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.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes We Did.

It was at 11:07, give or take a minute, when I was blindsided by what flirted with becoming a full-blown crying jag. CNN had called the election, as we knew it would at 11PM and the west coast poll closures enabled the networks to say what we already new. I never saw the strength of my emotional response coming.

Sure, fatigue played a factor: working the polls from 6:30 until they sealed the machines on 4 hours sleep will do that.

But there I was: friends en route to the street to celebrate, me on my way home to rest up for a week that just. won't. quit -- but only after drinking another beer, watching Obama's speech, writing this post. Alone with my thoughts, leaking the occasional tear.

Today was Cliff and Renee, Kevin and Chazz, and Bill and Emily, people who will never read this; 10-15, 10-1 and Crafton; 10-17, 11-2, 11-4 -- Hell, even C and his Mom, the erstwhile and bitter McCain operatives who perked up at 5, out of nowhere, to deliver an impetuous and inept last gasp voter suppression effort to spice up the end of the day, after sitting quietly by for most of the day.

Poll-watching was a lot of things, but very little of what I expected. In the predominantly black neighborhoods to which I was assigned, I saw less dramatic affirmations than I expected. What I did see, however, was a dogged determination to overcome the petty obstacles, logistic and human, facing new voters, undereducated voters, forgotten voters, a will to vote, to speak to the world and be heard.

Kevin and Chazz are my neighbors, it turns out, who I had the good fortune to bump into when, on my way between poll assignments, at my own voting location in the Tenth Ward. The location lacked a McCain operative, and lacked an Obama observer, forgotten in a funeral home, having failed to turn up on either camp's priority list, small, inconsequential, a lost cause and a given, respectively.

But as I stood behind the machine contemplating my vote, wondering whether, observer credential hung around my neck, I could get away with sneaking a photo of my checkmark beside the name Obama, Kevin and Chazz, clad in ghetto chic, were being gently urged toward provisional ballots by the Judge of Elections.

I forgot about my photo, made some noise, held up my credential above the machine, and said "Just hold that thought and give me a sec." If training had given me nothing else, it had imbued me with a visceral aversion to the very phrase, "provisional ballot." Here were two would-be voters, I understood, who were being pleasantly invited to render themselves irrelevant by well-intentioned but parochial bureaucrats.

I finalized my vote, and immediately offered the two gentleman a ride to wherever they needed to go, wherever they were registered. They accepted and it wasn't until we hit the street that I learned that they last had lived in Crafton, well past the West End Bridge. Taking them to their polling station would take me nearly an hour off plan, and there remained the chance that they would not be permitted to vote there, as well, voter registration being, as it is, an imperfect process.

From Lawrenceville to Sixteenth Street, making my apologies, I never got off the phone, in short order receiving an update from a fellow volunteer in Butler County, addressing a non-volunteer friend's observed problems at the West Penn Hospital's polling location, and contacting my own people to update them on my status, all while driving erratically amidst brilliant Indian Summer sunshine.

And then the phone was silent, and so was I, these two young men implacable, wary, as, I'm sure, was I to them. Then: faltering discussion of how best to reach our destination, of my role as a poll observer, of their recent move to Lawrenceville. We negotiated the new direct ramp from Route 28 to Ohio River Boulevard and the West End Bridge, me again on the phone.

Across the river on Carson St., the conversation turned to politics, to Obama, to our respective convictions and hopes. Kevin, in the passenger seat, did most of the talking. He didn't talk about race. Or history. Or the democratic party as such. He talked about affirmations versus denigrations, promises over impetuousness, the failures of the last eight years.

Words seem so small; I can't convey what I mean.

While Kevin and Chazz voted, I worked the phone, tidying loose ends. Then, I drove my new friends home, and headed to my new precinct, where I had been reassigned when I called headquarters to indicate that two lawyers was one too many at my original location, given the modesty of the rolls, the proficiency of the poll workers, and the absence, in the 10-15, of a Republican presence.

In the 10-2 I found new friends, whose names, alas, mostly didn't stick. In the ensuing afternoon and evening, I and the other Obama observers helped dozens of voters find their polling locations, driving more than a few here or there. We called in our share of numbers to headquarters, and problems. We learned how unprecendedented turnout was, and negotated drunks, the stubborn, and the fatally cynical, the silent protest of a man whose placard was so incomprehensible as to defy classification as "electioneering." Meanwhile, two McCain monitors mostly kept to themselves, mourning, I imagine, the inevitably of tonight's result, resenting the lack of debilitating strictures placed on poor, uneducated voters with the temerity not to be convinced by McCain's paper thin solutions (and outrageous and criminal robocalls designed to minimize the vote), their efforts vacillating with little warning between lackluster and occasionally concerted.

Meanwhile, I and the other Obama observers worked the tables to identify and direct the electorate's lost souls, got to know the neutral observers lurking helpfully outside the door, brought coffee to the pollsters, won some battles, lost a few. We watched our phone batteries fade, shared stories heard here or there, basked in the sun, and in the mostly understated but palpable reverence surrounding poor, black voters cast their never-more-relevant ballots for this country's first black president. And all was suffused with the mechanics of the job, and the imperative to do everything possible to ensure that every desirous and legitimate vote was cast, for whatever party.

I had anticipated outsized drama, weeping voters, triumphal displays, but what I saw was sanguinity, perhaps crossbred with well-founded skepticism and more than a little genuine doubt.

In one short day, the stories are too numerous to recount, and I hesitate to dwell on the particular conflicts and resolutions, the petty, inevitably human interludes that revealed the exhaustion and the tension; on D, worrying her nails as she recounted to me her lost son and hinted at her deep fear that this wouldn't go as it should, while we waited for the machines to shut down and the final data to emerge, the results of which were as predictable as the larger context was uknown.

