I’ve gotten into a bad habit of “writing blind”; that is, I think about the piece as a whole, feel the rhythm and structure in my head, and then start following the flow to the next words, the next thought. The actual typing (or writing, if I have a paper and a pen – it’s the same, but less efficient) of the words lags behind, recording the words I've just moved past. So the mental and physical components of writing are never unified, and I don't read what I write.
I don’t know when I started doing this. As far as I can remember, I always have. But when I first started writing fiction, I think I actually did it word-by-word. Every time I hear about a good fiction writer’s process, it seems they write word-by-word, not blind.
But I’m addicted. It’s hard for me to abandon the speed and ease of my approach. I like being able to make the idea take shape on the page as quickly as possible, and it’s hard for me to really settle into any other way. In part, I’m scared that if I slow down, I’ll lose the idea. In part, I’m self-conscious about what I write, and I cringe to really see it. So dumping the thoughts onto the page this way is easier. In part, I’m just bored. Once I see what something is, once I see that I can do it, I just want more of that feeling, not to focus on the tedious details. Another part is the same problem that ruins a lot of things for me: I’m afraid to get immersed in one thing, because it will take time and I’ll lose the opportunity to do other things.
But I think those instincts are wrong.
I think the fear of losing the work is wrong. If each idea really follows from the next, I’ll see it more clearly if I do it slowly.
I think the self-consciousness is wrong. Self-consciousness can be the death of creativity. Whatever I can do to get around it is a good thing, but if I can fully conquer it, I’ll be better.
I don’t know if it’s boredom I’m describing, or compulsion. When I’m in the right state of mind, I love the details, I’m content to sink into an experience rather than just recreate the exciting part in a new place.
And of course, if I can't do any one thing, I can't do anything else.
I’m going to try to find my way around or through it. Sometimes I take a few passes. Sometimes I can slow down. I try to walk around a lot, think, at least let an idea bounce around for the time that it’s in my head and not on the page yet, even if it will stop bouncing once I let it out. On this website, I hard-code the text right into the html, with hopes that the tags will slow me down. But I cheat. This time, I wrote it out in Microsoft Word (TextEdit wasn’t open, and even though I much prefer it, I didn’t have that patience to move the mouse to the bottom bar of my computer to open a new program), then copy-pasted and threw the tags on afterward.
Bring a plastic or strong paper bag, and hang it on the wrist of your non-dominant hand, leaving the hand free. As you walk along, skim snow off nearby objects and pack snowballs. Drop them into the bag.
If you end up seeing anyone you know, you'll have a whole bag full of snowballs to throw at them. If not, your loss was very minimal - only a small amount of effort and time, and with the positive advantage of having had the fun and experience of making snowballs. You can leave the snowballs stashed outside of whatever place you go into, in case you need to pick them up later. Or you can just dump them out of the bag, keep the bag for later, and leave them to merge back into snow or for someone else to discover.
I started Mohsin Hamid's How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia a few Saturdays ago, and finished it that Sunday. It's a short book, with 230 pages and not much text on each one. I read The Reluctant Fundamentalist (also by Hamid) earlier (in a similarly short amount of time), and when I gave it to my cousin for Christmas this year, three people read it in as many days. I'm not going to spend too much time explaining who Hamid is and what these books are, because I'm not writing a report and I just want to get to my points.
Briefly, Filthy Rich (as I'll call it) is written in the second person, as a "self-help" book to a literally dirt-poor kid ("you") who rises through the ranks of an unnamed country (based on Pakistan, but written vaguely enough to be any of many places) to what is supposed to be extreme wealth. Each chapter of your life is prefaced by a self-help lesson, as well as the narrator's commentary about the nature of self-help books, and some analysis of his own lessons. The book is astute about the way circumstances, luck, and choices determine how people fare in the world, and it illustrates these observations concisely. It's tongue-in-cheek about the self-help angle, about narratives in general, and about its narrative in particular, but sincere about its points. It's also funny and arresting. It is easy to read and hard to not read. Reluctant Fundamentalist was similarly gripping, and was framed in a second-person monologue from a Pakistani man in Lahore to an American visitor (it is unclear, on both sides, whether they mean harm to each other). It is a little more thrilling, a little weaker, and much smaller in scope. Reluctant Fundamentalist was a specific response to the obsessions of the time (fundamentalism, 9/11, and the financial sector) but Filthy Rich is more directly about money and power, something far more universal.
I immediately got the sense, when I was reading the book, that Hamid might be the best writer going right now, and on that level, I don't think other writers, even writers I love or who may be more talented, have much of an argument. There's a sense in which everyone else is writing the same book, and Hamid is writing a different one. It's written in the second person, for one, with the self-help framing device. It uses no names; not for countries, cities, people, brands, movies, anything. It summarizes major life events in a few words; only the stories that figure in major decisions by the protagonist are described as scenes. All in all, it spans a man's whole life, from early boyhood to death, in what looks like, from a quick calculation, 50,000-60,000 words. The timeline is not only non-specific, but probably impossible; the story is set vaguely in the modern era, with DVDs and cell phones figuring prominently, but there's little progression of history as the narrator progresses through life. The "you"s from each chapter, years or decades apart in age, could all be imagined to exist at once in the same city.
In short, it's not an instance of literature repeating itself.
One thing that's immediately impressive is Hamid's awareness of conventions as choices, rather than as necessities. Of course, more conventional authors could be well aware of this too, and still be making those choices; but there's a sense in which adding one more story, even a very good story, in the same tradition, feels redundant and meaningless, and it feels like it's in that sense that Hamid is writing. (And of course, any essay that uses "sense" and "feel" this often is likely to be bullshit; but it's very hard to write about fiction in another way.) And, like many creators who make different choices, Hamid kind of makes conventions seem silly. Why use names? The point is not in the names at all, and the specificity just seems arbitrary and, worse, makes the text subject to our varying notions about these names and places and products. Why not give the reader explicit lessons, and talk about the text? If that's what we're trying to do, it doesn't help to be coy. Why use the third or first person to try to put the reader into the eyes of the protagonist? The second person does this directly. But the biggest statement is the economy of words. Get to the point! What are you building with all these small moments?
Obviously, this stuff only hits so hard because the book works. And the book only works because it's entertaining. And it's entertaining because it's funny, and because it has some pulpy draws. Death, power, sex, money. They're among the most important topics in life; it's not fair to write them off as a type of heightening, because they are what really matters. But he does paint in broad strokes. Broad is not necessarily bad; breadth is valuable, and big pictures contain a lot of implications for the smaller ones. But there's an art to building a world of detail, keeping a pace of everyday life, richly layering dialogue and close psychological state. It's missing the beauty of that art. That makes it all the more remarkable that it succeeds without it, and that we don't miss those dimensions. It's a powerful statement, and a redefinition of structure. But it would be wrong to pretend that Filthy Rich has everything. If all books were like it, we'd be blown away by the ones that weren't.
And Hamid isn't all strength even within his own rules. One of the weakest parts of the Reluctant Fundamentalist was the narrator's relationship with a woman named Erica; she was in part an allegory for America, but beyond the analogy, her character rang thin and was distantly described. The love interest in Filthy Rich (named "the pretty girl," consistent with his non-specific naming conventions) was more interesting, and allowed for astute observations about status and love, but her constant reappearances in the plot seemed contrived in a way that the rest of the book wasn't, belonging to a different kind of causal chain, with the coincidence and improbability going without comment. In a book that for the most part was fastidious about documenting the reasons behind the small twists of fate that made extraordinary success possible, the intertwining of these characters (her and "you") was played more like fate and magic.
Hamid's also not the best sentence-writer, or the best paragraph-writer, or anything like that. He's good but not great at those things. And there's a tendency to see greatness in the things best-executed, to believe value comes from flawlessness and expertise. But perfecting a method doesn't always trump finding a junky way to do something else (not that Hamid is junky; but even if he were). Things like the first telephone, the rigged-up carbon dioxide scrubber on Apollo 13, Larry Bird's awkward-loooking basketball game, a messy curry goat roti are always more impressive to me than Rolexes, gourmet wine, and anybody's golf game. (I don't even like Larry Bird -- too many asshole Larry Bird fans, nothing against Larry himself -- but it was impressive what the man got done without ever looking smooth.) And I firmly believe that things are defined by the heights they reach, not the absence of flaws, even in literature. A Confederacy of Dunces was uneven, petered out at the end, and never really built to a greater whole. But it's so fucking funny and imaginative it won a Pulitzer Prize, and deserved it.
That comparison aside, Filthy Rich didn't remind me too strongly of any other books, but it did remind me of two exceptional works in other forms. The first is the TV show The Wire. The Wire is a better TV show than Filthy Rich is a book. It's frequently rated as the best, or one of the best, of all time. It does relies on typing (although the types more complex than the genre standard) for some of its characters at the expense of deep emotional portraits, and at times it seems to reduce them to the sum of the social forces acting on them. But even if it doesn't have as complex a close view as something like The Sopranos, its focus on the structural issue held a strong understanding of reality that individual-centric shows often miss. It's one thing to describe the world, as it appears to us and as it is experienced by us; but people's fates and actions are determined more by these broad forces than by what we see in close focus. It's certainly not the whole truth, or even the truth most resonant at the base level, but it's a level that's missed, or only seen in small slices, by the vast majority of shows. And, through Hamid's succinct observations, Filthy Rich seems similarly aware of the factors of luck and position that contribute to his character's rise from an expansive frame of reference. The author continually places the micro-level events of the story within a macro view, so that the elements that make that particular story particular are always in focus.
Like Filthy Rich, the Wire is highly entertaining. It's a show about cops and drug dealers. There are corrupt dockworkers, political scandals, and plagiarism in the newsroom. Even the schoolteachers are dealing with bloody fights and open power struggles. The stakes are always heightened, which makes for good media. But it's not a detached entertainment; these forces are things that matter, and they're treated as things that matter. I don't think art (for lack of a better word) has to always exist in that realm of pragmatic weightiness. I have weird taste, and I have a taste for the absurd, obsessive, and meaningless; I love art about nothing, or art about abstract senses, or art that does have a deeper purpose but whose purpose is so far abstracted from the practical as to seem trivial, academic, or obscure. But the ability to say something true and important about the world is not only a value that matters, but it's something that plays back even into the experience of art. It's stimulating, in a special way, that doesn't require a trance, a departure from reality, or a special type of controlled insanity. There's a close integration of the mental functions that take a broad view of society and those that are invested in the story.
The other work it reminds me of is one that does dive into the pyschological, to the point of obsession. It's the video game Braid, which is unequivocally one of the best stories I've ever experienced. It's nominally a third person story, but since you play as the protagonist, it feels much more strongly like a second person story, and like Filthy Rich it employs vagueness to distill the meaning of its story. Braid is basically about the pursuit of perfection (particularly as it manifests itself in a personal relationship or an obsessive project) and the futility and perversity of such a pursuit. The gameplay itself is about running, jumping, and solving puzzles using mechanics that allow you to manipulate time, while collecting puzzle pieces. The connection to the character's more personal story (which we never learn in detail) is abstract. Each level has a different aesthetic, theme, and time mechanic, has the player complete a puzzle illustrating a different scene, and is set up by different pieces of a message about a man's life. It seems complex and it is; I've long intended to write an essay describing the game, and haven't gotten around to it. Filthy Rich is not as abstract as Braid, and it's definitely less [I'm not sure of the word here; it's along the lines of "precious" or "pretentious," but I don't think it was contrived, I felt that it was earnest and I think it really did hit all the marks it aimed for]. But in both works, the creators went without a lot of detail in order to capture the parts of the story that really mattered, letting the audience do more internal storytelling, letting their imagination fill in different spaces.
Like Filthy Rich, Braid is deeply skeptical of its own medium, and its own goals. Hamid is explicit; his chapter introductions openly mock the concept of self-help, and the choices he advises on the way to wealth often involve dark moral turns. In Braid, the signs that you're doing something wrong are there, and are clear in hindsight, but they're hidden in the surreality of the game. The music grows more dissonant; the character turns grow darker; the castles at the end of levels show more and more decay, and the friendly wooden dinosaur's messages about the princess you're supposed to rescue become less and less hopeful. In Filthy Rich the end is never reached; you are weakened by a heart attack, lose the business and die relatively poor and feeble. In Braid you finally reach "the Princess," but are revealed to be the antagonist she was running from. Both protagonists are left to really become something after the decay of their goals; "you" are left ruined and feeble (though not fully impoverished), and your few loves and considerable experience are what get you through the rest of life. The player in Braid is left in an epilogue with assorted fragemnts of the past, both from the game and from the character's nebulous backstory, to ponder the mistakes and lessons and try to make something of the pieces. They're stories about approach, not results. They rebuke the passive "and then what happens?" relation of the reader to the narrative.
Another strong similarity between Braid and Hamid's novels is that they're remarkably compact for their respective mediums, and both creators (Braid was designed by programmer Jon Blow) have explicitly stated their belief in making short works out of respect for the audience's time. It feels like a more important statement (and a bigger "fuck you" to the mainstream) from Blow, since video games are often so directly designed to be lengthy that the number of hours of playable time can be a selling point, but a more subtly surprising statement from Hamid, since time spent reading is more commonly thought of as time virtuously spent.
And that's the big motherfuckery of Hamid's work, to me. He calls out books on their bullshit. I love books. I get a lot out of them. I laugh out loud at them like a psycho, and I yell "yes!" at them when I agree with some point that resonates with something I believe but couldn't, until then, articulate or even envision articulated. Sometimes really good stories make me put the book down and just go "holy shit" for a while. But I think I'm overtrained for my style of books, by books, by other media, by my own cultural experiences. I'm deep in the rabbit hole, and that's where something like Steps or Blood Meridian or Gravity's Rainbow or "Everything That Rises Must Converge" can hit me (the latter might get everyone, though). I'm not sure what the elements of this training are, but I think I know my tailor-made products when I see them. And to some extent those books, while beautiful and complex and with, on some levels, profound statements about humanity, are just a form of obsession. They say things that ring meaningful to me and they shatter assumptions, but are they really any use?
