Sunday, June 15, 2014
Nothing is perfect, really, or nothing big. We assuredly are not, and the things we make and do assuredly are not, which adds up to us, in our world, trying to be good when we remember to and generally seeking some sort of safe place.
My father is not any more perfect than anyone else, and he and my (equally imperfect, equally loved) mother worked together to raise some imperfect kids. We love each other a lot, all of us in all of our own imperfect ways, and we do our best to communicate this in between the general terrors and troubles of our lives.
It is nice to have days on the calendar that remind us to do this, and I am fortunate to have a wife (I could stop here) who is good about buying cards and reminding me to write in them. But I am better at remembering to be grateful for all this -- for the good fortune of having an imperfect man as a father who did his best, in word and deed, to show me how to be the best imperfect man I could be -- than I am at remembering other things. I can't forget it, because I live in this example every day. I do my best, because my parents showed me how to do it.
Also if there is indeed anything perfect in the world it is the way my parents laugh at their (effectively feral) dog. I've had this video on my phone for a while, I think at least since the Jewish high holy days, but I'm glad to finally have a place for it. I don't need the reminding to be grateful for these two good people, but it's nice to be able to remind myself anyway.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
If you couldn't guess from the above image of a digitized VR Jeff Fahey from The Lawnmower Man, this is about a strange and not necessarily pleasant thing. All respect to the unfadeable Mr. Fahey, of course. I know he's a fan of the site. Anyway, this isn't about Jeff Fahey. It is, maybe, about a dream I had.
I write 'maybe' only because I'm not sure that I was dreaming. I was asleep -- asleep after a fairly typical late night shift, in which an hour or so of frenetic writing followed another hour of less-frenetic (leisurely, even) scotch-drinking and non-writing. When it got late enough that it was transparently very stupid for me to be awake, I went to bed. This is not unusual. This is, for better or worse, the life I've got. It's pretty good, honestly. There's a pretty lady in the bed when I finally get there, I'm no longer drinking scotch that comes in shatterproof plastic jugs -- it's still a Utility Scotch, but I'm treating myself to big glass bottles these days -- and I like what I'm writing and who I'm writing it for. The next part is the unusual part.
That part was three hours later, when I was jolted awake by... I'm not sure, really. Everything, maybe? Anyway, these things happen. What had not previously happened, in this respect, was that, after waking up -- it was 5:02am, which is about as unappealing a time of day as our shared 24 hours afford us -- I was confronted with a deafening barf-wash of internet noise every time I closed my eyes. It was silent, in the same way the internet is silent, but it was deafening -- if my eyes were open, I saw my bedroom's ceiling in the pre-dawn dark. If I closed them, I saw a screen filling with bad news and noise. Angry @-messages of indistinct letters, gchats and personal messages and emails, all of them converging on the "why" and the "where is this" and implying not just You're Fired but You're Awful, Jesus, You're Awful.
This was, in retrospect, probably something like a panic attack. Despite periodic use/abuse of panic-related medicines in the past, I don't know that I'd ever really experienced the Actual Thing for which these medicines are generally prescribed. If this was indeed it, I now understand why these particular medicines are so intense and narcotizing. Because this actual thing sucked, and because being awake for it -- suddenly, in this case, although I can't imagine a gradual slipping into such a thing -- was just fucking terrible.
It did not, I should note, come from nowhere. I was not in a panic-mode about anything in particular, although I was going to sleep on deadline as I do most nights -- and as, indeed, I probably need to do in order to actually write anything -- and also had some other longer-horizon things hanging around in open tabs and unanswered emails, daring me to go another 24 hours without paying attention. This is not cool or good or fun, but it is also not unusual.
All of this, every bit of it, lived in my computer as much as it did in my mind; none of it would or could be resolved through anything that did not involve accessing the internet through my computer, the thing on which I am writing this other thing. That truth is not just implied, although it's implied. My whole professional life is here. If anything is going to wake me up, it would be -- and in all fairness should be -- this. Our nightmares should match our lives, I suppose, and this is where my life is.
