Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The one where Greg loses his job, just before the holidays


Here's this: Greg lost his job Friday.

Here's this too: He lost it from Apple, one of the most secretive companies this side of the military-industrial complex. So I can't blab about it the way I do most things. For once, I'm gonna practice discretion. All I'll say is, it was a terrible choice, his coworkers and managers are still upset about the choice, and Greg didn't take it well.

He's better now. Friday was bad, but his final projects for school kept him busy. Monday was a day in limbo, more or less. Conversations with now former coworkers, now former managers, emails sent out to various connections he'd made over the past three years. Friends stepped up to offer jobs--any jobs--and support. Family, removed, did the same.

Greg had bought tickets a few weeks ago to see John Waters deliver his (meh) Christmas monologue at (ugh) B.B. King's place just off Times Square, so we went tonite. A sold-out show. We'd debated selling the tickets because, well, money, but we didn't sell the tickets. We decided, come shit or shinola, we deserved to indulge. It's the holidays, Greg's fired, we already bought the tickets--just go.

We went to the John Waters thing, and had to be present 2 hours before Mr. Waters wandered onto the stage. We had to be present because it was general admission--first come, first seated. Who wants to stare at a thin aging (but fabulous!) man in an orange suit--for two hours--100 feet away, from bad seats? Show up two hours before curtain, and you get to see him from 10 feet away... but you have to kill those two hours.

We got a decent seat, stage right, at a table for 12. All tables. Cabaret seating. Greg and I were as close to the stage as we could get without purchasing VIP seating ("includes a meet-and-greet with the star after the show"). Greg and I realized we had two hours to kill. We would have To Talk. Not that we don't Talk; but now we had a Talk of some importance hovering over us like a sword dangling from a string. Greg was sad, and I hate it when he's sad. Greg kept apologizing to me, and while I usually like it when he apologizes, because I'm a terrible person and think everyone should apologize to me each chance he or she gets, this time--this subject--this job-loss thing--I didn't like it. I wanted him to be happy, I wanted him to enjoy the show absolutionphilia-free.

Like I said, Greg bought the tickets to the John Waters show himself, a few weeks back. Greg seldom buys tickets to things, which is how I knew he was looking forward to the show before he got canned. After he got canned, he saw the show as a needless, stupid, irresponsible purchase. So, we sat at the table, 1o feet from the stage, and waited on the other seats at the table to fill up with the other audience members who'd made their own needless, stupid, irresponsible ticket purchases. And we each mulled over, in our heads, The Talk that we were gonna have to have, because two hours is a long time.

Added bonus: the hostess, when seating us, had placed two menus on our table, and helpfully pointed out the $10 minimum, per person, sign on the table. It wasn't surprising, but it did add to the tension. More money needlessly spent. More reasons for Greg to feel guilty.

Oh, also, just before going into the place, Greg and I took a walk around the block. Doors weren't set to open til 6, Greg and I had arrived (separately--me from work, Greg from the apartment) 15 minutes too early, a slow walk around 42nd Street and its environs seemed the best course of action. Kill time. On the walk, Greg was sad. "I don't know what to do. I don't know what's the best choice. I've emailed [anthropology friend] and talked to [computer tech friend]. " And some other stuff, which, as I said, I'm trying to be discreet about. Give me props for this discretion, because I'm not known for it.

"I don't know," Greg kept saying as we walked around the block. And the first thing he said at the table in B.B. King's was, "I don't know," only he was talking about the menu, not his career.

"I'm not hungry," I told him.

"I'm sorry." He wasn't talking about my appetite.

"I don't blame you," I told him, also not talking about my appetite.

Then we were talking about appetite, and looked over the menu, weighing our options.

There wasn't much light at B.B. King's. I mean, there was light, but it was a sort of manufactured natural light, coming from two enormous digital screens on either side of the stage, flashing ads for the acts coming to the stage in the coming weeks. And candlelight. And some overhead lights, which were dim.

Greg was across from me, and looked gloomy from both the light and the situation. I kept thinking of how happy he'd been a few weeks earlier, telling me he'd gotten these tickets, and said, "We're here. So let's just enjoy it."

"I'll enjoy it. We should've sold the tickets, though."

"No way. Unless you wake up with a dead hooker, covered in blood, you should enjoy where you are. And we're here." And no, I didn't actually say that. But what I did say meant essentially just that. Unless you wake up with a dead hooker, covered in blood, you should enjoy where you are.

Greg never really buys into my hokey fix-all platitudes, btw, which is one reason I love him. He cheered himself up (no thanks to me).

"I think we're going to be alright," he told me. "This is hard but it's not necessarily bad."

"I've got this degree now," he told me. "I've got more options."

"I think I'll have the lemon meringue Martini," he told the waiter, when the waiter finally stopped waiting and decided to take orders. (I ordered a Scotch and soda, because that's what I usually order, and the thought of drinking a lemon meringue nauseated me.)

During The Talk, Greg, perhaps helped by the Martini, was more optimistic than I'd seen him in a while. I'm a sucker for cockeyed optimism. And maybe his dour demeanor over the past few days was more from the sudden job loss than from a loss of future.

Whatever. We'll see. We ordered food, we chatted with our table-mates, we drank our drinks (two for me, one for him--but it was a very potent one for him, and included Pop Rocks on the glass rim and Danny DeVito's Limoncello), and watched the show. We thought about the dog, at home, and took offense when John Waters said, "I don't have a dog. You know, because I'm not lonely." Then forgot we were offended a few seconds later, when he said, "The way to attract a man is to be nude and to install a bar beside your bed."

Greg laughed. Often. He leaned back so far, sometimes, to let his laughs out that he bumped into the woman behind him. She didn't seem to mind. She readjusted herself, moving back sometimes, or sometimes leaning forward to Greg to laugh into his laugh.

Job loss. It's sometimes funny, sometimes serious, hopefully never terminal.

Monday, December 14, 2009

End of the decade, part 1


So we're nearing the end of 2009, which while not technically true is also the end of The Decade. Whatever--the sooner we bring this decade to a close, the better.

Here's the thing: it has been a terrible 10 years. Miserable. Awful. There is not much, from a reasonable American's POV, to suggest otherwise. From the largest terrorist attack in the history of the nation, to Katrina, to the collapse of the financial system (which, to those of you non-Americans, is called--somewhat optimistically--"capitalism"), it's been a dreadful 10 year stretch.

But hey, at least I'm American and not Icelandic, because, shit, they don't even have a country anymore.

The Boston Globe has some nice pics up documenting this single year of the end of the decade. I don't think they do it justice, but whatev.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The hazards of learning how to shoot a gun from rap videos


Greg told me an interesting story today when he got home.

He was in the shower because it was a rainy day, and he didn't have an umbrella, and he smelled like hot wool. The dog was running up and down the hallway, excited or bored.

"Hey. Babe," Greg said from the shower, sticking his head through the curtains. "I've got a story you're gonna like."

Skeptically, I called out from the kitchen, "Okay. I'm listening."

"So, I told you about the guys who work as security guards at the store, right?"

"Yes." I was cutting vegetables up. Waffles was running up and down the hall. The shower was pouring out water. My knife sliced thru a cucumber, making a shnick sound, then a solid shthunk as it hit the wood of the cutting board.

"They're all either men serving in the military or as policemen."

"Right."

"So I get to work today, this morning, and there's a huge crowd around [Eddie], right. He's one of our guards. See him all the time."

"Okay." Schthunk.

"And he's mid-sentence. He's saying, 'So I took out the magazine before the fucker could use it.' So I'm like whoa-whoa. What? Turns out he was one of the guys who took out that guy in Times Square earlier this week."

"Wow." Schthunk.

"Yeah. His partner is the guy who shot the fucker."

I stopped cutting and moved into the hall, dodging the dive-bombing dog, who was still running up and down the hall with some sort of nihilistic abandon. "Really," I said to Greg's face, framed by the shower curtains.

"Really. Yeah. Here's what happened:"

And here's what Greg said happened:

[Eddie] and his partner were in Times Square, in plain clothes, checking out reports of an intimidation scam. For those of you who don't slog your way thru Times Square on a regular basis, here's what the most common intimidation scam is: A guy comes up to you and asks your name. When you tell the guy your name, he scribbles it on a cd, tells you it's now your cd, and asks you to pay him 10 dollars. If you refuse, some of the guy's buddies surround you and accuse you of ripping the guy off. If you're not used to this sort of thing, you are intimidated into giving the guy the 10 bucks for the cd.

Right. So. The guy shot dead last week in Times Square was doing that sort of scam. His brother was one of the intimidating seconds, and so got to see his little bro shot down by cops on Broadway. In front of the Marriott Marquis, the pussiest hotel in Times Square.

(And I'll just spoil the payoff for this story now by saying that as I stood in the hallway, dodging the dog and listening to Greg, a mouse was devouring all the vegetables I'd been slicing up. There. That's out of the way.)

So the guy was running a scam, and the plainclothes cops were moving in on him. To get evidence, they sent one of their own up to the guy--a cop who spoke Italian--and the cop pretended to be a tourist. The guy scammed him, the cop paid him 10 bucks, and the other cops moved in. Like with Al Capone, they didn't try to get him on theft or anything; they asked to see his tax ID.

Because, you know, to buy and sell shit in NYC, you need a tax ID number.

