Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bar Napkin Cartoon 9


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Reading Up On Islam

If you're curious at all about Islam, I strongly strongly strongly recommend Reza Aslan's No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. (I just finished it and thought, "Well heck; I've still got twenty minutes before lunch hour ends.") Before this, I've read Karen Armstrong's Muhammad: A Life of the Prophet, which is a clearly-stated summary of Muslim history as Muslims tend to see it. Valuable for precisely that reason, but also (of course) unhelpful if you're asking things like, "But what about liberal Muslims?" I also ready What's Right With Islam Is What's Right With America (forgot the author), and it's a very interesting take on the whole issue written by an interfaith-focused imam who serves a mosque just 12 blocks from the World Trade Center. He's a voice of warm reasonableness---and makes a powerful case that the earliest Muslims established a tradition of democracy that America would do well to live up to. But he's so liberal that it's hard to know how mainstream any of his views are.

This is what's so great about Aslan's book. For one thing, it's beautifully written. But more to the point, he constantly shuffles between what Muslims practice and what he personally believes, and helps you understand pretty much everyone. By the time I read his history of the Prophet, I'd read two others already, and his take is probably the most comprehensive and yet efficient. He's not a Sufi, but he conveys Sufism with stunning vividness; the chapter on Shi'ism alone is worth the price of the book. But then he explains---actually explains!---the origins and reasoning of Islamism, Islamic fundamentalism, and other movements against the history of colonialism and post-colonialism, and I'm putting the book down feeling very educated indeed. (This is not to diss Karen Armstrong, whose book has been a great source of sympathy. Aslan gives her props a few times, so it's not just me.)

Reza Aslan's overall take, if you should want it, is that Islam is not an inherently violent religion (big surprise) nor an inherently intolerant one. Normally and historically. (through the middle ages and beyond, Jews and Muslims lived together in almost perfect harmony by comparison to the Jews and the Christians.) But Islam is in the middle of a Reformation and a crisis of identity, and America is the backdrop that these Muslim identities---moderate, radical, religious, secular, rationalist, etc.---are performed against. (On the very first page, he points out that the train bombings in London occurred in a predominantly middle-class Muslim neighborhood. The target wasn't America or Westerners, but moderate Muslims.) Which has sort of been my own theory all along: that terrorism now is sort of like what happened with the Wobblies at the start of the Industrial Age: violent conflicts, businessmen being lynched, bombs going off at factories ... and where are they now?

So my own hope is that peace will arrive in due time as these revolutionary movements work out their troubles. In the meantime, Aslan's book is a terrific tonic for anyone who wants to know what most Muslims---who, like most people, are pretty decent one by one---believe and hope for. I'm going to keep reading other books, but I doubt I'll find any better single-volume treatment of all the major questions.

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Match Wits With Inspector Cowboy!: A Five Minute Mystery Based On Real Events

"Thank goodness you've come, Inspector Cowboy!" said Blanche Farrell of Anonymous Workplace, Inc. "We're in a terrible state!"

"What seems to be the problem?" Asked Inspector Cowboy, scanning the reception desk and adjusting his hip flask. He had been rassling dogies when Blanche had called, and he was worried he might have dented his whiskey.

"Here at this office---which resembles an actual office many of you have heard about, but which is taboo as a blog subject, hence this fictional variant---we have two bathrooms. One is very convenient and centrally located. The other is down the hall, out the back doors, through a security area that requires a secret keypad number to go in and out. Obviously, the central bathroom is more popular."

Inspector Cowboy jingled a spur impatiently. "And?"

"The problem," Blanche continued, "is that someone accidentally locked the central bathroom's door, and now no one can get in to use it! Our office manager is the only one with a key, and she's on vacation all week! We'll be down to one inconvenient bathroom until after Labor Day!" Blanch flushed and fanned herself. "Everyone's upset. I was about to write a panicky e-mail to ask our office manager to come back early, when I remembered I had your number. Can you help us?"

Inspector Cowboy nodded laconically---a trick he'd picked up in a workshop at Moseyer's Jamboree '94---and said, without even examining the scene of the trouble, "Your problem will be solved by this time tomorrow, and your office manager can stay on her vacation."

Sure enough, that's how it turned out. What happened? And how did Inspector Cowboy know?

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Define "Best." And What's "Coffe?"

Restaurant sign, 181st and Broadway.


Monday, August 28, 2006

I'm Apotheosis-Like!

Dude! I've got press coverage of sorts! And I got mentioned twice!

One of the nice things about living in a city that's choked with talented writers (the bad side being the competition) is that there's a host of good writing in small magazines throughout the city. And James Braly pointed me to this article in something called Downtown or The Downtown Reporter, which is about the Downtown scene (which is why I'd never seen it until this weekend). The article is about the storytelling scene in New York, and it's a terrific article. I wish you all could see the actual tabloid, because James Braly is on the cover and my other local heroes, Andy I-Always-Forget-His-Name and Mike Daisey, are featured in photos on the inside. So you'd get a sense of my hoped-for peer group.

So check out this see if you can identify the performer in a cowboy hat the the writer has used in the very first paragraph to epitomize what's best about the scene. Woo-hoo!

I'd been having some bad, useless-feeling days lately (one of the signs of this is that I haven't been posting), but this article really cheered me up. And tonight I'm going to the Moth Slam and I hope to be able to tell my "Drive" story. Wish me luck!

P.S. By the way, my one slight quibble with the piece---and I understand why the writer did what he did, so I'm not actually complaining---is that, for artistic reasons, he ignored the fact that, during my peformance, everyone was laughing so much it threw off my timing. I was surprised at how funny everyone thought my deeply personal story of loss and growth turned out to be.

NOON UPDATE: The link changed. It's all better now.

Kid Beyond!

I had the great good fortune of watching San Francisco's own Kid Beyond perform at Joe's Pub on Saturday Night for the New York album release party of his CD, Amplivate. Kid Beyond (aka Andrew Chaikin, who I met a few years ago when he unveiled his Scrabble documentary, Word Wars, at the National Puzzlers League convention in Boston) is a stunningly versatile human beat box, and he's so good at it that if that were all he did, he'd deserve a career on the strength of that alone. And that's how he opened the show: with a bare bones man-and-a-mike performance that conveyed an entire hip-hop/techno set that seemed to go in twenty directions and lasted about ten minutes. He does scratches, he does drums (both analog and digital), he does a library of techno sound effects (including reverb and stutter), and the whole thing is so seamless that if you weren't sitting in front of him watching the guy do it, you'd swear it was just a standard techno tune and that there was nothing unusual going on.

But this is the thing. As I told Andrew later---because this was my first time seeing him perform---I watched the first song set and went, "Wow! This guy's the best human beat box ever." (He probably is.) But at that point he hasn't even started. Then he gets into his real act, which is where he samples his own sounds and loops them in real time, so that he winds up performing to a background of his own vocal sound music that runs at least six tracks and often more. Drum, bass, keyboards, scratches---they're all doing something. So my second discovery of the evening was, "Wow! Not only is this guy a great beat-boxer, but he actually constructs interesting music." It switches when it needs to, it has honest-to-god tempo and volume changes ... the man knows how to construct a tune.

