Monday, March 31, 2008
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Saturday, March 29, 2008
It had the makings of a great farce.
Imagine, had I followed the poor advice of some people I know, and perpetrated a nighttime raid on the building across the way, I would have been surprised.
The idiot in me had it planned out....wait until a moonless night. Preferably when there was no wind. Sport dark clothing. Leave the house with a sack. Scale a fence or two. Grab the chimes, stow them, and return home with the stealth of a dorky cat. Only to find out. They are not our chimes.
Cooler heads prevailed. In broad daylight I walked over this morning and entered the building. There were two kids, a boy and a girl, about my kids' ages, hanging out in front of an apartment door. An apartment in which I believed resided the new possessor of the AWOL Honoka'a wind chimes.
They let me in when they saw me in the vestibule. I asked if they lived in the ground floor apartment. They nodded. "Is one of your parents home?" I asked.
"My grandma's right there," one said, pointing to the stairs.
A voice from above said, "Go get your mother."
One of the children vanished and a woman emerged. I began to explain my dilemma. She said, "Oh, we have chimes on our fire escape." One of the kids chimed in, "We got them upstate".
I had printouts from the blog and my camera had recorded the YouTube video. I had imagined many scenarios and wanted to be prepared.
The woman said, "Wait, I'll go get them."
My heart raced.
I hung with the kids and grandma.
She came out carrying our chimes. The problem was, they were not our chimes.
From fifty yards away, sure, they appeared identical. But the section at the top of the chimes, the half-coconut-looking piece, and the weight at the bottom of the chimes, were plastic-y and engraved. They looked like they were mass-produced and sold at Wal-Mart.
The woman said, "We go upstate a lot. We got these at Wal-Mart. Next time we go, we can pick some up for you, if you like."
We chatted a little longer. They know our landlords below us. I explained the prevailing theory that either the wind carried our chimes from us, or they were spirited away by a disgruntled neighbor. She gave me a knowing look that said, "it was probably your neighbor".
She offered again to pick us up chimes like these next time they traveled north. I thanked her and declined, saying that ours had been from Hawai'i and had sentimental value. She understood and wished me well. She was a very friendly and nice person. Her whole family was. It made me glad that I approached the situation cautiously.
And so endeth the lesson.
I had envisioned a different outcome....I had hoped to have retrieved the chimes, our chimes, and stowed them away in one of our closets. And then, next week, when Melanie and I were celebrating our thirteenth wedding anniversary, the chimes would have been unfurled. There would have been much rejoicing and merriment.
Instead, I called Melanie and told her they were not our chimes. She can't believe I went over there to try and get the chimes. She wants to move on.
Not yet, at least. A wound has been re-opened and I must heal.
Sure, you're all reading this and shaking your collective blogheads, pitying me and my fruitless obsession.
In the words of the late Kurt Vonnegut: And so it goes.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Late last month, Shayna went to Park Slope to meet with Dave, to talk to him about sports. Shayna loves sports. I was in the room, watching to make sure that she didn't speak any blasphemy. She blasphemed a little, dissing Brett Favre, undoubtedly to get my goat, but generally held up her side of the bargain. She talked to Dave about sports. These five clips are the result. I have ranked them in terms of my favorites, but #2 is particularly fun to watch. Enjoy and please leave comments. The filmmaker would love your feedback.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Before we begin, I'd kindly ask you all to take a jaunt down blog-memory lane.
First, revisit this post here.
Nice, aren't they?
(And I can sense the realization that this is going to be interesting from all of you out there who remember this story.)
Next, jump ahead to this post called "Chiming In".
And then, "Chime-Chime-er-ee".
And then, "Chime Update".
And then, finally, "Further Chime Update".
The last post seen here from "The Great Wind Chime Mystery" was February 5, 2007.
Although I did post a great Wind Chime-themed poem ten days later here.
I'm sure many of you had thought that, like the sound of wind chimes on a warm breeze, the story had dissipated into memory and that was that.
Think again, my friends.
Yesterday, Melanie called me saying that, it was the weirdest thing, she thought she had heard our wind chimes. She knew it couldn't possibly be our chimes, but she thought she heard them and was sure she had imagined it.
Ladies and gentlemen, hold on to your kidneys.
When I got home, Shayna and I went to the balcony, from which our beloved chimes had disappeared 14-16 months ago.
And then I listened. If you look at the YouTube clip, you can tell they have a very distinctive sound. And I heard them. And I knew.
There. Across the courtyard. Could it be?
At the bottom of the fire escape. On the building across the way. I see something. They are wind chimes.
OUR WIND CHIMES!!!!!!!!
To be continued....
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
This is from the corner of 5th Avenue and 87th Street in Bay Ridge. And no measly-peasly scribbling here. This is top-notch sloganeering:
Photo taken Saturday, March 22, 2008
How weird is this...I found the source. Ok, not so weird. Anyone with Google could have pointed this out:
And the originator of this quote?
