daily preciousness

Sunday, July 21, 2002

forwarding addresses

Forwarding address

Ten blocks downtown, it's


smugglers and palm trees, ceiling fans,

sunsets that knock you out like a tropical cocktail.

Pasha, parading


gold favorite on your arm,

how your heart swells at the blue

view from the old slave fort!

The morning's parasols

bow down before you,

tearing your blood orange on the cafe terrace

while upstairs in a closet

old postcards

rave in their box like the sea.

Here is Paris, here Seville, and here

at the back oare the chill


clouds full of tears,

starched curtains hiding pale, furious wives

whose potato-faced couriers

are even now setting out to find you.

-Katha Pollitt


I love this one -- it's so exotic and it really brings out the flavors of that wondrous place.

Here's my rip-off version, with regrets to Pollitt, with my forwarding address going to Old Towne:

Old Towne address

Eight blocks to Old Towne,

it's the Zanzibar of NoVa:

tomatoes ripening at the farmer's market,

below them, a wolfish nose sniffs my sandaled feet, his owner reassuring, "Petey's really gentle, aren't ya boy?"

View from the fountain -- the bus has come. Dash us to the station!

I munch my coconut shrimp at the Thai place, watching babies cry in plastic-wrapped strollers, the rain drizzling past them.

Gadsby's tavern has it's own beers. Lemony and honey-rich. Is it a cough syrup or a beverage? A bit of both!

Height of heat of summer -- but Cosi's got the stove on high. I can see the flames wave a five-fingered salute while I sip my chai lullabuy. Ahhh -- Sweet warmth in the cool AC.

Run down to the docks, to watch the man playing crystal glasses, "as seen on the Tonight Show," the sign reminds me.

timothy williams (lower caps, please) works his furniture store, blue eyes glittering. He doesn't mind a jogger's fickle flirtation. Flirt 'n' go! Flirt 'n' go! He waves me goodbye.

Misha's is busy Tuesday at 6 a.m. -- the line wraps around the counter. Crash! The jar of coffee beans smashes against the floor.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

call me max

I shoved the key in the lock a second time and jiggled it -- still, no result. My partner shuffled around, tangling the two of us with his leash. His big brown beagle eyes stared up at me with an air of bemusement.

“I know, Bailey. It’s not working at all… we are so, so locked out!” The key went in, but refused to turn. I shimmied it, but the lock wouldn’t budge. In the shadowy corridor of the building, I feel deeply alone. Florescent lights buzz above me and Bailey mills about some more, looping the leash around my leg.

“Bailey, what are we going to do?” I whispered, not wanting to bother the neighbors. Phlegmatically, he blinked at me. “You’re right. We’re going to work together like a team, because there’s no “I” in “hopelessly stuck out of Todd’s apartment.” As if to agree, he licked the back of my hand affectionately, then turned his head towards the door to the stairwell.

He seemed to be pointing me in that direction, as effortlessly communicative as Lassie. “You’re right, Bailey – we should go downstairs and see if that cute neighborly couple is home. I’ll bet they have a key that works! Or do you mean that Timmy’s fallen into a well down by the old homestead?” He didn’t even acknowledge my snide comment. (I can’t way that I blame him, either.) Instead, he made a little front-end leap, tugging at his lead.

Bailey always makes a beeline to his owner’s friends’ apartment. The two guys that live there are his babysitters whenever Todd, his owner, is out of town. That’s how Bailey knows them. I know them because they had a fab little Oscars party where Todd and I made “an appearance” a few months back. (Side note: Todd is the kind of guy who makes appearances. While I generally play the role of wallflower, Todd enters a room, warms up the crowd then proceeds to introduce and endear himself to the entire gathering. Todd is my personal schmooze consultant. It’s great to have a social trainer. Every time we go out together, I learn something new… sometimes it’s a bold but effective technique to butt into a conversation. Other times it’s something subtler -- like how to make sure everyone around you is having a good time. Todd Elmer is simultaneously the social glue, holding the party together and the social lubricant, who gets things moving.)

But Todd’s “mad skillz” at mingling weren’t doing me any good right now… But could they?

I sprint downstairs, taking Bailey’s advice. I knock on the neighbors’ door for a few minutes. No luck. So Bailey and I go outside and sit on the front porch of the condo building.

We plop ourselves down and watch as the masses go by. It’s a busy little stretch of road, the 1900th block of 17th street… Guppies and Yuppies, all walking their puppies. They parade about like contestants in a dog show. While I was walking Bailey, just a half-hour earlier, I’d joined their masses: me, a guppy poser!

In the span of three minutes, two people come to gush over Bailey. He’s just that kind of dog, I guess. He’s got beautiful, expressive eyes, a lustrous coat, a springy, Snoopy-like tail and a very obedient manner.

I figured by positioning myself right on the stoop of the building, I might meet some of Bailey’s many admirers – and some of them might have Todd’s cell number or maybe even a spare set of keys to his place.

I was right. It only took ten minutes – and a few awkward conversations (example: “Todd who? Um. Well, he’s my neighbor… I could pick ‘em out of a lineup, if that’s what you mean, but know his cell phone number? Nope.”)

Before long, I was able to locate the very couple I’d looked for in the first place. They were headed off to the gym, but they stopped to key me into the apartment. Bailey was home, safe and sound, tail wagging and cheerful.

So now I could suit up for my evening on the town. I dumped a thick handful of name badges into my bag. They were for the 80 or so guests for the fundraiser. Todd and I had slaved for three hours over a hot computer and fussy diva with PMS style printer to produce these. These little demonic badges simply had to make it to the party, or all the torment would be for naught! For naught! I wasn’t going to let that happen.

I grabbed a grocery bag of cokes from the trunk of my car downstairs – felt like 10 pounds worth – and hailed a cab.

In just a few moments, I find myself at 2101 Connecticut. The building is of the old school – very classy. Stone facings, beautiful brass and dark wood interior, doormen and elevator opening people at the front desk… the works!

