I am the perfect combination of someone who appears to be doing everything, but in actuality is doing nothing. Even better, exactly the opposite is true as well. When I did a stint as a caterer for The Bashful Butler in Los Angeles, I worked blindingly fast and got everything done so that I could stand around and space out. Of course, all my superiors saw was me spacing out, so many talks were had with my uncle (the owner) and my mom, all that shit.
So at the next gig, I finished my job early as usual, then picked up a rag and wiped random surfaces as I spaced out. The following day, there was all this talk about how I'd "really shaped up" and had a "new attitude."
I began to carry this rag around the job at all times, wiping rails, parts of trees, backs of chairs, the steering wheel of the catering truck, anything I could get my hands on. All the while staring blankly into space. By the time I left, I was one of the most requested workers. I wiped the fuck out of that place.
Now that I don't have to lug hot-boxes around Pasadena anymore, I'm not sure if I'm doing it right. I seem to have accomplished a fair amount of stuff: I'm twice-published (one actually sold a few copies), I've written a novel, three screenplays, and countless magazine articles. I've arranged more than fifty music pieces for McGraw-Hill currently being played in schools around America. I wrote all the songs for a Shakespeare musical, I've written trailers for 25 or so blockbuster movies, and I just wrote and co-directed an entire independent film.
And yet it doesn't look like I'm doing anything. And getting work can be harrowing, especially in the writing business. I have trouble getting calls returned, and I'm basically a charming dude. Perhaps this blog is that rag, the one I used while catering, a way to polish random surfaces so I can look busy to myself, until I figure out what I was supposed to be doing.
My Trip to Hinckley, New York
by Ian Williams
My friend Laurie is from a small town in upstate New York. She doesn't like it very much. Bad things happened up there when she was young. When we got into the car, a storm appeared on the horizon in the direction we were going.
We got there pretty quick. We were supposed to plant bulbs in the ground for her mother. On the way to her house, we passed what she called the After School Rape Hut. It was scary.
Her parents turned out to be very nice, but the dog wasn't. I learned something new! If you put baby powder all over your flower bulbs, the squirrels wont dig them up. Tessa and Laurie planted 100 bulbs all over the yard. I think they were going faster than usual.
Then we had chocolate pie and went to Remsen. This is the town right next to Hinckley. They had a parade! Actually it was called the Barn Festival of the Arts. They had candied almonds, soy candles and macram trivets. Tessa said a lot of the stuff was "crap." But there sure were a lot of people there!
I got a brick of horseradish cheddar cheese. I have to take pills with cheese because I'm "lactose intolerant." My tummy makes weird noises if I don't take the pill. And then it gets very unpleasant in the room. I don't want to talk about being lactose intolerant. It's not funny!
It turns out that Remsen is a town built by Welsh people. Everyone there is from Wales. I am too. So is Laurie. We are both called Williams. So we took a picture of Laurie and me in front of the Welsh Dragon and the "Williams Oil Company" sign. Tessa said "this is not a very flattering picture of you." Meaning me.
It was getting late so we said goodbye to Laurie's parents and "hit the road." On the way home we got really hungry. We remembered seeing a Cracker Barrel somewhere. Then we found it. George said "Cracker Barrel is where all the crackers eat." I got the chicken-fried chicken and a pancake. It was good! Then we went home.
I liked Hinckley, New York. Perhaps we will go back sometime. At least I know where the flowers are.
I went over to Michelle's apartment to pay respects to Zooey, the 16-year-old purr machine that has given a good name to cats since Reagan's last term. I don't think I was prepared to see him. Usually a 20 lb. butterball of a feline with a full-body fright wig, Zooey had lost 9/10ths of his body weight, and stared motionless into middle distance, his eyes dead, only a faint heartbeat and the occasional nudge for comfort. I encourage everyone who reads this to go over and check out Michelle's blog from September 24, which describes Zooey's last day on this earth, and is probably her finest piece of writing.
Zooey cuddles in Michelle's arms an hour before the end
Zooey was older than some of you reading this blog, older than 90% of my friendships, and the last of what we had come to call the Class of '87. That year was probably the worst in terms of my parents' divorce; two years out, and things had only gotten worse, the money dried up, I was nearly failing out of Carolina, Sean was actually failing out of high school, and Michelle shaved one side of her head and wore a "Bread Not Bombs" T-shirt that fully disguised her burgeoning womanhood. My family, what was left of it, lived in four different houses that year.
It is at times like these that you can't have enough friends, and they don't always have to be human. In that year, Kije, our yellow lab, was born, and played an influential role in all of our artistic lives. He sat through my various rock outfits and farted up a storm; Sean credits him for a number of stage gyrations he perfected throughout the 90s.
Michelle in 1987 with puppy Kije and Franny the cat
Kije in 1991 with Salem's dog Bear on Franklin Street
Kije was joined later in '87 by Franny and Zooey - the names most picked by literate pissed-off teenagers - and while Franny peed on everything in sight, Zooey became the Fred Rogers of the animal kingdom. Michelle also got a cat she called "Lovecat" after the Cure song, an animal so bereft of personality that it hid under her bed for months at a pass, only to emerge in time to scratch somebody and draw blood.
My own present, given to me by my mom for my birthday, was Sergei the Ferret, a fuzzy slinky of delight who is one of three animals written into the Chi Psi charter, and quite possibly lived the happiest, longest, fullest life of any animal in the otter and mink family.
Sergei sleeps, 1993
In 1987, we also had four mice that Lovecat ate, and two doves that went bald by flying into the top of their cage every 30 seconds. We also had a German Shepherd named Amber that was so stupid we had to let her loose on a farm.
Lovecat's acid veins didn't last long, nor did Franny. But Sergei the ferret lived to be almost nine, unheard-of for his species. He died quietly in 1995, having written some of my favorite columns.
Kije died a few days after 9/11, fourteen years of loyal service under his collar - in Sean's words, he slipped away while so much sadness was in the world, always full of grace, as if to not create any fuss.
And now Zooey, who was born when I was 19, is the last of the class of '87 to go. There are many times in your life when you are reminded of your adulthood: leaving college, marrying, visiting old haunts that whisper of your youth. But the unspoken milestone is the day when the last pet from your adolescence is gone, and when that unceasing face of forgiveness, the one that saw you through your rants, your awful relationships, your teenage whirlwind, is no longer there to add continuity. The Class of '87 was that for us, and this blog goes out to all of them, even the mice.
They say it's always darkest before the dawn, but it's pretty dark before a storm too. These are strange days in our careers, and while everything looks impenetrably hard and callous, losing hope is not an option.
I was told, when I pitched the script, that it wouldn't work as a "pitch," I had to write it. So I wrote it, and then I was told that the script was too weird, and I had to make it. So I made it, and the description of it wasn't easily pigeonholed, so I was told we had to show it. Then we showed it, got raves from a test screening audience, but still, they say they don't know how to market it. So it appears that the only way to win is to think of it, pitch it, write it, make it, test it, and then screen it in front of an adoring crowd. Can the planets line up quick enough?
Some people come up with a pitch and say "it's 'Driving Miss Daisy' crossed with '2 Fast 2 Furious'" and then a company says "here's two million dollars." This is not the path I chose, and now we are in those dark days either before a dawn or a storm.
Is it possible to work on something so hard for four years and have nothing come of it? My sense of fairness, along with my belief in it, does not allow me to contemplate such a scenario. That would be so awful, like a creeping death, a missing child that never comes home.
