Monthly Archives: November 2009

Maybe If The Cat…


I got out of bed thinking that today was the day the cat would come. It was 7:10 AM.

8:15 AM At the donut shop, I juggled a mixed dozen donuts in one box, a half price blueberry pie leftover from turkey day in another, and a way too sweet coffee in a large styrofoam cup. The coffee has so much cream and sugar its basically a liquefied donut. I never drink much of it. I’m afraid it’ll give me diabetes. The Ukrainian woman at Verna’s slipped me a free slice of lemon meringue pie, which I balanced precariously atop my stack of goodies.

“Would you like a bag?” she asked in her Ukrainian accent. How about a fork, I asked.

“Really?” No. Not really. Back in the car, I started the engine and shoved the entire piece of pie in my mouth. A family getting out of their minivan stared in horror, transfixed, their Sunday morning donut mission ruined by the gila monster feeding. The big lizards choke down their prey in one gulp. The lower half of my face covered in meringue, I drove off, thinking thoughts about that string-loving cat that used to be a feral and has a round head. I wonder if it likes shrimp.

9:20 AM I ate three donuts and chucked my 3/4 full styrofoam cup of coffee into the trash. Gross.

Eric received the text back from Elizabeth at approx. 10 AM Sunday morning. No-go on the cat pick-up. “Next week, OK?”

Black Tongue of the Puffy-Lion Dog

Snorgle baby

“Chows are not a particularly active breed. The Chow Chow may appear to be independent and aloof for much of the day, keeping a comfortable distance from others while staying within earshot. While the Chow exhibits low energy for most of the day, it will crave routine time to explore and play to maintain a happy and content disposition. The Chow has a different type of intelligence than that found in most dogs. Unless the Chow is kept engaged, boredom sets in and the Chow will simply walk away or refuse to engage.

Chows are distinguished by their unusual blue-black/purple tongue. Chow puppies’ tongues are pink at birth. They darken to blue-black by 8-10 weeks of age. A few other animals have black tongues, too: the giraffe, polar bear, and several breeds of cattle including the Jersey.

The Chow is thought to be one of the oldest recognizable dog breeds, and recent DNA analysis confirms that it is one of the oldest breeds of dog. Research indicates it is one of the first primitive breeds to evolve from the wolf, and is thought to have originated in the arid steppes of northern China/Mongolia. In China the Chow Chow is called Songshi Quan, which literally means “puffy-lion dog.”

One other distinctive feature is their curly tail.”

Remixed from the wikipedia entry / Inspired by John O’Hurley’s comments on Chow Chow tongues. The National Dog Show is my family’s Thanksgiving football.

The Ketubah

Eliot and Christina with the ketubah

According to Rabbi Judy , Eliot and Christina were married Saturday evening when they signed the ketubah. The ketubah is a document, in Hebrew and English, that formalizes marriage. After the newlyweds inked their signatures, Jaqueline and I had the honor to sign as witnesses. As best man, the ketubah was then placed in my hands for safe-keeping.

Motor lodge wallpaper

Eliot and Christina were married Sunday afternoon in Sturbridge, MA, at the Publick House. Saturday night, Christina and most of the wedding party stayed in the historic inn, while Eliot and I shared a room out at the (non-historic) motor lodge. The wallpaper in the motor lodge room was disturbing.

Sunday morning run

Before the ceremony Sunday, Eliot and I went for a morning trail run at Bigelow Hollow State Park. It took a few miles for us to wake up. When my eyes opened I found myself talking incessantly about perspective in film (and life), and how climate change is relative to 9/11, and Uncle Jim. At that moment Eliot tripped on a root, and rolled down a hill into a tree. I shut up, he brushed off, and it was the only misstep of the day. Love and congratulations, Eliot and Christina. Thank you for sharing with me your wedding, and so much more. The ketubah is safe in my basement.

The Last Of The Fall Leaves


Its been a long week. Tears… I cried three times one day. I think it was Wednesday. Once while blogging, then at the end of the film “The Red Shoes,” then again while writing my best man speech for Eliot and Christina’s wedding this weekend. I listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac. Tusk, Gold Dust Woman, Silver Springs, Hold Me. Its emotional music. Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie wailing. Lindsay Buckingham caterwauling on the axe. Mick Fleetwood’s hypnotic drumming holding it all together. Dave said I cry easily. He said a muffler commercial could make me cry. This week, the right muffler commercial might do it. I’ve been a wreck.