In his accpetance speech, which I watrched in bed, this computer yawning before me, Obama paid tribute "[t]o the best campaign ever assembled in politics," and I shivered with a new round of quiet tears. My role in this has been small bordering on trivial: I've given quite a bit of money, as it is my privilege to be able to do this year, and I have done what I can to bring other money to the table, and people. I have tapped my network more shamelessly than I ever have done before, with gratifying results. I have learned election law, and mostly stood around while the time-worn process lumbers through its familiar choreography, emboldened with my new training, humbled by its essential irrelevance.

I have listened to a pollworker at the 10-18 recall the round-the-block lines for Jesse Jackson in the 1984 primary, and heard precinct after precinct report higher turnout numbers than anyone can remember. I have seen the frustrated and the earnest and the disturbed seek to exercise their franchise, and I have seen the frustrated and the earnest and the disturbed seek to disenfranchise those of whose legal votes they do not approve. I have learned why one charms the people one is thrown at, who do not need you, instead of ignoring them; and I have been reminded that the friendly fare far better than the aloof.

And then fourteen hours were gone, feet aching, eyes pink and raw, and it was hugs, and promises to return, and I will. Whether I volunteer or not, I will visit my girls at the 10-2, who welcomed me and all other comers, who ran a fair and open election in a forgotten part of this city and of the world, and who, I hope, are dancing in the streets right now somewhere among friends who never thought this would happen: that the smartest, most charismatic, most dynamic and promising politician to emerger in a generation or more has been chosen over the man who promised only what has already proven ineffectual.

And he is black. The ground shifts under our feat. Gloriously.

I will remember my conversation with my brother, the elementary school teacher with a passel of black second and third graders in his charge, with whom I discussed what a black president would mean to the black children who will grow up, hopefully for eight critical years.

And I will remember this: Chazz cast his first presidential vote for Obama, and he and his big brother Kevin are my new friends on the block, demographically diametrical, but politically of one shared persuasion, bound by an Indian Summer drive, and our common hope for much better days.

And I will not dwell on the fundamental inadequacy of this post to convey all that I am thinking, my eyes raw from that initial, surprising squall of tears, and those that followed intermittently all the way home and through the acceptance speech.

I will simply say: I have never been more proud to be an American, never more proud to serve in my trivial way, never more hopeful.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


My building houses a blind man. My building downtown, that is. He rides the same elevator bank I do, to a floor several above mine. He never gets off at the wrong floor, even when his companion dog, a majestic and stoic German Shepherd, occasionally pulls errantly; even though the chimes on the elevator are less than consistent; and even though the elevator passes through six floors of a very large firm that clearly prefers the elevator to internal stairwells for short intra-firm trips up and down.

He seldom speaks. He speaks sometimes -- to a colleague, perhaps, implacable and tall, behind sunglasses, within overcoat, balding. His dog makes me sad sometimes, furtively eyeing the other passengers. I imagine the weight of the injunction that the sighted not attend to companion dogs to be heavy, social animal bracketed and cosseted and denied the congress I imagine he desires. I consider: are there little insurrections? Wouldn't there be?

One night a few weeks ago, leaving the building and heading toward the garage where I lock up my bike, I found myself standing beside this man and his dog at a gridlocked intersection. We had the green, but the cars were interlocked densely through the intersection, and the dog, responding, as I'm sure his training dictates, to the cars over the light, remained sitting in the cold gloaming, even as pedestrians divided and flowed around the two, finding passage in the narrow openings between bumpers, between headlights and tail lights.

As soon as I had crossed I regretted not having assisted the man and his dog. The gridlock was likely not to abate in any sort of way the dog would recognize as permitting passage, and they might be there awhile. A few steps past the opposite curb, I stopped and turned. There they remained, the man and the dog, precisely where I'd left them. Their light was still green. Again, though, my fear of decalibrating the dog or insulting his master gave me pause.

I turned and walked a few more steps and turned back. This time, the light red, the man and his dog were not where I'd left them, nor anywhere on the trajectory I might have expected them to follow. Instead, I belatedly realized, they were angling, man clearly reluctant and in the tow of his dog, through the heart of the clogged intersection, at first at a 45-degree angle, and then increasingly straightening out to head wrong-way down a one-way road, into the teeth of a line of stopped cars. As I watched, horrified, or rather mortified for the man as the still cars presented no immediate danger, the two of them negotiated their error to find their way to a curb-side location catercorner from where they'd originally been aimed.

Having seen, in the literal sense, them to safety, I returned to my path to bike and home, thoughts thickened with the imagination of what it might be like, to be sightless, dependent on a well-trained but ultimately rather stupid animal to guide one through the infinite perils most of us manage without much conscious thought, how gloaming with all its perils is infinitely preferable to perpetual darkness and the quiet challenges and ewmbarrassments it brings. And I imagined how nice it would be, after years of seeing him around, to reach down, just once, and offer the dog my hand.

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Dead of Winter

In dusty apartments reeking of cigarettes --

In vacant lots on ten-degree evenings
when even thought freezes and falls to the ground
to shatter among the broken bottles and feces --

In a parking lot outside a bar like a souvenir
of a heedless bacchanal left behind
for the staff to collect and deposit appropriately --

In nurse-white hospitals that purge their atmospheres
of the life they aspire to prolong --

In a car unaccountably parked on an abandoned pier
in a blighted waterfront district full of big plans
and bigger failures --

In a body buckling under the impossible weight of a snowflake
of the thought that there is nothing more
than this cold, this grey, this frozen bustling
to and fro in an effort to present a moving target.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Holiday Wishes

Merry Christmas* to the blogiverse, especially to my readers. And to Zulieka, a big virtual hug, with the following response to her inquiry: because it's all we have.

