Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Theoharides On Fiction

I've got a special treat for you today, my Puddlers.  I mentioned last Wednesday that our new columnist, Alex Theoharides would be presenting some of his fiction on the blog in the near future. Well, that future has come a little sooner than I had originally imagined. Mr. Theoharides has bestowed a short story on us for today's post. This is a direction the blog will be shifting towards more and more as we move forward so if you enjoy this story or have any interest in submitting a story of any kind, please feel free to reach out to me and I will consider any ideas or submissions that you may have.

I encourage you to read Alex's story and post any comments on the blog. My stupid posts don't matter, its the fiction that ultimately matters.

Without further ado, here is Alex Theoharides.

Powderhorn Park

Alexander J. Theoharides

It really should be here by now … it says 7:15 sharp … well maybe not sharp but...what do people say?…be there or…but who knows these things…someone should really… no, I shouldn’t worry about it…Thomas says all I ever do is worry…he thinks I like to worry…I don’t know any more…

“Excuse me, excuse me, Ma’am, do you have the time?”

“Five after seven.”

“Thank you.”

Em shivered slightly and turned to look down Chicago Avenue. Everything was covered in a drab layer of snow and salt and dirt. The bus was nowhere to be seen and the street was empty except for a rust-colored car that had been abandoned under a pile of snow. Em heard the fizzling sound of the streetlight above her head. It blinked off for a second, then turned back on. “This city,” she muttered, “I just don’t know.” Then she turned and stared down Chicago again. There was still no sign of the bus, but she noticed an old Hmong man standing outside the laundromat, smoking a cigarette. For second, the man almost seemed to notice Em watching him. She leaned toward him. Is that his arm? I don’t like the…is he waving? She glanced up at the streetlight, accusingly. “It’s so dark out,” she said in a low voice. “These damn streetlights. I just can’t tell.” Thomas had told her that the streetlights were brighter now then they used to be. “They’re a waste of electricity,” he’d told her. “You can see their glow from outer space.”

“I have no intention of going to outer space.”

“That’s not my point. All I’m saying, is that it’s not the lights that are the problem.”

Em took a step toward the curb and placed her left hand on her forehead.

The Hmong man stared at her a moment longer, then he lazily flicked his cigarette onto the sidewalk and walked back inside the laundromat.

When he was gone, Em hugged her arms across her chest and rubbed her shoulders, trying to warm herself up. It was so cold…you can never trust these buses to come on time… the only people who ever take them are perverts…they stare at you when you walk down the aisle. Em stared suspiciously at the woman who’d told her the time. Women could be just as bad as men. People didn’t like to admit it, but it was true. Sometimes they were even worse. Em turned and looked behind her. She could just make out a group of schoolchildren ice skating under the lights in Powderhorn Park. Their movements were familiar and, for a moment, she tried to remember how to skate. What had Thomas told her? Balance is the key, you have to remember to keep your balance at all times … but there was something else too, something important. Em pictured Thomas lacing up her skates by the Lake Harriet bandshell. What was it? What did he say? She couldn’t remember; she could never remember anything anymore. Em shuddered slightly and turned away from the park. It’s a terrible place, she thought. I’m surprised mothers let their children skate there. After what happened with those two boys. She shuddered again. It’s horrible to think about. Those little monsters. Where did they even get the gun in the first place? And no one had caught them? The police probably watched them do it. I wouldn’t put it past them. They probably took pictures.

The woman standing next to Em cleared her throat and leaned toward her. “Are you from here? You don’t look familiar.”

Em started to nod, then changed her mind. She didn’t like the way the woman had asked the question. She knew the type. First they pretend to be friendly, then they follow you home and steal your television. Not that she had one. Thomas had taken it away from her because he said watching television made her nervous. All that talk of the president.

“It’s not my fault if he wants us all to become Muslims,” she’d told him.

“That’s not true.”

“Of course it is. Did you know that he’s not even from here?”

“Where are you from?” the woman asked, smiling at her.

Em studied the woman. She was African—I guess they’re called black now—and she had a yellow shawl wrapped around her head. She had probably voted for that Obama. Of course, so had Thomas. She couldn’t tell him anything anymore. All those classes at the University…it’s brainwash, that what it is…first they take your money, then they…of course, he’s not such a bad boy…I just wish he’d stop…his friends waste all their time in coffee shops, they want to be writers…I just don’t understand…he was always such a nice boy and so handsome…Em trembled suddenly. She could hear the sound of footsteps crunching through the snow, footsteps coming toward her. She turned slowly and peered over her shoulder. No one was there.

“Did you hear me?” the woman asked. “I said, where are you from?”

“I’m not from here,” Em said. “I’m taking the bus to go see my Thomas.”

The woman smiled at her. “Is he your boy? Well, isn’t that nice?”

Em nodded and opened her purse, pretending to look for something. Then she noticed the woman watching her and she quickly closed it again. If the woman had wanted to, all she’d have to do was reach out and snatch her purse. It wouldn’t be difficult at all. They were the only two people outside. Everyone else was hiding in their apartments, watching television. There was no one who could help her. Em stood up on her tiptoes, shivering slightly. A white van drove toward them and slowed to a stop. The driver rolled down his window. The sound reminded Em of something. What was it Thomas used to play? The oboe? The bassoon? Yes, that was it. She smiled. When he came home from school, Thomas used to spend hours locked in his room practicing.  One time, when he was sleeping, she’d slipped into his room and picked up the bassoon and started to play. The sound she’d made had been all wrong, she didn’t know what it was, the bassoon sounded just like it did when he played, but somehow she knew it was wrong. He’d told her as much when he woke up.  

“You’re not doing it right.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure. It just doesn’t feel right.”

“How do I get to Portland and 43rd?” the driver of the white van asked, leaning out of his window.

Em glanced at the black woman, who shrugged her shoulders. Dark gray exhaust was pouring out from the back of the van. Em coughed into her hands. “Portland and 43rd?” the man repeated.

Em looked down at her feet, pretending she couldn’t hear him.

“Thanks, thanks for your time.”

