How to Chill a Bottle of Beer

Got to see the legendary reaction of Washington DC residents to a snow storm this week, and pile my own on it.

One:
It was hard to relax about the snow that started falling around 3pm because people were running for their lives before darkness fell. These people know their snow and wish to completely avoid it, Supermen talking of cryptonite. One flake falls and a rush of recollection of all the other flakes they had experienced, or had mightily inconvenienced them, cascades ceaselessly. There was escalation in reported outcomes:

It took me two hours to go a mile.
I abandoned my car and walked home.
I couldn’t get out of the parking lot and got a room in a hotel.
I slept in the office because the hotels were all booked.

I wanted to top that last one by saying:

I’ve been awake since the snow storm of last year.

Two:
By 5, as we hiked across the corporate campus to the bar in the opposing mall, it had fallen very quiet. Then again there was never anyone really here to begin with, it being Crystal City, the land of sleek buildings boasting defense contractor tenants who are, due to advanced technologies, invisible. I climbed over the slush and stood in the street to wait for the crossing light, shocking my east coast companions. They gently informed me I was now a target for spray from passing cars. How so, I said? A car went by. I leapt out of the way of its spray. Ah.

Three:
We ordered one, then two, rounds so I could listen to them talk about the hair trigger shutdowns of public transportation, which was my lifeline back to the Cathedral district in DC. Night had fallen and as much as I wanted to continue doubting the infrastructure, I felt I had to use it or die, so I hiked back to the metro stop using the byzantine underground pedestrian tunnels that criss-cross Crystal City. Retail, barbershops, notably no dry cleaners, but a theater promising an extreme experience stretched for a city block, it’s entrance guarded by a woman in a booth selling tickets to presumably no one.

Four:
The red line had been single-tracking all day, so I had plenty of time to consider the barrel vaulting of the metro station before one arrived in Chinatown. The whole system thrives on a dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four vision of the future soaking in dim sepia lighting and unforgiving grids machined from natural materials. Granted, none of them are as natural as a nasturtium, but that’s the role of the flashing red lights in the floor, blinking the arrival of trains we would never be allowed to board. A woman sat down next to me and informed me of her struggle to arrive at this spot. When I realized she was on the wrong platform, and was about to travel in the opposite direction of where she was trying to go, I tried to interject. Failed, because there were additional details she had to relate. My train arrived, and I saw her looking at it, frozen in indecision, as I boarded.

Five:
It seemed a very good idea to get out at Dupont Circle, find that restaurant that had caught my eye last time, eat an expensive dinner and then hail a cab up the three miles to the Cathedral. When I exited the station it was moving in slow-motion, cars drifting into curbs, snow blowing sideways, people losing their balance and breaking their hips as younger versions of themselves sprinted between awnings. The snow had already accumulated on all the signs, so I took my best guess and headed out.

Six:
This is where the beer comes in. About 20 minutes into my hike I realized I had picked the wrong avenue and turned around to retrace my now-hidden steps. Wearing about an inch of snow, I went into the liquor store in Dupont Circle to join the party of shoppers, television news crews, and the proprietor, who was making a killing. All of the good beers were inexplicably unchilled, so I wandered around looking forlornly at the chilled beer offerings wondering what to do, signaling that loss of mental acuity that accompanies hypothermia. It dawned on me, ever so slowly and only after finding a young couple buying pink champagne adorable (god I was really cold), that if I bought a warm bottle of beer, and hiked up Massachussetts Avenue for three miles in the snow, that it would be cold by the time I arrived in B’s vacant apartment. With a double-bagged bottle of Saison Dupont (the pun, and the selection of a summery farmhouse ale being truly fortifying), I headed out. Again. If I had stayed for 90 more minutes, I would have been able to join the snowball fight.

Seven:
At Sheridan Circle the uselessness of the motor vehicle was being exponentially proven. I tried, as did six or seven others, to get the attention of taxis, but they were being driven by terrified people who were clenching the steering wheel as their passengers screamed at them. A pickup truck pulled up and told me to hop in the back to get a ride to Adams Morgan. When I thanked the women in the cab but told them I was going up to Embassy Row they strongly disagreed that was a place I needed to be. They kinda went on about it, trying to convince me not on woman-vs-nature grounds, but on social grounds, that I was going to the wrong neighborhood. Every sentence they uttered made (a) more snow accumulate on all of us and (b) me wonder why I was not getting in that truck with these incredibly amusing women. Parting was amicable, and their disappearing tail lights transgressive enough to make me feel invincible as I headed up to the bridge over Rock Creek Park.

Eight:
I was wearing a suit, a concession to the hosts of the meeting that had brought me to DC in the first place, which included a pair of black boots (over the ankle) that promised to provide style while protecting from inclement weather. That was lucky. If I had been wearing my usual clothes, really best described as pajamas, I would have been in much worse condition. The coat I had taken out of B’s closet (she was in Michigan with the truly awesome coat no doubt) was holding up very well, but something began to nag at me. Was it the slow progress of this first mile? Could I remember the actual distance? Was it really three miles? Or was it more like two? Should I be concerned about walking in a snow storm when I’m a third of the way there? Or not concerned because I’m halfway there? Is math really the way to look at it? Is there another measure? A philosophical one? Has everyone noticed how quiet it’s getting? I closed my eyes to listen. Someone honked at me.

