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

Thursday, August 26, 2010

This life I lead 2

[cont'd from this]

Yeah. So I responded, "Don't engage. Just smile and not."

I shouldn't have inserted myself into the discussion, of course, but I couldn't resist. No shame in it--Friend #2 was being a dick. And it didn't occur to me that 'smile and not' might seem like a typo for 'smile and nod.' Smiling and not smiling at the same time is one of my talents. Nodding comes hard to me.

Friend #2 decided to pounce. I'm gonna place in bold text the only thing I find offensive about Friend #2's response to my interrupting comment:

Friend #2: Well Friend #1, I was enjoying the history lesson and the friendly debate until the moron marc came along. "smile and not"? really marc? I guess that is par for his course and the reason why he doesnt think for himself, and probably the reason he lives the life he does. I got so tired of listening to his idiotic lemming views I had to delete him. His views, which I say have come to be proven wrong, are the reason why I like your points Friend #1 of educating for yourself instead of listening to a news program to get your ideas.
Like I said, enjoyed it til ........ Take care.

And my response:

Me:
Eh, what the hell. Friend #2, you weren't interested in anything Friend #1 had to say--you were just waiting to respond with another contrary response. That annoyed me, which it probably shouldn't've, since I'm sure Friend #1 can take care of himself....

I should have not injected myself into this discussion. It just seemed to me that you were being an asshole, and from past experience I knew this to be a habit of yours.
Friend #1 can take care of himself, but your responses to his rankled me, so I decided to be a smartass.

I'm very sorry you found my fb page to be an example of "the reason he lives the life as he does." I'm quite happy with my life--I'd be just as horrified to live your life as you would to live mine.

I don't listen to news programs, btw. I haven't had cable in 6 years. Thank you for thinking I could afford cable.

What matters is how we treat one another, and from what I can tell you treat people in a very bad way. You use the word 'moron' as if it is a shut-down, rather than a qualifier. Not cool.

Sorry,
Friend #1, if I'm misusing your fb page to rant, but I think Friend #2 is being an asshole--he seemed rather dismissive to you, and he was obviously insulting to me. I should not've commented earlier, but since I did, I should own it. Friend #2 is welcome to send his response to my page. If he wants to continue his discussion of Columbus here, I won't say anything.


Now, my point: I don't care about being called a moron, even by Friend #2, who knew me in high school and whom I not only thought was gay, but had a slight crush on.

I don't care about being called a lemming, because, really, who isn't called a lemming, even tho lemmings don't actually do what they're said to do (they don't follow one another off cliffs--they just sit around looking cute).

But there's this line from Friend #2:
I guess that is par for his course and the reason why he doesnt think for himself, and probably the reason he lives the life he does.

Not sure what Friend #2 meant by that. Not sure what life I'm living. But, to bring this 'round full circle, I took it to mean, "that's why he's gay." Or maybe, "that's why he uses punctuation." Whatever the meaning of that phrase, Friend #2 can, and I say this with a lemming next to me, enjoy his own life, and will get no complaint from me that he is living the life that he does.

I live a life I want. Not a great life, but not a bad one. Friend #2 is, I hope, living as wants, with loved ones and with rare hate. I'm with a guy--Greg--who loves me, a dog--Waffles--who loves me, in the city--New York--I've always wanted to be in, going to the shows I've always wanted to see, and seeing the world with obstructions like the Chrysler Building and the Atlantic Ocean.

Simple stuff.

Want more and want better, but jesus christ, I'm not some asshole in Alabama debating over the meaning of 'terrorist'. You know? I live in a place where 'terrorist' actually has real meaning. And I've got love, and direction, and... what does it mean, this "probably the reason he lives life as he does"? "Par for his course and the reason he doesn[']t think for himself, and probably the reason he live the life he does." Any idea how hard it is to be gay in Alabama? Any idea how hard it is to be, jesus, liberal in Alabama? A minority? Different? Fuck you, Friend #2.

Plus, I live in a world with apostrophes. I'll sell you a few, and also a bridge in Brooklyn.

There. That is the one post I hope to write about Facebook, and I'm ashamed I wrote it. But I've been stewing for days about just how inane and silly online interaction is.... that I just had to get it out. Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are--and stop commenting on my wall.

This life I lead

I don't encounter homophobia a lot. Certainly it pops up from time to time, but usually accidentally, like spilled soup on a tie, and just as silly looking.

