November 18, 2014

Heavy Water

The inside of a room with canvas on the walls and Christmas lights around the ceiling is where I feel most at home. Tough, it was tough to leave this room, which resembled the inside of a heart, with its red carpet, and yet I was determined to go outside, despite the plopping rain. It is good to walk, he used to say, when he loved me, and so to prove him wrong I opened my umbrella and left the heart-room.

I am always telling places by their trash and I was glad to see a plastic bottle outside my room, beside the tree. I wanted to curry the landlord, to open my lungs to him. I bore him love. I wanted to say something but there was no one to talk to, so I walked up the hill and onward to a place I had in my mind. I hated this place so I had no idea why I wanted to go, perhaps because it was raining and it was close. I hated the music and their victuals. That was enough, though everything else was fine. I understood that people were working and I was not. I wanted to undress before the men who watched me, to prove to them that I was not working. Everywhere I looked was water. The water was heavy, it had two hydrogens, and I became invisible. Yolks spilled across the sidewalk, in them water. The place loomed closer and I took the shortest way between two points, lights of a truck flared on my jacket. I might have increased my pace.

The windows were clear and people were inside, orange caps and Russian accents and shiny faces. They were alive enough and my sleeve was wet. I was non-traditional in a traditional way and my face became different. This room was a lodge, like a blood vessel in the tip of my finger. I screamed with every step I took. I pontificated to those around me, silently. I wound up tighter, and finally let loose. Those behind me hemorrhaged and died, leaving me alone. A single sultan remained, screaming in my ear. I endured.

I endured until I could take it no more. I left, cursing the world, wishing that I could swim. I was misrepresented. I took it as far as I could, as fast as I could. A hunger penetrated me and I saw that through the rain, people were changing. Lights flashed and I returned to my harbor.

Jacobeans swilled. I dined. I slowed my breath and whispered that it was fatidic, this day. It was a compensation, recompense. I became very small and quietly the world forgot.

October 28, 2014

How to be Content

1. The Beginning of Discontent

There comes a time in the evening, after nine or ten o’clock, when I cannot force myself to do any more “work” for the day. I have read my quota, and written for about the same amount of time; if it is a good day, I have written more than I have read. Some days are bad, where I can write only meaningless drivel, just for the sake of filling a page. These are days when I cannot force myself to work on my various projects, the dilemma I face being not enough “into” them, so that if I tried to edit or worse, to write, I will wind up having pouring that meaningless drivel into my work, thereby contaminating it. The problem is that this is the only work I am capable of doing at this time of night, having long since emptied out the contents of my soul during the course of the day, so I make certain corrections, or add words that only wind up being cut later, or I find myself in a state of paralysis of knowing that I should be working, but unable to work at all. I always have so much work to do that my situation leads me to deep guilt for not desiring to work, for not being as dedicated as other writers. Or I will open a document and scan it or read the first paragraph and find myself either satisfied or totally disgusted to the point of being unable to add or change anything, and these two feelings, while opposites, compose reverse sides of the same coin, neither become too powerful, taken together or one at a time, they coat my guilt in a veneer of paralysis. At this point I look for Genna, listening for the click of her typing; if she is writing, her doing so will fan the flames of my not-writing guilt, and I will try to do something else, thinking all the time as to how I should be writing.

2. The Extremes Defined

The reason I have described my work is that it is analogous to my life. I alternate between phases of extreme monotony, evenings such as the one described above, for example, and total deviancy, where given the chance I will spend the early morning dancing and singing and drinking and smoking, and although this is bad for my health, it is good for my spirit. What is really at stake here is the distance between myself and my self. My self, the self, in fact, is a very fragile thing, which can be disturbed and colored by new experiences, which, once understood, can be valued for their newness; there is also the monotony of routine which further engrains one in a set state of selfhood. Do you follow me?

3. Where Extremes Come From

In other words, there are these two extremes in my life. Always I have been a writer of extremes, probably due to my parents, who, if you have ever met them you would wonder how they could have possibly been together, though now, upon reflection, upon my desire to describe them to you, it is impossible to describe them without making them sound alike, but perhaps it is best represented by the fact that my mother is the dancer, singer, drinker, and my father is the editor, the reader, the student. These two extremes are my existence, I have no choice but to embrace them; if I chose one I would die from either suicide or exhaustion, and I think you can figure out which way of life would cause the corresponding way of death.

