Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Year End

It's been a long one and over too quickly at the same time. Much has happened that I skipped because love needs me to for now or because I was too busy. Importantly, I failed to record my parents' 50th anniversary, which I attended in Fresno, and the trip to get there, which took me through Santa Barbara and visits with many of the friends and fellow writers about whom I've written previously in this forum--my hosts George and Amy and Chryss and, since it was Amy's birthday and she had a party, a cavalcade of Santa Barbara's elite (well, they're elite to me). There was an all too brief side trip to visit Chris and Nadya in Lompoc to deliver my tiny book. Then on to Fresno, a warm and lovely trip, topped off by my surprise arrival to the celebration that my sister Kelly organized magnificently, and which included many family members, cousins and uncles and aunts, including my brother Todd and his family, and even one old high school buddy, Mark Driscoll--some of whom I hadn't seen in years. Mom and Dad were radiant as I've ever seen them, even youthful. Then the next afternoon, I drank another bottle of wine and conversed with Peter Everwine (I wish everyone this new year the gift of a fine bottle shared with an imminently wise friend), and then briefly visited Charles Hanzlicek and his wife Diane and talked about life and politics and their war of election signs with their neighbor. In many ways, this trip was both time travel and another coat of laquer over the grain.

Time is weird. It passes largely outside of us, around us, because in this moment we feel largely the same, fizzing away in our acuities and abstractions, ebb as flow, so when we re-arrive into a bubble of familiarity many years later, its passing is writ in wrinkles and frailty on others and to them, I suppose, on me. But for me (and, yes, you), now is always now, and I feel much as I did back in school, a kid with a new piece of chalk or worried about Daisy Wallace and would she be all right after the fire that took so much from her. It never leaves, the senses of possibility and concern. Certainty and uncertainty swirl, and the un becomes one like Schrodinger's cat and you open the trunk and, looking right at it, you still aren't sure if it's dead or just sleeping. Yearning mediates each moment still, if not as uncontrollably, and loss accumulates irrepressibly, and to what end is always the wrong question to ask anyway. There's never an end. There's just stopping, and there's just going until you do. So, go.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On the Road Trip that Never Ends: Skipping Woodstock

I like writing about road trips, car full of scraps of places I've been, things I ate, windshield the best movie I ever saw, skies and skies. Asphalt and shoulder and exit and merge and falling rock. That painful self-extraction from the driver seat after three and a half hours at 80 miles per to buy gas and a bag of m&ms.

But I can't go to Woodstock the way I've gone everywhere else. I can't just report on the KTD monastery and my hike up the mountain, Bread Alone, beautiful Devil's Kitchen (and the black trumpets I picked there), The Poet's Walk on the Hudson, my crappy motel, buying a little Tibetan carpet, coffee and ice cream, Annadale and Rheinbeck. You see, I was with Amy those three days, and to try to report on all these moments, sweet as they were, makes all this too complicated for here. Love is not a tourist. I can't separate it out, and so I won't.

I went to Woodstock, and then I went home, spent one more night in a Virginia motel, sauteed those trumpets in butter with pasta, and arrived home to three cats and looming fall classes. I've been waiting for distance to kick in so I could narrate all this, so I could take what's inside and put it out here. I can't.

Friday, November 21, 2008

It's a Girl


Silhouette of a womanWe guess http://sensesworking.blogspot.com is written by a woman (57%), however it's quite gender neutral.

Thanks to George (Georgia?) and the Gender Analyzer and Julia Kristeva, and yes, we just gotta have fun.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Seven Squared

Birthday starring two classics: a 1982 Leoville Las Cases and The Big Lebowski. Thanks to Rob for the latter. Thanks to my patience for the former.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


For the first time in my life, I feel that I have a president. His speech moved me. His humility and grace, his sense of purpose, his refusal to bask in the glory of his triumph and instead point to the tasks ahead, well, Yes We Can.

McCain's concession flashed a return of a candidate I once admired even when I disagreed with him in 2000.

It's good to see the results closing very late in Georgia, even though it won't be enough.

We cannot rest. We cannot rest.

(But I can't resist celebrating with a good Barolo for Barack.)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Lucky 100 for Change and Hope: Random Thoughts.

Rest in peace, Toots. I hoped you'd be around long enough to see your grandson become president.

Polls show Obama with a large lead, but polls don't vote, so you have to. I "voted," but on Diebold machines, so who knows? Mark Crispin Miller and others say maybe I didn't. And even if I did, no one can prove it. If Obama wins Georgia, it'll put me at no end of ease, and I'll have to direct my paranoia elsewhere.

Sadly, a student reports a bunch of Obama signs stuffed behind the local Baptist Student Union and supposes they were stolen from people's yards. I guess "Thou shalt not steal" can be trumped by political self-righteousness. Funny how secular humanist relativistic reasoning comes in when these otherwise absolutists need a little ethical wiggle room.

What will I do with my time now that I'm not glued to fivethirtyeight.com, watching numbers rise and fall, trends dissected, etc.? If Obama wins, I'll start looking for the next Newt Gingrich. If he doesn't, I'll be looking at election returns the way I did in '04.

On a thoroughly pleasant note, it's Andrea's birthday today. Hope Atlanta is treating you well.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

South from Vermont

I headed south through rural Vermont toward Massachusetts, where I passed Mt. Graylock, Melville's whale, and the rest of the Berkshire's, beautiful country at the heart of 19 century American Literature. I wanted to get out and climb, but I had no harpoon, so I Ishmaeled it out of there and stopped at the MassMOCA museum for a stroll in converted industrial buildings to absorb whatever they were showing. The best exhibits included Anselm Keifer's sculpture and paintings. The controversial sculpture (Connecticut courts forced the owners to remove it) filled a room with concrete and rebar, contemporary ruins to complement the giant landscapes exploring war. Earth erupts in blood and flowers. Jennifer Holzer's Projections pleased as well with its elaborate use of space to project bilaterally the poems of Wisława Szymborska into a dark warehouse-sized space filled with giant amorphous shapes. Words shined on me and seemingly through me. Eastern Standard: Western Artists in China was more problematic. Some of the images were stunning, but some photographs and video installations seemed rather to sneer at the environmental degradation occurring in China. Art revealing the obvious isn't art, and it's useless as journalism. Regardless, it was a fine way to spend a morning on my way to Woodstock.

After the museum, I passed through Stockbridge along with a plethora of vintage vehicles there for some kind of auto show. Because of the traffic, I didn't stop to find Alice's restaurant or wander through the antithesis of MassMOCA, the Norman Rockwell Museum. I had to go to Woodstock. I had to find my way to the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra monastery. I had to find Amy.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Interregnum: Trip Interrupted by Trip and Cold Water and Politics

I promised to blog but I'm so far behind I'm trying to remember remembering the details of my journeys--devil's horns under my seat--but it will all come out, Woodstock and California and the adventure of living without hot water for 6 weeks. Stay tuned, loyal reader. But in the midst of these interruptions, I interrupt myself with a rant:

I. The Free Market is My Weakness

Economic crisis? What crisis? A serious depression would have been the free market solution they've been promising all along, because a true free market is absolutely Darwinian and mercilous. Now we find out how those free marketeers react when they step out into the real wild: "Help me, mommy." Every promontory leads to an abyss and woe to those without precious metal parachutes. Most of us carry lead and bears are at the bottom, snarling, hungry.

In summary: capitalism, of course, capitalism, Capitalism, Capitalism!, CAPITALISM! CAPITALISM! CATACLYSM! Oh, socialism. . . . Better red-(faced) than bread (lines, that is). Just think of the "bailout solution" as, like, ANWR's for banks, where cash can still run free, protected by fiscal rangers to keep out the greed poachers and the financial "drill-baby-drillers."

I suppose. Better if someone had figured out ideas of balance and fairness, you know, like, rules, like, say, in baseball, where competition reigns, but you generally don't get four strikes and you have to stop at second if the ball you hit bounces over the center field wall.

Look, the free market isn't all bad. It's great for ipods and fast cars and boner pills and giant fake breasts and anal bleaching and baldness and cell phones and single malt Scotch and reality TV and make-up and golf clubs and fine, leather fetishwear and all things chia.

It's just lousy for antibiotics and health care and education and nation building and natural disaster recovery and our voting procedures (those softwares are a protected trade secret, your honor). You don't want someone looking in your jaundiced eye saying first, "We've got a spectacular new ocular peroxide treatment that will take that yellow out, pronto, Susie. No one will ever know you have scirrosis." You don't want Blackwater thugs on the streets of New Orleans with semi-automatics and immunity and no clear chain of command (that's a trade secret, your honor).

Yes, the free market can do some things better, but certainly not everything. And it's funny how so many of those so-called free marketeers adulate the military so much, despite the fact that it's the biggest social(ist) program in American history, despite Donald Rumsefeld's attempts to auction as much as possible to the least competant but most well-connected bidder. It's hippocrazy season again.

II. Christian Fundamentalism (What would Jesus Do [without you]?)

Clearly, if you were are a born-again, fundamentalist evangelical Christian who believes that global warming is God's will and Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, don't you have to vote for him? I mean, if you're completely right about prophecy included in a selected anthology compiled a few hundred years after quasi-historical events? Don't you have an Obama sign in your yard? Clearly, God isn't omnipotent enough to handle Armageddon without your personal intervention, which is why you're so interested in Israeli politics, after all. Clearly, that "Render unto Caesar" detail wasn't about separation of church and state. It certainly was not about that Roman governor who sentenced your community organizer to death. So, yes, a true believer and avid reader of Left Behind books would have to vote Obama.