For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can't readily accept the God formula, the big answers don't remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command or faith a dictum. I am my own God. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.
None other than Charles Bukowski.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
The hard way.
For years, I've wondered about playing cards occasionally strewn about the street.
Many regard these discards as additional clutter, littering up the cityscape.
A few weeks ago, I picked one up near Penn Station. I copied one side and taped it face down on the other side. This is the result:
And then I sat on it for a few weeks.
Until this past weekend when I came across this card:
That's the King of Hearts, otherwise known as the Suicide King. I grabbed that one on March 22, 2008 at the corner of 88th Street and 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn.
I had two cards, from two different decks, from two different boroughs.
Then the inspiration struck.
So begins the game I have devised for myself: 52-Card Pickup. Except unlike a game that usually just takes a few minutes to play (a few annoying minutes, but still only minutes), the BillyBlog version may never be won and, if I do succeed, I would imagine it will take years.
Here are the rules:
1) Whenever I see a card on the street, as long as it is not soaked in urine or covered in excrement (or an unidentifiable substance), I will pick it up.
2) It only "counts" if it's a card that hasn't been retrieved yet (i.e. if I find the King of Diamond again, it doesn't count. I already have that card.
3) I am only allowed to pick up one card from any dispersal area at any one time. In other words, if someone has strewn half a deck somewhere, only one card is eligible to be retrieved.
4) Ideally, each card will be represented by a different deck graphically. The backs of the cards should be different. However, I concede that this would make an unlikely task next to impossible. So, if I find a card from the same style of deck, I may use it, but I may also replace it with a newer card from a different deck at a later date.
I will keep a running tally on BillyBlog to let the readers know where we're at in the game. Sound fun? Let's play!
Card 1: Three of Spades February 28, 2008 Manhattan 32nd and 7th Avenue
Card 2: King of Hearts March 22, 2008 Brooklyn 88th and 3rd Avenue
So sit back and enjoy!
Monday, March 24, 2008
Occasionally we get a resume at my office that invites passing around. Not because it is impressive but, rather, it has a typo. Or two, or ten, or an uncountable number. Click on the image below to enlarge and see why this one (personal information whited-out to protect the innocent), jumped out at me.
Didn't see it? Look at the duties line again:
The real question, which I have yet to figure out, is what this individual was trying to communicate. Customer Mechanic? I'm still baffled.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
This is either a new feature or a one-time thing. We'll see.
This is one of many panels at the Union Street subway station in Brooklyn. The artist is Emmett Wigglesworth and the panel is part of the complete project called CommUnion, 1994.
There's a description of the whole installation here. I also discovered that, through that link one can also see the art and get the story behind it throughout the New York City subway system. Check it out and get lost underground for a while this weekend.
Friday, March 21, 2008
It's the end of a long rainy day. You are tired. A gust of wind rips your umbrella from your hands and carries it down the street. You just want to go home. You've already let go once. You let go again. You sigh and turn away.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
I swear this isn’t how I planned this, but I have to work some pictures in here.
In the last thirty days, I’ve had my picture taken with the mayor of one of the fifty largest cities in the United States, a cheerleader from a NCAA Division 1 school, and a rabbi.
See if you can tell who is who.
rabbi is. Everyone knows that rabbis generally don’t grow past 6 and a half feet tall. If they do, they tend to have problems with chuppas, which make them undesirable wedding officiators.
You’d be closer if you guessed cheerleader from Syracuse. You’d be closer, but you’d still be wrong. The man I am pictured with is none other than the Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, Mufi Hanneman. He played basketball at Harvard and is 6’ 7” (too tall for a rabbi). I met Mayor Hanneman at an Iolani alumni event in New York City on February 29 and he
indulged me with a photo. He graduated from Iolani in June 1972, three months before I matriculated there as a kindergartener.
This picture was taken by Frogma and my original intent was to just show it to my Mom so she could show it to everyone she knew and brag that the Mayor and I were cool enough to do the simultaneous shaka. I decided to include this picture in the post because, if I asked people to guess who was a rabbi and who was a cheerleader, that would be too easy. Throwing in a mayor
spices things up a bit.
If you thought the picture "B" was of me with a rabbi, clearly, again, you have no concept of what a rabbi is. And Annie (the one without the tie or grey in her hair) is too young to be mayor. Annie is on the cheerleading squad at Syracuse University and was in town for the Big East basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden.
If you are perplexed by the fact that a random cheerleader half my age would agree to be photographed with me, don’t be. Annie is the cousin of a co-worker and was swinging by work to say hi to her after the game. This photo demonstrates that sometimes it pays to be in the right place at the right time. I was also aided by the fact that I always wear deodorant and have a generally pleasant disposition.
