Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Monday, January 31, 2005

In Conversation, Biker Seduction 101

Don't ask me how I found myself in a conversation with a perfect stranger that took this turn. Just appreciate the difficulty I had keeping anything like a straight face.

Quoth the portly, middle-aged, ruddy-bearded and beer-bellied man on the street with the impish grin and the cherubic cheeks (regarding his Harley): "Two hours on the world's biggest vibrator and they're ready to go."

Imagine what sort of stuff he's willing to say to his friends.


Commonplace, W. C. Williams

Good Christ what is
a poet -- if any

a man
whose words will
their way
home -- being actual

having the form
of motion

-- William Carlos Williams, "The Wind Increases" [my apologies that I cannot seem to duplicate the irregular indentations of this passage's proper formatting -- not for lack of trying]

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Saturday, January 29, 2005



In the brittle chill the brilliant sun
sings in radiation's tongue
of morning and winter.

Unshoveled snow ossified into
undulating perfidious ripples;
feet skitter perilously seeking purchase.

Friendship Park, through salt-stained Plexiglas:
a moonscape of foot-shaped craters
rimed in metamorphic crags,

five thousand crunching footfalls --
five thousand strophes unrequited --
etched on unlined parchment,

score an inchoate symphony,
the crescendi and diminuendi of which
reach skyward then drift.

A child in quilted down,
hatted and scarved and mittened,
chinned down against the wind's lechery,

leans into his passage
like a conductor his orchestra,
studied in his mute adamance,

attuned to his vain endeavor:
to nurse from each note its frigid beauty
to find in a stagger its dance.


Pressed into stoops' sun-lee corners
upset pyramids of ice-rimmed snow
lay neatly in the shape of their shade.

House after house thus adorned
with winter's diamond jewelry,
their recessed pointing limn their beauty

like symmetrical grooves a grande dame's visage
against the glow of her glistening eyes,
her gown's shimmering lyric,

the caternary elegance
of pearls to flatter
its plunging decolletage:

curves implicit in curves
complicit in curves dancing circles
around Euclidian formality.


In chaos a suggestion of order,
in winter a whisper of spring.

[1/28/05, 11:08 AM (as Wave Equations) - 1/29/05, 7:11 PM]

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Friday, January 28, 2005

With My Lawyer Hat on . . .

. . . just for a moment (and forgive me), I'd like to venture that I am fully in agreement with the Washington Post's Editorial noting that during the confirmation process Attorney General nominee Alberto R. Gonzalez failed to unequivocally distance himself from the defense of torture ascribed to him, and arguing accordingly that the Senate ought not confirm him. To the extent the Editorial doesn't speak for itself, see further elucidation along the same lines from the NewDonkey. Money quote:

If you believe, as I do and I hope you do, that the war on terror is an ideological war in which perceptions of American values and good intentions are in the long run as important as military assets, then confirming the Poster Boy for Torture as Attorney General provides a propaganda victory for Islamic Jihadism that's potentially just as damaging as those images from Abu Ghraib. Moreover, Gonzales's confirmation will also reinforce the already dangerous impression that the United States will only obey those rules we get to set ourselves, an impression the administration finds ways to strengthen nearly every day.

A man sworn to uphold the law must believe in, and honor the law. Gonzalez has conclusively proven himself more pawn than paragon, more politician than advocate, and hence an unqualified and ill-suited candidate for the prosecutor-in-chief for these United States of America.

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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Checking In

Work sneaks up on me, gets impossibly close undetected, then a floorboard creaks or a nearly imperceptible draft of lungwarm air raises the down on the nape of my neck, and I turn, startled. It will not be denied. I haven't the time to post as I'd like to just now, but I'm congenitally incapable of not looking around from time to time. Accordingly, I bring you this morning's find, like my cat brings me her fake mice while I sleep, and set it on the floor at the foot of your bed:

sometimes in weird nightmares the shadow just wants to
chase not catch you
the dark wants to scare not kill you
evil wants to play not eat you
and girls want to sex not love you

I like that. It's nice. I enjoy tonypierce a lot, even if i can't quite imagine ever reading his book: somehow, the idea of being told "How to Blog" takes the fun out of it.

[revised, 12/29/06]

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Too funny: "It turns out Jesus was really into pharmacy which is an interesting little factoid. I guess he will still always be best known as Our Savior and then probably a carpenter, but you can't just pigeon hole somebody like that."

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Thank You Sir, May I Have Another?

I've tried hard, and will continue to try hard, not to let this site devolve into an ongoing political screed. I am very politically minded, and I am left of center (as anyone with a moment to ponder anything on this site would easily surmise). Still, many others do politics better than I, possessed as they are of more knowledge, more rhetorical skill, and more passion to share their views.

At present, I have yet to get around to setting up my template to accommodate links. Accordingly, you have no access to my Favorites file, which is chockablock with blogs and media sites that satisfy my political appetite. I will post many of these, eventually, because they inform who I am. Still, I will largely refrain from doing more than occasionally calling attention to certain stories or postings of particular interest.

