Monday, December 31, 2007

inventory in a poem

"Te Deum"
by Charles Reznikoff

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day's work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

Happy New Year, dear friends close to me and dappled readers one shade beyond.

Friday, December 28, 2007

new year reality check

Reading the morning paper and feeling emotionally hungover over Bhutto's death (and entertaining once again the financially impossible idea of up and moving to either Firenze or Paris before the Apocalypse Blitz hits New York or San Francisco), I switched to a fluffy number in the NYT on how Americans are ringing in the new New Year. And I started reading the comments. Love this guy:

"I intend to drink my mortgage industry sorrows and await the next crisis to hit the financial world, the credit card debacle. Maybe I can charge a bunch of stuff and Bush will lower my interest rate since we Americans certainly don't know that a house worth 500K will not be at 1000 dollar payments a month no matter how may brokers tell you that."

— Rahim, Dallas, Texas

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


All my life, I have lacked two things: a camera and a sense of direction. This year, both deficits have been resolved.

One crazy sweet elf gave me a digital camera. Fantastic! I took pictures of snow. I took pictures of prime rib (it is not very photogenic). I took pictures of cookies, my shoes, angels (below), my hands, doorways, window sills, my obliging parents, my sleeping grandmother, of police at the Dunkin' Donuts (Bavarian cream, good call), of passing ambulances, electric snowflakes (also below), inflatable lawn art, the whole god damned Christmas shebang.

I took pictures of pictures, themselves already framed on the wall. I took pictures and deleted them, sent them places, took them four times over just to pick which I liked best. This is tremendous. I am quite sure, in fact, that no one has ever owned or used a camera before. Otherwise, it's all they'd talk about. I do believe I am the first to experience this rapture. What a holiday. All I can say is just wait till you too get to work with this new-fangled invention, this enthralling little box of light; it’s great, good funbut now onto the showstopping news.

That would be the sense of direction. Brothers and sisters of this new, well-met year, I have received a GPS for the Matrix. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, you have no idea my joy (unless you’ve been in the car with me, in which case, alas, you know how sorely I lack the ability to drive anywhere beyond my own bedroom). The miracle device’s name is Chelsea. (This makes a fine family for my imaginary admin Hillary and my new camera, now named Bill.) This fabulous little Chelsea beast can give me directions anywhere in North America and even covers greater U. S. territoriesso if I end up in my own car in Puerto Rico somehow, I'm set!

Chelsea is versatile as all good performers ought to beshe can direct me in Italian (rawr!), with a British accent, whatever my fancyshe’s absolutely bellissima, bloody brilliant. I tell her my destination and off we go, sure on our course. If I overshoot a turn (though it’s quite hard to mess up when she guides me with such sterling confidence and clarity), she patiently says “recalculating” and directs me back to the original destination by way of the next shortest, sensible route. She’s infinitely reliable, thanks to her satellite network. Hillary, you could learn a thing or two from your daughter’s efficient utility.

Look! Electric snowflakes fell (they were HUGE) at 48th and 5th!

Above: After the show at the Jazz Standard, I hung by the Rockefeller tree with the angelsthe tree, btw, had blue lights for Hannukah, did you notice? That was a first; better late than neverand anyway, angel and I pretended we were Nicholas Peyton blowin' it out in the horn section. (Though if I had it to do over again, I'd have angled the umbrella down, not up, and stood in as the fella on alto sax, Donald Harrison. As my father, who has become startlingly hip and jazzy in recent years, would say, man, that cat can blow. Check Harrison out. You'll be glad you did.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

somebody's stolen the savior

Christmas, post-dinner. Mom and I had energy to burn. Both fidgety and disinclined to read or otherwise operate productively in the world, we decided to pack up some gifts and bring them up to the baby Jesus at the local church for his big 2012th birthday. Things did not go quite as planned.

First off, our lord baby Jesus had been stolen. Awesome surprise. See for yourself:

But I had walked all that way with my frankincense and myrrh. So someone was going to pose for me in that frickin' manger. Mom, gamey and ever deferent to my bratty pleas, climbed on in. Again, awesome. Awesome, that is until she thought she heard it crack. That's what we've captured very flatteringly here. (For the record, it did not crack. And also for the record, we’d not had a sip of moonshine. Nothing.)

I made several friends along the way, including a nice gay man to whom I gave a holiday bouquet:

And a thirsty lamb:

And a mechanical bull that, to my disappointment, did not take quarters, after all.

Merry Christmas, folks. If you're damned if you do and damned if you don't, well then you might as well. Right? Next up, New Year's.

Monday, December 24, 2007


How about some fun with the scientific method?

Late December, temp in the twenties with wind chill. I am going for a run.

