrust his shovel back into the mound of dirt, he strained his forearm muscles lifting the next shovelful out. He didn’t look as he floated the shovel above the grass and into the grave; he only watched the two of them. Their faces moved together again in a kiss. Jack thrust the shovel once more, feeling a pain down through his abdomen and groin as he did so. The man and the girl with the crimson hair kissed once more. Jack Simmons’ chest was on fire and he felt a persistant and primordial urge within his chest and attached to his brain that told him to run away. To explode and disappear into the grey, the light and the heat of the day. He drove his spade into the brown, brown dirt. He saw the purple sash of his youth that was life and that was death. The purple sash across Emma’s soft round underchin and the way her hair still looked alive. His chest burned but he continued to dig – it was all he could do to remember.
Ed glanced up from his digging and saw Jack rapidly moving the dirt into the grave. Both of Jack’s eyebrows were raised and his face was red.
“Are you alright, Jack?” Ed asked.
“Sure?” Ed put his shovel into the ground and pushed his hand through his hair.
“Yeah, just have to finish this hole and move to the next one.” He continued to dig fervently.
“You got it, Jack.”
Ed looked over and saw the red head walking with a guy over to the idling cars. Another funeral was finished and Jack was right – they would move on to the next hole until the sun went down and it got cool and then they could leave. He’d get a beer once he left. He could taste it. Actually, what he felt was the bottle’s cool perspiration against his finger tips. Ed laughed, the feeling of the wetness made him think of the taste of beer and of refreshment.
Ed Verlaine pulled his shovel up and pushed it into the pile. He pulled out an even shovelful and tossed it into the grave. The coffin had long disappeared. He shook his head. All of those words, those strange speeches from this family, gone into that hole as well. He collected another clump of dirt in his shovel. But that wasn’t necessarily true. Those words didn’t get stuck underground with the body, they weren’t trapped. Maybe they lived on and escaped through the cracks and floated away: disappearing: reappearing and moving away in the trees and the light, just like the worlds that moved and disappeared from him – the girls, the friends, the look of the stone walkway under his porchlight.
He kept his eyes on his shovel and the pile and listened to Jack’s persistent breath and motion. Ed Verlaine was looking forward to the night, though. Maybe there would be a breeze that would blow against his legs, the cool breeze of a school year starting and he could remember that feeling near his heart from when he was younger and the summer was ending. That feeling he had thought was love. Ed’s shovel struck a big rock. He lifted it and flung it over the near sycamore tree. He and Jack could finish the next hole and the one after that and then leave in their cars, driving out in the highway away from this green field of bodies. Ed Verlaine knew that if it didn’t rain, he’d roll the window down and hold his elbow out the window. The cars in the other lanes would swish by and the neon signs from the strip malls would too: Stop N’ Shop, McDonald’s, Sporting World IV, GameStop. He’d lick his lips and think of a beer. He wouldn’t reach for one like he used to – he’d wait and think of the cool.
Ed took a look at Jack and then looked up the hill. The last cars were pulling away and he heard a strange bird’s call that might have been an owl. He turned back to Jack. The family had all gone and he and Jack would be gone too soon. At night, the breeze would hit him and it would be like the cool of the swimming pool in the bright light and heat of the summer. He floated above the black T’s at the pool’s bottom and they stayed until the sun turned red and it was time to go for dinner. He would help his mother pack the suntan lotion into her canvas bag, gently placing his mother’s sunglasses on top of the towels last. Then, Ed would hold his sister’s hand and they would walk past the concession stand with the smell of chicken fingers and into the dark, dank cool of the entrance tunnel. His bare feet slapping on the chipped maroon paint.
“Maybe we can go down to the water and see fireworks tonight, Eddie.”
“Of course, it’s July.”
Ed took another shovelful of dirt and lifted it high up, feeling the strength of his biceps. He brought it down slowly and tipped it evenly into the grave. Pieces of dirt stuck to the spade. The dark of the maroon tunnel gave way to the square entrance and the way out to the scorched brown grass. One square of light against the black.
Monday, June 14, 2010
I have to apologize to all my Puddlers out there because I know that my posting has not been as frequent as it probably should be over the past few weeks or so. I am trying to come up with new material and I want to start inserting the podcasts back into the schedule so that the new writing posts can be broken up a little bit more balanced, which also helps me because I get more time to work on them before I have to post them all up for you to read. Also, the fact that the summer is here and that weekend trips become much more frequent doesn't help matters. This past weekend I was able to go to my friend's house in Connecticut where we watched the World Cup games on a big projector his father had set up. My friend's father is Argentinian, so we watched Argentina and the incomparable Lionel Messi easily defeat Nigeria on Saturday morning. After that game, his father and mother treated us to a delicious Argentinian spread, which consisted mainly of barbequed beef in several varieties: prime rib, skirt steak, flank steak and short rib. We also go to enjoy some sweet breads as well as empanadas and a grilled Argentinian provolone, which was rubbed down with oregano and other spices and was quite delicious. And of course, we got to scoop on the chimichurri.
