Monday, June 27, 2011

A Month of Storms: A Review of Bon Iver, Bon Iver


It rained on Friday night, though very briefly. I stood in a backyard pleasantly drunk with a cigar in my mouth and a full stomach. The next morning it was sunny and warm so I felt the need to be outside. I sat on the roof of my apartment in the sun drinking water. I watched, as next door, a sprinkler tried to keep the machinery of the grocery store cool. I made a list of jobs I wanted, a list of things I wanted to do this summer and a list of ideas to use at my actual day job. Then, I wanted to play basketball. So I went to play.

After I had finished playing, I walked with a friend of mine along Franklin Street, following it until it turned into Kent Avenue in Williamsburg. At the junction where the streets swap names, beside the small garbage filled cove, I said to my friend:

“I think Greenpoint has some of the best looking girls.”

“Yeah, they’re your speed.”

“I don’t know. I really think so.”

“Let me ask you,” my friend said, “out of all of the girls in the world, how many are there that you think you could possibly marry? Like if the circumstances were right and everything.”

I thought for a second. “Ten.”

“Only ten? There are about four billion women in the world.”

“I don’t know if that’s true.”

“Maybe a little less. But let’s just say four. So out of that four, there have to be about a million women who are 18-30. Agree?”

I laughed. “That’s probably not true.”

“Fine, but just work with me.”

“OK, so out of one million women, how many do I think its possible that I could marry?”

“Yes.”

“Circumstances have to be right? Have to be in same mindset? Same place geographically and spiritually or mentally or whatever?”

“Yes.”

“Ten.”

“No. Really?”

“I don’t think I’ve even really liked ten girls and even the ones I have really liked don’t count to your ten because it didn’t work out and I’ll probably not even marry them.”

“I guess that’s true,” he said.

We walked for a little longer down the street and buildings began to crowd us.  We passed the East River Park and a Mr. Softee truck piped its slow, cobwebbed tune.

“What if I said twenty?” I asked.

“Yes. That was the number I was looking for.”


I laughed and soon we were walking up to the Northside Piers condominiums. The buildings stretched to the sky with gleaming blue promise. It wasn’t so much the promise of achievement or of some kind of American myth, but more the promise of comfort or that you could be comfortable at some point. Maybe that is the American myth. In any case, the buildings were blue and bright and made of glass.

“Crazy how this place has changed,” I said.

“It’s more my vibe now.”

“I remember running around here like three years ago.”

“Pissing on the sidewalks and everything.”

I laughed. “I didn’t even like it then.”

Next to the condos they had made nice grassy spots that looked across the river to Manhattan. They had even built a wooden boardwalk. There were pretty girls with tans sitting on the grass and I smiled at them and tried to make eye contact and thought about what their lives were like just starting out in Williamsburg.  Along the boardwalk, there were Latino men hooking fish heads onto fishing hooks and throwing them into the river. A Spanish song played softly on their stereo.  My friend and I looked across the water to Manhattan. We peered down into the water.

“If you fell in,” my friend said, “how would you climb back up?”

I pointed to some ancient, broken wooden pylons not too far from the new boardwalk.  “I’d swim over there and climb up.”

“That far? I hate swimming.”

The clouds passed over the sun briefly, making the air somewhat cooler but still enjoyable.

“This is perfect weather,” my friend said. “You could play ball all day.”

“Look at that place.” I pointed to a big white warehouse on the water that had been converted to condos. “Crazy.”

“I like it. I don’t know. Sometimes its just nice to have nice things.”

The wind picked up a little bit across the water. I looked across to the park on the other side of the river. The sun was still covered by the clouds. He was right; the weather was really perfect.

“Let’s cut,” my friend said.

*****

A few weeks ago it rained. There was a terrible thunderstorm. I was walking towards Madison Square Park and I wasn’t feeling well. It wasn’t that I was sick; I was feeling out of sorts and was waiting to go someplace to have a conversation. I was streaming Bon Iver, Bon Iver on my iPhone and the rain started to come down slowly with the first murky, jagged guitar riffs of “Perth.”

As I passed into the park, my eye was drawn to the sand pathway and circle that sits near the Broadway border. People were dashing across it to gain cover from the rain. I didn’t need an umbrella yet, so I walked casually with my hands in my pockets. The scene reminded me of an Impressionist painting, with children and women and umbrellas appearing in strokes before my eyes—objects distinct from each other, but not individually distinct. My heart immediately felt lighter and I continued my stroll. The trees swayed and the drums hit heavily in my ear. It was something greatly different from the first Bon Iver album. I could make out thunder overhead and felt the rain grow stronger. I walked under an overhang of trees and stood against a bench.



I needed an umbrella now and opened it above me. The rain smacked it. A couple sat on a bench near me, willingly getting wet. A man with headphones on ran past without an umbrella. Two college-aged girls skipped another way with bags of Shake Shack slowly getting wet under their umbrellas. Rain dripped off the trees and the music itself was murky and watery, with punctures of drums and saxophone breaking through. There was thunder again.  A girl, giving up the chance of staying dry, stood in the rain in her purple tank top and long black hair. She wasn’t close, but I felt I could make out the streaks of rain streaming down her chin and neck. And I looked down at my brown suede shoes to see how wet they had gotten.

Lightning flashed and then a roar of thunder hit amid the hypnotic beginning of “Holocene.” Rain started coming in sheets. I decided that I wasn’t going to give myself up to the rain. I held my umbrella ahead of me and walked toward Madison Avenue and 24th Street. The rain was soaking the front of my khakis. I saw a group of people huddling underneath the corner entrance of the Credit Suisse building. I took cover too, standing away from the edge where rain was slanting in. The top of the covering was decorated with gold and I thought of the Vatican for a brief second.

The album played on seamlessly through “Towers” and “Michicant” as I waited out the rain. More people joined to take cover. We watched the trees of the park sway and cars swish by. There were flashes of lightning above buildings and thunder roared. Wet strands of hair fell across women’s foreheads and along their cheeks. A little boy happily tried to hail a cab for his mom and sister as the rain soaked his collared t-shirt. All the time I stood, quietly listening to Bon Iver, Bon Iver and slowly feeling better for whatever reason. Perhaps it had something to do with the rain and taking shelter with other people I didn’t know. Or maybe it was because I could momentarily disappear with the scene. In either case, I felt good watching the rain and listening the music.

Soon, the storm passed as they do most of the time. It was a summer storm. The rain slowed to a drip and mist and people moved out from under the corner covering. Men walked quickly along 24th street towards Park, or others resumed their route through the park. I walked on 24th on my way to talk with somebody, listening to the resonant piano strikes of “Hinnom, TX.” The sky was turning from grey to purple.

****

This past weekend I sat in my friend’s brother’s apartment in Chelsea. Outside, confetti from the Gay Pride Parade sat scattered and stepped on in the streets. We sat in the well-windowed apartment as sun shone in along the floor. We watched my friend’s cousin’s baby toddle around holding a balloon. My friend, his fiancée, his cousin, his aunt, his mom and I all watched as the baby held the balloon by its ribbon and it skipped along the floor, as though he were walking a dog. He would toddle and then fall on his diapered butt without making any kind of shriek. The balloon would bounce and he’d grab at it and suddenly make a chirp:

 “Goo ah gak!”

Someone would imitate the sound and the baby would fall on the balloon, grabbing for it and drooling on it; smiling all the time. We drank coffee and ate chocolate and Linzer tarts. My friend and I packed bridal shower presents on a cart—boxes of white, with blue ribbon, thin pink tissue paper, purple cards and red bags with strong white papered handles. They all talked amongst each other like family and gave the baby a bit of bread to chew on for his new teeth. Outside it was a sunny, hot, afternoon. It was Sunday in the summer in New York and the rest of the world.

