25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day five.

When the light and the architecture is really good: Columbus, Indiana…

Spent the last two hours of daylight on one of the shortest days of the year wandering around Columbus, Indiana. I had planned to take my “real” camera, but I forgot. I actually think I like zipping around with the iPhone better. Fiddling with the lens and doing complicated math really saps my enjoyment. I ran around following the long shadows of church steeples. I ducked in an out of alleys. I stood in the middle of the street calculating the odds that a car would hit me. You can’t do those things when you’re trying to remembering if you recharged the f-stops.

I’d rather compose some pleasing geometry and light, then snap, then run around to the next one.

And, as my boss when I worked for an outfit that made TV movies for the USA Network back in the early 90s was fond of saying when it was time to give up on shot because of fading light and attitudes:

“We’ll fix it in post.”

Columbus, Indiana is the home of many modernist buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places. Architecture geeks love it.

Find out about some of the architecture here…

Names! Names! Names!

Lines! Lines! Lines!

Angles! Angles! Angles!

All the filters, but sometimes none.

Advertisements

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day four.

The album art, especially the lyrics, for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road because Grooving Is Fundamental.

Elton-John-Goodbye-Yellow-Brick-Road-innner-sleeves

In my seven-year old opinion the finest turntable that folded out of a wall was made by NuTone Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio. Only the truly civilized had turntables that folded out of a paneled wall. The first time I saw a turntable that just sat on a shelf, doing nothing, I was confused.

Strathmore was the eighteenth subdivision built by Levitt & Sons on Long Island. Situated on 677 acres on both sides of Exit 50, Bagatelle Road, in Dix Hills, they built 560 homes on large lots with no sidewalks. To get to the subdivision’s pool, you had to cross over the Long Island Expressway.

Most of my world consisted of one of four colonial-adjacent floor plans: the Endicott, the Fairfield, the Judson ranch, and ours, the five-bedroom Valbrook. Neighbors my parents did not know were referred to as “Y’know, the Judson up by Bagatelle. Those people.” A life lived in one of four plans —maybe six if you included school and the mall —got old very quickly. I needed more.

Luckily, I knew where in each of the four floor plans you could find the NuTone Intercom System with its fold-out turntable. It was always on the wall of the family room, nearest the kitchen. The fold-out NuTone was my sidewalk; it went places.

If you stood on the part of the sofa where your mom usually sat when she actually sat, you could easily reach the handle and pull down the turntable. Drop a record, hit start. The NuTone did the rest. It knew where the record started. Music just happened, which is the best thing for music to do. From there you could send music into every room, even your own bedroom, where you could let the sound from the three-inch plastic-mounted speaker wash over you in all its monaural splendor. 

Or you could just dance in the family room.

When you were done dancing because you’ve banged yourself into the fireplace and have sit down, you can occupy yourself by reading the lyrics of whichever one of your older sisters’ albums you were listening to.

Back then, there was an ad for Reading Is Fundamental that played constantly between cartoons. A city kid meanders sadly through the rubble of a bombed-out Lower East Side, brand new Twin Towers in the background. He is sad because he has nothing to read, no escape from his humdrum existence.

[No, I did not understand the difference between inner-city poverty and prepubescent suburban ennui.]

rif kidThen he spies the RIF bookmobile and runs to join the one-of-each diverse line waiting to get in. Once among the books, he picks a large one called I Am Somebody. He bounds joyfully to a quiet perch on the edge of the East River. The cruel city melted away.

This is how I felt when I opened up an album sleeve and settled down on the couch in the place where my mother sat but rarely sat. I would follow along with the words to each song. I was going places in my head. I was somebody.

And the place I went to the most was somewhere beyond the Yellow Brick Road. I strapped on my ruby red platforms and stepped thru an album cover shaped poster into what I assumed was Oz. Or at least somewhere Oz-adjacent.

rs-14648-20140310-elton-x1800-1394485893

I was very familiar with The Wizard of Oz. It was always a special occasion when CBS ran it. Once my parents insisted that I watch it on the black and white tv upstairs. No! “Then how am I supposed to enjoy when it turns to color? You have to let me watch the beginning in the family room. I will go upstairs when it switches to color.” They agreed to that, probably because they could see my face was turning a bright Technicolor as I continued to argue that a black and white to color switch in only black and white was a metaphor for my miserable life.

