I'm going to make this violently quick: I just pulled into Santa Monica at 3am after six days of driving and stealing internet from some poor soul by the beach. Everyone have a fabulous Independence Day regardless of our current government!
Sean, Mom and Michelle around our nation's bicentennial, 1976
I'm on one of those drives that I recommend everyone take at least once in their lives: the desolate, beautiful skirt across the bottom of the country. Interstate 10 is not for the road-weary, nor is it for those without air conditioning, but it gives you a good sense of our country's physical perspective that airplanes can't equal.
Of course, it's also a 2,000,000-square-mile golfing range if you look at it the right way. Back in the winter, when I knew I'd eventually be taking this trip, I daydreamed about thwacking the hell out of the ball at the most barren part of the journey, and I think I found the place: somewhere near the "Big Bend" of the Rio Grande, where you can go days without seeing Jonathan Q. Law.
Environmentalists, don't worry: I only hit four balls, and I'm sure they'll biodegrade in about 370 years. It was way, way too hot to hit any more, and the wind was blowing 50mph in the wrong direction. "Into the teeth," as semi-pro golfer Block might say.
As for the Desert Southwest, say what you want about Starbucks and/or the Flying J Truck Stop (god knows I have) but if it weren't for them, there would be NO INTERNET WITHIN 800 MILES. I bemoaned the lack of broadband down here two and a half years ago and nothing seems to have changed; Moore's law must have melted in the heat.
Speaking of which, I have endured much heat in my life - summer in Kenya comes to mind - but I can honestly say I've never experienced this (check red arrow):
That's right, 100 degrees Fahrenheit at midnight. I recommend to all of you on this road trip to stock up on saline nasal spray, because you'll bloody well need it.
One more day on the road!
Yep, I'm just a lonely driver. Looking for meaning. The vast countryside stretches out like an unwritten haiku. O, what does it all mean?
Is it twee?
Is it Jude?
Is it fast female fashions™?
Or should I even care?
Southern kudzu o'erruns all, leaving giant green monsters mid-strike, a leafy diorama. Do they have the answers?
Yet breaststroking through the department store of life, I finally found the aisle I was looking for.
They can roll my 95-year-old carcass into New Orleans on a self-levitating dolly - preferably with my brain suspended in protein jelly within a glass bowl - and I could still have a good time. Breathing the air at night is like ingesting hot water, with pellet-sized mosquitoes flying into your eyeballs; after four paces, you break into a slimy sweat. Rock!
I just had an oyster and shrimp poboy from the Verti Marte, and Chopin just peed on Decatur Street under a hazy moon, so life is good. Even Lucy got on the phone and cooed, thus making the last five hundred miles of today's drive an easy drift into the bayou.
Annie and I spent last night in Jasper, GA with Salem, Elizabeth, and their two kids McCall and Victoria. The effervescent Victoria brought her two friends over, so I did my best to teach them the ways of the world by introducing them to poker.
I have to say I've played a lot of poker in my life, but I've never seen anyone fold with four of a kind (yeesh!) nor have I ever experienced a poker player who brought an egg to the table, and then broke it all over the money, thus leading to a quick exodus.
that's one way to end the game
Played night hoops with one of the girls - who is one of the stars of the high school team - and she had a smokin' jump shot. By 2am, I agreed to take all the kids in the SUV to the late-night window at Wendy's, but got sidetracked because they wanted to steal some real estate signs and put them in a friend's lawn. It was my duty to oblige.
I went to high school in a demoralizing, depressing navy town and it took about three seconds of their screams of glee before I remembered what it was like, hot nights of zero going on, finding someone to drive us to an abandoned swimming pool, talking shit on Hampy's diving board.
Speaking of which, some dude jumped the curb in Carrboro while I was there, and literally "drove thru" Wendy's. Some people just don't know how to handle late June nights with nothing to do.
It's 3am and I have to leave for New Orleans in a few hours, but I just wanted to check in and say hello from Jasper, GA where Annie and I have had a wonderful time (details tomorrow).
More importantly, it's the birthday of my li'l sister Michelle, who turns 33 today. Before I drift off to sleep, I just wanted to make sure she knows we're thinking of her and love her lotz.
Michelle and I discuss "The Feminine Mystique," 1974
This morning I'm starting the drive to Los Angeles, and while I like nothing better than to be on the road, it is absolutely heartbreaking to leave my sweet little Lucy and my love Tessa back in New York. They'll meet me there in ten days or so by plane, but I have to drive so that we have the car (and our geriatric dog).
It's my first long trip away from my wife in a while, and it's the first trip ever away from my daughter. Plenty of friends and chipping in to help, and we've got some nanny coverage, but still, taking care of the li'l one is a HUGE job and Tessa, like Morrissey sang, has only got two hands.