III. Rovey Wade

This is the most egregious fake political issue in history. This is where liberals are most conservative, and conservatives most liberal. Roe vs. Wade is a conservative decision. It keeps government out of your decisions as long as possible. The government has no business, as it were, in your lady business, period (no pun intended), or lack thereof (ok, intended). I'm pro-choice and anti-abortion with respect to my own personal decisions (nuance alert: I don't believe life begins at conception, nor do I confuse seeds with trees, and I am, to follow through, snipped), but I don't presume to impose my personal values out of inspired self-righteousness on others. In fact, I have yet to meet anyone who is truly pro-abortion, who would like to see abortion figures increase (though many pro-lifers are for the death penalty and would cheer more executions; go figure).

The problem is, pro-lifers are being manipulated (Karl). No one tells pro-lifers that Roe vs. Wade also protects women from forced abortions. No business in your business? Why should it work for the free market but not for your body? Ok, it doesn't completely work for the free market (see above), but I don't think anyone advocates late term abortions as a method of birth control, either (though, ironically, post-term abortion [capital punishment] remains popular). A significant personal and spiritual ambiguity exists here, and a decision should respect a woman's choice and her faith, whatever it is, and should ultimately strive to preserve her health. Roe v. Wade does that.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Leaving Vermont

The next morning was wine-slow and blinky, but we ate breakfast and I packed to leave. The plan was to head to New Hampshire and stop at an amazing wine store Wyn had talked about where you could get free Ch. Haut Marbuzet and we looked at maps and drank coffee quietly, weary of the previous evening's celebration. It was time to leave Wyn and Shawna's lovely home and company and head south, toward Woodstock, then home, but I had a day to kill before Woodstock.

I got in the car and drove down the hill, the gravel drive, and at the end of it, I made a financial call and decided not to go to New Hampshire. Decided to head back toward Bennington where I had spotted a motel that boasted of $35 rooms, and it was near enough to Bennington to explore the town a little more and to enjoy hiking and the view of the small lake across the road. Cash only. I liked the guy that owned the place, his hat and his moustache. "Cash only," he said, but he let me go into town to get some.

The hike lacked the beauty or views of the hike up Hogback, but it was exercise and I needed that. I stepped in mud. Later I went into town for coffee and people were gathering. A woman was chatting familiarly to several people and then she announced that she would read poetry, so I stayed in solidarity. She even read a few about central California, where I'd moved to Georgia from. Spring wildflowers and I even heard her say "Oxnard." I smiled, thought of Jackson Wheeler. She read about it as though the coastal mountains were exotic and amazing. It is. They are, but if you live there, Vermont is exotic and infinitely greener and the towns are small and Vermont seemed a liberal paradise.

I applauded the poet's efforts and went searching for something to cook in the room that night for dinner, found a nice grocery store with decent wine selection and purchased a few things for dinner, naan and a good Spanish wine and cheese and headed back out of town to make dinner (naan pan pizza and pasta and salad) and enjoy the spartan room. It had the same shower my house in Georgia had when I bought it, something plastic and cheap, suitable for summer camp. I smiled at that. It was a quiet place, a quiet night. I sipped a little of the Spanish and thought about Woodstock, about seeing Amy.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Vermont Feast: Day 3

My last full day in Brattleboro was simple. Shawna had planned a feast for the evening. Before the feast, we went on a hike up Hogback Mountain, once used for skiing, and now only for "snowmachining" (thanks, wannaveep). The trail was often overgrown, and a couple of garter snakes slithered across, frightening Shawna, until we reached the top, on which loomed a large old firetower, occupied by other hikers when we arrived. I went up, and Wyn and Shawna decided to stay below since they'd seen the view and knew the ricketyness of the tower. Wyn said I'd be able to see a hundred miles, and I would see Melville's Mount Greylock to the south and the White Mountains to the north. The occupants left as soon as I reached the top (sniff armpits--not too bad given the climb) but they talked to Wyn and Shawna while I enjoyed the view. It was wonderful and windy and the only problem was the scratched up glass windows that I had to hold open to see all the green folds of New England.

Afterwards we cut over to the road, where there was a cheesy (literally) giftshop. I spotted a chanterelle just off the trail under a tree as we approached-- small, but at its pickable peak--and so I was able to talk fungus and let Wyn and Shawna smell the delightful apricot aromas of the fresh cantharellus cibarius and then walk around the store guarding the little gold treasure in my palm. We snacked on salami and cheese and crackers and watched all the RVers who stopped to load up on maple syrup and Vermont cheddar and corny tee shirts and other chachkies. We walked back down Hogback and, just before the road, I spotted two large, perfect chanterelles under a tree and I added those to the collection, and Shawna added them to the dinner menu.

We made it back to their house in the early afternoon and Shawna immediately commenced cooking, and Wyn set the grill up for the steaks and opened the lovely Lemelson. The menu speaks for itself and for the kind of evening we savored, so here it is:

Hors d' oeuvres

Heirloom tomato bruschetta

Gravlax on cucumber
with capers & crème fraiche

Parmesan cups with herbed farmers cheese

Main Course

Grilled steak
with red wine reduction & Chanterelles

Potatos au gratin with bleu cheese

Fillet beans
with marcona almonds

Mixed green salad
with carrots & blue cheese


Lemelson Thea’s Vineyard Oregon Pinot Noir 2005
Morgan Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006
Foxen Vogelzang Vineyard Cabernet 2005
Siro Pacenti Rosso di Montalcino 2005

Shawna's an amazing cook. We ate and drank too much and too well again, and talked over this divine feast all night and the stars again and I didn't want to leave this lovely place but I didn't want to kill Wyn and Shawna with their own superb hospitality. I can't thank them enough for being such wonderful hosts and friends. Come down so I can cook ya'll up something southern, and, of course, my wine cellar's always open for you, Wyn and Shawna.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Vermont, Day 2: er, mmm, It's a, all about the Ol'. . . . Mamet's, his play, um, Oleana

It was a late morning kind of previous evening, but I awakened early enough to sneak out and do some more serious mushroom foraging and to get a sense of the landscape up the hill, and found a trail up behind the house that let me explore it more. The trail led past a rocky area toward the next farm. Further up, according to Wyn, was a stone marker memorializing a triple murder/suicide that had taken place on what had been a larger farm about a hundred years ago: farmhand hot for the farmer's wife and things got out of hand, an old story. Trees, slope, rocks, a small stream. I found a few past-perfect chanterelles, some nice bicolor boletes, and one stunning Caesar's mushroom (amanita caesari) that I was tempted to try, but I don't eat amanitas, since a mistake can be fatal.

Back at the house, Wyn had the eggs out and toast in the oven coffee and we set into planning the day around Shawna's evening performance, a staged reading of Mamet's Oleana for a community theater across the river in New Hampshire. Shawna would spend the day at kick boxing, then getting ready, while Wyn would show me more of the area and run an errand or two. He showed me Saul Bellow's house, near his, and the sky opened up into muscular rain and we stopped and chatted for awhile with Wyn's friend, a Marlboro graduate who did interesting work in Physics and Photography and chi, while stopping to pick up some organic garlic. We then stocked up on provisions--by provisions I mean wine and by wine I mean from the lovely Wyndham Wines run by people who know wine very well, people who gave up academic tenure to pursue this dream, and by dream I mean I'm damned jealous. We spent maybe 90 minutes in the store, too long, since Wyn and I were going to have dinner at Alici's and we had to make the play at 8:00. Shawna doesn't eat before she performs, so we were to meet her after. Wyn and I shared some exquisite carpaccio and a half bottle of cab and I ordered a very rare filet mignon burger, which for 10 dollars was a bargain. It was served with truffle-0il fries and garnished with blue cheese, spinach, and tomato, and it was second in my experience only to the legendary burger served at My Father's Office in Santa Monica. Wyn ordered the duck confit pizzeta, which tasted very good (could have been just a bit more confit), and the server sped things along nicely so we could enjoy the food despite our limited time there.

We walked into the theater just before the beginning of the play. I wasn't sure what to expect, since I'd never seen a staged reading. I knew the play, though, having taught it once, and I found it difficult for freshman who struggled with Mamet's verbal ticks and the moral difficulties presented by both characters. I wasn't sure what to expect, but Shawna and the male lead were both stellar, and the setting, a professor's office, was perfect for making the play book just another part of the usual professor's office detritus. The play is a study in power--age, gender, and institutional power relationships--and no one comes off sympathetically. The male lead, a lawyer with much professional acting experience, crumbled magnificently, while Shawna played her character with wonderful nervous subtlety despite the tremendous vocabulary shift that occurs between act I and act II. I remember this shift seeming heavy handed when I read it, but not here. Shawn, however, deftly presented the character's discomfort with the vocabulary as she spoke it. When it was over, we headed to the Pub after all the post play congratulations and then back to the house for a little more wine and conversation, stared up and up at the beautiful stars, the milky way evanescing above the trees.