Nine:
An SUV slowed and rolled its window down, the driver exclaiming “What the hell!” at me. I crossed the sludge and tried his door. Oops it’s still locked I said. He hit the trigger and I climbed in, introducing myself, and holding his hand in gratitude while looking right in his eyes. We climbed the hill carefully finding out that

He was a researcher who worked with incarcerated populations
A total autodidact having dropped out of high school
Recipient of a coveted award from Delancy Street of Honorary Junkie
With a wife who had taken Rock Creek at 5pm and regretted it, suggested he try Mass Ave
And yes this was a beautiful walk during THE SUMMER

He dismissed the poor skills of surrounding drivers while still bestowing universal love upon them, as long as they stayed five feet away in their flailing, and had the post-moral smarts to drive up the opposite side of the street since it had been closed from above, allowing us to spend five minutes passing a line of cars that seemed intent on staying there for hours. After an elegant right on Wisconsin that evaded a fallen tree branch, a squadron of cops and a beached limousine, I pointed out a flat spot where he could slow to the speed I had used to get in the SUV in the first place. We wished each other a very good evening and I headed up Cathedral Avenue.

Ten:
I thought. The snow, seriously accumulating on street signs, had also accumulated on Cathedral Avenue, bowing the trees down to the ground in a monumental kowtow. I walked up but had to hesitate. A dog barked, playing while a neighbor chatted on a mobile. No cars, but students making their way down from above, skating on cardboard down the middle of the street. I found a street sign and kicked it to reveal the lettering. All its snow fell on my head, which, yes, makes good sense, although a fraction of a second too late for me. But armed with this positive confirmation of location plus gravity, I pressed on, marveling at the tunnels of trees over the sidewalks. I entered, padding quietly through their branches, hearing the walkers in the middle of the street. Why would they do that when they could avoid all the snow and ice by walking in here? A rifle crack ahead and I stopped, taking in the curving branches, their lower-case, analog synth sine wave sounds. With three giant, deliberate, silent, steps, I exited and stood up straight in the middle of the street looking back at that array of tension. Flakes, weighted and weightless, continued to fall.

Eleven:
According to the maps on the interwebs, it’s 2.7 miles. The last 200 feet seemed a bit of an insult. The ceremonial driveway of the apartment building not yet swept meant every footfall poured slush into my boots. I moved slowly through the lobby, soaked, I realized, to the skin and my fingers appearing to be on fire. I rose to the tenth floor, dripping all the way down the hallway to 8E, where I stripped everything off, draping it on any available fixture and marveling at its supersaturation. I removed the wire cage on the Saison Dupont and slowly turned its cork. Once released and brought to my lips, the bottle stung with cold.

I drank it anyway, one swallow after the other from my station on the bath mat, the ice melting from my hair.

Most Of It Came From Here, Sorry To Say

Linz, that is. Austria.

After allowing the festival organizers to presume we needed full press credentials and provide them, MZ and I joined a swarm of people following eToy to the balcony over Linz Hauptplatz where, just like Hitler, we looked out over the crowds below, more or less indifferent to the presence of Ars Electronica opening night proceedings. It’s not like I understood where I was standing immediately, but it’s safe to safe the realization arrived seconds after MZ pointed out the hills to the right where Simon Wiesthenthal had been imprisoned in the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp.

Good view of the town, I said. MZ’s eyes narrowed.

And we looked down at the platz.

And we looked at the crisp uniforms of the eToy people (orange, way ahead of their time in the orange department).

And we looked at the polyglottish press corps.

And we looked at eachother.

And we left.

My pockets were full of 1″ square stickers that said “The Man Will Burn Without You” in four languages: English, German, French and Japanese. But the Linz we walked through endlessly was such an impeccably clean place: no graffiti, no lightpoles bulging with flyers, no crumbling racks of notices. I simply couldn’t apply one anywhere, even if it would, because it was the only defacing item for blocks, be instantly construed as conceptual art. Instead, I distributed them onto tables in cafes and bars, counters in galleries, more liberally in the lobbies of Ars Electronica venues and I hoped to see them start appearing, or disappearing. They did neither.

So what did it mean that I was recuperating from five years of Burning Man by traveling to Ars Electronica? Which parts of my expectations for arts festivals had been elevated and which had been distorted? Aside from absolutely preferring the plumbing of Linz over Black Rock City, the two seemed to require identical strategies. Go. Look. Branch in One of Two Directions: Go On or Hold Head In Hands Realizing You Will Never Be That Good. Maybe Even Sit Down To Regain Strength To

Go. Look. Branch in One of Two Directions.

So I was there, but was quite dense about what was really happening as a result of being there. Here’s what happened:

KlangPark (the speaker array over the Donau) one night had films projected on the water spray of a fireboat. I just wanted to try it at home is all. Ended up with five years of experimental outdoor cinema and music. Not one fireboat has been employed, leaving me with an inescapable sense of failure.

A Portsmouth Symphonium-style orchestra debasing themselves while (intentionally?) massacring Serge Gainsbourg covers on the ice itself in Donauhalle hockey rink like it was some kinda Peter Greenaway film. Ended up with two years of live soundtracks to pornographic films, interviews with Hustler and Irish morning drive-time radio, and an appearance on a British television show which I think was edited to make me look about as stupid as possible, but I never transferred the episode from PAL to NTSC to find out. I like being the only woman on the planet to have lost money in porn.

At the newly opened Ars Electronica center a digital version of the Torah that displayed in Hebrew and, if you pulled down on the screen, English and, if you pushed up on the screen, a z-axis of floating commentary. Reading on a Z Axis. Reading… on a… Still, you see, this gets me. Ended up morse coding text in plays and rotating it 90 degrees clockwise to create scores that Noh-trained actors could read. Five plays, three years, one day of performance on 07/07/07, and a ritual nostalgia every time I pull down on the iPodTouch screen to refresh tweets. I’m refreshing tweets, but I’m really back in that gallery looking up from the screen, holding my body still, realizing the radical nature of the interface. I heard a cough, looked up and stepped out of the way so other visitors could try. A kid started pounding on the screen.

