Bourbon Cowboy

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

My Photo
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!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

No Thumbs

Ack! Apparently, At the Movies--which I still think of as "Siskel and Ebert"--is finally ceasing production after 33 years. Ebert has a terrific reminiscence here.

I've been cableless and haven't even been able to watch the show for five years, and this still makes me sad.

(Hat tip: Eric Berlin)


Countdown to Homefulness--1 Day Left

After carefully considering the driving plan I'd have to do to get my stuff from Jersey City (New Jersey) AND Clinton Hill (Brooklyn) into my new place in Alphabet City (Manhattan), I've done the only sensible thing: I've decided to hire movers, the way a real adult might do it. First time I've ever done it, and just thinking about it makes me feel as relaxed as a butterfly floating in a pool of Nembutal. I imagine a butterfly in that position might wake up poorer and not even care so much.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Countdown to Homefulness--2 Days Left

I'd write more, but fans of my blog already have a lot of listening to do.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

'80s Christian Music on YouTube!

Thank god for the Internet! When I left Kansas City, I left behind my extremely heavy collection of vinyl, since it was intensely represented by Christian music, and I was a newly minted atheist who never listened to it anymore. But I've definitely missed some of those songs, and after that last post, I did a little poking and discovered that many of these songs live on in YouTube form. If you're completely unfamiliar with Christian music, this probably won't be representative--I was something of an alternakid in my tastes, so heavy on the new wave/indie sound instead of Amy Grant, Petra, and DeGarmo & Key. But you might find these songs fun. I do, however, repudiate all the visuals, which are either cobbled together by people at home, or produced in the '80s on Christian-music budgets. I actually can't decide which is worse. I advise you to listen with your eyes closed.

1. The Seventy Sevens, "Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba"

2. Daniel Amos, "(It's The Eighties, So Where's Our) Rocket Packs"

3. Tonio K., "What Women Want" (A bit retrograde, but listenable)

4. Larry Norman, "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus" (Radosh's pick; definitely the best Larry Norman song on YouTube. It's amazing what he got away with in the 70s.)

5. Prodigal, "Future Now"

and -- what the hell -- how about...

6. Crumbacher, "Glowing in the Dark"

By the way, if anyone out there is planning to release a few more of these lost singles on YouTube, may I make a few requests? There was a lot of Daniel Amos, but very few of my own favorite songs ("William Blake," "Dance Stop," "As the World Turns," "New Car!" "Darn Floor Big Bite"), and there was almost no Tonio K. (I'd love to see "Impressed," "True Confessions," and maybe "Romeo Loves Jane")...and, much to my shock, almost no Mark Heard (though lots of other people seem to be covering his "Strong Hand of Love"). Most of this work went out of print before it even went to CD, so really--anything you pirates can do, I'd love you for it.


Top 10 Christian Songs

I just found out that Daniel Radosh, the author of the amazing Rapture Ready (which is a funny and also beautifully nuanced and compassionate look at Christian pop culture; I recommend it to everyone, Christian or not), also put out a list of what are, in his opinion as an interested outsider, the top 10 Christian rock songs. It's been awhile, so I haven't heard most of these new bands he mentions, but I thought I'd weigh in--admittedly far after the fact--to make my own list. Since this dates from my own experiences in the '80s and '90s, I haven't heard Sufjan Stevens or Caedmon's Call or any of a dozen others.

My own Top Ten list, in something close to chronological order, is as follows:

1. "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?" by Larry Norman (from Only Visiting This Planet). The granddaddy Christian music song that practically invented the entire genre, and it's still a helluva lot of fun to listen to.

2. "Future Now" by Prodigal (from Just Like Real Life).

3. "Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba" by The 77s (from All Fall Down).

4. "(It's the Eighties, So Where's Our) Rocket Packs" by Daniel Amos (from Vox Humana). Beautifully structured, with a Buggles-style tinny voice effect that's just perfect for its litany of sci-fi hopes about the future--many of which are quite close to coming true ("in every house a picture phone" and "a president of female gender"). Funny and sweet.

