Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Service

I went to church last weekend with my wife and a friend to hear a Bach Brandenburg Concerto and a choral Ave Maria. The music was fantastic, but I was more intrigued by an old man with wild grey hair and a walking cast.

My friend, wife, and I sat in the very back of the church so that we could leave after the Ave Maria. We came for the music. The acoustics weren't as good in the last pew, but the Bach concerto and hymns, and the Ave Maria were over by half-time. And there wasn't a scheduled intermission.

The service opened with the concerto. Man, Bach is . . . is . . . ! And Bach live is even more overwhelming. I was immediately in a trance and didn't come out of it until the piece was over. A few lessons and hymns followed, and during one of these, I noticed what I thought was a woman dancing. A few rows up, a large coat and a scraggly mane of white hair that was pinned back was swaying back and forth. The hair was falling out of the pin and covering the collar. She'd sway back and forth and alternate raising her knees to almost waist height, which I couldn't figure out until she turned profile and placed her cast upon the back of the pew in front of her -- she was stretching her leg or helping her circulation. I realized that she was a he when I saw his face. After the hymn was over, he sat with his back to the wall, his arm over the back of the pew, and his left foot raised along the empty seat next to him.

Everyone else in this East Midtown church was nicely dressed and stoic.

After the congregation stood and read aloud Psalms 23, the gray haired man sat, leaned his head back against the wall with his eyes to the ceiling, and mouthed the word, "Wow." He then combed the congregation with his eyes till he landed upon a young couple with a child around the age of 4 or 5. He watched them as a solo tenor sang a Bach hymn. He smiled to himself. He spotted something across the church, stood, wadled over to a friend and said hello. The ushers watched him.

The best part of the evening started when the choir sang Ave Maria. I am only familiar with the Bach and Gounod arrangement. The choir sang a different version. It was heavily layered with harmony and alternating rhythms. I don't have the vocabularly to paint an accurate picture, but the music wasn't the best part. The way the music affected my wild haired friend is what made the evening.

He danced, swayed, and laughed. I wouldn't have noticed him if he were among the other crazies of the street, but among the stoic, well-groomed members of the congregation, he was glorious--in the truest since of the word.

I wished I had had the gall to stand up and dance with him. That is what church is supposed to be about. Everyone else was concerned about whatever it is that people are concerned about during a Christmas service -- unfinished laundry, overdue bills, crazy teenage children, an ailing mother, suffocation under the "to-do's" of life.

And he danced.

I thought about him as I drank my Starbucks with my wife and friend, as I rode the subway, as I took the bus through the park, and as I walked home. For all I know, the man could have been insane, but that's a great form of insanity. He simply talked to a friend, enjoyed the company of a young family, and danced.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Foul-Mouthed Jesus

I used to work as a shuttle driver for a parking garage at Tulsa International Airport where, everyday, Jesus would careen into the parking garage, often literally squealing the wheels of his dilapidated cargo van, honking the horn and yelling "Last call! Last call! Last call!" out his window. He'd park in the valet lane, jump out of his van -- juggling a small ice-chest, a ketchup bottle, and a few Wendy's disposable condiment cups. Then he would whistle as loud as possible -- his screech bouncing and echoing throughout the concrete garage.

Jesus sold burritos. He was Mexican. He was about 5'6" and maybe weighed 130. He was always moving and always yelling and always throwing burritos at people, or, if he was sold out, he wasn't around.

When Jesus arrived at 10:30 a.m., almost every employee wanted a burrito, because, on first shift, we had already worked four and a half hours. And Jesus' cheap burritos could tide us over till we got off work at 2 p.m. We communicated by radio at the garage, and whenever Jesus roared onto the lot, you'd hear a variety of Apocalyptic codes whispered through your two-way: "the Messiah has returned," "He's alive," "it's the Second Coming," or simply "Jesus is here." These were spoken for the drivers at the concourse, because anyone within half a mile of the garage already knew this.

Once, I was the last shuttle in line to pick up customers on the lot and had turned off my two-way to listen to the crescendo of Barber's "Adagio for Strings" coming over the radio. It was the first time I'd ever heard it. I had the volume up almost to capacity and was transcending time and space, when I looked up and saw drivers ejected from their shuttles. In high contrast to my meditation, the drivers were ammunition, blasted out the long-side doors. "Jesus is here," I thought. Luckily I had written down the composers name before the adagio began, and jumped out of my shuttle as well.

All the children were running to Jesus.

As I approached I could hear his usual liturgy that he never tamed, even for the few women that worked there.

"Shit! How many? I don't have no goddamned chicken. The assholes (translation: policemen) at the station cleaned those out. You want Jesus Juice? I said no fuckin' chicken!"

Jesus Juice was his own recipe of habanero sauce that he kept in the squeezable ketchup bottle. If you said yes to Jesus Juice, he'd fish a condiment cup out of his chest pocket and fill it up. He tossed small burritos wrapped in wax paper, all the while yelling at everyone. He yelled "last call" from the time he arrived till he left. If he was in a good mood, he'd tell you one of the nastiest jokes you've ever heard, again, regardless of the presence of women.

I only saw him in a bad mood one time. I was smoking a cigarette and standing next to my brother who was working the dispatcher booth at the entrance of the lot. It was a slow, cold Tuesday and traffic was dead. Business came in waves and you could never take a decent break while working at the garage, so I took advantage of slow times by walking around or talking to coworkers. Jesus liked my brother and would often talk to him about too many things, which didn't bother my brother who loved to talk. We were standing and chatting about nothing when Jesus came rolling in.

