Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 11.2 (Michael Gizzi)

Gizzi, Michael
New Depths of Deadpan


Sent to me by the author. Inscribed.

A little distracted this morning, I am staring at the painted white wood of the bookcases in my library and remembering this room as it was when we bought the house a little over a year and a half ago. The room was painted dark green, about the color of doctors' scrubs. What you see behind me in photos was enclosed in homemade cabinet doors made of particle board. We removed them to reveal the shelves and added a few new ones to house all my books. Even the ceiling in here was green. In the window behind me there is still a small, unpainted swatch that we never covered over after replacing the window. When guests come we show them the swatch and ask them to imagine the whole room that color. I sometimes wonder if they can imagine such a thing. If they can repaint the room in their minds and hold the image there of that place, as it was or might have been, or if they just smile and move on to the next room. On one of the lower shelves, where the A's and most of the B's are housed, the doors once had holes stuffed with what looked like sixties era speaker covering. The room may have been someone's groovy cocktail lounge. Overhanging those shelves is what appears to be a countertop, and at the same height in other parts of the room there are small, hidden shelves that can be pulled out. You can set things on them. This leads us to believe this must have at one time been a pantry or a kitchen. I keep them closed. The cats. This was at one time the rear of the house, before the two additions were telescoped onto it. One of them sags on the second floor. They seem to have removed a wall or built on top of a one story structure without properly supporting it. We painted the walls inside the bookcases. A kind of deep mustard yellow. In the corners we kept the doors on because the shelving inside is too deep for book cases. I store things there. They are also wired for cheap florescent lighting. I use it now and again when I am looking for something. The cats alway try to open the doors so they can crawl in and hide. The cats love to hide. They like to knock things off the shelves. They like to tip over garbage cans. One likes to hide behind the venetian blind in the window or, when I pull it open, to play with the cord, which then hangs low enough to tussle with. Sometimes they jump up on my desk and walk all over the keyboard as I type. I have to delete their writings. No one should read them. Sometimes they chew at the corner of the lamp, but only when it is lit. Maybe the light has some taste only cats can taste. Other times they lay down and fall asleep. Still others they fall asleep sitting up. Their eyes begin to droop, but their bodies remain erect. I pet them. I scratch their bellies, their backs. Both like to be scratched. They meow a lot. Lori can tell their meows apart. I can, too, sometimes. Sumi's meow is a bit deeper. Blues a bit higher pitched. Sometimes they fight for attention, other times they share it. Cat hair piles at the place where the plastic chair mat meets the tatami mat beneath it. I should vacuum. I will vacuum. Soon.

from New Depths of Deadpan

The Deep


A reflection blinds a gardening correspondent. Shade requires a starting point. The elementary particle makes to leave and its extremities fill.

Aliens write in puns we know are curly fries. Drive-up windows make this clear.

War with its lights out eschews imagination. All our buds lost their hears in the flower of their youth.

So we got this apartment on Jockey Street. They used to race horses there.

But we're not going to jaw about Ovid or the rosy steps of mother, her microscopic brand of honey. We expect you to understand.

See you over the next hill.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 11.1 (Michael Gizzi)


No Both
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Gizzi, Michael
No Both


Given to me by the author at or after the Robert Creeley Symposium in Buffalo in October 2006. In the links on the sidebar you can find an interview I did with Michael ("Michael Gizzi Interview in Artvoice") and an article I wrote about the conference for the Poetry Foundation ("Creeley Article at Poetry Foundation").

Michael gave a great talk at that snowy symposium in which he examined Creeley's rhythms and phrasings as they relate to jazz. He performed the piece by playing a number of recordings by Richard Twardzik, a Boston jazz pianist who died at the age of twenty four. Twardzik's phrasings are remarkably similar in construction to Creeley's.

There's really no way to prove this two you except to say go listen to the recordings and then read some of Creeley's poetry from the 50's aloud to yourself. You'll hear it for sure. I think Michael's talk was the first time I really ever "heard" what people were talking about when they talked about jazz rhythm in poetry. He sent me a recording of Twardzik, who only ever released 22 minutes of solo material, and that posthumously. When it pops up on my iPod I always think of his talk.

from No Both

A few times in our lives we live like cats
The child in us loves the applause
Watching is nothing
Angels are people who never blinked
I've seen them sniffing
I can see through you into the garage beyond
One day you'll sit in the sun and be incinerated
Sometimes terrible things happen quite naturally
I get up in the morning and there's my skin in bed
They got my head can you beat that
Then a wasp stung out my eye
Makes my hungry fist feel like the angel of mercy's compote
Skin shiny like a mirror seas of boiled fish
Ink like you've never seen
My sweat in a bottle dripping gasoline
The wind in the willies

Monday, March 29, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 11 (Michael Gizzi)


My Terza Rima
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Gizzi, Michael
My Terza Rima


Sent to me by the author in anticipation of a reading he was to give in Buffalo a few years back, but which got canceled on account of snow. It is not inscribed; however, there is a note to me from the author on a small slip of lined paper inside the front cover. It reads:

DEAR MIKE–

SAW SIMON P. IN NYC THIS PAST WKD.

HERE'S–QUICKLY–MATERIAL YOU REQUESTED.

WATCH "THE INTRUDER" AGAIN. I WILL, TOO. THEN WE CAN COMPARE NOTES.

ALL BEST,

MICHAEL

"Simon P." is Simon Pettet, poet and mutual friend. "The Intruder" ("L'Intrus") is a 2004 film by Claire Denis based on a book by Jean-Luc Nancy. What the note refers to is an email conversation with Michael in which he suggested I see the film. Just that same week, another friend had also told me that they thought it was a great film. In our conversation, I noted that I had already seen The Intruder and that I did not much care for it because I really didn't understand what was going on.

However, I told him, since he and another person whose tastes I respected had given it such high marks, I would watch it a second time, in case I missed something. My hope had been to discuss this with Michael at the aforementioned canceled reading, which would have taken place in, I think, the spring of 2007. Alas, our conversation was not be.

I did see the film a second time, but sad to say I did not come around to agree with my two friends. Before my second viewing, I prepared by reading a few reviews and synopses in order to get a sense of what other people thought was going on in the film. Even so, I found the story well nigh impenetrable. Maybe I should have read the book by Nancy first? It is beautifully shot, to be sure, but I found that even having seen the film a second time and having read a plot synopsis, I could not from the film alone inuit the story, and I did not find the all of the other details compelling enough to ignore this fact.

from My Terza Rima

Velocity School

I just fed my wildlife accelerator
an old pirate of the West doughnut
now nobody has the foggiest
and a speechifying pince-nez
called Mahoney if you want
to be a badger warm
to a natural comfort find
a quiet walnut where a blue
beret can exist in peace as
tribute to the point that
bald facts if anything draw
you closer to woollen
atmospheres moony in
the condominium of wit
to wit bamboo balls that
feel cheated as astringents
since Fluff lit into the middle
distance picking up an infield
in a lifetime of touch made by
no name please cracks
a Brazil nut believed to be
the contraband of minutemen
who may be more than one
and outshines everyone

Friday, March 26, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 10.1 (C.S. Giscombe)


Prairie Style
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Giscombe, C.S.
Prairie Style


Galley copy sent by publisher.

The Lou Reed Saga, Part 2

After Lou's stinging rejection of D's overture of friendship, an obsession begins to fester. D begins acting strangely. He stops wearing clothes around the apartment, which he shares with his brother, P, a close friend of mine, for whom D is mainly a surrogate to me. I often visit P at the apartment. For months, D walks around naked, taunting us with his nakedness. While he listens to something one of us has to say, he grabs his penis, shakes it, or slaps it lazily against his thigh, watching our eyes to see if we look. This behavior continues, we hear, in his acting class, where he starts taking off his pants in the middle of scenes, saying he feels the need to breathe.

Anywhere, at anytime, he might pause, hold his hand up like a traffic cop in someone's face and shout, PLEASE!

I leave for Ecuador in 1994 and D comes to visit me there. He brings a video cassette he's made of friends bearing greetings from the States. It opens with a shot of D standing on a sidewalk in Manhattan, standing in sunglasses in a classic Lou Reed album cover kind of hipster pose, head slightly cocked toward the sky, head turned slightly away from the camera. The camera person, his wife, can be heard saying, "Hey, isn't that Lou Reed? Lou? Is that you? Lou Reed"

D slowly turns his head toward the camera as it approaches. At first, he says nothing, then up comes the hand.

