Wednesday, March 31, 2004

the last few days have been unusually busy. i carved out enough time to read everyone else's clever musings but found little time to put down any of my own. part of the week was spent at my second job interview in as many weeks. to be honest, my chances of getting either job are pretty slim. still, it must mean something that they deigned to interview me.

one thing i noticed is this habit i have during interviews. i sit with my legs crossed under the table and surreptitiously play with my shoelaces, winding them tightly around my fingers. it must be my quiet way to work out anxiety. i'm afraid if my hands were on the table they'd shake or i'd have to rip paper into small bits or do shadow puppets.

when i wasn't playing with my shoelaces this week, i was trying to get things together for two volunteer projects. i am captain of the library's team for the JDRF walk this saturday and for Hands on Charlotte day in a couple of months. it's my second year doing this and participation has been less than stellar. i'm trying to figure out if the problem is library employees who are too apathetic or just plain tired or both. while i'm good at the organizing and facilitating part, i am horrible at the motivating. if only we had a librarian cheerleader-type working for us. most of us are too introverted, not really comfortable with being the center-of-attention. it's probably why many of us ended up as librarians in the first place.

i guess volunteering is the kind of thing that people either value or they don't, like universal health care or knock-knock jokes.

last heard: belle and sebastian 'jonathan david'
last read: During his 30 years traversing the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, botanical librarian Jeffery Beam passed West House many times, noting its eccentric charm.

Monday, March 29, 2004

sometimes, when you've lived in the same medium-sized town for a while, your ears numb to certain things. for example, things like local bands. even if the group has attained a level of notoriety larger than the confines of your town, to you, they remain just some local band. it usually takes a friend of yours, standing on the outside of things and living hundreds of miles away, to offer perspective. they'll say something like-- hey, have you seen band X? you haven't? they're so cool and they're from your town.

this used to happen to me when i lived in new orleans and, occasionally, during the time that i spent in chapel hill. i've often wondered whether the same thing happens to folks in even bigger cities. i mean, do people in san francisco really appreciate the aislers set or are they just some local band?

the band thing doesn't happen to me that much anymore, especially now that i live in charlotte, but i've found other situations to which the same principle applies.

for example, when i moved back to town a few years ago, NASCAR was just getting huge. not far from where i work is an enormous race track. in our local paper, there is a weekly section called that's racin'. at every red light, the car in front of me had a little sticker with a tiny number on it; i later discovered that these numbers corresponded to particular drivers. for me, NASCAR was just some thing that the folks here in town were really into. it would be months later, during a talk with my uncle who was visiting from rhode island, when i found out that this NASCAR-thing was just a little bit bigger than north carolina. in fact, he explained, even yankees liked the sport.

this is kind of a tangent, but another thing we have in my town is a plethora of cars with memorials etched onto their back windows (i.e., in loving memory of lil' carl: january 4, 1979 - august 17, 2003). because, really, what better way is there to honor the memory of your cousin who was ripped to pieces in a combine than by writing about it on the back window of your truck with tiny white stick-on letters? i don't know whether other towns are similarly plagued. my uncle didn't mention anything about that.

last seen: dirty pretty things, king of the hill- the complete first season
last heard: elizabeth cotten 'when i get home'
last read: In Rorty's view, neither the New Left nor the political right has articulated a hopeful vision of the possibility of common life in a pluralistic democracy. In part, this is because such excessive attention to identity-politics or cultural-politics almost always encourages a kind of tribalism and a diminished sense of public hope or real social compassion. [via arts and letters]
bonus: the haggis-on-whey world of unbelievable brilliance

Sunday, March 28, 2004

[warning: nerdy bike-speak ahead]

i still haven't purchased a new bike yet. a few months ago, i wrote about how i really wanted one. it takes me a long time to make major purchases. yes, a bike qualifies as a major purchase, especially since i am a public servant trying to get by on a meager librarian's salary.

all of this time has allowed me to get the money together though and let me put my innate research skills to good use by narrowing the field of potential bikes. i've whittled the choices to three: the raleigh m-80, the trek 4900, and the specialized hardrock. if anyone can recommend another decently-equipped hardtail for around 500 bucks, i'd be open to suggestions.

