Archives for September 2005

"I should have been a pair of ragged claws …

… Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

T.S. Eliot was born on this date in 1888 and died in 1965.

“[Poetry] may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves.”

From the Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

From “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Okay, Who Wants Some?

Some people can write books and blog at the same time. I might be one of those people, but I can’t risk finding out. I need to go cold turkey on the Interweb until I finish this thing. Deadline: six weeks and counting down. I’m gonna ask Mark to fill in some. Anybody else want to try their hand for a week or so? Drop me a line. And please pray for me.

Homemade Joke Recalled After Reading Elizabeth Skurnick’s Poem Entitled "My Husband is the Husband of Five Other Women."

If the plural of “mouse” is “mice,”
Is the plural of “spouse” “spice”?

Poetry Corner II

This one is from Elizabeth Skurnick, aka The Old Hag, aka a genuine litblogger who once allowed me to be one of her slur of guest-hosts. It’s titled “My Husband is a Broker at Bear, Stearns,” and it’s one of a cycle – like my friend Joseph, she works in antique (but perhaps not antiquated) forms. The cycle also includes “My Husband is a State Trooper,” “My Husband is a Homosexual,” “My Husband is a Dermatologist” (which you can hear her read here), and others. It is taken from her chapbook Check-In, recently published by Caketrain.

Nothing makes me tenser than masturbating.
I mean, meditating. Alone with a candle
In a minimized room, with only the scent
Of my nasturtium pillows to release me.
I’ve tried isolation tanks, isometrics, but they too
Were hooked on adverse circumstances.
I am on a constant forage with my women:
Versolato, Yamamoto, Barneys inner sanctum on Madison.
In the day I leave my children with a black woman
And they stare at me like a stranger when I return.
I return, they are staring. I have to cut some havarti,
Snap a few carrot sticks and order the girl
Around for an hour so the troops remember what’s
What. In fact she’s little more than a girl –
This black girl – a girl like the girl I once was.
And the tape says, Embrace the blank. Embrace
The area of blankness. I always giggle. Alone
Or alongside in my bed, I am with a body not my own.

Poetry Corner

This one’s mine – rotten Muse.

On Discussing a Move East with My Wife

Come, lay with me, lie
With me and we’ll discuss
The future, and just exactly why
I feel compelled to fret and fuss

Over things so far away
Spinning down the years to come
With promises already gray
With mold – “A broken drum

Sans force, sans beat, sans meaning,”
You’ll cry. “It’s clear there’s nothing to it.
I’d go, if you’d just stop your preening,
Get off your ass, and do it.”

Gotta stay poor…

…said my friend. Gotta stay poor.

Talking with a teacher yesterday. She said that there was a direct relationship between the amount of money parents made and the amount of trouble their children caused, and and inverse relationship between the number of children in a family and the amount of trouble the chlidren caused.

Nice guys never win; only cream and bastards rise.
– Paul Newman in Harper.

I am old, I am old,
I shall wear my trousers rolled…
– T.S. Eliot in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Not feeling very well today.

Oh, and I was at a friend’s house, spotted a copy of Mark Shea’s 1993 book This IS My Body. Foreword by Gerry Matatics. An intriguing combination, that.

Gambler’s Ruin

this is an audio post - click to play

It’s All About Art

From a NYT piece on a Met exhibit of art from Prague – starting with a bit about Charles IV:

“The addition of holy Roman emperor to his résumé, made him a political superstar. With a handpicked team of artists and architects, imported and local, he turned Prague into a visual showcase, a rival, he hoped, to Paris and Rome. And with holy relics, which he amassed in stupefying numbers and stockpiled in the treasury of the rising St. Vitus Cathedral, he transformed a merchant city into a sacred city, cosmic terrain, a New Jerusalem.

A reliquary is one of the first things you see in the exhibition, a life-size gilded silver bust of St. Ludmila herself, probably commissioned by Charles. Although designed to hold mortal remains, the sculpture speaks of life. With her intelligent eyes and piquant, downturned smile, Ludmila has the companionable look of a favorite aunt, daintily veiled but ready to be amused.

