summer fridays! they're referenced on twitter, and one hears of them in passing on saturdays and sundays, but never were they mine until last monday, when it was announced that my office would be closed at the end of the week, motherfuckers. with baking time on my hands, i found myself a recipe, hit the whole foods at columbus circle like an eastern army with a continent-sized campaign on its map, and settled down to make some pumpernickel.
the tricky part of bringing this bread into being was, oddly, the shopping (o, how the russians fetishize shopping): deb of smitten kitchen's russian black bread calls for seventeen ingredients, including a fresh shallot, unsweetened chocolate, three kinds of flour, a decommissioned tank, and four severed alliances. the combination of those things resulted in the peculiar cat-food smell that is the signature of good pumpernickel, though, so i figured i was on the right track.
as my go-to bread procedure has always been jim lahey's no-knead recipe, spending quality time with a dough was new and a little frightening. how much abuse did it want? what does springy feel like, anyway? was i supposed to fold and punch, to stretch and wheedle, to fling and exclaim? i spoke a little russian to the gluten as it developed ("i am studying international relations at stanford university, i am not a spy! what time is it? meat salad!").
the bread, to make a long story short, was quite horrorshow; i think i would be a bit more liberal with the caraway seeds, toss in a bit of sauteed onion, and perhaps tinker with the flour ratios a bit next time (for the pumpernickel flavor was just a bit subdued), but on the whole i was exceedingly pleased. my two loaves rose dutifully, and they were right tasty sliced and toasted with scrambled eggs and cracked pepper.
summer fridays are not merely for making bread, o my brothers; i have also been addressing the 101 in 1001 list with new-to-me shakespeare (as you like it in central park on thursday night) and kubrick (full metal jacket as i pumpernickeled). as you like it was one of the better comedies i've seen in recent years; lily rabe's rosalind was sharp and charming, a katharine hepburn for arden, and the bluegrass steve martin composed for the show paired well with the cast's high spirits. i teared up as i do every year; it is so fine, this city of mine with its plush june air and whirling moths and poetry all over the place. full metal jacket, in turn, was...passable? i liked the head-shaving opening sequence very much (can you really shave a head that quickly?), and vincent d'onofrio was as scary as he always is, but the pacing was weird, and joker's final voice-over was disappointing. i have higher hopes for barry lyndon and dr. strangelove.
imaginary reading group discussion questions
01 what would you do with a suddenly-spare friday?
02 are you a baker of bread? have you any kneading secrets?
03 how many of shakespeare's plays have you seen (live)?
04 do you ever cry at plays?
05 am i the only one who didn't know 2 live crew sampled full metal jacket?
06 have you seen prometheus? was that first scene on earth?
i do try to avoid photographing and talking about things here - though the fact that i'm an inveterate, indiscriminate hoarder is obvious and kind of unavoidable, you don't need to hear all about the dominos and plastic animals and moist towelettes and bits of icelandic licorice i carry around the city - but naurnie got me all worked up when she posted about her day-to-day jewelry. mine is very meaningful to me as well, you see, and it would be a great shame if, say, a crocodile ate one or both of my hands and you never saw it (i saw romancing the stone several dozen times in the eighties, so that was my primary concern when we bought my engagement ring, easily the fanciest thing i've ever owned: what if a crocodile makes off with my hand?). and so.
the silver cuff ring at top is from a tibetan shop on union street in san francisco; i bought it to replace a similar ring from a kiosk in the garage in harvard square. the script is a six-syllable mantra associated with the bodhisattva of compassion. it's particularly handy as a hook for the rest of my daily pieces, all of which are removed and set aside on a regular basis (some people sleep in their engagement and wedding rings; i remove mine when i eat chips).
the white gold band perpendicular to the cuff is my wedding ring, part of the late, amazing tobias wong's diamond project; it came in a little plastic bubble from a grocery-store toy machine. i also have one of tobi's diamond-embedded dimes, but i can only wear it once every week or so; i'm allergic to the nickel-copper blend (if we are ever in a superhero battle royale, you can defeat me with costume jewelry).
the platinum solitaire framed in the tobi wong ring is my engagement ring, by henrich & denzel (compliant with UN resolutions 1171, 1173, 1306, and 1343). the modern bezel setting suits me and my interest in playing with cats without putting their eyes out, and the jeweler is really understanding when joe and i come back in to have our rings polished up after feats of strength or especially nasty manual labor.