Original Smoke Jumper

Safe landing

Typically it takes me a week to fully read the Sunday edition of the New York Times. I buy it in the morning, before brunch, and usually have Sunday Styles and the Week in Review finished by the time I go to sleep that night. On Monday I typically read the A pages and the sports. Tuesday may be the arts and business, travel on Wednesday, the NYT magazine on Thursday or Friday and then the Book Review on Saturday. Its tough because I’m simultaneously reading the NYT online, blogs, magazines, and books. What I read in the Sunday Times sometimes sends me to the internet for more information. I rip out the article and bring it to the computer. That was certainly the case this week, with the obituary of Earl Cooley.

Earl Cooley, who died at age 98, was hailed as the original smoke jumper. Smoke jumpers are firefighters who parachute into remote areas to combat wildfires. Earl Cooley was one of the first two Americans to do this, back in 1940. Until his first 10 practice jumps, Mr. Cooley had never been in an airplane. “Our training consisted of a man saying: ‘This is your parachute. You know what fire is. We jump tomorrow.’ Earl Cooley was aware of how regular folks might perceive smoke jumpers. He carried around a written copy of a statement by Evan Kelley, a regional forester, that said, “The best information I can get from fliers is that all parachute jumpers are more or less crazy – just a little bit unbalanced, otherwise they wouldn’t be engaged in such a hazardous undertaking.”

Smoke jumper

Men who jump smoke generally find themselves alone in the wilderness. They stop fires with shovels, chainsaws, portable pumps and polaskis. This strikes me as awfully brave. The image of a human being parachuting into a forest fire would probably have seemed strange hundreds of years ago, and yet many of the survival strategies employed by smoke jumpers are hundreds if not thousands of years old. When a smoke jumper cannot outrun a fire, they strike a match and light up the vegetation around them. This is called an escape fire. The smoke jumper then lays face down in the cleared area, in the hope that the larger fire will jump over them. Although probably a Native American practice, this technique first entered the public mind after the Mann Gulch fire in 1949.

The Mann Gulch fire was the worst disaster in the history of smoke jumping. Twelve smoke jumpers perished in the Helena National Forest, in Montana, near what Lewis and Clark named the Gates of the Rocky Mountains. That day, Earl Cooley had the job of selecting the spot where the parachutists were dropped. He made his calculations based on the best information available. All the men who jumped that day were Earl’s friends. The winds shifted, and the fire swept over them, fifteen minutes after the team landed. Two men escaped through a crevice to a rocky area with little vegetation. Foreman Wagner Dodge lit an escape fire, and called out to the other smoke jumpers to join him but his words were lost. Everyone else died.

The crosses

Earl notified his friends’ families. He crafted steel crosses for each of the fallen, reinforced with steel, and placed them at the location where each man died. Every year he made the arduous journey deep into the mountains to make sure that the crosses were safe and standing. Earl did this until well into his eighties, and even after his body gave out to rest, his mind continued to carry the weight. “I am sure I did the right thing that day, but I still look at that map and have thought about it every day since then,” Mr. Cooley said in an interview with the Rocky Mountain News in 1994.

Needless to say, Earl Cooley’s obituary struck a chord with me. To my mind, smoke jumping is kind of the flip side of the coin to pictures of the people jumping from the burning World Trade Center. This was featured in the Esquire article, The Falling Man, and later a documentary. Its an image of a man headfirst diving towards the pavement, the lines of the WTC in high contrast. To me the picture is about conditions so unendurable that certain death is a grace. Smoke jumping turns this logic on its head. The conditions are becoming unendurable so the only grace is to jump on the fire itself. That, Earl Cooley, is called audacity.

Animal Person / Fireworks Child

Koko says the time is now

Koko is a 37 year old gorilla that communicates using over 1000 words in American Sign Language. She can combine these words in novel ways, for example “drink-fruit” (melon), “water-bird” (swan) and “animal-person” (gorilla). Her full name is “Hanabi-Ko, meaning ‘fireworks child’ in Japanese (a reference to her date of birth, the Fourth of July).

After watching the documentary Koko the Talking Gorilla my thoughts are all over the map. I agree with the critics that Koko seems to communicate just for the reward of a sweet treat. What seems equally clear is that most of the communication Koko has with her human mom Penny is not on the regular gorilla level. Koko is being asked to communicate on the level of a human child. When Koko wigs out its hard to blame her; though well treated she lives in confinement. Penny reacts by making her clean up the mess, or go to her room. She asks Koko why she is “bad.” This all strikes me as odd.