"PLEASE!"

End of shot.

I get a letter from D's brother. He's putting his clothes on again. Everyone is relieved. He tells me that three days earlier D was walking down Avenue A when who should pass him on the street but Lou Reed. D stops, turns and shouts, "Hey, Lou!" Lou Reed stops, turns, makes eye contact. D holds up his middle finger. Lou turns and hurries away. D seems satisfied.

Years later, D starts taking Kung Fu classes in So Ho. Different people come to the class each week, but there is a core of students who seem to be very serious about it, among whom D counts himself as well as a middle aged man who often occupies the spot next to him on the floor. He is short, in his fifties, dark hair, keeps to himself. D respects him because he takes things seriously. He shows up each week, follows his routine to the letter, gets dressed and goes home. One day he says hello to the man. The man smiles and returns the hello. As soon as he speaks, D recognizes the voice. It's Lou Reed.

End of story.

from Prairie Style

THE 1200N ROAD, GOING EAST


To me, the image is any value in the exchange. Pleasure's accidental. In any event, it's hard to measure and harder still to memorize, pleasure. Image stands in. To me voice, is that which get stuck in the head, effected voice, or inbetween the teeth, the hiss of love. Songs, eating. Whatever love says it's no image, no consequence. This far inland, the erotic's only obvious from a distance. This far inland you need something more sexual than dichotomy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 10 (C.S. Giscombe)


Giscome Road
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Giscombe, C.S.
Giscome Road


I think I bought this online. I don't know that I own any other poetry books that put the blurb on the front cover instead of the back.

I thought I'd continue the story of D this morning. The tale of his Ginsberg obsession pales in comparison to the Lou Reed saga.

Our tale begins in 1993, near the corner of Seventh and A in the East Village. Tompkins square has just re-opened and the neighborhood is slowly beginning to change. Next to the corner restaurant, 7A, there stands a small jazz club called Deanna's. Deanna is a slinky chanteuse in her late twenties-early thirties who runs the club more as a means to showcase her talent and that of her mother than to make money.

Several nights a week she brings in jazz musicians and vamps it up with standards like, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." Sundays, there is brunch, during which Deanna's mother plays the piano and sings arias from German operas. In the audience, you'll find everyone from out of town brunchers to 15 year old squatters living on the edges of their former home, the park.

One Sunday, I am eating brunch on the sidewalk with D, who gets up to go to the bathroom. A moment after he goes inside, Lou Reed and woman walk by and disappear into a record store called Stooz. I feel excited and wait to tell D when he returns. When I tell him the news he says, O man, I have been meaning to ask him something. Where did he go?

Into Stooz, I say. I'll go pay the check.

I walk inside and pay the check. When I return to the table I ask D if Lou has left the store yet.

No, he says. I am going to give him this when he does. He hands me a book of matches with his telephone number written on it.

You're going to give him your phone number? Why?

What if he calls?

Just then Lou and his companion step out of the record store and begin walking down 7th toward 1st Avenue. D stands up and follows, while I remain seated, watching in horror as the scene unfolds. D follows them for half a block. They realize they are being followed. They cross the street. D pauses and watches them cross. He steps to the curb, looks both ways, puts the hood of his sweatshirt over his head, and follows them down the other side of the street. He begins walking faster. I can still just see them near the end of the block. D tries to catch up to them.

Lou, without turning or stopping holds out his left hand as if stopping traffic. David stops. He hangs his head. He looks dejected. He turns and heads back to our table at Deanna's.

I'll never listen to the Velvet Underground again.

What'd he say?

D, in an exaggerated imitation of Lou, shoves his hand in my face and yells, PLEASE!

This begins an obsession with Lou that lasted well into the late nineties.

To be continued...

from Giscome Road

The songs a commotion rising in the current, almost an apparition: or the shape

rises–obvious, river-like–in the blood (in the house that the blood made)

& goes on, is the fact of the "oldest ancestor," in whose

name etc description itself persists on out, not like some story, into the uplands, on into the stony breakdown, no line

between the old river god & the old man's name coming up along the river & the road:

an endless invisible present going on, a noise

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 9.3 (Allen Ginsberg)

Ginsberg, Allen
Collected Poems 1947-1997


I think I found this in a box of donated books at Just Buffalo and brought it home with me.

I used to have a friend in New York, D, who was a little bit on the loopy side. He came to New York without any education or known artistic ability in any field and immediately set about trying to make himself famous. He bought a guitar one day and the same night got up at an open mic to play and sing a song he wrote that afternoon. He took acting classes for years in hopes he might make it in that arena, but he found he could only act if he were not acting from a script but from a scene he'd written for himself -- about himself. In my last years of contact with him, he and his then-wife decided to become filmmakers. They spent two years and all of their money producing, writing and directing a film that was, from what I heard, painful to watch. Then he joined the marines and eventually ended up divorced, remarried, with a child, and working on Wall Street.

He also had an obsession with famous people and felt no qualms about walking up to them on the street and starting a conversation. He had run-ins with Lou Reed, David Lee Roth, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones (on separate occasions from Stummer), and, for purposes of this entry, Allen Ginsberg.

His first encounter with Ginsberg came when he decided to attend an open audition for the part of Sal Paradise in what was going to be Francis Ford Coppola's version of On The Road. D showed up at the audition at a church near Lincoln Center fifteen minutes after the all-day open casting had wrapped up. He somehow snuck in a side door of the church and found himself standing in front of Coppola and Ginsberg. Coppola told him to go home, that the audition was over. He pleaded with the director, saying, Someone must have given you a break. Can't you just give me a chance. Coppola replied that he had had all day to audition and that he should have come eight hours earlier. D further pleaded that he'd had to work all day and couldn't make it. Finally, Ginsberg interrupted to scold D, saying: This is what is wrong with your generation -- you are too selfish. You could never play Jack Kerouac. He was angelic in a way that you will never be.

Some time later, D came to a reading by Ginsberg at the Dia Center. Afterward, he approached and asked if he could talk to him. Ginsberg acted as if he recognized him and apologized if he'd forgotten. He then handed D his card and said to call if he wanted to get together for coffee. D called and called, leaving hundreds of unreturned messages on the answering machine. Over time, I think he became fixated on the perceived injustice of this and started to say nasty things into the answering machine. Amazingly, Ginsberg never called the police on him.

from Collected Poems 1947-1997

My Team is Red Hot

My dick is red hot.
Your dick is diddly dot.

My politics red hot.
Your politics diddly-plot.

My President's red hot.
Your President's diddly-blot.

My land is red hot.
Your land is diddly-knot.

My nation's red hot.
Your nation's diddly rot.

My cosmos red hot.
Your cosmos diddly iddly squat.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 9.2 (Allen Ginsberg)

Ginsberg, Allen
Selected Poems 1947-1995

Given to me by the head of marketing at Harper Collins when I worked there as a temp for a few months in 1995. He said, "You're a poet, right? I thought you might like a copy of this." I was moved by this gesture, if for no other reason than that the giver showed not only that he knew who I was, but that he had listened to what I had said about myself. This was not the norm in the publishing world, sad to say. I temped at a couple of different major publishers in the mid-nineties, and I mostly found the work deflating.

My first publisher was Hyperion, which was an imprint of Disney. I worked in the marketing department for about six months. My cubicle sat in the back corner of a group of four cubicles, across the hall from one of the hot young editors. Her assistant, a kind, intelligent ivy-leaguer who spent her whole day kissing ass, sat in front of me. Listening to this editor, who published literary lights such as Jeff Foxworthy and Brett Butler, talk about spending the weekend with "Jeff" at his fabulous house in Hollywood and about what a fun guy he was made me kind of nauseous.

My job mostly consisted of sitting in the corner doing nothing. I had so much time on my hands that I once, for fun, translated the whole of Neruda's "Heights of Macchu" into English over the course of about two weeks (it was a terrible translation, but it was just me and a college dictionary, so give me a break!).

The "highlight" of that job was working on an exercise book by Oprah's trainer. One day, several thousand water bottles with the title of the book emblazoned over the plastic surface arrived for some promotional event. For some reason, the bottles and the tops arrived in separate boxes. It was given to me to put the tops on the bottles. This took two full days. Another task was running rough copies of the cover to the designer and returning with corrections. This was just before the internet took over office work, so there was still a manual aspect to the job. I would carry the image over to the designer with a post-it that said -- "Oprah's thighs too fat -- take more off!" or -- "Sleeveless tee on trainer looks too GAY! add sleeves. Fill in airholes on shirt."

