Friday, October 31, 2003

i received my second piece of handwritten mail in a week. so, i've been all smiles. this time, it was a great cd that robin made. she had this idea for a theme compilation where all the tracks had names of cities in them. she even asked volunteers to send in suggestions for tracks. i like to think i had a small part in its creation since i see that she used the aislers set's chicago new york which i suggested; though, i suppose she may have thought of it before i sent it.

i decided to make a cd last night, too. as a thank you, i'll be mailing it to robin soon. the title of every track on the cd is a question, so i guess that's my theme. one of the songs has swear-words in it, but i hope that's ok. here's the track list:

the zombies- what more can i do
talulah gosh- do you remember
the aislers set- why baby
dennis driscoll- where did we go wrong
belle and sebastian- is it wicked not to care
nick drake- which will
django reinhardt- ou es-tu, mon amour
fats waller- where is the sun
louis jordan- what's the use of getting sober (when you're gonna get drunk again)?
dean martin- ain't that a kick in the head
fats domino- ain't that a shame
james brown- why do you do me
patsy cline- who can i count on
hank williams- why don't you love me
stanley brothers- have you someone (in heaven waiting)
roy ayers- can't you see me
de la soul- can u keep a secret
a tribe called quest- can i kick it
public enemy- caught can i get a witness
ice cube- what they hittin foe
dj shadow- what does your soul look like (part 1)
hunch- is this the place
bee gees- how deep is your love

if you want to trade for a copy, leave a comment or email me your address.

last seen: badlands
last heard: the cd robin sent
last read: Describing the hunt for a Somali warlord last January, Boykin said, "I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."

Thursday, October 30, 2003

in eighth grade, mike williams was my best friend. some things we used to do were: skateboard, mow lawns, and take pulls from his dad’s canadian club whiskey. if my mom is reading this, mike and i didn’t drink whiskey very often, only when we were mowing the lawns and never on school days because that would be wrong.

mike had a swatch phone. it wasn’t pink like in that picture though. we would call girls for each other and silently listen to the conversations on the cradle of the swatch phone. we were sly. i'm sure no one else ever did that with their swatch phone.

mike also had two pellet guns, one was a rifle and i paid him twenty dollars for it. it looked like a real rifle, except for when you had to pump the thing before firing, then it looked nothing like a rifle. how i convinced my mother to let me keep a gun in the house, even a pellet gun, still amazes me. we would shoot at cans and tree stumps, but never at birds or each other. this kid who lived up the block had a crossbow. crossbows are rad.

the next year was ninth grade. one day, right before first period, i held a real handgun for the first and only time in my life. this kid, matt, had brought it to school. i don’t remember why. i think some kids threatened to beat him up. he handed me his bookbag because i wanted to see the gun. i put my hand down into the bag and closed my fist around the butt of the pistol, anxious to feel the weight of it. i felt powerful and sick all at the same time.

last seen: joe
last heard: simon and garfunkel 'at the zoo'
last read: ...maybe my facts could be discounted and I could be called a liar as well. But I don't give a shit, because at least I am hot. I know I may not be traditionally pretty, but playas line up around the block to make some time with me, and they aren't even getting it right then. The line is just for the wristband, yo.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

after i lived on fifth street for a year, the landlords bolted shiny, gold mailboxes to the front of our building. there are four of them. mailboxes, not landlords. they look nice at this time of year contrasted, as they are, against the fall leaves which lie scattered in our yard. i walk out most days, grab the tiny round door pull on the mailbox, and lift out handfuls of paper. usually, there are bills or magazines. every few days, there are sheets of glossy coupons or one of those handbills- one side an invitation to get my tires rotated and the other side crammed with frightening, have you seen me lately?, age-progressed, missing kid photographs. it is rare that i peek into the little gold box and see actual human handwriting. my stomach always jumps around a little bit when i do. yesterday, there was a thank you note. the audrey hepburn postage stamp made me smile. i didn’t think people actually wrote thank you notes anymore.

last heard: the aislers set 'languor in the balcony'
last read: Elbert and his wife, Alice, were among the fatalities onboard the Lusitania.
bonus: one of my great finds on our trip to raleigh was a stack of hatch show postcards. if you’ve never heard of them, go read this.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

it really is 3am. thankfully, i do not have to work until noon. michael and i spent monday in the triangle-- our afternoon with tom trawling used bookshops in raleigh and our evening at the belle and sebastian show in durham. i had to drive to atlanta to see them last year, so i was just happy that they visited my home state on this tour. the carolina theatre was a new venue for me and it was beautiful.

i was pleasantly surprised to see robin at the show. she’s already written a great review of the evening which you really should read (and not just because she says nice things about me). the only highlights i would add to her list are: stevie jackson played oh susannah on his harmonica and parking at the venue was inexpensive and convenient.

the ride home was fine and went by quickly. i was a good passenger. i stayed up for the whole two-and-a-half hour ride back to charlotte thanks, mostly, to pre-packaged baked goods purchased at the gas station and loud sing-alongs to the smiths.

last heard: dear nora 'number twelve'
last read: those of us born since The Graduate – and who now swoon over the films of Wes Anderson – have a different relationship to music than our parents, or even our older brothers and sisters. For us, music is omnipresent. A wall-to-wall soundtrack.