Its not just about having a gorilla communicate in a human fashion (through ASL) but to step into a human role in society. The zookeeper is portrayed as the bad guy, but he does make the valid point that Koko may find it hard to mate with other gorillas because of her human-shaped identity. The documentary was filmed in 1978; 30 years on and Koko has not made any gorilla babies. This may be sad, but Koko’s life is full and happy. Koko cares for cats, chooses the menu on her birthday and opens presents, eats peanut butter with chop sticks and chats on AOL. Kokopix, her photo blog, is lively and insightful.

Koko even video conferenced with the world’s second most famous gorilla, Snowflake the albino, before he passed away in 2003.

Let the Dreamer Awake

on Castle Rock

I thought I would be working all night, but it was so dead that I left. I rode my bike to the video store and rented Koko the Talking Gorilla. A lot of people seem to be upset how early it gets dark, since the time changed and as we approach the winter solstice. I like how in the city the lights reflect off the clouds. Even when its dark the sky is illuminated. Low light is better than no light, except when its not. Y12 hysteria is in the air. I have taken to wearing my grandfather Bop Bop’s brown leather gloves for bicycling.

When I got home, I found myself panning YouTube for gold. Without realizing what I was even doing, I set about ripping audio from videos of performers covering Radiohead. Pianists, guitarists, orchestras, steel drummers, brass ensembles, marching bands, Japanese garage bands… in a few hours I had assembled a 60 minute mix of the esoteric covers. Then I lay in corpse pose on the floor and listened. The internet is our collective consciousness, a constant background reorganization, like pooled dreams.

“I argue that dreaming is not a parallel state but that it is consciousness itself, in the absence of input from the senses,” said Dr. Rodolfo Llinás, who makes the case in the book “I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self” (M.I.T., 2001). Once people are awake, he argued, their brain essentially revises its dream images to match what it sees, hears and feels — the dreams are “corrected” by the senses.

This is from the article, “A Dream Interpretation: Tuneups for the Brain.” And this is the Pride of Arizona, playing Airbag, track 5 on my mixtape “OK YouTube.” I like how the leader says to the band, “Relentless… determination. Relentless determination. ON FIRE.”

Super-Gold-Plated Cadillac Snuggie

Like a prayer The ills of the world can get you down but then we get back up

The selk bag came in the mail. Its so warm inside. Winter better watch out. I’m reloaded like a major sports franchise with no worries about the salary cap. The final piece of the puzzle is… a shovel. Two nights ago I awoke in a cold sweat. I found myself on the couch surrounded by flashing L.E.D.’s, the computer screen dark, and a nightmare slowly, powerfully receding like the waters of a flood. I picked up my phone and started texting my friend Brian, who had been a player in the nightmare theater. He sent back a few comforting messages, what a good friend does, and I was able to go back to sleep. I thought I would record those messages here with my (additional thoughts) in parentheses:

Delivered: Nov 10, 2009 3:50:31 AM
I just woke up from a nightmare that mrs p (brian’s new obese cat) bit kitten (brian’s new baby cat) and there was a fire in the base$ent of the ECG that eric knew about but had to keep the place open anyway (there was a fire in the basement of the restaurant, about a year ago.)

Brian K (Mobile)
3:51:48 AM
Yeah-being open is important

3:52:18 AM
You and I were in the basement keeping the fire under control and eric was serving all these vips up top and then we shut down and one cat bit the other

3:53:35 AM
It was horrible kitten was screaming and mrs p was crushing her head and a weird australian voiceover said something like

Brian K (Mobile)
3:53:52 AM
vips=mris (here Brian is suggesting that while my brain told me that Eric was dealing with Very Important People, what Eric deals with in reality are Management Restaurant Interventions)

3:54:26 AM
“This is how mrs p treats her girlfriends” and there was a giant xmas tree

3:55:17 AM
You were in the basement tending to a dryer with these wild orange flames whirling inside it was crazy (This picture shows how the previous fire started in the basement…)

Brian K
3:56:41 AM
I mean symbolism

3:58:21 AM
Haha I don’t know man my brain is fucked anyways thank you for listening sorry to hit you with all this now