So being stuffed like that, we then watched the U.S. play England. The U.S. managed a tie due to one of the luckiest goals of all-time, which I am sure you all saw. The U.S. played terribly in that game. They lacked aggression, urgency or even joy in their playing. It was almost a replay of the opening game of the 2006 World Cup in which the U.S. played as if they didn't even enjoy the game of soccer or have any interest in winning a game. England did not play terrific and we actually should have won that game if any sort of pressure was put on the English defenders. Very disappointing.
Then, we ate dessert, which was cheesecake and flan. After that, being more stuffed and filled with some leisurely daytime beers, we decided to play some soccer on the slippery lawn. There is nothing like slipping on grass on a full stomach and getting your ass all wet. At one point, I pulled soccer moves on my friend's dog in order to prevent the ball from being bitten and was able to evade her while holding a beer and slipping on my ass in the mud. Needless to say, I felt great and then finished the beer.
Of course, we had to come back to New York, where we regrouped later at night at a new bar on Lorimer and Meeker called Night of Joy, which is a legit bar. It has a great roof deck, some creative cocktails and a much smoother and classier inside than most of the bars in Williamsburg. I'll probably go back there quite a few times. The drinks are a little pricey, but I spend enough time watching basketball and drinking 24 oz. of Busch to throw some coin at Maker's Mark on the rocks or a gin gimlet.
The weekend finished up last night, with the Celtics taking Game 5 from the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Game 5 basically lived up to the high standard that Game 4 did. In this game, Kobe had no supporting cast and had to take on the Celtics on his own. Kobe scored 19 points in the third quarter and at one point had scored 23 consecutive points for the Lakers. Meanwhile, Pierce was played the big game I was expecting from him at some point and put in 27 points. His game was so effective, that it actually felt like more. He had his midrange jumper going, his drive, his jap step fadeaway and even a few three pointers. The Celtics were playing well on all cylinders, but let the Lakers get close in the last four minutes of the game. However, the Celtics eventually made the highlight play of the series when after Pierce ripped a rebound off of an Artest missed free throw away from Kobe he called timeout. The Celtics then took the ball out, with Garnett inbounding. There appeared to be no real options, until Pierce streaked towards the sideline in the frontcourt with Derek Fischer guarding him. Garnett hit Pierce who had to stretch for the ball to save it from Fischer. Pierce then tightroped the sideline and as he was leaning to fall out of bounds hit a streaking Rondo who had shook off Kobe. Rondo caught the ball in stride and laid in a beautiful reverse layup as the crowd went wild with the slight resemblance of Dennis Johnson's layup after Larry Bird stole the ball against the Pistons in 1987. The Celtics now have a 3-2 lead in the series and Game 6 will be in Los Angeles tomorrow night. Both teams have a short rest and long travel. It seems to me, that the Lakers are tired. Phil Jackson has been playing his starters too many minutes because the Lakers have no faith in their bench, whereas the Celtics have seen their bench flourish in the Finals. This series is going to come down to legs at this point. The adjustments to be made are fewer and fewer and all that is really left is for each team to play their hardest. Whoever plays harder and makes less mistakes will win. Can Kobe's legs hold up? Can the Laker bench show up with the home crowd backing them in L.A.? Can Gasol bounce back from a terrible performance in Game 5? Besides Game 1, every game in this series has been played tough and neither team has disappointed. No matter what happens in Game 6, we are in for a treat now that this series has shifted back to L.A. We have one or potentially two pressure packed games to look forward to. This is why I love the NBA Finals.
This post is called Truth and Opinion. Well, that bit about the Celtics and the picture of Paul "The Truth" Pierce handles the "Truth" part. The "Opinion" part of this title comes from a reader of this blog who found my site through Expecting to Rain, which posted my piece from last Thursday called "Signs" as one of their posts of the day last Friday. The reader's name is Dr. Wolfgang Schwass. And I apologize Wolfgang if you did not want these comments to be posted, but I found them sincere and felt it would be appropriate to put them up:
my name is Wolfgang, I´m 60, Dylan-fan since ages ago, number-cruncher (controlling) in a medium-sized company in Germany…. and during my coffee-break (kind of…) I just read your post about „New Morning“ and I do feel the urge to let you know how deeply impressed I am about your clear and open thoughts in it of life and death and will and hope and reality and dreams and life in NYC and in the country and about nearness and openness and about satisfaction and longing…. poles in life, we all hang in between somewhere… until we do not anymore some day…
and all this related in way to Dylan´s album.( I always felt the same way about the four lines you quoted from Sign in the window: eternal truths …. for a while…..)