****

A month ago the first summer storm rolled in on Sunday. The day was hazy, humid and grey. I ate eaten a big lunch and met the girl I was seeing. The sun began to burn off the cloud cover and emerge. We sat in the park with coffee and talked about Bridesmaids and then about ourselves. The conversation flowing from one topic to the next with laughter because it was nice to talk and we both liked each other.

It was Sunday and we each didn’t want to go to work the next day, so we decided to get some drinks to remind us that we could make it through.  We sat at a restaurant next to the park and drank mojitos. She talked about her family and I put my hand on her back and kissed her on the lips between talking points. The sky grew dark and soon it began to rain. A canopy covered us, so we watched the rain fall on the leaves and flowers in the park and on the sidewalk and street. We smelled the rising scent of the pavement.

“I need to buy groceries,” she said.

“Let’s go. I’ll help you after the rain.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I’d love to.”

We had another drink and the rain passed, giving way to more sun than there had been before.  We finished our drinks and decided to walk around some more. We walked on a street with trees that had white flowers.

“I like this street,” I said. “We walked down here one of the first times.”

“It’s a good street.”

I noticed a metal sculpture garden that was gated off behind a building. I pretended to be an expert on art and explained the sculptures in a high-minded voice. There was a sculpture of a motorcycle.

“And what’s that one?” she asked.

“That’s a commentary on the transience of our experience. How our transport, how the thrill of moving can suddenly be reduced to a stationary, static position.”

“You come up with the most ridiculous bull shit.”


We walked down to the park next to the river and I looked across to Brooklyn at the Northside Piers towers standing along the water. Thin clouds had covered the sun again and the twilight was setting in. There was a terrific mist hovering above the river. We leaned against the railing and I kissed the girl I was seeing. I pulled her in close to me and enjoyed kissing her. She told me about children’s books and her friends in publishing; she told me about her sister and swimming. We would take breaks and kiss and look at the mist on the water. Soon, it was getting dark.

“Do you want to get groceries?” I asked.

“Let’s just get beer.”

“You sure? I don’t mind.”

“I’ll be fine.”

We walked away from the water and the mist and back to the huddled streets with yellow signs and striped canopies. The night was warm and thick.

****

After my conversation, the night was dark and very humid. Water from the storm dripped slowly off fire escapes. The sky was slowly clearing. I walked to the subway in the purple-red light of the city night.

When I got into the subway, I turned on “Beth/Rest” on Bon Iver, Bon Iver, because I had read that it was the best song on the album, though it might turn out to be controversial because of its Bruce Hornsby influence. I didn’t quite know what that meant, but I figured it might mean bordering on cheesy or maudlin. Regardless, I turned on the song and got on an air-conditioned car.

I listened to the song with its emotional keyboard chord progressions, the high-pitched guitar weaving in the background and the saxophone lending some kind of pleading warmth. All of this surrounded in some kind of 80’s production sheen, while Justin Vernon’s voice carries the proceedings along without using his trademark falsetto. The subway rattled along and I got off at Union Square and switched trains. I played the song over again once it had finished. I played it two more times until I got back to my apartment. My hair was sticky from humidity and my socks were still damp from the rain. I listened to the final jagged guitar lines, the pedal steel that emerges and those too-cheesy-to-be-bad keyboards. I thought that I understood what the title of the song meant and, to me, it seemed like no matter what the song sounded like, it sounded sincere, which is what matters to me most of the time. I decided then that I liked Bon Iver, Bon Iver better than For Emma, Forever Ago. That was a Thursday.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Matter of Degrees


I’ve been feeling strange ever since the Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. I’ve been feeling strange because as the Playoffs and Finals went on, I realized how attached I had gotten to the 2011 Miami Heat.  When the Heat played, I found myself yelling and throwing things if they were behind; I sent frantic texts to friends and ignored their calls to rehash the game if the Heat lost. This is behavior that I usually reserve for the Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia Phillies, Rafael Nadal and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. Each of those sports entities represent a sort of workingman’s or humble approach to their respective sport (the Tar Heels have been wildly successful over the years, but they retain some sort of farmhouse/schoolroom charm due to Dean Smith’s legacy). The Miami Heat are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. They are “hollywood,” as Joakim Noah said. Or so that is what we have been told over the past eleven months.

When the Mavericks beat the Heat, I tweeted that the Mavericks and Dirk winning were a feel good story, but that the Heat winning would have been much more culturally relevant. What does that mean exactly? It means we would have had to ask ourselves more questions about what we believe in and what is actually acceptable. If the Heat won, all sports fans would have had to look themselves in the mirror and ask, “Is this what it has come to? Is this what sports will be like from now on?” They would have had to accept the fact that three great talents (two especially transcendent talents) came together to win a championship with a cobbled together roster. They would have had to watch this video, nod their heads and say, “Welp, they were right.” However, that is not the reality we live in. Now sports pundits and former athletes can remain in their holier than thou stances and say, “I was right. I knew it wouldn’t work.” Now the world can take solace that there is an “order” to things and that there is a certain way things are done.

What baffles me is that normally I would love the Dallas Mavericks. Dirk is an all-time great with a ridiculous shot and secret training exercises that make his game so unique. He was hounded and tortured by the media for years and deserved a chance to prove how great he has been once and for all. Kidd is a Hall of Famer who deserves everything good (basketball-wise, how he is as a person is up for debate) to happen to him. Chandler started out as a young player who got a lot of money and hype during a bad time for the league, was given up on and who has now reinvented himself as a poor-man’s Kevin Garnett—which is a high compliment for anyone. And Shawn Marion is a likeable glue guy. This was a team of veterans who had seen all the in’s and outs of the NBA, played very well together and deserved a championship. Yet, I couldn’t embrace them. I even began to hate them as the Finals went on. There was just something in me that wanted to see the Heat win. If I hated the 2007 Patriots, then why did I love the 2011 Miami Heat?

For some reason this Miami Heat team represented something different to me than they did to the rest of the world. Even after the Decision, when Wade, LeBron and Bosh all came together, I thought, “This is great. These guys will have to figure out how to co-exist. They will have to find their roles and work together. Plus they’re taking less money. What an experiment! What a risk!” Of course I realized that the Decision itself was awful and that their welcome celebration was something straight out of the WWE (O, lost! O, WWF!) Perhaps it is some fault in my character, but those things didn’t matter to me. I took them at face value as stupid mistakes and moved on. I tend to do that in the world: take actions and situations as they are and try to move on. This may be some sort of coping mechanism that might lead to my undoing, but maybe not. To me, something happens and then something else happens and you react accordingly in a continuing succession proceeding on until death. So, I never dwelled in what the Miami Heat were perceived to be in a hyper-critical, hyper-informed and hyper-intelligent culture. I saw three guys playing together. Maybe they were scared of some kind of spotlight, but maybe they were truly concerned with winning championships and were very willing to figure out the right way to play in order to do that. I could be an optimist.