4. The Faux Comfort of Materialism

The other night I came home at two in the morning and thought to myself, my god how bourgeois my life is! I have a steel colander, an unfinished bottle of red wine, and various pieces of Ikea furniture. Look at me! Look at this path of normalcy, and I laughed to think at the guise I was showing to the world and myself. I don’t need ANY of this shit, I thought, as I proceeded to drain the red wine into a crystal glass from West Elm.

5. Knowing Less Now Than Then

These books I read, these examples through history prove to me that humanity has become worse off as we gain a longer history. Like this girl I knew in a writing class. She was pretty, blue Asiatic eyes, fair skin and thin wrists, Brazilian by descent, meaning that she spoke perfect English. She was thirty-one, she had a literary agent and she seemed to have no understanding of what she wanted out of life; she was trying to break into advertising though she had no experience, and despite her having an agent, she wasn’t even sure she wanted to write a novel; she was single, having broken up with her former love who gave her a baby she aborted, she confessed that when she was my age, she thought that she knew things about life, but over the next few years, her experience and emerging apathy made her realize that she knew less at thirty than she did at twenty-five. I pitied her for wanting to start a new career and not following through with the novel she was supposed to be writing, according to her agent. I told myself to never be in that position of knowing less now than I did then, but sure enough, here I am, approaching a self where a state of pure comfort is repulsive to me at times, because this comfort I equate with warm indolence and letting life continue the way it did before you were born without adding anything to the world, which is really the point of life, after all, to change the world as much as we possibly can through a manifestation of our willpower and love. Yet the notion of renunciation is so drastic, so large and looming that I can only find myself stuck in this position in the middle of these two feelings, trying to enjoy my spaghetti bolognese and “friends” who “grab a drink” with me to help me mask how totally and furiously alone I am, and yet at times I wish I could be even lonelier. The thing is, if I actually were, and here is where I become actually maybe a little sick, or entirely normal, which are really the same thing depending on my mindset and concept of self, if I were totally alone, I would want exactly what I had given up, a different variation, of course, a different neighborhood with a different girl and a different different. Rather than occur these changes, I settle into contentment, which is actually a state of approximate happiness.

6. Being Content and Settling

Being content is one way to live a life of extremes. You can be happy at moments in a state of contentedness, but until the moment comes when you have to choose one extreme and still not want the other or want to sample the other in your imagination or in moments of freedom, oscillating wildly between these two poles, until that moment comes, you will not be truly happy.

Another way to escape being content and to reach happiness is to renounce one life, one state of approximate happiness, for another that’s totally different, a la Gauguin in Tahiti, so that even if it’s not better than the life you left, the state of knowing that is enough to produce an approximation of wisdom, which is a higher level of happiness-approximation than contentedness. And then, of course, there is the other option for dealing with extremes and being content; it is that most final option, which, personally I don’t think is worth pursuing unless you have already done something with your life that is a manifestation of supreme willpower and love. If you haven’t, then you have to put up with being content, which, let’s face it, most people don’t mind, and perhaps isn’t that bad at all.

October 5, 2014

…Where I Settle Into Derangement

Yesterday I was in a cafe where a woman I went to college with was sitting across the room from me, the girl I named the female antagonist in my book after.

I wondered if I would talk to her; she clearly remembered me because she looked up at me and when I was seated she walked across the cafe to obtain the key from the counter, making sure that I saw her as she proceeded to walk to the bathroom without wearing a bra and shit, which is what she must have done since it took her so long to come back and sit down again to draw; unless, of course, she spent the time after she pissed fixing her hair and reapplying her makeup, though, no, she didn’t bring a bag with her, and unless she had pocket makeup she didn’t fix herself up, she’s not that kind of person anyway, the kind of person being that kind who wants to impress a former courtier seven years after the fact; rather, she’s the kind who would rub off her makeup to lessen that former courtier’s desire, to show simply that she could care less about said courtier; but what’s strangest about this scenario, an actual reason I didn’t talk to her, was that it might have been her twin sister, with whom I never had any relationship, but whom I knew from around campus, though that was really just a pragmatic reason that I told myself took precedence on the list of reasons for not wanting to talk to her, whereas in reality, the real reason was that if I didn’t say hello, I would be better able to retain the fantasy of my approaching her, including what I might have said, whether I might make a faux pas, stutter, or otherwise display my anxiety.