But then he started singing, and I thought, "Wow! The guy has a really good voice, too!" And then---I found this most amazing of all---I thought, "And the lyrics are actually worth listening to!" Most loungey/trip-hop chill music (even great stuff like Thievery Corporation) has simply disposable vocals. But Kid Beyond's work is actually thought-provoking, coming out of his own passionate Buddhist beliefs. (He performs with that little string of beads on his right wrist that I think monks have.) He sings about love, and about freedom, and so forth, but in actually original ways. (He sang, for example, about seeing the rain for the first time, but he didn't use the word rain like I was expecting; he said---if memory serves---he felt "a single drop's sting." I love stuff like that: the slightly unusual phrase that makes the whole thing more interesting.)

By the end of the evening, when he closed with "You Shall Be Free," which invites the audience to sing along, I had my final realization of the evening: "This was actually spiritually enlivening!" You've got to see this guy. And as much as I'd like to promote his album to keep him in business, the fact is, I don't see how any album could possibly do justice to his live performance, which everyone must experience. Go to and see when and where he's performing next. Then go see him.

In a side note, since we'd talked a few times when we first met (I was hanging out with his friend Laura quite a lot that weekend), I made bold to talk to him after the show. Because he seemed to be a lot like me: a thirty-plus man with a handful of weird obsessions that he's just recently managed to turn into a paying career. And since I haven't quite done that yet, I figured I'd ask. So I told him how great the show was, and then I asked, "How did you get from making beat-box noises to finally making the leap to, 'That's it; I'm going to perform this now?"

Andrew said, "Well, I'm a slow mover. I have a lot of ideas but I don't really go anywhere with them." (Aha! Probably the classic ADD indicator, and proof that we were in the same boat.) "So what I did is I got my friends to kick my ass. Instead of talking about what I wanted to do, I told them, 'Make sure I follow through.' Enough of them did that, and here I am." And as a result, he's touring on the strength of abilities he's had his whole life and only recently began to capitalize on. Thank goodness. I was afraid he was going to say something like, "Buddhism changed my life and if you want focus, just do more meditation."

I've been thinking about his words ever since, and it's become quite clear that I need a writer's group in town, for support and the aforementioned ass-kicking. My friend Cassie from FSU is moving here, so I have some hope I'll be able to meet with her every so often. But does anyone know about any existing groups in Manhattan I might take part in? A place this thick with writers, you'd think there was more going on. But when I Google, I get nothing I can use.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Benefit of the Doubt, Meet Benefit of Hindsight...

Remember that last post? I woke up this morning and discovered that the qualms I had (or rather, the ones I was led to have) about that House Intelligence Report were, in fact, reasonable qualms to have---at least, according to a former House Intelligence Committee member, and (for that matter) according to Republican Rep. Hoekstra himself, who, as head of the committee, warns us that the report was rushed to completion (so we could respond to Aminijad?) and we can't trust all its conclusions. Laura Rozen posts Dr. Sick's qualms---as well as the qualms of one of the Democrats on the committee.

In particular, it looks like the missile info was, in fact, fudged. God! What is wrong with our people?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Midday Thingy

Not much time today---spent most of my lunch hour eating and returning a lousy book than I did blogging---but in the last few minutes available to me I have to share this post from Matthew Yglesias, who's guest-blogging today on Talking Points Memo. As Laura Rozen points out at Washington Monthly, the White House and its GOP followers have started raising the alarmism about Iran, even though the graphics don't always support the stated threat.

So download the House Intelligence report from the Talking Points link, turn to page 15, and be amazed: as Yglesias notes, there's a series of rings shooting out of Kuwait (yes, it should be Iran, but I think Kuwait makes it easier to see)---four rings, for four missiles. The fourth ring looks absolutely terrifying in range and scope ... unless you notice that it's the theoretical range for a missile that doesn't technically exist. Wouldn't that be the kind of information you'd put in a dotted line or a different font or something?

On a happier note, I'm planning two Incidental Poems for later: one about Pluto no longer being a planet, and one about the fact that cows moo with local accents. More later.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Badass Burlesque Revue Review, Part 2

Here's a picture of Insectivora, from her Coney Island Circus website. More on that later.

Where were we? I believe I had just said that what I love about burlesque is that it isn't porn, but it looks like it, and makes fun of its own hypocrisy. So it pretends to be naughty when it's actually 90% innocent. Or something like that.

Anyway, the next performer was a tiny little brunette named Deity---and I hope I don't offend anybody by saying this, but she reminded me in certain ways (short hair, youth, engergy bundled tight) of Mary Lou Retton back when she was hot. Deity's approach was actually pretty simple: she came out in a string of pearls (I'm gonna guess fake ones), and a black leatherette-looking corsety thing that zipped all the way up the front ... and proceeded to unzip it. While wriggling, of course, and she was really full of personality: cute smile, excellent wriggler. As she unzipped, I noticed two things. First, that she wasn't wearing pasties. I'd thought that was required but I guess not. Duly noted. Second ... how shall I put this ... the strand of pearls continued all the way down to between her legs and--ahem--disappeared. So the second half of the set was Deity making a great show of pulling out the pearl necklace, slowly licking them with a big smile, etc. As I said before---and will no doubt say again---this was a bit more like out-and-out porn for my tastes. But only a teensy bit, and she had such a sweet way about her I barely even noticed until I looked at my notes just now.

Next up was Bambi the Mermaid, who has the distinction of having won the first ever Miss Coney Island. (A contest which can't have started long ago, since there's not a wrinkle on her.) Now this was the kind of boundary-pushing thing I tend to enjoy! She was entirely covered in body glitter so that if she stood still she might have looked like a golden statue. And she had a ridiculously fake B-52 wig on that I swear added a foot to her height and at least that much to each side of her head. I don't, alas, remember much about her act (I think she maybe tossed glitter into the crowd) because I was so dazzled by the costume. I do remember, however, that she was naked, and that she rolled around on the bare stage, and I remember thinking, "Gosh; I hope they used Febreeze to keep everyone safe."

The last act before the break---and I wish I had pictures!---was Insectivora, who you pretty much have to see to believe. It wasn't a strip show, really. She's a full-on Coney Island freak, with a fully tattooed face and body and pierced lip, cheek, and other body parts. And she came out in a fairly standard leather bikini ... and next to her were a bunch of alcohol-soaked wands that she proceeded to use in her very reptilian fire-breathing act.

Now, I performed in a burlesque show (in the sense of cleaning up) with (in the sense of alongside) Tyler Fyre, who's another regular Coney Island fire eater and sword swallower. And Tyler is absolutely terrific as a crowd-hyper, turning his act into a series of jokes. But Insectivora did more with fire than I'd ever seen, including---Damn! I wish I'd gotten pictures!---some thing where she would tilt her head back and exhale hydrogen peroxide while it burned in a flame bouncing just above her lips. And although I've described her as a pure head-on freak, this description (and any picture I may find to append to this later) cannot convey the stunning warmth of her smile, which turned this entire weird display into something you kind of wanted to rush up and hug and/or buy drinks for later.

"But Dave!" you may ask, "Did she get naked?" And the answer is yes, in that she got topless---although the stage was lit only by her flames, so photography was doubly difficult. What I remember, however, is that at one point she took out two matches, bent them, and stuck one in each of her nipple rings, and lit them. Flaming nipples! That's a visual you don't soon forget. Gee, this city is swell.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Worst Ad Ever!