But I get ahead of myself. First, Facebook and the Internet.

I've always been fascinated with the Internet. Seriously. I was introduced to the Internet, and BBSs, way back when. Convinced my parents to buy me a 2400 baud modem, a subscription to Wired magazine, read books on hacking and "cyber-" this and "cyber-" that. Not a tech guy at all, but the whole concept of the Internet--online-ness--and its influence on society has always interested me.

A for-instance: before I was devouring books about cyber-culture, I'd been devouring books about the 19th century. In most of these 19th century books there was a letter written in ink, lightly dusted with powder to prevent the ink from smearing, folded tightly, candle-light stuttering, inserted into an envelope, sealed with wax, taken to a guy on a horse, and the guy on the horse would ride for days and days until the letter was delivered. A process, right? A dreary, long process, and usually the contents of the letter were irrelevant/ironic by the time it was delivered.

Even in the pre-modern era of the 1990s, one still depended on either absurdly expensive long-distance phone calls or the elderly-paced post office system to contact far away loved ones. The Internet, tho, changed that. Suddenly (and I know you know this, but it bears repeating) anyone could say anything to anyone, instantly. Email. Instant messaging. Board posts. No horses, no mail trucks, no candle-wax and powder, no stamps and envelope-cunnilingus. Type. Press 'send.' Wait for response. Instant, like oatmeal.

So. Anyway. Way back when, I was interested in following the way the Internet would alter society. I assumed that it, like the railroad, like radio and television, like electricity and agriculture before it, would slowly transform us from isolated pockets of "Hey," to interconnected globs of "Hey."

I did not foresee "Hai."[example of 'Hai']


Whatever. Cut to my reluctant, tho clearly enthusiastic, adoption of Facebook.

Two things about Facebook: it allows me to convey unformed ideas without feeling as if I need to fully develop those ideas. Rather than do what I am doing here, in this post--going on and on about a concept--I can simply post a link, and then open up the floor (or wall) for comments from others.

The other thing about Facebook: It allows me to get to know people in a more intimate and detailed way than I would otherwise know them. And vice versa. Most of our lives are spent dicking around, trying to survive, so we don't actually get to know--really know--those strange people around us. Facebook gives us a short, sweet way to the secret life of co-workers, former classmates, lovers, etc.

Know what I mean?

With Facebook, a simple status update becomes a Pound poem: short, simple, and weighted. A comment to a status update becomes a dissertation.

I'm getting to the point, btw. Homophobia, in case you forgot.

So a few days ago, on a friend's wall, I read this non-sequitorial status update:

So, was Christopher Columbus a terrorist or an illegal alien?


From the friend, not such a bad question. Columbus, if you're not acquainted with his story, was a cruel bastard and an immigrant to the unnamed collection of Native American lands.

The friend got a comment from someone else:

neither. he was a liberal who begged for money from governments to pay for him to sail around on his many boats. (hehe)(c'mon, that was funny)

Leaving aside the fact that this Someone Else overlooked a few facts--that the Sistine Chapel was built under the same pay-for-play program, say, or that the East India Tea Company had the same proclivities as Columbus--the comment is amusing.

Friend #1--who typed the original status update--responded in kind:

politically motivated but funny. hahaha

Friend #2: im sorry, I thought you were going for the political side of funny too. But I dont see how he could have been an illegal alien since there werent laws against it back then. Dont see how he was a terrorist since he didnt set out to actually inflict terror on anyone. So I chose the neither and came up with a C answer on my own.

[Ugh. Shit just went from casual query to punctuation-deprived Teabag town]

Friend #1: I was actually going for historical sarcasm. But, he did set out to scare (terrify) people into submission. But when that didn't work on the Native Americans he just killed them or sold them into slavery.

Friend #2: Thats a conqueror. Not a terrorist. He didnt leave on a mission to terrorize the native Americans. He set out to discover and claim, not terrorize. Jus Sayin.

[Another friend later pointed out the difference between conqueror and terrorist: perspective. And Friend #1 hints at this point in his response.]

Friend #1:
A Conqueror as you put it uses terror as a way to submit people. The definition of terrorist is a person who terrorizes or frightens others and that is what he set out to do to the Native Americans to get what he wanted. Read Christopher Columbus' journals of his voyages to the Americas you will see that that was his goal.