It might have gone something like this: “Hey,” pause for her to look up and acknowledge what I had brought to be bear; namely, that I, who courted her when we were sophomores in college, who helped her get her an A on our science project, who sent her a friend request and had to wait days for her to respond despite the fact that I’d seen her in class that week, am now also living in Bushwick, that I’ve been living her for years in fact, which I’d imply with my casual familiarity, that ‘you come here often’ look I’d give her with my eyebrows slightly raised, eyelids heavy with disdain, to which she would reply with a half-smile of noncommittal intrigue, “Hey.”

I’d counter, “Is your name Lexi,” to show both that it’s been so long that her breasts have begun to sag and that I may not remember her name, and also, that I knew she had a sister, and that her value as a human was easily confused with her identical twin, making her thereby less of an individual, and less important to me, but unblinking, she’d say, ‘Yeah,’ and smile, because she’d appreciate my coming to see her from across the cafe, and I’d slide onto the leather stool across from her, having received that confirmation, only to realize that it might have been better to keep standing because by now her mouth is pursed like spoiled fruit and I felt an overwhelming pressure to begin, to say something that wouldn’t bore her, to define the purpose of my arriving here and sitting across from her, to show what exactly?—that I recognized her, surely more, surely it must be a relic of a former infatuation if I’m sitting down, since we were almost friends, since that day we walked to Broome Street together and smoked Marlboro 27s and I felt extraordinarily cool and attractive for walking next to her as though I might be her boyfriend, since that was something at least, at least until I told her I didn’t know who Animal Collective was, thereby undoing every coolness that I’d built up to that point. Since that had happened however, so long ago, she would know that by my being here again, sitting across from her, that all the power was in her court, that I after all, was the one to show up at her table to probably try to flirt, which she would be slightly displeased by, and so, sensing this, I would say, you live around here and she’d say, yeah, and I’d press, where, and she’d give the cross-streets of a place nearby, a place I wouldn’t have expected her to live, but which would be sufficient to, or better than my own apartment simply based on location, which I would obligingly reveal the location of and try to smile at, to show her that I was by no means proud but modest, but she would continue to be unimpressed, and to not even be concerned with what I thought of her apartment because all that mattered was that she be comfortable in her dwelling, which she would convey in how she brushed hair back from her ear and looked away so I could see her sublime chin and throat, before sensing that she was crushing me when she turned back to look me directly in the eyes, and then, being aware of being boring, I would walk away, preceded by a goodbye and a ‘see you around’ thrown in casually but bearing a trace of libido, further confirming her opinion of me as pathetic, demonstrated by a vague silence in the cafe before me as I return to my seat, and everyone around gained the understanding that this beautiful girl, though in decline, was warding off yet another suitor, and that I, sexually frustrated and dressed all in black to hide an emerging potbelly, was batting way out of my league with that approach; yet I, full of confidence in the past that we had shared, I would return to my seat and open my book, read half a page pretending to have comprehended it fast and proficiently while in reality having understood absolutely nothing, and while I returned to the top of the page to take in what I had missed, the color in my face would rise in embarrassment for having been proud and it would take another few minutes for me to settle into my groove, to feel comfortable about how things had turned out, for being happy that I was brave enough to approach her, even though she hadn’t been exactly nice, friendly sure, but not exactly nice, and recalling this as a capstone in my career with this girl, I would forget about her and resume my ‘work’.

And the joy of writing that, wasn’t that better than ACTUALLY talking to her and seeing what might have happened? Because in reality I just sat there, going about my ‘work’ and throwing a casual glance in her direction to admire her sublime chin, until finally on a whim, having felt like I’d been there too long, and also out of response to the hunger pains in my stomach, I abruptly closed my iPad, sending my former classmate a mental message that if she did live around here, I would invariably see her again, that being the nature of Bushwick, and continued to walk cooly into the descending evening, the sun still warm as it moved behind the buildings at the end of the long industrial road, helping me feel like I deserved a treat, so I bought some Thuycidides and a Kombucha before coming home and settling into a long evening of quiet domesticity and frenzied confusion, self-doubt, and occasional self-loathing.