It's easy for me to say that my own tastes are subjective; it's harder, sometimes, for a whole group of people, or for a particularly literary tradition, to see how much subjectivity, and how much circumstance, determines what to them seem like the objective merit. Often, the barriers to really getting (we need some word more specific they get but not as hyperbolic/obscure as "grok"; or maybe we have this word, and I need to learn it) a work are things like familiarity with a certain style of speaking, or a certain way of connecting logical principles, or a certain set of references. And these certain specifications aren't necessarily based on merit, but on circumstances, or trends, or critical mass, or tradition, or chance. These, of course, are what determines everything, and it's something Hamid undertands intuitively and expresses eloquently. It's a book about contrast, about the size of the world and the relatively small size of the world in which most books are written.
The irony, which Hamid embraces, is that he comes from the tradition too. The choices don't resonate the same way if you don't know the conventions, the contrasts don't play if you're not from the west.
Breaks from tradition owe a large debt to the traditions themselves. Braid doesn't make as much sense if you never played Mario. In a way, the job of someone like Hamid or Jon Blow is easy. You just knock down what's been set up. But if it's so easy, why isn't it always being done?
I don't know if Hamid is the best writer right now, or even the most innovative, or the most creative. But he's doing something nobody else is, and it would be bullshit to ignore that.
I don't know how to write a novel or how to make a real computer program, but I'm programming a computer to write a novel as part of a challenge called "NaNoGenMo." I made a very rudimentary version that just mixes up the words from a source text and arranges them into the shape of sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, with basic capitalization, punctuation, and formatting.
I fed it Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream," the inaugural addresses of JFK and FDR, the first 31 verses of Genesis, Bob Dylan's "Positively 4th Street," "Please Crawl Out Your Window," and "She's Your Lover Now," Radiohead's "Let Down," Ghostface Killah's "Fish," Othello's final speech, Hamlet's soliloquy, and several pages from the first of the Feynman lectures on physics.
The first book it generated was called "A Act Process," and here were some phrases I enjoyed, all from the first few paragraphs of the first chapter (it's 50,000 words in all):
Last Stop Gourmet Shop, a cheap diner at the end of the Rockaway Park Shuttle line (there's a door directly to the restaurant from the subway tunnel), is my kind of place. I've always loved diners that put their kitchens on full display, and theirs is one of the best I've seen. There's chaos, clutter, redundancy, inconsistency, and all the other features of human life.
Employees move around a central island, inhabited by counters, refrigerators, appliances, and a big heating table holding with metal tubs of various side dishes. When I came in, the lids and spoons were at all different angles, and some tubs had even broken the plane of the heating tray to jut out above their peers. On shelves and crates below and above the workspace dishes, glasses, coffee mugs, storage boxes, and cartons of tea bags were stored facing every possible direction. Five large sets of keys hung unlabeled on the wall next to one of several fire extinguishers, pictures of the owner's family that took up less than half the space of their frame, and the restaurant's crookedly hung safety certification.
Near the window, which faces Beach 116th street (the main conduit between Rockaway Beach on the sandy Atlantic coast and the small 9/11 memorial on the rocky Jamaica Bay coast) is another counter, where the waitresses were stowing some of their belongings. They'd pour cups of tap water, set them down, and take hasty sips while shuffling between the kitchen and the customers. At one of end of the counter, a copy of the New York Post and a small black bag sat on top of a partly-used case of Snapple bottles, abutting a quarter-full beverage between brown and yellow in color, with large still bubbles clinging to the hard plastic sides of the cup. At the other end, a Star Grill-Max hot dog machine was out of commission - its metal plate was bent up at one side, and its rollers were occupied by three tabloid newspapers topped with a dry erase board.
At the far end of the kitchen is a doorless doorway, and couple feet behind it, a defunct black door that was serving as a wall. Among the things hanging on it were three different clipboards. One had what looked like a shift schedule. Another had a handwritten sheet of paper on the board and a green chef's hat hanging off the handle of the clip, and a third held one of the restaurant's paper menus, upside down. Next to it were nailed (or pinned, or stapled - it's not in my notes) two Powerball tickets. On the right end, a white wire frame, about as thin as a coat hanger, served to cradle a large silvery metal scoop. Next to it was a brass door handle. But a large steel appliance was in the way of where the door would open. When people came through the doorway (walking around the door-wall into some unseen back room), they come back toting plastic buckets of things like pre-made Caesar salad to the cooks who would assemble plates and pass them onto a shelf above the central island.
There's an intimacy to a place like that that never comes from anywhere designed to feel like a home. You're not treated like one the guests, but as someone whose presence is accepted by default - it isn't a thing. You're trusted implicitly not to be judgmental, considered mature enough to see things as they are, not as they're dressed up to be.
Everyone seems well-suited to that environment. The owner came out at one point to chat with the cooks, and leaned against a cart carrying hot dog buns (he was the only person in the place not in constant motion). He wore a thick mustache, glasses, and a horizontally striped shirt - big yellow stripes, medium white ones, and narrow black ones - that strained against his ample belly. The waitresses answered customers with "yeah" and "what" and "sure." Those aren't words that they teach - those are words people use. There's none of the distance of polite conversation, which is not the kind of conversation you have with people you're at ease around.
The customers, too, conducted their business without the need for social negotiation or rigidity. One bald, fat man (this is not a place to euphemize him as "larger") walked halfway up to the counter from his seat. "You have my check?" There was no shortness to his tone - he was just asking a question. "Sure." The response was just as informational.
A girl, who looked like a high school senior, came in to place a long food order, all while texting someone on her iPhone. The screen was cracked, not just the familiar shattered glass pattern that almost looks like a style choice, but with a full piece missing from the top of it, exposing part of a circuit board. "Can I come back?" "Yeah."
A man with hair gray hair outpacing his apparent age and shockingly bloodshot eyes came in and called the girl at the register by name. "Rosie?" "What?" "Quick cup of coffee please." She turned around and filled a paper cup from one of the five coffee pitchers behind her (with no apparent distinction between them, except that they were all filled to different levels), the man handed over a dollar, and he was on his way.
Culture like that isn't anyone's plan. It develops from people wanting simple things - money, a bite to eat, a cup of coffee, a job. At some point, an enterprising business owner saw a way to make money serving big portions of cheap food right near a busy train station without a lot of competitors present. He didn't need a place with an absurd name, a giant red hose snaking through the roof into the kitchen, a bright blue scaffolding with plastic poles and metal shelves, or a sign on the bathroom that says
ε wait for a
response. If the
bathroom is not
a waitress ε
they will buzz
But those are the things he got. It's not art. It is the thing itself. A simple demonstration that the world is messy, a place that requires a messy metaphysics to describe it, that resists any theory too structured. The rules are constantly rewritten based on the facts on the ground. Protocol is stripped away, and a small creativity is needed for even the simplest of tasks. The reductions have not all been made.
Of course, my description and perception of this place shapes it toward a certain (or uncertain) kind of essence, draws it away from that honesty of reality that I see in it. I don't know the place at all - I wandered in once, as a stranger, ordered, drank my soda, ate my fish and fries and salad, looked around excitedly, wrote things on index cards, and left. I asked no questions - and even if I had, I wouldn't have learned what the place was, or is. There is no "is." It takes many shapes or images, or whatever we call the collection of thoughts and emotions, in the minds of different people; and those in mine, which I have inarticulately, vaguely, and incompletely described here, cannot be very close to the center of mass of those clouds of thought, if that's what we're saying the place "is."
Every once in a while I wander to a place that matters to me, and sometimes when I try to describe it, I feel like an intruder. It seems disrespectful to enjoy in others what they may see as flaw, or illusions in themselves, or what they may not see as part of themselves at all. Yet I think it's necessary; it seems like a simple fact of perspective and perception, and the best that I can do is not mistake my Last Gourmet Shop for what is to itself.
All this is obvious, but it is very easy to forget the obvious. It's impossible not to. There's always more obvious to forget.
*It is the policy of Rolling Stone to, in the event of the tie, regard the two tied individual(s) and/or band(s) ("entities" s. "entity") as a single entity for listing purposes, so that each number will have at least one entity in its place, even if this policy, in the event of a tie at any place in the list, results in a number of entities higher than the number of entities implied by the title of the list, and even if this policy, in the event of a tie at any place in the list, results in succeeding entities being placed next to numbers implying a higher rank (and lower number) than would be dictated by a simple count of the total number of entities outranking these entities, due to the belief on the part of the editors of Rolling Stone that the satisfaction of having an entity corresponding to each number is more important to the readers of Rolling Stone than is numerical accuracy.
They ate Mandarin oranges in heavy syrup out of cans, one man and the same man, too, no more real than the first, both figments of the same imagination. They saw no reason they should have different names. They saw nothing, really, besides exactly what they needed to.
"What do you think of Clementine?" said one. "She's light," said the other, "and like a feather."
The first one paused, and dropped the orange slice that was on his fork back into the can. He had intended to eat it, and perhaps several more slices, as his friend spoke. But the answer had been unexpectedly short, and unexpectedly stupid.
"She's light?" he said, "and like a feather?"
"She's light and like a feather," the other repeated, stubbornly. He stuck out his jaw, as stubborn people do.
The first man threw his hands up and shook his head in disbelief. "What are you talking about?" he said, incredulous. Then he said things that a reasonable person would say about how that's a ridiculous thing to say about a person as a summation of who she is. How much there is to her world, and how little any fantasies someone might have based on such trivial things as how she looked, how she moved, had to do with that. How narrow and irrelevant a view that was of an entire person, an entire life, an entire world.
"I guess I'm just a romantic," said the second guy. He looked sad, in part because his eyelids were sagging, his lower lip portruding, his platysma muscle clenched drawing his neck tight and his face into a frown. "What do you think of her?"
"I think she's a bitch," said the first guy.
"Sold out your story for a misdirection," said the second writer to the first. They sat in a cafe. They drank coffee just made with hot water poured directly onto grounds in their mugs. Nobody worked at the cafe and they had been too impatient to figure out how to use the coffeemaker. The writers stared off into a jungle hillside that looked the same as one I had seen in Belize across from where I ate breakfast. But they weren't in Belize, necessarily.
"Worse than that," the first writer said, "it's the opposite of my point. I wanted to get into the idea that romanticism can be dehumanizing. Or what people call romanticism. Where it's taking something external about someone and building a story around it that has nothing to do with who that person is. That what you see in someone isn't always insight, or even humanity. That it's a pretty picture that overwrites who they really are."
"Then why didn't you write about who she is?" said the second writer.
"How would I? I don't know her. "
He took stock of the situation.
"Problem is I don't have any details. Not even in the guy's false image of her. I don't know what he thinks, really. I can't care enough to make a plausible picture of it. And the other one, too. I cared too much about the truth of what he said to risk writing it out."
The other guy laughed. "Well, yeah, it's a problem that you're a coward. It's also a problem you tried to write a bullshit story. Two guys have an argument and one of them's right? That's not a story."
"Even so," said his friend "it's a good point you bring up. Do you think it's possible that there's as much beauty in complexity as there is in simplicity? Or at least in true simplicity as there is in illusion?"
"I hope so," said the first writer.
"Prove it, then."
Both of them knew that it was time to shut up. "Better later than never," they each thought. They stayed drinking their coffee and staring into the cliffside as their world ceased to be further generated, and maybe it never would be again.A story fully executed is one thing. This is something too
"Pardon me sir, do you have any Grape Oupon?"
"God bless you, sir."
A man sat on a chair.
It had happened before. Different men, different chairs. This man and this chair. Different times.
He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees and bent his head and rested his head in his hands, with the bulges under the thumbs on the palms of his hands fitting into his eye sockets, his thumbs under his cheekbones, his fingers running up his skull.
Although he rested his body, his mind was not at rest.
Once there was an Arab. Twice there was an Arab. Time and time again there were Arabs. There are Arabs."What's a Arab?" asked the child. "It's a kind of person," said the old man "basically just a person. Some day you might learn to tell who is an Arab and who is not. But you don't really do anything differently. It's not important."
But this story is about one Arab. She lived in a village."She?" said the child. "You said he was a boy."
Every day in the village she went to the market."Grandpa," said the little girl, "if it doesn't matter that she's a Arab, why did you say she was?"
1a. A room with a switch. One side of the switch is labelled "numbness" and the other "pain." It starts on numbness.How long can you hold out before flipping the switch?
1b. After a while they move you along. This room has no switch, just a window. Someone else is in a room much like the one you were in before. Whenever the switch is on "numbness," you feel the pain. Whenever the switch is on "pain," numbness. The window is one way. The person can't see you.
1c. They bring you back into the first room. This time the switch starts on "pain."How long can you hold out before flipping the switch?
2a. A room with a switch and a window. On the other side is a person. A woman perhaps. Your room has a switch. The two settings are "yours" and "hers." The switch is on "hers." You see that she is suffering. You see that she cannot see you.How long before you flip the switch? >
2b. After a while they take you out of your room and move you into the room she was in. You can tell by the water stains on the wall. As soon as you enter the room you begin suffering. When you look toward the window, all you see is a mirror.
2c. They bring you to a new room, with no switch, no window, and no mirror. Just two doors. They bring her in through the other one.What can you say?
2d. They return you to the first room. You suspect you'll be moved to the second.How do you use the switch now?
2e. They move you back to the second room. There's nothing to do but take the pain or not and to think about what's happening on the other side, and to think about what you'll say.
2f. They move you again, but it's not to the third room. You're in the room with the switch and the window. Whether you'll ever go back to the third room they won't say. They never speak.Can you make the pain into a language?