The guy pretended to search for his tax info for about 2 seconds, then bolted. He ran down 7th Ave, into the heart of Times Square, then doubled back on Broadway. The cops pursued--according to [Eddie], they were all familiar with the guy, having arrested him for various reasons before this incident. Tourists got out of the way, and, while talking, Greg lost his balance in the shower, slipped a bit, and tugged hard on the shower curtain.

Waffles came to a dead stop and stared into the bathroom. (And I presume the mouse looked up, in the kitchen, from his hearty meal of broccoli and carrots, the little shit.)

"So they chased the guy, and then they got to the taxi area in front of the Marquis, right. [Eddie] said this all happened in slow motion. The guy pulls out a Mac 10 from his coat. [Eddie] and his partner are less than 10 feet away, right, so you know, they're both fucking dead as far as they know. Point blank, right." Greg uses his hands, dripping from water, to reenact the story. He points a dripping forefinger at me, cocks his thumb up. "The guy shoots off two rounds at [Eddie] and his partner, and [Eddie's] like, he says, he's like praying, right. He gets off a quick fucking prayer, and is thinking of his wife and his kid, and he knows, right, he's also thinking about all the fucking people in Times Square who are about to die. Because one body doesn't stop a bullet from a Mac 10. The thing has 30 rounds, and one bullet can pass thru a body like nothing, and hit someone else."

"Jesus."

Waffles, losing interest, starts to chew on his own foot. The mouse, by now, has probably started its poop phase.

"Yeah. You've heard Bloomberg, right?"

"Yeah. He's still pissed that people can buy guns so easily in other states. This is why you need a federal law--"

"--because Virginia, where this fucker got his gun, doesn't have to worry about fucking Times Square."

"Right."

"So. [Eddie's] staring down the barrel of a Mac 10, in Times Square, and he's praying and thinking about his wife and kid and the tourists that are about to get shot. He and his partner are whipping out their weapons. But the guy, the shooter, he gets off two rounds, right. The shots go wild."

Yes. The shots did go wild. I've seen pictures of the windows in Times Square those shots landed in. Pretty chilling when you think about those shots hitting flesh instead of crappy merchandise.

"Then the Mac 10 chimney stacks." (Or smoke stacks or something--I don't remember the word Greg used, but the end result is that the gun locked up on the maniac shooting it).

"What does that mean?" I asked Greg.

"According to [Eddie], the guy held the gun sideways. Stupid fucker had watched too many rap videos."

Greg turned his hand sideways, so that his thumb was pointing towards the wall instead of ceiling. Which, I gotta say, looks totally bad-ass.

"Yeah. [Eddie] said what happened was, in the Mac 10, which is a terribly designed gun--who knew?--if held this way" Greg pointed his thumb to the ceiling "can do a lot of damage. But if held this way" Greg pointed his thumb to the wall "the bullets don't have the right support, and end up going vertical or something. Anyway. 10 feet away, trying to draw their weapons, they hear the click. Failed shot. [Eddie] stops praying, and his partner gets his weapon out. The guy starts banging on his gun, and [Eddie's] partner brings his own gun around and BLAM!"

Waffles jumped.

"I didn't know this," Greg said. "[Eddie] said both he and his partner put their arm over their hearts." Greg crooked one wet arm over his chest, his elbow roughly covering the spot where his heart is. "They're trained to do that. It gives them some shielding."

Good to know. Next time I'm being shot at, I'll be sure to crook my arm in front of my chest. It's like going into the basement of the Paris Opera House.

"So BLAM!" Greg repeated. Waffles jumped again. I don't know what the mouse in the kitchen did.

"As soon as his partner shot, [Eddie] dove on top of the guy. And he said he felt all wet and shit, and thought 'This motherfucking piece of shit just pissed himself and me.' He tried to get the Mac 10 out of his hand, but the fucker had too strong a grip on it, so he slid the magazine out of it. And when he did, he saw his hands--totally coated in blood. Not piss. Blood."

Then, by all accounts, the tourists in Times Square exploded in applause. Which, fine, okay, not a big fan of the NYPD, but I'll give the boys and girls this: when they do their job well, they deserve the applause.

Greg said he went up to [Eddie] later and told him, "You know, thanks man. It's people like you who keep me safe."

And [Eddie] said back, "Thanks man. We don't often get thanked for what we do, so it means something when it happens."

And here's the moralizing part of my story: All you fuckers in gun-crazy states really need to start thinking of the good of the country. Take care of your fucking guns, get some goddamn control over it, because no one wants to take your guns but we damn sure would like to have some sort of, oh I don't know, logical way of dealing with them. Maybe documentation, a waiting period, a background check.... If guns were your daughter, would you just let some random guy run off with her?

But if any of you gun nuts want to do something useful, please come up here and shoot this goddamn mouse.

That is all.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Day that will live in infamy


So yeah, I share a birthdate with a national disaster.

Lots of people do. There are a lot of people in this country, and a lot of national disasters. I once dated a guy born on 9/11, for instance; it was years before 9/11 became a national disaster, and he was Muslim.

I can't help but think of him when the remembrances and the tributes start up. Nice guy. We broke up gracefully. He doesn't deserve to have all the 9/11 baggage on his birthday--turning a year older is baggage enough, as is his religious affiliation.

There's a difference between being born before a national disaster that happens on your birthday, and being born well after the disaster occurred. I never owned 12/07. It was always Pearl Harbor Day. I'd wake up on my birthday, and hear FDR's speech about how this day--my day--was a date that would live. In. Infamy. Really, I was probably one of the few 4 year olds to know what 'infamy' meant. I grew up associating my birth with a national disaster. Most kids think of cake and presents when they think of their birthday. I thought of sinking ships and dead soldiers. Instead of ice cream, I thought of bombs. Instead of pinched cheeks, I thought of the Bataan Death March.

My great-grandmother, Ruby, lived just down the alley from a man named Buford when I was a kid and she was alive. Buford shared my birthday. He also served in WWII. Buford once owned 12/07. Then one day he didn't own it anymore. He told me, "Rough stuff. I wasn't there but I served with men who were. I was having a party when it happened. I haven't had a party since."

Here's what happens on my birthday, usually: Everyone in the media talks about death. There are reverent anecdotes about fallen soldiers, harrowing recreations of the Japanese attacks, and brief synopses of the whole of WWII. Pictures of burning bodies/buildings/cities. Shots of mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (heh, we paid'em back real good). All day, politicians weigh in with their "thanks to the soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice."

Buford never paid the ultimate sacrifice, obviously--he was alive several years after WWII to tell me about it. He said of WWII, "I hated it."

He also said of our shared birthday: "I wish I'd been born a day later." Which was fine, of course, because he wasn't a Beatles fan. I was. And I knew that if I'd been born a day later, I'd have John Lennon's death to deal with.

Anyway. So. To those of you who must share a birthday with a national disaster, I understand your ambivalence. It's weird, always so weird, to wake up on the day that's supposed be your day, your one special day, the one day you own, and hear about tragedy and upheaval and absolute, no-going-back change. If you were born after that day of national disaster, you get used to it. But if you're like Buford or the Muslim guy, and had a few years of owning the day before it came to mean something else entirely... well, I almost understand what it must be like. At least you had a good run.

Also, there's this: I was born in December, near Christmas. My brother was born in March, near Easter. Mozart died on the fifth of December. Delaware became a state on December 7th, 1787. John Lennon was (of course) shot on December 8th, 1980. The first person to die by lethal injection bought the farm on December 7th, 1982. Willa Cather was born. Cicero died. Thornton Wilder died. And Buford was born at some point, and it was a day that will live in infamy.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What a drag it is getting old

The old woman was stooped at the shoulder, like candy cane, watching her own feet shuffle along the carpet of Barnes and Noble, toward the checkout line. In her left hand was a walking stick--not a cane, but a gnarled heavy wooden stick about four feet high. It thudded hollowly against the carpet as she shuffled along like an ancient wizard, her weight shifting uncertainly to the right with one step, then confidently to the left with the next. Since she was wearing a long moss-green coat and had wild, thin, grey-red hair, I couldn't make up my mind if she looked more like a troll or a mystic.

When she made it to the line, where I was standing, she glanced up. The way she would look up to check her progress was she'd bend a bit backward from the hip and lift her chin just enough to take in her surroundings. Long face, sharp blue eyes mostly hidden behind the falling-curtain of her eyelids. Canyons instead of wrinkles all over her face.

Let's see. What else.

Her coat was unbuttoned, so I could see the limited length of her: a bedazzled sweatshirt full of rhinestones; spindly legs covered by sweatpants, with the pantlegs tucked into bright red socks; sandles on her feet.

In her right hand, clutched in a liverspotted talon, was a large cofeetable book about dogs. A satisfied pug was on the cover, sitting on a silk pillow amidst vases of roses and daisies. When she got up to me, she held the book out and said, in a Ruth Gordon voice surprisingly strong for such a weak-appearing old woman: "Hold this for me will you honey."

I took the book from her. She immediately started passing her right hand in and out of the pockets of her coat, removed her wallet.

"You like dogs?" she asked me, staring at the floor--only not staring really, since it was the natural direction of her gaze.

"Yes. Just got one."

"I've had one my whole life, honey, and they make it all worth it." We both shuffled forward with the line. I tried to hand her book back to her but she lifted the cane in her left hand, waggled the fingers clutching the wallet in the right, and made a shrugging motion. "Hang on to it til we get to the checkout will you honey? Thank you very much."