"Hey, Jesus," my brother said, "you alright?" He looked the same to me, but I guess my brother could sense something different.

"My wife's fucking car broke down," Jesus said.

"I'm sorry," my brother said.

"I don't give a shit. It's a piece of shit. But now I gotta sell 300 goddamn burritos, today!"

My brother and I couldn't help but laugh, and Jesus sped onto the lot. That was it.

Like most depictions of Christ Jesus on film, Burrito Jesus behaved in the same manner whether he was happy, sad, or pissed. But Burrito Jesus was just tempered, rather than even-tempered. Regardless of his money problem, he still screeched, squealed, tossed burritos and yelled profanities at his children as he blessed them.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Prayer

I just found the place in Central Park
where people go to be silent together

I can’t tell you where it is
because I’m here now

There is a willow
a pond
mallards
a bridge
a stream
large stones and
all shades of autumn leaves fill the trees that bow over the water

You’ll recognize this place
if you see the trees aren’t bowing

but bending

to touch your head in gratitude
for remembering that
words aren’t necessary for communion




Friday, November 9, 2007

Pawpaw's Hat

Out of all the people I've known in my life, there is not one man that I can say was earnestly devoted to a single cause, but for my grandpa. He was my grandpa, but I always knew him as "Pawpaw".

He was born in a small town in Mississippi and grew up in relative anonymity. When he died, around 1,000 people came to his wake and over 500 people from around the world attended his funeral in the middle of nowhere-Grove-Oklahoma.

There is so much that I could say about him that I don't know where to begin, so I'm going to start rambling and hope I reach the coherent thought that I had wished to convey when I thought of this blog.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I cheated on a vocabulary quiz in Ms. Derwin's Honors English class. She caught me cheating and asked me to step outside. I stood there sweating and thinking of how I was going to explain this to my parents when she opened the classroom door and joined me in the hall. The locker-lined-hallways were quiet but for my breathing until she opened that door. I gasped and, then, held my breath. Ms. Derwin's blue eyes beneath her dyed red hair looked up to me through her thick, wire-rimmed glasses that accentuated the lines under her eyes, creased from years of dealing with dumbshits like me. She began her lecture by saying, "Kyle, your family has a reputation in this town." I thought, "What the hell does my family have to do with my cheating on a 20 point quiz."

Now I know. Derwin's speech has stayed with me for 12 years. (I should call her and tell her this. Teachers don't get enough credit.) What she was trying to convey to a wiry, barely post pubescent Kyle, was scripture: A good name is better than fine riches.

I joke and say that my family is the mafia of Grove, Oklahoma. I joke, but it's true.

When Pawpaw started Grove Christian Center 30 years ago after being kicked out of the Baptist church for his radical beliefs, he began his legacy by only saying "yes" when he meant "yes". And Ms. Derwin was telling me that I should consider that while I hid my cheat sheet underneath the vocabulary quiz. My family had a reputation.

Pawpaw was a terribly fun guy. He would harass me until I cried when I was a kid, and he would race me around the "sanctuary" of our church while my grandma yelled at us when I was approaching adolescence. He told me that he didn't have a fat belly like me when he was my age after I had gained weight from college, and called me "buddy" after I was married.

His navel was directly attached to the uterus of God. He felt the words he needed to say to you and said them, regardless of whether or not they were what you wanted to hear.

It's been a year and a half since my dad called to tell me that Pawpaw stopped breathing after being removed from the respirator at 5:05 p.m. on May 9, 2006.

I still feel like he'd answer if I called him.

I still feel like he'll pick up and say, "Hey, buddy."

I'm writing this while sitting on a lawn chair in my studio apartment in New York and wearing Pawpaw's hat. Pawpaw liked his hats. He continued to wear them as they went in and out of fashion. He had many hats for many occasions -- fedoras, cowboy hats, baseball caps, straw hats, Russian hats, leather hats, felt hats, biker hats. I have this one:

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I cherish this hat. Not just because my grandpa wore it or because it reminds me of where I came from, but because it fits.

Pawpaw had a big head.

He had a big head and a small chin, and my grandma says that he looked like James Dean when he was young. I'm happy that my head is big enough to wear his hat. This is not a metaphor but simply a matter of fact. If his hat sunk over my ears or if it wouldn't lower over the crown of my head, I couldn't look like a fool as I wear it around the streets of New York where I'm surrounded by the chic natives. I'm happy that this hat fits because I can comfortably wear the hat of a man whose life was bigger than life.

Pawpaw said that his kids didn't have to worry about receiving an inheritance because he was going to give it all away. And he did. He gave his life, time, family, and money to Christ. The Hondurans, Russians, Africans, Americans, Filipinos, Mexicans, and Okies that stood around his casket as it was lowered into the ground were witnesses of this.

Pawpaw is gone.

But he's not. He's wearing this tattered straw hat and typing this blog in this tiny New York apartment. And he's happy his hat still fits.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Lost in the Park

I told this story to coworkers who thought it was more tragic that I wore uncomfortable shoes than the fact that I was lost for over an hour in Central Park. I can see their point.

