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.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Self-Portrait (Memento Mori)

The boomerang shadow under my jaw
weighs heavily this morning.

I flay one valencia orange
then another,

their viscera corseted
like hearts in sinew.

The mask beneath my skin elongate,
its merciless angles tautly upholstered,

nap unshaven and coarse,
I am six billion years

and thirty-two years
and, too, next year perhaps.

My left eye plangently pink
with nascent infection,

presses its corner, wary in the way of eyes,
cartographer of light and shadow,

peels back youth and age
to unmuffle mortality's murmur.

This Is Not for You

No, I'm going to reproduce here the most striking poem I've read in quite a while wholly for myself, for safekeeping (hat tip to, of all unlikely media, the New York Times (at the bottom of the page)).

Sarah Arvio

I was what mattered in the end. Or if
I didn’t matter then nothing mattered,
and if I mattered, well then all things did.

O miracles and molecules, dust, rust.
It was always a matter of matter.
It might be meat or else it might be love

(if I was meat, if I was fit to eat).
What had never been matter would never
matter: you might say this was a moot point.

Clay and dust, ash and mud and mist and rust,
blood-orange sunsets and turning maples,
apples and cherries, sticks and trash and dust,

rumpled papers blowing across a street
(dead letters sent to him that lives away).
There was life, there was loss, there was no such

thing as loss — there was nothing that wasn’t
both life and loss. No, it had to be said,
in questions of matter, nothing was lost.

It might be a matter of carnal love.
This was textual and material,
and for once the facts-of-the-matter were

both heartfelt and matter-of-fact. (Oh,
matter of course was always the mother.)
These were the facts of life, this was my life,

and there I was, right at the heart of it,
my own heart — at the heart-of-the-matter.
And did I matter now or in the end?

O mother, maintainer and measurer,
mud and fruit of the heart, meat of the heart,
the question might be asked, what was the end.


And I believe I'm going to go ahead and preorder her forthcoming book, as well.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Somehow, today, I stumbled across Big Ben Roethlisberger's "Official Blog." I suppose it should come as no surprise to me that almost everyone who comments (distinct, I imagine, from everyone who visits) is a woman, many of them posting repeatedly to the same thread to imply or explicitly reiterate over and again their undying love for and infatuation with Pittsburgh's newest hometown hero, and his unimaginatively named dog, Zeus.

This one, in any event, is my absolute hands-down favorite comment from my favorite thread:

Hey Ben,

I think your GTO is going too look cool once you fix it up. Ben i can't wait too see the finished pictures of the car when it's done. Ben maybe some day you can take me for a ride in your GTO.

Ben what made you want too fix up that car????????

love Barbara

write me back when get the time

I don't know where to begin Ben. Ben where should I begin? Ben have I mentioned that I like saying your name so much Ben that I'm going to start every sentence that way? Ben have I? Ben write me. Ben write me soooooooon.

Don't get me wrong, he seems like a stand-up guy, and nobody can dispute his athletic prowess. His regular season record -- 21-3 now, if I'm not mistaken -- speaks for itself, no matter how good the team around him has been these past two years. But really, folks, don't we have better things to do?* Ben don't we have better things to do?

* I recognize a certain internal inconsistency in taking the time to mock people for what they take time to do, but the truth is, at this exact moment, I don't have better things to do, or perhaps more accurately don't feel like doing them.

Emily in Pascagoula and Thoughts on Loss

What do you do when 'home for the holidays' prostrates you forcibly at the ankles of a force bigger than you can grasp? Emily writes, and evocatively.

dad drove slowly. i sat in the passenger seat as we rode down the beach and cried. cried for several reasons... first, and most powerfully, because what i saw wasn't the remains of houses, it was the remains of homes -- memories, investments, loves, struggles, morning cups of coffee, evening dinners. houses now wear their addresses in spray paint, alongside names of insurance companies or FEMA identification numbers. front steps lead to barren foundations. it's a wasteland, a demolition site, a clusterfuck.

another reason i cried is because i honestly can't remember how it used to look. my memory has lost the details, the intricacies. i know the beach by its landmarks. i know the houses in relation to each other. well, when all of the houses are gone, it becomes pretty easy to lose your bearing. how many times have i driven down that beach? hundreds? thousands? how many nights did i sneak a cigarette while driving alongside the water, car windows down all the way, radio up loud? never again. it will never be the same drive. it can't be. i cried because i can't remember how it used to look. i cried because this is how it looks now.

dad said, "this looks like some sort of forest out of harry potter." it does -- it's a fantasy, unreal, dark, spectral. the trees are full of stuff that used to be in living rooms; curtains, sheets, clothes, upholstery -- dragged by the wind through limbs, caught on branches. dad said, "some of these areas are likely never going to be cleared completely."

I cannot know her pain, or how overwhelmed she must be. I wish there was something I could say or do to make it better.

Her writing, though, puts me in mind of my worst post-9/11 moment, when I first really wrapped my mind around the absence from the New York City skyline of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Oddly, this didn't occur on Saturday, September 15, 2001, when the nearly empty plane I was on angled up the East River on its approach to LaGuardia, providing a breathtaking view, from perhaps 4000 feet, of the smoking ruin of Ground Zero. The perspective was too unfamiliar, the destruction remote, incomprehensible.

It's not that I was unmoved that day. My entire trip, from the agonizing process of deciding whether to travel at all; to the anxiety regarding whether LaGuardia would be open (it had opened on Thursday, and then closed on Friday); to the slow, contemplative early-morning flight over Pennsylvania shared with no more than a dozen other flyers, to the pilot's curt announcement over central New Jersey that "the plume" was visible ahead of the left wing of the plane; to the apocalyptic view below the wing as we descended over the East River; to the funereal march of we few passengers through a jetway and into an appallingly empty and quiet concourse (only someone who has put serious time in in New York-area airports can begin to understand the profound displacement induced by silence and emptiness in such a place); to the driving of a rented pick-up truck east on the Long Island Expressway, the overpasses teeming with crowds waving American flags and similar penants, the left-most lane on the westbound side reserved for emergency vehicles only, which streamed into the city in the hundreds and indeed thousands -- my entire trip left me stripped and revealed, pared down to bone and ganglia, humming like an overtightened guitar string about to snap. It's just that my mind wasn't ready to accept the most tangible aspect of the destruction effected on Tuesday of that week.

Instead, it took a more familiar approach to fully reveal the scale of the hole in the sky of my childhood. Returning to New Jersey for Thanksgiving in 2001, I offered to drive a law school classmate directly to Hoboken from Pittsburgh. In Hoboken, he would catch a train into New York City and meet family. Thus, in New Jersey, rather than exiting eastbound Interstate 78 for the Garden State Parkway, as is my custom, I continued on toward the Holland Tunnel and Hoboken.