And yet, holy shit, what an awful way to be awake. I woke to my own pounding heart, and took the requisite deep breaths. I got up and walked around. I got back into bed. And every time I closed my eyes it was there again -- a blast of undifferentiated internet noise, those metastatic retweets and angry messages and emails I needed to answer but couldn't. Everything I wouldn't see until too late, or couldn't or wouldn't be able to handle even if it arrived on time. Deafening and characteristically quiet, every time I thought I was calm or reconciled or at least sleepy enough to close my eyes.
I don't even know, really, what all of it was -- this was some days ago, and I was tired in the way that people who would rather be sleeping tend to be. I was also probably still moderately drunk and also What The Fuck Was Any Of This. I am not sure there's any reasonable explanation for the internet blundering into one's dreams and then screamingly vandalizing them.
But I recall and can attest that whatever it was that woke me up sounded and looked like INTERNET: a big crushing high-peaked wave of things unfinished and unfinishable and too-big and rageful, all in the colors and shapes and style of my internet life. It was awful, and it took at least a half hour of haunted noisy attempts to get myself back to sleep; in retrospect, I just needed to be too tired for this particular anxiety to register, and then I slipped back under. I woke up when the alarm went off, as usual, and I got back to work.
But yes, all that sucked, and in retrospect all I can think about when I think about it was that it was miraculous that it took so long for this sort of thing to manifest in this sort of way. It all suggests that it would be good for me to find some way to prise my mouth off this foie gras feed-funnel for at least a few hours every day, or failing that to find some way to convince myself that to be away from this computer and this keyboard is not to derelict in some fundamental human duty. That all seems clear enough. I should probably get to work on that. I will put it on the list. I will work my way down to it, I guess.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
I don't know how long ago that even was -- I am pretty sure we saw each other at that wedding, although my wife is not so sure, and she was also there -- but anyway all those days collapsed at once and as one earlier this week. My friend called; Molly was sick, really desperately sick, on a respirator and in multiple failure and it was bad, it was really bad. The boyfriend was in jail, had been for how long I don't know and would be for how long I don't know. In however long it had been out of sight and mostly out of mind, the bottom had fallen out of their lives and they had fallen and fallen. I hadn't heard, I hadn't seen. I hadn't looked. I hadn't thought. I hadn't thought any of this was possible.
But more to the point: her liver failed, and then her kidneys. There were some short spikes of hope in the short time after that -- her blood pressure was briefly high enough for the hospital to attempt dialysis, which was important. If that worked, they would be able to attempt a liver transplant. If that worked, she might live. If she lived, we might get to see her again. It was all so contingent on such a thin fiber, but it was enough for a day or so. One hopeful email, forwarded, and there is our comeback trail, there is our fighter -- this was no stretch: she was truly tough, someone I would count out of no real or metaphorical fight -- and here was her fight. I know her, I knew her. I would not bet against her, against any odds or any opponent.
But it was not really a fight, really, by the time she was in it. She was taken off dialysis. She was never off a respirator, as far as I knew. I don't know how or if she suffered and I don't know if I can bear to know. Friends started calling me: what is happening with Molly, when and how and holy shit. I was probably telling one of them what little I knew -- more than my friend knew, but not a lot and not up to date -- when she passed. When I got off the last of those calls there were already eulogies showing up on her Facebook page and my wife, tearful but weirdly purposeful, was refreshing the page. A click and the cascade poured on.
Other people's mourning, let alone in public and with a LIKE option underneath it, feels and looks like any other thing; this is the queasily Aspergersian essence and definitional emotional bug of Facebook, that everything looks like everything else and can only be consumed or engaged in the same way and only in that way. Look at these updates, the same shape and color as ones complaining about traffic or sharing some fatuity or other, and the old reflexive alerts fire: buddy, you mean "you're" not "your" or vice versa; there is the hard secular impulse against trite spiritual treacle. Lord, all of that response-to-the-response so fucking shameful, so inadequate and so distant in this context. But also easy, also comfortingly familiar in the long shadow of the rest of it, which is so enormous and final.