3a. When in the line to hell you're picked out to be promoted to staff. Your job is to design rooms, invent tortures. You're given pills to remove your empathy, and your nerves are implanted with silicon chips that give you perverse reactions to the pain of your subjects. Agony is ecstasy, fear is power, turmoil is calm. Sweetest of all is guilt, which makes you feel whole as a person, makes you feel right.
3b. They stop giving you the pills, the chips are removed. You're left out in a field with nobody around.
3c. They come and get you. It's time to begin work again. This time there will be no pills, no chips. You do have the option to refuse your job; if you do, you'll be entered into your own designs as a subject.
4. A room full of fire. You are suspended in the middle of it with metal chains. They grow red hot but never melt. Your flesh is charred but never falls off, your nerves never die. Nobody ever comes in or out. The smoke exits through a vent in the ceiling.
5. Your life is replayed before your eyes. It's not how you remembered it. Everything you thought you did right ends up ruining someone's life. Everything you thought of as a triumph, someone sits there laughing at you. You ask the guard if it's the truth. He doesn't say anything. They never speak.
Start with a thought.
If you don't have a thought, proceed to the next step
Write the thought down.
If it doesn't come out right, instead of doing something else, fix it.
Think of the next thought. This will probably make you think of many more thoughts.
Instead of just thinking the thoughts and then immediately doing something else so you don't have to complete the tedious following steps, complete the tedious following steps.
Quickly jot down all the thoughts you have that are relevant to what you're writing? I don't know. This usually backfires
Proceed to the thought that follows the thought you wrote down.
Instead of either jumping ahead in your mind and not writing anything down, or doing something else and not thinking anything and not writing anything down, do in fact write that thought down.
If it doesn't come out right, fix it? Or go on ahead?
Don't worry, you're never really gonna get through it
Write down a few of the things
Eventually you die
I'm sure by now many of you have been corrected by fans of the show "Downton Abbey" when you called it "Downtown Abbey," because the creators of the show chose a name that is very similar to a real word, but right near the end it isn't. I was fooled by it too. It's a very poorly named show. Here are some names that are better than "Downton Abbey" because they would not be confused with "downtown":Bulmer Abbey (would be confused with Baltimore, but only when spoken)
And that's if you insist on calling the damn thing an abbey. There's plenty of other things to name a thing that don't make it sound like it's populated by nuns and monks.
Here's some abbeys that are downtownNewark Abbey in downtown Newark, NJ
I'm sure there's many more. It's not such an outlandish concept, a downtown abbey. So downtown brothers and sisters, get off your high horse; I know you fantasize about riding horses through "shires" and "ridings," but thanks to the ruthless capitalist Henry Ford who barely inherited a damn thing and got his cash through innovation and exploitation, and Dwight Eisenhower, who had no birthright to his office and got it through military heroics, artful rhetoric and commie-scaring, we have a much better way to get around. I think a show about a downtown abbey in El Paso could be mighty fine television.
The first season of Whitney is in full swing, and DavidIscoe.com reporter Caroline Jacobs was in Hollywood to catch up with the action. What follows is her interview with Whitney junior set carpenter Steven Millbank.
CJ: So you're a set carpenter for Whitney -- how'd you land that job?
SM: I've been in the carpentry business for years, ever since high school, working for my uncle's company in San Antonio. Ty Miller, who was my sophomore year roommate in college, works for the production company and put me in touch with some of the folks from the show, and I e-mailed them some pictures of my work, wrote a nice cover letter, and they told me to come on out here.
CJ: How's it different working in Hollywood?
SM: Well, they have the union out here, so it's a much different work schedule, different work environment. My uncle didn't run a union shop, so we didn't have standard fees, standard hours, it depended on the job. It was all family or people we knew, which might sound like patronage, or, I think nepotism's the right word, but really my uncle just wanted people that he knew would do a good job, and everyone there was someone he'd trained himself, the way he liked to do it. When I was little my friends and I would go out after school to my uncle's shop and we would just hang out there, ask him what he was doing. We even had a birthday party there where we made our own baseball bats, which may sound kind of lame or a little corny, but like those weren't really concepts we had at the time. Which is something that I miss. I wish everyone could have a childhood like that but at the same time, with population and technology where they are, it's not really that realistic and it's stupid to try to force things like that.
I'm rambling now...
CJ: Go ahead, no problem.
SM: No, I mean, you came to talk about the show, but yeah, it's different with the union. But we're paid well and this is pretty exciting and I get to work with some really talented people so I'm not complaining. I'm learning a lot.
CJ: What's the most exciting thing about working for Whitney?
SM: Just that people will see your work, I guess. That's a thrill. Your job is not to call attention to the carpentry, but something you made is on the camera, and, it's, what, the premiere was, what, 7.8 million people? I don't know, if 7.8 million people see something and they don't notice it did they see it? I mean is it any different if they see it or they didn't? Did anything remain in their brains? But then again, nothing stays in your brain forever, because you die. So I guess the question is whether it registers or not. I've heard the theory of thought-events but I'm not so sure that you can take any thought out of context, isolate it or whatever.
But in any case it's exciting to be on the big stage. And because it's a three-camera show -- do you know what that means, it's a term I just learned ---
CJ: That means it's filmed all at once from three angles, instead of adjusting for every shot ---
SM: Pretty much. Yeah. So places where they would do a location shot for a three-camera show, we'll build a set, which is pretty exciting. So the episode we just finished shooting, I don't want to give anything away, but there's an underground poker game, so we're building the saloon, the bar, the card table, everything. And it not only has to look good but it has to be open enough for the cameras and lighting. So that's a challenge, that's fun. And there's little things like Whitney's workshop, where he's always tinkering with the cotton gin, we're always adding to the set, because he makes modifications as the season goes on. It's not even scripted, it's just something we do for fun, but if there's guys like my dad -- or women like my mom, she's in the garage more than most men are -- if there's folks like them watching you know they're checking out Whitney's workshop to see what he's got in there.
CJ: What's your favorite plot so far?
SM: I don't --- I'm not sure it's my place to comment on the show, because I'm not one of the creators and I'm not really a show business person in that sense. But the most fun for me are the plots where they send Whitney somewhere we have to build something new. There's one where they send him out into Indian territory in a wagon, and I'm going to see if they'll let us build a working Conestoga wagon -- which would be amazing -- but even if they don't I'm still looking forward to it, building the Conestoga wagon set.
CJ: It's a funny episode?
SM: Is it a funny...? Yeah, I don't know. Okay. Yeah I mean. I haven't seen them film it yet but there are some parts that could be funny, some clever lines. A lot of funny writers on the show, a lot of funny actors. They're really talented people working here and they can make me laugh a lot so...
SM: Yeah there are a lot of great people on this show. Actually Tater Reilly - the sort of lumpy-headed bald guy over there who works on lighting, he used to be a writer with Letterman, hilarious guy. He'll tell you some stories. Man, that guy has some great stories. He told me this one about this cop who tried to arrest him in Idaho -- you have to hear Tater tell it. I don't know, he picked up a lot of stories, just being around for so long, and he's got a knack for the storytelling. I'll just hang around Tater eating my lunch, and hope he's in the mood to tell a tale. You can't make him. Well, Mary can, Mary Johannson, actually my first week there, she made Tater tell this one story that was really good.
This guy Grady Berke, who used to write with him at Letterman, he went backpacking down in Saudi Arabia, he's with a few friends from school, and they get their supplies and pack plenty of water and they go hiking into the desert along this rock ridge. They hike all day and they get to a lake and they camp out there, and Grady's been drinking a lot of water so he gets up at night and he's gotta take a piss.
Just for fun he decides to climb up a cliff's edge to piss, way down into the lake. He's just started pissing when he hears a sound behind him but he keeps on pissing, and he doesn't hear anything else so he finishes pissing, and he's getting his last shakes in someone grabs him on the shoulder.
He almost jumps off right there but it's all rock below him and he stops himself, so he backs up and turns around and he sees it's three guys with guns and they tell him to step forward, and two guys take him by the shoulders and they lead him down the ridge the other way, away from the camp.
They walk for a long way, not saying anything, and after about a mile they release him and tell him to keep walking and they walk about for another two hours and finally they get to a truck. They throw a blindfold on him and put him in the back of the truck and they drive for another hour and they take him out and lead him into a building and they give him chloroform and he wakes up in a room, looks like a basement, bare light bulb. He's in there for a while and then the door opens, it's a guy with food and water and two guys with guns standing behind him. The guy gives him the food and water and one of the guys with the gun tells him "you're our prisoner now, if you want to stay alive don't cause any trouble," and he asks them who they are and they leave and lock the door.
He sits and eats the food and drinks the water and looks around the room to see if there's anything he can use to help escape, or contact anyone, or make his life easier, or even to find out where he is. But there's not much he can find. The room is made of concrete, and it's cracked in some places but there's no paint. The toilet is concrete too, latrine style, or pit style, I should say, basically just a hole in the ground, and there's an air vent on the ceiling, concrete too and way too small to get through. There's a small mattress that he can sleep on and it's some kind of foam, not even any fibers or strings or springs inside it. There's something written on the light bulb but he can't read it because it's too bright whenever he looks at the lightbulb. And the lightbulb is too high to reach, and even if he could reach it it would be too hot to unscrew, and even if he could unscrew it he wouldn't be able to read it because it would be dark.
It's probably just the wattage or whatever but he obsesses over it because it's about the only information in the room.
So he frets for a while and goes to sleep and some time later the guys come back and give him the food and water and he tells them that he has money and that if they contact his family his family will reward them but if they keep him hostage too long they'll come looking for him and kill them. But the men leave again and lock the door. The one who brought him his food takes the trash away.
Every time it's the same thing; they bring the provisions, they take out the trash, they leave and lock the door. They never say who they are or what they want and they don't answer his questions. It goes like this for he doesn't know how many days, but it's eleven meals, and before the time when he expects his twelfth meal he hears several gunshots, and then running footsteps, and his heart starts beating fast and he's feeling the adrenaline pumping. The footsteps get closer and the door opens and in walks the man who brought him his food, holding a gun.
He starts to get up and the man points the gun at him and says "stay where you are" and Grady sits down on the floor and the man squats down in front of him and says "I hate you. I hate you, you American swine, and I wanted to kill you but my bosses said that we cannot and so I killed them and now I have come here to kill you." And Grady is shaking with fear and he doesn't know what to say and he just says "don't," and the man says "I have to kill you" and Grady says "no you don't, you don't have to do anything you don't choose to do."
And the man says "why would I kill my bosses, who share my faith and share my cause and who I killed because they would not kill you, and then not kill you?"
And Grady tells him it's a fallacy that his behavior has to be consistent, that's what Grady calls it anyway, says we can't make decisions in the past right just by making decisions in the present. That the fact that your consciousness currently exists between these two events means that they are not the product of a single thought. Not both the product of a single thought I mean. He tells him "your bosses are dead now whatever you do, that is not part of this decision. You have not already killed me and if you decide to kill me that is you deciding to kill me no matter how you choose to justify it. That is what you are doing now." Hearing this, the guy stands up, starts walking around, keeps the gun pointed at Grady.
"Let me tell you a story about something that happened to my uncle. He was a university professor working in India. A historian. Now, one day he got an argument with a lot of his colleagues and the argument he was making contradicted an argument he'd made in a paper that he wrote in 1982. So one of colleagues pointed that out and asked him how he could explain it and he said "I was wrong."
This caused a lot of uproar among the professors. One of them, a tall man, a veteran of the university, walked over to him and stood in front of his face, and asked him why, if he will not defend his words, should they take anything that he says seriously.
My uncle looked back at him and said "because I take the truth seriously. I take it more seriously than my reputation. In my search for truth, I am not looking for a truth that agrees with an article written 24 years ago. Even if I was the one to write it. I am looking for a truth that fits the honest truth that this world presents to me."
And the professor breathed out slowly through his nostrils and turned away from my uncle and started pacing around my uncle.
He said,"and Grady stands up, now, in the cell, and starts walking around to imitate the professor,
" "Mr. Berke, when I choose my words I choose words that will stand the test of time, not words to be thrown away the next time they are convenient. And if the kind of words you speak are the other kind, then we know now how to judge them."
And my uncle says, "Let me tell you the story of Al Murphy the monk." "
At this point Grady goes over to lean against the door, and the soldier points a gun at him but lets him remain.
Grady continues his story.
"My uncle said
"Al Murphy was a monk who lived in a monastery in the plains of the United States, and one summer he made a rash of bad choices and was unsatisfied with his discipline and his wisdom and he vowed to climb to the top of one great mountain where he believed he would find his way. He had been talking about this mountain for years, but one day he made the decision to go, so he took three months to set his things in order and make his plans and settle his debts and then for three more months he travelled to a town on the foothills of the mountain range, and he worked there for seven months, gathering supplies and acquiring wisdom and making his final plans to scale the mountain. He hired porters to carry provisions to waypoints along his route, and he gathered his personal equipment in his pack, and he set off climbing up the foothills.
On the first week he was attacked by a bobcat. He had gone his life without harming animals and he shook a stick at the cat to fight it off but it would not back away. It lunged at him and he jabbed the stick at its face and its eye popped out of its skull and he was overcome with pity for this poor creature and horror at himself and he staggered back and sat down and began to cry. He saw the creature slowly walking up to him and he turned his head away and the cat leaped up and clawed at his neck. He turned around and flung it away and it hit a tree and its back was broken and he bashed its head with a rock to put it out of his misery. He skinned the cat and kept its fur and with a heavy heart he proceeded up above the foothills.
It was a few days' journey until he reached the first hut where his provisions had been dropped. Along with the food was a message from his sister. Her business was failing and she begged for him to return to the town and help her and he sat and thought and he wrote that he had made an oath to God to climb the mountain and that the bond between man and God is more sacred even than between man and family, and sacrifices must be made. And with his heart heavier still he proceeded up into the low mountains.