Here's what I learned from the old woman in the five minutes we spent in line together: Her name was Lola (and I realized she looked more like a 'Lola' than a troll or a mystic; maybe she had been a showgirl, even...or a man), during her life she'd had at least three dogs at all times, replacing each fallen dog with a new puppy like a stock boy refilling grocery shelves, and she'd recently lost a dog--Petey. Petey had made it 26 years with her. The two canine survivors missed Petey a lot, as did Lola. Lola and her two surviving dogs moped around her 88th St. apartment. "Not even my cats can cheer us up," she said wanly. "And I'm too old to get a new one, you know. I keep hoping to win the lottery so I can afford to pay someone to help me with a new pup but that's not likely is it honey."

So I got Lola to the cashier, then helped her out the door onto the sidewalk. Watched her shuffling away, slowly, stooped, banging her walking stick against the concrete, and I wondered how the hell the old and infirm of the city manage to get around in the winters. I wonder this all the time, especially when I'm climbing the mounds of plowed snow to cross a street, or falling on my ass when hitting an icy spot on the sidewalks. If I'm still in this city when I'm 80, someone please shoot me with a tranq and ship me off to Florida.

There's Josie, of course, the elderly woman who lives below us. Just today, I was coming into the building as she was going out. Or preparing to go out. Cold, rainy day. As I approached the front door, I saw Josie standing just inside the lobby, using her frail frame to prop open the heavy door. She was wearing a raincoat, with a plastic hood tied around her head, and she was fighting with an umbrella, trying to open it. A guy living on the first floor was behind her, and I could hear him saying, "Mamma, where you going?"

"Help me Irish umbrella," she told him. She held out the umbrella.

"Okay, but where you going mamma? You don't need to go out today."

I stood outside, my umbrella now closed. "You going out, Josie? It's nasty out."

"Irish."

I looked at the guy. "I guess she wants to go out," he said.

The past week hasn't been good for Josie. I don't know what's up with her, but just a few days before, I'd come home from work, made my way up the stairs, and heard a lot of loud sharp voices on the second floor landing. The Dominican women in the apartments surrounding Josie's were there, as was Josie, and as I slipped past with a small "Hello," Josie had grabbed my arm. "Can you do something about that light?" she asked me, pointing up to the light above us. I looked up. The light was on. The light was fine.

"What do you mean?"

"The light! You don't see it?" Josie peered at me with her hard black eyes, waiting.

One of the Dominican women touched my shoulder, then gently pulled Josie's hand off my arm. "Fine, light fine," she told me. "Josie, the light is fine. Okay." Then to me. "Okay. Light okay."

Now Josie was trying to go out into a chilling drizzling rain. The guy asked her as he tried to figure out her umbrella: "Where you going, Mamma?"

"The corner to look at the trees," Josie answered.

"Oh okay," the guy said.

I offered my umbrella to her. Her's was clearly broken. She took it. The guy took it back and handed it me. "Thank you," he said. "I'll watch her." And then he shook her umbrella hard and it exploded open, a metal spoke shaking free from the canvas so a bit of canvas flapped loosely in the wind. "Come on mamma, we'll go look at the trees."

He folded her arm into his, and helped her down the stairs while holding the umbrella over her head.

And oh--I guess that's the way the elderly get through the winters in the city: they become the goodwill projects of the building, in a respectful, courteous way. Not all of us end up like Brooke Astor.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

"I think I'll go shopping tomorrow," I told Greg over our Thanksgiving meal. The meal, btw, was actually just some take-out in plastic containers, but it'd been given to us for free by the chef, so no complaints.

"Don't," Greg replied immediately. "You're not that type of person. You'll have a terrible time, then you'll find some way to blame me for it."

"I won't blame you. Why would I blame you? I'm making a conscious choice, and I'll be fine."

Greg chewed his turkey, thinking. Then he said, "You can't stand going shopping under the best of conditions. Really. Remember two weeks ago when you went to Barnes and Noble?"

"That wasn't my fault. I just have bad experiences. Bad shopper's luck."

"You yelled at a four year old over a Harry Potter book."

"The kid was hogging the whole section. I couldn't... see around him."

Greg stared blankly at me, chewing. "Okay. All right. Just... don't blame me when you have a terrible time."

"We need a new rug. I can probably get one for cheap. And you mentioned that game that's gonna be on sale. What's it called?"

"Brutal Legend."

"Right." I jotted the name down on a piece of paper, knowing I'd never remember. Folded the paper and shoved it into my back pocket.

We fell asleep early, a dreamless sleep as heavy as anvils, and then woke up at 4.30. Greg dressed and left for work--he was working the front lines of Black Friday--and I combed my hair, kissed the dog goodbye, shoved earbuds into my ears, and set off to buy a rug and a game while listening to the cast album of 'West Side Story.'

I don't blame Greg for what happened next. But he should've been more persuasive in his argument: "You're not that type of person," he said, but I thought he was being amusing. What he should've said was, "You are an insane person, and have no right being around others. Stay home or I will take the dog and move into a hotel." Maybe that would've gotten his point across a bit better.

So I take the train across the river into the Bronx. I take the train, and it's mostly empty, and the sky is an iron color because it's not quite day, but it's no longer night. The sky is kinda 'eh, whatever.' A man is sitting across from me, looking as if he had one hell of a Thanksgiving. He's hunched over, one large hand covering his face, and the one eye I can see is bloodshot and droopy, and with each jerk of the train he slips a little bit further down in his seat so that by the time we pull into the next station his head is about the only thing in the seat--the rest of his body has slipped down into the aisle.

Right. So. I get off the train, go down the station stairs to the sidewalk, and am suddenly in the middle of a throng (I think that's the right word--sounds threatening, right?) of people screaming in three different languages. Stores along the street are open, doors thrown wide, and all of the stores are blasting chipper, bouncy Spanish music that I can hear over Maria singing about how pretty she feels. And everyone is dressed as if they're going to war in the Arctic, even though it's only 50 degrees.

I push my way thru this crowd towards Namesless Box Store, my goal. I was already doing "that thing" with my jaw that Greg says I do far too often--I was grinding my teeth, which makes my chin jut out. Also, I was clenching and unclenching one hand as if massaging a hamster.

"There's a place for us..."

Nameless Box Store looked like Saigon during the American evacuation. Complete chaos. People pouring in, coming out with giant flat-screen tvs in boxes featuring a grinning blond chick. Seriously, that must've been the main sale because I saw that grinning chick everywhere, in every aisle, shoved haphazardly into shopping carts or balanced on the shoulders of brave men. As I pushed--literally--my way into Nameless Box Store, past the armed guards stationed at every door, the blond chick grinned at me from every side.

"Hold my hand and you're half-way there..."

I somehow managed to make it to the electronics section, at the back of the store. I was thinking about picking up a few DVDs, considering a clothes purchase, and anxious to get a new rug for the living room.

I didn't see the enormous group of people behind a rope. Just didn't see them. The combo of West Side Story in my ears and thoughts of purchases to be made distracted me. Plus, really, once you're inside a store, you're INSIDE THE STORE--the only lines you expect are the ones at the check-out. Who the hell lines up to browse? But apparently the grinning blond chick had made necessary a line, as if she were the popular whore in a whorehouse.

The first sign of trouble was a group of Nameless Box Store employees yelling at me. I ignored them because I'm often shouted at, for various reasons, and I've discovered that if I simply ignore the shouting, I'm left alone.

"Somewhere..."

Plus, yes, I was grooving on the showtunes. Seriously, I hadn't listened to West Side Story in a while, and had forgotten how great the score is. So I was in a zone, and simply wanted to get Greg's game, a rug, and a few other things, and didn't realize there was a complicated system in place to prevent me from doing those simple things.

Also, I was beginning to find the blond chick kind of distracting because she was everywhere, grinning at me.

The group of Nameless Box Store employees were shouting at me as I wandered down an aisle of DVDs. While ignoring them, I checked out a special edition of The Wizard of Oz, and thought it'd be nice to own but not something I'd ever actually watch, dismissed it, and took in a Deadwood box set. Weighed my options: I might watch Deadwood once, because I really liked the first season and have always wanted to see the second and third, but did it really have replay value? Then I pushed on, surprised at the lack of crowds in the DVD section, toward the game aisle.

That's when I couldn't ignore the shouts anymore, because the shouts were coming from a teenaged girl with a complicated hair design. She was suddenly in my face.

"We'll find a new way of living..."

The young woman's voice cut through Bernstein's kinda-treacly music. "Do you not see the line?" she demanded. I popped the earbuds out. The young woman was gesturing, in a very vague way and with a hand bearing the longest fingernails I'd ever seen, toward a few hundred people. The people were behind a rope. They were all looking at me as if I were the last helicopter out of Saigon.

"I'm just looking," I said. Confused.

"You ain't looking, you're shopping. Why the fuck else would you be here at 5 AM."

"What?"

"Get in the line."

See. I have a thing about being told to line up. I don't know why, but I do--I resent lines. I understand lines exist mostly to give some semblance of order to a chaotic world, in that you can't just wander up to a McDonald's counter whenever you want but instead must wait your turn. But shopping IS chaos. Purchasing is orderly. Know what I mean? You don't line up to shop, you line up to purchase.

So I said to the young woman who was shouting at me to get in a goddamn line in order to look at potential purchases, "You're a fucking idiot." Sure, not really called for. She was just following orders, etc. Doing her job.

The young woman changed her fingernailed vague gesture into a 'aw hell no' swipe, and said, "What did you say?"

"I said you're a fucking idiot. I'm just browsing. Can't I browse without being attacked?"

