fredag, juni 30, 2006

Freak Accident?

It's like one of those mysteries in which two people are dead on the floor in a room with no doors or windows. Blah Blah Blah. But it really happens!

Props: One men's shaving razor (with 2 to 4 blades), one chandelier (What!?), and a pop culture stalwart. Freak accident? I'll say.

Now admit it: You find this story juicy.


The apartment was a bit toasty yesterday early evening so I ducked out to have a gin and tonic at Frost's cabana bar and squeeze in some more writing. The large patio was packed, but a waitress I knew told me a seat was open on the far side of the bar. I looked, and indeed a seat was open, but it was pushed back into the plants and loaded down with the handbags of three women who had somehow managed to make their narrow frames fill out a space that should accommodate five people easily. Something about the way they seemed to be sneering at one another in conversation--tense subject?--dissuaded me from seeking that spot.

So I popped across the road. The outdoor tables were full so I elected to sit in the now-thankfully-smoke-free air conditioning of Costello's.

Across the bar sat three of the regulars. Man 1's mouth was moving, yawn-like, but his voice was nearly inaudible. Man 2 was leaning close, listening intently. Man 3 seemed unengaged with it all. He sat with his arms folded and flat cap tipped and his eyes idly watching the Red Sox broadcast.

"But what seminary did you go to?" Man 2 asked.

Man 1 made more of those yawning motions.

"What school?" Man 2 asked. "St Thomas? St John's?"

Man 1 shrugged and uttered something.

"You've got to let that go," Man 2 said. "It don't make no difference what you do in life. You say you never did a hard day's labor. So what. You just work hard at what you do."

The argument continued with Man 1 apparently making the case that he'd been useless in life.

"It don't make no difference," Man 2 said.

"Nope," said Man 3. He excused himself for a pee.

"I can't hardly hear you," Man 2 said.

Man 1 finished his whiskey and leaned toward Man 2, balancing himself on the empty bar stool between them. His hands shifted his balance and his head bent when he tried to speak. He seemed to be climbing over the stool, or attempting to, but he was just in too terrible of a state.

When Man 3 returned he was full of life, but trying to end the conversation. He began reminding Man 1 of himself. "You went to St John's," he said. "I know that about you. Next week you'll be 70."

Man 1 smiled and held up his hands, amazed.

"You told me about it," Man 3 said.

"I told you," Man 1 repeated. "Yes."

Man 3 and Man 2 went further, discussing quickly where their families were from in Ireland and where they emigrated to in the US, what year. They told Man 1 where his family was from, when they'd emigrated. Man 3 told Man 1 the Saint Paul parish in which he (Man 1) had worked for a time as a priest.

Then Man 3 went away and Man 1 began to cry into his hands. "Please tell me, please tell me," he was saying.

"Now you've got to stop that," Man 2 said. "You just need to sleep."

"Please tell me, please," he said.

"You've lived well," Man 2 said. "Just go home and sleep it off."

Man 1 folded into his hands again.

Soon enough, the bartender got into it. He demanded the ex-priest drink some coffee to sober up or accept a ride home from him. When the ex-priest went to talk to Man 2 again, the bartender got loud. "He doesn't want to fucking talk to you anymore, Jim! You've got to sober up and get the hell out!" When the man gave resistance, the bartender said he was two seconds from taking him straight to detox. "You want that? You want that today? Finally?" But the priest calmed down.

Finally, he left. The bartender followed him out and across the street. When the bartender returned, he started to tell those of us who had witnessed this a little about the former priest. The man lived just a few blocks away. The bartender knew the route he always walked home. He knew what the other bartenders in the neighborhood knew about the priest's drinking habits. He told us how many drinks (two) it took before the priest fell apart each time.

Man 3 and Man 2 took seats next to one another again. "He's some sort of defrocked priest," Man 3 said. After a moment he added, "I don't know what he did."

torsdag, juni 29, 2006


Years ago, a poet named Stefan Forrester told me of a reading he'd attended. For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the poet who held the reading. She's quite good, and if I recall correctly she'd sort of vanished unexpectedly from the poetry scene for a few years. Referring to this absence, she said something about compulsion.

I thought that was quite good. I said something about not forcing the work too much. Then Steve corrected me. He said I hadn't heard correctly. She'd told them compulsion wasn't a good enough reason to be away from writing, or a good enough reason to return. Blood might be extreme, but sweat and tears can be of real value.

Sigh. I have to agree with this. I do agree with this. I don't want to, but I do.