As the season wore on and the hatred against the Heat began to build to levels that had not been seen in years or perhaps ever, I was further drawn to them. I defended them against people I talked to; I defended them (in my head) against the pundits who were so eager to state the bottom line about the Heat at each stage of the season. I have always loved sports for the narrative, and to me the 2011 Miami Heat were the very definition of narrative. They were drama in its original form. There was a fall from grace; there was a journey to seek redemption; there was a search for some kind of truth, some essence and in this case it was basketball. How would they run offense? How would they use their athleticism to play excellent defense? Even though they didn’t have their entire healthy roster until the Playoffs, I still wondered how they would use the diversity of their roster to trot out a lineup that not many teams in NBA history had ever used: Wade, Miller, LeBron, Haslem, Bosh; a lineup with no point guard that they finally used in the Playoffs but only sparingly because Miller’s thumbs didn’t work. The Miami Heat and all of their questions made me pay much closer attention to basketball than I ever had. I ignored the hard stats, but paid attention to how frequently they ran lineups. I watched the game “off the ball” or the action away from the ball more than I ever had. I wanted these guys to figure it out, because if they could figure it out then there was a promise that the most beautiful basketball would be played—that the essence of basketball itself would be presented. The Mavericks played excellent offense in the Playoffs and the Finals. They moved the ball with precision and speed. They made extra passes and played off each other with ease. However, there was never the same promise that came with the Heat starting from nothing and slowly learning how to play the most beautiful basketball of all-time.  I never had a chance to watch the 1986 Celtics, widely considered the most fluent (in the language of basketball) and fluid basketball team of all-time. I saw the 1996 Bulls, but they were based more on the freakishness of Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Harper and their length (as well as the force of Jordan’s fire) than they were on an essence of basketball. The Heat held the promise of something spiritual.


My love of the Heat could have also stemmed from the fact that I am obsessed with roles. I am obsessed with the roles we fill in our lives and in the lives of others. We are objects that interact with each other and our position to and perception by another object creates a certain role that can be filled at anytime.  We are all capable of anything—history has taught us that, as Michael Corleone said—but there are only the certain few who can recognize a role forming and presenting itself and can play that role to its fullest (see Don Draper). Then there are the even more select few who can play multiple roles to their fullest degree (see Young Hal/Henry V and Bob Dylan). Something about this is tied to history and I’m going to keep trying to figure that out for the rest of my life. I love roles, which is why I love Mad Men since it is all about how we fit into our lives and the lives of others, not only at work but in our personal life. When do you have to admit that you are great at a certain job for a reason and that perhaps that is your role to play to its fullest? When do you give up a delusion for the role you were born to play? This holds true in the NBA. There have been plenty of cases where a great player is bogged down by his want to be something he is not. All it takes is being on the right team to figure out his role and to settle into being the player he was meant to be. It may not have been what he wanted to be, but it is what he was meant to be. Perhaps it was his want that was a delusion after all.

Now, one would say that the Mavericks were more role based than the Heat. There was a clear pecking order with Dirk as the go-to scorer and star, Chandler as the defensive presence, Kidd as the steady hand, Marion as the lanky wing defender and sneaky 15 point scorer, Stojakovic as the three point specialist and Terry and Barea as the bench sparkplugs. Earlier in each of these players’ careers there was a time when they either wanted to be more or had to be more than hey were capable of, but on the 2011 Mavericks, they could play a role that suited them and that contributed to the entire team. The identifying and playing roles is part of “The Secret” as Bill Simmons called it. And the Mavericks exemplified it to perfection. They were hard-working veterans who knew how to play a role and that’s what we want from our athletes and the world.

Yet, the Heat were more compelling. We had the endless debate over who would be the go-to guy, Wade or LeBron. There was the question of whether or not Bosh could demand the ball enough. Who would be the three point specialist, Chalmers, Miller or Jones? Who would do the rebounding work once Haslem was injured? Would Joel Anthony be able coordinate himself to play forceful and utilitarian basketball? Again, there was an element of going from nothing to everything that was inherent in the 2011 Miami Heat. They were under the microscope and had to create an entire world, an entire team existence with every discerning eye in the cultural world turned towards them.

So, maybe in the end it becomes a game of degrees (no pun intended). With the Heat, the degree to which they had to decide their roles was far more interesting to me than the Mavericks falling into line with an established tradition of roles falling into place over time. Instead, the Heat and their stars voluntarily sped-up the process of role-finding and role-playing. They did it in the interest of winning championships. I can appreciate the Mavericks. I know why they are a good team and why they deserved to win a championship. With the Miami Heat, I still don’t know why I am completely fascinated by them and I think when many people look past their initial, unreasoned hate (besides Cleveland fans), they will find the same confusion. Even if the Heat had won the championship this year, we still would have not seen them play their best basketball, which would have been a scary and yet still fascinating thing. We would’ve (hopefully there’s no lockout) headed into the 2011-2012 season with a hated team that won the championship without playing their best. They would have been even more hated as the champions and we would still be wondering what made them tick and what they were possible of. We would’ve wondered why we cared and if perhaps we were merely slaves to an established history of acceptable success. We would’ve continued to question roles, including our own roles as observers of sports and culture.

I suppose we still have some of that, but we don’t have it all.  We have another nice story to add to our collection. But, like I said, I’m a man of degrees. And a deserving Dirk winning a championship took a few degrees of questioning and meaning away. It was a nice story, but there was something more lurking. And perhaps that’s why we have history.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Theoharides on Chinese Food

I'm here, I'm here, my Puddlers. I know it seems like a long time, but I needed you to digest my epic Memorial Day post. Also, I took a long weekend for a Bachelor Party for my good friend Jeff. We all went to Fire Island. Needless to say there was plenty of beer drinking, swimming, cigar-smoking and carousing.

But now I'm back. We are going to get back to regular posting for the next few weeks. However, starting on July 15, the blog will be on a bit of a summer hiatus. I know, I know. You're probably saying, "How much work can this be, Domino? You don't post everyday and now you've got other guys posting for you out of the goodness of their hearts." And you would be right about all of that. However, I want to work on the redesign of the site as well as focus on my fiction for a bit. Starting around that time, the site may be down or you may see some slight changes, but I will definitely alert you when it is back up and running under the redesign. After the immediate redesign, I may throw up some short posts from time to time.  However, you can follow me on Twitter and on Facebook where I will be throwing up some posts from the archive to bide your time.

Overall, the break should last about a month to a month and half. And, I will be returning with extra energy and effort when I'm back.

Now, today's post sees Alex Theoharides discussing a topic very near and dear to my heart—Chinese Food.  I'll hand it over to Mr. Theoharides, even though he reveals some secrets about how I run things over here.






Theoharides On Chinese Food


Alex Theoharides





A few years ago, (well to be honest, more like six or seven years ago, Zeus, I’m old) I got in an argument with a pseudo-friend (I’ll call her Dumb-Dumb) over Chinese food. To be clear, we weren’t eating Chinese food. The argument was in fact about Chinese food.

Dumb-Dumb claimed to be from the city, which meant she grew up in New Jersey but had visited New York on the weekends, and had read enough gossip columns to know the trendy restaurants from the steaks houses of yesteryear. Based on her romps in the city, Dumb-Dumb claimed that the best Chinese food in the world came from an establishment known as P.F. Chang’s, located on a little island she called Manhattan (never heard of the island? Me neither. Gal was crazy!)

Now, I have nothing against P.F. Chang’s … well … (come on Alex, muster your inner snob, your audience of none expects it, and also please refer to yourself in the third person more often, as in, come Alex, you can do it, come on Alex, there’s nothing to it) … okay, so I have a lot against P.F. Chang’s. 1) It’s in no way, shape or form unique to NYC. In fact, there are branches scattered across the U.S of A. 2) The food is only as good as the nearest toilet. 3) Need I say more?

At the time, however, I had never heard of P.F. Chang’s and I responded to Dumb-Dumb’s comment by suggesting my favorite Chinese Restaurant, the one, the only Amherst Chinese.

“Well,” replied Dumb-Dumb, “It’s not in New York, so how good could it possibly be?”

“It’s very good,” retorted our always quick on his feet hero (me, myself, and I). “New York doesn’t own the patent on good food. There are hundreds of great chefs who would rather serve poop than cook on the garbage crusted streets of New York.”

