ebogjonson.com's places archivevarious wheres i have had occasion to be; various people I have had occasion to see; travel and recollections of the highly specific and geospatial
August 28, 2007
from the LA Times:
Houses abandoned to foreclosure are beginning to breed trouble, adding neighbors to the growing ranks of victims.
Stagnant swimming pools spawn mosquitoes, which can carry the potentially deadly West Nile virus. Empty rooms lure squatters and vandals. And brown lawns and dead vegetation are creating eyesores in well-tended neighborhoods.
In Northridge, the house next door to Michael McKenna's was put on the market, sold and then foreclosed on, all in the space of a few months last spring.
With the five-bedroom home now forsaken and deserted, McKenna has been reluctantly cutting the lawn and dumping chemicals in the pool to kill the bugs.
"I resent having to do this," the former studio production manager said. "It's breaking my back."
More than 100 houses a day are being foreclosed on in Southern California, up from 13 a day last year. That's still a relative handful for such a populous area, but even the optimists predict that the problem will soon get much worse. [full story, h/t atrios]
When I was growing up in Queens there was a house on our black that stood abandoned for almost two decades. We dropped the "house" and just called it "the Abandoned," as in "Let's go over to the Abandoned," or: "Where's Mark? He's at the Abandoned with Tommy."
The older boys would break into the Abandoned fairly regularly to drink and smoke cigarettes in the basement, and my generation kept all our pornography in the garage. (t was all hard copy in those days.) I remember that house as a usefully scuzzy freezone on our otherwise solidly and neatly trimmed, middle-middle class block. We told the littler kids that it was haunted, and I made out once with a lanky girl named Melissa who was summer-visiting from the Bronx, this in the tall, wheaty stalks that took over its back yard during the summer. When we stretched out in the weeds we could have been in a prairie for all we knew. The plants dampened the already suburban quiet, and all we could see besides each other was a 360 degree curtain of golden stalks, a ragged swath of blue overhead. My block sat beneath a major approach flightpath into Kennedy Airport, and every few minutes the sky would fill with a low-flying plane tracking the rough north-south orientation of 227th Street. It made Queens feel like a kind of fly-over country.
We were too young to have any real connection to the economic or family dynamics that had kept the Abandoned unoccupied for so long, although I do have a vague recollection that it was owned by someone who was elderly and down South. Our parents, of course, viewed the house as a kind of tumor that could spread in any direction at any moment. The house directly to the south of the Abandoned was a meticulously tended property owned by an elderly, white hold-out couple, and when the husband died there were whispers that his dotty widow wouldn't be able to keep up appearances to the satisfaction of the block's homeowners association. (The worries of first-generation property owners are numerous and complex, and the white folks who had sold our parents their homes let everyone know they figured the block was going to go to the dogs in their absence.) She was completely mad, that old white lady. She once chased me down the block yelling that I had left a pile of rocks in front of her stoop, and she was convinced that the boys on the street were constantly playing elaborate pranks on her. (We were, kind of.) When a stray ball - stick, foot, base or basket - landed in her yard there was a thrill of excitement and terror at the prospect of having to go get it, this because you never knew when she would come barreling out from behind her screen door, shouting your house number out at the top of her lungs. (The elderly white folks on our block didn't know our names, so they referred to us by the house number in our addresses. I was "68", which I always found numerologically significant given that 1968 was the year of my birth.)
The house directly to the north of the Abandoned was the " Monkey Bar House," this because of the elaborate set of monkey bars (!) installed in the back yard. The Monkey Bar House was a small single-story affair that came with its own, built-in aura of parental disrepute, this over how the owners rented it out instead of living there like good, honest people. The block association, being full of folks who had moved to South Queens in order to build equity, was of a mind that that renters and rentals were a step backward on the evolutionary chain, but at kid-level the occupants of the Monkey Bar House could do no wrong as long as they let us use the bars. Jazz drummer Chick Corea had lived there for a spell in the late sixties / early seventies, and although I was too young to overlap with him, the older boys had fond memories of his generosity with monkey-bar access, liked to wax nostalgic about what they interpreted as his druggie, hippie ways. (No one knew he was famous; he was just some guy who played the drums all day instead of going to work.) After Corea a single mother lived in The Monkey Bar House with her two blond daughters. Their names escape me now, but I remember they caused quite a stir on the block, what with their youngish, unattached mom, the way they had traveled up-stream against the current of white flight. The white people on the block were all either old, paranoid refusniks, or they were the Stira boys: Tommy, who was otaku-like in his precise study of 70s and 80s black culture (we used to joke he was the blackest person we'd ever met; he's some kind of Muslim now, I hear) and Paul, who was a legendary hacker before he was even grown. In that mix, the two reedy white girls across the street (their mom smoking on the stoop in hip-huggers!) were first exotic, then (once they'd moved on) legendary as "The Last New White People Ever." It would be 30 years before any new white folks moved onto the block, and those people turned out to not even be real neighbors, being instead some bizarre church group that took over a house for a year in order to store visiting Xtians.
The Abandoned stayed abandoned until the 90s or so, but the whole thing came apart when the house became infested by rats in the early 80s. It was like the house knew Reagan was president, that you could buy crack up on Linden Blvd 6-10 blocks away, that something thick and miasmic had been loosed in the city. Trips into the Abandoned got more infrequent, more violent and illicit. Every now and then strange kids from around the block would infiltrate it through a hole in a back fence, raising the troubling specter of being caught out alone on your own block. Instead of functioning as a boyish resource, the Abandoned started fueling strange, previously unheard of talk about needing to protect ourselves, about needing to teach those bitch motherfuckers from 228 various lessons. Empty movie and record dialogue, really, which had, all the same, jumped right off the screens and turntables and into our mouths. Despite our ritual rehearsal of the lines for fit and appropriateness, nothing bad ever happened to anyone on my tier, but Keith, one of the boys in my younger sister's cohort, was stabbed to death in 1997 on his front stoop, right across the street from the Abandoned. By then it was no longer "the Abandoned," it was Mr. Pete's house. Mr. Pete had bought the place and renovated it, added another floor and made it one of the nicer homes on the block. He was also the one who rushed out into the street that day in 1997 unarmed and waving his hands, chasing the boys who had just murdered Keith away. He must have been asking himself what the hell kind of neighborhood he had moved into.
Nobody lamented the loss of the Abandoned when Mr. Pete bought it, not even the generation of boys directly below mine. Keith's generation was glad to see it go, I think, to see the place filled in by a smiling new neighbor. Their entire lives that house had been nothing but a nest of rats, not one of them had ever lain on their back in its yard and stared up at a sky with a girl, the weeds leaning in protectively around them. I know it's not our fault, but there are times that I feel like me and my friends let those younger kids down. My generation ran around talking a lot of shit on that block, but we had boys 5-10 years older protecting us, letting us round out their teams of touch football. Teaching us to smoke menthols and insisting we settle our differences with each other fair and square, little boxing matches in the middle of the street, with cornermen and shouts of advice, assurances the swelling would go down. But soon after becoming the oldest kids on the block me and mine all either moved or retreated from its life, leaving the care and feeding of its younger denizens to the street itself. I feel like we took all the good and interesting things about growing up in bad old NYC with us. All those stories and eccentrics were gone by the time Keith and his boys hit high school. It's like we'd left them nothing to inherit but the danger.
May 12, 2007
sign of the times
Posted by ebogjonson at 3:32 PM | Permalink
March 17, 2007
thanks for asking!
I just wanted to thank everyone who wrote in ask how my nana was doing. ("Called in" for those of you I trust with my cell number.) The shorthand answer that I've been relying on is "as best can be expected," and, despite its aspects as autopilot, I guess that's as true as anything I could say. Diabetes, three heart attacks (well, one heart attack and two "cardiac episodes"), a non-functioning artery in her gut, a month in the hospital, 89 years working at thankless, largely manual labor on the bottom social rungs on ye olde Planet of the Earths: I should be grateful Saint Anne is just plain alive, in no pain and (relatively) mobile, that she is able to rouse to varied levels of excitement whenever the one-minute-to-the-hour teaser for her favorite re-run comes on. (Monk and any Law & Order show, basically.)
As best as can be expected, like I said.
Me, I'm doing as best as can be expected as well (thanks for asking!) which is to say I'm not exactly sure how I'm doing. First there has been the problem of recovering from the specific, unsettling horror of having spent all of Black History Month 2007 in Kendall, Miami. I mean, I can't really begin to describe how much energy it took for me just to get up to the humid Kendall morning, this given the choking, ground-hugging miasma of family BS and social pollution that hangs the place like a malevolent, soul-stealing fog. H.P Lovecraft's tombstone sez "I AM PROVIDENCE;" and effective description of the terror that is being stuck in Kendall could only be approached by a writer with contemporary Lovecraftian instincts and illnesses, someone who could legibly claim "I AM KENDALL" as his or hers. Calling Kendall a locus of ancient, corporate, mall-ish, suburban, unthinking, bourgie, non-black Hispanic, post-Cuban horror just scratches the surface.
(There is also a whole post to be written in the aftermath of my time in Kendall about the maddening judgment/mis-identification hijinks that occured whenever I encountered certain types of older, conservative Cuban folks, racist Cuban folks in a word, who thought I was some kind of bedredlocked rebel from their lifelong campaign to escape various forms of darkness. This post ain't it, however.)
