Monday, December 24, 2007
Friday, December 7, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Saturday, November 17, 2007
The following map represents all my hours of Yonkers relocation and acclimation research up to this point. Use the controls at left to pan in any direction or zoom in and out to get a better feel of what's on my map. Click any landmark icon to learn about the location, see photographs, and visit relevant websites. Click "Map", "Satellite", or "Hybrid" to choose your view. Click "Map Overview" to get an idea as to where in the United States Yonkers is located, or click "Legend" to select which types of landmarks you wish to see displayed. There's plenty to discover by clicking, so have some fun with it.
Note: clicking around on the map might take you to the map website itself, located at http://www.communitywalk.com/yonkerssurvivalmap.
Yonkers Survival Map is intended to contain everything I need "for arriving at, settling into, and thriving in Yonkers, New York," including: airports, transportation stops, possible homes, places of work, grocery stores, government buildings, hospitals, entertainment and culture, bicycle shops, libraries...the list is always growing. If there is anything here you think I should add, leave a comment.
Yonkers Survival Map
by New Mexico Man and CommunityWalk
Explore weddings, venues, and vendors in Yonkers, NY, USA
CommunityWalk Map - Yonkers Survival Map
Sunday, November 11, 2007
1. Get a coconut. This is my coconut. It is a goodly coconut. God has blessed me with this coconut.
2. Locate the three small indentations that can be found on each and every one of God's blessed coconuts. Place the coconut on a towel and pierce the indentations with a hammer and a nail. Don't poke yourself.
3. See? I've poked out all three holes. It's already lactating.
4. Drain the lactating coconut into a bowl.
5. Rotate the coconut, shake the coconut, promise the coconut an afterlife, whatever it takes to drain the coconut of its lifemilk.
6. This is the fun part. Make sure you're on concrete or something. Wrap the holy coconut in a swaddling towel and crush its spirit.
7. Unwrap the broken shell of a coconut.
10. And gloat some more.
As for separating the meat from the shell, you're on your own. I have absolutely no idea how to do that with any level of efficiency. With this coconut, I ended up grinding it against a cheese grater, which was maddeningly inefficient and produced only about 3/4 cup of shredded coconut not much better than the dried stuff you can buy in the spice section of your local grocery store. Brittany made bread with my coconut doings but it tasted like rehydrated tree bark, so we set it on the counter and ignored it until it got moldy so we could have an excuse to throw it away.
That was months ago. I bought a Lunchables last Friday and took it to work. I forgot to eat it, and instead left it out, at the job site, unrefrigerated, all weekend long. On Monday it was still there, so I stuck it in my backpack for awhile just to see if I would eventually eat it. I did not eat it. I threw it away. It's in the garbage now. I did not check first to see if it was moldy. I just assumed. I'm sorry. In my defense, I was temporarily insane to buy plastic food in a plastic box in the first place. I'll probably do it again though.
Thanks for listening, I really needed to get this off my chest. You rock.
UPDATE: Brittany reminds me that it is I, not she, who made the crappy coconut bread. I stand corrected.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
This area is blessed with the most ebullient cloud formations I have ever seen in real life. The sky is so big. The wind carries the water droplets across the land, where they explode onto the Roswell sky in every direction. Artists over the past century have flocked here in smallish numbers to paint the towering arrangements of clouds. Victor Higgins is my favorite sky painter. Look him up.
Normally it is very hot here. This first-floor apartment is usually muggy and suffocating, even when the weather takes a turn for the cooler. I usually prefer no clothes at all when I am indoors. The blinds shut, of course.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
"Can I give one of these to you?" says one.
"Sure, I'll take one," I say, taking the flyer. I skim the backside of it.
Missionaries. Christian ones.
"Any particular denomination?" I ask.
The man hesitates for a moment, shrugs, says, "Born again."
"OK," I say.
We both pause and stare at each other for another moment.
"Do," he stammers, "you know who Jesus Christ is?"
"Yeah, he died for my sins."
"Have you ever considered what he has to offer you?" he asks. By now the other two guys have sauntered up and surrounded me with gentle eyes. I don't mind. I take a quick visual survey of all three of these guys, take a breath, sit up straight, smile, and say:
"Well, what's your pitch?"
They chuckled and gave me the usual pitch. You know the one: Have you accepted Jesus into your heart, he died on the cross for your sins, salvation is yours if you follow God's commandments, here, have another flyer, a different one this time, can we talk to you about Jesus, Jesus changed my life, he's going to change yours too, awe shucks I'm so happy about Jesus and I really mean it.
Cool part about these guys is they knew their stuff. If I said something about being a seeker and answering any door that knocks, they rattled off a Bible quote, with citations, something about seeking and Jesus saying, Behold, I stand at the door and knock.
I am impressed enough at that quick citation. A few more of these quick scholarly responses and I am convinced I could have an interesting conversation with these missionaries. Two of the three are well versed and aged enough in their studies to be able to take me on in conversation maturely and without triteness.
Only one of them is your stereotypical starry-eyed ruby-cheeked spewer of stale sayings who, I'm sure, Jesus would have left to his fishing: Uh, thanks kid, I would love for you to put away your nets once and for all and help Me to convince men to follow Me and thus become yourself a fisher of men like Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew here, but, uh, you're just so good at fishing for fish. God needs you there, just plain old fishin'. That's a good boy. Bye bye, now!
I don't mean to poke fun at the poor chap, but he's just so cheesy I don't really believe him. As a non-Christian, I pray for the guy's faith.