It feels even worse in retrospect, this retreat into the editorial in the face of the inarguable and unwinnable. This is it, this is it. There is nothing to say about it, and anything and everything said about it -- sorry for you're (sic) loss, another angel in the choir, a beautiful person who sang of life's sly fun and bright purpose in every wild moment spent with her -- is all true. That is all, this is all, everything means goodbye, and goodbye is the sum and pale essence of anything that can be said. This is certainly not a perfect forum, either. I am saying goodbye now, but I can't quite quit saying it. When I am done, I will be done.
Look, look: I do not know how all this came to pass, how what failed came to fail so finally. It seems like things turned for her in her last days in New York, and didn't turn once she and her boyfriend moved home to Tennessee; I don't really know what she was doing there. I know that Molly's father fought and was finally undone by addiction. I worked with him briefly, during my time at Topps; this was a job I found for him through her, and he authenticated various autograph signings throughout the southeast, and was the best and best-loved at that strange gig for some giddy months; football players, especially, loved the man. He went, rather quickly, from being a star to being a late-arriving problem to being utterly lost and unreachable to being all the way gone in dreadfully rapid time. Her death would seem to have something to do with substance abuse. I don't know, and I don't know why I'd need to write about it here, except maybe for how all that reflects off me and my fears about myself and my appetites, and my fears of dying too early, of dying before I'm finished. And this is a retreat, honestly: back to me, into me, the questions of what I might or could or should have done, all those safe trails back home from this cruel outland and this cold permanence, the place from which my friend will not come back.
But here is a thing to remember, among all the other things, the many conversations and subway rides and baseball games and other insignificances that added up to this unscalable and unavoidable thing looming ahead. But this is a thing, when I talked about this with Kate, that as it turns out we both remembered. It was not a moment from any of the Mets games we went to with her, any of the many art shows or music shows or random nameless nights at various since-closed bars.
As it turned out, we remembered the same thing, from the same party -- a going-away party, as it turns out, for friends who were leaving New York -- at Molly's apartment on Smith Street in Brooklyn. There were giant plastic jugs of shitty booze and a fridge tippy with pyramids of bodega beers; the floor was wet and the air was dense. The buzzer honked with new visitors throughout the night. Some friends got open-container charges on the stoop, other friends kissed each other for the first and last time -- "she's no-nonsense," one said to me later, "and I am interested in nonsense" -- and people danced and drank and talked and fought and made-out. It was one of the last peaks, in retrospect, of that part of our lives. People left the city after that, as well they might've, first a little and then all at once. This was one of the last times we were all together as those versions of ourselves.
What Kate remembered, and what I remembered, too, was Molly commandeering the stereo later in the night, to play a song that she loved a lot as many times as she felt it deserved to be played. The song was "In A Big Country," by the band Big Country. I always liked it well enough, and I assume I danced -- or, more likely, just sort of danced and sort of made out with Kate, which I realized later in our relationship was a thing I could do instead of awkwardly dancing -- while it played. Molly played it maybe twice, maybe three times, and everyone laughed at that familiar willfulness and kept dancing. It was her party, and she danced and laughed, too.
I don't remember how many times she ran the song back, exactly. I haven't forgotten, either. Some things stay with you, like the song says. These are the better things, the things closest to the heart, which are the last you let go. Those are what you keep, and you hold them close and tight. You hold them, I still hold them, because it is not nearly time to let them go, and because of the late realization that they're worth so much more than they seemed to be, back when we spent them so readily in the belief that there were years, yet, in which to spend them. I cannot give all that up, not yet. I am crying because I have to do that.
I can only wish her and her family and Tim some peace. I, we, can only love each other as much as we can; this is always true, of course. What is out of our hands is out of our hands. What we can do, we have to do. Good lord, rest for the weary, comfort for all of us, and only please as much life as we can take, and no more. It's enough. It's never enough. It's not enough.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The person who crafted this powerful image -- a reminder not just of the Reason For The Season, but that there are those out there who would take Christmas from us and replace it with, like, improved mass transit and a single-payer health care system -- has disavowed authorship of it. No doubt because he (or is it a he?) (it's a he) does not want the ACLU and Van Jones and The Girl From The Healthcare.gov Website and So On showing up at his home. I post it here because it is important to remember what's important. Also because I specifically requested it on Twitter and I really and truly appreciate him doing it.