Part of my problem is that thinking about all this provokes random, largely inexplicable fits of anger in me. The classic feelings of helplessness, as described in the relevant literature. For example, I literally wanted to write above: "AS BEST AS CAN BE EXPECTED, I said. Are you fucking deaf?" I wrote the line in and then deleted it, completely baffled by myself. Grief, no grief; sadness, no sadness; stress, no stress, helpless or helpful: I'm not so much confused by the fact that my head is fucked up (as worst as can be expected?) but by the specific contours the fucked-uppedness takes, as in the above almost-outburst about people not listening. Who could I possibly be yelling at in that highly specific way? Who isn't listening? Who strikes me as akin to deaf? Everyone has been pretty much grand, and those who haven't, well, they acted just as I expected them to, so really: no skin off my nose. So why the rage? I can't get mad at inaction from a god I don't believe in.
Like most everybody I have a hard enough time processing abrupt familial deaths, but the process of taking a slow stroll up to one involves its own series of wild, conflicting confrontations. Last time I posted I was grateful to have made it to Miami in time. Now my unique damage (maybe; incorrectly claiming uniqueness is a bad look for spring) is that I am, well, outraged that she's dying, this because it strikes me as an injustice even with the 89 years and counting. I'm not dwelling on all this in full-on rage, not letting existential anger distort my day-to-day living, but my adolescent science-fictional (luciferian?) impulses remain strong enough that my default thinking about the whole, er, death thing is that it's fundamentally unnecessary.
There are a lot of people I like who view my kind of wants - long life, going to Mars - as irresponsibity akin driving a Hummer, another set who thinks you can't be a card carrying member of the African diaspora without a firm belief in highly specific forms of hoodoo. And that's fine, really: you all can stay behind if you want to. Our conceptual tribe shares a lot of opinions, but self-consciously "responsible," non-science-fictional progressives often tend towards a zero-sum worldview that I reject, a guilt-driven mythology where the good are poor, denied and martyred, while only vampires, racists and thief capitalists live well and long, this at the cost of innocent human lives. Whatever. The way I see it it's always possible to live well and honestly and decently all at the time. Our choice isn't between, say, war for oil and a reduced, but "sustainable" standard of living; it's between making oil companies rich and doing the hard, largely scientific and technical, work of figuring out how to get exactly what you want without killing people or wrecking the environment. So why not try to live forever? Those stem cells aren't people like some claim they are; forever only requires drinking blood in the movies; I promise to remember you if you insist on dying like you were told to.
And despite all that random techno-optimism l am still angry. I guess the thing is that in addition to thinking it'd be great to live forever, I also genuinely don't see any reason not to assume future generations won't get what I want, on average having impressively longer life-spans than we do and making the accident of me riding on the historical-living shortbus akin to being cheated by history. Being one of those people who has always identified with Paradise Lost's Lucifer, I tend chafe whenever I feel forced to make peace with anything that strikes me as random, structural or circumstantial. I want to spit at anyone (especially anyone looking forward to a good 40 more years) who tries to tell me a "mature" reaction to Saint Anne's involuntary, pre-ordained decrepitude involves bending the knee to something as dumb as a number. (89 in this case.) I want to shout at people who think there is something greedy about wanting to live. I'm not really interested in the number unless it adds up for me, which is why I tend to want fourth, fifth and sixth opinions, why I think NYC beats LA because the last call is later/bigger. I'm perfectly willing to keep rolling the dice, keep seeing the doctors, keep refactoring the parameters until something gets fixed or something runs out - money, time, life. I wouldn' t want to bankrupt my kids or my neighbors to pay for my medical care, but if I already have a wad why not peel some off and toss it at the doctors? (Which is another way of saying: we haven't come within a mile of being financially burdened by Saint Anne's care. All we've risked so far is our comfort, and yet everyone is making peace with the idea that her fate is sealed. She's 89, you know. She's doing as well as can be expected.)
And don't get me wrong: I'm also completely down for accepting/defying the death sentence by throwing a party. There is a blog meme out that has involved asking the classic "what would you do if you had six months to live" question, and me, I would go sit on a beach (Lamu?) and read, get high, surf the web, play videogames, eat shellfish, do some writing and (Sweet Lord Jesus willing!) get laid pretty and plenty. You can join me or you can collect my corpse when it's time if you feel so inclined, or you can let it float out to sea, not my problem, I'm dying so I'm kind of focused on myself these days, sorry.
(Although, if you were able to collect my head, I would greatly appreciate it, as I'd like to have my brain frozen on the off chance that it can be reanimated at a later date. Thanks!)
I asked Saint Anne what she most desperately wanted to do when she got home and when she said "change into my own clothes," I have to shamefacedly admit I was disappointed in her, angry even. When it became obvious during Black History Month that she was going to survive, part of me fantasized that she'd jump up from her hospital bed and take up roller-skating or something, that having hit a kind of rock bottom she would now bounce, that some long unresolved, lifelong desire would come into focus and that she'd get her GED, see the pyramids (I'll push the wheelchair), do yoga, learn how to make the perfect soufflé - who can say for sure but her? Just something. Instead, she walked through and out of the shadow of the valley of death in order to watch re-runs and sleep in Kendall (aforementioned hell-on-earth Kendall!), every day receding just a bit more from us, her body and mind failing in tiny stages.
I know it's not her fault. She's just too tired to take up roller-skating, too beaten down by the facts and the numbers. (Let's not even get into a month on your back in a hospital in Kendall.) When Saint Anne was 88 she walked, talked and carried herself like a 65 year-old, but one year later time has finally caught up with her. Now she seems like what I imagine 89 should seem like: her movements are tentative, she uses a walker. She sleeps half the day and even though her lassitude alarms me, the second and third medical opinions (my mother is of a mind that fourth and fifth opinions are selfish and extravagant) view her decline as natural. It's not as a form of theft, I'm told, it's the inevitable end to a sort of bonus ++ period of sprightly-ness, Saint Anne's strength up to now an overtime that the universe had gifted her with and that had now expired. Turn that frown upside-down, little one, is what they are saying. To every season, turn turn, etc.
My sense that she has suddenly, abruptly declined hinges on the fact that I only knew and believed what I could see about her health. Saint Anne only seemed like a 65 year old when she was 88, she only looked that way to a me stuck there observing with mere human eyes, an amateur's mind assessing the situation without the aid of a medical degree or advanced diagnostic equipment. All these years that I've been smiling at her with such smug paternalism, marveling at how black really didn't crack, at how fresh and young she persisted in being while I (me!) was getting disturbingly older, there beneath the surface something was slowly unraveling, failing, running out, waiting for 89 to blow up in our faces.
Maybe if I'd had eyes capable of seeing beneath surfaces, see down to the unraveling in real time, she'd still be looking like a 65 year old. When I was in Miami I was in her hospital room late one night when a technician came in with a fancy sonogram machine to check for blood clots in her legs. (This was early on when no one knew what the fuck was happening.) I stared over his shoulder as the machine peered into her and for the first time in my life I desperately wished I'd become a doctor the way my parents had wanted me to, because if I had I'd be able to read the sonogram and maybe help save her life.
(That said, I don't think a hypothetical "Dr. Me" would have been able to save my father's life, Dad being the Thomasian sort who only trusted the results of his own experiments. He got himself killed when he ignored his doctor's orders and started tinkering with his heart medication dosage, this because of some advice he'd picked up on Google. Not likely he would have taken my medical advice or aid, but there are timeline paradoxes aplenty there: he wouldn't have taken my advice, but Dr. Me's? Dr. Son He Alway Wanted? Hmm...)
When I asked the sonogram tech what the results where he told me that a doctor would have to read it, which really made me want to weep with frustration. Like my father I have a hard time trusting in anyone's competence, starting with god and my parents and going right down the list. It's complete hubris, I know, a real pain if you have to work with me, but my core belief has always been that if I want something done right I really need to do it myself, forget prayer or parents or co-workers or Saint Anne's doctors or any of it. Forget even myself as currently constructed, by which I mean screw getting that medical degree I mentioned earlier. What I really need is the as-yet-unmade ebog of the future. The post-singularity, more-better one with X-rays eyes and six robot arms, each limb a surgical tool, or a drug factory, or a medical tricorder, maybe a mechanism for the delivery of healing nanomachines. That guy even has a seventh arm with a spike at the end that (this is going to pinch a little!) goes in at the base of the spine and allows for full sensorium, networked VR, the better for him and Saint Anne to spend all day at the beach in Lamu, for him to help her with her GED homework, to make that perfect soufflé. He would hold her gently in those robot arms and she'd live forever, which would make him feel useful and proud. He'd think: it really is just the least I can for the woman who raised me, who wiped my bottom. They would not live in Kendall.
But I don't have the time or the resources to be that guy, so instead I guess I'll have bend the knee afterall, say thanks and goodbye, Saint Anne, make soothing, cooing sounds at her like a good little mammal, like the word-less, animal sound was some kind of appropriate exit music. It really makes me want to scream.