September 30, 2014

Last Night I Was Nebuchadnezzar

I, Nebuchadnezzar, son of Nabopolassar, have conquered lands far and wide, from the Great Sea in the West to the Gulf in the east, from Nineveh in the North to Ur in the South, along both Tigris and Euphrates, but of all my cities, my favorite is Babylon. I have built the Hanging Gardens as a testament of love for my wife, to remind her of the forests of Media and the mountains of Elburz, where during the winter, snows cover the peaks and the wind breathes its secrets; with the help of eight hundred Parthians, we brought her native plants to the banks of our river and built giant ziggurats one hundred cubits high, and running water from the aqueducts and reservoirs comes cool and quenching for the forested plants in the midsummer heat, running to these Gardens I have built not only for Amytis but also for all of mankind to see and worship, that I, Nebuchadnezzar, can bring water to the driest places in our land at any time of year; these, my gardens, my gates, my city, demonstrate my greatness to eternity so that in thousands of years, when cities across the sea become capitals of the world, and my empire has perished into dust, these Ishtar gates will remain as a symbol of my power; let the world remember Nebuchadnezzar as a man who gave to his people memorials of strength and beauty, who brought unity to Assyria and Babylonia and created one of the greatest empires the world has ever known; who, with the help of the gods, has brought cool waters and shady palms to stifle the summer heat, stone bridges to withstand the river’s floods, and objects of great and wondrous beauty to admire and fill man with awe; these accomplishments are testament to my greatness, this, my kingdom, the greatest ever to exist in the history of mankind, greater than Assyria or the Media, encompassing Hittites and Egyptians, Cimmerians and Israelites, yes my Babylonia is the product of thousands slaughtered for the sake of a unified kingdom.

Only one is greater than I, Nebuchadnezzar, who striketh and taketh away without concern for the empires of the world, that G—d who preserved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego against my will, the G—d of Daniel; only He decides when my empire shall fall, long after I am dead; after my name has lasted a thousand times longer than my enemies; and yet this: when Marduk entered my soul to cast judgment on those I have conquered, to destroy and rebuild what I deem worthy, where was G—d of the Israelites then?—for when I was a youth riding into Judah, where I saw the walls of Jerusalem and the glowing dome of their temple dedicated to their god above gods, and yet was I still in youth, and the fall of many lands to my dominion had not yet passed, methought the forested city atop the hills should prove difficult to my forces, but with my army we did march through the gates, laying seige to the highest towers and conquering their holy temple—then where was G—d?—Marduk was stronger in me than in the Israelites, Marduk stronger than G—d, and since, I too have wondered if G—d is Marduk, for making me grow the talons of an eagle and the coat of an ox as a punishment for my arrogance and so I, Nebuchadnezzar become meek, as a great conqueror and yet also ever subject to myself; G—d punished the Israelites for their own arrogance when I razed the Temple of Solomon; and G—d was punishing me with insanity for my arrogance; surely, this is the judgment of Marduk for being stronger in me than in the Israelites, for while Daniel and his people pray to G—d, they are not I, and rule not in Babylonia, and while Daniel the Israelite has the power of G—d in his reading of dreams, and yet though the gods are in him, I wonder for whom they are greater, since he is the one to guide me, Nebuchadnezzar, builder of Babylon; wait, no, let not the insanity return, I am beneath Daniel, an ox while he remains a man with reason; and for G—d to make me a slave, then surely he must be powerful; since he rules regions farther than my own; beyond the stretches of my river, to the mountains in the north, the mounts Amytis called home, beyond, to the farthest regions of Scythia, and beyond, across the Great Sea, the city-states of the Greeks and the reaches of Etruria, and when I consider how vast His empire is…yet I know that should I attempt more, I, a hoary-headed old man, should lose control of Assyria, where always there are those rapacious generals of Nineveh, willing to stab an old friend to take his rank, fools who would sell their children into slavery for a plate of gold; and before dawn, when death’s cousin has left me, Marduk will enter my mind and bring me to those lands of afar; and G—d reminds me that my son is weak of constitution and I cannot trust my generals to go west, for to reserve my son in Babylonia would be to show his weakness and end his life sooner than it will end of itself; and again, I hear the voice of Daniel telling me to keep my empire intact, for in that there is consolation, and evil happenings shall not come to pass; ends of empires and beginnings of new nations shall come when I am gone, and until then, let the hovels that line my river where the Israelites live fall away, let the creepers and vines growing with the water of their tears turn to wild jungle, golden flowers and trees, let my statues of idols and gods decay along the shore, towers and mausoleums crumble, so that the legend of my godliness rises as the towers fall; when, before the dawn I gaze into the darkness of the river, still and quiet before the rooster crows, then I know that my gardens foretell this; in my towers too I see conquests and death, empire in decline; if only I knew how mine empire should end, whether I have built it strong enough to last a hundred foolish kings, or whether my son and his line will preserve and protect it for hundreds of years; if I knew, then I should know that it is I Nebuchadnezzar who am above Daniel; and yet, by the time the cool night has changed for the heat of the rising sun, I am in the face of the king of gods, G—d, Marduk, whose everlasting dominion shall outlive even mine own.