For some reason, Volkswagen has been running huge print ads in New York City that say, "Hey New York! The Rabbit is back!" Which is all well and good, except that for absolutely no reason I can think of, they show the Volkswagen Rabbit next to a pigeon and a rat, or---in this new one I saw today---a pigeon and a cockroach. You know---as if the Rabbit were the third in a series of noisome disease-carrying vermin. I can't imagine what the hell they're trying to convey. That the Rabbit is all-pervasive? That you can't get rid of it? That if you touch one you'd better use disinfectant? What I do know is that 1.) the ad leaves no clear direct message, and 2.) the indirect message is one of disgust and avoidance. What the fuck were they thinking?

My idea: run the exact same ads, only--get this--without the penguins and roaches. The end! That's it! And I've just sold twice as many of the damn things as these overpaid geniuses. So now can *I* get some of that ad revenue? Because some of us have student loans to pay off.

More Delays

I really did intend to post more tonight, but I turned on the TV and found out that tonight is Rita Hayworth night on Turner Classic Movies. The Loves of Carmen! Gilda! The Lady From Shanghai! Even turning my head away from the screen causes pangs of loss. How can I concentrate on writing when I'm thoroughly besotted? They just don't make 'em like that anymore. Now excuse me---I have to go sponge up the saliva.

Caesura Explained

Normally I blog at night and at lunch. Used my lunch yesterday to track down information about rents, laws, and who to talk to if I think I'm getting screwed. When I got home I watched a zillion online clips from NBC's The Office, with an eye to writing a spec script. Today for lunch I didn't bring my burlesque notes so I think I'm just going to finish my book on Muhammad. More tonight, I promise!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Badass Burlsesque Revuve Review, Part 1

I spent all yesterday drinking cans of soda straght from the fridge, and keeping said soda can in my lap, with my thinghs clamped down on either side of it as if it were the pommel for a saddle I was afraid to be bucked out of. Very cold, very soothing, and I think it kept the swelling down.

Because here's the thing: I spent all day Saturday, from noon to ten, running around Manhattan for The Haystack---which was, in my opinion, one of the finest puzzle scavenger hunts I've ever been on---and after the first five hours I had blisters on the bottom of my feet, and for reasons I don't understand, my thighs were so sore and burning they felt lacerated. I spent the last hour or two merely tottering from place to place, mentally going "owie owie owie owie" every time I had to walk another six goddamn blocks from Union Square to whatever ice cream stand is six blocks north. I should have brought talcum powder or worn silk boxers or a long flowing dress or something, but really in the end I don't think anything would have helped. Mankind was not meant to walk around that much. Not when it's hot.

I should be reviewing the Haystack. And I obviously should have gone home right after. But I also have a friend who, that very evening, was performing at the Badass Burlesque show at midnight at the Bowery Poetry Club. She had invited me. And, as one of my teammates put it, "no one ever invites me to burlesque shows; do it for my sake, and for posterity." And that's how I found myself at 11 o'clock at the Bowery Poetry Club, trying not to move my legs to much and nursing a $7 whiskey to numb the pain. (And by the way, it's very hard to numb pain with whiskey when you have the additional pain of paying $7 a shot.) This is for Spelvin!

Our host was The World-Famous *BOB*--a brilliantly funny emcee and comedienne who looks like she came straight out of the early sixties and borrowed Kim Novak's hair on the way. (Kim Novak if she dressed like Marilyn Monroe. Or a Marilyn Monroe if she was good with crowds and skilled at ad libbing.) I was so taken with her I can scarcely express it: with the eye twinkling! And the lightly ironic laughter! And dimples so pronounced you could see them from several tables away! She looked positively iconic, and I can't imagine anyone else doing her job. As it happened, I was sitting next to a woman who was learning striptease from Bob ("she's my mentor," she said), and she told me "That's what her identification says. If you look at her driver's license, it says 'Bob, The World Famous.'"

I should have written down some of Bob's patter, but I was really woozy and in pain. I remember her opening line, where she said, "Thank God it's Badass Burlesque! Finally I can get onstage and be naked and have people stare at me! After a week of going around wearing clothes? With no one cheering? This is the best thing ever!"

She did the opening act, and it was in many ways an extremely traditional burlesque tune---pretend you're in a fifties dive and hearing the stripper music and that's what she played for her act---only with one difference. Bob is a lovely-but-non-anorexic woman. Which is to say, she has a real body, and she's obviously very proud of it. So her act involved doing all the standard moves---the shimmy, flipping the fringe, the twirling of tassels---to music that had an obviously added voiceover as a series of men said rude things like "You'd be really pretty if you lost ten pounds," and "I do it from behind so I don't have to look at your face." And at every taped insult she simply smiled and winked and kept dancing. It was subversive and wonderful.

And then, in what promised to be a dangerous programming error, they brought out Professor Jo. And the reason I say it was an error is because Professor Jo is the best burlesque performer I have ever seen. She's a tiny woman with brunette hair. (Oddly, that seemed to be true of about half the performers; not as many tall blondes as I expected.) And she probably gets "You look like Sarah Jessica Parker" all the time. She came out in high heeled shoes and stockings, a tight-fitting purple jacket, and a fez with the symbol of Prince on it. (Since I'm colorblind, I only figured out later that everything was purple---the color of Prince, for those of you who missed the eighties one way or the other.) And here I'm afraid words fail me, except to say that where Bob was rambunctious and hell-raising, Professor Jo was such a perfect mixture of steam and elegance that when she took her shoes off my jaw was on the floor. I'm not normally a foot guy, but at the end of the song, when she was stripped down to star-shaped pasties and purple panties, and was wrapped in purple rope (I didn't even notice it was bondage until it was over; cutest BDSM ever!), when I thought back on it, the part I really remember was how expertly she played the audience when all she was doing was removing her right stocking. I think this is the essence of good burlesque: the power of sexuality, lightly and artfuly wielded, to rivet an audience. I've never seen it done better.

And by the way, I was very well placed, because when she came off stage she sat right behind me, still in the pasties and the ropes, so close that our ankles occasionally brushed together. So I got to meet her up close, and I may have even gushed about her performance a little.

It's only wise to cleanse the palate after something like that, and so the next performer was a man---and that's the first sign I had that this was Badass, rather than traditional, burlesque. His name was Tigger, and he apparently won the first ever Mister Exotic World award (at the World Exotic Expo or whatever it's called, which has been going for sixteen years and only last year or so added a category for men). And I have to say that I think if I was gay, he'd have amused me terribly. Because he came out in a black trenchcoat dragging a small bit of rolling luggage, opened it---there was clothing inside---then threw off his coat and pulled out...a vintage wedding dress! And the music started into something about getting married (nothing I recognized, but if you think "Going to the Chapel" you'll get the idea). He had fake eyelashes and was covered in glitter, so this odd conflation of fifties primness and seventies glam was really visually interesting. He put on the dress, campily mimed being a blushing bride, and then...pulled out a large dildo. And then, I'm afraid, as a climax, he bent over and stuck it up his ass. And I believe a "my goodness" may have escaped my lips.

This was my first sign that this was probably going to be closer to a sex show than a burlesque performance. What I like about burlesque, personally, is that it teasingly, winkingly, asypmptotically approaches sex without actually removing the veil. This? Not so much. And I wasn't alone in my assessment. One of the burlesque performers I talked to later (name withheld) told me, "I agree. I mean, I'm straight, but every time he does that part of the act, he bends over and I think, 'Oh, gross. Scrotum.'" But of course, neither of us were Tigger's targer audience, so I withhold further judgement in the matter. I assume he knows what he's doing, since this was---ahem---not the only time in the evening that something got rammed into something else on stage. So it wasn't a lapse; it was foreshadowing.