The personal being the political, however, sometimes my poorly articulate vision for this repository of ephemera coincides with my political interests. Baltar, over at bloodlesscoup, has done a belated but excellent job of parsing at length the speech President Bush delivered on the occasion of his inaugural. With political speeches, especially historic ones honed over months by innumerable talented aids and writers, it's appropriate to read the words like poetry, and milk them for every cadence, their import in context, their under- and overtones. Baltar has done a great job of it, and makes a number of excellent observations. Go read it.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

PAT Still Life #2 (501)

-- wide brown eyes like touch transubstantiated,
a finger tangential across a sandy chin
sliding credulously down an overcoat lapel;
brown hair color of fall,
an autumn cataract over a plastic ledge
blue like electricity --
where is the neck? the ears?
they hide but lurk predatory like memory --

-- youth's frivolity on stage
trading ringtones and gossip in voices umodulated,
an ostentatious display of indifference
to the high school refugees
whose memories falter, failing
to recall childhood's cadence,
its contrapuntal march from the old(er),
a colloquy of studied slouches and sighs --

-- unfolding herself from her seat
a jacknife opening to its task
eyes returning home up lapel over chin
and away forward leaving a wake
of glowing warmth in a rippling V --
all in tan like Iffucan of Azcan in caftan
(Stevens' verse circling in rehearsal
for the lap it will turn all evening having now begun)
hair swinging like an earthquake
and a parting glance like a prod of inscrutable origin
or intent --

-- the teens giggle and mock and maunder gum popping
while minutiae aggregate and gather
to spill out on this page --

[revised, 1/27/05, 12:25PM]

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We Are the World . . . Again?

Granted, the cause is noble, and also granted, it'll be hard for the re-release of "We Are the World" to make less money for the designated recipients (African victims of starvation, AIDS, and the tsunami) than President Bush originally proposed, but still, is there any reason a song the proceeds of which are earmarked for charity can't be a good song? I mean, seriously, if WAtW made $60M the first time around, just imagine what a Ben Folds or Eminem charity song, released separately, might garner!!! Is there no artist out there willing to do one EP in the name of any charitable cause, to save us from the likes of Band-Aid and WAtW?

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Elegy, Johnny Carson

Steve Martin's tribute to Johnny, a lovely piece.

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Monday, January 24, 2005


Today, at the luncheonette where I was poised at the counter to order one of my three favorite workday lunches, I observed a man whose skin had a tawny Middle-Eastern hue darkened by a brilliant white shirt. He sat alone at a two-man booth, a newspaper folded back to an interior page spread on the table where a guest might have joined him, and under his left arm hung an uncomfortably large-looking gun blue-shining and snapped into its holster, which was the burnished tan of expensive leather.

As are we all, I am around people carrying guns often -- many of which I notice, some of which I do not, and others of which I am not supposed to notice, hence "concealed." Something about this firearm, however, prompted a shiver. What was it? I puzzled over it, my eyes as glued to the holster as the gun's owner's were to the small television broadcasting CNN with the sound muted, hands folded in front of his lips. His hair was trimmed three days' short of the scalp; his scalp's sheen complemented the muzzle.

Finally it came to me. Weapons unseen cast aside for the moment, since out of sight is, sometimes, out of mind, those weapons typically visible on the street are holstered at the hip, where no matter what the carrier's posture, they reliably point toward the ground, innocuously. This man's holster, however, snug under his arm, pointed horizontally across a restaurant aisle and toward a beverage cooler. No matter how minimal the risk, a half-dozen people obliviously took their lives in their hands while I awaited my order.

I never eat with a jacket on, unless a luncheon is so formal that professional etiquette so requires, but I think we need a new ordinance: in conjunction with a license to carry a concealed weapon should come a caveat: the weapon must either be concealed, or carried in a holster designed to keep its muzzle down, at all times.

[revised 1/25/05, 7:58 PM]

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Today is a day of . . .

. . . half-smoked cigarettes; the raspy peal of rubber seeking purchase on a glassine veneer of ice; pretty women red-cheeked in pea coats and scarfs, their bodies fisted like infants on the verge of tears, their eyes gleaming an eyelash short of freezing over; wind as recrimination; the search for unexpected and ephemeral oases of warmth and flight from the equally unexpected pockets of cold carted in with each quarter of a revolving door; contemplation: Why would anyone in his right mind leave the house on a day like today?

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Saying good-bye to a "language maven, talking head, novelist and twice-weekly vituperative right-wing scandalmonger"

Today, William Safire offers his farewell thoughts on the occasion of his final column in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times. He concludes resoundingly and fittingly, as follows:

In this inaugural winter of 2005, the government in Washington is dividing with partisan zeal over the need or the way to protect today's 20-somethings' Social Security accounts in 2040. Sooner or later, we'll bite that bullet; personal economic security is freedom from fear.

But how many of us are planning now for our social activity accounts? Intellectual renewal is not a vast new government program, and to secure continuing social interaction deepens no deficit. By laying the basis for future activities in the midst of current careers, we reject stultifying retirement and seize the opportunity for an exhilarating second wind.

Medical and genetic science will surely stretch our life spans. Neuroscience will just as certainly make possible the mental agility of the aging. Nobody should fail to capitalize on the physical and mental gifts to come.

When you're through changing, learning, working to stay involved - only then are you through. "Never retire."

I've never wanted for reasons to disagree with Mr. Safire, but he is an original, his an original voice, and his integrity largely has been without reproach. He was never entirely above the conclusory argument, or the question-begging hidden premise, but he also never hesitated to stake out territory his ideological allies would have preferred he didn't. And that's enough for me.

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Commonplace, Updike

". . . thinking about human animals, how marvellous the biological machinery that gives us consciousness, and how we mostly just throw it away; even if we don't commit suicide, we presume to find life dull and be bored most of the time, and discontented, and just waste it; I bet that's why Hamlet appeals to us so much, out of all Shakespeare's plays, it's the one we take personally, it expresses this disregarded quality of life, the waste of our minds, our bodies, of everything that should make us joyful and careful. Am I making any sense?" For she can go too far, she knows; since childhood she has felt her overflowing spirit back up, meeting resistance in the faces of others, the blood in her own face damming in a blush.

--John Updike, Seek My Face 205 (Ballantine, 2002)

I still can't decide whether the comment on ennui is what gets me, or my identification with the parting confession of "meeting resistance" when she "go[es] to far." In any event, a passage that gives me pause, and rings true (and familiar) in many ways.


