Sunday, July 24, 2005

one of my many heroes

This is Dr. Hannes Lindemann who, in 1956, crossed the Atlantic in his canoe carrying no supplies except for 96 cans of beer.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

In Between Stations

Since the unexpected demise of CBS-FM as an oldies format, I’ve been stuck in the no-man’s land of radio programming, unable to find a single station worth waking up to. Instead of Frankie Vallie ("Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You –" the most perfect wake-up song ever?), I get Bon fucking Jovi. Now I admit to a childhood fascination with Young Guns, but jolting awake to the mauled lion screeches of "Blaze of Glory" is just a bit too much.

Obligatory extrapolation to the larger world: how sad is it that New York City lacks even a single decent radio station?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Persistence of memory

People used to write letters. I used to write letters. Not so much anymore.

Now that life's documentation is nearly entirely electronic I've developed an anxiety complex about computers and email. On a given day I may be so sentimental as to save every last inconsequential email missive. Or, on another day I may feel strongly that the past is the past, nothing to be done about it, and hit "Delete" repeatedly and with confidence. My feeling on the matter changes daily, which is why I have a derelict desktop computer from 1999 sitting on the floor of my apartment, unused but not-quite-trash.

I have an old email address, which served me for many years but is now rarely checked in on. I only get junk anyway but I have a number of folders containing various communications between me and friends/acquaintances/lovers, some still around, some long gone. I am paralyzed with indecision - do I take the leap and delete the email address, or continue to log in occasionally for trips down memory lane of dubious value? I checked it today, semi-hopeful that 30+ days had passed since last log-in and Hotmail would've made the decision for me, but no, I have not been allowed to shirk responsibility that easily.

I'm not sure what it means that the records of our existence are no longer physical but instead trapped inside clumsy, hopelessly obsolete machines or else floating in some digital soup on a server mainframe lord-knows-where. I'd wager this contributes to the sense of disconnect I, and many people I know, experience regularly. At the very least it saps most of the symbolic portent from communication: one can burn letters, but deleting emails just doesn't elicit the same catharsis. It's a pattern of degradation, in the meaning and value of how we relate to each other, that began with the telephone and continues unabated in the new virtual world. Maybe this is good, maybe a more tenuous hold on the past means that the past will grip us less fiercely, enabling a certain freedom from the dictates of past experience. Maybe it's bad, maybe we're just losing that much more. Maybe it's neither, just another change we'll surely adapt to (though notice how "adapt" and its corrolaries - adaptability, adapter - have taken on electronic connotations in common speech).

In the spirit of ambiguity, here is the body of an email, sent to me long ago by someone I used to be close to. It is actually, I believe, the only email ever sent to me by this person. Many will be familiar with the Edward Lear rhyme. Incidentally, the band Luna included an interpretation on their farewell album, "Rendevouz," released last September. I had forgotten completely about this email. When I read it now, I hear the Luna song; so maybe, even with all the disconnection of the digital age, some conduit of connectedness prevails...

the owl and the pussy cat went to sea in a beautiful
pea green boat
they took some honey and plenty of money wrapped up in
a five pound note
the owl looked up at the stars above and sang on a
small guitar:
"oh lovely pussy, oh pussy my love, what a beautiful
pussy you are, you are, what a beautiful pussy you
pussy said to the owl, "you elegant fowl, how
charmingly sweet you sing! oh let us be married, too
long we have tarried, but what shall we do for a
they sailed away for a year and a day to the land
where the bong tree grows, and there in a wood a piggy
wig stood with a ring on the end of his nose, his
nose, a ring on the end of his nose
"dear pig are you willing to sell for one shilling
your ring?" said the piggy "i will."
so they took it away and were married next day by the
turkey who lives on the hill
they dined on mince and slices of quinces which they
ate with a runcible spoon (a spork)
and hand and hand by the edge of the sand they danced
by the light of the moon, the moon, they danced by the
light of the moon.

possibly the single most romantic story known to man.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