I know hearing about the halcyon days of one's college youth can be like listening to paint dry, but UNC's Lab! theater was (and is) cool enough to warrant mentioning here. I credit the Lab for two things: one, showing me and 22,000 other students that it was possible to put on a professional play without the help of any adults; and two, allowing Tessa and I to get married.
I'll get back to that second part, but I just need to mention how fucking great the Lab was in its day. Nothing but a black box theater in an ancient Drama building, the Lab was built into the old student union where Andy Griffith used to perform his skits in front of adoring crowds during pre-WWII Carolina. By the time I got there, it was an anything-goes experimentation center for whatever the post-adolescent mind could dream up. The first Lab show I ever saw was "The Real Inspector Hound" by Tom Stoppard, and I was hooked.
At a performance of "The Bacchae," starring a very young, very pumped-up Fred Weller, then-18-year-old Tessa slithered over my shoes as one of the Dionysian sprites, and we became friends later at the cast parties, and then in the English Department. The Lab became the testing ground of future acting studs like Fred, Billy Crudup, Laurie Williams and Laurel Holloman; directing studs like Tessa, Tom Cole and Eric Rosen; and even backstage wizards like Walt Spangler and network anchors like Laurie Dhue. Google them all if you must, suffice to say they're some of the best in the business, on or off Broadway. You see the faces of Chris Briggs, John Bland or Greg Miller all the time, even if you don't know their names yet.
In the spring of my (first) senior year, I finally developed the nads to audition, and got the lead in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," which was a huge hit, due in some part by the score, arranged by my mom and played over the speakers as we sang (she was to score the Pink House for us thirteen years later). Every cast member in that show was brilliant, and I finally felt as though I could be funny in a large crowd. Tessa, of course, missed the show because she was dating some other dude and probably had Comp Lit homework.
Years later, my brother Sean ended up at Carolina, and promptly wowed the crowd with "La Bte" and then a hugely successful run of "The Fantasticks." Mac Rogers, who wrote the Lucretia Jones play I mentioned yesterday, started his career in the Lab with three big works of his own. By the time my 12-year sojourn in Chapel Hill was over in 1997, the Lab had been a truly sacred space where anything was possible.
Billy Crudup, me, Paul Goodson and Alison Michel during "Charlie Brown" at the Lab in 1989
the Lab now
Thomas Wolfe, our UNC forefather and a spiritual father to the Lab, said "you can't go home again," and he's right: when I visited the Lab space last year, it had been ripped to shreds and rebuilt in the form of a Howard Johnson's conference center. I was so depressed that I snapped a picture and ran out of there. The Lab still exists somewhere else on campus, but I have a hard time believing it retains the magic, without any interference from the ham-fisted Powers That Be. There's only so long you can get away with something.
But there was one lasting legacy: in the summer of 2000, Tessa and I hadn't seen each other for many years. While perusing the Lab! Alumni page, she came across my name, and said to herself, "I hope that Ian is okay - he's really the kind of guy that could end up in a dark room getting stoned for years on end." So she wrote to me.
Date: Thu, 25 May 2000 00:41:17 EDT
From: Tessa B.
To: Ian W.
what are you up to? where do you live? what's happening in your life?
...and I wrote back:
Date: Thu, 25 May 2000 00:03:11 EDT
From: Ian W.
To: Tessa B.
Just waiting for the right to ask you to marry me.
As I was packing up for the trip to Brooklyn, I was carrying my camera and felt compelled to take a picture of myself in the mirror. Yes, it was self-indulgent, but it leads me to Today's Blog Topic: Support the Home Team!
1. Great Northern Knitters - This is a small company located on the awesome Canadian maritime province known as Prince Edward Island. I don't know where they get their sheep, or what kind of bender these local knitters are on, but the sweater I'm wearing above traps heat better than the Space Station thermal panels. Tightly woven together by the nicest P.E.Islanders on Queen Street, I highly recommend that you get yourself one of these things for winter. Yes, it's muggy now, but it won't be for long. Tessa has an oversize cream-colored pullover that makes her look like Miss October 1975. Yay!
2. The Fleece Circus - While we're on the subject, one of my best friends Jon is not only an Emmy award-winning sports producer, but he and his wife Lisa have been making some of the best fleece clothing - especially for babies - that you can get in the fine U. S. of America. Their site isn't totally up yet, but click on the link above to get their information. They gave us a "berber weight" fleece blanket for Christmas that was the kind of thing you fall asleep underneath in about .03 seconds.
3. 1st Rochdale Cooperative - Lord knows I didn't know about this until I did the research, but you can power your New York City apartment entirely by wind. Just go to the site, fax in your application, and in a month, you start getting bills from them instead of ConEd - and the price is exactly the same. Yes, I'm polluting the fuck out of Brooklyn by using my air conditioners all the time, but at least I'm not using coal, uranium, or Latvian slaves to do it.
4. The Lucretia Jones Mysteries - This is as home team as it gets. Mac Rogers has written a fun-as-hell twist on film noir and the Thin Man movies and put Jordana Davis as the lead detective, with my brother Sean as, well, a variety of insane roles. All three of them play different parts in total tour-de-force reminder of what can be achieved off-Broadway. It's up for three weekends only at the Gershwin Hotel, and you've missed one of the weekends already, so click here for tickets and have fun.
Oh yes, you get a free brownie. I think Jordana makes them, and they are excellent.
Things We Are Merely Lucky For Having
1. A north star. You know, due to the "precession" of the Earth (it wobbles on its axis) it's just dumb fucking luck that all of us live in a time when the north pole happens to be pointing at a bright star we call Polaris. I don't know how many countless lives have been saved by people orienting themselves to the North Star, but there could just as easily be absolutely nothing there, so consider yourself lucky, ingrate.
2. Survivable seasons. We are exactly the right distance from the sun to keep the seasons from totally sucking. Today in New England was a very obvious "beginning of autumn" day, in which you are reminded that there will be no more swimming in local watering holes, thank you very much. A few nervous trees have already entirely changed color, looking a bit like the dorky kid who is already in his seat, waiting for the exam. Winter is weeks away, and while it can be right miserable, it is survivable. I pity those people living in places without seasons, almost as much as they pity us for having them.
3. A huge moon. Our moon is totally out of proportion for a planet our size, so big that it yanks the oceans around without our approval. But some crafty Norwegians have figured out how to turn the tides into hydro-electric power, so now we can have the moon start working for us for a change, god dammit.
4. Orgasm. I mean, it doesn't have to feel that good. It just does. We'd probably procreate anyway, just to keep our progeny going, but the orgasm is really a nice treat that is denied all the other animals. Ha!
5. Humor. Yes, yes, it lowers your blood pressure and makes cancer patients live longer and all that shit, but really - why should anything be funny? Was there a mandate set forth that humor was necessary for the race? God is entirely unfunny in the Old Testament, boringly earnest in the New Testament and on crack in the Book of Mormon. Since when did everything have to be so amusing?
6. Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors. I'm feeling just fine, thanks!
Pardon me while I stand in the closet and shut off for the night.
When the power used to go out, you always assumed something was wrong with your household fuse box; now, you assume that half the eastern seaboard is in a state of powerless chaos, and either terrorists or the decaying infrastructure of America's power grid is to blame. We're not sure what happened here on Saturday, but the second everything shut off, we were ready with candles, flashlights, a crank-powered shortwave radio and five giant jugs of Berkshire Mountain Spring Water.