February 16, 2007
I guess it really is Miami
While I was on the phone outside Saint Anne's hospital, these two ladies nonchalantly performed what I am assuming was a santeria ritual, this between chatting with various passers-by and yelling at a gangly grandson/nephew. (Young dude was both sulky and fascinated by their magicks.) The steps of the ritual as I saw them included (in order):
pulling a cigar out of a materials pouch and giving it to the kid to light (is this like letting him lick the batter bowl when making a cake?), pulling out an egg (hard boiled?), blowing smoke on said egg and absently saying a few words, pulling out a bottle of clear liquid and sucking some of that liquid into your mouth (holy water?), blowing a big spray-y raspberry onto the egg using said clear liquid, putting the egg into egg-sized burlap sack, saying a few absent words over the sack and putting the whole in your purse.
The ladies struck me as generally under-enthused about their ritual and largely unconcerned about their privacy, maybe becuase they were just preparing mats (that's enchanting materials for those of you who don't play WoW) for later use. The kid was completely kid-like: his antennae waving curiously even as he was annoyed at being stuck with the old ladies.
I paused for a few moments while taking and uploading the above image to consider whether I was violating these women's privacy and decided, yes, maybe and "oh well." On the one had they were just chilling out in the open and could have easily found a more secluded spot, so I don't think they cared who saw what. On the other hand, I doubt the possibility of being recorded and mass-distributed on the internet tubes factored into their thinking
(The worst possibility, of course, is that photography nullifies the magic, which means I might have - gulp! - just kilt somebody!)
Someone suggested to me that I was courting a certain kind of wrath with these ladies but I will take my chances. When I would get my hair cut as a kid Saint Anne would grow mysteriously vibrational with concern, something that I have always attributed to her fear that all that discarded hair could be put to nefarious use against me. She grew up in the hills overlooking Port-au-Prince during the 1940s; I figure (or is that "I like to imagine"?) she knows a few defensive tricks and buffs of her own.
February 2, 2007
so I guess i'm back
hey, friend. Nice to see you again. I figure I need to get this "where I was" post out of the way before I can to move on to other business, so I'd like to tell you about a few things that happened to me last year. But first:
1 - Happy Black History Month. You know, writing about BHM just doesn't offer the same zip now that I no longer work in corporate media. Go figure.
1.5 - I was just watching a tivo of The Stephen Colbert Show, and he was going on about how we need a Black Future Month. I actually tried that back when I was running BlackPlanet.com and it didn't catch on, but maybe the white dude will have better luck.
2 - So one way to think about what I was doing for all of Decemember 2006 is this:
And then back again.
3 - Like I somehow managed to say earlier, I took pictures while I was away.
4 - According to my traffic logs from December, people seem to have been mostly interested in my blackface chart. The advice that white people are advised not to fuck around with the blackface seems to be the sort of gift that just keeps on giving.
5 - rips james brown, rips Uncle Tony. rips Molly Ivins.
(I feel like I am missing another December-January draftee into the army of the dead.)
But I have this to-do list in my Treo about a Haiti documentary that I'm always planning to get working on (someday), and one of the items is "talk to Uncle Tony." I'm sorry I was late; I know you would have had great, amazing things to say.
6 - I technically got back from Kenya about a week or so [ebog note: I wrote that, like, three weeks ago, this before I had fully grokked to how broked my blog was.] It's been hard readjusting to the US and also kind of a weird explaining exactly what I was doing for most of December. The short answer is that I was attending a meeting called "Spreading the Words," which took place place in the shadow of the Kenyan edition of Summer Literary Seminar. My particular set'o'meetings concerned an international collective/publishing alliance being assembled by a globe-trotting set of literary magazines, one of them being our hosts at Kenya's Kwani. (There were a bunch of other folks there as well, but considering that the proposed collective will involve some tinkering with things like member-mags' contributor contracts, I don't want to put any editor's business in the street prematurely. But it was a pretty sweet set of people, places and literary magazines. )
The three threads weaving all the participants together are Mike Vazquez (of, among other things, Transition fame), Kwani's Binyavanga Wainana, and writer/copyright expert/man-about-town Achal Prabhala. Between the three of them they have edited, contributed to, written for, or are buds with all the mags/editors involved. But, as Achal often pointed out, their web of activity and connection is invisible to the, like, web (i.e., Google) because none of these publications maintain kitted-out web archives or (in some cases) even websites. Achal is, for example, a rather nicely published gent, but because he works in a particular zone google doesn't reflect the full extent of his wonderfulness.
My role in the meet was (quasi-obviously) related to the web issues, and moving forward I'm going to be building out a set of templatized, web-based content management and archiving tools for use by collective members. The content management part will involve some heavy lifting, as will be wrangling and digitizing everyone's back issues, but the part I am most looking forward to thinking about is the collective's e-commerce engine. Not every credit card issued by a sub-Saharan African bank works online or outside the region, so I'm going to spend some time communing with some microcredit folks who are doing some nifty things with SMS transfers. (So, for example, we could imagine a Kenyan subscribing to Kwani or paying for a back issue using their phone.)
Under Mike V's direction the collective is also going to create an online magazine that will produce new, web-only content, as well as re-publish/re-contextualize old edit from the participant journals. (Given the participants, this is always timeless and worth re-reading.) Lastly, we are thinking the site should be able to do the standard stupid-smart internet tricks, like provide group blogging functionality for the editors (something along the lines of HuffPost for non-celebs), as or online community for readers, fans, writers and the like. Maybe a writer's workshop or a hard-copy best-of anthology. We'll see.
Our meetings went pretty well and some cash has been ponied-up by funders for us to kick the project around for a few months, this before building something that will (hopefully!) be live by the end of '07. In addition to the proverbial income coming in, the gig will also have me travelling back to various parts of the Continent (African, that is) as well as to India, not to mention NYC and SF to meet with folks involved in US indie media projects. Not bad work if you can get it.
7 - Between all of this I started playing WoW somewhere along the way. You can likely guess what my name is there and I'm on Darlaran. (Don't make me kill you.) I am kind of against Second Life for obvious reasons that will nonetheless be re-iterated (by me) in a forthcoming issue of Bidoun. That said, I am buying some SL property nonetheless, just for kicks and also because I have a wackjob art project that I have been thinking through that will need a virtual house.
Conceptual art really is the is the last refuge of a scoundrel, huh?
8 - While away I very happily discovered a band called Mahogany, whose video for Supervitesse is depicted below.
(Thanks for the intro, Mike! And get a fucking blog already so that I can link to you.)
I also could not get the following snippet from Kool Keith's I Don't Play out of my head:
Yo, what are you doin lookin in my closet? Why are you tryin to try on my sneakers? Stop lookin around in my kitchen That's right it's Honeycomb up there, raviolis Everything a regular man eats I'm not the Elephant Man, whassup?
I'm not quite sure why, but those were the songs of the summer... In my mind... In December.
9 - The other thing I did in Kenya is that I went to an island called Lamu. Although I claim to be having a hard time describing my experience there, in point of fact I actually did manage to write a few emails about Lamu, and have mashed those emails into the one below:
hey! Happy new years, X-mas and associated jazz :)
The trip was pretty sweet. First I went to a conference in Nairobi which ended up with me and Mike getting some money from the [redacted] and the [redacted] to build a website for a group of literary magazines in the US, UK, sub-Saharan Africa and India. We're going to go to Bangalore in june for a coupla months to build the site and the cash should see me through 2007, which is both hot and relieving.
After the conference though I went to a fairly mind-blowing Kenyan island called Lamu, which floats on the Indian Ocean south of the Somali border. It's a Swahili sailing town: old stone buildings and narrow streets and no cars, just boats anddonkeys and donkey shit that comes in different colors and textures depending on what they've been eating. Half the women wear headgarb and the men sail and fish all day. When the wind dies down dudes either pull out outboard motors or fry fish on the boat. They smoke weed and chew chat and drink sweet tea until the wind returns. Completely idyllic and amazing and exactly what I would do on the 405 during traffic if it made sense.
We went on a 2 night sail to some of the outlying islands, an experience that kind of made me want to stay forever. Warm water with phosphorescence in it and strong winds conspired to take us to isolated towns that get visitors maybe once a year. We visited Siu, which once fought a war against the Portugesese, and we walked into the Tomb of the Last Sufi Saint, which is pretty much like saying I was in fucking Raiders of the Lost Ark only without the nightmare colonialism and racism, just once holy ruins protected by local people eager to tell you about the great, curious history of their town. Towns like Siu (where the Tomb is) are poor but green and clean, and they are full of thoughtful people trying to navigate the ever-combined problem of the present and the past, this without resorting to the usual bullshit about poor, downtrodden tradition or easy fundamentalism. Those folks were powerfully, genuinely generous, feeding us and talking us through their lives and towns. (The imprint of contact with South Asia is all over the place, but it was especially strong in the teas, samosas and breads we ate on those islands.) Saying everyone we met was beautiful and proud and charming and funny does not do justice to any of them.
Besides sightseeing and talking we went looking for a game cock for one of our hosts, so I spent a few hours checking out completely freaky roosters that look and act exactly like what I imagine dinosaurs looked and acted like. (Apparently those islands are famous for champion chicken bloodlines.) A good gamecock is 2 1/2 or so feet tall and will pretty much come right up to you, absolutely fearless. From what I understand they don't fight them to the death (relax, all you animal people, the market is your friend here: the owners are strapped for $ and a noted winner can fetch 200+ US). The audience and the two owners declare a winner long before anyone gets too fucked up. There's no particular shame in losing as the feeling is that a rooster can always get lucky tomorrow, but if your cock outright runs away from an opponent that's considered the worst thing EVER and you have to kill the cowardly little shit yourself right then and there, this to keep those bad genes from going back into circulation. (All this is, of course, under-substantiated, hearsay ethnography. I asked someone the last time a cock ran away from a fight and he claimed he couldn't remember any local birds running but swore that the roosters from the next island were straight up, well, chicken.)