I am trying to break your heart

There’s a danger in linking emotions to objects of art. Emotions are volatile yet art objects (songs, books, paintings photographs) remain resolutely the same, infinite in their “objectitude.” I fear I’m losing the connection to songs I use to feel deeply about. Tones have grown hollow, distant and tinny. Whatever circuit that bridges the gap between digitally encoded sound and bruised, weary eardrums, eliciting that ache in the chest and shiver up the spine, has lately been left Off. In a panic I start to intellectualize, paying more attention to the physical details of a song, it’s composite parts, recording techniques, arrangements – oops, off-key vocal there, wow these lyrics are kind of trite, that bridge sounds so forced – dismantling a marvelous device until its simply a pile of nuts and bolts. I am terrified of this happening to all the music I’ve invested in thus far, leaving nothing but a trail of used-up songs behind me, like cracked peanut shells.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Torn between frivolity and solemnity.

I am just going to throw open the floodgates here...

If you are going to position yourself against fascism then you must be against fascists in all their forms, be they president, pope, or suicide bomber. I mean you, Christopher Hitchens – it is irresponsible to so blithely laud the defeat of one third-rate despot at the hands of a leader whose main motivation was a supreme sense of entitlement. I guess “contrarian” now means ignoring the fallacies of your own ideology.

John Tierney is a dolt.
As if abstract monetary values are the sole measure of social cost. Dolt.

Space travel is nice, though it can’t but seem slightly trivial when here on the ground we’re stumbling around as if afflicted by vertigo.

Why is the American League so much better than the National League?

Pavement are an object lesson in the failings of rock journalism. When confronted with a band intent on signifying nothing, writers bend over backwards to pin their own significance upon them, only to crucify them later by those same manufactured standards. This says something about rock criticism, not the band being criticized. You cannot practice within the media machine and then hope to shirk your share of responsibility for the deviancy of the machine – let this be a lesson, ye writers of Pitchfork.

Ideology is the enemy. Always, always, always.

We are all doomed, but the beer is cold and our friends are smart and beautiful.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


I had a bottle of "Mike's Hard Lemonade" on the train on my way home from the Library of the New York Academy of Medicine (which houses -- among a lot of old books -- the world's biggest hairball, George Washington's upper dentures and ancient egyptian hierogylphics about construction accidents, many of them presumably involving large blocks of stone).

That was when I felt a hand on my shoulder and as I looked up, there was a cop who said "No drinking on the train." I confirmed his statement by repeating it and said "No drinking on the train." He looked at me, the paper I was reading (a copy of a copy of a discussion on the behavior of flies with amputated wings from 1874), and the "Mike's Hard Lemonade" bottle. Then he walked away.

Later I was sitting in class next to an Italian girl. The guy sitting next to her on the other side passed her a sheet of paper that said "Can I please have your email address?." She wrote her address down and passed the sheet on to me, thinking he wanted all of his classmates' email addresses. As I was writing mine down he bent over and took the sheet away saying "I don't want yours!" The girl felt sorry for me and offered me a separate sheet of paper to write down my email address. Sweet pity.

Tomorrow I'll work from home.

(If this inspires you to go to the NYAM library to see the hairball, please pretend to be interested in the books. It breaks the librarian's heart when people come just for the hairball.)

I Was Waiting for the Words

I was working on a post, something about the relation of ego to writing, but I erased it. It was turgid and self-conscious.

I think sometimes that silence is the best option.

Really though, it was my own failure that discouraged me. I came in trying to write, wanting to write, and I failed.

But tomorrow is another day.

In the meantime, let's ask an old Irishman to weigh in:

"Youth has an end: the end is here. It will never be. You know that well. What then? Write it, damn you, write it! What else are you good for?" (James Joyce)

Coney Island Dreamin'

Tired of the same old excuses keeping you at home all weekend, or buying things with money you don’t really have, or trying to convince yourself that the bars you frequent are worth the exorbitant cost of drinks, or sitting in subways waiting to do any of these things? Look no further- come to Coney Island. Ever see an “open 24 hours” sign behind the steel-shutters of a store that probably hasn’t been open in 24 years? Ever see someone from Dominicans Don’t Play pistol-whip a Blood after the gun jams (attempted murder and assault/battery- how many points is that?) We’re reaching the median of this summer of love 2005- what better time to visit this most famous beach in our five boroughs? Coney Island, straddled by sewage and housing developments, New York City’s curse on the Atlantic Ocean for rejecting our urge to build suburbs south of Brooklyn.