In the weeks that followed his right arm became infected where it had been scratched by the bobcat. At the next hut a traveling doctor saw the wound and tried to persuade him to evacuate to the nearest town and go to the hospital, where his wounds could be treated. Otherwise, he said, he would die unless the arm was amputated. So be it, said Al Murphy, and offered to pay the doctor with the bobcat fur if he would amputate the arm. The doctor begged Al Murphy to retreat to the town but Al refused, and so the doctor amputated his arm below the elbow and with great sadness Al Murphy continued on his way.
In time he was approaching the high mountains, and he drew up to the hut at the base of the snow-capped mountains. There, to his surprise, along with his provisions, was a messenger. He brought word from Al Murphy's sister and said that she was in great strife and that if Al would not return she would leave the town and disown him. Al took from his pack a ring that his mother had given him to give to his first wife, before he joined the priesthood, and he had never given it back, and it was a ring of gold and he held it before the messenger and said. "This ring is pure gold, and it will be yours if you do as I say. Do not return to the town from which you sent this message. Hide away two weeks in the most inconspicuous inn or tavern on your route, and then when you return, tell the man in the office that you searched for two weeks and that I did not appear, that you do not know if I am alive or dead but your provisions were running short and you had no choice but to leave." And the porter said that he hated to do it but he could hardly refuse such a prize as the ring, and despite great consternation he accepted and with great consternation on his own part Al Murphy resumed his journey.
Eventually he came to a lower peak, a great distance from his destination but near enough that he hoped to look upon the peak that he had vowed to climb. When he got up to the top, the peak on which he stood was shrouded in clouds, and he could see nothing but mist in any direction. He waited all day for the clouds to dissipate, and soon it was nightfall and the air grew colder and the wind grew stronger but still the clouds remained, so he took his things and moved onward along the trail.
In the morning he woke up and instead of climbing upward, he descended. Scavenging for his food, he made it to a trail, and working for room and board and a few provisions he made his way from inn to inn until he returned to a town where he hitched a ride on a wagon back to his hometown and returned and told his tale. And they listened, fascinated, but one man stood up and said, "Your story doesn't make any sense. Why would you kill the animal, and shun your sister, and give up your arm, and sell your mother's ring, and bribe a man to lie, all to not even see the peak of the mountain you set out to climb?"
And Al Murphy said "Why would I do all those things? Because I was a fool. Why did I not make it to the peak? I changed my thinking." And from that point on, in that town, Al Murphy was considered a wise man."
The professor stood in front of my uncle and chewed the seeds he was chewing, and he spit out the tough parts, and he said "This is not the great plains of America, this is a higher institute of learning that is respected worldwide. Now let me tell you a story I read in the writings of Immanuel Kant." "
At this point the guard interrupts him and asks "have you read The Thousand and One Nights?" and Grady says "no, what's it about?" and the guard shoots Grady through the head. And that was the end of Grady, just like that. I don't know what the guard did after he shot him. Actually I don't know how Tater even knew that but that's the story he told me. He also told a story about what happens to his friends after they escaped to Riyadh that was even better.
CJ: Did he say why the guy shot him?
SM: Did who?
CJ: Tater? Was that the guy's name?
SM: Yeah, I don't know. I think maybe he thought Grady was wasting his time trying to stay alive with his stories, like in The Thousand and One Nights, Tater said when he told it that he thought the guy was insulted that Grady hadn't read the Nights, and fancied himself a storyteller, and I guess the guy's right, The Thousand and One Nights is much better than what Grady was saying. Funny thing is Grady did know about it but he knew it as Arabian Nights. I say funny thing, I guess it is a little funny, not to laugh at the guy's death or anything, but what a little thing to get shot over. Then again maybe if he'd said yes the guy would have shot him anyway.
CJ: Yeah, maybe he was trying to stall the guy, waste his time making him explain it.
SM: Exactly. We don't know these things.
CJ: So besides Tater, who's the most interesting person you've met? Have you talked any of the cast?
SM: Not really, I mean I chatted a little with Douglas Marville, the guy who plays Douggie. Seems like a good guy but I don't really know him that well. Tell you the truth they don't like us talking to the talent -- that's a weird term, right?
CJ: How do you mean?
SM: I mean, to say "these people are talented, all other people are not," it's just weird and not even accurate. I mean, it's only one kind of talent, I don't mean some bullshitty "everybody has a talent" thing I mean there are people here doing things very few people in the world can do. Like take Mary Johannson, our head set artist. Talented as fuck, if you don't mind my language. I know a lot of that is skill and tradecraft, which is like my category, but there's gotta be like, maybe a dozen people who can do what she does. How many actors are that talented --- I mean, whatever, you just gotta accept that it has a different meaning here, it's just a different word that also is called "talent" but it still bothers me sometimes, probably because I'm naive or some shit. Or something else like that.
But even for the actors, it's like they aren't people - they're this lump uncountable commodity, "talent."
I don't mean to get sidetracked, because really, it's a lot of fun working on this show, and I'm proud to be working with everyone, the actors and the crew. I'm lucky to be where I am and I'm aware of that. Although the fact that I'm lucky, I don't know what to do with that other than to accept it.
CJ: It's not just luck.
SM: No, but that's a big component, but yeah then again I don't know that it means all that much.
CJ: So getting back to the show, is there a sense of excitement here? Melvie Mathews [creator and head writer] seems to be the hot commodity right now. She's also got Melvie on CBS and Double Dip on FOX -- do you know how she manages that kind of schedule?
SM: Uh, she's definitely a high-energy person, sorry, just they're calling us back from break right now and I really got to go. Great talking to you though.
CJ: Thanks so much Stephen, I'll be sure to check out your work next time I watch Whitney.
SM: Really it's Mary who deserves the credit but thanks.
CJ: Thank you!
I thanked Caroline for getting the interview, and she disclosed that she's "kind of seeing Steven right now." Because I was attracted to her and had made an emotional investment in this attraction, it made me unhappy and influenced my opinion of him to be more negative. But the effect wasn't enough to make me not want to run the interview. I didn't think it was a conflict of interest for her to be dating him and also interviewing him. People have all sorts of interests.
I didn't express my emotions on the phone. I didn't congratulate her either. I don't know what emotions to express, but they shouldn't be other than the ones I have.
I published the article.
Whitney airs Thursdays at 9:30 on NBC!
A chayote a day keeps the flavor away
If you give a mouse a chayote... He's going to tell you to fuck off
Chayotes are on sale at grocery stores across Clinton Hill. Some places they're 2/$1.50, some places they're 3/$0.99. The prices vary, but the ceiling on quality is pretty low, because at best you're going to get a chayote.
What is a chayote? It is a tropical fruit. We think of tropical fruit as being tasty. Mangos, papayas, and guavas. Many of the less common fruits are also delicious. Soursop, longan, tamarind, lychees, and tamarinds are fruits with some great flavor that are kind of a pain to eat. Pineapples and bananas are tropical fruits that have been around so long we don't even think of them as exotic any more, but they are classic and accepted tastes.
But the chayote is not like these fruits. The difference between all these tropical fruits and chayotes are that chayotes taste terrible. Maybe it is more fair to chayotes to say that they have very little taste, and that that makes it a terrible experience to eat them. But to be fair to a chayote is to squander your fairness; they have no thoughts, and they have added nothing of any flavor to the world.
So what is a chayote? A chayote is a green thing that is about the size of a lumpy pear cut out of a softball. It splits easily into two halves, both equally flavorless, and in the middle of it you can find a seed, which is flavorless in a different, but equally flavorless way.
That's about all you need to know. If you see one, you can avoid it, if what you are looking for is something good to eat.
I went to Africa in July. Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique. I didn't take a lot of pictures, and I didn't come back with a lot of go-to stories, ready made for telling. People say "you must have stories," and "I want to hear about Africa" and I often get the sense that I'm disappointing them because they seem much more excited about the possibility of the stories than the stories themselves.
In Mozambique we saw whale sharks and swam with them and after I saw my first one our dive boat passed another one headed the opposite direction. We exchanged stories about the animals we saw, how big they were. Then we headed our separate ways. A guy on our boat, bald (I mention that characteristic because it stood out so much underwater, a white glowing head while most people had hair or hoods) guy named Matt, asked "Why do we exaggerate things?" People looked accused, so he clarified, "I mean, the whale shark really was that big," (and it was), "but why do we, as people, have to exaggerate?" Someone said it was because we're always trying to compete with other people. "It's also because we're trying to recreate the experience of what we saw, and it doesn't sound like it's getting the message across," I said. My recollection is that as I was more articulate than that, but it doesn't seem right that it would be easier to say something on the spot than to write it down afterward, and I haven't been able to come up with anything better.
Anyway, there's lots of things to do with exaggeration and that's just one important one, but this here story has nothing to gain from exaggeration because the whole story is that some guy said he was a chickenfucker, no more, no less.
I met a lot of characters in Africa, and my hindsight view of it is that I didn't talk enough to enough of them. Of course, that's easier said than done. Much easier, considering the direction of time, but what I mean is that when you recollect things it often takes you out of the moment and you forget the pressures and anxieties and concerns and distractions and the other things that may have been necessary but not as memorable, and were why you didn't do that thing in the first place. That said, one of the characters I should have talked to more was Unis the Chickenfucker.
I met him in the town center of Nairobi. I had just gotten a new SIM card and was trying to activate my phone, while my buddy Jason got caught up talking to some proselytizers. Unis and his friend came up to me, said hello, and "I am known as Unis, known as the Chickenfucker," or "My name is Unis, they call me the 'chickenfucker'," or "they call me Unis, the Chickenfucker" or some other sentence that communicated that his name was Unis and his epithet was chickenfucker. He said that he liked very much to fuck chickens. I proceeded to move down the street to try to find a place to eat, as Jason freed himself from the converters trying to bring Jesus into his Judeo-atheistic life. I asked Jason if he heard that guy say that he was a chickenfucker, he said that he did not. But at the next intersection Unis caught up with us again, and gave the whole introduction, stating vehemently that he loved to fuck chickens, that he was known for fucking chickens "I don't know why you do it," I started to say, and he interrupted, enthusiastically "I do! I fuck chickens!" I think his official claim was that he had fucked over 300 of them. He was famous for it.
It was a busy street and we left and heard no more from him but it's easy to believe that someone who loudly declares himself to fuck chickens would have had something else entertaining or interesting to say. There's got to be some story behind him getting to the state where he would be happily telling strangers that he fucked chickens, and it's probably a pretty good one.
But we had to go catch a bus to our friend's house and we'd been traveling a long time and it was a busy street and maybe he was running some scam and we just moved on and never heard more about the chickenfucking.
NOTE: I know the name is spelled "Eunice," but that's a woman's name and I was imagining the name as "Unis" and still sort of think of "Eunice" as being pronounced "You-niece." That goes along with the thought of that word in my brain even though I know it's "You-niss." I don't know how the chickenfucker's name was spelled. There was once a Pharaoh named Unas in Egypt and maybe he was named after him and maybe the Pharaoh fucked chickens too.
Episode One: "Not One Cottonpickin' Invention"
Whitney's wife Jane is ragging on him for being a loser and not having done anything, so he invents the cotton gin. Nobody takes the invention seriously, but then he gins a lot of cotton to help his daughter Sarabeth make her dress in time for the big cotillion ball. Everything goes well until his misbehaving son Danny gets drunk and vomits all over the new dress. Meanwhile, Douggie the slave tries several business schemes to buy his freedom.
Episode Two: "Cotton the Act"
Coming back late from work, Whitney catches someone trying to steal the cotton gin, but it's too dark to see who it is. He calls everyone from the plantation to a meeting and won't let them leave until the culprit fesses up. His paranoid behavior turns everyone against him, and when the lantern blows out somebody steals the cotton gin and nobody will tell him where it is until he apologizes. Meanwhile, Douggie works on his own invention to squeeze alcohol out of gin-soaked clothes.
Episode Three: "Gintleman's Club"
Whitney wants to get a patent for his cotton gin, so he has to make nice with some well-connected gentlemen in town. He bends over backwards to impress them, but when one of them demands to marry Sarabeth as payment, he decides it's gone too far. Meanwhile, Danny pretends he invented the cotton gin to try to get with the richest gentleman's daughter.
Episode Four: "Cottonginuity"
Whitney comes up with a modification to make the cotton gin more efficient, but Douggie, realizing the cotton gin means more slave labor, keeps tweaking it to make it slower. Whitney thinks he's going crazy, until Douggie finally feels bad for him and makes it even better. Whitney takes all the credit. Meanwhile, a hapless, bookish neighboor boy keeps trying to get a kiss from Sarabeth, which inspires Danny to set up a pay-per-view peephole outside his sister's bedroom.
Episode Five: "Pay My Bale"
Danny gets caught with a prostitute, and Whitney and the slaves have to scramble to gin enough cotton to sell for bail money so Danny can make it to an interview for University. Meanwhile, Sarabeth and Jane are running out of schemes to stall the University man, and Douggie teaches himself to read.
Episode Six: "Book of Ginesis"
After staying up late working on the cotton gin, Whitney oversleeps and misses church. The preacher mentions Whitney in the sermon, but nobody will tell Whitney what the clergyman said about him. Meanwhile, Douggie tries to come up with his own interpretation of Christianity.
Episode Seven: "Cottongin Territory"
Whitney goes to the big city to show his cotton gin to a group of investors, but has to pass through Indian territory and gets waylaid by a Cherokee war party. He needs to sell them on the cotton gin if he wants to make it out alive. Meanwhile, Danny, Sarabeth, and Jane compete to come up with the best Injun tall tale.
Episode Eight: "Ill-Cotton Gains"
Danny wins a lot of money at poker, and puts in a bid to buy the farm next door. Whitney is thrilled, until Danny has a bad night at cards and ends up losing the cotton gin. The whole family has to coach him for a shot at winning it back. Douggie surprises everyone with his expertise.