The amazing Deity was next, but it's time for me to get to work. More later.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sidewalk Art

Intersection of 5th Avenue and 8th Street.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Another Potentially Obvious Puzzle

Okay. I've now posted two obvious questions: What language is this? (Polish.) And why did someone hijack my blog? (Answer: it's nothing personal: all of blogspot points to the same shitty site if you transpose two letters.)

So here's another question that seems thoroughly baffling to me, but might well have a very obvious answer.

I was checking my Blogometer the other day---the one that lists how many hits, how long people have stayed, where they come from, etc. Normally, in the "Referring Links" list, Eric Berlin's blog is at the top of the list with 3 referrals. This time it was still there with 3 referrals, but was sharing the top spot with the following blogs: --- 6 referrals --- 3 referrals

Also normally, After Eric's blog, I get one or two from Tomato Nation, one or two from Jason's "Emailinator" blog, and that's where the list ends. However, this time, the list went to fourteen terms, with referring links from a dozen blogs I've never heard of, including the following (the top three all referred twice).

Since several of these sites aren't even written in English, I confess to some non-plussedness and stymying. I'm aware of the irony, of course: by asking what's up with these links, I have in fact created the very links that are puzzling me. But anyone who looks at my site will see the "referring links." They're right there above this paragraph! But I saw absolutely nothing similar on any of these blogs; no direct route from theirs to mine. I didn't even see anything that would, say, cause my site and any of these to show up on the same Google search.

Come join me in my head-scratching, won't you?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Poorly Translated Business

In TriBeCa, near Chapel and Church.


Haystack, Baby!

Light posting this weekend because I'll be participating with (and competing against) a bunch of National Puzzlers League friends (and other puzzler types, I guess) all day Saturday in a little thing called The Haystack. Puzzles! Scavenger hunting! Exploring the city! Much fun is anticipated. If you can't come, why not visit the site and do the sample puzzles? They're pretty damned clever.

I have to share this, though: Last night, while I was doing laundry in the basement, the superintendent came by and asked what I was paying for rent.

"$750," I said.

"Really?" He said. "And you've got another roommate in addition to the couple who are on the lease? And he's paying $750?"

I nodded.

He looked disgusted. "That's illegal," he said. "I was wondering. I think you're being ripped off. The apartment goes for $1650. The law says you're supposed to share the cost equally."

Gloink! went my head. And then I went on Craigslist and discovered that it is more than possible for me to live in Manhattan with roommates in reasonable safety (and even convenience!) for under $750. My original mistake---which I had never thought to reexamine---was that I looked on Craigslist under "Apartments." They also have a section called "Share" and the prices are significantly lower. Silly me! So I've started looking around. If I can save even $100 a month, I'll be in much better shape vis-a-vis survival, and I won't be constantly worrying about, say, whether going to a movie for $12 will mean eating rice for the next three days. Whew!

But of course, I'm not asserting any actual wrongdoing by my roommates, and I haven't looked into that part of it any further. I'm just thrilled to discover that it may indeed be possible to live in Manhattan, in my current job, and not feel like I'm on the constant verge of destitution. I've been relieved ever since. Now all I need is to somehow obtain, or miraculously save up, enough to cover first and last month's rent in some new place...

So when I'm not doing the Haystack, I may simply be online, shopping for cheaper apartments. It's very, very soothing.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

An Apology to the Entire South

A few months back I made some snarky comments about the South and Southern culture. My Southern friends got their backs up, I apologized poorly, and we sort of tacitly agreed to disagree.

But just before the last Moth Storytelling Slam at the Nuyorican Cafe, I arrived early and had an hour to kill. So I wandered in the neighborhood and found a restaurant called Mama's Cafe. And without even thinking it consciously, I felt---as if in my soul---"I hope they have Southern cooking." And along with that thought came an anticipation of comfort and warmth that I rarely actually associate with food. (I grew up with a mom who didn't always cook so well, bless her heart.) And they DID! Fried chicken. Mashed potatoes. Collard greens. All the staples! It struck me then---and maybe I mentioned this earlier---that Southern cooking is better even than Mexican food in terms of good taste at low prices. (At least for me; I have low spice tolerance.)

Then just two days ago I found myself standing in a crowded subway train next to a lovely woman named Pamela who had just come from her first day of her new job in New York. She was from a small town in northern Alabama (and it's hard to tell who gets slammed more in comedy sketches---Alabama or Arkansas---but this definitely makes her ground zero for most southern jokes) and she was chatting volubly and unselfconsciously with everyone around her. "My goodness," she said. "Everyone's been so nice! And fortunately I live up in Harlem so I've already found a restaurant that has the best cornbread!" Everyone around her was smiling, which is the first time I've seen anything like that in New York when there wasn't a nearby performance or embarrassing injury. It struck me then that as much as I love New Yorkers, there really is a kind of courageous naivete and goodwill that---while it is, of course, sprinkled throughout the human population everywhere---I really haven't found in large amounts in anyplace except the South.

So let me hereby apologize for the mean things I said about the South before. Evidently I hadn't had enough time to miss it then. Now, occasionally, I do.

(Important clarification: to me "The South" is Tallahassee and parts of Atlanta. Once when I marveled aloud in class about how nice everyone was in Tallahassee, every one of my students agreed---and a quarter of them were from small southern towns that---judging from their essays---were apparently quite unfriendly.)

Serves Me Right For Being Intellectually Curious ...

Given the fact that our government has a weird habit of overreacting to the tiniest damn thing, I feel obliged to out myself now:I'm reading up on Islam in order to create a realistic imam character for a book I'm hoping to write. I currently have a copy of the Holy Q'uran, a collection called A Manual of Hadith (edited, unfortunately, by Maulana Muhammad Ali, who's a famous Ahmadi---which means it's like reading about Christianity in a book written by a Seventh-Day Adventist), and a little book called The Muslim Jesus which is a frankly fascinating collection of sayings from and about Jesus that are authoritative in the Muslim community. Oh, and I picked up what may be the essential translation of mindsets: Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, by Karen Armstrong.

How's it going? So far, Karen Armstrong's right: the Q'uran is wholly underwhelming to me as a Westerner in much the same way that the Bible is baffling (and, frankly, ugly) to folks from wisdom traditions like Taoism, who read religious books expecting poetry, not obscure history. (And the Q'uran, which literally means "The Recitation," is apparently best appreciated by knowing Arabic and hearing it spoken aloud, the way observant Jews treat the Torah---which is also dull reading, but is written in a holy language that makes the begats irrelevant to its adherents.) All the interesting stories (especially the folktales about The Holy Prophet) seem to be in the "strong six" hadith---sort of a parallel tradition to the Q'uran about what people near The Prophet remember him saying and doing---and I can't find but the one copy of hadith that I currently own. Which doesn't have any stories, but has a surprising amount of information about brushing your teeth.

Also, I've joined a few Islam discussion groups, and one of the weirdest things about it is how much it's like reading an evangelical Christian discussion group: combatting the dangers of Darwin; too much sex on TV; the downside of feminism; post after post about how great God/Allah is and how to spread the faith; tons of testimonials. I feel right at home in many ways.