Monday, October 27, 2003

i know that I don’t have 30 published novels and I haven’t won the national book award or been shortlisted for the pulitzer, so i should probably just shut up, but i had to mention that i nodded off twice during joyce carol oates’ lecture on saturday. don’t tell anyone. it wasn’t my fault really. what she would do is pick a three-line poem about capitalism or gender inequality or mike tyson and instead of just reading it, she would break down each line and pontificate about the topic for ten minutes in a very i’m-an-undergraduate-student-let-me-talk-to-you-about-world-problems-that-i’m-just-discovering kind of way. by the time she actually read the poem, it was anti-climactic. i mean she seemed like a swell lady, but public speaking and her were not friends on the night of october 25th.

sunday afternoon, i volunteered at the npr pledge drive. it was my third for WFAE. since i was an old pro, they stuck me on phone #1, the busiest spot in pledge central. one of my calls was from a woman donating 500 bucks. holy moley, i thought, i wish i was in a position to do that. instead, i just answer phones since i’m too poor to donate any real money.

nerdy sidebar: some of the station personalities would float in and out of the room while we were taking calls. after i finished with one pledge, a couple of staff members who had been standing nearby said that my voice reminded them of ira glass' voice. i felt ten feet tall which is great since that is about six feet taller than my actual height.

last seen: bend it like beckham, kill bill
last heard: the decemberists castaways and cutouts
last read: The desks with computers on them are built in to the former frames of the card catalogue.

Friday, October 24, 2003

it is 11:40 on friday night and i am so punk rock that i just woke up from a five hour nap. i’ll probably be awake all night now, but, at least, it doesn’t feel like someone is pushing my eyes out from inside my skull anymore.

what happened was, i had to switch over-the-counter allergy medicines. i never change something like that because i want to, it is usually because they stop making it or the stores i frequent stop carrying the item. i am pretty brand loyal with most of the things i buy. well, last week, i went shopping and i couldn’t find my medicine anywhere. maybe they found out it causes brain tumors or something. so i was forced to buy something new and today was the first day i had to use it.

this afternoon, i started to get that dull throb in my head and, by the time i was driving home, the pressure had built to the point that the setting sun hurt my eyes, i was getting nauseous, and i could see the veins on my temples pulsating. usually a very hot shower helps with my headaches, so that was the first thing i did when i walked in the door. no dice. i tried to go to sleep. when i woke up an hour later, my head was still pounding. i started to wonder if maybe it wasn’t allergies and maybe pain medicine would help.

it was either last christmas or the one before that i got a tiny first aid kit in my christmas goodie bag from connie, michael’s mom. i remembered that it contained a little paper envelope with two acetaminophen tablets in it. i took those and went back to sleep.

a few hours later (and a couple of minutes ago), i could feel myself waking up. i scrunched my eyes thinking that i’d merely woken up a few seconds before the headache did and i braced myself for it to wake up, too. thankfully, it never did.

dear connie, i love you.

last heard: stereolab 'nothing to do with me'
last read: chuck palahniuk’s fugitives and refugees
reading: larry brown’s father and son [re-reading for book club]
bonus: i didn’t know where else to put this but, this morning, when i woke up, i was dreaming that i owned a bike shop called hey! hey! action bikes. isn’t that the coolest name for a bike shop?

Thursday, October 23, 2003

in defense of the sweater vest

the first one was dark green wool, fat scratchy cables woven into a pattern of long channels that ran deep from my shoulders to my waist. it was several sizes too large. many of the things i wore at that time hung off of my frame, the green vest was no exception, shapeless as a housepainter’s dropcloth. i acquired vests slowly in regular shops, at the old saint vincent’s thrift, in the salvation army. they were comfortable and safe and familiar like mashed potatoes. if it were between the months of september and april and time to venture out of doors, i would eschew the light jacket in favor of the sweater vest.

the friends, they did not like the sweater vest. michael admitted, several years after i’d known him, that when i and my sweater vests started moonlighting at his bookstore in the fall of 1996, he thought i might be one of those boy-kissing types.