Since we had about fifteen minutes of sunlight left, I went and watched the sundown, unsure how much light we were going to have for the weekend.
Then Tessa and I went to the top of our hill, where we both said goodbye to her father, roughly two years to the day after he died. I've written about it before, but I may well be the last person Blakey ever met and actually remembered. That's about all I can say about my relationship to him, whereas Tessa has made a fabulous film about their relationship. It's enough just to be present and accounted for when the person you love needs closure and commiseration with someone gone from their lives.
When my childhood friend Laura Miller died a few years ago, one of her cousins, Amy Wellso, said that people can always be brought back to the room by mentioning them and telling stories about them. Normally I pooh-pooh such talk as flaccid hooey, but it got me thinking: who, really, is the person next to you? Who are the people in the room with you right now? You only believe that they are there because you can "see" them, you can "hear" them when they talk, and everyone else in the room has (silently) agreed that they are indeed there.
But in this complicated world of sensory illusion, they are only "there" because you believe they are. It's a very strong and irrefutable belief, but a belief nonetheless. So when you talk of someone who is not there, remember the way they smelled, things they have said, or theories they have proffered, it's not really that much different, sensory-speaking, than them being there. Sure, they are unable to respond, but I think any being from another dimension would find that to be merely quibbling.
So I began to agree with Amy Wellso. When I mentioned the pioneer spirit and technophilia of my grandmother at my wedding, 200 people saw her for a brief moment, and by some definition, she was there. Occasionally, a curled-up sweater on the floor, in the corner of my eye, becomes my cat Elgar, who died in 1984. I could have sworn he was there, and if your senses are to be stretched, in a way, he was.
I really do like the culture surrounding film festivals, in the same way that I actually enjoyed summer school: there's nothing quite like Total Immersion in a particular subject. Film festivals have mediocre movies, great parties and fantastic food, and we talked our way into one this evening at Woodstock.
We originally came up to watch Jamie Block play a small comeback gig at Legends ("gateway to Woodstock," we were told), and it was a great reminder of how little Block has lost since his anti-folk days. On the last song "Rhinoceros" he attempted to rip the strings off the acoustic guitar, but stopped just shy of creating a scene. Needless to say, we whooped and hollered.
Jamie was recently signed by Gill Holland to sonaBlast! records, a marriage of old friends that was so obvious I can't believe we didn't think of it sooner. I was honored to play on a bunch of tracks for the new album, so I have a vested interest in it making a splash, other than the desire for Jamie to get his due in the fickle music world.
And I'll say this about Gill: he may have his detractors (like I do), but nobody has shown such grace, fortitude, good humor and energy in the face of frustration as he. After making a big splash in the indie world with Hurricane Streets, he made a spate of well-reviewed and important independent films that ultimately made him no money. He constantly gave his time and lent his name to many projects that wouldn't have had a shot otherwise. And though he may have spread himself too thin at times, he never lied about what he could do for you. Now he has crossed from the 2nd most cynical business in the world (movies) to the most cynical business in the world (music) and retains his childlike passion for it all.
me and Gill on fall break in 1989; us again last year at the 24-hour plays
At the after-party we saw Natane with Liev Schreiber and his brother Pablo (who was also an early Pink House favorite - now he stars on HBO's "The Wire" and rocks), so Jamie and I schmoozed and drank cosmopolitans out of cheap plastic cups. One good thing about marrying well is that people like talking to your wife better than they like talking to you, so both Tessa and Susan went off to make their myriad friends while Jamie, Gill and I talked shit. Since we're not allowed to have a separate cigar and scotch room after dinner, that's going to have to suffice, yo.
I think I remember some old Paramount Pictures promotional photograph showing a bunch of studio execs turning around, cigars in mouth, in their special screening room - so I recreated it today. That's our art director Rick Gradone, post-production supervisor Kim Ludlow, effervescent Tessa, editor Jessie Weiner, soundtrack contributor Jamie Block, and yours fucking truly.
We had an "industry screening" of The Pink House today, which basically means we cleaned up a really good edit of the film, found a kick-ass screening room with surround sound, and played it for some influential folks in the business who could really help us. How did it go? Well, I began thinking this movie was funny about 6-7 weeks ago, and the new edit is even better, so actually, I like sitting through it. Tessa has to get up and wander off or else she turns into a fidgety, hyper-worried monster. Much laughter was had by all, and I can truly say we put our best foot forward. As for the opinions of important people, we'll know more in the days ahead.
But for the first time, I have seen this movie as being "worth it" no matter what happens. We created this complicated beast, full of plot, animation, laugh lines, melancholy, surreality, 1930s garb and pink flour - and now it is on the screen, makes sense, and it's, you know, humorous! It evokes humor! When you watch it, you are overcome with distinct feelings of mirth. Them's the truth. I feel, along with Tessa and the other brilliant minds in the above picture, that nothing could happen with this child we created and we would still feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
A $3 million distribution deal would be cool too.
I just thought I'd throw that in there.
In a bizarre confluence of events, we've been able to see - playing live - half the bands featured on the Pink House soundtrack this weekend. None of this was planned, but with Erin last night, Opti-Grab and Hobex tonight and Block tomorrow, that's half the songwriters we've spent two years massaging into the movie.
Opti-Grab, partially helmed by our beloved Rick Gradone, opened for the Tom Tom Club at Southpaw, and it was the usual high-energy, high-spirited, hijinks-filled evening of their ironic hipster-hop. The sound guy was sub-par, which meant the audience missed half of the great lyrics, but with those three exploding on stage, it hardly mattered.
Paul Marcarelli (better known to America as the Verizon Wireless "can you hear me now?" guy) stood with us and chatted about his unbelievable work schedule, and a desire to someday, anyway, get back on stage. We'd seen him and Chapel Hill's own vivacious Jen Davis in a play called "Jitterbugging" a few years ago, and they were terrific.
Thank god we went to that performance; it allowed us to ensnare Rick for the Pink House shoot, and I can't imagine my life without him fluttering around it.
Rick dolled up as a Nazi on Acid in the Pink House movie
Tessa went to bed, but I trekked into midtown Manhattan, after midnight on a Wednesday (the horror!) to catch my old roomie Greg Humphreys and his soul/dance band Hobex rip through a loud and deeply satisfying show at a place called "Tobacco Road." Having spent all my formative years living on the actual Tobacco Road, I asked the bartender if there was some sort of Southern theme pervading the place. She was Israeli, and pointed up to the snacks. "We have potato chips," she said. I dropped the subject.
Hobex (with Greg at bottom) on the movie set
Greg has learned the lap steel guitar since we last saw him, and when I say "learned," I mean he tore through that thing like he'd played it in the crib. Ex-fratboys and Phish-lookin' fellas left their dates to wander up to the stage and watch him fly. Playing this gig at that time of night in Hell's Kitchen made me really proud of Greg, and the tenacity with which he has stuck to his music. He could have quit at any time, but that was never an option for him. Looking deeply at his face while playing, I began to see that Greg was actually turning into one of the old bluesmen that he had emulated since high school. And with good health care, the occasional massage and modern cough suppressants, hopefully he'll live a lot longer than they did.
It's not often that you bear witness to the turning point of someone's career, but something tells me that Erin McKeown is not going to be the same after tonight. After the New York Times put a big picture of her in the Sunday Arts section, the Bowery Ballroom was packed this evening with die-hards who had been fans of her amazing Distillation album, and new recruits who have heard WFUV play her new CD Grand endlessly.