the last bike i had was a garden variety rigid. i rode it into the ground before bequeathing it to someone else a few years back. the plan was to upgrade right away, but then i decided that i liked laying on the couch and eating processed foods a whole lot better than riding bikes. this [points at doughier parts of self] is the result. that's why i'm looking for a bike. if i can make it to the different dealers soon, to kick tires and such, i would like to have the shiny new toy by next week.

last seen: eternal sunshine of the spotless mind
last heard: george harrison 'apple scruffs'
last read: The poll, the first nongovernmental survey of military spouses conducted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, included more than 1,000 spouses living on or near the 10 heaviest-deploying Army bases.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

i hate to break mark's news on my weblog, but, let's be honest, we all know how often he posts. the big news is-- he found an apartment about three blocks away from my own. we spent yesterday cleaning the place up and getting his stuff moved over. in all of that time, we only managed to completely destroy one piece of furniture. (R.I.P., computer desk) the apartment is very nice with wood floors, central air, a remodeled kitchen, more square footage, and lower rent than my space at the fight club house. i might just move into one of the other vacant units in a few months. that is, if mark doesn't report any major problems with plumbing or neighbors or locusts.

mark is usually even-tempered and, unless you know him well, sometimes it can be hard to read him. yesterday though, he couldn't hide how excited he was about the new place. i was truly happy for him.

at one point, we were just about to set off for south charlotte to load the truck a second time. as he started to put it into drive, a woman jogged right in front of us. she was complete mark-style, the cute athletic type. i think she even had a ponytail. the cab of the truck filled with our collective awww and, not two blocks later, we saw another young woman stretching in her yard before an afternoon run. i thought mark might cry or, at the very least, a tiny bird might fly down out of a tree, land on his shoulder, and sing him a song.

last heard: patsy cline 'foolin around'
last read: Debilitated by Huntington's disease, a degenerative disorder of the nervous system, Guthrie became a tragic figure to his young acolytes: an American original cut down before his time, seemingly gone mad (wildly erratic behavior being a symptom of the disease)--a living amalgam of Hank Williams and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

i miss field trips. it would be nice to have them now. i miss how you had a partner and they made you hold hands and you crossed major intersections in single-file groups of thirty to fifty. sometimes if you were lucky, you got to make your own construction paper nametag the day before your trip, then wear it around your neck with a piece of yarn. most of my memories of field trips are solitary bits culled from many, many excursions. i wish i could remember one whole trip and make it a tiny movie that i could replay in my head from beginning to end.

since that can't happen, i am left with these flashes. i call them up from somewhere way in the back of my head and rub my thumb over the smallest details. it is hard to know which of these flashes go together but, remembering them, even jumbled up and out of order, makes me happy. when i was of field tripping age, i mostly lived in hawaii, so a lot of the memories are from my time there, like when a group of us stood huddled in a kitchen at famous amos cookies. the air in the room was warm and all around me was stainless steel and brushed aluminum and tiles on the wall the color of manila folders.

another time, we went to an old theater where i watched my first subtitled movie. it was in japanese. the main characters were a group of boys about my age. to get to the movie house, we rode in one of those old buses with lots of chrome whose windows were shaped like enormous rhombuses, the corners of each one rounded. i got the seat with the wheel well. i remember because my knees were up higher than the knees of the person sitting to my left. the seats were soft vinyl with lines running across them like a grain or a fingerprint. they felt like the back of my grandmother's hands.

so much time spent walking through the state capitol or visiting dairy farms or doing scavenger hunts in teams at giant libraries or eating lunch under banyan trees that were hundreds of years old.

last heard: the postal service 'the district sleeps alone tonight'
last read: In February, Blackwater USA, a North Carolina-based Pentagon contractor, began hiring former combat personnel in Chile, offering them up to $4,000 a month to guard oil wells in Iraq.
bonus: I'd guess it was invented in the '50s, before people had exciting adjectives or the predilection to simply invent words when naming products, like 'Blammo!' and 'Wazchunk!!' [thanks, jenn]