She and I have never packed lightly, but throw all the shit a baby requires into the mix, and the Prius will be laden with clothes for a future 4-month old, a battery-operated swing, myriad methods of carting her around, and of course, all the various ways to collect and temporarily store poop.
Before I leave, I'd like to tell everyone in New York to have a wonderful summer - especially the Fleet Weekers who are working hard to headline the 2005 Fringe Festival in two months. Lindsay, Mac, Sean and Jordana have finally got their due, and we'll be back to cheer them on in August for a kee-razy NYC weekend of wanton sex, cocaine use and musicals about gay sailors with identity crises.
Meanwhile, I'll try to amuse you all with my usual turgid, self-involved, slightly-snooty persiflage from the deepest mauve of the red states. And if you're anywhere on this line:
...tell me so I can wave as I drive past!
Okay, CODE WORD. Too tired for a regular blog, so let's do a meme. Other people always have five questions, today will be two.
1. What is the worst job you've ever had?
2. What is the worst job you've ever seen someone else have?
I'll go first:
1. Worst job I ever had was delivering pizzas for Gumby's in Chapel Hill, NC during the summer of 1990. Driving pies is the single most lonely goddamn experience of your entire life, especially in the pre-iPod era when you were sick of all your mix tapes.
Your car ages in dog years, basically exploding by the third month - stops and starts all day long, worse than a Manhattan taxi because you keep on having to turn the engine over. Add in a parking ticket every other day, and buying a new car after 12 months, and it's a job where you actually lose money.
Oh, and that fantasy about some girls in the dorm fucking the pizza guy? Let me tell you this: not that I desired female contact, but the "pizza guy" is barely humanoid to these people. You are in an untouchable caste so far down the ladder of desirability that you stink of don't-touch-me. This job made my stint as a dishwasher in Norfolk, VA seem like a birthday party.
2. a) Worst job I've seen around here? That would have to be roof-tarrer. Or whatever they call themselves. In the mid-summer, when it's already pushing 100 degrees, these guys have to pour 200-degree tar on the tops of Manhattan roofs without any shade. In order to spread it out evenly, they use these long-hair yarn mops, a tool last seen cleaning up barf in the basement of the YMCA.
This lasts all day - unless of course it rains, in which case they have to do it all over again. The tar, by the way, has to be fume-rampant carcinogen, and the workers can bathe themselves in iodine and still not get the smell out of their skin. They stick with this job through the worst weather North America has to offer, and they can't wear shorts or T-shirts for fear of getting scalded. And since it needs to be above 50 degrees for the tar to set, they're out of a job for half the year.
2. b) Coke whore. But I thought that was obvious.
This being the shortest night of the year and all, let's celebrate with a few pictures. First off, an inside joke:
I was wondering about these next two, that show me and Lucy front and back - do they make see-through picture frames, you know, like a Kandinsky? I look like a moron, but she's awful cute.
Speaking of cute, here's a blurred but beautiful blow-up of my better-half and baby:
And this for Laurie from Manly Dorm:
We've been packing our upstate farm for renters, and in the midst of the mess (and the bare changing table), Lucy started giggling so much that I grabbed the camera. Right-click and save (or however you view Quicktime files - on a Mac, just click and be patient) on this link (14MB) for a little camera movie of the piker and all her beguiling ways. Be sure to turn the sound off, or else you'll hear her father cooing things he'd never thought he'd coo. Suffice to say he didn't think he'd be saying these things to a couple hundred thousand people on the internet.
Or else he would have been a little more, you know, manly.
I've had to go through a bit of mourning today, as I found out one of my favorite artists has died. When the Budster mentioned a few days ago that Kirsty MacColl had passed away too young, I assumed he was kidding. I had all her albums, followed her career for 20 years, was probably one of her more devoted Stateside fans - surely I would have known.
Turns out that she died five years ago, and through some bizarre set of obstructing circumstances, the information took that long to leak in my direction. Last night I spent hours online combing the facts: in December 2000, she took her two kids to Cozumel, Mexico to get over a friend's death. While swimming in a protected zone, a speedboat barreled toward her family - she threw her son out of harm's way, was hit and died instantly. It's terribly sad, but it seems completely in character that such an amazing woman died saving her son.
You may only know her music from Tracey Ullman's "They Don't Know," a song Kirsty wrote that became her only U.S. hit. She also sang "Golden Lights" on the Smiths' "Louder than Bombs" album and did a duet with Bill Bragg on "Sexuality." Her voice was so beautiful, and like pancakes and syrup, it only got better as they stacked tracks on top of each other. I'd call her stuff "twisted orchestral pop" with classic, gorgeous, surefooted pop craft thrown in, but it didn't stop her from becoming more and more influenced by Latin grooves (which melded perfectly with her British accent - she was from Croydon).