Episode Nine: "Boll&*$%"
A farmer from the next town says he has an invention better than the cotton gin, and tries to sell it to industrialists from the North. Whitney finds out it's a fraud, but when he tries to tip the investors off they think he's just jealous. Jane has to seduce the farmer to gather evidence, and Whitney wants to make sure it doesn't go too far. Meanwhile, when Sarabeth breaks her leg, Douggie shows that he's white on the inside.
Episode Ten: "I Don't Cotton to That"
Whitney wants Jane to join a swingers' club. She doesn't like the idea, but she promises him she'll join if he comes up with an invention she can use around the house. But all he can think of are different kinds of cotton gins. Meanwhile, Danny, at his first week at University, tries to start his own swingers' club.
Episode Eleven: "Like a Vir-Gin"
Sarabeth is caught with a boy in her room, and Jane and Whitney try to figure out how to hide the family shame. While Jane tells Sarabeth the secret of her own adolescent fling, Whitney puts the boy to work building cotton gins. He's so good at it that Whitney almost doesn't want him to leave. Meanwhile, Danny pursues the virgin of his dreams.
Episode Twelve: "Space Time Cottonuum"
In an hour-long special episode, Whitney stumbles through a wormhole into a future where his cotton gin has revolutionized the South, but nobody will believe that he invented it. He has to search this world for clues to figure out how to go back in time and stop the con man who stole his invention - and his wife! Meanwhile, Sarabeth and Jane hire an eccentric almanac maker to figure out where Whitney's gone, and Douggie falls into a wormhole to the past where he's a free man.
Episode Thirteen:: "For-cotton Dreams"
In the season finale, Whitney wonders what life would have been like if he'd pursued his dream of being a sea fisherman instead of working on farming and inventing. Jane encourages him to try, and she uses the free time to find out if she really could make it as an opera singer. Douggie tries to run away, and Sarabeth wants to move to the City; meanwhile, Danny gets kicked out of University. Through all their troubles, the family discovers how much they mean to each other, and Whitney finds that some things are even more important than the cotton gin.
When I first moved in to my apartment I used to have a nice view out my window to the west. The summer I moved in, they began construction on a giant rectangular building that blocks almost all of the view in that direction. I can still see the backyards of the houses on my block, and the church next door, but I can't see down the street anymore, because this big grey mass is in the way.
There's some variation around the edges, and especially at the top and bottom, but for the most part the face of the building is a grid filled with rectangles. The gridlines are concrete, about three feet wide, with grooves carved in them. They criss-cross to outline rectangles, nearly twice as wide as they are high. The rectangles are filled in one of two ways: in the middle, they're filled in with eight dark windows, in two rows of four, almost square but slightly higher than they are wide. On the sides, they're filled in with cinder blocks.
In the center portion, the gridlines are grey, slightly darker than the cinder blocks, but less dark than the windows (how much of the windows' darkness is tint and how much is a lack of lighting inside, I can't tell). Where the rectangles are filled in with cinder blocks, the gridlines are off-white (I don't know much about the particular kinds of off-white so I can't specify). The effect is that the gridlines are lighter than the windows in all parts of the building.* But overall, the border around the darker part of the building is lighter than that part (a reversal of the situation present in the grid and rectangles).
Anyway, on to the ghost. There's not one. There's just a person walking around a mostly empty building with no lights on, wearing white clothes and a white cap, and since the windows are dark and somewhat blurry it looks a little bit like there's a ghost there, and it's a pretty cool visual effect.
As for the "housing building?" The building is owned by the Housing Authority, and even though most of it is not being used, there are usually two security guards outside the front door, and occasionally people going in and out.
Probably should have gotten to the point sooner.
*What about the gridlines that separate the darker part from the lighter part, you might ask, if you have been following this and have not found it boring or confusing? I will answer your question: those gridlines are the off-white color.
fool's homer n.
In baseball, a ball hit fairly hard and with a high arc, easily caught short of the fence but resembling a home run to a casual observer.
Anybody who watches a lot of baseball knows what a fool's homer is, and you can tell how savvy a fan base is by how they react to them. Most Nationals fans, sad to say, cheer for them every time the Nats hit one, and gasp every time the opponents hit them. That is, if they're paying attention to the game and cheering for the Nats, neither of which is as common as it should be in Nationals Park.
But this isn't just a one-way verbal trade route. I'm also looking for two words, and I am now, in this blog post, starting two projects to find or create them. If such words exist they must be found and brought to my knowledge, and if not they must be created.
Wanted: a single word that is a stronger version of the noun form of most, e.g. "[plusmost] people can eat peanut butter without an allergic reaction." The word would be approximately equivalent to "the vast majority of," although it might be useful to have multiple words to express a variety of senses of "most,"such as "a clear majority of," "the vast majority of," "an overwhelming majority of," or even the weaker "a slight majority of," or "a plurality of." Is a plurality "most"? Not to me it isn't, but we could settle the issue once and for all.
But that can be a later goal - for now we can be happy with one word to basically replace "a vast majority of." This four-word, sixteen-letter, nineteen-character, seven-syllable phrase has been taking up valuable space, wasting valuable time, and ruining somewhat-valued elegance for far too long. There are ~120 million results for the exact phrase "the vast majority of" on Google. It is an important enough concept to deserve its own word.
Wanted: A word basically meaning "a stronger word for," eg, "[plusmost] is a [strongword] for most." We'd need a "weaker word" version also. Superlative and comparative don't work - take for example, the word "big". "Bigger" is a comparative, "biggest" is the superlative, but "huge" is a [strongword] of "big".
I am convinced that this word already exists and that I do not know it. But nobody has been able to find it for me, and if it does not exist, it is needed.
It's warm out (above 40 - warm enough for basketball) in New York now, it hasn't snowed for weeks. There's only a few patches left on the ground anywhere, from where it was piled highest, or maybe even those are gone. First it was dirty old snow, unfrozen and refrozen some high number of times, with shards of ice and shells of ice and most of what you'd call snow melted out. But now what's left is surprisingly clean for how long it's been out there.
The last time it snowed (actually, the time before that), I woke up, looked out my window, and was immediately annoyed, which bothered me because of how I used to feel about snow, which was a deep thrill. Here's not the place to describe that feeling in detail and I'm not the one to do it, but it snowed a lot every day when I was a kid, several times a winter, and it was always an event, a good one. The "Blizzard of '96," during which we got the news, one day at a time, that we had the day off school, was the best time of my life at that time in my life. Even through high school and college, I still got something out of the snow, on a gut reaction level
This time I didn't, and I had no excuse for it. I was working indoors, I have plenty of cold weather gear, and my work boots are very comfortable. Last year, I had an excuse, as I was working as an EMT. Part of my reasoning for taking that job was because I wanted to have practical complaints and real concerns and whatever moral benefit I thought that gave me (not too crazy, people take jobs for those kind of reasons all the time, even if they say it in different words). I still have some detailed memories from that winter, and the snow did cause trouble.
It was a long transport call, I forgot who I was working with but I was driving. It was a Thursday or a Monday. We were transporting an old man to a nursing home, for residency or for rehab. I can't remember if he was conscious or not but there was somebody conscious in the back telling us where to go, maybe a family member, maybe an attendant, I don't know. We met another family member when we got there, who came in his own car. He'd already scoped out the situation outside. We couldn't get in the parking lot through the normal entrance, it was too deep in snow, and getting worse, because snow kept falling. We backed out of that lot and went around the corner to the other entrance, where the snow was a little more packed down and there was a chance to move. It had this one steep part, though, and near the top of it were some parked cars, so I couldn't just gun it up the hill in a low gear because there was a real danger of hitting those cars if I started to spin. It was tough, too, because the ambulance is rear-wheel drive. Almost all ambulances in New York are rear wheel-drive, because pretty much everyone uses the Ford E-350 Super Duty, for both the Type IIs, which are vans, and the Type IIIs, which are the classic "box" ambulances sitting on a van chassis. A Type I is a box on a light truck chassis, but they're rarely seen, some of the better-moneyed volunteer squads and hospitals have one or two in the fleet, and one of the big Manhattan hospitals even has one on a medium-duty truck chassis, like a dump truck. Anyway, most of the ambulances, from SeniorCare to TransCare to FDNY, are the same Ford E-350 Super Duty. Midwood (which is a union company, maybe the only one in the area) has Chevys, but they're probably rear-wheel drive too.
I didnt know the ambulance was rear-wheel drive until I tried it in the snow that day, which sounds pretty dumb, but there had been people who had driven for years who didn't know it was even after the snowstorm. I might have known it before, but if that was the case I had forgotten it and I rediscovered it that day. Anyway, I made up the hill eventually, sans incident as they say.
One of the days (Wednesday, it must have been) it was snowing extra hard and they asked us to come in an hour early, but by the time I saw that, I was already going to bed about to be short on sleep so I only came in 40 minutes early or something. To my surprise, the MTA buses were running, so I didn't have to walk to the base, which is about 25 minutes from the subway stop in normal weather. The bus had chains on its tires and there weren't many other vehicles out on the road.
My regular Wednesday partner wasn't there when I got there, he had gotten there the full hour early and already been sent out, so they put me with this very tall female EMT who I'd seen before but never talked to. During our shift she spent most of the time talking on the phone. I only heard one side of the conversation but I could figure out what she was talking about, something personal that could have gotten around the company pretty fast if I told people about it. Either she thought I was dumb, she didn't care, or she trusted me not to say anything, but given that she didn't know me it was probably one of the first two.
Anyway, at some point in the shift, we got a call to Far Rockaway, to a nursing home that specialized in bariatric patients, big fat ones in more colloquial terms. This was a woman with a vaginal bleed, non-pregnant, an emergency Code Two which means we take the patient to the ER but don't use lights and sirens on the way there. My partner was driving. Another bus (ambulance) from our company passed us on the way, going Code One somewhere. The way out to the Rockaways is usually a speed zone. One time I was going around 70 mph to a Code One, and we got passed by another company's bus going at least 20 faster than us, maybe more. About a minute later, we saw them heading back to Beach Channel Drive from somewhere on the left, still going lights and sirens, evidently having taken a wrong turn. Anyway, she wasn't worried, we just kept going around the same speed, somewhere in the 40s I think, because of the snow.
Down the block from the nursing home we got stuck behind a snowplow. We were on a side street that didn't continue through the street the nursing home was on (a T-shaped intersection) and the plow couldn't make the turn. While we were waiting, two snowplows pulled up behind us. After a few minutes I got out to talk to them, see what the situation was, and after finding out the first plow wasn't likely to go anywhere any time soon, we had to back out down the block, and, because the nursing home was on a one way street and we weren't going lights and sirens, go around to the left side of the T, and have the snowplow back far enough down the street we had been stuck on to allow us to get by. The entrance to the nursing home was snowed over and we hit the buried curb the first time we tried to enter the driveway.
The dispatcher asked us why I didn't go inside first to make patient contact while we were stranded behind the snowplow, I don't know what I said but I had some good reasonable excuses. What if my partner needed help backing out? You can't argue against safety, or taking care of company property. Anyway, once we got there there wasn't anything for us to do, because the patient was big, over 600 pounds I think, and there were only two of us and we didn't have the bariatric stretcher anyway, and the nurses had already stopped the bleeding so we just had to take down the info, stay with the patient, wait for the crew with the big stretcher to show up for the lift assist. They took about 40 minutes, or maybe they didn't but that's what I remember. Between the four of us, we did a good job moving the patient, with one smooth pull of the sheets. One of the EMTs on the assisting crew said "bet you haven't been moved like that in a while," or something to that effect, and the patient giggled.
When we got to the hospital there was a long wait for something, maybe triage, maybe a bed for a patient, so there was a lot of downtime for us and the lift assist crew. My partner kept talking about how she had the system figured out, don't ever sign any incident reports, they can't force you to sign them and if you do something wrong, they'll use the incident reports against you.
When I started writing this, I thought that that day was the first day I went to Goody's, which is a restaurant in the Rockaways, just off Beach Channel drive, which is the main road through most of the peninsula. There's nowhere to sit, just a serving counter in front of the kitchen and some coolers with drinks in the corner. It's called Goody's Chicken and Ribs, but they have West Indian food too, and something called the "Goody Burger." There's always a lot of people serving and always big crowds, even though there's not a lot of foot traffic, because the food is really good and the prices aren't bad. But I didn't go there that day, I went there another day with my regular Friday partner some time later, when we got a Rockaway post, and I saw another crew there, the tall female EMT and someone else I'd worked with for one shift.
I went to Goody's twice, I got a great fish sandwich, three pieces, fresh, lots of hot sauce, and another time I got chicken, big pieces, soaked in barbecue sauce and so flavorful that it tasted like ribs. I thought I had gone more times, but I hadn't, and I might not ever go there again, Rockaway is a long way away.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I don't remember what the other calls were if we had any but we got a few posts out in Rockaway and because of the travel time we got an early 10-2, the return to base code, drove back as slowly as we had gone out there for the Code Two and still got to base on time. We saw some vehicle skid at an intersection on the way back, I forget what it was and if it hit anything, but it wasn't anything they needed an ambulance for or anything where we'd even need to ask.
We were there for a lift assist for some reason, I think because the patient needed to go in a stretcher over the stairs because her building had no ramp and her caretaker didn't like her to go in the stair chair. We had a regular customer out of that same building who went out that way, but I'm not sure if it was her because that wasn't something that most crews called for a lift assist for, and this crew was a big man, and a big woman. The guy was a field training officer (FTO) who ran the mentor truck, which was where you would work if you weren't cleared yet to work with an ordinary employee yet after your first ride-alongs. No trainees that day, though.
There was a snowbank separating the sidewalk from the road where they'd parked the ambulance, and he told us to wait, pulled into the road and then the ambulance through it, so that we could lift right from the sidewalk to the back of the bus once we cleaned the snow off. We loaded the patient and the other EMT got in front to drive off but the ambulance wasn't going anywhere, other than the back of it sliding around as the wheels spun.