SURVIVOR: the long ships (frans g. bengtsson)*
CHALLENGER: the ask (sam lipsyte)
i was, i will admit, a bit worried that the many months between the one in which i finished the ask (october, maybe?) and this one had somehow distorted the way i feel about sam lipsyte's writing. then, as if assigned by the universe's own deputy fairness editor, lipsyte's short story "the republic of empathy" appeared in the new yorker's science fiction double feature and became my subway reading last week. a refresher! what luck! a snippet:
I took Philip for a walk. He tired easily, but his gait was significant. He tended to clutch his hands behind his back, like the vexed ruler of something about to disintegrate.if you relish the prospect of a book-length version of this - a verbally-confident narrator who does little donuts in his word-jalopy, a creepy child, paragraphs in which returns diminish - the ask is for you. but i'm getting ahead of myself; let's begin again.
"How about a brother or sister?" I asked.
"How about I just pooped," Philip said.
"Thanks for your input."
Peg always said I shouldn't model sarcasm for the boy, but who will? Everybody's so earnest around children. Besides, I've always wanted to model. To strut down the runway under all that strobe and glitter, while the fashion aristocrats cheer on my sarcasm.
it has been argued that it's incredibly difficult to write long-form satire. i agree; i vaguely recall liking the harvard lampoon's bored of the rings, but that probably says as much about my surplus of affection for j.r.r. tolkien as it does about the caliber of the poonies' vietnam jokes (and either way, i was exceedingly tired of the name "dildo bugger" by the time i put that book down). moving higher up the brow, it's no accident that "a modest proposal" is, well, swift, or that the new yorker's "shouts and murmurs" humor pages top out at two pages of ha-ha, max. being funny at length is no mean feat, and being funny at length while telling a meaningful story is, i would imagine, very nearly impossible. unsuccessful book-length satire, moreover, is bad like a cobra: i hated david lodge's nice work (a self-satisfied rumpity-bumpity novel about university politics and corporate shenanigans and crap) so much when forced to read it in college that i re-read elizabeth gaskell's north and south (the earnest, industrialism-can-grow-a-heart! 1855 novel which gave rise to lodge's book, sort of) so that i could write a twice-as-long-as-required essay in which i did my best to beat the former to death with the latter. david lodge makes richard whitely look like lenny bruce.**
deep, slow breaths. in, out. at the other end of the spectrum, i think gary shteyngart (the russian debutante's handbook, absurdistan) marries satire and sentiment pretty well, though he sometimes takes awhile to get there (i'll talk about that if i ever manage to THUNDERTOME super sad true love story, speaking of taking awhile to get places). if lydia millet in the times book review is to be believed, sam lipsyte does, too:
What makes “The Ask” work so well is the way it dovetails its characters’ self-loathing with their self-consciousness. For instead of making its characters blind — a strategy upon which much farcical writing since “Don Quixote” has depended — it gives them 20-20 vision but endows them with perfect impotence. Milo and Don and Maura and their colleagues have more depth than many of the celebrated satirical characters of the past, and Lipsyte’s great accomplishment is to pull this trick off without trumpeting it. His characters are intelligent, even hyperintelligent — they’re nobody’s fools, clearly — but finally their weakness is near-infinite.she could be right about publishing. she's totally wrong about lipsyte. impotent characters are fine with me when they're instrumental; i don't necessarily need them to teach me things about how the world works, as, say, kafka's do, but i need them to move me, or at the very least to make me laugh. lipsyte's milo, an overeducated and -fed toddler-father living with his wife in queens and leering his way through throwaway jobs in higher education, does none of those things.
It’s as if publishing is afraid to be both literary and funny anymore — as though, in hedging its bets against the competitive advantage of other media, publishing fears the literary comedy and even more the literary satire. And we’re a weaker intellectual culture because of it: other forms simply don’t do the same work that great satirical literature does. It takes fiction, with its subtlety and interiority and sentence rhythms and essential made-upness, to marry the individually uproarious to the systemically tragic in a way that can be laughed at without, finally, also being laughed off.
Back in high school, I remembered, a soothing way to fall asleep after picturing tremendous breasts in burgundy bras (yes, the image pre-dated Vargina) had been to conjure the crimson blossom of bullet-ripped concert tees, the hot suck and pour of flamethrower flame over pep rally bleachers. Typical teen shooter fluff, though I was worried I'd inherited my grandmother's nutcake gene. I was fairly popular. Why did I slaver for slaughter?passages like these make me feel like the house centipedes that blunder out of the drain in our bathroom once every six months or so. they try so hard to scramble up the sides of the drinking glasses with which i catch and release them to the balcony; as those legs and legs and legs catch on nothing and nothing and nothing, i imagine their little mugs look like i did as i reread the first four chapters of the ask on the way to columbus circle this morning. where am i expected to get with this? why am i so angry?