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

it's usually only once or twice a week that i sleep for a full eight hours. most nights, i'm up late and decide sometime around midnight or one that i really ought to be in bed by now. going to sleep is, for me, a very deliberate act. it comes right after flossing the teeth, brushing the teeth, and setting the clock so that it will buzz at 6:45. it has to be at exactly 6:45, so that i can get in the shower before the rest of my building wakes up and the water pressure goes away.

i just remembered that when i was a boy, praying was also on that right before bed list. there used to be a little script and order even to the prayers i used to say, asking for the safety of my immediate family, extended family, friends, and then, just to be sure everyone was covered, all of the people on earth. only after i went through the script did i give myself permission to ask God for other things, like a girl who might date me. there's probably more to this praying business and how i did it and why i stopped, but this story isn't about praying. it's more about that whole just before sleeping time.

because of my list-making nature, the act of going to sleep is ritualized. there are very few times that i pass out on the couch, with a book on my chest, the lights still on, at only a few minutes past ten in the evening, completely neglectful of the list. plus, that's practically three hours before my usual bedtime. nevertheless, that's exactly what happened to me last night. maybe i'm coming down with something or my body just needed the rest.

it's different when there's a her around. when i have a her around, she'll let me nap for a bit and then nudge me awake and tell me to come to bed. also, when there's a her around, we brush our teeth at the same time and catch up on world events while trying to floss and share the bathroom mirror. that part's nice.

last seen: following
last heard: marvin gaye 'trouble man'
last read: When asked to name the best American writers of his day, he would say that they had all failed, but that Thomas Wolfe had been the finest failure and William Faulkner the second finest failure.

Monday, March 22, 2004

i am often leery of men who strike up conversations in public restrooms. i'm not as creeped out when it's an older man, because men of the greatest generation seem to have this propensity for almost constant, though endearing, small talk. i used to have this theory that people had to utter a certain number of words over the course of their lives and that the small talk of old men was a kind of conversational catch-up time for the many hours they spent ignoring their wives and not speaking to their kids. so, armed with this theory, i was never really bothered by them.

no, what creeps me out are when men close to my own age decide to break the fourth wall. this happened to me yesterday while i was trying to make water. some guy in his mid-twenties started to get all chatty with me. hey man, that's a nice fleece. i said thanks and tried to hurry the process along by telepathically squeezing my bladder. i just wasn't quick enough. where'd you get it? do you work around here? what do you do for a living? the whole time i'm thinking come on, pee. please get out of me. still more questions until finally i finish washing my hands, say bye, and walk out, wiping my wet hands on the back of my pants.

you'd think that would be clear enough, but the guy follows me out of the bathroom and asks sorry to bother you, man. what did you say your name was? to which i reply i didn't. he smiles and says i'm matt, [shakes my hand] i just started an internet marketing firm and i'm looking for new talent. are you happy at your current job? ugh.

i told him i wasn't interested and left with many more questions than answers. does this guy do all of his employment recruiting in public restrooms? what is internet marketing and, more importantly, what was it about my technique at the urinal that made him think i would be good at it?

last seen: eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, snatch, camp
last heard: brother's keeper
last read: virginia holman rescuing patty hearst
reading: erich maria remarque all quiet on the western front

Friday, March 19, 2004

at the risk of ever more good-natured ribbing from my friends, i will proudly admit the following. i picked up an appreciation for girl magazines from my ex. i would flip through her issues of bitch and bust as soon as a new one arrived. not only were they well-written and politically-aligned with my own point of view but they always included much better music reviews than soldier of fortune and cat fancy, my subscriptions of choice.

this appreciation evolved and i stumbled onto other titles on my own, like venus and dwell and readymade. true, the latter two are not strictly girl magazines, but they could never be described as manly. even now, as a single male living in my own place, individual issues of each of these publications find their way into the metal washtub/magazine rack next to my toilet.

on tuesday night, i was at [huge chain bookstore] and was drawn, yet again, to the glossy cover of bust which advertised the story-- baby got book: librarians- could they be the new it girls? of course, this wasn't news to me, the answer having always been an emphatic hell, yes! still, i had to read the article. i was pleased that they even threw a bone to the un-fairer sex-- guy librarians seem to be coming into their own on the web. i kind of hope that's true; though, to be honest i might have selected better examples.

as a serendipitous aside, i'll also mention that their featured music review (page 90) is none other than camera obscura's underachievers please try harder, the album i purchased last sunday and still can't stop listening to. the review includes the following line: ...a sensitive boy's wet dream and an amorous girl's best friend. now, will you just go buy it already?

last seen: journeys with george
last heard: tony bennett 'sing you sinners'
last read: glass eye, patch or just open?