My boss gave me one interesting job in six months. She had a stack of reports tracking sales of books by authors who had appeared on Oprah's show for the three weeks preceding and following their appearance. She asked me to figure out what the average jump in sales was from the three weeks before to the three weeks after. Mind you, this was BEFORE she started the book club. The numbers were frightening, even then. The average jump in sales was something like ten thousand percent! That's power.

At HarperCollins, I discovered the internet, on which I spent a lot of time each day. I also spent a lot of time using the fax machine to fax poems back and forth with my friend, P. I don't think I worked there long, but I once got called back to do one of the most mind-numbing jobs I have ever done -- transcription. And not just any transcription. I was charged with transcribing twelve hours worth of interviews with comedian Jenny McCarthy for her upcoming bio.

Without impugning Ms. McCarthy's comedic talent, which exists, she has to be one of the dumbest sounding people I have ever had the displeasure to listen to. The only thing worse was listening to the interviewer, who I presume was the ghost writer, kiss her ass for twelve hours. He kept saying, "You're not like other stars. You are real. You are grounded. You are not into all of this Hollywood phoniness." And she'd say something like, "Yeah. I know. Listen, I have to get out Palm Springs in a couple of hours, can we hurry up."

It seemed like the writer already had the story written -- it was a "rags to riches" Hollywood tale! -- and that he was just trying to get usable quotes for the book. My favorite moment was when he wanted to talk to her about her comedic influences.

"Who are your influences?" he asked.
"Like, oh, you know, lots."
"You really remind me of some classic Hollywood Comedians, like Lucille Ball."
"Who?"
"I Love Lucy?"
"Oh, yeah, you know, like I, um, I love Lucy."
"Would you say she influenced your work?"
"For sure."

I got so bored that I actually included all of the "likes" and "ums" and "you knows" in the transcript. I am sure the writer hated me for it. Weirdly, a copy of this book showed up on a used book sale table where I work not long ago.

from Selected Poems 1947-1995

Spring Fashions

Full moon over the shopping mall–
in a display window's silent light
the naked mannequin observes her fingernails.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 9.1 (Allen Ginsberg)

Ginsberg, Allen
Cosmopolitan Greetings
Poems 1986-1992

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I remember buying this a few years ago after having had a conversation with Anselm Berrigan about poets who his mother, Alice Notley, had called 'exuberant' poets. That is, poets whose primary modes are celebration and optimism rather than say, meditation, pessimism, etc. I was about to write 'irony,' but I think I would put someone like Frank O'Hara in this group and there's no shortage of irony in his work. I guess Whitman would be the father of this tendency in American poetry, which would make Ginsberg his great-grandson.

I think Allen Ginsberg was probably then first poet I ever heard of outside the classroom. I became obsessed with the sixties as a teenager and I remember seeing a picture of him in some magazine article about that decade -- in long hair and beard, dancing among a crowd of people.

I always had him in my head as the poet of that generation. I didn't really have any clear idea of what that even meant -- there were no poets of my generation. It really didn't feel like there was an eighties generation outside of shopping malls and John Hughes movies and so forth, and I didn't see too many poets in either of those places.

I don't think I actually read any of Ginsberg's poetry until I was in college, and then it was outside of the classroom. In class, we followed the prescribed course of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, so reading Ginsberg was a kind of welcome antidote -- not to the poets, to be sure, but to the stuffy atmosphere of death and decay that most academic teachers of poetry bring to their subject matter. It always seemed like my professors hated living poets.

My friends and I used to take great pleasure in reading Ginsberg aloud late into the night, or into each other's answering machines or to each other over the phone or setting his poems to music and singing it at the college coffee house. When the Gulf war began, we got the school to sponsor an anti-war night at the campus coffee house and invited Ginsberg to read. He accepted, but then the war ended before the proposed date. We changed it to Peace and Justice night instead.

Me and several friends, all of us at the time trying to become the next Bob Dylan, opened for Ginsberg. I don't think I have ever been in such an overcrowded room before. By the time he came on, the crowd had clearly grown beyond the level of a fire hazard. I remember passing him on the way to the bathroom and saying hello and him saying hello back. Those were the only words I ever exchanged with him.

He read for something like two hours. He did two complete sets that included everything from his first book to his most recent. He sang Blake on the harmonium. It was great stuff.

The following year, I ran the programming in the coffee house and I decided to have the place painted. The basement walls were covered in graffiti and I decided I wanted something a little cleaner and more modern. When I informed a friend who'd run the place the year before that I had done this, he got very angry because among that mess of tags and so forth, Allen Ginsberg had signed the wall. Sigh. Alas.

A couple of years later I saw him read at the Dia Center in Soho. He was supposed to read with Creeley, but he got snowed-in and couldn't make it. They handed out this poem on a little broadside at the event. It hung on my wall for years.

Now and Forever

I'll settle for immortality
Not thru the body
     Not thru the eyes
          Star-spangled high mountains
               waning over Aspen peaks
But thru words, thru the breath
          of long sentences
loves I have, heart beating
          still,
inspiration continuous, exhalation of
          cadenced affection
These immortal survive America,
               survive the fall of States
Departure of my body,
               mouth dumb dust
This verse broadcasts desire,
               accomplishment of Desire
Now and forever boys can read
               girls dream, old men cry
Old women sigh
               youth still come.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 9 (Allen Ginsberg)


HOWL
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Ginsberg, Allen
Howl


I believe I plucked this from a box of books left by Kyle Schlesinger before he departed Buffalo a few years back.

I wanted to finish the story of high school mornings left over from the other day. Each morning after our torturous drive to school, my father would drop me off--at school if we he had time, but usually at the Farragut North Metro station, where I'd catch the Red Line to Union Station, then walk the final few blocks down North Capitol Street to school.

During this time I suffered from horrible gas pains in the morning. I don't know if this had something to do with smoking or with my diet or with stress, but the pains were often so bad that I'd double over at some point before arriving in school. Most days the pains just subsided, but other days I'd end up in the bathroom for half an hour before the first bell. Once they were so bad I passed out while seated on the toilet and was only awakened by the morning bell.

I smoked heavily at this time, was in fact completely addicted to cigarettes before I even got to high school. This added to the tension of the drive with my father, as he did not allow me to smoke. When he would drop me off, I'd head straight for the Union Cafeteria across the street from school, where I would order a small glass of coke in a plastic cup or a mug of coffee, which I would nurse while chain smoking until school began.

We had a whole gang of people that met there each morning. There was T, who was heavily into hardcore and punk and who came to school each morning with black leather motorcycle jacket and studded leather wristband. The rest of his outfit consisted of black leather shoes, black slacks, and an oxford shirt, which meant he was within the dress code of the school.

Then there was J, a very suave Parisian transplant who smoked Gauloises and Gitanes and would mock us when we tried pronounce those names.

I learned one unfortunate lesson from those two about the two-facedness people often reveal when they feel they have to perform for others. I was quite small, and basically physically defenseless and so was often the target of physical abuse from my peers. Wedgies and fist thumps on my arm arrived more or less everyday throughout high school.

Because of this, I learned to choose my friends carefully and thought I had done so among my "outcast" peers at the cafeteria. One day, approached the two of them in the parking lot after school, which I often did, and asked for a light. A group of jocks stood nearby and yelled something at me. Suddenly the two of them jumped me and gave me a wedge and started beating on me for no apparent reason other than to show the jocks that they understood the social order.

I showed up again the next day at the cafeteria, pretending like nothing had happened, but things were never the same after that. I don't know if they ever felt bad about it, and it was never mentioned again.

I am remembering a couple of others form our group. There were two B's, B1 and B2. B1 was three years ahead of me. He wasn't a freak or a punk or a goth or a jock, just one of those guys that looks really normal but is actually incredible weird, to the point of being disturbing. He alway smiled and always mocked everything that came out of anyone's mouth. He never had his own cigarettes and would show up each morning and demand one from me. I never liked him much, but there he was, every morning of my freshman year.

B2 was something of a goth. Small and wan and pale and well-dressed in dark clothing, he cultivated a sophisticated image of himself, which included smoking clove cigarettes, to which he introduced us all. We were eventually told by cafeteria management that we were not allowed to smoke that kind of cigarette on the premises because they smelled so bad. I think he went to art school.

