Books, travel, anticipation

Nothin’ — and I mean *nothin’* — like the anticipatory thrill of being able to say, “I get to see Phish tomorrow night.” Reminiscent of peak childhood Christmas or the last day of school, June 1997.

I’m reading Roth’s The Plot Against America now. It’s my third Roth in as many weeks, and I can’t seem to stop. The Ghost Writer and Sabbath’s Theater are next on my list, but I’m also accruing a stack of new books that need to be devoured. I think, before jetting further down the Roth rabbit hole, I’ll take these grand themes of late-90s and early-00s Rothian discourse and use them to prop up my reading of Eve Ewing’s Ghosts in the Schoolyard.

Of course, I’ve got miles and miles to drive between home and Phish’s two-night stand in upstate New York; no doubt I’ll find a good bookstore or two along the way.

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Rest in peace, Andy, Gus

Difficult news to hear. Railroad Earth was my favorite show of 2016, and Andy was just dynamite onstage. I remember him volleying between acoustic guitar, flute and, at one point, *two saxes at the same time*. It was an unbelievable performance.

Bands — the human grouping of shared musical ideals and creativity, if only for a brief flash of existence — are like blood or air. They’re not merely a necessity for enjoyment of life, but rather a vehicle for nourishment and an expression of *what it means* to be alive. Positive/negative. Inhale/exhale. Flowing out though the artery, and back, spent and exhilarated, through the vein and to the heart.

Selah.

I think now of a party that we went to last night. It was Gus’s final night on Earth, and his owners brought him to a local brewery to be around other dogs. See, at 15, at the threshold of the great beyond, the only thing left that he loved was hanging out with friendly dogs. (Gus was a dog.)

Forrest is a kind and gentle young pup, and he got along with Gus splendidly. The old dog seemed to nod back, “You’re doing just fine, kid.” Gus sniffed each guest with an almost plaintive happiness. He was at home, again. He stood at one end of the patio, taking it all in. Inhaling the memory not just of this last night, but of the whole of the thing. The grand narrative, collapsing in on itself one final time — only to be rebuilt infinitely with each dog that came by to say hello.

Later, his owner wrote: “Gus had the best time.”

Isn’t that nice! The best time! “Gus had the best time.”

I hope we can all say that. Bands, dogs, breweries, saxophones. The kaleidoscope spins fast. Your trip is short! It’s all of a piece. It all matters. “Gus had the best time.”

RIP Andy, Gus, all of them. Everybody. In peace.

Life during wartime

“So this is it, then? Just a series of poorly designed parking lots, one after the other. That’s what it looks like. Out one, and into the next. Is that it? You come out to your car, you pull into the little aisle there, drive down the haphazardly parked row of automobiles—your Camrys, your Elantras—and you, what, you turn the corner and pull into the street? Nope. No sir. You end up in some sort of dead-end, isn’t that it? You end up going the wrong way down the next aisle—you’ve got your Civics, of course, your prim A6s—and you’ve got to back up. Reverse. Put it in reverse and find another aisle. Right? The one with the arrow pointing the right way? Watch out, though! Watch out, sonny! Some jerk from the mall is gonna pull right out in front of you, clip your bumper and speed off. You guessed it. He’ll speed off the wrong way. Arrow’s pointing the other way. He just speeds off! Clipped your bumper. Dented it, probably. He probably shredded the goddamned thing right off! Speeds down the lane, speeds the wrong way. Doing a hundred. You? You’re still driving, coasting, as you try to find the right turn, the right mental process to get out of this place. You gotta get home! Soup’s in the crockpot, sure, but you gotta get home and tend to things! Walk the dog. He’s waiting! Oh, he’d love to see you, wag his tail, but there you are, fiddling with the ineptitude of a parking lot blueprint drafted by some nefarious monster. Some form of evil. What, the city planners allowed this? They did this to you! They cooked your goose, and now you’ve got to find a way out of here. Try the next row. Nope! Some old lady appears, like magic, like a Copperfield apparition, and she’s screaming at you! You’ve nearly killed her! Back up now. She’s waving the cane. The cane! Back up and try to find another—nope. Nope. Guess again. You’re back where you began! Where you pulled your car out in the first place! Is this parking lot a circle? Some sort of deep layer of hell, right? A looping nightmare. Where’s Virgil? Can somebody call Virgil up? You try again. You’re nearly there! You can see the street. All aisles are now funneling automobiles brilliantly into the street—your Grand Cherokees, your RAV4s—the whole apparatus is working like a clock! You’re free! Just find the right aisle, turn the corner, yep, wave to the kindly security guard, and you’re free! Wrong! Guess again, pal. Go ahead and guess again. You’re now behind the mall. The other side. The other side completely. You’re by the Macy’s, for heaven’s sake. The Macy’s. Kid, you were almost there! What happened? You were on your way! Looking like some stud behind the wheel, flying like a goddamned Air Force fighter pilot back to the street. Back to life! To the great nexus of past and future, the entire scope of your life flashing by in one middling and beautiful moment. A cosmic truth unadorned by perception and angle. The unbound wonder of life! You were there! Boom. Back to reality, sonny. Back at it. You’re in the wrong aisle! ‘This is the loading dock! Sir, you’ve got to move!’ Some chap with a hat is yelling at you—always with a hat—and so you’ve got to back up yet again. Back up and turn this ship around. There—next aisle over, looks like that one’s working. Cars slipping into traffic, out of this parking lot and back into the city. Bright lights! Sure, you’ve got some red lights out there, you’ve got your yellows, but goddamn, kid, how the green lights seem to just explode with color! Photosynthesis. You know what photosynthesis is? Turning light into energy. Energy into energy. An ongoing vegetal spasm. Sounds terrific, right? Warm and life-affirming. Imagine the whole of the plant kingdom opening, unencumbering its ethnobotanical secrets for only you—but if you could just get out of this goddamned parking lot! Now, focus. Turn right. Ease into the turn there, buddy. Nice and easy. Turn right. Right again. Now left. Just coast—watch out for the guy on the bike! Always a guy on a bike. Turn left. Stop sign. Another stop sign. Another stop sign. Turn left. There it is: Just get one lane over, turn right, thrust into it now, and you’re home free. Into the street we go, sonny! What a ride! What an absolute trip! You did it! You won! They’ll hoist you aloft, they’ll write newspaper articles about you! Your grandchildren’s grandchildren, they’ll hear stories about you. They’ll be cooking wild boar over the fire, shackled in chains and trading stories about the guy who did it. What a guy! The moon, choked faintly in nuclear winter, wheezing; a strange, green, bedraggled orb in the sky. Ah, the moon. You remember what it looked like, right? But wait! Wait just a minute! This isn’t it. This isn’t the street at all. You’re in another goddamned parking lot! And—you won’t believe this one, sonny—you’re going the wrong way again! You’re in the wrong aisle entirely!”