the ladies, they also did not like the sweater vest. many girlfriends said i love you, but i do not like the sweater vests OR that really is not a good look for you OR gross, get off me. well, that last one wasn’t so much about the vests. one girl finally convinced me that sweater vests and i should live separate lives.

the girl moved far away. we spoke on the phone a lot. we talked softly, like at confession. i told her that i’d gotten rid of all of my sweater vests which was mostly true. she sighed, a heavy successful sigh, like she was proud of me; a sigh after which, i knew i couldn’t tell her about the one i'd kept.

it was 41 degrees when i woke up this morning. i slipped an arm through the shower curtain and turned the knob. i waited there, naked, hopping from foot-to-foot on the cold slate floor, as the water heated up. later, i stood in my closet, looking up at the shelf of neatly folded sweaters, on the bottom of one stack was my last sweater vest. i pulled the charcoal goodness over my head, smoothed it over my pressed white shirt, and smiled.

last heard: sarah dougher 'girl in new orleans'
last read: rule of three

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

at a meeting today, we had an icebreaker. this sounds like a good idea in theory but i’m starting to realize that i kind of hate them. for one, they are contrived. i can almost picture someone reading a book on how to conduct a meeting. step 1: say your name, then in a really formal looking, maybe even bolded, font step 2: open with an icebreaker--asking the crowd to share a part of their personal life leads to greater cohesion in the group. i’m sure the word dynamic would appear somewhere in the line before or after that one and that the word icebreaker itself would be written using a zany script or formed by ice blocks.

honestly, forced sharing really isn’t sharing, is it?

then there is the whole question of our responses. i see two camps here: the folks who go with the arcane answer in an attempt to come off as more clever or interesting than they are in real life and, then there is other group. admittedly, they are far more honest than the first group, but they usually give no thought at all to the exercise and share nothing of themselves. for example, at one meeting a few months ago, several librarians admitted to, get this, enjoying reading in their free time. you don’t say?

it seems to me the purpose of such an exercise is to humanize the people across the table, make us understand that the folks we are about to discuss our budget/website redesign/under-handed machiavellian schemes with are people, too. it would be great if people actually shared, but, since they don't, i hereby decree the icebreaker to be a sham. now, my minions, bring me the heads of zig ziglar and that seven habits guy.

last seen: a woman under the influence
last heard: tom waits 'better off without a wife'
last read: a partner in a hollow marriage who collected mistresses as avidly as he collected art

Monday, October 20, 2003

when i was in my middle teens, i would wake in the dewy morn and shellac my hair with stu-stu-studio line products. the hair would sit atop my head, rigid and unnatural, like a wavy brown helmet. i waited for the bus most mornings. in some far-off ditch, gnat scouts on the ground would pick up the scent and radio to gnats in the air who would assemble and swarm in a dotty black cloud around my head. only when the yellow school bus doors folded shut behind me was i completely safe. every moment before that was an intricate dance, a bob and a weave, constant motion, like i was the host during some kind of junior-high cocktail hour, moving from group to group, talking to everyone. i wasn’t even a social kid, i just hated gnats.

years had passed since i thought about the gnats and their wily cloud-makin’ ways, but my non-gnat world came crashing down on sunday evening. i was in the middle of a particularly tense round of putt-putt golf. each time we arrived at a new hole, there were a fresh swarm of gnats waiting for us. first, i thought, this is just like junior high school, then, i thought, i don’t have hair care products...or, even, hair.

for all i knew, the gnats were planted, part of some clever ruse to throw me off my game, or, at least, to get me wondering whether ruses are ever anything but clever. in any case, i completed the 18 holes and managed to get two hole-in-ones. it wasn’t until much later that the gnat thing started to really bother me.

[editor’s note- here is a partial list of things that happened to me since friday which i chose not to write about in order to bring you the preceding tale of gnats and woe: i met neil gaiman. i ate cuban food with jen. i got a sore back from loading and unloading couches onto a pickup truck. i ate ice cream with peanut butter chunks added to it. mark and i went to donate blood at the red cross and decided to race to see who could fill their bag with blood quicker; we started at different times, but mark thinks i won because huey lewis was playing on the radio and that made me bleed faster. i attended a graphic novel selection team meeting at work where i heard a fellow librarian say yeah, when one character pees into another character’s mouth, it is no longer a young adult title.]

last seen: 24 hour party people
last heard: the magnetic fields 'kiss me like you mean it'
last read: The American people should understand that we provide more foreign aid for Iraq in this bill, $20.3 billion, than we provide for the rest of the entire world.