Lyrically, however, she was untouchable. Nobody came close to her witty, anguished turns of phrase - perhaps only Morrissey, when he wasn't trying to be clever. She just about breaks your heart in every song.
This was a woman who didn't give a shit what was popular at any given moment, didn't mind as her weight fluctuated 40 pounds in either direction, and deigned to marry Steve Lillywhite (who produced, among other masterpieces, U2's "War," the La's album, XTC's "Black Sea," Talking Heads' "Naked" and even The Pogues "If I Should Fall From Grace With God"), and then wrote a brilliant album about their divorce (Titanic Days).
If you really want to hear Kirsty at her finest, please find a copy of her album Kite somewhere. It gives forth more on the fifteenth listen than the first, and contains chords, thoughts and bits of poetry that have stuck with me for a decade.
One song in particular is so angry, so pretty, so jangly-fast like a runaway caboose (NME called it "a litter of carefree Labrador puppies who can't get to where they wanna go fast enough"), that I need to include a few lines here. It is the perfect description of someone I know who will remain nameless. It's called "Free World," and should be on your iPod.
I thought of you when they closed down the school
And the hospital too
Did they think that you were better? They were wrong.
You had so many friends
They all left you in the end
Because they couldn't take the patter.
If I wore your shades could I share your point of view?
Could I make you feel better?
Paint a picture, write a letter?
Well, I know what you're saying, but I see the things you do
And it's much too dangerous to get closer to you.
And it's going to get colder
You might not get much older
You're much too scared of living
And to die is a reliable exit
So you push it and you test it
With Thunderbird and Rivin
I'll see you baby when the clans rise again
Women and men, united in the struggle
With a pocketful of plastic
Like a dollar on elastic
In this free world-
I wouldn't tell you if I didn't care.
The time has come for me to do some prophylactic damage control on this blog: namely, I think it's only a matter of time before my extended Mormon family finds out about it and starts to read, to their unthinkable horror. For all I know, many of them have already been reading for some time (or dropped out after the fifteenth "f-word," swearing never to return).
I haven't read the details, but apparently dooce's Mormon family happened to find her blog and caused all kinds of problems. It's worse for her because she actually still lives in Utah and thus deals with her family on a daily basis, but the thought of some of my blog entries getting to my 86-year-old Auntie Donna fills me with a peculiar sort of dread.
This summer, my entire nuclear family will be attending our first family reunion in almost 20 years, involving my 41 first cousins, myriads of aunts and uncles, and exactly 100 offspring of my grandma Klea (Lucy is #100). Instead of a wily family member doing some Googling and discovering my thoughts on Christianity and thus spreading the rumor that I am carrying the torch for Lucifer, I just want to get this out of the way right now.
I absolutely adore my extended family. Yes, I find their politics reprehensible and potentially scary. Yes, I don't like how they perceive homosexuals, and yes, I have deep, deep reservations about their religion. But when I was friendless, alone and borderline-suicidal as a pre-adolescent, the only thing keeping me going was the eventual trip to California to see my cousins Mark, Doug, Jana, Vince, Julie, Michelle and all the rest.
me, my cousin Mark, Sean, 1974
Mark introduced me to O.P. shorts and taught me that scoop move in basketball. Michelle was my partner in crime throughout the crazy mid-80s. My Uncle Steve taught me how to kill flies in one stroke, and how to give a firm handshake. My Aunt Cheryl taught me the ways of absurd humor, while Doug instructed me in fart jokes. His father, my Uncle Chris, is the Buddha of the entire family, the emotional core around which the whole business revolves. And my Auntie Donna is such a wonderful matriarch that she should be a face card in poker.
As I've said before, if journalism if the "first draft of history," blogs are the first draft of your own emotions. The character I play in here is much more angry and profane than anything my extended family has ever seen, and the truth lies somewhere in-between. I have profound respect for the Mormons in my family - but I will probably always use the Lord's name in vain, traffic in several high-octane swear words, and have some knee-jerk issues with Christianity.
This has always been true, but a blog publishes those thoughts - even the ones I don't think are accurate fourteen hours later - and makes them infinitely searchable and set in digital stone. This is something I decided to accept when I started this thing, but it will occasionally get me in trouble. I feel as though that trouble might be just around the corner with my extended family. So I hope, no matter what they've read, they find their way to this entry.
As such, I am going to do the following: I'm going to try to not make as many blanket statements about people of faith. That blog where I said I flushed pages of the Bible down the toilet? I'm not going to do that sort of thing ever again, and if I do, I won't tell you about it.