Friday, August 22, 2008

We Have Been to Vermont, Day 1

The landscape changes suddenly out of the Albany/Schenectady corridor into southwest Vermont. Route 9 changes to Route 7, billboards and traffic vanish. Suddenly an obelisk towers (I want to veer onto the side road and touch it, but my thumbs and politics are already opposable) over the valley in which Bennington nestles, famed for its writing workshop, and, according to Wyn Cooper, a place I'm more likely to run into John Gardner's ghost, since he spent much time there. I stop in town for coffee and a walk up and down the main drag, festooned with statues of people very much like an Americana statue I recall from Santa Barbara of a guy washing a window, kid sitting on his shoulders. He's here, too, or his brother, along with numerous others by the same artist. It makes me think of State Street, but it's only three blocks long, no Museum of Art or Anthropologie or Restoration Hardware or Saks. It's quiet and cute, and I don't see a chain anything, so I get a cappuccino at the non-Starbucks and head east over the Green Mountains toward Brattleboro, toward Wyn and Shawna's place in the mountains above Marlboro.

I nearly missed the turn off of Route 7, but slammed on the brakes, thankfully no one behind me. The pavement vanished and I was on back roads into the low mountains, ultimately along the Green River until I found Wyn and Shawna's driveway--steep gravel up to a lovely home with a large deck. Wyn and Shawna were there with open arms and smiles, but Shawna had work and rehearsal, so I wouldn't see her much till later. I felt immediately welcome. Their house is gorgeous, filled with art and broadsides and books, ensconced in maple and pine forest just up the hill from the Green River. After catching up about the drive, etc., Wyn readied to take me to the "swimming hole" at an old wood damn beside a covered bridge about ten minutes from his house. I suspected immediately that this would be a lovely place to look for mushrooms and, while he was getting ready, I stepped outside and found a chanterelle in the woods just steps from the back of his house. When he came out, we jumped in his sweet '63 MG and headed into the village down the river a bit. He swam while I balanced on the rocks. I was ambivalent about getting in. I'd have to undress. Wyn explained that nudity was legal in Vermont unless a community passed a specific law against it. Still, there was a couple there from NYC and, more importantly, the water was chilly, so I just stayed with the rocks and the river music and enjoyed the scenery and the sweet air. We chatted briefly with the NY couple before we headed back to the house, then into Brattleboro to shop for provisions--by provisions, think wine--to go along with the Memphis barbecue Wyn planned to pick up for dinner after Shawna's rehearsal.

We went into town and it happened to be a first friday artwalk evening, and we walked through several very cool galleries and Wyn introduced me to a few of the area artists and gallery owners. We stopped at a local brewpub for a beer, and Wyn knew everybody, it seemed, so he had to make a few rounds around the room. I sipped my beer and enjoyed the atmosphere. Wyn sat down and we enjoyed our pints. The server was also a friend who had acted with Shawna, and Wyn explained that she would soon be off to Guatemala, plans unspecified. She recognized my Califone T-shirt and we talked a little about the music before her next round was up and she had to leave. Life in Brattleboro is good. I have finally been to Vermont and I can retire the first poem I ever published ("Lunchtime in Vermont"), which was, to be kind to it, an exercise in line breaks and immature mindfuck postmodernism, as I understood it at twenty.

Later, we picked up the barbecue, supped late, and drank later--excellent barbecue washed down with big wines, including a lovely Italian Aglianico Rubrato and a Turley Moore Earthquake, both gorgeous wines with barbecue. Good wine and good food don't matter, though, if the company isn't up to the sensual pleasures. Wyn and Shawna, on the other hand, as we all love fine foods and grand vins, would make peasant bread and a jug of dago red a royal meal. We talked late, too late, about Shawna's impending performance, friends, poetry, music, art, politics, love, and who knows what else? I was there and it was a perfect evening. All I can say is thanks for my good fortune, my good friends. I hope I can return the favor one day.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Toward New England with hot plate.

Wednesday, July 30th at the crack of 10 a.m., I crawled into the Hyundai with cds and a few bottles of wine and much to think about, and set off north to see Wyn and Shawna in Brattleboro and Amy in Woodstock. While driving can be a kind of emotional peristalsis, I'll focus on the more mundane, the gourmandish kind. Instead of fast food or Shoney's or truck stop fare along the way (in great contrast to my friend at Imnotonetoblogbut's Parisian gastronomic orgy), I picked up a 10-buck hotplate at Big Lots and threw some utensils and olive oil in a bag, along with a cooler full of stuff that I'd have to throw away (bananas, organic eggs, cheese, salad fixins, juice) if I didn't take it, along with a bag of pasta shells and a can of sauce. The first night in Roanoke, VA was simple. I got there around 8ish and found a grocery story across the street to augment my simple pasta shells and sauce dinner with a full salad (nothing special, but healthier than the Waffle House and McDonald's within walking distance of my curry-scented [I'd love to have knocked on the door and held out a bowl] Travelodge). A spiced egg with a little balsamic vinegar sunnyside up on toast (roasted gingerly pinched with a fork and a spoon over the open burner) made a simple and filling breakfast the next morning before I headed north again.

I hit Binghamton, NY, in the early evening with plenty of time to walk around downtown and along the river, and to look for a decent restaurant and the ghost of John Gardner, but finding Binghamton generally abandoned, and arriving the day before Spiedie fest (one-handed grilled sandwiches suitable for Grendal), my choices were limited. Instead, I headed to the grocery store near the hotel, picked up some live clams and local Italian sausage and bread, and decided to busy myself for the long evening steaming clams in dark beer, cooking pasta and sausage, and enjoying these with bread and salad and a decent red. It's a serial process, but given the lack of nightlife thereabouts, it made the evening pass simply and deliciously, though I'd have loved to stick around and sample the full variety of spiedie's. After a breakfast of another egg, quesadilla, and a banana, I headed to Vermont for finer and more fulfilling culinary experiences.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Congratulations, Jason Lezak

He touched the wall first, sprinting from behind to wash all the mots from the trash-talking and heavily favored French team. Everybody saw it. You saw it. Michael Phelps saw it and his joy was the image the media loved, but, athletically, Jason's performance was among the finest perfomances in the history of Olympic swimming, and definitely the finest in relays. His swim was a celebration of will.

I loved it most because I didn't know Jason was on this year's team until he took his turn. I hadn't been paying much attention to the Olympics. Phelps lead off and I watched, went to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and listened to the progress. I was excited to hear the announcer call Jason's name, because he was one of my business writing students at UCSB, and we used to talk about swimming and basketball (my sport) and his plans. He was serious about improving and making nationals, talking possibilities, angles that would make him better. He was committed.

What impressed me most was that he thought about swimming long-term. He talked about the work he needed to do, his faults, the demands of the sport, his desire, all the realities of the swimming world. He was very good, tall, broad-shouldered, and slim, and he knew it, but he wasn't any kind of physical freak. Yet he excelled, and I remember being surprised to read that he'd won a gold in the relay in Sydney, and then medalled again in Athens. I figured he was done, had had a great career--it's a sport for the young, after all.

Not this year. Dana Torres couldn't be my daughter, and Jason--younger than her by several years--couldn't be my son. He demonstrated what work and commitment and long term devotion can do. He's an exceptional athlete, though more for his work ethic and determination than his simple physical ability. Congratulations, Jason. You definitely earned it.

Update: Jason helped Michael Phelps pick up his 8th with another superb relay anchor, plus he picked up his first individual Olympics medal (bronze) in the 100 m. freestyle.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Just the facts

Back from Vermont and New York, and here are a few random facts. Narratives to come.

Miles I schlepped: 2600+

" per gallon: 35, freeway

Highest priced gas: $4.07 9 (Woodstock)

Cheapest gas: $3.379 (Southern Maryland)

Folks visited: Wyn and Shawna in Vermont, Amy at the KTD monastery, Woodstock.

Most beautiful scenery: Devil's Kitchen cataract from the cliff edge with Amy. (Hike to firetower above 100-mile viewpoint, VT with Wyn and Shawna was an excellent second).

Best wine: You'll have to wait. There were many and they were excellent.

Best meal: Shawna's (menu to come).

Scariest moment: Sudden downpour on 81 that washed the windshield opaque.

Museum visited: Mass MOCA.

Play attended: Olleana (starring Shawna).

The Wackness.

Subtle surprise: Server at the pub in Brattleboro (and friend of my hosts) recognized my Califone t-shirt. Hope she likes Guatemala.

Mushrooms foraged and enjoyed: Chanterelles and boletus bicolor in VT; bb and black trumpets in NY.

Worst road name: Beaver Ruin Road (north of ATL).

Best Hotel: Lakeview outside Bennington for $35, cash only and a plastic shower exactly like the one I ripped from my bathroom.

Best new custom: Motel hotplate cooking (recipes to follow?).

What I missed at home: Ninja Gun CD release party and a shed show.

Best Bread. Bread Alone's SF Organic Whole Grain Levain.

Best moment: Looking in Amy's eyes again and finding her happy in Woodstock.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I'll be on the road to parts north to see friends and relatives and enjoy America's fine motel decor. Meanwhile, enjoy this pic of the Delaware River.

Photo credit: Mom

Monday, July 21, 2008

Waits at The Owl and the Bear

Tristan over at The Owl and the Bear has kindly reposted my Waits review. You'll also find a cool concert recording of Red Red Meat at The Hideout in Chicago (flac files).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tom Waits, Jacksonville, July 1

"I'm like a fucking race horse."