5. "True Confessions" by Tonio K. (from Romeo Unchained).

6. "River of Love" by Sam Phillips (from The Turning). This is the last "Christian" album she made, and these days it's been rereleased on a standard secular label. But at the time, this was an unusually difficult and ambiguous Christian album.

7. "Whatever Happened to Sin?" by Steve Taylor (from I Want to Be a Clone). This is a tough call, because Steve Taylor was very political, and (of course) conservative, and so almost every single part of the song is ugly to me now. (It's anti-choice and homophobic.) But it's such brilliant lyric writing--[particularly the never-seen-it-before-or-since use of a one-word gimmick in the rhyme scheme. This is what I always liked about him; he wrote the smartest songs, even if you didn't agree with them.

8. "Hero," by Steve Taylor (from Meltdown). Not only a lovely song, but a very honest look at what evangelical Christianity offers its adherents: the chance to be a real hero, and to have one that won't disappoint.

9. "House of Broken Dreams" by Mark Heard (from Dry Bones Dance)
10. "Another Day in Limbo" by Mark Heard (from Satellite Sky)

Mark Heard left us WAY too soon, but thank goodness he found his footing before he passed, with a series of three absolutely terrific albums (Dry Bones Dance, Second Hand, and Satellite Sky) whose songs are still being widely covered today--most recently by Buddy Miller, whose Universal United House of Prayer covers "Worry Too Much."

I was surprised that some of the songs I thought for sure I'd represent--Steve Taylor's "Meltdown," for instance--have not aged well at all, while others--like "Future Now"--haven't aged well either and yet I don't care for some reason. Who knows. All I know is, this stuff stays with you. Just a week or so ago I actually had a the chorus from "Royal Command Performance" pass through my brain--it was written by a Christian synth band called Crumbacher, on an album I never even liked very much. It gives me an idea for an absolutely impossible trivia game that I'll spare you all.

(P.S. I ignored mainstream bands like U2 or The Call--whose "I Still Believe" is still probably one of the most stirring religious anthems ever written--in order to keep this a ranking of bands that you really had to be a Christian in the 80s to have heard of. It's more fun that way.)



Let me just add to the chorus of woe, as I was one of those people who woke up this morning to discover that Scrabulous has been disabled because of a lawsuit from Hasbro. It was inevitable--the article that says Scrabulous "bears a close resemblance to the word game Scrabble" is being absurdly tactful. Scrabulous is Scrabble in every particular, from the tile counts to the board layout to the words used in the official dictionaries. So this was bound to happen at some point, and now that Hasbro has recently put out Scrabble Beta--a truly clunky, slow-moving alternative that's inferior in every way--the writing was on the wall.

I have to say that I'm reasonably confident that they'll work something out, because apparently Scrabulous is the single most popular feature on Facebook (so Facebook has a reason to keep it alive) and it has caused a spike in sales of the Scrabble board game (so Hasbro benefits from having them around).

In the meantime, though, it looks like my life just got waaaaaay more productive.

UPDATE: Here's another article that's a bit more detailed.


To bide the time while I'm potentially away, here's a really fun short film about Scrabble. Thanks to Geoff Brock for the link!

Countdown to Homefulness--3 Days Left

There may be a brief blogular silence as I travel a bit...


Monday, July 28, 2008

It Would Almost Be a Palindrome...

If it weren't for the damn X. Wordplay caught in the wild, which chain I will be leaving behind tomorrow.


Countdown to Homefulness--4 Days Left

(Germantown, NY)--Halfway there! Tomorrow I'll be in Jersey City, staying once more with my kind and patient friend Tracy. So if tomorrow's countdown has a different dateline, that's why.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Countdown to Homefulness--5 Days Left

I just discovered that my apartment technically becomes available on the same day as the first total eclipse of the sun in two years. I suppose some would see this as a baleful omen. I'm choosing to see it as a symbol of the day I get my superpowers.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Death of a Wafer

P. Z. Myers of Pharyngula has just desecrated a consecrated wafer--which is, according to Catholic theology, the actual body of Jesus. In writing about it, he has produced, not the snarky fuck-you I was expecting, but a truly worthwhile post on the nature of evil and religion. Go check it out.