Brian McCann is something of a hero of mine, and not just because of his record of protecting things from other things. The rest of the image speaks for itself. Eloquently. Loudly. There is some spittle involved. Okay now it is becoming less eloquent.
Brian McCann is something of a hero of mine, and not just because of his record of protecting things from other things. The rest of the image speaks for itself. Eloquently. Loudly. There is some spittle involved. Okay now it is becoming less eloquent.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
There are these words to describe a functioning city, now. They're not new, exactly, although their usage mostly is, or is at least new enough to sound strange. These are George Saunders-style buzzwords, half military-grade technical and half willfully opaque MBA jargon—Vibrant and Sustainable (in its non-ecological application) and Creative (as a noun) and Scalable and so on—that have taken on a weird and unearned status as terms of art when used to describe a city being a city. Everyone knows these words, though no human uses them in conversation. They are mostly void of meaning but also vaporously ubiquitous enough that you might be forgiven for thinking, while walking past some gallery openings on a block you remembered as a group home for stray cats, Wow, How Vibrant.
All of these terms are faintly consultantish in the sense that they are all to some extent ways to describe a city's relative economic health that have been built to sound as if they are describing something more complicated and human and less readily quantified. Which is another way of saying that they're insultingly abstracted—"what a vibrant home you have," try that sometime—and so sort of sad. They are the sound of a well-educated person doing a drive-by on you with one of those supermarket price-tag guns.
At some level, where New York City is concerned, you are right to maybe have a hard time mustering much response beyond the classic j.o. gesture. As if the city was ever dedicated to anything but wringing as much from every resident as possible, as if this or anyplace was ever an okay or fair or un-scary place to be not-rich. There is no home on a precipice's edge, and this city more than others has been built, higher and higher and further and further out, on concrete levered over miles of steep air. You wake up, buffeted by the din of new construction, in a place vibrant and scalable, in a place that used to be your home. Under your door comes a note: it's about the rent.
But this is old, and idle. I'm not leaving. But I have wondered, in the days since I heard that she'd passed, would Chloe move here today?
And after that: what if she hadn't? And after that: why would anyone want to be in a city where Chloe could not live, or would not want to live? What would be the point of that?
In the New York Times obituary for her husband, the novelist David Bowman, Chloe was identified as a "performance coach." This is not so much wrong as it is just a space-saving way of saying "a woman who taught the Alexander Technique and also taught acting classes at some point." But it's also unfortunate, another bit of simultaneously over-precise and obscure linguistic inexactitude. It's easy to imagine some hard-eyed Manhattan elite reading it and wondering if what this city needs is fewer performance coaches and more bold real estate visionaries or app-extruding thinkfluencers or whatever a city is supposed to want, whichever unit of person or flavor of Creative might most enhance Scalable Vibrancy.
But of course there are not two words to describe Chloe, just as there aren't for anyone else. She taught the Alexander Technique—a sort of physical practice that might be described as A Better Way To Stand Up And Walk Around. The method was the brainchild of an eccentric Aussie actor of the late 19th century whose last name you can probably guess, and while I can't know quite what resemblance Chloe's practice had to F.M. Alexander's, I would wager that it was not great. What she taught was hers, and if some of the principal ideas came from Alexander—adorned with things learned over her various years spent in meditation and invariably presented as ways to play around with A Thing She'd Been Thinking About—the way in which Chloe shaped and delivered them in turn was what brought me back to her studio for years. I'm not a performer, and as such didn't really need a coach. I went to see my friend, who helped me.
That we were able to do this for years owed somewhat to me, and my uncanny ability to find new ways to express anxiety or distress through contorted posture. And some of it is external, just the pressure of New York making defective diamonds of everyone here. Look around you on the subway or the sidewalk and see what this looks like. There are those of us, crumpled in the city's pitiless green fist, who wear that mangling on us, as us; there is the weird puffed physicality of those seeking to project that they are not, all those Potemkin chests and jutting crystal jaws. There are the people who are, usually for very good reason, slow and collapsed. Everyone wears everything.