I saunter in with my suit and tie, carrying a bag of groceries. I quietly wonder if these sort of people – people who can afford doormen – do these folks carry their own groceries? I ride up in the elevator and find my way to the party. The cheerful din of the event ripples out into the hallway, echoing off the marble trim. The room I step into is elegantly appointed. Flowers, modern art, dark Euro colors… surrounding the double-breasted, hand-tailored gentlemen, all mingling and doing that peculiar banter/schmooze two-step of political partydom. I join the dance, at first awkwardly carrying the heavy bag full of soda. I’m feeling tremendously out of place. The host of the event, a friendly man in his 40s, greets me with a warm handshake and smile. I thank him for allowing us to use his place, then I tell him I’m a volunteer working for the event. I make for a speedy drop-off of the Coke. (That sounds shadier than I meant it.) Next, I regroup in the roomy guest bath, checking my hair.

Ms. Kitty was there. This little Russian-speaking cutie is one of Todd’s peeps. She works for trade and handles sensitive deals with the vodka-swilling boys in the former Soviet bloc. And she does it all with style and panache.

Ms. Kitty sat and talked with me. We compared band-aids and our recent injuries. (She’d cut herself shaving, while I shaved myself [with the sidewalk] while jogging.) People looked on and editorialized on our wounds and our band-aid choices. Ms. Kitty had the more stylish cartoony padding. She won that round.

Charming spokesmodel (at least I think he looks like a spokesmodel) Joseph was there. His was the first familiar face I glimpsed as I waddled in under the weight of the grocery bag. At this point, sweat was streaming down my brow and getting into my eyes. The mousse in my hair was charging down my face in a sticky, possibly carcinogenic mess. In short, I was a wreck. Still, Joseph said hello. If I’d been in his shoes, I might just as well have pretended not to know me. No doubt, he considered this, as he nibbled on the crackers and cheese. Somehow, he fought the urge to stare right past me and found the courage to say “Hello, Jeffrey.” I was touched.

Todd and I called Joseph just a few hours before in a desperate attempt to find a bartender. The evening’s bar help had pulled out at the last minute. Instead of trying to have a party for gay men (who have a much higher prevalence for alcoholism than the general pop) we made a quick call to Mr. Joseph Pindy. In addition to being a talented actor and cool copyright consultant, Joseph is also a bartender type. So Todd called him up and pleaded for some help. Fortunately, when he arrived, it turned out that the host’s help could mix a perfectly good drink all by himself. So Joseph got to have the evening off to socialize. It was good to see him again. The last time we’d broken bread together was on the national mall, gazing up into the azure sky that was colorfully punctuated by flying kites.

Monday, July 15, 2002

painful news

Painful news.

My name is in the slang dictionary. No, it's not a synonym for "cool" or "nifty." Nothing that nice. Nothing very new, either.

It actually appeared in the 1930s.

"Jeff" is a noun meaning white person. In the 1940s, it appeared as a verb, meaning "to take on the values of the dominant white society."

In the 40s, it became a noun meaning "a tedious person."

Ouch. There was no call for that....

According to the dictionary of american slang (3rd ed.), the expression probably came from Jefferson Davis, the confederate president during the civil war.

The only other appearance of the name Jeff is in the term "Silver Jeff." That's a term meaning nickle or quarter.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

brocolli salad

Guard this with your life. It must not fall into enemy (read "squirrel") hands.

Brocolli salad

(Better if made a day ahead.)

4 cups fresh brocollic flowerets (abt. 11/2 lbs. fresh brocolli)

1 small purple onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings

1/2 cup raisins (put in warm water to plump up and then drain)

1/2 cup pecan pieces, toasted

3/4 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 (11 oz.) can mandarin oranges, drained

Combine first 4 ingredients in a bowl; set aside.

Combine mayonnaise, sugar and vinegar; add to

broccoli mixture, stirring to coat. Gently stir in madarin oranges.

Cover and refrigiate at least 3 hours or

overnight. Yield: 6 servings.

Saturday, July 13, 2002


Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

In the two-tenths of a second between my flight and my fall, I didn’t see my life fly before my eyes. I simply saw the horizon looming larger and larger, until it finally encompassed my entire field of view. Then it came up and whacked me!

I was running along the George Washington Parkway, next to the Potomac. Jet engines roared above me. To my right, cars wooshed past. Below me, both my knees and left shoulder skidded along the pavement, skin peeling off like cheese through a grader. I watched it all in painful slow-mo. Two-tenths of a second before, my left foot got all wrapped up in my right shoelace. Oh, what evil designs that shoelace must’ve been scheming! How long had it been planning this plot? And to what end? Was it part of a larger plot, financed by squirrel agents who are obviously still after me?

After all I’d done for it, how dare that evil little piece of twine jump up and bite the hand that feeds it! What unmitigated gall it had! And, oh, how the not so mighty have fallen!

At the moment of impact, I didn’t cry out like a 5-year-old. (Admit it; you thought I would, didn’t you?)

Oddly, the pain wasn’t that great. After all of these years of mental anguish, I must have become numb to that kind of physical pain. …Well, sort of…

The blood didn’t gush out, Niagra-like. Instead, it just flowed out in a slow trickle. Down it went, a scarlet, pencil-thin streak down my shin. Two little red badges of clumsiness – a matching pair.

And I kept running. I toughed it out, slowly getting back to my original pace. My entire body could feel the throbbing pain of the wounds, though. With each heartbeat, the nerves in my torn skin screamed a silent warning. “There’s been a security breech! We’ve got pieces of asphalt and dust and all kinds of other crap up in here,” they seemed to be shouting. And I heard them. But I forged ahead. Alejandro, my running partner, offered to call for an emergency ride home. But I could manage. Of course I knew that David wouldn’t mind fetching us, but I knew that I could (and should) tough it out.

So I did. And I'm a better runner for it.

Friday, July 12, 2002

robert frost in kanji

On looking into Robert Frost in Kanji

There are more problems to a woodchuck

Than the old tongue-twister dreamed.