Just before reaching the Pulaski Skyway, a bridge lifts the roadway high over a polluted river, several straight-line miles from the southern rim of New York City. As we crested the bridge, my friend and I, the darkness looming over the blocks and rows of houses and industrial buildings laid out before us like the viscera of a cancerous beast -- the road curving just above the structures to the horizon like an artery -- tightened and oppressed, recalling teenage nightmares in which a room too dark to distinguish even the most obvious feature grew impossibly darker, the absence of light palpably pressing inward on my wide-open eyes, and I raised a hand without explanation imporing my friend to silence.

The towers, which had dwarfed everything between themselves and the bridge on every other occasion I'd driven this way, were gone. Gone were their thousands of lights winking arrogantly down at the world from impossible heights; gone the hint of edges like fine bas relief against the sky, implying rather than declaring the buildings' contours and full dimension; gone the peculiar gravitational attraction of paired monoliths streaking skyward with the inexorable force of human enterprise itself. Just gone.

Through the tolls that signaled the end of our brief stint on a spur of the New Jersey Turnpike and marked the commencement of our transit across the Skyway down toward the mouth of the Holland Tunnel, a trip I'd driven hundreds of times before, the top of the Liberty Science Center appeared just above and to the right of the roadway, and Lady Liberty's torch glimmered gold just beyond. After that, though, nothing. Formerly, from this perspective, the Towers had brooded impossibly tall, given their distance across the harbor where the Hudson yawned toward the Atlantic Ocean past Sandy Hook. Now, the sky was darkest where they were absent. The sense of gravity emanating from their former acres of skyscape remained, but now it was the lightless gravity of a black hole rather than that of a star.

Tears gathered in the bottoms of my eyes, and I snuffled them back as best I could, refusing to wipe my eyes, or my nose, or my clammy palm against my thigh. My companion, a nice man but not a terribly close friend, kept his own counsel. I made no effort to explain myself, nor to invite him to the peculiar and intensely personal hall of horrors this drive had become. It was an invitation I wouldn't have extended even to my worst enemy (who was, at that unfamiliar moment of profoundly martial sentiment, any motherfucker I could get my hands on who had raped the sky over my home).

All tragedy is personal. And I know all too well how inadequate photography is (and words are) to memorialize profound loss. Nevertheless, Emily has posted revealing and devastating photographs from her trip, harrowing photographs, here and here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

91S Follies

Tonight, I boarded the bus in front of the Pennsylvanian. The bus was surprisingly crowded, given how quiet the city had been all day, and I began my progress back toward a cluster of available seats in the rear.

As I passed, from the undistinguished muddle of people crowding the bench behind the driver an arm shot out, black-skinned and clad in a puffy, threadbare jacket. The fingers that encircled my own were astonishingly gentle, plump like a processed food product dispensed from unrefrigerated plastic boxes on convenience store counters, and of a related color.

Startled but unperturbed, I allowed the stranger to continue loosely to hold my fingers in his own in that just-tight-enough way one might cage a lightning bug in two cupped hands, peering inside. My eyes moved steadily up his arm, and just before they reached his face he burst out, "Hey, goodaseeye," his voice trailing off toward the end as though his attention had been diverted before he could complete his ragged salutation.

I held his gaze, consciously removing, feature by feature, all expression from my face, striving for a measured, affectless neutrality, open but aloof, skeptical but not unfriendly. He sat back, perhaps surprised by the evenness of my stare, by my failure to signal any intention to fly the developing situation.

He mumbled something incomprehensible, while I struggled to determine whether his familiarity was a product of some forgotten encounter or alcohol and opportunity. I made no move, however, to leave my station, standing, holing a pole, watching the stranger intently and trying to glean something coherent from his hopelessly muddled words. He looked vaguely familiar, but Pittsburgh has only a few visible street people, and even if we'd never spoken I probably would have remembered a face I'd seen streetside on multiple occasions.

We continued in this way: him mimicking the rising and falling cadence of engaged conversation with no suggestion of meaning, the garble only occasionally punctuated by a recognizable word, and me nodding uncertain assent, smiling softly sometimes when it seemed appropriate, trying to find some passage between us to enable the tangible interaction the stranger palpably craved -- the tell-tale nod of something passing for empathy; the easy bon mot speaking of commonality -- and I am always willing to offer, when I can. But it was impossible.

He sat forward on the bench, arms resting on elbows, splayed legs crowding the middle-aged women on either side of him, toward whom he sometimes directed glances, as though one or the other might aid in translating his thoughts into a language I would understand. The woman to his right (my left), over whom I stood, was plump and flushed with good health, hair cut shoulder-length with tidy bangs curling toward her forehead just about her eyebrows. She watched me warily, as though I were part of the problem. To his left, pressed against the wall behind the driver, sat a blind woman of similar age, white and red cane folded neatly and resting atop the bag in her lap, her eyes angled over the heads of the passengers across the aisle from her, her face quivering briefly in a fleeting smile, perhaps in response to some aspect of our ridiculous conversation.

"Sit down," he suddenly instructed, not unkindly. "Siddown so wegen talh!"

A seat was available behind me, and I did as instucted, inserting the place mark in my book and folding it gently into my hand, abandoning any expectation that I would return to it for the duration of the ride.

His narrative, such as it was, then began in earnest. I understood so little of it that I won't tire you or me out by trying to reproduce the details. Initially, there was much talk of drunkenness and being high: he wasn't even vaguely reluctant to acknowledge his inebriated state, which to be fair was not obvious. Clearly, things weren't working right, but there was no odor, no clear failure of motor control, conclusively suggesting drunkenness.

There was, in the tortured state of his skin and nose, in his brown rimed eyes, and in his thousand-yard stare which even when focused on me felt as though it were passing right through me in transit to some distant object, a suggestion of a long life of hard drinking. It occurred to me that perhaps he was one of those pitiable late-stage drunks who have taken one too many trips to some pseudo-Dionysian plain from which return eventually becomes impossible.

Yesterday, he seemed to be saying, he had the misfortune to find himself in a restaurant that was being robbed. And either he was eating ribs at the time, or he had been struck in the ribs with a baseball bat, I couldn't tell. He had restrained himself from acting, notwithstanding that, as a resident of Bloomfield, he is most assuredly "no punk[!]" which evidently required Herculean discipline. His sons -- both of them bigger than he (he said this as though he were huge, and I feigned being impressed, though he wasn't much larger than me) -- would have remedied the situation post-haste, but in the moment he reluctantly stayed his hand.

He paused from his recollection to turn, for no clear reason, toward the blind passenger, whom he fixed with a stare at once inquisitive and lascivious, properties I could discern even in quarter profile. She had just withdrawn lipstick from her purse, and was applying it deftly, ignoring the barely audible, effectively unparseable questions he directed her way. I had little doubt that she could detect the subtle shift in the timber of his voice indicating that he was addressing her directly, and thus was all the more impressed at her utter stoicism, especially given an earlier, quiet smile, that had suggested she was listening to our entire conversation, such as it was.