Bar Napkin Cartoon 59


Countdown to Homefulness--6 Days Left

Don't get wedded to this number: the countdown date is actually being negotiated as we speak (and wait for an email from the landlord).

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Few Notes on Thinkiness and Astrology

A few nights ago I went with a female friend of mine to an art-discussion salon that was being held in Troy, New York. The speakers were as follows:

* a landscape designer who talked about the conflict between using "native" and "exotic" plants (the exotic plants often escape and start taking over the countryside from the natives), and the ways in which mythology sometimes influences the "nativist" plant movement (since some of our native plants began life as exotics themselves).

*a dancer who stood in the middle of the room and fell over. Then she dragged a chair over, stood on it, and fell to the floor again. She then bent over with the chair on her back (like she was sitting at a 90-degree angle) and walked around, saying, "I want you all to close your eyes, then open them and notice what you're seeing." She fell over, then she climbed up on the nearest table, facing the wall. She spread out her arms. "Because there's a difference between seeing and perceiving. Do you know what I mean? Are there any questions?" It went on like that for several minutes.

* a guy who refurbishes old houses and who talked about the difference between commerce and art and the way that his own artistic muse has grown in size (he used to just make furniture; now he redoes entire floors).

On the way home--it was an hour drive--my friend said, "Well, I got a little bit out of it," and I said, "Yeah, except for that dancer. What self-indulgent bullshit! She had no idea what the fuck she was doing." And my friend said, "Really? That's the only part of the whole evening that made sense to me."

I realized then that I was in the presence of a non-thinker. I mean that in as nonpejorative a sense as I can manage. Because if I learned anything while writing my sample chapters for How to Love God Without Being a Jerk, it's that there's definitely such a thing as thinking too much. And to a certain extent, the contempt that some more activist atheists have for religion in general--not just bad religion and bad religious people, but for all religion of any sort--stems, I think, from the same sort of cultural bafflement that makes evangelicals hostile to homosexuals: "How can those people even think that way? I can't make any sense of it."

I'm obviously an extremely thinky person myself. So while I'm aware that there's a limit to what pure rationality can do for us, I'm still trying to work out the exact shape of those limits; where they fall and why they're important; what's so damned great about intuition and myth, etc.

The example I keep coming back to is astrology. By any sensible measure--that is, if you tested astrology the way you'd test the statements of a person running for President--astrology is utterly worthless on every conceivable level. To assassinate the concept in a single sentence: Astrology posits that our personality is shaped by the constellations we're born under, even though those constellations aren't even in the sky when we're born anymore (the earth has slowed since the Middle Ages), and the constellations--which of course aren't a group of stars near each other but just stars that appear to be together from our angle--allegedly produce character traits based, not on the stars, but on what someone once thought the stars looked like (so Taurus means you're "bull-headed," Libra means you're into balance, etc.), which means that a different culture with different myths and different names for those same constellations would technically have a completely different read on people; and what about the Chinese Zodiac, anyway?

It is, in short, all so completely made up and bogus that you'd be better off just saying, "Sheila is anal and a compulsive talker" than saying, "Sheila is anal and chatty; that's just so Virgo of her!" Because it really really really really isn't Virgo of her, and never has been, and has never made a single lick of sense. I don't even mean it's not scientific. I mean that not even common sense applies here; astrology is held to a lower standard than we ask of advertisements.

And yet, broadly speaking, women are drawn to astrology. That's sociological fact: Women make up 80% of the consumers of astrology magazines, and that's why you find astrology columns in Glamour and O, but not in Popular Mechanics or (if memory serves) Boys' Life. Women may not take it very seriously (I know few who plan their days around it, Nancy-Reagan-style), but a helluva lot seem to find it at least fun to think about, and it does inform the way many women talk of, and interpret, the world and the people in it.