Radio ORF’s embrace of pirate radio. Disingenuous? No, shockingly, no. Ended up in the former Louboutin shoe store next to the Whitney Museum helping trick it out as Neighborhood Public Radio for the 2008 Biennial. There was a mic pointing out at the street from the front window, hard wire microbroadcasting from the top of the building and streaming from the web. The NPR Collective was decompressing from an arduous interview earlier in the day, devolving into simple trash talk about the interviewer herself. The entire discussion went out over the air, which the interviewer was listening to in her home. She later thanked me for castigating them throughout their rant, also clearly audible, but thought their transgression was brilliant conceptual art. I closed my eyes, imagined a felonious 1″ sticker on a pristine marble embankment, opened them, and said O Yeah. Totally. Later in the run Mick Jagger slowed down to enter, because he needed a new pair of Louboutins, realized it was no longer that, and strolled on. I was coming round the corner from the opposite direction and Lee mouthed very obviously, and pointlessly since I’m not that much of an idiot, “MICK” “JAGGER”. I made eye contact with Mick from behind my big bag of warm Harp lager that cost $13 obscene dollars (o you east side!). Mick’s bodyguard, one pace behind and to the left, intercepted my eye contact, crumpled it with his eyes as if it was a gum wrapper, and slowly shook his head no at me. I lowered my eyes and walked into the station-not-shoe-store. Chorus of disapproval that the beer was warm.

Three days in a city plus ten years of internalization equals 28 projects, 240 collaborating artists and 50,000 dollars of debt. God damn you Linz, and your ignominious power.

Last Chance

I was out the Salinas River Road for a couple months, but since I was in my twenties at the time, it seemed an eternity. I was there because Larkin’s uncle, a citizen scientist, or perhaps a professional one, had a low ranch home with grottos, tiki bars and exhibition galleries for his archeological collection. It had become, since his death, a ruin in the hands of careless tenants.

A few steps had already been taken by Larkin’s mother: evictions, the collection of day laborers to restore the roof and destroy the plumbing, and a draconian legal document with us to pay a market rent on the place while we rehabilitated it, each of us individually responsible for entire lease payments should the occupancy of the house change (yes, it did). The next step addressed the feral cats.

They were legion. They were in the house and the outbuildings, young, old, big, small, utterly wild, and without any of the T.S. Eliot qualities we had all come to expect / hum along to. We placed have-a-heart traps everywhere, collecting daily and dropping at the SPCA 10 miles out Highway 68 (no, not Highway 61, although it sometimes felt like it should be).

Days go by, leading to weeks and while the stupidest cats had long been escorted off the premises, the smartest ones were forcing the game to another level. I banished war metaphors as I drove out the River Road, turning the corner up to the property as a picture of zen equilibrium. Each day I confronted another array of empty traps, a quiet buzzing of insects over their bait, the warm air pouring off the back of Carmel Valley, and the emotionless gaze of about five of them, sunning themselves. Always a different five, alerting me to the futility of this operation.

As i went back to the car I heard a man’s voice commenting on the proceedings. Apparently I had been observed the by the neighbor down the way, who I had only seen once sweeping his dirt driveway with fiery blasts from his welding rig.

Having trouble with those cats? he asked. I couldn’t lie.
O sure, I replied.

and a bit of silence.

Want me to get ’em? he asked.

And I parsed his meaning. Contrast my city ways filled with have-a-hearts and gas guzzling out Highway 68, the dry food, the wet food, the chicken, the fish, the daily visits, the declining effectiveness and the ultimate result: euthanasia with what would likely be an afternoon of amusement for the neighbor, shooting up Larkin’s Uncle’s property. Well, there was only one thing to say:

I’d love for you to do that, I said. See you in a couple days.

I pulled up in between our two properties the next time and, careful not to get too close in case I had to beat it, asked the neighbor how things were going. He thought I’d find things were alright. I thanked him and asked about a nearby tree on his property: what was it, how long had it been there, was that a fort in there, did he have kids, were they grown now, out on hunter-liggett or at ord and allowed myself to be corrected: Fort Ord is where people are, Fort Hunter-Liggett is simply where they train. I noticed that a 25-lb yellow cat, one of the gazers I had chased for four weeks was sitting on his fence.

I recognize him, I said, nodding at the inscrutable animal.

The neighbor looked at the cat for a while, then looked up at the back of Carmel Valley and muttered

Decided to keep him.
You’re kidding, I said, did you name him?
Yes.

and a bit of silence.

What’s his name? I asked.
Last Chance, he said.

I nodded, and heard the tiny gate fall on the have-a-heart trap the neighbor had set for me.

That Light Condom Thing Was Pretty Brilliant

…so said A4 last night as he watched me coil the last of the rope, the extension cords, and triple-check the number of edison pig tails to be returned to the rental yard.

Last year we started closing streets and showing movies with live music soundtracks. The chief enemy of film projection is… light, meaning light from places not strictly coming from the projector. So we find ways of suppressing it: polite requests to shut it off, commandeering of utility boxes and altering of timers with needle-nose pliers, training of flashlights on electric eyes, and scaling of lamp posts armed with butterfly nets made of 55-gallon trash bags.

For this last friday, one lamppost threatened to ruin the show: 35 feet tall, 8 foot cantilever over the street, sodium. I begged the hosts to permit me to cover it with an air rifle. Verboten.