Sunday, January 23, 2005

Night, Snow

Northside is buried and hushed; turning onto Northern Avenue too fast, the rear end kicks out like a movie radio car in the rain, and your hands instinctually steer the proper aspect into the slide, foot unwavering on the throttle, as the car easily negotiates itself into conformity with the manichean insistence of right angles. Along Northern Avenue only the streetlights are wakeful. The park, the library, the aviary, the children's museum, the brownstones and row houses of irregular statures, girths, and setbacks, the Garden Theatre restful and darkened after the night's raft of pornography, all bathed in shades of indigo left and right, through which bores a tunnel of sodium light. The car crabs and revs on the snow, wide tires catching and releasing the slick pack like tooth-broken cogs.

Past the Garden Theatre, the Light of Lite Ministries, denoted by a flapping vinyl sign as impermanent as its residents' tenure. How can you reconcile the odd melange of restored historical brownstones, park, porn, and halfway-houses, not to mention the YMCA? The hospital, however, imposes order with its tumble of orthogonal rectangles reigning over the neighborhood -- or perhaps just dominating it in the way that a man head and shoulders taller than a crowd does a room.

Turning right to continue skirting the park's perimeter, the skyline is nearly eclipsed by aggregate precipitation, whether falling down or blown up by the small-hour bluster, leaving only the various signs in Mellon green and blue to suggest the buildings they crown and the metronomic pattern of the tallest building's red-blinking constellation, an encrypted message from a ship foundering in the night.

At the 16th Street Bridge, waiting for the signal to change is no more rational than carrying an umbrella in sunshine, though the sun is no more than a faint recollection of childhood and baseball fields and windsprints and the reverberant clank of taut hide-bound spheres on aluminum. Route 28, however, is hardly empty; you spy with your slitted eye the hulks of old commercial buildings mouldering under the burden of winter, devoid of human congress for years, perhaps decades, squatting as close to the highway as cats to a window, squinting myopic through jagged pupils in shattered irises.

It's not so late, though: in bars, people are still drinking; in houses, people watch television through heavy-lidded eyes, heads nodding in mute imprecation, invitations to slumber; in houses, people make love, spoon against each other in REM, fingers and toes twitching in time with their eyes's dancing like marbles under sheets. And then there's you: in limbo between 2d and 3d gear, wakefulness and sleep, sunset and sunrise, Chicago and New York, here and there, driving patiently forward, searching the road ahead for the least dangerous path, but yearning to reason the snowpile between the lanes, to press the pedal to the floor and hold white-knuckled and grinning on for all you're worth.

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Saturday, January 22, 2005

Morning, Snow

Isolation's ache incipient,
a million shades of white murmur and shift
outside where gingerbread cars shush by
and a simple machine grumbles and coughs.
Warm and alone inside this is a day
to drift in and out of sleep, to daydream discretely,
to find succor in solitude (or suffer in silence).

Alone with my imaginings
like friends forgotten but forgiving
the day ticks forth as the quiet accumulates,
drifting in the corners
tickling my cheekbones and nose.
A head shake sends a cloud of soundlessness
cascading to my shoulders, to the floor,
where a draft whisks it around my feet
this desk in furling eddies.

A gust of wind loosens and lifts the hush
in whiskers and whorls of white
until inside and outside merge
and I stand naked and snowblind in an endless field
dressed in alabaster.

If you run, I will follow.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Regarding "Point Pleasant"

From the Times review, this gem:

Traditionally, sociologists and literary critics have explained adolescents' attraction to vampire stories and supernatural themes as a coming-of-age fantasy of power and sexual impulses. As teenagers become increasingly indulged and entitled in American society, however, parents may seek subconscious comfort in the notion that Satan really is dictating their children's behavior.

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Insulation and Art

This post at Dialogical Coffeehouse makes some excellent observations about the potential cost of the competing communal and isolating forces at work in the blogosphere and online generally. (Dammit, I swore I'd never use the word "blogosphere" here.)

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PAT Still Life #1 (54C)

Old-man breath of hops and doom swirls.

Charon, peroxide blonde, implores a coltish teen to clear a bench;
she complies, the diffident surrender of youth's sunset
deferred by freedom pledged but undelivered,
clumsy knocking limbs and tangled clothing knots,
two steps across the aisle to another seat
where pride stiffens her posture.

Sighing, the bus stoops to embark its fare,
a short mustachioed man manacled at the forearms
shambling aboard surrendering coin sheepishly
slumping against the vacant seat
crutches dangling and clatter to an uneasy rest
on the floor slanting askew in our box of light.

Colt's skin too fair for the cold,
eyes too big for their sockets
too pretty for the world
(held in by no more than lumped eyeliner
inexpertly applied),
legs too long to fold,
grudging innocence unbetrayed
by a gleaming septum ring;
she locks eyes with her twin in the opposite window
and feigns blindness, autohypnosis.

Beer Breath cattle grunts and presses his knee to mine;
I shift and watch the night in warped miniature
unfold through the thick of his bifocals and the windshield's thin.

The chime, a shorter girl presses forward
thin lips wildflower pretty,
body awkward in jeans less snug than the mode,
bookbag like a field stone slung low on her back;
leaning forward like a mule to the yoke
she enters the night.

[revised, 1/19/05, 11:59 PM]

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Tuesday, January 18, 2005


This morning I caught a later bus than I prefer to, and it was crowded enough that I was tapped standee number 2. A dubious distinction, I shuffled toward the well by the rear door, where standee number 1 had already assumed the most desirable standing position, leaning up against the divider one step into the well. It was one of those buses that teaches an object lesson about poor use of space, the kind with one-person seating down the right side of the front half of the bus, not in a bench but in individual, forward-facing seats. This leaves, of course, a very wide aisle, but one that has outthought itself; even a man of average height, standing in the middle of this space, will barely be able to reach either rail. It's a silly layout, is the point. Unless of course you have the good fortune to score one of the single seats -- then it seems like a pretty cool idea.