As a fair-minded but very thinky person, this puts me in a dangerous situation: if rationalism really is the best way to go, then women, demographically speaking, are idiots. That's obviously very uncharitable, and flies in the face of another fact: I really love women. I have always preferred their company over men, and their wisdom and care have added immeasurably to my life. If I dismissed people out of hand for believing in astrology, my life would be quite impoverished.

So that leaves the question: what the hell makes people--including many people I love--think astrology is worth a second's thought? And after talking to my dance-loving friend the other night, I have reached this theory: astrology is a shared cultural myth--something like a religion with no theology and no demands--and by invoking astrology ("Steve is such a Taurus!"), its adherents are sharing in a community and giving their beliefs about someone's psychology a more profound anchor. Steve isn't just aggressive out of nowhere; it's a mythical aggressiveness that we believers have all seen before. So we can pool our wisdom to talk about it, even if you don't know Steve personally.

The proof of this, I think, is that although people use astrology to make general pronouncements ("Pisces are very peaceful people"), only rarely do they say things that are actually counter-intuitive. They wouldn't say, for example, "Although Julian is an abusive wife-beater, he's really a peaceful person because he's a Pisces." Instead they say something more like, "Although he's a Pisces, he must have been born with Jupiter in retrograde to be such a violent jerk as well." I haven't read the latest astrology magazines about the Presidential candidates, but I can hazard a guess: the stars tell us that Hillary is aggressive and ambitious, that McCain is experienced but has a temper, and that Obama is idealistic and open to possibilities. Call me psychic. Astrology never trumps common sense; it serves to explain it.

In other words, astrology is layered over everyday observations--observations that aren't even particularly interesting--in order to imbue them with greater meaning, even if that greater meaning isn't that much greater or taken that much more seriously. So the fact that half the population is inclined to this way of thinking suggests that there's value in it. It suggests a whole series of things that I'm trying to take to heart as well: that in many cases it may be more important to create community than to be exhaustively factual (something all storytellers know); that the impact of a belief may need to be weighed more than its provable accuracy (which we see all the time in discussions of life after death, where materialists have a particularly hard sell to make); and that a happy life may be the one that doesn't worry the details to death.

It still doesn't make sense to me, but of course that may be much of the point; we can survive the loss of more sense than hyperrational people (like me) think we can. I'm still learning.

Of course it may also be the case that we need all types of people, from the extremely impractical energy-invoking dancer types to the hard-edged, taxonomy-wielding lexicographers, and maybe even advising people to do something about it is the wrong approach. But at present I'm convinced that the extremes are not entirely healthy, and that it's better, if possible, to aim yourself toward the middle. Even if you can't get all the way there, some balance, and more of it, is better than none.


Countdown to Homefulness--7 Days Left

Ahem. It has been brought to my attention that July has 31 days, and since my apartment will be available on August 1st, I've been misnumbering my countdown. I apologize for any confusion that would have eventuated a week from now.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Midday Quiz Question

What do the following have in common: Monopoly, Columbus, Pinocchio, and a light bulb?

I'll give the answers when I'm good and ready.

LATER: Okay, I'm ready now. Answers in comments.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Countdown to Homefulness--8 (not 7) Days Left

(posted a trifle early so I don't have any distractions for tomorrow's more official writing)


When I’d the chance, right off the bat

I got a little Village flat

So if I ever bought a hat

I’d have a place to hang it.

In dreams, I’ve decked its every stat

From walls to bed to bathroom mat...

But I wake up and notice that

It’s still not mine yet. Dang it!

Labels: ,

Countdown to Homefulness: Day 9 (not 8)

My new place is going to be so small....(pause so you can chorus "How small is it?" Thanks.)'s so small that I'm going to be sleeping on a sofabed. For at least a full year. This means that I'll need a pretty damn comfortable sofabed, which means in turn that I'm not going to trust Ikea with my tender back for that long. I'm willing to spend extra to get something genuinely liveable.

So for those of you with actual sofabed or furniture-buying experience, I'm asking: where should I be looking, and how much is clearly too much to pay? I've ruled out used bedding (risk of bedbugs), but that's as far as I know how to go.


