Like many of you, I followed with waning interest the reports of mass animal die-off. To me, they kind of pale in comparison to Republican politicians redefining rape and the struggle of an entire country of people to bring about democracy in their nation, but for some folks it seems this was IT. The sign. The undeniable beginning of the catastrophic domino effect that would render this world a burnt out wasteland covered in dead birds and let’s say… wild packs of mutant dogs. And that’s fine. The world needs people to freak out about stuff like that.
More interesting to me were the friends of mine that seem perversely fascinated by the idea of the apocalypse happening in our lifetime. I imagine it’s generational. Or maybe just a sign of the times. Without doing any actual research I would hazard a guess that since the actual invention of mankind’s ability to destroy itself whether it be environmental, nuclear or zombie related this type of concept has sold pretty well in hardcover and paperback. My limited liberal arts education calls to mind the Japanese art of Butoh as well as Albert Hughes’ incendiary movie The Book of Eli that bravely showed us that Denzel Washington would be in anything if the price were right.
But I digress. Listen, I’m just as fascinated with the prospect of my life taking on an apocalyptic narrative as the next guy. Who would I hug? Where would I go? What would I do? Probably cry a lot and regret my lack of friends with guns and underground shelters. However, some of my friends who have been chronicling the animal deaths seem to have this element of GLEE about them. Like they’re looking forward to it. Like they experience actual enjoyment from the minutely possible “we’re all gonna die” prospect evidenced by these animals mysteriously passing as opposed to the strange yet banal curiosity most people have to contemplate the worst, if only for a moment. As if the forecast of biblical endtime horrors were something to feel awesome about living to see. Yay! You get to blog the apocalypse! Congratulations!
And when the reports come in that these birds have died for actual causes from anything other than besides “an act of god” or “the mysterious hand of fate” there seems to be a genuine disappointment. People, believe me. It’s a GOOD thing. You don’t really want to die in the apocalypse. You want to die happy from being too awesome.
And also, at no point did I hear anybody say “Oh, those poor fish/birds/cows.” Geez people. SELFISH.
My Grandmother on my Dad’s side died when I was about three. I don’t remember much of her besides the smell of cigarette smoke. My Grandfather, however, even now despite having a girlfriend (he’s a slick Gramps) still cries at every mention of her. An old man, his memories are like a book he can look through now being on the last chapter. And he still smiles and chokes up at parts long since written and finished.
This was something that weighed on me when I was a kid. After the initial fear we all experience when young concerning our own mortality I worried about the people in my life left behind. Now, this was before puberty so in my mind I saw all my family including parents and grandfather crying over the fact that I was gone. It never occurred to me that I might outlive all of them because hmmm I might’ve been a dumb kid. I would become terribly depressed in thinking how upset they’d all be. How neurotic can a kid be at twelve years old?
I’ve been rereading all my favorite Vonnegut recently, all of which came to me in rapid succession when I was fifteen. It was Cat’s Cradle, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and Slaughterhouse-Five, which now are my three favorites in that order. Cat’s Cradle was and still is my favorite and I was very struck at fifteen while reading it when Vonnegut talked about a karass- a group of people cosmically linked without their knowledge and whose destinies are preordained to intertwine. He talks about an older couple called the Mintons who are a part of a duprass whose metaphysical grouping was just two. He makes mention that members of a duprass always die within a week of each other. And when the Mintons are about to tumble into the sea as the ground beneath them crumbles and cracks Vonnegut says “The image of a voyage seems to have occurred to the voyaging Mintons, too, for they waved to us with wan amiability. They held hands. They faced the sea. Out they went; then down they went in a cataclysmic rush, we’re gone.”
And how glorious is that? To be linked with one person, especially a person whom you love, so intrinsically that your very existence is tied to one another? The idea of myself dying at the same exact moment as the person I loved was a beautiful idea as a teenager. Now it seems pretty selfish considering how I treat my body, as it’d probably be dooming my partner to a premature death. Perhaps it’s too romantic to be possible. And too stupid. Like Romeo and Juliet. And too sad. Like Old Dan and Little Ann from Where the Red Fern Grows. Ugh. Never mind. I can’t even think of that book without getting sad. Like when someone mentions Event Horizon, but with watery eyes instead of shudders.
Oh man. Have you seen Event Horizon? Fuuuucked up.
Psh. Turns out the only people who can dig through the center of the earth to China live in Chile and Argentina. Whatever. Who wants to dig a hole to China?
