Apr 25, 2006

7 summer reading recommendations

"Reality needs a prick here and there, the carpet needs a flaw. My words begin plucking at threads nervously, seeking purchase, a weak point, a vulnerable ear....That's when it comes...'Eat me!' I scream."
- Lionel Essrog in Motherless Brooklyn.


1. The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene. Because of the moral struggles of the last priest.

2. Mao II, by Don DeLillo. Because this is an age of terrorists and images.

3. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner. Because from first sentence to final resurrection sermon it may be the most brilliant book I've ever read.

4. Gas Station, by Joseph Torra. Because of it's creative language, anthropological grasp of America, and extremely tight attention to detail.

5. World's End, by T.C. Boyle: Because all of us have accidents with history, run-ins with artifacts, and family ghosts.

6. Seven Types of Ambiguity, by Elliot Perlman. Because our stories never quite line up, and because if hell is other people then so is heaven.

7. Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Letham. Because it's a genre hard-boilded crime noir narrated by someone with Tourette's.

(Meme via Gideon Strauss)

Apr 22, 2006

The gnarl spot

He built perfect tables. He cut the mortis and tenons by hand, a hand holding the unformed wood and a hand holding the flat chisel peeling off paper thin shavings in brown-grained curls. He cut them exactly to the pencil leaded lines and fitted the pieces togehter where they'd slide with a shhhh and stand without wiggle, centered and straight and set at a perfect angle.

He built traditional tables of every tradition. He built the tables of guilds' men from the old world, the tables built for lords and kings and bishops and archbishops. He built the tables of new world craftsmen, the tables of revolutionaries and visionaries and capitalists and landowners. He built thin legged tables and tables with claw feet, he made them with heavy lines and light lines and straight lines and curved ones.

He used a chop saw, a circular saw, a band saw - blowing a power of wood up into the air and floating it there and then down again too in a dusting breathed across the shop. He used a pedal lathe, carbon bit chisels, spoke shaves, and planes straight, skewed and curved, letting shavings feather fall into drifts around his feet.

He'd lay his hand, his right hand, on the surface, lay it falt and let it feel the weight of his arm. He'd get down on his knees so his eyes were at the edge of the top and he'd just look at it, watching the flat expanse and the straight grain. And every table he sanded to perfection. He sanded it to seven degrees. going from rough to softer and softer and finer and finer until the saw marks and clamp marks disappeared and the grain rose up in long running lines running down the length of the table top. The surface shone softly smooth.

For all that though, for all the knowledge and the skill and the patience, what made his tables the best tables, what brought them up from fine craftsmanship to artisanship, up past duplicatable and reproducible prefection, was the ever present knot.

Every table had one. A gnarly knot that left the grain twisting in swirls and ripples. A black mark where once a branch took root in the trunk. It was an eruption, a disruption, a blemish. Amid the perfect lines and high polish there was always left this defiant spot that was never in synch or symmetry or balance or harmony. He could have fixed it, could have picked different boards or made different cuts, but he didn't try to. He left it alone, accepted it as a moment of dissonance, let is stand as his signiture.

Apr 16, 2006

HELL WAS IN AN UPROAR because it was done away with. It was in an uproar because it is mocked. It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated. It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive. Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.... You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
                    - St. John Chrysostom,
                            Constantinople, circa 400 AD

WE WANT AND LOOK for an economic miracle; we want and pray for a medical miracle; we want and demand a political miracle, a social miracle, a personal miracle.... We expect and look for everything except the something more of Christ's Resurrection.
                    - Deacon Braunstein,
                            St. Anselm's Anglican Catholic Church, Sequim WA.

Apr 15, 2006

Daffodil

There are daffodils, smooth and green and lined up along the side of the house. One, among the dozen, has a flower. On the left it's held up like a small clenched fist, grasped closed and waiting to loosen, to open yellow.

I had forgotten that there were daffodils.

Apr 14, 2006

Apr 12, 2006

Forgetting in circles

The man kept his fish in buckets. Oblong corrugated water trough buckets to water the dairy cows, hooked up to pipes from faucets from wells with a little orange floater device on top to keep adding water when the cows kept drinking so the troughs would always stay full. I'd never seen a floater devise like that except for the bulb in the back of a toliet hooked to the chain you'd have to wiggle if the water wouldn't stop, so I thought he'd stolen them out of the back of old toliets. It was the kind of thing he'd have done.

He'd come by in the late afternoon, big red mustache, blue bandana and music too loud from the flatbed, and I'd turn off my radio and walk over through the water-run dirt to let him know what I'd done and how much and he'd say what I needed to do or could do tomorrow. He climb up the wood fence running between the barn and the road, up on on the bottom rung by the faucet, and lean over to the water and feed the fish. There were catfish in there, swiming in circles grey at the bottom of the green water, feeling out the metal edges with their weird fish-scale whiskers.

Yeah, he'd say, I figured out a way to get good cheap fish and never have to fish again. He wouldn't say it every time but he thought it was brilliant so he'd say it a lot and what he'd done was go fishing once, in the river down at the bottom of the road, and then release them again into his troughs. So on a sunny Saturday when he wanted to fry a catfish he'd drive out to a trough and shoo the cows away and grab a couple and go back home and the whole process was quicker than a trip to the grocery store.

His kids kind of missed the fishing, though. Sometimes they'd put on old waders and get out poles and hooks and dig up worms or catch some snails or beg a chicken liver off their mom, and they'd walk down the fence line until they came to bucket they liked and they'd go fishing. They couldn't cast their lines, really, so they just lowered them in, ploped them straight down and then they'd sit there, on the fence or whatever, for a few minutes until a couple of catfish bit and then they'd walk home again, holding them over their shoulders by the gills.