To learn Alexander is in some sense to crack a code. You see, in the posture of others—the angle of Ted Cruz's head, the set of Michael Bloomberg's shoulders—a certain sense of that person. Chloe, I remember, was fascinated by the predatory bounce of the former Knicks forward Latrell Sprewell. She couldn't figure him out, but knew he was unique. We talked about him long after he was out of the NBA.
Mostly, though, I went because Chloe helped me. She helped me implant a signal in my head that told me when I was hunching or slumping, and maybe why I was doing it, and she gave me the means to correct it; she gave me the means to walk around as myself. But that was not necessarily how our classes went. I would come in, cramped and scrambled after a week of my life, and we'd talk and she'd tell me about a thing she'd been thinking about of late, or tell some sort of story, and then make a few suggestions that would lead to me somehow popping my spine open like a champagne cork, picking up a few inches of height and blooming out in my chest and otherwise shedding my crabbed self.
I would look in the mirror—she had a big one in her old studio, and a smaller one once she started teaching out of her East Village apartment after her husband passed—and I'd see someone who only sort of looked like me. It was still me, of course, but a version of me filled out and filled up, tenuously un-kinked. I saw her, always, in the early evenings and late in the week. In that stretched-out light, I looked like some other person, a person who lived only in Chloe's presence, and who smiled in a way I have not seen myself smile in pictures.
And we would get there, oftentimes, by way of the most outrageous metaphors, all of which she chirped out, smiling, in an almost comically honeyed Carolina Low Country accent. The top of my head popped open and a geranium bloomed out of it. I dropped things into the chasm of my chest and they burst into flame. My toes and fingers opened up and blasted light out into the apartments below, energy bouncing out towards the Bowery. My skin went permeable and the room and the city around it came in and I achieved a bright and blinking equilibrium. I have taken a number of the drugs that are supposed to do this for you, and there was nothing that worked like this.
And then I'd pay her, generally in cash, and say hello to the next student up—I remember all of them, if not their names—and would walk out into the city. It was stunning, always: the airlock between the building's buzzers and then the shock of New York felt so fully—the air so strange and loud and sweet, the movement through it so fluid and light, the first sip of beer afterwards so bizarrely alive. I'd close back up, in time, and then go back the next week to unlock something else. I sense, given the way that Chloe's other students have written about her since her passing, that this is what everyone got from it. You went up the stairs yourself and walked out better. You left the sleepy sanctity of her studio and walked into the city and felt it immensely, if only briefly, and understood the thrumming awesome greatness of it—not the notional vibrancy, but the actual loud vibration of it.
The thing that changed you was Chloe, who was just a person—a woman born in 1947 on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, who moved to New York after college and worked briefly at HBO in its early years and was a friendly-enough acquaintance with her ex-neighbor Tom Noonan, who played the towering killer in Michael Mann's Manhunter. She would tell stories about herself or others or append names to things—the cold weather hunch you do was The Chicago Syndrome, for instance—and they were either true or they weren't. She was performing, but she was also just herself, blasting her miraculous singularity outwards in a helpful way as, I sense, she would have had there been no one else there.
Her husband, whose fantastically strange debut novel Let The Dog Drive I somehow read when I was in high school, was always sort of sick; he died suddenly in 2012. And then Chloe was suddenly, shockingly sick—a massive dodgeball of a tumor, out of nowhere—and there was carpet-bomb chemo and recovery, and she was back, smaller and hurting but still herself. She moved her classes into her apartment, where she was assisted by her dog, a gangly sad-eyed Pointer that skittered across the wood floors. When she was sick, I took the dog for walks in the neighborhood. He looked up at me with the sad eyes of a thousand-year-old sage while he took robust dumps on East 11th Street.