I did you FUCKER. Sure, it’s about as antiquated as chasing a hoop with a stick, but do you know how many hours I put into digging that hole as a kid? My parents were super pissed that I was digging up their garden, but that’s because they didn’t understand WHAT PASSION IS. Fuck, I was the Howard Hughes of digging through the center of the earth. I’m sorry, what did you say? I could still dig a hole to China if I didn’t go through the center of the earth? Slack much? I’d rather give up altogether than do things half-assed.
And I did. I gave up. Not because of the whole antipodal issue, but probably because I decided I wanted to be a champion bullwhip-performer or something like that instead. Yeah, I’m a giverupper. That’s me. That moment was the beginning of a long history of giving up. Not a spaceman. Not a pirate. Not Michael Jordan’s best friend. I’m a big disappointment to childhood me..
But then again, I might have drowned when I reached the bottom of the Indian Ocean. So there’s that.
It could be worse. I once knew a kid with a picture of Foghorn Leghorn in full tux regalia tapdancing over a giant logo for Skoal chewing tobacco. Actually, when you say that out loud it sounds pretty cool.
But this one was my first. An overly prominent tattoo on my forearm wherin black swallows (yuk yuk) fly out of my inner-elbow and cascade down my arm. No, it’s not a particularly well done tattoo. And for good reason as it was done by an apprentice friend of mine for a bottle of Jack Daniels. Why why why would I get something so shitty you ask? Doy. Same reason I’ve ever done anything ever, of course. To impress a girl, stupid. Now ahem, this could in hindsight have been an incredibly bad decision since I no longer see this girl and the memory of us together is something that comes to me in flashes of wistfulness and fear when I’m feeling especially drunk or emotionally fragile like relationship post-traumatic-syndrome, but I say why cry over spilt arm blood? Fuck that.
Rather it’s a reminder that I can be recklessly and stupidly in love. A reminder that I can be impulsive with my feelings and actions. A reminder that I have that potential to walk into traffic, tattoo my body or set my life on fire for the depth of feelings I can have for someone. Not in the literal sense of course- I’m afeared of fire and I don’t see how getting hit by a car would help a relationship of mine, but you know what I mean.
Now that we are all older and colder we can more easily differentiate the line between love and the teenage infatuation that can drown us while young, but I say we rebel against that stricture. We should all want to throw ourselves on the grenade again. To live forever in the ribcage of some young girl and feel our world shatter with loss as our tide rolls back out to sea again. Cynicism about love is an old man’s game and none of us are dead yet. We just have to make sure it doesn’t cross into the crazy cut-her-name-into-my-arm-I-did-it-all-for-you-damien side of things. So I will keep the tattoo. And keep hoping I will be that stupid again.
But goddammit why’d it have to be birds? Fuck.
I’ve never spent Christmas in Chicago.
I’ve never spent Christmas in Bali either, for that matter, but I live in Chicago with Bali being a dream- and not a particularly optimistic one.
The last of Chicago I see before departing for California is a tour of her given to me by the Elevated. I take the brown line to the loop and catch the orange line out to Midway airport. This is a commute I’ve repeated every year for the last seven on Christmas and it reminds me how big the city is that I’ll be missing.
Coming from up north, one swoops through the northside with its streets so clean that even the trees that line them seem gentrified, their branches curling barrenly upward as if poshly insulted at your presence. Through this and outward you proceed into it’s southern tip where condos give way to scattered churches and cigarette choked sidewalks. This is the neighborhood of broken promises where housing projects planned and executed still bear the plaques of their dedication even as residents are kicked out to make way for more advantageous developments. Dissolving out of this fray the city looms up at an accelerated pace all around you as if it grows to contain you. The cranes and half-done buildings sit skeletal against a perfect blue winter sky, their structures seem to hum in the freezing cold while their ground floors stand sentient with a bases girded by concrete and screaming traffic. The air is clean, not sterile, but how one imagines outer-space must be. Or the high altitudes of mountains or airplanes wherein moisture forms ice on the outside of windows. This is a cold that will freeze the inside of your nose into crystalline ice-caves, but if viewed from inside the traincar the sunlight will refract through the windows cleansed of pollutants and reflect warmly on your face.
As the train leaves downtown you see the Chicago of Industry. Hulking factories pluming white steam and smoke, their roofs scrawled with illegible graffiti as red rusted trains clunk and clacker by to destinations inestimable. Barges on the unfashionable end of the Chicago river and trucks on weed-bordered sidestreets lumber on laden with product.
This Chicago transforms to the one my father grew up in. Rows of brown brick bungalows stretch boulevards leading to seeming nothingness. It’s the scene you glimpse in the opening of All in the Family and YEA, my grandfather was of an Archie Bunker sort. With his cigar clenched firmly over suspendered self-righteousness, he could tell you what was wrong with this city with a white blue-collared good’ol downhome racism. These cookie cutter neighborhoods feel the weight of Midway full well with low flying aircraft a staple of their christmas-lit lawns and driveways. And so I come to Midway.