As Em watched the van drive away, she squinted into the distant streetlights, the way she used to stare at the nightlight in the upstairs hallway when she was a little girl and her father was carrying her up the stairs, right before he would…and suddenly the street began to shimmer and dance almost as if it were alive and Em closed her eyes and let herself begin to slip. It was almost true, she thought, what they say about falling. But it wasn’t really. Something didn’t quite…She opened her eyes and turned to look for the bus again. It would never come. She should just go home. Her apartment was only a five minute walk away. The heat was still on. She could lie down on the couch and maybe have a cup of tea with some whisky in it. But it was Thomas’ birthday and he hadn’t even invited her this year. “After what happened, I didn’t think you’d be up to it,” he’d said.

“Of course I am. I come every year.”

Thomas didn’t want her to go anywhere anymore. This was the first time she’d left the apartment in three weeks. There was a Mexican boy, a real pervert, who delivered her groceries and her medicine and anything else she needed. She’d tried to tell Thomas about what the boy did, but Thomas never listened to her anymore. “I don’t like the way he looks at me,” she’d said, “he makes me nervous.”

“Everything makes you nervous.”

“He just stares for so long.”

“I’ll talk to him.

“Don’t you dare say a word, it’ll just make it worse.”

Thomas didn’t believe her, but it was true. She’d seen the Mexican boy looking at her. He probably knew those two other boys. He might have even helped them. They were all the same, they really were. Em nodded firmly. She’d have to keep her eyes on him. Again she heard the sound of footsteps walking toward her. She turned, then startled.

There were two boys standing right behind her.

One of them looked just like Thomas and the other looked just like the Mexican boy who delivered her groceries. But Em was wrong. The first boy wasn’t even really a boy, but me dressed in sheep’s clothing and the second boy wasn’t Mexican but Greek and, not that it mattered, but he didn’t really exist and never had. If anything he was a figment, you know what they say, a wandering poet can become anything at all. And in any case, we didn’t want to scare her. All we wanted to do was sit on the benches next to the lake and watch the kids slipping across the ice and pretend that we could still…not that she’d believe us…but we didn’t want to… not anymore. My friend said he recognized Em from somewhere, another lifetime perhaps? And, of course, I knew her well but I didn’t say that. Yes, that’s it, my friend said, I’ve seen her dancing alone in her apartment, two blocks south of Powderhorn.

Dancing? I asked

Well, really she was pretending to ice skate, you know, gliding on slippers across her hardwood floor, I saw her there the night those two boys…

I shuddered because of course I remembered that night. Were you there? I asked, knowing full well that he was.

My friend shook his head but I didn’t believe him…he could go anywhere, be everywhere, not that it mattered, he didn’t exist, never had. Suddenly, Em looked up at me…blue eyes, half open…she was older than I remembered…how are you? I asked…but I didn’t say that, not really, she wouldn’t have understood…instead I nodded at my friend, then turned toward her, spreading my lips apart in what felt like a smile but wasn’t. “Do you have the time?” I asked her.

“I don’t know,” Em said, turning away from us and looking for help from the black woman. But, just like my friend, the woman wasn’t really there, she didn’t exist, never had, and it was just the two of us standing under the dim street light, which flickered sometimes and made it seem like there were more than two of us there, as if she were there waiting for the bus and I was there too, waiting for God knows what, and at some point there had been an old Hmong man, leaning against the laundromat, smoking a cigarette and a black woman in a yellow shawl who knew the time and a boy who looked like a Mexican errand boy but was really a Greek poet who didn’t exist and never had, yet still managed to be everywhere at once. He was always there, he really was. Even on that night, with those two boys. Em looked back at me. Do you have to stay here for so long?…Where else would I go?…I’m not even from here, she said…That’s not true, I’ve seen you in your apartment…I just wish you wouldn’t stare…I can’t help myself…It’s my Thomas’ birthday, you see, and I promised I’d go…You can see the park from your window, you can see everything…He’s turning 26…It’s all lit up at night…This bus will never come…It’s a magical place…They tell you 7:15 sharp but…The city is reclaiming the space, making up for lost time, taking back the streets…Those boys, it was terrible, I could see everything…“I know you could,” I said, “I was there too.”

Em looked down at her feet. “It think its almost 7:15,” she said.

“Thank you,” I told her. Then my friend drifted back through the stillness and placed his hand on my back. “Let’s go man,” he said. Then we turned away from Em and walked in the direction of Powderhorn Park.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Good, The Bad, the Ugly—Part 4

We’re back for another week, my Puddlers.  I’ll be on vacation for the week of April 11-15, so there won’t be any posts that week. However, we’ll be trying to pack in as much content until that point.

Taking a break from some of the headier material that I’ve been posting over the past two weeks, I wanted to return to an old fan favorite. I thought I had done one of these posts back in the fall, but apparently I haven’t done one since last June. A lot has gone on in that time. A lot of it as been good, a lot of it has been bad, and well some of it has been just plain ugly. That’s right, my Puddlers, it's the fourth ever, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY!


- Season 4 of Mad Men. As if you couldn’t tell from the episode-by-episode synopses I put up last year, I thought Season 4 of Mad Men was phenomenal. It was their best season by far and it left us with a real cliffhanger as we wondered where Don’s head is as he starts his new marriage to the beautiful and lovely (but do we trust her?) Megan. Some phenomenal acting and episodes all around (Suitcase, Blowing Smoke, Tomorrowland). Damn, I love this show. Good thing its coming back this summer. . .

- Angles by the Strokes. Obviously you all read my review on the blog the other week. Two weeks and a thousand listens later, I still firmly believe in the greatness of this album—even the weak points make sense and feed into its overall appeal.

- Derrick Williams of the Arizona Wildcats. In case you don’t follow college basketball (and I know many of you don’t, its really not as great as it once was) Derrick Williams was quietly one of the best players in America this past year. However, his introduction to the public came this past weekend when he almost singlehandedly destroyed Duke and threw down this monster dunk. As well as taking UConn to the limit on Saturday night.  This kid is going to make it in the pros.

- Tolstoy’s Youth. Tolstoy wrote this “novel” or memoir when he was 28 years old and it basically sets the tonal and visionary framework for the rest of his work. Tolstoy’s observations and recollections at this stage of his life are so vivid, so far-reaching and full in their understanding that sometimes it is baffling. The descriptions he makes about nature, about how he feels when viewing other people in social gatherings are completely relatable even today. It shows the God-like powers he would use in his masterworks down the road. A must read.