They practice a (relatively) open, live-and-let-live strain of Islam in the area, so on top of every other inneresting thing there were moments that the big town on Lamu seemed gayer than Christopher Street. At any given moment there are a fair number of comely eurotrash ladies about (over-fit, over-tanned, fortysomething Germans mostly, their noses open to the various local excitements) so the place is also crawling with bedredlocked "beach boys" who act as tour guides, day-trip boat crew, drug dealers, porters, gigolos and good will/ good vibe ambassadors. (Think Heading South transposed from Haiti.) Because it's a veil-wearing town 3/4 of the the local women are locked up after dark (likely chained to radiators by the local, islamic version of Sam Jackson), and when the foreigners run thin the beach boys find other ways to amuse themselves, like (no joke!) running around in full, trad female garb and staging fire-dance shows in banana-hammock speedos and hugging up on each other and giggling. (From what I could see the region also seems to produce - or is that attract? - highly "passable" trannies, all of whom were with thugged-out/hip hoppish white brits for some reason. Banjie realness indeed.)
(But it all really just went to show that horny young men, when left to their own devices for long enough, invariably do get around to doing the hoo-haa on each another, this even in zones that one might have otherwise have considered congenitally homophobic. I mean, was is was like a happy-friendly, rape-free remake of Oz up in that piece after the last german matron had gone to her rest.)
The truly awful and disturbing and unfortunate thing about the beach boys wasn't their polymorphous perversity, but the fact that they will yell "HEY MON!" 30 times a day at you if you look in the slightest like a kindred spirit. Walking down Lamu's one, narrow main street was like walking through a drunken frat-house, what with all the "RESPECT!! JAH RASTAFARI! BOB MARLEY!" shouts I had to endure because of my locks. Dudes there all style themselves stoner philosopher/seekers, so during prime hustling hours I couldn't get five meters without having to stop and engage each and every man-whore sporting wormy baby dreads, this partially as a set-up to some kind of pitch (weed? boat? tourist kitsch? ass?), but also partially because dudes were engaged in a completely sincere (albeit dippy) quest for spiritual fraternity. (Just because you service white women for a living does not mean you are without your higher inclinations.)
Most of the beach boys were barely older than my oldest lock, so I found myself immediately installed as a kind of visiting, greybearded dignitary owing to the length of my hair - 16 years worth?! My dreds were misread by the locals as some proof of my virtue and dedication, this when the reasons behind my seeming stick-to-itiveness are significantly baser. (Vanity? Social power? Laziness? Fuck-you-ery? Peacockery?) I was initially humbled by my installation as (as one of my traveling companions put it) the dread king of Lamu, but soon all that power went to my, er, head, especially once it became apparent that the bulk of those kids had picked up their affectations from the same VHS copy of Cool Runnings. I forced myself to try to find genuine responses to low-grade quips like "A friend with weed is a friend indeed!" for about three days before giving up, settling into an unresponsive, surly and downright American zone of non-interaction that likely severely tarnished my halo. Oh well. You can't please all of the beach boys all of the time.
The actual king of the beach boys is a super-skinny, expat-black-Brit named, uh, [completely insane fake name redacted; but seriously! imagine he was named "beelzebub!"]. From what I was able to gather [redacted] was some kind of (wait for it!) cultural studies graduate student (!) back in the UK who came to the region to do field work and never left. More recently he impregnated the buxom [white] manager of the [redacted] and has thus been able to secure his position as beach boy king through his high ranking, semi-offical/familial connection to the island's tourist infrastructure, this as opposed to having won a Sweet Sweee(ee?)eetback type fuck-off involving dozens of German tourists.
[Redacted] talks like Tricky and is touted as the best best dj from there to Zanzibar, but when I finally heard him spin he played a completely crap set - basically some Time Life Music GOA Tribal Trance mix CDs from 1994. I told [redacted] that if he chucked it all and moved to Lamu with his records he would own the island's social scene in a year, tops, although I can imagine the beach boys and the tourists might resist his troubling newness. We went to a super-lovely beach bar/resort called Diamond Beach which is run by two hottish stoner white-girll British expats whose taste in music seems confined to the kind of chillout electronica CD you might buy at Starbucks. When we were floating in the warm water off Diamond Beach, glowing plankton trailig our movement, a canopy of stars above, Mike and I had to admit that maybe the place actually needs bad music as a kind of safety mechanism. If, say, this dude had started spinning that night, I very well could have ecstatically blown a mental fuse and drowned, which would have obviously bitten. Needless to say, Mike and I are planning to do the same trip next year and are already planning to host a party (maybe on Diamond Beach?) so we'll see what happens.
that's all I can think of for now, except that I was bitten by a sailing bug in Lamu and am investigating a sailing class in LA. There is something fairly primal and soothing about wind power, the way it's silent and tactile all at the same time. It's a shame that sailing has previously been owned in my mind by rich men and the proprieters of slave ships and I'd like to reclaim it if possible. I have been told on numerous occasions that my father loved sailing off the coast of Haiti and that as a boy he had a little boat that he went out on whenever he could. Exile in America erased that part of him and out on the boat I wondered how many of my thoughts were original and mine and how many of them were things my father had thought and that I was re-enacting/channelling. Getting back on a sailboat seems the best way to figure it out.
I also need to go swimming more at the pool at the Y. I went swimming in deep water for the first time in my life on Lamu, so I can no longer go around telling that story I tell all the time about how "my people are island people, but my silly immigrant parents forgot to teach me how to swim!" (Silly immigrant parents!) It turns out that I can swim fine, or at least I'm competent at not drowning in extra bouyant salt water. Next up: swimming 20 yards without feeling completely winded.
Omigod, while I was there I met Kenyan painter Richard Onyango who is the most amazing human I have met in forever. In the picture above he is re-enacting the scene painted below, wherein the great love of his life - a 300 pound Italian woman named Drossie (!) who kept him as a semi-willing sex slave when he was 16 (!!) - dressed him up in a boys lacrosse uniform (!!!) and asked him to "do the exercises with her, yes?" (!!!!) What I am trying to say is that Richard paints completely batty (yet compelling) erotic, interracial, BBW-themed, autobiographical paintings. He is supposedly coming to LA soon at the behest of some or another snarky curator to paint the world's fattest woman and I am desperately trying to be his driver while he is here.
11 - But the really funny thing is that I spent a whole, powerfully gratifying month there and yet I never really felt any particularly powerful urge to permanently decamp to Lamu or Kenya. Don't get me wrong: I desperately want to go back ASAP, but move there? Not really. All my unleashed, native-going urges were curiously being reflected by Kenya back across the Atlantic towards Haiti, a place with which I have a more immediate "going native" relations, fantasy and otherwise. You see, getting off the plane in Nairobi, and feeling dizzy with all the first-time-on-African-continent pyschodramas, I found myself most floored by how, well, good Nairobi smelled, this in comparison to the wave of stink that greets you when you get off the plane in Port-au-Prince. As educated as I am, as much as I have read and written and watched, I realized that my entire thinking life I've been putting a false frame around "Africa," a frame that, while not quite the stuff of racist media fantasy, is nonetheless literally foreign to any given African nation I might have been thinking about at any given moment. Which is really a way of saying "same racist diff," as projecting memories of the most fucked up (and most heroic) black place in the Western Hemisphere on Kenya or Senegal or South Africa or wherever is pretty much the same as erasing them.
But the trip did make me realize that I desperately need to go spend a year or two as an adult in Haiti. All my memories of the place are a child's memories. Who can say for sure if I really know what I think I know?
And that's that.
January 10, 2007
los angeles lagos mexico city
Caryn writes in art.blogging.la:
One of the complaints I hear most about Los Angeles is the fact that it's "spread out." I've often used this complaint myself, especially on my drive home every night, and it's one of the reasons why I created this blog - to cohere the vast sprawl of the LA art scene. However during a September panel discussion I did at Gallery 825 when I was hearing this complaint voiced loudly as a major negative, I suddenly realized that what I thought was a detriment to LA was, in fact, one of the things I love most about this city.
What this sprawl does, besides annoy you in traffic, is allow diversity to reign supreme in Los Angeles - one can experience many different Los Angeleses including sub-scenes of music, fashion, art, food, and business. Chinatown offers a different art variety than Culver City and it goes on down the line. Our sprawl of art schools and museums, from the Getty to Orange County Museum of Art and everything in-between, is actually what makes the art here so exciting and so very different from any other city in the U.S. I mean, isn't there a reason why we "Los Angeles" is synonymous with "Southern California?" You can't put your finger on what's going on here and, granted it's not all good but it's still quite fantastic.
This is, of course, the American way of saying that LA is the US city that most echoes the emerging global standard for urban areas. When I was in Nairobi I kept thinking that if I closed my eyes, abstracted out the people and blinked quickly I could be in LA, or any other warm weather megacity.
