08.12.16 {in flight}

midwestern lightning storms are flashing through the cloud cover below the plane like the quadrants of a pinball machine's face. we're the dragon this time, which pleases me; it's nice every now and again.

joe put in a half day's work at the office before heading for the airport, so it fell to me to throw away itinerant old fruits and vegetables, address garbage cans and the litter box, arrange cat-tending supplies for the sitter. we'll be back in just over a week, but we've reached jungle-summer's peak, when you can feel the air digesting you a bit more each time you dart out of conditioned cover. i imagine our poor companion animals slow-cooking in our absence.

08.09.16

this will be the third alternating tuesday on which i've taken the train out to meet a friend at the beach, the freelance writer's amorphous schedule at its best. on the friday before last i took another train north to meet amorphophallus titanum, the new york botanic garden's stinking corpse flower (the first bloomer they've had since the late '30s, just after they had the first-ever blooming corpse flower in the western hemisphere; a. titanum's a native of borneo). staffers noticed the bud on the 15th, moved the flower to the enid a. haupt conservatory for exotic specimens on the 18th, and braced themselves for hordes of visitors (an estimated 25,000 turned up for a whiff). the gal at the ticket counter already had a haunted look in her eye when i arrived around noon; the garden had been open since half past eight, she said, and crowds had already tripled a typical friday's count. a television news anchor performed showy jaw-limbering exercises behind her as his cameraman fired up his equipment. a kid wandered around with a whole box of pizza, as if the flower had had it delivered to its waiting fans like a generous star at shakespeare in the park.

to my delight, i ended up queuing for the conservatory itself near the four twentysomething goths* who wandered into the garden just before i did (they were a few scores of visitors behind me, as they paused at the entrance to exchange corpse-flower-related exclamations with a few daywalking friends who were on the way out). this quartet had made the most of recent athleisure advances and were wearing lovely striped running tights under their lace-up boots and whisper-thin joy division shirts. and the tattoos, you guys, the tattoos! one woman's ink actually looked like tatting, a delicate layer of lace that gathered like epaulets at her shoulders, shadow at her clavicle, cobwebs at her temples. the fact that i need my tattoos to be on lines of symmetry has kept me pretty honest, but it can be hard to ignore the freelancer's amorphous dress code, sometimes. pagoda umbrella or no, the sun was too much for most of the goths, who took turns tag-teaming a place in line from beneath a shade tree. this was a popular strategy: "i'll go have a look at the peonies and you can call me when you start moving," one guy behind me suggested to another. "it'll be like the line for easter kielbasa at martin rosol's." "it'll smell like a weekend's worth of sewage. sewage on a monday," another guy said. the woman in front of me quietly caught a low-level rattata.



*one with a pagoda-shaped umbrella i must acquire immediately.

07.21.16

i had a theory that no one would pay me to write things this summer—editors love their vacations—and that i should focus on pretending i'm bold enough to write and promote a book; to that end, i've been setting aside various instructive memoirs and conducting interviews with ben bird, who has nearly recovered from being stepped on at the hospital (and suffering a nasty broken shoulder) a couple of months ago. i can approximate his songs well enough to elicit responses—his full-fledged car-alarm routine, actually, which he hasn't been singing for anyone else—which is both exciting and a little terrifying (what if he's cursing? i might speak a bit of cardinal, but i can't hold substantive conversations yet). the staff assures me that it's his i haven't seen you in such a long time, friend song. i hope they're right.

i was wrong about no one paying me to write things! i mean, not dramatically wrong, but i file a piece or two each week. i'm getting better at interviewing doctors and researchers, though i'm still terrible at transcribing my conversations. a piece on ben (and a photo of us!) will be on newsstands this fall; a piece on thomas pynchon will be online in a week or two. the latter feels like a reported version of the writing i do here, which is very exciting; i'm hoping to ride that weird into more creative nonfiction.

i miss you.
Luke loves BHV for the music. All day long it plays excited, taped Christmas shopping announcements, backed with appropriate tunes. Some of the tunes we recognize—it plays the Looney Tunes theme, for instance—and some seem vaguely familiar but are hard to name, so we give our own names to them: "The Love Theme from BHV," "BHV's Victory at Sea," and the "BHV Christmas Anthem." His ears undimmed by fifteen years of the IRT, Luke can hear them all even over the din of appliance shopping, and when he notices a favorite, he rises from his stroller, a cobra in mittens, and sways solemnly back and forth.