Brian K
3:59:26 AM
A time will come when I’ll babble worse

A Dog-Faced Sea

Sun slides down into the city like a coin in a slot

This Sunday my adventure was full of adventure. I got the day off by agreeing to work two doubles in the near future. I slept in until 9am, unusual for me on a Sunday, and then put on my bathing suit, my sleeveless Bering Sea Pirate teeshirt, nipple guards, my iPod loaded with 1966 Grateful Dead and Steve Earle, jumped in the car and sped off to Verna’s to buy the donuts. The cooks were not expecting a donut delivery this morning; no brunch captain, no donuts, that’s how it is. It was a surprise delivery. This prompted a group hug. I think Mariposa had tears in his eyes. The temperature was in the 60s and the sky was blue. I left the restaurant running towards the river, my first long run since the marathon. Two fishermen hauled a rotund catfish out of the Charles as I ran by and hooted. Later I flew solo down the right lane of Memorial Drive, closed to cars on Sunday. I covered thirteen miles in just over two hours.

When I got back to the ECG, I ate at the bar and Brian Bro took real good care of me. I was sweating profusely and Brian was liberal with the liquids. He got me an ice water, a large orange juice, a ginger beer, a fruit smoothie, and a black coffee. At some point he started mixing the ginger beer and O.J. for me, a kind of A.A. mimosa. I ate runny eggs and got the hell out, went home and took a shower, and a nap, and read the paper, and listened to the radio. I’ve had an inclination to check out Deer Island for some time, there’s something about how it looks from the satellite map that compels me. Deer Island has been an interment camp for American Indians during Metacomet’s War; a landing point for thousands of Irish during the Potato Famine; a hospital; an almshouse; a jail. Currently the island is home to the second largest waste water facility in the U.S… “the 150 foot tall egg-like sludge digesters are major harbor landmarks.

The plant processes waste from 43 nearby towns and cities but there is no public restroom on Deer Island. I watched the sun set and the planes soared overhead to land at Logan. Descending one after the other, jumbo jets and private jets, a procession of heavy metal birds swooping down from the sky to glide into the bleeding sun. I walked out to the tip of the island, by the giant windmills motionless in the still air, and urinated.

The Captain of Suck

My time on Deer Island was short, and I never looked out to the sea, or walked along Point Shirley beach. There is a hill that looks out to the Atlantic Ocean that I would like to climb. I also want to go back to cover the 2.4 mile path around the island; it was getting too dark and my body was jangled from the morning run. Amidst the sludge treatment is this place of contradiction and calm. It is a remove from the city, similar to Northerly Island Park in Chicago, where I used to go late at night to stare out into the void. I have plans to return to climb the hill and sit on the bench and stare out at the gray ocean.

From the Sylvia Plath poem Point Shirley:

“Grey waves the stub-necked eiders ride.
A labor of love, and that labor lost.
Steadily the sea
Eats at Point Shirley. She died blessed,
And I come by
Bones, only bones, pawed and tossed,
A dog-faced sea.
The sun sinks under Boston, bloody red.”

Disappearing into dusk

Sweat on the Dance Floor

dancing with myself

My friend Minka was a little inebriated when she asked me if I wanted to be her dance partner, and I wondered if she would even remember. The part of me that loves the basement and solitude hoped it was all a joke, but the bigger part of me that knows no basement is an island wanted to go. Minka did remember, and we went to salsa for beginners at Ryles. Surprisingly, the class was mostly single guys. When I think of dancing, two images come to mind. One is couples. The other is chubby me, in middle school, in my white tiger sweatshirt, like a young Patrick Swayze. The confident, chubby me had nothing to lose but weight, and I lead my classmates out onto the dance floor many a middle school hop.

At the salsa class I wore a brown linen shirt. This was a bad move. Nervousness plus the concentration needed to memorize and repeat salsa dance steps, the thumping music, the heat of human beings in motion, produced a profusion of sweat. Not a good look in linen. By the end of the class, the instructor Suzanne had us practicing twirls. Part of my trials and tribulations with twirls was my hesitancy to reach above my head. My shirt was in bad shape by this point, especially under the arms. I struggled mightily with twirls, but the basic steps I have down. Three steps forward, a pause, and three steps back, the changeover to side stepping. I think we are going back next week. Maybe I can pack on a few extra pounds between now and then, practice twirls in the basement, in a white tiger sweatshirt.