I took up my social-convention-dictated position just in front of the well, deep enough down the aisle to permit a dozen or so standees to fill in between me and the front of the bus, which experience told me would be sufficient for our ride downtown. To ward off the terrible cold, I wore a heavy thriftstore find I adore: heavy herringbone, shiny satin lining, sumptuous polyester fur collar. So weighty is it, in fact, that I found it a strain to keep my arm over my head in order to hold the rail (another inconvenience one avoids if he manages to secure a position in the rear doorway).

Resigning myself to the inconvenience, to the loss of reading time, I began looking around for something to pass the time, an entertainment, a phenomenon. What I sought, I soon discovered, was literally right under my nose, where an androgynous, rumpled figure with knobby knuckles rummaged in a leather satchel. The satchel revealed itself to be a purse, the figure a broken-down and elderly woman, and my perspective was perfect: from my natural stance, I could see everything she was doing but could not see her face, which meant she couldn't see mine.

She first caught my attention when I noticed her fiddling clumsily with a business reply envelope reinforced with tape, and adorned by several illegible and misaligned ballpoint pen scribbles in blue with visible stutters in the longer lines where the ball malfunctioned or the pen simply lifted up, perhaps where an irregular surface created on the surface of the envelope a relief that made it difficult to write evenly. The envelope was folded over neatly and secured by a paperclip so large it nearly reached from the envelope's top to its bottom. Awkwardly, the skin of her fingers bunching like moleskin along its labyrinthine fissures in which one might imagine something were etched were it not such a cliche, she pulled at the paperclip once, twice, and a third time in vain. Pausing, redoubling her effort, she succeeded on the fourth attempt, and I could feel her elementary satisfaction, or was it relief, at finally unsealing the vessel.

The paperclip removed and tucked under a finger in a practiced and economical gesture that belied the difficulty the other manual task had entailed, she held the envelope in her left hand while her right worked to spread the top wide. Again, several attempts were required before finally she opened the envelope as wide as it allowed, her anticipation palpable like an eddy of warmth in the drafty bus. Inside were several slips of paper, one of which she removed and examined, some sort of coupon.

Her coat was a turquoise ski coat of the inexpensive sort that will stand up to neither cold nor water. On its left breast, a rectangular button asserted her loyalty to the Black and Gold. Under her purse, her legs hid within oversized black denim, the knees faded to share their pale, sickly grey with the violated snow clotted against the berm of Liberty Avenue. I couldn't see her face, her choice of headwear, not without risking her self-consciousness. I was more interested in the purse than her face in any case.

Satisfied with whatever she had accomplished in her first examination (or, more probalby, the first of her examinations to which I'd played witness), she flipped back the brown flap of her purse. The flap itself appeared to be stuffed with a stack of papers the same dimension as 5X8 index cards. Inside, however, was where the real mystery lay. There, in orderly rows like patient files, like multiple contest entries awaiting a lick and a prayer, were dozens, scores of envelopes much the same as the one she had just opened, disgorged, and restored to its contents and what appeared to be a carefully selected space in the stack of similar envelopes: although no envelope revealed anything like a taxonomic denotation, she nevertheless seemed, almost instinctually, to understand where each one belonged.

Envelope sealed and restored, she began rifling through the others, her fingers furtively standing briefly on the edge of each before mincing along in a precarious ballet, one way and then the other, until finally she found what she was looking for. Withdrawing it, and again fumbling with the paperclip, she opened the envelope to reveal a clutter of the paper coupons Giant Eagle's registers spit at you in a for-profit effort to goad you into buying Linda McCartney's veggie burgers next time. She appeared to look at one, briefly, as though to determine whether its expiration had passed. Evidently the coupons would live another day. This time, when she attempted to reclose the envelope with the paperclip, she struggled mightily. This envelope, moreso than the other, had the dull flimsiness of paper that has been crumpled and smoothed, crumpled and smoothed, breathed upon and handled entirely too many times. After a pause, an examination, and some careful tactile exploration of the offendingly weak areas at the envelope's mouth, she managed to replace the paper clip and return the envelope to its designated place among the others.

The last envelope I saw her withdraw as we neared downtown was the most cryptic. Unlike the others, this one had a legible phrase slurred in drunken loops next to the business reply address: "New Coupons." Inside, only one Giant Eagle coupon was contained. She quickly replaced it, her suddenly anxious movements suggesting that her head might be swiveling around, her wattle swinging beneath her chin, in an effort to determine whether she was being watched. But she couldn't see my face, nor I hers.

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"They've gotta cut some good ones, I guess . . . "

. . . quoth the rather large, more or less tone deaf would-be American Idol with the scratches and bruises on her arms from a wrestling match with inanimate objects in a darkened fitting room.

This is why I'll never be a great writer: I simply can never look away long enough to make a note of anything. I stand there, transfixed (yes, that's the third time I've used that word here in a week; it's officially embargoed until further notice) by the trainwreck compulsion. I swore tonight was to be a writing night (I'm working on what I hope will be a much larger project -- not only offline, but in long hand (the ladies in the audience shriek)), and right up to the point I was to sit and write I did everything exactly as planned. Unfortunately, my plate of pasta lasted five minutes too long: Seinfeld, the last ten minutes of which I'd tuned in to pass the meal, ended and there I was still with more food on my plate. AI started, and I was lost.