So I avoided it. I spoke with the VW mechanics about dousing their sign. I plied the saturn dealership with certificates of additional insured and hip, zen security dressed like black panthers in order to get them to switch off the lights on a couple three four million dollars of inventory. And, periodically, I would look up at that light, then look at the sky, which was going to darken in an hour, then back at the light– D and I threaded several poles onto the butterfly net and attempted to walk over the streetlight. We were off by a good 10 feet. So I suggested standing on top of the van and driving toward the light. D pointed out all the wiring springing from the lamp post’s transformer, kindly not mentioning how stupid it is to stand on top of a moving van with a 25 foot pole with a garbage bag butterfly net on it.

The 24 foot extension latter went up against the pole, meeting the foot pegs and we chit chatted about what it would be like to climb up to the light and attempt to sheath it’s eight foot tumescence. Neither of us went up the ladder during the chat. Artist M arrived and we chatted some more. He said he would go up and if he felt uncertain he would just come back down. Artist M put his super 8 movie projector down, shed his back pack and started to climb, and I wordlessly handed him a 50 foot rope end which he put in his teeth.

At the 35 foot mark he embraced the pole and fed the rope over the cantilever. I grabbed it at the 20 foot mark, my limit, I do believe, and climbed down. Artist M followed. We tugged and dragged and angled. The net wouldn’t go onto light. We chit chatted some more.

Artist M went back up the ladder with our extension poles, made, sadly, of metal. He hugged again and threaded the pole between the transformer, the lines, the rope, the bag. Below, we moved like butoh dancers, a post-modern three-dimensional wallenda family, ushering the bag onto the lamp with deliberate, delicate steps. No breathing. No talking. Once it slid on a westerly wind inflated it into a dark phallus. I just stared.

I held the ladder for Artist M until he was quite down on the ground and I could look right in his eyes to thank him. What I saw there stirred me a bit and, um, I was delighted to be called from somewhere on my right so I could change my focus. It wasn’t just being an easy mark for someone unafraid of heights (who knew? and who can blame?). There was something in the well-timed arrival, self-possession, and success of Artist M that made me wonder if he was, well, special. Like. Maybe he could also fly and wasn’t going to brag about it. Maybe he visualized the differential equation while he was embracing the lamp post, like a frisbee dog from another planet. Maybe D and I were hallucinating that Artist M was present, the collective hero drawn from our personal shortcomings. I mean. Could he actually be a celestial walking this earth?

The night went on. Illuminated. Another story.

And then back to the studio 36 hours later:

You can’t really be calling it a light condom, attempting to chastise A4’s semiotic selection and beat down my own sensational recollection. What else was it? he said, moving onto other things.

There’s Something About David H

it’s a song title,

and it made me feel like that deadhead in the parking lot who insisted that Jerry knew exactly when, and to whom, to play He’s Gone. He is gone, the deadhead said, flame shooting out of his eyes, and, with a sweep of his hand toward the high wall of the arena soaring above us, with a long slow exhale that left us in a cloud, he testified: I had to let him go.

With the song, I added. With the song, he confirmed. Who? I asked. My brother. I see, I said, I’m sorry.

He opened his arms and smiled, shaking his head.

That’s what songs do if they’re good, right?

He closed his eyes, so that the fire was only visible where his lashes didn’t mesh and stood there, hearing the song again in his head, his head bobbing, mapped to the song’s changes. It wasn’t like I could leave, but there wasn’t much to do while staying: I started trying to remember the mourner’s kaddish, no mean feat for a suburban lutheran.

Yis’bawrach, v’yishtabach, v’yispaw’ar, v’yisromam, v’yis’nasei, v’yis’hadar, v’yis’aleh, v’yis’halawl sh’mei d’kudshaw b’rich hu L’aylaw min kol birchawsaw v’shirawsaw, tush’b’chawsaw v’nechemawsaw, da’ami’rawn b’all’maw, v’imru: Amein

David (not H) taught it to me in fourth grade and I never ever got it right except for this part that mirrored a technique we had as children for describing the most superlative expressions of existence: the bestest mostest outrageousist almighty wing ding hubba bubba blue ribbon grade a plus plus bitchin… fill in the blank.

roller coaster,
sting ray bike ever to fly through mid-air, and
ice cream.

Granted, these types of existence really reflected the fact we were children. But they still seem to me to be the places where G-d might hang out.

But that’s when it started. When things got really, inexpressibly good, I would start this section of the mourner’s kaddish. I know. So upside down but check it out:

Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, Blessed is He beyond any blessing and song, praise and consolation that are uttered in the world.

And the thing that usually got a callback:
Now respond: Amen.

So I spent the last few days being sudden: suddenly flying to New York with M to suddenly bury his father, suddenly sitting shiva with his mother, suddenly writing against suddenly multiple deadlines for clients using a 1998 version of clarisworks and a 48k dialup modem, suddenly, but quietly, using the phone to accept a sudden job offer, suddently red-eye-ing to Oakland to grab the gear, suddenly think better of it, and just driving to the Mission to suddenly see the Nels Cline Singers. Nels was suddenly back, permitted, I think there was a collective hope, free reign after a tour with Wilco in which indy fans, I think there was a second collective hope, understood how good things were when he suddenly pulled a whisk out of his pocket to use for his guitar solos.

M is still in New York? the Singers asked. Some family matter? I gaped. Dudes, his father died and he didn’t tell you and I am telling you, exposing him but there you have it, I told them. They sank. So play David H for him and his father, yes? Yes, the Singers said.

And when they did, my eyes caught fire too. I didn’t initially realize it. I thought I might explain away the intensity of feeling by checking to see if someone had tampered with my beer. This involved dog science: looking at the mouth of the bottle accusingly for evidence. Eventually I realized that although it really felt my chest was going to split open, the reasons why would not be found there and, anyway, clearly, I would survive it as long as I had ears.