Friday, October 17, 2003

i’ve been whining to friends and family about how busy my schedule looks in the coming days. true, several projects at work are due and there are meetings aplenty, but i also get to attend a small meet-and-greet with neil gaiman tomorrow (before i rip tickets at his big lecture) and i just spent the better part of my afternoon, on the couch, watching a two-and-a-half hour documentary while the rest of you were at work. so, i should probably shut up with the whining, right?

my last few posts have been large, unwieldy things; therefore, i’ve decided to be brief and just share a list. the documentary that i watched, a decade under the influence, was one of the last things ted demme ever worked on. it was a three-parter on 1970s american cinema that he did for the independent film channel. the interviews were great and, best of all, the many directors were continually name-dropping people and films that were influential to their work. i scribbled while i watched.

some of these things are obvious, others less so. some i’ve seen, others i have not. some things are probably misspelled. i left out star wars.

now neither of us will leave the video store empty-handed before next spring.

godard. truffaut. renoir. malle. bunuel. bergman. visconti. rossellini. kurosawa. fellini. de sica. bertolucci. antonioni. cassavetes. friedkin. bogdanovich. malick. lumet. faces. shadows. a woman under the influence. the wild angels. the trip. blowup. targets. five easy pieces. dog day afternoon. network. the conversation. two lane blacktop. lenny. mean streets. joe. hi mom. the landlord. the last detail. the panic in needle park. scarecrow. dirty harry. catch 22. the hospital. smile. the last picture show. the rain people. you’re a big boy now. mccabe and mrs. miller. the long goodbye. images. straight time. amarcord. the damned. thunderbolt and lightfoot. badlands. exorcist. who’s that knockin’ at my door. the king of marvin gardens. carnal knowledge. a touch of class. young frankenstein. alice doesn’t live here anymore. an unmarried woman. klute. they don’t shoot horses, do they? all the president’s men. shampoo. coming home. being there.

last seen: a decade under the influence
last heard: club 8 'baby, i’m not sure if this is love'
last read: All in all, the petition was signed by over 85 people, all in the employ of NPR.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

over a year ago, i decided that there was this thing that i needed. it will sound kind of hokey to you but, if you laugh, i'll punch you in the stomach. what i needed was some kind of group where people could meet and use literature to get at bigger issues. a small minority of people read and here i was expecting them to talk and share, too? i’m a dork, i know. i thought it would make me feel like i was part of a real community in the middle of my disjointed, fast-paced, and, increasingly, electronically-mediated environment (...he said, as he typed in his weblog).

the thing is i couldn’t find a book club like that. i found book clubs for mystery readers and moms and black women. i was not even one of those things. so, i decided that i had to start a book club myself. all of the other librarians were telling me that it wouldn't work and people wouldn't come because no one wanted to read the books that i told them that i wanted to read. as a lifelong not-outgoing-type person, having to be the self-imposed leader of something (that people were already telling me was doomed to failure) was kind of a big deal. i decided to be brave and try it anyway.

the way i pictured it, the conversations would be organic; people would uncover themes and share things from their own lives when they saw parallels or shout when they saw no parallels at all. in the end, i thought, we’d all feel warm and wonderful having shared for two hours every third-wednesday of the month. it would be kind of like therapy but with books. yes, i’ve heard of bibliotherapy and i know i’m not breaking new ground here. the thing is it actually works. people who come month after month stay and talk to me about it. they say how much they like it and how good it makes them feel. after those whispered-afterwards talks, i’m sure of two things: i’m helping folks and i have the right job.

tonight, we talked about the book, man walks into a room. it is about a columbia university english professor named samson greene who is found aimlessly wandering the nevada desert. doctors discover a cherry-sized tumor in his brain. the operation to remove it results in a memory loss. he can remember his childhood until age 12 and he is still able to build new memories, but the middle part of his life is wiped completely away. he doesn’t remember his wife, his job, his friends, nothing. it wasn’t the greatest book but that’s the point, it was enough to start us on two hours worth of quality discussion.

topics of conversation, bits of criticism, and things overheard: what is the importance of empathy? how close can two people really get to each other? what are the possibilities and limits of human relationships? how are books instruments in reaching empathy? what is the necessity of memory? how important is individual memory versus collective memory? by rejecting others are we not rejecting a part of ourselves? does literature keep memory alive? can reading be seen as an active exercise to develop empathy and compassion? without compassion does the suffering of others become irrelevant to us? how do we construct identity? what is the nature of identity? what role do other people serve in the construction of individual identity? to what extent are long-term relationships, like marriages, reliant upon habit?