Good to know that there are people like you elsewhere in the world who feel the same way…
Again: awesome post …and so well written…. will keep me thinking…. Thanks !
and have a nice day …. in New York City…. (a city I love a lot… because it´s a city of choices…and poles)
kind regards !
Wolfgang, I have to thank you for writing in like that and I encourage all my Puddlers to do the same. You can even write in with suggestions and I will try to abide by them. The above e-mail is the whole purpose of this blog and my writing, is to connect to people and make them feel an enjoyment of life, even if enjoyment is painful. In any event my Puddlers, that's what this is here for and our pal Wolfgang is evidence of that.
Tomorrow will be another installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt, then the rest of the week is up in the air, but Friday or late Thursday should bring the posting of the Puddles of My Podcast of Myself that will be conducted with the table being flipped and Nick Mencia interviewing me. So please stick with me here and try to enjoy the last bit of basketball you are going to get for some time.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
It’s funny in a way that I am listening the Band’s version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece” while I write this piece. Actually, it may not be so funny because sometimes you need to listen repetitively to a song that is not the musician or singer that you are writing about in order to gain the correct perspective you need in order to render your opinion or image of them as justly as possible. In this case, the musicians are different, but the songwriter is the same.
A few months ago, I wrote about Bob Dylan’s notorious 1970 album, Self Portrait. Now, my attention turns to the album that comes next in his discography; that album is New Morning. This isn’t going to be a run through of tracks from the album, but rather just a focus in and around the song that is the thesis statement of the album, the song “Sign on the Window.” After reading about the song on Every Bob Dylan Song, I was reminded about how much I loved the album New Morning and about how much I loved the song “Sign on the Window,” which is not just the thesis statement for the album it appears on, but perhaps the thesis statement for Bob Dylan’s career (if not a thesis than one of the top five pivotal moments in a long, storied and covered to death career).
We all know that Bob Dylan crashed his motorcycle and then retreated up to Saugerties (mislabelled Woodstock by the history books) to gain sanctuary from a frenzied fanbase and world that he was only happy to get away from. There he made The Basement Tapes with the Band, worked on John Wesley Harding, and then went on to record Nashville Skyline in Nashville, however that album is included in the Saugerties/recluse period because of how sharply it turned away from his early and mid sixties catalogue and focused on simple “country” themes – the album is only twenty eight minutes long. Dylan then went on to make my beloved Self Portrait which nearly everyone hated, before he decided to up the ante for his listeners. Dylan upped the ante as far as quality of performance and songwriting, but not in feel – the feel and the themes on the album still remain quite reclusive and insular, especially “Sign on the Window.”
“Sign on the Window” comes in the second half of the album. It starts off as a plaintive piano ballad, with Dylan singing the title of the song quietly before an organ and tasteful soul backing singers come in to bridge the verses. Here, Dylan is singing a song about a group of three, there is a girl and her boyfriend and a singer who sees the sign on the window that says, “three’s a crowd.” The girl and the boyfriend go to California and his friend warns him that “Brighton girls are like the moon.” The piano playing is graceful and elegant throughout, especially when it is paired with a terrific woodwind section that would have fit “Fool on the Hill.” Mixed with the controlled gospel of the alternating sections of the song, the feel is nothing if not poignant. Especially when Dylan comes to the third verse, which is what makes this song in my opinion the thesis of his career. In the third verse of the song, Dylan sings the following:
Built me a cabin in Utah
Marry me a wife, catch a rainbow trout
Have a bunch of kids who call me pa
That must be what it's all about
That must be what it's all about
The lyrics are concise and perfect. Anybody who reads them without the music, gains the same effect as if they were listening to the music itself – music matches meaning, music matches emotion. But what makes this so important to Dylan’s entire career? At this point it is well established that Dylan wanted nothing more than to be away from the crowds, to be isolated in the country. However, what New Morning shares with Self Portrait is that when Dylan sings, sometimes you just can’t believe him. And as plaintive as he is in this song, there is an element in his voice that suggests he is trying. Instead of his earlier days when he took a posture and told the world that he could play the role he was playing and he could play it better than they even suspected he could play it, here, he recognizes the role, he understands the benefits of playing it, but in the end he feels himself pressing to pull it off. Instead, a song about building a cabin in Utah and catching rainbow trout and having kids call him pa, features its other two thirds focusing on a girl with a boyfriend who he is trying to chase down. The homebody/recluse role he had crafted in varying levels of artifice (Nashville Skyline and the country croon being the highest level, the greatest sheen wall put between he and his fans, even Self Portrait is more visceral) is beginning to crumble around him and will eventually lead to the torture of the Blood on the Tracks Bob Dylan – the outlaw element still there, but urbanized slightly with the tone and bitterness of divorce, rather than the indifference of the backwoodsman. This is a key to Dylan’s whole career, because it shows him as always morphing and here is where the transition was not as fluid as it had been in the past, he is fumbling here and it is the skeleton key into his psyche, whereas before it had been harder to follow.