Again, I'm not defending my actions. But I can't defend the concept of lining people up in a store just to look at merchandise, either.

"That's it," the young woman said. She whipped her head and its complicated architecture of hair toward the group of Nameless Big Box employees standing a few feet away. "Call Carl."

One of the employees pulled out a walkie-talkie and mumbled into it.

"Carl?" I asked. "You're gonna call Carl because I want to look at a Wizard of Oz DVD?"

"Security," she told me.

"You're making people stand in a goddamn line to look at shit, and you're calling security on me?" Yes, I really said that. Again, not justifying, but... come on.

So Carl was contacted, and he dispatched his minions, and suddenly I was surrounded by four or five rent-a-cops--ARMED rent-a-cops, as if I was a threat to the safety of others. Guns. Seriously. Fucking sidearms in Nameless Box Store. I don't care if it was the Bronx, there's no reason to shoot people over merchandise.

The rent-a-cops surrounded me. One asked, "Is there a problem?" He was looking at me, but the young woman answered.

"Yes. He didn't stand in line."

"I didn't see the fucking line," I said. "Who looks for a line to get to the DVDs?"

"Sir, there is clearly a line right there," one rent-a-cop said. "See those people?" Yes, I saw those people. They were now almost impossible to miss, since they were all staring at me. "They're standing in line, waiting for their chance."

Chance to what? I thought. But I said, "I've been here a million times and there's never been a line just to walk from there--" I pointed to a spot a few feet away where there were shelves of shoes and socks "--and here." I pointed to where I was standing, which happened to be by a display of Twilight books.

"It's not a usual day," the rent-a-cop said. He had a hand on my arm. I suspected one of the other rent-a-cops was fingering the handle of his gun.

"You're all nuts."

"You gonna get in line?" the cop asked.

I considered it. Considered getting in line. "No. I'll leave, though."

"He called me an idiot," the young woman said. I bit my tongue. Ground my teeth.

Yeah, so, I stalked out of Nameless Big Box store, and... yeah. The less said about the whole thing, the better.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The 'paying attention' experiement

So over the weekend, a shocking story popped up in the news: a guy got stabbed to death (repeatedly, in the face and neck) for not removing his bag from a seat on the D train. Apparently the stabber wanted to sit down, and the stabee was reluctant to put his bag on the train floor.

At first, I was sure the stabee kinda had it coming. I've been on crowded trains before, been exhausted or otherwise impaired, and really in need of a good sit. And there's always some person taking up two seats, with a bag, a dog in a bag, an excess of ass-cheek, or with shoes as they treat the cramped benches of the MTA transit system as their own mobile lounging unit. Usually my first instinct isn't to lunge at these persons with a steak knife, but I've had violent impulses.

Turns out the stabee was homeless, had serious mental issues, and was a germophobe. The stabee used his bag as a buffer to keep himself protected from other germ-carrying people of crowded NYC. Essentially, the stabber, when he told the stabee to remove his bag from the seat, was committing an act of violence even before he whipped out the steak knife and started jabbing the stabee in the face and neck. To the stabee, that bag was the only thing between himself and the germ-covered world.

The stabee, btw, removed the bag. He complied. He obeyed. It's been revealed that there were plenty of seats on the train, but the stabber zeroed in on that particular bag-occupied seat, for whatever reasons. Power-play, I guess. And after he stabbed the guy (severing carotid), the stabber moved to a train door, forced it open enough to slip the bloody knife out of the moving train car, let the doors shut, and said to himself, "I just want to go home," over and over. Meanwhile, the stabee was sitting in a seat that lacked a bag but filled with blood, and was wheezing, "I'm dying! Help me!"

And two dozen terrified passengers, probably exhausted or impaired (it was 2AM, after all, on a Friday night) were going thru their own confused, panicked paces, pressed in a clump at the end of the train farthest from the bloody, dying man and the man who wanted to just go home.

Those people, btw, were eventually locked into the car, trapped with the stabber and the stabee. When the D train pulled into 50th St, the conductor locked the doors of the car until the police arrived. Imagine being in that car, the blood, the murderer, the dead body, the windows, the passengers waiting to get on.

Anyway so today, Tuesday, I decided I'd take the train without using my iPod. Just to see, you know, just to experience what it is like to have your surroundings coming at you without the buffer of a podcast or a Beatles album. It's been--no shit--four or five years since I've just cold walked around the city without a soundtrack or an NPR podcast in my ears. Half the time, I have no idea what anyone is saying to me, and they have no idea what I'm saying back since we all have our ears plugged with our own personally-selected playlist.

So I left for work this morning. iPod Touch-less. No earbuds. Just sounds. My footsteps on the marble stairs. The squeal of the door in the lobby as I buzzed myself out. The insect hum of the traffic as I exited to the sidewalk. Construction. A guy in front of me calling to a girl behind me, in Spanish.

Then the train ride. Jesus. There was a clacking sound, of course, which I always hear even through my Gilbert and Sullivan, even through my 'Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me.' I read--even though I was willing to finally listen to the ride to work, I wasn't about to look at it.

And what I heard were mostly the sounds of other people listening to the music blasting from headphones. The car, except for the clack-clack of the train wheels on the rails, was silent. The only thing breaking the clack-clack silence was the tinny, distant mosquito-like cacophony of other people's music. And the occasional wisp of a turned page, since everyone was reading something.

I didn't get a seat (and didn't try to stab my way into one), but was able to take a position against a left-side door. The left-door position is better than the aisle position, because this far up in Manhattan, the doors only open on the right side of the car. If you're stationed at a left-side door, you're out of the way of passengers pushing up and down the aisle to get to a right-hand door for entrances and exits. Left-hand door positions mean you can just hang out, do your thing, ride along without worry of jostling or molestation.

The guy beside me was listening to his magic portable music-delivery device. Loudly. I could hear it as I read. And I was standing next to a seated person, a middle-aged woman. She was watching 'Lost'--season 3 I think--and I could hear that as well. And clack-clack.

I arrived at my destination, and pushed my way off the train--without stabbing anyone--and there was a new hum. Not an insect hum like when I'd moved onto the sidewalk from my apartment building, but the hum of bodies moving, cloth scraping, shoes against tile. There was a murmur as passengers greeted other passengers and we all moved collectively up narrow stairs, saying our 'Excuse mes' or grumbling our apologies while crashing into one another. It's a ballet, a Merce Cunningham extravaganza, moving through any train station: erratic, yet controlled. Syncopation and chaos.

On the street, more noise. Buses squealed as they passed, taxis honking for attention. Then into Columbia's College Walk, where the noise quieted, half-heard conversations. No stabbings, but it is Columbia--only a matter of time before a grad student loses it and screams about Kant before laying out a blood-bath.

And during the day! I left work a few times to go to a deli, because it was a slow day, a studentless day, and also a sunny day so I wanted to just walk around rather than stare blankly at a computer screen. I went for coffee, felt the sun. I went for a muffin, felt the sun. I went on the pretense of getting another muffin to feel the sun. Just to be out, soaking up the sun before it leaves us and winter settles in. And walking down the sidewalk, I'd hear the jingles of walked dogs. The clack-clack of high-heeled shoes. The random spurts of exasperation from stressed people. The insane mutterings of insane drug addicts. And without an iPod, I had to deal with these mutterings, which were always about getting either change or cigarettes out of me.

With earbuds shoved into my ears, I always had a plausible excuse to ignore, but without those earbuds, I had none. Sure, I could pretend to be deaf, but that seemed like cheating.

A guy I'd seen several times a day for nearly 5 years came up to me. "Quarter," he said. Drug guy. Clearly. I'd often seen him standing on one of the corners between my work and the place where I get coffee. Sometimes he was standing, and other times he was doing Kabuki, moving in slow, precise ways with his eyelids half-closed. I'd often seen him speaking to me, and would instinctively touch my earbuds while staring toward the distant horizon, pretending not to notice. This time, I didn't have a reasonable excuse to ignore him, so when he said, 'Quarter,' I stopped.

"I don't have one," I said. Which was true! I didn't.

"That's a shame, man," he said back. "I don't either, so I feel you."

Yeah, and then on the train going back home? Pretty unpleasant. I tried to read, but couldn't because of all the noise, all the conversations to eavesdrop on, all the tinny earbudded music to decipher. But I wasn't locked up with a madman, and I didn't get stabbed. So I guess it was a successful experiment: I heard the city, and it was saying, "Put the fucking earphones back on."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lou Dobbs: What I'll Do Next

Since I announced my departure from CNN, a lot of individuals, armed with too much free time and too little knowledge, have speculated on my future. Most of the speculation has been tongue-in-ass-cheek, with the suggestion that I will move from CNN to Telemundo, or that I'll enlist in the Minute Men, or join FOX News.

None of these things are true.

I've said all I have to say. I've worked for nearly thirty years at CNN, first as a reliable reporter of money and finance, then as a reliable reporter of the fall of the American empire. I've told you that Mexicans are stealing your jobs. I've told you that Obama will destroy your future. I've told you this, I've told you that. I'm tired, my comb-over is exhausted, and so I'm calling it a day.

