Hello Columbus

 

Columbus is easy to learn: There is a long spine that runs up and down the city called N. High, that people often just call “High” because S. High is irrelevant. Everything more or less hangs off this road. That’s all you need to know about Columbus geography.

The buildings on N. High rarely reach more than three stories, and as you go farther north, they become squat little brick boxes housing insurance agencies, realtors, and those sorts of businesses that feel useless. Mixed in you will find some interesting things—a nice vegetarian restaurant, or a decent grocery store. Ohio State sits at the base of the spine, and feels like a mini Los Angeles—a sprawling grid of newish buildings forever in search of their edge. Every border of the campus is marked with construction cranes. I wouldn’t say it’s an ugly place, but having grown up on the beautiful, rolling campuses of Western Massachusetts, it feels severely lacking. Still, the bike path that runs along the river between campus and my house is lovely. My landlords are strangely proud of this cracked, creaking thing they own, riddled with strange holes and stranger rules (I am not permitted to repair automobiles in the basement). I’m told the bathroom was recently renovated, but the door doesn’t close all the way, and the sink looks like something they found on the curb. The kitchen has a drop-ceiling with florescent lights (at least it has the full-spectrum kind, and not the sickly, ghoulish kind). The place is mostly quiet except for the neighborhood’s neurotic obsession with keeping the grass below three inches, resulting in a continuos explosion of lawn mowers. At night it’s just the calming din of crickets.

Goodbye NYC

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I found a trove of undeveloped film while packing and took it to L&I Photo, a lab that long ago moved from 17th Street to 22nd Street, but now it’s gone, and this was especially upsetting because when I quit my job there as a foot messenger in 1992, they told me I could have it back whenever I wanted. So much for that backup plan.

(There weren’t many interesting photos on those rolls, but I’m posting some other photos.)

Scan-20I had gotten that job after months of marching through the Manhattan streets filling out applications, which is what people do when they aren’t skilled enough to panhandle. After a while I began to wonder if it was possible to just get paid to walk around all day, and then my prayers were finally answered by L&I. I would sit on a bench by the window in the photo lab and read, and then every so often I’d be asked to deliver some contact sheets to a photo studio somewhere in Chelsea, I’d browse through used bookstores on the way back, maybe stop to smoke on a park bench, and because the other messengers often didn’t show up for work at all, my employers were very pleased with my productivity.

You walk around the streets of New York all day, every day, you see some things. I saw the back of a garbage truck engulfed in flames, the driver had no choice but to dump its contents and pull away to a safe distance, leaving an enormous, smelly bonfire of garbage on the middle of 5th Avenue. We gathered around it in a large circle as if performing some native ritual. When the firemen pulled up, they laughed to our sarcastic applause.

At nearly that same spot, I saw four men with knives hold up a taxi cab like they were robbing a stagecoach. They had not accounted for the cop car stuck in traffic on 17th street. Someone pounded on the window. “That taxi’s being robbed!” The cops peeled out in reverse, a perfect James Garner maneuver. The robbers split in four directions, but one was caught, and I expect that was all they needed.

bobI lived in Williamsburg at the time, which back then was poor, and destitute, and best of all, affordable. We rented a five-bedroom railroad above a video store run by a guy named Bob. We called him landlord Bob. He was a haggard, bulbous-nosed, coke snorting, porn vendor who demanded the rent be paid in $100 bills. He was like a god to us. When he died, old New York died with him.

More on that place some other time.

When I returned to Williamsburg after college, it was as if some hipster fairy had waved her sparkly wand over the Polish travel agencies and check cashing places, transforming them to sushi bars, and cafés. Later would come the high-rise condominiums and artisanal cheese shops. I moved to Astoria where I’ve been ever since.

DSC_0137Having also lived in Boston, and managing to squeeze in stints in San Francisco and Los Angeles as well, I can say that New York is unsurpassed in its ability to unite so many disparate people through a shared sense of wonder and drudgery. We suffer together on the 4 train, we swoon together in Central Park. We survive and thrive on the best food in and of the world. We listen to each other fight and fuck.

No matter where you live, you can get to Union Square this evening for cocktails.

Within the last three days, you overheard something hilarious.

There is a special thrill in the skillful navigation of a crowded subway station, knowing exactly which stairs to take, where to stand on the platform to maximize the efficiency of your transfer. Your arrival home leaves you feeling exhausted, yet victorious.