And then there was M -- a girl! She went to Notre Dame Academy, an all girls school which was at the time physically attached to our school. I can remember J and B2 and T egging me on to ask her to a dance my sophomore year. They basically sat me down at a table with her, told her I had something to say and left us alone. I almost fainted with nervousness. My hands shook. I couldn't even look her in the eye. I think the most I could get out was, "Those guys want me to ask you to the dance." She said yes, and we went, but I was so tongue tied and frightened that I am sure she had a terrible time.

I think everyone in that group was at least a year older than I was, so by the time I got to my senior year, I was the only one left. I stopped going -- who wants to smoke alone, anyway? Besides, seniors were allowed to smoke on Campus, so there was no longer any need to hide out across the street,

Ginsberg reading "Howl" at Reed College in 1956:

http://www.reed.edu/news_center/multimedia/2007-08/ginsbergreadings1.28.08.html

Friday, March 19, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 8 (Jimmie Gilliam Canfield)

Canfield, Jimmie Gilliam
Ain't No Bears Out Tonight


Found in a kitchen drawer, beneath a pile of greasy utensils, during a second visit to the house in which we currently reside and taken, because of our long-time friendship with the author, as a sign that we should buy it. I suppose that this should properly be filed under "C." However, I have never known the author as Canfield, which she shed from her name many years ago, only as Gilliam, thus the filing error.

Jimmie is an old time Buffalo poet and teacher and a long time friend of Just Buffalo Literary Center, where I work. She hails from Asheville North Carolina, where she still owns a small piece of property with two modest homes on the outskirts of town. One winter we rented the smaller of the two and spent the week between Christmas and New Year's with my mother and two brothers.

While we were there, seven feet of snow fell on Buffalo, so that when we drove back a few days later, all the highways getting into town were closed, so we had to find a path through some of the neighborhoods south of the city.

At the time, Lori had an SUV that was quite tall. The snow that had been piled on the side of the street was at least a foot higher than the car itself, so it felt as if we were driving through a giant snow maze. Eventually, we found an unguarded exit on the highway and drove through the plowed, but empty lanes back to our apartment.

from Ain't No Bears Out Tonight

cast as a child

in a milkweed meadow

child runs free
gun scene gone
black rock pain dropped

into an ocean
waves of sadness
sad waves sounding

a memory

I was loved/I love

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 7.1 (Merrill Gilfillan)


Satin Street
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Gilfillan, Merrill
Satin Street


I think I bought this at Talking Leaves...Books, but I am not sure.

Back to mornings...

Mornings during my high school years we a little like what Catholics call hell. As I noted yesterday, my mornings began with a ritual confrontation with my parents about getting out of bed. After I had been dragged off of bed by my father who, you'll recall, was singing O what a beautiful morning, I'd throw on some clothes. I don't think I showered everyday, as I was always getting up so late.

Breakfast during these years consisted of 2-4 slices of heavily buttered wheat toast, cut in half and dunked, one after the other in large mug of coffee with milk and three heaping teaspoons of sugar.

After breakfast came the long drive to school. Some background.

From third grade, when we moved to Virginia, to eighth grade, my parents sent me to public schools. The area had an excellent public school system, so I got a fine education. Beginning in seventh grade, however, my grades began to suffer. This was due at first to my inability to adjust to the physical changes that were taking places in my body and to the social changes that were taking place within the network of my peers, and later to the fact that in eighth grade I began responding to these changes by trying to numb them with pot, speed, alcohol and whatever else came to hand.

Thus, my parents decided to send me to a Catholic high school. I was given a choice between the co-ed school in the suburbs, where they wore a typical Catholic school uniform, including a tie, or the all boys Jesuit school in the middle of an urban ghetto in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol in DC. I chose the latter. Why? Because they didn't make you where a tie. Such was my logic at the time.

Going to a school in the city meant that there was no school bus, so for most of the four years I was in high school, I rode into the city in the morning with my father, who had an office at 15th and K. Vienna is only about ten miles outside the city, and without traffic it takes 15-20 minutes to get to town. Morning traffic added forty-five to ninety minutes to the morning commute. This meant I had to spend forty-five to ninety minutes each morning stuck in traffic. In a car. With my father.

Our relationship throughout this period was contentious, to say the least, and these morning rides only exacerbated the situation. There were basically two routes into the city -- 66 or the George Washington Parkway. The entrance to 66 was nearby our house. It had an HOV-4 lane that was unavailable to the two of us, so we had to ride in traffic and watch all of the carpoolers speed past in the empty lane. We had to take 123 through Vienna, Tyson's Corner and McLean to get to the GW, which is a gorgeous little parkway along the Potomac River.

If we left the house at 6:00 AM, we could get to the city by 6:30. If we left after that, it took a full hour or more. School didn't start until 8 AM, so either way I arrived a little early. On some days, my father would drop me off at the Farragut North Station, where I would catch the red line to Union Station, which was a couple of blocks from the school. Other days he would take me over the 14th St. Bridge and drop me off right at the school.

There were basically two modes to the morning commute: silence and arguing. My general approach to these rides was to say nothing in the hopes that my father would say nothing in return. I would lean my head against the window and either fall asleep or stare vacantly at the passing scenery outside. If I couldn't sleep, we were almost sure to enter the second mode. The main argument concerned control of the car stereo. I wanted to listen to loud music from one of the rock stations or from a cassette tape. My father wanted to listen to the news.

We eventually devised a time-share plan. Half-way we'd listen to rock music, but not loud. The other half we'd listen to the news. Every other day we alternated who listened to what first on the way in. Within this seemingly rational framework lay two major points of contention: the conflict between the temporal and spatial dimensions of the term "half" and the nature and meaning of the word "volume."

It was agreed that the only logical way to determine the halfway point between home and school was to do so geographically. As we took the GW Parkway most days, we determined that the first half of the ride lasted from our house to the entrance of the parkway and that the second half continued from the parkway to wherever my father dropped my off. We considered this split fair: fifty-fifty. However, time often intervened to upset this balance. Some days there was no traffic at all between our home and the entrance to parkway, which meant we got there in 8-10 minutes. However, once we reached the parkway, we would find ourselves stuck in traffic for the next forty five minutes.

On days when I had the second half of the ride, I would argue that we had made a deal and that halfway meant geographically and therefore I got to listen to what I wanted all the way to school, even if it meant an 80-20 temporal split. On days when I got the first half, I would make the argument that the only true measure of fairness was to gauge the midway point by the severity of the traffic and to change the station only when we had a good idea of how long it would take to get to school.

This same form of argument prevailed in our discussions over the volume. My father did not like most rock music, and he pretended to hate it more than he did because he feared it may have been having an unduly negative impact on my behavior and attitudes. It was agreed that I would not raise the volume above a certain low number on the dial -- say a 3 or 4.

However, I would often augment this by raising the treble and volume to their maximum levels. My father would yell, Turn that shit down! And I would say, innocently, Dad, look, the VOLUME is at 4. It is down! And he would yell, I don't give a shit what it says, you made it louder somehow and now turn it down or I will turn it off.

On one occasion I made him so angry he actually tore the volume switch off the radio.

I remember him once getting very angry about the lyrics to the song, "Hello," by Pink Floyd, which he claimed were pornographic.

I remember him liking the song, "That's All," by Genesis.

The worst commutes took place on days when I had gotten in trouble at school or in the neighborhood or at home or when my report cards had come home with C's and D's on them. On these days, there was no sleeping and no radio and there was always a lecture of some kind. Often there was yelling and on occasion my father would reach over and swat me in the back of the head.

I remember getting caught smoking and receiving a lecture all the way into school which ended with: "You know, President Johnson died from smoking. It will kill you, too."

Often there were threats to send me to rehab or military school if my behavior didn't improve or if I got caught doing drugs again.

I think I developed road rage on these trips. All I wanted to do was get out of the car and get to school, but the traffic kept me locked in my little prison with an angry father. One time I started cursing at the traffic under my breath and my father stuck his head out the window and started yelling, Get out of the way, my son needs to get to school an hour early so he can smoke a half pack of cigarettes before the bell rings.

He had a sense of humor, even if I often didn't.

Ok, enough for today...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 7 (Merrill Gilfillan)


Undanceable
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Gilfillan, Merrill
Undanceable


Sent as a review copy by the publisher. I wrote a glowing review of it way back when -- it's a great book.

California seems to be fading out of consciousness for the time being.

I am thinking about other memories of morning. I never had any trouble waking up in the morning until I got a bit older. I recall visiting some cousins, all of whom I looked up to and who also slept in on weekends. I tried imitating their sleeping habits when we visited. It didn't take right away, but after a time I began to sleep in a little later on the weekends. When I hit seventh grade and started to have all kinds of emotional/social issues, I began to sleep much later. It became difficult to get out of bed in the morning.