I was an early trumpeter of Erin's talent; on a whim I picked up her album in 2000 because someone had told me she studied ethnomusicology at Brown. Yes, I am that much of a snob. I didn't give it a proper listen until 10 months later, when the World Trade Center attacks liquefied our psyches and we went on the road trip to Tessa's dad's funeral. I slipped the CD in, and Tessa was transfixed. We cranked it all over the Eastern seaboard, as sort of a "recovery soundtrack" to 9/11.
That winter, up in Great Barrington, we happened to notice that Erin was playing along with a group called Voices on the Verge at Helsinki's, so watched them do their thing in front of about 25 people. It wasn't necessarily my cuppa tea (occasionally slow and meaningful) but when Erin played, it electrified the audience. I decided to ask her if she had any interest in being part of the Pink House soundtrack. Actually, I asked Tessa to ask her. And we have been great friends with Erin and her manager Emily ever since.
"Queen of Quiet," one of my favorite songs, ended up in a key place in the movie, and in 2002, she opened up for Norah Jones (just before Norah won the Grammy) in a kick-ass set at the Public that upstaged Jones' soporific style. After that, Tessa directed some of the promotional film for Erin's new album. Strangely, Erin and Emily were the first to find out we were engaged; on our visit to Northampton, I had just proposed.
at the reception
Thus it meant everything in the world to me that she played my favorite song of hers, "The Little Cowboy," at our wedding. She is barely five feet tall, but her tiny fingers take command of the neck of a guitar with a fluid power that can reduce you to tears. She is jazzy, tin-pan-alley and cock rock all at once. Her lyrics range from delightful ("I am a clever lady, just like a satin doll / A little wanton maybe, but I keep my wanting small") to strangely evocative ("could have bought a ticket but what would I have done / with no lines in my pocket and a nose for the setting sun").
People with something to say and a stunning talent rarely get what they deserve in the world of rock, so tonight's concert at the Bowery Ballroom went down as a redemptive stunner. The crowd was insane, packed, and cheered wildly, requesting two encores by stamping their feet long after closing time. When we went backstage to congratulate her on what could only be described as a "Here I Am, World" event, we found the band a little bummed out - they didn't know the show had been a hit. I felt like the lead tenor at the premiere of Beethoven's 9th Symphony who had to turn deaf Beethoven around so he could see the gleeful hysteria he'd created.
But we've all been there, right? Half of the people reading this blog have been on stage at some point, and probably thought they had done a bad job, only to hear later that they had rocked the free world. I hope we proved it to Erin and her band, telling them that they had the best night we could imagine. "The only way it could have been better," I said, "was if Jesus himself appeared and offered his benediction on the crowd." This seemed to satisfy them, and they walked out, faith renewed, to the throng of adorers.
Erin and me - I told you, she's tiny!
This blog goes out to my old friend Julianna Hofeld, wherever the hell you are! J was was one of my closest confidantes at Carolina, and getting to know her was not only one of the best things about school, but pretty much the hardest. She came equipped with an impenetrably hard exterior that scared off most redneck would-be suitors with a casual glance, and it took me about two months of pounding on her dorm room door before she agreed to go with me to my frat formal. There would have been a time when her shy, steely, green-eyed intensity would have flummoxed me from the start, but by my sophomore year, I appreciated the challenge.
There are pictures of us everywhere in my collection - at Valley Forge National Park, in her father's palatial grounds in Chicago, and at countless black-tie-ish functions around Chapel Thrill (of course, the dopiest one is the pic I have scanned above). Once we bonded, we hung out all four years at school (y'know, cuz I stayed five) and then many years afterward.
Until, bien sr, I moved to Los Angeles, promptly went mad, lost contact with zillions of lovely people, and submerged myself in viscous despair. In the meantime, shy, shy J became a fabulous TV news reporter, which would have been my last guess - besides poop-based performance art - for her career. She was the local anchor at a station in Minnesota, and the last time we talked, she was thinking of taking a job somewhere in Virginia. Maybe Richmond. Maybe not. And yes, I know about the Alumni Directory.
Either way, I've been bemoaning my loss of her from my life when I suddenly realized that this blog is something of a bullhorn, a digital sonic beam that can be tossed into the heavens with the potential to glance the nerve endings of somebody who is one degree of separation from both of us. Or, if by some chance you Google yourself, and find your way here, I miss you, doofus!
Okay, so the blog entry that used to be here was all about how I thought lesbians used to hate me, and then they didn't anymore because I was with Tessa, and then I took a trip to Northampton, Mass that proved to me that no, they actually still did think I was a big heteroschlub.
Then I re-read it this morning and was like, "this is the stupidest thing I've ever written" and erased it. Even if it was kind of funny.
There are those folks who thing that erasing a blog, or going back and altering text is one of the big historical no-nos that somehow gets in the way of honesty, even inserting little notes in their own blogs about how they would have changed it but left it pure, like one set of tracks in virgin snow. I say screw it. If I'm going to be eminently searchable for the rest of man's digital history, I'm going to make sure I only sound like a partial moron rather than a full-fledged one.
(Well, I might as well finish this piece in front of everybody. Here's the rest of that 2001 Retrospective I was working on)
VI. The Only Way Out is Through
You only live a day
But it's brilliant anyway.
- Elliot Smith, "Independence Day"
The day-to-day anxiety/depression horror I was feeling was not responsive to an overnight cure, nor was it susceptible to advice, nor can I say 2 years on, that I don't experience some of the same feelings every once in a while. It took most of 2002 to heat up my head, re-position it on my body, and let it cool in a corrective place. I will probably never write a little piece like this about the year 2002, not because it was rough year in some fairly boring senses (it was) but because I began keeping a blog in April that recounts those days in the sort of detail that beggars redundancy. There's also the question of the antidepressant Celexa, which brings its own math to the equation.
But 2001 remains one of those years for me, like 1985 and 1990, where Everything Changed. In many ways, I think my adolescence ended in 2001. I proved to myself that I could have a regular 9-to-5 job. I also proved to myself - and the 120 or so others snared by the gravity - that I could write and direct a motion picture without exploding. It was also the first year in my life when the desire to be with any other women - other than my beloved Tessa - passed almost unnoticed, like hiccups stopping after a long spell.
The most important legacy of those brilliant, awful times, however, was an entirely new way of thinking about "happiness," if you want to call it that. My misery forced me into a quasi-Buddhism, which offered a potent salve, even if I didn't fully understand it. I had always feared losing things in my life: my family, my friends, the drugs that kept me alive, even memories. Buddhism, or at least my dime-store version of it, helped me come to terms with the impermanence of everything, and the freedoms that come with it. When you begin to let go of corporeal and tangible things, you not only drift away from the current mandate of America, you find yourself mired in a more pervasive sort of happiness. It's not the thrill of a good tequila shot and fellatio, but more of an atmospheric buzz, as colorless and satisfying as oxygen. Yes, I'm still working on it.
In "The Little Prince," St. Etoine de Exupery wrote: "You are responsible for what you have tamed." I always added "...for the rest of your life" to that phrase, and it kept me from embracing many things, especially marriage. Not to sound crass, but 2001 gave me the brutal, chalky taste of ephemera, and suddenly "the rest of my life" didn't sound so long anymore. I'm certainly content to spend the rest of it with Tessa. We could, as our marriage song said, die by each other's sides thanks to a double-decker bus, and I'm getting more and more cool with that.
(continued from yesterday, this little piece about the year 2001 I've been working on...)