Friend #2: How could he have set out to terrorize the Native Americans if he didn't know they were there? The definition of conquer is to gain mastery over by overcoming obstacles or opposition. I guess the means could be by terrorism and he would then be both. I'm thankful he succeeded at both.

Yeah. It went on like this. Call-response, call-response, Friend #1 breaking out some good points, Friend #2 counterpointing. Then I posted a single-line comment:

Me: Friend #1, don't engage. Just smile and not.

Shit. This is a two-parter.

[cont'd]

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bedbugs: A Love Story

Once upon a time, seven years ago, Greg and I set out from northern AL, to install ourselves into a decent yet overpriced apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan (actually the location was Morningside Heights, but the realtor called it Upper West Side so.... whatever).

We moved into the apartment with a then-friend. I'd known Adam--we'll call him Adam--for a few years, had acted in a few plays with him back in AL. He was straight and single, we were gay and coupled. Not the best fit for roommates, obviously, but certainly not the worst, in that both G and I got along with Adam.

Adam moved here, to NYC, to pursue acting. I moved here to not be in AL. Greg moved here because I was selfish enough to give him an ultimatum: stay in AL, or come with me to NYC. It is my secret and greatest happiness: Greg decided to move with me. I dunno what I would've done if he'd called my bluff and stayed.

Before we moved to NYC, G and I had spent several years negotiating our living arrangements. We'd been together in the same apartment for three years or so, and had worked out our systems for coping with cohabitation--the bathroom-sharing rituals, the food-preparation system, the mutual consideration of private time versus coupleness. Systematic cohabitation is a difficult thing to negotiate. Not everyone manages to accomplish the perfect balance of individual-vs.-communal living. Someone should teach a class on it. I will be the first to say: I am not the person to teach that class.

Here's what happened with Adam: Things went well for a while. All three of us--G, A, me--were cautious and considerate of one another, trying to be mindful of personal boundaries, and tolerating each others' idiosyncrasies.

Personal idiosyncrasies, btw, are terrible things. We all have them, and we all are under the mistaken impression that what makes us idiosyncratic makes us endearing. This is a lie. What makes us idiosyncratic makes us unbearable to most humans.

After a few months of living together, things deteriorated. G and I began fighting more, Adam became more distant. The three of us realized, perhaps too late, that we weren't working out as cohabitation partners. We tried to work it out. Things got better.

Then, one night just before bed, Greg and I discovered a tiny mobile dot on our bedsheets.

People who have not had bedbugs tend to joke about the overreaction to the bedbug menace. Which I get--I used to joke about it too. Like everyone else, I grew up hearing, "Good night. Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite." I thought they were a myth: what are bedbugs? What type of bug bites you while you sleep, except spiders? Bedbugs: the boogeyman with more legs, right?

Here's what happened: from the point where we found that first bedbug til two months later, Adam had moved out, I'd quit my job--in a most dramatic and fantastic way--and Greg had been reduced to a sort of ersatz bedbug Hitler, snapping one day, flipping our mattress over and stomping bugs until the bedroom smelled like ammonia.

At night, Greg and I would sleep in long underwear, shirt tails tucked into our pants, pant legs tucked into socks, socks on our feet, hats on our heads, scarves around our necks, gloves on our hands. We'd wake up from half-sleep, swaddled and sweating. We'd move through our days, deprived of sleep, feral, bitter, angry.

Adam, amazingly, didn't have a problem with these fuckers. He slept mostly naked on an inflatable bed, on the floor, in a small alcove of our apartment, where he'd chat loudly on his cellphone to anyone and everyone--an idiosyncrasy of his I never cared for. I also didn't care for his apparent impervious reaction to the bedbugs. G and I were falling apart, but Adam seemed unfazed. They weren't feasting on him at night. They weren't crawling over his blood-infused flesh. They weren't causing him to itch and twitch. After getting off his phone, he'd slip into a deep, peaceful slumber (turned out later the bedbugs were living in the bedroom wall; they did migrate to where Adam slept, but by then he was moving out; he was nice enough to leave a heavily-infested curtain of the fuckers, like a final fuck-you).