When, in eighth grade I began ingesting alcohol and all manner of controlled substances, my need for sleep grew. I would sleep until noon, one, even two PM of a Saturday after having snuck out the night before to go party with my friends. By the time I got to high school it took a lot of effort for my parents to get me out of bed each morning for school. Part of this was due staying up late (I also developed insomnia around this time), part of it to partying, and part of it to a generally negative disposition toward the world. I really didn't want to face it everyday and sleep was the easiest way to stay out of things.

I can remember my morning wake-up routine throughout high school went something like this: my mother would come in at around 6:30 and say, Rise and Shine, Michael. I'd say, Five More Minutes. Five minutes later, Breakfast is ready. Five more minutes. Your coffee's getting cold. Five more minutes. She'd then leave the room. A minute or two would pass, then suddenly the sheets would be ripped from the bed. I'd feel my father's cold hands grip my ankles and I'd feel my body being dragged slowly toward the edge of the bed. Then I'd hear his voice as he begin to sing, "O what a beautiful morning/O what a beautiful day/I've got a beautiful feeling/Everything's going my way..." Sometimes I would manage to wake up before he pulled me off the bed. Other times, Plop!

In lieu of an excerpt, you can read my review of the book here:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 6.3 (William Gibson)


Neuromancer
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Gibson, William
Neuromancer


I have no idea why I bought two copies of this book. The small one is the one I read. I bought it at Talking Leaves..Books. The large one I remember buying at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Shop. I may have bought the larger one as a gift for Lori before we moved in together. For whatever reason, I now own two copies.

I was hoping to get back to California this morning, but my mind feels a bit blank. I am trying to remember the rest of what I had hoped to say after speaking with my mother. I am only remembering fuzzy details of our conversation, which took place less than 48 hours ago.

1. We tried and failed to recall the addresses of the three houses we lived in.

2. I asked her if she liked living in California. She said she felt a bit like a fish out of water there. It was the early seventies, she said, and people were into all kinds of sex and drugs and encounter groups and protest movements, none which interested my parents. She said she realized that she was an "East Coast" kind of person. She also said that because my father was often away on business and she was left at home to take care of three kids she felt lonely. She said she remembered our time in California as a lonely time. I felt kind of sad for her. She never really says things like that, so I felt it even more acutely.

3. I tried to recall memories of our first house. She said it was a really nice house and that she regretted leaving it. They bought it for 50K and sold it after two years for 56K. It sold two years after that for 250K and would probably go for a whole lot more than that now. I have a memory of there being a wall full of cabinets in the living room. She said there was not, but that there was a big closet and an amazing fireplace. She said we had a small back yard and I said I remember having a sloping front yard that was all ivy. I said I remembered there was a door from the kitchen leading out to the garage. I said I remembered my father returning from a business trip with a salmon he had caught and my mom cooking the salmon and how delicious it tasted. She couldn't believe I remembered that because I had been so young -- 3-4 years old -- at the time. She said there were no sidewalks in the neighborhood, which along with the fact that my two little girlfriends, K and M, moved away, was one of the deciding factors for moving to a different part of town.

4. We talked about the second house, which she said she never really liked. She said it was U-shaped and had a Florida room. I remembered a rain storm that filled the back yard with water so deep I could float all my toy boat from one end to the other.

5. We talked about the third house we lived in, the one I tried to find on Google. She said it was her favorite house because it had such a nice patio in the back. It was built around a tree that formed the center of the patio. We had a lemon tree, she said. I said I remembered it backed right up to a school. She said the school was nearby but that it did not back up to the house. I remembered that once someone tee-peed the big evergreen in front of our house. It was almost like someone had decided to decorate our yard for christmas. I don't think my parents felt that way.

from Neuromancer

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 6.2 (William Gibson)


Burning Chrome
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Gibson, William
Burning Chrome


The "SALE" sticker on the front cover of this likely indicates that it was purchased at the lost and lamented discount book store at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall. It cost $2.50.

I had a long phone conversation with my mother yesterday.

I was sitting on the couch re-reading Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, which I think I need to read about once a year for the rest of my life, when I began thinking about my childhood in California. My parents moved to Los Gatos in 1970 and we lived there until 1976, when my father took a job outside Washington, DC. I had the idea to call my mother to ask if she could remember the addresses of the three different homes we lived in in Los Gatos. I wanted to see if I could bring them up on Google to see if the images called forth any memories.

She couldn't remember any of them, so I'll have to dig through some of her stuff the next time I visit. We did manage to peg, more or less, the name of one street as Blossom Something Something. That would have been our last house, which we lived in for only a year. Turns out there are at least 10 streets in Los Gatos containing the word "Blossom." I am pretty sure that it was Blossom Glen Way. I spent an hour or so zooming around the town on Google maps and when I brought that street up on Google it looked very, very familiar.

I tried to confirm this by Googling the name of a friend, JB, that I remember having, who lived in the neighborhood. I had no luck confirming the neighborhood, but I did find out about him. Apparently he became on of the greatest athletes in Los Gatos High School history, going on to be selected in the 1991 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. Doesn't look like he made it to the big show, though, but he did make the LGH athletic hall of fame, and his high school picture assured me it was him.

My only real memory of JB is slightly traumatic. You may recall I had a thing for hanging out in sewers -- this began in California, where we had a drainage system that began very near our house and went deep into the neighborhood. We used to get groups of kids together and go wandering into the pipes. We would keep records of who got to the furthest manhole. We could tell where they were by the slivers of light that passed through the finger holes on the steel covers above and stabbed weakly into the darkness below.

The big score, which no one had ever achieved, was to get to the seventh manhole. JB decided to lead four or five of us on the expedition. As we got deeper and deeper into the drainage pipes, the water began to rise, so that by the time we got to the fourth manhole, we had to straddle the stream and walk with our legs spread out so far our feet were nearly half-way up the sides of the concrete pipe. JB was about a hundred feet ahead of everyone else. Suddenly, we heard a splash and a scream. We all gave up trying to stay dry and splashed through the water to where he had fallen.

He kept screaming, My Head, My Head. We helped him up and began walking back to where we had come from, with him screaming My head, My head, the whole way. When we go to one of the manholes, we put his face up to the thin ray of sunlight that filtered down. His whole face was covered in blood. I think we all started crying at that point, as we carried him out of the sewer tunnel and toward the light.

I don't recall it being serious -- just a couple of stitches, but the sight of all that blood coming out his head obviously made an impression.

Got to get to work -- more on California tomorrow!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 6.1 (William Gibson)


Count Zero
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Gibson, William
Count Zero


This looks like it was purchased new, so I am going to say I bought it at Talking Leaves...Books.

I am having another attack of 1977 fever this morning. It began while I was reading an article about "The Runaways," an upcoming film about the eponymous all-girl band that spawned Joan Jett, Lita Ford, and Micki Steele (of The Bangles). This lead me to read the Wikipedia history of the band, which in turn lead me to read the Wikipedia history of Joan Jett. From Joan Jett I jumped to an article about Suzi Quatro, Joan's rock idol.

I hadn't heard of Suzy Quatro before, but it turned out I knew of Suzy Quatro because she played Leather Tuscadero, younger sibling to Pinky Tuscadero, girlfriend of Arthur Fonzarelli on the show "Happy Days," which was the number one show on television in the year 1977.

"Happy Days" was my second favorite show, after "The Six Million Dollar Man."

A few days ago, I was talking about my obsession with "Saturday NIght Fever," which was released in 1977. One of my other obsessions in 1977 was The Fonz. I had a Fonzie t-shirt on which he held up his two thumbs and said, "Ayyyyyy!" (I also remember that there were constant TV ads for the National Zoo in Washington, exhorting viewers to become Friends of the National Zoo -- the tag line was Be a FONZ).

We watched "Happy Days" every week. Happy Days followed "Welcome Back Kotter," I am pretty sure, and we were not allowed to watch that show. I think my parents did not like the image of delinquent and colorful urban students being broadcast into our suburban home. I think they were even a little suspicious of Fonzie, but he had been domesticated to a great extent by the Cunninghams. Even so, I may also have had a Vinnie Barbarino t-shirt. I remember the shirt, but it may have belonged to someone else.