(adam gopnik, from "the winter circus, christmas journal 1," in paris to the moon)

06.16.16

another film festival, another evening walk home in an official tee i probably should have washed at some point. i bartended at this one, sort of! i mean, i bar-backed for the guy in charge of the beer and wine. i took a social-darwinism liking to him, as i was otherwise the oldest person associated with the festival, at least as far as i could tell. when i asked him what he did when he wasn't bartending, he told me he'd retired in december, and that he'd lived in malaysia for 15 years before that. what did he do there? "i like to tell people i helped men have more sex," he said. "that...could mean almost anything, really," i said, busying myself with the pilsners. "i manufactured fine jewelry," said he. "think of the last time your husband bought you a really nice pair of earrings, or a necklace, or a ring. you had sex that night, right?" "i would never let my husband buy me jewelry," i replied.

it was a scrappy festival, a loose festival, a festival that felt a bit like zork; direction was minimal, but the work was there if i could find it.

You are at the top of an apparently four-story spiral staircase. To the west someone with a heavy Brooklyn accent mutters about shiraz. Your old friends, three dozen bottles of tepid pink lemonade, are at your feet.

>i

You are carrying:
A comically large iPhone
A dusty white Tic Tac


>get ice cubes

There is no concession stand here.

and so on. when the lounge emptied out for screenings, the staffers danced for each other. i met a delightful 22-year-old who introduced me to his boyfriend and asked if he could friend me on facebook and ask me for writing advice. i thought about wearing my chandelier-print skirt for closing night and chickened out at the last minute. to be fair, it's too hot for tights.

05.27.16

conversations with doctor omnibus {love is like a bottle of gin}

in googling around for my psychiatrist's number—i see him twice a year and seem unable to keep his contact information handy—i found notes from other patients on his germophobia, stances on smoking and falling in love (both childish), curtness, and possible sociopathy. they endeared him to me, to be honest; we've been scowling at each other for something like eight years now. there's history.

LMO: remember the time you told me to volunteer at a hospital? i actually did—i mean, i volunteer at a hospital. a bird hospital.
doc: birds? birds are fantastic!
LMO: i know!

doc: people worry too much about their moods. it's like alcohol, you figure out the correct dose.

doc: moods are like skin. most people's are not perfect. it's an organ.

doc: moods are like shoes. they don't matter.

LMO: [halfway out the door] are your dogs...related to each other?
doc: i don't know. [pause] i give them all...mafia names. tony and dominic and vinnie. well, vinnie died.
LMO: i'm so sorry. [pause] i had a cat called charles bronson.
doc: there you go!

05.18.16

at ye olde charity bookstore cafe, V and i discussed the woman who came in last week and wanted to haggle down the prices of the two mildly shopworn donated paperbacks she wanted to purchase (which she did, by $1.50, after i conferred with an actual employee). she turned to her friend, who had just joined her at the counter, and smiled: "every little bit helps." she circulated in the store for a few more minutes and came back to ask what the building had been before we turned it into a bookstore. i didn't know; none of the other volunteers or the staffer with us did, either. "you should know that," she hissed. "that and books are what people want." V hadn't known about the haggling until this afternoon. "hausverbot! she is banned from entering this place."

when V left to rearrange a display i got to talking with P, an artist, as he replaced rare books in the glass cases near the front door. i made a somewhat disparaging comment about jeff koons and he mentioned that they shared an ex; "cicciolina, actually." he had been involved with her after koons was. "are you telling me you have koons cooties?" "yeah, i guess so." i asked about made in heaven; he said it was absolutely not weird that he'd seen it before they met. "it's just like anything someone did before you were dating them." i mean, visual artists, but i disagreed. "if jeff koons can make a living painting, why can't you?" she used to say to him. that sounded so cold to me that i misinterpreted P at first and thought he meant a living painting, like pageant of the masters (do you, southern california). no, a living painting, and P quoted her to koons when they met years later. they had a good laugh.