Greg and I, during this period, developed a weird mentality, a strange relationship to both the bedbugs and to the people around us. Because of a lack of sleep, both of us became more irritable, more surreal. Conversations with non-bedbug-infested humans were a chore. I'd call a parent, for instance, and find it impossible to have a real conversation--I'd talk nonsense, and scratch at my arm, and become so obsessed with the scratching that I wouldn't hear anything said to me. At work one day, I discovered a bedbug crawling on my coat, transported with me along the MTA to the location I spent hours making money. It felt, somehow, like more of an insult to me to have that little bedbug at work than it did to have it in my bed.

Greg became a paranoid warrior. The day he went completely bonkers, flipping over the bed and stomping on bugs til the bedroom smelled like human blood, I came home and found him heaving and fist-clenched in the middle of our bedroom. The bed was still overturned, the sheets ripped half away from the mattress. A gooey mess of squished bug carcasses on the wood floor. He looked up at me, hair dripping with sweat, plastered against his forehead and into his squinting eyes. "I killed as many as I could," he'd said. "I tried to get them all."

Incidentally, there were still some bugs moving on the underframe of the mattress. I could see them.

The next day I quit my job, which was ill-advised of me since we needed the money, and it wasn't a terrible job. Here's what happened: I called back to the office manager, an unpleasant woman who treated her dog better than she treated anyone else in her life, and asked her a question. About something. Theatre tickets, I think, since it was my job to sell theatre tickets to the clients. I hadn't slept in three days. My skin itched. Every personal belonging I had was in a plastic bag because that's what you do when bedbugs invade: you put everything you can into a plastic bag. Greg and I were fighting over insane, inane shit, and Adam was ready to either murder me in my sleep or move out, taking his share of the rent payments with him.

So I called Laura, the office manager, to ask a question. I was full of coffee and devoid of rest.

Laura answered her extension. "What?"

"Hey Laura. So [Person] wants tickets to [show], but they haven't got enough credit to pay for the tickets."

"Right."

"Well, should I let them have the tickets? Cause they've been using us for a while, and I don't want to make them angry."

"Are you aware you've said 'uh' at least 10 times since you called me?"

Two things: 1) No, I hadn't been aware I was uh-ing Laura. 2) I replied, "Are you aware you are a cunt?" And that was that. I was fired before I could quit. Leaving, I assume, my bedbug work companion behind.

We did eventually get rid of the fuckers. G and I read online that the best way to kill them off was with cold air, so for several frigid nights we slept with the windows of our bedroom open. We slept in our usual way--long underwear, shirts tucked into pants, pants into socks, gloves, hats, scarves--and blanketed ourselves, pretended to touch one another, and waited, our minds broken and our skin protected but still itching from the bloodsucking bites.

And our landlord got around to paying for an exterminator, but it wasn't easy to convince him to do it. Our landlord ignored most tenants' entreaties, until one brave soul--Donald in apartment 5C--allowed his body to be a feeding ground for bedbugs. He wrapped his mattress in plastic, slept naked, and, night after night, would allow the fuckers to feast on him. Because of the plastic on the mattress, the fuckers would gorge on his blood then... something. I don't know. Alls I know is in the AM, upon awakening, Donald would be surrounded with bedbug corpses, and he'd scoop these corpses into a plastic bag. When the bag was full, he took it to our landlord. Next day, the exterminator arrived.

Btw: The exterminator put down white powder. The white powder ate thru the skin of the bedbugs. Sometimes, at night, paranoid and terrified, G or I would turn on the bedroom light to find a few white, half-dissolved bedbugs swarming over us along with the usual swarm of black, watermelon-seeded ones.

G and I still haven't gotten over the experience.

Adam left. He moved to the upper east side, then to L.A. Here's how bad things got between us: when he left, he made a special point to leave behind a curtain, sewn together by his mother and shipped to him via UPS. "I don't need the curtain, " he told me on his last day with us in the apartment, which by then was, as far as I knew, finally purged of bedbugs. "You keep it."

I thanked him. I liked the curtain. I liked the curtain so much, in fact, that as soon as Adam was gone, I climbed up on a high chair to take the curtain down to move to our room.

But when I looked at the stitching, I noticed this: hundreds of crawling, creeping, cavorting bedbugs.

I put the curtain in a plastic bag, stripped, and threw myself into the shower. Later, alone in the apartment, Greg and I began the process of getting back our cohabitation system.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Kindle


4 months ago--maybe more, who knows--I bought a Kindle.

