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

03.01.16

a personal essay i wrote about the bird hospital went live on a massive lifestyle website a few fridays ago. i'd pitched it as a service-y health piece with personal details, something to the effect of how i work with filthy animals and it's perfectly safe and actually quite delightful; the angle my editor and i settled on was more introspective than that, and i worried that i would sound self-involved. (what are blogs for, mmm?) i also worried that i might have misrepresented the center's feelings about rats by opening with a story about one; i love rats very nearly across the board, but they aren't especially welcome among the birds. (a healthy rat got into the songbird flyway last year and came dangerously close to biting bird ben, my beloved northern cardinal pal, prompting the—and here's some trivia—one and only oh fuck that rat that's ever escaped my lips.)

one of the center's interns came downstairs this afternoon: "we've got a rat." everyone cringed. "no, like a lady brought it in. it's in intake." wait, like a pet rat? or a lab rat? what did it look like? "brown." i crept up from the basement an hour later, and there she was in a little pet carrier on the floor, cage card and all. VIRGINIA (RAT). DEHYDRATED, DISORIENTED, WOUND ON ARM. i hadn't noticed R behind me, and i jumped when she spoke: "cute, isn't she?" a black-eyed cinnamon mound, just visible in the gloom. yes, she was. subway-colored, street-colored, like the rats people trap and poison and abhor. we don't usually take rats, R said, but we'd hold on to her for a rat expert who'd agreed to come for her in the evening. virginia! wound on arm! how lovely it would be if she made it to that cage because someone misunderstood me; how lovely it would be if she made it to that cage because someone understood me.

02.27.16

phyllis rose's the shelf (in which she reads her way through the LEQ-LES shelf at the new york society library, a subscription library on the upper east side i'm ashamed to have never visited) has been sizzling across my synapses for the last few weeks. her curiosity is a thing of beauty—i adore how she develops extratextual relationships with some of her authors, hunts down answers about cover art from a designer, and watches and rewatches footage from one author's funeral on youtube—and i thrill to the way she accepts responsibility for keeping literary culture alive (and urges other readers to do the same). i'd love to curl up and make myself inconspicuous in a wrinkle in her brain for a day. a smattering of favorite passages:
A friend of [Rose's daughter-in-law] attended high school where the drama teacher was a megalomaniac control freak. Although everyone knows that musicals for amateur performance should be chosen to provide the maximum number of easy singing roles, he chose to do Phantom of the Opera, which has relatively few parts and difficult music. The drama teacher himself played the Phantom, and the best singer in the school played Christine. All the other kids played candlesticks in the chandelier.

[...]

I remember taking a ship from Naples to Istanbul in the summer of 1974 and seeing a man reading Fear of Flying in Spanish, laughing out loud. I never saw such universal appeal again until a Samburu warrior in Kenya asked me to send him tapes of the Harry Potter movies.

[...]

A woman who was hired as an editorial assistant at a major publisher in New York in the early 1960s recalls how, on the first day of work, the twelve new assistants were separated into male and female groups, the men set to reading manuscripts, the women to typing. Another woman recalls learning that she had scored the highest on a chemistry final in college, asking if that meant she was getting an A, and being told that only one A could be given and a boy needed it more than she did. Others recall days when Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Dartmouth didn't admit women, to say nothing of the Century Association in New York and Mory's in New Haven.* Someone else reminds us that in France, women could not vote until after World War II.**

[...]

I asked a friend who works for a small public library how they choose books to get rid of. Is there a formula? Who makes the decision, a person or a committee? She told me that there was a formula based on the recommendations of the industry-standard CREW model.

CREW stands for Continuous Review Evaluation and Weeding, and the manual uses "crew" as a transitive verb, so one can talk about a library "crewing" its collection. It means weeding but doesn't sound so harsh. At the heart of the CREW method is a formula consisting of three factors—the number of years since its last copyright, the number of years since the book was last checked out, and a collection of six negative factors given the acronym MUSTIE, to help decide if a book has outlived its usefulness. M. Is it Misleading or inaccurate? Is its information, as so quickly happens with medical and legal texts or travel books, for example, outdated?*** U. Is it Ugly? Worn beyond repair? S. Has it been Superseded by a new edition or a better account of the subject? T. Is it Trivial, of no discernible literary or scientific merit? I. Is it Irrelevant to the needs and interests of the community the library serves? E. Can it be found Elsewhere, through interlibrary loan or on the Web?

[...]

Since every system of elimination is based, no matter what they say, on circulation counts, the number of years that have elapsed since a book was last checked out, or the number of times it has been checked out overall, if you feel strongly about a book, you should go to every library you have access to and check out the volume you care about. Take it home awhile. Read it or don't. Keep it beside you as you read the same book on a Kindle, Nook, or iPad.**** Let it breathe the air of your home, and then take it back to the library, knowing you have fought the guerrilla war for physical books.

[...]