* Regards to those who celebrate other holidays as well, but Christmas is the holiday impending, such as it is.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Night Visions

You find yourself imprisoned where cold grows so frigid that it becomes scalding, long suffering the pendant arrival of a bus on an avenue wide like an ocean, wind plucking your heavy trousers stiffened with chill, flapping about your calves under your thrift-store overcoat; you hid inside your earbuds from the desperate urban congress of a thousand bodies shivering in unison, cold beggaring stillness, yet you are still.

On the bus there's been some mistake -- your magazine scans cyrillic and you close it disconsolately preserving the morning's dogear. Tomorrow, or next Thursday, it will be English, or your facility with the foreign tongue will have returned, unannounced, unheralded, one of a dozen faculties that come and go without warning, unbidden, unlamented, un. Like you, drifting in and out of milieux, wallflower and gadfly, authority and dilettante, gravitas and humor. Un.

Hustling down your block, smooth soles slipping atop the icy veneer without warning, penetrating a wall of private sound, something silly, Scandinavian, incongruous, small children crowding a doorway, at play or in violent confrontation, playacting or enacting (un) assault, "motherfuckers" and "bitches" . . . as you pass, sidelong in every way, you try to gauge the exigency, the emergency, whether to intervene, and despite your suspicions that the fists are angry and the victim pained, the assailants' ages and inertia propel you past, to finish your cigarette on your stoop.

You pass a dark figure traveling the other way a few houses later, enshadowed and hunched, and you turn, guiltily, to see whether he imposes, but he doesn't, his occult moral calculus arriving, by whatever path, where yours has. Vaguely mollified, you proceed to your stoop a quarter-block hence, where you linger on your stoop, remove your aural armor, finish your cigarette safely outside, shuffling in the wintry rime at the stairs' edge.

"R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-tat-tat," one child repeats incessantly, strafing his friends into hamburger. "Is you a cop or a robber, motherfucker?" one of the impossibly small children quizzes. "R-r-r-r-r-r-r-tat-tat." "Is you a cop or a robber?" "R-r-r-r-r-r-r-tat-tat." And so on.

A child rolls on the street, while another throws a length of PVC foraged from anywhere over a fence nearby to clatter on concrete out of sight. A child screams inarticulately, sounding pained, but what can you make of this, which mimicks child's play's universality beneath a patina of something more local, culturally isolate, inaccessible.

Your cigarette burns down, and you roll it between your fingers to loose its burning end like pinching the third mint from the end free of its foil roll. Your fingers numb, uncertain, unmoored, uninvolved, you turn the cylinder with your key and slip into your house, where familiarity embraces you and forgives you -- un -- all you don't understand.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tough Day at the Office? . . .

. . . or, How to Make Yourself Hurt Like Hell in 12 Miles or Fewer:

Blow out of work leaving things undone, grab the attorney across the hall for a couple of beers, then get on the bike and go, no water bottle, no preparation, kind of having to pee . . . just go.

Bates to Forbes to Stanton.

Instant therapy.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Then the wheels came off . . .

I've always been fascinated by the image of the wheels coming off. For me, at least, few metaphors are more vivid, more evocative, more perfectly descriptive of a certain state of affairs. The wheels break away and the carriage clatters to the road, scraping and groaning, its passengers tumbled together in the wrack or thrown free of the wreckage, bodies akimbo in the gutter or amid traffic, under the disintegrating debris that was, just a moment ago, a viable conveyance. Literally. Figuratively. No matter.

The romance, perhaps, is in the immediacy of the connotation. Mostly, one hears the figure of speech deployed in contexts that suggest suddenness, a lack of forewarning, an exigency unforeseeable and hence particular startling and traumatic. But therein the lie, a romantic notion belied time and again by experience.

Perhaps the warning appears in the guise of a new creak, nearly inaudible amid the road noise. Or maybe a subtle shimmy developed in the chassis, something only the most neurotic, attentive drover would discern amid the ordinary vibration of travel. That minor wash in the road down around the bend by Simpson's farm? You know the one -- you're always complaining about it. Well maybe it got wuder in those awful storms that tore through town in the small hours of the morning last Tuesday chased ahead of that cold front, and it grew just big enough to swallow the front axle whole and shatter it in its inflexible jaws, turning the carriage's momentum into an instrument of its own destruction.

But what to do what to do? For every shudder does not augur catastrophe, and, as though the contingencies outlined above weren't enough, the very act of sensing threat in every irregularity can so scatter one's attention that it effectively pries the wheels off itself, destroying the vehicle as surely as the supposed threats themselves.

And hence the dance. Do you hear that? No, not that, that's been there forever (a different anomaly once feared but slowly integrated into the understanding of the status quo), that other thing -- that ree ree ree? Shh! -- Hear it? -- Hear how its in sync with the wheels? -- It speeds up as we do -- Yeah, that, right, you hear it. Whaddaya think? I look and can't find anything -- But it's something.

It's a fool's errand, chasing down every noise, and it might be better, on balance, to ignore all of it, to welcome the suddenness that follows blithe disregard, to abandon any notion of prevention. But tonight, I really think I hear something. Something I'm pretty sure isn't nothing. It's there, I can just make it out, but I'll be damned if I can pin it down.


Monday, November 05, 2007

Touring for Dummies

We don't think about these things. Or I don't. The cold. The water issues. The sores. The frost. The reaching out of my sleeping back to find glasses frosted, cigarette lighter encrusted, the wet elbow from the wet sleeping bag from the cold morning. But then if we did, if I did, we'd never end up in these situations, and what's the fun of that.