A Kindle, for those who don't know, is a literature-delivery device, a small, white, flat rectangle with some cute buttons and a draconian interface. Surprisingly, it's not an Apple product. But it was certainly inspired by Apple design.

The benefits of the Kindle: you can purchase most any book you want to read, ever, and then cart the entire collection around without requiring a retinue. The drawbacks are as follows:

1) Today, I was on the platform, reading, waiting for the train, when a guy beside me asked, "So what do you think of your Kindle?" He asked this in a god-I'm-bored way. Sometimes, it's just necessary to start a conversation.

So I answered. "I like it, mostly. My main complaint is that I measure out my reading in percentages now. I'm not on page 82, I'm at 82%."

"Yeah. Yeah." He nodded conspiratorially, as if we were surrounded by Amazon.com spies. "I have one too and that was my biggest adjustment. Cause I like remembering what page I was last on. You know?"

"Right. Plus I like to know where I am when I read, and if I want to go back to a part in the book, it's difficult to just go back. You have to remember what the percentage was when you read that part."

"Because, like, it saves where you last were, not where you want to be."

Both of us considered this observation for a moment: the Kindle saves where you last were, not where you wanted to be. We were both suddenly weirded out, and the conversation kind of died.

2) Footnotes. Jesus, it's tough reading a book with footnotes on this thing. Some books aren't formatted correctly for Kindle, so anything with a * is finished out a percentage or two later, when in the middle of a main-body sentence you'll come across the companion *, and a new sentence will start. For instance:

Mary Beth Whitehead* loved her baby very much. She often took her daughter to the park, where both Mary Beth and the baby girl would play with butterflies, pet puppies, watch the entrancing paths of kites *Mary Beth Whitehead was the biological, surrogate mother of Baby M, and kidnapped the child from her adopted parents in a cruel and desperate way. scratch designs into the cloudy blue skies.

Very disconcerting. Imagine reading Infinite Jest on a Kindle.

3) The Kindle, in its inert state, has on its display a random picture of a random author. When the Kindle is awakened--meaning, when it is called upon to display the text of a book--these random author pictures... melt. The picture of, say, Emily Dickinson transitions from Emily to a zombie to a skeleton to the text of whatever percentage of whatever book you happen to be reading. The transition happens quickly. It always reminds me of the scene in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' where the guy's face dissolves from an actual face to a skeleton.

4) No one else knows what you're reading. Seriously, what's the point of reading Pynchon if no one else on the train knows you're reading Pynchon? The Kindle has the text of Crying of Lot 49, but it doesn't have the dust jacket.

How can you inspire others to read, say, Jude Deveraux if they don't see someone else (you) reading her wonderful 'Forever' series?
...

Electronic books might eventually kill print*, but I don't think the Kindle--or the iPad, or the Nook--will be the assassin. The Kindle is, I think, a supplement, not a primary source. Until there's a way to turn blank books, with pages and covers, heft and texture, the scent of a good old book and the crispness of a new book, into a true, literal electronic book, I doubt the Kindle and its brethren pose a long-term threat to picking up a well-formatted book.

*This is a link to an article about how it costs twice as much to do a print edition of the NYT than it costs to prepare a Kindle edition. Having read the NYT on the Kindle, I can just say it's money well spent.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Death

Hopefully this is just a random thing: The past 5 books I've read (slowly) have been death-related. Four of the books have been supernatural-death related. This is strange to me because I don't usually do supernatural death, when reading. If I'm gonna go death, I prefer it hyper-realistic. Like, I dunno, Crime and Punishment.

Here's the thing: of the last five books I've gone thru--again, slowly--one was a non-fiction work on the process of death, and the other four were about zombies, or vampires, or some weird hybrid.

Also another thing: three of these five books deal with dystopian futures. Alternate realities. The only conclusion I can draw from my current choice in reading material is that I'm becoming a pessimist, and am just waiting for death.

I am, apparently, having a midlife crisis of literature.

Let's take my current reading material. The Four Fingers of Death (written by Rick Moody, available from Amazon or your local book shop, or else from, I'm sure, Audible.com). When I bought the book, for Kindle, I was knee-deep in The Passage (written by Justin Cronin, also available from Amazon or your local book shop, or else from, I'm sure, Audible.com), and I bought the book--The Four Fingers of Death--a month before its release. Why? Because I'd been told it was an homage to Kurt Vonnegut.