Relatively few silver sculptures on this scale survive. Many were melted down, either for recycling or, in periods of religious reform, as a rebuke to their material extravagance. This piece, one of several here from the St. Vitus treasury, is precious not only as an example of surpassing craftsmanship, but also as a reminder of a time in Western history when art was perceived as spiritually, even physically, instrumental, the potential source of reality-altering energy.

It’s useful to bring an awareness of this phenomenon to the show. Without it, certain objects will stay remote and mute. Not most of them, though. The candid, direct-address glance of an Italianate Madonna speaks eloquently to 21st-century eyes. So, in a different way, does the figure of St. Luke, as bulky as a quarterback but tense with apprehension as he listens to the tiny bull, his muse, whispering in his ear, in a painting by the German-trained artist called Master Theodoric.”

Hm. “A time in Western history when art was perceived as spiritually, even physically, instrumental, the potential source of reality-altering energy.” A double scoop of the 1300s, please.

Undeniable Facts…

…and conclusive evidence to boot!

The Evangelical-Israel connection is fascinating. I got invited to hear a fellow speak at a church here in San Diego recently – it was astonishing to watch the man weave current events and Old Testament/End Times prophecy. I was especiall struck by a line about an army gathering weapons off the field of battle and burning them as fuel for something like seven years. “What kind of weapons could they possibly be,” asked the man. “Nuclear technology.”

I left the evening knowing a little more about Gog and Magog, feeling a little more worried about nuclear terrorism in the Middle East, and a definite feeling of “Hm.”

(Thanks to reader Suibhne for the link.)

So I Googled "Oprah" and "James Frey"…

…and I found this:

“But don’t mistake this for a shmaltzy Oprah’s Book Club pick. Frey details each time a gun was shoved in his face and Leonard was forced to use “persuasion” in this gripping true story.”

Which is really hilarious, since my latest Borders email has just let me know that Oprah has selected Frey’s first book, A Million Little Pieces, as her latest pick. I thought she was only doing dead authors? Now the wife is going to resume asking when I’m gonna write something that Oprah can feel comfortable choosing…sigh. Somehow, I doubt Book Two is going to make the cut.

Controlled Cinematic Haiku…

Schultze Gets the Blues

Life becomes like death
Grace breaks through like zydeco
And floats Schultze home

Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Talk About…

…after this, the deluge?

Wolfe on Campus

This is interesting. Nobody finds Tom Wolfe’s descriptions of sex on today’s college campus credible. True, it’s a novel (i.e., not non-fiction), but my understanding is that it was well-researched. In a nice way I mean.

Is the problem that he’s a fuddy-duddy writing about young sex? This doesn’t sound antiquainted to me.

The book cover the blogger was talking about really is a loser. He’s right: Why waste all that promo money offering coeds a chance to win a trip to Cancun (where there’s even more sex of the variety that Wolfe apparently takes a dim view of) when you haven’t even tried putting the title (plus maybe a juicy subtitle like “A Co-ed’s Sex Diary”) on the cover of the book? On the other hand, there’s certainly nothing wrong–from a marketing point of view, anyway–with this (older? U.K.?) version of the cover. Wonder what happened here?

Bad Catholic

Mr. Potter at The Korrektiv has informed me that the good people at Percy-L are starting up a group read of Love in the Ruins. I’m off all reading that isn’t aimed at Book Two (arrrrrrrrrrrrgh…), but y’all might enjoy checking it out. This is one of the things I’ve always thought the Interweb could do well if it only tried.

From Today’s NYT

I’m just gonna post the whole bloody article…

A Sex Stop on the Way Home
There is a narrow parking lot in Cunningham Park in Queens surrounded by playing fields for adult softball and youth soccer and baseball. At one end of the lot, retirees arrive to practice their golf and mothers in minivans gather to wait for their Little Leaguers.

The other end is popular with another set with a much lower profile in this suburban setting: gay men cruising for sex. Their playing field is the parking lot itself and the goal is a sexual encounter, usually quick and anonymous.