The three of them took me to a Subway, bought me a sandwich (that's right, a sandwich, after I had gotten my free hors d'oeuvre-size PB&J sandwich, five or six potato chips, and a couple of swigs of a juice that is blue, all in a deceptively large brown paper bag from the previously mentioned van), and conversed with me for an hour. The cheesy kid slid me a very pretty Bible with silver-edged pages. As he slid it across the table, I looked up at him to confirm that it was a gift, and he gave me a cheesy look of kindness. I thanked him from the cheesiest part of my heart. I ate the Italian combo with Swiss cheese and downloaded my Coke.
(Part II will relate the Bible study session I had with these same guys about three weeks later.)
Monday, June 11, 2007
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Little shards of broken glass from when the house was still being rebuilt
10 worms, which, I recently learned, are more expensive by the pound than ground beef
A dead bird, rotted and decayed and headless
Three cigarette butts, none of them mine
A box of matches promoting a club that is "The Sexy Side of Nightlife"
A small metal pole with a hook on the end, embedded in the dirt
A lot of those little winged spores you used to call "helicopters" when you were a little kid
A 10-gallon bucket with a section of power vacuum tubing in
A three-tiered wooden rack full of dead potted plants
A concrete gutter beneath the storm drain
A plastic gutter next to the concrete one
My cat, alive, walking
An idea for a blog entry
And that's it. Thank you for your time.
Hello. I am The Man. I am not "the man" in that I am the best at something. Nor am I "the man" in that I am in some kind of position in which I would be able to oppress you, your co-workers, or your loved ones. No. Furthermore, just because the word "The" appears in front of my name (capitalized, no less), that doesn't mean I am the only man in existence. If that were the case, my name would be "The Only Man". If I were the only man in existence, I would be very unhappy indeed, and I would likely not have the spiritual fortitude to go on blogging as I do. Even if there were many, many women, and I were given free reign to sow my wild oats where'er I may pine (and sow I would, in accordance with the strictest of dutiful feelings), I would still feel ill at ease without the warm feelings of brotherhood that I derive specifically from my not being the only man in existence. That not being the case, my name is The Man.
Still, some of you may wonder why I would choose such a boastful-sounding name if I do not in fact think that I am the best or most god-like man there is. The answer to that question (if I may be so bold as to interpret your wondering as a question) is actually a pretty exciting story. The story goes like this: I was trying to think of a good name for a blog. Suddenly, Man of Many Words occurred to me as a thought-provoking possibility. I looked it up, and lo and also behold, the URL was, in fact, available. This was a sign from Zeus, probably. I had to get right down to the job. I started the blog, began writing and posting, and soon enough, I had a fully functional blog. I was elated. I submitted it to a random god for approval, and great Ra the sun god answered with his great rays of light, even though it was really cloudy out at the time, and I couldn't really see the rays, per se, but I could imagine them, above the clouds like that, me standing there in the rain catching pneumonia and thinking, "Wow", and realizing I was definitely right about what the gods think. It was a true epiphany, a sort of spiritual awakening, and I was filled with a great sense of being right about most things, like when I argue with people and they tell me I don't have a firm grip on reality. You can imagine my delight. This called for a celebration.
Alas, my work is never finished. I needed to come up with some kind of recurring theme, a motif if you will, for tying it all together. I don't know much about graphic design or HTML, so I couldn't use a logo or something like that. My spirits slouched. I paced nervously. My brow furrowed. A bead of sweat formed in my armpit. Then it hit me: I would use the same word in different contexts as the element titles in both sidebars. O Muse, I thank thee for thy bounty. But wait. What word would I use? I looked to Pooh for inspiration: Think, think. Think, think. Ah-ha! Man of Many Words..."Man"..."The Man"! As in, "The Man" who writes this blog! What elegance! What simplicity! But I was not keen to let hubris get the better of me and so again rolled up my sleeves and went to work, typing "The Man" in all my sidebar titles, preceding the words with verbs like "Meet" and "Quote" and "Brand" and "Raid". I had my motif. I was finished, at least for now, and a respite was deserved. I lay myself down for a long nap. I woke up a little later, had some macaroni, and called my boss to explain why I haven't been showing up for work. The happiest happiness of them all was the realization that, now, after all this time, "The Man" is not only my pen name, but it is also a short form of "Man of Many Words". Thus, I am both a man and an abstract object known as a blog.
That is the story of my name, and that is the miracle of Christmas. God bless us, everyone.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
"Everybody grab a ribbon! Okay, now pair up. You, you. You, you. Okay, if you're facing this way," he announced, pointing, "you are Sun. If you're facing the other way, you are Moon."
Things didn't go exactly to spec, because of all the little kids, but by everybody weaving in and out, "saying hello to the Maypole", and walking in circles, the phallus got wrapped up. I interpreted the ribbons to be the enveloping force that is female.
Ten feet away, a couple hundred people were forming a gigantic peace sign. A plane overhead was circling, taking pictures of the peace sign. Whoever was organizing the sign was shouting, "Everybody look to the sky!" There was something protruding from the bottom of the plane. I almost choked up as a morbid image came into my mind. What if a bomb dropped out of that plane? The protruding shape was obviously a camera or something.
Through all this, a musician was singing "Freedom!" onstage.
I picked up a dozen different flyers and pamphlets, including:
"Protest Bush, U.S. Out of Iraq Now! Wednesday May 23rd, 9 am, Williams Street and Mohegan Avenue, New London"Howard Zinn, the noted historian and icon of the political Left, spoke on the Green as well. I showed up just as he was ending his speech with something about a vision of "freedom and respect for all people, everywhere." I'm just reporting the facts here, people.