Groovy-Looking Dragonfly I Saw Yesterday

This may be the coolest insect I've seen in an environment that's been completely littered with insects. From a distance, the wings were almost completely transparent, so it just looked like this thing had little black rectangles hovering near it magically. I wish there were a way to look up bugs (and other things) from their description, but I assume identifying this fellow would take more time than I can justify. I'm calling it "Pretty Black and Blue Thingy."


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Countdown to Homefulness: Day 10 (Not 9)

Don't make me nervous. After I went through that company to get my apartment, and paid a whole year's rent in advance, my friend Tracy said, "Wow. They made you pay that all up front? I hope it's not a scam." She was joking. I immediately got petrified. Oh, sure, they'd shown me the place, and I'd signed what LOOKED like a lease (but was it really?), and it certainly APPEARED that they were a legitimate business with a bustling office on 23rd St. But how could I really know?

An advisor of mine said, "Ask for proof of something. If they're up to something, they'll start to act weird. That's how you know." So I asked for a receipt for my vast heart-stopping check, and the man said, "Okay. And here's my card." Very smooth. Perhaps...too smooth?

So I asked for the phone number of the landlady and the superintendent. "But the landlady is out of town for two weeks," they said. A likely story! But when I called, the phone rang and rang and rang...a fake number? The superintendent, it turns out, doesn't speak much English. I said, "I just want to confirm that an apartment I got last week--I think it's 1A or 1B?--is actually available and in my name." And he said, "What? You say apartment? Not 1A! We sold it this morning!" and hung up.

It gives me huge relief to report that the landlady really was on vacation. She answered the phone yesterday and said, "Dickerson? Yeah, your name's on the lease right here. You're out of town? Give me your number so we can call around the 30th about how to get you some keys."

Until this happened, I was literally avoiding spending any money on anything at all, for fear that I might been taken for $20,000 and would have to pull together the remainder of my ebbing bank account for some emergency backup apartment. Now I feel centered--and I'm confident enough to begin the countdown. Soon I will have a (tiny tiny tiny) place of my own! No more relying on the generosity of others! No more begging to borrow someone else' car to buy basic necessities! No more living way the hell out in the middle of nowhere! I mean, there have been good parts to my exile as well, but Jesus, am I ready to start living.

Which reminds me: one of the good parts about the exile is that I'm not paying Manhattan rates at movie theaters. Today's celebratory plans include Hellboy 2.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hitler Sings

This was just posted on Dan Savage's Slog weblog, and I had to repost it here. It's not only quite amusing, but amazingly well edited.

Great Moments in Scrabulish History

While I have a number of other things to celebrate that I'm afraid I can't publicly go into, I thought it wouldn't be fair to let one particular moment go by without commenting. Printed above is my friend Tracy's and my latest game of Scrabulish. As you can see, this game has been unusually dense and, consequently, high-scoring. Even an 8-point word like UEPEIO--defined as, "In classical rhetoric, the term for an argument that says, 'I know you are but what am I?'"--scored 63 points here because it also formed EJEU, OUIE, PNNP, IOGE, VERI, and IDAO--which last is an adjective for "the posture of someone about to sit gingerly, as 'Dad posed idao above the wicker chair.'"

But even in this game, miracles can happen, and Tracy's latest move was breathtaking. If you look along the bottom you can see where she just played THUURKAX ("n. The clavicle.") on a triple-triple for a heart-stopping 248 points! By contrast, even GONURSEOPIVIASE (Which is a form of OPIVIA--that is, the delusion that just because you've finished writing a book, you're bulletproof--where the sufferer actually gets shot and refuses medical treatment; also called SURGEONOPVIASE) was worth a mere 116. Take a bow, Tracy! This is a great day for the world.

AFTERNOTE: I can't resist pointing out the beauty of Tracy's JUNOED ("v. and adj. Duped into thinking teen pregnancy is awesome") and my own UEPEIOI ("n. The bead on an abacus that represents the bazillions place"). Moments like these are what make the game worth playing.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Six Nuns and a Shotgun: A Dave Fun Quiz

I was at a consignment shop in Jersey City this past weekend, and I could have gotten this...

Or this...