And if The Wizard of Oz went from black and white to color, what did it look like BEYOND color after you said goodbye?

Turns out it’s sort of pastel and involves ALL the fonts.

Second grade was the year my teacher put a note on my final report card saying that I needed to lighten up. It was when I started getting bored and feeling different. At school I would try to be interesting. Interesting doesn’t go over well in the second grade. People let you know.

IMG_1105

But when I unfolded Goodbye Yellow Brick Road I went to complicated places where being merely interesting just wouldn’t cut it. You had to be really fucking interesting to merit a mention in this world.

But before you could meet these people, you had to journey thru what you were sure was the longest piece of music every written, “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” Eleven minutes, six seconds.

It just builds and builds as Dix Hills and the fake brick in the family room recede. You’re moving thru Oz. You will only emerge beyond Oz when Elton finally lets you know that the roses in the window box have tilted to one side. 

“The roses in the window box have tilted to one side” may be the greatest flower-related opening line in all of art this side of “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

People did shit in this Oz-adjacent world. Shit that tilted the very ground.

They confronted death… “Funeral For a Friend/Loves Lies Bleeding,” “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-1934),” “Candle in the Wind

They had drinking problems… “Social Disease,” “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting

They owned clothes a bit better than my Toughskins. I mean I felt I was close to Bennie sartorially because I had my “Monday” Toughskins jeans with the shiny tic-tac-toe boards bedazzled on the ass cheeks. [“Because it’s Monday, Mom!”] But she had shoes that were electric and suits made from mole hair —here abbreviated as “mohair” to fit the meter… “Bennie and the Jets

There were women just like those next to Dad’s office in Times Square that you went to every Jewish holiday who were dressed up “because they’re on their way to work, son.” This was not a lie. [“Ron! Why do you have to point that stuff out to him?”]… “Sweet Painted Lady,” “Dirty Little Girl,” “All the Young Girls Love Alice

Don’t miss the hardcore girl-on-girl action! Have fun watching your sister Kallen dodge your questions about the lyrical contradictions you’ve noticed pertaining to perceived notions of gender and sexuality… “All the Young Girls Love Alice,” see above

There’s mystery! Seals turn into birds for some reason not apparent in the lyrics… “Grey Seal

Seriously, what the fuck do seals have to do with birds? Why can’t everything be in the text?

Because sometimes you have to do the work yourself.

So I did the work. Each song became a little movie. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was doing backstories on each character based upon Elton’s hints. From the album artwork I learned that the stories we get to hear are only a part of a character’s life.

To this day, it’s the lyrics of a song that gets me going. Beats come and beats go, but lyrics are forever. Any idiot can dance to a beat; a true connoisseur mouths along to the lyrics like they’re living it. I dance to a song because, in that moment, I am sure that I am the subject of the song. 

One must bounce around to honor that feeling.

Reading the colorful, ALL the fonts lyrics to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road made me love music. And music makes me interesting.

At least to me.

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day three.

The distant sound of transport*

*No, this is not the rejected title of a Pink Floyd from their sad late 80s chapter.
George_Inness_-_The_Lackawanna_Valley_-_Google_Art_Project

The Lackawanna Valley by George Inness (c. 1856)

Because this is the frozen hellscape Ohio where the ice weasels roam, it’s been really cold the past few nights. Before I go to bed, I like to stroll around the yard to wind down. Most nights the cat accompanies me. She really doesn’t like to go outside during the day because birdsong frightens her. Some really bloodthirsty wrens had a nest near the porch this summer.