A flyer promoting a $45 dinner featuring Anthony Arnove, author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal
"The Economics of Capital Punishment" by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
A 19-page story called Ending a War: Inventing a Movement: May Day 1971 by L.A. Kauffman
"Building a Mass Movement to Confront the Climate Crisis, Thursday May 10th, 7:30 pm, Marcus White Living Room, Central Connecticut State University, 1615 Stanley Street, New Britain
"A Friendly Note from Your Muslim Neighbor..."
"Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes", an extensively notated tract with a pie chart showing that 51% of the U.S. Federal Budget 2008 Fiscal Year is spent on current and past military bills, released by the War Resistors League
A flyer promoting a talk by Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times Correspondent Chris Hedges, who wrote a book called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.
A booklet featuring all of the participating organizations and individuals for the 2007 New Haven International Workers' Day events
I spoke to someone who evangelized at me about voting. It was more accusatory and oratorical than any Jehovah's Witness I've ever met. I smiled and told her that voting is a form of prayer, that America is a religion, and that I'm an atheist in that respect. She lectured some more. I said nice to meet you and smiled. She smiled, we shook hands, I left. Phew!
Zinn spoke again at 6:30 pm at Center Church, at the same time as the International Workers' Day parade was touring through the streets, chanting in Spanish, "The people! United! Will never be defeated!"
Have a good month. Come back tomorrow.
Monday, April 30, 2007
To those of you who did not find Many of Many Words via that article, I invite you to go over there and check out mnartists.org. The weekly arts magazine is funded through the world-class Walker Art Center and the McKnight Foundation. Their editorial staff are deeply involved with the arts scene at all levels, from creation to organization to criticism and more. The magazine has become the epicenter of all things artistic in Minnesota. So get on over there and see what Minnesota artists, poets, musicians, spoken word artists, filmmakers, and arts movers and shakers are doing.
After that, come on back to Man of Many Words and get some more daily news embedded in personal narrative embedded in magic. While you're at it, please allow me to pimp the donation buttons located in the left sidebar. There they are. See them? Click, click. Your help is appreciated.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
I walked out of the shelter and hefted my suitcase into the back seat of Bellissa's truck. Together we rode towards Rudy's.
"I have to ask you this," Bellissa was saying. "Are you on any drugs?"
"Nicotine," I replied.
"OK. So, nothing? Because if you need any kind of counseling, any kind of treatment, I've got hookups in that department too. I just want to make sure you're taken care of in that regard too, if that's the case."
"No drugs, no nothing. Just me and my karma."
We ordered our burgers and fish sandwiches (me the former, vegetarian-esque she the latter) and one Schaffer beer each. Bellissa paid. I was grateful. The Wednesday night Rudy's crowd was a decent size. We talked about moving me into her spare room for awhile, and about what I can do for her in exchange and for how long it should go on. I would move a gigantic pile of sticks and branches from one part of her backyard to another. I would crush and destroy the bamboo-like weeds that had taken over one corner of the yard. I would put together her new entertainment center, install "grippy tape" on the front steps to reduce the chance of someone slipping, and help to unpack a room full of boxes and distribute their contents around the house where they belong. The latter is the only one I never got around to, because it turned out I was out of there and into my own place in a week.
Meanwhile, Bellissa drove me around, bought me lunches and dinners, introduced me to her friends and brothers and her basement roommate, talked with and counseled me about my options for the immediate and near future, and took my thousand thanks gracefully, eventually asking me to stop thanking her. I couldn't help it. Although I was helping her out around the house, I still felt that yanking me out of the shelter and putting me up for a week was a true gift. She was, and continues to be, a true friend. We laughed, we hung out, we even drank and made merry one night around a bonfire in her backyard. The fire burned an invisible igloo of warmth in the still, cool air of the opening days of April as we sipped on Bud and nipped at a small bottle of Southern Comfort. I felt completely at ease in her presence, yet also oddly responsible and productive.
I continued the blog from her place and considered my plans. Ultimately the blog drew forth a number of Good Samaritans (much like paramedics to a crash site) who offered all measure of things helpful: money, jobs, housing, food and coffee outings for discussing life and its vicissitudes, kind sentiments and powerful words of encouragement. The blog also drew forth a some chastisement from old friends who I had wronged at one point and with whom I had not yet made amends. Even that was OK, as it just felt good to be reaching out and talking to everybody.
Two people expressed doubt that I had ever been homeless. I felt immensely complimented and encouraged to hear that I was just "a professional writer riding a trend" of homelessness and poverty in the literary and pop culture arenas.
Perhaps I never made myself sound desperate enough. Maybe my positive attitude in the face of hardship wasn't typical. Certainly I was not living in the shelter for very long, but now wait just one minute, fellas. I have known poverty all my life. I grew up on Section 8 housing and welfare checks and grossly early Social Security benefits. When I was little, my mother and I usually had enough money left over for a Friday night donut date at the kitchen table. Silently, gratefully, and full of mischievous giggling, we slurped our half a donut each by candlelight. Dunked into milk sopping wet dripping. This was our treat for the week. I'm grateful for the donut memories.
Welcome to the story of my life: not having much, being resourceful, trying not to think like a poor person, being a chronic spendthrift when you get a few extra bucks in your pocket, only to find yourself broke in a few days and having to pawn something or ration the milk. Fine. Not so bad. Have you ever heard me complain?
Bellissa related the story of how she once asked a poor old man, Rawls, a jazz saxophone player, why he would spend $200 out of his $300 monthly government cheese on a handheld DVD player.
"When you've been poor your entire life," explained Rawls, "you really are not interested in counting your pennies. If you get a little extra cash, you want to get something nice for yourself. You just want to feel normal, like other people." And then you're broke for days or weeks and you have to beg people for food. That's thinking like a poor person. Again: welcome to my world.