So instead there I was, awake just prior to done, poking the fire as though to awaken it, lying back in the darkness to envy the moon her diffuse beauty through the pre-dawn mist, wondering whether sleep would return, whether dawn approached, which direction that was, east suggesting a great deal of night left, west suggesting morning's approach, wondering.

It all began innocuously enough: a Myspace bulletin from a friend suggesting a little ride: a jaunt out of the city, through Mckeesport, and twenty miles or so down the Yough Trail, 45 miles each way, Saturday into Sunday, not enough miles to really hurt, especially given the flat terrain, just a way out of town, sleeping in the open, a celebration of fall.

When we met Saturday morning at Tom's Diner, we were a ragtag quartet. B1 (of Urban Velo) and E (of BikePgh) and B2 (whom I finished an alleycat with, once), gathering for a heavy breakfast and a slow prep for the ride. After breakfast, we scattered, variously, to Giant Eagle, Thick Bikes, and REI for random gear and provisions, before finally reuniting at, and leaving from, REI on Southside a little after 1 for our ride.

The ride itself was much as B1 had suggested, short, low key, pleasant. Temps were between 50 and 60, and I changed out of my fleece tights even before leaving breakfast. From REI, we rode out to the end of the Southside trail, then walked a quarter-mile down the railroad right of way to Sandcastle. There, we rode over to the Greenwood Bridge, and climbed the stairs to its southern end, picking up on a strip of dirt alongside the roadbed down toward Homestead, finally entering traffic where it became practical.

From there, it was 837 through Homestead, out past Kennywood, and then toward McKeesport. After passing through McKeesport's blight, we found ourselves at the trailhead, where we passed up a short climb into the woods, B2 and I discovering the surprisingly well-maintained trail for the first time.

Whatever it is that opposes a sense of urgency is what we had, and we took our jolly good time. We were all on road bikes, so we didn't travel slowly, but we were perhaps too confident of the simplicity of the ride, and so we tarried, enjoyed our various and frequent breaks, were slow back to the bikes. B1 rode a track bike equipped with jury-rigged panniers over his front wheel; E rode a touring bike equipped with panniers over the rear wheel; I rode my Ti-bike, the roadie I don't use nearly enough, and my gear and provisions rode in an unfortunate backpack that my shoulders are still talking angrily about; B2 rode a roadbike and carried his gear in a messenger bag.

The mileage was easy, though, and aside from a few close buzzes in McKeesport, everything was very low key.

Finally, after a stop for ice cream at a trail-side convenience store in Newton, we reached our desination, a campground 40-plus miles from my house, fifteen miles or so down the trail. All along, B1 had been defining this trip by the fact that we'd reach a brilliant shelter, a three-sided structure with the fourth occupied by a working fireplace, stone, with a chimney -- the Lexus of lean-tos, in a sense. And the shelter was just where he said we'd find it . . . and occupied.

Ensued from there a faltering discussion of whether we'd ride onward, to the next campground some 12 miles (and the last hour of daylight) away, or set up without cover at one of the firepits in the same space. The campgrounds near the shelter featured firepits and cinder platforms for tent erection, which would have been delightful had we a tent. But of course we hadn't brought tents, confident that we were the only people in the planet who knew about the ubercool shelter B1 had identified.

After some negotiation, we opted to stay, confident in our gear and the rain-free forecast, and, at least for my part, vaguely excited at the prospect of sleeping under the stars on a cold night. We selected an isolated spot, for privacy, and settled in -- picnic tables, firepit, firewood, etc. It wasn't until after dark at 8 or so that we realized that the pumps at the campsite actually were fed by a conventional waterline, and had been shut down for the winter. Reluctantly, we were forced to consider whether four of us could get through the night on the 20 or so ounces of water (not including my bottle of frappucino) we had amongst us. Deciding that we could not, the two B's decided to head back down the trail four miles to the nearest convenience store, which (conveniently) was open. Eight miles on a star-lit trail, with only street-oriented headlights to guide them. Easily, the trip MVP's on that front alone.

All of this is building up to that moment, near midnight, when we bedded down. I can't speak for anyone other than me, but there's something special about lying down in the darkness, next to a fire, and sealing up a mummy bag to leave little more than an eyeslit, and staring up at the stars above. Within moments, the heal I was resting on the ground, the other foot resting across it, began to take on the cold (my pad is 3/4 length), and I pondered for the umpteenth time the prospect of hypothermia.

Of course, a night with a low of 30 isn't the most dangerous condition one might imagine, but I'm no veteran of this sort of camping, and my 20-degree sleeping bag is nearing 20 years old. I've taken care of it, but I had no illusions about it living up to its rating after so many years, and so I spent the first part of the evening suspicious, wondeing whether it was really up to the task, and taking dead seriously the danger implicit in falling asleep in an inferior bag on a night at or below freezing.

But my heel was hardly numbing, the bag seemed adequate in the heat of the first, and then there were the stars overhead. The stars were beautiful, the woods peaceful except for the periodic trains passing on the other side of the river and the snores of my friends.

For a spell, I slept deeply, my sleep growing irregular only near dawn, when I noticed the fire faltering and the fact that most of our woodpile had disappeared, the word of Brad2, who we later learned had slept poorly and thus tended to the fire intermittently all night, making all of us more comfortable.

And then my eyes opened on full-blown morning, B1 tending the fire, my bag and our bikes encrusted with frost, sleeping bag moistened outside with dew. We lingered for a while, hours in fact, toasting cheap bagels, drinking coffee from a nalgene french press, continuing the endless bullshitting session of the night before, warming to the morning.

B2 and I complained of sores; neither of us had done a long ride in a while. But for me at least the bike welcomed me when we finally got moving. Lots of bitching and moaning, for sure, but that's how these things go. We lazily returned, stopping for breakfast in Newton, for no good reason at a cemetery near the start of the trail, and finally saying good bye at the Hot Metal Bridge, where we split for our various destinations.