...have i mentioned i love my book club?

last seen: naqoyqatsi
last heard: belle and sebastian 'lord anthony'
last read: nicole krauss man walks into a room
reading: chuck palahniuk fugitives and refugees: a walk in portland, oregon [excerpt]

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

chatting with ed last night, we stumbled upon the topic of bikes and how i want one. i want this one.

the first real (read: not huffy) bike that i ever owned, i bought the year before grad school. a former boss at the library knew a guy who owned a bike shop. she said he was going out of business and gave me his number. the next week, i called him and got directions to his shop. when i arrived, there were large sheets of butcher paper taped to the front windows and, when i knocked, no one answered. the parking lot was completely empty. a man in a pickup truck pulled into the driveway and shook my hand. he unlocked the store and we walked in.

the place was completely gutted. all that remained, besides some bolts and screws scattered around on the floor, were about ten bikes leaning up against the wall. i told him that i was just starting out but that my girlfriend had a mind to get me out on some singletrack. ever the salesman, he told me in a convincing tone, that he had the perfect thing. it turned out he did.

i left with a very-utilitarian, specialzed hard rock for several hundred dollars under list price. she was maroon with blue decals and i loved her. i ate so many bugs while riding that bike. i almost separated my shoulder. i wore mud home like a badge hoping that we’d have to stop off on an errand or something. after many a saturday ride, the girl and i would stand in the front yard with the hose and take turns reenacting the prison shower scene from first blood. those were good times.

i took her with me when i moved to chapel hill. the bike, not the girl. thanks to a contact back in charlotte, there was a job waiting for me. i became a bike messenger for the carolina population center library. they had devised this courier service whereby professors would submit citations for articles on little yellow half-sheets of paper. a clerk would then figure out which ones she had to order through interlibrary loan and which ones were available in print at one of the many libraries on campus. everything in this second stack found its way to my in-box. i would arrive at 8am, spend the first two hours of my day riding around campus armed with copier-cards and the second two hours of my day distributing the articles to each professor’s office.

some professors, the nice ones, were reasonable. they only asked for a few articles per day or, at least, some number that you could imagine a normal person reading in one day. other professors were like that one family of bad tippers and untucked shirts who comes into the restaurant on all-you-can-eat night and asks for plate after plate and never finishes anything. they keep asking for more butterscotch pudding and shrimp cocktail because they don’t have to pay for it...but i digress.

it was nice getting paid to workout which is essentially what i did. i rode my bike, climbed the stairs in davis or the health sciences library, and spent several months getting down to my fight weight. just before i moved to wichita, i bequeathed the bike to michael. i thought i would upgrade when i got out west, but it never happened. now i want a bike again. i want this bike.

last heard: heavenly 'ben sherman'
last read: It's an approach that may well reach and reflect a more diverse population than Second Wave feminism, which has so often been criticized for being primarily a middle-class, white women's cause.

Monday, October 13, 2003

scene: a cathartic, post-workday, walk avec myself. forty minutes have elapsed since i left the house. i even got to stand on an overpass the good son-style and watch cars.

[phone rings]

james: hello.

michael: my class must have been cancelled for columbus day because the campus is dead.

[...talking, talking...]

m: hey, wait a minute. james, are you walking down seventh street?

j: yeah. why? are you at the light? [turn around, spot michael’s car, and laugh] shit, man. [i continue walking and talking on the phone]

[...talking, talking...]
[the traffic signal turns green.]

m: hold on. i want to hear myself honk. [honks horn as his car passes me] HONK-HONK!!!

[both laugh]


last heard: yves montand 'rue st. vincent'
last read: It is understood that only those with the guns can establish “norms” and modify international law.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

sometimes i’m glad that i have a car, especially on the days when i can unfold my laminated map of north carolina, find a road out of charlotte that i’ve never been on before, and just wander into some unsuspecting town. i did that on saturday and ended up in lincolnton (pop. 9,965). the census says that there are two filipino people in lincolnton; my grandfather would have been proud because, on that day, i’d made it three. (reprazent, yo!)

the south is dotted with hundreds of towns like this. the kinds of places that have a courthouse at their center, a traffic circle, and just a few streets jutting off of it. michael lent me his digital camera which i carried in case inspiration struck. i only took one shot. it was a dance studio’s front window bursting with tacky golden trophies. the rest of the afternoon, i walked.

a used book store sat in an older building near the courthouse. its wooden floors bowed under the weight of swollen shelves. its ceiling was covered in pressed tin. books sat in stacks everywhere. on counters, on the floor. i had to sidestep through some of the aisles. i found a pristine hardcover cassell italian/english dictionary, a discard from their county library. it had the dust jacket and a plastic-clear cover.