One of the Good Samaritans who responded to my blog, Faith is her name, offered to put me up in an efficiency apartment in her house in exchange for 20-30 hours a week of work around the house. I could choose the jobs as I find things that need doing - raking, picking up trash, doing dishes, general cleaning, painting the unfinished woodwork around the window sills - what-have-you. It would also include feeding the stray cat, Squeak is his name, "because I want you to learn how to take care of something other than yourself," Faith intoned in all seriousness. That sounded great, so I took the efficiency.
And that's where I am now. I have a cozy little room - not too little, but little - enough room for walking loose figure eights, a writerly pace of pondering - with my own bathroom and kitchen. This is more than I could have ever hoped for, especially on a work exchange basis. The house is situated right off the New Haven Harbor, which is an inlet off the Long Island Sound, which is an inlet off the Atlantic Ocean. I can open my side door and see saltwater. It comes in violently in big tumultuous waves when it rains all day, like it did three days ago, but when the weather is stiller sits patiently in the cold early April breeze, lapping the shore like a stray tabby cat to its stairway water dish.
Is this the place where I can write my Great American novel about how I am not Great at all, hardly even consider myself an American in the popular sense of the word? There is seclusion and solitude here; Faith, ever faithful, assures me the place is well protected by His divine love. I can write my life and my memories and my nows and forevers, and I can take a bus or walk an hour into town for a little social healing, a healing I need so badly.
But it's the solitude I love. No sirens can be heard. No nighttime ambulances in a steady procession towards the Yale New Haven Medical Center, almost on top of which I lived when I was over at George and Howe, before I was evicted on sincere threat of violence.
No. This place is peace, here in my “kingdom by the sea”. So I'm grateful, I'm not homeless, and I'm ready to move forward in life. Tell me, please: Is that so boring?
Note: Some names were changed to avoid drama.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Squeak was most vociferous and sad during the Nor'easter that tore through here last week. He didn't seem to mind the rain itself. More just the dismal atmosphere. He plodded sadly up to me whenever I would step outside. He couldn't sit down because the ground was wet. Instead, he would climb up into my lap or my arms or sit on my shoulders like some furry landlubbing parrot. Now that it's beautiful outside (70s, slight breeze, plenty of sunshine) Squeak lounges and waits for me when I am indoors or away from the neighborhood.
Often when I take walks, such as to the end of the pier, Squeak follows me all the way out. His heads will turn this way and that, spotting unseen fauna, picking up on the scents of other strays, but otherwise he is completely domesticated. Like a dog, he will come when I call, and he always walks back home with me.
I made the mistake of feeding him three times a day for the first few days I was in my new efficiency. Faith then informed me that I'm only supposed to feed him once a day, or I'd have a beggar on my hands. Besides, other houses feed him too, so it's not like he's starving. I took the advice, but still Squeak has made me his new best friend.
He greeted me this morning and sat in my lap as the sun beat down its gorgeous rays. We both earned this nice weather.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Today, for example, I ran into a street lady with whom I am quite familiar. I don't know her name. It was a beautiful day out, in the 70s I believe, and she said, "Do you know me?" I said I did, and asked how she was doing. "I'm depressed. I've been walking around all day, crying like an asshole." I could see the tears in her eyes. I don't know nor do I care whether she was just running for Best Actress or what. I just said, "I'm sorry, sweetheart, I would give you some money, but I am fresh out." I gave her a hug instead. She kept on walking and panhandling in the gorgeous weather.
Now that's kind of sardonic, yes? Sad, but nice weather. Good combination. Then I would move onto how I ran into my buddy Gary from the old soup kitchens I used to attend, and how I spotted him today wearing a suit at a bus stop. He was coming back from a job interview at a temp agency to (hopefully) replace his job as a stock "boy" in a grocery store. His explosion of sandy white hair and handlebar goatee, juxtaposed with the old pinstriped suit, made him look a lot like Samuel Clemens, or Mark Twain depending on who you ask. Gary was reading a fantasy novel. He's always reading a fantasy novel. He opened the one he was holding and read me a passage from the introduction, which was basically a how-to guide to writing fantasy. Moral of the passage: you have to have a theology (pagan or Christian, pagans are better because "they have more fun"), a Hero, a Quest, and a "Magic Thingamajiggy" (Holy Grail, the One Ring, the Special Jewel). That's as far as we got. Gary's bus arrived.
That's The Urban Pedestrian. Lowbrow and blue collar and street. Then there's The Upscale Pedestrian.
The Upscale Pedestrian would be a blog about how to live the good life without having to buy a car or even a bicycle. It would include information about how to use the transit system in an efficient manner, reviews of nice restaurants and museums you can walk to, a guide to planning your days around a pedestrian-oriented way of life, and other material. It would break down the cost of being a pedestrian and weigh it against the cost of owning a car, and then compare the intrinsic benefits of each way of life. I would attempt to prove that you can muster any type of non-motorist lifestyle you want, whether you are young or old, rich or humble, single or married, with kids or without.
So why don't I start those blogs? Because I have too many ideas. That's why I have this multi-purpose blog, this trash compactor. I realize there is little to connect this blog to itself. There seems to be no pattern, other than the fact that it is written by myself. So I'll just stick to this one for now. My goal is to tell self-contained stories that do not require you to follow a thread or series. On the other hand, a lot of my life does connect; a lot of the stories do find relationships with each other. So if you are a reader of this blog, please just read as much or as little as you like. If you start to see a pattern, then you have your larger narrative. Reading and writing are therefore a symbiotic relationship. As a reader, you have just as many choices to make as does the writer. So we're kind of exactly alike. You're confused, I'm confused, let's all share our lives with each other.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
It’s a passage from the Robinson Jeffers version of Medea by Euripides – one of the Shakespeare Lady’s signature acts. We are standing outside an overpriced health food store. Customers are going in and out. Nobody stops to listen tonight.