I idled while he asked her one incomprehensible question then another, then another. I registered an initial parochial impulse to intervene and resisted it as evincing an unerlying condescension; surely the woman could take care of herself, and the gentleman, while colorful, seemed entirely harmless on balance -- just seeking contact with other people, and impulse essentially human and intrinsically benevolent, craving conversation. I recalled the soft avidity of his fingers around mine, hesitated.

But after a third question, and a fourth, the stranger leaning in, now, closer to the woman than basic courtesy would allow, I realized that, while she surely would survive without my intrusion, she clearly was opting to endure rather than resist, and probably out of an abundance of caution. Hesitantly, and then resolutely, I reached out my book, tapped the inside of the stranger's knee, and firmly said, "Hey" -- he turned -- "Talk to me."

And he did, missing hardly a beat. For a moment, perhaps, suspicion had darkened his visage as he turned to address my apostrophe, but it faded quickly. Through whatever fog was filtering his perception of things -- and who doesn't see through a fog? -- he seemed to register that I was if not a friend than at least amiable and receptive.

Before we could resume our conversation, however, the bus driver pulled over to the curb on a side street in the Strip District. Leaning out from his soft Recaro pedestal and turning to face the passenger compartment, the driver implored, in his best no-nonsense voice, the stranger to watch his language. Only then did it occur to me that the stranger, in narrating the apparent robbery, the stature and menace of his sons, and other topics I had failed to identify conclusively, had in fact been cursing up a blue streak, dropping F-bombs in a blitz so bold I had simply taken it at face value and stopped noticing.

The stranger turned to the driver alertly, and acquiesced, offering in an apologetic tone something that sounded like, "Aw yeah, John, I gotchoo." The driver's face, which continued to face rearward for a beat after the stranger's promise to behave, spoke a number of propositions, most of them impatient and implacable; the easiest to discern was, "My name's not John."

The stranger, undeterred, quickly returned us to the restaurant, the robbery, and the sheer dangerousness of his sons, who apparently would have shot up the place had they been there. To that same end, the stranger started talking about his own gun, bragging that if he'd brought it out things would have been bad for the robbers, and narrating how that scenario would have played out, but emphasizing that he'd chosen not to raise his gun against the men who'd robbed the store and, supposedly, beaten the stranger severely.

"It's pretty much never the right thing to raise your gun," I said, my smile a false rictus hiding my distaste and despair in the face of such candid braggartry about an instrument of death. "I don't know much, but in my work I see it enough: guys who draw their guns always lose, sure as death itself."

"Thass right," he said, nodding vehemently in assent, and then started pointing at his crotch. "I keep my gun in my underwear, pressed down in there, so you can't be gettin' at it."

I nodded silently, my capacity for playing along strained. I discerned with a brief glance toward the area he feverishly circled with his index finger no outline of anything resembling a gun, but still I was irked deeply, as was, I could tell, the sighted woman beside him, the thought that he might be packing, and bragging about it to boot.

The conversation fizzled, then, perhaps for obvious reasons, until finally he asked me where the bus was going. "Lawrenceville," I said. "After that I don't know."

"This buss goin' downtown?" he asked.

"This bus _came_ from downtown," I explained. "It's going to Lawrenceville now."

"Hey," he suddenly raised his voice looking toward the driver. "Where this buss go?"

And when this received no answer, he tried again, and then a third time. Finally, the driver intoned, "Fox Chapel." I harbored an inward smile at the thought of this brain-fried, outspoken black man in tatters wandering off a bus at a dark Fox Chapel bus stop, but the amusement was short-lived: Fox Chapel at night would be a terrible place for the stranger to end up. I had little doubt that by the time he'd struck up his fourth or fifth uninvited conversation, bored Fox Chapel police would be on the scene, all too willing to indulge the fears of people who believe their excessive property taxes relieve them from ever having to deal with anyone of a different demographic than their own.

"Can I get downtown from here?" the stranger asked, and no one responded immediately.

After a moment, however, the blind woman, heretofore silent, chimed in with a poised and stately voice: "You get out here and cross the street. A bus will come along heading downtown soon enough." Her voice was stern, unafraid, vindicating all of the best assumptions I'd made about her nature and poise.

The stranger, unconvinced, turned back to the driver. "A bus come here to take me downtown?"

The driver indicated assent, and the stranger, without ceremony or farewell, stood and headed to the door. He paused before exiting, politely making room for a boarding passenger, and turning to clarify the logistics of his intended itinerary with the bus driver, who managed to stay patient for about five seconds, before blurting out, "Go! Go! I'm on a clock here."

And with that, the stranger exited the bus.

I smiled. Sat back in my chair, bemused more than anything. The sighted woman who'd sat beside the stranger throughout the exchange, watching, listening, but holding her tongue, looked at me and I reluctantly returned her gaze for a moment.

"Thank you," she said.

"Sure," I replied, but I was anyting but.

I spent the rest of the ride eyeing the pages of my book suspiciously but not really reading, wondering what, exactly, she was grateful for.

Fifth and Forbes

Debarking from the bus onto Liberty Avenue, the mock cacophany of traffic, a hollow aural shell of noise with no depth, grapples for my attention with a few haunting phrases from a new book I just began to read this morning. My eyes are slits, my mouth dry, my only solace the brief sense of urban congress as bodies pour from the bus and enter a modest stream of foot traffic, ripples extending far past the points of intersections barely averted in obeisance to some esoteric wave equation I lack the imagination to compose.

This is not my only solace, but it's the only one I care to discuss.

The air, though chilly, has something of Spring in it, and I decline to button my jacket. I adjust the bag strap on my shoulder, sliding it uphill and under my collar.

The illusion of urban living does not last long; downtown Pittsburgh lacks the resources to sustain it. I choose to walk cross-town on Wood Street, in search of the proposed site of the new PNC tower near Wood and Fifth, which would be the first skyscraper erected in Pittsburgh in over twenty years and the first sign of progress in the ten-year effort to improve the Fifth and Forbes corridor, the windmill at which City government has tilted, relentlessly, for as long as I've lived here.

Wood Street, however, is a slum in too many ways. Waste paper clogs the gutters and storm drains, dozens of people restively await buses to odd, outlying locations, begging the question of how they came to be downtown so early in the morning to begin with. Their mouths are downturned like they've just bitten something sour; their eyes surly with vacant hostility, and every few feet one finds another poster or flier or storewindow sign advertising the lottery.

Every few feet. An advertisement for the lottery.

Know we no shame?