--Tom Waits, Jacksonville, July 1, 2008

Tom Waits' tours are fairly infrequent, so when I heard he was headed to Jacksonville two hours away from my house, I splurged. Jacksonville? Why Jacksonville? It's not really the red dirt, bluesy part of the south Waits wanted to see. Jacksonville is South Beach's conservative opposite, militarized vanilla beach Florida, which tolerates the small, local counterculture because it's essentially irrelevant. Jacksonville is by some definitions lovely, but it's not, well, cool. When, early in the concert, Waits mused about why he'd never been to this attractive city beside a sparkling river and the Atlantic Ocean, he said his friends had always told him, "You're not old enough." I don't know whether he's finally old enough now or if the prospect of hauling the tour bus and three semis ten hours south and back north was too much for his pocketbook or his carbon footprint, but he arrived with a copious supply of merchandise--including vinyls, a chapbook in which he interviews himself, and t-shirts with pictures of oil stains he thought were cool--as well as a sweet stage set that could evoke alley-cat twilight austerity, late-night honkytonk, or red-devil cartoon hell.

Tom Waits in his undersized bowler gangled out to the round center platform as though he were under the influence of some hobo marionette and lit into "Lucinda"/"Ain't Going Down to the Well No More" and quickly into "Down in the Hole" to an adoring audience of sophisticates of all ages (along with a few bellowing idiots). We were clearly in for a hell of a ride. During "Chocolate Jesus" (I believe), he stopped mid-song to admonish the audience, albeit congenially, for clapping out of time. They hadn't encouraged audience clapping, so I think he was a bit pissed, though he turned the awkwardness into a humorous moment. He's serious about his oeuvre, and this audience "interference," enthusiastic as it is, can ruin a song. (This may have been the reason "Clap Hands," one of my favorites from Raindogs, didn't make the cut for any of the shows. The Eyeball Kid has set lists for every show plus a compilation for all the shows, including Jacksonville [I swear I heard "Jockey Full of Bourbon" though, which isn't listed for J'ville], so I won't belabor the entire list.) There wasn't a sour note, from the stage at least, and the band was incredibly tight and the timing and interplay were perfect. It was one of the most polished shows I've ever seen, musical "theatre" of the best sort, as if Broadway had bled somehow into the old Bowery.

The show both peaked and nadired for me in the middle of an arresting extended performance of "Rain Dogs"/"Russian Dance." Waits' performance was violent. The moment seemed Brechtian, confrontational, perfect, eviscerating what can come off sometimes, if one isn't listening closely enough to Waits' superb writing, as a kind of sentimental nostalgia for hard times. His gyrating, barking performance annihilated any possible sentimentality. But as I looked around, I sensed no one seemed to be getting this. Most were too busy being fans to feel his indictment of all of us, our asses sitting in the hundred dollar seats of this lovely theater on the river, six dollar beers bubbling away in comfortable, pudgy guts. No recession here, mind you, but "Rain Dogs" should have awakened everyone to what people go to shows to forget, all this American consumptive excess that leaves so many out in the cold, hungry and bemused and sodden, while so many inside listened to songs about those people, then got in their SUV's and drove away, pop-culturally sated. Perhaps I'm projecting my own guilt, my own excess here, sitting there with all my Waits stuff, taking it too seriously, but it unnerved me.

The epigraph above came from a moment that added to this feeling. Someone screamed out that he wanted Waits' sperm to make a baby. Tom stopped, and said, "Wait a minute. We just might be able to arrange that. You'll have to talk to my manager. But I must warn you, I'm very expensive. I'm like a fucking racehorse." Then he laughed like a carny knowing you're going to piss your jeans on this ride. This and some comments he made about show business--noting at one point that Sarah Bernhardt's amputated leg on display at a circus was earning more than the actress herself, who was performing "across the street"--suggested his contempt for this consumerist attitude, this objectification of people, and his understanding of the irony of his own position as he enriches himself and his family singing, even iconically, songs about the downtrodden I believe he truly cares about, knows. I think he wanted this contempt to come through, not vitriolically (I think of Jello Biafra cursing the mosh pit "jocks" in Fresno, 1985), but through the power of the music and the words. Waits was polite and played along, a trickster minstrel, hoping maybe someone will get it all after the beer and white wine wear off. I hope so, too.

As if to emphasize this theme, he stepped away from center stage to sit at the piano, stage right, while all the musicians but Seth Ford-Young on bass left the stage. While idiots yelled for their favorites, he ignored them, and settled into "On the Nickle" to continue a theme, slowly and beautifully. Counterpoint. Do you get it now? It was truly a high point in an extraordinary show. The piano solo moved through "I Can't Wait to Get Off Work" and "Invitation to the Blues" and "Lost in the Harbour" wonderfully, creating the emotional heart of the show.

Continuing his theme of exile, the band returned, and a single, flickering bulb descended to "accompany" him on the poem "Circus." Then, like a fireworks show, a grand finale in which he crowed and stomped and sagged elastically through "Hoist that rag," "Lie to Me," "Anywhere I Lay My Head," "Singapore," "Cold, Cold Ground," and "Make it Rain." They left the stage and the audience wanting more.

After much applause, they came out to finish, slightly anticlimactically after all the heavy pyrotechnics, with "House where Nobody Lives," and then they left. And then I got in my car and listened to Frank's Wild Years all the way home, because he didn't play my favorite from that album, and I am, after all, innocent when I dream, and I needed to hear that after all the indulgence in my extravagant solitude.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Perigrinations north with music (Ninja Gun) and both scheduled and chance meetings: Pt. 2, Atlanta

After checking into the Highland Inn, (the best place to stay in Atlanta in my humble opinion, even with its funky percussive radiator heating--hey, Joan Baez slept there), I walked around Little Five Points, browsed The Junkyard's Daughter, flipped through the bins at Criminal Records (find of the day, a good, used Wombats A Guide to Love, Loss, and Desperation--an upbeat, silly antidote to my serious, sad bastard tendencies, though "Let's Dance to Joy Division" conflates it all nicely), and wandered among the few tattooed and pierced hipsters brave enough to face the heat and daylight and yuppie moms power-strolling toward the park. It was a good way to kill time until I was to meet up with Tara, a former student and fine singer who's soon off to China to teach, and her old Valdosta friend Leigh Ann for dinner before the Ninja Gun show at The Earl. We supped at Zaya nearby where the girls could load up on dollar Ketel One drinks before the show and the food was generally very good Middle Eastern/Mediterranean fare, especially the hummus.

We headed to the show at the Earl and met up with many other former and current Valdosta folks, including Dixie and Camille and Kenny and Jason and Damon (my hero for booking The Reputation at Vito's here) and John and Maybeth and Jessie (Coody's sweet gal), ready to enjoy our local heroes Ninja Gun at a serious venue (hey, Califone played there). It's Elephant opened enthusiastically enough, but didn't capture my interest as the lead singer tried too hard to modulate between Eddie Vedder and Robert Plant.

Ninja Gun
started the strongest set I'd heard from them, assisted by a superior sound system that let them showcase their country punk songs with lucid vocals yet still as loud as they wanna be. They opened with their new, sweet Rainbow Song ("Hey, man, do you wanna see a rainbow?") that Coody co-penned with his niece, then pumped things up with "Restless Rubes," the title song that revises Robert Frost, just a bit:

A hometown can burn you to the ground
So turn a tire around until you’re fine.
In a yellow wood
Two roads converged and the way he should
Go was clear
He left them bridges burning

They powered through a strong set from the new cd, including "Darwin was a Baptist" with its deft humor and fine, ironic chorus, "Can I get a little church in my state?/ Give me one more reason to hate everything around me," anchoring a biting critique of life that "surrounds" anyone in the bible belt. "Eight Miles Out" rocked with its upbeat take on doubt, and maybe my favorite on the album, "Permanent Press," with it's ringing guitar progression and its poignant hint of William Carlos Williams' "Between Walls" in the light-through-glass imagery for this ars musica:

So write yourself in melody and make the words agree
Lay it out for all to see just who you used to be.
‘Cause oh the seasons, do they pass
Like naked sunshine through broken glass
The days will slide on by too fast if you don’t try.

"The Last Cowboy" and "Asking Price," an anthem against selling out, also shone before the enthusiastic crowd at The Earl. They closed with their raucous country punk version of "Please, Please Me," which Coody asserts is the first true punk rock song. Ninja Gun makes a convincing case, and all of us from down here in little ole Valdosta were swelling with pride.

Missy Gossip and the Secret Keepers closed out the night and surprised with Lauren Staley's strong vocals hinting at what Linda Ronstadt dipped in Georgia peach might sound like. They played a good, crunching southern rock set punctuated by a fine torch song or two.

It was a fine evening to share with friends, and I headed back to the Highland, a good bottle of red waiting to help my evening reflections.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Perigrinations north with music (Ninja Gun) and both scheduled and chance meetings: Pt. 1, Athens

One winces anymore at the numbers tumbling up and up on the Pilot and Roadway and BP marquees as we approach five dollar gas and each trip becomes a tough decision, so I feel for all the troubadours wandering the country in vans and trailers filled with amps and instruments and merch as they try to bring us live music while they worry about the next few gallons. Wednesday, I went north to see Ninja Gun in Athens and Atlanta. Yes, they're from here, but they were finishing their tour in Atlanta, and I missed their send-off, so I decided to welcome them back to Georgia and to visit former students Kaleb and Ashley in Athens and Tara and Kenny in Atlanta, and to check in on Amy's parents in Waleska (They're loving the Lake Arrowhead life).