Kurt Vonnegut is a writer I both adore and imitate. Even his worst book, to me, is a wonderful book. I love Vonnegut the way I love Greg, my partner: with caution, blind devotion, and concern. Vonnegut died a few years back. He smoked Pall Malls for most of his life. He set his townhouse on fire because of his smoking; in fact, the introduction to his most famous novel, Slaughterhouse Five, mentions he smoked too much. He smoked, and knew it was bad for him, and knew it was bad for society, and hated himself for it. And yet he smoked.

Vonnegut's cause of death: a fall down the stairs, a hit on the head, at the age of 84. You never see death coming, even when you know it is. The Pall Malls might've kept him happily miserable for several years to come had he avoided the tumble down the stairs.

So, I've had these random books enticing me to read them, thru no fault of their own. The latest is The Four Fingers of Death, which opens like this: In Memory of Kurt Vonnegut. And it ends like this: He lives with his family in Brooklyn, New York.

Thing is, The Four Fingers of Death isn't Vonnegut. It's a depressing, cold, too-realistic exploration of isolation, without the relief of wit. Here's my favorite passage thus far:

[The set-up for this is that the year is 2025, and ecosystems are breaking down, and whooping cranes are forced into migration by a guy with a plane, and a guy on Mars, trying to save Earth by colonizing.... Fuck it, there's no way I can set this up by explaining it. Just enjoy]

And somehow the whole situation reminds me of those last three hundred whooping cranes, those birds that somehow had been forcibly migrating back and forth from Florida for the past twenty-odd years with the aid of an ultralight [plane]. This small population of birds is not a sustainable[...] avian flu[...] crowded ecosystem[...] collapse[...] One germ[...] A beautiful thing, a whooping crane, and in the not so distant future there will be only a couple of them left, and they will have only one wing apiece, and they will idle on some lawn, like the lawn near Cape Cavaneral. One of these nonmaiting pair will die of old age and then there will be the one last whooping crane, and it will eat moldy popcorn from underneath the NASA reviewing stand, and it will have delusional thoughts, mothballed memories in which it was part of a flock, and this flock followed an ultralight [aircraft] down to Brazil for the winter, and then back again. What does our whooping crane think? The last whooping crane on the planet Earth? The last one? It thinks that the currents of air are a marvel, and it conceives of them in colors, spectra, as we think of the sunsets; just so does the last whooping crane, despite the fact that only the one wing works, think of those air currents; it remembers the treetops, which were like sofas to the whooping crane; back when it still had two wings, it could land in any treetop and put its head under its wing, and the whooping crane remembers, or believes it remembers, certain kinds of fish that are particularly savory, and maybe a certain level of freshness in the matter of seafood is what a whooping crane most prizes, and it remembers mating, because back when it was young it was picky in the mating department, and like many whooping cranes it was not, despite its lanky beauty, terribly kind to the girls; moreover, there was always the danger of infighting among the whooping cranes, and this last crane remembers all of this, and because the crane cannot speak of it, the memories are that much more painful, and now, in his loneliness, there is no other bird who protects that past of cranes, that long history of the most beautiful bird in this part of the country, and so the only other account of these events, after the others fade, is the memory of the guy who flew the ultralight, a balding guy with a not-very-good sense of humor, a guy who told the worst jokes, not that the whooping crane understood jokes, but rather the whooping crane recognized the timbre of this man's voice, a kind of ragged baritone that shaded into the tenor range, but with outbreaks of alto when he got nervous, and this was the call of the ultralight, as far as the last whooping crane is concerned, this guy's rather humorous voice; it was not the cry of the whooping crane, which is a majestic sound, it was the cry of some bald guy who never much expected to be piloting birds. He probably believed he would have a career in civil aviation, or maybe he thought he would be an astronaut or something, and in fact that is what he decides to do because the day comes when this pilot can no longer fly the ultralight, because there are not enough cranes anymore, there is only the one crane, and he is crushed, well, come on, everyone is crushed, life crushes you, and this is just one more story to stomp up and down on your crushed heart, this balding fellow going to visit the last crane sometimes, over where he thinks the crane might still be living, in some cage for injured birds, and he and the crane recognize each other, indeed, though they have no common language in which to speak of their recognition, there is no way for the crane to speak of the man as a man speaks of a crane, and it would all go fine if the man could speak in the tongue of cranes, but he can't. While he's visiting with the crane, there is, in the distance, a liftoff, one of the last space shuttle missions, and you can see it from almost twenty miles away, the conditions are that favorable in south Florida that day, and the guy, the balding pilot, the one with the bad jokes and the not-terribly-reliable timbre to his voice, thinks that maybe the only reasonable thing to pursue after the experience of flying the ultralight is the experience of going up into space, as soon as he can, and he sits on a bench by the one-winged whooping crane for a while, and then he notices that he is talking to the whooping crane, and he's saying, "Well, I don't exactly want to leave you here like this; I can't really think of anything worse, and I have left some people behind in my life, who hasn't, even some people I loved, but none of that is as bad as thinking I won't see you here again, and no one who comes here to see you will know what I know about you, and you won't recognize these people, nothing could be worse, but still a man has to move on sometimes, I can't just stay here doing this, and so I'm wondering, would you think it was okay for me to go ahead and undertake to be become an astronaut? Do you think you could possible give me your blessing?" He knows that the whooping crane can't answer him, that's obvious enough, but he feels he owes a reasonable explanation than he owes his wife or parents, and the crane can't see how bad the pilot feels, how broken up he is, when the man thinks that he won't be able to visit the crane again. When the crane is a thing of the past, when the crane is nothing more than fertilizer for creatures to come, the pilot will only learn of it online, because he will be off pursuing his ambition, flying his test missions, sleeping in the barracks, all that he might get the hell off the planet that slew the whooping cranes.