05.12.16

the dirty dozen {twelve of my favorite passages from martin millar's lonely werewolf girl}

01 "The flat remained exactly as the Guild provided it. He didn't rearrange the furniture, buy himself a new set of sheets, or hang a calendar on the wall. Such things were inconsequential to him. The only thing he cared about was hunting werewolves."

02 "It was the room she used for her private conferences and in homage to this there was a painting on the wall by Velasquez of two ambassadors. This was one of the finest pictures by Velasquez in private hands, and did not appear in any of the standard lists of the painter's works."*

03 "'Doesn't Apthalia the Grim spend her time waiting on quiet roads, trying to ambush lonely travellers?' asked Thrix.
'Not so much now,' replied Malveria. 'These days she's more interested in fashion. And since she had her warts removed and her nose done, and started buying her clothes from Dior, rather than simply robbing the corpses of her victims, she is not so bad looking, I admit.'"

04 "The Enchantress noticed Dominil's T-shirt under her open coat.
'What's the writing?'
'The band's set list.'
Thrix read it with interest.
'Stupid Werewolf Bitch? Evil White-Haired Slut?' She laughed. 'They wrote two songs about you.'
'Three,' said Dominil. 'They encore with Vile Werewolf Whore.'

05 "'You seem uncomfortable,' said Dominil. 'Is there some problem with the sorcery?'
'None at all,' replied Thrix. 'I'm uncomfortable because I'm in a bar in Camden with a lot of nineteen year old boys gawking at me.'"

06 "'This daughter will now attempt to see what label is on the clothes when the Princess disports her unpleasant figure at the Empress Asaratanti's party celebrating the one thousandth anniversary of her victory over the ice dwarves from the north.'"

07 "'I would so much like to kill that Princess. Do you know she had the effrontery to insinuate that I was generously proportioned? She accused me of hiding my excess weight! Which is absurd. Of course it can be done—I believe her mother the Empress Asaratanti has long concealed several hundred pounds of ugly fat in another dimension—but such tactics are not necessary for the extremely slim Queen Malveria. Last year my devotees added the title Slenderest of Queens to my many existing names, quite unbidden by myself.'"

08 "'Where's the Vermeer?'
'I lent it to the National Gallery.'
Markus was surprised.
'Just because I'm Mistress of the Werewolves doesn't mean I have no sense of duty to the wider public. It's the modern world dear, we all have to make a contribution.'"

09 "Moonglow was such a kind soul. It was one of the things Daniel liked about her. That and her pretty face, her long black hair and the really attractive nose stud."

10 "Kalix wrote a new entry in her journal. The Runaways are the Queens of Noise. Today I killed two hunters. Or yesterday."

11 "'Well, Malveria, these are clearly intended as dresswear only. You can't expect a fashion item to stand up to ritual sacrifice on the volcano. I've told you before about choosing the right footwear for the right occasion.'"

12 "Everyone of importance would be there, even the ladies from the court of the iron elementals, and they hardly ever went out to social events."


imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 if you were supernatural, would you share your secret masterpieces with the mortal public?
02 donald trump, hillary clinton, and bernie sanders: who's the vampire, who's the cyborg, and who's the alien?
03 what would you conceal in another dimension?
04 there are apparently two sequels to this scottish werewolf novel. should i read them?
05 on non-werewolf novels, how unlike graham greene's other stuff is travels with my aunt?


*secret masterpieces are one of my favorite supernatural fiction subthemes. our friend lesley has a salvador dalí portrait of her grandmother hanging in her hallway, which is why it's so easy to play "vampire, cyborg, or alien?" with her.

05.04.16

a favorite story from obit, vanessa gould's glorious documentary on the new york times's obituary team (which premiered at tribeca on sunday the 17th): like many news organizations, the times maintains an archive of advance obituaries for noteworthy men and women. as margalit fox, a member of the team, put it a few years ago, "As a general rule, when lives are long enough, accomplished enough and complex enough that we would just as soon not get caught short writing them on deadline, advances are assigned."). it's an offshoot of 'the morgue,' the times's almost unfathomably large collection of biographical data related to prospective obit subjects (it's composed almost entirely of yellowing clippings from, as i recall, 28 daily sources; to digitize the morgue [which lives in a flood-prone basement in midtown; even moving it to the times's new building is prohibitively expensive] would cost an army of flesh-and-blood scanners years of their lives). "If an advance has gone according to plan," fox says, "it has been researched, written, fact-checked, filed, edited and copy-edited, laid out on a page and sometimes even supplied with accompanying videos for online viewing, all well ahead of the game."