Thursday, March 18, 2004

my book club met last night to discuss middlesex. everyone liked it. if you belong to a book club, then you understand that universal agreement often spells disaster for a conversation. in my club, the discussions are always more lively when there are people who disagree with each other. last night, though, seemed to be the exception. everyone had a different passage they wanted to kick around, we all ended up in agreement, and the conversation was still great.

if you haven't read middlesex, you really should. there is so much to sift through. it is essentially a family epic but it touches on gender politics, the nature/nurture debate, greek mythology, architecture, genetics, the detroit race riots, puberty, the burning of smyrna, the greek orthodox church, the nation of islam, geopolitical assimilation, and the hot dog business. don't worry, i only pretend to know about a few of those things. mostly, the hot dog business.

the folks that come to my club are just like me, average joes and josephines, but one of the things i love about them is that they aren't afraid to say things like ethos and deus ex machina with a straight face. this in spite of the fact that there is nary a self-important academic-type in the bunch. (apologies to my self-important academic-type friends)

last heard: work clothes 'wood grain'
last read: chuck klosterman sex, drugs, and cocoa puffs
reading: virginia holman rescuing patty hearst

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

during those end parts, when you can already start to feel the ground giving way, i am all for talking. i probably talk too much, in fact. i try to rationalize things and fit words together, so that all of it sounds alright, even if it looks like a train wreck. still, there comes a time when you figure out that things won't fit anymore, no matter how much you talk or how many times you try to jam the pieces together. that's when i cut things off completely.

i never really understood the people who were still friends with former lovers. the kind of friends who hang out and see each other pretty regularly like the people in those commercials for wine-in-a-box.

not wanting any harm to come to someone i once truly loved, that i could understand. wondering about how someone was doing these days, that i could understand. meeting for dinner or going to movies, though. what was the point? it was completely alien to the way i thought about things.

it probably helped that, either through luck or geography, i never ran into these women again. at least, i'm being honest. depending on your view, all of this might prove how emotionally stunted i am or, on the other hand, you might completely understand what i'm talking about.

now that i've come clean about the typical course of things, i will say that i had lunch with an ex of mine yesterday. i'm pretty sure that is the first time that has ever happened. it was really kind of a chance thing, running into her, both of us having our lunch hours free, the absence of any large heavy objects which she could throw at me. just sitting there eating and catching up on things was a humbling experience, particularly since, in the case of this relationship, i had been the sole mutineer.

is this what grown-ups do?

last heard: camera obscura 'books written for girls'
last read: The Spanish immediately reacted to the bombing in Madrid with a mental feat that is considered, if not impossible, at least impermissible in the United States. They simultaneously condemned the terrorists and demanded to know what role their own government had played in causing the terror.

Monday, March 15, 2004

[warning: this post is quite long.]

dear everyone, the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. the last five days have been a blur, but a good blur. i wasn't ripped apart by dogs. nothing terrible happened. are you sitting? ok, good. here's a list of what i've been doing since thursday last.

i went to the airport to pick up a friend who was visiting from san francisco. while waiting, i created a game whereby i stand at the bottom of the escalator in the baggage claim area and try to guess which cities flights are arriving from based only on the evaluation of people's shoes and their carry-on luggage. when i'm stumped, i eavesdrop on their cell phone conversations. i quickly determine that i am the world champion at this game. enjoyed a lovely dinner and conversation with christy. she gave me a librarians do it between the covers t-shirt-- purchased at the public library association conference a couple of weeks ago. no one else on my block has such a shirt.