However, the real Bob Dylan would probably take great offense to what I have written in the previous paragraph. His lyrics are not meant to be rooted for clues, which again is why this song is so important in his catalogue – you do not need to root around for clues, because the song itself is so enjoyable as a picture of country and domestic life. This is not Dylan playing perfectly in genre as he had done on Nashville Skyline; this is Dylan using the tropes of the simple or “country” life and composing a song that is in his own image, that retains his likeness. And sometimes when I listen to this song, with the piano playing so well behind the lyrics, I believe the singer and I see that cabin in Utah and I want nothing more than to catch rainbow trout and have kids that call me pa, because in many ways that is what its all about.
In other areas of New Morning the songs suggest a similar earnestness and rural feel (a lot comes from the terrific piano and organ combos on most of the songs). “Day of the Locusts” feels like the the graduation from a State University in Kansas or Nebraska back in 1923; “Went To See the Gypsy” brings to mind a kid travelling to St. Louis or Memphis in the 1950’s only to have to retreat back to his little Minnesota town in the early morning light, with dew coming to the blades of grass as he feels the ultimate remorse of that first night of drinking and disillusionment; in “Time Passes Slowly,” the speaker sings about time passing slowly in the mountains, time passing slowly in a dream, he recalls a sweetheart who was fine and good looking and about sitting in a kitchen where her momma was cooking. These songs all bring to mind worn wooden floors with back screens open and perhaps a little creek running through the backyard, the places we have seen in the Virginias and Vermonts and Minnesotas of the world and of our minds. There, the kitchens are dark with a small window right above the sink and the bottoms of the chairs have wood that is light with time and on the gas stove we cook white gravy in black cast iron pans.
I used to listen to this album along with Self Portrait at college while I drove around the roads of Saratoga Springs, Glens Falls, Wilton, and Balston Spa and I thought about how great it would be to shroud myself in the roads all around the area and set up a farm or a small life with a girl who was good looking. I always admired time passing slowly. I’d drive around at night in the winter, with snow descending slowly upon the streelights of the town and the wood porch of my apartment building, where it collected on the white wooden rocking chairs that were placed out front. These songs would play in my head while I walked the back lanes, looking at the makeshift wooden fences and the small bits of chicken wire people used to fasten them. I’d think about love and I’d think about esccape. The summer after I graduated, when I spent my time thinking about people and other things and reading books on a small bed in a dorm room while I taught students how to think creatively, I’d think about time passing slowly. I’d wake up early and run and look at the mist rising above Lake Winnepasauke and up into the mountains and then later when the sun came out and it was hot, I’d swim in the lake waters. There, I’d mark the time and think about time passing slowly “when you’re searching for love.” I’d go back and read my books and figure out what it would be like when I could finally escape and move again.
The reason why New Morning is so good and the reason why “Sign on the Window” is so important, is because not only does it make these images spring to mind when listening to the music and the lyrics, not only does it capture Bob Dylan in the act of transition, it also shows us the greatness of the two fundamental sides of our character – the side that wants to go and take up with the simple life, enjoy the simplicty of sun on skin, blue sky, physical labor, stepping slowly over the broken-in earth, eating something hot and drinking something cold, and the side that is constantly seeking escape, the side that wants to run down every little alley-way and know what it is to be alone and to commune with the universe, for sometimes romance can only be captured alone, with orange streelights around you, and that faint drunkenness giving way to the strength of independence, youth and confidence. This is the issue we all must come to face in our lives, the tear between wanting to run and wanting to stay. It’s the Town and the City and you can never just jump to the conclusion that you are one or the other, until you’ve lived your entire life.