Secondly, my interactions with my greater family will not be used as cute, disdainful blog fodder. I've done it a couple of times before (including treatises on Mormon Jello Dessert) but I want them to rest assured that I don't consider them fools to be ridiculed. They have meant - and still mean - so much more to me than that. They saved my life when I was at my lowest, saved my Mom's sanity when she had nearly given up, and deserve better.
Thirdly, I will only blog the high points of the family reunion with their permission. The one thing that has always set my family apart from some of the more depressing elements of your average Utah conclave is that they've always had an unbelievably good sense of humor. They're actually funny. I hope when - or if - they come across a particularly alkaline blog entry in these pages, they retain some of that humor and remember that deep inside, there is still a twisted little kid destroying his tennis racquet.
I know this has become Music Retrospective Week here on the blog (to a chorus of yawns) but when you've got 150 channels of XM Radio at your disposal, you occasionally have an epiphany or three. Again, I forced myself to listen to Top 20 on 20, which is a good way to get the Cliff Notes to what the teens are listening to this week - and #1 is this utter piece of godawful shit called "Oh" by Ciara featuring Ludacris.
Vaguely set in a minor key with no chords, it's the dullest way to spend five minutes short of the DMV. While Ciara moans in unison with a torridly hackneyed sample, Ludacris occasionally chimes in to talk about how they've just made another hit. Like most songs of this genre (including #2, "Get it Poppin'" by, of course, Fat Joe featuring Nelly) they are songs only about themselves, or about getting a six-pack of bitches from da club and boning the hottest one. It's not offensive, it's worse than offensive: it's boring.
Ciara - a poor man's Beyoncé?
Two songs was all I could take, so I switched to the 80s channel in time to hear "Tonight, Tonight" by Genesis, and was promptly reminded that the music of 2005 by no means has the copyright on crap - "Tonight, Tonight" is another hunk of terrible shit, squeezed out of Genesis in the death throes of the band's shelf life. I should know: Julianna Hofeld and I camped out for tickets to this show in mid-winter in front of the Dean Dome in 1988.
"Tonight, Tonight" even has a freaky "instrumental" section, a half-hearted, terrible collection of synth noises that, I guess, was the band's desperate lunge into their prog-rock past (even as the song was used by Budweiser). It is a guaranteed depressant, and Phil Collins even sings "And now I'm in too deep" even though he used the line in about three other songs.
This is the fifth time I've heard that goddamn song on XM Radio, and it has led me to wonder why all the wrong shit gets dredged up from the past, much like "Oh" by Ciara featuring Ludacris will serve to embarrass some other blogger in 2022.
Even Pink Floyd is getting back together (sans Syd, sadly) for world tour of slow songs and, I'd imagine, lasers. But there's a few things I'd like to bring back that everyone seems to have looked over:
1. Supertramp - Now this is a band I'd drop everything to go see. Sure, P.T. Anderson put "Goodbye Stranger" on the "Magnolia" soundtrack, but this band has so many hidden gems: "Bloody Well Right," "The Logical Song," "Take the Long Way Home," "Dreamer," even "It's Raining Again." Supertramp, where are you guys?
2. Planet P - "Why Me?" - Only those of you glued to MTV during the first few months will remember this one, but it's an awesome, dark pop song with an equally creepy video. If they can play "Major Tom Part 2" into the ground, why can't I get some Planet P?
3. Jane Child - "Don't Want to Fall in Love" - This song was so frickin' insane when it came out around 1990 that Linda's - a bar in Chapel Hill that was no stranger to some crazy shit - actually fell silent to watch the video. Featuring more chord changes than "The Rite of Spring" and a piano solo that KICKS ASS, she should still be famous. Alas, you'll probably only remember her as the chick who had a chain from her nose ring to her ear.
Any other bands/songs you'd like brought back? And they can't be obvious!
Since we're rounding into the middle of 2005, I think it's time to look back for a second and pay homage to the Ten Year Anniversary of Generation X's Last Fad. Around 1995, those of us who were still young and chasing skirt found ourselves running into the Retro Swing era that overtook Los Angeles, featured the music of some fairly decent bands, drove some people to dance class, and culminated in the shooting of "Swingers," which came out in 1996.
The Squirrel Nut Zippers in "The Pink House"
Curiously, Chapel Hill played a major part in this micro-era: The Squirrel Nut Zippers hadn't intended - nor done the focus group research - to be the de facto House Band of Retro Swing, but they stumbled right onto it. Those guys are all friends of ours, lived in our houses, drank our beer, and finally provided us with the breakout national "hit" we'd been expecting since Spin called us "the next Seattle" in 1992.