“Can this be that great adventurer, the famous lord of the seas and delight of women, the heir of rich Corinth, this crying drunkard on the dark doorstep?”
The training she received at Bennington College in Vermont and the Yale School of Drama shines through. Her voice is strong and singsong, her physical gestures measured and effective yet sweeping. The lines from the passage seem to be directed at both herself and at the invisible character she is supposed to be addressing. At times, it feels as though she is addressing me. I feel included, somehow.
“Yet you've not had enough.”
No, I have not had enough. I am the feeble night bird. I am the boastful adventurer, the privileged middle class citizen, cut down to size. I hang on her every word. I know where this woman has been. I learned about her from first hand experience, word on the street, talking to the locals, and reading the news. She has a rare form of schizophrenia, an ailment she and someone at UCLA have described as “tactile demons”. She hears voices. They have been tormenting her since her days as a Yale student. Her Master’s Thesis was entitled “A Theatre of Hunger”.
In the early 1980s, she got into a physical argument with the voices and destroyed her apartment. She has been living on the streets and in mental hospitals, women’s shelters, and rooming houses ever since. The business owners around this neighborhood, which just so ironically happens to be the designated “arts district”, don’t like her much. She can get overly assertive. Sometimes she performs so close to the storefronts that the customers have to walk right by her, both coming and going. Apparently, people have complained, because the neighborhood business community is trying to put the kibosh on her performances. She has been arrested, thrown in jail, and tried for trespassing and disturbing the peace numerous times each.
“You have come to drink the last bitter drops. I'll pour them for you."
The rats took over her rooming house last June. The city condemned the place and kicked out all the tenants. I once saw what the place looked like when I myself was looking for a cheap place to live. It was frighteningly filthy. In an abandoned room I saw an open refrigerator, unplugged, with food still inside. The refrigerator was tilting, sadly, on broken feet. I didn’t dare look at the shared shower rooms.
The Shakespeare Lady still performs on the streets. Some say she smokes crack. I don’t judge it. Does your boss ask you what you’re going to spend your money on when he cuts your paychecks? The Shakespeare Lady’s performances are the best deal in town. Her eyes bulge from their sockets when performing, but rest easy and hooded when just walking. Her voice is natural and conversational as she again trots up the street towards me again:
“Hey baby, my name is the Shakespeare Lady,” goes the usual introductory line. “Mind if I read you a poem for a couple of dollars so I can get into a shelter?” By “poem” she means “theatrical performance”. She probably says “poem” because it’s quicker to say when you’re trying to hustle up a rush hour audience.
She readies herself by closing her eyes for a moment. She seems to be crouching internally, as if a cat before the pounce. She launches into the “To be or not to be” monolog from Hamlet. The cat has pounced, and she is clawing. A few lines go by before she is suddenly doing the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. Suddenly the speech has morphed to become the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. I can’t tell where she made the switches. Is she twisting her lines on purpose, or is this some manifestation of the schizophrenia? Is she confused? And does it even matter? The “mash-up”, if you will, is seamless. A DJ or collage artist should be so proficient at blending the arts of completely many different epochs of human history into one cohesive narrative. The result is a timeless wailing of the soul. A longing, a yearning, a sadness and a strength. For my two bucks, the Shakespeare Lady ain’t holding back.
“Thank you, Shakespeare Lady, for throwing a wrench into my day,” I should say. “For making me stop and look somewhere besides straight forward. For making me look up at the sky, where you are looking, Shakespeare Lady. Thank you for speaking loudly, for not being ashamed of yourself, and for being a human being and an actor and alive. Thank you for reminding ‘sane’ people of the raw underbelly of their own psyche. Thank you for all the debts you’ve paid so that I can have this moment with you.”
I never say all that. Instead, it’s just, “Thank you, Margaret.” I look her in the eye, clasp her hand in my two hands when I give her the money, and figure she understands.
“Thanks, baby, you have a good night now.”
Friday, April 20, 2007
My eighth birthday party ended when I ran around screaming into all of my guests' faces freaking everybody out and crying for absolutely no apparent reason.
Are these two facts connected?
According to my dad, William Fleeman, the founder and CEO of Pathways to Peace, Inc., a not-for-profit education and training corporation on anger management:
People with anger problems use anger like a drug, to change feelings of powerlessness into feelings of power.
I got in my first fistfight when I was eight. It happened at school. Another kid made fun of me because he knew I didn’t have a father. From early childhood I felt worthless and alone, powerless and afraid. That’s how kids feel when their fathers abandon them. The kid’s remarks hooked my feelings of abandonment and pushed my self-esteem even lower. I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach; then I shoved the kid down the school steps.
Watching the kid tumble down the steps, I felt my first “anger high.” The other kids who cheered me on added to the high. The high lasted only an instant, but for that instant I felt a sense of power I had never felt before. I felt confident instead of afraid, accepted instead of rejected, strong instead of weak. What I felt, felt good. The kid was not hurt. Neither of us suffered bad results. The teacher who broke up the fight merely talked to us.
Later that day the high went away, and all of the negative feelings I felt about myself came back. But that fight on the school steps changed me. The change lasted most of the rest of my life. A new part was added to my character: a part I could not seem to control, a part I was not even aware of, a part that would continue to seek the rush of power I felt when I shoved that kid down the stairs. Over time that part would grow big and strong. Finally it would run my life. Later I would find out what it was. It was anger and rage.That fight on the school steps caused me to form another new belief: anger is power. That belief influenced my behavior for the next 35 years.