Ok. I’m sure all you geniuses have deduced that picture "C" is with me and a rabbi. Sure, he’s a young rabbi, but he’s still a rabbi. A rabbi who agreed to pose with me the same day I had my picture taken with Annie. Rabbi Micah Kelber was willing to be photographed with me because he is a regular visitor to BillyBlog and he agreed that his presence would help lessen the shock that many readers would have after seeing a picture of yours truly with a cheerleader.
I am using Rabbi Kelber’s full name because now, when people google his name, they will find BillyBlog, and see how cool he is, being in the same post with a cheerleader and the Mayor of Honolulu. It's Six Degrees of Billy Cohen.
[On a side note, I am seen walking across the screen as the credits roll in a show called "Tales from the Whoop: Hot Rod Brown Class Clown". Whoopi Goldberg starred in that. Whoopi was in Ghost with Demi Moore. Demi Moore was in A Few Good Men with, you guessed it, Kevin Bacon. That's only three degrees for me.]
Thanks to Mayor Mufi, Annie, and Rabbi Kelber for helping me with this post.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The latest New Yorker fiction podcast features Jonathan Lethem reading James Thurber’s short story “The Wood Duck”. Click story name to listen or right click to save and download.
Last Saturday night, Shayna and I went with friends Max and Jonathan to a professional indoor soccer game in New Jersey. The New Jersey Ironmen faced the Chicago Storm in an exciting contest that saw 6 lead changes in the second half. The home team won 10-9.
We had great seats thanks to my friend and co-worker Steve, who was there with the girls’ soccer team he coaches in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.
Here’s the last minute of the game, which was extended slightly by a penalty:
I resisted all the bad tabloid covers last week during the Eliot Spitzer debacle. But I had to run this cover of New York magazine because it sums it all up in one word and one photo:
Sephora lent me this CD Inhuman Rampage by Dragonforce:
Listen to "Through the Fire and Flames" here (click to play, right click to save). The guitar is excellent, but the jury is still out on the vocals. They start to sound the same after a while, but the guitarist takes your mind off of that with a virtuoso ferocity.
I’m also deciding whether I like the Shins album Wincing the Night Away, which I borrowed from the Brooklyn Public Library. Apparently, I am supposed to like it. It was on a lot of 2007 best album lists. Lets see if it grows on me.
Sadly, our local branch of the BPL, is closing. The Fort Hamilton branch, a mere 0.16 miles from my front door, will be shuttered for a couple of years while the 100+ year-old building gets renovated.
Our nearest library is now the Bay Ridge branch, which is a mile away, as opposed to a stone’s throw.
And finally, how cool is this:
No, that's not photo-shopped. It's real. Read more about Dinner in the Sky here. Thanks to Cynthia for the link.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
[NOTE: If you were directed here by the Best American Poetry blog, go here to read about the Best American Erotic Poems reading at KGB, or visit my main page here.]
In the post-reading daze (see Monday, March 10), I have been a bit lax here, although I have not been idle. I'm always cross-promoting Tattoosday and, since it's Tuesday, why not send you over there for a looksie. I just finished a post about the full sleeve of a co-worker.
On a side note, the pajama bottoms above were a gift from my family for Valentine's Day. It seemed appropriate for this post.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
I don't know why I do it, but I do. I don't know why I feel compelled to do it, but I am.
What am I talking about? This.
I blame Brian. And I blame Hubert. Well, not entirely, but they're adequate scapegoats.
Brian was a book scout in L.A. Now he lives in Toronto. Hubert lives in L.A. When I first moved to New York in 1997, I missed them and we e-mailed back and forth about books.
As great a city as L.A. may be, nothing holds a candle to New York. On any given night, September through May, you can throw a rock and hit a poetry reading, book signing, or other literary event.
Well, maybe not the event, but perhaps someone going to an event. You know what I mean.
In the course of my adventures attending signings over the years, I have always had interesting things to relate to Brian and Hubert. I would send them lengthy e-mail accounts of the events and the signing afterwards. Some of these e-mails survived server purges and mass deletions and appear on BillyBlog in the archives, prior to September 2005.
But the habit of documenting these events has stuck with me and re-reading what I wrote 10 years ago about a literary event is very self-gratifying.
So this is why my e-mails to a couple of friends have evolved into blogfodder, complete with pictures, hyperlinks, and other internet goodies.
I hope that people reading these recaps, infused with memorable quotes, anecdotes, and tallies of my obsessive autograph collecting, find these posts enjoyable and interesting.
So without further ado, scroll down to March 10, the day the Spitz hit the fan, or click here to read about the Best American Erotic Poems reading at KGB at the beginning of the week.