The Athens show was fun as much for the company as the music. I've seen NG many times in a bar with a less than stellar sound system, and the Transmetropolitan is one of them. The opening band (Timber?) played an enthusiastic acoustic set, and Ninja Gun followed up with a fun but quick set of songs from the new CD, Restless Rubes (scroll down). Ace reporter Ashley Fielding was there, putting the band up (or up with the band?) for the night. It was good to catch up with her and hear that she's doing well, and to see that the boys had survived the long days on the road without too many scars and smelling reasonably clean, though they'll get home broke and tired and unemployed. The major Athens surprise was the presence in the bar of Patrick McKinney (Langtry, Iron and Wine), who enjoyed the show and who glowingly endorses the Transmet's Tofu sandwich. A virtuoso musician of considerable accomplishment, he complimented NJ on their sound and Coody for his stage presence. We ran into him later in another bar that specialized in Belgian-style beers, and he suffered Kaleb's girlfriend's abuse (sometimes drunk guys in bars are more than just drunk guys in bars; sometimes they're musicians or even poets) as he was trying to recommend that I stay in town for the Sun City Girls tribute show. (Alas, no one was around to take care of the kittens, so I had to head home Friday.) We ended up the evening on Kaleb's balcony with cheap red wine and Kaleb's puppy to mollify her mortification after she found out who Patrick was ("I really like Iron and Wine," she offered penitently). Finally to the couch at around 4:00 am. Thanks for putting me up (or up with me?), Kaleb, and the Thai place the next day was lovely.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin vs. My Senior Prom

I stumbled through my late last semester at Fresno High as I suppose most people stumble through theirs, wondering what adventures lay ahead while feeling the first inklings of what we would later identify as nostalgia. (The French must have a word that means "prescient nostalgia.") That is, my future had been decided--I was moving to Berkeley for college--and everything else that mattered in school had come to a close--high school basketball, my senior romance. We were just living out the final weeks attached to our familiar cliques, performing our class duties, eating lunch at the same hangouts, everything that until then had defined us as we approached that looming, transformative (we hoped) cusp. The end game for most students revolved around the prom, who would go with whom, which parties would offer the most debauchery, boutonnieres and cumberbuns and orchid corsages and waxed cars, or maybe even a limo for the Fresno wealthy. I don't know. I didn't go.

Instead, shy as I was, I accepted an invitation from the lovely and intelligent Cristina, a talented musician, to avoid the teenage atrocity that was the prom and see George Carlin instead. It was one of the great evenings of my youth. We'd of course heard the seven words bit from Class Clown. Everybody had. The funniest thing about the bit is its pure reasonableness, its demystification of language in a way that would later help inform my move from physics to poetry in college. Cris and I laughed so hard that warm spring night that we were sure no one at the prom had an evening that approached ours. Carlin was funny and intelligent, pacing the stage, delivering his lines perfectly, varying enough so that those who'd heard the record would still be surprised. Carlin was a master, an accessible genius.

Cris and I left, tears in our eyes from the laughter, and talked for awhile about the show, about music (I remember trying to make some argument about keyboards being superior; she was into brass and had even jammed with Tower of Power. Obviously she made better points), and about the future (the cusp and all) that would take us away from Fresno and from what for me had become a wonderful but too brief friendship. But the evening remains, in all its polysemously profane glory and celebration of the language of the Angles and the Saxons, and "shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits" became a generation's mantra against fake propriety and, for me, a doorway to nostalgia of a wonderful evening. So, thanks George for your wonderful assaults on our disingenuous culture, and to you, Cristina, wherever you are and whatever you're doing. I hope your memories of that night, our little anti-prom, are as fond as mine.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Loaf Will Tear Us Apart

My own private sourdough (and this concludes post-punk punning for this post), baked in my own oven with my own home-grown sourdough starter. I added no baking soda, as many recipes call for, and it turned out fine, with a chewy crumb and a mellow sour flavor. The other half of this batch became a fine pizza crust.

Making sourdough is easy. Mix about a cup of organic rye flour with a cup or so of spring or filtered water and a little salt, stick it in the fridge in a container with room for the starter to grow, and go on a trip for a week. When you come back, the near batter should be bubbly with a slight sour odor. To achieve a stronger sourdough taste, it helps to let the starter you plan to use sit out at room temperature for awhile (overnight or most of a day, depending on your baking schedule). I keep my starter in the fridge and feed it about once a week. (You only need the rye to get it started. You can feed it all purpose after that.)

To make a loaf, I mix several flours (usually King Arthur all purpose, about a cup of whole wheat, a little extra gluten, and a couple tablespoons of flax meal), add water and about half my starter, blend and knead thoroughly until it feels good and springy, and let it rise 8-12 hours before I work it gently into a loaf and proof it for one to two hours. I bake it on parchment and pizza stone in a preheated steam-treated oven (500 degrees F, then drop it to 450) until it looks right, about half an hour, and let it sit a couple of hours to finish the loaf.

Note: I don't measure anything, so don't ask, or check out the reference below. To steam, put cast iron pan in the oven before you preheat; and carefully pour a cup or two of hot water in it after you place the loaf on the stone. I read Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers By Daniel Leader, Lauren Chattman (Thanks Elizabeth) before I started, but I've modified most of the instructions to fit my kitchen and taste preferences.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

This is What We Do

Why wait to book a bar when you can call your friends and play music loud and sloppy on a warm Georgia night? Jack and Taylor called some friends in bands and put the word out and people showed up at Jack, John, and Maybeth's place across from the graveyard and assembled around a makeshift stage, an old deck under the stars, under gorgeous black silhouettes of long-leaf pines next to a shed out back.

Fancy Blood's "salsa bossa nova glam" stylings opened as Zach's fine ironies and dark observations barked out over nervous complex guitar licks, while Chris throttled his bass and Steve laid down a raucous beat support on drums. It was raw geek-angst chic of the best sort, and sloppy. Sure, Zach had to stop a time or two ("Sorry, fuck!" maybe an album title?) as someone missed a bridge or forgot lyrics, but that was part of the charm--intelligent music for friends, lots of laughter and cold beer on a hot night. They're very new, but show a lot of promise in their urgency and lyrical cleverness. I think they're leaning toward a Fugazi meets Pavement aesthetic, though they might cite more obscure musical references. Feel free to correct me.

False Arrest, the youngest band of the night, changed things up with classic 80's-style hardcore skate punk. They machine-gunned through their set, finishing in a sweaty heap by the end of their irreverent 20 minutes. I suspect they woke the dead across the street. One highlight was the perfect punk minimalist party narrative "More Beer." Between furious guitar licks, they chanted "more beer, more beer, more beer" all through the minute-long song until the last chorus, "more pot." Funny and honest. I enjoyed talking to the bass player, Bo, after, who spoke enthusiastically about Bad Brains, Black Flag, and Woodie Guthrie.

Jack plays guitar for No More Analog, next up, which features Taylor Patterson on drums and The Captain on bass and vocals. The trio modulates between witty punk and heavier post-rock. "No Vacancy" is my favorite so far, while "Anasazi," offers smart punky social commentary. The set ended prematurely when the police arrived to shut down the party. The officer, reasonable even in the face of The Captain's miked anti-establishment banter ("Dude, he can totally hear you!), said he'd have preferred to join the crowd rather than shut it down. Nevertheless, despite John's patient persuasion and offer to continue the show inside the shed, there was no way to talk around some new ordinance. Apparently one of the dead across the street who maintained a posthumous antipathy toward the Anasazi called to complain.

People didn't want to leave, so the party moved to a nearly vacant house a few blocks away so Cyclops could have their turn without a blue light show. They kept it inside, but they cranked through their precise prog-math rock influenced set in front of a receptive crowd. I never thought I'd live long enough to hear King Crimson's influence throb back into the music scene, though their guitarist, Nick, mentioned Yes when I asked him about it. Made me want to go home and fix the turntable so I could pull out primordial Genesis' Trespass and crank up "The Knife" again.

The party broke up, and everyone headed to Rachael's to swim. I headed home, but with music in my head from the night and from the previous shed show a few weeks back that featured a reunion of the Honest A's, local heroes who put out a great ep a few years back. Carson was back from Okinawa to visit, and she and Rachael and Dustin filled up the hot shed with their standards, my favorite among them ending with the perfect Zen punk chant, "This is what we do! This is what we do! This is what we do!" Everybody screaming it over and over. This is what we do.

Note: Most of the Myspace sound quality on some of the links is lousy, but you might get a hint.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Day 6,7,8 Reprise and Foxen

Having spoken with George the previous about wineries to visit on the way to Fresno, focusing primarily on other Paso Robles wineries, I surprised myself and headed instead up Foxen Canyon and stopped at Foxen winery, whose wines George said were getting better and better. Their pinots are become expensive and rare, and so I was disappointed the tasting room had none available to taste. The syrahs, cabs, and merlots were all good, and I sent some home, but they also whispered that they had 'a few' magnums "just in today" of their famed Sea Smoke vineyard and their Block 8 available, so I paid a ransom for one of each to add to the rest, and so I hope the government is happy that I used my "stimulus" check for wine that I hope will be very stimulating.

But much of the rest of the trip was a reprise of last year, and happily so, as I visited Mom and Dad and Haley and Hannah and Chase and my sister, who is still recovering from being slammed by a semi, my old neighbors Al and Lavonne, and, of course, the seco palms. We sat on the porch a lot. Watched the sky threaten rain. I shipped back some of my vinyl records even though I have nothing to play them on, but they're here in South Georgia.

I also spent another fine afternoon with Peter Everwine, and we talked again about poetry and life and friends and our work. And to my delight he is working. He remarked that he wasn't sure he had time to finish another project, but, leaving, I reminded him that Phil Levine predicted he'd give us another thirty years after he suffered a heart attack some years back, and I pointed out that you don't fuck around with a Phil Levine prediction. He laughed and said, "Well, I guess I have a few more to go, then." Many more, we all hope. We shared a bottle of Hartley Ostini pinot I picked up in Santa Barbara and we drank it into the afternoon, a sweet wine for sweet words.