I wish you could hear it and I suppose, in your way, you have and this story of grief is your story too. And when the rabbi turned to the grave and told M’s father to go, because he had been called, I felt in the presence of one of the most superlative expressions of existence: its opposite.

amein.

parking lot deadhead: amein.

mount eden in vahalla: amein.

tears, silence and song: amein.

It’s Just Little Things Making Slightly Bigger Things

N asked me to attend a meeting for her with the nanotechnology people, her eyes sounding all oogily-googily over the phone. I can’t go, I said. Yugen rehearsal. Yu means deep, quiet, other-worldly. Gen means subtle, profound, dark. But it’s a $10,000 contract for a month’s worth of work, tops! she cried, slightly to the left of the speaker phone thingie she had attached to the cell phone that plays a Green Day song when certain people, but not all people, call in.

So to me it sounded like:

But– ten–dollar– workshop– ahh!

So I think she’s gone mad. A $10 nanotechnology workshop? She can go herself. Yugen pays me $4.13 / hour to compose (I worked it out while feeling sorry for myself, and waiting for my feet to wake up after a performance that required a mere 90 minutes of Noh kneeling). My standards have been established.

Please help me, she said the following week. I don’t know anything about nanotechnology. It’s easy, I said. It’s the industry that seeks to create little cellular engines with instructions for you, you know, to make your life easier and give you more leisure time. Stop it, she snapped. We don’t need to know anything about it because they are hiring us to… to… wait, why are they hiring us? To raise some money for them!

My new gig. Oh yeah. They need money. Plausible. So I go to their site and read their utterly simplified explanations of nanotechnology. Then I write up three critical bullets that she’ll need to memorize so that if they actually read her face during the meeting, they will know she is not 100% heathen.

Here you go, because, why not? or skip this and get to the next story:

[soandso] is focused on stage-setting for molecular nanotechnology, which

is

“the name given to a specific sort of manufacturing technology. As its name
implies, molecular nanotechnology will be achieved when we are able to build
things from the atom up, and we will be able to rearrange matter with atomic
precision. This technology does not yet exist; but once it does, we should
have a thorough and inexpensive system for controlling of the structure of
matter.”

The three remarkable things about this are:

We’re talking small. An atomic machine can go places your vacuum cannot.

We’re talking efficient. An atomic machine creates a precise product, and the manufacturing waste can be, since it’s an atom, recycled into new machines.

We’re bumping up against the moral and ethical issues of how these ideas will be applied.

The thing people worry about may not be realistic: Nanomachines released into a soccer stadium replicate themselves and bust peoples’ heads in order to take over the world! run for your lives!

At best, get ready for another industrial revolution. Atomic robots will build things very efficiently. Many atomic robots will work in parallel to create much larger robots that will build things very efficiently (convergent assembly). I think we’ll lay down our quaint hammers and start writing poetry. Not so bad. Until.. until we run out of food.

Nah, jes jokin.

We landed the contract, and I had to go see them since I was going to be the one to do the work (see money, above). They do this work from the edge of a residential district, on a street that has a wall raking up 40 feet one side to disguise a freeway. I found my way in by terrifying a worker in the back yard with my wandering about, hunting vainly for a door to the house. She saw me through a window and I could hear her, through the thin suburban tract siding, screeching What The Hell?

N claimed to the client, aloud, several times, that all she knew about nanotechnology I had taught her. They were extremely interested in my credentials which, sadly, included a single entry: a lackadaisical bachelors in art history. It was so horrible we had no problem changing the subject. After an hour of explaining the conventional alliances and resources we were about to seek for this new phase of their operation, I mentioned I just recently had seen a model where we could manipulate the ballot initiative process of the State of California to create a 3 billion dollar bond (double with interest) to fund their research. They laughed and laughed and laughed. I felt like one of the family.

As I was leaving, they pressed the layman’s guide to nanotechnology in my hand with a warm squeeze of the elbow. I opened the soft cover seven times already, but no connection was made with the little marks on the paper. What are they… you know.. words! Yeah. I’m saving those up for this weekend, where I think I can spend my entire visit to the secluded beach house on the Pacific Coast not going through the cabinets of the famous owner thanks to the author of this book.

Can’t wait. About to get lairnt.

Wish me luck.

Read Another Question

Last night someone started reading from one of those little books of questions you can pick up as you wait a few days in the barnes and noble check out line. These books, and books quite like them only representing answers, or parallels, or ironies, seem to always be available there, like bags of chips, only in wee form, calendar form, day-runner form, pop-up form, water-cooler form —

Here’s the thing: last night’s readers scanned the pages without speaking aloud, little looks of disgust growing broader on their faces until they would wordlessly throw the book. Somebody would pick it up and we’d say

OK.
You read another question.

There may have been no suitable questions in the book of questions. I made up my own:

How did I get here? The room is filled with talk, food, drink, music, laughter and I’m being drawn up into the corner by the ceiling by some Dream Supervisor, moonlighting in the wrong area of human consciousness. It’s New Year’s Eve so everyone is moving in a soft light with vaselined edges, but the provenance is missing. I try to get the Dream Supervisor’s attention, but she’s furiously scribbling on her clipboard.