I assume there are about a billion people blogging about AI, and that sort of thing is most certainly not on the agenda here. I will note, however, that it dawned on me while I watched that the show really embodies two competitions. We are all familiar with the principal competition to be dubbed American Idol. But tens of thousands of people audition, and at least some fraction of them simply must realize that they are competing for something else entirely: to be bad enough in an interesting enough way that their auditions will make the first episode. Which makes each one's indignation at being mocked all the more absurd. But I suppose that's part of the act, too: be a credulous mess in the audition room, then be righteously indignant to the camera on your way out the door, and perhaps in so doing increase the value of your stock enough to stay off the cutting room floor.

Warhol wept.

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Hero, with a Capital H-E-R-O

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Junior, on the Steps of the Lincoln Memorial, 28 August 1963:

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

* * * *

We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

You can never read this speech, one of the great perorations in the history of the English language, one time too many.

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Pittsburgh's "Third Places"

An excellent article on the many inclusive community hang-outs Pittsburgh features. Hat tip to Boy on a Bike.


Been Grey So Long It Looks Like Sunny to Me

So today, finally, we are granted sunlight, coupled to a sunrise that occurs earlier with each passing day. It has been so long that I couldn't tell you where my sunglasses are.

This morning, the sunshine also was attended by the insult of an arctic cold as scrupulously lethal as German cutlery.

Forced to choose between 50 degrees and drizzly and 0 degrees and sunny, all things being equal, I'd choose Seattle.

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This is shameful.

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Monday, January 17, 2005

Cradle to Grave

The first person I befriended exclusively on the internet, Julie, was the friend to whom I was referred by a former colleague of mine because Julie happened to attend a law school in the southwest to which I was applying. My friend connected Julie and me, and she and I enjoyed a long conversation and flirtation via email without once hearing each other's voices, something that began as a sort of accident but became a ritual. In those months we invented an alternate reality, a world with its own religions and myths and superstitions, and we honored them with the same unwavering devotion as primitive farmers do the god of the harvest. Eventually, we met, and I spent a week (sleeping on the couch, alas) in her cramped studio apartment feeling increasingly uncomfortable with my own imposition. Eventually, we drifted apart; she graduated and took a position on the west coast, while I demurred on choosing a law school, and ultimately stayed in Pittsburgh. We probably have not talked in two years. That long story, however, is nothing I need to rehash or you need to hear.

I was reminded of her this evening when I finally worked my way through yesterday's Sunday Times. When we first corresponded, Julie described for me her passion for the Times, the Sunday edition of which she jokingly called her "woobie," and which she carried with her each sunday to her favorite cafe, where she sat and read at a chrome-rimmed formica table over a latte and in spite of the occasional brazen advances of alt-rock undergrads in mop tops and distressed denim with wallet chains hanging from hip to knee. We mused at the symmetry of our respective Sunday rituals, although in my case rather than fending off the importunings of others I espied from behind the Week in Review week after week the same line-up of attractive cafe denizens and crafted scripts in silence for how I would approach, imagining everything from the first clever, knowing, and self-effacing shot I would fire across her bow to our move, years hence, to Seattle, our children in private school, and our proud early retirement, children safely ensconced in the Ivy League and us in our retirement aerie overlooking Puget Sound. Then I would pause to wonder whether Puget Sound was really all that lovely, whether I'd like it, whether I'd find the raw, moist chill an inconvenience as the first licks of arthritis dried my joints. Then, more often than not, my future bride would finish her coffee, look at her watch, politely bus her dishes near the front of the cafe, and leave for the Shadyside street, leaving meaching in my bereavement, the examined life unlived.

But except in this regard, our rituals ran parallel. Julie told me she most enjoyed the obituaries, which struck me as odd. But I have always been nervous that the secret discoveries and preoccupations of others constitute things I'm missing, important things at that, and so I began paying more attention to the Obituary section. And indeed, like some sort of marooned would-be novelist cliche, I found in the enterprising writings of the death notices glimmers of poetry, hints of the aspirations of the authors, as well as fascinating hindsight glimpses into the lives of the memorable but largely unremembered.

Consider yesterday's headlines: Victorio de los Angeles, Soprano, Dies at 81; or how about Elizabeth Janeway, 91, Critic, Novelist and an Early Feminist; or perhaps Danny Sugerman, 50, Fan and Manager of Doors; and finally, Gerald Roberts, 85, Longtime Rodeo Star. Aside from the initial conclusion these obituaries suggest -- that rock and roll is a more hazardous trade to ply than bull riding -- what unites these four obituaries, at least for me, is that I've heard of none of them. Nevertheless, here they are, the four people the Newspaper of Record identified as the most relevant, the most notable, people to die in the prior few days. But get this: Sugerman, aside from being affiliated with the Doors from the age of 14, when he was hired by Morrison to put together a band scrapbook, was married at his death to Fawn Hall, perhaps the most infamous admin ever. And what of Roberts? He stunt doubled for Jack Lemmon, among others. Janeway kept counsel, and indeed kept company, with Betty Friedan. Gloria Steinem, and Kate Millett (though I must confess, if I were reading Millett's obit today instead of Janeway, it would suit my purposes equally well, since I've never heard of her either). Furthermore, Janeway defended Nabokov's Lolita, one of my 'desert island books,' against the censorship it once faced in this country. About de los Angeles, this delightful passage:

To some tastes, Ms. de los Angeles lacked temperament. By her own admission she was not an intellectually probing artist. But at her best she was an exquisite, unmannered, and deeply communicative singer. On stage, with her black hair, gleaming eyes and broad smile, she projected an openness and naivete that, coupled with her creamy voice, audiences adored.