My only regret is that I couldn't post them sooner.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
So last week, out of frustration, I posted a message I sent to Crocs, the company mostly known for footwear, that manufactured a backpack we purchased for my daughter Jolee at the beginning of her first year in intermediate school, back in August 2007.
I posted the message here out of frustration, as I had received neither a response, nor an acknowledgment that my message, sent to Customer Service via their website, was even received.
I half-jokingly noted that, since I had not received a reply, I was posting it here, "in case any Crocs executives happen to read BillyBlog".
You can read my original post, entitled "A Crock of Crocs," from Friday, March 7, here.
Flashing forward to Tuesday, March 11, I received the following e-mail:
My name is Craig Sweeney. I am the product manager for the gear category at Crocs. I saw your entry yesterday on BillyBlog regarding both your disappointment in the quality of the Crocs backpack you purchased, as well as your subsequent experience with our customer service department. I’d like to express my sincere apology to you for both. Neither are reflective of the products or the experience we try to create daily for our customers.
From a service standpoint I’d like to pass on to you that I’ve spoken with the customer service manager about why a consumer would send an e-mail of the nature of yours and not get a response. She has assured me that the proper steps will be taken in ensure this does not happen again. This is simply not acceptable at Crocs. Doing everything we can to rectify a situation when a consumer is unhappy with one of our products is something we strive for. We understand how vitally important it is that should a consumer choose to purchase any of our products it be a good experience, and if for whatever reason it isn’t, that we do what we can to fix the situation.
As far as the specific issues you had with the backpack I can tell you we have put people and procedures in place to carry out appropriate product testing and minimize occurrences of sub-par construction and defects. We will certainly be replacing your backpack at no charge. That will ship to the address you provided today. Additionally, the feedback you provided will be passed on to our quality control team, as well as considering in the design and development of new products.
We appreciate your choice to purchase our products in the past, and hope that you will continue to be a Crocs customer in the future. If you would like to discuss the experience you had more in depth please feel free to call me directly at xxx-xxx-xxxx or xxx-xxx-xxxx. I’d be glad to chat with you about any other concerns you may have.
product manager - gear
I telephoned Mr. Sweeney, left a voicemail message, and he promptly called me back within 15 minutes. He reiterated the contents of the e-mail he had sent me. He offered apologies for the fact that my message to customer service had gone unacknowledged, as well as for the unusual wear and tear the backpack experienced in such a short time.
And he confirmed my address to which he is sending a replacement for the short-lived Crocs gear we initially purchased.
Wow. You could have knocked me over with a Croc!
That said, I am going on record as saying how impressed I am with Mr. Sweeney's response. He could very well have dismissed my post as a random disgruntled ex-customer venting about poor customer service, a tiny voice in the blogosphere. It's not like my post was necessarily going to have a huge impact on Crocs or their sales.
However, Mr. Sweeney identified, as far as I can tell, an incongruity between my experience and the experience that his organization values for their customers. He has made amends on behalf of Crocs and I am truly appreciative, not only of the end result, but of the time he took to write me, call me back after I called him, and the courtesy and professionalism he exhibited in the process.
Bravo, Crocs! I have gone back to my original post and revised the title to be more positively reflective of the experience I had.
Monday, March 10, 2008
On Monday evening, March 10, 2008, while most of New York State was watching the news, recoiling from or salivating over the breaking news about our governor, Eliot Spitzer, who earlier that day had confessed to “involvement” in a prostitution ring, I was headed to the KGB Bar in the East Village.
I was going to my first poetry reading at KGB (although I did hear Tibor Fischer and Debra Weinstein read there on a Sunday fiction evening in 2004). The bar has hosted a Monday night poetry series since 1997. It is almost embarrassing to admit that this was my first Monday night at KGB. In light of the recent tawdriness in the news, it was almost too good to be true: the reading was for the anthology Best American Erotic Poems: From 1800 to the Present.
As anyone familiar with yours truly can affirm, the BAP series, ever since the fateful day (November 3, 1997) when I went to a reading at the Park Avenue Borders for the BAP 97, has been an obsession of mine. That evening, I had Don Hymans, Charlie Smith and I believe David Lehman sign my copy. Billy Collins was scheduled to appear but didn’t make it.I have added 22 additional signatures since then to that one volume alone. But, I digress. We’ll talk signing later.
I arrived at KGB just a few minutes before 7:00, hoping I would still be able to find a seat. Apparently, I either misread or saw a posting with an errant time listed, as the reading didn’t officially start until 7:30. I arrived at the same time as Mr. Lehman, and we climbed the steps up to the bar together. I mentioned how much was enjoying the BAP blog.
As people trickled in and I nursed an Amstel Light, I pondered the tattoo on the right arm of the bartender. My tattoosday hat was on, but I decided against disturbing her while she worked to ask about it. One of the poets reading, Janice Erlbaum, sat down next to me and we chatted a bit, along with her husband, Bill. I took the time during the pre-reading lull to get her to autograph her poem in the anthology, along with a poem she had contributed to the volume Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café.