What was the Austrian medical researcher thinking when he opposed the establishment of a neonatal clinic in Lhasa? Let them die, he said. I was hearing this third hand and I imagined his eugenic-al accent. Still, I did not shriek. I turned my head and opened my mouth, then closed my mouth, my mental picture Koyaanisqatsi-style fast forwarding through the industrialization of Tibet (left side of the screen) and the return of my industrialized neighborhood in East Oakland to wetlands after we are removed by a fast-acting hemorrhagic virus (right side of screen).

and then, in a rush to re-anchor:

Where can I find that hack to permit dubbing new audio tracks onto DVDs? plus the follow-up Does the phase “permit dubbing” always sound like a euphemism of “unlawful tampering?” I need to know, so I can take the work from 2003 and repackage it in 2004.

I asked that last one aloud, and wrote the answers on a piece of paper I can’t find now.

Outside on the deck we assembled in a circle, each holding a candle. While lighting the first candle and each in turn, we were invited to speak of the expiring year, offer a wish for the oncoming one, or not, but, like so many chain letters, do not bust the flow. We didn’t. The neighborhood crackled with explosions, all very, very benign.

the book

the research

the hack

my next tattoo

Ceremony

Pathetic, but true:

I was puzzled why it was so hard to find a rental car for Friday until I arrived at the alternate rental car outlet at 7:30 in
the morning and saw the lot of us waiting for the gate to open. We are molecules waiting for heat. I could see by the baskets of road trip shtuff, the smell of SPF 30, the bickering between couples that would surely result in tears before bedtime that night, that a major holiday was commencing.

I was just going to a wedding, a birthday party, and a confession that day. And I needed a car to make it to each of them.

I didn’t mention it.

There was a lot of charming and cajoling going on immediately in the rental car office. Either you had a reservation or you didn’t. If you had one it wasn’t eligible for the loudly advertised pennies a day special outside or it was. If you were eligible it was applicable to an SUV upgrade or it wasn’t. This seemed such complicated striving, that I slipped quietly into the Saturn (platinum) and left. The clerk had pointed out eight areas of damage on it. A couple times I tried to find them again. No luck.

At the County Clerk’s office, I parked directly across the street in a hugh swath of unfilled parallel parking spaces. I assumed they had been vacated in deference to a security alert and that the car would be immediately towed for suspicious resting. The potential fine, detention, and misdemeanor possession charge were large enough to render the first risk of parking negligible: I left the meter gaping for coinage like a tiny bird.

We snapped digital photographs of the happy bride and groom as they ceremoniously walked to the counter and took a number to wait for their turn. A photograph was taken of the clerk as she processed the paperwork. A photograph was taken of the cashier as she accepted the $13. A photograph was taken of the receipt. Frank offered me his seat in the Wedding Room because he was planning to remain standing so he could take photographs. We all were given bunches of lavender to hold, and the photographers juggled them.

But to hear these dear people speak so plainly to eachother in commitment, to learn the language of the separated state encouraging them to love one another, to put our arms around them, and to take the hands of the groom’s parents and congratulate them?

It was just a very good way to start a morning.

I returned to the car and had not been towed or ticketed. As I exited, someone slipped into the space behind me instantaneously. No beats were missed.

After 90 miles of stop and go, I took a shady spot in a strangely empty block of parallel parking spaces across from the Capitol. The meter accepted quarters only, and I had dimes. I decided to accept the ticket because I had evaded the earlier one, and set off across this flat hot sea of governmental seat to find the birthday party of my old college roommate. She was turning 42 that day: the answer to the ultimate question of the meaning of life, the universe and everything. If she wanted to sit on the Capitol Lawn (across, we realized, from Jerry Brown’s old place) and have a picnic, well…

Why not?

I passed many picnics: the kinds legislators have for their staffs and campaign contributors on the eve of a major holiday. There were lines snaking everywhere to be served from the chafing dishes that were being heated to 1000 degrees in the relatively mild 96 degree weather. Every line had one or two servicemen in formal uniform.

Our picnic was under the shade of an enormous tree and I called out to the guest of honor from 20 yards out. How did you know it was me, she asked? We haven’t seen eachother in 10 years and my back was to you. You look exactly as I remember you, I said to the 42 year old woman. She nearly crushed me in an embrace. Her husband, who I was about to meet, winked at me from over her shoulder.

A friend made a gift to her of a flag she picked up in Italy. It was your classic Castro rainbow flag with giant letters on it: pace (the Italian word for peace). She also included some snapshots of how Italians were flying this flag from their houses, rather by the kerjillions. A small packet fell out of the bag on the grass, and she apologized. I got these nudie men cards for you because I thought they’d be really hunky, but… and she trailed off. So we said in unison: They’re really gay? Yes, she said, relieved we understood. Not a problem, as the birthday girl ripped off the cellophane. Who’s up for a game of Go Fish?

We all were.

I trailed the entire game and was abused for my mishandling of the nude gay men. But ultimately I won the game (?). I was immediately abused for winning, so I realized all was well.

When I got back to the car, there wasn’t a ticket on it.

It wasn’t until I passed my brother going the opposite way that I had to pull a righteous 10th-grader in the high school parking lot 180 to catch him. His choice was to go 40mph in reverse. That’s when the blue placard fell out from the passenger side visor. Apparently I had been using a handicap parking permit, visible only from the street in the upper corner of the windshield.

Not luck, misrepresentation.

I had made an appointment with him to find out about his ailing marriage, and I think he was avoiding it. Instead of remanding to a bar, he managed to lead me to his house which was filled with children, wife, and leaping dog so we had to be restricted in our conversation to niceties, of which we had plenty. They were so delighted to be together for the extended holiday, and delighted I popped in. I pretended to ignore the side conversation which included an accusation that he had been withholding the news of my visit. I can only talk about it here. Now you know and now when I wait for the next thing to happen, I am, to some extent, not waiting all alone.