I wrote these two poems in the summer of 2001.
***** "Things That Shoot Up" heroine addicts, weeds; skyrockets, fireworks, bombs bursting in air, oh-oh say can you see all the things shooting up? billions of lasers climbing, shot from the billions of fingers in the great wide open nothingness? like the rain dreams of upside-down androids; a computer-generated chaos that just can't stop organizing itself. no floating feathers, or gentle bobbing ships on waves that elbow each other in jest in the ribs. just ! BLAM! BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! ribboning cyclones, a barber snipping himself to the piling end, the cocaine sniff that lasts a whole gracious slicing lifetime, the weed-infested field plucked and plucked by children with A.D.D. forever, BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! but the clincher is BWAAAAAAAA! BWAAAAAAAA! BWAAAAAAAA-HA-HA-HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! ***** Um. What just happened? One more poem now. Or whatever these things are. ***** "What the Bar Looks Like After Ten Drinks" Bodies advancing and retreating bobbing and swiveling amongst globes of gaseous gold and planes of cloudy black. Multifarious human-made objects discarded in eerily recurrent complex patterns: rectangles re- ceding, circles mushrooming in unharvested rows a silent rainfall of heartbeats a rolling murmur in the shape of a giant cube cosmic calculus. ***** Okay, I lied. One more. From that same era. ***** "On Time" Today, by its very length, weighs twice as much as yesterday. Each breath (another debt to pay) metes away the seconds slipping slowly, slower, up the hill to blink (finally) my sleep away; to resume, too willingly, the morning, scrrraping across my back, and I am stuck between the doubled day and its Siamese twin yesterday. ***** Apparently, I was on some kind of mysticism/perception/experience kick back then.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
People like us, artists I mean, are always sticking our neck on the public chopping block. Through the morbid ritual of bearing our souls to strangers, we learned that our heads are unseverable. Dizzyable, certainly, but bolted securely to our necks. We create almost as if making things were an involuntary tick. We capture that tick and replay it for the world over and over and over, often to our own undoing. The unmistakable scent of spontaneity that we exude belies that sulfuric compulsion of ours that wells up from our very marrow and explodes as “painting, writing, drama, dance, photography, carpentry, crafts, love, and love”, to quote the poet Saul Williams. In short, experience is what we are interested in here. All else is negotiable. Am I right or am I wrong? Eh?
Looks like the interview has begun.
My main question to you, artist, is this: how important is your creativity to you? Is it right up there with food and shelter? If suddenly you were stripped of all ability to create anything artistic ever again, could you even go on living?
I also want to ask you about your "hopes and dreams", if I may use the cliché as a placeholder for now. What types of projects would you like to undertake next? Is money an object in this regard? I am always interested in what holds artists back, so let me ask this as well, if it's not too personal: what's holding you back from achieving the next level or accomplishing your next artistic mission? I ask this out of a basic assumption that most artists have a backlog of ideas with which they can never keep up. Finally, is it the knowledge that there is always some new creative endeavor waiting for you over the horizon that keeps you alive?
I ain’t done with you yet.
Bear in mind that none of these are yes-or-no answers, per se, just conversation starters. Look at all your art. Every last thing. Look at it all. Are you impressed with your breadth of experimentation? Are there any recurring themes? Have you ever tried humor? Art should be fun. Look in the mirror. Just to get a sense of your own humanity. Be grateful you’re there to see yourself. You could have been somewhere else.
Sorry, not all of these are questions. Some of them are just do what I say. Whatever. I’ve got a lot of things on my mind. Some of the things are advice.
Moving right along, tell me something. I mean just for the hellavitt. Does your hometown rock? Or does it suck? Actually, that's not a fair question, is it. It both rocks and sucks, doesn't it. A tale of two cities, yadda yadda. So let me ask you this: in your opinion, in which ways does your town rock? In which ways does it suck? What are some crappy experiences you've gone through there? And what are some really special and personal moments of happiness you've had there?
Tell me your thoughts about life, the universe, and everything, especially in the context of your personal struggle, and put a lot of talk about art in there, obviously. Make me care more about you than I already do. I want exclusive info! New info is always the best. I find that, as artists, we tend to repeat the same old credentials and accomplishments, when in fact the real accomplishments are getting out of bed in the morning, being able to afford new batteries for your camcorder – you, not me, for I own neither a camcorder nor a camera nor a wristwatch – falling in love, healing old wounds…you know, the human stuff. Not the resumé stuff. On the other hand, resumé stuff is cool too, just as long as you feel proud of it.
All that. Talk. Don't worry about formulating your sentences too hard. Just rattle off your thoughts. Freewrite. It’ll be good for you, and besides, I'm sincerely dying to know. Give me a sense of your whole person, the themes in your life, and the texture of your days.
That is, if you’re not too busy playing chicken with a guillotine.