On nights like this the air is clear and cold like leaded glass in an old casement window. It’s frozen, but you can sense movement; the glass is thicker at the bottom. It’s flowing. The higher up you go, the thinner it gets until the glass will shatter if you so much as lay your eyes upon it. That’s how it feels to look at the stars.

railmapOne would expect, or hope, the night would be silent. It’s not. I live in the middle of Columbus, the largest city in the Midwest that’s not Chicago. There’s stuff going on. I live a block from High Street. One mile to the east are the CSXT and NorfolkSouthern railroads and I-71. One mile to the west lay both the CSXT tracks and six lanes of OH-315.

People and things and stuff are moving up and down these corridors all night long. Most nights, it’s just a soft woosh, about as loud as one of those beige metal white noise machines your shrink has outside her office. But on these nights, I can hear each individual car, truck, and boxcar. I even imagine I can tell whether a motorcycle is a Harley or some Japanese rice rocket —as the owner of the only motorcycle I have ever driven referred to his Yamaha. For the record, I went ten feet… and into the side of an Accord. Therefore, I am an expert on what bikes sound like.

It’s like lanes and lanes of individual stories to my east and to my west, heading north and south. I am surrounded by lives being lived, stuff getting done, things being used.

I am alone, but I am a part of something. My world is large even though I dare not venture out of the cat’s sights because, you know, wrens.

Distant transport has always sparked me. When I was a small child on Long Island, I fell asleep to the sound of traffic on the Long Island Expressway. Our street ended at Exit 50. By the time I was eight, I could tell what the weather was like even before I opened my eyes. Tires on dry pavement have a different pitch than on wet. Icy pavement screams.

Since then:

  • Fighter jets out of Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach off to fight the Commies.
  • The Hollywood Freeway competing with coyotes in the hills.
  • The Upper Deck of I-35 in Downtown Austin running over the roof of the Crazy Lady on the next block —a constant back and forth between “Twenty-one, and barely legal!” and “NO ENGINE BRAKES”
  • Tugboats on New York Harbor. There’s been bells helping move stuff there for over three hundred years. I doubt the sound of bells has changed much in that time.
  • All through high school, on cold glassy nights, you could hear the elephants at The Columbus Zoo. It’s the 19th century, and I’m i somewhere in the British Raj.

These are the machines in the garden, just waiting to take me out of my idyll. They appeal to my nomad brain, teasing me with what’s beyond the horizon.

But… I learned that the LIE was a different monster when I would visit my friend Francesca Klein. She lived up the hill, on Petit Court, and her backyard WAS the Long Island Expressway. Francesca liked telling elaborate stories in an odd cadence that made little sense if you didn’t catch every detail, but each car that screamed feet from her patio doors would jostle me out of the narrative. I don’t being jostled, just ask anyone who’s ever tried to get a beer with me.

A lot of Francesca’s stories involved cars that ended up next to her swings or that time a person hurt in an accident came to the patio doors and banged on the glass. Being too close to transport is scary. Cars are big; trains are even bigger. They go fast. Force equals mass times acceleration. It’s expressed in Newtons, which is too ridiculous of a unit of measure to be killed by. Dreaming of hopping on a boxcar and eating beans with jaunty hobos is one thing. Standing next to a moving train is another thing that recalls that time you swore you were going to tump off the subway platform into the path of a G Train. The G Train is a coward’s death.

But from a mile away, it’s nothing to leap up from the alley and onto something going somewhere fabulous —even if it’s just heading down to Cincinnati. Cincinnati is exotic destination on clear nights. They have hills. That’s a change, and change is good.

Bonus joy…

I first encountered the painting at the top on the cover of Leo Marx’s seminal 1964 history book The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in AmericaWhile researching what the name of the painting was, I stumbled upon a page that must’ve been made by some American Studies prof sometime around 2002. There, next to The Lackawanna Valley was The Peaceable Kingdom, which I just happened to mention in Day Two of this exercise.

I love when that happens. Stuff fits together even before we know it fits together.

leomark.jpeg

go figure

 

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day two.

Visible Storage at The Met

IMG_0752

Ecstatic about aesthetic.