V. Winter of Malcontent
And it's going to get colder
You may not get much older;
You're much too scared of living.
- Kirsty MacColl, "Free World"
Believe it or not, we had started editing the Pink House footage on September 10th. After the attacks, my immediate feeling was "how the fuck did we care so much about a movie?" and "who on earth is going to want to watch this?" But within a few days, it became devastatingly clear that a good time, a comedy, was needed by all, and it allowed us to return to the project with renewed vigor. It's hard to remember now, but movies with any kind of explosion or fire were impossible to bear during that winter, having seen it for real so many times over.
We were about to start editing again, when Tessa got the call she had been dreading for a decade or so: her father had died. She received this news in the middle of Union Square, and ordinarily the sight of Tessa bawling on a bench would have raised eyebrows, but the whole park had turned into a makeshift monument with throngs of inconsolable souls, and she was just one more person mourning a loved one. It was comforting, being cloaked in such sadness. We lit a candle for Blakey, placed it on the pavement, then drove 26 hours straight to Houston.
On the way home we dawdled, stopping in New Orleans long enough to eat beignets and try to put the state of the world out of our minds. The day we left the warm comfort of the south to go back to the City, the bombing of Afghanistan had begun, and all we could tell each other was "we are going back knowing full well what we're getting ourselves into." I was having trouble eating, and by the time the anthrax mailings were all over New York City, it was getting colder, and none of this was exciting or interesting anymore.
Summoned to California for Thanksgiving, I eschewed planes and drove across the country, where I was treated to five straight days of redneck AM radio and began to see how different the rest of America was. In New York, there were signs that read "Our Tears of Grief Are Not Cries For War," but the rest of the so-called "red states" wanted to beat the shit out of every raghead they could lay their hands on. I began to fear my own citizenry and loathe my own government, planting bulbs of resentment that I'd never known before; I mean, I was about as American as they come. I'd lived all over this country, in times of poverty and plenty - my forefathers walked across the dusty plains and settled this goddamn place. Now I was thinking of anywhere else, maybe Canada, maybe France.
We were longing for an escape. Having been left a bunch of furniture from Blakey's estate, we could get a storage space for $500/month... or perhaps we could buy a small house upstate for a little bit more. Dana and Lindsay had already moved into their digs in Millerton, and Tessa was always renting the space in Stephentown. Maybe we could find something up there?
What began as a "small place to put some couches" turned into a full-scale search for an American homestead, a place where all our weary friends could take respite from a relentless city and a hostile government. It became the thing Tessa and I had always wanted while we were growing up: a permanent home that would always be ours. The first house we saw was Knob Hill Farm. It had a basketball court on the second floor of the barn. I was sold. Ever the completist, Tessa made us look at 40 more places, but I had already given my aorta.
Due to the overwhelming kindness of the previous owners, we were allowed to live in the house for the Christmas before we closed on the deal, an almost unheard-of no-no in the annals of real estate. We managed to pull off a pretty great holiday with only one family fight instead of the usual three, but my mental state was getting progressively worse. I would spend hours on the internet researching things that only fed my frenzy; I was desperate to get my family out of Manhattan.
I had been fired from my job; I had directed a movie with a nightmare shoot; I had seen my girlfriend through the death of her father and the near-fatal injuring of her grandmother; I had been immersed in a terrorist attack that was a block from where I'd worked; then, I was moored in a severe post-traumatic stress disorder that had me waiting for a nuclear apocalypse at any moment. I had been to the NYU Mental Health Clinic only to be stared down by a cruel social worker. At the end of January, I couldn't eat for two weeks and broke down on the bed, finally, crying for the first time in front of Tessa.
She said to me, "You can feel this way, and it is okay. No matter how bad it will get for you, I am not leaving."
I asked her what she thought of Park Slope, a neighborhood I knew to be at least 3 miles away from Ground Zero. She replied that she loved it. And I knew that moment that this would be the girl I would marry.
I'm not sure why the 9/11 attacks are looming larger than last year for me, but it might be partly the specials on PBS (Ric Burns' excellent documentary, as well as the "Tale of Two Towers") or partly that we have enough distance to make sense of the whole, the way we can grasp the whole of Manhattan when we see it by plane.
I've been working on a little memoir on the year 2001, a year that completely overturned my life and forced me to think differently. Yes, it's self-involved (don't bother telling me), but it's just a snapshot of my life at the time, and I don't want to forget what those days taught me. So I thought I'd put a couple of chapters on the blog just to give them some air; here is the chapter relevant to today (I'll post the conclusion tomorrow):
Deep in December, it's nice to remember,
Without a hurt the heart is hollow.
Deep in December, it's nice to remember,
The fire of September that made us mellow.
- "Try to Remember" from The Fantasticks
Like two drunks after a horrific bender, Tessa and I had a hard time getting up, out of bed, and out of North Carolina after the Pink House shoot. When Michelle and some of the other "sorority sisters" saw us the next day, we were holding hands, and they remarked that if we had survived that production, we could survive anything.
After the kind of de-briefing and de-contamination process usually reserved for astronauts returning from the Moon, we packed up the car and lit for Cleveland. Neal Lerner, Tessa's longtime assistant, was getting heart surgery at the best cardio hospital in the world, and we were going to see him through it. This was scary stuff; it definitely took away our Pink-House-is-everything mindset when we saw Neal's fingers, bloated, yellow and barely moving, as he waved goodbye after the surgery. Although lost to the mists of time, Tessa and I had our worst fight to date while driving back to New York, a conflagration so bad that she nearly rolled the car over. Thank god we came to our senses by New Jersey.
The next weekend was Labor Day, our last trip to the Stephentown farm, accompanied by Rick Gradone and Tessa's mom. We hiked to the top of Mount Greylock, where the cold winds blew the threat of impending winter in our faces. The next night, September 3rd, we were back in New York at Lindsay Bowen's birthday party, on board the Yankee Clipper in lower Manhattan.
The boat was uniquely situated by the World Trade Center towers so that the North Tower entirely blocked the South Tower. I leaned to Tessa and said, "You know that modern-day Civil War movie idea we were talking about?"
She said, "Yeah, why?"
I pointed up at the World Trade Center. "Well, if there was a scene where one of the towers had fallen during the war, we could film it from this angle." She smiled and said it was a good idea. Indie filmmakers; always looking for an angle.
On the night of September 10th, I rented episodes 2 and 3 of Ric Burns' documentary on New York, mostly centering around lower Manhattan of the 18th and 19th century. Later on, I watched the Jennifer Jason Leigh movie "Existenz" with Tessa on my lap, asleep.
The next thing I remember, it was morning, and Tessa had very calmly said to me, "Planes have flown into the World Trade Center, and one of them has fallen." I didn't believe her - her tone of voice was weird and inappropriate for that kind of news - and I went back to sleep for about ten more seconds. It was the sound of CNN that made me bolt upright. Tessa never has the TV on during the day.
I watched the television with a sense of detached bewilderment until I saw the replay of the first tower actually coming down. Then I hugged Tessa in genuine fear and said, "Oh my baby!" She was uncharacteristically stoic in that moment. Instincts kicked in, I grabbed my clothes and shoes and said, "Well, let's get outside," and as we walked to the West Side Highway, the other tower came down. A weird thought I had: "now the Woolworth Building is the tallest downtown again."
The details of those hours, from the vantage point of a long time on, seem increasingly hazy and familiar, like a Jungian dream shared by everyone in the country whether they were there or not. But there are a couple of indelible images that ghost the back of my thoughts.