He had trough-fish tanks spaced out all up one side of the interstate. When people drove by in the morning and when they drove back in the evening they'd be blinded by buckets reflecting the sun. They'd put their hands up to block the glare or wear sun glasses and pregnant cows'd look up at them with water dribbling down their lips and the fish would swim and swim in circles.

I don't know that the fish swam around in endless circles, but I imagined them that way. Fish are supposed to have really bad memories so they'd probably forget where they were, every couple of circles, and then get mad all over again. I imagined them as muttering and swearing at the little circle and having their hopes raised when it rained. Sometimes when it rained real hard the water would rise all the way to the metal edge and spill over, down the side in a corrugated wash, but I never saw it rain so much that a fish fell out of its bucket.

Apr 7, 2006

Loser's game

The wall above the urinal was white, reflecting the fluorescent lights in yellow bars in an out-of-focus sheen. Every day it would go grimy, with water marks and palm prints and the fogs of breathing bodies, and every night the janitor would wipe it clean again. He'd mix a pine-sol solution that burned his hand until his skin dried and reddened and cracked around the knuckles, and he'd soak the rag and his hand and run the red rag in circles over the white wall until it was clean again.

In the middle of the white wall, at eye height above the urinal, eye height at least for me at 6' 3'', someone had started a game of tic-tac-toe. They'd scratched the lines with a pen knife or a pin and then went back over them, pushing ink into the tile's wounds. Four lines and nine boxes and in the middle box someone had carved and inked an X.

Someone made the first move in the game on the wall above the urinal, and waited. I don't know how long they've waited, when that first move was made, but they're still waiting. There's an X in the middle and that move is an invitation for a response, for a second move, for a reply. But the X stands alone. There are 255,168 possible moves in a game of tic-tac-toe, but on the white wall on a square tile in the men's room, there's only that one move. It's not a graffittied-up bathroom. The wall is blank but for the lights' reflections and that one move on that one game of tic-tac-toe.

I don't know how long it's been there. I don't know if maybe tomorrow the janitor will wipe it away, mix some stronger solution to work the tattoo out of that tile. But even if it's only been here a week or a day, there must have been scores of men looking at it. Dozens or hundreds passing through the bathroom in the back, the customers and the management and the busboys and the cooks and the waiters. And the janitor. Maybe the janitor has seen it more than anybody and maybe he doesn't wash it out partly because he's waiting to see where the second move will go.

The X is easier to cut, than the O, and maybe no one wants to embarrass themselves with an oblong octagon or diamond. But no one's even tried. All of the eight open squares are clean, empty. Maybe no one wants to lose. No one wants to accept an invitation to a game they can't win. So all of us pee and zip and flush, looking at that game and deciding not to play, not to lay down a mark.

Apr 6, 2006



Once I smacked my head so hard it knocked me down. Somehow, that fixed a problem with my teeth. Once I overdrew my bank account by 73 cents and, somehow, ended up paying $86. Those two stories sum up my luck.

I have been rejected by 3 graduate schools' philosophy programs - DePaul, Memphis, Emory - and the 4th, Oregon, through an error of paperwork that seems absurd, is considering my application for 2007.

I'm embarassed by the rejection. I hate how when I talk to people who think that it's obvious that I can and will go to grad school I will end up explaining & defending the schools' position that I suck. I hate the people who always thought I was stupid, for whatever reason, and how they'll think this proves something and how I think they might be right.

I'm still working on a plan B, the big problem being I can do anything as long as I make enough money to eat and pay loans. I have commitments to no person, place, or thing.

Apr 4, 2006

Caleb Foote, who believed that evil must be opposed by goodwill rather than by violence and who was sentenced to a year and six months inprisionment rather than serve as a noncombatant in WWII, who was a pacifist organizer, who spoke out against the Japanese-American internment camps, and who became a lawyer to defend outcasts, died on March 4 at the age of 88.

May he rest in peace.

Whatever issue the gods happen to be floating

it will be a gamble and the strange thing is that man who is conceived by accident and whose every breath is a fresh cast with dice already loaded against him will not face that final main which he knows before hand he has assuredly to face without essaying expedients ranging all the way from violence to petty chicanery that would not decieve a child until someday in very disgust he risks everything on a single blind turn of a card no man ever does that under the fist fury of despair or remorse or bereavement he does it only when he has realised that even the despair or remorse or berevement is not particularly important to the dark diceman
        - William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

Apr 2, 2006

Graveyard night

Graveyard, n. 1. A burial ground. 2. A place where worn-out or obsolete equipment or objects are kept. 3. The shift of the night between midnight and 8 a.m.

God divided the day and the night. To the day he gave the sun, for light, and he left the night with darkness and the cyclical shinings of the moon's rock reflection.

Men divided the day. They portioned it up into early morning and late morning, noon and afternoon and evening. They put the day into pieces and they named them and traded them and they owned them. But the night they left alone.

The night belonged to no one. It was dark and open. Into the night came the cats and the owls. Into the night came the skunks and raccoons and coyottes. And into the dark and undivided night came the graveyard people, the people who didn't own anything: the students and the criminals and the truckers and the cabbies, waitresses, janitors, cops and drunks, shelf stockers and crazy talkers and people trying to get home. There were names for these people: lunatics, insomniacs and vampires.

They didn't own the night. They didn't know how to own it or what that would mean. They looked out their windows and saw their own faces.

They talked more softly than the day people, trusted their eyes less and listened more closely. They listened for the birds that bark before the morning comes. They had clammy skin and horse voices and sandy eyeballs and when the sun rose to reassert itself and its day, they were watching for it, watching their faces fade from the window.