I am woefully ignorant of opera, and so much of this terminology sounds like the rarefied argot of a wine connoiseur. Indeed, I wonder whether the obituary author ever heard de los Angeles sing, or simply worked from notes and the impressions of others.

Regardless, the pleasure in obituaries that Julie revealed to me, their unique lyricism, is not really what grasped me to day. Rather, it was this contrast: I have come to prefer the Sunday Styles wedding notices to the obituaries. The obits provide a usually favorable, never jaundiced view of the subject's life without the inconvenience of any prospect that the subject will deviate from the script; the target is a sitting duck. Marriages, new and old, are moving targets, and yet in the wedding notices one finds the same narrative conceit: a relationship and a nuptial frozen in time, described by reference to two converging trajectories, and informed by the assumption that one trajectory will thereafter suffice to account for both, the wedding vow at its most aspirational.

I'm also fascinated by the choice of feature wedding, the one of a dozen or two profiles that is blown up and described at greater length. I wonder why Judith Slovin and Roger Lowenstein didn't furnish a picture, what the stunning Elizabeth Victory (who eyes the camera with her chin down and her eyebrow almost imperceptibly arched in a lurid invitation) sees in the ordinary looking Scott Anderson (who smiles mechanically, entirely unaware of his new bride's devious leer), and whether Harley Abrevaya, the new Mrs. Andrew Heller, speaks with an accent. Of course, there is the token same-sex couple (rarely more than one), which the Times began featuring religiously a few years back -- today, the middle-aged Dee Mosbacher and Nanette Gartrell, one of whom has odd taste in eyewear, and both of whom could use new stylists.

This week's featured couple is Karen Bonin and Daniel Helmer, who are unusually young for top billing. The main photo attending their write-up, as opposed to the far more cliche second photo of them leaving their celebration under a traditional arch of raised sabers (Helmer being as he is an active-duty graduate of West Point) , is simply breathtaking. The groom's back in dress uniform is mostly toward us, his thick neck embraced in a collar perfectly trimmed, over which his scalp is shadowed by his military regulation hair only marginally more than his cheek is by stubble. His head dips slightly to meet Bonin's, brow to brow, and her left hand, newly be-ringed, is soft-focus as it drapes languidly over Helmer's shoulder. Karen herself is radiant even in black and white, her earring a diamond suspended like a tear from a perfect chain, complimented by what is almost certainly an heirloom necklace. Her mouth is gently open in a smile as easy and guileless as it is untainted by all the dread and fear that surely haunts her while her husband's fate in this time of war remains undetermined. Her clavicle alone is worthy of a poet more talented than I.

So why this preoccupation? Is it because I've never been married or despite that fact? It feels more like the fascination of discovery than any variation on envy. Because the write-ups are biased to the New York area, some of my interest derives from the fact that occasionally someone I know shows up: the daughter of the college professor who taught me how to love Nabokov (I already knew I did, but he provided unerring guidance and thus enhanced immeasurably my pleasure in V.V.N.'s novels); the semi-famous older sister of a grade-school friend who is now an actress and performance artists of sorts (evidently she was in Superstar, who knew?).

Sometimes, especially with the featured couple, the stories of how they came to marry are interesting, fraught with coincidence and redolent of destiny, often tacit aggrandizements of the love-at-first-sight paradigm so cherished by most Americans. About Dan and Daniel, the Times writes:

It was at a party during his senior year of hich school, his acceptance to West Point in hand, that a confidence Mr. Helmer sidled up to Karen Marie Bonin, a student from another New Jersey high school. Winin 45 minutes, he had fallen hard for Ms. Bonin's "perfect figure and passion for everything she does," he said. She recalled: "I was sort of awestruck. I'd never talked to anyone that comfortably."
They had their first date in May 1999. Though the evening ended without even a kiss, "the next day Dan dumped his date for th senior prom and asked me to go," Ms. Bonin said. That was pretty much it."

But let's pause to dissect this passage for a moment, shall we? When he says that a mere 45 minutes led him to fall hard for her "perfect figure" and "passion" for what she does, should we read this to be the Times writer's generous attempt to smooth the rough edges of a jock's crass allusions to his wife's surface beauty? Could they really have covered everything she did in 45 minutes at a high school dance? I mean, maybe; high school kids don't have the most interesting lives, but still. And then there's the whole prom thing: he dumped his prom date in May? How shitty is that? And was she his girlfriend, this date? What was he doing going on a date in the first place if she was? And about the date, am I the only who detects something like incredulity that high school kids would end a successful date without a kiss. I mean, jeez, what prudes!

The article continues with lots of cuteness that is wholly beyond reproach, and I wish the Helmers well: may they prosper, may Mr. Helmer not be yet another unnecessary casualty of our mismanaged war in Iraq, and so on. The same to all newlyweds. But can it ever really be that pat? Maybe that's the relevant distinction for me: that the pat answers of obituaries are somehow inconsequential; for better or worse, that narrative has ended. As a writer, I'm all too familiar with the ache of seeing something in print with my name on it that I would change in a dozen ways were the work out of my reach. And so it is with our lives after we're gone; the ink has dried, for better or worse. The lives of the departed are out of reach, beyond emendation. The lives of newlyweds, on the other hand, are clean slates, and so the same pithy reductive exercise rings dissonantl to me, albeit in delightful and unforeseen ways that never fail to amuse.

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Sunday, January 16, 2005


Clever lamp that mere touch ignites --
Now I touch each thing
To see its light.


Saturday, January 15, 2005

Napoleon Complex

My cats aren't just companions; they're gurus, after a fashion. They teach patience.