- Twitter. I started in the Twitter game back in August and I have been hooked since. It’s probably the best place to see comedians work out their jokes as well as take a stab at your own one-liners. It gives great insight into what it takes to be successful as a commentator in the world today: having an opinion that people want to hear and read all the time, even at 140 character intervals. It’s also great for self-promotion, so FOLLOW ME!

- The Larry Sanders Show DVD box set. If you want to learn about comedy, comedic acting and humanity, you need to watch this show. I won't  elaborate.

- Community. This is probably the best new network comedy since 30 Rock bust on the scene. I still think its better than Parks & Recreation. I just like the sheer breadth of the places they go and the tones they take on. The characters are great as well. The latest episode inspired me to watch My Dinner With Andre, which is a fantastic movie. What other show makes a nod to another piece of art or entertainment that you actually follow up on? And are rewarded by?

- Kemba Walker. Kemba has been a big story in college basketball all season, but he has been fantastic since the Big East Tournament earlier this month. He is clutch, likeable, full of energy. He reminds me of Allen Iverson, but seems like he’d be more fun to play with and less volatile/a force of nature from another part of the universe.

- Derrick Rose. Rightly or wrongly he will be the MVP of the NBA this year. It may be voter boredom that its not LeBron or voter foolishness that its not Dwight Howard, but you can’t argue with how good Rose has been. He’s a tough competitor, great teammate and extremely talented. I like him.

- The stock market bouncing back in the past three or four months. Maybe jobs for college grads after 2006 will increase as well? Maybe?

- Boardwalk Empire. It was the best new show of the past year. It really gained steam as the season went along and I am really looking forward to Season 2. Great mixture of historical and fictional characters. Really interested to see how the Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky stories take off next year.

- Great House by Nicole Krauss. Franzen and Freedom got most of the press last year, but in my opinion Great House was the best book of 2010.

- The Social Network. This easily should have won the Oscar for Best Picture. The movie is instantly rewatchable and mesmerizing. It will be the movie we remember in 20 or 30 years. Not, The King’s Speech.

- Franco at the Oscars. I know people hated it and thought he was detached or being an ass, but, c’mon, didn’t the Oscars sort of need that? When we look back at the 2011 Oscars, it will be seen as being smack in the middle of the era of Franco. A sort of poor man’s version of the era of Brando, like when he sent a Native American woman up to accept his Oscar for the Godfather. I thought it was a piece of genius along those lines.

- Rhianna’s thighs. Come on. Did you see the NBA All-Star Game?

The BAD:

- No Mad Men until 2012. It’s looking more and more like this will be a reality. Puddles of Myself will be the homebase for people who feel like they are getting close to the edge come August or September.

- UNC losing to Kentucky. They had a better team! They should have won! Why, God? Why?!

- Freedom being overrated by the reading public. I know the reading public isn’t very large, but still, you should be ashamed. That was some serious Kool-Aid drinking. I don’t think you even knew what went into that drink.

- Outsourced on NBC. Come on!

- The White Stripes breaking up. It's the end of an era whether you want to admit it or not.

- Walking Dead getting higher ratings than Mad Men. What? People love zombies more than they love psychological and slow-moving period piece dramas that focus on a tragic main character? How dare they?

- The Pitchfork review of Angles. I can’t wait until I can use high levels of unjustified snark and bias when promoting things.

- The Tsunami in Japan.

- The Ghaddafi situation in Libya.

- The unrest in Egypt.

- This last grasp of cold weather on the east coast. Just when you want to open yourself up again, the weather drops and you pull your coat tighter, walk faster and scowl harder.

- The fact that the Los Angeles Lakers look like they might win the 2011 NBA Championship.


- This was a tough choice, but when I actually thought about it, there could only be one answer:


That wraps up this edition of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. We'll roll along this week with some more new content. Hopefully you will be surprised (pleasantly) by tomorrow's post.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Total Eclipse of the Mark

We've made it through another week, my Puddlers. We've seen the highs and the lows of Montauk, basketball, gender roles and now we've made it to Mr. Mark Jack.  In review, this may be my favorite week of Puddles of all time, due to the sheer diversity and humanistic breadth of the posts. I'll let you take a look back and be the judge. Do you have anything better to do this weekend? You don't like basketball as much as I do so of course not.

Now read up and let Mr. Mark Jack take you there.

Useable Friday

Mark Jack


The smallest kindnesses are the most good. Great kindnesses create anxiety in all those unfortunate to be within a small radius of the great kindness. The small favor or gift is easily overlooked and thereby easily enjoyed. At traditional gift-giving times, even the smallest gift is noticed and so becomes tedious and overbearing, which in itself—the combination of mundane and profane—is interesting. It is interesting due to the fact that it is so far from the actuality of the notion of the gift itself. Eventually, one is considered a scrooge for disliking holidays and feels a martyr for the small kindnesses given throughout the year that go unnoticed.

I sat at the bar yesterday, overhearing conversations.

A man had purchased an app; presumably it was for the phone he fingered possessively, that kept track of how many days he’d gone without smoking. Maybe it also estimated the money he had saved. I’m not sure. He was bragging about the money he hadn’t spent as if he had earned it. I wonder how much money he spent on a glorified calculator/calendar.

An involved debate took place with good cheer to my left. The topic: what vodka tasted best/what vodka bottle had the best design for ease of pouring from the standpoint of bartenders. Sorry Absolut, no one can handle your girth, your wee little neck.


Taxes are Topics.

Apparently there is a lot of wage theft out there. There are far too many freelancers who don’t make their own hours and don’t have their own equipment, which could be written off. I don’t see any way around calling this wage theft. Also, why do service industry employees almost never get paid sick days or vacation?

Abolition of the Wage System!

There are buses out there in New York asking me intrusive and presumptive questions. Well, one question: Are you free from sin?

Precision is important and so I’m wanting to ask a bus for definitions, but...nothing.

Are you free from sin? Asks another.
Clearly not.