September 11, 2006
September 11, 2001 (NYC)
I don't really have anything to say about 9/11 except that it was the one of the weirdest, most terrifying days of my life. I was living with a girlfriend I had recently broken up with (long, ugly story) and even as we were able to come together to get through the day, I spent 9/11 completely out of my head, cycling manically between fear, feelings of warm, encompassing forgiveness for my ex, and desperate prayers to god to please, please not let me die with that awful, despicable woman, don't let her be the last thing I ever see.
We were living in Brooklyn so we watched the whole thing on television or from a hill in Fort Green Park. My ex-girlfriend had a daughter and after the towers had fallen we decided to take her to the park. My ex was British and I attributed her desire to get out of the house to some gene acquired during the Blitz, some specific impulse to live one's life as one pleased when under horrific aerial assault. For a few minutes we were the only people outside. I felt a twinge of worry, a pang of social inappropriateness. Were we doing something wrong by laying a blanket out and reading to Joy while the world was coming down around us? A few minutes later the park was full of people talking, walking, crying and sitting. We hadn't been wrong at all, just a little early.
Even though we were both New Yorkers (me by birth and she by choice) and had been to the World Trade Center a dozen times, we didn't fully grasp the scale of what had happened until we went to the park and saw the plume of smoke with our own eyes. It was immense, it arced into the sky like a solid thing with structure and design as opposed to something insubstantial and windblown. Just before a friend called to urge us to put wet towels under our doors and to tape our windows against toxic fallout we had started to wonder if we could smell - what? A fire? Dust? Death? We went home, got lost in the details of making life as normal as possible for my ex's daughter. We joked about escaping to my family's in Haiti if civilization collapsed, and in darker moments I imagined, terrible, insane, selfish things, like taking Joy with me to safety and leaving her mother to just deserts - eaten by mutants, perhaps. I also imagined the two of us being bound together forever despite our mutual antipathy by the exigencies of post 9/11 parenting survival, and once or twice I imagined falling back in love, 9/11 transforming everything right down to the unstable molecules of our relationship. What happened instead is that we watched the news and a week later we took tentative steps back into the world. We did not have 9/11 sex. We retired to our separate bedrooms after Joy was asleep every night, our great ugly war temporarily in a state of externally imposed truce. We lay awake all night, vigilant, listening, alone.
I kept telling myself that I had escaped the worst of it, all of it really, until I had to take a subway for the first time. I was surprised to find I was terrified, that I could barely breathe. As I stood there pressed up against some or another stranger I stared at my feet trying to hold it together and stealing glances at the faces around me. I was looking at other people's eyes in hopes of being reassured by something there and what I mostly found were reflections. People were discretely looking at me, at everyone, all of us looking to be held down, looking for help in the suddenly pressing, endless work of maintaining our sanity, the work of not running screaming out onto the street at the next station. Even though it stood to reason it was strange and unexpected to discover that we all felt the same way. It was even stranger and more unexpected to realize we were all participating in the creation of a new class of American experience, something to do with inexplicably large horror and small, personal fear, with resolve and the willingness to share our literal vulnerability with our neighbors. In those first few days there was no one for us to kill in hopes of feeling any better, there was nothing for those most directly affected to do except survive and clean up, rebuild. To do the little things we did as a matter of course: go to work, go to school, sit in the park in the shade of a great cloud that may or may not be laced with death, reading to our children.
And that's it, really. It goes without saying that I believe that if the rest of the United States was like New York City we would not find ourselves in the predicament that we now face in Iraq, in Afghanistan, anywhere really. New York City is admittedly a liberal town, but I don't think it's a simple accident of place and political temperament that has the bulk of New Yorkers failing to see the relationship between what happened to them that day and the things our government and our countrymen have since done and said in the name of our unique losses. It's New York City; even as every passing year erases the array of textures and differences that make this far-flung nation unique, New Yorkers persist in living and understanding things a bit differently than our neighbors do, up to and including remembering what happened on September 11, 2001.
Posted by ebogjonson at 2:07 PM | Permalink
September 4, 2006
my father's house; mine once upon a time
Pictures taken at my father's house before we sold it in 2003. Happy Birthday, Dad. A flickr slideshow
August 3, 2006
biohazards in my lawn
JeepBastard a.k.a. John Lee has this bit up of 90s Brooklyn nostalgia up:
I can't possibly answer all the questions that this raises, but I was there and live through it. Ask anyone from Fort Greene who was here before the gentrification and they will tell you about the painful blood curdling screams that erupted every night from 80 Hanson Place, echoing down to 4th Avenue on a quiet night. Was Brooklyn home to a BioWarfare Lab? [full story]
I actually lived around the block from 80 Hanson Place on South Elliot Place for most of the early 90s, and I remember that stretch of block as always having a particularly odd vibe to it. John's posting recalls a day (what year?) when Hanson was blocked off on both ends by the cops, the better for some mysterious hazmat/biohazard/bomb squad hijinks to ensue. I don't recall this particular incident (not home? too high?) but the picture below could have been taken from my roof (provided, of course, that my brownstone was 10 stories taller.)
Wikipedia describes 80 Hanson as "a state facility for testing cocain abuse on rhesus monkeys," and although John is thinking outbreak the photos could also depict a bomb squad responding to some or another threat phoned in by an animal rights org.
The whole things does make me wonder about the garbage, though. A door or so down from 80 Hanson was a boarded up wreck inhabited (I thought) by various homeless, addicts and morlocks, and I wonder if they ever went dumpster-diving in the likely super-hazardous goop/refuse produced by 80 Hanson.
(What I'm really asking, is: If one were to eat or roast or somehow smoke the corpse of a crackhead rhesus, does one get high? Only Tony the King of the Fort Greene crackheads knows for sure.)
Posted by ebogjonson at 5:05 PM | Permalink
July 9, 2006
499 coffeeshops to go before I sleep
This is the view from Joffrey's Coffee Co in Kendall/Miami. My mom lives hereabouts and Joffrey's is one of the only places nearby that has free wireless, the local Borders and Starbuck's being the kind of places that force you into bed with T-Mobile.
I can't get a damn thing done here. It's quiet and there is food and the ladies behind the counter favor completely chilled out Kruder & Dorfmeister-type remixes but I can't stay focused on the work I came here to do. It's the wifi. There is always an escape hatch ready for me to jump through. But what am I running from? I want to be doing this writing, don't I?
Posted by ebogjonson at 2:58 PM | Permalink
LAX > BWI > JFK > BOS > JFK > MIA > LAX
I'm on the road a bit these days. Went to a very lovely wedding, among other things.
Posted by ebogjonson at 1:50 PM | Permalink
May 15, 2006
what i learned in las vegas
Apologies about the postus interruptus but I was in Las Vegas, NV last week attending an honest-to-gosh bachelor party. I don't have much to report re: the festivities, but I will share that as I drove home I was struck by the number of people that seemed to be living year-round in scorched middles of nowhere off the 15 in NV. (Even google has trouble fathoming them.)
My upbringing in the temperate zones of NYC makes it highly unlikely that I'll ever intuit what motivates a body to park a trailer home within hissing distance of the Mojave. Basic housekeeping in such a context becomes (to me) an indication of perverse stubborness, flash baking newly washed linens on clothes-lines in 105 degree sun, for example, only legible to me as a form of self-abuse. It just seems insane (or maybe a kind of dishonest) to expect a bed made with such sheets to afford one any restful or cooling sleep, ever.
The more trailers I saw (not to mention the three or so actual townlets), the more convinced I became that people who willingly live in such places must be in the grip of powerful, overriding fictions. It has to be fiction; the region's facts - the killing heat, the fickle indifference of traffic and tourist dollars, the dead zone half-lives of war games and proving grounds - strike me as signature drivers of depopulation, mental lightening bolts that only power the abrupt conviction that one needs to get the hell out of Dodge with a quickness. I try to think of what might counter-balance those facts as I drive - i.e., what might make me move to such a desert - and I'm not a mile in before I not so much give up as recoil. I am literally unable to believe it, and that, of course, is the whole game. I mean, I'd just spent several days enthusiastically teasing underlying, largely self-serving facts from every spin of the wheel, spying kernels of the genuine in every cash-related kindness or bought simulation of intimacy. I'm up, I'm down, I really am her most favorite customer ever. So who am I kidding? I obviously not only know exactly what it's like to tell oneself that the heat isn't as bad as folks make out, but I also know how to then make it so via the telling.
...[M]ost of what seems important in life is made up and is neither more (nor less) than, as a certain turn of phrase would have it, "a social construction." [...]
With good reason postmodernism has relentlessly instructed us that reality is artifice, yet, so it seems to me, not enough surprise has been expressed as to how we nevertheless get on with living, pretending - thanks to the mimetic faculty - that we live facts, not fictions. Custom, that obscure crossroads where the constructed and the habitual coalesce, is indeed mysterious. Some force impels us to keep the show on the road. We cannot, so it would seem, easily slow the thing down, stop and inquire into this tremendously braced field of the artificial. When it was enthusiastically pointed out that race or gender or nation were so many social constructions, inventions, and representations, a window was opened, an invitation to begin the critical project of analysis and cultural reconstruction was offered. And one still feels its power even though what was nothing more than an invitation, a preamble to investigation has, by and large, been converted into a conclusion - eg. "sex is a social construction," "race is a social construction," "the nation is an invention" and so forth. The brilliance of the pronouncement was blinding. Nobody was asking: what's the next step? What do we do with this old insight? If life is constructed, how come it appears so immutable?