Experiment Marathon training continues, regardless of locale.

Hypothesis No big whoop: Running sixteen miles in New Jersey is not much harder than in California.

Analysis Incorrecto, Doktor Kennedito! I nearly died.

Conclusion I am a lily-livered, pansy-footed West Coaster incapable of exerting myself anywhere but in a Surfin' Safari video set.

Above: Laughing death in the face.

Monday, December 17, 2007

death penalty repeal

Feeling particularly proud of being from New Jersey right now.

(Looking at the map included in the story, I gotta say I think someone on the BBC's cartography team may have been hitting the Maker's Mark because Pennsylvania appears to be eating its way into Jersey's westerly midsection. So much for Trenton.)

beeg dawg, leetle bebe

You have never before in your whole ding-dang life—and I mean guaranteed-with-all-$359.26-in-my-savings-account neverseen cute like this. It could only get better if I got a unicorn in the frame. Happy holidays, errybotty.

you send me, an angel

When I manage to block out concerns like the melting Arctic ice shelves due north of me, Social Security, or U. S. foreign policy, I'm a pretty happy kid. But nowhere near as happy as Nina Storey. I sat this weekend crunched into the audience of an intimate San Francisco loft party (fifty of us maybe?) where Storey, a solid, giddy seraphim, sang for a few dreamy hours and, seeing her so fulfilled, I wondered if she was on Ecstasy. But no, talk with her later indicated that she's just like that.

Let me try to get you there: Etta James, Tori Amos, Norah Jones, and Koko Taylor all rolled into one in a smart, darling, effervescent package. Her subject matter runs from an NPR-inspired number on domestic violence to a heartfelt ode to the metal roller skate. She's all impossible charm and whimsy. She's got lungs like you would not believe, unswerving vocal control, and a vibrato that ranges, rages, and rattles cages. A human that manages to purr. I can't say her recordings do justice to her live performance. She's really all that in person. But a CD may do ya in a pinch. (I challenge you to play "Give Me a Reason" in the car and resist singing along. I find myself hollering along without even realizing it sometimes, missing exits, fleeting past stop signs, rolling off roads into the brush. And still, we sing.)

Here are some lame pictures. (I asked my imaginary admin Hillary to get me a camera, but she's busy Christmas shopping for herself.)

The ecstasy-cherub thing happening.

See Etta reference above.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

xmas dog treats

Sitting in the kitchen of an old County Cork farmhouse that's been in the family for generations, I must have stared at the one-pound block of butter on the table for days. I was transfixed. Butter came in such quantities? Amazing. In the States, we'd had sensible Land O'Lakes, conspicuously manufactured and neatly wrapped into thin, refined rectangular prisms.

The butter changed my life. This fascinating big hunk of heavensent fat alerted me to the inherent limitlessness of hedonism, a greedy reality that has never since left me, not once. Up to that point (I think I was around seven), I'd not only lacked a consciousness of food and its various local incarnations, but of where it came from in the very first place, what seasons brought which produce, how things like butter were even made.

And that, not really in any kind of linear thought progression that holds the conceptual hand of you, dear and ever-patient reader, brings me now to tins of biscuits. As phenomenally farmy as the bacon, butter, and bread were, the biscuits at said family farm were a tremendous disappointment to my young Wonder-bread palate. Likely packed with rolled oats, wheat germ, and other wholesome dust, the biscuits served in that heatless canister of a house delighted my grandparents and parents alike. Me, not so much. I rolled the mealy lumps around in my mouth and hardly took my eyes off the butter, which I just wanted to take, dip in sugar, and eat. (I had done this before with Land O'Lakes.)

Still, it is with some wistful reminiscence of those dreaded biscuits—and the kitchen with what stands in my mind now as an old Wedgewood and below it, Mick the meanest Jack Russell staring and growling at me after a long day's herding cows—that I present to you dog biscuits that (yes, I tried them) bear an uncanny, and therefore sentimental, resemblance to my greataunt's miniature oat bran ship anchors/biscuits.

They're easy to make. The dog will love them. Mick guarantees.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

it's official (again): we're doomed

Of the nearly two hundred thousand words at our disposal in the English language, only one would end up voted Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year. To the great disgrace of our nation and our future generations, we have elected to memorialize the banner year of 2007 with none other than "woot." Oh no, I'm not kidding. Word of the Year, my comrades. They even used it creatively in a sentence, with two zeroes in place of the middle letters, all text-msg-like: "W00T! I won the contest!"

I am bereft of words and of hope. Woot indeed.