I didn't really want to be a news anchor, you know. Five days a week, telling viewers the dreary news about their own lives is a grueling task. Can you imagine what it's like, hating the same race for five years? So I'm leaving that behind. I'm moving on. I'm pursuing my dream... which is to be a lumberjack, leaping from tree to tree, as they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia. The giant redwood! The larch! (The LARCH!) The fir! The mighty Scotts pine! The smell of fresh-cut timber. The crash of mighty trees. With my best girly by my side, we'll sing, sing, sing, sing!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Brother/Sister Plays


So I have a friend working on a show at the Public, which is a theater started by Joseph Papp, who also started Shakespeare in the Park, which is a series of plays (not always Shakespeare plays) held in Central Park each summer, for free. For free, of course, if you want to stand in line at four in the morning for tickets--otherwise, you either pay a homeless guy to stand for you, or become a patron of the Public.

As a nice gesture, Jon, the friend, offered Greg and I two comp tickets to The Brother/Sister Plays. The plays form a trilogy set in the brackish backwater of Louisiana pre-Katrina. The trilogy is performed in repertory--part one by itself and parts two and three together--and are all more or less self-contained parts, with themes and characters spilling into each other like, I guess, the water of a Louisiana swamp.

Greg and I went to the second and third plays first. And we enjoyed the hell out of them. I was surprised Greg liked them, frankly--he grouses whenever I come up with tickets for shows, but usually ends up enjoying himself (the two notable exceptions are "Wonderful Town," when we left at intermission because both of us were bored, and "Sweeney Todd," which he'd never before seen and so didn't understand the revival's bare-bones, abstracted take on a story as familiar to theater geeks as Star Wars or The Matrix). After the second and third parts of The Bro/Sis Plays, Greg wanted to see the first.

Jon gave us tickets to the first part, I thanked him, informed Greg (who winced less than usual, and agreed to go, rather than his traditional concession to attend), and we went.

The thing about free tickets is, you must show up to claim your tickets early--in this case, a half-hour before curtain--or they release them for general sale. Which meant I did my usual panic over time and travel, and we showed up nearly an hour early. Claimed the tickets. Then walked around the neighborhood for a while to kill time, played with the Cube, dodged kids on bikes, talked, whatever. Didn't see any NYU students leaping to their deaths, which is their normal state: bodies in motion, then at eternal rest.

Greg and I were really disappointed in the first part, and during the cab back home--we took a cab because Greg had to be at work at 5AM, and didn't feel like negotiating the public transit system so late--we talked it all over, working out our opinions.

Riding in a cab at night along the FDR, along the east side of Manhattan, is both relaxing and terrifying. To your right is the East River, and Roosevelt Island, and Brooklyn or Queens, and there are all the lights despite the persistent darkness. Night in Manhattan, unless you're in Times Square, can be very dark. We don't have stars, but we do have apartment windows, and street lights, and the Chrysler Building, which is sort of the moon over the FDR.

When the cab pulled up to our building, I hopped out to check on Waffles, and Greg remained behind to pay the fare. Josie, the old woman who haunts the lobby, was standing at the door, and buzzed me in though I doubt she recognized me. It was a late hour, and she's not too sharp even at early times.

"Irish Irish night," she said to me, in her voice that sounds like a needle rubbing back and forth across a record.

"Yes," I screamed into her deafness. "It is night!"

"Just getting back?" she asked, still with her indecipherable Irish brogue, but a bit more clearly. I think she's as tired as I am of my not understanding a damn thing she says.

"Yes," I screamed again. "We! Went! Out!"

Josie removed her hands from her pockets, where they usually lived, and clasped them in front of her, waist-level. "Oh Irish! Irish did you do Irish?"

"We! Went! To! A! Play!" My stomach muscles were hurting from shouting, and I'm certain everyone on the first and second floors were happy to hear that I'd gone out to a show.

"Ah, I used to do that," Josie said, with some sadness in her voice. "Irish Irish Irish now. Irish."

So I gathered that Josie once went out, and now doesn't, and misses going out. Now she roams the staircases and lobby of a single building in Inwood, in upper Manhattan, and scares the shit out of all the inhabitants. Never occurred to me before that she'd had a life, let alone a nightlife, before she became a decaying wraith.

I did my usual, awkward, "Well! See! You!" accompanied by a lame wave of one hand and a flick of a smile, then dashed upstairs to see if Waffles had managed to kill himself in some dreadful and dramatic way (I spend way too much time away from home imagining Waffles pulling a speaker over on himself, or jumping out of an open window, or choking on his food), and instead was ankle-attacked by a very spazzed-out Dachshund. A few minutes later, Greg came in, and... whatever.

And Greg and I decided the reason we liked the second and third parts of The Brother/Sister Plays is because they were unexpected. The reason we didn't like the first part is because we knew what to expect.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Obama and the pink menace

During the campaign last year, the gay community was in a tizzy--which is nothing new, really, but it was a positive tiz rather than a panic tiz. Obama, we were told, intended to be a "fierce advocate" of gay rights. In gay-rights speak, that meant he was gonna do away with Don't Ask, Don't Tell, with the ironically-named Defense of Marriage Act, and put forth the necessary legislative tools to bring about full-on, balls-out same-sex marriage.

People are wrong when they say things like, "You didn't actually think a politician would follow through on campaign promises?" because that isn't where the current bitterness towards Obama is coming from. Certainly not. Most of us in the gay community assumed Obama was making these promises, and ahead in the polls, because our fellow Americans were open and supportive of these promises, wanted them to be made reality. The bitterness isn't that Obama failed (so far); the bitterness is mostly over the betrayal of the rest of America to our basic rights.

Now then. John Aravosis, who has a blog. Americablog.com.

I've met John, once, at a coffee klatch thing in a Starbucks in midtown a few years ago. I'd been a reader of his blog for a while, and he'd expressed an interest in pushing his content a bit harder, making it a bit more relevant. He wanted input from readers, so he visited several cities, inviting readers to meet up with him for coffee and a chat. He did this in the darker days of the Bush administration, just before Katrina and Terri Schiavo blew the wheels off the Neo-Con juggernaut, so the midtown Starbucks was full of gay progressive activist blogger-readers, which is to say the Tizzy-meter was very high.

Then, as (sad to say) now, the main theme passing thru the conversations we had that night, over our lattes, was that it was maddening how straight Americans seem so apathetic to our community's lack of rights. I'm certain our conversations were an echo of the conversations women suffrage advocates once had, and African-American civil rights advocates once had. Well, not the advocates, really, but the actual women and the actual African-Americans. People sitting around in a state of mild shock over the indifference shown to their cause by people who enjoyed the full benefits of being an American citizen, a sense of 'how dare you.'

At the time, Bush was actively working against the gay community, and we were being used in political campaigns as a wedge issue to divide "real" America, rile them up, and get them to the voting booths. John was of the impression that change was on the horizon, and he wanted to know how we, his readers, felt. He listened to us, asked questions, we drained our coffees, went off into the night.

During the campaign, John's blog was a vicious supporter of Obama--even during the primary, he pushed Obama over Clinton because, let's face it, it'd been her husband who'd dropped us into the position the gay community found itself in. DOMA and DADT happened on his watch, and he'd agreed to them, and... whatever. Obama over Clinton, and Obama over McCain.

It wasn't the positions of Barack Obama, I think, that made him the natural choice of the gay community as a whole. It was what he represented. If an African-American man, on the stump, declares that he will fight for gay rights, and his poll numbers INcrease rather than DEcrease, perhaps change truly has come to straight America. Perhaps there's enough momentum to get what we deserve. The gay community threw itself very much into the Obama campaign--people who'd never done anything political in their lives were volunteering for him; Greg and I gave a lot of money and time to him; gay bloggers covered him non-stop. It wasn't that we thought he was the gay Jesus, as has been suggested by more cynical and bitter pundits. It was that he seemed to prove the American people were finally comprehending the terrible things they were doing to some segments of their own population.

A politician is a politician. He goes where the people tell him, because in the end he's voted in or out at their capricious will. Unless he's George W. Bush, but that's another blog post.

There's a quote by Mark Twain about voting. "If voting made any difference, they wouldn't let us do it." It's a funny quote, and has some truth in it, but I don't think it's right, otherwise pundits and politicians and strategists wouldn't spend so much time poring over poll data. And the polling data suggests that most Americans are fine with same-sex marriage, but the voting record suggests otherwise. California and Maine, dead in the water.

Anyway, all of the above was to make this point: John Aravosis IS stirring up anger at Obama. A few days back, the treasurer of the DNC, Andy Tobias, commented on John's blog. I don't know why Andy Tobias did this--perhaps he'd had one too many cocktails, or too much blow, or suffered a stroke, but it was a very dumb thing for a DNC official to do. Here's what Americablog--John's blog--had to say about it:

DNC Treasurer Andy Tobias joined in the comments section last night of John's latest post about the DNC's, and White House's, growing gay problem. And he wasn't very happy. He actually blamed John for the increasingly strained relationship between the gay community and the Democratic party, and then suggested that John was helping the Republicans by asking President Obama and the Democratic party to keep their promises to the gay community. I'm not sure a senior Democratic party official has ever started a bar brawl in the comments section of a blog before. Well, they have now.

And indeed they have. I'll concede that John sometimes is a bit histrionic and angry. He's got good reason to be, but, yes, he's a blogger who goes on TV and has a lot of readers so when he has a tizzy, it's a bit more influential than when I have one. And I'll concede that since he puts his ideas out there, and invites feedback, anyone is welcome to criticize him. But to have a DNC official do so this soon after the debacle in Maine is really just asking for a war.

That's all I gotta say.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Neighborly

So there's an elderly, mostly-deaf, fragile old woman who lives in the apartment below us. She's a relic, really: one of the few Irish-American citizens left in Inwood (Inwood was, until the '80s, mostly peopled by Irish immigrants or whatever--I know this because of Wikipedia, which also helpfully informs me that the Irish evacuated to the suburbs when the Dominicans moved in. The Dominicans are still here, so I guess the Irish are biding their time, waiting to return).