Turning up Fourth Avenue toward Grant Street, and the lawyer ghetto that is become my native habitat, I am astonished at the serenity of the street. It is not a holiday, but it might as well be, for the absence of traffic either wheeled or afoot, for the laconic pace set by the few workers who bothered to come in today, for the odd viscous silence coating everything.

I walk slow. And then slower, belaying my arrival at the office. The lottery signs dwindle with the bus stops. As I head uphill, the number of empty commercial frontages also diminishes.

In the office my colleagues sit around a table, drinking coffee. Someone won a few dollars from a scratch-off lottery ticket. And so.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Holiday from MoonOverPittsburgh

And if you have a moment, check out this darling little piece on the interaction of Hanukkah and Christmas from Jonathan Safran Foer (registration required). Highlight:

SANTA CLAUS * Santa Claus is an obese fictional being who supposedly "visits" Christian homes the night before Christmas for the alleged purpose of delivering "presents" to "children" who have been "good" the previous year. It's a bit pathetic that Christian children are fed this make-believe, instead of having a really interesting true hero like Hanukkah Harry.

And much more in that vein.

Seriously, be of good cheer, in love and prosperity.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Gates III

I wrote the first two installments of this experience (Gates I, Gates II) last winter, when this weblog was in its infancy. In searching for these posts, I discovered that, while I had failed utterly to complete the trilogy, I had made extensive notes for my third post. Because I regard my first two installments, the first in particular, as among the most gratifying pieces I have written, I fear taking up the third now without the benefit of short-term memory's immediacy. I fear more, however, failing to document the rest of my travels, given that I have my notes. I'm going to try to find my way back to last year's voice, and summon as much of my memory as I can, to complete this story. If I partially succeed in reentering that narrative, I'll be satisfied. As this represents a continuation of a prior piece, I hope you'll take the time to read from the beginning.

To refresh your memory, in addition to my prior posts, here are some great shots of the park from an elevated perspective, which convey the scale of the installation better than any other photos I've seen, and which I credit in full for the photos contained in this post, which are shamelessly but respectfully borrowed.

I soon found myself at the Alice in Wonderland sculpture by the Conservatory Water, where inscriptions from the Jabberwocky ring Alice and her companions.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Here, children, unruffled by the at once lush and spartan spectacle of the Gates, occupied themselves as millions of children have before, crawling upon and about Alice and her stool of mushrooms, leaving their undetectable but indelible molecular imprint on the bronze celebration. At the pond, someone had erected an odd optical device that facilitated precise reproduction by hand of whatever the device captured, not unlike a dauggereotype. I tried to understand, amid the throng, the workings of the contraption but found myself persistently uncomprehending. The artist's eyes wandered from his task, and fixed me in their trajectory for a moment, standing near his shoulder as I was; they were nether friendly nor un-, but the mute concourse highlighted my sense of detachment, otherness.

I wandered on, heading north past Tavern on the Green.

In a tunnel en route to the Great Lawn, a saxophonist wept into his horn. I dropped a dollar or two into his case without breaking stride. Within certain aesthetic boundaries, I unfailingly contribute to street musicians. There are few things I miss more in Pittsburgh than these generous souls who shape and texture the impersonal congress of urban streets, fixating on the exception: the saxophonist on the Roberto Clemente Bridge after Pirates games, the stately gentleman blowing Christmas carols on Walnut Street as the holiday nears.

Upon nearing the far side of the tunnel, tenebrous and humid, I turned. The musician was etched in darkness against the day's brilliance, one saffron canopy rimming the arched opening at the far end, his body arched back in the archetypal saxophonist pose, until he stooped toward a dolorous bar.

Joy, pure, undiminished, swept me up in its arms, an emotion almost incapacitating in its wealth and power, physical and unrelenting. I released my body, moments ago feverish and ailing, to the moment's nearly sexual carress, indulged its attendant frisson, and thought to myself: "Preserve this moment. Hold it. Store it somewhere safe." This one moment, among the most beautiful I had ever experienced, was nevertheless disarmingly transient, a smiling beauty on a train going the other way, an inspiration dropped at the frontier of slumber never to be recovered, as imminent as the next breath and as diaphonous as lurking suspicion.

When the moment had passed and I resumed my ill health, my flagging energy and exterior pressures attending the passage of time and the undignified banality of evening commitments ascendant, I left the tunnel and rejoined the Gates' inexorable march north.

Nearing the Great Lawn, I found myself at an adult playground of sorts. On half a paved rectangle, energetic souls played a decidedly urban variety of soccer. They played well, and their competitiveness mated to their collegiality presented a compelling narrative to which I momentarily acquiesced, pretending to myself that I could parse their unfamiliar continental interjections and jibes.

All afternoon, I had been cognizant of New York's polyglot splendor. In my quasi-delirium, my attitude perhaps corrupted by Pittsburgh's less colorful discourse, I reached certain conclusions:

1. All foreign languages sounds like russian.
2. Except german and french, which sound like german and french.
3. Except french sometimes sounds like russian.

My monolinguilism, disregarding for a moment that my love for the sound of language has led me to acquire respectable aptitudes for the elocution of Italian, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon, each of which I read to myself from time to time (Latin I find where I can, usually in bits and pieces; the alliterative allure of Anglo-Saxon leads me often to Beowulf, and often spins me toward the more accessible related rhytms of Dylan Thomas; and in Italian I read, sometimes, from the left leaves of Pinsky's side-by side translation of Dante's Inferno).

I cannot speak to its dimensions, nor can I discern the heart of its appeal, but there is great fun in watching people at play. The footballers shared their square with a claque of roller disco dancers, one of whom was almost painfully sexy, ears braced by headphones, hips beckoning in the prelingual lexicon of uncomplicated lust. Her gyrations and arcs intersected the corresponding trajectories of a portly bearded man with a palpable taste for science fiction and fantasy on a Segway, whose mastery of his conveyance rivaled the dancer's mastery of her vintage skates. inwardly, I cheered his enterprising spirit. "We from-afar lovers of beautiful women from afar recognize the cleverness of our peers." A handful of others winged around the outside of an informal circle around these two, but the performance, arresting in the same way as the soccer, was a grand pas de deux.

Moving on, I scaled a low hill, Gates anticipating my progress up a crowded and meandering path, snow banked on either side; we marched patiently in twos. Midway up the path, a whirr predicted the swift weaving passage of the gentleman on the Segway, whose grace in fjording the assembly of devotees was notable in its own right. Freed from music, and football, and disco, my attention returned once again to the simple satisfaction of the innumerable Gates, brilliant in the sun, swinging to grant the wind passage, hanging over our heads like death itself, or the prospect of better days, flapping affably in primitive affirmation.