After a few attempts the FTO decided to give it a try. He tried backing up, full power until the engine started to whine, then forward the same way. Soon it was going two, three feet back, and then forward enough so that the bus was able to power its way into the street. Sometimes I've seen sea lions on docks and beaches and at the zoo, and the way it moved into the street was kind of like the way they moved into the water, just in the awkward heaviness of it.
When the blizzard was coming down, it was the worst, because of the visibility. I was using all the lights I could, the high beams and the floods, but there still wasn't much to be seen some of the time, and we had to go pretty slowly. The surface conditions were bad, too. On some of the uphills we started skidding. I had to avoid one road entirely, take a different route, because it was too steep, and too icy. Somewhere up in northern, warehouse Brooklyn, I think. Maybe southern Queens.
Our last call of the day was out of this hospital in Brooklyn that I'd been to more than any other, because it not only was big and used us as its go-to company for transports, but it also kept doing discharges throughout the evening. This patient was a woman with a lot of complications - overweight, high blood pressure, cardiac history, seizure disorder - but her most recent episode was over and she was going home. Her daughter, who was middle aged, was there to come with her.
She (the patient) was sitting on the bed (the daughter was, too) when we came in, and we were going to help her into the stretcher. She was on low-flow oxygen, and we took out her nasal cannula for a few seconds while we transferred the cord to the other tank. When I reached to put the cannula back, her eyes lost focus and rolled.
Her daughter shouted "no, mami!" and it was half a second, or some similarly small portion of time that felt significant because it was at one of those moments where time feels important on that scale, before I realized that she was passing out, not just recoiling away from the oxygen blowing at her face. There was a face mask attached to the oxygen machine that her cannula had been attached to, and I turned it up to high flow and put it on her face, my partner called for backup. She was still taking her own breaths. The nurses were there very quickly, then doctors, more nurses, more doctors, students. They took over. One of the first nurses in there called for "condition C" or something, I don't remember what it was but I remember the word was "condition," not "code," and it wasn't a color. But it wasn't long before they had a bag valve mask out and were pumping her breaths in.
As more and more staff piled in, we moved farther and farther way from the patient, until eventually we decided to get out of the way, out into the hallway. We stood near the door to watch. My partner was on the Nextel talking to dispatch. One of the nurses was outside the room, wasn't trying to crowd inside. She asked me what happened, and if I was okay.
We kept watching the action inside. They weren't doing chest compressions, so she must have had a pulse. They kept ventilating her with the bag, and I told the nurse I was surprised they were using it for so long. She agreed. "Yeah, you'd think they'd have her on the ventilator by now, right?" Which was exactly what I was thinking, but I didn't really know.
We had made some attempts to comfort the daughter, but people with real problems don't want to hear any bullshit, like that it's going to be okay, or anything irrelevant, like what you believe is important in life or something. Or I wouldn't want to hear it. Respectful and professional is hard to argue with as an ideal. Also, I was thinking about a lot of stuff and she wasn't the only thing on my mind. Her boyfriend got there at some point, a security guard still in uniform, and he was able to help her out more.
Word from dispatch was that we had to leave the scene and go 98 (available), which seemed wrong to me, but it wasn't, we had no purpose there. My partner kept describing the incident by saying "the patient went into cardiac arrest," which wasn't what happened. But what it was I'm still not sure, beyond that it was some kind of syncope. Until I wrote this it didn't occur to me how weird it was that I never asked anyone or tried to find out.
We passed by the nurses' station on the way out, the two nurses who were left at the desk asked us what had happened, and we explained it. They asked if she had tried to stand up, or if we had had her sit up. No, and no, she was sitting up when we got there. That was all. When we were on the elevator someone said something funny, not mean, just recognizing the situation, but I can't remember what it is. It was a good thing to be said at that moment for that group, hospital employees and two EMTs.
When we got outside, we were past our off time, 11 pm, around 11:30. The snow wasn't coming down very hard any more but the streets were covered. My partner asked if we could see if we could back to the base by midnight, the idea being "okay, it's been a long day, let's see if we can at least salvage some arbitrary goal and get the hell out of here." But I said there was no way I would make that deadline driving, not as far as we had to go, with that snow. We ended up getting back around 12:20.
After the snow had stopped falling it took a while for the streets to get cleared, especially in the outer boroughs. First call of the day, we got a long-distance transport heading upstate, nursing home to home for hospice care. As slow as the roads were, we thought it would take most of the day, but it turned out the highway was clear, and then the local roads in the town, which wasn't too far north of the Bronx, were clear too. It ended up taking about an hour and a half to get up there, or something, much quicker than we had expected and than we were hoping.
It was a big house, and the yard was snowed over with nice clean snow, nobody had walked on it. The driveway was plowed. We parked outside the garage, which was a floor below the front level of the house, and brought the patient up through the house in the chair stair, set her down on a couch. Her husband was Orthodox Jewish, I assume she was too but he was the one with yarmulke, and we didn't know until we saw him. We went back to the car to bring some more of her belongings (she had a huge military-style duffel bag, and some other bags as well), and the husband came out and gave me a lot of money, something crazy like $40 or $50 dollars for the two of us. Or maybe he gave it to my partner when I was carrying the bag. Either way. They tell you not to take tips in orientation class, but in practice that's not how it happens. Very few patients (or their families, it's usually not the patients themselves) tip, but the ones who do are really happy when we finally accept. One patient offered me a bag of weed. Another patient, an old man, invited us in for dinner. He was physically in pretty rough condition but still mentally sharp, happy. His daughter, who was middle-aged, had never heard of strudel, and he was talking about how he used to get it at -- where? a German bakery? Jewish? Russian? I was teching that shift, which meant I was in the back with the patient. I backed him up on the story, helped explain what strudel was. He wanted us to join the family for dinner, they were going to cook some fried chicken. But it doesn't happen like that anymore, dispatch had been bothering us about going available as soon as possible all day. We ended up getting food at some cheap restaurant, a Chinese all-kinds-of-food pay-by-the-serving buffet.
The day of the snowstorm (not working with my regular partner, picked up a shift with an FTO that day) we took the cash and spent the first of it at a pizza place off the highway that we found on our GPS. On our way back to New York, we got a Code One out of a nursing home in the Bronx for aggressive behavior, which is where we met Edgar from the story in the Dollar a Story Project post.
At one point on the way back, a car spun out going too fast on an offramp. He hit the snowbank hard, dislodged a big chunk of it. We were going to go over and check it out, but he sped off as soon as he could and we continued down the highway.
My regular Friday partner was splitting time between New York and Pennsylvania, where she had just bought a house with her fiance, and she couldn't make it back for her shift because they were under three feet of snow or something. I normally drove Fridays when I was working with her but her old Friday partner covered the shift for her and was more comfortable driving than staying with the patients.
At some point we got a post out by Flatbush and the Belt, which was one of the classic posts along with Jackie [Robinson] and Penn[sylvania], which was often called "Jackie and the Penn" for symmetry, and "The GAP," which was Grand Army Plaza. There were dozens of different posts but these were the most common ones (in that order), and by far the most common ones that weren't right by a hospital or nursing home. At some point we went to get some food. My partner had a book of coupons that he got in the mail, and asked me to pick the best one, I decided on Burger King, where there was a good deal on Whoppers or something. The Burger King lot was snowed over, and we parked in front of a bus stop, in the treads of a bus. As soon as I opened the door to the Burger King we got a call. We went back to the ambulance and when we tried to go but the tires just kept spinning. I said to try going back as far as possible, and then forward, but it was no use. A bunch of snow was piled up in front of each of the tires, and I grabbed as much of it as I could and threw it off to the sides. We still weren't going anywhere. I had to call in to dispatch and tell them we were delayed.
We tried shoveling at the snow with whatever we could find in the ambulance, but it was slow going. Dispatch got back to us and said they were giving the call to another crew. I went down the block to see if any of the people outside their homes had a shovel we could borrow. One guy was taking a break and let us borrow his plastic snow shovel for a few minutes. By the time we had to give it back we hadn't made much meaningful progress. There was this slush that had gotten hard-packed by the tires and wasn't going anywhere, and had been smoothed to the point where there was no traction. The shovel didn't have a metal edge anyway.
We called back to dispatch to update them. They said the base manager was driving out to see what she could do, but we were hoping to get out of there before then and not see what she had to say about us getting stuck outside the Burger King.
A man with a light truck of some kind, I forgot what, came by and tried to bump us out, but after a few attempts he had to get a move on. At this point, we'd tried so many escapes that the left wheel had melted down the slush on one side so that it was touching the asphalt for about one inch. But all around it the slush was smoother and harder than ever, so the wheel would just spin around and burn off a little rubber every time the engine engaged.
Eventually, a man in a sedan drove by, pulled to a stop ahead of us (in the middle of the street, I think, not on the side of the road). He popped the trunk and pulled out the device that I had been looking for but only knew as an "ice breaker," a steel wedge on a long straight handle. We showed him where it needed to be done, and he bashed the ice (or the slush that was functionally ice) out. I think he also had a steel shovel, but using either this or my hands I threw the ice to the side. The whole thing didn't take very long, less than a minute I think. We were able to get a move on.
We had just dropped off a patient in a stair chair, and when we tried to leave the bus was going nowhere. I went to see if I could move the snow from under the tires, and it turned out that one of them, right front, was resting on a wet cardboard box. I pulled the box out, got back in, and away we went.SOMEWHERE, VARIOUS
We came out of the emergency room with fresh sheets, but it was snowing so hard that once we loaded the stretcher we had to change it again. It happened too with some of the patients, we'd give them a fresh blanket as soon as they got inside. When we moved them outside we'd cover as much of the face as we could, but not the whole thing because people would look at them and think they were dead.
Which is all well and good and interesting to me, but the point is there were no such practical concerns this year, I was just for some reason perturbed at the snow, and "that's just growing up" is a load of horseshit. Many things that seem or are inevitable are nonetheless real problems and concerns -- what's a bigger topic than death? -- and not everything that comes with growing up is growth in the positive sense. I don't think the inability to tolerate some small (or possibly just imagined) inconvenience to experience true beauty and wonder (not that snow is some holy event, but the combination of factors - the slow drift and irregularity of snowflakes falling, the quick growth of snow on the ground, the unique tactile interactions and activities, and just the vastness of the whole enterprise - is still something pretty powerful, even after a lot of repetitions) is any kind of good.
The snappy way to say it is that that's not growing up, it's getting old, not to mean that I understand the true meaning of those two phrases but to use them as names for a new dichotomy, because they're vaguely close to the concepts I want to articulate. But I'm too far, right now, from really knowing how to separate those things to even do that. What I mean is, even at a young age, it's not just experience gained, it's also some perspective lost. Occasionally, I'll be somewhere and get not a flashback, but something similar, a sort of deja vu of perspective, a way of feeling about things that I immediately know belongs to some earlier time, that usually I can place. It's a great feeling, invigorating and refreshing, but usually my mind pulls itself back into the current perspective, hits that same spot that hadn't been updated and brings it into the present paradigm, so that soon after I discover it, it's lost. You can get into what it means to be one person across time and some more of those tough (too tough) questions, but to try to narrow it down again, what I realized during that snow storm is that all I did was remember how I used to fee about the snow, not actually get that sense again. Mostly memories of memories, really.
I'm not an idiot and I don't expect that you are. I'm not surprised that people change or that things change and I don't think that we should act like kids, or that I have to tell you these things. But finding no wonder or novelty in things isn't just realism (nor is what "realism" means constant) but also, in some sense, an inability to cope. If the world isn't interesting it's hard to look at it and see anything. And obvious isn't always obvious.
I'm not very good at writing about this kind of thing, and it's hard to do it convincingly. I think Calvin and Hobbes was a pretty strong articulation of a lot of those ideas, and I always thought it did a good job handling reality, not destroying Calvin's reality or saying that it didn't exist. And maybe it means something that a cartoon with maybe about 25 words per strip was such a good medium for that kind of thing.
But I also got a strong sense of a lot of those things from Swamplandia! which is a book by my first creative writing teacher, Karen Russell. Who is a great teacher and a great person, but the point here is the book. Three kids growing up in the Florida everglades, gator-run theme park, the park and the family are falling apart, things happen. It's not a huge sweeping novel, it's just really well done, not just the language and detail but the way subjective reality is handled as the kids grow up. The narrator is the youngest at the siblings at the time of the story, but it's told in the past tense, and you can see the progression of her view of reality as things happen to her, she learns more. The other sister (the middle sibling), is seeing ghosts, the kind of plot element that might lead me to dismiss a story as fanciful bullshit, but this time it ain't. Her reality gets just the right amount of distance, and we really never get to know her mind. The whole thing takes place in this beautifully strange place, this insane small business in what is already a crazy part of America, and I've always been intrigued by the beauty of strange places, even just some pretty mundane parts of Washington, D.C. that I saw as strange at the time - parks and corner stores and weird halls of the school. But, you know, they aren't that mundane, that's the thing about perspective. And the book gets into some of that, too, with the older brother's encounters with civilization.
That's not a review, just some things that resonated with me, about that particular instance of someone reading the book and not what someone else would read or someone meant to write. Here's a review I did write about it - it's in character, a character who is a blatant ripoff (although not an exact imitation) of Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces , a book which I found to be fucking hilarious.
This book deserves five stars, but that it does not have them is unsurprising. This world is populated with an impressive assortment of moral and intellectual cowards, humorless automatons, myopic snobs, sophists, pseudointellectuals and pseudoartistics, comfort seekers and repetition addicts, martinets and conventionists, ignoramuses, illiterates, idiots and imbeciles (and their cousins, the cretins, morons, and Mongoloids - apologies to the Mongolian people for the latter term, with hopes that a polyglot among them may translate this work to their native tongue), affected depressives and fatalists, foreigners, dolts, dotards, dullards, and fools. Among those defying these categorizations there are, no doubt, countless individuals afflicted with other disorders beyond my conception that could prevent them from enjoying Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. But the hope is that you are not among them.