But instead, for a mere $2.50, I got this:

I bought it, as you might expect, for the title, which has to be one of the best I've ever seen. But as it turns out, the book is actually quite amusingly written--a sort of British drawing-room murder mystery (from 1974) where all the different classes clash with each other and say withering things over poisoned sherry. No nuns so far--just a telegram promising them--but there's been plenty to hold my interest, and I have no doubt the nuns, and the shotgun, will appear in a few chapters. The author clearly knows his business.

I immediately hunted down more information, but this fan article is all I've found--which is nice, but hardly answers all my questions. If anyone knows more about this guy, let me know. He seems like a kindred spirit.

The mere title alone has inspired me to write a book of my own with a similar title, out of homage. (I tend to start with titles.) But when I do something like this, I like to make sure I maximize its wordplay potential. This title in particular looks ripe for a letter bank. Even without a number, for example, NUNS AND A SHOTGUN reduce down to STAGHOUND-- a move from 15 letters to 9, which is quite respectable. But SIX NUNS AND A SHOTGUN add an I and an X to the mix and produces nothing at all, letter-bankwise.

My question is this: What number, between zero and one hundred, is the best number of nuns for my book if I want it to have the most impressive letter-bank possibilities?

The answer is in comments. It is, however, not for the squeamish.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More New Yorker Criticism

While I'm trashing the New Yorker, I just wanted to add that this morning's random daily cartoon from the Cartoon Bank is probably one of the worst things I've ever seen. I'm sure Soglow did better work, but in the face of this suckiness I can't remember any happier examples.

The Obama New Yorker cover

For the record, I don't like it, mostly because it's bad satire. They either got the wrong artist to do it (something more caricaturey and frightening would have worked; Drew Friedman would have been perfect), or their imagination failed them, since the cover merely repeats existing tropes rather than taking them anywhere new or interesting. In any event, it's a badly deployed joke, which is an annoyance to everyone.

This comes on the tail of this interesting New York Times article about how difficult it is to make jokes about Obama. The overall point is, "He doesn't have any flaws or buffoonlike characteristics." This is true to an extent. It's certainly a million times easier to make fun of Bush or Cheney or any of a hundred politicians who blurt stupid or insane things every time they open their mouths, or to make fun of smart politicians (like Bill Clinton back in the day) by focusing on their physical or cultural traits (like Bill's redneck background, his overeating, or his skirt-chasing tendencies).

But the New York Times article does the Daily Show a disservice, because despite their quotes to the contrary, they've gotten the right Obama take from the beginning: their joke is that he's the Messiah. He walks on water. He can heal the blind. It's hilarious. Obama himself said in one of his early TDS appearances, "Jon, the only person who is more overrated than you."

The reason you can't make fun of his blackness, it seems to me, is precisely that there's not enough discernible blackness (at least in terms of cultural signifiers) to register as caricaturable. If he wore the occasional dashiki or if Michelle wore her hair in a natural, there'd be something to work with. But Barack's blackness has more to do with his background than anything relating to his present identity. It'd be like making fun of Ted Kennedy for being Irish.

Humor comes from using alternate logic; another way of seeing things that makes internal sense one way while being absurd in another. When I heard Rush Limbaugh's song "Barack, the Magic Negro," the main problem with it (aside from its attempt to turn Jesse Jackson into Stepin Fetchit) is that it didn't even get the target right. You can't make fun of Barack by saying, "Barack is black and black people have bad grammar and listen to rap." It's too much of a leap to make, and only a blinkered racist like Limbaugh could make it.

The way you make fun of Obama is to say, "He's too good to be true; he's so nice he'll get us all killed; he's an arrogant prick whose shit doesn't stink." These are images that actually fit with the guy we've all seen, which is why this cartoon works as an Obama slam. It even makes fun of his ears.

Anyway, this is the best article I've read about the Obama New Yorker cover. It's short but punchy. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Woman At The Used Clothing Store Forgot My Name


Friday, July 11, 2008

Crazy-Ass Conspiracy Car

Parked near the Grove Street PATH station. I can't help but think this will hurt its resale value.