August 30, 2014

How I Learned to Play Stickball

Before we moved we stayed with my grandfather for a few days in the Bronx. I can’t remember if we had already sold our house or our new house wasn’t ready, or they had to truck our cars across the country and this had something to do with it. But Papa Doon’s house was never very comfortable for me. The brown carpet in the hall had been almost worn threadbare and the phone was one of those where you put your finger in the ring and move it to the number you want to dial and then it slides back to zero. And he didn’t have cable. Which to me always symbolized a certain poverty that my family would never deal with, even though we used to not even have a couch, just a mattress we were so poor.

It was June and it got dark late so that after my last days of school Mom picked me up and we drove twenty minutes to the Bronx and I had all afternoon to do my homework, even though in that last month of school, after all the standardized tests, there was very little to do. I had most of the afternoon to myself. I was at the age where although this wasn’t my neighborhood, I could go out and play without needing a time back. So I wandered outside and passed a school. In the concrete yard the local kids were playing stickball.

I loved baseball at this time of my life. More than anything. And even to a Westchester kid like me, who’d lived for years in South Brooklyn, stickball had a certain romanticism to it; it was what they played in Hey Arnold!, a real city kid game, not the open-field catch of the suburbs.

I lingered, watching at the chain-link fence. I lacked social confidence since I’d recently become a pariah after trying to fight my old best friend. I’d cried after the teacher broke it up before anything could happen, that day I tried to jump him in the hall after lunch when I’d finally had too much. I told the principal that he’d been making fun of me for months, even though I was the one to end our friendship earlier the year before because I was jealous that a girl I had a crush on liked him better. I spent ten minutes in the bathroom, looking at my swollen eyes in the mirror, wishing it weren’t so obvious I’d been crying. After that, the ten minutes of homeroom that started every day were agony. No one talked to me. Girls would grimace if I sat at their table. I was a loser, and even my clothes—oversized baggy pants instead of the flared too-expensive JNCOs, a FUBU parka that gave me some street cred but didn’t make up for my lack of AND1 tees—insisted that I was not going to fit in. So I wasn’t expecting anything except a moment of yearning as I admired these Bronx kids play in their own standards.

But they saw me watching and invited me in. And I played. Not only that, but I got a hit. I, notorious for striking out in Little League, a K waiting to happen sometimes three times a game, used a skinnier bat than the ones I was used to to hit an even smaller ball. I slammed a double. The joy of meeting these city kids playing a bygone game in an era when most of the Westchester kids who used to be my friends were playing basketball, this was not lost on me. It seemed like a parting gift from New York before I left for another coast, a place of loggers and rain and bigness. For that hour I played with those strangers, they didn’t know about my scenes of frustration or my trying to be cool, and I was good.