Yesterday—always yesterday—I waited for thirty minutes for a bus to come. Eventually I turned and walked away, having decided to take another route or go by a different means to my destination. I turned at the last moment of bus stop visibility to see two buses arrive at the stop I’d just left. I turned and ran but both buses left before I could return over the distance I’d just walked. I yelled entreaties, but to no avail. I yelled curses. The same response. There are hypocrites everywhere.

If I’m gonna be green, I’ve gotta be conscious of every move I make. In the world are signs, everywhere there are signs telling me whether or not I’m part of the elect.

Edwards is every concerned environmentalist’s favorite writer. Don’t lie.

I just need to say that I’m terribly afraid of exposure.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mind Games

As a single guy, one of the things I am most concerned about is women.  As a writer interested in people, one of the things I have always been interested in is the relationship between men and women. How are the dynamics changing? How were they set in the first place? What traits or actions do we attribute to a good man or a good woman? Someone who we would, most of all marry, but overall, who we would respect as a member of their respective sex.

My eyes and ears are always tuned to these kinds of details whenever I meet a new girl or a new couple, but my focus was especially drawn when my mom sent me this article the other week.  I read the article and thought that it raised some valid points, but that it was slightly condescending towards other women.  Not condescending but perhaps not giving women enough credit or options to solve their identity issues in regard to their relations with men.  I thanked my mom for sending me the reading material and moved on.

The next day, I received that week’s issue of New York Magazine. I started in the back with the Approval Matrix (come on, who doesn’t?) and made my way forward. I found the back interview they always do with a celebrity.  This issue it was Rashida Jones who actually won me over as an all-around, earthy babe in I Love You, Man.  The interview touched on some comments Jones had made at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival regarding monogamy in today’s culture. In the New York interview, Jones expanded on the quote:

“I feel like I have to amend this, because I know I said that, but I feel like women are more responsible than I originally stated. I think that women are powerful and they're multifaceted and they're survivors; they don't have to depend on a man to do the things they needed them to do, whether it was hunting or lifting heavy things, so what's a man's place now? Who knows! So I think that in a reaction to that, guys are in this drawn-out adolescence where they're screwing a bunch of girls and playing video games and acting like boys until they're 40, because they can. They can maintain their power by having sex whenever they want, and there's no incentive to settle down and be monogamous anymore, unless you really have that hankering within you.”

I was pleased to find that this offhand quote from a pleasant actress perfectly articulated some kind of phenomenon I had been noticing among my generation. Now, there are a variety of reasons why men play video games or act like boys until they are 40: video games are now an entrenched part of boyhood and adolescent life and the habit sticks; they are fun to people that like them; “screwing a bunch of girls” can be more fun than and more exciting than just “screwing” one; it is easier to hide from responsibility with technology and convenience. Despite all this, I had been looking for a way to articulate what Jones happened to articulate in her interview. There seems to me to be a loss of male identity for very much of the world.

As Jones says in her quote and Lindsay Schnaidt says in the above referenced article, modern women are eager to prove their independence, strength, intelligence and diversity as people. And they should feel that way. For years they weren’t able to vote and when they finally were, they were still treated as decorations that hung from the life of a man. That is all completely unfair. Now, as the pendulum begins two swing (some would say modestly, others would say drastically) women are taking complete control of their destinies. Yet, perhaps we haven’t studied how this then affects their relationship to men.

As a man, it’s a fine line to tread when talking about this subject, because I in no way want to demean how important it is for a person (regardless of man or woman) to do what they want to in life and to not be bound by the laws that any institution may bind them to, whether it is religion, sex, state or family. Many of our laws are blindly followed by either a history that is not fully grasped or understood, which results in varying degrees of ignorance that inform decisions. We are all guilty of it, but as the years pass and we grow older and learn more, we can slowly free ourselves from the blindness that the institutions of life have put on us and begin to see the objects of the world in their full shape and meaning and if that then puts us back under the umbrella of the laws of a certain institution then so be it, for at least we will have known, or made the attempt to know, what something actually looked and felt like.

(A scene from the movie Meet Joe Black. This has nothing to do with this post.)

This being said, as a man, I feel that the modern strength of the woman has left a vacancy for men to fulfill some part of their identity. As Schnaidt says, “I find it annoying when a guy opens the car door for me and I’d feel indebted to him should he pay for my dinner.” I have been with women who are the same way. They get mad at me if I try to pay for a drink or they laugh if I insist on opening the door each time we go somewhere on a given night. Even when going out with a girl as a friend to get a drink, I often find myself not being allowed to buy a round—something that I would do without hesitation with a male friend. Now, this could just be that all these women don’t like me, but either way it has left me feeling self-conscious each time the bill comes or each time the bartender tells me how much two drinks will be. Do I reach for the big bill and lay it down, perhaps incurring her wrath? Or do I stand idly by and let her pay, looking like a fool, and a cheapskate to the world at large—the great observing eye of “culture."

I was talking to one of my oldest friends who happens to be a girl.  I told her that guys generally like paying for things when they go out with a woman. Her response was:

“I thought guys liked it when they don’t have to pay because they save money.”

“That’s only later on in the relationship once you’ve reached certain mileposts of being together.”

I further explained that even though, as people, women want to prove their independence, their self-worth and their strength by paying for everything just as men do, the idea of paying is firmly entrenched in the psyche of a man. Even though we are all people with the same general wants and desires, our cultural roles and norms have been shaped in vastly different ways over the years and you may call me superstitious or void of science, but that has an effect on our thinking before we are even forced out into the world of culture.  There is some deep-seated want in men to pay for things to make them feel relevant or needed. If that aspect is taken away, we find ourselves feeling set adrift or emasculated in a way.  Now, there are guys who will read this and say, “Domino is crazy, I’d love for a girl to pay for all my shit.” This is very much the slacker dream, the “whatever, dude” guy that rocks his worn in reverse hat until his early 40’s, and wears well-worn khakis all the time with interchangeable boat shoes. However, that is a dream, and if that dream were reached it would not be fulfilling to any real man. A real man will want to make his way, just as any real woman would want to make her way.