Up early the last day to drive to LAX and home to grading and kittens after another good trip.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Day 5, Santa Barbara Style

Day five was nice and slow. Patrick and Robin offered up their house for a pizza dinner party Monday night, but Monday day meant everybody working but me. I caught up on end-of-semester panicky emails from students and then left around noon for lunch with the wonderful company of Chryss and Barry Spacks. I parked at the beach and walked up to the UCSB campus, which I hadn't been to since I worked there at the end of the last millennium. It looked the same and strange at the same time, as though someone had reconstructed campus from faulty partial memories. The lagoon was where it was, but the Student Union seemed pressed into the wrong place until I arrived and looked out the window at the lagoon.

Then Barry walked up, whom I hadn't seen but very briefly last year, and Chryss, and everything fell back into place. Barry, who hasn't aged a day since I first met him, was wonderfully Barry, upbeat and sparkling. If he were fatter I might even call him jolly, but he's not, so witty and wise will have to do. Chryss and he joked around during our quickish lunch, and I filled them in on my weekend in LA and life in general (kids, Amy, kittens, etc.) and then I took Barry home, as Chryss had to get back to the job, and they I shopped for the evening's wine and ingredients for the homemade tapenade I offered to make to contribute to Patrick's pizza. I also found some Fontina Val d' Aosta and had to purchase just for the transmogrifying irony of it (I live in Valdosta, folks, that's in Georgia, where the favored cheese is Velveeta or other 'mer'can styles).

I headed early (though I was briefly lost) to Patrick's to help with the pizza, tour the new home and see its lovely hillside view of Santa Barbara and the ocean. But friends George, Amy, Chryss and Cattie, and Barry from the night before, along with old friends Tom and his terribly cute son and Madeleine and Bob and their lovely daughter Sophie showed up to enjoy the new home and the old friend (i.e. me). It's been nearly twelve years since I moved to Santa Barbara and met all these wonderful people and we get older and the kids grow taller and things in the body hurt more or there's less of it or it's changing color and we fumble for glasses we didn't need then and it doesn't matter because this night reprised what was best about all my time there--these friends on a warm beautiful night with food and wine and the casual poetry of hanging out and love. Thanks Patrick and Robin.

We made our way back down the hill, George, Amy, and I, and we continued a smaller version of the party until the wee hours.

(I don't remember all the wines we drank, but it would have been a fine list. I contributed an Emile Moro from Ribera, and I know George brought some fabulous wines. Remind me?)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Road Trip Day 4: Books to Beans

Day four was OUR day. Elena's and mine. We've toiled away happily at the Poetry Corner for ten years, and, finally, they let us read. Happily, we both had fresh projects to read from: Elena's Masque (Tupelo) and my own chapbook, Other Medicines (Redbone). We chose to alternate rather than chunk it up, and that seemed to work well, create a different rhythm. Friends were in the audience, including Chryss, Margaret, and new friend Tristan with his lovely fiancée (and, oh, Jackson was there Saturday). And Robert, who read after and who taught me at Berkeley, showed up early to listen, but this is all I'll say about us basking in our tiny glory. We still had to work the rest of the day, and it was also a fine one, with Robert reading from his strong new book, and on through many regulars to Stanley Plumly in his best basso radio voice, to another old Fresno compadre Sam Pereira, and Wanda Coleman, who briefly turned it into a revival tent with heavy with eros. The complete lineup follows.

Elena Byrne and Marty Williams
Masque and Other Medicines

Robert Pinsky
Gulf Music: Poems

Maurya Simon

Al Young
Something About the Blues

Elaine Equi
Ripple Effect: New and Selected Poems

Jill Bialosky and Dana Goodyear
The End of Desire and Honey and Junk

1:00 PM
James Ragan
In the Talking Hours

Adam Kirsch
Invasions: New Poems

Stanley Plumly
Old Heart: Poems

Carol Muske-Dukes and Sam Pereira
Sparrow and A Café in Boca

Chris Abani
Hands Washing Water

Wanda Coleman and Diane Ward
Mercurochrome and When You Awake

Luis J. Rodriguez
My Nature is Hunger

It was especially lovely to see Margaret, whom I bean seein' here every year and who beacons her smile wherever she goes. I left her in the green room with Robert and Pico Iyer. After the reading, Elena and I tried to meet up with Noah, who usually comes out but was visiting family in San Diego. That was perhaps the only disaster of the entire trip, since Noah was coming on bike and I had to leave for a gathering in Santa Barbara the moment he arrived. I needed more Noah time. But the three of us parted and hugged and I headed north, where I stayed with George and Amy, and where Chryss and Cattie and Dave and Patrick and Barry remained despite my latish arrival. We drank great wine (including a lovely '98 Dehlinger pinot) and laughed until late. It was nice to be home.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Road Trip Day 3: Book Festival and Party

After ten years or so, co-emceeing the poetry corner at the LA Times Festival of Books is fairly routine. Wake up, show up, set up, keep track of who's next and track them down if necessary. Buy books at Small World Book's tent. Sometimes the work keeps you from listening to the poetry, but given that it lasts all day, the words and poets can run together without time away from the tent, so I try to listen to a few carefully before I run off to check for the next poet, break in the green room, etc. The line up on April 26th was strong, so catching as much as I could became a challenge. Mark Doty, always a strong reader, began the day and he brought us a terrific early crowd that seemed to sustain itself throughout the day. Here's the whole list:

Mark Doty
Fire to Fire

Sholeh Wolpe
Rooftops of Tehran

Eloise Klein Healy & Elizabeth Bradfield
The Islands Project: Poems for Sappho & Interpretive Work: Poems

Albert Goldbarth
The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems, 1972-2007

Brian Tracy
Driving with Dante

David St. John
The Face: A Novella in Verse

Jean Valentine
Little Boat

Marvin Bell
Mars Being Red

Christopher Buckley
Flying Backbone: The Georgia O'Keeffe Poems

Sarah Maclay and Charles Hood
The White Bride and Rio de Dios

Susan McCabe
Descartes’ Nightmare

Lynne Thompson
Beg No Pardon

Jennifer Kwan Dobbs
Paper Pavilion

Tony Barnstone
The Golem of Los Angeles

Catherine Daly and Stuart Dischell
Locket and Backwards Days

Mark, David St. John, Marvin Bell, Chris Buckley, Shole Wolpe, Jean Valentine (quietly), Stuart, and Eloise were all high points on an unusually strong list. My favorite moment, though, was when Albert Goldbarth read among the most masterful complaints in the history of letters, I believe, in his diatribe against the obligatory post-reading Thai restaurant meal. I was laughing, crying, and starving for a chili-cheese burger with a side of onion rings all at the same time. Tony Barnstone's work surprised me most, and he'll be in my classes next year, for sure.

Later, Sholeh and Tony hosted a party in Barry and Sholeh's loft downtown. The place was lovely, the conversation excellent and spiced with laughter, and the Persian cuisine was wonderful. Writers from both days attended, and Tony even brought along a little Hollywood, as Kimberly Oja (an OC regular) showed up. I told Elena that I felt a little out of place, outclassed, Fresno boy that I continue to be, but truly the gathering was warm and I was happy to cab Stuart and Jill Bialosky back to their hotel around midnight, and then the 405 back to the Hacienda.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Road Trip, Day 2, plus meme

Friday in LA was soft, warm, no plans or obligations. Just a few possibilities that never came to pass. I did the California thing--shopped in an upscale mall built no doubt on reclaimed toxic ground next to the refinery. Wine and a blazer. That's what I bought. Then I explored El Segundo, which merited all of that second as the cafe I stopped in for caffeine blared a soap opera. The walk was good. The beach was unwelcoming unless you were in an RV. The hotel lunch wasn't bad, a Mexican buffet of sorts, but the seafood soup was a very pleasant surprise. Just killing time until the evening.

The LA Times Book Awards ceremony was, as usual, long, but pleasant enough. I sat with Elena and fellow "Fresno Poet" and friend David St. John and his lovely daughter. You can check out the winners here, if you're interested. I was mostly interested in poetry, and Stanley Plumly won that for Old Heart: Poems among many worthy nominees this year (Albert Goldbarth, Marvin Bell, Jean Valentine, and Elaine Equii). The afterparty was lavish as usual, with chocolate fountains and food stations that featured lobster farfarelle and Korean barbecue shortribs and sushi and other savory items. We ate and drank, ate and drank, and talked into the evening. Stuart Dischell was also there, old brother in the word, another transplant to the south, and Albert was delightfully witty, as usual. The evening passed quickly into memory and I made it back to the Hacienda early enough to rest up for the book festival.

Because this is shorter, I'm going to take care of some meme nonsense because Chryss and Amy E. said I have to.

Here are the rules:
A) The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
B) Each player answers the questions about himself or herself.
C) At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

1) Ten years ago I was...
finishing my PhD, which I defended the same day the Santa Barbara pier caught fire. Driving back from LAX, I saw it burn fiercely and bright, probably all that creosote, but I thought from some distance it was all of downtown.

2) Five things on today's to-do list:
Lunch (Sonia's Cuban) with Carson and Taylor, Toby's rec letter, proof poems for Chattahoochee Review, syllabus for tomorrow, house show (Honest A's reunion cf. Carson above) tonight.