How much of the wood is picture,

How much idea or noise?

Could an oriental nature-lover know

The restless action of the verb to chuck?

Will the nice mixture of Virgil and Vermont

Find an equivalent voice

On the spare Japanese reed?

After what might be described locally

As seven elegant hen-tracks

The translator remarks

Very sensibly: (woodchuck)

As if to paraphrase his unyielding poet:

The definition of woodchuck is,

That which is lost in translation.

-William Meredith


What is consciousness?

From a fascinating article in the science section of the Washington Post. I've put most of it into my own words, but can't take credit for any of the thoughts. It's a lot to ponder on....

Descartes said that consciousness was like an 'observer' in the head, a higher function, separate from the workings of the physical brain.

Some neuroscientists disagree. They say there is no 'observer.' Instead, there is consciousness -- it's just very organized brain chemistry, just like life itself is made of proteins and cells in complex systems.

This is called the reductionist view. Daniel Wegner wrote "The Illusion of Conscious Will." It says that the brain's just a really complex machine. But it also convinces itself that it isn't a machine at all. It produces consciousness merely to give itself the feeling that it has completed a job. This process allows the brain to better cope with similar situations in the future.

"We think the intentions cause the actions, and we get the feeling we have willed what we do. It could be the intentions and actions are being caused by the machinery of the brain," Wegner says.

Intentions and actions are produced by different mechanisms in the brain. They are timed to occur simultaneously, but don't always do it that way. Intention doesn't always precede action.

People aren't actually aware of most brain activity. But why does the brain discriminately assign intention to only some actions?

Terrance Deacon, an anthropologist at U of C at Berkeley, says that the brain has two distinct parts. One handles things it has mastered. It's all about computation. The other part reacts to the world in a process that mimics evolution.

Darwin postulated that species evolve from one to the next without a guiding hand; competition and selection lead to adaptation and improvement.

"Evolution is information coming out of nothing, information out of chaos," Deacon says.

The same thing happens with the brain, he says. "Emergent information" is created in the brain in much the same way.

Consciousness helps us deal with unexpected events. Consciousness helps us pay attention to what is important.

David Chalmers, a philosopher at U of Arizona says that the perceptual aspect of sonsciousness -- pain, tastes, sight -- they're all very subjective experiences.

He says that scientists will find eventually that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe -- like time or space. It isn't reducable.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

generous george

It's Sushi Taro, the great little Japanese place on P Street. It's 7:15 and it's a gorgeous summer day. I'm just about to cross the street and I catch his eye. He's a little older than I thought. No, he's not 88 like his profile indicated, but he's probably in his late 30s. But what a handsome smile he has!

The awkward stumble of our first face-to-face conversation quickly evaporates to an easy, funny flow of thought. It takes about a minute before the transfer rate is smooth and steady. And he's so polite. (His Japanese Mom would be proud.)

We both like agedashi dofu. After my second thimbleful of sake, I have the Irish confidence necessary to perform (and explain) the wavy, hula-like motions of the dried bonito flake dance. (Bonito flakes are the little slightly crunchy bits of fish that they sprinkle atop the fried tofu. They move about like they're still alive, undulating from the heat of the tofu.)

My usual bravado lands on appreciative ears, but I notice a distinct unwillingness to "play along" with some of the central tenants of the Jeffreyverse. "It's not all about you," he actually has the gall to suggest during one of my more obnoxious monologues. I am shocked beyond words.

It's obvious that he won't budge an inch. He daringly feigns obliviousness to my veiled suggestions and threats. All smiles, he allows his silence to speak volumes -- all at my expense. It's maddening, tortuous and wildly erotic. I am Mattie and he is Dave. We are in the midst of a Moonlighting episode. The little Obaachan (old Japanese lady) taking our order is the goofy secretary. She brings me more sake and I am silent, in stunned amazement that George still doesn't humor me to the full extent necessary for me to save face.

Aaaah! I realize that he is enjoying this exquisite torture almost as much as I am loathing it. I don't know whether to storm out of the restaurant before the main course or just suck up to him so that the conversation can veer in another (less painful) direction.

But he's a sexy one. Very self-confident. Warm in small amounts and playful enough not to give into my conversational threats. Altogether, a pleasing partner for dinner. Delightful, in fact. And I don't want our dinner to end.

So we retire to the South metro exit Cosi. (There's a Cosi cafe on either side of the Dupont Metro. The one on the South side is more straight and a lot more sprawling. There's more often a nice place to sit at that one.)

More sparkling, electric convo. A few genuinely gentlemanly gestures. Several dozen more warm, intimate glances. And those chocolate brown eyes and expressive lips just taunt me.

A quick goodbye at the metro escalator opens up the opportunity for a simple, but sensuous, series of kisses. Those thick, powerful lips are silent for a moment as they delicately brush mine. I readjust my boxers as subtly as possible and head down the escalator.

It's been nearly a year since I've been on a date like that. I smile at my luck. My eyes calibrate to the curious, cold metro lights. A little breeze plays with my hair as I sink down, subterrain style. And I think to myself, "I could fall for this guy."

Of course, I don't mention my initial association with his name. There's a place in Alexandria, called "Generous George's." It's a t-t-tacky Chunky Cheezy Wanna-be. (I don't know what's more sad, that it wants to be like chunky cheeze or that it doesn't actually stand a chance at competing with that place!)

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Coffee with Morgenstern

Boy, there's nothing like a little Chet Baker in the morning for that old time wrist-slashing sensation. No. It's a sunny, cheerful day. And I recently re-discovered Misha's, a trendy indie coffee shop on just off the corner of Patrick and King. I've just devoured a moist, dreamy little pumpkin muffin and downed half of my exceedingly well-brewed cafe au lait.

This is a hopping place. I had no idea how loud or busy it would be. It's got Cosi beat for morning traffic. It doesn't do so well in the evening, though. That's too bad, since they have much better coffee. Chet's singing "Someone to watch over me" now. It's too sweet. This song really suits his voice and instrument well. So sweet. So rich. So brimming with history and sex. It reminds me of that song of the gallows birds:

How strange is life! How full of dread!