"Star Wars" was released in 1977 and needless to say I was obsessed with that, too. I think I am wearing a Star Wars t-shirt in my fourth grade school picture. I don't think I have ever felt a more visceral need to see a film than I did the first time I saw a trailer for Star Wars. I somehow knew that the answers to all of life's questions could be found by going to see that movie. I did not see it 5,000 times, but I think I did see it three or four times at the theater.

I also remember the first of two world series between the Dodgers and the Yankees. I bet on the Dodgers, but only because my father refused to root for the team that had abandoned his home borough of Brooklyn, NY. I lost the bet two years running, mostly thank to Reggie Jackson. I remember I used to like to eat "Reggie" bars for a long time after that, until they eventually disappeared. In fact, I think I remember stealing them from 7-Eleven on more than one occasion. I was a big fan of Steve Garvey for a while. I was also a fan of the Redskins (football), The Bullets (basketball) and the Diplomats (soccer).

I vaguely remember the Son of Sam stuff happening.

I remember the blackout in New York, which formed the basis of my understanding of that city -- total anarchy -- until I moved there for school in 1989.

I remember owning Kiss "Destroyer."

I played on one of the greatest soccer teams in the history of Vienna Youth Soccer -- The Tornadoes. In 1977 we were the Maroon Tornadoes in the Spring and then just The Tornadoes in the fall -- every team wore reversible green/yellow shirts that year, so no one had their own color. In 1978 I played on The Darth Vaders. All three seasons I played for the Tornadoes we won the championship. Our success lead to the formation of a traveling league, which gutted the team and left me in the house leagues for several years, one of the only members of the Tornadoes not to make the elite team.

As you can imagine, I was crushed.

from Count Zero

They set a Slamhound on Turner's trail in New Delhi, slotted it to his pheromones and the color of his hair. It caught up with him on a street called Chandni Chauk and came scrambling for his rented BMW through a forest of bare brown legs and pedicab tires. Its core was a kilogram of recrystallized hexogene and flaked TNT.

He didn't see it coming. The last he saw of India was the pink stucco façade of a place called the Khush-Oil Hotel.

Because he had a good agent, he had a good contract. Because he had a contract, he was in Singapore an hour after the explosion. Most of him, anyway. The Dutch surgeon liked to joke about that, how an unspecified percentage of Turner hadn't made it out of Palam International on that first flight and had to spend the night there in a shed, in a support vat.

It took the Dutchman and his team three months to put Turner together again. They cloned a square meter of skin for him, grew it on slabs of collagen and shark-cartilage polysaccharides. They bought eyes and genitals on the open market. The eyes were green.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 6 (William Gibson)

Gibson, William
Mona Lisa Overdrive


I am pretty sure I bought this at Rust Belt Books. It cost $2.75.

I want to return today to the morning theme of two days ago. It's very easy for me to remember Saturday and Sunday mornings because they were so bound up in ritual, but it's a bit more difficult to remember the rest of the week in so specific a fashion. Weekdays had their own rituals, most of which involved getting to school, but the individual days blend together in my memory as one big weekday morning.

I don't remember much of what I ate during the week, though I suspect it was some combination of cereal, toast and juice. I don't remember having trouble getting up in the morning until I reached high school, though these difficulties may have begun in junior high, which was when what had been a basically happy childhood began to become a very unhappy adolescence.

Although I lived close enough to my grammar school to walk, we had to ride the bus every morning. If we wanted to walk to school, or home from school, we had to bring a note from our parents. Only those deemed "walkers" by the powers-that-be could come to school without a note.

Our bus stopped on the next cul de sac over from ours, which I believe was called Dale Ridge Court. It stopped in front of the house of the P's. The P's had a son a year older than me and another that was four years younger. I remember both parents were heavy smokers with thick southern accents. There were usually between 5 and 7 kids that waited for the bus each morning. After it picked us up it would make four or five other stops before lettings us off at school.

I always preferred to walk, if for no other reason than I could be free of authority figures like bus drivers and parents and teachers for a little while. To get to school I walked down our driveway, turned right and moved north toward the circle in which the street ended. I'd cut between the two unfenced yards of the J's and the C's to get up to what we called "the back road," which was a dead end street–mostly unpaved and with much older homes along its sides–that ran behind our cul de sac.

I'd turn left down the back road until I reached a long, flat, gravel driveway that lead to a large, white, plantation-style home, which happened to be owned by the only black family within half a mile of our house. We never really knew them. None of the kids went to our school, and the family mostly kept to themselves. Occasionally, we'd see them in the back yard having a barbecue or a party.

They seemed to have a lot of money, and there were all kinds of rumors floating around about how they made it and what they did with it. (As I recall, they owned a house-painting business.) We were always afraid to trick-or-treat there, despite the fact we heard rumors they had gigantic buckets of full-sized candy bars inside and that if you had the guts to walk up and ring the bell, you could have as many as you wanted.

Anyhow, you had to walk down their long driveway to get to a path that lead through the yard of the house behind them to the next street, where you turned left over and down a hill before turning right on a path through the woods.

The path ended on a cul de sac, but just before it let out you had to pass The Dobermans. The last 40 feet or so of the path was bordered by a fenced-in yard owned by a family of breeders whose specialty was Doberman Pinschers. They trained them as attack dogs, and every time we approached the fence they would start barking at us. I remember they scared me at first, but that eventually I would either bark back or start shouting at them and they would run off, half-afraid. I've never really been afraid of dogs since then.

Finally, we'd cross the cul de sac and take a short path leading up to the school playground. I can't remember if we could enter from the back of the school or if we had to go around the front. Anyhow, there were were, and that was pretty much the weekday morning routine -- ride the bus or walk.

from Mona Lisa Over Drive

The ghost was her father's parting gift, presented by a black-clad secretary in a departure lounge at Narita.

For the first two hours of the flight to London it lay forgotten in her
purse, a smooth dark oblong, one side impressed with the ubiquitous Maas-Neotek logo, the other gently curved to fit the user's palm.

She sat up very straight in her seat in the first-class cabin, her
features composed in a small cold mask modeled after her dead mother's most characteristic expression. The surrounding seats were empty; her father had purchased the space. She refused the meal the nervous steward offered. The vacant seats frightened him, evidence of her father's wealth and power. The man hesitated, then bowed and withdrew. Very briefly, she allowed the mask her mother's smile.

Ghosts, she thought later, somewhere over Germany, staring at the upholstery of the seat beside her. How well her father treated his ghosts.

There were ghosts beyond the window, too, ghosts in the stratosphere of Europe's winter, partial images that began to form if she let her eyes drift out of focus. Her mother in Ueno Park, face fragile in September sunlight. »The cranes, Kumi! Look at the cranes!" And Kumiko looked across Shinobazu Pond and saw nothing, no cranes at all, only a few hopping black dots that surely were crows. The water was smooth as silk, the color of lead, and pale holograms flickered indistinctly above a distant line of archery stalls. But Kumiko would see the cranes later, many times, in dreams; they were origami angular things folded from sheets of neon, bright stiff birds sailing the moonscape of her mother's madness. . . .

Friday, March 12, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 5 (Edward Gibbon)

Gibbon, Edward
The Decline & Fall
of the Roman Empire


Purchased at Rust Belt Books and read for my oral exams in graduate school. It has one note in it, in my handwriting, on the title page:

1. Humors
2. Humours

I have no idea what it means, other than to distinguish between British and American variants of the spelling of said term. Although I do recall at one point thinking that either or one of these might be a good book title, so maybe I was thinking about that and playing with the idea of using the British variant to make it a little strange and foreign. Whatever it was, it's lost to history now. Sort of like the Roman Empire.

from The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire

In the second century of the Christian era the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth and the most civilized portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valour. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury. The image of a free constitution was preserved with decent reverence: the Roman senate appeared to possess the sovereign authority and devolved on the emperors all the executive powers of government, During a happy period of more than fourscore years, the public administration was conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and the two Antonines. It is the design of this and of the two succeeding chapters to describe the prosperous condition of their empire, and afterwards, from the death of Marcus Antoninus, to deduce the most important circumstances of its decline and fall, a revolution which will ever be remembered and is still felt by the nations of the earth.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 4 (Paul Gauguin)

Gauguin, Paul
The Writings of a Savage


Oops, I guess this was mis-alphabetized -- it should have gone between Gatza and Gerke. Alas. Not sure where or even when I bought this, which means I probably bought it online.

Yesterday I wrote about childhood Sunday mornings, which were mildly torturous, and still are. Today I will write about childhood Saturdays, which were a lot more fun.