At about 7:45, the bartender turned off the music and David Lehman rose and moved to the podium. He introduced the book and thanked everyone for coming. He began by reading a couple of selections from the book, starting with a wonderful poem by Hart Crane called “Episode of Hands” [Please note: I will be hyperlinking poems that can be read on other sites]. Crane’s poem takes an act of administering first-aid, and charges it with a beautiful eroticism. Next, Lehman read “To the Harbormaster” by Frank O’Hara.
Finally, David acknowledged that he did not have a poem in the anthology, but that he slyly managed to “sneak” in a poem in the volume’s introduction, “piggybacking on Cavafy’s shoulders.” He was referring to the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy and his “Poem in the Manner of C.P. Cavafy” which ends the introduction. He then told us who the first five readers would be, the order in which they would read, and how, in the contributor’s notes, many of the poets had offered up what they considered to be the most erotic piece of literature for them. Mr. Lehman indicated that those inspirations might be called upon to accompany the individual’s own contributions to the volume.
Star Black was the first poet to read. She first asked for “a moment of silence, sexual silence, for our governor.” She referred to the “diamond-studded evenings of our governor” before embarking on the second half of a double sonnet by H. Phelps Putnam called “Sonnets to Some Sexual Organs.” It was definitely as raunchy (and poetic) as one would imagine.
Ms. Black, who co-founded the KGB poetry series with Mr. Lehman, opined more on Mr. Spitzer, offering some juicy sound bites. She sighed, “it seems no man is exempt from biology.” She also expressed that she did not feel that he should resign, expressing her “hope [that] the governor doesn’t step down for being a guy.”
Also to note, she offered up an amusing anecdote that a man once referred to her as a “painted bride of Satan, all in the midst of lovemaking.” Then she explained that “he was a Brit,” as a way of explaining why he would have spoken so colorfully.
She then read her poem from the anthology, a sonnet called “The Evangelist” which, she explained, not only alludes to Jim Baker and his ilk, but to “every guy that’s been caught.”
The night was off to a rollicking start.
Next was Marc Cohen (no relation), who I had never heard read before. He started off by saying that he was glad that Star had used the “c” word (courtesy of Putnam’s poem), because he was going to use the “f” word. He began with his poem from the volume, entitled “It Never Happened”.
Next, he read “Sweet” Emily Dickinson’s poem #315 (He fumbles at your Soul).
He prefaced this with his introduction to the piece from the contributor’s notes. Cohen’s segment was interestingly balanced between his 21st century erotic poem, contrasted with the much capitalized and dashed sparseness of Dickinson’s verse, and then shaken up by the brilliance of Rimbaud.
Janice Erlbaum, the poet who was sitting next to me, read next. She read beautifully and I could certainly hear the fluidity of a spoken word influences.
Lastly, she read a found poem, entitled “Go Me,” which was graffiti she discovered in the New Rochelle train station restroom. It was raunchy yet erotic, grammatically mangled, and downright beautiful. It brought down the house.
I was pleased to discover that Janice talked about the reading on her web page here, including the text of "Go Me" and another sestina she didn't read due to time constraints, but surely would have been a memorable experience.
Jennifer L. Knox followed Janice Erlbaum. I first “experienced” Jennifer at a BAP 2006 reading (recap here). Her “Hot Ass Poem” has achieved semi-cult status and Maggie Wells, reading later in the evening, evoked it in her contributor notes, presumably as one of her erotic faves.
Jennifer presented two Denis Johnson poems.
First, she read Johnson's “Poem” from the anthology:
Loving you is every bit as fine
as coming over a hill into the sun
at ninety miles an hour darling when
it's dawn and you can hear the stars unlocking
themselves from the designs of God beneath
the disintegrating orchestra of my black
Chevrolet. The radio clings to an un-
identified station - somewhere a tango suffers,
and the dance floor burns around two lovers
whom nothing can touch - no, not even death!
Oh! the acceleration with which my heart does proceed,
reaching like stars almost but never quite
of light the speed of light the speed of light.
Next, she read Johnson’s poem “Heat”, which she said reminded her of Oscar and Lucinda, in which the two main characters, who are gamblers, appear to be at their most erotic when they are analyzing their “tells.”
She finished with her marvelous “Another Motive for Metaphor”.
Laura Cronk was the last poet before intermission. She is one of the co-curators of the KGB series. I had last heard her read at the same BAP reading as the one Jennifer Knox was at, as referenced above.
She alluded to her pregnancy, crediting the erotic nature of poetry for contributing to her present state. That elicited a chuckle from the crowd. Laura read her poem “From the Other”.
Some of the books mentioned above:
Part 2 of this post is here.