I think construction deserves more respect; it cannot be name-called out of (or into) existence, ridiculed and shamed into yielding up its powers. And if its very nature seems to prevent us - for are we not also socially constructed - from peering deeply therein, that very same nature also cries out for something other than analysis. For in constructions place - what? No more invention, or more invention?
Absolutely, Mike T.. "What happens in Vegas never happened" is not a theory of plausible deniability but of antimatter. Do I leave the anti-particles behind in the anti-city out of a generalized fear of their explosive potential, or out of the more specific, personalized worry they will bind to the mundane (but pervasive) fakeness of my regular life and blow it up, leaving me in possession of the same net-nothing as before, only now painfully counter-pointed by the memory of whole, glittering cities made out of the same unstable isotopes? Which is to say: Is it more Vegas that I need in my life, or just more?
April 26, 2006
whitening strips are the new grill
or are grills the new whitening strip?
Either way, a media funny, from GAWKER
What was Amy Larocca doing gallivanting around the Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn?
Getting fitted for grills. They'll probably say something non-antagonizing and saccharine like "peace" or "get happy."
How does Mingo's shirt represent "a Muslim looking for a kind of salvation because his family is poor"?
Because punishing Americans by flooding our stores with dumb shit like that is cheaper than Jihad.
What would Michelle Williams and Heath Ledger think of Staley and Mingo?
They're thinking they've finally found promoters for the weekly dancehall and reggae parties they throw for the neighbor kids in the Boerum Hill projects.
How many hats does Staley own? And what's his favorite?
He's got 15. They're all Yankees hats, but the other 14 are in color combinations that compliment his sneakers. How can you pick a favorite among those?
Posted by ebogjonson at 1:26 PM | Permalink
March 9, 2006
500 coffeeshops to go before I sleep
Found this on Slashdot:
Cubicles: The great mistake Even the designer of the cubicle thinks they were maybe a bad idea, as millions of 'Dilberts' would agree.
Robert Oppenheimer agonized over building the A-bomb. Alfred Nobel got queasy about creating dynamite. Robert Propst invented nothing so destructive. Yet before he died in 2000, he lamented his unwitting contribution to what he called "monolithic insanity."
Propst is the father of the cubicle. More than 30 years after he unleashed it on the world, we are still trying to get out of the box. The cubicle has been called many things in its long and terrible reign. But what it has lacked in beauty and amenity, it has made up for in crabgrass-like persistence.
The cubicle was not born evil, or even square. It began, in fact, as a beautiful vision. The year was 1968. Nixon won the presidency. The Beatles released The White Album. And home-furnishings company Herman Miller (Research) in Zeeland, Mich., launched the Action Office. It was the brainchild of Bob Propst, a Coloradan who had joined the company as director of research.
After years of prototyping and studying how people work, and vowing to improve on the open-bullpen office that dominated much of the 20th century, Propst designed a system he thought would increase productivity (hence the name Action Office). The young designer, who also worked on projects as varied as heart pumps and tree harvesters, theorized that productivity would rise if people could see more of their work spread out in front of them, not just stacked in an in-box.
The new system included plenty of work surfaces and display shelves; partitions were a part of it, intended to provide privacy and places to pin up works in process. The Action Office even included varying desk levels to enable employees to work part of the time standing up, thereby encouraging blood flow and staving off exhaustion.
But inventions seldom obey the creator's intent. "The Action Office wasn't conceived to cram a lot of people into little space," says Joe Schwartz, Herman Miller's former marketing chief, who helped launch the system in 1968. "It was driven that way by economics."
[Stewart Brand, co-creator of the Whole Earth Catalog] says that the most productive people he knows have developed ways to work outside offices, not in them. Brand himself worked out of a converted shipping container in Sausalito for seven years and now commutes to a beached fishing boat a few yards from his house. He sees two workspaces rising up to compete with the modern office: homes and what might be called the third space--i.e., Starbucks.
I've got a fairly narrow rotation of "third spaces" that includes the above pictured Groundworks Cafe in Downtown, LA. Having access to range of sunny public spaces, each with their own mood and tenor, is amazing, but they all also have their own unique distractions - bad music, for example, or the seductions of eavesdropping or over-immersion in the (perceived) lives of the staff. Then there's what me and my cafe buds like to shorthand as TML -> Too Many Ladies.
Another thing is that the ubiquity of wireless access means that the great, subversive weapons in humanity's fight against the bosses (loafing, IM, debating whether or not that forward is "work friendly") suddenly become weapons against yourself in a cafe.
Time permitting (wink-wink; what else do you have but time when cruising the wireless-enabled coffeeshops of LA) I'll upload more pics of the various places.
March 2, 2006
Apparently some genius at Boston's alt-alt-weekly the Weekly Dig has a beef with my man the illhindu. The Dig's comments are super-trifling, but instructive. Seen as a stage in the evolution of the whiteboyus urbanus (or, at least, in the evolution of the legions of the whiteboyus urbanus loving), most of the Dig occupies that awkward place where white folks know that there's something closed and off (i.e., racist) about the working class enclaves they've escaped, but nonetheless still can't bring themselves to countenance any broader cosmopolitanism. Moving past the space of grudging acceptance strikes them as an endorsement of a rankly commerical hipsterism, or as a betrayal of roots that (depending on what kind of white ethic you are) can be as grim as they come. While (and this is the thorny thing) they're right in some respects, their stubborness indicates a typical arrest of their pyschic development. A few stages down the line (after moving out of Boston, for example?) they might realize that you really do have to kill/disavow the metaphorical father/nabe before you can move back, or at the very least, just look back with any real understanding or appreciation.
The Dig's complaint that the illhindu parsed people and arts in terms of their race is a common gripe among recently evolved (emancipated?) whiteboyus urbanus. Having just grokked to the fact (and genuinely, I believe) that people of color are just as human as they are, whiteboyus urbanus tends to be baffled and outraged by any subsequent suggestions by ungrateful coloreds that there are still real, discernable differences between the various us'es and thems. That kind of suggestion strikes them as a betrayal, and you can hear a hint of childish hurt in the howl: I did all this work, I stopped using all those bad words, I kept those dudes from beating up that gay guy, that girl I fingered in the back of the Middle East was Asian or Cape Verdian or something. So why, after all that, do you still insist on reminding me I'm white?
Why indeed, my brother, why indeed.
January 2, 2006
A Picture Share! LAX bites
5 hour flight, then 2 hours waiting in the United baggage claim at LAX. Welcome home!
Posted by ebogjonson at 10:10 PM | Permalink
December 24, 2005
Miami radio bites
Posted by ebogjonson at 1:25 PM | Permalink
mallish mobile photo
all mallish on the eve of XMA$. Trad Haitian Christmas eve dinner is boiling away at the house, tasty redemption.
Posted by ebogjonson at 1:09 PM | Permalink
December 5, 2005
paris - a dream
Mostly fragments today, but on the upside it seems I finally got around to processing the waking trip I just took to France.
Dreamt of travel, travel, travel by train, plane and helicopter, all of it on or about an unnamed volcanic island populated by French-speaking black folks. (Haiti? Martinique? Genosha?) On the books the island (a city-state really) is a high-tech, black-run paradise, ziggurat skyscrapers reaching for a postcard blue heaven, but the streets are heavy with moist banana smell, the tiny republic rotting away in stages, pretending to a high-mindedness (liberté, egalité, fraternité?) that never quite trickles down into anyone's day-to-day.
I fly into the city on videogame wings. I see my plane (propeller?) from the outside, its fuselage an unlikely burnished super-silver. Code generated lens-flare blossoms like firework across my mental image as the plane glides, swooping down through shaving cream clouds before buzzing the city-state's man-made canyons on the way to the airport. I watch and watch and get that funny sense of awe I get whenever I play a next-generation game console for the first time. Who knew an extra million polygons would look this good? Those Japanese cats sure know their stuff.
I'm on the island for business, here to buy a building or maybe a business. I'm carrying a lot of someone else's money, digital money or maybe encoded the old fashioned way in my signature or handshake. An old boss of mine flies in with me, but once we're on the island we never go look at any sites or meet any people. I walk around the city looking up at the buildings - think Blade Runner with sunshine - the celly pressed to my ear. I'm on hold the entire dream, that or I'm having testy, broken-French conversations with receptionists, hotel operators, assistants. I can't get through to anyone. I lose track of my boss and then have to call and call looking for him. He's left his hotel room and has gone sightseeing. No one can find him.
I ride the island's subway aimlessly. This particular system comes with just two lines, each with exactly four stops. A vast, imperial central station connects the two lines. The central station is bloated, a marble monstrosity. Its surface has been carved out of pinkish-brown stone and the place has the under-lit, unfocused ambiance of museum statuary that's been shot by a tourist using digital camera presets and weak flash.
A hotel operator berates me for my poor French. I speak better French when I'm awake but can barely put together a sentence here. When she puts me on hold I notice that all phone numbers on the island come in the same format:
I take in the recurring 29, decide that for the rest of the dream I'll pretend to a vague numerological unease. In my waking life, I always take note of numbers that could be subsets of a plausible lifespan, like my age plus one for example. (This year, the lucky number is 38.) I suck on the 29 like it's a particularly resistant candy, some kind of mental gobstopper. Do I have 29 more years of life? Did I die when I was 29? Soft-center or chewable?