To bring things full circle, around this period of time, Dylan also wrote “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” which is a fun song to listen to. You picture Dylan or someone travelling around the world to the different destinations and encountering the different characters at different historic locations, only to find himself wishing that he were back in the land of Coca-Cola, which would of course be America. Let’s say it is Dylan that’s the speaker in this song, so we have an artist who is longing for the day that he finally finishes his masterpiece. This is an artist who has put out Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. This is the artist who wrote “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” And yet his masterpiece has not been painted yet, his work is not done and he can’t wait until that day when it finally is.
What the song highlights is not just the mark of the successful artist, but of the successful person. A person can’t stop working at figuring out their place in the world. All I know is that everyday after I leave work, or really any day I walk down the street in New York City - especially on a strange day like today, when the clouds are passing and giving way to blue sky and if you look down one of the avenues, you almost feel like you are looking into the distance of the plains because with those buildings lining your points of vision, you can acutally understand distance – that the only thing I can think about is escaping it and leaving everything that I’ve done and am a part of behind in order to get to a place where I can breathe and can have space. So I imagine that I would run out to a farm somewhere upstate. There I’d chop wood and I’d grow crops. I’d sleep in a bed and pass time with thunderstorms rumbling and raining on my roof as I thought about home. I’d run in the mornings and drink strong coffee and feel dew on the bottoms of my feet. I’d drive an old car with glee and work somewhere. However, I’d get bored of that fantasy, just as I got bored with my city fantasy. When Dylan sang “that must be what life is all about,” whatever part of him that was giving that sentiment was right. At one level, the country life is what life is all about; and on another level, life is all about looking in from the outside, of feeling exiled no matter what your surrounding may be. So then, perhaps we are all working at painting our masterpiece, we are all working to find a place that we can feel comfortable so that we will no longer think of all those nights sleeping under strange roofs when we thought about home.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
As I said, this past weekend I went to Rockaway Beach with some friends. On Saturday, we spotted a picturesque French family wading in the waves. I had initially spotted the wife, thinking she was a beautiful au pair for some rich Upper East Side family, but alas she was a Frenchman's French wife. The perfection of this family can not be emphasized enough and luckily, my friend, the artist Janelle Sing, took this candid shot.
Speaking of groups of four, or something like that, I am seriously looking forward to Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Game 3 was rather frustrating due to the officiating as well as the sloppy level of play of both teams and the somewhat baffling coaching decisions by Doc Rivers at the end of the fourth quarter. It seemed like both teams were effected by the short time between games and the hefty coast to coast travel. However, they played their asses off. It was one of the most hard fought basketball games I have seen in a very long time. I have a feeling the Celtics are going to come out roaring next game. Garnett had a big game last night, but to win games, they don't need him to score big, they need Allen and Rondo to score big. If those two are on, then the Celtics will win. They only need Garnett and Pierce for defense and to give them a little bit of scoring - that's it. Trust me. However, its hard to argue that they don't need help from Garnett or Pierce when Ray Allen goes 0-13 from the field (0-14 is you count the layup he missed after he was called for an offensive foul).
Since we are the subject of the number four, a third point I would like to make tonight is that you should check out this blog. Very good stuff if you are a Bob Dylan fan. Seek out some reviews from Self Portrait while you are there; best Dylan album of all-time.
This has been a hectic week at work, so I apologize for the lack of content. We may not get a podcast up this week, but I am trying to get back on track. In the meantime, while we are talking about perfection, here is the next installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt.
“So, what do you make of that?” Ed Verlaine asked. “What do you make of him? I thought that was good.”
Jack Simmons nodded.
“After all your pointing, all you’re gonna do is nod?”
Jack Simmons nodded once more.
Ed Verlaine laughed. He picked his shovel up and drove the spade into the grass.
“What do you want me to say?” Jack asked, raising his right eyebrow.
“I don’t know,” Ed said. “That you knew him or something. That there was a reason you were pointing at him like he were an example of something.”
“No,” Jack said. “There is no reason. He’s just an old man. I knew he would have something to say.”
Ed swung the shovel to his right shoulder. His forearm felt damp. A faint chemical smell came to his nose and then quickly faded.
“You knew he would have something to say?” Ed smiled. “How did you know that?”
“I just did.”
“Why? Because it is a funeral? Because he’s old? Because all of these people we watch putting coffins and urns into the ground have something to say? They all look sad and important. This isn’t even a funeral in the cold and the rain where the people are wearing blowing trench coats. You know those look even more dramatic.”
Jack turned to the mourners, the casket and the mound of dirt they would soon be shovelling to fill in the hole, which they had dug the evening before in the fading drizzle and mist.
“Something in him reminded him of me.” Jack paused. “Are you happy with your questions?”