My older cat, call her John-John, runs the house. Yes, the younger, lither, more agile boy dressed all in black, call him Jacqueline, has his moments. Finally, however, his feral origins lead him to cowardice. Unlike people, he knows when to retreat, and retreat he often does. His retreats are dignified; he'll idly provoke me or John-John, but as soon as either of us responds in kind he'll streak to his redoubt under the living room futon, where he'll remain for five minutes, or five hours, keeping his counsel.

Meanwhile John-John, whose eyes follow Jackie's swift comings and goings with unconvincing indifference, bides her time, and stakes her claims only when a situation has revealed itself entirely to her. When I shower, she waits just outside the door; as soon as I close the taps and reach for a towel, she lopes into the room as though she just happened to be in the neighborhood and looks up at me like I have something to answer for.

I lay on my bed, or on the sofa, or on the floor -- anywhere I am uncovered -- and John-John finds her way to me, sniffs around my border emphatically as though my outline were chalked in catnip, then surveys the landscape of my body at rest. Sooner or later, she identifies an angle of approach, jumps onto my back, or my stomach, or my side, and fits her viscous body to my shallow curves, fur onto wool or cotton or skin.

Sometimes she paces, Napoleonic, along the length of my body, claiming me in defiance of all challengers. Other times, she slinks into my lap or along my thigh covertly, perhaps in the hope that I'll fail to notice her intrusion and thus proceed, undisturbed, to nap or meditate or otherwise still my agitated hide to permit her lingering.

But there's a particular posture that proves especially inviting to John-John: me laying on my side. When I assume this posture, John-John needs no invitation. She steps up onto my thigh, her paws pressing into my muscles awkwardly as she reveals the mystery of her masterful balancing in pressures applied at four carefully calibrated points, and stalks over my hip. Eventually she finds the proper place, hind legs folded beneath her just below my hip; belly embracing the hip; and forelegs dangling over either side of me, a sigh, perhaps a yawn, a palpable settling of her weight in phases, stops and starts, suggesting a reluctance belying her rough confidence in scaling my body to begin with.

It's only fitting, since nothing is more captivating than a beautiful woman laying on her side, a classical Rubens pose, perhaps, though I tend away from the Rubenesque. I lay on my side, lacking the feminine curves, yet still evoke in John-John an analogous emotion, in manifestion if not in origin, to occupy a nexus of nature's variegated perfections.

Jacqueline, for his part, will have nothing of this. He chooses his battles, and fights them vigorously, but they occur mostly around the food bowls in the morning (John-John has learned the hard way that a feral cat, no matter how diminutive or cowardly in other respects, knows how to guard his food), and on the living-room radiator in the evening, two of only three small areas John-John has failed to dominate in their 12-16-month negotiation for possession of the apartment they both -- secretly -- know is mine. Actually, John-John may think its hers, but Jackie knows better.

Nothing is quite so singular as having a cat claim you as her hill, territory to be defended against all would-be intruders; nothing, in the world of domestic animals, quite so moving as the quiet challenge she transmits, before settling down to doze, toward anyone who might dare question her superiority. Jackie declines these challenges, and though he sometimes lurks about the perimeter of my bed before I sleep, he's never there in the morning. By then, John-John has established her bedroom dominance, which she enjoys at rest coiled like a centipede nera my feet, while Jackie sleeps in the black chair in the living room, her sleek coat camouflaging her against unwary observers, her fur collecting imperceptibly in the seams.

This is not a metaphor.

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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Two Questions

There are two questions, but there is only one answer. Who is Moon, and what, is MoonOverPittsburgh? To answer the former is to hint at the latter, and inasmuch as this synopsis predates MoonOverPittsburgh's genesis, a hint at the latter is all you get.

Moon is a man who transplanted himself to Pittsburgh from the New York suburbs (read, New Jersey) lo some six-plus years ago because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Moon is no longer entirely sure why it seemed like such a good idea, but when ends are inexorable the means pale in relevance. Moon is 31 as of this writing, but only barely. Moon is lithe and reasonably fit, and at once educated and scatterbrained, and he is possessed of his vices. Moon is an attorney, but you won't hear much about that here, where he would subordinate the lawyer he plays on television to the artist afire who is God of his dreamscapes. Moon likes cycling and cigarettes and cats and Pittsburgh's radiant sunrises (when he is unfortunate enough to see one), as he loves his family, his friends, and most aspects of his protean, often prosaic, life.

And Moon loves Pittsburgh devoutly -- by sunlight, by winter gloom, by bracing Grant Street winds, and perhaps most of all by Moonlight.

Love his life and its innumerable circumstances and contingencies though he does, Moon has suffered for want of an outlet, an audience. An audience held captive by his words inchoate rhythm, the cadence of his cogitations laid bare, his plunge into utter exposure, a captive audience of his own devising, transfixed, if at all, by no magic greater than that he can conjure with the stroke of a pen, the tap of a few keys.

For above all, Moon loves words with an inarticulable ardor, in an ineluctible infatuation that turns in on itself and would -- indeed, might -- devour everything in its path were it not necessary, in so doing, to imperil the very words that constitute its raison d'etre, its modus vivendi, and other qualities so transcendant as to require the use of pompous foreign phrases borrowed by English and (a fortiori) never returned, with punitive late fees compounding.

Moon long has called himself a writer. Indeed, his daily bread might not have been broken but for moneys earned with his words -- first in management consulting, then in marketing, and now in the ephemera of the law (not that Moon, in his lawyer hat, would ever concede the ephemeral nature, in geologic time if in no other, of the law).

But for all of that, all of his many words, Moon has merely circumscribed rather than penetrated, eluded rather than engaged, his nascent passion for pure invention, for a lyric life, he once knew beyond cavil would govern his every breath until the grave. He suffered for want of dedication, for want of education, for want of funds, but most of all he never decyphered which switches corresponded to the lights that required extinguishing before he couold follow, however falteringly, the path he once called Destiny. Distraction, and the irresistible passage of time, dismantled in pieces his loftiest aspirations and sold them for scrap, a pound of flesh.