3) Things I'd do if I were a billionaire:
Hmmm. Are supermodels things? Bad joke, but really, don't you have to be some kind of asshole to hoard that much money? I'd like to think I wouldn't keep that much. I'd have to start some kind of foundation divided between environmental and human rights concerns that would keep me from every accumulating that much money.

4) Three bad habits:
Hmmm. 1) I procrastinate. I'll do the other two later.

5) Five places I've lived:
Here (Valdosta), there (Fresno), Berkeley, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Salt Lake City, Utah. (That's six, but I'm still down two bad habits, and maybe Fresno counts as one of my bad habit[at]s?)

6) Six jobs I've had in my life:
Custodian, Snack Bar slave, Statistical Clerk (US Forest Service), Life Insurance Agent, High School Teacher, College Professor. (Be honest, guys, how many of you typed "blow" and then erased it.)

I'll tag Mike and Liz and John and all of my Myspace friends.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Road Trip: LA, Santa Barbara, Fresno: Part 1

The Hacienda Hotel next to LAX is cheesy, good, LA cheesy, 4o's or 50's American Cheese that tries to convince you you're in a more glamorous place than you are, visiting a more glamorous and exotic time, say, the quaint Mexico of TV yore, Zorro and the Cisco Kid Mexico--courtyards and fountains and murals (and there should be sequins on hats), its own dive bar to acclimatize you to time travel with Margaritas or Bud Light. Tourists, mostly from Europe, add to the confusion, German, French, Russian spoken here. Spanish, too, but mostly by the maids and janitors. It's tall and jets whiz into and out of LAX just to the north. To the south, the tall spires of El Segundo's refineries rise holy in this late era of gas and oil blinking red warnings to airplanes in the night. The air is warm and I'm tired, but I have a dinner date with friends, so head down Sepulveda to Palos Verdes with my little bag of dried Georgia porcini to contribute to the meal.

Palos Verdes is eucalyptus and peacocks and 60's California ranch homes and horseback trails on the hills overlooking the sea and the city. Elena Karina Byrne, my dear friend and fellow poet and the reason I get to go back to LA every year, shows me her house and its lovely view, and we begin cooking very quickly. She's planned to use my porcini in a recipe that calls for heavy cream and balsamic vinegar, a combination I'm ready to be surprised by. It's good to catch up, to be back in California. Peter and their daughter are at soccer nationals, so will arrive later. In fact, the big news around the house is their daughter's full scholarship to Oregon to play soccer. She's still a junior. She's that good. Every few minutes Elena and I have to go check the view, sundown over the city, lights coming on, the mountains in the distance, Santa Monica bay just visible to the north. And we catch up about mutual friends and friends she made out here when she visited. It's warm and we dine and the porcini sauce over the chicken is fantastic and holds up nicely to red wine. It's nice to be there with my friend in her lovely home, warm, almost ethereal. Elena shows me some new poems and they spark in the mind, bare wires against sheet metal beautiful, and we read until Pete and C. arrive from soccer.

It's good to see Pete, too, and we catch up, too. He's on tour with Naked Eyes this summer on a big east coast swing with ABC and Belinda Carlisle and Flock of Seagulls and, I think, the Human League. It's fun to hear him reminisce about seeing Hendrix and Traffic and Syd's Pink Floyd and Clapton's various incarnations when they were just coming out. He plays me some of his new music, the 80's synth-pop influences still prominent, but in a deeper timbre, more mature. The demos sound excellent and ready to go, though he points out how much more work they need in the studio. Then I head back down to the Hacienda, past the peacocks and eucalyptus trees, warm in the belly, warm in the head, tired from all the travel .

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Califone and Iron and Wine, Freebird's, Jacksonville, April 13


Easier trip this time, earlier, time for dinner (Mexican food, not bad), time to walk on Jacksonville Beach on a sparkling perfect late afternoon and watch the ocean hush and hush before the Sunday evening show. This time my traveling companion was Andrea, lead singer of Night Driving in Small Towns, a graduate student who writes wonderful poetry and songs.

Freebird's is an odd, two-storey venue where some of the crowd looks down on the stage from upstairs, but it's charming in its own way. It's owned (if the name of the venue didn't clue you in) by an ex-Lynard Skynard musician, and the resident sound guy was Molly Hatchet offspring (no evidence of those Satellites), so Southern heritage was thick as a tick on a sleeping redbone hound. But Sam Beam is from around these parts, so the Jacksonville show doubled as a homecoming of sorts. His parents and other family members attended, so Iron and Wine played a generous, enthusiastic, passionate, and outstanding set.


Califone opened, and this time, we were there before the start. They eased into the show with a sweet "Tayzee Nubb." This time the crowd was more aware, interested, and clearly many in the audience knew the oeuvre and grooved along. They moved through their short set seamlessly between [Roots and Crowns] material and older works. "Orchids" surprises no matter how many times I hear it, and "Fisherman's Wife" after "The Eye You Lost in the Crusades" reminds us that music is pure time and stops it. Feel its rhythms directly; lose count. "Horoscope Amputation Honey" has become Califone's raga live, as its slow opening, its folky troubled poem ("braid your sins into its mane/and kick it to the county line/shake your chains cold and loose/there's nothing safe in your stars") builds into a bardo of rhythm and improvisation that hurts when it stops. Live, it's a folk-shaman symphony. They turn it up.

Sam Beam and his bassist (superb Chicago guy with a great sense of humor) came out to help finish the set, and, while the quieter "Spider's House" played more to Iron and Wine's traditional fan base, they erupted into "Pink and Sour," surprising for its heavy harem flavors and its strong rhythms. The bass crunched magnificently and Sam added to the strong rhythm superbly. And that was it.

After the show, everyone was happy. After goodbyes, Andrea and I drove two hours back to Valdosta, all the music in our heads keeping us awake and talking.

cellphone photos courtesy Andrea Rogers

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Tallahassee Roadtrip: Califone and Iron and Wine

Getting to The Moon in Tallahassee on the 10th wasn't as easy as the 86 miles between us, since I had to sit through a stomach-churning committee meeting an hour too long. My wonderfully patient friend Dixie and I unfortunately arrived late, too late to go out to dinner before the show (The Moon's gumbo, though, ain't too shabby), and just in time to catch Califone's last two songs--"Orchids" and "The Eye You Lost in The Crusades." It wasn't even 9:30. The crowd (lots of FSU kids admitted free with ID), clearly showed up only because " free with ID," and maybe because they'd sorta kinda heard that Iron & Wine song on an M&M's commercial or something and somebody in the sorority said like one of their indie rock nerd friend's said it like might be awesome, and so they talked loud and had already drunk too much. Only 9:30 and some guy passes flat out in front of the stage during "Eye," a beautiful and arresting song, that, yes, could in fact cause one to swoon, so perhaps I'm being harsh. To be fair, plenty in the audience knew what they were listening to and were also irritated by the fraterlopers.

Tim Rutili, whose writing I've long admired, was kind enough to come out and wait with me for Dixie, who was out talking to guitarist and filmmaker Jim Becker, dutifully handling merch duties after the set. Tim rescued us and let us back stage where I caught up with him and Joe Adamik and Ben Massarella. Dixie had a good time hearing Joe reminisce about his single Valdosta experience way back when he was married to a woman who spoke only French. The owner of Groucho's (a classic dive and current biker bar called Mikki's) almost kicked Joe's band out because they refused to cover Skynard or Molly Hatchet or the Georgia Satellites, demonstrating that our famous deep South hospitality doesn't apparently apply when it comes to issues of musical diversity.

Iron & Wine began with their earlier quieter works, just Sam Beam with his acoustic and his sister Sarah with violin, pleasing those in the crowd who like Sam Beam's whispering ballads, his quiet stories. Then the entire band joined him, deftly weaving complex rhythms and melodies without overwhelming Sam Beam's natural vocal gifts. In fact, the bigger sound brings out the richness and purity of his voice, and live he proved that Shepard's Dog wasn't all Brian Deck's brilliant production. Every song on the setlist sparkled, especially my favorite from the new album, "Pagan Angel in a Borrowed Car," its southern love-gothic imagery clear and dark ("Love was our father's flag and sewn like a shank/In a cake on our leather boots/A beautiful feather floating down/To where the birds had shit our empty chapel pews) against surprising uplifting rhythms. The backing band was tight all evening, but never mechanical.

Watching from backstage, I focused on Ben Massarella, who plays in both bands, while he worked his percussive wizardry. Usually, from the front, he's hard to see, especially in larger venues. He's constantly picking something up and putting it down, his head bobbing behind the bank of "stuff" he plays like a bear hesitant to come out of the cave after a winter of hibernation, lots of up and down, lots of beautiful noise, that full head of hair, but mysterious. From the back, I watched him pick up instrument after instrument, many found objects, and make the perfect, perfectly timed, bang, shirrrr, ting, beat, or rattle. At times he held so many odd sound-fetishes live in his hands like spirit animals, it looked like he was performing shamanic ritual exorcism (especially during the thundering extended finale of "Horoscope Amputation Honey" in Jacksonville, more on that later). He also smiles when he plays; he loves the music, the sound he helps sculpture. I mentioned my amazement to Tim after the show. He just nodded and smiled, said, "He plays the air."