This is a continuation from this post here.
After Laura Cronk finished, there was an intermission during which I took the time to get books signed. I did have nice talks with Marc Cohen, who introduced me to his mother, Arlene. When inscribed one of my books, he noted the date as the twentieth anniversary of his mother being cancer-free. I congratulated her on the milestone.
During the intermission I had all but two of the poets reading sign the anthology and some additional books and journals that I brought along. What was nice about the venue was the casual nature of the event. I had a much nicer time talking with the poets than I normally do at readings, with the more relaxing bar setting fostering a bit more casual conversation. Maybe it was me that was more at ease. Perhaps the smaller venue meant I was one of the few people there, other than the readers, having books signed.
I had an especially nice chat with Star Black, who I had never met before. I learned that she had gone to high school in Hawai’i. She had attended Punahou School, the unofficial rival school of my own alma mater Iolani School. Punahou has entered the national media spotlight as the high school of Barack Obama. We chatted about Hawai’i, Obama, and Eliot Spitzer, among other things.
After intermission, David Lehman led things off with a poem from the anthology by Charles Bukowski called “Hunk of Rock”. It was typical Bukowskian raunch, but it was from one of my favorite works of his, The Last Night of the Earth Poems, and the man knew how to write an entertaining
dirty erotic poem.
The first reader of the second half was Rachel Shukert, who introduced herself as having the last poem in the book because she is the youngest. The anthology was ordered based on the poets’ years of birth. Ms. Shukert, born in 1980, was witty and engaging. She read her entry, a fantastic sestina entitled “Subterranean Gnomesick Blues; or, the Gnome Who Whet My Fleshy Tent”.
She followed with reading Tennessee Williams’ entry in the book, “Life Story”. When I first read this in the anthology, I thought it was brilliant, and was thinking of posting it on BillyBlog. Take a moment and read it here”.
The choice of Williams seemed appropriate for Ms. Shukert, as she is also a playwright who also writes poetry.
Fifteen-year-old Courtney Farrell has been raised by her actress mother to make a good martini and understand how to get around in the adult world of Hollywood's famed Garden of Allah, where her mother lives. She returns from boarding school in the East -- a touchstone of the best girl trash -- takes her first lover (a homosexual actor!), drinks a lot and becomes very jaded and sophisticated. A book to treasure forever".
Shukert read the passage with abandon, savoring the prose, which was more significant knowing that she had identified the book as one that she had discovered as a teen, absorbed, and that “the demurely written love scenes…are some of the hottest things [she has] ever read."
Ms. Shukert also offered up, in the course of her reading, one of the more memorable quotes of the evening: “Anytime you trust anyone, it turns out you have chlamydia”.
Ms. Marvin then prefaced the next poem by talking a little about Sylvia Plath. The great Plath’s archives are held in the Lilly Library at Indiana University and Marvin clearly holds her legacy in high esteem. She spoke of recently visiting the collection and actually getting to touch a lock of her hair housed in the archives: (folder 5: Hair Includes one lock, 1932; one lock, 1938; one lock, July 30, 1941; a tress, Aug. 1942; braids, Aug. 22, 1945; and one lock, Fall 1949.)
She spoke of Plath’s great appetite for food and segued into her anthologized poem “The Beekeeper’s Daughter”.
She ended with “Poem That Wears Your Scarf”. With Ms. Marvin’s permission, I have posted the video I took of her recitation of this longer poem. It runs about 4 minutes, and it is very dark. However, the audio is clear and the poet’s face occasionally appears illuminated by the reading light to create quite an ethereal effect.
Next was Noah Michelson.
He finished with a poem called “You Want Magic,” dedicated to his father who had passed away one year earlier on the same day.
Maggie Wells followed, offering “Exhibit A,” which was her poem, “Sonnet from the Groin” from the book. Interesting to note, my notes from the evening indicate that I originally misheard and scribbled down the title as “Sonnet from the Brine”. “Exhibit B,” she continued, was an excerpt from Bob Flanagan’s “Slave Sonnets” .
The reading concluded with Michael Quattrone, who is co-curator of the KGB Poetry Series. He ended the evening with the poem “February”.
Usually, when I’ve attended readings with strings of poets reading, there is always a lull, or dead point in the evening, when I look at the time, lose interest, drift off into a poetry-induced reverie. This evening, that didn’t happen. I enjoyed every reader’s turn, thanks in part, I’m sure, to the unifying theme.
Cate Marvin signed her contributions in Ploughshares (as noted above) and the anthology Poetry Daily: Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website.
In all I got 19 signatures from 11 poets/writers. Not a bad night's work.