the old man behind the counter started chatting me up as soon as i walked in. he seemed lonely. even if i was a few aisles away, he would just speak louder since i was the only person in the shop. i politely offered oh reallys and yeps and wows. he had one leg shorter than the other. the black sole on one of his shoes had been added on to. you could still tell that something wasn’t quite right when he walked. my grandmother had the same problem, though i don’t know what it was; i just remember the shoes.

he offered to knock a couple of bucks off the price of the dictionary. so, that, plus the leg thing, i felt obligated to let him bend my ear. the wood was a lighter color where i leaned on the counter from thousands of books and handfuls of money passed over its surface. we stood there, talking like that, for at least thirty minutes before i left.

on the way back, a chinese restaurant was advertising lobsteer and i imagined some kind of cow with giant claws.

last seen: the great escape, the stone reader, the life of david gale
last heard: cibo matto 'aguas de marco'
last read: Caroline? Caroline! Are you eating a tuna fish sandwich right now? Caroline? Because I can't understand what you're saying! Stop eating that tuna fish sandwich!

Friday, October 10, 2003

the twenty most interesting-sounding i am titles which i’ve never read but that i stumbled upon while helping a patron use the online catalog today

i am
i am a greek orthodox
i am a jesse white tumbler
i am because we are
i am becoming the woman i’ve wanted
i am cherry alive
i am eyes
i am going to switzerland
i am jackie chan
i am listening to istanbul
i am mindful of the day of judgement
i am not a short adult!
i am not esther
i am puppy, hear me yap
i am snowing
i am somebody!
i am spock
i am the darker brother
i am the only running footman
i am your man

last heard: all’s fair in love and chickfactor
last read: Young library school students: educate yourselves about,,,, Shockwave, and the Disney Channel. Prepare yourselves for the hordes upon hordes of goggle-eyed kids and adults looking for Lizzie McGuire and pictures of their incarcerated family members.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

see the rosy cheeks? the dimples? i am my usual cherubic self again. i know that a few of you were concerned after yesterday’s out-of-character post, an angsty frustrated rambling that you could read on a hundred other weblogs; we both know you don’t come here for that. no, you come here for the brotherly love and christian fellowship just like everyone else.

to what does he owe this return to sanity, you wonder. well, i think it was the much-needed by-myself time that i took after work today. no phone, no computer. just me and my book. i read seventy pages worth, sitting in a hardbacked chair, drinking my drink. every once in a while, i took a break from reading, breathed deeply, and just listened. two somali families sat at tables nearby. i eavesdropped on their conversations even though i couldn’t understand the language. instead, i listened to tones. the way they'd turn up at the ends of certain phrases, indicating questions. the only english came from the littlest girl who kept asking her mom for a glass of water.

on the way home, i peered into lit-up houses, envious. my apartment walls are the same whitewash that all apartment walls get painted; my neighbors’ homes are decorated. one room i saw was painted pumpkin-orange. it had cylindrical paper lanterns hanging in it and white wainscoting. (i love that word, but not as much as i love the word, pantaloons.) another house had two front rooms with large photographs hanging in these thick black wooden frames, each one spaced precisely at perfect angles. i imagined the man as he hung them. how he wouldn’t trust his wife’s eye. how she told him things looked even. how voices were raised. how he left that night and returned with calipers and other measuring instruments.

last seen: the latest michaelpella- 'dust in the wind'
last heard: belle and sebastian 'step into my office, baby'
last read: Bill O'Reilly's brazen assholery will make you righteously angry
bonus: Some folks have the design on their mud flaps, I carved my halloween pumpkin with it. [link via megan]

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

for most of the past few weeks, i’ve spent my precious personal-reading time, not personal-reading at all. instead, i’ve been work-reading during my precious personal-reading time. my boss wanted me to read the souls of black folk and do a booktalk on it, since it is the 100th anniversary of our library and the 100th anniversary of this book.

a booktalk, at least when i do them, is when a librarian reads a particular book and finds out all kinds of biographical information about the author and contextual information about the book which they then share with an audience of patrons who, while interested, have never read the book. this is different than a book club, because when a librarian hosts a book club, it is with the understanding that all attendees agree to the unwritten rule that they will arrive having read the book in question. this ensures a nice dialogue among participants, instead of a monologue (see: booktalk).

so, like i said, i have spent very little of my free time lately reading things that i actually wanted to read. i finished the du bois book, which was ok, if you like sociological treatises and then spent the last week taking notes on the evolution of african-american socio-political thought around the turn of the last century; a great many notes, if you must know the truth. the last two days were then spent distilling these copious notes down into a script which had to be both engaging and comprehensible to a wide audience, because we’re never sure if seventeen sixth-graders are going to show up or a bus load of people from the senior center.