Karen Armstrong's Muhammad is far and away the best of the resources I own, and I recommend it highly. Did you know, for example, that when the leader of one of the forty-five schools of fatwa (which is simply a religious ruling, kind of like a papal bull but without pope-level leadership because Islam has almost no hierarchy) declared that it was acceptable to kill Salman Rushdie for portraying Mohammed as a sleazebag in The Satanic Verses, forty-four other leaders--you know, all the rest of them---all immediately condemned this statement? But since that runs counter to the "story" about Islam, it didn't get any coverage. Remember that the next time someone on a talk show says "Where are the Muslims standing up against terrorism?" They do it all the time. But no one is actually interested in listening.

Anyway, if I show up on a no-fly list, that's what happened. I'll be accused of Open-Mindedness and Willingness to Believe That The Fastest-Growing Religion in the World Probably Isn't Run By Murdering Assholes Completely Unlike Other Humans I Know.

By the way, it's starting to look like that huge plot to blow up 11 airplanes is another example of an arrest that was premature and overhyped. I no longer care about My Pet Goat; has Bush never even read The Boy Who Cried Wolf? Jesus.


Sorry for any confusion. I thought this would be all over the web by now. It's become clear (via NBC among others) that the U.S. pushed the British government to speed up its arrests, and that, like damn near every such plot that has made front-page news, there's less to it than meets the eye. If our government keeps up this behavior, an actual credible threat will spark little interest. A more responsible, or perhaps less desperate, Commander in Chief would, I hope, act more in the interest of stopping actual threats (which means, among other things, gathering evidence sufficient to prosecute) rather than cutting corners for P.R.

That said, I admit that in this particular case, the link between our government and the British government is more tenuous than usual. I'll back down when someone points this out to Dick "Al-Qaeda types" Cheney.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Strange Crosswords in a Language That Might Be Russian

On 3rd Avenue between 31st and 32nd. Taken at a table in a cafe while the guy was out smoking.

LATER: I guess it's Polish. For some reason I could only think of Russian or Turkish, or Russian, or Turkish ... then I gave up thinking. Thanks for y'all's help!


Because When You Think of Me, You Think Bible Studies For Dyslexics

My friend Ryan (aka Tristram Shandy) mistyped my address as he wound up here. Viral marketing? Crass opportunism? Are they taking every single "blogspot" name and buying up the typo version? Because I can't imagine the hundred or so hits I get a day matter much in their grand scheme.

NOTE: This should lead you to a site called "Amazing Bible Studies." But if it doesn't, it means that your browser is wise to these tricks, and--alas--the whole thing becomes less amusing. At work, I went straight there and tittered. Here at home I get a generic webfinder instead. Damn.

Backscratching My Peeps

Friend and frequent site commenter Jason Rohrbacker got his picture taken with Jimmy Smits! (Scroll down.) He is also Single of the Week at frequent site commenter Grins's lovely website. (Check out her blogroll; Grins has excellent taste in blogs!)

Helpful link-dropping commenter Saint Eve is djing and (I think; the email is unclear) performing at BadAss Burlesque this Saturday in New York. If she dj's like she storytells, you'll be so swept up you won't even notice the pasties.

And although he hardly needs my sorry-ass help, my friend Francis's Snakes on a Sudoku has just been promoted in Entertainment Weekly. While you're there, look around on his site and check out his occasional selections from something called The Hip Reader---a reader for kids written in, and designed to be relevant for, the sixties and seventies. The quotes are priceless, man.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ebony Hillbillies

Grand Central Station, at the end of the S train stop. My favorite buskers.


Monday, August 14, 2006

People Are Paying to See Me!

I can't quite believe it myself. I think the shock shows a little in the photograph.

By the way, I've seen the first, second, and sixth people all perform at the last SpeakEasy, and they're terrific. Should be a great show. If you're in the city, why not come by?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Bar Napkin Cartoon 8


Who Killed The Electric Coach-and-Four?

I had every intention of spending this weekend writing 60 more pages of one of my novels-in-progress (the YA-friendly fantasy novel I've decided to call Magic Steve). But it turns out that my chair---which has no back because of assembly problems that, alas, took place after I sold my car, and affect a chair purchased in now-inaccessible Paramus, New Jersey---is too uncomfortable to sit on for that long. (And it affects a chair that only cost sixty dollars anyway, so even taking a train back to the store threatens to double my investment in trying to fix the problem.) The lack of back is only mildly annoying when I do little things like update the site, but for marathon thirty-pages-a-day rough-draft writing, it's thoroughly inadequate. So I've decided to hold off on the novel-writing until payday (the 15th), when I shall buy a new chair. It's actually surprisingly exciting to me; it's like I can't wait to Catch Chair Fever.

What I've been doing this weekend instead is reading other people's crappy genre writing: specifically, Margery Allingham's The Fear Sign, which is one of the free novels I picked up outside my apartment the other day. I claimed at the time that the three novels I obtained were all modern mysteries, but it turns out I was wrong: The Fear Sign was published in 1933, and went, as the inside front cover says, "under the title Sweet Danger in England and also as Kingdom of Death in the U.S.A." It is in every way a generic mystery of its era from the Hound of the Baskervilles-meets-P.G. Wodehouse school.

The Fear Sign is a frankly unbelievable story, but the upshot is that a crappy little out-of-the-way "kingdom" of a few hundred acres, owned by the Brits centuries ago but almost totally forgotten, has recently (as the story opens) because of an earthquake, become accessible by sea and might have oil reserves. So there's a scramble among the few parties in the know to prove ownership. Including our heroes---three starchy well-heeled and vaguely dissolute young men and their loutish manservant, Lugg. And while they are menaced by various operatives of a sinister cororate giant, the boys are inclined to say things like, "I say, Campion, isn't that the old bird who twigged you that night in Skeffington when you were supposed to be swotting for your Uppers?" I doubt any of them will die, but the hope of at least one grisly end for these insufferable twits has kept me reading.

I wouldn't normally even mention the book, except for one unusual circumstance. As the characters go up to the boarding-house in this mysterious kingdom, run by a woman named Amanda, we get this passage on page 47:

There was one startling anachronism, however. Drawn up before the door was an extremely ancient but unmistakable electric brougham. This remarkable vehicle had been painted crimson by an inexpert hand, and now sat, squat and self-conscious, blushing violently for its own age.

An electric brougham? As in a literal horseless carriage? It struck me then what I love about 1930s literature and culture: it was a time of busy industry and no one knew what the hell was going to work and what wasn't.

Case in point: only a week ago I had the good fortune to be able to watch 1933's It Happened One Night with a woman who'd never seen it before. And although it functions for the most part like a standard romantic comedy (because it's probably the most-imitated romantic comedy since Pride and Prejudice), there's one point near the end that always makes me giggle: Clark Gable's romantic rival, a guy named King Westley (he's not a king; that's his first name, like Vidor), announces that he's going to marry Claudette Colbert---and you can see, right there on the newspaper announcement, the headline "GROOM TO ARRIVE BY AUTOGYRO." You may shake your head and say something like "Autogyro? And no one even asks what it is?" But then, sure enough, in a later scene on the wedding day as the shindig is going down, suddenly everyone looks to the sky and the cry goes up, "Here comes King Westley!" And you see an autogyro: A single-person helicopter with an airplane propellor on the front. Or an airplane with a helicopter propellor on top; your definition may vary. This silly silly contraption passes entirely without notice. It was just part of the 1930s' industrial clutter.