Here we all dangle from red thread.

Toad croaks and spider spins her lair,

The wind blows slantwise through our hair.

O horror, horror, horror howl!

"You are accursed!" cries the owl.

The starlight's broken by the moon,

but you will not be broken soon.

O horror, horror, horror cry!

The silver horses gallop by,

the owl hoots twice: tu-whit, tu-whoo!

It chews and brews and blues for you!

Okay, it doesn't remind me of that poem. But it seemed a shame not to include it. It's from a book I just got -- lullabies, lyrics and gallows songs by German lyrical/absurdist poet, Christian Morgenstern.

It's so odd how quickly the hours steal away so quickly in this atmosphere. In the laughing, steaming, shwishing, slamming, jazzing atmosphere of a loud coffee shop. It seems like I walk in, start to read the paper for a while, look at my watch and realize that two hours have gone by. Wild. I have to be leaving in about an hour. (Of course, I'd much rather believe in half an hour. But that's neither here nor there.)

Sunday, July 07, 2002

blind matriarchs

I waltzed out of the drug store, incriminating evidence in hand.

Well, partially incriminating, anyway... The over-exposed pics of my debauchery in the Big Apple didn't really reveal much more than an unshaven, pale-skinned guy hamming it up in Times Square. But that's a story for another day.

I waltzed out of the drug store. As I walked through the threshold, I saw two blind ladies talking together. The diminutive black one with the tell-tale Ray Charles glasses was discussing child-rearing with the taller, lanky white woman, in similar glasses. They were both holding safety-orange walking canes. The two were chortling loudly and I overheard one saying to the other, "Know what I tell them youngins? I tell 'em, 'if you don't act right, I'm gonna pop you one!'" She punctuated the threat with a brusque motion of her cane, as if she was using it to smack the unruly tyke over the head. "Note to self," I thought, "Don't go messing with any blind black matriarchs. They could easily draw blood as they "pop me one" with those canes. And they probably have an eerie, ninja-like sense of aim. I was impressed by their bold (if somewhat threatening) sense of purpose. Blind or not, she was determined to rear those children with a strong hand. That's what I call passion. No wilting Willamina here -- she was going to take the bull by the horns, then, if need be, smack 'em around a bit.

The whole blindness thing was just a footnote. She was a Mom first, a visually impaired person second. Bravo to that.

It was a great way to end the eastern end of my walk down King Street on a sunny, blustery Wednesday morning.

Over the last five months, I have sculpted out a perfect Wednesday morning routine for myself. This is it:

I sleep late, lounging around in the soft warmth of my bed, squinting my eyes to the sunlight refracted by the undulating mass of emerald leaves in the front yard trees. I listen to the morning radio news and consider getting out of bed with the measured deliberation of a supreme court justice, except I make sure to allow for plenty of back-stretching time.

It's usually 9:30 or 10 when I finally drag my sorry carcass out of the sack. But the incredible sweetness of the sleep-in depends on my ability to escape from it. If I sleep past 10, then I usually feel drained and groggy all morning. (When it comes to bedrest, there's definitely too much of a good thing.) I read that getting more than 7 1/2 hours of sleep a night actually seems to lead to a shorter life span. But what a well-rested, leisurely life that must be! I guess my 9-to-7 sleeping strategy might be a bad thing. But I'll risk it. I like to live on the wild side, anyway.

Yesterday, I got a great compliment from a beautiful young african-asian woman at work. She had carted her two hyperactive kids with her to my storytime. One of them, a boy of about seven, pointed an accusatory finger at me and said, "Where's the LADY?" It was a typical response. I was filling in for Kimberly, who generally reads to the group on Thursdays. The little boy seemed satisfied with my storytelling skills by the second or third book. The woman must've been a little embarrassed by his outburst -- maybe that's why she took me aside as I was de-greeting the kids. "You have a wonderful temperament for working with kids," she explained. "You have a real way with them." I just responded with a surprised, "Wow, thanks!" I was a little shocked, since I didn't really feel like I was "in the zone" with my stories that morning.

But I must have met at least bare minimum standards for story-telling, despite my occasional stutter or pause. (I wonder if my little Oops-I-lost-my-place pauses are sometimes mistaken for dramatic ones sometimes.)

But the fact that I got some positive feedback from her (and the little visits I get from preschoolers to second-graders who come asking to talk with "Mista Jeffrey") answer a question posed by a newspaper article I read this morning. Craig Wilson, Life section columnist for USA Today, asked, "Would you do your job for free?" He cited the story of town librarian Yvonne Thomas of Berlin, New Hampshire. She decided to retire from her job and volunteer rather than see her library's materials budget cut by 8 percent. After 28 years, she decided to retire one day, then come back as a volunteer the very next. "If there's no money for books, this place becomes a bad museum," she is quoted as saying in the newspaper.

What a great example Yvonne Thomas sets for us. Not for just librarians, either, but for anyone. Just like the fierce blind matriarchs, she's got a passion for doing what she loves. And she loves it so much, she's willing to do it free of charge.

She reminds me of another breezy do-gooder. A man I chanced to meet on the metro last month wrote me a poem, just to celebrate the simple joy of running into me. (We'd met earlier in the year at a party and he remembered meeting me.)

Thank God for purposeful blind matriarchs, committed New Hampshire retirees and fresh-faced haiku writers on subway trains. It's little things like this that keep me going -- the exquisite randomness of my connectedness -- my interoperability with the people around me, physically and ideologically.

bliss revisited

This guy named Joseph told me once, "follow your bliss!" The cocktail party was wall-to-wall thick with Mardi Gras revelers that evening. I had just gone to refill my punch when I spilt some on this old bearded hippie.