Moon realizes now the fundamental flaw in his founding scheme, as he has before, though he has struggled to retain it, internalize it, accept it as guiding truth: he cannot write beyond the sentence that looms, the instant thought; he cannot craft language worthy of even his own attention unless he sublimates all of his grander aspirations into the discovery of the next word.

To write is to write is to be.

And so here he is, here I am, Moon, if not your friend than merely one more narrator in a world of them, seeking to share himself for no loftier reason than the intrinsic satisfaction of doing so. Writing to write, to have written.

The details remain obscure, the path uncertain. All this is, MoonOverPittsburgh, is a cultivated admixture, or a guided confluence, if you like, of Moon's dual loves: for words, and for the first, and to date only, city he has called Home not by accident of birth or in virtue of circumstances outside his control, but because he chose to do so -- for, in a word, Pittsburgh.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Craig Street and Rain

On Craig Street, I waited for the bus in the rain. The edge of my umbrella, my briefcase behind my thighs, and the shoulders above it leaned back into the parsimonious shelter of a boutique's plateglass window and the portico leanly lcantilevered above it. Only the darkness was bracing on this occasion of improbable warming; the evening air and even the rain warmed and comforted. Inside my oversized raincoat, I swam silently in imperceptible loops, a fish in an unlit acquarium brushing fins gently to glass like fingers gracing a lover's cheek in silence and satiety.

Into my acquarium vista, Out There, ambled an old Beatnick Van Winkle, a dissonant figure hiding under a beret pulled down tight and level, in a black jacket of wool or felt, salty beard neatly groomed close to his cheeks, his trousers hiked high enough to reveal more of his wasted, flat posterior than anyone needed to see. Indifferent to the rain, he paused not three feet in front of me, eyes cast far down Craig toward the Carnegie, as though hypnotized by the dance of red and white light, the sizzle of each car's approach and the sibilant diminuendo of its retreat. He wore anachoristic glasses of the sort favored by Henry Kissinger, and his neck telescoped forward myopically.

He raised his hands to his face in a gesture as timless as it was intimate, and pulled from a steaming chaos of wax paper with fingers like talons a thick round of something pinkly moist, perhaps ham. His fingers held the slice up before his eyes as though for inspection, though he remained transfixed by the stretch of road that lay before him. I felt a twinge of shame, inadvertant, if not wholly innocent, voyeur chastened by moral hesitation rather than discovery. The ham sagged in caternary folds around his thick fingers, surrending its shape to gravity and its warmth to the night, until he approved its assumed shape and, leaning his head back like a supplicant, accordianed the steaming meat into his mouth, along with its parcels of night and rain and winter archly resplendant in its day of remission. Even God rested.

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Monday, January 03, 2005

Love at the ATM

i fell in love today at the ATM. inside the bank, i was loading up an ATM depository envelope with sundry major medical reimbursements (which sounds far more ominous than it is), birthday checks, and the like, and i could see the ATM was free. i had just concluded a delightful lunch with my friend and former colleague, and then a young woman and her small brown child entered the ATM vestibule a heartbeat before i could get there to do my business.

despondent, i wandered over, now for obvious reasons in no rush, to find in the vestibule a small child of indeterminate gender with back turned to me, bundled in colorful coat and hood and black leggings (okay, then, a girl), absorbing silently a plaintive patter of lilting but vaguely impatient francophone instruction delivered in a voice that could melt ice caps. the speaker, a blonde woman no taller than 5' 5", also with her back to me as she reasoned the labyrinth of the ATM's menu, had a phenomenal derrier, and fantastic taste in jeans. i was overtaken with the urge to see her vis, to nuzzle her decolletage, and i chided myself the frivolity of it all. then she turned, stooping either to adjust the young girl's hood -- yes, brown, i confirmed, as the hooded young girl turned a bit to receive the gesture -- or to chuck her under the chin. as she bent, she looked over at me, round-cheeked, fair-skinned, blue-eyed object of my desire, meeting my improvised smile with an impassive expressionlessness.

i grew up in north jersey, in a town where au pere were de rigeur. while some friends had european nannies living in their houses -- one of my best friends in high school had an impossibly hot and saucy irish woman, jackie, who stood 6-foot in flats, wore snug jeans that seemed to reach her waist somewhere at my eye level, and quite simply brooked no guff from any of us -- the standard arrangement seemed to be a middle-aged woman from the caribbean, with skin dark as night, an orotund face, and unadorned lips camouflaged against her dark jowls, a thick accent and a tendency to spend half her unnecessary paycheck (most of her compensation, of course, inhering in room and board) on lottery tickets, arriving dutifully each night at the overpriced neighborhood pharmacy at which i found high school employment with a tattered piece of paper with dozens of divined three- and four-digit permutations, each night's selections slightly, but not wholly, different than those played the night before. i'd see them ambling about the neighborhood, their heads wrapped in plain white kerchiefs, wheeling ornate, hooded prams containing the shining hope of the richworkaholics who'd spawned them.

this inversion of the norm, this odd mix of white over brown, perplexed me; even my libido couldn't overwhelm my conjectural exercise: was she an au pere? an adoptive mother? a babysitter? family friend of any of the above? and o how i despised my monolingualism at that moment; whatever it was the lovely woman was imparting, notwithstanding its maternal impassivity, seemed terribly important; in her blithe, continental way, the young woman was at once stern, and indifferent, and aloof, and i could have taken her right there, in the ATM vestibule, with the little brown child looking on and the machine spitting out money.

"comrende? oui? non?" and with that, they left.

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