The Great Lawn was Great, a Lawn, a prairie of white, fenced in for its own safety, its grass hibernating under a largely undisturbed laminate of snow, and the Gates were dense here, the crowds restive but respectful, as though the various unlikely tributaries had fed into one massive, saffron river. There I observed the most singular phenomenon of all: The Mummers. Indeed, my first bona fides mummers outside of history and literature.

At the southern edge of the Lawn, pursuing the onlookers in an easterly direction, masked dancers adorned the Gates, standing on the slate bases, arms draped intimately about the orange frames, veiled and clad in uniform black. There were dozens of them; my mind reeled. In the February chill, they were dressed in jeans, long-sleeved tees, hooded sweatshirts and jackets, coats and parkas, but the unifying theme was perfect blackness, like night, articulated cut-outs, people subverted to a concept. Their movements, slow, mellifluous, cascaded amongst them like a rumor, mimicked the movements of the saffron drapes overhead. A flag would twitch, lift, and fly the breeze, and the physical interlocutor poised in its shadow would interpret its flight with a fluidity that bespoke formal training. The movement would be echoed and modified, dancer by dancer, the length of the visible Gates.

Once again overwhelmed with unmitigated pleasure, I paused, sliding to the side of the path and a row of benches, not quite deaf to the pleased and astonished commentary of those passing by and belatedly discovering the mummers in situ, who were just subtle enough to overlook in a crowd, if one were prone to overlook things. A welcoming end of park bench revealed itself to me a few dancers into the line, and I accepted its invitation. A couple sat to my right, engaged in what appeared to be a nice conversation, and directly opposite the bench, across a turgid flow of people, gamboled the mummer who'd demanded my attention, petite, shapely, and fluid.

I was content to furnish what was left to my imagination. Beneath her veil, a suggestion of eyeglasses; beneath her coat, a suggestion of comeliness; beneath the sky, a suggestion of order in chaos, aluminum and nylon precisely and delicately framed against the stumbling flow of people beneath; and as backdrop, the fluid tracings of anonymous dancers, chilled but unperturbed, endeavoring to couple with an event larger than any one person or assemblage of persons. Vainglorious futility has never inspired me more. On the bench, I quietly looked on, aiming to etch my personal dancer's movements in my most permanent memory, her simple black jeans and sneakers belying a more profound elegance and inspiration.

Drinking in the vision of the dancers limning the Gates progress, I only belatedly woke to the gravaman of the conversation beside me, lovers severing their bond, sinew by sinew, prospecting for common ground amid such beauty and consequence, blind to the surround. Their desperation, their fear, struck a chord; how could I, perpetually single, not empathize, not wonder at the clumsy dance of two autonomies abandoning their self-abnegating pursuit of divine cooperation. Neither wept, but I felt as though I might, as emotional as the afternoon had made me. Across the river, my car, my family, awaited me, but I was miles, epochs, paradigms and aesthetics away, beyond reach, alone amid the throng of onlookers. Distant.

Again, I found it a labor of Herculean dimension to move. Having fallen momentarily in love with my own personal mummer at the end of the line, I was struck anew by the profundity of the larger spectacle, or meta-spectacle perhaps, as I plunged deeper into the display. Finally, deep within the mummers' realm, I could not see a gate undressed in either direction, and I had lost count of them in the twenties.

At the end, the path forked, and an end to the mummery revealed itself. Again, at the end, I paused, intending to photograph the font of the performance. As I turned, ten yards or so past the last mummer, I observed a woman, shapely in flowing white skirt and ostentatiously unostentatious jewelry, abandon her company and succumb to the dance. In the middle of the path, oblivious to those whose paths she interrupted, she slid ably down an invisible pole to the pavement beneath, eyes closed, brow turned skyward, enamored of the moment, as was I of her. By the time I had set and leveled my camera, however, she had finished, grounded by her beau, perhaps. For the second time in minutes, I had fallen guilelessly in love; I envied her companion, who had watched her performance with a regrettable detachment, that he had found someone possessed of such spontaneity and indifference to others' regard, someone whom the delightful incidents and accidents of just being here might captivate for a spell, the hypnosis of fearless subjugation to a moment. A woman who might, of a Sunday morning, pick his hand up from the February breakfast table cluttered with newspring and say, "Let's go to the beach in East Hampton. Today. Now. Where are your shoes?"

Not for the first time, I envied the secret lives of others. Mine, being no secret to me, seldom competes with the lives I imagine for others.

Still, though, distant engagements pressed, and I willed my feet into motion. By now, I had long exhausted the clock I originally had set for myself, bearing in mind plans and a desire not to exacerbate my incipient adenovirus (as it would be diagnosed a couple of weeks later, after its persistence drove me to my GP). Gathering speed, I soon found myself yet further north, at the Pineton, the soughing pines yielding their quiet symphony to the more insistent and unmistakable shriek of chained swings, carrying their riders to and fro, their perforations of the quiet like a chamber ensemble of flutes and strings misbowed. Long before I saw the swings, I recognized their song, which conjured a flood of childhood memories of one particularly notable New Jersey park; I felt an elementary gratification when they came into view off to the left, over another snowy expanse.

Nearing the end of my journey, I found myself at the foot of the reservoir, somewhere in the 80s, the ground muddy and trampled in a crazy quilt of frenzied impressions, many holding stagnant water rimed with snow and ice and mud. Around the reservoir, the Gates were strangely absent. I knew from the map that they continued north toward Harlem, but, for the first time all day, few were in view, mimicking the sporadic scrub of a desert expanse instead of the prolific density of a tumescent forest. Across the reservoir, as I continued my westward progress along its southern shore, I espied the Guggenheim, and its unsettling helical profile, coiling in squat insouciance between its loftier neighbors.

I exited the park just south of 90th street, reflexively looking south to espy the building in which an ex-girlfriend's grandparents once lived, in rent-controlled splendor overlooking the park. This far north, the crowds had dwindled, most onlookers evidently entering, as I had, at the Park's southern edge but few venturing as far north as I had. I grieved that I lacked time, having come so close, to complete my progress uptown.

As soon as I crossed Park to the downtown side, I spotted a cab heading my way, its light advertising its vacancy, and raised my hand calmly, recalling the folly of the impatient, or the ignorant, who never seem to figure out the Boolean simplicity of the medallion's rooftp signboard -- medallion number lit for availability, and dark to signal occupancy. The car slid to the curb, and I entered, enveloped in pleasure but happy to be in a heated vehicle and off my feet.

"Grand Central," I said. The hack, a slight brown man with a dark mustache, met my eyes briefly in the rearview mirror, signaled, and pulled into traffic, nodding affirmation to some tacit inquiry. He didn't speak, and I was grateful. It would be some time, I knew, before I would welcome conversation.

I recalled bits and pieces from my travels: in the southern part of the park, the sun high and the snow blazing, a pompous queen imploring his companion, Oliver, "Come here! Look at this composition."