The visions had stopped in college. Some huge and dainty hand peeled them off my skull walls.
I became a painter, at least at parties. I was happy for a time.
But now, riding the trains, or else home sitting with the bills, the old terrible feeling returned. Whenever I checked my bank balance the terrible feeling welled up in me. The goddamn asks, I'd sweep them with a Maxim gun or some other wipeout device whose history I learned of late at night on the war channels, a glass of Old Overholt rye on my knee. I was not bad off compared to most of the world. Why didn't anybody do anything? We could get a few billion of us together, rush the bastards. Sure, a good many of us would die, but unless the asks popped off some nukes, eventually they'd get overrun.
What was the holdup?
in a breathless review for the guardian, the novelist geoff dyer points to "strong traces of...Don DeLillo" in lipsyte's writing. "Characters are recruited and scenes contrived solely for the pleasures of setting up a two- or three-person groove, to riff on and report back from the leading edge of language." never mind the interchangeable voices, the particle-board personalities, the ditties that never really begin or end; the riff's the thing!
forgive me for referring you once again, dear readers, to infinite jest, the big boss battle waiting for all post-modern writers who fancy themselves masters of humor and structure - but you see, one doesn't need to flip back through it to remember what madame psychosis sounds like, to be reminded of what happened to don gately, to know whether or not the jokes buried in the endless footnotes were funny, to get the point. it's been years since i last read it all the way through (i'm overdue for a reread, actually), and i'm still dead certain the chapter headings alone could take the ask in THUNDERTOME. am i saying sam lipsyte doesn't do it for me because he's not david foster wallace? yeah, i guess i am; i need satire with a big old bleeding heart, a punch line with actual punch. not characters with character - i can handle the fact that milo is a schmuck - but a reason to stick around for three hundred pages. there isn't one here.
VICTOR: the long ships; the ask should be abandoned in shark-infested waters.
imaginary reading group discussion questions
01 how many times have you heard the trolley song? could you stand to hear it again?
02 when was the last time a book made you hulk-mad? what was it?
03 have you ever had to deal with a house centipede?
04 have you read the ask, or lipsyte's recent piece in the new yorker? do you think he's funny?
05 is it fair to expect chewy emotional nougat at the center of satire?
06 is it fair to expect pomo writers to be better than david foster wallace?
07 how do you feel about jazz?
*previous battle here.
**the only other time i got that angry in the middle of an assignment was when i filled the last two pages of my film class's final blue book with vitriol about judy garland's stupid eyebrows after having to watch "the trolley song" from meet me in st. louis ten times in a row. i got a gentleman's B.
Complete 101 preset tasks in a period of 1001 days.
Tasks must be specific (ie. no ambiguity in the wording) with a result that is either measurable or clearly defined. Tasks must also be realistic and stretching (ie. represent some amount of work on my part).
Why 1001 Days?
Many people have created lists in the past - frequently simple goals such as new year's resolutions. The key to beating procrastination is to set a deadline that is realistic. 1001 Days (about 2.75 years) is a better period of time than a year, because it allows you several seasons to complete the tasks, which is better for organising and timing some tasks such as overseas trips or outdoor activities.
start date: 10 june 2012
end date: 08 march 2015
items completed: 023
items remaining: 78
as with previous lists, items completed have bracketed numbers; i'll alter stats and add hyperlinks to posts with completion details as i have 'em. here we go again...