Ed locked his hands on top of the wood end of the shovel. “Do you want a cigarette?”
Jack shook his head.
Ed took the loose cigarette out of his pocket, raised it up, holding it by the filter, brought it close to his lips and then slid it out, up and behind his ear.
“It is damn hot,” Ed said. “Where’d you get that haircut?”
Jack Simmons looked down. “Place by my house.”
“Yeah, I should cut mine short.”
Jack pulled his spade handle close to the break of his chest and faced the funeral.
Ed Verlaine exhaled smoke. The purple shine on the round edges of his father’s car came to him. The orange and sepia that came through the windows of the car. He remembered his father’s profile, the trapped heat in the car and the rolls of grey highway unfurling and shaking in front of them.
“What are you looking for out here, Jack?”
Jack Simmons held his posture straight, his legs spread slightly and poised.
“I don’t know what I’m doing out here,” Ed continued. “I don’t know what I’m looking for or if I’m even looking for anything. But you, you’re trying for something out here.”
Jack remained silent.
Ed pulled on his cigarette and exhaled. “Alright. No more questions,” his words were softened and rounded by the tobacco smoke. “We’ll just keep on watching. We’ll just keep on watching and then fill in the hole. Isn’t that right, partner?”
Jack Simmons rotated his shoulder blades back in a close circle. He did not respond.
Ed remembered the wheels of his father’s car and the feel of the leather. The look of the green trees on the side of the highway as the yellowed and towering buildings of Queens began to rise through and around them, and further Manhattan lay like upside down icicles. There were no girls then, no trails of snow and melted ice. It was only sun, the heat like the heat on the legs of his uniform, and his father’s profile.
Ed looked over Jack’s shoulder to the casket.
“Look,” he said. “There’s the redhead.”
Jack Simmons turned his head to the side, giving one eye to Ed Verlaine.
The girl with the crimson hair stood at the casket, her hair curling down in two even fans on each of her slightly raised shoulders. The cars in the harbor parking lot would scrape sand under their tires as they pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road. After summer rainstorms, the sand stuck and made a smoother sound against the tires before they hit the puddles in the road. The clouds would slowly break purple and then the crimson came out behind the purple and over the green that edged the harbor water.
Jack breathed in deeply and clenched his hands into fists. The girl was more of a woman.
“I’ve been in heat and humidity this bad – maybe worse,” the redhead said. “I was in Croatia in late August the summer after I graduated from college. Mom actually paid for the whole trip to Europe. I’m sure dad did as well, but she came to me and told me that the trip was from her. She never did things like that, so I always figured that she meant it.”
The girl with the crimson hair stopped. She breathed, folding her posture in slightly, her arms turning. Her eyes were fertile.
“I took a picture of a girl there, in Croatia in Dubrovnik. She was nine years old or ten. She wore a faded purple dress and poked a little white flower into one of the white city walls. With the light of the sun and the whites of the flower and the wall, the dress became more than purple – it became a new color I could only take a picture of. And I did immediately. The first photo she didn’t notice and she was so curious of the flower and the way it hit the wall. Then she saw me and started smiling and laughing. I smiled and laughed with her and took the pictures and I even shook her little hand afterward and asked her in bad Croatian if she were my friend. She nodded.”
The redhead shook her head and looked down. Ed Verlaine knew of plenty of girls who had studied abroad. They came back with short haircuts and different shoes and talked about men they had loved. In the end, they still walked the same paths with him, still liked to get drunk and make love to boys instead. But they knew something he didn’t know, maybe knew what they wanted better than him. They did still talk to him and drink beers with him – but they moved away from him, just as they had moved to that other continent. Their worlds unravelled around him and reformed.
Ed pulled towards the white freckled filter.
The girl with the crimson head shook her head once more, slowly and, slowly, lifted it again. Tear streaks marked her cheeks.
“What this story has to do with mom, with her dying, or with her life with dad and with us, I don’t know. I just remember that little girl and how I felt that must have been how mom always saw me: poking around in things, smiling, innocent, cute, but with something sinister behind it. Maybe she just knew all that and loved me for some reason – because she was my mom. And I know that I loved her and I tried to show her. But what do you do? Sometimes you just can’t show her.”
She raised her right hand, hinged, to her nose. She shook the crimson. Breathing out she smiled and put her hands at her side. The clouds passed over the sun. The afternoon was stretching and Jack noticed the cicadas for the first time. He hoped the rain would not come.
“I’m sorry,” the redhead said. “That I am rambling on like this. I can usually hold it together.”
Ed looked over and the priest was nodding at the redhead. He looked at her with some kind of empathy.