I recalled my brief encounter, in one of the tunnels, with three young men who labored to lift what appeared to be a surplus slate Gate-base from the top of a stack of three. Cords protruded from their necks, and in a fit of pique, oddly envious of their endeavor, I silently joined them, providing what proved to be a crucial fourth pair of hands. We lifted the base a few inches, looked up inquiringly at each other as though to ask, "What now?" and finding in our mute, strained smiles sufficient answer, restored the base gently to its resting place.

Jostling forward in car lengths as we neared the Park's southern edge, brakes squealed around us, and I retreated into their polyphony, remembering the arid shrieks of the swings near the Pineton, wishing myself back inside the Park. I worried my solitude: would I prefer to be sharing this anachronistic bench seat with someone who might attend to my thoughts, such as they were, and offer his or her own?

Regret, too, made an appearance: what, really, awaited me across the river that I couldn't have avoided, making my excuses from the heart of the Park, quietly radioing apologies from amid a stand of trees, or of Gates, adverting to the mesmeric power of the installation. Would anyone not have forgiven me?

Then it dawned on me: I had never answered to my satisfaction one critical question: Why orange?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More Dillard, In the Same Vein

Annie again:

If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be too cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.


(I'm not sure of the source, as I picked it up from a magazine this evening. I'm thinking it's something of hers I haven't read, since I don't recognize it, and her wonderful images rarely seem unfamiliar the second time, so indelibly do they mark the reader. There isn't much of hers I haven't read, but I'll have to poke around and see what I've missed.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Asleep Without Supper

Annie Dillard recounts a night in the woods, contemplating Rimbaud and the writing imperative, and the phenomenon of moths and candles, in her brilliant fugue Holy the Firm. She describes one moth's fate as follows:

One night a moth flew into the candle, was caught, burned dry, and held. I must have been staring at the candle, or maybe I looked up when a shadow crossed my page; at any rate, I saw it all. A golden female moth, a biggish one with a two-inch winspan, flapped into the fire, dropped her abdomen into the wet wax, stuck, flamed, frazzled and fried in a second. Her moving wings ignited like tissue paper, enlarging the circle of light in the clearing and creating out of the darkness the sudden blue sleeves of my sweater, the green leaves of jewelweed by my side, the ragged red trunk of a pine. At once the light contracted again and the moth's wings vanished in a fine, foul smoke. At the same time her six legs clawed, curled, blackened, and ceased, disappering utterly. And her head jerked in spasms, making a spattering noise; her antenna crisped and burned away, and her heaving mouth parts crackled like pistol fire. When it was all over, her head was, as far as I could determine, gone, gone the long way of her wings and legs. Had she been new, or old? Had she mated and laid her ggs. Had she done her work? All that was left was the glowing horn shell of her abdomen and thorax -- a fraying, partially collapsed gold tube jammed upright in the candle's round pool.

And then this moth essence, this spectacular skeleton, began to act as a wick. She kept burning. The wax rose in the moth's body from her soaking abdomen to her thorax to the jagged hole where her head should be, and widened into flame, a saffron-yellow flame that robed her to the ground like an immolating monk. That candle had two wicks, two flames of identical height, side by side. The moth's head was fire. She burned for two hours, until I blew her out.

She burned for two hours without changing, without bending or leaning -- only glowing within, like a building fire glimpsed through silhouetted walls, like a hollow saint, like a flame-faced virgin gone to God, while I read by her light, kindled, while Rimbaud in Paris burned out his brains in a thousand poems, while night pooled wetly at my feet.

Perhaps growing older means, at best, circumscribing one's acquiescence, fostering the illusion of wisdom. Consonant with whispers of mortality are intimations of subtle control once unimaginable, and its antithesis, an anticipation of one's powerlessness at the juncture of sweet coincidence. For every time my heart races in the face of immediate jeopardy -- on a rock, on a bike, in a car -- there is another instance, seemingly as worthy of that primitive response, when it does not, when time slows, reflexes reveal themselves to be volitional, elective, and utterly powerless to resist the inevitable. And I ease into what I cannot avoid with an openness defying explanation.

Dillard later elaborates on the moth, qua moth and qua metaphor for the larger subject animating Holy the Firm, but in her use of an image too evocative to warrant the term cliche, notwithstanding its surface banality, she neglects the questions that interests me most just now: What does the moth think as she dips her wings toward the flame, her abdomen into the wax? What is it about her inexorable captivation with the flicker of flame in darkness that overrides her base impulse to avoid mortal heat?

I have known the answer, but every now and again, seldom really, I forget just long enough to seek the flame again.

Nature preaches survival above all, an undistinguished persistence over the precariously precious, and so often we choose the efficacious over the indulgent. But how luxurious and how ineffable, like the dusky remnants of a dream, the serenity of surrender to the episodic dominion of the possible over the is.

In the breech, the flame's menace doesn't hold a candle to it.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Required Reading

More darkness and mystery exquisitely rendered by Zulieka.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


So where have I been?

Right here. Of course. Where else?

Here, recently, has been Pittsburgh. Morgantown, West Virginia. New York-suburban New Jersey. Exurban New Jersey. Astoria, Queens. Harrisburg, PA. Points in between, not infrequently at criminal rates of speed.

I have been a shining Moon, a brooding Moon, a new Moon and a familiar one. I have been obscured in shadow, below the horizon, blinded by daylight and wide-eyed by night.

I have been, in a word, thinking. And though I have wandered, I have not gone away. Not really. Not entirely.

I have many personalities; of each, sometimes, I grow tired. I'm not the first one to grow weary of my blathering; I certainly won't be the last.

William Gass writes:

Sports, politics, and religion are the three passions of the badly educated. They are the Midwest's open sores. Ugly to see, a source of constant discontent, they sap the body's strength. Appalling quantities of money, time, and energy are wasted on them. The rural mind is narrow, passionate, and reckless on these matters. Greed, however shortsighted and direct, will not alone account for it. I have known men, for instance, who for years have voted squarely against their interests. Nor have I ever noticed that their surly Christian views prevented them from urging forward the smithereening, say, of Russia, China, Cuba, or Korea. And they tend to back their country like they back their local team: they have a fanatical desire to win; yelling is their forte; and if things go badly, they are inclined to sack the coach. All in all, then, Birch is a good name. It stands for the bigot's stick, the wild-child-tamer's cane.

Forgetfulness -- is that their object?

I offer this for color for than for its truth, although there is wisdom in it; tonight and recently, I am a wan Moon. I seldom write here of sports, and I am gentle about religion. But politics have been an open sore here, a source of constant discontent, and the topic has slowed my orbit. My mind, too, has proven narrow, pasionate, and reckless. Yelling has been my forte; I am a surly Moon. And I will not embarrass the framework of these observations by arrogantly setting forth the rectitude of my commitments as proof of their own legitimacy, as though the tone or content, or the tactics of those who disagree, excuses my stridence. Perhaps this is highminded. More likely it is a product of the abovementioned fatigue. The fact remains.