Dozens of these deficient specimens have apparently found their way onto Amazon.com to spread their miasma in the form of four, three, and, in the worst case, two star reviews. Pay no heed to their ridiculous complaints, their absurd and impertinent whinging. This is a book of the finest quality and the highest merit, and you do yourself no favors by seeking fault with it.
"But what is it about?" you ask, (or perhaps "about what is this book?" -- as if your fanatical compliance to senseless prescriptivism constitutes a better use of the English language) "what is it about?" If this is your question, you deserve no answer. Do you intend to read a book that panders to your narrow interests, or to read a majestic and potent work of literature? Perhaps your plan is to examine some facile summary of the plot, and judge whether or not you think such a story could succeed. What inanity! Do you think you know better than Karen Russell, after all her work in this specific field, what events should occur in her novel, or what characters should populate its pages?* Your arrogance is astounding. Who are you? Who do you think that you are? You are not Karen Russell. Leave the writing of her novel to her. Your task is to read it.
Now is not the time for excuses. Do you think that you are too busy to read this book? What is it that you do that is so important?** Abandon your trifling delusions of constant occupation and your slavish devotion to the chimeric authority of a schedule. If your life were in danger, would you find time to save it? Then you can find time to read this book.
Perhaps you complain that you cannot afford it. Are you not reading this review on a computer that you can sell?*** If you do not own the device, you are probably at a library, where you can urge the curator to order this work of literature so that you may read it. I can neither divine your circumstances nor enumerate here the possible material impediments to your success, but let me assure you that they can be overcome. However limited your mental and physical resources they have proved sufficient for the purpose of preserving your life until this point and they will prove sufficient for the purpose of attaining a copy of Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.
Your path, then, is clear to you. Do not hesitate. The time is now. It may be possible that you have heretofore neglected some other masterwork, perhaps Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy or Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, and you endeavor to rectify this fault before proceeding. Too late! Literature has proceeded without you. The time to read Karen Russell's Swamplandia! is now, and you must not squander your chance to be part of the moment. The people of the Earth may be classified by an infinity of criteria but in some sense the best taxonomic scheme is this simple dichotomy: people who have read Swamplandia!, and people who have not. If you are in the latter group, take every expedient measure to move into the former before the gap grows any wider. Other books have been here before, and they shall be there in the future, but the future is best entered with Swamplandia! in hand.
That is it! The review is finished! Forget the hearsay, and read the thing itself.
A scene in which he's bothered by a policeman
"Is it the part of the police department to harass me when this city is a flagrant vice capital of the civilized world?" Ignatius bellowed over the crowd in front of the store. "This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, anti-Christs, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians, all of whom are only too well protected by graft. If you have a moment, I shall endeavor to discuss the crime problems with you, but don't make the mistake of bothering me."
A letter that he writes to a department store owner who complains that he was sent the wrong size pants:"Mr. I. Abelman, Mongoloid, Esq.:
We have received via post your absurd comments about our trousers, the comments revealing, as they did, your total lack of contact with reality. Were you more aware, you would know or realize by no w that the offending trousers were dispatched to you with our full knowledge that they were inadequate so far as length was concerned. "Why? Why?" you are in your incomprehensible babble, unable to assimilate stimulating concepts of commerce into your retarded and blighted worldview.
The trousers were sent to you (1) as a means of testing your initiative (A clever, wide-awake business concern should be able to make three-quarter length trousers a by-word of masculine fashion. Your advertising and merchandising programs are obviously faulty.) and (2) as a means of testing your ability to meet the standards requisite in a distributor of our quality product. (Our loyal and dependable outlets can vend any trouser bearing the Levy label no matter how abominable their design and construction. You are apparently a faithless people.)
We do not wish to be bothered in the future by such tedious complaints. Please confine your correspondence to orders only. We are busy and dynamic organization whose mission needless effrontery and harassment can only hinder. If you molest us again, sir, you may feel the sting of the lash across your pitiful shoulders.
Seeing these passages again remind me that mine wasn't as funny, but I still got a lot of amusement out of it. I wrote it before I read the book, but I had read the Amazon reviews, and I had no use for them. And it's a fun character to write. But some of that sentiment is real, some people wanted that book to be something else, and I don't like the idea of people trying to ruin things by suggesting they be what they want.
I did end up walking around in the snow that day, down Greene Avenue, where there was a retail strip I had just discovered recently. I've walked a lot of different places in the neighborhood, but for some reason I'd missed that block for a while. There was a liquor store, a tattoo parlor, some kind of fancy food store, and a corner store. Also a tax business or something. They were all closed when I got there, and at the end of the block, I realized they were connected to the small retail strip on Grand Street, with some bar and fancy restaurant and The 3 Luigis, owned by the same people who run Luigi's Pizza up on DeKalb. I'd been down that block before, but I hadn't taken any notice of that part of Greene or connected it in my mind.
I also passed by the old Washington Hotel, which I'd forgotten existed. One time last summer, when I was writing for the Onion SportsDome, I was working a late night and left my keys in my office. That morning I'd left my cell phone in my room at home, along with the keycard to get back in the office if nobody was there. I took a cab home, because it was too late to wait for the subway, and I had just found out they could reimburse us for our transport fees if we stayed late.
Someone had left the front door to our apartment open (deadbolt out so it wouldn't close), but despite repeatedly ringing the doorbell and pounding on the door, I couldn't get any response from my roommates. I put a note on the inside of the door to tell my neighbors to leave it open for just a minute, then went down to the bar at the end of our street to see if they were there. They weren't, but I got a quick shot of whiskey.
I went back to the apartment and down to the basement and found some cardboard boxes to spread out and try to sleep on, using my clothes and backpack for additional padding. I went upstairs to my apartment and left a note saying I'd be in the basement and to come down and wake me up if necessary, then back downstairs to try to sleep. I didn't have any way of telling the time, and wasn't sure how I would know when to get up in the morning, and also it was very hot, humid, the middle of the summer. After realizing how unlikely it was that I would get enough sleep I decided it was time to cut my losses and find a hotel.
I went down to the gas station at the end of the block, but the guy in the booth, who seemed kind of scared, told me that he didn't have a phone book. I tried the bodega across the street, and they helped me out. The hotel listings for Brooklyn I didn't recognize but I saw a few in Manhattan, near the office, and I wrote down a few of them on a sheet of paper and went out to the payphone and tried them.
The first one, the Cosmopolitan Hotel, had a vacancy, at some high but not ridiculous price, I forgot what it was. The second one told me they had something called a "play room" they could rent to me for something like $400 an hour. I told them I thought I had the wrong kind of hotel. The third one didnt pick up and I decided to just go to the Cosmopolitan. The first cab I saw was a yellow cab, which was a nice surprise
I had already written the money off as a sunk cost, one that would be necessary for the job, and when I went in to the hotel I was sort of elated. It was so strange, in New York, to walk down a hallway to a place with an old-fashioned hotel counter. I took a tiny elevator up to the tenth floor, found my room. There was hardly any space between the door and the bed, the other side of which was against the window. In the other direction, I could rest my head on the bottom of the pillow, and stretch out and touch the opposite wall with my toes. But it had an air conditioner, which I immediately set to 68 degrees, and it was clean and nice, and had a bathroom with those little soap and shampoo containers, fresh towels.
I said out loud that this was fucking stupid, not angrily, but with that bemused sort of revelation that comes at the end of a long day, when thoughts get very simple and clear. I don't know how much I meant that, I was having fun. It was the best I'd felt about a hotel since I was at the age where travelling was exciting.
I turned on the TV and watched a little bit of some show, Stewart or Colbert maybe, ESPN (which we were watching constantly on our off time to get the tone right), and set the wake up call so I'd have time to take a shower before walking to work, set the alarm to go off also.
The next morning it was muggy as I walked up the street, not yet at mid-day heat, a tiny bit of precipitation but not even enough to call it drizzle. I got up to the building, up to the room. We used to get a morning e-mail with the plan was for the day. We'd make jokes about how chaotic it was and how long we'd stay there and how rarely we saw sunlight and how it was hard to imagine this really being a TV show but even then I appreciated those times. I had forgotten what they were like until now.
The first definition is pretty much useless* , but the second definition is interesting. It's a simple concept, but I never knew there was a word for it. I also learned the word "phoneme," the meaning of which is pretty clear from that example. Just to clarify (because the wording of the definition wasn't quite clear) the grapheme is NOT the set of all the letters or letter combinations. Each one is itself a grapheme; f, ph, and gh are all graphemes that represent the phoneme /f./ A grapheme that represents the same phoneme as another grapheme is an allograph of that grapheme.
English is a language with a lot of graphemes, being a kickass melting pot of a language.*One use would be to clarify what sense of word "letter" you mean if someone just isn't getting it. "I mean LETTER! Letter of the alphabet! The goddamn GRAPHEME is what I'm talking about, understand me?" It's still a long shot. Even if they know the word grapheme, they (and I do use "they" that way - I ain't no language police) might think you're talking about the other kind of grapheme and still be confused. You'd be better off saying. "Letter! Like A,B,C,D,E-F-G..."
This blog is made of words, and it's always good to learn more of them.
To that end, I am introducing a feature called "Word a Day" in which I flip through the dictionary, and find a word that I don't know, or don't know as well as I should. If I don't think it's useful, I'll keep it to myself and not waste space on this blog. You don't have to know what a bonbonniere is, and neither do you. But what about today's word, "strangury"?strangury n.
Hopefully you'll never need to know what that is, either. I myself hope to live a strangury-free life. But worse comes to worst, I'll at least have a good word to throw into my curses.
I went on vacation to Belize with my family, and because of the blizzard in New York it took me a long time to get back. When I finally did, it was on a Greyhound bus from D.C. I got in to Port Authority, and went back on the A/C line (the A was running local, making the C stops until Euclid).
After I'd been on a couple stops, a man started speaking loudly. He was mad that someone had stepped on his feet, and hadn't apologized or even said anything. I thought he was yelling at the man nearest him, but he wasn't. He said that guy was all right, he was talking to the guy behind him. "Black hair and glasses," he specified.
Black Hair and Glasses didn't turn around to acknowledge him. He looked generally annoyed, but wasn't reacting to any individual words. He got off the train a few stops later.
His accuser didn't notice. "You think it's funny, it's not funny," he was saying. Three or four girls, in their late teens or early twenties, had moved onto the bench across from him, and looked like they were giggling. I couldn't hear them. Maybe they had started laughing when he looked around and said the train was going the wrong way, or maybe he hadn't said that yet. Either way, they thought he was funny. And his train was going the wrong way. Our train was going the wrong way for him.
The guy stayed where he was. From time to time, he would say something. "My brother's a cop," he said, "I ain't no joke." Later, talking to nobody, he identified himself. "My name is Na-than-i-el Mac-Dou-gall." He pronounced every syllable. "Nathaniel MacDougall. Irish." He was a black man, but he was talking about his name.
It was later on, somewhere in Lower Manhattan, that we found out it was his birthday. He said he hadn't gotten anything for his birthday all day. Nobody had even wished him happy birthday. "It's all right," he said "I'm celebrating my birthday on my own." Nobody said anything. I didn't. The time to say happy birthday kept slipping away. "Where's my friend?" he asked. I didn't realize it when I was on the train, but now (and maybe it's because my memory lost some evidence to the contrary) I think he was talking about the guy who had been sitting on his bench, the guy who was between him and Black Hair and Glasses. He had been a mid-30s white guy in a winter cap, working man type, and had given Nathaniel an agreeable look. Now he was gone. "I'm all alone. Ok. Ok. I'm all alone." He said something else, I don't think it was "I'm always all alone," but something like that, along those lines.
More and more people got into the train. It had started out nearly empty, enough for me to grab my preferred seat on the left end of a bench on the right side of the train, but by the time it hit Brooklyn some people were standing. Nathaniel's train got farther and farther away from uptown. He realized he wasn't even on the right line. He said he needed to be on the 1 Train, but he also said he needed to go to the Bronx. He said he would stay on the train until it turned around. "What goes down must come back up," he said.
He also had more words for the girls. "Oh, you haven't been in New York very long. I see. I see. That's why you think it's funny. Live in New York some time, you'll see. It's not fucking funny." They had started ignoring him, and were talking to another guy, a young guy in a nice winter jacket, like he was a person. I could only hear scattered tones from their voices, not really the speech, but I got the unfounded impression that they had European accents.
When the train was halfway to my station from the one before it I stood up. I shrugged on my backpack and picked up my suitcase and my bag of food my parents had packed for me in D.C. and got ready to walk out the door. The train stopped and I left. I turned and muttered "Happy birthday, Nathaniel," like a coward, too low and muddled to be intelligible, angry, not really to anyone but myself. And I went home.
I got on the WikiLeaks train too late. By the time I found out about it, there was just too much noise to sort through. I'll address the controversy, briefly. I'm for freedom and humanity but I'm also for the U.S.A., so if anyone is for bringing America down, I'm opposed. Like, give us a chance, man. It's fucking hard to be a nation. America is the worst global superpower except for all those other superpowers that have ruled from time to time. As the man Churchill once said about something else.
But I just got on this WikiLeaks to see what it was all about. Here's some stuff I found interesting:
PRT and Governor Patan also discussed hiring men to shovel snow. Governor says that he can hire 700 men to do this work. We will submit a PNF for this.
Lot of folks shoveling snow.
Nestle comes out of this looking pretty good. All the press on Aria seems to be positive (one headline from the official Bagram Air Field website boasts "State-of-the-art bottled water plant opens in Afghanistan," another proclaims "Afghanistan Bottled Water 'Tastes Great'") so I'm a little surprised to learn about the sediment. But it looks like they took care to make sure that those lots didn't get issued or consumed until they were confirmed to be safe.HUM ASSIST 2006-04-22 02:00:00
That is some awesome stuff to get. Most people in the world could make good use of that stuff. Over here, we kind of take that stuff for granted, but when you think about it those things are legitimately goods, things that really make life better and help people live.SUBJECT: U.S. FOREST SERVICE COLLABORATION ADVANCES BRAZILIAN FOREST FIRE MANAGEMENT
Typo in this one, as they use "lead" for "led." Anyway, I know a two-week workshop sounds boring, but this sounds like it went well. I had to take Incident Command System training to work as an EMT - it was boring, and irrelevant to the job (if you're an EMT, you don't really need to know the leadership structure, you just need to know to follow orders). But the ICS itself is actually an impressively adaptive and efficient system.