When I'm not on the train I ride in a helicopter that takes me from building to building. More pixellated aeronautic excess. My pilot talks too much too, tells me how he dreams of emigrating to America. I nod absently, wonder if I could fly the thing if I had to.
There are men with machine guns guarding the streets.
The wandering motif that consumed the whole first half of the dream suddenly evaporates. I forget it as if it never happened. Instead of traveling and wandering I now dream that I have been in my hotel room since the day I arrived. I lay in bed eating crepes, watching French television. I watch "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in German for hours, as well as "The Weakest Link." I discover a genre of talk show where 10 or 15 Italians sit on a stage chatting and laughing. It's the same set-up every night. I'm baffled by the booking - politicians? Footballers? B-list celebrities? An African-seeming gent walks on stage in a tweed jacket and the crowd goes wild. He waves back coolly, his hands clasped over his head.
The hotel room morphs around me, extravagant and minimal at the same time. I am Dave Bowman slowly chewing a Kubrickian steak.
The European women on the television all have enormous breasts. I wonder if this is a natural phenomenon, or something innate to the televised European. I'm confused by their plenitude. I have flown in from California, where every other woman is an actress with implants.
Except for the Italian African I never see any black people on the hotel television. I wonder why if the island has its own channel, why the hotel doesn't carry it.
I decide that there's something gravitationally off with the island. On the pressboard desk in my hotel room sits a doodad, one of those magnets that's been floated on a superconducting surface, science in miraculous action. This particular doodad is eccentric in design and execution - a wine cork stuffed like a pimento olive with magnet, then floated in a U-shaped, superconducting trough. Every now and then the magnet, like a cat suddenly starting at nothing, rotates impossibly on its axis. I call down to ask the concierge if the island is prone to earthquakes, but he only berates me for my poor conjugation.
Just before I wake, my dream settled down to a single arc with the appearance in my room of Chantal, an old friend from high school. In real life Chantal had been one of the few kids at my high school who lived in my neighborhood, and she was also one of a handful of Haitian kids attending besides me. In the dream she lives on the island and has come on goodwill mission to get me out of the room.
"You should see the sights," she says.
Before we can leave, though, she loses her favorite brooch somewhere in my hotel room. I can't leave the room until it's found. She describes it to me in great detail, a silver duck with pearl feathers, blue gems for eyes, a golden beak. Days pass, flashing by in bursts of looking and waiting. Chantal seems increasingly annoyed at me, as if the loss is my fault. I make increasingly desultory searches of the hotel room in reaction to her anger, moving the couch and peering under the bed. I find brooches - gilded Hello Kitty characters, mostly - but none of them hers. I go to sleep, wake up and find her moving the cushions on the couch around. I worry that she will read my journal while I'm sleeping.
The next time she leaves, she takes the dream's POV with her. She goes home, where she has dinner with an older woman who may or may not be her mother. It seems that I have disappeared. No one answers the phone in my room when she calls. The hotel staff has ventured in, found my things but no me. She asks about her brooch. Negative.
The older woman worries for my safety. It is getting dark. Chantal demurs. She explains that when we were in high school we would stay out after curfew all the time, dodging patrols and skirting checkpoints.
"He'll be fine," she says. I dream of agreeing with her. I wonder what it is I am doing.
August 21, 2005
ported dreams, dec_01-mar_02
[from my pen and paper journals just before I left NYC for Cambridge]
Dream - 3/17/02
Dreamt I was planning a bank robbery. The targeted bank is a small, flat, window-less cinder of a building, reminiscent of a Jehovah`s Witness Kingdom Hall or a funeral home. The robbery is going to be committed by me, Jim and two other people. We practice it over and over, and I`m feeling confident until a fifth member joins us (Arul?). He asks many, many questions about my plan, asks the right questions. I have answers, but he gets me thinking. What if I have made a mistake? What if there`s a flaw in the plan? I don`t want my friends to get killed and I don`t want to get caught. When the day of the robbery comes things don`t feel right so I abort the robbery. I can`t tell whether I`m being cautious or timid.
The dream changes. A few months have passed and I am hiding out in an apartment in some generic projects. I remember planning the robbery, but don`t remember what happened. I walk around my cramped, dingy one bedroom trying to remember what went down. Did we get the money? Did anyone get killed? Why am I hiding? About then I notice there`s a dismembered body in my apartment. There are piles of tightly sealed garbage bags all over the place and each one contains a limb or organ. There's no smell because of the care taken in sealing the bags, but the sacks are heavy with liquid, the contents soft and jelly.
Who the fuck did I kill or get killed? Where is my money?
I decide to get rid of the parts before any smell or rot seeps out of the bags. I consider melting the parts in lye in the bathtub, but am concerned about the stink and gore. I think about moving it piece by piece to the dumpster but worry that someone will see me, discover the corpse. I think about all the movies I`ve seen where someone is trying to dispose of a body but all the depicted methods seem stupid when carefully reviewed. I stare out the project window at the kids standing on the basketball court, consider my options.
Dream - 2/12/02
Dreamt Jim showed me a short film he`d directed. It`s an action comedy about Asian-American teens, shot in the style of an HK action flick. It`s good, real good and seeing it makes me feel old and envious.
The screening takes place in an airport. Cole and Natasha come through. Natasha is impressed by Jim`s film, Cole is noncommittal. Nicky is with him, and we are introduced as if we have never met.
I also run into my father, who tries to get me to wait with him for two arriving passengers. I refuse. It turns out the couple he is waiting for is a bourgie black couple I know from Yale. I can`t imagine how my father could possibly have ended up greeting them at the airport, but I don't like the idea of him being their driver.
[EBOG's NOTE: The female half of the couple had, in her youth, been voted one of the four (or was it five?) most beautiful incoming black Yale freshwomen by the watchful junior/senior Kappas who kept track of such things at that time. She actually was one of the most beautiful women I had seen until then, but in a strangely still way that suggested a kind of sacrificial willingness to sit motionless in the cross-hairs of male desire. I remember catching a lucky, alcohol-fueled break and fooling around with her freshman year, this followed by almost a decade of sexual tension on the increasingly rare occasions that our distinct slices of black a Yale/NYC touched or overlapped. When she married her climbing clown of a husband I remember being washed over by an unexpected wave of disgust. In college we had joked about moving to France and making movies. I would direct and she would be my muse/star. (Did all this happen while we sat in the dining hall conjugating French homework? Idle language exercises suddenly finding unexpected application?) She had insisted at the time that it had to be a blockbuster and that I had to cast [MALE NAME] as her love interest, [MALE NAME] being an odd, incognegro that for some reason had caught her fancy. I had agreed to both terms immediately and without reservation. Starlets are to be allowed their fancies, I figured, because muses and directors had different, deeper, potentially sacrosanct connections. As for the question of the opening weekend, that went in one ear and out the other. I was 17 at the time and wouldn't give serious thought to such matters until I was 30. When she married the climbing clown it occurred to me that she had really meant it when she had intimated (in so many words) that she would willingly make herself the object of a man's creative focus, that she would sit there and be beautiful in exchange for a big enough marquee. The climbing clown is a climbing clown, but he has made her the star of a fine and long-running drama popular among the Black American moneyed-classes, i.e., The Tale of the Black Ivy Leaguers and their Architecturally Significant Brownstone.]
I tell my Dad he should just let [FEMALE NAME] and her husband take a cab, that they can certainly afford it. He tells me that for the life of hime he just can't understand why I'd be so rude to another black Yalie.
George Bush II arrives at the airport while I am arguing with my father. I try to leave the terminal, walking upstream through the crowd of soldiers and functionaries. My dream POV is shaky and hand-held, agitated. As I make my exit I walk past a midget marching band setting up. Bush drives by in a golf cart. He is short, reddish and driving himself. He looks, it goes without saying, like a clown.
Dream - 1/22/02
Dreamt I was in a Vegas-y midtown. I am either hanging out with an old homeless woman, or I am an old homeless woman. The homeless lady that I may or may not be is going on and on about the funny thing that happens when she lies down on the concrete to sleep. Sometimes the city looks like ugly she says, like teeth, but when she rests her head on her arm just so the city looks like Amsterdam. Arul appears suddenly. He tells the old woman\me that her priorities are all fucked up. Forget arm or no arm he says. Get the fuck up off the floor.
Dream - 1/19/02
Dreamt I was at work, only the office is a classroom. Instead of desks we all work at chair/tabletop combos. [NAME CHANGE] is giving some kind of lecture by a white board. As he gesticulates and enthuses I keep thinking: this man is not a grown-up. I look around the room wanting to know where the real teacher is.
I am not paying much attention to the lecture so I find myself getting a public dressing down about my attitude problem. I'm annoyed, but have to admit that I am acting like a sullen little shit, adolescent and eye-rolley. Except for annoyance at the public nature of the rebuke, I don`t feel terribly bad or concerned about my behavior. The situation in the office/classroom doesn`t seem real to me. It feels like play-acting, perhaps a re-enactment of a scene from a John Hughes movie, The Breakfast Club or Weird Science.