When I visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I turn left once thru the main doors and enter the art proper thru the Greek and Roman Galleries. The other way leads to the Egyptian galleries, which are a little too samey and deathy for my taste.

The first attraction in the Greek and Roman Galleries is a giant column, ionic. Turn left here for the first bathroom break. When visiting The Met, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the locations of bathrooms as their locations follows no logic.

Beyond the Greek and Roman Galleries, I go to the Oceanic Gallery. It’s bright, and most of the stuff is huge and amiable.

From there, the route anybody’s guess. I just start turning and twisting from Islamic to Impressionist, from photography to iconography. I cannot rest. I must see it all. Or not. It’s too big. I’ve been to The Met dozens of times, and I still find new rooms full of new thing each time. I like to go with others. Half the fun of going to a museum is chatting with a friend and figuring out what they like. I usually pretend I’m following them.

But I have a destination, Visible Storage in the American Wing. Visible Storage is where I can finally rest.

Visible Storage is exactly what the name implies. Objects —all American, as the name of the wing would imply —are on shelves behind glass, labeled with accession numbers. So many objects. Ever want to see twenty-seven examples of 19th century American glass salt-cellars? They’re here, next to any number of chicken-shaped serving dishes. There’s bronze sculptures from St. Gardens and Remington down the aisle from a Tiffany Studios workstation. The Peaceable Kingdom is here, along with a very scary porcupine-themed screen. Empty frames as objects in themselves. Chairs on shelves!

It’s cool and dark. Orderly, yet chaotic.

And empty of people.

I can twirl and not knock anything over. My main standard for whether a location will or will not send me into a claustrophobic spiral is the availability of unencumbered twirling space.

When twirling’s done, there’s actual couches in the place of hard benches. This is good place to eat Cheetos without having to worry about getting orange dust on the art or being hassled by The Man.

I also think it would be fun to make out on one these couches with only The Peaceable Kingdom as witness.

 

Then we can twirl some more.

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day one.

spot2018

When an algorithm serves me up an old song I’ve never heard before… and I love it.

 

Right now, I’m listening to a song you probably haven’t heard of before: “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” by Ambrosia. One day Spotify just played it based on my listening habits. It’s now one of my Top Songs of 2018. Without Spotify, I never would have heard it.

Now I can’t imagine my ears without it.

I’ve scrolled thru my list, and only one song is from 2018. It’s the Weird Al Remix of “Feel It Still” by Portugal, The Man. Still, the original is from 2017, therefore I still get to go around telling people:

Actually, I prefer music that can no longer be made under current modes of production.

That’s a way to sound both grad-school-y and crotchety.

Some of my favorite songs I discovered way after they hit.

Q•FM•96, Ohio’s Best Rock, really didn’t have the most expansive playlist during high school.

College radio assholes did a number on me in college:

You should listen to [insert name].
Great, can you play me some?
You wouldn’t like it.

And, sometimes you just miss a song.
“Echo Beach” by Martha and the Muffins
“74/75” by The Connells
“Pink Frost” by the Chills
Etc. Etc. Etc.

Hundreds of bits and bytes of joy, all served up by algorithms I’ve permitted to influence me –going back to the early aughts.

I have the best taste in music. 

Everyone has the best taste in music.

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day zero.

47464976_10217999187917133_8397167478978904064_n

Part One… The return of the cheap advent calendar…

A few years ago, I did a Christmas writing thing on Tumblr based upon my purchase of a suspiciously cheap chocolate-filled Advent calendar. Just a little something each day. Helped keep my spirits up during a difficult Holiday season. And it really got my creative flows juicing:babyjeebus

$1.98 Advent calendar I got at the C-Town across the street

The other week, I found an even cheaper choco-calendar at the Tuesday Morning’s in the shopping center with the good Vietnamese food.

There is freshly-tilled brain dirt up in my head after a fun season of stuff you can read about in Part Two if you so choose: There’s medication withdrawal, hip pain, a not-stroke, a psychotic Valtrex reaction —all overlaying a year where I started, for lack of a better word, honoring my big-ass ADHD. If my ADHD were on the menu in a Thai restaurant, there would be four bright red peppers next to it, and the waitress would ask, “Are you sure?”