“Why would anyone want to live anywhere but the City?”

And this is when things got ugly, which means, this is when I stuck out my rather sizable jaw and managed to piss everyone within earshot off with my ridiculous form of arguing, which boils down to a mixture of semantics and bull shit.

Lost in all my nonsense? My real argument.

Finding good Chinese food, like finding a good version of most ethnic food, is a problematic endeavor, made exponentially difficult by the multiplicity of definitions people have about what constitutes good ethnic cuisine. Of course, its my job, (one which Fraulein, excuse me, Editor Matt Domino pays me handsomely in … er … oh wait, that’s right I do this shit for free. God, please remind me again, why was I an English major?) to break these people down into neat little categories for you.

1) People who think the only good Chinese food involves Stinky Tofu and thousand year old eggs.

2) People who think that Chinese food should result in severe abdominal pain and rabies.

3) People who think that Chinese food should be served by pretty blond waitresses who don’t speak Mandarin.

And finally,

4) Geniuses such as myself, who realize that good Chinese food is a construct of my American food identity. Just as my favorite Indian meal will always be Chicken Tikka Massala, a meal invented by Brits, my favorite Chinese dishes are Moo Shu Pork and Sesame Chicken. Boring? Safe? Run of the mill? Yes. Yes. And No. Just because a dish has been westernized, doesn’t exclude it from being delicious. I love food. I love cooking food. Most importantly,  I love eating good food. I just don’t want to turn food time into a visit to the museum. If my palate tends toward Americanized versions of Chinese food, so be it. Its damn tasty food when done right.



Which leads my to my next point. Very seldom is my kind of Chinese food done right. Typically, the chefs, perhaps conscience that they are catering to dumb Americans, add too much grease and MSG and processed ingredients to their meals, which results in a disgusting mishmash, vaguely reminiscent of food. Good Chinese Restaurants, such as Amherst Chinese (which I miss more than any other restaurant on the East Coast) use organic ingredients in their dumbed down, American versions of Chinese food. They make their own pancakes, noodles, sauces and dumplings. They only speak Mandarin. And they get mad at you when you take too long to order. But by Zeus, they know their business.

Long story short, Dumb-Dumb was an idiot. I’m still bitter. And if you’re looking for good food a few hours away from any major city, look no further than Amherst Chinese in, where else?, Amherst, Massachusetts.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Growing Up


Memorial Day has become the holiday that I most associate with America. It’s not for any military or patriotic reasons, but more for that fact of what it represents—what little traditions we enact year after year that give it a meaning and definition in our lives as the official start of summer.

The Memorial Day weekend truly starts on the Monday before the weekend, when you exchange plans with your coworkers and your friends. The week drags on until you come to that sleepy first “Summer Friday” (at least in New York). Then you get a ride with your friends or hop a train, bus or plane to go home or to go meet with old friends by the beach somewhere. Perhaps you have some new friends from college or the adult life you are beginning to form for yourself and their parents have a country house somewhere, so that is where you go to find quiet and a barbeque. Or maybe there is some timeshare that has been in your family for years and you can enjoy that luxury. Or, one of your childhood friends bought a house in Providence with his fiancée and you can go there for your weekend sanctuary. No matter where you go, its usually a hot, sunny Friday and you will undoubtedly be sitting in traffic for more than two hours. Yes, even if you are flying.

This year, I went to my friend Jeff’s house in Providence. My friends and I had done the same thing last year because Jeff had just bought the house with his fiancée and we had to have a housewarming weekend since the rest of us couldn’t even fathom having a house or being engaged, but that’s what Jeff had always wanted in some way.  We all want to own a house in one way or another, but having a home was just something that had always been integral to who Jeff was. So last year we went up and had fun: went to beaches, took videos, ate lobster, got drunk, got sunburnt. In the end, we had a memorable time. So much so that I still remember driving home late on Memorial Day itself through the mist of the Connecticut night and feeling so terribly hopeless. I was going back to a new job that was promising, but I felt restless looking out at the houses and unknown streets in the stubborn night. There were countless corners with lawns and sprinklers and low-hanging trees.  There were countless youthful romances and heartbreaks next to every hedgerow.  There were streetlamps that stood beside the street in a purely American fashion and I already missed my friends. However, I consoled myself, as I have since, by remembering that we had plenty of years left to continue having good times.

This year, some friends couldn’t make it because of work and also because of a lack of money, which was mainly due to the bad economy but partly due to laziness. Jeff was a little frustrated when we spoke the Friday morning before I left.

“No one picks up their phone.”

“That’s just the way it is, man. They probably feel bad they couldn’t come.”

“Just weird is all. I’m only getting a pony keg though.”

“Too bad the Finals don’t start until next week.”

“I know. Just call me when you get to New Haven, Domino.”

I left work at 1:30, already running late to meet my friend and her pretty friend from college who were parked by Grand Central Station with a trunk full of fresh bagels and some smoked fish I’d bought from Russ and Daughters the night before with the girl I was somewhat seeing. The plan was to ride up the FDR and hopefully catch minimal traffic until we got to the Hutchinson where, in a perfect world, there would be no traffic. I was listening to a live bootleg of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” from Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975. The live version of the song had taken on such a different complexion than the straight country, but none the less revealing and joyous, album version. I was sweating and felt the need to shout some of the new lyrics Dylan had added into the overwhelming humidity in the air:

Well I’m feeling a little bit scattered,
And your love is all that matters
‘Cause tonight I’ll be staying here with you.

People were rushing in every direction trying to make trains and buses. Girls’ dresses were suddenly appearing in my vision for the first time all season, in their yellows, greens, purples, oranges and slim blacks, as something utterly real, important and present. I could make out the light perspiration on the backs of women. I saw little kids hopping along with their instinctual energy and love of summer. I felt like Stephen Dedalus at the Sandymount Strand watching the birdgirl in the waters.

—Heavenly God! cried Stephen's soul, in an outburst of profane joy.

I felt my soul doing the same and I thought of my work, and of the girl I’d been seeing, and felt that perhaps I was just a bit scattered as well and hoping it was perhaps that love that would be all that mattered.

I heard a shout. I turned around and saw my friend sticking her head out the window and waving. I pulled my headphones out from my ears and hopped in the car.

“What ya didn’t see us?” my friend asked.

“I was listening to this Dylan.”

“We got the bagels.”

“Beautiful. You guys are beautiful.”

My friend’s pretty friend turned around from the passenger seat.

“Hey, Matt, how the hell have you been?”

“Good, Maria. I’ve been good.”

My friend wove through traffic like a professional and we were suddenly on the FDR, then slowly moving on the Bruckner. I figured out a shortcut through Pelham Park that got us to the Hutchinson and soon we were moving, not at any great speed, but we were moving along as well as you can hope to move on a highway on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend.


A few hours later, Maria was driving the car while my friend slept in the passenger seat. We were passing New Haven and she explained that she’d grown up outside of that downtrodden city and closer to the Long Island Sound.  The traffic had all but dissipated and we were starting to cut across the state on I-95. I sat in the back seat as Maria told me about the different exits along the highway. I asked her about the Connecticut shore and she explained its merits to me. She told me about a childhood best friend of hers who lived off one of the exits we passed and how that friend later went to the same college she did but that they never spoke. I asked Maria about her job in the government and she told me her beliefs, which were practical but articulated with passion, which made them more interesting to me since I am easily swayed by anyone who talks about something with passion. Especially a girl like her who knew about politics and world affairs, while I know nothing about anything civic or political.  I tried to weigh in where I could and she was more than polite towards my points while illuminating me on think tanks and the different countries who are involved with the Human Rights League and why Cuba should be re-incorporated into our foreign policies. Finally, she told me how her dad commuted all the way to New Jersey each day.