So I took a walk to the pier just before sunrise. It was absolutely incredible. I don't think I've seen anything like it. As I approached the rock-surrounded pier, the half-ish moon against the deep blue darkness was on my right, leaving its glowing fractured trail in the wavelets on the black Harbor. On my left, the horizon glowed warmly reddish purple. I bounced up and down on the end of the pier to get the blood flowing so I could warm up, then started rotating in circles so I could see the pageant of westward darkness and eastward flabbergasted light. Birds were flying towards the sun before it rose! The terns or gulls wheeled overhead, one of them playing shepherd to the other gulls wheeling and gathering directly over my head. The call of the gull is German. A pack of ravens or crows passed right through the gathering of gulls; the ravens were more purposeful in their eastward trek, and disappeared, calling in Italian. Two ducks, mute, paddled about in the water below me. Rush hour traffic was beginning to flow westward, which I could see from where I stood. Their headlights pierced the purple air. In another direction, in the darkness, the masts of the moored sailboats by the Sound School for aquatic studies stood still, some of them leaning, some of them straight up in the air, like a snapshot of the moment when the child's hand lets go of the upended pick-up sticks; the two spires of the massive boat lift towered above the surrounding masts. All down the edge of the shore, lights were still turned on in the death throes of night - street lamps, kitchen windows, what-have-you. And the birds just kept flying east towards the light as it brightened and brightened. I called to some of the birds, smiling, saying out loud for the benefit of my credulity, "This is impossible. This is beautiful," and such. After about a half hour I was getting a bit chilly so I went inside before the top edge of the sun disc would slice the horizon. Maybe I'll see that tomorrow.
Part 2, in a later letter:
On my daily walk past the Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center (a high school known locally as the Sound School), which is situated on right on the water and located across the street from my house on South Water Street (I finally learned the name of my street!) I saw a high school kid in a knit cap shaking a pair of sticks that went clackety-clackety-clack! clacky-clack! sound. I approached him, we said our what-ups, and I asked him what those things were.
"They're called bones, although these are made of teak. They come from Ireland." He held them in one hand, one finger between the sticks, showing me. Imagine something akin to your standard flat incense burner, with the curved end, but now imagine two of them held together with their curved parts facing outward. That's what the bones looked like.
"You're good at those," I said.
"Thanks. Most people find them annoying."
"I think it's cool."
I continued my walk to the pier, passing a couple of high school kids leaning against a low brick wall, leaning into each other, a boy and a girl. All decked out in whatever the kids are wearing these days, with their funky coifs and and sunglasses on heads and silver necklaces. I walked to the end of the pier and stood looking at the four swans that were sailing slowly about bobbing for apples or whatever they were bobbing for. I sipped the last of my coffee and pondered how cool it would be if you could just swim around and have that be your home and everywhere you looked there was food right beneath your webbed feet. And then if you got too far from wherever you wanted to be you could just jump out of the water and fly there and then keep sailing slowly.
I didn't tell you what I thought about yesterday morning as I experienced the whole sunrise spectacle of dark blue sky and half moon and flocks of different types of birds and boats moored a couple hundred yards from shore and the big rocks and the rippling water gently lapping at the side of New Haven's shores and the lights of rush hour along the far edge of the harbor on the ground like a string of Christmas tree lights dragged by a cat and the masts and boat lifts perked up in darkness and the whole phantasmagoria of chalky cloud spread like rent gauze above the masts. It was the birds that got me to thinking ontologically about the nature of time and space.
As the birds were flying toward the dawning light, it occurred too me that there was a possibility that the birds - the ravens especially, who flew together with a great sense of purpose all in one direction in orderly fashion - always go where the light is. If the sun is rising, they fly towards it. If the sun is setting, they fly towards it. If the sun is high in the sky, they generally stick where they are. This maximizes the length of their day, if only by a few seconds. Some genetic thing. So if this is true, then that means they spend the morning flying east, the evening flying west, and the middle part of the day comparatively chilling out. This got me thinking about their range, their territory. It got me wondering if that's how they do life. And then as the seasons change, they fly north or south accordingly. Just seeing them make these almost worshipful mad dashes towards the sun got me wondering about all this. And then there's the nature of time. It is based on the sun for the birds. And if they make a really strong habit of sticking to the sun, flying this way and that, then that means time and space are, in practice, the exact same thing to these birds. Each point on the sky represents a certain time of day. I was looking at the sky and the birds and the ocean and thinking about all this, and it just felt really extra true to me then. The sky felt so close and personal, like it was hugging me, and that all was quite so very small. The world was my oyster. Very cozy.
That is all about that.
He’s not so much a conservative as he is just a one-man circus in which the lion cage is open, the man got shot while still in the cannon, the clowns are all created by Stephen King, the trapeze artists are splattered all among the audience, and Lucy the dancing bear is actually just a retarded kid in a suit.
It’s a fundamental concept in Greek mythology: cut one of the heads off the infinitely-headed Lernaean Hydra, another head takes its place. Same goes for geopolitics. The question of whether Saddam Hussein was a threat is completely irrelevant. If you want to change the world for the better, then assassinating or executing or otherwise doing away with a “bad guy” is not only pointless, but dangerous, as doing so will only anger the beast. (The beast, in this case, is death and destruction and pain and misery on a mass scale for men and women and children.) So you can pretty much stop arguing over whether there is any connection between Sadaam Hussein and Osama bin Laden or Adolf Hitler or Donald Rumsfeld or or or or or. Here’s your answer: yes, they’re all connected, and they all either love each other or hate each other. If they love each other, they cooperate to kill and maim and otherwise inflict chaos and dread in the populi of all countries; if they hate each other, they compete for the right to be the foremost head on the Hydra of madness and blood and death and death and death. Whaddya gonna do. How do your solve it. Here’s an ice cream cone. Smile. Drop off a care package for your new neighbor. Stop beating your wife and kids, when in Rome don’t spit on the locals, sit up straight, and start acting like a decent human being. Or, just keep feeling like you’re “helping” by cheering the death of another human being. Whatever blows your skirt up, baby.