It’s been a scene. Continue reading

A Lamprey with a Gavel

 

I had to turn away from the television during his testimony. I just couldn’t look at his garbage mouth any longer.

I got through hers. I rooted for her because I related to her being terrified, her asking politely for caffeine, and going all nerd under stress. Thank the baby jeebus nothing in her account triggered me too badly. I’ve never encountered physical sexual abuse. I have been “persuaded” into providing unenthusiastic consent on numerous occasions, some much worse than others. Example: here’s a special place in hell for the woman in college who asked “You do like girls, don’t you?” as a negotiating tactic. But nothing physical. I’m lucky. I’m a pretty big guy. As my grandpa would say, “Strong like bull; dumb like ox.” I can look real mean, like I’m about to go berserker, and I have a very low center of gravity.

But the Brett Kavanaughs of my life did physically abuse me. Sometimes it was fists. Once it was milk crate. Or it could be having to run until I felt like my heart would burst. Or it was the constant stress of never knowing where the next attack would come from.

And when the bullies cornered me —and they always eventually did —all I could focus on would be their mouths. I couldn’t look at their eyes because that would only enrage them. I would focus on the mouth because it was always pointed in my direction. And the mouths were always moving. I would fixate on those mouths until my entire field of vision was some twirling psychedelic bully-mouth kaleidoscope. Whatever crap they were spewing pulsated into almost-music. Sometimes it would seem like the bully’s toadies were dancing like go-go toadies to the almost-music of his hate. It’s easier to take the blows if you imagine they’re dancing.

If you turn away from the mouth, you start to react. People don’t like it when you react to bullies. How people react to you reacting is worse than whatever you’re dissociating away from at the present time. So you stare at the mouth.

Sometimes it seems like their teeth have come detached from their jaw and are just swimming around in pink spit.

All bullies have the same mouth. When that much anger, illogic, and saliva get forced thru a small opening, the force of the hate begins to change their faces. The mouths cease being human. They become mere conduits for an ugliness so old, so gross that you’d have to go really far back in time for an analog, to some back channel of the evolutionary tree. Continue reading

Telling a story about telling a story…

static1.squarespace.com

Look Comrade! I’m speaking! I’m speaking!

Last month I finally got up the nerve to get up in front of actual, non-cat, people and tell a story. I went down to a function called Speak Easy, got up on stage, and told a story about a closet case me stumbling into a donkey show at a cinder-block brothel a few miles outside of Ciudad Acuña, MX in 1991. People seemed to find listening to my Psychosexual Corn Maze™ somewhat amusing. And, really, what more can you ask for?

A day later I was on the phone with my ex-fiancée and part-time muse Lynda. After the requisite convo about politics and cats and the politics of cats, I told her about my experience.

“I like it. It’s an other-directed activity, but it’s still all about me.”

“I don’t think you understand what is meant by ‘other-directed,” said Lynda.

Normally, I concede all matters of semantics to Lynda because she is so much brain-having. However, I think I’m right. Storytelling is too other-directed. For five minutes or so last Thursday I took a break from skating on the Möbius Strip that passes for my psyche and interacted with people in a manner that didn’t involve me standing off to the side with my arms akimbo at them.

[Actually, my arms moved way too much; I need to work on that.]

For the first time since I moved to Columbus, I actually felt like I was doing “something.” I was putting something out into the world instead of reacting to things. I did something concrete, and people did something concrete in return. Continue reading

It’s like Shark Week, but with despair instead of ocean.

hammerhead-shark

This is what you get when you Google “melancholy shark.”