I didn't set out to focus on politics here. To do so is a professional liability, and it is a diversion. There are so many voices online, and the echo chamber grows deafening. This is not to denigrate those who do it well, who educate, who probe and who endeavor to an informed equanimity. That I have not been writing on politics does not signal that I have not been attending. No good citizen -- now, or ever, but especially now -- can afford not to attend. So much policy, now, is conducted in the shadows, at the periphery, that only a jealous astuteness can leave one reasonably confident of his information and hence his convictions.

But save for the occasional legal insight, and the even more occasional acerbic witticism, I have offered little that is new. At best, I have become another clearinghouse, a reliable supplier of ideologically informed links to sources of original content and analysis.

The only things I have ever wanted to do with all my person are to write and to play baseball professionally. At nearly 32 years of age, I still recall certain big base hits, key strikeouts or defensive plays, with a lush detail my memories seldom furnish. But with regard to baseball, I will have to satisfy myself with Bruce Springsteen's memories of "glory days," for my athletic career is on the wane, and my career with a bat and glove, save for the occasional pick-up softball game, has been over far longer than it lasted.

Professionally, I write to persuade, to prove a point. I stack and mortar, tamp into place, brick upon brick to imprison my adversary or to hem in onlookers' disbelief. Words are tools. Or weapons.

I do it well, or so the objective measure of professional opportunity and the subjective perceptions of my peers suggest. This can be gratifying, in the bland way that professional accomplishment tends to be. Faintly aromatic laurels to adorn a furrowed brow. In law, however, one does not create so much as fashion, mold, manipulate. For the practitioner, even the honest one, the game is misdirection, an illusionist's enterprise, while one's adversary's task is not to lunge for the magician's feints. And it's the nights that get to me.

A Writer, the real thing, is no illusionist but a magician. The former relies on cleverness and obscurity to ply his trade; the latter appeals to the dark Gods themselves. The former is content with salutary outcomes, the latter indifferent to all but the dark lord Process. Like most lines, however, this one is not bright, and individuals traverse, deviate. A great judge or attorney is no technician; neither is a writer of ersatz fictions a medium for esoteric forces, an artist. There is the garden path. And there is usually a shortcut.

It has taken five years of legal education, formal and in the breach, to observe this critical distinction. The distinction, moreover, vindicates the promise of legal education -- which I always heard as a threat or challenge, something to which one mustn't accede, but rather resist -- to transform the novice's percepton, to relocate the nexus of self and world.

I have always fancied that my legal education merely provided a new lens I might swap in from time to time, a new lexical template to order the universal grammar of thought. I dutifully shovel my walk in part for aesthetic purposes, but also because I see an incipient tort. I use words like "moreover" in my personal ruminations. Words like "tort." I have yoked myself to a deception borne of arrogance: that I, alone perhaps, will not be transformed.


In a year's short time, this site has become a forum for argument devoid of wit and insight. Words are my currency, whether I donate to charity or retain a whore. The mere use of them is as value-neutral and devoid of intrinsic merit as is the ebb and flow of my fortunes. Too often I have retreated to self-satisfaction in a word count rather than the nature of its service, like Croesus.

Thanksgiving was a transformative holiday. Full of love and family fellowship, it was epiphenomenally what it should be: a gathering of loved ones without expectation, unfreighted by the insipid obligations of gift-giving. Of this I have no complaint; indeed, it was the most satisfying holiday in this most critical regard in years, a time of rest and mutual regard.

But in reentering, for a time, the orbit of my former gravitational center, New York City, after my longest absence in years, perhaps ever, I found its centripatel impulsion nigh irresistible, something palpable, an inexorable quiver in my breast, an eastward list. Leaving at the descent of evening following my one afternoon in the City, returning to the familiar New Jersey home, it was all I could do not to turn around, remove myself from the line of exiles at the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel, enter the City's aid bloodstream for good. Something seemed wrong; my throat pulsed painfully, my respiration quickened, panic jerked my eyes over sooty stone, crumbling pavement patched but not repaired, note by note over the brakelight score to a suburban sonata.

Squeezing through the tunnel like an ingot in a molten river, I felt myself extruded from sheer anxiety from its New Jersey maw, pulled tightly into a coil around the inner lane of the helix ascending from the level of the Hudson's surface a hundred vertical feet to the threshold of the suburbs, the Cit's skyline a beacon too remote to seek across a filthy Rubicon I had but a moment ago -- impossibly -- crept beneath.

I made it back to the family home, of course, a new house in the familiar village that raised me. But the feeling lingered, implacable, that I had erred terribly, banishing myself heedlessly to the interior, away from the oceans, away from the seats of money and power, away from the company of innumerable artists in tireless congress, away from my family and my first friends. I hadn't felt so sick with displacement since the morning of 9-11, when I watched, as I might from the front walk barbarians burning my home and raping my family, the mountains of my youth transform, in short order, from monuments to symbols to memorials to dust.

This prompted questions I have weighed in the succeeding weeks. I have a wonderful job and am positioned excellently for my life here, in Pittsburgh. I have friends of many stripe, good people to a one. I have purchased a home, in part to quell the heedless questioning of Place -- as though, by the sweep of a pen, to announce, "This is home. Goddamn it."

I stayed here, after moving here on a lark, because I couldn't imagine leaving when, from time to time, the opportunity to do so presented itself, not infrequently with the promise of great reward. Now, I have spent nearly a quarter of my life, the adult quarter at that, in this place, which seems at once on the decline and yet ascendant, fighting furiously to escape the gravity of its storied youth and adolescence for rebirth flush with possibility. A place too jealous of its future to be as parochial to the good non-native in is midst as it sometimes seems, a converse proposition to New York City's notorious inclusiveness, which in practice is anything but, its currency lying in pecuniary fortune rather than national or regional origin.

Most of all, however, I have stayed here for the freedom it has afforded: money is optional here, and one can succeed here, by almost any measure, without guile or rampant ambition. New York promises opportunity for the brash and selfish, megalomania its stock in trade; its denizens, especially in law, wear their malady like syphilis. I never doubted my ability to succeed there, on the City's terms, I merely doubted my willingness to succumb to its mandates, or my ability to accept it on its terms, given that it won't or simply can't accept me on mine.

But if I chose not to be there, I asked, shouldn't I be living a life I can live only here, in Pittsburgh, in its freedom from want and its collegial familiarity?