Happy to promptly leave work at 4 p.m.
despite my wearing imitation patent leather shoes with flimsy soles and hard plastic coverings
I decide to stroll through the park until I reach 8th Avenue where I can grab a train home

I enjoy entering the park
watching the buildings fade
eaten by the trees of changing leaves
women standing, watching children scamper, chatter, trip over untied shoelaces, play, toss a ball, smear a granola bar over the lips, punch, kick, scream:

"the circus is broken, the circus is broken"

The paths expand and contract along baseball fields, streets, ponds, gardens, streams, out-houses, hills, and a soccer field (actually, a makeshift soccer field with orange, plastic cones on either side of home plate
where a lone, big-breasted girl stands in white shirt and black shorts among
20 thin boys, dressed the same but without a convex chest, who line up and
kick a pitch to the goalie)

Street sounds rise and fall as paths unwind

Buildings peek-a-boo over trees

Bums prostrate in reverence of the mass of blue sky

Cooler winds brush my face and the reservoir opens in front of me, an expanse of silence, noone/nothing but ducks, a trail of dots, slide over the blue
then the sound of joggers feet on gravel approach from behind

A monolith of windows shoots from the ground in contrasting angles and I'm blinded by the sun's reflection

I'm at the MET
On the East Side
Far from 8th

I glance at my watch, 4:40
My feet are not hurting too badly so I attempt another jaunt through the park

Walk along a street through the park to attempt focus on a cardinal direction till I can no longer ignore the stinging winds of dust spun by the cars

5:10, I'm back at the MET

My feet must be bleeding
but I walk to Lexinton to catch the 6

In shirt, slacks and cheap shoes, I'm the only person with disheveled hair and a beard in sight
Wait,
There's a bum!

I take the 6 and
catch the East Bound Crosstown and am at 1st Avenue before it registers . . .
jump off and catch a West Bound
My card doesn't work but the driver swings his head toward the rear and
I sit in a seat reserved for the elderly
but quickly move . . .
I don't want to involuntarily move again

I open Death and Fame and attempt empathy for Ginsberg's pain and his body's longing for the grave

I shut out the beauty of dusk in the park and allow the engine's purr to block all senses but those of Ginsberg

Off at 96th and
thinking of "Things I'll Not Do (Nostalgias)"
I walk silent blocks to my building
take the elevator
open and close my door

Remove my shoes

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How to be a Poor Writer in New York

"But this was how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy."
Earnest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I'm currently sitting on the toilet and scribbling in my journal. This is one of the best places to write when one is poor and living in New York. One of the best of many places to write. I've discovered that I have to incorporate my writing with many other activities that I used to do sans writing. I won't give you a description of my current setting, but it is a prime example.

When one is poor and in New York an entire world opens up before you. And when you desire to write, the possibilities of influence, inspiration, and location are endless.

A brief bare bones account of a day in the life of a freelance proofreader/wannabe writer is as follows:

The day begins at 5 a.m.. I roll off of my futon and voila I'm at my desk, or my armoire that Mrs. Okie and I have converted into a closet/desk. I write for an hour and a half; then smoke a cigarette, take a shower, eat a granola bar, and hit the streets (Mrs. Okie is a sweetheart and actually wakes up around 6:30 to pack my lunch when I'm in the shower).

Instead of reading a paper on my morning commute, I grab my journal and scribble horrible penmanship across its pages as the train jostles and the groggy 9-to-5ers crowd the car, swaying to a fro. The commute is around 20 minutes and I can write for about 15 of those.

Off the subway, I walk five blocks to work, clock in, and sit at my table. Rather than staring into space or surfing the net for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the workload, I open up my story, which I've saved to Google Documents for easy, anywhere access, and hammer away until my first proofing job comes in.

Lunch breaks are wonderful. I have to cut mine short to capitalize on my time on the clock, but I can scarf my sandwich, chips, and apple and get a good 20 to 27 minutes of writing.

And if there are any lulls in the work, I can always break Google Docs back open.

After I clock out, I still have the 20 minute commute home to look forward to. And after eating, talking to Mrs. Okie, running any errands (laundry, shopping, bank, apt. cleaning, etc.), I can still get an hour in before I go to bed at around midnight.

This schedule works great when I have a consistent freelance proofing schedule. When I don't, It's all turned on its head and I write on the toilet as I'm doing now. But anyone can write and write a lot if he simply substitutes writing for every other stimulus in his life, other than time with his wife.

Who needs movies, exercise, theater, Central Park, reading, etc. when you can write? Obviously this life style has it's draw-backs, but if you put the pen and paper down long enough to notice the leaves change, the toddler with under-developed motor skills who has just plunged ice-cream into his eye socket, the darkening of clothes on the pedestrians with the coming cold, and the way you're wife looks cuddled under the blankets with the blue glow of the computer screen covering her face, then you can lay the other things aside and focus on your work and writing until you have enough money to take her out to a decent dinner.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Wails Through the Night, Moans Through the Day

A couple hours after dark my wife called me from the street, three blocks away from our apartment, and said,

"I heard a voice cry, 'God, please help. Help me. Help!'"

We talked on the phone till she was home and came in the front door. "Did I do the right thing? I'm a girl and was alone." Tremors passed through her body in waves. I couldn't squeeze her hard enough to stop her trembling.

On my way to work the next morning,

A dark man with a dead forest of hair and wearing a ragged dark tunic leans over an egg crate on 6th Avenue. The sun breaches the horizon, I think. "Please help. Give a guy a coin, sir. Give a guy a coin." I eye my cigarette as I pass him. "Bastard," his voice coughs behind me.