Traditionally, fiction assumes that an event like the death of a wife and child should be dramatized at a length appropriate to its gravity. [Alain-René Le Sage, author of Gil Blas] pivots from one state to another with no more than "But, alas!" and although Gil Blas tells us he couldn't eat, fell into a deep depression, and might have died if Scipio had not forced him to sustain himself, there is no plumbing the depths of his soul. We are left to imagine his anguish: "Let the reader conceive...the sorrow with which I was seized."

There is a certain wisdom to this approach in fiction, as in life. When a child dies, when a spouse dies, one feels the grief that one feels when a child dies or a spouse dies. There's no point in trying to describe it. How much does it hurt to have your arm pulled from the socket? It hurts as much as having your arm pulled from the socket.
rose writes that she enjoys hearing from readers of her books when they contact her to offer praise and is rather displeased when they pepper her with inquiries, which makes sense; i'd be pretty displeased if someone wrote me just to ask me to prep for their book club on their behalf. it has been brought to my attention that i tend to ask a lot of questions when i meet people, so it's probably not a good idea for me to reach out to rose—but i might not be able to resist a fan letter. the shelf has wound me up.

it's been a good year for reading thus far, so good that i have yet to make much progress in 2015's version of BOOKS I READ, IN ORDER OF HOW INTERESTED I WAS IN SLEEPING WITH THEM BENEATH MY PILLOW (STRONGEST CANDIDATES FIRST), AND HAIKU DISCUSSION. i forced my sister to take the first of elena ferrante's neapolitan novels back to california with her last week; i'd have insisted on all four, really, but it's impolite to inflict that much ballast on air travelers. if you, dear internets, have yet to read them and can endure the phase shift they could precipitate (i found myself reading for an extra three or four hours a night, which meant that for most of january i turned off my light and rose again in the morning with the people of hawaii rather than my neighbors in new york city), get on that.

i'll be turning in a piece on my third half marathon this friday. how did i get here?



*stanford has been thoroughly coed since it admitted its first students in 1891, by the by.

**a full timeline of women's suffrage is here. in 1919, belgium extended the right to vote in national elections to "the widows and mothers of servicemen killed in World War I, to the widows and mothers of citizens shot or killed by the enemy, and to female political prisoners who had been held by the enemy." other gals weren't welcome at the polls until 1948.

***similarly, ye olde charity bookstore cafe doesn't accept donations of textbooks, tech manuals, or travel guides.

****don't read it on a kindle. fuck amazon, now and always.

02.03.16

IN DYLAN THOMAS'S COLLECTED POEMS, 1934-1952 (1971) (2016)*

These boys of light are curdlers in their folly,
Sour the boiling honey; Spoilers / ruined by time-ruining

And boys are full and foreign in the pouch. Sex

Shut, too, in a tower [removed imprisoned] of words, I mark
On the horizon walking like the trees Organic erect phallus

Left by the dead who, in their moonless acre,
Need no word's warmth. "Stench of mortality" Conrad

Sexual A candle in the thighs

These five kings [fingers] did a king to death.

Then, penny-eyed, that gentleman of wounds, Christ baby

On this high hill in a year's turning. May he live another year.

On to the ground when a man died Can not react to life

Now break a giant tear for the little known fall, heaven / Death of Everyman
Death of enemies For the drooping of homes

The sundering ultimate kingdom of genesis' thunder.
Out of desolation comes birth

Youth gives feeling of immortality Though I sang in my chains like the sea.


*(notes in small, careful script, pencil and pen)

01.31.16

end notes: january

01 on kidney transplants for cats. previously-unknown-to-me factoid: as in most human renal transplant operations, the native kidneys stay put, so the donor kidney makes three. we lost a cat to kidney disease several years ago; i have no idea what we would do if one of our cats developed CRF now.

02 when WFUV's the alternate side stream dried up and we had to dig around for new internet radio, joe discovered FIP, née france inter paris, a 45-year-old advert-free french station (if you're in france, it broadcasts terrestrially at 105.1). we listen to it for a couple of hours every night.

03 in march we'll visit our friends sarah and judd at their winter superhero headquarters in the dominican republic. like them, i have started referring to it as the DR, which makes me feel vaguely like a junot díaz character. this—the visit, not the junot díaz thing—will score me cool points at ye olde charity bookstore cafe, where sarah's tale of learning to budget her fucks so she could do things like move to the caribbean is holy writ. i will make an effort to dress like ernest hemingway. it feels right.

04 we aimed our old red car at philadelphia for a spur-of-the-moment road trip over MLK weekend and acquired a variety of cheeses from amish people, delectable smoked-coconut sandwiches from a taproom, and a huge bag of hand-cut soap from a man in a striking sweater (i am particularly fond of the black pepper bar). in other soap news, i have switched from lush's charcoal-based dark angels cleanser back to their ocean salt, as the former was clinging to my face and i am not fly enough to make that work.