My last appointment was with my first boss. As one of the first people not bound to me by blood who seemed to be inately convinced of my abilities, I lean on him prior to making big decisions. I was prepared to tell him my story of reluctance, or is it Reluctance. I would not sugar coat it. I would not be clever. I would tell him how Reluctant I was, and how Impossible-making it was all Becoming.

After about 10 seconds in his office he turned to me and began to weep a little and then, just as quickly, instantaneously recover. I leaned forward to look at him closely, then said

We better go.

Five hours later, I had learned the story of his extremely complicated 50-year old life. It was, I have to say, Beirut-y, with
all deference to actual residents of Beirut. Such heartbreak and missteps and tragic miscalculation and sad, sweet intent. It was
captured in this metaphor of the front room of the new house he had escaped to on this flood plain of Sacatormento:

A gorgeous empty room but for an enormous television sitting on a towel on the floor.

That’s all he has to furnish this room. And it’s not even plugged in.

I had planned to stay the night but I climbed in the rental car and hurtled home. I had to sing, football terrace style, songs from
Sesame Street to stay awake. I placed the crappy radio on scan so I could shout out the name of the song before it evaporated every five seconds. The road was empty.

Once home, I wept under the stream of the shower at all the fantastic… human-ness of these people. MZ asks me how everyone was and I tell him he’ll have to wait until we’re in line for a show with doors that remain closed much to the dismay of all of us who showed up hours ago but the headliner is having problems with the soundcheck and it must be resolved before the house can be opened. Then, I said, I will condemn the artist loudly as a mental defective, and commence telling you the story of this day. Can’t you tell me even a little? he asks. There isn’t enough time before sleep overtakes me, I explain.

I woke up when MZ took the pen out my hand, but that’s really all I can remember.

Use Your Good China

At the Rockridge BART Station, there’s a tile mural made by survivors of the Oakland Firestorm of 1991. I went to the dedication and was unexpectedly moved by a firefighter reading a poem (his? someone elses?) about being a stone in the water. I had never considered being a stone in the water, and now, nearly 12 years later, I can’t go through a day without considering being a stone in the water.

There have to be about two thousand tiles there, but I only visit one that I found after reading countless ones memorializing lost pets or honoring brave fire fighters. It’s a simple tile with a message penned by a steady hand with some incendiary wisdom: Use Your Good China.

I can hear the woman’s voice speaking when I read it. She’s not bitter, she’s not laughing: she’s wise. OK. I don’t know what she
sounds like and I’m projecting. If she was bitter, and it was the result of losing the good china she had meticulously saved up until the day of the Oakland Firestorm, that would be completely understandable. If she was laughing I would spontaneously join in. But really, all bets are off between me and this woman. She has the floor and it’s my turn to listen.

I arrived in Oakland the day after the Oakland Firestorm, ready to start my job at the City of Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Department, a municipal arts council. I sat momentarily in a cubicle pressed into service after a previous disaster, the Loma Prieta earthquake, until the staff assembled to walk over to fire station to begin answering phones.

The phones rang incessantly.

We’d answer them and a person on the other end would begin breaking down. Every few minutes a new photocopy of a map would be placed in front of me with a new perimeter in highlight yellow: the evergrowing, alluvial evacuation area. I’d hang up the phone and it would ring at me again. It all came through the earpiece roasting in my ear: People attempting to find relatives. Children attempting to find pets. Offers of back hoes and garden hoses and bagels and backrubs. The first few times I tried to be thorough. Eventually I saw that the fire station was not going to be the Place for Connected Resources in the well-orchestrated emergency response to a local disaster. The fire station was a Well of Unmitigated Sorrow.

Inside of this dial-up grief, I had tiny, shameful successes: There is really no better way to learn the street names of a new city than to look up 400 addresses to see if they are still being blockaded by police. I can instinctively identify a crank caller within two or three words. My voice contains a smile even when I’m not smiling. A five-minute neck massage really does permit me to work an additional two hours. It’s easy to not attach to the outcome.

Up until this point, I had experienced rather ethereal forms of loss, much more closely aligned with disappointment, bookended (or earboxed) by death, which was so final that I rarely negotiated with it. Hundreds of calls from people who had been whiplashed by loss, and one or two from people who had been miraculously overlooked, and I simply couldn’t see things the same way. Was it all now more precious? More vulnerable? Less stable? Not exactly, and I find myself habitually taking moments for granted to this day. But in listening to these people I had to open my heart, which is really the only good china I possess.

One day it will certainly incinerate in a titanic blaze.

And I will have no regrets to report in my memorializing enamel square.

Wren’s First Hour

When things get rough, I relive Wren’s First Hour, which is a cd-r that I hastily burned one Monday morning in San Diego before turning in the convertible mustang and flying back to oaktownbootyville.

Today, relive means to stand in the spot where the sun comes in while it plays really really loud. I finally realized I was in a posture of beatific gratitude. That’s alright, in general, more of that, as long as we have to be standing around…

…listening.

It may not be as rough today as it was the day I burned the cd. That day started the prior Saturday afternoon as I started to assemble the mix for Wren’s art opening slated for that night in a very wierd house-cum-community center on the edge of a firing range rather slightly sprawly east of San Diego proper. We make jokes about San Diego and this is the reason why.

This marriage of the music I brought for Wren and Wren’s music she had stacked up for me, harkened back to our time in mocha’s studios where we would have about a half hour before everyone else arrived and requested that we turn it down, or off, with the slightly desperate after-look that nonmusical people wear around musical fanatics. I might have been offended but for the fact my savage breast had already been soothed.