after all of my hard work and sacrifice (of personal-reading time), the big night arrived. i got to the library a little early this evening for my 7 o’clock talk. then it was 7:05, then 7:10. nobody showed up! i should have known that no one would come, but the PR people and my boss made such a big show out of it; they were sure people would come.

so, i was a little cranky about two hours ago, but i’m fine now. i shed my tie, met mark at the house, and we went to the penguin. the remedy for all of that crankiness seemed to be a corn dog, two miller high lifes, and black sabbath on the jukebox, because i’m doing much better now.

oh and PS- if anyone needs an eight-page script on the souls of black folk and everyone’s favorite african-american socialist, i know where you can get one cheap.

last heard: sleater-kinney 'ballad of a ladyman'
last read: I'd nod my head sagely and let him rant on. Poor fellow. Saddam Hussein was his best friend, after Stalin died. No wonder he's upset.

every year, there’s a long stretch, which begins in the late spring and ends in the early fall, when i’m not buying gifts for anybody. with a few exceptions, most of the birthdays and anniversaries for the people i know are magnetically drawn toward the first and last pages of my calendar, almost like july is the top of a mountain and the holidays roll down one side or the other. this means special days get clustered together.

today is my dad’s birthday and tomorrow is my mom’s. when i was a little boy, i always used to feel bad for my mom because dad’s birthday came first and hers came second. it’s kid logic, i know. every october 8th, we would have cake for dad and give him presents, all organized by mom of course, and, most years, we’d celebrate her birthday on the same day. to me, it always felt tacked on like HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD!...and also you, too, mom. hallmark doesn’t make a card for that.

in my head, i imagined it must have been like being born the day after christmas. [i guess that would make my dad jesus; if i had a therapist, she would love that one.] every year, on your big day, people were still getting over the day before. mom never mentioned it, never said that well-wishes seemed anti-climactic on october 9th, but she’s not the type who would.

so, it’s october 8th-- HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD!...and also you, too, mom.

last heard: isobel campbell amorino
last read: The U.S. deemed both statements to be "unhelpful," and so far has shown no signs of suspending the aid that pays for these unhelpful breaches of international law.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

in casual conversation or even familiar greetings, people like to say my first name and my last name together. almost as though, by only saying my first name, it wouldn’t be a complete sentence. jen? she sings my name every time i call. it makes me smile. what happens is i scroll down to her name and mash the green button on my phone, then, on her phone, which i cannot see since i am far away, my name pops up. the next thing i hear, even before hello, is JAAAAMES KELLL-AYYYY!!!

that wouldn’t be unusual, if she were the only person who followed the two-name rule, but it happens a lot. i recently started noticing how often. like the other day, i went to the video store and, when i was leaving, i saw cute girl sitting on the hood of her car smoking a cigarette. as i passed, she lazily raised a palm in the air like a little kid, grinned, and, recalling my name from my video card, said, hello, james kelly.

even tonight, i received an email from someone i’ve only corresponded with a couple of times. the first line read, and i quote, James Kelly!

none of these people have ever met each other, so i am at a loss to explain it. james and kelly aren’t particularly harmonic words. who knows? i just think it’s nice that people remember my name. though jen would want me to mention that she did the two-name thing first.

last heard: wu-tang clan 'da mystery of chessboxin' [editor’s note: hey, did anyone else hear the rza’s interview on all things considered today? who would have guessed...NPR + tha wu = two great tastes that taste great together. i love it when two wonderful and strange parts of my life intersect unexpectedly.]
last read: …the paragraphs creak and groan like the Pequod straining under the weight of leviathan being prepared for flensing.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

any of you punks who were waiting for me to kick, so that you could abscond with my conway twitty wall clock...think again, suckas. the hydrocortizone cream coupled with my own super-human immune system killed any of the remaining spider venom that was coursing through my bloodstream. i awoke this morning with a left hand that had deflated back into its normal shape. the color is even starting to return.

i was well enough, in fact, to go to the corn maze. [WARNING: clicking on the following link to the corn maze, while informative, will cause a very loud synthesized banjo to start playing.] it was a beautiful day for sitting on the back of a tractor and riding out to the maize maze. mark, with trusty map and innate sense of direction, magellan-ed us through the acres of seven-foot stalks. we trailed him snapping photographs along the way. if you were in a hang glider or falling out of a plane, you could see that the corn had been cut into the shape of horses. walking through it, however, it just looked like dry leaves and many dead-end paths.

none of us thought the maze was worth the seven dollar price of admission, but we were forced to recant when, at the end of the maze, we discovered a giant box of corn kernels that you could run and jump and roll in.