Compulsion is still the driver of my literary bus. I spend a mad number of hours writing each week. Most days I put in one hour, sometimes three (though I'm really trying to learn how to sleep, something I've never been much good at). But I never finish anything. I do not finish poems, short stories, certainly not novels. I just keep writing. I keep barfing up new islands from the sea floor.

Andre Dubus, a very dead but very good writer, wrote an essay about writing vertically or horizontally, by which he did not mean the position of his body during the act of writing. To write horizontally was to seize upon every idea that strikes. You're writing outward. You're writing more in a fury. To write vertically is to stay with a single story and burrow at it, however long it takes, until you find the center of it. When Dubus wrote as he called it horizontally, he started 12 to 15 stories per year and finished 3. When he wrote vertically, he started and finished 3 per yer. He was much happier.

(If you saw the film In the Bedroom, you probably know that was based on a Dubus story. His collected stories are really good.)

I think this stuff is always in the back of my head, whipping me, trying to compel me to put some work in the stretch drive. Much of it is there, waiting for me to return to it.

But it's very high in mind today after watching a peculiar documentary about Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal. Darger was a janitor in Chicago who, over the course of decades, wrote a 15,000-page novel full of collage images, paintings, sketches, and hundreds of thousands of words, most of which are about a child-slave rebellion led by the seven Vivian Sisters.

(Some Darger images can be seen at the Web site of Chicago's Carl Hammer Gallery. More info, including a little Darger bio, can be found here.)

Darger knew few people. Ever. He spent nearly all his free time alone in his apartment working on this bottomless tome. He spoke to himself in numerous voices. He called the place he went to when he wrote The Realms of the Unreal.

I think we all have that in us, but when it becomes one's only world ...

Must finish a thing or two soon. Must not become Darger.

onsdag, juni 28, 2006

I Left My Soul in Seoul

You are missed.

tirsdag, juni 27, 2006

Attn Flight 1159: I'm Not French. Seriously.

The flights back from Palm Beach were a circle in hell, only time moves faster in hell. The Atlanta airport was apparently in quite a state due to a lack of equipment, so anyone hoping to fly into Atlanta was delayed if they were even being allowed the attempt. Flight 1159, Palm Beach to Minneapolis with a brief stopover in Atlanta to add passengers, sat on the tarmac for a little over an hour while the Florida sun beat down on the windows. Then we taxied back for more fuel and to have a mechanic look at the AC, which was only half-functioning in the main cabin.

But that's fine. These things happen.

Eventually, Flight 1159 departed. We were to have landed in Atlanta at 6:00, I think. Maybe 5:30. We landed at 7:25 pm. They asked those of us continuing on or for whom Atlanta was the final destination to allow all those seeking connection flights to deboard first. We complied. Then they announced that our flight, again, Flight 1159, was actually continuing on from a different plane.

Fittingly, we landed at the far end of Atlanta's A Concourse. The connecting flight was at the far end of the B Concourse. So I hoofed it. I hopped onto the tram as the doors were closing, just like one does to give a spy tail the slip in the movies.

It was 7:29. The flight was to leave at 7:30.

A bit sweaty, I made it to the plane at 7:33. I said to the woman, "I was on this flight. Well, this flight number. They told me to come here. Do I still have the same seat?" "Sure," she said, as if it was no big deal to get on a plane, any plane, when you wanted to. She scanned my ticket.

As I walked onto the plane, the first flight attendant said to me, "Just in from Paris?"

I shook my head. "Palm Beach," I said. She frowned as if I was the crazy one.

So I took a seat. I noticed that all the people around me were speaking French. Another flight attendant passed. I said, "We are going to Minneapolis, correct?" And she said, "Eventually."

Eventually, indeed. We did not depart for another 90 minutes: 9:05, rather than the posted 7:30.

In the interim, flight attendants passed and asked if the remaining seven open seats were truly open. Recalling how awful seat 10B had been on the flight from Palm Beach to Atlanta, and realizing I was on the exact same style of plane, I took the open aisle seat and told an attendant that the middle seat was still open. So they brought a woman onto the plane and gave her 10B, an undersized, spatially-challenged, hell-forged rock wedged against the wall separating the haves (First Class) from the Have-Nots (Coach). Poor woman. But I wasn't feeling very charitable having already sat in that Iron Maiden for the previous few hours.

The French conversation continued around me. I had a brief daydream of discovering I was on a flight to Paris. I had my passport with. Why not? That wouldn't be such an awful boarding mistake.