“This has been a long few days,” the redhead continued, her smile carrying into her voice. “I know that mom liked that picture of the little girl. I know that she probably liked all my pictures, even with her discerning mind. I’m a photographer and I think I love taking photos. I’ve been to Dubrovnik in the heat and to Siberia the freezing cold and taken picture of a dog’s funeral.”
The girl with the crimson hair turned to the priest. The priest nodded piously and held out both of his hands. The girl turned, shaking the fans of her crimson. She smiled, her eyes wide and unfocused; intent on something unseen, but present. “I’ve taken a lot of pictures. But I don’t think I will ever understand the rest.”
Her eyes became dark with focus once more. The clouds moved past and the sun slanted down intermittently. The world was a fishbowl. The girl with the crimson hair began to cry and the tears fell in rolls and not in streaks. Jack felt the heat inside each of his nostrils. She moved from the casket with her hands folded in front of her by her waist and her hair swishing behind. The priest took her place by the casket, keeping his hands outstretched.
“Some girl,” Ed Verlaine said.
Jack lifted his shovel to his shoulder and raised an eyebrow.
“Time, isn’t it?” Ed asked, bouncing his spade from one shoulder to the other across his body.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Now that I have started working for a legitimate company, its funny to find out about the certain benefits and perks of a job. One of the main perks for a legitimate job in New York City during the summer is the policy known as "summer fridays," where you work a half day for every Friday from the Friday after Memorial Day until the Friday before Labor Day. There is something strange and antiquated about this policy as some kind of New York tradition that I find very appealing - well that and the fact that you don't have to work a full day. With the short day, I decided to head down to Rockaway Beach and spend the weekend with some friends at the beach, which included the typical beer drinking, swimming, sunburn, fish-grilling and "two dog day" policies that are a part of any type of beach weekend.
This beach weekend only enhanced the fact that Sunday featured two great sports stories and one slightly less intriguing. We'll run through them right now and then hit some general points that I want to touch on.
- I love the French Open Final because it is yet another signal of the summer coming and there is something rewarding about waking up earlyish on a Sunday, maybe slightly hungover and getting a bagel or egg breakfast and watching a tennis final. I have become a slow tennis fan over the past two or three years and I am nearly fascinated with it. So fascinated that I may pull a David Foster Wallace and even wax poetic about the dynamics of the game on this blog in the very near future. I have a clear memory in my mind of a weekend in the summer of 2006 when I went with one of my best friends to Astoria to visit his older brother and his girlfriend. My friend and I were underage, but we snuck into bars in Manhattan with a crew of older people and then broke off and adventured on our own on the Lower East Side to visit some friends of ours, ending up back in Astoria at about 5:00 AM to sneak into the apartment of my friend's brother's girlfriend where there were about ten people crashing on the floors and couches. I find myself a nice piece of lineoleum in the kitchen and spread out to sleep. That sleep did not last long since it was so uncomfortable and the next morning we went to a Greek Diner for breakfast, where much to my surprise I watched Rafael Nadal defeat Roger Federer in the first truly enjoyable tennis match I ever watched. Now, this past Sunday, after a year of hardship and injury in 2009, Nadal once again won the French Open. There is something moving about watching an amazing athlete like Nadal bawling into a towel after he wins a championship. Watching that image was one of the few times I got goosebumps watching an athlete's emotion on television - this was because I could follow the psychology of Nadal's tears. He was so beaten down by his misfortune last year that rising back to the top meant so much to him, the memories of his hard work flashing through his mind, that he had nothing to do but cry. Now, that is tennis. Nadal is now the number 1 player in the world as we approach Wimbledon, which is Federer's favorite tournament. Obviously, there is a showdown looming in England in two weeks and I can only hope that on Sunday, July 4 of all days, we get to see Federer vs. Nadal III at Wimbledon. If I get to watch that match in the morning on July 4, then you are all in for a blog post of epic rambling proportions on the subject of tennis. There will be no factual information about the game itself, but only hypothetical and poetic ruminations on two men facing each other in one of the most fascinating games in the history of human civilization. If you had asked me in 2005 if I would have ever written that statement, I would have laughed and laughed all the way to the fridge.