But what a way to welcome the cold, and to reject its tendency to drive us inward. Instead, we four consider the cripness of its air, its bugless clarity, its way of pruning crowds down to a hard core, and welcome the transition, the invitation, the challenge. I should do this more often.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

And the Beat Goes On

Patrick McHenry (R-NC) on the bicycle:

OMG, $1 millllllllion dollars to cyclists. And lord knows there's nothing so injudicious as that in the ideal GOP budget. Not that McHenry's taking a principled stand against earmarks that benefit only his own congressional district or anything shady like that.


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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Passing the Torch

And just now, Bonds speaks, the stadium still echoing with the mellifluous and generous message Henry Aaron recorded in honor of the occasion, congratulating Bonds. Congratulating Bonds. You'd think I'd be tarred and feather for making the suggestion. But I love the game of baseball, and I won't be deterred from honoring one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game, in company with Ruth and Aaron and Mays, men whom I lack the arrogance to compare.

I watched the first at bat tonight, catching it (deliberately) between other pursuits. Barry roped a double 400 feet to right center field, centering a good breaking ball perfectly but failing to get under it. Barry's second at bat coincided with my going to bed, and I ran in from the bathroom, toothbrush in hand and a mouth full of foam, to watch him lash a single to right field.

It was clear that he was hitting the ball well, very well -- hitting it like Barry hits it. Adjusting during lengthy at bats in those minute increments that are familiar to those who have watched Barry over the years and know what they're seeing, taking a breajing ball inches out of the strike zone on a 2-2 count, fighting balls off that weren't quite in the right location.

And then instead of reading for five or ten minutes and lying down, as I usually would, I decided to mute the television, read a little longer, and see how quick the Giants' line-up came back around. It was fast enough for me to linger, reading a good novel with my glasses on, looking up every so often to check on things.

I have tickets to see the Giants when they visit PNC Park on Monday, and as Barry slumped and time passed I allowed myself a sliver of hope that he would come to Pittsburgh still at or below 755. But when he tied the record over the weekend, I knew it wouldn't last until the thirteenth. Tonight as Barry came up for the third time, I found myself impatient, knowing in my heart that he would hit 756 this week in San Francisco, as it should be, and preferring it to happen when I could watch live.

And so as the count went to 2-0, then to 2-1 (looking) 2-2 (swinging) and 3-2, Barry then fouling off one, and another, I watched his battle, his focus, and I didn't doubt for a second that he would swing for it with two strikes, as he always does, missing far too rarely for the force and majesty of his swing. His sweet swing.

And he hit it, sky high into cavernous right center field, and what I imagine was an ugly scrum in the stands -- as much at least hinted in the video replay -- ensued.

Perhaps portions of Barry's career have been improperly enhanced by steroids, Human Growth Hormone, or amphetamines. History increasingly teaches us that athletes will do anything to exceed their peers, to reach what they imagine is their peak potential, sacrificing their own safety and their integrity, for the ephemeral incidents of dominance, or simply to push themselves over the hump, to make themselves competitive in a crowd of athletes with greater natural gifts. Barry's case is hardly unusual to the sport, or the person. That we do not know the breadth of the problem, that we may never know, does not entitle us to burden one man with the sins of an entire sports-media complex -- and yes, I impeach the whole establishment, for reasons that may or may not be self-evident, but which in any event are too lengthy to consider now.

If it was true of him, it was true of the pitchers whom he always dominated throughout his career, and if true of them than true as well of the outfielders who chased his flyballs, the infielders who reached balls that might otherwise have slipped under their gloves.

In the past weekend, Alex Rodriquez hit his 500th homerun and Tom Glavine pitched his way to his 300th victory. Earlier this season, Frank Thomas hit his 500th homerun, and that threshold, once itself rather rarefied, came closer to reach, as it will continue to do as the big hitters of the past twenty years, steroid-fueled perhaps; more effectively physically conditioned and video- and computer-aided no doubt; beneficiaries of modern medicine and nutrition, diluted pitching talent, shrunken modern ballparks, maple bats, certainly -- as this class of hitters and those who follow retire.

And what other records coincide with the steroid era? Sosa's and McGwire's three-year epic battle for the homerun title, of course; but so does Ripken's 2157th consecutive game played, several perfect games and myriad no hitters, Clemens' dominant rush past 300 victories, Kerry Wood's twenty strikeouts on a hot day in Chicago -- the Boston Red Sox winning the championship that had eluded them for decades upon decades. What of these will remain, what feats can we recognize justly, if we refuse to honor Barry Bonds' achievement?

None, an entire era ripped from the history books baseball adores like no other sport even begins to emulate, an entire batch of American legends, none more venerated than the sluggers, the men who bat fourth in the order, who can change the complexion of a game, of a season, with one perfect swing.

In order to reach 755 homeruns in a 20-year career, one must average 37.75 home runs per season. Taking into account physical and mental development, injury, external conditions like the ballpark one calls home, the hitters who line up behind you, distracting personal problems, this is an astonishing thought, especially in light of the fact that when I was young and learning to love this game, when Barry was just entering the game to much fanfare in My Adopted Fair City Pittsburgh, gangly and fast and more of a scrapper than a slugger, 40 homeruns was a plateau that no one reached for entire seasons on end, a very different time than the pumped up, power-focused era that has coincided with my majority.

Whatever happened happened; and with or without chemical assistance, Barry would have finished his career honored among the same handful of legendary hitters to whom he is compared now, even mired in suspicion and invective. And isn't it telling that only a few of the loudest and least informed naysayers seriously maintain that he ever was not destined to be one of the great hitters, or deny that this event, this night, was something that fits a pattern of mastery established long before anyone has suggested any impropriety on Bonds' part. Whatever Bonds has chosen to do, he's done.