Whew. That was a lot of typing. No copy-paste job there. Pure read-interpret-type. The Four Fingers of Death, but it took ten lively fingers to type it.

Vonnegut, like I said, smoked Pall Malls by the bushel, or at least claimed to. He set his Upper East Side townhouse on fire once, because he dropped a cigarette. Died because he fell down some stairs.

I had a grandmother once. Never smoked, never did anything that'd cause her harm. Ate well. Exercised. Vital til the end, and that end was this: a brain tumor.

Maybe I'm reading these books right now because they're both silly and honest. I don't mind death--I can handle reading about it, and hopefully experiencing it. What bothers me, and what I'm working thru while reading these five books, is that death doesn't just happen to me; it's gonna happen to everyone I know. Not a profound thought, I know. It happens, survivors move on, what are you gonna do. But people I love will die. I'll feel bad about that, and don't want them to feel the same should I die first.

Death happens. Usually when you're making other plans. And in my case, I'm just planning to finish reading a book. One in a series about dystopian futures, and supernatural deaths.

Society is like a shark...

There's an old joke. Two elderly ladies are at a religious service in the Catskills. And one of them says to the other, "You know, the sermon here is so terrible." And the other says, "I know. And in such small services."

Well, that's essentially how I feel about religion: full of elderly and sermons and the Catskills, and it's all done with too little service.

[beat]

The, tsch, the other important joke for me is that there was this disaster once. Two planes flew into two separate buildings in downtown Manhattan. Both planes were piloted by Muslims. And before they hit the two buildings, one Muslim pilot radio'd over to the other: "Let's see them build another mosque in NYC now."

That's the key joke when you think about religion in America. Which, tsch, was founded on religious tolerance and still calls itself a Christian nation.

...

After that, it got pretty late. It was great going to mosque again, I... I realized just how nice a religion it was. Not great. Not special. Just... you know, it was nice just knowing about it. I thought of that old joke. You know, so, a guy walks into a doctor's office and says 'Doc, you gotta help me. My brother thinks he's two tents.' And the doc says, 'Why didn't your brother come in himself--I could give him some pills to relax him!' And the guy says 'I would, but I need the political coverage two tents can give me. Do you realize the play I'm getting by pointing out my brother's two tent city?'

[fade out]

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Barnes-Storming

[This post intentionally without artwork]

Ok. The Barnes Collection.

In a nutshell, Dr. Albert Barnes, of Philly, had two passions: modern art and pissing off the elite. He spent years collecting the best works of Picasso and Renior and Cassat and Matisse and Cezanne and Monet and anyone else you can name. Then he took his magnificent collection, installed it into an enormous building, created The Barnes Foundation, and decreed that only art students would be allowed to view the paintings.

Someone--an accountant, probably--pointed out that if the Foundation was to maintain its tax-exempt status as a public service, the public would have to be let in at least occasionally; grudgingly, Barnes agreed to allow the doors of his Foundation opened one or two days a week for public perusal--but only with a public he'd agreed to allow in.