A few more obviously French passengers were let on. These guys were wearing super tight t-shirts over fit but rather formless bodies--the sort I think signs people who do not mind walking places. One man was wearing a thin, tight ribbed sweater, a cream-colored thing with short sleeves. Around his neck he'd tied a thicker green sweater. They milled about a bit at the front of the plane while the attendants decided where they'd have to sit.

Finally, we left.

I'm not one to imbibe on planes, really. I'm drinking very little these days anyway (though Florida was a welcomed setback to this program, damn you Rum Runners!). The altitude increases the dehydrating effects of beer. I've no medical data, but it seems pretty obvious. With a long day only getting longer, I thought a beer was in order.

"Do we have a Heineken?" I asked the woman pushing the drink cart. We did.

"Five dollars," she said. I soon discover my apparently French mistique is working overtime.

In part, I understand, it's my choice of words. "Do we have a Heineken?" rather than "Heineken" or "Can I have a Heineken." Sometimes I use British English words (though not with a British accent). For example, I might call a light, misty rain a mizzle. "What's it like out?" "A bit of a mizzle," I might say.

In part, it's my apparently unplaceable accent that has caused people in various places to ask if I'm from Finland, Sweden, England, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, New York, Minnesota, Chicago, Canada, California and so on. Language has exploded in my mouth. I defy categorization.

I've a weird face too and rather untameable hair. And there's something to the way I carry myself that must indicate a more European style, as in Germany and Denmark I was often spoken to in the native languages first while others were addressed in English.

And on this day on the plane, I was wearing white shoes with red laces that I'd bought in Copenhagen last year.

All this to say the attendant baffled me. She said, "Five dollars," and when I opened my wallet she added, "Oh, in American."

"Certainly," I said.

Later, the woman next to me, the one I'd condemned to the Hell Known As 10B, asked slowly, perhaps to aid my comprehension of English or perhaps she was deciding where I might be from, if I now lived in Minnesota. I said, "Oh, yes, right in Saint Paul." She added, "Wow!" as if this should be worth an exclamation. A Frenchman! A real Frenchman! In Saint Paul!

It's all good.

So we landed in Minneapolis about 11, three hours late. With all the international confusion I was feeling pretty good about things. I knew my luggage wouldn't be there. My luggage is never there after my trips to Palm Beach. It wasn't. So I caught a cab home.

In the moments before I fell into a six-hour coma on the couch, I checked my e-mail. I'd a message from Expedia telling me my flight schedule had changed. I worried that perhaps it meant my late August flight to Copenhagen had been cancelled, so popped by the Delta site for an explanation.

There, I found they'd rescheduled me to stay in Atlanta this night. I was to fly from Atlanta to Cinci, and Cinci to Minneapolis the next day. There was no recognition of the flight I'd actually taken. But I will alert them to it, for I want those miles, damn it. I fly too much to ignore them. One day soon, I'm going to swagger through those private club doors at the airport. It will happen, and there's nothing they can do to stop me.

Never mess with a Frenchman.

fredag, juni 23, 2006

Jennifer Love Hewitt

Still travelling, friends (Florida this week), but there's always time to talk about former Party of Five actors. So: Jennifer Love Hewitt.

If only SHE had married tennis player Lleyton Hewitt. Imagine how much fun the tabs would have with the headline: Jennifer LOVES Hewitt. It would be like Joanie Loves Chachi, only with different names.

Mips (the Skyylark) and those who comment at her blog have me thinking about the evil that Jennifer Love Hewitt potentially presents to the world. The Skyylark take is worth a read, especially because in a highly uncharacteristic move she's taking some swings. In her crosshairs: JLH, Target, her CD collection, and a bit more.

Rather than comment on the blog, I respond here. I add:

If it wasn't for Jennifer Love Hewitt, Entertainment Tonight would have very little to talk about. (Just how much cash do the producers of Ghost Whisperer slip them? It must come in something bigger than a shoebox.) And without ET, many of our most popular cosmetic, hygienic, and snackable products would not have such a convenient platform from which to pitch their wares.

These are, actually, the same things you load up on absent-mindedly at Target. With your freshly emptied wallet, you stay home at night. You turn on the television. Ghost Whisperer is on.

onsdag, juni 14, 2006

The Inland Murmur of Jet Lag Poetry

Awake at odd hours since returning from Asia this past Friday, I occupied the fire in my brain one night with some writing. Insomnia is not such a bother when it's productive.

I remembered that a Welsh friend had offerred two months ago to pay my entry fee into a Welsh poetry and fiction contest if I was willing to give it a go. I said yes, then promptly forgot to work towards that contest. So in the insomniac hours, I recalled the contest and its June 18 deadline.