As an afterthought, I realized I neglected to mention that my friend Micah joined me in the middle of the first segment of the evening. We’ve been talking for over a year about going to a KGB reading together, and the stars finally aligned. I wanted to thank him for joining me, for proofreading this post, scribbling down Rachel Shukert’s memorable quote (see above), buying me a beer during intermission, babysitting my books while I ran about talking to the poets, and for all of his encouragement.
Also a hearty thanks to David Lehman for his anthologies, for his kind words to me about BillyBlog, and to all the poets who contributed to a wonderful evening of poetry (and for signing my books).
Some of the books mentioned here:
Mozilla, so the spacing and formatting are all messed up. There's only so much I can do. I apologize for any weirdness that inadvertantly imposed itself here. This paragraph, for example, is center-justified, and I am having a bugger of a time fixing it. So, I'm just going to let go.
I realized why there are few dedicated sites for umbrellophiles.
On Sunday I snapped several photographs of umbrella corpses littered around
my neighborhood. At some point, I realized I was boring myself, and I was
an active participant.
To unleash such banal images on an unsuspecting readership (or even a
suspecting one, for that matter), would be cruel, unusual, and might
actually demotivate people from visiting BillyBlog.
Posted by Tattoosday at 7:00 AM
Sunday, March 09, 2008
This is a soul-searching post. I started writing it on February 26, 2008. I’m aiming to finish it by March 9, the 14th anniversary of the death of Charles Bukowski.
I first became truly aware of Bukowski in 1987, when writing for the Arts pages of the Occidental newspaper. My editor sent me to the Beverly Center in L.A. to see a Belgian film called Love is a Dog From Hell. The film has survived as Crazy Love. It was based, in part, on a Bukowski short story called “The Copulating Mermaid of Venice, California," and some biographical aspects of the writer.
I knew nothing of Bukowski prior to seeing the film, but I bought the volume of poetry Love is a Dog From Hell shortly thereafter. His poetry to me was startling, exciting, brilliant and decidedly un-academic. I became a huge fan, buying everything I could and reading it.
Bukowski died in 1994. I still recall the moment I heard the news: it was a cold dark March morning in Saugus, California. My next-door neighbor downstairs and I were driving to the Metrolink station in Valencia. The Northridge quake less than 2 months earlier had made carpooling to my job in Pasadena impossible. The radio was on and the newsman announced that Bukowski had died.
That day, I special-ordered his soon-to-be-published novel Pulp from Vroman’s Bookstore. When it arrived, it was a signed copy. I laminated Bukowski’s obit from the L.A. Times Book Review and it’s still behind my door in my office today. He was a major influence on my own poetry.
I was thrilled to hear that there was enough unpublished work to last into the 21st Century. But somewhere in the late ‘90s, early ‘00s, I stopped enjoying Hank. I bought his new books. I sighed when John Martin sold Black Sparrow Press and the Bukowski catalog went to HarperCollins/Ecco. I did go see Factotum in the theaters when it came out in 2006, and I appreciated it. But I have been selling off my Bukowski on eBay. He is still as popular as ever, but I am holding on to a few items, and that is it.
This piece was prompted by my most recent attempt to read some "new" Bukowski. I grabbed The People Look Like Flowers at Last: New Poems (Ecco: 2007) from the library. This is supposedly his final posthumous book of unreleased work. I got about a dozen poems in and gave up. I was bored. The Bukowski Formula was diluted by repeated applications. He wrote so much, so often repeating anecdotes in various forms, that there was nothing new and exciting about him to me. It makes me sad.
Then, more recently, I grabbed at the NYPL, The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951-1993 (L.A. Times review here). A greatest hits, if you will.
It opens with “the mockingbird,” one of my favorite poems, ever. Not just by Bukowski, but by anyone. I still remember reading it for the first time and putting five stars next to it in the table of contents. Here it is again:
the mockingbird had been following the cat
mocking mocking mocking
teasing and cocksure;
the cat crawled under rockers on porches
and said something angry to the mockingbird
which I didn't understand.
yesterday the cat walked calmly up the driveway
with the mockingbird alive in its mouth,
wings fanned, beautiful wings fanned and flopping,
feathers parted like a woman's legs,
and the bird was no longer mocking,
it was asking, it was praying
but the cat
striding down through centuries
would not listen.
I saw it crawl under a yellow car
with the bird
to bargain it to another place.
summer was over.
I still get chills from that one.
So I decided to read this “greatest hits” collection. And I am going to keep this document open and add thoughts to it as I read. This will likely by a lengthy post, but it will serve as a tribute to the man who many revere as a great poet, who others dismiss as a crude drunk with a typewriter.