And now there were electric broughams? Who knew? So far I haven't learned much about this alternative-fuel vehicle except that it's an antique in 1933 and it doesn't have much oomph to it. (p. 57: "Amanda blushed ... '[I]t's really very useful, and not at all bad, considering that I bought it off a higgler for a pound...There's only one thing against it; you can't go more than five miles in it. Two and a half miles out and two and a half miles back: then the batteries have to be recharged.'") And also that its interior seems to have been based on ships and rudders rather than anything practical on land. (p.60: "Amanda, breathless and crimson with exertion, clung to the brougham's archaic steering arm ...")

More details as I winkle them out. But just the phrase "steering arm" has made my whole day.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

"Deliverance" Types Preaching in The Subway

Times Square Station, Rush Hour. The man, woman, and young tall guy all seemed to be related. The woman, if you can't tell, is playing a harmonica. It was all quite surreal.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Mr. Rick Will Not Be Performing This Evening, And Some Of You May Drown

"Hey, Dave!" you may ask. "How was that Slick Rick concert?" With your kind indulgence, I'd like to answer that question with another question: Do you remember that New York heat wave we were supposed to be having?

I took the 6 bus up to Harlem's 125th Street station right after I got off work (6:00) and arrived at 6:30. Pretty fast for a non-express! So this gave me half an hour before Slick Rick's concert in the park, and I decided to grab a cheap bite at the first restaurant I saw, which was a Chinese take-out place halfway down 124th. At 6:45, while I was finishing up, the sky darkened, and a storm broke.

This was the worst storm I've seen in my six months in Manhattan, and I suspect it'll be pretty hard to top in the next year or two. And what made it really strange is that I hadn't even seen rain in any forecast. And you'd think this would have registered somewhere, because it was really something. The rain came down so fast and so thickly that it actually blurred vision---you had to squint to see what was across the street. Some rainstorms spatter you, some drench you. This felt like it was actually trying to push you to the ground.

"Well," I told myself, "I guess Slick Rick will not be performing today." So I raced back a block and a half, darting in and out of useless eaves, until I made it to the subway station---where, as I should have expected, dozens of other New Yorkers were stranded and waiting out the rain.

Here I got a taste of what New York must have been like during the blackouts. It's awfully inconvenient, but it's nothing serious, and this tends to bring out the self-deprecating, world-weary humor that New Yorkers are particularly skilled at. All you had to do was look up those stairs at the rain hammering down, shake your head and roll your eyes at someone near you, and they'd smile. Or possibly even laugh if they were particularly exhausted or, in fact, crazy. I commented to no one in particular, "Damn! This is some New OR-leans shit up in here!" And a guy nodded and said, "You're the second person I've heard say something like that."

At this point I realized I had a problem: Because I'd taken the 6 up instead of the A---the better to reach Marcus Garvey Park for the concert (and it pains me even now to write about such a failed hope)---I was in the middle of town instead of at the western end. I thought of riding the 6 up further to about 181st Street and taking some shuttle or something across the island. But a glance at the map showed me something I didn't know: At its tip, Manhattan is shaped like Michigan, with a swath of river cutting down at a diagonal and making the western end way taller. It may be a straight shot going up on the west side, but if I took it north from here and tried to cut across, I'd be crossing the Hudson twice: Once up into the Bronx and/or New Jersey, and once again going west back into Manhattan. And I could only do that last step at the George Washington Bridge, which is at 181st Street. I live at 185th. This was not a five-blocks-of-sprinting type of rain.
Turns out I had to take the M60 bus, which wends westeward along 125th from LaGuardia Airport and has a stop at my usual A station. So I went topside again---after one quick camera-photo shot of my feet to demonstrate how deep the water was that was pouring down the steps into the subway---and waited with two or three dozen others in a covered patio outside a Rite-Aid. The M60 is famously slow and sporadic, but it appeared just as I was about to complain.

I wound up seated behind an older man who was one of about six people on the bus who were freighted with luggage. "You just came in from LaGuardia?" I asked. "You picked a fine day for it."

He looked at me and shook his head. "It's been an interesting travel day. First the hijackers plot, and now this."

"Oh my god!" I said. "I'd forgotten about that." I'd been listening to stories about it all day on NPR: 19 hijackers, British inteligence, red alert, all liquids being confiscated.

"No one knew what was going on," he said. "No one warned anybody, so of course everyone came to the airport with things they had to get rid of. They had these huge trash containers just piled high with, you know, cream rinse, shampoo, soap for your hands and such. It brought out everyone's gallows humor. So yes. It's been a very interesting travel day."

I had nothing to add, so I nodded respectfully and kept silent. Who was I, suddenly, to complain about a little rain?


Thursday, August 10, 2006

More Serendipity Or Something Like It

When I was first thinking about what I'd do when I moved to New York City, one idea I'd toyed with was doing country-western hip-hop. A good friend of mine in Tallahassee, who had been a successful hip-hop performer in Chicago (hi, Sherod!), told me over and over again, "You've got to be true to who you are, so you don't come across as phony. I think your strongest angle is storytelling." He was mostly afraid of my seeming corny (a good thing to worry about), and he adjured me, over and over again, to listen to Slick Rick, who was famous for that style of rapping, and pointed out that it was storytelling that made Eminem a success. Rick, a huge influence on Eminem, was one of the best practitioners of the early form of hip-hop, which was funny, celebratory, and about as non-gangsta as it gets. "It's a shame you never got to see him live," Sherod said. "He's an amazing peformer and you could learn a lot." But I only heard a few tracks and have never owned any of his albums.

So I'm reading the a.m.NewYork newspaper this morning, and there in their "New York 4Free" section they announce that Slick Rick is performing live tonight at 7 pm in Marcus Garvey Park at 125th! I didn't even know he was out of prison! The announcement actually says, "7 p.m. Marcus Garvey Park. Hip-hopper Rick brings it with the art of storytelling." Isn't it funny how I keep running into that word?

Anyone wants to join me, shoot me an e-mail. I've got to get back to work now. Lunchtime is over.

Serendipity And Then Some

First, a reminder: I'm an ex-fundamentalist puzzle writer who is fascinated by evolutionary science, and I'm currently planning a mystery novel---my first-ever foray into the genre---where the sleuth is an imam. Got all that?

Then get this: Yesterday, as I was going to the bus, I noticed out by the street trash that someone had left a bag full of old books. After making sure the bag was fresh and un-peed-on, I rummaged. Here's what I found:

Mathematical Puzzles of Sam Loyd, by Martin Gardner. (The first puzzle book I ever read.)
Why I Am Not a Christian, by Bertrand Russell. (Never read it, always intended to.)
A small textbook called The Process of Evolution.
A View From the Eye of the Storm: Terror and Reason in the Middle East; a Scientist's Vision of Hope, by Haim Harari.
And three modern mystery novels: The Gondola Scam by Jonathan Gash, The Fear Sign by Margery Allingham, and The Death of an Irish Tinker by Bartholomew Gill.

So now I've got seven new books in my library, and all of them free! Also, I suspect someone in my building would make a good drinking buddy. Thanks, universe!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lightning (Almost) Strikes (Almost) Twice!

I went to the Moth Storytelling Slam last night, and I didn't win. But this time I almost won by two-tenths of a point, making it a very close finish. (Again, I was beaten by a guy with a zany story about Ireland. If my experience is anything to go by, there is a 100% chance I need to travel to Ireland if I'm ever going to win one of these things.) The theme was "Burned" and I told the story about my first girlfriend and how, after an attempted night of adulterous, hellfire-risking sex (candles and everything), I accidentally scarred her for life because I couldn't express what I really wanted. I threw in a quote from St. James ('The tongue is like a raging fire"), I wove together multiple threads---I was very proud.

