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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Besetting Repeating Sins

I'm really not sure what 'sins' are. For the moment I'm going with the idea of repeated failures to do the good and the beautiful. I considered two of mine in Radiation Days: Laziness and Fear. Then yesterday, when I was doodling with scissors, I realized that L & F have at least one child. Its portrait below:

And I'm really glad I could post this before breakfast, because I have so much to do today.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Fat Boys On Fire For You

A few years ago,  I was married and living on Addison St. near Rittenhouse Square. There were five of us: my wife Judith, our daughter Spencer, Bill the Dog and Spike the Cat and me. It was that decade's version of the large, happy family. I was insanely happy even as I was always conscious of the clock ticking, of knowing that this was a mere moment.
One of the things we did to celebrate ourselves was to send out holiday cards. But of course, we didn't take a picture under the tree and walk down to the printer. No. We made handmade cards, a hundred or so. It was a project that delighted us and celebrated the very thing we were happy about.
The cards were usually relief prints (the churlish would call them rubber stamps), hand-colored, mounted in mat board and always a trifle odd. It was to Judith's credit that she indulged my oddness, or maybe in those years, she was a bit odd too.
The cards went out a bit before Christmas or a bit after. We took to calling them New Year's cards because it usually took us that long to get the project together. Just gettng the right color envelopes in a size that matched this year's card could take weeks.
Here's the card from 1991:

I'm working on this year's card. I promise to have it out by St. Patrick's Day and if I have your mailing address, you'll probably get one. In the meantime, I hope that somewhere, there are at least a few fat boys on fire for you.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Back in the 1990's, I wrote a novel about a guy who sets out to kill someone. In a perversion of the usual wisdom, his resolve to commit murder is what redeems him. This month, January 2015, there's an agent interested in the book. So of course, I've gone over it again, hired a proofreader and now it's back out in the world.
Here's how it starts:

I remember exactly when I decided to kill Jim Pifkie. It was just before noon on a Tuesday morning, after a long Columbus Day weekend. I celebrated Columbus with three days of drinking, cursing and pissing on my shoes. By Tuesday I was way past drunk and well into poisoned; if Congress had proclaimed Columbus Week instead of Columbus Day, I would have drunk myself to death.
On the Friday before the festivities, I turned in two restaurant reviews ahead of deadline. I wrote the foreword for somebody else’s book of recipes, sent out some queries about a winery in Graz, Austria and edited that week’s tasting notes. Then I put my work away and started drinking: whole, cedary, scratchy, dirty bottles of dark red wine. By Sunday I was sure I was dying. Someplace in the sour-smelling little vestibule in front of drinking-yourself-to-death, I saw my mother’s face, pinched and staring. The face didn’t look at me or move its lips, but I heard her voice saying, “You’re not the one who should die.” Then I heard my own voice saying the name of the one who should. 

  Deciding to kill Pifkie was the best thing I did all day. Oh sure, it was the same day I screamed obscenities at my oldest living relative and threw a wine bottle at a male prostitute. And I almost bit a fat lady on the saggy flesh at the back of her neck. Drooled all over her, in fact. Good stuff, highlights-film stuff. But none of it was half as satisfying as deciding that I was going to kill Jim Pifkie. 

I spent a lot of time with this story, I may have even been in love with it once. Anyway, there was a big birthday in New York last month and on the list of baubles that would make a perfect year, getting Killers published is near the top.

Stay tuned.

If you ever want to really embarrass yourself,
design a cover for one of your own books.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Did you ever feel a bit awkward in the presence of beauty?

 I've been feeling a bit of that lately, at least 'til I took a trip to New York. Then I felt a lot of that. It's not a question of feeling inadequate, it's more like getting the knee-wobblies knowing how much there is to do.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

At the Risk of Some Distortion

So, I'm back in Philadelphia now. Dogs walked, woods explored, dailiness re-established. I'm still kind of drifty-almost as if I were still heading down to the MOMA everyday, taking my pulse in front of two dancers as if that could account for the rush I'm feeling.
It was an odd vacation. All alone and silent in the greatest, mouthiest city on earth. What does a guy like me do when there's no one to talk to? Well, he talks to strangers of course: bus drivers, cops, museum goers, doormen. But mostly he talks to himself.
•It's magic, this city. I was happy there when I lived there and I was sad too, but none of the major disappointments happened in New York.
•It was a big birthday. I'm old and alone. It's mostly been a subtraction of people and an addition of accomplishments. I would rather it were the other way around, but that's how I lived it.
•I made a list of what I'd like to do in the next year, a list of things that matter. Some of them, no doubt are out of reach, but the list is nice to look at and it reminds me to be here and be kind.
•People asked me for directions. I even steered a guy to Nam Wah, the dim sum house on Doyers Street. I must have looked like I knew my way around and if it was good enough for the tourists, it ought to be good enough for me too.
Further New York Knowledge:

Duane Reade Pharmacies are named for General Duane Reade, the Revolutionary War hero who singlehandedly saved the Revolution at the Battle of the Bowery. Later, after drafting the civil liberties clauses in the Constitution he led the fight to abolish slavery and institute universal sufferage. He died shortly after receiving the Nobel Prize for his work on the polio vaccine.
The pharmacies named after him blanket New York. They even sell an edible bagel-which is more than you can say for many bakeries out-of-town.