“I did it with him for two months one summer and it was terrible,” she said. “I told him he was crazy for doing it.”

“Why does he do it?” I asked.

“Well, he told me. He said, ‘I like where I live and I like my job and I’m not willing to give either of those things up.’”

“Can’t argue with that.”

“No, you can’t.”

We were both quiet as she continued to drive and I think at one point I dozed off amid the humming of the highway and the sunset.

At about seven o’clock we pulled up to Jeff’s house. It was a humid, but pleasant twilight on his quiet suburban street. The birds were chirping in the trees and I heard a child’s laugh and squeal from an open window somewhere. Jeff and his fiancée greeted us in aprons at the screened front door. A thought passed through my head, that Jeff’s fiancée looked as pretty as she ever had at that moment.

“I’m cooking lobsters and some fish,” Jeff said. “Lots of beer in the fridge.”

I checked the refrigerator—he was right. I grabbed two beers for us while the girls drank wine. We all paced about the kitchen, as people will do when they first arrive at the home of a friend or a loved one after a long drive. Jeff stood at the center of it all, leaning his thin frame over the burners. He seasoned the blackfish with Cajun spices and began to sear them, while steam came from the lobster pot. Maria, my friend and I set the table and Jeff’s fiancée brought out a bottle of champagne. I uncorked the bottled and poured champagne in glasses. Jeff came in from the kitchen with the lobsters and set them down.

“I tried a new way of boiling them. Boiled them for twenty minutes. It’s a little long. Not sure if this will be good or not.”

We toasted to Jeff and Sara, to new friends (Maria had never met them), to Memorial Day Weekend and to summer in general.  The lobster was good, as was everything else. The wood of the dining room table shone under the light and the door to their sunroom was open, letting in a slow breeze that had picked up with the onset of night. My friend went up to change since she and Maria were going to an alumni dance at their college, so Jeff, Maria and I talked about famous political dictators while Jeff’s fiancée talked on the phone in the sunroom.

“Did you know that Time has only given out four red X’s?” I said.

“What’s a red X?” Jeff asked.

“It’s for when a dictator is killed.”

“That’s right.” Maria said.

“There’s one for Hitler, Sadaam, and that other Al Qaida guy they killed five years ago.”

“Al-Zarqawi,” Maria said.

“Who’s the fourth?”

“Japan,” I said.

“No Stalin? He was the worst.”

“Completely,” Maria said.

They continued to talk about Stalin’s legacy in Russia, a country that Jeff had always loved due to some vague family lineage, while I got up to wash dishes in the kitchen.

Later, Jeff and I were drinking a few more beers when my friend and Maria came down in their dresses to go to the alumni dance. They both looked very clean and pretty and for whatever reason reminded me of a new bar of soap pulled right out of the box. Their dresses had pockets on the side. I wasn’t sure if it was an old-fashioned style, but I loved it—maybe it was just a country style that made sense. There was something absolutely right about seeing two pretty girls in dresses going to an alumni dance at their college in a New England city. I wanted something very badly at that moment, I wasn’t sure if it was love, a woman or to sit in a cool breeze with a beer, but it was palpable and I felt very much like a teenage boy on summer vacation. Then, they were gone to their dance.

Jeff, his fiancée and I sat in the sunroom drinking and talking. Some of his fiancée’s friends came over and I tried to keep up with the conversation, but I was tired. Jeff and I talked about how our friend Chris was going to be coming with his girlfriend the next morning. We were trying to decide on the best beach to go to since I was adamant on swimming over Memorial Day Weekend. I found myself looking at my phone and waiting for the time to reach 1:00 AM so that I could allow myself to go to sleep. However, I managed to stay up so that Jeff and I found ourselves awake at 2:00. I was drinking one last unnecessary beer and we were talking about the NBA. In that moment, standing there with my old friend, talking about basketball, I thought about the NBA as a thing and how it had already been in my life for about twenty years and been a shared passion for Jeff and I for about fifteen years. How we’d seen the end of Michael Jordan, the full career of Shaq, the flash of brilliance that was Penny Hardaway, the saga of Kobe Bryant, the quiet efficiency and intelligence of the San Antonio Spurs, the rebirth of the Celtics and now the era of the Miami Heat. And it amazed me that Jeff and I would get older and grayer and the games would still be on. We’d be wearing different clothes and he’d have his wife and there’d be kids, we’d talk about the players of that time, the great teams, how certain players could play better, and then we’d quietly murmur about how much we loved the NBA. In that moment, with that vision of some future so present in my mind, I wasn’t sure what my life would be filled with or how full I’d let it become, but Jeff would be there and there would be things like basketball to talk about, so perhaps it could be good.

I finished my beer and we both took full glasses of water to bed. He went in with his fiancee and I went into the guest room. In the quiet of the room, I folded my clothes neatly and placed them on the top of the dresser. For some reason, I felt the need to pull back the curtains in the room and look out onto the back lawn, probably because I never got to do a simple action like that in my apartment. In the garden, I made out the shape of the large lemur statue that Jeff’s cousin had sculpted for him. I smiled thinking of Jeff’s cousin and his thick Brooklyn accent and then let the curtain close. I put two of the decorative pillows from the bed on the floor, pulled back the soft duvet and lay down. I slept immediately under my friend’s roof.

*                        *                        *                       *                        *                              *

The next morning I woke up and listened for footsteps.  I heard someone walk down the stairs to the first floor. I listened for voices and wished secretly that I could be alone, which is something I wish for even on weekends with close friends.  I saw the sun peeking behind the curtains and I quickly got over that desire.  When I walked downstairs, I saw Jeff, his fiancée, my friend and Maria all sitting in the sunroom. My friend and Maria were sitting side-by-side on the couch wearing gym t-shirts and plaid shorts. They both had their legs propped up on the wicker coffee table. We talked about plans for the day. Maria had to meet some of her friends she hadn’t seen in awhile. She borrowed Janelle’s car to go out. I had a vague sensation of wanting her to stay and sit with us all day, but I wasn’t sure what emotion it was tied to, so I figured it wasn’t that important to me.

Inevitably, we started talking about Jeff’s wedding. A wedding is something that you have to talk about, no matter how far away it is.  Jeff and his fiancée explained the setup of the farm where they were getting married. They told us about the arrival party, the cocktail hour at the wedding, the dinner, the ten-piece band, the after party and the farewell brunch the day after the wedding. It was going to be a weekend of celebration. I pictured the ceremony on a grassy lawn in front of the big lake. The leaves on the trees were changing even though it was only early September. Jeff was wearing a tuxedo, but he looked like we had when we went to our prom in high school. All of my other friends were there too, looking exactly as we had in high school. We posed for pictures and pretended to punch each other in the stomach. I pictured my parents at the ceremony too. I already imagined my drunk and the speech I would give; the speech that would make someone love me, or make some old relative say, “Now, that’s a smart young man.”

“I want a wedding,” my friend said.

We laughed, but I understood what she meant.

“So, we’re going to Colt State Park?” Jeff asked.

“Yeah, lets just do that.”

“We should get ready now then before Chris gets here.”

“Nah,” I said. “Let’s just wait until they get here.”

And before we knew it, they were there. Chris brought in a bag of groceries that included a few six-packs of tall, Narragansett Summer Ales. Narragansett is not a great beer, but I have a soft spot for it whenever I go to Rhode Island. It may be because it is some symbol of that water-filled state, but it has a very clean label with nice writing on it and drinking the beer out of the bottle tastes very good. The Summer Ales that Chris brought were even better than the regular Narragansetts, so we set to drinking them in the early afternoon.