Julian Bond explains Barnes' selection process (paraphrasing): "The mayor of New York would write to Barnes, asking permission to see the collection. Barnes would write a tart response declining the request then sign his dog's name to the letter. However, a plumber from New York might make the same request, and Barnes would give him a date and a time and walk him through the Foundation himself."

It's the "sign his dog's name to the letter" part which amuses me most.

So it went for several decades.

Matisse, by the way, declared the Barnes Foundation the only sane place in America to view Art. But Matisse was widely believed to be insane, so... you know. There's that.

Barnes signed a will meant to preserve, for all time, the premise of his Foundation/School. He died in 1951, in a car wreck. And his will was preserved for a while. Preserved, I might add, despite the Philadelphia Museum of Art (I know--I couldn't believe they had one either!) spending all of those decades before and after Barnes' demise trying to get their grubby mitts on the collection.

Seriously, the elite of Philly thought it positively criminal that their city should house the finest collection of modern art in the world, and only students and New York plumbers could look at it; Walter Annenberg, of the Annenberg Annenbergs (oh yeah, and of the Philadelphia Inquirer) made it his life-long quest to wrest the art away from the Foundation and nail it to the walls of the Philadelphia Museum. Using his paper, Annenberg hounded Barnes until Barnes' death, then hounded the Foundation.

Skip to 1992. Politics had finally broken the Foundation. All the good the Foundation was set up to do became subverted, and politicians and high-society nitwits were in control of the Board of Directors. They declared--some suggest incorrectly--that the building housing the collection was in dangerous disrepair, putting the priceless collection at risk.

Here's where I come in, or rather where the Barnes collection came into my life.

Never heard of it before. A young lad of 17. Moderate interest in art, no real education in it, and in Washington, DC., with a group of friends. We ended up at the National Gallery of Art, I believe, where the Barnes Tour happened to be plunked down out of its element and arranged in such a way Albert Barnes would've died if he weren't already toes-up (Barnes had arranged his collection to his own unique aesthetic, and hated the idea of conventional displaying of art.).

The art on the walls of the museum there in DC had not been seen by the general public in decades. More people viewed the paintings--chomping on their gum, fiddling with their cameras, knocking their demon-spawned kids on the back of the head and hissing at them to for chrissakes pipe down and get some goddamn culture--in a single day than had probably seen them since Barnes' acquisition.

To be clear, Dr. Albert Barnes did not want to keep his art away from the great unwashed masses of tourists. It's just... : He didn't have an art installation. You know? He created an Art installation. Everything in the Foundation, from the furniture to the chandeliers the floor the color of paint on the walls was intended to compliment how his art collection was presented.

You must go to Egypt to see the pyramids; you must go to the Sistine Chapel to see the ceiling; and you should go to the Barnes Foundation to see the Barnes Collection. The art he collected was both his collection and his biography. His vision.

So. There I was in Washington, DC, looking at a disassembled work of art made up of some of the most beautiful pieces of art of the past century.

It isn't as if I had never been to a museum before. But passing through the Barnes Collection proved to be one of those transforming events one remembers after memory fades. I wish I could say something like, "I remember the scent of moderately-priced perfume wafting off of the slight young woman standing beside me as we both stared in awe at this painting" or, "I recall the exact way a cloud cleared the sun and the quality of light in the room shifted almost imperceptibly as I approached that painting." But I can't. All I remember are the paintings themselves. I'm not even sure who the friends were that went with me.

Anyway, against his will and testament and vision, Barnes' magnificent collection is being moved from the Foundation to new digs near the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philly. Nothing remains of the actual intent behind the collection (the board insists the new museum will display the art exactly as it was displayed in the old building, but if it's not where it once was, in the rooms it was originally placed, I doubt they're going to such extremes as to recreate the presentation).

I never went to the Foundation. In 2012, however, I'll probably go see the new place. Then maybe I'll head down to Arizona to see how beautiful and perfect the old London Bridge seems now that it's been broken down piece by piece, moved to the desert, and reassembled miles away from where it stood for so many years. Then perhaps I'll swing up to Vegas, where I'm sure the old CBGB's will be back together again, in a casino miles from the Bowery. Heck, I might even try to find the Amber Room.

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