Monday, December 10, 2007

michael vick goes to jail

I'll update this as I get more news, but Michael Vick, who should have gone to jail for five years, has been sentenced to twenty-three months in prison for neglect, abuse, and brutal killing of pit bulls in a dogfighting ring.

K, well there's more to come on this case. The hearing yesterday was limited to racketeering charges at the state level, I believe. Vick could still receive a federal sentence for neglect and abuse charges—and if I've got it right, he's just admitted he personally helped hang two of the victim dogs. So the question will be—if he is in fact sentenced to more time—whether they'll restrict him from serving it concurrently.

Here's a new piece from the Contra Costa Times.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

pip pip for shadowboxes

My coconspirator and I went to MOMA this weekend. We ended up—as one always does in such cavernous cabinets of wonder—visiting multiple floors of random art. I touched some of it and oooh boy, did I get my hand slapped! It was a pool of water that I touched, one that ended up setting off a reflecting pool of ripples up on the projected digital mirror on the wall. I really wanted to touch it again. I mean really really. In fact, standing right at the brink of the ankle-deep pool, what I wanted to do most after being corrected was jump in and splash the security guard and get a whole beach party started in that stuffy black room of art and ridiculous restraint. But I, as they say, digress. I digress tremendously. Because small artsy pools of temptation were not what we were there for. We were there for Joseph Cornell and his small, symmetrical shadowboxes that house angels, constellations, and teeny ivory pipes.

Here, as a point of reference, is Adam Gopnik on Cornell's work: "The art under inspection ... has ... old French hotel ads and stuffed birds and soap-bubble pipes hermetically sealed behind glass, evoking vanished Victorian worlds of Curiosity Shops and steamer trunks and natural-history-museum displays of long-refuted principles. They ought to have dated; they ought to date; they are, in a way, about being dated. And yet something keeps the visitor locked in place, looking, and turns his mind to the warmer, though still not quite satisfying, words of romantic praise: haunting, mysterious, dreamy, sublime.... "

Why does it always seem the artists I favor are characterized as provincial or dusty or quaint in effete intellectual circles? Cornell built little windows of imagination. Art. Period. I'm not sure why we need to speak of nostalgia in the diminutive. I think his art is beautiful and the simple measure of that effect is in the oblivion of my singular I, the checking of one overblown sense of self, even if just for a few seconds. For the record, I'm all for art without irony, complication, or ornamentation. Huzzah for steamer trunks of nostalgia, old chaps!

Simplicity is the highest art we've got.

my life

The holidays irritate some people. I get overtaken annually by an effusive sense of pollyanna love for everything and a passing capacity to surrender to the delusion that the world is snowy and pretty and witty and free. In other words, I am the raccoon. And life is that there kibble pellet being offered by the doughy hand of God. "Yes," I exclaim in Raccoonese, "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes to it all! Now pass the damn turkey and gravy and open your presents already!"

(That picture is from, by the way, my latest in an endless array of time-destroying diversions.)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

it's the name, i think

I don't know why this makes me laugh so hard, but it just does.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

che magari!

Veronica Van Gogh is almost too inspired to be just human. What am I saying? Delete that "almost" and then I've got it spot-on. She's decidedly and delightfully from elsewhere. But fortunately, her art is here. Well, and in bus stops, on phone poles, in cafes, on park benches, probably in your purse. She's that sneakysharp.

get a look in the coffers first

The holidays seem as fine a time as any to provide a helpful reminder that your ho ho ho goodwill tithing may not land your spare change where you think it does. Donating in someone's name to PETA? Think again.

my three: grace, fate, and fury

Everyone has their saving graces. Without my three, I'd have ended up pushing a shopping cart and discussing plans for my imaginary kingdom with invisible elves over oil drum fires. Their birthdays happen to be right in a row. So happy big kazoo day to each of you, you smartest, twistiest, nuttiest men on the planet.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007

thoughtful strangers, funnily

I used to be fussy about runs, only using trails and courses that steered clear of any actual neighborhoods. Since discovering, though, my preference has quickly become getting to know the place where I live better with each distance run.

During the twelve-miler through Berkeley yesterday, the following citizen assurance won Best in Show for my favorite sightseeing experience. It's a two-step dance. First, one thinks as she approaches the car, "Oh how awful." And if that someone is me, she imagines the worst for the passengers:

Then, in passing, she is met at the side window with a note (blurry, sorry) that makes her laugh out loud, stop for a second, and just take in how great some people can be:

What a considerate Berkeley resident. How much better this made the last leg of the route, knowing that, at least in that instance, the evidence looked so much worse than the event ... and how comforting to know that someone out there was aware enough to realize that I—or any random stranger taking in the sight of such a gnarled car—would benefit from witnessing the small, seemingly insignificant solace of miraculous survival.