Quickly, I mopped up the minor beverage puddle off of his jacket. Luckily, he was drunk, too. The guy was sort of a sloppy drunk, but he had a charming way about him. He introduced himself as Joseph. He was a folklorist, visiting Baton Rouge for the festival weekend. As he talked, his gestures were minimalist -- he had drawn a diagram of some significance on his cocktail napkin. It looked like a sky full of stars -- a Milky Way painted on a tiny paper canvas. And there was a dotted path, drawn in a different color ink, to a star that shone brightly.

"Follow your bliss," the drunk man told me. With his finger, he pointed to the napkin.

"You can navigate by the points of light; they're your talents. Let them guide your way through the ether. Just use them like a passenger pigeon finds its way home. Use what you love to find your route in life." Years later, I was watching public television, when I saw a clean-cut, sober-looking version of Joseph the folklorist. He was Joseph Campbell.

And he was obviously following his bliss -- sharing his love of folklore and comparative sociology with millions through his books and public television specials. He was like the Carl Sagan of the social sciences, sharing his love of humanity with ... appropriately enough, humanity.

When I think about how much more attention I might have paid the drunken Joseph that evening, I have to shudder. But, I'm happy to report that I manage to navigate by my personal stars pretty well. I'm happy and satisfied with the direction of my path. Bliss isn't that difficult for me to identify for me.

Finding my bliss means spending time exploring life. I explore life through writing, travel, music, web development and publication.

My writing takes the form of my journal, poetry, personal correspondence, observational writing and performance or event reaction pieces.

Travel is my most expensive addiction. But it gives me the biggest high.... It is my escape and the most wonderful means of finding myself. It's the best confidence-building exercise I can imagine. Perhaps most importantly, it reminds me of an important fact. It reminds me that although I'm a resident of the United States, I am truly a citizen of the world.

Music is another way I find my bliss. It's probably the most soul-satisfying way for me to relieve stress. While this was very important for me as a young adult, I sometimes neglect the fact that it is a great stress-reliever today. I don't make time for it as much as I used to. And my playing, I'm sorry to say, reflects this negligence. Fortunately, I get a lot out of listening to music. So I still do that quite often. Barely a day goes by without some music in my life. It would be a sorry existence without it, most certainly.

Developing and maintaining an active electronic presence is a favorite pastime of mine. It's something I can spend hour upon hour creating, without even realizing where the day has gone. Therefore, I have to take a day every so often to keep my site fresh and vibrant, so that my viewers will be happy. When I have enough money for it, I would like to have a live webcam again. I spent a year on cam. It was a unique way to see the world and let them see me. The way I viewed the world changed fundamentally when I was being webcast to the four-corners of the globe. It made me feel like a citizen of the world and of the world's wonderful electronic culture.

Publication is very similar to my web hobby. Publication involves all the things I physically create. This includes my scrapbooks, photo albums and other mementos from my travels and my daily life. It's very satisfying for me to see my memories clearly and entertainingly made concrete so that I can share them with others.

"Myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human manifestation..." -Joseph Campbell, Hero with a thousand faces

Saturday, July 06, 2002

burn this

My body has ached since Monday. I think I slept for 12 full hours last night... And I still woke up tired. Like I always say, there's nothing like a few days of illness to make you appreciate a few years of wellness. (Okay, I don't always say that. But during dark times, it's essential to maintain a cheery outlook.)

But why did it have to happen this week? I'm leaving for New York tomorrow. It's only going to be my, like, second time there as an adult, where Seventh Avenue meets Broadway. I was hoping that I would be there as a healthy adult -- at least physically. (Can anyone be mentally well there? I don't know... that might be worth investigation....)

Right now I have a rattling, bad carborator-sounding hacking cough. Add to that a sore throat, dry eyes, a stopped up nose, and achy-breaky muscles.

(Right now I'm feeling better. Chemicals help. So does the restorative cup of hot chai with my cappuccino muffins. That chai felt great to my throat. I'm at my local coffee shop, the Uptowner cafe as I write these lines.)

Nicole LeCroix is talking to me. Her voice is rich, calm, intelligent and suave. Let's face it -- it's everything I wish my voice could be. Except I'm glad I'm not as girly as she is. Little Nicole, that little morning time tease, with her playful pauses and that obvious smile in her voice. She's the morning host on the public radio station who always teases me out of slumber. I wake up to her voice everyday and I mentally recite, mantra-style, the same old joke from AbFab: "LeCroix, sweety!"

At least I had a fabulous weekend leading up to my sickness. Friday night I saw a drama staged by George Washington University's unique little counter-cultural, anti-establishment theater group, aptly named "Generic." Oh, the very pinnacle of irony, you bad-ass Gen-Xers!

The play was called "Burn This." The title was taken from a line in a note that one of the characters left for another character. "This is real life, not opera, so stop being so tragic. Burn this [note]."

The play was well done. The actors did a great job, even though the script had a few rough spots. The staging was good -- there was a totally unexpected fight scene that nearly made me jump out of my seat. But the real treat wasn't actually the play. The best part of the evening was meeting Matthew, one of the actors.

I saw the play with my bud, Kevin. He had been anticipating the play for months, ever since his internet friend, Matt, told him about it. Seems that Kev and Matt had corresponded electronically since August of last year. They'd talked on the phone too. But they'd never actually met in person. There was a lot of pent-up emotional involvement between the two of them. I could sense it. Kevin seems to talk more when he's nervous. Matt obviously knew things about Kevin that I didn't yet know or understand. Kevin, safely insulated in his latinboy butchness -- that whole sporty Old Spice scent of detatched independence -- was decidedly tough to crack. But Matt had obviously gotten through. That much was already clear. The funny thing was that Matt had no idea who Kevin was in real life. He'd never spent time with him in real life.

Well, that was about to change the night of the performance. Kevin settled into the uncomfortable chairs of the black box theatre, housed in an old Episcopalean/Lutheran church just off Pennsylvania Avenue. The old church had been totally refitted as a performing arts building. The theatre was well-equipped and perfect for this kind of production. The lights went down and the show started. Before long, Matt made his entrance. Kevin's face lit up with a big smile of recognition.