I came here, in short, to write. To fashion myself a writer. To do so in a climate of welcome, where the burdens of merely providing for oneself do not expand to crowd out everything else. In New York, as I have said many times in response to the inevitable question of why I moved here, one cannot throw a stone without hearing the indignant cries of a hundred writers. Among those hundred, five will just be better than I can aspire to be, and twenty will have trust funds that enable them to plug along in publishing without regard to its unlivable wages. The rest will wake to their self-deception at thirty in a City that bleeds them dry just to live. In Pittsburgh, I typically continue, one has the option of preserving the self-deception far longer. And I have counted this a good thing.

Perhaps, then, I should have stayed, fought with those five for my share of a diminshing pie or disabused myself of my loftiest aspirations years ago and moved on. Perhaps I should move there now, become a lawyer, parcel out my time in six-minute increments. It's much easier to keep score, there, after all, and certainty is its own reward.

But I think not.

Instead, I will do here what I can do nowhere else given my proclivities and station: work humane hours; endeavor to excel in more rarefied company without abandoning those diversions that comprise my inviolate whole; resist the urge to simplify or narrow my focus when complexity furnishes intellectual wealth and spiritual health.

I may not be the writer I have always imagined I wanted to be, and my halting efforts to become that person betray some underlying equivocation, a separate matter. I will not, however, release his protean form from my clutches just yet. It's not time, and I am grateful that the relative leisure of life in Pittsburgh affords me the patience to allow these questions to resolve themselves only upon due consideration, rather than truncating the inquiry.

I won't be writing about politics anymore, however, not here, and elsewhere, if at all, only with the greatest reluctance. I leave that to my betters.

I must resist distraction, hew my attention to the bone of my most unlikely aspirations or abandon them entirely. As it originally was intended, this site will again become a shrine to that endeavor rather than an outlet for my frenzied blathering du jour.

As I have spilled enough Moonlight, I'll close with an a propos sentiment from a poet who persevered through his doubts, and let neither place nor necessity obtrude on his art.

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

--Theodore Roethke

Monday, December 05, 2005

Hotel Blogging

It's sort of amazing given my age and background that I've traveled for business as little as I have. Alas, this week I did not escape, and so I wake, a little too early, on the abrasive sheets of a hotel in Harrisburg, in a room I described to a colleague last night as feeling as though it is decorated, top to bottom, with flame retardant pajama material. And mind you, I'm at what passes for a very nice hotel, one with wireless access and various bells and whistles.

This morning, I awake early to get a head start on a long day, to do some advance reading. But first, a cigarette, a cup of dilute coffee, and a small bit of good news:

BAR/BRI, the monopoly bar exam preparation service nearly as ineluctable and omnipresent to law students as the bar exam itself, is in trouble.

Since I won't have a lot to do in the evenings, assuming I can leave a couple of more social early-evening engagements sober enough to type (a safe assumption), I'll probably be spending some much overdue time here catching up. But first, a long day.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Facile Appeal of Round Numbers

If I see or hear or hear tell of one more goddamned article or feature on North Carolina's execution of Kenneth Lee Boyd, who early this morning became the 1,000th person executed in the United States since the United States Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, I am going to vomit.

Listen, either you approve of capital punishment or you do not. There are legitimate arguments on both sides of the debate, and the debate is ongoing. The debate has never stopped. The debate doesn't rekindle. It just is.

The question whether it is an appropriate function of government to execute malfeasors, defined however (presently, near-majority, non-mentally retarded murderers who committed their crimes with malice aforethought), is among the most critical questions of policy we have. It stands cheek by jowl with abortion and preemptive war as a question of policy positively metaphysical in breadth. To consider the issue deeply, personally, ought to take one's breath away, regardless of where one comes down on the issue.

But as with the H5N1 avian influenza virus, which has been around and a topic of discussion for years, the MSM builds a bandwagon then jumps on it, and acts like it just discovered something.

Don't believe it. To loathe the thousandth execution is to loathe the first, and the one inflicted the day after tomorrow. It is an ongoing conviction, not a Hallmark holiday.

It's a debate that is rekindled only for those too foolish to care. Those who are only thinking of it in light of this arbitrarily selected occasion, well, they won't be thinking of it next week, and so they have no material role in the debate.

But to have no role is not to have no interest implicated; everyone has an iron in this fire, whether he or she realizes it or not.

When Mistakes Go Unmade

Election Day 2000, a fateful day for all of us, but a slightly more fateful day for me, perhaps . . . almost to the day, five years ago . . . the past bites, it leaves welts, suppurating wounds . . . the past has four limbs, sharp claws, and a stare that could freeze lava.

D and I met at a Labor Day bar event, randomly, and solidifed our potentiality in a coincidence a couple of weeks later. But we weren't D and I, were't any significant Us, until Election Day, the day that Kristin came to town. Before then, since then, I have brought women to see Kristin . . . but only D, on the eve of Kristin's release of "Sunny Border Blue", in my humble opinion her tour de force, only that night, Rosebud in the Strip, that night, perfect but for the election dispute that was about to consume the country and captivate me, among thousands of young lawyer and aspirants, in what one can only call a constitutional crisis . . .

Tonight, Kristin played Club Cafe, and I knew enough not to bring a girl.

Tonight, Kristin was blonde again, her set list biased toward Throwing Muses, her voice strained until she warmed up, her frame diminutive, her expression consuming the room, disproportionately, powerfully.

I don't know what to say about her voice, or her stage presence, her self-effacing demeanor, her stories, except to say that they all were splendid.

Sometimes we are overwhelmed by our own gratitude, and sometimes this is prompted by what others might think of as trivial. Were it not for one person I very likely wouldn't know Kristin from a hole in the wall; were it not for D, I might not freight Kristin's each visit to Pittsburgh with enough weight to crumple one of Pittsburgh's many bridges.

So much is happening here, all in my head, and so I haven't been posting. This is not the time to explain my absence, though explain it I shall, as I imagine that I have an audience just big enough to warrant an explanation.

But the short verson of Me, Circa Now, goes something like this: work my ass off last week; escape to New Jersey with a day to spare; spend lots of NJ time contemplating things; come back delirious with introspection; work forty hours in four days to write a perfect document, twenty-six fair pages which will be shredded by The Boss by lunchtime tomorrow, after which I will have an hour or two to reassemble things in time for a deadline, still -- mind you -- buried in the aftermath of five days of introspection . . .

And amid the sturm and drang, a brief moment, Kristin, a new friend, the past so heavy bones bend under the burden.

And that's okay. Because in a quiet Club Cafe, amid a crowd so small it raises concerns that Kristin won't come back, I found peace, sanguinity, facing and staring down a complex of memories, and a simple gratitude to this character, sine qua non in so many ways.

Art teaches, art tortures, and it heals. It is. And for those of us who don't produce enough of it, being in its presence, pallid shadows, we gambol, because we must. We gambol. Because we can.

Simple things: I'm here. My past is here. My present, most affirmatively, is here. And I love. I really do. Intransitively. Just because.

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