the following day, the young lady leaves to visit family in south carolina. i bid her adieu and hightail it to a tuxedo fitting with michael and mark. i spend a little time watching mark play max payne 2. we all go to chili's for dinner where our waitress looks like a countrified version of scarlett johansson. she is wearing one of those white necklaces that shrinks to the circumference of your neck when you get it wet. you know, the kind that kids buy in florida when they go on their senior trip. she is very nice and refills my sweet tea promptly everytime. she also has unusually large teeth. i'm not being mean, i'm just saying. we silently hoped that she would grow into them, the way a puppy does its huge, huge feet.

the next day, i visit my aunt who requested (what she has started to call) a community service day. this is where i go over and take care of a bunch of chores because i'm such a sweet nephew. on saturday, community service meant clean out the storm gutters, move some furniture around, and secure the wire from the satellite dish, which had snaked its way off the roof. my parents drove down from virginia and met me at the aunt's place in the late afternoon. they were delivering a bed which i helped move out of the truck. with the chores complete, we all went to dinner at red lobster. my aunt asked the waiter if a particular dish had real lobster or some kind of lobster substitute, at which point he said--

real lobster, ma'am. we're called red lobster, not red substitute.

it was about here that i choked on my drink from laughing. the folks and i drove back to my place where we enjoyed krispy kreme and out of time.

sunday morning arrived. after breakfast, the folks headed back to virginia and i packed a bag and drove up to chapel hill for a conference the next day. i took the scenic route through the small towns on highways 49 and 64. i got to town early and stopped at schoolkids records where i bought one ticket to next month's stereolab show and a copy of underachievers please try harder by camera obscura. the gushing will begin.....here. while it is true that i've only had this cd for about 48 hours, it has quickly become my latest favorite thing and certainly the best music i've purchased in tha '04. you should get it, too.

now, back to our story.

i checked into my hotel and rolled on the large bed and played with the cable television. i never watched anything all the way through. at 7pm, i met jan and elizabeth and pinky and mr. p for dinner. pinky gave me a cowboy hat (score) and a mixed cd (i win again). dinner was great. i won't give the whole story away but there was sweet potato pie involved and afterwards i went to see ted leo in concert. i finally made it to bed sometime between 1 and 2am with that tinny hearing where everything sounds like you have cotton in your ears. the professionals call it acute hearing loss, i believe. perhaps i'm getting old, but i think i should invest in ear plugs before my next show.

just 5 short hours later, i was checking out of the hotel and driving to the conference on reading. i saw lots of friends and former professors. the lectures were great. i will spend part of my workday tomorrow trying to decipher my frantically-scribbled notes and sift through lists of casually name-dropped, though apparently seminal, titles and authors.

and that's what i did on my summer vacation.

last seen: out of time
last heard: camera obscura underachievers please try harder

Thursday, March 11, 2004

when the power goes off in the middle of the night, it doesn't wake me up. when it's restored, however, there is a chorus of whirring and clicking gadgets as every mechanical item i own tries to right itself. once all of the clicking is over, everything with a clock on it flashes an incorrect time-- bright, dark, bright, dark-- lighting up the room and keeping me awake until i fix it. this happened last night. the scene must get replayed in every apartment because, shortly after two am, the whole building was up. i could hear the feet of other tenants pattering around on our creaky wooden floors. cabinets opening and closing. toilets flushing. we moved around for ten minutes before each of us settled back into bed.

the power went out last week, too. kind of flickered, actually, because of a wind storm after sunset. my windows were open just a little and they started whistling when the wind picked up. tiny acorns blew into the panes. every few seconds it sounded like someone was tapping on them, trying to get me to sneak out. i peeked through the blinds. it was dark out except for the streetlamp in front of the building. hundreds of leaves blew through the pale yellow beam. my windows are louvered and work on a hand crank. i wound them closed. slowly though, so i could listen to the whistle get higher and louder.

last seen: pieces of april
last heard: beach boys 'you still believe in me'
last read: Where are some of the other barbers in the shop from? Okay--Two come from Colombia. One, something-istan...
bonus: the ballad of manuel and candelario