Two blocks down, I hear "Tseegaret plees, tsir, tseegaret plees." I turn to see a pretty, petite, French woman dressed in earthy tones and hang my head low as I offer her one.

The bald brute with a goatee behind the visitors' counter sings. He frantically pounds the names of visitor's into the guest database of the law firm. His tie stretches around his neck, his forehead beads with sweat. "Sign in please," he says as suits crowd him. He breaks out into chorus, "Welcome to my nightmare . . . ."

Exhausted after 13 hours work, I drag myself to the subway. I have to stop and tie my shoe three times before I finally reach the stop and sit to wait for the B train to arrive, only to hear: "All local trains canceled." I curse and walk the ten blocks to Columbus Circle. A 300 lb, sixty year old woman with a shaved head and nose ring asks if I can spare some change as her body spills over the concret curb and into the street. I can smell her from six feet away. I toss three quarters into her star-spangled hat and she smiles down at them.

I exit the subway and walk home. I hear four languages spoken in the three blocks. I swing my front door open, strip to my underwear and crash onto the couch. The night winds don't blow the curtains. Sweat pools in the couch. The refrigerator hums. The refrigerator hums. The refrigerator hums.

Friday, September 28, 2007

This is Cliche

I waited two months before listening to my ipod on the streets or in public transit. I didn't know what I was missing.

I was called into work two hours ago to find out, after I had made the commute, that it was a miscommunication. No worries, I popped in my head phones, sat in Bryant Park and watched the city to the soundtrack of Andrew Bird.

I was immediately intoxicated.

Catastrophe wrapped in ambient music is poetic. This statement needs no explanation but here I go:

Imagine an atomic explosion in the Arizona dessert with no sound but the music of Handel's Messiah. Is this a twisted thought? Maybe. But just the THOUGHT of this experience induces pathos that neither experience could independently induce. The experience itself, the bomb with a soundtrack, would be a novel experience. Many consumers buy soundtracks to movies because of the emotional content of the film, not for the quality of the music. (I know I'm throwing around large generalizations that I'm not clearly explaining but bear with me if you can.) I'm sure there are already many academic, physical, psychological, metaphysical, and artistic studies into this idea. If there aren't, then I need to get crackin'.

Nothing catastrophic happened on the streets of New York today. I wasn't living in New York when the towers fell, but I was eternally scarred by it. And know that the youtube clip of the news footage played to the music of a certain country-western singer is a crock of shit. A personal visceral catastrophe does take on new light when watched retrospectively with music, but that is a disturbing thought that I don't want to expand upon.

Unlike the large tangential examples above, my experience today was subtle, natural, and in perfect sync with the music.

Seconds after I sat next to the fountain and put in my earphones, rain drops began to fall and two kids under the age of three, a black girl and a white boy, began to dance around the edge of the water as the harmony of strings filled my head.

I began to walk to the subway to get home before the downpour, and a petite waif wearing heels slipped across the wet cement and braced herself on a handrail as symbols clashed. I laughed out loud.

A rise in feedback and distortion complemented the screeching breaks of the arriving train.

A creole man in a skin-tight, long-sleeved shirt and overalls walked, head bobbing out of sight, while the train pulled away to the staccato plucking of a string quartet.

At Columbus Circle a chic black woman boarded the train car along with 30 other random rush-hour suits. She had to squeeze up beside me and smelled of pineapple. Mr. Bird sang "bum bum-bum-bum bum/bum bum-bum-bum bum." (Yeah, I couldn't figure that one out either.)

I exited the depot into the rain and walked along the park -- the symbols sizzled, brushes on the high-hat, reverb on a cello, slow fingers plucking guitar, Bird crooned over his own harmony and whistled through the bridge as a wave of strings rose in volume and swam around my head, until they fell into the street as the chorus of rain drops picked up the encore . . .


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sophie

A friend in the city, we'll call him Chuck, crushed my heart. No, his friend did.

He has a 13 year-old golden retriever who is . . . 13 years-old (how long is that in dog years?).

He and his wife cannot be away from their house for more than 4 hours because Sophie, their golden retriever, may have trouble. They live in New York, and both have full-time jobs. I had dinner at their house tonight.

Chuck said, "She hates hardwood floors" as he walked over to Sophie where she was straining to stand up but was poised in a military, crawl position -- her fore legs out-stretched and hind legs folded. She was whining. She needed help. Her hind legs weren't doing what she wanted them to do. Chuck walked over and lifted her by her back hips. Once her legs were underneath her, she began panting and wagging her tail, happy to be up and around.

Sometimes when he takes her out to shit, she'll stand gawking at nothing, looking around and consuming the world as if she were a human infant taking in her surroundings for the first time. Chuck yells, "Come on, Sophie! I gotta catch a train." But Sophie is old and can't hear.

Tonight as Chuck carried our after-dinner-coffee to the table, he accidentally spilled some coffee on Sophie. Sophie turned to look at her back to see what happened. She didn't flinch other than that. I don't think she could feel the actual heat of the fresh coffee. Chuck didn't even know he had done it until Mrs. Okie and I pointed it out to him.

He apologized to Sophie profusely. Sophie sat at his feet underneath the kitchen table, neglecting her much needed rest of an elder dog, and listened to us talk late into evening.