Overall, WikiLeaks has some interesting stuff.
If Bob Dylan's smaller songs were better-known, someone would have used "One Too Many Mournings" in a headline for a game in which Alonzo Mourning dominated his opponent(s).E.g.
Patrick Ewing certainly had his hands full in Madison Square Garden last night. Unfortunately, they couldn't do anything to get the ball past Miami's Alonzo Mourning, who thoroughly dominated his New York counterpart en route to a 104-86 trouncing.
"I've got to give him credit," Ewing said, ---
Today I got a cup of coffee from a corner deli, and I got it in a paper bag because I was already carrying groceries and it was easier to carry that way. I didn't just get a plain paper bag, but a paper bag with things written on it.
Here's a list of the things written on that bag:
united SwiteBoth "i"s are dotted with a small circular dot, and each word is underlined. The underline under "Swite" is a curly underline.
912Circled this time. The circle emanates from the tail of the "2".
18These two numbers are circled, together.
6Circled AND double underlined
406 + 15 = 421Not written like you see here, but with the vertical setup of a typical addition problem on a chalkboard.
366 + 40 = 406Same as the last, but without the plus sign at all.
Overall notes: very nice handwriting, and all the math is correct.
I haven't posted in awhile. I'll fix that. I might start out with small posts, but I'll try to get some in-depth, quality content on the site later on. This probably isn't important to anyone anyway.
I've decided to write an advice column, because I think it would be a fun and easy thing to do. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but the surest way to find out is to try it. And they used to say, "the proof of the pudding is in the eating," a phrase which is more logical but less funny than the modern bastardization "the proof is in the pudding."
Side note: one phrase that seems to have fallen out of favor is "at the gettin' place" to explain where you got something. I've only encountered it in books, but I think it should be used more often. Maybe it is and I'm not in the right place to hear it. "Where'd you hear it?" "At the hearin' place." Yeah. Dumb. I know.
There's no particular reason to take my advice, but there's no particular reason to take most advice columnists' advice. Even if they have some qualification. Marilyn Vos Savant is supposedly the smartest person in the world, and half her questions could just as well be answered by the average person in the world. That's not really true but as far as hyperbole goes it ain't too much of a stretch.
So what I'm saying is, ask me some questions, and I'll answer them in this blog. If you ask me something about car trouble I'll probably say "I don't know, you gotta take it to the shop," and if you ask me a question about your bizarre sex fetish I'll probably say "Hey, if that's what your into, do what you want" and in the latter case your letter will have served its purpose because, regardless of my useless response, everyone will get to read about your bizarre sex fetish.
So send in your questions, that's what I'm saying.
David's Brisket House is a deli on Nostrand Avenue, between Herkimer Street and Herkimer place, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York. People go there because they're good at making three kinds of brisket: pastrami, corned beef, and straight up brisket which they serve with gravy if you ask. Sandwiches come in three sizes: $5, $8, and $11 (although you might be able to get corned beef or brisket for $10 - I'm not sure). The five's a good-sized lunch sandwich, the eight has about as much meat as you get at Katz's, and the eleven has more.
It's pretty much about those three meats. You get them on cheap bread. The rye bread, white bread, and white bread all come in the same generic packaging, with different color lettering. In addition to the name of the bread, there's the word "Sunrise" which seems to be an informative label rather than a brand. "This is WHITE bread. Our company is called SUNRISE." You can also get the same rolls and heros that you can get you can get in any old corner store (or corner grocery, or bodega, or deli, or whatever you call it. "Gourmet Deli."). People order everything, as far as the bread's concerned. They're not Deli purists. Today somebody got eight dollars worth of a pastrami on a hero with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo (stick that in your mezuzah and post it). The only constant is that they're ordering pastrami, corned beef, or brisket. The rest of the reasonably extensive menu is rarely utilized. David's has burgers, turkey burgers, chicken, turkey, pies, side dishes (potato salad and stuff like that), fries, egg sandwiches. One time I thought certain items had been marked with an stars, and looked to see what it meant - but I realized that these were just how the columns on the menu board are divided - three sparsely placed asterisks. On some columns they line up, on some they don't. Lately, a single page of printer paper has been taped to the menu, readingOUR PRICE LIST HAS CHANGED
The whole place is like that. It's a very narrow storefront, and customers line up in a space barely wide enough to pass while waiting to order. Past the glass display cases (the same ones you'd see at any corner deli), there are four stools inset slightly under the counters. Past that, there are two tables, and then two more that are in a narrow hallway, progressing toward the back office, stopping just shy of the stairs. The last table isn't even covered by any lighting, but I've never seen more than one table in use.
In short, the place is what they call "not much to look at." But there is a lot to look at. Just a sampling from today: on one of the industrial strength burners, there was a many-gallon pot made of a thick sheet of some metal (well-worn but sturdy, like all the cookware), with a white cloth on the left handle but not the right, a seriously thick two-pronged fork, a two foot long, one foot deep rectangular metal dish with a lid on it, and a greasy dish-rag. Underneath the griddle and oven, there were several assorted aerosol cans, a few bunches of steel wool, and a 64-ounce KFC cup, contents unknown. On top of the coffee grinder, there was a box of instant grits, a jar of Diamond Club salt, and a plastic tub of Argo corn starch. On top of the instant-cappucino machine: a cylinder of Quaker oats, a bottle of Gravy Master seasoning, a dark red rectangular box with Arabic lettering, and a clear plastic tub of something that looked like ground coffee, which didn't make sense because I saw them refill the coffee maker straight from the grinder. At the front of the store, there were two deli slicers not in use. One had a white plastic tub of pickles resting at the place where the brisket would normally go, another had an employee's cell phone resting where the sliced brisket would normally end up.
They leave the stuff there because it doesn't matter. People aren't there for the decor, and they don't need anyone to pretend food preparation is something it isn't. Today some workers wearing filthy t-shirts ran a thick green accordian hose from the street to the back of the store, for some sort of cleaning purpose. Nobody paid it any mind. They were there for the meat. Today's crowd was mostly past the middle part of middle aged, wearing thick functional jackets over work clothes. Most of them acted like they'd been there for a while, some had been told about it by their friends. One construction-worker, a heavyset white guy, asked what you get in the largest sized brisket sandwich. "Lotta meat." "Lotta meat?" "Lotta meat." He ordered it. There were some younger folks, some well-dressed people, a guy with a stroller accompanied by a teenager carrying shopping bags (the big rectangular opaque kind from fashionable places). But nobody came in there with an attitude.
But yeah, they do one thing well (or three things - a trinity type situation). And they don't get an attitude about it either. The pastrami is excellent, the corned beef is superb, and the brisket is delicious and is something that most delis don't do. Do they know how good they are? Although they've got laudatory writeups all over the place (Brooklyn Paper, Village Voice, Gothamist), all you'll find on their window is that standard red and white sign with their hours, and a sheet of printer paper saying they're out for prayer services mid-day Friday. The new owners (David's not involved any more, it's Sultan and Waleed, although the business cards up front say "CEO Sinbad") are Muslim. They own a Jewish deli in a black neighborhood, which is what people who think things only happen in New York call an "only in New York" story. Big deal. People of different ethnicities. It's 2010. That's not even an "only in America" story. I'm interested in the "still in New York" story. That in a New York where prices are high and hype is big and lots of things (but nowhere near everything) is shiny, or a Brooklyn where so many places try their best to seem worn down and old fashioned, a place like this place still exists. But that's a non-story too. That's just something you forget if you're getting foolish. Or something you don't care about, because maybe it's not so valuable after all.
I don't know, I found out about this place on the internet. I like it though.
In the book King Lear (I know it's a play, but a play in book form is a book, right?) King Lear has two sons: Edgar and Edmund. I read the play over four years ago, and between then and now I got it into my head that there was also an Edward involved, but I wasn't quite certain of it. This idea of three Eds (and possibly even a fourth minor Ed), rather than just two, led me to say, in a screenwriting class that I'm taking, "In King Lear, everybody's named Ed!" That's really hyperbole. There's only two Eds. Many more characters than that.
Still, it's more Eds than you'd expect in one story.Here are some Ed names, and their meanings.
There are more, but those are the classic Old English male Ed names, from what I was able to find.
This is a real deal. It's worth it to me because I'm interested to hear what people have to say, and this is relatively cheap compared to other media and compared to paying for bullshit. It's also cheap because people tend to be scared of strangers, skeptical of offers, etc.
That means I don't get a whole lot of people coming up to me.
Most recently, I tried this in Central Park, at 4pm, October 31st. I confirmed 73 people reading the sign, not just glancing over it. I wouldn't have thought it would be so easy to tell, but people will keep their eyes trained for a few seconds, scan back and forth, and show some sign of recognition, usually involving an eyebrow raise. A total of four people came up to me, and only one of those told me a story and got a dollar. She was a middle-aged black woman walking with a short hispanic man, and she told the story of how after knowing her for 14 years, "he finally got the pussy". They seemed very happy with the results of the story, and she was happy to get a dollar. Two people came up to me saying they'd come back with a story: a guy carrying a sign for City Sights NY, and a man walking with his family (wife and three kids). I told them if they each had a story, they could get five dollars. But they didn't come back before I left.
The last person was a woman in her 20s that offered to pay me to tell her a story. I told her one of the most interesting true stories from my nine months of EMT work - "Edgar Pretends He's Crazy".
Edgar's name wasn't Edgar, because I changed it. He was a patient who needed to go to the hospital for aggressive behavior. I went to talk to the patient and find out what the matter was, he said they thought he was crazy, but then I asked him why we here today.
"Well, they got mad because I punched the administrator" Why'd you punch him?"He got mad at me because I called him a cocksucker" Why'd you call him that? "Well, I told him I was gonna take his job..."
Turns out Edgar had big ideas about getting a job as an administrator and firing everyone who had wronged him. He wanted a shot at the administrator's test, which he planned to ace. Maybe he could have done it. At the very least he had some math skills. While we were in the elevator, he saw a budget sheet that an employee was carrying and began adding figures out loud. He got everything right, as a guy in his 80s without much mental stimulation in his daily life, and a lot of medical history. But of course nobody was ever going to let him take that test, and if he had it wouldn't have meant more than someone saying "Well look at that." The guy really did have some delusions. It was a few days after one of the blizzards this past winter, and Edgar planned to make a killing off the snow situation. He said he owned a "Jeep snow plow" that was in Manhattan, and if we called 1-800-FREE-JEEP they would tell him where to pick it up. He also had thought about running for President, and when we told him he was going to the hospital, he was initially reluctant, but then decided that it was a good thing because when he got down there, he could have everyone from the nursing home arrested. Blizzard, president he didn't like (he was no fan of Obama, and more on this later), or hospitalization, he knew how to make the best of a bad situation.
The home was up in the Bronx, and the hospital in Lower Manhattan, so it was a long ride. When we got there Edgar asked if he was going to the psych ward. Don't lie to psych patients: if you can't find out the truth when you ask people for it, how do you not go crazy? So I told him. He thinks for a second and says "I love that place, but if I want to stay there, I gotta pretend to be crazy." He gets ready, and as soon as we go through the door, he starts waving his arms and making whooping noises. "Wooo! I'm crazy! You better tie me up! I see orange, and purple, and spiders!" He really went all out.
The part of the story that I don't usually tell, and that I didn't tell that day, is that Edgar was a racist. He thought Obama was a "stupid nigger" and then said said that one of the nurses at the word was "very pretty for a nigger lady," and that he'd have her if she was...I can't remember. I don't know if she was too black or too young or too something else for him, but his point was that it was his choice. I suppose I don't tell that part because I don't want people to dislike Edgar, because I don't want to. But I'd never be so forgiving for a sane person, or a person they call a sane person. Maybe I should give racists more of a break. Love the racist, hate the racism.
Well anyway, I told the non-racist Edgar story, then talked with this woman a while about how the project had been going, what New York was like, some other stuff. Learned a lot. She gave me a dollar coin. Probably got it as change for the subway, where else do those things come from?
After being on both sides of the dollar-story exchange, I think it's a good deal for the storyteller. But most people are scared of it. I mentioned the 73 reads, four approaches. Some people took pictures of me with the sign, some people talked about it with their friends. One guy even walked up to read it, read the whole thing out loud to himself, then walked over to a man, talked to him for a minute, and had the man give him a couple coins.
I did get two more stories that day: when I first set up my sign, a public safety officer saw it and made some comment, and I went up to explain that I was for real. Another man, who had been standing around talking to him, told me that he had gone to prison for possession twenty years ago, and had found the lord in prison and reformed. It was a pretty basic story, not that particular to him, but I did ask him some questions and find out how he'd been living before then. He worked off the books at a shoe store, had a contracting job repairing ceilings for $85 a job (which was good money at the time) and was also on public assistance. Drug dealing was his fourth source of income and he said he didn't need to do it. He tried to turn down the dollar but I'm not doing this to try and win people over into not paying the dollar. The dollar is the deal.
The cop was the only person I've encountered so far who tried to get his dollar cheaply (I did this before, in Madison Square Park, getting a group of three kids in their twenties who each told a story). Most people really want to earn the dollar. But the cop just told me "I love my job, I hate my job, either way, I'm out here, because I've got to do my job." Well, he's a cop, that's how he plays it, and I didn't really mind because the whole thing was fun. But I can't allow that in the future. I'll be out somewhere again this week. Gotta try this some more while the weather's still warm.