Chicago, I could write a million love songs to you and not be sated. I will see you in just seven days. Please do not fall in love with anyone else in my absence.
I say that I’m friends with all my ex-girlfriends.
That’s basically the truth, but there’s a thick vein of bullshit in all that. Let me explain with an example. So, the other day I went to an event in which an ex of mine was one of the performers. After the conclusion of said event we all stood outside talking, smoking and generally enjoying the breeze coming in off the lake and curling its way through southern Chicago. We talked about this and that- friendly and comfortable. But the entire time I’m thinking “Damn. We used to date the shit out of each other and even though we’re totally cool and not reminiscing I can’t help but think on it because I REMEMBER EVERYTHING. I remember your awful cat. I remember all the books on your bookshelves. I remember making you laugh so hard you cried. I remember you having nightmares. I remember how you fit perfectly against me when we slept and how cold your hands always were. I remember you telling me secrets. I remember your family. I remember our relationship moving from a happy Belle and Sebastian song to a depressing The Elected song to a John Cage recording of cats fighting in an alleyway. The point is, I remember we were very much in love and now we’re talking about good Korean eateries like two schmucks who’ve met a couple times at a book club? What the cock is that shit?”
It’s not a big deal and I’ll be goddamned if I know what a better alternative is, but it’s strange. The fact is is that we’re still friends, but like “help you move-same yoga class” friends. Everything worth saying was said late at night in the stillness of her bedroom and now all that’s left is pleasantries and shared jokes. Friendliness, but no intimacy. But I can’t help but remember that shared history when we make eye contact when talking about the ecological implications of wind-farming. Weird. Not bad. Just weird.
I left out the memory of her farting on me one night as she slept, but I was trying to prove a point- so there you go.
So, I do this thing when I make eye contact with toddlers on the subway. I make a funny face and when the kid giggles and looks up at their mom/dad for acknowledgment of said silliness I drop the face and turn towards the window. The kids get confused because they think “I’m almost positive that that dude just made a funny face, but I’m only four. Perhaps I imagined it.” I like to think of it as helping kids question reality in my own small way. Plus, it’s super funny.
Not to equate small children and tourists, but a few years ago there was a film shoot here in Chicago for a movie called Public Enemies. The movie was directed by Michael Mann, whose unflinching commitment to portray John Dillinger’s life as mind-numbingly dull as possible was truly a masterstroke of genius. Anyway, the elevated subway lines were outfitted with antique subway trains for the shots of the movie that would involve that degree of historical accuracy. You never rode in these trains, but every now and then you’d see one slide by on its way to the shoot.
One night, in what some people might call a drunken stupor, I found myself riding the El back towards home. The only other people on the train with me were some Asian tourists. I knew they were tourists not because they were Asian, but because they all had cameras and were talking excitedly in a foreign language and comparing postcards of the Buckingham Fountain and other Chicago landmarks. As to how I knew they were Asian, let’s just call it a hunch.
As they huddled around each other one of the antique trains floated by us, lit with a warm glow that shone amber through the fog and gave the car an aura that made it seem to hover by the windows. Only one girl from the group of tourists saw this happen. She stood agog and watched mouth gaping as it drifted by and out of sight like Chicago’s own Flying Dutchman- a train cursed never to put into station.
The girl turned back to her friends and began chattering to them excitedly about what she had just witnessed: an apparition all-ablaze and not three feet away from them. She used sweeping hand motions to convey its size and speed. She imitated her reaction as it had sailed by them busy with their postcards. Her brethren looked at her and laughed. I could see her in the corner of my eye trying to make her case, frustrated at not being believed. In a moment of desperation she looked up at me, the only other person on the train car. I could feel her eyes boring into the side of my face pleading “Please, tell them you saw this.”
I continued to look out the window until my stop.
Pretty fucked up, right? I like to think that she went back home with her mind filled with thoughts of Chicago, a city where on a dark night one can see spectres looming out of the fog- ill fated to ride the rails until judgment day. To her, Chicago will forever be a place of big buildings, a mighty lake that stretches the eastern horizon and ghost trains that haunt our subways and neighborhoods. And when I hear the scream of the train late at night as it winds through the city screeching in the 3 a.m. blackness I believe her to be right. And that makes me really fucking happy.
written for dirtydirt magazine. you should check it out! gonna be dope!
Forget Paris. Romance is a Sunday.