So, is there any conclusion to be drawn from all of this? I don’t think that either men or women should settle just because they don’t want to be bothered by someone asking them why they’re still single. I don’t think they should settle because they feel lonely or want to fall into the traditional norms of their sex—none of those decisions is born from a true emotion. What I think is most valid about Schnaidt’s article is when she says that women should, “smartly embrace [their] femininity, and nurture a man’s masculinity.” She says this while making it clear that women shouldn’t be dependent on men, which I agree with. However, I do think that the modern woman, in her attempt to prove her own worth to the world, should nurture the fact that even though its expected of men to be strong and independent and that we’ve had the longer period in history to do so, that there are elements of our masculinity that still need to be nurtured and respected. And perhaps in doing so women may find that the arrested development that has seized much of the men of this generation will perhaps fade away. Or at least men will see their role a little clearer amid the focus of this new world of gender roles. Maybe men will get back to being a “man’s man,” which was dissected by John Hamm and Rebecca Hall in W last year:

Rebecca: [John’s] proper manly, like Gregory Peck, old-school. He hangs around with the boys and does sports. But he can talk to women about emotions and shoes.

John: Absolutely. Can and do. I was raised by a single mother. I think the definition of a man’s man has shifted in recent times to this sort of fratty bro, different from the older version, which was aloof and distant—Gary Cooper or Cary Grant or James Bond.  Now it’s a little vulger, kind of lowbrow, adolescent. I’m not that guy. Part of being an adult is treating women like women.

That may all seem like a romanticized version of some perfect model of men from the past and I am certainly guilty of imagining that I could be a man like that. But the world is a real place full of insecurities and the want to prove oneself as being able to stand up amid all that mess and take what you want, whether you are a man or a woman. All I know is that I’m trying to be a man and I’ll hold a door open for a woman anytime, and I hope that even if she doesn’t completely like it, that she can at least appreciate why I want to. I think that’d work.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Theoharides On...

Hello again, my Puddlers.  We are flying through another week. I hope that you have been enjoying listening to the new Strokes album Angles while simultaneously reading my review. I'm also curious to know any thoughts about yesterday's long rambling post. I'll be putting up another post in that sort of vein on Thursday and then we'll move back into some more familiar and hopefully funny material.

However, today is Wednesday and that means we get another moment with our newest columnist, Mr. Alex Theoharides.  This week, Alex is weighing in on what is Overrated, Underrated and Properly Rated in the world of March Madness. This seems absolutely appropriate. Read this and learn something.

Theoharides on March Madness

Alex Theoharides

 I’m the sort of person, who typically loses interest in the NCAA Tournament as soon as its initial two days of madness have faded into the much more predictable rounds of 32, 16, 8, 4 and 2. This year was no different. Once my bracket was suitably busted and the teams from my beloved Big East yet again failed to meet up to expectations, I was left feeling a little lost, a little hurt, a little betrayed that I was ever interested in this damn tournament in the first place.

Beneath my complaints about the rather mediocre level of play in the tournament, what bothers me most about college basketball is the fact that schools, coaches and athletic directors make millions of dollars, while student-athletes make nothing. Sure they get scholarships and an “education.” Still the whole thing stinks of professionalism. In particular, I dislike the coaches, who are so often held up as being the type of people that mold young men into adults. A few of them may fit this description, but as a whole? Not a bit. It would be more appropriate to describe college coaches collectively as a group of piranhas, who gather around talented prospects, distracting them with talk of the NBA, while they devour them, one after the next, all the while collecting rather sizable paychecks.

That being said, I’ve decided that the best way to judge these piranhas is two-fold. A) How much they make per year and B) How well they deliver on their promises to their recruits. Namely, how many NBA prospects they actually produce and how successful these men are when they reach the Association. I focused most of my energy on coaches from perennial powerhouses, and I only focused on current NBA players.  If I missed anyone let me know. Kudos to the good folks at for all the data.


Rick Pitino.

Rick Pitino makes over 4 million per year at Louisville (with incentives for tournament appearances, etc.), and he’s known for coaching athletic teams that press for most of the game and play lock down man-to-man defense. He’s also known for his slicked back hair, his TMI affair with Karen Cunagin, and his propensity to leave a team when the going gets rough.

His list of NBA players is decidedly underwhelming. Top of the list? Francisco Garcia, who gets regular run on the Sacramento Kings, but is far from being a household name. The rest? Backups and bench-warmers. See how many of these names ring a bell: Earl Clark, David Padgett, Samardo Samuels and Terrence Williams. His days at Kentucky were slightly more fruitful, and two of his stars, Nazr Mohammed and Jamaal Magloire, are still in the league.


Jim Calhoun.

Jim Calhoun makes 1.6 million a year, less than half of what Pitino earns (of course both salaries are the sort of crazy money that would lead me to do something stupid like build a house with 18 hot tubs, wall to wall flat screens, stripper poles and a bowling alley, oh wait, only NBA players do that). He’s also only coached at two schools: Northeastern and the University of Connecticut. In 2009, he got into a bit of trouble for alleged recruiting violations of Nate Miles, a young man who never played a single possession at UCONN. As a coach, he’s known for having aggressive point guards, big men that rebound but can’t score, and for mumbling his way through the post-game interview. Still, the list of NBA players he helped produce is impressive. Leading the way is Jesus Shuttlesworth himself, Mr. Ray Allen, who just set the NBA record for three pointers made. Ray-Ray is followed by All Star calibers players such as Richard Hamilton, Rudy Gay, Caron Butler, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon, and Emeka Okafor. Rounding out his bench? Jeff Adrien, Hilton Armstrong, AJ Price, and Hasheem (worst pick ever) Thabeet.

Properly Rated:

Roy Williams.

Unlike, the head Puddler, Mr. Matts Domino, I’m not a North Carolina Fan. I hate their powder blue shorts. I hate the fact that they always have the best recruits. I hate the fact the MJ went there. And, most importantly of all, I hate the fact that they always win. Still Roy Williams makes less money (1.5 million) than either Pitino or Calhoun, he hasn’t been involved in any major scandals, and even when he ditched the “Rock, Chalk Jayhawks” of Kansas for the powder blues, at least he had the excuse of returning to his alma mater. Check out his list of NBA players.