Also, Try Punching the Kidneys

I'm in New York City for the apartment hunt (and, since it's done, I'm heading back today), but I'm staying at my friend Tracy's place, and one of the joys of staying at her apartment is the array of consistently hilarious weirdnesses she has hanging everywhere. This, for example, is a French poster about artificial respiration techniques--a real poster!--from a time when they didn't know that all of this advice was horribly, horribly wrong. (The middle bottom frame is particularly priceless: a guy's choking and you need to get some rope and find a seesaw to lash him to?) I don't know where my friend finds all this stuff, but I want her vision.

If you're interested in reading the French text, clicking on the photo should enlarge it enough to make it legible. Please note that the word at the bottom right is "panis" (which I guess means 'device' or something), not "penis."


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Let The Buyer's Remorse Begin

I seem to have an apartment in New York now. It's a complicated thing: I'm making just enough money that, rather than being forced to take anything I could get, I was forced to make some interesting decisions. Essentially, I had to balance out some sort of calculus between living alone/having roommates, being in a cool place/being remote, and having a large place/having a tiny one. I could get any two of them, but not all three.

I canvassed my friends (especially the women) and the loudest cry was "no roommates!" (My friend Briallen said "no roommates after thirty," but I think she hasn't accounted for the New York economy; most of my friends are in their thirties and have roommates, and it doesn't raise any eyebrows. So I'd amend it to "no roommates after forty." Which still makes it a relevant decision.) This left me with the choice: 1-bedroom in the 100s and up, or studio somewhere closer to midtown? Since I've spent my last three years in New York above 150th and taking 45-minute subway rides, I thought, "Why not do something different this time?"

So I have a very tiny place of my very own, in one of the coolest neighborhoods in New York: Alphabet City (which you can sort of think of as "The part of the East Village that actually gets subway service"), around 12th and Avenue A. The apartment is laughably dinky, but I do most of my writing in bars anyway--and it's definitely bigger than the place I lived in up at 157th. The chief advantage, to my mind, is that I'm right near the L train at 14th, which is unique in that it goes all across both Manhattan and Brooklyn in a straight line--meaning that I can get pretty much anywhere starting with the L and then taking whatever else intersects with it. I'm near a park, and I'm a quick drunken stumble away from Doc Holliday's, my favorite bar in the area. Throw in 24-hour bodegas, a laundry right next door, and a whole host of shops on St. Martin's (that's what they call 8th, for some reason), and I stand to be a very happy guy--even if it looks like I'll be sleeping on a convertible sofa.

So that's settled. I move in August 1st. Now I can finish up my book, and then get back to regular blogging. Thank goodness--looking on Craigslist for newly-available apartments is as cracklike as checking email; there's always a new listing if you've been away for an hour. Today I have my life back.


Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Honorable Gentleman Can Start Rotting Already

Jesse Helms has died, which reminds me that a friend of mine at Hallmark actually kept a bottle of champagne ready to celebrate with in just such an event. So drink up, Mark! You've had to wait at least ten years longer than anyone had a right to expect.

I was going to add a note or two about how, despite my general optimism, you have to admit that some people really don't have redeeming qualities. But really, this post from Dan Savage, which gives a rundown of Mr. Helms's unrepentantly odious career, is all anyone needs to read about the guy.


Friday, July 04, 2008


I've been complaining about being in the boonies, because despite what E. O. Wilson says about biophilia (i.e., that we are evolutionarily wired to need connection with nature as part of a happy life), I'm basically a city mouse, and could live quite happily taking the subway to the library and back, with occasional forays into the odd museum or planetarium. Sunlight is optional; I'm part troll. The subway, in fact, along with skyscrapers and the lights of Times Square, feel like all the magic my life needs. But if I had to live someplace truly rural, I now know about one definite spiritual advantage which my friend's country house has in abundance: fireflies.