There were problems with her medication, and then some mixed diagnoses, and then some canceled sessions. I rang the buzzer one Friday and she told me she wasn't well enough to teach. I offered to take the dog for a walk and she thanked me and declined. She was, at that point, apparently already refusing treatment on the thing that had reared back up. She didn't tell anyone about any of it, just stopped seeing almost everyone. I called her, what I now know to be right around the time of her death, to tell her I was thinking of her and let her know I'd be ready to start up again whenever she was. I hope I told her I loved her, although I probably didn't. I know the apartment where she died and have thought about it a lot since then. A tiny television; books crawling over every wall, with more books atop those; old tenement fixtures; that loving, loping dog wrestling his toys in the long light from big windows.
To believe in the promise of this city, or any city, is to believe that—for all the churlish churn on the streets, the neighborhoods turning over and upside down, the way that it throws off and throws out people—there are still some apartments yet unvisited, and that those apartments might have people like Chloe in them. It's to believe that there are still doors that could be opened to reveal people as wise and generous as she, people whose sweet vastness can prise you open, head and heart. It's to believe that there are people who can and will pour great goodness through you and leave something behind even as their wild, laughing love beams from you in every direction at their happy behest, their bright beauty bounding down Second Avenue in the twilight and then out, everywhere.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Monday, February 4, 2013
I wrote about Alex Rodriguez, sad robot and totally opaque human being, for Sports On Earth. The commenters there, as is their wont, didn't like it. I was too hard on A-Rod, or defended him too much; I "obviously don't watch baseball." So all in all a success. Anyway, I liked it:
To live in that moment of command -- and yes, even A-Rod makes an out more often than he doesn't, but the game is incalculably easier for him than it is for most humans who have ever lived -- must be strange, like a dream of flying that somehow never ends. It seems reasonable to assume that this would do some things to a person's sense of self. In a way, the things we revile about A-Rod -- his prickly superiority and relentless rule-flouting, and the presumption of personal impunity from which those behaviors spring -- all have their basis in a sort of fact. He actually is superior in the ways that matter most at his workplace, and he has effectively bent or broken rules without consequence; we may not like the way that he presumes he can lie or cheat or gamble or otherwise act like A-Rod, but his entire career stands as proof that his arrogant presumption of impunity is not exactly false.
I also wrote about Breitbart Sports, the new and familiarly bilious vertical at the late conservative media mogul's website for raging right-wing mutants, at Vice:
The genius of Breitbart was that he greeted the acolytes in his comment sections as revolutionary brothers at the bottom of those low and fatuous trenches he dug; he encouraged them to get to know each other, loosen up, and maybe scream at each other about how there should be a White History Month. Breitbart didn’t discriminate on ideology in this respect; he helped create the Huffington Post, too. Breitbart was in the echo chamber business. His job was creating spaces where people could agree with each other stridently and mostly wrongly about various easy outrages, safely out of earshot of those who disagree. It’s only fitting that after a career spent treating politics like a long football game between Black Nazi Communists and the Founding Fathers, Breitbart has posthumously lent his name to a sports-news website.... and about how a Mardi Gras float featuring a giant, awful-looking vulva consuming NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is more than just a terrifying thing that really exists, for The Classical:
This still seems something like the right float at the right time, and not only because, as Guidry says, "If you ask just about anyone on the streets of New Orleans, 'Would you like to watch the demise of Roger Goodell by a giant man-eating vagina?' Their answers would be 'yes.'" There is that, of course, but there's also everything else.
Among the not technically columnar writings were two Daily Fixes (Monday and Thursday) for the Wall Street Journal, one amusing enough but typically erroneous prediction column in the form of a discussion between me and co-Fixer (and fellow supershitty prognosticator) Jeremy Gordon, and a goofy little thing for Joshua David Stein on proper Super Bowl Party Etiquette to which he added rather more French and wine-friendliness than was in the original, and improved somewhat in that way. Also I wrote about Chris Culliver, no-homo nickelback of the San Francisco 49ers, and his 750,000 fake Twitter followers, for The Classical. I wrote some other stuff that isn't published yet, but I'm going to limit this to bylines-of-the-week. The total is eight. The word count for all those is depressingly large, the amount invoiced poignantly small. You might as well just infer that part going forward.