Man's best friend is a horrible understatement.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Our neighbor who lives in the building adjacent to ours is an art dealer. I'm not positive that he is an art dealer, but I overheard a conversation with him and an unheard party on the other end of his cellular phone line. He said that he had sold a painting and was ready to finalize the sale by writing or sending a check to the artist.

Well, our neighbor, in spite of his visual art acumen, has a shitty taste in music. He listens to overplayed current hip hop junk when he has a gathering of his peers. I'd like to make an old-fashion telephone line (two empty soup cans tied to opposite ends of a string) and educate him on better music. Better yet, I'd like to leave my end of the string sans soup can and sew the string through the center whole of a ready-made-burned-CD in order to slide it across to him. I can easily climb up the steps of my fire escape to the next floor to have the appropriate altitude difference to facilitate a friendly and much needed CD transfer.

Everyone thinks he is an expert on music after listening to it for any short or extended period of time. I know this. I listened to Pop music for 5 years (Pop music includes Pink Floyd and Pink) before I ever got into jazz, classical, blue grass, etc.. But after one year of delving into Pop music, I'd happily argue with anyone that wanted to question the musical merits of Nirvana. And I will still argue (even though I realize that Nirvana's music is poignant to me for the era in which I listened to it more than anything else) because it's fun.

I'm not saying that his music is shitty. I'm saying that his variety or "taste" of music is shitty. I can listen to Radiohead from daybreak to daybreak for several weeks straight, but I won't impose that rigorous music listening effort on my friends who are casually mingling and nibbling on wine and cheese.

Do I consider myself more cultured in music than my neighbor? Yes. But whether I actually am or not is beside the point.

The point is: he needs to close his window during social gatherings. Not because I'm an elitist, but because it's social etiquette.

Now, I will proceed to be a musical pedant and hypocrite and play Chopin's Concerto No. 1 at ultimate volume on my phonograph at 10:30 p.m..

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Common Courtesy and The Law

Disclaimer: I realize that I'm focusing on a very narrow aspect of society and indirectly ignoring other aspects.

Oppression is served in a variety of ways: it's doled out like street flyers, it startles you like a friend tapping your shoulder in a grocery store, it's unloaded on you from a dump truck, it's unpleasantly discovered like a hair in your ravioli, it's suggested by an authority figure . . . the list goes on.

I've lived in a few environments where oppression dominated me, though the oppressors had good intentions for their constructs. And, granted, if one has a decent head on her shoulders, she can ignore the laws that can potentially oppress; and she can simply live a happy life.

I find that many rules and laws that are legislated for the good of the community are unnecessary when common courtesy is prevalent. The article, "Welcome, Students. Now Watch It." from the New York Times, that provoked my musings is currently on my blog under the "Interesting" section. One example is the no-sleeping-in-the-subway law. Really, I shouldn't sleep in the subway? I shouldn't expose myself to possible unlawful actions performed at my expense? This is common sense. (Although, I don't mind the vagrants sleeping on the subway. If I were homeless and needed a decent rest, I would scrounge up four bucks to take a round trip from Inwood to Rockaway. And I wouldn't be bothering anyone, asking for money--I'd be getting my beauty rest). We should have laws against stealing, but not laws that help prevent one from being exposed to theft.

Another obvious solicitation of advice from The Man is the pooper-scooper-street-signs you see everywhere. "It's the law." That's why we shouldn't let our dogs shit all over the sidewalk? How about, I don't want to step in shit the next time I take my dog out for a walk.

I realize I'm picking on a few mundane laws and there are many laws that aren't mundane and are necessary to prosecute offenders in order to control crime. They don't have much theft in Singapore because they chop off a hand for punishment. I'm not saying that is a good or bad form of punishment, I'm simply saying that it's effective. But I'm talking about laws against dog shit and napping and using the lever brace on gas pump handles and walking on the grass, etc. A person feels as if he is being condescended to if he takes the laws personally. I don't, but have in the past. Now, I just think they're stupid. People who don't take the time to think about the stupidity of these laws are even more likely to get upset about them, especially if they are fined for violating one.

Oklahoma has a law that says you can't drive through a yellow light unless you are presently in the intersection when the light turns yellow. What?! So now we aren't only worried about running an orange light, but a blue light as well. How do they prosecute this? It's a subjective law. Civilian: "My windshield was past the crosswalk when the light turned yellow." Police Officer: "No, your fender hadn't even reached the crosswalk before the light changed."

I'm not coming down on The Man and I'm not for anarchy. I just think we could thin the books by removing a few of these frivolous laws.

Where is the dividing line between frivolous laws and necessary laws? That is the headache of all concerned parents. Do I give her a little breathing room or do I drop the hammer this time? Because oppression breeds rebellion, but a hands-off approach can be equally dangerous.

What is the answer to this quandary? Am I talking in circles? Yes.

But this is what I do know: the government prosecuting subway sleepers is the same as Daddy grounding his son for not putting his toothbrush in the holder.

Maybe I'm just a liberal hippie, but I don't think so.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Monastic Oath (Part 2)

But I didn't go back to the monastery. Instead, the drunk guy, we'll call him Joe, asked me to come over to his place to share a couple beers and listen to some music. I thought: "I don't know this guy, but . . . what the hell?"

This guy, with his beat up Aretha and Johnny Cash records, lives in a million dollar town house. He owns four stories on the Upper West Side. I saw him wearing a t-shirt and shorts and slapping around some vinyl records, how was I to know that he was so wealthy? Well, as it turns out, he is not wealthy. And no, we didn't break into the place. It is his parents' place.