Saturday was cartoon day. All of the TV stations played cartoons from about seven in the morning until ten or eleven. I used to wake up in the eight o'clock range.

My recollection is of eating a bowl of cereal or some toast or a Thomas' english muffin along with some orange juice. When I was very young, I was allowed to eat any kind of cereal I wanted -- Honeycombs, Sugar Pops, Luck Charms, Count Chocula, etc. At some point, when I was around five or six and my two brothers were one and three, and which probably also coincided with my first visit to the dentist, my mother banned sugar-coated cereals. This lasted more or less through the rest of my childhood.

We could put sugar on our Rice Krispies or Cheerios or Kix, but we could not eat pre-sweetened cereals. Eventually we negotiated a pact that allowed us each one box of pre-sweetened cereal per year. My recollection is that we would attempt and usually succeed in manipulating my mother's sense of time just enough to allow each year to only last about six months, thus doubling the length of our little sugar carnival.

After breakfast, or probably during breakfast, I would race down the stairs to the family room to watch Saturday morning cartoons. My favorite was always Bugs Bunny. I didn't like most of the other WB cartoons, like Roadrunner or Daffy Duck -- I think the story lines were to simple for me. I sort of appreciate the slapstick of Roadrunner now, but at the time, I preferred to get deeply involved in the whacked out plots of the Bugs Bunny cartoons. I think my criminal mind always liked the fact he was getting away with something. I also loved the constantly changing settings: the opera, the castle of the mad scientist, Mars, a baseball stadium, and so on. Daffy Duck was just okay. I liked Yosemite Sam and whatever that crazy rooster was called -- Foghorn Leghorn, I think.

I also liked Scooby-Doo. I didn't like Josey and the Pussycats. I liked the Jetsons. I liked Tom and Jerry. I liked the Flintstones. I remember I used to take Flinstone vitamins every morning. I may have told the story before of how I once, at a very young age, swallowed half a bottle because I liked the way they tasted -- an omen of future behavior, to be sure!

from The Writings of a Savage

I have begun to think, to dream rather, about that instant when everything was absorbed, asleep, overwhelmed, in the original slumber, in potentiality. Invisible, indefinite, unobservable principles all, at that time, because of the primeval inertia of their virtuality, without one perceptible or perceiving act, without any reality, either active or passive, therefore incoherent, all of course sharing only one characteristic, that of nature in it entirety but lifeless, expressionless, dissolved, reduced to nothing, engulfed in the immensity of space which, as it was utterly formless and void, and as night and silence penetrated to its remotest depths, must have been like a nameless abyss. It was the chaos, the primeval nothingness, not of Being but of Life, which afterward is called the Empire of Death, when the life which had flowed from it returns to it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 3 (Greg Gerke)

Gerke, Greg
There's Something
Wrong With Sven


Given to me by the author. Inscribed.

Last night we were watching Chantal Akerman's "Les rendez-vous d'Anna," when for some reason the thought came to me that I wanted to write about "mornings" this morning, and possibly for several mornings to come. I pulled out my iPhone and sent myself an email with the subject line "Blog" and a one word message: "Mornings."

So, here we are.

(On a side note, you should watch every Chantal Akerman movie ever made. We just finished watching the five that came out in the new "Chantal Akerman in the Seventies" box set from Criterion Eclipse. We also watched her masterpiece, "Jeanne Dielman..." a few months ago. I've never seen a filmmaker who makes you pay such close attention to the details of the images she creates, while also leaving you more than ample room to daydream -- or to send yourself emails on the iPhone.)

I don't know exactly what it was that made me think of mornings last night, but the first thing that came to mind after having had the thought was the Sunday mornings of my childhood. My parents were both devout Catholics (my mom, who survives, still is), and we went to church every Sunday.

I hated going to church, and thus I hated Sunday mornings. The usual routine was to wake around eight and then eat breakfast in the kitchen. I think we usually had something like bacon and eggs and toast and juice. I had probably added coffee with cream and tons of sugar by the time I was twelve.

After breakfast it was time to dress for ten o'clock mass. This was when the mornings turned unpleasant. My mother always wanted us to dress up for church. I hated dressing up, and so would begin a battle that went on weekly for the first eighteen years of my life. I would do whatever I could to approximate my usual mode of informal dress, and my mother would make me change, one detail at a time until I looked presentable enough to go to church.

First, I'd have to change my pants, then I'd be told to put on a belt. Then I'd have to change my shirt, then I'd have to tuck in my shirt. Then I'd have to change out of my tennis shoes and into my dress shoes. Then I had to brush my hair, then I had to brush it again. The whole morning was a kind of negotiation. Being the oldest, I also had the extra burden of setting an example for my younger brothers and being blamed when I set a bad one, which was always.

Our church was called St. Mark's. It was a about a mile away from our house. I remember driving up and down the hills in our neighborhood to get there. On a few rare occasions I was allowed to skateboard all the way to church with my friend, K. Sometimes we rode our bikes..

Once at church, we embarked on a whole new set of negotiations involving posture, proper kneeling position (no leaning your butt against the pew!), keeping hands out of pockets, not favoring one leg while standing, singing visibly and out loud, properly making the sign of the cross and also that other gesture you make at some point where you touch your forehead, then your lips, then your heart (what was that one for again?), making sure to say all the words of the prayers clearly, not talking, not playing with or picking on my brothers, making sure to look people in the eye when you shake their hands and say "Peace be with you," not turning around to look behind you during mass, not playing around in the parking lot afterwards, etc.

On certain Sundays, if we had followed all the rules, we'd get to go to Dunkin' Donuts and pig out before settling in to watch the Redskins game on the couch with my dad.

It's funny, as much as I hated all that ritual, I think I hate Sundays even more now without it. Every Sunday I struggle to figure out something to do with myself that is not a complete waste of time. I am always bored and I always feel kind of empty and I can never really think of anything constructive to do with my time. I usually end up on the couch watching movies or sports or whatever, feeling like I should be doing something else.

from There's Something Wrong With Sven

Blueberry

Bill Macam goes to work on a cloudy day and finds when he opens his lunch at noon to be missing the second blueberry granola bar his wife promised to add after they discussed how one would just not do. He complains to his co-workers and goes back to threading screws, burning with hunger. He doesn't know how he makes it through the day, but he does. When he gets home Bill finds his wife in bed with the second blueberry granola bar. She is naked and smoking a cigarette. After Bill, his wife, and the blue berry granola bar enter counseling they come to an agreement that one blueberry granola bar per day should be satisfying enough.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 2.5 (Geoffrey Gatza)


Housecat Kung Fu
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Gatza, Geoffrey
Housecat Kung Fu:
Strange Poems
For Wild Children

Given to me by the author. Not inscribed.

25 Random Memories of Geoffrey Gatza

1. My first meeting with Geoff at a poetry reading at Rust Belt Books. He wore a suit and tie and an overcoat and handed me his card and a CD-ROM full of his work. I thought he was a businessman.

2. Moving from Ashland Avenue to our first house in Black Rock. I had recruited an army of people to help us move. Geoff, who I did not know very well, offered to borrow his girlfriend's truck to help us move.

3. Geoff offering to publish my first book

4. Geoff publishing my first book.

5. Geoff offering to publish my second book.

6. Geoff publishing my second book.

7. Discussing with Geoff a poem he had written about helping me move, and which he had dedicated to me, whose conclusion I did not understand.

8. Geoff greeting my cat, "Hello, Miaomiao."

9. Geoff saying, "Hurray," instead of saying nothing.

10. Geoff finishing a story or bridging from one thought to another by saying, "Blah-did-dee-blah."

11. Giving Geoff a secret gift from Michael Rothenberg and David Meltzer and Terri Carrion which they could not carry across the border.

12. An appetizer Geoff once served of mangoes in chili oil served on white porcelain spoons all lined up in a row across the surface of a long, white, square porcelain plate.

13. Baked alaska.

14. Watching Geoff cook a thanksgiving Turkey in our semi-functional kitchen, which at the time had open walls with exposed pipes and wires and offered little shelter from the cold other than the warmth exuding from the stove and the chef.

15. Driving with Lori and Geoff and Donna to John Ashbery's 80th birthday party outside Rochester.

16. Driving with Lori and Geoff and Donna to Chimney Bluffs outside Rochester and eating a picnic wandering through the woods and along the bluffs and then the beach and then driving to Sodus point and on the way running into Ashbery Farms, John's father's orchard, and stopping to take a photo and then taking a tour of the Sodus point lighthouse and climbing up the narrow, vertiginous, spiral stair to the top to look out over Lake ONtario.