At home plate, Barry's son, Nikolai, stood alone, waiting for his father, his complicated, standoffish, embattled father, professional teammates at a discrete distance ringing the dirt at home plate. The real celebration, Barry's embrace of his son, his elevated hands and his upturned face, having passed in a few seconds, the for-the-cameras festivities ensued. The sound of fireworks past center field, over McCovey Cove, visible eventually on camera, Willie Mays on the field (whom Bonds gestured toward repeatedly, honoring his Godfather and legendary predecessor, perhaps his better), Aaron on the Jumbotron making the only appearance he was willing to make, but doing so with dignity and grace.

And then one of the announcers put Barry Bond's thoughts, pensive on the bench in the wake of the crowd's loving display, to words: "It's over." Until the next time, when I'll be watching if I'm able.

Thanks, Barry, for the memory.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

More Housekeeping

If you're bored, or if you trust my judgment entirely too much, be sure to visit, in addition to the other sites I link under MoonOverFriends to the left, Big Baby Buckley (baby, sporadic), SteveAndHeather (baby, less sporadic), and, under MoonOverWords, WaxPoetic (not sure yet what this is about, but I'm looking forward to more).



All love is in great part affliction.
--Marilynne Robinson

Bruised, misshapen, piteous, what an extravagant array of flaws describe those last unselected fruit in an emptying bin among the detritus left behind by those selected, desiccated leaves and stems, crushed and oozing victims of the selection process or of their transit to market slouched weeping in a corner.

Passed over, suggesting only by aggregation in isolated undisturbed curves and stretches of incongruous health their betters now exhausted: skin red almost to bleeding, muscular with preserving their vulnerable perfection, the implication of rich aromatic interiors.

And will a hand pause among the remainder, hovering equivocation, to weigh sustenance against displeasure? Will it grasp, gingerly weighing and squeezing, or opt for another ingredient entirely, abandoning premise and conclusion altogether in favor of a fresh argument?

Self-pity's jaundiced murmuring: You dawdled, came too late, will to your bed hungry; or, Softened and pregnable, unpalatable, you are ill with rough handling.

Or another facile metaphor in waiting, perhaps.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Okay, So I'm Here

For now.

A little housekeeping. Just pruned my blogroll a bit, and also added a notable friend of Moon: please note, and please visit, J at the Sound and Light Show.



At the hilltop emerging from the trees,
the sun like a radioactive lozenge
dispels the illness of shade that lent the climb
an illusory chill. Stomach recoiling
from exertion and heat, legs withering --
who would choose this unlikely occasion
to meditate on the nature of things?

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Good Days

On good days he flosses. Sometimes he doesn’t. All of the women he dates are obsessed with their teeth; with them, no perversion is more reluctantly revealed than the secret of his high mediocre oral hygiene. Are all women that way? All women in his demographic? (All women, properly understood, plainly a concept that exceeds his grasp; even being glib has its limitations.) Maybe it’s the bad days that he flosses, neglect signifying, rather than torpor, blissful repudiation of the routine.

On bad days, he imagines there are no stories to tell. To imagine that there are stories yearning to be told, entrusting themselves to his care, these are the good days, a sense of purpose, the supple embrace of purpose like a fine leather coat. Stories are like, well, stories – what could be better than that? What metaphor adequate to elevate such an august referent? Sleep on it, and he does. There’s tomorrow, and the stories are in his care. Or, perhaps it's on good days that he imagines that there are no stories to tell. But there are. He thinks.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

On On Being Blue

All week, I have awaited a package, a slim volume purchased without photo or much in the way of description from an unknown Amazon Marketplace seller, something I stumbled across while looking for something else, a thin treatise by William Gass from 1975, On Being Blue. I now see that the volume remains available here and there, but at Amazon there was only the one instance, at one rare book seller, and armed with only a two-sentence description I was moved to action by the threat implicit in there being only one copy in the entire Amazon community, the volume seemingly out of print.

Since last week, I have waited anxiously -- either for the package to arrive or for the dreaded email that sometimes follows Marketplace orders, indicating that the item is not in stock after all, so sorry. I waited as though for a distant great uncle on his deathbed to pass, a great uncle by marriage, a great uncle I haven't seen in twenty-five years, but one I love in the strong unquestioning way of family, as a good man who once guided me around his several dozen acres in rural Maine, an undersized boy of seven in bright yellow shirt and burgundy trucker's hat emblazoned with the name of my father's then employer.

The uncle passed this weekend in the rural Maine redoubt he discovered with his family like an unmapped Pacific atoll, rest his soul, at ninety-two years old. Still, though, no book.

Then today it came. Ever so gingerly, I opened the battered manila envelope, stiffened by boards inside, my heart racing. Hardcovered and dustjacketed, two slight tears at the top of the front jacket and the cover otherwise remarkably simple, the paper thick and creamy and textured, like a woven variation on a grocery bag, the endpapers similarly rough, copyright information but no date, no indication whether this is a first edition (although it simply must be), the cover page adorned by a perfectly lovely indigo impress: "On Being Blue." On the last page, however, I learn that this was a limited edition -- 3,000 copies of the trade edition, and only 225 of the "de luxe" edition. A perusal of copyright information and bookjacket identified, by ISBN, my edition as one of the 3,000 trade editions. A limited edition, thirty years old, in fair condition -- for a song.