From his days at KU: top-50 all time great, Paul Pierce, the always productive Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich, and the somewhat underwhelming Drew Gooden.

At UNC: Ray Felton, Marvin Williams, Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Brandan Wright, Wayne Ellignton, Ty Lawson, and Ed Davis.

The list isn’t staggering, but its long, which is perhaps more important. When Roy Williams visits a recruit, he can honestly say that he’s helped dozens of young men reach the NBA. A lot of coaches claim this, but he’s one of the few who actually delivers on it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Turn, Turn, Turn

Today’s post is not going to be a slick or professional post.  This fact discourages me because since I work at a magazine all day, I want to bring a certain level of polish or credibility to the work that appears here.  The other writers and I may not be credible news sources or unbiased commentators, but this was never going to be a place of strict journalism—it was always going to be a place of reportage on the temperament of the soul. And the soul inhabits objects and can be at times maudlin or over-sensitive, which is why the prose must have a level of polish.

Regardless of this preamble, what I want to write about is the changing of seasons and of two different times I went somewhere.

Fine, blue light descended on the city as I left work on Friday. It would have been an unseasonably warm day if there wasn’t such a collective want of spring in the air.  The sun was slowly obscuring itself behind buildings and I draped my black jacket over my arm.  My heart was pulled in a million different directions by love, by ambition and by hunger. I went home and ate a humble dinner while watching basketball and reflecting on the long week I had just had. After dinner, I went up to the top roof of my apartment building to drink beer and smoke a cigar. Though dark, the night was warm and the moon was rising large from the southeast, casting a pale, sunrise glow when it mixed with the light pollution of the city.  I puffed the rich tobacco of the cigar and looked at the lights of the city, which is what a person does from time to time when they live in a large city such as New York. The Empire State building was colored yellow and gold and I wondered what that might have meant—I didn’t want to use my phone to find out.

The night passed by like a Friday night usually does: bars, jokes, walking, beer, remembering to call or text people back.  Along the way I made one, slightly dirty standup joke:

“The thing I hate about New York is when I run into a homeless person. I always feel so bad when they ask for change because I never have actual change on me. So, what am I going to say to them when they ask me for change? Do I tell them the truth?: ‘Sorry, I don’t have any change, I only have this $100 bill that I need to spend on dinner with a hooker.’”

I also made one extremely dirty standup joke that I won’t print here. In the backyard of a bar I ran into some friends that I don’t see too often anymore, because you tend to not see people you like when they are busy and you are busy and you are interested in a lot different things and are growing older. I was sitting with one of these friends on a wood plank drinking beer and talking:

“Did you see those tsunami videos?”

“Terrible, man.”

“Amazing. You see that slow moving water and all of sudden flame bursts out of it and you remember that the water is actually moving insanely fast.”
“It’s just bad.”

“Fucking crazy.”

Then silence.

“I got your text back on the Super Bowl. I heard Fast and the Furious 5 is actually going to be good.”

And the conversation moved from profound, current event to the mundane and stupid talk of people who have known each other for a time. The night ended on a good note with slurred talk of going to Montauk in the morning.

I woke up early on Saturday to meet my mother and sister in order to give them a ticket to an event my magazine was hosting over the weekend. I felt strangely good even though the weather had gotten slightly cooler from the night before.  The day was bright and I was feeling loose and relaxed while crowds and slow walkers moved in front and around me. I couldn’t decide what kind of mood I was in so I listened to Jeff Buckley and then Al Kooper.  While I was riding the subway, I leaned against one of the handrails by the door. The track was at a straightaway so the cars of the train seemed to be all in a line.  I looked through the back window of my car and saw a long stretching row of arched, slanted handrails. The prolonged shape of these rails through the depth of the train’s cars and here and there the bowed head of a weary or anxious rider, gave the appearance of one long church pew.  The image had never occurred to me, so I immediately decided that the main character in my third novel (a journalist who moves to Madrid with his wife and meets a young poet and falls in love with one of his co-workers while missing New York/America) would notice this shape and image before his departure. I felt my heart ache with the desire to write the scene down.

As I emerged from the subway station at Herald Square, horns and excellently recorded drums from an Al Kooper song were pounding in my ears, so I strutted in the sunlight along 32nd Street until I saw my mother and my sister standing outside of Madison Square Garden. I hugged them and kissed them hello while handing over the tickets to the event. I felt slightly like a scalper. I walked them up to 34th Street before saying goodbye. I felt a slight pang of sadness at not accompanying them, but that passed as I turned down the broadness of 34th Street and into the sun. I took the subway back to Brooklyn and when I got out of the subway, my mother had already sent me a text telling me what they were having fun.

In my apartment, while basketball flashed on my TV screen, I remembered the talk of Montauk. I texted my friend to see if the trip was still in the cards. It was. I called another friend, but she was gardening at her friend’s apartment.

“We’ll have to do mine next weekend!” She wrote.

“Lass do it,” I replied, thinking of another sunny Saturday and my knees on cold grass.

I threw a bunch of clothes in a bag, because I figured there may be a chance I’d be camping on the beach in the cold underneath the Super Moon, and headed back up to Penn Station where I got a train to Oyster Bay.

The northern shore of Nassau County is filled with great old names on its rail-line: Glen Head, Sea Cliff, Glen cove, Locust Valley, Oyster Bay. When you pass Oyster Bay by car, you get to Muttontown, which is where the really big homes lay.  Although these towns share the same stretch of land that my youth did, they are foreign worlds to me. Nassau and Suffolk are not one in the same. There is some baroque secrecy to their bluffs that I will never quite understand, coming from the colonial heritage and athleticism of my youth. The train pulled slowly around the bend into Oyster Bay and I looked first at a large home with a nice, blue tennis court out in front and then out to the choppy waves of the bay. I was between my childhood home and my current home and it felt good to take a train-line I’d never taken before.  I got off the train and walked along the track. The air and town were quiet with early spring afternoon. Birds chirped, gulls called and strollers rolled slowly and quietly on an unseen, nearby street. I turned a sand-lined corner and saw my friend waving outside of his brother’s store. He was just getting ready to close up and so we walked into the back and I helped him load some frames onto a new shelf he had just built.  He showed me maps that had been turned into covered trays and also some of his latest photographs of sunsets along different Long Island shores—one had captured some half submerged reeds so vividly it seemed as though I were submerged as well.