It's too bad I didn't have the stomach to walk out to the pier during the Nor’easter. It would have been deliciously tempestuous. The wind and the clouds were incessant, without the relief of lightning and thunder. Just that 60 mph wind ramming through the neighborhood and the entire coast. The trees made a wooshing sound that didn't quit. Longest avante garde wind symphony in history. The Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center got flooded. Their boat masts, docked opposite my house, are a whistling mechanism for the wind. The damn things screamed like banshees for 24 hours. The clanging of the lanyards on the masts added to the annoyance factor. And me without a car or frequent-enough buses to escape into downtown, away from shore by a couple miles. I holed up in my room and wrote and wrote and read some, and talked with my girlfriend on the phone.
Now: puddles and leaves and garbage everywhere. It is still heavily overcast but the wind has finally died down to about 15 mph, and the maddening drizzle is only intermittent. A few lone birds are back out flying around and sitting on their power lines. The whole world seems exhausted from the rain and the incessant wind. The sidewalk outside my door looks positively spent.
If I could remember everything about my life at every moment, it would be too much to bear. Please, one thing at a time. I have to step back from time to time and just walk out to the pier and get surrounded by water.
The sea level was all the way up to the boards. I could feel the waves thumping the bottom of the deck upon which I was standing and splashing up through the spaces between the planks. Water was lapping over the edges.
On my return walk from the pier, I spied my landlady's cat rolling around on the sidewalk outside my door. She is in heat (the cat, not my landlady) and had been missing for two days. Out getting some tail from the grey cat that I've seen around, no doubt. I took the opportunity to lure the skittish kitty towards the door with a bowl of the cat food I had bought for Squeak, the stray. I had to rattle the food around in one hand, tapping the plastic bowl on the steps, calling the kitty, holding the door open with the other hand.
Once inside, she had to actually be coaxed to approach her food and water dishes. As soon as she remembered she was starving she cleaned the bowl. Now she is meowing outside my bedroom door, begging to be let back out into the cold so she can find the gray cat. Poor dumb thing. Rolling around on the floor, rubbing its muzzle on everything.
Cats are insane. Sophisticated, yes, but also daft. Then you get a cat that's in heat, and they'll risk life and limb to get some sex. They'll lose their appetite and not eat for days. I remember when my childhood cat Mary would go into heat. The yowling and the sex starvation. Mary never got laid in her entire life. It's sad, really.
Now that high tide has come and gone, and low tide has reach its lowest point and started its climb, I can see all kinds of garbage washed up on the mud flats with their marshy weeds of bamboo proportions. Who knows what relics lie in wait for someone to discover them, or not discover them, in which case they might get washed back out to sea someday. Maybe I'll go hunting for archaeological finds tomorrow in the daylight. Tonight, I'm walking into town. The weather is still cold, overcast, drizzly, miserable and depressing, but it's at least navigable. I won't freeze.
Also: big huge rotted-out logs, all jutting on the ground parallel towards the sea, as if an old dock of gigantic proportions, disassembled and its foundations abandoned. One big log that had broken away and swung back to lay along the shore, much of it embedded deep into the sand-mud. Grassy bits where it is slippery and still waterlogged. Everything waterlogged, really. And garbage! Wrappers, plastic bottles.
I found three glass bottles - one green, one clear with the cognac label still on, and one clear with interesting little floral textures. I decided to keep them as decorations. I also found two fishing bobbers of the red-and-white variety, plastic, the line pinching mechanisms too rusted for use. I kept one of the bobbers as part of my hypothetical Harbor Shrine that I will erect somewhere in my room. How 'bout that. Interesting stuff. What else.
The mud flats smell like fish and clam and dirt and mud and brown grass and rotting wood everywhere, lovely, permeating everything. I discovered that underneath the pier, if you walk next to it, you can see a wide space, about three feet tall, between the layer of concrete underneath and the wooden planks up top. A great place to hide something, if you ever need to hide something. Do you need to hide anything? I've got the spot. Of course, it will get washed away at high tide. So it's a really good place to hide something. Or lose it. However you choose to see it.
You could smoke in waiting rooms back then. But the dad was discouraged from entering the birthing room. Germs and things, probably. Or dads make for bad midwives. Female nurses and male doctors only. It wasn't an official rule any longer, it was a deep-seated prejudice, I suppose, and perhaps not without value. My dad, for one, was all nerves and tendons. With 100 pounds of muscle that could move 350 straight upwards. Leave the delicate work to the female nurses and male doctor.
Yet here he is, holding me up to his cheek, me sound asleep, no idea just how secure these arms are, just sleeping like the days-old baby I am. Drooling and dreaming of the womb. It was warm in there, the womb.
That's why I started hollering before the rest of my body was born. "No deal," I skillfully argued. "This contract is null and void. Put my head back in that womb or you'll hear from my lawyer." I paused for effect, drooling my first drool, ordered my abductors to "cease and desist," and ultimately lost the case. The verdict was unanimous. I was guilty of being born, the minimum sentence for which was 27 years of Life, with an upward limit of 120 years for good behavior.
Yes, it all seems backwards, even today. I tried protesting and all I got was ignored and beat up. Me and reality don't get along too well. It's just so illogical.
Dreams of the East is a unique eight-painting installation incorporating Orientalist themes culled from the contemporary mass media. The images were rendered in fluorescent paint on canvas, and brought to life under black light. (To this reviewer’s knowledge, the technique has never been used.) The black light is flipped on and off at five-minute intervals, illustrating how the West selectively tunes in and tunes out the Pantheons of fame and the Underworlds of otherness.
The contemporary images in Dreams were culled from the Internet and television, yet the subjects recapitulate the works of such masters as Duccio, Gros, and Delacroix. Nobody Leading the People, for example, is a twist on Delecroix’s Liberty Leading the People. While Liberty depicts a violent revolutionary charge led by an ideal manifested as a common woman, Nobody depicts Haitian rebels charging towards the camera, storming the viewer.