I'm not much of a poet, but I enjoy the way it opens one's thoughts. The poem I wrote follows, sans an effort at line breaks. A few explanatory notes are included too.

Afon Gŵy

I knew you in the hills when you were young enough still to be called a boy yet not object as you stood among the fractured rocks whose history you knew at that time only through books.

The old gods had protested at being forgotten and had pounded the stone ceiling of their hall, now so much like a tomb, up through the heather and peat and into the grey gauzy sky. But the weight was more than their fist bones could bear. Night had fallen without a star. They slept.

So one day you climbed into the hills, your face afire with the ill-turned heat of what must have been a first love. You cast stones that hit the water—Twp! Twp!—and sang three lines over and over, self-conscious, the volume dipping as you kept watch, but clearly you’d a well-trained voice—a tenor, I think—hidden in the wet black vault from which you drew breath.

Time passed. I cooled your skin, the conduit of a conscience. And, rushing onward, took fistfuls of mud, more than once a child, a hastily scrawled prayer, even a young couple’s undergarments, though they remained, happily, where they stood.

I washed my mouth with scales. I screamed at the sycamores, took the insults of birds. I batted at the white matte light that flickered like flame against my skin.

In the darkness, all I do is dream. Even the wrens envy this.

1. Afon Gŵy is the Welsh name of the River Wye, providing some of the border between England and Wales. It begins in the Cambrian Mountains, at Plynlimon, and runs through Tintern, a point Wordsworth wrote about quite well.
2. "Twp" is a Welsh word meaning "stupid." It's pronounced sort of like "tuhp."
3. Going back millennia, the wren is the king of birds in Celtic culture.

fredag, juni 02, 2006

Mr. Chang

I'm now at the Savoy Hotel in the Myeong-dong District of Seoul. This is a very old part of the city, so the streets are narrow and it retains an open market culture. However, many of the buildings are new and quite tall, so the overall effect is of a tight, shadowy district. Very popular for shopping and for young people. The area outside my hotel is part of a series of seemingly endless walking streets (with a strong resemblance to Copenhagen's Stroiget), only sometimes cars appear. You just learn how to walk and not get run down.

Women in short, fur-topped boots and mini skirts call to you over amplifiers to invite you into the department stores. There's a man dressed in a suit, crown and sash on which is written a series of Korean characters. He does not move his feet but rotates at the waist and waves his arms and calls out something relevant to the store he stands outside. Shoe and jewelry and clothing stands line the center lane of these streets. Fruit stands and grill stalls are pressed against the buildings.

Yesterday I was picked up at the other hotel by one Mr Chang, who works for a test lab. He drove me 45 minutes across the city to testing headquarters where I toured the facility and had lunch with a team of researchers. Among the many things I saw there was a washing machine room where they were putting Gap t-shirts to color-fast and shrinkage tests. They use American machines when testing for American markets, French for French markets, etc.

But on the drive there, most of which was spent in silence, I could not help but feel good about it all, though Mr. Chang was really being put out of his way by this. He took me along the river for quite a ways (following one of the city's eight-lane highways). I spotted a Trump tower. I saw a beach with what appeared to be a sand (perhaps red clay?) basketball court. I saw fascinating buildings, one after the other, stacked all the way up into the mountain. All the while Mr. Chang seemed a little stressed about being told to pick me up. He'd seemed a little out about it the previous day when my contact told him he was going to do this. (Things like that are always happening here. No one disagrees, though.) But afterwards, when he rode in the cab with me to Myeong-dong, he brightened. We had to get out of the cab and walk into the district. Mr Chang insisted on pulling my suitcase along (and, later, insisted on waiting until the bellhop had my bag and was holding the elevator open before Mr Chang felt he could abandon his charge). We walked through the crowd, he stopped to ask a few people where the Savoy was, and, indeed, it was tough to find, tucked in very cozily as it is. The entrance we used looks to be an alley. But everything here looks to be that.

Still, in all the noise and commotion and the happiness of people taking their Friday afternoon to just walk in the heat and shop brought a smile to Mr. Chang. He said, "You see now why I do not drive here." He said, "We always take a subway into Myeong-dong." Thoughts of those adventures must have been running through his head, for he was now quite relaxed, even a bit lively to judge by the light in his eyes.

My own adventure awaits. But first: breakfast. It's 7 am here, 5 pm the previous day back home. I've a coupon for a meal at Goody Goody.
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