Jeff showed off the new wood finish he did on the roof of his sunroom because Chris was good at building things and intuitive when it came to tools and crafts. We laughed a lot and made fun of Jeff’s neighbor who Jeff described as “an asshole.”  It got sunny and then cloudy; wind blew through the sunroom. I put on Before the Flood, the Bob Dylan and the Band live album from 1974 and tried to make Chris’ girlfriend laugh because she has a good sense of humor and can give confidence to someone who just wants to make a small room of people and friends laugh. I changed shirts and when I came down, Jeff was sawing pieces of wood and starting a fire in his little clay oven out on the patio. He stopped to go get groceries with my friend since it was close to dinnertime. Chris and I were outside alone for a second.

“I don’t worry about you,” he said.

“Thank you, man.”

“It’s an intuitive thing and I know you know that.”

“I do. And you know I feel the same way.”

“I miss you sometimes you son of a bitch.”

“Yeah right.”

We laughed and drank more beer.

“This is a good session beer,” Chris said.

Jeff and my friend came back with steaks and a lot more beer. Maria appeared from the back gate with a friend of hers from Brown. They sat down as Jeff started cooking steaks and sausages that Chris had brought. Jeff’s fiancée set a long table with salad and leftover rice from the night before. She brought out a homemade pizza that Jeff had whipped together.

“Steaks are done,” Jeff said.

“Thanks for all this, Jeff,” I said.

“Uh, Matt, what about me?” Jeff’s fiancée said.

“I’m sorry,” I said sincerely. “I know I’ll never be forgiven.”

“Domino,” she said.

We toasted to the meal and to the pleasant night and the fact that all of these different people were sitting around the table together.  Maria’s friend explained his start-up energy company. It had something to do with harnessing energy from the water. It sounded like a good idea and, even in that very moment, I wished that I had paid attention better.  The guy was nice and he was from a family of architects in San Francisco, so I trusted him.

Dinner ended and my friend, Maria and Maria’s friend from college all had to leave. We said our goodbyes.

“You should come down to D.C. sometime,” Maria said.

“Sure.”

“She’ll never come,” she motioned to my friend and laughed.

“Sure she will. I’ll come whenever.”

I hugged her and kissed her on the cheek.

*                        *                        *                       *                        *                              *

Later that night we were all drinking beer in the sunroom. Jeff’s fiancée brought out wine that she and Chris’ girlfriend shared.

“What?” Chris said. “Is that a lemur statue out there?”

“Oh,” Jeff’s fiancée said. “Yeah, Albert made it for Jeff.”

“Al!” Chris said and laughed. “How is he?”

“He’s got a cute little kid now.”

“I didn’t know he made art.”

“Yeah, he doesn’t so much anymore. But he can still make sculptures and things when he has free time,” Jeff said.

“That’s better,” I said.

“What do you mean, Domino?”

“I mean, its better to just make something that somebody likes.  Sometimes that’s better than anything else. Any art.”

I thought of the Bob Dylan bootleg I loved and I wasn’t sure I even believed what I had just said. Or, at least I wondered if it were even true or not.

Well I’m feeling a little bit scattered,
And your love is all that matters
‘Cause tonight I’ll be staying here with you.

“Here’s a beer, Dom,” Chris said, handing me a very cold, perspiring regular Narragansett.

“I love ‘Gansetts!” I said.

“Domino,” Jeff’s fiancée said. “You’re the only person I know who loves Narragansetts.”

I hugged the bottle.

Under each regular Narragansett cap was a riddle using pictures. We spent the next few hours figuring out the riddles and drinking more beer.  First Jeff’s fiancée went to bed, then Chris’ girlfriend. Then just Jeff, Chris and I sat out in the sunroom. We were all tired and a light rain was beginning to fall outside. I motioned to say something to both of them, but finished off an unnecessary beer first.

“Should we go to bed?”

Chris gave a large muscular nod from the chair he was slumped in.  We went into the kitchen to get glasses of water.  Jeff made a quick little sandwich for he and Chris using a half of a bagel. He put some of the smoked fish I brought on each quarter and spread a little plain cream cheese on.

“You want any, Domino?”

“No. You disgust me.”

We all walked upstairs slowly and went to bed. I folded my clothes and lay down alone under the soft duvet. I thought about the lemur statue out in the garden and was soon asleep. I wasn’t sure how late it was.

*                        *                        *                       *                        *                              *

We ate eggs and bacon the next morning. The bacon, when cooked, smelled of thick maple syrup and it was delicious. After we ate eggs and bacon, Jeff, Chris, Chris’ girlfriend and I went out to grab some supplies while Jeff’s fiancée showered and prepared for their big barbeque. Chris and I went into a crowded local bakery with a foolish list of supplies I had scribbled out to make everyone laugh.  We bought baguettes, five large chocolate chip cookies and one raspberry Danish that I promised Chris I would get him.  We laughed while waiting on line.

Back at the house, Jeff and his fiancée playfully yelled at each other while they made orzo salad. I helped them clean up the counter space and told Jeff’s fiancée that she had planned and made plenty of side dishes for the guests. Everything seemed eerily familiar to me, but I was enjoying myself helping her clean and prepare. Chris and his girlfriend had to leave to go to a party for her family. Jeff and I saw them out to the car. Jeff’s neighbor was outside with her baby and her brown standard poodle. The sun emerged strongly from behind the clouds and the baby chirped from its mother’s arms. Jeff and I said goodbye to Chris as they pulled out of the driveway. I felt a little sad, but went inside and took a shower.

Guests arrived for the barbeque, including one of Jeff’s friends from college who had the same first name as me and whom I liked a lot. He came with his girlfriend too. The sun was hot and all of a sudden there were a lot of people on the back patio that I didn’t know, but they looked nice and were friendly and young and sat around tables. Jeff’s fiancée had prepared enough side dishes and there was plenty of beer. I talked with a guy I’d met the year before about working in print. He was a nice guy and we joked about a lot of things and tried to be comfortable talking with each other for an extended period of time, which isn’t always an easy thing to do with someone.

I sat with Jeff’s friend from college, Matt, and his girlfriend.

“Jeff said you needed a ride to White Plains to catch a train,” Matt asked.

“Can you help me out? If its not too much trouble?”

“You got it.”

So, we talked. They had both just graduated law school, so we talked about that. We talked about the wedding. Soon it got darker and Jeff started another fire. One of the guests was drunk and tried to explain to me why he wasn’t a homophobe. I knew he was drunk and I was feeling flush with drink and the sense of upcoming summer and celebration that I was in the mood to be patient and listen. Besides, it was a nice night and Jeff had a fire burning.

The night got late and I started a movement to begin cleaning. However, all the girls took over and formed a line near the sink in the kitchen. The water over the sink ran hot and steam rose up and fogged the window. I had to go to the bathroom, so I hesitantly moved through the long row of girls talking loudly. I walked with my shoulders shrugging as if I knew nothing of washing dishes or anything domestic. I reached the bathroom and took a piss. And as fast as the line had started, as fast as the ritual had appeared, the girls and everyone else started filing out.  The drunk guy and his girlfriend stayed awhile but they soon walked home.

Everyone was getting ready for bed, when I reminded Jeff and his fiancée that I had stashed the cookies from earlier in the day. I pulled them out of their hiding spot by the dryer and put them in the microwave.

“They don’t need it, Domino!” Jeff stood in front of the microwave.

“Trust me.”

“Domino.”

“Trust me.”

I put the cookies flat on a paper towel and put them in the microwave for thirty-five seconds.