I went back before dark. I ran home for dinner and told my mom what happened, that I’d made friends, had been invited to play this anachronistic game from her era. She must have known how great I felt, especially after seeing me so pathetic for so many months. We ate macaroni salad and pizza from Katonah Ave. and the purple dusk fell. One of those midsummer, nine o’clock sunsets in the dirty linoleum kitchen. That night, as I fell asleep on the scratchy sheets, I knew that everything I was leaving behind dind’t matter any more and that pretty soon, I’d have new chances, new friends, and a new life.

August 27, 2014

My 50 Best Films of All Time

This best films of all time listing started when I was 14, and I discovered the AFI 100 Years, 100 Films List. I spent most of my summer watching movies and at the end, my best friend and I tried to create a top ten, but my viewing and experience was so narrow that I couldn’t stand by and believe in my criteria (however, I still feel like I haven’t seen as many important films as I could, so feel free to recommend any egregious oversights in the comments below).

Last week, at Armando’s, he showed us his list, which he’d created with his best friend, and a dozen years later, I was prompted to re-attempt a definitive list of the best films of all time. These are in order and largely based on first and foremost, respect for auteurs who directed, produced and wrote their films. I also accounted for the excellence of the auteur’s complete oeuvre.

In my opinion, Kubrick, Kurosawa and Hitchcock are the greatest directors of all time, though Fellini, Coppola and Godard also figure prominently on this list. I also surveyed a movie’s influence, so The Lion King got cut largely because of The Lion King 1 1/2. Furthermore, I considered how pure the vision of one person a film was, so the fact that so many people were brought in to work on The Lion King didn’t help its case either. That said, here it is, my list of the 50 best films of all time:

1. The Seven Samurai (1954)
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
3. The Seventh Seal (1957)
4. Godfather I (1972)
5. Bicycle Thieves (1948)
6. La Dolce Vita (1960)
7. Citizen Kane (1940)
8. Taxi Driver (1976)
9. Vertigo (1958)
10. Breathless (1960)
11. The Searchers (1956)
12. Andrei Rublev (1966)
13. City Lights (1931)
14. Scarface (1984)
15. Ordet (1955)
16. Annie Hall (1977)
17. Apocalypse Now (1979)
18. Rashomon (1950)
19. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
20. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
21. Persona (1966)
22. Pulp Fiction (1994)
23. Psycho (1960)
24. Blue Velvet (1986)
25. The 400 Blows (1959)
26. The Rules of the Game (1939)
27. Godfather II (1974)
28. La Strada (1954)
29. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
30. Spartacus (1960)
31. Chimes at Midnight (1965)
32. 12 Angry Men (1957)
33. The Graduate (1967)
34. Jeanne Dielmann (1975)
35. Contempt (1963)
36. Au Hasard Balthasar (1966)
37. Paths of Glory (1957)
38. On the Waterfront (1954)
39. Metropolis (1927)
40. North by Northwest (1959)
41. Ran (1985)
42. Titanic (1997)
43. The Wages of Fear (1953)
44. The Good, the Bad the Ugly (1966)
45. Tokyo Story (1953)
46. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
47. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
48. Chinatown (1974)
49. L’Avventura (1960)
50. Journey to Italy (1954)

August 2, 2014

Buy Bushwick Nightz: A Life Update

bushwick nightz

Leo Birthday

Monday is my 26th birthday, part of what is supposed to be my best birthday month for over a decade, as the Sun, Moon, Mercury, and Jupiter align in my sign. My early twenties are fully gone; overall, a fun, uncertain decade full of punishment and pleasure and seeking.

Buy Bushwick Nightz

In other news, my story, “The Mistake” has been included in the awesome collection Bushwick Nightz. If you live in NY, you can pick it up at Spoonbill on Bedford Ave, or in Manhattan at The Strand. It’s available at Amazon for my friends who don’t live in this self-centered city. It’s already received a bunch of rave reviews, and The L Magazine included it on their 100 Best Things to Happen in 2014. So pick up a copy and support some local Brooklyn writers. Who knows, if we sell enough maybe I’ll get a book deal for my novel.