Matt, a solidly built Matt Damon look-alike, wore chunky lesbian-chic glasses. They safely obscured his piercing green eyes. Growing up on a banana plantation in Honalulu (can you sing Day-O?), Matt has a confident, easy-going manner that readily translates to a high degree of stage presence.

If the play hadn't been so engrossing, I would've spent all my mental energy working out the staging of a relationship: Would Kevin and Matthew be suited for a collaborative effort? Would their performance be a romance or a farce? Well, after just a few lines, I could see that Matt's role as the comic relief in the show meant that if anything occurred between the him and Kevin, it would be a delightful -- if slightly comedic -- romance, indeed.

After the show, we found ourselves sitting on the edge of the Dupont Fountain. It was splash-and-gurgle free. The water was turned off; the only sound was the white noise of the city surrounding us.

We spoke of Hawaiian lays (leis?), city college campuses, the charms of the city. And we laughed. I snapped a few pictures of the boys, then decided to go eat. After botched attempts at finding a great italian place called Cafe Luna, we settled for the incorrect set of directions to an all-too-similarly named Luna Grill. The concierge at the Jurys Inn wasn't very much help to us. He obviously didn't know that there were two lunarly (or would that be "lunatic") named eating establishments in the Dupont area. So we ate at the poorer of the two. The food was still good, just not as nice as it might have been. Oh well, the avocado sandwich with bean sprouts was everything that I hoped and dreamed that it would be, so I was satisfied.

The warm glow of satiation surrounding me had highlights of theatricality, thanks to the drama geek stylings of Matt. Before long, Matt was trying to recruit Kevin for the Generic theater group. I agreed. Kevin has so much energy and flare that he was meant for the stage. He's got so much energy, he would do well to harness it artistically. Kevin admitted to an unnatural desire to do theatre games, like the ones on "Who's line is it, anyway?"

Sure, I felt a little left out when Matt didn't try to recruit me... but I was very brave and strong about it. Besides, I have my writing career to think of! (Ha ha. Good one, there, Jeffrey!)

7th avenue and broadway

Thursday took forever; it was nothing but drag. At least the kids were good. No, wait... that's a lie. They were pretty awful, actually. One little stroller-riding guttersnipe kept wailing like a colicky banshee. Did Mom do anything about it? No – she was obviously of the “let ‘em scream until their voice box bleeds” school of thought. Well, our eardrums were pretty close to bleeding before I had a chance to give Mom the patented librarian “cease and desist” stare.

But it's not really their fault. Kimberly, my supervisor, usually does her story time on Thursdays. But since she was handling some delicate affairs of state (that’s code for getting her hair done), I filled in for her.

Understandably, her regulars missed her. One 8-year-old boy pleaded, his hands flapping in the air, "Where's the LAY-dy?" The last word he stressed, as if to say, "You can't possibly read me a story -- you're a guy!" I prevailed, despite his intermittent heckling, in reading them four stories and singing two songs. They seemed entertained, if not completely won over, by my charm, wit and style. (I'll admit: Kimberly is better suited for the kids under seven; it seems like I get along better with the eight and ups.)

Thursday, I told dragon tales. Before the stories, I pulled out the plush stuffed animal dragon, sternly cautioning the wide-eyed kids, "remain calm -- don't make any sudden movements." They screamed, their little bodies visibly shaking, with hyper-delightful anticipation. When I pulled out the Custard the cowardly dragon puppet, one little girl jeered, "That's not a REAL dragon!" I demurely apologized for trying to trick them. I feigned embarrassment and admitted that our REAL dragon was out with a cold.

Five o'clock came none to soon. I slipped out, as silent as a dragon's shadow.

I got home and quickly threw a few last-minute additions into my suitcase. By the time I lugged the thing downstairs, Michael had arrived. We left for the metro station and made it to DC's Union Station Amtrak terminal in half an hour. After a quick shared chicken club sandwich, we boarded our Acela Express bound for Penn Station, New York. It was like an airplane, without the annoying security check. I sank back into the chair and closed my eyes during the butter-smooth and relaxing ride.

The conductor looked just like the blind tenor, with his jostled hair and fuzzy beard. He could see, though, since I doubt it was the same guy. He drew his ticket puncher with the speedy panache of a gunslinger.

Michael and I sat across from each other, with a table between us. I read my guidebooks while he perused the newspaper.

Before long, I got bored and decided to tickle him. This was a mistake on my part, because he tickled back. We giggled loudly while trying not to. This only made it worse. Writhing in the exquisite agony of his touch, I bumped my head on the bottom of the table. That shut me up. Our fellow passengers, mostly businessmen commuting back home, studied the contents of their briefcases rather importantly, simulating silent disinterest in their giggling homosexual neighbors as the train pulled out of New Jersey. “One more stop and we're in New York City!” I whispered expectantly. I was ready for a nighttime cityscape, dotted and dashed with lights and lines of bright colors. I got the uncomfortable strobe of tunnel lights instead.

Around 10, we arrived at Penn Station. Soon we were in a taxi and on our way to the Sheraton Manhattan on 51st Street and 7th Avenue. It was a great place to stay. The lobby was of moderate size, but was serviceable. While the room wasn't impressive, it was adequate and clean. It didn't feel run-down or old. The bathroom didn't have a "sanitized for your protection" strip over the toilet seat cover. (The mere presence of these strips is a clear indication that the bathroom is NOWHERE NEAR sanitary and extreme caution should be used, in the form of toilet paper [at least three layers thick!] over the seat whenever sitting is required. Since you’re wondering, yes, this journal entry has received the good housekeeping seal of approval.)

Like I said, it was a great location, just a 5-minute walk to Times Square. In my best teenage girl voice, I intoned, "Ohmygawd, can you BELIEVE, we're, like, SO close to Carson Daly, I could JUST SCREAM!" And I did. Michael cringed, suitably embarrassed for me. (It is moments like this when I realize just how much I act like my Dad, who always screams when Carson Daly comes on TRL.)