That doesn't matter, though. Also, I didn't win, and no lovely young women pronounced me "manly" this time. That also doesn't matter. Here's what I remember.

1.) I was picked tenth. (They pick ten names out of a hat, and if you're not picked, tough luck. So it's always a risk.) When my name was called, cheers went up! I have friends and fans!

2.) After the show, one woman came up to me and said, "I'm so glad you went. I'd heard rumors about some new guy who was really good." I've gone only once before, and there are already rumors about me! Yay!

3.) Finally---and this means more than anything---the two greatest storytellers in Manhattan (James Braley and Andy Christie) ---both congratulated me and said I was, and I quote, "great." I was simply flabbergasted.

4.) What's more, Braley had great advice. He said, "You stepped on several of your laugh lines, and I could tell you weren't expecting them to laugh so much." True dat! "Relax a little on time, and consider your persona. In fact, you should get the tape of tonight's performance so you can see how others see you." Apparently they tape every show. (James, if you're reading this, thanks for the tips!)

Ever since then---which has actually been quite a while, if you consider what a long ride back it is from the East Village to Washington Heights---I've been coming to the conclusion that I must be a funny storyteller. Not in the sense of telling funny stories but in the sense of telling stories funnily. After all, if people are laughing at my jokes out of proportion to their actual humor content---and they are, two out of two times---then they must be reacting to the way I say relatively simple things. I must leave a lot of irony in the air. And I need to accommodate that the next time I tell a story so that I'm good on time. I need to see those tapes.

Tonight I'm hoping to go to Rev. Jen's Anti-Slam, which is the best deal in town ($3 cover, BYOB.) I hope it's as fun as I hear.

Holistic Pet Care

Store sign somewhere along 9th Street, a few blocks west of Avenue A. I'm not 100% sure of the address, but I guess if you're really curious you could call 1-800-WHISKERS.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Birthday Wishes

It's a day late, alas, but I'd like to wish a happy birthday to my two puzzle colleagues, Leslie and Trip, who both appear in the credits of the movie Wordplay. (Trip's one of the stars!)

But let me add this about Trip: I've known him for almost twenty years now, which means he knew me when I was a fundamentalist homophobe. What he may not know is that he's one of the main reasons I'm no longer a conservative Christian. The final break with my evangelical upbringing came when three of my best friends came out of the closet in a single month. And they emerged from three different parts of my life: Trip was my best friend in the puzzle world, Brent my best friend from the evangelical world, and Ryan my oldest friend, period. When they all came out, I was left with a very tough choice: be consistent with my religion and consign them mentally to hell (i.e., pray for them constantly, try to get them to change, and in any event treat them as morally unreliable outliers), or rethink my basic principles.

Trip is wonderful: incredibly smart, incredibly wry and funny, and so decent to the core (even while being competitive, which I didn't think was possible) that I feel like I learn from him every time we get a chance to talk. So I thought about him and my other friends. And it was at that point that I saw, as starkly as I ever have, how evangelical reliance on the Bible, and an uncritical acceptance of hell, actually makes you love people less. (You can call it love, and goodness knows evangelicals do, but by your fruits ye shall know them; you can never love the hellbound the way you trustingly love your right-thinking friends.) I went with love instead of the evangelical's law, and I've been happy ever since. (Well, not at first; It was a flatly terrifying month at first, when I realized I'd given up the whole Bible and saw all certainty crumble away beneath me and really viscerally felt how much I'd been depending on it without noticing.)

But this is why, although I've amassed a panoply of arguments about evangelicalism, I don't really think you can argue anyone out of a religious faith. What I try to do with the arguments is show a.) where fundamentalist thinking is in error (about history, about the biblical text, et al.) and then b.) try to expose the real issue: why do you tell yourself that this error-prone belief is not only true but self-evident; that you have no choice in the matter?

Anyway, I'm still in touch with Ryan and Trip, and so here's to you, Trip: knowing you has improved my life immeasurably, and I can't possibly replay that with anything as simple as a funny poem.

Blurry Proof the Eighties Are Returning

Guy with Izod shirt and turned-up collar; East Village.

Girl whose pants have myriad zippered pockets; Penn Station.

It's happening everywhere I look. The guy with the turned-up collar was actually the third such man I'd seen that night. I've seen several more since. And what's really weird about this is that it's stylish nostalgia. This isn't like what usually happens when styles boomerang. The usual script was in evidence in 2000 or so when bell-bottom trousers (god help us) came back, and the ads were all, "This is a seventies fad---with a new millennium twist!"

Here there is no twist. It's not just eighties styles; it's vintage eighties clothes. This simply baffles me. I grew up in a time of skinny ties. And there'd been skinny ties before---in the 1920s. But imagine if they'd tried to sell 20's-era skinny ties in the eighties without updating the fabrics---no neon, no shiny stuff, no pastels. Would that have made sense? And yet that's exactly what's happening today as we revisit the eighties.

The closest parallel I can come up with is that, also in the eighties, there was a brief flirtation with '50s music---The Stray Cats, Billy Joel's "An Innocent Man" album, Tracey Ullmann's "They Don't Know About Us," etc. It was a very brief time---I want to mentally put it at 1985---But it was purely musical. Maybe Tucson was out of it, but I don't recall anyone pomading their mohawks or rolling up cigarettes in the sleeves of plain white T-shirts.

Anyway, if the eighties do indeed return (and as I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm also seeing bug-eye sunglasses and TV ads for big hair), I sure hope they do it right. Yes to sci-fi funkiness, no to Jheri curls! Hooray, big decorative belts! Boo, leg warmers! We've had 25 years to think about it---we can do better than turned-up pullover collars. Yeesh.


Monday, August 07, 2006

Sexual Frank Linen of a What?: A Sort of Puzzle

I'm forever signing up with services and can't figure out how to stop them from e-mailing me. So when I first moved to New York, I thought, "At last! A city where has a large enough sample to have a chance in hell of working!" I was wrong (long story). But that hasn't stopped them from sending me weekly lists of new members who they think might be my ideal cybermate. Normally I simply delete the mail, but today I was in a morose frame of mind (long story) and thought I'd scan the list. And here's the introduction from one of the ten women who apparently matched my criteria (random underlinings courtesy of

I'm young lonely woman.I like to carry sexual frank linen of a house. As I very strictly look at work. I like to vary. I can be strict,impudent as I can be very gentle and tender. I rather sociable person. At me it is a lot of friends and familiar. But I and could not find the second half. I want to find the happiness in life with the loved person. I want to give love and to be loved. I still hope, that I can meet that person whom I will grow fond of me such what is. I wish to get acquainted with the man for creation of family. I Love reading, dances, cookery. Now I work in advertising agency as the manager. I the cheerful, kind and understanding woman. I can go on concessions, for creation of mutual understanding and heat in family I can change the religion if it will be demanded by my beloved..Details in the further correspondence!

I can parse most of it---and hooray for any adult immigrant who attempts to wrestle a new language into submission!---but I offer this as a puzzle and a translation exercise: What the hell was she intending to say in that second sentence?

Bar Napkin Cartoon 7


Oh. Right. The Complaining.