We closed the store and loaded into his car, heading further east. We stopped at his home on a farm where I played with his dog while he showered. I lay on the couch and listened to the falling water of the shower in the other room. I started getting thirsty for a beer, but I decided to step outside. The air was getting cooler and I could feel the dampness rising from the earth. It was that evening feeling, as though the whole day had been a fire that was now being put out, and the moistness, the rich almost ashy smell of the air and the slow-fading blue light were the after effects. My friend was soon ready and we left his dog and headed for Montauk.

We drove East through the small, boutique towns of the South Fork, towns like Hampton Bays, Southampton, Water Mill, Bridge Hampton, East Hampton and Amagansett.  Over each of these towns, their fine clothing shops, their streetlights and their movie theatres, the Super Moon shone impossibly big and bright.  Once we reached the last stretch to the outskirts of Montauk and the point, the moon bathed the road and the surrounding dunes. The road rose and you could see the line of light stretch across the dark, milky sea. When we arrived in Montauk, we found our friends on the beach next to a slowly dying bonfire. They greeted us with beers as the wind whipped up from the water. After a few beers, smoke and jokes, we decided to go into town and go to the bars. 

The first bar we stopped at was an Irish bar where I drank Budweiser and looked at the television, which showed images of the U.S. bombing Libya.  I watched the infrared shots of the blasts landing on blurry, desert landscapes and I felt very much removed from the fact that we were exerting our military muscle in another area of the world, but I felt a certain satisfaction because I knew that my dad would finally appreciate something that Barack Obama decided to do.

“What’s going on?” One of my cohorts asked.

“We’re bombing Libya.”

“Damn man. That Ghaddafi.”

“I know. He’s a lunatic.”

“How do you even spell that?”

“I don’t know. He looks like Michael Meyers from Halloween.”

I was torn from the television because we had to move bars.  There was confusion in coordinating the movement from one bar to the next, which will happen when more than four people get drunk at public places.  I ended up walking the quiet streets of Montauk with two of my friends. We smoked outside of the Chamber of Commerce and I walked up to the front door.  The building was a small wooden building that had the interior of some kind of ski lodge.

“This is the coziest Chamber of Commerce in the World,” I said.

We all ended up at a bar called the Memory Motel, which is a motel with a bar and some one-hour occupancy rooms. There’s a Rolling Stones song off Black and Blue named after the motel.  A cover band was playing note for note covers of popular songs from the past ten years. The whole bar had a classic Long Island feel: men with big shoulders and backwards hats, girls with bleach blonde hair who look attractive if you turn your head quickly, loud music and some kind of overriding atmosphere of forced masculinity. I drank my beers and joked with my friends, but in my mind I kept thinking about a sweeping statement I once made to myself about Long Island and the work I wanted to do about it. It was something to the effect that Long Island is just like Faulkner’s South or Joyce’s Ireland, it is a place full of ignorance and self-importance that many of its natives find difficult to escape.  On Long Island, there is a pervading tone of people that obscures the breath-taking beauty of the landscape, where the diversity of the beaches is perhaps the greatest in the world. You may disagree with that fact, but your mystique will never trump the mystique of Long Island. Your ignorance and hard-headedness probably won’t either.

We left the Memory and went to our hotel, The Montauk Manor, which is a large building that overlooks Fort Pond, Fort Pond Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. All of us stumbled around the halls from room to room for a time before going outside to smoke. We looked over the pond where there was an LIRR train idling at the station. The grass underfoot was springy and damp. Something about standing on a hill outside of a large, old, hotel and looking at the bodies of water that surrounded us felt profound to me.  That feeling was followed by tiredness and we all retreated to our rooms to sleep.

The next morning was filled with a large communal breakfast in our room, where everyone gathered for eggs and English Muffins, Entenmanns’s breakfast pastries, coffee and juice. One guy who I’d just meant initiated the beer drinking and the rest of us followed suit. We packed up our rooms and checked out, while slowly gathering in the parking lot.  I sat on someone’s pick-up truck bed and drank beer in the sun.  It reminded me of being 17 again and sitting the parking lot of my town beach drinking beer after school.

“I haven’t done any parking lot drinking in a long time,” someone said.  We all laughed.

Then my friend who organized the trip got us moving to walk back down to the ocean. A girl I had just met explained that there was a hotel with a large back deck that we could sit on. The deck faced the ocean and there were plenty of lounge chairs.  We walked all the way down to the ocean. Along the way we made our way over rolling seaside hills where nice, but humble homes were built.  There is something fundamental maritime about Montauk as a whole that keeps the homes, no matter how luxurious, feeling humble and appropriate. This is what separates it from the Hamptons.  It may have something to do with the spacing of the homes along the hills, but I’m not sure about that, though the vision of those houses as object in relief to one another, the ocean and the sloping, wide grass of the hills is appealing to me.

When we made it to the beach, the girl was right, there was a wide-open deck facing the ocean. The sun glimmered off the sea and it almost seemed like it was fine to go swimming.  We continued to make jokes and drink beer (while another girl passed around Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies) as the sun shone down.  I had to go to the bathroom, so I wandered to the front of the hotel where there was an indoor pool enclosed in another structure. I walked into the little building and found it empty. There was a bathroom, so I relieved myself. When I came out there was still no one there. I looked around for towels but only saw a laundry bin. When I inspected it, I found that it was filled with nicely folded towels. I quickly went back and spread the news and before I knew it, there was a small crowd of us swimming in a heated indoor pool. A Latino woman soon came into the pool area but she didn’t care that we were swimming.  She didn’t speak great English, but she was very diligent about keeping the jets in the hot tub on. So we swam laps. As my friend passed me a beer into the pool, I kicked myself back, did a small backstroke, smiled  and said:


We dried off and my friend went out to bum a smoke from the pool attendant.  We watched as my friend, with one of the small pool towels wrapped around his soaking boxer briefs, made small talk with this woman over a cigarette. He came back inside when the cigarette was done.

“Did you make a new friend?”