CUE VOICE (FROM BEHIND ME AND TO THE RIGHT):

Remember how the Sugar Free Dr. Pepper fizzed in your mouth and all over your face? Remember how a little fountain of Sugar Free Dr. Pepper shot out of the gap between your front teeth? Remember how one of the Xanaxes got loose and, through a forced perspective, seemed to hover in front of the faces of your dorm-mates. And, drama queen, they’re there because you summoned everyone to their windows for the fountain spectacular. Now we’re just going to freeze it here and zoom in on your roommate, Larry, standing naked in one of full-length stairwell windows. And let’s put one of those shadow circles around Larry’s ridiculous penis. Wow, if everything had gone according to your impulsive non-plan, one of last things on your retinas would’ve been an image of quite possibly the largest member you’ve ever side-eyed.

Y’know how during August, when it’s Shark Week, how you have Shark Week proper on The Discovery Channel, but there’s also Shark everywhere else? All the little ancillary remora channels of the Discovery Network are shark-flogging. Then Colbert does a bit about how the Mueller probe is like Shark Week. Then one of those weird retro channels that have decimal points in their ID programs a block of sitcom episodes where the shark is jumped. Yes, the Fonz is there. Then your Facebook feed fills with sad pictures of sharks with their dorsal fins hacked off because shark fin soup is cruel, and sharks are not the mindless killing machines that Discovery portrays! Didn’t you know that?!? Why do you hate Mother Ocean? You suck at being woke. Then, in response, Discovery has a night where they assure everyone that sharks are perfectly reasonable denizens of Mother Ocean. Sharks gotta shark. Then they will show slow-motion video of hacked-off dorsal fin set to whatever Sarah MacClachlan-ish collection of chords they own the rights to. Then there will be a BP commercial.

You cannot escape Shark Week. That is the whole point of Shark Week. It is a merciless engine.

Well, it’s June, and this June it isn’t Shark Week. It’s Suicide Week. Continue reading

“The Bear Who Auditioned First” [On parlaying a Jeopardy! audition three weeks ago into fifteen minutes of fame, then into a lifetime as a cherished cultural icon.]

Please note: For the piece itself I will forgo the exclamation point after Jeopardy. It is stupid. If they had one of those Spanish upside-down exclamation points before it, too, I would happily reconsider.

This morning I’m in a coffee shop writing. I forgot my earbuds, and I’m way too lazy to walk out to the car and grab my “emergency” pair. Then I remembered that I auditioned for Jeopardy three weeks ago, and, as parting gifts, they gave me a set of Jeopardy! earbuds and a Jeopardy pen. “Please do not use the pen as a ‘practice’ buzzer. We do not travel the country to hear people click pens.” Noted. The earbuds came in a little Jeopardy blue pouch –Pantone 2935 U, because if you want to be on Jeopardy, you need to know these things. I took the pouch out of my bag, removed the buds, and flopped the pouch on my table. It landed logo-side-down.

IMG_1183That would not do. I flipped the pouch over. Now folks coming through the front door of Luck Brothers Coffee can see the blue of the pouch highlighted against the black of the café table. This is by design. When the eye is fully adjusted to darkness, blue stands out against a black background more than any other color. This is why railroad signals and those little reflectors people in the country use to mark their driveways are blue. Yes, it’s bright sunny out today, and everyone’s eyes are adjusting in the opposite direction, but if someone does ask me about the pouch I can tell them all about blue reflectors. And they will say, “Wow! You certainly do belong on Jeopardy!”

In my time as a Jeopardy Auditioneer™ (I figure I should start trademarking various aspects of my upcoming fame and icon-hood), I have been amazed at how many people are interested in the audition process. As luck would have it, my audition coincided with a visit to NYC to see friends that I was already planning. (I used to live in NYC. If someone asks about the blue pouch, I can also work in that I used to live in NYC. Moreover, I will tell them I lived in Brooklyn because that’s more specific, and people crave specificity –especially specificity that involves the word “Brooklyn.”) So in NYC, instead answering “Why are you visiting?” with “Columbus is boring.” I could proudly say, “I had a Jeopardy audition.”

Then they would inhale a little bit, maybe subconsciously stroke their hair or beard with a couple fingers. “You did?!? Please do tell me all about it? This will certainly be enlightening and fill an intellectual void I did not know I had.” Continue reading