No, I'm lying, of course. I realize I'm like Dad because he absolutely delights in embarrassing his family in public. He used to embarrass me, too, when I was little. But I've since learned the many benefits of having no shame -- I wonder how he arrived at this blissful, Buddha-like state of shame-free silliness? Did he have a father who fostered this in him? Does this sort of thing develop on its own? Does he employ performance-enhancing drugs? So many unanswered questions!

We soon fell into bed, our bodies cozy and snug under the covers. Another reminder of my father sprang to mind. Like my Dad, Michael is of the "We're paying for it, so we might as well use it" school of thought regarding hotel air conditioners. So the AC roared all night long, pumping the room with deepfreeze-like air. Ice crystals formed on the mirror and each exhalation formed a silent but visible puff of fog.

The office building across the street from us was full of florescent light, a chilly powder blue against the gray of the night sky. The air above the city is smog -- it reflects the light that spills upwards from the celebrated skyline. Even without the World Trade Center, it's an impressive vista. Canyons of man-made steel and concrete form the geography here. It's a strange existence, living within these canyons. The days full of indirect light must have some psychological effect on the city dwellers. (I wonder if that's what makes them so rude? Or is it just a defense mechanism against the ridiculous psychological residue of obscene population density?)

The next morning, I woke at 6 to be at the convention center in time for the Children's author and book breakfast. (Not a very catchy name, but it was a great way to wake up.)

The speakers were wonderful. Too bad it was a serve-yourself buffet with stale muffins. At least the juice was good. Kimberly and her husband, Michael, kept me company at the breakfast. I met a literary talent scout from England. (He actually pronounced it with a crisp, refined accent that rendered the word more like "LIT-trary." He was on the lookout for new authors and new titles. "Any luck so far?" I asked him. "Not any yet, I'm afraid -- this is my first day here and my first time at this conference," He explained. He usually goes to Frankfurt. The conference there is the largest European conference -- and one of the largest in the world.

The best presentation at the breakfast was by Tony Kushner, the talented American playwright. He was hilarious and thanked his publisher for teaming him up with a "promising young illustrator that you're sure to be seeing great things from," Maurice Sendak. (Sendak's best known for "Where the Wild Things Are," among countless other children's classics.)

Just a few weeks after the trip, I heard a familiar voice addressing a crowd of new grads on national public radio. It was Kushner. He was one of a handful of speechmakers included in a sound montage of various academic keynote speaker/cheerleaders.

After the breakfast, I attended a great workshop on First Amendment Rights (I just typed "Fist" by accident -- that sounded vaguely obscene!). Barbara Kingsolver, popular mystery writer, spoke about libel committed against her criticism of the Bush administration's security "precautions." She was an amazing speaker. Michael Moore, anti-establishment indie filmmaker and author, spoke about how his anti-Bush book, published September 10th, 2001, languished in warehouses until his publisher threatened to "pulp" the 10,000 copies. "To pulp" is industry jargon for "to send to the shredder." He happened to mention his plight to a librarian friend, who then spread the word around to other librarians. Within days, a popular library listserv had broadcast the situation to thousands of librarians all over the world, who then began calling and writing his publisher en masse. Moore was duly impressed by the "secret network" of librarians, which he jokingly referred to as "the most powerful terror network [in that they terrorized his publisher] in the world." He got loads of applause for that line, along with approving whistles from a few others and me.

After that meeting, which took the form of "GO librarians, GO!" pep rally, I had an energetic buzz and a spring in my step. Not bad for a first day of conference.

The back of my heels were redder and more pock-marked than the surface of Mars. Not good for a first day of the conference.

I had a slight case of medicine head, since the sinutabs sort of dulled my senses a little bit. When I got back to the room, Michael was chatting with his old friend, Atticus. Atticus was waiting for the conference to be over, so that he could get a job with one of the many publishers in the area. (They'd all been too busy to hire anyone before the convention started, so his unemployment had been prolonged by the weeklong pause in business.)

Atticus took us to the Carnegie Deli, just across the street from the famous theater landmark. Plastered over the walls from floor to ceiling, there were 8 x 10 glossy photos of celebrities and wanna-be celebrities. I saw a smirking Ms. Garret from "The Facts of Life" and cocky grin from the bandleader from the Conan O'Brian show. I wondered if celebrities just went around with a stack of photos to canvas New York restaurants with. I mean, it was such a common restaurant theme that I wondered if that was the only real recurring theme in this metropolis. Or is it more a promotional tool for up-and-coming glitterati? Do they offer a picture as a payment for their dinner? What about the washed-up celebrities? Do they have their pics torn down, just to make room for other, more glamorous stars? Who knows? The waitress was simply too rude to ask. Well, she wasn't rude so much as gruff. Either way, I wasn't about to risk any embarrassment. We were packed into the table, just between retired English folks to our right and a vaguely midwestern couple to our left.

Atticus led us around to visit the Metropolitan Museum of art. It was a joy to explore, despite the riotous school groups, which moved with the languid speed of plankton.

The real trial at the museum wasn’t really the annoying kids. The true challenge was dealing with the feeling of being a rat in a maze. (It was a beautifully appointed maze with lots of pretty set-abouts to help distract us, but it felt like a maze, nonetheless.)

It was a richly humbling experience. I actually got so turned around that I had absolutely no idea where we were. I was feeling very much the sheep that afternoon, so I let Atticus and Michael lead us around. We ambled through Greek and roman artifacts, circled through religious iconography, made a beeline to a hall of impressionist masters, lazed about the wing of fine jewelry, lounged amongst the gothic furniture and finally found ourselves back again where we started. It was truly a relief, because I was all museumed out at that point.

I needed something to revitalize me. A little walk through Central Park did the trick.

Before long, we boarded a bus and started for Atticus' place. The bus driver had a smooth, low-key radio DJ sort of delivery. He had the entire bus in an uproar of laughter. He was good. I saw and heard literal knee slapping. (Why can’t I have a job like that? I adore making people laugh!) I was sorry that our bus ride was so short; his voice was so relaxing.