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

i just spent the better part of three hours completing two job application forms. i don't understand this process. basically, i transcribed everything that is already on my resume into little blocks on a five-page form which then gets submitted with...a copy of my resume. when i am president, i will make all application forms a single page long and they will only have spaces for things like salary and phone number of old boss since those are the only two things i can think of that don't get written on the resume-proper. i have no idea what the purpose of this redundancy is besides to ensure that my left hand remains permanently cramped for the duration of wednesday.

on second thought, if i slip into thinking like a manager for a moment, i'll bet the purpose of the application forms is to make sure you can keep it inside the lines or so that they can do a handwriting analysis and find out if you're the type who'll snap or steal office supplies.

last heard: dusty springfield 'breakfast in bed'
last read: In 1995, then-Secretary of Defense William Perry decided to ban Pentagon development of nonlethal laser weapons intended to permanently blind.
bonus: friends of the farnsworth house

Monday, March 08, 2004

after i taught about fifty people how to print using our new software, i showed a lady where our vast holdings on macrame were located. shortly thereafter, i was overrun by a murder of elementary school children, each clutching a tiny slip of paper with a different date from the 1860s scribbled on it and each of whom wanted to know what happened on that day during the civil war. this is to say that it was a rather busy and generally typical evening at the library.

as the last ten minutes of our night ticked away, my co-worker and i went around picking up loose books, pushing in chairs, and shutting down computers. i should interject that, right around this time, said co-worker quoted from hot for teacher, thus making my whole day, but, since that isn't really related to the rest of this story, i'll just continue. while we scurried around making things neat and crisp and even, we saw a flash of light descend the staircase in front of the reference desk. it turned out to be a mother and daughter looking for biographical information on a young adult author for a report. [T-minus five minutes to closing and, yes, this too is typical]

the co-worker springs into action, finds just what she needs in about three different reference books, and i continue cleaning up. mother, daughter, and pile of books make their way over to the copy machine to begin their task. by the time they figure out which pages they want to photocopy, the announcement to vacate the building billows out of the speakers in the ceiling. i walk up behind them, waiting for them to finish so i can turn off the copier, when the mother asks are you waiting for us? i am a professional, so i don't laugh in her face, but rather i offer a very kind and customer-servicey reply. she understands and doesn't get upset...at me. sadly, she instead tears into her daughter about taking too long and why didn't they get here earlier and that's just great and real good and we'll just have to come back in the morning.

this coming-in-at-the-last-second happens a lot, so we are used to this sort of thing. what i don't think i'll ever get used to though are the parents who yell at or belittle their 11-15 year old kids in front of other people. that's all about klass.

last seen: beach boys- an american band, i just wasn't made for these times
last heard: versus 'jack and jill'
last read: At this point, I would like to call expert witness Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays, who sang "Son, I'm 30. I only went with your mother 'cause she's dirty."

Sunday, March 07, 2004

the water in my tub wasn't draining properly. i first noticed it two days ago whilst in the midst of my showerly duties. i shut the water off and stood there, towelling dry in nearly ankle-deep soapy water.

[please read this next bit in your best old-timey radio voice]

the annals of plumbing history are littered with tales of clogs! time and again, it was that dastardly menace HUMAN HAIR which proved to be the culprit!

[return to your normal reading voice]

friends, as you well know, i possess no hair. i have even bumped it up to once-a-week head shavings. so you can understand how confounded i was by this clogged drain business. the normal me would have let the problem go on for a few more days hoping that the clog would just work itself out. the truth is that the impending arrival of out-of-town guests at week's end pushed me into action.

the sun had only just set yesterday evening. michael and i stood in his backyard around the grill. talk turned to clogged drains as it is wont to do. you see, friends, i am naive to the great mysteries of home repair. michael, however, is a homeowner and has even purchased actual tools. so it was to him that i explained my dilemma. he assured me that the problem might not be my apartment but perhaps somewhere further down the pipe where my shower pipe met the community pipe. i had no idea if he knew what he was talking about but it sure sounded like he did.