05 speaking of vegan food and smells, i am quite enjoying moby's memoir, which teems with both. moby's voice is appealingly self-effacing, his run-ins with fellow '90s a-listers are frequent and entertaining (i attended a handful of the southern california concerts he describes, which weirds me out a bit), and he knows when to back away from industry details that would bore non-musicians (looking at you, keith richards). i have a hundred pages to go, but i'm already willing to forgive him for his terrible, ricci-forward "natural blues" video.

06 the final-ish draft of an essay i've been writing since june of last year goes back to my editor this coming thursday. for about a month or so in the fall i was so nervous about said essay that i'd sneak out of bed at one or two in the morning and run a few miles to wheedle the adrenaline out of my legs. it will be the first personal piece i've published in a national magazine, and it's the sort of work i'd like to do in the future (not exclusively, christ, the idea of trying to make a living by writing about myself all the time makes me want to chug tile cleaner); i have psychic skin in this game. i really, really hope it's good.

01.22.16

on recumbent bikes at our soviet-era gym, my septuagenarian neighbors discuss winter storm jonas and storms of yore

1: on that snow day—it must have been when i was working, i never got snow days when i was going to college—i went to central park and i saw leonard bernstein, wearing a fur coat, it was the first time i ever saw that, a man wearing a fur coat.


previous discussion here.

01.14.16

you spread a towel across the floor; you fill two plastic litter pans with warm water and epsom salt and set them a foot apart on the towel. you test the water temperature with your elbow, you can't get a good feel for the heat through surgical gloves. you fold and roll a second towel and place it between the pans. D throws a towel over the swan's head and brings her, swaddled and thrashing, to the roll. when she's seated, you grab the swan's right ankle and force her foot into an epsom bath; a friend mirrors you on D's left. D sets her phone's timer for ten minutes and kicks it across the lobby, out of the splash zone. D is wearing jewelry, and you trade stories of songbirds unraveling friendship bracelets, of beads lost to canada geese, of the time a pigeon's cage ripped a favorite earring right out of your head. when D's phone chimes, you and the friend lift the swan's feet out of their baths. they're flat and black, huge, like moldering leaves; pink patches of new skin bloom in the spots where the swan's bumblefoot scabs have fallen off. you swipe up a tablespoon of udder balm from a pot on the floor and massage it into the swan's right foot, you swipe up a tablespoon of udder balm from a pot on the floor and massage it into the swan's left foot. the smell is the cloves, D says. you release the swan's left foot and remove the towel from her bowed head; she erupts from D's lap and the little girls in the lobby window are vowels.

a dotty-but-harmless, harry-dean-stanton-fallen-on-hard-times fellow met me at the counter at ye olde charity bookstore cafe yesterday; we chatted about the weather and how every time a big white truck parks on crosby at the front window i assume that we've been snowed in. he reappeared an hour later and told me, slowly, that i reminded him of a girlfriend he'd once had. that my sequined top was, that i was, liza minnelli, he trailed off and i didn't know what to do; he tipped forward and went blank and i didn't know what to do. his coffee cup fell to the floor.

he's a client, D said. (ye olde charity bookstore's D is a man, o shame—when i didn't know what to do i summoned a man from the basement.) D roused the fellow, offered him a gentle shoulder, and guided him outside. he just had his methadone, D said, those are the nods. the worst is when they get the nods right on the stairs.

i walked home through an alley between crosby and lafayette and pretended i hadn't meant to pass the memorial offerings outside david bowie's new york apartment. a girl played the last thirty seconds of "heroes" on her phone, and a tall man whispered the details of angie's divorce settlement to a friend at his side. everyone says hi.

01.02.16

2016: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

i watched five minutes of the rose bowl halftime show.
i finished a crossword puzzle on the subway.
i ate a vegetarian sloppy joe.
i ran into the ocean in a skeleton suit and wool socks.
i ordered a mermaid pilsner while a cover band performed "the final countdown."
i finally saw the shining's man-bear-pig at a midnight screening (other versions i'd seen had edited him out?).
i drank the rest of my sister's holiday kombucha.
i put new sheets on the bed.

12.31.15

my younger sister and her husband left the lower east side for the airport a few hours ago; their carrier decided to push their flight to los angeles forward half an hour, she tells me, so they just made it to the plane before the gate closed. surrounded by little piles of our now-crispy christmas tree's needles, i'm drinking coffee from a skull-shaped mug and planning my last few errands of 2015: a trip to the bank to replace the debit card i had to cancel after some year-end identity theft. a walk up to union square to look for my friend's just-published book. a few miles on the treadmill with my octogenarian neighbors. prep for tomorrow's polar bear plunge out at coney island. years don't mind ending, but my heart always goes out to them, whatever they are, anyway, since loving or hating them is much more straightforward than loving or hating myself. you did your best most of the time, 2015. here's the dreamless sleep.