And Wren is one of the world’s Ancients: those people that walk around doing what we’re all doing but with a Message From The Universe fluffing off of them onto everything they touch. I respond to Wren as a fellow human being, am glad and sad with her as appropriate, taste food and sweep floors and chat about nothing and read newspapers, and then in her absence I realize she was providing something in addition to, or in radical support of, life, and that I look forward to her return real soon now.

The phone rang and she knelt by me to pick up and said Hello. I was cutting and pasting and dragging and cross-fading and realized that she hadn’t spoken even though minutes had passed in the phone conversation. Then she started to wail: a hoarse, wordless rope of sadness being pulled out her mouth by some terrible, terrible circumstance on the other end. I froze, naturally, and looked about for instructions on what to do, as if there was some seat pocket in front of me with a laminated card that would pictorially guide me from the interior of the bad situation down the now-lighted aisle to a door with explosive bolts and inflatable slide.

I knelt beside her gingerly as she rocked back and forth in complete agony. She concluded the phone call and announced that her partner S’s parents had just been found dead in their Colorado home, and we had to find S immediately and tell him.

So we climbed into the mustang convertible the rental car people had forced upon us (did we not want to have fun? did we find something wrong with having fun?) and drove to La Jolla, seat of many of my conflicted feelings, and stood outside a completely pointless and embarrasing art n tchotchkes n stuff gallery where S was esconced in the back out of sight making minimum wage by wrapping pointless and embarrassing art n tchotchkes n stuff up for UPS delivery. Naturally, it was a gorgeous day.

Wren led a crumpled S to us and he asked me to drive him and his grandfather’s ’66 westphalian camper van home while J drove the mustang convertible. He pleaded not to be forced to ride in the mustang convertible now that his parents were dead. We all agreed it had been a bad idea to cave into the rental car clerk’s patriotic fervor.

Yet we had to cram into the mustang convertible in order to drive to the camper van, which included long, but inconclusive looks from a member of La Jolla’s private security force, and impersonating a member of the exclusive La Jolla health club to gain access to their underground parking. We spiralled down and down and down, half-expecting to see little canaries with X’s for eyes lying in their cages. No one knew La Jolla was this deep. The camper van was immaculate, a gift from S’s grandfather, with original miles, arranged, I thought, to completely rattle my nerves. I inched it out of its 6-volt slumber and tiny slip, idling upward toward daylight, and into the stream of traffic, all of us ants around a popsicle.

S lay in Wren’s arms on the back bench, a dying Gaul. They attempted to be brave and quiet, but would erupt every few minutes in wracking sobs. I realized I was absorbing their grief and turning it, without any dilution, into nausea. I hadn’t the heart to ask a question, yet I had hundreds: equal parts innocent, desparate, and utterly inappropriate. J and I had immediately surmised that S’s terminally ill father may have initiated a murder-suicide, a fact the papers would confirm as soon as we returned to our homes and typed the keywords into the search engine (one of my darkest autonomic responses).

The show went on.

My mix was never burned in time for the opening, which was inaugurated with rain and hundreds of guests. J and I repeatedly
dialed my nephew to attempt to roust him from his tract home in what used to be perfectly good coyote territory to the East. Rescue us, we shouted into his answering machine. He never showed. We chopped and pitted and arranged and carried and fetched, moving tents, cracking propane heaters, stopping individually, then collectively at Wren’s interior room installation that featured a bowl of human teeth. Wren’s family showered us with gratitude for being present, invoking the notion that, yes, we are where we are when we’re supposed to be otherwise we’d be somewhere else kind of psychophysicbabblefoo that you just… can’t… argue with because they just… mean… so… well.

For example, I said to J as we hid in the buckety leather of the mustang convertible (top up): was S’s mother where she was supposed to be today?

The DJ arrived for Wren’s Second Hour and when I passed through the crowded room to get a piece of cheese, I found myself dancing to Fela, which magnetically attracted what had been mere Head Bobbers into a swirling mass of Jumping JuJu People. I tried to commune with them but (a) my heart was too heavy and / or (b) they were *not* Ancients, able to regenerate small humans in the wake of enormous tragedy.

J and I drove to the twinkling cluster of motels that house San Diego’s visitors, wordlessly ate from their diner, let ourselves into the room we mechanically hired, and silently laid down to instant sleep.

The next day we escorted Wren and S as they quickly gathered themselves to fly to the crime scene, punctuated by the arrival of hideous details via the land line and brand new cell phone they purchased in order to instantaneously accessible to S’s brother, and, increasingly, the Boulder police. By the end of the day, J and I were slumped in seats in some multiplex in the GasLight, grateful we had been too late arriving to see Gosford Park and had resorted to the Royal Tanenbaums. MZ was irritated we saw it without him, and when it was released for home consumption we watched and I sat with my eyes closed asking myself just how difficult life would be if I continued to imprint this movie with the murder-suicide of an elderly Colorado couple.

J and I closed up Wren and S’s house that Monday and turned over the keys to a neighbor. It took me a month or so, but I finally made copies of Wren’s First Hour and sent them to Wren and J with brief, and slightly confessional, cover notes. Word got out and people asked for additional burns. I played it one morning at mocha before people arrived, standing in the studio making a motion, but never moving, a table that Wren and I had often moved together. A new wave of staff there had a completely different view of what morning bells sound like. I burned a dozen more copies. Apparently it’s an excellent way to start a party.

If I cannot cry, I use Wren’s First Hour to get there. If I cannot tolerate another second, I use 3,600 of them in its stead. If I’m at a loss, I use Wren’s First Hour to garner absolute perspective on what loss is really about. And sometimes I put it on just as people are gathering, and watch them warm up: to eachother, to the groove, to life itself

And everything it touches.