“Get out that milk we bought,” I said.

The microwave stopped and I pulled out the cookies.  Jeff, his fiancée, Matt, his girlfriend and I started pulling at the cookies. The chocolate chips were warm, gooey and delicious and soon it was a feeding frenzy until the last bit was gone. I quickly crumpled up the paper towel and threw it away.

“Damn you, Domino,” Jeff’s fiancée said.

“You know that was good.”

“You’re right.”

We all went up to bed in our respective spots. Our stomachs filled with milk and rapidly eaten chocolate chip cookies.

*                        *                        *                       *                        *                              *

On Memorial Day morning, the five of us sat around leisurely drinking coffee with the sense of impending departure that hangs over any Memorial Day.  We ate the remainder of my smoked fishes and the last of the bagels. We had coffee and I showered. When I got downstairs, I saw Matt drinking a beer, so I decided to have one too. More coffee was poured. We said we would leave, but then we stayed. Finally, it was about 1:00 PM and it was time to go. I collected all my things and grabbed my sneakers from the sunroom. I had the feeling I was forgetting something, but I went through my mental checklist and found that I had everything. We said our goodbyes and I didn’t feel that initial sadness rise up because I knew that I’d be seeing Jeff and his fiancée soon enough anyway. Or maybe it was because things were a little bit more scattered in general and there was no way to be truly sad.

I got into the back seat of Matt’s car.

“We’re going to stop in New Haven,” he said. “I’ve got to move some stuff out of my apartment and take it to White Plains.”

“Sounds great,” I said.

Matt turned on some Spoon and I listened to he and his girlfriend playfully bicker back and forth. We were stuck in traffic for a few hours and I thought about watching the NBA Finals the next night. By the time we got to New Haven the sun had started completely shining, giving the area around the college a completely refreshing and collegiate feel.

“I can’t believe this is such a terrible place,” I said.

“That’s what you think at first,” Matt said. “And then you see someone get stabbed across the street.”

We stopped at his apartment, which was in the top floor of an old Victorian home. We walked up creaking back steps. The apartment had a distinctly "end of the school year" feel to it. There were boxes everywhere and unwashed dishes in the sink and around the kitchen. Windows were open and fans were buzzing. Everything was very quiet and you could hear the birds chirping outside.

“This place is disgusting,” Matt’s girlfriend said.

“Well, then grab some stuff and we can get out of here quickly.”

We made several trips up and down in the heat, taking out dress shirts, ties, half full bottles of liquor, pots, pans and a fishing pole, which Matt forced his girlfriend to take in her car. Then, Matt and I got in his car, while his girlfriend got in hers and we set off for White Plains. There was no traffic on the Merritt so Matt and I flew. We made small talk. We talked about the summer. He explained the intricacies of living in New Haven and told me some stories of danger. We talked about Jeff and other mutual friends we shared. We also talked about fishing. It was a nice conversation that had no awkward stops to it, only natural ones, which was a reassuring thing to happen in a conversation between two guys who had been brought together by a shared friend. Before I knew it, it was 5 o’clock and I was at the White Plains train station.


“I’ll see you soon, my man,” I said waving Matt off.

He gave a nod in his baseball cap and sunglasses and took off.

I waited for the train in the golden light of the late afternoon. The sun was filtering through the trees and I thought about all the times I had taken the Metro North. How at different times it had signaled ultimate heartbreak, an escape, a chore, and a drunken late spring afternoon reverie. I put on my headphones and began listening to the Bob Dylan bootleg from 1975. I listened to Bob wail and change the lyrics to his songs. I listened to him change the tempo.

Well I’m feeling a little bit scattered,
And your love is all that matters
‘Cause tonight I’ll be staying here with you.

I kept listening on the train and watching the trees pass by. I remembered the lemur statue in Jeff’s yard and what I had said about it. Perhaps I was wrong. Maybe it isn't just enough to simply make something that someone enjoys. Here was Bob Dylan, taking songs that people knew and loved, and then completely changing them. He rearranged the tempo so that the song took on a new meaning. He sang the lyrics with different emphasis, so that the songs took on a deeper meaning, maybe even a truer meaning than their original form. From the sound of the crowd, it seemed like audience enjoyed the new versions (how could you not with that backing band and especially those drums). Whether they liked it or not, it didn’t seem to matter to Dylan, all that mattered was that it sounded like he was having the best time of his life.  As if he were saying to the world and to himself, “now this is what ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’ was supposed to sound like. I just couldn’t do it like this before.” There is a truth to the enjoyment of creating something and giving it to someone for their enjoyment—it is an act of care, of love. But perhaps that isn’t better than art, even if it is just something completely different than art.

When I got back to the city, I walked around the streets of my neighborhood in the last red light of the day; I wasn’t ready to go home yet. The smell of charcoal was in the air. I saw little girls taking large steps on the front stoops of their apartment buildings. It was Memorial Day without a doubt. I had just had a great weekend with old friends, their new loved ones, and other people who were nice and just trying to make their own way through this world and have their own Memorial Day weekends. I thought of the girl I was somewhat seeing and how I thought I might be able to love her, if that was even possible.

In front of me, a guy was walking his old, trodding, yellow dog. They walked slowly side by side toward the setting sun and I felt as scattered as I’d ever felt. I was wondering what mattered. I was pretty sure that I understood, but I couldn’t be quite sure. In any case, it was another Memorial Day.

Friday, June 10, 2011

K-Mark

We've come to another Friday, my Puddlers. There is another round of summer movies to be had, another round of summer dresses to observe women wearing and the continued hope of periods of rain, giving way to after-rain, which might be the most pleasant time to live in a city in the summer—especially if a park and a bar and a woman in a light purple dress are nearby.

I'll be dodging the heat this weekend and listening to the new Bon Iver album, which is fantastic. I recommend you listen to it as well as I'll probably be writing about it, rain, and Cat Stevens very soon. Also, next week look for one of those sprawling epic posts that has made me famous among those who detest fame.

However, today, we have Mark Jack in what I believe is one of his most poignant and on point posts, which is saying something because I feel like he has been on a roll over the past month. So, without further ado, I give you your Friday dose of Mr. Mark Richard Jack.





In Search

Mark Jack




Sometimes it seems like there is a certain satisfaction in circling around the glories of cultural appetites, even when it might be better to avoid that kind of taste altogether, that kind of circuitous observance and thought. I feel like I ought to do less of that, that circling, and instead move straight to the page or the computer screen or whatever. But then I fear my hand’s weakness, my eyes’ unwillingness and my mind’s flightiness and I circle and circle.

So when I’m told, “You can’t just get drunk and wait to become a writer,” or something like that, I’m terribly embarrassed by all the crass assumptions I’ve been making.

But Hell.

I just finished reading Swann’s Way and, don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about it. I don’t know that I could say anything that worthwhile. It is a stunning work that has enough baggage around it without my contributions. I was talking to a friend recently who said she tried to read it but couldn’t get into it, claiming disinterest in long passages about doorknobs. I don’t remember any particularly long passage about a doorknob but if it’s in there, I want to find it and confront one of the (most likely) most beautiful descriptions of a doorknob in literary history. Read it.

Reading Proust’s long passages on memory, I am forced to confront my own problems as “presence.” I wish I could be upset about something I’d done, rather than something I continue to do, for I could look on it all, then, as my past. For so many years I have not regretted, which is perhaps to say that I have not truly remembered. Either way, while I have recognized mistakes I’ve made and disliked aspects of my previous selves, I have never wished for the opportunity to change.  I have been fairly content with myself—the smug bastard—and perhaps feared some disruption of the space-time continuum, and so never even considered things like, wanting to go back to high school and not buy that weed that got me expelled. I find myself rejecting, somewhat, that Doc Brown mentality recently, which leaves me in a shitty position. And I must admit that, while I am more inclined to it, time travel remains a fantasy.