Jimbo Mathus had been in a band called Metal Flake Mother that produced "Beyond the Java Sea" - arguably, the best-kept secret gem in Chapel Hill music history (an honor I think it should share with Hobex's "Payback" EP). His new band sounded nothing like them, but managed to keep the lo-fi ethic that made each Squirrel Nut track sound like there was someone from 1923 actually doing laundry with a washboard in the other room. It kept the sound clunky, honest and fun, as opposed to other outfits like Cherry Poppin' Daddies ("Zoot Suit Riot").
20s Party at the Pink House circa 1996: N'Gai, Zia, Jiffer, Chip, Jay, me
By 1997, every sorority girl in the country had "Hell" on their mix tapes, and the Pink House had already had several Roaring 20s parties, where Lars Lucier took nude portraits of all of us once two or three boxes of Franzia wine had been emptied. Later that year, I found myself in Los Angeles with the other Beachwood residents migrating over to the Derby wearing a tie.
By then, however, that entire scene was rather burnt-over, with the detritus of the era tinkling into bad karaoke, and finally, wedding parties. Generation X, whose youngest cohorts turned 18 (with the oldest pushing 40) had seen its last fad. From then on, individual artists in our generation might still lead bands, write novels and inspire teens, but we would never do anything again en masse.
It was a classy ending, I suppose, to those of us who had roller skated in the late 70s, obsessed over Simon LeBon, wore eyeliner with the Cure, participated in the Daisy Age around 1990, threw ourselves into the pit with the likes of Nirvana and the Archers of Loaf, then dropped ecstasy at our final rave.
The randomness and eclecticism of the iPod might have rendered most musical fads a thing from a simpler era, and there's still time, like Summer says, to see if the ethic of Burning Man keeps Gen X or Y together in some fractured fraternity. But I'd be lying if I say I didn't miss the brotherhood of experiencing a new movement with all my friends, even if it had been borrowed a hundred times before.
God knows all the blogosphere needs right now is another armchair schlub weighing in on the Michael Jackson verdict, but this case has fascinated me. To wit: has any human being in American history come from such a height and fallen so low?
Benedict Arnold was a Revolutionary War hero, lauded universally by those who fought with him, until he went Tory and become synonymous with "traitor" in American vernacular. Fatty Arbuckle was one of America's favorite movie stars until he was accused (wrongly, it turns out) of a vicious rape. And I guess you could call O.J. Simpson something of a hero to kids in the 1970s before, well, you-know-what.
But I think all of these pale in comparison to Michael Jackson. The recent verdict is a subdued affair, likely because a) we've heard these allegations for 12 years now, and b) we're pretty much inured to scandal (see: Bush, George).
It's easy to forget just how insanely, insanely huge Michael Jackson was for so long. Even if you discount the Jackson 5 stuff ("I Want You Back," "ABC," etc.) and start with tracks from "Off the Wall" ("Wanna Be Startin' Something," "Rock With You") and on to "Thriller," nobody in pop history except Elvis and the Beatles was his equal in the adulation department.
There was an electricity crackling from everything he did; when I saw the Motown 25 Year special in 1983, and he did the moonwalk during "Billie Jean," I lost my shit. He was so touched by magic that his mere presence on Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me," one of the worst songs ever written, shot it into the Top 10. He was unbelievably fun.
And from thus, he went from being the most adored artist in the world to an alleged child molester. The only thing more sickening, perhaps, is "serial killer," but somehow, the molestation of children sounds worse. He still has his small, disturbed collection of rabid fans releasing doves in his honor, but I still contend that nobody in the history of America has fallen farther than Michael Jackson.
And yet, it's not that simple. Salon's Alessandro Camon seems to say that Americans are stuck in this empty round-robin of celebrity schadenfreude, where we wish our most famous personalities the cruelest end possible. But it doesn't square with facts: every single famous person in trouble gets off. Robert Blake, Kobe Bryant, O.J. Simpson and now Jackson are free men.
This can't be due entirely to money buying the best lawyers on earth - that sort of thing would have backfired by now. I have begun to believe that our public spirit may enjoy kicking mega-famous people while they're down, but when it comes to individuals, we all want our heroes back. If you're sitting on that jury, and the time comes to convict or acquit, most Americans will dig deep inside themselves and find a place where these broken men, these murderers and molesters, are back on top of their game.
We are such kids, us Americans. We just want to put posters up on our wall, watch a running back elude a tackle for the touchdown, and keep our movie stars sacrosanct. It's infantile, but I have to admit, a little sweet.
I write to you tonight by the orange light of a distant streetlamp somewhere off in Park Slope, Brooklyn: the power is completely out in our apartment. At some point this evening, the air conditioners destroyed a circuit deep in the bowels of our brownstone, meaning there are at least three feet of 1885 brick between us and a solution.