I’m having a great time reading Philip Roth these past few weeks. Why did I wait so long? 30 years old. American Pastoral. I’m nearly done with The Human Stain. Some of these passages: I can’t imagine a darker fiction, a more grueling interpersonal reality. But it’s spot-on. The man speaks the truth.

It’s vivid as hell.

Of course, I’m sitting here in Cleveland and I can’t help but feel his stylistic drift bleed into my own writing.

This thing? Occurred to me during the lunch hour. Rockside Road. As it was hitting the page, I thought it was hilarious. Still do. What does it mean? What does anything mean?

HA HA HA

Halloween

“Have a Snickers, sure. A Reese’s peanut butter cup. A Hershey. Kisses, bars, whatever. Hershey Kisses, sure. Have an Almond Joy. What’s wrong with an Almond Joy? Just one? Go ahead, have an Almond Joy if you want one so bad. Have an Almond Joy. Have yourself a Milky Way. The whole galaxy while you’re at it. Or a Hundred Grand bar. I could use a hundred grand, sure, but you go ahead and have one. Treat yourself. Have a Three Musketeers. Is that the one with the nougat? Is that right? I’m not stopping you: Have a Three Musketeers. Have a Twix bar. Have two Twixes. ‘The left Twix, the right Twix,’ didn’t they used to say that? The commercials? Have a Twix, I don’t care. Have two. Have a thing of M&M’s. Peanut. The yellow wrappers? Have a Mounds. A Mounds! For all the money in the world, I never understood the Mounds. Just get an Almond Joy while you’re at it. Same thing, but you get the almonds. A little crunch. You want a Mounds? Have one. Go ahead.”

History wasn’t always history

IMG_3349It’s obvious now (even if it was obscure to many people then) that the good people and the moral actors in the days of American slavery were the runaways who exercised their agency in courageous and surprising acts of self-liberation, and the abolitionists who joined the cause. When the system of slavery was legally abolished, a new moral norm was established, and everyone, acting normally, was freed to discover the better angels of themselves.

“What if we took another leap forward, and agreed that predation and exploitation were unacceptable? What if the vast majority of people mobilized to abolish the system of private profit and wage slavery altogether? What if the horizon of our moral universe stretched that far? What could we imagine then, and what might we build together?”

Bill Ayers, Demand the Impossible!

Occupy

I visited Occupy in downtown Cleveland on Columbus Day in 2011. Things were different then.

The spirit of organized grassroots opposition was clear, of course, if almost nascent in a way. This window in time was distinct from anti-war efforts in the early and mid-2000s, and yet it still feels apart from today’s often fragmented anti-fascism movement and, more vitally, I think, the fourth-wave feminist movement in the U.S.

Still, I think an anti-imperialist viewpoint undergirds a lot of critical thinking in the activist community, and I hope that doesn’t get lost, especially on a Western punchline like “Columbus Day.” This through-line of opposition grows only more vital, as the federal government morphs more openly into tyranny. Foreign policy has been pushed to the fringes of the news media, frequently, and I don’t think that’s unintentional. I remember now someone standing beneath the statue of Moses Cleaveland, seven years ago today, reciting the opening passages of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

“Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:

“‘They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.'”

Returning again

10 years ago today, Phish announced their return as a band.

I remember feeling sort of mystified by it. I got into them right around Coventry, thinking I’d just missed grazing the aura of something that I’d never fully understand. A great cultural force was lumbering into history, and here I was, geeked-out at 16 and left holding a second-hand copy of A Picture of Nectar, knowing doubtlessly that there was something more to all of this. Older friends assured me that “they’ll be back,” though it was hard to know what that even meant.

It’s not hyperbole to say that this announcement — and what followed — is a cosmic turning point in my life. Phish is an axis, and broad swaths of my universe have spiraled out from their music, their shows, their community.

My god, it’s been 10 years. An entire decade, a moment, spinning backward forever! I’ve gone to almost absurd lengths to see this band in that time, never regretting a second of the pure, bracing joy and wishing only that I’d pushed the car even further and made it to the next show. …It all feels apart, in a way, from the rest of reality, like a psilocybin trip: completely fragmented across time (and timelessness) and rebuilt continually into new and curious shapes inside my mind. Christ, the hours and long nights I’ve spent obsessing over this band. Was it me I was writing about all along? Everything bleeds into itself; there is no logic to any of this; the way out is in. My buddy Colin and I showed up one night at Jones Beach, and — KABOOM! — like a rocket to Mars, the music never stopped. What incredible speed!

Fall tour beckons. Need to put Curveball in the past. You’ve got to lean into the turns, now; hold on…..

Your trip is short!