The man is a divorcee and lives in his parent's house, though he is leasing it from them. So I sat in a spacious living room, sipped on a Rolling Rock and listened to a variety of music.

This is an anticlimactic ending to the previous blog, but it all transpired after spending a mere 10 bucks on a Long Island in a no-name bar on a week night in the city after coming down from my Fortress of Solitude.

Viva La Vie Boheme! I guess I don't have to be a monk to be frugal. The city offers many interesting alternatives to what most envision as a typical night on the town -- and they're virtually free.

Friday, August 24, 2007

It's Friday and I Shall not Go Out: The Monastic Oath (Part 1)

I'm trying to embrace the monastic lifestyle in the city that lacks no temptation. And it's not that bad.

To say that I'm a monk is incorrect. I'm married--there goes chastity. I rarely leave the house--that knocks out charity but for my gracious internet gestures. So, when I refer to the monastic life, I'm really saying, "I'm poor." I'm between jobs at the moment and doing some temp work, but other than that I'm diligently trying to make peace with the city and my wallet.

I survived a week and a half with no frivolous expenditures and couldn't take it anymore . . . . Thus begins our lengthy saga.

I went to The Ding Dong Lounge on Columbus and 105th for a drink. I ordered a Long Island. Hey! it's only one glass. The bartender informed me with raised eyebrows and inflection rising: "it's ten bucks." I paused. Why did he tell me that? Do I look like a die hard beer drinker that decided to take a walk on the wild side? Do I look like an out-of-towner (I kinda am) that wanted to drink a beverage that was named after a certain region of the city? Do I look young and therefore unaware of the higher price of a Long Island in comparison to other cocktails (In my defense, I do have a fairly manly beard--good coverage, no major patches)? Or has this everyday bartender--middle aged man with longish hair and a black t-shirt that reads "F*** the Movement" stencilled in white letters on the back--tuned in to a higher plane of consciousness or spirituality reserved for monastic individuals and is signalling to me that I should refrain from this oath breaking substance.

I said, "no problem."

He brought me my drink and I tipped him nicely (to say, "Thank you," but not too nicely, which would say, "I'm an out-of-towner trying to fit in"). Then my night began. And I didn't finish my first drink until three hours later.

This is what happened:

The bartender was running his ipod through the sound system; his battery went dead, which immediately put the twelve clients into a disorienting rage. He ran over to the DJ stand where two turntables, a mess of dust, CDs, disheveled LPs and wires were all jumbled together helter-skelter. He couldn't figure out the system before he had to run over and make another drink. I asked him if I could help. He gave permission. I got the system going with one of the horrible LPs that was strewn across the shelf. I, then, ran home to get my one vinyl record (this will be explained in some distant future blog), that I had recently purchased on Bleecker, Wilco's Sky Blue Sky (this is chronologically before my previous blog in which I purchased Smile--yeah, I know, that's why I'm working on the monastic life now).

When I returned, another client had the same idea--had gone home to grab some LPs--and we cordially fought over the DJ position. Luckily, he was soused and I had barely started my single drink of the night. I proceeded to amaze the eight remaining clients with my subtle transitions and my sensitivity to their needs and moods. The crazy drunk that thought he could DJ had brought Aretha Franklin's Live at the Fillmore (which was very cool, and I had never heard), Johnny Cash's Live at Folsom Prison, some Mos Def album and some obscure jazz album. The man had taste. I interwove these sounds very nicely with the cross-fader and my slight of hand.

About an hour after my DJ career began, the tardy professional DJ appeared and took control (with CDs! amateur). And back to the Monastery I went.

To be continued . . .

The Universe. Brian Wilson. And a Theremin?

"Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aide." -Goethe

I know that is one of the most quoted quotations of all time, especially over the last seven years since Cameron Crowe put it into the mouth of his fictional mother in Almost Famous. But there is another reason why: because it's true and encouraging. We all need encouraging truths.

In my case the mighty forces are simply a force, which happens to be Brian Wilson. I know that Wilson said that "music is the voice of God" in his Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame induction, but seriously . . . my recent experience is a bit strange -- and apparently a bit "New York."

When we were looking for apartments we ran into a record shop on Bleecker Street (obviously we had already found our apartment and were goofing around, because we can't afford an apartment on Bleecker -- I'm a former English teacher from Oklahoma!). Rebel Rebel is the name of the shop. I don't know the guy's name that has been running it the last three times we were there, but he's cool and nice and doesn't at all resemble any of the dorks in High Fidelity. I grabbed a copy of Smile by Brian Wilson from this same shop on Monday. I had never heard it before and had the opportunity to have my initial listening experience on vinyl.

It's beautiful, strange and spiritual -- all characteristics of Brian Wilson's virtuosity. I simply wanted an album that I could listen to without wanting to skip every other song, and I found one of the best albums I've ever heard. I never read any of the reviews when it came out in 2004, and I'm glad I didn't -- now I can have this blind-sided crash into it. I love Pet Sounds, but this is simply in a different category (notice that I didn't say higher or better category. And for those of you that don't like the album, Smile, for it's lyrics: I understand. But you're missing the point).