The Cleaning Instinct

At least that’s what Mom hopes. She stays with me when she visits during the summer. Pretty sure she gets her kicks from finding really dirty things and cleaning them. Like our toaster, which she emptied the crumbs from into the garbage, gloating about the big chunks stuck to the sides. It’s a strangely human feeling to find something full of waste, and to dispose of it entirely. Like a pus-filled pimple ready to pop. Or a trash bag it takes a long time to fill finally ready to take out. Not the same though if the trash is always full. No, it has to take time to accrete. That’s it, that’s the pleasure. Knowing that we’ve existed and worked at something subconsciously that proves we were alive, living. It is a pleasure joined by cleanliness, the same human instinct that drives us toward light and air. It’s the same kind of feeling with writing, maybe.

July 12, 2014

My Salt of the Earth Types

I am sitting on New Jersey Transit in the middle of the car, going to Spring Lake. I’m close to the car doors and from where I sit, I hear two men talking as they stand. These are your salt of the earth types, one obscured from view as he leans against one side, the other facing me as he leans. He is six feet tall in carpenter jeans, which he uses the slim leg pocket of to hold an orange flashlight. He wears a blue V-neck and a brown leather belt that has a radio clipped to one side and a Leatherman in a black leather case on the other. In one hand he holds a tall boy of Coors Light, in the other his iPhone in a thick black Otter case. He shows the man he is talking to what he texted someone last week; this shows the frequency with which he texts, each message pregnant with significance. He wears jewelry: a black metal watch and a thin gold necklace. His glasses are wire rectangular frames that sit on a broad nose with small nostrils. His frowning, froggy mouth with no lips is the pinnacle of masculinity, Washingtonian, and with his white slicked-back thinning hair above a high, square forehead, like the grass sprouts on a lawn, he looks like a Prussian duke. His beautifully big belly is the kind Bruce Willis’ girl in Pulp Fiction wanted, which he touches occasionally as a form of reassurance before he drinks his water-beaded Silver Bullet.

He’s moved onto his second. He cheerses with his friend, who steps out, wearing bottlethick glasses from the ’80s that magnify his brown eyes, a green Jets shirt, and the same worker’s jeans his friend has on. They are reunited, and from their accents, have lived in Jersey their whole lives. “Goot ta see you, my frien’.” His salt and pepper hair, is parted and long so it hangs over his ears. He is probably the only of the three who has ever experimented with illegal drugs.

The last man they work with watches. He is the youngest, with intelligent blue eyes and a big bald spot, hair combed back, thick-soled synthetic black boots, faded black jeans, a gray polo. He has no accent, and he works with the other two, but in a slightly higher position. He sounds like Steve Buscemi.

It is the man in the Jets shirt who has seen most of the world. He tells his friend and the other man about North Carolina, the tax laws and the frost on your deck that melts by noon by which time it’s sixty-five degrees. The thin-lipped man listens, nodding. The other man holds a handrail, listening, maybe bored.

In their silent lulls I look at the girl who sits catty-corner to me. She is attractive, thin, tan, with a pointy nose and a braided ponytail, hidden in the middle of her back. She wears a collared tie-dyed denim shirt, with metal studs over each breast and white jeans with industry-rips on the front. She has blue eyes, a long dolicocephalic face, a purple Burberry-patterned iPhone case and another iPhone, who knows what for. I imagine she looks boring naked.

The men continue to talk about manly things, the careers of their women, a man they know, their work and hours, which is another way of talking about their pride. Talk about men they’ve worked with who have moved on, who set rules now, gentlemen. They listen to each other, self-important, sons of immigrants who’ve made it, whose children have gone to college, their union rewarding them with enough money for second homes, though they have to fight New York for it after the region’s tragedies—9/11, Sandy, the Recession—became personal.

The train emptied at Aberdeen-Matawan. My man in the Jets shirt got off at Hazlet, a bastardized version of the British Romantic critic’s name. He knew the conductor, patted his fat belly before he said goodbye. The youngest man went to sit by himself in another car, fed up with masculinity. The tight-mouthed man sits by himself, tries to open the bathroom door, finds it locked, grabs the back of his upper thigh with his left hand, sits back down, waits for a Jewish girl with curly black hair and a headscarf to walk out into the next cart. Seeking camaraderie, he would rather talk to the conductor, the only other man in power nearby, the man who his friend knows, so that next time he can pat him on the arm as he walks past. Next time.