[Honest question – has anyone ever seen an article about a straight version of this? I’m not talking about prostitution. I’m talking about quick and anonymous sex in parking lots between consenting heterosexual adults with no money exchanged. Another question – why is the NYT doing this story? To talk about how repressive the suburbs are? How widespread homosexuality is, even in the supposedly straight suburbs? I’m not sure how well it works.]

Manhattan may have its gay bars and such traditional pickup spots as the woods of the Ramble in Central Park [Again – any stories out there about the Central Park woods where straights hook up? I’m not baiting – I’m serious here.] and the piers of the West Village. But in the less-accepting climate of the suburbs and the boroughs outside Manhattan, gay men often resort to courting one another from the relative safety and privacy of their cars. They troll remote parking lots that become de facto pickup spots well known in gay circles but not to the general public.

Long Island spots include Two Mile Hollow Beach in East Hampton, the Field 6 parking lot at Jones Beach, a rest stop near Exit 52 on the Long Island Expressway and the park-and-ride lot on Route 110 in Melville. Each has its own culture and often its own set of protocols, ranging from parking position to the flashing of headlights or blinkers as mating calls.

[Cars as come-ons. Why has no one done a short story in the New Yorker about this? Come on, you know you’ve already thought of the title…. “Auto-Erotic.”]

The parking lot in Queens seems to be especially popular with men who lead ostensibly heterosexual lives but show up for sex because it is quick, easy to get and secretive, regulars say. The lot, along Hollis Hills Terrace just south of 73rd Avenue in Queens Village, is close to several major parkways, and its location helps make it popular with men who commute between New York City and the suburbs, where they often have a house, a mortgage, a wife and children.

[Wives – write down that address! Or maybe you’d rather not. Probably wouldn’t matter. After this article, it seems unlikely that hubby’s gonna use that particular lot much anymore.]

“The vast majority of men who come here are married,” said one longtime parking lot user, who like the other men interviewed there recently would not tell his name because of concerns ranging from embarrassment to fears of gay-bashing.

“I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve had here who were wearing wedding bands, with baby seats in the car and all kinds of kids’ toys on the floor. It’s on their way home and they don’t have to get involved in a relationship or any gay lifestyle or social circles. They don’t even have to buy anyone a drink or be seen in a gay bar. They just tell the wife, ‘Honey, I’ll be home an hour late tonight.’ “

Regulars say that the married men enjoy the risk and recklessness of semipublic sex, which usually means receiving oral sex in their cars or having other sexual encounters in the woods nearby.

“Some aren’t getting it at home,” the man added. “Some say, ‘I’m not even gay. I’m just bored.’ “

[Whoa. That’s the most telling line in the piece.]

Almost any time from noon till 9 p.m., when the lot is officially closed, the scene is the same. The narrow section has two long rows of parking spaces into which the men back their cars, forming two rows of cars facing each other with a thoroughfare between them.

Each newcomer trolls this thoroughfare with all eyes upon him and surveys the other men in cars, who may either perk up and look interested or shut the window and look away. Then with a dramatic swoop, the driver will back his car next to the car of the man he is pursuing.

[Dramatic swoops – even when they’re driving, they’re flamboyant! Oh, Mr. NYT writer, you should be dragged over coals for that one. But who’s gonna accuse of the NYT of perpetuating gay stereotypes?]

It all has the deliberate positioning, shifting and movement of a chess game. The parking lot is a fishbowl and the action unfolds like a soap opera each day. Some longtime lot regulars who are openly gay enjoy gathering to observe and narrate the forays and entreaties as they occur. The lot serves the lonely as well as the lusty, they said, helping men seeking friendship and a place to socialize and bond.

“There’s so much loneliness among gay men,” one lot user said. “A lot of guys just want someone to talk to.”

[Or, according to this article, a quickie in the woods.]

The parking lot’s use as a gay cruising spot goes back at least to the 1960’s, several older men said. “I spent the halcyon days of my youth here,” one said. “This place was paradise back then.”