elinor smith, the 'flying flapper of freeport'—in 1928, she became the youngest licensed pilot in the world (at age 16; orville wright signed her license)—died at a nursing home in palo alto in march of 2010. a times staffer in the morgue shuffled through the card catalog that would tell him where to find the folder of her life's news clippings and discovered a red stamp indicating that an advance obituary had been filed for her—in the early '30s, when she was still a teenager, as what she did was considered so dangerous that she was expected to meet an exceedingly untimely end. (when elinor was 17, someone dared her to fly under all four bridges on the east river; according to the cradle of aviation museum on long island, she's still the only person ever to have done it.) elinor smith outlived her obituary by seven decades! (as you would imagine, she outlived her obituarist as well; as one of the times staffers mentioned in obit, one of the most contemporary news sources in the world regularly publishes articles about dead people written by other dead people.) she quit flying in her late twenties to focus on her family but took back to the air after her husband's death in 1959; in 2000, when she was 88, she became the oldest pilot to complete a simulated space shuttle landing (with an all-female crew). elinor motherfucking smith, ladies and gentlemen. may we all outlive our obituarists.

04.21.16

one of my film festivals, the one where i wonder if i can get away with wearing a black tee four times before washing it and barrel around the city arguing with twenty-year-olds about terrence malick, is almost over. this year i bowed out of the front-of-the-house crew and joined a smaller, lonelier team of rats; i've been clambering up into theater bowels all over town. it's a hurry-up-and-wait job, and i spent half of my first shift suspecting i'd made a terrible mistake; then i got to crawl up to the projectionist's booth at the beacon, a week to the day after liz phair and billy corgan sang me back to high school there. the humbler venues are somehow even better: the velvety dust! the ankle-mangling stairs! in a dark tech corridor in chelsea i turned from photographing a strip of old celluloid to see a senior staffer wrinkling her mouth at me. "it just looked really cool," i said. "it is a crumpled piece of film," she replied.

the other film festival, the one where i'm a moviegoer who exchanges an occasional secret wink with ushers and security staff, picks up this afternoon. i'm considering a late thriller tonight, meeting an old front-of-house friend tomorrow afternoon, and dragging joe to a collection of horror shorts tomorrow night. horror shorts! i tried them for the first time last year; the ebb and flow of brain chemicals is a bit like when joe handed me a nominally roasted scotch bonnet pepper in the dominican republic in march. "hey, you want to do something really stupid?" we each ate one whole and felt our eardrums vibrate for the next half hour. i had to sit down. a documentary saturday afternoon, and one last documentary, maybe two, on sunday.

04.15.16

on my first afternoon at the film festival, i arrived at an office bristling with reporters and photographers and silently cursed robert de niro for making asinine comments about vaccines 24 hours before i had to spend two weeks wearing a tee with his insignia. i flashed my badge and shouldered past security to a tiny elevator bank, where jane fonda and lily tomlin beamed at me like a three-dimensional ad for their netflix series. ah. really good hair. i stepped between them and into the elevator.

"i've seen your trailers all over soho today," said the kid at the drugstore who sold me a can of tile cleaner six hours later. "i took some acting classes a few years ago, myself." i told him the story of jane and lily and the elevator. "i think i'm more familiar with...lily...but not the other guy," he said. i gazed across an aisle of old easter candy. "jane fonda was..." (against vietnam?) "...barbarella?" he blinked. i tucked my receipt into my messenger bag and slunk away.

03.23.16

three years ago, matty was born; three years ago today, chuck died in my arms. happy birthday, my coconut cat. every day and more than ever, my shadow.

03.15.16

the dirty dozen {packed for a week in the dominican republic}

01 the queen of the night (alexander chee)
02 wolf hall (hilary mantel)
03 death of a red heroine (qiu xiaolong)
04 hand-eye supply safety glasses
05 a ratty old iron maiden fear of the dark tour tee
06 a pineapple corer
07 two running tanks
08 a tagless black bathing suit i found at a fashion giveaway at the office four years ago
09 stink
10 a charley harper puzzle
11 purple shampoo
12 pimentón