The elderly woman's name is Josie O'Something. She's got brittle, spider-webby dark hair, and is around 5 foot two or so, thin as glass, with large dark eyes buried inside of pale melting flesh. She has a heavy, mumbley Irish brogue, so it's almost impossible to understand her when she speaks, but that's fine because she can't really hear anything you shout at her anyway.

Josie O'Something often positions herself just inside the front door of the building, where she acts as an ersatz gatekeeper. If she recognizes you, she'll press the little red button beside the door which unlocks it. If she doesn't recognize you, she'll simply stand there looking at you as you fumble for keys or press various apartment buttons hoping someone else will buzz you in. Greg's first encounter with her, just after we moved in, was as he was hauling home several bags of laundry--she didn't recognize him, so just stared her cold stare where you're not quite sure she sees you as he balanced the laundry and slid his hands into various pockets in search of keys.

ANYway, I've often come home to find Josie standing inside the lobby (she now opens the door for me). Sometimes she's standing there, hands in the pockets of her very small and narrow pants, talking to the neighbors (they speak only Spanish, she speaks only unintelligible English, and yet somehow they work out a conversation), and sometimes she's alone, hands still in pockets, staring into the space between her face and the building's door. I wonder what she's thinking, why she stands there, for hours.

When she's there, alone, I know I'll be forced to speak. I anticipate this, and, while approaching the door, try to psyche myself up: this time, I will concentrate very hard, and finally understand what she's saying to me, and resist the urge to ask her about Lucky Charms.

Josie is constantly annoyed with something in the building. The few times I've managed to work out what she was saying, the subject has been about the low-lifes hanging outside the building, or about the "renovation fee" incorporated into our rent, or about the time our former super was caught by the landlord secretly renting out apartments to illegal aliens, who then set up a sweat-shop (complete with industrial-sized sewing machines!) on the fifth floor.

I usually smile, nod, coo, make exaggerated facial expressions, roll my eyes in a kind understanding way--anything to show I sympathize, which I age-istly assume is all any old person wants: sympathy for the various gripes and grimaces of being an old person in a unrecognizable, changing world . Once she went off on a tangent, then pointed to a brief note taped next to the mailboxes announcing a 'Neighborhood Meeting Hosted by Representative Whats-his-face,' so I was able to work out that she was asking me if I was attending; another time she pointed to the stoop stairs and spouted off a string of curse-sounding words so I managed to work out that she was, I don't know, unhappy with the cracks in the stair cement. Last night, though, when I came up to the door, and she unlocked it, she rambled on and on about "teabags."

Seriously. Out of all the words coming out of her mouth, the only word I caught, quite clearly, was teabags.

Since she's an old lady, I assumed she was out of tea, which I am certain old ladies quite like. Tea for the elderly is like sex toys for the young, I'm sure.

"I have some tea, Josie, if you want some," I shrieked at her.

"Irish Irish Irish teabag Irish IRISH IRISH." There was a lot of ire in her Irish, and she was putting some english on it. I tried harder to understand.

I plucked out my earbuds. This, for me, is a high compliment. It means you have my full attention. "I'm sorry?" I exploded, smiling. "I didn't get that." I put one finger up to my ear, to I suppose make it more clear that it was I, and not she, who was hard of hearing.

"Irish Irish vote tomorrow because Irish teabag people Irish fuckers."

Fuckers. She said fuckers.

And I understood. I think.

"I am voting tomorrow," I screamed at the old woman. "Those teabaggers ARE fuckers."

She smiled, which I'd never seen Josie do before. Wince, yes. Pinch her lips together, yes. But smiling was new to her, and an odd thing to see her do.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Funny story

Greg apparently forgot to put out clean towels for his visiting mother, so she, being the industrious sort, went rummaging through our linen closet. I assume. I've no real evidence that she did so, and am not about to ask.

When I came home, she greeted me from the futon and Waffles greeted me from three feet in the air, and Greg called out from the bedroom. I made my way down the hall to the bathroom, to brush my teeth, and noticed, hanging on the towel rack, a very special kind of face towel, one Greg has owned since before I met him, and has had some occasion to use since after I met him.

The towel was positioned in just the right way to reveal the embroidered words along one edge of the cloth: CUM RAG.

This, coupled with her casual admission from the night before about how Greg had woken her up by "sliding Waffles between my legs," is causing me not a little bit of Freudian anxiety.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where the Wild Things...something something

There was a mother and her three young kids sitting behind us at 'Where the Wild Things Are' Sunday afternoon. A proper Upper West Side mother, dressed just so, with her three kids groomed and fed--but not too fed--and similarly just-so dressed. The kids ranged in ages from maybe four to eight. The mother ranged in ages from 30 to 40, depending on her doctor and work-out regimen.

"When will the movie start?" the youngest kid, of indeterminate sex, whined, balancing a small cup of ice water on one knee, which was drawn up to his or her chin.

"When your father gets here," the mother said. She was turned away from the child, tending to the 8 year old, who had spilled granola into his lap. The mother was picking the pieces of granola off of the kid's clothing and returning them to the container the kid was clutching in one hand.

I wasn't sure if she was being glib or if the kids' father was the projectionist, or if she actually hoped to impress upon the children a sense of the father's godlike power. When will the movie begin? When your father says so, and fuck the 300 other people in this theater who expect it to begin at 4:30.

And yet, just as I heard the kids behind us shout out, "Daddy!" the previews began.

The kids didn't last the entire movie. Three minutes in, despite their mother's continued and spirited attempts to narrate EVERY FUCKING SECOND of the movie to them, the kids began to echo each other: "Can we go? I want to go. When will this be over?"

The kids left 10 minutes before the end. I heard the family pull out and head for the exit (and felt them, as well, since each family member made it a solemn duty to bump against the back of my seat). If the parents had left when the kids asked to leave--at the beginning of the movie--Greg and I would've been spared the constant motherly narration, and the needling questions from her three perfect snowflake children. The father, demonstrably God of the Multiplex, said nothing at all.

"Why is he jumping on the bed?" one of the kids asked.

"Because he's angry at his sister. It's a bad thing to jump on the bed."

"But why is he mad?"

"Because. Look at his wet feet on the bed. That's just awful. Shame on him."

A little later, after the first sighting of the Wild Things: "That wasn't scary. Mom, you said it'd be scary. I wasn't scared. Were you scared, Mom? Why is that one breaking all the houses?"

At one point, a cube of ice sailed over the back of my chair and hit me on the top of the head, bounced, and ricocheted off Greg's glasses. Greg looked at me, and I tightened my grip on his hand, and then we... continued watching the movie. Said nothing. We did not turn around to glare, or to accept an apology. Kids--sometimes ice comes out of them.

I liked the movie. Greg didn't. Greg's reasons are his own, so he's welcome to share them in his own way, but the reason I liked the movie is because it was like a Bergman film for children: depressing, ponderous, beautiful, and full of whimsical scenes that quickly became malevolent. A silent God. Whatever. The film was a children's version of "Wild Strawberries."

Wait, no. That's not entirely right. I mean it is right, in a way, because jesus christ the film is so bleak, and, you know, say what you want about the wonders of a child's imagination, in the end the reason children have imagination is because they're fighting against the reality they'll eventually be forced to accept. But it's not right, too, because inside the movie's bleakness is an understanding that you never actually lose your imagination; you just, I don't know, use it to get overcreative with your PowerPoint slides.

There were a lot of kids at our matinee. And a lot of old people, and childless couples. The only people talking during the movie were the kids behind us, who were using their mother as a filter for the film, and she was happy to be that filter, never once tiring of her own narration, her own interpretation, feeding it to her kids like a mother bird barfing up digested berries to her baby birds. And, as I said, they were gone 10 minutes til the end, after one final, "I wanna go, can't we go." Maybe because the father needed to switch the projection off and rewind the reels.

But the kids who remained? The lot of them in their seats? When the credits began to roll, those kids started howling like wild things. I howled too. Lots of adults did, Greg included. Love the movie or hate it, it's still fun to have an excuse to howl in public.

Oh. "...and it was still hot" remains the best ending to any book ever, of all time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a White Bronco!

Thursday, all of America was distracted by a bright, shiny object. For two hours, every major news source followed the slow progress of a homemade blimp, and reported with very little skepticism about the 6 year old boy riding within it, and America watched. And what did we watch? A shiny balloon. A balloon with, we were told, a boy inside of it.

Sure, the reporters told us, it wasn't a certainty that the boy was inside the balloon. But here's the balloon anyway, shutting down airspace and hurtling through the atmosphere. Schrodinger's cat type stuff--we can't see inside, so there's no way to know for sure, but look at the shiny object, and visualize the poor 6 year old child inside of it.

Apparently, no one bothered to look--really look--for the boy, who was hiding in a box in the attic of his Fort Collins, CO, home as if performing an abridged version of The Diary of Anne Frank, minus Nazis. No, the boy needed to be in the balloon, because who wants to spend an afternoon staring raptly at television images of a balloon floating through space, no matter how interesting Wolf Blitzer makes it seem, unless there is a precocious 6 year old inside of it?

I don't really fault the parents for the absurdity of this Thursday afternoon. I mean sure, having a dirigible in your back yard is irresponsible parenting, at best, but most parents do equally irresponsible things (my parents used to throw me in a trunk and drive me to drive-thru movies, just to avoid paying my admission, for example), and most of those things are not nearly as (frankly) cool as building and maintaining a flying apparatus, then storing it the back yard.