Nah, that's not true, at least the history part. The first Duane Reade was downtown, near City Hall on the corner of Duane and Reade streets.

Big Wong's retired. The joint is now run by his kid, Little Wong.

Hope? Even the sculpture is a rip-off.

You think you could live there? You oughta
have yer head examined!

And finally, I'll repeat myself (something us older people are entitled to do)

 I was talking to someone who was trying to remind me what a shitty year I had and suddenly I said "Yeah, and I don't feel like making myself miserable about it." Yup, it was the sense that how i experience this next little bit of life is entirely up to me. So I chose to have a really nice birthday: lunch with a friend, a trip to his gallery, whitefish salad, cucumber soda, sushi, good beer, hazelnut gelato, a cathedral with some great saxophone music, crazy people on the subway and home in bed by midnight with a belgian nightcap.* I
Anyway, i'm going to think about this some more, but I heard myself say that i chose not to suffer over it the year's events and instead, I'm going to celebrate the genuine joys that came with it.

*a belgian nightcap is something you drink, not something you wear.

And I think that's what I'm gonna do. I'm going to play this year for extra kindness and insist on feeling pretty good about things. I'm going to take the love that's there and give back more.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

It's not all in good taste

I'm staying these days at my kids' place. They went on honeymoon and I volunteered to water their plant, which I intend to do as soon as I find it. In the meantime, I'm a temporary resident of W 58th Street. In spite of the great location near the park and columbus circle, 58th street is pretty boring. There are a couple of grand piano  showrooms, two bicycle rental store a grocery and this:

Yes, it's a furniture store

This is one window of a furniture store with some frenchified name. I hope you can make out the figure in the foreground: yes, it's a motorcycle and yes that is a female nude of some species riding it with her hindquarters up in the air. 
I would post some other photos, but frankly, it's too depressing. I'm assuming that real estate up here is about as expensive as it gets and that this huge store is making a living. That's even more depressing. But it gets worse. There's another store just like it on the same block. And another around the corner on 59th. 
So my kids are living is the kitsch kapitol of the world and paying Via Veneto prices for rent. Sometimes bad things happen to good real estate. And there are folks who would look at this stuff and like it-I guess the good news is that it keeps the MOMA from being too crowded.
Of course it's always possible that these stores are really sting operations run by the CIA intended to lure the kind of folks who collect statues of naked women warriors in various headdresses. Or maybe they're really drug smuggling operations and the chubby ballerina in the left of the picture is both hollow and stuffed with heroin. At least one can dream.
I visited the Museum of the City of New York today. It's almost to the top of the Park on the 5th Avenue side. Good curation in a small space. Without much triumphalism, it tries to give a sense of how the city got to be. There was a wonderful gallery devoted to protest movements-seven of them that shaped the city, going back to the 1600's when the town was Dutch and some locals refused to persectue Quakers.
There's also a really good short film about how the city got to be the city-about the invention of the suburbs and the decline and rebuilding of the last forty years. When the narrator points out that this is the safest big city in the country, he doesn't even sound smug.
So if I start to get really pedantic when I return to Philly and wax urbane about the Erie Canal and the Draft Riots of 1863, just blame it on the museum.

View from the Museum of the City

Monday, December 22, 2014

Time Slips

Jeff Smith, who you've met earlier on this blog writes from Florida in 2014/New York in 1969:

long-gone park row..remember.tinkers paradise with tools on the street?...walk south to the corner.bldg (1-3 park row) with the hearing aids in window box...swirl left onto ann st and hit the creaky floorboards of the ann st bookstore with its fabulous dusty old volumes...the row was never the same without your dad's store tho...
walk south to the fulton st irt and down the stairs...the burly man with the big smile waving at you is bernie proctor...inside the glass exterior of proctor press...your dad introduced us...years and continents later he printed all my business cards and's all still there for you, lived own it..,   

I write back from New York in 2014:

well i'll tell you, you sweet lunatic you. 

that's about the conclusion i'm coming to this trip. i'm thinking that time bends back and folds like minnie the mobius doing the strip. at moma today there's a big plaque saying that everything's alive on the 'net so that nothing's out of fashion: you can live in or with the past and not be nostalgic or ironic. 

i remember the bookstore on ann street, dusty, yeah, things were growing in there-scary somehow. i rode past park row on the bus to the ferry the other day. (oh man, you gotta do the ferry, stand outside on the deck and scream into  the wind-we're both too old to get arrested for shit like that.) 
this ferry captain didn't bounce, he slipped in like she'd been waiting for him. but i remembered the bounce, held on as we approached. 

I'll probably make that same mistake again.