This all leads to what happened yesterday. My wife had been eager to see Williamsburg the Musical but had forgotten to reserve tickets. So we walked down to The Village Theater and were informed that the show was sold out. An old guy dressed in black with some weird carrying cases strewn across the sidewalk beside him stopped us and handed us a flyer advertising Theremin. I can be a geek at times, but I'm apparently not a big enough geek to know what and who Theremin is (maybe I'm stereotyping this whole concept and everyone else in the world knows who Theremin is and I'm a fool for even considering otherwise. Okay, I'll accept that.). I once saw a long-haired weirdo playing a theremin on a Billy Joel concert DVD, but I didn't know what he was doing.

In a nut, Leon Theremin was the Ruskie who invented the theremin around the beginning of the 20th Century. The theremin is the first electric instrument and is played without the musician making any contact with it. He invented this thing, demonstrated it to the American public, and disappeared off the face of the planet.

What the hell does this have to do with Brian Wilson? Well, Brian Wilson started going crazy, due to his massive consumption of narcotics and his trying to deal with his own "musical genius." According to the play, Wilson believed that his destiny would be complete if he could uncover the mystery of what happened to this Russian inventor.

The play was fantastic. I'm not going to write a review about this, either, but will say that it encompassed everything I enjoy in theatre. A bizarre or unusual concept is brought to the public through a medium that is best suited for it. For example, there is no other medium that could tell a humorous, odd, and intelligent story through live performers consisting of four actors and a weird gray haired man in the orchestra pit, playing the only instrument in the pit -- a theremin. No other medium could produce the same ethos. I thought the weird guy and the concept of the play would make the production campy, but it didn't. Everything was entertaining and enlightening.

My main point: I've had two great experiences with art in the same week, both are accidental, and both involve Brian Wilson. What does this mean?

I don't know or care. I am simply delighting in the fact that this experience would be virtually impossible in Tulsa. Not impossible, virtually impossible. Is synchronicity limited to NYC? No! But this is eccentric, even for synchronicity. We're talking about vinyl and live theatre; both are, arguably, dying art forms, and, therefore, have very few compatible comparisons. It'd be like an accordionist stopping outside your window to play you and your wife's wedding song directly after you returned home from your honeymoon -- and your song is "Enter Sandman" by Metallica. This may be a stretch, but not buy much. I mean, come on, there is only one dying art form in this synchronous analogy, the accordionist, and he's only an outcast of pop culture; he is still in high demand in almost every state of the Union due to the not-so-subversive mariachi movement.


So, I give New York credit, even if it doesn't entirely deserve it. If you've had a similar experience in Quapaw, Oklahoma, excellent! But I'm going to continue to ride my displaced-person's high while listening to Mr. Wilson sing about his excitement over grocery shopping: "I'd jump up and down and hope you'd toss me a carrot." Genius!



Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dr Robert and His Similarities to the Potted Plant on E.T.

My bamboo plant is the barometer of my overall well being.

My wife, Mrs. Okie, and I got a bamboo plant, along with a few other plants, while she was going through a nurturing phase. All the rest of the plants died because we are egocentric and not nurturing, but Dr. Robert survived. (She named our pseudo-cacti-plant, "Chubbs," and I named our bamboo after the Beatles song. Chubbs fell off a shelf and never recovered from the trauma while Dr. Robert danced by the hand of Mrs. Okie to the song he was named after.)

I initially thought it was a good idea to have living things that you didn't have to potty-train in the house. But instead we had dying things. And it was very depressing. We'd come home to see all these brown wilting creatures that looked like the vegetation of the Bog of Eternal Stench. I eventually had to cart them all off to the dumpster while Mrs. Okie was out running an errand (she knew her darlings were in pain, but she couldn't put them to sleep).

But Bob made it (we rarely address him informally, not because we have intimacy issues, but because we have a Sponge Bob Square Pants stool. So when we say, "hand me Bob," we are talking about the stool and not Dr. Robert.) Dr. Robert stuck around for reasons that could only be described as spiteful. In plant speech he said, "Get bent! I'm not going anywhere!" And he became family.

Well, as stated in my profile, we moved here three weeks ago. We were concerned and didn't think Doc was going to survive the transition.

We had our neighbor and dear friend baby-sit him while we spent a week, prior to the move, apartment hunting. I think our neighbor had a rough week, because Dr. Robert didn't get much attention and began to look like the late, traumatized Chubbs who took the dumpster dive.

But he pulled through. Even after the 30 hour Penske-truck-ride. In fact, we set the Doc outside on the fire-escape to get some sun, and I accidentally knocked him over and broke his vase while stepping out for a cigarette. Pieces of the vase and the pebbles that supported him rained-down five stories, ringing and bouncing off the lower levels of the fire escape, but Dr. Robert only fell a couple of steps. Now he happily resides in a red plastic cup on top of our CD tower, and has never looked better.

I'm telling you The Doctor's biography because his phases in life directly correlate to my own. Like E.T.'s potted plant that mirrored his and Eliot's well being, Dr. Robert mirrors mine.

It was hell looking for an apartment in the city (Doc felt our pain).

We were exhausted but excited during the physically demanding move (though his leaves remained wilted, his color returned).

Everyday life in New York is a huge change from Tulsa (the vase to the plastic cup).

But we are happier than ever, now that we live in the City (he's taller, greener, and has more leaves than ever before).

I believe that he is a barometer and not a crystal ball. If our plumber, who is currently working on our toilet, has a fit of rage, becomes homicidal, and snaps The Doctor's spine over his knee, I don't think we will suffer a similar fate.