When I took a class in The Sociology of Religion with Andrew Greeley, at one point he gave us a list of experiences that people are most likely to identify as "religious." These experiences included:

1.) being on a mountaintop
2.) looking out over the ocean
3.) staring into the night sky
4.) being present at a birth
5.) engaging in powerfully moving sex
6.) certain drug trips

Of course, many people would add their own favorites to the list (hearing a great concert, dancing with strangers, and of course some people have what you might call "pure" spiritual experiences that aren't mediated by anything in the world around them). To my own list, I would now add "watching fireflies at night." I grew up in Tucson, where fireflies don't exist, and when I lived in Kansas City and Tallahassee, I lived in urban environments and never saw them. But out in the country they're out in staggering force.

It's frustrating to talk about because even as I've seen them in the evenings around the house, I despair of communicating what it's like. Their lights are too dim to really be captured by an over-the-counter camera. So I have to rely on my own words, which are always weak in the presence of something so ineffable.

I think I can explain it, though. All the of items 1 through 6 are experiences of feeling suddenly very small, and in the presence of something profound--something huge and meaningful that would be even terrifying if it didn't also seem beautiful. The fireflies are like that: they come out for a few weeks in the summer and communicate in a dance of winking lights--a mating ritual. So there's something already beautiful in the fact that what we're watching is a conversation about sexual connection; it's predicated on what humans think of as love.

What's most startling is how they transform the landscape. The first night I walked out and noticed them, the sun was down, and the cornfield was flooded with them as far as I could see. They hung low over the footpath; they moved high in the trees. Literally everywhere you looked there seemed to be a potential spark--if not now, then maybe next second, or the next. It forces you to notice everything.

And when you see that many of them, blinking and floating, your eye naturally draws lines--just like when alternating lights blink in a circle it looks like the circle is moving, so in this field it looks like lights are streaking this way and that in riot of stuttering indecision. When it's dark, you can't even tell how far away any of the lights are, so your very perspective is thrown off balance. And the light you just saw blinking has moved a little the next time you see it--up or down, left or right. They wander hopefully. In a final moving touch, they are silent--utterly silent. So I stepped out of the car and simply saw the fields and trees quietly pulsating in some mysterious network, and when I strained my senses, all I could hear was the chirp of distant frogs. After staring at it for ten or fifteen minutes, I looked up and saw the moon--this fierce wedge of brightness that was so blunt and stationary it seemed almost obscene.

Two days later around noon I was walking near these same high stalks of corn and startled a deer, which bounded high and away, showing its head every few steps. That was startling, but it wasn't as moving as watching the fireflies hovering over that same cornfield. I think what was missing was the connection--this sense of being a witness at a fairy conversation that is both completely meaningful and completely unfathomable. Faced with that profundity, a stray thought like "Hey, look! A deer!" really can't compete.

I tried to find clips on YouTube, but the one I've just posted is is the best I could find: the fireflies are sparse, and I could do without the music, but you do get a sense of the flies' weird movements, and how they make the entire landscape look random and how they can baffle your perspective. It's funny--if you look at that list of religious experiences, humans have invented gods for every one of them: mountain gods, sky gods, ocean gods, and so on. And yet as far as I know, humans have never thought to worship fireflies. I don't know how we missed that opportunity.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008


I'm not supposed to blog in detail about my book-in-progress, but I just want to say this: I'm free to blog a little more often now, but first I'm going to take a long nap. And possibly another vacation into the city. Zzzzzzz....

The QUESTIONS for the Horror or Western Trivia Quiz...

Since the Facebook Quiz function has more limitations than I thought (I thought I could get it to direct people to my blog for explanation, but no such luck), here's what the quiz is. The answers are here, in the Comments to the previous post.

Below is a list of 11 classic film stars, many of whom went out on rather minor notes. Each of these performers' last films was either a horror film or a western. Can you guess which is which?

(I'm referring to major US theatrical releases, and in every case the performer is listed in the credits.)

1. John Wayne
2. Marilyn Monroe
3. Joan Crawford
4. Bette Davis
5. Veronica Lake
6. Robert Mitchum
7. Jean Arthur
8. Fred Astaire
9. Rita Hayworth
10. Barbara Stanwyck
11. Jimmy Stewart

Labels: ,