And I don't really fault the emergency response team. They did their job. They followed the shiny object, they secured the shiny object, they prepared to rescue the imaginary child inside the shiny object. Task-oriented. That's what emergency response teams should be. Critical thinking should be limited to the task, and not to the media circus surrounding that task.

Some blame rests with the investigative team, all of whom interviewed the only eyewitnesses to the launch of the 6-year-old-boyless balloon. Falcon Heene's older brothers. The elder brothers all insisted, time and again, and with unanimous consistency, that little Falcon had been inside the balloon when it slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of ratings gold. But apparently it didn't occur to those investigators to thoroughly search the Heene residence.

Most of the blame for the Day America Stopped Working and Watched a Balloon, As if Suddenly Everyone Understood American Beauty, rests with the media. The media, which are so concerned with mini-narratives and storytelling that they are incapable of actual reporting. The media, ratings-starved and secretly hoping for another Jon-Benet, another Columbine, another OJ. The media, which should have taken a moment to reflect on this:

If a 6 year old kid is flying around in a helium-filled balloon for 2.5 hours, he's dead from asphyxiation. It is therefore morbid and perverse to hype the flight of a balloon carrying a 6 year old dead boy, and show unlimited coverage of what amounts to the child's airborne coffin.

But! It didn't occur to the media that the kid, if aboard the mini-zeppelin, would be stone dead within an hour from asphyxiation since HELIUM ISN'T OXYGEN. Or at least it didn't occur to the journalists at 9 News out of Colorado, which was the feed most networks relied on for their breathless "OMG It's a little boy soaring above the earth" coverage. It occurred to me. It probably occurred to a lot of passive watchers of the potential tragedy. But to the intrepid journalists of 9 News, too busy shaping the 'narrative' of the story to be bothered with the facts of it, not one of them seemed to consider the difference between a kid surrounded by oxygen and a kid surrounded by helium.

Around the second hour of 9 News' determined coverage of a childless balloon's progress across a small swath of Colorado, producers apparently had the bright idea to call in an expert of some sort, to give the on-air talent someone other than each other to jaw at. The expert--maybe he was a doctor? A physicist? A balloon-animal clown? I don't know! I should work for 9 News!--casually mentioned that if the child was in the balloon, and if he was not in a compartment separate from the helium of the balloon, he most likely would be dead. The expert dropped this little nugget of mortal clarity while answering one journalist's question about the kid's chances of hypothermia (the journalists had spent most of the balloon's flight discussing the prospect of little Falcon's body being deep-frozen); when the expert brought up the more likely, obvious scenario of asphyxiation, the journalists looked as if it had been they, and not Falcon, who'd been hit by sub-zero blasts of air.

I'm not kidding. The most obvious fact of the whole situation, and not one journalist had thought of it. The expert mentioned "asphyxiation," and you could quite literally see the on-air talent go cold. One of the anchors even said, hastily, "We'll be cutting away when the balloon lands, because we don't want to show a dead child live on the air." At no point in the previous hour had that statement been made (to my knowledge, anyway. And it was a frequent refrain from that point onward:"We'll cut away. Respect for the family. You don't want to see a dead kid, do you?").

When they mentioned hypothermia in that first hour, the reporters seemed disingenuous, as if they knew it wasn't a possibility but wanted to play with the idea just to keep the audience concerned and watching. Until the expert said 'asphyxiation, the journalists (anchors, on-air talent, whatever) had been presenting a tragedy-deferred type story, where the denouement would be on the ground, cut and dried: if the balloon crashes, the boy is dead and you have a sad story; if it lands safely, the boy will pop out in tears but alive and you'll have a happy story. At no point did it occur to the journalists that the story was already over, and they'd been reporting on a floating grave.

Once the balloon landed and it was revealed that no one was inside (and, btw, they did NOT cut away, as promised, but doggedly followed the visuals as the rescue team secured the balloon), a new narrative twist emerged: the boy had fallen from the balloon before anyone had started tracking it. The "Little Falcon died before we had a chance to figure it out" narrative went on for a while.

A grid search began. Interviews began. The media dug deep, found out the Heene family'd been on "Wife Swap," and "Storm Chasers." Found out this fact, found out that fact, dug up everyone who'd ever known the family, put them in front of a camera. Pushed and pushed the possibility of Falcon being dead long before the media ever got hold of the story, as if deflecting the responsibility of there even being a story. As Vonnegut would say: No damn cat, no damn cradle. No damn kid, no damn story--unless he was dead before we got here. So watch this interview with the psychic mom from 'Wife Swap.'

And the kid was, all the while, in the attic of the family home, not too far from all the cameras and the reporters and the investigators and the interviewees.

The story, as small as it was, turns out to be this: A young boy did something he thought he'd be punished for (set loose his father's weird UFO-shaped helium balloon), and hid in the attic to avoid punishment.

But what really happened was this: a desperate media turned their collective backs on the simple story, and went bold, creating elaborate fictions out of a bright, shiny object.

And of course America--me included--followed the bright shiny object because that's what Americans have been taught to do. We know the story is always in an attic in a box, terrified of discovery, but we're so used to looking at White Broncos that we'll follow the bright shiny object every time. Then hate ourselves after.

Hey, how's Afghanistan going? Who cares--Iraq is much brighter.

Monday, October 12, 2009

At a loss for anything else to write about...


It's chilly outside. Not cold, but I've been breaking out the jackets and shoes lately, so summer's over, and we're into fall. Whenever I think of fall, I think of a scene from Hannah and Her Sisters (really): Barbara Hershey standing on a wooden pier, wearing a thick coat. The reason I think about this image is because, in the movie, "time has passed," and what was going on in the first half of the movie is several months past, and things have changed, and events have happened, and the audience is expected to catch up. Barbara Hershey, standing above water on waterlogged pier planks, hugging her coat, conveys perfectly how "time has passed." There's even a helpful wind blowing through her hair, which allows the audience to visualize the progression of time.

I think I associate fall with time-progression because when we get to fall, we're also approaching the event-horizon of my birth. I was born in December. Fall can only lead to one thing, and that's my birthday. Which means I'm older, which means I'm nudging up to death. Another year older--what have I done?

Truth is, I haven't done a lot. I've given money to various political campaigns, I've got opinions, I've been to various entertainments, I've had cultural close encounters, I've visited with friends and family. Nothing no one else hasn't done. Read some books. Gay-married Greg. Acquired a dog. Taken long walks through domesticated parks. Forgotten to do this thing, neglected to do that thing. And leaves are now falling, and the sun goes down a lot earlier.

If you'd asked me 10 years ago what I'd like to say about my life, you'd've gotten a different answer than if you asked me today. 10 years ago, I'd've told you I wanted a best seller, a Pulitzer, an Oscar-winning adaptation, and to be the bane of high school students forced to read my work. Faulkner. Schwartz. Salinger. Hell, Updike. Then me.

Not what I want now. I still want to write, and do write, and will always write, because that's what I do--I write when I can. Like now. This is writing. It's not Writing, but it's writing, small w, and not likely to end up on a 16 year old's reading list--but who knows, since this is the Internet, and who the fuck knows what will become vital and what won't once the Internet generation takes over the hallowed Ivory Tower. Tucker Max might be the next Virginia Woolf. The Onion might be the next Jonathan Swift. Matt Drudge might, god help us, be the next Alexis de Tocqueville. Writing. Who knows what's worth a second look? It's all so arbitrary.

Here's the point: It was a nice summer for me. Not great, but nice. 10 years ago, I didn't think I'd have Greg, and I didn't think I'd be in a position to worry about someone other than myself. 10 years ago, I was a self-contained, self-obsessed dingus with no future. Now, though? 10 years later?

Here, I'll admit this: I've spent worlds enough and time sabotaging my own life. Some people call it "self-destructive" but I like to call it "the painful way to self-discovery." And the painful way to self-discovery is a series of choices, which are usually bad, and are mostly selfish, and leads to a process of elimination where-in it is discovered what is actually important, and what is not. What's important: My relationship with Greg, paying rent, and the things I enjoy. What is not important: Being read by high school kids after my death, because most high school kids can't read. Important: Saying what I want to say. Not important: Saying what I should say in the unlikely event that someone is listening.

This summer was nice. It's gone now, but this summer was a sweet one. Now I'm standing on waterlogged planks, staring out at the ocean, hugging my sweater while the new cold wind nudges against my hair, which I am thrilled I still have. The end of the year is closing in, and my birthday is circling. No one, not even the rain, etc etc. And years have passed since I've seen Hannah and Her Sisters, and Barbara Hershey stepping out onto that pier, but I still remember the visual:

Bleak day. The camera lingers on the absence as the water laps at the wood of the pier. Desolation. In steps LEE [played by Barbara Hershey], wearing warm boots and a coat. She looks off into the distance, where there is nothing, and feels the slightly biting hint-of-winter wind nibbling at her. Soundtrack: Concerto For Two Violins & Orchestra, Bach. Voice-over:

THE NIGHTS ARE REALLY GETTING COOLER. SUMMER WENT SO QUICKLY. SOON IT WILL BE FALL. ... JUST GO ONE MONTH AT A TIME. JUST SEE WHAT THE NEXT FEW MONTHS BRING.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Another Chapter from Going Rouge

Chapters two and three of Palin's new book are rather dull, unless you like field guides for dressing a moose. I'm assuming she's drawing on some sort of weird Melville inspiration here, because she goes on for pages and pages about how to slice and cure meat, tan hides, and, at one point, the various uses of whale blubber.