17. Geoff printing and giving me a large copy of the photo of the sign from Ashbery Farms.

18. Getting a Fund For Poetry grant in the mail the same day as Geoff did.

19. Driving with Geoff and Lori and Donna to Fort NIagara for a re-enactment of a French-Indian War battle and eating a delicious barbecue sandwich that we didn't have to pay for because Geoff knew the caterer.

20. Wandering around the craft fair outside the fort looking for a pipe for Geoff.

21. Just yesterday, Geoff offering to publish portions of this blog in book form.

22. Watching in horror as a man climbed on stage in the middle of a reading by Amiri Baraka, sat down at a piano and pretended he was going to play, then feeling Geoff's presence at my back and hearing him ask, "You want me to go get him?"

23. Geoff volunteering for just about every single Just Buffalo event.

24. Bowls and bowls of candy and sweets ever-present on tabletops in Geoff's apartment. How I can never seem to resist eating from them, handful after handful.

25. The phrase, "A Moveable Feast," and how it has to have been meant for Geoff.

from Housecat Kung Fu

My Cat Blaze


I want to be a potato purring, older
a cat of kindness, beauty
diversity and choice

a crouching luminous intelligence
lingering at home after work,
living summer nights watching

giraffes, understanding our living
fears, living in spectacles that surprise

wild fences are not like balloons
together, trumpeting feet resound

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 2.4 (Geoffrey Gatza)

Gatza, Geoffrey
Not So Fast Robespierre


Given to me by the author. Inscribed.

Last night I stayed up late watching Saturday NIght Fever for about the tenth time. I love that movie, partly because I love the feel of that kind of film from seventies, without much plot or story, but with tons feeling. I also like that It deals with an ethnic family without making them feel cute or cliched and that it deals with growing up and sex and violence and youthful dreams and fantasies and insecurities in ways that feel true to the characters and to the story and to life.

Plus, the music is, in a word, awesome!

I think I saw the SNF film in the PG version that was shown in theaters. I don't recall if I saw it around its release or in the years following -- I was only 8 when it came out, so it must have been later.

Part of my pleasure, I think, in watching it SNF is the memories it evokes. Having been born in 1968, I am a child of seventies, even if I was a teen of the eighties.

I remember I had two of the same posters as Tony -- the Farrah Fawcett poster and the Bruce Lee poster. My first album was "Showcase," by the Sylvers, and my second was "Destroyer," by Kiss. I went through I brief Kiss phase, but I think I liked them mostly because my friends did. Then the Bee Gees and Saturday Night Fever came along and for at least a year, that was it. I didn't care about anything else. I think I was in fourth grade when it was released. I was in Ms. McGuiness' fourth grade class at Flint Hill Elementary school in Vienna, VA.

I remember listening obsessively to Casey Kasem's Top 40 Countdown show on Saturday mornings. I was usually being driven to or from a soccer game when I got to listen to it. "Stayin' Alive," my favorite song from SNF, then and now, quickly went to number one and seemed to stay there forever. For whatever reason, it was really important to me that my favorite song was number one and that it stayed there and I remember feeling very sad when it got knocked out of the number one spot, most likely by another Bee Gees song from the soundtrack.

I remember going to White Castle when we visited my cousins in Bay Ridge Brooklyn and thinking how cool it was to eat what they ate in SNF, only to discover that WC burgers are about the most disgusting burgers ever made.

I remember going to Cannonball Park in Bay Ridge and seeing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and remembering the scene where the kid falls off the bridge in SNF.

I remember pestering my father to buy me the recording, but he refused, saying it was too expensive. He was a cheap bastard! I became a radio addict at that point. I owned a small clock radio that I would take to bed with me at night. I would crawl under the covers and listen to music at a barely audible level. Months passed, I pleaded with my father to buy me the record. He would not.

Then I got sick. I couldn't go to school for a couple of weeks. This was a real bummer because in my class we had been learning all the dance steps from SNF, and I was the best dancer! My teacher used to put me up front to show everyone how to make the moves. I was VERY proud. And then I got sick -- I think I might even have had to miss the SNF dance contest or something. I gained one important thing from my illness, however -- sympathy. My father finally broke down and bought me the album. I was thrilled.

It was a foldout double album with lyrics and pictures and I can remember the RSO label on the disc with the little red cow or whatever it was. Oddly, owning the album marked the beginning of the end of my Bee Gees obsession. I listened to all four sides obsessively for a while, only to discover that there were some songs I liked and others that I didn't. I think I was developing tastes! Plus, it seemed that every song on the album, whether I liked it or not, was destined to become a number one hit, which meant it was also destined for infinite airplay. I remember growing tired of the Bee Gees and of the SNF craze that swept the country.

Inevitably, perhaps, I bought a "Death Before Disco" t-shirt, which I alternated wearing with my Star Wars t-shirt (I think they came out around the same time -- it was definitely the same year).

By fifth grade I began to discover other things like Pink Floyd and Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin and Bad Company and Aerosmith and suddenly disco was dead and it was the sixth grade dance and we were trying to figure out how to dance to Stairway to Heaven -- what were you supposed to do when they started playing fast?

from Not So Fast, Roberspierre

Talking Leaves


Holy fuck
You're still here

Hurray!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 2.3 (Geoffrey Gatza)

Gatza, Geoffrey
Kenmore Poem Unlimited


Given to me by the author. Not inscribed.

Kenmore sits at the edge of Buffalo, NY. It is what as known as a "first ring" suburb. Kind of like the rings of Saturn, only not as beautiful. I don't know how many rings of suburbs there are. If I had to guess I would say two. The second ring is the one that doesn't look like the city at all -- it's all strip malls and and four lane roads clogged with the traffic that is mostly absent from the city of Buffalo.

First ring suburbs have some older, suburb-like homes, but what makes them "first" ring, aside from geography, is the fact that it's hard to distinguish them immediately from the city itself. If you didn't know that Kenmore Avenue was the northern city limit, you'd never know you'd left the city proper, at least not until you hit Sheridan Avenue, which is where I would say the "second ring" begins.

Geoffrey Gatza grew up in Kenmore and lived there with his partner, Donna, until a few months ago. They lived in a second floor apartment in a house near the corner of Tremaine and Delaware. I guess it was a three-bedroom apartment -- or maybe a two that had been converted into three, and which included use of an attic space, which Donna claimed as her jewelry-making studio.

I remember it had lots of thick shag carpet.

You came up the stairs and entered into the dining room, which was also filled with books. When Lori and I had moved from Black Rock, we had passed along an old Depression-era China cabinet, which took up part of one small wall, and an old telephone cabinet, which I'd originally been given by Taylor Brady when he and Tanya Hollis left Buffalo, and which was now being used to house Geoffrey's collection of specialty tobacco.

To the left was the kitchen, a bedroom and a bath, as well as the back staircase leading to the attic studio and the back yard. Another bedroom hid behind the dining room. To the right the dining room opened up to the living room, which in turn opened to a winterized sun porch that served as Geoffrey's headquarters and thus the HQ of Blazevox books.

They had (have) two cats, Blaze and Clarisse.

Donna's artwork adorned the walls, and the shelves were crammed with tchotchkes, dolls, action figures, books, DVD's and various and sundry other items. The TV was always on. Geoffrey had (has) a little writing desk on wheels on top of which sat his Macbook. This desk was always in a different place when we visited.

In the winter it was always very, very warm in the apartment.

Geoff, being an amazing chef, would often invite us over for elaborate and delicious 3, 4, 5 6, and 7 course meals, all of which were served on China that had mysteriously disappeared from his former places of employment.

And then last year they were told they had to move because the house was being sold to a car dealer next door so it could be torn down to add more parking, which sounds a lot like the second ring creeping in on the first.

They live in the city proper now, about a block away from where William McKinley was assassinated a little over a hundred years ago. The spot is marked with a stone in a little island in the center of the road.

from Kenmore Poem Unlimited

Panic at the Bookshop

after The Smiths

Panic on the streets of Kenmore
Panic on the streets of Buffalo
I wonder to myself
Could life ever be sane again?

And I wonder to myself


Burn down the bookshops
Hang the blessed poets
Because the words that they constantly use
IT SAYS NOTHING TO ME ABOUT MY LIFE
Hang the blessed poets
Because the poems they constantly write
Speak nothing that reflect me, or my life!