As for sex, the regulars say that they prefer the parking lot to gay bars since there is little in the way of drugs and alcohol and there is more honesty about sexually transmitted diseases. Many regulars say they make arrangements to go home together or to a motel since a strong police presence makes sex in the car or the woods too risky. They add, however, that for certain men, this risk only increases the excitement and allure of on-site sex.

“You would not believe the guys who come here,” said a 50-year-old Queens man who repairs boilers and is a regular. “You have judges, doctors, lawyers, firemen, cops, sanitation workers. You have guys coming here with totally normal lives, married with good jobs.”

Another set of parking lot users is much more reluctant to discuss the cruising activity. These men begin to arrive sometime after 5 p.m. wearing shirts and ties and driving S.U.V.’s and snazzy sports cars. These men tend to be slightly jittery. Sometimes their cars have tinted windows. Generally, they refuse to discuss the parking lot with a reporter or say they have simply come to read a book or relax in their cars.

While most lots are far from public view, the one in Queens is hidden in plain sight. The lot can be found on Web sites listing gay cruising spots, including one that describes it as a “cruisy parking lot” that “seems safe and private enough.”

The activity seems not to be noticed by nonparticipants. Even the softball players who arrive after work and change their shirts outside their cars do not seem to notice the admiring audience they attract since most of the gay men do not leave their cars.

[Now I’m thinking this is a joke. How many softball players do you know with ripped abs?]

When contacted about the parking lot, the president of the Friends of Cunningham Park, Marc A. Haken, said he was “totally unaware” that there was sexual activity there.

Mr. Haken said that some years ago there was a well-known cruising spot in another parking lot, farther inside the park, and that many participants often repaired to the woods for sexual encounters.

“You would see one guy in a car and then another head would pop up, or they would gather and have sex in the woods,” he said. The lot was partitioned off in recent years for official vehicles, he said, adding, “I guess that’s when they – I hate to say ‘they’ but I don’t know what words to use – they migrated to the other lot.”

[“They” – it’s a pronoun. Don’t fear the pronoun.]

He said that there had been no complaints from park users and residents.

“But I don’t think that 10-year-olds in a parking lot on the way to soccer should see some guy getting oral sex in a car,” he said. [Yeah, that’s probably for the best. Dear reporter, you might have asked the trollers how they felt about this.] One recent evening, a half-dozen mothers stood chatting, waiting for their children to finish soccer. A stone’s throw away, a group of gay men stood narrating the attempt of a man trolling the lot in a tan sedan to woo the cute man parked in the black S.U.V. with tinted windows backed into a spot.

“The guy in the brown car’s a dog, he’s always here,” the man narrating said. “I’ve never seen the black car before. But watch, here he’ll pull right up to him and see what happens.” Within moments, the man in the tan sedan hopped into the S.U.V. and the windows closed.

“Woop, there he goes,” the narrator said. “You go, girl.”

While gay gatherings take many forms in ethnically diverse Queens, from the scene in Astoria Park to the gay bars serving Central and South Americans in Jackson Heights, many ethnic groups have strong taboos against homosexuality.

“Society doesn’t accept us and it’s hard to meet people, sexually or socially,” said a 42-year-old graduate student from Queens visiting the parking lot. “You know, not everyone who’s gay lives in Manhattan and runs in packs like ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.’ “

Another Temple Gone

Some time ago, I did a fun fun story for the Reader – sitting down with a local chef and rifling through seven or eight food magazines, letting her riff as we went. She dismissed a great many of them as whores – slaves to their advertisers, list-addicted, fluff-stuffed, all but useless in the kitchen (“I’ve tried these recipes, and a lot of them just don’t work.”), selling lifestyle over substance, with no sense of culture or context. “Have you been to Biarritz lately?” she snarked as she perused one food mag’s list of top international luxury hotels. “Why is this even in here?” The unspoken answer – ad dollars.