: run 1001 miles [completed 12.09.13]
002: visit bruges
003: submit a short story for publication
004: visit pittsburgh
: refinance the apartment [see 04.29.13]
: bake pumpernickel bread from scratch [see 06.18.12]
007: read gravity's rainbow (thomas pynchon)
: take a knife-skills class [see 11.14.13]
: go whalewatching [see 12.21.12]
: see the northern lights [see 09.15.12]
011: go skydiving
012: foster kittens
013: shave my head
014: visit mari in atlanta
015: visit jacob and megan in iowa
016: read ulysses (james joyce)
017: draw up a will, power of attorney, and advanced health directive
: visit the ashmolean [see 10.26.12]
019: invent a formidable cocktail
: watch kurosawa's dersu uzala [see 04.15.13]
: go to coney island [completed 09.20.14]
: see at least 6 more of shakespeare's plays for the first time [see 06.18.12, 07.12.12, 06.18.13, 08.09.13, 03.11.14]
: see every picture which earns a best picture, best director, best actress, and best actor nomination in a single oscar season prior to the awards show [completed 02.22.13]
: dip my toe in the atlantic and pacific oceans on the same day [completed 09.20.14]
025: attend mass at st. patrick's cathedral
026: go to the opera
: go to the bronx zoo [see 09.16.13]
028: furnish the bedroom with proper nightstands
029: take trapeze lessons
030: run 8 miles in less than an hour [distance/hr to date: 6.88 mi]
031: get my name printed in the new york times
: frame my college diploma
033: take a foreign language class
034: drink nothing but water for a fortnight
035: see david bowie in concert
: enter a cooking or baking contest [see 05.27.13]
: read 3 library books [see 10.01.13, 10.14.13, 10.23.13]
038: go without restaurant meals and takeout for a month
039: spend the night on a boat
040: bring lunch to work for a month
041: properly shelve my OED
042: go vegan for 6 months
043: spend a night in the hudson valley
: complete a (paid) freelance assignment
045: visit the frick
046: swim with the coney island polar bear club
047: go birdwatching
048: use 12 new-to-me public transportation lines [see 09.26.12]
049: publish a recipe in the penzeys catalog
: visit the isle of man [see 09.26.12]
051: take an archery class on staten island
052: host a blackout party
053: teach steve to leap through a hoop
054: go camping
055: make salsa with at least 3 home-grown ingredients
: raise $1,001 for charity
057: participate in a political campaign
058: visit the new york botanical garden
059: volunteer at a soup kitchen
060: turn my wisdom tooth into a piece of jewelry
061: visit the boston peeps
062: go geode-hunting
063: record a book for the blind and dyslexic
064: get certified as a scuba diver
065: get scrubbed at a jjimjilbang
: acquire a comme des garçons piece [see 10.15.12]
067: visit the birthplace of a president
068: go gluten-free for a month
069: develop a homemade veggie patty recipe
070: make beer [see 06.16.14]
071: finish watching dark shadows (the original series, not the film)
072: take a photography class
073: average at least one THUNDERTOME review per month
074: go 24 hours without speaking
075: perform karaoke in public
076: attend a roller derby bout
077: visit niagara falls
078: run a (public) 10K
079: throw a round nine
080: watch three kubrick films i haven't seen [see 06.18.12]
081: write (publish) three letters to the editor
082: attempt a gozer costume for halloween
083: ride the 6 train turnaround with joe
084: write (publish) another mcsweeney's list
085: visit spa castle
: attend a football match in another country
087: visit the new york city tenement museum
088: attend a hockey game
: attend lunch beat [see 10.09.12]
090: beat my new york times sunday crossword time (18 min)
091: print, mat, and frame one of my photographs
092: read all of proust's remembrance of things past
: learn to make bagels at home [see 02.28.13]
094: roller skate in central park
095: go to fire island
096: go to the hamptons
097: make a pillow
098: figure out a wall treatment for the kitchen
099: visit three new-to-me states
100: donate blood (whole or platelets) 12 times [05 as of 05.22.14]
101: buy nothing for one week
craft cabin interlude! though most of this year's celebrated whitney biennial left me a bit cold, i really loved the work by berkeley-based conceptual artist lutz bacher, who took 84 illustrations from a vintage astronomy book, mounted each in a little blond wood frame, and placed them throughout the whitney (it felt a bit like a stray cat* was following us through the biennial, appearing in and disappearing from our peripheral vision). i was reminded that i'd been meaning to pick up some old astronomy photos, so i did: ebay hooked me up with a boy scouts of america astronomy merit badge handbook (published in 1965) full of spiral galaxies, naughty-looking nebulae, and little cartoon troop leaders calculating the distance between planets. i decided i wanted to display them in one of those big collage frames everyone had in their upstairs hallways in the eighties; ebay came through for me there as well (i think the frame i bought and repainted had actually been in someone's attic since the eighties). i liked the idea of "family" photos, so i tried to present each comet and gas cloud as if it were a proud grad, or a child with a parent halfway out of the frame, or an uncle in front of a christmas tree. that probably isn't especially apparent in the finished project, but when i squint i see the moon in an argyle sweater vest, and i'm immensely pleased.
*joe called me as i left the office on friday: "there's a friendly little black cat in the yard! what do i do?" the little cat was still there when i got home forty-five minutes later, and it was indeed friendly; it was also pretty clearly a stray, as you could feel its ribs and vertebrae** and it didn't make a move to come inside when we held our building's back door open. several neighbors said they'd seen it before; we brought it food but decided not to bring it in, thinking it maybe didn't want to come inside, and now we feel terrible. what would you have done? (i ask because i'm hoping we'll see it again.)
**it wasn't starving, mind you - it was just alley-cat skinny. qualifying that makes me feel like a monster; come back, little cat!