First, the missing-person flyers. They went up by about 4pm that day, and all I could think about were the heartsick relatives, making color copies of their dead children. There they would be, in a trance, at some copy place, having found a photo from a vacation. The pictures seemed all the same, taken at some happy time thousands of miles away, cropped so that the dismembered arm of a friend or a sister draped over their shoulder. So many dismembered pieces of body parts floating all over these pictures, making 100, 200 copies as if the sheer number of images could coax them back to life.
Then there were the lines of cheering New Yorkers that formed on the West Side Highway as the fire trucks and policeman emerged from the brown depths. I passed one such group of cheering folks who were all disabled (as described in an email that day):
"I found a line of 10 or so handicapped people in wheelchairs by the curb, holding signs that said 'Thank You!' that they waved as rescue workers drove by. Some of them couldn't even wave them correctly through paralysis or cerebral palsy, but they tried as best they could. A few blocks away, I sat down with Tessa at lunch, where 'Going to Carolina in My Mind' came on the stereo, and I went to the bathroom to try and stop sobbing."
Michelle and I pass out salads to victims' families at the Armory, 9/12/01
The pervasive feeling was one of binary horror: you were either very dead, or very much alive. You were either a fireman and therefore able to help, or you could stand in line and try to donate blood they didn't need. I feel good about our actions of that morning - I carried an entire family's ash-covered luggage over my head as they looked for their son, and Tessa invited all of 8th Avenue to use her phones - but mostly, we were like everyone else: unable to do anything except appreciate how much we loved our city.
The night of September 11, we took the car, went to my place in the East Village, and grabbed all of my important stuff. We also went shopping and took care of some business, which was one of the smartest decisions we ever made: they locked down everything south of 14th Street the next day. Unfortunately, we also went over to Dana and Lindsay's place, where Peter Jennings came on the news and said something like, "It begs the question of whether or not a nuclear bomb can be delivered the same way."
In a way, the bottom fell out of my heart that moment. I hadn't even considered it. Dana gasped, and though I was still in a state of charitable delirium, the thought of a truly post-apocalyptic world began to take root in my psyche, and it would be almost a year before I could function normally again. That was the moment everything changed.
(to be continued tomorrow)
Okay, so there appear to be a bunch of people who want to move to New York in the immediate future, and for those of you who want to live alone, I say: good fucking luck. There is NO WAY you're going to afford it unless you have an offshore trust fund or you have an aunt that just died in a rent-controlled building.
I have lived in communes my entire life. They weren't called "communes," but that's exactly what they were. I come from a family of seven, then went straight to a dormitory of one thousand. My next house was the Lodge, where 42 of us lived together. After that, it was Club 510 where six of us broke bread at once; then came the revolving, insane mass of humanity that congregated/lived/barfed in the Purple and Pink Houses. When I moved to LA, there were seven of us. Here, it's just Tessa and me, and I swear to god, sometimes I walk into the kitchen in the middle of the night and I'm actually surprised that Jiffer isn't in there stealing my Pop Tarts.
So, all you people about to get yourselves into group houses and roommates, I'm going to give you the Rules for Thriving in a Group House. You had better Clip'n'Save this blog, because you're going to need it later.
1. The devil you know is always better than the angel you don't.
Yes, you may think your prospective housemate is a slob, but if you think about it, you also know she's not psychotic. Let me tell you about everyone in the world you don't know: they all SUCK. They are all fucking CRAZY. They will sob on your shoulder about an abusive boyfriend, then steal all your money, do cocaine on the table your mom gave you, then come home drunk and take a shit in the kitchen trash can. Yes, this happened to me.
We all made fun of Jay Murray for staying in college for thirteen years and convincing everyone to buy him hamburgers, but he was harmless, funny, and had a point of view. I would live with Jay Murray again 100 times out of 100 if the other option was putting an ad in the paper. I repeat: live with who you know, because that means you know they are NOT psycho freak slut assholes.
2. Have your own room with a lock.
I didn't always follow this advice, but since my roommate was Scott Bullock, we managed to share a room (at the age of 29) and have nothing but fun. But the rest of you: get a room, get a door, and get a lock. The fun of a commune is amazing and awesome, but there comes a time when you need to masturbate.
3. Have house meetings regularly, and figure out the dishes.
Our house meetings at the Pink House were frequently so funny that I made a movie about them. But there's one thing that ain't so funny: the goddamn dishes. This comes up in EVERY group house without fail. We tried everything, but still the plates stacked skyward, and calcified peanut butter remained on knives for weeks. Finally, we hid all the dishes in the basement, bought a shitload of paper plates and cups, and just threw away every mess. It was environmentally insane, but it got us through the winter of 1997.
The house meeting should always have a "bitch session," where each housemate can yawp at the others about something arcane and weird. "Just being heard" can work wonders, even if your mind is utterly elsewhere.
4. Don't be an asshole about rent.
There are all kinds of ways to screw up rent, but the worst is when somebody's girlfriend or boyfriend moves in, and so they split that room's rent. This sucks. Not only does it mean one more body to contend with in the bathroom and around the television, but it penalizes those people who are single by getting a much worse deal than their housemates who are busy fucking.
How do you fix it? Here's what we did, so follow closely. We measured the square footage of each bedroom, then added all the rooms together to find out what percentage of "total bedroom space" each room takes up. For instance, at the Pink House, we had five bedrooms, and it looked like this: 20%, 17%, 15%, 32%, 16%. Got it? Yes, it was painstaking, but we did it.
Then all you do is charge everyone who lives in the house a $100 "common room" fee (yours could be much higher if you want). Then split the rest of the rent by percentage. For example: the rent at the Pink House was $1600 total. There were seven people living there, so that took care of $700 of "common room" fees. That left $900 to split by percentage. My room was the "20% room," so that meant $180. So my rent was $280. This solved all arguments. I repeat: THIS SOLVED ALL ARGUMENTS! ALL RESENTMENTS AGAINST COUPLES DISSIPATED!
If you don't do this, expect your communal house to treat your girlfriend the way the rest of the Beatles treated Yoko during the Abbey Road sessions.
5. Take on the irrational obsessions of your housemates as though they were your own.
This is the most important rule of all. It basically says that if your housemate hates something about the house, you should as well. Even if you don't really care. Matt McMichaels HATED the construction detritus piled up in the lawn of the Purple House, so I did too. Jon Gray had ceiling tiles fall on his head while sleeping, so I got mad as well. Salem hated it when I dried myself outside the shower and made the mat wet, so I still, to this day, dry off inside the shower out of respect to 1989 Salem. If you can do this, you can live with anybody.
I realize now that this rule, as well as some of the others, prepared me for marriage. I try to take on the peccadilloes of Tessa as though they were my own, so that she doesn't feel like she's alone in any struggle. I really miss the expansive comraderie of the commune, but she can be enough people in one day to satisfy anyone.
some the amazing people I've lived with
I realize I just had a blog dedicated to my mom, but it's my dad's birthday, and he needs one as well. I don't know anyone more supportive of this particular blog venture as he, even mentioning it by name during his vast, wonderful, magnanimous speech during my wedding. It was probably the only speech that was free of snarky comments about my supposed Lotharian tendencies, temper tantrums and persecution complex, so I have my dad to thank for that as well.
Sean has already written an excellent paean to my dad that pre-empts most of what I might say, but then I remembered a little piece I wrote about him eight or so years ago. It is the experience of watching him conduct the orchestra through "The Pines of Rome" by Respighi, filtered through the mind of a ten-year-old.