i returned home that evening with industrial strength liquid plumber which i purchased instead of foaming pipe snake. i am not ashamed to admit that those words made me giggle like a twelve-year-old boy when i saw them. the good news is that it cleared the problem in the community pipe and now my houseguests don't have to stand in nearly ankle-deep soapy water.

fin.

last seen: let america laugh
last heard: blossom dearie 'i walk a little faster'
last read: In my opinionation, singerating with the childrification is all crunk until you viewify their standardized test scores.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

i take my work shoes to this tiny shoe repair shop to get them shined every couple of months. the building has two large storefronts. one is a frame shop, the other a dry cleaners. between these two storefronts is a narrow door that you'd probably miss if you were walking by quickly and not looking for it. when you enter this door, you are standing at the top of a steep flight of stairs. the shoe repair shop is at the bottom of these stairs. it is an interesting place.

the ceiling is low and the waiting area is about 7 x 7 feet. sometimes that makes it feel cozy and intimate. sometimes that makes it feel crowded and tight. the walls are lined with faux wood panelling, the kind used in basement rec rooms throughout the suburbs of the greater middle west. along one of these walls there are many, many metal hooks jutting out, each one holding a different color or length of shoelace. everything in there is yellowed as if from cigarette smoke. the once-white plastic on the cash register is yellowed. the once-white covers on the florescent lights in the ceiling. the once-white calendar and once-white posters. even the cardboard on some of the older packages of shoelaces, too, are yellowed.

behind the counter are wooden shelves that look like they were handmade thirty years ago in an open field out behind this building. on the shelves are rows of shoes. most are black. some are brown. there is a handwritten card tied to each pair with the owner's name and phone number on it.

the man who runs the shop is korean, so are the words printed on the calendar hanging behind his head. curiously, the surname stencilled onto the glass door sounds eastern-european to me. he sees a book in my hand and we start to talk about reading. his english isn't perfect, but neither is mine. he tells me that he can read and understand short sentences but has trouble with long paragraphs. he tells me to wait here. he runs to the back of the shop and comes back with a beat up paperback copy of animal farm and a brand-new hardcover of tuesdays with morrie. it still has a crisp dust jacket. he tells me they were a gift from a customer.

when i leave, i shake his hand. it is heavy. the skin is dry and cracked. in these cracks and beneath the nails, there is black shoe polish. he smiles. i thank him, then say bye.

last heard: france gall 'sacre charlemagne'
last read: jeffrey eugenides' middlesex [excerpt]
reading: chuck klosterman's sex, drugs, and cocoa puffs [excerpt]

Thursday, March 04, 2004

we did as they told us. we took off our pants and tied knots into each of the legs. the water was cold. it was hard to float and tie wet, heavy denim into knots at the same time. they told us to hold onto the beltloops and swing the pants over our heads from back-to-front. the legs filled with air, magically. we tucked each of the puffed up pantlegs under our arms and floated on our pants. i don't know if that trick would keep me afloat today, but most of us were only twelve years old at the time and didn't weigh very much.

scout camp comes back that way, in flashes. the intervening years distill things down until something like open water survival becomes that time when i was a little boy and they told me to take my pants off in front of strangers and wing them over my head. totin' chip turns into that time i was supposed to carve a hunk of balsa wood into the shape of an indian chief's head. it was also that time we got to play with hatchets. whole schools of instruction broken down into single memorable units.

near the edge of our camp there were was a wooden outhouse. planks of wood rubbed smooth by countless asses. the planks looked smooth anyway; i have no first-hand knowledge. i was of the school who would rather hold it for three days than sit in a wooden shack without proper locking doors. one of the older boys threw a kid's wallet down into the muck. i remember someone trying to fish it out with a long stick while another kid shined a flashlight into the hole. it was too far down though. i'm not sure what scouting lesson i was supposed to learn from that.