It’s the Coney Island so familiar from images in a million movies- the Ferris wheel, the abandoned drop-ride, the immortal Cyclone (an extra ride for a buck less!). The crowd, at least in these summer months, puts me on serious edge because I grew up in relatively quiet suburbs while these people are half my age and pass the school year at gladiator academies like p.s. one hundred fifty fuck-knows. God is the only reason tough kids don’t pick fights with civilians like me.

Looking out from Nathan’s Hotdogs to the boardwalk, seeing nothing but blue sky- it’s a halting feeling- truly the edge of the city. All at once a New Yorker’s hustle/bustle attitude can fall away. There’s nowhere left to go, the finish line is in sight- go take off your shoes and rub your feet in the sand. And watch the pressure because glass from a million broken Snapple bottles lines the beach just below the surface.

Being the only one of our group to bring swimming trunks, I thought I was ahead of the game- yeah right! You know that salt residue left on your skin after swimming in the ocean- a dry/rough/sticky… anyway, why after swimming in the ocean at Coney does that sticky feeling seem multiplied and dirty? And why, after drying in the sun, was my hair more matted down then it would be after the same treatment at Long Beach?

Wait- don’t tell me, it doesn’t matter- I’m not so paranoid as to think I could get herpes just from swimming at Coney Island.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

bono and tony blair...

...decided to spend another 50 billion dollars on Africa.
Half of the money will be used to ship free food to Africa, thereby making sure that even the last African farmer will put down the rake and stop cultivating land because he can't sell his produce if food is given away for free next door.
The other half will be used to hire more cleaning ladies, doormen, and janitors for the offices of International Relief Organizations in African cities. Those are the best paid jobs here, so a whole generation of African MDs and MBAs will continue to connect calls and wait tables for UNICEF employees.
The farmers and workers of Africa are turned into beggars and its intellectual elite is turned into servants (and they still don't know it's Christmas time at all).

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Calling

Working where I do (Wall St.), my nerves always fray slightly when something like this happens. I start to notice mundane details (I forgot my cellphone at home today) and coincidences (why did all the falafel carts disappear from Liberty Plaza yesterday?) and wonder about their possible significance. Amid all the false alarms and overblown hypotheticals, how will we react when once again confronted with the absurd and painful real.

The previous post about diffusion of responsibility was well-articulated and, as it turns out, prescient. The biggest tragedy of this mess we're in is that both sides practice in supreme self-delusion, each taking on faith that the other side has precipitated its own destruction and each refusing to acknowledge the real consequences of their actions. And that leaves the rest of us - the majority of us - stepping on and off the subway cars day in and day out, beset on all sides by warmongers and apologists.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

I couldn't sleep last night... I thought about what is wrong with the world. And I figured it out: it's the diffusion of accountability.
Take book publishing: in the old days somebody owned a Publishing House. And this guy had to decide if he wants to get a little richer and embarass himself by publishing the Pamela Anderson novel or if he wants to impress his peers by publishing a translation of really amazing Russian poetry. Ideally the Publishing House was named after him and his name was on each and every book. He just had to make sure to keep a certain standard. Today, Publishing Houses are owned by other Publishing Houses that are owned by media conglomerats that are owned by investors that are owned by shareholders. Although everybody would like to publish a good book even if it won't sell, no individual has the power to make a decision like that anymore.
The same is true for all other businesses. Behind companies putting Vietnamese kids to work in sweatshops or selling firearms in Sierra Leone there aren't fat capitalists with top hats and monocles that could be held responsible, but investors and shareholders.
And shareholders don't feel individually accountable. It is like a firing squad at an execution. There are 20 people with guns, but only 10 of the guns are loaded. So after they killed the guy, nobody knows who actually fired a bullet. And even if you did fire a bullet, it doesn't matter because the other nine bullets would have killed the guy anyway. So everybody walks away from a dead body but nobody feels responsible for it. The same diffusion of responsibility that helped executioners keep their peace of mind is now used to publish bad books (and sell weapons to Sierra Leone).