Atticus lived in a diverse neighborhood. (In this context, "diverse" is a polite way to say "extremely dangerous, gang-ridden and prone to gun violence.") I postulated, while in his cozy little kitchen, that if I lived in New York, in this neighborhood, I would probably join a gang. Michael doubted that there were gangs hanging out on his friend's doorstep. But I disagreed. Atticus had mentioned that he'd seen (or suspected he'd seen) drug deals going down on the corner just across the street. So how could there not be gangs? That's what I wanted to know.

"If I were going to join a gang, it would have to be very liberal -- I don't want to belong to a group that discriminates against people based on skin color or orientation or other things like that.

So, if I were to join a gang, it wouldn't be the Crips or the Bloods or anything like that. (The gang would have to be called "The Pink Panthers" or "The Lavender Lassies" or something along those lines.) Anything else would be unthinkable.

Atticus left us for a moment and Michael told me to nix the gang-related jokes. That was a pity, though, since I’d already worked up a scenario in which we procure some chalk, break it up into little pieces, drop them into little plastic bags, then sell them to passers-by as Canadian-grown crack. (I already had my Canadian accent ready and everything.)

Atticus, Michael and I went for a quick drink at his neighborhood bar, which was very straight but had a great bartender who seemed genuinely friendly and who wished me a wonderful vacation "filled with special New York Moments." (The way she inflected those words made it clear that “moments” was capitalized.) Before long, we had found a diner-style Cuban cafe. It was a little hole in the wall with cheap plastic tables and mirror clocks loudly proclaiming the restaurants allegiance to Corona. But the food was amazing and the company was great. Atticus, who'd been initially cold and distant to me, finally warmed up and began to offer the occasional glance in my direction as he spoke. That made it much easier to spend time with him. Atticus is a beautiful man -- dark complected with beautiful bone structure. Pretty eyes, too. He probably could've been a model. He and Michael had dated for a short period while they were in college together. I felt very much the third wheel at first, but I think Atticus just needed time to feel comfortable. For some reason, I don't seem to get along with some of Michael’s friends that well. I think that I must have too dominant of a personality or something. Maybe Michael just gravitates toward alphas. (It's possible that I'm entirely off here. Perhaps Atticus' emotional distance might simply have been a symptom of good ol' fashioned sexual tension. Let’s face it: I radiate megawatts of sexual energy, vitality and sensuality. And some people just can’t deal with that because of years of repression and guilt. Of course, the most likely explanation is that I was sporting a piece of spinach wedged in my front teeth and nobody cared to fill me in on it. Who knows? It's anyone's guess.)

Riding the subway back from Atticus' place, I was reminded of an old poem:

Reading Yeats I do not think of Ireland but of midsummer New York and of myself back then reading a copy I found on the Third Avenue El

the El with its flyhung fans and its signs reading SPITTING IS FORBIDDEN the El careening thru its third story world of its third story people in their third story doors looking as if they had never heard of the ground

an old dame watering her plant or a joker in a straw putting a stickpin in his peppermint tie and looking just like he had nowhere to go but Coney island

or an undershirted guy rocking in his rocket watching the El pass by as if he expected it to be different each time

Reading Yeats I do not think of Arcady and of its woods which Yeats thought dead I think instead

of all the gone faces getting off at midtown places with their hats and their jobs and of that lost book I had with its blue cover and its white inside where a pencilhand had written HORSEMAN, PASS BY!

(Poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.)

Getting off at midtown places is something my friend Jeni does all the time. She lives on the lower East side. It’s a quieter area than the west side. The blocks of apartments are 4 and 5-story walk ups, fenced in with little Seinfeld-like delis, coffee shops and non-trendy restaurants. But Jeni doesn’t need any of these nearby conveniences so much. She works at a very trendy restaurant. Plus, she has a gorgeous patio balcony and living room with big airy doors that swing in to let in the mostly fresh air.

The skyline, as seen from her bedroom window, is beautiful and classically New York. Tall fingery sky scrapers peek over the foreground of neighboring apartment buildings. The alley behind the house sports a few gangly trees. There’s enough greenery for a sense of place, enough concrete to assure densely packed people. But it was a quiet place – very peaceful.

Jeni and I went to the galleries, which are just a ten-minute walk from her place. We went up the loop-the-loop walk of the Met. The sounds and sights of Brazil flooded the dark expanses of the gallery. It was vivacious and fun. Jeni and I had a great time examining the art and explaining to each other the curious (wholly imagined) details of each work’s moment of conception. It was a wonderful exercise in creative thinking. Jeni and I love to tell each other stories. One of our favorite cocktails is “people-watching with a twist of tale-telling.”

“He’s not ready to commit to his lover, although she’s madly in love (and lust) with him. She’s ready for a child. That biological clock is just a-tickin’. But he’s actually seeing his secretary,” Jeni would inform me, of the balding 30-something with the 20-something Asian woman with the crustacean jewelry.

"How crabby," I would reply, straight-faced, but laughing inside.

Jeni was such a sweetheart to put me up and take care of me while I was there. I even got to hang with her roommates. They were an odd pair. A cocaine-snorting, girlfriend cheatin' guy and a shy, submissive girl with no hint of a personality shared the small loft apartment.

This odd pair and I shared a few drinks, then headed down, down, down below for a basement movie theater showing of "Spiderman." It was *the* hit of the summer of '02, of that I'm sure. It was top-grossing this, top-grossing that. But the grossest thing about the evening was the way the cocaine addicted guy with the Rhode Island accent treated his fellow roommate, a pale little wisp of a thing with no visible charm. Turned out that he was boinking him. And despite all of the verbal abuse he slung her way, all throughout the show, she put up with it. And, on top of that, she fed his snake. (No, that's not any figure of speech -- he had a real snake.)

The real pleasure of the trip was spending time with little Jeni and re-living our time in BR together. Fun times!

All in all, it was a grand, if only a 6-day stay, in the city that doesn't sleep.