One lecture ends and another begins. The new lecturer wants us to re-organize our chairs so that we sit in a circle. I decide to sit on the floor at [WOMAN`S NAME THAT IS NOT THE NAME OF MY 2002 GIRLFRIEND]`s feet. She is wearing very nice, shiny Jimmy Choo boots and a shortish denim skirt. I am leaning against her, the back of my head on her exposed knees. She is massaging my scalp, digging her fingers into the center mass of my locks. She does this offhandedly while listening to the lecture, a slight, sleepy smile on her face. Every now and then she taps a pen against the crown of my head like I'm a pad or notebook. Blank, I am, wondering if she will write something on me. I lean farther back into her hands and her fingers and settle against her like a sigh. I think to myself: This is not a bad place to be sitting. When I wake up, I feel bereft, think that perhaps I should be crying. I feel ghost fingers in my hair and a tightness in my chest for days every time I see her in the office.
Dream - 12/29/01
Dreamt I was Nelson Mandela. He/me has just delivered some sort of speech, and as I am getting into my limo, I run into an old college roommate. He was a drama student and he is now a successful South African sitcom actor. I flashback to our old apartment\dorm. It is ratty, small, collegiate.
Flash forward. We reminisce and decide to have a drink. We go to several bars, including now unrecognizable college haunts. Gentrification has filled them with white people, liberal white college kids who are "honored" to be having a pint with Nelson Mandela. They get on our nerves, and me and my old roommate are carried away with nostalgia, start a bar fight. My presidential bodyguards materialize, intervene, break it up. We`re so old, the bodyguards have to carry us back into the limo. I look at the guards, embarassed that I have dreamt Nelson Mandela into such an undignified, un-Mandela-like circumstance, but they wink at me, assure me that my roommate and I could have taken those Boer fucks easy. It occurs to me that the guards don't just work for Mandela, that they love him with the fierce tenderness of children protecting a parent. This realization moves me to happy\sad tears: I feel happy for Nelson, sad for Gary.
The dream changes. Now I am a junior member of the US Congress. I am in Brooklyn riding a Manhattan-bound green line train with two ranking Republicans. I don't know where we are going, but I feel like I've been tricked into participating in some kind of bullshit collegial exercise, the dedication of a highway perhaps. I avoid eye contact with the rest of the riders, don't want anyone to think I am with the Republicans by choice.
One of the Republicans is a crazy, right-wing Cuban lady from Miami who keeps crawling and cavorting on the subway car floor. There is something vaguely MILFish about her, so even though I don't want anyone to think I subscribe to her politics I wonder briefly whether this might turn into a sex dream. I consider then discard the possibility. She is plainly pretty and well-preserved, and rather nicely poured into a maroon, polyester pants-suit, but the way she keeps crawling on the subway floor disturbs me. I wonder if she's been infected by some kind of virus.
As we approach the river and the last Brooklyn stop another motive for our trip begins to emerge: Some sort of disaster has brought us together. 9/11 goes unmentioned. We are on an express train, and when I check one of the stops for the local the other Republican - a very red faced Midwesterner - asks if I wish I were traveling with Democrats. "New times call for new solutions," he says. He seems sincere but I still wish he would stop talking to me in front of the other riders.
I shout at him: "I'm only doing this because of what happened." He laughs at me.
"Sure," he says.
I get off the train at Astor Place. The congresswoman gets off with me but the other Republican stays on the train. It turns out I am going to meet an ex-girlfriend instead of going with the Congresspeople. The crazy Cuban woman scoffs, tells me I need to move on, says I should come with her instead. It occurs to me that she is propositioning me. She looks better, less insane when standing upright, but the talcum powder between her cleavage looks like it has picked up dust and dinge from the subway floor. I beg off and she stalks towards the East Village, angry.
I go to the café where I'm supposed to meet my ex. My ex has blown me off at this very spot several times, and she does it again. As I wait for her, though, the dream develops a split-screen and I'm able to watch her hurry through a game attempt to meet me. I see her dressing, putting on make-up, looking for a babysitter. She is trying to call me to tell me she is running late, but the minutes on her cell, which I used to pay for before she became my ex, have run out. She looks at the phone incredulous, as if only just realizing that I have stopped paying her bill. The dream becomes a close up of her face. She's wearing a lot of make-up, dramatic eyes, high gloss Mac lipstick. I note with a mix of cruel pleasure and disquiet that she seems haggard, used-up. She keeps glaring at her dead cell, angry, but also grudgingly impressed that I have asserted myself by not paying her bill. Just then I think the crazy thought that if I had slapped her more than the once (the only time I ever hit a woman and the main reason I left), we'd still be together, trapped in an endless constricting (but unbroken) cycle of sin, debt, and shame. We'd end up like a doomed addict couple, bound by a craving not for rock but for the grim, intense high of having our ever sinking expectations (of each other, of the opposite sex) met.
Her preparations start to falter. I'm annoyed that she is going to blow me off again, but I have to concede that she tried. She made an effort to meet me. When the she gives up completely her side of the split screen collapses. I sit in the cafe anyway, enjoying two cafe-au-laits and a perfectly buttery and flakey croissant, dreaming of breakfast just before I wake.
August 19, 2005
[the following was written yesterday and posted today. Which means today's post will likely be coming tomorrow.]
Getting ready for the big move LaLaish next week. The last five or so days have been marked by an inclining line of smallish detail and repetitive action - paying movers, turn-off calls, filling containers, throwing out trash, packing, post-packing - the peak/crescendo coming this morning with the near-simultaneous arrival and departure of the flatbed conveying my containers west. I watched the truck leave and then stood on my soon-to-be ex-sidewalk for an uncomfortable while wondering what I should be feeling, but the best I could come up with was "empty." Between the packing and the long good-byes (to a live TiVo, for example, and Mike and me's project to watch every episode of Angel) I hadn't sleep all night, and as I stumbled off to Mike's to crash (my own bed being gone) I felt disoriented, disembodied, weightless.
Except for the trash on the floor, all my shit is gone. I kept thinking this on the short walk to Mike's. I am completely fucking shitless.
Moving always inspires unpleasant confrontations of the me-on-me sort. I have no reckoning of the hours I've put into contemplating yellowed scraps of paper, but they must number in the dozens. Each scrap was not so much a record as a branching where I was asked to choose between literally shredding the past and wallowing in it. Documents related to youthful financial indiscretion were the most powerful talismans, as were the physical traces of the proverbial pussy hunt. Old receipts, unpaid bills, scary tax documents, collection notices for accounts (ATT celly?) I forgot I had, the transcript of my brief and incomplete brush with graduate education, emphatic letters from long-gone lovers, manuscripts, drafts - whether shredded or piled they comprised a not-so-thin layer of detritus left over from a kind of negative New Years, a non-celebration honoring a pernicious strain of memory where the past lingers in perpetuity as debilitating anti-possibility.
Contemplating the draft documents was a whole special kind of hard. Why do I have so many drafts? I wish the answer was "because I'm a writer," but the hermetic nature of my output suggests quite the opposite. I'm actually a hoarder, a lexical retentive who shits out literal piles of it in order to better fill the bottom of desk drawers. In the last few days I've held in my hands two short novels, maybe ten stories, card stacks for at least six screenplays. All of it unpublished/unshot, of course. Who knew I had been so fruitlessly productive? Some of this shit is so old, it's printed in dot matrix on perforated paper and comes topped off by now incomprehensible headers identifying long-disappeared printer locations, the printer at the old 824 Broadway Village Voice building, for example. There's a Virgin and a multiplex at 824 now, has been for years.
Now that the moving is done, I think it'll be good to get the fuck out of here and perform another memory purge in LA. (I packed the shredder.) I'm infinitely grateful to Cambridge/MA for being the place where I met Ingrid and Mike, and I'm glad for the many, many other amazing people this place brought into my life. Still, I can't say that I'll look back to the last three years as much more than an interregnum, a transitional zone where I sat back a bit and let some of the lies I'd been telling myself about my career run their course and collapse. The day-job I had here is ultimately what taints this place. The more late nights I put into my gig, the more I sacrificed, the more my ascent was linked to constructive engagement with organizations/persons I had previously found objectionable, the more the gig itself became a matter of interpreting fickle organizational mandates (as opposed to following core creative or ethical precepts) - well, the more of all that, and the more hollowed out I was becoming. What will likely endure feels less than the sum of my recent effort: a few sterling lines added to my resume, an impressive salary history, a raft of lessons learned, a more-than-passing acquaintance with the great crack of mediocrity that runs like an active fault-line through the world and (by virtue of an awful distributive property) myself.
Fuck it. What I need to do is to accept the gifts of this time (friends, the lady, the man's money in my pocket) and learn its lessons (bought-out corporate negroes are boring, white corporate negroes are worse; strive to work for self or for the undeniably like minded; speak and lead under my own steam and in my own name, as opposed to with/under the sign system of the various media machines) without wallowing in the oddly soothing pleasure of scab-picking. Which means fuck this too, i.e., this posting, or at the very least the tone/modality this posting represents. These words are a form of dangerous and constricting self-abuse (auto-asphyx without the eros), and now that I've adequately indulged myself - look at the time! - it's off to the enormous room to see some people I like and will greatly miss. These are people who will tell me to stop whinging when they read these words, people who tonight will stare brightly into my face to ask/demand if I'm excited about my move. Their belief in the world's possibilities will beam out at me like a searchlight. They've (god know why) decided that I'm a reliable mirror for their faith, and I'll not dishonor them or it by blah-blah-blahing the shit on my floor into an existential metaphor.
It's just the most banal of facts, really. There's inevitably some shit left on the floor when you move, doubly so when you like to keep things and think about them. No more and no less.