Photos by Dixie.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Blogging and entertaining visitors for me are mutually exclusive, but I don't mind when people come and hang out here in Valdosta to read poetry or go to the swamp and look for alligators, so if either one of you missed me, please know the cause was righteous and just. First Elena Karina Byrne* (link on the list), a long-time friend, came and read from her new book Masque and taught in my beginning creative writing and contemporary literature class. She stayed for several days and I cooked, which was fun, and the reading was terrific even though I had to throw a sorority out of the building. Standing up to well-dressed, privileged girls, threatening to call security (we were in the right, so I wasn't being a jackass here), was one of my prouder moments. My proudest moment, however, was pulling a sourdough loaf out of the oven that looked and tasted like real sourdough, with the wonderful chewiness and the lightly sour tang that the local strain gives the bread. The next night I turned the remaining dough into a lovely pizza crust, which set itself off perfectly against the fresh sauce and aged fontina, provolone, and parmigiano reggiano. Best pizza I ever made, and second best Elena had ever had (after Italy, she says). Her wonderful smile was worth it all.

My nephew, Erick, also visited, beginning early Sunday, so we cooked on Happy Wake Up Jesus Day a fine leg of lamb, which has since become curry. He came to classes, to the reading, and enjoyed the post-reading "party" with former student and friend Jessica, who showed up with a bottle of the Captain and somebody found a shot glass and, somehow, we ended up in the back yard at midnight doing hula hoops. Fortunately, I stayed away from the captain (as did Erick) and so can document the late night silliness, and can say with no small amount of pride that I can, in fact, still hula that hoop. We did make it out to Grand Bay and spotted a large alligator not too far from the viewing tower, so our swamp trip was also a success. Erick also managed to find time to skateboard and we had fun walking around Little 5 Points in Atlanta, eating at the Vortex, buying T-Shirts at La Petite Mort, before he hopped on the plane for Coos Bay.

Note: Elena and I will be reading together Sunday, April 27th, 10:00 AM at the LA Times Festival of Books Poetry Corner.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spring Broken

All the kids are at the beach drinking and smoking too much and reawakening their tan lines while spring arrives in fits and starts, tornadoes and frost and warm days in among them fooling us that winter's over, really. It's the spring of a thousand broken candidacies, the wrong time for a recession and our continuing national decay, the spring my congressional representative calls me and leaves a message on my phone to say he just wants to chat. What would I say to him? Thanks, Jack, for getting Stephen Colbert in front of the National Press Corps to ream the administration and especially the corps? Sure, but other than that, we agree on nothing I can think of. When I think of national security, I don't think of defense spending and war and spies and terrorists. I think of the security of our privacy, of our rights, of our ethos as a nation. These things erode from the inside, as when we violate our own laws, evade our own checks and balances. We don't need no stinkin' terrorists. This is our national insecurity, our belly-flop into the pool of blood and silence, of acquiescence to this culture of voyeurism and violation and torture.

Recently, the FCC fined ABC $1 million + for an episode of NYPD that originally aired in 2003. This is old news, but if you go watch the scene in question, you'll get a sense of what truly frightens this administration. Modesty. Privacy. A woman readies to take a shower; a boy walks in; she covers herself, mortified. The scene brilliantly turns on the voyeurism of the viewer, just settling in to see another famous NYPD Blue ass shot. She's relaxed, natural, alone (except for the eyes of the nation), and she exposes all of us and our desire to spy on her as she disrobes. And it's this repudiation of our cultural voyeurism that the FCC fears most. Go watch "reality." Watch Big Brother, then go online to catch the T&A. Watch CSI Miami, all its thongs and all its access to personal information, "for our protection." We are a people in training to be watched 24/7, and we're expected to like it. ABC isn't being fined for showing Charlotte Ross' ass. The FCC is fining them because she catches us looking, because she covers up.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

AWP Moments*

Dinner the first evening with the Utah crowd (delectably tender short ribs at Thalia).

Lunch with Elena Byrne at the Stage Deli for a 21 dollar sandwich.

With Mark Strand on the street talking about wine. (He corrected my pronunciation of Sassacaia, a wonderful wine however you say it.)

Drinking the stuff with Kurt Brown and Wyn Cooper and Shawna Parker and Katie Coles and Steven Huff. What was that Grenache again, Katie? Who was that guy taking notes? Following it up with magnificent gyros from the street cart.

One of my favorite poets, Kim Addonizio, stops me and calls me by name. Too, too briefly.

In the lobby catching up with Terry Hummer.

Chinese food with John Guzlowski and running into Thom Ward, in search of his missing Fedora, on the way out.

"Eye Spy" with Paula while Margot Schilpp entertained her and Jeff Mock's lovely baby Leah.

Lunch with David Oliveira and Florence Weinberger at that little Thai place, then later seeing proofs of David's new book with his publisher, Peter Money.

The panel "Being Crazy Doesn't Make You Interesting" (in order of appearance) with colleague and organizer Jeffrey Vasseur, me, Marita Golden, Bob Shacochis, Amy Bloom, and David Kranes.

With Robert Pinsky after his reading remembering together Thom Gunn.

Talking to Rebecca Fussell while she waited for Anna Gatewood to show up.

With Wyn, Shawna, Tom Hazuka, and Ralph Wilson in the Old Castle where I ran into the delightful Joy Castro for the forth time while we wondered if Martin Amis would find us (he didn't).

Talking about Larry Levis with Alex Long and his former students in the conference hotel bar.

Seeing Yerra Sugarman again in her NYC element.

Answering the question, "Where's Amy?"

The other Utah dinner at Sardi's: steak tartar with fries.

Not being confused with Scott Cairns for a change (he's grown long, lovely locks) and meeting his long, lovely wife, Marcia.

With fellow Berkeley alum Sharon Dolin, talking about tough times, and finding out the good news that Bob Hicok had picked her book for Pitt.

Central Park and MOMA with Wyn and Shawna.

*The conference as a whole huge. There were many people I wanted to see that I didn't see (Jackie Osherow, Jill Rosser, to name two that I knew were there) or didn't see enough of (Rodney Jones, Kim Addonizio, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Bob Wrigley, Kim Barnes, Mary Flynn, Greg Donovan, Mark Jarman). These are a few of the moments outside of slogging through crowds to panels or book tables that stood out.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Road Trip, Valdosta to New Haven (New York City)

Was a distant voice
Made me make a choice
That I had to get the fuck out of this town
I got a lot of things to do
A lot of places to go
I've got a lot of good things coming my way
And I'm afraid to say that you're not one of them.

-- "Box Elder," Pavement

I had to head north for a conference, for some peace on a long drive, distance from and distance to heartbreak and a night at the home of the best poet writing today in America along the way. Wine (thanks Uncle Gene) and a fine dinner with Bob and Eve and much laughter, a few honest tears. Tears, because, honestly, no matter how much you do, it's not enough if you care, whether Blacksburg or Fresno or Valdosta, anyplace where people can't stop what's in their heads.

The road is a sweet hum otherwise, a veer and a slope, movement and purpose even in a dubious rented Aveo, but it had a CD player and I drove and listened and drove and made good time through all the states 75, 85, 77, 81, 78, 287, and 95 touch. I went the back way up and down, felt the mountains behind me, drank bad coffee and gripped the cold steel of the pump at gas stations, thanked all the fine people who sold me water and m&ms and who let me pee in the employee restrooms. I made it to New Haven in good time on day two, had Pizza from famous Pepe's with my beautiful daughter and James, her beau, and then headed into the city for AWP, which will be another entry. This is about the road and the way the mountains fur with trees in winter, about every white line saying I miss you all the way, north and south, Tim's voice singing it whisper soft, SM explaining why the hard way through Georgia rain and construction zones and Shenandoah Valley and where New Jersey is pretty, trochaic tire thump miss yous, slow miss yous in the wind and the miss miss of wipers whipping only the rain off the glass, and it's ok, this hard work, this forty hours of missing you. Coming home, south, it was all I could do to keep myself from hitting 87 North, north and north to where you are, but I couldn't do that because I wanted to too much. Too much.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Not blogging lately

Well, for the one or two readers perhaps wondering why nothing is here lately, my life has been otherwise occupied and this forum hasn't been the appropriate place for my musings. I'll resume when my attentions can go elsewhere.

It's been about as cold as it gets here. Yesterday I lifted an octagonal pane of clear ice from the birdbath. looked through the crisp blur of it at the house across the street. The cat sniffs the gap in the door I've opened so she can go out, and she backs up, turns around. Me, too. Me, too.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Five percent solution?

Hillary wins by a tear, according to the pundits. I saw the clip, and she seemed genuinely moved, and such a moment shouldn't be read as weak, though among the more endomorphish Americans, those who would prefer the cartoon from 300 for president, or Ahnold, the tear will provide proof that Hillary should go back to baking cookies.

But that's not the point. The real point here is that the press is jonesing so hard for story that they're starting to make them up, passing judgments and pronouncements so often that they don't even have time to notice their own contradictions, their own shaping of the outcome. To whit, while everyone argues whether Hillary weeps the tears of a clown (though the press was around) or crocodile tears or that this redeems Edmund Muskie's "dirty trick" snowflakes, the real story goes untold, perhaps because one might have to make reference to observer effects (you know, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in physics).

The press spent so much time salivating over Obama's poll numbers that it affected the outcome. Why be part of a double-digit assured victory when one might have more New Hampshire-style impact by voting in the republican primary to dump Romney? There's also the little matter of ballot design, which a Stanford scholar argues cost Obama 3% of the vote. But a single tear, a five percent solution (i.e. a ten percent swing) to a double-digit deficit? That's a better story. It's just not the real story.

(I haven't, by the way, joined the camp of either candidate, but the way this has been covered, even on NPR, has been outrageous, though an astute New Hampshire caller on the Diane Rihm show this morning pointed out the anti-Romney response to the earlier polls suggesting Obama was a lock.)