Anyway, chapter four gets into the recent presidential campaign, and her first meeting with John McCain. She coyly skirts the issue of her pregnancy, however.

Chapter 4.

He was an old man who ran alone on the Republican ticket in the United States, and he had gone nearly three months without a bump in the polls. That’s how John McCain was introduced to me. I’d never heard of him before, then suddenly he was all I was hearing about.

In Alaska, I was up there governing so much I never really had time for politics. It’s not like I didn’t know what was going on--not at all!--but who has the time to pick over who’s running for what higher office when you’ve got government subsidies to spend? Plus, I was distracted by my pregnancy.

When I got pregnant, I didn’t notice it. People have criticized me for not making my pregnancy known, but the truth is, until I went to that conference in Texas to give my keynote speech, I didn’t know myself--I thought the pains were from that terrible foreign food I’d been eating in Texas. All those nachos and tacos can take a terrible toll on the system of someone used to seal meat and wolf burgers, which are much more delicate and natural.

My water broke just as I was about to take the stage at the Republican Governor’s Energy Conference in Dallas. Todd looked down at my wet shoes, then up at me, and said, “Honey, did you just pee?” I shrugged, unable to answer. It shocked me just as much as it shocked him, and I began to wonder if perhaps those sharp pains I’d been feeling all day were something other than refried bean gas.

It was then that I considered, for one brief moment, a terrible choice. Here I was in a state where no one really knew me. I could slip out of the hotel and down the street to one of the bodegas and get rid of what I now knew was inside of me. No one would know, and a nice Mexican family would have a strapping young white child to use as a bargaining tool should they want to become legal residents of America. I said a quick prayer to Jesus, grabbed a fresh dress from the suitcase, and said firmly to Todd, “I have a speech to give. Then we’ll deal with my incontinence.”

Some time later, John McCain was asking me to be his running mate.

The thing about John McCain is, he’s old. Which is fine, of course, but I’m a very youthful person used to jogging and fishing and swimming and hunting, and I don’t do very well when I’m forced to sit still in a stuffy room that smells of moth balls and stale gin, talking idly about strategy and policy. I work much better while in motion. You’d think my vitality and flightiness would have accentuated Mr. McCain’s weaknesses, making us the perfect pair of candidates to run for president. His experience, his caution, his ability to sit for hours at a time without movement, combined with my boundless energy seemed like a perfect fit. Sadly, it wasn’t.

The first time I met him, I met him alone. No Todd. No Cindy. No press. No advisers. No one. Just John, and just me, one on one. He came in secret to Alaska, and asked me one question: “Do you know the capital of North Carolina?”

“Sure,” I replied.

After a pause, he said, “....yes...?”

“Well, of course I know the capital of North Carolina. It’s the city with the capital building in it.” I winked, then made a click noise with my lips.

John shivered, and his skin grew bright red--the American blush strikes again! All men go rouge for me at some point--and he half-extended his hand to me. “Ms. Palin,” John said, his voice low and trembling, “I would be honored if you’d accept my invitation to join me on the campaign trail.”

Without hesitating, I asked, “In what capacity? Unless I’m capacitated, I can’t accept your offer.”

He grimaced, and pulled his hand away for a moment. Brightened again, as if he’d just gotten a joke. “Oh, I get it. Nice turn of phrase, little lady. You’d be capacitated into the role of my vice president.”

I accepted. Without hesitancy. Later, I looked up what it was exactly a vice president was expected to do. You know, our great founding fathers, in their infallible wisdom, had seen fit to not assign a specific role for the vice president of the United States. It was left up to me to decide, because the founding fathers understood the necessity of flexibility and vagueness in all things political. All other offices of government are given tediously-explained rules and regulations, but the vice president has only one defined task: ruling over Congress. Everything else was open--I could do as I pleased, and began to wonder why anyone would run for president when clearly vice president was where all the real power was.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Going Rouge: An American Life

Got an advance copy of Sarah Palin's stunningly coherent autobio yesterday. Here's the first chapter.


The press has reported falsely, by the way, that the title is Going Rogue. Shouldn't surprise you that the press got it wrong, because they never get ANY facts straight when it comes to Ms. Palin.


Going Rouge: An American Life


Chapter 1.

To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born. I can prove it. Birth certificates, particularly long-form birth certificates, are a handy thing to have, and I have one. It says plainly, that I was most definitely born in Sandpoint, Idaho, to Sarah (my mother) and Charles (my father) Heath (their last names, which I proudly took). All of my relatives are American. We were all born in the US, so I am an American, and this is my American life.

You know, people who aren’t born American are unfortunate souls. In my travels, and when looking out of my kitchen window at the land beyond, I can see into the eyes of the foreign people, and there’s nothing in those eyes but sadness and yearning. When I speak to people in other countries, they hang on my every word, waiting for me to tell them how wonderful they are, perhaps, or that everything is okay even though they’re not from Alaska. Or Idaho. Or any of the states comprising real America.

I recently went to Taiwan, I think, and was struck by the despair of the Chinese people who want desperately to be American, but can’t be because their government is Chinese. I said to the people, “It’s okay. Not all of us can be as lucky as me. America needs you to make our stuff. You serve a purpose.” A timid young man in the third row raised his hand and spoke in the native tongue--the Chinese have a beautiful language! It’s so full of vowels!--which the interpreter interpreted for me: “But lovely Sarah, if we can’t be American, we at least want to have you as our leader.”

Obviously, I was flattered. Who wouldn’t want to be king of China? And his statement roused the crowd. Cheers! Chants! I waved down at them from my balcony, and, through the interpreter, assured them that while I’d be a benevolent king, I could never forsake my own country. “I’ll support you in the only way I know how,” I said. “I’ll continue shopping at Wal-Mart.”

I met Todd at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is an important way of American life, and most of the significant events in my life have happened there, including the conception of my first child, and the birth of my second. Yes, we named Track after the lighting section of Wal-Mart where he was spawned. Bristol was born in the meat department, so you can guess what we named her after!


As I was saying, I met Todd at Wal-Mart, in Wasilla, and it was love at first sight. He was buying shells for his Winchester Model 70 Stealth II, and I was picking up some milk. He stood behind me in the cashier line, and made a remark about my buttocks and quarters. I giggled, and remarked on the size of his shells. “You must have a big gun,” I said. He blushed.

Blushing is a distinctly American thing. People in other countries lack the right complexion necessary to blush, except for Europeans, who lack the ability to be embarrassed and therefore simply never blush at all. Instead, Europeans get flushed, like after sex or before a socialist vote. To be American is to be blushing in a line at Wal-Mart. And that was me, standing there with my milk, staring at Todd’s strong hands cradling 100 rifle shells, mulling over the prospect of a quarter bouncing off my rear end. Who could resist? I gave him my number, and we had our first date not long after.

Oh, it was so romantic, you know, the way he took me to a movie (Beethoven’s 5th!) and then to the Dairy Queen for one of those vanilla cones dipped in chocolate (I think it’s called the Obama now, but back then, it was called a Dipped Cone). Dippy things are so American! We Americans love dips.

Sometimes, when I’m eating cheese dip on my front porch, I see the poor people of Russia lined up along their near-by coast, staring at me. Such longing! If only I could be their king too. King of the world! I’d bring dips and blushes and Wal-Mart to everyone, and we could all be Americans, and have an American life!

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11: Behind the Eyebrows

Reading Stiff by Mary Roach. And, hey, it's 9/11, which seems to be an unending day because we're never allowed to forget it.

I read this passage today, on the train home, and thought it'd work as well as anything else to mark the occasion. Of 9/11, not my train-ride home. To mark the occasion of my train-ride home, you'd need a different book. To mark 9/11, you need something grand.

The seat-of-the-soul debate has been ongoing some four thousand years. It started out not as a heart-versus-brain debate, but as heart-versus-liver. The ancient Egyptians were the original heart guys. They believed that the ka resided in the heart. Ka was the essence of the person: the spirit, intelligence, feelings and passions, humor, grudges, annoying television theme songs, all the things that make a person a person and not a nematode. The heart was the only organ left inside a mummified corpse, for a man needed his ka in the afterlife. The brain he clearly did not need: cadaver brains were scrambled and pulled out in globs, through the nostrils, by way of a hooked bronze needle. Then they were thrown away. (The liver, stomach, intestines, and lungs were taken out of the body but kept: They were stored in earthen jars inside the tomb, on the assumption, I guess, that it is better to overpack than to leave something behind, particularly when packing for the afterlife.)

The Babylonians were the original liver guys, believing the organ to be the source of the human emotion and spirit. The Mesopotamians played both sides of the argument, assigning emotion to the liver and intellect to the heart. These guys clearly marched to the beat of a freethinking drummer, for they assigned a further portion of the soul (cunning) to the stomach. Similar freethinkers throughout history have included Descartes, who wrote that the soul could be found in the walnut-sized pineal gland, and the Alexandrain anatomist, Strato, who decided it lived "behind the eyebrows."

With the rise of classical Greece, the soul debate evolved into the more familiar heart-versus-brain, the liver having been demoted to an accessory role. Though Pythagorus and Aristotle viewed the heart as the seat of the soul--the source of "vital force" necessary to live and grow--they believed there to be a secondary, "rational" soul, or mind, located in the brain...

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