last heard: helium 'comet #9'
last read: Nothing is more bewildering than a "YEAH AFTER YOU PAY THEM CAUSE YOU CAN'T GET ANY FOR FREE," accompanied by a lonesome arrow.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

my mom would be mad that i haven’t been to the doctor yet. so, if you see her, don’t say anything. i got bit by a spider. i borrowed a baseball glove to play catch in the park yesterday and, when i took it off a half hour later, there was an itch between two of the knuckles on my left hand.

i didn’t pay much attention to it as i’ve had a spider bite before. this morning was a little different though; the knuckles neighboring the bite ached a bit. when i got to work, i went to the first aid section and read about spider bites. did you know that if you’re bitten by one type of spider, you can get nausea and chills? if you’re bitten by another kind of spider, you will see blood in your pee. thankfully, i don’t have any of those symptoms which is why i haven’t been to the doctor yet. well, that, plus, i’m in denial about the fact that the affected area has gotten a little swollen and has turned an interesting shade of bruise.

i bought some hydrocortizone cream and, if that doesn’t work, then i’ll go to the urgent care tomorrow morning. if i die, you can have my weblog and my conway twitty wall clock.

last seen: better luck tomorrow, seven
last heard: blind lemon jefferson 'see that my grave is kept clean'
last read: w.e.b. du bois the souls of black folk
reading: nicole krauss man walks into a room

Friday, October 03, 2003

if you’re looking for things to blame, then blame a girl named cynthia and the song somebody by depeche mode. i blame them for setting the bar really high and i blame them because i was only in eighth grade when, like a car crash, they happened to me.

what started me thinking about all of this was hearing dave gahan’s voice in the middle of a movie that i was watching tonight. naturally, i had to dig out some music after the film was over. i am definitely a pre-violator fan. after music for the masses, i don’t know what happened; at the risk of offending folks, i think i just outgrew them. that happens with a lot of bands. for example, i am also a pre-kiss me kiss me kiss me person and a pre-apocalypse 91 person...but i digress.

so, i’m driving to dinner this evening and that weird mess of heartbeat, highway overpass, and casiotone at the beginning of somebody starts to play. that was all it took to remind me of cynthia with her brunette bob and her over-sized generra sweaters and her two-swatches-on-the-same-wrist and her fake-gold earrings shaped like giant japanese fans. she was my first girlfriend and, surprise, she was about a foot taller than i was. we would walk around the middle school holding hands during lunch which, in eighth grade, in case you’ve forgotten, pretty much meant we were married.

she let me borrow her copy of catching up with depeche mode and that is when i first heard the aforementioned song. hearing it during that formative time, when i was just discovering girls, was like having a die pressed into the soft tissue in my head, the place where i stored what it was i was looking for and what it was i hoped to end up with.

last seen: until the end of the world
last heard: depeche mode 'somebody'
last read: Former U.S. Senator Max Cleland volunteered for duty in Vietnam where he lost both of his legs and his right arm in a grenade explosion...In 2002, Cleland lost his bid for reelection when his opponent ran attack ads that questioned his patriotism...

Thursday, October 02, 2003

the neighborhood around my new library is full of old men going for walks in the morning. they usually have on sweatsuits and one of those newsboy hats that button in the front. sometimes they are carrying things to beat people over the head with. i saw an old white man the other day carrying a wooden driver; this morning, it was an elderly black gentleman carrying a hockey stick, the bottom wrapped in electrical tape. it makes me wonder if older adults are the targets of violent crime in these parts. since i’m new and don’t live in the neighborhood, i don’t really know for sure. i figure it is either the violent crime thing, or there is a bitchin’ rec center close by where old dudes go to do sports.

in more pleasant neighborhood news, juicy fruit was working at my library yesterday and i convinced her to join me for lunch at a place that i’d been curious about. di banana boat is at the end of a strip mall across the street. you know, when you print the words OX TAILS in big white letters on your front windows, you’re just begging me to stop by, not because i have an affinity for ox tails, but how can you resist such a place? they had huge photographs on the walls of marcus garvey and bob marley and halle selassie. the folks who worked there made the most amazing food. i had curry chicken (i will be brave and try the goat next time) with rice, greens, and a hunk of 7-up cake. their dessert menu also included red velvet cake. so, what’s not to love? the woman let me keep a menu and even gave me her business card. the man invited us to a reggae party that they were hosting in some warehouse next saturday. i love tiny restaurants.

last seen: lost in translation [yes, again.]
last heard: siouxsie and the banshees 'melt'
last read: A literary or dramatic work that ridicules a subject either by presenting a solemn subject in an undignified style or an inconsequential subject in a dignified style. See Synonyms at caricature.
bonus: mies in berlin/mies in america