I love sundays. Sundays are the absolute best. Forgetting about the trepidation of work following on Monday and just making the day an absolute non-productive/all relaxed span of time. I plan on making this true forever. Even in the future. And sharing that slow and quiet stretch with whoever I end up with. I look forward to domestic bliss in a way completely unbefitting of being the city mouse who likes tall buildings and the siren song of ambulances when he goes to sleep.
Because we can claim Sunday as our own. In the morning, in our house. White walls and old paint, our kitchen table will be oak and across it will be spread layers of newspaper, newly dropped off, for us to comb through and share. As we read and sip our coffees the sun will shine through the windows overlooking our snow covered yard. The morning light will hit the sill and the bright columns of colored light will intermix with glittering dust particles. Our robes will be clean, our toes will be warm and I see no reason why we can’t go back to bed if we want to.
But we won’t. We’ll get dressed and take the dog on a walk, maybe into town. You’ll go to that used bookstore where you like to run your hand along the spines of books as you walk down the aisles and take great intakes of breath smelling the yellowing pages and aging covers. I’m going to stop in at Ed’s and have my hair cut and listen to him talk about friends from the army and baseball players long forgotten. We’ll meet back at the square next to the statue and begin a slow leisurely walk home as the sun dips deeper toward the trees that line the horizon on all sides. Maybe we picked up a movie that we can half pay attention to as we sit and decide what we want for dinner. After this, we can sip tea and watch the streetlights buzz on. Then to bed and after what transpires there I want to read a book I’ve always loved as you slumber beside me, one hand outstretched and laying against my chest.
Oh my fucking god, that’s going to be so fucking AWESOME. FUCK PARIS.
I don’t want to start any shit here but-
If your god tells you that certain people are going to hell (or anywhere- especially Iowa- sorry Iowa) if you do something it doesn’t approve of, then I say you should get a new god. Because what kind of lame omniscient being are you worshipping that would be such a jerk? Is your god a five year old? Do you really want to go to his birthday party that bad that you’re worried about making him cry? I mean, if you turn out to be right and that kind of god actually exists then your god’s kind of a punk. Know what I’m saying? Maybe you should tell your god to MAN UP and not be such a wuss. It’s a big world out there and freaking out every time two dudes say they love each other is really gonna knock the energy out of you. Let’s save the hellfire for murderers and rapists, okay? Listen, dude, just because you started the band doesn’t mean you always get to decide what we’re going to play.
That might seem non-sequitous, but it makes PERFECT sense to me.
When I was five I wanted to be a brontosaurus when I grew up. I haven’t moved that much further beyond this point since then.
Recently I was asked what my Christmas wish would be. No restrictions, just the opportunity to receive whatever I wanted. Now, I know these types of things are usually a set-up. Sure, you want to say “Money! Rent! A car that runs on dreams and emits only the sound of babies laughing!’ but you know as soon as you do that your jerk friend when asked next is going to sandbag you by saying something like “World Peace and the assurance that all children will be warm and happy.” What a cock, right?
So, while recently enjoying an especially heartwarming car ride with some very close friends up to the north side this question was passed around. The answers were pretty much what you’d expect, but what stood out to me was a friend’s answer in saying “I wish that I felt the way I did when I was five.” This has stayed with me for the past week. I wish to change my answer to this one.
Not everyone had a good childhood experience. In fact, I’m realizing more and more every day that many of us didn’t. Without going into too much detail I can say that I had a good one. Truly idyllic. But it isn’t the feeling of playing tag or worrying about the monsters I was SURE were awaiting a careless foot or hand under my bed that I wish to experience again. It’s the feeling of possibility. The assurance that a long and happy life stretched out before me and that I could be anything I wanted to. That this experience of living was just beginning and any of my wildest dreams would be possible. The world is a child’s oyster because you have the time and unrestricted imagination to attempt anything. To aspire to anything.
I am not a pirate. I am not an astronaut. I am not a firefighter. I am not a cowboy. And I don’t think I’m unhappy because I am not any of those things. Most of them (with the exception of a cowboy) I no longer want to be. But I really miss the feeling that I could. Y’know? How do I get that back?
Now I work with children and in the music business. The music business is a soul-crushing monstrosity that can make me not enjoy anything. Especially music. I also work with children because I see in them that hope and I want to make sure someone is fostering it. Because only cynical douchebags shrug their shoulders and say “That’s life.” Plus, kids are totally cool.
And that’s why I’m trying to find a different job then the well-paying one I have now. I don’t buy that “everyone hates their job” shit. I don’t cotton much to that kind of defeatism. Fuck it, I’m still a five year old. Now somebody get me a job listening to music and eating delicious sandwiches. FIND IT.
Sometimes I feel like this blog is a Seinfield-ian “What’s the deal with…?” only with feelings. Maybe my Christmas wish should be to grow the fuck up.