Inside, under a Roman I on the first page, I found these words:

Blue pencils, blue noses, blue movies, laws, blue legs and stockings, the language of birds, bees, and flowers as sung by longshoremen, that lead-like look the skin has when affected by cold, contusion, sickness, fear; the rotten rum or gin they call blue ruin and the blue devils of its delirium; Russian cats and oysters, a withheld or imprisoned breath, the blue they say that diamonds have, deep holes in the ocean and the blazers which English athletes earn that gentlemen may wear; afflictions of the spirit -- dumps, mopes, Mondays -- all that's dismal -- low-down gloomy music, Nova Scotians, cyanosis, hair rinse, bluing, bleach; the rare blue dahlia like that blue moon shrewd things happen only once in, or the call for trumps in whist (but who remembers whist or what the death of unplayed games is like?), and correspondingly the flag, Blue Peter, which is our signal for getting under way; a swift pitch, Confederate money, the shaded slopes of clouds and mountains, and so the constantly increasing absentness of Heaven (ins Blaue hinein, the Germans say), consequently the color of everything that's empty; blue bottles, bank accounts, and compliments, for instance, or, when the sky's turned turtle, the blue-green bleat of ocean (both the same), and, when in Hell, its neatly landscaped rows of concrete huts and gas-blue flames; social registers, examination booklets, blue bloods, balls, and bonnets, beards, coats, collars, chips and cheese . . . the pedantic, indecent and censorious . . . watered twilight, sour sea: through a scrambling of accidents, blue has become their color, just as it's stood for fidelity.

There's more, of course, and I am grateful for it. But I'll stop there, because that, ladies and gentlement, that is what I call a sentence.

An impulse buy in search of inspiration. I don't imagine Gass will start disappointing me now, after all these years.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Creo, Creare, Creavi

For Z, who was kind enough to ask.

I don't have a child; presently, it's fair to be skeptical that I will. Not because that's how I intended it to work out, but because we're most credible when we view the world as it is. But tonight, I found myself wondering what wisdom I would have to impart. I would not be young for a father now -- not old perhaps, but not young -- older, for example, by seven years than my father was when I was born. When my father was the age I am now, I was seven. The mind reels; I digress.

The occasion of my wondering was my attendance at a lovely performance at the Hard Rock Cafe (of all places) by young pianist Jonathan Biss, alongside PSO Artistic Adviser Sir Andrew Davis -- a cesspool of commodified music misery, with the usual menagerie of outstated rock and roll onesies, guitars, platinum records, and the like, punctured to its core by a Steinway baby grand and musicians worthy of better environs. I learned of the performance only this afternoon near quitting time, and despite my other plans and the event's fund-raiser-esque pricetag, despite my lack of suitable clothing, despite my recent penuriousness and my lack of interest in Biss's weekend program of Schumann with the greater PSO, despite my lack of companion (and whom would I ask these days, really), something about the event called to me. I negotiated the best of my business casual and bike attire, lingered at the office past six, and finally unreined my steed and headed over the Smithfield Street Bridge into the stinking brownfield of Station Square.

I was not surprised to find the event relatively uncrowded, and I was only vaguely unsettled when Sir Andrew and Biss walked in like any other attendees, Biss in shirt tails and corduroy and funky hipster sneakers, Davis in tweed and dungarees, and began to mingle with the distinguished guests. I sat at the bar and minded my beer, my rough and tumble bag stowed out of sight along the bar's footrail. Around me was a smattering of older symphony patrons, who speak as though knowledgeable but I wonder (my own ignorance of the classical canon, admittedly, makes me a poor ombudsman, but my suspicions remain), and younger musicians self-possessed and silent. My $40 bought me a ticket good for some specialty drink involving pomegranate that I refused on principle to accept, preferring to pay cash for a good beer, and granted me access to a buffet of cheese cubes and mustard and fruit. These were the refreshments I was promised in the promotional materials. I spoke to no one, straining to find hidden meaning in the thin literature handed me at the door concerning public radio and TV, and listing the program for the evening, which was as follows:

Sonata in c minor, Op. 13, "Pathetique," first movement, Beethoven;

Kreisleriana, Op. 16, second movement, Schumann; and

The Dolly Suite, first and second movement, Faure.

Finally, a WQED DJ explaining that some delay was in order given a disparity between the number of tickets sold and the number of attendees in the house, I wandered to the front row, where an unoccupied seat beckoned. I tucked my bag beneath it, silenced my phone, and waited.

Biss finally emerged, casually, and with little fanfare turned to his labor. His Pathetique seemed sloppy, but in a most forgivable way. If I'm hearing missed notes, and more than a few, surely you're missing, but Biss's touch was light and vigorous and his pacing was merciless. The performance was riveting, Biss so close to my seat I could contemplate the peculiar irregularities in his breathing and the sound of his left foot thrusting to and fro beneath him in rhythm with the music. If anything, the errors merely served to emphasize the singular intimacy of the performance, the humanness of the performer, the wisdom in my decision to attend. By contrast, I am now listening to the same movement as recorded by Richard Goode, whose entire cycle of Beethoven's thirty-two sonatas I am in the process of moving from CD into iTunes, and it has an almost clinical polish to it that is at once admirable and alienating.

Kreisleriana I found less compelling, perhaps for the same reason I was unmoved by the prospect of the Schumann-heavy program associated with Biss's weekend visit to the PSO. I appreciated the discussion about Schumann's torment that the DJ and Biss engaged in before Biss took up the piece, and so educated I appreciated some of what Biss said about the movement's nascent passion, but overall I found myself nonplused.

For Dolly's Suite, Davis joined Biss at the lower register of the piano, and the two engaged in a playful and delightfully well coordinated bit of play, in engaging this piece for children, the second movement of which, I learned, is aptly entitled on some scores, "Meow."

But this isn't about the music, or at least isn't about the particular performance detailed.