He nodded his head.

“Did she speak any English.”

“No, so it was mostly her just saying ‘No entiendo.’”

After our pool excursion, we returned to the back deck where everyone was ready to eat. We drank a few more beers and I began to feel the sunburn on my face, which reminded me how close summer actually was.  I looked out at the sea and how bright the light shone off the small waves of low tide. There was a sandbar forming. Children ran and rode bikes along the little inlets of water that appeared. I took a drink of my beer and it was cold.

We all made our way to an old-fashioned fast food place called John’s. There had been a St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the place was packed.  We found a few sun-soaked places to sit and ate our burgers, fries and chicken fingers greedily, while throwing back as much water as possible. Then, after watching two gangs of high school kids almost get into a fight, it was time to go home. I was lucky enough to snag a ride all the way back to Brooklyn in a car, which I was happy about since I was drunk, tired and didn’t feel like switching to the subway at Atlantic Terminal.

As the sun set along the road on the way back and I dozed in the passenger seat, I thought about how the season was actually changing.  There was a once a time when I came back from college and drove around my neighborhood in my car with the window open, smelling flowers and trees and was amazed that the spring was already in full effect.  Ever since then, I have tried to pay attention to the changing of the seasons, to those random Saturdays or Sundays where just walking in the freshness and temperature of the air has the same feel as swimming in a cold pool in the heat of summer. The car I was riding in continued along the long stretch of Montauk Highway, which turns into Sunrise Highway, which turns into the Belt Parkway, which turns into either going to Staten Island or heading into Manhattan. The road passed and the sun set, leaving only lavender and periwinkle traces of evening in the sky, that eventually became the black and orange of night in civilization.  I knew that there would still be a few cold days but that the actual winter was over. The sun burn was tingling on my face and I felt very much the exhaustion of a day in late May.

At one point, I looked out the window and saw a raised trestle of the LIRR with a train passing along it.  The night would be warm, but I remembered riding a bus back from Providence, Rhode Island in February. I’d been visiting my friend and his fiancée. My friend and I had gone to see a basketball game as a means to share our love of basketball and to communicate our long-standing friendship in one of the many ways that one can do that with a friend.  My friend and I drank beer at the game, explained our love of basketball to a woman sitting nearby who asked us who we were rooting for. After the game, we went back to his home where his fiancée and dog were waiting. They took me to a nice sushi restaurant where I splurged on sake and lots of expensive sushi. We talked about their upcoming wedding and the plans for the wedding party. I asked them about their families and the other nice things in life that their union would bring. Then, later, we watched the Oscars and I drank beer. I asked my friend’s fiancée about each pop singer that came up, because I realized that I didn't know many of them. I was pleased with the good humor in which she explained them to me and gave me her opinion. It made me very happy to hear her talk about it all while I threw a toy to their cute, young puppy.  Finally, my friend and his fiancée decided to go to bed. It was about 11:30.  I told my friend that I would go upstairs, drink beer and read Tolstoy before bed.

“How late do you stay up?” he asked me.

“Until about 1:00 every night.”


The next day, I woke up, showered, stripped the bed and we went to have breakfast before I caught my bus. We ate breakfast at a place my friend had taken my mom and sister when they were in town visiting.  We ate breakfast. I drank their strong coffee.  We talked about our families and again about the wedding. I found myself getting very excited for his wedding and for all the fun we would have at and around it.  All of my friends would be in one place at the wedding. I would even get to see my friend’s mom again, someone I hadn’t seen in a few years. The coffee set in and I couldn’t stop talking about plans and my thoughts on each of our friends.  That was a warm day in February. I took off my coat as my friend left me at the bus station.  I gave him a big hug and told him that he should call me or e-mail me if he needed any input on the wedding planning.

I watched him take off out of the bus depot and I boarded my bus back to New York, listening to the other passengers.

“I’m taking this all the way down to Jacksonville.”

“That’s some ride.”

“I’ll need a shower when I get there.”

The driver gave us an overly enthusiastic welcome speech and we were soon boring down Route 95, passing through the trees of far eastern Connecticut.  At one point during the ride, I looked at the snow on the ground and hoped that it would melt fast in the strange warmth of the day.  I tried to make out branches and stems of leaves and flowers pointing out of the snow. As the bus moved along I thought of the passing of years between my friend and I. How his life was approaching something extraordinarily different from my own. There was an intimacy to his life, to the space and objects in his realm that he shared with his soon-to-be wife. Its what everything is about, I decided. For some reason I was thinking about Milton. I keep repeating some refrain in my head that went “Winter is the longest season, the changing of the guards, the eras of our life.”  I wasn’t quite sure why, but it kept turning over in my mind. All I saw, though, was passing light, as though years could become something palpable in an instant.  The bus kept rolling toward the city and I felt very happy for my friend and that there would be continuous things to look forward to in life even if they weren’t all as immediate as I wanted them to be.

I woke up yesterday after my long weekend and drank two big mugs of coffee in my apartment. The rain was pouring down, but I felt strangely rested.  I put on my large London Fog trench coat and stepped out in the rain, feeling very much strong, sharp and invincible.  I stepped on the train and stuck my umbrella into the deep side pockets of the coat.  I looked around the train and all of a sudden felt a deep sense of loss for no apparent reason.  There were current events going on all around me that I couldn’t get a firm grasp or stance on. I saw men reading the Times or the Wall Street Journal, which had images of explosions in Libya on the cover. My Twitter feed was a stream of the rising death tolls in Japan. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the tragedy of the world, but rather that I perhaps should have a better hold on how I actually felt. I then had a thought about my friends that had intimate lives that were developing with other people and wondered how I would be able to balance ambition and interest with that need to be intimate with another—how to throw off the crutches of Don Draperisms.  I turned on “John The Baptist” by Al Kooper as I exited the subway back into the rain.  The melody made me feel strong and poised again.  I entered my office and sat down at my desk. People threw questions my way.

“Are you sunburnt?” A girl I work with asked.

“Yes,” I smiled.

She shook her head, laughed and walked away.

Something about that small exchange gave me a sense of validation.  There were things to attend to at work and I already had a sunburn.  There were things coming in the future.  Seasons were changing.