- Yesterday evening, we were treated to one of the better NBA Finals games in recent history. In Game 2, Ray Allen went insane. Going 7 for 7 on three pointers in the first half and setting the record for three pointers in an NBA Finals game at 8. However, the Celtics almost let the game get away from them until Rondo took over in the fourth quarter. It is somewhat amazing that in a game where Ray Allen scored 32 points and hit 8 three pointers and at one point you wondered if he would ever miss a shot again or even hit the rim on a shot again, that Rajon Rondo was arguably the player of the game. He finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, which is a pretty ridiculous line. Yet, his true greatness came with his defense. First, the ridiculous strip of Derek Fischer's three point shot where Rondo over commited to defend the shot, going past Fischer, but then managed to halt his momentum, plant his foot, dart back and use his freak arms to strip the ball from behind Fischer's head as he was releasing the shot. Second, his gamble on the around the back poke away from Kobe, which basically ended up sealing the game for the Celtics. It was a hard fought game on both sides with some questionable foul calls going against both teams. For the Celtics to win, they need to make Kobe take a lot of shots and try to put the Lakers on their back. Ray Allen has to be the MVP of the series and Rondo has the play solid and dictate the tempo, scoring in the 15-19 point range. Garnett and Pierce have to focus on defense, and offensively, Garnett simply has to worry about facilitating and not scoring, while Pierce needs only one monster game. If that all happens, the Celtics win the series. For the Lakers, its simple. Limit Artest's mistakes, get one big game from Odom and continue to give Bynum and Gasol the ball. Those are the game plans. The adjustments for each team from game to game will be minimal - this series now is all about who will just play their game harder from game to game. Tomorrow night's game is huge because of the long travel and short rest. Who is going to be able to play in their highest gear?
- The somewhat lukewarm event was Game 5 of the Blackhawks vs. Flyers Stanley Cup Final. Last night's game was the least exciting of the five games so far. However, each team has won out at home so far in the series and I believe the Flyers will keep that trend alive in Game 6. This Flyers team has a chance to be perhaps one of the best teams we have ever seen when they play with their backs up against the wall. They came back against the Devils, they came back from 3-0 against the Bruins and they looked bad after two games against the Blackhawks only to even the series. I think we are going seven games in that series, which is only good for the NHL because hopefully then NBC will have to air that game in prime time during the week instead of relegating it to Canadian television.
Now, for some of the general/literary points:
- I just finished Paul Harding's novel Tinkers. This is a phenomenal novel that anyone should read. The writing is very clear and concise, with plenty of strong and vivid imagery. However, what makes the book so rewarding is the manner in which Harding plays with the techniques of inner monologue and stream of consciousness in relaying the memories of George Washington Crosby and his father Howard. I won't spoil the rest of the plot - what there is of it - but will simply say that is an excellent novel that ruminates very much on death and the way we weave and construct our own families and lives. You can read the prose easily but still feel challenged by the way the story itself is told. There is something very Faulknerian about it. Tinkers is my kind of book and Harding is my kind of writer.
- Sticking to my kind of novel, I have just started reading the novel Stoner by John Williams, which was recommended to me by a co-worker/friend. The novel already has a very familiar tone and style to it that I can't place since I have only cracked into. However, there is something very Wolfeian about the collegiate setting of the outset of the book and also about the way that Williams relays feelings of discovery in his protagonist. I am waiting to see how it develops, but much of the writing strikes me as something that I would pull forth out of my pen. Not to say that Williams is in the same league as I am, but that I need to let these observations develop.
- Speaking of being in the same league as other writers, the New Yorker has just unveiled their Top 20 Writers Under 40 List. The New Yorker last unveiled a list like this back in 1999, which included authors such as Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, and Junot Diaz. This list has some usual suspects like Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss, a welcome member in Gary Shytengart (Absurdistan is very good), and overrated guest in Joshua Ferris (And Then We Came to the End was not fantastic), and a guy who can give a great interview, though I have never read his work in Phillipp Meyer. I have not read a majority of these writers on the list, though I have read about their work. I'm going to delve into some of their books as part of my summer reading in order to better study up on the competition. In their New Yorker interviews, take a look at how many of them say they question being a writer everyday - classic artistic self-loathing. I don't know if I buy into that party-line, but perhaps that's because I am not a published author yet. But seriously, anyone artistic or with some kind of desire to create art for more than one person to view, read Philipp Meyer's interview. It is very inspiring and truthful stuff to keep in your back pocket as you navigate through the world each day, encountering possibility, impossibility, abandoned dreams and false ambitions. Definitely good stuff, until my interview gets posted up there on the 2020 list.
That's it for today. We have Game 3 of the NBA Finals tomorrow night so I will be putting up another excerpt of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt so I can focus on the game. Later in the week I hope to have the Puddles of My Own Podcast recorded and posted in order to end this podcast drought. I'll get in all in order. However, in the meantime, you can always check out the Puddles of My Podcast archives or just check out LillebyTube for some video podcasts.
Enjoy the coolness of the night my Puddlers.