I do this sometimes, wander off to things by myself, and I've written about it here before, though I'm too lazy to hunt down an example. For serious art, really, solitude seems necessary to unfettered appreciation. One can't very well immerse oneself in magnificence while chatting with an idle companion, who more often than not is more or less interested than one is in the work presently at issue. Better to disappear into it, into art, leaving everything behind, trusting in one's return but at the same time indifferent. Should I find myself forever imprisoned in any number of Picasso's blue period pieces, would I grieve? Perhaps -- but I'd look good doing so, hanging on a wall at MoMA or the Louvre, eyed hungrily by a multi-ethnic smorgasbord of jealous onlookers: this is me here, and you there -- have fun getting through customs, coaxing your children to eat strained peas, balancing your checkbooks.

Biss is a third generation world-class musician, son to two violinists, grandson to a noted cellist, inheritor of lifetimes' musical wisdom. With that pedigree, that he is an alumni of the prestigious Curtis Institute (Lang Lang among his handful of classmates) seems almost an afterthought.

I have been reading prodigiously of late, prodigiously for me, prodigiously for law school and post-law school me, as though in preparation for something. Fiction, all fiction all the time, until a recent left turn into non-fiction for purposes of research, but even so still in fiction, immersing myself in others' creations, worlds and psyches alien and familiar, constantly leaning into the buffeting caused by demanding an exit, however temporary, from all of this. The trend goes back further, but since Thanksgiving alone, my reading list includes (but is not exhausted by) the following:

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
Ernest Hemingway, The Garden of Eden
Mary McCarthy, Birds of America
Ian McEwan, Atonement
Paul Auster, Oracle Night
Paul Theroux, My Secret History
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Banville, The Sea

In addition, I am currently reading, if reading is the word, Mark Danielewski's Only Revolutions.

This is not to pat myself on the back. I could have read far more in that span, and probably should have. Rather, it is in service of a larger point that I enumerate. I haven't just been reading these books, but scrutinizing them, immersing myself at once in their narratives and their manifestations of craft. I didn't consciously choose to do this; it just happened. My readings, thus oriented, may sound in discussion like those of a critic, an academic, and that is my training. But I am reading differently now. I am all technician these days, never affected by a passage that I don't ask, Why? It's a thrilling way to read, an engagement that makes everything else pale by comparison, but it's instrumental as well.

This development coincides with, or arises from, my growing sense that I ought to be writing. Not writing, in the elementary sense -- I do that every day -- but composing, creating, writing with a real sense of purpose, writing like graffiti, writing like those handful of words you'll never forget, whether you found them in a film, a book, a seminar, or crossing a lover's lips in the darkest hour of night. It's thrilling, this sort of reading, ennervating, terrifying.

Which brings me back to where I began. I don't feel terribly wise, or even as knowledgeable as I'd like. Indeed, I spend a great deal of time feeling inadequate to whatever task presents itself, confident in my competence but entirely unconvinced of my excellence, and unsatisfied with anything less. Nothing is more tragic than a lazy perfectionist.

But I know one thing I would say to my child as often as I might, no matter his age or inclination or peculiar ability, my one grasp at wordly wisdom, my sole excuse for myself. I would say, "Create." Make something new. Create. Create.


If there is a God, a Heaven, a meting out of judgment, surely creation will be valued most high and destruction villified. There's nothing new in this thought, which is surely derivative of any number of sources I might name were I not so weak of memory, but in that, at least, they were right. To create is everything.

And by this I think in larger terms. Snob though I may be, I would not intend that my child should take me to mean that he must create something that would assume a place in this or that canon, only that he create rather than obey, for obedience is not creation, it's survival. I would have my child be proud, and defiant, and undaunted by the thought of the billions who have preceded him, each trying to add something to the human mosaic in one way or another, courageous before the inevitable fear that there is nothing new to add, unwilling to accept mediocrity even if it is -- or precisely because it is -- the rule.

(And then my child, being a child, would sigh and turn on his heel to storm from the room as though I'd insisted that he eat brussels sprouts, but the memory would linger.)

I have been an absentee blogger, and for those who drop by with any sort of regularity I apologize -- not so much for the silence as for the lack of explanation. My dedicated readership may be passing small, but I know you're there, and for all your patience with my erratic maundering you deserve more than implacable silence.

But this is not to announce my return. Rather, this is the explanation I have owed. I have liked a few things I have written here, more than a few perhaps, but the medium does not lend itself to the discipline necessary to the sort of thing I would like to create, at least not in my hands. I lack the patience for revision, here, and it frees me from the complication of sustaining my confidence in the face of creative adversity, which in turn impoverishes the work itself.

I can, in short, do better. And it's about goddamned time.

So I'm retreating to meatspace for the time being, turning my undivided energy to a larger project I hesitate to call a novel but (for want of a better word) might as well, something I've been playing with in my head for quite a while, and toward which I've been researching of late. I don't assume I can do this, that I'm technically adequate to the task or tenacious enough to stay with it for as long as it takes to find out, but I'm so very sick of wondering, of fancying myself something I take for granted but refuse to vindicate in deed.

I won't officially wrap this up, because I'm not convinced it won't serve some purpose as a sort of overflow valve when I've been writing long enough on my own to create some momentum. And those of you who really care for my brand of blather might come back every month or so for a while to see if there's anything new. But this is, if nothing else, a substantial hiatus I'm announcing.

Thank you for reading. Perhaps I'll have something more substantial for you in the distant future. But that's the question when it comes to writing anything with literary pretensions, isn't it -- for how long can one delay gratification before tearing oneself apart, like Van Gogh, like Schumann?

Let's find out, shall we?

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Filler, Alleycat

I sooooo need to bring Susan into the City this Spring / Summer for an afternoon of playing in traffic. I won't be satisfied until I've ridden through Times Square at speed.

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