It's called Pines of the Appian Way:
He stands there like a tuxedoed tree, waving his boughs in a storm, coaxing the entire Roman army to burst through the percussion. Heavy bow against low string, each foot of an ancient soldier drawing closer, a bass drum meaning a legion has put down a foot in gigantic tandem. He leans over the strings, egging them on, daring them to get dangerous; cellos too. Basses follow the heavy thud, their job is easy. They were the first to know.
Soon trombones crash as trumpets swell, a chord change, and I could see them! Shiny apparatus on their leggings and breastplates make me squint as the stage light hits them, and all he does is dare them further. Come on, god damnit. We want teeth and yolky eye whites and scabs peeled raw.
Almost deafening now, army upon us, couldn't escape if you started now. So many glorious chords, I can hardly fit it all in. Peripheral vision escapes me, as the violas and flutes, random faces of soldiers as they march closer. He screams, sweat flying off the right brow, just when it seems that there is nothing left, he twirls, then points!
Towards me, up in my box seat, trumpets soar and scales jangle! And then he turns completely around and points again, behind and up, across the theater, now in the rafters, and more brass crow chords of gorgeous intensity. Points to me again, a sorcerer commanding! Spittle everywhere and almost exhausted!
Army stays, final victorious harmony rings out across the vast, charged hall, and applause. His white hair flops down for a second, a long bow, and I can't stop myself from smiling, because I sleep feet from God.
Right, so in the interest of clarity, when I said I wasn't writing a Sunday blog anymore, I meant I wasn't writing on Saturday night, because nobody should be on the internet on Sundays. They should be outside breathing God's green air, making a turnaround jumper from twelve feet out, barbequing hot dogs, shopping at Best Buy, or whatever it is that Americans do now. Whenever my mom doesn't see a blog from me each day, she assumes I've been in the hospital with a kidney stone. If my luck, allopurinol and water intake prevails, perhaps I'll be spared from that forever. Three kidney stones is enough for anyone.
Fred Weller married the lovely and talented Ali Marsh last night, and it was a gorgeous gathering of old friends and fabulous dessert. Sean always gets pissed off when I engage in my usual starfucking at such events (you know, like here and here and etcetera) but he'll be glad to know we didn't end up rooming with Amy Poehler, who had to go back for Saturday Night Live or something. I did, however, get to meet one of my favorite guys currently in the biz: Thomas Lennon, who was once on "The State," and now on "Reno 911" (both exquisitely funny). When Tessa and I went to see Le Divorce in Great Barrington last week, and his name came on the opening credits, I leaned over and told her he'd be the best thing in the movie. And he was.
So we told him so, and he was graciously delighted. Definitely a class act. Go see Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller in "Starsky and Hutch" 'cuz he helped write it.
I have to say this about Westhampton Beach, however: the wedding estate was beautiful, but that town blows. I've been there off and on since the mid-80s with my buddy Jamie Block, and it has turned into The Worst of the Hamptons. Jamie and I were once in a 2-man cover band playing obscure Dylan tunes for the clientele at the local watering holes, and Westhampton seemed to have a soul back then. There was an ice cream parlor full of ne'er-do-wells, downscale coffee dives, an indie record store, and shops featuring clothes for less than $999.00. Now the main strip seems to have a town mandate stating that No Shops May Open Herein That Provide Anything Useful.
It is a wasteland of ceramic trinkets, insanely-overpriced real estate offices, candles for $94, and scores of stores featuring chartreuse-colored clothes for soon-to-be-morbidly-obese Jewish women. We walked around and tried to find a sandwich, but no food was served. Eventually I found a store that served inedible taffy and purchased a caramel apple for fruit consumption.
But no matter. It's enough to see my old brethren from the University of North Carolina, all out in force to cheer Fred on. We have all aged in our specific ways, many entering into our mid-30s with more jubilation than we left our teens, even if there are some tell-tale lines of late night debauchery etched into our faces. As I sometimes fret about my own aging, I keep thinking that it happens to everybody.
I never entirely felt the bonds of brotherhood while I was at school, too addled by my own narcissism to fully grasp the concept. I never saw myself as part of the cool crowd, and remember vast, endless days spent ruminating in the basement of the Lodge, wondering why everyone else seemed to know what was going on. Age has now given me the understanding that nobody knew what was going on, and now I feel blessed to have these amazing, far-flung friendships dotting the globe like tiny pricks of light.
standing: Ali Farahnakian, Alex Yong, Ricky Bell, James Beeler, Charley Cassell, Steven Comfort, Scott Bailey, me
kneeling: Jeremy Kelly, Tom Silk, Alec McNab, Steve Ducey
(click for bigger image)
Believe it or not, we're still editing the movie. As we wrapped up today, I remarked that we had aged over two years just during the editing process alone - I was 33 or something when we started. Jessie's hair has gone from long to short to long to short again, and so has mine.
and we don't even use 90% of the computer equipment in that picture anymore
During our editing, our nation was hit with the biggest terrorist attack in history, Tessa's father died, I had a nervous breakdown, the leads in our movie fell out of favor and then back again, I proposed to Tessa, waited a year, and then got married (in roughly that order).
This movie was so hard to physically make that anything less than two years' editing would have been inadequate. We have performed miracles with this thing; brought entire scenes and ideas back to life with the know-how and perspective only two years could have provided. Our test screening went over wonderfully, and the fact that I can still watch this film without puking is a testament to something good lying therein.
One major problem we've always had: marrying the 1930s sequence with the present-day. Several things accomplish this feat, but the biggest is a flash animation that takes the viewer from 1934 to 2003 by showing the decades whiz by the exterior of the Pink House. The music has been the crowning achievement, however: it begins with my mom's Tin Pan Alley rag, which melds into Michelle's 1940s doo-wop. Then George Gilmore and his band take over: a '50s guitar lick, a Hendrix-style '60s rock riff, then a dead-on parody of the '70s "Hustle." Then to a quick '80s Euro-pop-synth, which fades directly into a raucous early-90s Nirvana-sounding grunge. Then my brother Kent takes it home, twisting the original 1930s theme into a 21st century throbbing rave track. And everything is in the same key, using the same theme. The entire sequence is only about two minutes long, but it has to be seen to believed.
If you believe the journey is the destination, and that the process is more important than the goal - both very un-American sentiments - then you would have had a good day in the editing booth with us. Just completing that opening sequence and seeing everything fall into place makes the last two years seem like a pittance to pay for such moments of private joy. No matter what happens with the movie, we'll still have that.
This blog goes out to my girl Jiffer Bourguignon, who is not only one of the Pink House denizens from the legendary mid-90s, but also happens to be one of my favorite people here on this lovely planet. We first met while she was going through sorority rush as a "rush chairman," a weird little job that is definitely worth another blog entry (even if it reveals how much I know about sorority life at southern universities). We instantly hit it off with a Krispy Kreme fight that involved me smashing three cream-filled crullers into her face. She moved into the Pink House a few months later.
Jiffer and me six years ago today, Sept. 4, 1996
Jiffer and her friend Zia combined to make the character known as Zola in the Pink House movie, but in truth, they were much more surreal than movies can muster. Coy, brash, lovely, manly, flaky and faithful, Jiffer had a sort of dreamy quality that would be occasionally punctuated by bursts of profanity. Men tended to love her, I think, because they never saw her shoes, so smelly that we kept them out on the porch.