This comes at the heels of perhaps Lucy's fussiest night in recent memory; she usually takes three naps during the day (lasting 1-2 hours each) but today she napped for 50 minutes TOTAL. By 7pm, she was listing to one side, drunk with fatigue, but still had enough power in her mitochondria to blast an ear-shedding series of screams that would sand varnish off a flight of stairs.
I have about 20 minutes of battery life left in my Powerbook, and I'm stealing wifi from someone named "lemur" within 100 feet of my predicament, and I'm praying it doesn't get so stiflingly hot that Lucy is forced to wake up and share her Yoko Ono-influenced pop stylings with us.
It is nights like this, in the city, that you come face to face with the fragility of your situation. Up at the farm, we have solar power and a battery backup (so this wouldn't happen), but you also sense the infinite possibility of firewood, plants, animals and sustenance.
The city, however, gets very cruel very fast in times of need. The electrical outage of 2003 was hailed as a sort of Burning Man for New York City, but if it had lasted longer, things would have gotten ugly.
I can only pray that this outage will be short-lived, and Tessa and I don't turn on each other in a cannibalistic frenzy. Ahoy!
Why I Am a Total Gaybot, Chapter 17
I like growing things better than almost anything else in life. When I was a little brat in the 1970s, my mom had one of the best gardens in Cedar Rapids, IA, and she always gave me a little plot at the end - about 5' by 5' so I could grow radishes. Man, I could grow the fuck out of radishes, and they were good with salt.
me in pile of leaves by garden, circa 1972
Or maybe they weren't, but the sense of accomplishment was so great that it could make even boring vegetables worthy of magic.
When we bought this little farm up in Columbia County, the first thing I did was plant a garden with everything too close together, but the output was incredible (see the treatise on pumpkins or my curious tomato haul). This year, in case some of you didn't get the memo, we're going to be in California from July to September, so the garden is going to lay fallow. But don't fret, pumpkin lovers: I planted the patch this weekend, and as long as it rains this summer, we're going to have fruits bigger than last year, or else I'll hand in my Best Pumpkin Attitude 2002 medal.
In the meantime, the farm has erupted with the perennial flowers planted by the house's previous owner Virginia Nelson. Virginia, by all accounts, was an awesome, totally solid, lovely woman - who obsessed over her garden until she died at the age of 86 about seven years ago.
Va. Nelson at her/our farm in 1959
What is amazing is that pieces of her still live on: the perennials don't stay blooming very long (as opposed to annuals, which only last a year but bloom all summer) but they ALL came out this week, and because I dig this stuff as much as I dig tequila shots, pretty clouds and a good scrum, I took some pictures for posterity. This blog goes out to Virginia, whose beauty peeks out for a couple of weeks every year until we stop telling stories about her.
the blue irises came up for the first time in two years
the purple bearded iris (yes, it sounds like a sex toy)
the vining clematis: hard to believe they stay dormant all winter
Tessa pruning the peonies with baby monitor on belt = rock star
Okay, so there has to be some code I can use for "I really would love to write a blog tonight and have tons to say, but if I don't get some sleep, I'm going to be absolutely useless for Tessa and my daughter tomorrow." Many times I've just plowed ahead and spent the requisite time making sure everyone is slightly entertained, but I've paid for it dearly the next day.
So, on these days, which happen every ten blogs are so, I should just have a CODE WORD that means you guys have to come up with a brilliant topic, or some answerable meme (like my brother Kent's from a few days ago or whatever the knitting gals have cooked up) and go to town, and then I can join in later once Lucy has fallen to sleep on my breastbone.
So, there it is. Anybody have five questions that everyone can answer? Or five answers that everyone can question? First decent one wins.
Oh dear - what's all this bickering about? This blog is supposed to be about babies, pop music and the University of North Carolina!
Well, two out of three ain't bad!
In the 70s, when I came into consciousness - in the 80s, when I came of age - and in the '90s when I played out my adolescence - we had something called "static." It was the space between radio stations, the poorly-received television signal, the hum of the record player at the end of an album, and the hiss of a bad phone. This was an Analog culture, where shortcuts could be taken, songs could kinda be heard when driving under bridges, and mix tapes had to made in real time.
Those days are rapidly disappearing, replaced by today's Digital culture, which is clear, clean and unforgiving. With XM Radio, you either get a signal or you get nothing. Either your iPod works or it doesn't. Cable TV is on, and there's no getting the porn channel by placing the dial in-between stations. Your cell phone, even your internet signal is binary: you get service or you DON'T, there is no in-between.