I am actually happier, now, and in a fuller sense, than I have been for years, and it is this happiness that has made my regrets more punishing, as I have reached a place where I am beginning to feel that I deserve or at least have worked for a better life than one which consists of being taken advantage of at service industry jobs. I was interviewed on a WNYC show last fall and they tried to tell me I’m “malemployed” because I worked at a bar even though I have a B.A. That is, until they found out I majored in literature.

I think it is important to struggle with memory and reject mistakes, but not punish oneself for them in the present. I mean, we can’t be depressed because we did something shitty when we were ten, but we shouldn’t convince ourselves that the event was an integral part of a delicate narrative that has led to a person; a “me” that I am satisfied with, to a reasonable degree. Somehow, that attitude, which has been the predominant attitude of my life, is one that refuses real confrontation with oneself, either in the past or in the present, and one which, as it performs an act of avoidance also performs an act of inclusion. That is to say, we refuse to confront our mistakes so as to better establish them in convenient areas of our lives so that they are remembered as fitting, linear narratives. “Even though I shouldn’t have behaved that way,” this manner of thinking suggests, “it was integral to the self that I have become and to reject that mistake is to reject my self, which is a mistake.” Dumb bit of logic there, eh?  I mean, why shouldn’t we reject ourselves, ever. I reject the drug obsessed arrogant puissant that I was my freshman year of college. I wasted a lot of time, a lot of everyone’s time. That kid that I was was a piece of shit, and since there is no Dolorean to take me back, I cannot know that if I slapped my former self around a bit and made him get his shit together a little sooner that somehow the world would’ve ended yesterday. Also, and this is the truly unfortunate thing about the lack of a flux capacitor, I cannot slap that obnoxious piece of shit that was me around, not even a little. My one consolation is to understand that; that self is not me.

Mark



P.S. I am moving to Berkeley, CA in August. Any help with job opportunities would be awesome. Thanks.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Theoharides On Sports Villains

Welcome to a scorching New York Wednesday, my Puddlers. Although, it seems like the entire country is suffering from the heat. You already know how I feel about it: bring it on, bring on the madness, bring on the homicide and score it to this song.

Speaking of the Heat—well I won't go into yet another collapse by Miami last night. The Heat's penchant for playing better when their backs are up against the wall is getting extremely infuriating and hopefully it doesn't cost them the series. In any case, this NBA Finals is shaping up to be an extremely memorable one, which is fresh on the heels of last year's excellent seven game series between the Lakers and the Celtics. All good things for the NBA.

While we are on the topic, Alex Theoharides is here today in his regular slot to weigh in on hating the Miami Heat and why its good to generally hate different players in sports. I'll leave it to Mr. Theoharides from here.




On Sports Villains or How Lebron James’s Decision Made the NBA Finals Interesting Again.

Alex Theoharides




Look, as a sport’s fan I can’t stand the Miami Heat. It’s in my fan DNA to dislike them - even prior to their current run of amateurish exhibitionism. Back when the New York Knicks were coached by Jeff Van Gundy and still played de-fence, the Heat were their last great rival. Their games were epic slugfests, filled with flagrant fouls, bench clearing brawls and suspensions. When I think of the Heat, I still think first of Tim Hardaway’s lickity-split crossover, PJ Brown tossing Charlie Ward over his shoulders, and Van Gundy hanging on to Alonzo Mourning’s ankles like a bratty toddler who didn’t want his father to leave for work (otherwise known as my favorite NBA highlight … ever). Those Miami Heat were easy to hate (anyone else find it interesting that Heat and hate have the same 4 letters? no? just me? great.) because they played an ugly brand of basketball. However, I always had a begrudging respect for them. The Heat of old weren’t sports’ villains, but simply grisly veterans willing to knock someone down if it meant they could advance to the next round of the playoffs. The Knicks were no different, perhaps even worse, and collectively the two teams so ruined the aesthetic of the NBA game that Commander, excuse me, Commissioner Stern had to institute sweeping rule changes into the league.

This Miami Heat team is different. Lebron and Wade play beautiful, sometimes breathtaking basketball. They defend, they attack the rim, they go after offensive rebounds, they make highlight play after highlight play … in short they play basketball exactly how it should be played. Still I hate them. I hate the way they came together. I hate the way they celebrate every good run as if they just won an A.A.U championship. And I hate how easy the game comes to them. Look, I admire the Heat, but I don’t respect them. I love watching them play basketball, but I don’t like the way they turned the NBA into a league in which superstars can just decide they only want to play with each other. I hate the Heat, I hate the Heat, I … I can’t stop watching the Heat.

Villains are great for sports. They give otherwise neutral sports fans a clear understanding of who they should root for, and, more importantly, who they should root against. Sports are more entertaining when fans have a vested interest, however insignificant, in the outcome. Some of my greatest childhood memories are of watching my favorite villain, Michael Jordan, repeatedly defeat every single fragging (yes, as in Battle Star Galactica) team in the NBA year after year, with that same damn wagging of his tongue. However, not all sport’s villains come in the same shape and size. Some, like Jordan, are all villains because of their greatness. They are only villains to those who root against them. Others, well, how about, in keeping with Dictator Domino, I just make a list. (Please note the high total of Knicks and Yankees, aka, my attempt to not play favorites)


Sports Villains


The Michael Jordan Division

True superstars, whose talent renders the outcome of games entirely too predictable; true superstars who break the hearts of sports fans year after year with their on field exploits, their perfect shots, or throws, or catches.  

Joe Montana
Jerry Rice
Emmett Smith
Peyton Manning
Lebron James
Derek Jeter
Pete Sampras
Lance Armstrong

Wayne’s World

Yes, as in Wayne Gretzky, the great one, who I loved to watch, but who millions secretly detest because he, like everyone else in this list, was a pretty boy, who always seemed to get all the calls, all the stats, and yes many of the wins.

Magic Johnson
Tom Brady
Alex Rodriquez
Andre Agassi
Dan Marino
Roger Federer

Ty Cobb Division

Truly unlikable sonsofbitches, loved only by their team’s most ardent fans, and disliked by teammates and foes alike, who seemed to care more about their stats then they did about their teams performances

Wilt Chamberlain
Roger Clemens
Pete Rose
Oscar Robertson
Kobe Bryant
Barry Bonds
John McEnroe
Nolan Ryan
Eric Lindros
Curt Shilling

The Bill Romanowski Division

Hardworking, needle-some, whiny players, who made up for either their lack of age or talent, by barking at opponents, cheating at every good opportunity, and generally acting like Class A boors.  

Bill Laimbeer
Kevin Garnett (circa 2008 -2011)
Dennis Rodman
Kevin Youkilis
Charles Oakley
Robert Parish
Ron Artest
Scott Stevens

The Orel Hershiser Division

Goody two shoes players, who somehow always seemed keen on reminding you of exactly how great they were, in a way, somewhat reminiscent of that kid we all had in math class, who not only got the answer first, but then preceded to spend five minutes telling you all about how he got the answer first. We get it Oral, you were a great pitcher, yes, you won all those games in the playoffs, yes, yes you were great. Just shove it already! It doesn’t help that these fine folk have a cruel tendency to end up as sports broadcasters.

Tim McCarver
Rick Barry
Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Greg Maddux
Paul O’Neill
Reggie Miller
J.J. Reddick (Duke version)
Christian Laettner (Duke version)
Basically any Duke player besides Grant Hill

The Manny Ramirez Division

Just Manny being Manny.