But it's actually nice to have a living friend in the house, who can empathize with my wife and I, but never rants about his fledgling relationships, drunkenly whines about his job frustrations, argues over politics, or does any other annoying thing that human friends inevitably do when you maintain a close relationship with them.

So we're a tad less ego-centric, and though I still don't want a pet, I think I'll put Revolver on and give my buddy a fresh cup of water.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Scents of New York

New York has a multitude of fragrances that bombard you everyday on the street.

In Oklahoma, you don't experience a variety of aromas while walking down the street. Because you never walk down the street. You drive everywhere you want to go. I lived in Tulsa (the second largest "city" in OK) for eight years, and the longest distance I walked was from a no-door-ding-parking-spot to the front doors of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. While driving, you do get an occasional whiff of a water treatment plant and inevitably ask the person in the passenger seat if she farted. Or you catch the scent of a skunk or a chicken farm on the outskirts of town and try to hold your breath for a mile (unless you use my great-grandfather's advice, "Breathe it in deeply and get the worst over with, right off the bat). But that's it.

In NYC, however, I'd be insane, for reasons that don't need to be explained, to own a car. And I walk through a cornucopia of scents everyday. I feel like I'm in a twisted version of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, but instead of tasting "cherry," "strawberry" and "schnauzberry" flavored wallpaper, I smell things that are pungent and often indefinable as I cruise down the sidewalk. But there are a few scents, good and bad, that all New Yorkers must know like the back of their hand, because they don't wince, lose their balance and scream "whoa" like I do when they come across them. Here are the major ones.

1. The Subway. It's a warm sunny day and you begin your descent into the subway. On the second tier of steps that leads down to the platform, it hits you: rank B.O. But that's not all! It is always mixed with the musty, dank, thick-as-chunky-mustard smell of the subway itself. And there is a difference between the two scents, even if the sour subway aroma resembles that of the smell of a few of my relatives after a day in the fields. The two scents some how meander along the walls, tracks and platform, but never quite blend together.

2. Foyers. The inside of every foyer in every apartment building in New York smells identical. Okay, obviously I haven't been in every single one, but I've been in at least half a dozen buildings in each of the Burroughs (except the Bronx, I don't know anyone there but may have to venture up there to validate my observation). The scent is hard to define because, after living here for only three weeks, it's already as familiar as my clean bodily scent. I can't smell myself unless I have just finished running three miles, which is my dirty bodily scent (B.O.) and the first of the two key ingredients to the aforementioned "subway" smell. Only your spouse or girl/boyfriend knows your clean bodily scent. They smell it on your shirt or after you get out of the shower. When I get out of the shower, my wife says she likes my smell; I think I smell like Suave: Ocean Breeze body wash. So, maybe I'll go back to Oklahoma for a couple of weeks and return, better equipped, to describe this allusive scent.

3. Food. I don't really need to describe this one. But it's amazing how many different kinds of food I can smell at different times of the day while I sit on my fire-escape and smoke a cigarette. I live on the fifth floor and my fire-escape is above a poor excuse for a courtyard that is surrounded by the walls and windows of my building and another that sits on the other side of the courtyard. These two buildings and 40 (approximately) windows serve up fragrances from a smorgasbord of ethnic dishes. Even with my dulled smoker's sense of smell, I can enjoy Indian, Mexican, Soul-Food, American, and Ethiopian (I think it's Ethiopian. It's the only one I'm not completely sure about) wafts of delight--all before 2 p.m. (I know I need to get a job. I'm working on it. I just moved here! Jeez!) And unless I'm really hungry, this is one of the scents I enjoy most.

4. Women. I don't need to describe this one either. But I will say it is nice to walk up out of a subway, or B.O.-chunky-mustard hell, and enter into the light of day as a woman walks by (Yes, I know that all women don't smell great, but most smell better than men.) A soft citrus breeze. A cool floral wave. A sexy perfume. A nice ________ (fill in the blank). You know what I'm talking about. And it's never arousing, you don't have the opportunity to get aroused while hoofing it down the busy streets of New York. It's just a pleasant surprise and momentary escape from the multitude of other scents that bombard you.

5 - 100. I could tell you about dog vomit and shit, human vomit and shit, car exhaust, Starbucks, retail stores, wet cement, hot asphalt, cigarette smoke (which obviously doesn't bother me), wet grass, fresh rain . . . and a multitude of others, but you know most of them or wouldn't want to hear about the others. And how many pseudonyms can one think of for scent? I tip my hat to food critics.

6. or 101. Vomit. I know I said I wasn't going to talk about the above, but I am curious if many other New Yorkers have had this same experience. I've been here three weeks and have come accross vomit three times. I know it was human vomit at least once, because it was on the subway and an attempt had been made to conceal it--it was partially enclosed in a plastic bag and covered with newspaper. On second thought, it could could have been a doggy bag, I don't know. But three times in three weeks? The other times were on the sidewalk and on a running trail in Central Park. The only time I actually smelled it was in the subway--it wasn't horrible, but there is no air circulation on the subway. A faintly putrid aroma just sat in the car and was given an extra dose of oxygen everytime the doors opened, but the air always comes in. Is this normal? Should I expect to see a puddle of vomit every week for the rest of my future in New York?

This is all still novel for me and I'm interested in discovering more. Hopefully I won't be cursing these smells before the year is out. We'll see. Oh, fall! No matter where you live, the fall season always brings a different spin on everything, especially smells. But don't worry. I won't wait two months just to write and tell you, again, about my olfactory adventures in The City.