I mention this odd change in American culture because it goes some way to explain yesterday's blog, which was not meant to call into question the sanity of Christians, but managed to do so anyway. I find many aspects of the digital culture to be cruel, and religion/politics is beginning to behave with the lack of nuance that only comes from a binary culture.
It's true, I have a problem with Christians. I'd like to think it was fostered early on with my disenchantment with early Mormonhood, but in all truth, I thought Christians - and Muslims, etc. - and agnostics like myself could live in harmony until recently.
But the last ten years has been devastating to any American trying to keep religion out of our governing system, and the digital, binary way of doing things has led to a codification, a settling in of the way things are. In short, it seems like Christianity is becoming a permanent, unmovable force in our lives, and like the Borg, resistance is seemingly futile.
Do I really need to give examples? That parts of Delaware are now being forced to teach Intelligent Design? That the Supreme Court is going to be stacked with conservatives until I'm in my 70s? That the judiciary is becoming downright scary? The goalposts of what is "normal" have been moved so far to the right that true progressives can no longer find the stadium, let alone play.
I think many Christians, even those who are large of heart, have either forgotten or have no concept what it is like to be losing the culture wars as badly as liberals are. Perhaps a few die-hards recall a time in the early 70s when everyone seemed to give up on God and attend key parties, but the culture has swung so far back that those of us wishing to keep religion out of our lives have to constantly explain ourselves.
This blog is my little space, a vent for frustration, and as I always say, a constant treasure trove of reasons I'll never win elected office. There is nobody else fighting my battles for me: the Democrats are so pusillanimous as to be embarrassing, the press corps have given Bush a total pass, and Americans seem willing to put up with anything as long as they don't have to pay too much for gas. It's sickening, and it makes me furious.
So I suppose I take it out on Christians occasionally, many of whom are my friends (and, of course, extended family). I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings in the particular, but right now, there seems to be no hope for those of us who just want our kids to grow up without Jesus being shoved down their gullets. Hillary will get stomped in '08, Katharine Harris will be elected to the Senate, and I'll have to spend an hour a day debriefing all the New Testament out of Lucy when she gets home from school.
And so, to my Christian friends whom I love dearly, try to put yourself in my shoes. Imagine every single belief you hold dear being throttled by the government. Imagine losing every debate, watching every tenet swirl down the drain, imagine feeling like you're one of about twenty native speakers left and they're all dying.
It doesn't matter how open-minded you are, how your church is different, how your God is kinder than the one I imagine. As much as I respect you, I find your beliefs to be impossible to fathom, yet according to most Americans, I'm the one who's crazy, and in a digital culture, there's no nuance: it looks like I'm going to stay that way.
In entertainment news, everyone - including his publicist - is concerned that Tom Cruise's cheese has slipped off his cracker, as he gambols about the country, behaving untowardly on Oprah, and setting up tents in Germany to convert onlookers to Scientology. First off, I don't think it's possible to have the kind of life Tom Cruise has had since 1982 and come away unscathed - and secondly, why all the harshing on Scientology?
Sure Scientologists have an eerie sheen to them, and I've heard the stories about how they've held some people hostage to their darkest secrets, and yes, when we used to live near the Celebrity Center on Franklin Street in Hollywood, the dark grounds and obfuscated flowers would give one the heebie-jeebies. But why is so much scorn heaped on a religion that doesn't seem any more far-fetched than what "normal" Americans believe every day?
From the small bits I've managed to pick up, Scientology basically believes that an alien life force (or volcanoes, I can't remember) deposited an energy on Earth that still exists to this day. They believe you have to pick up on this energy (through "audits" and "e-meters" and the like) in order to reach your perfect self. Or something like that. There have been lots of Scientologists that you probably didn't know were members. Like Beck, for instance.
Now compare this with transubstantiation in any run-of-the-mill Catholic church, where followers believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ during the blessing. Keep in mind these things are happening on an average street on any given Sunday in suburban Ohio.
While we're at it, let's talk about Christ for a second. Christians believe he was the divine made mortal, the son of God, who showed up on Earth, performed miracles, was crucified, rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven. This particular blog entry is not intended to slag Christianity, but if you weren't so used to the story, it would seem fairly weird, no?
So Scientologists proselytize on national television. So does our goddamn President. So Scientologists are pushy, always trying convert everybody. No worse, certainly, than the Mormons, or even the Catholics, who went into Africa and baptized every "savage" they could get their hands on.
Scientology preaches against using Prozac-like drugs, but so does every redneck American who thinks if you don't take life on the chin, you're a fucking pussy. Not only that, but Scientology also does a pretty good job of getting people off drugs, something most churches barely pay lip service to. Sure, you have to be a Scientologist after you kick heroin, but at least you're not going to smash into a school bus on Sunset Drive.