Are these people different from the salt of the earth of yore? When we look at Courbet’s salt of the earth, The Peasants of Flagey Returning From Market, they have no chance to become rich, unlike these unionized men who talk about second homes. But Courbet considered moments such as those he painted above as the true events of history. Does the fact that these men, blue-collar though they are, have money, does this signal a change, an emergence of equality and therefore a difference from Courbet’s salt of the earth?

No. Money does not change the fact that these men work for a living, and as I have described them, are living everyday life. The scene I have tried to represent is one that has occurred throughout history, no matter where or how much money is at stake. For that let my description be part of the “procession” of salt of the earth types.

July 8, 2014

What It’s Like To Be A White Male In A Patriarchal Society

I have “privilege,” I am at the “top of the food chain,” I am poised for success. I am a white male. In a Freudian slip, I write ‘white shark,’ because that is sometimes how it feels when I am looked at accusingly, as though I represent all of the sins my colonial, land-owning, orientalizing forefathers have committed. That’s okay; I can take it.

The hardest part about being me is knowing that I have no REAL problems. I’m a white male, yes, but because of that, no one takes my issues seriously. My angst about being me is laughable. I may wake up tomorrow in a better mood and smile at my ennui and mental anguish about working a job that I hate, but in the end I have choice; I can leave one job to get another elsewhere. That’s what separates me from someone living in severe poverty or any other great suffering. Choice. But I can choose to end my suffering, or at least exchange one mild form of suffering for another even less mild version.

But where does it stop? Because I know no other form of suffering, this seems bad to me. It makes me feel worthless. Add to this the fact that no one cares about my suffering and I feel even worse. Perhaps if I sought suffering, I could live a more meaningful life.

As a white male, I have a debt to society to work hard and produce for the economy. Unfortunately, as you can see from above, I have trouble doing this. Whatever society wants me to do will most likely lead to my unhappiness, while whatever I want to do—travel, write for myself, and spurn money—is the very opposite. If everyone did like me, society would not be very productive.

You may be thinking that I’m a sociopath, and that I have absolutely nothing to complain about since I am who I am. But I have empathy. I relate to people more unfortunate than me. But it doesn’t help them! That’s the problem, part of it least. I’ve considered joining the Peace Corps. But that isn’t enough. I have to actively consider everyone else who’s not me in order to validate my existence. This is my penance.

What should I do to be a better person? Imagine that I am someone else, someone who can’t marry the person I love, who has experienced prejudice based on the color of my skin, who has been afraid to walk home alone at night. I do that. But is it enough? Should I join the Peace Corps? Will that help me feel better? More importantly, will it make me a better person?

The hardest part about being a white male in our patriarchal system is wanting to relate but being laughed at for being unable to. The very notion that I want you to try to understand what it’s like to be me is laughable. In a way, this whole article is futile. I should have just kept my mouth shut and toughened up. That’s what society wants from me anyway.

July 2, 2014

Slow Homecoming

Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I become aware of the earth as it exists in a continuum of space and energy. It happens anywhere, between the striated clay mountains of Southern Utah, the grassy hills of Prospect Park, or in a bunk bed in one of the world’s oldest cities. It is a kind of spontaneous meditation, where I become part of the world around me, and yet I vibrate outside of it on a very specific frequency of awareness. As much as I’d like to say that it is specific to a time of day or relation to my past, it isn’t, so far as I can tell. Furthermore, it’s doesn’t have to be spontaneous; it can occur in times of focused concentration and heightened desire. It is a sense of simultaneity and atavistic understanding, a full awareness of time. The groove in a rock or the dust on a chain-link fence can trigger it, and the knowledge that it exists and is unable to be shared with anyone else reduces me to a state of puerile helplessness. I want to cry out and point but if I do, I will have nothing more to say; no one will understand and I will seem a fool or a weakling on the precipice of madness, which inevitably they try to rescue me from with a derisive offhand comment or an exhortation to follow the leader. Of course, if it is a sublime image that inspires me, such as a river in the midst of the wilderness, I can be forgiven, though an attempt at sharing the understanding comes across as forced, insipid and trite. The best I can do is justify this feeling by learning more about it, and to do so in writing is the best way since my page does not become impatient or bored or feel the need to respond. Only I have to worry about pressing myself to more fully understand this by writing more.