At a party on literally the last day of school, Jiff met a German exchange student (one in a long line of them) named Ingo who whooshed her home, floating on air. I remember sitting in the kitchen with her as she said, "Ian, I think this is really the one." I said something sarcastic, but couldn't help think her tone was a little different.
Then she said she was going into the Peace Corps. Having seen three years of her college antics, I didn't believe her - but two months later, she was packing for Mauritania, commonly known as The Worst Place to Get Sent for the Peace Corps Ever. We all got wonderful emails from this place we'd never heard of, and she returned, twenty pounds lighter, directed and full of passion for her next move: grad school at Columbia.
I never believed she would get in, or that she would flourish; not for a lack of faith, but just because I'd had her pegged as someone else. Now she has just returned from Cambodia, by way of seeing Ingo in London, and the school has asked her to be the editor-in-chief of the graduate school magazine, a job coveted by some major heavy hitters. She's truly amazing.
In the Pink House movie, the main character Murray is humbled by a housemate who shows him how wrongheaded, cynical and inaccurate his previous notions had been, how most of his theories are self-limiting crap, and how great the world can be if he opens himself up to the possibility that not everyone is predictable. It has taken me until tonight to realize I wrote that scene about me and Jiffer.
with the vivacious Dee Norton, Jiffer, and fellow PH alum Scott Bullock
Believe it or not, but this was a pretty crappy week's haul for this year's vegetable garden - the cherry tomatoes (sun golds) went nuts, and there are a few Brandywine tomatoes that didn't turn into the Elephant Man, but most everything else sucked. The corn was a disaster, and my beloved pumpkins - every single one of them died except for one. Last year I had about 27 pumpkins growing everywhere, and this year my garden looks like the My Lai massacre.
What the fuck gives? My money is on the following: it rained every day from May 1st to July 3rd, then it was soggy and humid with very little direct sunlight until now. And now it's getting cold again. The only things that could grow in New York State this year would have to be indigenous to the Amazon.
I've brought a bunch of Brandywines back to Brooklyn, and I hope everyone appreciates them, because a lot of back-breaking labor went into this year's pathetic yield. Brooklyn itself looks like London in February, and feels like New Orleans in late October - rainy, gray streets with blasts of warm, humid wind.
They call 1816 "The Year Without a Summer" - volcanic eruptions and general bad luck kept most of the Northern Hemisphere in a state of frozen drought. In New York, there were two "killing frosts" in August alone, and 90% of crops failed. The conditions started a cholera and typhus epidemic in Asia, and it was the first of the Irish potato famines.
On the good side, however, the summer was so cold that writers spent most of the time indoors. One such weekend, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley had a competition to see who could write the best story. Mary won, of course, with "Frankenstein." So, in our situation, let's hope some serious art got made over the last 10 months.
While we were taking down all the wedding detritus left on our trees, we noticed Chopin playing with another dog, a beagle puppy, frolicking in the side yard. The minute Tessa came over, Chopes abandoned his fun for the usual territorial horseshit and tried to kill the puppy he had been so happy with just nanoseconds earlier. With Chopes locked in the house, we inspected the puppy, who had no collar, yet he "sit" when I inadvertently said the word. He instantly imprinted on Tessa, and followed her every move.
We took him to several houses, and then the Animal Hospital, where the denizen King Cynical veterinarian told us in harsh tones to steal the dog, because he knew the owners, and it was the fifth time the puppy had been brought into the hospital as a stray. He didn't, however, know the owners' names or where they lived.
He motioned us in the wrong direction, up a hill, where we spent another hour looking for this puppy's abode. Finally, one woman (everyone seemed to be home, even though it was a Tuesday afternoon) told us exactly where to go, next to the auto salvage place back on the state highway. She, too, expressed the general surprise that this puppy was still alive after all the times she'd seen it wandering down country lanes.
So there was Tessa, knocking on the door of a place that had seventy cans of LaBatt's Blue - as well as those giant jugs of Jack Daniels' pre-mixed lemonade - sticking out of the recycling bin. The owner was young, very cordial, and the dog wandered inside as if nothing had happened.
What do you do? You can't play God in the fate of a puppy, and you have to return it to its owners; that's part of the silent pact you sign when you agree to live in a "community." But we could have easily taken it to the North Shore animal shelter, a no-kill home for pets waiting to be adopted by New Yorkers who love them. Instead, we most likely signed this puppy's death warrant today.
I'll tell you this, however: if I see him again, he's coming with us.
There is a word I'm officially taking out of my vocabulaly: "apocalyptic." It's overused, barely means what it used to, and to be frank, we've seen that there needn't be an apocalypse to make things relatively awful on earth anyway. I mention this because a bunch of us went shopping for emergency supplies today, in the event that something terrible happens that would render us without electricity, communication or basic services. The Mormons do it every day without thinking (take a look in their pantry) but the vicissitudes of a bad, bad world are making even agnostics fill their basements with canned corn. It took me a long time (plus Celexa and therapy) to think about this stuff rationally, and the a-word just makes my stomach hurt.
We started out at the Price Chopper in Hudson, NY, where we bought non-perishables of every sort: green beans, pinto beans, ravioli, Spaghetti-Os, tuna, etc., basically ensuring that we spend the End Days farting up a goddamn storm. After about an hour walking around the store snapping up restaurant-sized cans of Miracle Whip and tomato paste, I began to get depressed and opted to go next door to Wal-Mart.
It was good to do this sort of thing in a crowd. Kelly Wachowicz was with us, as well as Laurie Williams and my sister. Kelly serves on the board for NYC's Emergency Preparedness, and it was her vigilance that drove us onward. By the time I got to the camping section at Wal-Mart, we had both paranoided each other into a fine froth.
I got waterproof matches, several flares, flashlights, a bunch of batteries, and a crappy radio guaranteed to fall apart when it is needed most. We also purchased ready-made first aid kits supplemented by generic antibiotic cream and hydrocortisone. I was getting so bummed out about this trip that I bought a $59 DVD player just to inject a modicum of fun in this gallows errand.
It wasn't just the walking around that was tiring; it was the constant conjuring of hypothetical situations. Like, I bought a compass. This would only be necessary if NYC were a a giant smallpox biohazard, the power was out, I was alone in the wilderness north of Westchester County, walking off-road in a violent rainstorm, trying to find my way to the farm. I mean, what the fuck?
Basically, I look at it this way: if something bad happens and we're in Manhattan, it's every-man-for-himself to get off the island. If something happens while we're in Brooklyn, we're okay, but we've got a long, awful walk ahead of us. If it happens and we're up here at the farm, we're doing pretty good for a few months or so. Add some solar panels and a hybrid car (both things we're thinking about) and we might even thrive.
Kelly brought up something that had been plaguing me for a while. In the event of a true national emergency, should every person with a food-stocked house consider having a gun? It goes against every fiber of my body to even think about having something like that in my home, but it could get very iffy in times of desperation.
Bud's dad used to lock the screen door at his house "because it keeps a man honest." Bud used to tell him that a man with any amount of honesty probably wouldn't be jiggling the screen door to start with, but the point is unnerving: would a shotgun and a kind word save your livelihood? My current bet is "no," but those are the places you visit, mentally, when shopping for this kind of event. I used to eye the gun rack at Walmart with disgust; today I looked at it with curious disgust.
For now, however, things are normal - we just have a basement full of crackers and canned peas. I'm met with the same challenge that I had as a kid growing up with the Mormons: resisting the temptation to storm downstairs and scarf down all the apocaly-chocolate.