But she didn’t hate everything. She admired Waitrose Food, an English magazine published by a high-end grocery chain. Among the domestics, she especially liked Cook’s Illustrated and Saveur – Cook’s for its usefulness, Saveur for its preservation of the old Gourmet culture – long articles that gave a sense of place to food, a sense of the culture from which various foods hailed. Not once did she use the word “whore.”

I argued with her, saying that the original, pristine vision of Saveur had already broken down, when two of the three founders left to pursue other projects, leaving the legendary Colman Andrews alone at the the helm. The magazine, if I recall correctly, had always prided itself on not covering chefs or restaurants – it was about the way the world ate and drank, not about what some chef cooked up for the Other Half. “Savoring a world of authentic cuisine” ran the slogan under the title on the cover. But after the Great Break, chefs started popping up. It’s not that chefs don’t produce “authentic cuisine” – a slippery notion if ever there was one, you know what it isn’t, but it’s harder to pin down what it is. It’s not that there aren’t great stories to be told around chefs, or that they haven’t impacted the world of food in general – Alice Waters, anyone? It’s just that Saveur was the magazine you turned to in order to get away from celebrity culture, in order to read about the way Cubans cooked in kitchens that would make a chef blanch.

My interest flagged after a while, and I let my subscription die. Still, I couldn’t argue too strenuously with the chef I was interviewing: Saveur was still the tops when it came to reportage, and that it had avoided most of the most egregious admongering. Then I got the current issue. Redesigned cover – not nearly so elegant. No fat white border. But the real giveaway was the use of fonts – the same blasted fonts they use over at Bon Appetit, or Food & Wine. The silly, senseless mix of bolds and plains: Flavors of the ARGENTINA wine country. Germany’s marvelous MASTER OF RIESLING. FRENCH COUNTRY FOOD in the heart of Beaujolais.

More alarm bells: Two pages in, a two-page ad for Princess cruises. Couldn’t be…

I paged to the Editor’s letter. Colman played down the change; he let the designer – a longtime employee of Saveur’s parent company, World Publications – do the talking. “This isn’t so much a redesign as a refreshing, an updating. We have just simplified the way information is presented, making stories more accessible to the reader.” Colman again: “The essence of Saveur, he stresses, hasn’t changed.” (What’s your take, Colman? What do we care what the designer thinks about the essence?) Back to the designer: “We will still bring our readers the authentic experience of food and the cultures, people, and places that surround it. That isn’t going away. Our approach to food isn’t changing.” Colman liked that: “To that we say amen,” he concluded.

But then he noted that the Real Life Kitchen feature was migrating to the front of the book and would be renamed Kitchenwise. “Look there, in every issue, for even more great kitchen design ideas.” But the old Real Life Kitchen feature wasn’t about design. It was about the way real kitchens looked and functioned. Nobody could look at famed grocer/gourmand/wine merchant Darrell Corti’s brown plaid-wallpapered kitchen and think, “That’s a great design idea!” It was interesting not because it might inspire someone to buy something for their own kitchen (Helloooo, advertisers), but because it was the kitchen of an interesting person with a standing in the world of food. Colman was, I feared, pulling a fast one.

Don’t get me wrong; Saveur still does many things right. But there, on page 34, I saw it: The Saveur List. And not just any list, not a list of interesting foodstuffs and books and kitchen implements like the annual Saveur 100. No, this was a list of 7 Hotel Restaurants. The tagline: “The next time you’re going out to dinner in Europe, it might make sense to consider staying in.” Barcelona, Venice, Monte Carlo, Budapest, Paris, London, Dublin.

“Have you been to Biarritz lately?” No. Nor Monte Carlo. I wonder if Princess Cruises stops there.

I know you do what you have to to stay alive in publishing. But I’d love to know the story here.

Controlled Cinematic Haiku…

All About Eve

Acidic DeWitt
Though haughty Jove of the stage
Serves love on the sly

Oh, how I love that movie.

Sandwich Problem

“Why does life have to be a shit sandwich half the time? And the other half it’s either baloney on Wonderbread or fried eel on rye, instead of the peanut butter and honey on toast that we wanted.”