The only reason to make fun of - or despise - Scientology is because it isn't old enough to take seriously. L. Ron Hubbard made up his bizarre stories in the 1950s - as opposed to 45 A.D., which puts him distinctly behind the curve. Age of story is a huge deal to people of faith; the Mormons are only just beginning to get a place at the table, and they've been around since the 1850s. It's 2005, and 61% of Americans still believe in some sort of Creationism.
If you pick on Scientology at the exclusion of all other religions, you're just like those asinine girls in college who only liked movies made before 1970, as if age trumped all flaws. It all comes down to a matter of faith, and to me, believing in an alien dust fairy makes just as much sense as trusting in Lazarus.
This weekend was the Park Slope Brooklyn Solstice, an event I christened a few years ago so dorky that it is a damn good thing I'm already married and already having intercourse with a female. In short, it's one of the two days of the year when the setting sun corresponds exactly to the street grid laid out in the 1860s. In layman's terms, it's the day you turn south on any street in this part of Brooklyn, and are blinded.
A similar thing happens in Manhattan twice a year (I snapped this picture on the blog for July 10, 2002) and because I always obsessed over Stonehenge and other manmade (or accidentally manmade) correspondence to the celestial heavens, I actually get off on this stuff. It warms the heart that you can tell calendar time from the sun setting on your street. I tried telling Tessa about this phenomenon and I believe she dozed off.
Lucy joined me in our celebration of the Park Slope Brooklyn Solstice and donned her new fave tanktop, and we all walked around town looking at various stoop sales. Tessa even found some Kate Spades in a size 9, which ain't easy, my friends.
We capped Saturday night off in Prospect Park, where Lucy attended her first movie - "Star Wars" - projected on a huge screen in the middle of the Long Meadow. Curiously enough, it had also been my first movie, the first summer flick I was allowed to see without adult supervision in 1977. I remember at the time that I could live forever and never see anything better. That lasted until "Blade Runner" when I was 13, and was convinced THAT was as good as anything would ever get. Fortunately, we are blessed with the capacity for constant surprise.
As for Lucy, she fell asleep before Luke and Obi-Wan even got to the Death Star. How am I supposed to keep culture in this family if everyone keeps falling asleep?
I know, "other people's parties" and all that, but the annual Jartacular is simply a way for everyone to have shared experiences so that we don't fall into the trap of believing 1986 was any better than it was. A few images:
some of us at Bash Bish Falls in Copake
Annie, Jack and Lindsay
Also, Lucy got to meet some of the people that will shape her life, even if she had no idea that was what she was doing:
mom, Aunt Michelle and Grandma Linda - this photo and below by the wonderful Susan Stava
en route to the next adventure
Random highlights? Salem shipped 20 gorgeous pieces of lamb from Georgia, sumptiously grilled by off-Broadway's Alex Draper; we performed "Mr. Blue Sky" by ELO in its entirety at the talent show; some songs from Fleet Week were debuted; Jon Gray gave a rousing rendition of his original "Don Cornelius"; and during the quiz show, Scotty was fined 25 points for not taking shit about Dook in stride.
Best quiz show questions were probably "I'm a synonym for boobs and I have a hell of an anthology - what am I?" and "Ann graduated from a prestigious college near Asheville founded partially by Tessa's sister - what school was it?" and of course, Brian Walsh did "Name That Tune" for "West End Girls" by the Pet Shop Boys before the drumbeat even started.
Jon Vaden took a 5-iron left in our barn in 1948, and got on the green in two. Block walked a mile through fog to his B&B. There was 12-year old Macallan scotch and Saranac beer. And even when it rained, it gave us this:
Yeah, so, even though some of us got pretty sick, these things are always worth gold in retrospect.
Think about the last time you were so sick you couldn't pick yourself up off the bathroom floor, and you have a good idea of what May 30 through June 1 was like for me. I'm not going to write much, but as many of you have found out, my inbox crashed at some point in-between barfing, so if anyone has anything to say, re-send it and I'll read it now that my retinas are full of vitreous humor.
Being that sick is like a time machine back to being a kid. I had flashes of the Iowa in the early 70s, even my room at the Chi Psi Lodge in 1989 when I was recovering from dysentery. My bed faced the sunset then too, and I remember the day going by in these little wisps of light: morning, noon, sunset, darkness, misery.
My mom came into my room on Tuesday and put her hands on my lower back to soothe the muscles that had gone into spasm from hours of retching, and the relief was instant and pure, the perfect gift from parent to child. How wonderful it could be, 38 years from now in the year 2043, to do the same for Lucy.