last seen: annie get your gun
last heard: stereolab 'percolator'
last read: and damned if the shot didn't fall cleanly through the hoop and stab me in the heart like the sneakiest, cheatin' girlfriend. god damn, i knew this was going to happen! the crowd exploded. how i wish it really had exploded- you know, blue-painted body parts shooting through the air, cheerleaders spiraling above the city of durham, all those obnoxious students and that out-of-state arrogance disappearing in one bright blast. -from 'blue blood', an essay about the carolina/duke basketball rivalry, by will blythe. it appears in this week's sports illustrated.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

i have never been in a secret club. never taken advantage of special privileges. never got pulled into a corner to learn the handshake. never rapped on a wooden door with a special knock-- one long, a pause, then two shorts. never had to remember the password; though, if anyone asks you, i've heard it is rutabaga.

until last week, i had always been on the outside of things. what happened last week was i went to my dry cleaner.

it is the same one that i've been going to every other week for over a year. i am loyal; first because they take good care of me, sewing on loose buttons and making sure the collars are done just the way i like them, but i am also loyal because this establishment is staffed almost exclusively by filipino-americans, an ethnic group that makes up a huge branch of my own family tree.

well, last week, i went in to pick up a bunch of shirts. my exchange with the demure counter lady was similar to every week before, save for one thing. on my way out she said, do you have one of these bags? she was holding up a large green nylon bag with gold grommets across the top. the name of their dry cleaning outfit was emblazoned in white letters across the side. she gave me a little nametag to fill out and told me to affix it to the side of the bag.

i was in the special club. i wondered whether they kept some calendar or list under the counter with people's names on it and counted the weeks. maybe they put a star next to your name every week until you came back for 8 months or a year, then you graduated to the special large green nylon bag with gold grommets across the top. i really couldn't wait to get home and dirty up some shirts.

this morning, on my way to work, i stopped at the dry cleaners. there was a line of people at the counter. each of them holding armfuls of dirty laundry. i had my handy green bag full of dirty shirts. the woman at the counter peered around the line and saw me with my bag at the way-back. she motioned for me to come to the front, took my bag and asked if friday would be alright. i walked out and the people waiting in line sneered. HA!, i thought. take that, businessman. you too, pregnant lady, take that. i have the green bag. i am special.

last seen: swimming pool
last heard: the aislers set 'melody not malaise'
last read: Because they are civilized humans, they ate with utensils, and when only one piece of tofu was left, they did not peck at each other for it, but resorted instead to making passive-aggressive comments about each other's weight.

Monday, March 01, 2004

drinking establishments in my town stop serving alcoholic beverages at 2AM. if, at that moment, you were looking at the city from above, you could follow the lines of headlights from the town's many speakeasies to a place called athens restaurant. i know i've mentioned it here before. the food isn't particularly good, but athens is one of the few non-waffle-house dining options townsfolk have at that late hour. lucky for me, it sits in close proximity to, both, my favorite drinking establishment and my house. mark and i ended up there in the wee hours of sunday morning.

the booth the hostess put us in was very small, like they took the measurements for a normal human-sized booth and moved the seats on both sides five inches closer to the table. given their usual clientele, this design adjustment seems like a nice addition. when drunks miss their mouths, food will hopefully roll off of their chests and back onto their plates. at the very least, it will roll back onto the table, instead of falling to the floor. i just ended up feeling like i was eating pancakes in a veal pen though.

here's another thing, there doesn't seem to be a non-smoking section at athens. this is troublesome. maybe on political maps of the restaurant, there are a handful of booths shaded in dark tan protected by thick black borders. however, on the nights that we end up dining there, those sections, too, are annexed by the smokers. the other night i watched them. i understand the smoking thing. i even understand the eating thing. what i don't get is the smoking while eating thing. it couldn't be to save time. where would they be going at 3am?

i once dated a young woman who did the smoking while eating thing. i can remember sitting across from her, late one night, in a diner in birmingham, alabama. she held her fork in one hand and her cigarette in the other and would alternate. i watched her arms move like they were controlled by gears. as one went down, the other would come up, always at the same rate and speed. slowly, like a machine.

last seen: triplets of belleville, crowding up your visual field, something's gotta give, pirates of the caribbean
last heard: astrud gilberto 'you didn't have to be so nice'
last read: She has asked the mayors of 250 Michigan cities and towns to form "Cool Cities" advisory boards to brainstorm about hipsterization strategies.