Five poems later, there is a revelation. “dark night poem” is listed as “uncollected”. In the manner of a band’s “Greatest Hits” compilations, we get something new. This could be good, this could be bad. I don’t want to comment on each and every poem. Some have come from the posthumous poems that left me empty. Others I recognize. Poem number 6 is another “famous” one. “The Last Days of the Suicide Kid”. Oh, the glory that is YouTube:
Of course, it takes no time (page 28) to find a great Bukowski poem (in my opinion) from the posthumous volumes. “Eulogy” from The Night Torn Mad with Footsteps; New Poems (2001) speaks to me, as it probably does to anyone who has had a loyal, faithful car that has lived a long life and then, finally, died forever:
you then had to watch it carted
from the back of the tow truck
as if it had no
A couple days later and I have been more selective of what I choose to praise. When I was going through the Bukowski oeuvre in the Nineties, reading everything, whenever I came across a quote I liked, a snippet of mad verse, a couplet of particular brilliance, a scribbled it on the inside cover of my journal. During that time I filled many inside covers with Bukowskian madness. On page 86, in the poem “the angel who pushed his wheelchair,” from What Matters Most is How Well You Walk through the Fire, I came across a great snippet: “all the poets wanted to get disability insurance/it was better than immortality”.
Flashing forward to March 5, and I realize the March 9 deadline is rapidly approaching, and my ambitions to finish the 548 pages of poetry may have been ambitious. Although, I am on page 126.
Now Friday, and I am plodding away, occasionally picking up the book and reading a poem or two in between banal chores. And here, we have a gem, buried in the brilliance: a sapphire that outshines the glowing stones around it, one of Buk’s best, on page 159, “The Tragedy of the Leaves,” really worth re-printing in full:
the tragedy of the leaves
I awakened to dryness and the ferns were dead,
the potted plants yellow as corn;
my woman was gone
and the empty bottles like bled corpses
surrounded me with their uselessness;
the sun was still good, though,
and my landlady's note cracked in fine and
undemanding yellowness; what was needed now
was a good comedian, andcient style, a jester
with jokes upon absurd pain; pain is absurd
because it exists, nothing more;
I shaved carefully with an old razor
the man who had once been young and
said to have genius; but
that's the tragedy of the leaves,
the dead ferns, the dead plants;
and I walked into a dark hall
where the landlady stood
execrating and final,
sending me to hell,
waving her fat, sweaty arms
screaming for rent
because the world has failed us
A few pages later, another fine Bukowski moment, “The Genius of the Crowd”
Another uncollected poem (“I am eaten by butterflies”) on page 182 ends with this statement: “my poems are only bits of scratchings/on the floor of a/cage”. There is a beautiful, sad subtlety here, his poems are not merely insignificant scratchings, but bits of scratchings.
"an empire of coins," from Betting on the Muse: Poems and Stories, has a couple more great bits that I remember from when I first read them. Bukowski is often mislabeled as a misogynist, in my opinion. He may use crude names to describe women, but he is an equal opportunity offender. It is generally the vast majority of humans that he disdains. In lines like these, he uses a crude description to mask his admiration of the power of the female:
a woman's a woman, I say, and I put my binoculars between her
kneecaps and I can see where
empires have fallen
and he later proclaims:
the way to whip life is to quietly frame the agony,
study it and out it to sleep in the abstract.
is there anything less abstract
than dying day by day?
Well, it is March 9, and I only got through 250 pages.
If you look back at the top of the post at the photo of Bukowski's grave marker, you can see what is written there: "Don't Try". Perhaps I should have heeded that advice.
I do intend to finish the post at a later date, but I'm throwing it out there today, the anniversary of his passing. I never got to page 520, where one finds one of my favorite Bukowski poems, "Dinosauria, we." We'll end here with this:
Umbrellas are one of humanity's unheralded inanimate objects. They shelter us from the elements, but they are disposable. They are left on trains, in shopping carts, or, if they weaken and buckle under the wrath of the elements, they are cast aside with only a grimace and a curse.
I have long considered posting the evidence of the scattered umbrella corpses after a storm. Now it is time.
First, a disclaimer. I am, in no way, claiming this is an original idea. A year or two ago, the New York Times featured a photo-collage of umbrella skeletons littering the city streets after a Nor'easter. I am experimenting. Feel free to comment on whether you find this enjoyable, interesting, or neither.
What possessed me to begin this venture at this time was getting caught yesterday, lacking umbrellas, on 86th Street in Brooklyn. I saw this woman struggling with an umbrella, in which, the lights were about to go out forever.
And this was not a dinky umbrella, but a rather sturdy one.
We moved on, and entered a store across the street. Fifteen minutes later, we exited and saw the previously wounded umbrella, abandoned on the sidewalk:
So, that was that, I was on a mission. A little while later, a snapped this shot, the umbrella lying lifeless next to a rubbish can, like a corpse resting next to a dumpster in an alley somewhere:
And later in the day, this sad soul was crushed lifeless in the middle of Third Avenue:
A different view:
And later, the morguelike close-up:
And thus concludes this first installment of Umbrellacide.