DSC_7676They say New York doesn’t love you, but it will try to seduce you with an endless stream of surprise gifts—a job interview resulting in a new friendship, a brilliant cup of coffee, or even just the sunset diffused through an orange haze of rain over the Manhattan skyline. It will try to seduce you with the knowledge that every moment, something truly wonderful may happen.

I have been here through blackouts, blizzards, hurricanes, and of course, 9/11. As I ready myself to leave New York—in three day’s time—I take no comfort in the prospect of potentially avoiding the next disaster, but rather find myself terrified I might miss it.

The War on People

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What I find so viciously awful about the war in Iraq is the (not always) unspoken, but palpable attitudes held by many Americans that by virtue of having been born in the Middle East, these people are somehow complicit in their own demise. At best, perhaps, it’s too much for us to handle, and it’s comforting to think that maybe when a bomb in Tikrit kills thirty people, they all sort of deserved it somehow. We certainly would feel differently if a bomb went off in Zurich. Or Boston.

At the beginning of the war in/on Iraq, Bush said “…the United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people. Our quarrel is with Iraq’s dictator…” But really, out of millions of Iraqis, we really just hated this one dude? Was it that we simply didn’t know anyone else there? So we couldn’t just kill him, international law forbids that, so in order to make it legal, we had to kill a whole bunch of other people along with him. Law of averages, some of those other people will killed were probably also bad. If we had had the chance to get to know them, anyway, we might have had quarrels with them too.

Bush clarified, our quarrel was with “…Iraqi’s dictator, and his aggression.” But when was his aggression his, and when was it someone else’s? The idea was that Saddam Hussein radiated aggression like a brilliant, angry sun, and by snuffing him out, peace would fall across the land. He was the Wicked Witch of the Middle East.

Now, many years later, Saddam Hussein is dead, and militants are rounding up Iraqi soldiers, tying their hands behind their backs, pushing them into ditches, gunning them down, and posting photos of the massacred bodies on Twitter. Nobody really knows how many have been killed, but guesses range from hundreds to thousands. Maybe by killing Hussein, we only unleashed his aggression where it filled the atmosphere, raining hatred and anger down on everyone’s heads. Maybe we should have held Hussein in a cage, figured out a way to harness his aggression as a renewable energy source.

By the way, I recommend Paul Chappell’s Peaceful Revolution.

The Bad Plus

In my ongoing quest for interesting, artful, emotive instrumental music that isn’t jazz (my deep love for jazz is not all encompassing), I’ve stumbled across The Bad Plus. I feel like this is the sort of band I should feel embarrassed to never have heard of.

This is what happens when exceptionally talented musicians play art rock, and the results are fantastic.

For the Love of Lucifer

In case you missed it, last night a “Black Mass” was scheduled at Harvard, and it was, by all accounts, a wonderful event. Christians marched through the streets in the name of all that is holy and righteous, the Black Mass was moved to a tourist bar, and the “Satanists” (does that mean anything?) got some much-desired attention.

The Black Mass was not to include a blood-soaked orgy, which I think would have been appropriate, or at least entertaining, or at least worth marching for or against. Maybe a viewing of Eyes Wide Shut at least? After these evil, wicked devil worshippers relocated to the Hong Kong Lounge in downtown Boston, an anonymous waiter told the Globe they appeared to mostly be sitting around, drinking. And alcohol is evil, we know that.

Nothing like this has ever happened at Yale.

My biggest grievance with Satanists is that they appear to have a very agreeable belief system. According to their website, they believe in compassion, empathy, justice, science, personal responsibility, noble actions, and so on. But they clearly don’t believe in is savvy marketing.

Was the Church of Hitler already taken?

I want to like these people. Maybe it’s because I root for the underdogs, or maybe it’s that statue planned for an Oklahoma courthouse lawn. Brilliant! Or maybe I do find they have an interesting spin on Christian mythology.

But did these people decide they wanted to practice compassion, reason, justice, and so on, and conclude there were no pre-existing options?

Satanists claim to have been “demonized,” but that seems rather backwards. You literally chose the image of a demon to represent your belief system. Please don’t try to claim that you were here first, and then these Christians came along and maligned you. You co-opted their thing, not the other way around.

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Paris & London

I finally assembled this footage I took of a trip to Paris and London four years ago. I would have liked to spend a lot of time putting the music together, but I can’t allow myself to get sucked into that wormhole. So, here it is.