The Internet's fixed. In case anyone was wondering. Whew!

Incidental Poem: Get Paid to Party!

On Seeing An Internet Ad That Says "Models! Get Paid to Party With Wealthy Professionals at NY Nightclubs!"

It looks quite enticing on paper
But frankly I think it's berserk.
Who wants to get drinks at a nightclub
And have it remind them of work?

(P.S.--And still they haven't called!
Perhaps my application's stalled...)


Friday, August 04, 2006

Preachy Cartoon Elephant of Obscure Provenance

33rd Street between Lexington and Park. And yes, I'm wearing my pinup-girly bowling shirt, which I got in a tattoo parlor in Mobile. I almost didn't buy it because it was slightly pricey, but then I thought, "Wait a minute---if anyone asks, I get to tell them that I got it in a tattoo parlor in Mobile, Alabama." On this point alone, it has paid for itself many times over.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Again With the Sucking!

Still no visit from Time Warner, still no Internet at home. Oy. On the other hand, they did claim they'd be by to fix everything today, and I'm enough of an optimist to believe that anything's possible. Even customer service! But I have a visitor coming in to stay with me for a few days, so I predict light-to-none blogging this weekend, and it's going to be caused by one or the other.

I Am Proud of My Friends

My friend and puzzle colleague Francis "Lunch Boy" Heaney has turned a brilliantly-conceived Snakes on a Plane joke into what will probably be the most successful puzzle book of the next several months. Look and be amazed, because it'll be years before you get another chance to see two fads collide so beautifully.

If Nader Spoke Through Ventriloquism, I Think It Would Look Something Like This ...

Talking Points Memo does some research and discovers that every single person who has donated money to the Pennsylvania Green Party Senate candidate is a Republican. (This is my favorite type of Internet reading: a single obsessive question answered by someone with more free time than me.) It's stuff like this that makes me wish the Green Party would just stop dreaming and stay off the ballots until some time in the future---like, once Bush is in jail. Still, wouldn't it be hilarious if the Green candidate won? There's a novel in there ...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

There Is A Light That Will Never Go Out, Almost

One last thing before my workday begins: Last night, my little fluorescent desk lamp burned out. This wouldn't be worthy of note except that this desk lamp, by some miracle, has been working for me every night for almost eleven years. I inherited it from my first girlfriend, who had used it for years before me and who thought it might come in handy when I moved from Tucson to Kansas City in late 1995.

So I have to go out today and buy a new bulb. I don't know what these things cost, but even if it's $100, on a dollars-to-lumens ratio, I'm pretty sure I'll come out ahead.

'Scuse Me While I Bestride The Earth Like a Colossus

Today's bus ride was obviously pretty productive (three new poems!), but I actually got into work early enough that I still have about twenty minutes to chat. Hi, everyone! How's things?

I want to apologize a trifle for failing to record my thoughts hese last few days. It hasn't just been my lack of Internet at home (though I still don't have any). I met a whole bunch of very cool people at a Media Bistro Freelancers-Mingling party a week ago, and after handing out my web address to a bunch of strangers, I felt a certain pressure to make the site temporarily professional---no chattering about my life; just pure light verse and cartoons. But it turns out that that's no fun, and I miss the commentary of my friends. So to hell with that noise. I'm back, and I'm feeling ebullient!

So let me mention that I went to The Moth---that storytelling slamfest I mentioned earlier---and was actually selected to perform. The way it works is, everyone puts their name into a hat, and they choose the first ten, and you go up and you've got five minutes to tell your story based on the night's theme. The theme on Monday was "Parties," and I told the story about how, after my 30th birthday party (where, among other things, I held a vote and shaved my head at midnight), a friend handed me a videotape he'd made ... and I suddenly saw what I looked like for the first time when I'm just socializing. It was horrifying. I couldn't dress myself, I acted inappropriately (People, don't let me dance!), and you could smell the Dungeons and Dragons coming off me in waves. And at that point (inserting story arc) I decided to change and I've never looked back. I bowed---and took off my hat, exposing my still-bald head. Point made! Cheers. Applause.

What was surprising is, first, the competition was very very good. I knew that from the moment the second woman came on---the first Gabrielle I met that evening---and listened to her talk about her career as a bootlegger-hostess for alterna-parties of thousands including drag queens and burlesque performers. She had the wild characters, the dark past, the vivid description; I knew it was gonna be tough. The second surprise was that I walked on, on my very first night just before the halfway intermission, and immediately became the guy to beat. For the first four performers, the average score hovered around 8.1-8.3. My average score was 9.0 out of 10! Afterward, people shook my hand and complimented me. At least one editor asked if I had a manuscript. And---possibly best of all---the hostess came back on afterward and said, "Wow! That guy was so manly!" I've been riding that compliment for dozens of hours now, moseying through the city, arms half-poised in the manner of bodybuilders who literally can't lower them any further, and I've been taking up lots of room just in case an emergency comes where I suddenly need to swing my massive man-organ. Manly! That's me, apparently! Someone said it in public!

Then, right after intermission, I got crushed. The very next two guys were simply fucking amazing---one in particular, who I think should have won, had a story about how he got over a heartbreak while on vacation in Ireland by lying and claiming that he and his female co-traveler had just decided to get married on the boat they were on. He did it just to get free consolation drinks from the soccer team he was talking to, but they insisted on an impromptu party. The story had everything: humor, clarity, efficiency, the unexpected, and a heartwarming story arc that was just weird enough to avoid being cloying. I wish I could remember his name, and I hope he's somewhere else next time.

But it certainly confirmed one thing for me: these are totally my people. Afterward I walked to the A station leading one of my fellow storytellers---a legally blind septagenarian fellow named Marvin---and as we talked about the history of Manhattan, his career as an editor and a tour guide, and the importance of being in the right place, I realized that this kind of bonding had never happened to me when I was doing stand-up. But I'd experienced similar instant camaraderie the last time I went to such a storytelling event. So although I'd admittedly had a greedy Hollywood dream of being The Guy Who Comes From Nowhere To Win The Slam On The First Try, I walked out with something almost as good: the assurance that I'd found a niche.

And, of course, official manliness.

[LATER:] I almost forgot: one of the women who showed up that night---and who I remembered giving an amazing story at the last event---talked with me outside at intermission, and while we stood in a circle of her friends, she said, "You remind me a lot of Tyler Fyre. Doesn't he seem like Tyler?"

And I said, "You must be kidding. You know Tyler Fyre?" Because, if you don't recall, I worked with Tyler Fyre---a sword swallower/flame eater from Coney Island---when he came through Tallahassee as the emcee of the Fluffgirls Burlesque Show. At the time, they needed a stagehand, and so I wound up collecting all the girls' castoff bras and panties and boas and spangles, and returning them to the back room. I'll spare you the full story (though it's in my book and I've posted it here before), but at one point I said, "I completely envy your life. Living in New York, working alternative entertainment at Coney Island..." And Tyler looked at me and said, "It's nothing you couldn't do. Hell, I'm from Tennessee." I remember at the time of my graduation thinking that I had to decide if I was going to try Los Angeles or New York. I settled on New York because I thought it might be a little cheaper (no car) and---more to the point---smaller and more manageable. Turns out I was right on this one. I've been here six months, and already I know a woman who knows a guy I know. I love this homey little island.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

... And You Know Their Ilk? Fie On Them Too.

Still no Internet. I'm doing what I can from work.